Friday, March 17, 2023

The View On Pop Culture: The Gourds, The Isley Brothers, "Hannibal" & Bruce Campbell (2001)

The Isley Brothers' The Heat Is On

For your humble columnist to discover a new musical talent is a rare joy. Although there is a world of music out there, and nobody can claim to have heard it all, some talented and entertaining artists fall through the cracks of even the most dedicated follower of musical fashions. Thus, when a package of discs from The Gourds came across my cluttered desk, I was at first suspicious of another unknown and unheard-of band from Austin, Texas. With a couple of spins of the recently released Shinebox (Sugar Hill Records), however, I was quickly won over to the charms of this quirky and talented band.

An expanded reissue of the band’s 1998 EP titled Gogitchyershinebox, the new version kicks off with a wickedly funny and oddly engaging cover of Snoop Dogg’s hardcore rap classic “Gin & Juice,” played country-style with nasal vocals and twangy guitars. It’s a surreal musical moment and one that quickly drags you into Shinebox, a skilled hybrid of roots rock, alternative country, bluegrass, and blues that is wonderfully infectious. Whether putting their peculiar brand on covers like David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and Billy Joe Shaver’s mournful “Omaha” or intelligent originals like “Lament” or “Trampled By the Sun,” the Gourds are among the best that the Americana genre has to offer. Sugar Hill has also reissued a couple of other out-of-print Gourds albums, including the critically acclaimed Stadium Blitzer CD.     

Much like the title of their latest release, The Isley Brothers are, indeed, “eternal.” The musical legends have been alive and kicking since the early fifties, two generations of Isley siblings cranking out the jams through six different decades. The CD reissue of 1975’s The Heat Is On (Epic/Legacy) showcases the band in its chart-topping, mid-seventies funk period, one of the most successful and artistically gratifying eras in the band’s lengthy career. The groove that propels the hit single “Fight the Power” is classic Isley – a rolling bass line, driving rhythms and Ernie Isley’s wonderfully fluid, Hendrix-influenced six-string work. Brother Ronald Isley’s vocals are rich and soulful, soaring above the thick instrumentation provided by guitarist Ernie and bassist Marvin, with brother-in-law Chris Jasper on keyboards. The Isleys called this line-up the “3+3,” with three older and three younger Isleys working together to create classic and memorable music. Always rolling with changing tastes, the Isleys would further evolve into disco and straight R&B as they moved into the eighties, but it is the hit-making 3+3 era that will always be remembered by fans.

When Thomas Harris created the memorable Hannibal Lector as an afterthought in his thrilling 1981 novel Red Dragon, no one could have foreseen that the character would take on a life of his own. The DVD release of Hannibal (MGM Home Entertainment) elevates the character to another level, that of myth. A sequel to the Academy Award winning film Silence of the Lambs that starred Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, if Hannibal is, in many ways, inferior to Jonathan Demme’s cinematic masterpiece, it is nevertheless stunning. Hopkins reprises his role as cannibal killer Hannibal Lector, infusing the character with an otherworldly sophistication and charisma, masterfully painting Lector as both predator and prey. Julianne Moore takes on the thankless task of filling Foster’s shoes as FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling, and does an admirable job, staying true to the character’s values in the face of adversity. Director Ridley Scott brings a visual beauty to the cat-and-mouse game played between Lector and Starling. The film ends differently than does the Harris novel of the same name, albeit more satisfyingly for the characters involved. The DVD special edition of Hannibal includes a second disc with commentary, various featurettes and an alternate ending and deleted scenes.          

Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill
How many among us have dreamed of a career on the silver screen? The fame and fortune of celebrities like Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks serves as a beacon for thousands of hopefuls from across the country who descend on Hollywood each year. Yet for every Nick Cage there are a hundred actors like Bruce Campbell, talented journeymen and women who are the meat and potatoes of the entertainment world. Campbell’s biography If Chins Could Kill (LA Weekly Books) should be required reading for anybody considering a career in acting. If childhood friend Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead horror film trilogy made Campbell a cult favorite, it was his work in films like The Hudsucker Proxy or teevee shows like Xena or the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr that forged a career for the likeable performer. If Chins Could Kill, subtitled “Confessions of A B Movie Actor,” is filled with Campbell’s charm and self-depreciating humor. Even more importantly, it accurately portrays the trials and tribulations of the average working actor. Campbell includes many personal stories, comments from long-time friends who grew up in the industry along with him, including Sam Raimi, and looks “behind the scenes” at Hollywood dealmaking. Campbell’s two decades of experience both in front and behind the camera provide him with a unique perspective. If Chins Could Kill is a funny, interesting, and informative backstage look at celebrity, or the lack thereof. (View From The Hill, August 2001)

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