Tag Archives: Top Ten

Scott Kempner Rides Again

Scott Kempner is the genuine article.

I’ve already pimped how excited I am that The Del Lords have new music on the way, and I’ve reviewed Scott Kempner’s solo albums when they came out, doing what I could to pass the word. I know some of you got on board a bit too late for Tenement Angels. But now that’s rectified with a reissue, complete with bonus track, released this week.

Scott – or “Top Ten” as many Dictator fans know him – is a man who bleeds rock’n’roll. With influences from early doo-wop (Bronx Soul, he calls it) through the early rock masters, Kempner has been a prime force in Americana and roots rock for a long time. His songs are honest; they penetrate on first listen and then continue to resonate over time.

But rather than rant like a maniac (I’m looking at you, Kathie – you’re even a bigger Scott fan than me), why don’t I let Scott tell you in his own words what his mindset was at the time?

I’ve said this before: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to make music with friends. In the case of both the Dictators and the Del-Lords, there was a family feeling, a brotherhood, and it was a source of not just comfort and companionship, but inspiration, as well. It just makes me wanna do better than my best. The period in which this album was made was a scary time. After eight years together the Del-Lords had called it a day. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was gonna do except that I knew I would keep writing, playing and singing. But, I was still pretty lost.

So, I took an offer from a label to make a record and called Lou Whitney, which set the ball rolling, and within a few months I was down in Springfield, MO with Manny Caiati, and we were making this here record. Not a lot of pre-conception, other than that getting-Donnie-to-play-through-a-Marshall thing, picked a couple of covers, dove into my notebook, and well, here it is. Check it out, as it is a quite rockin’ little affair, and the chances of you diggin’ it, I think, are pretty damn good…

Read the rest of the essay at Scott’s website and check out his other blog posts.

Tenement Angels is available at CD Baby and Amazon and scores of other fine places. And pick up a copy of Saving Grace while you’re at it.

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One Week to Oscar; Thumbs Up to Gene Siskel

It only seems appropriate that Gene Siskel was born the month before the Oscar telecast, just in time to measure up the prior year and share his opinions on who would win and who deserved to. Today, twelve years after his death, Siskel remains an indelible mark on the film critic landscape, a trailblazer in the form. Given his absence and Roger Ebert’s health struggles, the Siskel and Ebert shows I treasured for so many years are now a bittersweet memory.

As one who makes top ten lists, I always looked forward to theirs. Click here for a list of Gene’s Top Ten, year by year, from 1969 through 1998. Of course, the Worst Movies of The Year lists were fun as well. I didn’t always agree with him, but I always enjoyed listening to him defend his choices.

I’ll make my Oscar guesses next weekend. Wonder what Gene would pick?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Siskel. It’s just not the same without you.

The official Gene Siskel website

Top 10s from both during the Siskel and Ebert years

The Gene Siskel Film Center

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #2, #1

We conclude the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#2) Jim Jefferies: Alcoholocaust

Foul-mouthed, inebriated and a master storyteller, Jefferies will no doubt read enough reviews comparing him to Billy Connolly, at least the early era version. While that’s a worthy compliment, it does him a disservice, for Jefferies has evolved into a ribald storyteller whose annual assaults on Edinburgh draw earned comparisons to George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Richard Pryor. I don’t know what type of Hell he has visited, but he came back with a bag of demons that need to be excised, and the more pints that he consumes, the more he rattles that bag. Clearly a skilled and disciplined writer, he hits the stage with absolutely no inhibitions and a fuck you attitude. He’s going to tell the truth as he sees it, and if afterwards you are left like chum in the water, so be it.

Whether he’s cursing out a heckler, cracking a vulgar joke or spinning a yarn that will have you gasping for breath, Jefferies is consistently gut-busting funny. He’s often crass, sexist and graphic, but he’s relentless. His closing story is about trying to set up his childhood friend with a hooker…a friend who is disabled and terminally ill, by the way. Somehow he blends this hilarious over-the-top yarn with the men’s code of honor so that when you piss yourself laughing, you feel noble while doing it. (Comedy Central UK)

***

#1) Stewart Lee: If You Prefer A Milder Comedian, Please Ask For One

For sheer cerebral comedy entertainment, I don’t think there’s a better comedian on the planet right now than Stewart Lee. Erudite and culturally aware, his shows tend to evolve around a half-dozen thoughts at most, yet he mines them with the efficiency of a master surgeon and gets every scrap of meat off the bone. He’s not going to dumb down for you, and if you’re not paying attention, you’ll still laugh at the surface but totally miss the deeper, better levels. He’s had an amazingly prolific career, and although not as well-known in the States he is (rightfully) a legend in the UK. And as great as his recorded legacy is, this latest show might be his masterwork.

What I love about this show is the way you get the full monty – the brilliant opening with its impeccable timing and sight gags, the deep-seated rants against some celebretards clogging the television, an involved story that keeps going further than you dared think it would and then a burst of actual physical comedy with exasperated fourth-wall pleas and overt call backs. And then as a close, the three worst words in the English language – comedian with guitar – juggles both a transcendent emotional moment and a priceless tangent. Lee gives it to you straight, like a pear cider made from 100 percent pears. Absolutely brilliant. (Comedy Central UK)

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #4, #3

We continue the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#4) Richard Herring: Hitler Moustache

There are people willing to take chances, and then there is Richard Herring in 2010. Determined to take back the toothbrush moustache from the legacy of Hitler and return it to comedy where it belongs, Herring uses this simple premise (or as he suggests, this terrible idea) as a platform from which to discuss racism, prejudice, hypocrisy and every other foible of human behavior. And, of course, he’s funny as hell in the process.

Available as a two-disc set packed with features, there’s actually a third disc available, albeit only from the distributor. Herring continues to create inventive, daring and unique comedy for those unsatisfied with the ordinary. (Go Faster Stripe)

***

#3) Maria Bamford: Plan B

Maria Bamford doesn’t have her own television show, although she should – she’s the strongest and most versatile comedienne since Tracey Ullman. And like Ullman – and Carol Burnett before her, Bamford has an uncanny ability to inhabit characters so thoroughly that you see the whole array of them in front of you even without makeup or a costume change. Like Sybil, but for your entertainment.

So in this show she performs her own sitcom – or dramedy – centered upon her family as if it’s a therapeutic exercise to excise some demons. It’s a brilliant performance, just Bamford in a t-shirt and jeans with a chair and a couple of lighting cues. It’s occasionally uncomfortable and overtly personal, but it’s riveting. Dozens of additional short offstage clips act as a psychological travelogue, at you at once wonder just how fragile she really is…and why the hell she isn’t a household name. (Stand Up! Records)

***

The countdown concludes tomorrow with #2 and #1

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Best Comedy DVDs of 2010: #6, #5

We continue the countdown of the ten best comedy DVDs of 2010…

#6) Glenn Wool: Let Your Hands Go

I’m glad there was both a CD and a DVD in this package, because as hilarious as Glenn Wool is to listen to, he’s that much funnier to watch. The bonus footage has some overlaps with the audio show, but this underrated Canadian comic is an extemporaneous performer and both shows are strong. Looking like Steve Zahn gone to seed, Wool’s scruffy attitude might make one think cracker comedy, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Wool masterfully uses manic facial expressions and voices from a whisper to a scream to hold up ridiculous ideas and gleefully shame them. While he’s expert at taking down deserving targets like financial institutions, gay bashers and exclusionary religions, the more personal bits – like the battle between “Drunken Glenn” and “Sober Glenn” (and their rude friend “Cocaine Glenn”!) – are clear highlights. Wool is kicking ass all over the globe, and with upcoming TV slots on John Oliver’s Stand Up and Green Room with Paul Provenza, hopefully the US will wise up and catch on.  (Stand Up! Records)

***

#5) Paul F. Tompkins: You Should Have Told Me

Last week I mentioned being an equal opportunity cheater by placing Bill Burr’s Let It Go into the Comedy Album list rather as a DVD. The flip side to that decision is that I’m including Paul F. Tompkins’ album Sir, You Have Fooled Me Twice as a companion piece in my recommendation for this DVD, even though they were released separately. I know siblings when I see them.

Tompkins, always a great comic, has really taken his game up a notch over the past two years. Freak Wharf was a mindblower, and he came right back a year later with this one-two punch. Not everyone can get that personal and that confessional and still walk the tightrope, but he’s proven he can captivate and mesmerize an audience with a deep, personal exploration as sharply as he can with surreal storytelling. (Yet he can still be silly enough to include a non-interactive menu on a DVD.) I don’t think there’s anything that Tompkins can’t do, and it’s exciting to watch him push himself to new heights. (A Special Thing Records)

***

The countdown continues tomorrow with #4 and #3

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