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Recommended Listening: Mike Viola, Acousto De Perfecto

Mike Viola Acousto De Perfecto CD Cover

If real musical talent – quality songwriting, musicianship, charisma – were still rewarded with popularity and financial success in the way they were back in the ‘70s, Mike Viola would be as revered as Elton John and sell out bigger concert tours than Lady Gaga. But we all know that we don’t live in that kind of world anymore, and that’s just a shame. I first fell in love with Viola’s amazing songcraft on The Candy Butcher’s 1999 release, Falling Into Place, which is as cherished by me as any Beatles album. Seriously, “Hills of LA” is what “Hotel California” might have sounded like if Lennon & McCartney had written it. What a fucking fantastic album. I think it sold a few hundred copies. There’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes.

It’s heartening at least to know that Viola makes a good living writing, recording and producing songs for films (That Thing You Do, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Get Him to the Greek) and continuing to record original music for his core group of diehard fans, because a world without new Mike Viola music would be much less interesting to live in. Just released this past July, Viola’s latest, Acousto De Perfecto is a companion piece to 2011’s critically acclaimed Electro De Perfecto (three tracks from Electro are reworked for this collection). As the title suggests, these are acoustic arrangements that showcase Viola’s collaboration with L.A.-based violists (get it?) Eric Summer and Kate Reddish. Mike Viola proved he can rock out on many previous efforts, but these eleven songs fall into the Elvis Costello or Paul Simon School of Performing Songwriter, and I don’t think there is much higher praise than that. What makes Mike Viola such a gifted songwriter is the simple fact that, like all the greats, he writes about what he knows, yet manages to make his deeply personal lyrics universally accessible.

The album’s lead track, the lullaby “Secret Radio” is a direct love song to fans (“it’s people like you/I’ve been singing to all along”) and the upbeat, darkly humorous “Happy & Normal” reveals Viola’s predilection for thinly veiled autobiography, though all of his songs are distinctly personal. “Date Night” speaks of the enduring bond between him and his wife after many years of marriage, hinting that the spark and the commitment go hand in hand, while “Primary Care Giver” is a surprisingly laser-focused self-reflection on his approach to parenthood.

Despite the sparse instrumentation, the record sounds lush and pristine. Viola’s acoustic guitar playing is in top form here, both complimenting and anchoring the accompanying strings. The instrumental track, “Thing In C” mixes a classical feel with the essence of the string arrangements from “As Tears Go By” with compelling results. Curiously, one of the more lyrically direct tracks on the album “Closet Cutter,” (“I know just what to do with exacto blades”) also features one of the most easily extrapolated choruses (“Don’t blame your parents/ Blame the Beatles and the Rolling Stones”). Mike Viola obviously loves to surprise his audience by never doing the same thing twice, but Acousto De Perfecto continues to offer what fans have come to expect: thoughtful lyrical stories and beautiful music. Acousto De Perfecto is a must own for fans/completist collectors and also highly recommended for fans of any of the artists mentioned in this review.

Grade: A-

Must See Movie: Get Him to The Greek!

There’s a pivotal scene near the beginning of Get Him to The Greek where main character, A & R Rep Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) sits in a pitch meeting with his fellow record label flacks. His boss, label head Sergio Roma (Sean “P Diddy” Combs) is badgering the staff to come up with any new ideas that will infuse a desperately needed revenue stream into their flailing faction of the troubled music business. Aaron’s idea is to stage a comeback concert at LA’s Greek Theater for Rock musician Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), whose career has taken a nose dive since the release of African Child – an audacious, PC misstep of an album that turns out to be a wildly offensive, commercial and critical bomb. Aaron proposes that a simulcast pay-per-view special, re-release of Snow’s back album catalog and a live DVD of the concert will generate millions of dollars in cash for the label and give disappointed music fans what they’re most hungry for. “There aren’t any Rock Stars anymore,” Aaron argues. “Aldous Snow is a Rock Star!” And, man, is he ever right on about that. Real Rock Stars went the way of the Dinosaur long ago, and watching a movie featuring a handsome and charismatic actor who not only can play a believable decadent Rock Star but also make him hilarious and lovable, and who can fucking sing and perform? That’s almost too much to ask for. That alone is reason enough to see Get Him to The Greek: because Russell Brand is a fucking Rock Star, and this role is going to make him one hot commodity.

When Sergio green lights the Greek Theater concert idea, Aaron is charged with the awesome responsibility of retrieving the very much off the wagon Aldous from London and getting him back to Los Angeles within 72 hours and in time for the concert. What follows is a true comedy of errors, with Aaron navigating Aldous through a dense mind field of every possible licentious temptation, none of which Aldous has the willpower (or desire) to resist. Since the character of Aldous Snow was introduced to audiences in the 2008 hit, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, everyone is going to ask, “Is this movie anything like Forgetting Sarah Marshall?” Let me dash your hopes right now and confess that no, no it isn’t. Sarah Marshall was a basically a romantic comedy with a few fart jokes thrown in. Get Him To The Greek is a completely different type of movie: an all out, hard R-rated raunch-fest that is nevertheless beyond hilarious.  It just happens to have one of the same characters as the film it spins off from (here, Jonah Hill plays a different character than the Aldous Snow-worshipping cabana boy he played in Sarah Marshall). Hill, who has proven himself to be a gifted comedic actor, is great as Aaron, Diddy is impressive as Sergio (and he has some of the film’s funniest lines) and if you’ve read his outrageous autobiography, My Booky Wook, you will immediately recognize that Brand is playing his pre-rehab self to perfection. Among the excellent supporting cast are Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss as Aaron’s girlfriend Daphne and Rose Byrne as Snow’s ex-girlfriend and fellow pop star Jackie Q. There are also many very funny cameos by stars like Meredith Viera and Lars Ulrich playing themselves. And the music can go head to head with the greatest hits of Spinal Tap. Rock & Roll!

Get Him to the Greek, Directed by Nicholas Stoller, hits theaters everywhere on Friday June 4, 2010