Friday, December 22, 2006

Audio Book Review - Brother Odd by Dean Koontz – Read by David Aaron Baker

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

Odd Thomas returns! This time he is not in the desert town of Pico Mundo, rather he is high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In this third installment of what has become the Odd Thomas series, we find him in reclusion at St. Bartholomew's Abbey where he has gone for solace and seclusion. While waiting for an oncoming snow storm – this is the first time that he has seen snow – he encounters bodachs. These are the dark entities that precede cataclysmic events and feed on the impending doom of others. The last time he encountered them, 19 people died. What are they doing at a monastery that caters to handicapped children?

“Loop me in, odd one” are the words spoken by a young girl who is in a deep sleep. These are word that Odd has not heard since the death of his girlfriend Stormy Llewellyn. It sends a chill down his spine.

By the time Brother Timothy is found to be missing, the snow is falling heavily and outside help is not available. The question is not about if something will happen, the question is when and how bad will it be this time. It will be up to Odd to solve the mystery and save the abbey. Odd is about to embark on a journey of mystery, wonder and sheer suspense that surpasses all that has come before.

For those who are unfamiliar with Odd Thomas, he sees dead people and other spirits known as bodachs. Normally, Odd lives in a little desert town known as Pico Mundo where he is employed as a fry cook, but has chosen to live at the abbey to help overcome the grief he has for his deceased girlfriend and the burden he set on himself that he could not save more people at mall.

The dead people that Odd Thomas sees are ones who can’t quite make it to the other side. One of the reoccurring ghosts is Elvis, who sometimes cries, sometimes tries to make Odd laugh but is always trying to resolve the sadness he has for disappointing his mother. Although Odd can see the ghosts, he can not hear them.

In the first book, Stormy died and Odd believed that after a lifetime of service to humanity, that he would one day be reunited in the after life with her. As in his prior books, Odd Thomas places his life danger to protect others. In this case it is to protect the young children housed abbey, most are handicapped and are incapable of living a normal life.

Brother Odd is more of a return to the first book, Odd Thomas which was published in 2003. Forever Odd, published in 2005 was a darker tale and much more introspective than this one. In Brother Odd, Koontz returns with a strong supporting cast including Brother Knuckles who was a mob enforcer, before finding his new calling. There is Sister Angela who has a “periwinkle blue stare” as well as Boo, a snow-colored hound who loves inclement weather.

This is Koontz at his finest. There is a wry sense of humor that runs like multiple threads throughout the story. As with his earlier books in the Odd Thomas series it is easy to find your self immersed in the development of the characters. They are loose, individual and really come alive with their rich dialog. The plot takes you along at an ever increasing pace moving faster and faster toward… Well, you wouldn’t want me to spoil it would you?

Odd Thomas has become one of the best serial fictional characters ever created. His calm demeanor and his dedication to his fellow souls in – both living and not - brings his personality to life. He is not pretentious and is always willing to undertake the challenges that life places in his path.

This unabridged audio version is performed by David Aaron Baker. An actor who has appeared on Broadway and on film, he has narrated all three audio versions of the Odd Thomas series. In this one Baker has slipped back in to the voice of Odd as smoothly as sliding into fuzzy slippers on a Christmas morning. His ability to weave in and out of the different characters makes this a wonder to listen to. I hope that he continues to bring Odd Thomas to life in the spoken word as Dean Koontz brings him to life on the page.

If I had one complaint with the story it is that it is too short. This is one of those rare moments that at the end, you don't want to be done. Even more, you can’t wait to go back. I hope that we will be going back soon!

I highly recommend Brother Odd. If you have never read (or listened to) an Odd Thomas story, get all three. You will not be disappointed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

DVD Review: Nirvana - In Utero - Classic Album Under Review

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

This has been my first experience with the “Classic Albums” series and after seeing this one, it will not be my last. I was very impressed with the detail and information presented in this documentary about the life and times of Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and the process that lead to the creation of their final studio album - In Utero.

While much has been said about the short and tormented life of Kurt Cobain, this video has been the first to present to me the background and history that led to the music that Nirvana produced, and the history behind the sound. It also explores the accidental sudden rise to fame - the fame that they were not looking for. It describes the inability for Cobain to handle his success and his ultimate suicide.

The DVD provides, live and in-studio performances by Nirvana with rare interviews, facts and commentary. This is all interspersed with an independent review and criticism from a panel of experts. These include: original Nirvana drummer Chad Channing; Jack Endino, producer of Nirvana's Bleach and owner of the studios in which the band started early work on In Utero; Tracy Marander, former girlfriend of Kurt Cobain, about whom the classic About A Girl was written; Nirvana biographer Charles R. Cross, author of Heavier Than Heaven; Seattle record label boss and musician, Slim Moon; and ex-Melody Maker writer and grunge champion in the UK, David Stubbs, among others.

The DVD is 63 minutes. The quality of the picture is good. Many of the clips are from U.S. Television and originated in NTSC. There is also a really tough quiz on Nirvana knowledge and a bit on the group's MTV Unplugged performance.

All in all, I found this a fascinating documentary. From a historical prospective it was insightful. From a cultural point of view, I took away from it the feeling that Cobain and possibly Nirvana was like a moth being attracted to the light, just going about doing what they wanted to do. When they find themselves in a place that they were not ready to be in with the album “Nevermind”, they try to get back to their roots with In Utero. By then, for Kurt Cobain at least, he was too far into the flame.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Music Review: Daughtry

by T. Michael Testi ( , PhotographyToday, ATAEE)

In season four, the face of American Idol began to change with the addition of a new rule that raised the age limit from 26 to 28. This allowed Constantine Maroulis and Bo Bice to become Idol contestants. Both were experienced musicians, having fronted their own bands and both became hits on the show. Season five brought Chris Daughtry to Idol; he was inspired to audition for the show by the success of Bo Bice.

While a heavy favorite early on, Daughtry finished fourth in the competition on May 10, 2006 to a shocked and stunned crowd. There was some controversy, as there always seems to be regarding American Idol. There were fans who claimed that they heard Katharine McPhee’s voice thanking them when they thought they were voting for Chris Daughtry.

After being offered and turning down the opportunity to become the new front man for Fuel, Daughtry formed his own group, Daughtry. The band consists of Chris Daughtry on vocals, Jeremy Brady on rhythm guitar, J.P. Paul on bass, Josh Steely on lead guitar, and Joey Barns on drums.

While there have been a lot of comparisons between Daughtry and the band Nickelback, I just don't see it. Sure, there are tunes that have a modern feel and are perhaps reminiscent of Nickelback, but to me the songs are of higher quality and Chris's voice is better.

Being on Idol is a double-edged sword. It gives you the name and face recognition to get a contract and a CD made, but it can pigeonhole you into being someone that you are not. By spending a lot of time doing other people's songs on Idol, you are already bagged and tagged.

Now with a contract, you have to put together a band, generate new material, record the CD, and then promote it. This is backwards to how it usually happens. Normally you form the band, generate the material, promote and refine the material on the road, and then get the contract and record the CD. This is why bands with hit debut albums some times fail on sophomore attempts. They try to follow up successful compilations without the road work and refinement.

With that in mind, my overall impression of this CD is very favorable. With twelve songs ranging from hard rock to power ballads, there is a lot for every rocker. Not every one is a hit, but there are more here than on many first albums and more than I would have thought from a band without the time to refine them.

I found four outright smashes — “What I Want” (featuring Slash), “There and Back Again”, “It's Not Over” and “Home”. I would buy this CD for these songs alone. There are a few that are good — “Over You”, “Crashed”, “Feels Like Tonight” and “What About Now”, “All These Lives”, and ”Breakdown”. And the rest are okay. They are not bad, but just didn't do it for me.

Although it was produced by Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, All-American Rejects), my biggest problem with the CD is that it feels over-produced and done too quickly. It doesn't have the raw feel that a group like Daughtry deserves. I think that it should have had a harder edge overall such as is found on “What I Want” and “There and Back Again”. Don't get me wrong, this is a good album, but it could have been a better album with more time and road work.

My grade for this CD is a B+. If you liked Chris on American Idol or you like good old-fashioned American rock, you'll find a lot to like on Daughtry.