Music DVD Review: Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer

Hi!

What can I say about Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer that hasn’t been said? These three comedian/musicians have been making people laugh and playing music together in some way or another since Spinal Tap made its first appearance in 1979. And in 1984, when the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap was released, they were forever imprinted on the cosmic consciousness as rock gods Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls.

Since then, the trio have appeared in multiple Chrisopher Guest-directed films such as Waiting for Guffman (1996), Best in Show (2000), For Your Consideration (2006), and A Mighty Wind (2003). The DVD features performances from the soundtracks of This Is Spinal Tap, Break Like The Wind (1992) (the second Spinal Tap album), and the A Mighty Wind soundtrack where the trio played as The Folksmen.

[amazon-product]B002G1X2WE[/amazon-product]What makes this performance so special is that they are playing all of these songs with acoustic instruments or a capella. The trio appears as themselves, not as their characters, and have a great time reminiscing as they play. They are joined by CJ Vanston (who helped them on their latest Spinal Tap project – Back from the Dead (2009)), Annette O’Toole (Michael McKean’s wife who appeared in A Mighty Wind, and Judith Owen (wife of Harry Shearer and a singer-songwriter with her own career).

All three are great comedians who have had wonderful movie and TV careers. Guest played Count Rugen in one of my favorite movies – The Princess Bride. My first exposure to McKean was as Lenny (of Lenny & Squiggy fame) on Laverne and Shirley. And Shearer of course has done voices on The Simpsons forever, including Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Ned Flanders, Principle Skinner, and many more…

But then you add in their musical abilities and these guys can rock. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to review the first release from the Beyman Bros – Memories of Summer as a Child – of which Guest was a part of as well as David Nichtern and CJ Vanston. This was an amazing album for me first because it was great instrumental music which bridged Americana, bluegrass, and jazz genres and second because it showed the world just how great a musician Guest really is.

And now, in the 25th anniversary of the film This is Spinal Tap, these three amazing men are getting together to share their love of comedy and music with their fans. The stars and planets must all be aligning somehow, for this is truly a great show.

Just to hear them play some of the Spinal Tap tunes that previously were only played on extremely amplified (i.e. turned up to 11) instruments on acoustic guitars was great. Everything from “Hell Hole,” “Bitch School,” “Big Bottom,” and “Sex Farm” to “The Good Book Song” and “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” – they ranged far and wide through their large repertoire. And to bookend the concert between two verses of the a capella “Celtic Blues” worked beautifully to pull everything together.

All in all the group plays about 30 different songs from their time together. The concert footage is crisp and well shot, the concert sounds great, and by the end you feel like you really wanted to be there to see it all live.

If you like music from This is Spinal Tap or A Mighty Wind, you’ll love Unwigged & Unplugged: An Evening with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Be sure to look for it at your favorite retailer when it’s released on September 1, 2009. For more about the DVD, check out the website Unwigged.com.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD and others from the trio at Amazon below!

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Music Review: The Beyman Bros – Memories of Summer as a Child

Hi all…

Christopher Guest has a permanent place in my DVD collection on This Is Spinal Tap, the premiere rock mockumentary of the 1980s. Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean will forever echo in my brain with the strains of Stonehenge.

So when I heard that he had a new music effort out, I was immediately drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And though Spinal Tap may not be playing on the album, the Beyman Bros have something just as cool to give the world — an amazing musical landscape. No voices, just instruments on Memories of Summer as a Child and these guys can play!

This group of unrelated musicians makes up the Beyman Bros – David Nichtern on guitars (acoustic and electric), Christopher Guest on a variety of instruments (mandolin, mandocello, clarinet, and occasional guitar), and CJ Vanston on everything else (accordion, synthesizer, acoustic and electric pianos). And it’s one heck of a collaboration.

It’s not what I expected. It seems sort of a combination of jazz, folk, and celtic influences jived together to create eleven tracks that don’t fall into the trap of becoming elevator music. They work in highs and lows, key changes, a bit of improvisation, and such a cool array of instruments that you can’t help but tap your toes. (Or at least I couldn’t help but tap my toes.)

The mix of styles and musicians is really what makes this instrumental album work for me. The “smooth jazz” album has grown a bit stale over the years for me. I enjoy a fusion of styles and an upbeat tempo more than the typical sleepy, bedroom jazz I tend to hear on jazz stations on local radio stations. As such, I find myself avoiding them.

But I watched a video of these guys playing together and was immediately entranced. It was the video of the group playing “Moon of Tunis” that threw me over the edge. Once I saw them enjoying themselves in this upbeat tune, I couldn’t stop tapping my toes. They get into a groove and don’t fall out. For me, nothing beats watching a bunch of musicians having fun. Live music beats anything recorded. But watching them play brought that “fun” out for me.

The album as a whole is an eclectic mix, but that’s what makes it so alive for me. It doesn’t just sit there and expect you to go to sleep. It has a pulse. Feel it beat?

And from the first song, “Tulong”, I fell into the groove and then just wound my way from track to track as they led me where they wanted me. After “Tulong”, “Triad” swallowed me up with eclectic electric guitars that lead to so much more… almost telling a story via the layers of instruments and styles. “Hidden Passage” made think of Spyro Gyra, one of my favorite jazz fusion groups growing up as a sax player. And “Awakening” serves as the mile marker at the end of the journey, as though I was in a meditative trance for the last 10 tracks, bringing me back up to the land of conscious thought.

It really does hit me like a trance album — a meditative journey. But not like any have heard in recent years. It’s nice to know that the pacing/arrangement of an album is still an art form.

If you like calm but energetic instrumental music, Memories of Summer as a Child from the Beyman Bros is an amazing entry. Not elevator music. Not smooth jazz. But something much more. Check out the video link above and get a taste for the rest of the album, but I think you’ll like it. Christopher Guest and the gang did an amazing job.

Track listing:

  1. Tulong
  2. Man of La Mantra
  3. Moons of Tunis
  4. Memories of Summer as a Child
  5. Triad
  6. Shelter Island
  7. Hidden Passage
  8. Interlude
  9. Hartland
  10. The River Ebro
  11. Awakening

Be sure to check this one out at Amazon or elsewhere… It’s worth it!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up the album at Amazon here:

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