Monthly Archives: March 2010

New Album! Len Price 3

 

I direct you again to Bucketfull of Brains, a superior publication I am proud to have been associated with for over a decade. This review, written in January, is available in the current issue which hit the stands in early March… 

There is no “Len Price“, of course; this Medway trio is composed of Glenn Page on guitar and vocals, Steve Huggins on bass, and drummer Neil Fromow. But perhaps a better way to phrase it would be that the band is composed of The Who, The Kinks and The Jam. Because if any of those three bands make the hair on your…well, hairy areas stand up, this is the band for you. If two or more of those bands make you strap on an air guitar, I may have your new favorite record in my hands. 

Fromow counts off the opening track (the title song) by clicking his drumsticks before launching into Keith Moon mania, with Huggins right on his tail like a hyperactive Bruce Foxton. You can almost see Page windmilling his guitar in his best Townsend pose, dripping Medway accent into the microphone with the energy of a teenager. And that’s how it goes on this thirteen-song, thirty-minute workout – one great song after another. Stripped down, short sharp and pop, echoing the greats but not mimicking them. 

The Prisoners heritage is clear

Touchstones abound – “I Don’t Believe You” is the son of “She’s Got Everything”, and “Keep Your Eyes on Me” is cut from the cloth of The Who Sell Out. The infectious “After You’re Gone” will remind one of “So Sad About Us”, and even the title of “Mr. Grey” sounds like a Paul Weller tribute (albeit with a flourish of horns straight out of “Penny Lane”). This album has it all – ringing guitars, great vocals, and catchy songs fueled by power chords and muscular drumming. It reminded me of recent favorites by Muck and the Mires and Graham Day and the Gaolers – and sure enough, Graham Day was one of the producers on this record. 

This is the third album from The Len Price 3, and while the other two were very good, Pictures is flat-out brilliant;  the first great record of the year and a lock for my Best Of 2010 list. Get it now.  

Robin Williams' Emmy via David Mills' words

And another sad loss…writer David Mills died yesterday from a brain aneurysm. Mills wrote for some of my favorite television shows – NYPD Blue, The Wire, Homicide – as well as helming The Corner and collaborating with David Simon on the upcoming Treme for HBO. He was only 48 years old. 

“What I can bring is the sort of simple story stuff, the stuff I would feel like I can contribute to any show I happen to be on at any given time, which is just, ‘How do we get the most out of these characters.” 

Here’s a nice tribute from friend and TV critic Alan Sepinwall

And another from NOLA.

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Remembering James Cagney

Simply the best.

James Cagney died twenty-four years ago today. 

When I was a kid my Dad and I would watch a lot of movies together, and that’s where I first saw this pugnacious little punk light up the screen. It didn’t seem to matter what film he was in; when he was on camera he attracted your attention with laser-like intensity. I guess that’s what they call a movie star

The Fighting 69th

Dad loved war movies – still does – and I have vivid memories of watching The Fighting 69th several times (as Irishmen, that’s almost a requirement). Later I discovered What Price Glory and 13 Rue Madeline, which I guess weren’t in rotation on the three or four New York stations available at the time. And his performance in Mr. Roberts was also a classic, although that was a comedy. 

Angels With Dirty Faces

But it was the gangster films that were seared into my memory. Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces were the two we watched most often; stone-cold classics that I still enjoy today. The latter also featured The Dead End Kids, who I would later follow through their comedic incarnation as The Bowery Boys. Two others that rank alongside them in his canon are The Roaring Twenties and the iconic White Heat; how Cagney did not win the Academy Award for the latter is still a mystery. (He eventually won for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and deservedly so.) 

I learned a bit later that Cagney was constantly battling the studio system – and Harry Warner in particular –  to be able to have more control over his career. The studios treated actors like indentured servants back then, although that also meant that you were used in a lot of movies and even loaned out to other studios on occasion as a favor between moguls. If you had the magic, as they say, soon enough you’d get a chance to prove it. But Cagney was getting typecast and didn’t like it. 

Man of a Thousand Faces

As I was growing up I caught up with several that I had missed, including other genres like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Time of Your Life (which was perhaps my own favorite moment on a college stage). His fierce performance in Love Me Or Leave Me was thrilling; he had played many bad men before but his gangsters always had some charm; Martin Snyder was an unlikeable character. And I got to see Man of a Thousand Faces again and understand what a magnificent performance it was; Cagney as Lon Chaney being other characters. There’s a wordless scene where Cagney re-enacts a brutally deformed cripple being healed and given the ability to walk; it is a master class in acting

I respected Cagney the man almost as much as I admired Cagney the actor. He fought for better working conditions for actors in general (his own behavior inspired others to stand up for themselves) and was president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was a patriot and generously devoted his time and services in support of the troops long before it became fashionable (or a savvy career move). His marriage at 22 lasted sixty-four years until his death at 86. And he avoided the hoopla of Hollywood, buying a farm first in Martha’s Vineyard and later another north of New York City. He approached life on his own terms, supported causes and people without fanfare or fear and set the bar early for the transition to a new style of acting. 

Ragtime

When Cagney died in 1986 it wasn’t a shock, as he had been in poor health for many years. He all but retired from movies twenty-five years earlier, but did return to the big screen in 1981 to play a supporting role in Ragtime as the cantankerous Police Commissioner. But thanks to my Dad and those many nights enjoying his work together, he always seemed vividly alive to me. If I’m flipping channels today and come across a Cagney movie, I automatically lock in and watch it even though the odds are I can recite every line of dialogue from memory. 

I was thrilled when Warners finally started releasing classic Cagney films on DVD (perhaps in an upcoming TGIF  I will rank my ten favorites). But one of my great thrills was being able to record the many unreleased Cagney films that TCM aired during a month-long tribute to Cagney and sharing them with my Dad. He had no idea that these had even aired, and some of them (Taxi, The Strawberry Blonde) he hadn’t seen since we watched them together all those years ago. Sometimes payback isn’t a bitch. 


March 1986 was a tough month. I lost my Mom to cancer; she had never really been sick a day in her life and was not a drinker or smoker. She felt some discomfort that January and it was determined that she needed minor surgery which was supposed to be routine. When under the knife in early February it was discovered that she had cancer. The pre-operative scans missed because it was too small, but it was scattered throughout her liver like buckshot, which meant her bloodstream, which meant it was now invasive everywhere. She never left the hospital. Every time I think of her I’m amazed that twenty-four years seems both like a long time ago and also like yesterday. 

When I think back to my childhood I remember her sitting nearby as my Dad and I watched Cagney’s movies. She probably enjoyed some of them herself, but knew that Dads and sons need to bond over certain things, and she gave us that space. (That was my Mom in a nutshell – unselfish.) So as I warmly remember the man who is still my favorite actor of all time, I do the same for the two people who always supported me unconditionally. March is a little easier to take these days. 

Thanks, Mom & Dad.

James Cagney on IMDB and Wikipedia

James Cagney Online – UK site with info and trailers

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New DVD: Muse Under Review

Thanks to the exquisite taste of my younger daughter, I’ve had the good fortune to see Muse in a club not once but twice, which today seems absurdly intimate. The first time I was the willing driver and back-of-the-room hanger-on at the local rock club, a duty that gave me immense pleasure even if I didn’t know the bands that well. (My daughter was interested in going to concerts – what else mattered?)

Sure, I suffered through some total dreck like the manipulative choreographed faux-punk of Fall Out Boy, but the karmic payback was in this trio that seemed to blend Radiohead, Queen and ELP into something greater than the sum of its parts. And not only were they phenomenal musicians, they had a light show that was probably better than many I’ve seen in outdoor arenas – and this was in an 800 seat club! Flat out mesmerizing.

The next time I saw them, I drove to Buffalo which meant enduring a carload of hyperactive and excited teenage girls talking over each other in a high-pitched cacophony that I imagined could strip the asbestos from old pipe insulation a hundred yards away. But by now I was as interested in seeing the band as they were, and Muse did not disappoint. In this slightly larger room – perhaps 1200 capacity – they played like they were rocking Wembley, albeit with appropriately scaled impeccable sound and an even better light show than before. Little did any of us know that they would be actually be rocking Wembley within a year.

I’ll save the dissertation on Muse’s music for another time; suffice it to say they are becoming one of the most popular bands on the globe and deservedly so. But their back story is almost as interesting as their rise; three musicians who united as teens and remain a trio to this day through hard work and careful career planning. They deserve their success, and when it comes to entertaining an audience, they get it.

I’m a big fan of music documentaries when they are done well;  I don’t mind those talking heads if they’re actually providing some useful information. Fortunately there have been several DVDs released in the last couple of years that are the antithesis of the gossipy tabloid crap you’ll find clogging channels and programs that I won’t even validate by naming them.

So if documentaries are your cup of tea, and you like Muse, check this out. And a shout out to Eli for turning me on to this great band in the first place.

Matthew Bellamy, Muse’s principal songwriter, had always believed that their concerts required spectacular production as well as pristine sound. His earlier songs focused on spiritual and mystical topics; veritable space operas that leveraged his instrumental versatility and classical music background. As each successive tour brought more confidence, the band’s stage show expanded to include more and more spectacular lighting and visual effects from multiple video screens to giant fluorescent glitter-filled balloon orbs dropped over the audience.

He also displayed an uncanny balance of following sage advice and taking chances; willing to work a long term plan true to his artistic vision rather than aim for the bigger dollars a more commercial sound would bring. Muse began road-testing songs prior to recording, lyrics and themes became both mature and otherworldly, and the band changed producers from album to album before finally taking the reins themselves.

By the time of their global breakout headlining Glastonbury in 2004, any doubts about their abilities vanished with a stunning performance that had fans and critics raving. That their stature has only gotten larger is impressive; as of 2010 they are arguably among a handful of the world’s most successful bands and only getting bigger.

Read my full review of this documentary at PopMatters

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Detroit Rock City

Fewer places have been hit harder by the recession than Detroit in recent years. Maybe you’ve never been there and that statement doesn’t resonate much with you, but when one of America’s greatest cities is fighting to survive, the rest of us need to wake up.

Anyone involved in the music business knows how important Detroit has been to rock’n’roll. The list of giants is staggering, from Motown to Mitch Ryder, from Ted Nugent, Bob Seger and Alice Cooper to The Romantics, The Stooges and The MC5. I could list a hundred artists. Edumucate yerself.

America has turned from a nation of innovators and producers to a nation of consumers. Global conglomerates only exist to groom, maintain and satisfy shareholders, and we’re feeding the beast like never before. Hey, everyone wants a deal, whether it’s on their new car, their mortgage or a pair of pants. But even the most caustic critic of social issues must be aware of the toll that has been taken as corporations squeeze out labor through offshore flash farms and duck financial ethics using creative accounting loopholes.

First it was the farmers unable to sustain businesses that had weathered the toughest of storms – even The Great Depression – thanks to banking maneuvers that we now realize were less than ethical. And the auto industry – the backbone of American manufacturing – is now gasping for air.

So what is the Assembly Line Concert?

Live musical marathon from March 19th through April 1st, to raise awareness of the importance of the Auto Industry and the buying of domestic and locally made goods and services to the creation of jobs in our communities. It is also an attempt to break the Guinness Record we set last year for the longest concert by multiple artists.

This year’s effort is appropriately nicknamed the Second Shift. The Daily Tribune reported that “the concert record set last year brought attention to the cause. …About 200 bands have signed up to play one-hour sets at Assembly Line II. The Guinness Book of World Records clock starts ticking at 5 p.m. and if all goes well, musicians will play continuously for 13 days.”

So tune in and rock! And maybe the next time you’re going to plunk some money down, consider where it’s going before you make that final decision.

Detroit = Rock City

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Timothy Olyphant is Badass

The critical raves are Justified

Timothy Olyphant is badass. 

Olyphant has become one of those actors whose very presence in a cast legitimizes the project for me. Sure, his early career looks like most actor’s, a few romcoms, guest spots on bad TV shows, less than stellar plots. But lightning struck when he hooked up as part of the cast of Deadwood, certain to go down as one of the all-time classic series on television. He brings such charisma and strength to a role, when he’s onscreen it’s hard not to be completely captivated. 

John Hawkes, Timothy Olyphant, Keith Carradine

He’s always been good in a war-themed flick; the recent Stop-Loss and the underrated When Trumpets Fade being but two examples. Domed skull in Hitman. Convincingly appropriate in culture flicks like Go and Rock Star. But he really shines when given a character with inner conflicts who might be morally ambiguous; his supporting role on Damages was a standout. 

But after one episode of the new FX series Justified – hell, after one scene – I’ve come to the conclusion that Olyphant belongs under a cowboy hat. (And to think they almost cast Dermot Mulroney as the lead!) 


Justified is based upon an Elmore Leonard character from his story called “Fire In The Hole“, with Olyphant playing the lead character Raylan Givens. The original title of Lawman wasn’t available thanks to Steven Segal‘s latest abuse of his fifteen minutes of fame (isn’t that voucher beyond stale by now?). 

Writers include those who have worked on Karen Sisco (another Leonard-based show featuring Carla Gugino and Robert Forster) and Deadwood. And what tips the brim is that Elmore Leonard is directly involved as writer and producer. Show writers wear a bracelet that reads “What Would Elmore Do?“…now that is badass as well. 

Basic cable has started to kick the major networks’ asses with more and more quality actors finding great projects and first-rate material. Mad Men and Breaking Bad give AMC huge credibility; TNT struck gold with The Closer and USA may have found their replacement for Monk in White Collar

But FX has been on a serious roll the past couple of seasons adding drama like Justified and Sons of Anarchy and comedy shows Archer and The League. The majority of my must-see TV is on basic cable these days. 

If you have not jumped on the Justified bandwagon, I implore you to do so quickly and catch up; the third episode airs next Tuesday (March 30) at 10pm. Rich characters, great atmosphere, stellar casting (Walton Goggins!), adult themes…this one is a keeper. 

As scene-stealing Wes Krulik in Damages

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Trippy Tributes

I bow in your honor

I love, love, love tribute albums. Some are so inventive they occasionally exceed the original. Some are so poorly regimented that they’re fun like an Ed Wood movie is fun. You just have to admire a group of artists taking the plunge, whether it’s a label trying to promote their artist roster or a heartfely bow to some grand master.

I think the pinnacle for me is still eggBert’s Sing Hollies In Reverse, which featured a stunning asssemblage of pop stars, great song selections and some unbelieveable takes on the Hollies canon. Then they wrapped it up in a beautiful package with a well-written and informative booklet. Handled with care. The late great Greg Dwinell is no longer with us, but that album is one of his shining legacies.

Still the champion

But I know most people aren’t like me – tribute albums make as much sense as ducking an artist’s concert to see a cover band. And the funny thing is, I abhor most cover bands. Maybe I like tributes more because of the one-song-per-artist rule, or maybe it’s that I don’t have to watch them…I can just listen. And when the collection creatively juggles so many styles – folk, rock, dixieland, punk, r&b, glam, powerpop – so much the better.

Here are ten tribute albums that might have slipped by you. Click on the links below to listen to sound clips – you’ll be surprised how great some of the cuts are, not to mention some of the famous artists participating on even the tiniest label efforts!

Resurrection of The Warlock  (T. Rex)

Lowe Profile  (Nick Lowe)

Turban Renewal  (Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs)

Uncovered  (Bob Dylan)

We Will Fall  (Iggy Pop)

Brace Yourself  (Otis Blackwell)

Caroline Now  (Brian Wilson/Beach Boys)

Chooglin’  (John Fogerty/ Credence Clearwater Revival)

Blastered  (The Blasters)

Frankly a Capella  (Frank Zappa / The Mothers of Invention)

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New Album! Bleu

(Well, not brand new. But I do hold these back until after the print magazines have hit the racks.)

In 2003, Bleu’s Redhead album blew me away. I was on that one so hard and so fast, Columbia used my pull-quote on the front cover of the album. It came out early in the year and I predicted it would hold off all contenders, and it did – I voted Redhead as the best album of the year.

Fast-forward through the next dog year, and Bleu is recording a few one-offs, working with other artists, joining an ELO-inspired collective and even forming a pop geek supergroup with Mike Viola and Ducky Carlisle. And now, finally, that carefully Watched Pot.

I think Bleu has a lot in common with Butch Walker – he’s so talented that the tendency is to have him do too many things at once. And if I were that fortunate, to be both talented and in demand, who is to say I wouldn’t say yes more than I should? At least that’s what I surmise is happening, for as good as A Watched Pot is, I feel…well, to follow his metaphor, that it never quite boiled.

So here’s what I wrote for the latest Bucketfull of Brains.

I guess the pun here is that “a watched pot never boils“, and in fact this third album was bottlenecked by label apathy and the artists’ own perfectionist tendencies. Not that Bleu McAuley hadn’t been a busy guy since moving from Boston to the west coast; collaborating with pop savant Mike Viola (and Bleu’s Beantown producer/drummer Ducky Carlisle) in The Major Labels, and releasing a blatantly affectionate ELO nod (L.E.O.’s Alpacas Orgling). But this on-and-off project has taken quite a while to see the light of day. Maybe the formulaic music industry wasn’t cooperating, or maybe (as he sings in the first track) “nobody saved me from myself”. The irony is that while the pot is here, the contents are not exactly boiling.

I don’t think there’s a film using “There’s No Such Thing As Love” as its title theme, nor “Save Me” or “When The Lights Go Out” (the stunning vocal duet with Sandra McCracken). But if I were a screenwriter I wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate them; hell, the arrangements are so huge that they would be tempted to write a screenplay around them. On most of the songs Bleu sounds like he’s going for the brass ring, seeking either the big hit single or (via a cover version by a name artist) the big royalty opportunity.

Carlisle and John Fields have helped sculpt a huge aural platform for his songs, both lyrically and musically complex. And Bleu’s wordplay and sense of humor is firmly in place as is his subtle sinister side. Much like the stalker reveal in Redhead’s beautiful “Watching You Sleep”, his “I Won’t Fuck You Over” seems apologetic…until the very last Hitchcock-ian phrase. And  I suspect the clever Bleu used the amusing tale of opposites attract in “Boy Meets Girl” to take a subtle shot at reviewers trying to pigeonhole his music (“it’s like Jesus Jones and The Rolling Stones  in a game of Twister“).

My first impression was a bit of disappointment that Bleu didn’t rock out a little; some of the more engaging songs on Redhead had a little more energy behind them, like “I Won’t Go Hollywood” and “Could Be Worse”. Aside from “Kiss Me” – which crosses 60’s Motown with 70’s Philly Soul – everything on A Watched Pot is pensive and lush. But when I revisited Redhead I realized it had the same ratio of tempos; it was jus that those two songs jumped out more from the pack. 

Those seeking the power in powerpop might be a little put off by the slower, more dramatic pace and struggle to take it in a single gulp. But there is no denying Bleu’s uncanny ability to create majestic pop songs with huge arrangements, and when they are sung by what might be the best pop voice since Robin Zander, that’s a small nit to pick.

Bleu on MySpace

Video for “There’s No Such Thing as Love“. (Damn…I should have been a photographer.)

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