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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Miguel Ferrer (1955-2017)

My first encounters with Mr. Ferrer on film were Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (he wasn’t a known actor at that point; he played an unnamed bridge officer aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior) and Robocop.

Since then, he had become quite the familiar face in movies and television, racking up an impressive list of credits, the most recent being a long-running role on the hit TV series NCIS: Los Angeles.

One of the many progeny of Oscar- and Tony-winning actor Jose Ferrer and singer Rosemary Clooney (and thus a cousin of George Clooney), Miguel Ferrer was a fine, accomplished, and versatile actor.

Rest well, good man.

--Raj Manoharan

Cowboy Classics Sampler (2016), by Patrick Stewart

CD Fan Review

For a Royal Shakespearean actor from England who has trekked to the stars, fought magnetic mutants, and talked bluntly, Patrick Stewart makes quite the convincing country crooner.

Unlike his equally musically inclined intergalactic predecessor, Stewart actually sings these cowboy classics (with the exception of “Ringo,” and to great effect). And he does a pretty fine job of it.

It certainly helps that Stewart is backed by a top-notch band of musicians, including Ethan Eubanks (drums/percussion/vocals), Andrew Sherman (piano/accordion/vocals), Jim Campilongo (guitars), Jon Graboff (pedal steel/guitars/vocals), and Jeff Hill (bass).

But Stewart really goes for it and gets into the character of these Western ditties, giving it his all as he belts out his unique brand of British country twang in pitches I wasn’t previously aware that he was capable of. In fact, if I didn’t know beforehand that this was Patrick Stewart, I wouldn’t have recognized his voice for the most part (he does sound somewhat like himself on his gleefully giddy interpretation of “Here Comes Santa Claus.”)

If you like country (and Christmas) music and Patrick Stewart, you’re in for a real treat. What could have easily been an exercise in pure hokeyness (not altogether a bad thing in itself) manages to be both kitschy and classy thanks to Stewart’s talents and penchant for having a grand old time.

I do reckon there’s a future for Patrick Stewart in them there musical hills.

--Raj Manoharan

The Way It Is – Live (2016), by Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers

Music Download Fan Review

Thirty years after the release of his debut album The Way It Is (with The Range), Bruce Hornsby and his current band The Noisemakers revisit that seminal moment with live performances of the entire record. The concert, which comprises two dates, is available as a free download on www.brucehornsbylive.com.

In addition to demonstrating the timelessness of those 1986 songs, the new versions prove that, vocally, the 62-year-old Hornsby is nearly indistinguishable from his 32-year-old self.

Hornsby is also still at the top of his game instrumentally, maintaining his edge as a keyboard impresario on piano, accordion, and synthesizers. The Noisemakers aren’t too shabby, either. Consisting of JV Collier on bass, Gibb Droll on guitar, Ross Holmes on fiddle and mandolin, JT Thomas on organ, and Sonny Emory on drums, this band is as tight as they come.

While the songs remain essentially the same, some spirited improvisational detours ensure that they live on with a new vigor and vitality.

And that's The Way It Is.

--Raj Manoharan