Monday, November 29, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 11 vs. Tennessee Titans

I missed the win. Natch.
Christmas shopping at game time.
Think I had more fun.

Now that the season's
gone astray, Texans play good.
Wait 'til next year, 'gain...

Hockey game broke out
During the football game. No
Place for that at all.

Tennessee Titans - 0
Houston Texans - 20

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - Chicago 25: The Christmas Album

Back in 1998, Christmas arrived in August. Well, it did if you were a Chicago fan, that is. You see, it was in that month, the hottest down in here in Texas, when the then-thirty-year-old band released their first ever Christmas CD. And wouldn’t you know it was numbered twenty-five?

When you stop to think about it, you had to wonder why one of America’s most successful rock acts never recorded even one Christmas song. Peter Cetera did a one-off, semi-countrified version of “Silent Night” and Robert Lamm recorded “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but that was it. The closest the band ever got to a winter song was “Song of the Evergreens” off of Chicago VII.

Chicago 25, coming three years after Night and Day, Chicago’s CD of newly-arranged big band standards, the expectations among the Chicago fan base was quite high for the Christmas CD. What songs would they select? How would the band stamp their indelible sound on time-honored classics? And, honestly, how could they add anything new to the endless steam of Christmas music we hear year after year. And would any of these versions become definitive?

I could certainly give a track-by-track run down of Chicago 25 (and I have, to many friends and fellow Chicago fans) but I’ll point out a few high points of this CD. As I have mentioned before in previous reviews of Chicago records, the sheer number of instruments and vocalists in the band brings a multitude of possibilities to any one song. These seven musicians are professionals who can evoke any number of nuances from their instruments. Walt Parazaider brings all of his saxophones and his flute is featured on many songs. Robert Lamm’s piano playing, including electric piano, is a joy to hear throughout the fourteen songs of Chicago 25 but especially “The Christmas Song”. Bill Champlin’s vocal arrangements (“What Child is This?”) can give boy bands like N*Sync a run for their money to say nothing of his tickling the keys of his B3 organ. Keith Howland’s guitar embellishments interspersed in the songs evoke a jazz feel more than a rock sensibility. Back in 1998, trumpeter Lee Loughnane was undergoing a renaissance in the band as his trumpet playing markedly improved in the concerts and showed up on Chicago 25.

All the songs selected and arranged got the typical Chicago treatment. Some of the tunes are better for it. A few surprises do pop up. “Feliz Navidad,” as sung by Jose Feliciano, is one of the happiest Christmas songs out there. I dare you not to tap your toe when this song starts its inexorable march in your brain. Under Lamm’s reading, the song is a slow, moderately-paced song of beauty. In a nice touch, Lamm adds some xylophone and marimbas. It’s one of the unexpected yet understated songs on this record.

You can’t say Champlin’s bluesy “Santa Clause is Comin' to Town” is unexpected, however. To say that Champlin is soulful is to understate the obvious. But the rest of the band—especially Jason Scheff’s bass playing—really gets into the act. This is one of the funkiest cuts in Chicago’s catalogue and it gives the horns a chance to stand and just wail. What makes this rendition so much fun is Champlin’s lyrical riffs. “You better be cool\y’all gotta chill\you gotta behave\you all know the drill.” And the B3 just weaves in and out of this track. A highlight if you like your carols just a little bit dirty.

“Christmas Time is Here” is the Vince Guaraldi song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Lamm acknowledges his appreciation to Guaraldi with a delicate version of this newer classic. The horn arrangement is quite good as is Howland’s guitar licks. You'll love Lamm’s electric piano. He noodles in and out of the melody and his own vocals. Loughnane’s muted trumpet ends the piece, setting a lovely mood that can sweep you away back to your childhood.

The next track, however, will wake you up. Chicago’s secret weapon in 1998 was Lee Loughnane’s vocals. Yes, the trumpeter sang a few songs back in the 1970s (on Chicago VII, X, and XI) but had not stepped behind the mic since. So “Let it Snow” was a wonderful treat. In a version that would be at home down in New Orleans, Loughnane’s pulls a Louis Armstrong, singing and playing. This song proved so popular in 1998 that the band recorded a version in Spanish. “Let it Snow” even found its way into the summer tour set list. It was a little weird hearing this song in the heat but the feel of the song will melt snow or your margarita.

As good as these renditions are—Feliz Navidad” is a nice change and other songs, like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are my preferred versions—most of these songs don’t quite reach the level of definitive. One exception exists. Chicago’s reading of “Little Drummer Boy” puts all the other versions—and, yeah, that includes the Bowie/Crosby version—to the back of the line. The song itself, while nice, never had the heft of other Christmas songs, secular or sacred. Chicago changes the equation. In a fade-in, the drums kick up a shuffle beat, not fast, not slow, but just enough to get your toe tapping and to make you realize this is something different. As Bill Champlin’s soulful voice begins to sing the first verse, producer Roy Bittan’s (E Street Band) accordion colors the feel of the song, giving the song an acoustic quality underneath the main beat. Champlin makes it through the entire first verse with only the horns offering the answering counter melody. As you first listen to this version of the song, you’ll probably think “Okay, this is a great song and the horns are wonderful and discreet.” Then the chorus kicks in. And, in a first for Chicago, there is a choir: twelve additional singers to go with the three main Chicago vocalists. The result is somewhere between magical and sublime. Verse two brings in Jason Scheff’s high tenor, floating above Champlin and the choir. During this vocal onslaught, the horns continue to wail away and the accordion drones on and on. The horn charts are so stamped in my head that I hear them even when listening to another rendition. I consider this song one of the best songs in Chicago’s entire catalogue and a definitive version of "Little Drummer Boy."

Five years after Chicago 25, Rhino updated the disc with six additional songs and renamed the collection Chicago Christmas: What’s it Gonne Be Santa? It’s a testament to a band with vocalists growing out of the woodwork that five of the six new songs showcase a different lead singer. Again, the newer songs give that distinctive Chicago stamp on old classics. Lamm’s “Winter Wonderland” is pure Chicago circa 1973. In retrospect, “Winter Wonderland” provides a nice clue to the types of songs Lamm would release a year later on his excellent “Subtlety + Passion” disc. “This Christmas” has Scheff in full R&B mode while the acoustic “Bethlehem,” an original tune, provides a nice, acoustic glimpse of the three kings.

Just as “Little Drummer Boy” stood head and shoulders above the other tracks on Chicago 25, “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” is the best song from the extra tracks. Simply put, this is one of the flat-out most fun songs Chicago has ever recorded. The newest—and youngest—member of the band, guitarist Keith Howland, arranged this song and sings lead. It’s a fast, up-tempo song that brings to mind “When is This World Comin’ To?” off of Chicago VI. The horn charts are fantastic and, as is my wont, the bari sax all but blats its way out of your speakers. In the original lyric, the final verse lists the various toys that kids want. Howland tailors the final verse to instruments for his band mates. At the end, after he’s questioned Santa on what treat will be left for him, Howland shouts out “How ‘bout a shiny electric guitar?” and lets rip a guitar riff and solo that would have made Chuck Berry proud. It’s an exuberant ending to and exuberant song. It’ll leave you smiling and tapping your foot long after the song fades away.

Christmas is all about memories, usually from childhood. At times, it’s even about memories you never had but a nostalgia induced by music. Nat King Cole’s reading of “The Christmas Song” is definitive and no Christmas would be complete without hearing it at least one (fifty?) time. Ditto for Crosby’s “White Christmas.” But if you want something fun, occasionally different, but altogether satisfying, you can’t go wrong with inviting Chicago into your house for Christmas.

Forgotten Music: November 2010

Welcome to the November 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. Inspired by Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Friday series, here we examine music that has fallen off the public's radar or other music that never made a blip. We're doing this on a once-a-month basis, the last Thursday of every month.

With today being the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, the entries are a tad slim. I've gone ahead and posted the full list of our usual suspects. So, between turkey and football, click away and read some interesting posts (even if they are not about forgotten music).

Paul D. Brazil
Bill Crider
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Charlie Ricci
Ray Foster

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - It's a Go!

I'll post the list of folks who participated last month. I'll get the summary later on this weekend (since I'll be traveling and may not have access to a computer).

Since this is the only forgotten music entry ahead of the Christmas holiday, I'm posting a Christmas CD. It's not a theme, but if you've a favorite Christmas CD, this might be a fun time to post it (so we can all go out and get it during the season).

Until Thursday...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - Poll and/or Call for Entries

I have a quick question for those of us who do the Forgotten Music. For November, the last Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I can easily write a post ahead of time and post it. But I'll be out of town as of Wednesday, and may not be able to consolidate all the entries for Thursday. Granted, we have our standard list of regulars and I can post them.

Question: do we want to do a Forgotten Music for November?

If not, we can pick it up in December.


Houston Texans Haiku: Week 11 at New York Jets

Four and six again.
All four seasons in one game.
Why, how do we watch?

Big D changed coaches.
Two and O with J. Garrett.
Is there a lesson?

Houston Texans' role:
Give highlights to other teams.
Heartbreak for H-Town.

Houston Texans - 27
New York Jets - 30

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 10: at Jacksonville Jaguars

A tale of two halves.
First half sucked. Not so half two.
T'was a fun ending.

Here we go again.
Season sliding down the hill.
Just like every year.

The game's called football.
Not volleyball. In football,
You catch the ball, man!

Houston Texans - 24
Jacksonville Jaguars - 31

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 9 vs. San Diego Chargers

Missed it yet again.
Gaudy stats no longer good.
Bye-bye playoff bid.

We're hurt. So were they.
Why do their reserves beat ours?
No killer instinct.

Coach K: My advice.
Ride Foster every dang play.
He's the best we got.

Home cooking not good.
Season ticket holders: y'all
feeling gyped 'bout now?

San Diego Chargers - 29
Houston Texans - 23

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review Club: Naked Heat by Richard Castle

(This is the November 2010 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Trying to wrap your brain around the Nikki Heat Novel Concept is like Doc Brown trying to explain alternate universes to Marty McFly. “Naked Heat” is the second novel written by Richard Castle, the protagonist of the ABC television show “Castle.” On TV, Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, who photograph in on the back of the dust jacket of the new novel. In the show, Castle tags along with New York Police Detective Kate Beckett, using her as the inspiration for the character of Nikki Heat, the protagonist of the Nikki Heat novels.

Confused? You could be excused if you are, but there’s one thing that’s without question: the Nikki Heat novels, whoever wrote them, are good. Last year, I reviewed the first book, “Heat Wave,” for the November 2009 Book Review Club. How ironic that, nearly a year to the date, I am reviewing the second one.

If you caught the season premiere of this, the third season of “Castle,” then you’ll remember that Beckett and her team bust into the scene of a crime only to find Richard Castle himself there, looking rather guilty. In “Naked Heat,” there’s a similar thread. It’s October in the novel. The magazine article Jameson Rook (i.e., Castle’s stand-in) wrote about Nikki Heat (Beckett’s stand-in) has hit the stands, but Rook is nowhere to be found. What complicates this relationship is that Rook and Heat had a romance in the first book. Heat broke it off, but you can tell that she’s still got feelings for him.

Heat and her two lead detective helpers, Raily and Ochoa, (AKA “Roach”) are looking into the death of an apparent homeless person, dubbed Coyote Man, when they get a second call. Upon entering the apartment, the discover a dead body, stabbed in the back, slumped at her desk. They hear a sound from the kitchen and, bursting in, guns drawn, find Jameson Rook. The dead body is Cassidy Towne, gossip columnist for the New York Ledger. Rook, it turns out, was doing a feature on Towne as a follow-up to his successful piece on Heat, but “without the sex” he assures Nikki.

Thus, the team of Heat and Rook, like Beckett and Castle, are together again. And, all things considered, this book was pretty darn good. It has an effortless grace to it, a seamless string of good scenes and sparkling dialogue that is a pure joy. It’s easily better than “Heat Wave” despite the fact that I really enjoyed Heat #1. Like an episode of “Castle,” Naked Heat is not deep and thought provoking. It’s fun. And, more importantly, the “why” of the murders (as always, there are more than one) was cleverly hidden until the right moment.

“Castle” has been my favorite TV show since it started airing a couple of years ago. Just yesterday, I re-watched the pilot and was surprised at how well it holds up, what with all the ingredients of the “Castle” formula ready from the get-go. The Nikki Heat books are exactly the same way. The pieces are so well defined that you’d think they’ve been around for years. It is my sincere hope that two things happen. One, that ABC keeps paying the ghost writer to write new Nikki Heat books. And, two, that ABC never reveals the true writer. In this meta-fiction-within-fiction conceit, that’s one mystery that I don’t want solved.

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, November 1, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 8 at Indianpolis Colts

Texans lose. Again.
Still can't hang with the big boys.
Is the hope a dream?

Bad night for Texas.
Texans lose. Rangers closed out.
Time to go to bed.

Texans in prime time.
Don't like it. Prefer Sundays.
Enjoyed "Castle," though!

Houston Texans - 17
Indianpolis Colts - 30