Tag Archives: PopMatters

Happy Birthday, Mel Brooks!

 

He’s given us (among other things) Get Smart, The Critic, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and The Producers. He helped get The Elephant Man and My Favorite Year brought to the screen. He made his bones in a writer’s pit with Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar

As an actor, director, producer, screenwriter, lyricist, singer and playwright he has helped introduce satire and parody to the last three generations…and his timeless work will continue to entertain the planet (and whatever life-forms visit in the future) for eternity. 

He’s won an Emmy, a Grammy, a Tony and an Oscar

 

He is, without a doubt, a comic genius

He is Melvin KaminskyMel Brooks to us – and he’s 83 years old today

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can recite lines from Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein by heart – I might, if pressed, spill out the whole movie. When The American Film Institute (AFI) released their recent poll of the funniest movies ever made, Brooks scored three of the top thirteen: Blazing Saddles (#6), The Producers (#11), and Young Frankenstein (#13). That is astounding

As an Alfred Hitchcock fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for High Anxiety, which skewers several Hitchcock films perfectly while maintaining a suspenseful (but hilarious) plot of its own. It’s a funny film if you’ve never seen a Hitchcock film, but if you know the master, it’s priceless. And who but Brooks would float a silent movie – called Silent Movie, of course – where the one spoken word came from the mouth of the world’s most famous mime? 

I realized recently that there were a lot of people who were very familiar with Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles (film and Broadway versions) but were unaware of Mel’s iconic “2000 Year Old Man” character, a routine played to perfection with the great Carl Reiner. A few months ago Shout Factory released a box set collecting all the albums and cartoons, adding some commentary and rare footage. It’s a first-rate package and a must-own for comedy fans. 

 Here is my review from earlier this year… 

 

Reiner recalls that the genesis for the 2000 Year Old Man occurred when he approached Brooks with “Here’s a man who actually knew Jesus” and Brooks deadpanned “Oh, boy”. But although they would continue the routine in private for years as parlor entertainment for themselves and their friends, it wasn’t until they were finally prodded by Steve Allen to record it in his studio. (Or perhaps it was George Burns asking if the routine had been recorded, playfully insinuating that he’d swipe it if it wasn’t.) Reiner had gotten in the habit of bringing a tape recorder to these parties because Brooks never said the same thing twice, and he was astute enough not to let this comedic gold slip away. 

  

Over the years the pair released five albums: 2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks (1961), Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at the Cannes Film Festival (1962), 2000 and Thirteen (1973) and The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 (1998). The 1998 album won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Comedy Album, besting fellow nominees Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jeff Foxworthy and The Firesign Theatre.  

The structure of featuring the title character as one among many was continued on the second and third albums, but the fourth and fifth albums were dedicated solely to the man who survived modern history. Reiner continued to play the voice of the audience, asking questions and challenging answers. “He was like a District Attorney” claimed Brooks, who felt that Reiner’s real-life knowledge of history and important events raised the bar on the exchanges. “I knew the questions” quipped Reiner, “but I didn’t know the answers”. 

Read the rest of my review at PopMatters

Mrs. Robinson, I think you DID seduce me!

Mel Brooks wiki 

Get this incredible collection of Mel’s films for a pittance! 

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New Album! D.Rogers

On his third album, Melbourne singer/songwriter D. Rogers offers up 14 short pop songs that are predominantly delicate melodies lovingly executed. Tapping a large pool of regional musicians, Rogers sparingly accessorizes his melodies with horns, strings, and handclaps.

Most tracks barely exceed the two minute mark, if that. His voice is appealing and the production is pristine, and although there are no songs you’ll nominate as anthems, it flows beautifully.

Listen to some clips at CD BABY

Read my review on PopMatters where I note the DNA of several popular touchstones, from Neil Finn and Crowded House to Beatles Paul, George and Ringo.

D. Rogers website

D. Rogers on MySpace

Popboomerang Records website

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New Album! Darrin James Band

It’s tough to keep up with everything that comes down the pike, and I completely missed out on Thrones of Gold, the 2006 debut album from Darrin James. Had I read a quote like “As a songwriter, I have wanted to combine honest, dark lyrics with old school blues and a fusion of styles, to express the emotions and stories of tragic or flawed characters” I would have been all over that album in a heartbeat.

Fortunately this second effort did cross my desk. Having no expectations whatsoever, I let it unfold organically and found myself pleasantly surprised by the results. James spent a few years traveling the world playing and writing music, and this album is all over the map as well – but in a good way (kudos Matt Gill for solid recording in multiple studios). Blues, folk, rock, country; a nice blend of atmosphere for his characters and stories to take root in.

Critics have been pretty effusive, dropping comparisons to Robbie Robertson, Joe Henry, Lyle Lovett, Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, among others. I drop a couple more names below.

Live Video: “Baby Don’t Bitch

James has a raw and expressive voice that can at first be jarring, but it does suit his material. His cadence in “I Was Wrong” makes him sound like Neil Diamond on a bender, while the voodoo blues of “Baby Don’t Bitch” might bring Captain Beefheart to mind. But when he settles in on something more pensive (“Shallow Grave”), he can float the timbre and wisdom of John Prine. It’s a nice chameleon act, so when he rolls into Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, it fits hand in glove…

Read the full review at PopMatters.

Visit the Darrin James Band website.

Listen to clips at CD Baby

***

R.I.P. Lynn Redgrave. Goodbye, Georgy Girl.

True Royalty

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New Album! The Pantones


Infectious and accessible, the Pantones juggle several influences with sleight of sound.

An impressive blend of great ingredients, The Pantones at various times tap the DNA of The Jayhawks, Ben Folds, The Byrds, R.E.M., Wilco, The Beach Boys and—perhaps most impressively—guitar licks that Ron Wood tossed out like confetti in the ‘70s.

Video: “Circus Freaks

Read my review of Inside the Sun’s Wild Flame at PopMatters.

Hear some clips at Amazon.

Visit The Pantones website.

Warm up to The Pantones.

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New Album! Christine Ohlman

All Hail The Queen!

Fifteen years removed from her debut album, The Hard Way, the Beehive Queen has not only recorded her strongest effort to date, but an album that should pepper several best-of lists in December. The songs on The Deep End draw as much upon gospel and urban doo-wop as they do blues and Americana, perhaps reaching the apex on the hypnotic title track.

Ohlman and her band Rebel Montez (now Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin) are rock-solid, and if you’ve not heard Ohlman’s gripping vocals before, I can’t totally blame you. Despite enough industry cred to fill multiple warehouses, she might best be known for being a long-time member of the Saturday Night Live band. Of course, you’d have to be attending the taping to hear her; seldom will you see any of the non-sax playing musicians get highlighted.

I first discovered her thirty-odd years ago when I was enamored with the cast and crew at Big Sound Records, whose albums featured stellar musicians like G.E. Smith, Jon Tiven, Mickey Curry, Ivan Julian, Roger C. Reale and Ohlman, among others. Producer extraordinaire Thomas “Doc” Cavalier had a golden ear for quality, and his work on Big Sound was the stamp of approval for me in the same way that Motown or Stiff were when in their prime. Sadly, just about all of that music is out of print.

I like all of her solo work, but this one really speaks to me. Ohlman suffered two big losses in her life recently – guitarist Eric Fletcher and Cavalier are no longer with us – and the ache resonates in her voice. Stellar guests like Dion, Eric Ambel and Al Anderson provide great support, and Ian Hunter producer Andy York continues his string of sympathetic collaborations with his artists. But Ohlman and her band had this one nailed from the jump.

Read my review of this album at PopMatters.

VIDEO: “Like Honey”

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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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All Together Now!

I enjoy documentary films. I love The Beatles.

Guess what?

The documentary film All Together Now traces the development of the collaborative Love project from its inception through its 2006 debut. What began as a conversation between George Harrison and Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte expanded into a massive undertaking that required years of preparation and unprecedented artistic partnerships between Cirque, Apple Corps and the Mirage Hotel.

Harrison was a fan of the unique artistry of the Cirque du Soleil performances and envisioned a bold and original rebirth of the Beatles’ catalogue. His death in 2001 provided an additional sense of purpose, although representatives for all four Beatles would need to agree on concept and execution. Director Adrian Wills follows the timeline and inserts the viewers into the process by letting them observe activity and conversations between principals rather than rely on first-person narrative. It’s a wise choice for such voyeuristic subject matter.

The pulse of the documentary is the immense amount of challenges faced by everyone involved. For Cirque du Soleil, this presentation was much more of a musical stage show than their previous productions, as well as being the first time working without a live band. Not only would the synchronization between acrobatics and music have to be exact, but they would have to rely upon the engineers to loop the recorded music if there was an accident or a technical glitch. Several of the performers were stage actors or dancers working in a completely new environment, admittedly working on blind faith until the rehearsals were finally moved to the working stage in Las Vegas.

The theatre itself was a massive undertaking; besides the elaborate stage and rigging there needed to be impeccable sound to truly envelop and involve the audience. The final design incorporated over 6,300 speakers and construction ran over $100 million.

Naturally, one of the biggest decisions revolved around how to utilize the Beatles music in the show. There had been many Beatle-oriented projects ranging from tribute bands to stage shows like Beatlemania, but the creators wanted to create a new dynamic that would go far beyond merely playing a set of Beatles songs in period costumes. When the idea of deconstructing and reassembling recorded tracks came up, the call went out to George Martin. As Ringo said, “he knows where all the skeletons are buried”.

Read my full review at PopMatters.

Afterwards, see the show.

All you need is...a plane ticket and cash.

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