Book: ‘Hellhound On His Trail’ by Hampton Sides

One can’t help but wonder how race relations in America might have been different if Martin Luther King Jr. had not been assassinated in 1968. This superbly written and researched book traces the life of his assassin James Earl Ray and the strange path he pursued leading up to the murder of the civil rights leader alongside King’s travels that brought then both to the tragic event in Memphis. And then follows Ray’s path to Canada and then England as he tried to evade capture and the international manhunt for the killer. Sides wisely avoids any exploration of conspiracy theories even though while reading Ray’s strange and enigmatic story one can’t help but wonder. Alongside Taylor Branch’s trilogy on MLK and the civil rights movement, this is an essential read for anyone interested in that pivotal era and how currents that could have led the nation to a far different place from today’s resurgent racism were shattered by Ray’s gunfire.

Film: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

Director Ridley Scott never shies away from big stories presented with vivid widescreen visuals, and the story he tries to tackle here is a huge as it gets. This movie is quite a mixed bag indeed drawn from mythic origins, yet Scott’s portrayal of the seven plagues that preceded Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and the scenes as they cross the parted waters of the Red Sea offer an almost plausible realism within such unbelievable events. The CGI recreations are stunning, the story is oddly paced, and the portrayals of Moses and Ramses occasionally overwrought. Hence the end result is a movie that struck me as neither success nor failure, and rather fascinating for exactly that reason.

Album: ‘Shadows in the Night’ by Bob Dylan

Perhaps it may seem odd for Dylan to record his versions of 10 classic pop songs associated with Frank Sinatra. But to anyone who has followed his travels through the American music idiom and understands Dylan’s background and musical breadth, it makes perfect sense. And serves as a corrective for those who make the ignorant observation that Dylan is not a great singer. Yes, his voice has always had a odd and crackled timbre which has grown with age. But when it comes to the true craft of singing – the effective delivery of lyrics and emotions – he’s right on the money with this largely melancholic journey through masterful material done his own way, backed by the core of his road band augmented by horns and pedal steel guitar. This collection’s charms and even brilliance may elude some, but in the end this is yet another truly timeless addition to Dylan’s continuing awesome legacy.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2015


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