Friday, December 14, 2018

Live in Japan 1984 (2018), by Allan Holdsworth, I.O.U.

The spirit, or “eidolon,” of late guitar great Allan Holdsworth lives on in this legendary live date from the mid-1980s in the land of the rising sun.

The first posthumously released album by the artist, it documents Holdsworth’s last performance with his I.O.U. band, featuring Jimmy Johnson on bass, Chad Wackerman on drums, and Paul Williams on vocals.

While Holdsworth’s musical genius and ambidextrous virtuosity are on full display here, this is a curious recording in that the sound is uneven from song to song, with some tunes moderately loud and others quiet as a whisper.

Holdsworth unleashes short bursts of rapid-fire fluidity here and there, and short those bursts are. He seems to be more content with chord textures and colors rather than flashy lead lines. That is all fine and dandy, however, because no matter how little or a lot Holdsworth used his guitars, he was a certified, undisputed master.

Of Holdsworth’s three official live recordings to date, my favorite is 2002’s Then!, documenting a Tokyo show in 1990. That is Holdsworth at his best as the compositions are kinetic and he and his band are on fire.

However, that does not take away from the brilliance of Live in Japan 1984, which is the first of a projected series of live archival recordings from various points in Holdsworth’s solo career. I hope that the albums highlight featured performances from each of the following three decades, especially since Holdsworth continued to play live up until 2017.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stephen Hillenburg (1961-2018)

Walt Disney. Friz Freleng. Chuck Jones. Walter Lantz. Hanna-Barbera. Matt Groening.

And Stephen Hillenburg.

Yes, Stephen Hillenburg. The creator of the ubiquitous and ever-popular Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, which, not long after its debut in 1999, quickly became as iconic as its equally storied predecessors – Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Simpsons.

It’s a rare bird – or in this case, sponge – of a cartoon that can capture the imagination and whimsy of both children and adults with its double serving of silly shenanigans and grownup humor – and also be funnier than most live-action film and television comedies.

And SpongeBob SquarePants has done exactly that, living well beyond its initial five- or six-year life expectancy and expanding to include two full-length animated/live-action theatrical motion pictures as well as a whole spectrum of merchandise.

It’s no wonder, then, that it’s so widely referenced in pop culture, including on The Simpsons.

If there’s one thing I (and Squidward) learned from SpongeBob SquarePants – and you can learn many things from SpongeBob SquarePants – it’s not to mess with sea bears.

It may be a sad time for now in Bikini Bottom, but thanks to Stephen Hillenburg, the hilarity will ensue and the laughter will continue for years to come.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 23, 2018

Di Blasio BrOs (2008), by Di Blasio BrOs

Although the photo on the front of the CD jacket looks endearingly over-the-top, like they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. These guys aren’t just mere poseurs – they ROCK!

The Di Blasio BrOs are real-life brothers from Italy who are famous as members of the European hard rock band Kymera, so they definitely have the compositional and performance chops to pull off this excellent foray into pulse-pounding instrumental music.

The Di Blasio BrOs make bold statements with majestic synthesizers, powerful drums, and, last but certainly not least, lead and rhythm guitars that draw you in with flaming licks, searing solos, and thundering chords from which you can’t – and don’t want to – escape.

Overall, the music has the style of power ballads, running the gamut from intensive to introspective and everything in between.

Think of this as Boston without vocals. This is what I imagine Tom Scholz would sound like if he made instrumental albums.

This is one of the best guitar albums of all time and a must-have for fans of loud, melodic, guitar rock. More albums please, Di Blasio BrOs!

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

RajMan Holiday Haiku

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace and joy it be bringing!

For all's well living!

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 16, 2018

Giant Steps (2002), by Derryl Gabel

Derryl Gabel’s sophomore CD is one giant step for the fusion ax man, and one giant step for fusion kind.

Actually, it’s really not much of a leap for Gabel, because the guitarist already showcases his virtuosic level of playing on his debut album, Visions and Dreams.

However, he does widen the palette with which he applies his six-string savvy, expanding his musical boundaries with tasteful excursions into dance, funk, traditional/standard jazz, and swing. As varied as some of the genres here are, Gabel weaves them all into one cohesive whole with his fancy fretwork.

And when I say fancy, I certainly don’t mean style over substance, because Gabel plays with plenty of both style and substance.

Giant Steps firmly takes its place alongside Gabel’s first CD as one of the best guitar recordings of all time.

Derryl Gabel is definitely one of an increasingly rare breed – a true guitar hero for today and future generations.

--Raj Manoharan

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Jerry Siegel. Joe Shuster. Bob Kane. Gene Roddenberry. George Lucas.

And Stan “The Man” Lee.

Among countless notables, these have been the primary pop cultural influences and inspirations of my life, and not just mine, but also those of several generations of the young and the young at heart.

Stan “The Man” was the last of the Big 3 comic book kings (Superman creators Siegel and Shuster and Batman creator Kane before him) to grace us with their greatness.

Now “all we are left with” are our memories and mementos of his and their four-color imaginations, which will continue to ignite and fuel our collective conscious through books, film, television, and memorabilia.

I am eternally grateful that one of my most cherished memories is the privilege of having interviewed Stan “The Man” himself by telephone for the occasion of the pay-per-view release of the first theatrical live-action Spider-Man film. Lee was one of the many luminaries (among them the film’s director Sam Raimi, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, and Marvel’s personal appearance Spider-Man turned Hollywood stuntman Scott Leva) whom I talked to by telephone for the cover story of the December 2002 issue of DirecTV: The Guide.

I will never forget Lee’s unique, larger-than-life personality (and voice), especially as he recounted how many tries it took (Insect-Man and on down the list) before he came up with the name Spider-Man.

Stan “The Man” indeed.

In the words of the beloved icon, “Make mine Marvel!” and


--Raj Manoharan

Douglas Rain (1928-2018)

Good night, HAL.

Bon voyage.

And thanks for the memory banks.

--Raj Manoharan