Chile On Hell Is A Hard Rocking Music History Lesson From Anthrax

Courtesy:  Megaforce Records

Courtesy: Megaforce Records

Next Monday is September 1st.  That means that three quarters of the year are now gone, with only one quarter left (I.E. four more months).  As the year’s last four months wind by, critics everywhere will begin firming up their annual “Best Of” lists for publication later in December.  Most critics will focus mainly on the year’s best overall movies and music.  And then there will be those critics and writers that will focus on specific lists such as the year’s best new pop albums, rock albums, hard rock albums, etc. It would seem that among all of the lists that are compiled, one category that doesn’t necessarily receive the attention that it deserves is that of the year’s best new live recordings in terms of DVDs and Blu-rays.  This critic’s personal list of the year’s best new live recordings is already firming up quite well.  There are still at least a couple of spots left open on that list, though.  And one of those spots will most definitely be taken up by veteran hard rock/metal band Anthrax’s new live DVD Chile on Hell.  This new live recording is one that any long-time Anthrax fan will appreciate and enjoy first and foremost for its set list.  While this concert is not necessarily what one would call a “career-spanning” show, it is one that both the band’s original fans and its newest fans alike will appreciate.  The next aspect of the DVD that audiences will appreciate is the band’s stage presence.  Some might consider this something minor.  But in reality, it is just as important in keeping audiences at home fully engaged.  And last but most definitely not least of all worth noting is the concert’s collective audio and video mix.  The two together present a certain raw look and sound that are just as impressive as any more spit shined and perfected recordings that are currently available to audiences.    Each of the factors noted here play their own important role in the overall enjoyment of Chile on Hell.  Altogether, they make this DVD a dark horse candidate for a spot on at least this critic’s list of the year’s best new live recordings.

Far too often, the term career-spanning is tossed around when it comes to live recordings.  Sadly, very far too few of those recordings live up to such hype.  That isn’t to say that no recording lives up to that label.  Rather, far too few live recordings live up to said label.  Thankfully, neither Anthrax nor Megaforce Records make any attempt to call Chile on Hell one of that mass of overly hyped recordings.  Rather, they let the recording speak for itself.  And the statement made is loud and crystal clear as audiences will see in the show’s set list.  The nearly two-hour show includes some of the material included on Worship Music and the band’s recently released EP Anthems.  But by and large, the set list presented in Chile on Hell takes audiences back to the band’s earlier days.  To be more exact, the band largely reaches back to its 1985 and 1987 albums Spreading The Disease and Among The Living for this concert.  1990’s Persistence of Time of also represented here courtesy of the song ‘In My World.’  Such a mix of classics and more recent songs will bring in both the band’s original fan base and its newer and possibly younger fan base at the same time.  One could argue that in presenting such a set list, the band is paying respect to its original fan base while teaching a valuable music history lesson to those younger and newer fans.  Even if this was not the original intent on the part of the band or of Megaforce Records, it is one of the results.  It makes the set list even more solid as the DVD’s center.

The set list and the potentially latent function of said list are together a solid starting point in the success and enjoyment of Chile on Hell.  Just as important as the set list and its effects is the band’s stage presence.  It goes without saying that the band’s stage presence in this stage is full-on.  Front man Joey Belladonna and founding guitarist Scott Ian exude so much energy; so much in fact that even audiences at home will find themselves wanting to sing along and head bang with them.  Such a powerful translation even on-screen is quite a statement.  Belladonna’s band mates add their own energy through their performances.  Whether through Charlie Benante’s pounding drumming, the spot on shredding of Shadows Fall guitarist Jonathan Donais (who replaced Rob Caggiano) or even bassist Frank Bello, the band collectively keeps the audience in attendance at the recording fully engaged from start to finish.  And home viewing audiences will feel that energy themselves, leading them to be fully engaged throughout, too.  That the band’s stage presence could translate so well and have such impact even on home viewers is a tribute to the band itself.  And coupled with the show’s set list, the overall effect of the show is made even stronger, thus making the recording in whole all the more enjoyable for all of the band’s legions of fans.

The set list arranged for Anthrax’s show in Chile and the band’s stage presence combine to make Chile on Hell an impressive addition to any Anthrax fan’s personal collection.  The recording’s collective audio and video mix is the final touch to the whole presentation.  The video doesn’t have the spit shined look of so many other live recordings before it.  Rather, it has a grainier, more raw look.  Yet that look actually plays into the overall presentation.  That is because it actually serves to help heighten the energy exuded by both the band and the audience.  Staying on that topic, audiences will enjoy the camera attached to the end of guitarist Scott Ian’s guitar.  That angle and the others used throughout the concert are used at just the right moments to make for a wonderful impact.  And despite being recorded at an indoor venue, the concert’s audio mix turned out impressive in its own right, too.  Balancing audio levels at indoor venues always has and always will present its own challenges.  In the case of this concert, those charged with balancing the concert’s audio levels both at the show and in post-production are to be commended for their efforts.  The end result of their work is a concert recording in which neither the vocals nor the music overpowered the other.  And together with the equally professional work on the concert’s video mix, it proves to be a concert experience that any of Anthrax’s legions of fans will enjoy no less with each watch.

Those charged with handling the audio and video mix for Chile on Hell are to be highly commended for their high quality of work in this concert.  The band and its label are to be commended, too.  The set list serves a dual purpose.  And the band’s stage presence will keep audiences fully engaged from start to finish.  All three of these factors come together to make Chile on Hell a concert that while bare bones, is one that any hard rock fan and any Anthrax fan will appreciate and enjoy.  The DVD will be available Tuesday, September 16th via Megaforce Records.  Fans can find out more about this upcoming live recording and keep up with all of the latest updates from Anthrax online at http://anthrax.com, http://anthraxarmy.com, http://twitter.com/anthrax, and http://www.facebook.com/anthrax.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Every Family Will Enjoy Listening To Stacey Peasley’s Debut record “Together”

Courtesy:  Stacey Peasley

Courtesy: Stacey Peasley

Children’s entertainer Stacey Peasley recently released her sophomore full-length album Lucky Day to the masses.  That album proved to audiences why given the chance, Peasley could be one of the next big names in the world of kindie-rock.  Peasley’s 2011 debut Together is just as good as that album if not actually better than Lucky Day.  Together is anchored by Peasley’s funky, celebratory ‘Dance Party.’  The song harkens back to the days of Kool and the Gang, KC and the Sunshine Band, and Sly and the Family Stone just to name a few groups.  ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ is an equally up-tempo piece that boasts a poppy 90s vibe.  And while hardly the longest song, its equally upbeat, optimistic lyrics will put a smile on the face of listeners of all ages.  Rounding out the whole album is a sweet, lullaby of sorts in the song ‘Snuggle Daddy.’  After all of the fun of the album’s previous group of songs, this song is a fitting closer.  It’s one of those songs that some parents might even find a guilty pleasure as it will make them think of their own children when they’re at school or asleep in their beds.  It might even bring a small tear of joy to some parents’ eyes.  And that’s perfectly fine, too.  That’s because it is just that wonderful of a song.  Of course it and the other songs noted here are not all that families will appreciate about Together.  There is also a fun little song about bath time simply titled ‘Soapy Bubbles’ and a bittersweet and somewhat heart wrenching song about a child in a broken family titled ‘Far Away.’  This song is especially interesting considering that so few kindie-rock entertainers delve into that topic.  It is a tough song to hear.   That song alongside the others featured as part of Together make this record quite the impressive first effort from Stacey Peasley.

Together is a wonderful first effort from Stacey Peasley.  From beginning to end, every one of the album’s offerings make the album a joy to hear in its own way.  The album is anchored most strongly by the funky and fittingly titled ‘Dance Party.’  This song will have parents, children, and even grandparents dancing and smiling, well, together.  Musically, the song harkens back to the days of musical greats such as KC and the Sunshine Band, Sly and the Family Stone, and even Kool and the Gang with its mix of horns, keyboards, drums and easygoing guitars.  Peasley herself even seems to channel some of the great vocalists of days gone by as she sings, “Come on everybody/We’ve got dancin’ to do/There’ll be no sittin’ down/We’ve got to get up and move/Listen to the instruments play their tune/They can play all day/Your imagination is all you need/Grab a microphone and you can take the lead/Go ask your mom and dad/And you know they’ll be glad/They’ll spend the day with you/Put on your dancing shoes/And have a dance party.”  It would be so easy to see this song in a live setting.  Both kids and grown-ups will be dancing and singing along so happily, the lights on the stage flashing in time with the band.  And even a music video in the same vein would make sense.  It’s just a fun, infectious song that will instantly get stuck in listeners’ heads and on their lips.  It’s just one of the songs that make Together such a fun album for the whole family.

While it boasts a slightly different sound than ‘Dance Party,’ Together’s penultimate song ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ is just as fun and memorable a song.  Whereas ‘Dance Party’ was more of a throwback to the great names of funk, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ boasts more of a poppy 90s vibe.  The mix of the song’s piano line, guitar, and tambourine backed by Marty Beller’s drumming by itself makes the song so infectious.  Lyrically, Peasley perfectly captures the joys of childhood friendship as she sings, “When my friends and I get together/We always have a really good time/We laugh and play/And spend the day/With one thing on our mind/We have fun, fun, fun/As long as we can/When we get together/The day never ends/Fun, fun, fun/Until the sun sets/You’re my best friend/Til’ the very end.”  Kids will relate to these words just as much as parents to these words.  For kids, it celebrates the joys that they are currently feeling as they develop friendships and learn about the joys of having that social circle and those relationships.  For parents, it will take them back to their own childhoods.  What better way to get rid of the stresses of the work week than reminisce about better times? Kudos to Stacey Peasley for that.

‘Dance Party’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ are two great examples of what makes Together an album that every family will in fact enjoy listening to together, thus the album’s title. The album’s gentle closer ‘Snuggle Daddy’ is one more example of what makes this album so enjoyable for families. It would be a surprise if this song doesn’t put a smile on a parent’s face and a slight tear of joy in said parent’s eye. Peasley sings of the joys felt by a young child spending those all-important minutes before bed with his or her father. What really makes this song great isn’t just the song’s gentle musical side or even its lyrical side, but the fact that it could come from the angle of a young boy or girl. The song’s gentle, almost sleepy vibe is a perfect complement to the lyrics. Peasley sings from the vantage point of the child, “AFtermy bath/Before I go to bed/I like to lay close/And rest my head/On my daddy/Snuggle daddy/Sometimes we hide/So mommy can’t see/Under the blankets/It’s just me and my daddy.” She goes on to sing of the child happily reading a bedtime story and more before heading off to dreamland. It’s such a short song. Yet it is so emotionally powerful. Being such a powerful piece, it is a wonderful finale from Peasley on her debut. And alongside the likes of ‘Dance Party’ and ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ it makes even clearer why any parent should listen to this record. It will bring such joy to not only children but parents, too.

The songs noted here are three fine examples of what makes Together such a standout release from Stacey Peasley. Especially being an independent release it is a surprise that none of the major children’s music labels picked her up. Perhaps after hearing the noted songs, those same labels will give her more of a chance. The same can be said of the heart wrenching ‘Far Away’ and the fun bath time song ‘Soapy Bubbles’ ‘Far Away’ comes across as delving into the difficult topic of a young child being stuck between two divorced parents. That’s a tough topic for kids, which is why so few children’s entertainers tackle the subject in their music. Mrs. Peasley is to be highly commended for such bravery. And on the totally opposite side of things is the much more lighthearted bath time song ‘Soapy Bubbles.’ This fun little romp is sure to put just as much of a smile on the face of any listener regardless of age. Peasley sings of the joys a child feels playing with bubbles in the bathtub. What parent can’t relate? This parent certainly can, watching his own son’s eyes glimmer with joy as he blows them around the tub. It’s just a fun song. And it’s one more addition to an album that while it has been out for a few years is still just as good as any album that has been released this year. As a matter of fact, had it been released this year, it might have even made this critic’s list of the year’s top new children’s albums.

Audiences will get a chance to hear all of the songs noted here and even more later this year when Stacey Peasley performs live at the Long Island Children’s Museum Show. That concert is scheduled for Saturday, December 27th at 11am. It is an all-ages show. To get more information on this show, more upcoming dates, and to keep up with all of the latest updates from Stacey Peasley, audiences can follow her online at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Stacey-Peasley-Band/60359963730 and http://www.staceypeasley.com. Fans can also order both of her current releases through her official website. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Live Returns With New Album, Singer, Label This Fall

Courtesy:  Think Loud Recordings

Courtesy: Think Loud Recordings

Veteran rock band Live will release its new album this fall.

Live will release The Turn on Tuesday, October 28th on Think Loud Recordings. The album, the band’s–eighth full-length studio release–is the first with new front man Chris Shinn. It also features the band’s original lineup of Chad Taylor (guitar/backing vocals), Patrick Dalheimer (bass/percussion), and Chad Gracey (drums/percussion). It also reunites the band with producer Jerry Harrison. Harrison previously worked with Live on three of the band’s previous releases—Mental Jewelry (1991), Throwing Copper (1995), and The Distance To Here (1999).

The band launched a Pledge Music campaign yesterday to kick off the promotional efforts for the album’s release. A portion of the proceeds from that campaign will go to the charity Musicians on Call. Musicians on Call is a charity program that brings both live musicians and recorded music in to hospitals around the country as a means of therapy for patients. More information on Musicians on Call and its efforts is available online at http://www.musiciansoncall.org. Fans can help make The Turn a reality and help donate to Musicians on Call all at the same time online at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/live. Details on the album’s lead single, tour dates and more will be announced soon. They will be announced both through the band’s Pledge Music page and via its various social media platforms. The track listing for The Turn is listed below.

The Turn Track Listing:
1.    Sirens Call
2.    Don’t Run to Wait
3.    Natural Born Killers
4.    6310 Rodgerton Dr.
5.    By Design
6.    The Way Around is Through
7.    Need Tonight
8.    The Strength to Hold On
9.    We Open The Door
10.   He Could Teach the Devil Tricks
11.   Till You Came Around

More information on Live, its upcoming album and tour dates and all of the latest updates from the band is available online at http://freaks4live.com, http://www.facebook.com/THEBANDLIVE, and http://twitter.com/freaks4live. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Tantric To Release New Compilation Record Next Month

Courtesy:  Pavement Entertainment

Courtesy: Pavement Entertainment

Tantric will release another new record this fall.

Blue Room Archives is a collection of previously unreleased and acoustic material that the band has recorded over the years. The new compilation record will be released Tuesday, September 30th via Pavement Entertainment. It comes on the heels of Tantric’s most recent full-length studio effort 37 Channels, which was released on September 17th, 2013. Among the material included on this upcoming compilation are acoustic takes of ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Mourning’ and the new single ‘Cynical.’ Fans can stream ‘Cynical’ now online here.

The band opted for Blue Room Archives as it makes reference to the band’s home studio, “The Blue Room.” Front man Hugo Ferreira commented on the album, noting that it was a largely organic album and that it shows a side of the band not typically seen. ” This isn’t so much a premeditated album, but a collection of music I have done that I always loved extremely but never found a place for,” he said. It’s songs in their purest form, no flashy production or elaborate theme. Imagine it as a mix tape of songs I wrote or co-wrote that stand alone uniquely. A inside view of the other side of a tantric state of mind.”

The track listing for Blue Room Archives is noted below.

“Blue Room Archives” track listing:

  1. Cynical
  2. Breakdown (Acoustic)
  3. Abuse Me
  4. Don’t Let It Win
  5. Fall To The Ground (Remix)
  6. Mind Control (Remix)
  7. Mourning (Acoustic)
  8. Nothing At All
  9. Mourning After
  10. Indiscretion
  11. Flip A Coin

Tantric’s most recent full length release 37 Channels is available now in stores and online. The band is currently touring in support of that album. It will be in Steger, Illinois today and New Albany, Indiana tomorrow. After that, the band will take some time off before hitting the road again beginning September 20th in Beckley, West Virginia. Fans can find out when the band will be in their town and keep up with the latest updates from the band online now at http://www.facebook.com/Tantric and http://www.tantricrockband.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Royal Blood Is One Of This Year’s Most Surprising Rock Records

Courtesy:  Warner Brothers Records

Courtesy: Warner Brothers Records

British Rock duo Royal Blood made big waves earlier this year when it released its debut EP Out of the Black.  That release was but a mere sampling of what the duo—Michael Kerr (bass/vocals) and Ben Thatcher (drums)—had to offer on its now available self-titled major label debut.  Royal Blood is now available in store and online via Warner Brothers Records.  And anyone that has yet to hear any of the band’s music will be impressed by the record’s sound.  The ten tracks contained on this disc boast sounds influenced from the likes of Clutch, The Black Keys, The White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club just to name a handful.  That mix of influences has led to an album that is arguably one of the best new rock albums of the year and potentially one of the best new albums of the year overall, too.  The proof is obvious right off the top in the album’s opener and title track from its previously released EP ‘Out of the Black.’  Kerr and Thatcher step things up right after that on the forward-driving ‘Come On Over.’  If those songs aren’t enough for listeners, ‘Little Monster’ is sure to impress with its mix of equally driving music and rather thought provoking lyrics.  All three of these songs are equally impressive examples of what makes Royal Blood one of the surprise records of the year.  That is not to discount any of the album’s any other songs.  The album’s bluesy album closer ‘Better Strangers’ and the infectious ‘Figure It Out’ are just as enjoyable as the previously mentioned pieces.  And the album’s remaining five tracks each play their own part in this album’s enjoyment.  Whether for those tracks or the ones noted here, the end result is an album that is again one of the biggest surprises of the year.

Royal Blood’s new self-titled major label debut album is without a doubt one of the best new rock albums of 2014. It is also potentially one of the year’s best new albums overall. The duo makes its case for that title right from the album’s outset. The album’s opener is a bombastic first impression from Kerr and Thatcher. The massive wall of sound generated by the pair instantly conjures thoughts of Clutch, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and others of that ilk. Kerr’s vocals are just as much a powerhouse as the music crafted by himself and Thatcher as he sings in the song’s chorus, “You made a fool out of me/You took the skin off my back running/So don’t breath when I talk/Cause you have been spoken to/I got a gun for a mouth/And a bullet with your name on it/But a trigger full of heartbeat/I’m pulling from an empty pocket.” The video for this song is actually available now online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_3mNCaJgNM. So audiences can check out the song’s pure immensity in the combination of its music and vocals.

As if the seemingly untamed energy generated by ‘Out of the Black’ wasn’t enough for audiences, Kerr and Thatcher keep things moving on the album’s second song ‘Come on Over.’ This song is another full on piece that is sure to impress listeners.  Kerr sings on this song, “Let’s run away/Get out of here/I got no money/And I don’t care/This ain’t my house/This ain’t your home/Not when I’m feeling this alone.” This is an interesting chorus, lyrically speaking. It seems to reflect a certain negative energy felt by perhaps a broken home of sorts. One wonders even more about this as Kerr sings later in the song, “I’m on a train going nowhere/I ran away to make you care/This ain’t my house/This ain’t your home/Not when I’m feeling this alone.” If this is one of those standard songs of self-denial and doubt, the musical side of the song doesn’t reflect that vibe. Hearing lyrics like those noted here, one would expect a musical side from the likes of Breaking Benjamin, Staind or others. But instead , the song’s musical side presents more of a self-determined vibe. It makes for quite the contradiction. And that contradiction makes the song all the more interesting. Audiences can check out an in-studio performance of this song online now at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlSAjp-XaTo. So as with the previously noted songs, audiences can hear this song for themselves and heard that musical contradiction of moods that makes it yet another welcome addition to Royal Blood.

Both ‘Out of the Black’ and ‘Come On Over’ more than make for their own positive impression for Royal Blood.   But Kerr and Thatcher don’t rest easily on their laurels as is evident in ‘Little Monster.’ This song comes a little past the album’s halfway mark.  It is another impressive addition to Royal Blood not just because of the song’s power and energy, but also because it has a certain swagger mixed into the song’s overall feel. That swagger works just as well with the song’s overall sludge rock feel as it does with the song’s lyrics. Audiences will be able to hear that as Kerr sings, “I got love on my fingers/Lust on my tongue/You say you got nothing/So come out and get some/Heartache to heartache/I’m your wolf/I’m your man/I say run little monster/Before you know who I am.” Even more interesting in this song is the New Jack Swing beat of sorts played by Thatcher against the harder edged sound of Kerr’s playing. Somehow, the two parts meld together although one wouldn’t generally think that they would. As with the EP’s opener, this song also has a companion video that can be viewed online now. So audiences can hear the song and hear that massive sound for themselves when they check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ere2Mstl8ww.

‘Little Monster,’ ‘Come On Over,’ and ‘Out of the Black’ are all impressive additions to Royal Blood’s self-titled major label debut record.  Together, they make the band’s new album one of the biggest surprises of the year.  That is not to discount the album’s other songs.  Kerr and Thatcher keep audiences fully engaged right to the album’s end from the infectious ‘Figure It Out’ to the album’s bluesy closer ‘Better Strangers.’ Every track on this record plays its own part in the album’s overall success.  Altogether, each of the album’s ten tracks proves why this album is sure to be one of the year’s most talked about records by the time ticks to midnight on New Year’s Eve.  Royal Blood is available now online and in stores.  It is also available at the band’s live shows as Royal Blood is currently on tour in support of its new album.  It is currently wrapping up the European leg of its tour and will be coming back to the United States beginning September 19th in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Fans can check out when Royal Blood will come to their town online now at http://www.facebook.com/RoyalBloodUK, http://www.royalbloodband.com, http://twitter.com/royalblooduk.  Fans can also keep up with the latest updates from the band via each site.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

PBS To Release New Al Capone Documentary

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS Distribution will release a brand new documentary entered on one of the most infamous criminal figures in American history this fall.

Al Capone: Icon will be released Tuesday, September 30th. The program examines Capone, his life, and why Americans remain so captivated by him to this day. It does so by examining his rise and fall from his early days in New York’s gangs to his days as one of the biggest crime bosses in America to his eventual downfall following the events of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. He is analyzed both in terms of how the public viewed him and how he was viewed by others in the country’s various criminal circles.

Capone was a polarizing figure both in his own life and in today’s America. Through this program, audiences will see his impact on the world of organized crime as well as on law enforcement. Audiences will also see how his legend has kept him such a big name in the world of pop culture and in everyday life in Chicago.

Al Capone: Icon will be available Tuesday, September 30th on DVD. It will retail for SRP of $24.99. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=43506236&cp=&kw=al+capone+icon&origkw=Al+Capone+Icon&sr=1. More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.facebook.com/pbs and http://www.pbs.org. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Lights! Camera! Menace! Is Another Must Have For Any Classic Cartoon Fan

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Dennis The Menace is one of the most beloved icons in the history of American pop culture.  What started out as a comic strip crafted by Hank Ketcham in March of 1951 went from there to become what is today a cultural phenomenon.  That comic strip spawned a live action series starring Jay North, which ran for nearly four years from October 1959 to July 1963.  It would later go on to spawn an animated series that while it ran only two seasons, remains one a favorite among audiences of all ages even today.  Earlier this year, Mill Creek Entertainment finally rewarded the patience of that series’ fans with the first half of the series’ first season on DVD.  The multi-disc set’s release marked the first time ever that the series had received a proper release.  And it proved to be a box set well worth the wait, too.  The same can be said of the new box set Lights! Camera! Menace!  Lights! Camera! Menace! is essentially Dennis The Menace Volume 2.  Why Mill Creek chose to give it a different title is anyone’s guess. Regardless, anyone that grew up with this standout cartoon series will appreciate and enjoy this latest collection of episodes just as much as its predecessor. The primary reason for that is that this set properly finishes off the series’ first season, despite what its title might lead one to think. Also, the continued family friendly writing makes this one of those rare gems that families can and should watch together. And last but not least is the series’ original hand-drawn animation. In an age when anime and CG-based children’s shows dominate the airwaves, this original true animation style serves as a reminder of the value of such animation. All three factors are important in their own right. Together, they make Lights! Camera! Menace! another must-have collection for any kid and kid at heart. They also collectively make this set another valid contender for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for children and families.

Typically, the most obvious starting point for examination of any box set would be the episodes’ scripts (I.E. the writing).  However, being that this box set and its predecessor mark the first time that this installment of the Dennis The Menace franchise has ever been released, the smarter starting point is the set’s episode listing.  Audiences will note that Lights! Camera! Menace! finishes off the first season of this classic kids’ cartoon series.  Every episode from the second half of Season One is here. The episodes are for the most part presented in the same order as they were presented in their original broadcasts.  There are some slight variances in the episode listing.  But those variances are so few that they can easily be brushed aside, making even more valuable the fact that every one of the episodes from the second half of Season One is present here.  Again, knowing this, it is anyone’s guess why this box set wasn’t simply titled Dennis The Menace Volume 2.  That’s anyone’s guess.  Regardless, the fact that it is the first time that these episodes have received a proper release and that they have all been included is the central point of this set’s success.  And it’s a solid central point at that.

That Lights! Camera! Menace! fully finishes off the first season of Dennis The Menace is a solid starting point for the newly released triple-disc box set.  Rising from that solid foundation is the writing incorporated into each of the scripts.  Dennis more than lives up to his moniker in the episodes included in this compilation.  He gets both Mr. Wilson and his own dad arrested in the set’s opening short “Sounds of the Night.”  They get arrested after being suspected of being a couple of robbers.  Of course Mr. Wilson’s argument that it was Dennis’ fault doesn’t help at all.  When Dennis’ dog Ruff accidentally runs amok on one of Mr. Wilson’s paintings, a famed art critic sees the painting and mistakes Mr. Wilson’s work for the work of someone else.  Of course, Mr. Wilson can’t convince the critic in question that the painting was his. That leads to plenty of laughs. He creates plenty of laughs as he causes trouble for Mr. Wilson and others throughout these episodes. There are also just as many laughs as he goes on various adventures with his friends and even gets them into some tight situations that ultimately come out alright, too. Whether it be his troublemaking ways with Mr. Wilson, his wildly fun adventures with his friends or even stopping spies (yes, he even stops a bad guy or two in this volume), Dennis’ adventures in Lights! Camera! Menace! will take the show’s original audiences back on a wonderful trip down memory lane. They will also show today’s young audiences what real cartoons are all about.

The fact that the episodes culled for Lights! Camera! Menace! completely finish off the first season of the classic series is a solid base for this collection. It’s great to see that the first season was finished off in full instead of just having this collection be a compilation of random episodes. Its title is a wholly different issue in itself. The writing that went into each of the episodes presented here makes this collection all the more enjoyable for viewers. The writing proves that it is possible to write good, solid cartoons without relying on crass humor. It proves that among all of the teeny-bopper and tweeny-bopper live action series out there on the networks of Nickelodeon and Disney, true worthwhile children’s programming such as Dennis The Menace still has a very relevant place in today’s television spectrum. It’s still just as entertaining today as it was in its original broadcast. The last factor that makes Lights! Camera! Menace! so enjoyable is its animation. The animation style used in this series was entirely done by hand. Just as the episodes’ writing proved to be fully original, so does that hand-drawn animation style. The only shows that came close to Dennis The Menace at the time were perhaps Heathcliff and The Real Ghostbusters.   Even as close as those shows might have been to Dennis The Menace in their animation, there were obvious stylistic differences between them, too. The key difference was the sharpness of detail. This series didn’t have that certain definition of the art in the other noted series. It was more raw for lack of better wording. A side-by-side comparison of the shows makes this much clearer. And in seeing that difference, as subtle as it is, audiences will see once more just why these classic episodes are so valuable. If audiences don’t appreciate the episodes’ writing or the fact that Mill Creek paid true tribute to the series by finishing off Season One in full, then this is sure to generate a certain appreciation for the series and the set among audiences.

Lights! Camera! Menace! is a wonderful presentation for audiences of all ages, as one should be able to tell by now. The episodes are literally family friendly in every sense. That’s thanks to solid writing that boasts so much heart. The full complement of Season One’s second half episodes makes the set even better. And the use of real hand-drawn animation finishes off this set. All three factors by themselves are important to the set’s success. Together, they make Lights! Camera! Menace! another impressive release from Mill Creek Entertainment, the packaging aside. They combine to make this set a valid contender at least for this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for children and family. Lights! Camera! Menace! is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct from Mill Creek Entertainment online at http://www.millcreekdirect.com/dennis-the-menace-lights-camera-menace-32-episodes.html. More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online at http://www.millcreekent.com, http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt, and http://twitter.com/millcreekent. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.