Calculate your chances...negative...negative...negative!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Review: I Got The Feelin': James Brown in the 60s

Finally got this three DVD set the other day. Over the course of two nights, I watched the whole thing, and there's a lot here to digest. Unfortunately, there isn't much of the 60s covered and the title is a bit of a misnomer. But what's here is pretty essential for serious James Brown fans.

This set could almost have been called James Brown in March-April 1968 as aside from bonus footage on the third disc, that's really what the focus is on. More specifically, the important date is April 5th, 1968, the date of the concert on the second disc and, as the title of the documentary on the first says, "The Night James Brown Saved Boston."

Context is everything here, as April 4th was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Riots had broken out all over the country and the major cities were breaking out in flames. Boston hadn't been hit yet, but, as luck would have it, there was a big James Brown concert scheduled.

At first, the city leaders considered canceling the show to keep people off the streets. Then, they had a better idea. Televise the concert. Hopefully, people would stay home and watch the show and the city might make it thought the night. A risky plan, but they didn't see many other options.

Too bad they couldn't get a hold of Brown before hand.

Needless to say, when James touched down in Boston, he was furious first at the attempt to shut down the show, then at the idea that the city was going to have it broadcast. Two things you could say about JB, he was a capitalist and he wasn't going to be used by anyone, and it looked like he stood to lose a lot of money and be used by the government of Boston.

Anyway, I won't recount the whole thing for you. It's an interesting story and the documentary covers it well. I'd always heard the Boston thing mentioned in JB lore, but this was the fullest I'd heard the story told. It's not only a pretty amazing piece of history, but it's a pretty good look at how much influence James had in the late 60s. The fact that televising a concert of his contributed to one of the quietest nights in Boston's history, is pretty amazing.

The second disc is the video of that concert. There are a couple of spots where there's missing video, but luckily there's still audio. The circumstances of the filming are unfortunate in more ways than one. WGBH was commissioned to do the telecast with little notice and no prior expirence filming much other than classical concerts. Their director jokes about not using the good mics and sadly, it's apparent, especially in James' vocal mic.

Still, they did a pretty good job. It's just odd how for most of the show, all you see is James in the spotlight. I don't know if that's a combination of early videotape equipment and the lighting in the Boston Gardens, but the effect is kind of eerie. Later in the show, James calls for the house lights while he's trying to keep people off the stage and you get a good look at how few people actually did come out.

Speaking of, the climax of the concert hasn't anything to do with the music. Near the end of the show, some kids jump on stage. A white cop pushes one back into the crowd. Then the stage is filled with people. James orders the cops to back up and handles the situation. It's pretty impressive stuff.

In spite of it all, they turn in a smoking performance. 1968 was kind of a turning point for James music and this show is a great example of what it was like at that time*. It's a shame that none of the other performers in the revue are featured. I would have loved to see Marva Whitney's set, but I'm assuming they only filmed James.

The third disc is kind of odd. The packaging trumpets the footage being from the Apollo in 68 and while it is, it's really a TV special called James Brown: Man to Man. The footage is heavy on the crooner stuff and there's a lengthy sequence of James walking around the ghetto. This special was shot about a month before the Boston show and while it's in color, the picture quality isn't as good as the black and white Boston footage.

The rest of the 60s is apparently represented by two clips from Paris in 67 and the famous TAMI Show appearance from 1964. Shame there wasn't more, but that's it.

Going into this, I knew it was pretty much about the Boston show so I wasn't disappointed. But, to someone who didn't know much about this release, Shout Factory's curious title might be misleading. While it's easy for a hardcore Brown fan like myself to ask for more, I have to say I'm pretty pleased by this set. I hope there's more to come, as I really think Shout did this right and there's still the whole half of the decade to cover. (Not to mention the 70s...hey, Shout Factory! How about a Future Shock box set?)

* Sidenote: another reviewer mentioned something about James starting off the show slow as a tribute to MLK or something like that. The fact of the matter is, James had been starting his shows off with a crooner set for most of the 60s. Based on other recordings around the same time, this is pretty much the same show they did every night on the road.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


A huge thanks to Dave Lindquist at the Star for putting our CD in the right hands to make this happen. Crazy.

In other news, the EP is finally available through the iTunes music store, however, Apple seems to think our name is Yu-Ki. Grr. Hope to have that straightened out soon. Also SnoCap gets the big thumbs down. The information on how to embed their store in a MySpace page is totally wrong and their customer service apparently doesn't read emails. So we're at 50% for the download stores.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Set...Is Sony Insane?

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue is a pretty amazing album. It was both an important album in the development of jazz music and a commercially successful one, at least in terms of the sales of jazz recordings. It's an album that continues to be revered and continues to sell, two reasons that make a special anniversary set of the album a given, especially in a genre where the labels love to issue the same recordings over and over again.

So, we have Sony's new-ish Kind of Blue 50th Anniversary Set (a year early even, but who's counting?) Just when it seemed like the vaults had been mined to depletion, Sony offers up never before released false starts and studio banter, in addition to the album proper and an additional, previously released, session by this group of musicians (and there was a live set they didn't include for some reason.) There's also a blue vinyl pressing of the album, a new DVD documentary, a 12"x12" hardcover coffee table book and various photos and other odds and ends.

To say the set is a bit obsessive in scope is almost a given. And, if you've been following Sony's series of Miles Davis box set, you know to expect sticker shock to match ($109 list, to be exact.) It's also worth noting, aside from the studio chatter and breakdowns, there isn't any new music here. There's a new documentary on the DVD, but Sony has already announced the CDs and DVD will be available separately.

So, here's my big question: in a time when labels are complaining about no one buying music anymore and how they're losing money, how in the world do they justify such a lavish package for an album in one of the lowest selling genres of music? While I'm not arguing Kind of Blue is worth a super deluxe set, since 1997 this album has been reissued four times I can think of off the top of my head, plus included in a box set and there were at least three audiophile vinyl issues (one on blue wax even!) How much Kind of Blue does one need?

Now prepare to laugh at me because, yes, I bought this set. In my defense, I was able to purchase it at about a 50% discount which is a bit more reasonable price in my eyes. Still expensive, to be sure, but probably closer to what this set should cost than what they're asking.

Is it a nice set? Yes...but, something went seriously wrong in the packaging department at Sony. You have the book, then you have a gatefold LP jacket with the record in the left pocket and the discs tucked in pockets on the right inside. Even under the best circumstances, these discs would get scratched over time, never mind that shipping in such a heavy package pretty much guarantees no one receives a flawless copy.

The record is probably intended more as a novelty item anyway, so I guess I shouldn't be shocked that it's slightly warped. Shame, as it sounds really nice, like they put some care into the mastering.

As for the rest, well, it is what it is: an obsessive look at one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. The music I already had on the Miles & Coltrane set. The documentary was nice, but I don't know how often I'll watch it. Really, the book, with the large pictures, was the best part of the deal. Well, and the record, which had it been a flatter pressing, would have been a real star of this set.

And so it goes. In a time when everyone is crying about their bottom line, Sony brings out an overpriced set with a limited market. On one hand, it's probably the ultimate anti-download, as this is a set as much about having the physical stuff in your hands as it is about the already available music. On the other, this set might be the ultimate "so what" as I can't see how this set gives any further insight to this masterwork that one could have by listening to one of the other currently available CDs and reading Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Apple Steps It Up A Little

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about Amazon's mp3 deal of the day and their 5 for $5 on Fridays? Well, it looks like Apple has quietly started doing something similar with a few albums and movies at $4.99. Good step in the right direction, though there's one thing where we're not exactly comparing equals. Four of the seven albums currently available are the lower bit rate and DRM encumbered regular iTunes files. The movies are a little more promising. There's ten available now and if you're a Schwarznegger fan, you're in luck as almost half of them are his films.

It'll be interesting to see what kind of stuff comes up in Apple's store. So far, the titles aren't that interesting, but I'll keep an eye on this to see if there's any must haves offered up. Considering the quality of daily deals Amazon has been throwing out recently, they've got a long way to go.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

It's Beginning to Look Too Much Like Christmas

Once upon a time, when I was young, Christmas seemed to slowly fade in as December grew longer. I don't ever remember an exact day for the official beginning of the Christmas season. It just seemed like more decorations would appear, as if by magic, as you got close to the 25th.

When I got older, I ended up working retail for a while. By this time, there was an unofficial start to the holiday season; black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving. The day before, nothing. The day after, it was Christmas season. Decorations, sales, music, the whole works. While I missed the easing into the holidays, it didn't run on long enough to wear out its welcome.

Then the creep began.

I don't remember when it happened, but after I'd gotten out of retail, someone broke ranks and started gearing up for Christmas before Thanksgiving. Not wanting to be outdone (or miss any potential sales,) others followed suit. The Christmas season was starting earlier and earlier each year. Retailers stocked trees and candy canes earlier in November. Radio stations raced to be the first to go all Christmas music. Etc., etc., etc.

This year, about a week and a half before Halloween, I saw the first signs of Christmas. I really couldn't believe it. But more followed. I just got back from Target and here, a week after Halloween, they're practically in full-on Christmas mode. My wife has reported already hearing Christmas tunes in the stores.

Now, I understand that people like Christmas. Who doesn't? But I really think this is getting ridiculous. Do we really need almost two months of Christmas season?

Yes, I am a cynic, but I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than retailers, who are anticipating poor end of year sales, trying to get people to buy as much crap they don't need. I know, that's all the retail game ever is. But, when it's barely November and I'm already being suggested "great gift ideas" in ads, the game feels even more blatant than it already is.

Speaking of the economy, can we call it a recession yet? Who isn't worried about things? Who doesn't have less money in their pocket than they did a year ago? Given that, I understand why retailers might be making the hard push earlier. But, I can't help but wonder if consumers aren't going to be a bit fatigued come December.

With Christmas season starting so early this year, I just can't believe I'm the only one who feels a little cynical about it already. In a year when people are having to tighten the financial belts, how are the Joe Sixpacks going to feel about nearly two months of being told to buy, buy, buy, in the name of Christmas? I'll be real surprised if by December 25th I'm the only one who feels Christmas may have overstayed its welcome this year.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yuki Music Store Test

Alright, in addition to the other ways one could buy the Yuki EP, should one want to (and they should,) we have a Snocap store up, which I guess is the only way you can sell your stuff through MySpace. So far, I'm 100% unimpressed with SnoCap, but you can embed your store everywhere, so that's neat. I'm going to try that here, so this is a test post. Please stand by:

Thanks for your patience.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yuki Update

Sorry I haven't written anything in a while. Been kind of busy. And speaking of busy, things have been taking off with my band Yuki, which is a good thing. The first run of the CD is just about sold out. You can probably still find copies at Luna Music or Indy CD & Vinyl around town. For those of you not local, you can download a copy at Amazon or from eMusic. (iTunes and MySpace are taking their own sweet time getting these tracks up.)

Additionally, we've received airplay on X103's local music show and one of our songs off the EP is going to be featured in an Indy Star slideshow recapping a Colts game (we're still not sure what about us says "are you read for some football?" but apparently they see something we don't.) And we're going to be playing with Kristeen Young at Radio Radio on December 27th. (We've had a bunch of other show offers that haven't worked out for various reasons, it's a tough time of the year to try to schedule things.)

Other than that, we're just working on new material, hoping to have a followup EP out soon. That's kind of it. Reaction from the show and EP have been great and we're just trying to keep moving.