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Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Michael W. Smith -- i 2 (EYE)

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Yes, I just rated a dated Michael W. Smith album eight out of ten. Here's why.
When I was seven or eight, my mom put the newest Michael W Smith cassette in my Christmas stocking. I had recently worn out my Journey to the Centre of the Earth Rick Wakeman cassette, so I welcomed anything new. In those heady days of the late 1980's, I went to bed every night with my cassette player running, usually drifting off to dreamland before the end of side one. My mom had some other Michael W. Smith cassettes, whose covers featured fonky colors and even fonkier sweater-vests.
i 2 (EYE), while dumbly titled, features a cover showcasing a decidedly less neon version of Smith, all black and white and sophisticated, with Smith sporting a pair of "I'm mature now" glasses that I've never seen him wear before or since. But enough about covers. Let's take a look at the music on this twenty-seven(!) year old album. Well, you can't look at music...but here goes...track by track.
1. Hand of Providence -- The guitar strumming and harmonica are immediate tip-offs that this is a vastly different Michael W. Smith than they guy who put out The Big Picture two years before. This sounds like the best song Sting never wrote. Smith has shifted from 80's pop rock to late 80's/early 90's Adult Contemporary. This is actually a big step up (and also a guilty pleasure genre for me, but only from that time period). The musicianship is excellent, particularly the drums and guitar, though the bass and keyboard are great, as well. Plus, the harmonica wails. Also, the best adult contemporary of this time had tons of atmosphere, and "Hand of Providence," along with most of this album, belongs in that club. The song brings to mind a wheat field blowing in a breeze in early fall. However, I need to mention the album's major caveat: Smith's vocals. There's a certain earnestness in his voice that may be hard for some listeners to take. Also, if you listen closely, his voice sounds a lot like Weird Al's..but serious. While I thought I should mention this, it doesn't stop me from enjoying  i 2 (EYE) because I've been listening to it on a cassette for almost 30 years...but it might stop you.
2. Secret Ambition -- One of the most powerful songs Smith ever wrote. "Secret Ambition" hearkens to a time when CCM songs were about the eternal power of Christ's sacrifice for his flock, set to music played by talented musicians, instead of a bunch of dumb dance-pop about a stupid feeling you have for five seconds. Also, five minutes from now, whatever is playing on K-Love will already be more dated than this song. I said before...this video illustrates what I mentioned at the end of the last paragraph perfectly: powerful images of Jesus, juxtaposed with footage of Smith prancing around in acid-washed jeans and a vest. Also, what happened to his glasses?

3. On the Other Side -- Another great, atmospheric, strangely-comforting song. Gentle melody, steady beat. I generally fell asleep to this song on side-one nights, and that's a high compliment from both seven-year old me and thirty-three year old me.
4. All You're Missin' Is a Heartache -- Nothing says late 80's rock like a duet with the dude from Stryper, but "All You're Misin' Is a Heartache" is a surprisingly tastefully restrained song, with a great slow-burn last couple of minutes that really utilizes the best qualities of Michael Sweet's voice. Sweet isn't the only Stryper member to appear here--Oz Fox lends a couple of electric guitar lines, as well.
5. I Miss the Way -- This song was boring to me back in the day, and as an adult, I still don't have much use for quiet ballads (unless they're like, really sexy), but Smith's earnest sadness at the loss of someone's faith actually carries the song pretty well.
6. Live and Learn -- Classic upbeat AC song, with a sweet horn line, and a trademarked horror-movie intro. Yes, horror movie--the first thirty seconds make me miss the late 80's/early 90's so much!
7. I Hear Leesha -- I have an older cousin named Alicia, who is really cool. We (me and the other cousins) sang this song ad nauseum to her because we were irritating little punks. Still brings a smile to my face now. Also, as a ballad, "I Hear Leesha" is a bit more involving than "I Miss the Way."
8.Help You Find Your Way -- If there is one song I can firmly say I do not like on i 2 (EYE), it is "Help You Find Your Way." If most of i 2 (EYE) features the best aspects of late 80's/early 90's music, "Help You Find Your Way" features the worst, with a repetitive, cheesy chorus, and a...*UGH*...double-time modulation at the end.
9. Ashton -- Nothing terrified my younger cousins like locking them in a dark room and forcing them to listen to the instrumental "Ashton." I guess I'm lucky I'm not in prison. Smith wrote "Ashton" while thinking of angels and demons battling each other via then hot Christian potboiler, Frank Peretti, but with almost thirty years' distance, Smith's freaky synth sounds, coupled with the synthesized drums, plus live fiddles and mandolin, are more reminiscent of Celtic Woman or Riverdance. Also, my son and I were on a recent road trip when this came on, and he told me how cool it would be if he, his cat, and his mii friends were in an RPG together, and how this music would play when it was the cat's turn to fight, A for bite, B for scratch, with hissing as a special move.
10. The Throne -- The worshipful "The Throne" is the bright payoff to "Ashton"'s darkness, but in present times, with its children's choir, and child-chant ending, "The Throne" is the far more terrifying of the two. However, my kid says this is the music that plays when the cat holds up its sword at the end of the game, and all the mii friends and the cat sing together, so there's that.
11. Pray for Me -- *Shhh!* "Pray for Me" is just a sequel to the more popular ballad, "Friends," but that's okay, it's still pretty good. Works well to end the album on a positive note, as well as keeping a feeling of continuity across the twelve tracks.
So there you have it. What should be a cheesy old CCM album is actually more timeless than it first fact, it's actually a really good album. Maybe I'll dust off my old cassette to help me fall asleep tonight...I went digital for this review, but the CD and MP3's don't have that satisfying white noise between the tracks...

1988 Reunion
1. Hand of Providence 4:33
2. Secret Ambition 6:26
3. On the Other Side 3:40
4. All You're Missin' is a Heartache 5:39
5. I Miss the Way 4:35
6. Live and Learn 6:17
7. I Hear Leesha 5:26
8. Help You Find Your Way 5:28
9. Ashton 3:17
10. The Throne 6:49
11. Pray for Me 3:52

Monday, June 29, 2015

Michael W. Smith -- The Big Picture

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My mother became a Christian right before I was born, to kick off the glorious 80's. Over time, she slowly put away her Zeppelin, Skynryd, and Sabbath for...CCM. One time she had Michael W. Smith's The Big Picture in her car. Between my sister's dance practice and my parents' house, I heard one of the songs, "Goin' Thru the Motions," and it sounded interesting, but the next time I rode in my mom's car, I noticed the cassette was gone. I asked my mom what happened to it, and her response was, "It was too crazy, so I threw it away." This was a tantalizing comment, but I never heard the whole album until a few years ago, and the only thing The Big Picture is crazy for is the 80's. In all honesty, there is actually ONE Michael W. Smith album I enjoy a lot, and it isn't The Big Picture, but I saw The Big Picture in the used section for 1 cent, that's ONE RED PENNY, so here's a review for it.
Remember 80's pop rock? Big synth beats, big synth lines, big lines of other things, hair metal guitar, big saxophone lines, and also the saxophone player clapping high above his head and doing synchronized dance steps with everyone else when he doesn't have a part to play, and also a whole lot of earnestness? Smith is more earnest than a lot of his peers, and out of these ten tracks, I can stomach about half fairly easily, so I'll go ahead and tip him over average with a six out of ten.
Aha, but the tracklisting declares The Big Picture to have 11 songs! What about the eleventh? Word used to be that Smith was one of the top three keyboard players on the planet. He's done work with some huge artists in that realm, so I'll go for it, and this final track, "Coda" is 41-seconds of it. "Coda" sounds like a seat at the most awesome airport piano bar in the world, and in its 41-seconds, I can imagine a glass of something and the sound of a plane soaring above my head and the silent constant of snow falling in the night, and I can't help but say to myself, "Michael, you could do this the whole time?"
He doesn't do it the whole time, though, in fact, he only does it for the album's final 41 seconds, so instead, here is the big synth line, big synth beat, hair metal guitar, and big saxophone lines of "Goin' Thru the Motions," and may God have mercy on the 1980's soul.

Also, I like this song, so leave me alone.

1986 Reunion
1. Lamu 5:55
2. Wired for Sound 6:00
3. Old Enough to Know 4:47
4. Pursuit of the Dream 5:11
5. Rocketown 4:32
6. Voices 5:50
7. The Last Letter 4:49
8. Goin' Thru the Motions 4:55
9. Tearin' Down the Wall 3:35
10. You're Alright 4:36
11. Coda 0:41

Friday, June 26, 2015

Miles W Bear

 photo Miles W Bear_zpsgs8tizkv.jpg I'm about to review three artists who are basically the same person: Contemporary Christian Music artist, Michael W Smith, trumpeter, Miles Davis, and the rock band, Minus the Bear. Actually, I'm going to review two albums by Smith, take a little break for something really important that may lead to a very entertaining entry or two, then review two Miles Davis albums, then one Minus the Bear. Hope you rubes enjoy it, and sorry for not covering more varied artists. I'll try to diversify in the future.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Michael Knott -- Hearts of Care

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I couldn't tell you when I first heard of Mike Knott. Was it when I stumbled upon the wonderfully cathartic "Rocket and a Bomb" on a particularly dark night? Was it reading a hyped up article on the good old Internet, about how Knott was Christian music's hidden legend, a troubadour who battled addiction and kept it real? Was it looking up his old band LSU because they were called LSU, and GEAUX TIGERS! Was it at Cornerstone 2002? Or was it when my old radio show received Knott's 2002 album Hearts of Care? I guess it doesn't matter. What does matter is, Hearts of Care has stuck with me over these last 13 years (MY LUCKY NUMBER).
I'm sure Knott has better albums out there than Hearts of Care. A common joke is that he's released over 10,000 albums over the course of his career. I'm sure he's released albums that are more influential, and more representative of his core sound. This album, though, is a true pleasure.
Hearts of Care is a half-hour of well-weathered acoustic songwriting, with a liberal dose of lovely violin and harmonica. I was expecting hard-edged rock, and this travels nowhere near that territory, even though the first song is literally and aptly titled "Detox Radio Station." The next nine songs are romance-focused, with the relationship splitting apart on track nine, "Wasting Time." I gave "Wasting Time" plenty of spins on 91.1, and I hope our listeners enjoyed it as much as I did and still do. It brings to mind every romantic relationship I've ever been a part of, with its simple lyrics, gentle melody, lovely harmonizing, and general inevitability.

The album ends with "Hammers and Nails," following the lyrical narrative of Hearts of Care to its natural conclusion, but finishing on a completely different musical note. The majority of the song is just background static and Knott singing without accompaniment, through what sounds like a cassette recorder.
And I'll walk this road,
even if you're not going.
This love is still growing,
it's ringing like bells.
Just listen straight at me,
hear my whispering failings.
That's why I'm singing,
His love never fails.

2002 Northern Records
1. Detox Radio Station 5:04
2. Bus Stop 1:30
3. She Steals This Heart 4:42
4. Hearts of Care 4:20
5. And I Love You Girl 3:23
6. Of My Love 1:36
7. Waiting for Your Turn to Smile 4:10
8. She Comes Comforting 4:34
9. Wasting Time 2:41
10. Nothin' is Roses 4:33
11. Hammers and Nails 2:21

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Plans for this Father's Day Weekend In One Image

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This is real and this is happening! It's like all my dreams came true, plus, apparently, the bar is pretty low on my dreams at this point. Let's say...all my Lifetime Movie dreams...which are comparatively big!
Woohoo, can't wait!
Best Father's Day Weekend ever!!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Michael Giacchino -- Lost: The Last Episodes (Original Television Soundtrack)

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I'll be blunt: if you go to a movie today, you'll be lucky to even notice the music composed for it, let alone be humming its themes the next day. This isn't just some weird opinion that I'm throwing out there to give myself an easy intro to this review--one of the greatest film composers of all time agrees with me.
With that said, Michael Giacchino, composer for all six seasons of Lost, does not have a problem with memorability. Lost: The Last Episodes (Original Television Soundtrack) is an aural cascade of themes Giacchino composed for Lost's characters, moods, and situations over its entire run, all the while splashing up new themes until the end. This soundtrack covers the season's last four episodes, and
The first episode covered is "The Candidate," an action-packed, tension-filled episode, where our protagonists attempt to leave the island and escape the clutches of the evil Man in Black. They fail. Giacchino creates a frentic, pulse-pounding score for this episode, but I want to punch album executive producer, Robert Townson, in the face, for leaving out the music that closes the episode. After a shocking series of events that claim the lives of many of our protagonists deep beneath the sea, only FOUR of the show's original 14 characters wash up on the beach alive. In one of the bleakest moments in television history, our four protagonists, some injured, some barely conscious, and all completely broken, weep and wonder what purpose the deaths of everyone they have loved throughout the entire run of the show has served. Here's the scene, set to gentle, heartbreaking music that mysteriously does not appear on this soundtrack.
Townson does an excellent job choosing the rest of the selections that made it on this soundtrack, though, and speaking of mysterious...
The next episode, "Across the Sea," is set several thousand years ago, and reveals the origins of the mysterious forces of light and dark who've been utilizing our characters as pawns in their millennia-long battle. Giacchino essentially gets to compose a forty-minute long film score here, crafting new, ancient and mysterious sounding themes, while incorporating the themes he's already created for Jacob (the force of light) and the Man in Black (the force of darkness). While the episode itself can feel a bit stiff at times, I applaud the writers and producers for revealing Jacob as a very flawed character, in need of the same kind of redemption as our original characters, with just as serious acceptance issues with his parent.
The next episode, "What They Died For," features Jacob explaining to our four survivors just that, all the while juxtaposing with the season long "flash-sideways." This episode feeds directly into the series finale, "The End," though, so I will talk about this rest of the soundtrack as one ("What They Died For"'s music ends disc one, while "The End" gets the second disc to itself.)
You know what, though, let me go on this rant that I've been saving this whole time.
I don't understand. The finale reveals the flash-sideways to have taken place in a kind of purgatory our characters unknowingly created together so that they could come to grips with their issues, make peace with the lives they lived, and move on to the next plane of existence. However, the characters do not realize they are dead (all died at different times throughout the years, but all ended up in this same purgatory, at the same instant), and believe they are living their real lives. One by one, they wake up to the truth, as their lives flash before their eyes, and they are often awakened by one another. These scenes are breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly emotional, and every actor is on top of their game. Most of these scenes result in tears for the characters, and the viewer, as our protagonists in an instant recall the lives they really lived, that the person they are in the presence of is someone they love dearly, and that they are, above everything, most certainly dead. This ending has one flaw, though--American audiences apparently don't like to have to think. I have talked to dozens of people who didn't like the finale, and in every case, I find that I end up having to explain it to them, even though the series finale BLATANTLY explains what is going on, multiple times. For some reason, many viewers thought the flash-sideways implied that nothing in the show really happened and that the characters have been dead the whole time, even though series hero, Jack Shephard, is given an impassioned speech by his similarly dead father at the end of the episode that explicitly states "IT ALL HAPPENED." If one, indeed, does watch the episode with a full understanding of what they are viewing, said conversation between father and son is incredibly emotional. Fittingly, stubborn and faithless Jack is the last of all the characters to awake to the truth, and if the scene of Jack being welcomed into the afterlife by his own father's loving arms, as the two declare their love for one another after lifelong acrimony doesn't as much as moisten you eyes, why did you watch six seasons of this show? Above everything, above the mysteries and machinations, Lost placed character, and Jack's growth from a haunted, I'm in charge know-it-all control freak, to a broken shell of a man, to a servant and man of faith is one of the show's greatest accomplishments. I HATED Jack in the show's early seasons--I can't stand take-charge Alpha males who are always up in my business. I always identified most with the character, Sawyer, also an Alpha male, but one who's philosophy is, "I don't care what you do, I'm going over here to do whatever I want, and don't bother me." Naturally, from the get go, Jack and Sawyer hate each other's guts. While Sawyer grows into a hero in his own right, more thoughtful and methodical than Jack, he is perhaps intrinsically a better man than Jack, and his growth is less painful. When Sawyer loses the woman he loves, he is broken because he changed, because he became someone vulnerable. Jack is broken because that is the only way he can change. Lost does right by its characters, and "The End" gives all the character closure a true fan could want. I mean, Miles pointing out Richard's first grey hair, and Richard reveling in his mortality, after more than a hundred years of not didn't like an episode that featured that? Are you kidding me?
Giacchino expertly scores every minute, but the scenes of character awakening, often incorporating and re-interpreting characters' original themes throughout the show, standout in particular. A great example is "We Can Go Dutch." The flash-sideways scene it backs features the tear-jerking reunion of Sawyer and Juliet, as in an instant, they remember the love they shared together, the intense pain they endured as they lost one another, and realize that they are now reunited beyond death. The music, incredibly, accomplishes the same purpose.

*SOB!* These flash-sideways feature lovers reunited, murderers making penance to their victims, Jack FINALLY getting over his daddy issues...if you truly loved these characters, what more could you want?
The body of work Giacchino has built up throughout the series is astounding--a hundred hours of consistent, cohesive music--truly mind-boggling. The fact that we get more than ten hours of it over the course of these seven soundtracks is a true gift. Throughout these last discs, though, Giacchino's body of work becomes even more vast--the flash-sideways is only half the ongoing plot in this episode. The other half follows the present-day, action-film like final battle against The Man In Black to save the island, and perhaps, the entire universe. Giacchino goes all out here, as well, with some great actions themes, further evolutions of The Man In Black's theme, and general awesomeness, including callbacks, as well. My favorite Lost musical moment of all comes at the climax of "The End," and can be heard on disc two's track nineteen, "The Hole Shabang." Giacchino mounts furthering tension, suspense, and opposition for six minutes and forty-five seconds before paying the entire series off with the most cathartic musical moment of the six season run. Lost features a lot of music containing a tentative, hopeful feeling, as these are wounded people in search of redemption, on a playing field they little understand. Giacchino's most famous piece for the show came near the end of the first season, as the survivors send a raft off in search of rescue. That track, "Parting Words," is everything I listed above, tentative, hopeful, yet soaring. The climax of "The Hole Shabang" takes a sudden burst of "Parting Words" and transforms it into a wave of certainty, resurrection, victory. It is incredible.

After this climax, and with all business on the island either completed or ongoing safely, the show and Giacchino are free to wrap things up with the flash-sideways and the series itself. "Moving On" features nearly ALL of Lost's six years worth of protagonists doing just that, coming together and giving each other final greetings as they prepare to...go into the light. If you didn't understand this episode the first time through, I highly suggest you watch it again, knowing the truth behind all that is happening. "The End" improves with every viewing, as the viewer picks up nuance after nuance, but Giacchino's score for the episode and this final scene don't because they are already perfect.
If you don't like that the island was magical, fine. The show did suggest early on that science could explain everything, but the island's true origins, while perfectly enjoyable to experience, are more fairy tale than anything. That's one thing. That's why I wouldn't quite put Lost at the absolute pinnacle of television quality. But if you hated the flash-sideways, and retroactively hated the whole show because of the finale, I don't understand you. What other show in history has introduced this many well-drawn characters, and developed them so naturally over such a long period of time? These people feel real, and to watch the show for six years is to love them. How can you not see yourself in at least a handful of them? Do you yourself never feel lost? Are you fully whole? Were you born feeling and knowing that you have it all together? If so, you aren't my kind of person.
Fully embedded rant ends.
If you love Lost, buy this soundtrack. It has everything you want (except that one cue I complained about up above, but that's okay, Townson, I forgive you). All the character themes, all the event themes, all imaginatively arranged, all are here. All the new music is as high a quality as anything Giacchino ever composed. If you buy only one Lost soundtrack, this is the one you need. It was only released in a 5000 copy run, and I only have it because my cousin Adrian is awesome, but it's also available digitally from a variety of well-known legal outlets.
This ends my exhaustive Lost soundtrack run, and two months of listening to almost nothing but pure Giacchino. Back to regular life. Thanks to JJ Abrams, Carlton Cuse, Damon Lindelof, Michael Giacchino, and their network of cohorts, for creating a vast, fully-realized and comforting world that I can return to anytime I want. But for now, it's time to leave it.
Up next, my brief dalliance with Michael Knott.

2010 Varèse Sarabande

Disc One
from "The Candidate"
1. Cage Crashers 0:45
2. Shephard's Why 1:08
3. Sub-Primed 6:33
4. SS Lost-tanic 6:56
5. Flew The Coop 2:06

from "Across the Sea"
6. Across the Sea 1:54
7. Don't Look At The Light 3:31
8. A Brother's Quarrel 2:58
9. Make Like A Tree 6:10
10. Mother of a Plan 5:14
11. Mother of Sorrows 3:56
12. Love is Stronger Than Death 2:51

from "What They Died For"
13. Cereal Experience 2:25
14. The Four Amigos 1:13
15. Walk and Talk and Aah! 2:31
16. Hide and Snitch 3:00
17. A Better Ben 1:56
18. What They Died For 3:30
19. Jack's Cup Runneth Over 1:41
20. Get Out Of Jail Free Card 3:10

Disc Two
from "The End"
1. Parallelocam 3:23
2. Leaver-age 1:10
3. The Stick With Me Speech 3:05
4. Ultrasonic Flash 2:52
5. Fly By Dire 0:52
6. Down The Hobbit Hole 4:34
7. Dysfunctional Setup 2:15
8. The Well Of Holes 3:21
9. Pulling Out All The Stops 2:28
10. Blood From a Locke 0:33
11. Our Lady of Perpetual Labor 4:35
12. If A Tree Falls 2:56
13. Locke v. Jack 2:21
14. Can't Keep Locke Down 2:51
15. The Long Kiss Goodbye 5:29
16. We Can Go Dutch 2:28
17. Kate Flashes Jack 1:13
18. Hurley's Coronation 2:47
19. The Hole Shabang 7:29
20. Aloha 1:12
21. Closure 8:08
22. Jumping Jack's Flash 0:58
23. Moving On 7:55

Bonus Track
24. Parting Words (Drive Shaft) 3:32