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Michael Buble’s Crazy Love

The 13 songs on Michael Buble’s latest album, Crazy Love, do not match let alone exceed the quality of his previous efforts. The majority of tunes, including the title track’s cover of Van Morrison’s original, are produced by David Foster. That doesn’t appear to be the problem. No single song is a disaster among this collection of ballads and uptempo numbers, yet the overall approach is unfocused and slightly manic. Buble doesn’t play to his strengths and his bombastic version of “Cry Me a River” is a mistake. On an album in which one of the most memorable tunes is a remake of a mid-range rocker by the Eagles, “Heartache Tonight,” you know it’s not Buble’s finest moment.

Pop Music: Whitney Houston’s ‘I Look to You’

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Buy the CD

The most anticipated comeback album (I Look to You by Whitney Houston) in recent memory is a good effort.

Available through iTunes and on compact disc (CD), I Look to You, which I reviewed on CD, is neither terrible nor terrific and it is definitely worth a listen. The troubled singer’s previous work includes a multitude of inspirational songs, such as “The Greatest Love of All” (from the biographical film, The Greatest, about boxer Muhammad Ali) and other megahits. This 11-song collection, with mid-range ballads, light rhythm and blues and a softer, less manic vocal style, is a realistic start. She sounds like a damaged pop star who is learning to crawl all over again. I am cheering for her success.

Welcome back, Whitney.

Tribute Film Classics Presents: ‘The Prince and the Pauper’ Score

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Tribute Film Classics (TFC)—composed of John Morgan, Anna Bonn, and William Stromberg—is proof that not everyone in Tinseltown chooses to ‘go Hollywood’. These diligent musicians recently released another exquisite recording, the complete Erich Wolfgang Korngold score to the 1937 Errol Flynn classic adaptation of the 1882 Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper (available from this vendor).

Here’s what I wrote in an online column about TFC when they started up last year:

“One need not be a fan of the literary-themed pictures to enjoy the first two recordings … definitive compact disc editions of composer Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Mysterious Island and Fahrenheit 451. The CDs alone are impressive.

“Besides the score for Francois Truffaut’s 1966 adaptation of a novel about a totalitarian regime that bans books, Universal’s Fahrenheit 451, TFC offers the complete 61-track score for Mysterious Island. The release includes entire cue cuts, with notes by TFC principal William Stromberg, who conducted the Moscow Symphony Orchestra’s performance, and TFC co-founders Anna (Mrs. Stromberg) Bonn and John Morgan. Their approach is admirably meticulous.

“The 1961 adventure classic, Mysterious Island (Columbia Pictures), based on the novel by French writer Jules Verne, features two Union prisoners of war (POWs) who escape in a hot-air balloon during the American Civil War. They drift to the titular fantasy isle, encountering giant creatures, a volcano, an earthquake, a honeycomb and another famous Verne character, Captain Nemo (Mr. Verne’s Mysterious Island is a sequel to his 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea).

“Mr. Herrmann’s memorable music accentuates the movie’s thrills and the accompanying 32-page booklet is more intelligent and informative than most books, with time stamps and notes on chords, instruments and scenes. That doesn’t really do this labor of love, which must be seen to be appreciated, justice. The same caliber of top production values is present on TFC’s booklet for Mr. Herrmann’s complete Fahrenheit 451 score, which includes notes from author Ray Bradbury. Both CDs are a rare accomplishment in today’s movie-related products: they take motion pictures—their artists, scores and history—seriously.”

So does The Prince and the Pauper, recorded in Moscow, Russia. It is another outstanding accomplishment.

Mixed Media

I’m pressed for time—I’m planning to attend this year’s Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Boston, which starts in a few days—and I know I’m backlogged on posts. I have to report that Fox’s third Ice Age installment is harmless and happily dialed down, so it’s suitable for smaller kids.

Sid the sloth has something of an identity crisis and thinks he’s a surrogate mother, so he’s off and wandering into a subterranean world of dinosaurs and, sparing the details, the regulars are back in action and re-bonding when one of them has a child. The series’ innocuous theme that a loving family is made, not born, comes through with fine results and an adventurous new character. Recommended for young families and those with low expectations. Again, it’s not disgusting and the 3D technology works very well. Scrat’s back in the picture, too, falling for a female equivalent and forgetting about the acorn for a while.

I will probably write a review of Warner Bros.’ My Sister’s Keeper, one of the best movies this year if you can stand its subject: a young girl dying of cancer. More on this picture by Nick Cassavetes later but the well-made movie is poignant, thoughtful, and honest. I also saw two movies at the Los Angeles Film Festival: The Stoning of Soraya M, an indictment of Iran’s Islamic fundamentalism, and an absolutely dreadful attack on a great American business, Dole Foods, called Bananas. I’m still thinking about Soraya M. But the anti-capitalist latter movie, thoroughly discredited by a judge’s ruling, is a disgrace to the L.A. Film Festival, which should have shown this trash the door.

I’m reading interesting new books and I am working on several writing projects that I am enjoying. For now, I’m off to OCON 2009 but not before I happily endorse my favorite new pop album this summer: Lionel Richie’s Just Go, a collection of 14 new tunes, mostly ballads. It’s an infectious batch of romantic piano songs, with strings, synthesizers, and softly manipulated vocals, and I’m finding it irresistible. The perfect summer album. I have more to say later—on the loss of Farrah, Michael Jackson and more—and look forward to posting.

Pop Shots: Billy, Marx & Olivia

Billy Joel’s Storm Front (1989) is an underappreciated collection of ten songs that showcase some of his most interesting work. With rich rock-n-roll in piano, guitar, and horns, and of course his robust vocals, Billy Joel bursts with an angry and buoyant nostalgic anthem, “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which, in retrospect, traces America’s decline. He sails into the fisherman’s “Downeaster “Alexa”, he goes to extremes, observes the fall of Communist Russia in “Leningrad”, and he wraps with a poignant acknowledgement of reality in “And So It Goes.”

One of Storm Front’s background singers created an album of his own at the turn of the century which is itself an excellent piece of pop music. Though it is a bit too polished, a crisp production of country and rock is on display in Days of Avalon by Richard Marx of Highland Park, Illinois. These 12 mostly romantic tunes cover a range of emotions—always with the talented Marx’s sincerity in top form.

His sappy 2000 song with Olivia Newton-John (ONJ), “Never Far Away,” is part of Olivia’s 2008 duets CD, Olivia Newton-John & Friends: A Celebration in Song. I highly recommend this album for anyone battling cancer or any of life’s difficulties. From the opening anthem, “Right Here with You” to the acoustic guitar-driven last track, Belinda Emmett’s (1974-2006) “Beautiful Thing,” this is one of ONJ’s best recent efforts. The powerful motivational song, “Courageous,” is the perfect jolt for these lousy times. But each old and new song, featuring pairings with Keith Urban, Jann Arden and one of modern pop music’s best songwriters, longtime ONJ producer John Farrar (“You’re the One That I Want”) offer melodic shots of optimism fueled by a positive sense of life and the type of encouragement that only comes from a true friend.