ALBUM REVIEW: JOHN BUTLER TRIO – FLESH & BLOOD

johnbutler

 

On album number six, John Butler takes a step off his social and political soapbox to sip wine at the altar of love.

Flesh & Blood is Butler’s most collaborative effort to date. To give you a taste, there’s the catchy single, ‘Only One’; the high-energy, blues rock number ‘Devil Woman’; and the dub, ‘Blame It On Me’, co-written from jams with his tight-knit bandmates Byron Luiters and Nicky Bomba (who has since left the group to focus on Melbourne Ska Orchestra).

Across 11 tracks, Butler stills sings with his occasionally gentle and sometimes feisty lead vocals, and the music boasts funky grooves and rhythms that touch on the rock, folk, pop, and hip-hop styles.

The singer-songwriter has definitely spread his wings a little with this album, adding extra layers and programmed beats to his folk songs and acknowledging that his lyrical inspiration was from other people (like the young, junkie couple that inspired ‘Young & Wild’). But despite this apparent departure, Butler remains true to his old form while also sounding fresh and keeping things personal, honest, and emotional.

‘Wings Are Wide’ is the best example of this, a raw love song that was written from his late grandmother’s perspective, and a tune that encapsulates the decades she mourned for her late husband.

Flesh & Bone is a full and meaty record that, while diverse and varied, does overstay its welcome a little, especially when lyrical clichés are offered up in ‘Livin’ In The City’. But despite some minor flaws, what’s left behind is a very true and human album where the well of inspiration proves to be deep, rich, and plentiful.

 

Originally published on 25 February 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/388090/flesh-blood.htm

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DVD REVIEW: SENSATION: THE STORY OF TOMMY

thewho

 

The Who are no strangers to revealing the contents of their archives, nor are they a band that find it difficult being on film, as demonstrated by the numerous documentaries, concerts, and video compilations released over the years.

Sensation: The Story Of Tommy is just another version of an album that has already been re-packaged in deluxe and super deluxe versions, played live, performed as a stage play in theatres, transformed into film, and talked about at length since its release in 1969.

The record went on to sell over 20 million copies, and although it has been covered previously, the story behind the album is an interesting one.

This documentary couples new interviews with The Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, along with archive interviews with the late John Entwistle, Keith Moon, and former Who managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp.

They are also joined by friends of the group plus their sound engineer, Bob Pridden; Tommy artwork creator, Mike McInnerney; and journalists Jann Wenner, Chris Welch, and David Wild.

The inspiration for Tommy stems from Townshend’s spiritual search, finding enlightenment in the form of an Indian guru named Meher Baba. It was around this time that Townshend had the idea of creating a character.

He’d be a young, deaf, dumb, and blind boy who went through a series of adverse circumstances (including witnessing a murder and being abused). He would undertake a spiritual journey and be lauded by his peers, but would misuse his powers on his path to god realisation.

The documentary goes through every track on the album, including the cover of Sonny Boy Williamsons’ ‘Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)’, with the album broken up by a series of titles cast over a pinball machine.

The film is also peppered with excellent and candid anecdotes. Townshend was always one of the most eloquent and articulate men in rock, and thanks to this creation, he became respected as a composer. Daltrey, meanwhile, would go on to be a formidable frontman and actor.

A downside to the documentary is that it attempts to cover a lot of ground in its short 80-minute runtime, resulting in some elements being inevitably glossed over.

Sensation: The Story of Tommy offers a rich look at rock’s first opera. It is an interesting feature, but some fans may be left wondering just how many more times the protagonist Tommy can be forced out into the limelight.

 

Originally published on 24 February 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/film/387741/sensation-the-story-of-tommy.htm

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BOOK REVIEW: DIANE MARINA – IMPERIAL HOTEL

imperialhotel

 

American author, Diane Marina’s short story, Imperial Hotel is like the lesbian’s answer to Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. It is one gorgeous and classic love story set in New York City in 1948.

Imperial Hotel is told from the perspective of one of the lead characters, Joan Blackstone. She is an 18-year old, unmarried society girl and someone that readers will find it easy to connect with. Her mother arranges a meeting with the daughter of a friend. The name of the book also doubles as the meeting place and it was Blackstone’s mother’s intention for her daughter to make a new acquaintance (as this new girl could help Joan find a husband).

Lily Dandridge is the graceful and sensitive young lady who Blackstone will meet. She is a sweet, 17 year old who is engaged to a “wonderful” man named Andrew Smith. While the girls’ mothers had other hopes in mind, it seems that this chance meeting would make everyone’s livesa touch more complicated.

After the two girls meet they develop a deep friendship which then blossoms into a full-blown relationship. The pair spend lots of time together and are forced into an almost covert-like relationship in order to have this liaison and eventually get a room together at their initial meeting spot.

The two share a sensual experience at the hotel and this becomes a home away from home for them. They are unable to be open about their relationship because of societal attitudes and expectations at the time along with what religion dictates. If they are honest about things, this could mean that they will be greeted with disapproval or worse (and this is something that sadly continues to resonate to this day).

Dandridge believes she will become a social outcast and is forced to choose between a sham marriage and children or spending her life with the woman she loves. It is an emotional and heart-wrenching decision and Marina does an excellent job of capturing this in a nuanced way.

The Imperial Hotel is an engaging short story that could’ve been a little more detailed. But it is ultimately a fast-paced, lesbian romance novel that draws together the formative years of two inspiring young women. Marina’s prose is elegant and well-written and manages to capture this forbidden love story with a deft touch and gentle softness.

 

Originally published on 20 February 2014 at the following websites: http://www.curvemag.com/Curve-Magazine/Web-Articles-2014/Imperial-Hotel-by-Diane-Marina/

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THEATRE REVIEW: THANK YOU FOR BEING A FRIEND – GOLDEN GIRLS TRIBUTE

thank you for beng

 

Thank You For Being A Friend is like watching an extended episode of the TV series, Golden Girls, except that the four female leads are replaced with puppets. The show is a treat and is being performed at the Seymour Centre as a part of the 2014 Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras. It also contains all of those endearing hallmarks that made the original show so popular.

The TV series originally aired from 1985 to 1992 and was a comedy show based on the lives of four older, female housemates. There was the strong and scowling leader, Dorothy Zbornak and her sharp-tongued yet wise mother, Sophia Petrillo. They lived with big-hearted idiot, Rose Nylund and the Southern Belle, lustful vixen and owner of the house, Blanche Devereaux. For seven years the series tackled various gay issues including coming out, same-sex marriage, AIDS and discrimination with HIV, as well as other topics like: homelessness, aged care and sexual relationships amongst the elderly.

Thank You For Being A Friend tackles some of the same issues with the same razor-fire wit as the original. Blanche’s (Chrystal de Brussa) son, Jeremiah (Nigel Turner-Carroll, who also doubles as the dance instructor and pizza boy), has returned home to tell his mother that she will soon be a grandmother. Jeremiah is gay and he and his partner are having a child through a surrogate mother. Blanche bristles at the idea of being considered ‘old’ and a granny, especially as she has recently discovered that author, E.L. James has stolen her life story and turned it into the best-selling book, Fifty Shades Of Grey.

The story continues with Dorothy (Darren Mapes) having to take Sophia (Donna Lee) to the doctor. Sophia doesn’t like visiting the surgery, so Dorothy has to promise to take her to Disneyland instead, while Sophia gets up to her usual, cheeky antics. Rose (Julia Billington) meanwhile, is trying to get someone to help her write a song for the Miami Tourist Board competition.

The plot to this theatre production is very authentic, especially as some of the scenes appeared at least in part in the original series(For example: the girls fight over the same date and same dress; Sophia and Blanche discuss writer’s block and liken it to constipation, and Sophia tries to create a new pasta sauce). There are other scenes that are completely original and use modern jokes and references, like Guantanamo Bay and The Kardashians, but you would’ve sworn they were all a part of the original.

This live production and homage does an excellent job of not only recapturing the spirit of the TV show, but it also helps to recreate the period in time when it was popular. From the moment the audience walks into the theatre, they are greeted with a soundtrack from the period which included songs like: New Kids On The Block’s “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”, Dave Dobbyn & Herbs’ “Slice Of Heaven” and Bobby McFerrin’s”Don’t Worry Be Happy”.

The cast also recreated the opening and closing credits from the show and the same insert music is also used in-between scenes. But perhaps the biggest and most pleasing surprise of the night was the addition of some old TV advertisements between acts. This had us all singing along to the old Decore jingle; wanting to munch along with the alien from Smith’s crisps; and remembering old TV and film favourites like Family Ties and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

Each character was introduced superbly, with Sophia likening her old retirement village, Shady Pines to Guantanamo Bay with bed pans, while Blanche was likened to a bicycle. Rose was described as the most out of touch woman in Miami and like the TV program, there were plenty of stories from Sicily in the 1920s. Rose also had lots of painful St. Olaf stories and these were topped off with her funny, nonsense words. The original TV set showing Devereaux’s lounge room and kitchen were recreated beautifully and the girls did get a chance to share a cheesecake and talk about sex, baby.

The puppets were good physical caricatures of the four original actresses (Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty). The actors/puppeteers/voiceover artists all did a superb job of creating the characters, especially as they only had a working mouth and hand and minimal costume changes. In some cases, Chrystal de Brussa was a little over-the-top as Blanche, but this melodrama only added comedic value to the storyline, plus she had her mannerisms (like preening and clutching her bosom) completely down-pat.

The four actors also performed the different accents perfectly. They also managed to get a great mix of heart and comedy, which was good because this was something that typified the original. They would break down the fourth wall at times to engage with the audience and they even managed to throw in some impromptu singing and dancing to keep things interesting and the energy high.

It was no easy task for Thank You For Being A Friend to tackle such a much-loved and lauded TV show, but ultimately the play worked. It had the right combination of good acting and puppetry plus an entertaining storyline. It was so believable that you could imagine it being either a sequel to the original show or at least something like Seinfeld 2000 in that it was updating an older program to a modern setting. Thank You For Being A Friend is ultimately a warm, clever and funny play that is just like an old buddy in that you never want to let them go.

 

Originally published on 15 February 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/arts/sydney/review/thank-you-for-being-a-friend-seymour-centre-13-02-14

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ALBUM REVIEW: ICEHOUSE – DUBHOUSE LIVE

icehous

Ever since Icehouse frontman Iva Davies met reggae legend Peter Tosh of The Wailers fame, he has been influenced by the musical genre. On Icehouse’s live record Dubhouse, Davies manages to realise that dream.

The performances were captured during the group’s two intimate shows in Melbourne and Sydney in 2013, where they had promised a dance-hall party of dub via reggae and pop.

The record has 11 fun tracks including covers, mash-ups, and original Icehouse tunes reinterpreted with long jams, slow beats, and Caribbean dance flavours. It’s an interesting mix that can elicit smiles and dancing just as much as cries or questions, as the band tackle sacred anthems like ‘Great Southern Land’.

But at its worst, the collection verges on self-indulgent. While ‘Electric Blue’ welcomes some sashaying percussion, ‘Hey, Little Girl’ is a misfire with too many lyrics squashed into a slow beat, resulting in a laboured delivery that loses the track’s original sweetness.

That said, the group includes impressive covers Bob Marley’s ‘Exodus’ and ‘Could You Be Loved’ along with Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’. The Icehouse original ‘Can’t Help Myself’ is epic, starting as a slow ballad before transforming into something closer to The Specials rather than the new wave original.

Thanks to some layered grooves and subtle walls of sound, Dubhouse sees the collection of Icehouse tunes reinvigorated with new life. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but think that a live compilation of their own Primitive Man and Man Of Colours tours would’ve been better.

 

Originally published on 13 February 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/385293/dubhouse-live.htm

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EP REVIEW: THE CITY LIGHTS “(SHE’S GOT) MY NAME & MY NUMBER” B/W THE EXILE CO. “FAY RAY”

citylights The split EP by The City Lights and The Exile Co. (formerly The Exiles) sounds like an English band and an American band meeting in a bar for a musical play-off. The two groups are label mates and Sydneysiders. They’re also releasing a 7-inch EP that celebrates being young, footloose and fancy-free and all while nodding at two nostalgic eras in time and two rather interesting periods in music. The first cut is “(She’s Got) My Name & My Number” by The City Lights and is a two-and-a-half minute story about a dangerous, unrequited love. Instead of Romeo & Juliet our star-crossed lovers are a mod and a skinhead (although given the former period, a rocker may have been more appropriate). It’s also a match that is a fiery one with the group likening it to a cobra pairing up with a mongoose or a scorpion with a spider. The City Lights’ James Roden sounds a lot like Damon Albarn as his group perform some four-to-the-floor rock. There is a resonant, dirty guitar riff that is inspired by The Kinks’ “Tired Of Waiting For You”, while the sharp energy and party feel make the proceedings not dissimilar to the in-you-face style favoured by The Hives. It also shares the latter band’s sense of cheekiness in the lyrics. Consider: “I love her for her clothes/She hates me for my hair/She can’t tell the boys from the girls/We make the perfect pair”. exile The Exile Co. on the other hand take us back to another point in the past, to the Cotton Club where dancer, Fay Ray is reminiscing about her early life. At age 12 she would hop a freight train from Louisiana to New York City. She would dance in the legendary chorus line, The Silver Belles (and did so for decades- well into her eighties). This song is a tribute to her by a quartet known for their alt-country and rock songs. On “Fay Ray” however, the music shares a few things in common with a layered Sonic Youth track thanks to its overarching sense of optimism plus its melodic and catchy chorus. The City Lights and The Exile Co.’s split EP is at its core a true celebration of youth. It’s like a dance at an end-of-school party and it is oh so fun. It also manages to be relatable, honest and truthful and is the musical equivalent of having all of your favourite characters from a John Hughes film come to life and start strutting with gay abandon.  

LIVE REVIEW: MAX SESSIONS WITH NEIL FINN & FEAT. EDDIE VEDDER (29.01.14)

NEIL FINN

Neil Finn is one of those New Zealanders we’d love to claim as our own. He recently filmed a show for Max Sessions and the program was a star-studded affair. It saw Finn preview songs from his forthcoming solo album, Dizzy Heights and dip into his enviable discography of tunes accumulated over 40 years, starting with Split Enz, then visiting aCrowded House, doffing a cap at the Finn Brothers and having a romp at Pajama Club. In short, it was exquisite.

The audience included the likes of: Marcia Hines, The Doctor (Lindsay McDougall), Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty), Peter O’Doherty, Danny Clayton and Kathy McCabe. Finn would also bring out a very special guest, Eddie Vedder to sing two songs during the encore. The show commenced with Max host, Chit Chat (Glenn Easton Dormand) saying it was a hard and daunting task to introduce Finn. He relied on a quote from fellow song smith, Paul Kelly who once said that Finn doesn’t just write songs, he casts spells, enchants and hypnotises you. And with that, Finn was left to be warlock-in-residence for the evening.

Finn was joined by a brand new, six-piece band which saw his wife Sharon on bass plus a host of young musicians on guitar, drums, keys and backing vocals. They started with “Pony Ride”, a new song which seemed to continue on with some of the experimental ideas that had been explored on the recent Pajama Club album. It was a great mix of funky, Fleetwood Mac-esque pop and dirty guitar riffs. “Flying In The Face Of Love” was also a new one and it was dedicated by Finn to the imaginations of a child and the adult who avoids some big questions. It had a broody echo and the kind of wa-wa riffs that typify Jimi Hendrix’s work.

The famous Finn banter was also a part of this show with Neil commenting on the “good art direction” (the set featured a large array of lamps suspended from the ceiling, giving it a lounge room-feel and was possibly a nod to Sharon’s other job at Sharondelier). The star also mucked around like a child, playing with his mic stand which he thought this sounded like the original sound of scratching i.e. pre-turntables. The band then started, “Fall At Your Feet”, but the pacing was too fast and Finn – ever the perfectionist – made them start it again.

The Crowded House favourite, “Distant Sun” had the audience nodding along before the sultry and nostalgic-sounding, “Impressions”. The new track, “In My Blood” came about during a jam he had had with his two musical sons, Liam and Elroy and it got him thinking about what things are passed on from one generation to the next while “Better Than TV” did just as the title said. It was a grand celebration of things that are superior to television and saw a funky drumbeat that The Cat Empire could play along with plus some big piano keys performed by Finn.

The band were given a break and it was time for a question and answer session. We learnt that Finn had cut his teeth in all sorts of clubs in Te Awamutu, including an early mental hospital and a prison for young offenders. He described being dragged – along with his brother, Tim – to perform at family functions by his uncle George, singing songs like “Jamaican Farewell” and “Shake Hands With A Billionaire”. He said, “The Beatles had Hamburg. We had parties”. He also mentioned learning about new technology like Pro Tools and Final Cut Pro to help make new music and videos.

“Message To My Girl” followed and Finn played this alone and on the piano. It was brilliant, so stripped back and sweet that it added meaning to what was already such a sublime and emotional song. Finn asked for requests and thought about playing “Last Day In June” but the crowd had to settle on the Crowded House song, “She Goes On”. The request for the band’s “Instinct” – which this writer would’ve paid to see – also fell on deaf ears, unfortunately.

One song that was an unexpected inclusion was the Pajama Club track, “From A Friend To A Friend”. It saw Sharon singing along with Neil to a distorted pop song that has only been played five times but has apparently been reincarnated in seven different ways. It was upbeat, as was “Locked Out” which allowed people to dance – well, as much as they could from their seats – and the Enz hit, “I Got You” also received a rapturous response.

But the biggest applause for the evening was in the encore when Finn surprised us all with none other than Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. We’d learn that Vedder was a drop-out because of the lure of music – including the Split Enz albums Time & Tide and Waiata (released in Australia as Corroboree). They were all too persuasive so he never graduated. The pair played two acoustic guitars for a cover of Hunters & Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me” before Vedder decided to dance along to the pop of “History Never Repeats”. Finn looked especially chuffed during this but the latter performance saw Vedder fluff a lyric and there were some issues with Sharon’s bass, so the group replayed it in full once again and the second time around it was really explosive. The band (sans Vedder) than brought the show home with “Weather With You”, a big song that was clapping skyscrapers of fun.

Neil Finn’s Max Session had been an excellent exercise in singing, dancing and contemplation as he’d whisked us along through space and time to touch on various elements from his catalogue. It had been a joyous and awesome surprise to see Vedder and Finn together, even though they’re no strangers to collaborating. But it was a nice touch and the cream on top of a wonderfully delicious show. Finn sounds as revitalised and creative as ever with strong, new material that will hypnotise you and take you on that magic carpet ride that started some forty years ago.

Neil Finn’s Max Sessions set list:
1. Pony Ride
2. Flying In The Face Of Love
3. Fall At Your Feet (originally performed by Crowded House)
4. Distant Sun (originally performed by Crowded House)
5. Impressions
6. In My Blood
7. Better Than TV
—–
8. Message To My Girl (originally performed by Split Enz)
9. Faster Than Light
10. She Goes On (originally performed by Crowded House)
11. One Step Ahead (originally performed by Split Enz)
12. Dizzy Heights
13. From A Friend To A Friend (originally performed by Pajama Club)
14. Anytime
15. Strangest Friends
16. Locked Out (originally performed by Crowded House)
17. I Got You (originally performed by Split Enz)
——
18. Throw Your Arms Around Me (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors)
19. History Never Repeats (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors)
20. History Never Repeats (feat. Eddie Vedder) (originally performed by Hunters & Collectors) (played in full a second time)
21. Weather With You (originally performed by Crowded House)

Neil Finn’s Max Session will be aired Monday 24th March at 9pm on MAX.

Originally published on 31 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/max-sessions-with-neil-finn-feat-eddie-vedder-seymour-centre-29-01-14

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