Tag Archives: America

Music Review: “Chicago XXXVI: Now”

Chicago Now

This is the band Chicago’s first true album – album of new material – since Chicago XXX from 2006. As Chicago XXX was quite a good release, I had high hopes for Chicago XXXVI:Now. Let’s see if the hopes were realized.

Chicago XXXVI: Now opens with the title song (“Now”), which was clearly inspired by Chicago’s touring with Earth, Wind and Fire. It’s overly derivative – more imitation than tribute, and its lyrics are like a reinstatement of “Feel” from Chicago XXX. A problem arises here that affects the entire album, as the horns sometimes sound real and sometimes sound synthesized, ’80s style. It’s hard to tell when the band members are playing actual instruments and when the sounds have been computer-generated.

“More Will Be Revealed” sounds like a Terry Kath song (“This Time” from Chicago XI) but the horns are synthetic. They sound positively middle-of-the-road (MOR) on “America,” a trite song with trite lyrics: “America is free/America is you and me.” “Crazy Happy” is a boring ’70s/early ’80s style track. Where is Peter Cetera when you need him?

On “Free At Last,” Lou Pardini delivers another Terry Kath-ish vocal. But it’s on top of a start/stop multi-rhythm track that goes nowhere. And the lyrics are painfully bad: “Here’s to the future/here’s to the past….” “Love Lives On” is a ballad that might have been written by Bryan Adams – or Ryan Adams, and then set aside: “We were more than each other’s cheap attraction….” It goes on for five and a quarter minutes; it should have run no more than three and a half.

“Something’s Coming I Know,” will make the listener wonder if 1977 has returned. Tony Manero might like this, but I didn’t. “Watching All the Colors” is a Robert Lamm composition that might have fit well on Chicago or Chicago III, if it were not executed in such a boring fashion. The brass sounds like Muzak.

Fortunately, we’re getting close to the conclusion of this 50-minute album. “Nice Girl” seems to be two songs awkwardly joined together. This is the type of track one listens to once but never again. “Naked in the Garden of Allah” features an interesting Middle Eastern opening – which calls to mind Bruce Springsteen’s “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)” on The Rising, but the song that follows meanders around with no apparent destination. This 11-song album concludes with “Another Trippy Day,” the best track of the eleven, but it’s a sad case of too little too late.

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If there’s some good news associated with Chicago XXXVI: Now it’s that Lou Pardini – who is pictured on the far right in the photo, above – does a great job of channeling the late Terry Kath. But the band simply failed to show up this time around, and Tris Imbolden’s drumming is bland, boring and predictable. On Chicago XXX, the band displayed some guts on songs like “Feel (with Horns)” and “90 Degrees and Freezing.” That courage has dissipated and perhaps completely disappeared. How disappointing.

Joseph Arellano

This review originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-chicago-chicago-xxxvi-now/

This review was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Chicago-Chicago-XXXVI-Now-5665766.php

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Everybody Knows It Was Me

Music Review: ‘Pop/Art’ by Adrian Bourgeois (Disc One)

Los Angeles-based musician Adrian Bourgeois has released a double-album containing 24 songs. Here we take a look at the first twelve songs on Pop/Art, to be followed shortly by another reviewer’s look at the remaining twelve songs.

Pop Art 2

Pop/Art is nothing if not ambitious, and it makes for a sometimes sprawling introduction to Adrian Bourgeois, who now lives in the greater Los Angeles area but earlier lived and performed in Sacramento and Elk Grove.

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Pop/Art opens with “New December” which feels like a Paul McCartney song from the Beatles White Album melded with a track from the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album. This is a nice opening and it segues into “Time Can’t Fly A Plane”, a song that has an America-style (“Ventura Highway”) rhythm and feel. One of my two favorite tracks follows, “Everybody Knows It Was Me”, which hits the ears like a song that was inadvertently left off of Todd Rundgren’s 1972 opus Something/Anything?

“Pictures of Incense” made me think of both the Traveling Wilburys and of A. C. (Allan Carl) Newman, whose Get Guilty album was pure genius. “Jonah” comes off as Bob Dylan mixed with the stinging electric guitar work most often heard on a Matthew Sweet album. “Have It Your Way” is a ’80s pop-rock confection. It’s a treat, especially as it’s not too hard to imagine a band called Bourgeois Tagg playing this song back in the day.

When I listen to “Hanging Day”, I think of McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon”, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain.” It’s a haunting, yet fun, track that grows on the listener. “Aquarium” is my other favorite track on Pop/Art; it’s beautifully sonorous and sounds as if it was produced by both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. The lyrics are also life affirming: “If you can’t be touched, you can’t be healed.”

It’s not too hard to see the line between Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and Adrian’s “Too Much Time.” Think of a speeded-up rocking and rollicking variation on the classic “From a Buick 6.” As Sir Paul would say, “Oh, yes!”

I tend to like songs on which I can hear and observe a musician’s influences, which is why I have focused on these particular tracks. However, I suspect that some will most enjoy the songs that demonstrate Bourgeois’ originality – the sui generis “Waterfalls”, “Don’t Look Away”, and the regretful heartbreak song, “My Sweet Enemy.”

These songs were created while Adrian Bourgeois lived in Northern California. It will be interesting to see the changes in life’s attitude brought about by a change in physical latitude – the move to Southern California. (More sunshine and less rain?) No doubt this will be apparent on his next offering. Until then, this aspiring work should satisfy more than a few discriminating music lovers.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Pop/Art was purchased by the reviewer.

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Day After Day

Music Review: Badfinger – ‘Timeless… The Musical Legacy’

Is Timeless a fitting introduction to the music of Badfinger?

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If you were not around in the ’60s and’70s, or simply did not listen to music then, Apple Records has released a compilation to introduce you to the band Badfinger, Timeless. The Musical Legacy contains 16 tracks, 14 of which were originally recorded for Apple and two for Warner. I will not revisit the sad personal story of the band as it’s well covered in Dan Matinova’s definitive book, Without You: The Tragic Story of Badfinger (Revised Edition; 2000).

Let’s take a look at the songs on Timeless so that you can decide whether it should be in your collection. (All comments about recording sessions and band member quotes are sourced from Matinova’s book.)

Beatles Yellow Submarine

Badfinger B&W

[Look-alikes, The Beatles and Badfinger.]

Timeless opens with “Day After Day” from Straight Up, Badfinger’s masterpiece. George Harrison handled the production and played the lead guitar with Pete Ham. Harrison’s friend Leon Russell was brought in to play the piano. This remastered version allows you to hear the beautiful piano work as well as the harmony vocals.

“Without You” is the original version by the band, later covered and made into a smash single by Harry Nilsson. Badfinger’s version is understated compared to Nilsson’s dramatic take, but there’s a nice Procol Harum-style organ line that carries the song along. Ham said this about Nilsson’s version, “We knew that was the way we wanted to do it, but never had the nerve.”

Tom Evans intended “Rock of All Ages” to be a screamer in the style of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally,” but as recorded – with Pete Ham and Mike Gibbins – it came off like a variation on The Beatles’ “I’m Down.” This was especially true as Paul McCartney played piano on the track, which he also produced. A great live number (I saw Badfinger in Berkeley in 1972), the fine remaster allows you to hear the background vocals. “Dear Angie” was a track from the days when Badfinger was known as The Iveys. It’s a pleasant song sung by Ron Griffiths, the band’s original bass player. The tune has nice stereo sound effects, but it is far from essential.

McCartney was also involved in the song that made Badfinger famous, “Come and Get It,” which he wrote and produced. The sound is great here and McCartney proved to the doubting band members that he could fashion a hit single using sparse instrumentation: bass, drums, tambourine, and piano. It worked.

McCartney told Badfinger that “Maybe Tomorrow” was bound to be a hit single. That was not to be and today it sounds like an ornate song from the Bee Gees 1st album. “No Matter What” was a great, chunky-sounding single that reached number eight on the Billboard singles chart in 1970. It segues quite well into “Baby Blue,” the band’s best-ever, Beatles-quality single. Matinova called it “a superb showcase of Badfinger’s classic chemistry.” The version included on Timeless is the American stereo single release, which included an added snare drum. It’s snappy but the sound is fuller and richer on the Straight Up mix.

“Believe Me” is one of the best songs from No Dice. It is followed by a track from Straight Up, “Name of the Game.” The drumming gives it a “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” feel. This version comes off as a bit dull compared to the earlier version, with horns, that’s a bonus track on the remastered Straight Up CD. “I’ll Be The One” was recorded for, but dropped from, Straight Up. It should have been a single as it sounds like the Beatles doing country rock.

“Apple of My Eye” was Ham’s bittersweet tribute to Apple Records. “Suitcase” is included and it’s the right take. This is the early “Pusher, pusher on the run” version recorded before the modified “Butcher, butcher…” take found on Straight Up. It’s a heavier version and reflects what the band sounded like live. As Molland said, “The original ‘Suitcase’ was more of what Badfinger was.”

The title track “Timeless” is a good song that, unfortunately, goes on too long, dissolving into a type of Baroque Traffic jam. At 7:40 it is needlessly longer than “Hey Jude.”

“Dennis” is another non-essential track, but it’s interesting because of a few Brian Wilson-like touches. The compilation concludes with “Love Is Gonna Come At Last,” a nice, airy, pleasant pop song written by Molland that sounds like Badfinger crossed with America. This may be an alternate take from the 1979 Airwaves sessions since Matinova writes that the album version was “tepid and slow.”

Longtime Badfinger fans will have all or most of this music in their physical or digital collections. But the compilation will work for those who would like a decent sampler. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to hear Badfinger at their very best you should consider acquiring either Straight Up or No Dice (or both).

Well recommended, for its intended audience.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Apple Records.

This article was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-badfinger-timeless-the-musical-legacy/

It was also used by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper site:

http://m.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Badfinger-Timeless-The-Musical-5144246.php

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America

The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (Doubleday, $27.95, 352 pages)

Imagine that you are in charge of making decisions for a major publisher.   A writer presents you with a new novel based on the following story:  A very young (49-year-old) President of the United States is elected and quickly stalked by a madman.   The president serves only 6 months before he is shot by this crazy person.   As the shooting takes place, one of the men standing alongside the president has been present at three presidential assassinations (although he is in no way connected to the assassins).   The physician in charge of saving the president cannot locate the bullet in the president’s body, and turns to a world-famous inventor for his assistance in creating a new machine that will find it.   Despite their best efforts, the president does not survive and the vice-president – a political hack who is against everything the former president stood for – assumes office.   This new leader throws aside his former supporters, and proceeds to fully implement the dead president’s political agenda.

No doubt you would reject this fictional tale as being beyond the bounds of believability.   And you might be right, except for the fact that this all, in fact, occurred in 1880.   As documented in The Destiny of the Republic, one truly fascinating account of the events surrounding the assassination of President James A. Garfield, and the assumption of the high office by Chester A. Arthur, these events happened.   The genius inventor who attempted to save the life of the president (in the days before x-rays) was Alexander Graham Bell.   The witness to Garfield’s assassination was Robert Todd Lincoln, “…the only man to be present at three of our nation’s four presidential assassinations.”   And President Arthur, a product of the New York State spoils (political patronage) sytem, was to be the man who enacted civil service reform.   Arthur came to be known as the Father of Civil Service, a title that would likely have been Garfield’s, had he survived being shot.  

“Assassination can no more be guarded against than death by lightning, and it is best  not to worry about either.”   James A. Garfield

This is a detailed and moving version of the events surrounding the life and death of James Garfield of Ohio, a man who was very much in love with his wife; a woman who nearly preceded him in death.   Garfield was to die, not from the bullet that lay harmlessly encased in body fat within his frame, but from medical malpractice and incompetence.   In modern times Garfield, like President Reagan, would have survived his  injuries and returned to the White House.

Garfield turned to the doctors closest to him, and asked what chance he had of surviving.   “One chance in a hundred,” the doctor gravely replied.   “We will take that chance, doctor,” Garfield said, “and make good use of it.”

The reader will come to see that Garfield was a very courageous man who suffered at the hands of a medical team that hastened his death.   Alexander Graham Bell and Chester Arthur also come to life as fascinating characters; Bell as an imperfect but well-meaning genius, and Arthur as a man who reluctantly but boldly grew into the role that destiny selected for him.   (Arthur was not born to greatness, but grew into it when the nation desperately needed a leader to fill Garfield’s very large shoes.)

This true story is very cinematic in nature and might well make for an excellent film filled with multiple larger-than-life characters.   Thanks to Candice Millard, it is a story that will not longer be a blip in the history of the United States.   If you know of a young person who is interested in reading about the history of our country, consider presenting this book to him or her as a very valuable present.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   The Destiny of the Republic will be released on September 20, 2011.   “What an exceptional man and what an exciting era Millard has brought to elegant life on the page!   After reading The Destiny of the Republic, you’ll never think of James A. Garfield as a ‘minor’ president again.”   Hampton Sides, author of Hellbound on His Trail

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Dirty Old Town

The Vaults by Toby Ball

If The Vaults by Toby Ball is made into a movie, it will have to be shot in black and white.   A film noir mood permeates the City, from the desolate squatter camps in abandoned factories to City Hall, where heavyweight-boxer-turned-mayor Red Henry rules with a predator’s innate understanding of his opponents’ weaknesses.   It’s big-city America in the 1930s, the heyday of the newspaper, when deeply flawed men can become heroes by exposing corruption.   That’s where we meet Francis Frings, the Gazette’s star reporter, who’s working on a story that implicates the entire criminal justice system and threatens to topple Red Henry.

The hardboiled characters who populate Frings’ world – his lover, a sultry jazz singer; his hootch-swilling editor – are richly drawn.   Frings’ investigation, alone, would make a compelling crime thriller.   But his investigation is just one of three that threaten the mayor’s kingdom, and therein lies the genius of Ball’s novel:  Three “heroes” with vastly different motivations – and no knowledge of one another – simultaneously begin tugging on the threads of the central mystery.   Ethan Poole is a private eye with socialist leanings who’s not above blackmail.   Arthur Puskis is the rigidly methodical archivist of the City’s criminal files.   Mayor Henry lashes out at all who threaten his kingdom, his brutality kept in check only by the pragmatic consideration of public relations.

Ball’s writing is fast-paced and terse.   He rotates the action from one investigation to the next, and in the process, fleshes out a world of ingenious criminality, unionizing, strike-breaking, smoky nightclubs, and insane asylums.   The characters’ quests are provocative and timeless:  Truth, Justice and The Purpose of Life.   The book’s one weakness is the implausibility of the operation that Mayor Henry kills to protect.   But The Vaults is such a good read that it hardly matters.

The Vaults (St. Martin’s Press) is Ball’s first novel.   It’s a winner, and anyone who reads it will be standing in line to get his second.

Review by Kimberly Caldwell Steffen.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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The Superhero

The Side-Yard Superhero by Rick D. Niece (Synergy Books, $17.95)

“Used to dream in that small town/ Another born romantic that’s me…”   John Mellencamp, “Small Town”

Automythography – A work of nonfiction that looks reflectively at what we think we remember and how we think we remember it; an iridescent memory based upon truth and fact.   Rick D. Niece

Rick D. Niece made a promise to a childhood friend, and while the central premise of his book The Side-Yard Superhero revolves around his visit later in life to his ailing former companion in which he fulfills that promise, the book is more about the simplicity and human decency found in the everyday experiences of small-town America.

Niece, president of College of the Ozarks, constructs his tale almost as if he pulled the old John Irving trick and started with the ending of the story and then moved backward to the first sentence.   In between is the story of Niece’s childhood in DeGraff, Ohio.

As a boy, Niece secures a paper route and, in so doing, interacts with virtually everyone in his hometown.   This includes the unforgettable Bernie Jones, who – stricken with cerebral palsy – eagerly awaits Niece’s arrival on his bicycle each day from his wheelchair in the yard along the side of the house.

The reader encounters church socials, trick or treating, and Boy Scout award ceremonies.   Even the carnival comes to town and, you guessed it, Rickie takes Bernie.

Think Mitch Albom, and you have the idea of the type of storytelling you will experience in Side-Yard.   The book occasionally slips into sentimentality, but it is largely free of it, because the book has a more comprehensive story to tell than just the relationship between its two characters.   The verse which is interspersed between chapters is usually effective and works better than anticipated.

Without giving away too much of the story, this reviewer is left to wonder if hope really can keep a person alive; if history will ultimately judge America on how it treats its old, sick, and weak; and what in the world this country would be like if we were ever to lose our small towns.

Some stories need to be told, and some writers have a story they just have to tell.   This is the case with Rick D. Niece’s The Side-Yard Superhero.

Recommended.

This review was written by Dave Moyer, educator and author of the novel Life and Life Only.   He is currently working on his follow-up book, Younger Than That Now.   Mr. Moyer also writes reviews for the New York Journal of Books.   (A review copy was provided by Smith Publicity.)

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