Music Review: Melancholy Waltz – Richie Lawrence

Hi all…

Tickling the ivories. Slapping the keys. Playing the piano. Modern pianos have 88 keys covering seven octaves and three pedals. And though I myself never learned to play well, some of my fondest memories are of my mother sitting before our old upright piano whiling away the minutes into hours as she’d stretch chord and note to chord again… Even now, nothing quite can match the expressiveness of a well-played piano.

Enter Richie Lawrence and his family’s 1917 Model AIII Steinway Grand Piano. On his latest release, Melancholy Waltz, he proves my point with twelve amazing piano and accordion instrumentals and songs. And though his Americana-themed lyrics and vocals weren’t my favorite tracks on the CD, there’s something powerful and joyful about his piano compositions that’s hard to explain. Melancholy Waltz cuts across a majority of his influences – from Americana, blues, and folk – while showing off his talents as not only a performer, but a composer and songwriter.

Lawrence was born in Oklahoma, but lived in Colorado for a time and now calls California home. He’s played everything from blues to Polka and along the way met a literal Who’s Who of famous musicians – Bonnie Raitt, Steve Goodman, Crystal Gayle, America, and George Thorogood as well as the Neville Brothers, David Lindley, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Little Richard, David Byrne, and more.

Of all the tunes on the album, my favorite is the “Bee’s Blues”, which weaves the classic melody of “Für Elise” with a series of lively ragtime blues riffs that I can listen to over and over again. The joy as Lawrence plays with these melodies comes through loud and clear.

In contrast with the blues, the soft and steady strains of “The Melancholy Waltz” brings to mind a couple dancing through time and space. This is a piano composition I would hope that dance choreographers, television and movie producers take note of for their own shows. It’s impossible for me not to see the waltzing couple as I listen to this gorgeous melody, which ends in a happier place than it begins with a more upbeat/ragtime feel.

And lastly, I’ll talk about “My Oklahoma Hills,” which shows his love for where he was born. He explains in the lyrics that “I left my home behind me / My dreams do travel there still / Through prairie ocean grasses / My Oklahoma hills…” This is for Lawrence what “Country Roads” was for John Denver – a call home through song.

Richie Lawrence’s three decades of experience playing music professionally truly come through in this great album. If you have a love for original piano compositions as I do, be sure to pick up Melancholy Hills. Check out his website – www.richielawrence.com – for more information about the man and his music.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for this and other great albums at Amazon!

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Music Review: Behave Yourself (Dig)[EP] – Cold War Kids

Hi there!

The Cold War Kids was formed just a few years ago in California and doesn’t seem to have taken much of a break since 2004. They have even been quoted saying with as often as they’re on tour “Why even have apartments?” CWK seems to thrive on live performances, rather than wanting to be regularly in the studio.

Behave Yourself (Dig) is a collection of four songs and a jam session that didn’t make it onto their Robbers & Cowards or Loyalty to Loyalty albums or their many EPs released since 2005. The band consists of Matt Aveiro on drums, Matt Maust on bass, Jonnie Bo Russell on guitar and Nathan Willett on vocals and piano. And based on these four songs, I have to say they have a unique sound that crosses boundaries.

“An Audience of One” opens the EP with Willett exploring his great range while not listening to the advice proposed by the EP title… Tough to “Behave Yourself” when singing lyrics like “Reach out and point a finger / And touch the globe / Spin around and where it stops / You’ve got to pack your bags and go…” Sounds good to me, but easier to do when you’re young and free!

From there we progress to “Coffee Spoon” with its easy pop guitar and percussion backing Willett’s smooth lyrics once again. This one’s meaning is a bit darker though, perhaps in response to some of the economic troubles the world has been seeing. He sings “my indulgence is a joke / and while everyone laughs / I’m clipping coupons / and saving my breath…” The upbeat music mixed with the messages of consumption and the mismatch with how the voice of the song actually feels makes this one stand out.

Santa Ana Winds” is my favorite of the four songs. Like “Coffee Spoon” it mixes upbeat and almost happy melodies and percussion with observations of the gritty California world around them. “Easter on Olvera Street / Girls nursing new babies in alleyways / In between is a basin like the great divide…” showing the disconnect between different sides of the same street all too familiar to most inner cities today. Socially conscious rock songs make me feel that younger generations actually have the hope to see a change in their lifetime.

And the last song, “Sermons vs. the Gospel,” continues the socially deep trend, but this time slowing it down to almost a Southern Church feel stripped down to a few bare instruments and voices. “Got this idea in my head and I can’t get it out / cause all your money and all your culture / I can surely live without…” Begging for mercy from the lord in a world where the rich get richer and the poor keep getting poorer…

Having never heard of the Cold War Kids before, I have to say I’m impressed. Solid music and lyrics that make you stop and think. There may be hope yet.

For more details about CWK, their touring schedule, and previous releases be sure to check out their website at www.coldwarkids.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this CWK EP and other albums at Amazon!

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DVD Review: Care Bears: Helping Hearts

Hi there!

About six months ago, I reviewed Care Bears: Tell-Tale Tummies with my two daughters. The DVD featured a collection of eight episodes from the animated series that aired in 2007. We’ve really enjoyed these cute, cuddly characters telling stories aimed at kids in preschool and early elementary. Each episode focuses on a valuable lesson in a very kid-friendly and accessible manner.

If you’re not familiar with the Care Bears, they started as an idea for a line of greeting cards at American Greetings in 1981. Each bear has a unique “belly badge” denoting their magical abilities. For example, Funshine Bear has a sun on his belly and is all about helping his friends have fun. And Cheer Bear has a rainbow on her belly and tries to keep everyone upbeat and cheerful. In 1983, the bears became a very popular series of stuffed animals and the phenomenon began to spread…

By the mid 1980s, the Care Bears had three feature films and their own television show. And it was all rebooted for a new generation in the early 2000s, just in time for all the parents who grew up in the 80s to pass the craving for cute bears down to their own kids. I wasn’t a huge Care Bears fan growing up (though my sister, 5 years my junior, definitely was). But now as a parent, I have to admit that the cartoons provide solid role models and lessons that my daughters can relate to.

Now Lionsgate has released eight never-before seen episodes from the same series and these Care Bears episodes all focus on themes of friendship, responsbility, asking for help, and more — all good lessons for boys and girls growing up and getting ready for preschool or kindergarten. It’s amazing that these bears have not only survived but thrived when so many other cartoons from the 1980s have faded from that same era. I just think it proves that good television for kids can be entertaining and educational if done right.

Included among the eight episodes are:

  • “Ice Creamed,” which teaches that too much of a good thing is still too much.
  • “A Little Help” shows that nobody should be afraid to ask for help.
  • “Rudemate” proves that everyone should strive to be a respectful guest and respect your own things and those of others…”

As you can see, these are simple messages that come through loud and clear as the bears work through problems together. We can all use little reminders like that now and again.

In addition to the episodes, the DVD features “Direct Play,” which allows kids to simply play the DVD without additional assistance from a parent. I know that my youngest daughter, almost 5, definitely benefits from this simpler approach to playing a DVD rather than having to navigate a DVD menu.

If you’re a parent searching for entertaining stories and good lessons for kids, Care Bears: Helping Hearts provides eight great reasons to check it out!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this Care Bears DVD and others from Amazon!

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