California Literary Review

Music Plays Well With Others


June 29th, 2011

When a music playing site catches the eye of the law, you know it has to be good. is constructed for those who love the sound of their own iTunes libraries and can’t bear listening to Pandora or their perfectly made Grooveshark playlist one more time without others listening as well. In it, users […]

Concert Review: The Mountain Goats Celebrate Survival and Success in L.A.


June 26th, 2011

  It’s good to be young, but let’s not kid ourselves It’s better to pass on through those years and come out the other side. -You Were Cool The El Rey Theater on Wilshire Blvd. in L.A. was the kind of large, ornate venue that you’d expect chamber music to be coursing through. The walls […]

James Blake in Chicago: Sold-Out and Silent


June 16th, 2011

  I was late to the must-attend show in Chicago of 2011…and I’m better for it. James Blake went on stage around 10:00, I arrived close to 10:10, and before opening the heavy doors to the concert hall floor, I heard no indication that there was anyone inside. If I had arrived on time, I […]

You Can Never Leave: L.A. Burnout Mixes


June 10th, 2011

What do you do when you get tired of the place you live in? When you can’t stand the idea of heading down road that gets you to your house one more time? When you’d rather just take a right for once. Do you move? Do you give up? Let’s say you’re in Demascus, Maryland. Then I’d say yes. I’d say yes, get out of there. Find another Safeway to forage in. Find another lawn to mow. But you can’t leave Los Angeles. You’ve learned that from the Eagles.

Welcome to When You See Sparks, CLR’s New Music Blog


May 10th, 2011

We are pleased to announce the start of CLR’s new music blog. Ben Caro, a Los Angeles based writer, and Charlie Coffeen, a professional musician from Chicago, will be keeping you informed about all areas of the music world — concerts, albums, up-and-coming artists, as well as Charlie’s insights into life on the road and […]

Opera Review: Anna Nicole at the Royal Opera House, London


February 24th, 2011

Anna Nicole zipped herself up in a bodybag, surrounded by a crowd of camera-headed creatures which had been stalking her all the way through the second act, peering at her and sorting through piles of rubbish on the stage. The sudden blackout at the end produced a pause, then elated applause.

The Weekly Listicle: No, We CAN’T Feel The Love Tonight!


February 10th, 2011

This week, Julia Rhodes and I (Dan Fields) recall a bygone era, when entertainment for kids – specifically the musical accompaniment – got as much attention and thought as anything produced for an adult audience. It’s not meant strictly to pick on Elton John, but he seems an appropriate figurehead for the rather bland trends in children’s movie music today. This is not your typical twentysomething anti-Disney rant. It is a cry of nostalgic woe, and includes a number of selections from pre-downhill-slide Disney. Please enjoy, and remember some songs you might like to track down and show your own kids.

Tom Russell: American Primitive Man


December 13th, 2010

Every Tom Russell song has something to say about the human heart. In each voice he invokes there are universal echoes of love, doubt, weakness, fear, restlessness and faith. The figure of the wanderer – whether soldier, cowboy, nomad, pioneer, outcast or pilgrim – passes again and again through his work.

Movie Time Nostalgia, Part 4: We Are All Children Of Paradise


November 9th, 2010

A movie can do a lot of things to an audience. It may move them, amuse them, disgust them, terrify them, or in all too many cases bore them. One thing only a handful of films can do is inspire wonder. Every once in a while, a winning combination of writer, director, designers, composers and cast meet in perfect harmony. Such, I feel, is the case of Marcel Carné’s 1945 epic romance, Les Enfants du Paradis (Children of Paradise).

Book Review: The Music Instinct by Philip Ball


September 1st, 2010

The amount of factual detail and insights that Ball brings to the themes under discussion is impressive in the extreme. On just one page, in the chapter dealing with rhythm, he weaves relevant examples ranging from Gyorgy Ligeti’s composition used in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic work, Kontakte, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Chinese zither music and songs by Australian Aborigines that are accompanied by the clicking of rhythm sticks.

Book Review: Chords of Strength by David Archuleta


July 7th, 2010

It’s no surprise that David has musical talent in his DNA. His father is a jazz trumpet player, his mother is a gifted singer, his grandmother sang in TV commercials and acted in a few movies (and was known in Utah as “the little lady with the big voice”) and his grandfather sang in a barbershop quartet. Talk about stacking the genetic deck!

Art Review: Kurt, at the Seattle Art Museum, Explores Kurt Cobain’s Influence on Contemporary Artists


May 28th, 2010

Nearby, Jeffry Mitchell’s portrait as Kurt is arguably the hidden gem of the exhibit. Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain in the Style of Jay Steensma features a skull wearing a blond wig amongst a thickly painted sea of grey. (Steensma was a “mystic” artist famous for his paintings of grey, Northwestern landscapes).

Book Review: Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz by Randall Sandke


May 19th, 2010

Sandke offers no critical commentary about this piece of advice that was given Armstrong after he left New Orleans: “When you go up north, be sure and get yourself a white man that will put his hand on your shoulder and say, ‘This is my nigger.’” Nor does he state that there was anything objectionable about black musicians being allowed to play in Storyville brothels and cabarets, but never to be customers. The same went for “black and tan” nightspots like New York’s Cotton Club, where blacks made music and waited tables, while “tan, tall and terrific” showgirls entertained the exclusively white clientele.

Book Review: The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson


May 12th, 2010

For the next few years, Hollywood musicals, climaxing in 42nd Street (1933), would be “backstage” pictures. Songs would be delivered in scenes depicting stage rehearsals, with aspiring singers and hard-bitten producers battling against the odds to “put on a show.” It was fun while it lasted – and big profits for the film studios. But after a few years, audiences grew tired of predictable scenarios of theatrical angst and happy “all singing, all dancing finales.”

Book Review: Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen by Jimmy McDonough


April 15th, 2010

In the Nashville of the 1960s, songs were typically recorded in an hour or less and mistakes were kept in because they made the sound more “human.” Fussing over them any longer than that was considered “burning the beans.” After concerts, fees were paid in cash in shopping bags. In the course of recounting Wynette’s life, McDonough describes a cast of characters that no novelist could have invented without being accused of stretching the borders of believability.

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