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Frank Sinatra’s “Best of Vegas” — I’m All In!

31 Jan

A new Sinatra release is always a cause for celebration. That is especially true when you’re talking about LIVE recordings. Better yet if the live material includes performances from the ’50s and ’60s (my favorite era of Frank’s stellar career). The first 9 tracks on this collection fall into that friendly territory. The initial 3 tunes (following the introduction) were recorded at The Sands in 1961 — ring a ding ding! Tracks 5-9 are even better, thanks to the participation of conductor Quincy Jones and the amazing Count Basie Orchestra.

The music swings throughout this 17-track live collection and boasts several 1980’s performances captured at Caesar’s Palace and the Golden Nugget. Nuggets found here include Pennies from Heaven and New York New York. Have the earmuffs ready as Old Blue Eyes employs some salty language during his sometimes lengthy and always engaging between song stage patter. Hey, Frankie had some great pipes … but he wasn’t exactly a choir boy.

In the span of a few years, Las Vegas refueled Frank Sinatra’s career and Sinatra in turn became the lead figure in the city’s ascendance. It was a synergistic relationship that has since become legendary in the annals of 20th century entertainment.

Some of the finest moments in that legendary symbiosis are captured in Frank Sinatra: Best of Vegas, a series of live recordings presented by Concord Records. The 14-song set, under license from Frank Sinatra Enterprises (FSE), captures Sinatra in concert at the Sands, Caesars Palace and the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas between 1961 and 1987. The collection is a distillation of highlights from Sinatra: Vegas, the five-disc boxed set (4 CD/1 DVD) of live recordings released by Reprise Records in 2006.

 

“From his debut at the Desert Inn in September 1951, no entertainer was ever more synonymous with the city of Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra,” says Charles Pignone, author of The Sinatra Treasures, in his comprehensive liner notes to the Best of Vegas CD. “It has been said that next to legalized gambling, nothing has been more beneficial and profitable to Las Vegas than Frank Sinatra.”

All the Sinatra classics are here, performed live before adoring crowds at some of the most prestigious venues in the history of Vegas. “The Lady Is a Tramp” (The Sands, 1961); “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (The Sands, 1966); “All or Nothing at All” (Caesars Palace, 1982); “Pennies From Heaven” (The Golden Nugget, 1987); and of course, the “Theme From New York, New York” (Caesars Palace, 1982) are just some of the gems in the Best of Vegas collection. 

“If you were in Las Vegas at the same time as Sinatra, there was nothing else that could compare,” says Pignone. “Even when the entertainment in town was changing from headliners to magic and production shows, Sinatra was still the ‘main event.'”

Or in the words of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, Sinatra was “the destination’s most enduring icon, an inimitable original who was influential in shaping Las Vegas’ image and entertainment scene.”

Sinatra returned to Vegas in December with the opening of Sinatra Dance With Me, at the Wynn Las Vegas. Conceived, choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, Sinatra Dance With Me features original recorded masters of Frank Sinatra with a big band and 14 of the world’s finest dancers.

www.sinatrafamily.com

Lunch at Palm Beach’s legendary Ta-boo

31 Dec

The interior at Ta-boo has an Old Florida, monkey jungle kind of look. They are located in the heart of Worth Avenue, which is Palm Beach’s version of Rodeo Drive. Neiman Marcus, Cartier, Tiffany … they are all here. So you would expect the clientele at Ta-boo to be more than a little bit snobby. But that isn’t necessarily the case. Lots of tourists flock here to tap into the magical vibe created by folks like JFK, Frank Sinatra, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They have all dined here. Further, the prices are not out of this world high — a pleasant surprise!

The Black Currant iced tea (above) is a good beverage choice to get your meal started. They will also bring you some good bread and butter. The menu is pretty extensive with lots of salads and fresh seafood choices. The Atlantic Ocean is just a few blocks to the east of Ta-boo’s front door.

I opted for the Pistachio Encrusted Salmon (seen above). My family was encouraging me to order a dish called the Crab Stack, but I locked in on the salmon dish. Guess I will have to try the Crab Stack (a mountain of freshly picked lump crab meat with accompanying sauces) when I visit again next year. I was very pleased with the choice I made. The salmon was cooked perfectly and the nutty pistachio crust was right down my alley.

Eileen really loved this shrimp and pasta entree (above). She remarked that it was not as heavy as many similar dishes she has ordered in other restaurants. The shrimp were plump and fresh and the sauce was olive oil & parmesan based rather than the typical goopy, white alfredo mixture.

A look at the interior dining area at Ta-b00.

The swanky bar at Ta-boo.

The entire meal for 2 with the icea teas ran about $40 dollars. That we could easily afford. The $600 woman’s sandals we spotted later at Neiman Marcus? Well, that’s a completely different story.

www.taboorestaurant.com

Stan Ridgeway Still Shines on “Neon Mirage”

25 Jul

I have always loved and promoted the music of Stan Ridgeway — from his IRS years with Wall of Voodoo to his countless solo and soundtrack recordings. It’s pretty hard to believe it’s been about 30 years since “Mexican Radio” first hit the airwaves. And judging from his latest CD “Neon Mirage,” Stan still has the knack for strong storytelling framed by atmospheric sonic imagery.

“Big Green Tree” opens this effort in winning fashion. Strumming acoustic guitars and a haunting blues harp are followed by a wistful Ridgeway vocal. It’s tone is vaguely reminiscent of a big screen Western. All in all a fine opening track.

“This Town Called Fate” is more familiar ground for Stan. It offers up a chugging “Camouflage” beat accented by big Marlboro man guitars. “Desert of Dreams” sports a soft Bossa Nova sound that would make Stan Getz proud. “Turn a Blind Eye” is a bit darker — almost Tom Waits’ dark. Good though … really good. It’s one of the CD’s highlights, thanks in large part to the precise interplay between a wispy flute and a honking tenor sax.     

“Flag Up on a Pole” is another standout cut. I really dig the funky reggae beat and scratchy guitar riff that pervades this track. It is further accented by a light, Doors-like organ and Ridgeway’s bold, echo-enriched blowing. “Scavenger Blues” sounds like a pure Chicago blues. Tasty rhumba drum notes and a searing electric Otis Rush-style guitar solo dig deep with truly satisfying results.

The CD closes with an instrumental (title track “Neon Mirage”) that could easily be claimed by both surf guitar and spy soundtrack afficianados. It’s a fitting way to wrap up another fine effort from an unheralded master of his craft. Let’s just hope that Stan Ridgeway continues to “do that voodoo that he do so well.”      

Former Wall of Voodoo frontman is flanked by Dave Alvin,
Pietra Wexstun, Ralph Carney, Rick King and the late Amy Farris

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — “You never really have a choice about the tone and subject matter of the records you make,” confides veteran L.A. singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway about his new album, Neon Mirage. “At least I don’t. They’re obsessions, really. Things happen, good and bad. And for most people, the passing of a parent or a close friend has an impact. It’s really about the music, and how it heals the mind. The records I grew up with still inform me, and the best were like an inner journey — mixing up blues, jazz, pop and country to make something fresh and, in the end, positive. But you can’t ignore the darker side of things, either.”

Stan Ridgway’s Neon Mirage, due for August 24, 2010 release, is arguably the most emotionally revealing, musically far-ranging — dare we say mature? — album of the L.A. singer-songwriter’s accomplished career. Yet it’s also a project whose troubled circumstances might tempt Stan to paraphrase John Lennon’s familiar wisdom: Life is what happens when you’re busy making another album.

Indeed, in many ways Neon Mirage can’t help but feel like an elegy to the colleague and family Stan lost in the midst of writing and recording its dozen, typically eclectic songs: gifted Texas-born violinist/session player Amy Farris; a beloved uncle; and the man who helped forge the very foundations of Ridgway’s unique outlook on life and music, his own father. “Events like that can’t help but have an impact on the music you’re making at the time,” Stan admits. “You’d be lying to yourself — and your listeners — if you thought otherwise.”

Ridgway quickly sets the album’s tone with a warm, accomplished recasting of “Big Green Tree” from Black Diamond (his forceful 1996 debut as an independent) produced by Dave Alvin. The L.A. roots rock legend reinvents it here in a gentler, more hopeful ethos around Ridgway and his longtime keyboardist/collaborator Pietra Wexstun, with Brett Simmons on upright bass and Amy Farris, then a member of Alvin’s own Guilty Women ensemble, on violin. Alvin had heard Stan perform the song solo at a special show for mutual friend and fellow songwriting legend Peter Case, and early sessions also yielded Neon Mirage’s memorable, Alvin-produced cover of Bob Dylan’s elegy to his own fallen hero, “Lenny Bruce.”

Ridgeway’s biggest hit with Wall of Voodoo was “Mexican Radio”

It’s an album in which Ridgway’s familiar wise-guy wit and cinematic lyricism are further tempered by an ever-inquisitive mindset that ranges from the haunting, candid introspection of “Behind the Mask” to an effusive, wistful tribute to lost friends and the Nashville of record producer Owen Bradley, “Wandering Star.” Elsewhere, Neon Mirage centers around more impressionistic takes on the toll patriotism extracts from its warriors (“Flag Up On a Pole”), the reality of being closer to the end of life’s rich pageant than its beginning (“Halfway There”) and the human propensity for myopia in the face of looming catastrophe (“Turn a Blind a Eye”).

Yet, as the foreboding and darkly loping guitar lines of “This Town Called Fate” and the album’s infectious instrumental title track attest, Ridgway’s new songs are also graced by the inventive musicality and unique viewpoint his fans have become well acquainted with since his early days as the driving force behind L.A.’s favorite ’80s experimentalists, Wall of Voodoo. But while the album’s expressive baritone and deft harmonica flourishes are instantly familiar, Stan employs them here on an ever-restless musical odyssey. Ridgway expands an already impressive musical palette via Wexstun’s always intriguing keyboard melodies and textures, the masterful sax, flute and woodwind work of Ralph Carney, the deft acoustic and electric guitar lines of longtime band mate Rick King and the rich symphonic string orchestrations of Amy Farris.

“I’ve probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year,” Ridgway admits. “But I can’t help it. That term ‘eclectic’ fits me perfectly and there are just too many musical styles and songwriters and singers I enjoy to just involve myself in only one type of music. I try to bring all the things I love into the sound. There’s a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that’s ever got under my skin.”

Stan is quick to note where his often-mischievous musical curiosity came from: “Your parents’ record collection can be a big influence growing up. Something you thought was corny has a way of hangin’ on if it’s good to begin with. My dad was a big fan of country & western music, comedy records, hi-fi playboy stereo lounge stuff. Hank Williams, Dean Martin, Ernest Tubb, Sinatra, Johnny Cash of course, Allan Sherman, Charlie Rich, Patsy Cline, and Marty Robbins — all of the great originals. I learned to love the singing, the stories, and even when my tastes in music grew far too weird for my dad, we could still come together on those old records we loved and listened to together. The old western myths of heroes and villains and storytelling of Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs was an important one. And I never would have thought of covering ‘Ring of Fire’ with Wall of Voodoo without my dad’s influence in the beginning.”

Ridgway also credits his father with informing much of the wry personal/musical viewpoint that’s always been central to his songwriting. “A sense of humor is important in handling the disappointments in life,” Stan notes. “My father taught me that, too. Along with a strong work ethic. A certain type of ‘black humor’ helps put a light on the darker realities of living and let’s you get above them by making a joke about it. But it wasn’t a cynic’s view, more of a frustrated romantic’s perspective over a developed sarcasm about the way things really are and not how they seem to appear.”

Stan explains: “In the last few years in his 80s, he always knew my mother and all of us right up until the end. But memory could sometimes be sketchy for Dad. Even so, he never lost who he was or his love, loyalty and dedication to family and working hard in life to achieve results. Or the hard won values of his generation and what they’d sacrificed to achieve for a greater good. All the great adventures he’d had, the global travel and work, the grand victories he’d experienced along the way were never lost to him. And he recalled them all in great detail with pride and a singular sense of humor. And us there with him.” Ridgway’s father passed in December 2009.

But while Ridgway had long girded himself for his father’s passing, he admits the suicidal death of brilliant violinist Amy Farris in the midst of Neon Mirage’s sessions felt “abrupt and brutal.” When Amy phoned him to cancel an upcoming appearance with his band because she wasn’t feeling well, Ridgway assured her it was no problem, saying, “‘health is everything.’ But that weekend she took her life,” he recalls sadly. “Possibly even the night we were on stage at McCabe’s. Dave (Alvin) called me Monday morning with the news and I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. But mental illness and depression are like any other illness, and Amy struggled from childhood with them.”

“Drive, She Said” was perhaps Stan’s biggest solo hit

Despite the troubled times it was recorded in, Ridgway insists Neon Mirage represents something even more personal than the sum of its songs to him. “It’s as much a journey as a destination,” Stan says of his music. “If I don’t try and create something of my own, I just feel that I’m hangin’ on a corner waiting for someone to tell me what to think and do. It’s a mad society. But the best therapy for me is always creativity and invention. And a dedication to the people and things you love. Most people live their lives upside down and backwards, only jumping in when the consensus says it’s safe. That’s just human nature — who doesn’t want to be safe? But is that really possible?”

“Camouflage” is another memorable cut from Ridgeway

www.stanridgeway.com

“Hammerin’ Hank and Joltin’ Joe” – A Tale of Two Heroes

27 Jun

 I am just finishing up very interesting literary bios on Baseball legends Henry Aaron and Joe DiMaggio. I was pretty surprised to learn they actually had a great deal in common. Both came from lower class urban backgrounds (Joe in SF and Hank in Mobile). Each man’s father worked on the waterfront (Joe’s Pop was a common fisherman, Henry’s Dad labored as a ship builder). Both smoked heavily throughout their careers and had public reputations of being cold and aloof. Both were jealous of more flashy stars of the era (Joe was often overshadowed by Ted Williams, while Hank played in the long shadow of Willie Mays). Each man was married twice. Both loved watching Western movies. Each player was a natural with amazing God-given baseball talents. Both shied away from the media due to their fear of looking uneducated. Neither man graduated high school. And guess who Hank’s idol was as a child? Yup, Joltin’ Joe.

Now for the differences. Joe was a drinker, Hank was not. DiMagg beat his wife, Henry did not. Henry was humble, DiMaggio’s ego was massive. Joe hung around mob figures, married a Hollywood starlet (Marilyn Monroe) and, by all accounts, whored around a good bit. Henry, on the other hand, was a quiet, commited family man. And perhaps most telling, Hank has put his retirement years to good use by doing a lot of community service and civil rights work. Joe, conversely, spent his golden years yearning for the spotlight and chasing the almighty dollar via an unending string of autograph schemes with shady partners. The infamous Mr. Coffee TV campaign was not exactly a great career move either for a man of Joe’s professed class and dignity.

Both books are well written, although the DiMaggio story bogs down a bit after the passing of Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps the most fascinating revelation was regarding “Joltin’ Joe” and NYC’s mafia. DiMaggio was allegedly “watching” three suitcases filled with cash for a local mob friend. When that associate was rubbed out, Joe kept the suitcases and used the countless thousands for spending loot over the next decade or so. Years later, when a major earthquake shook Joe’s native San Francisco, DiMagg managed to deftly cross thru the police tape and enter his luxurious townhome by the Bay. He was later spotted by witnesses leaving the scene toting a rather large, bulky suitcase.

Lesson learned? Our heroes are obviously not perfect. Joe and Henry were surely amazingly gifted athletes, but flawed human beings (DiMaggio certainly more flawed than Aaron). So how do you want to be remembered? I would suggest living your life as if your future biographer is always at your side. Not easy, but surely something to think about — and strive for.

My First Trip to The Yearling Restaurant

3 May

OT 136053 THOM KLINKYEARLING 3

Good fun — a little difficult to get to. But well worth the effort.

It’s located on County Road 325 in Cross Creek, FL, which is just south of Gainesville. Rustic joint outside, dark and cool inside. Lots of exposed cypress (as you might expect). They still put ice in the urinals — now that is old school kiddies! An extremely retro TV plays an endless loop of the sappy black and white movie “The Yearling” starring Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman. The book “The Yearling” (written by Cross Creek legend Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) is a much better introduction to FL cracker life back in the day.

OT 136053 THOM KLINKYEARLING 1T

They had live blues from Willie “The Real Deal” Green. He was awesome!

I enjoyed a soft shell crab sandwich (slathered with a spicy remoulade) with fresh (not canned) collard greens and a nice sweet tea. The crab sandwich was good, the greens better than just good. I was tempted to order a slab of the sour orange pie, but I had to get back on the road and not in the hammock. Next time I’m try that and “The Cracker Sampler,” which includes tastes of their fried gator, frog legs and more.

More soon, in the meantime visit their web site at www.yearlingrestaurant.net

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