My Uncle Rafael Is Loaded With Laughs And Heart

Courtesy:  TNP Films

Courtesy: TNP Films

My Uncle Rafael is the best new independent movie of 2014.  And it is arguably one of the best new movies of the year, too.  Originally released in 2012, its release this week on DVD marks the first time that it has seen the light of day in home release format.  And while it obviously owes a certain amount of its success to Robin Williams’ 1993 hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire, it still manages to stand strong on its own merits as a movie that is at least somewhat original in its presentation.  That is the central point of the movie’s success.  It has all the heart and wit of Mrs. Doubtfire without Robin Williams’ cross-dressing and manic character portrayal.  And while it does maintain at least some similarity in its approach to the family-fixing plotline, it approaches the issue through a multi-cultural avenue rather than that of a desperate father. Sign of the times, it would seem.  Just as important to the movie’s enjoyment is the acting on the part of the movie’s cast.  It would have been so simple for the cast, which is relatively well-known and experienced to treat the movie like the independent movie that it is.  But each member of the cast approached this work with the same seriousness used in its other performances.  The professional approach taken by the cast of My Uncle Rafael adds so much enjoyment to the movie.  It adds so much especially considering the quality of the movie’s production values.  While released via an independent studio—TNP Films—the movie’s production values are just as quality as anything released by any of Hollywood’s “Power 5” studios.  That actor, along with the work of the cast and of the movie’s writers, makes My Uncle Rafael a complete joy for audiences of almost any age.  Again, it isn’t the first time that the story presented here has been utilized for a movie.  But its execution makes it a move well worth the watch.

The story that is presented in My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  It is the story of an outsider coming into a family’s home and fixing said family.  It has been used numerous times in the past.  In 1993, it was presented in the hit movie Mrs. Doubtfire. Two years prior, it was used in pro-wrestling legend Terry “Hulk” Hogan’s family comedy Suburban Commando.  And to a lesser extent it was also used in Vin Diesel’s 2005 flash-in-the-pan flick The Pacifier.  It could even be argued that a similar formula was used way back in the 1989 John Candy dramedy Uncle Buck.  Considering all of this, it leaves one wondering how many other ways in which the “family fix” formula could be used without it being stale and unoriginal.  Enter My Uncle Rafael.  My Uncle Rafael (not to be confused with Joe Pesci’s 1992 dramedy My Cousin Vinny—yes that bad pun was intended) takes the classic “family fix” formula and updates it by incorporating a multi-cultural theme into the story.  Most interesting here is the fact that the duo used an elderly Middle Eastern man as the movie’s central figure.  This was really interesting especially considering the tensions between Americans and those of Middle Eastern descent currently living in the United States.  It’s an angle that few if any writers would even begin to attempt.  For that alone, Pirhamzei and Yagemann are deserving of a certain amount of credit.  That the duo didn’t try to make a direct light of Rafael’s nationality as a soap box makes the script even more worthy of applause.  Omitting that from the script makes the rest of the story far more enjoyable and in turn more memorable.

The script behind My Uncle Rafael is not the first of its kind.  That goes without saying.  But there are aspects of the script that make it surprisingly enjoyable.  As enjoyable as the movie’s script proves to be in the long run, it would be nothing without the abilities of the movie’s cast.  John Michael Higgins (Yes Man, Happily Divorced, Bad Teacher) brings plenty of experience to the movie as do Missi Pyle (The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Gone Girl), Anthony Clark (Yes, Dear, Boston Common, Soul Man), Joe Lo Truglio (Role Models, Wreck-It-Ralph, Pineapple Express), Carly Chaikin (Suburgatory, The Last Song, In A World…), and Rachel Blanchard (Clueless—TV Series, 7th Heaven, Are You Afraid of the Dark).  The competition between Higgins’ Damon and Clark’s Jack makes for plenty of laughs.  It is a competition much like that seen in Mrs. Doubtfire.  Missi Pyle is just as entertaining as she becomes caught up in the movie’s central love triangle all while trying to maintain her place as mother to her children.  But it is really Vahik Pirhamzei’s portrayal of the loveable Uncle Rafael that really shines.  Pirhamzei’s portrayal gives Uncle Rafael so much heart and warmth.  He makes Rafael loveable not only to his fellow characters but to audiences, too.  One can’t help but agree in watching Rafael that maybe the uncle really is at the center of everything.  Only audiences that watch the movie or have watched it will get that reference.  In hindsight, Rafael’s portrayal makes that line make perfect sense.  That isn’t to take away from Pirhamzei’s cast mates by any means.  Both the more well-known actors and the lesser known cast members add their own enjoyment to the story in whole, too.  But it is his portrayal that holds everything together and makes each of his cast mates’ portrayals all the more entertaining with the end result of the cast in general doing its own part to show once again why My Uncle Rafael  is this year’s best new independent movie and one of the year’s best movies overall.

The writing that went into My Uncle Rafael and the acting on the part of the movie’s cast both play their own important part in the overall success of this surprisingly entertaining story.  Rounding out the presentation is its production values.  Being that this movie is independent, one would think that it would not have the production values of its bigger name family friendly counterparts that have come before.  But the reality is that its production values are quite high.  That includes the movie’s cinematography, its backdrops, costumes, and all other elements that went into bringing the movie to life.  Having such quality production values, it makes sense that the largely veteran cast would want its portrayals to be just as high quality.  The combination of that high quality acting and equally high quality production values adds to the ability of audiences to suspend their disbelief and in turn allow themselves to be immersed into the story and thus offer it the chance that it quite well deserves.  In giving it the chance that it deserves, audiences will agree that this movie is just as enjoyable as its more well-known predecessors and that it is one of this year’s best new movies as well as the year’s best new independent movie.

My Uncle Rafael is available now on DVD in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct via Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/My-Uncle-Rafael-Anthony-Clark/dp/B00O1D3AN6/ref=sr_1_2?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1418861938&sr=1-2&keywords=my+uncle+rafael.  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.

Inspector Lewis’ Seventh Series Is A Welcome Return For One Of Television’s Greatest Crime Dramas

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Never say never.  Famous words.  Everybody has said or heard these words at one time or another.  That includes the world of popular entertainment.  So it goes without saying that when itv wrapped Inspector Lewis in its sixth series in 2013 the instant reaction was for audiences to say never say never.  Low and behold Inspector Lewis returned earlier this year overseas for its seventh series.  And PBS brought in Series Seven this fall.  Now, for those that weren’t lucky enough to see Series Seven, PBS and ITV have made it available both on DVD and Blu-ray.  Inspector Lewis Series Seven is a welcome return for what has become over the years one of the greatest crime dramas on television.  The proof lies first and foremost in the writing behind each of the series’ episodes.  The writing even in these three episodes is just as strong as in earlier episodes.  The acting on the part of lead stars Kevin Whaley and Laurence Fox.  The same can be said of new addition Angela Griffin as DS Lizzie Maddox.  Whately and Fox haven’t lost a step.  And Griffin brings in a whole new dynamic to the program that makes it even more enjoyable.  The writing and acting are of equal importance to the overall presentation of Inspector Lewis Series Seven.  Also to be considered to the success and enjoyment of this installment of Inspector Lewis is the fact that it maintains the standard set by the show years ago when Inspector Lewis in terms of not using overt sex, blood, and violence unlike the crime dramas that dominate American television.  That the show’s heads would maintain that standard all these years later is a testament to their dedication to the show’s fan base.  It rounds out the whole thing, making it again well deserving of a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets.

When itv wrapped Series Six of Inspector Lewis, it wasn’t too much of a forgone conclusion that somewhere along the line, Inspector Lewis would be back in some form or fashion regardless of whether or not it would be part of the series that made him such a beloved figure.  That’s especially the case considering the success of the series’ prequel series Endeavour.  So seeing Inspector Lewis’ return for a seventh series was quite the welcome return albeit not too surprising.  It goes without saying that expectations were high when it was even announced that Inspector Lewis would in fact return for a seventh season.  And thankfully this series has lived up to the hype.  It has lived up to the hype primarily through the writing behind each of the series’ three episodes.  One of the key examples of how the writing this time out keeps Inspector Lewis such a fan favorite comes in the episode “The Lions of Nemea.”  There are more than enough twists and turns in this episode to keep audiences guessing right up to the end.  The mystery starts right off the top when a well-respected professor is intentionally hit by a mystery driver while on his bike.  From there, the murder of a student at the same university where that professor works deepens the mystery even more.  The revelations of illicit affairs, literary fraud, and murder will keep audiences on the edge of their seats trying to solve the mystery themselves.  In the series’ closer, audiences’ minds are left twisted when one of Lewis’ most notorious cases comes back to haunt him and even threaten his career.  Surprisingly enough, the story’s closing moments leave the door wide open for another collection of episodes should the show’s heads opt for it to happen.  Even in the series’ opening episode “Entry Wounds” audiences will agree to the strength of the show’s writing.  Lewis’ desire to return to the force is made entirely believable thanks to the show’s writers.  What’s more, the growing relationship between Lewis and Hathaway and their new partner make this series all the more enjoyable.  Audiences will laugh at little jokes tossed in here and there in regards to Maddox’s having to answer to both detectives.  At one point, Maddox is asked by another officer how things are going with her boss. Her response is a flat “which one?”  One can’t help but laugh at her deadpan delivery of that simple line.  Again, the writers put the line at just the right moment to make it a good lighthearted break from the seriousness of investigating the crime at hand.  It’s just one of a number of moments that along with the stories themselves, exemplifies the strength of this series’ episodes.

Lewis and Hathaway built a strong working relationship and an equally solid friendship throughout the course of Inspector Lewis’ first six series.  The addition of Lizzie Maddox adds a whole new dynamic to the pair’s relationship.  It is highlighted expertly throughout the course of all three episodes in this series.  In terms of the show’s writing, the trio’s partnership and their friendship play a big role in the success of the episodes’ writing.  If not for the acting on the part of the trio though, the writing in regards to the trio’s personal and professional relationship would be moot.  Luckily, the chemistry developed by Laurence Fox and Kevin Whaley during the duo’s original run together had not lost anything in these episodes.  Whether sharing a joke in one of their more lighthearted moments or handling a tougher topic in one of their more serious moments, both men are fully believable.  Fox and Laurence even make believable even the slight tension in Lewis’ return before their characters reconnect as if not a day had been missed.  Angela Griffin is just as believable even in what very quickly becomes more of a supporting role.  Should Inspector Lewis pull off a miracle and see an eighth series, it would be interesting to see Maddox develop even more into her own character.  If an eighth series is not in the books, then it can at least be said of Griffin that she adds her own enjoyment to the overall product thanks to her own acting.  All three together pull viewers into their world, making suspension of disbelief so simple along the way.  The end result of the trio’s acting, and its interpretation of the scripts, is total immersion in and enjoyment of all three ninety-minute episodes.  It serves to show yet again why Inspector Lewis is just as enjoyable in its seventh series as in its first.

The scripts behind Inspector Lewis’ seventh series and the acting on the part of its veteran cast both play pivotal roles in the success of this series’ episodes.  Fox, Whately, and newcomer Griffin expertly interpret each episode’s script and in turn fully immerses viewers in each story.  The scripts themselves will keep audiences fully engaged and guessing right up to their final moments.  As if that isn’t enough, the episodes that make up Series Seven maintain the high standard set by the show’s previous series.  Simply put, Inspector Lewis remained in its seventh series the polar opposite of the crime dramas that populate American commercial networks.  There is no overt sexuality.  There is no unnecessary violence, gunplay, etc.  And the amount of blood and gore is kept to the same minimum as in the show’s previous series.  Again, this is the total opposite of all of the crime dramas that are so popular on American television.  Rather, the show continued here to focus on story and character development as is evident in the episodes’ scripts and the acting on the part of the cast.  Those factors, together with the continued high standard of content overall, round out the reasons that Inspector Lewis remains such a hit in its seventh series.  They collectively show once more why this series is quite well-deserving of a spot on any critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets.

Inspector Lewis: Series Seven is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.  It can be ordered online direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=46782166&cp=&sr=1&kw=inspector+lewis&origkw=Inspector+Lewis&parentPage=search.  More information on Inspector Lewis is available online now at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/lewis/

Facebook: http://twitter.com/masterpiecepbs

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 Investigates Effects Of Climate Change On Arctic Ecosystem In New Episode Of Nature

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

PBS is giving audiences another reason to stay indoors and stay warm next month with the release of another episode of its hit wildlife series Nature on DVD.

PBS will release Nature: Invasion of the Killer Whales on Tuesday, January 20th. Nature: Invasion of the Killer Whales focuses on a major change in the ecosystem of the Arctic. It is a change that has resulted from global warming and the gradual disappearance of Arctic ice. As the once massive amounts of ice that one populated the Arctic disappear, so does the number of killer whales inordinately increase. The number of killer whales increases because they are being provided with more territory in which to hunt. By contrast, it also means that there is less territory in which polar bears—the once kings of the arctic—have to hunt.

Audiences are presented interviews with native Inuit who discuss the increasing number of killer whales in the Arctic and how it has actually helped them. At the same time, the other side of the proverbial coin is presented as scientists discuss how both humans and killer whales hunting the narwhal is not necessarily a good thing as it increases competition for resources. They go on to argue that this could greatly and negatively affect the lifestyle of the Inuit people. They go on to argue how the decrease in Arctic ice could lead to drastically negative effects on the polar bear population, too.

Nature: Invasion of the Killer Whales will retail for $19.99. It can be ordered online direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=51197006&cp=1378003.2831221&sr=1&origkw=nature&parentPage=family. More information on this and other episodes of Nature is available online at:

Website: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PBSNature

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.

Full Band Lineup Announced For 2015 Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival

Courtesy:  BSG PR

Courtesy: BSG PR

The organizers of the annual Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival have announced the complete lineup for the 2015 edition of the festival.

The festival’s organizers announced previously that Rancid, Refused, and Dropkick Murphys will share the bill as the headliners for this year festival.  It was also previously announced that The Muffs, Bad Manners, Swingin’ Utters, Discharge, and The Business had all been tapped to perform this year.  Now it has been announced that along with all of those bands, another group of bands has been added to this year’s festival.  Those bands are:  Sick Of It All, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, Anti-Flag, A Wilhelm Scream, Mahones, Sniper 66, PEARS, I.R.A., Success!, Get Dead, Avenue Rockers, Eliza Battle, Sounds of Threat, and Battle Born.  Festival founder Mark Stern was upbeat when discussing the official announcement.  He discussed not only his pleasure at having all of the bands for this year’s festival in place, but the importance of having them on board.  “We are very excited about the 2015 lineup” he said.  “We strive to keep things fresh and over 80% of these bands have never appeared at PRB. With bands from all over the States as well as Sweden, UK, Canada and even Columbia, it’s going to be another classic Punk Rock Bowing weekend!”

The 2015 edition of the three-day festival will take place over the course of May 23rd – 25thin Las Vegas, NV.  It will be held on 7th Street and Stewart Avenue near the city’s famed Fremont Street.  All of the latest updates on band lineup, ticket information, and more is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.punkrockbowling.com

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Punk-Rock-Bowling-and-Music-Festival/288077407910557

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/PRBCommittee

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.

Like Monroe Joining Mushroomhead On The Road To Open New Year

Courtesy:  eOne Entertainment

Courtesy: eOne Entertainment

Houston, Texas-based Like Monroe has announced that it will join Mushroomhead this winter.

Like Monroe will join Mushroomhead beginning Thursday, January 8th in Erie, PA. The band will serve as a co-support act for Mushroomhead alongside Thira. The upcoming tour dates are part of the band’s tour schedule in support of its latest full-length studio release Things We Think, But Never Speak, out now via eOne Entertainment. Like Monroe guitarist Wade Concienne spoke on behalf of the band expressing the band’s being tapped to join Mushroomhead. “We are excited to take on the road with these talented guys,” he said. “We encourage everyone to try and make it out to one of these tour dates because each and every show will be full of energy and bands that will put on an awesome show!” The band’s tour includes a pair of dates in North Carolina on January 15th and 16th in Winston-Salem and Jacksonville respectively. The band’s current schedule of dates is listed below.

Jan 08 Basement Transmissions Theatre w/ Thira Erie, PA
Jan 09 Montage Music Hall w/ Thira Rochester, NY
Jan 10 The Altar Bar w/ Thira Pittsburgh, PA
Jan 11 Empire w/ Thira Springfield, VA
Jan 13 Shakas Virginia Beach, VA
Jan 14 Capone’s w/ Thira Johnson City, TN
Jan 15 Ziggy’s By The Sea w/ Thira Winston Salem, NC
Jan 16 Hooligan’s w/ Thira Jacksonville, NC
Jan 17 Ground Zero w/ Thira Spartanburg, SC
Jan 18 Zydeco w/ Thira Birmingham, AL
Jan 19 Soul Kitchen w/ Thira Mobile, AL
Jan 20 Scout Bar w/ Thira Houston, TX
Jan 21 210 KAPONES LIVE San Antonio, TX
Jan 22 Trees w/ Thira Dallas, TX
Jan 23 Rock 3405 w/ Thira Joplin, MO
Jan 24 Clarksville w/ Thira Erode, India
Jan 25 The International w/ Thira Knoxville, TN

All of the latest updates on Like Monroe’s tour schedule and all of the latest updates from the band are available online at:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/likemonroeband

Twitter: http://twitter.com/likemonroeband

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.

Saints, Bears Face Off Tonight In Important NFC Match To Close Out Week Fifteen

Courtesy:  ESPN

Courtesy: ESPN

Week fifteen of the NFL’s 2014-2015 season closes tonight with what will be one of the season’s most important match ups.

Tonight on ESPN, The New Orleans Saints (5 – 8 – 0) take on the Chicago Bears (5 – 8 – 0) in an NFC conference face-off. A win tonight for the Saints would have major playoff implications. That’s because after Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Panthers are now also at 5 – 8 – 1. A Saints win would push New Orleans to 6 – 8 – 0 so far on the season. A win would be especially big for the Saints as right now the NFC South in whole is the league’s worst division. For Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears, a win tonight would tie Chicago with Minnesota in the NFC North at 6 – 8 – 0.  It’s not much, considering that Chicago has essentially been marked out of the playoff picture.  But a win would mean not being the worst team in its division. The Saints are only 1- 4 in their last five games while Chicago has struggled just as much going 2 – 3 in its last five games. However Chicago is in the midst of a two-game skid. So the Bears will be looking to snap that streak. And being at home, Chicago will be especially hungry for a win tonight.

Coverage of tonight’s game on ESPN kicks off at 6pm ET on Monday Night Countdown. Host Suzy Kolber will be joined by NFL analysts Trent Dilfer, Mike Ditka, Ray Lewis, and Steve Young. Chris Berman will be live in studio from ESPN’s headquarters for the broadcast. He will be joined by analysts Cris Carter, Tom Jackson and Keyshawn Johnson alongside ESPN NFL Insiders Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. Mike Tirico will have the call for tonight’s game. He will be joined in the booth by analyst Jon Gruden. Lisa Salters will have all of the latest reports throughout the game from the sidelines.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8:15pm ET. ESPN’s Spanish-speaking viewers can catch the game on television via ESPN Deportes. And fans on the go can watch the game online via WatchESPN as long as they have subscriptions from affiliated providers. More information on tonight’s game and all things NFL is available online at:

Website: http://espn.go.com/nfl/mnf
http://espn.go.com/nfl

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MNF

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.

Dan Crow’s New Album Will “Fly” With Kids, Grown-Ups Alike

Courtesy:  Alls House Family Entertainment

Courtesy: Alls House Family Entertainment

The realm of children’s music is one of the most underrated within the music industry. Even now in the 21st century, there is still something of a stigma attached to children’s music. The reason for that is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s just because it’s music meant for children. But in comparison to the glut of cookie cutter acts across the genres in the world of grown-up music, albums released in recent years within the world of children’s music have proven to be far more creative and in turn entertaining for audiences of all ages. As the Crow Flies, the latest release from educator and children’s entertainer Dan Crow is proof positive of this. Crow’s new album boasts an interesting mix of music throughout the course of its twelve songs and roughly forty minute run time. It is anchored by a trio of songs that teach some important lessons and entertain at the same time. The first of that trio is the simply-titled anti-bullying song ‘Bully Girl and Bully Boy.’ Crow teaches his young audiences about the folly of being a bully through this song. In ‘Too Much Stuff,’ Crow presents a simplistic start to what is in reality a much deeper topic in the issue of having a messy room. The topic in question is one of health safety. And if one wanted to, one could even say that it could lead to a discussion on hoarding, as hoarding can even begin in childhood. So as simple as this song seems, it really proves to be an important addition to Crow’s new album. Last of the album’s three strongest moments on As The Crow Flies is the pro-literacy song ‘Dig Deep Down.’ Any song that promotes literacy and even reading books in a digital age is well worth the listen and worthy of respect. All three of the songs noted are good examples of what makes As The Crow Flies enjoyable. They are only a portion of what Crow offers audiences, too. The album’s closer ‘Greyfriar’s Bobby’ is a wonderful piece based on the real-life story of a Skye Terrier that spent fourteen years at the grave of its master John Gray, who was allegedly a police officer for the Edinburgh City Police sometime in the late 19th century. The song incorporates an actual Celtic sound, making the song even more enjoyable especially for those that are fans of the Celtic sound (this critic included). Crow also offers audiences an updated take on the children’s standard ‘Apples and Bananas.’ And then there is the fun ‘Playground,’ whose energy and lyrical side together do a good job of illustrating both the energy felt by kids as they play and the need to get kids active. These songs also exemplify what Dan Crow has to offer in his new album. They and the other songs not noted here come together with the album’s trio of anchors to make As The Crow Flies another good example of why children’s music deserves just as much credit as any music crafted for grown-ups.

Dan Crow shows throughout the course of his new album As The Crow Flies that he has plenty to offer audiences of all ages. His album is one more that proves despite its reputation in some circles, music for children is just as viable a genre as that for grown-ups if not more so. One way in which it proves this is Through one of the album’s anchors, ‘Bully Girl and Bully Boy.’ The song is a strong and solid anchor both in its simple title and its equally simplistic lyrical approach. Bullying is an important issue that needs to remain on the front burner whether it be across the United States or in other parts of the world. And Mr. Crow is to be applauded for doing his part in the ongoing battle against bullies in this song. He writes in this song about the folly of being a bully, hoping to get potential bullies to see how pointless their actions are. He writes, “Now if you are a hobbledehoy/Don’t become a bully boy/Misbehaving like a churl/That makes you a bully girl/To pick on others brings you joy/That makes you a bully boy/A banner of meanness you unfurl/That makes you a bully girl.” He goes on in this same vein through the song’s second verse, explaining how different actions make a person a bully. There’s a certain attitude in his delivery that indirectly points the finger at people who engage in such acts. But he doesn’t do so in an accusatory fashion, either. It’s sort of Crow saying, “you know who you are” without actually saying it. He refrains in the song’s chorus that “Bully boy and bully girl/We don’t need bullies in this world.” He’s right. We don’t need bullies in this world. We don’t need bullies whether they be children or adults. Crow’s approach in sending this message helps to make both the song and the message more enjoyable and memorable among the album’s other songs.

The message sent through Crow’s anti-bullying song ‘Bully Girl and Bully Boy’ is an important piece of the whole that is As The Crow Flies. It comes at a time when every volley against bullying that can be used should. It is such a simplistic song. Yet it sends an important message without being preachy at the same time, making it a song that children and grown-ups alike will appreciate. It’s only one of the important additions to the album in whole, too. Just as important of an addition is the song ‘Too Much Stuff.’ As with ‘Bully Girl and Bully Boy,’ Crow has taken a simplistic approach with this song. His approach is simplistic both musically and lyrically. He writes in this song about a young person that simply put, has too much stuff in his or her room. He writes, “The pile of toys is very steep/I think I’ll climb it before I sweep/Here’s the fins I use to swim/And a basketball, and here’s the rim.” That verse alone paints a rather vivid picture. The scary thing is that there are people that live like this. Children aren’t the only ones, either. He goes on to write, “Clothes are here and clothes are there/And books are scattered everywhere/Papers cover up the floor/Cleaning up is such a chore.” Again, the image is rather clear. And so is the message. And again, there are adults that live in such squalor, too. So adults could get as much from this as children. It probably wasn’t Mr. Crow’s intention to craft a song in ‘Too Much Stuff’ that presented itself as the door to a much bigger issue. But it most certainly could be the starting point in discussing at least with children the importance of a clean room (and clean house). A clean room helps keep out all kinds of things from mold and mildew to even the potential of other things (god forbid). A clean room is a very important issue in terms of health. A clean room is also a room in which it is safe to walk around without fear of hurting one’s self in one way or another. So yet again, here we have Crow tackling a very serious topic in a way that makes it accessible to young audiences. It also makes it accessible enough that parents and teachers alike could use it as a starting point in a discussion with those young audiences about the importance of cleanliness and even personal health. For that, he is to be applauded yet again. It makes clear once more why he is an award-winning musician. And it makes even clearer why As The Crow Flies works as well as it does.

Both ‘Too Much Stuff’ and ‘Bully Girl and Bully Boy’ are important and enjoyable additions to Dan Crow’s new album As The Crow Flies. They both tackle very serious topics in a manner that makes them accessible to both children and grown-ups. They are simplistic enough that they will entertain young audiences while serving as good starting points for discussions on their given topics. What’s more they serve as said starting points without being preachy, too. That is even more impressive. They aren’t the only songs on this album that are so impressive. Crow’s pro-literacy song ‘Dig Down Deep’ deserves attention, too. Crow writes in this song about the joys of reading, plain and simple. He writes, “Reading is a pleasure and it passes the time/In my imagination and I keep it in mind/Like humor and adventure/The things people tried/And when the book is finished I feel so satisfied.” Any bibliophile out there will agree to Crow’s sentiment. Though sometimes, it’s just as tough to want to finish a book when it’s a really good one. But anyway, he writes about going to the library to check out a book in the song’s lead verse, and of being excited to find a shady place to sit and read said book. Again, the image is so vivid. It’s an image that sadly so few of today’s youths can envision considering that everything seems to be going digital. Digital is fine as a companion. But in the view of this critic in particular, the digital will never replace the physical object. We as adults need to make sure that books stay around as physical objects. And we need to make sure that the next generation grows up with more love for books than video games. There is nothing wrong with the digital industry taking on a bigger role in the world’s economy and schools. But it should not overtake the importance of a child’s ability to read. As Crow sings, “We’ve got a lot of reading to do.” We sure do. And hopefully we always will have a lot of reading to do for generations to come. Yet again, it’s such a hefty topic approached in a manner that makes it enjoyable and accessible for audiences young and old alike. It’s one more piece that makes As The Crow Flies enjoyable and that makes it work as well as it does.

Dan Crow has plenty to offer audiences on his new album, as should be evident here. He offers some pretty hefty topics in an accessible fashion. They make for good starting points for longer discussions on the topics in question. For all of the seriousness that he handles on As The Crow Flies, Crow also offers some more easygoing pieces, too. One example of that comes in the form of the album’s closer ‘Greyfriar’s Bobby,’ which is based on the story of a real life Scottish Skye Terrier. The song outlines the dog’s devotion to its master, who was apparently a night watchman for the Edinburgh City Police sometime in the late 19th Century. The song’s Celtic sound and even Crow’s own attempt to sing with a little bit of a Celtic tongue adds to the song’s enjoyment. Crow also offers on his new album an updated take on the standard children’s song ‘Apples and Bananas.’ Instead of using apples and bananas in his updated take, he uses gravy and potatoes as the pneumonic devices to teach the vowels. And it’s all sung in much the same fashion as ‘Apples and Bananas’ just with a slight EDM twist about it. It’s definitely an interesting piece to hear. As if all of this isn’t enough, Crow also offers late in the album a piece simply titled ‘Playground.’ Crow and his fellow musicians do a good job of exhibiting the energy felt by a child who wants to go out and play as Crow sings about all the joys of childhood play on the playground. From playing hopscotch to climbing on a jungle gym to swinging on the swings (always a childhood favorite…..perhaps because of the freedom one feels when swinging) and so much more, all of those pleasures are there. And much like the album’s core trio of songs, it could really serve as a starting point for a discussion on the need for play and getting kids active. That is especially the case considering childhood obesity remains such a hot button topic today. It’s just one more example of why As The Crow Flies is so enjoyable and why it works as well as it does.

Crow has shown a certain understanding of child mentality and of music and its power throughout As The Crow Flies. Whether it be these additional pieces, the album’s core songs or the others not noted here, each piece on this album works in its own way to make As The Crow Flies an album that every parent, teacher, and child should hear at least once. Who knows? They might be jumping for joy just as Crow himself does on the album’s cover after giving it a chance. They might even be jumping for joy when they experience his music live. Crow is currently touring in support of As The Crow Flies. He is scheduled to perform live this Thursday and Friday, December 18th and 19th in Los Angeles. Audiences can get the full details on those upcoming shows and keep up with the latest updates from Crow online at: http://www.dancrow.com.

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