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struts (Stockholm, Sweden)

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Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie
Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie
by Joel Stewart
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully simple, 3 Jan. 2011
I have often noticed that books with detailed illustrations and little text appeal to my children (Alice, just turned 7 and Louise, just turned 4). They seem to love interpreting them and using them as inpiration to speculate together their own sub-plots.

There can't be many better examples of this phenomenon than this lovely book. The simple parable about the value of friendship is beautifully laid out in deliciously detailed pictures with a minimal amount of text written with dry but endearing humour. In particular I find that the beastie's laconic comments seem to be crying out to be voiced as the deadpan Clement Freud.

I would say the sweet-spot is children between the ages of 3 and 5, but it could certainly be enjoyed by children of all ages. Anyway, we love this book which won the Bronze award for books in the 0-5 age group in the very last Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes to be awarded in 2007. It must have been a particularly strong field that year as the Silver (Penguin, Polly Dunbar) and Gold (When a Monster is Born) winners are also among my children's absolute favourites.

by Polly Dunbar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple, charming, hilarious, 7 Nov. 2008
This review is from: Penguin (Paperback)
I bought this on the strength of its nomination for the 2007 Booktrust Early Years Award for Pre-school children (which it subsequent won), however awards have proven to be unreliable indicators of what my own 'critics' will think. In this case though it was spot-on; this book has become an instant hit with both Alice (4) and Louise (nearly 2).

The two words that come to mind are 'simple' and 'straightforward' and these apply to just about every aspect of the book from the plot and the lovely illustrations to the text. The use of language that is readily accessible to young children coupled with plenty of repetition lets them participate to the full, and the author has also deftly woven in some nice opportunities for amateur dramatics by the adult readers - Alice seems to approve of my choice of "The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado as Ben's 'silly song'.

What I think makes this book special however is the amount of wit and humour that has been packed into this deceptively simple framework. Alice and Louise both now start gurgling with laughter even before we have turned to the first page. What better recommendation could one ask for?

Where is There
Where is There
Price: £16.47

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly beautiful, 4 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Where is There (Audio CD)
Now if you had told me that it was some kind of Jazz/Classical, Tango/Jewish fusion with Italian and Russian influences I might not have bought it (whereas if you had told me it sounded like the soundtrack for an as-yet unmade Kiezlowski film I just might have done). However, I had the good fortune to hear it before I heard about it and I did buy it.

Although it is very hard to categorize or describe, this is hauntingly beautiful music quite superbly played and well recorded. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Grooving Out of Life
Grooving Out of Life
Offered by Smaller World Future
Price: £123.69

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quality dose of sublime Jamaican rock steady, 14 Aug. 2007
This review is from: Grooving Out of Life (Audio CD)
Hopeton Lewis is credited with launching the rock steady genre with his classic 1966 hit "Take It Easy". According to reggae historian Steve Barrow "Hopeton Lewis went in to do a ska tune, 'Take It Easy', and he couldn't manage it on the rhythm, so he said to play it slow. They played it half-speed, and when it was done, someone said to him, `That rock steady, man, that's rockin' steady.' And that's how the name came about."

Lewis's solo career really took off four years later when he won the 1970 Festival Song Competition with "Boom Shacka Lacka". "Grooving Out On Life", which followed in 1971, and the follow-up release "The Dynamic Hopeton Lewis" arguably represent the high point of his career ("Grooving" went silver in 1972 and gold the following year). Here he puts his sublime baritone to good use cracking out a great line of songs which see him expand his traditional ska/rock steady compass into soul, funk, folk and country. However most songs are imbued with a subtle gospel flavour that betray his roots.

As well as the title track, which topped both the R.J.R. and J.B.C. charts, there is "Love Is a Beautiful Thing", co-authored with Glenn Ricks, and an alternative arrangement of "Take it Easy" (you'll find the original on "300% Dynamite"). The balance are all covers of hits of the time such as "Funky Kingston" (originally released as "Funky Nassau" by The Beginning of the End), Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" and Kris Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night".

Lewis is very much one of the unsung heroes of Jamaican music and his earlier, pre-80s material is hard to find on CD. Odd tracks are available spread over various compilation discs (the various Studio One compilations from Soul Jazz records, multiple Trojan boxes and the Jamaican Gold compliations for example) but for those searching out a more concentrated dose of his fabulous talents from that period on CD this Jamaican Gold reissue is unfortunately one of the only options.

Hopefully Jamaican Gold will do a similarly fine job on "The Dynamic.." soon!

Toots in Memphis
Toots in Memphis
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £14.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare treat, 1 Aug. 2007
This review is from: Toots in Memphis (Audio CD)
So check this out, Toots Hibbert, pioneer of Jamaican music and a man with a voice on a par with Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, puts his own unique spin on some of the finest ballads ever to emerge from McElmore Avenue.

Toots brings not just his deep roots in gospel, reggae and ska, but also tinges of funk to the proceedings, accompanied by a blue chip roster of backing musicians including Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns. The material, recorded at "Ardent Studio C, Memphis Tenessee" (the original Stax studios are alas no more), covers a gamut of hits from artists such as Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Al Green, Ann Peebles and even one of Toots's own: See It My Way.

The CD, which was nominated for a Grammy, comes beautifully packaged in a luxuriously thick miniature LP slipcase with 'Limited Edition' embossed in gold on the back.

A must for Toots fans and even open-minded lovers of the soul originals.

Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to a Nigerian musical legend, 1 Aug. 2007
This review is from: Greatest Hits (Audio CD)
Singer, trumpeter and bandleader 'Cardinal' Rex Jim Lawson was probably the most famous and most loved exponent of 60's Nigerian 'highlife' music. Together with his Mayor's Dance Band he cranked out a long line of chart toppers before his untimely death in a motorcycle accident in his late thirties (his exact birthdate is not known) at the height of his popularity.

As Gerry Coldham points out in his online profile "his music remains danceable and ageless" and his sound, mixing dance rhythms, braying brass and his superb belting voice has had a huge influence on subsequent generations of African music.

While it could be argued that this disc omits some of his 'greatest hits' (numbers like "Oko", "Gowon Special" and his cover of Kofi Sammy's "Yellow Sisi" are conspicuous by their absence) it is a great introduction to the music of the man they called "Nigeria's Frank Sinatra".

Essential for lovers of highlife music. If you like this try the great Rough Guide compilation "Ghana & Nigeria - the Rough Guide to Highlife".
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2009 12:05 PM BST

Countryman [1983] [DVD]
Countryman [1983] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Countryman
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.69

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Country roads, take me home!, 1 Aug. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Countryman [1983] [DVD] (DVD)
One certainly wouldn't recommend this film for the plotline or, indeed for the acting, which is almost universally comically bad. This is a document of a place in time, Jamaica in the late seventies, politics, nature and culture all portrayed with stunning realism.

The story follows 'Countryman' a simple rastafarian fisherman who rescues an American couple when their light plane crashes in a remote swamp. Facing an election, and with public opinion swinging against them, the government seizes on the incident as an opportunity to make political capital by portraying them as CIA agents smuggling weapons to opposition supporters. Somewhat oblivious to the politics, Countryman hides them and helps them escape their army pursuers.

One might think the plot had been lifted straight out of 'Tarzan' if it weren't such a faithful reflection of the climate of political intrigue and violence that characterized the bloody struggle between the JLP and the PNP in late seventies Jamaica. In fact the involvement of the CIA, publicly denied by Kissinger at the time, has since been confirmed on the record by retired CIA operatives.

Countryman (credited as 'himself') is superb, injecting some depth to his part which is conspicuously lacking among the other actors. However, it is the scenery and (some ghastly supernatural effects apart) the production that are the real stars. The atmosphere of rural Jamaica is caught as faithfully here as urban life is in 'The Harder They Come' and anyone who loves the country couldn't help but be deeply moved.

The soundtrack too is awesome, right up there with THTC as one of the ultimate documents of authentic Jamaican reggae.

So, cineasts need not apply. For lovers of Jamaica, five stars all the way. Irie.

True Love
True Love
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £19.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I assure you that parts of it are excellent!", 10 July 2007
This review is from: True Love (Audio CD) the Curate famously said of his egg to the Bishop. And that's the story of this album really, infuriatingly uneven.

The premise is the now familiar Santana-style omnibus where Toots invites a star-studded array of guests around to 'his place'. 'His place' being the very well from which ska, rocksteady and reggae (Toots is credited with inventing the term) all flowed. And rather like Ant and Dec at Buckingham Palace, some of the guests are unfortunately just never comfortable in their new surroundings.

Things get off to an inauspicious start with Willie Nelson sounding (as Katie Zerwas pointed out) like a drunk in a karaoke bar and completely fluffing his entrance on 'Still Moving to Me'. Toots does his best to rescue proceedings but Nelson does the perfect impression of a country hasbeen. The contrast will have you squirming in your seat and the producer who put this first deserves to be shot.

At its best however the album truly soars. My own favourite is 'Bam Bam', the track that, according to Toots, was misconstrued as a pro-PNP political statement by the paranoid JLP government of the day and led to him being framed and subsequently incarcerated on charges of possession. Who would have bet on this unlikely combination of Toots, randy rapper Shaggy and Rahzel, the human beatbox to pull this off? However, they fuse perfectly to inject this laid-back, lilting rocksteady classic with hugely infectious driving dancefloor energy. I guarantee you won't be able to sit still.

On this track as indeed on all it is Toots, however generously he tries to let his guests take the limelight, who emerges as the real star. Pushing sixty at the time of recording, his rosiny voice has never sounded better. He nails his entrances and never hits a bum note, each line dripping with real emotion. The man got soul!

Honorable mentions also go to the Specials' Terry Hall, who slots efforlessly back into the idiom to spruce up the 1963 hit 'Never Grow Old', Bootsy Collins who really puts the 'Funky' back into 'Kingston' ("Toots, Roots and Boots", geddit?), and Rachael Yamagata who really fuses perfectly with Toots on a smolderingly sexy 'Blame On Me'.

As much as I love this album though I can't help lamenting what it might have been with a slightly more even supporting cast and more sensitive production. As it stands it offers glimpses of heaven but is maddeningly uneven.

Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect antidote to a mid-life crisis, 7 July 2007
This review is from: Steve McQueen (Audio CD)
Judging by the reviews below I am not the only just-turned-forty-year-old for whom listening to Steve McQueen is essential balm for the mid-life crisis. I remember seeing the Sprouts several times while at university and bought the original, what we now know to be first (according to the chronology of when the songs were written rather than when the album was released), album upon release. I had played through three vinyl copies by the time the kids arrived and the record player departed; no doubt my most played and most loved album ever. So there you are, I've declared my bias.

So what is it? Well, a version of the CD remastered by original producer Thomas Dolby (with a very substantial increase in sound quality) and a second disc of acoustic versions of the same songs. And unlike so many Legacy Edition-style projects where the supplementary disc is just window dressing, here it is THE MAIN EVENT. So do you need it? YES!!!!

Some quotes from Kitchenware Records boss Keith Armstrong from the launch press release provide some interesting insights:

"Paddy did the new acoustic versions last summer - we were laughing because they took longer than the original album. It was partly due to Paddy's inherent perfectionism. It's ironic that doing a simple record of songs took him three times as long as it did to complete the fully polished original album - but that's Prefab Sprout in a nutshell."

"Actually, it was Paddy who suggested, `Why not do them acoustically and see how they sound?' And because his voice is deeper and more experienced now, it sounded like a great idea."

"I like the songs with all the glitter and polish, but I also like them this way. I thought they'd be just his acoustic guitar and voice, but he rearranged them quite differently. It was exciting. I was expecting straight guitar and vocals, but because his voice had changed and because of the changes in arrangement I was blown away."

Listening to this disc answered a question that I realized has been lurking somewhere in the back of my mind for the last twenty years: why doesn't anyone cover Paddy's songs? They are after all some of the most beautiful ballads ever written. Well here is the answer, eight mindblowing covers by the man himself. Listen to track 3, "Desire As" as you've never heard it before. Extended to 7'08" with over two minutes of instrumental intro, it will send shivers down your spine. Surely, nobody else could have done it better and perhaps that's why nobody ever tried. Just too painfully perfect for words.

No, nobody is better qualified to cover Paddy than Paddy, and I for one am eternally grateful that he did. I note that none of the reviewers here have bestowed less than 5 stars. And I expect that all, like me, would have given six if they could. So all this only leaves one question; when will we see the acoustic versions on vinyl??

Mr Pusskins
Mr Pusskins
by Sam Lloyd
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Counting the cost of a night on the tiles, 5 May 2007
This review is from: Mr Pusskins (Hardcover)
She lavishes love and kindness on him, but he feels bored and suffocated and longs to live the life of an alley cat, eventually walking out on her. Will she take him back? The 'she' in this case is Emily (why-oh-why can't these authors pick some other name?) and 'he' is Mr Pusskins, as spoilt and rotund an old tom as one is ever likely to meet.

This prodigal son fable is invitingly illustrated, the cuddly Mr Pusskins drawing the reader in to understand his selfishness and the pickle it lands him in. There is also some lovely visual humour; the images of him literally crawling the walls inside the front cover are bound to raise a smile. The text is simple and nicely paced, offering ample opportunity to explore the many themes: being spoilt, the grass appearing greener on the other side, not knowing what you've got 'til it's gone and the value of companionship.

I really like this book which deftly wraps some important lessons in a cute story. However it hasn't turned out to be a huge hit with Alice (4) and Louise (2) in the same way as for instance "Penguin" by Polly Dunbar, hence only three stars.

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