Sunday, November 12, 2017

Then! Live in Tokyo (2003, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

One of my regrets in life is that I never got around to seeing master guitarist Allan Holdsworth work his fretboard magic in person. For me and others who share my predicament, this album is the next best thing, and it is a wonder.

Although this was originally released in 2003, the set was actually recorded in 1990, and it shows a musical visionary and genius in the improvisational brilliance of the moment.

Aside from the interesting but otherwise nonessential explorations of the composed-on-the-spot "Zones," the collection features a choice selection of artist and fan favorites, which generally hew to the overall structure of the studio originals but allow plenty of leeway for Holdsworth to take off on ecstatically dizzying flights of frenzy.

And take off he does, especially on “White Line” and “Non-Brewed Condiment,” which are the best versions of those tunes and, dare I say, among the most amazing and awesome displays of lead electric guitar playing ever recorded.

For diehard Allan Holdsworth fans, this is a great closer to the incredible, must-have, 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection.
 
For those who don’t want to do a deep dive into the box set or the 2-CD artist-curated retrospective, Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection, but want to hear great guitar by an exceptional guitarist, Then! is as close to an excellent, compact “greatest hits” collection as you can get, as well as a fantastic record of Holdsworth’s prowess live.

--Raj Manoharan

Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie (2001, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

Aside from some electric guitar on the lead track and Dave Carpenter playing bass on a couple of cuts, Allan Holdsworth's final studio album produced and released in his lifetime is primarily a synthaxe-only affair, making this his purest and most personal expression of his artistic vision.

The music, recorded at a difficult time for Holdsworth, is contemplative and cinematic, living up to the title and also making it curious that Holdsworth never composed actual motion picture and television soundtracks. Holdsworth would have been a perfect match for Hollywood.

It's also unfortunate for dedicated and loyal fans that Holdsworth didn't make any more solo records for the remaining 16 years of his life. However, he did stay active with live performances at events and festivals and guest appearances and collaborations on other musicians' albums.

Many unappreciative guitar aficionados, including several of Holdsworth's own ardent followers, found Holdsworth's synthaxe musings inaccessible and mystifying. But if you really pay close attention, you will discern not only Holdsworth's brilliance as a composer but also his unparalleled skill and unique talent as a guitarist, even and especially in the context of the synthaxe. And therein lies the reward.

--Raj Manoharan

The Grand Pecking Order (2001), by Oysterhead

"Come on kiddies gather 'round / There's a new sensation here in town / When all else has been done and said / Along comes Mr. Oysterhead."

Oysterhead may not be the last word – or note or chord – in music, or any art for that matter, but they are definitely one of the most unique, exhilarating, and maniacal voices in the socioeconomic and political entertainment continuum.

I recently exhumed this gem from deep within my archival collection in anticipation of the eponymous debut album by supergroup Gizmodrome, co-founded by Police and Animal Logic drummer Stewart Copeland, who also sits behind the kit for Oysterhead in collusion with Primus bassist/vocalist Les Claypool and Phish guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio.

Obviously, the collaboration of such musical giants as Copeland, Claypool, and Anastasio results in instrumental performances of the highest technical – not to mention grand pecking – order. And thanks especially to the freewheeling mad genius of Claypool, as well as Copeland and Anastasio, the lyrics and vocals are refreshingly ludicrous.

For example, sample some more practical wisdom from Oysterhead: "Rubberneck lions as I lie in bed / I bought a cactus from a miser named Fred / I choose to live on water and bread / Rubberneck lions as I lie in bed."

Although Oysterhead themselves are not the last word, I leave the last words of my review to them, extolling their presumably imaginary namesake's virtues, which I believe they also share:

"He's an inspiration! He's an inspiration! He's an inspiration to us ALL!"

--Raj Manoharan

Riff Tricks – The Instrumentals Vol. 1 (2017), by Gizmodrome

This is basically the same album as the official self-titled release, but without the main vocals and featuring some slightly different versions, a couple of live tracks, and guest vocals on one song.

The removal of vocals for the most part gives the record the advantage of focusing on the high-level instrumental prowess of the four musical giants involved, namely Adrian Belew on guitar, Mark King on bass, Vittorio Cosma on keyboards, and grand master Stewart Copeland on drums.

The generally rigid structure of the compositions indicates that they were designed more as “playing for singing rather than playing for playing” (shout out to Roger Low!). Regardless, the music is energetic and exhilarating, and the players still manage to let loose even within the confines of the arrangements.

In addition to being a great companion to the regular album and a satisfying alternative for those who would prefer instrumental versions, this is as fine an example of forward-thinking progressive rock as any.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

3 for 3 (2017), by Mike Moreno

With 3 for 3, Mike Moreno’s scorecard for high-quality album releases is now 6 for 6.

The Texas-born, New York City-based jazz guitarist’s sixth solo record is his first leading a trio, and it is every bit as compelling and engrossing as his previous entries fronting quartets and quintets.

Moreno, bassist Doug Weiss, and drummer Kendrick Scott prove to be a tight unit as they dazzle their way through eight covers with aplomb and deftness. The arrangements and performances are elaborate and beautiful.

Very few artists in any genre have a body of work that is consistently good, and Moreno holds an esteemed place in that extremely small group. Not every single song of his, whether original or standard, is absolutely stunning or amazing, but none of them are sub-par or uninteresting either, a rare and unique feat in itself that makes each of his albums equally solid.

All of the songs here are captivating, but my favorites are “Clube da Esquina No. 1,” with its mesmerizing blend of lyrical acoustic guitar and swooning electric guitar, and “Glass Eyes,” which features swirls of cascading electric guitar tones.

This is another outstanding entry from an extraordinary musician who continues to excite, innovate, and inspire.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New Mike Moreno Album Scheduled for Release November 3, 2017

New York City-based jazz guitarist Mike Moreno is set to release his sixth solo album, 3 for 3, this Friday, November 3, 2017.

The collection appears to be the Texas native's first trio record as a bandleader. The lineup includes Doug Weiss on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums.

In anticipation of the new album, I have come up with a recommended playlist of my favorite Mike Moreno tunes, spanning his five previous entries.

Enjoy!

World of the Marionettes * Uncertainty * I Have a Dream * Another Way 1 * Milagre dos peixes * Mantra # 5 * Another Way 2 * The Mariner * The Hills of Kykuit * Lotus

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, October 9, 2017

In Parallel (2017), by Dhani Harrison

thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy member Dhani Harrison finally steps out on his own, and the result is quite – something.

While Dhani’s vocal resemblance to his late father is uncannily surreal, make no mistake – this is not your father’s Harrison (or your Harrison), nor is it Dhani’s father.

What sets Dhani apart from the other Beatles’ children who have followed in their fathers’ musical footsteps is the fact that Dhani is not aping his ancestor, and that is a very good thing. Where the elder Harrison found his voice in folksy, spiritual pop-rock balladry, Dhani is clearly creating his own sonic stamp, and it is a stunning and mesmerizing one at that.

The music is epic and darkly cinematic in scope, ebbing and flowing with pulsating synthesizers, deeply penetrating bass lines, entrancing and hypnotic beats, and flashes of fiery electric guitar. The result is very modern and dynamic, combining elements of George Harrison, Sting, Andy Summers, Moby, Hans Zimmer, and Tom Holkenberg (aka Junkie XL), all filtered through Dhani's vision and artistry.

While Dhani has succeeded in establishing his own unique musical identity, his father’s influence – as well as, to a lesser extent, that of longtime family friend Jeff Lynne – can be heard throughout, most notably on “The Light Under the Door,” “All About Waiting,” and “Admiral of Upside Down.”

The spirit and voice of his father live on through Dhani Harrison as he builds upon a great legacy and takes it in bold, new, and exciting directions.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Gizmodrome (2017), by Gizmodrome

If you're a fan of Stewart Copeland's unique and distinctive talents as a drummer, soundtrack composer, and – yes – vocalist, you will absolutely love this album.

The Police, Animal Logic, and Oysterhead percussionist has enlisted the services of some of the best musicians in the business, resulting in one of the most exhilarating and whimsical progressive world rock releases ever.

Adrian Belew is, as usual, a trippy delight with his psychedelic acid rock electric guitar flourishes, as well as backup and occasional vocals. And while I'm not familiar with the work of Mark King, his performances here on bass and backup vocals are on the level. Rounding out the quartet is Vittorio Cosma on keyboards.

There is a palpable African influence on many of the songs, recalling Copeland's Rhythmatist and Leopard Son soundtrack albums. Traces of his Equalizer and other film and television themes can also be heard.

But even as the album features iconic elements of Copeland's and his band members' past work, the music is fresh, visceral, and ear-opening.

This is one supergroup that's really super.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

After having tackled jazz standards on his previous outing, Allan Holdsworth returns to original compositions, although the feel of his fusion this time is more jazz than rock.

Holdsworth still wields his electric guitar and synthaxe mightily, but with a softer touch thanks to his all-acoustic rhythm section and the presence of trumpet on a couple of tracks.

"The Drums Were Yellow," for example, could easily be "The Drums Were Mellow." But that's not a bad thing, because Holdsworth's more laid-back approach allows him to be more expressive and reflective, which is not to say that he hasn't been either of those things even at his typical high velocities of playing.

This is a nice, pleasant, and easygoing – but no less impressive – album that sets the stage perfectly for the mostly synthaxe session that follows.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, September 17, 2017

None Too Soon (1996, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

Allan Holdsworth proves himself to be quite the hep cat on this atypical and uncharacteristic album of mostly jazz standards.

Obviously, due to the nature of the material, this outing finds Holdsworth at his most subdued. But, Allan Holdsworth being Allan Holdsworth, the guitar great still manages to take off with delightfully dizzying displays of razzle-dazzle and come back in for a perfect landing at just the right place and the right time.

The music for the most part covers the iconic works of jazz icons such as guitarist Django Reinhardt and Holdsworth's idol, saxophonist John Coltrane. Also featured are a couple of original tunes by Holdsworth's keyboardist and frequent collaborator Gordon Beck, as well as a unique take on The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood," which Holdsworth masterfully turns into a jazz standard all his own.

Whether covers or originals, Allan Holdsworth gives it all his all, creating an all-around pleasant album that should please jazz aficionados as well as fans of elegant, tasteful, and highly advanced electric guitar.

--Raj Manoharan

Hard Hat Area (1994, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

This is the very first Allan Holdsworth album I bought, back when it was originally released in 1994. I even remember the Greenwich Village CD store where I purchased it (incidentally, the same one where I got Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales a year earlier).

After having recently listened to Holdsworth's previous six releases, looking back in hindsight, Hard Hat Area is definitely his best work up to that point in his career. As to whether it's his best overall, I won't be able to say until I listen to his remaining five albums.

I can best assess this CD by responding to three customer reviews that drew my attention.

One listener states that Holdsworth's compositions are not very strong. If this were actually the case, Holdsworth's highly advanced guitar playing would merely be a pointless exercise in running up and down scales, which it absolutely is not.

The reviewer might be referring to the fact that the music is not primarily riff- or hook-based, like, say, the tunes of fellow guitarist Andy Summers. Holdsworth's songs are looser, but by no means less compelling, freeing him up to take off on extravagant flights of fretboard fancy. This is very much in keeping with the spirit of jazz improvisation that Holdsworth ascribed to, especially being an ardent fan and admirer as he was of saxophone legend John Coltrane.

Another commenter rightly points out that, unlike certain showboating shredders who do lightning-speed leads irrespective of the context in which they're playing, Holdsworth's fiery solos are always anchored to and serve the chord progressions and structure of the overall composition.

Finally, one fan writes that if you like lots of electric guitar, this album is worth it.

I wholeheartedly agree.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 9, 2017

40th Anniversary Police Playlists

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the formation of The Police, I have come up with the following two 10-track playlists.

Too Much Information (Fast-Paced Rockers)

Next to You * Peanuts * It's Alright for You * No Time This Time * Bombs Away * Man in a Suitcase * Too Much Information * Rehumanize Yourself * Synchronicity * Synchronicity II

Voices Inside My Head (Moody Ruminations)

So Lonely * Hole in My Life * Bring on the Night * Contact * Driven to Tears * Voices Inside My Head * Secret Journey * Darkness * Walking in Your Footsteps * Tea in the Sahara

A good bonus playlist would be all the non-album tracks from the 1993 set Message in a Box.

--Raj Manoharan

Wardenclyffe Tower (1992, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

While Allan Holdsworth's solo recording career took a couple of albums to get off the ground, there is no such thing as a bad Allan Holdsworth album, and Wardenclyffe Tower continues the guitar great's streak of top-flight, progressive jazz/rock/new age fusion releases.

Named after the experimental wi-fi station built by science genius Nikola Tesla on Long Island in the first decade of the 20th century, the disc lives up to that storied facility's spirit of technological innovation and enterprise.

The music is, as usual, slick and high-tech, with Holdsworth's guitar and SynthAxe and his band's bass, drums, and keyboards coalescing into a dynamic blend of scintillating sonic radiance and brilliance. Holdsworth's trademark sense of humor is on display as well, with the first tune punctuated by a hilarious, self-deprecating skit.

You could never go wrong with an Allan Holdsworth album, especially one with a bit of a history lesson, to boot.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Here Comes the Son

After spending the last few years as a member of thenewno2 and Fistful of Mercy, as well as a film and television composer, the Quiet Beatle's progeny, Dhani Harrison, is finally stepping out on his own with the release of his first solo album, In Parallel, due October 6.

The 39-year-old son of George apparently is quite the talent on synthesizers and especially guitar, which should come as no surprise given who his teacher was.

According to Rolling Stone magazine, the songs on the album are very cinematic in terms of sound and scope.

Bring it on, Dhani. We are all awaiting on you.

--Raj Manoharan

Ringo Starr and Stewart Copeland Back on the Beat

Speaking of The Beatles, Dhani's “uncle” and one-time drumming instructor Ringo Starr is still pounding and belting away at the sprightly young age of 77, with his 19th solo album, Give More Love, scheduled for release on September 15.

And not speaking of The Beatles but still speaking of drumming, Police stick man and new senior citizen Stewart Copeland once again takes a seat behind the skins in his first band project since Oysterhead (and the Police reunion tour).

The eponymously titled Gizmodrome, which also features guitarist Adrian Belew of King Crimson, bassist Mark King of Level 42, and keyboardist Vittorio Cosma, is also out on September 15.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Secrets (1989, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

This is another terrific album in Allan Holdsworth's masterful repertoire, and one that strikes a nice balance between guitar- and Synthaxe-based compositions.

The Synthaxe tunes are elegant, both in terms of tone and structure, and the guitar tracks feature Holdsworth's typically virtuosic and otherworldly solos.

In addition to the excellent instrumentals, the album includes two vocal songs, the best of which is easily "Endomorph," sung by Craig Copeland and exhibiting one of Holdsworth's most searing, searching, and incisive guitar performances. It is among Holdsworth's finest material.

It's no secret that Allan Holdsworth stands apart in terms of his artistic vision and technical execution, and Secrets is a prime example of his creative greatness.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, August 25, 2017

30th Anniversary Andy Summers Playlists

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Andy Summers’ solo recording career, and to commemorate the occasion, I’ve come up with what I feel are the guitarist’s definitive musical highlights of the last three decades.

Think of the following as a three-CD, 30-track best-of retrospective, which can be divided into three self-contained 10-track collections.

Disc One: Shining Sea (Shimmering Soundscapes)

Guide * Forgotten Steps * Image and Likeness * XYZ * Red Balloon * Mysterious Barricades * Shining Sea * Imagine You * Journey through Blue Regions * Help from Jupiter

Disc Two: The Somnambulist (Soft Fusion)

Hold Me * Luna * The Golden Wire * Passion of the Shadow * Bacchante * Low Flying Doves * The Somnambulist * Now I’m Free * Harmonograph * If Anything

Disc Three: Ruffled Feathers (Hard Fusion)

Nowhere * Earthly Pleasures * Mexico 1920 * Ruffled Feathers * Meshes of the Afternoon * Shuffle Boil * Tonight at Noon * Above the World * Metal Dog * Elephant Bird

Of these, my absolute Top Ten for a single-CD best-of collection is as follows:

Best of 1987-2017

XYZ * Shining Sea * The Golden Wire * Mexico 1920 * Bacchante * Meshes of the Afternoon * The Somnambulist * Tonight at Noon * Now I'm Free * If Anything

--Raj Manoharan

Jerry Lewis (1926-2017)

Truly the King of Comedy.

--Raj Manoharan

Glen Campbell (1936-2017)

He was him.

--Raj Manoharan

Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

He had the right stuff.

--Raj Manoharan

Martin Landau (1928-2017)

Mission: Impossible, Space: 1999, Ed Wood, B.A.P.S., The X-Files.

Legend.

Pull the string!

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Sand (1987, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Sand is about as far removed from a typical guitar album as you can get, and yet it is a prime example of the far-reaching sonic capabilities that can be achieved with a guitar.

This is Allan Holdsworth's first fully instrumental solo album, and it is a flawless delight from beginning to end. It is one of those rare records that can be played continuously without end and without exhaustion.

As brought to vivid and visceral life by Holdsworth's celestial Synthaxe tones and sizzling six-string solos, the compositions are cinematic and compelling, with buoyant backup support provided by sound effects technician John England, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, bassists Jimmy Johnson and Biff Vincent, and drummers Gary Husband and Chad Wackerman. Wackerman especially kicks his powerhouse pounding into high gear on this outing.

After 30 years, Sand remains a timeless testament to Holdsworth's visionary genius and brilliance.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Atavachron (1986, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Although Atavachron isn't as perfect an album as its predecessor, Metal Fatigue, it's nearly as perfect, with Allan Holdsworth sounding the slickest he ever has up to this point.

Already a pioneer in the use of guitar synthesizers, Holdsworth adds the Synthaxe to his sonic palette. The Synthaxe is a cross between a guitar and a synthesizer, with Holdsworth adding a breath controller, enabling him to achieve crystalline tones never before possible with six strings.

The result is an album and title track that live up to their namesake, a time machine from the original Star Trek series episode "All Our Yesterdays," which is also the name of the one vocal track here, sung by Rowanne Mark. The cover illustration features Holdsworth, apparently an ardent Trekkie, in the atavachron, dressed in a Starfleet engineering/security red shirt and holding his Synthaxe.

Exploring strange new sounds and seeking out new music and new compositions, Allan Holdsworth boldly goes where no guitarist has gone before.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, July 21, 2017

Metal Fatigue (1985, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

The guitar great finally catches up with the decade he was born for, with synthesizer sounds aplenty both played by keyboardist Alan Pasqua and triggered by Allan Holdsworth through his guitar controller.

The result is Holdsworth's first truly slick, high-tech, state-of-the-art album, providing a perfect sonic launch pad for his fretboard flights of fancy.

In addition to the instrumental tunes, the record also includes Holdsworth's best rock vocal tracks, with lead turns by singers Paul Williams and Paul Kordo. The songs would have been right at home on 1980s radio and MTV and still sound awesome today.

Together with bassists Jimmy Johnson and Gary Willis and drummers Chad Wackerman, Gary Husband, and Mac Hine, Holdsworth creates music unlike any other before or since.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Road Games (1983, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Allan Holdsworth's second album is where the fretboard wizard truly found his voice and really took off.

His dynamic compositions and quickfire electric guitar leads soar, taking his music to sonic heights where very few, if any, could reach.

The guitarist, bassist Jeff Berlin and drummer Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa, Andy Summers) flex their musical muscles on an eclectic mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks featuring singers Paul Williams and Cream legend Jack Bruce.

Highlights include "Three Sheets to the Wind," "Tokyo Dream" (the original rock version; a later, jazzier version appears on Holdsworth's 1992 release Wardenclyffe Tower), and "Was There?" (with vocals by Bruce).

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 8, 2017

I.O.U. (1982, 2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Although Allan Holdsworth's compositions, arrangements, and musicianship get even better on later albums (an amazing feat in and of itself), this is a strong official solo debut by the electric guitar extraordinaire.

This remastered edition features Holdsworth's signature atmospheric instrumentals, as well as unique vocal songs performed by frequent Holdsworth collaborator Paul Williams (Holdsworth's fellow Englishman, not to be confused with the American singer-songwriter of the same name).

In addition to Holdsworth on guitar and violin, the tight band includes Paul Carmichael on bass and Gary Husband on drums and piano.

Holdsworth's virtuosic artistry and distinct fusion of jazz, rock, and new age, and the stellar performances of his solid rhythm section, make this album an appetite-whetting harbinger of greater things to come.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection (2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

I had forgotten what an amazing and awesome guitarist and composer Allan Holdsworth was. Thanks to the two-disc Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection and the 12-disc box set, both released just a week before Holdsworth's untimely and unfortunate passing at the age of 70, I have realized the error of my ways and been set back upon the correct path.

In addition to most of the 28 tracks personally selected by Holdsworth for the Eidolon collection, my other favorite tunes from among his 97-song catalog include the following: "Atavachron," "Sand," "Clown," "Joshua," "Wardenclyffe Tower," "Zarabeth," "Questions," "The Un-Merry Go Round Part 5," "Prelude," and "Hard Hat Area."

That said, all of Holdsworth's solo work is outstanding, especially if you love electric guitar in the context of jazz, rock, new age, and fusion.

Holdsworth clearly had more inspiration left in him, as he was recently working on his first new studio album in well over a decade. Hopefully his family will see fit to finish and release it.

In any event, the double CD and the box set serve as lasting reminders of Holdsworth's artistic excellence and purity.

Holdsworth may no longer be with us in body, but his "eidolon" will remain forever through his brilliant, one-of-a-kind music.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Adios (2017), by Glen Campbell

CD Fan Review

Glen Campbell, who is in the final stages of Alzheimer's Disease, recorded this, his final studio album, in 2012 just after his diagnosis, and it is among his finest efforts.

Although the photography features Campbell posing with one of his guitars, Campbell leaves the instrumentation to others, most notably his long-time banjo player Carl Jackson, who produced the album and plays guitar, and Campbell's daughter Ashley, who plays banjo and accompanies and backs up her father on vocals. The album also features Campbell's sons Cal and Shannon and guests Willie Nelson and Vince Gill.

This allows the elder Campbell to focus on singing, and he really gives it his all. It would be a cliche to say he has never sounded better, but at the very least, his voice is as wide-ranging, nuanced, and poignant as ever, especially in light of – and in spite of – his personal struggles.

The songs are all excellent, making the album a pleasure to listen to from beginning to end and over and over again. I have developed a particular fondness for "Everybody's Talkin'," "Postcards from Paris," and "A Thing Called Love."

Adios is so good that you wish this wasn't the end. But it's a fitting farewell, as well as a lasting reminder of how good of a musician, singer, and all-around entertainer Glen Campbell was.

--Raj Manoharan

Chuck (2017), by Chuck Berry

CD Fan Review

After gracing Earth with his presence for 90 years, the father of rock-and-roll has left us mere mortals behind, but not without bequeathing to us his final, posthumously-released gift.

And what a gift it is!

Chuck is Chuck's first new studio album since 1979's Rock It! (and obviously now his last one), and it shows an artist for whom age truly was a number, as he hadn't lost his creative and performing spark.

I don't know of any other musician who sounds or sounded as vibrant and energetic at 90 years of age as Chuck does on this record. His guitar playing and singing are as lively as ever, especially combined with the latest, state-of-the-art recording technology. Chuck is still rocking it!

The album is a family affair, with Chuck's daughter on harmonica and accompanying/backup vocals and three generations of Berry men on guitars. Chuck Sr.'s classic style is unmistakable, with Chuck Jr. displaying more of a jazzy side and Chuck III ripping fiery, screeching solos. I hope the latter two continue their patriarch's legacy, at least in terms of guitar playing.

Chuck has left the building, and he goes out at the top of his game.

--Raj Manoharan

The Definitive Collection (2006), by Chuck Berry

CD Fan Review

Thirty seminal rock-and-roll hits, all on one compact disc, and clocking in at just over an hour. That's a pretty concise and pretty comprehensive overview of the career heyday of the man who started it all – the one and only Chuck Berry.

"Roll Over Beethoven" (famously covered by The Beatles during their Hamburg shows), "Maybelline," "Johnny B. Goode" – they're all here, the important and historic ones, at least.

Although the majority of the recordings are from the 1950s, the clarity and fidelity of the sound shine brightly, especially Berry's articulate vocals and stinging, sparkling guitar riffs.

The result is an engaging and entertaining retrospective fitting for rock's first singer and six-stringer.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adam West (1928-2017)

Of all the actors who have portrayed Bruce Wayne and his crimefighting, caped crusading alter ego Batman on (and off) camera, the third one, Adam West, is probably the most memorable and the most beloved.

A big part of my 1980s childhood (from reruns of the 1960s television series and motion picture), West is one of those actors I wish I had the chance to interview when I was a newspaper and magazine entertainment writer in the 1990s and 2000s.

Short of that, I got the next best thing – a 1966 Batman credit card with West's personalized autograph (as both himself and Batman) that I bought from West through his Web site a couple of years ago.

After the Batmania craze ended in the late 1960s, West returned to the role several times in animated form along with his co-star Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin. The two also reunited for a semi-autobiographical, live-action TV movie in the early 2000s and most recently voiced their characters for an animated film set during the original show's era and released last year for the 50th anniversary.

West also received late-career notoriety playing himself on an episode of The Simpsons and an even more outlandish version – Mayor Adam West – on Family Guy.

Of all the Batmen before and after West, the ones with the most historical distinction are the first actor to play Batman (Lewis Wilson in the 1943 movie serial Batman) and the first actor to play Batman since West (Michael Keaton in the 1989 movie Batman, 21 years after the end of the TV series).

But the one Batman to rule them all is Adam West, who truly will be Batman forever.

--Raj Manoharan

Glenne Headly (1955-2017)

I loved her in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy and TV's Monk.

A bright light of stage and screen, which will be less bright without her.

She will be surely missed and fondly remembered.

--Raj Manoharan

Roger Moore (1927-2017)

Saint, spy, bumbling inspector.

Fun memories of seeing Moonraker (1979), Octopussy (1983), and A View to a Kill (1985) in theaters during their original releases.

A class act through and through.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection (2017), by Allan Holdsworth

CD Fan Review

Guitar great Allan Holdsworth sadly may be gone, but he is certainly not forgotten, especially thanks to the two-disc Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection and the 12-CD box set The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever! The Allan Holdsworth Album Collection.

As I had not listened to or kept track of Holdsworth for over a decade, I was shocked to read of his passing – and just as shocked to read it on the front page of Yahoo News. For someone as on the fringes of the mainstream as Holdsworth was, the decent print and online media coverage of his death has been somewhat heartening.

Although I had lost touch with Holdsworth's happenings in recent years, I immediately recalled the irresistible, Oriental guitar-and-synth hook of "Tokyo Dream," one of the highlights of the 28-track Eidolon compilation and obviously one of the most memorable Holdsworth tunes for me.

There are plenty of other great cuts on the album, which like the box set both was overseen by Holdsworth and came out just a week before he left us. Actually, all the songs, most of them instrumental, are great, as they all feature Holdsworth's virtuosic guitar and synthaxe playing.

But in terms of overall composition, hooks, and general awesomeness, my top ten tracks are as follows: "The Sixteen Men of Tain," "Eidolon," "Tullio," "Sphere of Innocence," "Dodgy Boat," "City Nights," "Tokyo Dream," "Temporary Fault," "The 4.15 Bradford Executive," and "Curves."

Although 70 is too young to go, and it would have been nice to have Holdsworth with us for a little longer, at least he made it to 70. In his final years, the distinctively eagle-faced Holdsworth looked like a cuddly, lovable old grandpa, which by all accounts he was.

Holdsworth's was a life well lived and well played.

Well played, Mr. Holdsworth. Well played.

--Raj Manoharan

Infinite Tuesday: Autobiographical Riffs – The Music (2017), by Michael Nesmith

CD Fan Review

Released in conjunction with Michael Nesmith's memoir of the same name, Infinite Tuesday provides a fine introduction to and overview of Nesmith's music career from 1965 to 2005.

The collection is similar to George Harrison's first greatest hits album in that, just as the Harrison compilation featured his top songs with The Beatles, this retrospective includes Nesmith's lead vocal performances on his select Monkees compositions. Chief among these are the first recorded version of "The Girl I Knew Somewhere," which showcases Nesmith in top form as a singer.

A solo highlight is the very pensive and existential "Opening Theme – Life, the Unsuspecting Captive" from Nesmith's 1974 concept album The Prison.

Also included here is "The New Recruit," a rare, cheeky anti-war song with endearingly goofy Gomer Pyle-style vocals recorded by Nesmith under the name Michael Blessing before joining The Monkees.

Infinite Tuesday isn't quite as infinite as it could be, as Nesmith has recorded new Monkees and solo material in recent years. But as a short primer on his official, physically released non-Monkees work, it gets the job done.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017)

One of the few, true guitar heroes.

Will never be another like him.

Great loss, irreplaceable.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, March 24, 2017

Triboluminescence (2017), by Andy Summers

CD Fan Review

Summers got his groove back.

For the longest time, I had held out hope that Andy Summers would create another album similar in vein to his first two solo instrumental efforts, Mysterious Barricades (1988) and The Golden Wire (1989), which feature his compositions and guitar playing at their most transcendental and sublime. Triboluminescence rekindles the spirit of those original records, but on a whole other level, and the result is absolutely delightful.

Expounding upon his explorations of self-sufficient sonic possibilities begun with the 2015 industrial tech whack offering Metal Dog, Summers exceeds that accomplishment, using his guitars and other instruments (and cheating slightly with the collusion of cellist Artyom Manukyan on one track) to create alien and otherworldly sounds that transport you into a wondrous dimension of exhilarating sensory perception.

Standout tunes include the haunting “If Anything,” “Elephant Bird” (classic Andy Summers), "Gigantopithecus" (psychedelic reggae rock), “Ricochet” (bluesy funk), the eerie and enigmatic "Sam and Janet" (with a special cameo by "Metal Dog" from the album of the same name), and “Help from Jupiter” (spacey shades of Barricades and Bewitched). (The latter three tracks are digital/vinyl exclusives.)

Summers described his personal musical direction in the late 1980s and early 1990s as “new fusion.” He calls his unique stylings on Triboluminescence “new exotic.” I myself like to think of it as “new mysterious.”

Without a doubt, Triboluminescence certainly ranks as one of Andy Summers’ best albums (it's my personal favorite), right up there with his Private Music catalog, as well as Synaesthesia and Earth + Sky. It is also solid and demonstrable proof that at age 74, Andy Summers is still very much in his prime – and still very much in the top tier of guitar masters.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

All hail the Pop of Rock!

And still poppin' and rockin' in peace!

New album out June 17!

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Logan (2017)

Movie Fan Review

At the very least, this is the best film adaptation of Marvel characters not produced by Marvel Studios. It is hands-down easily one of the best motion pictures of all time.

As graphic and unrelenting as the violence on display is, the writing, directing, and acting – all of which are far superior to the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies – transcend it.

The Western road-trip structure of the production, as well as its gorgeous location cinematography and organic action scenes, makes it a refreshing change of pace from the typical superhero saga super-soaked in outlandish computer graphic imagery. Also, the inclusion of actual X-Men comic books as props is a brilliant, self-referential touch. Plus, there are a couple of really intense, literally mind-numbing sequences.

Hugh Jackman’s and Patrick Stewart’s career-high performances in this are without peer among superhero movies, and their relationships with each other, newcomer Dafne Keen, and the other actors/characters are compelling and involving. You really root for the good guys, and you truly despise the bad guys.

Keen is a star in the making with her debut in this as the wild, feral, brutal, obstinate, and ultimately endearing Laura. Keen is the best child actor I’ve seen in a long time, if ever.

What our beloved Logan (Jackman) and Professor X (Stewart) go through is sobering and tough to watch, making their climactic payoffs substantive and dramatically and cathartically satisfying. Logan especially undergoes a transformative experience unlike any other superhero character on film before him, giving this movie a depth and soul that no other superhero picture has and thus making it the best in the genre.

The entire film, especially the very end, is a fitting tribute to the most beloved X-Men character both in comics and on screen.

On a tangential note, the Deadpool short preceding Logan is a riot and, although completely different in feel and tone, a great lead-in to the main show.

--Raj Manoharan


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Andy Summers' New Album Due for Release in Late March

Andy Summers' latest album, Triboluminescence, is scheduled to be released in late March (Summers' Web site says March 24; Amazon says March 31).

Continuing in the experimental vein of Summers' last release, 2015's Metal Dog, the new collection again features Summers playing all the instruments in addition to his signature guitars, with the exception of the cello played by Artyom Manukyan on the track “Garden of the Sea.”

Triboluminescence is available for pre-order on Amazon.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, February 27, 2017

EJ (2016), by Eric Johnson

CD Fan Review

To this day, Eric Johnson’s acoustic guitar instrumental “Desert Song,” from his 1986 debut album Tones, strikes me as underwhelming. Perhaps it’s because it stands alone among and pales in comparison to his vastly superior electric guitar songs on that record.

However, Johnson’s acoustic compositions have improved greatly over the years – his virtuosity as both an electric and an acoustic guitarist was never in question – and EJ, his first full acoustic guitar and piano album, showcases him at the apex of his skills away from the electric guitar.

Housed in an elegant digipak with a glossy booklet and high-quality artwork and photographs, the collection provides a balanced mix of acoustic guitar and/or piano instrumentals and vocal songs – some covers and some originals – with additional backing from guest musicians and vocalists on a few tracks.

In addition to his superb mastery of frets and keys, Johnson is also at the top of his game as a singer. At 62 years of age, he still sounds exactly like he did in his 20s, but with more soulful nuance and the wisdom of much experience.

Instrumental highlights include “Once Upon a Time in Texas,” “Song for Irene,” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” Of the vocal songs – all of which are excellent – my personal favorites are the folksy jazz-rock fusion take on Jimi Hendrix's "One Rainy Wish," "All Things You Are," and the epic, stunning solo piano rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle."

EJ not only takes its place alongside Eric Johnson’s finest works and the top guitar/piano albums, but also as one of the best efforts in any music genre.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, February 10, 2017

Live at Jay Resort, Jay, Vermont 9/10/2016 (2016), by Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Music Download Fan Review

I was looking for a good overview of Bruce Hornsby’s thus-far 30-year career, and wouldn’t you know it, Hornsby himself just provided a great one as a free download at www.brucehornsbylive.com.

With a running time of at least two hours, this set not only revisits some seminal songs from The Range but also features a lot of Hornsby’s solo and Noisemaker material.

While the majority of the tunes are not as recognizable as Hornsby’s hits from his 1980s heyday, they all feature his unique talents on piano, keyboards, accordion, and hammered dulcimer, as well as his penchant for quirky, funky rhythmic grooves.

And from the sound of his voice, Hornsby’s pipes are as golden as ever, showing no trace of his 62 years of age. In fact, Hornsby’s singing leaves today’s younger “talents” in the dust.

Adding to the exhilaration and exuberance of this live performance is the energetic and enthusiastic playing of The Noisemakers: JV Collier on bass, Gibb Droll on guitar, JT Thomas on organ, Ross Holmes on fiddle and mandolin, and Sonny Emory on drums and percussion.

Musical highlights include “Take Out the Trash,” “Dreamland,” “The Show Goes On,” and Hornsby’s brilliant, beautiful, breathtaking fusion of his “Fortunate Son” with the Pink Floyd classic “Comfortably Numb.”

If you’re looking for an awesome and enjoyable celebration of Bruce Hornsby’s first 30 years of music, this timely and entertaining release certainly fits the bill.

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Richard Hatch (1945-2017)

I was a literally starry-eyed five-year-old when I first saw Battlestar Galactica upon its premiere in 1978.

For the next year, I was rapt as I watched Commander Adama (Lorne Greene), his son Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch), and Lieutenant Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) lead a ragtag fleet of spaceships in search of the lost thirteenth human colony, Earth.

Around the same time, or maybe a little while after, I remember seeing Hatch on the big screen in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen.

In the late 1990s, I had the good fortune, honor, and privilege of interviewing Hatch by telephone for the IGN Sci-Fi Web site. At the time, Hatch had written a couple of Battlestar Galactica novels and produced a professionally made trailer for a potential sequel series starring him and many veterans of the original show.

At the end of the interview, I mentioned to Hatch that my mother was a fan of his since his soap opera days. He immediately asked for my mother’s name and address and promptly mailed her a personally autographed black-and-white photograph of himself.

Thank you, Mr. Hatch, for taking the time to talk to me, and also for your graciousness.

--Raj Manoharan