Dec 30, 2009

Centerfield Maz's Top 20 Albums of 2009

Hard rock is alive and well but not in the United States. For me, most of the best new music is coming out of Europe. Gothic Metal is currently pretty much the mainstream in Europe right now. This sub genre of Heavy Metal takes many different forms. I have become a huge fan of the female fronted Goth bands. Some of it can be labeled as Gothic Femme Metal and others as Symphonic Metal. I only hope America will catch on and this wave can save the music scene over here. There are still the classic rock acts which will continue to dominate the concert venues, and some good female jazz vocalist as well.


#1 LACUNA COIL: SHALLOW LIFE

This great Italian band is out of Milan, Italy and have broken into the American mainstream. Hopefully they will open the door on European Gothic Metal in America. The SHALLOW LIFE debuted at #16 on the US Billboard charts & became Lacuna Coil's first top 20 US Album. They have toured North America in small clubs.

The band is fronted by two singers a male & female giving them a unique sound. The beautiful brunette Christina Scabbia provides the female vocals with her fantastic voice and Andrea Ferro is the male vocalist. This, is their fifth album & gives them even more depth, as they experiment further. An asbolutely great band rock band.

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#2 FLOWING TEARS: THY KINGDOM GONE
I can't stop listening to this album the past month. It's is a great concept album about the loss faith in humans. It's from a German band that has been around since 1996. Not as much Goth as they are a rock band, and by far their greatest release. Helen Vogt sings powerful lead vocals with a touch of an accent & a unique style. She throws in a sensual whisper vocal in many of the songs as well. The music is everything from rock to metal, with clasical piano mixed in, just fantastic. This album could rank number one or two.


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#3 CORONATUS: PORTA OBSCURA
I love this German gothic Femme Metal band. They go a step further in the genre by having two lead female singers, who are completely different from each other. Ada Fletchner (brunette) does the melodic rock singing. I love her voice, with that touch of her German accent. I was sad to hear she has left the band. Then there is the high mezzo soprano range of Carmen Schafer (blonde) who sings like an opera singer. The music behind the ladies is hard & melodic with great arrangements. Their songs are sung in English, Latin & German.



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#4 PAUL McCARTNEY: GOOD EVENING NEW YORK CITY
This is a compilation CD & DVD of Pauls three nights at Citi Field this past summer. I was lucky enough to be at two of the shows, but I don't see myself in the movie. LOL One of the best sets of concerts I ever saw, and only Bruce came close to rivaling this summers concert tour. The Best Buy version has Pauls historic Letterman appearance as well as the full concert outisde the Ed Sullivan Theater. It's Maccas best live album since WINGS OVER AMERICA!!
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#5- AESMA DAEVA- HERE LIES ONE WHOSE NAME IS WRITTEN ON WATER 2009
This symphonic/electronic metal band is from Minnesota right here in America. This release comes on the 10th anniversiary of its original release, with new mixes. This band is like nothing you ever heard, even in the symphonic metal genre. Operatic female vocals, with chants over heavy guitar riffs, and pounding drums & bass. What a combination, believe me they are very different.

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#6 ACE FREHLEY: ANOMALY
Ace is back and his solo album blows the new KISS album away. The Bronx boy just does what he does best, plays old fashioned straight forward hard rock & roll. The album was recorded at his Westchester home and features a great cover of the old Slade song, FOX ON THE RUN. Ace continues his instramental; FRACTURED, a series which has been on all his solo albums. This album picks up where his 1978 solo album left off.Great guitar work!


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#7 WOODSTOCK- 40th ANNIVERSARY BOXED SET
Finally a much needed upgrade for the historic concert with some of the best performances by some of the greatest rock icons ever. I love the bonus DVD with the never before seen performances. This was one of the best live albums ever to be released, with every performance legendery.
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#8 THEATRES OF VAMPIRES: DESIRE OF DAMNATION
A dark Italian Gothic Metal band, based on the theme of Vampires. Vampire metal!! This was a 2007 release, but an '09 I Tunes release, so it qualifies since I just got turned on to them this fall. Italian Singer Sonya Scarlett has an exotic dark style, sexy yet evil & scary. Deep down, she's probably a nice Italian girl that will bite your neck off. At live shows she has been known to cut herself with razors and have members of the audience drink her blood in exchange for the gift of imortality. WOW! I love the bands beat, guitar work and background effects. A bit of a sixties pyschadelic sound to it as well.

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#9 CROSBY STILLS & NASH: THE DEMOS
This was one of the great tours of the past year, what a show they put on at Jones Beach with the ocean as the backdrop. The Demos album is a collection of unrealesed early versions of CSN classics from their best period (1969-1970). Its worth it just to hear how good their voices sound on these recordings. My favorite version of Stills' Love the One Your With.


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#10 MADELEINE PEYROUX: BARE BONES
Madeleine has become one of my favourite female vocalists, especially in the jazz genre. She always puts out a quality effort and after seeing her live this past year & meeting her backstage, I'm an even bigger fan.

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#11- WITHIN TEMPTATION: AN ACOUSTIC NIGHT AT THE THEATER
I boasted about this band last year and will do it again. They are one of the best groups on the planet. The veteran Dutch symphonic metal band is fronted by the beautiful Sharon den Adel with her fantastic mezzo soprano voice. This album is an acoustic follow up to last years live; BLACK SYMPHONY which featured a full orchestra & choir. Check this band out, they are simply great!!!
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#12 LUNATICA: NEW SHORES
This veteran band from Switzerland is symphonic metal, as well as very progressive. It's my favorite album from them overall, especially the songs: My Hardest Walk & The Chosen Ones.

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#13 EPICA: DESIGN YOUR UNIVERSE
This great Dutch band can be categorized as both symphonic & progressive metal. They are a pretty big band around the world, and actually headlined their first North American Tour last year, after the release of their sucessful album THE DIVINE CONSPIRACY. They specialize in "beauty & the beast" vocals, which is a combination of male death growls & a soft female voice. The band is fronted by the beautiful Red headed mezzo soprano Simone Simons.

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#14 HEAVEN & HELL: THE DEVIL YOU KNOW
The masters are back with a typical Ronnie James Dio album. Tonny Iommi is great on guitar as is Geezer Butler on bass & Vinny Appice on drums. Its not Heaven & Hell but its good to hear the boys can still do it. Hoping for another Tour in 2010.
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#15 MAGICA: WOLVES & WITCHES
This Romanian band fronted by the high pitch vocals of Ana Mladinovici, reminds me a bit of the 1980's metal sound with some Deep Purple & Dokken touches mixed in.
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#16 SIRENIA: THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR
This was one of the first Gothic Female/ Symphonic/ metal bands I got into a few years back. Being a big fan of former vocalist Monica Pedersen, it took me a while to warm up to the new singer Ailyn. The Norwegian band changes lineups alot but Morten Veland always puts out a great product.



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#17- BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: WORKING ON A DREAM
Certainly not in the class of Bruce's best E-Street work. Even he only covered the title track on most of the 2009 Tour. The Tour was great, rivaled only by Paul McCartney as the best tour of the year.
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#18-DIANA KRALL- QUIET NIGHTS
Another great release by the beautiful Diana Krall. The album debuted & peaked at #3 on the US Billboard charts in April. The I-tunes version has a great Beatles, Lennon/McCartney cover of For No One.
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#19- CRUCIFIED BARBARA: TILL DEATH DO US PART
Man do they look good & rock hard. These Swedish ladies rock hard with a simple pure punk/metal style, in the mold of Joan Jett, Lita Ford & the Runaways.

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#20- KISS: SONIC BOOM:
First off, I am a big KISS fan since 1976. This is their first new release in a decade, but it wasn't as good as 1998's "Psyhco Circus" which was ok. I think only the four originals can only make the genuine KISS sound I prefer. That's why I passed on the tour, maybe if they took off the make up.

Dec 24, 2009

Remembering George Michael & "The Sports Machine"

George Michael was born on March 24, 1939 at St. Louis Missouri. He began promoting Motown in the Mid West and later moved to the Philadelphia area as an AM DJ, until 1966. He then came to New York City and remained there for over a decade on 77 WABC AM Radio during it's hey day. I remember him when I first started getting into music, during my grade school years of the mid seventies. AM radio was still the thing and 77 WABC was #1, before 66 NBC took over and then we all switched to FM by the end of the decade.

Next time Michael appeared in my life was on Sunday Nights, on the first nationally syndicated sports highlight show. The show was simply titled The George Michael Sports Machine and it began in the early eighties. Back in the day before ESPN & sports networks, all we had was Howard Cosell's Monday Night Football, Halftime highlights & the baseball Games of the Week to know what was happening around the leagues. Every Sunday before going to bed for school (& later work) I would tune into George Michael's Sports Machine.


It was a great tool for sports fans, especially during Football season & pennant races. Michael just talked over the weeks highlights in his classic AM DJ style, without any agendas or criticisms. After introducing each of the highlights, he pressed a button which activated the "sports machine", video monitors attached to a computerized video reel. It was a great show & brings back alot of good memories. Michael was a Washington D.C. sports caster since 1980, and it's where the Sports Machine began.

By 2004 he was joined on the show by a female sportscaster, Lindsay Czarniak. She remained for three years, and in 2007 Michael shut down the Sports Machine for good. On Christmas Eve 2009, Michael passed away from complications from leukemia. The sports television pioneer was 70.

Dec 11, 2009

"The Panamanian Express"- 1970's Oakland A's: Alan Lewis

In the late sixties A’s owned Charlie Finley was putting together a team that would win three straight World Series titles and five straight divisions. He believed in anything that would lead to wins, and speed was a big part of the game. In 1967 he brought in the first of his full time pinch runners, his name was Alan Lewis “the Panamanian Express”.

Alan Sydney Lewis was born on December 12, 1941 in Panama. He had success in the minors, batting .300 and stealing 116 bases in 1966. He was brought up to the A’s in 1967 appearing in 34 games, coming to bat only six times getting one hit. He was primarily used as pinch runner, stealing 14 bases while scoring 7 runs. He played for six years with Oakland, appearing in 156 games, batting a lowly .206 (6 hits in only 29 at bats). He stole an average of seven to eight bases a year after his rookie season, scoring 47 runs, an average of eight runs scored per season. In his last season of 1973, he never came to bat at all, but was still successful on the bases. He appeared in 35 games stealing seven bases and scoring a career high sixteen runs.

Finley’s theory was that a designated runner could win up to five extra games during the season, which could mean the difference in the standings or a short post season series.

The Panamanian Express was activated for the 1972 World Series when Reggie Jackson pulled a hamstring in the ALCS and was placed on the DL. Lewis appeared in six of the seven games, getting thrown out twice by Johnny Bench attempting to steal. In Game #4 at Oakland, he came in to pinch run in the 9th inning down by a run. He scored the tying run after two consecutive singles; as the A’s went on to win it 3-2. In Game #7 he ran for Gene Tenace in the 6th inning, with the score tied 2-2. Sal Bando hit a fly ball to left field and when Bobby Tolan fell down, Lewis scored what would be the Series’ winning run.

In 1973 he was activated for the ALCS against Baltimore and scored a run appearing in two games. In the World Series against the Mets he first appeared in Game #2 pinch running in the 9th inning and scoring on a Reggie Jackson single. He appeared in Game #3 at Shea pinch running in the 9th inning and getting stranded at second. He game into run in the 7th inning of Game #5, but was stranded when Tug McGaw retired the side. He didn’t attempt any stolen bases on Jerry Grote and finished out his career winning another World Series.

His A’s team mates never welcomed Lewis, believing the roster spot should have gone to an all around position player. He only received a 1/10 share of the Series earnings. In 1974 he was replaced by official designated runner, Herb Washington. After baseball Lewis went on to be a successful scout.

Nov 21, 2009

Tragic Story of New York Giants Edwin Doheny

Edwin Richard Doheny goes way back to the 1800s New York Giants baseball team. He was born in Northfield, Vemont on November 24, 1873 and was a star pitcher on the sandlots. A Boston reporter turned the Giants on to him and he was signed and brought to the early Polo Grounds. He pitched for the Giants for six seasons, never having a winning recod. He did win 14 games in 1899 and went 37-65 overall never living up to his billing. He was sent over to Pittsburgh and went 6-2, followed by two 16 win seasons, (going 16-4, and 16-8).

Then suddenly he began to act strange, fighting with his own team mates and drinking heavily. He became very paranoid and believed detectives were on his trail following him. The Pirates couldn’t even find him as he was hiding out in his home in Massachusetts. He returned to pitch but his behavior became totally irrational. His brother brought him to get treatment. When he got word the Pirates had lost the 1903 World Series he beat a male nurse unconcious with a cast iron rod. He was brought to an insane asylum where he remained for 13 years until his death in 1916 at the young age of 43.

Nov 8, 2009

Concert Reviw: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band at Madison Square Garden 11-7-09

The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle!!
It was like being home again. Another great night of Bruce at Madison Square Garden, a much more cozier venue than the huge Giants Stadium show I saw last month. The New York crowd was very enthusiastic last night and were on their feet all night long. In keeping with the entire album performance theme, tonight marked the first time ever that Bruce & the E Street Band played his second album; The Wild The Innocent & The E Street shuffle in its entirety.



As Bruce always changes set lists & pulls out surprises, he kept with his form opening the show. He announced "this was an out take from that album" as the band broke into THUNDER CRACK as the opener.
As for the WILD THE INNOCENT & THE E STREET SHUFFLE set,it was incredible. The E Street band was accompanied by a five piece horn section and background singers. You could tell Bruce was totally into playing this set as he & the band rocked. They did incredible versions of The E STREET SHUFFLE, with the horns section blaring and the crowd a dancing. SANDY- 4th of JULY (Asbury Park), had the crowd all singing the chorus, doing the best version of this song I've ever seen done. Then there was a fantastic version of KITTY'S BACK that just blew the roof off, each member of the band doing different solos, and finishing off with a spectacular musical climax. Roy Bittans piano solo on NEW YORK CITY SERENADE was beautiful accompanied by Bruce's acoustic guitar work. There was also one of the best versions of ROSALITA, I ever saw. The crowd went nuts as the band simple kicked butt.

I couldn't help, missing the presence of Danny Federici who would have been playing accordion on songs like WILD BILLS CIRCUS. Roy Bittan took the spot, with Steve on mandolin, Gary Tallent on Tuba & Bruce singing. It was a great version done real well.
During the request part of the show, Bruce grabbed signs from the crowd and did another surprise, this one from the first album; DOES THIS BUS STOP AT 82nd STREET? Then a great rendition of GLORY DAYS.

Early in the show we got a spectacular performance of PROVE IT ALL NIGHT & then HUNGRY HEART which Bruce jumped into the crowd and did a crowd surf back to the stage. Incredible. There was nice face to face performace of HUMAN TOUCH done with his wife Patti , although it's not one of my favorite tunes. The encore featured WRECKING BALL which was written for the Giants Stadium shows and special guest appearance by Elvis Costello for the finale.

The band was incredible as was Bruce, they are probably the best live act in rock & roll at this point, probably ever. The sound was great, and it was a great way to finish off my birthday week which began with a trip to Ft. Lauderdale and ended with a great family dinner & the Saturday night Bruce concert.

I think the Backstreets review said it best, saying that it was impossible for Bruce to keep up the level of the performance after the album set. To me I just didn't think the rest of the nights set list was everything I could have wanted. It was a great show and great to see some of the different stuff, but I did miss alot of the classics. I envy those going to Sundays show which will feature the album THE RIVER in its entirety.






Setlist:
Thundercrack
Seeds
Prove It All Night
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream
The E Street Shuffle
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Kitty's Back
Wil Billy's Circus Story
Incident on 57th Street
Rosalita
New York City Serenade

Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand

Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?
Glory Days
Human Touch
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run
* * *
Wrecking Ball
Bobby Jean
American Land
Dancing in the Dark
Higher and Higher (with Elvis Costello)

Oct 9, 2009

Concert Review: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band- Giants Stadium 10/8/2009

If you can't imagine how one guy with a powerful band behind him, is able to bring a full house at Giants Stadium to it's feet from the front row to the last row, you have never been to a Bruce Springsteen concert. Last night, Bruce rocked the house under the stars, for the next to last concert ever at Giants Stadium.

The weather was perfect for October. I was in short sleeves all night, wishing I had opted for the shorts. Bruce came on later than scheduled, by a good 1/2 hour (approx. 8:20) the show clocked in at a bit over 3 hours. Worth every dollar of the price of admission, as Bruce always gives you your moneys worth. I didn't have good seats for this one, top deck straight ahead of the stage but in the first row, on the edge. I felt there was a little too much chatter in the crowd behind me, throughout various points of the concert. This is a truce artist at work on stage, any slower songs or quieter moments in music is not meant for talking.


Tonight's concert would be the last show I would ever see at Giants Stadium. After all the years of greats like Paul McCartney, the Who, the Stones, and of course Bruce. It would be the next to last show overall as the new Giants Stadium opens up next year. For these special shows, Bruce wrote a new song WRECKING BALL in honor of the stadium. Also as a tribute the band has been playing a different album in it's entirety each night. We were honored to get BORN TO RUN last night. Bruce walked out with the band, and his wife, Patti who had just returned after a long absence. He kissed her then walked back over and re-entered with the "Big Man" Clarence. The crowd roared as the two also exchanged a show of emotion. Bruce said good evening Jersey, you hear to help us tear this old girl down?

The house lights stayed on for the opener WRECKING BALL,and then dropped out as the song ended. I think we got an incredible set list, 29 songs covering all of Springsteen's career. Second was the great crowd rocker OUT IN THE STREETS which got everyone going. Two songs later was the classic HUNGRY HEAR, which the crowd sang the first few verses on their own. Bruce went into the audience and boldly did some crowd surfing, safely landing back on stage. Quite a site.

After 5 songs, Bruce led into the BORN TO RUN segment: "This is the one that really kind of brought us here tonight. I remember when I wrote it, I was trying to create this picture of one long summer day and night."
To me Springsteen playing THUNDER ROAD in concert is about as good entertainment as it gets. When it leads into TENTH AVENUE FREEZEOUT it's gets even better. FREEZEOUT was equipped with a full horn section to accompany it. Another of my favorites is BACKSTREETS and it was fantastic under the Jersey sky. The lights came up again for BORN TO RUN as the crowd went nuts, by this point everyone was on their feet from the lower level to the last rows of the upper deck, and no one sat down again.

After a great performance of JUNGLE LAND, another good audience participation song WAITING ON A SUNNY DAY was done. Bruce gave the mic to a young boy in the crowd and he led us through a chorus. Then it was back to the very 1st album with IT'S SO HARD TO BE A SAINT IN THE CITY.

Some surprises for me, just after I said in the car we wont be hearing anything from the TRACKS collection- boom, MY LOVE WILL NOT LET YOU DONE, a great song that opened many of the 2001 shows. I got another of my favorite all time songs, a song Bruce penned but Patti Smith made famous- BECAUSE THE NIGHT. I think this was the first time I saw this one live.

Patti Scalfia got some spotlight during a solo Bruce tune- HUMAN TOUCH. Not one of my favs but a good choice and it was nice to see the E-Street bands work backing him up. Then came two great ones from the RISING, the Title track which I think has become a classic and LONESOME DAY. Then the great BADLANDS, with the crowd singing along and the band right on top of their game. Remember these guys don't take a break, Bruce just counts in 1-2-3-4 to the next song.

There were six encores, and they opened up with Bruce dedicating the first one to Danny Federici, original E Street band keyboard/piano/ accordion player who passed away last year. A special treat to get 4TH OF JULY (SANDY). This one sums up the Jersey Shore and hanging out on the board walk so perfectly. What a great song. Then some BORN IN THE USA classics- BOBBY JEAN & DANCIN IN THE DARK. 1-2-3-4 Giants Stadium didn't need a wrecking ball as Bruce blew the house down with the one & only ROSALITA! "Some day we'll look back on this & it will all seem funny". Oh yea, close it out with TWIST & SHOUT and what a night it was.


(Next to last show at Giants Stadium) BRUCE 10/9 SET LIST:
Wrecking Ball
Out in the Street
Outlaw Pete
Hungry Heart
Working on a Dream


(BORN TO RUN album):
Thunder Road
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Night
Backstreets
Born to Run
She's the One
Meeting Across the River
Jungleland


Waitin' on a Sunny Day
Raise Your Hand
It's Hard to Be a Saint in the City
My Love Will Not Let You Down
Because the Night
Human Touch
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Badlands
No Surrender

ENCORES:
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Bobby Jean
American Land (with Curt Ramm)
Dancing in the Dark
Rosalita
Twist and Shout