Sunday, November 10, 2019

From Out of Nowhere (2019), by Jeff Lynne's ELO

If you like the sounds of George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty – and Jeff Lynne – from the Traveling Wilburys era, you'll love this album.

No one captures the feel of classic pop and rock from the 1950s through the 1980s, with a modern twist, quite like Lynne, including the remaining artists from those decades.

This is Lynne's third ELO album of the 21st century, a century that has been kind to the veteran singer-songwriter with four high-quality releases (including the 2012 "solo" album, Long Wave) and a recent resurgence in popularity, cemented by the Hyde Park concert and the sold-out Wembley Stadium show.

As with all of his records of the last thirty years, Lynne plays most of the instruments, save for tambourines and shakers by Steve Jay and the piano solo on "One More Time" by longtime ELO bandmate Richard Tandy. Lynne manages to pull off sounding like a full-fledged band seemingly effortlessly.

Now 71 years old, Lynne is as energetic and youthful as ever, both as a singer and a musician, and shows no signs of slowing down. The album seems to be a harbinger of hopefully good things to come over the next decade.

While channeling a variety of influences, inspirations, and styles, Jeff Lynne continues to forge and evolve his own unique voice and vision.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Happy Birthday, Eric Johnson!

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, one of my favorite guitarists, Eric Johnson, turned 65 years old.

I was first introduced to the music of Johnson in 1990 by an employee at a local cable television station I was interning at during my senior year of high school. That was the year Johnson, then 35/36 years old, released his breakthrough second album, Ah Via Musicom, which achieved the distinction of having three instrumental songs reach the American Top Ten.

Every one of Johnson's albums showcases his incredible electric guitar wizardry and his soft-spoken heartfelt vocals. His latest album is Collage.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Allan Holdsworth (August 6, 1946 – April 15, 2017)

This month marks what would have been Allan Holdsworth's 73rd birthday.

The late, great guitar master was born on August 6, 1946, in England and passed away at the age of 70 on April 15, 2017, in Southern California, where he had lived for over three decades.

I first heard of Holdsworth in the early 1990s when I read some reviews that described the instrumental albums of my favorite musician, Police guitarist Andy Summers, as partly Holdsworthian.

I began to read more about the legendary Holdsworth, finally buying my first album of his, Hard Hat Area, upon its release in 1994. I still remember eagerly and excitedly purchasing the CD at a record store in Greenwich Village.

I continued to buy Holdsworth's albums throughout the 1990s, culminating with the 2000 release of The Sixteen Men of Tain. Holdsworth put out one more solo album, Flat Tire: Music for a Non-Existent Movie, in 2001, which I never got around to getting back then for one reason or another, and then Holdsworth went silent, save for the occasional guest appearance on other musicians' albums, as well as live performances and collaborative recordings.

I also lost touch with Holdsworth's happenings for nearly two decades, until April 15, 2017, when I read on Yahoo! News to my shock, disbelief, and dismay that Holdsworth had passed at 70 years of age. Heartbroken at both his loss and my obliviousness to his life for the previous 16 years, I immediately purchased his 12-CD box set, The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever!, and his 2-CD compilation, Eidolon, both released a week prior to his passing, and spent much of the next year immersed in the guitar and synthaxe brilliance of Allan Holdsworth.

In honor and remembrance of this amazing and unparalleled musical icon, I highly recommend the following albums as my top four picks, reviews of which can be found both on this site and on Amazon: With a Heart in My Song (with pianist Gordon Beck, 1988), Hard Hat Area (1994), The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000), and Then! (2003).

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, April 12, 2019

Absolute Zero (2019), by Bruce Hornsby

After dillydallying with the dulcimer, Bruce Hornsby is back on the keys with one of his best, most atmospheric, and most cinematic albums ever.

Nearly all the tracks feature Hornsby’s trademark piano and synthesizer stylings, but in a much more subdued, impressionistic, and brilliantly minimalist fashion.

Several songs also feature horns and strings, giving the generally contemplative and introspective music orchestral and symphonic gravitas.

The album plays like a compendium of Hornsby’s best genre-bending sounds over the years, intersecting everything from pop and progressive rock to classical and jazz.

And Hornsby, now in his mid-60s, takes his often multi-tracked vocals to places he hasn’t in a long time.

The album contains several stunners, including the title track, "Never in This House," and "Take You There." However, "Voyager One" especially stands out with its highly infectious funk groove, sounding very much like a cross between Stevie Wonder and Sting.

Speaking of which, Absolute Zero is similar in spots to some of Sting’s solo work. The comparison isn’t so far off as Hornsby and Sting were both iconic ’80s hit makers with ears for jazz.

Regardless of influences and inspirations, the album is all Bruce Hornsby, who, in a welcome return to form, has created an exquisite work of sonic art that does indeed take the artist, his music, and those of us fortunate enough to listen and hear, "there."

--Raj Manoharan

Rehab Reunion (2016), by Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Bruce Hornsby is at his best when he’s playing piano and synthesizers, with or without vocals, so it’s understandable that this record, in which he trades in his keyboards for a dulcimer, is a little off the beaten path.

But then again, Hornsby has always taken the road not taken.

The dulcimer seems to be far more limited in range and versatility than Hornsby’s ebonies and ivories, capable of only a few chords if even, and almost all the songs sound like they’re in the same key. Maybe this is because Hornsby is new to playing the instrument solely and exclusively for a whole album.

However, the music does have a certain folksy, Appalachian appeal, thanks in part to Hornsby’s typically incisive and penetrating songwriting and vocals, as well as the brilliant arrangements and performances of his backup band of the last two decades.

Highlights include “Over the Rise,” “Soon Enough,” “M.I.A. in M.I.A.M.I.,” “Tropical Cashmere Sweater” – easily the best chorus on the album – and “Celestial Railroad.”

Rehab Reunion may not be what most people expect from Hornsby, but its charming, grassroots, bluegrass Americana is enough to carry the water for the ever faithful.

--Raj Manoharan

Dick Dale (1937-2019)

King of the surf guitar.

--Raj Manoharan

Jan-Michael Vincent (1945-2019)

Icon of the ’80s.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 24, 2019

In Memory of My Mentors, Steven H. Scheuer and John N. Goudas (Thanks to JB)

This is for JB, whose uncle was my mentor, John N. Goudas. I originally posted this in 2014:

I've just learned that Steven H. Scheuer, whom I did my New York University internship with from 1993 to 1995, passed away in late May/early June of this year. He was 88 years old.

Scheuer was recently mentioned in an online CNN article about movie critic Leonard Maltin's final movie guide. Maltin was influenced and inspired by Scheuer, who practically invented the art and industries of newspaper television reviews and movie guides.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to also mention John N. Goudas, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 72. Goudas was Scheuer's main writer for the TV Key newspaper column that was distributed by King Features Syndicate to over 300 newspapers across the country.

Although I worked with Scheuer and Goudas for only three years, they made a lasting impression on me personally and professionally. I still remember my “job” interview with Scheuer on a cold January morning back in 1993 in his New York City office in the lobby of a high-rise apartment building in the East 50s, where he showed me that he had many of the same TV, movie, and pop culture books that I had.

There were also many other wonderful moments in that office that I remember as if they happened yesterday, such as the time none of us were answering the phone for some reason that I've since forgotten, and Scheuer, who was making a rare appearance in the office while doing some errands, quipped, “Is this some sort of holiday where nobody is supposed to answer the phone?” We also watched the O.J. Simpson verdict live on the office television.

While Scheuer couldn't pay the interns as we all anticipated a deal with the fledgling Microsoft Network that never came through (this was the dawn of the Internet in 1995), he did treat us to many nice business lunches at fancy and renowned restaurants in New York City. I also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Scheuer's gracious wife, Alida Brill-Scheuer, who accompanied us on many of these outings.

My internship at TV Key was the launching pad that enabled me to go on to interview and write about the iconic actors and musicians that I grew up loving.

I consider myself very fortunate to have known and worked with these titans of television criticism. They were giants in their field. They were also a couple of lovable and fun-loving characters.

I can only hope that RajMan Reviews embodies something of their spirit, if not their brilliance.

The following links do them far more justice than I ever could. Thank you for everything, John and Mr. Scheuer. Rest in peace.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_H._Scheuer

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/06/arts/television/steven-h-scheuer-is-dead-at-88-he-put-the-tv-review-before-the-show.html?_r=0

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations to All of My Favorite Oscar Winners!

For the first time in many years, if ever, many of my favorite films have won major Academy Awards.

Green Book (one of the best films of all time) -- Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Picture, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- Animated Feature Film

Black Panther -- Costume Design, Music (Original Score), Production Design

Free Solo -- Documentary (Feature)

Congratulations to all the Academy Award winners, especially my favorite ones above!

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations Again to Black Panther Composer Ludwig Goransson!

Coming on the heels of his Grammy Award win for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson is now the proud and well deserved owner of an Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score) for Black Panther.

Congratulations again, Ludwig!

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Peter Tork (1942-2019)

I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Tork in the early 1990s at Vision Cable Channel 10, a local cable television station where I had been working.

Tork was the latest in a long line of vintage celebrity guests on The Rik Turner Show, the poor man's David Letterman show that was produced there.

I was working master control for the station (I had nothing to do with the show at the time), and Tork came in asking for a bandage for his nicked finger. (I had actually met him earlier in the evening and gotten his autograph on a Monkees LP.)

I don't remember whether I was able to give him a bandage or had to refer him somewhere else – the more I think about it, it was most likely the latter – but, ah, what a memory!

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Congratulations to Black Panther Composer Ludwig Goransson!

Ludwig Goransson won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther.

Congratulations, Ludwig!

--Raj Manoharan


Black Panther Original Score (2018), by Ludwig Goransson

Black Panther is one of the absolute best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and certainly the most unique, and its corresponding soundtrack is definitely the best of the bunch.

Ludwig Goransson has created music that is every bit as remarkable as the movie it underscores, especially in its visceral, life-affirming revelry of African sounds and rhythms.

Based on his personal, firsthand research into and study of African musical traditions, Goransson structured his compositions around indigenous vocals, tribal chants, and exotic ethnic instruments, especially drums and percussion (Police drummer Stewart Copeland employed a similar process for his groundbreaking 1985 Afro-pop/rock album The Rhythmatist).

The result is an incredible, epic work of Afrocentric world music fused with hip techno and electronica and rousing, soaring symphony orchestra.

"Wakanda," "Warrior Falls," and the last four tracks of the album are excellent, perfectly capturing the film’s interwoven themes of family, honor, and heroism.

The Black Panther score is not only the cream of the crop of Marvel and superhero movie soundtracks, but it also ranks among the most memorable film music of all time.

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations, Sting and Shaggy!

The unlikely but dynamic duo of Sting and Shaggy won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for their 2018 collaboration, 44/876.

Congratulations, Gordon and Orville (a former U.S. Marine and veteran of the Persian Gulf War -- thank you for your service)!

--Raj Manoharan

Good Luck at the Grammys, Sting and Shaggy!

The unlikely but dynamic duo of Sting and Shaggy are up for a Grammy Award tonight for Best Reggae Album for their 2018 collaboration, 44/876.

Good luck, Gordon and Orville (a former U.S. Marine and veteran of the Persian Gulf War -- thank you for your service)!

--Raj Manoharan

44/876 (2018), by Sting and Shaggy

This is more like it! This is the Sting we all know and love!

The 2016 back-to-basics guitar rocker 57th & 9th was a decent comeback for the veteran pop star, but where that album is merely good, the new release is great! 57th & 9th is fine, but 44/876 is fantastic!

In an unlikely but very agreeable collaboration that turns out to be his most enjoyable to date, the Englishman in New York (among other places) teams up with Jamaican superstar singer Shaggy for a collection of reggae-infused pop gems that are infectious, invigorating, and irresistible.

44/876 has been likened to Sting's experiments with reggae in The Police (“One World (Not Three)” comes to my mind), but overall the album is more similar to Sting's solo reggae excursions, most notably classic songs like “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and “History Will Teach Us Nothing.”

The album has also been described as a party record. Yes, the tone is definitely upbeat. But make no mistake – in many cases, the buoyant nature of the music belies the brooding ruminations of the lyrics. Sting is the King of Pain, after all – especially of wrapping pain up in sweet little pop packages.

Standout songs such as “Just One Lifetime,” “Dreaming of the U.S.A.,” and “If You Can't Find Love” prove that, at 66 years of age, Sting is back in top form and at his classic best.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Ultimate Collection (2016), by Roy Orbison

They aren’t kidding! This really is the ultimate collection!

Not only does this album feature Roy Orbison’s classic hits from all of his early and mid-career record labels, including “Oh Pretty Woman” and “Ooby Dooby,” but it also contains prime cuts from his smash posthumous release, Mystery Girl, and its follow-up, King of Hearts, as well as two Traveling Wilburys tracks!

The 1989 Mystery Girl and 1992 King of Hearts albums present Orbison at his finest, with a modern, updated sound from the Traveling Wilburys era courtesy of producer Jeff Lynne. The songs represented here include “You Got It,” “California Blue,” and “She’s a Mystery to Me” from Mystery Girl, and “I Drove All Night” and “Heartbreak Radio” from King of Hearts.

The Traveling Wilburys close out the collection with the Orbison-led “Not Alone Anymore” and the George Harrison-led “Handle with Care,” the latter featuring refrains by Orbison. (They could have also included “It’s Alright,” but that’s alright.)

So if you’re looking for one album with all the essential highlights, this is it.

This is a must-have for both casual and diehard fans.

--Raj Manoharan

Hits (2004), by Mike + The Mechanics

This album works best as a companion to Mike + The Mechanics’ first two releases, Mike + The Mechanics (1985) and The Living Years (1988), which have much better songs overall than this collection, aside from the obvious hits.

Those would be “All I Need Is a Miracle ‘96” (a remake, but still good, although the 1985 original is preferred), “The Living Years,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Silent Running,” “Nobody Knows,” and “Taken In.”

While The Mechanics had far fewer later hits than these in the US and the UK, the rest of the songs, as the liner notes themselves say, have been major hits in one part of the world or another.

Nevertheless, Hits features a nice sampling of the group’s overall work, most notably “Another Cup of Coffee” and “Beggar on a Beach of Gold,” and is worth having if you don’t own or intend to get all of their albums.

If the latter is true, another good collection with more different tracks is their 2014 retrospective.

This is definitely a pleasant and enjoyable listen from beginning to end, but if you really want the best of Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford’s other band, you should get The Mechanics’ first two albums as well.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, January 28, 2019

Star Trek Salutes Challenger

The cast and crew of the original Star Trek television series and films dedicated their fourth motion picture, 1986's The Voyage Home, "to the men and women of the spaceship Challenger whose courageous spirit shall live to the 23rd century and beyond . . . ."

--Raj Manoharan


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Living Years (1988), by Mike + The Mechanics

The sophomore effort by Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford’s other band is just about as good as their first, with such standout songs as the title track, “Nobody Knows,” “Don’t,” “Beautiful Day,” and “Why Me?”

This second album definitely turns up the volume a bit more, but its loudness is of the good kind, especially as it synthesizes the sounds of Genesis and The Police, as well as solo Phil Collins and solo Sting.

Rutherford also stretches his typically minimalist and atmospheric guitar textures and branches out into more adventurous lead playing. Vocalists Paul Carrack and Paul Young also take more chances with their singing, yielding pleasantly soulful results.

“The Living Years” is the crowning achievement of this collection and perhaps Mike + The Mechanics’ entire repertoire, becoming one of the biggest hit singles of the 1980s with continuous play on MTV and radio and remaining timeless and memorable to this day.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Mike + The Mechanics (1985), by Mike + The Mechanics

What a contrast from the rough-around-the-edges vocal rock of Mike Rutherford’s 1982 solo album, Acting Very Strange!

The Genesis guitarist/bassist goes from acting very strange to acting very slick, giving his regular band a run for its money in terms of both quality and commercial success.

The first thing he does right is stick to his four- and six-strings and keyboards and relegate the singing to Paul Carrack and Paul Young.

Also, his songwriting is markedly improved, with searching lyrics and lush arrangements and sounds that combine Genesis, The Police, and other pop-synth sounds of the 1980s, resulting in a timeless new age rock sheen.

The obvious hit here is “All I Need Is a Miracle,” which was all over radio and MTV. However, the real standouts are the cinematic tour-de-forces “Silent Running,” “You Are the One,” "A Call to Arms," and “Taken In,” the latter two of which presage Mike + The Mechanics’ 1988 hit title track, “The Living Years.”

This was the beginning of a long and successful second musical life for Rutherford, who continues to perform with The Mechanics.

--Raj Manoharan

Friday, January 11, 2019

Acting Very Strange (1982), by Mike Rutherford

Strange. Very strange indeed.

That voice does not go with that face.

On his last solo album before reassigning lead singing duties to others in his hit band Mike and the Mechanics, Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford belts out raw and throaty vocals on eight art rock/pop oddities that exude quirky but compelling weirdness.

The compositions and musical instrumentation are unsurprisingly very similar to Genesis, with a bit of Oingo Boingo and The Police thrown in for good measure. The latter comparison is not so much of a stretch, especially considering that one of the drummers is Stewart Copeland and that Acting Very Strange sounds like a distant cousin to fellow 1980s superstar guitarist Andy Summers’ one and only rock vocal record, XYZ, but jacked way up.

As for Rutherford’s earthy singing voice, it sounds like a mix of Peter Gabriel, Keith Richards, Joe Cocker, Ray Charles, Joe Elliott, David Lee Roth, etc.

This is not for every taste, but the title track, “Maxine,” and “Hideaway” (future shades of the Mike and the Mechanics hit “The Living Years”) are definite must-listens.

--Raj Manoharan

The Very Best of Peter Cetera (2017), by Peter Cetera

The last career retrospective that Peter Cetera released was 1997’s You’re the Inspiration, but the singles included on that album were rerecorded, and “Glory of Love,” the theme song from the film The Karate Kid Part II and one of the biggest hits and music videos of the 1980s, was glaringly omitted.

Now, 20 years later, we finally have a proper greatest hits collection from one of the most recognizable and popular singers of that decade, featuring the original recordings. In addition, “Glory of Love” is here in all its power pop and power ballad – ahem – glory.

My favorite tracks are “Glory of Love” (obviously), “Stay with Me,” “The Next Time I Fall” with Amy Grant, “Feels Like Heaven” with Chaka Khan, and “Restless Hearts.”

Regardless of whichever are your favorites, they are all gems. If you remember the voice and the songs, this will definitely take you back. This is a trip down memory lane worth taking.

--Raj Manoharan