Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review: "Dead Men's Secrets"

I discovered this book's existence recently while doing a random amazon search, and I put it on my Christmas list. After receiving it on Christmas, I finished this book by Jonathan Gray in two days. It is largely an easy read, the majority of it being a list of out-of-place objects and places like ancient cities in South America and evidence of ancient space travel.

The book, on the one hand, is interesting and has lots of tidbits not for the faint of heart. I knew about some stuff like ancient space travel and ancient nuclear warfare, but I did not know about the possibility of ancient man being on the moon and Mars, the Black Knight satellite, and widespread supposed underground tunnels and cities. I also found his explanation of monoliths to be very interesting and also in support of the electric universe theory (the theory that the universe is held together by electricity and it explains pretty much everything from meteors, how stars run, and even phenomena like storms on Jupiter and Saturn. is a good place to look, if you are interested, though granted I don't believe in everything the guys are promoting with their theory, but I digress). Pretty much the evidence Gray puts forth argues that ancient man was not hairy and stupid but rather that he was highly advanced, even more so than we are today.

However, I do have some problems with Gray's book. For one thing, he has very few sources. I have yet to check out some of them, but I do take issue with him using Zechariah Sitchin as a source (if you want to be taken seriously, please do not use the writings of a man who believes we were genetically modified by aliens). The lack of sources makes it hard to determine where exactly he got the information and thus makes it questionable at times. I didn't like his theory of how the Ice Age began; here I will say that sadly I think Creationists, though I am in their camp, do not do much research in scientific fields and just like uniformitarians refuse to change their mind or look elsewhere for real explanations. I also thought his interpretation of Scripture was extremely weak. I don't know what translation he used, but some of the words he claimed supported his theories did not make sense at all or just seemed far-fetched; I also do not agree with his view on the Levitical dietary laws being implemented only for health reasons or in his premillenial views that come out a few times in the book. There were a few places where he wrote about events like the night the Flood happened and an ancient nuclear attack that were meant to be dramatic, but I thought they were silly and stupid; it would have been better if he had left them out. At a few points, the book became a bit boring and repetitive, and I think he would have done better not to repeat the same thing a few times. Finally, I think the book should have been edited much better. There were often huge spaces between words, sometimes words were combined like "SumariaBulgaria", on occasion it looked like he forgot to add something under a subtitle, and just in general the formatting and editing was poorly done and pretty noticeable.

Despite these issues, the book was an interesting read and definitely made me think and put things together in certain places, especially because I enjoy learning about things like these when they're not written by a psycho or a questionable source.

I give it three out of five stars.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Joyeux Noel

It's becoming a family tradition to watch the movie "Joyeux Noel" on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. This foreign movie, based on real events, is set in 1914 when British, German, and French soldiers called a ceasefire on Christmas Eve. They exchanged gifts, sang songs, showed pictures, played football, and buried their fallen soldiers. It's a very powerful and stirring movie, not your typical sentimental sap that most Christmas movies are. It's rated PG-13 and has some language, a brief sex scene, and some violence, but it's an excellent movie. I highly recommend it this holiday season.

A merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Hayley Westenra "Winter Magic"

Well, after giving Celtic Woman a heavy critique, I think it's time for a better review for Hayley Westenra's new album "Winter Magic." I must admit, when I first heard the samples a fan posted on youtube, I was far from impressed. However, last week, I was looking on lala and saw that the album had been added. I thought it couldn't hurt, so I listened to it in entirety. This time, I was better impressed and downloaded it.

"The Little Road to Bethlehem"

I'm not familiar with this Christmas song, so it was nice to hear something unfamiliar. It's a lovely song, and Hayley sings it well.

"Carol of the Bells"

When I think of this Christmas tune, I think of it as being upbeat and joyful. Hayley turned it into something slow, and I think she could have done it so much better. She does pick up the tempo a bit, but it doesn't sound as joyful or natural as some of the other songs on her album.

"The Christmas Song"

Hayley's voice sounds very high-pitched here, like she has a cold, but the song itself is lovely. I love the musical arrangement with its intimate, almost jazz-like sound.

"Veni Veni Emmanuel"

One thing that irks me about Christmas songs on the radio is that someone covering a song like this one or "Joy to the World" sings the first stanza for the entire song. Hayley doesn't do that, much to my pleasure. She sings the song entirely in Latin (though she pronounces it as if it is Italian), and the whole orchestra interprets it beautifully, giving it a powerful feel.

" Silent Night"

This has got to be my favorite interpretation of this hymn and one of the highlights of the album.

" Christmas Morning"

Another one of my favorite songs on the album and another that I am not familiar with. Hayley adds joy to this song about children waiting on Christmas morning for the adults to wake up so presents can be opened.

" Sleigh Ride"

Another highlight of the album. Hayley sings this song about two lovers going for a sleigh ride with great joy and as if she herself is going out for the ride.

" River"

I'm not familiar with Joni Mitchell besides Hayley's cover of "Both Sides Now" (which I like). This song is quiet and subdued, yet Hayley sings it well.

" The Little Drummer Boy"

I like Hayley's interpretation of this song with the orchestral accompaniment.

" Corpus Christi Carol"

I've never heard of this song before, but it's very haunting and beautiful. Hayley sings this in Middle English with the gentle accompaniment of the harp.

" All with You"

Hayley herself wrote this love song, and it's pretty. Her voice communicates emotion well, and you can tell she is putting her soul into it. One of the album's highlights.

" The Coventry Carol"

This is a rare Christmas song, as Anuna is the only other group I know to have covered it. It opens up with an Anuna-like Medieval chant that accompanies Hayley throughout the song. Very pretty.

" Winter's Dream"

This is another one of Hayley's compositions, and it has an ethereal feel to it. Another pretty song.

" Peace Shall Come"

The album ends with another song written by Hayley. It has a pop feel to it, yet it still retains power with Hayley's voice.

All in all, this has got to be my favorite Christmas album this season. I like how Hayley mixes in familiar tunes like " Silent Night" with her own compositions and rarer Christmas tunes and also how she ranges from intimate, acoustic pieces to pop to grand orchestral arrangements. The whole arrangement of it all is just stunning, and it all fits together well. My one complaint is that here Hayley does not hit as many high notes as she has on her earlier works like "Pure" and "Odyssey" and that at times her voice is a bit high-pitched then what a fan is used to. Still, this album is beautiful and a worthy addition to any Christmas collection or to that of a Hayley fan.

I give it five out of five stars.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Thoughts on "Songs from the Heart"

Well, after what seems to be a long wait, Celtic Woman released "Songs from the Heart." Since I don't have TV, I instead stalked youtube to find videos of the show, only to be pleased to discover that EMI released them. After watching the videos, I must admit that I feel underwhelmed with what I saw and heard. The effects of smoke and lights looked sloppy and not clean like they did at Slane and the Helix. The choir was distracting as they stood directly behind the singers and sang way more than they used to in the past, and the constant views of Helen Kelly quickly got on my nerves (I guess soon this will be "The Kelly Sisters" and not Celtic Woman). I felt bad for Lynn and Alex only getting one solo when everyone else had two (or four in Mairead's case), and it seems like there was more coverage of the other three then on them.

The song choices, I thought were poor. I did enjoy "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," "Non C'e Piu," "Lost Rose Fantasia" (though I could have sworn it was a longer piece), "Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears," "My Lagan Love," "Finale," and "Pie Jesu." "Nil Se'n La" was catchy, using the original song tune, but here's the thing: they make it out like it's a party song when in the original it is far worse than that; if you want to keep the program G-rated, steer clear of pub tunes and find something else lively to sing. "Amazing Grace" is a lovely hymn, but problem is that it has been done so many times to the point where it is sentimental; I didn't like the bagpipes on it, and I just didn't like it that well. I'm not a fan of the new "Danny Boy" (no one can belt it out with emotion and charisma like Meav) or "Goodnight, My Angel", and I'm getting tired of "You Raise Me Up" being played pretty much every live concert (except for the Christmas one). "Fields of Gold" is ok, though I find "Send Me a Song" and "Caledonia" to be two of Lisa's better pieces. I wish they had added "You'll Be in My Heart" instead of "True Colors," and I wouldn't have minded at all to hear "Carolina Rua" again; it may be a different story when the DVD comes out, but so far what I've heard doesn't sound very good in that respect. "Coast of Galicia" was not bad, but I think Mairead's bow truly leaps into flames only during "The Butterfly" and "Granuaile's Dance"; on that note, I found "Slumber, My Darling/ The Mason's Apron" to be boring and predictable; she should have done "Toss the Feathers" instead (The Corrs did an amazing live version with an amazing bodhran solo), but that's just me. I wasn't a big fan of Chloe's solo pieces either, and neither grabbed my attention. I've read fans reviews saying that the music was sort of boring and not really lively, and I have to agree with them; where's the playfulness of "Spanish Lady," the power of "The Voice", the fire of "The Butterfly," or the melancholy nostalgia of "Newgrange"? Not a lot of variety in song choices this time.

I think one thing I really missed was having Meav and Orla there. Lynn and Alex have lovely voices, but replacing those two just didn't cut it. In fact, to me, it seemed that Lynn was more or less a stand-in for Meav with the choir singing along with her instead of providing harmony like they did when Meav was there. Alex, on the other hand, was not really given a chance to shine. From what I've heard, she can belt out a tune as good as Lisa, but you can't have her competing with Celtic Woman's star performer, so give her simple pop songs that pretty much anyone can do with no high notes or anything of the sort. So, I was disappointed at the way the two new girls were treated on the new show; at least they treated Hayley Westenra with more respect when she briefly performed.

All in all, I'm not very fond of the new show. I may get used to it like I did with "A New Journey," but so far I've got to rank this one at the bottom next to "A Christmas Celebration." I give it two and a half stars out of five.

P.S. Remember, die-hard fans, I control the comments. This is my opinion, so don't bash me for it. Thank you.