Friday, November 26, 2010

Jerry Lee Lewis: Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

"If I look like a mean old man, that's what I am," proclaims Jerry Lee Lewis on the title track of his new duets album, fully embracing his elder statesman status in both the rock 'n' roll and country worlds. The track, written by Kris Kristofferson and featuring some killer guitar work from the Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood (one of three Stones to appear on the CD), is a gritty country romp that sets the tone for much of The Killer's star-studded new album.

"Rockin' My Life Away" finds Lewis' piano skills recalling his 1950s heyday with some fine rockabilly playing by Slash. Lewis sounds vibrant, even if Kid Rock's guest vocals are a bit over the top. Mick Jagger guests on a laid-back "Dead Flowers," singing the high harmonies once sung by Keith Richards. Greg Leisz's pedal steel adds an authentic feel, making this song arguably more country than anything on country radio today. The Stones trifecta is completed by Richards' guest spot on vocals and guitar on "Sweet Virginia," with Lewis' piano adding a honky tonk feel to the track.

Ringo Starr and John Mayer guest on a rollicking "Roll Over Beethoven," with Mayer and Lewis turning in blistering solos respectively while Eric Clapton and James Burton's playing on "You Can Have Her" recall the rockabilly days of Lewis' Sun years.

Country legends Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard guest on "Whiskey River" and "Swinging Doors" respectively, with Nelson adding vocals and lead guitar to the former and Haggard adding vocals to the latter, a track that also features Burton. It's not all old school here however, as Tim McGraw joins Wood on a wistful "Middle Age Crazy," a song that fits McGraw better lyrically these days than Lewis.

Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition is mostly killer, little filler, with only "Bad Moon Rising," featuring John Fogerty and "You Are My Sunshine" featuring Sheryl Crow serving as missteps. Lewis' voice isn't quite what it used to be, but what it lacks in prowess, it more than makes up in life experience and his piano playing, as always, remains top notch. The album ends with Lewis on solo piano on a striking "Miss the Mississippi and You," a track that shows The Killer is still vital at 75.

Article first published as Music Review: Jerry Lee Lewis - Mean Old Man: Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run: Special Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

After the breakup of the Beatles and the subsequent release of two quirky, yet charming albums — McCartney and Ram — Paul McCartney decided he'd missed being in a band and Wings was born. The band's first two albums didn't exactly wow the critics and, making matters worse, guitarist Henry McCullough and drummer Denny Seiwell left the band, reducing Wings to a trio of Paul and Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. Undeterred, the group traveled to Lagos where they recorded Band on the Run, an album that remains a high-water mark of McCartney's post-Beatles career, newly remastered in a two-CD/one-DVD special edition.

Much has been said about Band on the Run over the years and, for fans of McCartney, it is certainly a must-own. The title track, as well as "Jet" and "Let Me Roll it" are McCartney in-concert staples and considered classic tracks. The remaining tracks boast the same quality, from the syrupy "Bluebird" to the driving piano of "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five," this is McCartney at his best.

Remastered by the same team that did the recent Beatles remasters, the sound is clear and detailed and avoids the modern, overly loud production found on too many CDs. This is likely the final word on this album and its sound quality is now up to par with its song quality.

Band on the Run's British track list has been made canon and, as a result, American fans looking for "Helen Wheels" on the main disc will not find it, but it does reside (along with its B-side, the excellent "Country Dreamer") on the bonus CD. The disc also includes a number of live tracks from the One Hand Clapping documentary, including a spirited take on "Jet" with excellent drumming from short-lived Wings member Geoff Britton.

The third disc is a DVD that includes promotional videos for "Band on the Run," "Mamunia," "Helen Wheels," as well as the entire album itself, and a "making of the album cover" documentary. The highlights of the DVD though are Wings in Lagos, a short series of never-seen home movies from the group's trip to Africa and the documentary One Hand Clapping, which is available legitimately for the first time here. While the video quality in One Hand Clapping often borders on bootleg and the track "Suicide" is oddly omitted, it is still likely as good a version of this fine document of Wings in the studio as fans will see.

Band on the Run proved to skeptics that McCartney still had it after the Beatles. The remastered CD as well as the two bonus discs make Band on the Run: Special Edition an essential CD for McCartney fans.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Paul McCartney & Wings - Band on the Run: Special Edition on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The world of heavy metal lost one of its most towering figures in May of 2010 when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to stomach cancer. The previous summer, the recently reformed Dio version of Black Sabbath (now calling itself Heaven & Hell) toured to support their new album, The Devil You Know. The band played a blistering set at that summer's Wacken Festival in Germany and while no one knew it at the time, it was to be Dio's last filmed performance. That show is captured in Neon Nights.

Opening with "The Mob Rules" from the album of the same name, Heaven & Hell were in fine form, with Dio's voice showing remarkably little wear given the difficulty of the material to sing. A powerful "Children of the Sea" follows, with Dio informing the crowd that it was the first song they had ever written together and dedicating it to them.

The band's new material fit well in the set as they followed Dehumanizer's brutally heavy "I" and the riff-laden "Time Machine" with the equally heavy "Bible Black" and "Fear," which may feature the best riff on The Devil You Know. "Die Young" began with some excellent soloing from guitarist Tony Iommi while the band's namesake song, "Heaven and Hell," became a 17-minute jam that never bordered on boring.

The first verse of "Country Girl" was played as an intro to set-closer "Neon Knights," but a complete version would have been welcome. As the band's name change would indicate, the set list was all Dio-era material and while they played a nice cross-section of their four albums, a few more than the twelve songs played in their 90-minute set would have made a good concert even better.

The DVD includes 30th anniversary interviews with all four band members conducted by DJ Eddie Trunk as well as tributes to Dio from the surviving members of Heaven & Hell. Audio options include Dolby digital stereo, Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound.

Neon Nights showed a band that was still capable of delivering high-energy shows while The Devil You Know offered a glimpse of what Heaven & Hell could sound like in the new millennium. Sadly, the band will never get to chance to build on the momentum they had achieved in their brief reformation.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights on Blogcritics.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Albert King With Stevie Ray Vaughan - In Session DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

On December 6, 1983, blues history was made when Albert King symbolically passed the torch to one of his most famous disciples, Stevie Ray Vaughan. The pair appeared on the Canadian TV show In Session. While the CD of this performance has been released before, it makes its DVD debut here.

The wait was well worth it as the joy these two legends had playing together is apparent throughout. Interestingly enough, the session almost never happened. King wasn't aware of who Vaughan — who had just released his debut album, Texas Flood — was until he was reminded that he was the same "Little Stevie" who once sat in with King in the 1970s. The relationship between the pair is very much like father and son, with King directing Vaughan — who had been holding back out of respect for his hero — when to cut loose or when to play more restrained.

The DVD opens with King's signature "Born Under a Bad Sign," with the pair trading sizzling leads throughout. King and Vaughan both prove equally adept at not only lead, but also rhythm playing as they lie back and watch the other solo. It's as much a treat for the players to watch each other solo as it is for the viewer.

Up next is an extended "Texas Flood," featuring Vaughan on vocals. King recalls how Vaughan always wanted to sit in with his band and that he'd "play a few good licks and then back off." There's no backing off here however as Vaughan owns the song with a series of blistering licks. King contrasts Vaughan's soloing with a more laid-back feel, further adding to the song's texture. King stands up mid solo (the pair had been seated on stools) as if to announce his presence as Vaughan looks on in awe. It's worth nothing that while King was a left-handed guitarist, he strung his guitar upside down as he had learned on right-handed instruments. So in essence, he was playing these great leads upside down.

Before launching into a funky "Don't Lie to Me," King offers some advice, making Vaughan promise he won't ever think that he has it made or that he has enough. Vaughan agrees with King, hanging on his every word. Vaughan takes his second lead vocal of the session on his signature "Pride and Joy." The two-guitar attack gives the song a different feel from the recorded version with both Vaughan and King soloing throughout, making it a standout track on the DVD.

The accompanying CD features many, but not all, of the songs on the DVD. It does however feature songs not included on the DVD, including "Blues at Sunrise," "Ask Me No Questions," and "Overall Junction." It also has a different running order than the DVD. At over 15 minutes in length, "Blues at Sunrise" is the standout piece here. King recalls recording this song at the Fillmore West with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and encourages Vaughan to fill Hendrix's giant shoes for his leads, which he ably does.

When In Session first aired, many of the segments were cut for broadcast. So not only is this performance being seen for the first time in 27 years, some of it is being seen for the first time ever. This is the only known recording of two giants of the genre playing together and is a must-own for anyone with even a casual interest in the blues.

Article first published as Music Review: Albert King With Stevie Ray Vaughan - In Session... (CD/DVD Deluxe Edition) on Blogcritics.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Elvis Presley: Viva ELVIS - CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In honor of what would have been Elvis Presley’s 75th birthday, Cirque du Soleil set about honoring the King with a show in the city that became synonymous with Presley in his later touring years – Las Vegas. Taking a page from The Beatles’ Love, Viva ELVIS is a visual tribute to Presley with his music serving as the soundtrack. Much like with Love, Presley’s music has been radically remixed but unlike Love - which was entirely the Beatles’ music - Viva ELVIS finds Presley’s classic tracks augmented by contemporary musicians in an attempt to make his sound current. Purists may scoff at the notion as many of these tracks are considered perfect as is, but the more open-minded may be pleasantly surprised by some of this CD.

The opening of the CD serves as an overture, with a crowd swell; interview clips; sound bytes from Ed Sullivan; bits of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” better known as the theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey and the new drum beat leading into the opening song, “Blue Suede Shoes.” The track does a good job of building anticipation for the show to come. “Blue Suede Shoes” blends distorted guitars with handclaps and harmonica giving the song a garage-rock feel while “That’s All Right” bears an eerie resemblance to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” or Jet’s “Are you Gonna Be My Girl?” while still utilizing Scotty Moore’s original lead breaks. The tracks work surprisingly well, but it’s clear from the get-go that this is not your parents' Presley.

“Heartbreak Hotel” manages to combine three different versions of the song to create an entirely different listening experience. We start with Presley warming up his voice, followed by an acoustic blues guitar right out of the Mississippi Delta and Presley’s voice sounding like he was singing through a harmonica mic, but before the listener can get used to that, it jumps between the ’68 Comeback Special arrangement and the original 1956 version. This may be the best-realized remix on the album as the song lends itself well to this sort of treatment. “Bossa Nova Baby” plays up the Latin elements of the song, adding a trumpet solo, while staying fairly close to the original. Keen listeners will notice the guitar solo from “Hard Headed Woman” has been added here to great effect.

“Love Me Tender” has been given a modern acoustic feel and has been turned into a duet with Dea Norgerg. While Presley sounds great as usual, her voice just doesn’t work with the song and the parts where she harmonizes with Presley sound forced. “King Creole” has been given an unnecessary hip-hop treatment while “Burning Love” now sounds as if it could have been recorded by the Hives – not bad, but not really necessary either. Things improve with an instrumental piano version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the closing track (and lead single) “Suspicious Minds,” which sounds like Presley channeling U2 with its jangly guitars.

Viva ELVIS is an interesting, often good (if unnecessary) reinterpretation of Presley’s remarkable catalog. Open-minded old listeners may find these new versions a fun twist and it may introduce Presley to an entirely new generation of fans. Those who want their Presley “as nature intended” would do best to stay far away from this CD though and listen to the original albums as this is nothing like the Presley they have come to love.

Article first published as Music Review: Elvis Presley “Viva ELVIS" on Blogcritics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen - The Rolling Stones DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The year 1972 was a pivotal one for The Rolling Stones. They spent the summer as tax exiles in France, emerging from their drug-fueled haze to release arguably their greatest album, Exile on Main Street, and the resulting tour is considered one of their best. While on tour in America that year, the band filmed four nights in Texas for the theatrical release Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. Largely unseen since the mid 1970s, the film finally makes its official DVD debut in 2010 and is essential viewing not only for fans of the band, but fans of the genre in general.

From the opening “Brown Sugar” to the closing “Street Fighting Man,” this is a relentless, no-frills show. There’s no big production and the stage is dimly lit, adding an air of mystery to the proceedings. While the Stones may be about the big show these days, in 1972 it was all about the music, from the laid-back country of “Dead Flowers” and “Sweet Virginia” to classic rock staples such as “Gimme Shelter” and a rollicking “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The band pays tribute to Chuck Berry with an authentic “Bye Bye Johnny” and Keith Richards takes the lead on his signature tune, “Happy,” sharing a microphone with Mick Jagger on the choruses. These days, when the band performs the song, Jagger isn’t even on stage.

Fans used to the Richards/Ron Wood version of the band will find an entirely different animal in the Mick Taylor lineup. While Wood is no slouch himself, he and Richards “practice the art of weaving” as they are fond to say, where the listener doesn’t know who is playing what. This is in stark contrast to 1972, with Richards laying a rock-solid rhythm for virtuoso Taylor’s melodic leads. Taylor shows he is equally adept at slide guitar as his bluesy licks on Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and blistering leads on “All Down the Line” demonstrate. “Midnight Rambler” is the real highlight of the disc though. From the lock-tight rhythm of Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts to the breakneck tempos to the guitar interplay between Richards and Taylor, it shows why the Stones earned their title as greatest rock and roll band in the world.

Ladies & Gentlemen has been available on the black market for years, but never in this quality. The new DVD features restored video as well as Dolby Digital DTS 5.1 sound for both a great viewing and listening experience. The DVD also includes rehearsal footage for the tour, including “Shake Your Hips,” which is not played in the concert and interviews with Jagger from both 1972 and 2010.

For fans wondering what all the hype was about, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones is essential viewing.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

John Lennon - Gimme Some Truth (Sampler) CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

When the John Lennon catalog was first issued on CD, the original mixes were used — but so were liberal amounts of noise reduction. Then in 2000, the CDs were remastered — but also remixed, save for Double Fantasy and its sister album Milk and Honey which were just remastered — leaving fans of the original versions forced to seek out used CD versions or the original vinyl. Confused yet?
In honor of what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, Capitol is attempting to set things right by reissuing the entire catalog again, this time with the original mixes and no noise reduction with the same production team used on the Beatles remasters from 2009 save for the 1980 material. The results as evidenced on the Gimme Some Truth CD sampler are by and large a revelation, particularly for the '70s material.

The biggest sonic improvement is by far on the Plastic Ono Band tracks. Fans used to the remix will notice the guitar intro to "Hold On" is truncated as on the original release, but there is a warmth here not present on the 2000 version. Lennon's voice is immediate and it sounds as if he is in the room with you. The original mixes on the Imagine and Sometime in New York City tracks recall the "wall of sound" effect Lennon and producer Phil Spector were going for with these albums, something not as evident on the 2000 versions.

The two Walls and Bridges tracks included — "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)" and "Bless You" are particular highlights and if the entire remastered CD sounds like this, fans are in for a treat. Where things get a bit dodgy is, ironically enough, on the most recent material featured here, The Double Fantasy/Milk and Honey tracks were loud and compressed in 2000 and sadly, they are here too. This misstep is the only thing keeping this from being a perfect reissue campaign.

The sampler also features two demos from the John Lennon Signature Box — "God" and "India, India" in surprisingly good fidelity and two tracks from the new release, Double Fantasy Stripped Down, an album not unlike the Beatles' Let it Be Naked, where the tracks are reduced to bare-bones versions to emphasize Lennon's vocals.

In an age of horrible-sounding CDs, these reissues are mostly a home run. Certainly the 1970s material is worth upgrading and Double Fantasy Stripped Down is an interesting listen. Fans of the 1980 material would be better served with original CDs or vinyl, however. Overall though, these CDs merit almost a 9/10.

Article first published as Music Review: John Lennon - Gimme Some Truth Sampler (Sampler) on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chuck - The Complete Third Season DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Season three of Chuck finds Chuck (Zachary Levi) at a crossroads in his life. He now has the Intersect 2.0 downloaded in his brain, enabling him not only to be able to "flash" on subjects to gain information on them, but also to gain abilities. He may look at a sword and if he flashes, he becomes a master swordsman. The problem is he is unable to control these abilities when his emotions get the best of him, especially when he is around his partner Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) who he is madly in love with.

His inability to flash first manifests itself in the opening episode when, during a simulation, Chuck is unable to flash and would have been killed had it been a real mission. This gets Chuck suspended from the team by General Beckman (Bonita Friedericy). We also learn that six months earlier, Sarah met Chuck in Prague, wanting to leave with him and ditch the spy life and he turned her down — a decision that haunts Chuck throughout the season.

After Chuck's eventual reinstatement, NSA Agent Carina (Mini Anden) shows up, posing as the fiancé of an arms dealer the CIA is trying to get to. Carina is on to Sarah's feelings about Chuck and she discusses this with her while Chuck has the same conversation with his best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez) about Sarah. This episode does a good job of showing the parallel of Chuck and Sarah's feelings toward each other. Morgan tries in vain to get Carina to show up at his party to impress his fellow Buy More coworkers and when she arrives with her "fiancé and his entourage Morgan, not realizing she was on a spy mission, kicks her out of the house. Morgan's tactics work though when Carina returns, turned on by the fact that a guy actually said no to her. She also shows her heart by giving Sarah a security camera video of Chuck professing his love for Sarah.

After Chuck's brother-in-law Devon (Ryan McPartlin) saves the life of premier Allejandro Goya (Armand Assante), a man the CIA is trying to protect after years of trying to kill him, he and his wife Ellie (Sarah Lancaster) get invited to a gala he is hosting at the consulate. The CIA learns Goya is the target of a hit and sends Chuck and his team to protect not only Goya, but Chuck's family as well. Chuck's teammate John Casey doesn't want to go as he had had tried to kill the premier on numerous occasions and had earned the nickname Angel de la Muerte, or Angel of Death. Chuck and Sarah pose as a couple at the gala, furthering the tension between the two and, in an amusing twist, Casey ends up donating blood to save Goya's life, with his reward a box of fine cigars.

Brandon Routh appears as Daniel Shaw in the episode "Chuck Versus Operation Awesome." Shaw is a CIA agent who has been trying to take down The Ring for five years and is something of a super spy. He feels deep regret for the shooting of his wife and has hardened himself to not show emotions to protect others. He falls for Sarah though, who initially resists his advances, but realizes she likes being close to someone. Both characters are similar in their "no feelings" stance as they are true spies unlike Chuck who is ruled by emotions. Sarah still has feelings for Chuck though, but thinks that's over after what happened in Prague. Chuck is, of course, devastated that Sarah would take an interest in Shaw whom he feels he has no chance against.

Chuck gets a love interest of his own in the form of Hannah (Kristin Kreuk), who he meets while on his first solo mission on a flight to Paris, a city he has always wanted to visit. Hannah is a down-on-her-luck computer programmer who had just lost her job and was flying to Paris to clean out her office there. The two hit it off and Chuck encourages her to come to the Buy More if she's ever in the area. Much to his surprise she not only does, but also joins the staff as a fellow Nerd Herder (a parody not only of Best Buy's Geek Squad, but of the Star Wars' insult Nerf Herder). Sarah is jealous of Hannah while Chuck, still having feelings for Sarah and not wanting to have to lie to Hannah about his double life, breaks up with her rather ruthlessly at a dinner with her family. The episode shows how Chuck has changed and that he is human and doesn't always do and say the right thing.

When they fear their store is about to be bought out and all but Chuck and Morgan will be fired, the Buy More employees stage a revolt, led by the creepy duo of Lester (Vic Sahay) and Jeff (Scott Barnes). Casey, whose cover is at the Buy More and who hates suits even more than he hates neo-liberal fascists, joins in the fray. The employees build a wall by the entrance and Lester leads them in the singing of "Fortunate Son" to great comedic effect.

Shaw believes that a Ring operative killed his wife, but later learns it was one of his own that did it, which has consequences for his team. Meanwhile, Chuck finally gets his chance to profess his love for Sarah, but does she accept this time? These are among the many questions posed during the show.

The DVD includes deleted scenes, the featurettes "Chuck Fu…and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy" and "The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mocumentary" as well as a gag reel. Originally slated for 13 episodes, NBC decided to order six more. While episode 13 feels like a finale, the remaining six episodes are well written and lead into the forthcoming season four well. With its mix of good writing, a good ensemble cast and an excellent mix of drama and comedy, season three of Chuck is a winner.

Article first published as DVD Review: Chuck - The Complete Third Season on Blogcritics.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Electric Light Orchestra Live: The Early Years - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In the latter days of The Move, the band's alpha males — founder Roy Wood and newcomer Jeff Lynne — expressed a desire to go beyond the typical three-minute pop song. Wishing to continue where the Beatles left off with "I Am the Walrus," the duo launched a new venture with Move drummer Bev Bevan that incorporated orchestral instruments into a rock context. The Move was dead, but from its ashes rose the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). After some disagreements over the band's direction, Wood left during the recording of its second album, leaving Lynne as the leader of ELO. It is these early years under Lynne's guidance that are chronicled in the DVD Electric Light Orchestra – Live: The Early Years.

The DVD begins with footage from Brunel University 1973. This footage, along with all the other footage on the disc, is in surprisingly good condition and appears to be from broadcast masters. Here we find the band mixing classics such as Lynne's "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" with the classical as the band takes on Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," the latter of which is done in a surprisingly faithful arrangement. Jerry Lee Lewis most likely did not envision cellos and violins when he recorded "Great Balls of Fire," but the band makes the seemingly absurd combination work, rocking out on the early rock and roll gem. Fans of 1970s fashion should be on the lookout for violinist Mik Kaminski's cape, which seemingly does not seem out of place amidst the other clothing choices for this concert.

Up next is the band's appearance on the German television show Rockpalast from 1974. An interview from this show is included on the DVD is a bonus feature. The set list is similar to the Brunel show, but the band appears more confident and loose in this performance. The band delivers a raw version of the instrumental "Daybreaker" with some excellent keyboard work by Richard Tandy. Both the '73 and '74 shows include cellist Mike Edwards, who recently died when he was stuck by a runaway bail of hay. An unconventional death for sure, but this was an unconventional band.

The final performance included is the Fusion concert from 1976 recorded at the New Victoria Theatre in London, England. This show documents the early part of ELO as a hit-making machine with songs such as "Can't Get it Out of My Head," "Evil Woman," and "Strange Magic" gracing the set list. On the latter, drummer Bev Bevan comes to the front of the stage to contribute his distinct bass harmonies. The show features a medley of songs that originated from Lynne's time in The Move — "10538 Overture" from the first ELO album and "Do Ya," which was originally a Move single, but reworked for the then-new A New World Record. Most notable to this show is the addition of the band's new bassist, the late Kelly Groucutt, who shared vocals with Lynne on many of the songs and really added the missing link to the band's live vocal sound.

The DVD includes Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound options and really the only negative for fans here is the non-inclusion of a few songs. For what seem to be copyright reasons, versions of "Roll Over Beethoven" from 1974 and 1976 and "Day Tripper" from 1974 have not been included here. Curiously, they are included on the UK edition of this DVD. That is the only thing keeping this from being an A+ for ELO fans however and anyone interested in seeing the band before the spaceships took over the live stage would enjoy Electric Light Orchestra - Live: The Early Years.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Electric Light Orchestra - Live: The Early Years on Blogcritics.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition: Special Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Prog rock has always been ambitious in its focus, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer are no different. Viewed by some as pretentious while others see them as genius, Emerson, Lake & Palmer have straddled that very line for the better part of 40 years. In 1970, they took it upon themselves to adapt Modest Mussorgsky's classical piece Pictures at an Exhibition into a rock format. The shows were recorded and filmed and are now presented in remastered form in Pictures at an Exhibition: Special Edition.

Well known for their music chops, the band appears to be having fun on stage as evidenced by drummer Carl Palmer's knowing smiles at keyboardist Keith Emerson as he tries to keep up with the challenging tempos of "The Gnome." Bassist Greg Lake shows off his classical guitar skills and haunting vocals on "The Sage," a song that foreshadowed the band's hit "From the Beginning." "Blues Variation" features some blistering keyboard work from Emerson that shows through all the over-the-top antics (Emerson appears to hump his keyboard at one point and does stab it with knives at another), these guys could really play.

Early '70s psychedelic visual effects take over during "The Old Castle" and feature prominently throughout the rest of the DVD. While they are dated, they are historically correct. Fans looking for a version sans these effects won't find that here. Still, the picture and sound quality are generally excellent for a nearly 40-year-old concert recording.

The DVD includes the original trailer for the movie as well as a Belgian TV appearance on Pop Shop from 1971. This footage is touted as appearing for the first time, but it had previously been available on the DVD Masters From the Vaults.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer have had a long and storied musical career. They are among the founding fathers of prog rock and fans wanting to catch of a glimpse of this legendary band near the beginning of its career won't be disappointed with Pictures at an Exhibition: Special Edition.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Pictures At An Exhibition (Special Edition) on Blogcritics.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Roy Orbison: The Last Concert - CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Throughout Roy Orbison's life, his stunning, operatic, angelic voice was admired not only by millions of fans, but by his peers as well, with artists such as The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, and Bono singing his praises. Recorded December 4, 1988, in Highland Heights, Ohio just two days before his death at age 52, The Last Concert shows Orbison's incredible voice stayed with him right until the end of his life.

In 1988, Orbison was in the midst of a major comeback. His song, "In Dreams," was featured in the film Blue Velvet; he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; he had a successful album with the super group The Traveling Wilburys; his concerts were doing well and he had just completed the soon-to-be hit album, Mystery Girl, with fellow Wilbury Jeff Lynne at the production helm. Tour dates were booked into 1989 and things were looking up when tragedy struck.

Originally released in limited form via iTunes, The Last Concert makes its CD debut here. The show is undoctored and appears to be from the soundboard so occasionally, backup singers might be louder or song volumes may fluctuate. Obviously no one knew at the time this would be his last show and the sound quality is still excellent, with Orbison fans still having a fine document of his last performance.

And what a performance it is. From the opening "Only the Lonely," Orbison delivers one hit after another, his vocals nothing short of jaw-dropping on classics such as "Leah" and "Crying." Fans are treated to the first song Orbison ever recorded in "Ooby Dooby" as well as the first song he ever wrote with "Go, Go, Go (Down the Line)," the latter featuring some excellent jamming by Orbison and his band. Being the last concert adds a touch of poignancy to "It's Over" while "Oh, Pretty Woman" brings the set to a dramatic close.

Roy Orbison was back on top of the music world and still on top of his game at the time of his death. Mystery Girl would go on to become a big hit and it seems unfair Orbison was cheated out of seeing this success. For Orbison fans or for fans wondering why he was loved by so many, The Last Concert is a must-own CD.

Article first published as Music Review: Roy Orbison - The Last Concert on Blogcritics.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Frank Sinatra - September of My Years CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The year was 1965 and Frank Sinatra was soon to be 50 years old. While that may not seem old for an entertainer now, it was then, and Sinatra was facing a midlife crisis of sorts. Not that he wasn't having success — he still had plenty of that from live performances, album sales and from being part owner of Reprise Records — but his age allowed him to look back on his career, which he was already 30 years into. Not wanting to be passed up by the likes of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, Sinatra decided to collaborate with Gordon Jenkins on a new project that reflected this mature outlook. The resulting album, September of My Years, is a look at days and loves past that remains hopeful for the future. It ranks among Sinatra's best.

The album boasts at least two classics — the title track, written by longtime Sinatra songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen in which Sinatra wonders where the time has gone; and "It Was a Very Good Year," a former Kingston Trio pop tune reworked by Jenkins into arguably Sinatra's greatest introspective song, its lyrics believable because Sinatra lived the song. It's not a stretch to imagine Sinatra as "vintage wine from fine old kegs."

On "Hello, Young Lovers" Sinatra pleads with a young couple not to feel sorry for him because he is alone, but rather to enjoy the love they have now, to be in the moment as he once was. He is not bitter, but instead remembering his youth. "September Song," which featured only a few years before on his final Capitol album Point of No Return, tackles the same subject matter, but from a darker place. He realizes time has passed him by and he relishes the days he has left. "It Gets Lonely Early" finds Sinatra depressed at a lack of companionship, but relishing the time when he had a family and children at home. Life imitates art in this song as Sinatra himself was living alone during this period.

The newly remastered CD features two bonus tracks — a live version of "This is All I Ask" from 1984 and the original single version of "How Old Am I?" — and extended liner notes from original liner note writer Stan Cornyn. September of My Years won multiple Grammy awards, including Album of the Year and Best Vocal Performance, Male for "It Was a Very Good Year."

In terms of Sinatra's career, the album's title is misleading as Sinatra was still performing 30 years after its release. Still, even Sinatra likely wouldn't have predicted he'd still be performing at 80. For fans of Sinatra's concept albums and of his ballad albums, it doesn't get much better than September of My Years.

Article first published as Music Review: Frank Sinatra - September of My Years on Blogcritics.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This is Elvis - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It would be difficult at best to document the career of Elvis Presley in 102 minutes, but This is Elvis does a reasonable job of doing just that. The film chronicles Elvis' life from his humble beginnings in Tupelo, MS, his rise to the top, his fall from grace, and his tragic death at the age of 42.

The movie begins with a reenactment of the events the day of Presley's death and begins its flashback, using reenactments mixed with actual footage of Presley to great effect. The movie is narrated by Ral Donner as Elvis from beyond the grave and pulls no punches, dealing with racism he encountered from his music being "too black" to parents feeling threatened by him to his extensive drug use and cry for help during the 1970s.

Along the way, we are treated with archival footage of Presley from 1956 on the Dorsey Brothers and Milton Berle shows to his appearance with Frank Sinatra after getting out of the army to a sad performance from 1977 of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," where an overweight, sweating Presley forgets the words to the song. It is a sad sight to see for such a brilliant performer. Along those lines, there's also interview footage with former bodyguards Sonny West and Dave Hebler, whose book, Elvis: What Happened? was the first tell-all book about Presley's drug use, infidelities, and other things the Colonel tried to keep from the public's eye.

It's not all negative though, the film shows plenty of highlights, including home movies from his wedding, his return to the concert stage, and his triumphant Aloha From Hawaii TV broadcast. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, This is Elvis attempts to paint of balanced picture of a brilliant performer who was human and had flaws like anyone else. And in this sense, it largely succeeds. This is a single-disc version that features the theatrical cut and a featurette "Behind the Gates of Graceland."

Article first published as DVD Review: This Is Elvis on Blogcritics.

The Trouble With Girls - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The Trouble With Girls was Elvis Presley’s penultimate film of the 1960s. Based on the novel Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Vincent, the film is oddly titled and conjures up images of mid-1960s Elvis movies films with girls in bikinis. Nothing could be further from the truth here.

Presley stars as Chautauqua manager Walter Hale, who has traveled to small town Iowa 1927 for the Chautauqua fair. During the fair, he tries to prevent his pianist Charlene (Marlyn Mason) from organizing the Chautauqua employees into a union. Hale also learns firsthand about nepotism, as the local mayor puts pressure on his company to have his daughter be the lead in their play over the current lead, who is much more talented.

During the fair, sleazy local druggist Harrison Wilby (Dabney Coleman) is murdered. Charlene had earlier overheard him being abusive to his worker, Nita Bix (Sheree North) in his store. Initially, one of the Chautauqua members is accused of the murder, but Hale learns that it is not his employee, but rather Wilby's employee, Bix who committed the crime. With the murder hanging over the Chautauqua, Hale gets Bix to agree to a live confession in front of a paying audience. Charlene is mortified by the idea of exploiting Bix, but Hale feels it is the only way she'd get a fair trial in the town.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, The Trouble With Girls features very little singing and what is included fits the theme of the movie, such as when Hale sings "Swing Down Sweet Chariot" when their gospel singer is unavailable. Elvis fans should be on the lookout for uncredited appearances by Joe Esposito and Jerry Schilling while Brady Bunch fans should watch for a not-yet Cindy Brady Susan Olsen as one of the auditioning singers. Vincent Price makes a short, but fun cameo as Mr. Morality while Joyce Van Patten takes a weird turn as a swimmer during the Chautauqua.

As a period piece, The Trouble with Girls provides an interesting look at 1920s Iowa. Presley gets less screen time than usual, almost as a costar in his own movie, but the role is different for him and shows what might have been.

Article first published as DVD Review: The Trouble with Girls on Blogcritics.

Charro! - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Continuing the more serious theme of his recent films, Charro! is notable in that it is the only Elvis Presley film in which he doesn't sing, with his only vocal coming in the form of the title song, played over the opening credits. Set in the Old West, Presley stars as Jess Wade, a man framed for stealing a cannon from the Mexican army by Vince Hackett (Victor French). Wade was once a member of Hackett's gang, but he left that lifestyle behind, taking Hackett's girl Tracey Winters (Ina Balin) with him in the process.

Hackett vows revenge for this act and makes up wanted posters, saying Wade is the only identifiable member of the gang who stole the cannon as he has a scar on his neck (which was placed there because Hackett had him branded). In actuality though, it is Hackett and his men who have stolen the cannon and they intend to hold it for ransom.

Later, Hackett uses the cannon against the townspeople and threatens to destroy their city if his brother Billy Roy (Solomon Sturges), who is in prison for shooting Sheriff Ramsey (James Almanzar), is not released by sundown. A dying Ramsey tells Wade he can't give in to Hackett and release his brother as that would be letting Hackett win. Wade agrees, much to the dismay of Ramsey's wife Sara (Barbara Werle) who does not want any more bloodshed. Wade vows to avenge Ramsey's death and bring the cannon's real thieves to justice, going after Hackett and his men.

Charro! is part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, and marks a more serious acting turn for Presley. Critically panned upon its release, the film has held up better than some of his others and is worth checking out for fans of spaghetti westerns in particular.

Article first published as DVD Review: Charro! on Blogcritics.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley was riding a major wave of success in 1970. Free of his movie obligations of the 1960s, Presley had delivered the '68 Comeback Special and subsequent return to live performances in 1969. He had also released his strongest album in years with From Elvis in Memphis and had what would be his last number-one single in the U.S. with "Suspicious Minds." It was good to be the King and the time was ripe for a documentary of this rebirth. Filmed over several shows in August 1970, Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition is a brilliant snapshot of this period.

The film starts with Presley and his band in rehearsals listening to recordings of their performances. Presley directs the band on how he wants the arrangements to sound and they run through hot versions of "That's All Right" and a medley of "Little Sister" and "Get Back" with Presley on guitar. Presley is in his physical and vocal peak and his focus is in sharp contrast with some of his distant film performances just a few short years earlier.

Presley then works on vocal arrangements with his backing singers. Presley was not a songwriter in the traditional sense, but he understood music and what he wanted to hear from his band at all times. After reading some telegrams, including a joking one from Tom Jones hoping he'd break both legs, Presley gets ready to take the stage.

Opening with "That's All Right," Presley whips the crowd into a frenzy with a run of classic 1950s hits including "I Got a Woman" and "Hound Dog" and he goes into the crowd during an extended "Love Me Tender."

It's not all nostalgia however as Presley delivers then recent hits "In the Ghetto" and "Just Pretend" and definitive versions of "Polk Salad Annie" and "Suspicious Minds." The King had regained his crown, singing as if his career depended on it in a relentless performance.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, this is the one-disc version of this show. The two-disc special edition includes the original theatrical cut, which includes more fan interviews. This version focuses mostly on Elvis. The DVD also includes the featurette Patch it Up: The Restoration of Elvis: That's The Way It Is, career highlights and the theatrical trailer. This is a must-own for fans of Presley and an excellent reminder of why he was the King.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Elvis: That's The Way It Is - Special Edition on Blogcritics.

Live a Little, Love a Little - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Live a Little, Love a Little, finds Elvis Presley in a more "adult" role, moving away from the tired formula used in so many of his '60s films. He stars as Greg Nolan, a photographer who meets a rich socialite on the beach named Bernice (Michelle Carey). She introduces herself to him as Alice though. She asks if he is married and then throws herself at him. He resists her advances and her dog Albert, a giant Great Dane, chases him into the ocean.

Nolan goes back to her home to change and dry off. A delivery boy comes to her house, calling her Suzie. Bernice says Nolan is burning up and gives him a pill, which knocks him out for several days, possibly weeks. Upon waking up, Nolan leaves, only to find that he has lost his job and his apartment due to his time away. Nolan returns to see Bernice and find out what has happened and she mentions that her husband Harry died from affliction of the liver, but then changes her story to whooping cough. Harry (Dick Sargent) shows up at her home, calling her Bernice. Nolan assumes this was her husband, who is clearly not dead, but Harry informs him he also wasn't her husband either. Bernice says she has different names for different moods. The three have dinner, where Harry, in a nod to his TV show, suggests Nolan should get a job in an advertising agency. Later in private, Harry tells Nolan that Bernice is scared of life, love, and of being alone. He also tells Nolan to "run for the hills." Nolan goes to sleep in Albert's room, only to imagine Albert is talking to him and pushing him into an abyss where Nolan sings "Edge of Reality." The scene has a trippy, psychedelic feel to it and is a rare moment of relevancy in a late 1960s Elvis movie.

Bernice feels guilty about what has happened to Nolan and buys him a new apartment, but it is expensive and he has to take two jobs to pay for it — one at a Playboy-style magazine called Classic Cat and the other for a much more conservative fashion magazine. Mike Lansdown (Don Porter) is the Hugh Hefner-esque publisher of Classic Cat who, after seeing some of the more risqué photos in Nolan's portfolio, offers him a job. Lansdown is very casual though, insisting Nolan not wear a tie as it "cuts off the circulation," while Penlow (Rudy Vallee) prefers the sharp dressed man. This leads to some amusing scenes of Presley changing in the stairwell as both jobs were in the same building. Later, Penlow catches Nolan shooting photographs for his rival, Lansdown, and fires him immediately. Lansdown on the other hand, loves that he was able to pull off two jobs without anyone noticing and offers to double his salary. Keen viewers will recognize Presley's father Vernon as a model in one of the scenes.

Carey is great as the eccentric Bernice, placing a wooden divider on her bed so she and Nolan can sleep together and he can avoid her advances. He gives in eventually, throwing the divider out the window and she leaves him a note thanking him for making her a woman. Nolan goes to see Harry, thinking she may be with him and Harry says Nolan can't marry Bernice because she's asked Harry to take her back, something Bernice later denies. The movie ends as it began, only this time Nolan gets Albert to chase Bernice into the water, providing an interesting symmetry in the film.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Live a Little, Love a Little is now best known as the film that introduced "A Little Less Conversation," which became a hit three decades later. It also was a much more adult feature than Presley had been making up until that point, with the occasional cursing, drug use and implied sex scenes. This was not Harum Scarum and could have pointed the direction of better things to come had Presley stayed in Hollywood.

Article first published as DVD Review: Live a Little, Love a Little on Blogcritics.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Speedway - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In an attempt to possibly recreate the success of Viva Las Vegas, Elvis Presley stars as a racecar driver with a dynamic leading lady in Speedway. Presley is Steve Grayson, a playboy racecar driver who finds he is $145,000 in debt with the IRS due to mistakes and shady claims on his return made by his manager Kenny Donford (Bill Bixby).

Susan Jacks (Nancy Sinatra, in what would be her final movie role) shows up at Grayson's trailer and he mistakes her for a fan. In actuality, she is working for the IRS who is about to audit him. Grayson learns that Donford has a gambling problem that has led the government to repossess not only gifts Grayson had bought for his friends, but Grayson's personal belongings as well. As a result, the pair is put on an allowance — a paltry $100 per week for Grayson and $50 per week for Donford — until they are able to repay their debts.

Grayson goes about wooing Jacks and he manages to get her to convince her boss at the IRS, R.W. Hepworth (Gale Gordon) to let him keep some of his earnings to pay off the innocent people who have had their lives ruined by Donford's gambling. Whether or not this could actually happen in real life is a matter of opinion, but hey, it's an Elvis film, so it's OK.

While not as good as Viva Las Vegas, Speedway does have its good points as well. NASCAR fans will enjoy the cameos by real-life drivers Richard Petty, Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough while Bill Bixby is great in his comic role of the likable, yet sleazy manager. There are a few good moments on the soundtrack too; most notably Presley's "Let Yourself Go" and Sinatra's "Your Groovy Self." Sinatra's track has the distinction of being the only song without Elvis on one of his soundtrack albums. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Speedway would be the last of the typical Elvis movies, with subsequent releases featuring more serious plots and less songs. Speedway is worth a look for fans of racing, Elvis Presley, and Nancy Sinatra.

Article first published as DVD Review: Speedway (1968) on Blogcritics.

Stay Away, Joe - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley plays Native American bull rider Joe Lightcloud, who convinces his congressman to give his father 20 heifers and a quality bull to raise on their reservation in Stay Away, Joe. If Lightcloud's family is successful, then the government will help their tribe financially. Joe asks where his sister Mary (Susan Trustman) is and his grandfather (Thomas Gomez) replies "she's city folk now." The Grandpa character is very stereotypical, even for 1968, as he warns of squaws and relies on smoke signals. While he has some comical moments, he is mostly over the top.

During a wild party celebrating Lightcloud's return, his family, in their drunken haze, mistakenly cooks and eats the prize bull given to them by the government. Lightcloud is unworried at this point, having his friend Bronc Hoverty (L.Q. Jones) get a new bull for him, instructing him to make sure the bull is Blue Ribbon. The bull arrives the next day and spends most of his time sleeping, taking no interest in the heifers. At the same time, Joe's father Charlie (Burgess Meredith) has been selling off the heifers to pay for improvements his wife wants made to their home. Meredith's character is an odd sight for sure, with his dark makeup and strange behavior.

The government gets word of what has happened to the heard and is not pleased. Lightcloud finds out that the bull was indeed Blue Ribbon, but as a riding bull — not as a stud. The bull's previous owner boasted that no one had ever successfully rode him and Lightcloud has an idea to stage a rodeo to raise money to replace the cattle and save the reservation. Lightcloud had previously been raising money by selling parts of his car to a junkyard until nothing was left. It is this strange sense of comedy that occurs throughout the movie.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Stay Away, Joe is a mostly forgettable film portraying Native Americans as sex-crazed drunks with odd performances from Meredith and Gomez. For his part, Presley seems to be enjoying himself, it's just a shame the material isn't stronger. The film is based on the best-selling novel of the same name and while it follows the plot closely, something seemingly got lost in translation.

Article first published as DVD Review: Stay Away, Joe on Blogcritics.

Double Trouble - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In Double Trouble, Elvis Presley stars as Guy Lambert — an American singer on tour in England — something the real Presley wanted to do, but was unable to throughout his career thanks to legal issues with the Colonel. In fact, Presley only played a handful of shows outside the U.S. and they were all in Canada.

While performing at a club, Lambert meets Claire Dunham (Yvonne Romain) who is following him, saying she's been at every show since he opened. She knows of his apparent girlfriend, but throws herself at him regardless. Lambert manages to resist Dunham's advances, but not Dunham herself as she shows up throughout the film. He also meets Jill Conway (Annette Day), a pretty redhead who goes home with Lambert, but resists his advances because, unbeknownst to Lambert, she is still a few days away from 18. While there, she cooks for him and wants him to sing. He goes to her turntable and, naturally, she has an instrumental version of one of his records that he sings to, during which she falls asleep. During this time, one of the first of several suspicious acts occurs as a thug comes to the door by mistake and punches Lambert out.

Conway's uncle Gerald Waverly (John Williams) calls and when Jill mentions Lambert, Waverly wants to meet. Conway wants to marry Lambert, but Waverly is reluctant to allow her as he has been dipping into her inheritance. Conway had not only not told Lambert about the money, she had not told him she was for days away from 18. Not wanting to go to jail, Lambert distances himself from Conway. Her uncle then decides to send Conway to school in Belgium, which she readily agrees to after remembering Lambert had mentioned in passing he would be playing there.

Conway and Lambert end up on the same ship and it is there that Conway learns she only has to be 18 to get married in Sweden, where she tries to encourage Lambert to take her. During this time, a pair of thieves takes Lambert's suitcase so they can smuggle some diamonds into the country. Lambert notices that he’s had to save Conway twice and that someone tried to run him over and Conway explains everything. The pair goes on the run trying to save their lives and let Conway make it to age 18 to protect her inheritance.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Double Trouble shows just how far out of touch musically Presley's people had become as there is a scene where he sings "Old MacDonald" on the back of a truck. This was while the Beatles were releasing Sgt. Pepper and Jimi Hendrix had Are You Experienced? Presley clearly deserved better than this. That said, the movie itself isn't terrible, has some clever plot twists and amusing cameos from a talking parrot and the Wiere Brothers as bumbling cops.

Article first published as DVD Review: Double Trouble (1967) on Blogcritics.

Spinout - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In Spinout, Elvis Presley plays a singing racecar driver named Mike McCoy. While this isn't much different than the typical 60's Elvis movie fare, the film is more fun and Presley seems to be enjoying himself. As the movie begins, McCoy takes his racecar out for a spin only to get run off the road by a crazed fan. Undeterred, he makes it to his gig on time where his band performs "Adam and Evil" and "Stop Look and Listen." These songs, along with the title track, "All That I Am" and "I'll Be Back" formed the basis of one of Presley's strongest soundtracks in sometime and his enthusiasm for the songs comes out in the performances.

While at the club, he meets author Diana St. Clair (Diane McBain) who wants him to be the subject of her book about the perfect American male. She wants to marry him and won't take no for an answer. McCoy then meets Howard Foxhugh (Carl Betz), a rich automobile executive who offers McCoy and his band $5,000 to sing one song at his daughter's birthday party. McCoy refuses the offer though, telling him to have her catch them at the clubs and Foxhugh uses his political influence to get the band's tour canceled. McCoy has no other choice but to play the party and he soon learns that Foxhugh's daughter Cynthia (Shelley Fabares) is the same fan who ran him off the road to get his attention. Cynthia is a spoiled rich girl who is used to getting what she wants or having daddy pay for it if necessary and this time she wants to marry McCoy. Foxhugh does not want Cynthia to marry McCoy though, but he does want him to drive his new racecar, the Foxhugh Five. Sensing a way to get close to McCoy, Cynthia offers to help get him to driver her father's car.

McCoy test drives Foxhugh's car and seems interested until Foxhugh informs him he is not to marry his daughter. McCoy refuses to drive for him saying if he's not good enough for her, he's not good enough for him and vows to beat his driver in the race. During this time, McCoy's drummer Les (Deborah Walley) also reveals her crush on McCoy. He had been oblivious to her advances even though she was always cooking for him and getting mad when other women chased after him. In a running joke throughout the film, everyone keeps mistaking Les for a boy because of her name and her short hair. Walley delivers a fun performance and looks convincing enough on the drums.

Three women, all with marriage on their mind are seemingly after McCoy. Who does he pick? The ending may surprise you. Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Spinout features a more-focused Presley, better songs a fun script and a fun cast. After some forgettable films, Spinout is a winner.

Article first published as DVD Review: Spinout on Blogcritics.

Harum Scarum - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

While many Elvis Presley supporters claim he could have been a fine actor, given the right material, his detractors point to films such as Harum Scarum as their proof otherwise. Presley had hoped for a Rudolph Valentino-style role, but instead got something much different (and much worse). Presley stars as Johnny Tyronne, an American action movie star (and singer, of course) who is in the Middle East to promote his new film Sands of the Desert.

After singing "Harem Holiday" and "Go East Young Man" for a group of dignitaries, Prince Dragna (Michael Ansara) and his lady Aishah (Fran Jeffries) invite Tyronne to be a guest of Dragna's brother, King Toranshah (Phillip Reed). After seeing Tyronne karate chop a cheetah in one of his films (It's an Elvis movie, why wouldn't he be able to do that?), they are convinced he is the right man to kill the king. They drug Tyronne and take him to see Sinan, lord of the assassins, who asks Tyronne if he carries death in his hands. Tyronne tells him his skills are used for self-defense and Sinan sends his goons after Tyronne.

While in captivity, Tyronne meets Princess Shalimar (Mary Ann Mobley) who is posing as a slave girl, when in reality, she is Toranshah's daughter and therefore royalty. Shalimar gets wind that Sinan has returned and, sensing her father is in danger, helps Tyronne thwart the plot to assassinate him.

Presley looks bored out his mind throughout the proceedings and likely was. He was frustrated at the lack of good roles and music for his films and was going through the motions. The film is filled with ridiculous clichés such as a child with three mothers named Sapphire, Emerald, and Amethyst, and forgettable songs. Reportedly, even the Colonel was embarrassed and wanted to add a talking camel as narrator as a way of acknowledging the film's cheesiness. For completists only, Harum Scarum is also part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.

Article first published as DVD Review: Harum Scarum on Blogcritics.

Tickle Me - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley stars as Lonnie Beale, a singing rodeo rider looking for work. After singing "It Feels So Right" from 1960's classic Elvis is Back! and getting into a fight with a jealous husband, Beale meets Vera Radford (Julie Adams), owner of the Circle Z Ranch — an all-girls spa and ranch where women spend $500 per week to essentially be reconditioned into hotties (hey, it is an Elvis movie!). Radford offers Beale a job tending to the horses on the ranch, which Beale accepts.

While at the ranch, he meets and falls for fitness instructor Pam Merritt (Jocelyn Lane) who has a letter from her grandfather saying he left her a large sum of gold coins in an old ghost town with directions on how to find the treasure. Merritt is subject to numerous kidnap attempts as word has gotten out about the letter. The staff at the ranch complains about Beale, saying he is distracting the women, as they are all, of course, attracted to him and especially like his singing. Radford calls Beale into her office, telling him he needed to pick his spots to sing before forcing herself on Beale. Beale tries to resist, as he is interested in Merritt, but after she catches him kissing Radford, she leaves in a huff, refusing to believe Beale's explanation that it was not as it seemed.

Merritt drives into the ghost town to look for the treasure and Beale follows her there with fellow ranch employee Stanley Potter (Jack Mullaney). Beale and Merritt wonder what an abandoned saloon must have been like in its heyday and we are treated to a fun flashback scene, where Beale is the Panhandle Kid — a milk-drinking gun slinger fast enough to shoot a man's gun out of his hand, but courteous enough to offer a bandage to stop the bleeding. It is a surreal scene in a surreal movie and it only gets weirder from here.

The trio spends the night in an old wax museum and Tickle Me suddenly becomes an episode of Scooby Doo, as the museum is seemingly haunted and men dressed as monsters come after Merritt. A comical moment in the film comes when Potter is punched through an opening in the wall that Beale is unable to find when he looks for it. Meanwhile, Potter tries to convince Beale that he is not seeing things. The rest of the film finds Beale, Merritt and Potter trying to find the treasure before the kidnappers find it (and them) first.

Tickle Me did not have any new songs commissioned for it due to budgetary constraints. As a result, Presley sang old (read: better) songs in the film, including: "Such An Easy Question," "Dirty, Dirty Feeling" and "Night Rider," making for a vastly superior soundtrack than most of his 1960s films. These songs, along with a quirky script, make for an entertaining, if bizarre film.

Article first published as DVD Review: Tickle Me on Blogcritics.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Girl Happy - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley cashes in on the beach-movie craze of the 1960s with Girl Happy. Presley stars as Rusty Wells, a Chicago nightclub singer who is planning on going to Fort Lauderdale with his band on spring break as their engagement at the bar had ended. Seeing their popularity, and not wanting to lose out on any money while they are gone, the bar’s owner Big Frank (Harold J. Stone) wants to extend their stay for four to six weeks. The band balks at the idea, but when Big Frank’s daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) decides she wants to go to spring break with her girlfriends, Big Frank changes his tune, offering to pay the band to go down to Florida to keep an eye on her.

Wells and his band arrive in Florida, performing “Spring Fever” to a group of college students, many of who are in lettered college sweaters (even though it is in Florida and presumably warm there). They spot Valerie and after seeing how attractive she is, realize the problems they will have guarding her from eager men. Wells meets Deena (Mary Ann Mobley), who immediately falls for him, but her attempts at intimacy with him keep getting thwarted when he has to leave to keep Valerie out of harm’s way. Along the way, Wells realizes he is falling for Valerie and tells his band that they can enjoy their spring break and he’ll watch her solo. They have no knowledge of his feelings for Valerie and feel guilty for him, trying to get him back together with Deena. This makes for an amusing scene where he has both women in his room and tries to keep them from seeing each other.

Valerie tells her father on the phone that she is falling for Wells and he laughs, saying Wells is only being nice because he paid him to be. Valerie vows revenge and goes on a wild partying spree to make Wells earn his money. Valerie later lets it slip that Wells kissed her and her father says he didn’t pay him to do that and offers to try and make things right between them.

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Girl Happy is thin on plot, but lighthearted and entertaining. Fabares, in her first of three Presley movies, is cute and charming as good girl Valerie and the soundtrack has a few good songs, most notably the title track and “Puppet on a String.” Presley and Fabares have some chemistry together and the movie is breezy fun.

Article first published as DVD Review: Girl Happy on Blogcritics.

Viva Las Vegas: Deluxe Edition - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley made some forgettable movies, but he also made a few that have become classics. Viva Las Vegas is among the latter and is often cited as one of Presley’s best films. Presley stars as Lucky Jackson, a racecar driver headed to Las Vegas to participate in the city’s first annual Grand Prix.

Jackson needs a new engine for his car if he wants to race though and sets about raising the money while in Las Vegas. He does get the money, but manages to lose it all when it falls prey to the hotel’s swimming pool. It is here that he meets Rusty Martin (Ann Margret), the hotel’s swim instructor who immediately strikes his fancy. Martin plays hard to get and duets with Jackson on “The Lady Loves Me,” pushing Jackson into the pool. He eventually wins her over and the pair becomes inseparable, going skeet shooting, riding mopeds and taking a helicopter trip to see the Hoover Dam with Martin serving as tour guide. Martin takes Jackson to meet her father who, unbeknownst to Rusty, secretly likes racing. The chemistry between Margret and Presley is obvious, sparking rumors of an off-screen affair and for one of the few times in his movie career, Presley had a female lead who could give him a run for his money.

While at the hotel, Jackson meets Italian racecar driver, Count Elmo Mancini (Cesare Danova), who wants Jackson to drive for him. Jackson refuses Mancini’s offer though, vowing to get an engine and beat the driver in the race. Mancini tells Martin of a famous driver who crashed during one of his races and this makes Martin scared for Jackson’s safety. Jackson doesn’t want to give up racing though, upsetting her, while Mancini vows he’d give up racing for the right woman (e.g. Martin). Martin has dinner with Mancini to make Jackson jealous, only to have Jackson show up as their bumbling waiter, spilling champagne on Mancini. Later, in one of the film’s highlights, Martin sings “My Rival,” with the rival being Jackson’s racecar.

Jackson goes to work for Mancini to raise money when Martin’s father shows up, along with a new engine. Jackson rushes to get the car ready so he can win the race and Martin’s heart.

The DVD includes a commentary by Elvis in Hollywood director Steve Pond, a retrospective featurette and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound as well as the original mono. This DVD is also part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.

The theme song to Viva Las Vegas has become not only one of Presley’s best-loved songs, but also an unofficial theme song for the city itself. There are a number of other musical highlights, including “What’d I Say,” “Come On Everybody,” and Margret’s “Appreciation.” For fans of Presley, Margret, and Sin City, Viva Las Vegas comes up a winner.

Article first published as DVD Review: Viva Las Vegas - Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.

Kissin' Cousins - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Elvis Presley expands his acting horizons, playing two roles in the low-budget comedy Kissin’ Cousins. Presley stars as Army second lieutenant Josh Morgan and his “hillbilly” cousin, Jodie Tatum, sporting blonde hair for the latter. When Army captain Salbo (Jack Albertson) complains to General Donford that he wants a Pentagon tour of duty, as he hasn’t seen his wife in ages, Donford tells him if he can complete Operation Smoky in three days, he’ll grant him his wish, but if he doesn’t, he’ll be shipped off to Greenland with Morgan. Operation Smoky involved convincing the Tatums to let the government build a missile base on top of their mountain and Morgan gets the job of convincing his family to allow it.

Morgan’s arrival does not go well as he gets into a fight with Jodie and Pappy Tatum (Arthur O’Connell) fires his shotgun when the Army soldiers arrive. We are also introduced to the “Kittyhawks,” wild mountain women in search of men with only one thing on their minds. Morgan has dinner with the Tatums and their daughter Azalea (Yvonne Craig) flirts with him. Morgan tries to explain the concept of ICBM missiles to Pappy who just doesn’t get it, saying “how can everybody see it but me?”

A local newspaper reporter gets a tip about the Army’s attempts at building a base and goes to investigate, getting a photo of Morgan in his jeep with the headline, “Anyone for missiles?” much to the captain’s dismay. In the meantime, General Donford shows up with his men to try and get the deal done, only to be forced to drink moonshine, eat possum tails and fall prey to the “Kittyhawks.” Morgan has fallen for Azalea by this point, while Jodie (who looks and sings remarkably like Morgan) has fallen for Army stenographer Midge (Cynthia Pepper).

Part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection, Kissin’ Cousins features some themes that would be much less likely today, such as cousins falling for each other (distant or not) and a very stereotypical portrayal of southerners as rednecks or hillbillies. That said, the movie has a fun, innocent feel to it (Azalea dolls herself up by painting her toenails, even though the bottoms of her feet are dirty for instance) and some fun songs, including the title track, “Echoes of Love” and “Once is Enough.” Not the best Presley film, but far from the worst and one of the more charming.

Article first published as DVD Review: Kissin' Cousins on Blogcritics.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It Happened at the World's Fair - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The Century 21 Exposition, also known as the 1962 World’s Fair is the setting for Elvis Presley’s 1963 film, It Happened at the World’s Fair. Presley stars as Mike Edwards, a crop duster whose partner Danny Burke’s (a pre-2001: A Space Odyssey Gary Lockwood) gambling habits causes the pair nothing but trouble. While Edwards doesn’t trust Burke with the money they have earned and keeps it locked in a safe, unbeknownst to him, Burke has a key and takes the money to go gambling. Meanwhile, Edwards finds time for skirt chasing, singing, “Relax” to a sultry Yvonne Craig, who resists his advances long enough for her parents to return home and her dad to threaten to shoot him. This is standard '60s Elvis movie fair, but Presley’s chemistry with the not-yet Batgirl is undeniable. This would not be her only Presley film.

Burke’s gambling turns dangerous when the group he is playing cards with realize he has stiffed them out of a lot of money. Luckily for him, Edwards shows up to rescue him (and get into the prerequisite Elvis movie fight). The pair flies back home, only to have their plane repossessed by an angry sheriff looking to collect on $1,200 that Danny owes. Not knowing what to do, the pair goes hitchhiking.

Along the way, they run into Walter Ling (Kam Tong) and his young niece, Sue-Lin (Vicky Tiu), who are headed to the World’s Fair. Ling agrees to take them as far as the Fair and the pair boards his truck. It’s not long before Sue-Lin produces a ukulele that needs repair, which Edwards happily does before singing “Take Me To The Fair.” In different hands this scene would be corny, but Presley and Tiu’s enthusiasm make it a fun scene and a highlight of the film.

When they get to the Fair, Ling is unable to accompany Sue-Lin and Edwards agrees to take her in his place. At the same time, Burke goes looking for a friend, Vince Bradley (H.M. Wynant), whom he thinks can help them with their financial woes. Edwards takes a liking to Sue-Lin and spoils her rotten, letting her eat everything in site. Naturally, she gets sick and has to see nurse Diane Warren (Joan O’Brien), who Edwards is immediately attracted to. She resists his advances and Edwards pays a young boy (an uncredited Kurt Russell) to kick him in the shin so she’ll have to see him. As Edwards begins to win Warren over, the pair run into Russell’s character again, who throws Edwards under the bus, asking if he wants to be kicked in the shin again. Warren is furious and wants nothing to do with Edwards after this.

Burke later wants Edwards to help him do a cargo run to Canada for Bradley, but has to figure out a way to get rid of Sue-Lin, who Edwards had been protecting since her uncle had gone missing. He arranges for a woman to call child services, posing as Warren and Sue-Lin is taken away. Heartbroken, Sue-Lin manages to run away with Edwards staying behind to search for her while Warren tries to prove it was not she who made the call.

Presley had not become completely jaded with Hollywood yet when this picture was filmed and as such, delivers a more focused performance. The World’s Fair footage makes for an interesting time capsule while the music is better than some of the later Presley films, making It Happened at the World’s Fair one of the more enjoyable Presley pictures.

This DVD is also part of the Elvis 75th Anniversary DVD Collection.

Article first published as DVD Review: It Happened at the World's Fair on Blogcritics.

Jailhouse Rock- Deluxe Edition DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Jailhouse Rock, Elvis Presley’s third movie — and first for MGM — is widely considered to be one of his best. Certainly the dance sequence set to the title song is one of the most iconic moments of not only Presley’s career, but for musicals in general.

Presley stars as Vince Everett, a hothead who ends up in prison after accidentally killing a man in a fight. His cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy) a former country singer who robbed a bank when his bookings dried up. Houghton runs the show, bribing other prisoners and even guards with packs of cigarettes to get preferential treatment, something Everett learns the hard way when he gets a terrible haircut that Houghton could have bought his way out of.

When the prisoners get rowdy, Houghton plays a country song on his guitar to settle them down. It is here that Everett learns Houghton used to be a country singer. Everett is intrigued by the idea of making money singing and proceeds to play “Young and Beautiful” to great response in the jail. Sensing his talent, Houghton convinces Everett to sing in the televised prison talent show where Everett performs “I Want to be Free.” Everett starts getting fan mail in droves, which Houghton hides from him because he wants to ride Everett’s coattails on a tour when they both get out of prison. Everett agrees to split everything with Houghton 50/50. After a prison fight breaks out, Everett is whipped as his punishment. Houghton laments he didn’t have enough cigarettes to buy his way out of it, something not lost on Everett when he gets out. Before Everett’s release, Houghton refers him to Sam Brewster, a man who he says can help find him gigs singing. The warden hands Everett a large bag of all his fan mail when he leaves and Everett learns they had been holding his mail back.

Everett goes to see Brewster at his club and he offers him a job — as a busboy.
Everett decides to sing anyhow and bombs miserably, attempting to smash his guitar over a mocking patron’s head. In spite of this, he captures the attention of record executive Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler) who encourages him to make a recording so he could practice and get better. Van Alden says he needs to sing with more passion. Van Alden is a shady character herself, working in payola with her other artists, most notably Mickey Alba.

Everett records “Don’t Leave Me Now” and Van Alden shops it around, finally selling it to a new label, but when she and Everett go to the store to buy copies, they find out that Everett’s arrangement had been stolen by Mickey Alba as the label wanted a proven star. Not willing to give up, Everett decides to form his own label with Van Alden distributing the records. Everett’s new song, “Treat Me Nice,” is a big hit and Everett is on his way.

In his lust for fame though though, Everett forgets the people who helped get him there. When Houghton is freed from jail, Everett reluctantly agrees to let his old-style country number into his TV appearance — the same one that features the dynamic “Jailhouse Rock” dance number. Houghton’s song gets cut and he reminds Everett of the contract while Everett reminds him of the mail scam. They compromise and Houghton becomes Everett’s paid flunky, forced to do such tasks as walking the dogs. When Everett treats Van Alden poorly though, it is all Houghton can take and he takes several swings at Everett. Not wanting to hurt the older Houghton, Everett doesn’t fight back; something Van Alden considers an act of love. Everett once again wins over her affections. Houghton had given Everett what he had coming to him and Shaughnessy delivers the scene convincingly. Likewise, Presley succeeds in making Everett a very unlikable character prior to his redemption.

This DVD is part of the Elvis: 75th Anniversary DVD Collection and was supposed to include a commentary by the director, a retrospective featurette, the theatrical trailer and soundtrack in both Dolby 5.1 stereo as well as the original mono. Instead, one may select the language or view the trailer. This is an obvious mistake on the part of Warner Brothers that will hopefully be corrected in later pressings.

Jailhouse Rock is different from most Presley films in that he plays the antihero. He was a killer; he curses and treats everyone with disdain, making the film edgy for its time and certainly among Presley films. When people say Presley had the potential to be a good actor, they point to films such as Jailhouse Rock as proof. Sadly, Presley was ever given much of a chance to prove himself with more serious material — especially post Army — and the world will never know Presley’s true acting potential.

Article first published as DVD Review: Jailhouse Rock - Deluxe Edition on Blogcritics.