Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Pats Spank Jets 45-3 On Monday Night Football

Hyped as the Super Bowl of the regular season, Monday night's matchup of the best two teams in the AFC turned into a landslide victory for the home team New England Patriots over the visiting New York Jets, 45-3. The shellacking evened the season series at 1-1, kept New England undefeated at home (6-0) and more importantly, earned itself first place outright in the AFC East with a 10-2 record, with the Jets in second at 9-3.

Tom Brady

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady followed up a perfect 158 QB Rating on Turkey Day against the Lions with a nearly perfect 148 QB Rating against the Jets. And for only the second time in his career, he accomplished the feat of throwing four touchdowns for the second game in a row.

If there was any question before, there is none now that New England is the best team in football, and that if the vote was held today, Brady would be named MVP of the NFL this year. Not even Rex Ryan would quarrel with that now. With 27 TDs and only 4 INTs thrown, there isn't a hotter QB in the league right now (as Michael Vick has cooled off a bit).

As the team leader of the youngest team in the NFL, Brady needs to be on top of his game and pretty much has been for most of the year. In 12 games, he's only thrown INTs in two of them (against the Jets in week two and against Baltimore some weeks later). And in three of the last four games, he's thrown for over 300 yards and thrown 13 TDs with no INTs in those last four games. That's outstanding.

Defense Dominates

Having allowed over 150 yards rushing, it may look like Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and the Pats defense didn't exactly "stuff" the run but they did when it mattered and didn't allow many big gains—the longest was a rush of 14 yards by LaDainian Tomlinson.

As predicted though, the Pats defense made the Jets a one dimensional offense due to the secondary tightly covering Mark Sanchez's receivers (Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes) in the short and long field pretty much all game long. The Jets defense, by contrast, missing Jim Leonhard, could do nothing to stop Brady.

Having gotten down 17-0 early, Mark Sanchez and company had to throw the ball more than they'd have liked to, and eventually, a Bill Belichick defense seized on that as it has so often in the past, picking off three Sanchez passes.

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Patriots Aim For Revenge Against Big Mouth Rex & Jets

Never has an NFL head coach who has accomplished so little run his mouth so much like Rex Ryan of the New York Jets has in the past year or so. And all you can do is just chuckle.

From proclaiming he wouldn't kiss AFC East rival Bill Belichick's rings, to saying his team should be favorites to win last season's Super Bowl (which the Jets didn't appear in), and that all the "experts" say the Patriots are the NFL's best team, "except me," Ryan is full of the type of tough talk and bravado that is more fun than disrespectful of the opposition.

He could brag that he owns a career 2-1 record against Belichick (including a 28-14 win at the New Meadowlands in Week 2 this year that the Pats are looking to avenge come Monday) and that the Jets, going back to the Eric Mangini era have beaten the Pats three of the last four times. Ryan, however, still has the utmost respect for them and therefore won't provide too much bulletin board material for the Pats to use against him.

New England hosts the Jets on the December 6, 2010, edition of Monday Night Football for what is going to be the biggest regular season matchup of the season with a lot riding on it. The winner not only claims first place in the AFC East outright (as both teams sit atop at 9-2), but could be in good position for a first round bye in the playoffs and possibly host two home games.

The loser of this game could fall one game behind with four games left, and depending on how it does the rest of the way, end up on the road for three playoff games in its march to the Super Bowl. The Jets have Chicago and Pittsburgh as tough opponents on the road in the last quarter of the season, while the Pats have Chicago and Green Bay to battle in that stretch. So they are obviously battling for more than just to to establish who the best team in football is (with the 9-2 Atlanta Falcons begging for consideration as well).

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Sox Lose Victor Martinez to the Detroit Tigers

Last offseason, the Red Sox front office lost Jason Bay to free agency largely due to phantom health concerns. This year's free agency period is still young but today, according to a few media outlets, they lost free agent Victor Martinez to the Detroit Tigers. Needless to say, this is a major loss for Boston.

I was hoping this was not going to happen but saw it coming a long time ago, which is why I felt the Sox needed to get a longterm deal done with him prior to the start of last season. Still, I didn't expect the team with the second-highest payroll in baseball ($170 million payroll in 2010) to get outbid by any team (not named the New York Yankees) for V-Mart, let alone an average club like the Tigers.

This is a Red Sox team that is, after all, overpaying Daisuke Matsuzaka as well as the best DH in the game, David Ortiz, the latter by about $6 million. If you have to overpay for V-Mart, so what? Dice-K and Ortiz likely won't be around a few years into a new V-Mart contract anyway. And, owner John W. Henry just bought an international soccer team (Liverpool F.C.).

Therefore, money should not be the issue here, but that and apparently longevity was, since Detroit reportedly offered V-Mart $50 million over four years, while the Red Sox gave him a choice of $36 million over three years, or $42 million over four years. If these figures are true, Epstein has some explaining to do, as this makes the Sox organization look cheap.

He was willing to overrate J.D. ("DL") Drew and give him $70 million over five years ($15 million per year) at the age of 31. Yet V-Mart, at this same age and with much more durability (despite his thumb injury in 2010 that kept him out of 22 games), flexibility on the field and leadership skills, gets no more than three or four years? This doesn't make any sense.

This article was first published earlier today and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Colin Campbell Owes Marc Savard A Big Time Apology

Former NHL defenseman, head coach, and for the past 12 years, Director of Hockey Operations and chief NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell is in hot water this week. Former NHL official Dean Warren has filed a complaint against his termination to the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and he believes Campbell had a lot to do with it.

Angry emails by Campbell to other NHL executives are starting to be released online. The other day, Yahoo Sports, via a blogger named Tyler Dellow, analyzed some of them, saying they "reveal the candid, petty assessments by an NHL executive on the league's on-ice officials' performances." More than that, they pose possible conflict of interest issues and bias against certain players.

Dellow narrowed down some of the scrubbed out player names from Campbell emails dating back to 2006 and for Boston Bruins fans, the most alarming email allegedly involves a (Florida) Panthers-Bruins game from February 24, 2007, when three minor penalties were called on one player.

The opposing player who drew one of them was called "that little fake artist." The penalized player was his own son Gregory Campbell, and the "fake artist" was Bruins center Marc Savard. Warren, who called the penalty on the "biggest faker going," was said by Campbell to have fallen for Savard's act and as a result needed to go, or at least not allowed to referee any more of the (redacted) "club's" games.

Three years later, on March 7, 2010, Matt Cooke of the Pittsburgh Penguins cold-clocked Savard. Having a reputation as a head hunter didn't apparently matter to Campbell. He could find no NHL rule violations by Cooke and therefore did not suspend or even fine him, to the shock of the hockey world.

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tom Brady and Patriots Beat Up Steelers, 39-26

You are lying to yourself if you call yourself a Patriots fan and seriously saw this one coming. Yes, Tom Brady is now 6-1 in his last seven games against the Steelers (playoffs included). But after the previous week's pathetic performance against Eric Mangini's Cleveland Browns, a 39-26 New England blowout win against one of the best AFC teams is hardly what anyone expected.

In fact, I expected the Steelers to win a close, low-scoring game. Had I been made aware beforehand that the Pats under Bill Belichick were 22-2 in games following a loss since 2003, I might have thought differently.

In the end, I'm glad I was (and am sure plenty of other New England fans were) wrong.
The score and final stats were hardly indicative of how the Pats dominated most of this game Sunday night, especially up front on both sides of the ball. Guard Stephen Neal was out but with Logan Mankins back for his second game (after sitting out the first seven), Tom Brady had all the protection he needed as he threw for 350 yards (spread out to eight different players), three TDs and emphatically ran one into the end zone himself for one more.

It was the first 300-yard game of the season for Brady but more noticeably, his most emotional game in years. Maybe he didn't like the way Steelers players were hitting him under the pile, or maybe their cheap shots over the years (Lee Flowers) were still sealed in his mind. Or perhaps he just wanted perfection, meaning no dropping easy throws (Wes Welker) or poor blocking on unsuccessful third-and-short situations. Whatever it was, he extra furious at his teammates when things went wrong, and all smiles when success went his team's way.

Photo credit:

This article was first published in full earlier today at Blogcritics Magazine.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Music Review: Idlewild - Post Electric Blues

Far removed from its early days of prime R.E.M. and Pavement-like melodicism mixed with loud, Nirvana and Fugazi-inspired rock, Scotland’s Idlewild is a band in transition.

For most of its 15 years, it was on a record label—Parlophone/EMI for a majority of them—and released five albums, including its 2000 breakout (second full-length) release, 100 Broken Windows, which SPIN called the “number one album you didn’t hear” that year (and which is being re-issued this week).

In 2007, after releasing fifth album Make Another World on Sequel/Sanctuary, the quintet went ahead without a label and decided to try something different in having fans pre-order the next album so they can have the sufficient funds to record it.

After raising a substantial amount of funds and giving its thousands of loyal fans who ordered it some web-exclusive access to the recording sessions, Idlewild released its sixth album last year, entitled Post Electric Blues, first to its fans and later through the UK independent Cooking Vinyl label. Last month, it finally became available stateside and in digital form through Nice Music Group.

This is an excerpt of an article first published earlier today at Blogcritics Magazine

Monday, November 01, 2010

Brett Favre: Texts Dicks, Throws Picks & Exits As Pats Beat His Vikings, 28-18

There was no shortage of hoopla surrounding yesterday's much anticipated New England Patriots-Minnesota Vikings game at Gillette Stadium. It was supposed to be focused on Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss coming back to the team he was traded from just a few weeks ago. Instead, it was all about the notorious Brett Favre.

Given the 40-year-old's mounting injuries, will he play against the Patriots on Sunday? Will the NFL suspend Favre for sexual harassment stemming from the alleged lewd photos, voicemails and text messages sent to former Jets reporter Jenn Sterger that the headline of this article (humorously) refers to?

The latter situation hasn't been resolved yet, but by kickoff yesterday afternoon at around 4:15 pm ET, everyone inside and outside the stadium knew Favre was going to start at quarterback that day, for an NFL-record 292nd straight time. What they didn't know was how long he would last out there or how effective he would be.

In the first half, both Pats quarterback Tom Brady and Favre didn't take many chances deep. The result was a 7-7 tie at the half, with Danny Woodhead doing his best Kevin Faulk impression with his second quarter three-yard TD run and later 45 yards receiving on five catches.

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson got his team's only score by barely getting the nose of the football to the goal line at the start of the second (after, ironically, he appeared to have run it into the end zone at the end of the first quarter but was considered just short of it by the refs).

In the second half, play opened up for the Pats, as youngster wide-out Brandon Tate caught the longest pass by Brady of the season for a 65-yard TD to put the Pats ahead for good at 14-10 nearly midway through the third quarter.

Favre, meanwhile, had a pass thrown to Percy Harvin go off his hands into young Pats cornerback Devin McCourty's, who ran it back to the Vikings 37. So the all-time NFL leader in interceptions can't be entirely blamed for that one. BenJarvis Green-Ellis then quickly ran it into the end zone during the ensuing Pats drive, and after the extra point, the score was 21-10.

This is an excerpt from an article that was first published earlier this evening at Blogcritics Magazine

Friday, October 29, 2010

Music Review: The Vampire Diaries: Original Television Soundtrack

It was only a matter of time before one of the most popular shows on the CW Television Network got its own soundtrack. Much like other teen-centered TV dramas of the past, like Fox's The O.C. and other vampire-minded hit shows like HBO's True Blood, Vampire Diaries (which airs Thursday nights on CW) is trying to capitalize on its hit show with a hit soundtrack. And it was a bloody good decision.

Based on the L.J. Smith novels of the same name, the second-year TV series revolves around two brothers (Stefan and his elder, Damon) who obsess over the same gorgeous girl (Elena) and fight to control the fate of a whole (fictional) town (Mystic Falls, Virginia).

Viewers have long commented on the beautiful and fitting music that accompanied key episodes in season one (2009) and now season two, which began in early September. As of October 12, they have a chance to hear 16 tracks that span nearly 65 minutes on The Vampire Diaries: Original Television Soundtrack. It not only features some familiar names from the alternative music realm, but one of the hottest album covers of the year (featuring the aforementioned main stars of the show). Then there's the music itself.

Composer Michael Suby's "Stefan's Theme" clip and rock vets Placebo's Kate Bush cover "Running Up That Hill" set the tone right for a dark opening to the album. The deep bass and contrasting light, tremolo-aided electronics and guitars of the former track, and the thumping, downtempo beats and cut-up vocals of the latter make for an excellent one-two punch.

Track three kicks up the volume some, as alternative rockers Silversun Pickups, led by the always youthful-sounding Brian Aubert contribute the excellent, urgent rock of "Currency of Love," which was previously only available as an iTunes-only bonus track on second album, Swoon (2009).

The "Darktimes" remix of Bat For Lashes' "Sleep Alone" thoroughly turns the groove inside out and adds a lower register vocal to Natasha Khan's. It's very well done, but the original would have fit here better, with its decidedly more ghoulish background vocals and overall darker mood.

If vampires like to dance, there's a few choice cuts here. Howls' "Hammock," which sings about "howling at the moon" is a fine, low-key dance rock track. There is also the decent retro synth pop of Goldfrapp's "We Radiate," and rising 18-year-old dance pop star Sky Ferreira's "Obsession." The latter, at least lyrically, fits the show more so than the former, and has the potential to be a club hit in the vein of Katy Perry, who happens to be a fan of her work (and had a controversial way of showing it several months back).

This article was first published in full earlier today at Blogcritics Magazine.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Music Review: Jimmy Eat World - Invented

Arizona's alternative rock/power pop legends Jimmy Eat World do not make throwaway albums. They are one of those bands who always records more repeat-worthy songs than not, but who set a new standard in rock that is so high, any future records will be judged by it for as long as they keep making them.

1999's Clarity is the group's masterpiece and always will be, as songs like "Crush" and "Ten" set the stage for the commercial emo movement (i.e. Fall Out Boy) in the decade that followed. But other, more pop punk groups (i.e. The Ataris) also followed in the footsteps of the band's near perfect power pop/post-punk follow-up, 2001's Bleed American, which featured hits "The Middle" and "Sweetness," among others. Those two records were the peak of Jimmy Eat World's creative powers.

And what they, along with its notably more aggressive, emocore-based major label debut Static Prevails (1996) have in common with its recently released seventh LP Invented is producer Mark Trombino (who also drummed for Drive Like Jehu). Can he help bring back the magic of any of those early records (not including the band's out-of-print self-titled 1994 debut record)?

There are indeed shades of J.E.W.'s 1999 masterpiece throughout the new record, for starters. For example, closer "Mixtape" has a cappella parts somewhat reminiscent of Clarity's closer "Goodbye Sky Harbor." But as singable as its chorus is, the slow-moving tune doesn't come close to the powerful and intense "Dizzy" (from its previous and sixth album, 2007's Chase This Light), which has to go down as the best album closer in the Jimmy Eat World catalog since the aforementioned "Goodbye Sky Harbor."

That said, there are quite a few hummable, memorable and rockin' tracks on Invented.  "Heart Is Hard To Find" opens the sound barriers up with heavy acoustics and a warm touch that makes one think the song would fit right in with the Bleed American record. (End of review excerpt)
This article was first published IN FULL earlier this evening at Blogcritics Magazine.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New England's OT Win vs. Ravens Could Come with a Price

It was an improbable 23-20 victory for the Patriots last Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. The defense of the home team was supposed to be inferior to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens big defense. After all, this was the same Baltimore team that convincingly eliminated them from last year's playoffs in a blowout in this very stadium, which had previously never happened in the Tom Brady era.

Yet, coming into the game, the Patriots were 5-0 against the Ravens in the regular season. So how did the Patriots eek this one out? Big time defensive play, led by Jerod Mayo's astonishing and team-leading 18 tackles, and clutch catches by a new but familiar face, wide receiver Deion Branch. He caught a 5-yard Brady pass early in the fourth quarter for a touchdown to get the Pats within three points at 20-17, followed by about six more key receptions near the end of regulation and overtime combined to set up kicker Stephen Gostkowski's game-tying late fourth quarter field goal and game-winning one with 1:51 left in OT.

But nearly halfway through the second quarter came the only inexcusable negative play in the game. Ravens veteran tight end Todd Heap took a vicious hit from young Pats safety Brandon Meriweather, and consequently took a while to get up from it. He would leave the game.

Even Pats fans like me said, "That's a no-no" after watching the replay. NFL players aren't supposed to leave their feet or "launch" into opposing players, especially with helmets. It was labeled helmet-to-helmet contact by the referee, and I wouldn't have been shocked if he was kicked out of the game in addition to being penalized for it.

Starting this weekend, NFL players will definitely be suspended for clearly flagrant hits to the head, instead of (or in addition to) the usual light fine. Meriweather will indeed get a fine or be suspended for New England's next game against San Diego, even though the new policy wasn't in effect when the hit to Heap happened and that the Pats player has no prior history of such flagrant hits. And though a suspension would be detrimental to the team, I would have no problem with it.

Patriots fan or not, you can't excuse and not suspend or at least heavily fine ($50,000 or more) anyone who uses any part of their body as a weapon, be it Meriweather, Pittsburgh's James Harrison, Atlanta's Dunta Robinson (who gave himself and victim DeSean Jackson concussions on Sunday) or others, since NFL rules rightly prohibit such play.

There's a big difference between playing "aggressive," as Meriweather said he was doing when he hit his "friend" Heap, and (illegally) going up high on a defenseless receiver who didn't even have the ball in his hands, as was the case with Heap. It was just stupid, and even Pats coach Bill Belichick had the "Give me a break" look on his face when Meriweather went to the sideline to explain himself.

Can the Pats still win without Meriweather? Yes, but they'll need to fight against being timid and weak at the safety position should Meriweather be unavailable, and remember to just tackle the way they were taught, not to look for the kill. Being carelessly aggressive could end someone's season and even career, as players past and present are well aware.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Red Sox End Disappointing 2010 Season on High & Classy Note

For only the second time in Sox general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona's tenures, there will be no playoff baseball in Boston this year. Like 2006, they finish the season in third place in the AL East, and for similar reasons to that fateful season can blame it largely on a rash of injuries to key players, along with a mostly lousy bullpen (that Epstein did nothing significant to help before and during the season) and disappointing starters (Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Tim Wakefield).

But the 89-73 Red Sox had one, make it two last victories to celebrate last weekend: they won the last two games of the season against the Yankees to tie the season series at 9-9, and more importantly, prevented their arch rivals from winning the AL East division in the process, making Tampa Bay the champs and for a change, the Yankees the AL Wild Card representative in the 2010 postseason that starts on Wednesday.

Mike Lowell Day

But the real celebration that occurred this weekend was the Red Sox's tribute to retiring hero, cancer survivor and longtime third baseman Mike Lowell a half hour before the first game of a Sox-Yankees double header at Fenway Park on Saturday afternoon.

Mike Lowell, 8-3-10
With the whole Red Sox and (equally classy) Yankees teams looking on and applauding the festivities at the top of their respective dugout steps, they watched as Lowell's wife Bertha, their two kids and good friends Mike Redmond and (former respected Sox utility man) Alex Cora made surprise appearances to help out with the presentation of gifts. It was a warming, memorable moment for both fans and the participants on the field.

This article was first published in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Interview: Going Deep Into All Things Clutch With Singer Neil Fallon

Maryland-based hard rock quartet Clutch is and always has been without question one of the hardest working bands in the music business in the 20 years they’ve been together. They have nine studio albums out, along with some official and unofficial live releases, and a couple of DVDs. The group also performs at least 100 times per year on average, and that includes sets by their instrumental side project The Bakerton Group on occasion.

At the dawn of yet another set of shows, where Clutch will be one of two main supporting acts for former Ozzy Osbourne axe slinger Zakk Wylde and his band Black Label Society as part of the two month-long Black Label Berzerkus Tour that runs from late September to late November, lead singer/rhythm guitarist Neil Fallon did the media rounds for interviews all last week and weekend. I was lucky enough to get one of them.

On the afternoon of Saturday, September 18, I reached Fallon by cell phone and spent 25 minutes chatting with him about all things Clutch–I was home and he was located in a quiet area in a local IKEA store, of all places. The singer was gracious, low-key, funny, calm and of course, VERY informative, perhaps more so than any other recording artist I’ve ever interviewed (that includes Julian Lennon, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, and Yngwie Malmsteen, among others).

Highlights include Fallon talking about Clutch possibly releasing a (mostly) acoustic-based EP as a future release, naming his least favorite album he’s recorded, and telling me how he REALLY thinks about some of the band’s former record labels (and how they successfully sued one of them).

If you’re a huge Clutch fan and care to know a lot more about Fallon and this band, get comfortable, grab a drink or snack and enjoy this interview.

Let me just start by saying congratulations on 20 years of being together as a band with Clutch, and getting hand-picked by Zakk Wylde to be one of the two main support acts on his Berzerkus Tour. That’s a pretty big deal, wouldn’t you say?

Yeah, it’s gonna be a good tour. We’re looking forward to it. We usually these days don’t go out for that long, but this is a special occasion and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. [It] certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been in the band for 20 years. It kind of donned upon me that this past August, I will have been in Clutch for more than half my life.

This is a short excerpt of an article that was first published in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Friday, September 10, 2010

Music Review: Megadeth - Rust In Peace Live (CD + DVD)

Between Megadeth lead singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine's recently released memoir, lead guitarist Chris Broderick's Guitar World columns, and another mammoth world tour by the band itself, fans have certainly had some golden opportunities to get their fill of the heavy metal titans this year.

The original 22-show long North American leg of the 2010 Megadeth World Tour in March provided a special treat for longtime fans, a live performance of the band's entire seminal Rust In Peace album, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Several other classics rounded each live set, of course.

The sold out March 31 show at the Hollywood Palladium was filmed and recorded, and now this week, released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray as Rust In Peace Live (on Shout! Factory). This review looks at the CD and DVD options.


A live recording that is 74 minutes long seems like a long concert. But with a fast-paced metal band like Megadeth, an hour and approximately fifteen minutes of ripping rifftastic metal goes by in a flash and leaves you wanting more. That is, of course, a good thing.

An audience of mostly young males leads the "ME-GA-DETH!" chants shortly before Dave Mustaine graces the stage to say "Good evening," a few more words, and then gets right down to business with the rest of the four-man clan.

The one-two punch of "Holy Wars ... The Punishment Due" and (the UFO-themed) "Hangar 18," followed by the war-based "Take No Prisoners" is a relentless trio of metal classics unmatched by any other opening set of songs in the band's catalog. And the sell-out hometown Los Angeles crowd ate up every bit of it.

The engineering and mixing of this performance is outstanding, as the listener is able to hear all instruments evenly, and also pick up various audience chants and sing-alongs very clearly. Take "Hangar 18," where the crowd spontaneously shouts "ME-GA-DETH!" along to drummer Shawn Drover's three accented beats during the extended solo section.

The only (minor) issue one could pick out is the lack of volume on the backup vocals to (personal favorite) "Tornado of Souls," which was otherwise a showstopper in and of itself here. But that was perhaps due to the way founding Megadeth bassist David Ellefson sang them more than the way it was mixed (by Ryan Greene). By the way, after being away for several years, Ellefson rejoined the band he co-founded shortly before the tour, and he sounded right at home throughout. At one point in the show, you could even hear a fan yell out "Welcome back!"

This is an excerpt of an article that was first published in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Clay Buchholz: 2010 AL Cy Young Award Frontrunner

It wasn’t too long ago that Boston Red Sox (first time) All-Star pitcher Clay Buchholz was trade bait. In fact, he was once one of the key ingredients to any number of possible trades in recent years (one of which allegedly included a deal to send him and others to San Diego for Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez last offseason). The righty was also not guaranteed a spot in Boston’s starting rotation coming into this season, given the veteran depth of starters they already had.

Buchholz famously pitched a no-hitter late in 2007 in his second career start, but had a rocky 2008 (2-9, with a 6.75 ERA in 15 starts, 16 games overall). When given another chance, he started to regain form again and truly mature as a big league starter in the second half of 2009, putting up a 7-4 record and a 4.21 ERA in 16 starts.

Look at him now. In his first full season as a starter in the five-man starting rotation (joining Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey), he has had an incredible season thus far, leading his the Sox staff and the American League with a 2.21 ERA, and sporting a team-leading 15 wins. The Sox are also 17-6 in games he starts.

Even though he missed about a month due to injury earlier in the season, Buchholz has pitched himself into the AL Cy Young Award race, joining the likes of Seattle’s ace Felix Hernandez (10-10, 2.47 ERA) and Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia (18-5, 3.14 ERA).

Now, wins are the most overrated stat in baseball and out of a pitcher’s control. Just ask poor Hernandez, who has (and deserves much better than) a .500 record pitching for a team with the worst offense in the big leagues. Therefore, it shouldn’t factor all that much when it comes to evaluating who the best pitcher is.

There are some other eye-opening stats, however, that have made me think Buchholz deserves to be catapulted above the rest for the ultimate AL pitching prize. Consider that before giving up one earned run yesterday in a no-decision against the Rays, he achieved a major league-leading 30 1/3 innings of consecutive scoreless innings pitched, a feat not only unexpected from an American League pitcher given the DHs and better overall hitters in the league, but quite frankly mindblowing - as is his 2.21 ERA - considering he pitches in the AL East, against top scoring and power-hitting Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays clubs.

It’s the longest stretch of not giving up an earned run since Pedro Martinez’s 35 scoreless innings streak in 2002. Buchholz’s ERA in the low two's is also vintage Pedro-ish and nearly a full run better than Sabathia's. Also note that Buchholz’s .222 BAA (batting average against) is not only tied for third in the AL but better than Sabathia’s (.247) and Hernandez’s (.225).

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Johnny Damon: Heading Back To Boston?

Yesterday, while the Red Sox won and beat Seattle to pull within 5.5 games of both the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East and AL Wild Card leads, GM Theo Epstein claimed Detroit Tigers outfielder Johnny Damon off waivers. The teams are now in the middle of a 48-hour window to work out a deal.

Right now, Damon has a no-trade clause in his contract and is leaning towards staying put, but as we Sox fans all know, money talks. It's the reason he left after the 2005 season in the first place, with the Yankees offering $13M/yr over four years, up from $8M the Sox paid him in 2004 & 2005, and the Red Sox not taking their offer seriously until it was too late. Thus, both sides are to blame for his leaving Beantown for The Bronx, where he won another championship last season.

Now, he has a "long and hard" decision to make: stay with a Tigers team that is definitely out of postseason contention, or join a Sox team again that is still in it and could greatly benefit from a veteran, future Hall of Famer like Damon, who currently has over 2500 hits and over 1500 runs scored in 16 seasons, four good ones of which were spent in Boston (2002-2005), where he led the self-proclaimed lovable "Idiots" 2004 Red Sox team to its first title in 86 years.

Yes, Sox fans have given him lots of shit for being a Yankee over the last several years, but we (fans) and he should put that behind in the next six weeks and go for another fun postseason run. He can't replace all the injured players (Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, for starters), but the 36-year-old veteran still brings legit, hard-nosed big league talent, a slew of successful postseason experiences and a colorful personality to a team that is literally sorely missing it.

So go, Johnny, go back to Boston, where you belong.

Please note: This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jacoby Ellsbury: Likely Done For The Season

Thanks to an early season collision with teammate and human freight train Adrian Beltre, a controversial diagnosis by team doctors of the five broken ribs suffered from it, and a re-injured or newly fractured rib suffered in last Friday night's game in Texas, speedy outfielder and Red Sox leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury is back on the DL for a third time. Now, sources say his 2010 season is in doubt.

Between Ellsbury's (probably valid) claim of being misdiagnosed, and some restless Sox fans and members of the media (like Tony Massarotti) questioning his toughness, it's been a nightmare season for him, which has spanned only 18 games so far, the highlight of which was his four steals in Yankee Stadium during Boston's last road trip.

I'm not a doctor so I can't say how Ellsbury should've been treated had doctors spotted the complete severity of his fractured ribs to begin with. But Ells has done all he can to play this year, and what I can't stand are fans and Boston media who question an athlete's toughness behind a phone, computer, newspaper or mic when there is no real history of a player like him being soft. This isn't J.D. ("Nancy" or "DL") Drew we're talking about here. The only warranted criticism of Ells is him rehabbing in Arizona for a whole month, with the Red Sox's permission, of course, but without doing much to support his teammates during that time.

But Ellsbury has twice tried to come back from these injuries now, and didn't even want to come out of Friday night's game in Arlington, Texas. That was manager Terry Francona's call.

Ask any teammate or even ex-teammate like the Rangers' David Murphy, and they'll tell you Ellsbury is a "gamer" who's played hurt and always plays hard and fearlessly in the outfield. Even in May, he played ball knowing his soreness wouldn't go away until the offseason.

But questioning whether he wants to play or play hurt like Massarotti did in May, Dan Shaughnessy did a couple of weeks ago and some supposed Sox fans on talk radio have done lately is wrong. There is just no basis for it. Period.

Jacoby Ellsbury tried to play hurt and re-injured himself now twice in the process. He should be commended for his efforts, not criticized by an impatient Boston media looking for something to scream about during what has been a very frustrating Red Sox season. This isn't it, folks. Find something else to whine about.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Music Review: Street Sweeper Social Club - The Ghetto Blaster EP

Tom Morello has been a busy man in the 10 years since rap rock heroes Rage Against The Machine went its separate ways. The first half he spent using his big-sounding guitars to rock the hugely successful hard rock supergroup Audioslave, with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell as frontman and his fellow ex-RATM rhythm section members Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk on bass and drums, respectively.

A few years ago, he quieted down and recorded an album (One Man Revolution) for his Billy Bragg-inspired political and protest folk project, The Nightwatchman. And in the past few years, he and his old RATM mates even found time to do a series of reunion gigs across the world.

It was while touring his folk project that he met up and jammed live with Raymond “Boots” Riley, emcee of veteran Oakland political hip-hop duo The Coup. In 2009, they recorded as Street Sweeper Social Club and released their self-titled debut, billed as “revolutionary party jams” to somewhat mixed but mostly positive reviews.

Released this past week, the follow-up is the seven-song Ghetto Blaster EP, out just in time for SSSC’s August performances at select dates on the Vans Warped Tour and the Rock The Bells Festival with Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan and other acclaimed rap acts.

Compared to Morello’s previous singers (Cornell and Rage’s Zack de La Rocha), as smooth as he is as an emcee, Riley is the least intense and most tame frontman he’s ever worked with. And as a result, Riley’s rhymes and flow didn’t always work and match up with the guitarist’s fiery riffs and rhythms on the ’09 debut, but was done well enough for a majority of it.

“Promenade” was the biggest highlight on it, with its bouncy beats and Morello’s trademark whacky, whammy pedal-powered six-string solos, some of his best and most expansive ones in recent memory. On the new EP, it gets a remix treatment, even though it wasn’t necessary, and quite frankly doesn’t sound much different from the original track.

This article was first published and can be read in full at Blogcritics Magazine

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Red Sox Win Seven-Game Homestand, Lose Key Bat For The Year

As usual, a lot has happened in Red Sox Nation since last I wrote – some good, some bad, and in one case, very bad.

On Tuesday, August 3, before the second of four games against the lowly Cleveland Indians, Mike Lowell was activated from the DL and put in the starting lineup. That’s the good news. The bad? First baseman Kevin Youkilis was placed on the DL and is now done for the year with a torn muscle/ligament in his right hand thumb.

The Return of Mike Lowell

This is no doubt a huge loss, but if it wasn’t for the fact that Lowell, a World Series MVP just a few years back is still here, with something to prove to the organization, I would say this is a blow the Sox would not be able to overcome. I’m not saying Lowell will put up Youk-like power numbers (though he did hit three bombs in one game while rehabbing recently), but he’ll at least give you some power, a good batting average and good defense. His very presence in the lineup and at first base means that weak-hitting Kevin Cash stays on the bench, so Victor Martinez can catch, instead of V-Mart starting at first base and Cash catching when Lowell isn't in the lineup.

Tuesday night was pretty special. Not only was it the only Red Sox game I bought tickets to and attended this season, it was the night Lowell got his first start coming off the DL at first base. And what did he do? After the first standing ovation as he came to bat, he took the first pitch he saw out of the yard to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. He got two more standing ovations in his next two at-bats, and cracked a big smile after making a diving play at first base later in the game.

With starter Josh Beckett looking like his old self, fooling Indians hitters for eight innings with mid-90s fastballs, sharp curve balls on 103 pitches and earning his third win of the year and first at Fenway Park this season, it was a perfect night to be at Fenway as the Sox won the game, 3-1.

This edition of my Dead Red column was first published at Blogcritics Magazine. Read the full article at that link.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Music Review: Jon Lindsay - Escape From Plaza-Midwood

Portland, Oregon-born, North Carolina-based singer/songwriter Jon Lindsay has been musically active since the ripe old age of three. But for the past 10 or so years, he has performed all over the U.S., fronting the likes of The Young Sons, Catch Fire and Carlisle, and also performed solo or toured as a multi-instrumentalist/singer with the renowned Brooklyn-based folk/alternative vocalist Nicole Atkins (Columbia Records), Benji Hughes, and others.

Last year, Lindsay came out with his own work, the five-track EP Magic Winter & The Dirty South, which saw high praise from the likes of Paste Magazine and Shuffle Magazine, for starters. He’s also received compliments from peers, including Ken Stringfellow (of The Posies, Big Star and R.E.M., among others), and members of The Love Language (Stuart McLamb), Ben Folds (Britt Harper Uzzell) and Whiskeytown (Caitlin Cary).

On August 17, Lindsay will release his long-awaited debut, a 15-track affair titled, Escape From Plaza-Midwood on Chocolate Lab Records, an independent Chicago label home to other acclaimed acts like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke’s brother Andy Yorke and (mostly) instrumental rockers Motion Turns It On.

Leadoff gem “These Are The End Times” features an array of instruments, including folky guitar strums, a melodica, and steel drum, along with sleigh bells. And then there are the lyrics (sung at times with ‘60s-style reverb running through the mic). Since we are in the “end times,” Lindsay wants one to “make some moonshine,” then thinks of California sinking, and later, inventively uses Bernie Madoff as a verb. Such is the world of one Jon Lindsay.

Lindsay’s imagination and storytelling is captivating, and so often is matched by strong pop hooks. His imaginary tales run wild in the buzzing bass-heavy “Futuretown,” for example, as he cleverly slips in a Kato Kaelin reference, a rare f-bomb, and discovers that his new “lady friend” was a “half a robot, half a cop.” The tune was featured on AOL Spinner at the end of July.

The anthemic “My Blue Angels” is another highlight, with its infectious, twinkling sounds and as the song kicks into full gear, fast, post-punk energy and chords.

This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine. Please click that link to read the full review.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hangin' Tough: Red Sox Have First Winning West Coast Trip Since 2004

Every time the Red Sox seem to be on the verge of collapse, they somehow, some way pull off some big wins to keep from falling impossibly far behind a playoff spot – they are currently 5.5 games behind Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Card. With a ton of games coming up, more regulars coming back from injuries, and very little time off, it was crucial that Boston get hot again.

An Unlikely But Clean Sweep In Anaheim

When word came Monday that newly acquired Angels ace Dan Haren would make his first start against the Red Sox, a collective “Uh oh!” could be heard around Red Sox Nation. Then, for once, the Sox caught a break. Haren got injured by a Kevin Youkilis line drive in the fifth and left the game, which Boston won 6-3 behind Clay Buchholz, who went seven strong innings, allowed one run, and punched out seven Angels en route to his 11th win. David Ortiz hadn’t hit more than one homer in the second half until this night, when he hit two bombs, numbers 20 and 21, and drove in three runs overall.

Another welcome sight Monday night was the return of starting catcher Victor Martinez (from a broken left thumb). He had an RBI single this night, which was a revelation, since the collective output of Gustavo Molina, Dusty Brown, and Kevin Cash never homered, drove in a run, or hit an extra base hit in 65 total at-bats for the Sox this year.

Note: This article was first published at Blogcritics Magazine

Monday, July 19, 2010

Red Sox Still Reeling; Reinforcements On The Way

Note: This column took a much-needed week off during All-Star week

In the last five seasons, the Red Sox entered the All-Star break in first place in the AL East. In 2010, the injury-saddled Sox not only couldn’t continue that streak but went into the break in third place for the first time since 2000 after going 2-4 in its last six games of the first half. The only real highlight in that stretch worth noting now was Jon Lester getting his 11th win and manager Terry Francona collecting a milestone 900th win July 9 via a 14-3 ass whipping versus the Blue Jays. The Sox would go on to win that final three-game series of the first half, two games to one.

At Fenway Park this past weekend, the Sox lost a four-game series with the red hot Texas Rangers, three games to one, and through July 18, are now losers of eight of its last 11 games, falling to 3.5 games out of the AL Wild Card race and 6.5 behind AL East-leading New York. And the one win they got came Saturday against the much sought after Cliff Lee, a pitcher that was bound to go from Seattle to the Yankees until last-minute talks broke down on July 9, the day he eventually ended up getting traded to Texas. More on that game later.

This ix an excerpt of my latest Red Sox column, which was first published at Blogcritics Magazine earlier tonight.

Music Review: R.E.M. - Fables Of The Reconstruction (Deluxe Edition)

This is a short excerpt of my latest review. See link at the end for the full article.

Continuing R.E.M.'s recent string of reissuing classic albums from its earliest years, this week marked the reissue and 25th anniversary of the Athens, Georgia group's sometimes overlooked third outing, Fables of the Reconstruction. It is now out as a two-CD collection with all original tracks remastered on one disc and demos of all tracks, plus three non-album demos on a second disc.

Where the first two albums Murmur (1983) and Reckoning (1984) are considered among their best works, this album was considered a bit of a step down for R.E.M. upon first release. It was also the album that nearly broke up the band.

These workaholics were in the middle of an impressive run where they would put out one studio album for six straight years (from 1983-1988). But between long commutes to the London studio every day, poor food and weather, and nervous breakdowns by these mid-20-somethings, it's a wonder Fables sounds cohesive at all.

For this record, the quartet parted ways with its previous producers, including Mitch Easter, and left its native land for London to work with producer Joe Boyd, who'd previously worked on pre-Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd and folk acts like Nick Drake, among others.

The results made for a (mostly) darker R.E.M. record (ex. "Old Man Kensey") than fans may have expected, but one where singer Michael Stipe came into his own as a lyricist, getting into storytelling of the American South for the first time. The oddest one, which fans would learn more about many years later, is that steady rocker "Life And How To Live It" is based on an author from their hometown (Brivs Mekis) who wrote and published a book called Life: How To Live, then suddenly pulled all existing copies off the market and kept them home.

This article was first published July 16 at Blogcritics Magazine

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Red Sox Continue Battling Injuries And Division Rivals For Playoff Spots

The Red Sox lost last night 6-5 at the Trop to Tampa Bay and as a result, its place atop the AL Wild Card standings and now sit in second in that playoff chase. Worse, the BoSox now sit in third place in the AL East for the first time since June 26, when they were percentage points behind the Rays for second place, and have fallen to two-and-a-half games back of AL East-leading New York.

The fact that it took this long for the Sox to show signs of wear and tear is simply amazing. With Clay Buchholz, Manny Delcarmen and Jason Varitek joining Mike Lowell, Dustin Pedroia, Jeremy Hermida, Jacoby Ellsbury, Victor Martinez and Josh Beckett on the disabled list last week, that gives Boston nine players out of action until at least the All-Star break. That’s an amount that could field almost an entire other team’s starting lineup.

You’d be hard–pressed to find another major league team missing that much talent and still find itself at or near the top of two playoff races for as long as Boston has been. Last night, the injuries finally began to take its toll on Boston – more on that game next week – as it began its final two series before the All-Star break against divisional foes Tampa Bay and Toronto.

Now, here’s more of my take and highlights of last week’s happenings in Red Sox Nation.

For the full post of this week's Dead Red column, first posted at Blogcritics Magazine, click this URL.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Red Sox Reclaim Leads In AL Wild Card, Hospital Fees

In last week’s "Dead Red" column, I predicted the Red Sox could be reasonably expected to go 3-3 in their six-game road trip to Coors Field and San Francisco, where they would face some of the best pitchers in the National League (namely Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez and Giants ace Tim Lincecum). And that is exactly what they did. How the hometown team managed to win these games and overtake the Tampa Bay Rays for first place in the AL Wild Card Race by a full game over the weekend was at times dramatic and in other instances the product of quiet execution.

Red Sox Have No Heart For San Francisco

If you were to tell me that in one week, a Sox team lost after knocking around 14-game-winner Ubaldo Jimenez for six runs in Colorado, saw its closer Jonathan Papelbon blow saves in consecutive games, and lost four vital players to injury, and would still have the third best record in the majors through June 28 (46-31), you’d probably be surprised.

First, the BoSox lost corner infielder/DH Mike Lowell and his arthritic hip to the 15-day DL while in Colorado. Then Friday in San Fran, one night after hitting a career-best three home runs and going 5-for-5 with 5 RBI in the best offensive game of his career, second baseman Dustin Pedroia broke his left foot hitting a foul ball off it and won’t be back until early August.

For the full edition of this week's "Dead Red" column, visit this link to Blogcritics Magazine, where it was first published this evening.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Red Sox Welcome Back Manny With A Broom

Not many outside the Red Sox clubhouse and front office had the outright confidence that the Boston Red Sox offense would be as lethal as it has been so far in 2010. It is simply hands down the best in all of baseball right now – and I expected them to be towards the lower end of a top five offensive team in 2010. The team numbers themselves are staggering.

Through June 21, the Sox ranked first not just in the American League but in all of baseball in eight offensive categories: at bats, runs, slugging percentage, hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs, and OPS. And they are second in the game in batting average, on-base percentage and home runs.

Scarier for opponents is that given the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and Mike Lowell have yet to contribute significantly to the Sox success so far this year, Boston’s offense could stay just as strong or get even more dynamic if and when they all get into the everyday lineup as the season rolls on. In Lowell’s case, he just needs to get a decent amount of at bats under his belt, as he has only 12 so far in June. The man has the patience of a saint and I commend him for that as he waits for either more playing time, to be released or traded. He is certainly not rooting for injuries to the offensive stars of recent weeks that take up his spot in the lineup, third baseman Adrian Beltre and DH David Ortiz.

The Sox clearly have long forgotten about the absence of three-time all-star leftfielder Jason Bay from the everyday lineup. And it’s a good thing, as the New York Mets corner outfielder is underperforming offensively, with only four homers and 27 RBI in 2010. But one player no one in Boston will ever forget about is the notorious leftfielder/DH he was traded for July 31, 2008 in a three-team deal: Manny Ramirez.

Read the full article, first posted at Blogcritics Magazine via this cool link.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Boston Is "Riding The Nava Wave"

This week in Dead Red: Tim Wakefield passed a milestone, Dustin Pedroia is hitting again, the Sox unveiled a statue of Red Sox legends outside Fenway Park, and Sox catcher Victor Martinez remained hot at the plate. But first, following in the footsteps of Darnell “Mac” McDonald, another Triple-A call-up made an unexpected but explosive debut over the weekend.

I say Daniel Nava. You say, "who?" Here’s a kid who was told he’d never make it to pro ball. He was cut as a walk-on from his original college team at Santa Clara University, then resorted to being the team’s equipment manager. After graduation, he went undrafted and still trying to live the dream, played with the Chico Outlaws from the independent Golden Baseball League. He was cut after a tryout but then later made it to fill a roster spot.

In 2007, after finally getting a chance to play, he batted .371, hit 12 homers and had a whopping 1.100 OPS. This earned him the distinction of being named the independent league’s #1 prospect as rated by Baseball America. Seeing that, Red Sox assistant director of professional scouting Jared Porter signed him for a $1 with the promise to pay the Outlaws $1,500 if the Sox kept him after spring training in 2008.

In his short, four-year minor and independent league career, the 27-year-old switch-hitter (and natural lefty with good patience at the plate) batted .342 and hit well everywhere the Sox organization sent him, most recently in Pawtucket where he was hitting .294, with a .364 OBP, 8 HR and 38 RBI. And with Adrian Beltre not only rupturing opposing pitching but crushing teammates’ ribs (via freak on-field collisions, first Jacoby Ellsbury and now Jeremy Hermida, who is on the DL until late June), Francona needed to call up an (unknown) outfielder from the PawSox, and Nava was the lucky one to get that call over this past weekend.

For full post of this week's column at Blogcritics Magazine (where it was first posted earlier tonight), please click and read here.

Music Review: Jawbreaker – Unfun (20th Anniversary Edition)

Long before the Blink 182s and emo-minded bands of the world took pop punk to the mainstream, San Francisco group Jawbreaker created a hardcore-influenced yet melodic, often times emotional and dark punk rock sound with an infectious pop edge that was way ahead of its time. They made influential records – four of them in five years between 1990 and 1995 - and did so without the help or need of heavy airplay on MTV, mainstream rock radio or social networking sites, having instead created buzz and success for itself in the indie/college rock radio realm.

Jawbreaker’s inspiration on punk and the emo movement is abundant. In 2003, a tribute album called Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault was released by Dying Wish Records and featured the likes of a young Fall Out Boy, as well as punk veterans Face To Face, Sparta and others. Other more emo-ish acts like Saves The Day cite the Bay Area band as a prime influence, while Brand New, Rise Against and Lawrence Arms are among many punk rock bands who have covered Jawbreaker cuts. A punk band from Vancouver has even named itself after Jawbreaker’s landmark first album, 1990’s Unfun.

Remastered from the original analog tapes by John Golden and released at the end of March on Blackball Records, the 20th anniversary edition of Unfun is available in CD, digital and vinyl formats, the latter for the first time since 1992. Included along with the expanded CD version - from the original 12 tracks to 16 - is a 24-page booklet (with lyrics), the three tracks from the band’s debut 1989 EP Whack & Blite and the (unlisted) 7-inch version of “Busy.”

Throughout the album, you hear Jawbreaker’s raw and hard-driving sound, and for most tracks, it makes for memorable material. Hit college radio singles like the highly melodic and bass-led first track “Want,” for instance, gives listeners an immediate glimpse of the three-man band’s full sound and pop sensibilities, particularly on its catchy, “I Want You” chorus.

Read the full review at this link at Blogcritics Magazine, where it was first posted earlier today.

Music Review: Stone Temple Pilots - Stone Temple Pilots

In the nine years that have passed since last we heard from recently reunited arena alt-rock giants Stone Temple Pilots, all four original members have kept themselves busy. Singer Scott Weiland had a successful run as singer for supergroup Velvet Revolver (featuring members of Guns N’ Roses) for two albums and released his second solo record (in 2008), while the DeLeo brothers (guitarist Dean and bassist Robert) had a milder sense of achievement with supergroup Army of Anyone, featuring Richard Patrick of Filter as lead singer and Ray Luzier (lately of Korn) behind the kit.

Drummer Eric Kretz mainly worked behind the scenes at his L.A.-based Bomb Shelter Studios, mixing and engineering tracks for a varied list of acts, including Fu Manchu, Damian Marley, Slayer, and Death Cab For Cutie, and also San Francisco rock band Spiral Arms, whom he also reportedly played with.

After reuniting for select shows in 2008, the band, with Weiland focused and drug-free, wrote, recorded and produced its sixth album, simply self-titled (Stone Temple Pilots) last year, finished it up in early 2010, and released it May 25 on Atlantic Records.

Number one rock single “Between The Lines” is the heaviest track on the new disc (drop-d tuning), but it doesn’t have the overdriven sound of (1992) debut album Core and instead has a ‘60s pop/rock vibe to it. You can also spot in the bridge a little resemblance to Nirvana’s “Stay Away” in the vocals. And it all makes for an excellent choice for an album opener and lead single.

True maximum hard rock riffage can be found on “Hazy Daze,” which finds Weiland contrasting the pleasantness of this album highlight with unhappy lyrics, largely about his father.

“Huckleberry Crumble” channels the band’s inner Aerosmith, “Same Old Song And Dance” in particular, while “First Kiss On Mars” sees Weiland sound amazingly and exactly like his hero David Bowie.

This article was first published in full late last week at Blogcritics Magazine. Find the review at this link.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Papi And Lester Among Hot Sox Entering June

With series wins at home versus the Oakland Athletics and on the road in Baltimore, the red hot Red Sox have now gone seven series in a row without losing one, dating back to losing two of three in Detroit in mid-May. They have won 11 of their past 15 games and are now tied with Toronto for third in the AL East with identical 33-25 records, which at a .569 winning percentage is also good for fourth in the AL.

More importantly, the Sox (and the offensive juggernaut that is the Blue Jays) are still well within striking distance of both divisional and Wild Card playoff spots, being respectively 4 1/2 GB of Tampa Bay and 2 1/2 GB of New York to start the week. One astounding development is that as of games through June 6, all four of these AL East teams lead the majors in runs scored, with the Sox and Yankees tied at the top with 314, followed by the Rays and Jays at 296 and 295, respectively.

And this division is also dominating the AL Wild Card race. The Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays own the top three spots coming into this new week. Of these, the biggest surprise is the Jays, who lost their general manager (J.P. Ricciardi), ace pitcher (Roy Halladay), and others in the past year. To the detriment of the rest of the league, it’s going to be a fun summer if this keeps up.

This is an excerpt from my latest "Dead Red" weekly Sox column, which was published earlier tonight in full at the site of Blogcritics Magazine via this cool link.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Red Sox On A Roll, Back In AL East Race

First published earlier this evening at Blogcritics Magazine.

Run Prevention, Meet Run Explosion

The Red Sox came into Tropicana Field last Monday 8.5 games behind the American League East-leading Rays. Needless to say, this was a crucial three-game series for Boston’s chances of staying in the hunt for the division title and needed to play at its best.

Simply put, Mission Accomplished.

Last Monday, the Sox got its first win against the Rays this year, 6-1. David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis homered and knocked out Wade Davis in the fourth, while Boston’s Clay Buchholz got his team-leading sixth win. It was also his eighth consecutive road win, which stretches back to August 2009. The young righthander needs one more to catch up to Roger Clemens’ nine straight road wins, which he did from July 18, 1993 to April 20, 1994. That’s great company to be in, especially for a pitcher not expected to be pitching like an ace as he is right now.

Read full post here

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Music Review: Smashing Pumpkins - Teargarden By Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs For A Sailor

This was first published earlier today by Blogcritics Magazine.

In the year 2000, the Smashing Pumpkins gave away what was then their final album before breaking up - the impressive 25-track Machina II - for free on the Internet as both a thank you to longtime fans and an F-bomb to the record label business. This was years before Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and some lesser known artists would make it cool to give away their music for little to nothing.

Four years after reforming (with only one original member left), three years removed from its comeback album Zeitgeist (2007), and two years after releasing the little noticed and underrated American Gothic EP, Billy Corgan and co. are writing and recording a mega 44-song album entitled Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, its most ambitious project of new music since its classic 1995 2-CD masterpiece Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.

Starting last December, the 44 tracks are being released as free downloads one song per month or so at a time via the band's website But in the current year and who knows how long beyond that, there will also be 11 collectible four-song EPs packaged with extra/newer material for purchase.

So far, four cuts from the album have been recorded and released since December (with assistance from producer Kerry Brown), and they all appear together on TBK Volume 1: Songs For A Sailor, which came out May 25 on Martha's Music/Rocket Science Ventures as a box set with new, exclusive material on CD and vinyl. This review focuses on the main four songs on the EP.

Going back to first Pumpkins album Gish and even as recently as the Zeitgeist disc, Corgan has never shied away from showing off his 70s classic rock influences. On "Astral Planes" one can hear vintage psychedelic traces of Queen and Led Zeppelin in the flange-aided big-sounding guitars. The song's only issue is Corgan's vocals, which leaves some truly authentic emotion to be desired.

The Pumpkins are pushing radio to play the most radio-ready song on here, "Widow Wake My Mind." However, longtime SP fans may do a double-take on all the generic and frankly un-Pumpkins-like "oh-oh" vocals Corgan sings, and not really feel the generic "love will shine" lyrics. But the Hammond organ/piano entry late in the song does add a welcome and lasting impression to the ears.

Read the rest here

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Music Review: Band Of Horses - Infinite Arms

Lead singer and guitarist Ben Bridwell and his Seattle-born, now South Carolina-based, quintet Band of Horses has made a big transition in recent years.

Not too long ago, they were underground stars with two successful albums out on Sub Pop (2006’s debut Everything All The Time and 2007’s Cease To Begin). Now, the group is signed to Columbia Records (with smaller imprints Brown and Fat Possum also helping out) and has found itself attaining mainstream market exposure, thanks to popular songs like “The Funeral” being licensed to TV ads, rapper/singer Kid Cudi sampling that same tune for his own creation “The Prayer,” and its current gig as openers for fellow Seattle natives Pearl Jam.

But as they get more mainstream attention, will Band of Horses dramatically change its sound for a wider audience or otherwise lose some of its authenticity like so many rock bands in generations past have once they've gotten a taste of mass appeal? After listening to the group's largely self-produced third album Infinite Arms, that answer appears to be a resounding no.

The band is known for big, soaring, or jangly indie guitars and vocals on excellent jams like “First Song,” “Is There A Ghost,” “Wicked Gil,” and of course, “The Funeral.” But their first two albums also were more or less evenly split with softer, even folky/country-ish tracks, such as “Marry Song,” the My Morning Jacket-ish “St. Augustine” and bouncy, full band acoustic-led numbers like “The General Specific.”

With Infinite Arms’ 12 new tracks, the most they’ve ever put on record (after having recorded 30 for the project), for the first time, there is a definite majority of kinder, gentler tracks on a Band Of Horses album than soaring indie rockers. That's not a direction you go in if you want to appeal to a big-time mainstream audience.

That said, there are still about a handful of upbeat rock tunes present on the new CD, with the excellent “Compliments” and straight-ahead chugger “Northwest Apartment” representing two of them. On another, Bridwell takes the “crossroads” he’s at with himself on midtempo number “Laredo” and contrasts it with cheery, melodic guitar riffs.

This is an excerpt from a review first posted at Blogcritics Magazine yesterday, May 26. Read the full review here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Red Sox Get Hot At The Right TIme

Note: This excerpt is from my weekly Red Sox "Dead Red" column, first published May 24 at BC Magazine. It is a bit out of date, I know but it's a good read, nonetheless.

Red Sox record for the week of May 17-23: 5-2

It was a wild week of baseball for the BoSox, to say the least. With road trips to three different stadiums in New York, Minnesota, and Pennsylanvia in the previous seven days, Sox fans should feel relieved they got five wins out of it. At 24-21 through Sunday, the Sox are a season-high three games over .500.

Even better, after winning its last five out of six games (through Sunday), the Sox are suddenly 2 1/2 games back of the Yankees for a playoff spot, the AL Wild Card, as they start a new and big week on the road again versus AL East division-leading Tampa Bay for three starting tonight, then finally come home against Kansas City for four games.

Read the rest here

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Music DVD Review: Clutch - Live At The 9:30 (2-DVD)

This review was first published yesterday, May 22 at Blogcritics Magazine. This is just a short excerpt from it.

It’s become an increasingly popular trend over the past few years for veteran rock acts to give loyal fans the special live treat of playing a complete beloved album of theirs in its entirety live, and then some.

311, The Pixies, Judas Priest, Bruce Springsteen, the Lemonheads, and most recently Megadeth, among others have given their following a live take of classic albums, including respectively, Grassroots, Doolittle, British Steel, Born To Run, It’s A Shame About Ray, and Rust In Peace.

Last December, the mighty Maryland hard rockers Clutch gave fans in select cities the special holiday treat of performing its entire 13-track 1995 classic self-titled second album live, with some select new tunes from its 2009 studio release Strange Cousins From The West and a couple of other oldies rounding out most set lists. With concerts as rare as these, you bet some high-tech video cameras were rolling on select dates.

Released on May 11, well ahead of its latest world headlining tour which takes place in June and July, Live At The 9:30 is a 90-minute, 19-song concert double DVD that captures the quartet’s entire December 28, 2009, performance at the legendary 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. on one disc, with a nearly two-hour road movie called Fortune Tellers Make A Killing Nowadays on the second DVD.

Rest the whole review at this link

Mary Lynn Rajskub on 24: Jack Bauer’s Most Loyal Helper

This write-up was first published May 21 at Blogcritics Magazine. The following is an excerpt from it.

Mary Lynn Rajskub has been on a roll these last 15 years, appearing in such notable shows and movies as Mr. Show, Veronica’s Closet, The Larry Sanders Show, and Legally Blonde 2, among many others.

But no role has done more for her career and increased her popularity than her long tenure as CTU (counter-terrorism unit) computer expert Chloe O’Brian, whom she has played for the last six seasons – Days 3 through 8 - in the hit weekly real-time action thriller TV show 24, which airs Mondays on FOX from 9-10 pm ET.

Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Rajskub took part in a conference call run by FOX that ran for about a half hour. As is her norm when talking to the media, she was at different times hilarious and deadly serious when talking about her time on this successful TV series or answering questions on her personal life.

Here are some highlights from the Q & A session of the call with the print and online journalists who were lucky enough to pick her mind (this journalist included).

A journalist from Hearst Newspapers pointed out that the show’s main star Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) says to Chloe at the end of the series that he never dreamed how important she would be to him when she first joined CTU, and then asked Rajskub if she can relate that to what her own expectations were of her character when she initially joined the cast.

Her answer was that she too had no idea when she first started as Chloe that she would go from a “geeky,” “by-the-book” computer tech girl at first to this quirky, humorous, and vital character that became “Jack’s most loyal helper,” confidant, and friend.

When asked by another scribe what her favorite moment on 24 was, the actress responded that with all her extra responsibilities she had this season, there’s “a whole new set of cool moments” to remember, but still came up with a few, including proudly stating that holding a gun and being on the run (earlier this season) was fun. In a more somber tone, she stated that watching fellow computer tech Edgar die a few seasons ago was hard, and “kind of a turning point for my character.”

A certain journalist from Blogcritics - take a wild guess who that is – got in a few questions regarding her favorite actors she worked with over the years, her guitar playing “skills,” and whether or not she had to fight the show’s writers (like Carlos Bernard did for his Tony Almeida role) to save her character.

She responded by saying she was really close with the actors she shot scenes with in CTU over the years, especially this year, including Katie Sackhoff (Dana Walsh), Freddie Prinze Jr. (Cole Ortiz), and John Boyd (Arlo Glass), and actors in past seasons, including Carlos Bernard, whom she thought was “ballsy” for successfully getting his character saved, and James Morrison (Bill Buchanan). Mary Lynn also revealed that though she loves that somebody wrote she was a “skilled guitar player,” it is “so not true” since she can’t really play and sing at the same time, except when doing it with a more skilled “partner” as a comedy duo like she did in the past.

Read the rest here

Monday, May 17, 2010

Big Papi Finally Gets Hot, But The Sox Are Not

Note: This article was first published late this afternoon, before tonight's Sox-Yankees game, at Blogcritics Magazine. The following is a short excerpt from it.

In this edition of "Dead Red," I take a quick look at the week that was in Red Sox Nation, note some highlights, lowlights and Sox rehab developments, and wrap it all up with my take on the current state of the Sox.

Last week the Boston Red Sox went 3-3, winning one series, and then losing the next. After closing out a mildly successful 7-3 home stand by beating Toronto twice out of three matches to start the week, the BoSox waltzed into Comerica Park to lose two of three in Detroit over the weekend.

They now head to the Bronx for the first time this season and with a 19-19 record, still in fourth place in the AL East and still well behind the Yankees (5.5 GB) and Tampa Bay (7.5) for playoff spots through Sunday's games.

In fact, tonight’s matchup with New York — who have beaten Boston 13 of the last 16 times — begins the toughest stretch of games of the season for Boston, as they face nothing but first-place teams from now until May 26, with current AL Central leaders Minnesota coming to Fenway for a couple of games (Wednesday and Thursday) after two with the Yankees, followed by road trips to the parks of current NL East leaders Philadelphia and AL East leaders Tampa Bay Rays after that.

Read more at this link.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nomar Comes Home To Boston & Other Sox News & Notes

The following post appeared at Blogcritics Magazine yesterday, May 10, 2010. It's title has been changed for this post The following is an excerpt.

The Return of Nomar Garciaparra

On Cinco de Mayo, the Red Sox brought forever Sox fan favorite Nomar Garciaparra (who is of Mexican descent) back to Fenway to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Sox and Georgia Tech teammate Jason Varitek before the third Sox-Angels game of the week. With wife and superstar athlete Mia Hamm on the field watching, along with good friends and ex-teammates Trot Nixon, Lou Merloni, Tim Wakefield and Brian Daubach, it was a pretty cool and nostalgic pregame celebration much like Pedro Martinez’s (surprise) pregame first pitch on Opening Night.

Good for the organization for doing that for Nomar. Now let me say this.

The Boston sports media types (Dan Shaughnessy, Steve Buckley) still think they know better than the rest of us fans, but the fact is that Nomar never wanted to stop playing baseball in Boston, no matter how frustrated and bitter at the organization he was (for trying to trade him for A-Rod and others after the 2003 season and other reasons). He was eventually traded to the Cubs in July 2004 because at the time, the Sox were playing .500 baseball and the infield needed a major makeover defensively to help out the pitching staff (enter: Orlando Cabrera, Dave Roberts and Doug Mientkiewicz). It’s as simple as that.

Though no Sox fans were comfortable seeing Nomar forced out of town at the time, they accepted the new faces that came via Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s mid-2004 trades, and watched as they helped the Sox win a historic and long overdue Red Sox championship that fall. From then on, Sox fans and the baseball world altogether saw Nomar become the Ken Griffey Jr. of the infield — in that he had Hall of Fame talent but was always getting hurt — right until the end of his career in 2009 in Oakland.

At least Griffey did enough (in the 1990s) before his string of injuries in the 2000s to get into Cooperstown. The shortstop-turned-corner-infielder, on the other hand, with his career .313 BA, 229 HR, 936 RBI and 1747 hits in not even nine relatively full seasons in 14 years of play will unfortunately not get there. But in the Red Sox Hall of Fame, he will. And that will be even more of a cause for celebration for him than throwing out a first pitch.

Recent Red Sox News

When the Red Sox, behind Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-1) beat the Angels Thursday 11-6, it was the first time since the “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 that the Sox achieved a four-game sweep against them at Fenway Park. Also a first: the whole Angels lineup taking the first 14 pitches Dice-K threw before scoring four runs in the first inning of the game.

Read more here

Sox Get Back On Track, But What About Ortiz?

The following post was first posted yesterday as part of my weekly "Dead Red" Red Sox column at Blogcritics Magazine. The following is an excerpt.

Red Sox record for the Week of May 3-9: 5-2. Overall: 16-16, 4th place AL East

To start week five of the 2010 season and a 10-game homestand, the Boston Red Sox held a quick pregame team meeting led by manager Terry Francona that served to refocus as a group and start playing baseball at the high level expected of them. That was Monday (May 3). Next thing you knew, the Sox swept a surprisingly bad Los Angeles Angels squad in four games, outscoring them 36-16, and went into the weekend with a 15-14 record. All memories of a humiliating sweep by Baltimore were long gone.

Then the Yankees had to show up and do to the Sox what the Sox did to the Angels, for two games, anyway. Friday night, Josh Beckett (1-1) was bested by 4-0 youngster Phil Hughes. It was a relatively tight 3-1 game, with the Yankees on top by just two until the sixth inning, when Beckett quickly lost command of all of his pitches, letting up six runs on the board. Final score: 10-3.

Saturday night was a nightmare 14-3 loss, with Clay Buchholz (3-3) having his worst outing of 2010, letting up five ER in five innings, while the bullpen gave up the rest. Boston relief pitching was so spent by this point that young outfielder Jonathan Van Every became the fifth reliever of the game in the ninth and the first Sox position player to ever pitch against the Yankees. The icing on the cake: he served up a previously struggling Mark Teixeira's third homer of the game and fourth hit on the night overall.

Sunday, Mother’s Day night, the true ace of the Sox staff Jon Lester (3-2) came to the rescue to pitch seven quality innings, record 7 Ks and allowed two earned runs, outdueling veteran A.J. Burnett, who like Beckett before him, lost it quickly. Five of his eight earned runs came in the third inning, and was knocked out for good in the fifth when Jeremy Hermida hit his fourth homer of the season, a two-run shot. He had three RBI in the game and is tied for second on the Sox squad with 19 overall, a remarkable 15 of which have come with two outs.

Read more here

Minus The Bear Comes To Boston

These still-underground Seattle superstars love Boston. They love it enough to celebrate the release of their fourth album OMNI not in their home state but here in the heart of Boston. First, they played an in-store acoustic band show (about three or so songs from the new album) at the famed Newbury Comics store on Newbury Street on Tuesday, May 4th. Afterwards, they stayed around to sign autographs for those who stayed (myself included).

Getting to meet the band and one of my guitar heroes in particular, finger tapper extraordinaire Dave Knudson was a really special moment for me, since I've been following him and his band for 9 years now. The best part was when I told singer/guitarist Jake Snider I couldn't believe it's been 9 years since I first started following "you guys," he said "Man, I can hardly believe myself, either," which cracked up the band. Great guys, all five of them.

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Then on Cinco de Mayo, the experimental post-punk rockers played what in effect was their CD release party in front of a packed house at the Wilbur Theatre in the center of Boston's theatre district. Snider might have been playing to the crowd that night after over 75 minutes of a crowd-pleasing set when he stated this was the "best Boston show" they've ever done, but it certainly was the most lively and interactive one to date. The audience roared and got into all the old songs as soon as those first notes rang out of Knudson and Snider's guitars, whether it be "Pachuca Sunrise," "Knights," or their signature and closing number, "Absinthe Party."

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Having seen Minus The Bear over 6, maybe 7 times now (I've lost count!) at the Somerville Theatre in early 2003, the Middle East a few times, Axis, and the Wilbur a couple of years back among other places, it's hard to tell which was the "best" show since the band always puts out top notch, highly energetic shows. But this one ranks among my favorites, no question.

Note: Young The Giant and Everest were Minus The Bear's opening bands at the Wilbur Theatre May 5, 2010

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

BoSox, Week 4: Sox Slay Jays, Reach New Low Vs. The O's

The following is a short excerpt from my most recent weekly Boston Red Sox column, published at Blogcritics Magazine on May 3, 2010

Red Sox Record for the Week of April 26-May 2: 3-3

In my last column, I stated that the Boston Red Sox needed to go at least 4-2 to move up in the AL East standings. After starting their six-game road trip by sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays in three matchups to get back to .500 for the first time since the second game of 2010, the Boston bunch moved one game ahead of the Jays into third place April 28 and got within 5.5 games of the division-leading Tampa Bay Rays. So it looked good for the BoSox as they got ready to play Baltimore in Camden Yards. Then the unthinkable happened.

Read more here

Music Review: Jimi Hendrix - First Rays Of The New Rising Sun

The following is an excerpt from my most recent music review, which was posted at the site of Blogcritics Magazine on May 2, 2010

It’s been nearly 40 years since the most revolutionary guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix, passed away. With three landmark studio albums to his name, plus gems of unreleased material left behind, making a proper posthumous studio album with the latter has always been a tough and controversial task.

No one will ever know for sure how Hendrix himself would have sequenced, fine-tuned and what he would’ve named the follow-up to his third and final album in his lifetime, 1968’s seminal double LP Electric Ladyland. We do know however, it was meant to be a big project - a double or triple LP – that the guitarist had been working on for over two years before his death in September of 1970 at age 27.

The first few attempts at posthumous releases, The Cry of Love and Rainbow Bridge from 1971 and War Heroes from 1972 were revealing but felt incomplete. It wasn’t until 1997, when Hendrix’s trusted recording engineer Eddie Kramer and drummer Mitch Mitchell used his last handwritten notes and remastered/resequenced his last tracks on the 17-track-long First Rays of the New Rising Sun that one got a true and mostly satisfying picture of the guitarist’s ever changing musical vision at the time, which struck a more serious tone lyrically and incorporated newer sounds to his repertoire.

13 years later, the newest versions of First Rays, an mp3/digital edition available via online stores such as ScatterTunes, plus a CD+DVD edition out this spring do not exactly enhance the actual sound – not that it’s needed with all the previous remastering over the years. But the former is more convenient for the current digital music age, while the latter contains a viewing experience that does enhance and make you appreciate the audio portion a little more via a new companion 20-minute DVD documentary of the making of this “concept compilation.”

Read more here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Red Sox, Week Three: Better? You Bet, But Not Good Enough

This edition of my "Dead Red" Boston Red Sox column was published first at Blogcritics 4/27/10

In The News

Last night (Monday), the Red Sox survived Josh Beckett’s worst start of the young season to win 13-12 in Toronto in a wild but exciting game. (More on that game in next week’s Dead Red.)

Elsewhere, the Sox called up LHP Fabio Castro from the PawSox to help the back of its beleaguered bullpen, which now has three lefties (including Hideki Okajima and Scott Schoeneweis). He has an ERA over 8.00 in Pawtucket in three starts in 2010 and is 0-1 with 13 Ks in 10 innings. His stuff includes a cut fastball in the high 80s, along with a decent changeup and curveball. Castro is 0-1 with a 3.30 ERA in 30 career games with the Phillies and Rangers.

Read the rest at the above link

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Whigs - In The Dark

The Whigs, a trio hailing from the same hometown as R.E.M. (Athens, Georgia), has made lots of noise over the past couple of years, and not just from its loud guitars and thunderous skins.

Where debut album Give ‘Em All A Big Fat Lip (2005) introduced them to the world as a promising young band that Rolling Stone named one of “Ten Artists to Watch” in 2006, sophomore release Mission Control in early 2008 got them bigger audiences, complimentary comparisons to The Replacements/Paul Westerberg, festival gigs (Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo) and opening slots for the likes of The Killers, Drive-By Truckers and Kings of Leon over the ensuing couple of years.

So of course, it garnered (mostly) praise from mainstream critics and fans alike, and even earned them appearances on late night shows including The Late Show with David Letterman. Songs like “Right Hand On My Heart” and the straight ahead hard-charging “Like A Vibration” highlighted this era.

With the release this week of third full-length In The Dark (ATO Records), The Whigs are poised once again to take its sound and popularity to a new level.

“Hundred/Million,” the first of 11 tracks, gets bodies moving with its midtempo groove and dirty, distorted bass lines. “Black Lotus” starts and ends well with its jittery guitar parts and includes mildly catchy chorus vocals by singer/guitarist Parker Gispert, but in between suffers from unmemorable chord changes.

First single “Kill Me Carolyne” is where The Whigs take its sound to arena rock level, with its Kings of Leon-like drive. It’s not quite as infectious as KofL’s “Sex On Fire” but is a sturdy second cousin and definite album highlight.

A funky bass line propels “I Am For Real,” while the love-seeking rocker “Someone’s Daughter” is one of a few cuts – one other being the excellent “So Lonely” – that bring back the band’s trademark thick, loud guitars and amplifiers. For these guys, the higher the amp’s gain is turned up, the better.

The momentum gets slowed down with “Dying,” but picks back up quickly with “I Don’t Even Care About The One I Love,” whose warm, light and bright strings contrast with cold lyrics.

What comes next is the best song and sure-to-be future single from In The Dark, the sunny California guitar pop of “Automatic.” The depth of its background vocals is what gives this late-album highlight its radiance and one you’ll have on repeat on your iPod, as will the title track, which spouts the most hum-able chorus you’ll come across here.

With the exception of just a few songs, In The Dark is yet another step up for this Georgia power trio. The sound is bigger, the hooks are sharper, and some are even damn near anthemic. With The Whigs touring yet again this year, this band will continue to be a band to watch. And a fine third record to hit the road with should no doubt help its cause.
4 Stars

For a free download of lead single “Kill Me Carolyne,” go to the official website of The Whigs.

Published at Blogcritics Magazine's website March 15, 2010

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Music DVD Review: Gary Moore - The Definitive Montreux Collection (2-DVD/CD)

Published first March 10, 2010 via Blogcritics Magazine

Fans of the glory days of ‘70s hard rock may remember guitar maestro Gary Moore via his three stints with his childhood friend (the late) Phil Lynott’s beloved Irish hard rock band Thin Lizzy. There, he made his name as a guitar virtuoso before going on his own in the 1980s, when he continued to be a hit with the hard rock/metal community, while also writing occasional ballads (like many heavy ‘80s groups).

By 1990, Moore had returned to his first love, blues rock, and toured behind the electric blues album Still Got The Blues, released that same year. Over the next 11 years, starting in July of ‘90, he played five memorable shows at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

Moore’s monstrous Montreux shows from 1990, 1995, 1997, 1999, and 2001 were released as Essential Montreux in audio form as a 5-CD box set and mp3 download last year. But as powerful as hearing the Belfast bluesman is, the visual aspect is what does his music true justice.

And now, after previously only being available on film via import, for the first time, these shows have been released in America as a 2-DVD set with a bonus CD entitled The Definitive Montreux Collection (Eagle Rock Entertainment).

The two DVDs here highlight 39 different songs from the five concerts and have all the essential post-Thin Lizzy Gary Moore cuts. The sets are mostly blues-based, but Moore does bring back his hard rock and metal sides every now and then.

In his 1990 set, Moore, with long, messy hair ripped through 15 cuts, about half of which are captured on the first DVD. Highlights include the loud and wild slide guitar-propelled hard rockin’ blues of “Moving On,” the soulful blues of “Midnight Blues,” and Albert Collins’ guest lead vocals and guitar playing on “Cold, Cold Feeling.”

In the 1995 set, the beloved hit and strings-aided ballad “Still Got The Blues” is a highlight (but is oddly excluded from the 1990 portion of the first DVD), as is the intimate “All Your Love.” Interesting to note is the sound of Moore’s voice in this performance, which has a trace of Steve Winwood to these ears.

Moving on to DVD two, the 1997 show – a personal fave of the five - sees the ace guitarist wearing sunglasses and a bright yellow shirt, all casual wear for a man far removed from the leather jacket days of the past. Moore’s most straight-ahead rocker “One Fine Day” starts off the set, followed by “Cold Wind Blows,” a slowly building, mid-tempo bluesy metal piece. Like fellow guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, Moore isn’t afraid to try new, exotic sounds, but the sitar featured on this track feels like a natural element of the tune. Its only drawback is the repetitive chorus towards the end.

The blissful “Always There For You” contains another side of Gary Moore you wouldn’t have seen 10 years earlier, one that experiments with electronic beats (like latter day Jeff Beck), and drum ‘n’ bass in particular. Keep in mind that Moore was listening to the likes of Roni Size at the time, and electronic music – The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers - in general was at its pinnacle, at least commercially.

1997 set closer “Out In The Fields” is the true metal-ish masterpiece here. Written by Phil Lynott and Moore and released in 1985, it’s about religious turmoil in their native Ireland and was one of the last (if not the last) tune Lynott wrote before his untimely death in January 1986 at the age of 36. Here, Moore stretches it out with a The Police-ish breakdown, and a raucous crowd enjoyed every bit of it, handclaps and all.

In the 1999 set, the 12-bar blues of “Tore Down” is aced by Moore and a tight backing band which includes keyboardist Vic Martin, who shines and effortlessly keeps up with the guitar whiz as they trade one short solo after another on the hoppin’ blues of “Further On Up The Road.” The strings-aided ballad “Parisienne Walkways,” another Moore-Lynott hit (from 1979) and crowd favorite, ends that track list.

Highlights of the 2001 set include the one-two-three punch of “Walking By Myself,” a rip-roaring cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” where Moore fits every improvised guitar lick he can between verses/choruses, and the swingin’ bluesy hard rock of “How Many More Lies.”

Gary Moore’s face may be a bit bigger by 2001 but his long hair is long gone, and in its place a short hairstyle that makes him look like Paul Simon at times. But looks are pretty much irrelevant here, as he still sings and plays with the same passion and enthusiasm in his fifth appearance at the Fest as he did in his first. The boyish joy he displays on the rockers and the painful expressions on his face during the more somber blues numbers are all elegantly captured throughout these shows.

The CD in this package is merely an 11-song sample of the Moore Montreux experience (or the mammoth Essential Montreux CD set), but a damn enjoyable one. It is highlighted by the metallic Irish rock of his mid-‘80s hit “Over The Hills And Far Away” (not a Led Zeppelin cover). Speaking of which, the only real disappointment in this package is the omissions of “Over The Hills” from the 1997 portion of the second DVD and that set’s opener “One Good Reason” from either DVD or CD form.

That said, with 50 total songs (including the 11 on CD) that total over five hours, The Definitive Montreux Collection captures Gary Moore doing what he does best: playing his ass off. It also serves as a natural and largely satisfactory complement to the Essential Montreux set, which totals over six hours.

To put it simply, Gary Moore fans who've stuck with him over the years, and fans of loud and soft blues music in general can’t go wrong with this three-disc package. If seeing is believing, this marathon set will make you appreciate Moore’s talent and musical works more than ever before.
4 1/2 stars