The Metal Minute Awarded 2009 Best Personal Blog By Metal Hammer Magazine

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Back from the dead, Happy New Year, Titan review

Hello, all, it's been a trying month, to say the least...I've been fighting an intestinal virus this week that had me down three days in bed. Today's the first day I feel reasonably alive and it's dawned on me how much I've lost in three days!

Wife is in Missouri, I'm sick and alone except for two cats who have faithfully laid on me to protect me in bed, and today I finally wanted to knock out a couple of reviews to slowly get back on track. Below is an immediate knockout that's going to be released in February of 2007. This one just devastated me.

A happy new year to each and every one of you! I will check in at your blogs momentarily...

A Raining Sun of Light and Love, For You and You and You…
Tee Pee Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Stoner rock? Absolutely. Doom metal? Sure, there’s plenty of that here. EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER on a bad acid trip? You mean they didn’t do acid? YES on a deep foray with PENTAGRAM? We’re getting closer. What we have here is an extraordinary slab of distorted progression with hardly a yeoman’s touch. TITAN sounds like they plucked a demon’s jawbone for a guitar pick to strum the massive tones they expunge on A Raining Sun of Light and Love, For You and You and You… hold up while I take a drink after reciting that…

This is a grossly unexpected (and delectable) shot to the dome with heaps of psychedelic and quadraphonic showers amidst the SABBATH and BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY acid lines. Each track is a lengthy soundscape that bridges the bombast of the sixties with the excessiveness of early seventies prog, brought to a head with a modern sensibility to sculpt from both eras using eclectic contemporary thought. If WITCHCRAFT was impressive with their driving Firewood album that likewise borrows liberally from the past, then TITAN has assimilated far more in its gargantuan epics that will make you realize that YES really was prog’s greatest inception and that CANNED HEAT, BLUE CHEER and URIAH HEEP have more to offer today’s metal artists than one might realize.

TITAN is exactly where I hoped doom and drop-tuned metal would be heading in 2007. Somehow, by listening to this album, you feel like you missed out on something spectacular back in the day but are grateful that TITAN has captured it for us now. If you thought KYUSS set the genre on a progressive course, look the hell out. I feel confident you won’t be the same after submitting yourselves to this astonishing debut. An early candidate for one of the year’s best.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cool Christmas Albums: Reverend Horton Heat - We Three Kings

Looks rather quiet out there, save for the spammers! Well, for those of you still lurking around Blogland, here's another cool holiday album I played frequently this season, Reverend Horton Heat's We Three Kings.

As I can't get enough Brian Setzer lately, aside from the psychobilly acts out there like Nekromantix and Tiger Army, I really dig the Reverend as well for his contributions to the style; in fact, after Setzer and the Stray Cats brought about the rockabilly revival in the eighties, it was the Rev who took it one step further, and I was quite happy when I found We Three Kings in my stocking last year.

While I jokingly kept waiting to hear holiday ditties about weed or cowpunching, We Three Kings is a straightforward rock 'n roll Christmas record that is fun from start to finish. Though the Rev is not quite Setzer, he is a pretty underrrated guitarist in his own right. When I saw him play live a couple of years ago, I came to that conclusion, so when you hear him blues it up on "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" or "Frosty the Snowman," it's a nice, if not predictible rockout session that scatters throughout the disc.

Most especially cool are the instrumentals for "Jingle Bells" and "What Child is This," two rapid-paced rockabilly numbers that are closest to what you'd expect from the Rev's manic brand of rock huckstery. While "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Pretty Paper" are slightly dry renditions, We Three Kings is still a far-out bit of holiday cheer, so start daydreaming of your favorite Betty Page look-alike in an elf costume and crank this one up...

I'll round out my brief little Cool Christmas Albums section next with Mr. Setzer himself...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Rolling Stones: Truth and Lies DVD

The Rolling Stones
Truth and Lies DVD
Eagle Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Okay, so let’s look past the fact this is one of those documentaries made under the radar, which means the British producers had licensing limitations, hence there are no original Stones songs to be found anywhere. There’s a cool early Kinks-like riff line that pops up intermittently, so that’ll have to do, I suppose. Normally that spells disappointment to my eyes, but actually, Truth and Lies is a pretty decent bit of fast-paced knuckleball reporting.

About two years ago I read Stephen Davis’ sharply-written book Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones and most of it was far from shocking, considering I was a wee sprat when a lot of the Stones’ most notorious media moments occurred, and not even alive during the Swinging London era that churned these supposedly roughneck pop sensations into rock history. Yeah, I figured there was a lot of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll…even The Beatles couldn’t escape the miasma of rock ‘n roll hedonism. Sure, we’ve all figured Mick Jagger can probably boast as many bed partners as Gene Simmons, and I suspected the once-puritanical Marianne Faithfull (for you young ‘uns, known as the old crone da da da da voice for Metallica’s “The Memory Remains”) was a bit of a circle jerk cracker for the Stones altogether. Keith Richards is Keith Richards…future history bears his forlorn pastiche as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s almost painful to see Richards surrender a lot of the lead guitar duties to Ron Wood, as much as it is to hear the Stones piss and drone, bored out of their minds through “Satisfaction” today. Charlie Watt seems as deadpan as his drumming technique, and then there’s Brian Jones…

One thing I never knew was how much of a rat bastard Brian Jones was. Truth and Lies lends suggestion to Jones’ immoralities, but have a read in Davis’ book, and you’ll unravel that while Brian Jones was a gifted guitarist, the “soul” of the Rolling Stones in their sixties heyday (which this DVD accurately denotes), he was reportedly a soulless creep who punched the crap out of his girlfriends and wallowed in his own misery, seeking acceptance, then crushing it once he had it. Sadly, one of rock’s bigger tragedies.

Naturally when you’re the longest-running rock ‘n roll band in history, you can’t precisely contain a life documentary to a mere hour and a half. However, Truth and Lies steams ahead with the Stones’ foundation and rise to popularity in the wake of The Beatles, a time when Andrew Loog Oldham (who I listen to almost every night on the commute home on Sirius radio’s Underground Garage) had the savvy to realize the Stones were the potential antichrists to the wholesome fa├žade The Beatles projected.

However, was all of this bad boy imagery of the Stones a sham? Were they, in fact, the Backstreet Boys of their time, a possible corporate package that has sold a ridiculous amount of records over four decades? That’s what Truth and Lies purports as it goes along, even as it spends gratuitous time hashing over the Stones’ multiple court infractions for weed and drug possession. As The Beatles were likewise dragged into this mess, the suspicion of witch hunting through Swinging London is obvious, and the rejection of conformity and conservatism lingering in both England and the United States at the time of the British Invasion contributed to the Stones’ popularity. Everyone likes the bad guys; many are just too afraid to admit it. That element of danger is why the Stones sold like they did.

While the attendance of the vibrant sounds of the Stones’ earlier works would’ve made Truth and Lies nearly indispensable, what it does present is some fabulous footage that not even the rock channels are able to cough up. From the coif hairdo of mod maven Mary Quant to Mick Jagger’s defense of marijuana legalization to the infamous Altamont incident to the band’s eventual breakups and reunions to some pretty harrowing facades of Brian Jones that perhaps substantiates a few stories, Truth and Lies is a neat outsider’s look with a number of insider’s materials. The quirky film piece of the Stones hitchhiking on the side of the road with people obliviously passing them by is perhaps the last time you’ll see footage of them without a mob scene around them. So that leaves the final question: were the Stones for real or were they posers who still became rock ‘n roll’s living testament? I’ll leave that to you to ponder.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cool Christmas Albums: Bing Crosby - Merry Christmas

There was a time somewhere between my childhood and my adult life where it was considered way uncool to admit liking Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, all of those old-time crooners that were beloved by America so much in their day. I always laugh at the early Looney Tunes cartoons where they used Bing and Frank caricatures in various characters quite frequently. One in particular was the skinny rooster that was supposed to be a young Sinatra that had all the hens swooning left and right.

For us future generations, I think it's fair to say these alto supremes were a part of our young lives, whether it was the Bing Crosby Christmas special on CBS that is now famous for the duet with David Bowie on "What Child Is This." I picture of a warm living room with the aroma of fresh baked cookies, a lit Christmas tree, snow outside, unopened presents, cartoons on the t.v. with sound turned down as Bing croons those wonderful Christmas carols.

As an adult, I still feel maybe a little weird playing Bing at my cubicle with people around me, still wondering whether or not it's tres lame to not be playing Brian Setzer or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but one has to let go of such insecurities and accept that it's cool being true to yourself, even if you're listening to something that's outright corny but still purely Christmas in its own right.

I think of Bing's renditions of "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" with The Andrews Sisters, and how they appear in one of my favorite films of all-time, A Christmas Story. I think of that World War II era and how simplistic life appears in comparison to our overcomplicated society of today. You have to figure all is relative to its time and place, given The Depression that preceded and a global conflict that could've destroyed the face of life as we know it now, and somehow Bing's voice gives comfort overtop it all, so much that life isn't so bad after all.

It's unique that so many of Bing's songs on this album are all standards you hear on the radio, even on Sirius satellite. “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Silver Bells,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen…” I don’t think one person has ever had so much representation in single plays other than Bing. Even as things move forward and we’re all in such a hurry for this, that and the other thing, particularly since progress demands we keep pace, it’s nice that a throwback sound like Bing’s brings so much slow-paced comfort to a rapid-paced society as we have. That, and how can you not smile during “Mele Kalikimaka” and not think of Martin Scorsece’s neice stripping on the diving board in Chevy Chase’s dream sequence during Christmas Vacation? Ahhhh…..

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cool Christmas Albums - Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not only is A Charlie Brown Christmas required viewing each season, so much that I actually ache for those York Peppermint Patty (ironic they'd sponsor Peanuts, eh?) and Almond Joy ads, not that I've watched it on network in over a decade, thanks to video, but the soundtrack gets an obligatory five spins minimum during the holiday season.

Vince Guaraldi is responsible for turning me onto jazz because when I finally listened to A Charlie Brown Christmas without the images of Charlie Brown's echoing voice in his empty mailbox and Linus hurling snowballs with his blanket, I marveled at the simplicity of the jazz trio format and how vibrant it sounded. I thought of the fifties and sixties hepcats, the Looney Tunes cartoon "Three Little Bops" and how that whole toon was done in swing music, and then I traced back to Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, the foundations of jazz.

Now as I get older, I'm really, really fond of that fifties/sixties period of jazz, so much that every trip I've taken to New York City has found me bringing home a different Art Blakey disc, and I'm just nuts over this period of jazz. I owe it all to Vince Guaraldi and A Charlie Brown Christmas and the way it struts through "O Tannenbaum" and sways breezily through "What Child is This" and "Christmas is Coming." I love how Guaraldi weaves a tapestry of scaling notes on "Skating," and the bluesy rag of the instrumental portion of "Christmas Time is Here." I just love it. And of course, this album has the definitive rendition of the Peanuts anthem "Linus and Lucy."

For me, the anti-materialism rants Charlie Brown spews during A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most powerful messages about the season, yet it's hopeless. As he realizes, commercialism is what reminds people to celebrate the season, much less get caught up in it. It's inescapable, no matter how hard you try to separate yourself from the mad-dog pace of the holiday season, yet I always feel that Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack here is one of the best calming factors of Christmas. It really does force you to slow down, chill out, spin the blue light a little bit, and that's just magical...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Coming up...

So I just got done reviewing the upcoming Megadeth DVD "That One Night: Live in Buenos Aires" and it's fabulous! South America is so much better for metal than North America. As I've seen on other DVDs for even Grave Digger, the South Americans are fiercely loyal, and it's incredible to listen to them yell "MEGADETH! MEGADETH! AMORE MEGADETH!" in tandem to the verse riffs on "Symphony of Destruction."

I've also spun the new Richie Kotzen album a bunch of times this week, definitely my pick of the week if I had to give one. But anywho, I thought of a ton of topics on the way home for future posts, so let me put some of them out there for your consideration:

My top 10 live acts I saw in 2006

My top 10 non-metal albums

Cool Christmas albums

A continuing thread of greatest drummers, guitarists and vocalists

Continuation of Movies That I Escape To

Another Random Shelf Review

Songs That Get Your Fires Going

Bob Vinyl had a terrific idea about formulating 10 essential albums you'd put in front of a new metal fan

So, that'll keep me busy for sure. If there's any topics out there you all would like me to tackle, fire them over. I am also thinking about doing a guest blogger once a month, so if I have any volunteers, it'll be open-ended, your choice. Thank you as always for dropping in.... Peace...

Lauryn Hill - MTV Unplugged 2.0

I remember initially disliking The Fugees because they committed the cardinal music sin (to my eyes anyway) of scoring off of a cover tune of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly," what I like to refer to as "The Linda Rondstadt Syndrome." I wasn't even that impressed with "Ready Or Not," for that matter. Hell, The Fugees outdo A Flock of Seagulls for having a Greatest Hits album with hardly any back catalog to draw from! One album? Jesus.

Nevertheless, I came around a little later and unearthed The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill out of the bargain bin a few years later and realized I'd grossly underestimated this deeply charismatic and frequently intense singer. I started paying attention when Wyclef Jean went solo as well and the rumor mills started going round that the two former bandmates had a thing for each other then suddenly nothing for each other. Pretty good drama, wouldn't you say? I didn't quite get hip to Wyclef's stuff, not that I think it's bad, but Lauryn Hill as a solo artist really made me wake up.

When you stop and look at India Arie, Alicia Keys and Erykah Badu, all artists I dig a lot, it was Lauryn who opened the doors for them, just as many other female soul singers opened them for Lauryn herself.

When in New York earlier this year, I picked up a book by the Rolling Stone writer Toure, who compiled some of his best interviews in a book called Never Drank the Kool Aid and while I was studying his techniques for my own purposes, I really took to his article on Lauryn Hill, because it came out around her performance for MTV Unplugged.

I remember when MTV and the media made a big to-do about Hill dropping out of the mainstream and coming out with a hard spiritual attack in her performance, and moreover, I was offended they lambasted her for it. In Toure's interview, Hill mentions that the explosive fame she'd found was too much to bear, so much that she couldn't meet its demands.

Lauryn dropped out and met Rohan Marley, son of the late Bob Marley, and the epiphany is more than apparent. Never mind Toure's article, the effect Rohan had on Hill is heard throughout the MTV Unplugged concert. It took me until seeing a clip of it on VH-1 Soul to hunt this album down and I found it in the library.

The pure soul Hill bares in this performance is gut-wrenching. Some people might get turned off that she tells stories between her acoustic jams, but it is the story of poor girl suddenly thrust into the limelight then finding the courage to reject it and find a more righteous path. Her relationship with Rohan Marley led to marriage, and listening to her swoon loud and proud on this concert, I personally was leveled by the integrity of her singing, much less her hard acoustic strumming.

This was a woman baring her inner being to the audience at-hand, and to hear critics thereafter get on Lauryn's case for revealing her spiritual side, well... It just goes to show you how much the American music scene has de-valued over the years. When a group called The Cheetah Girls are selling bucko bucks and album units, I think that tells you what you need to know, right?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Movies I Escape Reality With: The Empire Strikes Back

The older I get, the more I start to see idiosyncrisies, flubs and foils in my favorite movies, and that really pisses me off, because I'm sometimes content to just embrace what is, but subconsciously the journalist comes out when I'm not even meaning to, and that's what happened when I watched The Empire Strikes Back last night.

I think this is the greatest of the six Star Wars films because it's dramatic, explosive, energetic, full of action, humor and eye-popping spectacle, plus it's the best-written film of the entire saga. The chemistry from the core characters of Luke, Han, Chewie, Leia, Yoda, Threepio and Artoo are the main selling point, but add in Lando Calrissian and even his bodyguard Lobot, or add the bounty hunters to the Empire's batch of fiendish henchmen (even if Boba Fett is the only one with other scenes), and Empire just oozes with greatness. Flinging from the ice planet Hoth to the outer realms of space including the asteroid field that gives some of the series' coolest action effects, to the swamp world of Dagobah and the particularly dreamy Tibana gas realm of Cloud City, and this is what pure movie escapism means to me.

The fact that I get all hyped for Han and Leia's first kiss every time I watch Empire is something I laugh at myself for, because that makes me a sentimental idiot. Of course, some people are likewise gaga for Rhett Butler and Scarlett O' know these are mismatched couples but you still want them to get it on nonetheless!

I remember I was 10 years old when Empire came out in 1980 and I just recall life being a lot simpler then, not just because I was a kid with zero responsiblity other than schlepping up the hill to school. Seeing the original Star Wars in 1977 at age 7 remains the greatest moviegoing experience I've ever had, but Empire was likewise a memorable moment, because it was a new decade, a climate of uncertainty, the beginning of a new presidency featuring a former Hollywood star and former governor, and all I cared about was how the rebels were going to get away from Darth Vader. At the same time, I wanted Vader to catch them and everybody go berserk on each other. That's what was so great about the original trilogy; you liked the good guys and the bad guys together. Talk about chemistry. As much as you wanted to boo Vader for torturing Han then freezing his smart ass in carbonite, you quietly wanted him and Luke to bond and kick the shit out of the Emperor, as much as a facade as that proposition was.

Throw in the conscience of the whole series, Yoda, and this is how Star Wars evolved from a sci-fi popcorn film into something with a lot more meaning and longevity. I will still take the puppet Yoda over the CGI Yoda any day!

I remember buying all the different series of Empire trading cards and the Burger King glasses, the t-shirts, posters, all the Kenner action figures, vehicles and accessories, the whole mom even got me the paperback novel before the movie came out and I debated real hard over whether I should read it or leave the movie a surprise. I opted for the latter, and begged my parents, who were then divorced, to take me to the movie immediately. I got lucky and they both did! My stepfather, who had already established himself in our household, showed his coolness by getting my stepbrother and stepsister for a family roundup in the theater. A week later he had a Yoda action figure on his dresser.

I wish I hadn't wondered how the AT-ATs could get onto Hoth if the Rebels' shield was strong enough to repel the Imperial firepower, and how freaking silly it seems that Vader needed the AT-ATs to wipe the shield out before making his approach. How'd those AT-ATs get there in the first place? And speaking of, why do we see two AT-ATs in one frame after the Rebels tripped one up and destroyed it, only to see three again in a future sequence? Damn, that other one really hauled ass, didn't it?

That's the fucked-up thing about growing up; it tinkers with your suspense of disbelief. I really was angry I spotted these problems in Empire last night, because this is one of my favorite movies of all-time and when I really need to get the hell away from life, it's where I go. I want to be in Cloud City with a lightsaber battling stormtroopers and telling Boba Fett to piss off, he can't have Han. Of course, I always loved Boba like most kids of the eighties, because he was so damned cool-looking, even if he didn't do shit. I want a Wookie for a friend, too, because every time someone made me mad, he'd throttle the snot out of them!

And then why Lucas had to go nuts at the very end with the implanted quick-time scenes of Vader leaving Cloud City to his Star Destroyer. It clutters the main sequence of Luke getting onto the Falcon and thus saved for another story, and while I like the other things Lucas did in the Special Edition of Empire, like give us more Wampa and touched up Cloud City, the fact he took out the original Emperor and put in the one from the first three movies in his twisted idea of continuity (not to mention having Hayden Christiansen at the end of the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi) kind of spoils the memory of being in the theater when it originally came out.

Screw adulthood...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ray's Year-End Metal Picks for Metal Maniacs and AMP mags

Sorry to be on the slack, friends, been starting to feel alive again and getting rid of some of the ugly stressors in my life, bit-by-bit. Still a ways to go, but I haven't felt this good in about a month. Last Friday we were in NYC, which I always love going to, Brian Setzer has been setting a happy mood to my ears...if you haven't seen his Christmas DVD, holy hell, get thee gone and watch, dammit...the Christmas blitz is full-on with shopping, weekend get-togethers and I just did all the cards last night, whew...the promos are stacking up once again before the industry goes on a two-and-a-half week hiatus, so lordee, I have my work cut out as usual. Both my wife and I are doing two jobs, so check in and make sure we're alive in a few weeks, willya?

I also interviewed The Mountain King himself, Jon Oliva, of Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra/Doctor Butcher/Jon Oliva's Pain last night and Kip Winger last Thursday. Both of these gents carry a lot of anguish from the loss of loved ones and I hear it in their voices, though Oliva was rather congenial despite his exhaustion. You probabaly know Jon lost his brother Criss (Savatage's main guitarist) years ago, but maybe you didn't know that Kip Winger's wife was tragically killed a few years back, so despite my personal doldrums, I realized by talking to these guys that there's a far worse depression and pain to live with.

So anyway, let me finally divulge my year-end metal picks to you guys. I can say that this year has been terrific for metal overall, even though the metalcore sanction is likely going to spell its demise. I'm sick to death of the formulaic breakdowns that are littering over 60% of the discs hitting my desk, and I'm on a crusade to get musicians to recognize it now before metal dies off again because of it. It's the same pattern as the hair bands, only quicker because there's so many bands now.

On the positive side, doom and drop-kicked metal are on the rise and getting better and better. Black metal is getting commercialized unfortunately, but there are a number of very creative and eloquent acts that are so talented you don't even think of them as black metal, and a number of them made my cut this year. The reissues are plentiful and most welcome. Obviously a lot of older bands are making another attempt, and that's either to your liking or it isn't. Some have been miss, some have been a pleasant surprise.

With that, here's my final countdown of my personal favorite metal albums for 2006. The top 10 was for Metal Maniacs, while the whole 25 went to my column in AMP magazine.

For my non-metal readers, please stand by, I will be coming up with more topical things shortly... Peace, all...

Ray Van Horn, Jr.’s Immaculate Receptions of 2006

1. ISIS – In the Absence of Truth
2. MASTODON – Blood Mountain
3. BORIS – Pink
4. AMON AMARTH – With Oden On Our Side
5. CELTIC FROST – Monotheist
6. VADER – The Art of War
7. LUDICRA – Fex Urbis Lex Orbis
8. GOJIRA – From Mars to Sirius
9. IRON MAIDEN – A Matter of Life and Death
10. OBLOMOV – Mighty Cosmic Dances
12. NACHTMYSTIUM – Instinct: Decay
14. ENSLAVED – Ruun
15. AGALLOCH – Ashes Against the Grain
16. EYES OF FIRE – Prisons
17. QUEENSRYCHE – Operation Mindcrime II
18. ALL THAT REMAINS – The Fall of Ideals
19. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM – Diadem of 12 Stars
20. IHSAHN – The Adversary
21. LAIR OF THE MINOTAUR – The Ultimate Destroyer
22. GOATWHORE – A Haunting Curse
23. DEMIRICOUS – One (Hellbound)
24. MELVINS – A Senile Animal
25. AMORAL - Decrowning

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Appalachian Trail, 007 and Bad Brains - Live at CBGB's 1982

Weird little combo, eh?

So I'm enjoying a little downtime from work and feeling pretty good about that as I try to make some sense out of my spiraling life. After a doctor appointment, I went out hiking in the Pennsylvania mountains and hooked onto a portion of the Appalachian Trail, which spans over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine along the east coast. I have a book on the trail full of pictures and it's quite appealing to just drop out of society and hike until you can't take it anymore. Well, I got a wicked taste of what that trail is like....after hiking two miles of flat terrain to find the trail, I was instantly greeted by an interminable uphill ascension to the point where I was good and tired, so I sat down and with pad and pen started writing a little.

I thought about what my life means to me and what directions I need to go with it. Where do I intend to go with the music business? How much time and energy do I have to devote to it when I have a day job that's frequently time absorbing? Where does a child fit into the schism since we're likely going to have to go the foster and adoption route? I'm sure it doesn't sounds quite as complicated as I'm relaying here, but there's a thousand other smaller factors at stake, so a breath of fresh--albeit a pretty cold one-- was necessary.

I'm not sure I have my answers, but it was nice to get out, trust me, and tomorrow we go up to New York City for the day, and it's our fourth trip this year. My heart sometimes makes me feel like I belong there, but I have enough at home to keep me grounded for awhile.

I also did a little bit of holiday shopping yesterday and picked up the new Decemberists disc and it took something as wonderful as that to pry me away from Sirius radio, wow... I can honestly say I'm stumbling over great music at every turn and it's exhilirating. Afterwards, I went and caught Casino Royale and was the only patron in the whole building, much less the individual theater. Very strange, especially when the staff was so bored they escorted me to the theater and opened the door for me! As for 007, Daniel Craig is a winner (he just may be the true heir apparent to Sean Connery) and so was the film. It was quite long and I actually bought into the fake ending, so kudos to this whole film, and even though I laughed in the opening sequence where detonations and chaos is ensuing but there are still workers going about their business as Bond chases a bomb maker in an otherwise clever and exciting chase scene, Casino Royale really is one of the better Bond films.

Now moving on to the Bad Brains...

Every now and then a band or musician just changes your life for the good. For me, such bands are Iron Maiden, The Beatles, Voivod, Prince, Peter Murphy, System of a Down, The Ramones and of course, the Bad Brains.

These hardcore legends have probably meant more to me as an individual aside from music aficianado. The fact that the Bad Brains were black men playing white man's punk rock with far more sincerity and ferocity really made an impact on me. The fact that when I first heard Rock For Light, I was ignited with such beautiful and righteous anger, only to be brought back to down to calm by the Bad Brains' infusion of pure reggae between their blistering hostility...holy shit, man, what a rush...

And when I heard I Against I shortly thereafter, I knew there was more to this world than what was being presented on the t.v. and in our tunnel-visioned schools. I mean, I had some good teachers, a few I still love to this day, but to realize how much you're gypped in high school and even college--which you pay exorbitantly for--and realize there's a deeper, broader, richer world out there filled with voices literally shrieking to be heard... This is what the Bad Brains opened up to me.

Pride is something you develop; you just don't carry it by nature. You're either groomed by another individual or you gain it on your own, and pride is what you hear out of Bad Brains, and even though vocalist H.R. has had his share of problems over the years, and despite the fact we were taught by our white man's fear that Rastafarians are bloodthirsty killers of whites, the pride of the Bad Brains is what sets them apart from just about every other band that declared themselves punk.

The Bad Brains you see on the Live at CBGB's 1982 DVD isn't one intent on killing their audience in the name of Jah, as we were wrongly led to believe ages ago. The fact that H.R. is comfortable with the fans crowding him onstage and screaming into the mike in a big gang shout, wow, man.... Like The Who says, hope we don't fooled again... This display of unity is what true punk is about, and a lot of the newer hardcore bands--despite being absolutely formulaic in their sound--carry that message and those principles, that unity is the saving grace to fighting prejudice and ignorance, not just in a black versus white manner, but also in a haves versus have nots existence. We unite in the underground because we don't accept what the mainstream has to offer.

While the picture quality of Live at CBGB's 1982 is shaky here and there (it'll be 25 years old next year, for crissakes!) and the camera somehow misses Darryl Jenifer almost the entire time, the raw energy captured on this video is jaw-dropping. It is raucous, exuberant, loud, brutal and cathartic all at once. As the crowd borders on flailing into fistfights throughout the set, tempers prevail and the music is their salvation. The fact that the audience is mixed with black and white is a statement that cannot be overlooked either, because it was rarely done back then, not until Fishbone and especially Living Colour more effectively bridged the color gap in heavy music.

This is why Live at CBGBs' 1982 is an important artifact, not just for its music historical value, but more importantly, it is a poignant cultural statement that seeks a moral right and a sense of justice you won't necessarily find in the courts. The fact that Bad Brains started originally as a jazz fusion band called Mind Power to become one of the most subtly important rock bands in American music history speaks in a triumphant voice calling all nations to Jah, or God, or Yahweh, or Buddha, whatever you want to call the divine entity above...through the Bad Brains, I learned it's all the same deity, even if that probably wasn't their intention. One race under God in the name of music that heals...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Top 5 Favorite Music DVDs of 2006

Too bad I can't get to every music DVD that comes out, considering a ton of promos for free, then meander into a store and see at least five news ones I've just "got to have," so this isn't a real "best-of" list, just my top five that I saw this year. I need to see the new Kiss DVD with all of the old concerts on it...I'm irritated by their obvious whore-mindedness, but this is exactly what I'm interested in seeing. BTW, I got a press release that Peter Criss' wife is putting her own book out on the Kiss experience...

1. Manowar - The Absolute Power - feed this thing through your stereo if you have to, but this is just unbelievable how heavy, loud and awesome it is...four of past Manowar members including Ross the Boss take the stage in various songs including an eight-man-jam for "Battle Hymns." Add high definition, a 200-piece orchestra and a five minute fireworks show, and this is Manowar at its finest DVD hour...God almighty...

2. Motorhead - Stage Fright - likewise...Motorhead are sheer perfection on this DVD and the camera work is the best I've ever seen for Motorhead, crisp and the way the camera swoops from one side of the hall to the other is awesome

3. Before the Music Dies - I did a separate blog piece about this documentary that is utterly thought-provoking...if you hated corporate music before, you'll light the torch and rally a mob after seeing this

4. Nektar - Pure: Live in Germany - my mouth never shut after watching these prog legends at work...only two original members, but so what? The replacements are sheer talent and this is one of the best DVD concerts I've ever seen, period.

5. The Black Crowes - Freak 'n Roll In the Fog - these guys could've been the next Beatles if they wanted it is, they're America's last greatest honky tonk rock band...this concert is pure energy

How about the rest of you?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Random Shelf Review: Rainbow Rising

Before we get into this, I am in earnest when I say this, but I was sent two promo copies of the new Winger album to review, and if anyone out there would like one of them, say the word and it's yours, F.O.C. It's actually not bad, either. I think Beavis would kick me in the nads for saying that....

I think there's something in the cosmos that my Random Shelf Review produces Rainbow Rising the same week I'm reviewing Blackmore's Night's new holiday album Winter Carols for Rough Indeed.

For my newer readers, I occasionally like to play this exercise called Random Shelf Review and the way it works is that I turn my back to my wall of CDs, reach behind me and whatever comes up in my hand is the one to be reviewed. The only rule I impose on myself is that greatest hits, compilations and soundtracks are not allowed, though the latter is permissible if the album is scored.

I think it's safe to say that Rainbow Rising is fundamental to the genre of metal. In fact, if I were sitting a young listener down with ten crucial albums to learn heavy metal properly, this would make the cut for sure.

It's not enough that Ritchie Blackmore tapped into an incredible source of energy following his departure from Deep Purple, and that he pooled a future vocal legend in Ronnie James Dio as well as the legendary Cozy Powell on drums and troubador bassist Jimmy Bain, but if you listen to Rainbow Rising carefully, you can hear the cornerstones of power metal and neoclassical orchestral metal all over this album. Certainly there'd be no Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force without Ritchie Blackmore. Yngwie told me himself in an interview last year that In Rock is one of his favorite albums, and assuredly Rainbow Rising has to have had a huge effect on him, if not from "Tarot Woman" then assuredly the epic "Stargazer."

While "Run With the Wolf" and "Starstruck" in theory are Deep Purple songs with heavy organs by keyboardist Tony Carey and their early seventies rock stomps, the expansion into Rainbow is allotted through the more guttural Dio versus Ian Gillian, but also because of Cozy Powell's hard hitting that is more about precision than monster flash. The late Powell is a veritable heartbeat to the songs on Rainbow Rising, while the bass of Jimmy Bain is mostly subtle but is also an integral part of the pulse in Rainbow at this early period of the band.

"Do You Close Your Eyes" begins to separate Rainbow from Deep Purple--though clinging slightly on the song's bridges--with its driving edge and in 1976 you're hearing a sound that would define eighties metal: pure riff rock with a balls-out groove and hotdog guitar theatrics by Blackmore.

The definitive song on Rainbow Rising has to be "Stargazer." Before the term "epic metal" came along, "Stargazer" set the standard, and while there's a taste of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" in the choruses, this song is just deadly in terms of its heaviness and its eloquence. It's a dreamy song that just pounds you for eight minutes and it's one of metal's greatest-written songs. And how many power metal songs have you heard that owes a large debt to "A Light in the Black?" Well over half, I assure you. Early Iron Maiden, anyone? Again, Yngwie Malmsteen. Hell, even Black Sabbath in the Dio years took on this sound, and Dio as a solo artist? Well, duh.

When listening to the Renaissance orientation of Blackmore's Night, it's hard to forget where Ritchie came from, and how in Rainbow he went through a stable of players before reuniting with Purple and then inexplicably dropping out of the scene. I've had numerous conservations with Joe Lynn Turner and he has a colorful story about how Blackmore found him and invited him to join Rainbow. I have oodles of respect for Joe, but certainly there's a different vibe to Rainbow by the time Straight Between the Eyes came out, though I really dig that album a lot as well. Still, when you're outlining the history of metal and stop at Rainbow, sure, Long Live Rock 'n Roll is a great album, but Rainbow Rising is assuredly where it's at...

Friday, December 01, 2006


I missed out on spinning Rainbow because I just fell hard for the new ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead album. I'm pleased there's some interest in Bobby Kennedy, so let's go in that direction, shall we?

Living in a Roman state as we do here in the U.S. now, you really have to wonder what things would be like if JFK and RFK had lived, much less Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. One thing you can read from the traumatic events of the sixties is that the status quo feared change in the worst way, so much it resorted to murder. What is the status quo? Conservatism? Fascism? War mongering? McCarthyism? I mean, really, when you stop and think how the 1920s were far more radical than the 1960s, as violent as the twenties were, there was a subtle romance about hellraisers and rabble rousers that the American public quietly embraced.

Why, then, was it so hard to accept proponents of peace, liberty, equality, justice? If you see the amount of people who wanted what John and Bobby Kennedy had to offer America, it's astounding that all it took to wipe those ideals off the board was through two bullets. Add two more for Dr. King and Malcolm, and while the latter is villainized through history as a racist, if you get out of the white man's history books, you'll see that Malcolm X is a hero because he had the courage to continuously change from a criminal to exploited figurehead to enlightened civil rights leader who realized before he was shot that races could exist peacefully, which he learned through pilgrimage to Mecca. Again, a status quo feared this sort of change. He had to go.

The Kennedy brothers hung on my wall most of my life, at least while under the roof of my parents. From the time I could really interpret my surroundings, there was that painting of John and Bobby, and my mother, who had almost no concrete mandates in my life, nonetheless strongly requested I keep the Kennedys on my wall. It was so bad that as a teenager, my wall was papered with rock posters and magazine cut-outs, so that the Kennedys had Iron Maiden flanking one side, Freddy Kruger on the other and Megadeth overtop.

I know there's a strong contingency who scorn the Kennedys, particularly JFK and his reported infidelities, but then Jackie was reported to do the same, and frankly, what goes in behind closed doors should stay there, in my opinion. I don't want to know what JFK did personally, much less Bill Clinton. People today think they have a God-given right to have access into other people's lives, particularly those of figureheads, because one, we're voyeuristic at heart, and two, we're full of penis envy, so much that if someone's doing a good job or making others happy, there automatically has to be something wrong with that person, so let's dig it up and discredit that person. Bush can toke doobies and no one cares, but if he gets caught with his dick in his aide's mouth, then what?

Some people point out that the Kennedys were hotheads who took their frustrations out on Cuba and there's probably a certain latitude that applies there. When you look at Bobby in his early years, you see a hell-bent young attorney general with something to prove, and as the saying goes, things happen for a reason...when Bobby and the country lost JFK, a huge metamorphosis occurred in Bobby. A nearly-defeated person lost his anger and in the process discovered humanity and made it his personal objective to fight on humanity's behalf. My mother said Bobby would've been twice the president JFK was and she's right.

The movie Bobby is a very interesting bit of filmmaking because if there's any film that should be called a "period piece," this is the one. Instead of trying to take certain facts and arrange them in a quasi-historical mode, Bobby instead creates a microcosm, namely the Ambassador Hotel where Bobby Kennedy was shot, and Emilio Estevez weaves his all-star cast into an intertwining story that addresses all of the social issues of the sixties leading up to Bobby's arrival and ultimate assassination.

When you have stars like Anthony Hopkins, Martin Sheen, Demi Moore, Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Cristian Slater, Elijah Wood, Lawrence Fishburne, Freddy Rodriguez, Ashton Kucher, Lindsay Lohan and Estevez himself, it's just amazing the amount of people who cared enough to get involved in this project, and let the critics pan it all they like. The critics of Bobby who call it dull, slow and too tangled are judging it from an entertainment angle. These are the people who have failed to see the message and I feel bad for Estevez because what he's created here is a time capsule of American history that should be judged in terms of its social value, not its lack of titillation.

As far as I'm concerned, the fact that Estevez uses real footage of RFK and only uses a stand-in for a few brief behind-the-back "real time" scenes gives it more validity, and I'm sorry, but the critics who call it boring are either elephants or primadonnas, or they simply don't want to be preached to because it costs too much of their valuable to put some thought into what they've just seen.

If you're not affected by the fact that Estevez uses Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" during the assassination aftermath, then you're probably the American Dad satirized by Fox. The song is about Bobby's death, which gives this some introspection, and when you realize that most of these characters painted throughout Bobby are representing the other victims in the shooting, then the whole thing makes sense.

A couple of post-comments:

One, we saw Bobby in the theater by ourselves, the four of us, which included my parents. Though Maryland is Democrat state by nature, we live in a hardline Republican county. I'm astounded Bobby made it to the theater here, but it was ominously omitted from the outdoor marquee...conspiracy? Maybe. It does send a message, however, that our society--for all of its social advances--still harbors ugliness that is mostly covert. What RFK fought for means nothing to them. The fact that the United States might've had an entire different face about it had Bobby lived is undeniable, and while there's plenty of tributes and documentaries and acknowledgements from the government to Bobby, the public at large who didn't live the turmoil of the sixties cannot relate whatsoever to this. When all it has is a conceited egomaniac in office to see in the daily headlines, they just go by that example.

Two, can you imagine what it was like for Bobby Kennedy to be in Harlem the night Martin Luther King was shot, giving a speech and having the guts to inform his audience of the horrible news? People joke that a white man doing such a thing would never leave Harlem alive, but the statistics show that Harlem didn't rage and riot like the other cities in America, at least nothing tangible. I admire Bobby for having such conviction and confidence in what he discovered inside of himself. Some might say he was exploiting the crowd for their sympathy, but I refute that. It was a monster gambit and I think it endeared him to the public and helped him on his way towards what looked like a viable bid for the presidency.

Three, do you ever wonder why it was that Republicans led the march against communism and the slogan "I'd rather be dead than red" became so apropros, but what color on the electoral map represents Republicans? Hmmm....better start finalizing your life insurance, elephants.

Four, let me make it perfectly clear I'm not a Republican or a Democrat. I think both parties have issues and I take a few things from each side that I find valuable, but overall, we need a third, possibly fourth pliably efficient political party in order to make this a true democracy. Enough of two sanctions putting numbuts in front of us and saying these are hypothetically our only real choices.

Finally, would we have suffered the Bushes if Bobby lived? Who knows. Would the Iranian hostage situation occurred in the late seventies? Again, who knows. A lot of history that did happen leaves you to wonder if a Bobby Kennedy administration would've altered the course of American history. Of that, I am personally certain, and it's the reason he was taken from this life. Anyone that tries to do the world a bit of good is too much for the main front to cope with...don't tell us what to do, don't preach to us, don't make us think, we're happy as we are...bang bleeding heart liberal, go die...

Rock 'n Roll Confucius

Confucius says he who turns on a classic rock station will be guaranteed to be greeted with "The Joker" by Steve Miller Band.

Play your music on the run...