Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!


Today is the 70th 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.
 
I was privileged to interview Summers by telephone in Fall 2000 for the January 2001 issue of DirecTV: The Guide. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Summers posted a notice of the interview in the news section of his Web site. Later, I met Summers in person during his book tour in Fall 2006, just a few months before The Police reunited for a 30th anniversary reunion tour, which I was fortunate to attend twice in August of 2007 and 2008.
 
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

CD Retro (Fan) Review – World Gone Strange, by Andy Summers


Of all of Andy Summers’ albums, this one has really resonated with me over the years. In fact, as I get older, I find myself returning to it again and again. It's the most focused, consistent, and guitar-centric album of Summers’ entire solo discography.
 
There’s no flash or pizazz here – just classy, elegant electric guitar music, with hints of jazz, blues, and funk. There isn’t one lackluster tune on the CD. It is flawless from beginning to end.
 
Summers’ spot-on backing band includes Tony Levin on bass, Mitchell Forman on keyboards, and Chad Wackerman on drums, with guest performances by Eliane Elias on piano, Victor Bailey on bass, Nana Vasconcelos and Manola Badrena on percussion, producer Mike Manieri on marimba, and Bendik on soprano saxophone.
 
Andy Summers has a varied body of work, all of which is enjoyable, some more than others. I consider this to be his most timeless and universal. It’s my favorite.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!


Today is the 70th birthday of Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat).
 
Of all of The Monkees, Nesmith has had the most prolific and successful solo career. He pioneered the country-rock music format in the early to mid-1970s, founded the music and video label Pacific Arts, and basically created the concept of MTV. In addition to producing films and music videos, Nesmith also won the very first Grammy Award for Best Home Video for Elephant Parts, which later led to NBC’s short-lived Television Parts. In an interesting side note, Nesmith’s mother invented liquid paper and sold it to Gillette for a substantial fortune, which Nesmith inherited.
 
Nesmith has been very busy in the last year, performing several solo tour dates in the United Kingdom and rejoining the surviving Monkees for a small tour in the United States.
 
For a good overview of Nesmith’s solo music career, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, and Rays.
 
More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at www.videoranch.com.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 23, 2012

CD Review – Crystal Bowl Sound Healing, by Tryshe Dhevney


Tryshe Dhevney has created a symphony of cavernous, crystalline sound, in a “recording studio” seventy feet below the surface of Earth in the Colossal Cave of the eponymous national park outside Tucson, Arizona.
 
Dhevney’s ethereal orchestra consists of 28 alchemy crystal singing bowls made of precious gemstones, minerals, and metals, resulting in a mysterious, mystical sound that, while emanating from deep within the bowels of Earth, is yet not of this Earth. Dhevney also had the serendipity of having flittering bats make their presence known on the recording, adding to the eerie beauty of the proceedings.
 
The tones that Dhevney generates from her crystal singing bowls are soothing on the soul and reveal their full potency especially at nighttime.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, December 15, 2012

CD Review – Yoga Is Union: Music for Yoga and Relaxation, by Tom Colletti


In keeping with the title of his latest album, Tom Colletti showcases several tracks that promote union with yoga practice.
 
Colletti uses his keyboards and synthesizers to generate ethereal, atmospheric textures consisting of entrancing bass lines and hypnotic percussion that help attune body, mind, and soul in preparation for and during yoga exercises.
 
Even if you’re not into yoga, the music is perfect for calmness and relaxation and is a great soundtrack for commuting or traveling.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 7, 2012

CD Retro (Fan) Review – Justus, by The Monkees


This year has been a bittersweet one for The Monkees, beginning with the passing of Davy Jones in February at the age of 66, and ending with the conclusion this month of the reunion tour of the remaining Monkees.
 
This has led me to listen once again to Justus, an original studio album that was released during The Monkees’ 30th anniversary in 1996. It is the first album to feature The Monkees writing, producing, and performing all the songs entirely by themselves, and the last album to feature all four Monkees.
 
The Monkees have always been famously maligned for not writing their own songs and playing their own instruments on the majority of their hit recordings in the 1960s. Still, The Monkees at one point outsold both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, proving that music lovers and buyers connect above all else with the songs themselves and the singers who sing them.
 
On Justus, The Monkees prove that in addition to being fine singers, they are also excellent musicians. In fact, they’re so good that it’s easy to forget that they’re playing the instruments in addition to singing. Micky Dolenz plays drums, Davy Jones plays percussion, Peter Tork plays bass and keyboards, and Michael Nesmith (the predominant holdout from various Monkees reunions throughout the years, and the one who looks the least like his former self) plays guitars.
 
My favorite songs on the album are Nesmith’s progressive, rollicking redo of his Monkees tune “Circle Sky,” the Nesmith-penned rant rocker “Admiral Mike” with aggressive, in-your-face vocals by Dolenz, the Dolenz hard rocker “Regional Girl,” Tork’s Cars-like “Run Away From Life” sung by Jones and featuring an ‘80s-style synthesizer solo, Tork’s haunting “I Believe You,” Dolenz’s self-reliance and self-empowerment ode “It’s My Life,” and Jones’s album-closing anthem “It’s Not Too Late.”
 
In light of the fact that Davy Jones is the first of The Monkees to leave us, it’s especially fitting that his are the last lead vocals on the album, especially on a song that could be as much about the relationship of The Monkees as it is about the relationship of a couple.
 
Because of this, no matter what the remaining Monkees do or don’t do, they will never have any unfinished business.
 
Monkees forever!
 
--Raj Manoharan
 
Personal Monkees Tidbit: I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Tork in the early 1990s at a local cable television station where I had been working. Tork was the latest in a long line of vintage celebrity guests on the poor man’s David Letterman show that was produced there. I was working master control for the station (I had nothing to do with the show at the time), and Tork came in asking for a bandage for his nicked finger. (I had actually met him earlier in the evening and gotten his autograph on a Monkees LP.) I don’t remember whether I was able to give him a bandage or had to refer him somewhere else, but, ah, what a memory! --RM

TV – Weekly William Shatner 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 Monday through Saturday in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms.

First up, 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 most weeknights at 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday after midnight, and Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Universal HD.

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. And who could forget that Shatastic ‘80s perm? (Was it real or was it a hairpiece? Find out at www.shatnerstoupee.blogspot.com.) The series also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and Shatner’s fellow aging pretty boy James Darren.

Then, catch Shatner two decades earlier in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 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 (again—real or fake? Check out www.shatnerstoupee.blogspot.com). Shatner’s partners in pop cultural perpetuity include Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

So don’t forget to enjoy William Shatner in two of his most memorable TV roles. Tune in five nights (and four early mornings) a week, same Shat time, same Shat channel! (Actually, that's five different times on two different channels.)

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Retro TV Roundup

If the current slate of programming on broadcast, cable, satellite, and pay TV hasn’t caught your fancy, there are plenty of old favorites to catch up and relive the good old days with on the slew of retro television networks that are booming in popularity.

First up, you can watch William Shatner in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms. 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 no-nonsense police sergeant T.J. Hooker.

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. The series, which also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and fellow aging pretty boy James Darren, airs most weeknights at 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday after midnight, and Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Universal HD.

Then, catch Shatner two decades earlier in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 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. Remarkably, 46 years after the show’s debut, with the exception of DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty), the other five main cast members are still with us.

By the way, if you love classic television, Me TV should be your first and last stop on the dial. In addition to featuring scores of classic television shows, the network features brilliant commercials touting its various slogans composed entirely of expertly spliced-together clips from all of its shows. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

Between Me TV and Antenna TV, weekend afternoons and evenings make for a veritable bonanza of retro classics. Saturdays and Sundays on Antenna TV, Martin Milner and Kent McCord patrol the streets of Los Angeles as Officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed on Adam-12 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Then, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan take over as Los Angeles plainclothes detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon on Dragnet from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturdays on Me TV, Adam West and Burt Ward star as the caped-crusading dynamic duo Batman and Robin, who race in the Batmobile to save Gotham City from a comical cavalcade of costumed crackpots, with little help from a hilariously inept police force, in the 1960s pop cultural phenomenon Batman. The show airs at 7:00 p.m. and is followed by Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space at 8:00 p.m. and Star Trek at 9:00 p.m.

You can take your pick of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bale as the various Dark Knights (Keaton and Bale are my personal favorite modern movie Batmen), but no matter what the fanboys naysay, Adam West (who also played Batman on the big screen) made the most indelible and lasting mark of any of them on pop culture. He is the one Batman to rule them all.

Check your local listings or go online to learn about all the great classic shows airing on Antenna TV, Me TV, TV Land, and Universal HD.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, December 3, 2012

CD Review – Solace, by Michael Brant DeMaria

Psychologist and recording artist Michael Brant DeMaria’s latest album collects several tracks from his previous CDs that all have in common the musical refuge of the title.

DeMaria builds layers of sound using keyboards, synthesizers, flutes, and gentle percussion, resulting in music that soothes, consoles, and rejuvenates. The music has a palpable, primal power that works its way into you and reverberates within your being.

This is a fine introduction to the gentler side of DeMaria’s music, and it’s great for unwinding, reflecting, and meditating.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, November 26, 2012

CD Review – The Maiden of Stonehenge, by Michael Brant DeMaria


This CD is a soundtrack to Florida’s Pensacola Little Theatre production of the same name co-written and coproduced by psychologist and recording artist Michael Brant DeMaria.
 
The play revolves around a young girl in Ancient Britain who sets out in search of acceptance and a new start, embarking on a deeply personal journey of exploration and self-discovery that culminates at the iconic assemblage of mythical stone structures in England.
 
As befits the mystical story and setting, the music is appropriately dark and mysterious, its nocturnal enchantment truly coming alive during a nighttime drive on forest roads beneath a starry sky. Given that the play revolves around an excursion, the album is ideal as a soundtrack for traveling. DeMaria works from a sonic reservoir full of keyboards and synthesizers, flutes, percussion, and chants, resulting in a rich, thought-provoking, otherworldly sound. Maggie Crain, the lead actress from the play, also provides serene vocals on a couple of tracks.
 
Judging from the song titles, themes, and story strands explained in the liner notes, I imagine that the music on this CD brings the play to life like no standard soundtrack could. However, the album also stands on its own as a penetrating piece of art conducive to pause and reflection.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 18, 2012

TV – Goodbye Carly


This Thanksgiving weekend marks the end of an era as iCarly concludes five and a half glorious seasons as the most popular show in Nickelodeon history. The series has been so successful that its reach has expanded well beyond its niche network fan base and demographic, ensuring its place in the annals of pop culture.
 
The show revolves around teenage friends who produce a popular Internet variety show. However, the focus is not so much the Web program as it is the friends themselves, as well as their peers, family members, and schoolteachers. This is why the show is so relatable to kids and adults. Also, the fact that the main characters produce a Web show is far from far-fetched in this day and age. Not many people can relate to attending a performing arts high school or living on a cruise ship. But anyone can have a Web site or a blog – even me.
 
The show’s widespread success is also due to the fact that it is actually funny. This is no surprise considering that the series’ creator and executive producer is Dan Schneider, who starred as one of the high school students in the 1980s ABC sitcom Head of the Class before becoming one of Nickelodeon’s most successful writer-producers. In fact, I dare say that iCarly is far superior to most of the sitcoms on network television today.
 
It has been a pleasure to watch these talented kids grow up. And the show wouldn’t be what it is without the excellent grown-up actors as well, especially Jerry Trainor (who resembles Jerry O’Connell and has the comic elasticity of Jim Carrey) and Tim Russ (who played Vulcan security officer Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager and who here as Principal Franklin implores his students to “study hard and prosper”).
 
Even though two of the teenage actors will continue playing their characters in two new Nickelodeon shows, it just won’t be the same. The kid and adult ensemble cast have a unique chemistry that will be hard to replicate, if ever.
 
Farewell, iCarly, and thanks for the laughs.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 2, 2012

Please Stand By

My thoughts and condolences go out to the families, friends, and loved ones of those who didn't make it, as well as to all those who are enduring and suffering extreme hardship as they deal with the loss of their homes and struggle to survive without the basic necessities of life.

As far as I know, all of my family, friends, and colleagues in this area are fine, and I am thankful for that.

I myself had a couple of close encounters, and so I am thankful that I am able to write this, even as there are damages and other issues to contend with.

To all the artists who have sent me copies of their CDs and not seen reviews yet, please bear with me. It will be at least a couple of weeks before I get going again. In addition, I have a huge backlog, so it may be a couple of months before you see your reviews. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Again, I send my best to all those recovering in the New York Metropolitan/Tri-State Area, as well as up and down the East Coast and other affected areas/regions.

Raj

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

CD Review – Eleven Drops, by Paz del Castillo


The latest release from Paz del Castillo features eleven solo piano tracks that reveal the artist to be a dynamic composer and performer and a master of taste and subtlety.
 
For Castillo, the title of the album conveys the idea that each tune on the album is like an individual drop of water that represents a different aspect of her life, mood, and/or personality. This is absolutely the case because the songs run the gamut of emotions and feelings, from inner peace and calm, to mystery and discovery, to wonder and awe.
 
The title is also apt in the sense that, although each number is unique and distinct, the album flows from one track to the next with a consistency and effortlessness that result in a unifying whole, like drops of water becoming a steady stream. Castillo’s dexterity and creativity engage the listener from beginning to end, making this a satisfying and enlightening experience.
 
This is another worthy offering that will be appreciated by aficionados of solo piano music.
 
--Raj Manoharan

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

Saturday, October 27, 2012

CD Retro (Fan) Review – World Gone Strange, by Andy Summers


I’ve been listening to a bunch of old Andy Summers albums in between my regular CD reviews, and this one has really been resonating with me. In fact, as I get older, I find myself returning to it again and again. It's the most focused, consistent, and guitar-centric album of Summers’ entire solo discography.
 
There’s no flash or pizazz here – just classy, elegant electric guitar music, with hints of jazz, blues, and funk. There isn’t one lackluster tune on the CD. It is flawless from beginning to end.
 
Summers’ spot-on backing band includes Tony Levin on bass, Mitchell Forman on keyboards, and Chad Wackerman on drums, with guest performances by Eliane Elias on piano, Victor Bailey on bass, Nana Vasconcelos and Manola Badrena on percussion, producer Mike Manieri on marimba, and Bendik on soprano saxophone.
 
Andy Summers has a varied body of work, all of which is enjoyable, some more than others. I consider this to be his most timeless and universal. It’s my favorite.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 21, 2012

CD Review – What’s Real? by Silentaria


If you’ve been a loyal viewer of the Fox Broadcasting Network over the last 15 to 20 years, you might remember an enigmatic illusionist who went by the moniker of the Masked Magician for his dark, face-obscuring apparel and who revealed all the secrets of his trade. Now we have a Masked Musician with a similar appearance but who’s covered in white, and rather than reveal the mysteries that inform his shadowy music, he leaves them for the listener to ruminate upon and unravel.
 
The fact that Silentaria, aka Rixa White, wears a fa├žade takes the focus off his identity and visage and puts it squarely on his music. His mask also reflects the main theme of his muse, that of the tenuous line between illusion and reality.
 
But whatever his motivation, the significant factor here is his sonic artistry, which I would call orchestral electronica. Silentaria builds a basic foundation with keyboards and synthesizers and then adds flutes, violins, strings, drums, percussion, digital choirs, and electric guitars to the mix, creating an intoxicating blend that is at once ominous and exhilarating, electronic and organic, introspective and grandiose. This is music that is visceral in its pungency and cinematic in its reach. Silentaria’s work here reminds me of Jan Hammer’s darkly dynamic Miami Vice soundtracks, filtered through Silentaria’s unique mind’s eye.
 
If you desire to embark on a musical sojourn beyond the ordinary, take a ride with Silentaria. You will not be disappointed.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 14, 2012

CD Review – Tales of a Gypsy, by Johannes Linstead


Johannes Linstead is a true gypsy indeed, and not just because the guitarist is of English-German descent and divides the year between his native Canada and the Dominican Republic. He is a world traveler, both literally and figuratively, in the language of music, and the Spanish guitar is his passport.
 
Linstead’s guitar is the musical thread that weaves together a multilayered fabric consisting of his keyboards, udu drum, shakers, and percussion effects, as well as congas, bongos, drums, oud, acoustic guitar, accordion, timbales, doumbek, pan pipes, operatic voice, and violin from an outstanding lineup of excellent musicians. The result is a musical mosaic that reflects a diverse range of styles including flamenco, merengue, classical, new age, and jazz. This is truly a fusion of world music, presented with unrelenting passion and vigor.
 
The album shows Linstead to be one of the most accomplished guitarists and composers on the music scene. His far-reaching vision and his ability to execute it, both on his instrument and as a bandleader, bring this CD to life. These are gypsy tales you won’t tire of hearing.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 7, 2012

CD Review – Zion and Bryce Canyon Soundscapes, by Jill Haley


Jill Haley, who plays English horn on many of the CDs reviewed on this site, presents a collection of original compositions inspired by and dedicated to the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah. Naturally, the music is as grand and as epic as the subject matter that informs it.
 
In addition to English horn, Haley also plays piano and oboe on the recording. She is joined by David Cullen on guitars and bass, Dana Cullen on French horn, and Graham Cullen on cello. While Haley’s compositions and instruments are the major components of the album, the contributions by the Cullens are just as integral to the overall musical portrait Haley paints of these majestic American landscapes.
 
The key to unlocking the beauty and grandeur of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks in musical form is in creating subtle and gentle impressions that evoke humbled awe. Haley understands this and executes this with aplomb, aided and abetted by the skillful and passionate playing of the Cullens. As enjoyable as this CD will be to anyone who appreciates well-crafted instrumental music, I imagine that this would be a perfect soundtrack to take on a trip to the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
 
An added bonus to the release is the album package itself, which includes Haley’s photographs of the Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks and makes for a nice commemorative keepsake. The cover features a beautiful photograph of one of the stunning rock canyons, and the attached interior 12-page photo booklet includes more breathtaking views of the park sites that inspired each of the tracks.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 22, 2012

TV – Weekly William Shatner 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 Monday through Saturday in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms.

First up, 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 weeknights at 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday at 3:00 a.m., and Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Universal HD.

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. And who could forget that Shatastic ‘80s perm? (Was it real or was it a hairpiece? Find out at www.shatnerstoupee.blogspot.com.) The series also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and Shatner’s fellow aging pretty boy James Darren.

Then, catch Shatner two decades earlier in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 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 (again—real or fake? Check out www.shatnerstoupee.blogspot.com). Shatner’s partners in pop cultural perpetuity include Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.

So don’t forget to enjoy William Shatner in two of his most memorable TV roles. Tune in six nights (and four early mornings) a week, same Shat time, same Shat channel! (Actually, that’s five different times on two different channels – see above.)

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 16, 2012

CD Review – Beyond the Turning, by Heidi Breyer


Heidi Breyer unleashes a tour-de-force of musicality that leaves strong and vivid impressions long after the last note plays.
 
The sensitive pianist really ups the ante on this offering with a stellar lineup of top-notch musicians that makes the compositions come alive with passion. The CD starts off with a tender duet between Breyer’s comforting keys and David Cullen’s searing electric guitar tones.
 
From there, the album provides a steady flow of pensive emotion sustained by intricate solo, duo, and trio performances. Breyer’s collaborators include Cullen on acoustic guitar, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Eugene Friesen on cello, Jill Haley on English horn, Samite on vocals, flutes, and adungu (a nine-string African harp), Premik Russell-Tubbs on lyricon and saxophone, Bob Colwell on accordion, Marc Enfroy on string group coordination, Max MacFarland and Michael Manring on bass, Steve Holley on drums, and Jeff Haynes on percussion.
 
In coordinating all of this musical chemistry, Breyer has created a unique album of exotic sounds and deep personal insight whose appeal will reach far and wide beyond just fans of piano music.
 
--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 15, 2012

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

Since Eric Johnson's Up Close tour is still going strong in 2012, I decided to revisit my review of the December 2010 release, which I'll be listening to again this week.

The seventh studio album from Grammy Award-winning Texas guitar hero Eric Johnson is quite the trip. 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 22 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

TV – Retro TV Roundup

If the current slate of programming on broadcast, cable, satellite, and pay TV hasn’t caught your fancy, there are plenty of old favorites to catch up and relive the good old days with on the slew of retro television networks that are booming in popularity.

First up, you can watch William Shatner in all his scenery-chewing and over-the-top gut-busting glory in two different decades in two different uniforms. 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 no-nonsense police sergeant T.J. Hooker.

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. The series, which also stars the adorably smug Adrian Zmed, a very fresh-faced Heather Locklear, and fellow aging pretty boy James Darren, airs weeknights at 7:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday at 3:00 a.m., and Fridays at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Universal HD.

Then, catch Shatner two decades earlier in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 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. Remarkably, 46 years after the show’s debut, with the exception of DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) and James Doohan (Scotty), the other five main cast members are still with us.

By the way, if you love classic television, Me TV should be your first and last stop on the dial. In addition to featuring scores of classic television shows, the network features brilliant commercials touting its various slogans composed entirely of expertly spliced-together clips from all of its shows. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

Between Me TV and Antenna TV, weekend afternoons and evenings make for a veritable bonanza of retro classics. Saturdays and Sundays on Antenna TV, Martin Milner and Kent McCord patrol the streets of Los Angeles as Officers Pete Malloy and Jim Reed on Adam-12 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Then, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan take over as Los Angeles plainclothes detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon on Dragnet from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Saturdays on Me TV, Adam West and Burt Ward star as the caped-crusading dynamic duo Batman and Robin, who race in the Batmobile to save Gotham City from a comical cavalcade of costumed crackpots, with little help from a hilariously inept police force, in the 1960s pop cultural phenomenon Batman. The show airs at 7:00 p.m. and is followed by Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space at 8:00 p.m. and Star Trek at 9:00 p.m.

You can take your pick of Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bale as the various Dark Knights (Keaton and Bale are my personal favorite modern movie Batmen), but no matter what the fanboys naysay, Adam West (who also played Batman on the big screen) made the most indelible and lasting mark of any of them on pop culture. He is the one Batman to rule them all.

Check your local listings or go online to learn about all the great classic shows airing on Antenna TV, Me TV, TV Land, and Universal HD.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 9, 2012

CD Review – Los Angeles Blues, by Ciro Hurtado

Equipped with only a single acoustic guitar, acclaimed veteran six-stringer Ciro Hurtado unleashes a full, rich plethora of sound that fuses global styles as diverse as the Americas, the British Isles, and continental Europe.

Hurtado combines the Andes mountain music of his Peruvian homeland with the trappings of Spanish flamenco, American folk music, and the snappy jazz of his adopted hometown of Los Angeles. The influences of Celtic music and childhood rock ‘n’ roll favorites such as The Beatles and Led Zeppelin can also be heard in his vibrant compositions.

This blend of the exotic and the familiar makes the album instantly accessible and enjoyable. Listeners can revel in musical motifs that they recognize while broadening their musical horizons thanks to Hurtado’s international flavorings.

Hurtado’s playing is just as inspired and invigorating as his writing. Using just one acoustic guitar on the entire recording, Hurtado employs his all-encompassing finger-style approach to create a full spectrum of chords, melodies, and rhythms on each track.

Hurtado has produced a solo guitar album that is easily one of the best in the genre, one that can be enjoyed over and over from beginning to end.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 8, 2012

TV – Star Trek, Which Turns 46 Today, Keeps on Trekkin’ on Me TV

Forty-six years ago today, William Shatner logged his first Stardate entry as Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise on NBC’s Star Trek, and there’s no better way to celebrate than watching an episode of the classic show tonight at 9:00 p.m. on Me TV.

The groundbreaking program initiated a sci-fi and pop cultural phenomenon that would trek far beyond anyone’s expectations.

Shatner played Kirk during Star Trek’s 1966-1969 run, 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. Most of Shatner’s fellow original series actors accompanied him on these later adventures, with nearly the entire cast starring together in Star Treks I through VI.

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 as well as multiple memoirs and autobiographies, and starring in several TV shows, including T.J. Hooker, Rescue 911, TekWar, and Boston Legal. Let’s not forget Shatner’s long-running stint as the spokesman for Priceline.com, 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, 46 years ago today.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 2, 2012

CD Review – These Are the Moments, by Michael Dulin

Michael Dulin presents a collection of fifteen piano performances from his six previous albums over the last decade, punctuated by a new bonus track for the occasion of this retrospective.

The prolific, veteran musician delivers stunning renditions of Rachmaninoff, Satie, and Beethoven, alongside which his own compositions stand tall and proud. In fact, the influence of these composers is evident in Dulin’s writing, which features his own unique musical voice.

Dulin also demonstrates his masterful command of various styles, switching effortlessly between solo piano numbers, duets, and trios, giving us a taste of his equal adroitness in classical, new age, and smooth jazz. The new bonus track, the music of which is composed by Dulin, also features lyrics and vocals by Jeania Major, a singing finalist in auditions for Cirque de Soleil. The combination of Major’s voice and Dulin’s keyboard skills is simply exquisite.

This is a fine album for anyone interested in piano-based music with a few different flavors.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 25, 2012

TV – Me TV Remembers William Windom

Me TV just proved once again what an awesome network it is. In honor of prolific television and film actor William Windom, who passed away this week at the age of 88, the channel aired the classic Star Trek episode in which he guest-starred, “The Doomsday Machine.” The episode began and ended with a memorial screen featuring a black-and-white photo of a very young and handsome Windom and including his years of life, 1923 to 2012.

“The Doomsday Machine” will always hold a special place in my heart. It was not the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw (I don’t remember which one was), but it was the very first episode (not just of Star Trek, but of any show) I bought on videotape. I saved $35 from my earnings as a paperboy to buy the videocassette in 1985, back when Star Trek was the first television show to be released in its entirety on home video. Twenty years later, I was able to buy the whole Star Trek television series on DVD for $125, far less than the $2,800 it would have cost to buy the entire series on videotape.

Windom stars in “The Doomsday Machine” as Commodore Matt Decker, who commandeers the Enterprise in a suicide mission to destroy the planet-killing ice cream cone that wrecked his ship and killed his crew. Decker ultimately completes the mission on his own via shuttlecraft. 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture is sort of an unofficial sequel to “The Doomsday Machine,” with Stephen Collins starring as Decker’s son Will, who is personally recommended by Admiral Kirk to become the new captain of the Enterprise before having to relinquish command to the Enterprise-obsessed Kirk in the wake of an intergalactic threat too big for the small screen.

If you love classic television, Me TV should be your first and last stop on the dial. In addition to featuring scores of classic television shows, the network features brilliant commercials touting its various slogans composed entirely of expertly spliced-together clips from all of its shows. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

--Raj Manoharan