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.)