Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Twenty


Neverending Rainbow's 3rd annual rundown of our 20 favorite reasons to have owned a CD player. These are the best CDs of 2007...or more to the point, given the daunting number of recordings released each year...the best CDs that we heard over the course of the year. Your mileage may (and doubtlessly will) vary. In any case, the picks (in alphabetical order by album title):

Back to Black
Amy Winehouse
(At once retro and utterly modern, as fine a soul record as you could ever hope for)

Children Running Through – Patti Griffin
(Passionate, evocative, utterly compelling, an amazing collection of songs and performances)

Finding Forever – Common
(Sly and sassy, romantic and randy, acerbic and hopeful, a seamless album featuring stellar guest turns by Lily Allen and Kanye West and held together by Common’s smooth, peerless flow)

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Spoon
(Urbane pop-rock…delightfully melodic with tight playing and solid vocals…that soars and shimmers from beginning to end)

High Steppin’ – The Pimps of Joytime
(A really fine…really funky, really soulful, really rockin’, really jammin’, enormously entertaining…CD.

In Rainbows – Radiohead
(Challenging and accessible in the same moment, an utterly remarkable rock and roll record)

Live in Dublin – Bruce Springsteen with the Sessions Band
(A grand, accomplished, enormously entertaining 2-disc live set combining traditional songs with reworked Springsteen tunes)

Magic – Bruce Springsteen
(The Boss and the E Street Band on a set of rock solid, earnest, cranky, and soaring rock and roll ruminations)

Neon BibleArcade Fire
(Ominously haunting and undeniably rousing at the same time, the full bodied baroque rock and roll of this CD effortlessly gets under your skin and into your head and stays in both places and man is that a cool thing)

100 Days, 100 Nights – Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
(As gritty and old school funky as it wants to be, this CD grooves, growls, and bites with soulful fury as the righteous, gutbucket beauty of Ms. Jones’ voice is ably supported by the sterling musicianship of the Kings)

Raising Sand Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

(What seemed a strange match on paper became a magical, compelling, and heartfelt collaboration when they came together in song trading stunning leads and sharing remarkable harmonies)

River: The Joni Letters – Herbie Hancock
(A graceful and tasty tribute to Joni Mitchell featuring an excellent band and some nice guest vocal turns)

Teknochek Collision – Slavic Soul Party!
(This 9-member ensemble claims to be the “#1 brass band for Balkan-soul-gypsy-funk” and the music…joyous, worldly, full-bodied and, yes, brassy, soulful, and funky…proves the point with potent, irresistible charm)

The Hottest State – Movie Soundtrack
(Judging by critical response, the movie wasn’t so hot but the soundtrack…with songs by Jesse Harris and sublime performances by, among others, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Cat Power, Feist, and Norah Jones…is a cool, evocative gem)

The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster – Ruthie Foster
(An evocative, rocking, soulful CD that more than lives up to its grandiose title)

The Reminder – Feist
(A smart, sparkling collection of slightly offbeat pop tunes)

The Spiritual Kind – Terri Hendrix
(Witty, whimsical, insightful, heartfelt, delightful…a grand country record with all of the soul and twang and none of the glossy pop that too often passes for country music these days)

Under the Blacklight – Rilo Kiley
(Jenny Lewis and the guys embrace their funky edge to very fine effect)

Version – Mark Ronson
(The celebrated DJ and producer serves up a groovy party record filled with covers of British hits sung with gusto by, among others, Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, and Robbie Williams)

We’ll Never Turn Back Mavis Staples

(Righteously soulful and soulfully righteous, a collection of compelling standards delivered by one of the most incomparable voices in pop, soul, and spiritual music)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 : The "Singles"

In these days of music downloading "singles" are kind of an anachronistic concept but that doesn't deter us here at the Rainbow from once again presenting our favorite tracks of the year. We make no claims that these are the "best" tracks that came out during year but they are the ones that that greatly entertained and/or inspired us (why am I using the imperial "we/us" when it's just me here? I dunno...just be a pal and indulge the hubris and let it go :-)

ANYWAY (he do go on sometimes, don't he? Sheesh...) here are Neverending Rainbow's 10 favorite tracks of 2007 (links to video and/or audio on each track...make with the clickety-click on the titles):

1) "Silver Lining" Rilo Kiley
(A rueful tale of love lost told with an irresistible catchy beat and a great Jenny Lewis vocal)

2) "You Know I'm No Good" Amy Winehouse
(Backed by the mighty Dap-Kings, the redoubtable Ms. Winehouse...who seems likely to actually survive '07 despite herself...throws down an soul jam as sweaty and funky as can be..."Rehab" [see below] was also mighty fine but her antics this year turned that song from being cheekily defiant to being creepily self-destructive.)

3) "Are You Alright?" Lucinda Williams
(A haunting, bittersweet plea for reconnection)

4) "Hey Eugene" Pink Martini
(A witty, sultry shout out to a guy who didn't call after a seemingly great time had at a party)

5) "Jigsaw Falling into Place" Radiohead
(A throbbing, utterly engaging rock and roll song)

6) "Heal Yourself" Ruthie Foster
(A wonderfully soulful tune of self-affirmation set to a driving beat)

7) "1234" Feist
(Yeah, the iPod commercial was ubiquitous but the song is still very cool)

8) "The People" Common
(While Kanye and 50 were having their over-hyped pissing contest, Common was quietly presenting the most engaging and inspirational hip hop of the year)

9) "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" Miranda Lambert
(The Nashville Star 1st season runner-up makes a solid case for being one of the more interesting stars to come from a TV competition with this feisty and funny warning to her ex and his new love.)

10) "Radio Nowhere" Bruce Springsteen
(The Boss rants about the woeful state of pop radio over a tight, propulsive rock groove.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Superbad/Hot Fuzz

As the holiday season wound down, the packages were wrapped and mailed, the cards were sent and received, and a bit of melancholy (for reasons I won’t bore you with here) was coming upon me and so, of course, comedy was in order.

My good friends at Netflix delivered two movies which had received great notices so I looked forward to just sitting back and being mightily entertained. And even though neither movie was as consistently knee-slapping hilarious as had often been reported both provided some cathartic laughter.

Superbad is both crudely raunchy and sincerely sweet…the young actors (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) at the center of the story are consistently amusing with an easy rapport (that they are too profane by half is a personal quibble…I’m not adverse to swearing but the sheer amount of profanity in the movie is more tiresome than funny after awhile.) Scenes are consistently stolen by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who makes his film debut as the nerd-tastic “McLovin”, and Bill Hader and Seth Rogen as the world’s most irresponsible cops.

Superbad, for all of its seeming preoccupation with sex and drinking and partying, is at its heart a story of the bond between two friends on the brink of adulthood and that reveals a tender heart underneath the crass shenanigans of the movie.

Hot Fuzz, on the other hand, has no such tender heart but it is briskly funny in an acerbic way…presenting the story of straight-laced, ultra-effective supercop (Simon Pegg) who was “promoted” from the London police department to a seemingly bucolic village…at least until the final reel when the spoof of American action movies (with pointed, affectionate references to Bad Boys 2 and Point Break and sly winks to other films such as Chinatown) becomes what it was spoofing, an over-the-top, violent action cartoon shoot-‘em-up (if this was supposed to be ironic, the irony was lost on me…it just got louder and sillier as the climax rolled on…and on...and on…)

Neither of these movies would be on my list of all-time favorite comedies but both had just enough laughs to make me smile and when it came to curing some Christmas blues that was just what the doctor ordered :-)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Christmas Story

Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (with James Stewart and Donna Reed) is, by according to many, THE classic Christmas movie. There were times when the movie, which fell into public domain, seemed to being shown almost constantly between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And yes it’s a fine movie…kind of dark along the way (Stewart’s George Bailey is seconds away from committing suicide at one point after all) and a bit saccharine at the end but fine…but for my money there are two Christmas themed motion pictures that are much better. One is the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street (filmed in glorious black and white) with the incomparable Edmund Gwenn in his Oscar winning turn as Kris Kringle and the young Natalie Wood as Susan, a girl who rediscovers the wonders of childhood (the 1994 color version…with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson…is okay I guess but it pales by comparison to the original.)

But for my money the most engaging Christmas movie is 1983’s A Christmas Story…the whimsical (and sweetly comical), sardonic (but not snarky), nostalgic (but not overly sentimental) tale of Ralphie (played with guileless spunk by Peter Billingsley), his earnest quest to get a bb gun for Christmas (the story is set in the 40’s when bb guns were an uncontroversial present for a boy), and his interaction with his somewhat dysfunctional parents (his blustery father played with manic aplomb by Darren McGavin and his fluttery mother played with ditzy grace by Melinda Dillon.) The story is tied together and moved along by the breathlessly arch narration by Jean Shepard, the author of the semi-autobiographical story.

It’s not a deep or complicated story but it is charming and funny and touching (with just enough slapstick to keep things lively) and it never fails to make me smile. What more could you want from a Christmas movie? :-)

(The original theatrical trailer is below.)


Monday, December 17, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of '08

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has announced its newest group of inductees. The class of ’08 (artists become eligible 25 years after the release of their first single or album) is led by Madonna (see the "Borderline" video from back in the day below) and also features John Mellencamp, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, instrumental rockers the Ventures (whose hits included the classic theme from the TV show Hawaii 5-0), and British invasion stalwarts the Dave Clark Five.

The induction ceremony will be held in New York on March 10, 2008.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

2007 Grammy Nominations

Maybe this time Kanye West will be able to win the big prize at the 50th annual Grammy Awards (goodness knows that we’ll all hear about it if he doesn’t) as he leads the nomination pack with 8 nods. Amy Winehouse, who’s had an interesting year to say the least, picked up 6 nominations.

West’s Graduation and Winehouse’s Back to Black are competing for Album of the Year honors alongside of the Foo Fighters’ Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace, Herbie Hancock’s River: The Joni Letters, and Vince Gill’s eclectic 4-disc collection, These Days.

Winehouse’s defiant (and undeniably funky) “Rehab” (see below) is competing for Record of the Year with Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable”, the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender”, Rhianna’s “Umbrella”, and Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…Comes Around”.

Winehouse is also up for Best New Artist (even though Back to Black is not her first album) along with Feist (who also has been around for a little bit), Ledisi, Paramore, and Taylor Swift.

The Grammy Awards will be handed out on February 10, 2008.