Monday, April 30, 2012

Steven The Fixer

Steven Van Zandt has had a storied and varied musical career. He’s been a musician, a songwriter, and a record producer. He was a founding member of Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes and an early member of the E-Street Band. In fact “Little Steven” was all over the South Jersey music scene in the early Seventies, along with Southside Johnny and Bruce Springsteen. With his solo work, his record producing, his songwriting, and hosting a weekly syndicated radio show, Little Steven’s Underground Garage, most artists would find that the elements of a full life.

But by happenstance, Van Zandt’s artist career took a slight turn in 1999 when The Sopranos creator David Chase invited him to audition for a part in his new series. He was cast as strip-club owner and mob consigliore Silvio Dante. Van Zandt played the part of the level-headed (except when playing poker) mobster through Season 6 of the show, often with his real-life wife Maureen playing Sil’s wife Gabriella. [Even his1982 wedding had a sort of rock and roll fairy-tale quality, with Bruce Springsteen as best man and Little Richard officiating.] Although he had said he has no interest in acting beyond his role on The Soranos, fate seems to have taken him in another direction.

Van Zandt has done a lot of work in Scandinavia, producing records and even guest appearing as himself on a Norwegian soap opera. In 2010, he was approached by a husband and wife writing team, Anne Bjørnstad & Eilif Skodvin, to consider starring in a pilot they wanted to produce for Norwegian TV channel NRK. The series ended up being co-produced by Netflix and was shown on both Norwegian television and on-demand at Netflix. Van Zandt is also credited as a writer on all eight of the first season’s episodes.

Van Zandt plays Frankie “The Fixer” Tagliano, a Brooklyn Mafia boss and the season opener has him attending the funeral of his immediate boss. “The Commission” has appointed his brother as the new Boss-of-all-bosses, but Frankie thinks it’s a mistake. “You’re a bean counter . . .that’s why he never let you do anything but his taxes.” This puts Frankie on the new boss’s hit list and after an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Frankie decides to turn government witness for the FBI. But Frankie rejects the idea of going into witness protection in the usual way “I figure Lilyhammer . . .  didn’t you see the Winter Olympics in ’94: Clean white snow, fresh air, beautiful broads . . .” And so the FBI sends the former mob boss into exile in Lillehammer, Norway.

Enter Frankie in his new identity: Giovanni Henrickson, a half-Italian, half-Norwegian American settling down in a small town (less than 27,000 people) in the land of his father’s ancestors. Although he’s promised to turn over a new leaf, when a couple of young men on the train carrying him into Lillehammer behave like thugs, insulting and abusing passengers, Frankie follows one into the bathroom and gives him etiquette lessons, Brooklyn style.

Frankie finds out the FBI seems to have a sense of humor: The only food in the house is a frozen pizza. He meets his new neighbor who happens to be the town’s chief of police. When he checks in with the resettlement authorities, he meets the clownish supervisor assigned to help him settle into his new country, but who can’t seem to find Frankie a job better than pizza delivery man. Frankie wants to buy a bar and his attempt to bribe his way into it are coldly rebuffed. But he isn’t called “Frankie The Fixer” for nothing, and he soon finds the leverage he needs.

In short order, Frankie winds up with a two-man local “crew” to help him in his schemes. When they loot a local biker gang’s broken down truck of smuggled liquor, the gang figures out who was responsible and catches one of Frankie’s men in the bar and tapes him to a chair to question him. He resists with a display of Norwegian “omerta” and he and Frankie start out on a hilarious vendetta that ends up at the Olympic ski jump.

There’s a persistent joke about Frankie looking “arabic” that escalates when one of the local cops finds a picture of a wanted terrorist that looks like it could be Frankie wearing a keffiyah and sporting a beard. The cop plays with a local rock band that Frankie turns out of the bar he’s bought in an attempt to change the character of the establishment, so he already doesn’t like Frankie. Over the course of the season, he goes to extremes to prove Frankie is a terror suspect.

The comedy appeal comes in when Frankie’s anarchic and individualistic tendencies collide with the staid and bureaucratic mindset of the locals. The incident with the bar is but the first of Frankie’s run ins with the ponderous Norwegian bureaucracy. When a wolf starts to kill local livestock, Frankie is dumbfounded that the local authorities are more concerned with protecting the marauding predator than the local’s sheep. When he learns that his driving license isn’t valid in Norway, he finds out that it will take four months for him to pass all the classes required to obtain a valid local license. And there’s a spiteful side to the locals, too. When he objects to his pregnant girlfriend’s being assigned a male midwife, the doctor in town assigns them to a hospital in the next town over for his trouble. When he blows off the pompous, self-appointed head of his new condo apartment’s tenant’s association, he and his girlfriend and her son find themselves running out of the building in the middle of the night when the fire alarm goes off, only to find that they “somehow” missed getting the memo that it was a scheduled fire drill, with smoke bombs added for verisimilitude. Oh well, these things happen, ya know.

But Frankie has a way of landing on his feet and pretty much getting the last laugh. It’s a fun series, well worth watching. There are eight episodes on Netflix and another season is planned. Van Zandt speaks English throughout and the Norwegians speak in their own language with English subtitles, although they also occasionally speak English as well.

Life imitates art: The series was originally scheduled to air on Norwegian TV in early January, but had to be delayed because of issues with product placement, which is not legal on Norwegian airwaves.

Music Review – Satchurated

Joe Satriani  - Satchurated [Live in Montreal] – April 24, 2012 – Previewed On Air – April 27, 2012
(Red Distribution - B0071BY084 – 25 tracks – CD, DVD)

This review requires a disclaimer at the beginning (which is precisely where it would have to go to BE a disclaimer).  "Satchurated" is made up of two full-length CDs and is all instrumental and therefore can be quite challenging to listen to from end to end in one sitting. OK, disclaimer completed. 

The very busy Satriani is on the road as I write this, touring with not just one band, but two. Intermixed with his solo dates supporting this CD, are live dates playing with Chickenfoot supporting their new CD “Chickenfoot III”. I, for one, would find this confusing. One night taking center stage as the guitar virtuoso of this generation…directing traffic and ensuring a flawless performance, the next jumping to and fro, dodging Sammy Hagar’s unpredictable, high energy movement on stage, being one of the guys, laughing at Sammy and Mike’s spontaneous jokes and gestures while making enough noise on the guitar to fill the space created by a three piece band. Confused, but enjoying every minute of it. OK, personal jealousy aspect addressed.

First of all….hmm, make that third of all, a scant few musicians are accomplished and confident enough to record live,  instrumental works for public consumption. But we know that Satriani is one of them, having blistered the guitar neck several times on previous instrumental outings. This new work “Satchurated” (sic) blasts from the first note, takes us on a journey that is both powerful and thoughtful, touches on both good and evil, both safety and fear, both calm and violent. In the end what it does best is entertain. To create music to fill a double live CD, the composer must be at the pinnacle of creativity and musically ingenious. Satriani more than meets the requirement, for no two themes on this CD are alike…not one reminds the listener of another. This is a feat in itself. This music is inspirational, motivating and, more importantly, interesting. The CD proves once more, that overwhelming technical ability can be made stimulating and remarkable. Listeners old enough to recall the fusion movement won’t have the grounds to state, as they did of fusion, “very skillful but boring”. If this music bores you, perhaps you should consider cutting down on the PCP.

I’ve chosen not to go through the CD song by song, but rather speak to those songs I feel highlight this work, as reviewing 20 tracks would be tedious for both of us. I begin with “Hordes of Locusts”, a slower, driving chord progression that Satriani at first accompanies, then rides over, weaving in and out of the large but surprising spaces the progression creates. And ok…he’s damn fast. “Flying in a Blue Dream” then soars, allowing us to fly along with the music. I must admit to wondering what David Gilmore would do with these passages, but Joe gives them a freeing, unfettered disposition. There is a sense of never ending flight in that the progression never really resolves itself, but keeps finding one opening after another to flow through…an aural rarity…and very pleasing. This is the third song on the CD and I was already impressed and found that as each song ended, I couldn’t wait for the next song to begin. That is also rare for a CD. On “Light Years Away”, the driving rhythm section takes center stage, with some sweet, slow passages that allow Satriani to shift gears as the music pushes back into a consistent thump. There is an evil feel to “War”, maybe threatening would be a better description, but I found myself on the edge of my seat listening to this one. While the guitar work on each song is notable, his work here is astounding. Moving through Dorian, Ionian and Mixolydian modes, there is a palpable tension ringing through the speakers that Satriani uses to both push the song forward and to remind us, this ain’t your average rock and roll guitar player up here jamming. And ok…he’s damn fast.

The CD is well recorded and engineered and the musicians Satriani has chosen to help him express this music are exceptional and don’t fade into the background for a moment. Bassist Allen Whitman and drummer Jeff Campitelli are responsible for the driving tempo of much of this release. Keyboardist Mike Keneally is challenged to keep up with the guitar wizardry Satriani creates and mostly succeeds, while second guitarist Galen Henson is forced to maintain the progressions in the background, his absence would leave a void in the ambiance being generated in the music. 

And ok…he’s damn fast.

This is a prodigious work, complete and satisfying taken in large or small bites. I give “Satchurated” 3.5 floggers (out of 4)

 -DocRock - AKA VanHelsing

"War" - Joe Satriani - "Satchurated"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Just keep driving, just keep driving

After an awesome show last night and a couple of hours of sleep i woke up to watch the Formula 1 race this morning... As you all know i am a woman of few addictions, music, Formula 1, coffee, among others... and i was pissed off coz one of my cats insisted on watching the race too... blocking my view, of course... because that's what cats do...

I missed the start of the race.... the cat didn't let me watch it... and missed the  next couple of laps as well... from laughing my ass off...

Poor kitty... all she wanted was to be a Formula 1 pilot....

Thank you DJ`Darkness for the awesome voice over :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

DJ`Darkness Update

                                       To all the listeners of my show I am hanging up the cape and helmet and joining the light side :) I will be getting on-air again real soon only problem is prying me away from the beach now LOL. Love ya all and hope to be spinning tunes for you again real soon.
This has been a DJ`Darkness update brought to you by the Dark one himself

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Music Review - Slipstream

Bonnie Raitt - Slipstream - April 10, 2012 - Previewed On Air - April 14, 2012

(Redwing Records, LLC - B006R1T40I:12 Tracks, CD/Vinyl)


Trying to find a new way to describe Bonnie Raitt’s talent and appeal is an exercise in frustration. To those who have already fallen under her spell, no words are necessary; to the uninitiated, you simply have to listen. Better writers than I soon exhaust their normal set of superlatives…and what an amazing release this new CD is…powerful and punchy, soft and soulful, heartbreaking and redeeming all at once. On the new CD, Bonnie draws from a remarkable pool of songwriting talent, including two Bob Dylan numbers and several by co-producer Joe Henry.

In the seven years since we last heard her on “Souls Alike”, Bonnie has lost both her parents, her brother and her best friend. Her sense of loss is all too apparent on this release. On “God Only Knows” and Bob Dylan’s “Standing in the Doorway”, her mournful alto plunges a knife into the heart, then heals the wound in a manner only a tried and true blues singer can.

The always expressive and mournful voice like a fine wine… aging beautifully, able to both break and mend the heart, melt you and knock you out. With that said, the real surprise here is her slide playing; normally preferring subtle, tasteful solos, she impresses here by taking the spotlight on both “Used to Rule the World” and “Down to You” and ripping through some very technical and precise but thoroughly discriminating licks on the former, while trading solos with long time band member George Marinelli on the latter. She plays a sometimes blistering, sometimes subtle slide solo on “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go” as well…saving the song from its somewhat awkward lyrical phrasing.

“Used to Rule the World” is the standout that opens this release. Funky and tight; her voice pleads and judges; seductive and punitive while her slide work flashes and dissolves, then flashes again. I listened to this cut 5 times in a row before moving on to the impressive reggae version of Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down the Line”

The very soulful vocal on “Take My Love With You” confirms Raitt’s standing as a singer of enormous power and interpretation…if she’d never picked up the guitar or written a song, she would still be recognized as a blues singer extraordinaire. Her voice singing the line from this song, “I’ll be your talisman, I’ll be your lucky charm, put it in your pocket, put it in your heart…and in your weakness, baby just let it help you along and make you strong” sends chills up the spine.  A very nicely arranged set of harmonies during the chorus lends credibility and heart to the tune.

I’ve always felt the parallel of BDSM and the Blues, and as the Rolling Stones’ Will Hermes states in his review of Raitt’s version of the Dylan authored “You Can’t Fail Me Now”; It's mood music with a razor edge, pain fronting as bliss, delivered by a vet who understands that the blues are often about just that." Pain fronting as bliss...exactly. This is very, very, very good, so I'm giving this remarkable release 3.5 floggers (out of 4)

-DocRock - AKA VanHelsing



Monday, April 9, 2012

Music Review - A Different Kind of Truth

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth  - Feb 7, 2012 – Previewed On Air - March 24, 2012
(Interscope Records - B006UG90RM: 13 tracks, double CD/vinyl)

Van Halen’s recent CD,“A Different Kind of Truth” is worth a listen, if only to be reminded of the power the band had when it dominated rock and roll for a good part of the 80s and 90s. That being said, it’s far from a perfect product. The band seems a little stiff here, to the point where I believe it would have done them good to do at least a short tour of live performances before recording it. I know it’s not typically done that way, but at points it seems a bit forced; playing in front of people might have loosened the band up a bit. I freely admit there might be a bias at work here as I’m one of those followers who feel Van Hagar was superior to Van Halen. Having said that, the member who needed loosening up was David Lee Roth. I’m surprised by that because I would have thought Dave would be the one to epitomize casual, but there is a formal air to the vocals, few risks and no eye opening screech or yell. In other words, there is nothing vocally challenging or memorable.

There’s a very nice guitar riff on “As-Is” that will certainly guide you down Memory Lane to the days when Eddie and the guys were tearing up auditoriums and hearing capacities on a global scale. Dave does a nice job with this although the talking to the listener stuff is old, it still works here.
“Big River” is a nice song, rocks right along. Nice and simple with a lot of energy is what Rock is all about sometimes. A very nifty solo here by Eddie…again basic, but touches all the bases (no pun intended).

While the talking to the listener works on “As-Is”, it reeks of being overdone and fake here. Too bad too; this is a very interesting chord progression and Eddie does a great job of connecting dots with this solo.

Nice solos too, on “She’s the Woman” and “Tattoo”, the Tattoo solo saves the song from Dave’s over-layered harmonies and failed attempts to make the beat interesting with his phrasing. It’s got energy though, and I don’t mind listening to it, at all.

“The Trouble With Never” is vintage, if not spectacular rock. Makes you tap your feet but then forget it once the next song starts. In “You and Your Blues”, Dave berates a woman by tossing out the names of more than a few classic blues songs. It didn’t do anything for me and it overlooked what I think is a nice chord progression at the end that could have used a minimalist and tasteful solo played over it.

On the upside, the boys prove they still know how to rock. Not a lot new on this release, but it’s good…especially for those of us who are starving for this type of music. Eddie does play some very interesting stuff and Alex does a great job of pounding out the beat, as always. Wolfgang Van Halen, Eddie’s son with Valerie Bertinelli, steps in on bass and has some real talent.

On the down side, there are some curious problems here. VH has a number of great songs that start slow; and while they mostly hit the accelerator eventually, ADKOT suffers a bit by having so many of them on this release. I found myself mumbling “Get on with it” more than once. Secondly, I have to be honest, Diamond Dave seems to be lacking in range, even more acutely now than with the original band. The difference here is that we can hear the struggle too often when he’s reaching for a note. While Alex drives the band hard throughout the CD, there’s no vehicle included that allows him to show off...I agree that this is a minor point, but still…

All-in-All “A Different Kind of Truth” satisfies, but doesn’t please. It’s worth having but no need to rush to buy it. I’m giving this welcome return music from Van Halen 2.5 Floggers (Out of 4)

-          DocRock aka VanHelsing