Thursday, April 30, 2009

Frank Sinatra - My Way CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In 1968, Frank Sinatra took a stab at modern pop rock with his album Cycles. While the results were a mixed bag, that didn’t stop Sinatra from trying again. In 1969, he released My Way, which successfully blended his beloved standards with modern pop-rock songs.

The album opens with the laid-back swing of “Watch What Happens,” with Sinatra in fine voice and Don Costa’s arrangements driving the song while “Didn’t We” is a tender ballad brimming with optimism.

The pop-rock cuts, for the most part, work. Sinatra delivers a bluesy, swinging take on Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” and, at age 53, when he sings “Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be” on his cover of “Yesterday,” the line takes on an entirely different meaning than when Paul McCartney sang it. “Mrs. Robinson” with its changed lyrics and swinging arrangement falls flat however.

My Way includes two staples of Sinatra’s later concert career — the legendary title track, which would also serve as a sort of theme song for the singer and “For Once in My Life,” also made famous by Stevie Wonder.

Long out of print, Concord Records has reissued the classic album with remastered sound and liner notes by U2’s Bono. To Concord’s credit, the album is well mastered and not “brick walled” as so many modern CDs are, allowing the dynamics of the album to shine through. The quiet parts are as they should be — quiet. As a result, when the orchestra kicks in, you really feel it.

Concord has also added two bonus tracks, a rehearsal take of “For Once in My Life” recorded at the NBC Studio in Burbank, CA in 1969 and a live rendition of “My Way” recorded at Reunion Arena in Dallas, TX in October of 1987.

It’s a shame more of Sinatra’s remarkable catalog is not in print save for digital downloads. One can hope that this release will be the catalyst for future Sinatra CD releases. In the meantime, My Way offers an enjoyable listen of an interesting point in Sinatra’s storied career.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jeff Beck - Performing This Week...Live at Ronnie Scott's DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s not often a legendary guitarist at the height of his powers plays an intimate show, let alone a week’s worth of them, but that’s exactly what happened when Jeff Beck took a week-long residency at London’s famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in November of 2007, the opening night of which was captured for Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s.

Backed by his crack band, including Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jason Rebello on keyboards, and young virtuoso Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, Beck takes the crowd on a musical journey spanning 40 years and covering all aspects of his career.

The set opens with “Beck’s Bolero,” the song that originally served as the prototype for Led Zeppelin and a song Beck put at the beginning because it was one people know. Beck’s moody, psychedelic slide playing sets up the rocking middle section nicely. The Stevie Wonder classic “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” finds Beck at his most emotive, while Wilkenfeld delivers a bass solo that had Beck bowing in reverence.

“Behind the Veil” and “Blanket,” the latter of which features guest star Imogen Heap on vocals, have Beck diving into reggae territory while “You Never Know” is a Jan Hammer-written party funk tune. Throughout the different styles, Beck still maintains a guitar style that is uniquely his. He doesn’t use a pick and as such, is able to use his entire picking hand to manipulate the strings, tremolo arm, and volume control in an effortless display of fret-board mastery.

Joss Stone guests on vocals for a moving version of “People Get Ready,” on which Beck first had a hit with Rod Stewart, and Eric Clapton jams with Beck on the blues classics “Little Brown Bird” and “You Need Love.” As Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were both in the audience, it’s possible “You Need Love” – the song that inspired “Whole Lotta Love” – was played as a tribute.

The band goes all out on the appropriately titled “Scatterbrain,” but the real highlight is Beck’s moving instrumental rendition of the Beatles masterpiece “A Day in the Life.”

The DVD includes a number of sound options, including Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound. Also included are interviews with Jeff Beck about playing at Ronnie Scotts, his band, the set list, and the guest stars of the show. In addition, his band mates are interviewed about playing the shows and playing Jeff’s music in general

For fans of the guitarist, Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s is a must-own. It shows that even at this stage of his career, Jeff Beck still pushes the boundaries of what is possible with the electric guitar.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Star Wars - The Clone Wars: A Galaxy Divided DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After the dismal reviews of the animated film Star Wars - The Clone Wars, fans didn’t expect much from the TV show spun off from the movie. While billed for kids, The Clone Wars was almost too childish, from Jabba’s son being called “Stinky” to Anakin Skywalker being called “Sky Guy” (both courtesy of Anakin’s do-no-wrong Padawan Ashoka Tano) to Anakin calling Ashoka “Snips.” Even the excellent animation couldn’t save the movie from its lame plot and horrid (even by Star Wars standards) dialogue. And while the movie featured some of the big name actors from the live-action films reprising their roles (Samuel Jackson and Christopher Lee in particular), the TV show would use voice actors instead, save for Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. So with all this against it, the show was bound to be bad, right?

Wrong. The Clone Wars TV series brings back the fun of the original trilogy with good stories and excellent animation. So much of the live-action films are CGI anyhow that many of the space scenes in the TV show don’t look all that different. While Hayden Christensen was often stiff and lifeless as Anakin in Episodes II and III, Matt Lanter brings likability to the character in the TV show. Even Ashoka has been toned down and is far less annoying than in the animated movie. The battle droids take on a comic-relief role, uttering one groaner after another, but they are never as annoying as say Jar Jar Binks.

In season one, Republic and Separatist armies vie for the allegiance of the neutral planets. Meanwhile, Yoda wants to build a Republic supply base in the system of Tedoria. Count Dooku gets word of this and send his apprentice Asajj Ventress and an army of battle droids after him. Yoda and Ventress work out a deal with King Katuunko with the winner getting the right to defend him and his people.

Other episodes find Anakin searching for General Grievous’ secret weapon as well as Jedi Plo Koon, who was thought to be lost in battle to Grievous. Anakin later goes after Grievous with a squadron of ships as he has kidnapped Senator Amidala from Naboo. The four episodes are fast-paced and filled with action. The problem is that there are only four episodes.

It seems that Star Wars - The Clone Wars: A Galaxy Divided is merely a teaser for a full-season DVD release to come later. It is as bare bones as it gets with no extras, save for language tracks. That’s disappointing as it mars what could be a fine release from a fine show. One can hope that after season one is released properly that this practice doesn’t continue for season two.