Music Review: Peter Mulvey – The Good Stuff

Hey there…

What is it about Peter Mulvey’s voice? Some gravelly, deep quality that makes him not only persuasive and honest but almost addictive? Something about the way he composes his arrangements or writes his lyrics? The serious fun it seems he has playing every song? I don’t honestly know.

But every time Mulvey releases an album, I have to listen. Ever since Notes from Elsewhere, I have been a fan. Notes is one of those albums that rises to the top of my collection more often than I might want to admit and several tracks from Letters From a Flying Machine are also working their way up – especially the honesty of some of the letters he reads, like “Vlad the Astrophysicist”!

So what is his latest album like? The Good Stuff takes a bunch of songs I have never heard before (and a few I have) and puts a Mulvey spin on them in that magical way only he can. Though I have to admit the first couple of times I listened to the album in the car I wasn’t sure I liked it. It might just be the horrible speakers in the car however, since I listened to it about three times on my iPad on a plane a couple of weeks ago and it grew on me each time.

Why has it grown on me? This CD collects the work of a disparate group of songwriters and unifies it with Peter’s voice… Songwriters such as Willie Nelson (“Are You Sure?”), Chris Smithers (“Time to Spend”), Tom Waits (“Green Grass”), Duke Ellington (“Mood Indigo”), Thelonious Monk (“Ruby My dear”) and others are represented. Recorded over three days in Connecticut, the album features Mulvey with upright bassist Paul Kochanski, violinist Randy Sabien, guitarist David Goodrich, and drummer Jason Smith, with guest vocalist Kris Delmhorst on “Are You Sure?” Each track offers a simple, heartfelt rendition of a classic.

Tracks like “Everybody Knows” groove along telling stories about infidelity and other injustices… “Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful / give a night or two / Everybody knows you’ve been discreet / but there were so many people you just had to meet / without your clothes…” Written by Leonard Cohen, this is a song about the wrongs in the world that everyone accepts and just lives with. Though not cheery, Mulvey lends it a certain gravitas with a simple arrangement and simple delivery.

One of my favorites on the album has to be “Are You Sure?” with the duet between Mulvey and Delmhorst. It reminds me of a different era of music-making. Simple harmonies, well sung, without the over-engineered instrumentals – just a couple of guitars, a snare, and a violin. There’s almost a “drunk” sound to the violin the longer the song goes along, as the singers try to convince a barfly it’s time to leave the bar. Again, the honesty comes through not just in the lyrics but in the delivery.

But Mulvey’s rendition of “Mood Indigo” takes the cake. Such a classic big band standard that’s been done since the 1930s by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, Joe Jackson, Nat “King” Cole, and others… Well, now we can add Peter Mulvey to the list. I’ve never heard this jazzy tune done with simple guitar arrangements and violin and Pete just lays it down smooth. This is the blues, people. “Always get that mood indigo / since my baby said goodbye / in the evenin’ when lights are low / I’m so lonesome I could cry…” Sing it brother.

That’s just a taste of the fourteen tracks on this CD. Now, if you’re expecting Mulvey originals, The Good Stuff is probably not the CD for you. But if you want to hear a master give interpretations of standard songs of the last century, I’d encourage you to give it a listen. As always, Pete’s on top of his game and this CD will work its way to the top of my collection soon, I’m sure.

For more about Peter Mulvey, be sure to check out his home page for other albums, news, and his touring schedule.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Blu-ray Review: Immortals

Hi!

Ever since Gladiator, I’ve been a fan of sword & sandals pictures. Yes, I know there were classic films like Spartacus and Ben-Hur, but Ridley Scott’s Gladiator with Russell Crowe opened my eyes to the possibilities of such a genre of films. Since then we’ve seen great films like 300 and not-so-great films like the remade Clash of the Titans, The Last Legion, Troy, and others. With the box office success of Clash of the Titans (2010), making nearly $500 million worldwide, it was only a matter of time before we saw more big budget films in this genre again.

Enter Tarsem Singh’s Immortals… a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Starring Henry Cavill (the new Superman in Man of Steel due out in 2013) as Theseus, Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler) as King Hyperion, Stephen Dorff (Blade), Felon) as Stavros, Freida Pinto (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Slumdog Millionaire) as Phaedra, Luke Evans (The Three Musketeers (2011), Clash of the Titans) as Zeus, and John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy (2011)) as Zeus’ “old man” disguise, the cast included fresh up and coming actors as well as established actors. Yet somehow it didn’t do very well at the box office, making only $226 million worldwide since its release in November 2011.

Now that Immortals has hit DVD and Blu-ray players everywhere, perhaps it will do better?

I didn’t get a chance to see Immortals on the big screen, but have been watching the Blu-ray. I have to say that it’s a very pretty film, meaning that it’s highly stylized with very crisp images and it looks extremely good in 1080p HD. You can tell care was taken in how shots were composed digitally and every tiny detail and color comes across beautifully on Blu-ray media. It also sounds great on a surround-sound stereo system (5.1), utilizing solid bass, mid-range, and treble to make sure you hear every rain drop, sword clang, and word of dialog.

Ultimately I think my problems with this movie are more with the story and characters than the execution. Tarsem took some pretty serious liberties with the myth, making the gods seem less godly and more like spoiled children with nothing better to do than argue about their version of Star Trek‘s “Prime Directive” – not to interfere with mankind regardless of what they do. Of course they disobey that and end up with a gorgeous yet somehow forgettable battle with the Titans who are released from their prison in Tartarus. Caught in the middle is Theseus a half-human, half-god wanting to live a simple life when his world is shattered by King Hyperion seeking to conquer the world to show that the gods don’t exist.

I didn’t mind that Tarsem made the gods seem young – very young even – as immortals. I’ve always wondered why immortals would choose to age if they’re indeed immortal. So why not keep your youthful appearance forever? Unfortunately even though the gods are young, they’re still arguing over the affairs of men after all this time. Sure, they conquered the Titans and locked them in cages in Tartarus that look like they’re made of rebar. But you’d think that they’d want mankind to not tinker with the prison. So when King Hyperion gets his hands on the Epirus Bow (which shoots arrows of light like that kid in the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 1980s), maybe they’d want to step in?

Though I had issues with the gods’ motivations, I could sympathize with Theseus (who watches his mother die) and King Hyperion (who is lashing out after watching his wife and child die), but neither one really held my attention very long. I’ve never been much of a Mickey Rourke fan and he seemed to just mumble his way through scene after scene. And Cavill’s Theseus seemed to have the wistful look down pat (reminded me of Luke Skywalker staring off at the horizon in Star Wars) but never engaged me with his actions. Yes, he’s powerful and is trying to do the right thing, but he got a lot of help along the way and never once said Thank You.

Anyway, I enjoyed the look of the film but overall found it mostly forgettable. Gladiator and 300 are safe in my mind as two great examples of this genre.

As far as special features go, there were some deleted scenes as well as an alternate opening and two alternate endings, none of which would have helped the movie so I understand why they weren’t used. Two featurettes – “It’s No Myth” and “Caravaggio Meets Fight Club” offered some great behind-the-scenes footage of their filming process, fight choreography, and even the movie soundtrack creation. They’re definitely worth watching. And lastly there’s a graphic novel you can page through on screen – “Immortals: Gods & Heroes.” The text on screen for the comic pages is very difficult to read, so get your magnifiers out for this one.

Overall I think Immortals is a renter at best and a good way to get a glimpse at the new Superman in action before he hits screens next summer. Let’s hope the story and characters are a bit more relatable in Man of Steel!

This article first appeared at Blogcritics.org here.

–Fitz

Book Review: Sadie Walker is Stranded by Madeleine Roux

Hi all!

Yes, zombies are everywhere. But the stories that are the most compelling are of normal people facing extraordinary odds of survival. Whether you’re talking about The Walking Dead or Jonathan Maberry‘s Rot & Ruin YA zombie series or Sadie Walker is Stranded, it’s the “Average Joe” forced to step up in the face of certain doom that I want to read about. Sure, Milla Jovovich is stunning in the Resident Evil movies, but her character there is more a superhero than the girl next door. I’m much more likely to identify with the flawed heroes of The Walking Dead and Night of the Living Dead.

So back to Sadie… Author Madeleine Roux manages to capture the insanity and dark humor that may in fact make the apocalypse bearable, but does it so deftly that you only notice when she deflects a horrific event with a popular media reference or witty response to get a rise. Mix that with the fact that this is the first zombie book I’ve seen that uses a boat to great effect and you get great paragraphs like this: “Finding privacy on a sailboat is like finding a Starbucks in the desert. You might desperately want it to happen, you might wish upon a star, but you’re better off accepting that you’re going to die, and not with a soy latte in your hand either.”

I’ll be shocked if this book doesn’t get optioned for a movie within a year or two. It has a heroine who manages to be both brave and flawed at the same time. It involves hordes of the undead underwater and above it. And it details a world that seems much closer to the beginning of such an apocalypse than one that’s learned to live with it.

After the zombie apocalypse happens, graphic artist Sadie Walker finds herself living in a besieged Seattle, WA, trying to live a normal life and raise her nephew in relative safety and peace. Fate apparently has other things in store for her. When her nephew gets kidnapped by a radical group of “Repopulationists” seeking to repopulate the earth through copious copulation where children are prized above all else, Sadie goes off the deep end. She must fight her way to her nephew amid the chaos caused when a group of zombies breaks through the barrier around the city. Can she not only save the kid, but keep them both alive?

If I had to sum up the book, I’d say it’s a bit like Gilligan’s Island crossed with The Walking Dead, but with more references to popular culture and humor. Sadie Walker Is Stranded was a quick read and a glimpse into an interesting zombie-infested world. I hope Roux decides to follow-up with another book set in the same world. The book is in bookstores now and if you like a good zombie yarn, I’d definitely encourage you to check it out!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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