Music Review: Billy Joel – Piano Man (Legacy Edition) (2011)

Hi there!

Let me start this review by explaining a bit of my eclectic music tastes and how Billy Joel fits into things. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, but didn’t start listening to the radio much until the mid- to late-1980s. Instead I was raised listening to a variety of folk, Broadway, and jazz music at my house. So even though Joel’s career started to take off in 1973 with the album Piano Man, somehow I managed to avoid hearing much of his music until I started seeing his video for “Tell Her About It” (An Innocent Man) in 1983 or 1984. And I really didn’t dive head first into his back catalog until after falling in love with Storm Front when it was released in 1989.

By the time I saw Billy live at McNichols Arena in Denver in 1990 or 1991, I was a rabid fan of his Greatest Hits Volume I and II album, The Stranger, and An Innocent Man. But over the years I never went back to some of his early albums like Piano Man. Thankfully the recent release of Piano Man (Legacy Edition), the 30 year anniversary of Billy’s debut album on Columbia Records, features the original 10 songs remastered as well as a CD featuring his performance at the Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia a year prior.

It was that performance in Philly that really started opening doors. Apparently WMMR, one of Philly’s top-rated radio stations, had been playing “Captain Jack” from that live show and their listeners were going crazy. That opened the door for a New York audition, major label interest, and eventually a contract with Columbia Records.

When asked about Piano Man billy said “I never sat down and said I’m gonna write a hit record. I wouldn’t know a hit record if it bit me. I just wrote songs. I wrote them for me, I wrote them for the band, or I wrote a song for the women in my life. I was just writing songs for me. It’s music that I wanted to hear. If I didn’t hear certain kind of music on the radio, I realized, ‘Well, if I write and record this it’ll probably be on the radio and that’s what I’ll hear.’ That’s what I was thinking. Not so much about having hits, but about making music that I liked. I only really ever did it for me. That may sound selfish, but I’m the only person that I really know all that well.”

The Legacy Edition includes two CDs with rich, clean, and crisp remastered tracks. Piano Man was remastered from the original recordings. And the Sigma Sound performance was re-mixed from the original studio recording and features three songs which don’t appear on any of his albums — “Long, Long Time,” “Josephine,” and “Rosalinda” — as well as that door-opening performance of “Captain Jack.”

Of the songs on Piano Man, the album’s signature song is still my favorite and sounds great even after 30 years. There’s something about Billy’s style of passionate performances and storytelling captured in this classic about the regular crowd shuffling into a bar, from the old man to the real estate novelist. It’s believable without being over the top and who wouldn’t love to have Billy Joel playing piano at any bar they might happen into?

And “Captain Jack”‘s anthem to self destruction seems to be timeless. Joel himself has had several bouts with depression and alcohol-related issues over the years, so the song’s message of using alcohol “to get you by tonight / just a little push, you’ll be smiling” seems just a bit auto-biographical. With the rock-guitar behind Joel’s piano melodies, it really makes this song take on a life of its own, vacillating between slower moments of reflection and the full anthem sound with volume.

Between the songs (new to me) like “The Ballad of Billy The Kid” and “Stop In Nevada” and the live performance CD, I look at this as an important addition to my music collection. Plus after seeing Billy live on the Storm Front tour with 20 years of recording and touring experience, it’s truly amazing to listen to the purity of an early live performance from 1972. His voice is strong, emotive and very young!

If you are a fan, young or old, of Billy Joel’s music, Piano Man (Legacy Edition) is a must-have for your collection.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

DVD Review: Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Hi there!

What is it about Jim Carrey and animals that just clicks when they’re combined in a movie? I still remember Carrey as “Fireman Jim” on In Living Color and wondering how in the heck he made his face stay in that awful grimace. When he did both Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask in 1994, he was permanently on my radar. The character of Ace Ventura was at once annoying and endearing, and somehow he pulled off working with an entire zoo of animals on film.

When Mr. Popper’s Penguins came out this past June, everyone in my family wanted to see it. However, as things sometimes work out, we never got a chance so we knew we’d definitely have to check it out on DVD. Thankfully it was released this week and we had a chance to watch.

The movie is based on Mr. Popper’s Penguins, a Newbery-award-winning novel published in 1938 by the husband and wife team of Richard and Florence Atwater. Jim Carrey plays Tom Popper, a man dedicated to his work in buying and selling New York City real estate to the detriment of all other relationships in his life. While Popper was growing up, his father was off exploring the world and rarely home to share his experiences. To make up for it, his father always sent fun gifts to his son from wherever he was. When the elder Popper dies, he sends his son one last gift – a set of penguins from Antarctica. From the moment Popper meets the first penguin, his life starts spiraling out of control and putting his priorities back in order.

Anyone who’s had a pet can probably attest to how crazy life can get when you have an animal in your life. There’s something about sharing your life with a pet that gets them under your skin. Sure, there’s the day-to-day chores of feeding and cleaning up after critters big and small. But little by little they become bonded to you and you become bonded to them despite how much they may completely drive you bonkers.

As Popper gets used to having six penguins in his NYC apartment, he finds himself caring for these frozen characters from the South Pole. And along the way, he finds ways to reconnect with his kids Billy (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Janie (Madeline Carroll), and his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino). Of course, there are a few hiccups along the way like a zookeeper (Clark Gregg) obsessed with taking the penguins away, the woman who owns the Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Mrs. Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), and Popper’s bosses at the real estate firm.

Honestly I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Mr. Popper’s Penguins based on the trailers. It’s Jim Carrey playing a similar character to other roles like he has in Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar. That however turned out to be a boon – there’s something about this human cartoon interacting with animals and kids that makes him quite endearing.

Beyond Carrey, the penguins themselves have quite a bit of character. Each penguin has its own personality from the first time they appear in the film to the end. And the combination of live action and CGI penguins was seamless throughout the movie. The scene with the birds sliding down from floor to floor in the Guggenheim was quite funny as you saw people go flying left and right as the birds whizzed past.

Included in the DVD extras are the animated short “Nimrod and Stinky’s Antarctic Adventure,” a collection of deleted scenes, a gag reel, “Ready for Their Closeup,” “Ladies and Gentoomen,” an audio commentary featuring director Mark Waters, editor Bruce Green, and visual effects supervisor Richard Hollander, a sneak peek at Tooth Fairy 2, and the original theatrical trailer.

The animated short was disappointing, done in a “moving comics” style that was a bit jarring to me. However I was impressed that Clegg would lend his voice to the zookeeper in the short. The gag reel proves just how little Jim Carrey has changed since Ace Ventura. And “Ladies and Gentoomen” is a great educational piece about the penguins featuring Jessica Perry, a Senior Level Aviculturist at Sea World.

We really enjoyed “Ready for their Closeup,” which showed the great lengths the actors and production crew went to for the Gentoo penguins. Everyone involved in the movie really seemed quite taken with them. The work that went into training the birds as well as training the actors to work with them. And like any time you work with animals, the feature really shows how they can take over the set. If there weren’t enough outtakes in the gag reel for you, there are some amazing clips with Carrey and the penguins here.

Overall Mr. Popper’s Penguins was a fun movie with some great extras to learn more about the penguins themselves as well as making movies with these fun birds.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

Enhanced by Zemanta

DVD Review: Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas

Ever since Scrat the sabertooth squirrel started his quest for the acorn in the early 2000s, I’ve been a fan of the Ice Age universe. Sure, maybe Manny, Sid, and Diego are slowly inching towards extinction, but more often than not they show that animated films can be both commercial, kid-friendly, and still appeal to parents who are still young-at-heart.

That said, I was disappointed this year when we somehow managed to miss recording Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas which aired around Thanksgiving. I wanted to see if the momentum of Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs with its whole Land of the Lost/Journey to the Center of the Earth vibe would spill over into a Christmas special. Now that I’ve seen the special on DVD, I’m happy to say that it was actually quite original and fun!

It starts out with mammoths Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) literally rolling out the decorations for Christmas (somewhat ironically considering how odd it would be to have Christmas before the birth of Christ, but let’s let that go) – including a large boulder that’s been handed down generation to generation in Manny’s family. When Sid (John Leguizamo) the sloth and Diego (Denis Leary) the sabertooth tiger get involved in a discussion about the stone’s merits, Sid manages to destroy it while testing its durability. This didn’t make Manny happy at all and in his frustration he convinces Sid that he’s on Santa’s “Naughty List.”

Well, this upsets Manny and Ellie’s daughter Peaches (Ciara Bravo) so much, she sets off to head to the North Pole to convince Santa to remove Sid from the Naughty List. Of course, Peaches and Sid aren’t alone in this quest and are joined by the possum brothers Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck). Along the way, they get a bit lost and stumble across a new friend named Prancer (T.J. Miller) who just happens to be a flying reindeer. This odd group makes their way to Santa’s workshop, guarded by an army of tiny sloths.

Do they find Santa? Do Manny, Ellie, and Diego join the party? Yes to both questions. Of course, they manage to destroy and rebuild Santa’s Workshop and find a way to save Christmas for kids all around the world thanks to Prancer and his flying family. Ultimately I think the message is that no matter what happens, anything is possible if you work together towards a common goal and don’t give up.

Plus, having an Ice Age holiday special serves as a reminder of the new movie due out next summer – Ice Age: Continental Drift arrives in theaters in July 2012!

In an age where the stop-motion puppetry of the Rankin-Bass holiday specials are looking a little long in the tooth, I’m glad to see new specials appearing on the docket like the Prep and Landing, Shrek the Halls, and now Ice Age: A Mammoth Christmas. I think this one will fit nicely into our holiday TV traditions from now on!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...