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

Congratulations to All of My Favorite Oscar Winners!

For the first time in many years, if ever, many of my favorite films have won major Academy Awards.

Green Book (one of the best films of all time) -- Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Picture, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- Animated Feature Film

Black Panther -- Costume Design, Music (Original Score), Production Design

Free Solo -- Documentary (Feature)

Congratulations to all the Academy Award winners, especially my favorite ones above!

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations Again to Black Panther Composer Ludwig Goransson!

Coming on the heels of his Grammy Award win for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson is now the proud and well deserved owner of an Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score) for Black Panther.

Congratulations again, Ludwig!

--Raj Manoharan