Category Archives: Music

Portrait of Paul

A revealing new light on the ‘cute’ Beatle

Man on the Run

Man on the Run

By Tom Doyle

Hardcover, 288 pages, $27 (Ballantine)

 

The author, a Scottish rock journalist who’s interviewed Paul McCartney numerous times over the years, paints a candid, fascinating portrait of the rock ’n’ roll icon from one of the most tumultuous, uncertain periods of his life—following the breakup of the world-famous band, forming a new group, trying to outpace his past and find his future. It’s a whole new side to the “cute, happy Beatle” that sheds revealing new light on one of the most famous living rock stars on the planet.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Wily Willie

Willie Nelson sings about livin’, lovin’ and makin’ music

Willie Nelson_Band of Brothers

Willie Nelson

Band of Brothers

CD $10.99 (Legacy)

 

The iconic singer-songwriter, 81, sounds as musically wily as ever on these nine all-new co-written originals plus five tunes thoughtfully plucked from the song saddlebags of other artists and writers—including Vince Gill’s “Whenever You Come Around,” and a Billy Joe Shaver tune, “The Git Go,” which becomes a bluesy duet with Jamey Johnson—as he weaves a loose, lively overall theme about life, loving, living and making music with his compadres.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Some Enchanted Evening

Music helps heal two broken characters in uplifting summer gem

(L-R) KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and MARK RUFFALO star in BEGIN AGAIN

Begin Again

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley & Adam Levine

Directed by John Carney

R, 104 min.

Summer is typically when Hollywood brings out the big guns—space aliens, shootouts, explosions, careening cars, rambunctious comedies. But here’s a captivating little romantic charmer that floats along as easily as a summer love song.

Maybe that’s because it all revolves around music. When a bottomed-out record man (Mark Ruffalo) meets a down-in-the-dumps singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) recovering from a devastating breakup, it turns both of their bruised lives around.

Sure, it’s a bit of a cliché, but Ruffalo and Knightley are immensely likeable—and believable. Knightley, the British actress better know for her Pirates of the Caribbean roles than for anything that requires crooning, shows that she can indeed more than capably carry a tune.

(L-R) KEIRA KNIGHTLEY and ADAM LEVINE star in CAN A SONG SAVE YOUR LIFE?

Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine (right) makes his movie acting debut as the rock-star boyfriend of Keira Knightley’s character in ‘Begin Again.’

Ruffalo plays Dan, a scuffed-up New York producer who’s just been canned from the record label he co-founded back in his glory days. “We need vision, not gimmicks!” he fumes. Knightley is Greta, the guitar-playing girlfriend of a fast-rising pop star (real-life pop-rock star Adam Levine, lead singer of the band Maroon 5, making his movie debut), “marooned” herself in New York when she finds out—by deciphering the lyrics of his latest song—that he’s been cheating on her.

The audaciously creative musical project they agree to do together—recording outside, here, there and everywhere, in various New York locations—brings them together, although not exactly to the destination you might think they’re headed.

BEGIN AGAIN

Ceelo Green & Mark Ruffalo

Ceelo Green plays a version of himself as a music mogul who owes Dan for his success, and rapper Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) dons a shirt and tie as a record exec. Catherine Keener has some very natural moments, never overplaying, as Dan’s ex-wife. As their provocatively (under)-dressed teenage daughter, Hailee Steinfeld, 17, gets to play a much more contemporary character than the one that brought her into the spotlight in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit.

The elements of the story interlace in delightful, heartwarming, human ways, all led by the music. This is a music-lover’s movie, no doubt about it, from the well-crafted original songs written for Knightley and Levine’s characters, to the numerous scenes involving the music business, songwriting and recording, and discussions about artistry, integrity, the creative process, and the potent emotional pathway that leads from the ears to the heart.

(It’s also a reformatted Americanized makeover, by Irish director John Carney, of his 2006 movie Once, if you’re taking notes.)

A particularly lovely sequence has Dan and Greta sharing each other’s favorite songs on earphones as they traverse New York. As they listen to Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, watching a parade of Manhattan nightlife, Dan remarks how music makes moments memorable, like little “pearls on a string” of otherwise ordinary experiences.

Begin Again won’t make the list of this year’s big, boomy blockbusters. But it’s well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a cool little pearl to savor some sweet, enchanted evening in the middle of the summer heat.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Jersey Way

Clint Eastwood brings Frankie Valli & Four Seasons to the screen

JERSEY BOYS

Jersey Boys

Starring John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen & Christopher Walken

Directed by Clint Eastwood

R, 134 min.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons provided a snappy pop soundtrack to the 1960s and early ’70s, then rode a wave of massive nostalgic resurgence as the subjects of a smash, song-filled 2005 Broadway production, Jersey Boys, based on their story.

Now director Clint Eastwood dramatizes the saga of Valli and his three original singing partners in a movie—one that takes a lot of its cues from the Tony Award-winning musical. Using several of the Broadway cast members and two of the show’s writers, Eastwood shows how the young musicians came together in the early 1950s and rose to fame, walking a line between petty crime and dreams of stardom.

JERSEY BOYS

John Lloyd Young plays Frankie Valli.

“I’m going to be as big as Sinatra,” boasts Valli (John Lloyd Young) to the sexy young Italian spitfire who’ll eventually become his wife (Renée Marino). His mom worries he’ll end up “dead or in jail.”

Young, who portrayed Valli on Broadway, is outstanding, especially when summoning up Valli’s uncanny, almost otherworldly falsetto. “A voice like yours, it’s a gift from God,” says Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), the local mob wise guy, whose eyes well with tears when Frankie sings.

Erich Bergen plays Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons’ songwriting guru, introduced to the group by Joe Pesci (yes, the actor, here played “pre-stardom” by Joseph Russo). Michael Lomenda is baritone singer Nick Massi, who never has much to say—until he explodes in a quasi-comical rant about having to room with dictatorial group founder Tommy DiVito (Vincent Piazza, the only performer who didn’t play a Four Season on Broadway).

By using a cast of newcomers, Eastwood focuses the attention on the story, not the stars. Having the main actors occasionally look directly into the camera and address the audience, however, is hit and miss. A holdover from the musical, it’s meant to allow each band member to provide his “side” of the story, but the voices fail to create a much of a framing device, or add any traction to the tale.

JERSEY BOYS

And what a tale: Dizzying heights (100 million records, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), crashing lows (gangsters, embezzlement, fractured families). But for such an epic yarn, things often feel underdeveloped, too quick to move on. Nothing’s given time to sink in, register, resonate. Eastwood’s a solid, meat-and-potatoes director, but this fascinating, multi-textured story could have perhaps benefited from a bit more fine-tuning and finesse.

The music and the musical scenes, however, are toe-tapping terrific. And the story, a real-life combination of Goodfellas meets That Thing You Do!,follows a gritty, all-American arc of talent, pluck and luck, punctuated by songs—“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Ragdoll,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “My Eyes Adored You”—that have stood the test of time.

The end-credits curtain call has the entire cast spilling into the streets for a choreographed hoof-it to “September 1963 (Oh What a Night),” the Four Seasons’ last big hit, from 1975. Another nod to the movie’s Broadway roots, it should help a lot of music lovers—especially those “of a certain age”—stroll out of the theater a bit looser, livelier and lighter than they walked in.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Pop-Rockin’ Horns

Chicago still cranking out the brassy, jazzy, snazzy tunes

Chicago XXXVI NOW

Chicago XXXVI (“Now”)

Chicago

CD $14.98 (Frontiers Records)

 

The iconic pop-rock “horn band,” which first came together in 1967 as the Chicago Transit Authority and went on to climb the charts with “If You Leave Me Now,” “Saturday In The Park,” “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day” and dozens of other hits, now clicks off album number 36 (and continues the tradition of naming each release with sequential Roman numerals). Anchored by founding members Robert Lamm, Lee Lougnane, Walt Parazaider and James Pankow, they sound as classy, brassy, jazzy and snazzy as ever, giving these eleven new tunes sharp contemporary sizzle, but also a solid grounding in the group’s suave, swingin’ instantly recognizable style.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Hillybilly Haven

Fascinating documentary pulls back the curtain on Branson

27.5x40

We Always Lie to Strangers

DVD $19.95 (Virgil Films)

The tourism Mecca of Branson, Mo., with a visitor-to-resident ratio of nearly 900 to 1, is a conservative town with widespread traditional, patriotic, evangelical Christian values often reflected in its many “hillbilly” entertainment offerings. That’s what makes this eye-opening documentary, a film festival favorite five years in the making, so engrossing, as it peels back the curtain on a central cast of characters—performers, the city’s female mayor, and others—whose diversity (and humanity) reveal a town that defies easy local-yokel stereotypes. (And the title, if you’re wondering, comes from an age-old Ozarks expression about tall tales.)

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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The Russians Are Humming

Billy Joel rock ‘n’ rolls back the Iron Curtain

SONY DSCA Matter of Trust: The Bridge To Russia

Billy Joel

2-CD/Blu-ray, $34.88 (Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings)

In 1987, piano-man superstar Billy Joel was invited to take his show on the road—to Russia, becoming the first American act ever to bring a full-fledged rock ’n’ roll tour to the Soviet Union. His tour, regarded as playing a major role in helping thaw once-chilly international relationships, was documented by a film crew, recorded and widely reported a worldwide news event. Now all the elements of that historic excursion have been remastered and reassembled into one dynamic package: a full-length film of one of the concerts; two live audio CDs of the music; plus the recent two-hour Showtime documentary about the tour, and a book with photos and notes from writers and journalists who were there.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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‘Road’ to Superstardom

Elton John’s 1973 breakthrough repackaged with loads of extras

EJ_Box_MockUp_c

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Elton John

CD $55.90 (Universal Music/Island)

 

In today’s era of digital downloads, music collections “in the cloud” and audio streaming, it must seem like ancient history to reflect on a time from 1973 when this monumental double-disc breakthrough album—which catapulted the piano-pounding singer-songwriter into superstardom—sold 31 million copies on vinyl. In addition to re-mastered versions of the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classics “Candle in the Wind,” “Bennie and the Jets” and “Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting,” this deluxe edition also includes a 100-page illustrated book, a live-in-concert CD and documentary film from 1973, and an all-new tribute CD with cover versions of nine of the album’s signature songs by artists including The Band Perry, the Zac Brown Band, Fall Out Boy and Ed Sheeran.

 —Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Musical Mecca

Documentary spotlights magic of Muscle Shoals sound

Muscle Shoals

Muscle Shoals

Blu-ray $29.98 / DVD $26.98 (Magnolia Home Entertainment)

Is it something in the water? On the Tennessee River in Alabama is one of the South’s musical treasures, a near-mystical place where some of the most vital music of all time has its roots. This rousing documentary examines the “Muscle Shoals” sound and its creator, producer Rick Hall, who brought black and white musicians together at his recording studios (often with Hall’s famed staff musicians, the Swampers) to make records with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, Carrie Underwood and many others singing stars.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Honoring Bob Dylan

Re-release recalls all-star 1992 concert event

Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert

Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration, Deluxe Edition

Blu-ray, $24.98 / DVD $21.98 (Columbia/Legacy)

In 1992, superstar musicians of every stripe streamed into New York City’s Madison Square Garden to fête Bob Dylan on the 30th anniversary of his first album for Columbia Records and stage a concert in his honor. This music documentary, previously available only on VHS, features performances of Dylan classics by a parade of the era’s leading acts, including John Mellencamp, Johnny Cash and June Carter, Lou Reid, Johnny Winter, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, the O’Jays, The Band, Stevie Wonder, and former Beatle George Harrison. A feast for fans of one of America’s most iconic, enduring and ever-evolving singer-songwriters, now 72, it also includes 40 minutes of interviews, rehearsal footage, and other behind-the-scenes goodies.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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