Too Blessed to Be Stressed by Paul Thorn (Album of the Week)

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Album: Too Blessed to be Stressed

Artist: Paul Thorn

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs; 44 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I challenge anyone to not like Paul Thorn. I would recommend that you get to know him through a live performance, but I think that that this week’s album could make a fan out of a new listener. I came to Paul Thorn by accident. We had gone to a concert to see Slaid Cleaves, a singer that Dan really likes. It so happened that this guy named Paul Thorn was headlining. Within minutes of taking the stage, I was won over. His stage charisma is the best I have ever witnessed. The stories that he tells between songs are almost as good as the songs themselves – and that is saying a lot. SInce that first performance, I have seen him many a time. Each show is a delight.

Choosing Paul Thorn’s new album as our album of the week was my excuse to listen to music that I pretty much knew I would enjoy. Mission accomplished. It was a fun to fill my ears the last couple weeks with lines like:

I sin on Saturday / I repent on Sunday / Then I tell myself I won’t procrastinate on Monday / Tuesday I do like I should / Wednesday I do pretty good / Thursday Paul drops the ball / I backslide on Friday

The title of the album might suggest that this album has a religious bent. Well, in a way, yes it does, but it is not in a preachy way. Paul Thorn always  is walking the saint/sinner line and he singing about that journey. His daddy was a preacher and an uncle was a pimp. He crafts that dichotomy into story songs that reflect his failure to live up to expectation, but his wonder of the crazy world that he gets to get about in. He enjoys life. He enjoys being naughty, but the sweetness of his core is never in doubt.

Dan seems to think that the naughty side of Paul has been put away with this album, and that he surrenders too fully to the sweet. I think that Dan is too harsh with his critique.

In the 11 songs that make up this album you get a good portrait of the artist. The title song is all about the gift that life is – even when there is much that isn’t that sweet that happens. His southern drawl and his lyrics, backed by a gospel choir, organ, and bluesy guitars brings the message across in a manner that would be as natural in a church as it would be in a honky tonk bar.

One song laments the fact that his drug dealer is dead and the only friends he has left is an old stray dog and Jesus. Mediocrity is King pointedly describes our current political system where a wise man walks and a foolish man rides. And the album closes with a valentine to home – No Place I’d Rather Be.

There have been some albums that we have listened to during this year of listening and reviewing that I struggle to understand the words or the meanings. With Paul Thorn, there is no struggle. Listening is like sitting down over a beer and hearing what is going on with him. You just happen to get pieces of his life in song format. It’s pretty darn enjoyable.

Next Up: Art Official Age by Prince

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Last Week’s Good Things

weekoI am slightly late in getting this posted, but I am getting a little closer to my ideal posting schedule. Last week was a good one with some beautiful indications that autumn is upon us – my favorite season. There was even a night when we had to put an extra blanket on the bed. As the week went by, here are a few of the good things that caught my attention!

royaloRoyals Success – I would not be a good Kansas Citian if I did not put this in my Number 1 slot! The giddiness in this town is palpable. Everyone, everywhere is wearing their Royals gear that reflects team members from George Brett to Eric Hosmer. (Spoiler – last week, the Royals won their wildcard game – this week, they won their series against the Angels to put them into the American League championship series.) This is fun for my dear city!

MMMichael and Molly – Watching the Royals win with our friends, Michael and Molly was quite a treat – even though they were Oakland fans. Dan, J, M and I met Michael and Molly in the most memorable of ways. We met them during a morning tour of the Templeton Rye Distillery in Nebraska. They came from Des Moines; we came from Kansas City. After the tour, we connected over an opportunity to get to know the product a little better. Among the six of us there, we found friendship that has now led to visits to each other’s homes. This week, they made their way to KC! How very good that was!

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Baby Girl – When I was pregnant with both Sam and Ali, I think I had one sonogram between them. I don’y remember that it told us much more than that I had something going on in there. Many changes have occurred since those days. Sonograms happen more regularly, and the machines and technicians are pretty advanced. With this has come a new phenomena – a gender reveal. Last week, we got to join in a celebration in learning that our dearest J&M will be bringing a little girl into the world next spring. We all found out when we sprayed an unmarked can of silly string – and it was pink. We can’t wait to meet her.

New Jobs – Sam was excited to start a new job last week as the Beverage Manager at Ma Peche in NY. He sounds so excited about what he will learn and the great mentors available for him. Both he and Jean are in new positions as this year winds down. It has been a big year for both of them, and I am eager to see their continued career growth and personal growth. The other new job is Dan’s! He found out that he will be working at SAFEHOME in Johnson County, Kansas helping to bring dollars to a shelter for abused women. This opportunity presented itself and just seems like a wonderful fit for everyone.

flagA Successful Audit – Every three years at my work, some of our research is audited. That means that people come to our site, and look through all of our records to make sure that things happened the way that they were meant to happen. Preparing for an audit means many hours of combing through a medical record and pulling out the evidence. Paper flags are used in abundance! This is audit year, and our auditors were on site last Monday and Tuesday. When one hears the word audit, it does not sound pleasant. Our two days, could barely have been more pleasant. Our auditors were good listeners and teachers. Our preparations was exemplary and I think that, to a person, our group was proud of what we did and how we did it. I know I was so proud of everyone.

What a nice week that was.

Songs of Innocence by U2 (Album of the Week)

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Album: Songs of Innocence

Artist: U2

Year: 2014

Details: 11 songs; 49 minutes

Who’s Choice: Gone Mild

One of my favorite music critics to read is this guy named, Carl Wilson (not to be confused with Beach Boy, Carl Wilson). Several years ago, he wrote a book about Celine Dion and how it is kind of a thing to bag on her music. The book is his attempt to explain why that is. Celine Dion is a perfectly fine singer and she obviously has a remarkably strong fan base. What Carl Wilson proposes is that it is an ethical choice made by Celine-haters – a choice based on thinking that one is better than those who choose to like Celine (or any other over-exposed pop culture icon).

I think that same thing happens with U2 – there is a tendency among coolsters to roll their eyes at anything Bono. And there is almost universal sentiment that they haven’t made anything that could match what they were doing when they put out Joshua Tree (1987) and its predecessors.

U2 puts itself out there in many ways. They have an iconic look – Bono in his tinted glasses; Edge in his stocking cap. They have allowed their songs to be used for commercial purposes. And they have used their celebrity to push humanitarian causes that they believe strongly in (love them or not, they are one of the most charitable of celebrity groups – this is an interesting website to look at what others do).

That is a lot of build-up to my review of U2’s newest album, Songs of Innocence – the album that just showed up in any active iTunes account’s music library. Dan naturally brings in the William Blake reference in his review, which enthusiastically loves on this album. My impression? Well, I am the person who bought and also liked the band’s last two albums. I like U2; I like this album.

The album is meant as a homage to the band’s roots and personal history. The first track – which is the one that you hear on the new Apple ITunes commercial – is titled The Miracle (of Joey Ramone). Sure, it has the U2 song formula, but I like that. And when Bono sings:

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred

Heard a song that made some sense out of the world

Everything I ever lost now has been returned

The most beautiful sound I ever heard

If you love music, tell me that you haven’t had that feeling – when music becomes more than just a melody?

The other songs on the album similarly address music as a gift and a means to transmit a message or a a feeling. There are sweet ballads and rockers. In my mind, it is a consistently good listen.

I do admit there was one song that gave me some pause in my inclination to board that “Hell, yeah, I like this album” band wagon. Turns out, this is Dan’s favorite song on the album – Raised by Wolves. The wolf-child analogy is fraught with possible fun-making, and my own misunderstanding of a lyric almost tipped me into that. The lyric that stood out for me came in this verse:

Boy sees his father crushed under the weight

Of a cross in a passion where the passion is hate.

Blue mink Ford, I’m gonna detonate and you’re dead

That’s a serious verse – if you hear it correctly. Unfortunately, I heard the line “detonate and you’re dead” as “detonate in your den.” That made me think that meant “take a sh** in your house”, which made me laugh. Listening to the song correctly, set me straight (but even typing this, still makes me laugh – sometime I am not very mature).

Both Dan and I come to U2 with our hearts open. Our open hearts and iTunes brought us a winner listen this week.

Next up: Paul Thorn’s Too Blessed to Be Stressed

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Kids Raising Kids by Kopecky Family Band (Album of the Week)

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Album: Kids Raising Kids

Artist: Kopecky Family Band

Year: 2012

Details: 11 songs; 39 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

It was my turn to pick the album to be reviewed this week. Unlike most weeks, I went for something that has been in my library for awhile. It is an album that I already knew that I like very much. This might not be the most repertoire-expanding tact to take, but it served my purpose. The Kopecky Family Band will be playing in Kansas City this week, and I want to go with Dan on my fan-wagon. It was a risk, and as I write this, I still am not 100% sure if it worked or not. (Update: While Dan has a few witty criticisms aimed at the band, he comes away from the listen liking them and looking forward to going to see them.)

Here is what the band is all about. There are six members – only one of whom actually carries the name Kopecky. Their family connection, according to their website and interviews, is cemented by their commitment to each other and their craft. As a proponent of alternative definitions of family, that one works just fine for me.

The album we listened to is their first full-length album, Kids Raising Kids, and it came out in 2012. Before that, the band had put out a couple EPs that I picked up on Noisetrade. As I remember, I liked them from the start. The way this band blends their voices and their instruments is easy to listen to, but not simple.

The Kids Raising Kids title is evocative for me. During a week in which we celebrated Sam’s 29th birthday, I spent time recalling that overwhelming love and awe at his birth. I also remembered how it seemed reckless to let amateurs take this perfect little guy home with them. But, we did fine and we kept him safe. Bringing this back to the album, one of the quietest and loveliest songs on the album is called Change. It includes several passages noting that a look in the eye can be a turning point. Looking into your child’s eyes for the first time gets you. There are lines like that all through the album. You hear it and it resonates. You hear it and you nod. You hear it and you smile.

I don’t want to lead someone unfamiliar with the band to think that this is sappy, emo stuff. The songs go in many different and interesting directions. Main vocals are handled by Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon. Instrumentation and vocals move from simple to expansive; two-part harmony to full-blown Mumford and Son-ish chorus. There is emotional stuff within lyrics that you can delve into, but there is also just good, pleasurable listening to be had.

To sit around and make music together that sounds good, is meaningful to you, and makes other people listen, seems pretty great. The Kopecky Family Band seems to be having fun with that life. And I think that they are going to be awesome to see live!

Next Up: Songs of Innocence by U2

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September’s Good Things

coloMy blog might suggest that, thus far, September has been devoid of good things. Untrue! The first week of the month was spent in Estes Park, Colorado where the sound of the Big Thompson River greeted us each morning and put us to sleep at night. While there, we had visits with friends, did some hiking, read some books, marveled at nature, discovered some new breweries, played some games, and kicked back. Back home, however, things immediately moved into overdrive. What September lacked was that balance between vacation and not vacation. With the end of the last week of the month nigh, I will attempt to summarize September and head into October with at least a hope to get things back on track.

Colorado in September – The first week of September is a wonderful time to visit Colorado. Pictures will do better than any words I can come up with.IMG_1670

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This last page of the September issue of Esquire Magazine – I count myself a fan of Esquire magazine. As a print magazine, they always do interesting things with the layout, and their reporting pieces are killer. The writing is always strong. It was, however, the last page of the magazine that really captured me in the last issue that I read. I giggle over it still. even though I tore it out and sent it to Ali. I can’t find a copy of it on line, so you will have to get an idea of what I am talking about by looking at the picture I took of it.

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Visit from the Tooles – We unexpectedly got to host Carly and Thad as they drove across country to set Carly up in her first gig as a physical therapist in Leadville, Colorado. Carly is Ali’s best friend, college roommate, maid of honor. Thad is in the running for brother-of-the-year. We had a great time sharing some KC hospitality – including teaching them how to play Catchphrase and filling their bellies with waffles for their final leg of their journey.
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I won a fantasy football game – the fact that I put this on my list gives you an idea of what a rarity this is. The poor dude that I beat must be feeling pretty badly.

Steroids – I came down with this very weird mouth ailment that became more and more irritating and painful as the month went on. After several false starts, I started on a taper of steroids that kicked out whatever it was that was going on. I am not a medicine fan, but that action was pretty impressive.

The Royals – I watched the Royals win the World Series that first year I was in Kansas City. Sam was a newborn and Dan was a Cardinals fan who could not believe  what happened. Sam just turned 29 and Dan remains a Cardinals fan – but we all feel good about the Royals finally seeing a playoff game.

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The Ken Burns’ Roosevelt series on PBS – The storytelling in that multipart series was riveting! My favorite was Teddy Roosevelt being shot while delivering a campaign speech and proceeding to talk for another hour before agreeing to go to the hospital to see about the bullet in his chest.

Making Cookies – For one reason or another, I made three batches of cookies during the month. The first was Amish Sugar Cookies which I became familiar with when I was growing up and I went to my friend Sue’s house. They are soft and sugar goodness. For fajita night book club, I made peanut butter cookies that I amped up by putting in some cayenne and sea salt. For dinner with friends, I made the killer rosemary shortbread cookies in the Flour cookbook. I kind of think that cookies are the perfect dessert.

Cards from future in-laws – As wedding planning continues, we are excited to get to know both Jose and Jean’s families. This month we received notes from both – sharing their happiness that our children have found happiness.

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My new fountain pen – I hoarded gift cards for a couple years and finally spent them at the awesome Pen Place in Crown Center. Yes! A store of pens! My pen is beautiful and writes beautifully. It is also filled with some equally awesome orange ink. I love it.

I have left off some other pretty big things that may get some extra coverage some other time. Kind of a silly list, but all things that made me happy during an uneven month.

Diploid Love by Brody Dalle (Album of the Week)

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Last week Dan chose Diploid Love as our album to listen to and write about.  I had never heard of the album’s artist, Brody Dalle. I have also not heard of Bree Robinson, Bree Joanna Alice Mayer, Brody Armstrong, Brody Dalle-Homme, Bree Joanna Alice Robinson, The Distillers, or Spinnerette. Turns out that Brody – like one of Dan’s previous picks - has been known by a number of different names during her musical career. Despite the roving identities, she has been consistent in her style. Girl rocks hard.

This week’s listen marks the debut of Dan’s new blog DJR Blogging. He is fan-boying all over his choice, as I would have anticipated. He does have a soft spot for the hard rocking ladies. For the most part, I am on board with his enthusiasm. 

When I listen to an album like Diploid Love, my tendency is to not pay a great deal of attention to the components. On my reviewer assignment, as I focus in on this one, I find her doing some unexpected things. One that I particularly enjoyed was her use of a brass section. The first few songs of the album highlight this style nicely. The songs start with the punch of guitars and drums, but by the time they finish, songs are almost symphonic in the collection of sounds. I like that.

Listen to the first five seconds of each of the songs of the album and you understand a little about where she is going to go with each. For the most part, there is a drive of energy. Her creativity as a musician shows in that this is not heard in a uniform way. She mixes things up in interestingly. Her voice – which makes me think of Concrete Blond – wails in a style that makes me give a “you go girl!” approving nod.

Interestingly, I was not as fond of the softer side of Brody. There are a couple tracks on the album where she slows things down a bunch. Not only did I find those to be not nearly as compelling as the others, they made me a little pissy. They broke up a mood that I liked – and that I don’t go for that often. When her wail stops dead on “I Don’t Need Your Love” – which is the albums longest song at over 6 minutes – the mood is broken. Weird of me to feel this way since I am typically the sucker for the slow groove. Not here. If she is going to open up my rock and roll heart, I want her to keep it open.

This was another great example of the benefit of this blog exercise. Thanks DJR Blogging!

Next Up: The Kopecky Family Band, Kids Raising Kids

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Guest Post: Gone Mild’s Review of Brill Bruisers by New Pornographers (Album of the Week)

Dan is having some WordPress issues, so he asked me to post his review of this week’s album.

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I missed the rise of the The New Pornographers.  During the early 2000s, I was listening to NPR news programs and MP3s of songs and bands I already knew. Blissfully unaware of The New Pornographers, I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like.  I suppose I probably heard a few of their songs somewhere mixed into a soundtrack or something, but they were a nullity to me until Robin chose this album for our series of reviews.

On first listen, I got distracted by the gloss and didn’t really hear the music.  In my own defense, this is slick power pop, perfect for background music while you’re driving or focusing on other things.  It’s pretty and it’s energy – you don’t need to pay attention to enjoy this album.  You can skip along the surface of this album in a way that you simply cannot with something like Lucinda Williams yowling over a steel guitar.

By the second listen, though, I started to appreciate what is going on here.  This is a group of hardworking, talented musicians who know how to put a song together.  In the second song, Champions of Red Wine, I felt like they were calling me out:

We’ve waves to root for

You’re coming over

You’ve done your research

It has the force of water

And we’ve got a lot here

There is a lot there.  The band is packed – guitars, synthesizer, drums, harmonies, bass, lush production, etc..  At 8 members, this is not a band to hire for your house party.  The album comes across like the big project that it was – no corners cut, no expenses spared, no off notes tolerated.

Soul music this is not.  If you played this album in a Mississippi blues joint, the place might collapse – or, to make the metaphor more accurate, it might explode from the energy and buoyancy packed into this album.  This is car music, meant to be played on a summer day with the windows down.  It’s not something you would sit down in your easy chair to sip whiskey or even chamomile tea to.

That’s not to say that the album is shallow or inane, because it isn’t.  There is a joy that pervades the music, but the penultimate song on the album warns:

You’ve proved your poison is more than noise

And the joy’s addictive although restrictive

Fan baby beware, I’m not always square

By no means is this a deeply poetic album to be parsed for meaning like an early Dylan bootleg or a Joan Baez number, but songs like “War on the East Coast” and “Another Drug Deal of the Heart” keep the album from being lightweight dance music, to be spun and forgotten.

I’ll be going back to listen to the albums of The New Pornographers that I missed during the start of the century.  That’s one of the reasons I am so enjoying the project of choosing new albums to listen to on a mostly-weekly basis.  It’s too easy to get calcified listening to great musicians like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, while totally ignoring the bands who are doing new things brilliantly.

Next up: Diploid Love, by Brody Dalle

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Good Things – Special Edition

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Goodness. Where to start here? Having been over two weeks since I have ventured to write about good things, my small band of readers may be worrying that that is because I had no good things to report. Not the case. The last couple weeks have kind of weird in their compilation of good things. I will accept that willingly.

To avoid claims of favoritism, I am going to do the #1 and #2 spots in chronological order. Reading on, you will understand why. These things are major.

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  1. Wedding Dress Shopping – I know that there are shows devoted to it, but it has pretty much escaped me that buying a wedding dress is a social event. When I bought my wedding dress, I believer that I went to the shop within walking distance of school – between classes – picked out a dress  - and got back in time for botany. Different times. I am not stuck in the past! I can adjust! And I was thrilled that Ali wanted me to be there to help her pick out her dress. I flew down to New Orleans on a Thursday. I got to spend some time with some adorable 1st graders on Friday, and on Saturday we met up with friends and new family to find the dress. It was a wonderful and poignant thing to help my little girl into dresses that transformed her into a princess. Seeing how happy she is, and excited she is to begin a new part to her life story, made me more than happy to be there. As it turned out, there were not dozens of dresses tried on. When she tried on number three, all gathered knew that it was the place to stop. She tried on a few more, but we came back to #3. I can’t wait to show a picture of it, but those who have seen it agree that it is her. And I am so glad that I was there!DSCF7624
  2. Another Wedding in the Family – Before I even met her, and before they were even deep into their relationship, I knew that Sam and Jean were good for each other and that they were going to get married. I did tell a few people that, so the record will indicate that my “I told you so” dance, is justified. Last week, we found out that I was right. Probably sooner than later, Sam and Jean will get married. They have chosen a very simple ceremony.  After that, they will bring together special friends and immediate family to celebrate. It fits them, and I am again, so happy that they have found each other, and happiness, and partnership. Having Jean in our family, as it is for Jose, seems natural.

I was going to write  about other good things, but I want to leave it there. After all, if I want anything as a parent, it has always been to have my children happy and healthy. The most important good things ever! Those parents out there who are reading this, know that that isn’t always possible.  Sometimes it takes more directions than your nervous system has the capacity for. But this week, I feel pretty lucky. I am not Pollyanna-ing and saying that Sam and Ali have storybook lives ahead of them. But, I am lucky to know that Dan and I are both here for all four of them. We are here and available to guide them when they want, comfort them when they need, advise them if they ask, and celebrate them whenever we have a chance. That is more than good.

Torch Song by Radiator Hospital (Album of the Week)

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Album: Torch Song

Artist: Radiator Hospital

Year: 2014

Details: 15 songs; 33 minutes

Choice: Gone Mild

If my memory serves me correctly, when I was in college there between 1978 and 1982, winters in Schenectady, New York lasted from late October until April. May would inevitably be a muddy mess due to April showers and the melting of about 4 feet of snow and ice. But then it would happen. Spring days. The beautiful green spaces of Union College would fill up with people who had been swaddled in rag wool sweaters and socks, corduroy, and LL Bean down for months. Windows would open and speakers would be propped into them so that everyone sitting, standing, running, or laying outside could enjoy shared energy that had been dormant and waiting to reemerge. In my mind, those were days of pure bliss, and the music memory of that joy is New Wave music. Radiator Hospital recalls that music memory. While it is not all guitar-y driven rockers, there is enough there that anyone who was there during those days would know what I am talking about. I liked listening to this.

The band offers their music free on their Bandcamp website. Donations are encouraged, but not required. Dan paid for the download for our listening these past couple weeks. Whatever he paid, was money well spent. 15 songs in 33 minutes! The songs come and go with haste.

The lead singer, to my ear, is a vocal doppelgänger of the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel. He has one of those slurry, nasally styles that makes it hard to pick out the words. That made it easy for me to just let the music play over my ears and not necessarily permeate my brain. Dan notes over on Gone Mild that the energy of the music belies the more serious nature of the song-writing. I get that, but I am okay to do this one my shallow way.

Sometimes reviewing these albums is made harder by the fact that it is not music that I would listen to, making it difficult to find space in my musical vocabulary to fit it in. This one, while it may be more than the good time and the sound memory that it provides to me, I am content to leave it there.

Next Up: The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

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