Friday, October 24, 2008

AC/DC - Black Ice CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been said that AC/DC has written the same album for over 30 years. While there is some truth to that, they still have albums that are better than others. With Black Ice, the band’s first since 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC has delivered their best album since, arguably, Flick of the Switch.

The long layoff did the band well, especially vocalist Brian Johnson, whose trademark gritty banshee scream is in full force here. He and the band sound energized, and while their previous two releases, the aforementioned Stiff Upper Lip and Ballbreaker focused more on their bluesier side, Black Ice is a rocker from beginning to end. This can be attributed to producer Brendan O’Brien, who wanted a return of the rock and roll AC/DC he loved.

The album opens with first single “Rock N Roll Train,” with a riff and driving drumbeat that recalls “Highway to Hell.” It is one of four songs with rock in the title, as if the band needed to remind listeners why they are here.

“Big Jack” reminds the listener of “Big Gun” or “Who Made Who” with its great riff and anthemic chorus. This is the song that should have been the first single as it is one of the strongest tracks they have done in some time.

On “Anything Goes,” the band gets as close to recording a pop song as they likely ever will. Johnson’s vocals are almost sensitive here. Still, they make it work as it still has that classic AC/DC sound to it.

The band gets down and dirty on the gritty “War Machine,” which original front man Bon Scott would have torn up vocally. It’s yet another song that had the band released this album 15 years ago would have been all over rock radio.

The heavy blues of “Stormy May Day” finds Angus Young breaking out the slide, while the riff of “Decibel” sounds suspiciously like ZZ Top’s “Waitin’ for the Bus,” but if you are going to steal, ZZ Top is as good a choice as any to take from.

If there is a negative to be found on Black Ice, it is the lack of a real barnburner such as “Landslide” or “Riff Raff.” Nevertheless, AC/DC have crafted a fine album filled with great hooks and guitar riffs, as well as the big choruses they are so famous for. The tracks should go over well live and for those wondering when the next great AC/DC album would come, it’s here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lil' Bush: Resident of United States - Season Two DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Lil’ Bush: Resident of the United States returns for a second season, entitled “Staying the Courses,” and continues to follow the exploits of Lil’ Bush and the Lil’ Cronies (Lil’ Cheney, Lil’ Condi and Lil’ Rummy). The satire is turned way in up season 2. With the real George W. Bush being as unpopular as he is, the show pulls no punches in its attacks on the administration, going as far as comparing Lil’ Cheney to Osama bin Laden.

The Democrats get it too, and in season 2, we see more characters join the ranks of the Lil’ Dems such as Lil’ Al Gore (who is always preaching and trying to save the environment), Lil’ Dennis Kucinich (who is pint-sized, even to the other Lil’ Bush characters), and Lil’ John Kerry (who is indecisive and always flip-flopping).

While the show remained a half hour, there is only one episode per show, allowing the stories to stretch out more. Season 2 is also a lot more vulgar. While both seasons feature their fair share of profanity and are uncensored on DVD, there is a lot more cursing in season 2, as evidenced by the opening skit on the DVD where Lil’ Bush parodies the Jimmy Kimmel/Sarah Silverman “I’m F**king Ben Affleck/Matt Damon” songs with his own — “I’m F**king McCain.” While this bit is funny, the over-abundance of swearing in season 2 takes away some of the charm of the first season.

One episode has George H.W. Bush taking the Lil’ Cronies camping — in Iraq — only to spend more time with the troops than the kids. Distraught and wanting to get his father back, Lil’ Bush finds the body of Saddam Hussein and brings it to him. After Lil’ Cheney had eaten Saddam’s brain and the Lil’ Cronies hollowed-out the body, they were able to operate him as a puppet and create a “puppet dictatorship” — a direct shot at the current situation in Iraq. When this still doesn’t help the situation, Lil’ Bush gets angry and goes on TV as Saddam and insults George H.W. Bush and the Americans. George H.W Bush gets angry, saying Saddam and Lil’ Bush have gone too far and launches an air strike into Iraq. Barbara Bush tells George H.W. Bush that Lil’ Bush just needs a hug. While appalled at the idea of hugging him instead of just giving him a firm handshake, George H.W. Bush returns to Iraq where he makes up with his son. They then bring Saddam’s body back to the states where they proceed to hang him.

While this has all been happening, Lil’ Bill Clinton gets the Lil’ Dems drunk and high so he can go to spring break on South Padre Island (They had all resisted before). Their exploits are filmed by a couple of bystanders and marketed as Dems Gone Wild. When the Dems sober up and realize what has happened, they get angry with Lil’ Bill Clinton who tells them, “It doesn’t matter if you do bad things, as long as you use your charm to get away with them.” The Dems are once again charmed by Lil’ Bill Clinton and all is well in their camp.

A different episode starts at a science fair at school. Bush and the Lil’ Cronies have a project where they say volcanoes erupt because of God’s angry powder getting poured into them. They proceed to destroy Lil’ Hillary’s dinosaur project, saying it never really existed anyhow (a shot at religious groups who believe the same thing about the actual dinosaurs). The Cronies’ project is terrible, but they win the fair because of the earmarks Lil’ Bush guarantees the school.

Forced to give a speech on his own, Lil’ Bush’ s head nearly explodes and he ends up in the hospital. The Lil’ Cronies visit him and attempt to give him a nickname, “Number One,” but Lil’ Bush rejects it, due to the fact that he is the one who gives out the nicknames and that it also reminds him of pee. He blames the Cronies for the lack of a speech and never wants to see them again.

They split up and make new friends, with Lil’ Bush befriending Lil’ Fred Thompson, who attempts to get him to do a nude scene in a school play. The cast laughs at him when he takes his shirt off and he runs away. In a comical scene, the director asks him what kind of accent he has and Lil’ Bush says, “Texas.” When she still doesn’t believe him, he says, “Texas by way of Connecticut.” Lil’ Fred Thompson does a “One to Grow On” parody called “Thoughts to Grow On” where he suggests abortion isn’t cool and that if you have to have one, you should kill your unborn child the natural way by taking up smoking.

Meanwhile, Lil’ Condi has befriended Lil’ Giuliani, who keeps trying to wear her clothes; Lil’ Cheney becomes friends with Lil’ Kucinich and even sings with him until he gets annoyed and stuffs him in his lunch box with his live birds; and Lil’ Rummy and Lil’ Rommy become friends, until Lil’ Rommy’s flip-flopping gets the best of Lil’ Rummy. After a scene where the Lil’ Cronies are all seen singing songs about being alone or “alown” as Lil’ Bush’s lyrics say, they reunite.

A sub-plot of the episode finds Lil’ Jeb in the hospital after accidentally eating pudding laced with sleeping pills. A pair of doctors, thinking he is a woman about to give birth, operate on him and remove a number of objects from his body, including a He-Man figure, before they realize they have the wrong person. While he is healing up, Lil’ Jeb finds the pudding he is eating coming out of the hole in his stomach. The doctors, sensing a new diet fad for pudding holes, exploit this and Lil’ Jeb becomes famous and women, including Barbara Bush, line up to get pudding holes.

In another episode, the Lil’ Cronies get addicted to prescription pills from their lobbyists which radically changes their personalities — most notably in Lil’ Condi who becomes bossy and vulgar and Lil’ Cheney who becomes nice. His usual “rah rah rah” speech pattern is replaced by “la la la” and he turns into a hippie. When the Cronies try to clean up, Lil’ Condi resists and goes through severe withdrawal.

Lil’ Cheney gets kidnapped by terrorists who want transplant his heart into Osama bin Laden. They feel Lil’ Cheney’s heart is black enough to do it. In a shot at Homeland Security, when the terrorists bring their bags through the airport scanner, the security guards make them remove their bottle of shampoo because it is too big, and open fire on it. This in spite of the fact that Lil’ Cheney is clearly visible in the bag they have him stuffed in. On the plane, the terrorist laments the fact that he can’t have his dandruff shampoo.

While in Afghanistan, bin Laden promises Lil’ Cheney he will be a martyr for his actions and that he will be greeted by 72 virgins when he dies. Lil’ Cheney likes this idea and fantasizes about ripping their heads off and sucking out their insides the same way he feeds on the live chickens They drug him up and are about to go into surgery when he is rescued by the Lil’ Cronies. He is still groggy and when he sees Lil’ Condi, thinks she is the first virgin and attempts to tear her head off.

Season 2 takes more chances than season 1 did and that most likely is due to Bush’s approval ratings. While not quite as charming, the show remains funny and hits the mark more often than not. The DVD has a number of bonus features including audio commentary, animated shorts, and “animatics” showing original sketch art and a My Lil’ Bush music video. Liberals who are fans of the show will want to get season 2. Conservatives will also like that the Dems are repeatedly made fun of on the show, though some of them may not like that their belief system gets attacked in every episode.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival - 40th Anniversary CD Reissue Reviews

Written by General Jabbo

Creedence Clearwater Revival's roots go back to 1959, when the band was known as The Blue Velvets — an instrumental group featuring John Fogerty on guitar, Stu Cook on piano, and Doug Clifford on drums. Eventually Fogerty's brother Tom joined on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and the band changed their name to The Golliwogs. After releasing a number of singles for the Fantasy label, the band was allowed to release their first album if they agreed to change their name. They did and in 1968, Creedence Clearwater Revival (or CCR) released their self-titled debut album and quickly became one of the biggest bands in the world. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first album, Fantasy has re-released a number of CCR albums: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, Cosmo's Factory and Pendulum. The band's final album, Mardi Gras, recorded as a trio without Tom Fogerty and featuring songs written and sung by all three members, was not included in these reissues.

1968's Creedence Clearwater Revival showcased the band's trademark swamp rock/blues/country with a touch of psychedelia sound on songs such as “Suzie Q” — a cover of an old Dale Hawkins song and the band's first top-40 hit — and their cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." Fogerty does Wilson Pickett justice on the band's cover of "Ninety-nine and a Half" (a live version is included as a bonus track) and dives heavily into the blues on "The Working Man" and "Get Down Woman." Bonus tracks include "Call it Pretending," which was actually a Golliwogs b-side; an up-tempo version of "Before You Accuse Me" different from the version included on Cosmo's Factory; and an almost 12-minute live version of “Suzie Q” where the band really stretches out. Creedence Clearwater Revival is a fine debut, but barely scratched the surface of what was to come as John Fogerty's songwriting abilities grew.

1969's Bayou Country, the first of three albums released by the band that year, features the band's biggest and most-covered song, "Proud Mary." Fogerty returns to the swamps with "Born on the Bayou" with its gritty, almost menacing vocal, and the band rocks out with their cover of "Good Golly Miss Molly.” Songs such as "Bootleg" and "Keep on Chooglin'" have an unmistakable groove and feature CCR at their best. Bonus tracks include a version of "Bootleg" that is almost twice as long as the released version, a live, psychedelic blues jam called "Crazy Otto" from 1969 and two live cuts — "Born on the Bayou" and "Proud Mary" — from the band's European tour as a trio in 1971 after Tom Fogerty had left the group.

Green River showcases three more classics with the title track, "Bad Moon Rising" and "Lodi" — a California town John Fogerty was not fond of visiting. Also notable is CCR's cover of "The Night Time is the Right Time," the most famous version of which was by Ray Charles' in the late 1950s. Two bonus tracks from San Francisco’s Wally Heider studios are included — “Broken Spoke Shuffle” and “Glory Be.” Both are instrumental basic tracks with the former having a feel not unlike “Lodi” while the latter is more rocking with a jangly guitar riff. Also featured are a number of live tracks from 1971 from the three-piece version of CCR including "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River/Suzie Q" and "Lodi." Throughout all these CDs, the live cuts really show how good a band CCR was, pushing the tempos while remaining tight.

Next up is Willy and the Poor Boys with two more CCR staples in “Down on the Corner” and the protest song, “Fortunate Son.” Still popular today, John Fogerty played “Fortunate Son” on 2004’s Vote for Change tour backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Also notable is a strong cover of “The Midnight Special.” A live version of "Fortunate Son" from the three-man version of CCR is one of the bonus tracks, along with a live version of “It Came Out of the Sky.” The highlight of the bonus tracks though is a live jam of “Down on the Corner” with Booker T. and the MGs which was filmed for a TV special and features John Fogerty and Steve Cropper trading guitar licks.

CCR’s arguably biggest and most popular album was Cosmo’s Factory, and for good reason. Killer covers such as “Before You Accuse Me,” “Ooby Dooby,” “My Baby Left Me” and the 11-minute “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mix with killer originals such as “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Run Through the Jungle” (which Fantasy later sued John Fogerty over when they thought “The Old Man Down the Road” sounded a little too similar), “Up Around the Bend,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the gospel-like “Long As I Can See the Light.” Cosmo’s Factory would be a strong greatest-hits album for most bands while for CCR it was one of two albums released in 1970. Bonus tracks include a studio version of “Travelin’ Band” without the horns and live versions of “Up Around the Bend” and “Born on the Bayou,” the latter again with Booker T and the MGs.

The other album CCR released in 1970 was Pendulum, and it was the final album that featured Tom Fogerty as he quit the band shortly after its release due to inter-band tensions, especially with his brother. The album included two more hits — “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and “Hey Tonight” and is one of the band’s more diverse albums. “Pagan Baby” is borderline hard rock while “Sailor’s Lament” with its horns and keyboards is anything but. The band even goes psychedelic in the experimental “Rude Awakening #2.” The bonus tracks feature a rare promotional single entitled “45 Revolutions Per Minute.” Obviously inspired by the Beatles “Revolution 9,” the track has Bay-area disc jockey Tom Campbell interviewing the band while tape loops and guitar licks play in the background. In a further Beatles nod, the sleeve had a message saying, “A black flag flies at the Beatles’ Apple headquarters.” Also included is a live version of “Hey Tonight” from the three-man version of the band.

CCR’s carved a large niche in rock and roll with their unique sound that eventually made them first-ballot Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. Their songs are all over classic rock radio to this day and they are the favorite band of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. The new reissues sound great, have 99 percent of the hits (“Sweet Hitch-Hiker” was on 1972’s “Mardi Gras”), and interesting bonus tracks. Beyond the hits though, these are just strong albums worth owning.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two and a Half Men - Season 4 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Two and a Half Men tells the story of freewheeling jingle writer, Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), whose hard-partying lifestyle is interrupted when his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) gets divorced and kicked out of his house. With nowhere to go, Alan and his son Jake (Angus T. Jones)
move in with Charlie. While art definitely imitates life with Charlie's
character — he is rarely seen without a drink in his hand or without a beautiful woman by his side, his brother Alan is his polar opposite. Alan is a nerdy chiropractor who resents, yet envies Charlie's lifestyle.

At the beginning of the Emmy Award-winning season four, we are left with a cliffhanger from season three. Charlie met the love of his life and wanted to get married. Everything was set to go until she decided that her marrying Charlie meant his brother and nephew had to move out of the house. Not being able to commit to the relationship, Charlie tells her he can't bear to kick his family out and calls off the wedding. Meanwhile, Alan marries the pretty but dimwitted Kandi (April Bowlby) and wins $500,000 on a slot machine. They get their own place, much to Charlie's chagrin as he had called off his own wedding partially so he wouldn't have to kick out his brother, but Kandi quickly goes through Alan's money. When Alan is left with only $11, he returns to Charlie's house a defeated man about to get a divorce. Meanwhile, Alan's family, including his ex-wife Judith (Marin Hinkle) had a pool (which Judith won) to see who could guess how long Alan's marriage would last.

When one of Charlie's conquests leaves his house and Alan notices she has a gun, he is concerned for Charlie. He tries to get Charlie to give up his drinking, gambling, and one-night stands all the while sucking up to Charlie for taking him in again. At the same time, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has rented the house next door and is doing vocal exercises and practicing his harmonica. The noise finally gets to Charlie and he goes over to pick a fight, only to get pummeled by Tyler.

Another episode finds Alan fighting Kandi in the divorce arrangements over their dog — a Great Dane named Chester. Alan goes to Judith to ask for the lawyer she used in their divorce so he can stick it to Kandi, but Judith has already recommended her lawyer to Kandi. To add insult to injury, when Alan goes to Kandi's apartment to try and get Chester, he finds she is sleeping with the lawyer. Ultimately, Alan ends up stealing the dog and goes to jail for his crime.

Charlie dates a woman who is very insulting to him and his family. She has little use for her children or anyone else for that matter and everyone but Charlie realizes she is exactly like his mother Evelyn (Holland Taylor), right down to the nearly identical pantsuits she wears to her profession (real estate). Charlie finally realizes it when he sees her and his mother go at it, trading insult after insult. Nevertheless, he still sleeps with her.

Alan gets excited when Judith announces she is engaged to Jake's pediatrician Herb (Ryan Stiles) as it means he soon will no longer have to pay her alimony. Jake doesn't like that his mom is planning on marrying him and runs away to Charlie's house. Charlie and Alan end up bribing him to like Herb. Meanwhile, Alan and Charlie get Herb drunk and film him cavorting with strippers to blackmail him, only they didn't realize it was Herb's cell phone they used to film him. Judith ends up seeing the video and is none-too-pleased with all involved.

Charlie convinces a blonde surfer girl that he is an expert surfer and nearly drowns. While he was underwater, he had a vision of his deceased father who spoke to him saying, "take care of your mother." Charlie, who has never been close with his mother, takes this as a sign that it is time for him to make things right with her. He and Alan take her to lunch and she is immediately suspicious. Alan lets her know what is going on, but Charlie still insists on being nice to her, even taking her in when she was recovering after having lip implants done. It is only when they watch a mob movie together and he hears one of the characters say, "take care of him" that he realizes he had misunderstood his father all along.

In addition to the episodes, the DVDs include commentary on one episode by series executive producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn and commentary on another episode by Sheen, Cryer and Jones. Also included is "Two Men Talking About Two and a Half Men" with Lorre and Aronsohn sharing stories behind season four and a gag reel of bloopers.

Two and a Half Men delivered another consistent season with season four and showed why it is one of the most popular comedies on television. While the storylines are often absurd, it never tries to be anything but fun and makes for an enjoyable escape.

Monday, October 6, 2008

David Gilmour Live in Gdansk CD/DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In 2006, former Pink Floyd guitarist and singer David Gilmour was invited to play the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Solidarity. That concert forms the basis of the Live in Gdansk collection. While there are a few versions of this package available including a 2-CD set, a 2-CD/1-DVD set, a 2-CD/2-DVD set and a 3-CD/2-DVD set, the one used for this review was the 2-CD/1-DVD version.

Backed by a crack band, including Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (who co-produced the album) and former Pink Floyd bandmate, the late Richard Wright on keyboards, Live in Gdansk is the final show from Gilmour's 2006 On an Island tour and features the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zbigniew Preisner, who did the arrangements on Gilmour's On an Island disc.

As expected, a number of Pink Floyd classic are sprinkled throughout the set, including the opening three numbers, all from Dark Side of the Moon: Speak to Me," "Breathe," and "Time."

Disc 2 of the CD is entirely Floyd songs and includes two Syd Barrett tributes — "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here" — both from the Wish you Were Here CD as well as Barrett's psychedelic classic, "Astronomy Domine," from the band's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Gilmour dusts off "Fat Old Sun" from Atom Heart Mother and plays "A Great Day for Freedom" from 1994's Division Bell for the only time on the tour. The song was particularly appropriate given the subject matter — the struggles of post-Berlin Wall Poland and Germany. The true highlight though is "Echoes," performed in its 25-minute entirety. Wright's recent passing is all the more poignant given his huge importance in the sound of these Floyd classics.

For those who think Gilmour is all about nostalgia however, he plays all ten songs from On an Island, in a row no less, though not in the same order as the album. He does not play any material from his other solo releases however. Gilmour is in fine voice throughout and showcases his musical versatility, switching from guitar to saxophone to dobro to banjo. While the album does feature the Baltic Philharmonic on a number of tracks, they are merely used to color the songs and are often hard to notice except for when they are shown on the DVD.

The DVD cuts a number of songs from the CD, but includes all of the On an Island songs, as well as "Echoes" and "Astronomy Domine." Also included on the DVD is a Gdansk Diary, a 40-minute documentary about the show featuring interviews with the band members and crew, rehearsal footage, and Gilmour's meeting with Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and leader of the Solidarity movement.

With a setlist almost identical to 2007's Remember that Night, Live at Gdansk is more of a companion piece than a must-have, but for fans of Pink Floyd and David Gilmour, especially those who don't already own the former, it is an excellent live document of this great talent.