Tag Archives | music

TV Preview: Elton John Tribute on CBS

Some of my favorite recording artists will sing songs by Elton John in a tribute show to air on CBS next month. The program, Elton John: I’m Still Standing–a Grammy Salute, is scheduled to be broadcast for two hours at 9pm Pacific Time on Tuesday, April 10. The Grammys announced that tunes originally written, performed and made famous by Elton John, who recently announced details for a final tour, will include the classics co-written with his legendary writing partner Bernie Taupin.

Judging by the guest appearance list, a slew of CBS personalities, players and stars will be shoehorned into the tribute. But the concert will also feature extremely talented artists such as Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Ed Sheeran covering the Elton John catalog. Other artists, such as Miranda Lambert, Shawn Mendes, Miley Cyrus, Little Big Town and Chris Martin, will also perform. Look for Kesha, SZA and Maren Morris, too. Christopher Jackson and Valerie Simpson will perform a duet for “Border Song”. Miley Cyrus will belt out “The Bitch is Back”, Gaga sings “Your Song”, Ed Sheeran performs “Candle in the Wind” and Sam Smith will do the ballad of “Daniel”. John Legend (La La Land) is slated for “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”. Little Big Town will play “Rocket Man”.

According to CBS, the set list features new performances by Elton John of his hits “Bennie and The Jets”, “Philadelphia Freedom” and his Eighties pop hit “I’m Still Standing”, which will be performed with an ensemble. Elton John: I’m Still Standing–a Grammy Salute is scheduled for broadcast on the CBS Television Network.

 

Best Christmas Gifts 2017

Photo of LA’s The Grove at Christmastime by Scott Holleran

Making the most of Christmas commercialism means to me finding or letting in the joy of this marvelous season. I’ve decided to round up some of my favorite things to give or receive purely for the purpose of spreading the cheerfulness, happiness and goodwill that comes this time of year. I think benevolence is all around if you know why to look — for your sake — and never let life’s turmoil go down deep. Sometimes, things help. They remind you that you matter, that you’re capable of enjoying things. Things can become a person’s project and lead to an enterprise, discovery or way to living a renewed life. I hope these tips help you and those you value have a merry Christmas.


Coffee, Shaving and Elegant Correspondence

Two of the best made products for everyday basics are the Verismo coffee machine and Harry’s razor and blades. Both are simple, efficient and streamlined for functionality. When traveling, I like to use the Photocard application, which easily and masterfully makes and sends picture postcards to send with a note through mail and/or e-mail via my iPad or iPhone.

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Similarly, give boxed notecards as gifts, too, which encourage family and friends to correspond with short, handwritten notes, which may be more personal and meaningful than text or e-mail. I recommend Crane’s stationers and Papyrus for finding the highest quality blank and themed note and greeting cards. For gift cards, I know that getting and giving Amazon, Starbucks and Apple, such as iTunes, cards (and, of course, movie theater gift cards, too) brings happiness. You can also send an individual item, such as a favorite book (Atlas Shrugged), movie (La La Land) or song (“Hello”), in iTunes and other mobile apps.

Money is always welcome, of course, though I think cash or a money card is best presented with a thought expressed in writing or recording if you deliver via modern technology. PayPal, banks’ direct payment tools such as Zelle, ApplePay and others (Square, Western Union, Facebook) offer a range of options for gifting money directly to the individual.


Movies, Movies, Movies

If you want to give a movie, investigate the recipient’s preferred format, i.e., streaming such as Hulu, Apple TV or Netflix, DVD or Blu-Ray. I suggest giving a few films if possible as a batch in a selected variety — musical, comedy, drama, classic, action — centrally based on what you have reason to think the recipient enjoys and perhaps one of your own favorites (of course, with a line about why). If that’s not appropriate or possible, choose one favorite and explain in a blank Christmas card note or gift tag what you want the recipient to gain from watching the movie. Simply writing enjoy works, too.

So does bundling. For instance, if you know a dashing or romantic youngster who appreciates civilized man as a work in progress, consider sharing the charms of Cary Grant by gift wrapping North By Northwest, Gunga Din and Charade. Go for variety in your bundles, but look for common themes in the movies. Include gift receipts in case they already have that movie. Don’t forget other classic movie stars, such as Lizabeth Scott, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Look on Amazon.com or call used bookstores to find a credible biography or memoir of the movie star to add as a relational stocking stuffer.

Spielberg at his best

If you’re a true classic movie fan, these are some good themed movies for buying and watching together with one you love: naughty, light comedy in romance — So This is Love, Red-Headed Woman, One Hour With You; for epic, raging Westerns — Forty Guns, The Big Country, Stagecoach, Red River, The Virginian; warm, lush adventures from Steven Spielberg — Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; really glorious, wonderful musicals by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein — The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma! or others such as Minnelli and De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York; movies about war — such as American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, 13 Hours; or give some of your favorites among Oscar’s Best Picture winners — Wings, On the Waterfront, Rocky, Schindler’s List, From Here to Eternity, Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, The King’s Speech, Chicago, or The English Patient.

Reflections on suppression

Movies perfect for home video gifts include family fare such as Zootopia, A Dog’s Purpose and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, all of which embed benevolent ideals in bright, gorgeously colorful films with bold yet simple strokes and a delightful sense of humor. Other good classic films for general audiences are Ted Melfi‘s Hidden Figures, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Walt Disney’s Bambi, The Jungle Book and Dumbo or his very personal and thoroughly enjoyable So Dear to My Heart, a fabulous movie which depicts the antithesis of today’s cynicism. Other movies which might be welcome to those contemplating and facing serious obstacles include Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim musical which skillfully depicts life’s fairy tale moments with depth and insight; Brokeback Mountain, a beautiful film (2005’s best) about secret, lifelong romantic love; The World According to Garp for its biting wisdom and incisive cultural commentary, which was way ahead of its time; and, for an uplifting and thought-provoking examination of the most radical thinker of our times, buy Michael Paxton’s Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, now available on a new Blu-Ray edition. Mike Binder‘s Black or White, Jeff Nichols’ Loving and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are excellent movies about racial integration.

And these slavery-themed films make audiences think twice while moving them to searing emotions — leaving impressions which will last for years and prepare loved ones for forecasting, dodging and transcending what lies ahead: the artistic-themed The Lives of Others, the mythology-themed The Hunger Games, the historical epic 12 Years a Slave and the penetrating romantic tragedy We the Living.


Books

Every movie lover should own a copy of both Leonard Maltin‘s Classic Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which are reliable and outstanding references to have on hand.

Learn from history

For new and recent accounts of why and how people come to believe in evil — and to understand why faith and force are the “destroyers of the modern world” as Ayn Rand wrote — read True Believer: Stalin’s Last American SpyThe Third Reich: The History of Nazi Germany and Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels. To grasp why conservatives advance both destroyers, read the new biography of one of America’s worst presidents, the conservative who made Obama possible, Bush by Jean Edward Smith.

For portraits, memories and stories of man at his better or best, read and/or give The Pit, Harry Reasoner’s Before the Colors Fade and Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty. For the reader who wants to be moved, think, grow, make money and challenge the world, I recommend Ayn Rand’s novels: We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.


Music

Music is so personal that it’s hard to find the right gift. That said, I am fortunate that gifts of certain albums and songs to loved ones who’re facing certain problems add value and yield positive results. Some of my favorite gifts have been albums I never would have discovered on my own, such as favorite albums by Fleetwood Mac, Mark Knopfler and Johnny Cash. Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash, made a thoughtful, melodic and terrific road trip album, The River and the Thread, which I saw her perform up the Golden State freeway at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center in the Santa Clarita Valley. But, then, I like story-driven songwriters’ music, especially the British songwriters’ invasion.

ONJ and JT at play

To this end, I strongly recommend giving and listening to Divide by Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All (or Smith’s In the Lonely Hour, for that matter) Adele’s 25 and James Blunt’s Some Kind of Trouble and Moon Landing. Rock-n-roll and other songs by Pat Benatar, Neil Diamond, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Alanis, the late Tom Petty and his hero, Elvis, are worth considering, depending on one’s situation, tastes and listening habits. Also, think about giving music by pop female vocalists such as Melissa Manchester, Susan Boyle and Olivia Newton-John.

Olivia’s battle with cancer returned this year, which reminds me that whenever someone I love is diagnosed with any form of cancer, I find value and draw strength from listening to and giving one of her extremely enlightening vocal albums, A Celebration In Song. Olivia’s playful Christmas album with her Grease co-star, John Travolta, This Christmas, is a perfect tonic for the holidays, too. One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one created by pop singer Christopher Cross. It’s really blissful, though it’s hard to find. Other fine musical gifts include vocal and instrumental music by Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz.


Television

As gifts, TV programming can be extremely life-affirming. For history buffs and non-fiction fans, I recommend The Marva Collins Story starring Morgan Freeman and Cicely Tyson, the fascinating and brilliantly conceived and produced American Ballet Theatre: A History and the eye-opening documentary series by Ken Burns on two of the most damaging figures in American history, The Roosevelts.

HBO’s Path to Paradise dramatizes the first attack on the Twin Towers, which provides a uniquely informative retrospective of pre-9/11 U.S. appeasement and incompetence. History Channel’s Rebuilding the World Trade Center tracks the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack through an absorbing account of what they call a rebuilding which is, in fact, not what it claims but is nevertheless worth watching. Though it’s a motion picture, not a TV program, if you haven’t seen it, The Walk by Robert Zemeckis is the most exhilarating movie I’ve seen in the theater. It’s an exciting capstone to the existence of the World Trade Center (1973-2001) and a proper remembrance of what were the tallest skyscrapers on earth.

Objective reporting

NBC’s This Is Us is the best new show on TV. CBS’ Escape from Sobibor, dramatizes the only mass concentration camp revolt by Jews against Nazis. Fox’s Glee and Empire and NBC’s Frasier entice and entertain in their premiere seasons if you’ve never watched. For good comedy, Eight is Enough, The Andy Griffith Show, The Carol Burnett Show, I Love Lucy, Hot in Cleveland, and most shows created by Norman Lear afford reality-based laughs that don’t incessantly snicker at values. Cold Blooded, SundanceTV’s amazing documentary miniseries about the Clutter family murders on a farm in Kansas, made infamous and wrongly glorified by Truman Capote in his true crime fictionalization, In Cold Blood, is simply one of the best TV programs I’ve seen in a long time.


Experiences

Though it can be more expensive, giving experiences in advance can be the most joyful and best Christmas gift of all. Whether a handmade certificate for a day at the park or tickets to Disneyland, the opera or a gift card for ArcLight Cinemas, this gift marks a commitment of quality time or a genuinely thoughtful recognition of the recipient’s values. If someone loves gardening, for instance, consider a pass or membership to the botanical gardens. Same goes for other hobbies, interests and favorite sports, such as season or some tickets to the ballpark to see the National League champion Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, or the arena to see the Kings.

Whatever you give or receive, I think the best gift is the one which fits what the person wants. If you think about a favorite or deserving colleague, client, friend, contractor, neighbor or loved one, you probably know, have seen or have some general sense of what lights him up and makes him smile. The best gift could be treating the kids to ice cream, so a Baskin-Robbins gift card might be a good idea. It could be a new tie, scarf, print, beverage or floral bouquet or plant or new album, tool or machine. Consider giving dinner for two at a swanky restaurant to grant someone reprieve. Think in terms of his or her favorite places, wide-eyed tales of want and treasured experiences. Then, go for it.

Have a good time shopping if you can and do and here’s hoping my readers get what they deserve…and wishing you a Merry Christmas and the best of everything in 2018.

Music Review: ‘The Thrill of It All’ by Sam Smith

Sam Smith’s plain, new album is a pop gospel reflection, as soulful as (and more seasoned than) his haunting In the Lonely Hour. “Too Good at Goodbyes” is short and breezy. “Say it First” sets Smith’s gentle, lilting falsetto to the electronic melody and heartbeat rhythm for another good love song. “One Last Song” is an old-fashioned, Motown-style pleaser, “Midnight Train” is searching and “Burning” provides a piano-inflected introspection.

Songs go together in sequence. They draw the listener into The Thrill of It All. Then, comes “HIM”.

This tune is, simply put, a masterpiece, though it might take a few listens to shake off the hype if you’re like I am and need mental clarity to immerse yourself in a song. “HIM”, fittingly in all caps, builds and builds into a chorus as Smith’s vocals dovetail into hand-clapping dare to God. “HIM” ends as a solemn declaration of love as, yes, a hymn. It’s inspired, inspiring music which captures the glory of achieving certainty in rejecting religion.

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“Baby, You Make Me Crazy” is an uptempo toe-tapper and “No Peace” features a recording artist named Yebba on another memorable, piano-looping tune. “Palace” is the type of song you might listen to over and over as you sit by the fire in solitude at Christmastime after everyone’s been cleared out, contemplating promises to yourself for the new year. Lyrics for all these songs, generally at least co-written by Smith, are thoughtful and passionate but also considered and, as before, accessible. The Thrill of It All is in this sense a breakthrough album about the Herculean effort to pull yourself through life’s heartbreak, occasionally with bottles and cigarettes, but foremost with introspection, thought and kindness for one’s honest, gravest mistakes. Sam Smith sings again with sincerity and conviction, this time in reconciliation of whatever debt he might expect himself to pay.

As with the redemptive In the Lonely Hour, the tenth of the ten songs on the regular album, “Pray”, is an affirmation of one who wants to believe in the world.

An additional four songs on the special edition include “Nothing Left for You”, “Scars”, “One Day at a Time” and the album’s title, “The Thrill of It All”. This title track neatly wraps around these 14 songs with a sweeping, which is not to say melodramatic, self-assessment which at once takes stock of life as it is and anticipates working around whatever trouble lies ahead to reach out for the good. For example, “Scars” is a lovely, really touching and soulful tribute to one’s divorced parents. If it is laced with melancholy, and it is (isn’t breaking up?), it is also coated with guitar-laden dreaminess. Words and music suggest an acquired knowledge, confidence and acceptance of the searing pain that comes from the irreconcilability of romantic separation. “One Day at a Time” is an optimistic ode which echoes Smith’s brilliant first album, In the Lonely Hour.

The Thrill of It All is a strong and satiating driving album, especially when you have a reason to believe that what’s around the bend may be bad road conditions…and every reason to believe that, as long as you’re in charge, “it’s never too late” to get past life’s obstacles.

Tom Petty, 1950-2017

With Blondie, David Bowie, the Pretenders, Pat Benatar, the Cars and various other American and British punk and New Wave recording artists, Tom Petty, who died last night in Santa Monica, revived rock and roll in the late 1970s with fresh, original and elementary songwriting and tunes.

Buy the Album

The 66-year-old Southern Californian, who was born and raised in Florida, dropped out of high school and met Elvis Presley on the Ocala, Florida, set of Follow That Dream, which inspired him to pursue a career in music. Petty, who’d been physically abused by his father, later said he’d decided to commit to becoming a rock and roll musician after watching the Beatles perform on live television. The early trajectory goes to why he’s being widely praised and mourned by music fans. I think part of what distinguishes Petty is that his songs and sensibility represent middle class American values. He brought both urgency and simplicity to rock’s essential roots. He did so with distinction.

I discovered Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with his breakthrough, bestselling 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes (pictured) with its powerful songs bursting with sharp guitar riffs and biting, straightforward lyrics expressed in Petty’s bluesy, emphatic vocals in “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Here Comes My Girl,” and “Even the Losers”. As the years and decades passed, from his cool, distant “You Got Lucky” and “The Waiting” to “Free Fallin’” and the Dave Stewart-tinged “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which Petty sings with the deep, slow and dead-on anger of someone who’s seeing things clearly for the first time, arcing up at the end for a fine, guitar-raging finish, and the simple yet insightful song he wrote with Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, “Learning to Fly”, a Tom Petty single always expressed a mood, sense or thought with melody, structure and clarity. Even his duet with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks for her bestselling solo album Bella Donna, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” is distinctive in its first few notes. Whether on his own solo album, Wildflowers, or in his brief collaboration with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne in their band the Traveling Wilburys, Tom Petty made his mark.

As far as I know, Petty stayed focused on making music in his own way and he never strayed, holding to the unpretentious, childlike spirit of trading his slingshot for a box of 45s, many of them Elvis Presley songs, when he was a kid. In his recent book Petty: The Biography, Warren Zanes reportedly wrote that “Elvis became a symbol of a place Tom Petty wanted to go. In time, the Beatles would be the map to get there.” Self-made Petty met, performed with and honored some of his own heroes, remaining active, touring and playing music he made, leaving behind a catalog of songs about life. I am one beneficiary of his having gone full speed ahead.

Music Review: Divide by Ed Sheeran

For clear, powerful pop music, and I am an admitted fan of pop music, Ed Sheeran’s new album, Divide, adds, multiplies and satisfies. From the first listening to the most recent, its lyrics, melodies and ranging styles sound better and better.

Beginning with a lament about his early pop fame, “Eraser”, Sheeran sings about “friends and family filled with envy when they should be filled with pride.” Then, he croons what I regard as a songwriting masterpiece, “Castle on a Hill”. This propulsive tune contrasts various pauses, pleas, percussion and steady repetition of guitar playing with an easygoing but deceptively shrewd, wry and progressive observation about earning one’s wisdom. Sheeran spins it into an exultant if exhausted embrace of the facts of reality.

Buy Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” (deluxe version CD)

In “Dive”, Ed Sheeran (who co-wrote the songs) delivers a polished paean to lovesickness with the right blend of vulnerability and affirmation. The lustful, sexually themed “Shape of You” applies an irresistible lyric to undulating rhythm in electronic soul. With a scratchy, old recording sound as prelude, his love song “Perfect” is truly perfect. With Sheeran’s clear vocals lavishing its rhyming lyrics with sincerity, with seriousness fueling the soul of his talent, as with the best of England’s new wave of soul singers—James Blunt, Adele, Sam Smith, all of whom are evoked in the brightest sense on this exceptional album—in a song you’d expect to hear on oldies radio. “Galway Girl” is a jaunty mix of hip hop and regional music that stands on its own. “Happier” is the most haunting heartbreak song since Blunt’s “Beautiful” or Adele’s “Hello”.

“New Man” offers another modern beat, with a nod to social media and digs at kale, overspending and plucked eyebrows. All of Sheeran’s 16 songs are meticulously created and recorded, with memorable, piano laden melodies. This is especially true of the lullaby “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and a few other favorites, including Sheeran’s ironic upbeat ode to his brand of self-made music “What Do I Know”. “How Would You Feel” is lovely, too.

Sheeran saves the best for the deluxe album’s last five songs, though “Castle on a Hill” remains sensational. How sad that it has to be considered refreshing to hear a man sing a simple proclamation of love for his mother in “Supermarket Flowers”. “Barcelona”, which neatly evokes a summer night along Las Ramblas in that Spanish city, and “Bibia Be Ye Ye”, tease and dare you to not want to dance. Ed Sheeran’s tribute to his parents’ love, “Nancy Mulligan”, toasts the best of one’s legacy in values. Finally, the reflective and prayerful “Save Myself” plays like young, successful and rich Ed Sheeran’s egoistic answer to his album Divide’s first song, “Eraser”—intentionally or not—promising with a solemn vow to remember that, before he loves someone else, he’s “got to love myself.”

Clarity, melody and sincerity unify the elements of Ed Sheeran’s intimate and triumphal Divide.