Thursday, December 31, 2015

Big Shot Rocks & Rolls At Infinity Hall

Big Shot, the Billy Joel tribute band, visited CT this past weekend for two shows at Infinity Hall, one at the Norfolk location on Saturday, Dec. 26 and another at the Hartford venue on Sunday, Dec. 27. I was lucky enough to attend the Sunday night performance, and it was an amazing night. Led by Mike DelGuidice, who’s currently a member of The Piano Man’s touring band, the group rocked & rolled its way through an amazing set featuring fan favorites, album cuts and a couple of non Billy Joel surprises. Mike opened the show solo with a couple of his original songs, including the beautiful ballad “Days of Old.” Then he brought the full band out, who helped kick off the main event with an energetic version of “Angry Young Man.” What followed was a rollicking night of rock & roll, which included the expected classics such as “Piano Man,” and “Movin’ Out,” as well as deeper cuts like “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “Until the Night.” And of course, there were many more hits, like “Only The Good Die Young” and “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.”

But this wonderful night was not just about Billy Joel songs; the band also treated us to knockout versions of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love" and Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” These talented gentlemen treated the audience to a marvelous show filled with top notch playing & they enjoyed this show as much as the audience did. The band really captures the spirit of Billy Joel’s music. Mike’s vocals & keyboards are amazing & the rest of the group (featuring members of Billy’s band) are top notch; they’re all extraordinary musicians, and their love of this music comes through in every note. Depending on the night you see the group, there are some different players who sit in, but they’re all fantastic. If you have a chance to see Big Shot, don’t hesitate. Here’s a link to a promotional video for the band featuring some performance clips:

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Force is With J.J. Abrams

Writer-Director J.J. Abrams has previously managed to resuscitate a couple of franchises that were stuck in second gear: he did it with Mission: Impossible: III in 2006, and helped re-boot the Star Trek universe in 2009 with Star Trek, starring Chris Pine. Now, he tackles the world of George Lucas’ much-loved Star Wars saga. Can he do it again? The answer is yes. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a thrilling adventure that pays homage to its roots, while helping move the story forward. This will be a largely spoiler-free review, but if you don’t want to know some basic details about the film’s plot, read no further. Set thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the movie introduces some new characters to the Star Wars universe, including hotshot pilot Poe Dameron, who’s sent on an important mission to the desert world of Jakku. He needs to locate a portion of a map that contains information vital to the resistance.

We also meet Rey, a scavenger who lives on Jakku, and Finn, a stormtrooper who deserts his post, and crosses paths with both Poe and Rey. It’s Rey who will become an important focal point of the film as the story progresses. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Empire (now known as the First Order) is marshaling its forces, and preparing to wipe out the resistance once & for all. A new Dark Lord, Kylo Ren, is leading the offensive, and is seeking the same information as Poe. As the story moves forward, we meet some old friends from the original trilogy, and there are the usual assortment of space battles, narrow escapes and (of course) light saber battles. The great thing about the film is that it looks and feels like a Star Wars movie. The almost deadly slow pace and lack of humor evident in the much maligned prequel films is not in evidence here. Abrams is a fan, and he knows this saga inside out. Much as he did in his Mission: Impossible & Star Trek films, as well as the Spielberg-influenced Super 8, he truly delivers the goods.

There’s a Mos Eisley Cantina’s worth of visual (and dialogue) references to the original trilogy, which will also please fans. One of Abrams’ collaborators on the script is no stranger to the world of Star Wars: it’s Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back & Return of The Jedi. There are times the movie feels like a “greatest hits” of Star Wars lore, but in most cases that’s a strength and not a detriment. You will need to have some familiarity with the original films to fully enjoy this one. It’s a fast-paced, action-filled story, and while there may be some minor weaknesses in the story, the Star Wars we know & love is back. The story sets up some intriguing elements for the next chapter in the series, set to be released in 2017. While The Force Awakens is part of its own trilogy, Disney (who now owns the rights to the saga) will also be producing several spin-off films, including Rogue One, due this December.

The new actors introduced in the film all give enjoyable performances, but special kudos to Daisy Ridley as Rey & John Boyega as Finn, who do a great job. It's nice to see a female character be given a central role in such a large scale franchise film. The effects are fantastic, of course, and the one & only John Williams provides the movie’s score. And it's no spoiler to say it's fantastic to see the original cast members who return to reprise their roles; you get a wonderful nostalgic feeling as soon as they appear on screen. If you’re a fan of the classic films, this is a great Christmas present from J.J. Abrams and his cast & crew. I saw the film in 2D, so I can’t speak for the quality of the 3D, but it looked just fine in 2D format. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now in theatres. Here’s a link to the film's trailer: And remember, “It's true.....all of it."

1/2/16: Review Update: I went to see the film a second time yesterday, and it holds up very well on a repeat viewing. In fact, I enjoyed it a bit more without the weight of all the anticipation & expectation of seeing it for the first time. This time I viewed it in 3D, and while it's not essential to view the movie in that format, it did add some fun to the experience. Still, seeing it in 2D will be perfectly fine, if you just want to experience the film on the big screen. This is an exciting, enjoyable space adventure with action, humor & heart that stays true to the spirit of what George Lucas started back in 1977. I look forward to seeing where the story takes us as the saga continues.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Squeeze's Difford & Tilbrook Bring Their "At Odds Couple" Tour To Ridgefield

Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook have been delighting fans with their wry lyrics & hook-laden songs since the late 1970s, as the driving forces behind Squeeze, and as solo performers. The artists stopped by The Ridgefield Playhouse on December 11 as part of their “At Odds Couple” acoustic tour. The show featured Squeeze favorites such as “Black Coffee In Bed” and “Slap & Tickle” as well as solo material like Difford’s “Wrecked” and Tilbrook’s “Still.” They also performed material from the band’s new album, Cradle To The Grave. Both men left the stage at various points during the show to allow the other to take the spotlight. There were also a few stories about their careers when the duo took time to answer audience questions in two brief question & answer segments. It helped give the evening a unique spin on the "Unplugged" setting.

Tilbrook’s guitar work was excellent; he truly tore it up with some stinging solos. Difford’s quiet sense of humor was evident throughout the evening, especially on his introductions to the witty solo tunes “Fat As A Fiddle” and “Cowboys Are My Weakness.” The new music from Cradle To The Grave, especially the title cut, sounded fantastic, and was well received. But the songs that got the biggest responses of the night were the Squeeze classics, such as the energetic “Annie Get Your Gun,” the soul-influenced “Tempted” and one of my personal favorites “Up The Junction.” They’ve lost none of their power over the years, and it’s easy to see why Difford & Tilbrook were often compared to Lennon & McCartney at the height of their fame.

The two-set show was followed by an amazing three-song encore consisting of “Another Nail From My Heart," "If I Didn’t Love You" & "Goodbye Girl.” This terrific twosome obviously still enjoy performing together, and playing off of each other as well. A nice bonus at concert’s end was that you could immediately purchase a CD copy of the night’s performance, burned while you waited, and then the guys came out to sign the discs and meet briefly with fans. It was a fabulous evening of great music. Difford & Tilbrook are currently wrapping up the “At Odds Couple” tour, but promised during the show that plans are afoot for Squeeze to do a full band tour sometime next year. Check them out if you get the chance. Here’s a link to a performance (audience participation included) of “Goodbye Girl” from an earlier concert:

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tributes To The Hollies & The Left Banke

Tribute Albums are a tricky enterprise. While there have been a plethora of them released since the 1980s, only a small number end up being essential listening for loyal fans, who are often divided over the true worth of such discs. Is the album a strong selection of the saluted artist’s best work, a collection of lesser-known tracks, or a combination of both? Will the disc appeal to the casual listener as well as the devoted fan? It’s also a tough prospect for the artists who participate: do you put forth a faithful cover of the original song, or take the tune in an entirely different direction? Indeed, that can be the tightrope you walk when doing any cover version. I’ve lauded a bunch of covers in some of my playlist features for this blog in the past, but this week I’d like to take note of a couple of tribute discs that are worth tracking down.

Sing Hollies In Reverse (1995) – The Hollies are often underrated in discussions of the best bands from The British Invasion era, but their superb harmonies & sparkling guitars, featured on a number of classic pop/rock singles like “Bus Stop,” and "Look Through Any Window" are fondly remembered by music aficionados to this day. The band also gave us our first look at Graham Nash, later to form a super-group with David Crosby, Stephen Stills & Neil Young. Sing Hollies in Reverse features twenty-one Hollies songs covered by a cadre of power pop groups, who are unabashed fans of the band. Some of the standout tracks include Tommy Keene’s version of “Carrie Anne,” The Wondermints wonderful romp through “You Need Love,” and The Posies perfect take on one of my favorite Hollies tunes “King Midas In Reverse,” which kicks off the disc.

There are some artists who put their own stamp on the songs, including Jon Brion’s psychedelic run-through of “Sorry Suzanne,” E’s interesting take on “Jennifer Ecles,” and the Flamingoes version of “Water on The Brain” is a must listen. You’ll also get to hear The Continental Drifters (featuring ex-Cowsills member Susan Cowsill) pour their hearts (and beautiful harmonies) into “I Can’t Let Go” and Material Issue do their best British Invasion impression on “Bus Stop,” while the Shakin’ Apostles rock their way through “Dear Eloise.” Sing Hollies In Reverse is currently out of print, but used copies are pretty easy to find online. If you’re a Hollies devotee, or a fan of any of the groups featured on the album, you’ll enjoy it.

Shadows Breaking Over Our Heads: A Tribute To The Left Banke (1999) - You probably know about The Left Banke based on their two classic 1960s singles “Pretty Ballerina” and the oft-covered “Walk Away Renee” but the short-lived group really helped define the “baroque pop” genre explored by bands like The Zombies and Love, as well groups like The Beatles, The Beach Boys & The Rolling Stones. While their original output only included two albums, they left a lasting impression on a number of fellow musicians, and rock & roll fans. This album features 22 tracks, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. Some of the most enjoyable entries include Frank Bango’s pop-tinged “Goodbye Holly,” Sun Sawed in 1/2’s effervescent “And Suddenly,” and Starbelly’s rocking version of “Myrah.” And I love The Phenomenal Cats fantastic reading of “I’ve Got Something On My Mind,” one of the best songs in the The Left Banke catalog.

But there are a couple of tracks that really hit it out of the park, including ex-Jellyfish member Jason Falkner’s beautiful, yearning rendition of “Pretty Ballerina” and The Jigsaw Scene’s late period Beatles inspired take on “Desiree,” while The Birdwatchers channel their inner Brian Wilson on “My Friend Today.” Blue Cartoon contributes a strong cover of  “Give The Man A Hand,” and Ken Stringfellow provides an echo-tinged interpretation of "She May Call You Up Tonight." As with The Hollies tribute, having power pop & indie bands take on these songs is an inspired idea that really pays off. Like Sing Hollies in Reverse, this disc is out of print, but readily available used, at various online outlets. Repeated exposure to Shadows Breaking Over Our Heads: A Tribute To The Left Banke just might make you a Left Banke fan, even if you’re only mildly familiar with their work. Track lists for both discs are below.

Sing Hollies In Reverse
1. The Posies – King Midas In Reverse
2. Tommy Keene – Carrie Anne
3. The Loud Family – Look Through Any Window

4. Steve Wynn & Eric Ambel – The Air That I Breathe

5. Mitch Eeaster – Pay You Back With Interest

6. Cub – You Know He Did

7. Kristian Hoffman – I’m Alive

8. Flamingoes – Water On The Brain

9. E – Jennifer Eccles

10. The Jigsaw Seen – On A Carousel

11. John Easdale – Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress

12. Bill Lloyd – Step Inside

13. Loser’s Lounge – After The Fox

14. The Wondermints – You Need Love

15. The Sneetches– So Lonely

16. The Continental Drifters – I Can’t Let Go

17. Carla Olson – Touch

18. Andrew – Heading For A Fall

19. Material Issue – Bus Stop

20. Shakin‘ Apostles – Dear Eloise

21. Jon Brion – Sorry Suzanne

Shadows Breaking Over Our Heads: A Tribute To The Left Banke
1.   Desiree - The Jigsaw Seen
2.   Let Go Of You Girl - Admiral
3.   Goodbye Holly - Frank Bango
4.   Pretty Ballerina - Jason Falkner
5.   I Haven't Got The Nerve - Shane Faubert
6.   Myrah - Starbelly
7.   And Suddenly - The Sun Sawed In 1/2
8.   Shadows Breaking Over My Head - Blue Cartoon
9.   Give The Man A Hand - The Andersons

10. My Friend Today - The Birdwatchers
11.  Evening Gown - Minster Hill
12.  Sing Little Bird Sing - Flamingo
13.  Lazy Day - The Grip Weeds
14. Nice To See You - Mark Johnson
15. Walk Away Renee - Angie Heaton
16. She May Call You Up Tonight - Ken Stringfellow
17. I've Got Something On My Mind - The Phenomenal Cats
18. Dark Is The Bark - Jeremy
19. Barterers And Their Wives - The Idea
20. There's Gonna Be A Storm - The Christines
21. Run Jenny Run - Ed James
22. Brother Louie - Jim Basnight

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Spectre: Bond's Past Comes Calling

The James Bond series hit a high water mark with the 2012 release of Skyfall. The movie celebrated the 50th anniversary of the long-running franchise with a gripping, action packed tale. The film managed to have a strong emotional element as well, and seemed to bring Bond’s origin story (as re-imagined in the Daniel Craig led entries that began with 2006’s Casino Royale) to a close. At the climax of the movie, the template was set to move the series forward with new adventures steeped in 007 tradition, including the return of some classic elements of the previous era, like Miss Moneypenny. Now the latest film in the series, Spectre, brings a wall-known Bond villain back into the forefront of the series, and digs a bit deeper into 007’s past.

The movie opens with a thrilling chase set in Mexico City during the Day of The Dead festival, as Bond hunts down an assassin. The scene is done in one long tracking shot, and director Sam Mendes does an amazing job orchestrating the sequence. It’s one of the best “teasers” of the series. Bond gets his man, but when he returns to London, we learn the mission wasn’t sanctioned, and M suspends him. Bond has very personal reasons for his actions, and continues his own investigation of the assassin’s mysterious terrorist organization. Meanwhile, a top-level bureaucrat in MI5 is planning to close down the Double O section, and use a new worldwide surveillance system to keep the peace. Bond, M, and their entire team may be out of a job. 

Bond continues to follow his leads, and he infiltrates the organization, known as Spectre. As he tries to get further inside the group, he meets a familiar enemy; Mr. White, from Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace. White gives him information on the organization, but asks Bond to protect his daughter, who will be targeted by the group because he helped Bond. Once 007 gets to the heart of Spectre, he finds that their leader is someone who has ties to his past, and has specific plans for vengeance against our hero. It’s a villain who will be very familiar to long-time Bond fans, just like Spectre itself. Just how far (and how deep) does Spectre’s reach go? Have they infiltrated the government? Will the new surveillance system mean the end of Bond’s days an agent? Its a fast-paced, exciting and well-produced movie. You get everything you expect from a Bond film: globe-hopping adventure, gadgets, nefarious villains & beautiful women. 

While the screenwriters stretch things a bit trying to tie together all of Craig’s films into a single story, there are some spectacular action sequences, and the many nods/Easter eggs to classic Bond lore make this a sure bet for 007 aficionados. It’s a film that recalls the large-scale vistas of Dr. No & You Only Live Twice, but also the tough, lean espionage action of From Russia With LoveSpectre is a well-made movie that should please fans of the series. While it doesn't quite reach the heights of Casino Royale or Skyfall, it's a solid entry in the adventures of our favorite British agent. There are reports that this may be Daniel Craig’s swan song as Bond (though no official announcement has been made) so it will be interesting to see where the series goes next. I’ve purposely not given away too much of the plot specifics so you can enjoy the film on your first viewing. Spectre is currently in theaters. Here’s a link to the trailer:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats: Sweet Soul, Funk & Rock & Roll

Talk about a leopard changing his spots. On his current release, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Denver based singer-songwriter Rateliff has taken a sharp left turn into Sam & Dave territory. After releasing a couple of albums worth of intense, folk leaning music, he’s embraced his inner Otis Redding. The disc is filled with songs that should appeal to fans of Redding, James Brown, Sam Cooke & Van Morrison. From the terrific R&B flavor of “Look It Here,” & “Howling At Nothing, “to the soulful ballads “I’d Be Waiting” & “Wasting Time,” this is a groove-tastic record. There are also some touches of gospel & rock & roll on tracks like “I Need Never Get Old” and “S.O.B.” which is perhaps the catchiest ode to post-breakup drinking (and the DTs) ever written. It's no mistake that the record has been released on the now legendary Stax label, the well-known home of gritty soul music. It's the perfect place for this album.

Rateliff’s powerful vocals are by turns gruff & tender, depending on the needs of the song. The band is uniformly excellent, featuring trumpet player Lesley Watkins and guitarist Luke Mossman, among others. It’s as if Booker T & The MGs and The Band formed an alliance, and combined their sounds to bring forth a melting pot of Americana, rock, funk, blues & soul. This is an album you’ll want to spin at parties, driving in the car, or while hanging out on a rainy Sunday. The disc was produced by Richard Swift, and is available for download on iTunes & other streaming music services. Here are links to performances of “Howling At Nothing”, “I Need Never Get Old,”, and of course, "S.O.B." This is one my favorite releases of 2015. Check out Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats now; highly recommended. And be sure to go out and see the band live if they're in your area; the group is currently on tour.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Crimson Peak: Del Toro's Gothic Tale

Writer-Director Guillermo Del Toro is a filmmaker who’s always worn his influences & his love of genre stories on his sleeve. His latest film, Crimson Peak, is his version of a Gothic romance, with a strong helping of the supernatural etched into the story. The movie tells the tale of Edith Cushing, a woman living in Buffalo in 1901. She writes stories about ghosts & spirits, but her editor keeps telling her to stick to love stories. Edith is close to her father, who's a successful businessman. She’s sensitive to supernatural events, after losing her mother at a young age. In fact, her mother’s ghost appeared to Edith shortly after her passing and warned her to “Beware of Crimson Peak.” But what is Crimson Peak, and what does the cryptic warning mean?

Edith meets Sir Thomas Sharpe, an Englishman who’s in town seeking investors for his clay-mining project. He meets with Edith’s father, who rejects his investment proposal. Edith & Thomas share a mutual attraction, and pursue a relationship. Edith’s father disapproves, and tries to block the romance, but he dies mysteriously. Edith marries Thomas (which gives him access to her inheritance) and moves to England with him. His sister, Lucille, who lives with them, treats Edith coldly, and seems to resent her presence. Then Edith begins to see ghosts in the strange house, and becomes distressed. Why does she feel ill all the time? Is there more to Thomas & Lucille’s story? Will Edith’s friend Alan, who’s back in America and investigating the mysterious circumstances of the death of Edith’s father, learn the truth? And can it be that the house is called....Crimson Peak?

This stylish movie is Del Toro’s love letter to a mélange of genres, including the films of Italian horror master Mario Bava, director Roger Corman’s 1960s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, and classic Gothic romances like Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Crimson Peak is an amazing looking film with stunning production design, and the use of sumptuous colors for the costumes & backgrounds adds to the rich detail. In fact, the color palette is very reminiscent of the Hammer films of the 1960s, another of Del Toro’s touchstones for the project, and you might notice Edith's last name is a tribute to one of Hammer's stars, the late Peter Cushing. And you will truly feel, as in many of Poe’s tales, that the house is a character in the story. Del Toro, and his crew, including cinematographer Dan Laustsen & editor Bernat Vilaplana, has done a masterful job. The score by Fernando Velazquez is appropriately romantic & eerie in equal measure.

The cast is excellent; Mia (Alice in Wonderland) Wasikowka, as Edith, is the perfect Gothic heroine; Tom Hiddelston, best known as Loki in the Marvel Universe films, is quite good as the handsome, brooding Thomas, and Charlie (Sons of Anarchy) Hunnam offers fine support as Edith’s loyal friend Alan. But this movie belongs to Jessica Chastain, who is equal parts mysterious, sensual, and terrifying as Lucille. If you’re a fan of Del Toro’s or the filmmakers & genres I’ve mentioned above, this is a film that’s tailor made for you. It’s old fashioned in style & approach, and more atmospheric than scary, but it is beautifully made, and well worth seeing. This dark, romantic fairy tale has more in common with Del Toro’s previous efforts, like 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone, or 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, than a lot of today’s horror fare. While the movie is currently ending its run in theatres, I highly recommend checking it out on home video when it's released. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October Scares Retro TV Movie: Frankenstein: The True Story

There have been many versions of Mary Shelley's classic novel, Frankenstein, but one of my favorites is the British/American co-production, Frankenstein: The True Story. In this retelling of the story, Victor Frankenstein (who's training to be a doctor) loses his faith after his brother drowns. He vows to learn to create life & resurrect the dead, and achieve the power of God himself. Working with the brilliant scientist Henry Clerval, Victor attempts to re-animate dead flesh & limbs, and the two achieve amazing results. But Clerval dies suddenly, and Victor is forced to continue his work alone. He sacrifices his personal life (including his relationship with his fiance) in pursuit of his goals. When his creature is born, Victor is elated by his first. But then Clerval's former mentor, the scheming Dr. Polidori, arrives, and forces him to do further experiments. As the story continues, Polidori gets Victor to help him create a "bride" for the monster, and a series of murderous events is put into motion, culminating in a final confrontation between Victor & the monster.  

The intriguing difference this time out is that the "monster" is an intelligent being who starts out looking handsome, and degenerates into a nightmarish creature. Victor & his creation are friends at first, but things soon take a turn for the worse. Along the way, there are some memorable moments, including one involving the monsters's bride that has stuck in my mind ever since I first saw the film back in 1973. It originally aired on NBC as a two part mini-series, though a shorter, feature-length version of the movie was released overseas. If you're a fan of the Universal or Hammer films interpretations of the story, you'll find a lot to enjoy in this film. Frankenstein: The True Story is a handsomely produced, well written (by Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy) & directed (by Jack Smight) version of the classic tale. The phenomenal cast includes David McCallum, James Mason, Jane Seymour, Leonard Whiting and Michael Sarrazin. There are also cameos by Tom Baker, John Gielgud and Agnes Moorehead. The two-part version of the movie is available on DVD, and is recommended viewing for your Halloween fright fest. Here's a link to some scenes from the film:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October Scares Retro Movie: The Sentinel

Did you know the doorway to Hell was located in New York City? No, we're not talking about the plot of Ghostbusters (1984). Let's take a look at the 1977 thriller The Sentinel. Released toward the end of the occult movie cycle which began with films like Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), the movie tells the story of fashion model Alison Parker, who moves into an apartment in a converted brownstone. She's a distraught young woman who has survived a suicide attempt. The other occupants of the building all act strangely, including an eccentric old man named Charles, who keeps trying to ingratiate himself with her, and insert himself into her life. Weird and disturbing events begin to swirl around Alison; she sleepwalks, has intense nightmares and flashbacks to her suicide attempt. When she complains about the constant noise her neighbors are making, she discovers there really aren't any other people in the building except herself and a blind priest named Father Halliran, who lives on the top floor. But what is causing these odd disturbances?

Cristina Raines in The Sentinel
Alison's boyfriend Michael does some research on the building, and makes a startling discovery. The house is owned by the Catholic Church, and has an odd history. But who is Father Halliran? Is he trying to help Alison or harm her? And what about Michael? A cop keeps visiting Alison and telling her Michael may have been involved in the death of his wife. As the secrets of the building come to light, and the evil forces that are haunting her reveal themselves, Alison's true role in these events becomes clear. One thing is for certain; she has a very important part to play, and her life will never be the same. The Sentinel is perhaps not the best of the 1970s wave of satanic-themed horror tales, but it has some frightening & eerie moments. Directed by Michael Winner (best known for his work on several Charles Bronson films) the movie has what they used to call an "all star" cast, including Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Beverly D'Angelo, Chris Sarandon and Cristina Raines as Alison. You can also spot Jerry Ohrbach, Christopher Walken & Jeff Goldblum in minor roles.

The movie is based on a novel by Jeffrey Konvitz, who also co-wrote the screenplay. If you're a fan of these types of films, it's worth a look. The location filming in New York City also adds to the film's overall effectiveness. I remember seeing it on late night TV back in the early 80s, and it definitely creeped me out. It's sort of a combination of the haunted house and demonic sub-genres of horror. The Sentinel would make perfect October/Halloween themed viewing. It's just been released on Blu-ray by Scream Factory with some extras: three different commentary tracks, including one by author Konvitz as well as one by star Raines, and another by director Winner. There's also a video interview with the film's assistant director, and some trailers & ad art galleries. Here's a link to the original trailer:

Friday, October 9, 2015

Brief Reviews: New Solo Releases by Chris Cornell, Don Henley & Grace Potter

Chris Cornell – Higher Truth – The talented front man for Soundgarden & Audioslave recently released this stunning solo disc. After working with producer Timbaland on 2009’s electronica & pop influenced Scream, Cornell dials things back on Higher Truth. It’s a folk-leaning record that features his usual strong vocal performances, but in a more acoustic setting. The songs are about life, love, loss & redemption, and feature Cornell’s vivid & atmospheric lyrics. Some highlights include the melodic "Worried Moon," the mandolin tinged “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart,” the beautiful “Let Your Eyes Wander,” and a father’s touching ode to his daughter in “Only These Words.” Producer Brendan O’Brien plays on many of the tracks with Cornell, and has done a fabulous job crafting the sound of the album. This may be Cornell’s most assured solo work to date, and it’s a solid mix of his alternative rock strengths with a more quiet, ethereal feeling. Higher Truth is very much worth a listen.

Don Henley – Cass County - It shouldn’t be a surprise that Henley’s gone country on his first solo release in 15 years. The Eagles always had a touch of country in their sound, and Henley & Glenn Frey got their start backing Linda Ronstadt in her early days. On this new release, he reflects on growing older & the passage of time in our lives on songs like “Take A Picture Of This,” and “That Old Flame,” a duet with Martina McBride. In fact, there are many guest stars on the record including Jamey Johnson, Merle Haggard, and Dolly Parton. One of my favorite tracks is the opener, a solid cover of Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” that features Mick Jagger & Miranda Lambert. It’s an enjoyable, low-key album that will appeal to Henley’s fans, and might grab him a few new ones. It recently debuted at number one on the country charts.

Grace Potter – Midnight – I’m a huge fan of Potter’s work with her roots-oriented rock band The Nocturnals, with whom she’s recorded several fine albums. But she’s taken a sharp left turn towards pop on her solo debut. The music has a very produced, layered & radio ready feel, courtesy of producer Eric Valentine. Sadly, it sometimes push Potter's wonderful voice to the background. Tracks range from the bouncy “Alive Tonight” to the r&b flavored “Instigators,” & the destined for the Top 40 “Delirious.” That’s not to say these songs are bad, but it’s a very different sound for the soulful Potter, and may surprise longtime listeners. As the album winds down, we are treated beautiful ballad about loss entitled “Let You Go,” that sounds most akin to her previous work. Potter is stretching her muscles here, and trying something different. It will be interesting to see how the album (and the accompanying tour) is received by her loyal fans.

All three albums are now available online & in stores: Here are links to "Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart," by Chris Cornell,, "Take A Picture of This," by Don Henley,, and Grace Potter's "Delirious,"