Sunday, August 26, 2018

Neil Simon (1927 – 2018)

Thanks to him, we know the answer to one of the most important questions in life:

Can two grown men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

--Raj Manoharan

Robin Leach (1941 – 2018)

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!

--Raj Manoharan

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

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 72nd 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. Remiss 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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Friday, August 17, 2018, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, turned 64 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, a review of which follows below.

--Raj Manoharan

Collage (2017), by Eric Johnson

The veteran Texan guitarist's first solo electric guitar studio album since 2010's fiery Up Close marks a fine return to form and the classic Eric Johnson sound.

This is a more laid back and relaxed affair, with a nice mix of instrumentals and vocals and covers and originals, blending jazz and rock with hints of new age.

But don't let the mellow atmosphere fool you – Johnson's playing is as nimble and seamless as ever, with clean, crisp tones and lightning-fast lead lines.

And Johnson's eternally youthful vocals are still so smooth and silky even at 63 years of age.

Standout tracks include Stevie Wonder's "Up Tight (Everything's Alright)," The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," and The Ventures' "Pipeline," and Johnson's "Morning Sun," "The Fade," and "To Whom It May Concern."

Collage is proof positive that after forty-plus years in the music business, Eric Johnson's still got it.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, August 17, 2018

Live at the Troubadour (2018), by Michael Nesmith and The First National Band Redux

Live at the Troubadour is Michael Nesmith's third live album in the last 26 years, and it is every bit as lively and engaging as its predecessors.

All three concert recordings are equally excellent without being redundant, especially considering the fact that each one focuses on a different aspect of Nesmith's career: Live at the Britt Festival (1992) concentrates primarily on the albums And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' (1972) and Tropical Campfires (1992); Movies of the Mind (2013) is a wide-ranging retrospective; and Live at the Troubadour revisits Nesmith's First National Band trilogy from the early 1970s.

Since some of the original First National Band members are no longer with us, The First National Band Redux consists of a whole new group of backup musicians, including Nesmith's sons Jonathan and Christian on guitars and backing vocals.

For some qualitative comparative analysis, here's a breakdown of which of the three albums features the best live versions of common, overlapping songs:

Britt – “Papa Gene's Blues”
Movies – “Propinquity,” “Tomorrow and Me,” “Different Drum”
Troubadour – “Joanne,” “Some of Shelly's Blues,” “Silver Moon”

Live at the Troubadour showcases Nesmith in top musical form. It's both a joy and a thrill to hear the legendary 75-year-old icon still plucking away at his 12-string acoustic guitar with sprightly aplomb and giving it his all as a singer.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

44/876 (2018), by Sting and Shaggy

This is more like it! This is the Sting we all know and love!

The 2016 back-to-basics guitar rocker 57th & 9th was a decent comeback for the veteran pop star, but where that album is merely good, the new release is great! 57th & 9th is fine, but 44/876 is fantastic!

In an unlikely but very agreeable collaboration that turns out to be his most enjoyable to date, the Englishman in New York (among other places) teams up with Jamaican superstar singer Shaggy for a collection of reggae-infused pop gems that are infectious, invigorating, and irresistible.

44/876 has been likened to Sting's experiments with reggae in The Police (“One World (Not Three)” comes to my mind), but overall the album is more similar to Sting's solo reggae excursions, most notably classic songs like “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and “History Will Teach Us Nothing.”

The album has also been described as a party record. Yes, the tone is definitely upbeat. But make no mistake – in many cases, the buoyant nature of the music belies the brooding ruminations of the lyrics. Sting is the King of Pain, after all – especially of wrapping pain up in sweet little pop packages.

Standout songs such as “Just One Lifetime,” “Dreaming of the U.S.A.,” and “If You Can't Find Love” prove that, at 66 years of age, Sting is back in top form and at his classic best.

--Raj Manoharan