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Unplugged (Shm-CD)
Unplugged (Shm-CD)
2 used & new from CDN$ 59.38

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Barenaked Blues., Nov. 2 2008
This review is from: Unplugged (Shm-CD) (Audio CD)
The debate whether, when learning to play the guitar, you should begin with an acoustic or an electric instrument, is probably as old as the history of the electric guitar itself; regardless which event you associate most strongly with its invention, and which of the enterprising souls who began experimenting with the amplification of the six-string sound way back in the 1930s you most credit therewith. Many find the sound of an electric guitar more impressive than that of an acoustic; and I'll freely admit that few pieces of music make my inner membranes resonate as instinctively as those featuring a really well-played e-guitar solo. Purists, however, argue passionately in favor of the acoustic guitar, and maintain that you're simply not going to learn to play "cleanly" if you don't start out that way. And there is definitely something to be said for that, because it is much easier to conceal a sloppily-played chord behind an electric guitar's amplified volume or a clever-sounding solo (or behind both) than in the unadulterated sound of an acoustic guitar. The discussion about the early 1990s' trend towards "unplugged" recordings centers around similar arguments. Some pieces of music are of course simply not meant to ever be played on an acoustic guitar. Others, however, live from their amplified soundeffects more than from their intrinsic musical values, and they simply fizzle when reduced to their core and performed acoustically.

And then there is that rare category of pieces which sound equally fantastic both ways, and that rare category of players who manage to dazzle you regardless what type of instrument they're playing. Eric Clapton is such a musician, and some of the songs on the playlist of his "Unplugged" album are such pieces of music. Most notable among those, of course, is "Layla," Clapton's intensely personal dedication to one-time wife Patty Boyd; written in 1970 and at a time when he saw no chance of ever winning her for himself. From the memorable opening riff of the song's original recording to its guitar solos, screaming with despair, it is extremely hard to imagine how this song could ever work in an acoustic version. Yet on a whim and at the last minute, Clapton decided to include it in the "Unplugged" playlist. And transposed by a full octave, reduced to a languid and almost upbeat, somewhat jazzy blues rhythm, it works out wonderfully; and Layla/ Patty finds herself miraculously transformed from an object of desire to one of reflection instead. In fact, that track alone, which won the 1992 Grammy as Best Rock Song, turned out to be responsible for a good share of the enormous popularity of this album which (together with 1989's "Journeyman") reestablished Clapton as an artist to reckon with, after his career had threatened to slump over the course of much of the previous decade. And similarly responsible for the success of "Unplugged" was the inclusion of another and more recent piece performed from the bottom of Clapton's soul, the triple Grammy winning "Tears in Heaven;" dedicated to his son Conor who had tragically died after falling from the open window of a 53rd floor apartment in New York City the preceding year. (The studio version of that song is contained on the soundtrack of the movie "Rush," likewise released in 1992.)

But "Unplugged" is to large extents a classic blues album, from the twelve-bar rhythm of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" (featuring only Eric Clapton himself and one of the most modest and supremely talented living guitarists, Clapton's trusted friend and touring partner Andy Fairweather Low) to Jimmy Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (the second cut besides "Layla" from the famous album recorded under the name Derek and the Dominos), Delta Blues king Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" and "Malted Milk," Jesse Fuller's upbeat "San Francisco Bay Blues," and the traditionals "Alberta" and "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (the latter, here attributed to the great Chess blues man M[cKinley] Morganfield a/k/a Muddy Waters, who made it famous). Three more of Eric Clapton's own compositions stand out among the songs which round up the album's playlist: the introductory lighthearted "Signe," which reflects his love of Brazilian music, the melancholic "Lonely Stranger" and finally "Old Love," a cut from 1989's "Journeyman."

Few white artists understand as well as Eric Clapton that the blues thrives, first and foremost, on a live atmosphere - preferably in a smaller setting like the one used for this recording, which allows for plenty of spontaneous interaction between stage and audience. And few artists are as unafraid of the gaffes that are almost invariably associated with a live appearance, even in the case of Clapton and his outstanding backup band; and manage, time and again, to turn them into a light moment. The garbled beginning of "Alberta" is an excellent example here; you can almost hear Clapton grinning when he says "Hang on, hang on, hang on" and simply starts over. Similarly, "Layla" is merely introduced with the words "See if you can spot this one" - and instantly greeted with the enthusiastic cheers of an audience which doesn't even need to hear the famous five notes of the song's introductory riff to recognize it.

Asked whether he, too, would ever consider an "unplugged" appearance, e-guitar legend Jeff Beck, who with Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page forms the trinity of "guitar gods" that emerged from Great Britain's famous Yardbirds, reportedly once responded that he couldn't imagine such a thing because it would make him feel "naked." And listening to Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" album, you can't shake the impression that Beck does have a point. These are pure, naked blues songs, supremely performed - and a pure joy to listen to.

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Consummate blues, born out of the pain of unfulfilled love., Nov. 2 2008
"Have you ever loved a woman, so much you're tremblin' in pain, and all the time you know she bears another man's name - but you just love that woman so much, it's a shame and a sin ... and all the time you know she belongs to your very best friend!" If you'd never heard this album's title track, you would swear that "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" was the song that Eric Clapton wrote for Pattie Boyd Harrison; not only do the lyrics of Billy Myles' blues classic fit so perfectly, Clapton positively pours his heart out as he sings them, and his guitar screams with the pain of unrequited love. And even before get to this song, Clapton's own "Bell Bottom Blues" lays bare similar feelings and recalls his infamous heroin ultimatum to Pattie ("Either you come with me or I'll take that"): "Do you wanna see me crawl across the floor to you? Do you wanna hear me beg you to take me back?" And as the man pleads with her, so does his guitar, and you wonder what woman could possibly have resisted such an impassioned plea.

Until of course, almost at the end of the album, you hear "Layla," this record's motto more than a simple title track and, in many respects, its reason for being. Torn by personal insecurity, Clapton used the cover and seeming anonymity of yet another band, and the parable of a medieval Persian love story ("Layla and Majnun" - reportedly, "majnun," in Persian, means madman) to put into music what he couldn't put into words alone. From its opening riff to its last note the song is pure blues, Clapton audibly on the brink of the madness he sings about, and his guitar wailing, moaning and crying out all that was in his heart: "Layla ... you got me on my knees - Layla ... I'm begging darling, please - Layla ... won't you ease my worry now?"

Sparks must have been flying in the studio while Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, recruited by manager Tom Dowd to add inspiration and take some of the lead guitar weight off Clapton's shoulders, drove each other to ever greater heights, simultaneously feeding off and to each other. Like most of the album, "Layla" was recorded live in the studio, and only a live recording could transmit this feverish outbreak of passion. Merely listening to the song is emotionally exhausting, and you can only imagine what must have gone on in the studio and inside Clapton during its recording. To hear the Allman Brothers' drummer Butch Trucks tell the story (in an interview for "Off the Record"), Duane Allman gave "Layla" its finishing touch when he added the five notes immediately following its signature riff. Yet, Allman is not credited as a writer (if that story is true, though, how much more than those five notes would it have taken I wonder?); only drummer Jim Gordon is, for having written the song's piano closing - which he had to be persuaded to allow to be used.

And while Eric Clapton continued to perform the song unaltered for years after its initial recording, he spontaneously decided to include it in the setlist of his MTV "Unplugged" appearance where, deprived of all its riffs, even its signature beginning toned down to a few simple notes, and Clapton's voice unexpectedly reflective, Layla assumed a different personality although not a word of the lyrics was altered. Yet, just as Eric Clapton's and Pattie Boyd's marriage was over by then, Layla was now less an object of burning desire than somebody the singer thought about - thought back to maybe, or sought a conversation with, possibly cautioning her about the consequences of her actions, or recalling his experiences with her: "What will you do when you get lonely, no one waiting by your side? You've been running, hiding much too long - you know it's just your foolish pride ..." And although Clapton has gone back to performing the song in its "plugged in" version during his 2001 "Reptile" tour, he has confined himself to talking only about its musical values, commenting on the technical difficulties of playing riffs and chords that are virtually opposite to what you are singing in an interview for the tour's official program.

Besides Eric Clapton and late addition Duane Allman, Derek And The Dominos consisted of the musicians "left over" by the breakup of Delaney and Bonnie, with whom Clapton had briefly found shelter after yet another supergroup of his (Blind Faith) had disintegrated way too quickly: Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon. Like virtually all of Eric Clapton's albums, solo as well as with his various bands, this record combines material written by Clapton himself and covers of songs he liked; and of course, there is much more to it than "Layla," "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and "Bell Bottom Blues." As always, Clapton makes his mark with every song alike, and as always, he needs and has found (or Tom Dowd found for him) a cast of outstanding musicians to work with. Segar/Bronzy's "Key to the Highway" becomes an extended blues jam session as there ever was one, and Jimmie Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" forecasts the feelings which, among other things, later compelled Clapton to establish the Crossroads foundation.

Eric Clapton has said about Derek And The Dominos in the interview for the "Reptile" tour program: "[That] was a band I really liked - and it's almost like I wasn't in that band. It's just a band that I'm a fan of. Sometimes, my own music can be like that. When it's served its purpose to being good music, I don't associate myself with it any more. It's like someone else. It's easy to do those songs then." Hearing the raging pain of "Layla"'s original recording, you wonder whether this is maybe also the only way for him to perform it now ... at least "plugged in."

Hotel California
Hotel California
Offered by samurai_media_JPN4CA
Prix : CDN$ 141.43
7 used & new from CDN$ 43.73

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 The album that forever changed my understanding of music., Nov. 2 2008
This review is from: Hotel California (Audio CD)
She'd taped a cool new song off the radio, a friend told me some 30 years ago; she'd play it for me when I'd come to her place after school.

The song was "Hotel California," and my perception of music changed then and there, once and for all. I didn't even really understand the lyrics -- I had barely begun to learn English, and apart from everything else I sure as hell didn't know what "colitas" meant. But understanding all the song's words wasn't necessary. From the first chords played by Felder and Walsh, this song was different from anything I had ever heard before. The layers of electric guitar riffs alternating with and ornamenting Don Henley's vocals, soaring in the chorus and culminating in a moving and evocative duet, touched a spot deep inside me that required no further explanation. Nor, really, did the other songs on this album which I instantaneously knew I had to have. I got the message conveyed in the raw edges of "Life in the Fast Lane," Joe Walsh's riffs throughout the song, the two guitar solos and Don Henley's sneering vocals, as well as I could hear the sense of loss in "Wasted Time," "The Last Resort" and "New Kid in Town."

This is not to say, of course, that the lyrics didn't matter to me once I was able to fully understand them. Rather, that understanding deepened my appreciation for the album; and yet another level of insight was added when I came to California for the first time in 1991. By that time I was an ardent fan, and although the Eagles didn't even exist as a band back then, their music has become an inseparable part of my memory of those months - particularly the album which bears the state's name and is so often called the quintessential California rock album (not only of the 1970s) that this description in itself is bordering on cliche now, true as it may once have been.

Since the release of their 1976 studio album, the Eagles have published several other versions of "Hotel California," and I love them all. (I even -- sometimes -- like the ska version Don Henley and his incredible tour band performed during their 2001 "Inside Job" tour.) But ultimately, it all comes back down for me to the duet of those two electric guitars which forever redefined the way I listen to music.

Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series (12 DVD)
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series (12 DVD)
DVD ~ David Burke
Prix : CDN$ 154.71
24 used & new from CDN$ 123.98

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5.0 étoiles sur 5 London's Only "Consulting Detective.", Nov. 2 2008
In his foreword to Bantam's "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories," Loren Estleman called the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson literature's warmest, most symbiotic and most timeless: rightfully so. Not surprisingly, film history is littered with adaptations of Conan Doyle's tales and Holmes pastiches (using the protagonists but otherwise independent storylines). Yet - and I'm saying this with particular apologies to the fans of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce canon - none of these prior incarnations can hold a candle to the ITV/Granada TV series produced between 1984 and 1994, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and first David Burke, then, beginning with the second ("Return of Sherlock Holmes") cycle and in near-seamless transition, Edward Hardwicke as a refreshingly sturdy, pragmatic, unbumbling Dr. Watson.

Jeremy Brett was the only actor who ever managed to perfectly portray Holmes's imperiousness, bitingly ironic sense of humor and apparently indestructible self-control without at the same time neglecting his genuine friendship towards Dr. Watson and the weaknesses hidden below a surface dominated by his overarching intellectual powers. The series takes the titles of its four cycles of shorter episodes - "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" and "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes" - from four of the five short story collections featuring London's self-appointed only "consulting detective" (published 1892, 1905, 1894 and 1927, respectively); thus nominally omitting the 1917 collection "His Last Bow," which is, however - but for its title story - completely represented in individual episodes spread out over the other four cycles. While the grouping of instalments doesn't necessarily correspond with Conan Doyle's original story collections, and the series's premise - Holmes's and Watson's shared tenancy of rooms at 221B Baker Street - was no longer true even at the beginning of the "Adventures," this excellently produced series is a must-have for any mystery fan. This is particularly true for the first two cycles ("Adventures" and "Return") and the movie-length versions of the novels "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Sign of the Four," which alone makes this set well worth the purchase; even if the movie-length dramatizations of the short stories "The Eligible Bachelor" (a/k/a "The Noble Bachelor") and "The Last Vampyre" (a/k/a "The Sussex Vampyre") are less than faithful to Conan Doyle's originals: in fact, their quality rests almost exclusively on an already ailing Jeremy Brett's shoulders (as well as in "Vampyre" on the extraordinary guest performance of Roy Marsden in the episode's title role), thus emphasizing even more the significance of Brett's achievement.

This set contains (in "volumes" or episodes grouped on discs as originally released):

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* A Scandal in Bohemia
* The Dancing Men (from "Return")
* The Naval Treaty (from "Memoirs")
* The Solitary Cyclist (from "Return")
* The Crooked Man (from "Memoirs")
* The Speckled Band
* The Blue Carbuncle
* The Copper Beeches
* The Greek Interpreter (from "Memoirs")
* The Norwood Builder (from "Return")
* The Resident Patient (from "Memoirs")
* The Red-Headed League
* The Final Problem (from "Memoirs")

THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Empty House
* The Abbey Grange
* The Second Stain
* The Six Napoleons
* The Priory School
* Wisteria Lodge (from "Last Bow")
* The Devil's Foot (from "Last Bow")
* Silver Blaze (from "Memoirs")
* The Bruce-Partington Plans (from "Last Bow")
* The Musgrave Ritual (from "Memoirs")
* The Man With the Twisted Lip (from "Adventures")

THE CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax (from "Last Bow")
* The Problem of Thor Bridge
* The Boscombe Valley Mystery (from "Adventures")
* The Illustrious Client
* Shouscombe Old Place
* The Creeping Man

THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
* The Three Gables (from "Casebook")
* The Dying Detective (from "Last Bow")
* The Golden Pince-Nez (from "Return")
* The Red Circle (from "Last Bow")
* The Mazarin Stone (from "Casebook")
* The Cardboard Box (from "Last Bow")

THE FEATURE FILMS
* The Sign of Four (adaptation of the 1890 novel)
* The Hound of the Baskervilles (adaptation of the 1901 novel)
* The Last Vampyre (adaptation of the short story "The Sussex Vampyre" from "Casebook")
* The Eligible Bachelor (adaptation of the short story "The Noble Bachelor" from "Adventures")
* The Master Blackmailer (adaptation of the short story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" from "Memoirs")

For completion's sake, this leaves only the first and last Holmes novels ("A Study In Scarlet," 1887, and "The Valley of Fear," 1915) as well as the following short stories unrepresented in this series:

From THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* A Case of Identity
* The Five Orange Pips
* The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb
* The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet

From THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Adventure of Black Peter
* The Adventure of the Three Students
* The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter

From THE CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Blanched Soldier
* The Lion's Mane
* The Veiled Lodger
* The Retired Colourman

FROM THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES:
* The Yellow Face
* The Stock-broker's Clerk
* The "Gloria Scott"
* The Reigate Puzzle

From HIS LAST BOW:
* His Last Bow

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Bilingual)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Paul Newman
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Prix : CDN$ 25.28
25 used & new from CDN$ 5.95

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Legends., Nov. 2 2008
How do you ensure somebody's legacy as a hero? In the good old days, you wrote a book. Nowadays, you make a movie - and if you're lucky and it's really, really successful, you can retrospectively even make legends out of dangerous criminals. Not that that always works, of course. But with two great actors with instant chemistry (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), a script (by William Goldman) bursting with one-liners making the audience bowl over laughing every other minute, without once derailing into slapstick, a director's (George Roy Hill's) ingenious use of the occasion to turn a whole genre on its head, and some of the world's most beautiful locations, filmed by an exceptional cinematographer (Conrad Hall) ... you just may pull it off. Case in point: "Butch and Sundance."

While Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) was known as the Old West's Robin Hood for his charm, masterly planning, avoidance of bloodshed - he really did claim he'd never shot anyone - and his stance for settlers' rights vis-a-vis the wealthy cattle barons, Sundance (Henry Longbaugh) had the reputation of a loner; a fast draw repeatedly in and out of prison before even turning twenty-one. After several of their Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall Gang associates had seen the short end of the stick in various encounters with the law, Butch and Sundance determined things were getting too hot in the West and, unlike the outlaws who not much earlier had stood it out until the end (Billy the Kid, the James Gang and the O.K. Corral gunfighters), decided to head for South America. With a woman named Etta Place, possibly a teacher as portrayed here or, perhaps more likely, a prostitute, they first spent several years farming in Argentina - both had done cattle work before turning to robbery, although in the form of rustling (stealing unbranded cattle) - but eventually reverted to their more profitable, preferred occupation. Most sources believe they died in a 1909 shootout with the Bolivian military in a town named San Vicente; others, however, claim either or both escaped alive, returned to the States under assumed names and died there (Sundance in Casper, WY in 1957 and Cassidy, according to his sister, in Spokane, WA, in 1937).

While their decision to leave the West instead of duking it out with the law and the mystery surrounding their deaths would already have made for a great movie, director Hill cleverly used the material for a 180-degree-turn on the Western genre. The opening credits roll next to sepia-tinged silent shots depicting a Hole in the Wall Gang train robbery, followed by the bold claim that "most of what follows is true" - which in itself couldn't be further from the truth. What does follow is a wild ride from the Outlaw Trail to Bolivia ... during which our heroes aren't getting rid of their pursuers, no Western music with guitars and harmonicas accompanies them but Burt Bacharach's multiple-award-winning, deliberately anachronistic, upbeat score (plus "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" during the most romantic scene - raindrops???), a knife fight is settled by a kick in the groin, and a marshal trying to assemble a posse first meets with a lackluster population, neither willing to bring their own horses and guns nor clamoring to be supplied with such by him, and in short order sees his meeting usurped by a bicycle salesman. Add to that Oscar-winning cinematography, repeatedly using black-and-white lighting techniques even after the film's switch to color (e.g. in Sundance's first visit with Etta), reverse lighting to make daytime shots look like nighttime (during several scenes of the pursuit) and sepia-tinted shots for period feeling (besides the opening, also to sum up the trio's stay in New York), a Bolivian bank robbery with a crib sheet containing "specialized vocabulary" that Butch, contrary to initial claims, doesn't know in Spanish, and an immortalizing freeze-frame ending - and you have one heck of an entertaining movie, shot in some of the West's most spectacular settings and in Mexico (as Bolivia's stand-in).

"Butch and Sundance" turned Redford into a megastar - Hill lobbied hard for the then-perceived "playboy"'s casting, and his instincts proved so dead-on that Newman's entourage became worried the movie's expected primary star would be sidelined (a feeling never shared by Newman himself, though, who has been friends with Redford ever since). In a twist worthy of Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, fearsome loner Sundance became one of Redford's most popular roles, and his independent film festival's namesake. The movie renewed popular interest in the Outlaw Trail, which Redford himself traveled later, too (chronicled in a fascinating, alas out-of-print book). Its script is littered with memorable one-liners; from both heroes' "Who *are* those guys??" to Butch's comments on the small price to pay for beauty, on Sundance's gun-prowess ("like I've been telling you - over the hill"), on vision, bifocals and Bolivia, on Sundance's asking Etta (Katherine Ross) to accompany them, although if she'll ever "whine or make a nuisance," he'll be "dumping her flat" ("Don't sugarcoat it like that, Kid ... tell her straight!") and his downplaying the final shootout because their archenemy LaForce isn't there; Sundance's "You just keep thinking, Butch," his comments on the secret of his gambling success (prayer), on not being picky about women (followed by a litany of required attributes), on the excessive use of dynamite, and his one weakness ("I can't swim!!"); and finally Strother Martin/mine-owner Percy Garris's deadpan delivery of the Shanghai Rooster song, of "Morons ... I've got morons on my team" and his assertion not to be crazy but merely colorful. The famous freeze-frame ending has repeatedly been cited, both cinematographically (e.g. "Thelma and Louise") and in dialogue (e.g. 1998's "Negotiator"). And although initially almost uniformly panned by critics, the movie won quadruple Oscars and multiple other awards. In true Hollywood fashion, it has made two fearsome outlaws legends forever ... and in the process, also won legendary status itself.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Legends., Nov. 2 2008
How do you ensure somebody's legacy as a hero? In the good old days, you wrote a book. Nowadays, you make a movie - and if you're lucky and it's really, really successful, you can retrospectively even make legends out of dangerous criminals. Not that that always works, of course. But with two great actors with instant chemistry (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), a script (by William Goldman) bursting with one-liners making the audience bowl over laughing every other minute, without once derailing into slapstick, a director's (George Roy Hill's) ingenious use of the occasion to turn a whole genre on its head, and some of the world's most beautiful locations, filmed by an exceptional cinematographer (Conrad Hall) ... you just may pull it off. Case in point: "Butch and Sundance."

While Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) was known as the Old West's Robin Hood for his charm, masterly planning, avoidance of bloodshed - he really did claim he'd never shot anyone - and his stance for settlers' rights vis-a-vis the wealthy cattle barons, Sundance (Henry Longbaugh) had the reputation of a loner; a fast draw repeatedly in and out of prison before even turning twenty-one. After several of their Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall Gang associates had seen the short end of the stick in various encounters with the law, Butch and Sundance determined things were getting too hot in the West and, unlike the outlaws who not much earlier had stood it out until the end (Billy the Kid, the James Gang and the O.K. Corral gunfighters), decided to head for South America. With a woman named Etta Place, possibly a teacher as portrayed here or, perhaps more likely, a prostitute, they first spent several years farming in Argentina - both had done cattle work before turning to robbery, although in the form of rustling (stealing unbranded cattle) - but eventually reverted to their more profitable, preferred occupation. Most sources believe they died in a 1909 shootout with the Bolivian military in a town named San Vicente; others, however, claim either or both escaped alive, returned to the States under assumed names and died there (Sundance in Casper, WY in 1957 and Cassidy, according to his sister, in Spokane, WA, in 1937).

While their decision to leave the West instead of duking it out with the law and the mystery surrounding their deaths would already have made for a great movie, director Hill cleverly used the material for a 180-degree-turn on the Western genre. The opening credits roll next to sepia-tinged silent shots depicting a Hole in the Wall Gang train robbery, followed by the bold claim that "most of what follows is true" - which in itself couldn't be further from the truth. What does follow is a wild ride from the Outlaw Trail to Bolivia ... during which our heroes aren't getting rid of their pursuers, no Western music with guitars and harmonicas accompanies them but Burt Bacharach's multiple-award-winning, deliberately anachronistic, upbeat score (plus "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" during the most romantic scene - raindrops???), a knife fight is settled by a kick in the groin, and a marshal trying to assemble a posse first meets with a lackluster population, neither willing to bring their own horses and guns nor clamoring to be supplied with such by him, and in short order sees his meeting usurped by a bicycle salesman. Add to that Oscar-winning cinematography, repeatedly using black-and-white lighting techniques even after the film's switch to color (e.g. in Sundance's first visit with Etta), reverse lighting to make daytime shots look like nighttime (during several scenes of the pursuit) and sepia-tinted shots for period feeling (besides the opening, also to sum up the trio's stay in New York), a Bolivian bank robbery with a crib sheet containing "specialized vocabulary" that Butch, contrary to initial claims, doesn't know in Spanish, and an immortalizing freeze-frame ending - and you have one heck of an entertaining movie, shot in some of the West's most spectacular settings and in Mexico (as Bolivia's stand-in).

"Butch and Sundance" turned Redford into a megastar - Hill lobbied hard for the then-perceived "playboy"'s casting, and his instincts proved so dead-on that Newman's entourage became worried the movie's expected primary star would be sidelined (a feeling never shared by Newman himself, though, who has been friends with Redford ever since). In a twist worthy of Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, fearsome loner Sundance became one of Redford's most popular roles, and his independent film festival's namesake. The movie renewed popular interest in the Outlaw Trail, which Redford himself traveled later, too (chronicled in a fascinating, alas out-of-print book). Its script is littered with memorable one-liners; from both heroes' "Who *are* those guys??" to Butch's comments on the small price to pay for beauty, on Sundance's gun-prowess ("like I've been telling you - over the hill"), on vision, bifocals and Bolivia, on Sundance's asking Etta (Katherine Ross) to accompany them, although if she'll ever "whine or make a nuisance," he'll be "dumping her flat" ("Don't sugarcoat it like that, Kid ... tell her straight!") and his downplaying the final shootout because their archenemy LaForce isn't there; Sundance's "You just keep thinking, Butch," his comments on the secret of his gambling success (prayer), on not being picky about women (followed by a litany of required attributes), on the excessive use of dynamite, and his one weakness ("I can't swim!!"); and finally Strother Martin/mine-owner Percy Garris's deadpan delivery of the Shanghai Rooster song, of "Morons ... I've got morons on my team" and his assertion not to be crazy but merely colorful. The famous freeze-frame ending has repeatedly been cited, both cinematographically (e.g. "Thelma and Louise") and in dialogue (e.g. 1998's "Negotiator"). And although initially almost uniformly panned by critics, the movie won quadruple Oscars and multiple other awards. In true Hollywood fashion, it has made two fearsome outlaws legends forever ... and in the process, also won legendary status itself.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [Blu-ray]
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid [Blu-ray]
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Legends., Nov. 2 2008
How do you ensure somebody's legacy as a hero? In the good old days, you wrote a book. Nowadays, you make a movie - and if you're lucky and it's really, really successful, you can retrospectively even make legends out of dangerous criminals. Not that that always works, of course. But with two great actors with instant chemistry (Paul Newman and Robert Redford), a script (by William Goldman) bursting with one-liners making the audience bowl over laughing every other minute, without once derailing into slapstick, a director's (George Roy Hill's) ingenious use of the occasion to turn a whole genre on its head, and some of the world's most beautiful locations, filmed by an exceptional cinematographer (Conrad Hall) ... you just may pull it off. Case in point: "Butch and Sundance."

While Butch Cassidy (Robert LeRoy Parker) was known as the Old West's Robin Hood for his charm, masterly planning, avoidance of bloodshed - he really did claim he'd never shot anyone - and his stance for settlers' rights vis-a-vis the wealthy cattle barons, Sundance (Henry Longbaugh) had the reputation of a loner; a fast draw repeatedly in and out of prison before even turning twenty-one. After several of their Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall Gang associates had seen the short end of the stick in various encounters with the law, Butch and Sundance determined things were getting too hot in the West and, unlike the outlaws who not much earlier had stood it out until the end (Billy the Kid, the James Gang and the O.K. Corral gunfighters), decided to head for South America. With a woman named Etta Place, possibly a teacher as portrayed here or, perhaps more likely, a prostitute, they first spent several years farming in Argentina - both had done cattle work before turning to robbery, although in the form of rustling (stealing unbranded cattle) - but eventually reverted to their more profitable, preferred occupation. Most sources believe they died in a 1909 shootout with the Bolivian military in a town named San Vicente; others, however, claim either or both escaped alive, returned to the States under assumed names and died there (Sundance in Casper, WY in 1957 and Cassidy, according to his sister, in Spokane, WA, in 1937).

While their decision to leave the West instead of duking it out with the law and the mystery surrounding their deaths would already have made for a great movie, director Hill cleverly used the material for a 180-degree-turn on the Western genre. The opening credits roll next to sepia-tinged silent shots depicting a Hole in the Wall Gang train robbery, followed by the bold claim that "most of what follows is true" - which in itself couldn't be further from the truth. What does follow is a wild ride from the Outlaw Trail to Bolivia ... during which our heroes aren't getting rid of their pursuers, no Western music with guitars and harmonicas accompanies them but Burt Bacharach's multiple-award-winning, deliberately anachronistic, upbeat score (plus "Raindrops Are Falling on My Head" during the most romantic scene - raindrops???), a knife fight is settled by a kick in the groin, and a marshal trying to assemble a posse first meets with a lackluster population, neither willing to bring their own horses and guns nor clamoring to be supplied with such by him, and in short order sees his meeting usurped by a bicycle salesman. Add to that Oscar-winning cinematography, repeatedly using black-and-white lighting techniques even after the film's switch to color (e.g. in Sundance's first visit with Etta), reverse lighting to make daytime shots look like nighttime (during several scenes of the pursuit) and sepia-tinted shots for period feeling (besides the opening, also to sum up the trio's stay in New York), a Bolivian bank robbery with a crib sheet containing "specialized vocabulary" that Butch, contrary to initial claims, doesn't know in Spanish, and an immortalizing freeze-frame ending - and you have one heck of an entertaining movie, shot in some of the West's most spectacular settings and in Mexico (as Bolivia's stand-in).

"Butch and Sundance" turned Redford into a megastar - Hill lobbied hard for the then-perceived "playboy"'s casting, and his instincts proved so dead-on that Newman's entourage became worried the movie's expected primary star would be sidelined (a feeling never shared by Newman himself, though, who has been friends with Redford ever since). In a twist worthy of Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay, fearsome loner Sundance became one of Redford's most popular roles, and his independent film festival's namesake. The movie renewed popular interest in the Outlaw Trail, which Redford himself traveled later, too (chronicled in a fascinating, alas out-of-print book). Its script is littered with memorable one-liners; from both heroes' "Who *are* those guys??" to Butch's comments on the small price to pay for beauty, on Sundance's gun-prowess ("like I've been telling you - over the hill"), on vision, bifocals and Bolivia, on Sundance's asking Etta (Katherine Ross) to accompany them, although if she'll ever "whine or make a nuisance," he'll be "dumping her flat" ("Don't sugarcoat it like that, Kid ... tell her straight!") and his downplaying the final shootout because their archenemy LaForce isn't there; Sundance's "You just keep thinking, Butch," his comments on the secret of his gambling success (prayer), on not being picky about women (followed by a litany of required attributes), on the excessive use of dynamite, and his one weakness ("I can't swim!!"); and finally Strother Martin/mine-owner Percy Garris's deadpan delivery of the Shanghai Rooster song, of "Morons ... I've got morons on my team" and his assertion not to be crazy but merely colorful. The famous freeze-frame ending has repeatedly been cited, both cinematographically (e.g. "Thelma and Louise") and in dialogue (e.g. 1998's "Negotiator"). And although initially almost uniformly panned by critics, the movie won quadruple Oscars and multiple other awards. In true Hollywood fashion, it has made two fearsome outlaws legends forever ... and in the process, also won legendary status itself.

Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Consummate blues, born out of the pain of unfulfilled love., Nov. 2 2008
"Have you ever loved a woman, so much you're tremblin' in pain, and all the time you know she bears another man's name - but you just love that woman so much, it's a shame and a sin ... and all the time you know she belongs to your very best friend!" If you'd never heard this album's title track, you would swear that "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" was the song that Eric Clapton wrote for Pattie Boyd Harrison; not only do the lyrics of Billy Myles' blues classic fit so perfectly, Clapton positively pours his heart out as he sings them, and his guitar screams with the pain of unrequited love. And even before get to this song, Clapton's own "Bell Bottom Blues" lays bare similar feelings and recalls his infamous heroin ultimatum to Pattie ("Either you come with me or I'll take that"): "Do you wanna see me crawl across the floor to you? Do you wanna hear me beg you to take me back?" And as the man pleads with her, so does his guitar, and you wonder what woman could possibly have resisted such an impassioned plea.

Until of course, almost at the end of the album, you hear "Layla," this record's motto more than a simple title track and, in many respects, its reason for being. Torn by personal insecurity, Clapton used the cover and seeming anonymity of yet another band, and the parable of a medieval Persian love story ("Layla and Majnun" - reportedly, "majnun," in Persian, means madman) to put into music what he couldn't put into words alone. From its opening riff to its last note the song is pure blues, Clapton audibly on the brink of the madness he sings about, and his guitar wailing, moaning and crying out all that was in his heart: "Layla ... you got me on my knees - Layla ... I'm begging darling, please - Layla ... won't you ease my worry now?" Sparks must have been flying in the studio while Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, recruited by manager Tom Dowd to add inspiration and take some of the lead guitar weight off Clapton's shoulders, drove each other to ever greater heights, simultaneously feeding off and to each other. Like most of the album, "Layla" was recorded live in the studio, and only a live recording could transmit this feverish outbreak of passion. Merely listening to the song is emotionally exhausting, and you can only imagine what must have gone on in the studio and inside Clapton during its recording. To hear the Allman Brothers' drummer Butch Trucks tell the story (in an interview for "Off the Record"), Duane Allman gave "Layla" its finishing touch when he added the five notes immediately following its signature riff. Yet, Allman is not credited as a writer (if that story is true, though, how much more than those five notes would it have taken I wonder?); only drummer Jim Gordon is, for having written the song's piano closing - which he had to be persuaded to allow to be used.

And while Eric Clapton continued to perform the song unaltered for years after its initial recording, he spontaneously decided to include it in the setlist of his MTV "Unplugged" appearance where, deprived of all its riffs, even its signature beginning toned down to a few simple notes, and Clapton's voice unexpectedly reflective, Layla assumed a different personality although not a word of the lyrics was altered. Yet, just as Eric Clapton's and Pattie Boyd's marriage was over by then, Layla was now less an object of burning desire than somebody the singer thought about - thought back to maybe, or sought a conversation with, possibly cautioning her about the consequences of her actions, or recalling his experiences with her: "What will you do when you get lonely, no one waiting by your side? You've been running, hiding much too long - you know it's just your foolish pride ..." And although Clapton has gone back to performing the song in its "plugged in" version during his more recent tours, he has confined himself to talking only about its musical values, such as commenting on the technical difficulties of playing riffs and chords that are virtually opposite to what you are singing in an interview for the "Reptile" tour's official program a few years ago.

Besides Eric Clapton and late addition Duane Allman, Derek And The Dominos consisted of the musicians "left over" by the breakup of Delaney and Bonnie, with whom Clapton had briefly found shelter after yet another supergroup of his (Blind Faith) had disintegrated way too quickly: Bobby Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon. Like virtually all of Eric Clapton's albums, solo as well as with his various bands, this record combines material written by Clapton himself and covers of songs he liked; and of course, there is much more to it than "Layla," "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" and "Bell Bottom Blues." As always, Clapton makes his mark with every song alike, and as always, he needs and has found (or Tom Dowd found for him) a cast of outstanding musicians to work with. Segar/Bronzy's "Key to the Highway" becomes an extended blues jam session as there ever was one, and Jimmie Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" forecasts the feelings which, among other things, later compelled Clapton to establish the Crossroads foundation.

Eric Clapton has said about Derek And The Dominos in the interview for the "Reptile" tour program: "[That] was a band I really liked - and it's almost like I wasn't in that band. It's just a band that I'm a fan of. Sometimes, my own music can be like that. When it's served its purpose to being good music, I don't associate myself with it any more. It's like someone else. It's easy to do those songs then." Hearing the raging pain of "Layla"'s original recording, you wonder whether this is maybe also the only way for him to do it now ... at least "plugged in."

Unplugged
Unplugged
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 Barenaked Blues., Nov. 2 2008
This review is from: Unplugged (Audio CD)
The debate whether, when learning to play the guitar, you should begin with an acoustic or an electric instrument, is probably as old as the history of the electric guitar itself; regardless which event you associate most strongly with its invention, and which of the enterprising souls who began experimenting with the amplification of the six-string sound way back in the 1930s you most credit therewith. Many find the sound of an electric guitar more impressive than that of an acoustic; and I'll freely admit that few pieces of music make my inner membranes resonate as instinctively as those featuring a really well-played e-guitar solo. Purists, however, argue passionately in favor of the acoustic guitar, and maintain that you're simply not going to learn to play "cleanly" if you don't start out that way. And there is definitely something to be said for that, because it is much easier to conceal a sloppily-played chord behind an electric guitar's amplified volume or a clever-sounding solo (or behind both) than in the unadulterated sound of an acoustic guitar. The discussion about the early 1990s' trend towards "unplugged" recordings centers around similar arguments. Some pieces of music are of course simply not meant to ever be played on an acoustic guitar. Others, however, live from their amplified soundeffects more than from their intrinsic musical values, and they simply fizzle when reduced to their core and performed acoustically.

And then there is that rare category of pieces which sound equally fantastic both ways, and that rare category of players who manage to dazzle you regardless what type of instrument they're playing. Eric Clapton is such a musician, and some of the songs on the playlist of his "Unplugged" album are such pieces of music. Most notable among those, of course, is "Layla," Clapton's intensely personal dedication to one-time wife Patty Boyd; written in 1970 and at a time when he saw no chance of ever winning her for himself. From the memorable opening riff of the song's original recording to its guitar solos, screaming with despair, it is extremely hard to imagine how this song could ever work in an acoustic version. Yet on a whim and at the last minute, Clapton decided to include it in the "Unplugged" playlist. And transposed by a full octave, reduced to a languid and almost upbeat, somewhat jazzy blues rhythm, it works out wonderfully; and Layla/ Patty finds herself miraculously transformed from an object of desire to one of reflection instead. In fact, that track alone, which won the 1992 Grammy as Best Rock Song, turned out to be responsible for a good share of the enormous popularity of this album which (together with 1989's "Journeyman") reestablished Clapton as an artist to reckon with, after his career had threatened to slump over the course of much of the previous decade. And similarly responsible for the success of "Unplugged" was the inclusion of another and more recent piece performed from the bottom of Clapton's soul, the triple Grammy winning "Tears in Heaven;" dedicated to his son Conor who had tragically died after falling from the open window of a 53rd floor apartment in New York City the preceding year. (The studio version of that song is contained on the soundtrack of the movie "Rush," likewise released in 1992.)

But "Unplugged" is to large extents a classic blues album, from the twelve-bar rhythm of Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" (featuring only Eric Clapton himself and one of the most modest and supremely talented living guitarists, Clapton's trusted friend and touring partner Andy Fairweather Low) to Jimmy Cox's "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (the second cut besides "Layla" from the famous album recorded under the name Derek and the Dominos), Delta Blues king Robert Johnson's "Walkin' Blues" and "Malted Milk," Jesse Fuller's upbeat "San Francisco Bay Blues," and the traditionals "Alberta" and "Rollin' and Tumblin'" (the latter, here attributed to the great Chess blues man M[cKinley] Morganfield a/k/a Muddy Waters, who made it famous). Three more of Eric Clapton's own compositions stand out among the songs which round up the album's playlist: the introductory lighthearted "Signe," which reflects his love of Brazilian music, the melancholic "Lonely Stranger" and finally "Old Love," a cut from 1989's "Journeyman."

Few white artists understand as well as Eric Clapton that the blues thrives, first and foremost, on a live atmosphere - preferably in a smaller setting like the one used for this recording, which allows for plenty of spontaneous interaction between stage and audience. And few artists are as unafraid of the gaffes that are almost invariably associated with a live appearance, even in the case of Clapton and his outstanding backup band; and manage, time and again, to turn them into a light moment. The garbled beginning of "Alberta" is an excellent example here; you can almost hear Clapton grinning when he says "Hang on, hang on, hang on" and simply starts over. Similarly, "Layla" is merely introduced with the words "See if you can spot this one" - and instantly greeted with the enthusiastic cheers of an audience which doesn't even need to hear the famous five notes of the song's introductory riff to recognize it.

Asked whether he, too, would ever consider an "unplugged" appearance, e-guitar legend Jeff Beck, who with Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page forms the trinity of "guitar gods" that emerged from Great Britain's famous Yardbirds, reportedly once responded that he couldn't imagine such a thing because it would make him feel "naked." And listening to Eric Clapton's "Unplugged" album, you can't shake the impression that Beck does have a point. These are pure, naked blues songs, supremely performed - and a pure joy to listen to.

From the Cradle
From the Cradle
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 About retracing one's steps, one blue note at a time., Nov. 2 2008
This review is from: From the Cradle (Audio CD)
"All along this path I tread, my heart betrays my weary head; with nothing but my love to save, from the cradle to the grave ..." Summing up his thoughts on a recently failed relationship, Eric Clapton jotted down these words one night in early 1994, and they eventually made their way into the cover booklet of the album he released later that same year, the last line also providing the album's title. And "there's anger and love and fear on this record," Clapton told Billboard Magazine about the self-evaluation he was undergoing at the time, explaining that in recording this album, he had sought to once and for all break the - partially self-imposed - barriers and trappings of fame and fortune, girls and glamour, drugs and booze, in order to just "get out and ... say what I want to say, be what I want to be [and] love what I want to love."

What he had loved from his earliest years on, of course, was the blues; and a real blues album was thus what he had always wanted to record - ever since his days with the Yardbirds (which he left when they strayed towards more mainstream, commercial sounds) and with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the training ground for much of Britain's blues elite of the 1960s and 1970s. So in a major way, this album constitutes a return to Eric Clapton's roots.

At the same time, however, it is a marvelous tribute to the artists on whose influence Clapton builds to this day, and who first made the songs recorded here famous. Like any good blues album, "From the Cradle" was recorded live in the studio: with the exception of some dobro and drum overdub on "How Long Blues" and "Motherless Child" respectively, all vocals and instrumental parts are the pure, unadulterated product of the recording sessions involved. With or without extended solos, Clapton's guitar work is stellar as always, and his vocals are as raw and rough as hardly ever before. He may not actually outgrowl the great Chess and Delta Blues men - listen to his 2001 album "Riding With the King" with B.B. King or to Muddy Waters's 1977 version of "Hoochie Coochie Man" if you have any doubts - but this truly becomes apparent only in direct comparison with them, and it really says more about those other musicians than it does about Clapton himself. If it were not for the fact that many of the recordings on this album have long become classics in their own right and that Clapton's voice is not easily confused with that of any other artist in the first place, I'm almost certain that you could fool a fair number of people into believing that they were listening to an album recorded 40 years or even longer ago in Chicago or Memphis. This is the real thing, folks, no question about it; and it is performed with as much skill as soul by Eric Clapton and a tremendous group of musicians consisting of Dave Bronze (bass), Jim Keltner (drums), Andy Fairweather Low (guitar), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica), Chris Stainton (keyboards), Roddy Lorimer (trumpet) and Simon Clarke and Tim Sanders (saxophone) - many of the well-known to Clapton's live audiences the world over as well.

In selecting the songs for this album, Eric Clapton purposely chose the most intense blues songs he could think of, not even shying away from classics that he had heretofore considered "untouchable," like Muddy Waters's (or actually, Willie Dixon's) aforementioned "Hoochie Coochie Man." And in a not entirely surprising turn, they - and "Hoochie Coochie Man" in particular - soon became fixtures in his own live appearances as much as they had been fixtures in the appearances of the artists who had first made them famous, from Leroy Carr's "Blues Before Sunrise" and "How Long Blues" to Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" and "Sinner's Prayer," Eddie Boyd's "Five Long Years," James Lane's "Goin' Away Baby" and "Blues Leave Me Alone," Elmore James's "It Hurts Me Too," Freddie King's "Someday After a While," another famous Muddy Waters tune, "Standin' Round Crying," and the concluding, aptly titled "Groaning the Blues." And all colors of this blues kaleidoscope also represent shades and aspects of Eric Clapton's own life, because, as he told Billboard, all of them have had a certain meaning to him at some point or another. In that sense, the album is a very personal one - maybe not quite as much as the 1970 Derek and the Dominos recording "Layla and Other Assorted Lovesongs," one of the earliest and biggest highlights of Clapton's career, but certainly close; in expressing "the thing I've loved from day one, the most exciting and satisfying thing I've known."

Coming on the heels of 1989's "Journeyman" and 1992's hugely successful "Unplugged," which had redefined the standards by which acoustic recordings were measured and, in the process, had also given an unexpectedly new meaning to the title track of "Layla," "From the Cradle" was one of a trilogy of albums which injected new life into Clapton's career and ensured that his fans would be able to enjoy his immeasurable contributions to the world of music for - at least - another decade. In 1991, Clapton had also recorded the soundtrack for the movie "Rush," arguably yet another very personal project, and released a CD documenting his marathon 24 live appearances at Royal Albert Hall, appropriately named "24 Nights." And while any Eric Clapton album will to a certain extent be an expression of the point where he sees himself and his career at the time of the recording, it's all about the music again now, and about the joy of playing. Nothing shows this clearer than his dual 2001 releases "Reptile" and "Riding With the King." "From the Cradle" was an important stepping stone in getting to this point, and I am glad we have been allowed, yet again, to share in that experience. Thank you, Eric!

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