Sunday, April 27, 2014

CD Review – Redemption, by Paul Spaeth

Paul Spaeth returns with a collection of eleven solo piano performances (with some cello and violin) that are resplendent with transcendent serenity.

As art is subjective, Spaeth went into this recording with his own vision of what the music represents, and listeners will come away from the music with meanings that are specific to them.

What is definitely not open to interpretation is Spaeth's talent for original, creative compositions and exquisite, nuanced playing. The tunes range in variety from gentle and tranquil to epic and grandiose, and Spaeth's mastery of the keyboard enables him to command different styles and techniques to elicit those diverse moods.

The album also features Tina Guo on cello and Christopher Luther on violin.

This is a fine and worthy entry in the solo piano genre.

--Raj Manoharan


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Music, TV – Andy Summers and Circa Zero to Perform on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Andy Summers' new rock band Circa Zero will be making its television debut with a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Tuesday, April 29, 2014.

Circa Zero consists of Summers on guitar and Rob Giles on bass, drums, and vocals. Giles most likely will play bass in addition to singing on the show. No announcement has been made yet as to who will be handling drum duties.

The band's debut album Circus Hero, which was released on March 25, 2014, by 429 Records, is available now.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Michael Nesmith Spring 2014 Tour

To mark the West Coast leg of Michael Nesmith's Spring 2014 Movies of the Mind tour, which kicks off on Sunday, April 27, 2014, I am reposting my review of Nesmith's performance at bergenPAC on November 12, 2013, as well as the subsequent live CD.

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.

If you like Michael Nesmith or just want to see a living legend in the prime of his twilight, make it a priority to see him live. If you can't make it to a show, definitely get the live CD of this tour, which is available for reserve order at

--Raj Manoharan

CD (Fan) Review – Movies of the Mind 2013 Live, by Michael Nesmith
Three months after wrapping up his 2013 Movies of the Mind tour, legendary singer-songwriter and pop culture icon Michael Nesmith presents his live recording of that successful sojourn, and it's almost as good as having seen the tour in person.

I attended Nesmith's performance at bergenPAC in mid-November, and the album cements the memory in my mind like it was yesterday. In addition to his songs, the CD features Nesmith's introductory “movies of the mind” setup for each song or group of songs.

The album is a very good representation of the live show. The band members – Nesmith on 12-string acoustic guitar and vocals; Chris Scruggs on electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel guitar, and mandolin; Joe Chemay on bass and backing vocals; Boh Cooper on keyboards and backing vocals; and Paul Leim on drums – sound just as great on record as they did live.

As for the songs themselves, they are all 100% classic Michael Nesmith originals, spanning five decades of Nesmith's career, from the 1960s to the 2000s. Although Nesmith is 70 years old on this recording, his voice is as vibrant and energetic as ever, with his endearing Texas drawl and country twang blending beautifully with the urbane sophistication and wit of his music and lyrics.

If you saw Nesmith on this tour, this is a wonderful souvenir and reminder of that experience. If you didn't make it to the show, this is an equally wondrous revelation of musical “movies of the mind” magic.

--Raj Manoharan


Sunday, April 20, 2014

CD Review – Flight 14, by Uwe Gronau

Uwe Gronau's musical flights of fancy are always worth the price of the boarding pass, and compared to actual airfare tickets, this is a real bargain.

Kick back, relax, and let the German composer's keyboard and synthesizer textures and rhythms take you away from the world of the mundane on a journey of soft sounds and progressive tunes.

As he does on all of his albums, Gronau manages all by himself to replicate a variety of performance contexts, from solo piano to duets to a full band sound, sometimes with vocals. Sax appeal is provided by Matthias Keidel on one track.

Uwe Gronau is one of those names that you know you're in for a musical treat like no other.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, April 14, 2014

CD Review – What the Winter Said, by Kathryn Kaye

Kathryn Kaye's latest collection of piano-based music was designed with winter in mind, but it is actually an evergreen that can be enjoyed all year round in any season.

The compositions are all robust and heartwarming, with 10 originals by Kaye, one by producer Will Ackerman, and four traditional tunes.

While Kaye's classy and elegant piano skills take center stage, the keys are beautifully complemented with masterful instrumentation by Ackerman on guitar, Charlie Bisharat on violin, Tom Eaton on accordion, autoharp, and bass, Eugene Friesen on cello, Richard Gates on bass, Jill Haley on English horn, Jeff Haynes on percussion, Tony Levin on bass, and Gus Sebring on French horn.

Piano fans and music lovers in general will find something of value in this noteworthy recording.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, April 7, 2014

CD Review – Shanti Orchestra, by Ricky Kej

Composer/keyboardist Ricky Kej orchestrates a true fusion of world music by bringing together the mystical sounds of India with the exotic sounds of other countries from around the world.

The talent on display here is literally on a global scale, with Paul Livingstone of Los Angeles on sitar, Wouter Kellerman of South Africa on flute, Praveen Godkhindi of India on bansuri, and Junior Bay of the Congo and Alexis D'Souza of Qatar on vocals.

Also featured are Charanraj on keyboards, programming, and vocals, Dominic D'Cruz on guitar, Manoj George on violin, Karthik K. on ethnic percussion, Gopu Krishnan, Job Kurien, and Jyoti V. on vocals, Keerthy Narayan on keyboards, programming, string arrangements, and vocals, Prakash Sontakke on slide guitar, and Vanil Veigas on ethnic percussion, keyboards, programming, and santoor.

The result is lush, rich, atmospheric music that is enlightening and refreshing.

--Raj Manoharan