blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
The Original Trio and The Original Songs
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The original America trio of Vocalists/guitarists Dewey Bunnell, Dan Peek, and Gerry Beckley made faux CSN type of California pop so deftly that their initial single, "Horse With No Name," folled many into believing it was the other famed trio. Eventually the word got out and America soon began a string of seventies hits that made their first best of, "History," one of Warner Brothers' biggest selling catalog albums of the time. There have been many anthologies of America issues over the years, but this "Definitive Pop Collection" stands as one of the best.

Focusing solely on their WB tenure, "Definitive Pop" is a pretty exhaustive collection. Culling 30 songs from seven albums, the only things missing are "The Border" and "You Can Do Magic," but they were recorded for Capitol records and must not have been available to be licensed for this 2 disc set. (You can get them on "America - The Complete Greatest Hits.") But for the money, this comes up just short of the even more exhaustive Rhino box set Highway: 30 Years of America."

As to the music itself, the band kept it light but pure. The mainstay was well harmonized folkish pop, augmented with the occasional banjo ("Don't Cross The River"), electric guitar (the mysterious "Sandman") synthesizers ("Only In Your Heart"), and via producer George Martin on their later albums, some exquisite Beatlesy production (you try to listen to "Lonely People" without thinking of "Eleanor Rigby"). The three men also were a formidable songwriting trio, with each man capable of writing their own hits. In fact, it is only the treacle of "Muskrat Love" that came from an outside source on this set.

That's not to say there aren't some clinkers (I could have done without "Watership Down," for example), but they are far outweighed by such classic delights as "Sister Golden Hair," "Tin Man" or "Woman Tonight." Janet Jackson was so fond of "Ventura Highway" that she sampled it for her hit single "Someone To Call My Lover." Buoyed by many enjoyable album cuts, a decent band history/essay, and some missed singles like "Everyone I Meet Is From California" or "Amber Cascades," this is easily all the America you could ask for a minor price. The only thing better would be the "Complete" set, but it's also the America that went on without the late Dan Peek. This is the original trio in all its soft pop glory.


   
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Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Landing somewhere in the middle of The Flaming Lips' catalog is "Hit To Death In The Future Head," which has long felt like a transitional album in their continual chameleon-like career. The shift seems to be in a move away from the acidic psychedelia into psychedelic Beach Boys. Kinda like goodbye Sonic Youth, hello Beatles' White Album. This most easily found as the lazy roll of "The Sun" or the peppier, undeniably catchy "Gingerale Afternoon." Wayne Coyne is also exploring the possibilities of his singing voice; this is the first Lips CD where his singing really shines all they way through.

It may be also worth noting that "Hit" was the last Lips album to feature guitarist Jonathan Donahue and drummer Nathan Roberts were aboard. Donahue contributes plenty of guitar freakouts, like on "Frogs" and "The Magician Versus The Headache," along with all the whacked out sounds mixed into the CD's half-hour "bonus" track of cacophony. (Shades of 1997's Zaireeka, anyone?) There are plenty of epic moments to be found here, but the follow-up album was the powerful "Transmissions From The Satellite Heart," the Lips' artistic and commercial breakthrough. As such, "Hit" is a cool listen, but not the place to start of you want to discover why Flaming Lips can be such a magic band.


    

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I just heard that Apple founder and frontman Steve Jobs has passed away. I felt a lump in my throat come and go as the news was broadcast, as Apple has been involved with so many years in my life. When I first started working in publishing, the main room was a set of Macs, all rigged up with Pagemaker, along with a slightly more powerful Mac for the graphics. Every week, for three years, we turned out a Radio/Broadcast musical tipsheet on that room full of Apple computers.

When I decided to start my own magazines, I bought an Apple PowerPC. I remember not buying the new One Gigabyte version, thinking "who needs a gigabyte?" That computer lasted me from 1996 until just a few years ago. All the Rubber Rebel and Vulcan America magazines were composed on Apples. And the revolution of scanning...wow. No more huge darkrooms with cameras the size of refrigerators. It meant that I could take the pictures for my own magazines, without having to depend totally on studios and models. All the stories I wrote for my first two books (and much of Skin Tight) were written on an Apple.

So much of my creative life has been devised on machines that Steve Jobs helped invent and, more importantly, design. A recent Newsweek article profiled him, describing him alternately as brilliant and driven, but difficult and autocratically demanding. The chatter on TV behind me as I type is how Jobs The Visionary democratized the computing world. All I know is that he made a huge impact on mine.
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Thank You for Being a Friend: Best of"That's MISTER Mellowmeister to you."
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Andrew Gold was a first rate tunesmith who was often overlooked behind the stellar company he frequently worked with. He came from a musical family, started his first band with the likes of Karla Bonoff and Wendy Waldman, played and wrote on several of Linda Ronstadt's early classics like "Hasten Down The Wind." As a solo performer, he's best known for the 70's kitsch classic "Lonely Boy" and for the perennial friendship song (and theme to The Golden Girls) "Thank You For Being a Friend." He also had a wry sense of humor; the title of this review comes from a letter he once wrote to Rolling Stone magazine when they made a snotty comment about his production on a Nicolette Larson album as being an LA Mellowmeister, he sent them the aforementioned comment in response.

Which is probably why I've owned several of Andrew's albums (including Wax's "Magnetic Heaven") over the years. While this compilation sticks to Gold's four albums from his tenure at Elektra/Asylum, it gives a terrific overview of Gold's easy and straight-to-the-point songwriting. His two hits are both naturally here, but you may find yourself recognizing a 70's song or two as the disc plays out. Freddie Mercury sang backup vocals on the romantic "Never Let Her Slip Away." "Endless Flight" enchanted Leo Sayer enough that he both recorded it and used it for the title of his 1976 album. "The Final Frontier" was heard for many years as the opening theme for Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt's "Mad About You" (until Anita Baker re-recorded it later).

In a more just world, Andrew Gold would have been a star on the level of Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald or a handful of other California singer/songwriters. "Thank You For Being a Friend" gathers 20 songs as convincing proof that Gold ranked with the best of them. (Sure would have been nice to have Wax's near-hit "Right Between The Eyes" or Gold's spry version of "Do Wah Daddy" here, though.) His untimely passing in June 2011 at the age of 59 made me sad, to the point where I hit the repeat on "Never Let Her Slip Away" for much of the afternoon. Here is a hope he gets the recognition now that he deserves.


Andrew Gold  All This & Heaven Too Whirlwind What's Wrong with This Picture? Halloween Howls  Hasten Down the Wind
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Thanks BJ

Click through this, then click the squares.
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Rock & The TideBetween a Rock and a Tidal Place
3 Out of 5 Stars

For his third album, Joshua Radin trying to rock out a bit more. He still specializes in sad girlfriend types of songs, but this time around he pumps up his band. There are traces of Arcade Fire chiming chords and a little bit of U2 guitar soloing in the mix, where he seemed to stick to the James Taylor/Bob Dylan orbit on his first two albums. That will likely surprise fans of "Simple Times" when they hear the bubbling opener "Road To Ride On," which packs more punch than the entirety of Radin's previous album, or "Streetlight," which may be his best single so far.

Knowing his previous works kind of distracts from the decent material on "The Rock and The Tide." Joshua is obviously trying to break away from the singer-songwriter as sad troubadour mold, but it was his sensitivity that made his other records standouts. Unlike John Meyer, who used a desire to blast his old image as wimpy whiz-kid by forming a rocking blues-trio, Radin just sounds like a gifted singer-songwriter going pop. And his whispery vocals are in place for good songs like "We Are Only Getting Better," "You Got What I Need" and "Leap." It's not bad, it's just not unique.

I can't say that I blame Joshua for trying, after all, Jason Mraz and Meyer are working this same territory and breaking the bank on it. "The Rock and The Tide" is enjoyable folk-singer material and written by a better-than-average songwriter. A good album overall, worthy of an average grade.




 Simple Times The Best of James Taylor So Beautiful or So What To the Sea We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things Battle Studies
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The People's KeyA great big melting pot of Bright Eyes
4 Out of 5 Stars

Conor Oberst once made the ambitious mis-step or releasing two Bright Eyes albums at once; he issued the classic "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and the cringe worthy electronica of "Digital Ash in A Digital Urn" on the same day. One was a beautiful, thoughtful descendant of Bob Dylan, the other was an amateurish Kraftwerk homage. "The People's Key" sounds like he learned from that moment and pulled the best of each onto one album. "The People's Key" uses a full band to highlight Oberst's gifts of melody, penchant for strange narratives/spirituality and his curiosity for electronic instruments and forges them into a dynamic album with many highlights.

Like Iron and Wine's "Kiss Each Other Clean" (issued roughly the same time), "The People's Key" shows Oberst fleshing out the edges of  his comfort zone with richer arrangements and fuller singing. Purists might not take to it easily, but there is a direct line from Oberst's time in Monster's Of Folk (who did a raucous concert performance), his more personal songs on the solo album and the opening narrative of "Cassadaga." Also, like Dylan, there are moments of inexplicable lyrical oddities that are as filled with beauty as they are strange. Who else could rhyme the title of the song "Haile Selassie" with the line about  his audio equipment ("one drop and a bubbling Leslie, calling me home like Haile Selassie").

Oberst is a restless artist, as anyone who has followed his eclectic career can tell you. The wild mood swings on "The People's Key" are testament to that factor, yet it is strong enough an album to hold together. I'll probably always be wedded to the style of the man who wrote and sang "I'm Wide Awake," but even the annoying "shamanic vocals" credited to one Denny Brewer (without which I might have given this 5 stars) can distract from the richness of "The People's Key."




 I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning Cassadaga Conor Oberst Monsters Of Folk The King Is Dead Collapse Into Now
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David Stein and I will be sharing a book table at the event. Come on out!
First Hand: An Erotic Guide to Fisting (A Boner Book)  Sgt. Vlengles' Revenge (A Boner Book) Carried Away: An S/M Romance Ask the Man Who Owns Him: The real lives of gay Masters and slaves
 
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Exit Through the Gift ShopTrading Places, Street Art Style
4 Out Of 5 Stars

What starts off as a documentary about notorious London street artist/prankster Banksy doubles back on itself and becomes a documentary about the documentarion, one Thierry (Terry) Guetta. Thierry is a Frenchman who emigrated to Los Angeles and started a used clothing shop. He also has some sort of weird Obsessive/Compulsive disorder with video-recording every waking moment he possibly can. Somewhere in the camera ear of Thierry's life, he becomes obsessed by street/graffiti artists and begins to tape them and their nocturnal activities. As he climbs the strata of artists, he eventually encounters Banksy. Voila! A film is born.

Only one problem. Turns out Thierry is a complete dud as a film maker and Banksy takes over the tapes and editing. This is where the film gets interesting. After watching Banksy throw a huge and profitable opening in Los Angeles, Thierry takes Banksy's offhand comment about creativity (Thierry has developed some street art and a personna of his own) to mean that Banksy is approving of Thierry's work and should become the next big name in the artist community. Before you can say 'spray paint,' Thierry is overhauling an old network studio and planning his own, major coming out exhibit.

The question is, can art be made just by sheer force of will? Thierry seems like such a savant that his ascension into a world-class artist seems hard to swallow. Even the artists he was filming on his camera seem dumbstruck that this "character from the 1860's" could launch himself without much experience; there are some who believe the whole "Mister Brain Wash" (as Thierry has now dubbed himself) is one of Banksy's elaborate pranks on the creative universe. That's not to say the film is not without entertainment value. Thierry is, despite his loopiness, a charming eccentric, his own determination to hype himself into a success supplies "Exit Through The Gift Shop" with humor and interest. The gray area the film treads between creativity, hype and scam is so blurry that the DVD becomes its own circular argument, and a heck of a lot of fun.


Exit Through the Gift Shop [Blu-ray]  Restrepo Inside Job Waiting for "Superman"
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David Stein and I will be sharing a book table at the event. Come on out!
First Hand: An Erotic Guide to Fisting (A Boner Book)  Sgt. Vlengles' Revenge (A Boner Book) Carried Away: An S/M Romance Ask the Man Who Owns Him: The real lives of gay Masters and slaves
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Kiss Each Other Clean Cleaning up the act
4 Out of 5 Stars

When I saw Sam Beam (aka Iron and Wine) at the Newport Folk Festival a few years back, I was amazed at just how different his singing was from the stage. Full throated and powerful, not the hushed whispery sound I was used to from his albums. A sound and a voice that surprised me, both by the sound and by how much I liked him. It made me wonder why he hadn't recorded himself that way before.

"Kiss Each Other Clean" is that record. Sam's major label debut (from Sub Pop to Warners), the new disc not only features Sam singing with his full voice, but with a much broader musical pallet. Turns out the guy must have been a serious Lindsey Buckingham buff, as much of this disc recalls the experimentation of Buckingham's "Go Insane" and "Law and Order" solos. While die-hard fans might be in for a shock from the electronics and jazzy horn sections, the songs themselves are still what I expect when I play an Iron and Wine album. Compositions like "Monkeys" and "Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me" are bursting with ideas and sounds that "The Shepherds Dog" merely hinted at. Even the Dj scratches and horns on "Big Burned Hand" (in my opinion, the weakest song on "Kiss") will have fans wondering where this Sam Beam has been hiding before letting it all cut loose.


The highlight for me is "Rabbit Will Run," which slides on a slinky groove with an interesting drum pattern before the music drops out entirely, leaving Sam's voice to ride on the open air. Then the song kicks back in with an ethereal new jazzy rhythm and flute solo. It's the kind of song that would have fit in on TSD or even the Ep "Woman King" as an ambitious experiment before this album, yet here it fits into Sam's new color scheme perfectly. Like the bulk of "Kiss Each Other Clean," it's gorgeous and ambitious; Beam is an artist who just keeps stretching into better and better places.




Our Endless Numbered Days The Shepherd's Dog Woman King The King Is Dead The People's Key Monsters Of Folk
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AnthologyNice, Nice, Very Nice
4 Out Of 5 Stars


Ambrosia started life as a prog-rock band with classical leanings, and art-intellectual enough to make a chorus of one of their better songs a lift from a Kurt Vonnegut novel. Then they even gave the author a composer's credit on said song ("Nice Nice Very Nice"), for which Vonnegut sends the band a delightful thank you note, which is reproduced in the CD booklet. Their second album, "Somewhere I've Never Traveled," was produced by legend Alan Parsons and was nominated for an engineering Grammy. The album cover was even designed to fold into an elaborate pyramid. By their third album, "Life Beyond LA," Ambrosia had jettisoned the overtly prog-arty portion of their sound, tightened up their sound considerably, lost founding member Chris North, and hit on the formula for massive mainstream success.

"Life Beyond LA" also found singer David Pack breaking ranks with the band's old style and writing the pop ballad "How Much I Feel." It was totally unlike anything the group had recorded to that date and pushed pack to the front of the band. What is most interesting is how the tightened sound on "Life Beyond LA" seemed to be edging Ambrosia more towards the enigmatic feel of Steely Dan, with both the title track and "Angola" from this collection highlighting this move. Still, a number three pop ballad will tend to make a band feel cornered, which is what happened next.

When the album "One Eighty" appeared, Ambrosia appeared on the cover in a very stylized group photo, and the first single was yet another soft-pop ballad. "The Biggest Part of Me" hit number two on Billboard and the follow-up, "Your The Only Woman" reached the top twenty. Chris North had returned to the band, but Ambrosia was now firmly entrenched in the kind of soulful pop The Doobie Brothers were making. It's not by accident that Michael McDonald and David Pack had become friends in this time (and the two bands toured together); Pack and McDonald sing together on "I Just Can't Let Go," a bonus track on this anthology.

Back to their original four-man line up, Ambrosia tried to break out of this box by recording the harder rocking "Road Island." Along with a cover by the always demented Ralph Steadman (of "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" fame), and is a significant move back toward rocking. "Still Not Satisfied" is the sole song from that album included and this time bassist Joe Puerta sings the lead. (It should be noted that Joe often took lead on Ambrosia songs and the band has always had excellent harmonies). However, by now the public that had pegged the band as pop-stars found something as solid as "Kid No More" (my favorite song from "Road Island" and not included here) too heavy for their interests. "Road Island" flopped and Ambrosia parted ways soon after.

There are three bonus tracks here, the newly recorded "Mama Don't Understand" and "Sky Is Falling" along with the remixed and somewhat re-recorded "I Just Can't Let Go," which originally appeared on David Pack's lone solo album. The band again sounds like they've taken league with latter day Doobie Brothers on these, and they are good tracks. Pack has distinguished himself as both vocalist and producer, while Joe Puerta became the bassist for Bruce Hornsby and The Range. And while they may never create anything as cinematicaly ambitious as "Cowboy Star" or as soulful as "How Much I Feel" again, this collection of songs shows Ambrosia to be a great band that didn't get the creative credit they deserved in their prime.







Life Beyond L.A. Ambrosia I Robot Pyramid Dark Side of the Moon Grave New World
 
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Nothing Like the SunBiding His Time
4 Out Of 5 Stars


Sting expanded on the jazzy feel of his debut when he released this expansive (originally double) album. He played with polyrythms, crossing styles over each other, even bringing in the Gil Evans Orchestra to accompany him on a Jimi Hendrix cover ("Little Wing"). It made "Nothing Like the Sun" a very ambitious album, and one that contains some of his best individual songs.

After all, any album that contains something as painfully beautiful as "Fragile" or quirky and clever as his tribute to Quentin Crisp ("Englishman in New York") is worth more than passing notice. To be certain, Sting added a pop-matic single in "We'll Be Together" and goofy (and frankly, slight) take on the story of Noah's Ark on "Rock Steady." Take those away, and you have a solemn, moody album that lives up to its creators reputation for flights or pretension. Because as beautiful as "Fragile" is, it is the simplicity of that particular song that makes the inferior "They Dance Alone" sputter.

Sting has always likes his music on the 'serious' side, so "Nothing Like The Sun" has always held up well if you allow the artist his leeway. On the other hand, I've always found "Soul Cages" to be a less pretentious and more personal album, even if "Nothing Like The Sun" contains the better of the songs.




Symphonicities Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting 1984-1994 The Police (2CD Anthology) Every Breath You Take: Classics
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Moving PicturesModern Day Warrior, Mean, Mean Pride
5 Out of 5 Stars

Rush were one of those rare animals in rock and roll; a Prog-Rock band dressed in power-trio drag. They'd long been toying with epic album themes, like "2112" and "Hemispheres," were welding new wave keyboards into their music by "Permanent Waves," and on "Moving Pictures," everything gelled completely. It's hard for me to argue that any other Rush album was ever better.

Back in the old side one and side two days, you could play the first side over and over and never get tired of it. It remains an absolutely flawless sequence of four songs, including two of the songs most associated with the band. The Synth/Guitar punch in the eye of "Tom Sawyer's" opening notes digs right into your psyche. Who doesn't want to be "today's Tom Sawyer" with a mean, mean stride? The kids of "2112" discover the joy of speed racing in the sci-fi epic of "Red Barchetta," along with a spike of 'beat the man' adrenaline embedded in the tale. The instrumental "YYZ" proved what every Rush fan always knew; these three men are virtuoso musicians. Finally, there was one of the rare 'life of a rock star' songs that didn't suck, "Limelight." For a band that has only ever crept into the Top 40 once, both "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight" missed that critical mark by a hair. Not that it mattered, as both those songs and "Red Barchetta" have become deserved classic rock staples.

The second side was not as immediately accessible, but holds its rewards closer to its chest. For eleven minutes, "The Camera Eye" bobs and weaves instrumentally, while both the cautionary tale of "Witch Hunt" and "Vital Signs" call to arms ("everybody got to deviate from the norm") all ingrain themselves with repeated listens. It makes "Moving Pictures" a classic album in the truest sense of the word, wherein every song fits into the whole.



2112 Permanent Waves Hemispheres Signals Power Windows  A Farewell to Kings

blackleatherbookshelf: (Tie Dye)
Come Around SundownRiding with The Kings
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Kings of Leon took the old fashioned route to stardom; they made consistent albums, toured relentlessly, ignored trends and waited for the world to catch up. Their fifth album, "Come Around Sundown," capitalizes on that steady as we go philosophy by keeping to the basics. Caleb Followill still sings like he's got honey in his mouth, the guitars are big and echoed, yet trace their roots to Southern Rock via U2's arena blast, and the songs themselves are rants and rolls about love, women and sex.

If you caught on to Kings Of Leon via "Only By The Night's" hits, that will probably suit you just fine. For those of us with the band since "Youth and Young Manhood," this will fee like a holding pattern. Granted, they are still messing with the formula (the dow-woppy "Mary" or the slide guitar country of "Back Down South"), for the most part, "Come Around Sundown" sounds pat.

That still isn't enough to wash them off just yet, as both "The End" and the hooky "Radioactive" hit the right spots. "Beach Side" could be the smoothest track they've done so far. The bass line in "Pony Up" makes me smile each time I hear it. Kings Of Leon have yet to disappoint me, and even though "Come Around Sundown" doesn't show the kind of exponential progressions that the first four albums did from each other, it's still a great rock album from a band at the top of their game.




Only by the Night  Because of the Times Aha Shake Heartbreak Youth & Young Manhood
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Static & SilenceStatic, Silence and Shimmer
3 Out of 5 Stars

With only three albums to their name, The Sundays concentrate on making each of their albums shimmering perfect pop. "Static and Silence" was no exception, with vocalist Harriet Wheeler's cheery voice floating above all the charming guitars. That also have decided to allow a few changes in the formula, with more electric guitars ("Another Flavor"), heavier orchestration ("She"), jazzier textures ("Your Eyes") all while maintaining the sound that characterized their first two albums.

What "Static and Silence" misses is anything as unforgettable as their initial single "Here's Where The Story Ends" from their debut and the gorgeous cover of "Wild Horses" from "Blind." (So perfect that Susan Boyle did it note for note on her debut almost 20 years later.) "Summertime" here comes closest, and "Folk Song" also sounds great. For the most part, though, The Sundays make "Static and Silence" a dreamily pleasant, if average album.

 
Reading Writing & Arithmetic   Blind  First of a Million Kisses
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I'm Not Dead Critical Care
4 Out of 5 Stars

Titling an album "I'm Not Dead" is almost a dare to your audience. It would be far too easy for a hater to flip that title around on Pink; if you have to say something like "I'm not dead," chances are you're already in the morgue. But not our grown-up bad girl. This album is sassy, snotty, compelling, introspective, catchy and eclectic as all get out. Pink most certainly not dead. In fact, she's moving through so many phases, it'll be hard for other popstars to keep up.

The funny sideswipe of "Stupid Girls" opens the album with Pink not only tearing down the vacuous no-talent scenesters that populate Los Angeles Party palaces, but also seemingly a primal scream to escape the insular star universe they hang out in. The theme is revisited in the somber "I Got Money Now," where she celebrates her success and questions if she has become any better than the loner who broke from the pack and made it to stardom. Which is followed by "Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self," which is absolutely dazzling. As a song to the misfits wandering if it ever gets better, Pink emotionally puts forth that it will.

That's not to say "I'm Not Dead" is all emo. "Cuz I Can" celebrates the stardom without any self-consciousness at all, even laying in a ridiculous "Ice Cream, Ice Cream, we all want Ice Cream" chant in the chorus. "U and Ur Hand" is an absolute howl, the female shot fired right before some Billy Idol wannabe would have to break into a chorus of "Dancing With Myself." There's plenty to enjoy on this collection of modern pop, and Pink may be the best of the breed currently putting these kind of records out.




Greatest Hits... So Far!!! Funhouse Missundaztood
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New Moon ShineJames Taylor Taps His Still
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This was the moment that James Taylor became comfortable with his music again. "New Moon Shine" threw off the studio gauze that began clouding his albums from "Flag" onward, coating everything with less distinction than each album to follow, to nearly a point of parody ("That's Why I'm Here" and "Never Die Young" for the smarmiest examples). But for his first album of the 90's, Taylor dumped the Vegas glitter and cheesy somnambulant oldies covers to make shimmering, country-folk album that reminded us of what a true talent the man possesses.

"Copperline" is almost textbook James Taylor; the story of growing up in the backwoods and going back. Told with a touch of nostalgia, a shot of wistfulness and a dash of disappointment, it captures just what makes him a great songwriter. Then there's "Native Son," where Taylor uses the life of a Civil War soldier to comment on the Gulf War, beautifully. Not as successful but still a lot of fun is "Slap Leather," using a rollicking arrangement and cowboy metaphors to rail against the obliviousness of the 80's narcissism. (And may be the only song to use the words "Big Mac Falafel" as part of the lyric.)

"New Moon Shine" was notable also for the fact that Taylor was returning more to the traditional roots of his earlier singer songwriter confessional days. "Shine a Little Light" does this well, as does "The Water Is Wide," a traditional song Taylor covers exquisitely well. He's playful ("Got to Stop Thinking About That"), humorous ("Frozen Man") and earnest ("Copperline") is ways he hadn't allowed himself in many a moon. The only dud is the obligatory oldie, a so-so cover of Sam Cooke's "Everybody Loves To Cha Cha." "New Moon Shine" was James Taylor, reinvigorated, and set the course for the rest of his decade.





Live At The Troubadour (CD +DVD) The Best of James Taylor James Taylor James Taylor at Christmas  Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon
 

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6: CommitmentSeal Sells Sentiment
3 Out of 5 Stars

Seal claims that he's happier now than ever before. Which might be great for him, but it's disappointing for us. While I still find him to be one of the most remarkable vocalists of our time, "Commitment" finds him riding straight up the middle of the road. Instead of the soul baring we heard even up to Seal IV, we now are listening to comfortably bland love songs coated with producer David Foster's bland strings and syrupy arrangements.

In fact, if it weren't for Seal's still potent voice, this would probably be a two star album. Face it, very few singers could sing "I'm one of your secrets, I belong to you and you belong to me" without sounding ridiculous, but Seal gets away with it. And don't get me wrong, as someone who rated the over-produced "Soul" with four stars, I am fine with well done plush. "Letting Go" and "The Weight of My Mistakes" are the best songs here; Seal sounds like he's really committed to the performance. The rest of the time, "Commitment" sounds like sentimental fluff.



Soul  Hits Human Being Seal
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Heroes in The Past Tense
4 Out of 5 Stars

Those of you unfamiliar with Tim Kring's TV series "Heroes" will probably think this is a fresh and interesting book. However, those of us who were enthralled by most of "Heroes" run will find Kring's book with Dale Peck, "Shift," to be familiar territory.

A mere mortal everyman (Chandler Forrester) is bestowed unconventional powers. A dark and malevolent man (Melchoir) wants to claim those powers for himself, and will do anything to get them. And between them is a secret agent trying to track down both of them, unsure of who the bad guy is or what exactly he is trying to find. And while no cheerleader is around to save the world, Forrester has a woman that he is drawn to in an almost supernatural fashion. Sound familiar?

That said, Kring and Peck have still written a compelling and complex work. There's a multitude of colorful characters moving back and forth through "Shift," to where you really need to pay attention to the players. Plus, Kring and Peck have tapped into the Holy Grail of Conspiracy Junkies, The Kennedy Assassination, as their alternative history platform. (Alternative History being a genre that the authors themselves take a cheeky poke at early in the book.)

The period and theories are all teased out; there's Cubans, Mafiosi, Nazis, J Edgar Hoover, Timothy Leary, covert ops, etc. If I missed any here, trust me, they eventually make an appearance. It keeps readers of
"Shift" on their toes throughout. Given this is the start of a trilogy, I am once again hooked on Kring.

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