Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Reviews: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Let's Be Cops

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (hereafter referred to as Sin City 2) stars Eva Green's breasts in the leading role. I think they ought to win an award. They dominate every scene they're in. Seriously. In the rare moments when Green is not topless or completely nude, she's usually braless in diaphanous clothing. Acting in support were Rosario Dawson's full lips and Jessica Alba's perpetual motion waist and hips. Some people may be impressed by this; others may yawn. The target audience for Sin City 2 likely includes many people who would be dazzled by Green's mammary glands which probably explains why they get so much screen time. Once you get past the "They're real and they're spectacular" aspects of Green's performance you realize that this noir cartoon has less going for it than its predecessor did. So if you have low expectations this film is for you. Green's sneering, red lipped, exaggerated, femme fatale performance would have been almost as enjoyable had she not spent the entire film showing what her mother gave her. There's nothing subtle here.

Dangerous men and even more dangerous women populate the corrupt hellhole of Sin City. Senator Roark (Powers Boothe) presides over the city with lip curling sadism and diabolical demeanor. No good deed goes unpunished. Everyone considers revenge to be the highest moral virtue.
Like the original, Sin City 2 has many different storylines that jump around in time. I will have to reread the graphic novels. I think that only one of the film storylines was directly taken from the graphic novel. Fan favorite hulking bruiser Marv (Mickey Rourke) is still alive. He died in the original. Marv appears throughout the film. Sin City 2 is better for that, though Marv doesn't have enough to do. Noble cop Hartigan (Bruce Willis) exists as a ghost and memory in Sin City 2. Fallen angel stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) misses him greatly. Hartigan saw Nancy as innocent and had no lecherous interest in her. Nancy can't stop thinking about Hartigan's death and Roark's responsibility. Marv is Nancy's current platonic protector. Anyone who bothers her while she's working will have serious problems with Marv. Upsetting Marv isn't smart. I can't recall exact specifics but I remember reading that deceased New York City Genovese Family Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante liked to play gin rummy with his criminal subordinates. He would routinely declare gin. The opposing player would immediately throw in his hand without asking to see Gigante's cards. In most organizations, criminal or not, you don't beat the boss in whatever game he likes to play. That can be a real career limiting move. But young and possibly supernaturally gifted gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon Levitt) couldn't care less. 

Armed only with his wits and his good luck charm girl Marcie (Julia Garner) Johnny challenges Senator Roark at poker, despite being warned repeatedly that this is folly. Roark wields immense institutional and personal power. Like the song says sometimes you got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. 

Private detective Dwight (Josh Brolin) shows his gallant side when violence starts between the cheating husband he's tailing (Ray Liotta) and the prostitute the husband is seeing. Afterwards Dwight is called by his ex-lover Ava (Eva Green). She needs his help. Dwight has an on again off again relationship with prostitute protector Gail (Rosario Dawson) but Ava really pushes his buttons. Ava is a woman who always leaves marks on a man, sometimes physical ones. Obsession is her calling card. When you look like Eva Green you can probably find numerous men ready, willing and eager to help you even if they, like Dwight, despise you. Eva Green steals the show. Despite my appreciation for her physical attributes I think this entire movie should have been played less over the top. Lauren Bacall showed us that you can be super sexy and still leave things to the imagination. It is fascinating that some women can make some men deliberately act against what they know is in their best interest. In extreme cases, such men are literally bewitched. It's a weakness but one that is a permanent part of the human, well at least the masculine, condition. Snicker.
Sin City 2 has an intense pulpy black and white palette combined with sudden splashes of blue, green or red. This is basically fast food noir. It hints at the great 30s-50s noir films. But Sin City 2 never transcends its comic book graphic novel origins. Green made the strongest impression but that's not saying much. The dialogue is generally flat. Unless you crave the Rodriguez-Miller cinematography, are a Green fan or need to see a woman ninja decapitate scores of bad guys you won't miss much by skipping this film or waiting for DVD release. The first film was exciting. But sequels rarely match the original. The film possesses a very strong "been there done that" aura. Sin City 2 is stylish but hollow. After the beheadings, beatings, tough guy one liners and sex appeal there's nothing to care about. This sequel took too long to arrive. This is the second film I've recently seen featuring Green as a freaky unhinged sexual siren. She may have found her calling. Other featured actors/actresses include Christopher Lloyd, Lady Gaga, Dennis Haysbert, Christopher Meloni, Jeremy Piven, Jamie Chung, Jaime King, Stacy Keach and Marton Csokas.

Let's Be Cops
directed by Luke Greenfield
How can Damon Wayans Jr., a full grown man who stands 6'2", have such a nasally, whiny high pitched voice? Where's the rumble in his mumble? Does he need a testosterone patch? Those were my first thoughts after watching this wildly uneven semi-comedy. The film might have worked better had it gone for full blown loony tune slapstick. Or maybe the director and writer(s) could have chosen an even darker route and riffed on racism, desperation to be somebody, fragile self-esteem, police brutality, corrupt cops, and other things that aren't necessarily light comedy. However the writers and directors decided to take the middle road and mix both of those approaches together, something that didn't really work for me. YMMV. There are some funny moments here or there I guess. I may have laughed once or twice. Maybe. I think I mentally checked out once the fat naked man showed up. Yes that was a turning point. I thought this was a comedy sketch that was drawn out far beyond the point where you stopped laughing. The film was probably 20-30 minutes too long. Sometimes less is more.

Justin Miller (Damon Wayans Jr.) and his best friend/roommate Ryan O'Malley (Jake Johnson) are Los Angeles residents who have just turned thirty. While their old college friends are getting married or moving forward in their careers, these two are stuck in neutral. Although Justin can't technically be called a loser because he actually has a paying job as a video game designer, at work he is ignored and insulted by his boss. His boss ridicules Justin's concepts. He does everything but wipe his bottom with Justin's ideas. The boss requires Justin to take notes as coworkers or the boss explain their supposedly much better ideas. Justin lacks any sympathetic woman to give him emotional support because he's afraid to put the moves on Josie (Nina Dobrev), a friendly waitress at his favorite restaurant. Ryan probably can be termed a loser because his paid jobs are rare to non-existent. Ryan was a college quarterback with pro potential. But he hurt himself in a freak accident before the draft. For the past decade or so Ryan has been reminding everyone about who he was, and reliving thrills by playing football with kids. Because a grown man hanging around pre-teen boys is not creepy at all. Uh-huh. Whatever else Ryan is, unlike Justin, shy he is not.

Justin is pragmatic. Ryan is given to flights of fancy. They promised each other that if they hadn't made their mark in LA by thirty they'd give up and return to Ohio. Attending a local college reunion party, the two dress up as cops. They thought it was a costume party when it really was a masquerade party. Leaving the event even more depressed, they slowly realize that their costumes fool everyone on the street, including real cops. For Ryan the received deference from people on the street and romantic or sexual interest from random women become ends in and of themselves. Ryan sees no reason to stop pretending he's a police officer. He inserts himself and Justin into real police work. In his cop uniform Justin finds the confidence to break the ice with Josie. Josie is looking for a good man and a protector. She thinks a cop might satisfy both needs. When Josie's parents' restaurant is shaken down by a nasty, hyperviolent Russian gangster (James D'Arcy) who's contemptuous of cops, Justin learns that you can't fake bravery. Will Justin discover an assertive side? Will Ryan find a purposeful life? Oh the suspense! Keegan-Michael Key plays a Black/Hispanic hoodlum. Natasha Leggero appears as a kinky sex mad cop groupie. Andy Garcia shows up to collect a check. Dobrev was underutilized. The Daily Show's Rob Riggle plays a straitlaced patrol officer who's slow to realize who Justin and Ryan are. A loud physically aggressive overweight black woman beats people up. You can't make a comedy without that I guess. This movie is something that you can safely skip. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

St. Paul Police Use Taser On Black Man For Minding His Own Business

Although this blog has discussed the issue quite often, over the past few weeks thanks to the events in Ferguson and elsewhere, there has been a great deal of media spotlight on the negative attention police give to black people, particularly black men. Whether it's a black man choked to death for allegedly selling unlicensed cigarettes or a black man shot and killed in Wal-Mart for considering purchasing a BB gun or a black woman brutally beaten for walking close to traffic it appears that police generally have a very low threshold for initiating and escalating violence against black people. Now we learn that in St. Paul, Minnesota back in January 2014 (the video was just released) the police tased and arrested a black man who refused to show them id. It is not necessarily a crime to refuse to show police id. Police can't demand id without some sort of "reasonable suspicion" that you're involved in criminal activity. Minnesota has declined to enact a "stop and identify" law. The police were originally called because the black man, one Chris Lollie, was sitting in a chair in a downtown skyway. A security guard claimed the chair was on private property and ordered Lollie away. Lollie left but apparently not as quickly as the security guard desired. When the video starts Lollie has already left the chair and is having a tense conversation with an officious female police officer. Lollie was waiting in the skyway (as he thought wrongly as it turned out) to pick up his children from daycare. Video below the jump.

When her male partner gets near the "conversation" becomes extremely threatening on the part of the police officers. Shortly afterwards Lollie is tased and arrested. Near the end you can hear the female police officer taunting him. The officer who tased Lollie told him that he wasn't his brother. He certainly got that right. When Lollie wants to know why he is being arrested the police tell him he'll find out. Lollie was charged with misdemeanor trespassing, disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process. The charges were thrown out because of the video. So once again we have a black man being abused and arrested not for anything he did (at least from what we can tell from the video) but because he did not give white police officers what they considered to be the proper level of shuffling deference. Too many police think that their job is to intimidate, subdue and assault. I think the job simply attracts too many authoritarian types. This sort of thing is exactly why there were groups like the African Blood Brotherhood or Deacons of Defense or Black Panthers. Police harassment of Black people is a serious problem. Unfortunately local municipalities, police unions and the courts have made it increasingly difficult to get bad police officers off the force let alone put them in prison. Lollie says that he is going to file an internal affairs complaint and is considering a lawsuit. Good luck with that. This is not something that can be fixed with retraining. This is something that needs to have a very clear "You can't DO that" tattooed into police officers' heads.  I am starting to think that Cliven Bundy had the right idea of how to deal with cops. Of course Huey P. Newton already showed us that. 

Story Link

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jon Stewart, Fox News and Ferguson: Race Matters

The all too predictable thing about many conservatives is that whenever there is a situation in which there is an abuse of power by state agents and the alleged victims are Black, conservatives, with very few exceptions, rush to defend the state agents, insult and smear the victim, and go out of their way to do to the alleged victim what a police dog allegedly did to the Michael Brown memorial.  In defending alleged or even proven abusive state agents on hidden or not so hidden tribalistic/racial grounds they often will claim no bias. In their view they are being objective. Obviously conservatives aren't the only people with blind spots and unchallenged assumptions. Liberals, libertarians and people of other political persuasions and ideologies have their own hypocrisies and instances of moral myopia. I just don't care to discuss those today. What I find fascinating about the normal conservative stampede to defend the police, provided the victim is Black, is that these are often the very same people who will work themselves up to a high dudgeon about overreaching government when it comes to the IRS, or Obamacare or bossy TSA agents or the EPA or nosy census questions or Common Core standards or any number of other instances of government bigfooting that usually fall far short of a policeman beating or shooting someone. These folks will wave the Gadsden flag and opine about "freedom loving Americans" but won't criticize police who wrongly harm someone provided that someone doesn't look like them. Such actions say everything about who's considered a "real American" and why the President has been dogged with false claims about his nationality, race and religion.

Ultimately though, we're all in this together regardless of race.  As Angela Davis said it they come for me in the morning they will come for you at night. Police who are comfortable insulting, harassing, abusing, assaulting and killing black people will do the same things to any "unworthy" white people. We've talked about that before. You let some dogs get off leash and they will bite whoever they see.  Unfortunately some conservatives, say Bill O'Reilly, can't see this.  Such conservatives assume that if a black person got hurt, that thug/thugette had it coming. These folks glory in their privilege even as they deny it. In his own inimitable manner Jon Stewart tried to explain this to Fox News watchers/hosts in general and Bill O'Reilly in particular.

Nine Year Old Girl Armed With Uzi Kills Arizona Shooting Range Instructor

I believe in the individual right to keep and bear arms. I tend to be skeptical of many new gun control proposals. That said I am aghast that anyone would permit a child to attempt to operate an Uzi submachine gun in automatic mode. That makes about as much sense to me as letting a child drive a semi-trailer, fly a Boeing 777, represent someone in a death penalty case, or do anything else where the life of that child or the lives of others around the child will be put at risk by the child’s actions. Unfortunately not everyone agrees with me. You may have heard about the nine year old girl who apparently wanted to fire an Uzi.  Her parents took her to Bullets and Burgers Shooting Range in Arizona where instructor Charles Vacca assisted her in shooting the machine gun in single shot mode.  He then switched the weapon to automatic mode and moved to the girl's left. Unfortunately the recoil of the submachine gun was far more than a nine year old girl could handle. That's unsurprising.  I mean it's not like she was a veteran member of Spetsnaz or Shayetet 13. The Uzi's muzzle drifted upwards and to the girl's left. Vacca was shot in the head and died. It's a tragedy. But it's also a quite preventable one.  While gun safety experts, police or military veterans can review the video to determine if Mr. Vacca was in the proper area and/or can check the gun to determine if there was anything wrong with it, the rest of us can make an even simpler fix. Preteens don't get to fire automatic weapons. That's so freaking simple isn't it? If you wouldn't let a nine year old command a nuclear submarine then why would you let them operate an Uzi. The Uzi will still be there when that child grows up.  There's no rush. Ultimately the blame here must rest with the parents and with anyone else who thinks that children should be playing with guns. Guns aren't toys. Video below (it cuts off before the death).

Saturday, August 23, 2014

James Brown Song Test

Some critics have argued that in making rhythm so important and de-emphasizing melody and harmony as much as he did that James Brown routinely created or sang songs that all pretty much sounded alike, regardless of what the actual lyrics or title said. I disagree with this but even I must admit that on some tunes it could occasionally be a task to ascertain what James Brown was actually saying. Some relatives have even jokingly had the audacity to tell me that once you got past the "Maceo will you blow?" and constant "Uhhhh!" and "Hit me Fred!" exhortations nobody actually knew lyrics or titles to James Brown songs because they were too busy dancing to try to decipher Brown's grunts. Hmm. It's not well known but actually James Brown and I were very close friends. You could say that he was a godfather to me. It's only now that I can share the story of the night that James Brown and I had dinner together. You might say we had a funky good time. Ahem. How funky are you? Every single sentence in the (100% accurate, completely true to life and certainly not at all entirely made up from whole cloth during a remarkably boring mid afternoon conference call) story below the fold has at least one James Brown or related artist song title/lyric embedded within. There are over 35 songs/lyrics contained. How many can you find? Are you on the One? Are you a true Godfather devotee with plenty of funk in your trunk or are you just moseying through life faking the funk (or using Google)? Are you Sir Nose D'voidoffunk? We'll see. ;-))
There was a time when I had dinner with James Brown. He said hello my brother and told me that we were going to have a funky good time. We prayed for soul power. We started the dinner with a chili appetizer that made Mr. Brown break out in a cold sweat. Then he said I got to move and danced like a sex machine. His wife asked him what he wanted to eat now and he said he didn't care as long as she would make it funky. She bought in some shish-kebab barbecue so that Mr. Brown could eat from the licking stick. Starting to discuss politics, Mr. Brown said we should say it loud, I'm Black and I'm proud. I asked him about political corruption but he interrupted saying that you could have Watergate, just give me some bucks and I'll be straight. I disagreed, saying that we all needed to get up, get into it and get involved. But Mr. Brown claimed that I was simply talking loud and saying nothing. Moving the discussion to women's rights, I said it's a new day. Mr. Brown's wife interjected, stating that it was still a man's man's man's world. Mr. Brown smiled at his wife, joking that papa don't take no mess. His wife said that's true dear but I got you and I feel good. Mr. Brown said he liked her hotpants. Interrupting before the couple decided to get it together, I asked them to pass the peas. I told them to either give it up or turn it loose in regards to the gravy. When Mrs. Brown brought out the macaroni and cheese, I said gimme some more. Mr Brown didn't like pasta so he had the mashed potatoes.
After dinner, when Mr. Brown inquired about my career path, I told him I don't want nobody to give me nothing, just open up the door and I'll get it myself. He approved, saying if you don't get it the first time, back up and try it again. I angrily said that I was paying taxes but what am I buying? Mr. Brown said that like him I had paid the cost to be the boss. He told me no matter what happened to stay superbad and keep on doing it to death. I told Mr. Brown and his wife I enjoyed breaking bread with them but it was time I left. Mr. Brown offered me some dessert and said please, please, please don't go. I said you can't try me like that because if I stay I'll go crazy. Mr. Brown said if I absolutely had to get up offa that thing then he understood. He said since you've been gone so long I got this gold plated Gucci tote as a gift for you. I told Mr Brown that I hadn't owned anything that nice since before I was down and out in New York City. Mr. Brown said to consider this bag the payback for an evening of conversation. His wife told me to accept it because papa's got a brand new bag. Waving goodbye, Mr. Brown said I got the feeling we'll talk again. At the train station while trying to balance the popcorn box I was eating from I accidentally dropped the tote on my left foot. I swore saying you got to have a mother for me! But I knew how to get on the good foot. I hopped on the night train and came home.

0 to 4 songs found: Sadly you're funk deprived and may even be a Pat Boone fan. Please don't dance in public.
5 to 9 songs found: Damn right you're somebody but a funk expert you're not.
10 to 20 songs found: I know you got soul!
21 or more songs found: You're a made member of the Funk Mob and are truly superbad!

Book Reviews: Under the Dome, Black Pulp, No Hero

Under the Dome
by Stephen King
When you're one of the world's greatest writers sometimes even your older ideas are still golden compared to everyone else's. Under The Dome, as King explains, is an idea he had way back in the 70s if my memory of his author's note serves correctly. He published it a few years ago. I just recently got around to reading it a few weeks ago. A television miniseries has also been made from it. My understanding is that the TV series is quite different from the book.
As usual King has a tremendous and unerring capacity for creating believable characters who are mixes of love and hate, good and evil. He's quite the people observer. Many of his characters have ugly little resentments mixed with their moral constraints and beliefs. With a few exceptions most of the "good guys" also have some bad mixed in them, whether it be a woman preacher who's unsure if she still believes in God but KNOWS she has a holy terror of a temper or an Iraq war veteran who's a decent enough guy back home but turned a blind eye to some horrible things during the war. There's a specific shout out to Lord of the Flies. That whole Things fall Apart element suffuses the entire story. Some people are walking monsters. Others didn't recognize their neighbors' evil because the law hindered their ability to do harm or forced them to confine their malice to smaller or secret misdeeds. How would such people behave in an enclosed environment with no rules or responsibility? What would you do if money, logic or decency no longer matter but viciousness and brute strength are what count? I read this story in two parts: two softcover books that were each around 600-700 pages. Even by King standards this was quite a lift. It reminded me of his earlier sagas like The Stand or The Talisman (with Peter Straub). However I thought that there were way too many characters (King has gotten almost like George R.R. Martin in this regard). The story sagged in the middle somewhat. 

After thinking about it I still dislike the ending although the penultimate catastrophe was diabolical vintage King. I thought the book was well researched though a person with a physics/science background might find a few holes. There are some warnings, subtle and otherwise, about the dangers of bullying, of hurting people just because you can, of going along to get along, environmental degradation, and of the Bush-Cheney regime.

The book's title is accurate. An invisible dome descends over the town of Chester's Mill, Maine. The dome extends up into the sky and far beneath the ground. It's really a sphere. Planes and automobiles crash into it. A woodchuck is halved by it. Light (albeit refracted), other electromagnetic signals, and sound still pass through the dome but air does so only weakly. Water and other physical matter won't get through. Approaching the dome causes headaches. Near the dome Pacemakers explode. Children show precognition. Chester's Mill is completely cut off from the outside world. When the police chief Duke Perkins dies, the overly and overtly religious and power hungry Second Selectman and used car salesman Big Jim Rennie thinks that he should control the town, for its own good of course. The elder Rennie (he has a morally empty son named Junior) wields massive legal and illegal influence in Chester's Mill. Big Jim prefers to work through other people. He has a heart condition. He's utterly contemptuous of opposition. Just imagine Dick Cheney ruthlessly cementing his grip on Mayberry. Big Jim is much smarter, more corrupt and more cunning than people realize though even he doesn't know how dangerous his son is. 
Big Jim is opposed by a drifter named "Barbie", aka decorated former Army Captain Dale Barbara, and the town newspaper editor Julia Shumway, among others. When President Obama invokes emergency powers and puts Barbie in charge neither Rennie is pleased. Big Jim has been expanding the police force by hiring thugs eager to abuse people. He's also hoarding food and water. Murder is just a tool for him. But even while Big Jim plots, the town's smarter residents realize that the true danger is the slow oxygen depletion and rising temperature within the dome. Some citizens search for what created the dome while the military and scientists outside the dome try to break through. The book's signal theme is that evil is morally and physically blind. We all can do things that hurt others without thinking twice. We're not monsters like Rennie, his son and company but no one's hands are 100% clean. When you kill that trespassing spider or watch as that terrified cow in the slaughterhouse is shot through the head would an objective observer describe you as "evil"?  Certainly a cow or spider would. The objective observer might agree with that description if they were as far advanced beyond you as you are advanced beyond cows or spiders. Cows and spiders want to live too. This book has an extended visceral description of a rape and a few other threatened sexual assaults as well as numerous gruesome murders and deaths. A few loyal dogs die. So if that's not your cup of tea you know what to do. As mentioned I found the book longwinded. Stephen King definitely knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men (and women too for that matter). 

Black Pulp
edited by Hancock, Phillips and Minor
I've written before that I truly enjoy many vintage pulp stories, old time radio and film noir. When I recently purchased a new vehicle and associated satellite radio subscription I was delighted to listen to the old time radio station. The problem with many of those classic tales is that they were written when racism or to be more precise white supremacy was much more widely accepted. Although there were a few authors who ignored or downplayed this convention, many pulp writers took it for granted in their writing, while a sizable minority positively glorified in creating racist tales and subhuman black characters. It wasn't just black people stereotyped in these stories. Arab, Persian or Turkish characters were often swarthy, untrustworthy backstabbers. Italians were over emotional gangsters or operatic lotharios. Irish were honest if dim policemen or singing drunks. East Asian women were Dragon Ladies while East Asian men were fiendish yet effete Fu Manchu types. One good punch in the nose from our admirable Nordic/Celtic American hero and the Chinese villain usually folded up like a wet paper bag. Stretching the genre limitations even for his time, one of Robert E. Howard's created protagonists was (briefly) a slave ship captain. So it goes. Times have changed. It is now legal to write stories in which black characters exist, are not ignorant savages who worship a white person as a god, and can even be the story's hero or heroine instead of a loyal but slow-witted and dialect prone sidekick. So that is a good thing.

Black Pulp is a short story collection which features pulp or noir stories with black protagonists. This has been done before by such black genre authors as Chester Himes, Rudolph Fisher, Clarence Cooper, Donald Goines and others. Of course who cares who wrote a story. What ultimately counts is story quality. Well this collection is a mixed bag on that front but I am happy to say that there are more hits than misses. "Decimator Smith and the Fangs of the Fire Serpent"  by Gary Phillips is a pre WW2 noir concerning the titular character, a middleweight boxer, who must do some detective work when his sister is suddenly murdered by person or persons unknown. "Dillon and the Alchemist's Morning Coffee" by Derrick Feguson has a dashing black secret agent undercover in a North African country where an item of incredible power is up for auction. "Drums of the Ogbanje" by Mel Odom dips into Darkest Africa Robert E. Howard Solomon Kane territory to have an African anti-slavery crusader and his loyal Irish sidekick face off against a brutal Portuguese slaver and his African ally, a wizard of decidedly malign intent. 

Gary Phillips
In Joe Lansdale's "Six Finger Jack", a bounty hunter decides to try some assassin work. It doesn't end well. "Black Wolfe's Debt" by D. Alan Lewis is a classic detective tale featuring a babe walking into the hero's office and trouble following her. "Agnes Viridian and the Search for the Scales" by Kimberly Richardson, shows a smooth talking black woman private detective who operates in 1930s Memphis and gets entangled in an Indiana Jones type adventure. "The Lawman" by Ron Foriter is a fictionalized retelling of real life escapades of Old West Black Federal Marshal Bass Reeves. "Rocket Crockett and the Jade Dragon" by Christopher Chambers is a Korean War era story which features a black fighter pilot haunted by his older brother's lynching who has to manage racist commanding officers, Japanese war criminals, yakuza, legendary Korean relics and old girlfriends. "Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie" by Michael Gonzales is a tongue in cheek story set in late 80s Harlem where a supervillain inspired by real life rap hater Stanley Crouch is out to destroy all Harlem rap clubs, rap musicians and any avant-garde jazz musicians who work with rappers. This collection is about 300 pages. The nice thing about short story collections is that something new is coming up soon if you don't like the current tale. Noted author Walter Mosley wrote the introduction. 

The afterword gives additional background information about the authors and their blogs, websites or twitter handles. Some stories are excerpts from series or selections from longer novels so I am interested to read more. There are entire universes for us to discover. I am always happy to find new ones.

No Hero
by Jonathan Wood
Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for this book. I may read it again to see if I change my mind. But I just didn't see this as anything that was super special. This was first in a trilogy but the ending gives the impression that each story will be complete in and of itself. This is yet another British story of urban fantasy. The hero is suddenly drawn into a world in which he finds out that monsters are real and there really are things that go bump in the night. At this point it would almost be more interesting if something from a more fantastical world was drawn into our world, in which magic does not work and the rules of physics apply. At its best this book reminded me of the Simon Pegg movie Hot Fuzz, at its worst this was sorta of a low rent Big Trouble in Little China takeoff. Arthur Wallace is a British police detective and Kurt Russell fanatic. Although he rarely has the opportunity to boot people in the head, fire off massive amounts of ammunition, show off huge biceps or save the girl, he is nevertheless a pretty good detective. He even has an "interesting" relationship with his primary female subordinate, one that could possibly go "live" if he wasn't a stickler for rules around harassment and workplace romances. Arthur and his team have been assigned to find out who is leaving dead, usually decapitated, bodies all over Oxford. They apparently have a serial killer running loose.

Via deduction and research Arthur predicts the time and place of the next murder. He shows up just in time to see an impossibly fast and inhumanly strong woman leap in the air and cleave apart a man's head with what looks like a Claymore sword. But if that's not odd enough, it's when Arthur sees tentacles and eggs spray from what should be a human head, that he realizes that his understanding of reality is incomplete. Arthur was the only one to see the tentacles and was unable to stop the woman from fleeing the scene.

Afterwards Arthur is forcibly recruited into MI-37, a supersecret British organization designed to deal with "special" threats to humanity in general and the UK in particular. The director of MI-37, one Felicity Shaw, is looking for talent. Unfortunately because supernatural threats can't easily be monetized or explained to the public MI-37 is short on funding. REALLY short. It was difficult for Felicity to hire Arthur because her bosses are talking of shutting down her organization. Along with the thoroughly confused Arthur, Felicity only has three other employees:
  • Clyde, a nebbishy researcher, unwitting comedian and powerful magician who talks too much to hide his nervousness, social ineptness and his increasing romantic attraction to:
  • Tabitha, an acerbic researcher, computer expert and undercover operator who doesn't mind showing her generalized annoyance to most people including:
  • Kayla, a Scottish woman and team muscle, who has somehow gained inhuman strength, speed and healing abilities. She's the one that Arthur saw. She doesn't like many other people and has a special disdain for Arthur, thinking him both incompetent and stupid. She's upset when Felicity explains she's putting Arthur in charge. Kayla's default response to Arthur is "F*** off!".
There is an other dimensional Lovecraftian threat called the Feeders who wish to enter and consume our reality. Currently they are unable to do so but have sent across their spawn, known as the Progeny. The Progeny infect/possess humans. They seek to open our reality to the Feeders. MI-37 tries to prevent this. Kayla is an expert Progeny killer. The balance of the book involves Arthur learning how to lead a team where everyone is more talented than he is, thinking of telling his previous friends what happened, seeing if Felicity likes him in a non-platonic way, and trying to do what old Jack Burton would do when the earth quakes and the poison arrows fall from the sky. This was a decent read I guess but nothing that hasn't been done before in the Repairman Jack or Harry Dresden series. YMMV. Arthur is too often severely self-deprecating, so much so that sometimes you find yourself agreeing with Kayla's or Tabitha's poor assessments of him. I did like the book's realism insofar as subject matter experts often can dislike the clueless project managers tasked to oversee their work. And upper management types often lack patience for middle/lower management drones ordered to get up to speed yesterday on projects they knew nothing about before the status meeting ten minutes ago.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson Video: Michael Brown Shooting

The sobering thing about life today is that so much of what we do for good or for bad is captured by video, whether it be private, business or governmental.

Cell phone video taken by Ferguson resident Piaget Crenshaw and shown by CNN on Monday provides more footage of the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. Crenshaw described the scene to CNN, in which she said that police officer Darren Wilson shot Brown multiple times after Brown had ceased running and turned around.
“I knew this was not right, I knew police should not even have been chasing this young boy and firing at the same time,” Crenshaw told CNN. “That fact that he got shot in the face, it was something that clicked in me, I thought, somebody else needs to see this. This isn’t right.”
Crenshaw said there was a struggle at the police car in which it seemed Wilson was trying to draw Brown in. Brown took off running, and Crenshaw said Wilson began firing; when Brown turned around, he was shot multiple times. Crenshaw said that her accounting of the incident concurred with what she knew of the autopsy report, which found that Brown had been shot from the front. “When [Brown] turned toward the cop was when he let off the most shots,” Crenshaw said.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Reviews: Get on Up, Clue

Get on Up
directed by Tate Taylor
Like Ray Charles but only more so James Brown was a larger than life musical figure who would likely be worshipped as a demigod if we lived back during pre-Christian times. There are very few people who had the influence that he did on popular music, not only in America but across the world. From Africa to Central America, the Caribbean to the Middle East, Europe to the Pacific there weren't very many people who didn't know who James Brown was. There weren't many popular or even more esoteric musicians who weren't influenced by him in ways great or small. People like Prince, Fela, Michael Jackson, vast numbers of soul and funk musicians, The Talking Heads, and many many more people or genres would not exist as they did then or do now without James Brown. James Brown had a pretty long run as someone making original music, maybe even as someone making high quality original music. I would argue that he was doing it to death for at least fifteen to twenty years, maybe even longer. That's unusual, in a music business that has always tended to reward the new, fresh and young. 

James Brown's impact went far beyond the musical of course. Along with such people as Miles Davis and Nat King Cole, Brown made it clear that a dark skinned black man could be not just a musical icon but a pop culture one, in a non-demeaning and even sexual manner. This was revolutionary stuff.

When Brown wrote and sang songs like How you gonna get respect? (when you haven't cut your process yet) or Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm proud) he both channeled and inspired the nascent black self-love and black power movements of the sixties and seventies. Brown was a mess of contradictions. He gave women singers front lining status but could also be abusive publicly and privately. He talked of black power and endorsed Nixon. He spoke of mutual respect but ran his bands in a manner that let band members know he considered them all interchangeable and expendable. Brown constantly fined musicians for an array of mistakes or miscues, whether it be a note played a quarter second too long, arriving late to practice, a wrong dance step, a solo he didn't order or shoes that weren't properly shined. Practices were constant, grueling and extensive even by the demanding standards of the day. Brown knew exactly what he wanted and would figuratively and occasionally literally beat the band until he got it. As author Charles Shaar Murry wrote, Jimi Hendrix would not have lasted more than five minutes in Brown's band. Maximum.

So basically it would be very difficult for any single film to capture all of the facets of Brown's oft complicated personality, legacy and music. Get On Up makes a game try at doing this but in my view fell a little short. I've thought more about this and I don't blame the director/producers as much as I initially did. There's just so much to write or learn about Brown that it would be difficult to pick out one theme. The director decided to make the central theme of Brown's life his turbulent friendship with Bobby Byrd.
Get on Up jumps around chronologically, something I didn't like that much. Chadwick Boseman, despite being much taller and lankier than the relatively short Brown, did a masterful job at bringing across Brown's joys and depressions, his raspy voice and insistence on having non-intimates address him by his surname. We see him meet his lifelong friend and sounding board Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) while both are doing a stint in prison. Brown's charisma, audacity and financial savvy propel him to become the leader of what was Byrd's group. It becomes Brown's group, something that is made official in an ugly way when Brown's manager Ben Bart (Dan Akroyd) gets the group signed to King records as James Brown and his Famous Flames. Byrd is relegated to on stage valet, dancer, second singer and occasional pianist. Generally speaking though Byrd holds to the famous Dirty Harry dictum of "A man's gotta know his limitations". Byrd knew that whatever it took to be a star, Brown had it and he did not.
The films shows that this star power, this belief in self even when everything else was going against him is what helped Brown survive and escape from uncaring and occasionally abusive parents (Lenny Henry, Viola Davis) and work in a brothel run by an aunt (Octavia Spencer). The scenes with the younger Brown (played by twins Jamarion and Jordan Scott) are the film's most emotionally engaging. We see the ups and downs of Brown's life, including a tempestuous marriage with his wife Dee Dee (Jill Scott), tense relations with his primary soloist Maceo (Craig Robinson) and a surreal meeting with Little Richard (Brandon Smith). But as mentioned, the Byrd-Brown relationship is the key link between all the different time periods. I thought this was a decent enough film but it could have been better. It breaks the 4th wall quite a bit. A wrong note is played when Brown appears more distraught by the death of his manager than that of his oldest son Teddy. All in all I guess I'm glad I saw the film but it wasn't special to me. I'm rarely without Brown's music wherever I am but I did listen to it a bit more after seeing this film. Fun fact, most people don't know that most if not all of the children singing in Say It Loud.. were actually white or Asian not black, as the film depicts. The film is likely worth seeing if only for the music. Because the film breaks the 4th wall as often as it does, it takes you out of the suspension of disbelief. It reminds you that Boseman, talented as he is, is playing a role.

directed by Jonathan Lynn
On one, admittedly low level, some people men may enjoy this older film simply for the implausibly and impossibly low cut or clingy outfits worn by the French maid Yvette and the sultry Miss Scarlett. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that I might add. But even putting that aside I thought this to be a fun enjoyable movie. It did not do very well at the box office because of a mishmash of contradictory endings but later gained some fame as a comic cult film. Clue was primarily held together by the sly drollness and manic energy of Tim Curry. But Clue had an ensemble cast with many actors known for their comic timing. Everyone got a chance to shine. It's based on the old whodunnit board game which I doubt that very many people play any more. Do people even still purchase board games? I don't know. But there was a time back in the day when people did. The film's basic theme is an Agatha Christie type murder mystery at an isolated mansion in the early 50s. Six very shady strangers have all received an invitation to a dinner party, one which they dare not refuse. The guests, who have been assigned aliases, include:
  • Mrs. White (Madeleine Kahn) a self assured multiple widow who calmly insists that she had nothing to do with her husbands' mysterious disappearances and/or deaths. Accused of luring men to their deaths like a spider with flies she responds that flies are where men are most vulnerable.
  • Miss Scarlett (Lesley Ann Warren) an extroverted lady of the night and D.C. madam who caters to politicians, members of the military industrial complex and rich businessmen.
  • Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull) a pompous, smug, officious military man who became well off during the war.
  • Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd) (my favorite character) a sex obsessed UN psychiatrist who always manages to be next to Miss Scarlett, Mrs. White or Yvette. When he sees that Miss Scarlett's car has broken down he offers her a ride to the mansion. That's not the only ride he would like to give.
  • Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan) a senator's wife who may not be the ditzy dame she seems to be. Some people talk a lot because they're nervous. Some have other reasons.
  • Mr. Green (Michael McKean) a nerdy State Department employee who is homosexual, feckless, and stereotypically frightened of everything.
These people are met at the house by the fastidious butler Wadsworth (Tim Curry), the va-va voom maid Yvette (Colleen Camp) and the silent cook (Kellye Nakahara). Wadsworth, and Curry really has fun with this character, explains to the guests after dinner that they are each being blackmailed by his employer, Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). Mr. Boddy discovered all of their deepest secrets and rather than turn them in to the authorities, like any good American he decided to make some money from it. Wadsworth explains this to the guests in the presence of Mr. Boddy who is obviously not too pleased with this turn of events. But Boddy is one cool customer. Giving each of the guests weapons he tells them that if he is arrested, he'll expose them all. But if one of them will kill Wadsworth right now then they can all go on as if none of this ever happened. After all Wadsworth hangs around with communists (that's what Boddy was blackmailing him and his wife about) so whoever kills him will be doing his or her patriotic duty. Boddy turns out the lights. There's a thump, a scream and a shot. Someone turns the lights back on but it's not Wadsworth who's dead. It's Boddy.

This kicks off a mystery as the group of people try to figure out who killed Boddy and how it was done. As other people start to drop like flies, the mystery thickens. For me anyway this was a tremendously funny film. It's full of visual puns and gags, tons of one liners and double entendres and a fair amount of Three Stooges style slapstick. The dialogue is something else. It moves very quickly. Some of it, such as a famous monologue by Mrs. White, was improvised by the actors. I still fall out laughing whenever I watch Wadsworth flawlessly imitate Green in a key moment. There are plenty of lines from this film which I still find myself using today in certain work situations such as when the mulish Colonel Mustard states "There's still one thing I don't understand." and the other guests sneer "One thing?" or someone will say " to make a long story short.." and everyone else interrupts "Too late!" There are three different endings to the story. The theater versions all had just one different ending. On the DVD all three endings are included. The first two endings are set up with "This is how it could have happened" while the third and most satisfying ending is introduced with "But here's how it really happened". As mentioned not all the conclusions line up 100% with what actually happened in the film but if you're the kind of person to nitpick over things like that and miss out on the fun and silliness this may not be the film for you. Otherwise if you're perceptive and notice things you may indeed watch closely to see just who had access to the lead pipe, how many shots were fired from the revolver and who wasn't there when everyone ran to the kitchen. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

President Obama and Foreign Policy: Et tu, Hillary?

I could never ever ever be a politician. There are just too many times that you must smile and eat a big bowl of crap while pretending that it tastes good. And if you're good at pulling off that trick you can expect that many more such bowls will be delivered to you. h/t The Wire. You must occasionally pretend to be all things to all people, be on all sides of any issue at once and come up smelling like roses even as you're wading knee deep in the sewage of backroom deals and donor stroking. One of the most important skills you must have as a politician could be to never take anything personally. It's just business, after all. Everyone is self-interested. Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama are consummate politicians. And Mrs. Clinton is basically running an as yet so far formally undeclared campaign for the 2016 Presidential election. I think that with two years and change left in the Obama Administration it's a little early for her to be getting her name out there but she apparently operates on the principle of don't put off until tomorrow what you could be doing today. 

As a key member of the Obama Administration, former Senator, and Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, should she run, would be wise depending on the President's popularity around 2016, to keep her options open on whether her Administration would represent a break from the Obama Administration or a continuation of Obama policies. Recently, Mrs. Clinton sent a very deliberate message that at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, she would do things differently than President Obama.
This signal was sent loud and clear in a recent interview with centrist-right author and correspondent for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg. You can read it here in its entirety. I urge you to do so. It's long but gives you a great idea of how much Mrs. Clinton had to bite her tongue during her stint in the Obama Administration or perhaps more accurately how much she might want possible voters to believe she had to bite her tongue. Although she talks about how smart the President is, she unhesitatingly called out his foreign affairs principle by name saying:
  • Great nations need organizing principles, and “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle. It may be a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.  
  • "You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.” 
Clinton openly identified with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's refusal to countenance an independent Palestinian state saying that:
  • If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience. 
She also hinted that ISIS might not have become the problem that it is now had the US armed Syrian rebels. In short Clinton as President would tack a bit more to the right than President Obama has. It's not fair to uncritically proclaim, as some have stated, that she sees him as a wimp, but it is fair to infer that she would have a more aggressive foreign policy and would not be as cautious about the use of military power. It's amusing to read what Mrs. Clinton had to say about President Obama considering he has stretched executive authority on drone use far beyond what the second President Bush thought prudent, attacked Libya, and is currently at the time limit for the War Powers Act regarding intervention in Iraq, but life is strange. Obama loyalist David Axelrod not so subtly tweaked Mrs. Clinton for her "stupid" vote for the Iraq war, a signal that President Obama and his inner circle might be more than a bit peeved about Mrs. Clinton's interview.

Now it's not unusual for politicians to work with or even include on their team people they don't like. JFK wasn't very fond of LBJ. Eisenhower was coolly contemptuous of Nixon. Nobody liked Hoover. So it goes. And it only makes sense that Clinton would hint that she would chart her own path should she become President.way. Still, given the nastiness shown between Obama and Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, I was a little surprised that the President welcomed her into his Administration in the first place, let alone gave her such a high profile position as Secretary of State. If I were the President I wouldn't have hired her. And if advisers claimed I had to do so I would have given her a relatively low profile unattractive position and then micromanaged the hell out of her, all the while leaking to the press how disappointed "high ranking officials" were with her work so far. But that's just me. I would not have wished to help her burnish her resume.

It is a delicate balance to seek to succeed someone for whom you worked. Show that you're your own (wo)man but at the same time show that you're going to provide continuity for successful policies. The issue with Clinton's criticism is not that she made it. The issue is that it hearkens back to charges she made before and which Republicans make today, that the President is in over his head and substitutes sloganeering for action. It's not necessarily a fair critique but I wonder if the President, who has been accused of being rabbit eared about criticism, is at at least in part reacting to such feedback by intervening in Iraq without Congressional authority when just a few months earlier he claimed that he needed such authority to intervene in Syria. If Obama's approval ratings were higher I doubt Clinton would be running her mouth. But as they say about politics, if you want a friend, get a dog. 

So what do you think?

Are Clinton's criticisms just par for the course and no big deal?

Is Clinton disloyal?

Is she putting her name out there too early?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Music Reviews: The Coasters, Valerie June

The Coasters
The Coasters were a 50s era black rock-n-roll/doo-wop singing group who had a wonderful mix of tenor, baritone and bass voices. Musicians who were associated with The Coasters included people like later saxophone R&B god, King Curtis and guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Although they were not strictly speaking band members, it is impossible to discuss or appreciate The Coasters without giving tremendous credit to their primary songwriters and producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Similar to Greek-American R&B/blues musician Johnny Otis, who assimilated into black culture and black music so thoroughly that he married a black woman, described himself as black and lived on the black side of the segregation line, Leiber and Stoller had a keen appreciation of the popular black music and culture of their time. Some people, even members of The Coasters themselves, were surprised that the duo had such a pulse on black humor and musical stylings. Perhaps this is because to a lesser extent Jewish Americans were also cultural outsiders and had their own rich tradition of using sardonic humor to mask social commentary. In any event The Coasters' voices and instrumentation were a perfect fit for Leiber's and Stoller's lyrics and music. Stoller often composed at the piano. He played piano on some recordings. The band name came from the fact that the members were all from the Los Angeles area but did not achieve success until they signed with New York based Atlantic records. Some of the early Coasters' music was actually recorded by the group The Robins, two of whose members became founding members of the Coasters. Leiber and Stoller wrote for the Robins as well. They also wrote Hound Dog and quite a few other pop, rock, and soul songs.

As mentioned, much of The Coasters' music could be understood as fun uptempo dance music. Much of it had hidden meanings. If you happen to be fond of deep male voices this could be the best group you haven't heard of as The Coasters had very prominent bass and baritone parts sung by such band members as Dub Jones, Billy Guy and Bobby Nunn. I'm talking DEEP. Even the group's primary lead/tenor singer Carl Gardner, had a very resonant voice the likes of which is a little bit harder to find today. The song Riot in Cell Block #9 has bass vocalist Bobby Nunn singing lead. It lifted the sound effects from the radio show "Gangbusters". It also swiped the then popular blues stop time riff from Willie Dixon's Hoochie Coochie Man to paint a picture of a prison riot. Although the song is somewhat humorous and does not explicitly mention race, most people in 1950s segregated America probably didn't miss the overtones of a racial uprising or slave revolt. This could be why when white singer Wanda Jackson did a cover of it, she changed the POV so that the song was glorifying the brave (and presumably white) prison guards instead of the (obviously black) prisoners who were telling their friends to "pass the dynamite cause the fuse is lit". Go figure.
Hearing Down in Mexico now always makes me visualize Jessica Alba or Salma Hayek in some low rent dangerous desperado domicile doing a down and dirty dance. I first heard the song as a kid and only recently as an adult realized that the song's subject matter was really about a trip to a south of the border house of ill repute, a subject matter that later bands like ZZ Top would return to frequently. Leiber and Stoller were inspired to give a musical "latin" tinge to the story, in part by living around the Los Angeles Latino population. 

The songs Run Red Run and What about Us are semi-explicit social commentary about class and racial inequities. Leiber and Stoller had been reading about Nat Turner, among other things. I like the harmony on Run Red Run. Along Came Jones reimagines a black hero for television shows. Framed, which strictly speaking was a Robins song, is another piece about an unfair justice system. Smokey Joe's Cafe details the problems involved in trying to flirt with someone else's lady. It's similar to what Lynyrd Skynryd would do a few decades later with Gimme Three Steps. Little Egypt finds the hero making an honest woman out of a stripper. Searchin, Yakety Yak and Charlie Brown are fun slice of life songs aimed squarely at the teen market. The narrator may be a leering lech in Youngblood but it's all in good fun, mostly. Poison Ivy is I suppose what you might call a safe sex warning song. The rap group The Jungle Brothers later used the bass riff from Shopping for Clothes. I LOVE this song. Everyone should occasionally take the time to "stand in the mirror and dig yourself". Shopping for Clothes is just the song you need if you're cruising down the main strip in your lead sled. I really like The Coasters sound and production. It amazes me that music recorded back in the 50s and 60s sounds so good today. It's not too loud. It has more bass response in the vocals than is currently popular. Of course I don't listen to much modern music so if there is anyone out there like that today chances are I wouldn't know of them. My take on much of modern R&B is that the women all sing like they're in a competition to see who can put the most vowels in any given word while the men generally sound as if someone has grabbed or crushed two of their most critical body parts. Anyway, my sonic prejudices aside I always liked The Coasters and hope you do as well.

Valerie June
It's funny how things work out. I meant to mention this singer and musician quite some time ago. Her debut major label release "Pushin' Against a Stone" came out in 2013. I purchased the CD back then but just like with books sometimes it takes me a while to get around to things. So it goes. I was reminded of her from reading about her experiences and receptions at some tour or another. So I dug out the cd and gave it a listen. 

I am fascinated by accents, especially those of women (heh-heh) and with the first note she sings it is very obvious that June is from the South. I like that she is not trying to sound as if she's from anywhere else. Actually I don't think she could. Her very strong accent reminds me of relatives I haven't seen in decades and of some I'll never see again. Accent aside she has a reedy, quirky, somewhat nasally voice that may not be to everyone's taste. It took me a while to get used to it but now I think it's something really special. Her intonation and vocal choices are miles apart from most modern R&B singers, though like the best of them she also comes out of the church tradition. I don't say she's better, just different. She's not overusing melisma. I can't really compare June to many other people. I will have to go back and listen some more. The only musicians who immediately come to mind are women like Dionne Farris, Rhiannon Giddens, Dolly Parton, Macy Gray, or Lauryn Hill. June describes her sound as "organic roots moonshine music". I guess that says it all. Labels don't really apply. She seamlessly mixes and crosses such genres as soul, R&B, gospel, country, blues, black string band music, folk, bluegrass and more. She's also a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. You can hear her instrumental skills a bit more easily on the solo or acoustic cuts.
The cd is recorded well. There's clarity without too much volume or treble. Such heavy hitters as keyboardist Booker T. of Stax fame and guitarist Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys guest on this release. There might be a tad too much Auerbach as he also gets songwriting and production credits and apparently takes a few solos but again overall this is a solid piece of musical work. I will have to go back and find June's self-produced cd's but the way it usually goes is either they won't be in stock or will only be available for insane amounts of money. Although the cd may put you in mind of everything from 60s beehive bedecked girl soul revues to Appalachian front porch singing groups and more I found that the different styles all fit together: primarily because of June's truly distinctive voice. If you're open to music that's a bit off the beaten path you could do worse than to give this a listen. It's nice to see someone make a successful debut singing in their own voice and not letting their image become overly sexualized. For my money Somebody to Love and You Can't Be Told are the cd standouts! Somebody to Love could be an answer song to King Floyd's Handle with Care. I am looking forward to hearing what June does next.

Somebody to Love   Wanna Be On Your Mind Pushin Against A Stone 
You Can't Be Told  On My Way  Tennessee Time (Live)  
Working Woman Blues (Live)  The Hour