Tam Matsumoto Guitar Album Blows New and Tired

Strings of My Soul
335 Records 1208
* * ½

Guitarist Tak Matsumoto assumes four identities, that of a New Age artist, a crunching rock and roller, an introspective jazz innovator, and a Japanese traditional musician. He sometimes wears all four identities in the same piece. So does this make Strings of My Soul a daring blend, or a shepherd’s pie with too many ingredients? To my ear, both. The good news is that Matsumoto avoids the common guitar solo album problem of presenting everything as if it’s cut from the same cloth; he simply doesn’t dwell anywhere long enough for you to feel that way. He’s also highly skilled, as befits the Grammy Award winner that he is. It’s also a delight to hear tracks such as “Hana” and “Koi-Uta,” in which the Asian erhu (a two-stringed fiddle) shares sonic space with Western instruments. The bad news? Matsumoto’s rock departures may go down a storm in Japan, but most seem like decades-old news here in the West. Ditto atmospheric his New Age meanderings, a genre that’s well past its sell-by date. Even with the aid of Larry Carlton, I can do without a cover of “Suriyaki,” and I’ve always hated “My Favorite Things,” so that one left me cold as well.  A reworking of themes from the 1968 soundtrack for “Romeo and Juliet?” Okay, but…  I think Matsumoto is an amazing fret-board wizard, but the material and his arrangements left me hungry for more one moment, and slightly queasy the next.--Rob Weir   


Make Romney Show Us the Paperwork!

Pay back time!!!!

They screamed, “Foul!” and “He’s a Kenyan.” Remember back in 2009 when the Tea Party, the Ditto Heads, and the Assorted Loony Right tried to undo the Election of 2008 by insisting that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States? Remember how the Obama administration declared their cries were too trivial to act upon? Remember how the Rightwing Rats kept crawling upon the political deck until Obama finally caved?

Good, because turnabout is fair play. The Mitten (Romney) insists he paid a 13% tax rate over the ten years for which he won’t release his tax returns. First of all, a man as wealthy as The Mitten should be paying 35%. That aside, I don’t believe him. I think Harry Reid is right and The Mitten didn’t pay any taxes at all. Let’s hear from everybody to the left of Attila, “Release Your Taxes! Release Your Taxes!” I’ve seen Barack Obama’s birth certificate and it’s online for Rush and all the rest of his Brown Shirts to see. Now I want to see The Mitten’s tax returns. What’s he hiding? Until he shows us his taxes, I will believe Harry Reid. And if you think that’s unfair, I say, “Here’s a dose of your own medicine. How does it taste?” 

Assuming The Mitten does release his taxes–probably the day after hell freezes over–here’s the next response for those of us who can’t stand the Great Flip Flopper. Breathe in and yell out, “Fake! Fake!” When you tire of that one try, “Let’s See the Cayman and Swiss Accounts.”  If that’s too much of a mouthful, just oink, yell out “Piggie! Piggie!” and hoist signs that ask, “Why did Romney Pay a Lower Tax Rate than My Grandma?” 


Pariah Tackles Important and Personal Subjects

Rees film deserves broader audience.

PARIAH  (2010)
Written and Directed by Dee Rees
Chicken and Egg Pictures, 86 mins. R
* * *

Alike (Andrepro Oduye) is a 17-year-old black girl finishing her high school education in an edgy New York City neighborhood. She’s kind, shy, loves poetry, and is a straight-A student. The problem is that her grades are the only thing straight about her. Alike (pronounced Ah-lee’-kay) knows what she is—a virginal Butch lesbian longing for sexual encounters she’s too guilt-ridden to initiate. She lives with her sister and parents, the latter of whom entrap her in a closet of inner frustration and outer role playing. Her father, Mack (Raymond Anthony Thomas) is a New York City detective with a military-like demeanor, and her mother, Audrey (Kim Wayans), loves Jesus to the point where she is shut down to human affection. Audrey lives a life circumscribed by what she thinks God demands of her—an austere respectability that makes her cold to her daughters, her husband, and her coworkers, all of whom quietly drift from her.

For Alike, “coming out” is out of the question, so she lives a double life, leaving the apartment each morning as Alike dressed in costumes picked out by her mother, then ducks into a school bathroom to become “Lee” by donning muscle shirts, a doo rag, hip hop baggy jeans, and a backward ball cap. Her best friend, Laura (Pernell Walker) is both what she’d like to be, but a warning of its cost. Laura is openly Butch and secretly takes Alike to gay clubs with her, but she’s also working on her GED and lives hand-to-mouth with her sister because she left school when she was tossed from her home because of her sexual preferences. So Alike plods on with few friends and no lovers. Audrey blindly foists church, inappropriate clothing, and “suitable” friends upon Alike, all of which add to her frustration—until she’s forced to spend time with a girl from a “good Christian home,” Bina (Aasha Davis). I suspect you can figure out what happens next! Don’t get too smug, though, because there’s quite a bit in this film that isn’t predictable.

Director and writer Dee Rees, who admits that some of the film is autobiographical, serves up a black family drama, the likes of which we seldom see. She uses the character of Audrey to highlight a searing contradiction within the black community—the same churches that led the civil rights movement are among the most bigoted forces in all of American society insofar as acceptance of gays and lesbians goes. Rees also delves nicely into the sometimes catty world of high schoolers, a group that plays with emotions, identities, and each other with a casual and clueless cruelty.

This is an independent film and it has the virtues and drawbacks of such a project. Kudos go to Rees for giving us a fresh look at the inner city, families, and sexual identity. Also bold was her casting choice. Oduye is not a product of New York’s mean streets; she’s Nigerian born and had a very solid childhood. Most intriguing of all, although she convincingly plays 17-year-old Alike, she is actually 33. And Davis, who plays Bina as a cute-as-a-button spoiled teen, is 32. The small budget shows up in a thin script that could use some doctoring, in the claustrophobic sets and cut-rate lighting, and in the stiff acting of secondary characters.

 It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s a very good one that deserved a far bigger audience than it got upon release, despite raves as festivals such as Sundance. One problem was its ridiculous R rating—cuddling and girl-on-girl kissing is as racy as this film gets. Therein, in my view, lies the problem. The film got an R rating because it had lesbian characters, pure and simple. The film lacked appeal in the black community because it portrays a forbidden topic in a positive way. And most non-whites haven’t seen it for exactly the same reason. You should.—Rob Weir