Sunday, December 14, 2014

CD Review – Craftsman, by Bob Ardern

Bob Ardern is a craftsman, alright, showcasing his craftsmanship as a spot-on composer and performer of sprightly acoustic guitar instrumentals.

The original tunes reflect Ardern's inherent rustic folksiness, which is given a pop lilt thanks to the contributions of class act musicians who are artists in their own right.

Ardern's accompanists include Kev Corbett on bass, bodhran, and percussion; David Findlay on bass, bells, bodhran, celeste, glockenspiel, hi hat, piano, pipe organ, synthesizer pads, and trumpet; and Alyssa Wright on cello.

If you're looking for acoustic guitar music with a pulse, this certainly fits the bill.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 7, 2014

CD Review – New Horizon, by Minstrel Streams

The acoustic guitar and piano of Matt Stuart and flutes of Rebecca Stuart come together to form lyrical, melodic music that is fit for fairy tales (that's a good thing).

The songs all have a fanciful storybook quality to them. Just like the name of the band suggests, this is minstrel music with a modern twist.

Giving a contemporary bent to the duo's olde time sound are the talents of Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Paul Kochanski on string bass, Matt Heaton on bodhran drum, Noah Wilding on vocals, and Tom Eaton on percussion and accordion.

If you're inclined toward modern Renaissance fare, this is worth your time and consideration.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 30, 2014

TV, Music – Tis the Season, Charlie Brown

It’s that time of year again – the period from late October through late December where we go through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, complete with pumpkin picking and trick-or-treating, Butterball and football, and decked halls and snowfalls. In terms of entertainment, we have costumes, parades, and the Rockettes, along with numerous television specials and holiday music releases. However, nothing captures the pop culture spirit of the season like the Charlie Brown TV specials. Good old Chuck, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang epitomize the holidays like no one else.

If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) to watch all the holiday programming that will be overwhelming the airwaves over the next couple of months, your best bets are the Charlie Brown specials, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These are all available on DVD, but there’s something magical about watching them on network television during the season.

In terms of holiday music, you can’t do better than the soundtracks to the Charlie Brown specials. As enjoyable as holiday releases by major and independent artists can be, they don’t compare to the beauty and innocence of the scores for the Peanuts specials. There are several albums that cover the music of the Peanuts shows, but I really recommend the actual soundtracks to the programs composed and performed by Vince Gauraldi. Like the shows, his timeless Charlie Brown recordings exude the peace, contentment, and happiness of the holidays.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Watch People Interviewed by Me on Me TV

Several people that I interviewed during my entertainment writing and celebrity interviewing heyday can be seen regularly on Me TV.

The 6 p.m. weeknight beat is patrolled by Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox as California Highway Patrol motorcycle cops Ponch and Jon on CHiPs.

At 9 p.m. on Saturdays, William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy explore space while trying to keep the intergalactic peace as Kirk and Spock on Star Trek.

On Sundays at 6 p.m., you can see James MacArthur (Helen Hayes' son) as Detective Danny “Danno” Williams getting patched through to McGarrett (Jack Lord) on Hawaii Five-O.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Estrada and Wilcox in 1998 for the occasion of their CHiPs '99 TV reunion movie. Estrada kept calling me “pardner,” and Wilcox, a computer business mogul at the time, invited me to his ranch in California, an invitation I regrettably never had the opportunity to take him up on.

I interviewed Nimoy in 1997 for his participation in a series of radio plays inspired by Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and spearheaded by John de Lancie (Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation).

I interviewed Shatner because he was hosting The Sci-Fi Channel's remastered reruns of the show in 1998. It was thrilling to hear Captain Kirk/T.J. Hooker himself tell me he needed my help in getting the word out about his activities at the time. When I told him he was really going where no man had gone before with his Name in Space project, in which you could have your and your lover's names orbit Earth alongside his name in a space capsule, he exclaimed, “Isn't that wild?!”

I interviewed MacArthur in 1997 because The Family Channel was airing remastered versions of the show. When I interviewed MacArthur, he was in his home office in Palm Desert, California, looking at posters of his films, such as Swiss Family Robinson. MacArthur told me that in return for promoting the remastered shows, rather than money, he wanted The Family Channel to give him all the remastered episodes on videotape so he could show them to his children and grandchildren. This was just before the advent of DVDs. So MacArthur wasn't just one of the stars of the show, he was also a fan!

It was great to hear MacArthur not only reminisce about his career (including working with his mother Helen Hayes, who guest-starred as Danno's aunt in Hawaii Five-O), but also recollect the late, great Jack Lord. MacArthur himself passed away in 2010, just as he was finalizing plans to guest star in the new Hawaii Five-0 TV series. MacArthur was living in Florida at the time.

Watch people interviewed by me on Me TV.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Superman Returns! See the Dawn of Justice on Me TV Before It Arrives in Theaters!

This is what I wrote back on December 28, 2013:

Watching Batman and Wonder Woman on Me TV is a great way to prepare for the Man of Steel sequel set for release in 2015, with Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman and joined by Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Now all Me TV needs to do is add the 1950s series The Adventures of Superman to the lineup.”

My thought from last winter has become reality as The Adventures of Superman is now part of Me TV's Super Sci-Fi Saturday Nights lineup.

The classic show starring George Reeves as TV's first live-action Man of Steel kicks off a super-powered evening of super-heroics at 6:00 p.m., followed by Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusading Dynamic Duo in Batman at 7:00 p.m. and Lynda Carter as the original warrior princess in Wonder Woman at 8:00 p.m.

Now, thanks to Me TV, super fans will be super ready to anticipate the theatrical release (now set for 2016) of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, respectively, and introducing a host of other legendary DC Comics superheroes.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – William Shatner Weekends Double “Bill”: Double the Bill, Double the Thrill

If you’re as much of a Shatfan as I am, then you’ll be thrilled to know that you can watch William Shatner every weekend in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms in two different hairstyles (or hairpieces?).

First up, catch Shatner in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 1960s Star Trek television series, which airs Saturdays at 9:00 p.m. on Me TV (Memorable Entertainment Television). Nothing beats Shatner hamming philosophic about the quandaries of mankind’s place in the universe, all the while sporting a ‘60s-style “straight-laced” coiffure (Was it real or was it a hairpiece? Find out at Shatner’s partners in pop cultural perpetuity include Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.
Shatner’s heyday (shortly before he became a self-parodying, perpetually wealth-generating cottage industry unto himself) came in the 1980s, when—at the same time he was reprising his role as James T. Kirk in the Star Trek movies—he pounded the pavement and cleaned the streets of slimy scum as the titular no-nonsense police sergeant in T.J. Hooker, airing Sundays at 6:00 p.m. on Family Net (check your local listings for additional weekday showings).
Shatner as a uniformed police officer is about as high-concept as you can get, making this the best cop show of all time. Shatner often gets touted for his peerless hood jumping, but he was quite adept behind the wheel as well. He could drift (brake-skidding the car on fast turns) with the best of them, even when it wasn't necessary. And who could forget that Shatastic ‘80s perm? (Again—real or fake? Check out The series also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and Shatner’s fellow aging pretty boy James Darren.
So don’t forget to enjoy William Shatner in two of his most memorable TV roles. Tune in every weekend, same Shat time, same Shat channel! (Actually, that's two different times on two different channels.)
--Raj Manoharan

TV – Starsky & Hutch Ride Again on Family Net

The 1970s TV cop duo is cleaning the boob tube (or LCD, LED, or plasma set) of crime at 7:00 p.m. Sundays on Family Net (check your local listings for additional weekday showings), and it’s quite the “trip” down memory lane.

The opening credits are hilarious, because, although the show is called Starsky & Hutch, the guy who plays Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) and drives the flashy red and white-striped Ford Gran Torino is the second actor listed. David Soul (Hutch) gets top billing, and over a freeze frame of him yelling and flailing his arms maniacally.

Antonio Fargas, who plays nightclub-owning street informant Huggy Bear, gets special standout billing (“and Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear”). But then, all of a sudden, the credits list Bernie Hamilton (the irascible but lovable Captain Dobey). That’s it – just Bernie Hamilton. It’s like the credits are saying, “…and Antonio Fargas as Huggy Bear – oh, by the way, Bernie Hamilton.”

There’s more to the show than just the hilarious opening credits, and certainly much more than the insipid, shallow, and unworthy big-screen Starsky & Hutch parody starring Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. Stiller and Wilson may be funny (not really), but they’re no David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. Soul and Glaser are solid actors with great screen chemistry, and Glaser is a better and more accomplished film and television director.

Even if you’re not into TV cop shows or don’t particularly care for Starsky & Hutch, at least just check out the opening credits of the current rotation of episodes on Family Net. It’s one of the more entertaining highlights of classic 1970s television.

--Raj Manoharan