Tuesday, August 31, 2004

New Release Tuesday (August 31, 2004)

I'm seriously looking forward to hearing the new Ray Charles and Blue Nile albums released today. The Blue Nile's High retains the classic Blue Nile sound and style. Given this band's past proclivity for pot, the title may help explain the long layoff periods between Blue Nile albums. I've only heard the lead track "The Days of Our Lives" which not only sounds great, but sounds like it could just as easily have been from any of their previous records.

Ray Charles' duet album Genius Loves Company, could wind up being his biggest selling album ever, based on the two tracks I've heard so far, "Here We Go Again" with Norah Jones and "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word" with Elton John. Other singing partners include James Taylor, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Michael McDonald, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, and Van Morrison. Being that the album was co-produced by Phil Ramone, it's kind of surprising that long time Ray Charles fan Billy Joel does not appear.

Another of today's releases I'm interested in hearing is Weightlifting by the Trashcan Sinatras, who are led by Francis Reader, whose beautiful song "Wild Mountainside" was a highlight of his sister Eddi Reader's recent Sings the Songs of Robert Burns album. Finally, Mark Knopfler is sounding great on "Boom, Like That" from his forthcoming Shangri La album, due September 28th. WXPN is on the advance track.

k.d. lang - Hymns of the 49th Parallel (Nonesuch, 2004)

On first listen, this new k. d. lang album sounds great. It's all songs by Canadian singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell (2 tracks), Neil Young (2 tracks), and Leonard Cohen (2 tracks). Also represented are Ron Sexsmith, Bruce Cockburn, and Jane Siberry (2 tracks), along with one co-written by lang. The production by lang and Ben Mink is perfect, and the vocal performance is impeccable. I'd always sort of appreciated lang's work from a distance until Dave sent a copy of her Tony Bennett duet album, A Wonderful World, which is just fantastic from start to finish. She's amazingly talented in any music form she chooses, from country to jazz & pop standards to folk and singer songwriter classics. Thumbs up.

Last Saturday (8/28/04) she appeared on NPR's Weekend Edition and did a nice interview with live performance segment. You can listen to it along with a bonus live track here:
http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=3870950

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Garden State (2004)

Never having seen Scrubs, Zach Braff was a total unknown to me, making all the more impressive his debut as a film actor, writer, and director; perhaps the Woody Allen or maybe more appropriately the Albert Brooks of the next generation. Garden State, categorized by AMG as an "offbeat romantic comedy" is a terrific first effort. Braff's acting is good, his character seems flawed but likeable, his direction is good, but what really makes this movie special is Braff's writing which is constantly fresh and funny.

The only fault I can find with this picture is that the underlying plot device of having Braff's character Andrew Largeman be responsible at age 9 for an accident that left his mom a parapalegic is emotionally manipulative and somewhat derivative of a similar scenario used in 1980's Academy Award winning best picture, Ordinary People. Largeman spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood insulated from his emotions by an array of anti-depressant medications prescribed by his psychiatrist father.

When the picture opens, his mom has just died (indirectly his fault), and he returns to his hometown in New Jersey for the funeral, having gone off all medications for the first time in life. Finally able to begin to relate, though on unsteady emotional legs, he falls for hometown girl Samantha. As Sam, Natalie Portman turns in what may be her best performance yet, simultaneously cute, funny, smart, and quirky. Peter Sarsgaard shows some nice acting range, as convincing as the slightly creepy hometown friend as he was totally believable as the editor of the New Republic who was scammed by writer Stephen Glass in Shattered Glass (2003). Ian Holm is extra creepy in the role of Largeman's dysfunctional father. It's great that despite all the psychic baggage, Graff's character utimately proves not to be too cool, too damaged, or too afraid, to give it all up for the girl.

Graff also makes great use of music with soundtrack selections that continually relate to and amplify what is happening onscreen. Anyone who has heard the Shins (thanks, J) will especially enjoy the scene in the doctor's office waiting room where Andrew asks Sam what she's listening to on her headphones and she hands him the headset saying "it will change your life." The music selections are good throughout, including a well placed Nick Drake song and a clever use of Zero 7. I really enjoyed Garden State.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Rock & Soul Revue - PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ, 7/09/04

Here's my review and setlist as posted on the AWB website.

Garden State Arts Center - Holmdel, NJ - Review
Posted By: William Kates
Date: Saturday, 10 July 2004, at 2:40 p.m.

I can't believe I almost passed on the Rock 'N' Soul 2004 Revue tour, having seen AWB so many times and what with the ticket price and opening act placement I wasn't going to bother, but after reading all the accounts on this board, the prospect of Fred V playing with Michael McDonald's band and the show ending jam session gave me another thought, so yesterday I drove up to north Jersey and bought a ticket at the door and I am so glad I did.

It was a perfect night, clear, warm but not hot or humid. The venue was beautiful too, very much like the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia and other roofed/open air facilities. The venue's only drawback was the lame food concession. The show was fantastic.

AWB came on at 6:30pm on the dime and began their forty minute set with maybe ten percent of the seats occupied; the crowd gradually filled in during the performance. It was a well constructed set, and I think the enthusiasm of the AWB contingent in the audience was infectious as more and more of the crowd got into it as the set progressed. There was partial standing ovation when they finished, but no encore - actually there were no encores after any of the sets, including the finale - must've been how the show was structured. My only possible criticism of the production is that each of the three artists have a achieved a level of stature that should have allowed each to have an equal length set, say an hour each. It seems to me that only by the yardstick of sales volume/number of hit singles would AWB merit the shorter opening slot; AWB surpasses McDonald and H&O in every other artistic or musical category in my admittedly biased view.

Michael McDonald took the stage precisely at 7:30pm for his sixty-five minute set which was loaded with a mixture of his Doobie Brothers hits and the classic Motown material he covered on his latest album. His set was enjoyable and it was great to hear Freddie V on sax all through the set, and McDonald's voice can be wonderfully soulful. My only hangup which I've mentioned on here before, is that with great tools like McDonald has, I totally don't get choosing to do such obvious (safe) material like the greatest hits of Motown. I'm sure he loves the music, we all do, it just seems like he's appropriating this material somehow and it's not like his repertoire was not already high enough octane with all the Doobies hits, so I still don't get it. Great performance though.

I probably haven't seen Hall & Oates in concert since the 80's so it was great to see them again. Their last album, Do It For Love was a real return to form I thought, reminding me of my favorite style of theirs that they perfected all the way back on their second album, Abandoned Luncheonette. Their sixty-five minute set kicked off at 8:50pm and it was a really nice mix of new and old material concentrating on their hits. It was great to see Elliot Lewis on keyboards and vocals in H&O's band. While I think Klyde is totally superb in AWB, it seems to me that Elliot was somewhat under-appreciated during his tenure - he gave his all for a good many years as a member of AWB.

It only took a couple of minutes to gather everyone back on stage for the finale, which was worth the price of admission all by itself. To hear these great familiar voices all singing each other's songs was just priceless. The construction of the arrangements where the various singers take turns each doing a verse was really well done. It was all the members from all the bands minus the two sax men and Onnie for the first few numbers. Then the saxes came out for the next to last number and Onnie finally came out to help sing the final song. The degree to which these artists set their egos aside to work together on this show was just wonderful - it was a truly memorable end to a night of great music all around.

***SPOILER ALERT*** If you're planning on seeing this show and you want to be surprised, do not read the setlist which follows.

AWB:
The Jugglers - Nice organ solo by Klyde with the keyboard set to sound like the classic Hammond B-3. Fred also took a nice solo.
Got the Love - Nice Onnie solo.
Walk on By
Cut the Cake - Smokin' hot version with Klyde on bass, double guitars by Alan & Onnie with hot sax by Fred.
Cloudy - Klyde absolutely killed; started with Fred on electric piano, super soulful, great backup vocals by Alan, Onnie & Fred.
In the Beginning
Person to Person
Pick Up the Pieces - The texture of the two sax arrangement was neat and it was great to have Charles DeChant from Hall & Oates band sit in for this song and he looked amazing with his long pony tail and pinkish purple suit, but it seemed that he was not in the same league ability-wise as our sax man. A great set closer, had many of the crowd dancing in their seats.

Michael McDonald:
It Keeps You Runnin' - Sounding great w/Fred V.
Sweet Freedom - Dedicated to Gregory Hines, included some nice soloing by guitarist Bernie Chiavaralle and Hammond B-3 organist Pat Coyle.
I Keep Forgettin'
You Are Everything - Nice vocal but MM is no Russell Thompkins Jr.
Ain't No Love - New song written by MM & Chiavarelle.
I Heard it through the Grapevine - Sounding very Doobie-ish.
All in Love is Fair - Nice version of the Stevie Wonder song.
You Belong to Me - Nice Freddie solo, Carly Simon did a great version of this.
Minute by Minute - It occurred to me during this song that McDonald kind of softened up the Doobies and made them mass market; one could say that he single-handedly paved the way for smooth jazz.
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing - As this ended, I was thinking that he really should've gone into Ain't No Woman Like the One I've Got for an "Ain't No" triple play, but next up was a solo electric piano segment that led into a Hammond B-3 intro (half expecting Chest Fever) that led into a tasty band instrumental intro that led finally into
Takin' It to the Streets - And the crowd went nuts. Go Freddie!

Hall & Oates:
Out of Touch - Daryl commented after the song that it was good to be back in the northeast after a tour swing through the south, that this venue felt like home as they've played here so many times and that to them it will always be the "Garden State Arts Center" (now the "PNC Bank Arts Center") - the crowd loved it.
Say It Isn't So
Do It For Love
She's Gone - Beautifully unhurried and soulful version.
Cab Driver - From Hall's latest solo album, track co-written by Alan Gorrie.
Sara Smile - The crowd now in the palm of their hand.
I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) - Started with a cool jazzy flute intro, nice guitar and sax solos. The venue video screen kept showing someone holding up a car license plate NOCANDU.
Maneater
You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling - Powerful version.

Finale:
Work to Do - Awesome version with Alan leading and trading vocals with MM & H&O.
Kiss on My List - The Hall & Oates classic.
What a Fool Believes - The Michael McDonald standard.
Since I Lost My Baby - The Temptations song on MM's Motown CD.
You Make My Dreams Come True - The H&O song, brought the saxes back on stage.
Hot Fun in the Summertime - The Sly & Family Stone classic was the perfect set ender with everyone onstage including Onnie. Wow.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Julia Fordham - That's Life Released, 8/10/04

That's Life, Julia Fordham's worthy followup to Concrete Love (2002) was released on Tuesday August 10th in the U.S. This is a great record and I'm looking forward to her September live shows in New York and Philadelphia. I'll post a complete review soon. News and samples are available here: http://www.juliafordham.com/home.php

Rock & Soul Revue Slide Show

AWB posted a nice slide show of the Rock 'n' Soul Revue tour (first leg) which plays with a live version of "Work to Do" which Fred V. just kindly identfied in answer to my request, as being from the Face to Face live CD. This is the song that leads off the closing set where AWB, Hall & Oates and Michael McDonald all join together for the finale with all of their bands combined on stage.

The short haired skinny sax man is the aforementioned Fred V. of AWB, the other sax player is Charles DeLint from Hall & Oates' band. Allan Gorrie of AWB is the guy seen singing in most of the shots (other than Hall & Oates or Michael McDonald). Klyde Jones of AWB is also seen singing, mostly sharing the mike with Michael McDonald's (female) drummer who sang backup during the finale. Onnie McIntyre (AWB's guitarist) shows up in a few pictures - he's the guitarist wearing a baseball cap.

Use the high-res version if you have cable or dsl connection.
Here's the link: http://www.averagewhiteband.com/slideshow.html

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Dead - Tweeter Center, Camden, NJ, 8/08/04

I'm firmly convinced that Warren Haynes has replaced James Brown as "the hardest working man in show business." Not like he wasn't already active enough as a member of the Allman Brothers Band while still maintaining an active career with his own band, Gov't Mule. This year he's released a solo acoustic CD recorded live at Bonnaroo, plus he's become a member of the Dead for this year's summer tour. He's even doing solo acoustic concerts on his days off from the Dead tour which rolled through Philadelphia (at the Camden waterfront) this weekend Saturday and Sunday, with Haynes doing a solo concert Monday at the Zellerbach Theater.

The progression of my interest that led finally to the Tweeter began with the Allmans' other guitarist Derek Trucks, whose excellent solo records came to my attention in 2003 (thanks, Dave) which caused me to check out that year's first new Allman's album in many years, Hittin' the Note which featured the excellent twin guitar work of Derek Trucks & Warren Haynes; which led me to check out Gov't Mule (thanks, Robert) and their excellent concert recording, The Deepest End. Even though I've enjoyed the Dead's music since the sixties, it was Haynes joining the Dead this year that gave me the last little push I needed to spend way more than I ever normally would, to attend this year's Dead show.

I should also mention at this point, that I'm one of the rare few who genuinely like the Grateful Dead solely for their music. Although the stoner/slacker/party crowd that follows The Dead on tour helps them be successful and pay the bills, I personally have no use for that aspect of the Dead phenomenon. The Grateful Dead are amazing to me because during any given concert they can draw from a repertoire of literally hundreds of songs - they play multiple nights in a city and play completely different sets every night and never repeat a song; this tradition continues with the current lineup.

Jerry Garcia was a human encyclopedia of American Music and it's no wonder that when he died it took the surviving members a good eight years to figure how to go on, which they did starting last summer (2003) by inviting guest musicians to join the band for their summer tour. I didn't attend but I did pick up several of the shows on CD; all Dead shows starting in 2003 and continuing this year are available on CD at a fraction of the ticket price. Last year's shows really sounded great, especially considering the giant missing piece, but Jimmy Herring provides some amazing lead guitar work so much in Garcia's style that the band's sound remains intact, and Joan Osborne added some real vocal firepower to the live shows (she sang on key too).

In this year's Dead, Warren Haynes is onboard as the third guitarist and he also takes on a huge share of the vocal work, and as good as the Dead sounded on last year's concert CDs, I'd say they sound even better now. Haynes seems to have totally energized the band and with three guitars, there is more electric lead guitar work in a Dead concert than ever before. I don't know how Haynes ever finds time to record, what with his schedule, but there's a new Gov't Mule album and tour ready to drop in September as soon as the Dead tour comes to an end and Haynes plays a few late summer Allman Brothers dates. This would actually be a great time for the Dead to attempt a new studio album - that's how great these guys are together in the current lineup. Haynes may not yet be Garcia's equal in terms of the depth and breadth of his musical well, but his work in his various bands displays a similar wide range of interest that crosses genre lines - Haynes is as proficient in the various rock forms from blues based to jazz influenced as Garcia was expert in folk and bluegrass.

What I'm getting at is that Haynes is the only musician I can imagine who might have the capability to one day replace Garcia as the leader of the Dead. Garcia lived and breathed music and the Grateful Dead was his main gig but he also had the Jerry Garcia Band plus numerous side projects like the series of albums he made with David Grisman, Merl Saunders, etc. You can see numerous parallels in Haynes' career. Although Garcia may have been more of a private person with a bit less penchant for self-promotion, Haynes has shown he can match Garcia's sense of the dramatic, with most every Gov't Mule project becoming a momentous event as conceived by Haynes. In their prime, the Grateful Dead loved to adopt the party holiday (Fourth of July, Halloween, New Year's Eve, etc.) and established traditions of celebration that elevated these holidays to mythic status.

In any case, Haynes blends perfectly into The Dead, taking lots of leads and providing lots of lead vocals, and also laying back while others do the same. His guitar style occasionally lends a surprisingly funky or soulful feel to some of the tunes. The other members of The Dead can sing when needed, especially Weir, but Garcia did the majority of the singing in the Grateful Dead, and apparently the other guys are happy to have Haynes do likewise in the current band. While Haynes will never be mistaken for Garcia (if he sounds like anyone else it might be Greg Allman), but his voice is powerful and can easily take command of a song. Incidentally, a quick look at the set lists from the two Camden shows reveals two totally different sets with no songs repeated. Great stuff. In his Monday afternoon WXPN interview promoting his solo acoustic show at the Zellerbach that night, Haynes discussed the fact that the members of the Dead take turns creating the setlist for the Dead's shows, revealing that the song selection and sequencing is as much an act of artistic expression by one of the band members as the actual performance; knowing this I'd kind of want to know the setlist credit for each show.

Here's the setlist from Sunday night courtesy of The Dead's website.
Set 1: Sitting On Top Of The World> Bertha> New Speedway Boogie, You Remind Me, Stagger-Lee, Baba Jingo> Milestones> Baba Jingo, Brown-Eyed Women, Mason's Children.
Set 2: Friend Of The Devil (Bobby acoustic), Feel Like A Stranger> Eyes Of The World> Cold Rain & Snow, Hard To Handle> Samson & Delilah> Drumz/Space> Stella Blue, Night Of 1000 Stars> Gimme Some Lovin'> Not Fade Away.
Encore: After Midnight> Brokedown Palace.

Lifelong Dead lyricist Robert Hunter opened the show with a solo acoustic set that not very many people listened to as most folks were still busy tailgating in the 7pm hour. Warren Haynes is opening certain portions of the Dead tour with a solo acoustic set as well - he's the Energizer bunny of rock musicians. The Dead's portion of the show lasted a good four hours including a forty-five minute break between sets. My daughters and I were totally entertained by the scene going on outside in the parking lot where a tent city of grassroots merchandising and partying apparently had been going on for days. "Ganja" cookies were freely offered for sale at $5.00 each, along with all manner of food, drink and clothing, mostly of the tie dyed variety. Charlie asked whether the crowd was predominantly drawing from the first generation of Deadheads, but actually the Dead's constituency includes party people of all ages.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Falcon Ridge 2004 - Day Four

Day Four (Sunday July 25th) - Sunday dawned beautiful at Long Hill Farm. After awakening exactly at 6am, I hoofed it down to the Mainstage with my tarp extra early for the last day, arriving at 6:30, just in time to hear the festival person in charge say something on the order of "go for it" and in mere moments, the last tarp run for 2004 was done. Delighted to have a found half hour, I enjoyed another shower, this time with no line and no wait at all. Back at the campsite, we lingered over more campstove Wawa coffee and fresh cooked oatmeal before striking camp. The process of packing up went on past the 10am start of the first set at the Workshop Stage, which was called "Fiddler A Dram," however I very much appreciated the private fiddle & whistle concert live from the next tent site that went on for just about the entire time that it took to take down the tent and load the car. By the time the packing was finished, the sunscreen applied, and the car moved down to the day parking area near the road, it was nearing time for the first set at the Mainstage.

Gospel Wake Up Call - The Falcon Ridge Sunday morning tradition this year included Eddie From Ohio, Girlyman, Mark Erelli, and Vance Gilbert all having a go at spiritual and gospel oriented tunes, and no, Girlyman thankfully didn't reprise their version of "Son of a Preacher Man." Gilbert injected his usual endearing dose of humor into the proceedings which amounted to a fine musical start to the final day of the festival.

My Generation - This was the only time I think we skipped a Mainstage set in favor of the Workshop Stage, however in this case since it was Greg Brown vs. Jake Armerding it was no contest; no offense to Jake but we'd seen him in several workshops already. No one explains the intention of the workshop titles to the performing artists, and Eliza Gilkyson, Greg Brown, Erin McKeown, and the Nields each brought their own interpretation as to what was intended by "My Generation." The Nields concentrated on generational lyrical themes such as the song (whose name escapes me) about the father and daughter who relate over music; they also did a really nice version of "Best Black Dress." I thought about speaking to them after the workshop to ask the question that has occurred to both J and I over the years about the character Mr. George Fox in that song and whether there is any intended connection to the George Fox who founded the Quaker religion, however by the time this workshop ended, the next set was starting at the Mainstage so I let it go for next time. All of the performances at this workshop were enjoyable, but once again Greg Brown demonstrated why he is the master of the folk festival with an inspired selection of cover songs, his take on the concept apparently being to perform songs written by other members of his generation. I wish I had noted his setlist because his choices were superb, but from memory I think I recall that his four tunes included John Prine's "Sam Stone," Randy Newman's "Political Science," and one written by his wife Iris Dement. At the end of the workshop, in the midst of some onstage uncertainty as to what song to use for a group finale, Brown spontaneously launched into an awesome version of John Lennon's Beatles classic "Don't Let Me Down" which the others joined in on to close the proceedings quite nicely.

Sloan Wainwright Band - Wainwright's Mainstage set allowed her to stretch out a little more than she could in her many workshop appearances, and although her voice is pleasant, her material didn't really get to me. Her brother is Loudon Wainwright III and she seemed to be fairly well liked by the Falcon Ridge faithful.

Greg Brown - The midafternoon Sunday slot must be reserved for Greg Brown as I recall his Mainstage set fell at the same point in the 1999 festival. Brown wowed the crowd one more time, accompanied by Radoslav Lorkovic, who by virtue of the cowboy hat he was wearing was humorously referred to by Brown as "Red" rather than "Rad". The set was masterful and included one of my favorite tunes from the excellent Covenant album, "'Cept You and Me Babe" as well as "Whatever It Was" and a reprise of "I Want My Country Back" to the delight of the crowd. As J is fond of pointing out, considering Brown's penchant for the overalls with no shirt look, it's a good thing he's a great songwriter and singer.

Snake Oil Medicine Show - Those not staying till the bitter end apparently leave after Greg Brown as there was a mini exodus from the Mainstage seating area before Snake Oil Medicine Show took the stage. The festival booklet describes this as "a band with no boundaries" and a band who "defies all conventions." As instrumentalists they are well accomplished and they did a good job peforming their brand of "musical anarchy" while a live artist painted a picture onstage while they played. I consider myself to be someone who can appreciate a wide variety of musical styles but these guys may have exceeded my capacity for open mindedness.

Eliza Gilkyson - Although my first impression of Gilkyson at the Friday Night Summer's Eve Song Swap was negative, I began to warm to her music during her workshop performances, then she totally won me over with her Mainstage set. Her material was strong, and her vocals were even stronger. She left me wanting to hear more.

Ellis Paul - I could never figure how a guy with such a commercial sounding voice and knack for songwriting could remain as obscure as Paul has, even with a fair amount of contributions to major movie soundtracks. Paul is an obvious festival favorite, well liked by audience and performers alike as his set had no shortage of guest appearances. He even invited Pete & Maura Kennedy and We're About 9 onstage to join him; the Kennedy's have played Falcon Ridge in the past and although they weren't booked this year, they were at the festival to promote their show on Sirius satellite radio. We're About 9 was similarly attending to promote one of the vendor booths. Vance Gilbert also guested with Paul to do another song or two from their current duo CD.

Tracy Grammer - A power failure that caused the Mainstage to lose it's sound system at the end of Ellis Paul's set took the crew from Klondike Sound only about twenty minutes to remedy, in time for Tracy Grammer to close the festival with minimal delay. I mean no disrespect to Grammer when I mention that I can't escape the feeling the the intense reverence bestowed on her by the Falcon Ridge audience has more to do with the circumstance of the untimely death of her partner Dave Carter than the music would otherwise merit. Carter's death shocked the folk community about a week before their scheduled appearance at Falcon Ridge 2001. Festival history describes that Grammer bravely appeared that year and allowed the music community to help her mourn the loss with musical tributes to Carter. Grammer did a well played set of Dave Carter tunes plus one of her own composition, accompanied by Jim Henry, a talented singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist in his own right. After her set, all of the artists still on site took the stage for the closing song "Never Turning Back" led by Maura Kennedy. With that another Falcon Ridge was history and thousands of satiated music fans took to the roads to head home.

Full Immersion - It was extremely pleasurable but unquestionably hard work to do the full measure of Falcon Ridge and I think this year we wrung almost every drop of music out of the four days that was possible and found the experience very satisfying. I would never expect every artist at such an event to be everyone's cup of tea but the artist selection and programming of the four day schedule at Falcon Ridge is about the best I've ever seen - this would be a really hard job to do and to do it well consistently year after year as Falcon Ridge does is an amazing accomplishment. The easy access to performers is another great aspect of the festival. Many come for the duration to play in the various workshops etc. and are often found wandering the grounds more than happy to receive comments and compliments from their listeners. I enjoyed several conversations with the likes of Vance Gilbert and Dan Novarro during the festival. I also took the opportunity to stop by the WFUV booth to thank them for their online content. I had a fun conversation with New York radio legend Meg Griffin who was there promoting Sirius satellite radio; she also emceed part of the festival. We touched on Philadelphia radio legend Ed Sciaky and also Michael Tearson who has a gig on Sirius, and finally Howard Stern who loves to give Meg grief on the air but deep down seems to have a high regard for her commitment to music. Even now two weeks on the afterglow of Falcon Ridge is what has made it possible to recall and describe all the details in these lengthy posts. If you've read all four entries and are still with me here at the bottom of day four I can only say thanks for virtually hanging out with me at Falcon Ridge 2004. I'm ready to go again next year.

I, Robot (2004)

In what may be a classic case of the benefit of going into a movie with lowered (or no) expectations and then being pleasantly surprised, I am happy to say that I was thoroughly entertained by I, Robot, more so than at most of the science fiction/action/adventure blockbusters released in the last several years. Will Smith excels in the skeptical cop role, even in spite of his apparent need to show off his huge muscles at any given opportunity. Smith's character quickly establishes his anti-robot bias and then is given the task of investigating the apparent suicide (or was it murder by robot) of James Cromwell's scientist who not only was the father of robotic science, but personally created the more advanced line of robots who go haywire as the film unspools. The plot which is "inspired by" Isaac Asimov's classic collection of short stories is well conceived and provides just enough philosophical man vs. machine mumbo jumbo to make the movie interesting to those who might want to use their head for something more than a hatrack.

From the advance ad spots and trailers, I feared the worst - that Asimov's work would be totally subverted to the cause of throwing chase and battle scenes up on the screen. And while there are certainly no shortage of such scenes, the film redeems itself by not making these scenes the primary purpose of the story. The core of the plot is the transformation of robots from strictly programmed computer driven appliances to sentient beings capable of altering their programming and rebelling against mankind. This issue is similarly dealt with as the basis for the Terminator and Matrix movies. Fans of the genre could spend the entire movie pointing out the influences and reference points, however instead of simply regurgitating material that's been done before, director Alex Proyas has taken all these elements and synthesized something new and interesting. If you're looking for strict adherance to Asimov's books or if you're looking for cutting edge science fiction, look elsewhere; after all this is a Will Smith summer blockbuster. However given the obvious profit pressures imposed by big budget Hollywood, Proyas has fashioned a work of significantly higher quality than what is usually foisted on the public at the multiplexes this time of year.

As the prime suspect robot Sonny, Alan Tudyk offer's the film's next best acting performance after Smith. The art design is well done throughout, especially the conception of the robots. Proyas' portrayal of the near future owes more to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner than to the atmospheric noir of his own Dark City. I should also mention that the music score by Marco Beltrami is really enjoyable, so much so that I wouldn't mind hearing it again on the soundtrack CD. If I were to nitpick, my first beef would be the ridiculous amount of product placement including what amounts to an on-screen in-movie commercial for Converse sneakers within the first five minutes. My only other complaint would be the relative ease with which Smith avoids being killed when the robots attack him during the high speed chase in the underground expressway; one's ability to suspend disbelief is pushed to the limit in these scenes. Otherwise, this is a fine summer entertainment; just as enjoyable for those who like their movies mindless as for those who like a little food for thought with their popcorn.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Falcon Ridge 2004 - Day Three

Day Three (Saturday July 24th) - Saturday was the weather redeemer for Friday as the sun burned off the mist, the sky cleared and graced us with a gorgeous Berkshires summer day. I got down to the Mainstage even earlier than Friday and yet the perimeter of the seating area was again largely surrounded by folks brandishing tarps. The festival authority person lorded the power humorously announcing the time as "six fifty-six," then "six fifty-seven," then "six fifty-eight," then "six fifty-eight and a half" which was a real groaner. After placing the tarp in basically the same spot as Friday, I availed myself of a shower. The line was short and quick and the shower facility was drastically improved over what we had in 1999. Feeling like a person again back at the campsite we fired up the borrowed camp stove for fresh brewed Wawa coffee and cooked oatmeal with maple syrup; nothing like roughing it. We pretty much stuck to the Mainstage Saturday, with the only exception being one workshop set during the dinner break. Even with a good amount of sunscreen, the direct sun felt so strong on the skin that we felt the need to cover up some by laying a shirt or a towel over our legs to keep from burning. The air temperature was pleasant but the sun was amazingly strong.

Brave Combo - A good set from another dance stage import; Brave Combo comes by their name by virtue of their origin as a "new wave polka band." In their twenty-five years as a band they've mastered many musical styles that made their way into a varied and interesting set, but every so often they launched a high energy polka which kind of reminded me of the Busch Gardens Williamsburg polka band on steroids. Yikes.

Erin McKeown - Although her set was well received by the audience, her music failed to dent my consciousness significantly. I think I recognized a couple of tunes from WXPN airplay.

Most Wanted Song Swap - This is the moment when the four top vote-getters from last year's Emerging Artist Showcase are invited back to perform a Mainstage song swap. I'm not sure how they'll determine next year's Most Wanted considering how the rain messed up this year's showcase, but Jeffrey Foucault, Carla Ulbrich, George Wurzbach, and Terence Martin all demonstrated what got them invited back from 2003. Ulbrich's humorous lyrics were very reminiscent of Christine Lavin, especially her song "The Guy Who Changes the Light Bulbs." Already established as a sideman, songwriter and member of the group Modern Man with David Buskin, George Wurzbach treated the crowd to some well written and sometimes humorous tunes.

Vance Gilbert - Gilbert has a way of relating to the audience with humor that transcends his musical performance which is always enjoyable in it's own right. Gilbert supplements his own songwriting with many cover songs. He did a few numbers from his current duet album with Ellis Paul including the Lucinda Williams penned title track "Side of the Road." As memory serves I think he brought out Ellis Paul to sing with him on a song or two and Paul returned the favor during his Sunday Mainstage.

Lucy Kaplansky - Her bio describes that she came up as a background singer for Shawn Colvin and the contacts she made in that circle of singer-songwriters has served her well. Kaplansky is without question the most well-connected artist at Falcon Ridge and perhaps to these ears the most overrated. A great many of the other artists either praised her or asked her to come out to sing with them or both. Her music strikes me as competent but has never really piqued my interest.

John Gorka - Like Steve Forbert's set, hearing John Gorka was like reconnecting with an old friend and rediscovering many of his great songs. His song about New Jersey was especially nice to hear. He brought out Lucy Kaplansky to sing with him reciprocating his guest appearance during her set.

It Just Takes Two - We gave up the dinner hour for more music at the Workshop Stage with Aoife and Rushad from Crooked Still, Lowen & Navarro, Nerissa & Katryna Nields, Sloan Wainwright and Steve from her band, and Sonia & Cindy from Disappear Fear. Crooked Still finally strayed from their debut CD to perform a couple of tunes written by Rushad which were both high energy cello workouts, one with disturbingly weird/shrill vocals. Lowen & Navarro seemed to be trying to ingratiate themselves with the festival crowd without actually seeming like they were trying, but they managed to take advantage of every opportunity for workship participation over the four days. Give them credit for that even if their rapport with the audience was a little stiff. The Nields were great as they always are. Sloan Wainwright and Disappear Fear didn't really do anything to alter my indifferent impression of their music.

Girlyman - Girlyman kicked off the night's concert with a fewArnold Schwarzenegger references due to his recent use of the term to describe California legislators. I was hanging in with this rather quirky set until they lost me with the old Dusty Springfield classic "Son of a Preacher Man" sung by their male singer without the requisite gender change.

Richard Shindell - Like Lucy Kaplansky, I find Shindell to be competent, similarly well connected in the business, his music pleasant, and his enthusiastic reception from the audience to be somewhat surprising. As the sun went down, it got amazingly cold for a July night, so much so that I had to make a dash back to the tent to regroup with jeans, long sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt, and a blanket for Bev.

Eddie From Ohio - Even more baffling is the crazed audience reaction that this Virginia based band got every time they took the stage. EFO's first Falcon Ridge appearance coincided with our last visit in 1999, and I'll admit that at the time I got caught up in the hysteria of appreciation for their set and bought several of their CDs; which when listened to later elicited a strong feeling of what was I thinking. This time around I hate to say it but I found their music annoying at best, especially the song that one of the members wrote about someone giving him the finger on his birthday. I think they need the services of a good producer to help them weed out the ill-advised songwriting impulses.

Debbie Davies Band - A female electric blues guitarist is very unusual and her set was more than competent, but having been totally knocked out exactly one week prior by another blues woman, Shemekia Copeland, it was hard to get too excited about this rather average sounding set of electric blues.

Lowen & Navarro - Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro primarily work the west coast, making this east coast festival appearance somewhat unusual and special. In their workshops they presented as many tunes as possible from their upcoming next album under the premise that they would not play anything from it during their Mainstage set; and while they did construct their set primarily of older material, they couldn't resist throwing in at least one of the new songs from their upcoming project. Their warm and mellow vocal blend sounded great with their combination of rhythm and lead acoustic guitars, showing why their partnership has lasted these sixteen years and why they have been able to have many other well known artists record thier compositions. Surprisingly, their reception at Falcon Ridge was somewhat reserved, with nowhere near the frenzy that greeted Eddie From Ohio.

Richie Havens - Havens headlined the Saturday night concert and the realization that his voice, delivery, and instrumental accompaniment has not changed a bit in his roughly forty year career was a stunner. With conga drummer and lead guitarist, Havens performed his usual energetic acoustic guitar strum, all of which combined with his unique vocal style to produce pure magic on the Ridge. The only way Havens set could've been any better would have been for it to last longer. Although he likes to say that he's not political, social issues are never far removed from his material which this time included a cover of Jackson Browne's "Lives in the Balance" an obvious reference to the Iraq war. By the time Havens finished and we hiked back to our campsite and prepared for bed, there was again only about four hours available for sleep.

(To be continued...)

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

It's gratifying to know that the spy movie is alive and well with the Bourne series, and I basically like Matt Damon in this role, however The Bourne Supremacy has two basic problems - the screenwriting and the direction. I'd have preferred more psychological drama and less chase; considering that the first hour is almost all chase with almost no plot development, if you haven't recently viewed The Bourne Identity to refresh on the premise, you'll be at a loss to understand what is going on and why. I could almost overlook the weak writing if not for Paul Greengrass' directing style. This movie is filmed almost entirely with handheld cameras, super closeups, and relentless quick cuts. The result is literally painful to watch; my eyes began to hurt within the first fifteen minutes. I wanted to move the camera back a few feet in just about every scene. Franka Potente does a nice turn as the girlfriend, but she bites it during the first reel. Let's hope they enlist a better director and screenwriter before lensing The Bourne Ultimatum, the third and last Bourne novel by Robert Ludlum.

Falcon Ridge 2004 - Day Two

Day Two (Friday July 23rd) - An integral part of the Falcon Ridge experience is the laying of the tarp at 7am. Mainstage rules went into effect on Friday, and by the time I arrived at the stage at about 6:45am, early risers had already lined the perimeters on all sides of the seating area, waiting for the okay signal at 7:00 to stake (and I do mean stake as many secure their tarps with tent stakes) out seating locations for that day's concert.

Cool Morning - The day's music began at 10am on the Workshop Stage with "Cool Morning" which not coincidentally happens to be the title of Sloan Wainwright's current CD. Wainwright was joined in the morning song swap by Lowen and Navarro, Ellis Paul and Nerissa & Katryna Nields. Each artist gave a nice sampling of their music with Lowen and Navarro seeming to be (unintentionally) bent on breaking all of the rules that Vance Gilbert taught the aspiring singer-songwriters yesterday.

Gather the Family - Another nice morning song swap at the Workshop Stage with Aoife O'Donovan & Crooked Still, Jake Armerding, Mark Erelli and the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival House Band which included Radoslav Lorkovic who sometimes accompanies Greg Brown in concert. My primary interest in this event was hearing the house band who were all quite good. It was somewhat surprising to hear Crooked Still do all repeat songs from their Mainstage set of last night; I can only guess that since they just finished their first album that they wanted to stick to this material for their various Falcon Ridge appearances. About halfway through this set it started to rain lightly and the audience bravely tried to ignore it.

Emerging Artist Showcase - This five hour concert which invites about two dozen new and hopeful artists to do a few songs each was one of my best memories from the 1999 festival. Even though it was brutally scorching hot that year, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the afternoon catching up on some reading while getting to hear lots of new artists, many of which were excellent. This year unfortunately the elements were not so kind. By the time we moved from the Workshop Stage to the Mainstage, the rain had become steady. The crowd continued to brave the rain, sitting under ponchos, umbrellas, etc. until the heavens opened with a torrential rain after only two of the emerging artists had played, causing the Mainstage to shut down. We ducked into the food concession tent to get out of the rain for a bit and have lunch, and after a while it sounded like the Mainstage had reopened as speakers in the food tent seemed to be carrying a live feed from the stage. What we heard over the speaker sounded really really good however I could only assume that this was Meg Hutchinson according to the schedule. By the time we ventured back out, the storm had increased so we headed back to our campsite to wait out the rain in our tent. We never did get to hear any of the other emerging artists, however I did find a Meg Hutchinson CD in the merchandise tent, picked it up, and am happy to report that it is terrific (more later). It's a shame that the emerging artist showcase didn't get rescheduled later in the weekend during off hours at the Mainstage, like mornings. Our Friday afternoon was spent sopping up the water that kept coming into the tent through the exposed lower part of the walls; the new tarp worked well in keeping the water out of the tent otherwise.

Johnny & June Tribute - By 5pm the storm seemed to have rained itself out, but due to the mess, this event was moved from the Workshop Stage to the Mainstage, and seemingly all artists present on site crowded onto the stage to participate in the tribute. The good feelings of the artists were evident, but musically this workshop tended toward the tedious as many artists didn't know the material that well and often tried to follow lyric sheets. There was a noticeable feeling of relief that the rain had let up enough to allow the music to resume.

Inner Visions - This reggae outfit from St. John (U.S. Virgin Islands) was another happy surprise for me at this year's Falcon Ridge. I enjoyed this group's music perhaps more than any reggae artist that I've heard since the death of Bob Marley. Armed with nothing other than the basic instrumental lineup, Inner Visions for their first time at the Ridge cranked out some really fun tunes with amazingly great sound, fully showing off the talents of the Klondike Sound company. Group leader Phillip "Grasshopper" Pickering played some great lead guitar and shared lead vocals with honorary family member Paul Samms. Phillip's brother Alvin "Jupiter" Pickering played bass, and Phillip's two sons Akiba and Aswad played keyboards and drums respectively. This set was so good, that their latest CD was my only other disc purchase at the festival.

Disappear Fear - Fans of this folk-pop duo were apparently excited to see sister Cindy make a rare return to the stage to join Sonia who has continued on her own since Cindy's retirement. Never having had the pleasure of hearing this group before, the magic of the reunion was somewhat lost on me and on first listen, their songs really made no impression one way or the other.

Airdance - Another import from the dance stage, Airdance acquitted themselves quite well on the Mainstage as they totally obliterated the genre lines between Celtic and bluegrass fiddling, complete with percussive dance by Sandy Silva. Their set was totally enjoyable.

Nerissa & Katryna Nields - Having been to a Nields concert at the Point in Bryn Mawr, PA just a few months ago, I went into this year's Falcon Ridge thinking that I'd sort of had my fill of this quirky twosome, however that said I must admit that I totally enjoyed all of their various festival appearances. Their Mainstage set concentrated on material from their current album This Town is Wrong and, similar to their show at the Point, totally ignored their excellent previous album, Love and China. Locally based in Northampton, Mass. the Nields are unofficially permanent performers at Falcon Ridge and a perfect choice to follow the offical festival welcome message.

Friday Night Summer's Eve Song Swap - Introduced as the "mayor or perhaps the governor" of Falcon Ridge as the festival's consistently most requested performer, Greg Brown left all the other swap participants in the dust with his bluesy tunes many of which were customized for Falcon Ridge with witty lyrical references to the festival. Lucy Kaplansky, Richard Shindell, and Eliza Gilkyson bravely tried to keep up, but Kaplansky and Shindell were saddled with mediocre songs and Gilkyson while displaying an impressive vocal power, seemed somewhat clueless as to the dynamic and progression of the swap. Brown's tunes were so good however that his performance outweighed any shortcomings of the other performers. His "I Want My Country Back" galvanized the anti-George Bush sentiment that seemed to dominate this year's festival. He sent the crowd home chuckling with references during the final song about him going back to his motel while "you go back to your damn tents." Although some light rain restarted during the last two sets, it was not enough to interrupt the music.

Again it was well past midnight when we made the hike back to the upper campground to happily find no more water in the tent. By the time we reorganized to recover from the day's rain, it was probably 2am by the time we got to sleep with only about four hours to go until time to get up to set the next day's tarp. As wonderful as this festival is from a musical standpoint, it's certainly not conducive to sleep or relaxation.

(To be continued...)

Monday, August 02, 2004

Keane - Hopes and Fears (Interscope, 2004)

Poking around the Virgin Megastore in Chicago last night, I ran across a sale price of $7.99 on this CD accompanied by a money-back satisfaction guarantee. This combination of offers combined with a quick scan on the listening station proved irresistable and I am happy to report that Virgin need not worry about a return. This is melodic pop music, thick and lush at times, sort of like Tears for Fears crossed with the Alan Parsons Project (the softer melodies like "Time"). The sound is keyboard based with bass, drums, and very strong vocals that don't hesitate to soar into falsetto, bringing to mind Brian Wilson; not that it sounds like the Beach Boys, it doesn't. There are likely many more reference points in British pop/rock of the 80's and 90's (Danny Wilson), but this is original and ear-friendly stuff. The quality seems consistent from first track to last. Based on first listen this sounds like a winner.