Thursday, March 30, 2006

Nina Simone: Silk and Soul & The Soul of Nina Simone

Written by Ladron de Tebeos

Welcome back to my lair, my fellow carbon-based life forms, sorry I’ve been gone so long, I’ve been trying to raise funding for my new film, Brokeback Catholic Church. (Send all comments regarding my hell-bound soul to the owner of this website) Today we’ll be playing a little game called “Chasing the Dragon” and we’ll be spinning a CD or two from the High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone. Let’s roll.

The album starts with a pounding drum and shrieking guitar that overwhelms your senses and…hmmm, I’m sorry, my CD changer started playing Led Zeppelin I by mistake…actually, this is pretty cool, I think I’ll review this instead…whoop, hang on a sec, the phone’s ringing…Okay, apparently the owner of this site, Mr. El Grande Bastardo, a.k.a. El Bicho, has told me that the Nina Simone review needs to be reviewed tonight, and if I do this review while high, he’s going to revoke my papers and send me back to El Salvador, stupid puto.

Silk and Soul is the follow up to Nina’s first album Nina Simone Sings the Blues. Here again, she has taken songs and molded them around her sensual silken voice to create an album that would best be experienced ‘making sweet sweet love’ as Chef would say. Nina wrote the song “Consummation”, a beautiful love song that reveals the tender side of her soul. “The Look of Love” is a Burt Bacharach written song (not a cover of that classic ABC song) from the motion picture Casino Royale. She also does a cover of that old Association song “Cherish” you remember that one; ‘Cherish is the word I used to describe, all the feelings that I have’, blah, blah, blah, it’s gay, but she makes it work. There’s a sense of longing on songs like “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free”, and “Why must your love well be so dry”. In truth, almost all of the songs on this album are well done, and fine examples of the way Nina can take a tune and make it her own, capturing the spiritual and melodic message of the writer.

Next up, The Soul of Nina Simone is a CD/DVD collection of greatest hits and live songs put together on one CD/DVD. (Does that make sense? oh well, who cares) The songs are more soulful and less pop-sounding than Silk and Soul, and this is a good thing as it gives her more of a chance to use her expressive vocals to capture all sorts of subtleties and nuances in this collection of songs. “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues” is a cover of an old Dylan song that tells of a man let down by everyone, society, government, and friends. “I think it’s going to rain today” is a heartbreaking song written by Randy Newman that looks achingly into a grey future. “To Love Somebody” is a cover of the old Bee Gees tune, turned from some bubble gum pop crap into an anger cry of betrayal. “Feeling Good” is just a great song that received some airplay on HBO promo’s for Six Feet Under, you know how it goes, ‘birds in the sky, you know how it feels, etc.’ I would say, if you could only get one of these two CD’s, definitely grab this one.

The DVD portion of this disc consists of several live performances from the ‘60s, including her performance on The Ed Sullivan Show and several songs from the Harlem Festival in ‘69. It’s all very good stuff, although I would have liked to have seen her in a more intimate setting, a small smoke-filled jazz club, maybe. But in spite of the settings, her voice shines through and connects with the audience to the point where the surroundings don’t matter, it’s just that voice and that presence and that’s all you need.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oscar Castro-Neves: All One

Written by Fumo Verde

Who is this and why are you listing to it, Fumo?

Oscar Castro-Neves is a cat from Rio, Brazil. He was born into a musical family and by the time he was a teenager, he was writing, arranging, and composing all of his own material when people in the mid-1950s started to notice. He, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto, was a vanguard of the Bossa Nova sound, which was a Latin beat that was coming out of South America and the Caribbean during some heavy times when the cold war was in full swing. It was music that gave the American people the haze of a tropical paradise south of the equator. After becoming a member of Sergio Mendes' group in the early ‘70s, his fame spread, and since he has performed with such greats as Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Eliane Elias, Edu Lobo, and countless other Brazilian jazz, classical and pop music stars. His big hit in the U.S. was “The Girl from Ipanema”.

Oscar has an impressive resume and he can play beautifully. “Double Rainbow” is a cool instrumental that uses guitars and violins along with a basic Brazilian rhythm that is the thread that ties this whole CD together. For anyone looking for something light and airy, like a scone, this song is it. He revs it up a bit in the title track, "All One", which reminds me of a cheesy ‘70s movie I saw late one night after a New Jersey Devils victory. With a binger by my side, I came across an old Sony and Cher movie, where they were young and Cher still had her original face. They ran through the flowers as the wind blew. The third track is called "Kurski Funk" and I’m still trying to figure out why. With a chorus chanting and clapping, this could be one of those World Music fusions, like a Brazilian and African mix, which it seemed Oscar was shooting for that but came up short. It smoothes out into something about to erupt but unfortunately, it never comes to pass.

Luciana Souza, a famous Latin singer lends her voice to “Morre De Amor”, and though my Spanish sucks (my English ain't to better either), I do believe this is a love song. Luciana's voice is beautiful, and the piano and violin add to the richness of Souza's sound, as it does on “Nao Me Diga Adeus” where Oscar starts out funky, before merging into late night jazz bar grooves, adding Luciana in between the piano and saxophone mini-jams. "One Bad Habit" ends the disc. Oscar explains his one bad habit, which of course, "it's you...I'm always bouncing in the buff with you". Whoa, Oscar. Kids read this shit; watch your mouth.

I'm not dissing Oscar for anything; his musical portfolio and talent go unopposed, and personally, I liked this album though it’s more background than forefront. Even if you don't want to hear this, you may someday, if you are in a hotel, in a midwestern mall, or going into see your broker. This album is for those you who enjoy the Muzak sound that drifted on the fringes of ‘70s disco balls and the soft music that plays in your doctor’s office while your waiting for your colonoscopy. The arrangements work out fine, but each song sounds too much like an elevator ride. I was left feeling cheated, waiting for heavy Brazilian guitar-playing and conga beats to kick in. “All One” started out sounding great, but then just got melded into jazz fusion that is right now being pumped through your phone, as you sit there on hold waiting for your bank.

This is Fumo, saying, “Adios, babies.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

HORRORPOPS - House of Blues, Sunset Strip - 3/24/06

Written by Fantasma el Rey

“H-O-R-R-O-R-P-O-P-S!!!” is the cheer and Bring It On is the latest album by Horrorpops who rocked the House of Blues to its foundation as they proved Neil Young’s line that “rock ‘n’ roll will never die.” But I’ll get back to them in a minute. There were two bands in support of Horrorpops this night: Left Alone and The Aggrolites.

Left Alone went on first, but because I was a tad bit late, I missed half of their set and didn’t get a chance to listen too well. As soon as we got into the club, my girlfriend and I had to figure out how to get in touch with some friends that we were holding tickets for. Added to the mix was the fact that we had to part a sea of people to find a desperately needed restroom due to the extra large energy drink we shared on the ride up to keep us bopping. My girlfriend also wanted to check out the jam-packed Horrorpops merchandise booth. All of this equaled no time to listen well. From what I did catch I thought that they were an “all right” band. I heard some punk rock and what sounded like a country tune, a nice compliment to their “classic punk” look, complete with colored Mohawk on the lead singer. My girlfriend’s youngest brother, David, who was attending his first concert, thought that they were a pretty solid band and liked them a little more than the band that followed.

The Aggrolites took the stage next and at first I thought they were an okay band with a solid rhythm and beat. Yet as I listened, I began to feel the vibe of this reggae band a bit more. The lead singer had a strong voice and an even stronger passion for what he was singing. This cat tried his hardest to get the crowd jumping and singing along but to no avail, yet he kept at it and went into the crowd to move them. Their versions of classics songs such as The Temptations “Ain’t To Proud To Beg” and The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down” were carried well by the lead singer’s fire. His passion came to a peek on the jam “Reggae From The Ghetto”. This was the song I liked most from their set; here the singer tried his best to get the crowd to repeat the four-word chorus, but still not much of a response. I hope this band keeps going; I would like a chance to see then again.

“Bring it on!” As Horrorpops, (Patricia Day lead vocals/upright bass, Kim Nekroman guitar, Geoff Kresge guitar, and Niedermeier on drums) hit the stage, the House of Blues erupted. The crowd pushed and rushed forward to get in as close as possible to see the band they had been waiting all night to hear. Opening the set with “Freaks In Uniform” and moving into “Hit And Run,” the first two tracks on Bring It On, set the tone for the evening. The lively crowd moved in one big sway from side to side. As the music became harder, the traditional mosh pit came alive and inspired a good amount of fans to start crowd surfing. They saved it all for Horrorpops because they weren’t moving so much for anyone else that night. They were way more alive than the people at the first Horrorpops show I saw earlier on this tour back in November of ’05 at the same venue.

Horrorpops kept everything moving with fan favorites such as “Dotted With Hearts,” “Baby Lou Tattoo” and “S.O.B.”. On “Dotted With Hearts” Nekroman (who fronts his own band The Nekromantics) and Geoff do some doo-wop vocals, which always gets a big cheer from the crowd. We also get to watch NoNo and Kamilla Vanilla, the two go-go dancers, shine; they dance with giant stuffed hearts and throw them into the mob for extra love and cheers.

A big hit with us creepy sorts is the dark love song “Walk Like A Zombie”. I dig this song live because Nekroman and Patricia sing together, playing side by side and back to back, which is always a plus. It has cool lyrics about holding hands in the cemetery and naming kids “Morticia” and “Fester.” It has everything the late night, “B” horror movie set love to hear about. “S.O.B.” is a country/rockabilly tune that’s found a place in my heart, not only for its driving drums and steady bass thump, but also for its twisted look at the traditional country “done wrong” song lyrics.

With its references to “wreaking in the pit,” “Cool Flat Top” always sends the crowd into a frenzy. This is where the pit usually gets its heaviest. The one song that always sends them whirling is “Julia”, the killer opening track from their first album and one of my favorites as well; Both times I‘ve seen Horrorpops this number is used as an encore for obvious reasons, as it guitars are masterful and the beat and bass are infectious.

Horrorpops definitely bring it on in concert with their hard-driving, house-rocking brand of “physco-billy”. Here I should probably give the “ten peso” version of “psycho-billy”: it’s basically the meeting of punk rock and rockabilly with more attitude and a flare for things that go bump in the night, and Horrorpops do it well. Patricia’s vocal growl, delivered with a snarl, is even stronger live and reminds me of a more hardcore Wanda Jackson. Her howls and oohs are awesome, as she uses them to full effect to whip the crowd up before the start of certain songs; Patricia will sing a little of the chorus and ask if the audience can follow. They respond well when Necroman has anything at all to say; his command of the mob is powerful. While Geoff’s efforts to work them up go over just as well, his time spent with Tiger Army as bassmen serves him well here.

Their fans truly adore them, from the hardcore of punks and rebel greasers to the girls who see Patricia as a kick ass role model. Even David, who’s not as familiar with the band or the whole “psycho” scene, enjoyed his first show and thought that Horrorpops rocked. The only draw back for me was that my favorite tune of theirs wasn’t played, the ever-popular “Psychobitches Outta Hell”. But with all the other killer material I’m not at all disappointed and will go see this band for as long as I can score tickets before the venue sells out and most of the time they do just that.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Irakere: Bacalao Con Pan

Written by Fantasma el Rey

Everyone likes a challenge, right? Well I know I do, sometimes. So when El Bicho asked if I wanted to do the review for this Cuban jazz disk, I said, "What the hey? Why not?" Trying my hand at something a little different is just what I needed to expand my listening pleasure and knowledge. Right from the start, the title of this disk had been sitting on my mind like a bullfrog, "Bacalao Con Pan." What it means I have no idea except that it's something "with bread," but there it sat and mutated into my new favorite word. I know it's more of a phrase, but I began using it like I used to do with "Wang Chung," something similar to the way the Smurfs use the word "smurf" in many tones and for just about any situation. I was only cured of this after my highly annoyed girlfriend smacked it out of me, god bless her.

After playing the CD in the car and at home, I began to feel like I should be shouting things such as "Mira. Que conllo" or listening to more Miami Sound Macheen and calling for Castro to step down, 'cause he's been in power way too lung, man. Killing Che and making himself dictator. Todos las personas all they want is to live free and drink Coca and buy new Che-vys, conllo. IS THAT SO WRONG, SENOR CASTRO...LARGARSE CABRON!!! Sorry I digress; it's been a long day, and I've had too much cough syrup, on with the review.

Irakere is a group of Cuban jazz veterans who formed to develop musical ideas with total freedom. The band is known for getting folks up and dancing and that's the way they like it. According to the liner notes, "The word Irakere means both vegetation and whip in the African Yoruba language." That's not much of an explanation for me as to why the band chose the name but I guess it sounds cooler on the island. Who knows, maybe it has to do with the "taming" of unkept vegetation? Any way you take it the sound of this band is infectious. One can see why people can't help but dance. I should pass this disk on to Ladron de Tebeos; he might get a kick out of it.

The opening track "Valle De Picadura" is a mellow mid-tempo number that sounds very 1970s, the guitar playing is kind of funky yet reserved and the sax opens like something from a cop show from that era, somewhat heavy yet smooth, then moves into a "Harlem Nocturne" knock-off. Halfway through the song, we get the lyric chant common to Cuban jazz. This vocal approach appears regularly on this disk in almost all the up-tempo tunes. Not bad but it can get a little tiring; then again I'm sure at the time these dudes were pioneering this sound.

On track three "Aguanile Bonko" is where we get a better feel for this band. The sound is "tuff," the vocals gruff, and the horns are blaring in solid swing fashion. We even get a cracked sax solo that honks like masters such as Joe Houston or Big Jay McNeely. The guitar gets funky here as well, cutting in and out nicely, this is definitely Fantasma's kind of jump.

We get this same kind of jump effort on most of the other up-tempo tracks for the remainder of this disk. "Siete Tazas De Café" and "Rucu Rucu A Santa Clara" are where one can see clearly the influence these Cuban jazz masters had on the aforementioned Miami Sound Machine. The background in "Siete Tazas De Café", the percussion and horn section are a good example of this. While "Rucu Rucu A Santa Clara" sounds very much like a M.S.M. song except for the fact that there is no female lead vocalist.

There are only two slow songs on this disk and they are nice breaks in the action; the first is "Romance (Juegos Prohibidos)," a traditional and pretty tune that reflects the (Forbidden Games) of the title very well. I do very much dig acoustic guitars in that Spanish style. The second is the piano-led "Este Camino Largo." This song too reflects its title well with its smooth, Dexter Gordon sax solo, bringing to mind images of long roads traversed. These powerful slow tracks stand up strong next to the more prominent up-tempo numbers.

A solid stand out track is certainly the Santanaesque "Bacalao Con Pan." More heavy guitar funk, drums, rhythmic percussion, soaring horns and that awesome chorus of (here it comes, y'all) "Bacalao Con Pan." This tune is truly the most infectious on this CD. I totally dig the piano break right before the chanting starts and the horns lead the way for more funky drums and guitar work. You can't help but nod your head and thump your foot. Like its title before it, this jam has gotten under my skin and is a new favorite.

Irakere Bacalao Con Pan is a good look at these pioneers of modern Cuban jazz, a solid band that has its high points and a CD that I wouldn't mind playing a few more times in the future. The challenge is will I be able to play it all the way through, which is Fantasma's mark of an exceptionally excellent record. More than likely not, I know I'll skip to my favorite cuts, but I'll have a good time listening to the ones I choose to hear over and over again. That itself I'm sure says something for the infectious grooves of this band, BACALAO CON PAN FOR EVERYONE!!!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Essential Chieftains

Written by Fumo Verde

Long before Lord of the Dance or Riverdance, long before bars sold green beer and Guinness was sold in a can, Paddy Moloney mastered the pipes and the tin whistle, and in doing so, started a career that would last over forty years. Before World Music was in vogue, the Chieftains had already been there and back

In December of 1963, Moloney gathered together the most talented traditional instrumentalists in his native home of Ireland, and from there they started out on a journey that would take the green hills of Ireland to the great halls of Europe and China to the recording studios of Nashville where, with Chet Akins and Willie Nelson, they would record Another Country, one of their six Grammy-winning albums. If you have never been touched by the sounds of the harp, flute, pipes and fiddle, then lend your ears to something that will surely change your mind and open your world.

I first discovered the Chieftains, or should I say, they found me, in 1984, on what was then a little-known cable channel called A&E. I was up at around two in the morning, because back then to see a hockey game in Southern California, your only recourse was A&E, which would show a replay of the third period of the last game broadcasted that night from wherever. I waited half asleep in a comfy chair with the channel selected in case I dozed off. I had hoped my New Jersey Devils would appear, but a different conjuring took place. Strange music I had never heard before affected me like some strange siren call. I can see myself now hopping around my small den, at 2:30 in the morning as Moloney and the boys played a slip jig. I still have no idea what that is, even though I have been a fan since that fateful night. (My vivid memory is accentuated because I kicked a chair accidentally and busted my big toe).

The Essential Chieftains collects the work from over forty years of not only traditional Irish folk music, but also traditional folk music from all around the world. Playing since the early ‘60s with oddly only an American cult following for the first few years, they began to break out in 1975. That year they provided the Oscar-winning soundtrack for Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, which spawned some radio airplay for "The Women of Ireland," the film’s love theme.
Even when breaking away from traditional Irish folk, Moloney and the band showed their gifts as instrumental composers and arrangers. A career highlight happened at Dublin's Phoenix Park where the band opened for Pope John Paul II, who along with 1,350,000 others where entertained by sounds of the Chieftains. "We were just the opening act" Moloney said. "The Pope was the Headliner".

The first disc is the Chieftains at their best because it features their roots. It is a summary of what they have done from instrumental pieces like "Lots of Drops of Brandy", "O'Sullivan’s March" and " An Poc Ar Buile/The Dingle Set" sung in the Gaelic tongue to "The Green Fields of America" an a cappella ballad describing the flight of immigrants from the Irish shores to their new homeland across the ocean.

That song is followed by "Santiago De Cuba," a Latin rhythm set that would make Pancho Sanchez proud. Others such as the "French March" and "Chasing The Fox (from The Ballad of The Irish Horse)" show how well the Chieftains have blended the sounds and instruments of other cultures into their own sound. These are some of the reasons the Chieftains have lasted for so long and have been heard by so many.

The second CD is a treasure in itself entitled "The Chieftains and Friends." The names alone give me goose bumps: Sting, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Jackson Browne, Emmylou Harris, Los Lobos and of course, some of Ireland’s own treasures. The first song to start off sees them joined by with The Corrs. Andrea's voice lifts you off with this Spanish-Irish love song. "Shenandoah" with the legend Van Morrison follows it; its soft gospel sound plays against the rolling fiddle and flute letting the river run through you mind.

"The Long Journey Home" with Elvis Costello and the choir Anuna stray not far from the Irish tradition, but use a full of the Irish Film Orchestra (conducted by Fiachra Trench) gives one a feeling of patriotism whether you are Irish, Italian, or a red-blooded American. To finish off the set is the song "Jimmy Mo Mhile Stor" done with The Rankins, the first part sung in Gaelic followed by English. Its simple cords are played by the harp and fiddles and with the flutes and tin whistle filling in, the voices of Cookie, Heather and Raylene Rankin bring the Chieftains back home once again.

For anyone who loves world, or Irish folk music, The Essential Chieftains has it all, because Moloney and the Chieftains have it all. For a band who had found their small niche in the music world, little did they know back then what doors they would be opening today, and I for one, look forward to what they will have to offer tomorrow. If it is as half as good as what they have given us now, then the Chieftains will do just fine.

You know I will be enjoying the green this St Patty’s Day. Fumo O'Verde out.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cracker - Get On With It: The Best Of...

Written by Fantasma el Rey

In one of their songs, the band sings the line, “This is Cracker soul.” Huh? What exactly is Cracker soul? Is it alt-rock or cow-punk? Camper van Beethoven stripped down? Could it be as simple as just a closing number to a live set? Or could it be a Southern Caucasian in search of himself? Maybe it’s all of these things twisted together, and perhaps the new DVD will give us another clue, so join us now as we explore Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker.

Let’s start with “Who is Cracker?” Shortly after the breakup of Camper van Beethoven, front man David Lowery formed the band Cracker along with guitarist John Hickman. With their combined skills they managed to come up with a sound mixture of country cow-punk and straightforward rock and roll. With Hickman’s playing and Lowery’s lyrics, you get a sound that reflects the very name of the band. Give this band a spin at their best and you’ll understand perfectly.

As for Cracker soul, the DVD helps in the understanding of that question. The disk, which is divided into two parts, opens with four videos and a live performance on MTV’s 120 Minutes. The first video is the wild “Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” revered for the sentiment, “what the world needs now/is another folk singer/like I need a hole in the head.” The video opens in an acoustic setting with the band in a circle singing the infamous lyrics. After a direct shot of the sun, the video becomes a bit more polished, yet still maintains its low budget feel. We see the band playing in a farm field and then running amuck after a plane comes swooping down on them in North By Northwest fashion. Throughout we see scenes of David riding a motorcycle and being followed by a dog, an odd yet interesting first look at Cracker.

The next video is the first of two filmed in black and white. “Low”, is one of the band’s biggest hits and the one that put them on the map. This video features Sandra Bernhard driving around angrily on her way to a boxing match with Lowery, who sings in a boxing ring throughout the video. Maybe the boxing is a ploy to throw people off of the drug reference in the lyrics, who knows? Whatever the reason, it makes for an entertaining little piece of film. Also interesting to note is the fact that I couldn’t help thinking that Lowery looks a whole lot like Huntz Hall of Bowery Boys fame. Especially with the whole boxing thing, I keep expecting Leo Gorcey to run over and slap him a few times and call him, “you mug.”

“Get Off This” comes from another live segment from MTV’s 120 minutes. It’s a good song with a steady-driving beat and funky guitar, again there are classic Lowery lyrics, such as “If you want to change the world shut your mouth and start this minute.” The video is your standard live clip moving in and out from various cameras on each member of the band.

From here, we move to a true Cracker classic, the lyrically stylish “Euro Trash Girl.” It’s the second black and white video and is the song I like best of the videos. It sounds like a traditional country rocker, but the Lowery lyrics make it seem almost a country spoof. I say, “almost,” because of the lyrical content, yet as I said I am very fond of this number and the video. Here we have Lowery looking like a “good guy” cowboy in his ten-gallon white hat. There are girls in a police line-up, shots of Lowery in front of the Luxor in Vegas and in front of Easter Island heads. Hickman is on his search as well in parks and all over the city, all in an effort to find that “Euro Trash Girl.”

The last of the videos is for “I Hate My Generation”. This song and video are way too much of a Nirvana imitation for me. We’re never really sure with Cracker if they’re serious or spoofing something, then again they could be saying something right there in the fact that they are trying to be too Nirvanaish. The song is angry and delivered in a yell; the video even has the same feel as “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I think it’s too much and too far from this band’s originality and base to be taken seriously, it just doesn’t work for them. Their image here is even more of the stereotypical grunge look, complete with shoulder length hair, a la Kurt Cobain. Although I do think the song has potential if it was done in more of the Cracker style.

The second part of the DVD is the meat and potatoes for this band. Here in this 40 minutes of live footage taken from December 4, 1993 is where we find the answer to our question, “What is Cracker soul? I’ve seen Cracker live once before with a friend of mine who knew more about the band than I did. I had heard of the band and CVB as well but had never really heard any of the music, so I went and had a good time.

Watching the live part of the disk brought back a flood of memories from the show, the feel of the music and the energy of the crowd. Live the band does all their fan favorites and puts on a good show, nothing flashy, no jumping around or guitar spins, just straight-ahead rock and roll with a country feel. These guys totally come alive on stage at full force with Hickman playing like a madman and doing back-up vocals for Lowery. The bass is more prominent live as well, giving off a Love (the Arthur Lee band from the ‘60s) sort of sound. These guys are definitely house rockers.

Evident from this ‘93 footage is the fact that the crowd responds well to songs they love. I can clearly recall the anticipation to the chorus of “Euro Trash Girl”. These cats rock so hard that my father even digs their sound and this man only digs one kind of blues, Chicago. So that’s just one more testament to the power Cracker live. And as a bonus we get to hear John Hickman sing lead on “Lonesome Johnny Blues.” He does a fine job and has a very good voice for this solid country rocker done in a Johnny Cash fashion. With that boom-chicka-boom sort of sound, certainly a highlight to the live set. The live set ends with “This Is Cracker Soul,” a kind of band goodnight to the crowd; it’s a fun number and a good way to end the show.

Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker does indeed provide us with a look at this unique band in their prime and answers the question of “What is Cracker soul?” It’s a twisted form of roots country presented in a solid rock drive that you can’t help but groove to and dig. For not being a really big fan, I dug this disk very much and now have a greater desire to hear more from them and to see them live once again now that I have more of greater knowledge of the songs. For true hardcore Cracker fans, this DVD will be that much more special and fun to watch.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Little Willies

Written by Fantasma el Rey

With the energy, passion and fun put into their self-titled debut album The Little Willies could have easily chosen to call themselves The Big Willies. Names aside, this jamming five-piece band blends barrel house rhythm and blues with honky tonk country, reminding us of a time thought long past. The band, Lee Alexander (bass) Jim Campilongo (electric guitar) Norah Jones (piano, vocals) Richard Julian (guitar, vocals) Dan Rieser (drums), and their name conjure up images of backwoods shacks and hole-in-the-wall juke joints packed with all kinds of cats having a good time late into the night. And that's just what this band of musician friends from New York does: have a good time.

The band kicks off the disk with a classic of western swing “Roly Poly.” The band shows its ability to jump quickly. From the opening bass/drum thump and guitar picking you can feel where these guys are going and where they're coming from. Twenty-five seconds into the song and you're jumping when Miss Jones flies to the front, tickling the ivories like Pete Johnson's granddaughter instead of Ravi Shankar's. Campilongo gives us just a taste of his picking prowess right before Jones and Julian come crashing in with hopping-mad vocals. Reenter Campilongo and more cooking guitar work, again followed by Jones who is simply on fire on this non-stop jump number, but not to be forgotten, the rhythm section comes back up front to close this solid sender. Check out Alexander's bass run at the end, dueling with the piano before he thunders the track to a close.

The Little Willies keep their momentum going into the rolling “I'll Never Get Out.” With Julian's fine vocals and Jones' backing you almost forget that this brother's world is in a spin. Campilongo and Rieser really show us what they've got here; Campilongo is a gifted guitar slinger who can handle blues guitar like he was born and raised on Chicago's south side.

After letting us know how hard they can jump and swing, The Willies let us rest a little but still leave us breathless with a wonderful reworking of the Lieber and Stoller classic “Love Me,” made popular by Elvis Presley. Yet here with Norah doing lead vocals and Richard supporting, we're reminded, whether intentional or not, of the original R&B version by Willie and Ruth. I dig this track because The Little Willies blend both versions of this song perfectly, combining the melodic backing vocals from Presley's version combined with strong R&B guitar work.

“It's Not You It's Me” is a Julian original that's steeped heavily in the honky tonk, hardwood floor tradition. He displays his talents as a songwriter, a talent we'll see from other Willies a little further along on this disk. This slow yet lively number is set ablaze by the excellent musicianship of this band working together. And again Norah Jones' vocals just knock me out.

With the next track we jump once again, this time with the cool wit of a Kris Kristofferson tune “Best Of All Possible Worlds.” This time our guitar hero picks us into a frenzied otherworld. Campilongo's super-charged solos bring to mind the work of rockabilly guitar legend Paul Burleson, rocking and jumping, yet controlled and not over the top. Alexander's bass work is outstanding here as well as is Reiser's drumming. The backbone of this band shows that they have mastered that steady-as-a-driving-train rhythm.

Julian lets us hear his passionate baritone vocals on Townes Van Zandt's “No Place To Fall.” Another excellent showcase of this band's talents, and I can't stress the fact enough that these cats are good. In “Roll On” we get another original tune, this one from bass man Alexander. Let me say this here, until this album I've never paid much attention to Norah Jones, but with this track especially, Miss Jones officially has a new fan. Her passion-filled, heartfelt delivery makes this track one of the album's strongest songs.

The Willies do two very good Willie Nelson covers, perhaps a clue to the origins of the band's name. With “Gotta Get Drunk” Jones lets us see a playful side of her vocals, and you can't help smiling at her delivery and banter, not to mention that wonderful howl. “There's more old drunks than there are good doctors/So Jim take another round,” which he does happily, making another powerful guitar run. The second Nelson number, “Nightlife,” is a solid country blues once more led by Jones' vocals and skill with the 88's.

“Streets of Baltimore” is another song that belongs on this album. Its pure country sound and sorrowful lyrics are another perfect fit for Julian's vocals. He makes you feel for this fellow who tries to make his lady happy even though he's not so enthused and winds up losing her to those darn streets of Baltimore. “Tennessee Stud” is a fun western story song, reminiscent of classics by Marty Robbins, that the band romps through with ease, highlighting their ability to move smoothly from track to track. This tune stands out for its rolling piano and out-of-sight guitar work; its infectious thump and shuffle beat make it a solid country rocker.

The Little Willies debut rounds up with a couple of originals: the slow ballad “Easy As The Rain” and the humorous “Lou Reed,” which should be noted is the band's longest number, soaring high at a whopping 4:14. That says a little something right there. “Easy As The Rain,” penned by Julian and Campilongo, is a beautiful love song that spotlights the chemistry of Jones and Julian's vocals. This sweet ballad is easy on the ears and tugs on heartstrings without being overly sentimental or sappy. The closing track is the odd “Lou Reed,” a very playful little ditty that has Julian giving his best impression of the fellow New Yorker and rock pioneer; what a wonderful way to end their first album. On their final number, we get a chance to hear the entire band join in on vocals and have a blast together, solidifying their “live” sound.

The Little Willies debut album is a joyous expression of five talented musicians coming together to have a good time making music the way music should be made. Simple and passionate without being overdone or pretentious this band is tight and yet maintains a loose, live sound that keeps this album moving right along. The entire band is solid from the backbone of Lee Alexander and the bottom of Dan Rieser to the piano/vocal skills of Norah Jones and Richard Julian's singing/ songwriting weaved all together by Campilongo. This New York City unit is purely masterful at what they do. They deliver on that big sound and keep us longing to hear more from them in the future. One can only hope that it's the near future and a venue close to home because with every spin this disk just keeps getting better and better.

Here's to the Little Willies and their big sound so let's all “take another round.” And for those interested in originality and a strong country sound I recommend looking for Jesse Dayton's Tall Texas Tales; Jesse has more of a country feel but that same passion for what he does.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Talking Heads: Speaking In Tongues, True Stories & Naked

by Fumo Verde

If you are into Talking Heads and David Byrne, then here is something you will enjoy. I know what you are thinking, “Speaking in Tongues, True Stories, and Naked are old albums, Fumo. Like 20 years old.” I know, but what makes these new, in a sense is that they are those DualDisc CDs. On one side is the album itself, the other is a DVD. DualDiscs have been out for a little while, but this is a first for Talking Heads. I got to check out these three CD/DVDs; I was impressed and bummed out and here is why.

To start off with, if you're into Talking Heads, the music is great. On Speaking in Tongues, the album they peaked with commercially, signature art-school funk pieces like "Burning Down the House", "Girlfriend is Better" and "This Must Be the Place" are great tunes. An unfinished outtake of "Two Note Swivel" and the alternate version of "Burning Down the House" (previously unissued) are the bonus tracks, which are well worth the purchase of the CD alone.

On True Stories, the companion album to Byrne’s directorial debut of the same name, you have "Love for Sale", "Wild Wild Life" and 'People Like Us". The funk is gone and the music has more of a dance/pop feel, very reminiscent of the period, but very unlike Talking Heads. It sounds like they were either trying to sound popular or they didn’t care what they sounded like, which is likely more accurate since Byrne had recorded these songs previously with the cast of his film. Even the album cover is lacking in comparison to all their other releases. The bonus tracks include an extended mix of "Wild Wild Life", the Pops Staples’ vocal version of "Papa Legba" and the Tito Larriva vocal version of "Radio Head".

Naked has of course "Totally Nude", along with "Mr. Jones", "Cool Water", and "Sax and Violins" for its bonus track. The music goes back to their experimentation with world rhythms, although the focus is on Latin sounds, foreshadowing Bryne's solo work on the album Rei Momo.

As for the DVD sides, there are two options you can choose. You can listen to the music again, which here is recorded in Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, so if you have the full-on, killer entertainment system at home you can shatter all the glass in your house. The other option gives you the opportunity to see Talking Heads videos, the ones we all saw back when MTV played music videos. "Burning Down the House", "This Must Be The Place", "Blind", "Love For Sale" and "Wild Wild Life". Sure, these were mostly done in the late '80s, but compare them to the videos now. Wait; does MTV play music videos anymore?

The idea of dual CD/DVDs might become the new format as record companies desperately try and save themselves by making money reselling products that we already have with features that won’t be easy to burn and pass on. The remastered sound is clearer and sounds great. As for the videos, they were cool when I first saw them, and I still like them now, but I was thinking when El Bicho said, “DVD side,” I thought, lost concert footage or never-shown-before concert footage, or even new footage would have satisfied me. I'm sure as the technology gets better, and they can start squeezing more things onto longer-playing discs these DualDiscs may work out, as for now, I'll stick with CDs.

And you may ask yourself, which of these should I buy? I recommend Speaking In Tongues, Naked, then check out some other albums, especially the live album Stop Making Sense before downloading a couple of tracks off True Stories because the whole album isn’t worth it.

This ain’t no party, so I’m leaving, babies...FV

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Samite: Embalasasa

by Ladron de Tebeos

Howdy, howdy movie fans, just got back from checking out some Oscar footage. You’ll have to pardon me if I’m a little incoherent; staring obsessively at Jennifer Garner’s pregnancy-induced cleavage has caused the blood to leave my brain.

Today, we’re going to be reviewing a new album called Embalasasa, by the artist Samite. Now this sounded like the kind of album where I might want to purchase a little verde from my good friend Fumo Verde to enhance the experience. However, he’s currently residing in the local lock-up at the moment. Something about public nudity and committing unnatural acts with an animal. So, I’ll have to roll sober on this one.

Embalasasa is the beautiful, multi-colored, but poisonous lizard that surfaced all over Samite’s Ugandan homeland when he was 12-years-old. “Whenever an embalasasa came into the house, we all climbed on top of a table and called my grandfather to come and kill it. We knew we were safe as long as grandpa was around; he used his walking cane to protect us.”

“On the title song, I call my grandpa to come with his walking cane and kill the modern embalasasa, AIDS, a deadly disease transmitted through the most beautiful, vibrant and natural act.” The albums songs draw on Ugandan folklore, geography and struggle to express words of allegory, healing and hope. In addition to AIDS, his curative songs address war, intolerance, the death of a loved one and survival.

This is one of those albums you need to be in a mellow, happy kind of mood to enjoy, (hence my desire for some verde) because the music itself is melodious and kind, and Samite sings in the warmest and mellowest of gentle voices, picture Bobby McFerrin on tranquilizers, being backed by flutes and kalimbas. If you don’t like being lulled then it will drive you batty.

“Give me something a little up-tempo,” you’ll eventually say. “Why does he have to be so pleasant and earnest all the time? It’s like having a Jehovah’s Witness at your door for 45 minutes. Despite some definite good moments, the song "Nawe Okiwulira" sounds like one of those Afro-funk fusions the Talking Heads attempted, only a lot better, this is why people write off most world music as New Age niceness. It’s not bad, but yaaaaawwwwnnn…

The album moves from flute to percussion to guitar to singing, and overall, I’d say there’s enough good moments here to half-heartedly recommend Embalasasa. Kind of a rainy day album to put on when you felt like being slow and lazy. Of course, truth be told, I find it kind of hard to criticize Samite, simply because he’s far more of an awesome human being than me and most everyone I know or have known—he works with war orphans and he’s the director of the Musicians for World Harmony organization—but there are less-awesome guys out there who are making much more compelling albums than this.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cabruera: Proibido Cochilar

by Ladron de Tebeos

Hola, mi amigos, como esta? Okay, that’s about it for my Spanish, so, in an act of immense bravado, I will be reviewing an album where the lyrics are entirely in Spanish…hold your applause…

Today’s album is Proibido Cochilar: Sambas for Sleepless Nights by the group Cabruera. Cabruera was formed in 1998 when six nordestinos, (no idea what a nordestino is, does it mean Eskimo?) all with backgrounds in the contemporary Brazilian music scene, joined together to find a way bring their folk roots into the modern era. They sought counsel from an indigenous Tupi oracle who told them that they needed to start a band to bring a new injection of life to the communities of Campina Grande and Joao Passoa. The oracle also said that the band was to be called “Cabruera,” from the word “cabras,” meaning “a group of goats.” Then I think the oracle told them that they were “The One” and they had to fight Agent Smith in one good movie and two crappy sequels…Anywho…to get in the proper spirit of the music, I’m gonna throw back some tequila and give this a spin.

One Tequila, two tequila, three tequila

Damn, this music rocks, I’m jumping around shaking my ass all over the place. Not sure if this is considered dancing or it just looks like I’m having a seizure, but who cares, the dorky, uncoordinated white boy is rocking. This album is supposed to be a mix of Forro (again, no idea what that means, I’ll guess fire), rock, jazz, funk, rap, reggae and drums and bass, under-girded by the syncopated beat of samba…hmmm, sounds kind of complicated, all I know is that it’s kicking my ass right now…there go the neighbors, banging on the wall, let me turn it up louder…

4 Tequila, 5 Tequila, 6 Tequila

I’m not sure who this guitar player, but swear to god, he’s like a Spanish Jimmy Page or something…It’s weird, all the women on TV are starting to look like Jessica Alba…I’m not dancing anymore, I shook my ass (and skull) into a wall. But this is really, really, really good music & stuff. I could listen to this all the time, even sober. I’m even starting to understand some of the lyrics, I’m pretty sure they’re singing about chicks and stuff…Oh wait, I know what Forro means, I read it on the notes, it’s the name for the region’s country parties, at which musicians and dancers get down in an athletic form of dance that makes the lambada look tame, “At a good Forro party, the air is thick with dust raised by the feet of tireless dancers.” Screw it, where’s my tennis racquet, I’m gonna air guitar my way into history and show you all how to Forro your asses off…STOP POUNDING ON MY WALLS OR I’M GONNA RIP YOUR HEART OUT AND EAT IT!!!...Stupid neighbors, no appreciation for good music.

7 tequila, 12 tequila, 1 tequila more…

Fuckin’, it’s the fucking government man, they’re doing stuff to piss my shit off, like buttons and stuff, that makes my room spin around like this, do you know what I mean? That’s why I love you guys, you’re my fucking bitches…Oh pissballs, now the police are knocking on my door, I’m gonna go teach these guys not to piss me off, I’ll be right back…

Monday, March 06, 2006

Rush: R30

by Fumo Verde

In eighth grade, my buddy Chris brought over his Rush tape, Moving Pictures. He wanted me to listen to two songs. One called "Witch Hunt", a dark and spooky number. Since we went to Catholic school and had heard the band was "demonic," we had to listen. The other song was, of course "Tom Sawyer" which immediately turned me on to a sound I had never heard before. I was used to the classics, Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin, but Rush was a band that took the classic rock sound and energized it, flying off into a different galaxy altogether. Since I first heard that tape, I have been to nine Rush concerts and have more than half of their work on CD, the rest on tape. Rush is the only band that I have seen that many times and will keep seeing, until they decide I won't see them anymore. Hope that never happens.

R30 captures their 30th anniversary tour Rush performed in the summer of 2004, which El Bicho, Captain Petrone, Dr. Smith and myself attended on July 14th, and it was one of the best shows the band has ever done. The first DVD is from their performance at Festhalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on September 24th, but once it started up, I was transported back to Irvine Meadows or what ever the frack it's called now. The chills started up my back and I found it hard to sit without jumping out of my seat and rocking out in my living room.

The show starts out with a little animation that tours you through the images of Rush album covers, from Rush and 2112 to Roll the Bones and beyond. This trip down memory lane is shown on the wide screen monitors above the stage, but this looks even better on a TV or pc screen. After the cartooning is over, the screen fills with a sleeping Jerry Stiller, who wakes up wondering if had missed the show and is annoyed that they never play “Bangkok.”

Then, electricity fills the air...even in my living room. The band's entrance starts out with an instrumental medley of early songs, snippets from “Finding My Way,” “Anthem,” “Bastille Day,” “A Passage to Bangkok,” “Cygnus X-1,” and “Hemispheres”. After this 10-minute Overture, they break into the heart-stirring "Spirit of the Radio" and the magic at your fingers are created by Alex, Geddy and Neil as they pour out all their energy into songs, such as "Force Ten", "Subdivisions", Red Barchetta" and of course, "Tom Sawyer". Speaking of Neil, it wouldn't be a Rush show without one of his amazing percussion demonstrations and as always he delivers the goods.

In the summer of '04, Rush released an EP of covers called Feedback on which they honored their favorite bands and songs. Some of those songs made it into the set as well, such as an acoustic version of The Yardbirds' “Heart Full of Soul,” Eddie Cochrane's “Summertime Blues”, The Who's “The Seeker” and the band who was the blueprint for rock trios, Cream's “Crossroads.”

The concert lightshow that Rush puts on is equally breathtaking, and mixed in with the music one can truly see why the German fans are going crazy. Rush always puts on a great live show, and their artistry, training, and devotion to their work really shine through when they are on stage, and the crowds can tell.

The second DVD contains archival footage from interviews and performances throughout the years. They are interviewed while on tour in 1979, about their 2002 album Vapor Trails, and are inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Video shows them appearing on the TV show “Rock Concert”, two tracks from Seneca College off A Farewell to Kings in 1977, and appearing at Toronto Rocks in 2003. There are a total of 15 features all together to satiate the most die hard of fans. Most of these tracks are from the late 70's and 80's and it's funny to see the guys with all that long hair.

The best track is the "in studio" version of "Closer to the Heart" performed for the Canadian Tsunami Disaster Fund. During concerts, when this song comes up, the Bics come out to light the night air, but this version, gives you an almost personal window into how these men not only work together, but how they enjoy what they do. They might be in a studio, but the sound and their playing still have a concert feel.

There are 2 CDs included in the Deluxe Edition that has the audio from the Frankfurt show, so you can take it with you if you don't have a portable DVD player. There are two signature guitar picks, a 17-page photo pamphlet, and Easter Eggs. (That's if you can find them.....Good Luck)

For me, Rush was the band that inspired me and really got me into the music that I enjoy today. This deluxe edition gives the fan a chance to possibly sit back and watch these guys in action, but as I said before, with Rush, it's truly hard be still. Here is a band whose melodies get you moving and the lyrics get you thinking. Once your body and mind are in motion your spirit will ignite, bringing it closer to the heart, and once that happens, oh babies, what a RUSH.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Umphrey's McGee: Wrapped Around Chicago

by Fumo Verde

There's no better place to see a band than in their hometown, and for the boys of Umphrey's McGee this show proves that axiom to be true. Out of the great city of Chicago comes a sound somewhat familiar but not. UM--Umphrey's McGee has a sound all their own and an energy that only rivals their fans. The blending of music and the weaving of songs is carefully constructed, yet quickly blown away by the amazing talent these men have. This two-DVD set contains three hours of high-energy performance leaving those who were there exhausted and ecstatic. Although I live in California, seeing this DVD made me inquire about plane tickets to the windy city for this year's bash.

UM always puts on a great show, this I know, because El Bicho and I have seen them three times, and are always willing to see them again. Their sound is distinctly different, though you can hear the influences of Steely Dan, Yes, Led Zeppelin and other genres such as Reggae (another one of my favorites, which I'm sure is a surprise to no one who). These strong sounds echo their tenure as UM casually rolls from one song to the next. They are considered a jam band, and like their forefathers, the Dead and Phish, UM starts a song out in one direction and can make a 90-degree turn onto the path less traveled, which they will often do more than once in a song, and then bring you right back to where the journey started. These guys have the talent. It isn't raw; they have it wired.

The lead off song is "Divisions" which like most of UM's songs starts out smoothly, Brendan Bayliss' vocals and guitar with the percussions of Andy Farag and drums of Kris Myers. The song revs itself up into a charging, rock groove. This part of the song gives the boys legitimacy to being a "jam band" for it rolls on for eighteen minutes or so before the soft gentle touch of Joel Cummins keyboards and Jake Cinninger's guitar brings it back to its starting point.

It's followed by the instrumental "Great America". Now it is Andy and Kris's turn to start the engine. Starting off somewhat exotic and mystical, the guitars are the instruments that push the energy level up a notch on this one. Most of UM's jams and songs start out quiet, unabated only to roll into a heavy "jump up and down in your seat" rock jam. These boys know how to improvise and they aren't afraid to experiment either.

One of my favorite songs is "Anchor Drops" which starts out with Ryan Stasik bass dropping the notes while Myers lays down the beat. Here the voices of Bayliss (lead), Cinninger, and Cummins harmonize, and though there are only a few words in the song, they carry a thoughtful message, "breathe easy/the less you have to offer, the less you have to loose." UM has that kind of wit that runs through their tunes. Bayliss once said "If it's not fun, it's not gonna get done."

After "Anchor" the next song to drop is "2nd Self", which has a somewhat political edge to it. The DVD cruises along, as images of the audience dance and shake to the beats that are being laid out by Farag and Myers. Here, Cinninger and Bayliss let it all hang out as Stasik keeps thumping with his bass. The close-out song just before intermission is "Partyin' Peeps". Stasik, Cinninger, and Bayliss throw down a reggae vibe. It's a simple song that recounts the tales of the trails that they have been on since they have begun.

The second DVD starts out with "Ophelia", a Robbie Robertson song. Joel and Brendan belt this one out as a four-piece brass section adds some good old Chicago blues that have influenced this band in more ways than one. Next is "Mail Package" as Myers and Stasik thump out a rock-steady beat, Cinninger taunts with trippy, space-like riffs while the brass adds more flavor. This song recants the encounters Cinninger has had with our postal service. Although the beat to this song has an ominous thump grinding it out, the words here have a lighter side to them.

They replay "Nopener", but with a twist. They played a rock version in the first set, but now they give it a lounge treatment this time around. Myers comes out from behind his drum set in his best Sinatra outfit. Yes, UM's drummer even gets to take center stage. His Frank impersonation isn't the best, but he does have a crooner style of voice. The house lights go to a film noir look, and we're talking Rat Pack, baby.

It's not all jamming and traveling down exotic paths at rocket speed; the band loves to have fun and their interaction with the crowd is great. Yes, crowd; an audience sits down. James Brown will tell you that people at UM shows, like all great rock shows, “got ants in their pants and need to dance.” Wiggling their shit in what from the upper rows must look like a stoned, drunken, sweaty amoeba that undulates with thump of a cord, or a bang on a bongo.

Umphrey's McGee is a band one must see, their power and energy comes driving on stage like the cold hard winds that gave the nickname to that grand old city. If you can't get to Chicago, or might not have a chance to see them live, this DVD duo will take you there...sit back, fire one up and let da boys of Umphrey's McGee show you what a good jam can do for one's soul. For those of us out on the west coast, the skinny is the band may be back in April...and possibly a new album next year.

Both these DVDs have all sorts of extras. A couple of songs, Nemo and Padget's Profile, performed at the previous evening's show, a drum lesson from Meyrs, Farag's "Atmosmenu Music" and some UM claymation. There's even footage of Huey Lewis rehearsing with the band at 2005's Jammys. I told him this band was it.

This is Fumo Verde....until the next time Sister Moon is in full.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

by Ladron de Tebeos

Greeting my fair-weathered, review-reading friends. Just got done overdosing on massive amounts of Olympic coverage and it’s time to pull my mind from those nagging questions that the Olympics always bring me: namely, can those figure skaters spin around real fast like that when they’re….uhhh, crouched on a different surface than ice? Speaking of which, maybe one of you linguistic folks out there can help me out: is Bode Italian for Fat, Drunk Loser? Just curious.

Okay, today I watched the film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Now, try as I might, I have a hard time walking into this objectively, my thoughts even before viewing were that Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling and the whole gang should be taken out back and be severely beaten and then tossed into a jail cell where they can be severely butt-fucked. This, in my twisted little world view, would be justice. Enron, to me, is symptomatic of what is wrong with our political system as a whole; elected officials slash whores, who don’t really give a flying fuck about you or I, average Joe Taxpayer, but about the companies slash johns and rich folks who feed them their bribes, errr, I mean campaign contributions. So, having gotten my little rant out of the way, let’s see how this plays out.

The film, narrated by Peter Coyote, does a very good job of guiding us through this whole shit storm, using graphics, interviews, footage of shareholder meetings and taped telephone conversations of Enron traders, who sound like a gang of Soprano-ish type thugs as they conspire to plunder the California economy.

Director Alex Gibney takes shots at all the scum bags, (see, I told you I was angry) who knowingly or unknowingly held up this fraud, including the Bush administration and the Wall Street establishment, pointing in particular at Merrill Lynch, which, on Lay's complaint, fired the only stock analyst who dared question the Enron bubble as it was expanding.

There seems to be a general impression that Enron was a good corporation that went bad. The movie argues that it was a straight up B.S. con game almost from the start. It was "the best energy company in the world," according to its top executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. Of course, at the time they said this, they knew that the company was bankrupt, had been worth big piles of zip for years, had inflated its profits and concealed its losses through bookkeeping practices so corrupt that the Arthur Anderson accounting firm, who in the interest of full disclosure used to employ Mil Peliculas, was destroyed in the aftermath.

One Enron tactic was to create phony offshore corporate shells and move their losses to those companies, which were off the books. We're shown a diagram tracing the movement of debt to such Enron entities. Two of the companies are named "M. Smart" and "M. Yass." Showing how smart they really are: One stood for "Maxwell Smart" and the other one ... well, take out the period and put a space between "y" and "a."

The level of arrogance these peckerheads, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Andy Fastow, and Lou Pai enjoy due to their wheelings and dealings, due to their abject refusal to take responsibility for their own actions, and the powerless consumers taking it up the back door, makes it all seem like some kind of sick joke, these ass-wipes are almost caricatures of the evil businessman.

Enron is a movie you can’t help but become emotionally involved in; by the end you feel as drained as the thousands and thousands of employees 401(k)s.

Based on a best-selling book by Fortune magazine writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, this is a movie that needs to be seen. The Enron scandal was swept under the rug, (google Ken Lay Trial and ask yourself how much of the now recent events you’ve seen on the nightly news) in the fever to push Iraq as America's agenda. It's frightening to find out how much you didn't know.

And did I mention that it really pisses me off?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Tomorrow Show: Punk & New Wave

by Fumo Verde

Once again Shout Productions brings us more rock legends, or more like punk and new wave legends. Here on NBC's The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, Shout relives the days when the punk rock and new wave trends hit the scene bringing us tri-colored mohawks and stylish safety pins for your cheeks or nose, whatever felt more apropos. Hosting the festivities is Tom Snyder, a guy more clueless about music than the bands he interviews. Pack a freshy-fresh, babies, and prepare to go retro.

Shout has put four shows on each of the two DVDs for this punk and new wave collection and it comes by way of The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, which ran from October of 1973 to January of 1982 until David Letterman took over. The show aired right after Johnny Carson, the king of late night, running from 1am to 2am. At that time of night, Tom described his audience by stating that at that hour "you get the tokers and the smokers."

These eight shows have to do with the punk rock revolution that was blowing up at the time. As with another Shout release, The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons, Snyder’s show got some pretty hot acts for the time, such as Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, and The Ramones If you’re just in it for the music, the menu options lets you get right into it, but if you're a history freak-o like me, you may play it from the beginning.

If anything, play the first show. There isn't a performance by any of the bands, but Snyder interviews LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn, promoter Bill Graham and a punk-new wave producer Kim Fowley, who due to his heavy make-up, causes Tom to greet him with, "May I say, Kim, you look ridiculous tonight." This segment will give you some kind of a background to what this music rebellion was all about. Halfway through the segment, the three men are joined by Paul Weller of the Jam and Joan Jett of the Runaways, who already seems to have the wisdom beyond her time, or so it seems.

As weird as this first interview gets, the best of those is yet to come. Good old John Lydon, you know, Johnny Rotten from The Sex Pistols, shows up with his buddy. Oh yeah, now I know why Lydon called himself Rotten, cause he was. What a fucking asshole, and his P.I.L. partner, he was such a clownshoe. I can't even remember his name, and he sure as hell ain't worth putting on the DVD again just to find out. Although Snyder is clueless when it came to the punk scene, he showed that he was a professional when dealing with stuck-up, snot bag brats like rotten Lydon.

The other interviews with Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith are cool. Here are the diamonds, and this is where it counts. Elvis and Patti give some pretty in-depth images of what they think of themselves, the music that they are making, and how it's affecting the youth of that time frame. Iggy is just a freaking nut, but here you do get to see him before he went below the 110-pound mark before the heroin took over.

The two performances and interviews that standout come from Wendy O. Williams and The Ramones. The music of Wendy O. and the Plasmatics sucked and they couldn't play for shit, but the stage show they put on was a crazy spectacle. You get to see them blow up a Dodge, yes, a car, in an enclosed studio with the audience thirty feet or so away. Nice.

The best is for last. The Ramones, and although the boys were pissed that Snyder wasn't there to take the brunt of their harassment, local NBC news anchor Kelly Lang filled in, and was just as clueless as Snyder. That doesn't matter though, because when the Ramones play, it explains it all. Funny thing about the Ramones, and for that fact all the bands, they never called their music "punk". The newspapers in England coined it.

Shout has the right idea. Its great to see all these artists just as their stars were on the rise, but it would be better if they would cut out all the bullshit because the Tomorrow shows they include aren’t that special. The roundtable discussion about punk was fitting, but I don't want to hear some old ladies poems on "how to be in love" and I really don't care about the guy who had the radio show with the psychic who predicted Pres. Regan's shooting---days after it happened--(funny as that one was).

Nor do I need to see the "other Don Rickles," an announcer at NBC, be the first person on TV to play Simon, which my fellow Gen X-ers and older will remember is the memory game where you press a panel after it lit up in increasingly harder combinations. It must have been quite a technological advancement of 1977 because they spend way too much time on it. After the first couple times, we get it. Maybe the famous Don Rickles cancelled. Anyway, they need to put more music on these discs and less filler.

This is Fumo-- punk is dead, long live rock n' roll.