By: G. H. Harding

Forest Whitaker

THE BUTLER WOWS --- I had mixed feelings going into The Butler, or, Lee Daniels’ The Butler … but, I simply loved it. Sure, the Forest Gump-ish moments (glimpsing Reagan, Nixon, John and Kennedy, not to mention footage of Carter and Obama) were perhaps somewhat formulaic … but, the performances by Forest Whitaker, as The Butler, Cecil Gaines, and, Oprah Winfrey, as his wife Gloria … are just plain sensational.

The film opens with Gaines as a child living with his family working on a cotton plantation; his father is killed before his eyes forming his desire to do better and make better for his life. The matron of the plantation, an amazing performance by Vanessa Redgrave, takes him into the mansion where he becomes a servant, learning his craft amazingly well. Soon, he departs and in frustration breaks into a hotel where one of the servants (an exacting Clarence Williams III) takes him in and teaches him even more about the craft. Soon, married, with sons David Oyelowo and Michael Rainey Jr. he comes to work at the fame Excelsior Hotel in Washington, DC. He so captivates the crowd, including an aide from the White House, he soon lands a job there; where both Lenny Kravitz and Cuba Gooding Jr. are also employed.

The film from there depicts his life at the White House against that of his family; one son, Oyelowo, getting into the developing black power movement of the time; even The Black Panthers are referenced. The film moves swiftly from there; carefully depicting such events as the Kennedy assassination and subsequent talks with Reagan (essayed by the brilliant Alan Rickman). Each scene is terrifically captivating by Whitaker, but also by the personalities chosen to play these historical figures. Face it; John Cusack as Nixon is perfect; bumbling, second-guessing himself and his staff - it may well be the great performance in the movie, after Whitaker and Oprah.

To a degree; the casting is almost too good … as you see one famous face after another. Even Terence Howard, as one of Gaines’ cronies, is terrific. There's Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower there too!

I grew up right in the midst of this burgeoning movement and several scenes are not only crafted perfectly, but to see them again is a little unnerving.

Daniel's direction is excellent; not over the top as it might have been. He keeps the emphasis on his story. The film might not be for everyone, but, it's based on a true story - an article (by Wil Haygood) called A Butler served Well by This Election. Go see it.

ELTON’S HOME AGAIN --- I heard Elton John’s new song several weeks back (“Home Again”) and was immediately hooked. It’s his first new recording since his inspiring collaboration with Leon Russell, The Union, three years back. For me, as much as I like what’s he’s done the last several years, every time I hear a track from his Tumbleweed Connection or Madman Across The Water, I just stop in my tracks; thinking, was music ever really that good? Every song of his on The Union harkened back to those halcyon times and his new album, out in two weeks, called The Diving Board, which I've not yet heard in its entirety, is supposed to do just that. Keeping Union’s produce T-Bone Burnett in tow was a wise move; as I have been waiting for this album since it was announced.

Yesterday, I watched the video for “Home Again,” and was again just stopped in my tracks. Directed by Brent Bonacorso and shot by Magdalanea Gorka Bonacorso … it is simply one of the best things I've yet seen this year. From the track’s title, you can guess what the song is about, and the video just steps that up. It’s a short film and you can see it HERE.

Not to sound like Methuselah; but, the songs that Elton has written over his storied career are iconic; music from a time that still exists … but, is in rare, short supply. If you've never heard Elton … treat yourself. You'll be glad you did.

GRAYSON ROGER BAND --- We were turned onto a new band from Nashville the other day by their producer Julian Sundby based out of Florida, called the Grayson Rogers Band. They've opened for country icons Alan Jackson and Aaron Tippen, and have a new song out called “Too Loud,” that just rocks along with an irresistible beat.

Julian is the producer of teen-wunderkind Danielle Dease who we've previewed here before. Adds Julian, “Josh Grayson has a totally unique voice that stands out in a market full of talent.” We'll keep you updated on them.

VMA’s HIT BROOKLYN --- The VMAs hit Brooklyn Last night at the new Barclays Center and it was a boon to the neighborhood – I understand that MTV even gave seats (at a reduced rate) to neighborhood residents: nice touch. The number one comment I heard from most of the music folk spoken to about the show was that they weren't even aware MTV plays video anymore.

Back in the day; you had to have a video, and you had to be on MTV. Nowadays, from Vevo to You Tube and Fuse, there're just so many more platforms. Me, I'm an old radio guy; and, judging from the many radio-oriented surveys going on … it’s still the #1 way to break a record.

That said, Lady Gaga’s opening of her new single “Applause” was courageous and visually creative as she changed outfits several times during her performance. The song’s a synth-pop masterpiece and was just terrific.

However the clear highlight came mid-way through the show with Jimmy Fallon introducing Justin Timberlake as the President of Pop, who then proceeded to perform what must have been a 15-minute medley of all his hits … then, his reunion with NSync which had the entire audience up on their feet.

I'm a big fan of his and have been; but, this was a performance the caliber of which I've not seen in quite some time. His song “Mirrors” is not only terrifically performed and produced, but the lyrics betray a depth the likes of which is found in songs by Springsteen, Lennon & McCartney. It will be talked about for days.