Wednesday, December 28, 2005

CD Review: Bluegrass Hits - Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today

What constitutes a bluegrass “hit” anyway? This 20-track compilation’s liner notes give a pretty good explanation. Bluegrass Hits is made up of songs that made Bluegrass Unlimited magazine’s National Bluegrass Survey, which is a nationwide poll that pulls from radio stations that include bluegrass records as part of their regular rotation and various regional and local bluegrass radio programs.

The album’s subtitle, Twenty Timeless Favorites from Yesterday and Today, may make you think that you’re about to embark upon a what’s-what of bluegrass history. But, the oldest song in this collection was released in 1988 with the remainder leading up to 2005. So I guess “yesterday” is relative.   Maybe they should have called it Twenty Timeless Favorites from the 80’s, 90’s and Today. Now, that’s catchy!

Another beef I have with the title is that it doesn’t exactly come clean about its contents. Every song on this collection is from a Rounder release, or, in the case of Weary Hearts’ “I Know the Way to You by Heart,” Flying Fish Records, which is a subsidiary of Rounder.

The packaging is nice, and I like the retro cover photo. Imagine one of those old Herb Alpert or Martin Denny albums from the ‘60s with a sexy woman on the cover. Got it? Now imagine that woman sitting provocatively on a blanket in a field next to what looks like one of those army-green record players from junior high music class. Spread across the blanket are LPs of some of the artists featured on this collection.  It’s completely cheesy and equally clever.

In addition to a nice overview of the genre, the liner notes contain mini-bios of each artist, which is nice. It would have been even nicer if the date each song was originally released was included along with the highest chart position each track achieved.

Regardless of the somewhat misleading title, it’s a solid compilation. It contains many of the biggest contemporary bluegrass artists out there, including Alison Krauss and Union Station, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Rhonda Vincent (she’s the best!), Tony Rice and J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Stand-outs from the album include Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver’s “Heartbreak Number Nine,” Longview’s “High Lonesome,” Stuart Duncan’s “Lonely Moon,” and “Everybody’s Reaching Out For Someone” by The Cox Family.

There’s not much more to say about the music except that it’s a legitimate collection with a lot of strong cuts. If you like contemporary bluegrass, are partial to Rounder artists and you don’t already have all this stuff, Bluegrass Hits is a good buy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

DVD Review: America’s Funniest Home Videos—Best of Kids and Animals

Take the most consistently funny show on television and combine it with the most popular segments on that show (kids and animals) and you have America’s Funniest Home Videos—Best of Kids and Animals.

I’m an animal clip man myself. I think dogs chasing laser pointers and cats getting sprayed with a water hose are funny. Good or bad, it still makes me laugh.

For what it’s worth, it must make others laugh, too. The show has been on the air for 16 seasons. I wrote a review of the first AFV collection four months ago. I received a good amount of feedback about the article, most of it about the psychology of the show. I heard comments to the effect of “people take pleasure in watching others’ misfortune.” To respond, let me just say that nothing truly terrible has ever been aired on the show. I suppose it depends on your perspective of what’s acceptable behavior. I happen to think it’s relatively harmless.

This three DVD box set includes something that the first AFV DVD set released earlier this year didn’t have (at least not more that a couple of minutes worth). That something is the genius of AFV’s original host Bob Saget! Genius may be pushing it, I know. I just wanted to stress that he’s part of the collection.

Here’s a rundown of what’s included in this three-disc set:

The first disc includes the classic episode “AFV Looks at Kids and Animals” and the 1997 $100,000 season finale, both hosted by Bob Saget.

The second disc contains “All Animal Extravaganza” and the 2004 $100,000 season finale, hosted by the Emmy-winning host Tom Bergeron.

The third disc is a departure from the kids and animals theme carried through the first two discs. The two-hour “Battle of the Best” episode (another Bergeron episode) is a sort of “greatest hits” (no pun intended) of clips from the first 12 years of the show’s history. And to spice it up, various B-list celebrities, including Coolio, Martin Mull, Picabo Street and the always annoying Kathy Griffin pick their favorite clips, with the audience voting on the best clip at the show’s conclusion. Personally, I could have done without the celebrity angle, but maybe there are a lot of “Fernwood 2Nite” fans who disagree with me.

All told, it’s about 222 minutes of family entertainment that most everyone can enjoy. You will enjoy it! The sweater-wearing poodle with masking tape stuck to her feet demands it!

Friday, December 09, 2005

CD Review: wahba - The Beautiful Effect

wahba, an independent Christian rock singer/songwriter/musician, has recently released The Beautiful Effect, his second full-length album.

I like wahba. You can find wahba playing gigs and leading worship services in and around his hometown of Tempe, Arizona—the home of the Arizona State University Sun Devils. If you’re into Christian rock and have you’ve never heard of wahba, you may soon. He’s a talented musician with a great voice. He’s also quite popular over at, a website devoted to emerging and independent Christian artists using music in their ministries.

The Beautiful Effect is the follow-up to wahba’s debut record proskyneo. wahba calls the new record a “concept worship” album, which is anchored by two basic themes, Beauty and Effect. Beauty, the first half of the record, features songs that identify the gifts God provides. Effect, the album’s second half, is made up of tunes that highlight the believer’s response to these gifts.

wahba works in multiple rock styles on this record, including power pop, funk rock, and good ol’ modern worship and praise. And he does it well. wahba’s got a “smoove” voice and a great backing band. Efficiently produced, this is one of the more “clean” sounding independent records you’ll hear.

The thing I think I most admire about wahba is his songwriting. Musically, his songs are fairly simple, but at the same time still interesting and lyrically uplifting (which is the whole point, right?). These are great songs to hum or sing along with. I challenge anyone to listen to “Giver,” “Saint” or the cheesy, but terribly infectious, “All That We Need” and not get at least one of those tunes stuck in your head.

To pick this CD up, you’ll need to go to wahba’s page on the IndieHeaven website. wahba has full-length streams on that page for you to check out before you buy.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

CD Review: Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Come on Back

Jimmie Dale Gilmore is the type of artist I could listen to all day, every day. There are few singer/songwriters who make better Texas country music than Gilmore. And I was initially excited to learn that he was releasing a new studio album. But then I read that this album, titled Come on Back, was to be a collection of old country standards. I was disappointed to say the least. The guy who wrote “After Awhile,” “Dallas” and “Tonight I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” is going to put down his pen and play other peoples’ songs? And look at the songs! I mean, these are the songs played every Saturday night by fiddle-less country bands in rural VFWs all across the Llano Estacado.

So with low expectations I cracked open the case and pulled the liner notes. I immediately noticed that fellow Flatlanders member and Texas music legend Joe Ely produced the record. So I looked some more hoping to find Butch Hancock’s name, but no luck there. As I’m looking around, I see the story behind the music, which was penned by Jimmie himself. These were his Jimmie’s dad Brian’s favorite songs. Jimmie recorded this album as a tribute to the memory of his father.

Isn’t it just amazing how having a little background information about something can totally turn your attitude around on things?

So now that I’ve forgiven Jimmie for his track selection, I thought I might take a listen. It’s really hard for me to describe how much I love this record. It easily makes my top five records of 2005 and is certainly the best country album released this year.

It’s rare that a record of cover songs, and especially ones as prolifically recorded as these, can feel so new. And it only took one listen to hook me. This album is greatness from front to back. There are no throwaways or B-side quality songs on this record.

Gilmore’s voice is the main reason for my lavish praise. His sweet and, at the same time, haunting tenor tones really give these old songs new life. Gilmore’s voice is so personal and full of emotion, he could make “Happy Birthday to You” sound beautiful.

Jimmie’s and his band’s (which includes Joe Ely) playing is exceptional. These guys really “act like they’ve been there before.” Ely’s arrangements are very clean and crisp. Instruments are used with purpose, and not just as a layering effect as is done on many modern country records. The mix is very clean, too, with just enough of everything at just the right levels.

I don’t know what else to say about Come on Back except that anyone with an interest in country music or Texas country music (yes, there is a difference) should own this record. It’s a personal collection that Jimmie chose to share with the world, and it deserves every bit of attention it gets.

Brian Gilmore would certainly be pleased.

Track list:

  1. “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down” by Harlan Howard
  2. "Saginaw, Michigan” by Bill Anderson & Don Wayne
  3. “Standin' on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9)” by Jimmie Rodgers
  4. “Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” by Slim Willett
  5. “Four Walls” by George Campbell & Marvin Moore
  6. “I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive” by Fred Rose & Hank Williams
  7. “Walking the Floor Over You” by Ernest Tubb
  8. “I'm Movin' On” by Hank Snow
  9. “Don't Worry 'Bout Me” by Marty Robbins
  10. “Train of Love” by Johnny Cash
  11. “Jimmie Brown the Newsboy” by A.P. Carter
  12. “Gotta Travel On” by Paul Clayton, Larry Ehrlich, David Lazar & Tom Six
  13. “Peace in the Valley” by Thomas A. Dorsey

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

DVD Review: Freddy Fender—Live at the Renaissance Center

“Don’t take life so serious. Enjoy it, be happy, and be happy.” – Freddy Fender

Freddy Fender, the self-proclaimed “King of Tex Mex” (and my grandmother’s all-time favorite artist) releases Freddy Fender—Live at the Renaissance Center, a 15-song* live performance filmed in Laughlin, Nevada.

I grew up listening to Freddy’s biggest hits on what was probably the only country music station in Connecticut and through various K-Tel hits-of-the-day compilations. In the 90’s I became a fan of Freddy’s work with the Tex Mex supergroup Texas Tornados. I even saw the Tornados once in San Marcos, Texas. And after seeing this video, I can say that Freddy has lost none of the energy and personality that he had when I saw him in the early 90s.

This video features strong performances of many of Freddy’s nearly 50-year career.

Highlights from the DVD include some of Freddy’s biggest commercially successful songs like “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” “You’ll Lose a Good Thing,” “Vaya Con Dios” and “Since I Met You Baby.” And just for fun, he throws in a few covers, including the Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and the casino night club standards “Margaritaville” and “Wooly Bully.”

Freddy also takes time to talk to the audience, mixing in jokes and an incredibly long and confusing story that introduces “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”

The best part of this video is the interview found in the bonus material. This 15-minute talk with Freddy gives the viewer some insight into the artist. Simply put, this guy really appears to be genuinely happy to be alive and playing music—almost happy-go-lucky. Freddy talks about the early days of his career, including a little background about the origins of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” his stint in the Louisiana prison system, and the great Doug Sahm among other topics.

Other bonus material includes a text biography, a photo gallery, the video credits (the same ones that appear at the end of the video), and a screen that features web links.

Consider this video a great gift idea for the hardcore Freddy Fender fan. However, if I were introducing someone to his music, I would probably start with one of his greatest hits collections or even a Texas Tornados album.

*The 15th song is “Six Days on the Road,” which is played in the introduction. It doesn’t appear in the chapter list or the packaging.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Book Review: How to Cheat at IT Project Management by Susan Snedaker

Arguably the most vital role in an IT development project’s success is that of the Project Manager (PM). And in the big world of IT Project Management, there are many resources available to the PM from process improvement systems like CMMI and ISO 9000 to all-in-one reference guides, seminars, webinars and PM workshops.

Syngress Publishing’s How to Cheat at IT Project Management by Susan Snedaker is a recent entry into the project management reference guide category. And though this book is a reference guide, its title is somewhat misrepresentative. Not unlike crying in baseball, I say there is no cheating in project management. Effective project management requires too much preparation and planning to risk any half-baked shortcut that the word “cheating” implies. But don’t let my critique of the book’s title scare you away. Just read on.

How to Cheat at IT Project Management makes no bones about the results one can achieve by following its methods and techniques. The bar is set in the Foreword with the following statement: “In this book, you’ll learn how to become an exceptional IT professional.” Wow! I want to be an exceptional IT professional. I can’t wait to read this book!

From the start, it’s very obvious that the author is extremely knowledgeable about project management. She has not only accurately captured the more common and even obvious aspects of the role, but she speaks to topics such as politics, leadership buy-in and team member cultural issues—all subjects that are usually encountered on the job and not in books.

And as accurate and insightful as the information is, it is made even better in the way the book is organized. Each chapter contains a concise introduction, well developed topics, a thorough summary, concise bullet lists covering each section’s main points and Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that reflect the chapter’s contents.

Additional features include:
  • Enterprise 128—This is a case study from an actual project gone awry that illustrates how effective project management could have helped avert its doomed destiny.
  • Cheat Sheets—These mini-topics (usually no more that a few short paragraphs) contain helpful tips on many subjects, including IT Team Performance, Task Ownership and Selecting Project Management Software Tools.
  • Applying your Knowledge—These topics help the reader apply what they’ve read in the previous section.
  • The IT Factor—These entries contain interesting and applicable information relating to the current topic.

Additionally, when you register at the publisher’s website, you get access to even more resources, including sample project management templates and supporting documentation, four e-booklets containing related topics from other Syngress books, links to resources listed in the book and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) reprinted from the first five chapters of the book (I’m not sure why all the FAQs from chapters 6–12 weren’t included.).

Visually, the book is quite nice. The text’s large point size makes it easy to highlight key points without unintentionally marking up other things. Headings and subheads really stand out. I like the author’s use of “chunking” in which the information is communicated into small and easily comprehendible pieces. Bolding along with numbered and bullet lists are used effectively throughout the book. The book also contains many useful tables, flows and charts.

The only negatives I could take away from this book are the occasional statement that I personally disagree with. See the following statement for an example of this: “Set clear expectations about their participation, and when the requirements are agreed upon, they should be ‘etched in stone’ to prevent scope creep.” This assumes that the PM can control variables that are typically, in my experience, out of a PM’s control.

I’m all for avoiding scope creep, but how about setting up a mechanism for unforeseen changes like a Change Request process? Who are we kidding, unforeseen changes will happen and it’s not always cost-effective to create another project for the additional functionality. As much as we wish it were true, etching requirements in stone isn’t always the right solution.

There is another passage where the author recommends that PMs “resist defining or managing big, complex projects.” In my experience, resisting managing a big, complex project can quickly turn into managing no projects at all if you catch my drift.

I believe both seasoned and newer PMs will enjoy the information this book provides. This book is not a complete end-to-end project management resource, nor does it claim to be. “It is intended to get you up and running in IT project management with the least amount of effort and the most amount of improvement possible.” And for that, I totally recommend How to Cheat at IT Project Management.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Review: The Unofficial LEGO Builder’s Guide by Allan Bedford

I spent countless hours of the most formative years of my childhood playing with LEGOs. I was really good at building spaceships and houses, and nothing else. It got to be frustrating after a while. I always assumed that I just didn’t have the patience or the imagination to create a three dimensional masterpiece like you'd find in the photos on the LEGO boxes. But after reading Allan Bedford's The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide, it now looks like maybe all I needed was a good reference guide.

There are many how-to books and web sites out there that contain instructions on how to use LEGOs to build certain types of projects, but up until now there hasn't been much available that gives builders the (pardon the pun) "building blocks" necessary to aid in building their own creations. Enter The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide, an "instruction manual" for building with LEGOs.

This book is full of methods, tips, and usable techniques that just about anyone can apply to their own projects. If that wasn't enough, the book also contains helpful information on such topics as design, engineering, architecture and color. And all of this information is organized in easy-to-follow chunks, with accurate illustrations, and straightforward and understandable writing.

The coolest feature of this book is the Brickopedia. The Brickopedia is a categorized list of LEGO pieces that includes an illustration of each piece, its size, subcategory, part number and a description of the piece. Though it's not a complete list of LEGOs (nor is it supposed to be), it gives you a pretty good look of what's available.

So for all you kids who want to move beyond building the pre-designed kits, adults who may have been away from LEGOs for a while and want to brush up on your building skills, and to adult hobbyists like myself who never learned the proper techniques as a kid, The Unofficial Lego Builder's Guide is a great resource to have on hand.

The book has 13 chapters and two appendices. Here's a list:

Chapter 1: The LEGO System: Endless Possibilities
Chapter 2: Back to Basics: Tips and Techniques
Chapter 3: Minifig Scale: Oh, What a Wonderful Minifig World It Is!
Chapter 4: Miniland Scale: The Whole World in Miniature
Chapter 5: Jumbo Elements: Building Bigger Bricks
Chapter 6: Microscale Building: More Than Meets the Eye
Chapter 7: Sculptures: The Shape of Things to Build
Chapter 8: Mosaics: Patterns and Pictures in Bricks
Chapter 9: Technic: Not as Technical as It May Seem
Chapter 10: Putting It All Together: Where Ideas Meet Bricks
Chapter 11: Beyond Just Bricks: Other Things to Do Besides Building
Chapter 12: Sorting, Storage, and Sitting Down to Build Something
Chapter 13: Making and Using Tools for LEGO Projects
Appendix A: Brickopedia
Appendix B: Design Grids: Building Better by Planning Ahead

Friday, October 07, 2005

CD Review: Blindside - The Great Depression

Undoubtedly the greatest Christian rock band to ever come out of Sweden, Blindside is back with The Great Depression on Wasa Recordings. I first heard Blindside a few years ago on a local radio station. It was either "Caught a Glimpse" or "Sleepwalking" (I can’t remember which) from the band's major label debut Silence. Specifically, I remember they were loud. And being from the school of “louder is better,” I decided I should probably check them out. Well, it’s three years later and I’m finally getting around to it. I’ve been a little busy!

The Great Depression is really an interesting album. It took me three listens, but I’m really into it now. The band incorporates multiple musical styles, and though they are usually on the harder side, no two songs on this album sound the same. Blindside is a band that sounds as comfortable playing pop-punk as they do playing hardcore. Sure, they have the hardcore thing down pat, but they are also talented songwriters who write catchy tunes like “Ask Me Now,” “Put Back the Stars” and the album’s first single “Fell in Love with the Game.” Blindside also benefits from pop and alt-rock influences in such tracks as “When I Remember,” “This Time” and the fun dance number “My Alibi.”

And though not a theme album, much of the album’s lyrical subject matter comes from vocalist Christian Lindskog’s experiences while visiting South Africa earlier this year. This, as you could probably guess, gives the lyrics a “heavy” feel, which nicely matches the tone of the music throughout the record.

From front to back, The Great Depression is a very strong release. Blindside’s high-energy delivery and substantive songwriting make for an enjoyable listen.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

DVD/CD Review: Dickey Betts and Great Southern - Back Where It All Begins—Live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

On September 29, 2004, Dickey Betts and his band Great Southern entertained a packed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. September 20, 2005, will mark the first time a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has released a recording created at the hall when Eagle Rock Entertainment releases this concert on DVD with a bonus CD as Back Where It All Begins—Live at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Betts, who was inducted into the hall in 1995 as a member of the Allman Brothers Band, has been a repeat visitor to the hall since his induction and now has earned the honor of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame first.

“Back Where It All Begins” is not only the name of a 1994 Betts-penned Allman Brothers Band song (and one of the songs in this collection), it’s also a nod to the concert’s location, Cleveland, Ohio, the purported birthplace of rock and roll (though that’s Cleveland’s claim, not mine).

The DVD opens with Dickey Betts and members of the current Great Southern lineup talking about, among other things, how great it is to be a member of the band and playing at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Betts obviously chose this band because of their skills over their reputations. I was only familiar with former Allman Brothers guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler, who looks and sounds very comfortable on stage with Betts.

The first track on the DVD is Allman Brothers Band classic “Statesboro Blues,” which is one of the few on the DVD/CD that Betts didn’t write. For the most part, the concert is made up of classic Allman tunes, many of which he also provided vocals. But time can be cruel on a rocker’s voice, and Betts’ vocals barely resemble what was once a smooth and sweet tenor tone. Betts thankfully shares singing duty with keyboardist Michael Kach, who, not coincidently, sounds like Gregg Allman in his prime.

In all, the DVD has 12 tracks (with a 152-minute run time) and 2 bonus tracks (for a total of 14 songs) contained in the above average Special Features section.

In addition to the two bonus tunes, the Special Features section contains a great radio interview for WCPN in Cleveland (videotaped so you don’t have to look at a black screen) in which Betts cites The Grateful Dead as a major influence on the Allmans and talks about Duane Allman and the effect his death had on the band.

The Special Features section also contains a feature called “Dickey on,” which is actually an interview (conducted at the hall) with Betts broken into 13 topics. Discussed topics include Dickey taking about his first gig, discussions about some of the more popular Betts-penned classics Dickey wrote while with the Allmans, and what Dickey thinks of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The accompanying CD includes five tracks, but make no mistake, this is no EP. This is a full length CD clocking in at a little over 60 minutes. It includes sound check versions of “Blue Sky,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Southbound.” The CD versions of “Southbound” and “Blue Sky” are identical to the ones buried in the DVD’s Special Features section, just without the video. The CD also contains a Dickey Betts Band track called “Donna Maria” (erroneously listed as “Donna Marie” on the DVD packaging), which actually reminds me of every Santana song recorded in the last 10 years, but with better guitar work. Finally, an alternate version of “Jessica” in all its 17-minute glory closes the album.

The DVD has three audio channel options (a nice feature for a live performance video): two-channel stereo (standard), Dolby Surround 5.1 (now were getting somewhere), and DTS (that’s what I’m talking about!). While I was somewhat disappointed with the 5.1 mix, the DTS mix is great, especially when played loudly (is there any other way?). If you have a DTS receiver, you’ll have no use for the 5.1 mix. If not, I recommend going with the two-channel stereo mix, even if you are set up for surround sound.

Though not as technically sharp as he was back in the day, Betts is still a helluva player. He takes chances with his instrument that most guys aren’t willing to take. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But it certainly solidifies his place in rock as one of the “guitarists/songwriters who matter.”

I’m finding myself watching and listening to Back Where It All Begins over and over. And each time I notice things I hadn’t before. This is a great collection to just sit down and “actively” listen to.

If you are curious about Betts, the origins of the jam band sound, or guitar virtuosity, I would suggest starting with some early Allmans like Idlewild South, At Fillmore East, or Eat a Peach. If you’ve been there and done that, I think you’ll be pleased with these new versions of many of the Allman Brothers Band’s biggest hits. If you are already a huge Dickey Betts fan or just a bonafide guitar freak, you need this.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Review: Switchfoot - Nothing is Sound

“And the award for the best rock band named after a surfing move goes to…Switchfoot!”

San Diego’s modern rock quintet Switchfoot, indeed named after a surfing move (an antiquated one at that) is back with Nothing is Sound, their latest release for Columbia Records and the follow-up to 2003’s double-platinum The Beautiful Letdown. It was with The Beautiful Letdown where the band really broke through into mainstream rock glory. So, after two years and two top-five radio hits, what can fans and critics expect from the new effort?

To give you a general idea of how Switchfoot sees it, vocalist/guitarist Jon Foreman says the new album “…might be the most important thing we’ve ever done together.”

Remember that this is a band that is trying to build on a reputation of a “great band” that and not just a “great Christian band.” Switchfoot wants the rest of the world to know what Christian rock fans have known since 1999’s New Way to be Human—these guys are really good.

My first impression from this album is how different the production quality is from The Beautiful Letdown. While the former was certainly well produced, Switchfoot, with help from John Fields, has created a beautifully lush and dense sound, at the same time not interfering with the effectiveness of the songs themselves.

A road warrior band, most of Nothing is Sound was written and recorded while the band was touring in support of The Beautiful Letdown. Because of this, the band was able to test the songs out on live audiences and tweak them between shows instead of spending a lot of time in the studio doing the same thing, but without any fan feedback.

Another thing that immediately hit me is that the songs are full of honest and thought-provoking lyrics – questioning lyrics, which is actually typical for a Switchfoot record. But Foreman and company must have lived quite a lot of life since the last record because lyrically this record blows away The Beautiful Letdown. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s a little bit of Bono in Jon Foreman.

Musically, I’d have to say that this album, though it doesn’t surpass The Beautiful Letdown, certainly matches it with its smart melodies and catchy hooks and riffs. The tunes have that familiar ring to them without sounding like knock-offs of songs from your dad’s record collection.

Here’s a quick look at some of the tracks I think deserve some extra attention:
  • “Happy is a Yuppie Word” – The title was attributed to an answer Bob Dylan gave to a journalist who asked him if he was happy. This is probably my favorite song on the album for musical and various personal reasons too uninteresting to get into here. But if I may get Biblical for a moment, this song is based on Ecclesiastes, one of the more confusing books of the Bible. I think that one might even say that the whole album deals with themes explored in Ecclesiastes.

  • “The Blues” – Man, this is a heavy song. So what will it be like when the world ends?

  • “The Setting Sun” – Probably the record’s most pop-friendly song (yes, even more so than “Stars”). This should prove to be the tune that wins the band even more fans.

  • “Golden” – I really like this track for its acoustic rhythm guitar and the catchy chorus, though I’m not really sure what it’s about yet.

  • “Stars” – I didn’t include this song in my first draft, but upon my ninth listen to the album, I’ve decided that it’s most representative of the sound Switchfoot is known for. Well, that and I can’t get it out of my head.

There’s no need to convince old-school Switchfoot fans to buy the album. You won’t be disappointed. But if you’re a modern rock fan who likes music that sounds like it took effort to create, I recommend you give Switchfoot a chance.

Nothing is Sound will be released on September 13, 2005, and the band will kick off their new tour in Ventura, CA on October 17. For detailed tour information, see Switchfoot on the web.

Please note that this review is for the CD release. There is also a DualDisc version that contains a 5.1 channel Surround Sound mix of the album and behind-the-scenes video footage of the band on the road and in the studio.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Review: Public Enemy - Power to the People and the Beats, Public Enemy's Greatest Hits

Public Enemy, arguably the greatest hip-hop group of all time, has released Power to the People and the Beats - Public Enemy's Greatest Hits, an 18-track best-of compilation that reminds us how much the majority of today’s hip-hop sucks.

Public Enemy was and still is the benchmark by which all other hip-hop artists are measured. Always a lightning rod for controversy (though it can be argued that they brought this on themselves), PE perfected the political rap/house style, incorporating intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics with infectious beats and first-rate mixing and production. Nobody has even come close to duplicating what PE did musically.

PE was reportedly mentioned in an FBI report to Congress entitled "Rap Music and Its Effects on National Security."

The strength of PE’s catalog lies in its first four albums; and fortunately, that’s what this collection features, with three additional tracks coming from later CDs. Each PE album reflected a particular time and place. Because so much of the music is political and social, the topics of the day played a big part in each album’s subject matter. This, in part, gave each record a cohesive feel. Additionally, PE sometimes incorporated various between-song “shorts” that were comprised of short musical interludes or spoken-word samples from famed speeches. These elements combined to encourage fans to listen from beginning to end instead of jumping from track to track. Unfortunately for compilations such as this, you can’t really duplicate the flow of a single studio album, much less a PE studio album.

But as far as compilations go, this one flows smoothly, with not much of an indication that its music was recorded in an 11-year span. Actually, the stuff from Yo! Bum Rush the Show sounds more like LL Cool J than the PE you know and love.

Public Enemy’s legacy in suburban America is twofold: a lot of kids went out and read about the civil rights leaders they heard referenced in PE’s lyrics, and white kids everywhere told each other daily to “fight the power.”

This is not PE’s first foray into greatest hits compilation-dom. There are at least two other legitimate collections, with the only notable one being 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Public Enemy. And though that collection includes two of my favorite PE tracks that were omitted here (the Anthrax version of "Bring tha Noize" and the classic "Nighttrain"), it pales in comparison to this album in every other way.

As I stated in the introduction, this collection has 18 tracks, with no throwaways. It is the most definitive PE compilation available. My personal favorites from this CD include "You're Gonna Get Yours," "Don't Believe the Hype," "Brothers Gonna Work it Out," "Can't Truss It" and "By the Time I Get to Arizona." Yes, I know I left out some of the obvious ones. I like those, too. I just like these more.

PE was the Hootie and the Blowfish of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. You have never seen so many inebriated college kids jumping around to “911 is a Joke.”

Keep in mind that there are two versions of this album, the first carrying a parental advisory label on its cover, and a second “clean” version sans the foul language, which is fairly minimal to begin with. PE has never been a big player in the f-bomb dropping department.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What's So Great About Big Star?

For most who've never heard of the highly influential 70s Memphis quartet, nothing. That's the way it works, right? Besides creating catchy and accessible songs that appeal to a wide range of music fans, popular bands are usually popular for another reason, whether it be clever marketing a la Kiss or masterful engineering and production like Boston. Big Star had neither. They also didn't have a hit or sell many records.

A victim of poor marketing and distribution, Big Star is one of those "lost" bands of the 70s that is both a darling of music critics everywhere and revered as a major influence of some of the most popular college rock artists of the 80s and 90s (see R.E.M., The Replacements and Matthew Sweet).

Influenced heavily by The Beatles, The Kinks and The Byrds, Big Star took pop-rock in a direction that nobody else seemed to be interested in going in the early to mid 70s. They made great power pop with an emphasis on loud guitars and catchy melodies.

And though I wasn't listening to Big Star in the first half of the 70s (I unfortunately preferred Kiss), I wonder how the band's leader Alex Chilton was perceived. Chilton, as you may know, was previously the lead singer for The Box Tops, who scored big hits in the 60s with "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby." The Box Tops had an R&B/folk sound, completely unlike the guitar driven power pop Big Star was creating. I think it's certainly possible that many Box Tops/Chilton fans were not sold on his new direction.

But enough history. The best thing about Big Star in 2005 is that their sound is still fresh. You could play most any track off of their first two albums on any college radio station in America, and it would fit right in. The "dated" quality of a lot of 30+ year old pop isn't terribly evident here. It feels new and raw.

Songs like "Back of a Car," "September Gurls," "Daisy Glaze," and "I'm in Love with a Girl" are all prime examples of a style of music more common today than it was in 1974.

I'd like to think that you'll read this, go out and buy a Big Star record (I recommend #1 Record/Radio City by the way) and become an instant fan for life. But then again, I doubt it. Music is too subjective. What sounds great to me probably won't to the next person. Just try it out. If you're the least bit interested in power pop, I think you'll find something of value in a Big Star record.

Friday, August 19, 2005

CD Review: David Pack - The Secret of Movin' On

For more than 30 years, David Pack has enjoyed great success as a songwriter, vocalist, musician, and producer. His years with progressive rock/soft rock stalwarts Ambrosia produced four huge hits (that Pack either wrote or co-wrote) that still enjoy frequent airplay on adult contemporary and oldies radio.

Pack has written big hits for others, too, including the mega-hit (and unfortunate) “All I Need” as sung by the one-hit-wonder Jack Wagner. On top of that, he’s produced many of the biggest artists of the past two decades like Faith Hill, Phil Collins, Brian McKnight, Amy Grant, and Michael McDonald, just to name a few.

David Pack’s third solo album, The Secret of Movin’ On, proves that he can belt it out just as well as he did in Ambrosia’s prime. In this release, Pack proudly carries the soft rock banner, infusing the sound Ambrosia perfected with smooth jazz influences. Pack’s smooth tenor delivery fits the adult contemporary sound of this album perfectly. You really get a sense of sincerity in Pack’s voice.

The production quality of each song is top-notch, as is the CD packaging. The CD sleeve incorporates some of Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin’s abstract paintings, which are a nice touch to an already smart design.

Pack received some help on this album by some particularly talented artists, including “The Secret of Movin’ On (Travelin’ Light)” with Ann Wilson of Heart, “A Brand New Start” with Steve Perry of Journey fame, “Tell Her Goodbye” with Dewey Bunnell of America and “Where We Started From” with Timothy B. Schmidt of The Eagles.

My personal favorite from this album is the blues-tinged “Tell Her Goodbye,” which is also the most simple of the CD’s 11 tracks. This tune features dual acoustic guitars with Pack on lead vocals and Dewey Bunnell backing him up. Other highlights include “The Secret of Movin’ On (Travelin’ Light),” “Vertical Disbelief (That’s Not Me),” “A Brand New Start,” and the somewhat over-sentimental, but beautiful nonetheless “When Your Love Was Almost Mine.”

The only major flaw of this album is the inclusion of new versions of the classic Ambrosia hits “Biggest Part of Me” and “You’re the Only Woman.” Sure, these songs were great when they first appeared on One Eighty in 1980. And, in fact, the original recordings still sound good today. They don’t have that “dated” quality that much of the music of that era has.

So why the remakes? Maybe a marketing-minded associate of Pack’s pointed out that these songs are tailor-made for smooth jazz radio, with a few modifications, of course. It’s just a theory, but there’s something just a little odd about re-recording your own songs. mentions that these covers were originally meant to be “bonus tracks.” Putting them at the end of the CD as bonus tracks would have been a good idea. I’m just glad Pack didn’t remake the great hit “Holdin’ on to Yesterday.” That’s far and away my favorite Ambrosia song, and I really didn’t need another version of it floating around in my head.

I will say this, though. The remakes prove that Pack’s voice has lost nothing since 1980. His voice quality remains unchanged after 25 years. This 50-something year old man has a gift and it’s good to see he’s taken care of it through the years.

Though this album has flaws like the afore mentioned remakes, its strength lies in Pack’s strong songwriting, well written melodies, sharp arrangements, and smooth voice. Oh, and the album’s guests aren’t too shabby either. If you enjoy bands like Ambrosia, Air Supply, Player, and Little River Band, there’s a good chance you’ll like The Secret of Movin’ On.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

CD Review: Michael McDonald – The Ultimate Collection

I’ve always considered Michael McDonald one of the greatest R&B vocalists alive. From his days as a member of the Doobie Brothers to his recent tributes to Motown, McDonald has always contributed powerfully soulful performances to every song. And now, for the first time, all of his Doobie Brothers and solo hits are being offered together on The Ultimate Collection.

It’s important to note that Michael McDonald produced the album himself, so it’s probably safe to say that it represents the artist’s view of what an ultimate collection of his music entails.

For me, the highlights of this 19-track set are the six Doobie Brothers songs, which McDonald was a member of from the mid-70s to 1982. All of McDonald’s post-Doobie Brothers hits, including “I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near)” and “Sweet Freedom” are included. The minor hits “I Gotta Try” and “No Lookin’ Back,” co-written by Kenny Loggins, are here, too.

The collection also includes the popular duets with James Ingram (“Yah Mo B There”) and Patti LaBelle (“On My Own”). Though, truthfully, I cannot stand either of them. They are the type of songs that do not stand the test of time, and usually wind up on cheesy 80s compilations.

Speaking of music of the 80’s, McDonald’s non-Doobies contributions to this album from that decade are by far the weakest on this collection. I’ve always been stymied by the way his and other pop/R&B artists’ records were produced at that time, or should I say overproduced. With the introduction of so much new technology, including sound modeling synthesizers and drum machines, popular music of the 80s was victimized by over-utilization of that technology. For a guy whose voice exudes heart and soul, the music on some of those tracks from the 80s suck the heart and soul right out of the listener.

This album provided a pleasant surprise for me in it’s inclusion of two tracks from McDonald’s 2000 album Blue Obsession. Upon listening to the songs “No Love to be Found” and “Open the Door,” I took a chance on Blue Obsession and was really impressed. It’s got a Steely Dan feel to it, which isn’t too surprising considering he played on four albums with “The Dan.” I recommend Blue Obsession for even the casual Michael McDonald fan.

Like any “best of” compilation, if you like the artist, you’ll like the album. And for The Ultimate Collection, all the hits and radio songs are here. Sure, there are probably some deep cuts that hardcore fans would have liked included here, but anything short of a “complete works” box set would fail at that attempt. And while I’m not a fan of McDonald’s 80s era releases, I can accept the fact that he was very commercially successful during that time.

If you are looking to purchase one Michael McDonald “best of” album, I recommend you get this one for the fact that this is the only one with McDonald’s Doobie Brothers hits. And if you’re like me, those are the ones that really matter.

Monday, August 01, 2005

DVD Review: America’s Funniest Home Videos Volume 1

America’s Funniest Home Videos (AFV) is ABC’s all-time longest running comedy series. Its 16-year run is longer than Bewitched, Happy Days, Home Improvement, Roseanne, The Wonder Years, Three’s Company and every other ABC comedy you can think of. That’s 16 years of children flying off playground equipment, brides falling into cakes, teens with trucker hats lighting their body parts on fire and, everybody’s favorite, guys getting hit in the groin with a plethora of blunt garden tools.

In celebration of this longevity, and possibly because someone alerted ABC that not everyone in America has a PAX network affiliate (PAX, the all AFV, all the time network!) in their town, Shout! Factory has released America’s Funniest Home Videos Volume 1.

For those unfamiliar with the show, here’s a quick synopsis. Each one-hour episode is made up of a collection of funny video clips that are submitted by the show’s American audience. The clips’ subject matter varies, but the most common topics include babies doing cute or disgusting baby things, painful or amazing feats at sporting events, wedding disasters and, of course, getting hit in the groin. In fact, the 300th episode features a special segment entitled “Greatest Groin Hits” where viewers were invited to vote on their favorite crotch shot over the Internet (Thank you, Al Gore!).

To make each episode show a little more interesting, three clips are chosen to compete for a cash prize. How they are chosen, I don’t understand, but it appears to be at random. The “finalists” for the cash prize are announced toward the end of the episode. The studio audience then votes for their favorite and, finally, the winners are interviewed. So it’s kind of a game show, too.

This four-DVD set features the award-winning reality comedy’s 11th season, which was the first season for host Tom Bergeron of Hollywood Squares and Dancing with the Stars fame. The collection includes 12 full episodes on three discs and a bonus disc containing AFV’s 300th show in two episodes. All told, that’s over nine hours of entertainment.

Though the set is well packaged and the episodes are logically distributed among the DVDs, I do have one issue with the collection. Segues to and back from commercial breaks were left in each episode. These are unnecessary and get somewhat distracting after a while. It would have been nice if the editors could have pulled those out.

But even with that flaw, it’s exactly what you expect it to be. It’s mindless fun, pure and simple. If you enjoy the show, you’ll enjoy this collection. And if you’ve never seen the show, but you liked the films Dumb and Dumber and Airplane!, give it a shot.

Somewhere right now, a little league coach’s groin is about to get up close and personal with a line drive foul ball off his star player’s electric blue aluminum bat. I hope somebody brought a video camera.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Review: Chet Baker - Love for Sale

With over 150 albums to his credit, Chet Baker was one of the most prolific jazz trumpeters of his time. And understandably, many of his recordings are in the form of live performances. One of the latest of which is the Just A Memory Records release Love for Sale, which was recorded in 1978 at Montreal’s Rising Sun Celebrity Jazz Club.

The CD contains five tracks and runs a little over an hour thanks to three songs clocking in at over 15 minutes each. The sound quality is good. In fact, at times it’s almost too good. Upon listening to the album with headphones, I noticed all kinds of ambient and unintentional instrument noises. But hey, it gives the recording character! Turn it up loud enough and it’s like you’re right there in the club.

Baker’s band for this set included the talented and quick-fingered pianist Phil Markowitz, sax man Roger Rosenberg (who played brilliantly on the last two Steely Dan albums), Jon Burr on bass, and Jeff Brillinger on drums.

The performances are solid overall. Of course, there are a few missteps, but nothing unforgivable. Chet’s vocals on “Oh, You Crazy Moon” are somewhat difficult to endure in parts as he struggles to find the pitch. But he makes up for it with his scat on “There Will Never Be Another You.” Chet’s playing really stands out on “Snowbound” and “Love for Sale.”

Speaking of “Love for Sale,” this track is by far the most interesting song on the CD. “Love for Sale” is a complete departure from the traditional version we’ve all heard. I didn’t realize this was the Cole Porter classic until I read the liner notes. It’s a really neat arrangement that basically ignores the melody nearly altogether.

Baker was smart to surround himself with a group of musicians who could flat-out “go,” even if Chet’s better days were long behind him. But a tired and weathered Chet Baker was still better than many at full strength.

For those looking for a performance representative of Chet Baker’s later live recordings, I recommend The Last Great Concert: My Favorite Songs, Vol. 1 & 2. But if you’re just looking for a little adventure by five guys just going at it, Love for Sale should do the trick.

Track List
1. “Milestones” (Davis)
2. “Oh, You Crazy Moon” (Van Heusen/Burke)
3. “There Will Never Be Another You” (Gordon/Warren)
4. “Snowbound” (Kehner/Faith)
5. “Love for Sale” (Porter)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review - The Dukes of Hazzard: Original TV Soundtrack

The fondest memories of my more formative years included the Friday night ritual of New York-style pizza and The Dukes of Hazzard. There was nothing better than topping off another awkward week of the sixth grade with an evening of pure southern-fried bliss. Of course, I was 11. What else was I going to do?

But even as devoted a fan of the show, The Dukes of Hazzard: Original TV Soundtrack somehow slipped past me. In fact, I’d never heard of it until earlier this year. Originally released in late 1981, this “soundtrack” of a television classic is being re-released by RCA/Legacy, this time with two bonus tracks. And who can blame them for re-releasing it? The original show has become a wildly popular cable television staple and a hot selling DVD series. And the new movie of the same name hasn’t hurt interest either.

But to be clear, this is no soundtrack. It’s a concept album, really. You’ve no doubt heard Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, or even The Who’s Tommy. Well, this is exactly the same thing…or not. It’s actually a collection of songs performed by the show’s cast members, three country music legends and Doug Kershaw. And it’s all tied together by short vignettes narrated by both Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane to create a flimsy, yet somewhat plausible storyline.

The highlight of this album for me is “Flash,” Roscoe’s ode to his slow moving Bassett Hound. James Best does an admirable job singing in character and dishing out all his signature catch-phrases. And it’s easily as good as most Ray Stevens songs. (Yes, I realize dads all over the world are dog cussing me right now for saying that.)

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Duke boys album without a song or two by Bo Duke himself, John Schneider. And Bo doesn’t disappoint. He really has a great singing voice and it’s showcased here on two tracks: “In the Driver’s Seat” and “Them Good Old Boys are Bad.” And not to be outdone by Bo, Tom Wopat makes an appearance with one of the most recognizable, and worst, performances I’ve ever heard of The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.” I know that Tom is an accomplished singer and veteran of the Broadway stage, but everybody makes bad decisions sometimes. Maybe “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” would have been a better choice?

The most bizarre song on this collection is Catherine Bach’s “Down Home American Girl.” While there’s nothing particularly unusual about the song itself, the delivery is shocking. Quite simply, Bach looks nothing like she sounds. Just take a listen and you’ll understand. She reminds me of Sixpence None the Richer’s Leigh Nash, who I greatly admire as a singer.

Three-fourths of the country music supergroup “The Highwaymen” receive performance credits for this set. First off, Waylon Jennings, as you may remember, provides the show’s theme song “Good ol’ Boys.” And thankfully, this new release contains the original recording used in the show, in addition to the embarrassingly over-produced and Jennings-less version included in the original release. Johnny Cash chips in with “The General Lee,” a catchy tribute to the orange ’69 Dodge Charger. Finally, Willie Nelson joins Waylon with “Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys” from the 1978 co-op Waylon and Willie, which proves once again that cross-marketing is alive and well. (Willie plays Uncle Jesse in The Dukes of Hazzard film, which is coincidentally being released at about the same time as this CD.)

So you see, this CD has something for everybody…who loves The Dukes of Hazzard. And what’s not to love? I can’t get that dang “Flash” song out of my head! I know this CD is nowhere near perfect, but the nostalgic value of the songs performed in character and the inclusion of the original “Good Ol’ Boys” recording make it a winner to me.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Quick Thoughts on NASCAR and its Fans

NASCAR fans are the most loyal fans in American sports.

No matter how many "right turn" jokes I can come up with, it doesn't dampen these fans' spirits or their love for guys named Dale, Bobby, or Jimmie. Nobody even flinches when I insert my own "in-race" commentary about the state of DJ's alternator in full Hank Hill voice.

Being a peripheral NASCAR fan, I have the unique ability to be objective when comparing drivers, teams, and even manufacturers. I don't have a Ford, Chevy, or Dodge bias. I think the rules the NASCAR governing body puts on the makers pretty much squashes any advantage one could have over another.

I don't love or hate any drivers. I think some drivers are beneficiaries of great teams and some teams are helped greatly by their drivers. I look out for wrecks, but not injuries.

I think Jeff Gordon may be the most skilled driver to grace the Cup series in the last 20 years. His record on road tracks and his consistency every year in the points race (except this year, of course) support that assertion, though I wouldn't want to debate it with anyone. In my experience, it just isn't worth arguing with a hardcore NASCAR fan. So much of a fan's love or hate for a driver is pushed by pure emotion (not unlike most sports). I think that the only way to truly separate drivers from each other would be to compare statistics. But then again, NASCAR rules change so much (sometimes week-to-week) that you can't even rely on the numbers. So we're back to emotion and not arguing.

True story: A buddy knows a guy who answers his phone not with a simple "hello," but with an exhuberant "Earnhardt!" I myself have a Dick Trickle hat (but sadly, for less honorable reasons than a typical fan would).

Saturday, June 25, 2005

DVD Review - Einstürzende Neubauten's Halber Mensch

If you’re reading this, and you obviously are, you probably already have a clue about who Einstürzende Neubauten is. But for those who don’t and decided to keep reading anyway, Einstürzende Neubauten (German for “collapsing new buildings”) is a unique and influential German industrial band formed in Berlin in 1980, and is most commonly identified by my friends as “punk rockers gone art house experimental” or “that band that plays the pots and pans.”

And, while Neubauten doesn’t actually play pots and pans, it does make outstanding ear-shattering post-punk industrial sounds by way of various power tools, scrap metal, and guitars. Neubauten’s unique and innovative sound has had an important and lasting impact on modern rock music (notice I didn’t say “music industry”), which is evidenced by more commercially successful acts like Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Filter.

Originally released on VHS, this Music Video Distributors and Cherry Red region-free DVD of the promotional film for Einstürzende Neubauten’s classic 1986 album Halber Mensch contains ten tracks and has a 58 minute run time. Audio options include a 2-channel stereo mix and a simulated 5.1 channel track (inferior to the 2-channel mix). Sadly, there are no extras or Easter eggs on this disc. DVD menu options include “Play Programme,” “Track Selection” and “Other DVD Releases,” which contains six promotional clips from other Cherry Red Films releases. The film was directed by Japanese filmmaker Sogo Ishii, who, on a totally unrelated topic, receives special thanks from Quentin Tarantino in the closing credits of Kill Bill: Vol 2.

While studying the track listing, I noticed a notable difference between the DVD and the album. The Halber Mensch album contains songs that do not appear in the film and vice-versa. For example, my all-time favorite Neubauten song “Yu-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego)” is not one of the ten featured tracks included in the film. However, if you pay close attention to the scene where the band is warming up for the concert, you’ll notice the song being rehearsed for a few seconds.

The visual quality of the film really fits the band. The film is grainy in spots, lighting is used sparingly, colors are faded and the sets are dark. This film also is full of interesting and sometimes frightening images, quiet interludes and raw energy that combine to produce a powerful mixture of sound and vision. Memorable scenes include band members enjoying private moments mending hi-top sneakers and walking along the beach with a decomposing cat on a stick. There are some equally interesting shots featuring many of Neubauten’s instruments with accompanying on-screen specifications (printed in Japanese). Some of the more disturbing scenes are found in the disc’s “traditional” music videos (“Halber Mensch” and “Z.N.S.”), which feature centipedes feeding on flesh and a creepy kabuki-style dance troupe.

All the visual elements aside, what really makes this film work for me, are the live performances. Seven of the ten songs in the film are performed live. This aspect alone makes this film a must-have for Neubauten fans.

There’s great tension in each Neubauten’s song, and it really translates well to a live production. The band could have easily mailed it in and lip synced the tracks, but thankfully for fans they decided not to. Listen for lead singer Brixa Bargeld’s uncanny ability to scream his ever-loving head off. You’ve really got to hear it for yourself to appreciate it.

The film contains two settings for its live performances. The first is in the abandoned Nakamatsu Ironworks, where the band plays in front of what appears to be just the film crew, and still maintains an acute intensity. The second performance is takes place in Tokyo’s Kohrakuen Hall. There’s no substitute for a live audience and the band appears to feed off of it in their powerful presentations of “Die Zeichnungen des Patienten” and “Der To dist ein Dandy.”

So what is the film about? You mean you’ve read this far and still don’t know? Yeah, me either. I tried not to look too deeply into themes and symbolism that may not even be there. To put it simply, this is an art film. And I think if you say “art film” you can get away with just about anything. Maybe it’s typical for Japanese-made films about German industrial bands. I just know it rocks.

I wholeheartedly recommend Halber Mensch to all Neubaten fans, anyone with an interest in industrial music of the 1980s, or folks with a penchant for creepy kabuki dance troupes—and not necessarily in that order.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Robert Plant: Mighty Rearranger

I like this album. It's Robert Plant, the guy from Led Zeppelin!! This is important to note as a lot of this new CD sounds like Zeppelin, which is totally acceptable. Robert Plant is allowed to sound like his former pioneering supergroup. People like David Coverdale (Whitesnake) and Billy Squier are not. It's okay to be derivitive of yourself.

Before I get too deep, and to build a little credibility, I should state my affiliation, I am only an occasional Led Zeppelin fan. I typically tune out when "Black Dog" or "Ramble On" come on, staying only for deeper cuts like "Hot Dog" or "Thank You." So you see that I'm not a "golden god" shill. Hopefully, you'll take my opinions as objectively as I mean to communicate them.

The album has 12 tracks, 11 of which are actual songs. The final track on the album "Brother Ray" sounds like a studio outtake, included on the album as an homage to the late Ray Charles. That's just a guess, by the way. Please correct me if you have the real story.

Of the 11 tracks, I can honestly say I really like nine of them. Now I'm not saying this is the greatest album of all time, or even of the year for that matter. I would say that this is real rock, and not just some old guy trying to relive his glory days. The songs are strong, both lyrically and musically. Plant's band is top-notch, which is probably why they receive artist billing (Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation).

I've selected two songs that deserve praise AND laud. Take a listen to the soundclips on your favorite CD vendor's website:
  1. "Shine it all Around" - This is a fun song with a cool bass line and a catchy riff. The positive lyrics don't hurt either. I guess you could say it's "radio friendly," if there is still a place on radio for guys like Robert Plant (don't get me started on that).
  2. "All the King's Horses" - This is my favorite song on the album, and the most simple. It's just Plant and a couple of guitars (maybe a keyboard effect here and there). It has kind of a "Going to California" vibe, but it's a little more mellow. This song is a must for one of those "chill-out" mixes.
As I implied earlier by my statement about the number of tunes I dug, the real strength of this CD is that it's strong all the way through. Sure, there are weaker songs. But those songs are always surrounded by stonger ones. This is a great album to play straight through. Programming is really not necessary.

If you consider yourself a Zeppelin fan or even a fan of the dying art of album oriented rock, I suggest you pick this one up. In a time when artists from our past continue to put out sub-standard music with no remorse (Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney), it's nice to see one of the greatest vocalists of the rock era cares enough to release a whole album full of quality material.

Rating: Buy it