Music Review: Sugar & the Hi-Lows – Sugar & the Hi-Lows

Hi there!

If you listen to R&B from the 1960s, there’s a smoothness, optimism, and energy to it that modern artists aspire to but rarely achieve. Super groups like the Temptations and The Isley Brothers and artists like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye all had that “it factor” that not only made them instantly recognizable on the radio, but gave fans the confidence they could buy damn near anything they produced and not be sorry. I think many of the artists of the era could sing the phone book and it would still be a hit.

Today’s R&B seems to focus more on trying to engineer that “it factor” more than letting the artists find it on their own. The biggest exceptions I can come up with these days are artists like Adele and Duffy, with a bit of that throwback sound mixed with modern sensibilities. However, it’s mostly solo artists hitting that groove and not duos or groups finding that niche.

So I was pleased to find a group like Sugar & the Hi-Lows, who just released their self-titled, full-length album on Ready Set Records. This duo out of Nashville featuring Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup manages to channel not just that ’50s and ’60s vibe, but work in a collaborative sound that hits me a little like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss‘s Raising Sand from just a few years ago. Seamless, effortless, with a soul and happiness that grooves with simple arrangements that never take away from the harmonies at the heart of it all.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t vary from song to song, slow tempo to up-beat. Opening with the gliding “Show and Tell,” you quickly slide up to an almost Elvis-like “Two Day High” and then slip smoothly into the ballad “I’ve Got You Covered”… There’s an ebb and flow to this well-constructed release that reminds me that there are artists still treating album construction as more than a way to slap a bunch of tracks onto a CD. I love it from start to finish!

“Show and Tell” is the first track, which sets the album off on a great footing with a slow, steady romantic song. A steady drum beat, bass line, and rhythm guitar gets things off as the love song gets under way… “Loving me without a reason / Chased the meaning not the feeling / You followed through / so did you…” How many relationships does this sound like? Like any good love song, it’s immediately applicable to just about any couple with just a little personal interpretation. And with that beat throughout it never gets ahead of itself, instead reminding me of some of the mid-tempo songs to which folks could dance for hours on the dance floor.

But it ends with a rock/rockabilly song – “Skip the Line” – that would blend beautifully from “Show and Tell” or any other song on the album. Another love song, but this one more upbeat about a couple ready to head out into the world, “skipping the line” as it were and avoiding the regular grind. “Got an open sky / Got you by my side / Yeah I, I’ve got a big old heart…” but ultimately “Everyone is waiting, worried about they problems / ‘cept you and I / gonna skip the line.” It just grooves along happily with a great rhythm guitar and drum keeping the beat with the duo singing their troubles away. What more could you want?

And in-between you have ballads, up-tempo, and more to keep you entertained. Eight tracks in all and one of the most up-beat albums I’ve heard in ages.

If you want a feel-good album to drive away the blues, you can’t beat Sugar & the Hi-Lows’ self-titled album. Be sure to pick up the album and enjoy the ride.

Be sure to check out their website at for details about the group, their tour schedule, and more!

This article first appeared at here.


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DVD Review: Tom and Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures, Volume 2

Hi all…

Tom and Jerry have had long and fruitful lives as cartoon characters. The titular cat and mouse began in a series of animated cartoons created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for MGM in 1940 and have evolved several times over the last 70+ years. It’s a familiar recipe for cartoons – take one lovable scoundrel, introduce a second scoundrel to the same environment, and see which scoundrel wins. Last I checked, it’s a dead heat and neither cat nor mouse has gained the upper hand.

I believe I’ve seen most, if not all of the Tom and Jerry cartoons at one time or another. Even in my 40s, I still watch cartoons with my kids and the classics like Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, and Scooby-Doo seem to beat most current cartoons hands down. But I’m starting to grow tired of Warner Brother’s current attempts to milk the franchise on DVD for more money with single-DVD collections of the Tom and Jerry shorts. Every few months, there’s a new release.

Now I have to say I’m eagerly anticipating the Tom & Jerry Golden Collection: Volume One when it arrives on Blu-ray in October 2011. Apparently the new collection features the first 37 shorts, restored from the best 35mm originals they could find, in beautiful 1080p HD with Dolby 5.1 sound. And the rumor is that the new collection will show the original cartoons un-edited and un-censored. That collection is currently available for pre-order at Amazon today and I’ve already got my order in.

However, Tom and Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures, Volume 2 seems to be a hodgepodge collection of 14 shorts from three very different eras of Tom and Jerry production and the quality of the transfers leaves quite a lot to be desired. My personal favorites are the original Hanna-Barbera shorts from the 1940s & 50s and those from when Chuck Jones was working on them in the mid-1960s, not the shorts from the later series Tom and Jerry Tales.

The DVD includes the following shorts:

  • Tops with Pops (1957 – Hanna-Barbera)
  • Monster Con (Tom and Jerry Tales 2007)
  • Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl (1950 – Hanna-Barbera)
  • Of Feline Bondage (1965 – Chuck Jones)
  • Saturday Evening Puss (1950 – Hanna-Barbera)
  • The A-Tom-Inable Snowman (1966 – Chuck Jones)
  • Surf-bored Cat (1967 – Chuck Jones)
  • Snowbody Loves Me (1964 – Chuck Jones)
  • Duel Personality (1966 – Chuck Jones)
  • Is There a Doctor in the Mouse? (1964 – Chuck Jones)
  • The Haunted Mouse (1965 – Chuck Jones)
  • Declaration of Independunce (Tom and Jerry Tales 2007)
  • Kitty Hawked (Tom and Jerry Tales 2007)
  • Which Witch (Tom and Jerry Tales 2007)

Several of the transfers of the shorts really didn’t come across well at all, with obvious scratches and a jittery picture. It was especially noticeable in some of the shorts from the ’50s and ’60s. The newer Tom and Jerry Tales shorts had a nice, clean transfer with little extra movement beyond what the creators wanted. You do get to see favorites from the original shorts, including Spike and Tyke, Butch, Lightning, and Topsy. Of the classics included, I think “Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl,” “Saturday Evening Puss,” and “The Haunted Mouse” are my favorites.

Unfortunately you also get to see ill-conceived shorts from Tom and Jerry Tales like “Monster Con” which pairs Tom up with Van Helsing as they go monster hunting at a monster convention. Like most of the newer Tom and Jerry cartoons, these seem to be poor, shallow imitations of the earlier era of shorts.

Beyond the Tom and Jerry cartoons themselves, there are no extras except for a few trailers for other Warner Brothers-produced shows such as The Looney Tunes Show (which fails except for the brilliant 3D Road Runner/Coyote cartoons) and a collection of Snoopy’s adventures in Happiness Is… Peanuts: Snoopy’s Adventures.

If you’re a fan of the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons, I’d seriously skip Tom and Jerry: Fur Flying Adventures, Volume 2 and save your money for the upcoming Tom & Jerry Golden Collection: Volume One to be released in October 2011.

This article first appeared at here.


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DVD Review: He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown

Hey all…

Since Charles Schultz’ comics turned into animated specials appearing on television, those specials have been a staple in many of our homes. Growing up in the 1970s, they had already started repeating them throughout the year and I watched them all with my family.

The antics of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and the rest of the gang became a timeless joy. And now that Warner Brothers is remastering and re-releasing these classic specials on DVD, it’s been fun to share them with my own daughters so they too can get to know the gang from Peanuts.

He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown is the latest of these specials to be re-released. The DVD includes “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” and a bonus special – “Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown.” Though neither of these were specials I recall from my childhood, it’s still fun to see these characters get some attention from the archives. The DVD also includes the featurette “Snoopy’s Home Ice: The Story of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena,” which tells of the ice arena Charles Schultz had built in the late 1960s.

In “He’s Your Dog,” Charlie Brown realizes that Snoopy is out of control and causing trouble not only for himself but for all his friends in the neighborhood – from picking fights with Lucy to stalking Linus and his blanket. To remedy the situation, Charlie Brown sends Snoopy back to the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm to attend a puppy boot camp and learn some manners. Unfortunately, Snoopy has other plans and never makes it there. An overnight stay at Peppermint Patty’s house turns into a week-long spa vacation for our troublesome pup.

Of course, the gang comes to realize that they miss the mischievous beagle and Charlie Brown does his best to get Snoopy back. Unfortunately, Snoopy doesn’t want to be dragged back to his doghouse by a leash and Peppermint Patty has turned the tables on Chuck’s dog and put him to work. Will Snoopy decide to come home or be stuck cleaning house for the rest of his days?

In “Life is a Circus,” Snoopy falls in love with Fifi, a pretty poodle performing under the big top. Smitten, he runs away with the circus and becomes part of the act himself. Charlie Brown and his friends are left pondering why he left as Snoopy learns a few new tricks and becomes a circus star. Will Snoopy stay with Fifi and the circus or choose to return home where he can resume his life as a single dog?

Warner Brothers did a great job re-mastering these timeless classics. “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” turned out crisp and full of vibrant color with a crisp clear soundtrack. And it was great to hear another of Vince Guaraldi’s amazing piano scores again. “Life is a Circus, Charlie Brown” isn’t quite as clean a reproduction and seems to flicker in spots, but still enjoyable to watch.

If you’re looking for a great family-friendly DVD to share at home, look no further than Charlie Brown and his pals. He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown is available on DVD along with many more of these Peanuts classics.

This article first appeared at here.


p.s. Pick up these great specials on DVD!