QUICKIE: My Thoughts on David Ross Being a ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Competitor

March 4, 2017

On March 1, 2017, ex-MLB player David Ross became the first MLB player ever to have been recruited on the show Dancing with the Stars as a competitor. Not that it matters, but I found this rather surprising, because I had assumed eons ago that an MLB player or pitcher participating would never occur on the aforementioned ABC-telecast show.

Ross, an ESPN analyst, is nicknamed ‘Grandpa Rossy,’ and had come from winning the 2016 World Series with the Chicago Cubs – which ended the then-all-time-worst 108-year title-less skid in professional sports. Having played for teams like the Dodgers, the Red Sox, and the aforementioned Cubs, he was never an MLB All-Star (batting only .229 with 106 home runs and 314 RBI in his 14-year playing career), but he’s had a respectable fan following in his own right.

DWTS, whose mother show is England’s Strictly Come Dancing (from which all international versions of it stemmed), usually has celebrities as competitors who might not have been as famous as, say, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Britney Spears, or Michael Jordan. Some exceptions have been made over the years, like famed singer Patti LaBelle and NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. More well-known folks on the show are usually either entertainers sitting in the CBS Television City audience (i.e., Bruce Willis when his daughter Rumer won the Mirrorball Trophy) or recording artists who are invited to perform famous songs (of which there are too many to list). (We all know that ESPN and ABC are owned by the Walt Disney Company.)

Anyway, this Grandpa Rossy on DWTS stuff already has me thinking: ‘What other MLB players or pitchers should be on the show in the future, as long as it’s still on the air?’ Hugely famous living legends like Derek Jeter and Mike Piazza – as well as current rising superstars like Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, and especially Mike Trout – are unlikely to ever compete. However, 1x All-Star Matt Joyce is one person I can name; MLB Network analyst Mark DeRosa is another, much better idea.

It could happen…

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Hey, Colin Kaepernick: Some People Stand for ALL National Anthems!

August 29, 2016

NFL star Colin Kaepernick is so full of himself.

He refused to stand during “The Star Spangled Banner” at an NFL preseason game on August 25, 2016, because of his viewpoint that America oppresses blacks and minorities, adding that “it would be selfish [of me] to look the other way.”

Colin, it seems to me you’re being even more selfish in choosing not to at least respect the fact that you are an American. Ways to address neverending issues such as racism exist, but failing to stand up for a national anthem – especially your own – isn’t the best way to protest it. It’s no wonder you got a tremendous amount of backlash from a lot of people, from the general public to military soldiers to even Victor Cruz, who questioned the propriety of your actions, on or off the playing field.

Maybe you should just step off of the NFL playing grounds for a bit and be grateful and lucky that you’ve even gotten to make millions of dollars doing what you do, which most of the rest of us – practically every single freaking one of us – dreams of doing.

And I’m willing to bet that as far as any sport in the world is concerned, pro or not, people who attend or even watch or listen to games from any regular season sport, special events like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cups, the World Baseball Classic, and the like, actually DO stand up for every national anthem played over the PA speakers or performed by fill-in-the-blank talented singers/instrumentalists, regardless of nationality. Heck, I’ve stood up at MLB games for “O, Canada” (the Canadian national anthem) as well as the SSB and “God Bless America” years ago!

Anyway, rant over, over and out.

I Still Have Mixed Feelings About the Grammys

February 17, 2016

Back in 2010, I had written a blog post entitled ‘My Thoughts on the Grammys,’ in which I stated that ‘my feelings are fairly in-between’ about who gets nominated and who wins, or at least as far as ‘in the 21st century’ is concerned.

Granted, I still hold those feelings, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to simply say something immature at winners I don’t agree with.

To wit: I might not feel sure about Meghan Trainor being rewarded with a Grammy or about Justin Bieber being awarded Best Dance Recording at the 2016 Grammys, but maybe the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (or ‘NARAS,’ for short) thought they were good enough in their own right, even though many people will continue to disagree. They did the same thing with Britney Spears in 2005 when she won a Grammy, but to be fair, at least the NARAS didn’t award One Direction, the Backstreet Boys, J. Lo, or people like that (no disrespect to their fans) with even one Grammy so far.

Taylor Swift was the Album of the Year champion for the second time, this time for 1989. Frankly, not to take anything away from her, because she does have some talent, but I think that Lamar deserved that award more.

On the plus side, some of the 2014-15 winners struck gold in my book. Take Ed Sheeran, for example: His song ‘Thinking Out Loud,’ from the 2014 release X, won him Grammys for Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance. Chris Stapleton and Kendrick Lamar, among others, also won Grammys. And Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ duet, ‘Uptown Funk,’ won a couple of Grammys (one of which was for Record of the Year).

Also, the Lifetime Achievement Award class stood out to me most of all, as always – in 2016’s case, Ruth Brown, Célia Cruz, Earth, Wind, and Fire, Herbie Hancock, Jefferson Airplane, Linda Ronstadt, and Run-D.M.C. – even though CBS hardly gave any mention to that party.

It’s also still odd to those who care about all kinds of music, like me, that the Non-General nominees and winners like ‘Best Classical This’ or ‘Best Jazz That’ have long since been pushed back from being included in the main telecast for decades to being honored in a separate, untelevised daytime ceremony, although the Grammy website does list them as well as the General ones.

Again, this isn’t to take away anything from any Grammy winner, but like I said before, if the Grammys also honored major achievements in music, or at least musical excellence regardless of genre (which actually echoed true in part for years after Frank Sinatra said ‘It’s all about excellence, not popularity’), or if there were to be a Global Grammy Awards ceremony (or something like a ‘Greatness in Music Awards show’ or ‘Artistic Achievement Grammy Award’) honoring all genres of music regardless of territory of release, the ratings would sink.

My Thoughts on In-App Purchases

October 4, 2014

A lot of games on the App Store (on iTunes) and other vendors like Google Play are free of charge to download and play, but those same games usually come with optional “in-app purchases” – that is, virtual currency and special-item packages that players can buy with real-world money. There have been some instances of addiction to some games that may ultimately lead to the players spending a truckload of money on in-app purchases just to better their characters, progress to the next level more rapidly, etc.

One such example is a 15-year-old Belgian teenager who plays Game of War: Fire Age. The boy spent a whopping 37,000 Euros (the equivalent of US $46,000) on gold packages. He did so with his parents’ credit card information, linking that info to his own account on iTunes, and the charges went in his grandfather’s name. And in 2010, a British gamer spent some 900 UK pounds/sterling (US $1,350) on the once-hugely-successful Facebook game FarmVille, using his mother’s funds and his own savings account in the process.

Anyway, I have decidedly mixed feelings about in-app purchases (or “IAPs”) in general. On the plus side, they’re fine for enhancing just about every aspect of gameplay in freemium/paymium games like the aforementioned Game of War, Clash of Clans, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, and lesser-known ones like TourStar. However, on the minus side, IAPs seem almost obligatory in instances where you just can’t earn certain items (such as diamonds in Superstar Life, a fashion-themed simulation game where you take on four different roles – Business, Fashion Designer, Movie Star and Music Star Careers – and progress in your careers by doing tasks, etc.) very easily by just playing the game alone. Virtual currency packages tend to rank anywhere from $0.99 to $99.99 apiece.

I tend to think that some players who don’t make IAPs – or who can’t afford to do so – may feel competitively disadvantaged at the sight of other users or friends having a more attractive character, farm, restaurant, castle, or anything else than their own. Well, maybe they don’t, but am I trying to say that freemium/paymium games with IAPs should be banned? Not in the least. Trying to advance in IAP games without an in-game purchase can be frustrating, but there are some IAP games that also offer weekly tournaments with virtual currency prizes up for grabs…like the Big Win Sports games, for example. Some IAP games also offer free videos that you can watch to earn specific virtual currency.

Furthermore, parents and players uninterested in IAPs could turn off in-app purchases in their iOS or other mobile devices via their respective Settings. Or, if they do make in-app purchases, they can buy an iTunes Gift Card or Google Play Card, redeem them on iTunes (or whatever store their mobile device supports), and use that currency to buy whatever virtual packages their in-store credit can afford. The latter, based upon personal experience, is probably the best choice for IAPs (or music, TV shows, and movies available on iTunes), because if you just buy iTunes Cards and redeem them as long as you can afford them, then you don’t need to link your credit card or bank account information to the store. The only thing for which bill-payers (parents or responsible guardians) should watch out, though, is if kids are still intending to use card/bank information without permission.

In conclusion: In-app purchases seem to have a balanced share of hits and misses, but there’s always a way to go about avoiding troubles with them.

Belgian Teen Drops 37,000 Euros on Free-to-Play Game – Courtesy of Yahoo

MLB Gets No ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Nod for 18th Straight Season

March 4, 2014

I feel bad writing something like this, but it seems that MLB’s skid of not having a player or pitcher as a Dancing with the Stars contestant has no end in sight…it’s been 0 for 18 in that instance since the show was launched in America in July 2005 (Fall 2012’s roster was a lineup of previous contestants). One skid that did end in Spring 2014 – as far as athlete contestants are concerned – was the show never having an NHL player; Season 18 – whose cast includes Candace Cameron Bure of ABC’s own Full House as well as Drew Carey of The Price is Right and The Drew Carey Show – has former NHL player Sean Avery as a DWTS contestant.

DWTS has had a number of athletes on its historic roster: most of them were from either the NFL (like Hall of Famer Jerry Rice) or the Olympics (to wit: Shawn  Johnson and Charlie White), but there have also been racers like Helio Castroneves and soccer players like Hope Solo on the show. Even the NBA’s been credited with having had at least one DWTS contestant – in their case, Metta World Peace. The list goes on.

Anyway, there are a plethora of living former MLB players who could be considered for DWTS participation. Paul O’Neill is one I can name; he once mentioned on YES Network that he’s been waiting for a DWTS invite for years. But, at this rate, I guess MLB for that matter will just have to wait. I don’t count Spring 2010 contestant and co-host Erin Andrews because she just does on-the-side announcement coverage not only for MLB, but also NFL and college football.

ALBUM REVIEW: Yes by Mika Nakashima (2007)

December 31, 2013

Tracklist

1. I Love You (Album Version – Yutaka Ozaki Cover)
2. Mienai Hoshi (Invisible Star)
3. Sunao na Mama (The Honest State)
4. Cry No More (Ending Theme from Anime Series Blood+)
5. All Hands Together (with Allan Toussaint and Cyril Neville)
6. Dance with the Devil
7. Black & Blue
8. Joy
9. The Dividing Line
10. My Sugar Cat
11. Yogoreta Hana
12. Going Back Home
13. Kinenka
14. What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong Cover)

In my review of The End, I stated that the otherwise talented Mika Nakashima’s vocals weren’t suited to some of the songs. Yes is an album that brings Mika back to the kind of musical genres at which she excels, but with tinges of blues, gospel, and even country thrown into the mix.

The first two songs are slow, melancholic love songs that set the stage for what the rest of this album sounds like. “I Love You” is a remake of the late Yutaka Ozaki’s 1991 hit single, and while it doesn’t beat the original, Mika’s performance is solid, and the change in arrangement from techno-classical on the single for “Mienai Hoshi” to a dreamy blues song on here is well crafted. “Mienai Hoshi” itself is an ending theme for a TV drama series; although it bears some similarities to Mika’s own “Will” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” it’s an example of the type of song to which Nakashima is definitely no stranger. Both of these songs are filled out graciously by background vocals that provide a Kirk Franklin-like ambience to the arrangements and get this album off to a good start.

“Sunao na Mama” was marketed as a “hip-hop” song, and its single was released on the same day this album was, but it’s actually a dreamy downtempo pop song with Motown stylings (listen for the brass, strings, and especially the guitar solo at the end). “Cry No More,” which follows, was the first single made for this album, and it’s just fabulous.

“All Hands Together” was produced specifically for the victims of Hurricane Katrina (which wiped out New Orleans in 2005), and it features special guests such as Allen Toussaint and more importantly Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers. It starts with a strong middle-range voocalization from Mika, before leading out into a midtempo gospel track with a whole truckload of Latin percussion instruments, strong background vocals (a gospel choir is heard most prominently in the refrain), and clapping beats thrown in. A lot of people told me that this track sucked, but when I first heard it, I was like: “WHOA!” As for “Dance with the Devil,” it shifts gears to a cute rock-and-roll style with a driving rhythm and unforced vocals from Mika herself.

“Black & Blue” is a very funky ragtime jazz song, while “Joy” slows down the tempo from there on in with a lovely piano backup and Mika giving another fine vocal performance on both songs. “The Dividing Line” has a wonderful melody and a great arrangement (piano, drums, bass, etc.). I particularly liked the end stanzas of “Everywhere is yes/Everything is yes…”

However, what would a Mika album be like without a little variety? That’s where the charming “My Sugar Cat” comes in, and it brings a lavish vintage Caribbean sound to the album. The opening flute lines give the song a flippant yet delicate touch. Then comes “Yogoreta Hana,” which marks one of only two times that Mika-san has ever attempted a country song. It’s done in a contemporary country-waltz sound, sort of like Shania Twain, somewhat. Meanwhile, “Going Back Home” is a more traditional country tune with a pretty harmonica solo.

“Kinenka” briefly returns to the bluesy sound but is by far the only song I don’t care for very much on here. Thankfully, Yes goes out on a high note with a gorgeous – “though I admit somewhat poignant” – rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The piano is the primary mood-setter on the last track.

PROS: Fascinating songs and arrangements!

CONS: Good as it is, “All Hands Together” might not win everyone over on the first listen.

BOTTOM LINE: All in all, a well-done recording of songs that define Mika as a risk-taker in her own right.

Overall Score: 9/10

ALBUM REVIEW: The End by Mika Nakashima (2006)

December 30, 2013

Photo coming soon…

This is my first review in quite a while, but I intend to do more in the future (including albums by artists such as Andrea Bocelli and Emily Bear). This 2006 album is the subject of this review.

Tracklist:

1. Hitoiro (One Color)
2. Eyes for the Moon
3. Glamorous Sky
4. Blowing Out
5. My Medicine
6. Neglest Mind
7. Real World
8. Isolation
9. Blood
10. Hitoiro (ALTAnative)
11. My Way (Claude Francois Cover – Sid Vicious Version)

This album marked Mika Nakashima’s only time ever releasing an album under the name “NANA Starring Mika Nakashima,” pertaining to her work in the two NANA movies. This time around, I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of each song like I usually do, but give you the gist of what the album as a whole sounds like.

The first two songs were released in 2006 for the NANA 2 motion picture, and follow identical moods, except “Hitoiro,” the second and last single released for this disc, is a little more melancholy than “Eyes for the Moon,” its B-side. The former utilizes tubular bells, flutes, and violins to create an interesting symphonic rock sound, while the latter is more straightforward alternative rock in a way.

“Glamorous Sky,” the theme from the original NANA film, is absolutely brilliant. It begins with subdued vocals by Mika and a buildup in the electric guitar track before segueing into a full-fledged upbeat rock song without drowning out her voice. “Blowing Out” has its moments, but seems more dependent on a slower tempo than almost all the other songs on here. Not bad, though.

“My Medicine” is one of two English songs featured here. It falls along the lines of something the Ramones might’ve normally produced (remember “I Wanna Be Sedated?”). Mika doesn’t go over the top, although the screeching electric guitar solo seems bent on swamping her otherwise noticeable vocal nuances. The next two songs, “Neglest Mind” and “Real World,” are at their best straightforward songs that remind me of tunes such as Paramore’s “The Only Exception.”

“Isolation” is an interesting midtempo grunge song, kind of like Gwen Stefani and her band No Doubt used to do even before she went solo. As for “Blood,” it’s highly enjoyable, what with its driving drum rhythms and soaring refrain. What follows that track is a punk version of “Hitoiro,” but that version is pathetic; stick to the original version.

“My Way” is an old favorite that has been remade by too many artists to mention since Claude Francois first recorded it as “Comme d’h Read the rest of this entry »

Condolences for Boston Marathon Victims

April 16, 2013

My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the explosions that took place at the Boston Marathon yesterday. 😦

Remembering the Victims of Newtown

December 17, 2012

On Friday, December 14, 2012, almost 30 people – mostly children – were killed in one of the worst school shootings ever to have taken place: the massacre happened in Sandy Hook Elementary School, one of the highest rated schools in Newtown, CT. The killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, had snuck in to the school despite improved security measures, and committed suicide after the shooting.

This is beyond horrifying. President Barack Obama couldn’t have stated his feelings about this any better. No family or relative should ever have to see loved ones – especially children – or even themselves suffer an untimely fate, especially like this, when they didn’t do anything wrong to offend anybody.

Many people and organizations have already sent profound condolences to the families, relatives, and friends of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, and I send mine, too.

REMEMBERING: Dave Brubeck (1902-2012)

December 8, 2012

This week, the jazz music world lost one of its modern-era legends: Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck passed away in Connecticut one day shy of what would’ve been his 92nd birthday. Born in Concord, CA, in 1902, Brubeck often drew on his ability to improvise when creating tunes that ranged from sweet to intense.

Brubeck also wrote classical and spiritual music compositions and works for film and television, but perhaps his best-known work is the 1959-released tune, ‘Take Five,’ from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 Time Out album. The first jazz single ever to hit platinum status in the United States (sell 1 million copies or more), and like most of Brubeck’s other jazz works, ‘Take Five’ made use of an irregular meter (5/4) alongside a well-recognized melody. It has since become a modern jazz standard, being covered at times in 4/4 meter by artists like the late Tito Puente. Perhaps the 5/4 meter in ‘Take Five’ could’ve been an inspiration for Lalo Schifrin to compose his Mission: Impossible theme.

Immediately after Brubeck’s death on December 5, 2012, Grammy-nominated jazz artists like Earl Klugh and even Grammy-winning legendary producers like Quincy Jones celebrated his legacy via Twitter, the popular social networking site. Brubeck was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1996 and dozens of other arts awards and doctorate honors.

He’ll be surely missed.