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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Michael Bublé — CD Review

Michael Bublé’s self-titled album is one of the few albums since the turn of the century that gets the dwindling music fan in me to make a point to play it apart from the “shuffle” of my collection. He brings life to songs most of us in our mid-30s have only heard bastardized on commercials or when the old folks are around. As we become the old folks, he’s making the transition a bit easier.

I can probably offer the most knowledgeable opinion on his cover of Lou Rawl’s “You’ll Never Find Another Love,” a song I’ve heard plenty in my life. He offers a soft version, which probably helps him avoid competing with the legend. It’s ok on it’s own, but I’ll admit I’d take Rawl’s version over it. “The Way You Look Tonight” is also familiar to me enough to say the original is better but Bublé certainly doesn’t do the Frank Sinatra’s classic a disservice.

Bublé does a great job with “Fever,” giving the quirky song a kick few could get out of it. Yet, his cover of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” reminds you that sometimes not trying to do too much to the original (if I’m remembering correctly) is exactly the right thing to do. In the same vain, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” are well done songs that offer perfect examples of the singer’s stereotypically-described yet uniquely silky voice.

“Summer Wind,” “For Once in My Life” and “Come Fly With Me” remind me of the little I’ve heard from Sinatra. Bublé manages to bring Sinatra to mind without sounding like a guy trying to mimic the legend.

The album is rounded out nicely with songs that I’m sure I’ve heard before, but can only really judge on Buble’s versions. “Sway” will make you move, if you’re so inclined and maybe even if you’re not. “Moondance” is an energetic remake of the Van Morrison hit. “Kissing a Fool” lets Bublé show off his ability to slide from soft ballad to forceful lyrics and back again. “That’s All” is very soft, and probably my least favorite on an album I enjoy plenty.

As I wrote this review I kept thinking Bublé seems like a great ramp up (and eventual weening from) the annual Christmas music barrage we’re all headed for. Maybe I’m getting a little better at these music reviews, as Bublé actually does have an album of holiday classics — Michael Bublé/Let It Snow.

If that works for you or you’re looking for something different from most of what finds its way to radio, Michael Bublé is definitely worth listening to.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Politics As Usual

It’s that time when we are bombarded with commercials telling TV viewers about all of the horrible things politicians do. Ironically, these ads are paid for by other politicians, most of whom have surprisingly little to say about their own deeds. The phone also rings a lot more than usual these days. Sadly, it’s not because I’m getting more popular. Election day is coming, and apparently a lot of people want my vote. They have no idea how much they’re wasting time on me.

I’ve never been very motivated politically, but I recently became even less so. A rare jaunt into political discussion crystallized my distaste for such topics. A comment posted on the Daily News’ “Attytood” blog by Will Bunch sparked almost 200 more comments from wannabe politicos with nothing but party speak to spew.

My post responded to Bunch’s criticism of President Bush’s immediate response upon being told that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers. “On the second anniversary of 9/11, in 2003, I wrote a story in the Daily News that, among other things, mentioned that Bush had spent at least five minutes reading "The Pet Goat" in that Sarasota classroom. It was an indisputable fact, and yet I received hundreds of emails from readers, many asking if I would be fired for reporting such a simple and inconvenient truth. When Michael Moore showed the actual footage in "Fahrenheit 911" months later, much of the nation was shocked to learn for the first time what really happened that day.”

I had been on Bunch’s blog before, so I wasn’t totally unprepared for what ensued when I posted the first comment: “Would it have been better to usher the President out in a mad rush, which would have been for show only, and traumatize a bunch of kids? Moore's film was nothing but a bunch of cheap shots. The President deserves plenty of criticism, but not for this.”

Within 90 minutes I was being bashed by people who clearly thought they were privy to my inner-most thoughts. Another check two hours later showed little change in the fervor of the comments referring to me in less than glowing terms. While my biggest disappointment was, and still is, that I’ve never generated such passion on my own blog, I noticed something far more distressing.

I was amazed at the number of people convinced they now knew my world view. My favorite was Jennifer, who wrote: ". . . sorry, you can't have it both ways. Either these Republicans are the only ones who are tough enough to "protect" us, or they're softies who are more worried about "traumatizing" a classroom of kids. They can't be both."

The funny thing was, as I pointed out, that I never said a word about Republicans in my first post. I was genuinely stunned that the discussion had broken down strictly along party lines. But the more I thought about it, my shock turned to utter disgust.

I’ve always known that even the rare uncorrupt politician was all about his or her party affiliation. It’s their life-blood, the money train. But to see those in the real world who present themselves as politically involved, something I once considered a quality worth attaining, in need of their registration card to know what to think about a completely non-political event, sheds light on how little hope there is to reform our joke of a political system.

After almost 200 comments were posted on Bunch’s article, I e-mailed the link to a couple of “politically aware” friends to say look how off-based this got. While one piled on citing my supposed lack of logic (shockingly, the friend is a D), the other cited some history: According to him, another D and more of a historian than I’ll ever be, Stalin (not a great person, but certainly a strong leader) could not speak or move for hours after he heard of Germany's invasion of the USSR, and Douglas MacArthur retreated to his bedroom and began reading his Bible when news of Pearl Harbor reached him in the Philippines. (I assume he’s right because I’ve learned not to question him on such matters.)

Armed with this knowledge, or at least what a buddy told me, I still want to know . . . what the hell would've changed had he bolted from the room? In my opinion, nothing.

But that’s not really my point. Bush’s immediate response generates such heated debate because it makes wannabee politicos feel more involved than ever. They can see it all unfold right before their eyes on tape, and sink their teeth into judging every morsel of Bush’s reaction on equal footing with the suits on Meet the Press. They can grab it all with one hand, truly grasp all of it, and say, “This is why Bush . . .”

Don’t ask what the other hand is grabbing.

The thought that Bush had just been told about one of the most horrific attacks our nation has ever experienced, and that maybe his immediate reaction in front of a classroom of young children really doesn’t say anything about him, never gets considered. The Ds rip him, and the Rs defend him.

I used to wonder where “politically aware” people found the time to form their passionate arguments on issues I had only a basic knowledge of. To truly understand why we went to Iraq, the debate on stem-cell research, and other hot-button issues must take hours upon hours of keeping up on the news, I thought. Sure I have an opinion on these issues, but in my heart of hearts I doubted I had the depth of knowledge of those with passionate arguments.

Wrong! I only needed to check my registration card and memorize a few party lines to join the discussion. Let’s see . . . Democrat bad; Republican good. Or is it Republican bad?

So, as election day nears, I’ll admit that I’ll likely take a pass, mostly because in my home state Ed Rendell’s only competition for governor is a former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I know very little about the local races. I’m guessing Rendell can win without me and I refuse to pull a lever for the party. I only wish more people admitted they weren’t informed enough and would shut up.

At least TV commercials will be a little less annoying and the phone will stop ringing so much in a few weeks.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Friday Night Lights Should be Dimmed

Either I’m getting old or NBC’s new series Friday Night Lights is one of the most obnoxious things on television. Offering a dramatic portrayal of high school football in Texas, the show clearly depicts the pedestal an entire team is put on by a small town with shockingly little acknowledgement of the absurdity of it all.

The star quarterback of the high school team is injured in the pilot episode, and is found to be paralyzed in the second. The show offers scenes of the small town in Texas leading up to game night, from a gathering of ladies, breakfast at the local diner, to the cool kids at the local high school, all of the participants of which are obsessed with the football team. Then, of course, there’s the actual team preparing for the game as if it’s life and death.

The truly disturbing thing about the show is that there is almost no sense that there is something wrong in this situation. It’s not a show depicting kids that are in need of getting a grasp on what’s important in life. The new QB is interviewed mid-week by a local television station. The coach admits that his job was tied to the star quarterback. Local businessmen reach out to make sure the coach understands the importance of the team winning to the town.

All of this blends with typical high school drama targeted at young audiences. Girls offering themselves to the young quarterback, the niave girlfriend of the star QB thinking everything will be perfect again, and squabbles among team members trying to fill the leadership void.

Certainly, other shows are more blatantly over the lines of good taste. But considering the target audience and the fact that the show offers no suggestion that its characters have a strange sense of what’s important, the question of what NBC is thinking with Friday Night Lights begs to be asked. Skip it.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Mary and O’Neil — Book Review

As much as I liked Mary and O’Neil by Justin Cronin, I’ve had a difficult time formulating any real thoughts on this novel in stories. It just sort of brings the reader along for some of the defining moments in the lives of the title characters, definitely pulling the reader in, yet there’s never any sense of suspense or climax. These elements are present, it’s just that the tale stays on a calm, even, and somewhat sad keel from start to finish.

The novel opens with O’Neil’s parents visiting their son at college. While my anal side kept trying to figure out why the heck the book title referred to a character that was no where to be found, the parents’ story was quite compelling. A long-married couple comes to a metaphoric and literal fork in the road, each with their own secret. A marriage that appears rock solid from the outside is filled with unspoken questions and doubts. Their sudden and accidental death leaves unanswered questions for their adult children, Mary and O’Neil.

I think part of the difficulty in reviewing the novel is its focus on O’Neil. His bond with his sister is a rather prominent in the piece, with an entire story focused on her. All of the stories are very good, but the side trips make it difficult to read it as one piece. I’m just not sure why they bothered with the “novel in stories” concept as opposed to simply making it a collection of short stories.

Nonetheless, following these characters through the loss of parents, finding themselves, lost loves, abortion, and more, is a solid and often touching read. All of the characters ring true to life, and the stories touch on many of the ordeals of life.

Starting out in an upbeat mood might help with this somewhat sad set of tales, but Cronin’s debut Mary and O’Neil is not too bad at all.