Monday, June 6, 2016

Music DVD reviews: Mika, Loretta Lynn, Rolling Stones

Sinfonia Pop 
(Eagle Vision) 
Shot last October at the ornate Teatro Sociale in Como, Italy, the 90-minute concert pairs Mika with a chorale and orchestra conducted by Simon Leclerc. Considering the European singer’s theatrical brand of pop, it ends up being a perfect match. 
During a 10-minute interview included in the DVD’s bonus features section, he says it took eight months to prepare the initial Montreal shows held the previous year. “The ability to open up my repertoire was liberating…you can hear inspirations from Debussy, Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ and old MGM movie soundtracks.” 
His airy falsetto (assisted by male and female backing vocalists at certain times) gets a good workout throughout the 20-song set, which touches upon all four studio albums. Some songs are dramatically reworked and Mika often performs them with dramatic gestures. 
Standouts include the finger snapping “Love You When I’m Drunk” with a frenetic string section, the elegant playfulness of “Toy Boy,” a galloping “Grace Kelly” (featuring Mika’s awesome sustained vocal note), the empowering “Good Guys,” a nearly operatic “Happy Ending,” uplifting “Origin of Love” (drawing a standing ovation from the crowd) and the swirling string section-driven “Love Today.” Recommended for diehard Mika fans. 
(Also available in digital and Blu-ray formats) 
Loretta Lynn 
Still a Mountain Girl 
(Sony Legacy) 
This insightful new documentary first aired on PBS television stations as part of the “American Masters” series. The two-hour film traces the Queen of Country Music’s celebrated decades-spanning career, utilizing rarely seen TV performance clips, home movies and fresh interviews with new and old entertainers like Willie Nelson, Bill Anderson, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert and others. 
Actress Sissy Spacek – who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Lynn in 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – talks at length about the titular singer’s influence; they are also shown reminiscing about the experience last year. Lynn’s daughters and oldest son have plenty of input (some of it tends to drag the doc down) and Lynn herself is candid about the struggles of balancing a large family, wily husband and getting the music heard (early on, she would drive around the south and stopped at every radio tower to urge deejays to play the latest single even if they thought she sounded like Patsy Cline). 
There are plenty of shots of the modern-day Tennessee landscape, fans flocking to the sprawling Loretta Lynn Ranch in Hurricane Mills, recent live performances and an acoustic one with longtime family friend John Carter Cash (who helmed the great new album Full Circle) throughout the DVD. Jack White, producer of 2004’s Grammy-winning Van Lear Rose) provides some humorous, yet incisive commentary about his experience with the country legend. One particularly memorable montage features Lynn singing “You’re Looking at Country” throughout the years. 
The Rolling Stones 
Totally Stripped 
(Eagle Vision) 
Back in 1995, The Rolling Stones were in the midst of the highly successful worldwide stadium tour for Voodoo Lounge tour when they entered various studios to record some pared down classics. Then the legendary rockers added smaller-than-usual London, Paris and Amsterdam gigs (5000-capacity or less) that featured said revamps. All were filmed. 
Those rehearsals, recordings and performances were included in the original documentary and platinum-selling live CD Stripped. Now a little over 20 years later comes Totally Stripped, a DVD+CD comprising newly edited footage, additional tracks and spruced up sound mixed by Bob Clearmountain. Deluxe 4-DVD and SD Blu-ray versions have the entire shows. 
The 90-minute black and white film finds the band relearning tunes they hadn’t played in decades or ever. Mick Jagger admits “I found a lot of these hard to do,” while Ron Wood says, “we sank right into these naturally.” Producer Don Was and the musicians comment on the experience. Fans lucky enough to gain admittance are interviewed along the way. While we often only get snippets of the songs in concert, there’s enough to get a feel for the events. 
Jagger displays his awesome harmonica prowess during “The Spider and the Fly” and “Midnight Rambler.” Keith Richards obviously has fun amid an intimate dressing room warmup of “Tumbling Dice.” Jack Nicholson even turns up in Paris. 
Since the theatre concerts’ setlists varied, there’s little overlap. Only a couple songs could truly be considered “Unplugged” (such as the album closing “Street Fighting Man”). But this is a solid live compilation (especially “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Gimme Shelter”) showing the guys still sounding great in their late 40s and early 50s and playing with renewed vigor. The package contains multiple photos and liner notes background from Richard Havers. Totally Stripped is a must for any Stones fan. 
(Also available in DVD+LP, CD+2LP formats) 

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