Wednesday, December 31, 2008

10 for '08...

…being a semi-random (well it is in alphabetical order…more or less… so it’s not as random as it might otherwise be) list of 10 pop culture people and things that warmed the cockles of Neverending Rainbow’s jaded heart in 2008.

CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION

The original…and still the best…CSI was firing on all cylinders from the tragic death of Warrick that opened the season to the inexorable feeling of loss as Gil Grissom prepared to take his leave.


GEOFF JOHNS

This super-hero comic book fan’s hero was a writer…a writer who brought amazing, utterly engaging life to some of my favorite four-color adolescent power fantasies :-)

JON STEWART & STEPHEN COLBERT

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report were consistently entertaining and insightful companions throughout the seemingly endless political campaigns that informed life here in the States

NEW MUSIC FROM SOME OF MY FAVORITE FOLKS

Any year that features great new music from music making folks I unabashedly adore…Cassandra Wilson (the sublime Loverly), Emmylou Harris (the beautifully-realized All I Intended to Be), Tracy Chapman (the charming Our Bright Future...see below), and Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis (the accomplished and delightful Two Men with the Blues)…is more than all right in my book.

PUSHING DAISIES

I’m not really surprised that this quirky and whimsical show didn’t find a large enough audience to survive…it was, probably, one of those shows that either you liked or you didn’t with very few people in-between…but I am happy that it got a chance to exist at all.

SUPER-HERO MOVIES

A good year for the fanboys with the grim but amazing Dark Knight and the slam-bam wizardry of Iron Man heating up the box office in such a big way. Kudos as well to flawed by still sometimes very interesting offerings such as Hancock, Wanted, and Incredible Hulk (and we shall let things like Punisher War Journal and The Spirit slip into obscurity without comment.)

THE SOUP

The Soup is perhaps the one good reason for the E Network to exist. Joel McHale and his merry pranksters take a biting and often hilarious blowtorch to all of the silliness of pop culture in a fast-paced weekly half-hour.

THE WIRE

Yeah, I’m late to the party but thanks to the good folks at Netflix I’ve gotten completely caught up in the gritty streets of Baltimore as explored on this amazing show (a crime drama worthy of being brought into the conversation alongside classics like Homicide, Hill Street Blues, and The Sopranos.) Santa didn’t hook me up with the complete series box set (admittedly I was THAT good this year :-) but I’ll keep pestering him.

TINA FEY

Tina Fey’s dead-on impersonation of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a godsend to Saturday Night Live…and to all of the rest of us as well. Combine that with the fact that her sitcom 30 Rock has become a consistently funny shows on network TV and we just have to take off our hats to the remarkable Ms. Fey.

YOUNG SOUL SINGERS FROM THE UK

Amy Winehouse spent most of the year in tabloid hell but the baton of great soul music…retro but not in a navel-gazing, nostalgia-worshipping way…from enormously talented young women from the United Kingdom was ably picked up by Duffy (with the stunning Rockferry) and Adele (the powerful and passionate 19) and it was a good thing indeed.

* * * * *

Here's hoping your 2009 is filled with an abundance of love, light, and laughter.

This is Tracy Chapman's simply charming "Sing for You":


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A New Thought for Christmas

Melissa Etheridge’s “new thought” for Christmas isn’t really new…giving peace a chance and celebrating the soul of the season and the power of love are a classic ideals we should all adhere to all year long…but when it’s presented in such a potent, heartfelt, soulful collection of songs that doesn’t matter one little bit.

A New Thought for Christmas is a consistently engaging collection of holiday songs new and old. There’s no Santa Claus here but there is an abundance of hope and joy and pleas for peace.

It kicks off with a grand, bluesy version of “Blue Christmas” and that inviting vibe inhabits rocking takes on “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and the sly and sassy reading of the immortal “Merry Christmas, Baby” as well. Etheridge is in fine fettle throughout these rockers as well as on the propulsive “Christmas in America”, an Etheridge-penned plea for a lost lover to come home for the holidays, and during the boogie-woogie strut of “It’s Christmas Time”.

She is also in fine, fine vocal form during the mellower tracks such as the original “Glorious” (a sweet paean to love and family during the holidays that incorporates some of the traditional “Angels We Have Heard on High”) and the hopeful “Light a Light”

There’s a sweet jazzy vibe (including a very tasty guitar solo by Philip Sayce) to her sedate take on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that vaults into the upper echelons of the many versions of that charming chestnut.

The peace anthem “Ring the Bells” (see below)…co-written by Salman Ahmad, who also contributes vocals and guitars…has a Middle Eastern vibe that invests it with additional power as it soars up towards the heavens.

By the time the disc ends with the inspirational “O Night Divine” (with incorporates aspects of the traditional “O Holy Night”) you feel immersed in the Christmas spirit without the need of nary a jingle bell nor a flying reindeer…and it’s a lovely thing indeed.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Come Darkness, Come Light: 12 Songs of Christmas

‘Tis the season for many things…including and especially new holiday music…and that can be a lovely thing indeed. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s new Christmas album is a soothing, stripped down, reflective affair featuring three musicians Carpenter herself (with acoustic guitar and her luminous and honeyed vocals), Jon Carroll (on piano), and co-producer John Jennings (on everything else…including bass, acoustic and electric guitars, drums, percussion, accordion, piano, and harmony vocals.)

The 12 songs on the disc…a mixture of original songs, found songs, and traditional songs…are soothing, reverent, and moving. From the opening “Once in Royal David’s City” to the love song “Hot Buttered Rum”…from Carpenter’s lilting title song to the bittersweet “Bells are Ringing” (co-written with Jennings…see below) to the closing with the traditional “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”…there is not a misstep on this fine collection.

Come Darkness, Come Light would be a lovely soundtrack for a cool winter’s evening…perhaps snuggled by a fire while sipping hot cider…it’s a sweetly mellow Christmas collection and a most welcome addition to my ever-burgeoning collection of holiday CDs.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time

Our pals at Rolling Stone are at it again with a list that is sure to provoke much discussion among music fans. This time they've polled a bunch of artists, producers, critics, and other music industry insiders and come up with their list of "The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time".

This list is, of course, skewed towards singers who came to prominence during the rock and roll era (which I guess qualifies as "all-time" now) and it leaves off a lot of really GREAT singers (at first blush I can think of Billie Holiday, Emmylou Harris, Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, k.d. lang, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Cassandra Wilson, Chrissie Hynde, Seal, and Margo Timmins.)

The Top 10 Singers of All-Time (according to Rolling Stone) are:

1) Aretha Franklin
2) Ray Charles
3) Elvis Presley
4) Sam Cooke
5) John Lennon
6) Marvin Gaye
7) Bob Dylan
8) Otis Redding
9) Stevie Wonder
10) James Brown

Apparently all of the 10 greatest singers of "all time" got their start in the late fifties or the early sixties and only 1 of the 10 best is a woman...imagine that :-)

The rest of the list is here.

Discuss.

Below is the classic "A Change is Gonna Come" written by the wondrous Sam Cooke (#4) and sung by the incomparable Aretha Franklin (#1)


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Disney's Monster Mash

A version of "Monster Mash" set to clips of classic Disney monsters and villains. Very cute.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Change is Gonna Come


Seal (above with his wife Project Runway's Heidi Klum) with his fine version of Sam Cooke's classic "A Change is Gonna Come", a track from his CD Soul, a collection of covers of great R&B tunes.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy

After months of seemingly incessant hype My Own Worst Enemy finally made its debut on NBC Monday night. And all things considered it wasn’t bad at all.

The central conceit…that the super-efficient, cold-blooded spy Edward has as his cover the identity of the mild-mannered family man Henry…works as long as you can suspend disbelief to an extent. (Henry is, we are told, a construct…a second personality deliberately created by a shadowy government agency run by the formidable Alfre Woodard.)

Henry and Edward (a nod to the classic literary split personality Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde) live very different lives, of course…a situation that works well enough until the barriers between the two personalities start to break down (Henry comes out in the middle of a tense assassin gig and, quite predictably, he freaks out and almost gets killed.)

Christian Slater is the glue that holds this show together working his butt off to make both Henry and Edward come to life…his Edward is cool and ruthless while his Henry is caring and befuddled by the very strange situation that he finds himself in.

Enemy is an interesting, fast-paced, fairly unique blend of espionage, action/adventure, psychological drama, and even some comedy that has gotten off to a very entertaining start. And in this rather anemic new TV season that’s a good thing.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Heroes

After the many missteps in the truncated second season the creators of Heroes seemed bound and determined to come out of the gate swinging in their third season. Did they succeed? Sorta.

They certainly threw a lot of balls up in the air…diving right into new subplots while putting off or casting aside some older, seemingly dead end plots (see ya, Molly, we hardly knew ye…and it seems that we’re probably pretty much done with Micah’s extended family as well.)

In these first two hours they gave us (among other things) heroes and new villains, resurrections and returns and seeming reincarnations, religious and scientific epiphanies, deaths, hauntings, portentous glimpses into the future, betrayals, mistrust among once stalwart allies, damsels in distress, sexual shenanigans, ruminations on the meaning of life and being human, a secret formula that could change the world, a hero trapped among the villains, Sylar being Sylar, and the revelation of Mama Petrelli’s power.

They hit the ground running with the promise that they’ve learned from past mistakes. I certainly hope so because I want to really like Heroes again…the way I really liked it during its first season. So far it’s mostly setting the stage (it’s pretty bleak so far…but, of course, it’s always darkest before…well, you know)…time will tell if they can pay it off in a satisfying way.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Billboard's Top 10 All-Time Songs

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their “Hot 100” chart our good friends at Billboard Magazine have put together their list of their “100 All-Time Songs” (“all time” in this case meaning the first 50 years of the Hot 100…August 1958-July 2008.) The list ranks the songs by sales and radio airplay (and not, as should be readily apparent by some of the tunes that made the top 10, by any subjective artistic merits.)

The top 10 All-Time Songs are:

1) “The Twist” Chubby Checker

2) “Smooth” Santana featuring Rob Thomas (see above)

3) “Mack the Knife” Bobby Darin

4) “How Do I Live” LeAnn Rimes

5) “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)” Los Del Rio

6) “Physical” Olivia Newton-John

7) “You Light Up my Life” Debby Boone

8) “Hey Jude” The Beatles

9) “We Belong Together” Mariah Carey

10) “Un-Break My Heart” Toni Braxton

Every decade in the period covered is represented…though apparently there were a lot of monster singles in the nineties. The Beatles made the top 10 only once and Elvis not at all (nor did Motown have a hit big enough to make the cut. ) I guess I’m surprised that Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” didn’t get into the top 10 either.

The rest of the top 100 can be found here.

And now, come on baby, let’s do the Twist! :-)


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fringe

After our summer hiatus (hey if Best Week Ever can take August off then so can we :-) the Rainbow is back and we start with the first new show of the fall season that I’ve caught.

The pilot of Fringe, the new Fox show co-created by J.J. Abrams, made me think of the opening lines of the old Buffalo Springfield hit “For What it’s Worth”there’s something happening here, what is ain’t exactly clear.

But then it is the pilot, the time to set up the status quo for the series, so I guess I can cut them some slack on that (I don’t need or want all of the answers in the first episode, I just want enough to make me want to stick around as the answers unfold.) That said, the show seemed to plod along after a startling and grisly opening scene and it never seemed to find its footing…perhaps that will come as the series unfolds.

At first blush, Fringe is deep into X-Files/Lost territory touching tried and true plot points such as the supernatural, seemingly sinister conspiracies, government intrigue, unspoken attraction between the leads, etc., etc. It’s all very portentous (as these shows intend to be) but so far underwhelming.

As FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, Anna Torv is pretty enough (she first appears lying naked in bed with her lover and later they manage to contrive a reason for her to strip down to her underwear) but her acting is tentative and bland (unless they were going for that Dana Scully cool reserve thing, then she nailed it.) So far she doesn’t seem to have the presence to be the center of a sprawling show like this one appears to be.

Joshua Jackson is game as the smart but cynical ne’er do well Peter Bishop, who is blackmailed into helping Dunham, but, again, I didn’t quite believe him as the character.

One hopes and expects that they will grow into their parts as the show moves on.

John Noble has some interesting moments as Peter’s estranged father Dr. Walter Bishop (who has been isolated in an institution for 20 years…for reasons we are not yet privy to…but who is apparently not so dangerous that he can’t be signed out with just his son’s signature.)

Lance Riddick is on aboard as a hard-bitten FBI agent who has both a mad on for Dunham (for something she did to one of his friends years ago) and the knowledge that there’s something strange going on in the world.

Throw in Blair Brown as the creepy and, yes, seemingly sinister executive of the mega-corporation created by Dr. Bishop’s former partner (himself unseen as yet) and you’ve got yourself a party.

The sum of Fringe’s parts don’t add up as yet but I’ll probably give it a few more episodes to try to win me over.

* * * * *

On an unrelated note, Fox followed up the premiere of the Fringe pilot (which will air again on Sunday before the show returns to its regular Tuesday time slot) with an airing of their new game show Hole in the Wall (which is about people trying to jump through holes in a moving wall before they get dumped into a pool of water.) This show may not be the dumbest thing ever shown on network television but it’s definitely in the running for that dubious title.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

(Fanboy mode on) WOW! (Fanboy mode off :-)

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is amazing. It balances the requisite action-adventure set pieces with a script that delves into the thin lines between heroism and villainy, between chaos and order, between the evil that men do because they can and the evil that men might do in the name of justice or for the sake of survival.

It’s atmospheric (it’s Gotham City after all), explosive and kinetic, fast-paced (despite its 2+ hour running time), brooding, brutal, and, yes, unabashedly over-the-top (we’ve had the discussion about the inherent preposterous in super-hero movies in this space before so I won’t bore you with it again.)

Christian Bale’s Batman is much more seasoned than he was in Batman Begins…he’s also more conflicted as his caped alter ego threatens to subsume his life; he’s also afraid that Batman may be the catalyst for as much madness as he is for goodness. Bale is great (especially when he puts on the Batman “growl” when he’s in the cape and cowl.)

The late Heath Ledger gives a bravura performance as the Joker. Where Jack Nicholson’s Joker did crazy with an impish wink, Ledger’s Joker is a full-on nihilist, a rampaging id bent on nothing less than creating as much chaos as possible. Ledger’s Joker is frightening, unpredictable, wily, disturbing, and mysterious (he gives a couple of different explanations of his origin along the way.)

Gary Oldman has some really nice moments as the conflicted Police Lt. Gordon and the other returning old pros…Michael Caine as the acerbic Alfred and Morgan Freeman as the wise Lucius Fox…also shine in their moments. Aaron Eckhart gets to display a wide range of emotions in his role of crusading District Attorney Harvey Dent (comic book fans will probably know where he’s headed and the movie goes there full on) and Maggie Gyllenhaal steps ably into the role of assistant DA Rachel Dawes (taking over the role from Katie Holmes who played the character in Begins.)

The Dark Knight tickled this fanboy’s jaded heart with an ending that, almost as a matter of course, leaves the door wide open for yet another sequel. Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two Men with the Blues

Two musical titans…the amazing Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson, one of the coolest guys on the planet…came together last year with a crack band (including Nelson’s ace harmonica player Mickey Raphael, drummer Ali Jackson, bassist Carlos Henriquez, pianist Dan Nimmer, and saxophonist Walter Blanding), a handful of standards, and a playful, laidback vibe to produce the delightful music that fills this fine, fine CD.

Recorded live at the home of Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York over two nights the principals are all relaxed but totally in the groove…Marsalis swings with such casual authority that it is almost breathtaking and Nelson’s mellow vocal phrasing and his fluid guitar lines fit the jazzy/bluesy music to a tee.

Kicking off with a sprightly take on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Light, Big City”, the 10 tracks include songs written by Nelson…a very fine “Night Life” and a tasty romp through “Rainy Day Blues”…along with standards Willie is well acquainted with…delicate readings of “Georgia on my Mind” and “Stardust”…along with other classic tunes…including rousing versions of “Basin Street Blues” and “Caldonia”.

Wynton even takes vocal turns on infectious “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” and a stately stroll through the Fats Waller chestnut “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” (featuring fine solos by Nelson, Marsalis, and Blanding.)

The disc ends with a sly, gospel tinged version of Merle Travis’ “That’s All” (which features an enthusiastic drum solo by Jackson.)

Two Men with the Blues is easy as Sunday morning and as cool as the other side of the pillow (thanks, Mr. Scott :-)…and I hope Wynton and Willie get together to do it again sometime.



Friday, July 04, 2008

Hancock

Hancock requires a lot of leaps of faith…it is a super-hero movie after all. I’ve read comic books most of my life so I didn’t have a problem suspending disbelief where and when necessary while enjoying the movie. And enjoy it I did…Hancock is a kinetic, funny, violent, occasionally quite touching action-adventure thrill ride of a movie.

Hancock, as played by Will Smith (in fine form), is a hard-drinking, disagreeable, amnesiac superman who causes millions of dollars of damage as he fights crime and saves lives in Los Angeles. The people of Los Angeles revile the unkempt, foul-tempered super-hero until he’s taken under the wing of Ray, an idealistic PR man (Jason Bateman, whose solid performance gives us the emotional anchor of the film.) Ray’s wife (Charlize Theron, both radiant and mysterious) is wary of her husband’s involvement with Hancock for reasons that become clear as the movie unfolds.

The early lighter hearted scenes are starkly contrasted with the darker tone the movie shifts into during the second half. There is, speaking of suspending disbelief, a plot twist about two-thirds of the way through that will test the patience of some (I’ve read some reviews griping about it) but I didn’t have a problem with it at all (there’s that super-hero comic book experience coming into play again :-)

Hancock (see trailer below) is a briskly paced (it runs a pretty taut hour and a half or so), exciting, emotionally-engaging and occasionally preposterous (what super-hero movie isn’t?) entertainment that holds your attention (most thanks to the performances of the three leads) from its jokey beginning to its brutal (but still hopeful) climax. Simply said, it’s fun.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wall-E

All Pixar movies are not created equal…some are better than others…but they all have been engaging, wonderfully crafted entertainments. Everyone who is a fan of their remarkable output will have their own personal favorites (I’m especially fond of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters Inc., for example.)

Wall-E, the newest Pixar gem, doesn’t rank up with the best of their movies but it is a charmer nevertheless. In the future Earth is such a garbage dump that the people have long since abandoned it for generations of pampered life about gigantic space luxury liners leaving robots to clean up the mess. 700 years later only one intrepid little robot, Wall-E (“Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class”), is dutifully working on the daunting task with a seeming indestructible cockroach as his only companion and a treasured videotape of the musical Hello Dolly as his favorite entertainment.

Wall-E’s routine…collecting and compacting garbage into cubes and collecting bits of stuff he finds interesting…is turned upside down by the arrival of Eve (“Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator”), a sleek robot from the Axiom, one of the aforementioned luxury liners, tasked with looking for signs of life on Earth. Wall-E has indeed found such a sign and the action shifts to outer space as he tags along with the ship taking Eve back to the Axiom (which is run by robots and computers leaving the humans as pudgy, pampered people who don’t think, walk, or do much of anything for themselves.)

The visuals are, as is par for the course with Pixar offerings, dazzling and the story…romance and action with a dose of fairly heavy-handed social commentary (the mega-corporation which left trash all over the Earth and which runs the luxury liners is a not so subtle allusion to Wal-Mart)…zips along nicely.

Wall-E and Eve have limited vocabularies and there is almost no dialogue in the first half-hour or so but it is still very easy to follow the story; in the Sunday morning showing I went to there were a lot of small children and none of them got bored or restless watching the movie.

Wall-E is a grand little entertainment as is Presto, the hilarious short (a Bugs Bunny-esque battle of wills between a magician and his rabbit) that precedes the main feature…all in all, yet another winner for Pixar.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Duffy's Rockferry / Adele's 19

Retro soul seems to be in good hands thanks to the young women of the United Kingdom. Like the great Dusty Springfield back in the day and the troubled but undeniably talented Amy Winehouse in more recent times, soulful divas are carrying the torch with a reverence for what has come before combined with a solid grounding in current times.

(Aimee Anne) Duffy’s Rockferry is a heartfelt and enormously engaging soul record, the young Welsh singer has a strong voice and she indulges in no unnecessary grandstanding, she just sings with passion and conviction (and how utterly refreshing is that?) She not only invokes the spirit of honored predecessors like Springfield and Petula Clark but she also brings the classic Motown sound to the 21st century (one can easily hear a young Gladys Knight or Martha Reeves slipping easily into the sweet mid-tempo grooves of tunes like “Warwick Avenue” (make with the clickety-click for the video) or “Serious”, with its great Supremes-like backing vocals, or the infectiously propulsive groove of a stomper “Mercy”.)

Duffy also has a smoldering, bluesy side that comes to the party on tracks like the spare (just her voice and a guitar to very fine effect) “Syrup and Honey” or the majestic “Hanging on Too Long”.

There’s not a false note to be found on Rockferry, which ends with the stirring, affirming “Distant Dreamer” with its rock-steady beat cushioned by a mighty wall of Spectoresque sound.


Adele (Laurie Blue Adkins)’s 19 starts with a dreaming song of its own, the lilting “Daydreamer”. Adele’s rich, supple voice is colored to lovely effect with her British accent. She is a soul singer but her influences seem to go beyond that to incorporate Nina Simone, Bjork (the staccato rhythms and vocals of “My Same” brings her to mind), and even the Beatles (there’s a trippy interlude on “Cold Shoulder” that could have fit nicely on “The White Album”...see video below.)

From the sassy, acerbic “Best for Last” and “Right as Rain” to the soaring “Chasing Pavements” (click the link for the video)…from the stripped down bluesy “Crazy for You” and “Melt My Heart to Stone” (both of which I can easily imagine Etta James singing…though she would be hard pressed to do them better than they are done here) to the lovely cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” to the subdued glory of the self-affirming closer “Hometown Glory”…Adele proves herself to be a musical force to be reckoned with.

Both Duffy and Adele are soulful breaths of fresh air and their music is much appreciated from this corner.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Boys

P.J. Franklin (Jordana Spiro) is a sportswriter in Chicago. She’s also a beautiful tomboy whose best buds are a group of like-minded guys including her married brother Andy (Jim Gaffigan) and her other “boys” Brendan (Reid Scott), Mike (Jamie Kaler), Kenny (Michael Bunin), and Bobby (Kyle Howard). Being one of the guys (talking sports, playing poker, drinking beer, etc.) suits PJ well but it sometimes plays havoc with her love life (suitors having to deal with the 5 often present, very protective, very important men in PJ’s life.) PJ gets a feminine perspective from her best friend Stephanie (Kellee Stewart).

This then is the premise of My Boys, a charming TBS sitcom which kicks off its second season on Thursday June 12th. My Boys is a breezy situation comedy that is very often warm, amusing, and very entertaining. The writing is crisp and the acting is uniformly excellent (the actors all have an appealing chemistry with each other and nobody goes over the top which would upset the balance.) My Boys doesn’t reinvent the sitcom but it does acquit itself nicely in briskly paced, engaging episodes.

At the end of the first season, PJ and Stephanie were about to take off on a romantic vacation in Italy with the cliffhanger question being who PJ had invited to share the experience with her. Was it one of her former suitors? Was it one of the “boys”? Was it someone new? The answer comes in the first episode of the new season where the action is split between Italy and some misadventures in the gang’s favorite bar in Chicago. This episode and another one dealing with Andy’s super-hot new nanny are both, again, very charming and amusing…what more could you ask from a sitcom?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

@#%&*! Smilers

Aimee Mann’s new CD gets off to a sprightly start with the up-tempo “Freeway” (see video below), an engaging pop tune with a wry point of view. It’s grand start to a grand collection.

Mann’s writing is as arch (meant as a compliment not a dig) and as incisive as ever but the overall feel is a frisky, engaging one. The music is buoyed by shimmering pianos, swirling synthesizers, and deftly-strummed acoustic guitars…all in the very capable service of Mann’s rich, expressive voice (which sounds similar to Chrissie Hynde’s often…again, not a dig, I think they’re both amazing singers.) The wonderful vocal on the rueful “Thirty-One Today” and the ruminative “Little Tornado” (highlighted with a cool whistling solo) are almost worth the price of admission by themselves.

From ballads like the spare “Stranger to Starman”, floating on a lush cushion of strings, to the jauntier numbers like “Looking for Nothing”, Mann is (as always) in extremely fine voice with her words evoking interesting images and familiar feelings and reactions.

Strings inform the lovely, bittersweet “Phoenix” and the soaring, compelling “It’s Over” while a great synthesizer figure, a rock solid backbeat, and a clarion horn section bring sweet life to the wistfully hopeful “Borrowing Time”.

The CD is warmly accessible and yet still challenging at the same time; Mann and her musical cohorts draw the listener in and make them want to pay attention, make them want to linger and luxuriate in the clever wordplay, the beautiful playing, and her wondrously expressive voice. By the time you’ve reached the jaunty “Ballantines”, a duet with Sean Hayes, you’ll just need to go back the beginning and experience this great CD all over again. It’s a cool experience indeed.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Bo Diddley : 1928-2008

The amazing Bo Diddley, one of the seminal figures in the history of rock and roll, died today. He was 79.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Desert Rose

Ruby James and her crack band hits the ground running on Desert Rose with full-bodied swagger with the opening track, the bluesy “The Words Goodbye”…the guitars snarl and bite and Ruby’s rich, smoky, engagingly burnished and remarkably evocative voice soothes and snaps sassily and already you’re feeling pulled in. And you like it. You like it a lot. (Well I certain did…you mileage may vary…but my money’s on Ruby winning you over.)

She seals the deal with the poignant, ruefully wistful “Everything Good Goes Away” and you’ve already surrendered to her magical spell completely. And you like it. You like it a lot.

And the music hold the spell…from the dense atmospherics of the title track to the steamy blues stroll of “Mistress of the Devil”…from the mid-tempo rock and roll of “Suicidal Serenade” (which is, its ominous title notwithstanding, a hopeful song about getting on with life despite things which might try to get you to give up) to the passionate "Passengers" to the gut-bucket rocker “When I’m Gone” (which has a groove so fierce and so relentless that it must be illegal in some states)…from the lilting acoustic sway of the reflective “Oh Mama” to the compelling closer “No Way to Love You” (with cool backing vocals and a beautiful extended instrumental coda)…from beginning to end.

I’d like to pretend I’m so hip and cool that I found Ruby James and her amazing music on my own but that just isn’t the truth (and I would never lie to you, gentle readers)… the fact is that she found me. She found me on MySpace (among Emmylou Harris’ many friends there) and sent me a friend request (any fan/friend of the wondrous Emmylou’s is automatically a friend of mine…that’s just the way that works :-) I listened to some of Ruby’s music on her on her own MySpace page (see here) and I was smitten enough to immediately order this her latest CD from her website (see here.)

And to keep the online circle of connection going I introduced some of Ruby’s music to the fine folks who visit my StumbleUpon page (see here)…the interweb is all about getting the word out about great musicians, right? (well that’s what I heard anyway…)

The band (including ace guitarist Rene Reyes and Oingo Boingo’s John Avila, who not only plays bass and keyboards but also comes to the table with stellar production work) backing her on this collection…”the story of love and faith told through the eyes of a crow and a rose”…offers wonderful, unwaveringly solid support throughout but the focus, of course, is on Ruby (however presumptuous it might be, it seems more fitting to call her that rather than “James” or “Ms. James” or some such), that voice (if you need touchstones for comparison, look to Bonnie Raitt or Patti Scialfa or some other grand lady of song with the blues flowing through their rock and roll hearts but it’s better just to listen to her without undue preconceptions), and a dozen cool songs.

Ruby (there he goes again :-) co-wrote all but 1 of the 12 tunes in this bittersweet (but never self-pitying) song cycle about love and loss. The one cover here is a killer…so tasty and so soulful…version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”.

Desert Rose is a wonderful record, heartily reccommended by your friend here at the Rainbow (if you head over to Ruby’s website or MySpace page and find yourself enthralled, tell her Michael sent you…she won’t know what that means but it’s okay :-)

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This is a cool "unplugged" version of "Everything Good Goes Away":


Monday, May 12, 2008

Through These Walls

Hilary McRae’s fun and funky debut crackles with tasty old school R&B goodness. With her big, expressively soulful voice ably aided and abetted by thick, sassy rhythms, tastefully supportive guitars and keyboards, lovely backup vocals, and sweet, cool horns, McRae’s music is at once a throwback to the heyday of 70’s soul and a sterling example of enormously engaging 21st century pop.

It is, as Miss Martha Stewart might say, a good thing

The energetic “Every Day (When Will You Be Mine)” and the propulsive “Consider Me Gone” opens the disc with a powerful one-two punch that sets the bar high. The rest of the disc proves to be up to the task.

From the mid-tempo swing of “Why Can’t Now” to the bittersweet balladry of “Love Song for You”…from the self-affirming, horn-driven swagger of “Hostage” to the pop sheen of the keyboard-led “Like You Never Loved Me”, the disc continues to percolate with aplomb.

By the time McRae and the horn section…along with the backing singers…locks into an almost irresistible groove on “Better Off Alone”, I couldn’t help but feel that a star was ready (if there’s any justice in the pop world) to claim her spot high up on the charts.

And then…and then…she throws a cool curve with the jazzy phrasing of “Let’s Stop” and then follows that up with the shimmering “Only Light” and the wistful “Waiting”.

As the disc ends with jamming with the R&B stomper “Somethin’s Come Over Me” and the powerful ballad “Where Will We Be, I found myself smiling contentedly and making plans to keep this disc in heavy rotation for the foreseeable future.

Through These Walls is an enormously enjoyable collection with nary a misfire amongst its 12 tracks; Hilary McRae is certainly a keeper. Yeah, it’s definitely a good thing :-)

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Below is the cool video for "Every Day (When Will You Be Mine)"


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Iron Man

Simply put Iron Man rocks. This is a fun, fast-paced, dazzling, witty, rousing adventure ride…everything a great summer popcorn movie should be. This one ranks up there in the pantheon of cool super-hero movies alongside excellent celluloid super-romps such as Spider-Man I, Superman II, and Batman Begins. It’s a blast (quite literally sometimes) from beginning to end.

Robert Downey, Jr. is in fine form throughout capturing both the sardonic wit and the overriding sense of responsibility of genius Tony Stark and the gung ho bravado of his armored alter ego. Watching the arc of his character…from seemingly carefree millionaire munitions inventor to stalwart super-hero, all the while dealing with a life-threatening injury and the full flowering of his conscience…is a lovely thing to behold.

Gwyneth Paltrow…as Pepper Potts, Stark’s assistant and possible love interest…and Terrence Howard…as Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Stark’s friend…aren’t given a lot to do but they both make the most of what they do have.

Jeff Bridges gets to chew some scenery as Stark’s mentor Obadiah Stane and he seems to be having deliciously malevolent fun doing so.

The story is both delightfully preposterous and wonderfully thrilling, just like the story in any good super-hero movie should be, and the special effects are quite dazzling (you will believe an armored man can fly…) Director Jon Favreau kept the proceedings light and engaging with just the right amount of explosive bombast to keep things moving along nicely.

Iron Man works even if you’ve never read one of the comic books it was based on but there still are enough insider asides (from "Jarvis" to the Stan Lee cameo to a bit of sly foreshadowing by Howard) to bring a smile to the faces of fanboys like myself. Yeah, it’s very cool.

(And it’s worth sitting through the interminable credits to get to one last clever bit of business.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

She and Him, Volume One

She & Him are actress (and now singer/songwriter) Zooey Deschanel and “indie rock” stalwart M. Ward and their first CD together is an enormously entertaining and engaging collection of delightful pop songs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of Ms. Dechanel’s movies…something I guess I need to rectify soon via my trusty Netflix account…so I came to this record with no expectations (she sang onscreen in the movie Elf and acquitted herself quite well...see here) She is, it turns out, a very fine songwriter (she wrote 9 of the 13 tracks here by herself and co-wrote another) with a lovely, plaintive, achingly honest and soulful voice The bittersweet country tune, “Change is Hard”, my favorite song on the disc, is ample testament to her ability to bring powerful resonance to the table; the same is true for another pure country song, the gently loping and twanging “Got Me”.

Despite dealing with matters of the heart, the songs here are never cloying. The driving pop-rocker “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?” (features some great harmonies and guitar work) and the equally up-tempo “This is Not a Test” (which would be a huge hit single in a more fair world) are both gently acerbic but life and love affirming at the same time.

The playing is rock solid all the way through with guitars, pianos, drums, and strings providing tuneful, beefy support without overwhelming the singer.

Deschenel’s voice is sometimes layered to good effect on tunes like the 60’s-style girl group romps of “I Was Made for You” and “Sweet Darlin’” (the latter of which sounds like some great lost Brian Wilson tune that She and Him rediscovered and brought to the 21st century), the peppy backing vocals on “Black Hole”, which somehow manages to be wistful and jaunty at the very time, and the soaring vocals that come in on the back end of the wistful opener “Sentimental Heart”.

The covers here include a grand, stripped down version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” (with a beautiful lead vocal by Deschanel and sweet guitar and harmony vocals by Ward), a lilting take on the Beatles’ “I Should Have Known Better” (featuring the duo trading leads over a tasty tropical beat), and the lovely a cappella harmonies on the traditional “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, which closes the disc on a lovely, low-key note.

Volume One is destined to continue to spend lots and lots of time in my music player and I certainly hope that there will be a Volume Two for She & Him in the future.

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Below is a video of She & Him's version of "You Really Got a Hold on Me" (set to clips from old cartoons for some reason.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Danny Federici 1950-2008


Danny Federici, the stalwart keyboard player in Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, died Thursday night of melanoma. He was 58.

Below is a video of the band playing "Blood Brothers" in the studio.


American Idol

I’ve become a less patient, less forgiving TV viewer as I grow older. There are simply too many other ways to entertain oneself to allow yourself to remain loyal to a program which has, for one reason or another, lost or squandered your trust.

This list of currently running shows that I used to like but which I am no longer watching seems to grow longer every month. I have broken ties with these shows and have no desire to reconnect (even when I am told, by critics or whomever, that they’ve gotten better and/or “returned to form”)…however “unfair” it might seem, once you’ve lost me you’ve probably lost me for good.

Lost is one show which has indeed…um…lost me, for example (it got to have too much nonsense, too many pointless new characters, and too many annoying, seemingly purposefully-frustrating teases.) Other former TV viewing flames that I’ve broken up with include Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives (both got way too silly and way too soapy for me) as well as Survivor and The Amazing Race (both of which suffered from a tired, overly-familiar formulas…once you’ve been to the well a few times there’s really nothing new to discover… and bad casting…which is, of course, the kiss of death for a “reality” show.)

As I slough through the current season I beginning to seriously feel that American Idol is about to join the list.

I used to really enjoy Idol…it was a show where talent was the key (more or less) and where there was a real opportunity to be part of the discovery of a potentially great new talent. As a fan of both pop music and television, it was something of a thrill to watch precociously talented singers…Kelly, Tamyra, Ruben, Clay, Kimberley, Fantasia, Diana, Bo, and Carrie among others…soar and stumble on their way to the finals.

But this season has been so relentlessly un-engaging that I’m not feeling any magic from the show. The judges aren’t even pretending to seriously involved in what’s going on and instead have become chariatures (Randy babbles hipster nonsense, Paula babbles about how wonderful and good looking the contestants are, and Simon sits there waiting to throw out a “witty” zingers.) Ryan Seacrest has allowed himself to be turned into a grinning, insincere sadist gleefully jerking around the contestants in the name of “suspense” and ratings. And the producers’ ideas of keeping things fresh include a barrage of overlong results shows, a soulless new set, and an exceedingly tiresome call-in segment.

And the contestants (see top 8 above, Michael and Kristy have been voted off), though most of them have had moments during the course of the season, are simply not that interesting. They’re all talented…to one degree or another…but none of them is making me long to buy a CD or a concert ticket from them.

And not being engaged in the season, I have no idea who’s going to win…and I don’t really care. David Archuleta was the early favorite but it seems like David Cook is now he one to beat (though, like Chris Daughtry and Elliott Yamin before him, he might be better served by NOT winning rather than having to try sell some producer-endorsed treacle like “This is my Now”.)

Maybe what Idol needs is to take some time off…let absence make the heart grow fonder…but, of course, they’re not going to do that as long as it continues to be a cash cow (which, despite sliding viewership, it still is.)

Or maybe Idol’s time is just done…if not for the public at least for this one impatient and unforgiving one-time fan. As they say here on the interweb, your mileage may vary :-)