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 www.videoranch.com.

The following are links to my reviews of Nesmith's 2013 live tour and the subsequent live CD.

http://www.monkees.net/michael-nesmith-review-live-at-bergen-pac-2013/

http://www.ticketmaster.com/Michael-Nesmith-tickets/artist/735735?tm_link=artist_artistvenue_module

http://reviews.ticketmaster.com/7171/515082364/profile.htm

http://www.monkees.net/cd-review-movies-of-the-mind-2013-live-by-michael-nesmith/

--Raj Manoharan


Saturday, December 19, 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, November 18, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Alone in the Universe, by Jeff Lynne's ELO

In anticipation of Jeff Lynne’s latest release, I quickly re-listened to the two Electric Light Orchestra greatest hits volumes from the previous decade, the 2001 ELO album Zoom, Electric Light Orchestra Live, Mr. Blue Sky (Lynne’s recent solo rerecording of ELO’s greatest hits), and Lynne’s solo albums Armchair Theatre (1990) and Long Wave (2012).

I’m glad I did, because the new Jeff Lynne/ELO album hits all of those touchstones and then some, fusing bits and pieces of different aspects of Lynne’s long and storied career into a fresh, scintillating new package.

The record features Lynne’s typically brilliant songwriting and singing, with thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics, catchy pop melodies, and earnest, beautifully harmonized vocals.

Lynne also plays most of the instruments, including guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. Lynne orchestrates intricate guitar rhythms and textures, and his succinct but sweet guitar solos perfectly capture the feel of each song.

Highlights include the reflective “When I Was a Boy,” “Dirty to the Bone” (featuring harp-like guitar chords underscoring scathing female character assassination), “When the Night Comes,” the uplifting “The Sun Will Shine on You,” “All My Life,” and “Alone in the Universe.”

No matter which era of Jeff Lynne/ELO you prefer – I became a fan during the George Harrison, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Traveling Wilburys years – there are wonders to behold in this exploration of the past, present, and future of Lynne’s Universe.

--Raj Manoharan


Sunday, November 8, 2015

George Barris (1925-2015)

George Barris was the Hollywood Car King, and his creations are every bit as legendary as the stars who drove them on film and television.

His iconic customizations included transforming a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car into the famed Batmobile of 1960s TV sensation Batman and modifying a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am into the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) from the hit 1980s series Knight Rider.

Due to the high-profile nature of his work, Barris can be counted among the most famous and successful car designers in the world.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Alone in the Universe by Jeff Lynne’s ELO Due November 13, 2015

Alone in the Universe, the first new original studio album by Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra since Zoom in 2001, is scheduled to be released on Friday, November 13, 2015.

This is also Lynne’s first new release since his solo cover album Long Wave and his rerecording of ELO’s greatest hits, Mr. Blue Sky, both from 2012.

It remains to be seen if Lynne performs all the instruments on the new release, as he has on several of his albums, or whether he’s accompanied by other musicians such as veteran ELO keyboardist Richard Tandy, with whom Lynne reunited for an ELO concert in London’s Hyde Park in 2014.

--Raj Manoharan

Music – Infinitia Box Set and The Ocean Single Edition by Michael Nesmith Now Available

Michael Nesmith’s new release The Ocean completes the singer-songwriter’s Infinitia book-and-soundtrack trilogy, which includes The Prison (1974) and The Garden (1994).

The Ocean is available both by itself as a single edition (consisting of one book, one CD with vocals, and one CD without vocals) and as part of the Infinitia box set containing The Prison and The Garden.

All can be ordered directly from Nesmith’s Web site, www.videoranch.com.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Personal Playlist – The Best of Paul Speer: 1984-2013

If you like the Police and solo guitar work of Andy Summers, you’ll definitely dig the six-string sounds of guitarist Paul Speer.

The two musicians share a passion for jazz/rock fusion, with Summers concentrating more on jazz and Speer focusing more on rock.

I have put together what I think is a comprehensive and ear-catching retrospective of Speer’s work that will appeal equally to newcomers and long-time fans. All of these tracks are available on www.paulspeer.com and come from his solo albums and his albums with Queensryche drummer Scott Rockenfield and British musician Paul Lawler (flutes, keyboards, percussion).

And now I present to you my Personal Playlist of The Best of Paul Speer: 1984-2013. Enjoy!

Allegro / Terra Vista / Allegro Con Brio / Adagio Dolente / Murder or Self Defense / Hi Strung / River of No Return / Carved in Stone / Prelude Oculus / Tuscan Sunset / Denali / Ganges / Accelerator (Rock Mix) / PowerGlide

--Raj Manoharan

Personal Playlist – The Best of Andy Summers: 1989-2015

If you’re not familiar with the music of Andy Summers beyond his tenure as the guitarist for The Police, now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with his solo work, especially as we approach his 73rd birthday, literally at the end of the year (New Year’s Eve, to be exact).

I have compiled tracks that I feel are the most representative of his solo career. Summers has two retrospective albums to his name, but each covers separate and vastly different periods of his career. My collection features music spanning 26 years, all the way from 1989’s The Golden Wire to 2015’s Metal Dog.

My criteria for these selections included that they showcase Summers’ guitar playing first and foremost, spotlight the brilliance and complexity of his compositions (“Green Chimneys” and Reincarnation of a Lovebird” are covers of Summers’ idols Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus, respectively), and share a cohesion of sound even while being independently unique.

And now I present to you my Personal Playlist of The Best of Andy Summers: 1989-2015. Enjoy!

Blues for Snake / Passion of the Shadow / Somewhere in the West / Low Flying Doves / The Somnambulist / Green Chimneys / Reincarnation of a Lovebird / Now I’m Free / Harmonograph

--Raj Manoharan

Glen Campbell Forever!

In the last few months, I’ve reacquainted myself with the iconic figure and awesome singing talent that is Glen Campbell.

If you’re not a fan of or you’re not familiar with Campbell, you need to get the following five albums and listen to them in the following order:

Greatest Hits (2009) / Meet Glen Campbell / Ghost on the Canvas / See You There / Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me Soundtrack

These albums in this order present a good overview of his entire solo career, from his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, to his graceful and elegant winding down over the last seven years.

Although Campbell is often inaccurately pigeonholed as a country singer, take it from someone who is not at all a fan of country music – Campbell is one of the greatest singers of all time, in any and regardless of genre.

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan’s 2015-2016 TV Viewing Schedule

Sunday: Bar Rescue (Spike) / Bob’s Burgers (Fox) / The Simpsons (Fox) / Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox) / Family Guy (Fox)

Weeknights: CHiPs (Me TV)

Monday: Supergirl (CBS)

Tuesday: The Flash (CW)

Wednesday: Criminal Minds (CBS)

Thursday: Sleepy Hollow (Fox)

Friday: Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)

Saturday: Good Times (TV One) / Sanford & Son (TV One) / Adventures of Superman (Me TV) / Batman (Me TV) / Wonder Woman (Me TV) / Star Trek (Me TV) / Svengoolie (Me TV)

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Al Molinaro (1919-2015)

Al Molinaro is probably best remembered for being diner owner Al Delvecchio in the classic 1970s/1980s sitcom Happy Days.

To me, however, he will always be Murray the Cop.

Many actors understandably bemoan typecasting. As decried as it is, typecasting is also the mark of performers who are so talented that they become the one major character that everyone associates them with and loves them for.

Thanks for the memories, Al.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Ghost on the Canvas, by Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell’s final original studio album, from 2011, captures the legendary genre-defying artist in fine form.

This is one of those rare albums on which every song is excellent, varying between intimate acoustic guitar pieces and full-bodied ballads replete with acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. My top three favorite songs are the introspective “A Better Place,” the soaring title track, and the ethereal “Nothing but the Whole Wide World.”

Even though Campbell is 75 years old on this recording, his voice is as vibrant and poignant as ever. And he still wrings out those distinctive, trademark bass-note guitar solos like only he can.

This is quite a grand exit for quite an extraordinary performer.

--Raj Manoharan

Best Song of All Time

In my nearly 43 years, I haven’t heard a song as affecting as “Wichita Lineman” by Glen Campbell. Jimmy Webb’s brilliant melody and lyrics, the lush instrumentation, and Campbell’s earnest vocals and signature bass-note guitar solo come together in a perfect fusion that is unmatched, making this possibly the best song of all time.

The last time I remember hearing this song was on the radio during family road trips in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. I became reacquainted with it recently in all its glory while listening to Campbell’s 2009 Greatest Hits album. The rerecording from the 2013 album See You There and the live version from the 2015 soundtrack album Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me are just as powerful, with the older Campbell’s meeker but still determined vocals exuding even more emotional resonance.

All three versions of the song are absolute, unmistakable gems. Get the aforementioned albums if you can, or at least the songs. If nothing else, get the original recording.

Do it while the Wichita Lineman is still on the line.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Jack Larson (1928-2015)

With the passing of Adventures of Superman cast member Jack Larson, only “Lois Lanes” Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill remain as the last surviving stars from the iconic 1950s television series.

Larson was not the first actor to portray Daily Planet photographer and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen, but over the course of the show's six seasons, he set the standard for those who followed in his footsteps, most notably Mark McClure of the Superman and Supergirl films from the 1970s and 1980s.

Later a playwright, librettist, and movie producer, Larson will always be remembered as the plucky and affable Olsen. His memory lives on in reruns of Adventures of Superman every Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Eastern Time, on Me TV.

The classic TV network paid tribute to Larson with a memorial black-and-white photograph preceding each of this past Saturday's two installments of Adventures of Superman. The unscheduled episodes focused on the late Larson's Jimmy Olsen character.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, September 7, 2015

TV – CHiPs Back on the Beat on Me TV

Despite removing Adam-12 and Hawaii Five-O from its schedule, Me TV does earn some kudos for bringing back my guys Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada with the return of CHiPs – or CHmePs, as Me TV likes to call it – to the lineup.

Once again, you can relive the good old days as motorcycle cops Ponch (Estrada) and Jon (Wilcox) patrol the freeways of Los Angeles weeknights at 6 p.m. on Me TV.

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Me TV Gives Hawaii Five-O the Heave-Ho

Boo on you, Me TV, for disrespecting my man James MacArthur.

You wouldn't want to be the topic of discussion when Jack Lord's Steve McGarrett tells MacArthur's Dan Williams to “Book 'em, Danno!”

Bring back Danno!

--Raj Manoharan

Martin Milner (1931-2015)

Martin Milner was one of America's great TV cops, having played Officer Pete Malloy alongside Kent McCord's Officer Jim Reed and William Boyett's Sergeant MacDonald on Adam-12 from 1968 to 1975.

Malloy was the confident, take-charge veteran officer, showing the younger Reed the ropes while patrolling Los Angeles in their squad car, designated Adam-12, under the supervision of their tough but fair commander, Mac. Together, the trio proved a very formidable team.

The normally excellent Me TV network gets a demerit for taking Adam-12 off the schedule earlier this year. Perhaps in memory of Milner, Me TV should bring the show back so fans both old and new can continue to enjoy one of the all-time classic police dramas.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Yvonne Craig (1937-2015)

Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Where do you come from, where do you go?
What is your scene, baby, we just gotta know.
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Are you a chick who fell in from outer space?
Or are you real with a tender warm embrace?
Yaaa, whose baby are you?
Batgirrrl, Batgirl!
Yaaa, whose baby are you?
Batgirl!

http://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/b/batgirltheme.shtml

--Raj Manoharan


Alex Rocco (1936-2015)

Alex Rocco was most famous for his role in The Godfather, after which he went on to appear in many films and especially television shows of the 1970s and 1980s.

Most recently, I saw him in a couple of old episodes of Starsky and Hutch, playing a couple of different characters.

However, I remember him from my childhood as the father of one of the girls on The Facts of Life. He appeared on several episodes of that popular 1980s sitcom.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, July 18, 2015

CD Review – Metal Dog, by Andy Summers

At long last, the much-anticipated follow-up to Andy Summers and Robert Fripp's seminal, iconic, progressive experimental albums I Advance Masked and Bewitched is here – except this time, it's all Andy.

As befits his first fully independent, self-released solo recording, Summers truly goes it alone, composing all the music and playing all the instruments himself, including bass, keyboards, drums, and percussion. Summers pulls it off so well that it's easy to forget that he's the only musician in the studio. Of course, as always, his guitars, as well as other stringed instruments, are the focal point of the proceedings, with Summers producing exquisite, elegant leads, rhythms, and solos, covering a range of styles from blues and funk to jazz and rock.

While the 10-track collection definitely has the spirit and elements of the previously mentioned Fripp collaborations, as well as Summers' solo instrumental albums Mysterious Barricades, The Golden Wire, and Synaesthesia, it is at the same time fresh and original.

This is unlike anything Summers has done before, with its variety of textures, tempos, and time signatures. But Andy's classic sounds pop up here and there, reassuring us that our guitar god is still present as ever.

Although every composition is stirring, my favorites are “Ishango Bone,” “Bitter Honey,” and especially “Harmonograph,” with its slithery, electronic lead guitar. These are the most conventional sounding “songs” on the album, and even then they're unconventional. In a sense, Summers has come full circle from his eclectic musings on the track “Circe's Island” from David Bedford's 1976 album The Odyssey.

In its review of Summers' 1995/1996 release Synaesthesia, Entertainment Weekly wrote, “With Andy Summers, even if you expect the unexpected, you'll still be surprised.” This has been true of each and every project by Summers, and the epic, groundbreaking Metal Dog is certainly no exception.

--Raj Manoharan
 

Irwin Keyes (1952-2015)

When I saw veteran actor Irwin Keyes' picture recently due to his passing, I immediately thought, “That looks like Hugo, George Jefferson's bodyguard from The Jeffersons.

Turns out, that was Hugo!

Although I don't remember seeing Keyes in his many notable film and television roles since then, I never forgot his appearances on The Jeffersons. Any actor that can make such a memorable impression on me that I can instantly recognize a picture of him over three decades later is a giant in my book.

It would be a kick if Keyes was up there keeping a close eye on Sherman Hemsley.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Music – Description of Andy Summers' New CD Metal Dog

Below is a link to what appears to be a product description, or press release even, of Andy Summers' new solo album Metal Dog, which is scheduled to be released on July 14.
 
The site looks like a fan listing for The Police and its members, Sting, Summers, and Stewart Copeland. It's even called LiSting. Get it?
 
Based on the editorial description, as well as images of the CD at the link to Amazon, the record might be similar in tone and concept to Summers' 1995/1996 release Synaesthesia.
 
We should find out in a couple of weeks' time.
 
 
--Raj Manoharan


Friday, July 3, 2015

Movies, Music – CNN Films Presents Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of Glen Campbell, I acknowledge him as an undisputed, unmistakable icon. He’s always been a solid performer, even to almost the very end, which is captured on film in the extremely touching, moving, and ultimately life-affirming documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, currently playing on CNN.

The picture follows Campbell and his family as they prepare for a U.S. tour to promote his album Ghost on the Canvas. However, just before they hit the road, they receive the devastating diagnosis that Campbell is suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

What ensues is an intimate, no-holds-barred look at a man who fights with every ounce of his dignity and pride to deliver for his loving family and his devoted fans, one last time.

Now billed as the Goodbye Tour, the cross-country jaunt sees Campbell experience both triumphs and trials, with the musical road trip also serving as a journey of self-discovery.

Watching this legend struggle with this debilitating illness is humbling, and yet watching him bask in the unconditional love of his adoring audiences, even as he falters, provides an emotionally rejuvenating catharsis.

I thought viewing this film would leave me with sadness, and at times it can be disheartening. But no film, television program, or music album in recent years has brought a bigger smile to my face than this documentary has. This is the feel-good movie of the year, and definitely one of the most positive, heartwarming films of all time.

Highlights include onstage and backstage at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, interviews with family and friends, and, of course, the music.

As of this writing, Glen Campbell is living in a memory support community, where he is receiving the care he needs, with his family close by. This documentary couldn't have come at a better time, ensuring his legacy for posterity.

Appreciate this man now, while he’s still with us, at least physically.

Do the same for your loved ones.

--Raj Manoharan

Movies, Music – The Summer of Andy Summers Kicks Off with New Solo Album and New Police DVD/Blu-ray

The Summer of Andy Summers kicks off with the July 14 release of the legendary guitarist's latest solo album as well as the DVD/Blu-ray release of a Police documentary based on his memoir.

Summers recently concluded a successful U.S. screening and speaking tour promoting Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving the Police, a documentary based on his 2006 autobiography One Train Later and chronicling his career from the 1960s psychedelic pop scene to the height of global success with The Police in the 1980s.

The film features archival footage and interviews with the band in their late 1970s/early 1980s heyday, as well as highlights of their massively popular 2007-2008 world reunion tour. The DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary from Summers and co-producer Norman Golightly and additional short films and photographs.

Also available on the same day is Summers' new CD, intriguingly entitled Metal Dog. The album marks Summers' first solo release in over a decade and his first instrumental release in eight years. It's also his 11th original studio album, his 13th solo album, and his 21st non-Police album.

The new record might very well be Summers' first truly solo project, as he plays all the instruments himself. A free preview track, “Qualia,” is available at www.andysummers.com and www.soundcloud.com.

Let the Metal Dog days of summer begin!

--Raj Manoharan


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

James Horner (1953-2015)

I was nine years old when I first saw James Horner's name on the big screen, credited for the brilliant, majestic, and sweeping score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, his first major feature film project.

He also composed the soundtrack for the sequel, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, before going on to a storied 30-year-plus career as one of the legendary mainstays of Hollywood film music, joining the esteemed ranks of luminaries such as late maestro and fellow Star Trek composer Jerry Goldsmith and frequent George Lucas and Steven Spielberg collaborator John Williams (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park).

Horner received far more acclaim and accolades for his later film work, much of which has been written about elsewhere and can easily be researched.

But for me, his Star Trek motion picture scores will always hold a special place in my heart.

--Raj Manoharan


Friday, June 12, 2015

Christopher Lee (1922-2015)

Christopher Lee, how will I miss thee? Let me Count Dooku the ways:

Hammer horror, Captain America II: Death Too Soon, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, just to name a few …

Fare thee well, icon.

(http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000489/?ref_=nv_sr_1)

--Raj Manoharan

Hungary for Food and Film

Keep an eye out for the Budapest episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN.

In this installment, the globetrotting chef savors the local flavors and samples world-class cinema under the awe spices of native son and acclaimed Academy Award-winning Hollywood cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who served as the director of photography on Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (for which he won the Oscar), and The Deer Hunter.

Be sure not to miss it. It's a culinary and celluloid delight.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Anne Meara (1929-2015)

While Anne Meara will always be best known for her long comedy partnership with her husband Jerry Stiller, I will always remember her for her recurring role as the mother of Spence Olchin (Patton Oswalt) on the classic sitcom The King of Queens.

Although the part was originally played by Eileen Brennan in one episode, Meara made it her own, especially as she was once again playing opposite Jerry, who starred on the show as cantankerous senior Arthur Spooner, father of Carrie Heffernan (Leah Remini), father-in-law of Doug Heffernan (Kevin James), and the usually unwilling object of Mrs. Olchin's desire.

In fact, The King of Queens became quite a family affair for the Stiller-Meara brood, with son Ben Stiller guest-starring in one episode as the father of his father's character (!) and daughter Amy Stiller (Ben's sister) making cameo appearances in several episodes as a flustered coffee store employee continually heckled by Arthur. Sometime after the show ended, Amy appeared in one of Jerry's Capital One commercials.

Thanks for the laughs, Ms. Meara.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, May 17, 2015

David Letterman (1980-2015)

The parenthetical years above are obviously not David Letterman's life span but rather the span of his extraordinary and legendary television career.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman will sign off for the last time, concluding 35 years as a television host, 33 of those years in late night. I have been an ardent fan for 24 years.

Letterman is truly the king of late night, having lasted longer than anyone else in that position, even Johnny Carson. In fact, Letterman is Carson's real successor. Sure, Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon took over as successive hosts of The Tonight Show after Carson, but they are not his successors. They are merely followers in his footsteps.

Letterman, on the other hand, was personally groomed by Carson to be his successor, and even though NBC pushed Carson out and stiffed Letterman in favor of Leno, it was clear that Carson favored Letterman, as evidenced by Carson's many appearances on Letterman's show. Carson even sent many jokes to Letterman to use on TV.

One of my favorite Letterman skits over the years was “Pat and Kenny Read Oprah Transcripts,” after which viewers were given an address where they could write to request “Transcripts of Pat and Kenny Reading Oprah Transcripts.”

What set Letterman apart from his competitors was that unlike them, he wasn't about himself. He was about his guests, his cast of “characters,” and, most importantly, the comedy. Whenever he focused on himself, it was to poke fun at himself. Letterman was the undisputed master of self-deprecating humor.

Letterman's longevity will never be surpassed in our lifetime, especially in this era of transitional media technology, restless network executives, and fickle audiences. But, even if it were, perhaps sometime in the distant future, Letterman's like will never be seen again.

--Raj Manoharan

B.B. King (1925-2015)

What can I say about Riley “Beale Street Blues Boy” King that hasn't already been said?

All I can do is acknowledge that America has lost a true national treasure and the world an international icon. The King was indeed a global ambassador for the blues.

No matter what kind of music you like or whether or not you are a fan, there's no mistaking that B.B. was a class act, a true king of the blues and a master among musicians.

My favorite B.B. King moment is his guest-starring stint as himself on an episode of Sanford and Son.

The various images over the decades of King and his many beloved “Lucille” Gibson guitars will forever be ingrained in our collective conscious, and his legacy will continue to thrive thanks to his great body of work.

Long live the King.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, May 4, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies


Hawkeye's wife totally supports his avenging, and apparently so does the world. I do, too. I don't anticipate seriously modifying this list until the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters in March 2016. But then again, you never know.
 
1. Avengers: Age of Ultron
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
3. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
4. Superman (1978)
5. Man of Steel (2013)
6. Iron Man 2 (2010)
7. Thor (2011)
8. Batman (1966)
9. Batman Begins (2005)
10. The Dark Knight (2008)

--Raj Manoharan


There But for Grace Lee Whitney (1930-2015)

Although she was in only the first eight episodes of the original Star Trek series in 1966, Grace Lee Whitney's Yeoman Janice Rand is as much a beloved part of the storied franchise as are its classic seven cast members – and Majel Barrett Roddenberry.

So much so, in fact, that Whitney reunited with her onscreen family several times, making cameo appearances as Rand in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991).

Perhaps Whitney's greatest role is that of survivor of alcohol and drug addiction. After several long years of battling her dreadful demons, Whitney, with the help of fellow late Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, finally emerged victorious, ultimately serving as a role model and mentor for others suffering the same afflictions.

You can find out more about this remarkable, aptly named lady at her IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0926298/?ref_=nv_sr_1.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, May 2, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies

This weekend marks the beginning of the age of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, which most likely will last all month, all summer, and probably the rest of this year – at least until the December release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. In tandem, I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero movies of all time.

1. Superman (1978)
2. Man of Steel (2013)
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
4. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
5. Iron Man 2 (2010)
6. Thor (2011)
7. Batman (1966)
8. Batman Begins (2005)
9. The Dark Knight (2008)
10. Batman (1989)

--Raj Manoharan


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

National Superhero Day

According to IMDb, it’s National Superhero Day.

To facilitate an appreciation of the greatest titans of all time, here is a link to IMDb’s photo gallery celebrating superheroes both official and unofficial – as well as some not-so-superheroes, a couple of all-out villains, robots, star warriors, an identity crisis, super pets, and super geeks and super nerds.

By the way, super geeks and super nerds are cool nowadays.

Just surf up, up, and away to http://www.imdb.com/gallery/rg2851576576?ref_=hm_mtv_ph_sm.

--Raj Manoharan


Monday, April 20, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Chappie Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer (Additional Music by Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski)

In an era when Hollywood film composers are concocting increasingly complex and convoluted themes that are melodically elaborate but ultimately unmemorable, veteran Hans Zimmer continues to prove himself to be a master of minimalist motifs that leave long-lasting impressions. Such is the case with his excellent score for the equally excellent and unfairly underrated film Chappie.

Once again, Zimmer demonstrates that less is indeed more, achieving with just a few simple riffs what others fail to do with a preponderance of notes. The result is a masterpiece of percussive, pulse-pounding industrial techno music that brilliantly underscores the film's explorations of sentient technology, unconventional families, human and artificial existentialism, and societal breakdown and chaos.

What sets this soundtrack apart, aside from its addictive appeal, is that it is Zimmer's first entirely electronic score in over two decades (with the exception of, as Zimmer puts it, “a chap whistling”). Zimmer and his team – which includes Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, and Junkie XL among others and which Zimmer dubs the Chappie Elektrik Synthphonia – created and programmed the music on 40-year-old analog synthesizers.

The electronic sounds and textures recall Jan Hammer's acclaimed pioneering work on the iconic 1980s Miami Vice TV series, but on a much more grandiose and epic level. Others have also likened Zimmer's score to Vangelis's electronic music for Blade Runner. Like those other scores, the soundtrack for Chappie not only perfectly suits the movie, but stands on its own as a compelling and bold work of art.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, April 18, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Four Star Wars Movies

To mark the occasion of the recently released teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, here is my list of my top four Star Wars movies of all time. Initially, I was going to make it a top three list, but then the list would have been dominated entirely by the original trilogy. So to make the list more fair, I am expanding it to the top four.

1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
3. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
4. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies

To mark the occasion of the recently released teaser for the highly anticipated 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the forthcoming releases this year of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four, I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero movies of all time.

1. Superman (1978)
2. Man of Steel (2013)
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
4. Batman (1989)
5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
7. The Dark Knight Returns (2012)
8. Batman (1966)
9. Iron Man 2 (2010)
10. Thor (2011)

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero TV Shows

With all the superhero shows proliferating on television lately, I think it's about time I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero TV shows of all time. Here it is.
 
1. Adventures of Superman (1950s)
2. Batman (1960s)
3. The Amazing Spider-Man (1970s)
4. The Incredible Hulk (1970s/1980s)
5. The Greatest American Hero (1980s)
6. Superboy (1980s/1990s)
7. The Flash (1990s)
8. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1990s)
9. Arrow (2010s)
10. The Flash (2010s)

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Superman Returns! See the Dawn of Justice on Me TV Before It Arrives in Theaters!

This is what I wrote back on December 28, 2013:

Watching Batman and Wonder Woman on Me TV is a great way to prepare for the Man of Steel sequel set for release in 2015, with Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman and joined by Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Now all Me TV needs to do is add the 1950s series The Adventures of Superman to the lineup.”

My thought has become reality as The Adventures of Superman is now part of Me TV's Super Sci-Fi Saturday Nights lineup.

The classic show starring George Reeves as TV's first live-action Man of Steel kicks off a super-powered evening of super-heroics at 6:00 p.m., followed by Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusading Dynamic Duo in Batman at 7:00 p.m. and Lynda Carter as the original warrior princess in Wonder Woman at 8:00 p.m.

Now, thanks to Me TV, super fans will be super ready to anticipate the theatrical release (now set for 2016) of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, respectively, and introducing a host of other legendary DC Comics superheroes.

--Raj Manoharan

Paul Speer Live Online Concerts to Be Rescheduled Due to Technical Issues

Stay tuned for further information.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Paul Speer to Perform Live Concerts Online This Weekend

If you aren’t familiar with the cutting edge sounds of electric guitarist Paul Speer, this weekend is the perfect opportunity for you to make his acquaintance.

The six-string ace will be performing three concerts live from his studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on Friday, April 17, and Saturday, April 18. He will also participate in online discussions with attendees afterwards.

The minimum ticket donation is $1 per show, with $10 fetching you not only the scheduled performance of your choice, but also a signed copy of Speer’s latest album, Ax Inferno.

Visit www.paulspeer.com for show times and tickets.

--Raj Manoharan


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Geoffrey Lewis (1935-2015): Fare Thee Well, Old Friend

Another star we said goodbye to this month is Geoffrey Lewis. He was not an icon on the level of Leonard Nimoy or even James Best, but he was a very familiar face in movies and on television, with a somewhat recognizable name. He appeared in many films with Clint Eastwood and was the father of actress Juliette Lewis.

I first became consciously aware of Geoffrey Lewis in 1990, when I rented a videocassette of the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. Lewis and Anthony Zerbe were the main villains facing off against Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who returned to their roles as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin from the 1960s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I next saw Lewis in Only the Strong, a 1993 movie I reviewed for TV Key. Lewis played a veteran high school teacher who rallies behind new teacher Mark Dacascos, who steers wayward students onto the right path by teaching them a Brazilian dance-like martial art called capoeira. This was also the first time I saw Dacascos, who has since enjoyed a respectable career in film and television, including his recurring role as criminal mastermind Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-0.

Lewis’s role in Only the Strong made an impression on me. As much as it was his performance, I think it was also the fact that Lewis very closely resembled my high school journalism teacher John Urciuoli. That’s probably why, in addition to his reliable acting skills, Lewis seemed natural as an educator.

You can find out more about Geoffrey Lewis at his page on the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0507212/?ref_=nv_sr_1).

--Raj Manoharan


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

James Best (1926-2015): Thanks for the Laughs and the Memories – Kyugh! Kyugh! Kyugh!


Just over a month after Leonard Nimoy beamed up for the last time, now another of my lifelong childhood favorites has become a part of history: James Best, best known as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the classic 1979-1985 action-comedy television series The Dukes of Hazzard, has crashed his last patrol car.
 
Although John Schneider and Tom Wopat were ostensibly the stars of the show as country cousins Bo and Luke Duke, it’s really Sorrell Booke and James Best’s performances as Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco that made the show what it is.
 
The proof of this was when Schneider and Wopat left the show for one season due to contract disputes and were temporarily replaced by Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer as cousins Coy and Vance Duke. The show wasn’t the same without the original Duke boys, but Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco’s silly shenanigans kept the chuckles coming, so much so that the show was intact long enough for the return of Bo and Luke Duke and several more years of crazy car chases.
 
While Best will always be remembered as Sheriff Rosco, he was so much more, with an illustrious show business career before the Dukes and plenty of pursuits afterward. You can find out more about this amazing man at his page on the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0078940/?ref_=nv_sr_1), and if you’re a fan and haven’t already done so, buy a copy of his autobiography at his Web site, www.jamesbest.com.
 
As my tribute to Best, I am posting a fan e-mail I sent to him last year after I received my autographed copy of his autobiography, as well as his e-mail reply, in which he graciously included a digital copy of one of his many recent paintings.
 
--Raj Manoharan
 
My E-Mail to James Best on February 20, 2014:
 
Dear Mr. Best,
 
I received your book in fine condition. Thank you for your autograph.
 
I quickly skimmed through the entire book, and I was deeply inspired by what you and Mr. Sorrell Booke went through during the Dukes of Hazzard years and how you both handled it. Your account of that ordeal provides me with serendipitous hope at this particular time.
 
By the way, even though your role as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane bears all the hallmarks of classic typecasting, I have to say that for me, your performance is in the same category of acting greatness as Ed O'Neill, and I don't mean his current role on Modern Family. I am, of course, talking about his legendary turn as ne'er do well shoe salesman Al Bundy on Married With Children.
 
As great and talented an actor as he is, Mr. O'Neill's role on Modern Family could have been played by other actors. However, what he did on Married With Children and what you did on The Dukes of Hazzard take real acting chops, to completely lose yourselves in roles so unlike any other you did before or since that we see beyond the acting and totally buy your characters as real people.
 
Sure, I have favorite actors who are pretty much themselves in every role they play, and that's part of their charm. But for you and Mr. O'Neill to have done something so unique and different from everything else you've done before and since, which not a lot of performers can do – that's acting.
 
Thank you for my childhood memories that I can continually relive through reruns and now through your book, and which wouldn't have been possible without your immense talent.
 
I wish you continued success in your endeavors, and my best to Best and family.
 
Kyugh! Kyugh! Kyugh!
 
Raj Manoharan
 
James Best's E-Mail Reply to Me on February 23, 2014:
 
Your letter was indeed very touching, I have always tried to be as versatile as possible. I love acting but my love now is for painting. here is a small example.
 
 
my very best to you and yours.
sincerely
james
 
James Best




Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Andy Summers’ New Jazz Band Takes Europe and China by Storm

Police guitarist Andy Summers has formed a new jazz group with English saxophonist and film composer John Altman. Known as Pearls of Wisdom, the combo is very popular in Europe and China, so much so that a massive tour is in the works.

There is no word yet on a possible studio or live album resulting from this endeavor.

For more information, visit Summers’ Facebook page and Twitter feed, both accessible at www.andysummers.com.

--Raj Manoharan


Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Andy Summers Album Due Early Summer 2015; Preview Track Available Now Online

Now that Circa Zero has gone from zero to zero, founding member and guitarist Andy Summers is back on the path only he can chart – that of an autonomous six-string shaman.

Summers' eleventh original solo album – his first in over a decade – is called Qualia! and is scheduled for release in early summer 2015.

A preview track from Qualia! is available now at www.andysummers.com. The ethereal, otherworldly sound of the tune recalls Summers' albums with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp, as well as Summers' early solo albums Mysterious Barricades and The Golden Wire.

At this time, it's not clear if the preview track is indicative of the overall style of the album. It also remains to be seen whether the album features Summers' original compositions from his score for his autobiographical documentary Can't Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police – which was actually completed and first showcased three years ago – or consists of recently recorded new material.

Stay tuned to www.andysummers.com for further details.

--Raj Manoharan