Last Weeks’ Good Things

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I have two weeks worth of good things to report on. We had a great roadtrip to Louisville, Kentucky for the Forecastle Music Festival. That occupies most of the spots in this recap, but there were other mentionable good things too.sharon

  1. Lots of festival music – Over the three days at the festival, we moved from stage to stage to hear some amazing and fun music. The three headliners that ended the nights were Outkast, Jack White, and Beck. I loved them all, but Beck was my favorite. While his latest album is rather quiet, you would not have thought so listening to his show. He covered lots of his territory along with some covers like Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean – and then he finished with Where it’s At. It was enough for Dan to throw a somersault into his dancing. I also saw my man, Jason Isbell who was fantastic. My best surprise was Sharon van Etten. I had her on my list to see, but didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. She was great and her personality was winning. Sun Kil Moon was disappointing, but the set-up just didn’t work well for his quiet style. Hayes Carll (more on him later), delighted me. He was on the smallest of the stages and it worked fantastically. Others on my dancelist: The Black Lips, Spoon, Against Me, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lord Huron, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Dwight Yoakam (wasn’t expecting much from this one, but it was great fun – especially watching Dan enjoy it!), Jenny Lewis. Music is good for the soul.hayes
  2. Hayes Carll – After enjoying the show at Forecastle, we realized that Hayes Carl was going to be in Kansas City this week. On Wednesday, we went to Knuckleheads and enjoyed another show by this great storyteller. His Louisville and KC sets differed quite a bit. If you have not listened to this guy, I would recommend you take some time with him. He is another one of those songwriters with a gift for language and his songs tell life stories. Wednesday, in honor of his son’s birthday, he sang a sweet and tender song about his love for magic. The very next song was a hilarious one about his baby stealing all of his wife’s attention. Good stuff.bourbon tent
  3. Fancy, air-conditioned portable bathrooms – WIth our festival tickets we also sprang for tickets to the Bourbon Lounge. That got us a fun, insulated cup that vendors inside this huge tent, willingly filled with bourbon. That was great, but as good was that it also gave us access to these special portapotties. This may be a thing, but I have never seen them before. It was like a big trailer that had regular stalls. It was kept clean during the day, and it was air conditioned. I adore this concept.
  4. Lending an Ear – I was sitting alone at the Jenny Lewis concert when the woman sitting behind me asked if she could join me. I said sure and she proceeded to pull her blanket up and we chatted on and off during the show. She seemed to have a bunch going on and she teared up a little as she talked. It wasn’t a big thing, but when the show was over and we got up to leave, she gave me a big hug and thanked me for my kindness. That felt good.ali & jose
  5. Roadtrip meet-up – The other great thing about the trip was not only being able to travel with J & M, but we also met up with Ali and Jose, who made the trip from New Orleans. Over the days, we got to share in some fun music watching, silly dancing, good food sharing, bourbon sipping, late-night pizza ordering, and Catch-phrase competitions (even though the boys won the last night, I am confident that the girls were superior).braceletsThose weeks will be tough to beat, but I am ready for what this week has to offer. How about you? What good happened during your week?

Last Week’s Good Things

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Last week’s good things were multiple, but here are a few of the more noteworthy ones. 

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Jason Isbell, Willie Nelson & Alison Krauss at Starlight – As I have noted before, Jason Isbell is one of my all time favorite musicians – maybe my favorite. My most recent opportunity to hear him was at Kansas City’s Starlight Theater – a beautiful outdoor theater in Swope Park. The sound that night was spectacular! Jason was the opener, so he only had six songs, but he was brilliant as usual. I have not listened to Alison Krauss much, so I didn’t know what to expect there. She has a lovely voice, a great stage presence, and her sharing the spotlight with her other bandmates is winning. Willie Nelson put on a great show. We had heard him a few years ago at Red Rocks. That night he was okay. At Starlight, he seemed to really bring it more and more as the night went on. The night ended with all of the performers on stage singing gospel songs and looking really happy. So was I!

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Keeping Positive – Our new office building is wonderful and to have most of our group in one place is the best! Last week, we had our first Division meeting and there were loads of good sentiments passed on by attendees. I was the recipient of some words that mean so much to me. There is a good vibe in the new building that is palpable. One thing being done is having everyone write on an index card what positive commitment they are making. These are hanging on the bulletin board in the breakroom. Seeing the number of cards grow each day is heart lifting!

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Jean’s beer – After her visit here with Sam, Jean sent Dan a bottle of special beer. It came with a very sweet note and explanation of the contents. Of course, this spoke to Dan in a big way and he reciprocated with a flowing thank you and commentary on hows and whys of beers. Then we actually drank the beer, and enjoyed it for what it was and how it came to us. The whole process – seriously good!

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Scanning Pictures for Ali and Jose’s Engagement Party – We couldn’t attend the engagement party that Ali’s New Orleans’ friends threw for them. What I got to do, however, is provide a photo history of Ali that they used. Sitting and looking through photo albums is the best history ever.

Dan and Pet Videos – Our morning routine during the week is early rising, Dan making breakfast, watching the news, reading the paper, and looking at our computers. Dan laughing at pet videos in the morning makes my morning.

I hope today and every day has many good things for you!

Bonus Good thing: Jason Isbell singing Cover Me Up at Starlight Theater

Lazaretto by Jack White (Album of the Week)

 


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Album: Lazaretto

Artist: Jack White

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs; 40 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

Of course I will like an album named Lazaretto. Lazarettos were quarantined areas, oftentimes islands, that would hold individuals with communicable diseases. Just knowing a little about Jack White, it seems that he doesn’t cotton to the world that most of us inhabit. The idea of a quarantined existence probably suits him well. There he could sit around writing wickedly strong lyrics and mesh them with creative arrangements. That’s what happened in this Lazaretto.

Dan writes that “after spending one week with this album that it is going to stay with me as one of the best albums in my collection.” Wow! While we won’t be bickering this week, I won’t go as far as him in praising this album. 

Lazaretto a fun musical trip into Jack White’s world. He is one creative dude, and he is a detail man. The vinyl version of this album expands this release into a whole performance piece. Music-wise, he brings 11 tracks with different styles that, I think, work as a whole. It sounds really good too. From minute to minute, there are pretty violin tracks, snappy drum lines, organ riffs, bluesy harmonica, honky tonk piano, fine guitar, etc, etc. You can get caught up in just listening to how it is put together. It does feel like it is recorded to do just that.

The opener “Three Women” is inspired by a blues song by Blind WIllie McTell “Three Women Blues.” It spins the story of carrying on with three women and not being able or wanting to make a choice. For this one, he pulls off the style and the saga by making it sound like he is having fun with it. You can almost hear him smiling as he sings “lawdy, lawdy, Yeah, I wish I could tell you just what my three women do / But if I open my mouth, well, that’ll be three women I lose.”

Ballad singing is not something that I would have expected from this album, but that is there too. Jack White ballads aren’t, however, sweet lovey, dovey songs. They too seep Jack White cynicism and attitude. Entitlement is cautionary tale noting that we get fed lines that the world is ours, but it really isn’t that way. As soon as you try to do it your way, you get hollered at to knock it off. 

What turns this album from a fun listen to a great one, are those crafty lyrics that pepper the whole album. Things like “she writes letters like a Jack Chick comic/ Just a bunch of propaganda. makes my fingers histrionic,” and this: “want and able are two different things/ one is desire, and the other is the means” make me both want to search Wikipedia and seek out more Jack White. Lawdy, lawdy!

Up Next: Put the Needle Down by The Secret Sisters

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Stockholm by Chrissie Hynde (Album of the Week)

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While I enjoy the music of the band, The Pretenders, I would not classify myself as a huge fan of the band that became iconic when we were in college. Songs like Back on the Chain Gang and Talk of the Town exuded hip and played well on the college scene. Chrissie Hynde -tossled hair, black eyeliner, guitar slung low – was crushed on by many for good reason. She had it going on. And she has that great voice.

Several weeks ago, Dan chose Chrissie’s new solo album as our listening album. Because June had so much going on, our blogging took a hiatus, but now it is time to get back to business. 

There is something about this album that bothers me. That voice is still there. It’s low and powerful, but she can use it well to sound emotions. She said in an interview that I listened to that she quit smoking and that has been protective of her sound. It really is all still there. The other thing that she mentioned in the interview is that she does not believe in love. For someone who doesn’t believe in love, she sure sings a lot about it on this album. Most of the songs on the album are about relationships in some form or another. I think that is what rubs me wrong – and I submit that this may be very unfair of me. I find much of this album incredibly insincere. 

More than anything, this is a pop album. Hynde’s collaborators (in Sweden) are recording artists who I would put into the indie pop rock genre.That style finds its way into this album with songs like “You or No One” and  “You’re the One.” They both have fun hooks and are bouncy. Am I wrong to not feel great about a hooky, bouncy Chrissie Hynde? Chrissie Hynde has had a fascinating life from which to draw upon. I am more eager to listen to that soundtrack than her sounding like a Lana del Ray knock-off when she sings “In the Movies.”

In Dan’s take on the album, he supposes that my indifference to this album is due to my inability to embrace Chrissie’s “black leather snarl.” Nay! I say! I would rather more of that scowl and less of the pop rock formula.

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I don’t want to be a complete grouse on this. Songs did stand out for me. One song, Tourniquet (Cynthia Anne) is both very beautiful and very interesting. The sound was different than the rest of the album – quiet, reflective, mysterious. Down the Wrong Way starts out with unmistakable Neil Young guitar riffing and the lyrics are more like a good old-fashioned rock song. More of this, and I would be more on board. Maybe next time.

Next up: Lazaretto by Jack White

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Last ?’s Good Things

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It has been almost a month since I posted! That is the worse performance I have had yet. There are definitely excuses to be submitted, but I think the better thing is to just to get on with it. To ground myself, I am going to take a look back at that month that was and pick out memorable good things. Onward!

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Kids Were Home – While right now, it already seems like it was ages ago, we did have both kids and their significant others under our roof – all at once – during the last month. That was a first that has happened, and I can’t wait for the next! Our little house had to compromise a little to accommodate everyone, but it worked. There were some first  meetings among them that were sweet. I had a day that we spent eating Oklahoma Joe’s and then wandering the zoo. We played games and we ate around Kansas City like nobody’s business. I have such sweet memories of the kids while they were growing up and all of the things we used to do together. This having adult children who live away from you is something that you adjust to, but is never completely easy. I like to be with them. I like to sit in the same room with them. I like to be more keyed into what is going on with them. I like to share meals with them. I like to get to know their partners better. When they leave, there is always still an achy heart. But they will be back!

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A Happy Announcement – So, during that time we had the kids home, something very happy happened. On our 32nd anniversary, Jose asked Ali to marry him and she said yes. Dan and I both are so happy for both of them. Seeing them so happy with each other, makes us confident that their decision to spend their lives together is a good one. This is another new phase of our lives, but what a wonderful one. 

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My New Office – Six years ago, my office got moved from inside the hospital to a trailer about a block away. Granted, it was a big trailer that held all of my very wonderful team members also, and my office did have a lovely view of downtown Kansas City. Nevertheless, it had its down sides. When we moved to the trailer, it was noted that it would be temporary. Temporary ended last month! I am now in a newly renovated building that houses most everyone in our department. My office is spacious with beautiful big tall windows. I am still in the midst of figuring out how to personalize it, but it is getting there. 

IMG_0989Making a new dish – Last weekend, as I emerged from everything that was going on, I decided that it was time to cook something new. When we were in Louisville last year, we went to Milkwood which is Chef Edward Lee’s restaurant. We tasted lots of dishes, all of which had wonderful flavors. Since then, I got his cookbook that is fun to look at, but which I had not cooked out of too much. Saturday I made his Rice Bowl With Beef, Onions, Collards, Fried Egg, and Corn Rémoulade. I am a pretty good cook, mainly because I pick good recipes and I follow directions well, but this may have been the best thing that I have every made. The Corn Rémoulade alone was so tasty. If I could have gotten away with it, I would have sat with a spoon and just eaten that like pudding. It was fun to prep this meal with all of the steps. It was fun to set the table and pour a wine. It was a very good thing to sit and share it with Dan – and, holy cow, was it delicious!

IMG_1004New Notebook – It seems appropriate that I got to start a new notebook during this time. Finishing off my last one, I looked back on its pages and appreciated all that it captured. When I think of all of the journals that I have kept through the years, I think this format makes me happiest. It kind of logs my life in both a reflective and positive way.

So, there it is. A new post. I am happy to be back!

Vari-Colored Songs by Leyla McCalla (Album of the Week)

Leyla-kopieAlbum: Vari-Colored Songs

Artist: Leyla McCalla

Year: 2014

Details: 14 songs; 41minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

As Leyla McCalla sings the words of Langston Hughes out emerges gospel, torch songs, spiritual, novelty, porch blues, folk. They are her interpretations of the poet’s words and, as the listener, you get it.

Vari-Colored Songs, the first solo album from Leyla McCalla is quiet, spare, loveliness. Many of the fourteen songs on the album, reflect the words of the poet, but others her original songs sung in Haitian Creole. 

After spending so many of the last weeks listening to albums where I often struggle to hear what lyrics are, this one is as clear as if it was a spoken word recording. In fact, the line between this and a spoken word album is blurry. Lonely House, which is actually sung to a tune that was previously written as part of an opera that Langston Hughes collaborated on, is performed a capella for the first third of it. Then, there is merely strummed banjo and boppy bass plucks. 

Even though her roots are as a musician – mainly cello – the style of this album does not focus upon the dexterity of her musicianship. She uses many different versions of stringed instruments in a manner that leaves the message of the lyrics to the forefront. Even so, however, the music is not unnoticeable. It is kind of a conundrum, as I really tried to consider it.

Leyla notes in interviews and on her Kickstarter page (that produced the funding that led to this album being made) that the poetry of Langston Hughes led her to become an artist. Listening to Hughes’ words and knowing a little about his own presence in music, you can understand why the type of artist she would become would be a musician. Hughes words are musical, and what she does with his rhythms is fascinating. 

Leyla does not just sing-read. She does interesting things that fit the poem into the meaning that she takes from it. Take the poem, Too Blue:

I got those sad old weary blues.
I don’t know where to turn.
I don’t know where to go.
Nobody cares about you
When you sink so low.

What shall I do?
What shall I say?
Shall I take a gun
And put myself away?

I wonder if
One bullet would do?
As hard as my head is,
It would probably take two.

But I ain’t got
Neither bullet nor gun -
And I’m too blue
To look for one.

Rather than the gloom of the blues, she transforms this poem into something almost humorous. That is something about poems that I like. Out of a few words, different readers can find so many different things. I wonder if the way she presents each of these songs is how she has always heard those poems, or if she fit them to different styles that she wanted to use? I tend to think the former, but I also think that she could do the latter. 

This choice was a lark. I knew little about it and had not listened to a note of it. Leyla McCalla became known to me this week and I am pleased to make that acquaintance. Even Dan, over at Gone Mild fell for the charms of this album and what Leyla has delivered. He also sweetly affirms that our partnership in all things typically is for the better (unless it involves Damien Jurado :) )

Next Up: Stockholm by Chrissie Hynde

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Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! (Album of the Week)

transAlbum: Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Artist: Against Me!

Year: 2014

Details: 10 songs; 29 minutes

Of course, Against Me! would not be a group that I would naturally like. They have an exclamation point in their name, for god’s sake. Wham! Panic! At the Disco. The Go! Team. So showy and in your face. My comfort zone is a person’s first name and last name. No punctuation. Were you to look at the 10,000 plus items in my ITunes library, it would bear out my infatuation with singer songwriters.

But here we were this week listening to a band that embodies that exclamation point from the moment it opens with a blazing drum line. The first word sung is Hey! And then for the next half hour, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is in your face. The way that Laura Jane Grace expresses her blues is by giving you her version of the bad stuff that is going on – in no uncertain terms. There is shouting, screaming, language, anger. And the thing is, if this was just something that I heard as I was flipping through radio stations, I would immediately punch to the next station. I don’t like to listen to that stuff. It isn’t pretty. In my mind, it sounds like it is produced for teenage boys or dudes with t-shirts with cut off sleeves. But that, my friends, is my music snobbery talking. This is why this journey of listening closely to albums that I would never in a hundred years choose, is good.

Dan writes on GoneMild that this is an album that he likes a lot, but he understands that it is not everyone’s cup of tea. He discusses the discomfort of the space that the album creates, and how that could turn many potential listeners away. I think that we both end the week (Dan sooner than me), knowing that ignoring this album is a mistake.

What Laura Jane is screaming are acts in an opera of a life. As profound as an Aida, the writing here is not schoolboy bombast. This is really great writing and, just as is true for the best blues albums, this narrative speaks to an individual’s troubles.

The real life story of Against Me!‘s lead singer, Laura Jane becoming Laura Jane is a compelling narrative in itself. After almost 30 years of being a male in the punk rock world, he transitioned. While the album isn’t directly her story, it no doubt holds many of her own experiences.

The songs on Transgender Dysphoria Blues reflect life of a transgender prostitute. There are parts of that opening track that are so poignant, even though they are being screamed:

Your tells are so obvious

Shoulders too broad for a girl

Keeps you reminded

Helps you to remember where 

You come from

You want them to notice

The ragged ends of your summer dress

You want them to see you

Like they see any other girl

          Drinking with The Jocks is raw, troubling, misogynistic rage set to music. There is no question as to what Laura Jane sees as problematic in our culture.

The album ends with the anthematic Black Me Out:

I don’t ever want to talk that way again,

I don’t want to know people like that anymore.

As if there was an obligation,

As if I owed you something.

Because of this week’s listen and some research, I know now that Against Me! has always had messages beyond the pure noise that colored my impression. They always have been a band that wrote and performed songs with a purpose. I ended this week not necessarily a convert to this style of music, but when I get a chance to see Against Me! this summer, I will be there. 

Next up: Vari-Colored Songs: Tribute to Langston Hughes by Leyla McCalla

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