Friday, September 29, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "The Long, Long Day (New Jerusalem Reprise) - Alan Menken and Tim Rice - King David (World Premiere Recording)
Solemn, in a big Broadway way.

2. "Over the Rainbow/Wonderful World" - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Meet Joe Black
Hasn't everyone heard this little slice of heaven by now? A blissful recording.

3. "Talk of the Town" - Jack Johnson - Curious George
Mellow, wide-eyed , and innocent. I don't know though, shouldn't the incessantly curious Curious George's movie music be a bit more . . . energetic?

4. "Experiment" - Cole Porter, sung by Mandy Patinkin - Experiment
This short gem of a song contains such a pithily put, germane life lesson that I can not resist posting the lyrics in their entirety:

Before you leave these portals
To meet less fortunate mortals
There's just one final message
I would give to you
You all have learned reliance
On the sacred teachings of science
So I hope, through life, you never will decline
In spite of philistine
To do what all good scientists do.
Make it your motto day and night.
And it will lead you to the light.
The apple on the top of the tree
Is never too high to achieve
So take an example from Eve
Be curious
Though interfering friends may frown
Get furious
At each attempt to hold you down
If this advice you always employ
The future can offer you infinite joy
And merriment
And you'll see

5. "More" - Stephen Sondheim - Sondheim at the Movies
An ingenious turning inside out of that old standby "Who Could Ask for Anything More?" Sondheim answers the question, writing for Madonna in Dick Tracy.

6. "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home
Dylan in skittery, acoustic, full-on sarcastic mode.

7. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own (Live)" - U2 - Live from the Brooklyn Bridge
Not as powerful as it would get on tour, but still a damn fine live interpolation.

8. "Could I Leave You?" - Terry Trotter Trio - Follies in Jazz
The Trotter Trio did a bunch of albums featuring jazz trio interpretations of Sondheim scores. This is piece has a nice, exceedingly gently swinging vibe.

9. "Creating 'Governing Dynamics'" - James Horner - A Beautiful Mind
I like this Horner mode - kind of minimalist but not. This is the sound that's been swiped for those Allegra commercials.

10. "I Wish I Were in Love Again" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook
Sprightly and plucky, if a bit heavy on the strings.

Until Whenever

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Straggling Premiere

Gilmore Girls
Lots of hay has been made over the fact that this season of Gilmore Girls is the first produced without the show's singular voice, it's creator and writer of many episodes, Amy Sherman-Palladino. And lots of critics (see Alan Sepinwall's blog for a sample) are saying that in the premier episode the magic is gone - that new showrunner David Rosenthal's attempts to replicate the fast-talkin', pop culture-alludin', singular style of Sherman-Palladino's dialogue are impressive but in the end obviously an imitation of the real thing. But I wonder. I wonder if Sepinwall and many of his fellow critics would feel the same way if they hadn't been writing reams and reams about the Palladinos exit over the last six months, if they weren't so focused on the fact that the creators are new, if they didn't know all of this backstage stuff so well. After all, it's worth remembering that the average viewer has no idea who is in charge of a show, or who is writing it - the average viewer most likely doesn't know anything about the change. My guess is that if they didn't know the writers and creators were different they wouldn't have a problem with the premiere - it's a case of not being able to get around preconceived notions.

Because I thought the premiere was very, very sharp, with some classic-level GG dialogue and interactions. The whole raquetball thing, in particular, was wonderfully written and played, and very true to these characters. But most impressive for me was how Rosenthal handled the big mess he was handed - the seemingly needless (and repetitive--we've already done the Luke-Lorelai breakup thing) Luke-Lorelai breakup. And he handled it by addressing it head on. Lorelai slept with Christopher, she felt horrible about it, but she wasn't running back to Luke either. I actually was waiting at one point halfway through the episode, when Luke first came to Lorelai to apologize, for Luke to ask Lorelai to marry him right then and there. And then at the end of the episode, he did. And she said no - that it was really over. And, panicked, he insisted that it couldn't be. And she told him she had slept with Christopher. And he stormed off, obviously as devastated, angry, and hurt as he's ever been. Let me tell you, that scene right there was as well-written and acted as anything I've ever seen on this show. Kudos to Rosenthal--this is one fan who ain't going anywhere.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Civil War

I've been reading Mark Millar's much-hyped, much-discussed, much-delayed, much-criticized Civil War series and wanted to raise a few quick points. First, I like it. I don't love it - I recognize that it has problems - but I like it. I liked the Spider-Man revealing his identity bit, liked how it worked within the story, and I liked how they handled the build-up to it in Amazing. What I haven't liked as much is the extremity of the rift between superheroes. I find myself wondering if they should have named it Civil Disagreement, because the War part is feeling forced. Even with all of the build-up, the "Road to Civil War" stuff, the Illuminati special, the tie-ins - even with all of that storytelling weight and verbiage this still feels rushed. or, more specifically, the ease and quickness with which the sides have resorted to such epic violence feels forced. But at the same time, these are superhero comics, and the notion that everything becomes very quickly about violence has certain fairness about it.

But the one thing that I've actually liked, that so many others have mocked, the thing that's spurred this post, is the depiction of the relationship between Iron Man and Captain America. I keep reading fans and critics mocking the notion that such long-time friends, long-time crime-fighting partners, would come to blows like this. And yet to me it feels pretty right. I've hardly read the entire runs of The Avengers, Iron Man, or Captain America, and yet I always had the feeling that - while they were friends, and did respect each other - Iron Man and Captain America have always had opposing views. And we've seen those differences come to a head before.

In the "Armor Wars" saga that ran in Iron Man many years back, the two Avengers fought when Iron Man, in an effort to destroy purloined armor tech from a host of bad guys, also went after the Vault-guarding Guardians, with Captain America, in his then-current guise of The Captain, fighting against him. And in the Avengers saga "Galactic Storm" some years later, we again saw a rift formed in the Avengers rank over the question of what to do with the genocidal Kree Supreme Intelligence - kill him or not, with Iron Man and Cap leading the opposing factions. So this notion of Iron Man and Captain America coming to blows over different philosophies is not new - it's an organic development in a long-evolving relationship. And some of the recently released fourth issue's flaws (a clone of Thor? Really?) aside, it's to see that evolution continue and (for the time) resolve somehow that has me looking forward to issue five.

Until Whenever

Friday, September 22, 2006

More Premiere Week!

And I had such high hopes for this show. The premise is good, and some of the stuff in the pilot was effective (little boy looking at mushroom cloud, answering machine-captured death), but that - IN THE PILOT - they resorted to such an old TV cliche as the "emergency tracheotomy" was very disappointing. On top of that half of the action and suspense in the pilot - THE PILOT - had nothing to do with the possible end of the world, but instead was the result of random car crashes. What!? You get one hour to hook us on this concept and you waste much of it on contrived standard-issue TV tropes? Why?

My Name Is Earl
Nice that they are abandoning the every-episode-must-see-an-item-get-srcatched-off-the-list bit. And if Joy is in prison next week, then it might mean they'll be going after some longer arcs too. Very welcome. I laughed a LOT at this episode, so I'm glad to see that some of the structural repetition that made last season sometimes-wearying is being jettisoned.

The Office
A bit of a cop-out I thought on the whole Jim-Pam thing, but I have to admit to being hooked on what will happen next. And opening up the action to a second Dundler-Mifflin office is inspired, and will take some of the weight off the core cast. The gay stuff was as uncomfortably hilarious as anything the show has done so far - I was watching through my fingers.

OK, Jaquandor, I'll give you this. A bit too much Job-like travails for our friends. Sam, who has had much drama and tragedy in her life already is kidnapped and raped in front of her sleeping kid? And then she kills her husband in cold-blooded murder? And Neela goes right from her husband's funeral to a shot-up ER and one friend almost dying and another almost dying AND getting an emergency hysterectomy AND giving birth very prematurely? And Luka, he of the my-kids-were-murdered-in-a-war-torn-country backstory, has all of that happen to his child and girlfriend/fiance/whatever? And alcoholic, crazy-Mom-having, crazy-brother-having, husband-abandoned Abby has all of that happen to her? Damn, this is depressing stuff. Still, it's wonderfully done depressing stuff, and the ending with Sam was unexpected and wonderfully played. I ain't going anywhere soon.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Pilate's Dream" - Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice - Jesus Christ Superstar (Original Concept Album)
Lovely little acoustic guitar-backed song in which Pilate dreams about Jesus' crucifixion and subsequent rise to figure of worship.

2. "Escape to Paradise" - Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell - Chicken Run (Film Score)
Rousing, somehow very British, cut from the film.

3. "Your Fault: Last Midnight" - Stephen Sondheim - Into the Woods (Original Broadway Cast)
Great late-show patter number in which all of the surviving characters turn on each other before the Witch silences them all with a wonderfully sinister solo.

4. "Blue Chair" - Elvis Costello - Blood & Chocolate
Kind-of-standard forthright pop-rock from Costello.

5. "A Little Less Conversation" - Elvis Presley - Elvis 30 #1 Hits
Can't hear this song without picturing Robert and Amy's wedding dance from Everybody Loves Raymond.

6. "Now" - Stephen Sondheim - Putting It Together (1993 New York Cast Recording)
The synthesizers and revised-for-the-revue lyrics really kill the mood on this song, a pity in that the original featured one of the all-time greatest lyrics ever, with a lawyer pondering, in strict logical fashion, how to get his young, virgin bride to sleep with him.

7. "Finale" - Jonathan Larson - Rent (Original Broadway Cast)
The emotional - if a bit ant-climactic and cheating - ending to Rent.

8. "When in Love" - Alan Menken and Tim Rice - King David (World Premiere Recording)
The kind of slow, emotional, big-melody ballad Menken could write in his sleep.

9. "Daphne Descends" - Smashing Pumpkins - Adore
This song, off of the forgotten, but pretty good, Adore, has a very effective driving, melancholy beat.

10. "Fallen" - K.D. Lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel
Torchy, gorgeous, and sad - a great ballad and performance.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Modern TimesI know some comic book fans read this blog, so the following may (may) make some sense. You know the comic book trope of the hero (or villain) who is so remarkably good at what they do as to leave others - even other heroes - astonished at their sheer mastery? Think of Captain America effortlessly mowing through dozens of armed assailants in a single panel, or Bullseye effortlessly dispatching a legion of grunts with found items - that kind of thing. Other (non-comic book) examples might include a master chef assembling a meal seemingly without thinking, or the world's best juggler making juggling seem as simple as walking is to the rest of us.

This is what Bob Dylan's new album feels like. It feels so completely and utterly effortless, and yet at the same time so damn assured and perfect, that one can't help but gape in astonishment. The band is so tight, so assured, so natural, as to seem almost lazy - as if no real effort is being put forth here (when at the same time it's evident that much effort is). And the songs themselves sound like they've existed forever, as if Dylan merely plucked them from historical obscurity rather than going to the effort of writing them. (And, yes, I know that he's paying very traceable homage to some old blues standards and structures and lyrical conceits--nonetheless, this is very obviously a Dylan album, not an album of covers).

On top of that, these 1o songs represent some alchemical blend of modern and old that quite simply should not work at all. I mean, take a listen to the insouciant galloping rhythm section on the album's opener, "Thunder on the Mountain." This could be a forgotten track off of some old album from the 40s, with barrelhouse piano and upright bass anchoring the shuffling, bluesy melody. Except for the fact that the song -- especially as sung in Dylan's sly, ragged, growly voice -- sounds at the same time completely current. Or the moonlit "Spirit on the Water," which sounds like something your grandparents might have danced to, except, you know, not.

The whole album is like this, chock full of old-fashioned-sounding constructions made, by some magical means I can not fathom understanding, completely modern, even though the instrumentation and arrangements themselves could be out of pre-1950s America. Baffling.

As good as the band and songs are, the most stunning element here may well just be Dylan's singing. The voice itself is cracked, croaking, and harsh in spots, but tender and, yes, beautiful just the same. And the way he wraps that singular voice around these songs is in and of itself pure bliss. A lot of Mark Knopfler's more recent stuff has some of this old-timey feel, actually, but the difference between Knopfler's limited voice (which, like Dylan's, is not conventionally "pretty") and Dylan's masterful wielding of his is miles wide. Say what you want about tone, and purity of sound (and I have to admit to typically being a huge stickler for pop and rock singers singing well from a technical-production-of-powerful-pretty-sounds perspective), but this is master-level stuff going one here.

At this early stage (I've only listened to the album maybe 20 times or so so far) my favorite track just might be the elegiac "Workingman's Blues #2," with its quiet, relaxed beauty and lyrics like "You are dearer to me than myself/As you yourself can see" and "In the dark I hear the night birds call/I can feel a lover's breath/I sleep in the kitchen with my feet in the hall/Sleep is like a temporary death."

Or maybe it's "When the Deal Goes Down" another in Dylan's series of songs about mortality ("Knocking on Heaven's Door," "Trying to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door," "Po' Boy"), with lyrics like: "Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air/Tomorrow keeps turning around/We live and we die, we know not why/But I'll be with you when the deal goes down."

Or maybe it's the almost (but, again, not) quaint-sounding "Beyond the Horizon," with lyrics like: "Beyond the horizon, across the divide/'Round about midnight, we'll be on the same side/Down in the valley, the water runs cold/Beyond the horizon, someone prayed for your soul."

OK, so I don't have a favorite yet. No matter. The truth is that I simply cannot stop listening to this album, simply cannot evade its old-new" charms. Not, mind you, that I would really want to.

Until Whenever
Random Premiere Week Thoughts (So Far)

The Class
Intriguing enough to warrant a follow-up, especially since I've read elsewhere that in the second episode the show raises its game considerably. Sure, maybe there are too many characters, but honestly, I kind of likes that--sitcoms tend to be warier than dramas of big ensemble casts, and a bigger cast might mean that the show will be able to avoid staleness, or recycling of bits, for much longer than the average sitcom. Lizzy Caplan (had to go to IMDB to remind myself of where I've seen her before - she was Nick's disco-loving girlfriend on Freaks and Geeks) was the standout for me - I liked her sardonic character, cynical yet still somehow very happy-seeming. And the romance between the suicidal red-head and Caplan's sister was sweet and unforced. Many have railed against the lameness of the girl whose prom boyfriend turned out to be gay being married to a stereotypical queen, but a) I thought the gag was pretty funny the first time at least, and b) how great would it be if the "gay" husband turned out to be effeminate, swishy, and as gay as can be culturally, while being very, very much a raging heterosexual sexually. that would be sweet.

How I Met Your Mother
Out of the gates roaring. Robin and Ted have convincing sexual chemistry as a couple, but more importantly a good natural feeling together as well--we believe them as natural mates. But the focus of the ep was Marshall's epic depression, and it was handled pretty wonderfully - naturally, honestly, and always with great humor. Ted's explosion at Marshall was just brilliantly played and written. And the George Clinton stuff? Pitch-perfect. All this and Barney delivering a great Tom Joad riff about scamming girls and getting a lap dance I'm surprised made its way past the sensors.

Studio 60
Loved it, but am more eager to see how subsequent episodes play out. Many have called Amanda Peet a weak link, criticizing her for playing the head of a network who seemingly just smiles all the time. I thought her performance was nicely subtle, the smile being the character's her way of projecting calm control to the higher-ups on such a disastrous first day. Watch it dissolve when she can't find her office to reveal the barest glimpse of the panic beneath, and you'll see a hint of the depth her character will display as we progress. (Or so I hope.) The religious stuff did feel a little forced, and I'm not sure that having the Hayes character actually regret going on the 700 Club worked--it felt pandering and smug. Hopefully, her character will be allowed to be a positive defender of Christianity as well. Whitford and Perry have great chemistry, though, and Perry was just great here - I can't wait to see him dig into some quintessential Sorkinese in weeks to come. And is it too early to give Judd Hirsch his Guest Star Emmy?

Until Whenever

Monday, September 18, 2006

Like Opening Day for TV Fans

The TV season officially begins tonight, and I'm as happy as a little girl. Here's a quick run through what I will be watching, at least at the outset:

The Class, How I Met Your Mother, Two and a Half Men, and The New Adventures of Old Christine. Can't decide if The Class looks good or not, love Mother, and will watch Men and Christine because the missus likes 'em. The good news is that she doesn't like 'em enough to watch on tape, so I can Ti-Faux Heroes over on NBC, which the comic book fan in me is very, very curious about.

Studio 60
The single new show I'm most anticipating, Loved the script, the 3/4ths of the pilot I saw, the overall concept, and the cast.

Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars
I was going to try and catch up on season two of Veronica before now, but just finished season one a few days ago. I'm sure watching real-time now will spoil a bunch of season two surprises, but I simply can not wait.

Nothing definite. May give Smith a whirl, will catch the occasional SVU.

Undecided. Will it be the 30 Rock-Twenty Good Years combo on NBC or the intriguingly-premised Jericho? Given that the wife's tolerance for big mysterious creepy shows has been pretty much tapped out by Lost, I have a feeling we'll be going with the comedies.

Lost. Duh.

Probably The Nine which looks more interesting than the season-long kidnapping on Kidnapped. Also, we won't have to expend any energy in changing the channel after Lost.

Earl and Office. The most solid comedy hour in a long while.

Given the inanity and drawn-out nature of Deal or No Deal, I may just have to give Grey's Anatomy a try (I've never seen an episode).

ER. As has been well-documented.

The wife likes Crossing Jordan when there's nothing else on, and it doesn't look like there will be.

We saw the first two Men in Trees and it wasn't bad. Not great, but certainly good enough to keep watching for a little while more.



The Simpsons. The first two eps were uncommonly strong for recent-vintage Simpsons. (My favorite line of the season premiere was Otto, reacting negatively to the kids' singing, (paraphrased badly from memory) "That's not music. Real music has lyrics about Satan, making sweet love, or where smoke is in relation to water." Can't get into American Dad.

Family Guy. What can I say? It makes me laugh.

Will probably give Brothers and Sisters a try, if for naught else but the stellar cast. (Am I the only one who's noticed that Skerritt and Fields played matriarch and patriarch of a family in Steel Magnoilas too? No? Didn't think so.)

Until Whenever

Friday, September 15, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Now listen, both a yiz" - William Bolcom - A View from the Bridge (Opera)
Short transitionary bit of recicative.

2. "Home" - Alan Menken and Time Rice - Beauty and the Beast (Original Broadway Cast)
One of the new songs written for the stage production, sung directly after the Beast strikes the deal with Belle and leaves her in her room. A very pretty, belty-Broadway ballad, actually.

3. "One Tree Hill" - U2 - The Joshua Tree
One of those forgotten cuts that makes you smile whenever you hear it. I love the distorted, rough sounds that the band started playing with on Achtung Baby, but the crisp, clean sound here is just great.

4. "I'm Old Fashioned" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings the Jerome Kern Songbook
A gently, but easily and slightly cockily swinging rendition.

5. "Loompa Land" - Danny Elfman - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Elfman indulging some of his old Oingo Boingo muscles.

6. "In the Southern Clime" - William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and Experience
This choral piece from Bolcom's eclectic work has some of the bouncy feel of some of Britten's stuff.

7. "Avenue Q Theme" - Marx and Lopez - Avenue Q (Original Broadway Cast)
The Sesame Street pastiche is SO well done. These guys are writing a musical episode for Scrubs this year - I can't wait.

8. "Something's Coming/Tonight" - Stephen Sondheim (sung by Malcolm Gets and Barbara Cook) - Mostly Sondheim
As great as Cook is, I have to admit to not liking some of these piano-drum-bass cabaret-style arrangements.

9. "Raunchy" - Schmidt & Jones - 110 in the Shade (1999 Studio Cast)
Mousy Lizzie threatens some pretty tame "raunchy actions" ("Sippin' Dr. Pepper mixed with booze/burning like a fuse/shaking' my caboose.")

10. "Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love" - Ella Fitzgerald - Ella Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
A practically perfect take on the classic tune, languid, sparkling, and teased with jus tthe right amount of sex.

Until Whenever
Crystal Ball

Just noticed this:

The third-highest-grossing film of all-time (domestically) is Shrek 2 ($441 million).

The sixth-highest-grossing film of all-time (domestically) is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($417 million).

The seventh-highest-grossing film of all-time (domestically) is Spider-Man ($404 million).

And the tenth-highest-grossing film of all-time (domestically) is Spider-Man 2 ($374 million).

Here are three films coming out within three weeks of each other next summer:

May 4: Spider-Man 3
May 18: Shrek the Third
May 25: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

Now that should be an interesting month.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Gyllenhaal in Horrific Accident

The opening sentence of a Los Angeles Times piece on actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is below.

"In Sherrybaby, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is stripped to the bone - emotionally and literally."

I read the rest of the article in search of a description of the horrific accident that literally stripped skin and muscle off of Gyllenhaal's frame to reveal the bone beneath, but to no avail. Seriously, shouldn't someone writing for the Los Angeles Times know better?

Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The U2 Canon - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

And we reach the end of the line - for now anyway. The last U2 album. Hard to believe that this is almost two years old already. The pressing question awaiting this follow-up to the critically and commercially acclaimed "return to form" of All That You Can't Leave Behind was whether or not the band would be able to replicate the success of that album. Two years later it's pretty easy to see that the answer was an unqualified "yes." How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb received the "Album of the Year" Grammy and sold, if not in Joshua Tree numbers, extremely well, while the accompanying tour was a resounding success. In some ways, Bomb shows strong ties to its predecessor - a very "classic U2" sound married to a string of songs seemingly designed for maximum impact as singles. But the album is no mere clone of All That You Can't Leave Behind, offering a little less polish, some more pure and operatic vocals from Bono, and a couple of songs with more pure rock DNA than anything on that album. The eternal U2 theme - the conflict between faith and doubt - pops its head up a few times, but the theme is not dominant, as it was on All That You Can't Leave Behind. Instead, we get a more balanced attack, with many of the songs focused on the mystical bond that exists, not between man and God, but between man and woman.

1. "Vertigo" - The album's first single is a jolt of fresh air, anchored by a great faux-punk/garage band riff and a saucy sense of humor. I love the typical Edge solo here, with a very simple riff repeated four times, but with one small detail changed in the second and fourth repetitions. Classic Edge.

2. "Miracle Drug" - Maybe a tad overfed, this song nonetheless has a great energy and propulsiveness, as well as a topic - the miracles that science can bring to human health - that pop songs rarely broach. The line "freedom has a scent/like the top of a newborn baby's head" got mocked in some quarters, but I think it's an indelible U2 lyric - just shy of corny and somehow true.

3. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" - Bono's moving, heartbreakingly honest musical eulogy for his late father. The vocals on the bridge - "can you hear me when I sing?" - are some of his best ever, an uncanny and remarkable mix of opera and rock. A great addition to the U2 canon.

4. "Love and Peace or Else " - I always got the feeling that the band thought a little too highly of this fine, but not earth-shattering, song. Kind of funky, with a good groove, but I never really felt it took off. The band apparently had this song kicking around for a while, with it almost making it onto a few previous albums before finally surfacing here. I'm not sure they ever got it right.

5. "City of Blinding Lights" - The album's standout, and a worthy effort at creating the kind of big, epic U2 arena rock epitomized by the immortal "Where the Streets Have No Name." It's not up to that standard, but it's damn close - that protracted opening, with the cascading piano chords and the staccato ringing guitar and the eventual climax of chords and slide guitar sound is awe-inspiring.

6. "All Because of You" - A hot and muscular bit of straight ahead rock that takes a great riff, a classic Edge up-the-scale-down-the-scale guitar figure, and God-lover ambivalence and mixes them up to perfection. I would not be surprised at all to see some harder bands cover this down the road.

7. "Man and a Woman" - A slice of sweet U2-infused soul that never takes off to the ecstatic heights it clearly wants to. A noble and worthy effort though.

8. "Crumbs from Your Table" - The anti-poverty lyric may be a tad too on-the-nose, but this remains a great song, with spare garage-band roots lifted up by a great vocal and that unique Edge sound.

9. "One Step Closer" - A vastly underrated slow moody meditation on death. I'd love to see some cabaret or jazz artist strip away the production and reveal the core of classic beauty here. The lyric's origin story is one of my favorite's - as Bono's father neared death Bono asked someone - a Ramone? - if he thought he knew if there would be an afterlife or not yet. The Ramone (?) answered, "I don't know, but he's one step closer to knowing." Bingo.

10. "Original of the Species" - A delicate and beautiful rock song about the bond between parents and children. There's a live, professionally recorded version out there somewhere that I've yet to track down featuring a full string section. I must have it.

11. "Yahweh" - The God theme returns for the capper with a wonderfully propulsive song about man's trying to live up to God's standards. I love how the melody of the main refrain - "Yah-weh/Yah-weh" - never resolves until the very end of the song, indicating that the struggle to reconcile reality with the vision of paradise God gives us can never really be resolved, that there really is no "final answer." A beautiful song.

Grade: A

Until Whenever

Monday, September 11, 2006


Finally got around to the new Paul Simon album, and am mighty glad that I did. To be honest, I wouldn't rate this album as high as either of the two album's that are, for me, Simon's high-water mark as a solo artist - Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints. But it's close, and a sizable leap ahead of his last effort, the OK-but-not-special You're the One. Much hay has been made out of the influence Brian Eno had here, and a lot of that talk is fair; there are certain sounds here that have never been heard in a Paul Simon album. But I think it would be a mistake to downplay Simon's own songwriting achievements here; this is a wonderfully mature album, one that, for all of the sonic inventiveness and non-traditional touches, both in the production and the songwriting, decidedly does not sound like an older artist trying to sound younger. The lyrics, even the weary, settled melodies themselves, have an older feel to them, a sense of history and experience that's entirely appropriate. "How Can You Live in the Northeast?," the opening track, is probably the standout here - there's a great sense of unresolved tension and unsettledness to the arrangement, and a surprisingly muscular, almost hard-rock sensibility over the verses. Other standouts include the wistful "Everything About It Is a Love Song," the pained-but-hopeful "Wartime Prayers," and the delicately beautiful "Beautiful." One thought that occurred to me often in listening to this album over and over is how in some ways, consciously or not, Simon is still writing for Art Garfunkel. It's hard to listen to the high falsetto notes in, for example, "Wartime Prayers" and not hear Garfunkel's thin but pure high tenor singing those notes. Or the high, exquisite main melody line in "Beautiful," which practically begs for a better sound than Simon's own pale and unornamented falsetto. Or the odd, but extremely effective background-singer style interjections in the the sweet "Father and Daughter." One wonders if the two will ever get together again for anything more than the odd mega-concert and actually record some new stuff together. I can't be the only one who thinks it would be a great idea.

Until Whenever

Friday, September 08, 2006

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "Walk On (Live)" - U2 - America: A Tribute to Heroes
A nicely understated, yet still energetic, rendition of of one my favorite U2 songs.

2. "All Things Bright and Beautiful" - Mandy Patinkin - Sings Sondheim
A live recording of Patinkin's Sondheim concert, with just Paul Ford on piano as accompaniment. A hushed and sweetly-sad nostalgic take on the song.

3. "Temptation" - Elvis Costello - Get Happy!
Elvis cranking out some old-school rock/soul stuff. Great bass line on this one.

4. "Viva Las Vegas" - Bruce Springsteen - The Essential Bruce Springsteen
An energetic, fun live take on the Elvis cheesefest.

5. "Fragile" - Sting - America: A Tribute to Heroes
A mournful take on the one Sting song that has the best shot of lasting for the long haul.

6. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - Roger Whitaker - A Time-Life Christmas
Cheese all the way. Kids singing and the whole nine yards.

7. "Tropical Storm" - John Adams - Nixon in China
Adams takes a page from Britten's Peter Grimes score and applies his repetitive minimalist style to the musical evocation of a wild tropical storm.

8. "I Made a Fist" - Frank Loesser - The Most Happy Fella (2000 Studio Cast)
The heretofore-milquetoast, eternally happy Herman has his moment of truth when he decks a cowhand to protect his love's honor.

9. "Scene: The Ballroom" - Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon - The Secret Garden (Original Broadway Cast)
Mary meets her new guardian, her imposing and aloof uncle Archibald, for the first time.

10. "Rook: - XTC - Nonsuch
XTC indulging perhaps a tad too much in the dramatic declamatory piano chord.

Until Whenever

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Perpetual Anticipation

Now that the summer is over, it's time to look forward to what the fall has to offer. Here, in no particular order, are the ten things I'm most looking forward to over the last third of the year (pop culture category):

1. The new season of Lost.
It may just be six episodes until '07, but I'm still giddy with anticipation. This is easily the show I look forward to most each week.

2. Stephen King's new novel
Lisey's Story is, from romance novelist Nora Roberts' review on Amazon, King's attempt to pen an epic love story. Sure, he did this impeccably in Wizard and Glass, the fourth novel in his fantasy series The Dark Tower, but given how good that book was - if heartbreaking and tragic - I'm very curious to see how he handled such material in more of a "real-world" setting.

3. Bob Dylan's new album - Modern Times
Yes, I know this is already out, but my birthday is tomorrow and my wife will be getting it for me - so I've had to be a patient boy. From all reports this is a remarkable addition to the late body of work Dylan started with 1997's Time Out of Mind, and I'm shivery with anticipation.

4. Edward P. Jones' new collection of short stories - All Aunt Hagar's Children: Stories
I documented my abounding love for Jones' debut novel, The Known World, here. Our Girl in Chicago, over at About Last Night, has assured us that this is an eminently worthy follow-up, and I take her at her word.

5. Build a Bridge - Audra McDonald's new CD
Full of the best singer working in the theater today taking on some great pop songs, as well as the odd theater song. I listened to the 30-second previews on Amazon and the aching acoustic guitar-accompanied rendition of "Being Green" alone seems worth the price of admission.

6. The new season of Gilmore Girls
Last season's cliffhanger was a doozy, and I for the life of me can't figure out how (or if) new show guru David Rosenthal will be able to write his way out of it without causing permanent damage to either the characters or our hearts. But I can't wait to see him try.

7. Alan Moore's Lost Girls
I own precisely zero porn, in any form, including comic book - but the pedigree of Alan Moore and his track record of success in taking classic literary characters and mucking with them has me willing to make an exception for this pornographic look at what became of Peter Pan's Wendy, Alice in Wonderland's Alice, and The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy.

8. Dreamgirls
Hollywood hasn't soured yet on movie musicals, even after the relative failures of The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and The Producers, but only because none of those films had any real stars in them. My fear is that, should Dreamgirls fail, Hollywood - seeing a musical with the names Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, and Jamie Foxx in it - will throw up its collective fickle hands and assume that musicals simply aren't worth the time and that Chicago was an aberration. The irony, of course, would be that Knowles', Murphy's, and Foxx's last film or films were all relative failures. Still, the little footage I've seen looks very good, and I simply can't wait to hear Jennifer Hudson let loose on "And I am Telling You."

9. The new season of The Office
They got me with the Pam and Jim stuff. Hook, line, and sinker. Good work, The Office, good work.

10. The conclusion of Mark Millar's The Ultimates 2
What? This will happen in 2006. Right?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Tracy Chapman Songs

10. "Matters of the Heart" - One of Chapman's few longer songs, this one is anchored by an almost Caribbean, insistent acoustic riff. Does a nice job of very slowly building over its length.

9. "Across the Lines" - It may be a bit too on-the-nose in crying out against racial tensions, but sometimes directness works very, very well. "Little black girl gets assaulted. Know one knows her name. Lots of people hurt and angry, she's the one to blame."

8. "This Time" - A wonderful Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar run is used to great effect here. A wonderfully structured song.

7. "If Not Now" - Reflective and sad, with a wonderful use of acoustic guitar and piano.

6. "Open Arms" - An almost rambling, joyous song, with a simple central motif that runs up and down the scale like a happy child running up and down grassy hills.

5. "Talkin' About a Revolution" - Classic Tracy.

4. "Behind the Wall" - Her starkest and most dramatic song. Solo acappela vocals drenched in regret and pain singing a song about domestic violence. "Last night I heard the screaming. Loud voices behind the wall. Another sleepless night for me, it won't do no good to call the police. Always come late if they come at all."

3. "Short Supply" - I love the energy, the fresh, crisp, clean exuberance of this song about not squandering the good things in life, which after all, come in short supply."

2. "Fast Car" - The lynchpin to which she always will be compared and worthy of every ounce of its classic status.

1. "For You" - A delicate, fragile figure picked out on an acoustic guitar and gently hushed, confessional singing. One of the most heartbreakingly beautiful songs I have ever heard.

Until Whenever
An Album I Like But That Makes Me Mad (Not at the Album But at the Pop World and Audience in General)

So after reading more gushing, revelatory, ecstatic raves than I care to remember (I think it was Whitney over at Pop Candy that called it the "best album of the 21st century, but maybe not) I was finally bullied into getting Sufjan Stevens' Illinoise. Popped it into the car CD player and heard the opening plaintive, Guaraldi-esque piano chords of the first song. Pretty, but simple and light in a George Winston kind of way. Effete flutes. OK. Stevens comes in and starts to sing. Pretty, I guess, but very un-noteworthy - he has a bland, thin, almost-embarrassed-to-be-singing kind of voice, like so many pop/rock singers today. As if real singing, really projecting, singing with strength and depth and color to the voice, is something to be avoided at all costs - something very, very un-cool. OK. Second track is an instrumental, a slowly building thing, kind of orchestral but not really. Bolero-like in its simple building of one theme through repetition. I was expecting more guitar, harder indie-pop stuff, but I'm liking it fine enough - although something is bugging me. Third track. Another Guaraldi-riff and then a sprightly keyboard and horns thing, with female vocalists and a larger, more expansive scope and texture. And then it hits me - what's bugging me.

I'm a fairly big musical theater fan, as any regular readers know. And what struck me, just three tracks into this heralded album, is that - while the album is good and interesting and varied and features some lovely songwriting - there is a whole host of musical theater composers who are doing similar stuff, but to exponentially less notice and general acclaim. Give Adam Guettel's song cycle Myths and Hymns a listen to see what I mean. Funky, varied, pop-type songs, with interesting instrumentation and demonstrating a host of styles - just like Illinoise. But, unlike Illinoise, Myths and Hymns (and, to name just one more example of many possible examples, Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle Bright-Eyed Joy) features singers who can actually sing - strong, powerful, nuanced, controlled voices. And it features, yes, different and intriguing instrumentals, but instrumentals that at the same time aren't afraid of a fuller orchestral sound. Illinoise almost sounds as if Stevens had these songs and wanted to use a bigger orchestra, with more and bigger sounds available to mix with the piano-based rock/pop sound, as if he wanted to bring in real, trained voices, but was afraid it wouldn't be cool. Wouldn't be hip.

Now, I'm sure that's not what actually happened. But, listening to the album, it's what the sounds like happened. And as a big musical theater fan, it makes me, well, angry is the only way to put it. Angry that this great music, that an album of such varied and multi-hued beauty and intelligence--featuring such brilliant vocalists as Mandy Patinkin, Audra McDonald, Darius DeHaas, Theresa McCarthy--gets relatively ignored when a very similar-feeling album like Illinoise gets rapturous praise. I just wish that critics wouldn't keep so much of the musical theater stuff I like off in its own ghetto - especially when some of it is so similar in style and spirit to the stuff they love. All I can do is encourage anyone who will listen to pick up Myths and Hymns. You'll be glad you did.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Their Most Triumphant Return!!!

Or something like that. Tosy and Cosh return, well, not quite rested (major life events enjoyed/endured over the hiatus have included a heart attack for a family member, a wedding for a sibling, and a new home purchase for me and the family). But we are back. And, as is our wont, we return with a quiz, as supplied - as they are often supplied - by our good friend Jaquandor over at the indispensable Byzantium's Shores. With no further ado:

1. A month before it happens you're told you're going to lose your memory. How do you prepare for it and do you attempt to regain what you've lost?
While I would certainly prepare for it, I'm not sure how I could possibly prepare for something so world-shattering. After all, to try and record even a tiny fraction of "everything" in a month would be like trying to empty a lake with a butter knife. And it would be time away from the people you'd soon be forgetting.

2. How do you describe your outlook on life?
To quote the very underrated philosopher John Mellencamp: "I know a lot of things, but I do not know a lot of other things. Yeah, yeah, yeah."

3. You fall in love with your soulmate, decide to get married, and then find out that person is going to die soon. Do you marry them anyway?
Of course. Why wouldn't you? Isn't a month, a week, a day of such a committed vow worth it?

4. What are three of your favorite ice cream toppings?
Chocolate chips. Whipped cream. Chocolate sauce. Very traditional, am I.

5. Is there one article of clothing you love to wear no matter how out of style it is?
No. There really isn't any article of clothing I "love to wear," period. I simply don't care about clothes much.

6. Is there one color you wish would go away in fashion?
I couldn't name a color in fashion, never mind form an opinion over which one should be wished away.

7. What's the first department you head to when you go shopping in a department store?
Electronics. Look at the toys.

8. How far away do you live from your parents?
Currently, five miles or so. When we move to the new house alluded to above, that'll decrease to less than a mile. What can I say? I like my hometown.

9. Growing up, who was your favorite cartoon character?
Spider-Man. I lived for Spider-Man cartoons. For me, it was mostly Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, which I watched with uncommon zeal. And yet even the little, faithful, zombie-like Spider-Man child I was knew that the rec room that converted into a computer-laden secret headquarters was hella-lame.

10. You plan a romantic evening and everything goes wrong, including the fancy dinner you burned. What do you do?
To the restaurant we go!

11. What's the last thing you bought at the store?
Any store? Ice cream for the wife and I. Dairy Queen - a peanut butter cup Blizzard for her and a cherry vanilla milk shake for me.

12. Have you ever walked out in the middle of a movie?

13. What celebrity do most people say you look like?
When I was young, it was Matthew Broderick. Now, it's Matthew Broderick if he were far too fond of ice cream.

14. Is there any piece of jewelry you always wear?
Wedding ring - also the only piece of jewelry I've ever worn.

15. Have you ever tried to pick someone up?
No - wouldn't have the foggiest notion of how to go about it. The few times I've worked up the nerve to ask women out it's always been over elaborately manufactured pretenses. I didn't ask my wife out for the first time by just asking if she wanted to go out no, no no. I asked her to go see the new Indiana Jones movie, since we had, months before, talked about how she had never seen the first two, and how that was something that simply had to be remedied. That way if she said no, it wasn't a rejection of me, but of Indiana Jones. Clever, no? No? No.

16. What's the one thing you always manage to lose on your way out the door?
Not one thing, but a different thing every damn time.

17. Out of these creatures which one are you most afraid of: A.) Snakes B.) Spiders C.) Rodents
Rodents. A mouse in the basement freaks me out like a Fifties housewife in heels and pearls. Once, when I worked in a grocery store, I grabbed a open bag of cookies from the back room with the intention of eating one. A mouse popped its little head out of the bag at me and I damn near had a heart attack.

18. What's the last gift you bought for a friend?
My friends and I don't buy each other gifts. We're not gay (he said in a self-mocking voice).

19. Do you ever buy people things for no reason?
Rarely. But I burn CDs for people unprompted often.

20. What's your favorite way to spend a lazy summer afternoon?
On a beach with a great book and great tunes and family and some good snacking food. Have fun and swim. Gorgeous.

Until Whenever