Thursday, November 24, 2011

Forgotten Music Thursday: The Kinks - Celluloid Heroes (1972)

One of the great lyrical conquests of the Classic Rock era is The Kinks "Celluloid Heroes" a single from their 1972 LP, Everybody's In Show-Biz. It was not a hit but album oriented stations sometimes played the longer, superior, LP version that runs 6:19, around two minutes longer than the 45 RPM. Neither composer Ray Davies nor The Kinks ever put a better song on vinyl.

Davies was inspired to write "Celluloid Heroes" by the many stars embedded on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. His thoughtful lyrics generate a lot of emotions that complement a gentle, pleasing melody and arrangement. The lyrical centerpiece of the song is the line "Celluloid heroes never feel any pain and celluloid heroes never really die." Those words hit me hard every time I see an old movie star still so vibrant and alive on film who is no longer with us. The line "Don't tread on dearest Marilyn because she's not very strong" is the antithesis of her onscreen personality and so accurate. Also mentioned are actors George Sanders, Greta Garbo, Mickey Rooney, Bela Lugosi, Rudolph Valentino, and Bette Davis. Davies is able to convince us that he knew these stars intimately even though he never met them.

While many important and famous people from the past such as Cleopatra, Henry VIII, Ben Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln are well known to us none of them seem alive today. There are paintings, busts, and photographs of these individuals, and even their own writings, yet they all feel like the historical figures they really are. Many of the film greats from Hollywood's golden era who have passed on continue to walk, talk, sing, dance, and cry on film today, but after you listen to "Celluloid Heroes" reality sets in. That is what makes the song so very, very sad.

Listen to Celluloid Heroes now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cesar Rosas - Soul Disguise (1999)

Cesar Rosas, the "other" singer and guitarist for Los Lobos, the great Los Angeles quintet, is not as well known as frontman David Hidalgo and he is a less prolific composer than either Hidalgo or bandmate Louis Perez. However, he shouldn't have to take a back seat to them because Rosas is a better vocalist than his legendary group's lead singer and his original songs are just as rewarding as those written by the Hidalgo/Perez team.

Rosas' one and only solo CD, Soul Disguise (1999), rocks just as hard as his band did in their early years and stylistically it is reminiscent of their debut, How Will the Wolf Survive. The guitarist is also a versatile singer who can handle horn-fueled R & B ("E. Los Ballad #13"), traditional Mexican folk music ("Angelito" and "Adios Mi Vida"), and even a soulful ballad ("Better Way"). Much of the rest is straight ahead rock highlighted by "Little Heaven," the blues influenced "Tough To Handle," and the Jimi Hendrix inspired title track. The band is just as adept as he is and all-star accordionist Flaco Jimenez ably assists them on both of the tunes sung in Spanish. One of the two covers on this twelve track disc is a really hot version of Ike Turner’s "You’ve Got to Lose" that continues to burn long after the song ends.

Rosas didn’t try anything new on Soul Disguise but if you like Los Lobos you will like this CD a lot too.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Seamus Kelleher - Another Side Of Town (2011)

One of the great things about the Internet is that it gives everyone exposure to news, information, and entertainment that they would not have normally been exposed to without it. The web is why a recording artist who has only acquired a local following can have his music heard at anytime, worldwide, at little or no cost. Such is the case with Irish-American guitarist, Seamus Kelleher, who just released his second solo CD, Another Side of Town. Kelleher has a cult following from New York City to Philadelphia and the Jersey Shore but to anyone living out of the area he’s quite unknown. I always liked his lead guitar work with Blackthorn, a Celtic-rock band from Philadelphia that he was an important member of for around fifteen years.

Another Side of Town is even better than Kelleher's debut, Four Cups of Coffee, because it's more stylistically unified while avoiding all of the traps that make everything on an album sound redundant. Kelleher can rock hard when the situation calls for it and there were hints on his first CD that he wanted to be a rocking bluesman with a special affection for fellow Irishman Rory Gallagher. However, on this new outing he presents himself more as a folk-rocking singer-songwriter who plays a lot of acoustic guitar.

Six of the ten tracks are originals. One is a new, better version of the title track from Coffee now featuring singer Charlene Holloway on harmony vocals, two new instrumentals with acoustic foundations, ("Guitar Dreams" and "The Huttlinger Rag") and three more very personal tunes. "The Other Side of Town" was inspired by a very serious fall Kelleher took five years ago that made him realize how lucky he is to be alive each day. "Reno Winter's Sky" is a very moving non-political tribute to the brave fighting men and women of our military. "Thank You For The Music" is about Kelleher's love for the music of Leonard Cohen.

Kelleher has good taste in his choice of cover versions. He admits his take on Ralph McTell’s "Streets of London" does not top the original but he puts a pleasingly unique spin on it. To keep it fresh he changes the melody sightly in spots in order to make the song his own. His growling version of "House of the Rising Sun" shows off what he can do with a rock guitar, and "Galway Bay" (recorded by Bing Crosby many years ago) allows him to revisit his roots. "The Shepherd's Boy" is included because the singer simply loves this song written by a late, dear friend.

Instead of printing lyrics Kelleher offers us some background information regarding the inspiration behind each track. It helps elevate all of the songs to a higher level, even the ones that might be considered filler without them.

Kelleher will probably never be a star but that shouldn't stop you from embracing this fine talent.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Kenny & Leah - All About Love (2011)

Saxophonist Kenny Solderblom and his wife, Leah, are seasoned jazz veterans who make music for a specific audience: fans of the great American songbook. That's not to say others won't like what they hear but for those listeners who have a special affinity for the genre the couple’s fifth CD should prove to be quite impressive.

All About Love is an aptly named collection because love is the subject of almost every song. Most of the tunes pre-date the rock era but they are spiced up with Kenny's modern sax playing that helps make the whole affair more appealing than it would otherwise be to a younger audience. Leah's strong vocals prove she would have made a fine big band singer.

The Solderbloms' excellent studio hands make sure everything is humming along smoothly, especially veteran Jay Leonhardt on bass and all-star Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar. There is nothing remotely progressive or alternative about the music but every arrangement is so well-crafted and so expertly played that one tends to notice those assets more than the songs themselves. Pianist and music director John Oddo was successful in preventing the sessions from descending into sappiness even though he uses a real string section on five tunes, a musical device that most modern pop musicians shun in favor of empty sounding synthesizers. The decision to use strings in lieu of electronics gives the CD more depth than it would otherwise have.

Tracks include, "The More I See You," “Dream a Little Dream of Me," "Frenesi," George Gershwin’s "The Way You Look Tonight," and Oscar Hammerstein’s "I’ll Take Romance." Leah included two originals, "Play That Tenor Sax for Me" and "Leah’s Lullaby," and Kenny is featured on the instrumental "Our Love is Here to Stay."

Except for the forced pose on the CD cover that almost make the Solderbloms look like Olympic figure skaters All About Love is a totally satisfying genre exercise.

You can purchase the new disc on their website.