What you're about to read is a collection of pointers to some of the music I've discovered on the iTunes Music Store, music I like enough that I want to share it. If you're an iPod owner and an iTunes fan (and if you aren't, what are you doing here?), maybe you'll find something new. Click on any of the CD covers to bounce over to the store and sample a few tracks. And then maybe stop by my other blog for a few well chosen words (and maybe a random snark or two).RSS feed
All the music (502)
  Alternative (67)
   Audiobook (10)
    Blues (3)
     Children's Music (5)
      Classical (28)
       Comedy (10)
        Country (21)

  Dance (4)
   Easy Listening (2)
    Electronic (13)
     Folk (27)
      French Pop (1)
       German Folk (1)
        German Pop (1)

  Hip-Hop/Rap (2)
   Holiday (5)
    Jazz (35)
     Latin (4)
      New Age (8)
       Podcast (5)
        Pop (72)

  R&B/Soul (4)
   Reggae (4)
    Rock (105)
     Soundtrack (32)
      Spoken Word (1)
       Vocal (15)
        World (15)

Have some music to recommend? I can always use a few pointers. Use the comments link at the bottom of the page.
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Wed, 22 Aug 2007

High School Musical 2 / Original Soundtrack
High School Musical 2 As I type this, the sequel to Disney's insanely successful High School Musical is still a few hours away from broadcast. That means I'm reviewing without having seen the program or listened to more than a couple of minutes of the music. Still, lack of knowledge doesn't imply lack of opinion. So here we go...

I'm not a big fan of what Disney has done to Broadway. I liked Beauty and the Beast, in a "don't expect much" kind of way. I was totally underwhelmed by The Lion King; I thought the innovative staging was undermined by mediocre music and a superficial story of talking animals. (Somehow talking cutlery didn't seem as ridiculous. Go figure.)

But High School Musical raised Lion King to high art by comparison. This story of incredibly attractive teens who resist being labeled as the best ever at one thing, because they want to be seen as the best ever at everything is, from my aged perspective, a terrible lesson for impressionable kids. (And adults for that matter.) As with every production aimed at kids, the adults are either morons or monomaniacal villains, and generally both. And kids manage to resolve all their differences and see the errors of their ways by the final curtain. If it weren't so relentlessly upbeat (and so completely divorced from any reality I've ever experienced or observed), it would depress the hell out of me.

Still, this isn't about art, and it isn't an Afterschool Special. It's Disney doing what they do best and worst: creating a fantasy world that's brighter and cheerier and far more desirable than reality ever was. And making a couple of tons of money in the process. Oh, and giving us the next generation of Britneys and Christinas. Anybody want to take bets on which Musical star will be the first in rehab?

[ Category: Soundtrack | 2 comments | Link ]

Mon, 13 Aug 2007

Scrubs: My Musical / Original Cast
Scrubs: My Musical Hmmmm... here's a challenge. How should I review this, the album of the soundtrack of the episode of the show Scrubs? (There's a Monty Python joke in there. But not a very good one, so don't worry if it slipped right by you.) See, here's the thing. I've never been a big fan of Scrubs, although I don't know why. And I love musicals, so I should have sought out their musical episode long before this, especially when I found out that the creators of Avenue Q are the talent behind it. Once More, With Feeling is probably my favorite hour in the Jossverse, so having the cast of another show break into song should be just my thing. And yet...

So here I sit, considering the album of the episode. And the first thought that arrives is the one that most of the reviewers on iTunes point out: who's gonna be stupid enough to pay ten dollars for the audio of an episode they can have for two? Which, you have to admit, is a pretty good question. And it did get me to buy the episode, if only to show my contempt for Hollywood Records' attempt to get another eight. Huh. And now I've paid for something I could have seen for free. Maybe they're not the stupid ones here.

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Fri, 03 Aug 2007

The Quiet Man / Dublin Screen Orchestra
The Quiet Man They don't make movies like this any more, and it's probably just as well. We're far too sophisticated for such a drippy and romantic (to say nothing of neanderthal) depiction of Irish culture. Was it ever like this, or only in John Ford's feverish imagination? But whatever the truth, even we sophisticates can enjoy being strangers in a strange land.

And a big part of the magic of this particular fantasy is the music, here performed by full orchestra some forty years after The Quiet Man. It's movie music of a particularly compelling style, which works rather well without the movie. That's not always the case, as I discovered a few years back at a very special concert by (I think) the now shuttered San Jose Symphony. They chose selections from films, playing scenes on a screen behind the orchestra and then performing the accompanying music. It was kind of awkward, I thought. Maybe it's better this way.

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Wed, 25 Jul 2007

The Simpsons Movie - The Music / Hans Zimmer
The Simpsons Movie - The Music Yeah, like you really need me to tell you about this one.
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Fri, 13 Apr 2007

The Scarlet Pimpernel / Original Broadway Cast
The Scarlet Pimpernel I love The Scarlet Pimpernel, both for its importance as the first of the "hero with a secret identity" stories that inspired comic books and much else I hold dear (it predates Zorro by more than a decade) and for the troubled romance that is at its heart. So when I learned it was being staged as a musical on Broadway, I couldn't wait. And I wasn't disappointed; it's full of action, danger, laughs and that romance stuff.

Unfortunately, the critics didn't agree with me; they were savage in their lack of appreciation. And what they say goes, at least in this case. The play got rejiggered, which didn't help, and closed before long. I saw the not-really-improved version in a touring company version, and can't say I was impressed by the changes in the book, the music or the cast.

But I still love the Pimpernel. Especially the music, which ranges from stately (my ring tone, by the way) to heroic to obsessive to wistfully and desperately sad to the kind of dopey that screams of aristocratic inbreeding. Great stuff, no matter what the critics may have thought.

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Wed, 21 Jun 2006

Everwood / Original Television Soundtrack
Remember back in high school when there was always some kid who became a pariah for ruining the curve by outscoring everyone else on tests? I like to think of myself as that "too smart for the room" guy, although if we're being honest, there were some folks who left me in their dust. Anyway, maybe that was the problem with Everwood, a show that just ended a four year run on the teen-obsessed WB. Was it too smart for the room? One can't help but draw that conclusion, especially knowing that a last second decision to bring 7th Heaven back from the dead is what caused the WB to cancel it. And to add insult to injury, we true fans have only one season of the show on DVD and this pretty mediocre collection of songs from those early, beardless Treat Williams episodes. Mostly they're covers, the cheap way of getting popular songs on episodic television. And hardly the best covers at that. The one exception, to both the coverness and the mediocrity, is Jump Little Children's Cathedrals, a song that matched perfectly one of those "Oh, no! They can't do that!" moments that Everwood did so well.

Everwood was a WB show in at least that one respect: its ability to make excellent use of music to enhance its drama. Sadly, it looks like that will be what keeps the later seasons from showing up on video. Hard to believe that in the 21st century a studio could miss negotiating video rights to songs when they're doing the broadcast rights. Hart to believe but, unless the studio is lying to us, all too true.

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Wed, 07 Jun 2006

A Prairie Home Companion / Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
I really, really hope this movie doesn't suck.

I'm a fan of Garrison Keillor's homespun radio humor; I've spent more than a few hours listening to him tell stories of a place that never was and we wouldn't like if we found it was real. There's a gentleness to the show, the storytelling and the plays and the songs. I'm curious to see how it'll translate to film. And dreading it as well.

But at least we get the album. And that's pretty good. It's a little more star-studded than the radio show. And they probably took more than one take to get it right, not that the radio show seems to have suffered from the demands of live performance. The best compliment I can pay to the album is that it sounds like a particularly good episode of the show. And that's nice, mostly. Which is a Powdermilk Biscuit reference. But then you knew that, didn't you?

A Prairie Home Companion
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Fri, 07 Apr 2006

Television's Greatest Hits: 70s & 80s
Jeez, what a rip!

What's he ranting about?, I hear you cry. Okay, I don't actually hear that. And even if I did, and could, it's at least a few days between when I write this stuff and anybody sees it. So unless I have a portal through time (and judging by the performance of my stock portfolio, I don't), I couldn't possibly be hearing you say much of anything. But I digress.

I'm a child of television. So when I encountered the first of these Television's Greatest Hits CDs, I was in heaven. And now they're here on the iTMS. But not in a good way. 'Cause you see, what I probably paid fourteen or fifteen dollars for back in the mists of early CDdom (or CDness, if you prefer) isn't what you get for $11.99. No, this album is a tiny fraction of the original, with a mere eighteen of the original disc's sixty-five (count 'em!) tracks.

Do you still wonder at my rantitude? I'm thinking not. (Which, contrary to stories I've heard, were not Rene Descartes' last words. Although they should have been.)

Television's Greatest Hits: 70s & 80s
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Mon, 03 Apr 2006

Mr. & Mrs. Smith / Original Soundtrack
First an important admission: I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to. I ended up here courtesy of Coverville, which recently played an amazing and creepy version of Que Sera Sera, that old chestnut that Doris Day sang in The Man Who Knew Too Much and which has been her theme song ever since. This version was by Pink Martini and is sadly unavailable on the iTMS. In fact, the only Pink Martini I could find here were a podcast en français and a rather lovely song called Let's Never Stop Falling In Love. From this very soundtrack. (Very what soundtrack?, I hear you ask.) A soundtrack that also includes cool renditions of Nobody Does It Better and I'll Melt With You, along with various other covers and the odd original. Very odd, in the case of The Captain & Tennille. Which is an entertainment couple about whom I prefer to say nothing. Kind of like the stars of the film, now that I think about it. Mr. & Mrs. Smith
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Fri, 17 Feb 2006

Capote - The Album / Truman Capote & Mychael Danna
Capote - The Album Capote is a strange film, not a biopic but a retelling of one period of Truman Capote's life: the time when he wrote In Cold Blood. But it's not that either, not exactly. Because it's also about the killers, and Capote's relationship with them, and with the people in his own life, and the way that creating his one great work would destroy him. So in a way it's about Capote's life, or at least what that life was to become.

So perhaps it's appropriate that Capote - The Album is something other than a traditional movie soundtrack. We're used to collections of songs and incidental music. We're even used to albums that combine the music with dialogue, which I first encountered with the soundtrack to Robert Altman's M*A*S*H. But this may be a first: an album that combines the music from the film with the subject of that film reading from the book whose writing is depicted in that film. And somewhat in the way that the movie of Capote recreates some of the look and the structure of In Cold Blood, the album brings together the cinematic and the real life Truman. Which one is more compelling and more penetrable I leave to the reader.

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Wed, 08 Feb 2006

Avenue Q / Original Broadway Cast
Avenue Q Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but I always seem to enjoy a musical more when I walk in knowing some of the music. This was really brought home to me a couple of weeks ago, when on a trip to New York I saw Avenue Q, Spamalot, Mamma Mia and The Lion King. I've listened to the cast albums of three of the four, missing only the latter. And enjoyed three out of four. Which may be familiarity, or it may be that, impressive staging and costumes aside, I'm not much impressed by Disney's approach to theater, no matter how fabulously successful it is.

What's interesting is that listening to the album before seeing the show doesn't spoil it. In all three cases, in fact in nearly every case I can think of, hearing the songs in context makes them richer and more interesting, indeed even more entertaining. Even a number like The Internet is for Porn, which is both funny and true on record, is worlds better when it's both seen and heard. Which is my way of encouraging you to both listen to and see this Rent-meets-Sesame Street (but definitely not for children) production. Puppet sex has to be seen to be believed, especially when the puppets only exist from the waist up!

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Mon, 06 Feb 2006

The Music of Henry Mancini / Richard Hayman and His Orchestra
With the Steve Martin remake of The Pink Panther about to arrive in theaters (and, I have little doubt, about to depart almost as quickly), I'm reminded most forcefully that there really is such a thing as a generation gap. Not the chasm my younger sister once claimed between the two of us, a gap that was (and is) a mere two years, eight months and a few days. No, I speak of a larger gap, as evidenced by a story that when some twentysomethings heard about the movie, they wondered if the panther of the title was going to be CGI like Garfield and Scooby Doo. It seems this younger generation equates The Pink Panther to the cartoons, and perhaps that series of fibreglass insulation ads, and not the Blake Edwards flicks that started it all. It's a little like describing The Beatles as Paul's band before Wings.

But I suppose I should say something about this album. I like Mancini's music in the context of the movies that inspired it. And if the performances here are rather on the Muzak-y side, well, so were the originals. If you don't know some of these, go hit Blockbuster. Or wait for TCM to run them. It'll be worth it. Mostly.

The Music of Henry Mancini
[ Category: Soundtrack | 1 comment | Link ]

Wed, 18 Jan 2006

Farscape (Music from the Original Soundtrack) / Guy Gross
If you've visited any of the other pages on my website, you may have discovered my secret shame. Yes, it's true: I'm a Scaper. I discovered Farscape back in 1999 when it was first being broadcast on the Sci Fi Channel. Well, to be more accurate I had it discovered for me. But whichever it was, I was hooked early on. And it's been a part of my life ever since.

Now that Farscape is in syndication, there's a chance for a whole new audience to become as addicted as I. And if that should happen to you, you'll need to buy the soundtrack. If only to convert the main theme to a ringtone for your cell phone. That way when it rings and people wonder what the heck is playing, you can start the inevitable conversation about the most remarkable show ever made. Hey, I told you it was addictive!

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Fri, 09 Dec 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Patrick Doyle
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire I don't envy Patrick Doyle's challenge in composing music for this fourth Harry Potter film. Following in the footsteps of John Williams would be hard, but creating a score that uses Williams' themes but sounds fresh and new; that's a frightening task. As I wrote in my other blog, I think Goblet of Fire is easily the best of the films; where the first two were reverent to a fault, and the third took some tentative steps, here we finally have a film that's as exciting and disconcerting as J.K. Rowling's books. And Doyle's music is a big part of that. Somehow he makes a full orchestra sound just a little bit irreverent. Just the thing as Harry and friends embrace teendom.
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Mon, 28 Nov 2005

Xena: Warrior Princess (The Bitter Suite) / Joseph LoDuca
I miss Xena. I even miss Hercules, at least a little. If Andromeda teaches us anything, it teaches us to appreciate Kevin Sorbo for what he's good at. And space opera ain't it.

Granted, I don't miss Xena as much as I do Buffy. Or Angel. And I'd rather one new episode of Farscape than a whole season of mock Greek legend. But you have to give props to any show that takes creative risks. Like musical episodes. Xena did two; this one was the more original. And if it isn't nearly the triumph of Once More, With Feeling, it still made for an entertaining hour. Which I guess will have to do until Veronica Mars does their own musical. After all, Kristen Bell already has quite the history in musical theater.

Xena: Warrior Princess (The Bitter Suite)
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Mon, 14 Nov 2005

Serenity / David Newman
I'm a pretty serious Joss Whedon fan. I own all seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel and the one season of Firefly on DVD. I even bought the Buffy movie just to have the complete set. Which turns out to have been a mistake; the movie isn't interesting enough to be dreadful. But I digress.

The point is that I'm a fan. I caught Serenity on opening day, driving two hours to Sacramento just so I could see it with an appropriate audience. And I have to say that this soundtrack album leaves me seriously underwhelmed. Not because the music doesn't work in the context of the film, but because that's the only way it works. It's all cues and setup for some pretty exciting action. But as a listening experience I find it lacking. Guess we'll just have to wait for the DVD to show up. I hear they're talking right before Christmas...

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Wed, 12 Oct 2005

Veronica Mars / Original Television Soundtrack
Veronica Mars is a Buffy for a new decade.

I read recently that Joss Whedon's a huge Veronica fan, to the extent that he's supposed to do a guest shot in the new season. Not really a surprise; Veronica's a show Joss might have produced. It's stylish, darkly funny, incisive, smart, surprising, visually stunning and, more relevant to this discussion, musically interesting. Not in the au courant sense of The O.C., at least not exclusively. More in the way Buffy and Angel used different songs in different styles to enhance the storytelling.

I don't want to overstate the similarities between Veronica and Buffy. But they're both rich entertainment. And they're both great ways to discover new and exciting music.

Veronica Mars
[ Category: Soundtrack | 1 comment | Link ]

Wed, 24 Aug 2005

Gypsy / Original Broadway Cast
Gypsy There's a bit on one of the Forbidden Broadway CDs (sadly, not one the iTMS carries yet) where Phantom star Michael Crawford is abused by the ghost of Ethel Merman over his reliance on modern technology to project his voice to the second balcony. Ethel Merman didn't need no stinkin' microphones, as this 1959 recording of Gypsy makes clear. They had voices in those days, to misquote Norma Desmond. Ms. Merman was good and loud; Lena Lamont would surely have approved.
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Mon, 18 Jul 2005

Bond & Beyond / Erich Kunzel & Cincinnati Pops
Bond & Beyond Many, many years ago a friend and I were regular visitors to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which was a chance to see and sometimes play with all manner of electronic wonderfulness. Back then the show was limited to people in the industry. But through some connections (his), we were able to get in when the rest of the riffraff couldn't.

Anyway, on one trip we were wandering the halls of the Riviera Hotel, where all the high end audio firms had their displays. And I remember hearing the James Bond theme from somewhere. But I knew it wasn't a version I'd heard before. And, being the kind of person I was then (and still mostly am today), I had to track it down. Turns out to have been a track on a not quite released Telarc CD from the Cincinnati Pops. Needless to say, the moment I could get my hands on a copy, I did.

There's lots of good stuff on here, especially if you like classic themes given the full pops orchestra treatment. And not just from the Bond movies, although they're well represented. Lots of other movies, and some TV stuff too.

I'm glad to see Telarc finally represented on the iTMS. Now if we can just get some of their science fictional CDs...

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Fri, 03 Jun 2005

Spamalot / Original Broadway Cast
Here's a philosophical question: Is it better to walk into a musical having heard some of the music? Or should you go in cold? Which provides the richer and more satisfying experience?

Okay, on the scale of philosophical questions, I'd say that rates no more than a 3. But let's give it some consideration anyway. Which would you want to do? And how does the answer change if the play is based on a story you know?

If you're a Python fan, news that Eric Idle was turning Monty Python and the Holy Grail into a Broadway musical must have filled you with a mixture of joy and dread. On the one hand, anything new (or even newish) from the Pythons is cause for celebration. But there's always the risk of destroying a happy memory with an inferior and exploitive piece of dren.

Not that things always turn out that way. With great box office and 14 Tony nominations, Spamalot is clearly a hit. And as the album clearly demonstrates (which shows which side I come down on regarding that philosophical question), they haven't just rehashed a beloved movie. Heck they've rehashed a lot more than that!

And now I can't wait for the chance of a trip to New York to see how the story fits together with the songs. Or if...

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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California