Showing posts from February, 2005

Kaki King, World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 2/18/05

Kaki King played WXPN's Free-at-Noon live broadcast concert series on Friday February 18th at World Cafe Live. I managed to break away from the office for a nice mid-winter's walk across town for this highly enjoyable lunchtime concert. Having seen King play live before I was well aware of her virtuosic technique with the acoustic guitar; she picks the strings with all ten fingers, one hand in the normal position, the other high up on the neck. The overall effect is quite amazing, not unlike the sort of playing one associates with Tommy Emmanuel, Michael Hedges, and Leo Kottke. Although her first CD is a good representation of her ability as a player, I'd have to say that the music didn't seem to be much more than a vehicle for her ample technique. Her previous concert performances more than compensated with a friendly humorous rapport with the audience combined with her frenetic attack on the guitar. This performance which featured mostly tunes from her second album Le

Aqualung, Joe's Pub, NYC, 2/02/05

No relation to Jethro Tull, Matt Hales who records using the group name Aqualung, performed at Joe's Pub in the early slot (7pm), thus allowing a concert doubleheader courtesy of the fine folks at Sony who have signed Aqualung and have just released the U.S. debut cd, Strange and Beautiful, which is comprised of tracks from Aqualung's two British cds, Aqualung from 2002 and Still Life from 2003. Despite a bout with bronchitis, Aqualung performed a warmly received set that was low on volume but full of mood and well crafted songwriting. That the twenty-something crowd seems to be embracing this purveyor of soft and sensitive melodies (anyone remember the singer-songwriters of the 70's?) is a very encouraging development that was driven home even more at the next stop. Although I'd not heard Aqualung before and was totally unfamiliar with the music, I did thoroughly enjoy the set. It reminded me quite a lot of Teitur's Joe's Pub set which I saw under very simila

Keane, Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC, 2/02/05

Even though the doors opened at 6:30pm for this show, we thankfully missed the two opening acts (although I should credit the Zutons who were booked in the second position making possible the Sony-provided tickets), but still had plenty of time after Aqualung to hop a subway uptown to the Hammerstein Ballroom for Keane's headlining set. Surveying the room while waiting for Keane I realized that I'd been in this venue before, circa 1971 when it was known as the Manhattan Ballroom, for the Grateful Dead's "first annual dance marathon." I recall that the Dead was still playing when we left at about 4am. The New Riders of the Purple Sage opened, and the show was also memorable for the Dead's tie dyed speaker covers which inspired me to do likewise; but I digress. Although Keane had previously sold out the TLA in Philadelphia, having only really heard them on WXPN and having only seen their Tower Records in-store performance, I was totally unprepared for the scale

Catching Up, Part Two - New Year's Day 2005

I always like to ring in the New Year vegetating in front of the tv, catching up on movies that I never got to see during the year just ended (you just can't beat this for closure). The holidays this year seemed a bit more hectic than usual and not just because Anna was home, so the New Year's movie watching continued all week. Here's a quick summary. The House of Yes (1997, Mark Waters) : Anna either rented or borrowed from the library this very unsettling story in which the perky Parker Posey plays a seriously disturbed character who dresses up like Jackie Onassis and has sex with her brother. Thumbs down. Maria Full of Grace (2004, Joshua Marston): Easily the best of the New Year's movies, this film makes its point without preaching simply by presenting the compelling story of teenager who takes a job as a drug mule, desperate for a better life for herself and her unborn baby. Bogota Columbia born Catalina Sandino Moreno makes a stunning debut as the title charact

Catching Up - Christmas 2004

It's hard to believe that Christmas is already two months past, but with not enough hours in the day, I've become seriously backlogged (backblogged?) and can't move on w/2005 business till we finish with 2004. Let's think of it as getting an early start on next year. Koeeoaddi's thread on the Straight Dope message board notwithstanding, there were a few happy surprises on the Christmas music front, two of which, the Chris Isaak and the Ray Charles were new this year. The Jo Dee Messina and the Moody Blues were half price purchases on Tower's 2003 after Christmas sale which were new to me in 2004. The NBC disc was found for less than a buck on eBay and although I picked it up purely for novelty value, it turned out to be way better than it had any right to be. The only disappointment among this year's new Christmas releases was the James Taylor Hallmark CD. It was also nice to revisit these this year: Hamish Stuart - Let It Snow (Sulphuric, 2002) Booker T. &

Jo Dee Messina - A Joyful Noise (Curb Records, 2002)

Jo Dee Messina's A Joyful Noise is just about a perfect Christmas record. Although she's a "country" artist (not that there's anything wrong with that), there's no hint of the country sound on here at all - just pop/rock arrangements featuring Messina's great voice. The songs are all well chosen, seven popular songs, then three a bit more religious (but not too much so, "O Holy Night," "Silent Night," "What Child is This"), and then an original, the title track. All the arrangements and performances are dead on. I give it a big thumbs up.

Moody Blues - December (Polydor, 2003)

My most surprising finds this year are great Christmas albums by the Moody Blues and Jo Dee Messina. I hadn't heard or bought anything new by the Moody Blues since about 1974 but I found this album called December on last year's after Christmas sale at Tower Records and it's a winner. The band looks older than dirt in the booklet but they sound as great as they ever did, the songs are mostly originals, all are good, with a few well chosen covers: Lennon's "Happy XMas (War is Over)," "White Christmas," and "In the Bleak Midwinter" - this album is a total delight.

Ray Charles - Celebrates a Gospel Christmas (Madacy, 2004)

In what is purported to be his last recorded live performance, this is not only a great Christmas album easily surpassing Ray's other Christmas CD, The Spirit of Christmas (Rhino, 1997) but this also qualifies as one of the best Ray Charles albums ever. You really can't tell from the audio that this is a recent concert performed while Ray was in declining health; on first listen I assumed that this was a re-release of a concert from twenty-some years ago - that's how good Ray sounds singing with a gospel choir. The whole album is a joy but he really knocks it out of the park on "Oh Happy Day" which also features the Voices of Jubilation sounding great as well on this gospel classic. Ray's voice and his unique ability to combine genres as diverse as rock, jazz, soul and country, makes his vocal style a perfect fit with gospel music. It's great to hear Ray's take on "What Kind of Man is This", "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night

Chris Isaak - Christmas (Warner Brothers, 2004)

After watching several seasons of Chris Isaak's Showtime series, I've developed a large appreciation not only for his music but for his great sense of humour, and the intelligent and friendly personalities of Chris and his band which came through the semi-scripted series loud and clear. Now comes Chris' Christmas album which is a complete treat - like comfort food for the soul at Christmas time. Even the more simplistic tunes which were James Taylor's undoing serve Isaak well as he stamps them with enough of his personal style to make these songs well worth your Christmas listen, yes even his (mercifully short yet) heartfelt acoustic go at "Auld Lang Syne." Along with eleven old favorites we also get five new Isaak compositions, including one, "Washington Square" that has the goods to hold it's own with other great Christmas-away-from-you songs like "Merry Christmas Darling." We even get to hear Isaak sing a more than competent version

VA - NBC Celebrity Christmas (NBC, 2001)

As noted above, I picked this up for mere pennies on eBay, purely for the novelty of it, never imagining that this would have any real musical value, when what to my wondering eyes would appear but the cream of studio session musicians backing up these tv stars, starting with that most amazing guitarist Tim Pierce on most of the tracks, with many tunes also featuring Leland Sklar on bass, Dave Koz on sax, David Spinozza on guitar, T-Bone Wolk on bass, Greg Phillinganes on Hammond B-3 organ, Jack White on drums, Bill Champlin on piano, John Molo on drums, and Everette Harp on sax. I guess we have to thank Loren Harriet and Mark Weiner, producers, for the quality of the music that might otherwise have resulted in nothing more than a vanity affair. Sorry if I sound so surprised about all this, but I'm not even familiar with many of these shows/stars. Sean Hayes actually does a reasonable job on "The Christmas Song." Bebe Neuwirth & John Lithgow have some fun with "B

James Taylor - A Christmas Album (Hallmark, 2004)

A beautiful cover, a great artist like JT, Christmas music, what could possibly be wrong? Well, take the song selection for starters (please!). The majority of this record is cringe-inducing, mostly due to material like "Winter Wonderland," "Santa Clause is Comin' to Town," "Go Tell It On the Mountain," "Deck the Halls" and "Auld Lang Syne" all of which are not bad songs exactly, it's just that they are way beneath his amazing talent. James' ability to take a song someone else wrote and make it totally his own is wasted on such simplistic fare. On the other hand, there are a couple of real stinkers. "Baby It's Cold Outside" is suffering from a serious case of overexposure; not that there's anything specifically wrong with James and Natalie Cole's rendition except for the fact that it's been done too much lately by too many pairs of singers who really have no business recording this, so by now the