Saturday, December 29, 2018

Happy Birthday, Andy Summers!

On New Year's Eve, Monday, December 31, 2018, Andy Summers – my favorite guitarist and musician of all time – turns 76 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 XYZ, Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, Charming Snakes, World Gone Strange, Synaesthesia, Earth + Sky, Fundamental (with Fernanda Takai), Circus Hero (with his rock band Circa Zero), and Triboluminescence.

--Raj Manoharan

Happy Birthday, Michael Nesmith!

On Sunday, December 30, 2018, Michael Nesmith of The Monkees (the one with the green wool hat) turns 76 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, Movies of the Mind, and Live at the Troubadour.

More information about Nesmith is available on his Web site at

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 28, 2018

Against the Clock: The Best of Allan Holdsworth (2005), by Allan Holdsworth

So why get this 2-CD artist-curated compilation from 12 years earlier when the 2-CD retrospective, Eidolon: The Allan Holdsworth Collection, just came out in 2017 and features late guitar great Allan Holdsworth’s most recent selection of favorite tracks?

Well, for starters, even though Against the Clock has two fewer tunes than the 28 compositions on Eidolon, Against the Clock has two exclusive bonus recordings unique only to this release, “Let’s Throw Shrimp” and “Shenandoah” (one of Holdsworth's most beautiful, majestic, and epic pieces, right up there with "Endomorph").

In addition, each of the album’s two CDs is devoted to a specific, distinct instrument that Holdsworth plays. The first disc is “Volume One: Guitar” and focuses primarily on the standard six-string. The second, “Volume Two: Synthaxe,” features the guitar-synthesizer hybrid, plus the aforementioned bonus tracks, which are performed on regular guitar.

What this neat delineation means is that Against the Clock has nearly four times as many synthaxe numbers as Eidolon, which concentrates for the most part on Holdsworth’s electric guitar highlights. As a result, there is 50 percent overlap and contrast between the albums. Most of the songs on “Volume One: Guitar” are available on Eidolon; most of the songs on “Volume Two: Synthaxe” are not.

The main appeal of Against the Clock is having all of Holdsworth’s favorite synthaxe performances in one place, which is a real draw for those like myself who enjoy Holdsworth’s eclectic musical musings.

Holdsworth had often gotten grief for his infatuation with the synthaxe. However, those who open their minds and ears to his explorations on this instrument will find a testament not only to his compositional brilliance, but to his masterful guitar virtuosity as well.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

RajMan Holiday Haiku

Christmas in the air!

Holiday cheer everywhere!

And love! We are there!

--Raj Manoharan

Jesus and Me: The Collection (2011), 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. (Other highlights include "Call It Even," "Something to Die For," and "Come Harvest Time.")

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

Tis the Season, Charlie Brown

It’s that time of year again – the period from late October through late December where we go through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, complete with pumpkin picking and trick-or-treating, Butterball and football, and decked halls and snowfalls. In terms of entertainment, we have costumes, parades, and the Rockettes, along with numerous television specials and holiday music releases. However, nothing captures the pop culture spirit of the season like the Charlie Brown TV specials. Good old Chuck, Linus and Lucy, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts gang epitomize the holidays like no one else.

If you don’t have the time (or the stomach) to watch all the holiday programming that will be overwhelming the airwaves over the next couple of months, your best bets are the Charlie Brown specials, including It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown; A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving; and A Charlie Brown Christmas. These are all available on DVD, but there’s something magical about watching them on network television during the season.

In terms of holiday music, you can’t do better than the soundtracks to the Charlie Brown specials. As enjoyable as holiday releases by major and independent artists can be, they don’t compare to the beauty and innocence of the scores for the Peanuts specials. There are several albums that cover the music of the Peanuts shows, but I really recommend the actual soundtracks to the programs composed and performed by Vince Gauraldi. Like the shows, his timeless Charlie Brown recordings exude the peace, contentment, and happiness of the holidays.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, December 14, 2018

Live in Japan 1984 (2018), by Allan Holdsworth, I.O.U.

The spirit, or “eidolon,” of late guitar great Allan Holdsworth lives on in this legendary live date from the mid-1980s in the land of the rising sun.

The first posthumously released album by the artist, it documents Holdsworth’s last performance with his I.O.U. band, featuring Jimmy Johnson on bass, Chad Wackerman on drums, and Paul Williams on vocals.

Holdsworth’s musical genius and ambidextrous virtuosity are on full display here, as the guitarist unleashes his trademark elegant lead phrasing, rapid-fire bursts of fluidity, and ethereal chord textures and colors.

Live in Japan 1984 is yet further proof that Holdsworth was a certified, undisputed master of new age jazz/rock fusion guitar.

Of Holdsworth’s three official live recordings to date, my favorite is 2002’s Then!, documenting a Tokyo show in 1990. That is Holdsworth at his best as the compositions are kinetic and he and his band are on fire.

However, that does not take away from the brilliance of Live in Japan 1984, which is the first of a projected series of live archival recordings from various points in Holdsworth’s solo career. I hope that the albums highlight featured performances from each of the following three decades, especially since Holdsworth continued to play live up until 2017.

--Raj Manoharan