Monday, November 15, 2010

Bruce Springsteen- The Promise (Columbia Records)

In 1978, following a hiatus that was brought on by legal wrangling with his former manager, Bruce Springsteen released Darkness on the Edge of Town, after spending a couple of grueling years in the studio grinding out an over-flowing notebook worth of songs.
Not so much a concept album, Darkness is a collection of songs that played out a storytellers thematic thread. The ten tracks that made the final cut, were selected to fit the emotional ride that Springsteen wanted to take listeners on.

What was left in the vault was a collection of songs that became hits for other artists, tracks on later Bruce discs, staples of E Street Band live sets or coveted pieces of audio candy for bootleg collectors.

Twenty-one of those leftovers have been collected and released as a two CD set entitled The Promise and a collectors version The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story which features the two Promise discs; plus the complete Darkness on the Edge of Town CD and three DVDs including the documentary The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town plus a couple of discs worth of mid-to-late seventies live performances culled from a variety of locales.

Gravitating to the familiar is an easy way to wade into The Promise. Even those who aren’t hardcore Springsteen fans will recognize songs like Because the Night, which was a hit for Patti Smith. Springsteen’s original rendition replaces Smith’s plaintive wail with a haunting guitar buried deep in the mix.
While the band’s live version and the Pointer Sister’s cover of Fire tends towards smoldering, this studio version here features a more up tempo, syncopated rhythm. The band’s take on Talk to Me in a note for note recreation of the Southside Johnny and Asbury Jukes version.

Less familiar is the reading of Rendezvous, which was covered by Greg Kihn, one of the multitude of pretenders to the mantle of being the next Springsteen. The version here is pure E Street Band, no mistaking the sonic signature.

Listening through the entire song cycle, I’m struck by the fact that while much of what is collected here is good, if not great, much of it would have been out of place on Darkness.After watching the documentary of what went into the recording process it was clear that Springsteen had evolved as an artist to the point where he had a very clear vision of what he was looking for when building the elements that made up the record as a whole.

While it may have originally been left off for the sake of balance, The Promise would have been the song that made the best fit for the overall theme and feel of Darkness.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Brad Thor- Foreign Influence

If you’re like me and you care deeply about the security of this country and its people, then you’ll likely join me in the hope that somewhere out there, there is a guy or better yet a group of them just like Scot Harvath fighting on our behalf.

Harvath is the highly skilled, tough guy who is the lead character in Brad Thor’s ongoing series of thrillers. The latest installment, Foreign Influence, finds Harvath once again squaring off with Islamist terrorists, in a clocks-ticking race to prevent a calamitous terrorist attack.

Some may scoff at the good versus evil plot lines, but there is a reason why Thor was selected to serve on the Department of Homeland Security’s analytic Red Cell program, he laces his stories with straightforward facts about the Jihadis and their hated for the west, along with a dose of the difficult reality that we won’t be able to stop every attack. Harvath more often than not gets put into action following a terrorist attack, or for you fans of the current administration, a “man-made disaster.”

Through this series, Harvath has made his way through an alphabet soup of government agencies, but now finds himself moving into the realm of the private contractor, where highly skilled operators move out of government work and turn around and sell those skills back to the government. This process frees them from the squeamish and the second-guessers who run government oversight and decry the tough actions needed to fight our enemies.

Foreign Influence has an “it’s a small world” approach to weaving and connecting the story lines that send the reader careening to a fiery conclusion. Along the way we get introduced to Harvath’s new co-workers, a group of equally-skilled, though much hotter, female operators dubbed the Athena Team. Later this month the ladies will launch what could be Thor’s new series, with the release of the new book, The Athena Project.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Best Thing I've Heard Lately

I'm a big fan of the Web show Live From Daryl's House not just because the music of Hall & Oates is one of my guilty pleasures, shoot me...I'm a fan of blue-eyed soul...but I also love people who can actually play their instruments and don't need some lame-ass Autotune computer program to sing.

The other great thing about the show is Daryl Hall's electic tastes when it comes to the artists he invites into his humble, Upstate New York abode. Over the course of the 35 shows he has touched on classics like Smokey Robinson, Todd Rundgren and Toots and the Maytals to up and comers like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Finger Eleven.

The October episode features Fitz and the Tantrums, a high energy blue-eyed soul crew that smokes. While I don't get the bizarre, skunk stripe frontman Fitz sports, but I do get the fact the he and backing vocalist Noelle Scaggs can flat out sing.

Pickin' Up the Pieces the band's first full-length album, features a real throwback feel that comes courtesy, not of a big-time, high tech studio, but right from Fitz's living room. This is not stripped down, DIY affair, but a full-blown production full of horny horns and rip it up stompers.

Need convincing? Check out the band's website and snag a free download of the record's best track MoneyGrabber.