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My new musical hero
- Great location - within walking distance of Main Street, but far enough to escape much of the traffic noise.
- New constructions - clean and well-maintained; everything worked
- Comfortable bed and effective HVAC
- The corrugated metal and rustic wood motif was a bit tiresome
- River rock on shower floor very uncomfortable on some feet, and overhead "rain" shower head may not be everyone's cup of tea
- No closets. No chest of drawers or bureau. No problem if you don't mind living out of your suitcase.
- Peach Tree Tea Room - sandwich sampler and chilled avocado soup ($$)
- Pasta Bella - eggplant parmigiana ($$)
- Bejas Grill - fish tacos, chips and hot salsa ("hot" as in who microwaves their salsa?!) ($$)
- Hondo's - grilled mahi mahi sandwich ($$)
- Navajo Grill - beef tenderloin and lemon pie with a brûlée topping and fresh berries ($$$$)
Big honkin' German pancake
This would be an elegant addition to any decor
Witness some of the worst looking legs and feet in the Animal Kingdom
Entertainment ("Here there be dancing")
Head-mounted crustaceans: cutting-edge fashion trend
All reet, you jive hep-cats
So, what's your excuse?
Tommy Castro and his bass player
Tommy Castro and some adoring fans
Sorry for the poor quality; it was the best my phone could do.
See, I told you so.
- I continue to be intrigued by the new image being cultivated by J.C. Penney. But I am a little puzzled by the fact that the company has two domain names and two websites. JCPenney.net is their corporate meta site, and JCPenney.com is their retail shopping site, and the only thing they have in common is the logo. Whoever sold them on the idea of having to maintain two separate online corporate identities gets my vote for salesman of the year. #smilingwebdesigners
- I see that yet another local neighborhood is protesting the apparently surprising development that someone wants to drill for oil in the big honking pasture adjacent to their homes. And, once again, the protestors display a puzzling lack of understanding of basic property rights (especially considering that most of them probably bought their expensive homes using income that originated in the oilpatch, directly or indirectly). According to the newspaper report, the driller has gone beyond what's required in the city's ordinance to mitigate the impact of the drilling on the neighborhood, but that's not getting in the way of the residents' outrage (and, apparently, neither is the legal fact that the mineral owners have the legal right to access their underground assets). There's only one thing that will make them feel better - well, other than not drilling at all - and that's if they get a cut of the revenue from the drilling. #moneymakeseverythingbetter
- Is there anything more annoying - besides hipsterish hashtags - than opening a brand spanking new box of cereal and finding that the Machine In Charge Of Bag Sealing, in a fit of non-union-sanctioned overzealousness, has glued the inner plastic bag so that there's no way to open it other than finding a pair of scissors - which, frankly, is an impossibility at 6:00 a.m. - to cut it, after which the bag is too short to seal properly which will probably eventually result in a family of deadly scorpions taking up residence in your Grape Nuts and we all know that's bound to end badly for all involved?* #1stworldproblems
- And speaking of Things That Invariably Make Life More Challenging, why do flat tires never occur on beautiful cool days? It's apparently a requirement that you must change a tire either in a blizzard, or in heat sufficient to melt the tire to the asphalt on which it rests. #immutablenaturallaws
- You know how when you're driving and you observe that everyone driving faster than you is a jerk and everyone driving slower than you is an idiot? (Not that I've ever felt like that.) I think there's a corollary that applies to lawn maintenance. Everyone whose lawn is in better shape than yours is a profligate water waster with messed-up priorities, and everyone whose laws looks worse than yours is a redneck with poor hygiene and deficient civic pride. (Not that I've ever felt like that.) #castingthefirstlandscapingstone
- The Tall City BluesFest has announced its 2012 line-up and, man, am I stoked! They've managed to coax Tommy Castro out of California for the Saturday night show. If I had a bucket list, attending a Tommy Castro concert would be on it. I don't have one of those lists, but I plan to check this one off anyway. Here's what you have to look forward to if you're in Midland July 26-28. #anticipation
- None of the Beatles played an instrument on Eleanor Rigby.
- Pete Townsend so admired Smokey Robinson's lyrics in The Tracks of My Tears that he lifted one of them to entitle the Who's Substitute.
- Macy Gray and Marilyn Manson grew up in the same Canton, Ohio neighborhood.
- Aerosmith's classic Walk This Way was inspired by a scene and line in the Mel Brooks movie, Young Frankenstein.
- When Jimi Hendrix purred "move over Rover" in Fire, he was referring to an actual situation where his bass player's mother's Great Dane was interfering with his attempts to put a move on Jimi's girlfriend in front of the fireplace.
- Lani Hall, the singer on Sérgio Mendes & Brasil '66's Mas Que Nada (one of my favorites, by the way) learned the Portuguese lyrics phonetically, and sang them so convincingly that Brazilians thought she was a native speaker.
- The editor assigned to Paul Revere & The Raiders' (I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone labels that band "the first great punk band," and then makes a convincing case. Incidentally, did you realize the band was formed in 1958.
- The drummer on Peggy Lee's 1958 hit, Fever, played with his bare hands, without sticks.
- Think the EPA isn't out of control? First, they* want to shut down the oil and gas industry in West Texas because of a lizard, and now they're going after the U.S. Navy, claiming bin Laden's burial at sea is an egregious example of ocean pollution.
- OK, maybe that's a bad example; hard to disagree with that judgment. But it's interesting to note that BP was all in favor of the burial at sea, so they wouldn't be the only ones responsible for scum in the ocean.
- You were warned, weren't you?
- Julianne Hough was the featured entertainer at last Saturday's American Cancer Society Round-Up at the CAF Hangar. You probably know her best from Dancing With The Stars, which she has abandoned in order to pursue careers in music and movies. She's billed as a country musician, though, and while my definition of country music is pretty broad and flexible, I just couldn't stretch it far enough to encompass most of her music. Much of it was so pop-ish as to be indistinguishable from every other young energetic blond female singer on the scene today.
- That's not to say she isn't talented - she is, very much so - but her musical choices didn't work for us. Ironically, the most country-sounding songs were also the ones that rocked the hardest, and those were very good indeed. It's hard to say what demographic she's shooting for, but I'd like to see her stay a little edgier. She'll never compete with Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert in that regard, but even Carrie Underwood can play the bad girl (or mad girl) when it suits her.
- Frankly, Julianne was upstage by the other act that played before and after her, Midland's own The Rankin Twins. They graduated from Midland Lee High School a few years ago and are now based in Austin, with one CD to their credit and another coming out this week (May 14th, to be exact). Their music is danceable rockin' country, even if they have one of the geekiest-looking backup bands in the business. And to top it off, they're Aggies. Whoop!
- One last thing about Round-Up (which is a hugely successful fundraiser for the ACS...the live auction alone raised more than $200,000 Saturday night): the CAF Hangar is a marginal venue for such an affair. I'm sure the organizers couldn't predict the 99 degree temps that were present at 7:00 p.m., but they surely suspected that the non-air-conditioned facility wouldn't be too comfortable, as they provided cardboard fans at each table. And to add insult to [imagined] injury, they appropriated all the men's restrooms for the women, and place a few porta-johns outside for the guys. And did I mention that they didn't light them? I'll leave to your imagination the condition of those facilities at the end of the evening, factoring in the effects of the open bar.
- The drought continues in West Texas. It's so dry that the deer are coming into town looking for water. In fact, someone slammed one with their car last week, just down the road from us (on Mockingbird Lane just west of Hwy. 349, for those who live around here).
**OK, technically it's debatable whether this qualifies as a joke. Give me a break, will ya?
OK, I know what you're thinking: "How do we know this is the authentic scan?" I could have pulled a fast one and substituted C'mon Marianne by the Four Seasons. It's a fair question, given the relatively low resolution of the image. I did the original scan at 200 dpi, magnified 600%, and the resulting scan is almost 300 megabytes, not really conducive for putting on a website, but absolutely detailed enough to provide a good sample. To wit...click on the image below to see the uncropped version of the cropped image (there should also be another teensy button on the popup that allows you to expand the image to its full, magnificent size).
If you happen to be a geologist, you might think this is reminiscent of core sample, with its layers of strata, and I guess that "H" at the bottom would represent - I don't know - Hell? There's got to be another explanation, but I got nothin' at this point. Perhaps a Discological Historian can enlighten us about the random letters and numbers inscribed near the center of each record. Are they the earliest anti-piracy efforts? Or just inventory tracking devices? Or something more sinister (I keep going back to the "H for Hell" thing)? It's questions like this that provide the scholarly justification for the time and effort I'll be sinking into this project. Don't thank me; that's just the way I roll.
We created this "band" from foam board, and set it up on the Midland Country Club stage with the sound equipment (basically an amp and an iPad) hidden behind the drummer. It added a bit of atmosphere that somehow made the unattended music seem less, well, unattended. In fact, there was a steady stream of people throughout the night having their photos made in front of the band (which someone dubbed "The Cutouts").
Our ballroom dance club is trying something different at our March dance. Up to now, we've always had live music, and that tradition will continue. But, for a variety of reasons, we're going to try some prerecorded music, sort of DJ-style...without the DJ.
I've created a play list in iTunes of about 50 songs for the evening, providing a wide variety of music for the most popular steps (foxtrot, waltz, swing, rumba, cha cha, tango, and salsa), and we're going to stream the music through a sound system via an iPad. The music is outstanding, but when Debbie and I gave the play list a run-through (well, a dance-through, to be exact), we discovered an unanticipated problem. There's not enough time between the songs.
Now, you would typically want the DJ to keep the music going in a continuous stream, but this isn't a nightclub or mosh pit. Well, sometimes it does resemble a mosh pit, but that's mostly unintentional. Anyway, ballroom dancing is a bit more formal, and we want to give people some time to get on and off the floor.
Here's the problem. iTunes, by default, puts two seconds between each song in a play list, and there's no preference or option to change that. There is an option to cross-fade songs (one fades out while the next fades in), but that doesn't help us a bit.
I tried googling a solution and found that this situation is not a problem for the vast majority of folks. In fact, most people want to know how to shorten the gap between songs. I did find one suggestion to put a short recording of, well, nothing in between each song but that seemed inelegant and tedious. Surely Apple, in its ubër-elegant and ultra-non-tedious design, had a better solution.
Uh, nope. I posted my dilemma on the discussion board on the Apple website and the only workable solution that was suggested was - you guessed it - an "empty" audio file used as a spacer between songs. (This approach is reminiscent of a staple of website design back in the 90s, before CSS, when we used 1 pixel transparent GIFs to provide the desired spacing around various elements on the website. Can you say "inelegant" and "tedious"? And, uh, "effective"?)
So, I found a 15-second "empty" mp3 and downloaded it (it was advertised as a free download; I just hope the creators actually cleared the copyright issues around that bit of silence). I then imported it into iTunes, and dragged it into my play list.
Once in the play list, I copied-and-pasted the mp3 as many times as was needed to separate the songs, and then dragged the instances of the mp3 through the play list to provide the inter-song gaps. That's when I realized again the genius of Apple's iTunes music database approach. The actual "song" resides in one place; the duplicates are simply pointers to that one song.
Why is this important? Well, I discovered that 15 seconds was too long. That pause borders on uncomfortable. Ten seconds would be just about right. But that means I have to delete all those 15-second gaps, find a 10-second mp3, and repeat the import/copy/paste/drag process, right? Wrong.
If you select "Get Info" under the "File" menu in iTunes for a highlighted song, it provides an option (under the Option tab - go figure) for specifying a start and end time for the selected song. This allows a sort of on-the-fly cropping of an audio file, and it was the perfect solution for my "got 15 seconds of nothing but need only 10" problem. I simply selected one of the instances of the silent mp3 and set the end time to 10 seconds. As if by magick, all the other copies of the mp3 took on that same setting throughout the play list.
Now, this is where the elegance finally appears. Since I haven't physically edited the sound file, there are still 15 seconds of silence contained therein, and if I decide I want a larger gap, I can restore up to the full amount with that single setting. (There is a complication if I want to use, say, a 10 second gap on one play list and 15 seconds on another. In that case, I'll need to physically duplicate the original mp3, rename it, and import it to iTunes.)
So, there's a pretty detailed solution to a rather obscure problem. But if someone out there needs a way to increase the gap between songs in iTunes (that's a little trick to help Google find this post) then I'm happy to share what I've learned, and my job here is finished. Heck, I'll even provide a link so you can download your own slice of silence.
I'll let you know how the dance turns out. We're a little nervous. Ballroom dancers are such traditionalists, and they're like a pack of rabid hyenas under a full moon if things don't suit them.
The show is called Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits. The title is an allusion to the group's 1999 album, Supernatural, which won nine Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. It's also fitting given Carlos Santana's apparent fixation on mysticism and spirituality that falls just a wee bit outside the mainstream. More about that later.
Our seats were dead center, nine rows back from the stage, and afforded a great view of the proceedings. I had an immediate regret for not bringing my camera; I didn't expect that cameras would be allowed, but people were openly shooting photos and video throughout the concert. I took a few pictures via my phone's camera, but the quality is not good. Still, you can get a sense of the stage setup. Click on each photo to get a bigger version.
The third photo above shows Carlos with his double guitar setup. If you caught his live performance of Maria Maria on Dancing With The Stars last season, it will be familiar to you. Not being a guitarist, I couldn't tell you why he uses two instruments on that song, but I can tell you that the results justify the means.
The next surprise came when Carlos announced that several of the band members, including himself, had been dealing with bouts of bronchitis. As a result, he did almost no singing, but that proved to be no hindrance to our enjoyment of the music whatsoever. In fact, Carlos's strength has never been his vocals, but he does know how to surround himself with gifted musicians, and the current lineup was amazingly talented. This is an All Star band, without question, and each member has a deep and impressive resume.
There were two lead vocalists, Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas, each with different-but-complementary styles. The trumpet player, Bill Ortiz, and trombonist, Jeff Cressman (who looks like a high school science teacher but way cooler) were not relegated to background sounds but had frequent and impressive solos. The keyboardist, Dave Mathews (no, it's a different one) had biceps like a longshoreman, and the bass player, Benny Rietveld, grinned nonstop through the entire 2+ hour performance.
Santana has three percussionists: Raul Rekow on congas, Dennis Chambers on trap set, and Karl Perazzo on everything under the sun. The other guitarist and backup vocalist, Tommy Anthony, had a mobster vibe going along with a surprisingly pure tenor voice.
And, of course, Carlos Santana fronted the whole group, perpetually moving around the stage, acting as maestro but never demanding the spotlight. Carlos was born in 1947, and he's never tried to be younger than he is, but you couldn't tell his age by listening to his guitar playing. His fingers are as nimble as ever.
One of the things I've always liked about Santana is the variety of the music. Sure, it's always got a Latin-tinge, but genres don't mean much to the group. One of my favorite songs of the night was a 70s-style funkfest, with each member of the band showcasing his talents. Then, completely out of left field, they do a rendition of She's Not There, the 1964 hit from The Zombies, featuring Tommy Anthony on vocals.
Of course, they also played all the classic Santana hits, from Black Magic Woman to Oye Como Va to Smooth. After the concert ended, the obligatory standing ovation brought the band back on stage where they picked an odd selection for their encore: Soul Sacrifice, the song featured in the Woodstock movie. I say "odd" not because it's not a great song, but bands typically don't save their longest pieces for the very end of the concert, when they're already worn out. (Perazzo in particular was visibly dragging by that point.) But it was evident that these guys love what they're doing, and they really like working with each other. Their enthusiasm for the music was perhaps even more attractive than their considerable talents.
There were only a couple of weaknesses in the overall experience. First, either the sound tech was continuously rotating the master knob toward 10 or our ears were just hammered into submission, but the music seemed to get louder and louder through the evening, to the point where it was actually painful in a few places. (I know; if the music's too loud, you're too old.) Second, Carlos really needs to stick to playing music and skip the preaching. At one point while introducing a song he rambled on about the equivalent of rainbows and unicorns past the point of comfort. On the other hand, he's never been shy about his spirituality, so I guess it just comes with the territory. And, of course, I'd have been perfectly comfortable if he'd been sharing a message of Biblically-correct Christianity, whereas I suspect that would have had many others in the audience wriggling in their seats in dismay.
The bottom line is simple: if you're a fan of Santana, or of Latin-flavored rock, this show is a must-see. Performances will continue at the Hard Rock Hotel in April and May, and it's a better excuse than most to make a quick trip to Vegas. You won't be disappointed.
- While most people probably look for novels to read during summer vacations, the year-end holiday season is also a good excuse to look for some light reading, especially when curled up by a fire and accompanied by a steaming mug of coffee as a howling north wind propels tumbleweeds across the front porch. If you agree, here are a few recommendations.
- Tim Dorsey authors an ongoing series of semi-related, genre-busting novels set primarily in Florida. They're what you might get if you mashed up Florida Monthly, True Crime, and Mad Magazine. Or, if you prefer movie metaphors, they're the result of retaining the Coen Brothers and Monty Python to remake Scarface. If a series of books whose primary recurring character is a serial killer can be described as delightfully zany, then Dorsey has nailed it. I've read Triggerfish Twist, The Stingray Shuffle, and Hammerhead Ranch Motel (and I'm starting on the latest offering, Gator a-Go-Go), and they've been uniformly entertaining and ever-so-slightly disturbing...in other words, the perfect mindless reading choice as an antidote to the holiday frenzy. (Now, here's something weird. The preceding links lead to Amazon.com's website because even though I've download all of these titles to my iPad via Apple's iBook Store within the last two months, iBooks no longer lists any of Dorsey's books. Would love to know the story behind that. Update: OK, the iBooks store once again has the books.)
- If "action thrillers" are more to your liking, check out Whitley Strieber's Critical Mass. Be forewarned, however, that this novel is almost too realistic in its depiction of a scenario in which radical Islamic terrorists literally take the world hostage. Strieber goes to great lengths to describe the mindset and motivation of jihadist Muslims, and the effect is chilling. His eye for technical details, ala Tom Clancy, adds a riveting context to a complex and all-too-plausible plot. (I read this one in good old fashioned treeware form, from the Midland public library no less. What a quaint experience!)
- Then there's Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files. Harry Dresden is Chicago's only professional private investigator who also happens to be a wizard (as in Harry Potter, not Gilbert Arenas). Side Jobs is a collection of short stories and one novella describing Butcher's battle with the supernatural forces of evil that inhabit the spirit world of Chicago, although, inexplicably, he never strays into Chicago politics. Too scary, I guess. Anyway, the stories are infused with humor and all the elements of good fantasy, and are mostly PG-rated in style. There's a whole series of Harry Dresden novels, and this book is a good way to gauge your ongoing interest.
- Let's talk music for a minute, as long as we're on the subject of holiday diversions. The "Pick of the Week" at Starbucks is a free iTunes download of Pink Martini's arrangement of the Christmas standard, We Three Kings. I sampled it last night, along with other cuts from the group's new "nondenominational holiday" album, Joy to the World, and I was pleasantly surprised by the unique arrangements of some old favorites, and the inclusion of some songs I'd never before heard.
For example, Elohai, N'tzor is based on the Jewish Amida, the "Standing Prayer," there's a version of White Christmas sung in Japanese, Auld Lang Syne is set to a rollicking samba beat, Ocho Kandelikas is a tango combination of Spanish and Hebrew, Silent Night has verses in its original German, as well as verses in Arabic and in English, and the familiar Carol of the Bells is presented in its original Ukrainian form of Shchedryk.
If you're a Christmas purist, this is perhaps not the best choice, but if you enjoy hearing different takes on the holiday season, this is a great addition to your collection. And for those of us for whom Christmas is all about Jesus, the multi-ethnic approach to the album is an actual (however unintentional) reminder of the universal Gift that God gave to the world, manifested in the Savior's birth.
- And, finally, give a listen to Colt Ford's Chicken and Biscuits and decide whether it represents all that's wrong with country music today (A duo with rapper DMC? A song called Hip Hop in a Honky Tonk, featuring Amarillo native Kevin Fowler?) or if it's the embodiment of how country artists can embrace changing musical tastes without losing those "down home" roots. As for me, I just happen to think it's a lot of fun.
The times, they are a'changing, and with it, a lot of terminology. If this trend continues, will we begin to see:
- cool guys trying to pick up girls with the line, "I'm the lead iPhoneist for ________"?
- marching bands lining up with an iPad line?
- iPhones providing musical accompaniment in Church of Christ worship services? ("It's not an instrument, it's a phone.")
- an updated version of The Message where Psalm 33:2 reads Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the iPod touch.
- adolescent boys kicking the doorstep and giving the excuse that they can't come play baseball because they have to "practice the stupid iPad"?
Oh, I almost forgot. If you want details on the apps used in this performance, check this out.
This came to mind as I continued to think about this post about the obvious (to me, anyway) similarities between songs by Joe Ely and Toby Keith. Rob left a comment linking to another comparison of two similar songs; that comparison involved an analysis that went well beyond simply hearing a tune and thinking it sounded very familiar.
And then I began to wonder what the criteria are for determining whether a melody is so similar to another that it can be deemed a violation of copyright. I suspect it's a pretty subjective judgment - but is it unnecessarily so? Music and mathematics have much in common, more so than I understand, and surely there's a way to perform an objective computation that would spit out a "percentage match" between two songs. And, indeed, a Google search for "mathematical comparison of two melodies" turns up a number of scholarly articles on the subject.
Then there's this article with the enchanting title of Statistical Comparison Measures for Searching in Melody Databases (PDF format). Such research has undoubtedly informed the technology behind such music identification software as Shazam and SoundHound, which are so scarily effective as to be, as they say, indistinguishable from magic. In fact, Slate described in layman's terms the approach employed by Shazam:
Obviously, it's much more complicated than that, and Shazam's co-founder, Avery Li-Chun Wang, published a scholarly paper (PDF) describing the technology in more detail. And as good as Shazam is, some think SoundHound works even better (it will also identify melodies that are simply sung into a microphone). Unfortunately, SoundHound's explanation of its technology laps over into the magical realm with its references to "Target Crystals," and the company is obviously protecting intellectual property.
In any event, I wonder if these math-based, objective comparisons of melodies have ever been used in a court of law to determine copyright infringement, and if there are any quantified guidelines to be used by judges and juries in making such calls. Gee, if there was only some way of searching a database...
Toby Keith has a relatively new song that's getting some airplay on local radio stations. It's called Bullets in the Gun and it's one of those catchy nihilistic outlaw ballads that sounds sort of edgy and dangerous and features ill-fated lovers and guns. It also sounds dangerously similar - in attitude and melody and cadence - to a song written by Robert Earl Keen, Jr. and popularized by Joe Ely called The Road Goes on Forever. Watch these two YouTube vids and judge for yourself.
If you scroll through some of the comments on Keith's video, you'll see that I'm not the only one who's noticed the similarity. (Not that that's necessarily cause for rejoicing; YouTube comments tend to not fall toward the thoughtful end of the spectrum, although there is a subset that's noticeably superior in terms of insight and sophistication, aka "Those Who Agree With Me.")
Don't get me wrong; I like Toby Keith and a lot of his music. And there's really nothing new under the sun, especially in the music world. But I find it hard to believe that Keith wasn't strongly influenced by Keen's song, which was written decades earlier, and which any serious fan of modern country music will be familiar with. It would have been great if Keith had at least sent a nod in the direction of Keen/Ely when he described how his version came to be (scroll down to Product Description). After all, he'll make about a thousand times more money on it than either of those guys did.
I also don't subscribe to the Everything That Comes Out of Nashville is Crap theory of country music, although some guys can make a pretty convincing and entertaining case for that. But things like this do tend to foster an us-vs-them attitude.
Oh, and in case you're interested, here's REK performing the song his own self:
Paltrow stars as a washed up country singer in the upcoming movie Country Strong. Gee, that sounds awfully familiar; wonder where they came up with that idea? Of course, copying Crazy Heart isn't a bad strategy, considering that it won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. And playing a country singer on the big screen also has some mojo; just ask Reese Witherspoon, who got an Oscar for her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line.
But Witherspoon's portrayal had something important in common with Jamie Foxx's performance in Ray (another Oscar-garnering appearance). They were portraying real performers who were either dead or no longer active. When you can't get the actual person to play themselves, it's natural to look for an actor who can do a credible job.
Which brings me to my mild complaint about Paltrow being cast as a country singer. Don't we already have enough real country singers who are also gifted actors? Did they have to look for someone with no musical background (being married to a rocker doesn't really count), who had to learn to sing, and learn to talk country, and learn to have big hair, to play this role?
As good as Paltrow is, I can't help thinking that someone like Carrie Underwood, Reba McIntyre, or Faith Hill could do just as good a job on the acting front while being completely authentic as a country musician (and let's not get into bickering about the state of country music today, 'k?).
It's all about box office buzz, I know. Gwyneth Paltrow's name on the poster guarantees an additional xx millions of revenue for the movie, and that's fine. I like Gwyneth Paltrow, and I'm very impressed with her poise and, yes, her voice. And it didn't hurt her credibility to be paired onstage with Vince Gill. But puh-leeze don't try to tell me that she's got a future in country music. Let her take a show on the road through East Texas and Missouri and Southeast New Mexico and Gillette, Wyoming for a few years and then let's talk. In the meantime, we've got plenty of ladies who've earned the right to represent country music.
I've long argued for this change. Thirty seconds simply isn't long enough to decide if you like a relatively unfamiliar song (or a familiar one in a new arrangement) well enough to pay for it. I predict that this will indeed lead to more music purchases via the iTunes Store, which is Apple's argument to music labels in support of the change.
I can think of at least a couple of occasions where I've taken a chance on a song based on its short clip, and found that the clip is the equivalent of the 30 seconds of really funny material in a trailer of an overall lame ninety minute movie.
The report says that Apple got push-back on this change from some recording labels, presumably for fear that people would either just listen to the track samples rather than buying the whole songs or somehow record them. That's a ludicrous argument, but I'd be perfectly content if Apple appeased them by providing a lower-quality sample to make such unlikely piracy even less realistic. After all, when I listen to a sample on iTunes, I'm not trying to assess the sonic accuracy and every nuance of the song; I just want to understand what I'm buying before I buy it.
Thank you, Apple, for making a rational business decision that benefits the customer.
Sullivan was a boxer before turning to music, perhaps to avoid the burden of expectation that would accompany such a prestigious pugilistic appellation.
This flyer appears to be a promo for a tire company in Lubbock (the floating tire is obviously superimposed on a photo of the musicians; one can only guess at their relationship to the company). According to the bio, they worked radio stations in Fort Worth and Lubbock, so it's safe to assume that they were well known in Lubbock at the time this flyer was produced.
The duo formed in 1939, which seems to correspond with the general vintage of the collection of the miscellany I've been scanning and posting on this site. In 1941, they recorded "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold," which Elvis Presley turned to money when he recorded a pop version in 1956. Here's a recording of the original version, courtesy of YouTube.
The scan appears to be a promotional flyer, on heavy card stock, and it highlights the group's appearances on the era's Big Dogs of Texas radio: WBAP (Fort Worth), KPRC (Houston), and WOAI (San Antonio).
The "Bewley" in the name refers to Bewley Mills, a flour company. What was it about flour companies that made them sponsors of musical groups on the radio?
According to the group's website, at one time the Chuck Wagon Gang was Columbia Record's second highest selling artist, behind only Xavier Cugat and just ahead of some upstart hillbilly named Johnny Cash.
An interesting tidbit is that even back then, musicians assumed different names for their public personae. In the case of the CWG, Dad was Dave Carter, and he was the father of Anna (real name Effie), Rose (Lola), and Jim (Ernest). I have no idea who Cy is...perhaps the announcer?
In my hand, if I pointed it just right
You oughta heard what come to me at night
On that little transistor, my big sister's radio.
So many DJs from so far away
You oughta heard the records they would play,
On that little transistor, my big sister's radio.
Tommy Castro's song, Big Sister's Radio (from his most excellent album, Painkiller), paints a picture of a time and practice that's probably quite familiar to those of us who grew up in rural areas during rock-and-roll's "Golden Age" (I'll let you figure out when, exactly, that was). I have fond memories of sleep outs in our back yard, under star-filled West Texas skies, listening to the same kind of transistor radio described by Castro ("...one speaker...one dial").
Depending on weather conditions, we could pick up border-blaster stations from just across the Rio Grande (XERF, XELO), Fort Worth (WBAP), and of course, everyone's favorite, KOMA in Oklahoma City.
KOMA was cutting edge rock-and-roll, and I was oddly mesmerized by the incantation of the exotic places where various dances, concerts, and drag races were taking place...such as Lawton, Hutchinson, Enid, Elk City, and Liberal. I could only imagine how cool those places were. (And, to paraphrase Paul Simon, reality could never match my sweet imagination.)
Anyway, these memories were resurrected by another item from Debbie's mom's collection of memorabilia, which I introduced yesterday.
I haven't been able to find much about Monte Magee. On this site, there's a reference to his being a radio personality from San Antonio, and in a catalog of copyright entries, under Musical compositions, there's a reference to a 1938 song entitled In that old fashioned way where the music and words are attributed to a Monte Magee. That year is consistent with the dates of the other items in the memorabilia collection, so I assume it's the same guy.
Now, in case you're wondering, 1938 was WELL before the time I was listening to KOMA on that little transistor radio, and I somehow doubt that the DJs of my time were wearing suits and classy striped ties. But I'm sure some kid, somewhere - perhaps in another area of rural Texas - was held in thrall by Magee's voice and music.
I suspect that most people in Texas have at least heard of the LCDs, which, according to Wikipedia (the font of all human knowledge, or at least semi-informed opinion and/or conjecture) bills itself as "the longest-running country band in the world." The group was created in 1931 to promote the products of Burrus Mill and Elevator Company of Fort Worth, Texas, back when radio advertising was in its infancy. That company's president, Pappy O'Daniel, was parodied in the movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? The LCDs had a very popular live radio show that ran more than twenty years. For a comprehensive history of the group, check out a book entitled The Light Crust Doughboys are on the air: celebrating seventy years of Texas music.
Near as I can tell, Parker Willson fronted the band as emcee during the period around 1939-41. The photos below are scans of the flyer, and the reference to Vocalion Records on the reverse side seems to indicate that this was a promotional piece put out by that studio. The Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940 (again, according to Wikipedia), which further narrows down the age of the flyer.
Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.
Bluegrass Funk/Pop: Heavenly or Hellacious? You decide...
September 27, 2010 12:59 PM | Posted in: Music
Now, a bluegrass group called The Cleverlys has resurrected the 80s pop classic, Walk Like an Egyptian, originally performed by The Bangles.
I have to admit that the latter performance borders on mesmerizing, especially the scary drummer. I'm not sure I'd want to meet up with him during a canoe trip in the Ozarks.
Latter link via Neatorama
The ad wisely omits lyrics such as "There's a lake of gin we can both jump in," "...little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks," "There's a lake of stew and of whiskey too," and "...where they hung the jerk that invented work." (According to Wikipedia, the original version of the song also contained a verse laced with profanity and a vulgar reference. You can read all the lyrics, sans that original verse that never made it to an actual recording, here. Ironically, the website with the lyrics is the National Institutes of Health's "Kids' Pages.")
Granted, this song has been recorded many times through the years by such family-oriented artists as Burl Ives and included on the Care Bears Karaoke CD - with "sanitized" lyrics, of course - and I suspect that many if not most listeners have no idea about the context or actual lyrics of the entire song. But that still doesn't lessen my surprise that it would end up in a national advertising campaign for a company like L.L. Bean.
Whenever we'd try to watch a DVD, the TV would display a fuzzy pink-tinged picture, something that I'm pretty sure didn't accurately reflect the content of the disc. Then, it would display a message like "resolution not supported" and go blank. The cycle would start over, and while it occasionally would end with the DVD playing properly, more often we had to give up on it. The problem was that I was never sure if it was the DVD player, the receiver, the TV, or a combination of two or more of them. All three have the capability of upconverting non-HD signals, and I feared that they just weren't playing well together. And, of course, the documentation read like, well, stereo instructions.
I tried everything I could think of...swapping out HDMI cables, toggling the conversion settings on all the devices, and...well, that's all I could think of to try, to be honest. I finally had the brilliant idea of connecting the DVD player directly to the TV, and it played perfectly. That, combined with the fact that even the cable box/DVR that was routed through another HDMI connector on the receiver led me to believe that the receiver's HDMI circuit board had issues. I googled the problem and found that others had experienced HDMI problems with Onkyo A/V receivers, albeit not with our particular model.
The receiver is still under warranty, so I contacted the store I ordered it from (Vann's Inc., via Amazon.com) and they immediately diagnosed it as a defective unit and offered to exchange it or issue a refund. I was very impressed, until they added that these options were available only if I shipped the unit back to them in the original packaging. That packaging included a box big enough to house a refrigerator, and we didn't want to use an entire spare bedroom just to store an empty cardboard box. So, Vann's washed their hands of the issue.
Next stop: Onkyo's customer support. I emailed them and received a response within a couple of days (along with an apology for the delayed reply). They directed me to one of their service centers for warranty work. Of course, the closest such center is in Denver, so I've got to ship a 40 pound piece of electronics up there and the turnaround is 2-3 weeks, assuming they have the parts in stock to fix it. So be it.
The upside is that we've greatly simplified our remote control situation once more. And we can still watch the Blu-ray player by connecting it directly to the TV. But the absence of surround sound makes an HD DVD a less than satisfying experience. What I really miss is the ability to play music on the front and back porches.
Why am I sharing this? No real reason, other than it might help someone else diagnose a similar problem. And, I guess, also to point out that in light of the kinds of problems we could be having, this one's not too bad.
This Random Thursday post is going to be a little different than most, because I'm going to freestyle it, sort of like Kid Rock on the CMT Awards last night. Which, by the way, I didn't see because Debbie was off partying at the country club and didn't remind me about it, but I have viewed a few clips via the CMT website. I know most of you country music purists think that pairing Kid Rock and Hank Williams, Jr. is blasphemy, but it's stuff like that that keeps the genre commercially viable and allows the more traditional musicians to keep earning a living. That's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. (Whatever happened to Collin Raye, anyway?)
Race Across America (RAAM - Motto: "Where'd that "M" Come From?") started this week (or continues to start...the women started on Tuesday, the men started yesterday, and the team race begins on Saturday). In case you're not familiar with it, RAAM is a bicycle race across...well, you know. People claim that the Tour de France is the world's toughest bike race, but I disagree. RAAM racers ride further than TDF riders, and they do it in days, not weeks. There are no rest days, no drafting, and no team support for the solo riders. Even the teams ride relay-style. The course features a horrifying 100,000 feet of climbing.
A couple of the solo women are riding recumbents. Barbara Butois hopes to be the first French woman to complete the race, and Sandy Earl is an American.
In honor of RAAM, let's check out a couple of cycling-related resources. There's something about the bicycle that makes people want to customize or improve on its style. I think it's the inherent simplicity of the basic form, and the direct connection between rider and vehicle that stirs the imagination. Here are two articles that showcase some beautiful and/or bizarre permutations.
I particularly like the model with the square wheels (in the second article), and also the bicycling monorail concept in the first article. Here's the demo video of the latter:
Brett Domino (the head geek) will surely be an integral part of the Napoleon Dynamite sequel, if ever there is one.
Here's how you know that you're about to tackle a serious piece of electronic equipment:
"At least 2 people"? Granted, it weighs forty pounds, but it sounds to me like somebody's got an overzealous legal department.
The really scary thing is that the owner's manual weighs almost as much as the receiver.
- When we built this house two years ago I wired it for 7.1 surround sound. We had the four rear speakers installed in the ceiling at the time so they could be painted to match, but two of them have never been connected because our current receiver is an old-and-busted 5.1 model. The new receiver will enhance our listening pleasure by approximately...let's see, carry the one...20%. (The new box is actually a 7.2 receiver; I guess the .2 means that we could run two sub-woofers, but I have no idea why I'd want to do that. I value our drywall too much.)
- Our current receiver also does not have an HDMI connector, meaning that the digital HD cable signal is bypassing the receiver completely, going from the cable box directly to the display. So the picture is great, but the audio - well, not so much. Plus, whenever we want to watch a DVD, I have to plug a separate S-Video cable into the side of the TV, which looks ugly in addition to being less than optimal for picture quality. (I knew that eventually I'd have HDMI capabilities, so I didn't go to the trouble to run an S-Video cable through the wall to the TV...in case you're wondering.) The new receiver has six HDMI ports, which should pretty much satisfy our hi-def connection needs for, say, the next two decades, or until something better comes out next month.
- This means that we can upgrade to a Blu-Ray player if we so desire. Perhaps April will be a good month, too, although Blu-Ray machines are becoming almost ridiculously inexpensive, at least compared to where they started.
- And, finally, because the new receiver supports music streaming by Ethernet, I can finally see if the CAT-5 cable I had run from my office over to the A/V bookshelf actually works. Or, to be more precise, I can finally see if I know how to hook things up so that my computer will talk to the receiver and make sweet music together.
What I am simultaneously dreading/looking forward to is disconnecting everything from the old receiver and trying to get it all plugged into the right places on the new one. And, because of the "cascading upgrade" effect, I'll have to do this multiple times, as I move the old receiver into another room to replace and even older one, and move that even older one into a room without one at all.
Now, I realize that song lists are generally pretentious and/or boring to readers, because the poster is probably trying to communicate how cool or open-minded or sensitive he is by the music he chooses. But, mine is the exception. Really.
- Jump the Blues - Wayne Hancock (rockabilly-meets-western swing featuring some virtuoso pickers of the steel persuasion)
- I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink - Merle (the Pearl) Haggard (amazing at how many words rhyme with "drink" when you're from Oklahoma or Texas)
- Horse Doctor, Come Quick - Corb Lund Band (best tribute to a veterinarian I've ever heard)
- Too Much Tequila/Perfidia/Ciliegi Rosa (medley) - Gruppo New Condor (you may not recognize the names but you know the songs)
- Ciliegi Rosa - The Mambo Kings Orchestra (what can I say...I was already in the mood; this arrangement is firmly entrenched in the Seventies)
- Confidently Wrong - Jason Eady (great lyrics wrapped in a solid country two-step)
- Oh Well - Billy Burnette (cover of Fleetwood Mac song; love the string bass break)
- Hillbilly Bone - Blake Shelton & Trace Adkins ("I got a friend in New York City; he never heard of Conway Twitty...")
- Gunpowder and Lead - Miranda Lambert (a cautionary tale for guys who think they're tough)
- Why Don't We Just Dance? - Josh Turner (I'd like to hear Josh and Trace Adkins do a bass-off)
- Blindsided (Mile High Klub Remix) - Lucy Woodward (I don't know; I just love Lucy)
- I Want You - Savage Garden (this song reminds me of another one, you know?)
- You Don't Have to Say You Love Me - Dusty Springfield (it was last on the list, and it's hard to cool down when Dusty's heating things up)
The party's gone public, grab your dancin' shoes
Pass it around 'til we all get stoned
We'll all come down when the money's all gone.
Everybody's livin', everybody's high
Everybody's sellin' so buy, baby, buy
Everything's had and nothing is owned
Around it goes 'til the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone we'll get back to work
Get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It's an ill wind doesn't blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should.
It might not be the worst thing after all...
When the money's all gone.
There's only so much that can go around
The top goes up but the bottom goes down
Call it what you want to
Tell me I'm wrong
We'll all find out when the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone we'll get back to work
Get back in the garden, get back in the dirt
It's an ill wind doesn't blow some good
We can put it back together the way that we should.
It might not be the worst thing after all...
When the money's all gone.
Lose a little, you can scream and shout
But you gotta lose big 'fore they bail you out
They'll buy the bank so they can take your home
They don't need you anymore when the money's all gone.
When the money's all gone...
When the money's all gone.
When the Money's All Gone
Jason Eady & Kevin Wilkins
I've been listening to Jason Eady's music a lot lately, especially the preceding song from the album of the same name. The iTunes Store puts his music into the Country genre, but I think that's too limiting for the mixture of delta blues, zydeco, rock, and gospel that wraps around lyrics that manage to be simultaneously intelligent and catchy. When The Money's All Gone is a perfect example. It's as good an economic commentary as you'll find in the Wall Street Journal, and a heck of a lot more danceable.
If you've ever been curious about what goes on during a professional recording session, this is your chance to find out. They're streaming a session this morning beginning at 10:00 a.m. I assume that they'll provide a link somewhere on the above-referenced sites to allow you to tune in. (Unfortunately, I have a client meeting at the same time so I won't be able to watch.)
Update: I just realized that "Wednesday, January 19th" is an impossibility for 2010. Kyle, you need to check your calendar, bud.
More unexpected is a new appreciation for country music. As our dancing abilities have improved, we've become more discerning in matching up music to dance steps, and we were surprised to find that country music isn't just an endless series of Two Steps. We've waltzed, cha-cha'd, rumba'd, and swung to country songs. And the Two Step is really just a straight-line foxtrot. About the only steps we've not been able to apply to country music thus far are the tango and the samba, and we're so clumsy at the latter that we don't miss it. [Update: George Strait's River of Love is a pretty good samba.]
I listen almost exclusively to the Outlaw Country station on the Sirius XM station in my car, and Debbie has her car radio tuned to a local country station (she's less enamored with the "outlaw" version of the genre, and I have to admit that some of the stuff they play can be pretty obnoxious; 50 Cent has nothing on David Allen Coe when it comes to filthy lyrics). But the channel is also one of the few places where you can routinely listen to some of the country classics: Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Bob Wills...to name a few. I've also been introduced to some of the newer artists like Corb Lund, Lucinda Williams, and Cross Canadian Ragweed (which isn't Canadian at all, unlike Corb Lund).
In the "mainstream" side, musicians such as Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, Zac Brown, and Randy Houser are breathing new life into the genre. Heck, I even like much of what Taylor Swift does, although it's a bit of a stretch to call her "country" (even so, the fact that she writes most of her own material is impressive to me).
Perhaps it's just that one can re-listen to the hits from the 60s and 70s only so much, or that modern pop/rock is too angsty and boring. Or perhaps it's that country music has appropriated what's best from those other genres while still maintaining (for the most part) its original character. It could be that, more often than not, country artists express moral values via their music that more closely aligns with ours. Whatever the reasons, country has breathed new life into our iPods and radios (and dance steps...we're not half bad Two Steppers nowadays). And for someone living in West Texas, that's got to be a Good Thing.
Now, where were we?
- This is pretty exciting. Local singer/songwriter/attorney (and fellow Aggie) Ron Eckert has a new Christmas song out just in time for, well, Christmas. (What are the odds?) The song is entitled The Wench Who Stole Christmas and it's available for purchase and download via CDBaby. The really exciting part is that Wench is one of the featured new listings today on CDBaby's home page (as of a few minutes ago, it's actually the first featured song on that website). Ron will eventually have a couple more original Christmas songs available, but Wench is the one that's getting some area radio airplay. Do him a favor and buy a copy. Better yet, call your local radio station and request the song, and if they say they don't know anything about it, give 'em the equivalent of a teen eyeroll. [Disclosure: Ron's is one of my website clients.]
- I see that the White House party crashers are now claiming that a dead cell phone battery prevented them from hearing the message that their names didn't make the White House guest list. I guess that excuse is the modern equivalent of "the dog ate my homework," and is only slightly more plausible than claiming they were the victims of alien abduction or sleepwalking. Actually, they might have had more credibility had they claimed that a sleepwalking alien dog ate their cell phone battery.
- Someone on Twitter yesterday put forth the notion that Tiger Woods should perhaps hereafter be referred to as Cheetah. *rimshot*
- I realize it's not a laughing matter, but I still get the giggles from a mental picture of Elin Nordegren whaling away on her husband with a 3 iron, and him finally making a clumsy Escalade escape, only to careen off various inanimate objects, with her in hot pursuit. I guess he's fortunate that he doesn't make his living as a big game hunter.
- We spent a very pleasurable evening at the Petroleum Club's Christmas Ball last night, courtesy of my wife's employer. The music, company, and food was all first-rate, as you might expect. However, because of where we were seated, we were among the last tables to be served, and the band had already begun playing by the time we started in on the softball-sized chunk of filet. When a particularly danceable song started, we adjourned to the dance floor...only to return to find that an overly efficient staff had removed our meals!
To add insult to injury, one of the fellows at our table had been left with a solitary dinner roll on his bread plate, and as he reached for it (apparently noticing all the covetous glances from his tablemates), a white-coated server grabbed it from the table and made off with it. No bread for you!
Fortunately, we had availed ourselves of plenty of appetizers and had put away enough of the main course that we weren't exactly deprived of calories. But you can bet that when the dessert arrived, we never let it out of our sight.
Even if you're not a Queen fan, be sure and watch at least the last 20 seconds or so.
The video captures the amazing beauty of the Big Bend area that exists not just in awe-inspiring panoramas, but also in exquisite details. If you have a love for West Texas, I assure you that you'll to happy to spend eight minutes watching this production.
Here's a tip: just because a song mentions Jesus and Mary - even as proper nouns instead of exclamations - doesn't make it a "spiritual."
Confession: I still have Tarkio Road, the album from which this song came, on vinyl. And, yes, I knew what I was buying when I bought it.
The tinny little speakers in our iPhones are better than nothing, but not by much. On the other hand, we didn't want something that was too big to pack easily in a beach bag or that would have enough oomph to intrude on others whose musical tastes don't correspond with ours (to call our tastes eclectic is an understatement).
A little googling turned up a likely candidate with the catchy name of Chill Pill. This diminutive pair of speakers clip magnetically into one tidy package for storage, but when separated and connected to a sound source, put out a sound that, and I write this without the least bit of exaggeration, is amazing.
The speakers are powered by an internal lithium battery that recharges via your computer's USB port (or iPod A/C adapter).
The neatest feature? The top of each speaker is spring-loaded and with a twist they pop up a bit and provide a little boost in the bass output. They won't rattle any windows, but, again, that's not what we wanted. Still, the frequency range is pretty incredible for speakers of this size.
For $40, I have a hard time believing you'll find a better sounding pair of speakers for your iDevice than the Chill Pill. Highly recommended.
*OK, back then the preferred tanning application was baby oil. Can you say "deep fried teens"?
As I said, I find this compelling for several reasons. First, I like the song (If I Can Dream of a Better Land), which, despite its naive and vaguely hippie-ish lyrics (not to mention its questionable theology), still provides some dramatic musicality.
Second, I like both performers. Dion is one the biggest-selling female singers in history and one of the few contemporary performers that I'd pay to see in concert, and Presley's musical legacy is unquestioned. Michael Jackson may have been the King of Pop, but Elvis needed no such qualifier.
Finally, I'm intrigued by the technology that brought two performers from different generations (the original footage for this video was from a 1968 concert, the year Dion was born). The video is one of those productions where your first thought is wow!, followed closely by I wonder how they did that?" With regard to the second thought, well, to borrow a line from Apple, there's a video for that:
Some YouTube commenters excoriate the creators of this video (Hollywood technical experts David C. Fein and Marc Fusco, operating on YouTube as "2livefools") for what they deem to be unfair criticism of the techniques and quality of the "spliced video," but I think the creators are simply offering unbiased and expertly professional observations. They're making no judgments about the quality of the performances (indeed, they go out their way to comment that it appears that Dion's performance was intentionally toned down out of respect to Elvis).
- Anyone who's tried their hand at editing videos will appreciate the effort it takes to achieve something like this. And while 2livefools repeatedly state how simple it was to create the duet, that's only because they're no doubt used to working with the latest technology (hardware and software) and large budgets. For the rest of us, this pairing of Elvis and Céline represents sufficiently advanced technology as to be indistinguishable from magic.
P.S. If you're a purist and insist on a Canadian-free version of Elvis's performance, here's the original: