Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell (Album of the Week)

jason something

Something More Than Free is, without a doubt, the album that I have looked forward to most this year. Not that I have wearied of listening to Southeastern or any of Jason Isbell’s music, but I am greedy and I wanted more. The eleven tracks that make up this album do what he excels at. They tell stories and they catch your heart and your ear with their musicianship and wordsmanship. I have had a few months with the album now, so writing a review is somewhat of a challenge. These songs are no longer freshly exposed to judgment. All of the songs are now part of my Isbell vocabulary. Breaking off the album from the rest of his music and trying to create an honest critique is tough. As usual, over on his blog, Dan writes eloquently about what he is hearing in this album. His is a very interesting take on how the struggles that were so clear in Southeastern may still be driving this new album but in a more subtle way.

My huge mad crush on Jason Isbell started in a honky tonk Kansas City roadhouse in 2009. That Jason was very different from the man he is today, but the core of his songwriting that was great in 2009 still shines brilliantly. Whatever your music preference is, there is likely to be at least a song or two on this that you could want in your library.

To pick a favorite on the album, I am going to go with How to Forget. I have to believe that this one is pretty autobiographical. It exposes the challenge of people coming back into your life after your life has been turned around. Because they are so good, I want to put all of the lyrics here, but I will limit myself to the first part:

Give her space, give her speed

Give her anything she needs

Get her out of here

Give her weed, give her wine

Give her anything but time

Get her out of here

She won’t stop telling stories, and most of them are true

She knew me back before I fell for you

I was strained, I was sad, didn’t realize what I had

It was years ago

I was sick, I was scared, I was socially impaired

It was years ago

My past’s a scary movie, I watched and fell asleep

Now I’m dreaming up these creatures from the deep

What I love about this song is that after the part above, he comes back to ask this unwanted visitor if he was good to her. He wants to know if the fact that he now has something great in his life, it makes his leaving her harder. Here are the demons of the past meeting a core of good.

Jason’s last album, Southeastern, had one of the most romantic songs imaginable on it – Cover Me Up. On this album he is back in the swoon game with the song, Flagship. In the song, he sings about seeing an old couple in a broken down hotel sitting close but appearing so far away from each other; he promises to his own partner Baby let’s not ever get that way / I’ll drive you to the ocean every day / We’ll stay up in the presidential suite /And call ourselves the flagship of the fleet / You gotta try and keep yourself naive / In spite of all the evidence believed / And volunteer to lose touch with the world / And focus on one solitary girl. In another part of the song, he goes and gets his cowboy boots polished because his girl likes to see them shine! Who can compete with that, Jason?

Jason Isbell in concert loves his guitars. Like Southeastern, the music of Something More than Free is somewhat spare. It does have some lovely violin interludes provided by his wife, Amanda Shires. Of particular note on that is Hudson Commodore.

Dan hates that this is a classification, but Jason Isbell is typically pegged into the Americana genre of music. He definitely is not country and you can’t put him in the southern rock camp of Drive by Truckers. This album gives you some toe-tapping honky-tonks like If it takes a Lifetime and Palmetto Rose, and some Southern gothic with, Children of Children. In each, his smooth but raspy vocals brings the listener into the story. As he can do so well, he combines Southern good-ol’-boy with brainy troubadour with lines like Jack and Coke in your mama’s car / you were reading The Bell Jar. Listen to this album and you will find hard-working, hard-living, dreamers. Maybe, like me, you will have your own crush on Jason Isbell. I think this album could do it for a new listener.

Before the year ends, I get to see Jason perform two times! That will make three for 2015 for us. I can’t wait to hear how Something More Than Free is transformed in live performances.


Next Up: Ryan Adams 1989

Too Bright by Perfume Genius (Album of the Week)


Album: Too Bright

Artist: Perfume Genius

Year: 2014

About: 11 songs; 34 minutes

Choice: DJR Blogging

Mike Hadreas is the musician behind Perfume Genius and Too Bright is his third album. Hadreas is in his early thirties and only started making music after he brought himself home to Washington State to get himself clean. He released his first album in 2010 and a second in 2012. He has said in interviews that his music is an outlet for the issues he feels as a gay man in a society where the life that he lives is looked down upon by. This perception proved all too true when a video ad for his second album was banned from YouTube because it had what was deemed to be inappropriate for YouTube adult content. The clip showed Hadreas, a very small and delicate man, embracing a large, well built guy who happened to be a famous male porn star. Looking at the clip now, it is hard to believe that that same ruling would happen today, but I don’t know. Hadreas says that he looks at heterosexual couples interactions in public and wonders what it would be like if gays could interact the similarly without the threat of repercussions. We aren’t there yet, but I hope we have made some progress. The album made Dan do a little soul-searching as to whether his initial annoyance at what he reacted to as the album’s so-last-year gay message may be his own lack of comfort with the topic. We could all use a dose of such self reflection. Our final verdicts were similar, however. This is an album with which to spend some time.

Were I to go listen to albums one and two, it seems that I would get a different experience than this one. In doing some reading, albums one and two would fall more into a category shared with Rufus Wainwright or Sufjan Stephens – ballady, torchy, angsty. This one, while still retaining plenty of angst, takes the listener on a different kind of ride. This feels like an album powered by a guy knowing what he is after and ready to use different techniques to get there.This album’s sound is not just a quiet mood piece. It is at times poppy, R&B, synthy – and oftentimes multiple styles in one song.

I Decline is the opener and sounds to be what his other albums mostly offered. It is soft, piano chords and his close to falsetto voice with a touch of quiver. But then  the listener is alerted that there is more to explore in this album. Queen is the album’s star, and the delivery that Hadreas gives is a fantastic vocal snarl. Behind that is an aggressive keyboard line, woofs and a hard drive. When he sings “no family’s safe, when I sashay,” you believe him. Back in 2014, Hadreas performed this song on Letterman where he showed up in a white suit, heels, red lipstick and a black harness. Over on Pitchfork, Sasha Geffen wrote a really fantastic post about that performance. Below is part of what Geffen wrote:

We shouldn’t call Perfume Genius’s “Letterman” performance “brave”, because we’d never accuse a straight dude of bravery just for dressing up the way he wants. Insisting on your gender trans-gressions in a world that wants to stamp them out of you isn’t in itself “brave”; it’s necessary and exhausting. It takes a lot of muscle. It takes stamina to stand under hot TV lights in perfect red lips and sing through clothes that aren’t drag, aren’t a costume, aren’t supposed to be funny. And it takes a real streak of mischief to sing the words “no family is safe when I sashay” into the homes of families across America, and then sway like a motherfucker while your boyfriend hammers out a keyboard solo.

The rest of the album shows more of that mischief that Geffen identifies. Perfume Genius explores different sounds and styles while working through struggles with identity. Some of the tracks are really beautiful and reminded me of Art Garfunkle. Don’t Let Me In sounded so much like Jake Bugg, I had to look at my IPod to make sure it hadn’t skipped. Intermixed with the quiet songs, he brings in a song like Grid that combines an Elvis vibe with tribal drumming and a wild background line that veers between screaming and taunting.

I could almost see this album being made into a Tommy like opera. It listens like a performance piece by a guy who is continuing to discover his talents, his voice, and what he can do to show its’ power and place in the world.

Next Up: Rips by Ex Hex

ex hex

Past Weeks’ Good Things

week2This morning was the first one in recent memory that I went out to get the paper and I didn’t get rained on or had to deal with a water covered newspaper bag. The sun is shining and it is a wonderful time to review some of the good things that made their way into my days over the last few weeks.

ErasablePencils – This started with a podcast. The Erasable Podcast is a one hour plus conversation among three dudes who love pencils. The podcast starts out with them describing what they are drinking and what pencil they are writing with. One guy is in Baltimore, one in California, and one in North Carolina. Turns out that all of them have never met in person before, but the camaraderie among the three during the podcast would not suggest that they aren’t comfortable with each other. So, they really do kind of talk about pencils for an hour – and it is truly fun! I have learned that the little metal piece that holds onto the eraser is called ferrule. I have learned that all pencils are not created equal and that Target curates their pencil collection better than you might think. In fact, on Saturday, Dan and I went to Target and I picked up a box of Ticonderoga Renews which was the pencil of the week that they reviewed, and I also bought a box of Ticonderoga The World’s Best Pencil. Checking out, the cashier picked them up and said, “You know, these really are the world’s best pencil!” Pencil love is catching on and it can partially be traced to the friends who sit around with a beverage and talk over the Internet with each other about writing implements that they dig.

Mystery-LogoMystery Show – Two podcasts in a row, I know, but it is necessary. This one came to me from as a text from Sam “Download the Mystery Show podcast! You will love it!” I did and I do. Starlee Kine may be one of the most charming people hanging out on this earth. She is also an amateur detective of the Harriet the Spy ilk. She is going to use resources to solve your mystery – with one caveat. The mystery can’t be solved by just googling it. I am a couple mysteries in and they are candy. When she calls someone up on the phone that may be able to help her piece the truth together, she is as likely to start talking to them about their high school experience as she is about the case in hand. If I ever get to meet Starlee Kine, I wonder what I would share with her? I don’t know, but I would probably feel like I had been touched by an angel afterwards. She is like that. The last episode I listened to involved a picture of Britney Spears from several years ago. In it, she is holding a copy of a novel that was not very popular. The author of that novel wanted to know whether Britney read it, and whether she liked it. I am not going to give it all away, but I was listening to the end of the episode while I was driving the other day. I realized that I must have had the biggest, goofiest smile on my face. It’s like that. (and I really need a sticker of that logo!)

watermelonWatermelon Salad Recipe – I came across this recipe a couple weeks ago, and this week I made it twice for two separate dinner get-togethers. I really like watermelon and to pair it with fresh herbs, toasted nuts, mozzarella, salt and a smattering of olive oil seems to be a combination that speaks summer salad. It is delicious!

Cleaning my office
– A couple weeks ago, I left work on a Friday afternoon and I felt horrible. It was late and I needed to get home, but what I was leaving behind was chaos. There were piles everywhere. My to-do list was a joke. The plan for my next week wasn’t to be found. I made the decision to go in over the weekend to get some order to what was left behind. I also spent some time rereading the wonderful David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Between the plan that the book lays out for putting order to your life, and a few hours of diligent order-making in my office, my work life is now in such a better place. All last week, I kind of perused my new system and felt so much better about things.

Funny sight on the way home – Driving home from work one night, I was stopped at the corner of Rockhill and Cleaver. There was a skinny little lady with a fat bulldog (I think) who started walking across the street on the red light. At a point when she was almost to the median, the dog decided it needed a rest. It laid down in the middle of the crosswalk and would not budge for several seconds. The visual of that big old dog stubbornly laying there while his owner tried to coax him on was very amusing and made me laugh.

That is five, but there have been many others since the last time I posted one of these. There were dinners with friends with good food and conversations, picture of Banjo with her new KC Royals collar and Ali’s craft pictures,positive responses to some of the things going on at work, Negroni week, babysitting Birdie and Dan’s extraordinary baby calming skills, a thoughtful and fun invitation, and a bunch of other stuff. Once again, as I look over things, I know that I am lucky. I hope your week ahead has lots of good things to capture.

Way Out Weather by Steve Gunn (Album of the Week)


Album: Way Out Weather

Artist: Steve Gunn

Year: 2014

About: 8 songs; 44 minutes

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

I had never heard of Steve Gunn or his music prior to picking his album for our new listen. Because we are going to a music festival in a couple months, I wanted to pre-game by listening to a few of the musicians that I had never heard of. We did this last year before we went to Forecastle, and it really helped me enjoy some new music probably more than I would have if I went in naive. 

That being said, trying to sit down and explain what Steve Gunn’s album is like is a little tough. The image that keeps coming to me is my college friends and I, in the 1970s-80s, sitting around and listening to stuff over and over. Eerily similar, is Dan’s reflection on this album over on his blog. We had not discussed the album much at all, and we both managed to come up with the same analogy. Lots of Way Out Weather has a lazy sway to it that makes you close your eyes and get dreamy to it. There are loops of instrumentation that trail through the songs as the vocals breeze in out with a sleepy drawl that kind of made me think Neil Young’s style – especially on Tonight’s the Night. But then there are points in the album when he opens it up and it is psychedelic Woodstock jamming.

I couldn’t get lyrics to any of the songs, but it didn’t really matter. It is the music and the mood of these songs that really brought me along. There are so many twists and turns to these songs, be it in the different guitar lines, or the synthy sounds, or a really tight drum line that carries through every song. It is headphones music that could make you dizzy with how it travels in and out of each ear and back again.

This is the kind of music and musicianship that makes me marvel at how good band’s members really sync with one another. The subtle changes that happen in each of these songs are turns on a dime. Milly’s Garden starts out with a wavy synth sound then becomes an almost jazzy electric guitar line joined by a Grateful Dead-ish vocal while it grows with intensity and instruments (including a pounding piano). The same song then it falls into a Jimi Hendrix-y electric guitar riffing midsection jam before it settles back into the slow groove of the jazzy line that opened it. Before it finally ends with the same synth wave that opened it, it does that big build again. And it all fits and moves perfectly.

There are songs here that open like a classic James Taylor folk song, but there is always more here that comes in to make each track more complicated and interesting.

A song named Atmosphere opens up with sounds that evoke atmospheric drifting and rarely lifts out of that mood even as the music becomes less dreamy and more defined. The vocal is muted and languid.

The album ends in full funk with Tommy’s Congo. It is more then six minutes of beats and rhythms that exudes an ominous intensity. There is a equally ominous intense short film that is on line that uses the music as a backdrop. It fits perfectly.

Steve Gunn and his music worked for me these last couple weeks. Each time I listened to it, I completely floated on his compositional talent and stellar guitar work. There were parts of each song that had turns that I totally loved, and each of the 44 minutes that it took to listen through it each time were enjoyable for me. He is now on my Pitchfork “to watch” list.

Next up: Too Bright, by Perfume Genius


Second Hand Hearts by Dwight Yoakam (Album of the Week)


Album: Second Hand Heart

Artist: Dwight Yoakam

About: 10 songs; 41 Minutes

Year: 2015

Choice: DJR Blogging

Sitting in the car while Dan belts out Dwight Yoakam tunes is a delight in my life. The odes to dudes done wrong are perfect fodder for car singing. And, while I never considered myself a Dwight Yoakum fan, I understood the appeal. When we were at the Forecastle Festival last year, my unexpected enjoyment was the Dwight Yoakum performance. The guy comes out all hat and bejeweled and he played his ever-living mind out. He also appeared to be having a whole lot of fun doing it. It isn’t hard to get onboard with that.

So, listening to Dwight over the week has been fun. This new album, Second Hand Heart is full of musical reference points – from Grand Ol’ Oprey, to Elvis, to early Rock n Roll. He honky tonks his way through the 10 songs on this album with gusto. The first song of the album, In Another World, bursts with this guitar line I discovered is called tremolo picking – a rapid picking of a couple of notes. That underlies the entirely, while three sweet electric guitar notes pierce it throughout. And on top of that is Dwight singing about lost love. Guy can’t catch a break in the love department, it seems.

The next song, She makes me hear Elvis’ Suspicious Minds every time I hear it. Elvis comes back later in the album on The Big Time where he throws in some uh-huhs that are totally Presley-esque.

It’s the third song on the album that I expect that I will be hearing on car trips. Dwight’s baby has done him wrong again, and the dreams he had have shown themselves to be Dreams of Clay. Poor Dwight will “forget about plans we had for me and you and dwell on thoughts lonely lives pursue.” I must say that a song like this, that is so honky tonk, would have been scoffed at by me a few years ago. Here is where my music taste has expanded enough to be able to enjoy this. I can even get on board with a song like Off Your Mind which sounds like Buck Owens on Hee Haw. On this one you have the hillbilly guitar line, the exaggerated backwoods drawl, and lines like “If you have dreams about someone like me, just take those pills of yours and get some sleep.” Yep, he even had me with this.

His songwriting is killer. The title song of the albums opens with the line, “She said when I trusted love I dreamed in color too.” What must the feeling be when you come up with a line like that? He turned that line into a back and forth conversation between two losers in love who are thinking about trusting that they could give love another try. It wraps up with that same line. It is standout among some really great tracks.

Naturally, Dan is a fan of this album. He is more of a student of Yoakam so he allows for his tales of love woe to be as expected, he also notes that even though the theme is the same, the freshness is something that delights even the seasoned listener.

The rockabilly song, Liar opens up with Dwight saying “we ought record this one just for kicks” and it jolts forward with sing-a-long, hand clapping, whooping, harmonica bending joy. You hear the kick they are getting.

There are two songs on the album that are not his creations. Both get fine Yoakam treatment. The first one is a blazing version of Man of Constant Sorrow that is much more Oh Brother Where Art Thou? than Joan Baez (the two versions of this song that I am familiar with). The album ends on Anthony Crawford’s V’s of Birds. This one could be a lullaby. It is a lovely sendoff for a barrel full of fun album.

As of this week, I am a Dwight Yoakam fan, and I may be warbling along with Dan in our traveling days to come.

Next Up: Steve Gunn, Way Out Weather

Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee (Album of the Week)


Album: Ivy Tripp

Artist: Waxahatchee

About: 13 songs; 38 Minutes

Released: 2015

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

Waxahatchee is the name of a creek in Alabama. Katie Crutchfield grew up near that creek and chose its name for the name of her band. “Band” is a little vague when it comes to the music of Waxahatchee. The music is mostly her voice with other sounds layered onto it. It makes for more interesting listening than would be the case if she just relied on her pretty voice and moody, reflective lyrics. This is a quick 38 minute album that features 13 bursts of musical creativity.

Many of the songs of Ivy Tripp have a do-it-yourself vibe that I loved. Summer of Love sounds like she is approaching that creek, swollen by rains, and racing by. She plops her recorder down on a rock while a dog barks nearby. She picks up her guitar and sings a melancholy song to a picture of her and a summer love. This is just one example how other sounds make the raspy sweetness of her voice more. On this one, the listener can imagine the scene – and wonder whose dog that is.

Stale by Noon is another single instrument song – this time a keyboard. On this one, she echos her own lyrics while an nursery rhyme songlike notes follow along. Again, on this one, the lyrics reflect loss and trying to figure things out – I could stop praying for everybody; I’m wasting my time. I’ll read your philosophy and get a new lease on life.”

Most of the other songs are denser than these two. My favorite of the album is Air which combines electric guitar and a cymbal/drum line that fits well with the mood of the song. Here her voice lifts and almost cries out “you were patiently giving me everything that I will never need.”

When she brings in the electric guitars and drumline, her voice can take on an edge that make you think that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of her. On a song like Under a Rock she almost snarls,

Your ravenous, insatiable

Appetite for the expendable

Will leave you just as hollow as your requiem

I like what Katie does throughout this album, and for me it works well. Dan, however, finds what she is doing on some of her songs sloppy and amateur. I disagree with him, but I understand where one could think that. Dan does see the talent here, however. For me, I like that there is something new to listen for in each track. It could be that the experimentation that she brings may not be to everyone’s liking, but no one can say all of her stuff sounds alike. Opening the album with a song that has dirge-y organ chords that rattle through its entirety is pretty bold. That low hum makes the song uncomfortable, but the lyrics are uncomfortable too – You take what you want / you wear it out / I’m not trying to be a rose / You see me how / I wish I was / But I’m not trying to be seen.

Ivy Tripp is a tour through Katie Crutchfield’s creative soul that can at times be lovely and melodic and at other times be discordant and bitter – and for me, that makes for a great and interesting listen.

Next up: Second Hand Heart by Dwight Yokum


Good Things

weekI won’t even attempt to put a timeframe on this post. I have not had a typical good things post in so long, I have forgotten how I had even had that habit. These are busy days, I know, but I can’t believe that they have been so busy that I can’t sit myself down and rattle off what has made me happy, impressed me, inspired me, or in some way or the other made me take positive notice. I need to do that. It revs my engine. It balances me. It makes me accountable. It makes me a better world citizen when I make myself be more aware of goodness.

So, I will do my best to bring the habit back into my life. Here, I give you a recap of some of the things that I have taken note of during the last several weeks. Maybe you have noticed some of these too!

ypl_woodson_Brown_Girl_DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – We had our annual Poetry Night Book Club last night. This is the night we all bring a poem or two to read aloud and say why we like it. My choice this year may have been my easiest choice ever. A few weeks ago I read Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award Winning Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline’s book tells the story of her life – all in verse! She was born in Ohio in the 1960s, but did her growing up in South Carolina and Brooklyn. The pieces that she put together in this book weave a beautiful story of her family and the time during our country’s history when being a brown girl could sometimes be dangerous. The book is marketed as a young reader, but I think there is no age limit to love this book. Here is just a snippet.


no words are needed

Deep winter and the night air is cold. So still,

it feels like the world goes on forever in the darkness

until you look up and the earth stops

in a ceiling of stars. My head against

my grandfather’s arm.,

a blanket around us as we sit on the front porch swing.

Its whine like a song.

You don’t need words

on a night like this. Just the warmth

of your grandfather’s arm, Just the silent promise

that the world as we know it

will always be here.

bugNew Art

Dan and I went down to the Brookside Art Fair last weekend and I was taken by the art of Kreg Yingst, an artist from Florida. He does super cool block prints that are music themed. There were several that I could have been very happy with, but I decided on one with a vintage bug and Beatles lyrics. Everytime I walk past it hanging in our dining room it makes me smile!

Rotary073368_2219861926312520772_nWaldo-Brookside Rotary – For a few years, Dan has wanted to start a Rotary Club in our neighborhood. While he loves his current Rotary Club, he had the feeling that there was a niche for an evening club in our area where there lots of new businesses and active neighbors. It is now a real thing. Through his work and the support of the Plaza Rotary over fifty people have committed to being a charter member of the new club. I am one of them. I have already met some wonderful people – all with a commitment to make our city, nation, and world a better place. It is a great thing to be a part of from the very beginning, and I hope that Dan knows what a wonderful thing he was instrumental in bringing about! If you are in the area, we would love to join us at 5:30 at The Well in Waldo.

EdEThe 100 Day Project – There is an Internet challenge that started back at the beginning of April called the 100 Day Project. The goal is to pick something that you want to try to do for 100 days and go for it and document it. In my quest to be a little more creative, I decided to do this, but I had a little trouble coming up with what it was that my challenge could be. I kind of wanted to draw, and I came up with the best solution for someone who wants to draw but needs a lot of help with it. My project is #100Daysof EdEmberley. Since April 5, I have been drawing and posting an Ed Emberley inspired drawing on my Instagram feed. It has been fun, and there are so many creative things coming out of this challenge. I think I can make it until July 14!

zucchiniZucchini Noodle Maker – In our continuing quest to eat more Paleo, Dan and I happened onto a new gadget that has made our list of great things. This little device when scraped across a zucchini created noodley pieces of zucchini that can substitute for pasta when paired with things like shrimp scampi or beef stroganoff. I could eat them every day!

As I was going through my logbook pages for the last several weeks, there are a number of little things that bear mentioning since they too were great! Things such as: visiting Powell Gardens on a beautiful Saturday in Spring, cleaning out my utensil drawers, watching the Kentucky Derby with juleps and friends, Birdie snuggling on Dan, buying tickets for Pitchfork festival in Chicago and Jason Isbell at the Ryman Theater, Season 1 of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Dan reading me Lake Isle of Innisfree in his William Butler Yeats voice, seeing the Drive By Truckers, peonies in bloom, them Royals!

That does it for this one. I hope there are many good things ahead for everyone!

Tracker by Mark Knopfler (Album of the Week)

tracker_coverAlbum: Tracker

Artist: Mark Knopfler

Year: 2015

About: 15 songs; 1 hour and 15 minutes

Choice: DJR blogging

Appropriately, the liner notes of Mark Knopfler’s new album, Tracker, contains a mini-essay by the novelist, Richard Ford. Ford is known for the beauty of the language of his stories, and the precision of his words. In the essay, he recounts that he pridefully told Knopfler about an offer he had to co-write some songs with a well-known musician. He asked Knopfler if he had any advice. Knopfler tells him to stick to his novel writing. The ability to pare down a story to a few verses and choruses was not, he advised, as easy as it may seem.

It appears to come abundantly easy to the seasoned song-writer who for many years headed the band, Dire Straits. Over a long one hour and 15 minutes, Knopfler tell fifteen stories. There are poets and boxers and truckers and lovers. This is an album full of the workers and oftentimes what the toll of that work bequeaths. None of this album is Sultans of Swing or Money for Nothing. This is more Mark Knopfler as Van Morrison or any other of the Celtic singers who bring a cultural sound to their craft that is unmistakable.

The album’s opening track is a kick. It starts with the familiar Brubeck Take Five line and then Celtic fiddles and then whistles come in. It works brilliantly. And here comes  Knopfler’s familiar voice, and you can picture yourself swaying and singing along to this in an pub as you lift your mug of Guinness. “Oh, laughs and jokes and drinks and smokes and no  light on the stairs. We were so young, so young, and always broke, not that we ever cared.” He nails it on that one.

The rest is a mixed bag for me. I think part of it is its length. I like to get the album as a whole in, but I don’t really have over an hour to spend listening to a single album (unless of course we have had a dinner with guests and multiple forms of beverage in multiple types of glassware are consumed. Then, my dishwashing/music listening time can certainly accommodate such a task). Many of the songs sounded so similar to me, and when they both sound similar and there are multiple, that can get a little tedious. I can’t say anything bad about his musicianship (so wonderful still is his guitar work), or his singing and harmonizing which are really great too. I just would have liked a shorter album with the strongest of these songs.

One of those for me was one of the album’s simplest. Beryl is a song tribute to the celebrated British writer, Beryl Bainbridge, who only received a Booker Prize for literature after she was dead. The sum of the song is:

Beryl was on another level / when she won a Booker medal / She was dead in her grave / after all that she gave

Beryl, everytime they overlook her / When they gave her a Booker / she was dead in her grave / after all that she gave

Beryl, the tobacco overtook her / When they gave her a Booker / she was dead in her grave / after all that she gave

It’s all too late now

This is one of the songs on the album that lets Knopfler’s familiar Dire Straits guitar work shines. 

Dan got much more out of this than I did, and I can possibly attribute it to the fact that I did not spend as much time with it. He finds a soul here that the early Dire Straights certainly did not have. He writes that what he finds is “warm, generous and comfortable.” I do not disagree with that. I am glad that Dan brought this one into my library, and if only for that first song, I would recommend it for a listen.

Next up: Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee


sometimes i sit and think, and sometimes i just sit. by Courtney Barnett (Album of the Week)

SIJS-2400Album: sometimes i sit and think, and sometimes i just sit.

Artist: Courtney Barnett

Released: 2015

About: 11 songs; 44 minutes

Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

How can I not give the highest of  praise to an album that has the line “give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey?” Courtney Barnett’s cleverness with lyrics continues in her new album, sometimes i sit and think, and sometimes i just sit. More than any other album this year, this is the one I have most looked forward to listening to. In 2013, I named Courtney Barnett’s double EP release as one of my top ten albums for that year (it was a stretch since it wasn’t truly an album, and several of the songs had been released prior to 2012). But, I loved the songs so much that I felt that they needed to be on my list. Unless something unheard of happens between now and year’s end, this one will be high up on my 2015 list.

The album combines her oh-so-cleverly-wonderful lyrics with a garage rock noise factory and a languid vocal style that is perfect for her Australian accent. I ate this one up, just as I expected that I would.

The album opens with Elevator Operator – a song about a twenty year old who chucks off his tie and work responsibilities and heads to a rooftop at the same time a woman whose “heels are high and her bag is snakeskin; hair pulled so tight you can see her skeleton.” She challenges him not to jump (especially since he has such great skin that she would give anything for), but he comes back at her by saying she seems to be the one there to jump; he is only there because it provides him a real life SimCity vantage point. She tells the tale to a thumping drum and twanging guitars. She rocks it out. She is kind of Lucinda Williams melting into Chrissie Hynde to create the next generation of women rockstars.

Not all of the songs give you the full throttle rock sound. Some have more of a dreamy slowed-down sound. My favorite song from her first EP was Avant Gardener which detailed having a panic asthma attack and the ambulance coming to rescue her. On this album, An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) has a very similar vibe and also has that quieter sound. There is still a grungey guitar line that backs her as she narrates not being able to sleep and finding the cracks in the ceiling as metaphor for the lines in her own palm. She then scares herself by what she sees:

I lay awake at four, staring at the wall

Counting all the cracks backwards in my best French

Reminds me of a book I skim-read in a surgery

All about palmistry, I wonder what’s in store for me

I pretend the plaster is the skin on my palms

And the cracks are representative of what is going on

I lose a breath… my love-line seems intertwined with death

As expected, this album makes me want to pay as much of attention to the words as I do the music. Each of the eleven songs on the album gives the listener a narrative – some silly; some serious. There is a girl trying to impress a boy in a public swimming pool only to end up losing consciousness by trying to hold her breath too long, then, coming to with the boy and his towel gone. Depreston follows her as she takes a look at a suburban home for sale and is overwhelmed by thinking about who lived in the space before. Dead Fox is a take on environmentalism.

Dan did not get as gushy as I did, but he agrees that this is a good listen and Courtney has it going on as a rock-n-roll gal. I could go on and on snipping and pasting lyrics, but I will just cut it here. There are just so many good ones! My advice is to listen to this one!

Next up: Tracker by Mark Knopfler


Good Things – Special Wedding Edition #2

weddingFriday was the one week anniversary of Ali and Jose’s wedding. After spending the pre-wedding week in New Orleans and then driving back home last Sunday, my life still feels pretty much in post-wonderful-trip-scatteredness. My goal over last weekend was to figure out where I left off on everything pre-trip. Getting back to this blog and recapping our most excellent time feels like an important piece of this.

The wedding was, of course, the second in our family in 56 days. Back in January, we gathered in New York City January to celebrate Sam and Jean. This time we headed to New Orleans to make our family members number six! As we felt with Jean and Sam, Jose makes Ali even more than she already was – and that is a feat! Their combination of love and friendship and partnership is strong. I still remember driving them from the airport the first time we met Jose and them laughing together in the back seat. That is the best sound ever – to hear your child’s happiness.

Now, to try to encapsulate the doings is going to be a little tough. There were an incredible number of good things that went down during the days leading up to and following the ceremony. I am going to give it a try, and I hope I  convey the wonderfulness of it all. Here are some of those good things:

New Orleans – When Ali and Jose were picking a wedding date there were things that they did not want. They didn’t want hurricane threats or Mardi Gras interference. The last week of March turned out to be a spectacular choice. Making the drive down South, we could visually see Spring deepening. Everything was greener and more alive. As always, the city of New Orleans welcomed us with friendly people and beautiful surroundings. I don’t think I have been in the city when the azaleas are at their peak. This time I was. The beauty of the city was enhanced even moreso.

The Southern Gentleman – One of the memorable moments from Sam and Jean’s wedding was Jose’s  outfit. On a brutally cold day in New York City, he sported pink pants, dress shirt, bow tie, and blue blazer. He noted that that his look was the mark of a Southern Gentleman. Dan got it in mind to return the dapperness. He bought a bow tie before we left, and with the help of YouTube he managed to somewhat get the thing tied. He also bought some pink pants to complete his own version of the look. The reveal was when we met up with Ali and Jose at Cochon for a family dinner. The look on Jose’s face when he got a load of Dan was the best!

Avery Island – Through a series of fortuitous events, Ali did not have to work at all during our week there. On Monday, she picked us up and we went to Avery Island – the home of the McIlhenny family and the home of Tabasco sauce. The place is about 2 hours southwest of New Orleans and the drive takes you through some amazing Louisiana realness. Along the way we stopped in a little po-boy shop that served up an amazing fried shrimp sandwich. Getting out of the car at Avery Island, you immediately get the smell of Tabasco sauce, which was quite great! The factory tour was short and sweet, and the gift shop had quite the array of Tabasco products – special versions of the sauce, Tabasco Slim Jims, Tabasco pralines, Tabasco ice cream … Dan got so excited he bought the guy in front of him’s purchase. All got sorted out and we then drove and walked through the Jungle Gardens which is on the property. It was a stunning habitat of flowers and huge live oak trees with Spanish moss and egrets and a snake that tried and succeeded in scaring me.

Crawfish Boil – On Wednesday, we went to see the NBA New Orleans Pelicans with the happy couple, Jose’s dad, and Jim, Micaela and Birdie who had just made it in. Before the game, Ali and Jose invited us to their house for crawfish boil. Laid out on the table went 25 pounds of the little mudbugs along with corn and potatoes. It really was one of the prettiest meals I have ever seen! Standing around shelling the leftovers with Ali, Sam and Jean was also lovely.

Family – I was going to call this part “Family and Friends,” but as I considered it, everyone that I am going to talk about is really a member of our family – even if genetics would tell you otherwise. We pulled into New Orleans late on a Saturday night and got welcomed by Dan’s sister and brother-in-law who kindly offered us accomodations for the duration of our trip. Over the next several days, we had arrivals of people who have filled our lives with happiness over the years and who wanted to be there when Ali brought Jose into the family. Dan’s brother and his family and his sister showered their kindness over all. Our nephew and niece Ryan and Diane got a little NOLA vacation with the festivities. Jim and Micaela ventured with 1 month old Birdie who charmed everyone! Tom and Julie – who we have not seen for too long – showed up at the rehearsal after party and my heart leapt out of my chest with joy! Tracy, John, Rik and Teresa and Enid all could share memories of Ali as a wee one as they observed the beautiful bride she now is. Jose’s family showered us with kindness and their expressions of their love for Ali. The night of the wedding – looking around and seeing these people scattered throughout the room was the best!

Sam and Jean – When we last saw Sam and Jean, we were leaving their wedding reception on a cold night in Greenwich Village. Having five days to hang out with them in New Orleans was so wonderful. They came, of course, with an itinerary of places to eat and drink, and we did a pretty damn good job of working through a portion of that list. We also got to play at the Zoo one day which offered a number of cats for Jean to swoon over!

The Wedding – It could not have been better. I was lucky and got to spend the late afternoon with Ali and her friends as she got ready and then headed to Rosy’s where the wedding and reception would be. Ali was the most chill bride I could have imagined. She just exuded happiness. And, she was stunningly beautiful. Getting her into that dress and standing back to see her took my breath away. When it was time for the ceremony, I walked to my seat, past the Army officers who would make an arch of sabres that Ali would walk through on her way to Jose’s side (and on their way out, one of the officers – per tradition – whacked her on the butt and welcomed her to the army). The ceremony was beautiful and joyful. The reception afterward continued the joy, but amped up! There was not a song that did not fill the dance floor with young and old. Dan, Carly, and Marlin toasted the couple with words that made me cry a little as I raised my glass. And to end the evening, a brass band entered the venue and played about 45 minutes of New Orleans jazz that had napkins waving and feet a dancing like crazy. It was an amazing end to a perfect day.

The hardest thing of the whole trip was leaving. Hugging Sam and Jean that last night was so sad. Saying good bye to Ali right before we left town and seeing Banjo looking sadly out the window as we pulled away got my boo boo tears going. I just read a quotation by the author Elizabeth Stone who wrote: “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That sums it up so well. While I would love to have them walking closer in proximity to me, I am lucky to have four people in this world who every moment of every day can be sure that they have me supporting their lives.