Sunday, August 18, 2019

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, turned 65 years old.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson in 1990 by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning 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 Collage.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 10, 2019

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

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 73rd 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

Friday, April 12, 2019

Absolute Zero (2019), by Bruce Hornsby

After dillydallying with the dulcimer, Bruce Hornsby is back on the keys with one of his best, most atmospheric, and most cinematic albums ever.

Nearly all the tracks feature Hornsby’s trademark piano and synthesizer stylings, but in a much more subdued, impressionistic, and brilliantly minimalist fashion.

Several songs also feature horns and strings, giving the generally contemplative and introspective music orchestral and symphonic gravitas.

The album plays like a compendium of Hornsby’s best genre-bending sounds over the years, intersecting everything from pop and progressive rock to classical and jazz.

And Hornsby, now in his mid-60s, takes his often multi-tracked vocals to places he hasn’t in a long time.

The album contains several stunners, including the title track, "Never in This House," and "Take You There." However, "Voyager One" especially stands out with its highly infectious funk groove, sounding very much like a cross between Stevie Wonder and Sting.

Speaking of which, Absolute Zero is similar in spots to some of Sting’s solo work. The comparison isn’t so far off as Hornsby and Sting were both iconic ’80s hit makers with ears for jazz.

Regardless of influences and inspirations, the album is all Bruce Hornsby, who, in a welcome return to form, has created an exquisite work of sonic art that does indeed take the artist, his music, and those of us fortunate enough to listen and hear, "there."

--Raj Manoharan

Rehab Reunion (2016), by Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby is at his best when he’s playing piano and synthesizers, with or without vocals, so it’s understandable that this record, in which he trades in his keyboards for a dulcimer, is a little off the beaten path.

But then again, Hornsby has always taken the road not taken.

The dulcimer seems to be far more limited in range and versatility than Hornsby’s ebonies and ivories, capable of only a few chords if even, and almost all the songs sound like they’re in the same key. Maybe this is because Hornsby is new to playing the instrument solely and exclusively for a whole album.

However, the music does have a certain folksy, Appalachian appeal, thanks in part to Hornsby’s typically incisive and penetrating songwriting and vocals, as well as the brilliant arrangements and performances of his backup band of the last two decades.

Highlights include “Over the Rise,” “Soon Enough,” “M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.,” “Tropical Cashmere Sweater” – easily the best chorus on the album – and “Celestial Railroad.”

Rehab Reunion may not be what most people expect from Hornsby, but its charming, grassroots, bluegrass Americana is enough to carry the water for the ever faithful.

--Raj Manoharan

Dick Dale (1937-2019)

King of the surf guitar.

--Raj Manoharan

Jan-Michael Vincent (1945-2019)

Icon of the ’80s.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 24, 2019

In Memory of My Mentors, Steven H. Scheuer and John N. Goudas (Thanks to JB)

This is for JB, whose uncle was my mentor, John N. Goudas. I originally posted this in 2014:

I've just learned that Steven H. Scheuer, whom I did my New York University internship with from 1993 to 1995, passed away in late May/early June of this year. He was 88 years old.

Scheuer was recently mentioned in an online CNN article about movie critic Leonard Maltin's final movie guide. Maltin was influenced and inspired by Scheuer, who practically invented the art and industries of newspaper television reviews and movie guides.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to also mention John N. Goudas, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 72. Goudas was Scheuer's main writer for the TV Key newspaper column that was distributed by King Features Syndicate to over 300 newspapers across the country.

Although I worked with Scheuer and Goudas for only three years, they made a lasting impression on me personally and professionally. I still remember my “job” interview with Scheuer on a cold January morning back in 1993 in his New York City office in the lobby of a high-rise apartment building in the East 50s, where he showed me that he had many of the same TV, movie, and pop culture books that I had.

There were also many other wonderful moments in that office that I remember as if they happened yesterday, such as the time none of us were answering the phone for some reason that I've since forgotten, and Scheuer, who was making a rare appearance in the office while doing some errands, quipped, “Is this some sort of holiday where nobody is supposed to answer the phone?” We also watched the O.J. Simpson verdict live on the office television.

While Scheuer couldn't pay the interns as we all anticipated a deal with the fledgling Microsoft Network that never came through (this was the dawn of the Internet in 1995), he did treat us to many nice business lunches at fancy and renowned restaurants in New York City. I also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Scheuer's gracious wife, Alida Brill-Scheuer, who accompanied us on many of these outings.

My internship at TV Key was the launching pad that enabled me to go on to interview and write about the iconic actors and musicians that I grew up loving.

I consider myself very fortunate to have known and worked with these titans of television criticism. They were giants in their field. They were also a couple of lovable and fun-loving characters.

I can only hope that RajMan Reviews embodies something of their spirit, if not their brilliance.

The following links do them far more justice than I ever could. Thank you for everything, John and Mr. Scheuer. Rest in peace.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_H._Scheuer

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/06/arts/television/steven-h-scheuer-is-dead-at-88-he-put-the-tv-review-before-the-show.html?_r=0

--Raj Manoharan