Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Tin Pan Idol

Whether or not I stick around for the rest of this year's AI shows, will largely, I suspect, depend on the themes. Queen was right up my alley, as was last night's standards show. But I still don't really have a dog in this hunt (although Paris continues to impress me), so should they go with, say, disco night, or worse, Dianne Warren night, I'd likely have to sit out. We'll see.

Nonetheless, here are some quick reactions to last night's songs:

Chris Daughtry--"What A Wonderful World"
Good but not near great. He showed he can sing without doing the heavy rock-scream thing, but he didn't prove he could sing better than pretty much anyone else on the competition. It was a good, safe, enjoyable "Wonderful World," but not an interesting one.

Paris Bennett--"Foolish Things"
Simon's transparent vote begging for Katherine McPhee notwithstanding, this was the performance of the night. Such impeccable command, rich, deep tones, even on the non-belted or higher notes, and an instinctive understanding of the material. A great performance.

Taylor Hicks--"You Send Me"
Does Taylor bore anyone else? He's good enough, and gun to watch, but it's becoming very rapidly one-note: decent but nothing-special strong singing followed by a pale Cocker-esque freakout. Yawn.

Elliott Yamin--"It Had to Be You"
I just don't get the Elliott love. A thin voice, horrible stage presence, and no real special way with a lyric. He's not horrible, but is he really any better than the equally bland Ace?

Kellie Pickler--"Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"
After this I ran to my trusty iPod to queue up Ella Fitzgerald's definitive take on this classic of classics. Had to hear it done right. Before she started I had doubts at how well she'd do, if only because the song is a sophisticated, knowing one, and if there's anything the Pickler persona ain't, it's "sophisticated." She was OK (but only OK) to start, but by the end it was cringe-worthy, noticeably flat in spots and wildly off-tempo. I think the band actually cut some measures just to catch up with her--had they not the level to which she botched the song would have been much more evident. Kudos to them. I have to admit to loving, however, her unabashed, if perhaps too accepting, honesty--"I butchered it." Yes, you did, Kellie. Yes you did.

"Ace Young"--That's All"
I think I was mopping while he sang.

"Katherine McPhee"--"Someone to Watch Over Me"
Very good. But. She copped to the Mr. Holland's Opus love readily enough, and yet seemed to miss the whole point of that bit in the movie. The singing was gorgeous, technically perfect, and wonderfully controlled, but the wistfulness, that hint of sadness that defines the song was wholly absent. Singing is acting, folks. Or at least it is when done right.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Who Should Sing What

OK. American Standards night for the remaining AIers. BUT - not just any standards, but standards sung by Rod Stewart on any of his horrendous Great American Songbook CDs. The big question will be how they approach these songs--straight, or "reimagined" to fit into their respective wheelhouses. So--what should the hopefuls sing?

Ace Young - "Blue Moon"
Hopefully, his last hurrah.

Kellie Pickler - "What a Wonderful World"
Put that naivete to good use.

Paris Bennett - "Love Is Here to Stay"
My wedding song. Be gentle with it.

Katherine McPhee - "Where or When"
A pretty, delicate ballad. Don't break it.

Taylor Hicks - "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered"
Show us you can do the quiet jazz, acting a song thing too.

Elliot Yamin - "A Kiss to Build A Dream On"
He's going to break this, I'm sure.

Chris Daughtry - "Night and Day"
This song has a fair bit of darkness in it for our Creed-o-phile to play with.

Until Whenever

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Theory

What if we consider individual performances of songs. Not careers of singers, but single vocal performances.

Now, let us agree to not, for the exercise, consider technical merits--not tone, not intonation, not color, not control, not power, not range. Not beauty. No taking into consideration how pretty or pure the voice is.

Instead, let us consider solely the phrasing; the way a singer can act a song, from within the music and meter. Still; we are not considering spoken-word, or recited poems, but real songs, sung.

If we do all this and honestly consider some of the greatest vocal performances ever recorded--the performances that, again, speaking purely of non-technical matters, are the most remarkable, the most moving and perfect examples of singing a song in such a way as to move the listener the most, and to tell as specific a story as possible through that music--which performances come to mind? A variety of Dylan and Louis Armstrong? Of course. But the performance that jumps to my mind as one of the all-time most remarkable examples of the art of singing once beauty of voice--that admittedly very important component--is removed from the equation? Kermit the Frog's original, Sesame Street rendition of "It's Not Easy Being Green." Sublime.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 14, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle
1. "Joey, Joey, Joey" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
Romantic, yearning ballad from this operatic Broadway score.

2. "Gravedigger (Acoustic)" - Dave Matthews - Some Devil
One of my favorite Dave Matthes songs, especially in this acoustic version. Good coffeehouse music.

3. "Quartet (Acknowledgement)" - John Coltrane - A Love Supreme
Ever listen to Vin Scelsa's "Idiot's Delight" radio show? The opening of this track is what he uses as his intro music. This is the first movement in one of the all-time great jazz pieces. Passionate and swinging--a nice combo.

4. "Another Time, Another Place" - U2 - Boy
Early, earnest U2, with a nice angry, driving bass/percussion line.

5. "16 Feet Beneath the Sea" - Jeanine Tesori - Caroline, Or Change (Original Broadway Cast)
Soulful, modern-sounding musical theater.

6. "The Man Who Couldn't Cry" - Johnny Cash - American Recordings
A live cut from the first of the "American" albums; just Johnny, his guitar, and a classic, straight-forward tune. Sometimes the simplest ingredients make the best meals.

7. "Allegro Agitato" - George Gershwin - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra Classic Gershwin, rollicking, steamboating piano.

8. "High Flying, Adored" - Andrew Lloyd Weber - Evita (Original Broadway Cast)
One of Lloyd Weber's prettiest songs, tenderly sung here by Mandy Patinkin.

9. "Sal's Last Song" - Paul Simon - The Capeman (Original Broadway Cast)
A very, very underrated score. Might help if he'd release the CD though. (This is a bootleg.)

10. "On the Road Again" - Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
Not the Willie Nelson song.

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Master Thespian

As a wee lad, I watched more than my fair share of Growing Pains episodes. Not a good show, but I was young and didn't know any better. In watching those episodes, I never would have pegged the guy who played the principal as a great actor--I probably wouldn't have estimated him as a much better actor than Alan Thicke, for example. He played the nerdy principal, the foil to Mike Seaver and his zany plans, well enough, but there were no glimpses of greatness, or real, impressive talent there.

What a difference good material can make.

On last night's very good episode of Lost, the focus turned to the island's resident sweet, older souls--Rose and Bernard, who were only reunited post-crash 10 or so episodes ago. Bernard is played by veteran character actor Sam Anderson, who also played Mike Sawyer's nemesis back in the 80s. And here's the thing. He was great. He needed to give us a man who loved his wife deeply and truly, a man completely devoted to this blessing of a woman whom he only met later in life, who nonetheless could be almost maniacal in his single-minded devotion to her and to making her safe. Watch that proposal scene--and see how he shows us his thought processes with only the subtlest movements of his eyes as the woman he is proposing to tells him she is dying, and as he realizes that that fact doesn't change his wanting to be her husband one bit.

Touching, smart, real, emotional without being goopy--this was a great performance in his highlight episode. Here's a very, very good actor who, however, needs good material to shine. Who can't punch through crap with sheer talent. But give him a real script, give him real meat to chew, and look out. This is true for many actors. True, the elite few great actors can be great even with crappy material. See much of Tom Hanks' early career for one example. Even in schlock, you could see the talent, the skills. But many a talented, deep actor needs good material to really show off their chops. Like Sam Anderson.


Until Whenever
Got It!

God bless iTunes.

So far I am simply loving this album. Had it going on my iPod as I came off the PATH this morning and started the last leg of the commute to work and the track entitled "Lockedown" came up. Slow, stately, majestic version of Locke's "theme," taken mostly from the season one "Walkabout" episode (it begins in the flashback as the Aussie tour guide tells him he can't go and builds and builds into the reveal that Locke was in a wheelchair but could walk after the accident). I had goosebumps, actual goosebumps, as the music unfolded--this single piece of music is easily one of the most moving pieces of music I've ever heard. Every time I hear it I'm moved. And what gets me about it, about many of the score's primary themes, is how deceptively simple it is, they are. The basic melody is built out of a simple rising scale, with many of the notes repeated once before the melody moves up a tone. But the way Giacchino puts it all together makes it much, much more than it's elegantly simple skeleton.

Which makes me wonder if he does his own orchestrations (probably not--almost no film composers do). If he doesn't, his orchestrator should really get a lot of the credit here. The use of low tones in the harp, strange percussion, random blasts of horn--the instrumental choices do a lot of the heavy lifting here to give the Lost score its unique sound.

Other standout tracks: "Parting Words," used in the series when the raft launched in last year's finale. Again, a very simple structure, but remarkably effective in practice. Triumphant, but with a very subtle way of ominously undercutting that triumph. The music never quite lets you believe that this raft launching will be the savior they want it to be. Also, "Life and Death," used in the series for the Boone's death/Aaron's birth montage. I've written the primary melody here in as my cell phone ringtone, and in doing so was struck, again, by how simple a melody it is. Three notes, almost childlike. And yet so evocative and moving when put together right.

Back to listening.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On the Hidden Perils of Singing Queen

I haven't done an American Idol recap all year, given that I haven't been following the show all that closely. Queen night, however, had me intrigued, so a recap I'll be writing.

Overall impression? Subpar. But this was perhaps to be expected. Every time I hear other singers try and cover Queen I'm reminded, in a very palpable way, of what a unique singer Freddie Mercury was. Queen songs are, to put it flatly, hard to sing; the melodies and the way the vocal lines come together are very idiosyncratic. It's very difficult to sing a Queen song and not sound off; as if there's a disconnect between singer and song. As we will see.

Bucky Covington - "Fat Bottomed Girls"
Bucky wasn't bad, but there was nothing special going on. The song choice was good--he was one of the few who didn't have that sense of disconnect going on; he sounded comfortable in the song. That being said, Bucky just ain't that good--very average voice, well below-average stage presence, no real personality or charm to juice the vocals. Very, very average.

Ace Young - "We Will Rock You"
Seeing Brian May's obvious discomfort at what Ace wanted to do with his song was hilarious. This wasn't horrible, but, again, hardly special, or even, really, good. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ace didn't really rearrange the song but tried to inject a different rhythmic feeling into the melody. The attempt was very flat. This was a poor song choice for him.

Kellie Pickler - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
"Bohemian Rhapsody" should never be squeezed into a minute and a half. Bad idea. The song needs it's particular structure and length to be effective. As she did it it was just jarring and choppy, like a bad movie trailer. The singing was OK, but no great shakes, and while some were impressed by her "rock" side, I was decidedly not. Very fake, very inorganic, very forced.

Chris Daugherty - "Innuendo"
Another example of a song getting trashed by the show's limitations. "Innuendo" is a great song, all Middle Eastern accents, and dark chord changes, and grinding, threatening rhythms, with a surprise, flamenco-guitar-accented bridge. But in a minute and a half all we got were the outlined power chords and some very good, but in the end not enough, singing from Chris. A decent performance that nevertheless made a great song sound very average.

Katherine McPhee - "Who Wants to Live Forever"
The performance of the night. A great song choice, and sung well, with nice control and focus. Some hitchiness on the transitions from soft to loud and a little stridency in the belted parts made it less than great, but still very good.

Taylor Hics - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
Very good. The only performance, really, that didn't make me miss Freddie. Well sung, with a good showing of range, and a very impressive innate feel for the song's rockabilly, Elvis-homage charms.

Elliott Yamin - "Somebody to Love"
Crash and burn. "Somebody to Love" is a hard song to sing. Hard. And he simply wasn't up to it's challenges, on a purely technical level. On top of that, as the band indicated, this was written as an homage to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Takes a heck of a lot of soul to sing it well--and that he doesn't have. I would have dearly loved to have heard Mandisa sing this.

Paris - "Show Must Go On"
Very, very good. Not great simply because, at seventeen, Paris can't convey the desperate, dark emotions the song calls for. She understood the song though - singing it angrily, not triumphantly--and that goes a long way in my book. Also, that key, critical note "Show must go on" was just a bit beyond her means, robbing the song of a lot of its power. Still and all--a strong, confident, performance.

Who will go? I have no idea. Who should? Probably Bucky. He's being outsung by most everybody up there, even the mediocre singers (Ace, Elliott) I'd be happy to see go.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Source of My Cellphone Ringtone


I've been pining for this since pretty much the first episode in September of 2004. I've waxed rhapsodic about the scoring for this series before, so I won't sing Giacchino's praises again, but this just shot to the tippy-top of my "must get these albums ASAP" list. Now the hard question - do I get me to iTunes post-haste, or wait until I can get to a record store so that I have the liner notes and such? Much depends on what said liner notes, should they exist at all, contain. Research must be done.

Until Whenever
Spoilers Ahoy!!!

USA Today has published what each of the remaining American Idol contestants will be singing tonight. If you'd rather not know, read no further:


Ace Young - "We Will Rock You"
Ugh. From his comments he's going to "R&B-ize" it. Double ugh. And an odd choice - this song doesn't really show off vocals at all.

Bucky Covington - "Fat Bottomed Girls"
Hm. Could be interesting. Doesn't require the range that a lot of Queen does, and I can see how a slightly leering country take could work. Will be interesting.

Chris Daughtry - "Innuendo"
An inspired choice. It's a great, great Queen song that most folks don't know with a real hard edge. He won't be unduly compared to the original, and it'll let him work from at least the vicinity of his wheelhouse.

Elliott Yamin - "Somebody to Love"
I really am having a hard time envisioning how he can not butcher this. His voice simply isn't big or agile enough--and the song demands it be both.

Katharine McPhee - "Who Wants to Live Forever"
Does Katherine read Tosy and Cosh? (No.) But she did pick what I would have picked for her. A very good song for her, especially if she can give it the focus and intensity it needs. If it becomes too "pretty" it will lose its power.

Kellie Pickler - "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Ugh. Seriously. In a minute and a half, she won't be able to give any of the pieces justice. And I don't think she has the strength for the ending section.

Paris Bennett - "The Show Must Go On"
Awesome. Very, very. Awesome. As I said here, this song is a brave choice, and if done right could be one of those Idol moments to remember. Like "Innuendo," it's a relatively little-heard song (compared to things like "Bohemian Rhapsody" at least), so the comparisons to the original will be limited. And Paris just might be the person to pull off the intensity and power it needs. My fear is that she'll go the safe route and turn it into a simple, inspirational song about trying hard in the face of adversity. It's not it. It's a song about being defiant in the face of death.

Taylor Hicks - "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
A good, but very easy choice. Nothing to really challenge him here.

Very curious to hear the performances tonight.

Until Whenever
A Bouncing Baby Boy Was Born

From Byzantium's Shores I steal this mini-meme. Historic events that occurred on my birthday, September 8.

(From a Wikipedia list)

1504 - Michaelangelo's David is unveiled in Florence.

1636 - The first college in the US is established (today's Harvard)

1900 - Hurricane kills 8,000 people in Galveston, Texas.

1921 - First Miss America crowned.

1941 - Siege of Leningrad begins in World War II.

1943 - Eisenhower announces Allied armistice with Italy.

1966 - First episode of Star Trek airs.

1974 (the day I was born) - Ford pardons Nixon.

1998 - McGuire breaks Maris' single-season home run record.

Notables born on September 8 - King Richard I of England, Antonin Dvorak, Sid Caesar, Lyndon LaRouche, Peter Sellars, Patcy Cline, Michael Frayn, Aimee Mann, Pink, Latrell Sprewell.

Notables who died on September 8 - Richard Strauss, Dorothy Dandridge, Zero Mostel, Leni Riefenstahl, Frank Thomas.

Until Whenever

Friday, April 07, 2006

Line of the Day

James Poniewozik in his Time magazine TV blog, Tuned In, on the brouhaha over Katie Couric's being named to anchor the CBS Evening News:

"There's still prejudice, to be sure, among the media and beard-stroking media critics most of all--what is "gravitas," after all, but Latin for "If we blow up Iran, I don't want to hear about it from a chick?""

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "The Soul Cages" - Sting - The Soul Cages
That rare straightforward Sting rock song.

2. "You Do Something to Me" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
A slow, lazy swing, with nice muted trumpet highlights.

3. "Rose" - James Horner - Titanic (Film Score)
A slow, measured rendition of the main theme (the melody of that horrid Celine Dion song).

4. "Hello, Little Girl" - Stephen Sondheim - Into the Woods (Original Broadway Cast)
One of Sondheim's slyest songs, with the Wolf charming Little Red off of the path with a little soft shoe. His ravenous (and sexually charged) asides to the audience are hilarious.

5. "The Miller's Song" - Stephen Sondheim - A Little Night Music (Original Broadway Cast)
A wonderful song, an eleven o'clock number, that nonetheless always felt very tacked on in the context of the show. Still, as a song it's great, urgent and sexy with very effective, sudden tempo shifts throughout.

6. "Wild Bill" - Thomas Newman - The Green Mile (Film Score)
A fast, excited piece of quick-pickin' on the guitar.

7. "Prelude to a Kiss" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook
Soft jazz guitar and coy strings over a halting shuffle. Very nice.

8. "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" - Sting - Mercury Falling
I just blogged about this song, here.

9. "Come out here, both of you" - George Gershwin - Porgy and Bess
Big, dramatic confrontation from the opera.

10. "The Ballad of Floyd Collins (Reprise)" - Adam Guettel - Floyd Collins (Original Cast Recording)
This, Guettel's first, is a gem of a score, all banjos and fiddles and acoustic guitar in the service of the true story of a Kentucky man who gets trapped in a cave and the ensuing media circus--one of the first of its kind. This reprise is of the opening, introductory ballad, and it's a fine, simple, rustic song with some great country harmonies.

Until Whenever

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Humble Suggestions

Queen on American Idol next week will likely have me trying to tune in, something I haven't dome much of at all this season. Herewith are my oh-so-humble suggestions as to what each of the remaining eight should consider as a song choice. (Note - no one should try "Bohemian Rhapsody," if for no other reason than they won't give you the time to do it right.)

Ace Young - Thin, boy-bandish voice with an affection for falsetto? Try "You Take My Breath Away," a softer, lighter, airy early ballad from "A Day at the Races."

Bucky Covington - A middling country voice? Give us a slightly (please only slightly) countrified "Keep Yourself Alive."

Chris Daughtry - Aggressive rock voice? Try to give us a harder-edged "Tie Your Mother Down."

Elliott Yamin - Faux-funky, sub-Guarini pop voice? You might be able to pull off a more modern take on "Radio Ga Ga."

Katherine McPhee - Relatively well-controlled, strong-enough, bland "pretty" voice? Give us a strong, disciplined "Who Wants to Live Forever?"

Kellie Pickler - Sub-Underwood country-pop voice? A schmaltzy "You're My Best Friend" might fit the bill.

Paris Bennett - Aretha-sized powerhouse voice? Give us a knock-down, drag-out, holy roller, tear-the-roof-off-the-place "Somebody to Love." Beware that high note at the end.

Taylor Hicks--Semi-soulful Ray Charles/Joe Cocker voice? Try to give us an honestly felt "Those Were the Days of Our Lives."

PS - If any of you are feeling particularly brave, the song to tackle is "Show Must Go On," a powerhouse of a serious ballad. But beware. Freddie Mercury's original is beyond definitive, given that he recorded it late in his career, when he already knew he was dying. His resultant desperate, defiant, angry explosion of emotion at death is pretty much impossible to beat. That being said, it's a great, underheard song, and allows for some showing off, both in terms of vocal virtuosity and emotional singing. Very risky, but with real potential for greatness.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Random Top Ten!!

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Sting Songs

10. "I Hung My Head" - A chilling, almost emotionless song sung in the first-person, about a man who shoots another man on a whim. Johnny Cash covers this on one of his American Recordings albums.

9. "Brand New Day" - This is the kind of Sting I would expect myself not to like--a bit too poppy and overproduced, but something about the way the melody and the lyric mesh up works very, very well. And that opening, subtle guitar figure is insidious.

8. "Moon Over Bourbon Street" - A cool jazz song about a werewolf, done completely straight-faced. Surprisingly effective.

7. "They Dance Alone (Gueca Solo)" - When U2 and Sting (along with others) toured South America on an Amnesty International tour in the late 80s each was affected by the story of women who would silently protest the injustice of their husbands' and sons' political imprisonment by dancing alone, a poetic means of protest indeed. As much as this U2 super-fan hates to admit it, the song Sting wrote in response is better than the one U2 wrote (Mothers of the Disappeared).

6. "If Ever I Lose My Faith in You" - The single off of Ten Summoner's Tales. A great rhythmic drive and harmonic pulse with a classic Sting high chorus.

5. "Island of Souls" - The opening track to Sting's masterpiece, The Soul Cages (see here for my take on this disc). A wintry song that evokes the hard seashore life of a shipbuilder remarkably well.

4. "I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying" - A too-bright and too-happy country tune, complete with spry slide guitar, whose lyrics speak honestly and painfully of the difficulties of being a divorced dad. As a "child of divorce (an icky phrase if there ever was one) myself, lyrics like the below speak to me in a very personal way.

The park is full of Sunday fathers
And melted ice cream
We try to do our best within our given time
A kid should be with his mother
Everybody knows that
What can a father do but babysit sometimes?
Saw that friend of mine
He said, "You look different somehow"
I said, "everybody's got to
Leave the darkness some time. "

3. "Come Down in Time" - Not a Sting song but rather a forgotten Elton John song. Sting covers this on Two Rooms: The Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and it's a superb cover. Just Sting and his bass and a piano. Why this song isn't a cabaret standard I'll never know.

2. "Fragile" -Probably the song that'll be covered most in the decades to come. A beautiful, impeccably structured ballad.

1. "When the Angels Fall" - Sting's epic take on loss of faith. Shattering and quietly beautiful.

Take your father's cross
Gently from the wall
A shadow still remaining
See the churches fall
In mighty arcs of sound
And all that they're containing

Until Whenever

Music Morsels Vol. XV - Time Out of Mind

This first hit in the one-two punch of stellar late-career Bob Dylan albums is really what got me into Dylan in the first place. Its winning Album of the Year at the Grammys and the many raves I read got me, a Dylan neophyte at the time who knew basically "Like a Rolling Stone," "Blowin' in the Wind," and "The Times They Are A-Changin," to pick it up. I have to admit to needing a little time to get over the voice--at this stage in his career, it's a low, raspy, growly thing that masks much of the tone of the notes he's singing--but soon enough I was spellbound.

Since then I've gotten into Dylan in a big way, picking up fifteen more Dylan albums, with many more to go. And this is still one of the best. The ruminative, wistful quality could have easily turned into easy sentiment but Dylan keeps it easily in check. The opening track, "Love Sick," (the song used in the infamous Victoria's Secret commercial) has enough bite and edge to keep the softness at bay, but it is in the gentler songs that the album really shines. "Trying to Get to Heaven," a kind of response to his earlier "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (here, the refrain goes "Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door") is a standout track, a gently swinging, confident mid-tempo song about facing death. The album kind of alternates between rootsy, faster country-rock songs ("Dirt Road Blues," the heavily bluesy "Million Miles," Till I Fell in Love with You") and slower, more reflective songs that still retain a bit of that country-blues sound. One of these, "Not Dark Yet," may well be the album's highlight. A resigned, slow shuffle of a song in which we can hear Dylan wrestle with the thought of his life ending. Simply gorgeous. The album ends with a kind of homage to the epic tendencies of early Dylan - think "Desperation Row." "Highlands" is a nearly seventeen minute track in which Dylan takes his slow, sweet time, telling a long story about, among other things, a man in a diner flirting with a waitress. Here, as in the rest of the album, Dylan's vocals are simply wonderful, evocative and loose without ever losing sight of the rhythm or, really, the melodies. This is a thoughtful, wise album by an artist who's earned the right to record such a beast many times over.

Grade: A+

Until Whenever

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Look at the Nightstand

In the past few weeks, I've read:

Why People Believe Weird Things - Michael Shermer
A good book, but one that got bogged down with a bit too much theory and background, and not enough concrete investigations into specific weird beliefs. Still, the (too brief) look at cold readers was great.

She-Hulk: Single Green Female - Dan Slott and Juan Bobillo
Good, fun stuff, but nothing I would have been upset to have missed. Best piece was the look at the whole She-Hulk vs. Jennifer Walters dynamic. Also loved the half-mocking/half-loving treatment of some classic Marvel villains.

Avengers/Thunderbolts Vol.2 - Best Intentions - Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicienza, and Barry Kitson
Didn't care for this much. Too much going on for someone who hasn't followed Marvel for several years.

New Thunderbolts Vol. 1 - One Step Forward - Fabia Nicienza and Tom Grummett
Better, and I liked the treatment of some of the new villains-trying-to-go-good; especially Radioactive Man. But I'm really pretty much over the whole "huge disaster hits New York and kills hundreds" thing. It's become numbing.

Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley
I'd always wanted to start the Easy Rawlins mysteries and finally did. A very good beginning; I can see how the character of Easy could carry a series--he's an interesting creation, noble but not, brave but not, smart but not. Lots of contradictions to play with. And Mosley can write with the best (this is only the second Mosley book I've read).

Quicksilver - Neal Stephenson
Tom will empathize. I gave this a go a year ago and ended up giving up at about page 600 (of a thousand). It's a great novel, but so dense that I had trouble getting through it. So many characters, places, times to keep track of. But the writing is constantly sharp, the characters intriguing, and the setting fascinating. So I'm back in. But here's the kicker. Because I put it down about a year ago, I'm starting all over again. Suicidal? Maybe. I'm at about page 80 now. Wish me luck.

Until Whenever
"Now Lean Back in Your Chair"

Saw some of the new NBC game show Deal or No Deal last night and was kind of horrified. The way they drag this game out makes an elimination episode of American Idol seem action-packed. And the game itself is so simple, so formulaic, that it seems like watching the same thing over and over and over. Ugh.

Of course, it WAS addictive. I happened to catch part of one game at 8:20 and ended up watching the whole thing, until 10PM. So who's the idiot?

Biggest question for me, though, is how they cast "the banker." Did they have auditions? Did they hold the auditions in silhouette? Did they ask the auditionees to act like a banker without talking? I'm completely fascinated by this question.

Also--isn't it expensive to pay 25 models for every show? Not that they're getting rich, but still--with union minimums and all, I'd imagine they don't come cheap either.

Until Whenever

Monday, April 03, 2006

Excellent, Indeed.

What I love about the teaser trailer for the Summer 2007 The Simpsons: The Movie:

The brevity. Perfect for a teaser. In and out.

The main gag (Homer: "I forgot my line"). Classic Simpsons humor.

The follow-up gag. (Announcer: The Simpsons Movie. Coming July 27, 2007. Homer: Uh-oh. We better get started.) Undercutting expectations - the perfect sales pitch for a movie of a beloved, near-two-decade strong TV series. Face it - the movie will not be as a good as many a classic episode. But it could be great fun.

The final touch. That they realized that a trademark Mr. Burns "Excellent." was needed gives me great confidence.

I remain very hopeful.

Until Whenever

P.S. - In 1992, say, who would have guessed that a teaser for a movie of The Simpsons would have featured no Bart at all and only Homer?