Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

Today is the 68th birthday of my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – Andy Summers.

I first became acquainted with the music of Summers in 1983 at the age of 10 in a Catholic elementary school classroom when I heard a hypnotic and futuristic-sounding pop/rock song emanating from the radio of Candy, my substitute teacher. When I asked what the song was and who recorded it, I was promptly informed that it was “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police. I was instantly hooked, so much so that that Christmas, my parents got me a vinyl copy of Synchronicity, The Police’s fifth and final studio album and one of the biggest hits of the year. The Police have since remained my favorite rock band of all time.

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular group, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.

One of Summers' upcoming projects is Spirit Garden, a collection of guitar duets featuring Summers and classical guitarist Andrew York. In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, Summers and York also play other instruments. The duo’s collaboration began on the title track of York’s latest album, Centerpeace, which is available now. More information on Centerpeace and Spirit Garden can be found at

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, Charming Snakes, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth and Sky, and First You Build a Cloud.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CD Review – Calmness of Spirit, by David Hoffman

Composer and brass-man David Hoffman couldn’t have picked a better title for this CD. Combined with the beautiful, soothing cover photograph of mountains under a misty golden sky, it sets the mood for the sweet syrup for the soul contained on the album.

The horn player, who was part of Ray Charles’s band for over a decade, has cultivated a lush, lyrical, and dreamy soundscape to envelop oneself in when seeking solace from the stress of everyday life. The CD is also a perfect backdrop for relaxation as well as an engaging stimulus for focused meditation.

The music really epitomizes the concept of jazz/New Age fusion. The jazz part of the equation is apparent in Hoffman’s utilization of the trumpet, the flugelhorn, and the piano. He is obviously a proponent of more is less, as evidenced by his tasteful phrasing and careful selection of notes. He places bits and pieces of trumpet, flugelhorn, and piano here and there, in essence weaving a musical tapestry. For example, on “Julie’s Dream,” dedicated to his wife, Hoffman hangs piano chords like velvet drapes over a foundation of lush synthesizer textures.

This brings us to the New Age component of Hoffman’s jazz/New Age fusion. The album is layered with ethereal and otherworldly keyboard and synthesizer textures that start off quietly and increase in amplitude without becoming overwhelming. The tones are just right and almost function as a conduit to other dimensions. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “The Ambience of Motion,” which is a really cool and groovy, meditative and mystical space-out.

Throughout, Hoffman is ably supported by his friend, collaborator, and label-mate Paul Adams on guitar, bass, flute, and percussion. Although the compositions are all Hoffman’s and this album is unequivocally his own unique musical statement, he and Adams work very well together and exhibit great musical chemistry. They truly are a fantastic duo.

Calmness of Spirit is definitely recommended for massage, healing, meditation, and for anyone who likes cool jazz/New Age fusion. It’s classy, artful, elegant, and therapeutic.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CD (Fan) Review – Up Close, by Eric Johnson

The first new studio album in five years from Grammy Award-winning Texas guitar hero Eric Johnson has finally arrived, and it’s quite the trip – and well worth the wait. Like his other CDs a mix of instrumentals and vocal songs mostly penned by him and showcasing his unique virtuosity on the electric guitar, Up Close includes some of the best work that Johnson has ever written and recorded.

The album is dripping with crackling guitars. If a guitar died and went to heaven, this is what heaven would sound like. Johnson is on fire, effortlessly weaving incredible, sparkling solos in and out of both the instrumental and vocal tracks. The vocal songs range from energetic blues and rock numbers to gorgeous, heartfelt ballads. Inspired like never before, Johnson plays and sings with a fervor not present in his previous work. Perhaps Johnson is like a fine vintage wine, improving with age.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson 20 years ago 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 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.

As accomplished and groundbreaking as Ah Via Musicom and its edgier and sonically more expansive 1996 follow-up, Venus Isle, are, Johnson has really poured his living, breathing essence into Up Close. The result is the best guitar-based album of the last several years, and one of the best guitar-based and general music albums of all time.

With Up Close, Johnson is at the top of his game as a guitarist, composer, and singer. He has created a masterwork of soulful jazz/pop/rock fusion that exudes passion, especially through his trademark virtuosic guitar sound. Even with guest vocals by Malford Milligan, Steve Miller, and Johnny Lang, and guitar performances by Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Hennig, and Sonny Landreth, the album is clearly all Eric Johnson up close front and center.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CD Review – Heavens, by Paul Adams

On his latest CD, Paul Adams’s Native American flutes conjure a transforming, shamanistic experience that will transport you to another time and place.

This is challenging music as it makes you focus on the center of your being and prepares you for a mystical journey into your heart, soul, and mind – the “heavens” of your inner self, if you will.

Adams’s compositions and performances channel the sanctity and solemnity of the very source that inspires his choice of main instrument and this recording. In addition to Native American flutes, Adams uses various instruments to help paint a portrait of the people and culture of this land in the times before the arrival of the European settlers.

The percussion on one of the tracks sounds like a muted, barely audible gong that marks long stretches of time. It’s very ritualistic and conveys the effect of a liturgy of the ancients. Also, rich keyboard/synthesizer textures make it seem like Adams is conjuring ethereal spirits.

Adams’s flute playing is very appropriate to the style and purpose of the music. The melodies are hesitant and searching, yet every note is carefully chosen and constructed. Tracks like “Into the Deep Blue” in particular exemplify the penetrating and transcendental nature of the music. On the other hand, Adams wraps up the album with the jazzy “The Sky of Hope,” which almost feels like a celebratory culmination of a religious experience.

Heavens is effective on several levels – as background music; for catharsis, therapy, and healing; and for focused meditation. It’s also a perfect showcase for Adams’s compositional and performance talents and for the Native American flute as a hypnotic conduit for the cultivation of musical dreams.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, December 9, 2010

CD Review – On Christmas Night, by Steven C


Following on the heels of his elegant Heart Strings CD, pianist Steven C provides a touch of class for the holidays with his album, On Christmas Night.

This isn’t just a typical collection of the usual secular seasonal standards, nor does it celebrate the capitalism of Christmas with all of its commercial trappings. Rather, it is really about that Christmas night – that silent, holy night.

As such, the album contains the expected classics that tap into the spiritual side of the holiday, or “the reason for the season.” And yet these interpretations are not overbearing or overwhelming as these songs can sometimes be. That’s where the arranging and performing talents of Steven C come into play.

Rather than give them the shrill, over-the-top treatment that they occasionally get, Steven C plays them with a quiet reverence that is very much in keeping with the tranquil sanctity of the original Christmas. Even the few secular gems included in the mix, such as the concluding rendition of the Lee Mendelson-Vince Gauraldi Charlie Brown Christmas classic, “Christmas Time Is Here,” are played with the same solemnity as the religious tunes, such that they fit right in with the overall feel of the album.

With On Christmas Night, Steven C has accomplished something quite rare – a holiday album that channels the magic, mystery, and mysticism of that first Christmas night so long ago.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 28, 2010

CD Review – Forget Me Not, Blue by Evan Wish

Evan Wish is a sensitive soul who wears his heart on his sleeve, and that thoughtful sensibility comes through in his gorgeous compositions and his skillful mastery of the piano as evidenced on his latest release.

Wish is deeply concerned about the human condition: how we treat our planet, how we treat each other. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the song “What Will Man’s Legacy Be,” which features a beautiful melody accompanied by readings of the great sayings of many of the world’s prominent historical progressive leaders, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The musical subject matter is not limited to political and social issues but also finds inspiration from family and past loves. “Tara” is dedicated to Wish’s daughter and conveys the love and pride he has for her. The title track, “Forget Me Not, Blue,” exudes eternal longing.

A three-piece string ensemble adds drama, emotion, and urgency to the proceedings without overwhelming the subtlety of Wish’s musical message.

As a whole, the album is pensive, introspective, and intensely personal. It is a musical meditation, a prayer for peace. In his own quiet, small way, Evan Wish has created a legacy of hope and value.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, November 20, 2010

CD Review – Beauty and Fire, by Tomas Michaud

This has been a great year for independent instrumental guitar releases, and the latest album by Tomas Michaud is no exception. Just like its title, Michaud’s CD is full of beauty and fire, but also passion, vigor, romance, and verve.

Michaud plays flamenco guitars, but this is by no means strictly flamenco guitar music. Even I sometimes forget that flamenco doesn’t just refer to a style of music, but a kind of guitar as well – namely, a Spanish, or nylon-string, guitar. And Michaud pushes the boundaries and exceeds the expectations of what a nylon-string guitar can be used for.

Sure, there are some latent flamenco rhythms deep in the background of some of the songs, but the compositions are much more than that. The tunes comprise a variety of musical genres and cultures, from New Age, jazz, and fusion to Latin, Asian, and Middle Eastern. The common thread that holds these wide-ranging sounds together is the beautiful, thoughtful, and intelligent lead- and rhythm-guitar playing of Michaud, who is backed by a solid band of musicians on bass, keyboards, percussion, and other instruments.

Two tunes in particular exemplify the cosmopolitan scope of Michaud’s writing. “Beauty and Fire” opens the album with an eclectic mix of East and West as a familiar Arabian melody ventures into Indian musical territory complete with tablas and sitars, all filtered through romantic jazz balladry. The smoldering, tempo-shifting “Night into Day (After the Storm)” starts off as a playful, jazzy exercise that shifts gears into a slow, hook-laden groove and back again, simulating the transition of the title and accompanied by the low rumblings of gentle thunder.

With its combination of nylon-string guitar, world music, and other exotic sounds, Beauty and Fire is a globetrotting feast for the ears.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CD Review – Gaia, by Dr. Michael Brant DeMaria

Gaia is psychologist, author, lecturer, and musician Dr. Michael Brant DeMaria’s ode to the planet we all call home, and as such, it plays like a sonic travelogue to many of the world’s ancient cultures.

The CD is truly an authentic representation of world music, with each track rooted deeply in the musical traditions of a particular nation, such as Japan, China, and the ancient Americas. As a result, the compositions are as exotic as the lands from which they draw their inspiration.

DeMaria uses his Native American flutes, keyboards, synthesizers, and other modern and ancient instruments to great effect, creating ethereal, nocturnal, and mystical textures of sound. He also performs tribal and primal chants with the use of reverberated vocals that are soothing, spiritual, and psychologically penetrating. This is music to meditate to.

Although DeMaria lives in Pensacola, Florida, the overall feel of the album made me think of the desert sun and the moonlit skies of the Midwest. It just has that New Age aura indicative of that region. And yet it is useful in a variety of settings: as calming and therapeutic music while driving or doing housework or just relaxing and meditating.

If you want to be transported to another time, place, and dimension, this CD is the perfect conduit. It sets the mood for you to become one with the universe, nature, and Earth itself.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, November 1, 2010

CD Review – The Grace of the Green Leaf, by Lis Addison

It may be fall, but the “grace of the green leaf” endures on Lis Addison’s latest collection of – as the subtitle puts it – “body chants and grooves.”

And groove the CD does. The album is full of driving, propulsive rhythms composed and performed by Addison on her keyboards and synthesizers. She creates graceful, soaring melodies accentuated by ethereal, otherworldly textures and dynamic bass lines.

The percussion is also spot-on. The percussion really shines on the second track, where it sounds like clapping or tap dancing, or perhaps a combination of both. Together with Addison’s keyboards and powerful vocals, it results in perhaps the most exhilarating and exuberant cut on the album.

Addison’s vocals are the most amazing thing about the CD. She doesn’t sing lyrics. Rather, she chants. However, this is not chanting in the typical sense, such as Gregorian chants or transcendental meditation. It’s actually more like singing chants. And although she is not singing actual words, she emerges as one of the most powerful female vocalists. Addison easily could have been a formidable female rock vocalist on the order of Stevie Nicks or the Wilson sisters of Heart. Addison uses her brilliantly multi-tracked vocals like an instrument, one that is so versatile in its timbre that it can sound like anything from a horn or an electric guitar to African tribal chants.

In fact, the juxtaposition of Addison’s singing chants and electronic grooves gives the album a tribal and primal yet high-tech and futuristic feel. It’s a winning combination that makes the CD stand out as the rare and uniquely exotic soundscape that it is.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

CD Review – Sacred Love, by Shambhu

New life has been breathed into the art of contemporary instrumental guitar with the first solo album of original material from veteran guitarist and composer Shambhu, aka Neil Vineberg. (Shambhu has a long list of impressive credits, having performed with Narada Michael Walden, Carlos Santana, and Clarence Clemons and recorded with Whitney Houston.)

Sacred Love is one of the most beautiful and most impressive guitar albums I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. One of the photographs on the CD, of Shambhu smiling meekly with his hand over his heart, might lead listeners to think that they are about to hear a collection of ponderous instrumental musings typically associated with New Age music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But this is not that album. (Incidentally, the photograph is appropriate in that it conveys the sense of the music coming from Shambhu’s heart and making its way into those of listeners, which it does).

The CD is brimming with masterfully played, boundary-crossing tunes touching everything from New Age and fusion to world music and smooth jazz. In fact, several cuts are radio-friendly and would be right at home on commercial jazz stations.

Shambhu wrote most of the compositions, co-wrote two or three, and plays acoustic and electric guitars. He also plays electric sitar, which reinforces the exotic Indian sounds of several tracks. This Southeast Asian influence is also reflected in the guitarist’s name, a Sanskrit word meaning “source of happiness,” which is an apt description of his music as well. Shambhu’s guitar and composing skills are comparable to those of Andy Summers, Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour, and Larry Carlton, as well as fellow independent newcomers such as Devin Rice and Erin Aas.

The rich, full sound of the CD is fleshed out by an amazing lineup of musicians, among them – to name just a very few – Tony Levin (John Lennon, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Andy Summers) on bass, Jeff Haynes (Pat Metheny) on percussion, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, and Charlie Bisharat on violin, with enchanting wordless vocals provided by Claytoven Richardson and Noah Wilding. Album producer Will Ackerman of Windham Hill Records and Private Music fame also lends his guitar and piano talents separately to a couple of tracks.

Sacred Love is an album that will satisfy many musical palates, not just those of guitar music fans. Shambhu is an artist to keep a close eye on. Hopefully this is the first of many more wonderful new albums to emerge from his creative vision.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CD Review – Christmas for Two, by Lisa Downing

At the ambidextrous hands of Lisa Downing, Christmas music isn’t just for Christmas anymore.

Christmas for Two is pianist Downing’s interpretation of several holiday standards. And by interpretation, I really mean interpretation. This is not a tired regurgitation of seasonal songs that everyone has heard millions of times over. Rather, Downing really interprets the songs, using them as jumping off points for new musical directions and really making them her own.

The result is an album whose appeal extends far beyond the yuletide. In fact, Christmas for Two can be listened to from two perspectives. On one level, the CD can be enjoyed as a collection of classic Christmas tunes with a musical twist. On another level, the album can be enjoyed simply as an album of beautiful piano arrangements that happen to reference familiar holiday themes.

The best thing about Christmas for Two is that it provides a great listening experience all year round, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. That is the mark of true artistry, especially as exhibited by Downing on this release. It’s also appropriate that a Christmas album be listenable anytime, because when you really think about it, the ideals and themes behind Christmas are about extolling them continually, regardless of the season.

Consider giving the gift of music with Christmas for Two, for Christmas or any occasion.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

CD Review – Northern Seas, by Al Conti

The Norse legends of old come to vivid, sparkling life in this multifaceted musical tapestry woven by actor, composer, and musician Al Conti. The fourth album from the multi-instrumentalist is steeped in Viking lore and, as such, brims with the mystery and mythology of those ancient times.

The proceedings begin with the sounds of rushing water and haunting wordless vocals as the seafaring Nordic warriors row their way through a “Veil of Mist” into the realm of the gods. The album is Conti’s personal tribute to such figures as Iounn (the subject of the lyrical “Spring Maiden”), Loki, Odin, Thor, and Baldur. The scope of the CD also includes the Valkyries, the downfall of the gods, and “The Rainbow Bridge.”

The music itself is lush, with rich layers of sound constructed by Conti’s keyboards, synthesizers, pump organ, accordion, and percussion, as well as violins, fiddles, Celtic whistles, and acoustic and electric guitars by other musicians. The result is an album full of dreamy lyricism, epic themes, and memorable melodies.

While the album generally falls into the category of New Age and world music, the most apt description is that it specifically sounds like what might be called medieval pop. In other words, it sounds like Sting at his best post-Police, except without Sting’s vocals. In fact, Sting and Al Conti should get together and collaborate. Sting could use the inspiration.

Northern Seas is definitely a keeper. It’s worthy of the gods, and worthy of your attention.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 26, 2010

CD Review – Another Place and Time, by Heidi Anne Breyer

Heidi Anne Breyer’s latest CD, Another Place and Time, takes you to the destination indicated by the title, a feat that can be accomplished only by powerful and evocative music, such as that contained on this excellent recording.

Breyer manages this with gentle and soothing piano-based compositions that quietly work their way into your senses. It almost feels like osmosis -- the music absorbs you and you absorb the music.

While Breyer’s piano is the center of attention here, the album wouldn’t be what it is without the support of a fine lineup of master musicians, including Eugene Friesen on cello, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Jeff Oster on flugelhorn, Jill Haley on English horn, and David Cullen and Will Ackerman (founder of Windham Hill Records/Private Music and the album’s producer) on guitar. Rather than joining in a tsunami of sound, the instruments are individually paired with the piano on various tracks, resulting primarily in a collection of duets that stir the soul.

With the exception of a track co-written and co-performed with Ackerman, Breyer composed all the other tracks, including one performed entirely on guitar by Cullen. Breyer’s songwriting, inspired by the artwork of her life partner Alexander Volkov, is as masterful as her brilliantly understated piano playing.

Although the album is named after one of the tracks, it’s the tune Chaconne for Our World that truly transports me to another place and time. There’s just something about the pairing of the piano and the horn on that track. But then again, there’s just something about the entire album.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 12, 2010

CD Review – Egypt: Mother of the World, by Riad Abdel-Gawad

I’m not comfortably familiar with Middle Eastern music, but I know a good musician when I hear one, and Riad Abdel-Gawad certainly fits that bill.

On his second album, the Egyptian-born composer-performer (a Harvard graduate with a PhD in musical composition) showcases his exemplary violin (kamanga) playing in exotic Middle Eastern tuning and scales. Abdel-Gawad is a master of both his instrument and the music he produces with it. He plies his trade with unfaltering, steady, and confident note-precision virtuosity. The music is equally challenging and kinetic, with constantly changing time signatures, tempos, melodies, motifs, and riffs, all within the same song.

Abdel-Gawad has a great band of musicians backing him up: Mohamed Foda (Fouda) on nay (bamboo flute), Saber Abdel-Sattar on qānūn (plucked dulcimer), Yousri Abdel-Maqsoud on bongos, duff, and riqq (tambourine), and Hesham Makarem on the oud (lute). Although Abdel-Gawad is the lead composer and performer, he functions simultaneously as bandleader, soloist, and ensemble player. Through it all, Abdel-Gawad’s fellow musicians stay with him every step of the way, never missing a beat. This is one of the tightest, well-coordinated musical units I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

The recording quality and presentation of the music is top-notch, as well. The sound is so intimate and well-defined that it feels as if you’re right next to the bandstand. The packaging material is also exquisite, with beautiful art on the cover and in the CD holder, and a glossy sixteen-panel foldout featuring vivid color photography of the artist and his violin amidst Egyptian landmarks, as well as detailed descriptions of the meanings, inspirations, and intentions behind the music.

All around, this is an exceptional offering from a dedicated and innovative artist. If you’re looking for a great introduction to Middle Eastern music, this is definitely a wonderful place to start.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

TV – Trek into History

Forty-four years ago today, William Shatner logged his first Stardate entry as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on NBC’s Star Trek. Thus began a sci-fi and pop cultural phenomenon that would trek far beyond anyone’s expectations.

Shatner played Kirk for the following three years, later voicing the role on the 1973-1975 NBC Saturday morning cartoon and then returning as the character in live action for seven big-budget theatrical motion pictures from 1979 to 1994.

The franchise has lived long and prospered beyond Shatner’s participation, with four additional television series spanning 18 consecutive years, as well as four additional movies and counting.

Shatner hasn’t done badly for himself, either. He has maintained the highest, most visible profile of any Star Trek actor, writing several Star Trek and other science fiction novels and starring in several TV shows, including T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911, TekWar, Boston Legal, and the soon-to-premiere CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says. Let’s not forget Shatner’s long-running stint as the spokesman for, the latest incarnation being his role as the Priceline Negotiator.

Shatner’s career can basically be divided into two phases: Star Trek and William Shatner.

But Star Trek is where it all began, 44 years ago today.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Them Duke Boys!

Click for more on the Dukes Ride Again.

That’s right! Them Duke boys are back, never meanin’ no harm and causing all manner of mayhem in Hazzard County. The Dukes of Hazzard returns to CMT weeknights at 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., beginning with a marathon of 33 classic episodes on the weekend of September 10-12.

The 1979-1985 CBS series – about cousins Bo, Luke, and Daisy Duke and their Uncle Jesse running afoul of the corrupt, corpulent Boss Hogg and his shifty-eyed, beagle-loving henchman, Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane – set the stage for the action-comedy adventure shows of the 1980s, such as Magnum P.I., The Greatest American Hero, Knight Rider, The A-Team, Simon and Simon, Matt Houston, and Remington Steele. The show’s single greatest contribution to the genre was gravity-defying car chases complete with multi-angled point-of-view shots: in front of the car, underneath the car, behind the car, behind the tires, etc. In fact, cars lifted off so often on the show that even the show’s narrator and theme song composer-performer, Waylon Jennings (“The Balladeer”), once proclaimed that “Hazzard is the only county that needs an air traffic controller for the cars.”

CMT first aired The Dukes of Hazzard back in 1997, which was a banner year for the classic show. Not only was the series airing every weeknight at 7:00 p.m., but the original cast had reunited for a major network television reunion movie appropriately titled The Dukes of Hazzard Reunion. The only cast member sorely missing from the reunion was the late Sorrell Booke, the criminal and curmudgeonly but cuddly and lovable Boss Hogg. Naturally, Sheriff Rosco took over for his former mentor and was now Boss Rosco. The Dukes’ second and last reunion movie, Hazzard in Hollywood, aired in 2000.

I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing both John Schneider (Bo Duke) and Tom Wopat (Luke Duke) separately over the telephone for the occasion of the CMT reruns and the first reunion movie. I also wanted to interview James Best (Sheriff Rosco), but the CBS publicist wasn’t sure if he was still alive, so that was a lost opportunity. By the way, that reminds me: I had better head on over to James Best’s Web site,, and order an autographed copy of his autobiography before he really is gone. As Sheriff Rosco would say, “I love it, I love it, I love it! Kyugh, kyugh, kyugh!”

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, September 6, 2010

CD Review – Heart Strings, by Steven C.


For his latest recording, Heart Strings, pianist Steven C. traveled to the famed Abbey Road Studio in England to lay down gorgeous melodies with the backing of the London Symphony Strings. The result is a musical work of art that exudes elegance and class.

A piano combined with orchestral strings could be ripe for dramatic, over-the-top bombast. Thankfully, Steven C. forgoes keyboard histrionics in favor of subtle, nuanced phrasing whose quiet beauty is underscored by the sweet serenity of the strings.

The interplay between soloist and ensemble creates a synergy that infuses the album’s fifteen tracks with delightful buoyancy that rolls off the ear like a sonic waterfall. All the tunes have their own individual voice and yet have a singular, unified character that enables them to segue from one to another seamlessly.

The tranquil nature of the album provides the perfect environment for relaxation and reflection. It also satisfies on an emotional level. As the title suggests, the music created by Steven C. and his collaborators will tug at your heartstrings.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Movies – Changing Lanes

There are movies, such as the ones listed in my profile, that I will watch over and over again for as long as I live. And there are movies that, regardless of whether they’re good or bad, once I’ve seen them, I’m good for life. And then there are those movies that fall into neither camp but were so compelling the first time around that, when the opportunity arises, I would watch them again. Changing Lanes is one such movie.

The 2002 drama aired last Thursday on My9 Network in the New York City area, and once again I found myself deeply engrossed in the drama of two motorists (Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson) who, after getting into an accident on a New York City highway, proceed to turn each other’s life upside down and in the process become unraveled by their own doing. What starts out as a road rage thriller turns into a soul-baring personal journey of self-discovery and the quest for ethical equilibrium in a world in which the end justifies the means.

Dylan Baker exudes reptilian slime as a cyber “fixer” who helps Affleck unleash virtual demons on Jackson. And the outstanding William Hurt provides great support as Jackson’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who tries to rescue Jackson from demons in a bottle.

I am not a fan of Affleck, and Jackson is more fun and larger than life in his big franchise roles such as the Star Wars prequels and the Marvel superhero movies and kitsch such as Shaft, Snakes on a Plane, and The Other Guys. However, Changing Lanes stands among the finest work of both of their careers and is a cinematic gem worth seeking out.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, August 30, 2010

TV – Congratulations to Eric Stonestreet and Modern Family on Their Emmy Wins

I’m very happy that Eric Stonestreet won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on ABC’s Modern Family, which also won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Comedy Series, which I am equally very happy about.

Everyone from that show deserves an Emmy, because they are all fantastic. They are one of the funniest ensembles on television right now.

Before the show premiered, I had set my mind on watching it solely because of the participation of Ed O’Neill, whom I’m a fan of from his iconic, outrageously over-the-top turn as Al Bundy on the 1987-1997 smash hit FOX sitcom Married with Children. I wasn’t expecting much, though, because O’Neill hadn’t made much of an impression since the monster success of Married with Children. Sure enough, when Modern Family started, I wasn’t keen on O’Neill’s new role. Not because he wasn’t funny, but because, compared to the live-action cartoonish buffoonery of Al Bundy, O’Neill’s quieter, subtle humor on Modern Family was more like Agnes of God.

From the get-go, however, the situations and characters have been hilarious, and O’Neill has grown nicely into his role as the grandfather patriarch of his extended family.

So kudos to Stonestreet, O’Neill, and the cast and crew of Modern Family for producing an Emmy-winning comedy that is actually worthy of our time, our involvement, and most importantly, our laughter.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 29, 2010

CD Review – Simple Beauty, by Bill Leslie

Simple Beauty

Picking a title for a film, book, CD, or any work of art can be a tricky thing because it can come back to bite the artist, especially in the form of critics who are chomping at the bit to turn pun-ready titles into dreadful displays of derision. Composer and musician Bill Leslie has picked one such title for his new CD, Simple Beauty, but thankfully, it can do no wrong because, although Leslie may not have intended it, it perfectly describes the quality of his latest recording.

Leslie was probably inspired by the beauty from the vantage point of his mountain retreat near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina’s Glade Valley, which gets its own musical tribute here. Still, the album title is an apt appraisal of the musical aesthetic sculpted by Leslie and his studio cohorts.

The CD is perfect from beginning to end. The music will wash over you and enrapture you with its lyrical and melodic beauty. Compositionally, many of the songs were inspired by some of Leslie’s favorite Celtic artists, including Nightnoise and Clannad. Even with the Celtic influence, though, the music has a very distinctive Americana feel to it.

Leslie is not only a brilliant composer, but an excellent musician as well. He plays Celtic whistles, acoustic guitar, bass, piano, and keyboards. Not surprisingly, the acoustic guitar dominates, especially since, judging by the artwork of the CD packaging, the acoustic guitar appears to be Leslie’s favorite instrument. Leslie is also joined by Bill Covington on grand piano, Brent Cotten on acoustic guitar, Leslie’s son Will on percussion, Jennifer Curtis on violin, Nancy Green on cello, and Linda Metz on flute. The result is music that is so hypnotically absorbing in its lush richness that it is easy to forget the technical prowess of the players.

This is a CD that most people should enjoy. It will touch their hearts just as it was touched by Bill Leslie’s heart, especially considering the musical expressions of personal aspects of his life, including his daughter and his new canine companion. It is warm, pleasant, and inviting. It is also enriching, inspiring, and uplifting. This is musical nourishment for the soul.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – New Andy Summers Album Due Shortly

Centerpeace (feat. Andy Summers)

I’m very excited to report that Andy Summers’ newest album is almost here. Called Spirit Garden, the CD is a collection of guitar duets featuring Summers and classical guitarist Andrew York. In addition to acoustic and electric guitars, Summers and York also play other instruments. The duo’s collaboration began on the title track of York’s latest album, Centerpeace, which is available now. More information on Centerpeace and Spirit Garden can be found at

Summers was the guitarist for the mega-popular rock band The Police, who were active in the late 1970s and early 1980s and reunited for a 30th anniversary tour in 2007 and 2008. Being a good decade older than his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland, Summers began his professional recording career in the early 1960s, playing for Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band (which later became the psychedelic but short-lived Dantalian’s Chariot), Eric Burdon’s New Animals, and Soft Machine. After formally studying guitar at Northridge University in California from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Summers returned to England and plied his trade as a session guitarist for Joan Armatrading, Neil Sedaka, Kevin Coyne, and Deep Purple’s Jon Lord before achieving monumental success and international stardom with The Police.

After the dissolution of The Police in the early 1980s, Summers scored some Hollywood films (Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Weekend at Bernie’s) and recorded one rock vocal album before establishing himself as an acclaimed and accomplished contemporary instrumental guitarist across a variety of styles, including jazz, fusion, New Age, and world music.

For a good overview of Summers’ solo work, I highly recommend the following albums: Mysterious Barricades, A Windham Hill Retrospective, Synaesthesia, and The X Tracks. My personal favorite Summers albums are Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, Charming Snakes, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth and Sky, and First You Build a Cloud.

--Raj Manoharan