Sunday, October 29, 2006

Running with Scissors: The Movie

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I love Augusten Burroughs. I’ve read, or listened, to three of his five books so far including Running with Scissors and in all of them, he has managed to write uniquely telling and touching memoirs of a lemonade life built on a foundation of lemons. October 27, 2006 saw the national release of Running with Scissors, based on the book by Augusten Burroughs, and staring Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Alec Baldwin and both Joseph Cross and Jack Kaeding as a young and younger version Augusten Burroughs.

The film chronicles the childhood years of Augusten Burroughs set against the backdrop of his parent’s troubled marriage and eventual divorce, his father’s abandonment, his mother’s severe mental instability, and his living with and eventual adoption by his mother’s psychiatrist. The most compelling and horrifying fact of Running with Scissors it that it is based on the real life events that made up Augusten Burroughs’ young life.

The transition from the page to the screen is rarely smooth and simple. As expected, translating a book that can be read in just short of eight hours to a film that needs to be viewed in two requires some omission. However Ryan Murphy, who both directed and wrote the screenplay, manages to hit all of the marks necessary to convey the absolute absurdness of the life experienced by a young Augusten Burroughs without making any of the characters seem anything less than human.

Murphy does take advantage of the emotional content of the material to such an extent that he almost over uses it on occasion by showing several characters trying to deal with their own, individual demons in a succession of shots that show all of their anguish at the same time. However he manages to balance that by including a certain amount of silence throughout the film and letting the events just happen without any undue influence.

The cast of Running with Scissors is brilliant. Annette Bening turns in an outstanding performance as the amazingly out of touch and occasionally psychotic anti-mother, Deirdre Burroughs. Brian Cox is also excellent in his roll as Dr. Finch and manages to capture the character much as I had envisioned when listening to Augusten Burroughs read Running with Scissors as an audiobook. In addition Jill Clayburgh, Evan Rachel Wood, Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow all give captivating performances as ghosts from Burroughs’ past.

Both Jack Kaeding and Joseph Cross are convincing as young incarnations of Augusten Burroughs…although the younger Kaeding kept reminding me of how the author David Sedaris must have looked as a child. Cross gives Running with Scissors a performance that allows the audience to place a human face on the insanity and upheaval that was the life of Augusten Burroughs.

Readers of Augusten Burroughs, even the casual, should enjoy the film for the same reasons as the book; the lunacy, the humanity, the frailty and the heart. Those unfamiliar with Burroughs will find an often humorous while heartbreaking story of a young man’s struggle to grow up and survive the insanity of the world around him.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

New: On the pod

New: On the pod

Arvo Part – Da Pacem
Arvo Part – De Produndis
Crooked Still – Shaken By A Low Sound
Jet – Shine On
Jimmy Buffett – Take The Weather With You
KT Tunstall – KT Tunstall’s Acoustic Extravaganza
Michael Hedges – Aerial Boundaries
Michael Hedges – The Road To Return
Peter Ostroushko – Postcards
Sarah McLachlan – Winter Song
Submarines – Declare A New State

News: On the pod

This will be a quick one this time, because there’s not really too much going on. I sent in three more reviews for the December issue of Finer Things Magazine. When it comes out you’ll be able to read about Ta-Dah! by the Scissor Sisters, Despite Our Differences by the Indigo Girls and The Open Door by Evanescence.

Speaking of Finer Things Magazine, I happen to know that they have some advertising space currently available, so if you’re a business owner or just have something to advertise in general, drop them a line at I know they would love to hear from you.

I’m tossing around ideas for reviews of some of the new albums above. So far I’ve listened to six of them and they’ve all been pretty good, so it’s hard to know where to start. I’m also working on a piece about some of my favorite music for the fall. My plan is to try and work on that this weekend.

Have fun and as always, keep listening.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Jonatha Brooke – Live In New York

Jonatha Brooke – Live In New York

Sometimes it’s hard to write about people you truly admire. For me, Jonatha Brooke is one such person. I have been a fan of her music since the release of her first solo album, Plumb, in 1995 and having seen her perform live this past year, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Live In New York. Listening to Live In New York is very, very close to the personal and intimate experience of seeing Jonatha Brooke perform live in person.

Live In New York showcases Jonatha playing both alone and with an amazing band at the Anspacher, part of Public Theatre in New York. The album is also available in a two disc set which contains a DVD of the performance, and in watching the show as well as listening to it, the setting seems to lend itself to capturing a performance that is at times both delicate and roaring.

The song selection for Live In New York spans Jonatha Brooke’s entire musical career; from Love Is More Thicker Than Forget all the way through No Net Below. The performances contained on Live In New York are all outstanding, full of energy, emotion and life. Alone, Jonatha turns in a haunting rendition of Deny as well as a delicate and wistful version of No Net Below as the albums closing piece. Her performances with the band; made up of Darren Embry on Bass and vocals, Rich Mercurio on Drums, Geoffrey Moore on Guitar and Ann Marie Milazzo on just about everything you can think of as well as background vocals, are full and powerful as evident on the tracks Linger and Steady Pull.

One of the highlights of the show for me is finally getting to hear a live version of the song Inconsolable from Jonatha’s album Plumb. Beyond being a great song, the end of the studio recording of Inconsolable is a piece of contained madness that reaches just over the edge of falling apart and then manages to pull itself back. While the version on Live In New York is not an exact copy of this, the inspired solo given by Geoffrey Moore is, in itself, also a piece of contained madness that manages to be almost out of control and then recovers, making it an experience in and of itself to hear.

Both the audio and video versions of Live In New York are outstanding examples of what Jonatha Brooke is capable of as a performer and a writer. If you haven’t been able to see her live, you should…trust me it’s worth it. Until you can though, pick up a copy of Live in New York to see what your missing.

Dream Theater – Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour

Dream Theater – Score:
20th Anniversary World Tour
Live with the Octavarium Orchestra

Score is Dream Theater’s best live album to date…and they’ve had a lot of them. It’s the fifth “official” live album released in the US by the band following Live at the Marquee, Once in a Livetime, Live Scenes From New York and Live at Budokan (sixth if you include the second half of the A Change of Seasons disc as a live album).

The performances turned in by Dream Theater at Radio City Music Hall that have been captured on Score are exemplary examples of progressive metal at its best. Perfectly synchronized guitar and keyboard runs by John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess and elaborately syncopated rhythms laid down by Mike Portnoy and John Myung, all nearly flawless, comprise Score’s nearly 156 minute entirety. The four instrumentalists of Dream Theater are all such virtuosos of their chosen instruments, that what took years of studio work to accomplish can be played nearly perfect, note for note, for over two and a half hours every night.

The biggest surprise on Score is how well Dream Theater vocalist, James LaBrie holds up for the entire performance. LaBrie is a gifted singer with an extraordinary vocal range and on Score he demonstrates that his talents are not a product of a studio environment. Vocally, he is in better form on Score than any of Dream Theater’s previous live recordings.

Score also contains a stellar performance by, as the title references, the Octavarium Orchestra. This is most notable on the 41 minute opus that is Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence. Beginning with a “Hollywood” sounding instrumental piece, the Orchestra is eventually joined by the band and rockets through Six Degrees in its entirety. Many bands play full sets in the time Dream Theater devotes to just one track from this fourteen piece epic.

Score, when taken as a whole, proves an excellent way to immortalize, not only one night in New York City, but an extremely creative and prolific career of a band that has been at the forefront of a genre of music since they began playing together. To the listener, Score allows those of us who weren’t able to be there that evening to get an idea of what it was like for those who were and to get a glimpse of what it felt like for the band.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Wailin’ Jennys: Live @ The Space: Hamden, CT 10/03/06

The Wailin’ Jennys: Live @ The Space: Hamden, CT 10/03/06

What follows is the Wailin' Jennys Live in two parts; one about them and one about me...enjoy.

Part I: The Jennys Live

Yesterday, the Wailin’ Jennys played an hour and a half set, live, in my living room…ok, not my living room exactly, but close enough. I had the great fortune of seeing the Wailin’ Jennys perform at The Space in Hamden, Connecticut on October 3rd...and sitting in one of the massive couches in the front row, I swear it was like having them play in my living room.

Annabelle Chvostek, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody glided through their set, captivating everyone in the gracious crowd with their wit as much as their stunning voices, or in Moody’s own words, One Voice. The trio played acoustic and showcased songs from their latest release, Firecracker, as well as a few songs from their previous album, 40 Days, and a couple of unrecorded band favorites.

The sheer musicianship contained within these three women is staggering. Not only did each one of them play multiple instruments, some at the same time, they flawlessly sang intricate harmonies with no more trouble than taking a long sip from a glass of ice water. If you’ve never seen a woman strap a snare drum head around her waist, play harmonica and sing all at the same time, then you really don’t know what you’re missing…much less that it can be done at all; because personally, I can barely walk and form a full sentence at the same time.

This was hands down one of the best live experiences I’ve ever had, so if you’re even a little bit interested in the Jennys, please do yourself a favor and go see them while they’re out on tour. If you’re in Connecticut and missed them this time, the Jennys will be back in Connecticut on March 3rd playing the Westport Arts Center. According to their website,, they’ll be in the area (Northeast US) for a week or so, then the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest...and then off to play a few dates in the UK.

They’ll be around, go see them.

Check the tour section of either their website or their MySpace page for the exact dates.

Part II: Five things you learn about yourself when you meet famous people.

1 – You become a raving fan-boy.

2 – You really can say, “You were amazing” too many times.

3 – You should bring someone to kick you when you start to babble like an idiot.

4 – If you write, you should tell people who you write for, not make them guess and then hand them a business card (See # 1)

5 – MySpace actually works in terms of people knowing who you are…sort of.

Steve & Jon Rogers of Mighty Purple: Live @ The Space – Hamden, CT 10/03/06

Steve & Jon Rogers of Mighty Purple: Live @ The Space – Hamden, CT 10/03/06

Steve & Jon Rogers of Mighty Purple played a short opening set for the Wailin’ Jennys at the Space on October 2nd…and were really good. I shouldn’t say that like I’m surprised, I just had no idea what to expect. Mighty Purple has been a fixture on the Connecticut music scene for several years and I, somehow, managed to never see them play. I met Steve at the Mieka Pauley show I wrote about a few months back. He seemed like a pretty cool guy, so I was interested to hear what they were going to sound like.

The first thing I realized, other than I liked the songs, was that Jon Rogers is one hell of a guitarist. He played electric to Steve’s acoustic and laid down some of the coolest accents and atmospheric lines I’ve heard played live. I had heard things like that on albums before, but not in a live setting, much less by a duo. In the context of the songs, which were a good solid mix of acoustic pop and folk, the interplay between acoustic rhythm and electric lead worked outstandingly well.

The Rogers brothers’ set was full of energy that fit the songs; sometimes restrained and introspective, sometimes more pronounced and fluid but always there to keep their songs moving and interesting.

After seeing the outstanding vocal and instrumental performances by both Steve and Jon, their longevity on the scene actually makes a lot of sense. On their website, Mighty Purple writes that the music industry never really knew where to put them. I think they found their place at the front of the stage.

Black Label Society – Shot to Hell

Black Label Society – Shot to Hell

I’ve been fan of Zakk Wylde since the first time I heard him play the opening notes of Miracle Man on Ozzy Ozborne’s No Rest For The Wicked album back in 1989. He quickly established himself as an outstanding guitarist in one of, if not the most visible slots in Rock & Roll by stepping into the shoes of Tony Iommi, Randy Rhodes and Jake E. Lee. In addition to playing with Ozzy, Wylde has recorded with everyone from Black Sabbath to Damageplan, Derek Sherinian to Dweezil Zappa, released albums as Zakk Wylde, Pride & Glory and has been the driving force behind Black Label Society and their nine albums. Did I mention that while out touring with Ozzfest, he also manages to play with both Black Label Society and Ozzy in the same night? Could Zakk Wylde be the busiest man in show business? Quite possibly.

Black Label Society has returned with the release of their album, Shot to Hell, to sonically dominate and aurally dismember all comers. Black Label Society is one of the heaviest bands in American music today, and it shows here. They’re not necessarily the fastest or the angriest and Zakk Wylde actually sings instead of screaming and yet there is something about Black Label Society that manages to cut right to the heart of what “heavy” is. I don’t know if it’s the screaming guitars with the signature Wylde squeals, the tight, tight rhythm section or the overall attitude of the band, but a safe bet would be some combination of all three.

With all that being said, there are aspects of Shot to Hell that point back to Zakk Wylde’s mostly acoustic solo album, Book of Shadows. There are moments where Shot to Hell turns the Marshall’s down from 11 and stops cracking skulls long enough to just kind of poke you with a sharp stick. Black Label Society has the amazing ability to stay heavy no matter what’s on the table; rocker or ballad, fast or slow. Mind you, ballad is not the most appropriate word to use when discussing Shot to Hell.

I think the bottom line is, if you’re looking for something dark and heavy (did I mention heavy?)…Black Label Society. If you truly appreciate the finer points of what Rock & Roll or Hard Rock or Heavy Metal is really all about, again…Black Label Society. If you want a band that not only talks the proverbial talk, but also walks the proverbial walk…you guessed it…Black Label Society. Pick up a copy of Shot to Hell, you won’t be disappointed.