Thursday, August 29, 2013

In case you missed it – Lionel Richie (1982), album review

In case you missed it – Lionel Richie

Lionel Richie (1982)
***** (out of 5)
Motown records

Friends, family - I have a confession to make. For the past year I have been battling an addiction. An addiction that has me thinking about getting an afro, a polo shirt and a Rolex.

Yes, it is that bad.

You see, my addiction is to Lionel Richie’s debut solo album.

The funny thing is I grew up listening to this album; I was there when this album was the hottest thing out there. This was the days of having a home stereo so while you could spin vinyl at home, you had to record said album onto a cassette to listen to it in the car. That is assuming you had a cassette deck in your car in the first place!

My Sister and Brother In-law would play this into the ground as we would cruise around Danbury, CT with the sunroof open. Hey, a sunroof was a pretty swanky option in ’82! So, there we were – the only Italians in the state of Connecticut driving a Mustang with tinted windows and an open sunroof blasting Lionel Richie! Good times.

And then, after two more albums, Lionel faded off my radar and by the late eighties, I was wondering what had happened to him. Well, he made a pretty big comeback in the mid-nineties and has been doing quite well for himself since them but that was still not enough to really bring Richie back into my consciousness. No, re-discovering this gem came down to simple randomness.

Did you ever have a song in your head that just will not leave? What about if that song was one that you haven’t heard in decades? And all you do is only remember a few lines of the chorus? That is the predicament I found myself in during early 2012 and I had to do something about it. So like any 13 year-old looking to find new music, I just went to YouTube and typed in the title of the song that had so dominated my obsessive-compulsive mind – You Are.

And the flood gates opened! I was once again ten-years old, sitting in the back seat of that Mustang!

I bought Lionel Richie, the album, not long after this and was astonished at not only how much I remembered but how incredibly great the entire record is! It plays more like a hits compilation rather than a debut album but that is hardly surprising as Richie by this point, was no stranger to upper ranges of the singles charts. Opening with the insanely catchy – and funky – Serves You Right, Lionel Richie never falters. Tell Me, Round and Round and the aforementioned You Are might be some of the peppiest tracks Richie ever penned.  

Lionel Richie is never shy when it comes to stunning ballads a fact that does not get lost here but with material this good the album never sinks into maudlin territory. From My Love, You Mean More To Me and the stunning Truly – when the tempos slow, Richie absolutely soars.

So, the 2003 remastered version of Lionel Richie sounds fantastic and has been getting plenty of attention on my iPod but it still makes me wonder… Does it sound even better when played in a 1981 Mustang? I’m going to grab a polo shirt, flip up the collar, throw a sweater over it and find out!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In tribute to Jerry Reed Hubbard 1937-2008

As September 1, 2013 marks the five year anniversary of Jerry Reed’s death, I wanted to write a tribute to a musician that had inspired me greatly over the years. Jerry, this one’s for you son!

 It’s hard to describe the feeling a music fan feels when a respected artist passes on. Selfishness is a term that comes to mind because the feeling that the talents you have come to look up to, even depend on, are no more. You feel cheated, robbed of one who brought you so much joy; how could the music come to an end? It is an easy question to ask when listening to the music of Jerry Reed since he was full of so much life, vigor and natural, god-given talent, that it is next to impossible to think of his voice being silenced.

As a guitarist, he stood alone; instantly recognizable, he left a vast catalogue full of knuckle-busting instrumentals that will have many pickers scratching their heads for generations to come. As a singer, he sounded like every word that left his lips would be his last. His vocal performances were exuberant, at times cheeky and down-right soulful. His songwriting won him multiple Grammy Awards and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. When Hollywood beckoned, Reed found even bigger success. He may not have been Laurence Olivier, but he didn’t need to be, his on-screen persona, like the man himself, was so charming and likeable, that his work in Smokey and the Bandit alone will cause him to be remembered by millions.

Ironically, Jerry was so talented in everything that he did, his guitar talents, which cannot be understated, went overlooked by the masses. Countless guitarists have cited Reed as an influence and yet to the public at large, his entertaining performances on shows like Hee-Haw and The Glen Campbell Hour, usually showcased Jerry Reed the entertainer. And every country singer strums a guitar right? Sure they do. But no one picked liked Jerry Reed.

Those in awe of a great musician always remark how they “make it look easy” and Reed was no exception to this sentiment. Watching him play Jerry’s Breakdown, one of his most well-loved instrumentals, Reed made it seem effortless even though what he played was extraordinarily difficult to recreate. But even more extraordinary – perhaps even frustrating – is that while one can hear the countless hours he surely spent sharpening his skills, there is a sense of reckless abandon in his playing which begs the question, “Is he really even trying or did he just make that up in a single flash of inspiration?”

There is a good case for the latter theory since he ended up releasing over 35 studio albums in his lifetime. To be even more specific, he released 12 albums between the years of 1971 to 1974 alone! Most artists are lucky if they can release three albums in their prime years. Jerry’s prime (1967-’77) saw the release of around 18 discs! And the music didn’t stop there as Jerry wound up releasing albums right up until 2008 – a mere few months before he passed.

When I first heard that Jerry Reed had passed on, I thought of one of his songs called I’m a Happy Man. I don’t know why. I grabbed my iPod and played this song. In a way, it sums up the man – or what I think of the man - better than any simple tribute could.

Jerry Reed Hubbard
© Vector Music, BMI / Sixteen Stars Music, BMI

Woke up this morning a smile on my face
Looked out at the world what a beautiful place
The sun's shinin' in a blue sky above
A home and family surrounded with love

And I'm a happy man a happy man I won't take time to be sad
I am a happy man a happy man who's thankful and so glad
That I've been taught not to pity myself but live every moment of life that's left
There's just not enough time to be anything else
Anything else but a happy man

I won't be bitter cause I won't take time
For that kind of thinkin' to clutter my mind
A man just has such a little while
To spread a little joy and give a smile

So I'm a happy man a happy man...

I've had misfortune to visit on me
To break my weary spirit and bring me to my knees
But a man can never learn to appreciate this life
Till his joy's been mixed with trouble and strife

So I'm a happy man a happy man...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Steve Stevens - A Popjunkie Interview (2008)

Here is an interview I did with Steve Stevens right after the release of his last album, Memory Crash in 2008. While this has been on my Popjunkie site for some time, I wanted to share it here.

Steve Stevens: Inside the “Theater of the Mind”
Steve Stevens is the rare guitarist, and even more rare rock guitarist, who can display more versatility in his day job than most will in their entire career!  And that’s not counting the dozens of outside projects in which he has been involved in.  Don’t let the still-wild hair or black nail polish fool you; Steve Stevens is anything but a one-trick pony.           

Stevens is, of course, world renown for his work as guitarist and co-writer for Billy Idol.  In Stevens, Idol found his musical soul mate; one who could not only rock but rock with taste, flash and more importantly, originality.  The duo, which produced a stream of hits during the 80’s, is still going strong as 2005’s Devil’s Playground easily attests.

Instead of using his status to garner a few high profile and higher paying gigs, Stevens chose projects to reflect different sides of his musical personality from the fiery fretwork he displayed with Robert Palmer, Michael Jackson and the Thompson Twins (check out his six-string anarchy on Roll Over, or the ‘better than it should be’ cover of The Beatles Revolution) to his “we’re not worthy!” performance on 1986’s, Grammy-winning “Top Gun Anthem”. 

He formed Steve Stevens’ Atomic Playboys and released their first (and only) album in 1989 which, while not a chart-toping hit, further cemented his status as one of rock’s flashiest and most versatile axe-slingers. With Billy Idol, he had tremendous creative freedom but, ultimately, was bound to serve the song at all costs.  Here, his guitar was allowed to roam over whatever sonic terrain it felt like.  The album had it all: funk, soul and Middle Eastern acoustic flourishes all intertwined with sheets of pounding hard rock.  And if he felt like taking a one minute and 45 second guitar solo, as he does on the hellacious title cut, so be it!

Just when global sales of Aqua Net could get no higher, the 90’s came.  Guitar solos, spandex and long hair were out and many of the 80’s guitar heroes either went into seclusion or were forced to cut their hair and grew goatees as an attempt to stay relevant.  Stevens did neither.  Instead, he joined the Vince Neil Band for a one album stint.  While the album may have been a creative misstep, it did feature boatloads of his scorching lead work and gargantuan guitar tones.  Even then, his acoustic flamenco playing was being flaunted in the most unexpected of places.  Stevens soon rebounded by rejoining Idol to record the thoroughly rockin’ theme song to Keanu Reeves 1994’s hit film Speed

Stevens’s next project was the perfect showcase for both his prog-rock sensibilities and flamenco playing: Bozzio Levin Stevens.  The trio, which featured innovative bassist Tony Levin and drum legend Terry Bozzio, allowed for plenty of musical interplay within their lengthy, abstract improvisations.  Here, Stevens playing was completely ‘in the moment’ without the limitations of pop song structure.  After two albums with BLS, Stevens love for Flamenco guitar came to the forefront with the masterful, Flamenco A Go Go

The all-acoustic affair was the work of an artist who after 20 years in the industry could still dazzle with his musical restlessness.  Leaving his day-glow painted Les Pauls at home, Stevens was every bit as impressive wielding nothing more than his nylon-strung flamenco guitar.  Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of Flamenco A Go Go is how it not only displays the growth and sophistication in Stevens’ compositional sense but how strong those talents had been all along!

All of this leads us to the recently released, and very electric, new album, Memory Crash.  Recorded mostly at his home studio, The Purple Room, Memory Crash is a Steve Stevens tour de force featuring the hard rock riffs, impassioned acoustic playing, fascinating tones and yes, even those ray gun sounds that we’ve come to expect from Stevens.  But that’s not too say that you’ve heard it all before, there are still a few tricks up his black leather sleeve!    
Popjunkie recently entered Steve Stevens’ “theater of the mind” to talk about his new album, the future and of course, guitars.

Let’s talk about the genesis of this record. Instrumental guitar albums are such a niche thing nowadays: what inspired this album?    
I’ve really avoided doing an instrumental electric guitar record my whole career; although I did my Flamenco A Go Go record.  What really changed my mind was when we went out on the road after the last Billy Idol record and did a stint on the Warped Tour.  That convinced me that there’s a new generation of kids who are really into guitars.  And that wasn’t the case through the 90’s you know?  It was almost like being a virtuoso guitarist was more like a hindrance than a help (laughs)!  So, I thought the time was right.  That combined with seeing kids as young as 14 years old on You Tube playing my Top Gun Anthem, I thought there was an audience out there.  I thought, “I might as well show ‘em what I can do!”  So, that’s what gave me the confidence to do my own instrumental record.

Did you have anything that you set out to achieve with this album?
I think that my record is different from other guitar instrumental records that may be focused more on the ‘shred thing.’  Mine I think focuses more on imagination and composition and it just so happens that the guitar is the instrument I express myself on.  You know the stuff that I grew up listening to and the guitarists that I dug so much when I was like 13/14, were all the English prog-players like Steve Howe and Robert Fripp.  I wanted to keep the spirit of that style of guitar playing alive on this record. 

A lot of times, when people have a home studio they tend to make everything sound perfect but with Memory Crash, the music feels alive; it’s raw and energized and doesn’t feel overdone.
I think that’s largely due to using a lot of vintage guitar amps and old-style recording techniques.  I use Pro Tools but I don’t like records that sound like they’re what we call, “in the box”, which is that whole, ‘everything’s done within Pro Tools’ sound.  I recorded all my guitars and stuff with tube pre amps and ribbons mics.  We mixed the record on an analog console as well; we didn’t mix it in Pro Tools so it kept the warmth and the character.

You did a large majority of the record by yourself.
The other main musician on the record is (Billy Idol drummer) Brian Tichy and he’s kind of coming from the same school as me.  His favorite drummers are all those 70’s guys, John Bonham and so on, and that helped to keep the record “human”.

Did you track the album with live drums or were they added later?
I don’t have the capability to record drums at my studio so the album was actually completed with me using a drum program called BFD.  I programmed all the drums, tracked my guitar to the programmed drums and then brought all of my tracks over to Black Sound Studio in Pasadena and replaced all the electronic drums with Brian.  In a couple of cases, my guitars didn’t fit with the live drums so we re-recorded them.

For Josephine has a very cool odd-time breakdown in it.  Very Prog.
Yeah, that’s my homage to Steve Howe of Yes!  Someone recently told me it sounded like something off of Relayer which I took as a compliment!  I figured I’d put that at the end of the record and that’s my little thank you to Steve Howe.

Is that your vocal on the song For Josephine?
Yeah, it is yeah.

That’s the first one since “Woman Of 1,000 Years” on the Atomic Playboys!
(Laughs) Yeah, right!  You know, I’m not a singer but it’s written for my fiancé and I couldn’t imagine anyone else singing that song, so it is what it is (laughs)!

Are you using a pick or fingers for the fast acoustic passages on Small Arms Fire & Prime Mover?
That’s with a pick.  I have a nylon-string, flamenco guitar that’s made by Pedro de Miguel.  I got that guitar because I was listening to Gerardo Nunez who’s an unbelievable flamenco player and I found out what guitar he used.  He’s got the best recorded flamenco tone of all!  I eventually just got the same guitar!

There is a large variety of textures in your guitar parts. 
Yeah, I love putting ear candy in my music.  I listen to music a lot with headphones, my nightly ritual is falling asleep to playlists that I make on my iPod!  And records like, Close To The Edge by Yes or Selling England By The Pound by Genesis, all have such cool little ear candy for you, “theater of the mind” kind of stuff.  I guess I’ve just been brought up on that music, it’s in my blood.

What kind of effect were you using to get that Uni Vibe tone?
The Uni Vibe I use is made by KR, and Kevin, who owns that company, has become a buddy of mine; we’re internet pals, and he and I would send each other vintage Hendrix footage.  An example would be Cherry Vanilla on this record.  I was really going for the later, Roomful of Mirrors-era Hendrix and even the stuff he did after Electric Ladyland, like War Heroes.  So, I’d kind of tell him a sound and he’d whip something up and send it off to me (laughs) and I did that with a number of companies that I work with. 

We have a mutual acquaintance in John Suhr – did you use his new Badger amp on this record at all?
I sure did yeah; the Badger is on a lot of this record.  All of the Strat-style playing is a Suhr white Strat that was actually built for Scott Henderson.  I called John and said, “I need a Strat, I’m starting this record and I don’t have a good Strat.  I’d been out to his shop and he showed me that noise-canceling technology that he’s got and I fell in love with it because I’ve always loved the sound of Strats but they always were too buzzy for me!  And he solved that, it doesn’t alter the sound of the pickups or anything.  I think that’s why there’s a Hendrix-y vibe on this record which I’ve never been known for that simply came about by having a great instrument.

Was this guitar used on The Day of the Eagle?
Exactly, same guitar.

So what’s next for you?  Will you going to tour for this record?
Well, I’m back in the studio with Billy Idol, we have a greatest hits record coming out that will have 3 or 4 new tracks on it so we’re starting to record those and then we go out on the road starting in June.  Since Brian is in Billy’s band, hopefully I can squeeze in some solo dates on my off days.

I always ask this to whom ever I chat with - what is something that you are finding inspiring right now?  It does not have to be musical either.
I’m inspired by, and I know it sounds cliché but I’m inspired by life itself really.  I’m in a different place in my life, I’ve finally found my real partner, my fiancé and she’s part of my life and my music.  She coordinated the photos for the record, got me the photographer to do it and all that.  And it’s great to have somebody that understands you; I don’t have to explain myself.  We’re gonna get married this year and I’m real excited about that.  You know, I think I’ve finally… for many years I was very restless (chuckles) in my personal life; always looking for something to fill a hole.  There’s the old adage that, “healthy mind, healthy body, healthy creativity” so I’m really in a great place to make music right now.

Popjunkie must thank Jeremy Bonaventura and Peter Morticelli at Magna Carta Records for making this interview happen.
A huge thank you to Steve Stevens for not only, taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us but for all these years of great guitar sounds!    

Friday, August 23, 2013

In case you missed it… Rick Springfield: Written In Rock, a Popjunkie review

Rick Springfield
Written In Rock: Rick Springfield Anthology (2005)
****1/2 (out of *****)
RCA/Legacy/BMG Records

The purpose of a greatest hits collection is easy; gather all the hit singles, slap a snazzy new cover over it and listen to the ringing of cash registers the world over. An anthology is much more than that.  It should narrow down the essence of the artist onto disc, which in turn, shows the artists growth over that time. Since we are getting more than just the hits, an anthology should encapsulate choice tracks from the artist’s catalogue, which can show where the artist has been and where they are going.  At the very least you should walk away thinking, “Damn, “x artist” is better than I thought. I need to hear more of this!” With that in mind, “Written In Rock: Rick Springfield Anthology”, is a perfect anthology.

The first thing RCA/ Legacy did right was to enlist the cooperation of Rick Springfield himself.  Looking at how many hits compilations there are of his music, it is amazing that this is the first time he has ever been involved in compiling his work. “Written In Rock” collects 42 tracks across 2 discs and spans an unbelievable 35 years. Yes, 35 years!  By the time he scored a #1 hit with “Jessie’s Girl” in 1981, he was already an industry veteran who thought his chance at mainstream acceptance had passed him by.

It is quite interesting listening to the arc of Rick Springfield’s work throughout this collection. He ranged from the glam influences in his 70’s work to the stripped down New Wave-influenced rock of “Working Class Dog”, the hard-edged electronica of 1985’s criminally underrated “Tao” and back to a more straight ahead rock sound on 2004’s, “Shock/ Denial/ Anger/ Acceptance”.    
All of the expected hit singles are present but it is surprising how the remaining album tracks or lesser hits stand up. “I’ve Done Everything For You” was a Top Ten hit but “Everybody’s Girl” (both from his breakthrough album “Working Class Dog) is every bit as infectious and this holds true throughout the entire collection - this is seriously catchy, pop/ rock at it’s finest. 

This collection excels at giving a good cross section of all of Springfield’s albums by giving us a number of tracks from each record. “Working Class Dog” gets the most nods by having seven songs here and each one is a gem - “Love is Alright Tonight” is the ‘hit that should have been’! Sure, it’s not Dylan lyrically, but that is hardly the point here, this is rock and roll that is supposed to be fun and irreverent.

Nothing wrong with a bit of fun now & again right?

Oddly enough, by the time 1985’s “Tao” was released, Springfield entered a period of soul searching which permeated a large portion of his work. While the music still retained the hooks and melodicism of before, that sense of fun was partly gone. Of course, Springfield was growing as a person and dealing with the pressures of fame, getting married, having children as well as the traumatic loss of his father; a theme which features heavily in quite a few songs here. While the material did come to grapple with deeper themes from the mid-80’s onwards, Springfield’s hooks and melodic sense prevented his albums from sinking into the moribund.

This collection leaves nothing to be desired – it is the perfect starting point for a new listener, or the casual listener who may make this their only Springfield disc. For the hard core fans, it is a great way to get remastered versions of these tracks.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Reissue Madness: The music industry might be on to something here.

Here is a piece that I wrote a few years ago that I never published. A few things have changed since then so I added notes to the bottom of the page. Oddly enough, my music industry rant from 2008 is still relevant as the reissues march on!

 Reissue Madness:
The music industry might be on to something here.

Over the past eight years, their have been almost as many albums reissued as their have been newly issued. Consumers are deluged with reissue campaigns designed to re-sell titles which are not only currently in print but those which show no signs of being discontinued any time soon. Too often, these campaigns seem like nothing more than slick marketing ploys aimed at making fans shell out money for albums that they may have had in their collections for years or for some of us, decades. We all know that the music industry is in the doldrums but do we really need these reissues of classic recordings? 

In most cases, I’m all for high-quality reissues since many discs feature digitally remastered audio which can be an improvement over the original CD masters issued in the mid 1980’s. With the emergence of CD’s, record label scrambled to get as many classic (i.e. those guaranteed to sell) and hot, new titles (i.e. those that are really guaranteed to sell) into the market place on this new format. Unfortunately, mastering a CD is different from mastering an LP (imagine that?) and the labels, in their haste to make the CD the dominant new format, failed to deliver on the audio quality that the compact disc was capable of. Technology has changed many times since then and now mastering is a matter of how to make albums ‘pop’ when listened to on computer speakers or with headphones. By solving one problem, you introduce ten new ones!    

The David Lee Roth-era Van Halen catalogue got a sonic reupholstering in 2000 and the sound quality easily trumped the original discs thin, wimpy sound. Another bonus to the VH discs was the inclusion of the original album artwork in the CD booklets. A small detail for sure but consider that the original discs looked like they were copied at Kinko’s with the inside containing nothing more than the album credits in plain black text over a white background! Now at least we get an attractive booklet that matches the artwork from the original LP. One would think a simple task like that would have been done correctly from the start. Kind of silly that we had to wait twenty years to see the inside photos from Women and Children First on CD! 

The eyebrows get raised when certain artists or titles get the reissue treatment every few years or more precisely, when their existing contract gets renewed. That means you, Mr. David Bowie. Sure, his EMI reissued catalogue probably sounds fantastic but in this era of listening to music from a computer with $50 speakers, would I really hear the difference anyway? In exchange for EMI’s “aural superiority”, they deemed it necessary to raise the price on the entire catalogue and remove the included “bonus tracks” from the previous issues on the Ryko Disc label. When all is said and done, we are left with Ziggy Stardust being re-released no less than seven times!

Thanks to Mike Harvey’s penultimate Ziggy site (, we find that we have been dealt the 1984 disc from RCA Records, the Ryko Disc issue from 1990, a deluxe boxed set from Ryko in 1990, Ryko’s 24k Gold Au20 Audiophile edition from 1994, the 1999 EMI release, the deluxe, two-disc, 30th Anniversary Edition by EMI and just for kicks, a surround sound SACD. Is your head ready to explode yet? Oh, and the second disc of the 30th Anniversary edition is mostly filled with the b-sides that were originally included with the Ryko reissues! And you thought corporations were heartless.        
Bowie, I love you, truly I do but I can not think of another artist to beat on at the moment. If it’s any conciliation, I wish I could write a tune that is 1/10th as awesome as one of the weaker tracks on Station to Station. Actually, there is not a single weak track on Station to Station, so I guess the ‘Thin White Duke’ gets the last laugh after all!  
After my dark assessment, you may be asking; “Are reissued recordings really the products of corporate devilry?” Of course they are, but along the way there are always positives. Every so often a classic gets reissued because it is just that: a classic album that has stood the test of time. Sometimes a title deserves another chance to find a new listener or to gain a new appreciation. Depeche Mode wisely reissued their entire catalogue over the part two years with each title being remastered as a two-disc deluxe edition while keeping the less-expensive, standard edition (which is not remastered) in print. The Cure did a similar thing with their catalogue but also remastered the single-disc, standard editions. If you catch it on sale, an incredible-sounding, new edition of The Head On The Door can be had for about $8! 

U2 has long resisted the temptation to cash in but with last year’s 20th Anniversary Edition of The Joshua Tree, hopefully, that will change. Under a Blood Red Sky has sounded a bit anemic for years! This is one band that actually could pull off a major reissue campaign with some sense of dignity; even if each release comes in three different versions! I’ll still be running to the store on the first day of release to purchase them.  Again.  But that’s the way the game works isn’t it?

**Editor’s note #1 – Under a Blood Red Sky has since been reissued on CD along with the video on DVD. It sounds fantastic!

Editor’s note #2 – EMI reissued Ziggy Stardust again. For the 40th Anniversary!        

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy cereals return!

Cereal lovers!

Let your cries of joy, rise to the heavens! Let the nostalgia overtake your senses! Let your love of crunchy marshmallows… and monsters – be known to all!

For it has been announced, that General Mills is going to once again release Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy cereals this fall! This of course will be along with the other “monster” cereals that come out in September of every year – Boo Berry, Franken Berry and Count Chocula.

Making this an especially momentous occasion is the fact that this is the first time all five of these cereals will be on store shelves at the same time. Even more noteworthy – Fruit Brute has been out of stores since 1982! Fruity Yummy Mummy since 1992 after only a five year run.

I have been quite vocal about my frustration with the “whole grains” shenanigans that is forced upon us. Let’s face it, if you want your children to have a healthy breakfast filled with enough grains and fiber to keep them regular for the next month; are you really going to give them Boo Berry? I mean whole grains and marshmallows? How much better are you really making it?

To make things even more disheartening, the flavors are NOT what we have come to love; in fact, most are now rather bland and tasteless.

Not only has General Mills listened to repeated requests for these two cereals but they must have heard the complaints about the “new and certainly not improved” flavors. Ari Zainudden, marketing manager in Big G, says “We chose the current flavors of Fruity Yummy Mummy and Frute Brute to be as close as possible to the original flavors while taking into consideration consumers’ preferences. Consumers can get a taste for what these cereals were like when they were originally on shelves.”

So that does it – I am officially interested!

Oh, can it get even geekier? Yes it can, for Target will be releasing these cereals in ‘retro packaging’ (see top of page)! There will also be a standard packaging (see below) released with more modern graphics but they cannot come close to the coolness factor of the originals. Mostly because… they are not the originals!

Get that cereal bowl ready kids – this September just got (hopefully) a bit sweeter!

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Aguilar Artist Interview with Joe Karnes (Fitz and the Tantrums)

In the fall of 2012, Fitz and the Tantrums found themselves in a rather precarious position. They had just finished a massive two-year tour promoting their smashing debut, Pickin' Up The Pieces, and began the process of creating a follow-up. While the debut was mostly the brainchild of bandleader, Michael 'Fitz' Fitzpatrick, the band was now a road-seasoned ensemble, ready to tackle their sophomore release as a group. Rather than making a slightly more expansive – and much more expensive - version of their debut, the band retreated once again to the studio in Fitz' living room to reinvent themselves for their explosive new release, More Than Just A Dream.

Bassist Joe Karnes says that the stylistic range of the new album is largely due to the collective influences of the band members. "With this record, we wanted to take in all of the influences that we have because we all listen to so many different kinds of music. We really wanted that to shine through and let everyone's personality out of the bag." With that in mind, the group began a series of prolific writing sessions that saw the creation of dozens of new songs. With songs coming in from every direction, the band had to enforce one rule on upon the creative process. "The only rule we had was no one could say, 'That doesn't sound like us!'"

We recently spoke with Joe about the new album during a quick break from the road, recording in the living room and what is shaping up to be another two-year tour!

To read the rest of this interview, click here.

Friday, August 16, 2013

In case you missed it - Once... A Popjunkie Movie AND Music review

Film ****1/2 (out of *****)
Soundtrack ****1/2 (out of *****)

I’m a cynic. I won’t even begin to hide it. I’ve been around the block so many times it’s been named after me. So naturally, when the “Hollywood Hype Machine” kicks in – I’m always skeptical.  Until proven otherwise of course.

I was happily proven otherwise when I came across the film Once - easily one of the best surprises to hit the silver screen in 2007.  How wonderful that a movie so pure and genuinely touching can get to Hollywood by way of Ireland? With so many movie ideas coming from a line of toys, old cartoons or worse, insipid remakes of films that needn’t be remade in the first place, it is amazing that a film this organic actually cut through the din to find an audience at all!

While it has a seemingly simplistic storyline, Once is a multi-layered film with equally complex characters in the lead roles played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova; known only as “Guy” and “Girl”.  What is so captivating about our two antagonists is that they are nothing more than average people making their way in the world.  Instead of being in control, ultra-cool and witty, we have a couple who make mistakes, stumble over their words and say stupid things.  The greatest achievement of the film was in its casting of Glen and Marketa – two real-life musicians who wrote the songs for the film before the director turned to them and gave them their acting assignments. The fact that neither is a professional actor only makes them more endearing to the audience. I won’t go into further details regarding the film’s plot but trust that it is inspiring, moving and a treat to behold.  This film comes very highly recommended.           

As if things couldn’t get any better, Once boasts not only a fantastic soundtrack but a soundtrack that is easily the best album of 2007! Throughout its running time the album refuses to falter, coming across more like a ‘greatest hits’ compilation rather than a collection of new tracks. Beginning with the gorgeous (and Oscar winning) Falling Slowly, the gorgeous melodies of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova envelope the listener in melancholy, self-doubt and ultimately, hope. Song after song, every plaintive melody is delivered with such raw emotion that upbeat tracks such as Fallen From The Sky and Trying To Pull Myself Away are almost met with relief.

This is a beautiful album that grabs you form the first listen and slowly reveals more of its tortured inner being with repeated listens. It is easy to see how it won a Grammy Award and was made into a hit Broadway musical. Brilliant stuff indeed.       

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I just realized that yesterday, August 12th, 2013 was the 30th anniversary of the release of Smokey and the Bandit Part 3! How could I forget this? And I created a post about Monk! What a traitorous heart I have! 
In honor of such an anniversary, here is an article I wrote in 2005 about my love for all things "Bandit".

Doctor: “Now tell me, what is your problem?”
Me: “I was headin’ eastbound on interstate 94 and this County Mounty from Texarcana, TX was tail-grabbin me for miles…”
Doctor: “What the hell are you talking about”?
Me: “Well my problem, you see it keeps coming back to this black Trans Am.”
Doctor: “Hold on; you sound like some bad 70’s trucker movie! What is this some CMT Redneck movie marathon? You have to give me something better than that; I’m $300 an hour! Now, revert back to 2005 and tell me why you’re here.”

OK, it started like this; I went to visit my older Sister for a weekend, must have been around 1978/79. As we were waiting for my Mother to come pick me up, we decided to watch a little TV and she had HBO, which was a rarity back then! As we were flicking through the channels, and I mean literally flicking – this was before remotes were a common television accessory; she sees a familiar credit roll by. “Oh, you’ll like this, I saw it the other night, and it’s a really good movie”. 

The movie was “Smokey and the Bandit” and 25 plus years later; I can honestly say that I still want a 1977 black Trans Am.

For a kid, The Bandit was the epitome of cool: the likeable rebel with the cool car that got the girl and gave a big Southern finger to authority, all while driving 110 miles an hour. I know that sounds like an overly simple story but I couldn’t help it, I was hooked; I wanted to be The Bandit. Hell, I used to pretend that my bike, which of course had to be black and gold was a Trans Am and I was Mr. Reynolds himself. I was obsessed with all things Bandit; although I never got Burt’s laugh right and never wanted to drive a tractor-trailer with an ugly basset hound in the passenger’s seat and never, ever rocked a ‘stache with a cowboy hat! My unswerving allegiance was such that, in 1983, I actually saw “Smokey and the Bandit 3” in the theater, despite the fact that Burt Reynolds only had a 2-minute cameo in the movie!

I lost track of “Smokey and the Bandit” as I got older although I would frequently break out Jerry Reed’s thoroughly ass-kicking album “Eastbound and Down”, which featured the three songs he did for the first Bandit movie. Always in awe of Jerry’s monstrous guitar playing, I started to feel the pangs of yearning and wanted to experience the movie again in its unedited form; the constant re-runs on TBS do not do the film justice (no pun intended). When the film was released on laserdisc (yeah, laserdisc) in 1997, I picked up a copy and The Bandit sped into my conscious once again. Seeing it again at 25 made me truly appreciate what a clever, well-written comedy it was. Where once my focus was purely on the car chases, now I found myself drawn to Jackie Gleason who was hilarious from the time he stepped on screen, straight through to the ending credits! Since that time, I have made the leap to DVD and was positively giddy over finding Universal’s Bandit collection, “The Pursuit Pack”, which featured all 3 movies on a single, double-sided disc. 

Watching the “trilogy” all the way through made me realize what a huge part of my life these movies were. The amount of memories and good feelings that came back to me prompted this intensive period of research to find information about these movies.  Although much of this is already known to fans, I will give as much insight into each movie as I can as well as poster art, merchandise photos and MP3’s. Read on Good Buddy and enjoy my tribute to “The Bandit”.  I’m eastbound and down, 10 – 4.

Let us start with a little “Smokey” math lesson:
Bandit 1 - Grosses $126,737,428 or $355 million in today’s dollars.
Bandit 2 – Grosses $66,132,626 or about 150 million today.
Bandit 3 – Grosses $5,678,950 or about 11 million today.

See a trend here? While the “Bandit” may have ruled every highway below the Mason-Dixon line, he was not resistant to “Sequel-itis”. For those who need an explanation, “Sequel-itis” is the constant degradation of a movie franchise over time. More often than not, a movie franchise starts off brilliantly and ends up with a collective, “what the hell happened?” from its audience. I’m not going to give a plot run through for each movie but I will give some stats pertaining to them and even a little extra love to that much-maligned third film.  

Smokey and the Bandit – This was the second highest grossing film of 1977 right behind “Star Wars” – actually way behind “Star Wars” but that should come as no surprise. Opening on May 27th, 1977, “Smokey 1” was the little movie that could; it ended up surpassing any expectations that Hollywood, including the movie’s own cast and crew, had for it.

I cannot add anything to what has already been said about this movie so let’s just say that this film actually influenced my childhood more than the aforementioned, “Star Wars”. And that is saying a lot since any child growing up in the 70’s was under the powerful, cinematic spell cast by George Lucas.

The soundtrack to the movie is pretty awesome with Jerry Reed proving once again, what an amazing guitarist/singer/songwriter he is. I am currently hunting for a copy of this as there are a couple of songs on it I have yet to hear. Once I have one, it will be available for download here. [Editor’s note: I now have it. And it is on my site]

Odd fact of the day: this movie was called, “Trans Am 7000” in Japan.

Smokey and the Bandit 2 – Now, while it may not have been as colossal a hit as its predecessor, “Bandit 2” certainly did well at the box office, even in today’s dollars.  Opening on August 15, 1980, the movie was the 8th biggest draw for the year, right in between “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “The Blue Lagoon”. Really. No, I’m not kidding.

This movie presents The Bandit in quite a different light; a pathetic, washed up, egomaniac who is past his prime and still trying to remain relevant. It showed a darker side of our hero but at the time, I thought it was every bit as great as the first movie.  While I wouldn’t agree with that today, it is a good movie; almost like the producers tried to expand The Bandit’s world by having him cruise through new areas (Miami!), getting caught in situations that would not have been possible in the first movie (like being an adoptive father to a baby elephant, being a raving drunk, etc) and almost being caught by Buford T Justice. 

We also get a bunch of cameos in this outing from Football legends Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Green and Joe Klecko to Country music artists such as Brenda Lee, Mel Tillis and Don Williams. It should come as no surprise that all three of these artists are also featured on the film’s soundtrack. While we only get one (but great) song from Jerry Reed, the album is still a must have. One of the highlights is that Burt Reynolds really does have a song called, “Let’s Do Something Cheap And Superficial” - I always thought it was just mentioned in the movie as a joke. While he can’t sing to save his life, the song is so catchy that his drawling performance grows on you. Plus, with a title like that, you know that tune has got to be hilarious!

There were toys released this time around such as small matchbox-type vehicles, model cars and Delmar Hank’s book, “The Adventures of Smokey and the Bandit”. See the memorabilia section for images of what I could find. 

Second odd fact of the day: this movie was called, “Trans Am 7000 VS. The Smokeys” in Japan. 

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 – 1983 was a banner year for the movie industry as it was the ‘year of the third sequel’. It is almost laughable to look at how many part 3’s were released: Halloween 3, Superman 3, Jaws 3, Rocky 3, and Return Of the Jedi (even though it is now called Episode 6 – in 1983 it was the third Star Wars movie!). Not surprisingly, a few of these movies exposed the fact that their respected franchises were suffering from the afore-mentioned “Sequel-itis”.

To my then 11-year-old psyche, it was impossible to think something was afoul in Bandit-land but by the end of the movie, even I realized that I had just sat through my first ‘box office bomb”. I will say upfront, that because I am a Bandit fan, I do like this film; as crazy as that sounds, but there are so many problems with this movie that it merits much discussion - I actually like talking about how bad it is! Listen up all you future filmmakers and screenwriters.

Opening in 498 theaters on August 12, 1983, the film went to wide release two weeks later on September 2 and came in at a pitiful #95 for the year. It is almost as if Universal knew it sucked but needed that confirmation before putting it in the 1,119 theaters it eventually ended up in. 

Looking at the title alone, we find the first of many faults with this movie. The film is called “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3”, not “Smokey and the Bandit 3”. The culprit responsible for this will wisely never fess up as to why they felt compelled to add the “Part” to the title but my guess is that they thought it would make the movie better. It didn’t.

One of the most discussed topics of film-lore surrounding “Bandit 3”; “Bandit PART 3” excuse me, is that the film was originally shot as, “Smokey IS the Bandit”, with Jackie Gleason’s Buford T Justice playing both characters! Was some screenplay guru suffering from delusions of grandeur in trying to create the finest schizophrenic debacle ever filmed? After disastrous test screenings (imagine that?), the film was re-shot with Jerry Reed coming on as the Bandit to keep with the previous film’s “cat and mouse” style theme. Unfortunately, someone was asleep in the editing room and the result is a movie so loaded with continuity errors it is unintentionally funny! These scenes are actually funnier than the ‘supposedly humorous’ drivel that some of the actors are stuck with saying. There is no sense of direction or ‘flow’ to any of the scenes, almost like someone writing in phrases rather than complete sentences. Things just seem to happen and then before there is any closure to the scene, the next scene begins. Plus, Jerry Reed is not “Bandit” material and in a way, the filmmakers knew that, as he is not the focus of the movie. This is most likely a residual effect from the movie’s original version but if the editing was better, it may have been a smoother transition.

In the end, “Smokey And The Bandit Part 3” plays like a bad episode of “The Dukes Of Hazzard” in that it is just a hokey, car chase flick where dumb characters do really dumb things. Jackie Gleason does manage a few funny one-liners but unfortunately, the rest of the film is about as funny as a bout of pneumonia!

Third odd fact of the day: Japan didn’t even bother to give this movie an alternate title. In fact, they probably just shipped it back to Hollywood.

Continue to the Memorabilia section for Poster Art, MP3’s and other Bandit treats! Just click here to visit!


Monday, August 12, 2013

In case you missed it - my thoughts on 'Monk'

I realize that I am a little late to this party but I just discovered the show Monk. Looking to my imaginary spiritual advisor for guidance, I was told that if I create a blog post, it would help to atone for my sins.

I’ve spent the past two years diving into the great TV detectives – Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Columbo - when I found Monk sitting there in my Netflix streaming queue. No matter what category I looked at, there he was taunting me – in the “Top 10 for Marco” category, “Because you watched Poirot” category, “Crime Shows”, “Popular on Facebook” and just about every other category that Reed Hastings has come up with. Seriously, how did he know I couldn’t afford to miss this show?

Netflix made me do it – and I’m glad they did. Monk is funny and smart with incredibly well-written characters that defy typical detective show stereotypes. Top it off with clever plot lines and strongly written stories and Monk is the finest cop series in many a year.

The show follows the antics (and unstoppable sleuthing) of Adrian Monk, an obsessive compulsive whose conditions worsens after the death of his wife. Having left the San Francisco police department, Monk is undergoing therapy in the hopes of being reinstated. While it is painfully obvious that the obsessive detective is not ready to carry a gun, his gift for solving crimes finds him being called upon by the police as a consultant on difficult cases.

While the material is first-rate, it would not mean much without a strong cast. Tony Shaloub is both hilarious and sadly vulnerable as a man who can’t shake another person’s hand without immediately wiping his hands “clean”. His “eccentricities” are endless but if you think of someone like the aforementioned Poirot; that is par for the course in quirky detective stories. Helping out Monk is Sharona (Bitty Schram), his tough, wise-cracking nurse/assistant who happens to be the one stabilizing force in his life. We also have the excellent Ted Levine – yes, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs – as the stoic, Captain Stottlemeyer.

If there happens to be another who has not tuned into this show over the past 11 years, please do – you will not be disappointed.  I’m in the throes of season 2 at the moment and look forward to how the show develops.

Just login into Netflix -- Reed will be happy to show you the way.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Popjunkie Movie Reviews – Sitting through the best of the worst… so you don’t have to!

Barracuda (1978)

You know you have a bad movie on your hands when all of the following happen before the opening credits finish rolling:

·         The production company is called “A Marketing Film Production”
·         The film has a subtitle (which is not listed on the artwork) called “The Lucifer Project”
·         You recognize no one in the credits
·         There is going to be a character called “Papa Jack”
·         You find out that one of the actors is also one of the producers. Who also wrote the screenplay. And directed the movie.

Now the credits finish and you already know what you are in for but do I even need to state how blatant a JAWS rip-off this film is?

JAWS was a truly fantastic movie in just about every way – the story, characterizations, cinematography, direction, the musical score, the way it impacted box office, marketing, et cetera, et cetera.

But if there was one negative in a sea of positives, it is the fact that it launched a billion half-baked clones featuring every animal one could think of turning on humankind. Thanks to JAWS, the remainder of the 70’s found silver-screen victims being eaten by worms, alligators, grizzly bears, bees, frogs, spiders, crocodiles, rats, piranha and of course, barracuda. Sadly, I’m probably missing a dozen more here!

Barracuda ups the ante by presenting us with not only every monster-eating-people cliché but also the typical bad man in a small town that does bad things which turn animals into bloodthirsty killers’ cliché.

But Barracuda has much loftier aspirations than simple people-eating carnage when we find out that the government is behind the killings! They want to inject more violence into society so the populace could never protest future wars.  You didn’t think you would get Vietnam commentary in a fish-eating-people movie, but there it is.

And how is the government planning to take over a small Florida town? By going into business with the local chemical plant and pouring chemicals into the town’s drinking water to create a town full of… hypo-glycemics.

Apparently, the evil doctor in the film is an expert (and wrote books) on low blood sugar and the damaging effects it has on the human body. Like extreme irritability and crankiness. But what he didn’t foresee was the chemical also being poured into the ocean, creating... hypo-glycemic barracuda!

All true. And I sat through the whole thing.

But talking about barracuda reminds me of one of the main problems here – they are barely in the movie! Consumed with conspiracy theories, the film apparently forgets its own title since about 10% of the film is set in the water. Considering that the attacks scenes do not induce one iota of fear or terror and maybe that is not such a bad thing.

To summarize, Barracuda is a film about a nefarious government plot to control people which unleashes a few fish suffering from low-glycemic munchies that kill about 4 people and then everyone who discovers the plan are shot and the end credits roll.

That’s what you were expecting right?