Friday, November 14, 2014

Country Albums You Can't Miss

 You may not have guessed it from my first post, but I'm a whiskey drinkin', cowboy chasin', hell of a time (that's a Brooks & Dunn reference...I'm not actually that clever). Some of my favorite albums of all time include George Strait's Easy Come, Easy Go and Garth Brooks' Ropin the Wind. While a lot of people tend to believe that country music is only for the beer-drinking or the brokenhearted-mostly true- it's also for the hopeless romantics and the old souls like myself. So, without further ado, here are some country albums you may have missed, coming from a self-proclaimed expert in the genre. 

Brandy Clark: 12 Stories
Released in 2013, Brandy's album is the quintessential country album. A huge relief for true country fans: Brandy's writing tackles topics like drug abuse, murder, and adultery. Most of the songs on this album have just been waiting to be recorded while Brandy has been busy writing chart toppers for superstars like Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry, and Keith Urban. Whether you're a fan of contemporary country or a Dolly Parton diehard, 12 Stories is worth checking out. Stand-out tracks: Get High, Hold My Hand, Pray to Jesus

Eric Church: The Outsiders

On his fourth studio album, North Carolina singer-songwriter Eric Church made a record that's weirder, louder and even more badass than any before. Church is a crafty, ambitious songwriter with a sensitive, rueful side. With The Outsiders, Church splits the difference between contemporary country's biggest trends: new-school storytelling (Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe ) and check-cashing bro-country (Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan). And why not? His success raises the bar of possibility in an overcautious industry. Stand-out tracks: Like a Wrecking Ball, That's Damn Rock & Roll, The Joint

Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose

Monroe is classic, Tennessee country. I first discovered her when the Pistol Annies released their debut album in 2011. She can only be described as "sassy" or "spunky" or with some other coded feminine adjectives. Her second solo album Like a Rose brings out the singer's true colors. Similar to Clark in that her writing doesn't shy away from darker themes, the lyrics are as close as you can get to poetry in country music. Stand-out tracks: Used, Monroe Suede, You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neil Young - Storytone

Being a die hard Neil Young fan, I'll admit that when I heard he was releasing an album with a full orchestra, I thought I'd probably give it a single listen and never play it again. Let it be known that my least favorite Neil Young song, "There's a World", completely ruined his most famous album for me, to be sure. It sits right there at track 7 of 10 chalk full of flutes and bells, destroying the folky-flow of the rest of the album. I can honestly say I have never listened to that song all the way through on purpose.

That aside, it's not surprising that Neil would come out with an orchestral album. He's long been known for creating albums that send record labels into all out frenzies (see Trans and Everybody's Rockin'). He has, after all, promised to compose a full length orchestral piece since the release of Harvest in 1972. Really, it seems the older he gets, the less he cares about what his fans think. There is something to be said for that, however.

Some of his most recent albums have been troubling at first listen but over time, I've concluded that many of them are actually some of his finest. Take A Letter Home as an example, the album that was recorded directly to vinyl using a 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth. It wasn't until I actually listened to the vinyl itself that I got the true feeling embedded in it. Whoa.

In any case, I can't say that I like Storytone quite yet. Orchestras aren't really my thing. What saves this album, however, is that he did release a deluxe edition that includes solo versions of all 10 tracks. He even plays the ukulele on one of them.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Song Obsessions: Bob Dylan Edition

Though they certainly aren't mutually exclusive, of the big name folk singer-songwriters from the 60s, I tend to be more of a Paul Simon girl than a Dylanite.  I listened to Dylan in college, but not obsessively (minus Blonde on Blonde); and while I really enjoyed some of his lyrics, his music didn't emotionally resonate with me in the same way some of Simon's songs did (blasphemy, I know!).  Lately, however, I have been listening to a ton of Dylan.  I'm not sure what spurred this development. Perhaps, I just listened to Sounds of Silence one too many times and decided I needed something darker and more ironic (sorry Paul!).  Anyway, below are five Dylan tracks I can't get enough of currently:

1).  "Like a Rolling Stone" from Highway 61 Revisited.  I kept this album in my car stereo an embarrassingly long time just because I could not turn off this track once it had started.  This is pretty obvious Dylan, but I really like him at his meanest.  Dylan is great at crafting insults.  Here, he is able to be both ruthless to the song's subject while being occasional empathetic, especially at the end: "When you got nothing, you've got nothing to lose/ You're invisible now, you've got no secrets to conceal."

2).  "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" from Blood on the Tracks. There are a lot of great tracks off this album, but I adore the pessimism of this love song.  The song perfectly captures the early glow of a new relationship, "Flowers on the hillside, bloomin' crazy/ Crickets talkin' back and forth in rhyme/ Blue river runnin' slow and lazy/ I could stay with you forever and never realize the time."  However, the narrator has been down this particular road a few to many times to expect a happy ending, "Situations have ended sad/ Relationships have all been bad/ Mine've been like Verlaine's and Rimbaud's."  So, the most romantic thing he can muster up to say to his lady love is that she'll make him lonesome when she leaves. 

3).  "4th Time Around" from Blonde on Blonde.  I've been listening to this album on-and-off since college and I just recently learned it's a parody of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood."  John Lennon's lyrics sounded a little too Dylanesque for Dylan, so he decided to show him how it was done. Now, when I listen to the song, I can definitely hear the similarity.  But really I like it because Dylan portrays himself as hilariously jerky in these lyrics.  It's one of two songs on the album that make me laugh out ("Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" being the other).  I love what a little punk Bob Dylan was on this album.

4).  "Mr. Tambourine Man" from Bringing It All Back Home.  This is one of the few Dylan songs I actually listened to growing up.  My father did not become a big Dylan fan until later in life; so while I was growing up he pretty much only listened to the "Greatest Hits."  Since my dad loved this song, I didn't allow myself to like it until recently (Dads are so uncool).  However, I really admire the complexity of the rhymes with in this song.  The lyrics are little more poetic, and less flippant than my favorite Dylan.  However, the guy was like 23 when he wrote, so I'll give him a pass.  It's much less literary mag than the stuff Paul Simon wrote at that age.

5). "Idiot Wind" from Blood on the Tracks.  This is a Bob Dylan put down song of the finest caliber.  The lyrics have the bitterness and biting of his earlier angry songs like "Positively 4th Street" and "Like a Rolling Stone," but their is less self-righteous coldness and more emotional pain in "Idiot Wind."  Dylan sings the song so passionately, that at times he sounds vaguely like a pirate.  One of my favorite line sequences in the song nicely sums up the hurt accompanying the end of a long relationship, "I can't feel you anymore/ I can't even touch the books you've read/ Every time I crawl past your door/ I've been wishin' I was someone else instead."  By the end of the song, Dylan even includes himself as equally culpable, "We're idiots, babe/ It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves."  Awesome song, awesome album, check out both!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Happy 89th birthday, Angela Lansbury!

Film, television, and theater star Angela Lansbury turns 89 today. In a career that has spanned 70 years, Lansbury has seemingly done it all. Let's take a look at a small slice of her work:


Mame (1966)
Won the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the title role. Lansbury is one of the women interviewed by author Eddie Shapiro in the book Nothing Like a Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theater (2014). She talks about her roles on Broadway, including what was so great about Mame: "You have to understand that up until that point I had had a career that was technically interesting and diverse and full of acting opportunities but I never had a chance to touch a universal audience, really. Men, women, children, dogs, cats, the whole shebang."
Listen to the original cast recording: Mame Soundtrack  

Sweeney Todd (1979)

Won the Tony award for Best Actress in a Musical as Mrs. Lovett.
Listen to the original cast recording: Sweeney Todd Soundtrack 

Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996)
Nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy as mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher for each of the show's twelve seasons.
Find it in the catalog!

Film noir
Gaslight (1944)
Nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1945
Find it in the catalog!


The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1946
Find it in the catalog!
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1963
Find it in the catalog!

Family films
National Velvet (1944)
Find it in the catalog!

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Find it in the catalog!
Nanny McPhee (2005)
Find it in the catalog!

Voiceover work

Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Find it in the catalog!
Do you have a favorite role of Angela Lansbury's? One of my favorite childhood movies was Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Compiling this list has compelled me to seek out her earlier work; I am just amazed to see the scope Angela Lansbury's enduring career!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Best of the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards

Ahh, the VMAs-- our yearly reminder that pop culture has taken a drastic turn towards sheer ridiculousness. In 1995, Courtney Love crashed Madonna's on-screen interview. In 2009, the ever so self-centered Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech for Best Female Video to proclaim that Beyoncé had the best music video of all time (duh). In 2013, Miley Cyrus made history by 'twerking' all over Robin Thicke, forever scarring thousands of viewers. And in 2014, the ladies rose above their male counterparts. 

This year, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj opened the show with a performance that had Grande emerge from a spaceship for her electro-stomper “Break Free,” Minaj dancing in a jungle for “Anaconda” and then the pair united with Jessie J for ladies anthem “Bang Bang.” It was the sort of over-the-top fun that award shows are made for – even if Minaj teetered on the edge of showing all her glory with a wardrobe malfunction. Find Ariana's new album, "My Everything", in the catalog!

Although Ariana and Nicki killed it (if you will), Beyoncé's closing performance was by far the highlight of the night. Using her blockbuster, self-titled visual album – which she dropped without warning late last year – as the source material, she moved through an ambitious medley that pulled from the entire project. Beyoncé reigns supreme. Enough said. You can pick up a copy of her self-titled album at the Dundee Library by clicking here.

 You can also check-out music by other performers like Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Usher.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Recommended Watch: Locke

Locke, starring Tom Hardy, is not blockbuster material. Hardy is the sole actor on screen the entire movie as we ride along his drive from work to London, not home to where he would normally be headed. I won't reveal the exact reason he's not going home, but he makes a life altering decision and now must deal with the fallout. He has a series of phone calls to make and receive as the drive unfolds. We hear his boss, co-worker, wife, boys, and the instigator to is decision. (Love Ruth Wilson, who plays his wife to perfection.)

Given the fact that Locke was filmed in several single takes, Hardy's performance is even more impressive. After a summer of big movies based on previously published materials, it was refreshing to see something original and human. It is small in place and time, but not impact.

Find it in the catalog!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Batman Day!

July 23 is Batman Day! To celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman, special events are being held at book stores and comic book stores around the world.

Comic book stores are giving away free copies of Detective Comics #27 Special Edition. Modern Age Comics in Algonquin (2210 East Algonquin Rd) is a local comic book store participating in the Batman Day giveaway.

Additionally, tonight a Batman Day Trivia Contest will be held at 7 p.m. in the Barnes and Noble cafe in Spring Hill Mall.

Another way to celebrate is by watching your favorite Batman movie/s. As a kid I loved watching syndicated episodes of the 1960s Batman television series and the 1966 movie starring Adam West. Today the films in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, starring Christian Bale, rank among my all-time favorites.

Adam West as Batman:
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Batman (TV series-1966-1968)
The New Adventures of Batman (Animated TV series-1977)

Michael Keaton as Batman:
Batman (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)

Val Kilmer as Batman:
Batman Forever (1995)

George Clooney as Batman:
Batman & Robin (1997)

Christian Bale as Batman:
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

In 2016 audiences will see how Ben Affleck fits into the role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I grew up on DC Comics characters, so I am definitely excited to see the film. The only thing that would be better would to have a movie focused on Batman's sidekick, Robin (preferably played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt... Dark Knight Rises, why'd you tease us?).

Which actor do you prefer as Batman? Are you looking forward to Batman and Superman sharing the screen in Batman v Superman?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Recommended Film: Violet & Daisy

The plot is intriguing: two teenage girl assassins (Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan) have trouble killing a mark (James Gandolfini). However, this recommendation is all about the performances, not plot. All three are initially playing against type. Bledel and Ronan, despite their beautiful faces, are obviously up to no good and Gandolfini is quite sympathetic, even pathetic.

Bledel does well playing really against type (those who know her from Gilmore Girls will understand) because she's the more aggressive of the two girls. But Ronan is the one to keep an eye on. She's already given some standout performances in her short career, and I would add this to the list even though this film didn't get much attention (if any) when it was released. There is a Tatiana Maslany cameo too, but if you blink, you'll miss her.

Violet & Daisy
Find it in the catalog!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Under the Radar Movies

Since prime time TV is pretty nil in the summer time, I usually like to catch up with movies and TV series I missed.  Below are three movies that came out relatively recently (in the last year or so), that didn't receive much buzz at the time, but are definitely worth seeking out.

Short Term 12 (2013):
Find in the catalog!

Initially I put off watching this movie, because the subject matter sounded rather depressing.  It's about a foster care home for neglected and troubled teens.  The film does have its dark moments, but there is enough humor and lightness to keep the movie from being downbeat.  Brie Lawson plays Grace, the lead councilor in charge of looking after the foster care home.  She's tough, but also very caring towards the teens staying under her care.  Her long term boyfriend Mason (a very bearded John Gallagher Jr.) also works as a counselor at the facility.   Marcus (Keith Stanfield) is on the verge and turning 18 and "graduating" out of foster care.  He is understandably apprehensive at the prospect of being returned to the streets where he grew up.  Meanwhile, a new teen, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), arrives at the facility.  Jayden is a troublemaker, but comes from a slightly more privileged background than the other children.  However, she has some problems below the surface which Grace seems to be the only person who understands.

Even though the subject matter is somewhat bleak, I really enjoyed this movie.  Brie Lawson gives a standout performance as Grace.  It was also interesting to see John Gallagher Jr. play a character who is a world away from his preppy and somewhat wimpy Newsroom character.  He gives a really likeable performance here. I never quite knew where the plot was going and there were quite a few surprises.  However, the characters are drawn emphatically, so you wind up rooting for them in spite of their circumstances. 

Drinking Buddies (2013):
Find it in the catalog!

I'll admit I've always thought of Olivia Wilde as being an actress somewhat in the same category as Megan Fox:  very pretty, but not a whole lot of substance there.  Thankfully, I was wrong about Ms. Wilde, who gives a wonderful performance as the tomboyish Kate in this Joe Swanberg directed comedy.  Shot in Chicago (at Revolution Brewing Company, no less), this movie follows the friendship between two brewery employees, brewer Luke (Jake Johnston of New Girl) and the head of PR Kate.  Luke and Kate flirt like crazy and have a ton in common, but both are in relationships with other people.  Luke has a long term live-in girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick).  And Kate has an older music producer beau, Chris (Ron Livingston). After the couples travel together for a long weekend, Chris decides to break up with Kate.  Afterwards, Kate's new found singleness causes some uneasiness with her friendship with Luke.

As a huge fan of craft beer and things set in Chicago, I was preordained to like this movie.  Drinking Buddies has a plot that is pretty true to life for a certain set of late 20/ early 30 somethings.  Johnston, Kendrick and Wilde all give pretty funny and nuanced performances.  I was particularly impressed by Wilde's take on Kate, a character who on paper seems like the perfect girl.  She's funny, smart, pretty, and can drink her weight in beer.  Yet she also has some intimacy and maturity issues underneath her bubbly exterior.

Frances Ha (2012):  
Find it in the catalog!

Out of the movies on the list, this was the only one I really anticipated before watching.  Partly because of the director (Noah Baumbach) and the star (Greta Gerwig).  And partly because I will watch anything about an awkward, late 20-something girl trying to figure out her life.  I tried to catch the movie in theaters, but the run was so short that I missed it.  Frances (Gerwig) is a 27 year-old wannabe dancer, who decides to break up with her boyfriend to spend more time with her best friend and roommate, Sophie (Mickey Sumner).  Unfortunately for Frances, Sophie gets serious with her stock broker beau, Patch, and moves out of their apartment.  Without Sophie, Frances becomes increasing lost and struggles to find a place to rent in NYC that she can afford.  Throughout the movie, we follow Frances as she moves into several different apartments and attempts (feebly) to become a grown up.

This movie is immensely relatable for late boomers to adulthood.  As someone who had her fair share of addresses in her twenties, I could see myself in Frances immediately.  Still that makes it all that much harder to watch her struggle, fail, and occasionally make a huge fool out of herself.  Frances has somewhat limited social skills and sometimes she does or says things incredibly stupid or inappropriate.  I found myself covering my eyes to avoid the awkwardness occasionally while watching this movie.  That being said, overall this is quite an enjoyable movie.  I especially enjoyed Frances's friendship with one of her roommates Benji (Michael Zegen); a trust-fund kid who's equally lost and unrealistic about life as Frances.  Benji jokes frequently that they are both "undateable."  The movie is shot beautifully in black and white, so it's a pleasure to look at as well.