Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stephen Hillenburg (1961-2018)

Walt Disney. Friz Freleng. Chuck Jones. Walter Lantz. Hanna-Barbera. Matt Groening.

And Stephen Hillenburg.

Yes, Stephen Hillenburg. The creator of the ubiquitous and ever-popular Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, which, not long after its debut in 1999, quickly became as iconic as its equally storied predecessors – Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, and The Simpsons.

It’s a rare bird – or in this case, sponge – of a cartoon that can capture the imagination and whimsy of both children and adults with its double serving of silly shenanigans and grownup humor – and also be funnier than most live-action film and television comedies.

And SpongeBob SquarePants has done exactly that, living well beyond its initial five- or six-year life expectancy and expanding to include two full-length animated/live-action theatrical motion pictures as well as a whole spectrum of merchandise.

It’s no wonder, then, that it’s so widely referenced in pop culture, including on The Simpsons.

If there’s one thing I (and Squidward) learned from SpongeBob SquarePants – and you can learn many things from SpongeBob SquarePants – it’s not to mess with sea bears.

It may be a sad time for now in Bikini Bottom, but thanks to Stephen Hillenburg, the hilarity will ensue and the laughter will continue for years to come.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 23, 2018

Di Blasio BrOs (2008), by Di Blasio BrOs

Although the photo on the front of the CD jacket looks endearingly over-the-top, like they say, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. These guys aren’t just mere poseurs – they ROCK!

The Di Blasio BrOs are real-life brothers from Italy who are famous as members of the European hard rock band Kymera, so they definitely have the compositional and performance chops to pull off this excellent foray into pulse-pounding instrumental music.

The Di Blasio BrOs make bold statements with majestic synthesizers, powerful drums, and, last but certainly not least, lead and rhythm guitars that draw you in with flaming licks, searing solos, and thundering chords from which you can’t – and don’t want to – escape.

Overall, the music has the style of power ballads, running the gamut from intensive to introspective and everything in between.

Think of this as Boston without vocals. This is what I imagine Tom Scholz would sound like if he made instrumental albums.

This is one of the best guitar albums of all time and a must-have for fans of loud, melodic, guitar rock. More albums please, Di Blasio BrOs!

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

RajMan Holiday Haiku

Happy Thanksgiving!

Peace and joy it be bringing!

For all's well living!

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, November 16, 2018

Giant Steps (2002), by Derryl Gabel

Derryl Gabel’s sophomore CD is one giant step for the fusion ax man, and one giant step for fusion kind.

Actually, it’s really not much of a leap for Gabel, because the guitarist already showcases his virtuosic level of playing on his debut album, Visions and Dreams.

However, he does widen the palette with which he applies his six-string savvy, expanding his musical boundaries with tasteful excursions into dance, funk, traditional/standard jazz, and swing. As varied as some of the genres here are, Gabel weaves them all into one cohesive whole with his fancy fretwork.

And when I say fancy, I certainly don’t mean style over substance, because Gabel plays with plenty of both style and substance.

Giant Steps firmly takes its place alongside Gabel’s first CD as one of the best guitar recordings of all time.

Derryl Gabel is definitely one of an increasingly rare breed – a true guitar hero for today and future generations.

--Raj Manoharan

Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Jerry Siegel. Joe Shuster. Bob Kane. Gene Roddenberry. George Lucas.

And Stan “The Man” Lee.

Among countless notables, these have been the primary pop cultural influences and inspirations of my life, and not just mine, but also those of several generations of the young and the young at heart.

Stan “The Man” was the last of the Big 3 comic book kings (Superman creators Siegel and Shuster and Batman creator Kane before him) to grace us with their greatness.

Now “all we are left with” are our memories and mementos of his and their four-color imaginations, which will continue to ignite and fuel our collective conscious through books, film, television, and memorabilia.

I am eternally grateful that one of my most cherished memories is the privilege of having interviewed Stan “The Man” himself by telephone for the occasion of the pay-per-view release of the first theatrical live-action Spider-Man film. Lee was one of the many luminaries (among them the film’s director Sam Raimi, Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Joe Quesada, and Marvel’s personal appearance Spider-Man turned Hollywood stuntman Scott Leva) whom I talked to by telephone for the cover story of the December 2002 issue of DirecTV: The Guide.

I will never forget Lee’s unique, larger-than-life personality (and voice), especially as he recounted how many tries it took (Insect-Man and on down the list) before he came up with the name Spider-Man.

Stan “The Man” indeed.

In the words of the beloved icon, “Make mine Marvel!” and


--Raj Manoharan

Douglas Rain (1928-2018)

Good night, HAL.

Bon voyage.

And thanks for the memory banks.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Visions and Dreams (2002), by Derryl Gabel

In my quest to find guitar heroes around my age that I can follow for the next 20 or 30 years since my lifelong ones are getting older (or dying off – RIP Allan Holdsworth), I have found the Holy Grail.

Mike Moreno is an excellent jazz guitarist, and Dhani Harrison is carrying on the legacy of his legendary rocker father in new and exciting ways, but perhaps best of all, the spirit of Holdsworth lives on in the six-string savvy of fusion ax man Derryl Gabel.

Gabel actually recorded this album in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when Holdsworth was still very much alive. Only in his late 20s/early 30s at the time, Gabel was already playing on the level of Holdsworth – not even Holdsworth played like that in his 20s.

This album is hands-down absolutely and positively one of the best guitar albums of all time. It’s vibrant, uplifting, inspiring, and awesome, buoyed by Gabel’s agile dexterity and clean monster tone. Not only does Gabel’s mastery of the fretboard echo that of his esteemed predecessor, but he also incorporates elements of the compositional and playing styles of Holdsworth and Eric Johnson, among others (including Andy Summers and the late great Hiram Bullock). In fact, if I hadn’t known otherwise, I would have thought that the last song on the album, “Blue Fingers,” was an Eric Johnson recording.

Gabel literally picked up where Holdsworth left off, releasing his debut record a year after Holdsworth’s last studio album. Visions and Dreams is as good as Holdsworth’s best work. That’s no easy feat, but Gabel’s fluidity and phrasing make it seem effortless. This might as well have been an Allan Holdsworth album, if Holdsworth had returned to original studio recording and with electric guitar no less.

The fact that Gabel can at will sound exactly like Holdsworth and Johnson, as well as other established guitarists, makes him no less original. He has a style and sound all his own, even as he pays tribute to the guitar greats that came before him.

Gabel has a couple of other albums as well as additional material that are available directly from him. He also seems to be keeping very busy as an online guitar instructor. Hopefully he will find some time to record and release new albums, because for all those who have felt a void since the passing of Allan Holdsworth, Derryl Gabel fills that chasm like no other – and then some.

--Raj Manoharan