Sunday, July 29, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Vladimir Horowitz - Clara Wieck & Kreisleriana

Artist : Vladimir Horowitz
Album : Schumann - Kreisleriana & Clara Wieck (year?)
Genre : Classical Piano
Rating : ***** ½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
I crossed paths with this album when a friend asked me to convert it to CD. The only place I've found it so far already in CD-format is as part of a 10-CD bundle called the "Original Jacket Collection". The picture above is the LP cover.

What's To Like...
Vladimir Horowitz is a legend. I wonder sometimes how much of his music is in the process of being lost, simply because it remains only available on vinyl.

The two pieces here - "Variations on a Theme by Clara Wieck" and "Kreisleriana" are both by Robert Schumann, a Romantic composer from the early 1800's. The former was written in 1833; the latter in 1838. Schumann was quite the "rebel", breaking away from classical composing to write some very dreamy and moody stuff.

Kreisleriana is especially well-composed and well-played. And it's 75% of the LP. The eight movements seem to run the gamut from super-slow (dreamy) to super-fast (energetic). And Horowitz is up to the task.

Clara Wieck is slower (and shorter), but is still a melody which will stay in your head long after the music has stopped.

What's Not To Like...
The only instrument here is a piano. No orchestra. If this isn't your thing, then this album is gonna drag.

Personally, I'm still developing a taste for classical piano. If I have to listen to just a pianist sans orchestra, then I need to be impressed with fast and fancy tickling of the ivories. That doesn't happen all that often here. Take the Clara Wieck piece. Although it has a catchy motif, most of it just putzes along. And at the end you get a chord, followed by a couple seconds of dramatic silence; then the same chord, but softer; followed by another couple seconds of dramatic silence; then the same chord again. Booorrrriinnggggg.

Finally, there's the issue of volume. Both Schumann's and Horowitz's style have been described in part as "double fortissimos followed by sudden delicate pianissimos". Translated into English, that means parts are going to have you fearing that your eardrums have burst, followed immediately by the next passage being so low in volume, you think those burst eardrums have rendered you deaf. This may be okay in a concert hall, but it's annoying as heck on a car stereo.

Talent Works, Genius Creates (R.S.)
I've listened to a couple of Horowitz LP's; none have yet impressed me. That may well be due to the pieces I've heard, rather than Horowitz himself.

This LP is still a pleasure ot listen to. Catchy music and flawless execution. But too much of it is slow-tempo, and I keep wishing for an orchestra to burst in and pick up the pace.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Darth Gonzo

Sorry. Haven't been giving Dubnutz and his lackeys enough attention lately.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Steve Berry : The Third Secret

Title : The Third Secret (2005, 376 pages)
Author : Steve Berry
Genre : Cri-Fi
Rating : B

This Month, I Read...
If you liked Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons", you'll like The Third Secret. There's Vatican intrigue and nasty skullduggery as Cardinals wallow in politics to increase their odds of being the next Pope.

What's To Like...
Berry has throroughly researched several Marian Apparitions and Catholic Prophecies; and weaves them skillfully into the plot. He concentrates on three of them : The Malachy "Prophecies of the Popes"; the Three Secrets of Fatima, and the Ten Secrets of Medugorje. The Fatima secrets are by far the most famous, and the "uber-secret" Third Secret of Fatima provides the title to this book.

Amazingly, Berry manages to combine these three prophetic events into one coherent message, without compromising their historical background. All three are in fact non-fiction events, and can be found at Wikipedia.

I also like the "even treatment" Berry gives God and the Church. Most authors choose one side or the other. Either their book finds nothing good to say at all about Christianity, or else its a thinly-veiled call for you to get right with God. Berry's posture falls halfway between "Heaven and Hell", so to speak.

What's Not To Like...
Well, if you're a loyal Catholic, you're not going to like this any more than you liked the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

Also, you go through almost the entire book waiting for The Third Secret to be revealed, and when it finally does... well... it's quite the anticlimax. In fairness, it has to be said that the Vatican's official version of The Third Secret is just as much of a letdown, fueling speculation that they gave us a red herring.

Finally, the protagonist is just too "pure evil" to be believable. I have no doubt that getting elected Pope is all about politics and nothing about seeking God's guidance, but the depths of the misdeeds here come off as too contrived.

Mail Hairy, Gruel of Face...
The Third Secret is not gonna bump Jurassic Park and The Da Vinci Code from the pinnacle of Cri-Fi. But it's a good read, about interesting subjects, and the Mary-sightings and Papal Prophecies are well-researched.

So we'll give it a solid "B", and refer you over to Wikipedia for some good readings on the "real" Fatima, Medugorje, and Malachy topics. The Vatican's stance on these sorts of things is surprisingly tepid.

It should be noted that the Malachy Papal Prophecies, which in theory give visions of the (at the time) next 112 Popes have now reached #111. Which makes you wonder if there's an implied "end of the world" or "end of an era" coming just around the corner. Berry weaves this nicely into the book, but the historical prophecies are almost more captivating.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Gandalf - Sacred River

Artist : Gandalf (Heinz Strobl)
Album : Sacred River (2006)
Genre : New Age
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
There are four "Gandalfs" in the music world. 1.) An American Psychedelic band from 1967, who put out 1 very good album with a dynamite album cover. 2.) A Finnish metal band formed in 1993. 3.) A Swedish band from 1977, of whom I know nothing. 4.) An Austrian New Age musician who's been putting out albums for the past 25 years, and who is the subject of this review.

Sacred River is Gandalf's 2006 release. Think "David Arkenstone", only mellower. Here's Gandalf's comments about this CD :

"Inspired by Siddhartha, who learns from the wise old ferryman to listen carefully to the voices of the river until he hears the eternal song of oneness and harmony, Gandalf invites you to imagine yourself in a boat on the Sacred River, letting the music be your ferryman, taking you gently across the water."

That actually is a pretty good description of this album.

What's To Like...
This is some very nice and surprisingly complex "mood music". Perfect background music for contemplating your navel, reading a novel, etc. The tracks really do sound like a gentle voyage down a quiet river. The arrangements are a superb combination of keyboards, guitars, and synthesizers; with a sprinkling of bells and 'wetness' (for lack of a better term) blended in.

What's Not To Like...
There's not a lot of variety to the tracks. You might enjoy "getting into" this CD the first time only. Thereafter, it's probably just something you'll put on in the background. And it's definitely not something to play when trying to liven up a dead party.

Om Mani Padme Hum (Hrih)...
It's always hard to rate New Age music. If I dock stars from Lindsey Buckingham for all the tracks sounding samey, shouldn't I do the same thing for Gandalf?

Probably not. "Mood music" isn't supposed to grab your attention. So kudos to this album for its beautiful tracks and for living up to Gandalf's own introduction. However, it's tough to award more than 7½ stars to something that doesn't really latch on to your consciousness.

For its New Age genre, this is a fantastic CD - better than David Arkenstone, IMNSHO. Just have no illusions as to what you are getting - it may be a masterpiece, but it's still background music.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Department of Redundancy Department

from a 20 July article, titled "Lavish 2nd century Roman bath unearthed"... "Excavations at the Villa delle Vignacce park lasted a total of 10 weeks, and it is planned to continue, he said. Future decisions, including whether the site will be opened to the public, are still to be made." Gee, when else would 'future decisions' be made?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dali-esque Liberty

No, this isn't really a Dali painting. It's a Photoshop creation from those wonderful folks over at This particular image came from a Statue of Liberty-themed competition.

If you're not familiar with the worth1000 website, give it a visit, and be amazed at what can be done to an image. This site is what motivated me to take an Art class at Mesa Community College two years ago - my first art class since 8th Grade.

As for Dali, he remains my favorite artist hands-down. I am always surprised by the number of people - even college degreed colleagues - who have never viewed any of his works. I probably have a half-dozen Dali books in my collection. If I get energetic, I'll scan some and post 'em.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lindsey Buckingham - Under The Skin

Artist : Lindsey Buckingham
Title : Under The Skin (2006)
Genre : (Acoustic) Rock
Rating : *** (out of 10*)

It's been 14 years since Lindsey's last studio album - the wonderful (9*) "Out Of The Cradle". UTS is reportedly a project that started and stopped several times, with some of the scheduled tunes being diverted to Fleetwood Mac albums. If so, that's a waste, since I don't think anyone has bought a FM album that was put out in the 21st Century.

This is almost entirely Lindsey playing acoustic guitar. But it's hard to call it an acoustic album, since the vocals are overdubbed to death, and the guitar strumming is often subjected to echo effects.

What's To Like...
Pleasant tunes, and very nice acoustic guitar work. You could possibly find yourself singing along with the choruses on a couple tracks.

What's Not To Like...
Where are the guitar solos?! There are, lessee now... NONE !!

The songs all sound the same, and none of them stand out. The same overdubbed vocals get boring real quick. If this is the culmination of 14 years of creativity, perhaps it's time for Lindsey to hang up the six-string, and wait for some sort of overhyped "Fleetwood Mac Reunion Tour".

Would You Like Some Pretzels With That Coffee?...
All in all, you can probably go down to your local coffeehouse and hear someone just as inspiring. It is said that LB sounds a lot better singing these songs in concert, when the stale studio effects are missing.

Save your money, put on Out Of The Cradle, and hope that Lindsey finds some energy before his next offering, which at this rate, will be out in early 2021.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

UFO - The Monkey Puzzle (2006)

Artist : UFO
Album : The Monkey Puzzle (2006)
Genre : Rock
Rating : ***** **** (out of 10*)

UFO, a UK band, has been putting out albums since 1971, and yet this is my introduction to them. That tells you something about the pre-programmed drivel you hear on radio nowadays. The whole album is good, honest rock & roll; the way Van Halen would sound if they had any talent.

What's To Like...
ALL the musicians - the lead guitar, the bass guitar, the drummer, the harmonica player, et. al. - turn in stellar efforts. A nice mix of blues-influenced hard rockers (2/3 of the tracks), blended nicely with 2 or 3 melodic ballads. Very little, if any, "filler".

What's Not To Like...
Hmmm. Not much, since I'm giving this nine stars. I'm told, and will accept, that Phil Mogg's voice ain't what it used to be. All 11 songs are made for radio-play; apparently UFO in the early days was a prog-rock band. And those who have followed this band for 30 albums and 36 years say "this just isn't vintage UFO".

Vintage Schmintage...
Hey, I haven't heard "vintage UFO", so as far as I'm concerned, this is the best rock album I've heard in the past year. Beats the heck out of Nickelback rubbish. If their past efforts are better, then I'm looking forward to hearing more UFO albums.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


I think I'll invent a new literary genre for an upcoming book review. It is based on the premise that there is a lot more in common between, say, Michael Crichton and Dan Brown novels, than, say, Crichton and Tom Clancy novels. We'll call this genre "Cri-Fi" in honor of Crichton who, although he probably didn't invent it, certainly made it a best-selling motif. We'll define Cri-Fi as being a Thriller at heart, but with equal attention paid to a Technical Twist. The Tech Twist might be rooted in Science (such as Jurassic Park), Religion (such as The Da Vinci Code), History (Elvis didn't really die, you know), Prophecy (The Anti-Christ is here among us), etc. What distinguishes Cri-Fi from Sci-Fi is the amount of detailed research done by the author on the Tech Twist. A successful Cri-Fi novel will bring out the so-called "Technical Experts" who will go to great lengths to tell you why the Technical Twist couldn't/didn't really happen. Witness the great pains which were taken to tell you why dinosaur DNA couldn't be extracted from mosquitos in amber. Or the Church Apologetics who wrote at length why Brown's Da Vinci Code "alternative theology" just isn't true. Hey fellas, these are novels! If you feel compelled to disprove fiction, you're actually complimenting the authors for developing a very plausible Tech Twist. Finally, the Tech Twist portion of the Cri-Fi story, will usually take precedence over the Thriller component. Let's face it, we were far more interested in solving the Da Vinci Code, then in finding out who killed the dude in the Louvre. Oh yeah, it goes without saying that I'm a fan of Cri-Fi.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Bird Has Flown (Hopefully)

Our baby sparrow has flow the coop planter. Sometime between late Thursday and Friday morning, he up and left. At least three different sparrows spent most of Thursday feeding him regurgitated nourishment.

There are of course two possibilities. First, that he learned to fly. Second, that a neighborhood cat had a late-night snack. On the bright side, there were no feathers in the planter, nor any signs of a struggle, such as the dirt in the planter being scratched up and/or thrown out of the pot.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Another Stray

Liz has brought home yet another stray.

Okay, it's not a stray, and she didn't exactly 'bring it home'. Actually, it fell onto our back porch all by itself.

The birds keep building nests in those round holes drilled into the house-walls right under the roof (what is the purpose of these holes anyway?). Alas, it's a lousy place for a nest - the baby birds can fall out long before mama bird decides to kick them out to make them learn to fly.

This little guy fell out before his eyes were even open. Generally, they die within 24 hours. but Liz has been feeding him and giving him water. So far, he's lasted 4 days. His eyes are now open and as you can see, his feathers are coming in. I figure he's still got only about a 1-in-100 shot of making it, but hey, he's already beating the odds.

Liz put him in one of our planters on the back porch. He's got to hope the neighborhood cats don't notice him. Of our three dogs, Jynx and Huxley are curious about him; and Honeybee wants to eat him.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

1633 - Eric Flint & David Weber

Title : 1633
Authors : Eric FLint & David Weber
Genre : Alternate History
Pages : 665 (paperback)
Rating : B+

The sequel to 1632, which was reviewed earlier. David Weber was apparently brought in to add a "big name" to the series. Which is kind of a waste, since I've never heard of him.

In 1633, our intrepid band of modern-day hillbillies have stopped slaughtering 17th century armies, and now are trying their hands at diplomacy & politics. There's not as much action as in 1632, but it's an interesting read neverthless.

What's To Like...
Again, the meticulous historical researching shows through. The historical figures of Oliver Cromwell, King Charles of England, Thomas Wentworth, Don Oquendo, and (Swedish) Princess Kristina are all introduced. Cardinal Richelieu is fleshed out, and if he can't be loved as the Ultimate Evil, he can at least be admired for his deadly charm and intelligence.

The French, British, Spaniards and Danes become the bad guys. The hillbillies, Swedes, Dutch and German peasants are the good guys. And unlike in 1632, some of the good guys actually die. albeit in a most heroic fashion.

The bad guys even manage some military victories, something sadly lacking in 1632. I have the impression that Weber's hand is to thank for the "evening-out" of characters, events, luck, victories, etc.

What's Not To Like...
Mike Stearns is still the consummate Ubermann. If he was the paragon of military perfection in 1632, here he makes 17th Century politics seem like childsplay. He may have to admit that Admiral Simpson now has some redeeming qualities (thank you, David Weber!), but Admiral Simpson has to admit that Stearns is perfect in everything he does.

More unsettling is the large number of "loose ends" here. Ollie Cromwell is introduced but is still imprisoned in the Tower of London at the end of the book. Amsterdam is under siege. The Danes are threatening to conquer Germany. Richelieu is conniving like crazy. One gets the feeling that Flint is going to pull a "Robert Jordan" - that is, resort to the "never-ending sequel".

In conclusion...
It's still a very good Alternate History story. There are tedious parts (mostly when Flint gets to preaching his personal political philosophies), but David Weber supplies a much-needed counterbalance to Flint's sometimes too-shallow plot- and character-development. We can only hope that the loose ends don't go on for another 12 books or so.