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Product: Audio CD
Title: The Rising
Label: Sony
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Rating: 1/5
Customer rating - 1 out of 5
Boss or Loss (as in loss of hard-earned cash)

Maybe it's because so few rock records have any real meat to their lyrics? Maybe it's because so many bands seem intent on sticking to a tired formula? Maybe it's because as a new Springsteen listener I haven't bought his previous records? Regardless of the reasons, after one night of listening to The Rising I feel as if I've heard the best rock album of the year and I sadly probably won't be as captivated by another record for a long time as I was last night when I first listened to the album, then listened to it again and again and again.
The 9/11 subject matter I believe adds potency to The Rising that few albums really try for. The way I feel is one of the very few good things that can come out of 9/11 is its ability to inspire great songwriters like Springsteen to rise up if you will and write such a fantastic set of songs that can help people in their respective healing processes. If just one Springsteen fan feels more at peace with the events of that day because of just one song off The Rising, then hats off to you Bruce.
The Rising should also be applauded for not being syrupy sweet or overly patriotic. It seems like an honest attempt to describe the emotions and situations that resulted from that day. As a result of keeping things so down to earth the songs have a much deeper impact. Lonesome Day for example seems at first like just another depressing rock tune until you really hear the lyrics and appreciate that the character in the story is truly trying the reconcile her/his sadness and truly trying to move on with their life. It turns what could've been a very dull opener into an interesting rocker that captivates by the lyrics contradictions.
Then the actual music on The Rising is really varied and interesting. Sure you have some classic sounding Springsteen songs such as Mary's Place (which is not a bad thing), but then you have the Arabic influence on Worlds Apart and the darkness that encapsulates Paradise. The songs have a nice fast then slow pace to them and the music often times adds to the emotions being expressed, on Further On (Up The Road) for example the song's hard driving guitar sound really makes the impact of the song's dark lyrics much more tangible.
Then there are songs on this record that just as individual songs I feel with stand the test of time. Empty Sky has a wonderful piano introduction that is short but really spine tingling and rest of the song's slow acoustic strum builds throughout. Then the at first seemingly simply chorus of Empty Sky gains added weight when the character's feelings of loss and revenge are expressed. Then there's Into The Fire's wonderfully cathartic chorus, throughout the song Springsteen provides his most clear and gut-wrenching vision of a firefighter going into a burning building then places the chorus just at the right time so that as listener you feel as if you release this tension that's been laying in your stomach since the events of that day.
The Rising's ultimate fate will be determined if people really appreciate it for what it is, a great record that has the guts to be timely. Because of what it deals with you won't find a pure pop song on this album, each song is filled with melancholy and darkness and yet The Rising isn't depressing. Springsteen has managed to write a record that looks 9/11 right in the eye and still retains a sense of compassion and excitement for life. It's an amazing fine line to listen to Springsteen dance around and it would be fantastic if more artists today had the guts to try and follow in his footsteps. After all, when was the last we were given a record that seemed both timely and classic all at once.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Cieli di Toscana
Label: Philips
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
What talent!

The first time I heard Andrea Bocelli sing, I had no idea who he was. I cried. Since then, I have collected all his CD's and DVD's. When I first listened to Cieli di Toscana, I cried again. I have listened to this CD time and again. As always, Mr. Bocelli demonstrates nearly mystical mastery over song with the beauty and power of his voice. His creative magic is enhanced by uniquely beautiful, musical arrangments. Cieli di Toscana goes far beyond exceptional with songs that carry listeners through a wealth of emotions...from nostalgia to fresh, tender love to love's joyful passions to the birth a new child. Through each song, his voice reaches far into his listeners with an unparalled essence of his love for his music. Yet again, his voice holds me captive.
Mr. Bocelli, your music is truly a gift to this world!

Product: Audio CD
Title: Previously Unavailable
Label: Drg
Artist: Michael Franks
Rating: 4/5
Customer rating - 4 out of 5
Background and Roots for the True MF Fan

This is a must-have recording for the confirmed Michael Franks fan, the devotee keen on completing the collection, and it should come at the end of your acquisition, although most definitely in front of the corporate-regurgitated "best of" and "love song" releases. The sound here is not the samba-infused, ultra-romantic and smooth of "Abandoned Garden," and it's not the playfully poetic and highly imaginative jazz of "The Art of Tea," nor is it the rocking guitar-fusion of "The Camera Never Lies." The sound is heavily early 70s country-rock California. The work does communicate a general theme, that of a young artist leaving home and making his way, wary yet confident in his abilities and direction, focused, finding his voice and themes, and both the distractive and comforting contexts in which it all occurs. This is relatively raw stuff, yet to my mind still an excellent effort, and a solid addition to the library of the true Michael Franks listener.

This collection does show us the maturing Michael, and we've got a number of the themes and shading that came to really define his later work. You can hear his signature lyrical wordplay and imaginative lyrics emerging. The singularly imaginative and playful, cinema- and tropics-influenced lyrics aren't prominent or as developed as in later albums, but there are the indications of things to come. There are name checks on Fred Astaire, Coltraine, Shakespeare, Bogey and Bacall, Ravel. You've got the nod to Key Largo, the anti-Los Angeles, "earthquake town" riffs.

There are 10 tracks at a total of 37:43, with an average track length of 3:47. The longest is "Born With the Moon in Virgo" at 6:13, and the shortest "Dobro Ladies" at 2:46.

The opener, "Can't Seem to Shake This Rock N' Roll" is a fascinating tune. It's an over-the-top mix of under-arranged horns too in front of the mix, with a sax solo, a "Shaft"-like highly fuzzed-out guitar swinging in and out of the mix on rhythm, and a violin solo a la Jean-Luc Ponty. It's an interesting song that appears to me to be cramming way too much into 4:18.

There's a great deal of the country-rock sound and influence in this work, and it comes through on a number of tracks, with fiddle highlights in "Just Like Key Largo," and clearly coming through on "Dobro Ladies." You've got the lyrical nod to the dulcimer on "When Blackbirds Fly." All of "Life's Little Highway" rings with heavy country influence, with a lot of fiddle responding to each verse and banjo concluding the verses, and even the junebug-like thrum of a Jew's harp behind the smooth fiddle, taking the tune out. Of course, you've got the ode to down-home familiarity and rejection of the rat race with "King of Oklahoma."

"When Blackbirds Fly" is an interesting diversion, opening as a simple ballad about getting away with the lady, the longing to be together alone and just make music. But then Michael sings of her making bread while he makes beer. Then he's singing a refrain about making babies on Mars and being "the Adam and Eve of Mars." It's lyrical fantasy, and the imagery is interesting if a bit far from the opening bars, but it fits into the rhyme just fine.

"Lovesick Lizzie" is a horn-heavy tune finding Michael asserting early "I'm no Christian" and wanting to "milk (her) cow." He's the strutting "midnight milkman" who's "come to deliver a pint of cream." It's a serious mild rocker with a pseudo-New Orleans theme, an ode to a shotgun-toting tease driving him nuts. The theme is classic dirty blues, but the up-tempo delivery takes a bit away from the, ahem, thrust of the tune.

"King of Oklahoma" is heavily country rock, a rejection of California ambition and the joy of returning home, where things are simple, where you're known valued truly. There's a guitar bridge and solo that in its orchestration and modulation sounds like it was lifted right out of the solo from the Eagles' "Take It Easy."

My personal favorite is "Three Today." It opens close to blasphemous, with "I used to believe in Jesus, but I don't anymore/Is it booze or rouge that makes his cheeks so red?" There's the verse of admission that he was a failure as an athlete, not living up to the achievements and by implication the expectations of his father. There's the disgust with LA and the hard frustration of trying to make it as a musician. But at the end of each confessional verse comes "And my little son is three today/I bounced him on my knee today/He told me loved me." That's the entire refrain and, of course, that's all he needs to say. As Dad to a young son, this is song grabbed on the first listen. It's a fantastic, simple tune, an homage to the wonder and beauty of a little man, to any child, and that innate power to keep you grounded, focused, and tuned in to what really matters in the world.

In conclusion, if you're new to Michael Franks hold off getting this release. Buy "Art of Tea," "One Bad Habit," "Abandoned Garden," "Blue Pacific," "Skin Dive," or "The Camera Never Lies" first (in that order, too). These will give you a solid grounding in the mature, highly produced and poetic Michael Franks, his signature sound and themes, his "hits" and the classics beloved by his fans. If you enjoy each of these CDs and choose to call yourself a true fan, then you may be ready to step into the Wayback Machine to the very beginning of his career and hear where he's come from, where his roots lie.

Product: Audio CD
Title: Big Romance
Label: Blanco Y Negro
Artist: David Kitt
Rating: 5/5
Customer rating - 5 out of 5
Absolutely Amazing!

I discovered David Kitt when I wandered into a record shop while I was in Ireland in May. I bought this CD thinking it would be interesting to listen to once and I haven't put it away for more than a day since. Kitt's voice transports his listener to another place, a place where everything is beautiful and understated. Every song is rich in its simplicity and lack of pompousness. Kitt sings from his soul, he stands naked before his audience and opens his heart. I don't know how anyone could not like what they see and hear.