Saturday, December 28, 2013


Best wishes to you and yours this season. New reviews will resume after the first full week of 2014.

Take Care!


Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On Tuesday, December 31, 2013, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 71 years old.
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, First You Build a Cloud, and Fundamental.
--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

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Monday, December 30, 2013, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 71 years old.
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 couple of years, performing several solo tour dates in the United Kingdom and the United States and rejoining the surviving Monkees for small tours 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
--Raj Manoharan

Concert (Fan) Review – Michael Nesmith Live at bergenPAC, November 12, 2013

For the longest time, I had considered George Harrison to be my favorite singer-songwriter-guitarist. I have since revised that estimation. To be sure, he remains my favorite singer-songwriter-musician out of all of The Beatles. He is definitely in my top three list of favorite singer-songwriter-guitarists, which I narrowed down especially in the last year to include Electric Light Orchestra frontman and Harrison cohort Jeff Lynne and Monkee member Michael Nesmith. I had recently been leaning heavily toward Nesmith as my all-time favorite, and he sealed the deal with an amazing, energetic performance at bergenPAC in Englewood, New Jersey, on Tuesday night, November 12, 2013, midway through his Movies of the Mind tour.

Like most people, I became familiar with Nesmith through The Monkees, a made-for-TV rock group that epitomized bubblegum pop music in the 1960s and gave The Beatles and The Rolling Stones a run for their money in terms of record sales. A nostalgic resurgence of Monkeemania in the 1980s led to reruns – which enabled me to get hip to The Monkees as a child – as well as a new album and tour, although without Nesmith, who was busy doing his own thing. When I heard Nesmith sing “What Am I Doing Hangin' Round?” in one episode, I was immediately hooked by his country-style Texan vocals and sought out his solo endeavors.

After the Monkees TV show ended, Nesmith – whose mother invented correction fluid – pioneered a fusion of country, folk, pop, and rock music. He also furthered the development of music video, inspired the creation of MTV, and won the first Grammy Award for a home video release for his 1982 musical variety program Elephant Parts, which later led to his short-lived summer 1985 NBC series Television Parts.

Nesmith also provides the best fan experience out of all of my favorite artists, and not just in terms of live performance. He sells all of his work on his Web site, When I bought several CDs to replace my cassette versions, he personally autographed all of them. For a justifiably slightly higher price, you can also order CDs customized for you and/or whomever you wish with tracks and sequencing of your choosing and personally autographed by Nesmith.

Having been a fan of Nesmith for nearly a quarter of a century now, I never thought I would get the chance to see him perform live, especially given the rarity of his appearances (his last tour was in the early 1990s). That all changed on the night of Tuesday, November 12, 2013, when he stopped by bergenPAC in Englewood, New Jersey, halfway through his Movies of the Mind tour. Fresh off a late 2012 Monkees tour in the wake of band member and British heartthrob Davy Jones's death, as well as brief solo tours in the United Kingdom and America, Nesmith is on a roll.

I took my folks to the show (Center Orchestra Row N Seats 101-103), and they both enjoyed it immensely. They are both in Nesmith's age range (Nesmith is four months older than my dad). My mom is familiar with The Monkees from way back, having arrived in America the same year the TV show debuted. For some reason, my dad keeps mixing The Monkees up with The Little Rascals, who were not even a musical group. But my dad did watch the Monkees reruns along with the rest of us in the 1980s, so at least he's heard of The Monkees.

Nesmith was in top form and rocked much harder at age 70 (going on 71) than he did at age 49 on his last tour, based on the double CD I have of that tour as well as footage I've seen on the Internet. He played all of the familiar fan favorites, from “Joanne” from the early 1970s to “Rays” from his 2006 album of the same name, in between providing a nice range of country, folk, pop, and rock music. Nesmith played his signature twelve-string acoustic guitar, with long-time band mate Joe Chemay on bass, Boh Cooper on keyboards, and long-time band mate Paul Leim on drums. The band also featured Chris Scruggs, the grandson of bluegrass banjo legend Earl Scruggs, on pedal steel guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, and mandolin. Scruggs was the musical prodigy of the night, sometimes playing two or more instruments in the same song. All the musicians were excellent and did a standout job bringing Nesmith's songs to glorious and exuberant life.

Nesmith also introduced each song or group of related/similar songs with narratives that set the scene for each musical tale, hence the tour moniker Movies of the Mind. This feature of the performance fostered intimate camaraderie between Nesmith and the audience and made it more of a personal experience, like hearing campfire tales from an old friend.

One thing that struck me about Nesmith is how, unlike the rest of The Monkees and other artists of his generation, he looks so little like his former, younger self. My mom said he looks like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. In recent years, Davy Jones said he looked like a German banker. At the same time, it is refreshing and comforting that Nesmith has not gone to extra lengths to “preserve” his youth. Instead, he has chosen to age and mature like a fine wine. Every now and then, though, I saw a semblance of the old, young Nesmith surface. But whenever he opened his mouth to speak and sing, he was unmistakably and undeniably Michael Nesmith through and through.

--Raj Manoharan


TV – Wonder Woman Joins Me TV's Sci-Fi Saturday Night Lineup

Before Xena, there was Wonder Woman. Lynda Carter brings girl power to Me TV's Sci-Fi Saturday Night lineup with her star turn as the original warrior princess in the classic campy 1970s superhero series Wonder Woman.

The lineup kicks off at 7:00 p.m. with the 1960s pop cultural phenomenon Batman. 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.

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.

At 8:00 p.m., Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman zooms off in her invisible jet to collar Nazis and other criminals with her bulletproof bracelets and golden lasso during the 1940s, before resurfacing in the 1970s while still retaining her youthfulness. Lyle Waggoner costars as Major Steve Trevor.

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.

At 9:00 p.m., catch William Shatner in his first iteration of Captain Kirk in the original 1960s Star Trek television series. Nothing beats Shatner hamming philosophic about the quandaries of mankind’s place in the universe. Remarkably, 47 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. Some of the stars and guest stars of those shows even pop up in network promos as themselves or their former characters. This is the ultimate TV channel for the ultimate TV fan.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 22, 2013

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


Best wishes to you and yours this season. New reviews will resume after the first full week of 2014.

Take Care!


CD Review – Deep Theta 2.0, by Steven Halpern

Legendary Grammy Award-nominated keyboardist and sound healing pioneer Steven Halpern's latest release is an entrancing suite of mind-relaxing music, featuring Halpern's trademark Rhodes Mark 7 electric piano and keyboards, as well as bamboo flutes played by three world-class masters of the instrument.

In addition to composing beautiful, calming music that soothes and refreshes, Halpern has designed the sound to vibrate at four cycles per second (4 Hz), a process called Aural-Sync brainwave synchronization that puts listeners' heart and brains in a deep theta state aligned with the fundamental harmonics of Earth itself, resulting in deeper meditation, enhanced DNA activation, self-healing, and greater creativity.

Embellishing the pristine sounds of Halpern's Rhodes Mark 7 electric piano and synthesizers are Jorge Alfano on shakuhachi and bansuri, two-time grand master title holder Ronnie Nyogetsu Reishin Seldin on shakuhachi, and Schawkie Roth on bansuri.

This is an ideal transport for a much-need mental getaway.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, December 8, 2013

CD Review – Transformation, by Sherry Finzer and Darin Mahoney

The entrancing flute playing of Sherry Finzer and the intricate guitar handiwork of Darin Mahoney come together on this intriguing duo album.

Finzer plays Pearl and Guo flutes and Mahoney plays a custom acoustic guitar that he handmade himself (he's also a professionally trained luthier). Mahoney's guitar starts off many of the tunes, with Finzer's flutes weaving their way in and through them. The duo also receive some musical support from Jane Hilton on viola, guesting on a song written and named for her.

As the title suggests, the music is transformational in that it helps listeners escape from the hectic pace of everyday life and find peace and solace in the serenity of the woodwinds' and strings' gentle vibrations. But don't be lulled by the quietude of Finzer and Mahoney's humble offering – there's quite a bit of musicality on display in their compositions and performances.

This is a nice change of pace for those seeking one.

--Raj Manoharan