Friday, November 27, 2009

5 "Must See" Christmas Entertainments

And just like that it’s Christmastime again. Okay it took a year since the last time…but it doesn’t seem that long, does it? The season is a celebration…of the Christ child’s birth…of the wondrous bonds of love and friendship that inform our lives…of gifts given freely and accepted gratefully…of food and drink…of music (the subject of an upcoming entry)…and, in those rare down moments, of enjoying some of the classic entertainment of the season.

Now personally I don’t need to see yet another adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (if you’re so inclined pick one of the dozens of movies, plays, or “very special episodes” of TV shows and have at it.) I don’t need to sit through It’s a Wonderful Life again either (it’s a fine movie…probably a wee bit darker than you remember if you haven’t seen it in a while…but I’ve had that particular experience enough for the time being.)

There are Christmas entertainments that I can…and do…watch happily every year.

The five "must see" Xmas entertainments:

1) A Charlie Brown Christmas: still the gold standard of animated Christmas specials even after 40+ years.

2) Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: not that over-stuffed movie from 2000 but the magical animated special with the voice of Boris Karloff and the unforgettable singing of Thurl Ravencroft (see the classic "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" below.)

3) A Christmas Story: the endearing and delightful trip down nostalgia lane with Ralphie and his quest for the best Xmas present in the whole wide world (a Red Ryder bb gun, natcherly :-)

4) Miracle on 34th Street: the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn and young Natalie Wood (the 1994 version is okay but it’s overlaid with a bit too much seriousness and cynicism when compared to the ’47 winner.) Avoid the colorized version this movie looks grand in black and white.

5) A Wish for Wings That Work: a personal favorite that wasn’t an especially big hit featuring Opus (the penguin from the great Bloom County comic strip) and his quest to be able to fly (with “help” from the ever-addled Bill the Cat.)

Those are 5 great ways to make you smile after a hard day of Christmas shopping (or while sitting around after that last slice of pumpkin pie has made walking not something you have much interest in…)


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Glee

Nowadays there’s not that much on network TV to really get excited about. Some of it is okay and even better than okay…but most of it is just there (or worse shouldn’t be there at all.) But almost every season I find something that just flat out makes me happy…it usually doesn’t last long (the show gets canned or, worse, it jumps the tracks and crashes and burns) but I enjoy it while it lasts.

The first season of Heroes made me happy (not so much since then…)

And during the last two television seasons the quirky charm of Pushing Daisies made me happy.

This season, Glee makes me happy. Some of the subplots veer towards the soapy (a fake pregnancy…a real pregnancy with the boyfriend’s best friend really being the father…closeted effeminate gay boy…etc.) but the show manages to stay out the weeds with its quirky (there’s that word again), subversive pluck.

And the musical numbers are gloriously compelling and unabashedly over the top (from Journey’s ubiquitous “Don’t Stop Believin’” to Kanye West’s infectious “Gold Digger”…the breadth of tunes that they got cleared is amazing and almost all of them are used to good, sometimes surprising, effect.)

It’s a delightful confection…an enormously entertaining cross between Fame and Freaks & Geeks with a sterling cast (extra credit for the guest shot by the wondrous Kristin Chenoweth, late of the aforementioned Pushing Daisies)…that I just adore.

Glee makes me happy.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Her Morning Elegance

Oren Lavie with a clever and charming stop motion video for his wistfully romantic song "Her Morning Elegance"


Friday, September 25, 2009

Thursday Night TV


Wonder of wonders, with the help of my handy remote control Thursday night turned out to be a pretty good night of television (a big change from most days since the new season started.)

Started on ABC with the intriguing FlashForward (you can view the episode at the link to the left), a spooky mind-bender keying off the premise that everyone on the planet goes unconscious at the same moment (for just over 2 minutes) and experiences an apparent glimpse of the future (six months hence.) The first episode moved right along despite the need to introduce the sprawling cast of characters. It obviously is going for that Lost vibe (even to the point of having Lost alum Dominic Monaghan join the cast soon...and then there's the enigmatic kangaroo...) and I'm not sure how this plays out in the long run if it becomes a hit (the date everyone sees happens in April of 2010) but I'm interested enough to give it shot (while fully realizing that something like this can easily slide off the rails and become a frustrating mess...yes, Heroes and Lost, I'm looking at both of you.)

At 9 I moved over to CBS for the season premiere of the original (and still the best) CSI which began with a trippy slow motion action scene and then flashed back to show how it got to that point. One old friend came back, another cast member was gone (not really a big loss), and the plot was convoluted, occasionally silly, and helluva lot of fun (in other words, a good way to kick off a new CSI season.)

Capping off the night with Project Runway and Models of the Runway over on Lifetime made for an entertaining evening of TV watching...gotta take those when you can get 'em :-)


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Astro Boy



When I was a youngster, Astro Boy was one of my favorite cartoons...every weekday afternoon I would come home from school (Menlo Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles) and watch it with rapt attention and glee. When I heard they were making a new movie I wasn't that interested (these things go so wrong so often) but after watching this clip I'm totally down with it (yeah, I know it's geeky but "the little child inside the man" (thanks, John) doesn't care about that one little bit...cool is cool :-)

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rising/Eight Years Gone



Memory dims…time heals…life waxes and wanes…

life moves on like it has to do…

And we are here…eight years gone…

and moving on with life like we have to do…

Yes I remember where I was…

Yes I remember how scared I felt…

Yes I remember how angry I felt…

Yes I remember how helpless I felt…

Yes I remember finding solace in the smile of a baby girl…

Yes I remember.

Eight years gone…so many yesterdays ago…

And we are here…remembering with comforting buffer of time and tide…

Eight years gone…and moving forward and looking back…moving on with life like we have to…

Flags flying…tear stains long dry…I remember…we all remember…

Eight years gone…so many lifetimes gone….so many lifetimes to go.

- MKW/September 2009 -

Friday, September 04, 2009

Worst Song Medley

Garfunkel and Oates (c'mon, that's a cool band name! :-) with their snarky, but (mostly) good natured, skewering of some familiar tunes from the 80's and 90's. It's funny 'cause it's true (and I kinda like a couple of the songs in the medley...)


Monday, August 31, 2009

American Classic/Lost Highway

I wonder if Willie Nelson knows how many records he’s had released under his name over the years. Whatever the number it’s been increased by 2 in the past couple of weeks.

On American Classic, Willie dips back into the “great American songbook” one more time for a tasteful (sometimes a bit too tasteful and subdued) stroll through a dozen classic tunes. Nelson is a consummate pro and so his readings are in the pocket (his voice is not quite as supple as it used to be…but hell, whose is?...and Willie doesn't always sound fully engaged) but the tracks (produced by another consummate pro, Tommy LiPuma with a crack band of jazz players including the legendary Crusader Joe Sample on piano) don’t soar much (a contrast to the playful, engaging vibe of Two Men with the Blues, Willie’s collaboration with Wynton Marsalis last year.)

All that said, there is some fine stuff here: “The Nearness of You” and “I Miss You So” both have a fetching fragility that is lovely, “On the Street Where You Live” is sprightly, and “Always on my Mind” is revisited to fine effect.

Willie comes to life during the two duets…”If I Had You” with Diana Krall and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Norah Jones…and though it doesn’t have the spark it might have reached for, American Classic is still a good addition to his other collections of classic songs.

Lost Highway is a compilation of 17 tracks (including 3 previously unreleased tracks and 1 song that had only been available on iTunes) recorded for the label of the same name (to keep that theme going, one of the songs, a cool duet with Ray Price, is also called “Lost Highway”.)

There are a lot of collaborations among the songs here, including the rollicking “Beer for my Horses” with Toby Keith, the classic country heartbreak of “I’m Still Not Over You” with Ray Price, and the tender “Overtime” with Lucinda Williams.

Willie goes into his own history with live versions of “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” (a duet with Shania Twain) and “Crazy” (with the husband and wife team of Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.)

Two tunes from the underrated The Great Divide…the playful “Maria (Shut Up and Kiss Me)” with Rob Thomas and the Grammy-winning “Mendocino County Line” with Lee Ann Womack…are actually given a better showcase here than on the original album which buried the vocals too far in the mix.

Willie has some good solo showcases too: a fine, fine reading of “You Don’t Know Me”, plaintively heartfelt readings of “Back to Earth” and the previously unreleased “Both Sides of Goodbye’, the cheeky “Superman” (another previously unreleased track), a credible take on Jimmy Cliff’s reggae classic “The Harder They Come”, and the cool western swing of “Bubbles in my Beer”.

The collection concludes with two songs seemingly inspired by the movie Brokeback Mountain: the politically incorrect (and vaguely homophobic) “Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other” (which had been released only a download before this) and the profane (and decidedly homophobic) “Ain’t Goin’ Down on Brokeback Mountain” (which, even presuming that it was meant to be tongue in cheek, probably should have stayed “unreleased”.)

The last two tracks notwithstanding Lost Highway is a fine enough “best of” collection


Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Who - Baba O'Riley

Today would have been Keith Moon's (1946-1978) 63rd birthday. This is a great live clip from the Who to celebrate the day.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Project Runway

The Runway is back! And it’s about time.

Following an extended legal wrangle between the show’s former network (Bravo) and its new network (Lifetime), the frothy, fabulous, and strangely compelling fashion catfight…um, I mean, competition…that is Project Runway is back. Accept no lame substitutes (yes, The Fashion Show, we’re looking at your sorry self…)

As I have mentioned before in this space I couldn’t give two flying figs about “high fashion” (my wardrobe consists of several pairs of jeans, a lot of t-shirts, hiking books and sneakers and a tie shoved somewhere in the corner of my closet…well there’s a bit more than that…but not much :-) but I love Project Runway just the same.

I love the egomaniacal designers…vainglorious home economics geeks who’ve decided that they’re too cool and far too talented for any room…and the deliciously supercilious judges (Michael Kors and Nina Garcia I mean...I pay little attention to whatever celebrity hump they stick in the fourth chair.)

And, of course, I love the Teutonic goddess that his host/judge/executive producer Heidi Klum (delivering the “you’re out!” kiss-offs with all of her cool blond, baby-making glory in full effect.)

And most of all, I love the dapper and (mostly) unflappable Tim Gunn, both nurturing and no-nonsense in his role as the mentor and cheerleader to the contestants.

It’s too early to tell who’s going to break out among the designers (at this point everyone comes with their “hey, look at me!” agendas) but it seems this season’s cast has the potential to be interesting both as clothes designers and as reality show characters.

Runway is now paired with a companion show, Models of the Runway, which goes behind the scenes with the models and also features an extended sequence where the designers choose the model they want to work with that week. It has a certain gossipy charm of its own and it adds to the overall Runway experience.

The Runway is back! And ain’t it grand? :-)


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ferris Bueller's Day Off

The day started off gray…outside (the clouds would not give way to the hazy sunshine until late morning) and in (I was feeling out of sorts for no reason I could put my finger on from the moment I woke up)…and it seemed like that was going to be the way the day would unfold (sunshine or no sunshine.)

I had chores and other work aplenty but I couldn’t shake my ennui. I needed the help of somebody who didn’t know that kind of lethargy…someone so supremely and so delightfully self-confident that it was incredibly improbable that he would ever have a gray day.

And I found him. His name? Bueller. Ferris Bueller.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a product of the eighties…just check out the padded shoulders, Ferris’ massive, 5” floppy disc driven computer…but it is, at the same time, wonderfully timeless in its audaciously positive vibe.

And it’s charming and funny as all get out.

Matthew Broderick’s engaging performance as the impish Ferris is still a wonder of delicious comic timing combined with the wit and wisdom of the late John Hughes’ words and direction.

It’s a totally preposterous tale and that’s the unbridled joy of it…as we watch Ferris hoodwink his clueless parents, enrage his jealous sister, give his neurotic best friend the best day of his life, pledge his love for his bemused but patient and adoring girlfriend, and almost effortlessly thwart the hapless Mr. Rooney’s efforts to bust him, we happily go for the ride (nothing Ferris does is out of malice…he’s a free spirit enjoying life on his own terms and he wants his friends…and all of us…to enjoy life with him.)

A lot of movies from the eighties have not and will not stand the test of time (Flashdance looks pretty silly now, for example…though truth to be told I thought it looked pretty silly when it first came out so that might not be a fair example…) but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off continues to delight…and to bring grumpy old bears out of their funks…all these years later. Made me smile anyway :-)


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Woodstock

40 years ago the fabled Woodstock Music and Art Fair began in Bethel, New York (I wanted to go but being 13...and living on the other coast...at the time I missed it :-)

Here's Joni Mitchell singing "Woodstock", her tribute to the festival.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Rhythms del Mundo: Classics

Classics is a benefit collection put together by Artists Project Earth (APE), a group dedicated to furthering awareness about climate change. The album itself features 19 (mostly) classic rock & pop tunes performed by Rhythms del Mundo (a talented assemblage of Cuban musicians…RDM is kind of a continuation of the Buena Vista Social Club) along with an international cast of well-known pop stars (some playing live with RDM others sampled with the original music stripped off and replaced with new backing tracks.)

The vibe is beguiling…tropical Latin rhythms and beats bringing entertaining new feel to the familiar songs…though it sometimes works against the grittiness inherent in some of the tunes.

The lead-off track, for example, is a breezy version of “Hotel California” featuring the Killers that is infectiously danceable (hard to resist those tasty drums and horns) despite the dark cynicism of the Eagles’ lyrics (Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” featuring The Editors also works despite its loping, foot tapping groove working almost at cross purposes with Reed’s ironic lyrics.)

On the other hand, Sam Cooke’s more fanciful “Cupid”…with vocals by Amy Winehouse…slips into smooth groove with no such dissonance as does the version of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” featuring the Kaiser Chiefs and the sunny version of “Under the Boardwalk” featuring the Rolling Stones.

Some tracks really click: Jack Johnson’s mellow (well, duh! :-) take on John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a subdued little gem…the Zutons’ lively recreation of “Runaway” works despite its vocal similarity to Del Shannon’s original…K.T. Tunstall does a nice job with “Because the Night” as does Fall Out Boy taking a confident swing at Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”…Shanade’s version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” doesn’t have the dark urgency of Nirvana’s original but it succeeds by finding a more plaintive groove to inhabit…and the Kooks take on a relatively obscure Elton John song, “Are You Ready for Love”, and turn into a tropical flavored charmer.

Other tracks try gamely but slide a bit shy of the mark: the version of “Under Pressure”, featuring Keane, is so soothing that it leaches out all of edginess of the original (though, that said, the trumpet solo on the outro is pretty sweet)…Cat Power’s languid vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” are ill-matched with RDM’s pulsating rhythms…there is a disconnect between RDM’s sunny rhythms and the somber lyrics in One Republic’s version “For What it’s Worth”

The Spanish version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, featuring Augusto Enriquez, is very cool as is the rocking bilingual take on Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” featuring Aquila Rose and Dana Valdes. Eros Ramazotti’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” (here called “Mi Cherie Amour”) is smooth and sweet.

RDM’s instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” with thick guitar lines intertwining playfully with the horns is grand as is the stirring version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”…featuring the wondrous classical guitar playing of Rodrigo y Gabriela…that closes out the disc.

All in all, Rhythms del Mundo’s Classics is a delight full of great playing and beguiling fun.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Les Paul (June 1915-August 2009)

Les Paul...guitarist extraordinaire, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, pioneer in the development of the solid body electric guitar and multitrack recording...died today at the age of 94.

Here he plays "Birth of the Blues" with Chet Atkins.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Robert Downey, Jr. - Smile


Robert Downey, Jr. with an interesting...and cool...take on Charlie Chaplin's classic song "Smile" (from the soundtrack of Chaplin.)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Girls Like Us

Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us is a breezy, heartfelt, sprawling (if sometimes disjointed) examination of the times when singer-songwriters held sway over the airwaves. The focus is on three specific enormously talented women: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon.

The book winds from the fifties to the near past but the focus is on the seventies…a time when sensitive singer-songwriters were in vogue…when sex and drugs mingled effortlessly with rock and roll…when passion was intense and somewhat fleeting…and everybody loved James Taylor (despite the fact…or maybe, the book sometimes implies, because of the fact… that he was a junkie in addition to being an incredibly talented singer-songwriter.)

Weller, clearly an unabashed fan of the three ladies (Mitchell especially), writes this gossipy book with a sometimes breathless style and the narrative occasionally makes such abrupt shifts that you find yourself looking to see if you somehow skipped a page or two (at one point, for example, Mitchell is “in love” with David Crosby and then a page later she is “in love” with Graham Nash.)

She also suffers from a fan’s myopic “her early work was the best” syndrome…as much as she lionizes the nakedly confessional artistry of Joni Mitchell’s earlier albums, for example, she is mostly dismissive of Mitchell’s output after 1975’s Hejira (when Mitchell followed her muse wherever it took her with forays into jazz and other sounds.)

The book explores the musical significance of the women…especially during their commercial and critical heydays during the 70’s (the later days, especially after their commercial peaks, are given short shrift)…but it spends at least as much time exploring the…oh let’s say colorful…love lives of the ladies (Weller gets to name drop like crazy…Kris Kristofferson, David Crosby, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Graham Nash, Leonard Cohen, Mick Jagger, and, of course, James Taylor being among the notable names who spent intense emotional time with one or more of the featured women…and she does so with gusto.)

Carly Simon is the only one of the three who was interviewed by the author (Mitchell refused not wanting to be lumped in with two other artists and King agreed at first but then thought better of it and asked her friends not to cooperate) so the narrative is informed by interviews with others (ex-husbands, ex-lovers, family members, childhood friends, adulthood friends, fellow musicians, etc.) as well as quotes from previously published articles and books.

For all of its flaws, Girls Like Us (subtitled “Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation”) is an entertaining page-turner (even at 500+ pages) and it makes for good summer reading.

* * * * *

MKW Writing Stuff (including three pieces inspired by reading this book):

Bread and Roses


Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Thousand Songs

I should have reviewed this fine, fun CD a long time ago (the reasons I didn’t are many and too self-indulgent to bore you with here) but better late than never (I hope.)

Ric Seaberg is such an affable and talented singer-songwriter that it’s almost impossible to listen to his music and not feel like smiling (and bobbing your head and dancing happily even…and maybe especially… when you’re all alone…try to resist the effortless bounce of the playfully rueful “Why Didn’t I Think of That?”, you’re a stronger person than I if you can :-)

A Thousand Songs is filled with charming love songs (name checking Richard Thompson on the wistful “When I Come Home” made me smile knowingly) and fanciful “real guy” ditties (that word used with unapologetic affection for the tunes…the grand ode “My New Truck” was featured on one of my favorite radio pleasures, NPR’s warm and wacky Car Talk and as football season comes back he makes me realize that I want a “Big TV” too :-) with Ric’s solid, unpretentious vocals ably supported by warm and sometimes muscular (but never overwhelming) musical backing (a special tip of the hat to Tim Ellis who plays some mighty fine guitar on all of the tracks including the jaunty “One More Beatles Song”, a tune that in a better world would be booming from car stereos all over the country on these bright summer’s days) and sweet harmonies.

A Thousand Songs is a lovely record for a summer’s day…full of unabashed and unapologetic love and passion, fun and wit, lovely melodies and heartfelt vocals…a lovely record anytime for anyone who likes their rockin’ pop music to be real and engaging and smile-inducing.

(Links to Ric's page (you can hear audio of the title track at the second link) and to the page of his music sold by my pals at CD Baby (tell 'em I sent ya...you won't get any discounts or anything but it may make them laugh :-) are included in the body of the piece above.)

* * * * *

MKW's writing stuff: Bread and Roses

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Peanuts 1960's Collection

Looking back in abiding fondness I still smile at the things which delighted and informed and entertained me mightily when I was a child.

I still smile when I remember reading Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web, Animal Farm and Greek mythology, The Mighty Avengers and Adventure Comics starring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

I still smile remembering the joys that television could bring right into my living room: Star Trek and BatmanLucy and Laugh-InMission Impossible and I Spy and Get SmartBonanza and Gunsmoke and Twilight Zone …and Charlie Brown.

The Charlie Brown specials were “must see TV” for me each and every year…I knew them by heart but, in the days before VCRs and DVDs, I anxiously awaited there annual returns with sweet anticipation.

The Peanuts 1960’s Collection is a 2-DVD set chockfull of lovely nostalgia, eternal laughs, and pure wonderfulness. Collected here are the 6 Charlie Brown specials from the sixties all gloriously re-mastered (they look and sound just great) featuring the perennial holiday specials A Charlie Brown Christmas (maybe the best animated Christmas show ever) and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (with the faithful Linus and the love-struck Sally camped out in the “most sincere” pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to come.)

The put upon, but ever resilient, Charlie Brown is, of course, at the heart of these shows (especially in the bittersweet charmer You’re in Love, Charlie Brown which centered on his crush on the unseen “Little Red Haired Girl”) but the ensemble of indelible characters…the wise and optimistic Linus, the bossy Lucy, the brassy Peppermint Patty, the piano virtuoso Schroeder, the assertive little sister Sally, and, of course, the irrepressible Snoopy (whose whimsical adventures and antics weave through all of the shows especially his showcase He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown.)

The great music by the amazing Vince Guaraldi is also an indelible part of the shows and his life is engagingly explored in the new 35-minute documentary, The Maestro of Menlo Park, that (along with downloads of 2 songs…”Baseball Theme” and “Happiness Is”…from the soundtrack of A Boy Names Charlie Brown) rounds out this charming collection that should bring smiles to the faces of children of all ages (even and especially old duffers like me.)


Friday, July 17, 2009

Let it Roll: Songs by George Harrison


George Harrison, the so-called "Quiet Beatle", was out shined in that band by his more flamboyant cohorts but he added some great tunes to the Beatles catalog and he burst into solo stardom with the bright burst of pent-up creativity that he called All Things Must Pass.

George never quite hit that height again but he made a lot of fine records before his death. Enough fine records that it would be hard for a single disc compilation to really do it justice...but Let it Roll: Songs of George Harrison does a pretty fair job just the same.

The big hits..."My Sweet Lord", "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)", "Got my Mind Set on You", "Isn't it a Pity", "Blow Away"...are all here and they sound great on this collection.

George's tribute to John Lennon..."All Those Years Ago" (see below)...and his look back at Beatlemania..."When We Was Fab"...are also here as are lovely live versions of three of his Beatles tunes ("Something", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", and "Here Comes the Sun".)

As a brief, but potent, overview of George Harrison's musical legacy, the 19-track Let it Roll: Songs of George Harrison is, well, fab.



Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson

The king is dead (in case you somehow hadn’t heard) and I think he would be pleased by the outpouring of coverage and consumption that has followed in the wake of his passing. Michael Jackson, by his own admission, just wanted to be loved…albeit loved on his own sometimes eccentric terms…and the breathless (and all too often lurid) media coverage, the lionization by fans (both those who stuck by the self-anointed “king of pop” through thick and thin and those who fell by the wayside along the way), and the booming sales of his music would have doubtlessly pleased him to no end.

In much of the world…and especially here in America…we regard our celebrities as royalty (something that proves a double edged sword for those put up on the pedestals) and no one reveled…and reviled…that status more than Michael Jackson.

His life was magical, strange, amazing, sad, imaginative, delusional, and, yes, thrilling…his death is something of a circus. But that’s par for the course and, again, I don’t think that he would see this as a bad thing.

The king is dead…and when all is said and done…when the circus has left town and the stranger aspects of his rollercoaster life have receded into the background…we’ll be left with the magic he strove so hard to present…with the astonishing dancing, with the quirky but entertaining videos and little films, with the often wondrous music. And when all is said and done, that’s cool with me.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Hey Ya! Charlie Brown Style


There are some things from my childhood that continue to reverberate sweetly through my aging soul: Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web, Greek mythology and super-hero comics, Motown and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and the Charlie Brown specials (especially A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.)

Because of that, the mash-up video above…almost seamlessly matching images from the specials (most from Christmas) with OutKast’s insanely infectious “Hey Ya”…tickles the hell out of me (but then I am often easily amused.)

(FYI: This is the 400th Neverending Rainbow post. Yay! :-)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

B is for Bob


Many years after his untimely death, Bob Marley is still putting out “new” records (just like Elvis and Tupac and, in the years to come, Michael Jackson.) B is for Bob takes some of Marley’s tunes and remixes and re-imagines them for a younger audience (Bob’s son Ziggy, the executive producer of this set, stated aim was to “give the youngest their very own Bob Marley record”.)

This sort of remix business can be problematic sometimes but not so in this case, B is for Bob is a charmer for children of all ages (my own maturity level can be brought into question but, that said, I enjoyed it immensely.) Ziggy Marley adds additional production to a lot of the tracks here aided and abetted by Takeshi Akimoto (acoustic and electric guitars) and Daniel K. Mandelman (piano and percussion.)

Some of the songs are stripped down to the put the focus squarely on Marley’s soulful vocals (and the equally effective backing vocals by the I-Threes) such as on the delicate, yes still evocative versions of “Three Little Birds” and “Redemption Song” that open the disc.

The Wailers’ irresistible reggae beat and throbbing horns) are not absent from the disc as evidenced by the churning “Wake Up and Live”, the gentle remix of “Satisfy my Soul”, and the loping “Lively Up Yourself” (featuring some nice guitar work.)

“Jamming” is stripped down to its vocals and then built back up with percussion and acoustic guitar which gives it a more intimate feel than the original.

A children’s chorus is added to a couple of tracks: the sprightly piano-driven “Bend Down Low” and the delightfully infectious “Small Axe”.

“Could You Be Loved” is presented in the original (and incredibly potent, incredibly danceable) mix while “Stir it Up” is given almost lullaby feel (albeit a lullaby with a groovy beat) with new guitar and grand piano parts.

The disc finishes off nicely with the soothing “High Tide or Low Tide”.

Is this an essential Bob Marley record? Nah. But just the same it’s sweet without being saccharine and you don’t have to be kid to appreciate and enjoy it (though hopefully some young folks will be introduced to Bob and the Wailers by the grand music here.)


Friday, June 26, 2009

Man in the Mirror

Michael Jackson's life was Michael Jackson's life but whatever one thought about as his eccentricities the man could sing and dance his butt off. Rest in peace.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

American Idol Finale

Not for nothing but the American Idol judges spend the season gassing on about how they want things to fresh and CONTEMPORARY and then, inevitably, they turn the season finale into a march of classic rock golden oldies.

Rod Stewart…Carlos Santana…KISS…Lionel Richie…Cyndi Lauper…Queen Latifah…Steve Martin…Queen…seriously? Look I love most of these folks…but then I’m not in the demographic group the American Idol producers are supposedly going for. I just don’t get it (yeah I know Jason Mraz and Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas and Keith Urban were there too but still…)

ANYWAY, the finale was, as usual, entertaining in spots and incredibly cheesy in a lot of others (they really need to dispense with those stupid “awards”…those folks weren’t funny the first time and bringing them back doesn’t make them any more interesting.)

This season was kind of a hot mess…too many judges (thank you, Kara, but you really didn’t bring anything interesting to the table….we’re already full of pointless, misinformed inanity from our Mr. Jackson…so here are some nice parting gifts), too much distracting nonsense from the judges (folks it’s really supposed to be about the contestants), too many ill-conceived attempts to spice up the show (gee I really hope they bring that “exciting” judges’ save thing back next year…), and, again, a truly lame song that the winner is forced to release as his first single (thanks again, Kara…)

But in the end you had a handful of good performers (take a bow, Adam, Allison, Kris…) and two finalists who deserved to make the cut.

And, perhaps best of all, a winner than flew in the face of all of the blatant pimping that the judges…who seemed to have picked an Adam-Danny finale so many weeks ago that the other contestants must have felt like cannon fodder.

I have been enormously impressed with Adam all season…he may be the most daring artist Idol has ever had (well him and Chris Daughtry)…but Kris was, in a less flashy way, just as artistic and he quietly flew under the judges’ myopic radar and his victory wasn’t really the “incredible upset” that some might label it.

I am interested to hear the record Kris will make (the woeful “No Boundaries” excepted) and I’m also very interested to hear what Adam and Allison will do. Everybody will be fine (and Adam may be better off not having to toe the Idol producers' tone-deaf line...ooo, that was an ugly mixed metaphor, wasn't it? Ah well...:-)

Not the best AI season ever but, in the end, it wasn’t particularly egregious either.

Okay that’s done…bring on So You Think You Can Dance!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Community

Joel McHale is a hoot on The Soup and now he has a sitcom being picked up by NBC for the fall. From the preview below it has potential to be pretty cool.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

ABC's Canceled Series Finales

Ah ABC I guess I should thank you for throwing a poor deprived television viewer a bone. The alphabet network has announced when they're going to burn off the remaining unaired episodes of three interesting shows cut down before they had a chance to really hit their stride.

They're going to use that choice viewing hour...Saturdays at 10 P.M....to present the swan songs during the summer.

The utterly charming Pushing Daisies (see above) is first up airing its final three episodes starting on May 30th.

The quirky Eli Stone, which was shaping up to be something quite engaging after a tentative start, will occupy the hour starting on June 20th.

The soapy fun and intrigue of Dirty Sexy Money will pick up the baton starting on July 18th.

At least they didn't make us wait until the DVD sets came out to see these final episodes...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Monsters Vs. Aliens

Plot? Well, the title pretty much sums it up (I guess you could read some tolerance stuff in the subtext...but this isn't really a "subtext" kinda movie.) But that doesn't matter...Monsters Vs. Aliens is fast paced and beautifully rendered with enough slapstick and high-jinks to keep the kids happy and just enough jokes that will sail over the heads of the youngsters to keep the adults engaged (and stuff blows up...who doesn't like that? :-)

Keifer Sutherland is a hoot (and all but unrecognizable) voicing the the hard-bitten General W.R. Monger who has been keep the existence of monsters away from the public for 50 years, Stephen Colbert has a daffy turn as the clueless President, and Reese Witherspoon is at turns winsome, befuddled, and determined as Susan who is turned into a 50-foot woman ("Gigantica") after being exposed to a meteorite on her wedding day.

Hugh Laurie is grand as Dr. Cockroach, a mad scientist who turned himself into...well...a giant cockroach, Will Arnett is fine as the stalwart and prideful Missing Link, and Seth Rogen steals the show as the affable but brainless gelantious blob named Bob.

The movie wears its influences on its proverbial sleeve unabashedly...I saw winks to Star Wars, Men in Black, Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still...and, of course, The Fly, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and The Blob... among others...but it does so with such charm, verve, cheekiness, and good nature that you just go with it.

In the vein of full disclosure I eschewed the 3-D version in favor of a regular 2-D showing...eyes as old as mine weren't meant to try to cope with 3-D for an hour and half...but I could see many of the shots that probably really popped in three dimensions.

Is this a great movie? Nah. But it's a heckuva lot of fun and what more do you want from a cartoon?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bare Bones

I had to live with the new Madeleine Peyroux CD for a while…listen it to more than few times…before its charms revealed themselves to me more fully. Bare Bones is not as immediately accessible as her previous two collections (Half the Perfect World and Careless Love) but its highpoints are on par with the best tunes from those two delightful albums.

Unlike her past couple of albums, which featured a mixture of original tunes and cannily chosen cover songs, this one consists completely of original tunes (all of which were written or co-written by Peyroux.)

The first few tunes…the wistfully optimistic “Instead”, the quietly lilting title track, and the rueful “Damn the Circumstances”…have the same downcast, plaintive feel and that threatens to weigh down the proceedings with a brooding sameness. But, in all the cases, the strength of the lyrics (musical hooks are hard to come by) makes the songs work. The same is true for “River of Tears”.

The sprightly…and devilishly witty…”You Can’t Do Me” is a welcome change of pace when it turns up.

The second half of the CD glides sweetly between somber numbers…”Love and Treachery” and “Homeless Happiness”…and more upbeat tunes…”To Love You All Over Again”…with Peyroux’s charming and evocative vocals (yes, she has distinct reflections of Billie Holiday in her voice…that’s going to come up every time she puts out a record…but hey in her case it’s definitely a good thing.)

I had to live with it…play it while snuggled next to a friend…dance idly to it…find echoes of my own experience in the world…but Bare Bones proved worth the investment of time and attention. It’s not perfect…several of the songs would have been better served with shorter running times and tighter hooks…but it is, to quote the marvelous closing song, “Somethin’ Grand” just the same.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Heroes

Just as I found myself about ready to drift away from Heroes they go and start acting like they want to get interesting again. Ain’t that always the way? :-)

This week’s offering was relatively taut…leaving some over-exposed characters on the sidelines (yes I’m looking at you Nathan and Claire…you too Sylar) and seemingly streamlining the cast (life expectancy for super-powered blondes seems very limited on this show…unless you’re a former cheerleader) and even bringing back an old friend (howdy “Rebel”, figured it was you.)

This “Fugitives” arc is indeed getting interesting (the creepy and cranky one-note government guy notwithstanding)…though I am well aware that this show sometimes fails to pay off on its promises so I won’t call it a comeback (sorry, LL, I had to do it) just yet. But they’ve bought at least a few more weeks of my attention.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Coming Back to You

American Idol has reached the round of 36…a four-week elimination derby, the contestants separated in groups of 12 for three weeks with the fourth week being a wildcard round, with 3 finalists graduating into the final 12 each week. The first dozen didn’t exactly acquit themselves with honor (the next American Idol might be in that group…but at first blush it doesn’t seem likely) and we’re not going to dwell on it.

Instead we’re going to dwell on one of the better CDs to come from a former AI contestant, the long-awaited (by me anyway) collection by the enormously talented Melinda Doolittle (the third place finisher two editions ago.)

Coming Back to You isn’t perfect…the first few tracks have arrangements that seem to be trying to overwhelm Doolittle’s voice (though ends up she holds her own with aplomb)…but it’s pretty damn fine once it gets going…if for no other reason as to show that the “retro soul” thing isn’t solely the province of young British singers these days :-)

The opening “Fundamental Things” is a bit fussy but things pick up a bit with “It’s Your Love”, a rather generic love song given more life than it probably deserves by Melinda’s impassioned voice (the same is true for “Declaration of Love” and the mid-tempo title track which , again, is too fussy with needless horns…Doolittle is a real singer and the producer should have trusted that more rather than piling on unnecessary embellishment like she was some marginally talented pop tart who needed some cover for her lack of vocal chops.)

But things do get interesting. First on a sublime vocal on “The Best of Everything”, the first of 3 Sammy Kahn songs on the album, where Melinda’s soulful voice dominates the arrangement to grand effect. Another Kahn song, “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” is the albums big ballad swimming in strings and muted horns that ably support…rather than try to overwhelm…Doolittle’s luminous vocals.

“Wonderful” is another relatively generic song but, again, the vocal elevates it to a cool, engaging level as it does on the inspirational “I Will Be” and the soaring gospel of “We Will Find a Way”.

And then the righteous Ms. Doolittle tears into a thick slice of blues with her potent reading of Robert Johnson’s feisty and bawdy “Dust My Broom” and makes she makes you want to testify as does so. And later she lets us know that this wasn’t a fluke by dipping into Johnson’s venerated songbook for a funky take on “Walkin’ Blues”.

There is such passion in “If I’m Not in Love” that it sizzles through the speakers…and Melinda conveys that passion without the need to over-sing…as on the rest of the disc, she gives herself over to the song and lets her amazing voice do its thing with style and with a refreshing lack of melodrama (which makes the big note at the end of this track all the more thrilling.)

And at the end it’s just Melinda (sweet and nuanced) and a keyboard (still a bit too high in the mix but only a bit distracting) on the 3rd Sammy Kahn tune, the lovely “Wonder Why”…a charming and effective wrap up.

Coming Back to You is one of the better efforts from an American Idol alum…and it’s an engaging collection in its own right…it’s all good :-)