Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On Thursday, December 31, 2015, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 73 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, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero), and Metal Dog.
--Raj Manoharan


Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Wednesday, December 30, 2015, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 73 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.

For a good overview of Nesmith’s solo music career, I recommend The Older Stuff, The Newer Stuff, Tropical Campfire’s, Live at the Britt Festival, Rays, and Movies of the Mind.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at

The following are links to my reviews of Nesmith's 2013 live tour and the subsequent live CD.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 18, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Jesus and Me – The Collection, by Glen Campbell

I don’t particularly care for Christian pop music, so I find myself surprised by myself for highly enjoying this inspiring and uplifting collection of mainstream pop legend Glen Campbell’s best contemporary faith-based songs from the 1980s and 1990s.

It’s the best of the genre I’ve ever heard.
There are probably two reasons for this: One, Glen Campbell is an acclaimed and accomplished secular singer-songwriter who happens to be a Christian, rather than being specifically a “Christian artist.” And two – it’s Glen Campbell, after all.
The very melodic and tuneful songs have a glossy sheen to them, and Campbell’s alternately humble and soaring voice exudes earnest sincerity and spiritual longing.
The three standout tracks on the album for me are the poignant take on the classic religious anthem “Amazing Grace” (the absolute best version I’ve heard, especially with Campbell’s bagpipe refrains), the power pop ballad “The Greatest Gift of All,” and the haunting elegy “I Will Arise” (with background vocal ambiance provided by The Boys Choir of Harlem). These are three of the most affecting songs I have ever heard in any genre.
Although this is not a Christmas-themed record (Campbell has at least one proper Christmas album and probably several more), it sounds right at home with the season, especially the three aforementioned tunes.
No matter what your faith is, or even if you don’t subscribe to one, I can’t imagine anyone not being moved by the sentiments on this very personal, soul-searching, and ultimately life-affirming musical journey.
--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

CD Review – Trail of Dreams, by 2002

With this album, Pamela and Randy Copus’s daughter Sarah joins the family’s musical fray as a featured vocalist and harpist, adding an intriguing new dimension to the veteran new age music group as it transforms from a dynamic duo into a tremendous trio.
The record wastes no time in introducing us to Sarah’s beautiful voice, starting right off with the 10-year-old musician’s pearly pipes. Indeed, the young singer’s talents combined with her parents’ accomplished vocals and instrumentation result in what I can only imagine Heaven on Earth sounds like – except I don’t have to imagine it when I can hear it right on this CD.
What really impresses me about Sarah’s angelic tones is that they are the result of her just singing in her natural voice, without any attempt whatsoever to go over the top with the hysterical vocal histrionics that have become de rigueur for much of today’s bland and soulless pop music. This alone not only makes her one of the better child singers of all time, but also one of the better singers of any age and era.
This is where I might be expected to write the time-honored cliché that, with the addition of Sarah, 2002 has never sounded better. That would be nice to say but not true, since 2002 has never sounded less than exceptional. But Sarah’s unique contributions to the group definitely take it to all-new highs.
As always, Pamela and Randy excel in their long-held roles. After all, they built 2002’s classic, lush sound, with Sarah adding new layers. Pamela plays harp, flute, and keyboards and harmonizes beautifully with her daughter. Randy handles guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion, and vocals. Randy sings lead on the title track and features prominently on album closer “Ever Onward.” Both tunes could very well be songs by progressive rockers Yes, especially due to the vocal harmonies and the fact that Randy sounds similar to Yes vocalist Jon Anderson.
If this album is any indication, 2002 shows no signs of leveling off or slowing down. In fact, they’re just getting started on yet another chapter of their long and winding magic carpet ride. Whether you’ve been with them from the beginning or are boarding for the first time, it’s a musical trip well worth taking.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 29, 2015

CD Review – Naam Radiance, by Megan Chaskey

Vocalist Megan Chaskey arranges Eastern thought and meditation into engaging original melodies, creating an aura of peace and enlightenment that is refreshing both emotionally and intellectually.

In addition to Chaskey's mesmerizing voice, the CD features the lush sounds of Grammy Award-winner David Darling on cello, Mike Guglielmo on percussion, Aine Minogue on Celtic harp, Scott Petito on bass, guitar, percussion, and piano, and Beth Reineke and Leslie Ritter on vocals.

This is a fine representation of the increasingly popular melding of Eastern philosophies with Western music.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Alone in the Universe, by Jeff Lynne's ELO

In anticipation of Jeff Lynne’s latest release, I quickly re-listened to the two Electric Light Orchestra greatest hits volumes from the previous decade, the 2001 ELO album Zoom, Electric Light Orchestra Live, Mr. Blue Sky (Lynne’s recent solo rerecording of ELO’s greatest hits), and Lynne’s solo albums Armchair Theatre (1990) and Long Wave (2012).

I’m glad I did, because the new Jeff Lynne/ELO album hits all of those touchstones and then some, fusing bits and pieces of different aspects of Lynne’s long and storied career into a fresh, scintillating new package.

The record features Lynne’s typically brilliant songwriting and singing, with thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics, catchy pop melodies, and earnest, beautifully harmonized vocals.

Lynne also plays most of the instruments, including guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. Lynne orchestrates intricate guitar rhythms and textures, and his succinct but sweet guitar solos perfectly capture the feel of each song.

Highlights include the reflective “When I Was a Boy,” “Dirty to the Bone” (featuring harp-like guitar chords underscoring scathing female character assassination), “When the Night Comes,” the uplifting “The Sun Will Shine on You,” “All My Life,” and “Alone in the Universe.”

No matter which era of Jeff Lynne/ELO you prefer – I became a fan during the George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Traveling Wilburys years – there are wonders to behold in this exploration of the past, present, and future of Lynne’s Universe.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 15, 2015

CD Review – Weightless (Ambient Transmissions, Vol. 2), by Marconi Union

The Manchester, England, trio of Jamie Crossley, Richard Talbot, and Duncan Meadows returns with an album of cool atmospherics perfect for tranquil reflection and cathartic unwinding.

The record is really one long chill called Weightless, divided into six parts. The music, apparently composed and performed on keyboards and synthesizers, does give the titular impression of zero gravity, making this an eclectic and enlightening exercise in sonic space as well as an appropriately quiet cosmic soundtrack.

This CD rightly takes it place alongside other genre classics such as The Shimmering Land by Meg Bowles, plus the work of past Marconi Union collaborator and new age legend Brian Eno.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 8, 2015

George Barris (1925-2015)

George Barris was the Hollywood Car King, and his creations are every bit as legendary as the stars who drove them on film and television.

His iconic customizations included transforming a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car into the famed Batmobile of 1960s TV sensation Batman and modifying a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am into the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) from the hit 1980s series Knight Rider.

Due to the high-profile nature of his work, Barris can be counted among the most famous and successful car designers in the world.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne’s ELO Due November 13, 2015

Alone in the Universe, the first new original studio album by Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra since Zoom in 2001, is scheduled to be released on Friday, November 13, 2015.

This is also Lynne’s first new release since his solo cover album Long Wave and his rerecording of ELO’s greatest hits, Mr. Blue Sky, both from 2012.

It remains to be seen if Lynne performs all the instruments on the new release, as he has on several of his albums, or whether he’s accompanied by other musicians such as veteran ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy, with whom Lynne reunited for an ELO concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2014.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Infinitia Box Set and The Ocean Single Edition by Michael Nesmith Now Available

Michael Nesmith’s new release The Ocean completes the singer-songwriter’s Infinitia book-and-soundtrack trilogy, which includes The Prison (1974) and The Garden (1994).

The Ocean is available both by itself as a single edition (consisting of one book, one CD with vocals, and one CD without vocals) and as part of the Infinitia box set containing The Prison and The Garden.

All can be ordered directly from Nesmith’s Web site,

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Personal Playlist – The Best of Paul Speer: 1984-2013

If you like the Police and solo guitar work of Andy Summers, you’ll definitely dig the six-string sounds of guitarist Paul Speer.

The two musicians share a passion for jazz/rock fusion, with Summers concentrating more on jazz and Speer focusing more on rock.

I have put together what I think is a comprehensive and ear-catching retrospective of Speer’s work that will appeal equally to newcomers and long-time fans. All of these tracks are available on and come from his solo albums and his albums with Queensryche drummer Scott Rockenfield and British musician Paul Lawler (flutes, keyboards, percussion).

And now I present to you my Personal Playlist of The Best of Paul Speer: 1984-2013. Enjoy!

Allegro / Terra Vista / Allegro Con Brio / Adagio Dolente / Murder or Self Defense / Hi Strung / River of No Return / Carved in Stone / Prelude Oculus / Tuscan Sunset / Denali / Ganges / Accelerator (Rock Mix) / PowerGlide

--Raj Manoharan

Personal Playlist – The Best of Andy Summers: 1989-2015

If you’re not familiar with the music of Andy Summers beyond his tenure as the guitarist for The Police, now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with his solo work, especially as we approach his 73rd birthday, literally at the end of the year (New Year’s Eve, to be exact).

I have compiled tracks that I feel are the most representative of his solo career. Summers has two retrospective albums to his name, but each covers separate and vastly different periods of his career. My collection features music spanning 26 years, all the way from 1989’s The Golden Wire to 2015’s Metal Dog.

My criteria for these selections included that they showcase Summers’ guitar playing first and foremost, spotlight the brilliance and complexity of his compositions (“Green Chimneys” and Reincarnation of a Lovebird” are covers of Summers’ idols Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, respectively), and share a cohesion of sound even while being independently unique.

And now I present to you my Personal Playlist of The Best of Andy Summers: 1989-2015. Enjoy!

Blues for Snake / Passion of the Shadow / Somewhere in the West / Low Flying Doves / The Somnambulist / Green Chimneys / Reincarnation of a Lovebird / Now I’m Free / Harmonograph

--Raj Manoharan

Glen Campbell Forever!

In the last few months, I’ve reacquainted myself with the iconic figure and awesome singing talent that is Glen Campbell.

If you’re not a fan of or you’re not familiar with Campbell, you need to get the following five albums and listen to them in the following order:

Greatest Hits (2009) / Meet Glen Campbell / Ghost on the Canvas / See You There / Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me Soundtrack

These albums in this order present a good overview of his entire solo career, from his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, to his graceful and elegant winding down over the last seven years.

Although Campbell is often inaccurately pigeonholed as a country singer, take it from someone who is not at all a fan of country music – Campbell is one of the greatest singers of all time, in any and regardless of genre.

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan’s 2015-2016 TV Viewing Schedule

Sunday: Bar Rescue (Spike) / Bob’s Burgers (Fox) / The Simpsons (Fox) / Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) / Family Guy (Fox)

Weeknights: CHiPs (Me TV)

Monday: Supergirl (CBS)

Tuesday: The Flash (CW)

Wednesday: Criminal Minds (CBS)

Thursday: Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

Friday: Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)

Saturday: Good Times (TV One) / Sanford & Son (TV One) / Adventures of Superman (Me TV) / Batman (Me TV) / Wonder Woman (Me TV) / Star Trek (Me TV) / Svengoolie (Me TV)

--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Mesa Verde Soundscapes, by Jill Haley

The majesty and grandeur of the Colorado U.S. National Park served as a most welcome muse for oboe and piano player Jill Haley on her third album celebrating America's treasures.

As with the previous two entries, this record is a family affair, with Haley's husband David Cullen on bass and guitar, daughter Dana on horn, son Graham on cello, and daughter Risa on viola.

In addition to the stirring music that perfectly captures the beautiful lyricism of the park, the package includes a glossy, high-quality photo booklet featuring breathtaking images of Mesa Verde in all its glory.

The result is an album that is both a fitting musical tribute and an inspiring travelogue.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Al Molinaro (1919-2015)

Al Molinaro is probably best remembered for being diner owner Al Delvecchio in the classic 1970s/1980s sitcom Happy Days.

To me, however, he will always be Murray the Cop.

Many actors understandably bemoan typecasting. As decried as it is, typecasting is also the mark of performers who are so talented that they become the one major character that everyone associates them with and loves them for.

Thanks for the memories, Al.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 25, 2015

CD Review – Omkara (The Sound of Divine Love), by Rupam Sarmah

Authentic, traditional Indian instruments combine with jazz saxophone and acoustic guitar for a fusion of world music that is delightfully exotic and eclectic.

Composer and keyboardist Rupam Sarmah has put together an impressive ensemble of top-notch players, headlined by Grammy Award-winner Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, an innovator of the stringed veena.

Also featured are Makundra Borah on instrumentation, Pranjal Borah on flute, Subhen Chatterjee on tabla and percussion, Sayan Ganguly and Sanjay Hazarika on keyboards, Jonathan Kay on saxophone, Rocio Marron on viola, Pankaj Mishra on sarangi, Matthias Muller on acoustic guitar, Somnath Roy on ghatam, khol, and percussion, Laura Sullivan on piano, and Minakshi Borah, Amrita Bordoloi, Rosy Das, Shella Deb, Padmashri Sumitra Guha, Samhita Pujari, and Juri Sarmah on vocals.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 18, 2015

CD Review – The Gathering II, by Various Artists

The second edition of this compilation series presents select tracks from new age recording artists produced by Grammy Award-winning guitarist and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman.

The album features the work of several musicians reviewed by me on this site, including Kathryn Kaye, Louis Colaiannia, Masako, Shambhu, Heidi Bryer, Fiona Joy, Ann Sweeten, Vin Downes, Isadar, and Lynn Yew Evers.

This is a fine introduction to and sampling of some of the best alternative instrumental (and vocal) music available.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Ghost on the Canvas, by Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell’s final original studio album, from 2011, captures the legendary genre-defying artist in fine form.

This is one of those rare albums on which every song is excellent, varying between intimate acoustic guitar pieces and full-bodied ballads replete with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. My top three favorite songs are the introspective “A Better Place,” the soaring title track, and the ethereal “Nothing but the Whole Wide World.”

Even though Campbell is 75 years old on this recording, his voice is as vibrant and poignant as ever. And he still wrings out those distinctive, trademark bass-note guitar solos like only he can.

This is quite a grand exit for quite an extraordinary performer.

--Raj Manoharan

Best Song of All Time

In my nearly 43 years, I haven’t heard a song as affecting as “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Jimmy Webb’s brilliant melody and lyrics, the lush instrumentation, and Campbell’s earnest vocals and signature bass-note guitar solo come together in a perfect fusion that is unmatched, making this possibly the best song of all time.

The last time I remember hearing this song was on the radio during family road trips in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. I became reacquainted with it recently in all its glory while listening to Campbell’s 2009 Greatest Hits album. The rerecording from the 2013 album See You There and the live version from the 2015 soundtrack album Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me are just as powerful, with the older Campbell’s meeker but still determined vocals exuding even more emotional resonance.

All three versions of the song are absolute, unmistakable gems. Get the aforementioned albums if you can, or at least the songs. If nothing else, get the original recording.

Do it while the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 11, 2015

CD Review – Unravel: The Extended Suites, by Peter Jack Rainbird

Inspired by the majesty of the Pacific Ocean, Peter Jack Rainbird took his electric guitar, a couple of small amplifiers, and a small suitcase full of sound effects gear and set up shop at various civic spaces along the West Coast, performing a series of day-long live improvisations.

The result is a spontaneous and eclectic kaleidoscope of sounds, tones, and textures generated by Rainbird's guitar and layered through live looping, with a bit of grand piano added to the mix.

This is a unique listening experience that is not only refreshing and invigorating, but musically insightful and enlightening as well.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 27, 2015

CD Review – Saraswati Dreams, by Jaya Lakshmi & Ananda

Warm acoustic guitar combines with exotic Indian instruments and singing for a delightfully pleasing and hypnotically entrancing world music sound.

The album is beautifully and richly layered thanks to the talents of Jason Bailey on hammer dulcimer; Hans Christian on bass, cello, and keyboards; Krsna Dev on vocals; Dasi Karnamrita on vocals; Jaya Lakshmi on guitar, harmonium, kartals, piano, shaker, and vocals; Prema Mayi on vocals; Rasa Priya on sarod; Deepak Ramapriyan on violin and vocals; Ankush Vimawala on tabla; and Ananda Yogiji on bansuri, bass, guitar, harmonium, shaker, and vocals.

This is a worthwhile entry in the growing trend of Eastern-Western musical hybrids.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jack Larson (1928-2015)

With the passing of Adventures of Superman cast member Jack Larson, only “Lois Lanes” Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill remain as the last surviving stars from the iconic 1950s television series.

Larson was not the first actor to portray Daily Planet photographer and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, but over the course of the show's six seasons, he set the standard for those who followed in his footsteps, most notably Mark McClure of the Superman and Supergirl films from the 1970s and 1980s.

Later a playwright, librettist, and movie producer, Larson will always be remembered as the plucky and affable Olsen. His memory lives on in reruns of Adventures of Superman every Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Eastern Time, on Me TV.

The classic TV network paid tribute to Larson with a memorial black-and-white photograph preceding each of this past Saturday's two installments of Adventures of Superman. The unscheduled episodes focused on the late Larson's Jimmy Olsen character.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 20, 2015

CD Review – Moksha, by Ray Spiegel Ensemble

This is “raga rock” if I've ever heard it.

Drummer and percussionist Ray Spiegel leads an energetic and vibrant world music ensemble that includes himself additionally on dohl, manjeera, marimba, and tabla; Ira Coleman (Billy Cobham, Herbie Hancock, Sting) on bass; Robert Levin on percussion and talking drum; Ramesh Mishra on sarangi; Melanie Richeson on harp and tanpura; Stan Scott on harmonium; Tani Tabbal on cajon and drums; Frank Velardi on drums; and Junior “Gabu” Wedderburn on bongos, congas, and djembe.

The real standout is the late Stephen James, who, in addition to playing violin, plays the sarod with the invigorating fire and fury of an electric lead guitarist.

This is an engaging sonic blend of East and West.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, September 7, 2015

TV – CHiPs Back on the Beat on Me TV

Despite removing Adam-12 and Hawaii Five-O from its schedule, Me TV does earn some kudos for bringing back my guys Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada with the return of CHiPs – or CHmePs, as Me TV likes to call it – to the lineup.

Once again, you can relive the good old days as motorcycle cops Ponch (Estrada) and Jon (Wilcox) patrol the freeways of Los Angeles weeknights at 6 p.m. on Me TV.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Me TV Gives Hawaii Five-O the Heave-Ho

Boo on you, Me TV, for disrespecting my man James MacArthur.

You wouldn't want to be the topic of discussion when Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett tells MacArthur's Dan Williams to “Book 'em, Danno!”

Bring back Danno!

--Raj Manoharan

Martin Milner (1931-2015)

Martin Milner was one of America's great TV cops, having played Officer Pete Malloy alongside Kent McCord's Officer Jim Reed and William Boyett's Sergeant MacDonald on Adam-12 from 1968 to 1975.

Malloy was the confident, take-charge veteran officer, showing the younger Reed the ropes while patrolling Los Angeles in their squad car, designated Adam-12, under the supervision of their tough but fair commander, Mac. Together, the trio proved a very formidable team.

The normally excellent Me TV network gets a demerit for taking Adam-12 off the schedule earlier this year. Perhaps in memory of Milner, Me TV should bring the show back so fans both old and new can continue to enjoy one of the all-time classic police dramas.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 30, 2015

CD Review – Ayahuasca Dreams, by Ciro Hurtado

Peruvian guitarist Ciro Hurtado breaks from his usual mold and brings it on this engagingly vibrant world music album.

Based primarily on South American rhythms and sounds, the CD is a full and rich cornucopia of Latin-flavored jazz, pop, rock and fusion, with Hurtado leading the way on nylon- and steel-string acoustic guitars and electric guitars.

Hurtado proves to be a consummate bandleader, hosting not only his wife on sprightly vocals, but also a top-notch group of musicians on flute, violin, keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion.

This is a fine guitar album that deserves a place in any guitar enthusiast's collection.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 23, 2015

CD Review – Thoughts of Tomorrow, by Uwe Gronau

German keyboardist-composer Uwe Gronau consistently puts out top-notch albums, but this just might be his best yet.

Gronau nails every track of this all-instrumental collection, from engaging melodies to radical synthesizer textures and sounds. Gronau also displays his virtuoso chops on primarily or solo piano tunes.

Co-producer and long-time collaborator Clemens Paskert also does a fantastic job keeping time, both behind an actual kit and with drum programming.

My only complaint is that many of the songs end abruptly, but that probably has more to do with the fact that each individual piece is so good that I didn't want it to end.

This is a slick, edgy fusion of jazz, pop, and rock that has both bounce and bite.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Yvonne Craig (1937-2015)

Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Where do you come from, where do you go?
What is your scene, baby, we just gotta know.
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Are you a chick who fell in from outer space?
Or are you real with a tender warm embrace?
Yaaa, whose baby are you?
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Yaaa, whose baby are you?

--Raj Manoharan

Alex Rocco (1936-2015)

Alex Rocco was most famous for his role in The Godfather, after which he went on to appear in many films and especially television shows of the 1970s and 1980s.

Most recently, I saw him in a couple of old episodes of Starsky and Hutch, playing a couple of different characters.

However, I remember him from my childhood as the father of one of the girls on The Facts of Life. He appeared on several episodes of that popular 1980s sitcom.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 9, 2015

CD Review – Road to Ambo, by Adam Andrews

This may be pianist Adam Andrews' debut album, but it sounds like anything but.

Rather than come off like the first work of a novice artist, the CD displays the immense talents of a seasoned and gifted composer and performer.

Andrews' brilliant composing and arranging abilities come through on eleven original tunes that also showcase his wide range of playing, from subtle and gentle to epic and compelling.

Andrews' recording career is off to a fantastic start with a second album already out, so now is as good a time as any to start following this bright and promising musician from the beginning.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 26, 2015

CD Review – Language of the Soul, by Steven Vitali

The latest album from world-renowned pianist StevenVitali showcases the artist's immense talents in a variety of musical settings.

The CD features 17 tracks that range from sensitive and thoughtful to sweeping and grandiose, with elements of industrial and techno thrown in for good measure.

The instrumentation on each song includes everything from a single piano to various combinations of keyboards, guitars, drums, and percussion.

The result is a sonic prism that filters the many facets of Steven Vitali's creative expression, which will be appreciated by piano enthusiasts as well as fans of music in general.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 19, 2015

CD Review – Songs of a Siren, by Lea Longo

Lea Longo's latest album is a buoyant take on world/new age music.

The CD contains 10 tracks that blend pop singing and songwriting with Indian mantras as perfectly as possible.

Longo has a classic, straightforward, and natural voice that puts today's synthetic, auto-tuned pop princesses to shame, resulting in great vocals regardless of whether she's singing English or Indian lyrics.

The album also has a fantastic sound, thanks to the talents of Radford Crasto on guitars and sitar, Andy Dacoulis on guitars, Alexandre Laoie on flute, Shawn Mativetsky on tabla, Alex Paquette on bass, Allister Philip on Fender Rhodes, and Jesse Tolbert on drums, percussion, guitar, synthesizer bass, and keyboards.

If you're looking for engaging pop music with depth, as well as an exciting alternative to the hackneyed mainstream, this is it.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 18, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Metal Dog, by Andy Summers

At long last, the much-anticipated follow-up to Andy Summers and Robert Fripp's seminal, iconic, progressive experimental albums I Advance Masked and Bewitched is here – except this time, it's all Andy.

As befits his first fully independent, self-released solo recording, Summers truly goes it alone, composing all the music and playing all the instruments himself, including bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. Summers pulls it off so well that it's easy to forget that he's the only musician in the studio. Of course, as always, his guitars, as well as other stringed instruments, are the focal point of the proceedings, with Summers producing exquisite, elegant leads, rhythms, and solos, covering a range of styles from blues and funk to jazz and rock.

While the 10-track collection definitely has the spirit and elements of the previously mentioned Fripp collaborations, as well as Summers' solo instrumental albums Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, and Synaesthesia, it is at the same time fresh and original.

This is unlike anything Summers has done before, with its variety of textures, tempos, and time signatures. But Andy's classic sounds pop up here and there, reassuring us that our guitar god is still present as ever.

Although every composition is stirring, my favorites are “Ishango Bone,” “Bitter Honey,” and especially “Harmonograph,” with its slithery, electronic lead guitar. These are the most conventional sounding “songs” on the album, and even then they're unconventional. In a sense, Summers has come full circle from his eclectic musings on the track “Circe's Island” from David Bedford's 1976 album The Odyssey.

In its review of Summers' 1995/1996 release Synaesthesia, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “With Andy Summers, even if you expect the unexpected, you'll still be surprised.” This has been true of each and every project by Summers, and the epic, groundbreaking Metal Dog is certainly no exception.

--Raj Manoharan

Irwin Keyes (1952-2015)

When I saw veteran actor Irwin Keyes' picture recently due to his passing, I immediately thought, “That looks like Hugo, George Jefferson's bodyguard from The Jeffersons.

Turns out, that was Hugo!

Although I don't remember seeing Keyes in his many notable film and television roles since then, I never forgot his appearances on The Jeffersons. Any actor that can make such a memorable impression on me that I can instantly recognize a picture of him over three decades later is a giant in my book.

It would be a kick if Keyes was up there keeping a close eye on Sherman Hemsley.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 12, 2015

CD Review – Light of the Naam: Morning Chants, by Snatam Kaur

Snatam Kaur presents another album of Eastern devotions and meditations featuring her pleasant vocalizations of ethnic lyrics over Western style instrumentation and music.

Kaur also plays harmonium, and she is joined by Thomas Barquee on keyboards and vocals, Sheela Bringi on flute, Ajeet Kaur on vocals, Sri Kirtan on bass and guitar, Sukhmani Kaur Rayat on tabla, Luigi Recca on drums and percussion, Simone Sello on guitar, John Stephens on sitar, and Cameron Stone on cello.

Thanks to the singer-songwriter style of the music, this is another accessible and enjoyable sample of Eastern culture and tradition.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 5, 2015

CD Review – At the Temple Door, by Ajeet Kaur

This album of Eastern meditations and mantras sung by Ajeet Kaur has a singer-songwriter vibe to it, thanks to the folksy, new age styling of guitarist Todd Boston.

In addition to providing vocals, Kaur plays harmonium and piano, and Boston also plays flute, percussion, and sarod.

Adding to the lush, layered, and textured sound are Hans Christian on cello, Ramesh Kannan on percussion, Snatum Kaur on vocals, Ramdass Khalsa on clarinet, piano, and vocals, and Sukhmani Kaur Rayat on tabla.

This is an enlightening and accessible take on Eastern culture and tradition framed in a Western musical setting.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Description of Andy Summers' New CD Metal Dog

Below is a link to what appears to be a product description, or press release even, of Andy Summers' new solo album Metal Dog, which is scheduled to be released on July 14.

The site looks like a fan listing for The Police and its members, Sting, Summers, and Stewart Copeland. It's even called LiSting. Get it?

Based on the editorial description, as well as images of the CD at the link to Amazon, the record might be similar in tone and concept to Summers' 1995/1996 release Synaesthesia.

We should find out in a couple of weeks' time.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, July 3, 2015

Movies, Music – CNN Films Presents Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of Glen Campbell, I acknowledge him as an undisputed, unmistakable icon. He’s always been a solid performer, even to almost the very end, which is captured on film in the extremely touching, moving, and ultimately life-affirming documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, currently playing on CNN.

The picture follows Campbell and his family as they prepare for a U.S. tour to promote his album Ghost on the Canvas. However, just before they hit the road, they receive the devastating diagnosis that Campbell is suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

What ensues is an intimate, no-holds-barred look at a man who fights with every ounce of his dignity and pride to deliver for his loving family and his devoted fans, one last time.

Now billed as the Goodbye Tour, the cross-country jaunt sees Campbell experience both triumphs and trials, with the musical road trip also serving as a journey of self-discovery.

Watching this legend struggle with this debilitating illness is humbling, and yet watching him bask in the unconditional love of his adoring audiences, even as he falters, provides an emotionally rejuvenating catharsis.

I thought viewing this film would leave me with sadness, and at times it can be disheartening. But no film, television program, or music album in recent years has brought a bigger smile to my face than this documentary has. This is the feel-good movie of the year, and definitely one of the most positive, heartwarming films of all time.

Highlights include onstage and backstage at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, interviews with family and friends, and, of course, the music.

As of this writing, Glen Campbell is living in a memory support community, where he is receiving the care he needs, with his family close by. This documentary couldn't have come at a better time, ensuring his legacy for posterity.

Appreciate this man now, while he’s still with us, at least physically.

Do the same for your loved ones.

--Raj Manoharan

Movies, Music – The Summer of Andy Summers Kicks Off with New Solo Album and New Police DVD/Blu-ray

The Summer of Andy Summers kicks off with the July 14 release of the legendary guitarist's latest solo album as well as the DVD/Blu-ray release of a Police documentary based on his memoir.

Summers recently concluded a successful U.S. screening and speaking tour promoting Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police, a documentary based on his 2006 autobiography One Train Later and chronicling his career from the 1960s psychedelic pop scene to the height of global success with The Police in the 1980s.

The film features archival footage and interviews with the band in their late 1970s/early 1980s heyday, as well as highlights of their massively popular 2007-2008 world reunion tour. The DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary from Summers and co-producer Norman Golightly and additional short films and photographs.

Also available on the same day is Summers' new CD, intriguingly entitled Metal Dog. The album marks Summers' first solo release in over a decade and his first instrumental release in eight years. It's also his 11th original studio album, his 13th solo album, and his 21st non-Police album.

The new record might very well be Summers' first truly solo project, as he plays all the instruments himself. A free preview track, “Qualia,” is available at and

Let the Metal Dog days of summer begin!

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, June 28, 2015

CD Review – Temple of the Soul: Rhapsodies & Meditations for Solo Piano, by Roger Davidson

Roger Davidson is a versatile, all-purpose pianist who has created buzz on the New York music scene for his mastery of jazz, Latin, and Brazilian forms, and now the keyboard artist brings his unique playing style to his first album of solo piano music.

Given his long, diverse and rich musical background, Davidson exudes the experience and confidence of an old pro, while providing fresh and new takes on a classic, age-old, ubiquitous, traditional instrument.

The original compositions are wide-ranging, reaching from the depths of the inner subconscious to the heights of lofty aspirations, and Davidson's performance capabilities keep pace with his fertile, vividly creative mind.

Solo piano enthusiasts and casual music fans will find this CD to be worthwhile and rewarding.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

James Horner (1953-2015)

I was nine years old when I first saw James Horner's name on the big screen, credited for the brilliant, majestic, and sweeping score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, his first major feature film project.

He also composed the soundtrack for the sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, before going on to a storied 30-year-plus career as one of the legendary mainstays of Hollywood film music, joining the esteemed ranks of luminaries such as late maestro and fellow Star Trek composer Jerry Goldsmith and frequent George Lucas and Steven Spielberg collaborator John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park).

Horner received far more acclaim and accolades for his later film work, much of which has been written about elsewhere and can easily be researched.

But for me, his Star Trek motion picture scores will always hold a special place in my heart.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, June 12, 2015

Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Christopher Lee, how will I miss thee? Let me Count Dooku the ways:

Hammer horror, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, just to name a few …

Fare thee well, icon.


--Raj Manoharan

Hungary for Food and Film

Keep an eye out for the Budapest episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN.

In this installment, the globetrotting chef savors the local flavors and samples world-class cinema under the awe spices of native son and acclaimed Academy Award-winning Hollywood cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who served as the director of photography on Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (for which he won the Oscar), and The Deer Hunter.

Be sure not to miss it. It's a culinary and celluloid delight.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

CD Review – Narrow Path, by Matthew Schoening

Matthew Schoening is not only a brilliant composer and performer, but a musical visionary as well, with the talent, ingenuity, and technology to manifest what his mind’s eye sees and hears.

As he did on his previous albums, Schoening plays electric cello by himself without any accompaniment. But you would never know that just by listening to the CD.

The disc brims richly with the sounds of guitar, bass, violin, cello, synthesizers, and percussion, all generated by Schoening on his electric cello with the high-tech help of looping. Schoening literally is a one-man new age fusion ensemble.
As impressive as Schoening's technical abilities are, it's his compositional skills that elevate the material to greatness. Not only does Schoening have an ear for edgy and ethereal tunes, but he also has a knack for rhythmic arrangements, compelling orchestrations, and spellbinding sonic tones, all utilized in the service of both rapturous revelry and introspective reverie.
Standout tracks include “Odyssey,” “Discipline,” “Faith,” and “Narrow Path.” The last two numbers, “Surrender (Float)” and the epic 15-minute meditation “Breathe,” are pure transcendental brilliance.
Schoening has achieved something truly special here. This album is to cello what Andy Summers' The Golden Wire is to guitar. And like that CD, this one is a classic that will stand the test of time.
--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Anne Meara (1929-2015)

While Anne Meara will always be best known for her long comedy partnership with her husband Jerry Stiller, I will always remember her for her recurring role as the mother of Spence Olchin (Patton Oswalt) on the classic sitcom The King of Queens.
Although the part was originally played by Eileen Brennan in one episode, Meara made it her own, especially as she was once again playing opposite Jerry, who starred on the show as cantankerous senior Arthur Spooner, father of Carrie Heffernan (Leah Remini), father-in-law of Doug Heffernan (Kevin James), and the usually unwilling object of Mrs. Olchin's desire.
In fact, The King of Queens became quite a family affair for the Stiller-Meara brood, with son Ben Stiller guest-starring in one episode as the father of his father's character (!) and daughter Amy Stiller (Ben's sister) making cameo appearances in several episodes as a flustered coffee store employee continually heckled by Arthur. Sometime after the show ended, Amy appeared in one of Jerry's Capital One commercials.
Thanks for the laughs, Ms. Meara.
--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Winds of Samsara, by Ricky Kej and Wouter Kellerman

This vibrant global meeting of musical minds deservedly won the 2015 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album.

Although Indian keyboardist Ricky Kej and South African flutist Wouter Kellerman are the primary principals who put the project together, it isn't just their talents that make this CD a world music wonder.

Kej and Kellerman corralled over a hundred musicians from around the planet to create this intoxicating hybrid of international and ethnic sounds, inspired by the lives and philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.

Illustrious Grammy notwithstanding, this is a winner by any standard.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Letterman (1980-2015)

The parenthetical years above are obviously not David Letterman's life span but rather the span of his extraordinary and legendary television career.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman will sign off for the last time, concluding 35 years as a television host, 33 of those years in late night. I have been an ardent fan for 24 years.

Letterman is truly the king of late night, having lasted longer than anyone else in that position, even Johnny Carson. In fact, Letterman is Carson's real successor. Sure, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon took over as successive hosts of The Tonight Show after Carson, but they are not his successors. They are merely followers in his footsteps.

Letterman, on the other hand, was personally groomed by Carson to be his successor, and even though NBC pushed Carson out and stiffed Letterman in favor of Leno, it was clear that Carson favored Letterman, as evidenced by Carson's many appearances on Letterman's show. Carson even sent many jokes to Letterman to use on TV.

One of my favorite Letterman skits over the years was “Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts,” after which viewers were given an address where they could write to request “Transcripts of Pat and Kenny Reading Oprah Transcripts.”

What set Letterman apart from his competitors was that unlike them, he wasn't about himself. He was about his guests, his cast of “characters,” and, most importantly, the comedy. Whenever he focused on himself, it was to poke fun at himself. Letterman was the undisputed master of self-deprecating humor.

Letterman's longevity will never be surpassed in our lifetime, especially in this era of transitional media technology, restless network executives, and fickle audiences. But, even if it were, perhaps sometime in the distant future, Letterman's like will never be seen again.

--Raj Manoharan

B.B. King (1925-2015)

What can I say about Riley “Beale Street Blues Boy” King that hasn't already been said?
All I can do is acknowledge that America has lost a true national treasure and the world an international icon. The King was indeed a global ambassador for the blues.
No matter what kind of music you like or whether or not you are a fan, there's no mistaking that B.B. was a class act, a true king of the blues and a master among musicians.
My favorite B.B. King moment is his guest-starring stint as himself on an episode of Sanford and Son.
The various images over the decades of King and his many beloved “Lucille” Gibson guitars will forever be ingrained in our collective conscious, and his legacy will continue to thrive thanks to his great body of work.
Long live the King.
--Raj Manoharan

CD Review – Surya: Chants of Light, by Nadaka and Gopika

The mystical spirit and exotic sounds of ancient India come to us once again in an accessible Western context, courtesy of Nadaka and Gopika.

The duo creates entrancing atmospheres, with Gopika and Nadaka's impassioned, heartfelt vocals and Nadaka's raga guitar and guitar synthesizer providing the focal point through which the traditional songs are revitalized in a contemporary setting.

Rounding out the alluring sounds are Keshava on tabla, Karthick Iyer on violin, Ganesh Basavaraj on tabla and percussions, and R. Rajkumar on gatham and percussion sampling.

If you're looking for a modern introduction to classical Indian music, this is a good place to start.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, May 11, 2015

CD Review – Closer, by Louis Colaiannia

The usually bright and poppy pianist Louis Colaiannia returns with an album of deep reflection, introspection, and contemplation, as evidenced by the lead off track devoted to the victims of the Aurora movie theater shooting a few years back (the proceeds of the single are earmarked for those victims).

In addition to the more intimate nature of the music, this CD also marks Colaiannia's first recording produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton, at Ackerman's Imaginary Road Studio in Vermont. As a result, Colaiannia's sound is enhanced by the talents of Ackerman's musical associates, including Eugene Friesen (cello), Jill Haley (English horn), Jeff Haynes (percussion), Tony Levin (bass), Jeff Oster (trumpet), and Noah Wilding (vocals).

Colaiannia's inspired compositions and graceful piano playing, combined with the stellar contributions of his fellow musicians, make this record an absolute delight to listen to.

This is Louis Colaiannia like you've never heard him before – up, closer, and personal.

--Raj Manoharan