Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review: 'A Disturbance in the Force: How and Why the Star Wars Holiday Special Happened'

For years, it seemed like some sort of weird dream. Yet I could remember every detail of staying up late at the age of four at my grandmother's house to watch the first piece of Star Wars visual entertainment since Star Wars. I could remember sitting right in front of the screen in a wood paneled den and the names of every member of Chewbacca's family and their UFO-shaped house in the trees and dozing off while struggling to remain awake and the creepy sensation of listening to Princess Leia sing that gross song. If my grandma and I hadn't spent the next few years laughing over the names "Lumpy" and "Itchy," I might have concluded that none of it had really happened, because there was no Internet to remind us that The Star Wars Holiday Special really did air on November 17, 1978, on CBS. George Lucas certainly wasn't going to remind us. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Review: Guided by Voices' 'Live from Austin, TX'

Although I'd seen Guided by Voices live a number of times, and knew their routine pretty well, I was still shocked to see their performance on the concert series Austin City Limits in 2005. Well-known for lubricating his performances with buckets of Rolling Rock, Robert Pollard held nothing back for his public television debut. His slurring and capering and hilariously inebriated rants were not the kinds of things you usually saw on PBS. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Review: New Editions of The Beatles' '1962-1966' and '1967-1970'

After the super deluxe edition of Revolver was released this time last year, many Beatlemaniacs believed that the next big holiday release would be a similar set devoted to Rubber Soul. Surprise! Instead we're getting new editions of the two essential Beatles compilations, 1962-1966 and 1967-1970, both of which are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this year. An odd choice, you may think, but this release is mainly serving one very specific purpose, a job that it wouldn't make sense for a deluxe edition of Rubber Soul to do. 

You see, back in the mid-nineties, when Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were mining rough John Lennon demos for material to spruce up and overdub for release on the Anthology compilations, they began work on a third track in addition to "Free As a Bird" and "Real Love". Then George apparently soured on "Now and Then" and didn't want to complete it. As the story goes, the Quiet One dismissed it as "rubbish." While that assessment may have been a tad harsh, the song didn't exactly scream to be heard. Like the two tracks that were completed and released, "Now and Then" is a down-tempo, down-mood song. It's more melodic than the dreary "Free As a Bird" but less appealing than the pretty and genuinely moving "Real Love". Had John written it during the days when he was coming up with ingenious stuff like "Rain", "Strawberry Fields Forever", and "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", "Now and Then" would never have found a home on a Beatles record... but it might have been worthy of a Double Fantasy or at least a Milk and Honey

Monday, November 13, 2023

Review: 'B-Side'

For every hit that makes it onto the radio or Billboard's Hot 100, there's something more obscure happening on the other side. It might be a piece of tossed off trash, but it might also be of exceptional quality ("Rain"), a chance to throw a less prolific band member some royalty cash ("The Inner Light"), or an excuse to get inspiredly loony ("You Know My Name [Look Up the Number]"). Some B-sides are even better than their smash A-sides... at least that's my stance on all those Beatles flip sides I referenced in the previous sentence. 

Review: 'Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At The Hollywood Bowl: August 18, 1967'

Two months to the day after The Jimi Hendrix Experience became an overnight stateside phenomenon at the Monterey Pop Festival, the group freaked out California a little further south at the Hollywood Bowl. The band was simply white hot at this point, still flying from rearranging brains en masse at the beginning of the summer and still so fresh that they hadn't even put out a sophomore LP yet. This material must have still been new enough that Jimi hadn't quite gotten it all down yet, as he kept forgetting to sing lines in "The Wind Cries Mary". But such gaffs are part of the charm of hearing a vintage, unadulterated performance, as you can on the new live disc, Jimi Hendrix Experience: Live At The Hollywood Bowl: August 18, 1967. The power of the band at this stage in their career is what makes it electrifying. 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Review: 'The Wicker Man: The Official Story of the Film'

Like most true cult films, The Wicker Man has certain trappings of a particular genre (horror), but it's actually pretty hard to categorize. For most of its run time, it would be better classified as a police procedural or mystery. Midway through production, director Robin Hardy declared it was a musical. Indeed, The Wicker Man is all these things, which is just one reason it is such a unique viewing experience. However, it can also be frustrating since it exists in so many forms due to a less than respectful release that saw it get chopped to pieces to play second-fiddle to Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now, with which it joined forces for an admittedly excellent double feature in 1973. Complicating the story further, there are questions as to how much it was influenced by David Pinner's novel Ritual, how much it was auteured by Hardy (whom many of the folks involved in the film describe as barely competent), and how miserable the cold, combative, and stressfully compressed shoot was.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Review: 'Written in Their Soul – The Hits: The Stax Songwriter Demos'

A Stax record is instantly recognizable by a distinctive voice like Otis's or Carla's and the raw but thick backing from house bands Booker T. & The MG's and The Mar-Keys. Of course, a record doesn't begin with what you hear on the radio or vinyl. It usually starts off as lyrics and chords on a piece of paper and then first achieves sound on a rough demo to give producers and artists a clearer taste of the song. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

Review: The Dave Brubeck Quartet's 'Jazz at Oberlin'

For their first LP, The Dave Brubeck Quartet released a live set caught at Oberlin College in Ohio. Although the makeup of the band would change a bit over the years, the cornerstones of Brubeck's elegant yet harmonically adventurous piano and Paul Desmond's cherubic and searching alto sax are in place, although there are not yet those wonderfully imaginative original compositions like "Time Out", "Blue Rondo a La Turk", and "Bluette" that would cause the group's later albums to be widely regarded as classics. Instead the group worked with a quintet of standards such as Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" and Morgan Lewis's "How High the Moon". Nevertheless, Brubeck and Desmond's effortless interplay is already fully formed, and the latter wastes no time in showing off his fluttering skills on set opener "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)". The former begins the song in deceptively reserved mode before aggressively stumbling out strident chords that lay waste to his reputation as some sort of purveyor of tepid white-wine jazz. 

Review: 40th Anniversary Reissue of Social Distortion's 'Mommy's Little Monster'

Although Social Distortion emerged from the same West Coast hardcore scene as Black Flag and The Circle Jerks in the early eighties, you could be forgiven for assuming they hailed from across the other coast's pond because of Mike Ness's vocal affectations (reminiscent of Jake Burns) and beret (reminiscent of Captain Sensible) and the group's understanding of dynamics and variety, which were often lost on American punks. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Review: 'Stax Christmas'

If Halloween is the super-cool kid sitting in the back row scowling and painting its nails black, Christmas is the one with the billion-watt smile, eager for everyone to be its friend. And because its lights and ornaments and aggressively cheery songs can come off as a bit desperate, not everyone necessarily wants to be Christmas' friend. Some people actively hate it and flick into kill-mode whenever they hear "Jingle Bells" or that Mariah Carey song.
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