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