Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hit Shuffle - 10 Random iPod Tunes - Beatles, Badfinger, Lambchop ...

The Beatles showed up 5 times when I shuffled my iPod and listened to the first 10 songs. That's because I'm only as far as the letter 'B' in transferring selections from my album collection to my tiny metal device, and into my head, where I still save a space for a sweet melody.

1. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Regarded by most rock and roll enthusiasts as one of the finest rock albums ever produced, Sgt. Pepper was a milestone in cultural history ushering in a wave of psychedelic rock that still influences scores of musicians today. It brought rock and roll up to a higher artistic standing, comparable to the greatest book, the finest sculpture. The 1967 album was originally conceived to be a concept album regarding The Beatles' individual childhoods, but when McCartney wrote this song, he suggested it could serve as the theme to the entire album. The band agreed and magic ensued. This opening track's circus Big Top atmosphere is made horrid and macabre by the sound of an audience reacting to the music, as if coming from the very hollows of Hell.

2. Lambchop, 2B2

"Took the Christmas lights off the front porch", begins this sad lament from Kurt Wagner (Lambchop) that is about as quietly devastating as kicking through the rubble of the aftermath of a major flood. Wagner discovers bemused gloom in everything, and here in this gentle assessment of life, longs for an escape from the drudgery all existence possesses. The sound of soft spoken wooden knocks deep in the languid music finds me wondering if the sound is outside the headphones, or indeed, outside my sphere of being. From the 2012 album, Mr. M.

3. The Beatles, Yer Blues

Credited as a Lennon/McCartney composition, but written by John Lennon while in India, this raw blues song from The Beatles (The White Album), 1968, was recorded in the "annexe" of EMI Studio 2, a large closet in the control room, and sounds as if coming from an echoed chamber. A crude production that allowed Lennon an opportunity to exorcise his demons in an hard-edged guitar blues rant. The Beatles can be heard shouting drunkenly to one another as Lennon belts out primitive psyche statements like, "I want to die!".


4. The Bee Gees, Stayin' Alive

Ain't too proud to dig disco. This record is one of the finest hit singles ever produced. From the soundtrack to the enormously successful 1977 film, Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta, this Bee Gees composition transverses being a fashion conscious dance fad to becoming a teen angst classic rock recording. The unchanging rhythm of the drums is credited to drummer Bernard Lupe, but the name is an alias made up by The Bee Gees when they "looped" the drums from another song on the album - "Night Fever". That didn't stop the unreal Bernard Lupe from becoming an in-demand session drummer, much to The Bee Gees amusement. Dig the awful clothes in The Bee Gees video of the song at the link below.

5. The Beatles, And I Love Her

From the soundtrack to A Hard Days Night, this McCartney composition, credited to Lennon/McCartney, is the pre-psychedelic Beatles at their most romantic. A Spanish guitar gives the song an exotic drunken appeal like the soft oceanic morning light after a night of cocktails. Both Lennon and McCartney vowed credit for the middle verse break in the song - a love like ours, will never die - which the first recording of the song did not include, as heard on The Beatles' Anthology album.

6. The Beatles, Don't Pass Me By

From The Beatles (The White Album), this is drummer Ringo Starr's first recorded composition. It's a simple three chord blues song with a country "fiddle" by violinist Jack Fallon and a rinky-dink piano that gives the song a cosmic moonshine-y feel.

7. Pink Floyd, Young Lust

A gem from Pink Floyd's 1979 classic The Wall, this hard rock song sounds like a seismograph shaking crack coming up through the floorboards. A hammering of monolithic audio technique gives this rocker an antiquated sound like a far-out '60s experimental jam. The spoken word phone conversation that closes the song, a Floyd signature moment, is in reality an unsuspecting AT&T operator the band recorded while trying to make an impossible call to London from America. I've always wondered if she received any royalty for her contribution.

8. The Handsome Family, So Much Wine

The second song on this list which mentions the Christmas holidays. The cosmos must be aligned! It's a soft and tragic bluegrass folk ballad from the band's 2000 In The Air album with a haunting refrain that is as warm as a jug of spirit - Listen to me Butterfly, there's only so much wine, you can drink in one life, but it will never be enough, to save you from the bottom of your glass.

9. The Beatles, Revolution 1

The Beatles (The White Album) version of "Revolution" is very different from the hit single on the flip side of "Hey Jude" the band released in 1968. This album version is the one John Lennon preferred be released as a single. While the original song is a fired up rocker, this album cut is a bluesy, no-holds-barred affair that ends with the unmistakable grunts and groans of lovemaking. The radical left felt betrayed by Lennon's lyric in the original single - But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out -. By the time the album's version was released months later, the lyric was more ambiguous - about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out (in).

10. Badfinger, Baby Blue

Love this record by The Beatles' Apple Records prodigy band, Badfinger. A big hit in America in 1972, it was never released by Apple as a single in its UK homeland, due to the upheaval and corporate changes at Apple Records in the early '70s. It was written by Badfinger front man, Peter Ham, who also wrote Harry Nilsson's smash hit, "Without You". Ham ended Badfinger uncerimoniosly with his suicide by hanging in 1975. It's just a rocker with a shiny fuzz-tone guitar, cutting riffs, and Beatlesque harmony that cut a knife in me at a very young age leaving a wound that has been lovingly festering ever since. From the 1971 album, Straight Up.


Monday, November 26, 2012


Word is that Mohawk Place, Buffalo, New York's hole-in-the-wall and legendary rock and roll club, is closing on January 12. A message on their Facebook page announced the closing due to "circumstances beyond our control". I touted the club often on this blog. Keep supporting local music, and go tip a final beer at Mohawk during the holidays. And hope against hope that the club will be somehow saved.

Saw a rockabilly show with Canadian rockabilly kingpins The Royal Crowns and Buffalo's own Blue Ribbon Bastards at The Tralfamodore Cafe (The Tralf) on Saturday night. Treated my brother and sister-in-law to the show - they are huge rockabilly fans and they just happened to be in town when I acquired the tickets compliments of The Tralph's mailing list. The Blue Ribbon Bastards are a young 5-man outfit who are just finding their rockabilly sea legs and whose set I thoroughly enjoyed. My bro and his wife were just a tad snobbish (critical is a more apt word), about the band, and they've been known to cross the continent just to see a rockabilly show. "Seeds of promise", I think was the phrase loosely thrown about our table. I thought they were mighty fine and I especially liked lead/singer Wade Witczak's tempting invites to go full blown pshyco-billy with loose rolling eyeballs and euphoric moonshine yelps. And I appreciated guitarist Steve Cryan's easy and repetitious riffs dominating the music like an old funk jam. 


Pictured above left The Royal Crowns, right Wade Witczak of Blue Ribbon Bastards
The three man "The Royal Crowns", celebrating 20 years as Canada's premier rockabilly act, duked out a fine set of accomplished and confident rockabilly with particular attention to guitarist Danny Bartley masterful riffs. The set included classic covers of blues and rockabilly, original songs, and one beautiful ballad that sounded like the drunken morning-after effects of rocking - a slow meditative and melodic song that lulled me away. Didn't catch the title. The trio consists of original guitarist Bartley, original drummer Teddy Fury and Buffalo, NY recruit Jason Adams on bass.
From rockabilly to Happy Trails! I was driving down the road and I saw an Estate Sale sign so I pulled in to check it out. Weird coincidence that the manager of the sale, running it for an elderly woman who was moving out of her home, happened to by my cousin's husband. He gave me an excellent deal on a horde of Old West magazines from the 1950s and '60s that I found buried in a box. I'm prairie packin' -

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi

Somehow I wasn't expecting to be handed a pair of 3-D glasses - a good, sturdy collectible pair - when I viewed Ang Lee's new film, Life of Pi in 3-D. I hadn't seen a 3-D film since Andy Warhol's Dracula (1974), and I would have guessed the technology to be more advanced by now.

It worried me that author Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name, a book I concluded could never be adequately adapted to film when I read it years ago, was being given the kind of pre-publicity campaign treatment I'd expect from a new Transformers movie. My Facebook page has been deluged with promotion for the film (my own fault when I "liked" it), and Life of Pi collectible figurines have been popping up all over the internet. I even received an email inviting me to an online auction of props and artifacts from the making of the film.

So as I adjusted my large, awkward and just a tad humiliating 3-D glasses, I was convinced my favorite novel of the last twenty years had been ambushed by Hollywood's expectation of eternal profit. But then the movie began like a quiet symphony and roared to its destination with the kind of grace reserved for opera and ballet. Director Lee has captured the very soul of the book.

The story concerns a family in India who own and operate a small and quaint zoo, which looks, thanks to the gorgeous 3-D photography, like a suburban Eden oasis with gentle animals roaming and birds fluttering from the heavens. Due to financial conditions in India, the family - the parents and two teenage sons -decide to emigrate to Canada on a shipping vessel with a small horde of their animals in cages. The ship is ravaged by a severe storm, and the younger son, Piscine (Pi) is thrust into the ocean on a lifeboat that can barely stay afloat in the violent storm. As the storm breaks and the delirious Pi drifts further into an oceanic abyss, he finds he is sharing his boat with an orangutan, a spotted hyena, a zebra, and one very large and scary Bengal tiger. In little time the tiger makes quick dinner of the surviving animals, and thus begins the journey of Pi - how he stayed alive for 227 days on a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a hungry Bengal tiger.

It seemed to me the biggest difficulty in filming Life of Pi was director Lee's task of making the animals as genuine and ferocious as they are in the book. He succeeds by allowing the computer graphic design to define the subjects with biological accuracy while leaving just a little space for artistic whimsy. The CGI gives the fable a surrealistic appearance by clarifying the godliness and might of the tiger, and the comical and tragic plight of the other animals, through subtle touches of design.

Even more impressive is Lee's cinematic beauty. In one memorable scene, the starry ocean night sky illuminates phosphorus sea creatures as the lifeboat drifts on the calm surface. The scene is the very image of "being" or godhead, with the night stars, the illuminated ocean and the small boat looking like a single entity in the great cosmic universe. The beguiling 3-D technology is at times, like looking into a magnified aquarelle of color and light with each passing image presenting itself like a living artwork of great depth. While awe-striking, the film's beauty is never overbearing and is strictly aligned with the telling of the story.

And what a beautiful adventure it is, with a commanding philosophical narrative that seems to encompass all philosophical and religious decree. You can view this movie on several levels - as excellent entertainment, or as intellectual fodder for mind provocation. It is also emotionally exhausting. Pi's relationship with the tiger is an uplifting and joyous experience to witness.

Actor Suraj Sharma as Pi, delivers a most understated and empowered performance. Standing amidst the superlative effects and astounding imagery, Sharma is the lifeblood of the movie, adding the human equation to the majesty of the elements of nature.

If possible, Life of Pi should be seen while wearing the ridiculous 3-D glasses. You'll soon forget you're wearing them.

this review was first published by me here -
Movie Review: Life of Pi - Blogcritics Video

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Music Review: Gary Lewis and The Playboys - The Complete Liberty Singles

Cynicism may be the reaction to the hit singles of mid-late 1960s pop band, Gary Lewis and The Playboys . As son of the famous comedienne Jerry Lewis, Gary and his Playboys were fortunate with the luxury of the Lewis family bank account to line the grooves of their first hit single, "This Diamond Ring", a 1965 number one smash hit helmed by ace producer Snuff Garrett, and arranged by in-demand session producer/musician Leon Russell.

"The Playboys" were Allan Ramsay, David Costello, David Walker, and John West. Because they relinquished their garage band playing to the expertise of renowned session players for the recording of "This Diamond Ring", and Lewis' lead vocals were made velvety smooth by blending them into session vocalist Ron Hicklin's voice (singer of countless TV commercial jingles and the "voice" of those wonderful Partridge Family records) Gary Lewis and The Playboys were as artificial as the corporate-controlled "The Monkees" (who amazingly were the headlining act to Jimi Hendrix in 1967).

The small arsenal of producers, arrangers, and players that were Gary Lewis and The Playboys had an amazing and successful run of the pop charts in 1965 and '66, placing seven consecutive records into Billboard's Top Ten Singles chart. While they mock-played their instruments to pre-recorded music on TV's showcase, The Ed Sullivan Show (where Lewis' lead vocals were sung live at Sullivan's insistence), their records blazed the radio airwaves with sunshiny pop that boasted a recognizable shadowy anchor of off-key baritone and complex arrangements.

Real Gone Music's reissue of The Complete Liberty Singles is a comprehensive account of their career: a two-disc, 45 track CD set that includes all their hits and every B-side, cover and miss-hit, making it more Gary Lewis and The Playboys that you may ever want to hear. It ultimately traces a cultural history of playful teen-inspired '60s pop music abruptly altered with the induction of Lewis into the Vietnam conflict in 1967, which fairly ended his career.

The group's records seduced their young audience's budding sexual glands with romantic, lulling invitation while reaching into their pockets for allowance change. Their debut hit, "This Diamond Ring"is a fiery blueprint for hit-making success, with an exotic mid-Eastern flair of tampini, tambourine, and bass drum that stirs up a delicious concoction of dark pop melody. "Save Your Heart For Me" is a dopey warm summer ballad that is as addictive and disposable as a pre-teen wad of bubble gum. The circus atmospheric "Everybody Loves A Clown" a Leon Russell composition, has a piano-driven bouncy rhythm that will have its listener helplessly playing and singing along. And the Flamenco-inspired "Sure Gonna Miss Her" lights up a Tijuana sunset in a gliding melody highlighted by a gorgeous Spanish guitar by Tommy Tedesco.

The non-hit tracks offer more interest and enjoyment than I would have supposed. Changing musical tastes bringing a more radical agenda alongside bubble gum pop in Top 40 radio, finds the band scrambling through genres to reclaim their hit-making status with flourishes into The Turtles psyche baroque ("Jill"), The Archies kiddie jangle ("Hayride"), and straight-up rock and roll ("I Saw Elvis Presley Last Night").

Gary Lewis and The Playboys, while forever labeled a "producer's band", delivered a solid package of fun hit records that still demand attention today when heard on oldies radio. Lewis, who may have been a better producer, promoter, and manager than he ever was a musician, was a likable and unassuming pop star. He looked like the tall geeky kid without a date at the school dance, when all around him were pin-up boys and British invaders. He possessed a simple but effective enunciation that placed itself squarely into the listener's psyche like a friendly dumbed-down mantra.

This CD package is a nostalgic joy to listen to. It comes with a 12-paged booklet of liner notes and pics.

this review was first published here, per agreement, and lots of cool free stuff -

Music Review: Gary Lewis and The Playboys - The Complete Liberty Singles - Music - Blogcritics

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

EASY AUTUMN - Fiona Apple, Smoking Popes, Baseball Hall of Fame

O Autumn, laden with fruit and stain'd
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof, there thou mays't rest
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe -
                                                     William Blake in one of his funnier moods

Nothing to say on Election Day. The two American cheer leaders fall silent. America buzzes like a swarm of bees. And then fall dead again. Twiddle-dee-dee or Twiddle-dee-dum, one is all empathy and one is no fun.

At least if I vote for The Socialist Party, I'll have entertaining delusions that the CIA is watching me.

My older bro', cool insider to all things show, gave me 4 tickets to the Fiona Apple concert at Kleinhans Music Hall. He called me up the morning before the show and said, "Do you want tickets for the Fiona Apple show?", I said, "Sure, get me two tickets", he said, "I can't get you two , I can only get you four", I said, "OK, give me four".

So I held a  lottery with an intimate group of friends and made them jump for the tickets like sharks to a dangling hunk of chicken. What cruel fun four tickets were for five friends.

The show was fantastic with Apple cruising us through sound waves of minor chord extravagance guided with a hard positive power edge by her flashy lead guitarist and solo opening act, Blake Mills.

                                                                       Fiona Apple

Exactly one week later, I caught Smoking Popes at Mohawk Place in Buffalo. They played a Tuesday night gig with Screaming Jeans and Roll the Tanks, a power pop night of  rock 'n roll delight. The Popes played their classic 1994 album, Born To Quit in its entirety and were a fast and tight outfit of guitar and drum syncopation, highlighted by electrified fave songs from that beloved album - "Just Broke Up" and "Need You Around". Screaming Jeans played a grungy and entertaining set that recalled the power pop of late 60s American bands The Blues Magoos with a hint of ancient Jay and The Americans boy-singer-with-a-trill swagger, and Roll The Tanks, from California, borrowed some Smoking Popes riffs to introduce a fantastic set that found addictive and complex vocal arrangements snugly fitting into the guitar dominating scenario of intelligent power pop. It was a great show that played for a ridiculously paltry crowd of about 25 people.

Smoking Popes Need You Around Video - YouTube

                                                                    Smoking Popes

Did a Saratoga weekend and drove up to Cooperstown, NY to visit The Baseball Hall of Fame, on the eve of the disappointing and drab World Series.

Cool museum, if a little stiff. Could get lost spending an entire day laboring over the artifacts and history of America's favorite past time. Bought some mementos and cards and watched old film footage in the Babe Ruth room and did the Abbott and Costello "Who's On First?" routine.

Took a day trip to Vermont and took this pic of a covered wooden bridge along the way. I neglected to note exactly what bridge it is or what town I was in.