THE ABSENT

THE ABSENT
THE ABSENT - out now!

CRIPPLED HEARTS

CRIPPLED HEARTS
Out Now - For sale on Amazon and other onlne book sellers

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

SOLIDARITY WITH THE FLESH EATING MOSAIC AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
Out Now

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju

THE RETURN OF THE MAGNIFICENT NINNY AND OTHER POEMS by Raj Dronamraju
My first book of poetry available through Amazon and other online booksellers www.rajbooks.com

Saturday, April 19, 2014

SPOTIFY VS GROOVESHARK PLUS DAY AFTER DAY BY BALLROOM AND THE BEST OF THE LEMON PIPERS


By the good graces of Hola, I am now able to get Spotify in Malaysia (as well as Hulu and  other copyright banned sites of music and classic tv/movies).  For the last few years, I have been using Grooveshark to stream music for my listening pleasure while writing or just hanging out.

So which is better – Spotify or Grooveshark?

Hard question to answer.  I find it easier to sort songs into playlists in Grooveshark and also there is no advertising there.  In addition, you don’t need to be logged into Grooveshark to stream music.   The biggest advantage Grooveshark has at this point in time is that it just has more music to stream.  Sptofy might have three albums out of a band’s discography whereas Grooveshark has every one.

On the other hand, Spotify’s display and playing area is easier to navigate and you can put an entire band’s discography up and pick and choose songs.  Also while Grooveshark has more songs on it, I’ve found some real rarities, some old favorites on Spotify such as....

DAY AFTER DAY by Ballroom

I wrote this on a forum I used to belong to  BALLROOM's great 1998 cd DAY AFTER DAY was pushed back when their original record company went of business which was one of many pitfalls they had and caused them to break up after this one release. This is too bad because Ballroom to me was the perfect mix of Oasis Britpop Beatles swagger and The Smiths as filtered through Suede's glam rock revival....In other words, I felt they were the best link musically between the disparate sub genres of Britpop....and the songs speak for themselves (Don't Stop, Heads or Tails, Household Names, Take It, Bionic, Someone like you) Not a bad one here.... 



THE BEST OF THE LEMON PIPERS: GREEN TAMBORINE by The Lemon Pipers

The Lemon Pipers were a 1960’s group from Ohio that played a very enjoyable variation of psychedelic pop.  As a teenager, I owned both their albums, the result of the generous booty of used record shops.  The debut was much more poppier full of songs about green tamborines, orange marmalade, rainbow trees and featuring sitars, backward strings, weird keyboards, the works.  The second record was harder and more of a badder trip with acid tinged guitar but also still had a number of catchy songs.  This greatest hits collection showcases the best songs of both records although I could do without the 11 minute IN A GADDA DA VIDA clone Dead End Street/Half Light. 


Thursday, April 17, 2014

POCO'S DISCOGRAPHY - AN APPRAISAL


The recent announcement that Poco would cease to be as a touring and recording entity after 40 plus years is not a huge surprise to most people who assumed they’d broken up years ago and at this point it was really only Rusty Young (the sole original member). 

This news has put me on a Poco listening binge.  I’ve always liked them (and I’m talking about their period as an actual band late 1960’s up until Timothy B. Schmit left in 1977).  Their brand of country rock was more like country pop and seemed to have less effort involved than other more legendary groups/performers like the whole Gram Parson Flying Burrito Brothers Axis. True, it was simpler and less heavy and had less deeper meaning but they wrote songs in a genre that didn’t really exist fully yet with confidence.  And when I say wrote there were a number of talented singer songwriters in the band, an embarrassment of riches.

Here is my breakdown of their discography by preference (or at least the records I’ve ever heard).  I am very honest so there is some criticism here but at their best they were an excellent band in every way.

PICKIN’ UP THE PIECES
Their debut is still my favorite record by them.  Fresh and catchy, this is just as close to power pop as country with a pedal steel guitar replacing a Rickenbacker.  Richie Furay and Jim Messina were calling the shots as this was what they had envisioned after Buffalo Springfield ended.  Furay in particular is at the top of his game here.  His vocals are beautiful as are all the harmonies.  My favourite tracks – Pickin’ Up The Pieces, Make Me A Smile, Short Changed, Nobody’s Fool, really all of the songs.


HEAD OVER HEELS
2nd’ fave, their 8th studio album, and best of the foursome years – Rusty Young, Paul Cotton, Timothy B Schmit, George Grantham.  I’m not sure they meant this as three out of the four members sing and write here separately but this has always felt like a concept album to me with the subject the beginning, middle period, and end of a relationship.  The order of the songs back this up with their individual meanings and the relationship might also be with a place or a feeling itself not necessarily another person. Every song is sharply delivered and the whole thing melts together seamlessly.  The highlights are all three of Schmit’s songs (although he wrote and sang less than Young or Cotton he was the best songwriter and singer in the band at this point).  Also noteworthy are their spirited cover of Steely Dan’s Dallas (which fits in with the theme) and Young’s Loving Arms.


A GOOD FEELIN’ TO KNOW
All three Furay compositions on this record are excellent (especially the title track which is one of his best tunes – relentlessly catchy) as are both Schmit songs (I Can See Everything would be a competitor for best Poco song of all time) and a slowed down more rocking version of the Stephen Stills Buffalo Springfield number Go and Say Goodbye.  The three Paul Cotton tunes don’t get in the way too much.


CANTAMOS
This is the problem.  Jim Messina left Poco after their second album (see further down) and was replaced by Paul Cotton.  Now Cotton is a versatile guitarist who can really solo. He also had a slightly deeper voice that the other members of the band and worked well in the harmonies besides singing his own songs.  The problem is he is a dull songwriter with really unoriginal lyrics (often about cowboys and the South) which is funny considering he is from Illinois.  With two other songwriters, he is kept to three or four tracks a record which is okay and this record has a couple of his best tunes including Western Waterloo.  It also contains a front runner for my favorite Rusty Young Tune Sagebrush Serenade (amazingly complex and haunting) and another classic Schmit ballad Whatever Happened To Your Smile?      


ROSE OF CIMARRON, INDIAN SUMMER
A bit too much Paul Cotton drags down the proceedings but both these records feature some classic tunes.  THE ROSE OF CIMARRON’s title track (written by Young) and INDIAN SUMMER’s Downfall (also by Young) as well as its title track (by Cotton and featuring some of his best guitar work) plus all the Schmit compositions on both records are classic.  Jury’s still out on the nearly nine minute suite of songs by Young that end INDIAN SUMMER.  Something to do with a dance but with very pretty string arrangements at least.


CRAZY EYES
CRAZY EYES may be Poco’s strangest record.  It’s their fifth studio record and last with Furay who seems obsessed with Gram Parsons here penning a 9 minute + long moody orchestral masterpiece about him (the title track) and also a completely unnecessary cover of Brass Buttons.  There is also a boring equally unnecessary cover of JJ Cale’s Magnolia.  To balance it out, there is an excellent Schmit song and couple good Young tunes.  The two Cotton songs are not bad this time around either.  And just to restate the title track despite its length is excellent.


FROM THE INSIDE
I’m not sure the source of the problem with this record.  Six out of the ten songs are by Furay and are simple catchy pop tunes.  The title track is one of the first solo compositions by Schmit and is excellent and the three Cotton songs are not bad either (especially Bad Weather).  However, what really damages the sound of this record is instead of Poco’s usual semi-electric country rock pop, we get something akin to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, acoustic guitars everywhere and muted percussion downplaying the normally excellent George Grantham’s drumming.  The result is lifeless and forgettable.  Perhaps producer Steve Cropper is the problem(as I’ve read a few times) – I don’t know.  A shame as the songwriting is good here.


SEVEN
The first album Poco made as a foursome after Furay left is also their worst as a foursome.  I can only assume that the commercially successful sound of the dreaded Eagles forced everybody to lose their heads momentarily.  Every song (even the three Schmit songs) is swamped with whiny slide guitar.  It seems like everyone is yelling when they sing too.  I hardly listen to this record.


POCO
Their second album starts off well.  The first six songs are all good.  Furay is looser and more electric than the first record.  There is a nice cover of Dallas Frazier’s country standard Honky Tonk Downstairs.  I’ve never been much of a Jim Messina fan but You’d Better Think Twice is one of his best tunes of all time.  However, all that is forgotten after the 18 minute loose jam that ends the record.  It is pointless, boring, and sounds made up on the spot.  Poco is not exactly prog rock.  I can only assume they rushed into the studio too quickly after their first album and didn’t have enough songs to complete the record.


DELIVERIN’
Not a big fan of live albums of which Poco has made several.  This is the only one I’ve heard.  Nice version of Kind Woman, the Furay Buffalo Springfield song that got the whole Poco country thing rolling.  There are a few songs here not on any studio recording.  Messina has some nice lead guitar work.



A few further Poco works....

THE YOUNG/COTTON YEARS
After Schmit left, Young and Cotton made a number of records as a duo with various other faceless musicians.  Of these, I have only heard LEGEND and UNDER THE GUN.  Both were fairly awful as Poco had now turned into Air Supply.  LEGEND at least has the band’s sole hit Young’s Crazy Love which is instantly memorable but both records are synthetic devoid of inspiration filled with clich├ęd lyrics and mundane arrangements.  I have not heard any other music the duo made but imagine they are the same.

LEGACY
In 1990, the original five members of Poco (Furay, Messina, Young, Grantham, Randy Meisner) reunited or were reunited by the record label for a record.  Don’t be fooled this is product with the Poco name on it not an actual Poco record.  A number of other studio musicians are listed on various instruments and a lot of the songs are collaborations with outside songwriters or completely written by outside songwriters.  The good parts – Both Furay co written and sung songs are good as are the three Young tunes.  The bad parts – Three songs by Messina is three songs too many and Meisner who only played bass on the first album then left the band sings three songs (one by Richard Marx! L  ).  Rather odd that Meisner gets to sing three songs whereas the founder of the band Furay only gets two.  Meisner’s voice has aged well though and has power.


ALL FIRED UP
Last year, Young working with his touring band made what is most certainly the last Poco album and it’s pretty good.  Young as a songwriter has loosened up a bit and become very creative.  He is capable of both a beautiful ballad like Regret and a half-comic rocker like Neil Young.  If in fact this is the end for Poco, it’s not a bad way to go out.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

DAVID LETTERMAN'S RETIREMENT PLUS WHO SHOULD REPLACE HIM?


I have been mulling over what David Letterman has meant to me in the last few days since he announced his upcoming retirement in 2015.  I say “meant to me” because his show (and I am more talking about the first late night programme he had on NBC LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN than the CBS one THE LATE SHOW) deeply influenced the way I thought in terms of finding clever, creative ways to “rebel” against a society I neither liked nor cared for.  This wasn’t the intention of him or the show’s writers but it perfectly pushed the philosophy of Theodore Adorno that entertainment and materialism go hand in hand and distract an anesthetized, overworked populace into not complaining about their government, their leaders.

I also appreciate the ridiculous in humor but only if it's tied to a sense of self-deprecation or some other device that has roots in our world so we can relate to it from our vantage point.  Letterman was the witness poking holes and mocking his own jokes, his own ridiculous set-ups, his cast of bad actors, oddballs, and misfits such as Larry “Bud” Melman (Deliberately reading off cue cards badly) and Chris Elliott (himself a third wall construct of winking “I’m in on it”). 

And the way he talked to his guests as if they were blowhards and self-important and needed to have the air let out of their sails (which they were of course).  So many great other moments –  viewer mail, throwing things off a building, crushing them with a hydraulic press, Dave’s grab bag, supermarket finds, stupid pet tricks, stupid human tricks, Dave working the drive-thru at MacDonald’s and Taco Bell, Dave doing the show in his office, Dave’s Christmas special, Brother Theodore and Harvey Pekar.

And Yes Dave was not as energetic as he got older.  His CBS show was more like a regular talk show.  However, the apolitical Letterman unloading on ignorant bully Bill O’Reilly clearly angry about the evils of Iraq War was a dramatic and jarring moment and showed what a great man of character Letterman is.

And Letterman himself is what it’s all about.  The show at its peak reflected his sensibility and he is one of the most creative, principled, funny people to grace the medium of TV.

In regards to who should replace Letterman, my pick would be outside the box.  I would suggest Norm MacDonald.  He is not only a quick wit and one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time, he has shown on his recent podcast that he can conduct successful in-depth interviews.  Norm MacDonald would be my choice.

Handicapping the names currently out there....

STEPHEN COLBERT – I like Colbert and I like the Colbert Report but he is a comic actor.  He plays a role.  He is not a comedian and as himself he is quite normal and ordinary.  I don’t think he is right for this type of show.

CHELSEA HANDLER – A mean, unfunny bitch who only selectively insults those celebrities not being handled by her PR firm.  Like Joan Rivers without any talent or sense of humor.  A disaster if she’s picked.

JON STEWART, ELLEN DEGENERES – Neither have the edge to host a show like this.  Neither have an interesting enough personality to carry a talk show at this hour of the night but at least Stewart is funny.  DeGeneres is for housewives and senior citizens only.

CRAIG FERGUSON – Of all the discussed possibilities, the one that makes the most sense.  He has a less ironic even more silly take on the Letterman brand of humor and is likeable.  The English/Scottish sometimes forget to root their often ridiculous sense of humor in a  reference point we, the audience, can relate to so hopefully if he gets the gig he will remember to do that.               

               

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ABOUT WILSON PICKETT


Wilson Pickett tore apart songs with a big, booming, cutting voice.  He tore apart songs with great gusto.  His early records have the crazy power of Little Richard but with more guitar based backing tracks and less surreal songs.  The1960’s established Pickett as a performer of great singles such as "Land of a Thousand Dances" and "In The Midnight Hour".  The Pickett vocal sound was one of contained emotion escaping – Be it joy or desire or hurt.

Pickett was the opposite of Otis Redding whereas Redding was stodgy, dull, and oversang everything (perhaps the creator of the oversinging style prevalent on American Idol), Pickett attacked the song directly then fell back dodging and weaving like a boxer through the melody.  He also co-wrote or chose better material as well.

By the end of the 60’s, Pickett also started making great full length records.  His masterpiece HEY JUDE came out in 1969 and the title track is my favorite cover version of a Beatles song by any artist.  Recorded in Muscle Shoals, the backing accompaniment is raw, earthy, human especially Duane Allman who empowers the proceedings.  There are numerous other classic songs here such as “Night Owl” and “Toe Hold”.


Next Pickett made the album RIGHT ON.  Considered a bit of a stopgap between HEY JUDE and WILSON PICKETT IN PHILADELPHIA (his other masterpiece), RIGHT ON is a good record in and of itself.  The standouts are two very often covered songs “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” and “Hey Joe”.  Pickett’s versions IMO are the definitive ones because he slows everything down and stretches out these tunes into the works of high drama they deserve to be.


Next was IN PHILADELPHIA which is Pickett’s second best record.  Having Pickett work with the progenitors of the popular at the time Philadelphia soul sound (consisting of beautiful orchestral songscapes) the production team Gamble and Huff was an inspired choice as the velvet backing instrumentation only serves to boost Pickett not hold him back.  Quite a lot of guitar on this record too.


Pickett did make one more good record DON’T KNOCK MY LOVE which was recorded in Muscle Shoals and featured the same muscular backing sound as HEY JUDE but after that he slid into disco and less inspired music.


The greatest thing one could take away from Wilson Pickett’s singing career is that it is important for the vocalist to challenge himself and put himself in different situations.  Pickett did this admirably and the result is a legacy of classic songs, standards that transcend genre. 
      


    

MUSIC ROUND-UP - APRIL 2014


Elbow – THE TAKE OFF AND LANDING OF EVERYTHING

Starting off with one of the best debuts not just of the last couple decades but maybe in rock history, Elbow has since then succumbed to a kind of musical inertia, slowing the pace more and more into predictable big chant choruses with heavy percussion.  This record is a slight improvement over their last record with much better songwriting and a louder guitar sound.  I haven’t given up hope on Elbow but they need to kick out the jams a bit.



Neil Finn – DIZZY HEIGHTS

I am a huge fan of Split Enz and have enjoyed some of Neil Finn’s solo records especially TRY WHISTLING THIS.  I was not a fan of Crowded House's bland commerciality however.  On his newest solo record, Finn’s voice is so produced it’s almost ethereal.  This is a pretty record that bogs down a little bit during the slower tracks where Finn’s gift of melody can get submerged.  Much better are the faster songs like Pony Ride and Strangest Friends.



Black Submarine – NEW SHORES

Black Submarine features two members of the Verve, guitarist Nick McCabe and bassist Simon Jones, and a number of others in a sort of a collective.  I prefer the songs that feature the female vocalist over the ones with the male vocalist.  The true star here is McCabe’s huge expansive sound contrasted against the equally big backbeat which acts as sort of a safety net.  A fabulous return to the kind of late 90’s Britpop big rock song as commercial single.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A FEW THOUGHTS ON TRUE DETECTIVE SEASON ONE


Here are my thoughts on the excellent first season of the TRUE DETECTIVE series.  SPOILERS are present of course!

1.) I originally didn’t get into this series.  While it has great performances and great atmosphere, I found the plot to be not that complicated and a bit pedestrian.  Well, after finishing the series, I came across this quote in Rolling Stone’s review of the series “The journey is more important than the destination” and that too me is what it’s about. The story told here is secondary to the people that inhabit it and where they are operating.

2.)  I believe that distractions play a big part in the story.  The evidence of the recently painted house that is the big discovery that points them to the killer was there for quite some time but Cohle was wrapped up in drugs and his own weirdness and Hart with his wife and the cheating and the fallout from the divorce as well as their dislike for each other.  Once they got back together and got their heads straight, they figured it all out.

3.)  What about the finale?   Reading a lot of complaints today but to me it made perfect sense. Any mystery worth its salt has red herrings and TD is no exception.  Just because they hinted at something doesn’t mean it has to come true.

4.)  In regards to not catching all the members of the cult, I think Cohle was right when he said they got the one they’d been chasing.  The murder cult actually broke up sometime in the 90’s but Errol Childress kept on killing because he enjoyed it.  When the cult was in existence, he was their main servant.  He would find the girls, kidnap them and after the cult had their weird ceremony involving rape and torture, he would kill them and clean up.

5.)  What about Cohle’s Synaesthesia ?  He did say that the hallucinations he had stopped once he stopped taking drugs but he said that in the present day to the detectives who suspect him of murder so who knows.  I still think that was a delusion at the end, the otherworldly portal he saw in Carcosa.  I think all the supernatural stuff in this series was a red herring.

6.)   Cohle’s appearance before the two detectives investigating the new case in 2012 in the first four episodes was a performance of sorts.  It reminded me of THE USUAL SUSPECTS but in this case Cohle was pretending to be a useless drunk and a weirdo to pump them for info.  We see when he meets up with Hart again that he is still a good detective and has that storage locker full of investigative material.

7.)  Something interesting I noticed – The drawings Hart’s daughter did in episode 3 (which combined with some other things made it seems she was a victim of molestation perhaps by the same cult) don’t look like her having sex, they look like Errol Childress and his wife/sister/mother/lover

8.)  Possible twists that didn’t happen – One I thought of was that not only is Hart’s creepy stepfather-in law molesting his granddaughter and is involved in the cult but Hart’s ex-wife is also in on it.  She murders Hart at the end but Cohle figures her out and get her before she gets him.

9.)  Another great thing worth noticing was the dialogue especially Cohle’s speeches on  human existence.  I’ve never seen a detective show or movie with such great extended conversations

10.)  Comparisons with other shows?  Well one I thought of while watching TD was TWIN PEAKS without the sense of humor but with the odd characters, the supernatural intruding on a case, and the creative use of natural settings. 

11.)  The soundtrack by T Bone Burnett was great especially his opening credits tune.  I also liked how music was used in particular hearing “Did She Jump or Was She Pushed?” by Richard and Linda Thompson in episode 7 as Cohle meets Maggie in the present day.

12.)  This was one of the rare times when a happy ending made sense 





Friday, March 7, 2014

RECONSIDERING WILD BEASTS PRESENT TENSE PLUS NADINE SHAH LOVE YOUR DUM AND MAD


After listening to Wild Beasts PRESENT TENSE a few more times, I really feel I didn’t do it justice in my review earlier this month (see a couple entries in my blog before this one).  It really is the perfect balance between what made them great musically in the first place and a refinement of their sound that doesn’t ruin them or get too far away from what they are all about.  The songs may be be their best bunch yet – Mecca, Wanderlust, Nature Boy and perhaps their greatest song of all time A Simple Beautiful Truth.



Nadine Shah’s debut album LOVE YOUR DUM AND MAD is really powerful with great creeping majestic arrangements.  Shah’s voice hits you on many levels raising the hair on the back of your neck, causing a twinge in your heart.  The songs showcase not only Shah but also the guitars and the melodies.  I hear a lot of comparisons between Shah and PJ Harvey and Nick Cave but unlike the both of them she can a.) Really sing b.) Really spin a catchy tune.  Best songs – To Be A Young Man, The Devil, Floating, All I Want.