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Rambling Boy
Rambling Boy
Price: $12.98
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great old-time country, bluegrass, folk, Americana, a little jazz, a lot of heart, September 21, 2008
This review is from: Rambling Boy (Audio CD)
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Long before he became a legendary jazz bassist, Charlie Haden was Little Yodeling Cowboy Charlie. He began his professional career in the late 1930s, not quite two years old, singing old-time gospel and country on the radio with his parents and siblings throughout the South and Midwest. (One of his very early performances is on the next-to-last track of this CD.) He did that for thirteen years; then, at age 15, polio weakened his voice, leaving him to focus on the instrument that led him to jazz fame. He long had in mind to return to his musical beginnings and renew the legacy of family performance with his own children. In January, 2008, at age 70, it finally happened.

A lot of the great country and bluegrass players love jazz, so Haden had a fan club in Nashville ready to help out. It's a dream band. Jerry Douglas plays Dobro on almost every track. Stuart Duncan plays fiddle on most. On mandolin, Sam Bush plays on about half, Dan Tyminski on a couple, and Ricky Skaggs on a couple--Skaggs also plays a fretless banjo on one. Béla Fleck adds his banjo on another. Bryan Sutton and Russ Barenberg trade off on acoustic guitar, with John Leventhal stepping in for his wife Rosanne Cash's number. Buddy Greene adds harmonica on a couple cuts. Haden's friend Bruce Hornsby plays piano on a few.

A non-Nashviller in the instrumental mix is Haden's close friend and musical collaborator Pat Metheny, who plays his electric guitar on over a third of the pieces and contributes an instrumental track of his own.

And of course, on every track is Charlie Haden with his massive, sonorous double bass (except on the track from around 1940 where he just sings).

The level of virtuosity in the playing is exceptional, always tasteful and completely within the spirit of things, with many subtle, exquisite touches. There are frequent instrumental solos; all the players have memorable moments. Haden has no trouble at all with the idiom he grew up with, and he adds in a bit of jazz on a few songs. It's impossible to guess his age from his playing, which is strong and nimble.

Metheny adapts very well. His presence occasionally carries the recording into a different dimension, stylewise, but it's well integrated with the whole and makes for a unique hybrid that should have broad appeal. His instrumental composition "Is This America" has some of the sad feel of "Ashokan Farewell" (the fiddle song made famous in Ken Burns' Civil War series) mixed with Metheny's characteristic optimism.

The vocalists are also outstanding, and diverse. The heart of the vocal crew are "the triplets," Haden's triplet daughters Petra, Rachel and Tanya, who have been part of the alt- or avant rock scene in various bands, including That Dog (Petra and Rachel). They get things off to a lively start with the Carter Family song "Single Girl, Married Girl." Judging from the snippet of The Haden Family circa 1940 singing "Keep on the Sunny Side" that appears on track 18, the triplets approximate pretty well the sound Charlie Haden grew up with. He paid special attention to their harmonies to make sure they were just so--very tight, close, sweet, with some classic old-time bluegrass edge, a joy to hear in themselves. The triplets do three numbers as a trio, each does a solo number, Rachel and Tanya do a duet (also very tight), and the sisters sing backing vocals on several tracks. Alone, each has a pretty, occasionally breathy, light soprano. One of them, Petra I believe (she took the part on the radio), does some fine work with the solo phrases of the high vocal on (fittingly) "A Voice from on High," an old bluegrass gospel number. Great stuff, maybe my current favorite of many high points.

Petra's solo vocal is for "The Fields of Athenry," a folk ballad given an interesting arrangement. It begins in a traditional mode and slowly builds into a smoothly flowing pop arrangement with a Metheny flavor and Hornsby piano solo, ending with a Metheny guitar solo. The gradual shift in style has an enjoyable effect. Metheny and Hornsby also work on Tanya's solo piece, "He's Gone Away," another folk ballad, which includes a sparse, yearning piano solo with some unusually colored chords. Rachel's solo piece, the folk spiritual "The Tramp on the Street," is done in a more conventional old-fashioned way. Her sisters chip in their glorious harmonies at the end of end of each verse.

The other Haden offspring, Josh, contributes the vocal on his own "Spiritual," one of only two relatively new songs on the album. Originally recorded with Josh's band Spain, it was covered by Johnny Cash in 1996 and by Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny in 1997 (here). Josh must have sung it very slowly in the past, because even though he describes this performance as "a faster, country-fied version," it's about as slow as it seems it could be. It's a simple song, a prayer, sung in a soft, plaintive manner in a mostly spare arrangement with occasional swells. Movingly done, with lots of fine instrumental work.

Haden's wife (and co-producer) Ruth Cameron, who has recorded a couple vocal CDs for Verve Records, sings the folk song "Down by the Salley Gardens." Her vocal is breathy and marked by peculiar rhythmic touches. The arrangement is subdued, with a nice guitar solo from Metheny.

Also in the family, by way of marriage to Tanya, is comedian/actor/rocker Jack Black, who (according to the short version) told Haden, "I'm part of the family, I want to sing too." (The longer story has it that his cut was planned as an instrumental, and Black volunteered after the record was done to add the vocal.) He sings a rousing rendition of the bluegrass standard "Old Joe Clark," very much in the proper character, with just a touch of hamminess, as might be expected. It's kickin' fun, with hot playing from the band.

One of the more distinctive vocals, for one of the more distinctive arrangements, is by Bruce Hornsby on an eery version of early bluegrass star Jimmy Martin's "20/20 Vision." The song starts with a rather jazzy bass solo by Haden, whose instrument remains more prominent throughout than in the other numbers. Hornsby's vocal is haunted, almost screeching at times. The instrumentalists match the mood well with some chilling sounds (this is where Skaggs' fretless banjo comes in). It's not conventional, but it manages to remain traditional in spirit. Highly effective.

By contrast, Elvis Costello gives one of his less mannered performances. He sings Hank Williams' "You Win Again" with feeling in a relaxed, loping old-time arrangement that works very well.

Rosanne Cash, who can claim membership in the extended Carter Family (by way of father Johnny Cash's marriage to June Carter), sings the Carter Family song "Wildwood Flower." It begins with a nice guitar part played by her husband, John Leventhal, and moves along in a pleasant, mellow, traditional way until a sudden jazzy, Methenyish flourish in the middle, which then gives way again to the more traditional arrangement.

Vince Gill lends his distinctive voice to the title song, another Carter Family classic done in a traditional country style, with matching accompaniment. Just right. The album title "Rambling Boy" was undoubtedly chosen to refer to Haden, whether for his itinerant early years with his performing family, or for wandering far away from and then back to his roots (though he didn't become a highway robber, as the song's protagonist did, as far as we know).

In addition to his instrumental contributions, Dan Tyminski, who has reached a wide audience through his work with Alison Krauss, sings what was originally intended to be the title song, "Ocean of Diamonds," an old bluegrass love song. He has an excellent voice for it, with some of the nasality of old-time bluegrass giants like Ralph Stanley. The arrangement is straight bluegrass, with Petra and Rachel on harmonies.

Ricky Skaggs likewise takes a solo vocal turn, "Road of Broken Hearts," an upbeat weeper also done in straight bluegrass style with Petra and Rachel on harmonies. Top-notch.

The album ends with a rare vocal performance by Charlie Haden. Two, actually. First, there's the recording of him at age two, not entirely on key, but adorable, particularly with the yodel. Shifting to today, his polio-affected voice is soft and breathy, musical and touching in this wistful arrangement of a melancholy song. Metheny and Douglas provide tasteful support. Haden told NPR, "I wanted to do 'Oh Shenandoah' because that's the town I was born in, as a tribute to my mom and dad for giving me all this music. I don't really sing this as a singer, because I'm not a singer. But I wanted to do it for them."

All in all, a wonderful collaboration of mutual admirers, friends and family. The overall mood is traditional. For some, the pieces with elements from jazz and other traditions by Metheny, Hornsby, Josh Haden and Charlie Haden himself will seem out of place at first. For me, as I listened second and third times, I got to like the way it all fits together as what Haden brings back to his first musical home.

The album is beautifully produced, every instrument and voice clearly heard, including Haden's unselfishly discreet bass. As a kid he thought the bass was "the most beautiful instrument of all, because it made everything sound better when it was playing." This album shows how true that can be.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2008 8:56 AM PST

Country Outlaws
Country Outlaws
Price: $13.01
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange compilation, September 16, 2008
This review is from: Country Outlaws (Audio CD)
This is actually a 2-disc set (not one as Amazon says--see the large version of the cover photo, which says "2 CDs - 20 songs"). They took the third CD from a compilation called Legends of Bluegrass and the first disc from a compilation called Truck Stop Jukebox and called the two together Country Outlaws. I'm sure Chet Atkins would be amused to see himself cast that way, or as a legend of bluegrass, for that matter.

Most of the bluegrass recordings are old enough to be in mono. About half appear to have been taken from 78-rpm discs. The sound quality is good for recordings of that age, and the stereo cuts sound fine. The music ranges from old folk songs sung in an old rural style to upbeat bluegrass reels. All good stuff.

The second disc is quite varied, from swing to novelty to southern guitar rock. The sound is fine in general, with a slight break-up on a couple cuts.

Worth getting if you find it cheap enough. Otherwise, you might prefer one of the sets these are drawn from.

1. "Red Rocking Chair" by Charlie Monroe and his Kentucky Pardners (2:25) (mono)
2. "Back Up And Push" by Chet Atkins (2:09)
3. "Over The Hills To The Poorhouse" by Lester Flatt & Mac Wiseman (3:10)
4. "Brilliancy Medley" by Eck Robertson & Family (3:03) (mono)
5. "The Prisoner's Song" by Vernon Dalhart (3:07) (mono)
6. "Down In The Willow" by Wade Mainer & Zeke Morris (2:28) (mono)
7. "Freight Train Moan" by Arthur Smith Trio (2:39) (mono)
8. "Salty Dog Blues" by The Morris Brothers (2:22) (mono)
9. "Down WIth The Old Canoe" by Dixon Brothers (2:49) (mono)
10. "My Name Is John Johanna" by Kelly Harrell (3:13) (mono)

1. "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" by Asleep At The Wheel (3:42)
2. "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" by Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson (3:20)
3. "Trying To Get To New Orleans" by The Tractors (4:35)
4. "Hickory Wind" by BR5-49 (4:16)
5. "I Ain't Living Long Like This" by Waylon Jennings (3:36)
6. "She Got The Goldmine ( I Got The Shaft)" by Jerry Reed (3:15)
7. "She's Actin' Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles)" by Gary Stewart (2:46)
8. "Workin' Man Blues" by Jed Zeppelin (3:36)
9. "Road Expense" by The Dixie Dregs (3:24)
10. "Redneck! (The Redneck National Anthem)" by Vernon Oxford (2:28)

(27:49 + 35:17 = 63:06 total playing time)
UPC: 755174860225

eBay Business Start-Up Kit: 100s of Live Links to All the Information & Tools You Need
eBay Business Start-Up Kit: 100s of Live Links to All the Information & Tools You Need
by Richard Stim
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.99
49 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Good start for beginners, September 15, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a fairly good first book for someone new to eBay or who hasn't sold much there who wants to make it a business. It explains the basics of how to sell (and buy) on eBay, from signing up to being a PowerSeller to organizing the business to taxes. The information is explained very briefly and clearly, and links to further information are included. There are a few points about which it's already out of date, and it's short on specifics of the kind that might help make rational decisions about whether selling on eBay is a good business, or how it would be best to do it, but it's a good place to start learning about it.

This book works best in its CD-ROM version, included with the book. The printed version is just a copy of what you see in the CD-ROM version on your computer, but the links to online material and to other parts of the book only work on the computer, of course. (You can see in the printed version where the links are because they're still underlined like links. On my CD-ROM version there are two pages missing, corresponding to pages 255-6 in the printed version.)

The author is generally reliable but he does one odd thing worth mentioning here. He emphasizes the "eBay community" in a way that makes it sounds more wonderful and important to the running of eBay than it really is. There is an active community of sellers (and buyers), but they don't have much influence on eBay policy, and are often upset at eBay for being ignored. It's worth checking out the eBay discussion forums first if you want to do much selling to see what the current issues are.

The book's contents:


Welcome to eBay. Getting Started. Is eBay Your Hobby or Business? What Will You Sell? List an Item for Sale. Buy an Item. Open an eBay Store. PayPal Basics. Rules, Disputes, and Feedback. eBay Motors.


Auction Management Tools. Become a PowerSeller. Should You Quit Your Day Job?


Business Entities. Insurance.


Recordkeeping. Shipping and Returns. Working From Home. Hiring Help. Financial Forecasting.


Business Licenses and Permits. Paying Your Taxes. Tax Deductions.

There are also some forms, mostly of only minor usefulness.

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (1,000 Before You Die)
1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (1,000 Before You Die)
by Tom Moon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.92
175 used & new from $0.01

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good reference for music adventure seekers and list lovers, September 11, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The title and subtitle of this book imply something more ambitious than what author Tom Moon had in mind. You aren't really supposed to try to listen to all 1,000 (which might cost $15,000 or so) but to browse:

"[M]y hope is that adventurous readers will flip through the pages, land on something at random, seek out the music, and have an unexpected eureka! moment."

That's not to say the book isn't ambitious:

"Everything here had to have some incandescent life-changing energy inside it. To be true to the book's mission, each choice had to be a peak experience, music so vibrant it could lift curious listeners out of the mundane and send them hurtling at warp speed in a new direction--towards ecstasy perhaps, or coolsville. ... My hope is that these jumping-off points will inspire more searches, lifetimes of exploration."

So, in theory, what you have here are 1,000 choices for peak experiences and propulsion to a lifetime of musical exploration.

Moon particularly sought "music that feels vital and alive whether the listener happens to know the backstory or not."

In practice, there were competing goals that, I think, made the selections somewhat uneven in their "life-changing energy." Historical importance and variety were also prime concerns. So, while easily a dozen Joni Mitchell albums (arguably a few dozen) are more likely to lift listeners out of the mundane than Green Day's American Idiot, both artists get one recording on the list.

There were also compromises in regard to how accessible some of the music would be to new listeners. Though this could be an issue for any genre, it's especially acute for classical music for most people. If you're interesting in exploring music unknown to you in genres you already know you have trouble appreciating, books or other resources that go into more depth to introduce new listeners to the genre might be a better place to start.

With those reservations, the book will serve its purpose for those looking for at least likely sources of new musical adventures. Tastes differ, but almost all of the music included that I'm familiar with seems well chosen.


The book also has another appeal. It's a list, and there are lots of people who love lists. Even if you don't want to use the book as a means to new avenues of musical enrichment, you can look to see if the recordings and artists you already love (or hate) are done justice.

As a list, it has the usual defects, which is half the attraction. There is probably only one person who would agree with every entry. The rest of us would leave out some and include others, endless fodder for debate. I'll contribute a few of my own quibbles below.


Each recording is given a brief (usually a few hundred words), interesting and helpful historical and musical commentary to give us some idea of what we'll hear and why it's worth hearing. Most include a black-and-white photo of the artist or album cover.

The recordings are mostly albums. For those who prefer to download their music one song at a time, each album listing includes an indication of key tracks.

Each listing also includes further suggestions of recordings by related artists to follow up with.

The list of recordings is organized alphabetically by performer, the main exception being classical music, mostly arranged by composer. Moon gives a good reason for settling on this arrangement rather than organizing by genre: he wants to encourage us to find things at random and make new connections we wouldn't make by design.

But it's easy to find anything that's in the book in a variety of ways, including by genre. There are 15 genre indexes, grouping the recordings by categories from blues to world music (broken down by place of origin). There are also 11 "occasions" indexes, which group according to what you want to use the music for. Headings include "Get the Party Started," "Music to Inspire Reflection," "Play This for the Kids," "Romance Encounters," and "Superman's Earbuds" (heroic music).

For classical music, there's an index by composer, broken down by work, and an index by performer, broken down by composer and work.

There's also a comprehensive general index. The indexes are well done and easy to use (don't worry about the report to the contrary in another review - the author didn't understand how the index was organized).

Multiple listings

There's usually only one recording per artist on the list, but in several cases, such as The Beatles and Bach, there are more. This opens another debate, how many entries should which artists have gotten? Should Bob Dylan have gotten twice as many listings (four) as The Rolling Stones (two)? Personally, I think Moon would have been smarter to limit each recording artist to one. For the adventurous reader he has in mind, the extra benefit of having multiple entries from the same performer would have been outweighed by the advantages of having more artists to be introduced to. That way he could have included most or all of the artists he relegates to an appendix listing 108 additional recordings that almost made the cut.


There's a companion website,, with most of what's in this book. You can view the list there, including the commentary and other info. Each item is linked to Amazon for purchase. You can browse alphabetically or by the 15 genre categories. (The occasions categories aren't available there.) There's also a blog with occasional posts from Moon, and you can leave comments for his posts or individual recordings on the list.

Quibbles about the picks

So as to not make this review any longer, I'll give my quibbles in the first comment attached to this review. It will give you some idea what's in and what's out in a few categories. Moon generally sticks to artists well known in their genre, maybe because they're more solidly supported critically, so I won't bother to get into dark horses, like His Name Is Alive or Weekend, which might be just as good as the better known artists.

Moon does mention that he consulted the opinions of other critics, and his picks seem to be colored by some of the received critical opinion of the day, including some snobbery. Usually that's fine, the worst effects I can see being some gaps in popular music, especially country, with a few inclusions of critical favorites that seem comparatively weak to me. There are a few inclusions in the classical genre that are dear to critics but may not seem accessible or all that great to most listeners.

A small point

Most of the type in this compact but hefty book is unusually small. If you have trouble with fine print, you may need your reading glasses or a magnifying glass.

In sum

As a way to find new music for those who don't already know the field well, this is a valuable, thoughtfully produced, enjoyable resource. As a list of great recordings, it's more problematic but still fun. A strong four stars.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 30, 2009 11:33 PM PDT

This Storm
This Storm
Offered by cdgiveaways
Price: $6.30
109 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poppy, rocky, a little jazzy, perfect for adventurous NPR mug owners, September 9, 2008
This review is from: This Storm (Audio CD)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Kitchell has a breathy, sultry, smoky, nimble voice, plays guitar, and writes her own songs reflecting a soul of indeterminate age (she's 19). Her vocals invite a range of comparisons. Joni Mitchell is an influence she's proud to own, though they have rather different voices. Her voice is a shade darker than Norah Jones', with more chestiness that gives it an interesting complexity. At different times she also makes me think of Chan Marshall (Cat Power), Jesca Hoop, even kd lang, and she likes to do a version of that "oh oh-oh oh" thing that Chrissie Hynde does on "Back on the Chain Gang."

She works here with producer Malcolm Burn (Emmylou Harris, Patti Smith) and the Barr brothers from the Boston band The Slip. They bring together a variety of styles suggesting comparisons and labels from The Pretenders, The Band and The Rolling Stones to smooth jazz to alt-rock. There are jangly, peppy pop songs, a quiet ballad with Kitchell and her acoustic guitar, a flowing ballad with strings, a rocker with stinging electric guitar and rough vocals, all still smooth overall.

Taken together, it doesn't sound exactly like anything else. There's a note of refined discretion about it that feels a little confined to me (thus my little NPR snark). At the same time it's fresh and fun, mellow and moving. Four and a half stars, rounded up.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 26, 2008 7:49 AM PDT

Masters of Science Fiction: The Complete Series
Masters of Science Fiction: The Complete Series
DVD ~ Stephen Hawking
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $5.62
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not masterful, but will have appeal for some, September 5, 2008
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Masters of Science Fiction was a series produced for ABC that sought to capture some of the magic of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. Of the six one-hour episodes made (under 45 minutes without the ads), all included here, only four were shown. The series was arguably not given a chance, as it was aired on Saturday nights in August, not a great time slot.

Some of the concepts are interesting and promising, and there are some top-notch actors, but I still didn't enjoy these much. On the whole the writing is superficial, the logic weak, and the atmospherics that might make up for that are only so-so. I only enjoyed one of the six episodes enough to say I liked it.

The first episode has a nice basic idea to work with, revealed bit by bit in a way that makes much description of the plot too much of a spoiler. Judy Davis plays a psychotherapist who has a patient (Sam Waterston) with a condition she is very anxious to cure, for reasons that are only made clear later. Sadly, some of it doesn't quite add up or is only tenuously credible, and the exposition is clumsy. I thought Waterston seemed oddly hammy and fake, though maybe he thought that suited the character. Davis has a compelling screen presence.

The second episode takes place in the very near future. Alien creatures appear on earth and (without giving too much away) do stuff that it seems they should have done long before. The way this happens is fairly arbitrary. I liked Terry O'Quinn in this episode, in a measured performance that brought some subtlety of character at least.

Both the first two episodes, and most of the others too, fail to be very subtle about the rather simplistic principles we're supposed to draw from them.

The episode I enjoyed is the third one, "Jerry Was a Man," based on a short story by Robert Heinlein. Part of the enjoyment was sheer comic relief from the first two episodes, both rather Serious and a bit preachy. This is the only one of the six that's primarily comedic, though serious ideas are dealt with. Jerry is a genetically engineered android who was originally designed to sweep minefields (in about the least efficient way possible), but who has been working as a janitor lately and is about to be turned into puppy chow. A very wealthy woman (Anne Heche) takes a fancy to him and undertakes to save him, eventually by trying to prove he's a human. The intriguing tag line that is spoken by Stephen Hawking at the end is, "What makes us human may one day be defined not by the gifts we possess but by the virtues we lack." Malcolm McDowell is particularly good as the genetic engineer.

Series host Stephen Hawking, by the way, has very little to do in this series. He says a line at the beginning and end of each piece. The lines generally don't quite work like Rod Serling's comments for The Twilight Zone. I doubt very much that Hawking wrote them.

Episode 4 concerns a group of people rejected from Earth because of various unpleasant mutations and sent to wander the solar system in search of a home. They're approached by a representative from Earth with a deal to take them back. The drama is fairly thin and the results are highly predictable. John Hurt and Brian Dennehy are fine, and the make-up artists had a great time with the mutations, including a fairly well done second, smaller head on John Hurt. There are a couple surprisingly if still only mildly brutal touches in that episode.

The fifth episode is similar in several ways to Robocop, but with small eagle-like flying "Watchbirds" as the peacekeeping machines, and a kind of wireless human-machine interface instead of flesh and machine joined directly. The machines start off well and then problems come up as they're tied up in politics. It lacks Robcop's high-powered action and is only briefly and mildly violent. It also lacks the clever, polished script. The acting is fairly good. This one is the second best of the group for me.

The final episode has elements of 1984, done in a pale Terry Gilliam (Brazil) style. An underground worker escapes, is accused of murder, and fights with his mind against a partly human machine that constitutes his judge, defense counsel, and jury. The things that cause trouble for the machine are so elementary as to lack much credibility or interest, and the ending is sheer Hollywood.

The production values for the series are on the high side of what would be expected for a TV series. With all of the episodes, there are some interesting or enjoyable points. I can see why some people enjoyed them. But viewers inclined to be picky or critical about their science fiction should probably look elsewhere.

Year of the Horse
Year of the Horse
Price: $12.42
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid live album, August 27, 2008
This review is from: Year of the Horse (Audio CD)
I agree with what seems to be the consensus about this album. It isn't a great-sounding album, but it's OK soundwise (it's a "garage band," after all). It's not greatly inspired, on the whole, but it has its fine moments, and it's a solid performance throughout, with good songs, that I enjoy. I think most fans will enjoy it.

Cuts of particular interest to me include a soulful performance of "When Your Lonely Heart Breaks." It puts Young's voice to more of a test than the other songs, and leaves it out there in front where you can really hear it.

The harmonies on a laid back "Human Highway" come off very well. "Scattered" is mellowed from its version on Broken Arrow, giving an enjoyable alternative view of it.

The guitar work gets more edgy and unusual starting with "Danger Bird," which is quite a moving performance. "Prisoners of Rock 'n' Roll" and "Sedan Delivery" have an effective punkish energy. (The CD booklet shows Young and the band's mug shots.)

The acoustic version of "Mr. Soul" seems a little square to me. The electric version of "Pocahontas" works well.

The other cuts are good too, if not always highly distinctive.

(41:55 42:22 = 84:17 total, 2 discs for the price of one)

Broken Arrow
Broken Arrow
Price: $10.70
125 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars You're strange, but don't change, August 25, 2008
This review is from: Broken Arrow (Audio CD)
Rock stars have a well known dilemma, whether to repeat the things that brought them success, that fans tend to want more of, and that they're usually good at but can lead to a rut, or to try new things. Neil Young does both in spades, moving between his old styles and all sorts of new experiments. This album falls more into the repeat camp, which is fine with me. He's good at the grunge guitar jams and the other Crazy Horse stuff, and I want more of it.

Such dilemmas and other issues of growing older in the music business may have been on Young's mind as he was turning 50. The chorus of the first song, "Big Time," is "I'm still livin' the dream we had / For me it's not over." It begins with his trip from Ontario to LA to join the big-time music scene there. The album title, Broken Arrow, is the title of one of his early songs for Buffalo Springfield (see here), an experimental piece that deals with stardom and some personal imagery that seems to allude to dreams already lost. "Could you tell that the empty-quivered, / Brown-skinned Indian on the banks / That were crowded and narrow, / Held a broken arrow?" Years later, Young half-explained, "It's an image of being very scared and mixed up. The broken arrow is an Indian sign of peace after losing a war. A broken arrow usually means that somebody has lost a lot." It's an image that he lives with, on his ranch named Broken Arrow. It's hard to say exactly what either song is getting at, but in "Big Time" he speaks of "a gold mine," "the enemy inside of me," "that youthful fountain."

"Loose Change" seems to work in a similar vein, speaking of roads in all directions:

"Too many distractions
Got to get back home
Get into something solid
Get out of the zone
Some roads bring renewal
Some roads hide and wait
Some roads promise everything
And steal your fuel away."

From there, there's more talk of highways, thinking about living, and the last studio cut (there's a live track tacked on) ends, "I really didn't mean to stay / As long as I have / So I'll be movin' on." Hard to say how much we should read into such things.

Though these cuts have much of the sound of some of his early work, they don't have the same intensity or juice of the best of it, not on the angry, spooky or any other side. And, what probably follows by some musical logic, they seem to me to lack some of the musical edge that some of his best had back when, to be less inspired in their jams, tunes, rambles and so on. No surprise there, as when he made this album Young (it appears) was living a more settled and happier life, relatively speaking, with different challenges. And not too much of a disappointment, because the songs are still very good, have good energy and vibe. I love his overall sound on this album.

The first three tracks each include guitar jams, so they average over eight minutes each. The longest, and most repetitious, is on "Loose Change." If you listen closely, following the shadings of the churning along, it works pretty well, otherwise it can seem tedious. I particularly like "Slip Away," which combines the grungy guitar haze with a dreamy, wistful vocal haze.

"Changing Highways" has some of that country vibe. Catchy, nice beat. Good guitar groove on "Scattered." "This Town" is a chugging trifle, enjoyable enough, with short non-fuzzed guitar solos. "Music Arcade" is Young by himself whispering a simple tune and playing an acoustic guitar. He's good at that, though it's very redundant.

I especially like the last track, an 8-minute live recording of Jimmy Reed's blues "Baby, What You Want Me to Do." Taken from a series of little live shows at bars on the West Coast, this has the basics of a good performance: a great groove, a fine song, and momentum. Even though it is eight minutes long, and has a laid back pace, nothing drags or sags. It has maybe too much of a good thing in the ambiance of the bar, since it appears (by design, probably) to have been recorded from someone's lap in the audience. That makes the chatter and bottle clinking as distinct as the music, which is rather distant, but it still works.

If you like LPs, this one might be worth getting in that format, if you can find it. It has an extra song. And you can actually read the liner notes, which require a microscope for the CD version.

A strong four stars.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 27, 2008 9:14 AM PDT

The Unbroken Circle - The Musical Heritage Of The Carter Family
The Unbroken Circle - The Musical Heritage Of The Carter Family
54 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Family, friends and special guests pay tribute; Johnny Cash's last recording, August 23, 2008
Part of what makes this album special brings both technical weaknesses and what some see as a greater overall power. I'll explain below, after some background. Though the album is a tribute to the Carter Family, it's also in a way a memorial of Johnny and June Carter Cash, who died around the time it was being made, who have their last/near last recordings on it, and whose family and friends performed much of the music.

The Carter Family were the most important forerunners and shapers of modern country music. In 1927 A.P. Carter brought together his wife Sara and his sister-in-law "Mother Maybelle" Carter to record with him. A.P.'s genius for finding and arranging songs was supported by Sara's fine singing and Mother Maybelle's unique style of playing both melody and rhythm at once on guitar.

One of Mother Maybelle's children was June Carter, who grew up performing with her family, and married Johnny Cash in 1968, her third marriage and his second. Their only child together is John Carter Cash, a musician and record producer. In 2002-3 he produced an album of his mother singing Carter Family and original songs, Wildwood Flower, which won a Grammy.

About the time he was working on his mother's album, seeing how many Carter Family songs are little known today, and no doubt seeing that some of the carriers of their legacy might not be around much longer, John Carter Cash decided to assemble a collection of new recordings of Carter Family songs. While he had suggestions ready, he let the artists pick the songs and arrange them as they wanted. The production is simple and spare, with few overdubs and a lot of first takes. The vocals are often on the rough side, in keeping with the old style, and with the age of some of the singers. The instruments are mostly acoustic, but a few use electrics.

This was in some ways a very personal project for John Carter Cash. His mother June's contribution, "Hold Fast to the Right," is one that she sang to him as a child. It's a mother's last advice to a departing son, and must have been one of her last recordings. She's joined by his father Johnny doing backing vocals, with two acoustic guitars accompanying. Their voices, especially hers, are very worn, and not always on pitch. That will bother some people, while for some the rawness adds to the emotional power. I normally find such singing hard to enjoy, but when I recall the circumstances and history, I do appreciate it.

The same applies to Johnny Cash's contribution. He was ill and his voice was diminished, but his rhythm and sense of the story were sharp. It was his last recording, made just a couple weeks before he died. The song is about a train engineer glad to die on the train he loved, ending with the words "Nearer my God to Thee." According to tradition, Sara was singing "Engine One-Forty-Three" in the yard when A.P. heard her for the first time. June performed it as a child, and Johnny sang it in the '60s while he was performing with her family. (A recording of it from 1964, just him and his guitar, is now a bonus track on his Orange Blossom Special CD.)

Two of A.P. and Sara's children, Joe and Janette Carter, who sang together for many years at the Carter Fold at the old family compound in Virginia, sing "Little Moses." She was nearing 80 and he was about 77, and of course you can hear that in the recording. Both have since died. (Janette's daughter Rita continues to operate the Carter Fold, where people can go any weekend of the year to hear live Carter Family music.)

Another family member to do a song is Rosanne Cash, Johnny's daughter with his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Her rendition of "The Winding Stream" is sweet, subdued, and soulful. It's easy to believe that this was a tender time for her. The song was said to be her father's favorite Carter Family song. Mother Maybelle's granddaughter Lorrie Carter Bennett sings some fine harmonies. Randy Scruggs' acoustic guitar has an especially prominent role here, gently loping along with Pat McLaughlin's mandolin.

Marty Stuart, once married to Cindy Cash, another of Johnny and Vivian's daughters, and who now wears black in tribute to the Man in Black, performs one of those gruesome folk songs about a man murdering his lover, "Don't Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You." The arrangement, done with some electric instruments by his band The Fabulous Superlatives, is suitably dark and eery.

Some of the greats and old-timers of country music who aren't related to the Carter Family, but who all have close connections to Johnny Cash, also contributed songs. George Jones gets the album off to a rousing start with an electric-instrument version of "Worried Man Blues." His voice is thinner than it used to be, but he doesn't miss a beat. Willie Nelson takes the opposite tack, giving "You Are My Flower" an intimate performance with only his acoustic guitar. Kris Kristofferson joins the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to give a heartfelt and welcome rough edge to their sweet rendition of "Gold Watch & Chain," which closes the album.

The bluegrass side of country is well represented. Norman and Nancy Blake are joined by Tim O'Brien for "Black Jack David," done in a traditional style with the addition of cello. John Carter Cash plays the autoharp on that one, his only performance credit on the album. The Whites and Ricky Skaggs team up for "Will My Mother Know Me There?" done in straight old bluegrass style, including a backing vocal that repeats the lines. Del McCoury and his band give "Rambling Boy" a fine old-fashioned treatment.

The folk and folk-rock side of country is also well represented. Emmylou Harris and the young Peasall Sisters, who made a big splash with their part in Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, sing "On the Sea of Galilee." Harris is a little wobbly at times, but it's all in the spirit of things. Sam Bush is in the mix on mandolin, and those Peasalls are really sweet! John Prine does a ripping folk-rockabilly acoustic-electric version of "Bear Creek Blues." Shawn Colvin adds her breathy vocals to the instrumental contributions of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and son Randy Scruggs on "Single Girl, Married Girl." Haven't quite gotten used to that yet. Finally, Sheryl Crow surprised many with a solid, authentic rendition of "No Depression in Heaven," letting her southeast Missouri roots show. Some nice harmonies and fiddling on that one by Larry Campbell.

Fiddler Laura Cash, wife of John Carter Cash, and guitarist Randy Scruggs are like the house band, playing on many of the tracks. Pat McLaughlin plays mandolin (mainly) on several as well.

My head says some of these recordings aren't up to it, but my heart says five stars.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2008 9:54 AM PST

Casablanca (Two-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
Casablanca (Two-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Humphrey Bogart
Offered by Mike's DVDs and Blu Rays
Price: $36.49
40 used & new from $21.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Ultimate edition for collectors (and gift-givers) coming out for Christmas, August 23, 2008
Possibly the most popular film around, 1942's Casablanca pairs two iconic actors, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, in a story of lost love and reluctant heroism. Warner Brothers put out an excellent 2-disc Special Edition in 2003. (That older set is going to receive new artwork on December 2nd, but it will otherwise be the same.) This new 2-disc Ultimate Collector's Blu-ray Edition includes the features from the 2003 set and adds a documentary about studio head Jack Warner, along with a bunch of memorabilia. This is the only Blu-ray edition. Here are the announced new features, the ones not included in the 2003 set. All but the first are memorabilia.

-- Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul, a 1993 full-length biographical documentary (104 minutes)
-- 48-page photo book
-- 10 roughly 5x7" cards with color reproductions of poster art and such
-- 3 reproductions of archival correspondence (a memo from producer Hal Wallis changing the title to Casablanca, a memo from Wallis to studio head Jack Warner urging the casting of Bogart over George Raft, and a letter from the publicity head instructing the publicist to shift Bogart's image from tough to romantic lead)
-- reproduction of Victor Laszlo's letter of transit
-- passport holder with Casablanca logo
-- luggage tag with Casablanca logo
-- mail-in offer for 27x40" movie poster
-- all in a pretty collector's box with an intricate laser-cut Moroccan design

The documentary, which comprises the second disc, is also available separately on standard DVD (here). It was written, directed and produced by a grandson of Warner, and is said (by Variety) to be somewhat sentimental but not to overlook Warner's defects. It isn't about Casablanca in particular.

There are more than enough extras in the 2-disc standard DVD edition for most people. I'll list them below. The video and sound quality of that set are very good, about as good as could be for a 1942 film on standard DVD. The movie was released in 1080p HD in 2006, and it was acclaimed as looking even better, sharper, smoother, with more detail. The 1080p Blu-ray should look the same as the HD. Whether it's enough better to matter to you is an individual thing.

The movie is set in 1941 Casablanca, Morocco, controlled by the Nazi-collaborating Vichy French government. Bogart plays Rick, a nightclub owner with a past he doesn't talk about and a determination not to get caught up in current events. "I stick my neck out for nobody," he says. He comes into possession of two letters of transit, invaluable items to the many refugees seeking passage out of the grasp of the Nazis. The intended recipients of the letters soon show up, resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife Ilsa (Bergman). Ilsa, it turns out, was once Rick's lover, who broke his heart when she left him with no explanation. Their old flame is rekindled despite themselves, and Rick must decide whether to help his rival for her love, thereby helping the war effort he has claimed no interest in, or help himself.

No one expected this movie to be such a classic, and even though it won three major Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it only gained its place as a classic gradually over the years. Undoubtedly the two stars are a big part of the reason it grew on us. Bogart is perfect as a cynic who has more heart than he lets on. Just by being there, Bergman instantly conveys every reason we need to understand Rick's broken heart and feel the force of his dilemma, and she convincingly portrays her own conflict between two loves. Somehow the movie also gets other things just so. Several of the supporting actors manage to be morally corrupt and still likable; others are just likable. The writing, a fair amount of it done quickly, by committee, with no thought of it being great writing, has panache, and hits on several turns of phrase that just work. Even the music works beyond what was expected, making "As Time Goes By" unforgettable. All of these things lift up the story of love, higher duty, and the triumph of good over evil, and over cynicism.

Here's the list of the features included from the 2003 Special Edition:

-- Introduction by Bogart's wife and frequent co-star Lauren Bacall (2 minutes)
-- Audio commentaries
. . . . . by Roger Ebert
. . . . . by film historian/author Rudy Behlmer
-- Documentaries and featurette
. . . . . Bacall on Bogart, a TCM documentary from 1988 (83 minutes)
. . . . . You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca, a 1992 documentary narrated by Bacall (35 minutes)
. . . . . As Time Goes By: The Children Remember, with Bogart's son Stephen and Bergman's daughter Pia Lindstrom (7 minutes)
-- Production research gallery, with scads of documents including memos, script pages, and production stills (12 minutes)
-- Deleted scenes, with subtitles but no sound (2 minutes)
. . . . . Rick tells Laszlo he wants to sell the letters of transit for 100,000 francs
. . . . . Rick's bartender Sascha serves a doctored drink to a German soldier
-- Outtakes (goofs), no sound or subtitles (5 minutes)
-- Take-offs on the movie
. . . . . April 26,1943 Screen Guild Players radio broadcast, an abridged Casablanca with Bogart, Bergman and Henreid, audio only (22 minutes)
. . . . . Who Holds Tomorrow?: Premiere Episode excerpts, from the TV serial based on Casablanca, part of the 1955 Warner Bros. Presents series, starring Charles McGraw as Rick (18 minutes)
. . . . . Carrotblanca, Looney Tunes cartoon with Bugs Bunny as Rick (8 minutes)
-- Musical scoring sessions, audio only
. . . . . "Knock on Wood" alternate version, Dooley Wilson and piano
. . . . . "As Time Goes By Part One" alternate take, Wilson and piano
. . . . . "As Time Goes By Part One" film version, Wilson and piano
. . . . . Rick Sees Ilsa instrumental medley
. . . . . "As Time Goes By Part Two" alternate take, Wilson and piano
. . . . . "As Time Goes By Part Two" film version, Wilson and piano
. . . . . At La Belle Aurore instrumental medley
. . . . . "Dat's What Noah Done" outtake, Wilson and piano
-- Trailers
. . . . . original theatrical trailer
. . . . . 1992 re-release trailer
-- Text only
. . . . . A Great Cast is Worth Repeating, on the times the cast played together in other movies
. . . . . cast and crew
. . . . . awards

That's plenty for most fans, though collectors aren't most fans. Whichever edition you get, the movie is the main thing. It's a great one, not to be missed.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2008 9:18 AM PDT

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