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.