Sorry, no Music Video of the Week last Wednesday. I don't know if I just forgot or if the omission had something to do with aching wrists or continual vision issues. I don't remember if I posted about our dog chewing up the lenses of my new glasses...I was almost a week using a back-up pair that is at least 4 years old. In fact, they are the last pair I had that were worth a shit. They still do okay when it comes to distance, but I can hardly read with them. Especially on the computer. So that may well be the reason I didn't post the video...and I know there are hundreds of people out there who wait with bated breath to see who will be featured in the weekly showcase. And though my dog seems to have chomped them yet again I can guarantee that I will not forget my duties tomorrow.


Our dog chewed up the lenses in my glasses so I’m having to wear a much older pair until they get repaired. I’m actually surprised that I can see as well as I can through them. They don’t do well at very long distances and I can’t read anything, but at least I’m not falling around legally blind as I would be if I wore none at all. My only fear is that the good pair will take a little more “getting used to” after my eyes have adjusted back to these. If luck holds out I will have my regular pair back and good as new by early next week. The Thanksgiving holiday may prevent their delivery, though, and if that turns out to be the case I won’t have them even at this time next week. I do not relish that possibility. The dog has been forgiven, seeing as how he’s only a puppy and puppies do that kind of thing. He needs to learn that stuff on the table is not for his amusement.

I got a real “wake up call” Friday. Jeff asked me if I wanted to play a few songs for an Employees Recognition Day thing at the newspaper where his wife works. I was eager to do it, having not played in front of people in a long, long time (the same was true of Jeff). It was to be an informal jam kind of affair. I wasn’t sure about the level of professionalism they all expected, but lucky for us there weren’t all that many paying much attention. They were serving chili and I guess most of the employees were getting in on that action. Maybe 15 people in the place where we were set up, and of those there were probably 5 who were paying any attention at all.

I have to wonder what those 5 people thought. I couldn’t find the rhythm in any of the songs. The few songs I tried to sing sounded like shit. Jeff had trouble, too. I hate to think what our “audience” thought about our duet. The worst thing about it was not being able to think of the next song to play. This was to be a very low-key affair so we didn’t think it necessary to bring song lists. Big mistake. We found ourselves dragging out old shit that we promised ourselves never to play again. Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, “Can’t You See” by the Marshall Tucker Band. I felt we fared better on the original songs we pulled out, but you just can’t be sure anyone’s even listening if they don’t recognize the tune. Jeff did “Someone’s Been Lying Here”, which really is a fine number that might well have done something had an established country artist taken it. And I did “The Ladder”, which I’ve always thought highly of (my friends like it a lot, so that’s why). I don’t know what they thought of it, because they weren’t applauding, not for us or for the other two guys who were also playing for the jam. I have a hard time thinking of how to describe what they played. They did “I’ll Fly Away” twice, and made me wonder if that old gospel music was their stock in trade. Their line-up consisted of an acoustic guitarist (who had a badge pinned to his belt, so I assumed he was a lawman), and a very mild-mannered banjo picker. For the first few songs I was convinced that this banjo man was not too many steps above “beginner status”. But then he did “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and nailed that sucker flat. I guess he poured all his rehearsal time into getting that one down perfect. I’ll say this for them both: they were soft spoken and seemed extremely docile. I might not have noticed that had I not wondered how an officer of the law could act so much like a pussy. They did another song called “Prayed Up”, a not-so-clever play on words in which the term “paid up” is conjured to less than clever effect (IMO).

It was okay by me, though, because it meant that we weren’t the only ones who sucked so bad. It meant that the whole affair was so off-the-cuff that it didn’t matter whether or not we were competent musicians. This was no professional gig. You can bet on that.

My son’s album is almost complete. We’ve been working on it since June, and I know that seems like a long time to be on one project, but you have to take into consideration that we only get to do it one day a week. We’ve missed two or three weeks as well, so when you take that into consideration I suppose we’re doing quite will. Had we done it five days a week I’m sure it would have taken less than a month to complete. As it is, though, it’s a toss-up over whether the record will be in the can by our projected release date. Now that I think about it, most likely we will NOT have it done when we hoped, calculating what still needs to be recorded and the mixing/mastering process. Will take a small miracle. Or I suppose we might have a chance if we do it a couple of extra days next week, since my boy will be on Thanksgiving break. But I somehow doubt that, because Jeff will probably doing something on that day as well. Will be lucky if we get to do our usual Sunday.

Anyhoo, I figured I’d better write something, what with all the inactivity here in the Listening Room. Does that make sense? “All the inactivity”? I don’t think it does.


Cirque du Soleil: "Viva Elvis"

My latest record review was published yesterday on the Vintage Rock websites. I think it's probably the best one I've written so far, though there are plenty of grammatical gaffes. I probably should have done a little more re-writing, but I guess I was satisfied with what I came up with, because I would not turn something in that I thought wasn't good enough to go online. It was also somewhat difficult because I really didn't like the record. Normally I'm able to spin something flattering from just about anything I write about. But this disc was especially insulting to my memories of Elvis' music. I couldn't find too much to recommend it. Anyway, the review is what it is. I hope you enjoy it. 

When I was first told of a Cirque du Soleil tribute to Elvis Presley, I thought, Hey! That's not a bad idea! After all, Cirque du Soleil was responsible for the huge extravaganza that was The Beatles Love. It seemed only logical that the King of Rock would be a topic worthy of their talent and hard work. If not for the influence of Presley there is a good chance that the Beatles might never even have existed. At the very least their music would not have sounded anything like what it did.

Not only did he provide a muse for the Fab Four, by that time he'd already opened the ears of "the kids" to rock and roll music (a feat that earned him much scorn from parents of those same kids). Too many people in this day and age have ho idea why Elvis is "The King". A good part of it is because he was one of the first artists to successfully introduce black music to the white man. Sounds absurd, doesn't it? A relic from the days of segregation and, unpalatable as it certainly is to consider, that was the state of affairs in the 50s when Elvis first began recording. In light of that, it doesn't really matter how many records the man has sold (and/or still sells, post-mortem). It's what he has already DONE that counts. That's why he's afforded regal status.

Which is probably for the best...or WAS, I should say. Eventually even his own performances descended into mediocrity in his final years. His core audience had been reduced to vacationing housewives looking to re-live the "good old days". You can kind of see how his music lost a lot of its relevance. Is Viva Elvis an attempt to bring some of that relevance back? Or is it justanother nostalgic "Those were the Days" free-for-all geared at reaching the folks in Vegas who he catered to during his final years? A little bit of both, I say. With both successes and failures on both fronts.

If you go into Viva Elvis hoping for the same ingenious magic that was evident in The Beatles Love, you will be disappointed. I want to say “sorely disappointed.” but that tag would only apply if you were expecting a similar mash-up style implemented on the Love show. If you aren’t familiar with what a “mash-up” is, don’t worry. It’s not exactly a household word. A “mash-up” is a musical composition which incorporates at least two song elements that fit well together (hence, “mashed up”). Usually more than one band/artist is featured in any given mash-up, but this isn’t always the case. I’ve got one in my collection that mixes and matches the Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus” and “Ball of Confusion” by the Temptations. If you’d never heard the original songs individually you’d never know there were two instead of one (does that make sense, even?). Actually, Beatles mash-ups aren’t all too hard to find on the Internet. But Love kicked it up several notches by virtue of sound quality alone. That’s not even counting the fact that the sequencing is more creative and extensive than what you’ll ever download from a music blog. Love is one huge, marvelous mash-up with stellar production…which is what you WON’T be getting with Viva Elvis. No doubt part of this is because the man was a SINGER…his talents didn’t extend to writing the music he was singing to. Besides, that stuff’s so DATED, right? Apparently the Viva Elvis people thought so, because the most obvious thing about the album is how “fleshed out” the arrangements are. Not only is the overall SOUND ratcheted up, even whole chord structures are modified.

It’s not necessarily a bad idea. Somewhat jarring, though, when you’ve grown up with the actual Elvis songs. Still, Presley’s voice, given a digital polishing, sounds better than ever, even if it IS floating on top of music that was recorded in a studio 100 times more advanced than any he ever actually recorded in. Hearing all this gloss and sheen I found myself missing the barebones quality of the arcane Sun sessions. I couldn’t help but think that there was no way Viva Elvis could get to those of us who believe his career as a legitimate rock and roll star ended on the day he enlisted in the service. Perhaps it’s for the dying breed of “Elvis could do no wrong” fanatics who will snatch up any and everything even remotely associated with the man. Or maybe it’s meant to be a cool souvenir to help you relive an exciting evening spent with Cirque du Soleil. And it’s obvious that the label hopes to bring some younger listeners into the Presley fold. I mean, come on! They’ve even got DJ Pocket on board to scratch some vinyl. What’s that you say? Who the hell is DJ Pocket?

Bottom line for me, despite any intentions on the part of the label, I just don’t know. The thing is an enigma to me. The concept, I accept, is a clever one. But what it all boils down to is this: Viva Elvis is a novelty record. My tolerance for novelty records is pretty low and this one, though very well done, is just that. Without the accompanying visuals in the stage show it’s kind of hard to really get a feel for what is actually going on here. Some of the sequences and sampled voice clips are downright bizarre when excised from the visuals. A perfect example can be heard in the first two minutes of the record. It’s an introduction, of sorts, filled with the sound of rabid female Elvis fans loudly expressing their devotion, the majestic strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (also known is some parts of the south as “Elvis’ Theme Song”) and a host of other semi-related sound bytes. A heavy bossa nova beat descends into the maelstrom and competes with the Strauss piece for rhythmic domination. Not too sure which wins, but it didn’t sound like either was doing what it meant to be doing. The two wildly differing styles battle it out for almost two minutes. TWO MINUTES! Get on with it, brotha.

This all leads to a chopped up version of “Blue Suede Shoes.” You may actually find yourself wishing the intro was even longer when you hear this rendition. One of the coolest things about “Blue Suede Shoes” is in how the music breaks for the vocals with each line (similar to what he did with “Heartbreak Hotel,” which is also presented in mind boggling fashion on Viva Elvis). Well that’s all been re-arranged for this version. The pulsing bass and drums flow monotonously through the whole song. All of the music (save bass and drum) is practically stripped from the song and when guitars finally do come around they sound more like U2’s “Desire” than anything resembling the actual song.

Elvis Presley Enterprises signed off on this whole mess. I have to wonder what Elvis himself would have thought of how this song has been butchered? I won’t presume to speak for the dead, but were it my opinion being solicited I’d have to say that the first order of business at the next board meeting would be all about filling the empty seats left vacant, unwillingly, as a direct result of letting this tune get trampled on so hard.

Okay, so that’s pretty harsh. I admit there are a couple of nice sections scattered throughout the CD’s 42- minute duration. “Burning Love,” for instance, lends itself particularly well to a modern re-make. It at least has that going for it. Yet it’s barely enough to save the tune from the reconstructed chord changes. This chord mangling is pervasive in all of the songs presented here. It’s almost as if the people responsible for Viva Elvis just didn’t like the original chords and decided it would be better to throw in a few of their own.

More strangeness ensues. Can you imagine “That’s All Right” set to a musical hybrid of David Gray and Jet? As far as I’m concerned the end result sounds tailor made for an annoying television commercial.

The pre-release publicity for this album seemed to place no small amount of significance on the fact that Brendan O’Brien produced three of the 12 tracks on the record. “That’s All Right” was the first of that trio. I’m not gonna knock O’Brien. He’s done very well for Pearl Jam. So what if I was disappointed in the two albums he cut with Bruce Springsteen? None of that makes a hill-of-beans as far as Viva Elvis is concerned. Fact is that the songs he worked on here are quite indiscernible from those the other producers did. BIG names like Serban Ghenea, Robert Meunier and Erich van Tourneau. I guess they’re big names, I don’t know. Just because I’ve never heard of them certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t big names.

“Love Me Tender” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” are both done up as duets with Dea Norberg and Sherry St. Germain, respectively. More big names. Both of these ladies could probably hold their own with the American Idol set, but they’ll never be mistaken for Aretha Franklin. The third of the Brenden O’Brien tracks, and the finale to the disc, is “Suspicious Minds.” It starts out quite promising. I guess it HAS to, since this one could well be considered the peak of Elvis Presley’s recording career. It’s a well-loved song. It’s a great song, no other way to put it. It’s hard to screw up such a classic song. Good thing O’Brien’s on top of things. Sounds awesome the first couple of minutes, like I’d hoped the whole album would. Elvis’ voice is powerful enough to raise some goose bumps and for once the instrumental music seems perfectly fitted to the part. An almost haunting sound that merges with a heavily processed guitar. You might even mistake it for the signature style of U2’s axe man The Edge. It’s a sound he has honed and milked over the course of 25+ years. It’s wisely pulled back on “Suspicious Minds” to make way, one would assume, for Presley’s priceless voice. Everything moves along smoothly, even beautifully. It does, that is, until the 1:35 time marker comes around, at which point the mood is totally destroyed by the entrance of the garage band who practice down the street from where you live. With only a brief respite the rockers come back and don’t leave until the song is over. Makes me want to drag out the original and listen to it just to get the bad taste out of my ears.

I’ve raked this record over the coals, I realize. And to be honest, that kind of bugs me. I want SO MUCH to like “Viva Elvis” - or perhaps I mean “what I thought it could have been.” It teases just enough to make you think, “Wait a minute!
This ain’t so bad after all!” But then something comes along so wretched that you wonder how you came to the conclusion that it could possibly be redeemed in the first place.

Of course, I’m looking at it (listening to it) as if it were a typical CD release, not even thinking about the Cirque du Soleil aspect. That’s an important facet, too, because the one thing I can tell you with certainty is that Viva Elvis is, at its core, a SOUNDTRACK album. I don’t see it as being considered as much more than that. That’s how it comes across. Were I to experience the Cirque du Soleil event, I would no doubt buy a copy at the merchandise stand. But the only reason for purchasing it would be to remember the show itself. I’d probably never listen to it again. If times really got tough it would be one of the first discs in my collection to be sacrificed to the weird dude behind the counter at the used CD store.


Henryk Gorecki, Rest in Peace

Henryk Gorecki
December 6, 1933 - November 12, 2010

Today I mourn the passing of one of the most significant composers in contemporary orchestral music. His 3rd Symphony has long been my favorite work in that genre. The arrangement he completed of the choral work "Totuus Tuus" is nothing short of stunning. You would do well to find out for yourself what a talented, gifted individual he was, and here are a couple of links to Amazon for you to purchase his these two works. If you enjoy classical music even a little bit you will no doubt enjoy these records.


Music Video of the Week: James Taylor

Over 2,000,000 hits on YouTube, I can't believe it's taken me so long to find this video. My all-time favorite James Taylor song (actually I'm not too fond of Taylor, but this one is definitely the exception to that rule). Enjoy.

"You Can Close Your Eyes"
James Taylor (w/Carly Simon)