Saturday, August 29, 2020

Chadwick Boseman (1976 - 2020)

As a lifelong fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, and superheroes, I am deeply crestfallen by the shocking news of the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer at the age of 43.

But while remiss at this tremendous loss of a gifted, rising young actor who already accomplished so much and had a positively bright future ahead of him, both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and beyond, I am very encouraged by the outpouring of tributes to him from his colleagues, peers, fans, and admirers. It is a powerful testament to the impact he had and will continue to have on minority children and adults for decades to come.

Although he had served as an inspiring role model by portraying real-life African-American pioneers such as Major League Baseball player Jackie Robinson, R&B singer James Brown, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, it is his turn as the fictional Marvel superhero Black Panther, in his own movie as well as several other Marvel films, that continues to be a source of pride and aspiration for people of color in America and around the world.

One small way to honor the memory of Chadwick Boseman is to listen to the Grammy and Academy Award-winning Black Panther soundtrack, one of the best superhero and general motion picture scores of all time. The potent and formidable musical themes of cultural heritage and pride, heroism, virtue, and strength of character not only beautifully and wonderfully elevate the world of King T'Challa/Black Panther, but also and especially serve as a fitting celebration of the real-life man who played him.

--Raj Manoharan

Black Panther Original Score (2018), by Ludwig Goransson

In Honor and Memory of Chadwick Boseman (1976 - 2020)

Black Panther is one of the absolute best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and certainly the most unique, and its corresponding soundtrack is definitely the best of the bunch.

Ludwig Goransson has created music that is every bit as remarkable as the movie it underscores, especially in its visceral, life-affirming revelry of African sounds and rhythms.

Based on his personal, firsthand research into and study of African musical traditions, Goransson structured his compositions around indigenous vocals, tribal chants, and exotic ethnic instruments, especially drums and percussion (Police drummer Stewart Copeland employed a similar process for his groundbreaking 1985 Afro-pop/rock album The Rhythmatist).

The result is an incredible, epic work of Afrocentric world music fused with hip techno and electronica and rousing, soaring symphony orchestra.

"Wakanda," "Warrior Falls," and the last four tracks of the album are excellent, perfectly capturing the film’s interwoven themes of family, honor, and heroism.

The Black Panther score is not only the cream of the crop of Marvel and superhero movie soundtracks, but it also ranks among the most memorable film music of all time.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, August 17, 2020

Non-Secure Connection (2020), by Bruce Hornsby

In the quickest follow-up of his career, coming only a year after his critically acclaimed and esoteric album, Absolute Zero, Bruce Hornsby continues the eclectic explorations of that offering and goes off in even more tangents, ultimately yielding another winner in his long repertoire.

Non-Secure Connection securely affirms Hornsby as one of our era’s most unique and wide-ranging veteran musical artists. The album is equal parts orchestral, electronic, organic, cinematic, funk, and impressionistic, with Hornsby expressing himself more expansively on vocals – still resoundingly vibrant at 66 – and piano, as well as electric sitar and Chamberlin.

The varied sounds come to life thanks to the contributions of a diverse lineup of guest performers, including Jamila Woods, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, and Justin Vernon.

The album is captivating from start to finish, with standouts including “The Rat King,” “My Resolve” (a duet with Jason Mercer), and “Anything Can Happen” (featuring the late Leon Russell thanks to a demo from the mid-1990s). The exhilarating closing track, “No Limits,” sounds like Hornsby’s take on The Police’s classic album title track “Synchronicity,” complete with hi-hat and chorused guitar, and is one of Hornsby’s best songs overall.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 15, 2020

10 Years of RajMan Reviews (2010 - 2020)

This month marks the 10th anniversary of RajMan Reviews.

I want to thank all those who have appreciated, encouraged, and supported my content both here and on Amazon over the years, as well as all the artists whose work I used to review on an “official” basis, beginning with Michael Stribling and including many who were nominated for and won independent awards as well as Grammy Awards.

I also want to thank everyone who has rated and continues to rate my reviews on Amazon as helpful.

I will forever remain indebted to Steven H. Scheuer and John N. Goudas for enabling me to write about film, television, and music in the first place and also for not having any preconceived notions about me, especially considering my interest in American pop culture and writing about it. Their memory and spirit will be with me always.

Thank you.

--Raj Manoharan

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Monday, August 17, 2020, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, will turn 66 years old.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson in 1990 by an employee at a local cable television station I interned at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 35/36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

Every one of Johnson's albums showcases his incredible electric guitar wizardry and his soft-spoken heartfelt vocals. His latest album is EJ Vol. II.

--Raj Manoharan

Allan Holdsworth (August 6, 1946 - April 15, 2017)

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 74th birthday.

The late, great guitar master was born on August 6, 1946, in England and passed away at the age of 70 on April 15, 2017, in Southern California, where he had lived for over three decades.

I first heard of Holdsworth in the early 1990s when I read some reviews that described the instrumental albums of my favorite musician, Police guitarist Andy Summers, as partly Holdsworthian.

I began to read more about the legendary Holdsworth, finally buying my first album of his, Hard Hat Area, upon its release in 1994. I still remember eagerly and excitedly purchasing the CD at a record store in Greenwich Village.

I continued to buy Holdsworth's albums throughout the 1990s, culminating with the 2000 release of The Sixteen Men of Tain. Holdsworth put out one more solo album, Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie, in 2001, which I never got around to getting back then for one reason or another, and then Holdsworth went silent, save for the occasional guest appearance on other musicians' albums, as well as live performances and collaborative recordings.

I also lost touch with Holdsworth's happenings for nearly two decades, until April 15, 2017, when I read on Yahoo! News to my shock, disbelief, and dismay that Holdsworth had passed at 70 years of age. Heartbroken at both his loss and my obliviousness to his life for the previous 16 years, I immediately purchased his 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!, and his 2-CD compilation, Eidolon, both released a week prior to his passing, and spent much of the next year immersed in the guitar and synthaxe brilliance of Allan Holdsworth.

In honor and remembrance of this amazing and unparalleled musical icon, I highly recommend the following albums as my top four picks, reviews of which can be found both on this site and on Amazon: With a Heart in My Song (with pianist Gordon Beck, 1988), Hard Hat Area (1994), The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000), and Then! (2003).

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Allan Holdsworth Playlists

Wednesday, April 15, 2020, marks three years since the world lost pioneering fusion guitar legend Allan Holdsworth. He was 70 years old. In honor of the late great musician, I share my personal playlists culled from his immense works and arranged by theme.

Endomorph (Songs Featuring Various Singers)

The Things You See * White Line * Was There? * Material Real * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * Secrets * Endomorph * Against the Clock

Mr. Berwell in the Mystery (Best Overall Including Instrumentals and Vocal Songs)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Metal Fatigue * Panic Station * In the Mystery * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * Endomorph * Prelude

No Zones (Then! Live Album without “Zones” Improvisations)

Proto-Cosmos * White Line * Atavachron * Pud Wud * House of Mirrors * Non-Brewed Condiment * Funnels

The Un-Merry Go Round (New Age)

The Un-Merry Go Round * Distance vs. Desire * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude * Above and Below * Above and Below (Reprise) * Material Unreal * Curves * Don’t You Know

Tokyo Dream I (Hard Fusion)

Three Sheets to the Wind * Tokyo Dream * Non-Brewed Condiment * The Dominant Plague * Atavachron * Looking Glass * Mr. Berwell * City Nights * Peril Premonition * Hard Hat Area

Tokyo Dream II (Soft Fusion)

Home * Funnels * Joshua * Sphere of Innocence * Zarabeth * Questions * Tokyo Dream * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 4) * The Un-Merry Go Round (Part 5) * Prelude

--Raj Manoharan