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