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Music of Angola
Music of Angola
Price: $19.27
25 used & new from $6.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant Angolan Afro-Pop, with a gospel twist, April 1, 2015
This review is from: Music of Angola (Audio CD)
Manuel Diogo
"Music Of Angola"
(ARC Music, 2015)
. . . . .

This is a pleasant set of African pop music from contemporary Angola, solidly produced, brightly melodic and cheerfully bouncy. Most English-speaking listeners won't be hip to the album's religious message until deep into the album, when Diogo sings of Jesus by name (in the Portuguese-language "Teu Nome E Jesus") and when he dips into the musically anomalous "Torrent D'Amour," a French-language hymn that is popular with Angolan Christians. Like many Africans, singer Manuel Benedicto Diogo has a fluid, diverse identity that encompasses several cultures and nationalitires: he was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and began his musical career playing in Christian youth ensembles that toured throughout Southern Africa. This album reflects his more recent interest in exploring traditional Angolan musical forms and incorporating these styles into his ministry. Although the religious message is firmly embedded in his music, most international fans will simply hear the music as part of the modern African pop mainstream, though thankfully not too synthy or slick -- Diogo spotlights traditional instruments and hits a nice balance between electric and acoustic sounds. Nice album - definitely worth a spin! (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To World Music_

The Sculptor
The Sculptor
by Scott McCloud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.42
50 used & new from $18.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes those who teach, can do, too, March 30, 2015
This review is from: The Sculptor (Hardcover)
"The Sculptor"
Written & Illustrated by Scott McCloud
(First Second Books, 2015)
. . . . .

Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge, massive fan of Scott McCloud's Zot! series, which I maintain is one of the finest works to come out of the 1980s "ground level" comics scene, and a series that I recently proudly shared with my kid, now that growing up is around the corner. Later, when Scott McCloud established himself as a sequential art guru with his stunning Understanding Comics textbooks, I was as enthralled and impressed as anyone.

Of course, having a masterpiece like Zot! under your belt and then setting yourself up as one of the world's foremost authorities on the mechanics and psychology of graphical storytelling puts a lot of pressure on you when it comes time to return to fiction, and McCloud was surely under the microscope for this new graphic novel. Happily, it is an impressive, enjoyable book, both technically proficient and emotionally compelling.

Okay, I'll admit, his characters still can feel a little stiff and symbolic, not as richly human and nuanced as one might like. This is particularly true of the story's protagonist, the modern artist David Smith, who has an almost Ayn Rand-ian/Ditko-esque cardboard cutout quality -- he is there to represent certain Ideals and Principles that are integral to the plot. And yet, while I couldn't quite connect to the central character, many around him were quite compelling, particularly his girlfriend, Meg, her roommate and, most intriguingly, the figure of his Uncle, who (not surprisingly) steals each scene he's in. As with Zot, the female characters in "The Sculptor" are the most richly layered and believable, but even when the male actors seem a bit inert, the story whizzes and whirrs around them, and both the plot and the presentation are quite strong. There are several visual tour-de-forces, including the stunning sequence where David's life flashes before his eyes (oops! spoiler alert!) and some of the romantic scenes, which are reminiscent of the closing chapters of Zot. All in all, another great epic from Scott McCloud, and one that will leave many readers hungry for his next project. Highly recommended! (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)

Absolutely Almost
Absolutely Almost
by Lisa Graff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.86
63 used & new from $5.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning book about people who are "different" (whatever that means!), March 30, 2015
This review is from: Absolutely Almost (Hardcover)
"Absolutely Almost"
Written by Lisa Graff
. . . . .

This is one of the best readaloud books my family has enjoyed in the last few years, an emotionally complex narrative that confronts and challenges concepts of normalcy and disability, in much the same way as the equally wrenching and redemptive Wonder

"Absolutely Almost" is the story of a young boy named Albie who has trouble keeping up in school and also doesn't pick up many of the social cues from the people around him. Just what his "problem" is is never explicitly defined in the story, but it seems to be a mild autism or developmental issue -- the only thing we learn for sure is that it's not dyslexia, because Albie's mother has him tested, and that's not the diagnosis. The reason this story is so powerful is that it's all told from Albie's first-person viewpoint, and we feel his anguish and anxiety about his own failures and shortcomings, while we also are able to see from outside some of the things he doesn't quite pick up on and can only contemplate through a filter of overly-literal thinking. Albie's academic challenges and the bullying he encounters as a "retard" and "dummy" are heartbreaking, and yet the compassion he finds in (some of) the people around him balance things out, and despite his challenges, Albie perseveres, and though the book encompasses soul-crushing sadness, it is ultimately a hopeful, uplifting story.

Albie is a highly effective narrator because of his sweet, guileless personality -- the appalling behavior of the bad characters is put to shame by the internal dialog of a kid who really doesn't have a mean bone in his body. Albie accidentally hurts the feelings of a very good friend, and learns to avoid conflict with people who would do him harm, but he doesn't hold grudges or really seem to have the capacity to hate other people. The book also holds a mirror up to the preconceptions of its readers because it reveals the inner life of a person with a mental disability and shows that while this disability can never be "cured," it isn't necessarily a static, unchanging state. Because we never hear some black-and-white diagnosis that labels Albie, our perceptions of him are continually fluid: we're learning about who he is and how he navigates the world in real time, just as he is doing, and attentive readers will be relieved to see Albie being capable of adapting his strategies and synthesizing information in ways that give us hope for how he'll cope with life as a teen and beyond. We see Albie growing, and learning, pushing himself and finding his own voice and are perhaps surprised to discover that he has a lot of the same challenges that most people have, finding their place in the world. Maybe he doesn't tackle problems in the same way as everybody else, but then again, who does?

This novel is strongly recommended for young readers and for educators looking for tools to build empathy around issues of disabilities, particularly cognitive learning issues, as well as for families who may be wrestling with similar issues, or parents who would like their children to be more empathetic and accepting of all kinds of differences and differing abilities. It's a very good book, with a very sweet and appealing central character. (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain children's book reviews)

Starlight Volume 1
Starlight Volume 1
by Mark Millar
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.79
41 used & new from $7.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun fantasy tale, March 30, 2015
This review is from: Starlight Volume 1 (Paperback)
"Starlight" Volume One"
Written by Mark Millar
Illustrated by Goran Parlov
(Image Comics, 2015)
. . . . .

This was a fast, fun, escapist fantasy tale about an Adam Strange/Flash Gordon/John Carter adventurer who, having braved the cosmos in his youth, returned to Earth and got stuck in a mundane, middle-class rut, ala Mr. Incredible. Devoted to his wife and family, for their sake he learned to endure the jibes of the folks back on Earth who didn't believe his space stories, and settled into the everyday world, even though the universe beckoned. When the sixty-something Duke McQueen is called back to a faraway world he freed in his younger years, he doubts he's the right man to save them again, but old habits die hard, especially in the face of cosmic-level injustice.

What was refreshing about this book was that it didn't have some arch, ironic postmodernist edge... Breaking out of his own patterns, author Mark Millar resists the temptation to use this story as a platform to deconstruct space epics and show us another depraved, 21st Century slaughterfest of flying teeth and cracking bones. Oh sure, McQueen is a ruthless combatant, and he vaporizes bad guys and lasers them in half a couple of times, but the violence isn't as gratuitous or grotesque as most modern superbooks, and it's a welcome change of pace. Like the first (1977) "Star Wars" movie, this story feels like an honest homage to an earlier era of more innocent entertainment, and as a result is far more entertaining than many of the bleak, dystopian graphic novels of today. Much of the pleasure is also due to the sleek artwork by Goran Pavlov, which echoes that of Joe Kubert, Moebius and Alex Toth -- old-school, uncluttered, kinetic and comforting in much the same way as the script. There's no big reveal where we learn what that the hero is a sadistic d***head, or crypto-facist tyrant in the making... The battle of Good vs. Evil is presented in a clean, uncomplicated narrative, one that can be enjoyed by readers young and old. Hooray. More stuff like this would be nice. (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)

Old Hat
Old Hat
Price: $18.92
20 used & new from $11.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Adventurous early '70s roots music from the UK, February 26, 2015
This review is from: Old Hat (Audio CD)
Uncle Dog
"Old Hat"
(MCA Records, 1973)
. . . . .

In the wake of Janis Joplin's tragic 1970 overdose, a handful of young women emerged on the hippie rock scene to fill the void, folks like Bonnie Raitt, Ellen McIllwane, Dianne Davidson. Brenda Patterson and -- in the case of the rootsy British band Uncle Dog -- Londoner Carol Grimes, who wailed with a wildness and abandon that was perhaps the closest in feel to Joplin's emotive style.

This album kicks off with a decent amount of country-ish twang, showcasing the dobro and slide guitar of picker Sammy Mitchell, but gradually shifts into a more funk-and-blues oriented style, reminiscent of post-boogie rock bands such as the Faces, or far-flung, eclectic groups led by Joe Cocker, Leon Russell and the like. It's a pretty strong set -- joyful and energetic, stylistically varied, and surprisingly not too self-indulgent. If you're looking for good stuff from the eclectic era of pre-disco '70s rock, you might wanna give this record a try. (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To Country Music)

filo LP
filo LP

4.0 out of 5 stars Late 1970's Brazilian pop, February 24, 2015
This review is from: filo LP (Vinyl)
(Chantacler Records, 1978)
. . . . .

This late-1970s Brazilian band featured ten songs written by Judith de Souza (who otherwise is a mystery to me) as well as percussion by Celso Machado, who went on to record several albums of his own. Obscure stuff from the heyday of Brazilian MPB! (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To Brazilian Music)

title records presents LP
title records presents LP

5.0 out of 5 stars Obscure indie twang, February 19, 2015
This review is from: title records presents LP (Vinyl)
Various Artists
(Title Records, 1975)
. . . . .

This Texas-based micro-label LP includes tracks from three (still) unknown hard-country singers from the early 1970s: Jess DeMaine, Benny McArthur and Billy Don Pester. Move over, Moe Bandy! (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To Country Music)

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
by Sean Howe
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.02
75 used & new from $6.21

5.0 out of 5 stars A weighty tome, though ultimately a grim story, February 14, 2015
"Marvel Comics: The Untold Story"
Written by Sean Howe
. . . . .

Reading this book is a bit like reading the Bible (and will certainly be greeted by many fans with equally religious fervor...) There is a dim, misty prelude, a time before history and then suddenly -- BAM! -- a Big Bang, a sudden creative explosion in the years before World War Two where the modern comicbook medium is born, fully formed though chaotic and wild. There are many colorful stories -- legends packed with mythic figures and ancient patriarchs, then finally a great heroic era packed with memorable, vivid tales and legendary champions. Then there follows a great middle section where the narrative gets to be rather repetitive, though instead of the endless Biblical geneological begattings, "The Untold Story" offers a litany of creative talents driven from the company by one meddlesome editor after another. The names start to blur, with some great figures standing out from the crowd. But one great champion after another -- Simon, Ditko, Kirby, Claremont, Gerber, Starlin, Byrne -- is chased out of the Merry Marvel Marching Society as the joy is steadily and methodically drained out of the industry by the bean-counters and suits.

Every fan who reads this will have their own entry point and frame of reference, a personal golden era that makes the Marvel story theirs... As a Silver Age kid who bought everything Marvel put out in the '70s and was able to track the '60s stuff down, I appreciated the behind-the-scenes look at the creative (and not-so-creative) years of the hippie and post-hippie eras, but I ultimately found the backstory to be rather sad, discovering that the familiar names of the Bullpen roster had worked like dogs for little pay, still the victims of the work-for-hire system that grew out of the pre-comicbook pulp fiction era and persisted on for decades after. Not so surprising, however, was the revelation that many of the artists who wrote and drew comics for '70s-era Marvel were stoned out of their minds half the time.

Anyway, back to the Bible analogy, I suppose for geezers like me (and for author Sean Howe) the Apocalypse came in stages, one horrible purge and ugly editorial decision at a time, throughout the 1980 and '90s, as the Marvel Comics company got swallowed up by various conglomerates and stock market schemers during the hyper-capitalism of the Bush and Clinton years. A rush of money accompanied what many fans saw as a dumbing-down of the genre, although the product managers and marketing consultants who hijacked the company's creative process had a pretty good run cashing in by appealing to the lowest common denominator. Many saw as a sign of End Times the canonization of splashy, vacuous artists such as Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld who helped make the graphic style of the 1990s more vital, more violent and more fetishistic.

But it's the suits who really screwed things up -- the heartless, unstoppable money men who bought Marvel, traded it around like a billion-dollar bubblegum card, and callously toyed with its editorial content in increasingly intrusive and destructive ways. They rain down on the comicbook world like a plague of locusts, the corporate boardroom providing us with a new litany of begats and smitings. These guys were the top of the American foodchain, but they are boring people, and they pass by leaving nothing but ravaged fields in their wake. Unless, of course, your frame of reference is the "glory years" of the Secret War '80s or the Clone Saga '90s, in which case all the really good stuff was happening when you were a kid.

Sean Howe pretty much takes a traditionalist's view of the Marvel saga, citing Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko as the triumvirate that saved the genre, then eternally scanning the contemporary landscape(s) for glimmers of creativity and imagination that match that of the elder gods. This is a good book, certainly worth reading and illuminating, if also kind of a downer. The staffing issues and financial deals that dominate the narrative from the late '70s on get to be a bit dreary... But if it's miserable for fans to read about this stuff, imagine how horrible it must have been for the various generations of Marvel staff who actually had to live through it. Poor Steve Gerber. I guess that's the trouble with the meeting of commerce and art... It's fun for a while, but you know how the story's going to end. In the case of Marvel, the moment of renaissance and catharsis is supposed to come when the Hollywood movie deals that Stan Lee always dreamed of finally come to fruition... and since this book ends at the exact moment when Joss Whedon's "Avengers" finally vindicated the superhero movie genre, I guess there's something to be said for that viewpoint. (Although all the dreadful Batman, Superman, Daredevil, FF, X-Men and Spider-Man movies that preceded it point in a different direction...)

Personally I would have liked more detail about the sweatshop years of the Timely/Atlas era, about the creative process that went into the finely-crafted but choppily-written genre books that nobody cares about anymore. I suppose there are other venues to find out about this stuff -- fan forums, old zines, blogs, indie-press art books -- but since this book is likely to be the definitive Marvel history, it's a shame its main focus was on the internal office friction and soul-crushing corporatization of the company, at the expense of looking at the creative side. But I guess that's the point of the book, right? Well, face front, True Believers! 'Nuff said! (DJ Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain book reviews)

It's A Small World [Remaster]
It's A Small World [Remaster]
DVD ~ Paul Dale
Price: $13.75
23 used & new from $9.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Yikes!, February 9, 2015
"It's A Small World"
(Eagle-Lion Films, 1950)
. . . . .

WARNING: spoilers galore!!
No, seriously, this review is basically just a plot summary,
which normally I hate, but in this case I couldn't help myself.

. . . . .

This is a very weird film, although good-hearted in its own, odd way. It's hybrid movie, primarily a melodrama about a young man named Harry Musk who turns out to be a midget (as little people were called in the 'Fifties...) and has to cope with the stigmas and prejudices of the world around him. The film is simultaneously an advocacy film and an exploitation flick, masterminded by B-movie purveyor William Castle, who wrote and directed. The introductory scenes are the weirdest, as Harry's father -- a rural farmer -- learns that his son is a little person, he decides that Harry has to be taken out of school and hidden from all the neighbors, and shielded from the bigger bullies at his school. (Yikes!)

Over time, Harry becomes ashamed of himself, and restless to find his own identity. Turning 21, he leaves home and tackles the big world outside, where many people laugh at him or seek to exploit him, although others treat him decently and without condescension. Then things take a lurid turn as the movie goes noir -- ensnared by a wicked big city woman, Harry falls in with a bad crowd and gets drawn into a criminal gang. He rats them out, but still has to face punishment under the law. A sympathetic authority figure decides to keep Harry out of prison and instead paroles him to the "right" kind of environment: a circus, where naturally he meets a foxy midget gal, and finally settles down as a productive member of society.

There are plenty of offensive elements embedded in this movie, and at times it can be difficult to tease out the prejudices that the director ascribes to society at large and those he actually holds himself. On the whole, though, I think this is a pretty broadminded, sympathetic film for the time, but all of its messaging -- intentional and unconscious -- can be combined so that modern viewers can use the film a window into the prejudices of decades past. It also works as a noir -- not the best noir ever, but certainly worth checking out. (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To Film)

death on lee highway LP
death on lee highway LP

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent old-timey music, January 31, 2015
This review is from: death on lee highway LP (Vinyl)
Possum Hunters
"Death On Lee Highway"
(Takoma, 1966)
. . . . .

Guitarist John Fahey saw this band performing live one night and invited them to record for his esoteric Takoma label, resulting in this old-timey music gem. The Possum Hunters were a Southern California band formed in 1963 by some graduate students at UCLA... and man, did they get this kind of music right! This is a really solid album, with appropriately Gothic material, some weird old tunes, and rock solid musicianship throughout... Ginnie Wickham's fiddling is particularly striking. If you like old-timey music, this is definitely an album you'll want to track down. (DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To Country Music)

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