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cathy earnshaw (Berlin, Germany)

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Come Up Full
Come Up Full
Price: £13.65

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If you look real close you might see scars / But me, I'm only seeing stars", 22 Dec 2008
This review is from: Come Up Full (Audio CD)
Meg Hutchinson is a 30 year-old singer-songwriter from the small town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, who sings poetry-driven folk in a warm alto voice. Come Up Full is her fifth album and the first one with indy label Red House Records: 12 laid-back acoustic songs weave the political (e.g. the suicide of an Iraqi war veteran) into the personal (healing, reawakening from depression) against the background of subtle and restrained production that lets her stream-of-consciousness lyrics and her voice take centre stage. Hutchinson has a degree in creative writing and it shows in her carefully crafted lyrics, which often unravel into fine poetic lines: "The trolley screams and lurches towards the city / And I stare at my own eyes in the glass and I smile to think / How far I've come from the dull roar of loss" (Ready). Introspective and pensive in her music, she comes across as a close observer of the world of emotions and, presumably, of herself: "I'm quick to love / Quicker to tire / I'm looking for a slower burn / A better kind of fire" (I'd Like to Know).

Having grown up in the mountains, many of her metaphors and lyrical descriptions spring from nature without becoming trite: "So go drag your boat to the water / Just when you swear it off, those nets are gonna / Come up full" (Come Up Full). Her relatively reserved delivery and her rhythmic guitar style are good contrasts to the emotional waves of her lyrics. I saw in a newspaper article that a journalist had criticised her songs for sounding 'samey' and I realised that this is precisely part of her charm as a low-key acoustic singer-songwriter: It lends more authenticity to her highly personal lyrics precisely because she is grounded in her own sound.

This is tremendous album of learning to put suffering behind you and of healing from Meg who counts such poets as Mary Oliver and W.S. Merwin and songwriters Shawn Colvin and Martin Sexton among her influences. The album is produced by Crit Harmon.

Standouts (IMO): Seeing Stars, Home, Song for Jeffrey Lucey, I'd Like to Know

Also recommended>
* Meg Hutchinson: The Crossing (2004)
* Rachael Yamagata: Elephants... Teeth Sinking Into Heart (2008)
* Anna Ternheim: Leaving on a Mayday (2008)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £3.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The bland meet the spectacular on this retro soundtrack, 10 Nov 2008
This is a pretty predictable soundtrack for Bridget Jones 2, mixing the usual smoothie suspects (Barry White, 10cc, Carly Simon) with contemporary chart toppers (Jamelia, Kylie Minogue, Beyonce). And yet there are some spectacular new recordings, in particular Amy Winehouse's superb, emotive cover of "Will you still love me tomorrow" - something to savour amidst the absence of any new material from her. Rufus Wainwright sings one of his mother's songs beautifully (although Dido sounds like she's reading out a menu in her self-conscious solo). And with "Misunderstood" Robbie Williams provides a surprisingly good confessional ("Trying to be misunderstood / Just a product of my childhood..."). These three tunes lend the soundtrack an authenticity gallingly lacking in the majority of the cover versions included. Do we really need to hear Jamelia trying to imitate Sam Brown on "Stop" or Will Young doing a Sade cover (especially when he fails to recreate any of the sexy steamy atmosphere of the original)? What, it might be asked, is the point of doing covers when they add nothing to the originals? The number of artists who have genuinely managed to fill old bottles with new wine are few and far between - e.g. Jeff Buckley's rendition of Cohen's "Hallelujah", Cat Power's Jukebox album or Vandross' rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" - but that doesn't stop record companies churning out the blandest covers imaginable year after year (see Jamie Cullum's "Everlasting Love" on this album).

In spite of the hidden delights of Winehouse, Wainwright and Williams, this is a soundtrack playing it all too (commercially) safe.

Dirty Dancing(20th Anniversary Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD] (1987)
Dirty Dancing(20th Anniversary Two-Disc Collector's Edition) [DVD] (1987)
Dvd ~ Patrick Swayze
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.15

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hidden depths in this pop culture classic, 20 Oct 2008
Dirty Dancing is one of those movies that you either love or hate. Watching it again over 20 years after its first release, it was funny this time around to register a social and cultural subtext and to recognise what a macho thug Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) really was: after he has beaten up the preppy waiter Robbie Gould, Baby doesn't seem worried at all that he might one day turn his fist on her; in fact she cuddles him tenderly! Baby (Jennifer Grey) was more sexually assertive than I had remembered: it is she and not Johnny who initiates the movement of their relationship onto the next level by laying her romantic feelings bare. Their growing intimacy might have been socially unusual - an unworldly daughter with political ideals from a wealthy, privileged family and a tough and taciturn dancing instructor who has grown up in much poorer surroundings - but it is an electric one, with palpable on-screen chemistry.

There are some wincingly corny moments that have now become cult and some intentionally funny lines that I'd missed or forgotten since the first time around. Grey occasionally becomes too overdramatic in her acting (although others might say that she's only emphasizing Baby's naivity); Swayze remains on the side of credibility, carrying his lines with intensity even when he has to say things like, "It's okay. Johnny's here. I'm never gonna let anything happen to you". Although the character of Johnny took on certain clichés of traditional masculinity - the muscular protector who is strong and sensual but emotionally silent - he embodies a new kind of hero since the classic roles are to a certain extent reversed: he is in the socially weaker position and aspires to develop Baby's qualities in himself, particularly her faith in personal and social change, as well as to be accepted and liked by her socially respected father.

It's sad to learn what the cast and crew have been up to since Dirty Dancing became a huge hit worldwide in the late 1980s. Many of them have now died, including the director Emile Ardolino (in 1993 of an AIDS-related illness), the actor who plays Robbie Gould (in 1991 of a heroin overdose) and Jerry Orbach who plays Baby's father (in 2004 of prostate cancer). The career of Jennifer Grey 'nosedived' after cosmetic surgery made her unrecognisable. Swayze went on to star in Ghost with Demi Moore, but could not shake off the brooding romantic tag that Dirty Dancing inevitably saddled him with. Following battles with alcoholism after the deaths of his father and manager as well as the suicide of his sister, he was diagnosed this year, as was widely reported, with pancreatic cancer.

This anniversary edition comes with some fascinating extras - the original trailer, interviews with key cast and crew members, a collection of goofs, and the original screen tests with Jennifer Grey.

Ohio [Limited Edition]
Ohio [Limited Edition]
Offered by collectorsheaven
Price: £7.99

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I am free from all decisions / I am free from all despair...", 28 Sep 2008
This review is from: Ohio [Limited Edition] (Audio CD)
I'm a complete Lambchop neophyte, but I happened to hear this album - it was given away free in the German edition of Rolling Stone - and I loved it.

The painting on the front by artist Michael Peed, Kurt Wagner's former grad school mentor, sets the scene for the album: violence (through the window, you can see LA police officers beating a man in a racist attack) is comically and critically contrasted with an intimacy which is centre stage (a man fondles his lover's breast on a dishevelled bed, blissfully unaware of the tumult outside). There is something more fiery being held back in the music, too, kindling on the coals in the background, but never quite bursting into flames.

In his restrained baritone - which counters to the loud and glossy unsubtleties of mainstream music - Wagner's lyrics are barely audible (on one track he sings, "I'm such a bad enunciator / Understanding [me?] is hard") but have their trademark thoughtfulness: "We'll I'm not too acquainted with the topography of your mind", he sings on Slipped, Dissolved and Loosed, "I need a detailed description / a representation of some kind".

Standouts (IMO): A Hold of You, I Believe In You, Of Raymond, Slipped Dissolved and Loosed

Miss Austen Regrets (BBC) [2008] [DVD]
Miss Austen Regrets (BBC) [2008] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olivia Williams
Price: £5.06

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Fanny, listen to your own heart now --" (3.5 stars), 30 Aug 2008
This production was a surprise. It is a more intelligent work than the overblown and fanciful biographical portrait in 'Becoming Jane'! Refreshingly, it centres on the female relationships in Austen's life (although there is inevitably a lot of talking about men and marriage and some "profligate and shocking dancing and sitting down together").

Imogen Poots plays Fanny well, as does Hugh Bonneville in the role of Reverend Brook Bridges. I thought Olivia Williams played Austen too manneredly and self-consciously, but the choice could have been a lot worse (after the horrors of Hathaway). Williams is - like Hathaway - also a good deal too pretty to be believable as Austen: "She was not generally considered handsome," as Claire Tomalin writes in her biography. It is odd - but obvious commercially - why famous female writers almost always have to be represented in film and TV productions as beautiful. Do producers and directors really think that viewers wouldn't be able to stomach an average-looking woman in the role?!

Austen had more sensibility in this version of events than is traditionally imagined to have been the case and is portrayed as flitting somewhat melodramatically between melancholy, self-righteous anger and sparkling wit (many believe her to have lived a staid and rather boring, or at least uneventful, life). This was an Austen who played to our modern sensibilities without excessively offending our traditional sensibilities, I think. (3.5 stars)

Looking for Sex in Shakespeare
Looking for Sex in Shakespeare
by Stanley W. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, if ambivalent, analysis of the sexual in Shakespeare, 8 Aug 2008
Stanley Wells - General Editor of Oxford editions of Shakespeare and the author of many publications on Shakespeare - gave three lectures at Shakespeare's Globe, London in the autumn of 2002. In this accompanying book, Wells has reinstated cuts he made for the evening lectures and added post-production thoughts. As the title suggests, Wells is interested in (and to a certain extent against) the fashionable practice of "teasing out" subtextual sexual meanings in Shakespeare's texts in literary criticism as well as on the stage. Wells attempts to "distinguish legitimate readings-between-the-lines from over-readings that are ahistorical and sometimes untheatrical in imposing upon the text meanings that must originate rather in the minds of the interpreters than of the dramatist". That is quite an old-fashioned approach nowadays - the emphasis on authorial intention accompanied by a devaluation of new readings which seek to understand Shakespeare in the context of modern social concerns (even if he specifically denies it, it is clear from the above quote that Wells views such readings as "illegitimate"). And it is worth asking: If Shakespeare's work is teeming with sexual puns, witty bawdy and simmering erotic tensions, can we faithfully say that it is possible to draw a line between "overreadings" and "the meanings that Shakespeare intended"?

Wells is good on the effect that the rise of Freudian psychoanalysis has had on the interepretation of Shakespeare's plays, poems and sonnets, namely that it led to homoeroticism and homosexuality in general in Shakespeare's characters being better recognised. Diplomatically Wells concludes, "If Shakespeare himself did not, in the fullest sense of the word, love a man, he certainly understood the feelings of those who do".

Where Wells is not so good, in my view, is with regard to his somewhat stuffy disgust of (but intense fascination with) sexual interpretations. At one point Wells deplores as "highly distasteful" the performer's use of modern innuendo in Much Ado About Nothing when Benedick, responding to Margaret's statement that Beatrice 'hath legs', knowingly says 'And therefore will come'. Modern productions have a legitimate right to reinvent and/or extend textual meanings without them being regarded as "cheapening", even if audiences in Shakespeare's day would have understood them differently.

Wells remains a fascinating yet ambivalent critic of the sexual in Shakespeare.

Dark Blue Almost Black [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dark Blue Almost Black [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Quim Gutiérrez
Price: £11.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good Spanish film featuring the brilliant Quim Gutiérrez, 25 May 2008
Darkbluealmostblack (2006) is a Spanish film made by 38 year-old director Daniel Sánchez Arévalo - often touted as Almodovar's "successor" in Spain - that garnered 3 Goyas on its release. Quim Gutiérrez plays Jorge (looking a lot like France's golden boy Louis Garrel), who is a 25 year-old janitor in the block of flats in which he and his father live. His father has suffered a heart attack seven years before after a father-son argument and is now in a wheelchair with a form of dementia. Guilt and an integral sense of responsibility lead Jorge into this stressful situation where his father insults him, cuts up his hard-earned money, and talks incessantly of going to church with Jorge's apparently dead mother. To make matters more difficult, Jorge's brother Antonio is in prison. There he meets the gorgeous "princess" of the prison, Paula, who asks him to impregnate her so that she can move to the mother-child quarters, away from the other female prisoners who regularly beat her. Although Antonio longs to help her and bind her to him (fearing she never would have taken any notice of him beyond the prison walls), he is infertile and asks his angelic brother - who seems to help everyone except himself in most of this film - to "do the honours"! Is this a step too far for nice-boy Jorge? How can he reconcile the request with his shaky relationship with his childhood sweetheart Nathalie?

Arévalo shows his characters in dark blue hues (appropriately the suit that Jorge longs to wear to feel like he is moving up in the world is dark blue, too) and asks: Can Jorge change the colour of his life? Or will he remain trapped by his environment and his guilty feelings of responsibility? This doesn't mean that the film is impossibly dark - it's not. There are some funny scenes with Antonio and with Jorge's best friend Israel, who voyeuristically takes pictures of the erotic masseur across the street until he finds out a family secret that disturbs him (although I did find this subplot unconvincing, feeling a little "stuck on"). Israel - or "Sean" as he is called by his friends, who see a likeness to Sean Penn - starts to question his sexuality, which makes for interesting dynamics with his almost homoerotically close friendship with Jorge. These are brave and unvarnished themes that are controversial in the country of its making where a subtle, subliminal form of censorship would still seem to reign.

An enjoyable film!

Anywhere I Lay My Head
Anywhere I Lay My Head
Offered by MasterDVD
Price: £4.49

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars People have been sharpening their knives, waiting for this release, 16 May 2008
This review is from: Anywhere I Lay My Head (Audio CD)
Probably all listeners are going to come to Scarlett Johansson's debut album with preconceptions. There are many who hate the concept of actresses releasing albums (and with Lindsay Lohan, who can blame them?), envy her lifestyle (million dollar income, villa in the Hollywood Hills, Ryan Reynolds as fiance, etc.) or hate her for the Hollywood adulation and her already gargantuan popularity. And there are those who are accused of weakening at the knees before the formidable marketing juggernaut, loving the idea of this album before they have even heard a note. She's subject to adulation to be sure, but also to ridicule, falling seemingly irresistibly into that actress-cum-singer shoebox.

The crucial question, however, is: IS IT ANY GOOD? And I would say yes and no. Her weird, angular voice is definitely a surprise (I don't remember it being such a croaky baritone in Lost in Translation), which strikes a refreshingly different chord to the hyperhigh, glass-shattering vocals of other female singers. But Scarlett's delivery is almost always drowned out by the epic soundscape that David Andrew Sitek has created around her and Tom Waits' songs: she's more of a feature on the album's musical landscape than occupying its centre stage. David Bowie lends a hand on vocals, too (more a measure of her star-studded connnections than the high esteem in which he holds her vocal ability and musical artistry, I would imagine). The uncharitable would say that her voice is deliberately overwhelmed to cover up the fact that she can't actually sing, but it's a shame that we don't hear more of it - precisely because her throaty, croaky voice is unusual and compelling. Those shoegaze and dreampop atmospherics - from which this album borrows to craft its sound - are nothing new, having had their heyday in the early nineties. The album improves, however, towards the end: by the eighth and ninth tracks, she shakes off the woozy, dreamy soundscape and lifts her voice out of its basement. Her vocals become more melodious and emotive, as well as being set against less dominant instrumentation, quicker beats, and the chinking acoustics of a little girl's jewellery box. We could have done with more of this liveliness.

Worth a listen: Anywhere I Lay my Head, Falling Down, Fannin Street, I Don't Wanna Grow Up, I Wish I Was in New Orleans

For fans of: Dot Allison, Mazzy Star, the gravelly voices of Marianne Faithfull and Nico

Not for fans of: Tom Waits, probably ;-)

Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £13.57

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Like warm honey on a summers day", 9 Mar 2008
This review is from: Two (Audio CD)
These two created their musical partnership after a random pairing on a concert bill (2005's Daughters of Albion concert in Cork). There must have been much mutual intuition floating about in the sessions because they sound like they've been playing together for years. Kathryn has said that "the whole experience was the musical equivalent of standing naked in front of the person you love and wanting them to like you." In various sheds and garages (independent artists always say that! But Kathryn wouldn't lie to us, would she?!), they recorded twenty one songs in six days, whittling them down to the thirteen released on this record.

A hushed, homely atmosphere wraps itself around the songs, with Williams and MacColl sharing vocals (although the latter sometimes pales into the background) and guitar-playing. MacColl has added the dulcimer and autoharp and Williams the organ, harmonium and melotron. Suffice to say that it makes for an astoundingly quiet and intimate album - "like warm honey on a summers day" as someone has said. There is a hidden bite to some of the lyrics: "I used black and white on how you hurt me" (Grey Goes) expresses a rare bitterness; and "I'll sweeten you like sugar when the world has been f*#!ing with you" (Armchair) lets a little of the wind of the outside world blow into their introspective, sheltered bubble. Kathryn's lyrical trademark - understated melancholy - is here. On Blue Fields, for example (one of the first songs she wrote, but which never worked alone) she asks, "What am I if not looked at by you? Will I disappear?" and on the final track "One day the days and nights will have meaning / Then I can get my diary out...".

Alas I Cannot Swim
Alas I Cannot Swim

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet and understated folk-pop, 16 Feb 2008
This review is from: Alas I Cannot Swim (Audio CD)
The debut album of 18-year-old Laura Marling, who grew up in Eversley near Reading, is a welcome surprise. With thirteen quiet and understated songs, she shuffles into the spotlight and onto a musical landscape dominated by balsy retro songs, mockney accents and diva attitudes. Marling - with delicate lyrics, a soft, hushed delivery and folky arrangements accompanied by strings - works against this tide (although it must be said when I met her briefly after a concert, she seemed quite confident and not as shy as she sings).

Her lyrics don't betray her age - she has a good hand for developing images, rather than creating and abandoning them: "The ring on my finger slips to the ground, a gift to the gutter". On Shine - where she is only accompanied by an acoustic guitar and the birds heard tweeting at the close - she sings with obvious self-reference "I am honest, not a shouter". Ghosts in a lover's nightmares are warned off ("If they want you, well, then they're gonna have to fight me") and melancholy is an intimate rival ("I need shine - stay away from my light").

There are a few songs that teeter too close to the twee and at least one that seems overproduced and let down by blander lyrics and instrumentation. Nevertheless this is a very good debut. If she ignores the mythologisation that journalists are bound to impose on her (reviews have already started referring to "her father teaching her the blues in front of the family fire"!) and manages to sidestep the trapdoors of tweeness and wistfulness, she could have an enviable career ahead of her. (4.5 stars)

Standouts: Shine, Failure, Night Terror, Crawled out of the Sea

For fans of: Anna Ternheim, Kathryn Williams, Beth Orton, Ane Brun
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