Wednesday, April 30, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: JJ Heller "I Dream of You"

JJ HELLER
I Dream of You
(New Day Distribution)
________________________

Acclaimed singer
and songwriter
JJ Heller returns
with an engaging
new record —
just in time for
Mother's Day.
________________________

The latest from JJ Heller delivers exactly what longtime fans have come to expect, love and crave. Although she has woven family-friendly material into the fabric of her albums throughout her ten-year recording career, the singer / songwriter, wife and mother has made family — particularly the unique relationship between parent and child, THE focus of her new 12-song collection, I Dream Of You. However, if the notion of an album consisting only of lullabies merely conjures up images of purple dinosaurs, you're in for a very pleasant surprise.

Comprised of six brand spankin' new tunes, updated versions of five longtime favorites and one cover song, I Dream of You is as sharp, smart and infectious as any of Heller's previous nine records.

Written by JJ and her collaborator / husband, David, the title track is a bona fide gem and kicks off the record quite nicely. The delicate sing-along offers an engaging vocal, accompanied by piano, acoustic guitar, Dylan-flavored harmonica, subtle kick drum and authentic hand claps. Wherever you go, I want you to know  When I dream  I dream of you.

Another Heller & Heller highlight is "When I'm with You." Sweet and simple, it's an honest and heartfelt love song. I could never count all the ways that you change me, baby. Every day the sky is a deeper shade of blue  when I'm with you.

“So many fans have told 
me they listen to my music
when they’re trying to find
peace and rest.”
- JJ Heller


“This project was created to 
not just calm the hearts of
children, but the child inside 
every adult as well.”
- JJ Heller

The lone cover tune, "Take it With Me" (Tom Waits / Kathleen Brennan) is one of the record's most compelling offerings. A bit darker than the traditional-type lullaby, it's absolutely beautiful and  brilliant, nonetheless. In a land there's a town. And in that town there's a house. And in that house there's a baby. And in that baby there's a heart I love. I'm gonna take it with me when I go. I'm gonna take it with me when I go.

Magical and poetic, "Sailing the Sugar Sea" is as delicious as a bowlful of aural Skittles — possibly the set's crowning jewel:

I will miss you  
when you're sleeping.
Will you find me 
in your dreams?
Will you look for 
me in rainbows?
I'll be sailing 
the sugar sea.  

Snappy and happy, the piano / vocal "Boat Song" also is a captivating delight. Oh, do you know we belong together? Oh, do you know my heart is yours?

As a parent, and a diehard JJ Heller fan, I Dream of You speaks to me on a very personal level and it ranks among 2014's best and brightest new releases. (www.jjheller.com)

-Christopher Long
(April 2014)

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

HAIR BANDS: 30th Anniversary "Greatest" List

HAIR BANDS:
30th Anniversary
"Greatest" List
_______________________

Back in the day, my
appetite for this stuff
was insatiable. Oddly,
these days, I'm not
so hungry. But 30
years later, it's kinda
fun to look back.
Isn't it?
_______________________

Pioneered in the early '70s by the New York Dolls, developed in the mid-'70s by Angel and perfected in the late '70s by Hanoi Rocks, it caught fire on LA's Sunset Strip during the early '80s. And by the mid '80s, the turbo-charged, spandex-clad, Aqua Net-fueled, whiskey-soaked and cocaine-inspired "good-time" Hair Band craze had become a worldwide phenomenon. But by 1991, the party was over (cue the "fat lady"). And be sure, despite the denial of those who've tried in vain to administer CPR for the last 20+ years, the patient remains flatlined — and there ain't enough bogus, half-baked reunions or "Rib Fest" revivals that can bring it back to life.

NEW YORK DOLLS: 
The original Hair Band blueprint.
But to commemorate what I consider to be its "official" 30th-ish anniversary, I wanted to take some time to reflect on "the greatest" the outrageous bands and the iconic music that made the Hair Band era such a magical time for so many rock fans.

GREATEST GUITARIST

A no-brainer, to be sure. In fact, on
all levels, nobody else comes close.
The songwriting genius behind Poison's
mammoth success. And the 2000 self-
titled release from his side project,
Samantha 7 is ranked (by me) as the
4th greatest rock record of all-time.
Pick up that guitar and talk to me!


GREATEST DRUMMER

Stryper's "visual timekeeper" was (and is) a
magnificent musician and a powerhouse
performer. AND, he was hotter than most
of my girlfriends a definite Hair Band
plus! Check out "To Hell with the Devil,"
"Calling on You" and "Free" 'nuff said.


GREATEST BASSIST

The mastermind behind Poison not only
was the greatest Hair Band bassist, but
he's also perhaps the all-time greatest
 rock star  PERIOD. And I'll stand
confidently behind that claim.


GREATEST VOCALIST 
/ FRONTMAN
Paul Stanley

Even the infamous "masked messiahs"
morphed into a Hair Band briefly during
the '80s. Although "Crazy Crazy Nights"
and "Bang Bang You" were embarrassingly
cheesy, even by Hair Band standards,
"Reason to Live," as well as the entire
  Asylum album still stand up nicely against
some of KISS' all-time best work.



Arena rock sing-alongs about chicks? Check.
Non-stop fast and furious shredding? Check.
Wailing vocals? Check.
Mark Slaughter in tight pants? Check.
(1) ridiculous wig minimum? Check.
All systems go, indeed!
("That Time of Year")


GREATEST SONG
Cinderella

Often described (by me) as "America's
Rolling Stones," this Pennsylvania-based
combo was greater and possessed more
cred than the "Hair Band" label would
suggest. And they hit a grand slam with
this 1988 classic. It still gets me "chubby."


GREATEST VIDEO
Roxx Gang 

Their only major label record,
Things You've Never Done Before,
kinda tanked in '88-'89. But this
St. Petersburg, FL band was THE
"real deal" and it shoulda sold
ten million copies. If Guns N' Roses
had been twice as great, they
still couldn't have polished
Roxx Gang's boots. Just sayin'.


GREATEST BAND
Britny Fox

Simply put, this band was the whole package.
(Seeing is believing)

"Girschool" MTV video

"Save the Weak" MTV video

"Standing in the Shadows of Love" 
MTV video

So there ya go my Hair Band 30th Anniversary tribute. I hope you enjoyed it. And please feel free to offer your personal comments below.

-Christopher Long
(April 2014)

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Heaven is for Real

HEAVEN IS
FOR REAL
 ________________________ 

Mmm.
Feeling hungry?
Well, get ready.
Here comes
a Twinkie!
________________________

Is heaven for real? Is it beautiful? Is Jesus there? Does God love us?

All of these questions are addressed, and the answers revealed, in the new Hollywood smash, Heaven is for Real — a delightful family film that's also as dangerous as a 40-something divorcee with a Xanax script and a loaded pistol.

Directed by Randall Wallace, the movie is based on the bajillion-selling book by Todd Burpo. It's a wonderful story of Burpo's four-year-old son Colton's visit to Heaven during a surgical procedure  — an experience that the child recounts in glorious, vivid detail.

Connor Corum as Colton Burpo.
The story is engaging. The cast, featuring Oscar-nominated actor Greg KinnearKelly ReillyLane StylesMargo MartindaleThomas Haden Church and Connor Corum is superb. And in its opening weekend, the movie raked in more than $25 million at the box office, against its $12 million budget. A sweet success, indeed.

So what's the problem? It's a "Twinkie."

Yes, Heaven is for real. It is beautiful. Jesus is there waiting for us. And God loves us. But the projected message of the movie is that God's love alone is a guarantee of our place in Heaven.

Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly 
as Todd and Sonja Burpo.
And that's where Heaven is for Real jumps the track. When a grieving mother asks Pastor Burpo whether or not her son is in Heaven, he assures her that God's love is sufficient. As a pastor offering comfort to a mother who had lost a child, Burpo's words were kind and heartfelt — but they contradict God's Word — making for a dangerous big screen message.
___________________________

Whosoever has the Son has life; whoever
does not have God's Son does not have life.
1 John 5:12 (NLT)
___________________________

Heaven is for Real delivers
family entertainment.
If the perceived message of the movie is in fact true, then the price that Jesus Christ paid at the Cross for our sins was worthless. The "stripes" that he bore and the blood that he shed his death and ultimate resurrection, were all pointless. Be sure that if any of us gave up our son to be crucified for the sake of all mankind, we would place considerable value on that sacrifice. God does love us very much. That's why he gave up His Son at Calvary. Simply put, Jesus Christ is the ONE and ONLY key to Heaven's gateway. And the really good news is, salvation —  the complete assurance of a place in Heaven is available to us ALL. And it's a gift that is absolutely FREE. We need only to reach out and accept it by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Heaven is for Real is a cute family movie that comes at a time when we really need more family movies. Heck, if I had any youngins, I'd take them all to this one — and then we'd hit the ol' DQ on the way home.

A positive and
lighthearted message.
In sum, while it does deliver a huge entertainment payoff, Heaven is for Real is a product of Hollywood. And I strongly encourage folks not to be fooled by a feel-good, but to use the movie's positive, lighthearted message merely as a springboard in which to dive deeper into God's message. I highly recommend the NLT (New Living Translation) as a fantastic place to start. Get the scoop HERE.

And if like me, you possess a true passion for movies, I also recommend another current blockbuster, God's NOT Dead. If Heaven is for Real connects with you and successfully establishes the existence of Heaven, then God's NOT Dead will close the deal by showing you how to get there.

-Christopher Long
(April 2014)

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Friday, April 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Paul Stanley "Face the Music"

BOOK REVIEW
Face the Music:
A Life Exposed
- Paul Stanley -
(HarperOne)
 ________________________ 

With three of the original 
"Fab Four" having offered
their own version of 
"KISStory" in the last
decade, only one piece 
of the dysfunctional 
puzzle remained. And
this is the one I've
been waiting for.
________________________

Superstar endorsements from the likes of Jimmy Page, Elton John and Dave Grohl grace the back cover and introductory page of FACE THE MUSIC: A Life Exposed the long-awaited personal tell-all bio from co-founding KISS frontman, Paul Stanley.

Seemingly honest and transparent, Stanley begins sharing his life story while leading readers through his nightly pre-concert regimen. First, I wipe my face with an astringent, to close the pours. Then I grab a container of "clown white, " a thick, cream-based makeup. I dip my fingers into the tub of white goo and start applying it all over my face, leaving some space open around my right eye, where the rough outline of the star will be. And in short order before he can even lead us to the next step  sketching out that iconic star with the pointed end of a beautician's comb, the rock legend sets the stage for his rollercoaster tale. 

PAUL STANLEY
More than the typical "rags to riches" rock and roll saga, FACE THE MUSIC is the rather unlikely story of how Stanley Bert Eisen a Jewish kid of German / Polish descent, raised in a less than affluent part of Manhattan during the '50s and '60s, beat the odds not only by overcoming a disability, but also by achieving unimaginable success.

I was born with an ear deformity called microtia, in which the outer ear cartilage fails to form properly and, to varying degrees of severity, leaves you with just a crumpled mass of cartilage. I had nothing more than a stump on the right side of my head. And my ear canal was also closed, so I was deaf.

Told in an engaging, no-nonsense style, the "Starchild" recounts in vivid, heartbreaking detail how he was taunted and ridiculed from an early age by other children who would wield such verbal daggers as, "Stanley the one-eared monster." He further reveals the dark realities of growing up in a dysfunctional home with less than nurturing parents and a one-time institutionalized sister who once came at him with a hammer and then proceeded to use said hammer to break down his bedroom door, Jack Torrance-style. 

Simmons and Stanley, circa 2012.
Of course most of Stanley's story centers around his epic 40-year career with KISS, including details of his often volatile personal and professional relationship with musical partner, Gene Simmons. And make no mistake, much energy is spent on maligning original KISS members, guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss. In fact, despite the love, kindness and God-factor Stanley weaves into his story, his relentless snarky commentary regarding his two former bandmates tends to dilute his effectiveness. C'mon fellas, enough is enough already with the bashing. I expected that kind of crass language and nastiness from Peter Criss' book, but I was disappointed that Stanley didn't seek a higher road with his. Conversely, mad props are extended ad nauseam to current drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer.

Stanley does however, give credit where its due in portraying original KISS manager Bill Aucoin and choreographer / road manager / songwriter / producer Sean Delaney, yet the role of Casablanca Records president Neil Bogart is somewhat minimalized. And while every name and juicy detail of every one of Stanley's Playmate / actress liaisons made it into print, the names and stories of such key KISStory players as John Hartman, Peter "Moose" Oreckinto, Carl Glickman, Larry Harris, Jeff Franklin, Fritz Postlethwaite, Wally Meyrowitz, C.K. Lendt and many others are all noticeably MIA.

PAUL STANLEY:
Family man!
(Good stuff, indeed!)
But jamming a 60-year life story of this magnitude into a mere 450+ pages certainly is a tall order. And be sure that despite glossing over a few prime eras, omitting some key players and bypassing such insightful topics as the KISS arena football team, coffee shop, miniature golf course and his series of hip replacement surgeries, FACE THE MUSIC certainly does deliver a slew of salacious stories and plenty of "WOW!" moments. However, one of its biggest payoffs is Stanley's more recent accounts offstage starring as a dedicated husband and proud father. A recommended read for KISS fans everywhere.

-Christopher Long
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Monday, April 14, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Robert Randolph "We Walk This Road"

ROBERT RANDOLPH
& THE FAMILY BAND
We Walk This Road
Warner Brothers
 _______________________

I just found this piece
in a file containing 
some of my old
old reviews not
sure how it slipped
through the cracks.
Well, better late
than never. Right?
_______________________

Described (by me) as the "Jimi Hendrix” of pedal steel, Robert Randolph released his 2001 debut record, Live at the Wetlands, the (then) 23-year-old electrified the music world with his unique blend of authentic, funky R&B and traditional blues. Although his subsequent records, Unclassified (2003) and Colorblind (2006) were geared more towards reaching a mainstream audience, Randolph returns in 2010 with We Walk This Road, a record that brings him back to his early gospel / blues roots.

Produced by Grammy-winner T-Bone Burnett (Elvis Costello, The Wallflowers, Counting Crows), We Walk This Road is an all-star effort featuring session appearances from the likes of Leon Russell, drum legend Jim Keltner and the slide guitar work of Ben Harper as well as songwriting contributions from Bob Dylan (“Shot of Love“), Prince (“Walk Don’t Walk”) and John Lennon (“I Don’t Want to be a Soldier Mama”).


Highlights include the downhome gospel-flavored “Traveling Shoes” (featuring the signature falsetto back-up vocals of longtime bassist Danyel Morgan), the aforementioned Dylan penned “Shot of Love” and “I Still Belong to Jesus” which possesses the rich, full-bodied flavor of Fleetwood Mac circa 1977.

Simply put, We Walk This Road is honest, pure and refreshingly inspirational. Make no mistake, Robert Randolph is back and Jesus and I both agree that this one is the real deal.

-Christopher Long
(July 2010)
 ________________________________________

Robert Randolph 
Discography
 ________________________________________


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Sunday, April 13, 2014

RECORD REVIEW: Saliva "Rise Up"

SALIVA
Rise Up
Rum Bum Records
___________________________

Back in action after a
two-year hiatus, Saliva 
returns to the scene with 
new frontman and a
blistering new record.
___________________________

Produced by Bobby Huff (3 Doors Down / Shinedown / Halestorm), the eighth album from Saliva, delivers 12 explosive tracks sure to delight longtime fans while appealing to a potential new legion of faithful followers.

"We think it's the best album 
we've done since probably 
the first or second one."
-Dave Novotny 

Leading the charge is the group's dynamic new frontman, Bobby Amaru. The Jacksonville, Florida native replaces original singer, Josey Scott, who left the Memphis-based band in 2012. And along with founding members, guitarist Wayne Swinny, bassist Dave Novotny and longtime drummer Paul Crosby, Rise Up recaptures the guts, groove and glory of such Saliva staples as "Click Click Boom,"  "Always" and "Ladies and Gentlemen."

"It was just one of the most 
enjoyable experiences that I
ever had in the music business."
-Wayne Swinny

Brand spankin' new guitar-driven anthems abound — including the guaranteed fist-pumping lead-off single / title track, "Redneck-Freakshow" and "Army." However, it's bona fide golden nuggets such as "She Can Sure Hide Crazy," "Choke" and "Closer" that make for the record's most compelling moments. 

"Closer, that's like a
relationship going 
through a whole break-up 
thing, seeing yourself
from each other's 
perspective kind of deal."
-Bobby Amaru

SALIVA
I fell for every curve, 
twisted by her curse,
I never saw the psycho 

coming. You can fake it 
so good, should live in 
Hollywood, where you 
can be a dime a dozen.
(From "She Can Sure Hide Crazy")

Combining the no-nonsense nuts of Papa Roach with the songwriting edge of Hoobastank, while remaining true to the Saliva sound, Rise Up delivers — across the board. And as long as they continue to maintain dysfunctional relationships with crazy women, the band clearly still has plenty of gas in the tank and tread on the tires. 

-Christopher Long
(April 2014)



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