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Wine: Reviews, Thoughts & Culture

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Valentin Bianchi - 2007 Elsa Syrah

I've looked at quite a few wines from Valentin Bianchi over the last year. This Argentine Winery makes offerings in many price categories. Today I'll elsalook at their Syrah. The 2007 Valentin Bianchi Elsa Syrah is 100% varietal. There was some minimal oak aging, however the goal was to keep fresh fruit at the forefront. 3,000 cases of this wine were imported and the suggested retain price is $8.99.

Cherry pie notes underscored by vanilla and light nutmeg burst from the nose of this Syrah. Throughout the palate cherry continues to dominate along with some darker fruit notes in the form of plum. The finish adds a subtle layer of earth and a good amount of black pepper. This wine has good acidity and a light tannic structure. Hearty meats, mushroom based dishes and strong cheeses will be fine matches for this wine.

For less than $9 this wine offers good varietal character, nice balance and enough elements to keep things interesting. An offering to open on one of the nights you don't want to break the bank, but you do want a decent glass of wine. Another solid and affordable offering from Valentin Bianchi.

Imported by Quintessential Wines

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Ashton Shepherd Debut Release Out Tuesday

Ashton ShepherdASHTON SHEPHERD TO RELEASE SOUNDS SO GOOD MARCH 4 DEBUT SINGLE “TAKIN’ OFF THIS PAIN” TOPPING CHARTS

NASHVILLE, TN – MCA Nashville will release Ashton Shepherd’s debut record Sounds So Good, produced by Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney, Reba McEntire), March 4.  Shepherd co-wrote 10 songs for the 11-track album, 7 of which she single-handedly penned, including the debut single “Takin’ Off This Pain”.

Wise beyond her years, the Alabama native began performing at an early age.  She taught herself guitar and won a contest that awarded her an opening spot for Lorrie Morgan, which drew attention from Nashville.

“Right after I got the record deal, I was asked how many original songs I had,” Shepherd recalls.  “I said, ‘About 150.’”

“I started singing as soon as I could talk,” commented Shepherd.  “I entered my first country showdown when I was eight years old.  As soon as I was big enough to write on paper, I was coming up with stuff.  I’ve got notebooks where I was writing down songs when I couldn’t even spell correctly, from the time I was five, six, seven years old.  A pinch before I turned 15, I started playing.  When I picked up the guitar, the songs just started pouring out, just one after the other.” 

For more information on Ashton Shepherd, log on to www.ashtonshepherd.com .

Check out some of her music here.

Willie Nelson - Moment of Forever

Moment of ForeverThat at almost 75 years of age, and close to 50 years after the release of his debut album, Willie Nelson still manages to release music is impressive. The fact that he can release an album as fresh and timeless sounding as Moment Of Forever in 2008 is astounding. Willie's career has taken on many phases, sounds and shapes. He's been a legend so long now it's hard to think of him as much else. Before he reached those heights though he had many other stops along the way. Outlaw is one of the titles he seemed to wear most proudly. It's fitting then that he had Kenny Chesney produce this album. Chesney is one of the most successful acts in country today, yet at least by perception and reputation he seems to stand outside the Nashville mainstream and go his own way.

Moment Of Forever does a fine job of combining Willie Nelson originals with well chosen covers. Dave Matthews' "Gravedigger" retains enough of the original versions funky vibe while simultaneously being unmistakably Willie. "Takin' On Water" has some organ parts that bring to mind mid 70's Stevie Wonder in their soulfulness. "You Don't Think I'm Funny Anymore" with it's old juke joint stomping feel to it is the best of the Nelson originals on the album. The closer though, a cover of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody," delivered with stirring conviction is the definitive highlight of the album.

Chesney's production is clean and streamlined. He doesn't bog the album done with any unnecessary layers. He acts as a conduit to bring Willie and the songs directly through the speakers to the listener.

Detractors might point out that "Moment of Forever" isn't quite "Shotgun Willie" or "Phases and Stages." And while that is true, "Moment of Forever" goes beyond what one can rightly expect from someone 50 years into a recording career.

Ludo - You're Awful, I Love You

Saint Louis based rock band Ludo are set to release their major label debut on February 26th. They recorded the album in L.A. over a stretch of approximately two months. Matt LudoWallace who has worked with artists such as Faith No More, Maroon 5 and Blues Traveler produced. One thing many of the artists Matt Wallace has worked with have in common is they feature well crafted songs. Ludo is no exception to this. You're Awful I Love Youis full of terrific harmonies and hooks. Imagine songs as catchy as the jangly guitar pop Fountains of Wayne creates, and lyrics as cynical as Warren Zevon's. That would give you an entry point to understand Ludo's sound. They are however, much more than that.

Their stated motto is to "entertain people without making them dumber." They achieve that goal on their major label debut. "You're Awful, I Love You" is an incredibly entertaining, catchy, easily accessible album to listen to. But it has a ton of substance and not only bears but rewards repeated listening. Beneath the amusing lyrics there are layers of musical complexity. On some tunes, guitar is out-front. In other cases the guitar takes a back seat to the Moog Synth that Tim Convy plays to great effect. On every song they manage to create wildly catchy melodic rock with great harmonies and darkly amusing lyrics. If that sounds like your cup of tea I recommend marking the February 26th release date on your calendar and grabbing "You're Awful, I Love You" before everyone else on your block has it. Ludo sounds like they're poised for great things. Don't be the last one to catch on.

Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo

Alone: The Home Recordings of Rivers Cuomo does a good job answering the question, Alone"What kind of songs does Rivers Cuomo write?" The eighteen tracks that make up this release run the gamut of piano ballads, punk infused numbers and jangly guitar pop to name a few of the styles he tackles. There are also a couple of covers on the album. Most notably "Little Diane," the Dion & The Belmont's chestnut. It's recorded with Sloan as his backing band. One of the great features of this CD is the extensive liner notes that Rivers Cuomo provides. They give the sort of insight into the songs, performances and inspirations that's usually reserved for box sets.

There are many fascinating tracks on "Alone...." One of them is "Dude We're finally Landing." It's less than a minute long and performed Acapella. It works perfectly.

The last track, "I was Made For You" was intended for the next Weezer album. However the band voted on a different composition instead. It's filled with melancholy and yearning, a tremendous closer.

"Alone..." works on several levels. On one hand it's a fascinating look into the creative process of the mind composing Weezer's music. Additionally it works well as a stand alone piece, even if you're unfamiliar with Weezer.  The Tunes are fleshed out enough that this doesn't sound nearly like nearly the demo reel it seems like it might be at first blush.

This album is a great choice for fans of melodic, well constructed pop music. Rivers Cuomo displays what can be achieved when the primary goal is writing a good song.

Ryan Bingham - Mescalito

MescalitoMescalitois Ryan Bingham's major label debut. The first thing that sticks out is his voice. He sings with a whiskey soaked, world weariness that fits in well with the southwestern themed music he's making. There are a couple of spots where his vocals bring Tom Waits to mind. Musically there are a hodgepodge of influences that come through. Certainly Joe Ely and Robert Earl Keen are amongst the hints I pick up. I was also reminded of Chris Whitley's brilliant debut when I listened to Mescalito for the first time. Ryan Bingham takes all those influences and adds his talent to the mix. In doing so he has come up with a sound that is simultaneously pleasingly familiar, yet somehow new and fresh. On again, off again guitarist for the Black Crowes, Marc Ford produced the album. He did a fine job as the music shines through and isn't bogged down with any unnecessary elements. The clean production helps Bingham's voice and music mesh together.  "Bread and Water" seems to skip along to a hand-clap beat, while guitar and banjo sizzle just below the surface.  One of the other highlights "Don't Wait For Me" features a gentle and elegant slide guitar that never overpowers his impassioned vocal.

However, my absolute favorite track on the album is "Ghost of Travellin' Jones." It's a song I could see Widespread Panic playing. In fact Bingham's delivery (more than his voice) on this one puts me in a mind of John Bell, Panic's leader.  It chugs along with an passionate intensity that stuck in my head after the first listen. Repeated listens underscore it's impact.

I haven't seen Ryan Bingham live, but the songs on Mescalito sound like they were made to be played to an audience. All fourteen tracks sound real and have a terrific rawness to them. Mescalito really breathes. It's one of the best new albums it was my pleasure to hear this year. I look forward to seeing live him when he hits my area.

The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Is A Joke

 Rock Hall

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced their inductees for the 2008 ceremony a few days ago. Leading the list are Madonna and John Mellencamp. Is that really the best they can do?

Jethro Tull, Chicago, Rush, The Moody Blues and Kiss to name a few all passed the 25 year eligibility requirement years ago. Yet all of these acts have never even been on the ballot. Every one of them, had a huge hand in shaping some piece of the rock landscape over the last (roughly) 40 years.

Jethro Tull and Chicago were incredible musical innovators bringing horns or flutes to rock music while creating complex canvases with their albums. The Moody Blues also created intricate soundscapes and employed orchestras when they needed to for their vision. Rush are perhaps the best 3 musicians in any one band. No one has done more to push the envelope in progressive rock than they have, all the while making the music approachable as well. They have been doing it well for over 35 years. Kiss spearheaded an entire style of music. They revolutionized the way music is marketed and sold. You can hate that idea or you can like it. But what you can't do is ignore them and simultaneously embrace Madonna. Anything negative that can be thrown at Kiss from the perspective of image or marketing applies to Madonna as well. Hell it was Kiss in the 70's who constantly reinvented themselves musically and eventually image wise. It's not only plausible but likely that she took the idea to reinvent herself for every album and tour directly from Kiss.

All of the acts I mention have also been commercially viable for long periods of time if not their entire careers. Rush for example, has been playing arenas for 30 years. Commercial success isn't everything by any means. But when it's coupled with the impact these acts have had on rock 'n' roll it's apparent that they should have been elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of fame years ago. These 5 artists are by no means an exhaustive list. There are many great artists the Rock Hall has ignored. In my opinion these are the most shocking and egregious omissions.

Most Hall of Fame's mean something. But if the Rock Hall keeps inducting the likes of Madonna while ignoring so many true innovative rockers they will continue to be a sham. I don't even think Madonna is in the category of rock. But if they want to elect her so be it. But by all means make sure the eligible, great acts are in first.

The All Time Best Christmas Albums

Tis the season to be jolly or perhaps grumpy. That depends on each of our moods and dispositions as much as anything. But regardless of if we're walking around spreading Cheer or dying to scream Bah Humbug the thing none of us can avoid at this time of year is Christmas Music. It's everywhere.  That said here are my picks for the five best Christmas Albums of all time. 5) James Brown - Funky Christmas. I love that fact that James put funky right in the title. Is there a chance that anything JB put out wasn't going to be funky? One important JBthing to note is that this isn't your average Christmas album. It's not James singing a dozen or so standards, not that I wouldn't enjoy that too. This was James at the top of his game in terms of social awareness and message songs. So he sprinkles some of that in with the Christmas cheer. But with songs like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto," James is clearly trying to do more than just entertain. He does mix in some standards like "Merry Christmas Baby." Taken as a whole it's an interesting package and the Godfather makes it work.

  

4) Dean Martin - Making Spirits Bright. Dino's Christmas album is the polar opposite of Dean MartinJames Brown's. On this collection he rips through 15 classics with those legendary pipes.  Whether it's "Silent Night" or "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" Dean sings his butt off. If you're looking for a collection of Christmas standards sung by a legendary crooner you're going to have a hard time doing better than this Dean Martin collection. The is one Christmas album that should make the whole family happy. It was remastered a few years back, so the sound is up to par as well.

  

3) B.B. King - A Christmas Celebration of Hope. B.B. King has accomplished so much in his legendary career it's hard to believe it took him 50 years to release a Christmas album. B.BIn 2001 The King of the Blues finally clocked in with a full length Christmas release and it was worth the wait. As with much of his music there's an inherent joy in every note he wrings out of his guitar. He runs through some standards such as "Please Come Home for Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." But he also includes some lesser known tunes and an original, "Christmas Love." One of the highlights is the closing track, an instrumental take on "Auld Lang Syne." B.B. King is truly a treasure of American Music. His Christmas Album befits a king.

   

2) Ray Charles - The Spirit of Christmas. Brother Ray's Christmas album is perfectly Ray Charlestitled. The passion and spirit he brings to the recordings on this album reverberate through the speakers. He runs through eleven well known Christmas songs and pretty much makes most of them his own. Whether he's singing lighter fare like "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" or the more serious "What Child Is This" he injects each track with his soulful vocals and inventive musical styling. For my money though the closing track, "Baby It's Cold Outside" is the highlight of the set and one of the benchmark vocals of his career. Crank up some Brother Ray this Christmas, he'll keep you warm!

  

1) Elvis Presley - Elvis' Christmas Album. All these years later the one Christmas album I Elvisplay the most every year is this one. It's also one of the first I owned. 2007 marks 50 years that this one has been out. Like most of Elvis' output from the late 50's it still sounds fresh and integral. Does anyone want to hear anyone else sing "Blue Christmas" after hearing Elvis own it? "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)" is probably worth the cost of the CD all on it's own. Elvis runs through several more sacred numbers on the album and he sings them with reverence. If you're only going to own one Christmas album, Elvis' is the one to go with. He's the King for a reason.

A Little Mink for Christmas

Pop-Punk-Rockers Mink have given their fans an early Christmas present in the form of Mink HHa holiday single. "Little Drummer Boy (Girl)"has soaring guitar riffs and a driving beat that certainly rocks in a more furious way than other version of the song I've heard. An urgent vocal and some well placed drum fills complete the package. Assuming Kiss in the "Animalize" era had recorded "Little Drummer Boy" it might have a similar sound. If you're tired of hearing Holiday songs by the likes of Bing Crosby and Johnny Mathis, Mink's new Holiday Chestnut might be just the sonic nugget your ears have been hoping would be in your stocking.

Stacey Kent - Breakfast on the Morning Tram

Stacey Kent's newest release Breakfast on the Morning Tram marks the first time she has recorded songs written particularly with her in mind. Previous releases have focused more specifically on standards. In total there are four tunes written expressly for her and this album. The lead track Breakfast on the Morning Tram"The Ice House" and the title track are two of them. They also happen to be amongst the strongest tracks on this release.

Stacey Kent's voice is unique and enjoyable to listen to for it's impressive range of styles. Her collaborators on this album form a strong jazz ensemble that swings.  Every note shows them to be accomplished players well suited to Kent's strong vocals. One of the most interesting song choices is Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." Stacey Kent's version will have you hearing the song in an entirely new way. Her voice is smooth as silk where Stevie Nicks voice is rough around the edges. The important thing is that it works wonderfully.

Less surprising, but no less successful is her version of "What a Wonderful World." Are there any songs in the jazz world more associated with a performer than that one is with Louis Armstrong? What sets this version apart is that she makes it her own and forces the listener to look at a well known tune in a brand new light.

Stacey Kent has a strong following in France and thus there are 2 songs with vocals in French on this album.

If you're a fan of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn or Norah Jones, Stacey Kent is an artist to seek out. "Breakfast on the Morning Tram" is a good place to start. 

Gary Allan - Living Hard

Gary Allan's latest release is called Living Hard. More than anything "Living Hard" is fueled by guitar. Make no mistake he's a country artist and this is a country record. It just so happens that the album also rocks fiercely. His voice is gritty, heartfelt, wonderfully unpolished and chock full of raw emotion. The lead single from the album is Watching Airplanes one of the mellower tracks on the album. My personal favorites are "She'sLiving HArd So California" which puts me in a mind of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and "Wrecking Ball" which was co-written by one time Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed.

"Living Hard" is the sort of country music that Merle Haggard might make in 2007 if he was a younger man. It has more in common with great Southern Rock than it does with much of the contemporary music out there labeled as country. Gary Allan's sound has no pop sheen on it.

The two words that kept ringing in my head listening to this album are honest & guitar. Honest because that's the word that best describes how the music sounds to me.  And as good as the vocals and other music are on the album the guitar playing carries the day. While some of the riffs are pretty big and dirty sounding they are always tasteful and compatible with the songs. In that way they remind me a little bit of the guitar work that David Lindley did on Jackson Browne's early 70's stuff.  

If you like real country music, southern rock or just good music without pretense Gary Allan's "Living Hard" is a release to seek out.

Californication

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are suing Showtime for having a show called "Californication." They claim it devalues their CD of the same name. Clearly they must be delusional, if not insane.

The term Californication appeared in Time Magazine as far back as 1972, 27 years before the Chili Peppers released their album.

In 2006 their album "Stadium Arcadium" was the best selling of the year. They toured the world and capped things off by winning 5 Grammy awards.

For a band that is still that commercially viable, suing a Cable Network over the title of a Television program seems desperate and lame. I have no idea if they have a chance in hell of winning this lawsuit but it makes them look ridiculous.

Are they trying to get their name in the news to spike CD and merchandise sales for the holiday season? I'm not sure what else this could be about especially since the timing of the lawsuit comes several weeks after Californication's season finale aired. Odd that they wouldn't sue during the previous two plus months that the show was actually airing.

Once considered to be anti-establishment innovators and an influence on music and bands that came after them the Red Hot Chili Peppers now look like they want to be the establishment. Whether this lawsuit is someones idea at quick publicity, quick cash or they actually feel wronged it still stinks. With this lawsuit The Red Hot Chili Peppers want everyone to believe they own the word "Californication." These guys were much more interesting when they were wearing socks on their penises.

Razorlight - Before I Fall to Pieces

Before I Fall to PiecesFollowing up on their well received 2006 album, London based Razorlight have recently released a digital EP "Before I Fall to Pieces." The title track is the single and it's cool sounding Brit Pop.  It starts out with an interesting guitar riff and has a pounding, pulsating drum beat that speeds up at the end. In between are numerous cool flourishes including a solid vocal. But don't take my word for it you can hear it for yourself: Razorlight - "Before I Fall to Pieces" from Before I Fall to Pieces Digital EP.

Stevie Wonder - Madison Square Garden

Stevie WonderThe lights went down and without fanfare Stevie Wonder walked out to the middle of the stage accompanied by his daughter. He briefly addressed the crowd and explained that his Mom's death last year ended up inspiring him to get back on the road to do what he does best. After that brief introduction he proceeded to bring the house down for two and a half hours. He served up so much funky music the Garden seemed to take on a swamp like vibe. Other than speaking to the crowd every now and then he didn't stop. Several songs such as "My Cherie Amour" were given intros that explained their origin. During other songs such as "Ribbon In The Sky" He urged the audience to participate and they gladly obliged

He smiled broadly the entire night and kept the audience engaged. Mostly he played and sang with passion and zeal.

By the time Stevie played the first notes of "Signed, Sealed Delivered, I'm Yours" the crowd was absolutely jumping. A few tunes later he mentioned that his mom had two favorite singers. One of them was Ella Fitzgerald and the other he said he was happy to have recorded a duet with.  And with that he brought out Tony Bennett to duet with him on "For Once in My Life." An already giddy crowd was given an additional boost. They both sounded great and the song was performed true to their Grammy nominated version of 2006.

Stevie's band is large and tight. In addition to a drummer,2 keyboard players, bassist and backup singers he has 2 percussionists and 2 guitarists. Their sound is thick, immense and overwhelmingly joyous.

Late in the show the familiar notes to "Superstition" began to ring out. It had occurred to me early in the night that there are only 2 men living with as much funk in their bones as Stevie Wonder. George Clinton is one of them. As "Superstition" started I thought of that again and then I had an out of body experience as Stevie called the other gentleman with equal funky credibility to the stage. That man is of course Prince. He strode out, strapped on a guitar and played lead. It seemed like the crowd was already as high as it could get but Prince proved that notion wrong. The sell out crowd found another level. In the middle of the song Prince and Stevie were side by side dueling a solo, guitar versus keyboard. It was just unbelievably good.  Normally an appearance by Prince would have to be THE highlight of a show. Make no mistake it was tremendous. However the entire show was one highlight after another. To name that moment as the singular one of the evening would sell the rest of it short.

Stevie Wonder is clearly having a terrific time out on the road playing from his vast catalog of classic music. If the audience at Madison Square Garden is any indication, fans are as well.

the Bird and the Bee - Please Clap Your Hands

Please Clap Your Handsa 5 song EP, is the newest release from the Bird and The Bee.

The duo of Greg Kurstin and Inara George have a sound that's hard to categorize and highly original.

The vocals are jazzy, cool and have a 60's hipster vibe to them. The music veers off in that direction as well. But it also has dancy beats and trippy drums sounds.

Keyboards abound and they run the gamut of sound from pure jazz at times to wild 80's style flourishes at others. Various other avantgarde textures complete a compelling kaleidoscope of sound.

Somehow it all comes together in a fantastic package. Most importantly, it works.

Please Clap Your Hands 

Their originals are very good and demand your attention for their inventiveness and sheer exuberance.

Most revealing for a duo whose entire sound is a pleasant and welcoming surprise is the last track on the EP. Dozens of people have covered the Bee Gees "How Deep Is Your Love." Not a single one of them comes close to this version. It alternately respects the original yet forges some of it's own sound. It might be the single best cover of a Bee Gees song to date. I know I haven't heard a better one.

"Please Clap Your Hands" is a welcome addition to your collection if you enjoy jazzy vocals and eclectic music. It's likely to be one of the more interesting things you hear this year. Perhaps one of the most often played too.

Eagles - Long Road Out of Eden

When the Eagles reunited for a tour in 1994 most people believed it was a one time cash grab. Once around the park Jeeves, fill the truck with money, and head home. Except it didn't happen that way. Thirteen years later they're still together. That's longer than their original (1971-1980) run. And now, 28 years after "The Long Run," there's finally a new Eagles studio album.

"Long Road Out of Eden" is, well for one thing, long. Twenty new songs spread over 2 discs. For a band that hasn't released a full album of songs since 8-track tapes were popular, the largesse is not only excusable but welcome.

Which version of the Eagles sound do you want? The early country feel? The later epics? You want Joe Walsh guitar licks? Timothy B. Schmit on lead vocals? Whatever piece of the Eagles sound suits your fancy "Long Road Out of Eden" delivers.

Most importantly those heavenly harmonies are ever present. In fact, if there is one thing most consistently at hand over the 91 minutes their new release runs, it's the Eagles legendary harmonies.

Henley, Frey, Walsh & Schmit all have their own songs to shine on lead vocals. The underpinning of each though is when all 4 of their voices come together to form that classic Eagles sound.

If you want this album, and if you like the Eagles you should want it, you'll either have to go to Wal-Mart or order it on-line. The Eagles made a deal to distribute it exclusively though them at retail. Shopping Wal-Mart is a small price to pay for the pleasure of a new Eagles release. One benefit of this deal is that at around $12 it's priced like a single CD.

Here's hoping the next one arrives before 2035.

The Police - Live at Madison Square Garden

It's been 3 months since I saw The Police play the Garden. Over twenty years is how long I had waited for the opportunity, since I missed them the first time around, before they broke up.

In retrospect, I wish I was still waiting. Some things are better on paper, or in your minds eye, than in reality.

If there was an ounce of passion on display at Madison Square Garden when I saw The Police, it was clearly not coming from the stage. Cold, calculated, apathetic and disinterested are all words that accurately describe their August performance at the greatest arena in the world.

All three of them are good musicians, at the very least. Their set was far from sloppy. In fact they seemed to have it down. Missed notes were not the problem. The set list was not an issue.

The length of the show was one issue. Clocking in about 15 minutes shy of two hours is completely unacceptable. Arena headliners who have no problem charging hundreds of dollars for the right to see them have no business playing a millisecond less than 2 hours. It may not be written in stone anywhere, but it should be.

The length of the set and the price of the ticket are minor grievances compared to the utter lack of zeal displayed by Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers & Sting. Over twenty years between tours, playing New York City and MSG for the first time in even longer and they seemed bored to tears up there. If the musicians on stage don't care, how can I care? I have seen toll booth collectors more excited about their jobs than the members of The Police are about theirs.

Maybe they do hate each other as much as it's always been rumored. That would explain the lack of interaction between them onstage. If they had at least channeled their hatred  that would have been something with feeling. As it stood there were only two things The Police proved for sure, their love of money, and a total disdain for their audience.

If you're thinking about plunking down some money to see The Police, do yourself a favor, flush it down the toilet instead, at least you'll save on gas and parking.

It's three months later, and it still stings (pun intended).

Patti Scialfa - Play It As It Lays

Play It as It Laysis Patti Scialfa's third album. It's also her best. More than her previous releases this one shows her musical roots are deeply embedded in the Asbury Park sound.

Soulful, bluesy music, delivered with grit.

Amongst her musical collaborators in the studio were Steve Jordan, Nils Lofgren, Soozie Tyrell and her husband, Bruce Springsteen.

None of them overshadow the terrific songs she wrote for this album or her passionate vocals. They all play with fire though, especially Nils whose trademark guitar sound is on full display through several tracks.

More fully realized than her previous efforts "Play It Where It Lays" also begs and rewards repeated listening. Layers of sound become more apparent with each subsequent listen.

Hopefully during a break from her touring duties with the E Street Band she'll get the chance to take these songs on the road with her own show, they would surely flourish in that setting.

Morrissey - New York City

Last night at the Hammerstein Ballroom Morrissey and his band tore through a 22 song set with fervor. His backing band was tight and played powerfully with zeal and joy. Their sound had a ferocious bite that kept the SRO crowd happy all night. His rhythm section is comprised of two brothers. No surprise once you hear them, as they sound so good together, they've probably been doing so since they were in diapers.

Morrissey's vocals soared over the wall of sound his band provided no matter how loud they rocked the joint. For his part, he worked the room like the seasoned alternative rock statesman that he has become. He conveys a charm and charisma from the stage that keeps the audience engaged every second he's out there.

Two songs in the middle of the set leaned towards the mid-tempo side. Outside of that coupling Morrissey and his band kept up a furious pace. Briefly between some songs he addressed the crowd. Mostly, he sang his ass off.

The set list was made up of both solo tunes as well as Smiths songs. Both Morrissey and the band treated each and every song equally, wringing every note and emotion possible out of them.

Some performers exude a joy onstage that makes it clear how much they enjoy what they're doing. Last night in New York City, Morrissey had a blast. It was my pleasure to share his good time.

Ben Harper - Lifeline

Ben Harper has regularly released albums since 1994 Lifeline is his latest. Coming in at just over 40 minutes it's a concise effort. However it never sounds rushed.

His best work tends towards a sultry soulfulness and this is no exception.

Recorded right after his last tour ended the songs have a warmth that come both from his band, The Innocent Criminals, being so tight, and recording to analog tape.

The songs are terrific, but more than that the entire project has a feel. It's comfortable, like an old pair of jeans but continually surprises with musical flourishes.

Guitar riffs, organ grooves and Ben Harper's incredibly pleasing voice are amongst trademark sounds that embellish song after song and give them life.

"In The Colors" and the title track are a couple of the highlights. The penultimate track "Paris Sunrise #7" is an instrumental and rocks with a harder bite than the rest of the album.

The people who influenced Ben Harper shine through his songs sometimes. Listen close and a couple of the songs will recall Marvin Gaye. Still another brings to mind Terence Trent D'Arby. Through it all though, the music is uniquely Ben Harper

Next Sunday morning, brew a pot of coffee, cook some eggs and have some friends over for Brunch. Crank up "Lifeline" while you're at it, everyone will be glad you did.