Hole-y Cow

singin-in-the-rain-diWay back when, when actors were still called entertainers, Hollywood stars were multi-talented individuals who sang, danced, and acted well – your Shirley Temples, Judy Garlands, Gene Kellys, and so many more. Studios knew they could not only rake in money off the films, but a Christmas album was a sure winner, and possibly even a touring performance.

Today, most actors are carefully pigeon-holed into one role, and there are very few “entertainers” who can successfully cross bridges in the industry. Some actors are talented musicians – Hugh Laurie plays a mean jazz piano, and Charo – yes, Charo the cuchi cuchi girl – was, at least at one point, one of the top three flamenco guitarists in the world. You have to see it to believe it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XmNPXqG6ovg.  Some comedians are excellent dramatists – Robin Williams for one.  But some agents push actors with no talent into music, with embarrassing results. Ever listen to Clint Eastwood sing? Or William Shatner? Save yourself, and don’t Google Hulk Hogan singing.

But every now and then you hit the jackpot, and Kiefer Sutherland is one of them. Yes, That Kiefer Sutherland, whether killing as a vampire or saving people in under 24 hours, the Kiefer Sutherland whose father runs Pan Em and praises orange juice, second-generation Hollywood. The man can Sing.

Sutherland’s debut album is called Down in a Hole, and although it’s labeled country (and the steel guitars on a few tracks clinch it), the album is the closest thing I’ve heard in ages that resembles good old-fashioned rock and roll, the kind you can’t find on the kiefer-sutherlandradio anymore. Do NOT disregard the album because you don’t like country – it is well worth a listen. Sutherland has a rough and ready voice, Joe Cocker after four packs of unfiltered Camels – no polished music-school certificates here.

My favorite, I think, is “Going Home,” which has that glorious old rock feel. “Shirley Jean” is a tear-jerker, but almost more folk than country, not out of place in a Pete Seeger repertoire. “Not Enough Whiskey” isn’t my favorite, but it has a sweet rolling beat that just won’t let go. “I’ll Do Anything” is probably the most “country” song, steel strings twanging and pearl snaps shining. “All She Wrote” sounds like it was a track that didn’t make the final cut of a Sons of Anarchy album – you can almost hear the leather creaking.

Not too many singers/bands are successful at crossing the country/ rock line – The Eagles are probably the best example, maybe the Allman Brothers, with some singers – Dolly Parton (9 to 5), Kenny Rogers (The Gambler), Glen Campbell (Southern Nights, Rhinestone Cowboy), and Shania 4873bwTwain kicking occasional songs onto both country and pop charts at once. Kiefer Sutherland is another to watch – and the fact he has a severe hearing loss makes it all the more amazing. This is his debut album, and I cannot wait for the next one.

Songs of Anarchy, Volume 1 and 2

Jacket.aspxRarely do I leave a CD in my player for more than a month straight. It’s been two months now, and aside for taking two weeks off at the holidays, it’s still in there, and I listen to it every day. Songs of Anarchy is the soundtrack to the FX television show Sons of Anarchy.
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You do not need to be a devotee or even know of the television show to adore the soundtrack to the series. Sons of Anarchy is an ultra-violent soap opera following a fictional biker gang in California. You know the characters are despicable, but they are written so well and to such depth that you cannot help but feel sympathy for them – while you call them names for being that stubborn. All that violence is offset by a soundtrack that is both entertaining and breathtakingly poignant. There is no set tone – the albums contain a mix of popular, rock, country, folk, alternative – whatever fits the moment. Many of these are covers of old greats by the series’ incredible house band, The Forest Rangers – a driving version of Gimmee Shelter (in which you can understand the lyrics), an achingly beautiful instrumental version of Fortunate Son, a gorgeous tweaking of House of the Rising Son with lyrics to fit the show. It was the deep blues rhythms of John the Revelator that first caught my attention watching the series (who else works an entire song into a drama series every week, like a prize in a Cracker Jack box?), and it made purchasing the album inevitable. The song wouldn’t leave my head, and I needed to hear it again.
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Katey Sagal, lead actress in the show as Gemma Teller, is also a singer in her own right with albums to her name. Her version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire puts the original to shame, and Strange Fruit will give you the shivers.
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Volume 2 of Songs of Anarchy is a must if you listen to the first. There is just too much good vol 2.aspxmusic. Coal War, the season opener to year four, is a foot stomping ballad that crosses the line between country and pop much the way The Eagles did. The Lost Boy is a tragic ballad on its own, but if you know the series, it is played out in its entirety as one of the lead characters makes his sacrifice for his best friend, and it will bring you to tears. No Milk Today was originally a fluffy pop piece done by Herman’s Hermit’s in 1966; slowed down, it takes on a haunting new meaning when you consider it accompanies the kidnapping of a nine-month-old baby by the IRA.
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Kurt Sutter, the creator/producer/writer of the show (he also stars in it as Otto, and he’s married to Katey Sagal), wanted music to be an integral part of the show, setting tones, carrying themes, underscoring the action. What he managed is beyond brilliance, touching the stories and the viewers/listeners alike and playing with their emotions. Because of the varied styles of music, you might not like every track on the albums (the version of Slip Kid is too metal for me), but these albums are certain to please almost everyone.

 

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On Our Shelves: New Music for March

Music comes in more flavors than Bernie Bott’s Beans. No matter what your taste or style, there’s always something new being released – even from musicians long-deceased.  Here are a few recent releases on our shelves:

Life, Love, & Hope  by Boston

    Boston’s been around forever, it seems – their first eponymous album debuted in 1976 and reached number 3 on the album charts, and subsequent albums only climbed higher.  With the untimely death of lead singer Brian Delp in 2007, Boston underwent some changes, and to be honest, hearing them live in concert, they didn’t seem to have it anymore.  However, with the release of Life, Love, & Hope, their sixth album, Boston seems to have recovered: not quite the same, but with enough of the old magic to bring back the spark that gave them their identity. The same driving beats, the same luscious harmonies, but a little lighter, a little crisper, a little fresher to attract a new generation.  For a band that’s been around almost 40 years, that’s a difficult – and truly wonderful – thing to do. If you want something new or are longing for some updated nostalgia, this is a great album to try.

High Hopes by Bruce Springsteen

        High Hopes bills itself as a rare, unreleased tracks album, which it may indeed be, but we’ve heard some of these before.  It’s wonderful to hear a non-live version of 41 Shots, but the album doesn’t add any real surprises. There’s not a bad track on it, but nothing particularly stands out. If you love Springsteen (and there’s a lot to love), then this album will give you exactly that – more. Not better, not bad, just more quality music, a long encore to a fabulous concert from a musician who’s as strong as ever.

The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches

   They pronounce it “churches,” but I pronounce the V anyway.  A synth-pop band from Scotland, Chvrches is a group that bridges a number of different music styles.  Like light modern popular radio music?  This is a great album.  Like a techno electronic sound with actual understandable lyrics to go with it? This is a great album.  Miss some of the 80’s pop from bands like Human League or The Fixx, or the sweet sounds of Sixpence None the Richer?  Then you will love this album.  Light, joyful, and not overpowering, there’s a wide variety of song styles to keep you entertained.  It’s been  a long time since I found a new popular band that has caught my attention this much, and I hope to hear more from them in the future. Give them a try!

Croz by David Crosby

Like Springsteen’s High Hopes, if you like Crosby, Stills, & Nash, you will probably enjoy David Crosby’s new album. Harking back to the band’s late-60’s melodies, this is more of the style you remember, an open, wandering melody with a touch of Eastern feel that could almost be filed under Jazz. Nothing jumps out and grabs you, it’s just a solid continuation of the old-style catalog.