Friday, May 31, 2013

Covers Gallery, Volume VII

Another collection of covers, remakes & re-inventions:

1. The Tracks of My Tears – Johnny Rivers – A great performer who masterfully re-interpreted the music of other artists on several classic albums from the mid to late 60s. This version of the Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hit is on his fine 1967 disc, Rewind.

2. Leaving On A Jet Plane - My Morning Jacket brings out the pathos in this John Denver tune, made famous by Peter, Paul & Mary. This excellent cut is from a tribute disc entitled The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver (2013).

3. Always Something There To Remind Me – Naked Eyes take the Burt Bacharach\Hal David standard (recorded by Dionne Warwick, among others) into new territory: 80s synth pop heaven. From their 1983 disc Naked Eyes.

4. Do Right Woman – The Flying Burrito Brothers do very right by Aretha Franklin with this re-invented, countrified version of the Queen of Soul's classic, from 1969’s The Gilded Palace of Sin.

5. Different Drum – The Lemonheads cover this Mike Nesmith penned song, best remembered for the hit Linda Ronstadt/Stone Poneys version. From the compilation The Best of The Lemonheads: The Atlantic Years (1998).

6. I Fought The Law - The Clash power through The Bobby Fuller Four hit - from The Clash (1979), the U.S. version of their debut disc, actually released after Give 'Em Enough Rope in the U.S.

7. Something - Frank Sinatra covers what he supposedly called his “favorite Lennon-McCartney song” (it was written by George Harrison, Mr. Sinatra) From the 2000 compilation My Way: The Best of Frank Sinatra.

8. Break On Through – Stone Temple Pilots do a nice job with this Doors cover, from 2000's Stoned Immaculate: The Music of the Doors.

9. Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon - Urge Overkill brings a dark edge to this Neil Diamond tune: from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, released in 1994.

10. Anna (Go To Him) – The Beatles smoothly re-do this Arthur Alexander classic, from Please Please Me (1963).

11. Sea Of Love - from The Covers Record (2000) - a spare, acoustic version of the Phil Phillips ballad by Cat Power. You might remember the hit cover by The Honeydrippers (featuring Robert Plant) released in 1984.

12. Not Fade Away - The Rolling Stones rock out on this cover of the Buddy Holly original, from the album The Rolling Stones: England's Newest Hit Makers (1964).

Bonus Track: Love On A Two Way Street – Boz Scaggs - Good version of The Moments 1970 soul gem, from his most recent disc, Memphis (2013).

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fitz & The Tantrums Dance Into The 80s

On their 2011 debut, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Fitz & The Tantrums groove-tastically explored the world of 60s & 70s soul, mixing the classic sounds of Motown, Stax & 70’s R&B with a dash of New Wave. It was a unique variation on retro-soul, and the album was one of the best discs of its year. On their second full-length release, More Than Just A Dream, the group fast-forwards into the 1980s. This time around, there are big beats, synths & lots of percussion in the forefront. The songs are a mix of 80s dance, bouncy pop & New Wave, with a little less focus on the neo-soul. The sound of the 80s is all over this record on songs like “Break The Walls,” “The Walker” and “Get Away.” Welcome back to the 1980s via the 21st century, music fans.

Leader Michael “Fitz” Fitzpatrick & vocalist Noelle Scaggs still have the power, though they occasionally get lost in the “wall of sound” production by Tony Hoffer, who’s also worked with Beck and Supergrass. Fitzpatrick has said in interviews he didn’t want to do Pickin’ Up The Pieces 2 and cover the same ground. I find it admirable that the band went in a different musical direction this time out. It’s a largely successful endeavor, though a couple of the songs are a bit weaker lyrically. Still, there are standout tracks like “Fools Gold,” “Merry Go Round,” and "Out Of My League." The band is as tight as ever, laying down some excellent grooves. This is one record that’s ready made for dancing, and for being spun in the clubs.

The group didn’t completely abandon the blue-eyed soul, as evidenced on songs like “Keeping Our Eyes Out” and the fantastic “6AM.” The best tracks here have great pop songcraft, catchy choruses, dance rhythms to spare and even some interesting electronic textures courtesy of producer Hoffer. This is an album that invites multiple listens, and grows on you each time. I have to say I liked it even more on repeat spins, as I relaxed into its grooves & sonic pleasures. And I bet that these tunes are going to sound amazing live as the group tours this summer. More Than Just A Dream is now available in stores & online. The iTunes Deluxe Edition of the album includes some extra tracks.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Iron Man 3: The Man Inside The Suit

After the worldwide success of The Avengers, Marvel launches “Phase 2” of its shared universe superhero saga with Iron Man 3. Tony Stark is still haunted by the aftermath of the alien invasion depicted in that super-team adventure. He’s been experiencing panic attacks and throwing himself into his work, making improvements to the Iron Man armor. Tony’s also been ignoring his personal relationships, including his romance with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s concerned for his well-being. While he battles his inner demons, a villain named The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has initiated a series of bombings, and has the authorities baffled; there’s no forensic evidence at the attack sites.

A thread running through all the Iron Man films is the consequences of the sins of Stark’s past. This time, a scientist named Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, excellent in the role), whom Tony rebuffed and embarrassed back in his playboy/jerk days, returns with an offer for Stark Industries: they can invest in his new technology, Extremis, which helps re-grow the limbs of injured soldiers, restoring their mobility. Pepper is concerned that the technology could be used to create invincible human weapons, and turns him down, though Killian seems unwilling to take no for an answer. Meanwhile, Tony’s security chief, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is injured in one of The Mandarin’s attacks, pulling Stark out of his tailspin. He calls out the terrorist, challenging him to come after him personally; a decision that has tragic results. In the aftermath of a fiery battle, Tony’s home is destroyed, and the world believes Iron Man/Stark is dead.

But our hero is still alive (no huge spoiler there) and has to recover so he can return to defeat The Mandarin and save the day. As Tony investigates, he finds out there may be ties between the bombings and the Extremis technology. The Mandarin has escalated his attacks, and is now threatening to go after the President. While his friend James Rhodes aka War Machine (Don Cheadle) and now renamed the Iron Patriot, tries to protect our Commander-In-Chief, Tony discovers the truth behind The Mandarin’s plans. It will take all his strength and wits (along with help from some unlikely sources) to defeat the villain’s scheme and save the day. But this is as much a story about the inner strength of the man inside the suit (and what makes him a hero) as it is about Iron Man, the superhero.

Iron Man 3 is more consistent in tone than the second installment, which had some good ideas, but had almost too much plot, and tended to overemphasize silly comedy, with Robert Downey, Jr. overdoing the negative aspects of Stark’s personality. This film has more in common with the first movie, where Tony actually learned some hard lessons, and the character grew & developed over the course of the film. In this story, Tony realizes that he’s the true heart & soul of Iron Man, who’s much more than just a suit of armor. It’s his own inner strength that allows him to be a hero. In a way, we see the end of the journey Tony Stark began in the first movie; he’s a grown up now, not just a playboy genius with a lot of cool toys.

Director/co-writer Shane Black (best known for writing Lethal Weapon and The Last Boy Scout and also directing Downey, Jr. in 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) brings his flair for kinetic action sequences & sharp dialogue to the forefront in the film. The special effects & technical wizardy are also first rate. As always, the cast is wonderful, with Downey, Jr., Paltrow & Cheadle in fine form. It’s hard to imagine anyone else but Robert Downey, Jr. in the role. He has truly made it his own, and the reason we care so much about the character is that his performance is so good, He’s also got wonderful romantic chemistry with Paltrow; the two make a fine team.

Iron Man 3 is a fast-moving story that still takes time to develop its themes, and adds in some welcome humor, but not at the expense of the characters, which was often the case in Iron Man 2. This is a fun, action-filled summer movie with some real heart at its core. There are some interesting twists & turns to the plot, and some significant changes to the Iron Man comics mythology, which might bother some hardcore fans. It will be interesting to see where they take the character next in the Marvel films. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers in this review; this one’s worth checking out on the big screen. As always with Marvel movies, make sure to stay all the way through the end credits for an extra scene.

Iron Man 3 is now in theaters in 2-D, 3-D and in IMAX. Here’s a link to the trailer: