Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2014 September 29 • Monday

In between his famous scores for the African-set movies Zulu and Out of Africa John Barry composed the music for Mister Moses, which starred Robert Mitchum as a conman in Kenya. It's the latest in a series of brilliant re-recordings by Nic Raine conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, recently released on Prometheus Records and the 338th Soundtrack of the Week.

This is essential for John Barry fans. It's a very rhythmic score, using lots of percussion, but still has a lot of classic John Barry writing for horns and strings. If you know his work you'll find yourself being reminded of other of his scores as you listen to it, but it's still very much its own thing.

2014 September 26 • Friday

This new Barbara Stanwyck biography was something of a let down.

There had been rumblings that it was excessive: over a thousand pages and it only goes up to 1940! Early on, as Victoria Wilson sets the scene of Barbara Stanwyck's Brooklyn childhood and chorus-girl beginnings, I appreciated the digressions. There's very little documentation on Stanwyck's life then and very few people around to talk about them, so bringing to life the environment and other characters, the context, made good sense, both dramatically and biographically.

Once Stanwyck gets to Hollywood, however, she enters a very well documented time and place and the attention paid to her milieu has the unfortunate effect of taking Staneyck out of focus. The more I read, the less I felt I knew about Barbara Stanwyck.

At some point it seemed to me that this was less of a crafted biography and more of a dumping ground for every bit of information the author could find about anybody and anything connected to Stanwyck. Nothing is shaped or presented for importance. There's more about Stanwyck's race horses then there is about her adopted son.

Many of the stories told sound apocryphal and I noticed some errors in a paragraph about Orson Welles, so this book probably shouldn't be taken as gospel. I'll read the second volume when it comes out, but I think that Dan Callahan's Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman is still the better book, albeit one that concentrates more on Stanwyck's work than on her life.

2014 September 24 • Wednesday

Books of this sort are usually disappointing but I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan is great.

P. G. Wodehouse apparently used to make a point of putting one really good bit on every page of his comic novels, sticking pages that needed one to the wall of his study until he'd come up with the right laugh to add. The authors of this book appear to have used the same idea but strived for something really funny in every paragraph. They've also made hilarious use of footnotes.

As Alan tells his life story, at times directly contradicting what we know to be true from watching Knowing Me, Knowing You and I'm Alan Partridge, his genius for rationalization and doublethink become as impressive as the authors' wit. Consider this sentence from late in the book: "I wish things had turned out differently but I'm glad they didn't". It's patently absurd but also not far off from how I feel sometimes.

Best of all is how a comic idea gets developed over the course of a page or two, starting funny but ending up making you laugh out loud. The several paragraphs covering the death of Alan's mother make a good example, concluding with this observation about visiting her grave.

I don't go down to the cemetery at all these days unless I happen to be passing. In which case I'll take flowers. The beauty of her headstone is that it's located on the main thoroughfare through the graveyard. So if I'm pushed for time I can open my passenger-side window and throw the flowers out without stopping. That might sound crass, but in many ways it's a tribute to Mum because she was a real stickler for punctuality. Not that the flowers always land in the right place. Quite often they end up on the grave of Dan 'loving and loyal husband' Faversham. Occasionally other mourners will see this happening and frown. I can only assume they think I'm a predatory gay with a fetish for the dead. And I know that would have made Mum chuckle.

The whole book is great reading. The last bit of evidence I'll quote comes from the end: "So, dear reader, our time together is over. All that remains is this short epilogue. And anyone who thinks it's designed solely to haul me over the minimum word-count specified by my publisher is very, very, very, very, very, very wrong".

2014 September 22 • Monday

New from Intrada is this CD of Elmer Bernstein's Themes from General Electric Theater, also known as the 337th Soundtrack of the Week.

After an impressively grand "Emblem", things move into a light and romantic air with the Parisian-spiced "Enchante".

"Passionelle" is more serious, with strings and piano creating very emotional atmospheres. After this comes "Star of David", which uses Jewish melodies to create stirring themes in much the same way Ernest Gold did for Exodus. "David's Love Song" continues in this vein but more edelcately, with lovely harp playing.

"Lavender Waltz" is a paino-led waltz with a mysterious flavor to it. Then we're into a Nutcracker-like zone with the charming "Mannequin".

A bit of a late-night jazz mood infiltrates the otherwise lush "Sentimental" while "The Highland Lovers" is pure bucolic bliss.

"Silent Love" is almost a whole score by itself, going through several radically different ideas and feelings before resolving into gorgeous harmonies.

The "Mariachi" cue doesn't really sound like mariachi music but is delightfully cheerful and restrained. "L'amour Triste" lives up to its title, with achingly romantic piano lines. Finally the record ends with the grand "Progress", a response to the dramatic "Emblem" that begins it.

2014 September 19 • Friday

After years of being enthralled by Roy Orbison's Sun and RCA recordings, I finally checked out Mystery Girl, the last record he ever made.

It's amazingly good and Roy's voice has hardly changed at all in thirty years! There are some nods to the changing landscape of pop music but the arrangements are faithful to Orbison's unique musical world. What a great surprise!

2014 September 17 • Wednesday

As Chris Cawthray and I sat in a train on our way to Connecticut for a recording session with Lucio Menegon, I found myself irritated by this vodka ad.

It was annoying me but I couldn't immediately tell why. Was it that even if people don't clink electronic devices together—and they might, for all I know—they're bound to before too long? Was it that clinking glasses is nowhere near specific to vodka, let alone a brand of vodka?

No. The offense came from the period that should be a question mark. When did that become okay? I mean, when did that become okay.

2014 September 15 • Monday

My friend Scott just gave me the soundtrack to Godzilla's Revenge, music by Kunio Miyauchi. Let's make it the 336th Soundtrack of the Week!

It starts off with two takes of a "Monster March" vocal number by Gendai Kono, a sharp and aggressive number that certainly leaves an impression.

Then we get into some dreamy and delicate tracks that are in keeping with the fairy tale/bedtime story concept of the movie. This mood prevails for much of the album, creating poignant and ethereal atmospheres sometimes with just solo electric guitar, other times with small ensembles that use flute and vibes for emotional effect.

For "Godzilla vs. Gimantis", an instrumental version of the "Monster March" theme resurfaces with a wicked backbeat. It comes back for "Monster Island's Monsters", "Godzilla vs. Spiga", "Lord Admiral Brat Showdown" and several other cues.

There's an appropriate air of danger and excitement for tracks such as "Gabara Attacks". And there's also some plain weird music, like the bizarre noises you hear in "The Strange Vines".

There's anotoher Gendai Kano song at the end, "Punpunpun", sort of like a lounge/children's choir of the "Monster March" theme.

It's a very nice program with a lot of variety. It's an odd movie as I remember it.

2014 September 12 • Friday

Yesterday I watched this great Italian movie from 1962, Il sorpasso. I wish I'd known what the title meant first. The booklet explains it but not without giving away the ending of the movie also. So here's the deal. It refers to one car passing another on the highway. Furthermore this is linked to a specifically Italian kind of machismo. You're not a real man if you can't pass another car or if you let another car pass yours. This is very important for the movie.

Also important, from my point of view, is the fact that the main character has a freaking record player in his car!

It looks real. I wonder how well it worked in real life.

2014 September 10 • Wednesday

"Once upon a time there was going to be a Beatles album called Get Back." That's the first line of Lewis Shiner's Glimpses, a fantasy novel about mid-life, family tensions, dependency, rock and roll and time travel.

It's a great book, though one I find hard to describe without making it sound dumb.

The main character is able to rescue lost albums like The Beatles' Get Back and The Doors' Celebration of the Lizard by a process of immersion and concentration, sort of a secular shamanism.

When it comes to The Beach Boys' Smile, however, he has to go back in time to 1966 and meet Brian Wilson, work on him in person to make it happen.

This takes a toll on him, both physically and emotionally. At the same time his marriage is falling apart and he's wrestling with a legacy of hard feelings he has for his father, whose recent death might have been the catalyst for these fantastic events.

Shiner's writing is flawless and highly enjoyable. His recreations of these famous musical icons and their work is completely believable. He never pushes too hard or goes too far and the book is free of giddiness or hyperbole. The Brian Wilson section is brilliant and struck me as a perfect creation.

The book's climax involves Hendrix, what might have happened if he hadn't died, what First Rays of the New Rising Sun might have been like if he'd been able to realize his vision for it. Shiner very wisely presents Hendrix as a different, more powerful character than those we've met before, a force whose direction is not as easy to change. Hendrix ends up leading the way to—well, I can't tell you, just in case you're interested.

Terrific book. I wish there more like this one!

2014 September 08 • Monday

The 335th Soundtrack of the Week is Serial Experiments Lain, music by Nakaido "Chabo" Reichi.

This is music for an anime TV series that I've never seen. Prior to seeing the CD I'd never heard of it. I picked it up anyway, for one dollar at a stoop sale. I ended up liking the music quite a bit!

"Lain's Theme" has a compelling melody that would be great as a surf tune but has more of a hard rock sound.

After that comes kind of futuristic damaged dance music, a piece called "Pulse Beat". Things get laid back and sentimental with "Inner Vision", which features some nice acoustic guitar playing. (Guitar is a big part of the music here and, judging by the album cover, also a big part of the show.) Parts of this cue sound like the music from Blade Runner.

Things get eerie and atmospheric in "Different Dimension of Fog", combining some dreamy guitar arpeggios with industrial sound design.

"Free Zone" is an aggressive but sunny rock instrumental that is, I guess, garage punk with a splash of rockabilly.

Then there's "Working Man's Theme" which is kind of like The Grateful Dead version of smooth jazz—but it's actually good.

"Ballad of Silly Bird" is closer to smooth jazz itself but it's too urgent and keyed up to qualify. It's a cool piece and I bet it works great in the show.

After that comes "Ahodori's Ballad", a reflective and wistful song with nice textures and some unusual percussion backing up the melody.

"Theme of a Hilly Road" is an honest to goodness acoustic blues slide guitar number with some subtle electronic atmosphere sneaking around here and there.

Then we get two proper songs with vocals: "Far Shout" and "Signal of Loneliness". The first one has a swaying rhythm and an earnest, hoarse voice belting out the lyrics. The second one is much dreamier, full of longing.

The theme gets reprised after that and then there's a strange track of mostly distorted electric guitar improvisations, "Wind of Time Zone".

The CD concludes with the delicate and poignant "Family Portrait", mostly just for guitar.

There's a lot of really great stuff here. This one of my best ever stoop sale scores!

2014 September 05 • Friday

Finally got around to reading this:

It starts out with three stories running on parallel tracks. In one of them Victor Losa has just become the greatest magician in the world. In another young Victor is studying magic, practicing and working toward his future success while struggling with his father's mysterious accidental death. And much further in the past a pickpocket named Peter Grouse plans his revenge against one of the greatest magicians of the nineteenth century.

The book switches gears after a while, however, when the successful adult Victor loses his sight. The second half of the book covers his struggling with blindness, whether he can find a life worth living in the dark. The first lines of the book, describing Victor backstage just before the great success he has been working toward all his life, are thus rather ironic considering what comes later.

"There are only a few steps between him and the green door—eleven, twelve, maybe. It is too dark to count them. Victor Losa stops, takes a deep breath; this, he thinks, is the happiest moment of his life."

The Manual of Darkness is best when dealing with the magic parts of the story. The relationships between characters are well handled but too familiar: the tragic and inexplicable death of a parent haunting the child for the rest of his life, the mentor who replaces the missing father, the rookie social worker challenged by the man who doesn't want to heal. There's even a prostitute with a heart of gold.

Despite this, the conclusion is touching and the book worth reading.

2014 September 03 • Wednesday

I'll buy just about any mid-century instrumental guitar record, in the hope that I'll find something half as good as this record, which I picked up at San Diego's Nickelodeon Records.

The Fabulous Jokers were, according to the liner notes, a Belgian band that won a National Television Contest in Belgium.

Side A starts with "Humoresque", a classical piece that I used to play on the violin. It gets a tough, staccato treatment here. Next is a tune called "Diamond Strings", which has a peasant folk dance quality to it, combined with a really catchy hook.

These kinds of records are often interesting because of what covers get included. I can't remember ever hearing a surf/instro band do "Perdido" before, but here it is! And it's great, with a dynamic guitar sound, clear and shimmering.

From there we go to the theme from Black Orpheus, common enough in the jazz world, but less familiar in this scene. It's done slowly, not as a bossa, curiously enough, and with a wordless chorus adding an eerie atmomsphere.

"Instant Coffee" is one of the band's original compositions. It's appropriately peppy, equal parts surf and hot rod.

The first side ends with the theme from The Third Man, a much-covered classic. The Fabulous Jokers use a 12-string guitar to create something close to the zither's unique sound. They play the tune very well, very respectfully.

The B Side starts with "Caravan", perhaps the most-covered song of this genre. These guys do it with the otherworldly wordless chorus adding a spooky effect. The lead guitarist does a great job with the melody and soloing.

This is followed by the Chuck Berry classic "Memphis", another familiar choice. Nobody beats the original, though, and while The Fabulous Jokers do a good job, especially the drummer, who sounds huge here, this might be the least interesting track on the record (though bringing back the 12-string was an inspired choice).

The next tune is another original. "Addis-Abeba" is a very Ventures-like number with an alternatingly growling and singing lead guitar sound.

After this comes, of all things, "Down by the Riverside". The 12-string guitar comes on strong and the other three band members create a massive wall of rhythm to back it up. Another unusual choice.

"Saturnus" is apparently an original number, more of a lounge piece, The Ventures in space with a touch of Esquivel. Some bits of it are startlingly chirpy but on the whole it's quite nice, with a subtle use of organ.

Things come to a close with the original "Greyhound Express", a surprisingly jazzy number. This is one versatile group with a great sound. I'd love to hear more from them!

2014 September 01 • Monday

Happy Labor Day! The 334th Soundtrack of the Week is David Shire's music for Norma Rae.

This CD is particularly valuable since it contains a lot of music that didn't make it into the finished film.

It starts with the lovely song "It Goes Like It Goes". This melody appears again, in the end title, of course, but most importantly in a beautiful instrumental version for acoustic guitars, called "Norma's Children". I believe this is one of the cues that isn't in the movie.

"Country Rock" is pretty rockin', though with its wailing Hammond org and acid rock guitar it doesn't sound very country.

Trumpet introduces the theme of lonely heroism that informs the story in "Leaflets". You hear it again in "Leafleting", "Norma to Reuben's Room", "Church" and "Union". The melody is reprised and rearranged in "Vote Counting".

"Ride Home" is a countryish pop instrumental that's quite nice. There are a few other great cues like this: "Hop In", "Work Montage", "The Lobby" and "Country Girl". (Some of them have more of a bluegrass feel going on. "Country Girl" also leans on "It Goes Like It Goes".)

"Picnic Scene" is a lovely piece of pastoral underscore.

Perhaps the most powerful cue of all, though, is "Norma Rae", a solo acoustic guitar piece that recalls both "It Goes Like It Goes" and the trumpet theme first heard in "Leafelts". It's a beautiful piece of music, spare and elegant. This is a magnificent score for a great movie.