Monday, December 26, 2011

My Top Music DVDS of 2011

I recently posted my top albums of 2011. And as tough as it was to rank my top 10 albums and worthy honorable mentions for the year, it proved to be almost as tough to rank my favorite DVD releases of 2011. So here goes...

1. Bad Company, Live At Wembley (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Recorded live at Wembley Arena in London in 2010 and released on DVD, Blu-ray and audio CD in June 2011, this release caught vocalist Paul Rodgers, lead guitarist Mick Ralphs, drummer Simon Kirke, guitarist Howard Leese and bassist Lynn Sorensen (original bassist Boz Burrell died in 2006) in perfect form. Some bands find their music becoming more dated with time; this excellent DVD makes a case that Bad Company's rock has never sounded better.

2. Rory Gallagher, Irish Tour ’74 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Eagle Rock Entertainment has been at the forefront of helping champion renewed interest in Rory Gallagher, having issued restored and re-mastered versions of his celebrated catalog throughout 2011. Irish Tour ’74 is a two-hour DVD (also available on Blu-ray) that truly captures what made Gallagher (who died at the mere age of 47 in 1995) so special. On stage he was a fiery presence as he sang and played high-powered electric guitar or acoustic blues with equal fervor, able to get young audiences to their feet with Springsteen-like command. Off-stage he was articulate and focused on his passion making music and the relationship an artist forges with their fans that is as much about life as it is the power of music.

3. Gary Moore, Live At Montreux 2010 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Watching the legendary guitarist Gary Moore in the very last live performance of his life, Live At Montreux 2010 is a release as bittersweet as any issued this year. But there is no better way to celebrate and remember Moore than by watching this wonderful DVD (also available on Blu-ray and on audio CD). In addition to his final 2010 concert (Moore died at age 59 on Feb. 6, 2011), there are four bonus tracks of his performance at Montreux in 1997 among the extras so fans get to see several different versions of "Still Got the Blues" and "Walking By Myself" performed. But the gems of the set are the new tracks he had written for a planned forthcoming 2011 album (sadly, never completed) that are performed here.

4. Sigur Rós, Inni (XL Recordings)
Few modern-rock acts to emerge since the early 1990s have been able to craft music that is as original as it is beautiful. But like England’s Radiohead, Iceland’s Sigur Rós has found its own little niche in the sonic universe, a place where lush symphonic textures, intense live performances that feature singer Jónsi attacking his electric guitar with a violin bow and additional otherworldly sounds please audiences looking for something to call their own. Inni, a three-disc collection featuring a concert DVD (also available on Blu-ray) on one disc and two audio CDs, was recorded and filmed over two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace in late 2008.

5. The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition (Reprise Records)
For the past 25 years, Neil Young and his wife Pegi Young have hosted the annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts to benefit The Bridge School, a non-profit, innovative organization educating children with severe speech and physical impairments. 2011 marked the release of DVD and CD collections highlighting wide-ranging performances captured at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California since the first concert was produced in October 1986. Highlights on the DVD include Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller on the duet "Love Hurts," Fleet Foxes performing "Blue Ridge Mountains," a heart wrenching "Fire and Rain" courtesy of James Taylor," and Elton John and Leon Russell teaming up on "A Dream Come True."

6. AC/DC, AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (Warner Home Video)
Titles featuring Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher were not the only bittersweet rock 'n' roll keepsakes to make their way onto DVD and Blu-ray in 2011. More than three decades after Bon Scott's death, his final filmed live concert with AC/DC was finally issued on DVD. The special collector's edition features a Blu-ray & DVD combo pack with the 13-song set that AC/DC performed on stage in Paris in 1979, as well as more than 95 minutes of bonus extras (including haunting interviews and backstage footage with Scott). "Let There Be Rock," indeed.

7. The Rolling Stones, Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
The 2011 release Some Girls Live in Texas ’78 captured the band just weeks after the release of their final tour de force, 1978's Some Girls.
In a loose and freewheeling performance of 17 songs, singer Mick Jagger and company delivered a blistering set featuring most of the highlights from Some Girls (a rowdy “Respectable,” disco-tinged “Miss You” and R&B-flavored “Beast of Burden”), as well as gems such as Chuck Berry‘s “Sweet Little 16″ and rocking versions of the Stones’ own “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

8. Deep Purple, Deep Purple with Orchestra: Live At Montreux 2011 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
There have been a few examples where bands performing with a full orchestra are effective, with performances by the Moody Blues and Metallica being obvious examples. But often times the approach is nothing more than a silly gimmick that does little to lift the material. Deep Purple with Orchestra: Live At Montreux 2011 is definitely no gimmick. Released as a two-disc CD, as well as on DVD and Blu-ray, this 115-minute concert ranks as one of my favorite live collections released on DVD this year.

9. Peter, Paul and Mary, 25th Anniversary Concert (Shout! Factory)
There was a time in the 1960s when folk music was also popular music. Bob Dylan, the Mamas & the Papas, Donovan and Peter, Paul and Mary were able to compete in an age dominated by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Byrds and other successful rock 'n' roll outfits. The release of Peter, Paul and Mary's 25th Anniversary Concert (originally broadcast over PBS in 1986) captured the trio in winning form, performing powerful versions of "Blowin' In The Wind," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and "This Land Is Your Land."

10. Paul Rodgers & Friends, Live at Montreux 1994 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
When one of rock's greatest-ever singers joins forces with an army featuring some of rock's greatest musicians, the results shine. Look no further than Paul Rodgers & Friends Live at Montreux 1994, which finds Paul Rodgers teaming up on a blues-heavy set with Queen's Brian May, Journey's Neal Schon, Toto's Steve Lukather, Black Country Communion's Jason Bonham and many more. Sure, the set features some great versions of Bad Company material, but the emphasis is on the blues. Songs penned or made famous by Robert Johnson ("Crossroads"), Sonny Boy Williamson ("Good Morning Little School Girl") and Willie Dixon ("I'm Ready") take center stage via some fantastic performances here.

Honorable mentions: Waylon Jennings: Live At The US Festival, 1983; Willie Nelson: Live At The US Festival, 1983; The Hollies: Look Through Any Window 1963-1975; Paul McCartney, The Love We Make; Peter Gabriel: New Blood - Live in London ; Lindsey Buckingham, Songs From the Small Machine: Live In L.A.; Deep Purple, Phoenix Rising; The Jeff Healey Band, Full Circle: The Live Anthology

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Top Albums of 2011

Between now and December 31st, I plan to provide a few lists looking back at my favorite music of 2011. Kicking things off are my top albums of 2011.

1. Elbow, Build a Rocket Boys!
America is just starting to get familiar with this U.K. export from Manchester. Anchored by the involving “The Birds” and forceful “Neat Little Rows,” this is merely the latest tour de force in a growing list of wonderful masterworks from vocalist Guy Garvey and the band.

2. Glen Campbell, Ghost on the Canvas
If this indeed proves to be his final studio album, the legendary singer-songwriter-guitarist has gone out on top. Campbell, suffering from Alzheimer’s to the point that he’s launched a farewell tour, has somehow tapped into his own mortality to bring his life’s journey to a dramatic close with this set of powerful songs.

3. Radiohead, The King of Limbs
The more subdued electronic textures featured this time may not equal some of the band’s more dramatic efforts, but there is a depth and power to this eight-track disc that reveals its sonic might over time. It’s a dense and challenging album that confirms these pioneering Brits as rock’s most daring and talented modern-day outfit, artfully challenging listeners at every turn.

4. The Zombies, Breathe Out, Breathe In
The oft-underrated ’60s holdovers celebrated their 50th anniversary by releasing one of the finest albums of the year, an amalgam of jazz, pop, rock and psychedelia. Founding members Rod Argent (keyboards) and Colin Blunstone (vocals) continue to deliver the goods live, too. Let’s see if the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys can pull that off in 2012.

5. Ron Sexsmith, Long Player Late Bloomer
Another fantastic collection of poignant material from one of Canada’s greatest and most original tunesmiths. On this album, guitarist Rusty Anderson (most often seen supporting Paul McCartney), keyboardist Jamie Edwards (who works with Aimee Mann) and drummer Josh Freese (anchor for Devo and A Perfect Circle, among others) add firepower to a particularly fine set of songs.

6. The Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
An Americana folk duo wouldn’t seem likely candidates to score commercial success with young audiences in 2011. But then the team of singer-keyboardist Joy Williams and singer-guitarist John Paul White are no mere minimalist music makers. Their debut is a stirring collection of material showcasing marvelous vocal harmonies and inventive songcraft.

7. Colin Hay, Gathering Mercury
I can’t think of many artists who have issued an album as confessional and honest as the latest from Men at Work’s former frontman Colin Hay. Whether singing about growing older (“Invisible”), losing his dad (“Dear Father”) or performing beautiful instrumental works on his guitar (“Goodnight Romeo”), a sense of overall optimism shines through this moving collection.

8. Fountains of Wayne, Sky Full of Holes
Though the modern-day leaders of the power pop movement are sadly not enjoying the commercial success they deserve, I hope music fans of all genres will give their latest full-length a spin. Few bands in recent memory have released anything as lyrically rich as this; there are songs here that capture the ear with a single listen and never let go.

9. Moby, Destroyed
This time the modern electronic-music pioneer mines the creative reaches of his own experiences to create thoughtful, enveloping material inspired by life on the road, lonely nights spent far from home, and cities examined at their quietest. A reflective album that defies easy description, with “Victoria Lucas,” “Lacrimae” and “When You Are Old” among the standouts.

10. David Serby, Poor Man’s Poem
To hear the emotional and poignant songs that fill this set is to be transported back to the Civil War and the American frontier. But rather than simply offer up a retro exercise in Americana folk, L.A. based Serby compiled 10 original songs that resonate with timeless tales of war, loss and the working poor.

Honorable mentions: the Felice Brothers, Celebration, Florida; The Smithereens 2011; Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain; Bad Company, Live at Wembley; Social Distortion, Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes; R.E.M., Collapse Into Now; k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang, Sing it Loud; Moreland & Arbuckle, Just A Dream. And a special nod to the soundtrack for the new Cameron Crowe film We Bought a Zoo, featuring stunning music from Sigur Rós’ Jónsi (I opted not to consider that excellent disc only because a few of the tracks had appeared on earlier releases).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Music-minded gift guide: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, books and more!

Gift ideas abound this holiday season thanks to a wealth of new books, music DVDs and CDs.

With Christmas and Hanukkah rapidly approaching, you've come to the right place if you are looking for interesting gift ideas for that favorite music fan.

Those purchasing either a three-DVD set or two-CD set from Reprise Records celebrating Neil Young's Annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts are not only getting a great compilation, but are helping benefit The Bridge School, a non-profit organization "educating children with severe speech and physical impairments through the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems and assistive technology." The track listings on each of the releases is a bit different, although some performances are found on both. Highlights on the CD collection include an acoustic version of Nils Lofgren performing The Beau Brummels' "Cry Just a Little" and Radiohead's Thom Yorke's version of Young's "After the Gold Rush." The DVD features a wealth of great spots, including performances from David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan and of course Mr. Young himself in a performance with R.E.M.

If you are looking for a way to introduce groundbreaking modern music to those whose tastes routinely lack a sense of adventure, try stuffing their stocking with the soundtrack from the new Cameron Crowe film We Bought a Zoo. Featuring instrumental compositions and songs by jónsi (of Sigur Rós fame), the soundtrack is one of the best albums of the year with its winning blend of experimental sounds and tender symphonic textures.

In my mind, 2011 will forever stand out for two premature goodbyes in the music world. One is the tragic memory of Glen Campbell announcing his battle with Alzheimer's in June and the release of what will likely be his final studio album, the wonderful Ghost On The Canvas (Surfdog Records) in August. The other is the September breakup of R.E.M., despite that the Athens, Georgia band released the wonderful Collapse into Now in March of this year. But while the band didn't set out on a final goodbye tour, singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry (who had left the band in the late 1990s) did release the epic 40-track retrospective Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982 - 2011 (Warner Bros.) in November. This epic release really showcases why R.E.M. was so great, and the collection also includes three previously-unreleased songs.

The Rolling Stones' Some Girls ranks as one of my favorite albums from the band, ranking up there with Exile on Main Street. Now the 1978 masterwork has been issued as a deluxe two-disc set, with the original album remastered and featured on one disc while 12 rare and previously-unheard tracks appear on the second disc of bonus material. There are amazing songs here, notably an authentic country tune "We Had It All" (originally recorded by Waylon Jennings) sung by Keith Richards and the rollicking "Claudine."

Although American Laundromat Records' Please Please Please: a tribute to The Smiths isn't the first tribute to Morrissey and Johnny Marr & company, it is definitely one of the more ambitious. Among the far-flung artists who appear on the two-disc collection are Kitten, The Wedding Present, Sixpence None the Richer and Trespassers William.

Long before Coachella set up shop at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, another desert setting hosted a series of groundbreaking concerts in Southern California. The US Festival was held over two magical weekends in 1982 and 1983 at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernadino. Shout! Factory has issued a couple of full-length DVDs from the country music-themed day (June 4, 1983) that celebrate two of the genre's biggest names. Waylon Jennings: Live at the US Festival and Willie Nelson: Live at the US Festival will be treasured titles in the collections of fans of authentic country music.

Speaking of exciting releases from Shout! Factory, look no further than The Grateful Dead Movie released on Blu-ray for the first time in November. The deluxe 2-disc version includes the feature film on Blu-ray and a DVD loaded with an extensive slate of bonus featuring five hours of extras. Co-directed by Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead Movie was originally released in 1977, and captures performances from five October 1974 shows at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom.

More than two decades after the world lost Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitarist's enduring legacy is celebrated courtesy of author Craig Hopkins' newly-published Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night - His Final Years, 1983-1990. This heavy, 368-page hardcover gem provides the kind of in-depth coverage, stunning images and editorial overview that one of rock's greatest-ever guitarists deserves. A worthy follow-up of the author's Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night His Early Years, 1954-1982 released in 2010.

Earlier this month, I was invited by Sony and Taylor Guitars to a special photography-music event where I was introduced to the latest Sony Cyber-shot and was also treated to a tour of the Taylor Guitars factory in San Diego County. One of the day's highlights was getting to meet and hear a presentation from Bob Taylor, the co-founder of the guitar manufacturer. I really recommend that fans of the acoustic and electric guitar, of popular music and those interested in running any type of business get his new hardcover book Guitar Lessons: A Life's Journey Turning Passion into Business. On a related note, I couldn't be happier with the DSC-WX9 Sony Cyber-shot I received at the event. Boasting 16.2 mega pixel images, a 5x optical zoom and the ability to shoot high-def movies with great sound, this is a great camera with the ability to get great footage at live concert events. These amazing cameras retail for under $150 on

I hope everybody has a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sights and Sounds: Styx, Blind Boys of Alabama with Daryl Hall, The Twilight Sad

Although the holidays are not quite here yet, announcements about new music releases slated to hit in 2012 are coming fast and furious. Here are some highlights of announcements that have landed in my inbox this week...



Two of the most beloved albums in the Styx catalog are 1977's The Grand Illusion and 1978's Pieces Of Eight. Now, Eagle Rock Entertainment will release Styx: The Grand Illusion/Pieces Of Eight Live on DVD, Blu-Ray, and DVD/2CD on January 31 [Pre-book Order Date January 6, MSRP $29.98 for DVD/2CD, $14.98 for DVD, and $19.98 for Blu-ray]. This show was recorded November 9, 2010 at the historic Orpheum Theater in Memphis, Tennessee, on the tour that saw them perform both these albums in their entirety for the first time.

This 20-song two-hour and 11-minute presentation features stunning high-definition visuals accenting the complex musical arrangements recorded in DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM Stereo. The staging of these two multi-platinum albums and the fevered response makes this concert a must for all Styx fans. The Grand Illusion/Pieces of Eight Live also includes the bonus feature "Putting On The Show," an inside look at the people and equipment needed to stage such a massive spectacle.

Selling millions of records worldwide since their 1972 Chicago inception, Styx have branded themselves as one of the greatest American progressive rock bands. The current line-up consists of James "J.Y." Young (vocals, guitars, keyboards); Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars); Todd Sucherman (drums); Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards); Ricky Phillips (bass, backing vocals) and Chuck Panozzo (bass guitar). Eagle Rock Entertainment has also released their Regeneration, Volume I & II 2CD set, a newly recorded retrospective (release date October 4, 2011).

Track Listing:
1) Intro/1978
2) The Grand Illusion
3) Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)
4) Superstars
5) Come Sail Away
6) Miss America
7) Man In The Wilderness
8) Castle Walls
9) The Grand Finale
10) Great White Hope
11) I'm Okay
12) Sing For The Day
13) The Message
14) Lords Of The Ring
15) Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)
16) Queen Of Spades
17) Renegade
18) Keyboard Interlude
19) Pieces Of Eight
20) Aku-Aku


Legendary, Grammy-winning gospel group will join Daryl Hall for a six-song set that includes seasonal classics “Go Tell It On the Mountain,” “Born in Bethlehem”

What better way to celebrate this time of year than a visit from legendary, Grammy-winning gospel group, The Blind Boys of Alabama, who join Daryl Hall for a very special 49th edition of Live From Daryl’s House, premiering Dec. 15 exclusively at

“This was a very special show for me, as I have been a fan of The Blind Boys of Alabama since I was about 14 years old,” enthused Daryl about their appearance. “I used to listen to them and groups like them after church on WDAS radio in Philly.”

Daryl joins the group, whose career spans over 70 years, with no signs of diminishing, for a six-song set of seasonal classics which includes “Born in Bethlehem,” “Can You Give Me a Drink,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Last Month of the Year” and “Take the High Road.”

Since forming at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind at Talladega, Alabama, in 1939, The Blind Boys continue to tour nationally and internationally with founding member Jimmy Carter singing lead vocals. The group took home the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album four straight years from 2002 to 2005, then were inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2007. In 2009, they were awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

The group’s appearance on this month’s installment of the Webby and MTV O Music award-winning Internet series, with Daryl marks a return to Hall’s own foundation in Gospel music.

“They were a big influence on how I approach harmony,” he says. “I can’t believe I got to sing bass with them! They represent my REAL roots!”

The Blind Boys have earned praise for their interpretations of everything from traditional gospel favorites to contemporary spiritual material, and now country, by acclaimed songwriters as varied as Curtis Mayfield, Prince and Tom Waits. They’ve appeared on The Tonight Show, Late Night with David Letterman, the Grammy Awards telecast, 60 Minutes and their own PBS special as well as big-screen appearances in The Fighting Temptations and this year’s HOP. They also have recorded and toured with such diverse acts as Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Lou Reed. They also sport a daily Twitter message #BBwisdom. The group will wrap up an extensive U.S. concert tour, many of them with Nickel Creek’s Sara and Sean Watkins as opening act. Their critically acclaimed May 2011 release, Take the High Road, marked the Blind Boys’ first foray into country gospel, co-produced by Jamey Johnson, featuring guest vocalists Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., Lee Ann Womack and the Oak Ridge Boys.

The past five years have marked a steady stream of superlatives and recognition for Live from Daryl’s House, with Hall receiving a Webby Award for Best Variety series from more than 10,000 entries at the 14th annual ceremony two years ago at N.Y.’s Cipriani Wall Street before garnering an O Music Award from MTV earlier this year.

Live from Daryl’s House is syndicated on TV nationally by Good Cop Bad Cop Productions in association with Scott Sternberg Productions and distributor Trifecta Entertainment & Media. Executive producers for the show include Hall and Scott Sternberg along with Daryl Hall manager Jonathan Wolfson.

Live from Daryl’s House is being shown weekly in over 80% of U.S. homes in the nation’s top 200 media markets, as well as all of the top 10, including New York (WPIX), L.A. (KTLA), Chicago (WGN), Dallas (KDAF) and Houston (KIAH). The show has also cleared in such key markets as Philadelphia (CBS-owned KYW), Boston (KBIN) and Atlanta (WATL), as well as a number of NBC, Fox and CBS-owned affiliates across the country. Most stations are airing a full hour with two original shows back to back on Saturday nights. The first week of the show did a .2 in national Nielsens, with the second week increasing 50% and several stations adding airings.

The 48 previous episodes of Live From Daryl’s House have featured a mix of well-known performers like Booker T and the MGs, Rob Thomas, Train, Smokey Robinson, The Doors’ Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek, Toots Hibbert, Nick Lowe, K.T. Tunstall, Todd Rundgren, Dave Stewart, Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump along with newcomers such as Nikki Jean, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Mayer Hawthorne, Eric Hutchinson, Chromeo, Matt Nathanson, Parachute, Plain White T’s, soul diva Sharon Jones, Diane Birch, L.A. neo-R&B party band Fitz & the Tantrums, hot new alternative band Neon Trees and veteran alternative mainstays Guster.


The Twilight Sad will be embarking on a North American tour following the release of their forthcoming full-length, No One Can Ever Know. The album was produced by Andrew Weatherall and will be available February 7, 2012 via Fat Cat Records.

Freshly inspired by a listening diet of Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Liars, Magazine, Autechre, and Public Image Limited, the band turn to a dark, synth-heavy sound for No One Can Ever Know; the resulting LP shares thematic and sonic space with the most innovative offerings from Depeche Mode, The Cure, or even Nine Inch Nails.

As made clear already by widely-spread preview track "Kill It In The Morning" (dubbed "slightly evil-sounding" by Pitchfork) and first single "Sick" (which, according to Stereogum "ticks with post-Radiohead guitar and dread") The Twilight Sad's third full-length, No One Can Ever Know, marks a sonic shift for the band.


Feb 23 Washington DC – Rock and Roll Hotel

Feb 24 Philadelphia PA – Johnny Brenda's

Feb 25 Brooklyn NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg

Feb 26 Allston MA – Brighton Music Hall

Feb 28 Montreal QC – Il Motore

Feb 29 Toronto ON – Lee’s Palace

Mar 01 Grand Rapids MI – Pyramid Scheme

Mar 02 Chicago IL – Empty Bottle

Mar 03 Minneapolis MN – 7th Street Entry

Mar 05 San Diego CA – Casbah

Mar 06 Los Angeles CA – The Echo

Mar 07 San Jose CA – The Blank Club

Mar 08 San Francisco CA – The Independent

Mar 10 Seattle WA – Tractor Tavern

Mar 11 Portland OR – Doug Fir Lounge

Mar 14 – Mar 18 Austin TX – SXSW

Andrea Bocelli delights fans at Honda Center

My review was originally published on the Orange County Register site earlier today.

Live review: Andrea Bocelli at Honda Center

Pity the fools who spent anywhere from $75 to $375 for tickets to attend Andrea Bocelli’s seemingly sold-out concert at Honda Center in Anaheim on Sunday night, only to arrive after he had delivered some of the night’s most memorable moments.

Because the concert was divided into two parts, the first half of the night allowed the adored 53-year-old Italian tenor to showcase his love of opera through popular selections from Verdi, Puccini and Gounod. Yet I couldn’t believe that even 30 minutes into the program, some attendees were still just making their way to their seats and disrupting other concert-goers’ experience.

Many of the selections featured were ones familiar to those who have caught the singer at the Ducks home in the past, including last year’s holiday-themed appearance. But Bocelli’s warm and soaring tenor, radiant smile and genuine connection with both the audience and the other musicians on stage made for a magical night. Adding to the decisive factor was the clarity of the vocal amplification of Bocelli, sopranos Ana Maria Martinez and Heather Headley, as well as the orchestra and chorus.

After conductor Eugene Kohn led the large symphony plus the Cal Voce Singers through the “Triumph Chorus” from Verdi’s Aida, the popular tenor took the stage to deliver “La mia letizia infondere,” the first of many popular arias, songs and sacred songs he would perform over the course of the night.

As Bocelli offered a bit of something for everyone (opera, popular song, holiday fare), one didn’t have to wait long to hear a favorite style or selection from Bocelli’s increasingly wide discography. (His latest, Concerto: One Night in Central Park, a document of his September show in NYC, was released last month.)
This writer’s taste is decidedly in the world of opera, and Bocelli didn’t disappoint. Highlights included his ever-popular ease with Verdi’s “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto and a heartfelt duet with Martinez on the beautiful “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Boheme.

Connecting with an audience as large as the one that nearly filled Honda Center isn’t easy – even when armed with a wonderful voice and backed by a large orchestra – so it didn’t hurt that a large curtain behind the stage, plus two large screens positioned on the sides, projected footage of the performers as well as artful imagery enhancing the experience.
The second half of the concert allowed Bocelli to continue to showcase his tenor – including sustained high notes – in a mix of sacred and holiday songs (notably his affecting “Adeste fidelis” from 2009′s My Christmas album) and popular tunes such as “More (Ti Guardero Nel Cuore)” and “O sole mio.” Headley was featured on a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Over the Rainbow” that, while technically brilliant, was still a bit over-the-top. The Grammy- and Tony-winning soprano’s voice was better utilized on a duet with Bocelli, “Canto della terra.”

Other standouts from the second half included “Ave Maria,” with Bocelli both singing and playing flute, and an incredible version of “Amazing Grace” that began with him singing in a hushed voice to the quiet accompaniment of strings. The song built slowly and effectively, with the repeated lines “was blind, but now I see” particularly poignant.

The night ended with a captivating encore that extended the eclectic theme. As he performed an upbeat version of “New York, New York,” images of Bocelli greeting fans and visiting various sites in the Big Apple were displayed. Martinez then joined him for a high-powered version of the popular “Time to Say Goodbye (Con te partiro)” before the star came out to cap off the night with a potent “Nessun dorma” from Turandot.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Scott Weiland delivers yuletide dud in Santa Ana

Photos courtesy of Ida Miller

Bah, Humbug!

Ebenezer Scrooge returned from the grave last night.

Maybe rocker Scott Weiland thought he was bringing a bona fide holiday gift to The Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana on Thursday night in support of his recently-released The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, but for the majority of the crowd who were gone before the Stone Temple Pilots frontman came to his encore just before midnight, Marley's Ghost would well have been a welcome sight.

I can remember only a handful of shows as bad or odd as the Weiland's Christmas-minded Dec. 8 concert. In fact, the whole affair had me actually bursting out in uncontrollable laughter during "I'll Be Home For Christmas" because I simply couldn't believe how awful it was.

Doing his best to mine a 1960s-era Dean Martin/Rat Pack/cocktail lounge vibe or something, Weiland's baritone rarely hit its artistic mark (and frequently even the right notes) despite the dozen or so talented musicians sharing the stage with the one-time area resident (he attended Edison High School in Huntington Beach). Taking the stage in a sleek white dinner jacket and sipping a can of a popular energy drink, at least Weiland looked cool.

Although there were an endless series of low points throughout the 70-minute concert (yes, there were no opening acts on the bill and Weiland didn't take the stage until about 10:45 p.m.), the reggae-styled version of "O Holy Night" was dreadful. I kept thinking of Johnny Mathis' great version and Daryl Hall's amazing soul-drenched working of the affecting classic, and wondered "What was Weiland thinking?"

About the only highlight (and I'm being generous here) was his duet with guitarist-vocalist Doug Grean on “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy,” conjuring up the famous televised version featuring Bing Crosby and David Bowie immortalized in a 1977 television special.

Even a version of STP's “Vasoline” performed near the end of the night couldn't bring any real Christmas cheer to the proceedings.

Ask me about the Grinch and I'll tell you about a certain singer who stole Christmas. Big time.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sights and Sounds: Pat DiNizio, Otis Taylor, Amos Lee

It is the season of giving, with The Smithereens' Pat DiNizio, blues great Otis Taylor and singer-songwriter Amos Lee all set to celebrate 2012 in style. Here are highlights that Santa has dropped off in my inbox over the past day or so...

The Smithereens' Pat DiNizio Brings Rock History to Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas

Pat DiNizio , lead singer of The Smithereens, launches his latest show entitled Confessions of a Rock Star at Riviera Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The production is a hybrid of a one-man show, rock concert and multimedia event covering DiNizio's 32-year career in rock and roll.

A live band performs the hits that shaped DiNizio's childhood, paying tribute to his musical heroes such as Buddy Holly and The Beatles, and includes chart-topping songs from The Smithereens. Video screens show rare footage and photos that accompany the musical journey from life in New Jersey to rock and roll stardom.

"This show is a chance for me to pay tribute to the kings of rock and roll," says DiNizio. "After more than three decades of performing, I am excited to bring this experience to the Las Vegas Strip and Riviera Hotel & Casino."

"I have been a long-time fan of The Smithereens and having Pat DiNizio perform six nights a week at the Riviera is great for music lovers," said Andy Choy , president and CEO of Riviera Hotel & Casino. "Pat has a very interesting story to tell, from his humble beginnings to performing in Las Vegas ."

The Smithereens hit the rock charts with "Blood and Roses," "Only a Memory" and "A Girl Like You".
Tickets to Confessions of a Rock Star are $29.95 and can be purchased at the Riviera box office, online at or at 702-794-9433. Showtime is 7 p.m. Wednesday – Monday nights.

About The Riviera Hotel & Casino
Celebrating more than 55 years of non-stop entertainment, the newly renovated Riviera Hotel & Casino is one of the iconic casino and hotel destinations in Las Vegas . With more than 2,000 hotel rooms and 160,000 square feet of convention space, the Riviera brings a rich tradition of quality, service and hospitality excellence. Located on the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard, the Riviera features the only bingo room on the Strip, headlining entertainment, wonderful dining options and more than 100,000 square feet of casino space. For more information, visit

Otis Taylor’s Contraband set for release February 13, 2012

Pedal steel player Chuck Campbell (left) and Otis Taylor jam on the Renaissance Stage during the second half of the 13th annual Doheny Blues Festival in Dana Point in May 2010.

Otis Taylor isn’t defined by any single category. A musical alchemist and a true innovator, Taylor has never been afraid to experiment beyond the blues tradition.

The subject matter on his new CD, Otis Taylor’s Contraband, set for release February 13 on Telarc, is familiar terrain as he sings of love, social injustices, personal demons and war.

The album takes its title from an article that appeared in Preservation Magazine about runaway slaves who during the American Civil War escaped to the Union lines at Fort Monroe, VA. Known as “contraband,” they lived in camps where conditions were often worse than life on the plantation.

On Otis Taylor’s Contraband, the iconoclastic bluesman is reunited with several longtime collaborators including Ron Miles on cornet, pedal steel guitarist Chuck Campbell, djembe player Fara Tolno, fiddler Anne Harris and the Sheryl Renee Choir. Bass is handled by Taylor’s daughter Cassie and Todd Edmunds.



EP Includes Six Tracks From The Mission Bell Recording Sessions Featuring Lee Backed By Members of Calexico

Blue Note recording artist Amos Lee will release a six-song collection of previously unheard songs as a CD, digital, and 10”-vinyl EP, entitled As The Crow Flies, on February 14, 2012. The songs were recorded during the sessions for Lee’s critically acclaimed album Mission Bell, which was produced by Calexico frontman and multi-instrumentalist Joey Burns. The tracks on As The Crow Flies are also produced by Burns and feature musical backing by Burns and Calexico drummer John Convertino.

Mission Bell debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums and Billboard Rock Albums charts when it was released in January 2011, earning the Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter the highest chart position and best sales week of his career. Earning critical raves from scores of media outlets, the album also spawned the Triple A radio hit “Windows Are Rolled Down,” which gave Lee his first-ever No. 1 single.

In other Lee news, on November 19th, PBS began airing ACL Presents: Americana Music Festival featuring the genre’s established and rising artists performing at the 10th Americana Music Association Honors and Awards ceremony at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, where Lee joined a line-up that included Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Civil Wars, and The Avett Brothers.

This month, Lee wraps up an amazing year with his final live performances of 2011, which include an appearance at KBCO’s Holiday Concert Series in Denver with Brett Dennen on December 9, and two shows with one of Lee’s heroes, singer-songwriter John Prine, on the 16th and 17th. Lee also recently captured an amazing performance at Tucson’s historic Fox Theatre with members of Calexico for the upcoming fourth season of Public Television’s hit program Live From The Artists Den with the episode due to air in early 2012. For a sneak peek, watch the trailer here: In January Lee heads to Europe for two-sold out shows in Amsterdam, as well as shows in Paris and London — all with support from The Punch Brothers. Please see below for details.

The track-listing for As The Crow Flies is as follows:

“The Darkness”

“Simple Things”

“Say Goodbye”

“May I Remind You”

“Mama Sail To Me”

“There I Go Again”

Lee’s upcoming tour dates are as follows:

12/09 Denver, CO Temple Hoyne Buell Theatre (w/Brett Dennen)

12/16 Mobile, AL Saenger Theatre (w/John Prine)

12/17 New Orleans, LA Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts (w/John Prine)

01/16 Amsterdam Paradiso (w/The Punch Brothers) SOLD-OUT

01/17 Amsterdam Paradiso (w/The Punch Brothers) SOLD-OUT

01/19 Paris La Cigale (w/The Punch Brothers)

01/21 London Shepherd’s Bush Empire (w/The Punch Brothers)

For more information:

Sights and Sounds: Ringo Starr, Guy Clark, Secret Music

Although 2011 is still in motion, I'm already getting wind of exciting releases set to hit in 2012. So I'll kick things off today with an exciting news release on the aptly-titled Ringo 2012 and an update about a wonderful tribute to Guy Clark and Secret Music.


Ringo Starr’s 17th solo studio record, and his second on Hip-O/Ume will be released on January 31, 2012 in the United States (Internationally, January 30, 2012.)

Titled simply Ringo 2012 and produced by Ringo, it was recorded in LA and mixed in England by Ringo and Bruce Sugar, and features 9 songs.

Of the 9 tracks two are covers, “Think It Over,” and “Rock Island Line” and two are new versions of his own songs, “Wings” and “Step Lightly.”

The track listing is as follows:

1. Anthem (Richard Starkey/Glen Ballard)
2. Wings (Richard Starkey/Vince Poncia)
3. Think It Over (Buddy Holly/Norman Perry)
4. Samba (Richard Starkey/Van Dyke Parks)
5. Rock Island Line (Arrangement by Richard Starkey)
6. Step Lightly (Richard Starkey)
7. Wonderful (Richard Starkey/Gary Nicholson)
8. In Liverpool (Richard Starkey/Dave Stewart)
9. Slow Down (Richard Starkey/Joe Walsh)

Joining Ringo in the studio for Ringo 2012 were musicians (in alphabetical order): Michael Bradford, Ann Marie Calhoun, Matt Cartsonis, Steve Dudas, Charlie Haden, Amy Keys, Kelly Moneymaker, Richard Page, Van Dyke Parks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Dave Stewart, Bruce Sugar, Benmont Tench, Joe Walsh , Don Was, Edgar Winter.

Ringo 2012 will be released digitally, on CD and vinyl.

This One's For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark Street Date Today

Double CD set celebrates Clark's 70th birthday

Includes recordings by Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Shawn Colvin, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Emmylou Harris & John Prine, Patty Griffin, Ron Sexsmith, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Vince Gill, Jerry Jeff Walker, Robert Earl Keen, and more.

Produced by Tamara Saviano and Shawn Camp

December 6, 2011

Houston's Icehouse Music has released This One's For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark to celebrate Clark's 70th birthday. Clark was born in Monahans, Texas on November 6, 1941. The double-CD set is available nationwide today.

The collection was lovingly produced by GRAMMY-winning producer Tamara Saviano (Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster)—who is also working with Clark on his definitive biography—and frequent Clark co-writer Shawn Camp ("Sis Draper," "Magnolia Wind").

The tribute includes 30 tracks by 33 Americana artists who are friends and colleagues of Clark or who have been influenced by his remarkable compositions. The collection was mixed and mastered by Austin's Cedar Creek Records principal Fred Remmert.

Part of the proceeds will benefit the Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.

Guy Clark’s poetry resonates deeply with his fellow songwriters.

“Guy’s songs are literature,” says Lyle Lovett, among the venerable artists who eagerly gathered for This One’s For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark. “The first time I heard Guy Clark, I thought it made everything I’d heard up to that point something other than a song. His ability to translate the emotional into the written word is extraordinary.”

Accordingly, Clark’s most vibrant (“Instant Coffee Blues”) and vivid vignettes (“Desperadoes Waiting for a Train”) reel with cinematic landscapes (“The Last Gunfighter Ballad,” “The Cape”). Novellas frequently unfold within minutes (“Better Days,” “She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”).

Clark’s singular storytelling chills with striking familiarity (“The Dark”). “Songs are like Japanese painting,” he explains. “Less is more. One brushstroke takes the place of many if you put it in the right place. I’m trying to get whoever is listening to think, ‘Oh, man, I was there. I did that. I know what that’s about.’ Too many details take away.” Clark’s add volumes. Remember that old blue shirt? Mad Dog margarita? June bug on the window screen?

Of course, our passions forever burn brighter for the flour sack cape. Few capture courage as timelessly. “Guy Clark is like a dancer with the way he talks and a photographer with the way he writes,” noted Texas indie artist Terri Hendrix says. “He’s the epitome of American songwriting.”

Clark’s watercolor imagery blueprints his legend, but generosity ultimately cements his legacy. For four decades, the longtime Nashville resident, whose own Grammy-nominated Somedays the Song Writes You (2009) soars as seamlessly as his hallmark debut Old No. 1 (1975), has cultivated songwriting talent enthusiastically. His matchless eye yields high dividends: Americana royalty Shawn Camp, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Vince Gill and Lovett barely begin the list he’s given sea legs. Young writers today immediately earn credibility with his stamp.

“Guy is the king in a lot of ways,” says rising songwriter Hayes Carll, who has split pages in the storied basement workshop where Clark writes and builds guitars. “I think everybody who was around Guy learned a lot from him and I think the entire music world is indebted to him for what he taught other writers. Everybody who had a chance to learn from him came away a better writer. He gave me a shot before I deserved one.” As friends say, Clark’s a curator, a creative caretaker. He celebrates high watermarks that others achieve.

This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark returns the favor. Artists brought two key instruments: a guitar and profound reverence. Individual investments quickly emerged. Perhaps most notably, Gill claims a haunting bond. “Giant tears were falling all over my guitar as we were playing,” the country star remembers about serving as guitarist on Clark’s original “Randall Knife” recording nearly thirty years ago. “My dad was a lawyer, and he died when I was forty. Guy and I are tied at the hip through that song.”

“Let’s give her a good go and make ol’ Guy proud of us…” said Rodney Crowell kicking off the collection on the first day as he readied to record "That Old Time Feeling." The double CD set was recorded live in studio with a core house band that included multi-instrumentalist Shawn Camp, guitarist Verlon Thompson, & pianist Jen Gunderman. The tribute was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee and Austin, Texas with a rotating cast of other musicians including multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines, bass players Glenn Fukunaga, Mike Bub and Glenn Worf, and drummers Kenny Malone and Larry Atamanuik.
Folks mostly laughed throughout the sessions. Swapped stories. Enjoyed company. Picked and grinned like those dusky evenings over at Guy and Susanna’s near Old Hickory Lake in the 1970s. Fittingly, Crowell issued our collective mission statement the very first day. We think you’ll agree everyone succeeded.

Volume 1

1. That Old Time Feeling – Rodney Crowell
2. Anyhow I Love You – Lyle Lovett
3. All He Wants Is You – Shawn Colvin
4. Homeless – Shawn Camp
5. Broken Hearted People – Ron Sexsmith
6. Better Days – Rosanne Cash
7. Desperadoes Waiting For A Train – Willie Nelson
8. Baby Took A Limo To Memphis – Rosie Flores
9. Magdalene – Kevin Welch
10. Instant Coffee Blues – Suzy Bogguss
11. Homegrown Tomatoes – Ray Wylie Hubbard
12. Let Him Roll – John Townes Van Zandt II
13. The Guitar – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott
14. Cold Dog Soup – James McMurtry
15. Worry B Gone – Hayes Carll

Volume 2

1. Dublin Blues – Joe Ely
2. Magnolia Wind – Emmylou Harris & John Prine
3. The Last Gunfighter Ballad – Steve Earle
4. All Through Throwing Good Love After Bad – Verlon Thompson
5. The Dark – Terri Hendrix
6. LA Freeway – Radney Foster
7. The Cape – Patty Griffin
8. Hemingway’s Whiskey – Kris Kristofferson
9. Texas Cookin’ – Gary Nicholson, Darrell Scott & Tim O’Brien
10. Stuff That Works – Jack Ingram
11. Randall Knife – Vince Gill
12. Texas 1947 – Robert Earl Keen
13. Old Friends – Terry Allen
14. She Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – The Trishas
15. My Favorite Picture of You – Jerry Jeff Walker

Check out our YouTube videos:

Worry B Gone

Stuff that works


“Ramshackle indie rock duo Secret Music builds their frenetic pop around simple, catchy synth or guitar lines” –Stereogum

“Secret Music: Some secrets weren’t meant to be kept… Secret Music has all the potential to bust out the next dorm party anthem.”-The Aquarian Weekly

“Secret Music is a bit of a misnomer, as the band seems to be getting more and more attention around the internet.”-One Thirty BPM

“Secret Music sounds sorta like TV on the Radio and Animal Collective f@#@ed and had a possibly awesome rock baby.”

“This[“T.O.Y.S”] could very well be the greatest music video ever made!”

Black Bell Records is thrilled to announce the March 6, 2012 release of the self-titled debut from rising duo, Chase Nicholl and Daniel Fry a.k.a Secret Music. The rowdy, “play it now, bring the noise” album is highly anticipated after the release of “T.O.Y.S,” the ridiculously energetic and contagious first single off Secret Music. The single’s vibrant video, which brilliantly complements the song’s get-up-and-go lyrics, was directed by TV CARNAGE; whose library of hundreds of hours of bad TV and films over the past 25 years turned into an outrageous and humorous montage of nostalgic clips for the “T.O.Y.S” music video.

“T.O.Y.S” is currently available for FREE and can be downloaded on the band’s site HERE.

The band’s distinct, boisterous sound was captured by producer and synth mastermind Ayad Al Adhamy of Passion Pit. Ayad is also the founder of Black Bell Records, in partnership with Warner Music’s Independent Label Group, who signed Secret Music earlier this year. Ayad started Black Bell Records in 2010 and has since then released The Joy Formidable’s 8-song EP A Balloon Called Moaning, and DOM’s single and 7” “Bowl Cut” featuring Cults, which he also produced. Together, Ayad and the guys from Secret Music gave their blood, sweat and tears in his Brooklyn basement studio, where they innovatively crafted the band’s 10 song record to perfectly emphasize Secret Music’s wild core.

"We just took demos in and Ayad untied the knots. Whatever didn't feel right just got left behind, till we found ourselves exactly where we needed to be,” says Daniel. “For a dude who’s known for synth wizardry, he rips the guitar. It was just awesome how he instantly got the vibe that we've always intended for Secret Music."

The debut showcases Chase and Dan’s simultaneously sung verses and memorable, untamed pop choruses, which is fueled by heart-pounding synth melodies and magnetic guitar riffs. The vocals for the entire LP were artistically recorded through pay phones receivers, slyly stolen by Chase and Dan from the hustlin’ streets of Bed-Stuy at 4am-the only Secret Music way.

Secret Music’s purely unique high-energy sound, and quirky lyrics of time traveling, space pirates, and crazy nights full of belligerence transport the listener to a chaotic party. A party where there are no rules, no regrets and Secret Music makes your drink taste better.

Secret Music track listing:
1-Ghost In The Graveyard 3.37

2-T.O.Y.S. 3.09

3-Gulliver 3.00

4-Its Ok 3.45

5-Floozies 4.36

6-Hard 2 No 4.02

7-Top Drop 4.35

8-Stripper 3.42

9-Tidal Lunacy 4.13

10-Bloodied Up 4.37