Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band: First You Live

Written by Fumo Verde

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band come to you straight out of Anaheim, California. First You Live has the folk-rock sound made famous in the sixties, yet the lyrics here won't spark any anti-establishment riots in the streets. The songs are fun and light but there wasn't a song that jumped out and grabbed me, yet I thought the music was good over-all. This CD does have some nice surprises via how the band mixes folk rock with certain contemporary sounds.

Dusty Rhodes and the River Band has massive potential and a lot of heart. They just need to work out the kinks. "Keys to the Truck" mixes gospel with folk rock. The backing vocals bust out like a Sunday choir as the clapping of hands, the tapping of a tambourine, and the strumming of the guitar all help in keeping the rhythm. All is going along fine, then the lead vocalist stops singing and starts screaming. If he was trying for a dirty, gritty sound he didn't nail it; the scratchiness of the vocals took me out of the moment. It’s the small subtle things that seem to hold this budding band back

"Street Fighter" has to be the song I liked the most. I loved the way it opens up, with charging guitar licks, a steady base line, and a driving drumbeat. Then, add one hell of a violin player and, babies, you think you're going to the rodeo. Another change: the violin goes into a sad solo before a crescendo of all the instruments as they lay down some heavy sounds as the sad tale of the "Street Fighter" plays out.

Other songs like "Leaving Tennessee" and "Goodnight, Moonshine" give Dusty and the Band their southern twang. The accordion on “Leaving Tennessee" gives off a Cajun flavor that adds to what is their most political song. I can’t understand some of words and I think I would dig this tune more if I knew what Dusty was saying. “Goodnight, Moonshine” is a delicate song that gently drifts you off into the clouds of a Beatles-like acid trip that blends a sitar and violin rewriting the idea of folk rock.

The vocals need to be ironed out, but for fun music that will get you moving, First You Live has energy. Dusty Rhodes and the River Band have signed on to a new label and maybe that will also give them the boost they need. One can hear the passion these musicians have for the music they play. It is an interesting blend of sounds that you will hear on "First You Live" and no song feels the same. Check them out on their Myspace page and listen carefully for soon, you maybe hearing a lot more from them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Written by Fumo Verde

Like Mel Gibson or not, he knows how to make intensely dramatic films and Apocalypto holds true to that. Amazing costumes, lots of action, beautiful sets and scenery, and a story with a hero you root for. The film brings us back to the Mesoamerican period of the Western Hemisphere where eating the warm-beating heart of your now-dying rival was considered ritual. Using the ancient Mayan dialect, the indigenous peoples of the area, and unknown actors the viewer is brought deep into the story, giving it a sense of truth. Some say subtitles take away from the overall scene, but not to worry as most of the best acting in this movie doesn't come from the written word.

Set in the Yucatan Peninsula circa 1502, our hero Jaguar Paw and his tribe live a hunter-gatherer life. They get along with the spirits of the forest who share their home. Enter the Mayans on a search-and-destroy mission from their god, Kinich Ahau the Sun God. But what do they want, and why bother with Paw and his small tribe? The Mayans take their captives on a death march through the stunning landscape of Southern Mexico and parts of Central America.

As Paw and his people enter the outskirts of the city it becomes clear this is not a place they want to be as a river of the blood and shit from the sacrificed pours out from the massive stone city. Once inside, the women are sold off as slaves and the men are painted blue, walked up to the top of the highest pyramid, and are killed in the name of Kinich Ahau. Yet Paw knows better, and this is where the fantasy part of movies comes into play. A solar eclipse occurs meaning the sun god has had his fill of blood. Paw and his tribesmen can now be disposed of as the Mayan warriors see fit. Here's where your heart starts to pound as Paw escapes and is hunted by the Mayan warriors.

As this is happening there is a back-story. When Paw's village was being ransacked, he hid his wife and son in a well just outside of the huts. The Mayans didn't find them, so now Paw not only has to get away from the Mayan warriors who are hot on his trail, but he has to get to the well and pull up his family before it starts to rain, which will inevitably happen as they live in a rain forest.

Gibson is great at showing the horrors of how humans can behave towards each other, and Apocalypto has plenty of it. You feel for the captives as they are brutally led off while their children are left to fend for themselves in the jungle. These people have no idea where they are going or what is going to happen to them. If you think about it, how messed up is that? You are living your whole life with knowing only the people in your tribe and a few others in some neighboring tribes, and then you wake up one day being tied up and taken from your family. When Paw escapes you really want him to get back to his wife and kid, or should I say "kids" because his wife is pregnant, just to add an extra element of suspense.

The research and time put into this project alone should be applauded. According to the extra features, the costumes were made the same way the ancient Mayans made them. We see them hand sowing each costume and hand painting each tattoo on all 700 extras.

This film was shot live, meaning there weren’t many computer-generated images. All the action is real, and even the temples of the city were constructed just for their scenes. The actors all do a fine job considering some of them have never even seen a television let alone a movie screen. Gibson used people from the local villages; he even used this little girl who had never set foot on a floor before, yet she acted so well in this picture she would put to shame many Hollywood starlets.

Gibson tried to keep this movie as real as he possible could, and I think he did a fine job. The only thing that I didn't like about this film was the hype about it being a look into the Mayan culture yet we barely scratch the surface. It's wrong when advertisers do that just to get you into the theater.

The extras on the DVD give you a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s making and audio commentary by Gibson and co-writer Farhad Safinia for the film and one deleted scene.

Apocalypto isn't a historical reference and it has nothing to do with the end of the world. It has everything to do with a hero coming close to the end and learning that there is always a chance for a new beginning.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Dead Cat Bounce & Texassippi Stomp

Written by Fantasma el Rey

From 219 Records comes two new hard-hitting blues albums, one from John Lisi and Delta Funk and the other from Ray Cashman. Connecting these two recordings is the participation of one Jimbo Mathus playing bass and other instruments on both CDs.

John Lisi and Delta Funk have been around for a few years and have put down three other albums. The new Dead Cat Bounce finds Lisi on vocals, mandolin, electric and acoustic guitars as well as dobro and lap steel. Another talented musician, Mathus, works his magic on this disc playing bass, piano and tambourine. Joining them is a fine young drummer named Cody Dickinson, who can play the electric washboard and a mean tambourine as well. He has his own band, North Mississippi Allstars, with his brother Luther.

With these three talents together the resulting album is just about as good as jumpin’, rockin’ blues can get. The title track “Dead Cat Bounce” opens hard and heavy, setting the pace for the rest of the songs that follow. The tune has a solid bounce from start to stark finish, crisp guitar, pulsating bass and steady drums.

“Woke Up Pissed (Sleep Away My Blues),” has the boys showing how blue they can get by slowing to a mid-tempo shuffle. Lisi puts down a steamy guitar solo, while Dickinson keeps time behind him perfectly on a tune about those days where all you want to do is sleep to avoid punching some one.

“Slow Down Sugar” seems like more or the same mild blues but picks up and slams back down hard towards the end of track. Dickinson kicks it up a notch while Lisi is hot on his heels with his smoking guitar, and oh yeah, Mathus is co-pilot as the three set the place on fire and reach light speed with their playing. So much for slowing down sugar!

Two more sonic numbers that are meaner than hell are “Flip Flops” and “Git’er’Gon.’” Both have a “Jimi Hendrix beyond the gates of fire” drive that makes the Kittens toss their hair and slink while the Kats are pumpin’ their fist and nodding their heads. “Flip Flops,” a rough lament about the annoyance of a girl’s footwear is even followed by “Flip Flops- Slight Return.” Need I say more?

“Git’er’Gon” is by far the “tuffest” track on “Dead Cat Bounce.” The boys are driven to madness and take you along for the ride. Dickinson hits the skin off his kit, while the others must have burned through at least one set of strings each with that much heat coming off the fret boards. This one will be spinning for awhile on my stereo.

These gentlemen work well together, from Lisi’s gravely, guitar slinger baritone to Mathus’ funky ass bass lines and Dickinson’s drumming mastery, which is always solid either on a shuffle or banging out “Tommy gun fast” rumble beats. John Lisi has a powerhouse team of house rockers at his side with these two southern gents. I hope this line-up sticks for the next CD and tour as well.

Speaking of house rockers, the second band from my friends at 219 Records simply call themselves Cashman, after the guitar-, dobro-, and bootbox-playing vocalist Ray. Accompanying him on the harmonica is Grant A. Brown and popping in on bass, stella guitar, and snare for four tracks is our hero Jimbo Mathus.

Cashman has a solid roadhouse blues sound throughout Texassippi Stomp. The vocals are strong and mean as he stomps out beats and picks and slides us into a frenzy on blazing blues rockers such as the opening “Black” or “Whatcha Doing?”

Hitting just as hard and fast are tunes such as “Pistol Blues” and the “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”-inspired “Long Road.” Two more driving blues tunes that give you the feeling of biker bars with “tuff” guys named Sonny hanging around buying drinks and ready to throw down with any one stupid enough to step out of line. While holding these tunes together is Brown’s thumping, driving, train whistle “harp” skills. Each track is propelled forward and crashes into the next by his smoke stack attack

These fellas can slow it down as well and still work you over with low-down tunes like “Reefer Headed Women” and the back porch blues of “Baby” and “Trouble’s On The Way.” “Baby” finds Brown playing his best Mississippi Delta harp while “Trouble’s” got him moving west and sounding like a lonely cowhand at the end of a long drive. Cashman’s dobro playing takes center stage here and adds to the western ballad feel. Hell, these boys should put out an album of tough guy cowboy classics and move some more records.

So there you have it. Two driving and edgy blues albums from an independent label that knows good roots rock when they hear it. So here’s to good old-fashioned “tuff” music that reminds you that one beer bottle is for drinking out of while the other stays half full for bustin’ on heads. Thanks, 219 Records, and keep ‘em comin’.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

ER - The Complete Seventh Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

Not too much; not too little; Just right.

Even with the absence of George Clooney and Julianna Marguilies, this is a fine season of ER, though it may be considered the beginning of the end. Strewn with storylines that will eventually lead to the departure of several key members of the ER staff, this season still contains enough of the original cast being vulnerable, strong, humorous, and serious to keep any fan of the series or of episodic television happy.

Where this season fails is a general loss of focus on the patients and their stories. This season is about the development of the characters on staff. Though not necessarily a bad thing, it does stray from the foundation on which the show was built i.e.: the patient’s stories. Luckily the writing is strong enough that we don’t mind the departure. We don’t mind it in season seven. Eventually, any true fan of the show will grow tired of the focus shift, but not here.

Noah Wiley as Dr. Carter really comes into his own in this season as we begin to see him take more of a leadership role in preparation for…well, that’s not to be discussed in a review of this season. Developments in the lives of Dr. Benton (Eriq La Salle), Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) and Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) are at the forefront of this season and definitely keep the audience intrigued.

As previously mentioned, there is a good amount of humor this season. Paul McCrane as Rocket Roman is at his antagonizing best, but it is Greene and Corday dealing with Poison Ivy in the first episode that creates some of the funniest moments in the season and possibly the series.

Season seven is highlighted with guest appearances by Sally Field playing the mother of Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) and James Cromwell as a terminally ill Bishop. Their respective storylines run through several episodes and are well written and brilliantly acted.

As in previous season releases, the extras are few, the gag reels seem forced, and the packaging is bland. What stands out in season seven is the writing. You would not have to be a fan of the show to enjoy these episodes. They stand strongly on their own.

Recommendation: Get two and give one away as a gift. It’s a great season to get someone hooked on the show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Written by Jámon Y. Huevos

Korean director BONG Joon-ho has created the most memorable “monster” movie in decades with his beautiful film The Host. Taking place in present day South Korea, The Host is about three generations of a family dealing with the disappearance of their youngest member, Hyun-seo. When an extremely large catfish-looking, monkey-climbing, human-consuming, chemically-created monster comes out of the river to wreak havoc on the locals, it’s up to Hyun-seo’s father, aunt, uncle, and grandfather to ignore their idiotic government and rescue her before she loses her life to a gruesome digestive process.

There is so much to praise about The Host, but the most astounding accomplishment is its ability to walk the thin line between humor and pathos. BONG Joon-ho somehow finds a way to get the audience to laugh while a family mourns and to feel like crying while government clowns make a mockery of dealing with an emergency. This is done by paying attention to depth of character in the way that only Jaws has accomplished previously. You want the family to achieve its goals; you want the government to be knocked down; you want the host to find peace in a society it neither created nor necessarily wants to be forced to live in.

There is a long-standing theory that to show the monster is to kill the effect. When examining Aliens, we can agree that this theory is not always correct: it is not necessarily what the monster looks like, it is how it is utilized. The monster in The Host is especially frightening because it invariably shows up in broad daylight, in full view, and moving fast, fast, fast. There will be complainers about the realism of the CGI in spots. To this, I say, deal with it. The audience is told in the first thirty seconds that the real monster here is governments that wish to clean up what they have decided is dirty in this world. And, believe me, those monsters couldn’t be more lifelike. If you cannot take a jab about American warmongering, then this film is not for you; the gloves are off here, and the United States (and, to a lesser degree, the South Korean government) takes a brutal, funny beating in every other scene.

The Host is the end result of pitch-perfect directing, acting, writing, cinematography, special effects, and two pinches of luck and charm. It will make you laugh while it frightens you. The Host reaches the greatest heights of filmmaking and is a gift to those of us who believe movies can not only be entertaining, but also stand as great art.

Monday, May 21, 2007

TRUE GRIT (Special Collector's Edition)

Written by Fantasma el Rey

This year we celebrate one hundred years of John Wayne, his life and his work. He is one of cinema’s greatest heroes and an American icon. In True Grit we get to see him shine in the role that won him an Oscar for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn.

Set in Arkansas but filmed in Colorado, True Grit is the tale of a young girl, Mattie Ross, (Kim Darby) set on avenging the death of her father. To aid her on her mission she hires one of the best U.S. Marshals around in the old, rough and tough Rooster Cogburn (Wayne). Her father’s killer also murdered a Texas senator, so he is also sought by a wet-behind-the-ears Texas Ranger named La Boeuf (Glen Campbell). Together they set out on a wild adventure into Indian Territory, present day Oklahoma, to find this killer and unknowingly take on the gang that he is currently running with.

There are many themes and views expressed in this film that I didn’t catch before watching True Grit as a youth. Mattie’s boyish look and dominant position in her household is due to the fact that she is filling the role of eldest son. She takes care of business at home and after her father’s death sets out to kill the man responsible.

Kim Darby’s role of strong female is twofold. During the film’s setting of the late 1800s and the film’s making in 1968, both were periods of change for women in America. In the 1800s you can see Mattie going on to play a key role in women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. Note how she is always trying to get Rooster to put the bottle down. In ‘68 women were on the march again, no longer accepting the role of traditional housewives and demanding equal treatment. At times on the set, Wayne saw her as an intruder in the “boy’s club.”

Throughout the film, especially in the courtroom scene and when he kills a rat, Rooster’s philosophy applies to the then-current positions of Wayne on American society and involvement in Vietnam. As you watch the film keep your eyes open and pay attention because this film has a lot to say about America and its history.

True Grit is also packed with outstanding performances from many fine actors. The film’s stars work well together. There is a tension that brings out the best in each one, keeping them sharp of wit yet not making them seem as if they truly dislike one anther. On the contrary, they actually care for each other very much. Rooster finds Mattie reminds him of himself and he wouldn’t use all those playful nicknames if he didn’t see some thing to like in Ranger La Boeuf.

A couple of young actors, who would become legends, play outlaws. Even though we only see him for five minutes, Dennis Hopper is authentic as Moon due to his focus and concern about his wounded leg. As gang leader Ned Pepper, Robert Duvall brings a personable vibe to Rooster’s foe. Listen as they talk, you can see that they know each other and at one time may have even gotten along but sides were chosen and paths taken that put them on opposite sides of the law.

This brings me to another fact about this film. It contains one of the greatest showdowns in Western film history. Hell, make that film history in general. One man against four, all mounted with weapons loaded. The stage is set, the meadow is clear. Rooster states his terms for Ned Pepper, who responds by insulting the Marshall, calling him a “one-eyed fat man.” Rooster’s reply is an all-time classic and ranks with the best movie lines ever. After giving a surprised “I’ll show you” look, Rooster yells out, “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch,” puts the reins in his mouth, charging straight into them while firing both pistol and rifle. Earlier in a quiet moment, Rooster tells of how in his younger days he did something similar to some “New Mexicans.” That’s all I’m going to say about the showdown. Watch it for your self, its better that way.

The collector’s edition of True Grit has some very good special features. The writing of the book and screenplay are compared and contrasted. There are reflections of the cast on working with John Wayne, and a tour of the locations. Western historians of both film and real life adventures provide the commentary. Jeb and J. Stuart Rosebrook along with Bob Boze Bell provide fascinating stories and little know facts about the movie and true-life events that helped to shape the films own exciting tale.

From start to finish True Grit is much like the Duke’s own life exciting: straightforward and filled with humor. He was one of the best that Westerns had to offer and still today we think “what would a certain cowboy role be if Duke was at the reins,” driving the lines home and walking that unmistakable John Wayne walk.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Rush: Snakes and Arrows

Written by Fumo Verde

As an avid surfer, I always have a tune in my head to keep me in rhythm, and Rush’s Snakes & Arrows has a collection of songs that will keep me charging all the way through summer. The album drops in like a heavy wave at the Wedge with power not only in the music but in the lyrics as well, tapping into the Rush of old by combining the storytelling of the past with the ideas and passions of the present. Charging guitar solos, ripping bass lines, and the hard working drive of one of the world’s greatest drummers creates the fetch for the new swell of Rush rock while questions about the very ideals we believe we should stand are examined.

Whisking one away to the past or opening one’s eyes to world events are ideas that fill this album. "Far Cry" and "Armor and Sword" differ in their musical aspect; the latter has the tone of elder songs such as “Red Sector A” or “Witch Hunt,” but both question our humanism and ask us to look in the mirror carefully. In the song "Armor and Sword" the lyrics are "Sometimes the damage is too great/ Or the will is too weak/ What should have been our armor/ Becomes a sharp and burning sword./ A refuge for the coming night./ A future of eternal light./ No one gets to their heaven without a fight." These words ask us the reasons we as humans are so quick to get into a conflict with each other. Similar ideas are expressed in "Far Cry," the opening track that bursts in like Vikings on a rampage. The trio crash down like a pipeline in late December and hold that beat throughout the song as the lyrics remind you, "It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit./ It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it."

Complex lyrics blended with the intricate and ever-changing instrumental structures have always been the mark of a good Rush album, and S&A has them. "The Larger Bowl" is a pantoum, a rare form of poetry where the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next and the first line of the poem is the last. Again, Neil Peart shows us his intellect as Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson show theirs by fitting chords and beats, making this song one of my favorites on this CD. With few words Rush can open such big doors where giant questions lay. "The golden one or scarred from birth/ some things can never be changed/ such a lot of pain on this earth / it's somehow so badly arranged." Yet not all the songs on this CD are socially energized. Tracks such as "Spindrift" and "Workin' Them Angels" open a window into the life of wordsmith Peart. One can hear his pain and his joy as he puts it all out there with no regrets, and for those reasons alone I admire this man.

Writing profound lyrics with amazing melodies isn't anything new for Rush, yet S&A has a harder edge, as "The Main Monkey Business" will prove. One of three instrumentals, it keeps Rush at that fine edge their fans have come to adore. "Hope" is guitar only and was composed and performed by Lerxst Lifeson (that's what it said in the liner notes). My hats off to Lerxst for this composition is beautiful and brings my mind back to trips into the Arizona desert, as Lerxst's guitar leads the way.

This CD has brought me back into the Rush fold, and even if the band moves into another direction with the next album, this one is a testament to a band that isn't afraid of making rock music with a point. "Faithless" is a song that holds true to that statement. "I don't have faith in faith/ I don't believe in belief./ You can call me faithless/ But I still cling to hope/ And I believe in love/ And that's faith enough for me." These men will stand behind what they believe in and aren't scared of some old crone who challenges others while skirting around the faults of those she supports.

I have to say that Counterparts, Test for Echo, and Vapor Trails left me wondering if Rush was still the same band I was looking for. I know bands change over time, that's a given, they have to if they want to succeed. Snakes & Arrows will go down as another change in the direction of Rush and one that will bring them a legacy of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. The music is pure Rush while the words cut and sting like the lip smack of a cold winter wave. The melodies will keep you moving as the lyrics make you think, and thinking leads to change, and change is what these modern day Tom Sawyers are all about.

If you get a chance to see Rush this summer, make it so. Look me for me on the lawn in Irvine with El Bicho.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Animal Liberation Orchestra: Roses and Clover

Written by Fumo Verde

Hey katz and kittenz, it's Fumo here with the new CD by Animal Liberation Orchestra and let me tell you, this is one of the reasons why I do this job. Roses & Clover plays as sweet as the name proclaims with its gentle blend of rock, jazz, and rhythm and blues-- prepare yourself for a journey. With melodies and harmonies reflective of the sounds of the ‘70s and lyrics that echo the feelings of today, ALO has captured the magic of Steely Dan and Boz Skaggs, bands with the musical talent to play and write. ALO crafts each song to perfection and Roses & Clover proves that right here.

I'm still debating which song is my favorite. Out of the ten tracks I have yet hit a song where I could say, "This wasn't needed here," or "How does this fit with the rest of the album?" I've had this CD for four days and haven't stopped playing it. As I write this, “Water Song” is playing. Reminiscent of James Taylor, there’s a feeling of being out on the open range with the crickets chirping, as the lone piano comes into play. "Canyons carved by oceans beneath a light of a billion stars./ The Old ones knew the truth about us,/ the purpose is to be just what we are." If you were ever looking for deep lyrics that really make sense, ALO is that band. This song rolls through your mind like a river, reflecting the pictures of your life in their words. If this tune doesn't get you back to thinking of things that you once held near and dear, then I don't know what will.

Each song has that similar sensation to it, giving the listener a chance to engage the images and emotions that flow thru words. “Maria” is a love song and the lead track off the album. It opens with the piano pumping out that '70s feel-good sound, which made its way into almost every film soundtrack from that decade. This song gives me the idea of jumping in my truck and taking a ride on the 101 heading north towards Ventura, but then I remember that this is 2007 and I could play this disc five time over while sitting in stop-and-go traffic on the 10, but I would still be in the "get out of town" mode.

“Try” has more of the R&B root to it but with a funk twist. If the slapping of the bass doesn't get you, the organ’s wha wha pedal will. It even sounds like they had a little bit of a brass section drop in to play. With an old blues beat, “Roses & Clover” taps into the funky blues with a tiny drop of jazz. “Monday” has a jazz/rock essence to it with its easy drumbeat, soft guitar riffs, and backing vocal harmonies. It becomes that Monday morning commute song that wakes you up smoothly as you drink your coffee on the drive into work. “Shine” slows the album down, adding more of a jazz aspect while giving the song a European flair from what sounds like a harmonica. This song makes me imagine Paris in the rain with all the people biking around.

Although each song is different from the next, one gets the impression that ALO wants you to use your mind when listing to their music, which isn't a bad idea nowadays. If people weren't taking ALO seriously, the better start now. A contemporary album with an old school flavor, Roses & Clover is sweet and sharp like its namesake. It may not get the airplay some of the other “music” out there is getting but it does deserve respect.

One last thing, see these guys in concert. It is well worth it.