Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: A Tribute to Hitsville U.S.A.
In his nearly four-decade career, Michael Bolton has released some two dozen albums and has tackled various musical genres, always keeping a soft spot for classics and Motown tunes. He’s covered everyone from Frank Sinatra to Glenn Miller to Etta James to Sting, but his strongest remakes have always been the unusual collaborations that put a different spin on a song, or added another dimension to an overly familiar hit.
His new 10-track Motown tribute album, however, seems to copy and paste original orchestrations in a less-than-stellar manner. It includes Marvin Gaye’s done-to-death Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, which gets a boring and barely heard assist from Kelly Rowland, the Supremes’ You Keep Me Hanging On and Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).
Fans of the easy-listening genre will enjoy Bolton’s warm voice and correct versions, but it ultimately feels like an exercise in unoriginality that lacks the igniting sparks.
— Cristina Jaleru
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend
A modest hit in theaters in 1956, The Searchers has grown in stature to become, for many, the greatest Western ever filmed. Yet it’s always been more, thematically and culturally, than just a John Wayne movie about finding a white girl abducted by Comanche Indians.
Author Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend is a must-read for movie fans and anyone interested in mythmaking and the American West.
In 1836, Comanche Indians kidnapped 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker during a raid on a white settlement in Texas. An uncle searched for her off and on for years. By the time Texas Rangers and others found her in 1860, Cynthia Ann was a wife and mother. Her forced re-entry into white society — she was treated as if she were a pathetic oddity — was yet another tragic event in her life.
Frankel notes that the facts surrounding her experience were twisted and molded, if not outright invented, to fit each storyteller’s purpose. In Cynthia Ann’s day, she was a heroine to some for surviving her captivity, to others merely a white savage. A century later, she was cast as a proto-feminist.
“The truth was less triumphalist and more poignant,” Frankel writes. “Cynthia Ann was not the hardy survivor but rather the ultimate victim of the Texan-Comanche wars, abducted and traumatized by both sides.”
Inspired to some degree by her saga, writer Alan LeMay focused his novel The Searchers not on the captive but on an uncle and adopted brother who try to find her. Another mythmaker — director John Ford — went to work changing the story to fit his own vision and the needs of a director looking for a hit.
The Searchers was the ninth of the 14 major films in which Ford directed John Wayne. The actor owed his career to Ford — he chose Wayne to star in Stagecoach (1939) when others wanted Gary Cooper — and Ford never let Wayne forget it.
Control freak that he was, Ford was surprisingly open to improvising. As Frankel relates, the famous closing shot of The Searchers — framed in a ranch house doorway — was just one instance in which Ford went with his gut instead of his script.
Frankel’s excellent research and analysis and his fine writing detail the life of a modern legend, each step revealing a different aspect of how we tell our stories and why.
— Douglass K. Daniel
Old Yellow Moon
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
Old Yellow Moon is a reunion album of sorts that explores musical paths Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell first traveled on their initial recordings in the mid-1970s. Harris began recording Crowell compositions in 1975, the same year she hired him to join her band. They remain linked as leaders of a groundbreaking era in country music that resonates today in the work of Miranda Lambert, Buddy Miller and others.
Then as now, Harris and Crowell excelled at bringing a fresh perspective to covers of classic country tunes, while pushing the genre toward a new sound built on driving rhythms, crisp musicianship and a wide range of well-chosen songs.
Old Yellow Moon also reunites Harris with Brian Ahern, her ex-husband who produced her classic early work. While the album doesn’t have the stunning originality of the duo’s early collaborations, it agreeably recalls why their early work together is so highly regarded.
— Michael McCall