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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Music > History > Rock > New Wave > Alternative > Biography > Music From Hurley Mountain: Professor Louie & The Crowmatix (2020/Woodstock Records DVD*)/Sparks: Balls (2000) / Lil' Beethoven (2002) / Hello Young Lovers (2006) / Exotic Creatures Of The Deep (2008)

Music From Hurley Mountain: Professor Louie & The Crowmatix (2020/Woodstock Records DVD*)/Sparks: Balls (2000) / Lil' Beethoven (2002) / Hello Young Lovers (2006) / Exotic Creatures Of The Deep (2008) / The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (2009/all BMG CDs)/Where Are You, Jay Bennett? (2021/Blu-ray w/DVD/*both MVD)

Picture: C/X/B & C+ Sound: C/B/C+ & C Extras: C/B-/C+ Main Programs: C+/B-/B-

Now for some offbeat music releases....

Music Professor Louie along with his band The Crowmatix collected, compiled and composed a series of songs with ties to the history of the town Hurley. The songs remind them of their history, past and heritage of a rural farming community, from the first settlers, interaction with American Indians, Revolutionary War and evolution of their town.

Bruce Connors' Music From Hurley Mountain: Professor Louie & The Crowmatix (2020) is about a town located in New York and its fertile valley. Original settlers came and traded alcohol with American Indians to get them to sign over their lands, and then beat drunken Indians from the land. During The American Revolution, the town was burned, but the people survived and rebuilt the community. As modernization came, they dealt with chemical farming and sprays. People who grew up in the community became pillar families who have farmed for generations and they are proud of their history, culture and heritage to have continued to be farmers and landowners.

This was a documentary on a small town, but they reflected on its history through its music. They interviewed the citizens and shared their stories. Their music was like a mix of country folk rock blues. The songs sang about their struggles and the hardships they had to endure. Extras include music video songs composed by Louie and the Crowmatix.

The brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks, have been making music since way back in 1966 (!!!) and remain one of the longest-lasting music duos in music history. Working over the years at times with some of the biggest names in the business, I noticed them when Atlantic Records gave them a huge promo push as a New Wave act with their In Outer Space album in 1983 that even got Mobile Fidelity treatment, but that did not do well, though they've had far more success in the U.K. and other non-U.S. markets.

In between this posting and that release, they issued plenty of album and five of them from the 2000s is getting extended treatment from BMG demonstrating their remarkable ability to switch genres, styles and more as they have been doing for 56 years and counting. We will look at five of the reissues as follows:

Balls (2000, pictured with this review text) has a cover where you can see your face (somewhat) reflecting in the aluminum ball center (not unlike the soundtrack for the 1968 Bob Rafelson film Head with The Monkees) and was apparently issued in various colors. An exercise of pure Alternate Rock with Electronic and New Wave leanings, we get tracks like the title song, More Than A Sex Machine, Aeroflot, Bullet Train, How To Get Your Ass Kicked and It's A Knockoff among its 11 tracks. Eight bonus tracks have also been added and their unique, dark, even ironic sense of life and even humor is very clear on this album.

Lil' Beethoven (2002) is an album they consider one of their best and most important, definitely centered and even obsessed with the great composer of the title and spans nine track, plus we get four bonus tracks. More than a homage, it blurs the line between past and present, has amusing songs like The Rhythm Thief, Your Call Is Very Important To Us. Please Hold, Suburban Homeboy and Ride 'Em Cowboy and more than stays in the realm of their eccentricity, with the musical chops to back it all up.

Hello Young Lovers (2006) might sound like a tribute to musicals or showtunes (The King & I in this case,) but instead, deals with the bitter side of such romantic overtures, with ten tracks including Dick Around (the opening song signaling no Marni Nixon tributes either,) Here Kitty, Waterproof and (Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?, placing it somewhere in between Devo and Donald Fagen's The Nightfly in the best way possible.

Exotic Creatures Of The Deep (2008) has the duo in dress attire and a chimpanzee in a white suit looking to be their singer for the night, surely at this time having images to tick off Right Wing extremists and anti-evolutionists. The original 13 tracks include Photoshop, Likeable, The Director Never Yelled 'Cut' and the ever-timely Lighten Up Morrissey. The five bonus cuts include Mr. Hulot, yet another one of their movie references, this time of the main comedy character the late Jacques Tati played in hit many great French comedies from Mon Oncle and Trafic to Monsieur Hulot's Holiday and PlayTime.

Finally we have The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (2009) with 24 tracks, no extra tracks and an amusing attempt to deal with the filmmaker known for his stunning images and very little dialogue or music in almost all of his many films. They show their love of the legend, but this is for Bergman fans only, as they are likely the only ones to get this album. Still, I give them credit for trying.

They have only made four more albums to date since Bergman, including a soundtrack and collaborative release with Franz Ferdinand and who knows what might come next, especially out of COVID restrictions, but they always continued to try new things and stretch to new areas, so that makes revisiting any of their works interesting and worth your time... Now more than ever.

Beside the bonus track where applicable, each album comes with an illustrated booklet with tech information and liner notes. This might not be music for everybody, but you should try it to find out if it is for you.

Gorman Bechard & Fred Uhter's Where Are You, Jay Bennett? (2021) is ironically entitled as the former member of the band Wilco is no longer with us and famously was cut out of the band in the controversial film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which I thought would show the break-up as temporary, the band would get Bennett back and they'd go on. Instead, the band broke up, no reunion featured Bennett before his death, the film was falsely edited to manipulate the audience and make him look very, very bad and it was all a disaster!

This new documentary addresses that, though the director of the older piece refused to be interviewed and we get plenty on how talented Bennett was and all the struggles he went though with limited help or support. It manages to show us he made Wilco's success possible (I now understand the wave of animosity towards Jeff Tweedy) and this makes the best of its 104 minutes correcting the record, showing Bennett's true talent and all that we have now lost for so many reasons that should have never happened.

Glad to finally see and hear what was going on and he mix of great music, amazing ambition and some choice adults never having grown up or taken responsibility makes this quite a piece to view. Still, it is definitely worth a look and I recommend it.

Extras include Jay's Mom Remembers, separate interviews with Billy Bragg and Ken Coomer, Director's Q&A, World Premiere Tribute Concert, Deleted Scenes and a few other surprise pieces fans will like.

Now for playback performance. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Hurley can be a little on the weak, average and soft side, making one wish for a Blu-ray to get anything more out of the production, but it will do.

The PCM 2.0 16-bit/44.1 kHz Stereo on all five Sparks releases sound as good as they can in this older format, though vinyl has been issued as well, too bad no Super Audio CD or Blu-ray audio versions were issued as of this posting, but no doubt they know how to get their albums produced and engineered the way they want to.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Bennett Blu-ray can have some soft spots, but looks the best of all the discs here, while the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the DVD version is softer and harder to view. The vintage footage is usually as good as it can look, but some sources are rougher than hey should be.

The PCM 2.0 Stereo on the Blu-ray and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on the DVD are a little weaker than I would have liked, but most of the talking and music are clear enough, though expect some rough spots and limits.

- Nicholas Sheffo and Ricky Chiang (Hurley)


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