‘League Of Super Pets’ Is Not Super, But Still Worth Watching

Courtesy: Warner Brothers/Warner Animation Group/DC Entertainment

In 2005 when Warner Brothers brought Superman’s canine friend Krypto to the small screen in his own series, it marked the first time ever that any of the DC Entertainment Universe’s animal superheroes had ever gotten its own attention.  Prior to the series’ premiere, DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers had only focused on DC’s human and superhuman stars, so it was a key step in the companies’ attempt to expand DC’s comics to screen universe.  The series less than two years from March 2005 to December 2006, spanning just two seasons and even incorporated Krypto’s original Legion of Superheroes cohort Streaky the cat.  After the series ended, Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment largely abandoned any plans for any future Super Pets properties on TV and in theaters.  However, late last month, the companies brought some of DC’s super pets back to the screen again, this time in theaters in the form of League of Super Pets.  The movie, which made its theatrical debut July 29, is a mostly entertaining presentation, though is not perfect.  The main positive in this movie is its story, which will be discussed shortly.  While the story is enjoyable for the whole family (albeit not entirely accurate to the comics), the story does have one troubling aspect, that being the use of some adult language.  This will be discussed a little later.  It is not enough to doom the movie, so to that end, there is at least one more positive to note in the form of the cast’s work.  This will also be addressed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of this movie.  All things considered they make League of Super Pets a mostly successful new take on DC’s Legion of Super Pets comic book and new family flick.

League of Super Pets, DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers’ latest addition to the ever-expanding DC Entertainment Universe, is a mostly successful overall presentation.  The movie’s story is really the key to its success.  The story in question finds Krypto, Superman’s canine friend having to assemble a group of super powered animals to help save the big blue boy scout after a guinea pig named Lulu (voiced by Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters, Saturday Night Live, Bombshell) bent on world domination kidnaps him and the rest of the Justice League members.  The other animals (which are not original members of the League of Super Pets from the 1962 comic book), gained their powers thanks to some orange kryptonite that broke off of an orange kryptonite meteorite and was captured by said megalomaniacal guinea pig.  The unexpected group of heroes ends up saving the day after Lex Luthor turns on Lulu, and Krypto learns a valuable lesson about friendship along the way.  Meanwhile, the other Super Pets – Ace, Chip, Merton, and PB – all end up being rescued and adopted by the other Justice League members.  There is some accuracy and inaccuracy here.  Ace has always been known to be Batman’s dog, while Chip has had a tie to the Green Lantern Corps.  PB meanwhile was never Wonder Woman’s pet.  She was Circes’ pet in the comics, but that can be forgiven.  The very message about the importance of rescuing shelter pets that is clearly tied into the story makes that forgivable.  Shelter pets need forever homes, so having that accented here in a less than preachy fashion is so welcome.  The friendships between Krypto and the group will resonate with audiences of all ages as the group takes on Lulu and Lex.

While the story featured in League of Super Pets is engaging and entertaining, there is at least one problem within the story.  That problem is the use of some adult language throughout the movie.  The language in question comes from Merton (voiced by Natasha Lyonne – Orange is the New Black, American Pie, Slums of Beverly Hills).  Lyonne is not to blame here, but rather the movie’s writers.  There are points where Merton clearly is meant to be using a certain foul word since it is bleeped out.  At other points, she uses clearly other foul language that is also bleeped out.  Merton is not the only one who uses some questionable language.  There is a young kitten (yes, a kitten – IE child) who says to the super pets, “See you in heck” as it tries to kill them.  Considering that this movie is rated PG and is meant to be a family friendly flick, having that language in there, even censored, is still disappointing.  That the movie’s writers and creative heads felt the need to go blue in a family movie really does detract from the movie’s appeal, and parents need to be aware of this aspect. 

While the questionable language that is peppered throughout the movie is problematic, it is not enough to make the movie a failure.  The work of the movie’s cast works with the story to make for more appeal.  Dwayne Johnson leads the way as Krypto.  At first, the announcement that he was going to take on the role was questioned by many, and justifiably so.  That is because of his current body of work.  His current body of work is composed of action flicks and very specific tough guy type roles.  It leads one to imagine Johnson giving Krypto such style persona.  Thankfully that was not the case.  He actually made Krypto endearing, showing his ability to adapt to the role. 

On a related note, Kevin Hart, who has also developed himself into a very specific type of actor, pulls back here, too.  His typically annoying, over the top approach to his roles is nonexistent here, which is appealing.  The vulnerability that he brings to Ace as Ace talks abut how he ended up at the shelter balances well with Ace’s more confident side to make Ace a well-rounded character in his own right.  McKinnon really does well in her own right to bring out Lulu’s megalomaniacal nature, too.  She does so well to make Lulu’s diabolical nature so funny and believable at the same time.  Between the performances put on by Johnson, Hart, and McKinnon, and those of the rest of the cast, the whole makes the cast’s overall work just as engaging as the movie’s story.  Those two items together make the movie in general worth watching at least once, even with the concerns of the occasional unnecessary foul language in mind.

League of Super Pets, the latest addition to Warner Brothers and DC’s ever-expanding universe, is an interesting presentation.  It succeeds in part because of its story.  The story finds Krypto having to form a new group of furry super powered friends to save the Justice League.  Along the way, he also has to learn about friendship and teamwork, which will resonate with plenty of audiences. While the story featured in this movie is accessible for audiences of all ages, the occasional use of some questionable language is disappointing.  That is the case even with it being censored.  There was no need for the movie’s writers to go blue and ruin what is otherwise a family friendly atmosphere throughout the story.  It is not enough to doom the movie but is certainly a concern.  The cast’s work pairs with the story to make for more engagement and entertainment.  That is because the cast’s performances are so believable.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of this movie.  All things considered League of Super Pets proves maybe not super but still worth watching at least once.

League of Super Pets is playing now.  The movie’s home release date is under consideration.  More information on this and other titles from Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment is available at https://dc.com

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com

‘The Batman’ Is The Most Unique Batman Movie To Date

Courtesy: Warner Brothers/DC Entertainment

More than 83 years ago, Batman, one of the world’s most famous comic book characters, made his first appearance in the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics (Issue #27).  In the nearly 85 years since the Dark Knight made his debut on the printed page, he has had countless stories told both in print and on screen.  Fans of all ages have their favorite version of the big, black bat (longtime fans will get that reference) throughout that time, too.  Audiences got a whole new story of Batman in March when Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment debuted The Batman.  This take of the Batman mythos is the most unique addition to the Batman universe to date.  That is due in large part to its collective presentation style and story, which will be discussed shortly.  The cast’s work on screen makes for its own interest and will be discussed a little later.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie in is recent home release is just as much of note as the movie’s primary content and will also be examined hater.  Each item noted here plays its own important part in the movie’s overall presentation.  All things considered they make this movie one more of this year’s top new theatrical releases.

The Batman, the latest addition to Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment’s decades-long series of Batman movies, is the single most unique entry in that realm.  It is completely separate unlike any of its predecessors both in terms of its stylistic approach and its story, both of which are tied together.  It is the first time in the franchise’s history that a Batman movie has been so gritty and that one of the franchise’s movies has focused more on story than say special effects and Batman’s gadgets (including the Batmobile).  As writer/director Matt Reeves points out in the movie’s bonus content (which will be discussed later), the intent here was to craft a movie that was in fact a detective story, not just another comic book to film tale.  It was meant to present Batman doing what he has done best for decades, solving mysteries.  In this case, it found Batman trying to solve the mystery of The Riddler’s sadistic, homicidal quest to bring his own justice to Gotham City before The Riddler can commit his crimes.  It is more of a hard-boiled film noir style presentation than the movies that audiences have come to know over the decades, and that is wholly a good thing.  There is no 1960s-era cheekiness here.  There is not even any of Tim Burton’s approach here.  If anything, this clearly Hush-esque story feels more like a natural progression of the gritty approach taken by Reeves’ predecessor, Christopher Nolan, in his Batman trilogy.  As noted, the focus is on Batman/Bruce Wayne’s abilities as a human detective and less on his toys (again, longtime Batman fans will get that reference), and that really is a nice change of pace.  That unique approach really gives the movie its own identity separate from the other Batman movies out there.  What’s more even being as long as it is (clocking in at just shy of 3 hours), the story still manages to keep audiences engaged and entertained even despite the issues posed by that length and related pacing.

Speaking of the movie’s run time and pacing, that really does collectively detract from the viewing experience.  From beginning to end, there is so much brooding, even more than ever before.  What’s more, there are so many plot elements and so many twists and turns that the story really does get bogged down in itself by the end.  Speaking of the end, it seems like Reeves and company could not seem to figure out how to end the movie.  From Falcone’s arrest to the chase with the Penguin, to Edward’s arrest and the long sequence that follows, there is just so much in the final act that it is too much.  Reeves and company could have ended the movie at so many points therein, but in going on as long as they did, it makes the story feel that much more like it just plods along.  Considering that the story already plods along at such a slow pace as is, that only hurts it that much more.  Keeping that in mind, the story is unique but is far from perfect.  It really requires audiences to fully immerse themselves in the story and be ready and willing to sit through it all.  Those who are ready and willing to sit through it all will agree that the story is, again, unique, just too long for itself.  It is not enough to doom the story, but certainly does detract from the movie’s overall presentation.

While the story featured in The Batman is a mixed bag, something that is more of a positive overall is the work of the movie’s cast.  Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga) plays the part of a troubled young Bruce Wayne surprisingly well here.  He is actually that believable as he takes on what is one of the most iconic roles in modern movie history.  There are no hints of that glittery vampire that he portrayed in the Twilight saga.  Here, audiences get from him a Bruce Wayne/Batman who is emotionally lost.  He is trying to make sense of the tragedy that had consumed Bruce for such a long time.  Perhaps part of the reason that he does so well is that this movie is not just another origin story.  This is not even a Year One story (which is also discussed in the bonus content).  This is Bruce Wayne at a pivotal point in his life and role as Gotham’s protector, coming of age in a manner of speaking.  Pattinson’s ability to interpret Bruce’s emotional and mental state here is so immersive, so kudos goes to him for his performance.

On another note, co-star Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, 12 Years a Slave, Little Miss Sunshine) is just as noteworthy in his diabolical performance as The Riddler/Edward Nash (yes, they changed his last name here, more of a sign of how far this movie branches from the roots of the Batman mythos).  Edward’s performance, the killer instinct that he brings out in this portrayal, immediately conjures thoughts of the villain in Se7en.  From bludgeoning one official to death, to beating another within half an inch of his life and putting a bomb around his neck, to his maniacal sense that he and Batman were two sides of the same coin (wonder is that a foreshadowing of what is to come in the future for Batman?) as he sits on the other side of the glass in Arkham, Dano does so much right with this version of The Riddler.  He really is about as sociopathic and homicidal as the late great Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.  Yes, that is a lofty statement, but it is true.  The way in which he makes The Riddle rant to his followers in his internet posts really brings out that psychotic nature even more.  Overall, Dano is well-deserving of his own applause here.  He makes it that easy for audiences to be shocked by The Riddler and hate Edward.

Dano’s performance is just one more of the most notable in this movie.  Colin Farrell (Daredevil, S.W.A.T., In Bruges) puts on his own powerful performance.  Considering Farrell is not American (just like Pattinson), he makes his accent fully believable at the foundation of his performance.  That foundation is bolstered by his full-on mobster style take on Oswald Cobblepot.  Rather than making “Oz” just another comic book character, Farrell makes The Penguin more of a gangster type name than character with a bunch of bird-themed gadgets, etc.  Again, this is another way in which the movie continues to separate itself from all of the other Batman movies out there.  He makes Oz a character that audiences will love just as much as love to hate.  He is just that impressive in every one of his on-screen moments.  When his performance is considered along with those of Dano, Pattinson, and the rest of the cast, the overall work of the cast is so worthy of applause.  The cast’s work handling the script makes that extensively long, plodding story more bearable.  As a result, audiences will manage to remain engaged in the story to the end, so again, the cast’s work proves just as important here as the story.

The work of the cast interpreting the script in this movie is impressive to say the least.  It is the cast’s work alongside the unique hard-boiled noir detective story here that really makes The Batman worth watching.  This is especially important to note because of the movie’s run time and plodding pacing.  Those elements are just part of what makes the movie bearable.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its recent home release rounds out its most important elements.  The content is extensive, taking on the movie’s creation from pre-production to wrap in its longest feature, which runs just shy of an hour.  Also addressed through the various extras as the makeup and costuming for Selena Kyle/Catwoman, Edward/The Riddler, and Bruce/Batman.  Audiences are also treated to an in-depth examination of the Batmobile, from its creation to its testing and how the movie’s big chase scene came to life.  Audiences also get an interesting look at Batman’s “relationship” with The Riddler, how The Riddler’s view on justice and vengeance inadvertently leads Batman/Bruce to eventually change his view on whether Gotham City is worth saving.  Dano’s discussion here is really eye-opening.  That is because it shows Dano really has an understanding and in turn appreciation for that duality between the lead antagonist and protagonist.  The discussion on how Selena slowly transforms into what will become Catwoman is another interesting albeit brief discussion.  That is because it outlines the personal emotional issues that she faces, finding out the truth of her mother and the role of Falcone (who is played just as well by John Turturro – O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Quiz Show, Barton Fink) in what happened to her mother.  It makes audiences look forward to what star Zoe Kravitz (X-Men: First Class, Mad Max: Fury Road, Divergent) will bring to the role in the next Batman movie.  Each of the bonus features that come with the movie’s home release clearly offer audiences plenty to appreciate.  When they are all considered together, they offer just as much to appreciate if not more than that of the story itself.  Keeping that in mind, when the bonus content featured here is considered along with the movie’s story and the cast’s work therein, the whole makes The Batman a unique new addition to the Batman mythos that while not “your grandad’s Batman” is still well worth watching.

The Batman, Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment’s latest addition to the expansive Batman cinematic and TV universe, is a unique presentation.  Its uniqueness is partly due to its featured story.  The story here is not just another typical Batman movie that focuses on Batman’s gadgets and all of the cliché villain portrayals.  Rather, it is a deep hard-boiled crime noir story that is full of twists and turns.  Given there are perhaps too many of those twists and turns throughout, and too many endings in the final act, but the overall story is still worth watching for those who are ready and willing to sit through its nearly 3-hour run time thanks to that overall story and approach.  The cast’s work interpreting the extensive script is a saving grace.  From one actor to the next, every cast member does his and her own important part in making the otherwise plodding story bearable.  The bonus content that accompanies the movie in its home release rounds out the movie’s most important elements.  That is because of all of the background that it offers audiences.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of this movie.  All things considered they make the movie not the best of the year’s new theatrical releases, but still one of the best.

The Batman is available now.  More information on this and other titles from DC Entertainment is available at https://dc.com.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

‘Lightyear’ Is A Surprisingly Entertaining Addition to Disney, Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ Universe

Courtesy: Disney/Pixar

More than 25 years ago when Disney and Pixar debuted Toy Story in theaters nationwide, the companies forever changed the face of animation.  In the nearly 30 years since that movie’s debut, the Toy Story franchise has also gone on to become a favorite among audiences of all ages through its movies and shorts alike.  Given, the franchise’s third movie should have been the finale, but that is a discussion for another time.  Fast forward to this year and the debut of the franchise’s new spinoff, Lightyear.  The movie made its digital home debut Wednesday and will make its physical home debut Sept. 13.  The movie was met with mixed reviews when it made its theatrical debut and has since struggled since then, with critics giving the movie a score of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes and audiences giving it an only slightly higher score, at 84%.  With the movie out now on digital platforms and soon on physical platforms, it will be interesting to see what happens with those scores. One thing that is certain about the movie at this point is that it does deserve to be seen at least once.  That is due in part to its very approach, which will be discussed shortly.  The story within the movie also plays into the overall presentation and will be examined a little later.  The cast’s work rounds out its most important elements and will also be discussed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the movie.  All things considered they make Lightyear a movie that audiences will find worth watching at least once.

Lightyear, the latest addition to Disney and Pixar’s already extensive Toy Story franchise, is another interesting addition to that universe.  It is a presentation that is worth watching at least once.  That is due in part to the movie’s general presentation.  What is interesting about the presentation is that it is a movie within a movie.  Right as the movie opens, audiences are presented with the message that the movie is the same movie that Andy (from the original Toy Story movies) watched and that got him interested in Buzz Lightyear in the first place.  So the fact that audiences are treated to a movie that is composed of a movie is a unique approach.  On a related note, IMDB lists as one of Lightyear’s goofs as being that Andy never had interest in Buzz Lightyear in the first place in the original Toy Story movie until his mom surprised him with the Buzz Lightyear toy.  It adds that in the second movie, Buzz as a toy wasn’t even based on a movie.  How does the person who wrote about Andy having no interest in Buzz Lightyear prior to getting the toy know for a fact that this is the case?  As excited as Andy was to get his Buzz Lightyear toy, one would imagine Andy had to have had some knowledge of the movie.  Even today in the real world, toy companies market toys based on movies to children all the time and children get excited.  Taking that into account, even if Andy hadn’t seen a Buzz Lightyear movie, he still could have been excited about the toy.  To that end, that goof posted to IMDB holds no water.  Getting back to the matter of the alleged goof in Toy Story 2, who is to say that was not just one of the characters saying Buzz wasn’t based on a movie just to make Buzz angry?  Now keeping everything noted in mind there, the very presentation of the Buzz Lightyear movie as a movie for audiences essentially makes this movie its own presentation.  Yes, it is essentially a spinoff from the Toy Story franchise, but it is still its own standalone presentation that is a valid presentation.

Going a little bit deeper, the story that is presented within the movie makes for its own interest.  The story is an all too familiar tale of personal growth.  Buzz’s growth comes as he has to learn about accepting help and the consequences of letting one’s self be consumed by one’s own personal drive and desire. From causing his ship to crash on the planet in the first place because he had to put everything on himself to being so obsessed with reaching hyperspeed in his attempt to find a way off of the planet, Buzz thought he had to do it all.  He did not want anyone’s help, and that caused him to lose his first partner and almost lose others along the way including that first partner’s granddaughter and her friends.

On a secondary note, audiences learn about the battle between Buzz and Emperor Zurg.  Out of respect for those who have yet to watch this movie, this critic will be careful in discussing the pair’s conflict.  However, audiences who are familiar with the story of how Buck Rogers came to be in the 25th century will find a clear influence there (whether intentional or not).  The conflict between the pair plays into the whole matter of the fabric of space and time and certain paradoxes (again not to give away too much).  Now this conflict between Buzz and Zurg also goes into another so-called good that IMDB has posted about the movie.  It is known that in Toy Story 2, Zurg said that he was Buzz’s father, and that negated the situation in Lightyear.  That little statement was meant wholly as a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Star Wars.  It was not meant to be serious, so again, whatever IMDB employee pointed out this continuity “issue” took that moment far too seriously.  To that end, audiences need to go into this movie’s story completely discounting the so-called goofs that IMDB has listed if they intend to have any appreciation for the story.  As long as they keep that in mind, audiences will find themselves surprisingly able to enjoy the story just as much as the movie’s very unique presentation style.

As much as the movie’s presentation style and story do to make the movie engaging and entertaining, they are just part of what makes the movie worth watching.  The cast’s work is also of note.  Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, etc.) leads the way, bringing Buzz to life on screen this time out.  He is clearly well-versed in the role of the hero, considering his time working with Marvel Studios.  His performance is entertaining but does not necessarily break a lot of ground for a character such as Buzz.  If anyone really stands out in terms of the cast, it is Peter Sohn (Ratatouille, Monsters University, The Good Dinosaur) as he voices Sox, the robot cat.  The subtle way in which he brings Sox to life is a prime example of less is more.  That deadpan delivery that he gives is just so entertaining throughout and really makes him the unsuspecting star of the cast.  Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Jojo Rabbit) and Dale Soules (Orange is the New Black, The Messenger, Prism) bring their own comic touch to the movie as they bring life to Mo and Darcy.  Marcy’s initial declaration about not wanting to hold a gun because it would be a violation of her parole makes for such a great comedic moment putting Soules’ talents on display.  At the same time, that the writers would keep bringing up her criminal past makes the joke get old quick.  Thankfully Soules makes the best of it doing the best she can to try to keep the joke funny.  Waititi’s delivery as Mo makes Mo such an endearing character because he is so innocent.  He can’t help that he is such a clutz, and that constant uncertainty that Mo displays is another great part of how Waititi brings him to life.  They really do so much, as does Sohn and even Evans all things considered.  To that end, the work put in by the cast does its own share to make Lightyear engaging and entertaining, too.  When their work is considered along with the story and even the movie’s general presentation, the whole makes Lightyear a surprisingly engaging and entertaining new offering from Disney and Pixar.  It is not the companies’ best work ever.  That honor still belongs (at least to this critic) to Up.  That aside, it is still a movie that even being a spinoff from the initial Toy Story universe, is still worth watching.

Lightyear, Disney and Pixar’s new Toy Story spinoff, is an interesting addition to that universe.  The movie proves itself so intriguing in part because of its general presentation.  The general presentation is a double presentation of sorts.  It is a movie within a movie that is its own presentation within the bigger Toy Story universe.  That is a unique approach.  The movie’s story is relatively accessible, as it presents Buzz as a central character on a journey of personal growth.  That familiarity is certain to engage and entertain audiences throughout the movie.  The work of the movie’s cast rounds out its most important elements.  From familiar style acting from Evans to more comedic and heartfelt performances from his cast mates, the cast’s work does its own share to engage and entertain audiences.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the presentation that is Lightyear.  All things considered, they make Lightyear a surprisingly welcome addition to Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story universe that is actually worth watching at least once.

Lightyear is available on all digital platforms now.  It is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray 13 through Disney and Pixar.  More information on this and other titles from Disney and Pixar is available at:

Websitehttps://www.pixar.com

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/Pixar

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/pixar

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Devildriver’s New Box Set Offers Audiences Plenty To Applaud

Courtesy: BMG

Veteran metal band Devildriver has been in the headlines quite a bit in recent months.  The band announced last month, it had made a pair of lineup changes, welcoming original bassist Jon Miller back to the band in place of Diego Ibarra.  Along with that change, the band also announced the addition of new guitarist Alex Lee (Holy Grail) to the lineup.  Miller was one of the founding members of Devildriver and remained with the band until 2011, when he was replaced first by Aaron Patrick, then Chris Towning and then by Ibarra.  Lee is the band’s third rhythm guitarist behind Neil Tiemann most recently and founding member Jeff Kendrick before him.  The lineup changes make Miller and front man Dez Fafara the band’s only original members in its current lineup.

Only weeks prior to the announcement of Devildriver’s latest lineup change, the band announced June 8, that it would release its new five-disc box set, Clouds Over California.  Originally, the box set was scheduled for release Friday through BMG, but then an update to that date announced late last month stated the set’s release date had been pushed back to Aug. 19.  This despite the band claiming as recently as Friday, that the box set dropped Friday.  In other words, there remains no clarity at this point on the set’s exact release date.  That aside, the collection is a set that most Devildriver fans will find just as appealing as modern metal fans.  That is due in no small part to its featured albums, which will be examined shortly.  The platforms on which the collection is available are just as important to note as the albums themselves.  This will be examined a little later.  The records’ liner notes round out its most important elements and will also be examined later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection.  All things considered they make Clouds Over California a shining new offering from Devildriver.  Yes, that awful pun was fully intended.

Devildriver’s new five-album box set, Clouds Over California is a positive new offering from the veteran modern metal outfit.  Its appeal comes in part through its featured records.  The records featured here are the band’s first five albums, Devildriver, The Fury of Our Maker’s Hand, The Last Kind Words, Pray For Villains, and Beast.  All five albums were released through Roadrunner Records.  All of the albums that the band has released since then have come through Napalm Records.  So simply put, what audiences get in this collection is essentially the first chapter (so to speak) of Devildriver’s catalog.  To that end, maybe BMG should have called this new set, The Roadrunner Years.

The collection by itself is impressive in its general presentation.  There is an even deeper appeal to the records because what audiences get here is not just the albums’ standard releases, save for the band’s debut self-titled record, but three of the records in their expanded formats.  Devildriver did not have an expanded edition, and The Last Kind Words allegedly had an expanded edition released through Hot Topic stores nationwide that had a bonus track, ‘Damning The Heavens.’  That extra track is not included in the record’s presentation here, but the other three albums are all presented in their expanded formats.  To that end, audiences still largely get a very special presentation of the band’s Roadrunner Records catalog here.  Keeping that in mind, the albums that make up the main body of Clouds Over California are reason enough for diehard Devildriver fans to own this collection.  They are just part of what makes the collection worth adding to any fan’s library.  The platforms on which the collection is available add at least somewhat to that appeal.

The collection is available on CD and vinyl pressings.  This means that whether one is more a fan of vinyl and all of the problems that come with it, or more a fan of CDs, audiences on both sides of that proverbial aisle will be able to enjoy the collection.  This shows that Devildriver and officials with BMG made sure not to alienate any of the band’s audiences in this case. 

Of course, the pricing for the sets is clearly (and starkly) different between them.  That cannot be ignored. The CD set’s average price point is $45.39 while the set’s vinyl box averages in at $182.74.  Those prices were figured by averaging prices listed through Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble Booksellers.  Books-A-Million, another of this country’s biggest retailers, did not list the set on either platform.  Best Buy only listed the set on vinyl while the other outlets listed it on both platforms.  Between the set’s much more affordable price on CD and the CD set’s more compact nature, audiences are going to be much more inclined to purchase the collection on that platform than on vinyl.  Those who want to shell out the big bucks and make even more room for the vinyl set are welcome to do so but the CD set clearly is going to be more appealing, at least to this critic.  Moving on from this discussion, the liner notes that accompany the collection round out the collection’s most important elements.

The liner notes that come with the set were composed by Fafara and are presented in a 20-page booklet that is new to the set.  Along with that, each of the albums come with their original liner notes.  So what audiences get in terms of this secondary content is not just the original liner notes with lyrics but a whole new set of liner notes looking back at the albums and their place in Devildriver’s history.  All of this extra content pairs with the expansive presentation of the collection’s primary content to make the collection’s overall presentation that much more appealing.  Add in the fact that Devildriver and BMG made the collection available for fans of CDs and vinyls alike and the collection gains that much more appealing for a wide range of audiences.  All things considered, Clouds Over California makes for a good way to tide audiences over until Devildriver releases its next new album, which hopefully will come sooner rather than later.

Devildriver’s new five-album box set, Clouds Over California, is a strong new offering from the veteran metal band.  It will appeal to most of the band’s established audiences as well as more casual fans of the band.  That is due in no small part to its featured albums.  The albums in question are all of the records that Devildriver released through Roadrunner Records.  Those records make up the first half of the band’s catalog.  The second half, which is also composed of five records, has come through records released via Napalm Records.  Just as important here is that three of the five records featured here are presented in their expanded rather than their standard editions, so audiences get, for the most part, a special treat here.  The band’s debut self-titled record was only presented in a standard form in its initial release, so there are no worries there. The availability of the collection on both CD and vinyl ensures that none of the band’s fans have been ignored, though the cost of the vinyl set is far more cost prohibitive than that of the set’s CD platform.  The liner notes featured with the set round out its most important elements as there are some familiar liner notes and some equally in-depth new liner notes to boot.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the collection.  All things considered they make Clouds Over California a mostly positive way to tide Devildriver’s fans over until the band releases its next album.

More information on Clouds Over California is available along with all of Devildriver’s latest news at:

Website: https://devildriver.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/devildriver

Twitter: https://twitter.com/devildriver

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com

Amon Amarth Impresses Once Again On Its 12th Album, ‘The Great Heathen Army’

Courtesy: Metal Blade Records

Veteran Viking metal outfit Amon Amarth is set to release its latest album, The Great Heathen Army very in less than a week through its longtime label home Metal Blade Records.  Scheduled for release Aug. 5, the 9-song record will come more than three years after the release of the band’s then latest album, Berserker.  The 43-minute presentation is everything that Amon Amarth fans have come to expect from the band both musically and lyrically.  At the same time, the record’s musical content actually shows some growth from the band this time out.  The record’s musical and lyrical content will each receive their own examinations here.  The album’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined here.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation.  All things considered they make The Great Heathen Army one more of the greatest of this year’s new hard rock and metal albums.

The Great Heathen Army, the 12th new album from Amon Amarth, is another largely successful offering from the veteran metal outfit that has made a career of making songs about Vikings.  The record’s appeal comes in part through its featured musical arrangements.  The very first thing that the band’s established audiences will note through the record’s nine total arrangements is that they are not all the same semi-symphonic/death metal approach that the band has taken in so many of its albums.  Right from the record’s outset, its lead single, ‘Get in the Ring,’ the band takes more of a modern hard rock/metal approach.  It is a notable change of sound and style for the band considering the compositions that the band has crafted over its decades-long career.  It is just one of the songs that shows that branching out, too.  Late in the record in ‘Saxons and Vikings,’ the band goes in a vintage hard rock style approach, even bringing in famed Accept/U.D.O. front man Udo Dirkschneider to add to the mix.  Just as interesting is that the band does make sure to include some of its more familiar death metal riffs to mix things up a little bit along the way.  The pairing of those leanings together, complete with a powerhouse solo, makes this song’s arrangement yet another standout addition to the record that continues to show the band’s musical growth this time out.  The band offers up a little more of that vintage hard rock leaning in the record’s closer, ‘The Serpent’s Trail.’  The way in which the guitars are used here almost mimics some string arrangements, and the classical guitar approach here along the way just adds that much more to the record.  It is just one more way in which the musical arrangements feature in this record show their value to the album’s presentation.  When these arrangements are considered along with the works that lean more in the band’s familiar sounds and styles, the whole makes The Great Heathen Army a presentation that succeeds if only through its musical content.

The musical content that is featured in The Great Heathen Army is just part of what makes the album worth hearing.  The lyrical content that accompanies that musical content makes for its own appeal.  That is because it is far more familiar to those noted established audiences.  From ‘Oden Owns You All’ to Saxons and Vikings’ to ‘The Serpent’s Trail’ and more, the themes featured in the record’s lyrics all center on the familiar topics of all things Norse and Vikings.  Now there are a couple of sings – ‘Get In The Ring’ and ‘Find A Way Or Make One’ – that do break that mold.  ‘Find A Way Or Make One’ delivers an all too familiar but always welcome message of pushing through life’s difficulties.  This is clear as front man Johan Hegg sings here, “Stand tall/And fight/The world will quake/Stand tall/And fight/I will never break.”  Some of the lyrics are a little difficult cult decipher fully sans lyrics, but he also makes note here of fighting the battle when all hope is lost and gone.  This is, again, a powerful and familiar message, especially as he adds that he will not kneel, no matter what the odds.  Yet again, here is more proof of the song’s message of personal strength.  The battles and situations do not necessarily have to be warfare, but just personal battles.  To that end, again, this familiar message is just as welcome from the band here as from any other band.  What’s more, that it is set here alongside so much other more familiar content shows growth, lyrically from the band. 

‘Get In The Ring’ meanwhile is actually a song for one of the rising stars of All Elite Wrestling (AEW).  It is fitting that it was crafted for a pro wrestler, as its lyrical theme is in fact a fight song.  It is an anthem that could and will get anyone pumped up who has ever been done wrong by someone.  It is that challenge to those people who would stand in our way metaphorically or lyrically.  To that end, it is another familiar lyrical theme in general that shows in its own way, why the lyrical themes in record are just as appealing as the album’s musical content.  All things considered the record’s lyrical content pairs with its companion musical content to make the album’s overall content a strong foundation for the presentation.  It is just one part of what makes the album so appealing.  The record’s production rounds out its most important elements.

The production that went into The Great Heathen Army is important to its presentation because of its role in the record’s general effect.  Every song in this record is loud and heavy.  Each work is so rich because of the pairing of the instrumentations and vocals.  Thanks to the time and effort that went into the production, no one part overpowers the others (including the vocals) at any one point in the album.  That is, again, due to the production.  Every part of each song is so powerful, leading each work to be fully immersive.  The result is that the album proves just as successful in its aesthetic presentation as in its content.  When all of this is considered together, the whole of The Great Heathen Army becomes one more of the year’s top new hard rock and metal albums.

The Great Heathen Army, the 12th new album from veteran metal outfit Amon Amarth, is another strong new offering from the band that will entertain the band’s established audiences just as much as metal fans in general.  That is evidenced in part through the record’s musical content.  The arrangements featured throughout the album are familiar, but also show a certain level of growth.  The band tries its hand at some vintage hard rock and metal styles as well as some more mainstream sounding heavy rock at points throughout the record.  That diversity offers audiences something “old” and something “new” which along the way makes for plenty of engagement and entertainment.  The lyrical themes featured alongside the album’s musical content is just as important to its presentation.  That is because of its overall familiarity, too.  There are plenty of Viking themes once again, along with some themes of overcoming diversity, which the band has handled less, but is still familiar in the rock and metal communities.  The record’s production puts the finishing touch to the presentation, ensuring that the best of each song is brought out from one work to another.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the record.  All things considered they make the album overall another welcome offering from Amon Amarth that belongs among the best of the year’s new hard rock and metal albums.

The Great Heathen Army is scheduled for release Friday through Metal Blade Records. Amon Amarth will hit the road this fall in support of its new, forthcoming album. The band will launch the “The Great Heathen Tour” November 11 in Las Vegas, NV in support of the record.

 The tour features support from Carcass, Obituary, and Cattle Decapitation, and is expected to run through Dec. 17 in Los Angeles, CA and also features scheduled performances in cities, such as Charlotte, NC; Cincinnati, OH and Seattle, WA.

The tour’s schedule is noted below.

Amon Amarth
THE GREAT HEATHEN TOUR
US HEADLINE RUN W/ CARCASS, OBITUARY AND CATTLE DECAPITATION
Friday, November 11 – Las Vegas, NV @ Brooklyn Bowl*
Saturday, November 12 – Phoenix, AZ @ Arizona Federal Theater
Monday, November 14 – San Antonio, TX @ Aztec Theater
Tuesday, November 15 – Houston, TX @ Bayou Music Center
Wednesday, November 16 – Dallas, TX @ Southside Ballroom
Friday, November 18 – Atlanta, GA @ The Tabernacle
Saturday, November 19 – Orlando, FL @ Hard Rock Live
Sunday, November 20 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore
Tuesday, November 22 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore
Wednesday, November 23 – Boston, MA @ MGM Music Hall at Fenway
Friday, November 25 – Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore
Saturday, November 26 – Chicago, IL @ The Aragon Ballroom
Sunday, November 27 – Cincinnati, OH @ The Andrew J Brady Music Center
Wednesday, November 30 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Stage AE**
Thursday, Dec 01 – New York, NY @ Hammerstein Ballroom
Friday, Dec 02 – Toronto, ON @ History
Saturday, Dec 03 – Laval, QC @ Place Bell
Monday, Dec 05 – Madison, WI @ The Sylvee
Tuesday, Dec 06 – Minneapolis, MN @ The Fillmore
Wednesday, Dec 07- Kansas City, MO @ Uptown
Friday, Dec 09 – Denver, CO @ The Fillmore
Saturday, Dec 10 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex
Monday, Dec 12 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox SODO
Tuesday, Dec 13 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
Thursday, Dec 15 – Wheatland, CA @ Hard Rock Live
Friday, Dec 16 – San Diego, CA @ SOMA
Saturday, Dec 17 – Los Angeles, CA @ Kia Forum

*No Carcass
** Non-Live Nation date

The new fall U.S. dates will follow a European run with Machine Head, that is scheduled to run from Sept. 8 in Nottingham, UK to Oct. 22 in Stuttgart, Germany. The Halo Effect is also scheduled to take part in the tour, dubbed the “Vikings and Lionhearts Tour 2022.”

The tour’s schedule is noted below.

SEPTEMBER
Thursday 8 – NOTTINGHAM, UK, Motorpoint Arena
Friday 9 – CARDIFF, UK, Motorpoint Arena
Saturday 10 – LONDON, UK, The SSE Arena, Wembley
Monday 12 – MANCHESTER, Uk AO Arena
Tuesday 13 – DUBLIN, Ireland, 3Arena
Friday 16 – ZURICH, Switzerland, Hallenstadion
Saturday 17 – VIENNA, Austria, Stadthalle
Sunday 18 – KRAKOW, Poland, Tauron Arena
Tuesday 20 – TALLINN, Estonia, Saku Arena
Wednesday 21 – HELSINKI, Finland, Ice Hall
Friday 23 – OSLO, Norway, Spektrum
Saturday 24 – STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Hovet
Monday 26 – COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Forum Black Box
Tuesday 27 – HAMBURG, Germany, Barclays Arena
Wednesday 28 – FRANKFURT, Germany, Festhalle
Friday 30 – OBERHAUSEN, Germany, König Pilsener Arena

OCTOBER
Saturday 01 – BERLIN, Germany Velodrome
Sunday 02 – AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands, Afas Live
Tuesday 04 – MILAN, Italy, Lorenzini District
Thursday 06 – BARCELONA, Spain, Sant Jordi
Friday 07 – MADRID, Spain, Vistalegre
Saturday 08 – LA CORUNA, Spain, Coliseum
Sunday 09 – LISBON, Portugal, Campo Pequeno
Wednesday 12 – PARIS, France, Zenith
Friday 14 – MUNICH, Germany, Olympiahalle
Saturday 15 – LEIPZIG, Germany, Arena
Sunday 16 – PRAGUE, Czech Republic, Tipsport Arena
Tuesday 18 – BUDAPEST, Hungary, Barba Negra
Thursday 20 – ESCH SUR ALZETTE, Luxembourg, Rockhal
Friday 21 – BRUSSELS, Belgium, Forest National
Saturday 22 – STUTTGART, Germant, Schleyerhalle

More information on Amon Amarth’s new album and tour is available along with all of the band’s latest news at:

Websitehttps://www.amonamarth.com

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/amonamarth

Twitterhttps://twitter.com/amonamarthband

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://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 https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

‘The Rough Guide To Jewish Music’ Is A Unique, Mostly Successful World Music Presentation

Courtesy: World Music Network/Galileo

Late this past May, World Music Network partnered with the German record label, Galileo, to release its latest compilation of music centered on the Jewish community in the form of The Rough Guide to Jewish Music.  The 18-song collection is an interesting new offering focused on the music and culture of the Jewish community.  That is due in part through its featured arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. While the musical content that makes up the record’s body is important to its presentation, the set is not perfect.  That is because there are no English translations for any of the songs that feature lyrics.  This will be discussed a little later.  While the lack of English translations for the lyrics is problematic, it is not enough of an issue to doom the set.  To that end, there is still one other positive in the form of the record’s liner notes. The liner notes that accompany the record’s musical content make for their own interest and will be addressed a little later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation.  All things considered they make the set yet another engaging and entertaining addition to WMN’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series.

The Rough Guide To Jewish Music is a simply-titled new presentation from World Music Network, but as simple as its title is, the 18-song record is anything but simple.  That is proven in part through the record’s musical content.  From beginning to end, the arrangements are anything but what audiences would think of when they think of Jewish music.  Yes, there are some arrangements featured here that have that familiar violin and clarinet-based instrumentations, but they are few and far between.  Rather, the arrangements take listeners on a trip around the world, showing the reach of the Jewish community and its culture.  Right from the record’s outset, audiences are treated to what sounds like a Spanish-infused composition in ‘Adio Kerida.’  Roughly translated, the title means ‘Bye, Dear.’  That would make sense, what with the mention of a corazon (or heart in English) and some of the other content that can be translated here.  The somber mood of the arrangement adds to the sense that this song is about a broken relationship.  The distinct vocal style and the use of the strings are what really bring out the Jewish influence here alongside the more familiar Spanish leaning.  It makes for an interesting start to the set, especially being that it gives way to the much more familiar Jewish style composition that is ‘Tornado Albastru’ next.  As the record progresses, audiences are eventually taken on a trip to Egypt in ‘El Rey Nimrod.’  The vocal styling and instrumentation here make that influence fully audible.  It is one of the compilation’s most notable entries.  On yet another note, audiences get a piece that exhibits some perhaps eastern European influence even later in ‘Shalom Aleykhem.’  That is made clear through the use of the string arrangement, accordion and vocals.  There is almost a certain Romanian gypsy influence here.  Meanwhile the use of what sounds like a recorder alongside it all adds the slightest Renaissance influence to make for an overall composition that is unique in its own right.  Right from there, the compilation takes audiences back to the Middle East, in ‘Sien Drahmas Al Dia.’  Translated from Judeo-Spanish, the song’s title means ‘One Hundred Drachmas A Day’.  Apparently, the song is another love song of sorts sung from a woman’s standpoint, wanting her love interest to break away from his mother.  It is a fiery composition, too, which would make sense considering the noted apparent lyrical theme here.  When this arrangement and the others examined here are considered along with the rest of the record’s entries, the overall musical presentation makes for a wonderful examination of the reach of Jewish music around the world.

While the musical content that makes up the body of The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is pivotal to its appeal, the record is not perfect.  As noted, there are not English translations for any of the songs featured here with vocals.  The end result is that audiences have to hunt down the songs and try to find said translations for themselves in hopes that those translations exist.  This can be somewhat time consuming depending on the song and what may or may not be available.  To that end, this is unquestionably problematic to the record’s presentation.  It is not enough to doom the record but is still enough of an issue to address.

Knowing that the lack of English translations in this collection is problematic but not enough so that it makes the record a failure, there is still one more positive to note.  That positive is the background on the songs provided through the record’s liner notes.  The liner notes point out right from their outset that the purpose of this compilation was not so much to focus on Jewish music but rather to examine “the value of cross-cultural exchange.”  That is done so well by showing the ties of Jewish music with that of so many nations around the world.  A very brief but concise introduction is also offered for some of the acts whose work is part of that overall body.  It is a start for any listeners who otherwise might not have known who any of them were, coming into the record.  As part of those introductions, the liner notes also point out the influences in the arrangements, adding a little bit more depth to the presentation.  The end result of that information is a nice accent to the presentation that when paired with the collection’s primary content, makes for even more appeal among audiences.  That is even considering the lack of English translations for the songs anywhere in the booklet. 

The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is a presentation that is certain to appeal to a wide range of World Music fans.  That is proven largely through its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements take traditional Jewish sounds and styles and blends them with influences from the music and culture of so many other nations and their peoples.  While the record’s musical content does so much to make the collection engaging and entertaining, the lack of any English lyrical translations for the songs does notably detract from the presentation.  It is not enough to make the record a failure, though, but definitely is still problematic.  Moving back to the positive, the record’s liner notes work with the musical content here to make for more engagement.  That is because of the brief but concise background that the notes offer for the acts whose music is featured throughout.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation’s presentation.  All things considered they make the record another interesting and mostly enjoyable offering from World Music Network.

The Rough Guide to Jewish Music is available now. More information on this and other titles from World Music Network is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.worldmusic.net

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/WorldMusicNetwork

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/WMN_UK

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

World Music Network Offers Audiences A Unique Music Trip To China In Its Latest Compilation Record

Courtesy: World Music Network

World Music Network has for years, taken listeners around the world, musically, time and time again, offering up music from so many nations.  From the roots of American music to the music of Europe’s various nations and those of Asia.  That ongoing worldwide musical trip continues Friday as the label takes audiences to China’s Yunnan province in The Rough Guide to The Music of Yunnan.  The 19-song record is yet another interesting addition to the company’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series that will appeal not only to ethnomusicologists but to anyone who has any interest in the music and cultures of the region (and of other nations in general).  That is due in no small part to its featured songs, which will be examined shortly. As much as the record’s primary content does to make it appealing, it is not perfect.  The lack of English translations for the songs with lyrical content detracts notably from the record’s presentation.  This will be discussed a little later. Even without those translations, the record’s companion booklet still adds to the listening experience through its featured liner notes.  This will also be addressed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the recording.  All things considered they make the record yet another interesting addition to this year’s field of new World Music offerings.

The Rough Guide to The Music of Yunnan is yet another interesting addition to World Music Network’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  The record’s appeal comes in part through its featured musical arrangements.  From beginning to end, the songs featured in this song offer audiences touches of traditional music from China’s Yunnan province and some modern compositions.  Audiences get a dose of that traditional music right from the compilation’s outset in the form of ‘Bi Lang Dao Gu Diao.’  According to the liner notes, the song is an ancient traditional song that is played on what is known as a Dai gourd pipe.  A Dai gourd pipe is a type of flute that is in fact made in part with a gourd.  It is played like a flute, believe it or not.  The richness of the sound is so haunting, but in such a beautiful, immersive fashion.  The song is a fully instrumental composition that paints such a rich picture of the Yunnan province in listeners’ minds as they take in the tones of the flute.  One of the more unique of the record’s modern songs comes less than halfway through its run in the form of ‘Bulang Beauty.’  This song features a musical arrangement that pairs the traditional sounds of the Yunnan province with, of all things, reggae leanings.  Yes, it combines two genres that are clearly very distinct from one another, yet somehow this blending of East and West really makes the song work.  Sadly, there is no English translation of the song’s lyrical content in the record’s booklet, so audiences are left to assume just from the mood set in the composition and from the title what the song may be about.  One more notable traditional composition featured here comes a little more than halfway through its run in the simple ‘Four Seasons of the Lahu.’  The song is such a simple and beautiful work that features its performer, Shi Lei, singing the simple presentation completely by himself.  There is no instrumentation.  Lei’s breath control and his dynamic control as he sings gives the song so much emotional depth.  Even sans any English translations, the presentation is still so immersive.  When it is considered along with the other arrangements examined here and with the rest of the record’s featured works, the whole makes the record’s overall musical content fully appealing.

While the musical content that makes up this compilation’s body is fully immersive and appealing, the lack of any English translations for the record’s content detracts notably from the presentation.  Considering that this record is being marketed largely to English-speaking audiences as a way to introduce said listeners to music from Asia, having any English translations would have been a very nice way to enhance the listening experience.  That it is not part of the record’s presentation definitely hurts the presentation.  The damage is not enough to doom the recording, but it certainly does not help that it is lacking here.

Even though the lack of English translations for any of the songs with lyrics is a problem, the record’s liner notes still offer just enough to make the booklet its own positive.  The liner notes point out how the Yunnan province has remained a mystery not just for ethnomusicologists but for anthropologists and other social scientists because of its geography and because of the Chinese government.  In addition, the notes point out that many of the languages of the Yunnan province are not written down.  That might account for the lack of lyrical content in the booklet.  The notes even make mention of how the traditional sounds of the Yunnan province have been giving way to more modern sounds that themselves still pay homage to the traditional sounds of the region in their presentations.  It is another interesting part of the whole of the background provided in the liner notes that when considered with everything else in the introduction, makes the liner notes just as important to this record as the set’s musical content.  When the musical content and liner notes are considered together, they more than make this compilation another interesting addition to WMN’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series that will appeal to such a wide range of audiences.

The Rough Guide to The Music of Yunnan is a unique addition to World Music Network’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series that will appeal to a wide range of audiences.  That includes not only those with an interest in music from around the world, but even those who study the various social and historical sciences.  That is due in no small part to its featured musical content.  The musical arrangements featured in this compilation offer audiences a glimpse into the past, present, and future of the Yunnan province’s musical community with a variety of traditional and more modern compositions.  The liner notes that accompany that content develop quite the interesting background on the music that enhances the listening experience even more.  The two elements together give audiences reason enough to hear this record.  That is even considering the lack of any English translations for the songs anywhere in the record’s booklet.  Each item examined here is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation’s presentation.  All things considered they make this presentation yet another positive addition to this year’s field of new World Music offerings.

The Rough Guide to The Music of Yunnan is scheduled for release Friday through World Music Network. More information on this and other titles from World Music Network is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.worldmusic.net

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/WorldMusicNetwork

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/WMN_UK

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

WMN’s New Memphis Minnie Compilation Is A Wonderful Tribute To The Blues Legend

Courtesy: World Music Network

Memphis Minnie is unquestionably one of the most well-known and respected female names in the history of the blues.  Over the course of three decades, the singer (a.k.a. Lizzie Douglas) composed and recorded more than 200 songs, so many of which remains favorites among blues purists to this day.  A new collection of those songs is scheduled for release Friday through World Music Network and in the form of the new compilation, The Rough Guide to Memphis Minnie Queen of the Country Blues.  The 25-song compilation is yet another enjoyable addition to WMN’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series.  That is due in no small part to its featured songs, which will be discussed shortly.  The songs’ audio works directly with the songs to make the listening experience all the more enjoyable.  This will be discussed a little later.  The record’s companion booklet rounds out the presentation’s most important elements and will also be examined later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the compilation.  All things considered they make the collection not only a welcome addition to WMN’s The Rough Guide To… series, but also to this year’s field of new blues records.

The Rough Guide to Memphis MinnieQueen of the Country Blues is another enjoyable entry in World Music Network’s ongoing The Rough Guide To… compilation series and a presentation that any blues fan will find appealing.  The record’s appeal comes in part through its featured songs.  The songs – 25 in all (It seems most WMN compilations are composed of 25 songs, as a side note) – pull from the early days of her career, that formative period when she was really starting to make a name for herself in a musician, composer and lyricist.  More specifically, the songs pull from the early days of her career in 1929 all the way up to 1933.  So while that is a limited time frame, the songs still serve as a clear snapshot (so to speak) of what made her so respected so early on.  Right from the record’s opener, ‘Keep It To Yourself,’ the country influence in the blues is obvious.  What’s more, the simplicity of the lyrics, which finds Douglas singing about keeping what you know to yourself, makes the song so accessible.  She is singing about keeping certain secrets, not telling others, not so much keeping opinions to one’s self.  Later in the record, a song, such as ‘What’s The Matter With The Mill’ does just as much to show the country music influence in her compositions, what with the steady, two chord approach.  The blues element comes into play as she and fellow blues performer Kansas Joe sing about a corn mill being broken down.  The blues is all about singing about life’s problems, and for this situation, the mill not working is keeping the pair from getting certain food.  Again, it is such a simple theme but still there is some thing so accessible about it in that simplicity.  Once again, it serves to show Douglas’ ability as a wordsmith just as much as a composer and musician.  Her song, ‘Ain’t No Use Trying To Tell On Me (I Know Something On You)’ is another intriguing work.  That is because its simple arrangement is so similar to Jesse Fuller’s timeless hit, ‘San Francisco Blues.’  Fuller’s song didn’t come along until 1954, while Douglas’ song debuted decades earlier in 1933.  Now whether the similarity in the songs’ sounds and styles is coincidental is anyone’s guess.  If Fuller took influence from Douglas however, it further shows the strength of her influence.  It is just one more example of the importance of the collection’s musical content.

There is no denying that the musical content that makes up this compilation’s body.  It is just one part of what makes the record appealing.  The production of the songs is just as important as the songs themselves.  The production is so much of note because of its role in their sound in their presentation here.  As with so many collection’s of vintage music that World Music Network has released over the years, this collection’s songs are so wonderful in their sound.  The static from the original recordings is just as evident here as in their original vinyl releases a century ago.  Yes, with many of the songs featured here, a century has passed since they were originally released.  It creates such a wonderful sense of nostalgia while once again showing that it is possible to have vintage vinyl recordings on CD and have them sound just as rich as they would on a new vinyl re-issue.  Again, that is a tribute to the work that went into the record’s production.  The general effect that results from that positive production builds on the appeal established through the songs to make for even more appeal, and in turn engagement and entertainment.

The overall presentation resulting from the collection’s content and production creates a strong general effect.  It is just part of what makes the record appealing.  The record’s companion booklet rounds out its most important elements.  That is because of the background that it offers in its liner notes.  The notes in question offer a brief biography of Douglas, as well as a note of the struggle that she faced during her career, as a woman in a male dominated career.  This in itself is sure to generate plenty of discussion among audiences.  The liner notes also make clear that the songs featured in the set are in fact from her formative years.  The liner notes also point out her role in the popularity of country blues as a genre.  It is just one more item that make the liner notes so interesting.  When it and the other items pointed out here are considered along with the rest of the liner notes, the picture that they collectively paint enhances the listening experience that much more.  Staying on that note, when the information provided in the record’s liner notes is considered alongside the record’s musical content and its production, the whole makes The Rough Guide to Memphis MinnieQueen of the Country Blues yet another overall success from World Music Network.

The Rough Guide to Memphis MinnieQueen of the Country Blues is another enjoyable, immersive compilation from World Music Network that is also another positive addition to World Music Network’s ongoing The Rough Guide To…  series of releases.  That is due in part to its featured musical content, as noted.  The songs featured in this compilation are a presentation of the famed blues legend’s early days.  It was that moment when she was just starting to make a name for herself.  The production of those songs proves it is possible to transfer vinyl recordings to CD without any loss.  The impact there further shows that all the people who think vinyl will one day replace CDs are clearly wrong.  The record’s booklet adds even more to the listening experience.  That is because of the history of Douglas that the liner notes therein provide.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of this collection.  All things considered, they make the set another positive addition to WMN’s The Rough Guide To… series and one more of the year’s top new blues records.

The Rough Guide to Memphis MinnieQueen of the Country Blues is scheduled for release Friday through World Music Network. More information on this and other titles from World Music Network is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.worldmusic.net

Facebookhttp://www.facebook.com/WorldMusicNetwork

Twitterhttp://twitter.com/WMN_UK

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

‘Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano’ Is An Enjoyable Tribute To The Musical Roots, Connections Of Africa And Cuba

Courtesy: Putumayo World Music

Music that so many people call Latin and Spanish is neither Latin nor Spanish.  It is, at its root, African.  The bongos and congas that are so commonplace in “Latin” and “Spanish” music came from Africa. So did drums, such as timbales, and even other so-called Latin percussion.  Considering the very close connection between Latin and African music, World Music label Putumayo World Music has assembled a new compilation of songs that celebrates that connection in the form of Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano.  Scheduled for release Friday, the 10-song collection is another enjoyable presentation from the famed World Music label.  Its appeal comes in part through its featured musical content, which will be discussed shortly.  The liner notes featured with the collection make for their own appeal and will be discussed a little later.  The digital download card that comes with the set rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the recording.  All things considered they make the collection yet another fully enjoyable offering from Putumayo World Music.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano is hardly the first time that Putumayo World Music has ever released a compilation centered on music from Cuba.  It is also hardly the first time that the company has released a record centered on music from Africa.  It is something of a rarity though, for the company to release a compilation that bridges the music and cultures of both nations.  So to have music from both regions in one setting here is unique and welcome.  As pointed out in the liner notes (which will be addressed a little later), the music in this record comes from Cuba, as well as African nations, such as Congo, Angola, and Senegal.  That blending of nations’ cultures and music is evident right from the set’s opener, ‘Bessoka.’  Composed by Manu Dibango, the song comes by way of Cameroon.  The use of the marimba alongside Dibango’s distinct vocal style and delivery – he sings in his native tongue – alongside the African percussion make that obvious.  At the same time, listeners can hear how that instrumentation brings about thoughts of Cuba.  It is an interesting connection that is certain to engage and entertain audiences.

On another note, the sounds of Senegalese music are just as clear in ‘Femme Noire.’  Composed by the single-named Meissa, the stringed instrumentation and equally distinct vocal delivery style here immediately take listeners to the West African nation.  At the same time, the arrangement also boasts just as much of a clear link to Cuba as to Senegal.  That is made clear in the distinct sound of the guitar line.  There is a certain tinge (for lack of better wording) to the guitar line that immediately cries Cuba.  That blending of culture and music once again makes this another clear example of what makes the compilation’s primary content so important to its presentation.  It is hardly the last example of what makes the set’s musical content important.  ‘N’dona,’ which closes out the collection, is another way in which African and Cuban influences come together.

‘N’dona’ is an interesting addition to this compilation in that so much traditional music from that nation actually does already have some very close stylistic similarity to music from Cuba.  That is evidenced through the use of the percussion and guitars.  The similarity is likely due to the fact that for a certain period of time, Angola was colonized by Portugal, which is also connected musically and culturally with Spain and Latin America.  To that end, the sounds of those song are that much less of a surprise.  To that end, the song is yet another clear example of the importance of the collection’s musical content.  When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the set’s other entries, the whole of that primary content makes clear why the record’s musical content is so important.

As important of a role as the record’s musical content plays to its presentation, it is just one part of what makes the record another successful offering from Putumayo World Music.  The liner notes featured with the record once again make for their own appeal.  As with every other compilation that Putumayo World Music has released to date, the liner notes here give brief but concise histories of the acts featured in the record.  The brief bio of Mel Malonga for instance, outlines his talents as a multi-instrumentalist and his experience working with a variety of well-known African acts.  It also outlines the meaning behind his song, ‘Requiem De L’Amour,’ noting that the song is about the rise of African musical influence in Cuban music.

The information about Meissa’s ‘Femme Noire’ is apparently a tribute to African women in terms of their physical form.  In other words, it is apparently meant to be something of a sensual song.  That understanding definitely adds another layer of interest to the song.  Further, it continues to show the importance of the collection’s liner notes.  It shows just how much the liner notes add to the record.

On yet another note, the brief bio on Los-Angeles-based artist/producer Ricardo Lemvo makes for its own appeal.  It is here that audiences learn of his and his family’s roots in Congo-Kinshasa, and how that played into the music that he crafts to this day.  The notes point out the blend of Congolese rumba and soukous has on those creations.  This revelation is certain to serve as a starting point for many audiences into those genres, just as much as his music.  Once again, it means the record’s liner notes play a pivotal role in its presentation, very much to the positive.  When the positive impact of this information and the other information addressed is considered with the positive impact of the rest of the record’s liner notes, the whole makes just as clear why the set’s liner notes are just as important to its presentation as its musical content.  The two elements together give audiences plenty to appreciate here.

While the primary and secondary content featured in Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano are unquestionably important to the record’s presentation, they are not all that is worth discussing.  The inclusion of a digital download card with the compilation adds even more appeal to the presentation.  That is because in having that, audiences can…well…download the collection onto their phones, computers, or other digital devices so that they can have the set in physical and digital form.  The digital will allow audiences to have the record on computer, and in turn, potentially burn it to disc with an external drive, or simply carry it with them on their portable streaming devices.  So really, the download card allows audiences who buy the compilation to enjoy it anywhere they go.  Providing that option once again is yet another win for the company and for audiences alike.  The label is to be commended for once again going this route, as it puts that proverbial cherry on top for the record.  When this is considered along with the impact and importance of the compilation’s overall content, the whole makes the record yet another enjoyable World Music offering from Putumayo World Music and one more of the year’s top new World Music offerings.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano, the latest World Music compilation from Putumayo World Music, is hardly the first time that the label has taken on the music of Cuba and Africa.  It is however, one of only a handful of times that the label has paid tribute to the nations’ music in terms of their connection to one another in one setting.  The music that makes up the collection’s body does well to exhibit those links.  Whether listeners are casual audiences of either musical genre or more seasoned, those connections are clear throughout, and can in turn serve as a starting point for those casual audiences in discovering even more music from either side of the Atlantic.  The liner notes that accompany the record make for their own interest.  That is because of the background that they offer on the artists and songs featured throughout the compilation.  That background adds to the listening experience, and in turn, the engagement and entertainment.  The inclusion once again of a digital download card with the compilation allows audiences to enjoy the set no matter where they go and where they are.  It puts the finishing touch to the whole and when considered with the record’s overall content, shows why this collection is yet another successful offering from Putumayo World Music.

Putumayo Presents Afro-Cubano is scheduled for release Friday through Putumayo World Music. More information on this and other titles from Putumayo Music is available at:

Websitehttps://putumayo.com

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/Putumayo

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

‘The Color Of Wood’ Makes A Strong Case For Percussionists As Stars

Courtesy: Summit Records

This past April, percussionist Tom Collier released his new album, The Color of Wood through Summit Records.  His first studio recording since the release of his 2017 album, Impulsive Illumination, it is a unique addition to this year’s field of new jazz and overall albums.  That is because the 15-song record defies classification, as is evidenced through its multitude of arrangements.  This will be discussed shortly.  While that diversity of sounds and styles forms a solid foundation for the album, the lack of any background on the songs in the liner notes detracts from the record’s presentation to a point.  This will be discussed a little later.  The record’s production works with the arrangements to make for even more appeal and will be discussed later, too.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the record’s presentation.  All things considered they make The Color of Wood one of the most unique overall records to be released so far this year that will appeal to every percussionist out there.

The Color of Wood, percussionist Tom Collier’s latest album is another unique record from the veteran musician.  It is a presentation that really defies any real classification from beginning to end.  It is not a jazz album, despite being released through a jazz label.  It is not necessarily a modern classical work and nor is it even just purely some artsy type of record.  It is a presentation that in reality…is a percussionist’s record, point blank.  It is just Collier alone on marimba from beginning to end.  At times it is clear that his performances are likely layered, because there is no way that he could have done some of the things in some of the faster arrangements completely by himself all at once, even using a traditional grip, holding multiple mallets. This is a rare approach in comparison to the music in his existing catalog.  He has done more funky stuff in one album, worked with other musicians in others, etc.  So, to have this record feature just Collier performing a group of unique arrangements (including a pair of covers) is something interesting, as are the arrangements themselves. 

Speaking of the arrangements, the aptly titled ‘Five Reflections on Wood’ apparently is one of those standout compositions.  It was inspired by a group of painters – Ruthi Winter, Cindy Kelsey, Jim and Mary Burdett, and Adelle Hermann Comfort – and by his wife, Cheryl according to the very brief information in the liner notes.  Obviously only certain people are likely to know who the noted painters are along with their paintings.  At the same time though, not knowing them or their works could lead those other audiences to research them.  It could lead to a whole new discovery and appreciation for those artists.  The arrangements that were inspired by the noted artists are so strong in their approaches.  From one to the next, Collier shows his ability to perform fast, intricate rhythmic patterns just as well as more subdued, contemplative works.  The very first movement, ‘Portrait of Cheryl’ (which was the piece inspired by his wife) is one of the movements that shows his ability to handle more upbeat works expertly.  He works his way up and down the marimba with so much ease, controlling the dynamics so well.  ‘A Sister’s Radiant Painting’ finds Collier moving in a much more subdued fashion, using so much control, including in his dynamic control.  The subtleties used throughout the song make it so immersive and its transition in to the opus’ third movement, ‘Portrait of a Scarlet Flower’ is seamless.  This is just as certain to keep listeners engaged, as that composition is just as relaxed and subdued.  As the composition progresses into its fourth and fifth movements, he continues to put his talents on full display just as much in the equally interesting arrangements, ‘Shelling at Horsehead Bay’ and ‘Ode to a Sunset.’  ‘Ode to a Sunset’ is such a positive yet relaxed composition that even without liner notes, really does paint its own musical picture, that of someone sitting in the warm weather, watching the sun set over a given situation.  The whole of the song is such a pleasing, appealing work.  It is just one of the works that makes the record unique.  Collier’s take of Hank Williams Sr.’s ‘I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry’ is another presentation that shows the importance of the album’s musical content.

Collier’s cover of ‘I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry’ is anything but that original composition.  Collier gives the song a completely new identity in its presentation here.  Instead of the melancholy song of lost love that everyone knows, Collier paints a picture that is more bluesy and upbeat. The chromatic scales that he uses as part of the arrangement and the occasional bluesy runs give the song such an intriguing approach and sound.  It really is something that must be heard firsthand to be fully understood and appreciated.  Simply put, it is a cover, but in its originality, is original in its own right.  It is just one more example of why the record’s musical content is so important to its presentation.  ‘The Owls Seem What They Want’ is yet another clear example of what makes the albums’ content so enjoyable.

‘The Owls Seem What They Want’ opens with Collier echoing the sounds of owls calling in the air by using a simple, steady beat on the marimba’s lower end.  He maintains the “call” throughout the composition as its base as he then gets slightly more active in the song’s main body.  The more energetic side of the song conjures thoughts of, maybe, owls in flight in the forest, all the while that call of the birds serving as the song’s foundation.  It is one more unique, fully immersive addition to the album that shows the record’s strength.  When it and the other songs examined here are considered alongside the rest of the record’s works, the whole makes for so much musical appeal. 

As much as the record’s musical arrangements do to make this album engaging and entertaining, the record is not perfect.  The lack of any real substantive background on the songs detracts from the record to a point.  Yes, there is a slight background on ‘Five Reflections on Wood.’  The thing of it though, is that said background is minimal at best.  All that Collier notes is that the composition was inspired by his wife and by a group of painters of whom most audiences likely do not know.  Other than that, there really is no background on any of the songs.  To that end, it detracts from the record to a point.  It is not enough to doom the record but does detract from the record’s presentation enough to be something of a concern.

Getting back to the positive, the record’s production works with the arrangements to make for its own appeal.  As noted, the arrangements show a wide range of sounds and styles from one to the next.  From more energetic works to more subdued compositions, Collier gives audiences much to appreciate.  Because of that diversity, plenty of attention had to have been paid to the production so as to bring out the best of each opus.  That work and attention paid off, too.  That is because it results in each song presenting such a positive general effect.  The overall general effect works with the arrangements to make the album’s overall aesthetic so appealing that percussionists and music lovers in general will find themselves taking in this record time and again.

The Color of Wood, Tom Collier’s latest studio album, is an impressive new offering from the veteran percussionist.  It is a presentation that will appeal just as much to percussionists as it will to any music lover in general.  That is evidenced in part through its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements are diverse in their sound and style.  The control that Collier shows throughout the album is impressive to say the very least, adding to the songs’ appeal.  As much as the album’s main content does to make it appealing, the lack of any background on the songs in the liner notes detracts from the record’s presentation.  It is not enough to doom the album, but still does take away from the overall listening experience.  The songs’ production works with the arrangements to put one more accent to the presentation, as it brings out the best in each composition.  When the production and arrangements are considered together, the aesthetic that they collectively create is just enough to make the album that much more worth hearing time and again.  That is even with the lack of liner notes in mind.  Each item examined is important in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation.  All things considered the album proves itself to be one of the year’s top new albums overall.

The Color of Wood is available now through Summit Records.  More information on the album is available along with all of Tom Collier’s latest news at https://tomcolliervibes.com

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to https://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com