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.