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One Man’s Castle

This is an interview with J. Michael Major, author of the unique crime novel One Man’s Castle.  Joseph Arellano

1 man's castle major

In One Man’s Castle, you wrote a novel based upon a fascinating premise: A man kills people, but only criminals who break into his home.  How did you come up with this idea for the plotline?

It was a short story first.  Like most of my ideas, it was a combination of something I read or saw on the news combined with a “What if?” twist.  What could be another reason bodies are buried in a crawlspace?  And what is something personal that would make a person do this instead of calling the police? The characters stayed in my head even after the story was published, and several writer-friends encouraged me to expand it into a novel.

As I read Castle, I was sure that I knew exactly where the story was going.  I believed the story was going to conclude with an O.J. Simpson style trial.  But that’s not where the story went.  Did you have the ending planned out all along, or did the story just happen to take the path it did?

I’m glad I surprised you!  Yes, it was all pre-planned.  I am an outliner, even for short stories, and the core was already there.  After years of cut-cut for stories, the hard part was learning how to expand the idea without making it feel padded.  The novel gave me the freedom to show how Riehle and Capparelli initially met, get to know the backstory on Walter’s wife so the reader would care more, and explore Walter’s conflict in wanting justice for his wife’s murder without having to pay more of a price himself.

I describe the novel as “Death Wish meets The Fugitive,” and I had to figure out how to structure Castle to keep the tension and conflict while the reader was (hopefully) rooting for both Walter to get away and the police to catch him.  So, yes, I had to know where the story was going at all times.

Speaking of the end of the novel, I was reminded of Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow and Defending Jacob by William Landy.  Were these legal novels influences on you?

Absolutely!  In fact, Presumed Innocent is one of my favorite novels of all time, so I am incredibly flattered that my novel reminded you of it.  Thanks!

Most criminal justice system related novels are written by lawyers.  How did you, as a dentist, decide to tackle a legal novel?

I saw it more as a crime novel with legal issues, which allowed me to focus on the definition of the crime and its consequences, rather than having to follow strict legal structure.  But mostly, it was just the story that I wanted to tell.  “Write what you want to read” rather than “Write what you know.”

What steps did you take to research the criminal justice system to ensure that your novel was reasonably accurate and representative of the justice system?

In addition to friends, relatives and patients who were police officers, I also talked with a couple of lawyers in the State’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s office.  They not only answered my questions, but read early drafts of the novel and made helpful suggestions and corrections.  I am very grateful for their time and patience with me.

J. Michael Major

If you could press the reset button on your life is there something you would change?

Who wouldn’t want to go back and un-say/un-do some things, or do something you later regretted that you hadn’t?  But the truth is, I love my wife of 25+ years and I am so proud of the wonderful people that my son and daughter are, that I would not want to go back and jeopardize losing what I have with them.  Still, if I had to change anything, I would go back to when my children were younger and find a way to spend more time with them.  Though I was an involved father, they grew up so fast!  Where did the time go?

As with many legal novels, One Man’s Castle is in some sense a critique of the existing criminal justice system.  If you were made King of the Courts, is there something you would change about the system?

I would get rid of, or greatly reduce, the continued victimization of the victims.  While I understand the need for someone to be able to defend himself/herself against false accusations, the victims and their family and friends should not have to suffer through the torture and shaming they must endure during trials.  This seems like common sense and decency, but common sense and the law seem to follow non-intersecting paths these days.

Will your next novel be in the same vein?  Would you give us a preview of it in two or three sentences?

Sadly, when my publishing company decided that it was not going to publish mystery novels anymore, I had to scrap plans for sequels to Castle using the same detectives.  I wrote many short stories for a while, the most recent having been published in Weirdbook #34, until I got an idea for something different.  I just started writing the story of a rookie cop who descends into a hardened, shadowy vigilante over the course of three books.  I’m very excited about this project!

One final point, Carolyn Parkhurst stated, “The ending of a novel should feel inevitable.  You, the reader, shouldn’t be able to see what’s coming.”  I did not see the ending of One Man’s Castle coming, thus it passed her test.  Great job.  I certainly highly recommend the book.  Do you have any final comments?

First, thank you for this terrific interview.  Great questions!  I am thrilled that you enjoyed the book and greatly appreciate your recommending it.  Second, to all beginning writers, HANG IN THERE!  Life throws you curve balls, but as long as you keep writing and submitting your stories, you will persevere.  And read the screenwriting book Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, because it will help you with structure and inspire you.  Good luck!

This interview was originally posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/interview-j-michael-major-author-of-one-mans-castle/

It was also used by the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Interview-J-Michael-Major-Author-of-One-Man-s-11229481.php

 

 

 

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Modern Blue

Music Review: Rosanne Cash – ‘The River & The Thread’

river and the thread front

Rosanne Cash’s latest release illustrates how the label of country singer is far too limiting for a person of her talents. Perhaps she can be called a modern musician.

Here’s a look at the songs on The River & The Thread, which was produced and arranged by her husband, John Leventhal.

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“A Feather’s Not a Bird” is a fine opening, as a Bonnie Raitt style attitude meets Creedence Clearwater Revival type instrumentation. It’s clear that there’s nothing tentative about Cash. She’s confident and in charge as she sings, “…a river runs through me.” “Sunken Lands” is unique as a blend of classic and modern country built upon a Johnny Cash pulse.

“Etta’s Tune” is an introspective love song that might have been written by Jackson Browne: “We’re just a mile or two from Memphis/And the rhythm of our lives.” One can easily visualize Tom Petty singing Cash’s rocker, “Modern Blue”: “I went to Barcelona on the midnight train/I walked the streets of Paris in the pouring rain/I flew across an island in the northern sea/I ended up in Memphis, Tennessee….” There’s also a touch of the Eagles in the lyrics: “Everybody around here moves too fast/It feels so good but it’s never going to last/Everything I had is twice what I knew….”

“Tell Heaven” is an unplugged song about faith. The Judds would have loved to have sung this. “The Long Way Home” is an angst-filled song about lost love that calls to mind Don Henley, Mark Knopfler and Carly Simon (“You’re So Vain”). It’s beautifully realized: “You thought you left it all behind/You thought you’d up and gone/But all you did was figure out how to take the long way home….”

“World of Strange Design” is a song about differences and discrimination, with a musical presentation that channels Dire Straits. “Night School” is a Tori Amos style ballad: “I’d give anything to be lying next to you/In night school.” The uplifting “50,000 Watts” is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”: “To be who we are/And not just who we were/A sister to him, a brother to her/We live like kings/without any sin/Redemption will come, just tune it on in….”

“When the Master Calls” is a touching song about the Civil War which would have fit well on Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album. “Money Road” is the relaxing closing song about a dream, but the standard eleven-track edition of this album is only 38 minutes long. Consider purchasing the Limited Edition Deluxe version, which adds three additional songs and 10-plus more minutes of music.

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“Two Girls” is the first bonus track on the Limited Edition, and it sounds like a song from Neil Young’s Harvest Moon album. “Biloxi” is one of the great songs written by the late Jesse Winchester: “Beautiful girls are swimming in the sea/Oh, they look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will find his path with salted water/And the storms will blow off toward New Orleans.”

“Southern Heart” is a short, 2 minute long, song with plucked violin strings that would have been a great single in the 1960s; it’s a song very much in the style of the Andy Williams hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.”

river and the thread rosanne

Cash has laid out her musical skills for the world to see on this release. It’s a highly recommended masterpiece or very close to it. But forget the ratings, just think of this as a near priceless gift delivered by Cash to her fans, current and prospective.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Blue Note Records.

This review was first posted on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-rosanne-cash-the-river-the-thread/

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

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Rosanne-Cash-The-River-The-5411097.php

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Full Circle

Music Review: Gene Clark (of The Byrds) – ‘Two Sides to Every Story’ [2014 Deluxe Edition]

two sides Gene Clark

I’ve been a huge fan of the music of the late Gene Clark. In fact, when I purchased the 2006 Byrds 4-CD box, There Is a Season, the first thing I did was to find all of the songs written or co-written by Clark and place them on a single CD-R. So I anxiously looked forward to hearing Two Sides To Every Story, a record that, as noted by Clark’s biographer John Einarson, “was (less than) appreciated in 1977.” After listening to the 10 tracks on Two Sides To Every Story, I can understand why the album was not a commercial success.

Story has been re-issued by High Moon Records in a deluxe hardbound Eco-Book (actually, a booklet) with 26 color pages. An enclosed download card allows one to hear over 90 minutes of Clark songs performing live in 1975.

Here’s a look at the content of the album.

“Home Run King” sounds like a Michael Nesmith tune. The lyrics do not make much sense: “You are either the newspaper boy/Or you’re either Babe Ruth.” Interestingly, the song is structured a lot like “The Bug” from Dire Straits: “Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger/Sometimes you’re the ball.” It’s a whimsical track but Clark did not seem to enjoy singing it.

“Lonely Saturday” is a straight country – not country-rock – tune that might have fit well on a Jimmy Clanton (“Just a Dream”) or Jimmie Rodgers album. It’s a high quality song but Clark’s limited vocal range in ’77 does not do it justice.

“In the Pines” is a banjo and violin-laden track that’s 110% country and needlessly over the top. This song speaks of a “black girl” who causes the singer to leave his home, while “Home Run King” referenced “the black Madonna sleeping with a star.” Autobiographical?

“Kansas City Southern” is a rocker, fortunately. It’s kind of like Bob Seeger-meets-the Eagles. If only the entire album was like this! “Well, I’d sit and watch those trains go by/And wish that I was homeward bound.” It’s a track that requires some attitude to be done properly – Clark is not quite up to the task here. I’m sure that either Rosanne Cash or Bonnie Raitt could record a dynamite, knock-your-socks-off version.

“Give My Love to Marie” is Clark’s cover of a song written by James Talley about a black lung miner. It’s an emotional ballad about a poor dying man (“There’s millions in the ground/not a penny for me….”) that would have been a splendid B-side if “Kansas City Southern” had been released as a single. It’s definitely the best vocal performance by Clark on the album.

“Sister Moon” is a simple 12-line song in the vein of “Moonlight Mile” by the Rolling Stones. There’s too much orchestration because there’s not much content to the song: “Ah, Sister Moon, I am your son.”

“Marylou” is a gritty blues-rock cover of a song written by Sam Ling and Obie Jessie. It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Steamroller” by James Taylor. If John Cougar Mellencamp were to ever record a covers album, he might want to include this one.

Should Jackson Browne be countrified, he would sound like Clark does on “Hear the Wind”: “Life’s the house where we live/We cannot feel tomorrow/Only feel what we give.” It’s a three-minute track that’s pretty weak. “Past Addresses” is a wordy Clark composition – wordiness never being a problem with his earlier songs – that imparts a wistful Late for the Sky feel: “I can only make guesses/On some of my past addresses/And tell you what my broken memory recalls.”

The album concludes with “Silent Crusade,” a song about life as a journey on the ocean. It reads as a nice, admirable poem performed in the style of Gordon Lightfoot. But Clark’s voice cracks and fails him on this closer.

Story is a collection of songs with more losers than winners. It’s more country than country-rock, which limited its appeal back in 1977 and may well do so again. The remastered sound is fine. However, at an Amazon price of $33.47 it’s awfully expensive (even with the live tracks that can be downloaded), especially when you consider that the limited edition deluxe of Rosanne Cash’s The River and the Thread, also packaged in an Eco-Book with 36 color pages, goes for $16.19 on the same site.

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I think Two Sides to Every Story will appeal to Gene Clark completists. It’s unlikely to hold much appeal for others.

Joseph Arellano

This article first appeared on the Blogcritics site and in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Gene-Clark-The-Byrds-Two-Sides-5918222.php

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Nobody But Me

The Nobodies Album (nook book)

Is The Nobodies Album a better read the second time around?

The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Anchor, $15.00, 320 pages)

The plane rises. We achieve liftoff, and in that mysterious, hanging moment I say a prayer – as I always do – to help keep us aloft. In my more idealistic days, I used to add a phrase of benediction for all the other people on the airplane, which eventually stretched into a wish for every soul who found himself away from home that day… I stopped doing that a long time ago. Because if you think about it, when has there ever been a day when all the world’s travelers have been returned safely to their homes, to sleep untroubled in their beds? That’s not the way it works. Better to keep your focus on yourself and leave the others to sort it out. Better to say a prayer for your own well-being and hope that today, at least, you’ll be one of the lucky ones.

There are music albums that we listen to repeatedly, sometimes finding that they have a different impact on us – major or minor – depending on when you experience them. The Nobodies Album: A Novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (author of the unique and bizarre bestseller The Dogs of Babel) is a book that I read before. I did not connect with it at the time; fortunately, I decided to give the book a second chance and I’m glad I did.

This is the story of a San Francisco-based musician, Milo Frost, who has been arrested for murdering his girlfriend, Bettina Moffett. His estranged mother, Octavia Frost, a one-time bestselling novelist, decides to reconcile with him to give him moral and legal support. Milo’s problem is that he was so drunk the night of his girlfriend’s death that he cannot remember what he did that evening. He does not believe that he killed Bettina but admits that he could have been involved. (On the night in question, Bettina first accepted Milo’s proposal of marriage, and then rejected it.)

Parkhurst adds a twist to the telling, as the writer Octavia is at the point where she’s elected to rewrite the conclusions of her bestselling novels. It’s not something that pleases her publisher; but, Octavia is determined to follow-through with her idea. (This may have been based on an instance in which Joan Didion rewrote one of her short stories decades after it was written. Note that the title of this novel, The Nobodies Album, is connected to The White Album by The Beatles early on. It just so happens that Didion wrote a collection of bestselling essays called The White Album.)

I suppose you could say I’d been thinking about endings.

It does not take long for Octavia, and the readers, to realize that she’s toying with the notion of changing the endings to her book in hopes that it might lead to some changes in her own life. As she states to a musician, “I’ve thought it might be interesting to change the endings. Find out how things might have worked out differently for the characters.” Naturally, one has to wonder how much of bestselling author Parkhurst can be found in the character of Octavia Frost. (Will she rewrite the ending of The Nobodies Album in twenty, thirty or forty years?)

To her credit, Parkhurst brings Octavia Frost’s writing to life by providing the endings of several of Frost’s novels before showing us the rewritten endings. The latter are generally simpler, more concise, and neater; perhaps resulting in neater, better outcomes for the characters involved.

The Nobodies Album multiple

Parkhust writes somewhat in the style of Didion – there’s an icy coolness/coldness present as well as toughness and brutal honesty: “Now that the moment is here, it’s not what I expected at all. That’s the fundamental flaw in in the illusions that writers like to maintain, the idea that we can craft anything approaching the truth. No matter how vividly we set the scene, we never come close to the unambiguous realness of the moment itself. Here’s how I feel, faced with my child’s confession that he has committed murder: I don’t believe it’s true. Not for a single minute.”

Those with some knowledge of the music and publishing industries will appreciate the realistic stage upon which Parkhurst’s story is set. The less said about the outcome of the murder mystery, the better. No spoilers here. But be prepared to be impressed by The Nobodies Album, whether you read it once or twice – or more often.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on June 15, 2010.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site as an Editor’s Pick:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-nobodies-album-by-carolyn-parkhurst/

It also appeared here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Book-Review-The-Nobodies-Album-by-Carolyn-5760693.php

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A Quiet Emotional Work

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (Knopf, $25.95, 249 pages; Vintage, $15.95, 272 pages)

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salinger-year

In his novel The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger’s character Holden Caulfield uses the phrase, “quiet emotional” in place of the more typical “quite emotional.” This is a quiet emotional memoir about how Salinger helped a young woman, Joanna Rakoff, find her role, her place, her calling in life – which was to become a writer.

“Have you read Salinger?” Rakoff asks the reader. “Very likely you have. Can you recall the moment you encountered Holden Caulfield for the first time? The sharp intake of breath as you realized this was a novel, a voice, a character, a way of telling a story, a view of the world unlike any you’d previously encountered. I loved Holden, in his grief-fueled rage.”

My Salinger Year is a comfortable, entertaining and engaging story that does not have pretensions of being cinematic. However, Rakoff writes quite well, as in this selection, about the difference between Marc, a friend who is getting married, and Don, Rakoff’s then-boyfriend (and a sad choice of one):

“You ready for the big day?” Don asked Marc, patting him on the back. He was trying for cheer, for bonhomie, which gave him the aspect of an actor in a community theater production…

“I don’t know,” said Marc, with an enormous smile. When he smiled, he seemed to radiate pure waves of goodwill and genuine happiness. This was, I supposed, the difference between Marc and Don: Marc was fully at home in the world, content with life. He needed, he wanted, nothing more than what he had. Don wanted everything, everyone; Don wanted and wanted.

Although this true tale is about Rakoff’s work at a literary agency at the start of her professional career, it’s also a story about what happens when she leaves behind her “right guy” in Berkeley, and takes up with Don in Manhattan. Don is so clearly and absolutely wrong for her. The reader will feel some frustration while reading about her out-of-phase life with Don, a person who refused, without explanation, to take her to his best friend’s wedding.

The writer is now happily married to the “right” person, but she’s quite forthcoming about the fact that she made a key mistake in the game of love as a young woman. Fortunately, she was able to escape into the writings of J. D. Salinger, as she did on the weekend of the wedding that she was blocked from attending.

“All through that weekend, even as I ripped through his entire oeuvre, I kept having to put the books down and breathe. He shows us his characters at their most bald, bares their most private thoughts, most telling actions. It’s almost too much. Almost.”

Rakoff only met Salinger once but spoke to him often on the telephone. He convinced her to do what she needed to do for herself – for her own happiness. His advice convinced her to leave the safety and security of the agency job after just 12 months. It was a job that would get her no closer to writing than reading manuscripts.

Near the end of My Salinger Year, Rakoff learns of Salinger’s death and reacts to it in a touching way. Salinger was, and will remain, her rescuer, her larger-than-life hero.

catcher-in-the-rye

Salinger was an artist who touched many people through his work. He continues to reach and touch them to this day, as when high school students experience The Catcher in the Rye or Franny and Zooey for the first time. It was his work and its effect on others that exhausted him and caused him to seek comfort in isolation: “For years, he’d tried to respond to his fans. But the emotional toll grew too great.”

While Salinger may have remained as distant as Joe DiMaggio on his later years, there’s no denying the fact that he left behind his bold, major impact on the world of literature.

“Salinger was not cutesy. His work was not nostalgic. There were no fairy tales about child geniuses traipsing the streets of Old New York.”

“Salinger was nothing like I’d thought. Nothing.”

“Salinger was brutal. Brutal and funny and precise. I loved him. I loved it all.”

You may love this book.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review initially appeared on the Blogcritics website:

http://blogcritics.org/book-review-salinger-year-joanna-rakoff/

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

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Book-Review-My-Salinger-Year-by-Joanna-Rakoff-5676983.php

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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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The Real Things

An Interview with Brent Bourgeois

I speak with Brent Bourgeois, who releases his first album in twenty years in June. Joseph Arellano

BB Don't Look Back

You have an album coming out next month, Don’t Look Back, which is your first in two decades or so. Why the long break from recording and what, if anything, inspired you to create music again?

When I made my last record in 1994, I had just moved my family to Nashville at the encouragement of my good friend and co-producer Charlie Peacock. He promised me work as a producer, which was great because I had always been as interested in producing records for others as I had been in making them for myself. I made the determination that whichever road was more fruitful would be the one I would concentrate on. While the album Come Join the Living World was considered a success by many in the industry, my producing career was really bearing fruit and it was an easier career to consider with four young children.

Producing led to a job as VP of A&R at Word Records, and after that, I was considered “too old” to be reconstituting my recording career. With the collapse of the music industry in 2002, I moved my family back to Northern California and had nothing to do with the music biz for over ten years. About a year and a half ago, I was invited to mentor a young singer/songwriter from Malibu. This involved writing songs, and programming them on my computer, and then producing her in the studio. Well, it got me writing again, and one thing lead to another, and here we are.

The new album seems, on a first listen, to be a very eclectic collection of songs; kind of like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. Did you deliberately set out to include various styles and types of music or is this a product of being creative?

I just wrote ’em as they came. I was just happy to be writing again, and didn’t much concern myself about having a coherent style. I think this collection of songs could reasonably be called a walk through my career. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but the main thing for me was that I liked them, and I hadn’t liked anything I had written for years.

How would you describe the album in one sentence?

A walk through my musical history with most of my best friends.

Are all eleven songs on the new release original?

Yes.

You have a great 80s-style track on the album, “Deep Blue Sea.” When I heard it what went through my mind is, “Rick Astley is back!” Tell us about the song.

That’s funny. I always think about the Saturday Night Live “Night at the Roxbury” skit with Will Farrell, Jim Carrey and Chris Kattan when I hear “Deep Blue Sea.” I don’t know where this latent dance track streak is coming from. I never indulged in it back then. I think it’s because I finally learned how to use an arpeggiator.

Brent Bourgeois Julian Lennon

“The High Road” is a Beatles/Badfinger-ish emotive ballad on which Julian Lennon accompanies you. What’s the back story on his involvement?

I first met Julian Lennon in about 1986. My band Bourgeois Tagg opened for him on a couple of shows. He was a big fan of the band; in fact, we walked into the hall where we were playing with him for the first time and he and his band serenaded us with a perfect rendition of one of our songs. I think one of the things that caught his ear with both Bourgeois Tagg and my subsequent solo material is the persistent Beatle strain that permeates all of it. I grew up on all things Beatles, and their influence can’t help but pour out of my music.

I reconnected with Julian on, of all things, Facebook. He had “liked” a number of my posts over time. When I wrote “The High Road,” I immediately thought of Julian, but had no idea if he would be interested in singing on it or with me. I was very pleasantly surprised when he responded quickly and positively and we set a time to record in Los Angeles after his trip to Africa and South America. He walked into the studio, and upon hearing my first vocal line in the song said, “Now THAT’S Lennon!” It’s a trip to hear those pipes with that obvious DNA singing this song. Oh, and by the way, Julian is doing really good works around the world. That’s why I have agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds of every record I sell to his White Feather Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing safe, clean drinking water to people in need in Africa.

Bourgeois Tagg

The full Bourgeois Tagg band plays on the song “Psycho,” which sounds like it was recorded back in the day. What prompted you to invite your former band members to play on the track?

I knew I was going to have them on the record. It was just a question of how much and which song(s). Larry Tagg and Michael Urbano are also playing on “The High Road,” and I think that sounds like a Bourgeois Tagg song, too. They also played on another one that didn’t make the cut. Lyle Workman was a little more difficult to pin down because of his schedule. And it is no accident that it sounds like that. I got the producer and engineer of our first record, David Holman, to mix it.

Let’s ignore for a second the title of the new album. If you could look back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, would you have sought to keep Bourgeois Tagg together for a longer period of time?

Everything happens for a reason. One can always play “what if” games, but they are rarely productive. But I made three solo albums instead, moved to Nashville and had a great career there, produced records, worked at a record company, made many of the relationships that are in full force on this new record, etc. If I had to do it again, I would have probably done everything the same. I may have handled it a little differently. 🙂

There are additional prominent musicians that play on and assisted you with Don’t Look Back, right?

Well, yes. Todd Rundgren is singing and Kasim Sulton is playing bass on “Poor Me.” A slew of great Nashville musicians populate the record: guitarists Jerry McPherson and Chris Rodriguez, drummers Aaron Smith, Steve Brewster, and George Lawrence, and bassist Mark Hill. Charlie Peacock produced and played piano on “All She Ever Wanted.” Singers Molly Felder and Rachel Lampa are featured. And Wayne Kirkpatrick played and sang on “Without You.”

Out in California, Vicki Randle added percussion to a couple of songs, singer Michele Tumes is featured on “Don’t Look Back,” Paige Lewis is the female voice on “You & I,” and my son Adrian is playing acoustic guitar on “The High Road,” which also features 77s guitarist Mike Roe, and Los Angeles studio whiz Tim Pierce. I also got a couple of high-profile mixers involved along with David Holman. John Fields mixed “Poor Me,” and Ross Hogarth mixed “The High Road.”

What’s the release date of Don’t Look Back and, most importantly, how can your fans purchase it?

We are releasing the record as part of our Kick-Finisher program on June 2. Those who sign up to sell and help promote the record will get first crack at selling it. Signups to be part of the promotion team are at wwww.kick-finisher.com. We have invented something like the opposite of Kickstarter. I pay YOU to help sell MY record. It will be available later in the summer on iTunes and Amazon.com.

This article was first published on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/an-interview-with-brent-bourgeois/

This interview was also posted here:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/An-Interview-with-Brent-Bourgeois-5470161.php

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White Flag

Did Dido include too much or not enough of her music on a greatest hits collection?

Dido Greatest Hits 2

I’ll admit to being a big fan of Dido. A few years back, I took time off from work in order to purchase her then-latest CD at the very hour of its release. That was Don’t Leave Home, which had some good songs. However, the album was overly compressed so that it sounded both loud and lifeless. Fortunately, bad sound is not a problem with Greatest Hits. (Most of the songs sound glorious in this edition, but no one is credited with the mastering.) As we will see, another issue comes to the fore with this 18-track, over 76-minute long compilation.

Dido singles

To her credit, Dido provides background information on most of the songs in this collection and confirms that she selected them and placed them in chronological order. One thing that’s clear on a first listen is that her best songs were created between 1999 and 2008. Later compositions are unimpressive. Although not mentioned in Dido’s notes, four songs in this collection (“Thank You,” “Sand In My Shoes,” “Don’t Believe In Love,” and “Everything To Lose”) are based on unique ’80s rhythms that appear to borrow from the work of Sade.

Greatest Hits kicks off with “Here With Me.” It’s now obvious how much this sounds like “White Flag,” her mega-hit that followed four years later. As with all of the songs on Greatest Hits, the stereo separation is excellent and the sound is full. “Hunter” is a stunning, dramatic song about a woman who feels like she’s nothing more than prey to a man. “White Flag,” which was the “Every Breath You Take” of 2003, sounds rich and bold, so much so that it’s as if one has never heard it before. (The programmed percussion is now audible.) Impressive.

“Life For Rent” follows, with drums played by Andy Treacey. “I still don’t live by the sea but I wish I did,” adds Dido in the notes. “Don’t Leave Home” now sounds fine. This is not a song about travel. It is actually a song about addiction, in which a young woman offers her love to a man as a replacement for his drugs. The lyrics are casually and coolly brilliant, in the style of Joni Mitchell: “I arrived when you were weak/I’ll make you weaker, like a child/Now all your love you give to me/When your heart is all I need.”

“Quiet Times” is a throwaway lullaby, but worth listening to as Dido plays the drum kit. One of the highlights of the collection is “Grafton Street,” a touching song (never released as a single) about a woman mourning the death of her father. Dido refers to it as “the most emotional” of her compositions. The ever-excellent Mick Fleetwood provides the drumming.

Dido 1

“No Freedom,” from 2013, sounds pretty weak and unimaginative. “End Of Night” comes off as a poor man’s version of Abba. Sigh. It may be that Dido has become too eclectic, or adopted eclecticism for its own sake in order to ward off attacks that her songs are too similar. And it gets worse with three songs on which she pairs with others: “Let Us Move On,” which includes a rap from Kendrick Lamar, “One Step Too Far” with Faithless, and the painful-to-listen-to “Stan” with Eminem. These three selections take up about 14 minutes. They all should have been dumped.

The compilation recovers to some extent with the penultimate song, “If I Rise,” with A. R. Rahman. It sounds like a Sting outtake, but grows on the listener. “Rise” was nominated for an Academy Award (used in the film 127 Hours). And then there’s “NYC,” the Euro disco closing track that sounds like the Bee Gees circa 1977. One can almost visualize Tony Manero dancing to this in his white disco suit!

Greatest Hits again proves the dictum that sometimes less is more. As a collection of 14 singles with a bonus track (“Grafton Street”), it would have been a perfect sampling of Dido’s music career. This 18-track compilation may give her fans and new listeners more than they bargained for. Still, if you’re willing to skip past three less-than-artistic recordings, it’s a worthwhile addition to your music library.

Recommended, with reservations.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by RCA Records.

This article originally appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/music-review-dido-greatest-hits/

This review also appeared on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site:

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-Dido-Greatest-Hits-5176380.php

You can hear a sample of each of the 18 songs here:

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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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Music Review: The Olms

Is the debut album from The Olms a hit, a miss or something in between?

The Olms (300)

If you missed the rock music era that ran from the mid-60s through to the end of the 70s, you can catch up to some extent by listening to this eclectic collection of 10 retro songs from the Los Angeles-based group The Olms. The Olms are Pete Yorn, who gives off something of an Owen Wilson-crossed-with-Ray-Davies vibe, and J. D. King, a combination of George Harrison and Michael Clarke (the late Byrds drummer) in appearance. It’s perhaps no accident that you’ll hear echoes of The Kinks and The Byrds in their music.

This debut album runs a couple of seconds less than a half-hour in length, and it was recorded on analog tape. Listening to the CD sounds like you’re hearing a cassette version. Whether that’s good or bad is up to the listener, but it adds a period touch to the release.

Here’s a quick look at the tracks.

“On the Line” is like The Traveling Wilburys (“End of the Line”) mixed with the Kinks. The megaphone vocal is by King, while Yorn contributes Davies-style background vocals. “Someone Else’s Girl” could have been a track from Damn the Torpedoes by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. There’s also a touch of The Beatles’ “Things We Said Today” in the song. The music sounds like a weekend drive through Los Angeles. Blissful.

“Twice As Nice,” the first-ever Yorn/King composition is an uplifting song that calls to mind The Beach Boys and America. “Walking down Record Street at night….” Clever. “Wanna Feel It” is the single, which has a nice rhythm but ultimately goes nowhere. All promise and no delivery, which is perhaps why it ends abruptly two-thirds of the way through and segues into “A Bottle of Wine, etc.” This sounds like a late-period Byrds song that might have been included on either Sweetheart of the Rodeo or Dr. Byrd & Mr. Hyde. It melds beautiful lyrics with unique and playful instrumentation. “It’s a lonely world without the one you want.” Sweetly melancholic.

“Another Daydream” is a Pet Sounds-style song with a beautiful melody and the strangest lyrics since “A Horse With No Name”: “Koolaid sheik wandering the desert/Stranded in time feeling alone/Cold sweat drying in the garden/Cactus flower saying hello.” What?

“Rise and Shine” is by far the weakest song on the album. And it’s meaningless. “I check the kitchen but there’s no one there/I start the engine yet go nowhere.” This might have served as a throwaway track on an album by The Monkees.

“What Can I Do?” is Yorn’s full-on Ray Davies act. “You know it’s useless baby we can’t say goodbye/We’re going to be together till one of us dies!” “She Said No” is King’s gruesome yet entertaining song. It’s his serio-comic version of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.” “Only One Way” might have been the last track on a Byrds album. The lyrics say, “We’ll see you next time.” Yorn channels Davies again while King’s guitar work combines George Harrison and Roger McGuinn.

The Olms

All in all, The Olms is a mixed effort. The album has some high highs, but they’re counterbalanced by some very low lows. Although Yorn is quite a good drummer, the energy level is off compared to their live performances (Google the olms kcrw). When they played these songs in a live session at Apogee Studio for the KCRW audience in Los Angeles, there was a spark, a sense of joyfulness (Yorn played the opening chords to The Kinks’ “Lola” and sang a fine cover of “Love Is All Around” by The Troggs), and a love of life and playing that’s absent in the flat-by-comparison album versions. The songs were also played at a faster pace when played live.

It’s a shame that the excellent KCRW concert was not taped and released as the debut effort by this group. Still, The Olms serves as a heartfelt tribute to days gone by.

Joseph Arellano

A review CD was provided by a publicist. (Photo: Justin Wise/KCRW)

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics website:

Music Review: The Olms – ‘The Olms’

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

http://www.seattlepi.com/lifestyle/blogcritics/article/Music-Review-The-Olms-The-Olms-4849307.php

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