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.


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.


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 :-)


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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’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.


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.