Views on pop culture through my eyes

Posts tagged ‘albums’

Winter Reviews Part 2 2018

It is time for some more entertainment reviews. Read on for my latest takes on movies, CDs and DVDs.

Movies

Darkest Hour
Gary Oldman give a tour-de-force performance as Winston Churchill in this gripping WW II drama. We see the man behind the masterful speeches — at home with his wife, dictating and editing his speeches and interacting with the British public during the rise of Hitler’s Germany. What is interesting is how this movie intersects with 2 others: The King’s Speech and Dunkirk (As there are overlapping story lines between them). Mr. Oldman is sure to win the Oscar for his performance. Go see it. Grade: A-

Molly’s Game
Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed this movie based on the true story of Molly Bloom. She was once an aspiring Olympic skier, and later became known as the Poker Princess. Jessica Chastain stars as Molly, with Idris Elba as her lawyer and Kevin Costner as her father. Molly falls into running hi-stakes, big money poker games in Los Angeles (and later New York). These games attract celebs, athletes, politicians, mobsters and more. Until she gets caught by the FBI. This is a well-written and -acted true story about one women’s fight for personal redemption. Grade: B+

Black Panther
The latest superhero movie from Marvel brings us the origin story of T’Challa (aka Black Panther). This character was first introduced to most people in “Captain America: Civil War.” Despite the fact that the comic book originally came out in the 60’s. Chadwick Boseman plays the title character, the newly crowned king of Wakanda, the most technically advanced country in the world. What I liked about the movie was that we finally get a movie with a superhero of color. Wakanda is a proud African nation with plenty of powerful and dynamic women. The movie has a great cast including Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett and Andy Serkis among others. It lagged a bit for me, as there was a lot of time spent setting up the story. And by the end, it is a bit of an FX overload like most of these movies. I liked it, I didn’t love it. But Black Panther is a refreshing addition to the Marvel universe. And I look forward to what they do with the character. Grade: B+

Annihilation
Natalie Portman leads the action in this sci-fi thriller. It is written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex-Machina). Portman plays a biologist with a military past. Her husband has just returned from Area X. And he is not himself. In Area X, there is this happening called ‘The Shimmer.” Portman leads an all-female crew into the Shimmer, to investigate it and get some answers. There are a few scares and run-in’s with interesting creatures and landscapes that have mutated. It all ends with a cerebral trippy finale that will leave you questioning what exactly is going on in the Shimmer. I enjoyed myself. Grade: B+

 

CDs

Shania Twain “Now” Shania Twain returns with her first new album in 15 years. I was skeptical at first, but I am getting into it now. Her songwriting is still as catchy as ever. Her voice does sound a little different, but hey, so do most singers this far into their careers. Stand outs include “Life’s About to Get Good” and “We Got Something They Don’t”. Grade: B-

Blake Shelton “Texoma Shore” A safe but forgettable set from Blake Shelton. Yes, the guy is a good singer and a nice guy. But after a few listens, I still couldn’t remember one song title on it. No Gwen Stefani duet this time. He can do better and has done better before. It’s time to shake up the formula. Grade: C

Justin Timberlake “Man of the Woods” Justin is back with his latest effort. It is not a groundbreaker or a game changer — but it is a solid pop album. Previews had people wondering if Justin was going country. But, no that is not happening here. It doesn’t suffer from the bloated feeling of the “20/20 Experience”. The first single “Filthy” was just OK, the second single featuring Chris Stapleton is better. Justin in content in his life and his wife and son are featured on the album. Grade: B-

Kelsea Ballerini “Unapologetically” After the success of her debut album, Kelsea is back with her sophomore set. She previewed some of these songs on her tour with Lady Antebellum last year. She is going for the pop-country girl slot that used to be for Taylor Swift and before her Shania Twain. She co-wrote most of the songs on the album. Highlights include: Miss Me More and Legends. Grade: B+

Imagine Dragons “Evolve” They are back. After stumbling a bit on their second album, Imagine Dragons have found success with their latest — by calling on some of today’s top hitmakers including Justin Trantor. Highlights include: Believer, Thunder and Whatever it Takes. The songs sound like hits… but I don’t think they are very rock at all. Grade: A-

Darius Rucker “True Believers” Darius is always solid. This was his 3rd country album and featured the hit single “Wagon Wheel.” He’s not going to win any new fans with this, but those that are already fans will eat it up. Grade: B-
Videos

Blade Runner 2049
This sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner takes place 30 years after the events of the first film. It is directed by Denis Villenueve and stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford. Goslign plays K, a new replicant who is a blade runner. He uncovers something after terminating one replicant. It seems there are some bones that indicate that a replicant has given birth. This mystery leads K to seek out Decker (Ford) who is now in hiding. The production design and cinematography are both top-notch. The story is just OK to me, I can’t say I care so much about this version of the future. It is all a bit moody and dull. I liked this one about the same as the first. Grade: C+

Icarus
This Academy-Award nominated documentary starts out telling the story of a man who wants to improve his time in a bike race. So people tell him he should start doping. He then gets in contact with a scientist in Russia to help him do so. The movie switches about half way in, when the scientist comes to the US and seeks asylum. He divulges the truth of how the Russians have been cheating at the Olympics through doping for the past 50 years. It is definitely an eye opener for any Olympics fans. Grade: A-

Atomic Blonde
Charlize Theron stars as a secret agent in Berlin during the 1980’s. Set to a soundtrack of 1980’s new-wave hits, the movie asks why can’t a girl be a bad-ass like a Bond or Jason Bourne? I found the story to be a bit convoluted, but I enjoyed the action sequences. Plus there is a lesbian make-out scene too. James McAvoy co-stars as a fellow agent. Grade: B-

Roman J. Israel Esq.
Denzel Washington stars as the title character in this movie — for which he is nominated for Best Actor. Roman is a lawyer working for a firm in downtown Los Angeles. He’s the brains, and his boss who owns the firm is the face. After the owner has a heart attack, he is forced to take a role in the day to day business. You see Roman is a bit of nut, a social misfit with a great mind who is stuck in another era. Colin Farrell is a slick criminal attorney who becomes Roman’s new boss at another firm. Roman finds himself in trouble after trying to negotiate with a public defender. And the story takes some dark turns. Denzel definitely goes all in with his performance. I can see why they nominated him. Grade: B-

Strong Island
This Oscar-nominated documentary tells the story of William Ford. William is a black man who was murdered at the age of 24 — 26 years ago. His story is told by friends and family including his mother, sister and the filmmaker (who is also a sibling). We learn how the tragedy shattered the family and they have never recovered from it. His killer was never charged. There was no justice. This is a heart-breaking film to watch. You will be moved. Grade: A-

The Florida Project
This movie tells the stories of the families living in the budget hotels in Orlando, near Disney World. What is interesting is that the movie is framed around the lives of the kids. Willem Dafoe stars in his Oscar-nominated role as the hotel manager. A lot of the residents are working minimum wage jobs and living in the hotel barely getting by. It is a movie that is very much of our time. I highly recommend it! Grade: A-

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. As always, comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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Winter Reviews Part 1

It’s that time for some more entertainment reviews. What have I been watching or listening to that I recommend or that you should avoid. Read on for my take on the latest movies, TV shows, DVDs and albums of the last few months.

Movies

Wind River
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen star in this murder mystery from writer-director Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water). Set in the snowy mountains of Wyoming, the movie deals with a murdered woman on an Indian reservation. Jeremy Renner is the Fish and Wildlife guy who finds the body. Olsen plays the FBI agent assigned to the case. Who was this woman? And who could have committed such a horrible crime? Good writing, acting and directing. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Leap!
This animated tale tells the story of an orphan (Felicie) who dreams of a being a ballet dancer. She escapes from the orphanage along with her inventor friend, Victor. They travel to Paris and soon Felicie is impersonating another girl so she can study dance at the Paris Ballet. Of course, she gets found out, but she still has the dream. This is a movie for those of us who believe in pursuing their passions. You should never give up. Grade: B

Logan Lucky
Steven Soderbergh’s latest is a heist comedy with an all-star cast. Channing Tatum is a down on your luck loser who comes from a cursed family. He hatches a plan with his brother, sister and some friends to rip off a NASCAR race in North Carolina. This is definitely a redneck “Oceans 11.” Turns out they may be able to break the family curse after all. I enjoyed myself. Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, and Katie Holmes co-star. Grade: B+

Mother!
Mother is the latest movie from director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). It stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as husband and wife. What seemed like it was going to be a cool horror movie, turns out to be more of a psychological mind trip. What a weird and strange movie… can’t say I would recommend it at all. I didn’t care for it at all. There are plenty of scenes that make you uncomfortable, as J-Law’s character is under attack for most of the movie. I had to Google what the movie was about. And once I found out, I still didn’t give a damn. A big misstep for all involved. Grade: D

Brad’s Status
Ben Stiller stars in this movie that is written and directed by Mike White. Stiller plays a man experiencing a midlife crisis. His son is going off to college soon. He starts to think about his friends from his college days and how he is the least successful member of the group. Filmed mostly in Boston, this is great movie that I can see being nominated for Best Original Screenplay. There are laughs and thought-provoking moments too. Go see it. Grade: A-

Home Again
Reese Witherspoon makes her return to romantic comedy with this movie. It is written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of Nancy Meyers (one of the top romantic comedy directors). The movie has a good cast: Michael Sheen and Candace Bergen among others. The story has Witherspoon returning to her childhood home after a failed marriage. She starts a flirtation/romance with a young guy at a bar. And the next day, him and his friends are moving into her guest house. See these guys are looking to make it in Hollywood, and she is the daughter of a famous director. All involved try, but in the end it doesn’t add up to much. Forgettable for sure. Grade: C-

Battle of the Sexes
Steve Carrell and Emma Stone star as Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in the tile tennis match that happened in the mid-70’s. Riggs is a male chauvinist pig who wants to keep women in the kitchen. King is the up and comer who is reshaping the world of women’s tennis and discovering her sexuality. Both stars do a great job, but it is Stone who has the juicer role. I expect to see her nominated for a Best Actress Oscar again. Despite having taken place over 40 years ago, the movie still feels very relevant to today. Grade: A-

The Mountain Between Us
Idris Elba and Kate Winslet star in this adventure-romance. After their separate flights to Denver are cancelled, the two join up to rent a charter plane to get to their destination. She is going to her wedding. He is going to a medical conference. The plane crashes in the mountains, and they must join together to survive all of their challenges: extreme weather, hungry wild animals, lack of food and water, and more. The tragedy brings them closer together. Will they make it out alive? And what will life be like if they do? It plays a bit like a Hallmark movie, but I still liked it. Grade: B-

Goodbye Christopher Robin
This true story tells the tale of author AA. Milne — the creator of “Winnie the Pooh.” The book series was inspired by playtime with his young son (Christopher Robin). Mr. Milne served in World War I, and was dealing with PTSD. His son became a celebrity in his own right after the books were published. And it was hard for him to outgrow his father’s shadow. Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie star as the writer and his wife. I would expect to hear of this movie come awards season. Go see it. Grade: A-

Thor: Ragnorok
The third Thor movie has the character stranded on a trash planet, while back on Asgard the planet is being destroyed by Hela (played by Cate Blanchett). Thor is joined by the Hulk as contestants in a gladiator contest. Loki is back also. Will Thor get back to his planet to save it? This is definitely an improvement over Thor 2, but I still feel that the Captain America and Iron Man films are better. It is funny and action packed, but it becomes an overload of F/X by the end. Grade: B-

Justice League
DC tries their hand at the group superhero movie. So you have Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg coming together to fight off the villain known as Steppenwolf. Of course, Superman comes back to life. DC is still getting their movies wrong — this past summer’s “Wonder Woman” being the only exception. I was bored, and ultimately I just didn’t care. Grade: C-

Lady Bird
This movie stars Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn) and is written and directed by Greta Gerwig. She’s a high school senior who can’t wait to escape her circumstances: living in Sacramento, CA, going to Catholic school and having a demanding mother (Laurie Metcalf). ‘Lady Bird’ refers to the name the girl wants to be known as instead of her boring birth name: Christine. This touching comedy-drama is definitely a must see. Excellent performances as well as writing and directing by indie star Greta Gerwig. Go see it! Grade: A

The Shape of Water
Guillermo Del Toro directs this modern fairy tale set in the 1960’s. It concerns a mute woman who falls in love with an amphibious creature that is being kept at the government facility she works at. The basic story is — I fell in love with the creature from the black lagoon. What was interesting were all the parallels to today… fearing those that are different, white male privilege, sexual harassment, government conspiracies and more. Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon are sure to get nominated for their roles. Also starring Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins. The movie looks great and the director presents some beautiful visuals. Grade: B+

DVDs

Blade Runner
So I had to catch up on this one as I never saw it when it came out, and a sequel is out soon. Harrison Ford stars and Ridley Scott directs. The story has Ford playing a detective tracking down replicants (artificial humans) . What is cool about the movie is the look of it. The story was just OK to me. I know that it bombed at the time, but is considered a sci-fi classic now. Grade: C+

Passengers
Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this action-adventure movie. They are passengers on a space ship traveling to a new colony. Pratt’s character wakes up from the deep sleep he was in. He is alone, and he decides to wake up another person to spend time with — Lawrence’s character. The only “person” that they communicate with is a robot played by Michael Sheen. The stars have decent chemisty, but there is not much to the story for me. Much ado about nothing. Grade: C-

Office Christmas Party
A raunchy office comedy that stars Jennifer Anniston and Jason Bateman. T.J. Miller co-stars as Aniston’s brother — who is running the family business. He gets the idea to throw a wild Christmas party in order to nab a potential client. So there is sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. I got some good laughs, it was decent diversion. Grade: B-

Madonna — Rebel Heart Tour
Madonna’s last world tour is finally on home video after premiering on Showtime last December. What you get is another wild and wonderful spectacle from the Queen of Pop. She may have been 58 when it was filmed, but she doesn’t look like she is slowing down. She is still pushing the limits. Includes new songs as well as re-worked favorites too. The DVD also includes a highlights audio CD. A 2-disc full audio version of the show is sold separately. Grade: A

Dixie Chicks — DCX MMXVI Live
This is the DVD from last year’s tour by the Dixie Chicks. It was my #1 tour of last year. This concert was filmed at the Forum in Los Angeles. It was great to see this show again. The crowd is into it and the ladies are in fine form. Includes all their hits plus a few new songs too. They haven’t lost any of their edge. The nice package comes with 2 CDs of the show too. Grade: A

Colossal
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis star in this comedic drama. The basic plot is that Hathaway returns home after losing her job and boyfriend. In a parallel story, there is a monster that is attacking Seoul, Korea. It turns out that Hathaway is the one who is controlling the monster. Every movement she makes when she is at the park, happens with the monster on the other side of the world. The makers get plus points for trying something different. But ultimately I just thought the movie was sort of weird and just OK. Grade: C-

Split
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie stars James McAvoy as a deranged man who has multiple personality disorder. He kidnaps 3 teenage girls from a mall parking lot and keeps them in a bunker-like location. The personalities range from a little boy to a woman to a violent man. The girls are never quite sure who they are dealing with. Betty Buckley stars as his therapist. The movie is better than I thought it would be. McAvoy does a good job of playing crazy. Grade: B

The Founder
Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, the man behind fast-food phenomenon McDonald’s. Kroc was just a milkshake mixer salesmen when he met the McDonald’s brothers in Southern California. Kroc goes into business with them and ultimately steals the company right out from under them. It is an interesting story about greed, ambition and drive. Grade: A-

A United Kingdom
David Oyelowo and Rosemund Pike star in this true story. It tells the story of Seretse Kharma and Ruth Williams. He is the heir to the throne of a kingdom in Africa. She is a English typist who he falls in love with when he is studying in England. Their marriage gains international attention and causes both of them strife and instability. Would his homeland accept him as King with a white wife? I enjoyed it — good acting, writing and directing. Grade: A-

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
This is the sequel to Al Gore’s 2006 Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel.” That movie detailed the effects of global warming on the planet. Since then there have been some successes with the movement, but there is still a lot to be worried about. We are getting more extreme weather as well as national catastrophes. Plus we have politicians who are still denying that climate change is real. We need to keep talking til real change gets made. Grade: B+

CDs

Fleetwood Mac — The Very Best of Fleetwood Mac
I decided to get this as I had the “Greatest Hits” from them and felt that they had more to offer. This 2-disc retrospective has all the hits, plus classic album cuts and lost treasures too. It is a great career overview for them. Grade: A-

Thomas Rhett — Life Changes
Rhett’s third album follows his breakthrough “Tangled Up.” There are special appearances by Maren Morris and his Dad, Rhett Atkins. It is an eclectic batch of songs, most of which he co-wrote. So you get some modern country pop, a hillbilly tune with his Dad, and white-boy soul. I don’t think it is as good as “Tangled Up.” His voice sounds great. Maybe it will grow on me. Grade: C+

Miley Cyrus — Younger Now
Miley’s latest album takes a different path from her last major project “Bangerz.” She has made a folk-pop album with touches of country also running through the tracks. What I love about it is — is that she is doing what she wants and not trying to bow to the radio gods. She has help from Dolly Parton on one song. I can really sense her artistry on here. She is maturing as an artist. Go check it out. Grade: B

Glee – The Music — The Graduation Album
The original stars of the Fox musical comedy-drama are graduating from high school during this season musical highlights. The cover songs include songs by fun., Lady GaGa, Jason Mraz, Green Day and more. It was nice to hear my favorites from the show again including Rachel, Finn, Kurt and more. Grade: B-

DNCE — DNCE
First, Nick Jonas had a hit with his solo career. Now brother Joe and his band DNCE are releasing their first full-length album after last year’s EP “Swaay”. This album includes the hits “Cake by the Ocean” and “Toothbrush” as well as a bunch of other catchy, fun songs. I always said the brothers were talented. “Almost” is a nice mid-tempo song about a relationship that almost worked out. I recommend it. Grade: B+

Demi Lovato — Tell Me You Love Me
Former Disney girl Demi is all grown up and loving life. This is definitely better than “Confident” her last album. I love the title track as well as the first single “Sorry Not Sorry.” She’s sassy and sexy and she’s got herself some good songs that are worthy of her vocals. I am enjoying it. Grade: B+

Kelly Clarkson — Meaning of Life
For Kelly’s 8th album, she is going for a more R&B sound than her previous albums. The results are one of her best albums ever. The set includes the first single “Love So Soft” as well as plenty of great hook-filled songs like “Heat,” “Medicine” and “Whole Lotta Woman.” Her backup singers are given prominence during some numbers. She continues to be my favorite Idol winner. Grade: A

Pink — Beautiful Trauma
Pink’s latest album (her 7th) recently debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts. It contains the first single “What About Us” as well as the title track “Beautiful Trauma.” Sonically it is a typical Pink album, with some rock, dance, folk and pop leanings on various tracks. Through it all her voice sounds strong. They are some of the best vocals of her career. She walks the line between arena rocker and singer-songwriter for me. And that’s a good place to be. Grade: B+

 

TV

American Horror Story: Cult
The latest season of the horror anthology show takes the last Presidential election as a jumping off point for it’s story. Series regulars Evan Peters and Sara Paulson are the main stars this season. Peters is a right-wing nut, who voted for Trump. Paulson is one half of a lesbian couple that wanted Hilary to win. Peters seems to a be a messiah-like guy who is running for office; and he is amassing people for his cult. Paulson is one who is terrorized by some killer clowns who are part of the cult. I had my reservations after the first episode (about it being too close to reality). And I complained about it to my husband a few times after that…. I have since given up on it, it is too much for me — disgusting and sick. Grade: C-

Dynasty
From the producers of “Gossip Girl” comes the update of the classic 80’s soap “Dynasty.” As a huge fan of the original, I was looking forward to this. Grant Show (Melrose Place) leads the cast as Blake Carrington. So now the show takes place in Atlanta instead of Colorado. And they are in the energy industry not oil. Plus the cast is multi-cultural now too. What was surprising to me, was how closely it followed the story of the original. I was expecting more. The biggest change was changing Sammy Jo to a Latin guy. And that throws everything off, as Sammy Jo came into Steven’s life after Blake killed Steven’s lover. We’ll see where they go with the show. But so far, I am not impressed. I did love the flashback scene to Fallon and Steven’s childhood, with Steven playing the old “Dynasty” theme on the piano. Grade: C

The Mayor
A political newcomer suddenly finds himself elected to office. In this case, it’s an aspiring African-American rapper who becomes the mayor of small town in Northern California. He is aided by his 2 childhood buddies and his chief of staff played Lea Michele (Glee). Brandon Michael Hall stars as mayor Courtney Rose, who still lives at home with his Mama, a local postal worker. Yes, it’s a fish out of water tale in a new setting. It makes a good companion with “Black-ish.” I am rooting for this “Mayor” to succeed. Grade: B

Will & Grace
After 11 years, the ground-breaking Emmy winning series is back on NBC with all of the original cast members. I was skeptical at first, but I have enjoyed the first half of the season. The writing is sharp and funny. After the year we have had in the US, it is time to laugh again. And this is TV comfort food. Grade: B+

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon. As always comments are kindly welcomed.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

Spring Reviews Part 1

Welcome back to the blog. It’s time again for my reviews of different entertainment options. What have I been listening to and watching recently? Read on.

CDs

Basia “It’s That Girl Again” Back from her 90’s hey day, comes Basia. The only latin pop contemporary jazz artist to come from Poland that I know of! She doesn’t mess with her formula too much, which is a good thing. It was good hear from an old friend again. Grade: B+

Kenny Chesney “Hemingway’s Whiskey” Kenny is a very consistent performer for me. He’s got his successful formula, and he is good at it. So you get the party songs along with some ballads thrown in and some island references too. Includes his duet with Grace Potter on “You and Tequila.” Grade: B

Miranda Lambert “The Weight of These Wings” This is her first project since her public split from Blake Shelton. It is a double album, that is one of her most personal. It doesn’t really have a good radio single from it, but there is still plenty to like. It gets better with each listen. Grade: A-

Kylie Minogue “The Abbey Road Sessions” Basically it is Kylie unplugged. So you get reworked versions of Kylie’s hits and album cuts with all new arrangements. So yes, there are lots of strings on here. I really like this album. Pop artists like Kylie don’t seem to get the respect they deserve. Definitely worth a listen. You can tell she is a good pop singer when you strip away her production. Not something you can say about a lot of today’s pop stars. Grade: B+

Mary J. Blige “My Life II — The Journey Continues (Act I)” Mary J. Blige brings forth a sequel to her “My Life” album. Beyonce, Drake and Nas help out, but it’s her voice and charisma that shine through. She does a remake of “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus and Chaka Khan. But my favorite is a song called “25/8.” Where she sings about a love she wants more than 24/7. Another consistently good album from the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Grade: B

DNCE “Swaay” Another Jonas bother takes flight, this time it’s Joe Jonas. Joe sings lead in this 4-person group. He tried a solo album before, but that never took off. The EP of 4 songs, includes the smash hit single “Cake by the Ocean” as well as the hit “Toothbrush.” Worth a listen. Grade: B

Alex Newell “Power” An alumni of “Glee,” Alex first came to prominence on the “Glee Project” before taking on the role of Unique on the ground-breaking Fox drama. He is channeling 90’s dance divas on his first EP. The songs will get you moving. Grade: B

Bryan Adams “Get Up” The Canadian rocker is back with his latest collection. And it is produced by Jeff Lynne of ELO. You get some rockabilly, some ballads, and a few acoustic versions of some of the new songs. I enjoyed it. Highlights include: “You Belong to Me” and “We Did It All.” Grade: A-

Blake Shelton “Startin’ Fires” One of Blake’s earlier albums. A nice mix of songs including the #1 smash “She Wouldn’t Be Gone.” Also includes a duet with Miranda Lambert before they got married on “Bare Skin Rug” that highlights their chemistry. Grade: B

Tim McGraw “Two Lanes of Freedom” One of country’s most consistent performers, Tim delivers another solid collection. Includes the hit “Highway Don’t Care” with Keith Urban and Taylor Swift. Grade: B

Diana Ross “The Definitive Collection” I decided to pick up this collection after seeing Miss Ross in concert last summer. I was reminded of her incredible song catalog at the show, and this is a great collection of her biggest hits including “Endless Love” and “Upside Down.” Grade: A

Ed Sheeran “Divide” Ed is back with his latest album. And he has gone to number one on the singles chart with “Shape of You” as well as number 1 for the album also. He does his white-boy hip-hop on a few songs; plus brings in some celtic textures, latin rhythms and world music on a few numbers too. It is a nice welcome back from one of today’s hottest talents. Grade: A-

Little Big Town “The Breaker” The country vocal quartet is back in the country lane after a detour into pop with last year’s “Wanderlust.” You have their trademark vocal harmonies on a nice collection of songs including “Better Man” (written for them by Taylor Swift). Other highlights include: “Happy People” and “We Went to the Beach.” Grade: A-

Mariah Carey “Me. I Am Mariah. The Elusive Chanteuse” Mariah’s most recent studio album, has a nice mix of ballads and uptempo songs. Plus some special guest appearances including R. Kelly and Mary J. Blige on the deluxe edition. Includes the hit “#Beautiful” with Miguel. Grade: B+

Jason Mraz “Love Is a Four Letter Word” Jason is in love. This is a pleasant album. RB Lite is what I would call it. Includes the hit “I Won’t Give Up.” Grade: B-

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading. Please sound off in the comments, if you disagree or agree with my take on things.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

 

Spring Entertainment Roundup Part 1

It’s that time again… here are my reviews on albums, movies, DVDs and even one play that I have seen/experienced in the last few months. As always comments are kindly welcomed.

 

Albums

Justin Bieber “Purpose” I am a belieber! I never thought I would buy an album from this guy. But he’s been smart and has hooked up with some top producers and song writers to deliver a solid collection of dance-pop songs. Highlights include all the singles “Where Are U Now,” “Sorry,” “What Do You Mean and “Sorry.” Grade: A-

Demi Lovato “Confident” This is someone I should like…. I have liked other Disney girls like Miley, Britney, Christina and Hilary Duff too. I knew her music from the “Camp Rock” movies plus a few of the bigger hits too. Her vocals are strong throughout, the songs not as much for me. Highlights include “Cool for the Summer” and “Confident.” Grade: C+

Bryan Adams “Anthology” This is the most definite collection for Canada’s own Bryan Adams. I have 2 other greatest hits collection from him (See previous blog about complete collections). So you get the hits, album tracks, and a few bonus tracks like live and alternate versions too. With over 30 songs, this is a strong career overview. Grade: A-

Carrie Underwood “Storyteller” The latest from American Idol winner Carrie Underwood is a solid collection of the songs she does best. You have sweet ballads, and you have your songs with attitude too. I didn’t think it was a strong as “Blown Away” when I first got it, but it is growing on me. Highlights include: “Smoke Break,” “Heartbeat” and “Chaser.” Grade: B+

Rihanna “ANTI” There is no being nice here — “ANTI” is awful. I can’t believe we waited 3 years for this. No hits as far as I am concerned… maybe 2-3 OK songs. This is a serious misstep for her. And she is one of the best females of the 2000’s. Still looking forward to the concert… but seriously she has done better than this. Somehow the first single “Work” — actually went to #1. Grade: D

Miranda Lambert “Kerosene” The first album from her. I actually started with her most recent release, “Platinum,” which I loved, so that made me curious about earlier releases. I knew the title track, but that was it. The rest of it doesn’t disappoint. A good mix of uptempo songs and ballads. You could tell she was on her way to greatness. Grade: A-

Wynonna & the Big Noise “Wynonna & the Big Noise” The latest album from Wyonna Judd, and her first since 2009. This time she brought along her band, the Big Noise, in which her husband is a member. She’s not trying to chase any trends here… and I doubt she will be played on the radio with it. But she made the album she wanted, a very blues-rock oriented country record. Definitely worth a listen. Grade: B

 

Movies

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The 7th installment in the Star Wars saga brings back old favorites Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer, along with a group of newcomers. I guess I am just over Star Wars. It was OK at best… And the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. What I liked when I was 13 is not what I like now. Just a big commercial for the toys and other tie-ins. Grade: D

Spotlight
It is definitely one of the best movies of the year. Excellent writing and acting. It should be a big awards contender. You will be angry and sad at what went down with the sex scandals and the Catholic Church in Boston. Thank you to the journalists who made this story a priority. And may we continue to hold in prayer those who were victims of abuse. Grade: A

The Big Short
The setting is the recent housing crisis, and how some people bet against it knowing that it would fail. They got rich in the process. Featuring an all-star cast including Steve Carell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. Directed by comedy veteran Adam McKay. You’ll laugh, but it also mad me mad. Grade: B+

The Revenant
Leonardo DiCaprio (as Hugh Glass) stars in this story of a fur trapper who is attacked by a bear. His comrades believe he will die in the harsh wilderness and leave him for dead. His son is also murdered so as to have no loose ends. Not only does Glass survive — but he makes his way back to try and kill the man who murdered his son. Beautiful locations and great performances… still it’s basically a long revenge movie. I have a hard time believing this can win as best picture. And if Leo finally wins an Oscar for this, it will be for his whole career and not just this movie. Grade: B-

Bridge of Spies
Tom Hanks stars in this movie directed by Steven Spielberg. During the cold war, a Soviet spy is captured in NY. Hanks is hired as the lawyer to defend him. Later on he arranges for a prisoner exchange when the Russians capture one of our guys. An interesting story I had never heard before. Written by the Coen brothers and Matt Charman. Also starring Oscar nominee Mark Rylance. Grade: A-

Room
Brie Larson stars in this movie about a woman who is held captive in a room along with her son for the past 7 years. Jacob Tremblay is amazing as the son. With a supporting cast that includes William H. Macy and Joan Allen. Mother and son do make it out of the room, only to find challenges adapting to the real world. Ms. Larson is definitely someone to watch out for. She was in another great movie called “Short Term 12.” Grade: A

Brooklyn
Saoirse Ronan stars a young woman who leaves her native Ireland for the US and a better life. She lands in Brooklyn, and quickly finds herself growing to like it there… the people, her career, and a boyfriend. A tragedy back at home brings her back to Ireland where she is shown an alternate path she could take. Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson star as the love interests. It has some light moments, and was a nice coming of age story. Grade: B

Creed
Ryan Coogler co-wrote and directed the latest movie in the “Rocky” franchise. Sylvester Stallone stars again as Rocky, but the focus is on Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rocky’s foe and friend, Apollo Creed. Rocky becomes his trainer and helps Creed move up the ranks all while facing his own health issues. The studio is hoping for a new franchise. It looks like this is the new chapter the saga needed. Stallone even got an Oscar nomination from this performance. Grade: B

Straight Outta Compton
This biopic tells the true story of the rise of the legendary rap group — N.W.A. It is nominated for Best Original Screenplay at this year’s Oscars. I resisted this movie because I really don’t like this type of music, but I found myself getting into the storyline. And for something I don’t follow, I knew a lot of what went down in their story. Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E were all recognizable names to me. I still don’t like the music but appreciate where they came from, and what they did based on pure drive and ambition. Grade: B-

Play

Armagayddon
The Second City Studio Stage in Hollywood puts on this original musical about one Christian couple’s reaction to the Marriage Equality Supreme Court verdict. They get engaged on the day they meet and move to San Rafael, CA. There they join a group of Christians hell-bent on converting homos from their evil ways. It was cute, and we got a few laughs…. Sort of predictable. It is about an hour long. Now playing through April. Grade: C+

DVDs

Annie
The big-screen remake of the classic Broadway musical Annie, brings together Jamie Foxx (as the father figure) and Quvenhané Wallis as the adorable orphan Annie. The songs from the original musical still hold up (many in slightly different arrangements), the newer songs were just OK. The movie has a good cast and a big heart. Not perfect by far, but still worth a rental. Grade: B-

Begin Again
Keira Knightly stars as a up and coming singer-songwriter. Mark Ruffalo stars as the guy who takes on trying to make her a star. Adam Levine stars as a Keira’s ex, who has become a star after the breakup. Includes the Academy-Award nominated song “Lost Stars.” Not much weight to the movie, but a pleasant diversion. Grade: B

Lady Antebellum “Wheels Up Tour”
Filmed in Irvine, CA on their 2015 tour, this concert captures the country trio at their best. Featuring songs from all 5 of their studio albums, plus some inspired cover songs too. They bring out their openers Sam Hunt and Hunter Hayes for some help also. Almost as good as being there. Grade: A-

That’s it for Part I, look for Part 2 next time. Thanking for reading.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for birthdays, anniversaries and more.

Music Consumption 2014

As I was driving listening to some CDs the other day, I started to think about all the changes to the music industry I have seen in my lifetime. Albums, cassettes, eight tracks, 45s, cassettes, cassette singles, CDs, CD singles, music videos, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, internet radio, satellite radio, MP3s, iTunes, Spotify and more. The way we consume music has changed forever that is for sure. And there is no going back.Music Energy (+clipping path, XXL)

Here are some of the things I was wondering as I was listening: Does anyone care about albums anymore? I love the fact that I can buy just one song from an album these days. I remember singles used to be on 45, then cassette single or CD single. Then the record companies didn’t make them available at all, and forced you to buy the whole album for one song. This is one of many issues I think where people really felt ripped off by the record companies.

But by buying one song are we missing out on listening to an album the way the artist put it together? In the old days, you had to listen to one side of an album, then flip it over to hear the other side. Sure, you could put the needle down on the one song you wanted to listen to, but more often that not you didn’t get the position of the needle right, and it would be too early or too late for the song. Cassettes also didn’t make it easy for us to listen to just one song.

When CDs came along, besides the great sound quality, we finally had an easy way to listen to our favorite tracks. You could just go to that track # or push skip to get to the song. Great albums have hits for sure, but often the non-hits are often worthy songs too. They may work in the context of the other songs, or be something a little quirky or edgy that wouldn’t work as a single. But in these days of “hit single” mentality, does anyone really listen to the rest of the songs?

Once upon a time, an album told a story — It carried the listener on a journey of highs and lows. It was meant to be consumed in its entirety. You would peruse the album cover, and look over the lyric sheets too. That’s not to say you wouldn’t have your favorite songs on it, but to me I feel it gave you a better insight into the artist themselves than just hearing the hit songs. For example, Donna Summer has a great live album called “Live and More”… yes the hits are there, but her cover song choices showed me the real Donna. I was able to get a better sense of her as a singer.

Back to my drive-time listening, I was listening to Mariah Carey’s “Rainbow” and Duran Duran’s “Pop Trash.” “Rainbow” has some hits on it, but it was good to hear the album tracks too. Duran Duran’s album to me, was one of their more experimental albums with a grungier sound. It is not a bad album at all, but it is not one of my favorites either. I remember seeing them on this tour and enjoyed the songs they performed from the “Pop Trash” album in the show.

Once upon a time, musicians were encouraged to experiment and push themselves. But do labels even want that from their artists anymore? You could make a flop album, and the label wouldn’t fire you because of it. This was because they valued you as a multi-dimensional artist who was in it for the long haul. Now, I don’t know that a record company views their artists in the same way as they did back in the 60’s and 70’s. They are more concerned for the bottom line and how many singles you can produce now. Not if you are a career artist who wants to be in the business 10-20 years from now.

KiltManinSoCal is a Los Angeles-based writer and designer. Be sure to check out the latest T-Shirts for sale here, including Marriage Equality and Real Men Wear Kilts lines. They make great gifts for friends, family and loved ones.

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