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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