Wednesday, January 25, 2006

John Fogerty: The Long Road Home

by Fumo Verde

In June, John Fogerty was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame. It's an honor bestowed upon such greats as Hank Williams, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington; Fogerty is just as deserving. Between 1968 and 1972, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR), led by John Fogerty, not only had 20 singles on the Hot 100 for over a year, but also had nine Top 10 hits in a row. CCR was, and still is, the most successful American rock quartet, earning 21 gold and platinum records and The Long Road Home will make it clear why.

Fogerty and the band are known for songs like "Proud Mary", which, when tallied, has been played over 7.5 million times on the radio and TV airwaves. "Down on the Corner" and "Up Around the Bend" have simple cord riffs and drum beats that are uplifting and fun. Others, such as "Fortunate Son" and "Who'll Stop the Rain", are political and were shaped by Fogerty's discharge from the army in '68. He hasn't touched them since originally writing them, yet those songs resonate just as strongly today as the country finds itself locked in similar circumstances of fighting an increasingly unpopular war. That shows you the staying power of a true musical artist.

This CD is filled with 25 tracks, four of which were recorded live on his 2005 tour, including a blistering version of "Fortunate Son". Most of these tracks were first recorded between '68 and '72, yet some such as "Centerfield" and "Hot Rod Heart" were recorded after the nasty divorce from his band and his record label, Fantasy Records. Also included is the infamous song "Run Through the Jungle" which brought Fogerty through the doors of our gracious court system when Fantasy sued him. They claimed the chorus for "The Old Man Down The Road" was too much like the aforementioned song. Fogerty won the case; he illustrated how the songs were different with his guitar on the witness stand. I bet nobody tried to get out of jury duty then. Both songs are present for you to judge them for yourself.

For almost a decade, Fogerty refused to sing any of his CCR stuff because of legal entanglements, but the lead voice of Swamp Rock could not be quelled for long. Soon after an emotional visit to the grave of original blues master Robert Johnson and with new owners at Fantasy Records, Fogerty decided to bring that special, southern-twanged bayou beat back to his fans. Even his recent recordings have his distinctive sound, whether it is his twanging guitar, or his gut-wrenching voice or the lyrics that are true to life. One still envisions the days of protest, free love and long hair, and hitch hiking across the USA.

If music is the soundtrack of our lives, than Mr. Fogerty is one of our best authors. He has written music that has lasted more than its normal duration, not just designated to the "oldies" channel on the FM dial. The reason for this is because Fogerty, now more than ever, is happy about being a rock artist and his songs show it, like "Travelin' Band", which he opens each concert with.

John Fogerty is a class act, a bandleader, guitarist, and vocalist; one whose songs have been covered by people like Ike and Tina Turner to punk rockers like Stiv Bators and has been used in endless Vietnam-War movies. If this CD is the best of John's past, I can't wait to hear his future. For now, I'll just have to pack a greenie, sit back and let this CD take me on the journey down that Long Road Home.

Fumo Verde--- Peace, babies.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ray Charles: Genius & Friends

by Fumo Verde

Associate producer James Austin explains the project in the liner notes. "Back in December 2003, I received a call from Ray Charles. He was weak from the liver disease that eventually took him from us in June 2004. It would be the last time I would speak with him. He had a specific request: He wanted me to find the duets record that he recorded back in 1997 and '98. As some will know, Ray's masters were like his children. Since these tracks were never mastered or released, to Ray they seemed more like orphans. By the time I found them in the vaults, Ray was very ill and would not be able to discuss what would become of this album."

Austin along with album producer Phil Ramone, executive producers Amet Ertegun, Peter L. Funsten and Quincy Jones didn't put together a tribute album; no, not at all. The title says it all, Genius & Friends. Genius is what Ray Charles was, and this CD proves it. Ray was like a fine wine, getting better with age. His voice wasn't just soothing or soulful with deep roots set in the old blues fashion. It was also the voice of this country. Ray Charles was and still is an American icon, and since his start with Atlantic Records back in 1953, he has given the world 50 years of unbelievable memories via music that has become part of the soundtrack of our lives.

On this 14-track CD, Ray invited artists whose lives had been touched by him and his music, singers and songwriters alike, such as Gladys Knight, Mary J. Blige, Diana Ross, George Michael, and yes, Willie Nelson. Although Ray only wrote two of the songs on this disc (tracks 4 & 12), the words and the sound definitely have his touch and feel.

The first track of this CD is a tune written by Narada Michael Walden and Darin "Zone" McKinney called "All I Want To Do". Ray and R&B singer Angie Stone blend this song together like a smooth brandy and a fine Cuban cigar with its soulful groove and harmony. "You Are My Sunshine" (Jimmie Davis/Charles Mitchell) finds Chris Isaak joining Ray. Here is where Ray's big-band side comes blasting through, combined with Chris' "New Orleans" jazz this cut shows how much energy Ray still had a few years ago.

Mary J. Blige reminisces with Ray on "It All Goes By So Fast" (Ken Hirsch/Jay Levy), a soft, mellow duet that reminds us to slow down and enjoy life while we can. This whole CD has that mellow feel to it. Even "Shout" (Narada Michael Walden/Sunny Hilden), performed with Patti LaBelle and the Andrae Crouch Singers, has a mellow groove to it although its gospel roots are drawn up to that mellow groove Ray emulated through out his career.

Fumo's two favorite tracks close out the album. Willie Nelson (who also has a new CD out....I'll let ya' know about that one soon) jumps aboard with a live track from the TV special Ray Charles:50 Years in Music. An old blues song by Harlan Howard called "Busted", and babies, let me tell you that these two boys got the blues real bad, I mean REAL BAD. Like somebody kicked my dog, bad. A great song that, for all of its suffering, will give you a smile on the inside. The last song on this CD is one of the most beautiful songs in the world, especially when Ray Charles is singing it or Alicia Keys---who just happens to sing it with Ray. What more can you ask for? This song is significant because its the one Ray Charles championed to become our nation's national anthem, "America the Beautiful". If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye, then you are cold-blooded.

This CD is put together well, with a few exceptions. One thing that bummed me out was that the liner notes aren't very revealing on when these songs were written or who sung them first. Did Ray choose them or was it a collaboration we will never know? I'm not looking for a history lesson, but I am curious about how these songs came to this disc. Ray is gone, but his soul lives on in the music he has left us.

This is Fumo Verde saying....thank you, Ray, for everything.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Jerry Garcia: Garcia Plays Dylan

by Fumo Verde

As most of you can tell, I, Fumo Verde, am a Jerry freak, but what you might not know is that Bob Dylan is one of the many people, along with El Diablo, to whom I have pledged my soul, so when I got word that Garcia Plays Dylan was coming out, I immediately told El Bicho that I had to do the review. El Bicho is a good man. This is a two-CD set that has Jerry winding his voice through the tales of the legendary Dylan with accompaniments by The Jerry Garcia Band, Legion of Mary, and of course, the Grateful Dead.

Dylan's words not only transcend generations but music genres and artists alike and Jerry was no exception. This set is comprised of songs sung by Jerry and played by the bands he roamed with over between the years of 1973 to 1995, which included Legion of Mary, The Jerry Garcia Band, who appear on most of the album's selections, and obviously The Grateful Dead.

Disc One features The Garcia Band playing on five of the seven tracks. "Positively 4th Street", that anti-establishment rant of the '60s is given a new form, a hard R&B touch that brings out the pain of loss and the hope of a new start. On "Simple Twist of Fate" and “Knockin' On Heaven's Door", Jerry delivers a gut-wrenching outpouring of his soul as his voice takes you through the tales of love and impending death that Dylan first told us so many decades ago. "I Shall Be Released" and "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry", a Garcia/Merl Saunders duet, are two tracks on Disc One that have more of a gospel air to them with the former offering more of a glimpse of hope to its story.

Disc One is dedicated to the darker side of Dylan, proven by the emotions of the stories told. On Fumo Verde's scale of "Blue-ness", this disc is deep, deep blue, and it's not just the JGB droppin' the blues on you. The Legion of Mary puts a haunting twist to "The Wicked Messenger", allowing Jerry's guitar to go off on trip of pain and sorrow.

Disc Two is split down the middle with the Garcia Band and the Dead each having four tracks, with the Dead tracks being more upbeat. While "When I Paint My Masterpiece" isn't as dark as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", you can find yourself wandering down a dark path while your soul absorbs the blues that cry out from such a song as this, or, even a more haunting tale with "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)" on which Dylan had brought to light the darker deeds of humanity. Both these songs have a sharp edge to them, whereas the songs played by the Dead have a lighter feel to them. "Visions of Johanna" has Jerry's kind of highway blues, not trying to match Bob's, just bringing it around in a different way, a more Deadish way as was done on "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", which closes out Disc Two. That song recreates that way we all felt when leaving Dead shows, always wanting the jams to last forever. Jerry and the Dead weave Dylan's message in that Grateful-jam fashion, and leaving the audience wailing for more.

These songs were all recorded at live shows and are previously unreleased. The cheers and enjoyment from the audience can be felt across time and space. How I wish I could have been there, at any of these shows, but alas, this set will have to do, and it certainly does. It's a great set for a night of having friends over and just kicking back, making a few cocktails, rollin' some of your own and enjoying Garcia Plays Dylan, a classic in its own right.

And if you don't believe me that the words of Dylan are in the competent hands of Jerry, listen to what the man who inspired this collection has to say: "There's no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or as a player... He really had no equal..." Bob Dylan, after Jerry Garcia's death in 1995

This is Fumo Verde........Peace.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Johnny "Guitar" Watson: The Funk Anthology

by Fumo Verde

Are you ready for the funk? I said, “Are you ready for the funk?” How about some Soul? Mix that together with the Blues, and the groove you get is one by the master himself, Johnny "Guitar" Watson. The Funk Anthology follows Johnny through his disco decade, 1974 to 1984 where his grooves were being spun at all the discos around the world, yet Johnny wasn't some disco flash-in-your-pants, one-hit wonder. He was more than that, to a point where big label rappers are using his riffs and jams.

Young John Watson (as he was known) was born in Houston, TX, on Feb. 3rd, 1935 and by the age of nine he was on his way to mastering the piano. Johnny fell in love with jazz, but by the age of 19, he was one of the deepest of the blues players around. His influences were T-Bone Walker and Clarence "Gatormouth" Brown. He played with such greats like Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins, but the guitar didn't become his main instrument until he saw "Guitar" Slim in 1954, from that time the guitar became the tool of choice. His career spanned from 1953 until his death in 1996. And get this; the man was a consummate performer until the end, dying while on stage during a tour of Japan.

His amazing talent had an influence on others, such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, George Clinton, Etta James, and Frank Zappa. Jimmy Vaughn was quoted as saying, "When my brother Stevie and I were growing up in Dallas, we idolized very few guitarists. We were highly selective and highly critical. Johnny 'Guitar' Watson was at the top of the list, along with Freddie, Albert and B.B. King. He made magic.” “Johnny was my main idol, he taught me how to sing the blues,” said Etta James, a legend in her own right. As for his live shows, young artists watched in awe and brought his moves and antics into their own acts, people like Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

Although none of his songs made number one on any of the charts, he did have songs that stayed within the top five. Songs such as "Those Lonely Lonely Nights" and "Three Hours Past Midnight” are still favorites on blues stations across the U.S. In 1961, Johnny went to the King Label where he recorded "The Gangster of Love," "Cuttin' In," and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy", which also made the top 10 for a period of time. In 1970, Johnny veered away from the traditional blues and decided to head out on adventure into the realm of funk and disco, and that's what this two-CD collection is about.

From 1974 to 1984, Johnny made albums, vinyl records for those of you under the age 23, such as A Real Mother For Ya, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and the Family Clone, and Funk Beyond the Call of Duty, and if those don't sound funky enough for ya, how about Ain't That a Bitch, which is also the name of the start-off song on the first disc. These songs actually have meaning to them, unlike some of the disco trash that was being tossed around on the dance floors in the mid '70s.

Johnny was a musical genius who could pick up an instrument and have it figured out by the end of the day. On most of the songs that are on this album, he plays all the instruments: drums, keyboards, and especially guitar. His lyrics were a key along with his talent for catchy riffs; what he had to say opened up the doors to the world that he was living in. "Funk is looking at the world and saying, 'It ain't what is seems. It ain't what it should be. It ain't what I expected. It's funky.' Listen to the song What The Hell Is This and you'll catch my drift." That's the way he saw it, and that's the way he played it.

Soulful love ballads with a blues-groove background such as "Love That Will Not Die" and "I Want To Ta-Ta You Baby" have beautiful lyrics that play around in a sexy way. Others, such as "Funk Above The Call of Duty" and "Tarzan", are classic comedies wrapped up in funky-blue kind of groove. "ET" doesn't talk about aliens but describes how his baby looks and dresses; what Johnny is basically saying is that his woman is out of this world. The blues also show through on tracks like "Stung Out" and "Cop And Blow". "I gave indulgence new meaning," Johnny said once and these two songs give you a window into what his world was like at that moment in time. "Feel The Spirit Of My Guitar" is a track that also gives insight to the life of this unbelievable musician and man. Some guitarists make it moan or sing; Johnny could do that, but he preferred to let it talk, and, oohh the stories it told.

This two-CD set is definitely worth the money for any music enthusiast; it is stacked and packed with 31 funkadelic tracks taken from the life and mind of one of music's all-time greats. Like many knowledgeable musicians, it's about time we pay homage to Mr Watson by getting up off our asses and enlisting for some funk beyond the call of duty.

This is Fumo Verde...keepin' da funk alive.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


by Carlito de Corea

Nicolas Cage’s new film, Lord of War, of which he is also one of the producers, does not quite hit its target. The film opens with Cage’s character, Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian arms dealer, talking to the camera, giving statistics about the ratio of gun owners, one in twelve, to the entire number of people in the world, concluding with a cheeky remark about his only problem being to figure out how to get guns to the remaining eleven. The film goes on to show Yuri’s progression from working in his family’s restaurant to becoming the world’s most successful and ubiquitous “gun runner.”

While the film is dynamic and stylish in its imagery and direction, the story telling is somehow not quite complete. The story progresses prematurely through each stage of Yuri’s rise to the top of the gun running trade. We go from his witnessing a gangland hit in Little Odessa, which rather than shocking him somehow motivates him to become a gun dealer, to his first gun sale in some hotel room, then to his already having connections in the middle east, and, finally, to facilely procuring the object of his arbitrary romantic obsession, a world famous model, of Ukrainian descent, all in far too few scene changes. The effect is that the story feels like it is being pushed along too quickly without proper development, and that the situations the characters find themselves in are being artificially arrived at.

As a result the film seems less substantial, and at times unrealistic. We feel this early on in the film when we see Yuri simply walk into a warehouse full of abandoned U.S. military weapons without any explanation as to how he was able to do this; and then later again when he conveniently has a relative who is a general in the Ukrainian military during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is therefore able to obtain prodigious amounts of AK-47s and a host of other weapons and military machinery, by which he finally becomes top dog in the arms trade business, so to speak.

In the beginning, from the voice-over, I wondered whether this movie was made from the memoirs of an actual gun dealer, in the same way that Goodfellas was based on the Henry Hill memoir of his days in the mafia. I hoped that this might be the case, as I pondered the conspicuous absence of any exposition. That is to say, I hoped the lack of detail, the sudden appearance of Cage’s character in a variety of high stakes circumstances, was coming from a confidence in the facts of some memoir, rather than the absence of any logistical knowledge of the gun trade. In the end, however, it is the sense that the film’s creators only possess a vague, possibly researched, knowledge of the gun trade that predominates. Details are glossed over in too many places to create a realistic sense of danger or circumstantial tension. The bold, expedient pace, in the end, seems to serve the purpose of covering up narrative deficiencies, rather than taking stylistic liberties on the foundation of authentic knowledge.

This loss in the film’s realism is further compounded by the casting of Jared Leto as Yuri’s brother, Vitaly. Leto is too clean cut and good looking to be playing a gun dealing cocaine addict from Little Odessa, and he simply does not look like an Eastern European. Perhaps as an Orange County brat snorting cocaine he might carry some appeal, some credibility (as he did in Requiem for a Dream), but in Lord of War he stands out like…well, an Orange County brat…in the middle of West African and South American guerilla warfare…snorting cocaine. His character was distracting to watch. Ethan Hawke is passable as the Interpol agent on Yuri’s heels, although perhaps a little young for the part, or perhaps too boyish. We get the feeling that in this part any big name would have done the trick. Cage is engaging and for the most part enjoyable enough to watch as Yuri, although his voice-over seems to contradict his purported heritage, sounding more like a valley dude from LA than a street smart kid from Little Odessa. And the lethargy in this voice-over somehow seems out of sync with the pace of the film. A little too “laid back” for the frenetic circumstances that dominate the character’s life.

While the political point of view seems clear—people in the arms business are without conscience and are as responsible for the death that comes from the weapons they sell as the people who pull the triggers—in the end we are not sure whether to admire Cage’s character or condemn him. Is he the ultimate survivor in a corrupt and violent world, a realist, to be admired, or is he a rationalizing monster, to be condemned? Lord of War seems to straddle the fence on this question. While we can see that the answer is not simply that he is one or the other, but both, the film makes the mistake of trying to answer both moral positions, making the film sophomorically didactic at times. Perhaps a grittier and less apologetic view of the arms trade, and a little more confidence in the audience’s ability to discern the moral of the subject matter, would have strengthened the film.

Despite some of its shortcomings, however, Lord of War is not unenjoyable. The strength of its imagery and the sensual scenery of the South African location, and other various locations, carry the film a long way. As well, much of the action and special effects are quite dynamic and make the movie enjoyable enough to watch. Such moments as the landing of the cargo plane on a dirt highway in West Africa, as Yuri and his crew are being shot at by Interpol jets, for example, create visually powerful moments in the film that help make up for some of its other deficiencies. While this movie does not quite hit the mark as the heavy hitting political film that it perhaps intended to be, it does manage to be entertaining.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Jerry Garcia Band: Live at Shoreline

by Fumo Verde

On September 1, 1990, the Grateful Dead were scheduled to perform at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, but couldn't due to the recent death of keyboardist Brent Mydland less than two months earlier. Instead of canceling the show, Jerry decided the best solution was to have the Jerry Garcia Band step in and perform.

This show wasn't an homage to an old friend or a played-out patronizing tribute for the fans; it was about the music and the soul inside the band. The members of the JGB are its namesake on guitar and lead vocals, Melvin Seals on keyboards, John Kahn on bass, David Kemper on drums, and Gloria Jones and Jackie Labranch providing backing vocals.

Opening up the first song of set one was "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You", written by Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland for the Motown label. The JGB plays it different than any of Motown's artists who have performed it, coming out with bluesy-essence, almost ragtimesque in spirit. This gets the crowd involved, although since this is recorded right through the soundboard, you can barely hear the crowd at all, yet you can see it in the face of the band.

From that, they go into "Stop that Train" and for all of us natty-dreads we feel the roots of this one. Written by Peter Tosh and preformed by Bob Marley & the Wailers on their debut album, Catch a Fire, Fumo's favorite, Jerry's voice is so different than Marley's or Tosh's as it catches the vibe and roots of tale being told. Next up, "Dear Prudence" taken from The Beatles, and then into Dylan's "I Shall Be Released." Each of these songs is not played as a cover, but as new sounds being experimented on by a highly talented team of professionals. The first set ends with the Hunter/Garcia original, "Deal," which captures the glory of the old west.

The second set is filled with just as much energy and emotion. too. "I Second That Emotion" by Smokey Robinson. Again the JGB redefines the song from a Motown pop icon into a folksy, almost-southern-rock tempo that could make white men jump. "Think" by Jimmy McCracklin, a blues song if there ever was one, is played that way with emotion flowing out of every pore of Jerry's body, but the killer-diller of the show, the song that lets him, his guitar, and the band unleash their souls is the Gillespe/Smith tune, "That Lucky Old Sun." It has been performed through the years by many of the greats: Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and Bing Crosby, but according to biographer Blair Jackson in the "Interview" section, Ray Charles' version was Jerry's favorite interpretation and that is the style he emulates. If he were singing one for his old friend Brent, then here it is. As always, the JGB leaves on a positive note with another Dylan tune; "Tangled Up In Blue" is played in that old "rhythm and Dead" style.

The music here is on fire from beginning to end, being rooted in folk, gospel and R&B. With the genius of Jerry at the helm, the experimentation keeps on truckin' even into the '90s. The camera work is your basic concert footage. The interviews are too short and don't really cover the event as it happened, but it is good to hear from the band members. Robert Hunter also gives an interview, again way to short, but he is a busy man.

All in all, this is a great DVD, be you a Deadhead, a Jerry freak, or someone who just likes to have live concerts to watch in your humble abode; Jerry Garcia Band Live At Shoreline is one of those shows. Jerry is all about the music and this performance shows you that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Jerry Garcia Collection, Vol. 1: Legion of Mary

by Fumo Verde

Legion of Mary played together at over 60 shows from December 1974 through July 1975. All the selections from this live set have been collected from seven different shows and have been previously unissued.

With Garcia's name at the front, you're thinking Dead-offshoot, or maybe he's just sitting in, but it's not that at all, far from it--but not that far. This album finds Garcia in an element you may never have imaged him in: Jazz/Blues. It was a big leap for a man so well known for creating melodic and astral-like guitar riffs that carried us off to sunshine daydreams with sugar magnolias, yet as the leader of Legion of Mary, Garcia turns his gentle strokes into blues-withering howls that echo through your soul on an album that fits well on any shelf in your music library, whether R&B, Jazz, Blues or even the Grateful Dead section.

The talented musicians that round out the quintet are each a star in his own right, such as drummer Ron Tutt, who toured with Elvis back when leather-studded karate suits were the norm. Keyboardist Merl Saunders, who worked with Oscar Brown, Dinah Washington and Miles Davis, contributes more than just the hip and haunting cries from his Hammond B-3, for his years of experience alone could lead a band of gypsies. A key element in the Legion of Mary is that sound known all too well, the sound of soul music itself, the saxophone, which is played by Martin Fierro, whose credits include playing with Fats Domino and Little Richard. These men form an R&B section that can not only play the blues, but also can roam through a song such as "I Second That Emotion" or "Last Train from Poor Valley" and make it seem like a journey to the deepest part of your essence.

As for Garcia, his voice reaches deep into the heart of the lyrics and he effortlessly makes them his own, while letting the rest of the band tell the story musically with improv so well known by jazz artists alike. Although there are Dead-like undertones that creep their way in songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", if you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of history from the other band members. All this wisdom and talent mix together on stage, and yes, these are live shows, which gives it an energy all of its own, creating a unique experience that both Blues fans and Deadheads will enjoy.

“Tough Mama,” by Bob Dylan, leads off the event and immediately a Deadhead would feel at home with Garcia's strolling-along cord riffs. In the background, the B-3 drifts you off into a more folksy-southern blues while the sax creeps in to gently add some soul. Following up the opener is "That's A Touch I Like" by Jesse Winchester. This is where Jerry turns his signature sound into Rhythm & Blues grooves. This song is definitely more jazz-out than Garcia has ever been before. "Since I Lost My Baby" by Smokey Robinson and Warren Moore becomes an instrumental jam that takes you on a sweet Mississippi River boat ride, melding the sounds of blues from Chicago and Memphis with the jazz of St. Louis and New Orleans.

Disc two is filled with many winners as well, such as "Let It Rock" by Chuck Berry, which is led in by a thumping bass by John Kahn that lets you know there's going to be more blues in your step now. Although the track info doesn't state it, this near 14-minute tune draws you deep into its southern soulful jam. Another unstated jam is "Neighbor, Neighbor", a Cajun call out to Alton Joseph Valler, yet Zydeco isn't even present. This classic is a blend of the B-3, Garcia's folk/blues guitar and Fierro's sax meshed with a bass and drumbeat that holds the rhythm to the core. Although these two mentioned songs have lyrics, the improv of the different genres collaborate together to give a perspective that these artists were going for back in 1975.

Legion of Mary is a testament to musicians who want to push their artistic limitations and see what else lies beyond by trying new ideas, by innovating and improvising, and by bringing it all back home into one reality. It's what jazz is about, it's what the blues are about, and it's about what Jerry and the Grateful Dead were about, so it's no surprise that this is what the Legion of Mary are about.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

CLEOPATRA 2525: The Complete Series

by Caballero Oscuro

Let's review the basic concepts of Cleopatra 2525.
Hot chicks? Check.
Skimpy costumes? Check.
Sci-fi with lots of action? Check.
Exec produced by Sam Spider-man Raimi? Check.

So on paper, this series would appear to have the basic ingredients needed to satisfy most adolescent and mentally adolescent male viewers, right? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding no.

The show focuses on the futuristic adventures of a pair of sexy freedom fighters who discover a girl who's been cryogenically frozen for 500 years, thaw her out, and get her to join their merry band of warriors. Their only problem is that she's a ditzy, annoying exotic dancer with no fighting skills...ok, really no skills of any kind. It's absolutely mind-boggling that these two tough, focused fighters would bother to keep Cleopatra around for more than 5 minutes without summarily dispatching her back to the freezer, especially when she regularly lets out high-pitched shrieks at least once an episode. She is so clueless and so lame that it actuallycomes as no surprise when she proves to have no exotic dancing skills in a pole-dancing episode.

Cleopatra aside, the other two leads are convincingly babealicious and really the only semi-decent reasons to watch this show. They shoot guns, get in fights, and perform some dazzling stunts that make them believable in their tough roles. Apparently one of the girls gets their mission instructions from a voice named "Voice" implanted in her head, and they all have no problem following her orders even though they really don't seem to know anything about the Voice.

All we know is that flying robots have taken over the surface of the earth, forcing humans underground to fight for survival. The episodes are mostly self-contained plots (using "plot" very loosely here), so viewers can usually jump in at any episode without fear of missing out on backstory.

Although this was originally a low-budget Sci-Fi Channel show, the effects and sets are subpar for even the low expectations set by similar campy fantasy shows like Mutant X, Andromeda, and Farscape. The limited CGI creatures are blurry and boring, the costumed creatures look like leftovers from Land of the Lost, and the sets look suspiciously like converted Public Storage units.

The DVD collection contains the whole series, which isn't much since it was apparently cancelled within a year of its debut. The series ends on a semi-cliffhanger, but there's really not much that needed to be wrapped up in future episodes so there's no danger of feeling cheated at the end. The barely-there extras are brief outtakes and deleted scenes, as well as an episode of another forgotten show called Earth2 in case viewers were desperate for more bad sci-fi after finishing this series.

Cleopatra 2525 could have been a cult hit, but with a terrible lead actress, horrendous stories, and completely unbelievable effects, there's really nothing therefor anyone to appreciate.