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Monthly Archives: April 2008

A Diamond in the Rough….

Neil Diamond announced on Tuesday that he is releasing a new, technologically different CD in early May titled, Home Before Dark.  

I think Neil Diamond is one of the most under-recognized and under-praised singer-songwriters of our time, so I decided to do a post on him.

Neil DIamond seemed to be destined for the upper echelon of music right out of the gate.  He grew up in Brighton Beach and rumor has it that he sang in the choir with Barbra Streisand.  He started writing songs at 18 and signed an early contract with Columbia that never really panned out.  He intentioned his writings to be his recordings, but before he could record them himself, The Monkees released I’m a Believer, A Little BIt Me, A Little Bit You, and several others.  I’m A Believer ended up being a smash hit and the top song of 1966.

 

Mmmmm….Davey Jones.  But, I digress.  If Neil would have released it first, here’s what it would have sounded like.

In 1966, Diamond signed with Bang Records.  He scored his first hit with Solitary Man.

 

While this song was very “Moody Blues” and indicative of the some of the music of that time with rich, full, dramatic sound, his follow up hit, Kentucky Woman, showcased Diamond’s solid baritone with a simple guitar accompniment.  His voice was strong and determined, his belief in the song totally believeable.

During this time, Neil Diamond played on the same bill as many of the industry’s stars such as Herman’s Hermits and The Who.  He soon had a falling out with Bang Records and was embattled in a lawsuit over the rights to his music until the mid-70s, when he finally won them.  It was worth the fight, as Neil Diamond is one of only a handful of musical artists who actually own the copyright to his songs.  For the most part, labels own the copyrights of most songs.  One of his most well-known hits, Cherry, Cherry was one of the last recordings he did under the Bang label.

As the video mentions, Neil Diamond has been continually overlooked by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, despite his large and wide influence on rock and his prolific song-writing skills.  Lefsetz did a nice piece on Neil and Cherry, Cherry recently.  Now, the fact that Madonna is in the Hall of Fame and Neil Diamond is not is just a downright tragedy.

While he fought Bang Records over the rights to his songs, Neil Diamond signed with MCA Records and released likely his best-known hit in Sweet Caroline, inspired by young Caroline Kennedy.

While it’s not our nephew, Michael Paul’s awesome beach rendition, Neil handles it pretty good. 🙂

One of Neil’s anthems from this era, Holly Holy, was immortalized in Saving Silverman as Neil is accompnied by Steve Zahn, Jack Black and Jason Biggs who worship Neil Diamond and have a Neil Diamond Tribute Band in the movie.

He scored hits with Cracklin’ Rosie , I Am I Said and Song Sung Blue, before experiencing a lull in his career.  However, on a magical Thanksgiving night in 1976, Neil Diamond joined The Band for The Last Waltz, Martin Scorsese’s rockumentary chronciling The Band’s farewell concert.  Neil performed Dry Your Eyes and joined the star-studded encore of I Shall Be Released.

Then, he scored a mega-hit with his old friend, Barbra Streisand with You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.

He starred in a remake of The Jazz Singer, which produced four top ten singles for Neil Diamond:  Forever in Blue Jeans, America, Love on the Rocks, and Hello Again.

  Forever in Blue Jeans, a la Will Ferrell.

Released in 1980, I remember going to see The Jazz Singer and how America  was subsequently used as a patriotic theme, after the decade of disaster that was the ’70s.

 

Neil Diamond’s last Top 10 hit was in 1982 with Heartlight from the movie, E.T., however he has been successful touring and performing his vast and adored songbook.  Also, his songs have been used in many movies. Like Urge Overkill’s version of Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon in Pulp Fiction.

TODAY’S TRIVIA:  Neil Diamond wrote and recorded the song Red, Red Wine in 1968….who knew?

  Red, Red Wine

I knew it would only be a matter of time before American Idol would get to the Neil Diamond songbook.  Supposedly, it’s coming up on one of the remaining theme nights.  Perhaps this will give Neil the exposure needed to finally get him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Neil Diamond’s mark on music has been significant and prolific.  It’s time he’s rightfully honored along with the greats of the last 40 years of Rock & Roll.

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Across the Universe

WARNING: Spoilers included in this post. Don’t read if you don’t want to know.

Admittedly, I am sometimes a little slow on the uptake. And, as for movies, I’m really slow. Our movie experience revolves around Comcast’s On Demand movies, so we are at the mercy of their “New Releases”. Me and Mr. D are usually good for one or two per weekend and we usually take turns choosing the movie. You know, love-story-friends and lovers-chick flicks vs. aliens-shoot ’em up-fast cars-pyrotechnics.

Over the past few weeks, I had acquiesced to alot of action/slasher/super hero/pirate flicks, so Saturday night was my turn. After agonizing between The Waitress and No Reservations, I saw Across the Universe. Because I knew of my husband’s odd penchant for sublime musicals, I chose the Oscar-nominated flick that featured a plethora of Beatles’ tunes to set the backdrop for the turbulent times of roughly, 1966 – 1971. Those years just happened to be when Mr. D “came of age”, so I figured he would at least be able to identify with the story and the music. (I’m selfless like dat.)

Across the Universe opens with the lead character, Jude, sitting on the beach. He introduces the movie with the wonderful Lennon lead, Girl that transitions into Helter Skelter:

The scene sets up the story which begins with the character of Lucy (played by Evan Rachel Wood), boppin’ to the crocodile rock at the prom with her soon-to-be-soldier boyfriend. They rock it out in a 50’s white-bred naivety to Hold Me Tight, while Jude rocks out to the same tune across the Atlantic in a Liverpool dive with the band looking oddly familiar, playing at Liverpool’s Cavern, where The Beatles performed in the early days.

Hold Me Tight, Jim Sturgess & Evan Rachel Wood

Not a bad rendition when put in the context of the times that the song would have been heard by anxious young teenagers embarking on life and the radical changes about to bestow those lives.

Hold Me Tight, The Beatles

Jim Sturgess is the young actor who deftly plays Jude. His vocals are reminiscent of Ewan MacGregor in Moulin Rouge, but his acting a bit better. Set in Liverpool and then New England and New York, the movie chronicles young Jude’s quest to find his father, a U.S. soldier stationed in England during WWII.

Jude hops a freighter to America on his quest to find what’s missing and upon arriving to find his father is actually a maintenance engineer at Princeton, he meets Lucy’s brother, Max (played by Joe Anderson). Max is a hard-partying, never may care rogue who is decidedly uninterested in remaining in college. Of course, a rousing version of With A Little Help from My Friends sets the perfect college frat party.

With a Little Help from My Friends, Joe Anderson

A bit more manic than the original, it conveys the appropriate emotion. There’s a certain parallel between Max and Ringo, in that Max is a background character that becomes the thread that holds it all together.

With a Little Help from My Friends, The Beatles

Now, Across the Universe incorporates 34 Beatles’ compositions throughout the movie, so I’ll try to stick to the most prolific and why I deem them to be so.

Max takes Jude home with him for Thanksgiving where Jude becomes smitten with Lucy, however Lucy is still wrapped up in her boyfriend who has been recently shipped off to Vietnam. Max informs his parents that he’s dropping out of school and he and Jude decide to move to The Village in NYC.

At the same time, we are introduced to a couple of new characters whose lives will shortly intersect with Max’s and Jude’s lives. Prudence is introduced as a lesbian cheerleader who longingly sings I Want to Hold Your Hand from afar to her head cheerleader love. (I cannot make this up)

I Want to Hold Your Hand, T.V. Carpio

Director Julie Taymor does a fantastic job of using Beatles’ song in a non-traditional way and conveying a totally different feel from the songs that are so ingrained to the psyche of America. Comparing this version of I Want to Hold Your Hand to The Beatles’ smash inaugural hit, creates a stark juxtaposition.

I Want to Hold Your Hand, The Beatles

Likely my favorite song of the whole movie is the touching and absolutely appropriate use of Let it Be. Used for the backdrop of the Detroit race riots of 1967, it introduces the character of Jojo, played by Martin Luther McCoy.

The song informs us of the death of Jojo’s young brother and in a world away, Lucy’s soldier boyfriend.

Let it Be, Carol Woods/Timothy T. Mitchum

While Let it Be has always been a passionate song, the slow, disconsolate version pierces the soul in a way the original does not.

Let it Be, The Beatles

Leaving the destruction and despair behind, both JoJo and Lucy head to New York, where they also come to live with Sadie (Dana Fuchs), the Janis Joplin-ish landlord. In Come Together, we are treated to a perfect cameo by Joe Cocker as a homeless man in the subway.

Come Together, Joe Cocker

It’s amazing how all of these Beatles’ tunes inspire such passion in others. While they were revolutionary in the late 60’s, they are mild when compared to today’s fare. However, all of these songs provide such passionate and highly musical versions.

Come Together, The Beatles

The story gets a little complicated from here on out but we are treated to another cameo, this time by Bono as spiritual guru “Dr. Robert”:

I Am the Walrus, Bono

This is one of the few songs in the movie that actually is very similar to the original.

I Am the Walrus, The Beatles

Dr. Robert takes them all on a “trip”, in more ways than one, to see Mr. Kite, but alas find the wonderful Eddie Izzard as the ringmaster.

Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, Eddie Izzard

While Eddie doesn’t really sing the song, he gets the point across. I’ve often marveled at The Beatles obvious escape from the norm on Sgt. Pepper’s.

Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, The Beatles

Through all of this Lucy and Jude are in love and Max is caught by the draft and sent for induction into the U.S. Army. Now, this is where the symbolism and hyperbole get a little out of control, but hey…it was the 60’s. Everything was out of control.

I Want You

Mr. D and I were having a running conversation throughout the movie and with this scene, he recanted to me his experience that he says was eerily similar to this scene, except for the fact that nobody was wearing underwear. He said that there wasn’t one person there the day he and his brother went for physicals that was NOT deemed 1-A. If you knew your name, you were in. As it happens, Mr. D and his brother happened to be switching colleges and were “caught” between semesters. A few phone calls from his grandfather and they were luckily deferred, however the memory was still very vivid for him even after 40 years.

At this point, I share with him that these scenes bring back vivid memories for me too. From 1964-1974, my formative years, the evening news brought war, corruption, poverty and violence into our living rooms each and every night. I remember getting Christmas cards as a kid and thinking that there would never be “peace on earth”. I thought this was the norm and for Mr. D, a child of the idyllic 50’s, this was absolutely abnormal.

I think that’s why my generation is so cynical, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. While we were privileged to experience some of the best music ever, the times we grew up in sucked. From a war nobody believed in to multiple assassinations to Watergate to leisure suits to the Iranian Hostage Crisis, all I can recall from the events of my childhood was pretty depressing. Whereas for Mr. D, the tough stuff didn’t start until he was an adult. His childhood was full of hundreds of Father Knows Best moments and glory days of American expansion.

But I digress…

A lot transpires, but Sadie and the Po-Boys, which includes Jojo gets a gig at The Filmore and a smokin’ version of Oh Darlin’ is delivered by both, including some Hendrix-esque licks from Jojo.

Oh Darlin’, Dana Fuchs & Martin Luther McCoy

I think the director did a fantastic job in putting these songs in context and they all flowed very nicely into the story….or perhaps the story flowed into the songs. Nevertheless, it brought new meaning to many of the old Beatles’ standards and definitely “worked”.

Oh Darlin’, The Beatles

Another of my favorite uses of a Beatles’ song to convey a point in this movie was Jim Sturgess’ delivery of Revolution when Lucy is more occupied in the protest culture than with him.

Revolution, Jim Sturgess

Perhaps it’s the visual implications of the song, but the movie version of this song really brings home a significant meaning to a song that had significant impact, but in more of a generic way. Even through turbulent times and distinct messages in their songs, The Beatles’ songs still had an upbeat, hopeful sound.

Revolution, The Beatles

The movie includes one of my absolute favorite Beatles’ songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Director Julie Taymor deftly uses the tune to display Jojo’s reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King and his longing for his lady love, Sadie.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Martin Luther McCoy

Likely George Harrisons’ crowning glory, his version in enhance by the lead guitar being handled by one Mr. Eric Clapton.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps, The Beatles

After Jude gets deported back to England and Max returns from Vietnam and recovers from his wounds, he reminisces about his good friend and hopes for his return. Of course, it is captured in the great Hey Jude.

Hey Jude, Max Anderson

It’s hard to ever top Paul McCartney’s vocal on this classic and while Max’s version was passable, it doesn’t rival the original.

Hey Jude, The Beatles

The whole story ultimately culminates in a rooftop reunion concert of Sadie and the Po-Boys with a rousing rendition of Don’t Let Me Down that is in parallel with The Beatles’ famed impromptu rooftop concert in London.

Don’t Let Me Down, Dana Fuchs & Martin Luther McCoy

However, nothing will ever compare to this original.

Don’t Let Me Down, The Beatles

Remember, these are only a fraction of the 34 Beatles’ songs included in the movie. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but this one was enjoyable. Maybe it was the familiarity of music and the times, but both Mr. D and I thought it was definitely worth the $4.99 on Pay-Per-View.

The synergy of themes and characters are fun, with all the characters’ names straight out of Beatles’ song lore. That, and the use of the prolific Beatles’ songbook set against the turbulent times and this story, make it thoroughly enjoyable.

If you are a Beatles’ fan and haven’t seen this, I highly recommend doing so. If you’ve seen it, I encourage your comments on what you thought about the movie. If you are anywhere between the ages of 60 and 40, you’ll likely enjoy this movie, as well, as you can surely identify with all of the happenings and the historical context of the story.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 13, 2008 in Music History, music legends

 

Live from Sun Studios: Adam Levy

Yet another session of Live from Sun Studios is up, this one featuring Adam Levy.

  Interview

As mentioned in the Amber Rubarth post, Adam Levy is part of Norah Jones’ Handsome Band.  In the Sun Studio piece, he performs In the Morning, which he wrote and Norah included on her Feels Like Home CD.

Adam is an accomplished guitar man, providing the solo on Tracey Chapman’s Give Me One Reason:

I knew I liked this guy from the Amber Rubarth vid, and then it is confirmed with the fact that he played guitar on Amos Lee’s debut CD:

  Colors

You may recall that Amos opened for Norah Jones for a while and that debut CD was produced by Lee Alexander, Norah Jones’ bass guitarist and shack-up.

Here’s Washing Day, performed by Amber Rubarth and written by Adam Levy.  Yes, it do go ’round in circles….

Through the wonders of YouTube, I even found this rendition of Johnny B. Goode performed by Levy and his high school band, back in the glorious year of 1982.

 

Live From Sun Studios: Amber Rubarth

The next installment of the Live from Sun Studios sessions is up and features Indie artist, Amber Rubarth.

While sort of an “anti-Grace Potter”, Amber is an eclectic mix of the Ditty Bops, Leon Redbone and a kinder, gentler Brandi Carlile with a hint of Norah Jones thrown in. Amber’s soothing acoustical style is pleasing to the ear and many of her songs are couched in obtuse humor. (Nobody here likes that.)

In the Sun Studio session, she is joined by Adam Levy of Norah Jones’ Handsome Band fame and Alex Wong on percussion. LERVE the whistlin’. Check her out. She’ll be releasing a new CD in May titled, New Green Lines, on Sounden Recordings. She’ll also be out on a U.S. Tour starting in May, after concluding a brief European Tour. This up and coming Indie warrants a further listen.

Novacaine

Underground Angel

 
5 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2008 in Influences, Uncategorized

 

Bring It On Home, Aaron Neville

His long self-imposed exile is over.

Aaron Neville shared with the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune that he is in the process of moving back to the New Orleans area. As I highlighted as part of the Aaron Neville-a-thon late last year, Aaron lost his home during Hurricane Katrina and his wife of 48 years died of cancer in January of 2007. While he says that New Orleans proper still holds too many memories of his dear wife, Covington is just close enough to get there when need be. And, it’s on higher ground.

Welcome back to the Gulf Coast, Mr. Neville….just in time for JazzFest. 🙂

 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 7, 2008 in aaron neville, Festivals, Louisiana

 

Shine A Light…Let’s Try This Again

Ok, despite the YouTube promotion debacle, we’re going to try this again.

I’m starting to get a little excited about the Scorcese Rockumentary, Shine A Light, documenting the Rolling Stones’ Beacon Theatre Concert in ’06. (Even Bill Clinton attended….)

Now, admittedly, I’m not a huge Stones fan as I have thought that they were overrated and over-tauted over the years. I really felt that they rode the coattails of The Beatles and that they never were of the same caliber. However….I have to say that after watching the trailers and some of the videos from Shine A Light, I have a new respect for The Rolling Stones.

Consider this…these guys are nearly qualified for Social Security, I mean, if they were American citizens. At 64, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are simply unbelievable. I have evidenced first hand that many in the Boomer generation are “not your father’s Oldsmobile”, but The Stones are phenomenal. 64, people. That is nearly 20 years my senior.

And, oh so clevah….notice on this YouTube vid who the author is. They don’t restrict embedding. No…they want us to post away. SSSSmmmmarrrttttt.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

On Shattered, the lads show that they are still a force to be reckoned with, thoroughly entertaining perhaps the third generation since they began. Keith Richards sums it up in this short interview clip:

Mick Jagger commands the audience, once again, with Some Girls:

Funny aside regarding Keith Richards. Last weekend, Mini-DD had a friend over and we were watching Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, when I aptly pointed out to the incredulous teenagers that Captain Teague was the lead guitarist for The Rolling Stones:

Richards is an institution in himself. Even though Lefsetz thinks Keith is a sell-out, I don’t think there’s any such thing. Make some money, Keith. We know where your heart is.

Personally, I think this blues clip of Satisfaction says it all…

or this duet with Norah Jones on Gram Parsons’ Love Hurts:

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 6, 2008 in Concerts, music legends, soundtracks, YouTube

 

The Compromise

My DIL sent me this last week as an example of American Idol “passions”.  I figured I’d have a need for it, just didn’t imagine it would be this soon.

  The Compromise, The Format