Tuesday, February 14, 2012

COME TOGETHER!

 
During this past Christmas season, I was shopping in a Florida  music store. As I made my way to the exit with my bag-o-gift purchases, I heard an angry male voice from the back cut through the sound of general holiday cheer. “Your articles SUCK, man!” Really? It was the most joyous time of the year, yet those were the words that this gentleman chose to offer me. At first, I snickered as I walked out onto the sidewalk. “At least they’re reading my stuff,” I said to myself. As a published author, I’m certainly no stranger to criticism and I’ve developed thick skin since my first book arrived in stores in 2010. However, that particular comment offered me considerable food for thought.

What I find particularly disturbing in our country these days is that we’re no longer able to share, respect, appreciate or even tolerate opposing points of view. From supporting our favorite professional sports teams to voicing our political perspectives to expressing personal faith, Americans now only seem to respond to those who have differing beliefs from their own with nastiness, name-calling and sometimes even violence. Hey, remember the “peace and love” rhetoric from the 1960s? Where’s the kindness today? Where’s the compassion, the connection, the understanding? Libs, conservatives, believers, non-believers, NFC, AFC, Gators, ‘Noles, young, old, even Lady Gaga fans – I’m talking to everybody!

Simply put, I genuinely love people – even the guy who cut me off in the Starbucks parking lot the other day. I also respect opinions and beliefs that are different from mine. Since the inception of these political-based posts a few months ago, I’ve remained steadfast in my conviction NEVER to resort to mudslinging. And I’ll further continue to encourage others to take the high road as well – although my pleas are certain to fall on many deaf ears.

I’d be willing to wager a bet that President Obama is actually a swell guy. He clearly loves his family and he is likely a blast to hang out with during the “big game.” (“Hey, Barack – pass the guacamole, dude!”) However, given the political context of many of my recent posts, I will comment when I take issue with his job performance – which is quite often. But be sure that my insightful, lighthearted and (always) spot-on observations are never intended to be taken as personal, malicious or hurtful. This is, after all, an entertainment-based blog.

Yes, through my various recent writing endeavors, I’ve found even myself to be the target of name-calling and hate-speak – derisive comments to which I simply will not respond. But holy cow kids, if we can’t all come together on some of this stuff, we won’t have to fear Commies, boogiemen, or even another Bret Michaels reality show – we will simply destroy ourselves. In a wildly popular book that came out a few years ago, a very wise young man named Jesus was quoted as saying, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.” Hmm. Food for thought indeed.

Now, go in peace. Go in love. Extend kindness and compassion to all. God bless America and remember… VOTE BACHMANN IN 2016!


 -Christopher Long
(February 2012)


Author Christopher Long's latest book
is available NOW on Amazon

Monday, February 13, 2012

THRIFT STORE ADVENTURES - Pt. VI (New Destination)

Devouring a Goodread at Goodwill!
Very little gets my
blood pumping like discovering a new
thrift store. Today, I
visited the Goodwill
location in Merritt
Island, FL. My girlfriend 
has been around the
thrift store "block"
more times than I.
Hence, she'd visited
this store already and was psyched to turn
me on to a new spot.
 
______________________________________________________________
 
This was a fun little number, right?
(Unfortunately, I couldn't find the 8-track version.)
Through my personal past experiences, I've found the Goodwill stores in my area to be generally clean, organized and well-managed. However, this one took the cake. I'm guesstimating that the store is 12,000 square feet. Although they're a bit pricier than the typical Mom and Pop-type thrift store, the overall inventory was stellar. The staff was friendly and I'd wager a guess that I could have eaten off  the  sparkling, meticulously waxed floors —  even the bathrooms were clean — which all adds up to a fabulous shopping experience.
 
As Michelle was trying on a seemingly endless pile of girly stuff, I wandered into the store's "Young Adult" book section where I discovered a copy of The Case of the High Seas Secret by the distinguished sister author duo of  Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. I was so immediately gripped by the riveting storyline, that I had to take a break and spend the eight minutes necessary to read it cover-to-cover.

Heck yeah, these galoshes were flippin' awesome!
(I wish I was still a Size 5. I wish I was still a size 5. I wish I was still a size 5 .)
 

After approximately ninety minutes, we'd only covered half of the store and the effects of our early morning Starbucks experience were wearing off. Consequently, Michelle informed me that she would, in fact, gnaw her arm off within minutes if we didn't start making our way to Coconuts on the Beach, for lunch very soon!

I carefully made some mental notes as to which areas of the store we had not yet covered and I hope to complete our unfinished mission next week.
 
-Christopher Long
(February 2012)



Words to live by.

 

Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon.
 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

RECORD REVIEW: Seal "Soul 2"


SEAL - Soul 2
(Reprise Records)

Grammy-winning
R&B powerhouse
Seal  returned to
"New Release" bins
at Starbucks,
Walmart, and
Best Buy
last month with
Soul 2, the sequel to
his 2008 Top 20
remake record, Soul.
__________________________

He's scored huge hits of his own such as "Crazy" and "Kiss from a Rose," yet the forty-eight-year old London native once again opts to give props to classic R&B from the '60s and '70s -- resulting in a record more appealing than most of the other gazillion cover tune records that have flooded the dying marketplace in recent years. In fact, with his smooth yet powerful signature style, few artists on today's music scene could have delivered such an engaging tribute.

Although they achieved two huge Top Ten hits ("Car Wash" - 1976 and "I Wanna Get Next to You" - 1977), Rose Royce is a name that comes up less frequently than  The Commodores, Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire  when discussing classic R&B groups. However, they made enough of an impact on Seal for him to tip his hat to the Los Angeles-based outfit not once, but twice on Soul 2.  "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" was originally only a minor hit in 1978, reaching #32 on the pop charts, while "Wishing on a Star" failed even to reach the Top 40. However, Seal nails these two to the wall beautifully and despite likely being the least-known track on Soul 2, "Wishing" is perhaps the record's crowning jewel.

Seal remains true to the original vibe and arrangement of most of the tunes, such as Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," The O'Jays' "Back Stabbers" and The Spinners' "I'll Be Around." However, with the assistance of producers Trevor Horn and David Foster, even the spot-on versions feel and sound fresh.

But even an artist like Seal, operating within his comfort zone, is capable of aiming, pulling the hammer and misfiring. Marvin Gaye's  "What's Going On"  was a beautifully gritty, masterpiece. However, Seal's version of the 1972 hit sounds closer to a Rodgers and Hammerstein  show tune than a compelling cultural commentary from a troubled period in our nation's history.  And the remake of "Lean On Me" simply lacks the stank of Bill Withers' 1972 #1-selling version.

Other highlights include Teddy Pendergrass' 1980 jam, "Love TKO," The Miracles' 1965 smash, "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Love Won't Let Me Wait," the 1975 hit from Major Harris.

In short, Soul 2 is simply a wonderful treat for fans of classic soul music from a time when the term "R&B" was synonomous with talented  musicians playing actual instruments and singers who understood melody and sang heartfelt songs filled with true passion and emotions beyond "blastin' caps" and gittin' their "drink on" with "hos" in "da club."

-Christopher Long
(February 2012)

 
Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon.
 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

RECORD REVIEW: Van Halen "A Different Kind of Truth"

VAN HALEN
A Different Kind of Truth
Interscope Records

At age fifty, I'm not the same pot-smoking, rock-driven, chick-chasing, moronic newbie that I was at age twenty. Since, oh say, "1984" I've experienced parenthood, survived a divorce, endured career highs and lows, as well as challenges with the PTA, the IRS and the local PD. I hang out with a completely different group of friends  most of whom also share similar life experiences. I speak differently, dress differently and frequent different establishments. And I don't listen to, or even like much of the same music. But be sure that I've not become that "old boring guy." I simply realize that life is about a lot more than cruisin' on a Friday night while guzzlin' wine coolers and crankin' Metal Shop. In the full spirit of disclosure, I'll admit though that as a teenager, I thrived on the shirtless, spandex-wearing, hard rockin' golden "Diamond" Dave era of Van Halen. And well, thirty years later, I guess that some addictions are still hard to kick.

I've been quite fascinated by the recent brouhaha leading up to the long-awaited and much-hyped release of Van Halen’s latest, A Different Kind of Truth – the band’s first full-length effort with original frontman David Lee Roth since their 1984 record – twenty-eight years ago. What I found particularly amusing about most of the online Dave vs. Sammy / beat up on Wolfie-type dialogue is that many fans seem to be still living in – 1984. The overall expectation seems to be that somehow, a band that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year could and should meticulously recreate and recapture the same "magic" in 2012 as in 1978 – which is simply unrealistic, and unfair. 

Let’s be honest, kids – the classic Van Halen swagger was lost long before David Lee Roth ever quit. Case in point: “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” vs. “Jump.” (C'mon, you know I’m right.) Or how about this – compare the raw, bad-ass factor of the original 1978 “Running with the Devil” video clip with the campy, cheesiness of the “Hot for Teacher” MTV video. Oh sure, Alex’s drum intro is still awesome and Eddie’s riffs remain truly tasty, but face it – by late 1984, the once mighty Van Halen was becoming something of a cartoon band.
With frontman Sammy Hagar leading the charge, Van Halen steered the oh-so-safe “Journey-O-Styx-Wagon” into the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. And although I personally failed to connect with their more corporate-sounding music during that era, even I had to concede that “Van Hagar” achieved greater success than ever before. But even that was a VERY long time ago.

I always yearned for the return of “Diamond” Dave. Yet when Van Halen did (kinda) reunite briefly with him in 1996, the end result was merely the two (extremely disappointing) studio tracks that were included on a compilation record. Remember “Me Wise Magic?” YIKES! I started seeing the writing on the wall. The message was clear, and it was – “Hey, we’re Van Halen and we’ve run out of material.”

In fact, in the last fourteen years, Van Halen only has been able to muster one full-length album – 1998’s frighteningly unlistenable Van Halen III with former Extreme frontman, Gary Cherone. I won’t say that III is the worst rock record ever, but I do liken my one-time listening experience to that of accidentally copping a peak at the guy’s “stuff” standing at the next urinal in the men’s room – I simply looked quickly (and awkwardly) the other way and tried to pretend that it never happened.

As a diehard fan, even I can admit that David Lee Roth has not been blameless over the years either. Oh sure, his solo career got off with a bang in the late ‘80s (Eat ‘Em and Smile is still one of my all-time favorites), but even his personal “well” also quickly ran dry. Have you heard his 1998 DLR Band or 2003 Diamond Dave records? ‘Nuff said.

So despite their glorious past, to me, the creative bar was actually set pretty low for Van Halen as they once again embarked on a new record. After all, this time they were going at it without the participation of the group’s true unsung hero, bassist Michael Anthony. That’s right, we got Dave back, but three does NOT a reunion make!

As a realistic fan with realistic expectations living in the 2012 real world, I liked the album’s lead single, “Tattoo.” It’s a well-produced, rock solid track that hooked me by the second chorus – and the accompanying black and white video truly captures the band’s old school charisma and long-lost swagger. I’m not saying it's “Somebody Get Me a Doctor II” or even close, but it certainly ain’t “Me Wise Magic” either.

In the old days, Van Halen records typically offered eight or nine tracks and clocked in around thirty-five minutes. Conversely, A Different Kind of Truth contains thirteen tunes and has an approximate running time of fifty minutes. This is where fans could have benefited from the band’s early formula. The first four tracks, “Tattoo,” “She’s the Woman,” “You and Your Blues” and “China Town,” are all classic-sounding slam dunk winners. Had the band and Grammy Award-winning producer John Shanks (Bon Jovi, Chris Isaak, Alanis Morissette) subscribed to the tried and true show biz mantra of “less is more,” and simply offered the first four tracks along with such “B-listers” as “Bullethead,” “Big River,” and the Eat 'Em and Smile-sounding “As Is,” this would have been a snappy and concise record, truly worthy of the Van Halen legend. However, the buzz is killed quickly during what would have been Side Two in the old days, with such mind-numbing clunkers as “Blood and Fire,” “Outta Space,” “Beats Workin’” and “The Trouble with Never.”

And it gets worse. “Stay Frosty” is disconnected, jarring and simply unlistenable. In fact, you actually can hear where Dave’s vocals are patched together – making for what is, without a doubt, the single worst Van Halen track ever – far worse than any abomination offered on III.

As for their well-acknowledged musical prowess, Eddie and Alex both deliver solid caliber performances likely to meet with the approval of dedicated muzos across the board. And Wolfie (or whoever actually cut the bass tracks) lays it down nicely in the pocket.

Although it’s great to hear Dave back making music with “the brothers,” at times his vocals seem undermixed and he often can border on annoying. His “sinister-guy” spoken vocal bit works for “Tattoo” adding a cool sorta vibe, but it starts to wear thin on “As Is.” And by “Honeybabysweetiedoll” I was really missing Michael Anthony’s signature vocal contribution.

Overall, A Different Kind of Truth is a well-done, well-produced record. It’s “modern-sounding” enough to not seem like a guilty pleasure, while recreating enough of the classic VH magic that fans just might feel as if they’re reuniting with old friends.

In summation, I give this one an ‘88’ Mr. Clark, because it’s got a good beat and I can dance to it!

 -Christopher Long
(February 2012)


Author Christopher Long's latest book,
is available NOW on Amazon.