Allison Moorer’s latest CD is a collection of moody songs. Moorer wrote all of them except for “It’s Gonna Feel Good (When It Stops Hurting).” My favorites are “Like the Rain” and “Easy in the Summertime.” Moorer is sometimes considered a Country & Western singer, but there isn’t any twanging on this CD. The music projects a sense of hope amid despair. If you’re looking for Allison Moorer in a more cheerful mood, try her earlier CDs, The Duel and The Hardest Part. Both are very good. But, if you’re in the mood for the darker side of Allison Moorer, then Crows is the CD to listen to. GRADE: B+
I have at least a dozen CDs of Beethoven’s piano concertos. Why on earth would I buy yet another one? Well, last year I loved Austrian pianist Till Fellner’s J. S. Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias & French Suite CD. When I saw Fellner’s new Beethoven CD, I immediately bought it and listened to it. Fellner is a meticulous pianist. There’s not a lot of pounding and annoying emotionalism here. Fellner took a cool and professional approach to Bach and now he does the same thing with Beethoven. Some may prefer an overwrought performance of the “Emperor” concerto, but not me. The music has plenty of energy; it takes a talented pianist to channel it into a satisfying result. Fellner’s approach is deliberate yet deft. If you love this music, hearing Fellner play it makes it sound new again. GRADE: A
This “re-imagining” of Alice in Wonderland has its moments, but for a Tim Burton film, it’s a little tame. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) falls down a hole into Wonderland. Johnny Depp is the Mad Hatter, but this performance is subdued for him. Helena Bonham Carter plays the Red Queen with the most energy of any of the cast members. Anne Hathaway’s White Queen is fairly bland. The whole adventure turns into a dragon-slaying exercise. Multiple hints suggest there might be a sequel. GRADE: B
Anniversary concert recordings are usually a mixed bag. This Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert CD is no different. I liked Alison Krauss & Union Station’s songs. Irma Thomas, soul singer, rocks the house. Two of my favorite female singers, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Madeleine Peyroux perform admirably. I could have done without Steve Martin. And Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas. But, that’s a matter of taste. There’s plenty of very good music on this CD, a few clunkers, and an enthusiastic audience. The video of this concert will be airing on PBS next month and the DVD will be available in early May. GRADE: B
1 Cold Dark River / Minnie Driver
2 Beloved / Minnie Driver
3 Outside People / Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas
4 Think About the Good Times / Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas
5 Rich Woman / Robert Plant
6 River is Waiting / Irma Thomas
7 Don’t Mess With My Man / Irma Thomas
8 Don’t Wait Too Long / Madeleine Peyroux
9 Dance Me To the End of Love / Madeleine Peyroux
10 Restless / Alison Krauss & Union Station
11 Gravity / Alison Krauss & Union Station
12 This Sad Song / Alison Krauss & Union Station
13 Pitkin County Turn Around / Steve Martin
14 Saga of the Old West / Steve Martin
15 Keys To the Kingdom / Béla Fleck
16 Another Morning / Béla Fleck
17 Why Shouldn’t We / Mary Chapin Carpenter
18 He Thinks He’ll Keep Her / Mary Chapin Carpenter
19 Medley: Angels Watching Over Me/I’ll Fly Away/Down by the Riverside [M / Minnie Driver
Tyler Cowen proposed a meme where those interested would list the 10 most influential books of their lives. Cowen suggested “going with your gut” in making the list instead of doing a lot of pondering. So, off the top of my head, here we go:
1. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes. One of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. It updates Adam Smith’s classic and explains how the world works.
2. Tales of the Dying Earth by Jack Vance. This the greatest SF masterpiece I’ve ever read.
3. The Demon Princes by Jack Vance. I’m cheating here because The Demon Princes consists of five novels. Sue me. These are marvelous science fantasy adventures!
4. Partial Payments: Essays on Writers and Their Lives by Joseph Epstein. I could have picked any of Epstein’s wonderful essay collections (I’ve read and own them all). I wish I could write like this.
5. Major Works by Samuel Johnson. This is another cheat because the Oxford University Press edition is 880 pages long. I could make an argument that Johnson was one of the best writers of English ever.
6. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. My favorite Trollope novel is Barchester Towers, but The Way We Live Now is probably Trollope’s best book.
7. Troilus and Cressida is my favorite play by Shakespeare. Love and war battle in this tricky tale of the Battle of Troy. It’s clever, cunning, and has a sting at its end.
8. A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald. This is my favorite JDM novel. Travis McGee and a twisted plot. What more could you ask for?
9. I grew up reading comic books and THE FLASH was my favorite. Yes, I read BATMAN and GREEN LANTERN, too, but THE FLASH gave me that first feeling of a Sense of Wonder.
10. The Story of O by Pauline Reage. Rocked my world.
If I had to list 10 influential books next week, I’m sure the list would be different.
Last week, I reviewed John Dickson Carr’s The Three Coffins and Art Scott commented that another Carr mystery, The Crooked Hinge, was superior because its solution was more elegant (four words, 11 letters). I happened to have The Crooked Hinge and immediately read it. Art is right. The Crooked Hinge is better than The Three Coffins (although I still have a fondness for it despite the elaborate explanation of the murders). The Crooked Hinge has Satanist witch-cults, the Titanic, a diabolical robot, questions of identity, and TWO completely logical explanations of the murder (but only one of them is correct). If you’re in the mood for one of John Dickson Carr’s mind-bending puzzle mysteries, The Crooked Hinge will turn your brain into a pretzel.
Chelsea Girl was German model, actress, and singer Nico’s debut album in 1967. After recording with The Velvet Underground and appearing in Andy Warhol’s movie, Chelsea Girls, Nico produced this solo album. Nico’s voice sounds like it’s coming from a crypt. John Cale, leader of The Velvet Underground, said Nico was “tone-deaf.” But Nico managed to charm her way into a creative vortex: Bob Dylan wrote a song for her album (“I’ll Keep It With Mine”) as did 17-year old Jackson Brown (“These Days”). At that time in my life, women who looked like Nico and Marianne Faithfull, with their long straight hair and sultry eyes, were irresistible to me. For more on Nico, her music, and her sad ending listen to Ed Ward’s insightful commentary.
1. The Fairest Of The Season 4:06
2. These Days 3:30
3. Little Sister 4:22
4. Winter Song 3:17
5. It Was A Pleasure Then 8:02
6. Chelsea Girls 7:22
7. I’ll Keep It With Mine 3:17
8. Somewhere There’s A Feather 2:16
9. Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams 5:06
10. Eulogy To Lenny Bruce 2:44
Richard Bausch writes about relationships with rare insight in these short stories. For example, in “Sixty-five Million Years” a Catholic priest is confronted by a teenage boy who doubts the Bible because of the existence of dinosaurs. And the young boy’s doubt creeps into the old priest’s psyche and destabilizes his world. Desperation mixes with passion in “Reverend Thornhill’s Wife” when a preacher’s wife has an affair with a married man she meets on the Internet. Both participants are trapped in sterile marriages and this affair centers on the desperation of two very unhappy people. The title story, “Something Is Out There,” revolves around a family learning that family members are involved in the illegal drug trade. And, during a wild snowstorm, hired killers may be lurking outside the house they’re trapped in. Most of Bausch’s stories end jarringly. If you’re looking for an engagingly contemporary short story collection, give Something Is Out There a try. GRADE: B+
(This completes the March 2010 portion of my Short Story Reading Challenge. I will read and review one short story collection per month in 2010. To find out more about the Short Story Reading Challenge, be sure to click: “http://theshortstorychallenge.blogspot.com/”>Short Story Reading Challenge.
Justified premiered last week on FX. This cable series is based on Elmore Leonard’s character, U. S. Marshall Raylan Givens, who appeared in Leonard’s novels Pronto and Ride the Rap and a short story, “Fire in the Hole.” After a messy shootout in Miami, Givens is reassigned (for political reasons) to his home state of Kentucky. In his first case, Givens has to deal with an old acquaintance, Boyd Crowder (played with convincing menace by Walton Goggins), who leads a White Supremest cult. Timothy Olyphant plays Givens with the right mix of cool and brutality. The hallmark of Elmore Leonard’s work is causal violence. There’s a scene in Jackie Brown that still haunts me. I don’t watch much TV (although now with the new HDTV I’m spending more time surfing the HD channels) but I’ll be watching Justified on FX Tuesday nights. GRADE: B+ (so far)
The genre of “urban fantasy” is an acquired taste. Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series falls into this catagory as does Simon R. Green’s Nightside series featuring a private eye named John Taylor who has the power to find anyone. Nightside is mystical site in London where the paranormal and the supernatural mix. In this adventure, the editor of Nightside’s The Unnatural Inquirer offers Taylor a million pounds to find a missing person who has a mysterious connection to the Afterlife. If you like macabre fiction and dark humor, you’ll find Simon R. Green’s Nightside series worth looking into.
This completes the March part of Carl V.’s fantasy challenge. To learn more about the fantasy challenge, click here.