Friday, December 12, 2014

FFanzeen FFiles: Music release reviews

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

At the bottom of each the reviews is a video from the release, if available.
John Batdorf and James Lee Stanley
All Wood and Stones II
The other day I was in a store and they played that horrible disco mash-up of the Beatles. What a waste when they could have put on this much more enjoyable release.  Singer-songwriters/folkers Batdorf and Stanley have this side project where they take some rockers and quite successfully translate / re-imagine songs we all know so well. This is their second excursion into the Jagger and Richards songbook, covering material like “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumping Jack Flash, “Sympathy For the Devil,” and “Time is On My Side,” to name just a few. Stanley and Batdorf trade off on lead vocals as they pound their acoustic instruments. Stanley tends to play his songs more like the originals with a folk twist. With Batdorf, he totally makes the songs his own, transforming “Get Off My Cloud” into a near singer-songwriter ballad. This is a wonderful excursion. Sure, purists are going to be scratching their heads on what to make of this, but I smiled throughout. Batdorf and Stanley are their own Glimmer Twins as they do the rearranging and producing. The ballads like “Play With Fire” and “Wild Horses” definitely lend themselves to the harmonized playing here. The production is clean and I could easily listen to and enjoy this almost as much as the originals. Gutsy.

Beautiful Sky
Big Radio Records
BlueRace (or, actually, bluerace), have been around for a bit now, and they definitely wear their influences on their guitar straps. There’s quite a bit of the later Beatles, Byrds, and the late ‘60s American guitar sound (more rock with a touch of garage than blues, for example). Normally, classic rock is not something that is my expertise, but I gotta say these guys are fun. The songs are catchy as all get out, and listening to this full length release was an easy pleasure from beginning to end (and not because I’ve known the Media Ecological rhythm guitarist, Thom Gencarelli, longer than the band exists).  A good example is the reverb-infused “Why Is There Goodbye (Temporary Angel)?,” which has a hook that will stick with you. Yeah, the cuts are arguably a bit long at an average of 5 minutes apiece, but if the songs are as strong as these, it’s forgivable.  Vocalist (and bassist) Dean Diaz thankfully sounds more late ‘60s than, say, hair band screechy ‘80s, which is a major plus in my view.  Roger Diller’s lead guitar never overwhelms even as it flashes its smile on cuts like “Left to Turn.” I mean, these guys’ sound would fit right in at the Fillmore, both East and West. There is also a good balance between the vocals and the instruments, none really drowning out the other, each one quite distinguishable, which is always a bonus. Some fave cuts include “Daily Minefield” and “Bridge of Sighs.”

Jeremy Gluck and Robert Coyne
Memory Deluxe: I Knew Buffalo Bill 2
It was many and many a year ago in that kingdom by the sea – aka the UK – that ex-pat Jeremy Gluck was part of the 1980s post-surf/paisley revival with The Barracudas, and infamously put out the first volume of I Knew Buffalo Bill with the likes of late giants Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Nikki Sudden nearly three decades ago. I’ve heard of this release of course, but haven’t heard it. Now, with Robert Coyne, Jeremy musically resurfaces with the sequel.  This collection of fourteen tunes shows a definite progression in the sound of what I’ve heard of Gluck and co., using a slashing guitar and synth beats. Now, synth is something you won’t hear mentioned much in this blog, so the fact that I’m covering it means there is definitely something to which is worth paying attention.  With a husky voice with an edge of growl, Gluck uses the years on his vocal chords to strike a mood effectively. Most of the “pop” sound of “I Want My Woody Back” is replaced by a poetic earnestness that remains accessible. Honestly, my fave cuts were the ones that were more guitar-based than synth, such as “Old Father Death” and “The Extra Mile,” but giving a chance to this set is worthwhile.

Jann Klose
Having reviewed Jann’s releases before, it does not surprise me that this release was going to be excellent, but I was still impressed. He does keep getting better. The opening cut, “Make It Better” grabs you by the collar and never lets you go.  More than just a pretty face singer-songwriter, Jann shows he can hit the notes both figuratively and literally. A blazing electric guitar complements the acoustic, and the messages are as powerful as his voice and production. Most of the songs are heart related, both present love or past, but for me, it was the opening political songs that raised my eyebrows highest. That being said, “Long Goodbye” is a lovely pastiche of a love fading. “Falling Tears” has reflections in classic blues, as “Four Leaf Clover” has a light tone with reggae touches. The exceptional Carrie Newcomer joins Jann for “Beautiful One,” showing how well their styles go together. Better known for slice of life songs, she backs this romantic ditty supported by Leah Potteiger’s luscious violin. The closer is a luxurious a capella cover of singer-songwriter touchstone Tim Buckley’s “Song of the Siren.”  

Larkin Poe and Thom Hell
The Sound of the Ocean Sound
Edvins Records
I have a lot of Norwegians in my extended family, so this CD intrigued me. Recorded mostly at Ocean Sound Studio in the city of Giske, for those who don’t know, Larkin Poe is two folk-rock sisters from Atlanta, Rebecca Lovell (vox and guitar) and Megan Lovell (vox and resonator guitar / steel top). They joined forces with Norwegian-based singer-songwriter Hell (vox, piano, acoustic guitar), including songwriting, and have come up with this lush, folk rock collective (yes, there are other musicians backing them up). The sisters are actually a powerhouse on their own, both individually and as a team, and joining in with Hell has certainly complemented their sound quite strongly. While some of the lyrics, especially those by the sisters can be a bit opaque in their poetic leanings at times, their message gets across to the listener, which is fortunately worthwhile. Hell’s contributions are a bit more straightforward in their message, that is not to say his lyrics and tunes aren’t well written. It’s a beautiful collection whose topics tend to heavily lean on the topics of different shades of love. Among my faves here are “I Belong to Love,” “PS, I Love You” (which has nothing to do with the Beatles or Robin Sparkles/Daggers), “Tired,” and “Wait For Me,” but to be honest, as there isn’t a bad cut here, my faves may change and vary over time. Lyric booklet included.

Lydia Lunch & Cypress Grove
A Fistful of Desert Blues
RustBlade Label
Without taking away any of the importance that Lydia Lunch had to No Wave, Transgressive Cinema, and Spoken Word since the late 1970s, and she was key in all of those movements, I don’t like her as a person, as I can never tell when she is begin genuine or not. I’ve seen her do both. Just so you know in case you believe it has colored my review.  Joining with British noise blues guitarist Cypress Grove after Grove’s previous collaboration with Gun Club founder Jeffrey Lee Pierce, they have quite successfully released something here that is both familiar and new. Borrowing from Sergio Leone’s scalding guitar on numerous spaghetti Westerns, Grove lays down the foundation of scorched earth guitar riffs, while Lunch does her own vocal riffing, sometimes whispered, other times full throated, but always echoy and “mysterious.” Y’know what, it works. With song titles like “Sandpit,” “Devil Winds, “I’ll Be Damned,” Summer of My Disconnect,” “End of My Rope,” and “TB Sheets,” they managed to consistently keep this listener’s attention. It’s often hard to make out what Lunch is saying thanks to the reverb, but even without the text, the vocals layer on the guitar well. There is also an interesting cover of Pierce’s “St. Mark’s Place.” The songs feel like the waves of heat that rise off the highway in the distance on a blistering day.

Molly Hatchet
Live at Rockpalast 1996
Molly Hatchet never really crossed my musical bow, but the powers that be brought a live performance of Hatchet from the famed Rockpalast show dated June 23, 1996, at the open-air Loreley Stadium in Germany. Then-new vocalist Phil McCormack replaced long-time voxer Danny Joe Brown, who left for health reasons. I have to say, as of this 1996 version – as it’s all I have to go by – is awful. Well, the band itself is stereotypical of the Southern Rock sound and not much exciting, but McCormack is, well, bad. Sure, he has a growl, but there is nothing noteworthy about his style. He isn’t even too determined to worry about being on key. I mean, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie could fuckin’ wail, as with Jim Dandy of Black Oak Arkansas, but Phil suffers from lack of stage presence.  The songs here are okay, but nothing that’s going to sick in my mind longer than writing this review, quite frankly. It’s obvious the band can play, centered on Bobby Ingram’s lead guitar, but overall this was hardly what I would call electrifying.  This show is also available on DVD.

My Own Worst Enemy
“Paul Revere” / “Angel of the Underground”
Pristine Indigo Records
A vinyl single. While I can hear an ex-colleague of mine say, “How quaint,” this is a powerhouse release. I had the pleasure to have seen MOWE on their home turf in Boston in ’08 or so, and they had the audience (including me) moving. “Paul Revere” is a wonderful example of powerpop punk by this trio that has nothing to do with a Disney musical. This is a hysterical tune with an anthemic chorus that will definitely get you pumping that fist in the air. While Steve does a solid job on the vocals with this rocker (he’s also on guitar), his partner Sue picks it up for the more serious ballad on the flip (she’s also  guitar, as there is no bass), “Angel of the Underground” about one of my favorite buskers, Mary Lou Lord (who I interviewed almost two decades ago; her tune “Light Are Changing” is referenced here). It’s a touching song focused on a talent that is missed (by me, too). AJ’s drumming and harmonica on the flip is just the right touch. This slower B-side is a perfect yin to the A-side yang, and this release is not just quaint, it’s a fun mix of silly and somber.

Tess Parks
Blood Hot
359 Music / Cherry Red Records
With one foot on either side of the “pond,” Tess meanders back and forth from Toronto to London, and shows the influence from both in this post-psych release. With a nice voice that is hidden behind echo and the music, the melodies are a bit chaotic sounding, in an off-beat and sometimes jangling way, that make it a cross between the late ‘60s flower power sound, and a bit of noise rock as it clashes along in a sort of meditative labyrinth.  Honestly, I could hardly make out a word, if that’s important for you, but I have found when dealing with music that is flowing and repetitive (not in an insulting way), it’s more the entirety than an aspect.  The fact that her voice is deep and throaty, and not always classically on-key, is meaningless, because the zeitgeist is what is important here, and that is what’s effective. This could be a missing link cross between hippie and punk. You can hear full album HERE.

Michael Schenker Temple of Rock
Live in Europe (2 CDs)
For the greater good or bad, Germans are known for their precision. With his guitar in hand, Michael Schenker has proved over the decades that he knows his way around a metal fretboard. His decades on the stage and in the studio have rightfully made him a legend. Despite his name on the helm, Schenker is a member of the band, standing to the side of the stage with fingers ablazing, while for one of the show recorded here singer Doogie White stands front and center, in another, Michael Voss, making it practically a Scorpions reunion. Schenker is a superb musician, no one can argue with that, and yet I seriously wonder when does it become too clinical? Celine Dion is a surgical singer, and that makes her dry as a bone, all the emotion ripped out of her songs. That is not to say that Schenker’s guitar is emotionless, but it certainly borders on a Metal cliché, and one he helped birth. The same can be said about vocalist Doogie. He hits all the notes, but he can also be seen through rear-view mirrored glasses as a Metal cliché: high pitched and wavering vocals, especially on the last note of each stanza line.  For the Voss songs, they seem to play faster. I would like to add that everyone sounds to be having fun. There is a strong reliance here on some of their varied classics, including “Armed and Ready,” “Another Piece of Meat,” “Shoot Shoot,” “Rock Bottom,” and of course their best known “Rock Me Like a Hurricane,” with its ear worm chorus. No matter what the Michael Schenker Group incarnation, they have extremely high energy. There are a couple of ballads, but mostly this is full tilt, and they never waiver. Not  bad for a bunch of guys in their 50s. Also available in DVD.

Sweet Magma
Atrocious Saints
Once when I was hanging out with metalhead lead vox/bassist Nick Massios, there was some background music playing. I said, “This sounds familiar, what is it?” He said, quite surprised, “You write about music and you don’t know Dark Side of the Moon?!” That is typical of the kind of jokingly sharp conversation we have had. Of course, I tease back with an earlier song of theirs, “The 8 Foot Bong” (more about that later).  And despite the Floyd reference, it’s pretty obvious that Black Sabbath and Motörhead are bigger influences, with a solid bottom and Nick’s growly (but not death metal’s annoying level) vocals. For a power trio, they sound much fuller, including live (yes, I have seen them play a while back).  Their newest release starts strong with the nearly hardcore laden “LTBM” (which ironically stands for Let There Be Metal). When the band gets cranked up, such as on “I Go Zen,” the mix of noise and metal screeches together solidly.  There had been moments before this, where there were flashes of guitar solos, but the band lets loose here and everyone gets a few moments to shine. Yeah, this is metal, but they seem to keep the solos to a minimum, which of course gets my interest (hence my lack of caring about Floyd or other prog bands).  Oh, it’s not the last time for them to show off their multiple talents, that’s for certain: for example, “Lifeline,” one of my fave cuts, is consistently in the listener’s face/ears, in metal assault mode. It also takes some chances with fake endings and pounding beats, which works just fine.  Towards the collection’s end is a cover of Sweet Magma’s own “The 8-Foot Bong,” as I mentioned above. Pure goofiness, which made me smile, even as a semi-strait-edger. This isn’t rocket science, and honestly I believe it shouldn’t be, and isn’t pretending to be either, but man it is enjoyable fun. And, yes, I would say the same thing about Motörhead. Lyric booklet included.

Up For Nothing
In Trance
I’m proud to say that I was there at UFN’s very first show, and have had a sit down at Lenny’s Pizza in Bensonhurst with lead singer/guitarist Justin Conigliaro. They are a solid alt punk trio that has changed over the decade they’ve been around in one way: they’ve gotten better. Justin’s songwriting has improved remarkably, and it wasn’t shabby to begin with. He’s doing better at nailing the catches.  They lean a bit to the Green Day pop side, but honestly, I think they’re actually more fun than that other overrated band. Right from the opening cut, “This Moment,” with its chanted chorus, you can feel the power consistently through the 5 song EP. That being said, “The Worst Things to Say” is more classic pop hardcore. Just really good stuff. The opening cut and “The Side of Caution” are my fave cuts. They’ve played the Fest and tour often, so if you get the chance to catch ‘em, do it.

Kathy Zimmer
Static Inhabited
Having heard Kathy on and off over the last few years, I can tell you she’s quite versatile, be it jazz or standards. Here she stretches into original music that that has a jazzy but theatrical folk vibe. She fluctuates between them by vocally exercising up and down the scales. That’s not an easy thing to do, and she flexes like a champion, showing she not only sings sweetly, but can write a decent tune as well.  There are a few toe tappers, such as “Laundry Chute,” as well as ballads, but it’s the brash experimental adenoids stretchers that also keep you tuned. There are some definite theatrical references, the obvious one’s include “Glinda,” “Lost Boys,” and “Farinelli.” The background choral vocal “ooohs” and “aaaah” lean towards this as well.  If that wasn’t enough, there is also just hint of country themes, though I would not call this C&W by any stretch of the imagination. Fave cuts include “Right Around the Corner,” “Take You As You Come,” and the sultry “Eva.”


Monday, December 1, 2014

DVD Review: A King Family Christmas: Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 2

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet
A King Family Christmas: Classic Television Specials Collection Volume 2
2 Discs, 200 minutes, 1965, 1967, 1974, 2009 / 2014
PollyO Entertainment
King Fam

Yeah, this blog is mostly rock and roll / punk / folk / et al., but it’s also about culture, sometimes from a media theoretical perspective. You’ve been informed.

If you are too young to remember the expansive singing King Family, let’s just say they make the Partridges and Bradys look like the Dead Boys and the Plasmatics. That’s not said negatively, just impressionistically. The 33-member (and growing) King Family rose to Christian, white bread fame by 1960s appearances on The Lawrence Welk Show. This exposure led to their own weekly program, which was broadcast as an opener to Welk’s broadcast. But it was their holiday specials that were replayed for many years that most people remember.

The sweaters and dresses usually matched, and there were lots of fur coats, when it was a symbol of wealth rather than animal cruelty. Hair (wigs and dyed blonde, with one brunette exception) was Dolly Parton high and everyone was emotional, which was often expressed in music.

Essentially, the King Family revolved around elderly Ma and Pa, who didn’t sing much put gave on-air support, the four middle aged King Sisters, the remarkably square teenage-through-early-twenties Swinging King Cousins (e.g., My Three Sons’ Tina Cole, who was usually out front), the “adorable” youg’ns, the King Kids, and assorted married-tos and in-laws, such as guitar wiz Alvino Rey and The Hideous Sun Demon (1959) himself, Robert Clarke, who was usually the emcee.

The first Holiday special presented on this collection over the two discs is their very first full-length Holiday special, “Thanksgiving with the King Family” (1967). By the time this came on, the audience was already quite familiar with the familia thanks to their weekly on-air outings. This particular special is the only one here not filmed on a soundstage in front of an audience, but rather at the sprawling ranch of the matriarch King, Gramma Pearl Driggs (the patriarch had recently joined Jesus, but more about that later), in Camarillo, CA.

We see the family arrive in a group, and various solo and group sings throughout the house, and on various parts of the farm. Much of this is cutsie (a term I will use often), of course, with the King Sisters in solid lead, again, both as a group and individuals. Most of it works, with songs like “Over the River” (as they arrive), “My Cup Runneth Over,” and “A Wonderful Day Like Today.” As with all these specials, there is a moment when Alvino gets a spotlight a couple of times, and rightfully so. In one he does a banjo solo while the King Cousins romp around him to that hip tune, “Turkey in the Straw”; he does get a more serious outing later on in a mixture of folk and Spanish acoustic.

One of the cutsie moments is when one of the Sisters talks to a group of under-10-year-olds about the meaning of Thanksgiving, which includes “the Pilgrims and Indians becoming friends” and “It’s like a prayer” to “thank our Heavenly Father, right?” Ah, for those innocent days…right?

Remember at the time these first two specials were aired, LBJ was president, we were getting deep into the Vietnam police action, there were race riots, campus riots, and the rise of hippie cultures and drugs. To Middle America, the world was entering a sphere that was totally alien to them. The King Family were a cultural throwback to familiarity and values that the World War II veterans and their clans could understand. For me, it might be the equivalent of going to a Ramones concert after the rise of rap.

Most of the time, this Thanksgiving special touches the right tones, both visually and aurally. However, there is the occasional either flat note. For example, while one of the Sisters is sitting among the kids and some puppies, she and the human pups attempt “If I Could Talk to the Animals.” A good example of kids should be seen and not heard to sing. An uncomfortable moment (possibly because I’m a city boy) is an instructional song about milking a cow to another gaggle of kids.

One of the strangest moments is a version of “There’s a Place For Us” (from West Side Story) dedicated to the recently late grandpa while a very creepy looking stained glass image of him stares at the camera. The Cousins do a “hip” Main Street Singers-ish “Red River Valley” to gramps. Gramma is often seen sitting in a wheel chair, without singing along, kinda seeming dazed.

The least successful number is a solo version by one of the Cousins of “Born Free,” which is of questionable pitch. That aside, this is an excursion into the 1950s mentality with a late ‘60s cover. While they never reach the level of subtle subversiveness of The Andy Williams Show (that’s right, you heard me), their earnestness can be comforting.

The second special on the first disc, “Christmas with the King Family,” is much better known, as it was played every year from its inception in, again, 1967, and the years that followed. In beautiful color and similar clothes and piled hair (remember, this is only a month later than their Thanksgiving Special), we spend the holiday with many cultural touchstones.

You know this is going to be filled with classic carols, like “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls,” but there is a lot more going on. Around this time, King daughter Tina Cole, arguably one of the more adorable of the Swinging King Cousins, was rising in fame, so they gave her a song to do as a solo, “I Have My Love to Keep Me Warm,” which she sings to her toddler child. She doesn’t really have the chops for live (though her taped segments work better), but you can bet there were many a teenager out there of both genders who watched the special just for her, for very different reasons. The same song is brought back again later (you mean they had trouble finding a different winter weather/love song?) in a totally different context as one of the King Sisters tricks her hubby to put up the outside Christmas lights.

One creepy moment looking through McLuhan’s cultural rear view mirror is an “inner thought” meeting of cousins Cam and Laurette as the writers set them up to have crushes on each other. She even hopes for a kiss, and says – twice – “even if he is my cousin.” At the time, this may have been seen as cutsie, but now, looking back, may I say eew.

Alvino gets another chance to shine on a slide guitar as he is accompanied two Cousins on harp (his daughter, who definitely keeps up with him) and bass (he’s in a sailor’s uniform). This is a lovely ethereal piece, followed by a “rockin’” and jazzy song and dance medley to “The Night Before Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Sure, it’s pretty sanitized for Middle America, but I’m sure it was considered risqué (they’re all in bed clothes) and pushing the envelope to its audience at the time; sort of the equivalent to white performers singing rock and roll in its early days.

The most infamous moment of this particular show, and probably the reason it replayed so many times (it’s here, and repeated in the two other specials on the second disk), is when King Sister Alyce sings “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” to a picture of her son, Ric, who is in the Army. Mid-song he shows up in a surprise move that brought many a tear to the audience, and to his mom Alyce. Perhaps it’s the punk rock cynic in me, but the first time I watched this, I could have sworn I saw an “I’m going to kill the person who did this on-air” look in her eyes, but maybe that’s more me than her. Anyway, she does manage to push through to finish the song, in that Jerry Lewis finale “Walk On” way. With so many soldiers in ‘Nam and with the war so present in the news as they announced the daily body count, this gave hope to those with kids fighting for… whatever the hell that was (I would also say the say for the Bush wars, by the way). Her other son Lex gets to shine with some extraordinary virtuoso piano playing that would have made Liberace proud.

And what would be a Christmas special on commercial television without some presents to remind us to buy. Yvonne quotes her dad as saying that it’s okay to see it as commercial as long as you keep the meaning clear. There you go, America, you can love Jesus and support the sponsors! Yay!

There are lots of songs from films, such as “My Favorite Things,” but most of the tunes are carol classics, including the kids doing a Christmas Pageant to my least favorite season song, “The Little Drummer Boy” (no Bing and Bowie tension here).

As a finale, they do something that is apparently quite common, and a King Family tradition, that I didn’t know about (for obvious reasons) until just a few years ago, by combining “The First Noel” and “I Wish You a Merry Christmas” (sung by the kinder) in “Row Your Boat” off-set fashion.

It’s definitely a sumptuous feast for those who thirst for the ring of the jingle bell, the smell of the wreath and the ho-ho-ho of the ho-liday.

Rounding up the first disk is an extra, one of their Black and White network shows from December 11, 1965 that focuses on the Christmas Season, with the expected (not meant negatively) songs, dance and routines with all the King Family groups.

The second disk starts off with yet another Special, “Home for Christmas with the King Family,” shown in 1974. Perhaps it was time to stop showing the last version as Nam was over, Nixon was temporarily vilified, and the times they were a-changin’. It was five tumultuous years which went from hippies to, well, it was the year the Ramones played their first gig.

As we meet the updated King Family, many of the Swinging Cousins are now married, and the kids are now teens themselves, with a new generation of cutsie kids on whom to focus.

The clothing and hairstyles have moved up with time, and the most common style has moved from the WWII upsweep to the down flip (Mary Tyler Moore wore the same style around this time). Heck, one of the now more-mature Cousins is even showing a hint of cleavage. Heavens to Morgateroyd!

The set is designed to look like a living room and kitchen, with a real fireplace, to represent the family gathering for Christmas. First up is a number from the ’67 classic, “Christmas Bells Are Ringing,” as if to say, “We’re still the fun loving family you remember so well!” Actually, there are a number of repeated songs, including “White Christmas” (including a really nice photo montage of the sisters from their earliest days through their career).

Continuing with the spirit of the season (as opposed to the holiday), the new generation of singing kids gather around Santa (Tina Cole) and sing what each other wants. After, a King sister sings “Toyland,” from one of my favorite Christmas films, “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (1934, aka “Babes in Toyland”).

One aspect of the King Family shows and specials is that they really work well in introducing the audience to certain members of the family, including the wee ones. It’s interesting to see here, after a jump of about 5 years since the last special, how some of the younger ones have grown. This includes the older ones, as well, as we first see Robert Clarke looking like a young Dick Clark, to now a middle-aged, mustachio-laden man with some definite filling out to his face. Of course, there is the replay of the surprise and then a catch-up of Alyce and Ric as they sing (with other brothers) a Holiday medley.

Alvino gets to show his expertize again, this time in a back and forth with his daughter on harp, in a mock and humorous showdown of talent on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” They also bring back the memory of the creepy meeting of the cousins who are grown up now (late teens?); fortunately they reminisce without bringing back the kissing question. However, this leads to one of the moments I really enjoyed in this – if not all – of the specials, is a rousing version of the folk song “A-Soalin’” by the King Cousins, which includes some creative camerawork for the time. It’s a song for the season, but rarely gets played because it deals with begging, rather than consuming. Reminds me a bit of Steeleye Span’s version of the olde tune, “Our King.”

As with many of the specials, there are moments of reflection of the past of the King Family history, including the Sisters’ beginnings during or just after Dubya-Dubya Deuce.

While part of me was hoping somewhere they would sneak in a little of “The Dreidel Song” (especially since this special was written by Leonard B. Kaufmann), there are plenty of plush carols, summed up with the family around the tree doing the back and forth of “The First Noel” and “I Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

The second full show on this DVD is the “Christmas with the King Family Reunion Special,” from 2009. Mostly, it’s clips from the earlier three shows (including, yes, Rick surprising Alyce), and sometimes complete numbers, but it gives the viewer a chance to see how everyone grew up (i.e., aged) over the decades. Only two of the sisters are left at this point (the last one passed away 2013), but it’s nice to catch up. This probably isn’t one that the viewer will probably watch over and over, like the other three specials, but it’s a nice touch for the box set. Still, it’s interesting to think that many of the cousins in this reunion were probably older than their moms where in the earlier shows.

The extra for this disk is another Christmas themed black and white weekly show from December 25, 1965.

I didn’t grow up with Christmas, carols, or even Santa, and get tired of the Season pretty quickly (not to be confused with the holiday itself, as I said), but this was a nice escape into a world that doesn’t exist anymore except in memory for many.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Women of Power CD Reviews: Laura Cheadle and Kimm Rogers

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Where the strong women singers start their albums with the same few words...

 Kimm Rogers
Where the Pavement Grows

I’m not sure how I first became aware of Kimm Rogers, but I know it was when her first Island Records release, Soundtrack of My Life, was out in 1990. I fell in love it with it, and it’s one of the few song collections I own in more than two formats (LP, cassette, CD). First I gave a copy of it to my then girlfriend (now spouse), then passed it on to others as well; we all became fans. The video that came out of it was “Right By You.” Honestly, to me, it could have been a dartboard choice because every cut on it was worthy. They self-examine her place in life, both in a small focus and writ large.

One more full release on Island in 1992, Two Sides, also had a powerful video attached, ”Will Work For Food,” a political piece about the impoverished lives seen strewn around major cities.

And what do I enjoy and appreciate about Kimm? Many reasons, but essentially it’s that she has her own, unique voice, both figuratively and literally. Her vocals are distinctive, and is easily identifiable as hers, such as with the likes of Patti Smith, Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris. What’s more, she has a slightly different way of enunciation, with the push of certain syllables, and her songs bend in ways that are her own.   

Twenty-two years later, she has once again put her heart on the line with her latest, self-released Where the Pavement Grows.  Fortunately, as usual, all the songs here are her originals. There is a definite growth in song writing here, yet without losing anything that is what I have come to like about the singer-songwriter. A good example is “Twenty-Three,” which is sort of a mirror refection look back to the song “2-0-19,” from her first album. In the earlier, she wonders what life will look like in the future compared to the time, and in the more recent, she thinks back from today compared to when she was younger. This is just one of a number of up-beat numbers that will both have you thinking and tapping your foot. Even her mushy love ballads, such as “Rain,” and “Gravity” (the latter of which would make a great film theme song) keep your heart warm.  

Jazz and Rock musician Julian Coryell does magnificently in keeping Kimm’s voice in the front without losing any of the sounds backing her, many of which are played by himself. It’s crisp and the vocals are clear. Still, the big sounding “Eventually,” full of memorable lines like “I’m not killing time it’s killing me / I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be / Eventually,” never loses itself into excesses.

This is a very measured, seasoned release, taken from a different perspective from her earlier life, though obviously through the same eyes / style. There is growth, maturity in both lyrics and fluidity, even when looking at the harder aspects of existence, such as the title cut or the doubts of “Valentine’s Day.”

It may have taken over two decades for this to reach its present form, but it was worth the wait.  Check out the video below as a sample and then head on to her Website. Meanwhile, I’ll hope she’ll tour so I can finally get to see her perform live.

Laura Cheadle
Where the Blues Hangs Out
Bloozy Toonz Records

Another artist I have not yet had the opportunity to see live but am bidding my time is the luxuriously sounding Laura Cheadle. Don’t let the pictures of this young, white thang fool you; she can both blast the blues and R&B (and I mean the real stuff).

How do you know she’s solid? Well, for starts, she writes most of her own material, along with the Cheadle family who usually support her both in the formation and performing aspects. And yet you can imagine the likes of Ella or Bessie feeling at home with these tunes.

Then there is that voice. Not the gravel of, say, Janis, but more of a sexiness, late-night lovin’ vibe that relies strongly on her powerful vox, various keyboards and hot electric Northern Blues guitar style (Chicago/Detroit). Oh, and there is the occasional use of 20 Feet From Fame type backing boys or gals. Despite being a “home-grown” South Jersey recording, the production is slick without being slick, if ya know what I mean.

Many of Laura’s songs deal with love and loving, and her voice wanders the R&B scales without being a show-off about it (e.g., Mariah and Xtina, who I find boring for that reason despite their talent, unlike Laura). Whether she’s purring like on “The Best That It Could Feel,” shimmering as with “This Life Is Made to Dance,” or shattering on “Blue Sky” and the title cut opener, she will keep your attention.

Then there are numbers where she does it all, like the cover of Lil’ Son Jackson’s “Rock Me Baby” that would have fit on the stage of the Fillmore, both East and West (see video below). Her choice of covers is smart, such as a live version of T-Bone Walker’s “Call It Stormy Monday,” or the Gershwin/Howard standard, “Summertime.” The latter is done is a deep tone making it just sizzle, as it was meant to be. Sometimes in previous recordings she leans towards the sexual, but here she’s waist deep in the sensual.

Cheadle constantly pleases, with a voice that’s a mixture of honey and velvet, with a touch of vinegar. It’s also a bit timeless. I could imagine her singing in just about any era in the last 80 years or so. On the stage of the Cotton Club, the Apollo, the Blue Note, any jazz festival, or even Woodstock, she could find a place to be comfortable. That’s quite the range. For someone who is as prolific as she has been over the past few years, the quality of her work seems to be still on the incline. And I’m grateful.

Kimm Rogers:

Laura Cheadle:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

DVD Review: Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Looking for Johnny: The Legend of Johnny Thunders
Written and directed by Danny Garcia
Jungle Records
Chip Baker Films
98 minutes, 2014

A week before his first album was released, I became embroiled in an argument with Tom Petty over the use of the name “The Heartbreakers.” He insisted that he checked the New York band out and they weren’t going anywhere, and no one would care. Petty was both right and wrong. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers out sold Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers probably a million to one. But I have never seen a Tom Petty bootleg; there are hundreds of Johnny Thunders. I have never heard a guitarist say, “Man, I heard Petty play, and just wanted to form a band.” You would be hard pressed to find a guitarist these days who would not call Thunders’ an influence. How does one judge success?

For me, I saw Petty play twice (CBGBs and the Bottom Line). The Heartbreakers out of New York, in various forms, is probably the band I have seen more than anyone else (even more than the Ramones!). Most of the time it was at Max’s, and usually with Nancy Foster / Suzie Q / Nancy New Age / Nancy Neon (among her many handles), my musical sister if ever I had one, across the table.

Most of the shows Thunders was on fire (as was the rest of the band, but this film is about Johnny, so I’ll stick with him as the focus for now), flowing from song to song without stopping between, roaming the stage and spitting glances. Honestly, I’ve also seen some terrible shows; one that comes to mind is an Irving Plaza gig where he was so out of it that he couldn’t find the direction of the audience and had to be shown by underrated bandmate Walter Lure (the last surviving Heartbreakers member) which direction to face. Johnny couldn’t work his hands until a band member gave him something up his nose while on stage, and then he could either strum or finger the chords on his guitar, but not both. I saw more than one person in the audience literally cry that night.

The memorial for him in 1992 in New York was a blast. It was a gala affair with the likes of Lenny Kaye, Cheetah Chrome, Spacely, David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, and many other New York crème de la crème of the scene on stage and in attendance. I still have the tee-shirt from that night.

Today, the born in 1986 son of a good friend is a huge Thunders fan, and for him Johnny was the model of how to play. It doesn’t matter that there are those that are reviled by his questionable usage behavior or some of his off-stage antics. He was an on-stage role model, and that is why, in my opinion, that he has such a multitude of fans, both from the day and even now years after his controversial New Orleans demise in 1991.

At the halfway point of the film, we’ve met many of the main characters in both flashback and talking heads mode. There’s Actress, the New York Dolls and both versions of the Heartbreakers (Richard Hell and after, when they were at their “height”). Lots of notables who were around the scene at the time, and I kept thinking, damn, I’m glad they made this when they did. So many had already left this earth, including Billy Mercia (1971), Jerry Nolan (1992; last time I saw him play was at the Thunders memorial that same year), Arthur “Killer” Kane (2004; there is a great documentary about him as well, New York Doll), and Malcolm McLaren (2010; who is heard in voice interviews); and just as notable, too many died after being filmed for it, such as the great Billy Rath (2014), Marty Thau (2014) and ever lovable photographer and Heartbreakers’ manager Leee Black Childers (2014).

It is also noteworthy to see who doesn’t appear, such as David Johansen, Max Blatt, his kids, Richard Hell, and Patti Palladin.

But now let’s focus more on what the film has rather than lacks: the likes of musicians Lenny Kaye, Walter Lure (amusingly looking his most corporate and sounding his least deprecating; not meant as any kind of insult), Andy Shernoff (nee Adny) of the Dictators (other members of this also great group despised Thunders), Cynthia Ross (of the underrated B-Girls, and girlfriend of Stiv Bators), Bob Gruen (photographer who has some of the most biting and insightful comments about Thunders’ drug use) and other musicians who have played and worked with him across the globe.

Essentially this is a standard biography, chronologically following a musicians life, but Thunders loomed so large in the New York music scene, that he oozes out of every frame, making this his own in the same way he shared the stage with incredible musicians, such as Lure and the MC5’s Wayne Kramer, and each one of those groups are known as “Johnny Thunders and…” or “Johnny Thunders in…” He led an amazingly charmed albeit drug-addled career. The stories weaved by these (and other) musicians, friends and relatives are fascinating, and that’s what is the center focus of the tale.

While I enjoyed the first half of the film, it is at the center that it really starts to pick up for me. I mean, there are so many books and films about the Dolls that bleed into the Heartbreakers that I sat there enjoying the story, but it felt more like, “And…?” But after the break-up of the Heartbreakers, well, for me that’s where it becomes new and exciting; more films and interviews that I’ve never seen, including during his residency in Sweden, France and Germany.

At first I was annoyed that there was little mention about what a dick Thunders could be (Howie Pyro, who is interviewed here, has a great story in the deleted scenes about how he met Johnny), especially about money, but that is covered in this second part. Being the non-drug user I am, I was nervous about hanging around him and never did, but I loved being in the audience when he played, even the odd gigs like Girls Nite Out at the Ritz, or the Save PIX benefit at Irving Plaza.

The film touches on the mysteries surrounding his death, but thankfully doesn’t belabor it, because Thunders’ importance is music first, and then possibly fashion, and solid personality. There are no definitive answers about the circumstances around his demise, so the focus on his life feels more important. What made him tick, you might say, not what made him stop. I would rather hear about his short film career than what happened in New Orleans. That, it seems, should be a different film for another time.

In all, this is a loving but honest film about a troubled musician’s life, seen through the eyes of his friends, videos, performances, and conversations with the man, himself. If one were to look at just three albums from each phase of his life, the Dolls’ first release, The Heartbreakers’ L.A.M.F., and the solo So Alone, one could stop and be satisfied, but there is so much more.

I remember standing in the kitchen of Boston musician and publicist Joe Viglione in the first half of the 1980s, and talking to music producing legend Jimmy Miller (a Brooklyn boy, FYI) about working with Thunders for the French label, Red Rose Records. I could have asked him about the Stones, but Thunders was my interest. That says a lot.

The extras are pretty good from end to end. They include a Behind the Scenes, which is mostly a radio interview with the director on a New Orleans radio station mixed with some deleted scenes, which is about 9 minutes long. This shouldn’t be confused with the actual 20-minute Deleted Scenes, all of which is interviews that didn’t make the final cut, but which are all interesting and worth a view. There are two live songs including the Heartbreakers doing the Lure classic “All By Myself,” and a bluesy music video by ex-Oddballs (a band he was in with Thunders) Stevie Klasson called, well, “Looking for Johnny.” Along with the trailer, there is a short film about a guitar-maker who designs Thunders-modeled electrics.

This is an excellent documentary, and does really well in placing the importance of Johnny Thunders on an international stage, in a wider expanse than one would normally envision for a kid from Queens. Take that, Tom Petty.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

DVD Reviews: Two Joel Gilbert Films about that Commie, Obama

Taken at a market in Xi'an, China (pic: Robert Barry Francos)
Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet (unless indicated)
Highway 61 Entertainment

Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception
Written, produced and directed by Joel Gilbert
95 minutes, 2012

Have you ever seen a Joel Gilbert Film before? I’ve had the opportunity to experience three of them: one is Elvis Found Alive (2012) [Reviewed HERE] and another is Paul McCartney Really Is Dead: The Last Testament of George Harrison (2010) [Reviewed HERE]. Needless to say, most of the time Gilbert is full of shit in an enjoyable way. Now, these two fake documentaries are interesting and fun, especially if you already know the history to pick out the mistakes (and some are doozies). He also did a Dylan documentary with his own twist with Dylan Revealed (2010) [reviewed HERE].

Essentially, Gilbert’s shtick is to have someone verbally impersonate the person who is the subject of the film, and then tell the story as first person. Of course, what the impersonator is saying is not the person of topic’s words, but Gilbert’s. This could be amusing, and I have found it usually is. His Elvis impersonator was right on, but his George Harrison was cartoonish. Honestly, I can’t even remember how the Dylan sounded.

This leads us to this so-called documentary of the early life of President Barak Hussein Obama, who took over after the destruction of the economy by his predecessor. The film plays into all the fears of the Republican non-think points, of how Obama is associated with communists, home-grown terrorists, and socialists to bring down the country. Okay, this doesn’t align with the “birther” twits, though it does claim he was born in Washington State rather than Hawaii.

Using his familiar style, Gilbert has the voice over, breaks the film into “chapters,” and uses snippets (sometimes only playing the part of a sentence that furthers his pre-fabricated case), newsreels and stock footage. He doesn’t, however, actually interview anyone himself, but rather uses conjecture that furthers his point. My issue is that he has the data to support his conclusion, rather than arriving at the conclusion from the data. This can be foolhardy; FOXNews level dangerous, as they use the same method.

Using Obama’s own book, Dreams From My Father as a launch pad, the film posits that Obama’s real father was African-American communist poet / journalist Frank Marshall Davis (d. 1987). We “hear” a narrator that is supposed to be quoting Obama but sounds nothing like him (by Ed Law) describe the political life of Marshall and his attraction to communism, and attributes a large amount of the ‘50s “red scare” to Marshall’s group. We also hear how Obama’s maternal grandfather worked for the CIA (in the real Obama book, he says he was a furniture salesman), so when Mama Obama supposedly gets “in that way” by Marshall, a Kenyan college student funded by the CIA to study in Hawaii and fight communists agrees to marry Obama’s mother on the condition he gets some moolah and has no responsibility. Of course, Obama grows up and hangs out with Marshall, adopting his politics, according to this theory.

One aspect the film focuses in on at this point is the “Red” part, but ignores the “Scare” section. Driven by Republican paranoia (led by Senator Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon), people were seeing anything it imagines as communist or socialist leanings as the destruction of the moral fabric of America (sound familiar?). Let me state here that I am neither a communist nor a socialist, though I believe in many social programs. In the same way black integration in schools and the introduction of rock and roll were vilified by right wing pundits, they put the fear of change (or even the possibility of a hint of it) as the destruction of life as we knew it. I still remember drills in school where we had to hide under our desks in case we in Brooklyn were bombed, or stand in the hallway for the possibility it was a nuclear attack. Robert Klein has a funny routine about his on his Child of the ‘50s album, but I digress…

One moment that made me laugh is Obama goes to Chicago, and is associated by locale to Saul Alinsky’s (d. 1972; misspelled in the film as “Alinksy”) book, Rules for Radicals, where he connects “change” with “socialism.” Of course, Obama’s theme for his first run at the presidency was Change, so obviously he must have meant socialism. Now look, when I was an undergrad, as well as being in the Hillel club, a Jewish organization for which I barely attended, I also joined the strongly Christian based Newman Club, because there were some very cute coeds in it (not that it did me any good). Because of my dual affiliation, though not based in any real devotion, the Jews for Jesus club hounded me to join. I understand that just because you are around something does not mean you are associated with that belief. The Blank Generation days were filled with substance abuse, but I nursed a bottle of Bud from 10 pm to 3 am. There were people who assumed I was on drugs because I was so thin, but again, that had nothing to do with reality [HERE]. Similarly, whether or not people such as Bill Ayres, Alinsky or Reverend Wright were around Obama, does not mean that he agrees with their philosophies. Or maybe it does. I don’t know Obama personally to say.

One of the points hammered home is Obama’s association with far left politicians, questionable business people, and “patrons.” Try and find someone in politics that is not associated with those who are using politicians for their own means (can you say Cheney and Halliburton?). Even Republican shill and icon (who was a joke at the time but lauded now) Ronnie Reagan was surrounded by those who were out to destroy democracy for their own vision of capitalism. But because it’s “capitalism” and not “socialism,” it must be for the good, right? Remember when the Reagan administration union busted and fired the airport workers (and then, ironically, had an airport named after him)? If you want to see how this all works, check out the Robert Redford film The Candidate (1972; trailer HERE).

This film is obviously flawed because it comes from a conclusion of paranoia and Republican wrongheadedness. Gilbert’s early films about music subjects were harmless and amusing. I found this to be less so, because of the level of fear mongering about Obama specifically and Democrats in general that make the points made here less than benign. If this had come out after the next presidential election when it had no bite, that would be fine, but I am not impressed by the timing (cashing in?) of this.

What amazes me (not in a good way) about this film is that everything they are claiming about Obama – bankrupting the country, taking away retirement funds, making the middle class disappear, etc. – has already been tried… by the Republicans since Ronnie, and especially under little Georgie W.

It’s kind of devious and almost subliminal how every time Davis is mentioned, it is emphasized not as “my father,” but “my real father.” Also, even more subtly, very often when there is an image of Obama, it is split-screened with Davis in a similar pose, as if to say, “see!?!?” No, I don’t think he looks like Davis nor Obama Sr. He looks like his mother, with a mixture of African-American features that could be either. For example, yes, he has eyes that are similar to Davis, but he also has lips that are similar to Obama Sr. But if you put his picture next to his mother, you can tell the family resemblance.

With the “immigrant” fear (Gilbert has them referred to as “illegals” here, something Obama would never do), there is a strong level of racism here. “Obama” even refers to himself as “the first Affirmative Action president.” Really, Joel? That shows your true colors (pun intended) more than anything I can add.

So, again, unlike the Harrison and Elvis predecessors, this film takes conjecture for fact (as opposed to fantasy), which makes it an opinion piece rather than a historical document. What makes it dangerous is that there are a host of people who believe this crap. Did you know that most people in the South who were polled said that Obama was to blame for the result of Katrina? FOXNews is out to dupe the world into thinking Right wing ideology is the only belief system, but ignorance is not bliss, it’s damaging.

There’s No Place Like Utopia
Written, produced and directed by Joel Gilbert
110 minutes, 2014

In his latest film and slam-a at Obama, director Joel Gilbert takes a different route for once, and does a Michael Moore by making himself the central character of the piece. Well, perhaps a reverse of Moore, since he is a renowned Leftie, and Gilbert shows himself on the extreme Right.

Using the framework of Oz being an Utopia, Gilbert fashions the charlatan Wizard of Oz as Barak Obama, who promises us an impossible dream (i.e., philosophers say there can be no such place as Utopia, literally translated as “no place”).

The entire opening sequence, where Gilbert walks around the Hollywood and Vine area asking star impersonators “Why did Dorothy go to Oz?” is, well, a waste. Okay, we get the premise, so put your ego back in your pants, and get on with it, dude. You don’t like Obama, you envision him as the Wiz and “his” America as a Utopia much like Oz, we get it; now explain why. And what is this subtly equating Michelle with the Wicked Witch of the West by juxtapositioning her with an image of the 1961 television cartoon version of the Baum story, Tales of the Wizard of Oz?

One aspect that Gilbert seems blind to is that every leader, including Ronnie, promises a Utopia (“Tear down that wall!!”), not only for here, but for everywhere. Remember Georgie W.’s promise to bring “democracy” to Iraq? Why doesn’t Gilbert consider that a promise of Utopia? Oh, yeah, it’s not Obama.

What most Republicans – especially the poor ones – don’t seem to understand is that so many grew up within the Red Scare or influenced by those who were, that the very thought of a socialistic program designed to help even them seems un-American and anti-Capitalist. Well, here’s a shock for you: unabated capitalism is potentially more dangerous to the average person than either socialism or communism. Think monopolies and how unregulated corporations will do their best to strip you of everything you own or are. Some of the richest corporations (e.g., Walmart, Best Buy) complain about paying a decent wage so many workers are still forced on social programs, but put much of their money in off-shore accounts to keep from paying taxes. And those who pulled the lever for the Red rather than the Blue in central areas of this fine country are voting against their own self interests in their fear of America possibly helping those who need it. Yes, there will always be those who abuse the system, but the majority are desperate and cannot survive without some assistance. There is a strong current of xenophobia also present, as “Hispanics” = “illegals” who are supposedly paid off to vote for Obama. There is no positive message here about African-Americans nor Latinos.

In a move of complete hypocrisy, Gilbert goes to the Martin Luther King memorial, as if to say, see, there are good Black people who have ideals. But if you do your research, you will find that King was anti-capitalist, and was considered a socialist in his day. No mention of that, just a way to say “some of my best friends are…, so I’m not…”

When interviewing Chinese college student near the White House, he mocks the name Beijing Normal University. There are many Normal schools even in the United States. If he had done his homework rather than jumping on something he doesn’t understand, he would find out that a Normal school is where they instruct people how to be teachers. It’s common term around the world. I had the pleasure this past summer to teach a class in Media Theory (Gilbert would be the perfect example of a Monopoly of Power as he only shows one side of any argument) at Shaanxi Normal University, in Xi’an. Asking someone from China to say something publicly against the government is just plain ridiculous. China, Russia, and other countries that are “Socialist” or “Communist” play by their own rules, and asking someone to go against that endangers them, which is hardly fair to them to make your own point. For example, I would not ask a Palestinian to make a comment against Gaza on the air, or someone who is returning to Iran to comment on their leaders.

Gilbert gleefully finds people who live here who are willing to speak out against the governments of China and Russia, and even a dissident against Obama’s policies. You can do that in America. Comparing us to anyone else, even Canada, is a big mistake. Policy is another story. Obama is trying to get health care like Canada, and meanwhile the Right leaning Canadian government is trying to privatize their health care system like the Americans, so corporate health care cannot just strive, but can afford to PAC their politicians.

Gilbert comments how Mao let 50 million of his citizens die of starvation. Well, capitalist America did the same thing to the American Indians/First Nations population. Of course, he doesn’t mention this, making it seem like it happened in China and Russia because they were communist. No, they were power mad (ego), not ideological. And Gilbert talks about labor camps in those countries, but does he mention about how the capitalist US starting with Tricky Dickey industrialized the prison system to keep a cheap labor force, earning less than a dollar an hour? No. Any mention of the Georgie W. led depression of 2008 where people lost both jobs and homes? No. He shows the poverty of African-Americans in Detroit and South Chicago. Does he mention that majority of people who are on welfare and food stamps are actually white people below the Mason-Dixon? And that many people who work for some of the richest companies of the world need to be on sustenance to survive because their low wages are not enough, and this is pure capitalism? No. He only interviews (or is interviewed by) people who are Tea Party leaners, with no comment from anyone who might disagree with him. Did I mention Monopolies of Power?

Gilbert takes us to the slums of Detroit, which one pundit here calls “the perfect Democrat city.” While interviewing a resident, the interviewee comments that it was a vibrant area until the factories closed down. Gilbert fails to mention that part of the reason they closed down was because unregulated capitalism (aka free capitalism) sent the factories overseas to find cheaper labor, giving a larger profit to the rich and taking the neighborhood away from the working class. Even so, did you know that if you earn more than $20,000 a year, in the rest of the world you are part of the 1%? Scary. Gilbert does not mention that.

Here it is in a nutshell that I have been aware of since I was a teen: capitalism, socialism and communism all have one aspect in common, and that is there is no such thing as a perfect system, and the larger the population, the more this is true.

Meanwhile, while Gilbert is talking about how “Socialistic” Obama is out to destroy America, the stock market is better than ever and continually breaking records, unemployment is way down, people have health care, and the country is better off than it even was for Clinton. Damn that America-destroying Obama for getting us out of the hole the Republicans put us into! He’s not a capitalist? Explain the “don’t touch Monsanto” rulings, dude.

Towards the end of the film, one ex-business owner from Detroit says the reason for the problems there is due to the EPA changing the regulations so “what was legal became illegal.” Excuse me, but lowering emissions was the right way to go. Have you ever been to New Delhi? Beijing? You can’t see more than a few years ahead because, in part, of poor emissions standards. I don’t need to see my air, thank you. And some Russian émigré claims that socialists are less productive than capitalists, while images of the Obamas on the cover of magazines and golfing are splayed. Now remind me again of how many days Barak took vacation vs. his predecessor? Who’s not productive again?

At a visit at a Newark public city council meeting, it is posited that if you have a dissenting voice, you are silenced. The film makes it seem like this is an Obama-ism. Actually, Obama takes questions from any- and everyone. To interview George W., you had to be invited, and he only let in those who agreed with him. As for Newark, well, it’s Newark. Talk to Gov. Christie about that, if you can. Also, I love that they talk about Obama’s “voting fraud” by getting people registered to vote. Georgie Bush stole an election by rigging it and denying many voters at the polls, and Obama is wrong for getting people to the polls. Unbelievable.

The second biggest problem with this film (the first being its misguided message, of course), and this would be true no matter what Gilbert’s leaning, is that as much as he’s trying to be a response to Michael Moore, he just can’t cut it. He does not have the – er – large personality of Moore, nor the balls to stand up to those who disagree with him, something present in all Moore’s releases. With the exception of going to the Ayres house and leaving a DVD by the door when no one answers the bell, and giving Michelle’s mom a copy at well at her modest home in Chicago (we never actually see her), Gilbert mostly gravitates towards those who agree with his rhetoric. This is by no means fair and balanced.

One impressive thing Gilbert has done was to find a woman who famously enthused about Obama on a newscast at an Obama speech, and asked her opinions now, which have obviously changed (why else would she be here?).

My big question that one that no one can truthfully answer because it is impossible: “Do you honestly believe it would have been better under Romney?!” My answer is hell, no.

I’m hoping he has this out of his system now, and will go back to music mockumentaries. To use Joel Gilbert’s own analogy, this film was a Toto.


Bonus video: