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The Album Cover Game

July 17th, 2014 | 01:02 PM

Awhile back, I stumbled across this neat little "game" for coming up with the album for a band. As a creative type, I found it really fun and, well, creative. In three simple steps, you can put together your own album cover, complete with band name and album title.

1) Go to Wikipedia. Click "Random Article." The article that appears is the name of your band.

2) Go to Quotations Page. Click "Random Quotes." The last four or five words of the very last quote on the page is the title of your album.

3) Go to Flickr. Choose "Explore" and then click on "Recent Photos." The third picture will be your album cover.

Now, all you have to do is use the picture editing software of your choice (Photoshop, Gimp, etc.) to put it all together and voila. You have an album cover, and most likely one with an interesting title and band name. The possibilities are endless!

Here are a few I came up with, which offer various possibilities in terms of what the style and sound could be like.

I imagine this one being a blend of synthpop and world music, with perhaps a touch of New Age. A good example would be "Desert Rose" by Sting.

This one I can hear being New Age, along the lines of David Arkenstone. A mixture of folk and ambient, mostly instrumental, but maybe with some occasional minor vocals.

What an awesome name for a band. I think this could only be a heavy metal group, something similar to Metallica.

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Happy Canada Day

July 1st, 2014 | 02:25 PM

It's Canada Day, so I thought I'd dedicate a post to my all-time favorite Canadian export: Pamela Anderson.

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Katie Cassidy - Genlux Magazine

June 30th, 2014 | 01:17 PM

Over its first two seasons, The CW's Arrow (based on DC Comics' Green Arrow) has not only entertained the crap out of me with its engaging characters and fast-paced, one-thrill-after-another stories, but it's also made me completely infatuated with Katie Cassidy. Only a little familiar with her beforehand (from roles in Taken and the otherwise bland remakes of Black Christmas and A Nightmare on Elm Street), I have since fallen hopelessly in love with her over two seasons of portraying attorney Laurel Lance. Who will, hopefully, be starting on the path to the fishnet stockings and bustier of her comic book counterpart this season. For the newest issue of Genlux magazine, which I had never heard of before, gorgeous Katie was chosen to grace the cover and pages within, and today I bring you those very images. As a bonus, I also have pictures from Genlux's release party this past Saturday, at which they unveiled the new issue. Now, I know that movies get red carpet premieres, sometimes even television shows, but I had no idea that magazines could get the same kind of fanfare. In any event, it just provided us with more pictures of Katie Cassidy and that's never a bad thing. So here they are. Please try not to drool.

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Garth Brooks: The Chris Gaines Experiment

June 13th, 2014 | 02:41 AM

Remember when country music superstar Garth Brooks pretended to be someone else, changing his look and going by the name Chris Gaines? As Gaines, he released an album in 1999, which he promoted, as Gaines, in a number of television appearances and interviews, and everybody was scratching their heads and wondering "What the hell is up with Garth Brooks?" With this year marking the fifteenth anniversary of Gaines' short-lived existence, I thought I'd take a look back at this experiment and just what it was Brooks was doing.

Garth Brooks pretty much appeared out of nowhere right at the tail end of the 1980s, and over the next decade took not only America but the entire world by storm. By the late-90s, he had amassed a near-unprecedented amount of success, with albums and singles that dominated the charts on a regular basis. Nearly everything he released went to #1, and what didn't was still within the top ten or, at the very least, top twenty. He became a mega-star the likes of which hadn't been seen since Michael Jackson, and to this day, despite years of inactivity due to retirement (which he recently ended), still remains one of the top best-selling musicians of all-time. In fact, it wasn't until the very end of that decade that Brooks had his first real disappointment: the infamous Chris Gaines.

In September 1999, Brooks, sporting a dark stringy-haired wig and soul patch, appeared to be shedding country music in favor of pop, performing as an apparent alter ego named Chris Gaines on an album strangely titled Garth Brooks in... The Life of Chris Gaines. Liner notes detailed the tragedy-filled life of a fictional Australian-born pop star who first gained fame as a member of the boy band Crush, before launching a wildly successful solo career. A mix of pop and R&B, the album was designed as a "greatest hits" package of songs from Gaines' first five albums. Obviously, it was completely unlike anything Garth Brooks had done before, and fans were unsure what to make of it. Was he abandoning country? Was he merely experimenting with pop? And what was the deal with pretending to be someone else? Many felt as if Brooks had simply lost his mind.

But there was more to the whole thing than most people were aware of. Earlier that same year, Brooks' production company, Red Strokes Entertainment, partnered with Paramount Pictures to develop a film called The Lamb. Described as a thriller, it wasn't about Chris Gaines himself, but instead a fan of his, although Gaines and his music would be a strong presence throughout the film. Rumors suggested Brooks himself was going to play Gaines, but in a press conference just before the album's release he said that he was unsure about appearing in the film, feeling somebody else would be better suited for the role. However, to generate early buzz for the film, Brooks took on the persona of Gaines in a number of promotional tactics. In addition to the aforementioned album, these included in-character appearances on late night television, a mock episode of VH1's Behind the Music covering Gaines' career, performing as the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live (which he also hosted as himself), and an NBC concert special.

The album (alternatively titled Chris Gaines: Greatest Hits on back of the reversible cover insert) was released as a "pre-soundtrack" to The Lamb. But because the film languished in development hell, and with most unaware of it to begin with, fan response to the whole Chris Gaines concept was largely one of bewilderment. They didn't know Brooks was playing a role, and the lack of progress on the film left him looking like he was on some sort of strange, ill-guided attempt to break out of country music. As a result, the promotions didn't stir much interest. Even though the album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart, expectations had been much higher, and stores began heavily discounting their overstock. In turn, Paramount Pictures, by 2001, had quietly canceled plans for the film. Almost as quickly as he had emerged, Chris Gaines faded into obscurity.

Which is a shame, because the album isn't bad at all. Brooks even scored his one and only US Top 40 hit when the album's first single, "Lost in You," peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The songs, which run the gamut from pop and R&B-style tunes to Fleetwood Mac and Beatles-inspired songs, may not be that inventive or groundbreaking, but they make for a fun and breezy album, and showcase what I've always felt is some of Brooks' best vocal performances. So strong was his eye for detail in chronicling the 14-year career of Gaines that Brooks effectively changes the depth and tone of his voice throughout the album in order to reflect age. The songs play out in reverse chronological order, so by the time listeners get to the final tracks, Brooks has actually made his voice sound younger, to reflect the notion of these later tracks being Gaines' earliest hits. "Digging for Gold" in particular is a standout cut in this regard. The whole album is really a testament to just how versatile Brooks could be.

There were also plans, if the album had been a success, for Brooks to record full versions of the five albums making up Gaines' career and release them throughout 2000. Personally, that prospect excited me very much, and it's disappointing that it never came to fruition. Garth Brooks took on the Herculean task of not only creating an entirely fleshed-out persona, but taking it on himself, and, in my opinion, pulling it off admirably. I've been a very big fan of Brooks since the start of his career (for personal favorites, he's second only to Huey Lewis and the News), so I found this whole Chris Gaines "experiment" really fascinating and wish it had been successful. The film project sounded intriguing, and I would love to have heard his work on those planned follow-ups. I think if the album hadn't been tied to an in-development film, and instead released simply as a Garth Brooks pop album, it would have been better received and embraced by fans.

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Book Review - The Pretender: Saving Luke

June 3rd, 2014 | 08:06 PM

The story of Jarod, a genius with the ability to become anyone he wants to be, continues in Saving Luke, the second installment in a new series of novels based on the cult favorite television series The Pretender. The show originally aired on NBC from 1996-2000, and, after its cancellation, received two follow-up telefilms on TNT in 2001. Afterwards, the property went quiet for over a decade until creators Steven Long Mitchell and Craig W. Van Sickle announced last year that they had regained the rights to their show, and had major plans for bringing the story back in a line of books and comics, and possibly more.

The first novel, Rebirth, was released last October. Instead of picking up twelve years later, it rebooted the story with a modern setting, while still retaining all the elements of the TV show that fans know and loved. To recap, Jarod is a chameleon-like genius who, as a young child, was taken from his parents by a mysterious corporation known as the Centre. Isolated from the outside world, the child prodigy was exploited by the Centre for their research. Thirty years later, he's escaped and set out to make up for all the bad the Centre has caused by helping those in need. With his unique gift, he can become a doctor, policeman, soldier, FBI agent, or whatever it takes in order to provide justice for those who need it. All the while, he's pursued by agents of the Centre seeking to recapture him, led by the feisty and driven Miss Parker, while also trying to unlock the mysteries of his own past.

Picking up the very next day from where Rebirth ended, Saving Luke continues the story of Jarod's attempt to find Luke Hearns, a nine-year-old boy being held captive by terrorists, and uncover the plot they are using him to blackmail his father into helping them with. A major attack is planned, and time is running out for Jarod to save the boy and millions of lives. Meanwhile, Miss Parker is growing more determined to capture Jarod after he escaped from her in New York City, but finds herself tormented by ghosts from the past.

In Rebirth, it was a little obvious that screenwriters Mitchell and Van Sickle were new to novel writing. Not that it was a bad book; it was entertaining, but you could tell that they were finding their footing in a medium that was new to them. In this second outing, their growth as novelists is clearly evident. Saving Luke is a much more polished book. The story is deeper, and the characters are more vibrant. (Although, as a direct continuation, if you haven't read Rebirth, you'll be utterly lost). It's something of an emotional roller coaster, too, packed with feelings of sadness, grief, anger, guilt and fear.

It also feels darker than its predecessor. With time running out to find Luke and stop a deadly plot to kill millions, Jarod grows more desperate and takes on a harder edge in dealing with those in his way. It's not exactly out of line with the television series, where Jarod could often get a little dark when going after those who had hurt others. It gives the novel a more serious tone than Rebirth had, and makes the stakes feel more important, but without losing its sense of fun.

Providing some of that light to the story's darkness is Skylar, a young runaway whom Jarod met in the previous novel and rescued from an unethical doctor performing medical experiments on homeless people. A spunky, free-spirited woman who can still find good in the world despite all the bad she's gone through, she plays a larger role in Saving Luke. As Jarod helps her recover from her addiction, they grow closer, and the relationship that develops between them is very sweet and touching. There's also some great action, including Jarod fighting off a drone attack, a sequence that plays out both in the cockpit and via satellite imagery in the Centre, and a riveting climax aboard a maglev train, on which all of the characters converge for a tense final showdown.

Those familiar with the television series will be right at home with Jarod, Miss Parker and Sydney. The authors recapture their voices and personalities as if they had never stopped writing them, although Parker now has a penchant for dropping a few too many f-bombs for my liking. Long-time fans will also delight in picking out some Easter eggs, and a couple fan-favorite characters are teased in the later chapters, with the promise of having more prominent roles in future novels.

After using Rebirth to re-establish the core elements of their Pretender story, Mitchell and Van Sickle have taken things to new heights with Saving Luke, filling it with engaging characters, compelling drama, palpable suspense, and intense action. Wrapping up their first storyline, it feels as if the authors have taken off the gloves, gotten down to business, and set the stage for Jarod's tale to be told anew in fresh and exciting ways.

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