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Hazardous Duty (A Presidential Agent Novel Book 8)
Hazardous Duty (A Presidential Agent Novel Book 8)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $7.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A lazy, insulting effort...Griffin should be ashamed at screwing his loyal, paying readers, January 2, 2014
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Let's just drop the lengthy prologue and say at the outset: do NOT waste your time or money with "Hazardous Duty". If there

I have been a fan of a few of W.E.B. Griffin's various series, and this "Presidential Agent" series started out with such promise. However, as the series has gone on, it became tougher to get through the novels. Increasingly he was spending 80-85% of the book in long, drawn-out expository and re-hashing of Charley Castillo's background - something unnecessary for those already following the series - leaving ever-smaller last acts to get to action and tying up a storyline.

In "Hazardous Duty", it's a whole lot of nothing. At first I thought that there was going to be yet another long exposition and some sort of action at the end. But on and on it went, and before long, I began to realize that there was going to be no plot, no action to push the overall series storyline along, and no "payoff" for slogging through the novel. By the time I got to the end, I was simply insulted to the point of being legitimately angry.

In the afterword, Mr. Griffin tries to explain how he felt a little disengaged - almost disinterested - in coming up with the next installment of the "Presidential Agent" series, and so thought he might try to write a "M*A*S*H"-style novel for this series. However, he failed miserably in that regard, because there was no humor in any part of "Hazardous Duty".

I truly hope that Mr. Griffin, his son, or his publisher are paying attention to this - and the other - harsh reviews of "Hazardous Duty", because I want to conclude by saying to them all that they all screwed over his loyal, paying readers in a big way. If he was indeed disinterested in writing this installment of the "Presidential Agent" series, he should very well have told his publisher he would stop this series, concentrate on his other ongoing series, and perhaps return to this series at a later date when he had something fully formed. He and his publisher should be ashamed for wasting our time, and for collecting our hard-earned money on this blatantly lazy mess of an effort. I don't know how anybody in good conscience could do that. Mr. Griffin, you have officially lost me from your reader base once and for all.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2014 5:56 PM PST


The Thief (Isaac Bell series Book 5)
The Thief (Isaac Bell series Book 5)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $8.05

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Another series that is rapidly declining in quality with each successive book, March 10, 2012
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I have had a run in recent months of reading the next installment of a fiction series from authors I have followed for years. The Clive Cussler/Justin Scott effort "The Thief", the newest installment of the Isaac Bell series, was the latest one. Unfortunately, as was the case with this run of fictional series, "The Thief" continues a trend of utter disappointment.

I have always been a fan of Mr. Cussler's Dirk Pitt adventures, which he is transitioning to his son. But when he puts his name on an ostensibly co-authored - more like "branded" - effort, such as the Oregon Files or NUMA Files, I have found more misses than hits when I have read a few of each series. However, when he started the Isaac Bell series in 2007, I found them nearly as entertaining as the Dirk Pitt adventures. "The Chase" and "The Wrecker" were great, fun, fast-paced reads. However, as he has seemingly ceded primary authorship to Mr. Scott, the quality has started to suffer. The third installment - "The Spy" - was pretty good, and "The Race" mediocre at best. "The Thief" is very nearly a complete waste of time.

I managed to breeze through "The Thief" in the course of about three evenings after it was released. The plot - if there is one - is so inconsequential and uninspiring that it isn't worth the space in this review. Suffice to say that trying to create an international mystery revolving around talking motion pictures did not work. All of the elements that made the Isaac Bell character interesting were absent in this novel, as was any of the historical situations, equipment, and encounters that made the first two books in the series so engaging. The criminal was not fleshed out in any way that made the mystery compelling, nor were any of the secondary characters interesting in the least. The writing style felt lazy, and it wandered around - even from paragraph to paragraph - in such a way that it made the reader's attentiveness in the story even harder to maintain.

All told, "The Thief" provides more ammunition to my belief that when successful authors like Mr. Cussler start to "brand" themselves by putting their names on other series that are primarily written by other authors, the overall reputation and legacy of that successful author suffers mightily. I think he really had more of a hand in the first two novels of the Isaac Bell series, but as Mr. Scott seemingly takes more control, the series is skidding downhill rapidly. If I were in Mr. Cussler's place, I would have either sent "The Thief" back for a major rewrite, rewritten it myself, or scrapped the project entirely. I'd be embarrassed to have my name on this, no matter how much money you earn from fans like me who continue to be fairly loyal.

I cannot recommend "The Thief" at all, even to those who - like me - were initially entertained by the Isaac Bell series and have yet to read this novel. If there is a next installment in the series, Mr. Cussler and Mr. Scott had better absolutely dazzle us. If they can't reach that level or expectation, this is yet another fictional series that should end now before it completely falls off the quality cliff.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2012 6:44 PM PDT


Ghost On The Canvas
Ghost On The Canvas
Offered by Bert-US
Price: $16.88
53 used & new from $7.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph...any musician should wish for such a valedictory effort, February 24, 2012
This review is from: Ghost On The Canvas (Audio CD)
A few years ago, Glen Campbell's career was resurrected with the release of "Meet Glen Campbell". That album of covers was invigorating, and proved that Mr. Campbell perhaps still had some more to contribute to music. In the few years since, real life stepped in, with his diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps with this diagnosis, there was more of an urgency to record while he still could. In that vein, "Ghost On The Canvas" was released, and proved to be my favorite album of 2011.

Quite obviously, the Alzheimer's diagnosis looms heavily over this work - as it probably should. The record company promoted it heavily as Mr. Campbell's final album, and - as the title suggests - the tracks throughout are reflective of what is happening to him. There is an overwhelming sense of melancholy, farewell, and mortality throughout the album, but at the same time, there are elements of celebration that poke through if one listens carefully enough. One senses through the lyrics of several of the songs that Mr. Campbell may have come to terms with what life has dealt him, but is going to remain valiant for as long as he is able.

The production throughout "Ghost On The Canvas" is very similar to "Meet Glen Campbell". The tone is crisp and clean, allowing the listener to hear everything in each song clearly, as well as allowing the energy that Mr. Campbell put into this album to shine through. His vocals are reflective of age, but they are strong and mostly vibrant as they have been throughout his career. Also similar to "Meet Glen Campbell", many of the songs had riffs or other elements sprinkled in that hearkened back to Mr. Campbell's biggest hits. That provided one sense of celebration, as it allows the listener to be reminded of those songs and the influence Mr. Campbell had on music as a whole.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the presentation of the album as a whole, in the way that short instrumentals provided segues to many of the songs. In that way, it felt very much like the type of "thematic" album that we don't get too much of in today's music industry. To that end, I feel that it's hard to fully appreciate "Ghost On The Canvas" if you just pulled a few random tracks from it.

Overall, "Ghost On The Canvas" is a musical triumph, and a celebration of a very strong, respectable career. While this album demonstrates that Mr. Campbell could still positively contribute to the music scene, the Alzheimer's diagnosis precludes such notions. While it is such a shame that this cursed disease should rob someone so talented of their mental faculties and - in some ways - prohibit the ability of someone to close out a career on their own terms, it is fantastic that something of such high quality as "Ghost On The Canvas" could be developed and released as the valedictory effort. Most musical careers carry on to sad ends, in the sense of holding on far too long with talent and creativity that evaporated long ago. Mr. Campbell, on the other hand, has produced an album that is every bit as strong as anything that he released in his heyday. Any musician should be as fortunate to be able to close a recording career with something as powerful and enjoyable as "Ghost On The Canvas".


Covert Warriors (A Presidential Agent Novel Book 7)
Covert Warriors (A Presidential Agent Novel Book 7)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.34

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing continuation of a series that is alternately engaging and annoying, February 24, 2012
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I have read a few of W.E.B. Griffin's novels from some of his other series, but never got engaged in any of those in the same way as I did for the Presidential Agent series. I locked in from the first book of the series, and have continued on with the subsequent works. Initially, the series was really engaging. But with each passing installment, the novels got to be alternately engaging and annoying. Since I am somewhat invested in the series, I purchased "Covert Warriors", and found that the scales have tipped to more annoying than engaging.

The Presidential Agent series has some very relevant, current-day plots that always seem to easily suck the reader in. It leads one to hope that there will be gripping content that will propel the reader through the novel. The problem is that the plot resolution in each book seems to come later and later, with fewer and fewer pages being devoted to it. "Covert Warriors" didn't seem to have any resolution; the hostage rescue - one of several plot threads - was almost summarized in a few pages at the very end of the novel, as if you were listening to a conversation in passing. The dispatch of the suspected moles was also so glossed over that it almost wasn't worth the couple of paragraphs devoted to explaining that in the same ending chapter. The other plot threads involving the President's paranoia, the potential for a coup d'etat, and so on were all left hanging, and the way "Covert Warriors" ended almost made one think that some of that was just conveniently resolved, too.

Character development is an engaging element to the Presidential Agent series, including "Covert Warriors". I do enjoy that several of the primary and secondary characters are fully fleshed out, so as to make them all believable and realistic to the reader. Some of the secondary and tertiary characters through the series aren't of interest to me, but at least the development makes the lack of interest feel more valid because I have gotten to "know" them over the course of the series. However, as with the plot, the annoying part is that with each passing installment, Mr. Griffin and his cohort have leaned too heavily on repeating Charley Castillo's life story ad nauseum. I don't think any reader remains in the same circle of colleagues/family/friends and spends hours re-hashing every detail of one's life - particularly if you know the person really well. This happens multiple times in each novel, and in "Covert Warriors", the life story was re-hashed three or four times (at least). This is definitely not realistic in any way. More importantly, most of the readers of "Covert Warriors" are readers like me who have followed the series from the start. We already know full well Castillo's story, and the overarching plot theme of the series to date, so there is no need to spend so much of the book flogging this same information.

The storytelling seems to get increasingly bogged down with each installment of the series, and "Covert Warriors" is no different. The recurrent trend is that there is much talking/deliberating, traveling, bad jokes told repeatedly, and detail about meals and other trivial details. Early in the series, there was enough of a healthy mix of action woven in to keep the novel moving and the reader engaged. However, as the series has progressed, the bits of action seem to have largely disappeared. "Covert Warriors" is the worst of the series in terms of having to slog through the entire novel without having any real passages with action or any sense of suspense. It just seemed to plod on endlessly, with the overly repetitive elements I mentioned above.

Oddly, I feel some sort of conflict after reading "Covert Warriors". There is a part of me that just wants to give up on the series - assuming it continues - because each passing installment leaves me increasingly underwhelmed, and "Covert Warriors" is (for now) the acme of that disenchantment. But there is another part of me that knows that if/when the next installment comes out, I will very likely read it, because I've already invested myself in the Presidential Agent series and want to see it through to the end - however frustrating it may continue to be.

I suspect that I am not alone in my sense of conflict about the series and "Covert Warriors" specifically. What I have seen of previous reviews suggests there are plenty of readers who do agree with me. I think we are all wrestling with this aspect of having the engaging elements of good storytelling, countered by the annoying elements that I have summarized here. I can't recommend "Covert Warriors", whether you have read the previous books in the Presidential Agent series or not. For those of us who have read everything in the series to date, it is yet another speed bump to wherever the Charley Castillo story is headed, and - unless Mr. Griffin and his cohorts pay some heed to the reader frustration - it will continue to be an annoying ride.


Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller (Mitch Rapp Book 2)
Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller (Mitch Rapp Book 2)
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The most disappointing of the Mitch Rapp saga, February 24, 2012
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Like many of those whose reviews have preceded me, I very much look forward to a new Vince Flynn novel. His track record has been very solid over the years in this genre; both the storytelling, plot, and development of the Mitch Rapp character were entirely engaging and believable. Even when he took the unexpected "detour" of backtracking - almost ala "Star Wars", in a weird way - to fill in the early part of Mitch Rapp's career, I still anticipated the novels to see what Mr. Flynn would do.

"Kill Shot" - the second of three planned "prequels" (according to Mr. Flynn's e-newsletters) - had all the look of another gripping, fast-paced tale. It was indeed a fast-paced read, as most of the novels are. But every other aspect of it was disappointing. It felt like a rushed effort, in that the plot development was lacking and largely incomplete. There were pages upon pages of setup, and yet nothing felt resolved - whether it be flushing out those that set up the ambush, the dynamics between Rapp and Hurley, or anything else.

Much has already been made about the Kindle version, in which "Kill Shot" ends at what is about the 79% mark, with the remaining 21% occupied by excerpts of every other Rapp novel. Mr. Flynn had an e-newsletter warning/apologizing to the readers about this, which I received a couple days before starting the book. So, even knowing this before reading "Kill Shot", I felt slightly confused when I hit the end. Based on Mr. Flynn's previous work, your brain is geared up knowing that there is one more "big" thing to wrap everything up. Everything seemed to be ramping up in this same manner, and...it just stopped abruptly. Again, even knowing that the excerpts were there, I hit buttons on my Kindle a couple times thinking, "Wait, is that it?" It's no wonder readers were so confused, and why Mr. Flynn was compelled to quickly send out the notice.

I really do hate to bring this up, but one has to wonder if Mr. Flynn's health issues over the last year or so may have contributed to this lackluster effort. I can't really think of any other rationale for what is easily the weakest and most disappointing of the entire Mitch Rapp saga. Every author gets some leeway for having one clunker in their body of work, and I guess "Kill Shot" is that one for Mr. Flynn. I think the other reason for my level of disappointment is that the abrupt ending of this novel, along with knowing that Mr. Flynn plans a third "prequel" (perhaps later this year) that will bring the Rapp character back up to the first book/"present day", meant that he's going to pick up the plot from "Kill Shot" and finish it. That is a huge pet peeve of mine. It's fine for these series to have some minor plot threads to carry on, and the characters to evolve, but each novel should be almost a stand-alone. By that I mean that there should be some resolution of the major plot for that novel that will satisfy those thata are devoted followers of the series, yet be appealing to those casual readers who may be jumping in for the first time.

Ultimately, I can't really recommend "Kill Shot". For those of us who are fans of Vince Flynn's novels, let's hope this was only a speed bump, and not a precursor to a decline in the quality and enjoyment of the storytelling.


December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World
December 1941: 31 Days that Changed America and Saved the World
Offered by HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Price: $14.24

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste the time with this lazy, repetitive, and error-filled effort, January 26, 2012
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Like many reviewers who preceded me, "December 1941" held some promise as a different approach to the increasingly bloated library of World War II history. The author, Craig Shirley, also did a convincing job in his media interviews that this would be an engaging read. In reality, it was an overwhelming disappointment, and ultimately offended me as a student of history.

I would concede that perhaps I misinterpreted what the book - divided into chapters for each day of the month - would actually focus on. But then again, I think I am giving Mr. Shirley a little too much credit with my use of the word "focus". The chapters meander all over, and don't entirely focus on America as the title would have you suggest. Also, Mr. Shirley was terribly repetitive throughout. Further, he often wrote about incidents and events that were outside the "confines" of the day he was purportedly concentrating on, and most of those were not germaine to the narrative. Worse, the way it was written made me feel like I was reading one of Larry King's old USA Today columns; it just wander randomly from sentence to sentence, and all that was missing were the ellipses between each thought. It felt very lazy and more than a little sloppy.

Contributing to the feeling of laziness and sloppiness were numerous factual errors and inconsistencies. Many of these have already been documented by other reviewers, so they need not be repeated here. Occasionally I will acknowledge the minor lapse in research or writing if there is a relatively mild inaccuracy. However, there are so many of them here as to be a trend, and a few more significant errors are included that make me believe the entire book was poorly researched, or - worse yet - intentionally written that way to bolster the author's agenda.

I would not include my statement about the author's agenda, either, had there not also been so many cheap, gratuitous, shots at the key figures (primarily FDR) and events throughout the narrative. While I am generally moderate to conservative in my politics, I tend to object to the author's insertion of naked political bias in historical works, regardless of the author's own political views. Mr. Shirley inserted his bias in "December 1941", and likely explains - in part - why he was so heavily promoted by many of the conservative blowhard hosts on the talk radio circuit.

All told, "December 1941" is not worth the time and effort to read, and is one of those that I feel upset for having been sucked into purchasing and reading. I will say that when I started the book, I immediately thought that it was one for the history novices or those that generally shy away from the more "academic" historical narratives. But I can't even recommend it to those audiences, because it would do a disservice to those people who are looking to learn more about national and world history. I will just conclude by saying that this will be included on the heap of other lazy, politically-slanted books wrapped in the guise of history, and it is disappointing if people read this and feel they came away more educated and informed as a result.


The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture
The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.92

53 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An incisive, rational, and brilliant deconstruction of the Liberal mindset and agenda, June 10, 2011
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Surely by now, many readers know David Mamet's story. An outstanding playwright, author, screenwriter, and director, fully immersed in the liberal mindset found in the entertainment industry. Then, after joining a new synagogue, meeting some conservatives, and - perhaps most importantly - reading Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" and Whittaker Chambers' "Witness", his mindset is transformed, and he recognizes the myriad follies and destructive nature of the Liberal orthodoxy.

"The Secret Knowledge", then, is perhaps Mr. Mamet's "official" coming-out party. In a word, it is brilliant. It is my opinion that the best works of the political genre - which this will certainly fall into - most often come from those who lived and thought on one side of the political spectrum, then had a reawakening and change of mindset to the other side. These individuals - like Mr. Mamet - have the requisite background and experience to speak about both sides, whereas most political authors have only known life in the "bubble" on one side or the other and only speak in shaky talking points about the other side.

What Mr. Mamet accomplishes with "The Secret Knowledge" is methodically taking apart the Liberal mindset and ideology. Through his intellectual and highly logical perspectives, he undermines the foundation - and shows the destructive nature - of this ideology on education, the economy, popular culture, society at-large, and politics. I found his analysis of the education system to be the strongest in the book. He shows how the Liberal orthodoxy - and their focus on "multiculturalism", diversity, and sensitivity - has fostered a system where youth are completely unprepared in the basic skills to succeed in the free market system, in turn making them a part of the victim class, dependent on Government and/or becoming permanent "students" to avoid the hard choices of life. His comparison of the education system to the lab experiments of mice earning pellets is at once incisive and heartbreaking.

Throughout the book, Mr. Mamet uses his tremendous writing skills to devastating effect, yet does so with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel. He provides many excellent citations - on both the left and right sides of the political spectrum - to bolster his arguments. Perhaps he leans too heavily on Hayek and Thomas Sowell, though considering Hayek was the catalyst for his conversion, it makes sense. But most important of all - and unlike the vast majority of other books in the political genre, often written by the blowhards and "shouting heads" of the media - Mr. Mamet takes apart the Liberal orthodoxy in a completely rational manner. The "agree-with-me-or-else" themes so prevalent in media today are completely nonexistent in "The Secret Knowledge".

Mr. Mamet surely knows how this book will be received in some circles, and how it will impact his professional career. Yet as he indicates in "The Secret Knowledge" and in recent media interviews, he is completely at peace with whatever criticism comes his way. Of course, for an individual who has made his living in an industry where his work is so publicly and mercilessly critiqued, we should expect nothing less than Mr. Mamet's come-what-may perspective. However it is ultimately received, I thoroughly enjoyed "The Secret Knowledge", and have recommended it to many friends and family. I think it is a very important read, and is almost essential reading in this hyper-partisan, politically-charged society. As a side note, I am glad to have a writer - and talent - like Mr. Mamet on the conservative side of the political spectrum. He is a welcome addition, and I will look forward to whatever observations he has on society in the future.


The Game
The Game

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The best hockey book ever, and one of the most erudite sports books ever, May 23, 2011
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This review is from: The Game (Kindle Edition)
Ken Dryden is perhaps best known to the casual U.S. sports fan as the color commentator for hockey during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Only the hockey enthusiasts realize that he also authored "The Game", which achieved rarified air in the sports book genre. Not only did it almost instantly become the best hockey book of all time, it is one of the most erudite, intellectual books in the entire sports genre that has been written.

Mr. Dryden, star goalie for the vaunted Montreal Canadiens, is widely regarded as one of the best at his position to ever play. He is also widely regarded as one who retired at least a few seasons too early. It is from this foundation that "The Game" builds from. The book essentially charts Mr. Dryden's decision to retire from the game based on a fading lack of drive and interest in playing at that level (he was studying for a degree in law at the time), and then follows he and the Canadiens' routine through a portion of a season. He provides the reader a very unique look at the travel, the routine of practice, the struggle to maintain team performance at a championship-caliber level, the games themselves, and the game of hockey in general. In the case of the Canadiens teams he played on, he doesn't convey a sense that there was a raucous, salacious environment. Even though he does hint at the struggle to satisfy the indivdual egos, Mr. Dryden doesn't linger on it too long, choosing instead to put the reader inside his mind - in a manner of speaking - as he observes, prepares, and plays the game.

If there is a drawback to "The Game", it is that its focus on hockey - although Mr. Dryden wisely avoids getting into too much technical detail about the game - and intellectual tone may not be for a wide audience. Those that take the time to read it will take away a lot of very interesting observations on the mindset of a professional athlete, regardless of sport. "The Game" is indeed worthy of the high praise it has acquired since its publication, and it is still relevant after all these years.


Live at Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony
Live at Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony
Price: $6.99
46 used & new from $4.75

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A glorious live disc that leaves you wanting more, May 23, 2011
It has been a joy to follow Brandi Carlile's career to date. Her youth belies the amazing sense of a well-traveled life that is found in her vocals, her songwriting is strong and poignant, and she proves that nearly anything from a wide swath of musical genres is completely within her grasp. Her musical stylings would certainly appeal to rock, alt-rock, country, and other fans alike. So, it is an added bonus to have - so relatively early in her career - the release of "Live At Benaroya Hall" to showcase her talents.

This is apparently a compilation of the best of her performances from last year's stand with the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. I personally feel that they probably could have taken a complete live performance without having to cherry-pick; regardless, the production makes it sound seamless. The production also phenomenally captures the breadth of sound in the wonderful acoustic environment of Benaroya Hall. Ms. Carlile, her backing band, and the symphony can all be heard in near-perfect balance and richness.

The track selection leans more heavily on Ms. Carlile's two most recent discs - "The Story" and "Give Up The Ghost" - which is just fine, especially for the tracks she chose. They also included a few choice covers, including a remarkable version of the John/Taupin classic "Sixty Years On" that opens the show, Cohen's oft-covered (to the extreme) "Hallelujah", and a completely eerie version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound Of Silence" (performed by the twin brothers - Phil and Tim Hanseroth) that sounds as if the audience was transported back to the late '60's. As with her studio recordings, Ms. Carlile's vocals can make the listener feel at once uplifted and filled with heartache. Her vocal talents have never been displayed so vividly.

If there is any drawback to this disc - and what keeps me from giving this disc a full five-star rating - is that the disc is almost too short. By the time the bonus track - a cover of "Forever Young" - fades from the speakers, you are left craving more. Often times live discs can drag on and on, but this one felt like it could have been enhanced by the inclusion of just two or three more tracks. Regardless, it is a disc you will listen to time and again, and as a fan, I hope this is indicative of the stunning music that Ms. Carlile has yet to unveil on the scene.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2011 5:21 PM PDT


So Beautiful or So What
So Beautiful or So What
Price: $11.88
96 used & new from $0.95

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A musical genius in full, May 11, 2011
This review is from: So Beautiful or So What (Audio CD)
There are a couple of things that one can count on with Paul Simon. One is that he will create lyrics that a listener can dwell on for hours and come up with at least a dozen interpretations. Two is that he is always experimenting, never resting on his laurels, and seeking out new sounds to weave into the music. When both of these come together at peak form, he creates landmark works. In recent years, his music was interesting yet somehow the two elements didn't quite click. So while one could respect the work, it was ultimately music that didn't quite resonate. With "So Beautiful Or So What", he got the elements to click for the first time in quite a while, and proves to fans and skeptics alike that he is still a relevant musical genius.

Perhaps more than any of his previous albums, "So Beautiful Or So What" skillfully weaves elements of Mr. Simon's body of work to this point in his career. Here, the listener can pick out elements of his Simon & Garfunkel days, his early solo career, his seminal "Graceland" and "Rhythm Of The Saints" work, and even the Brian Eno-productions of "Surprise". But where those individual works/sounds may not have appealed to a wider audience on their own, they are woven together here in such a way as to be appealing - it seems - to a much wider audience.

The common threads throughout the tracks on "So Beautiful Or So What" are most obviously spirituality and the possibilities of an afterlife. The most obvious example is "The Afterlife", a wry look at arriving in Heaven - which is set up like the DMV - and finally meeting God (Mr. Simon gives a lyrical hat-tip to his oft-stated musical influence, Gene Vincent's "Bee-Bop-A-Lula"). That thread can also be found in "Questions For The Angels" and "Love And Hard Times". But also sprinkled in are themes of love (such as the catchy "Dazzling Blue"), a down-on-his-luck veteran ("Rewrite"), and the madness of the modern world ("Love Is Eternal Sacred Light"). There is even a seemingly throw-away guitar instrumental, "Amulet", which is also quite appealing. The best of Mr. Simon's lyric genius also shines through here; there are elements of introspection, cynicism, hope, longing, bewilderment, and clever witticism.

"So Beautiful Or So What" has been widely hailed as Mr. Simon's best work since "Graceland". If making that general rave, I would say it's probably closer to his best since "Rhythm of The Saints", in that it is a disc that appeals to the kind of wide audiences that were attracted to those works. Fans of Paul Simon - both those who have hopped on and off throughout his career, and those who have hung with him through all of his discs to date - should be equally pleased with this disc. One thing is quite clear: Mr. Simon has composed a disc that, while eminently listenable, also proves that he still has much left in his creative reservoir to write and sing about. This is the musical genius in full.


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