Monday, January 26, 2015

Paraprosdokian & New Yorker Caption Contest - Bulletin Board post of the Day

Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

Pepper and Salt Cartoon: "What would happen if you put down your weapon and tried to work things out peacefully?"

Caption Contest:  Wright Brother's plane outside flight desk for Chicago.  (My entry: "It's the Cubs' team plane.  They got it after their most recent World Series.")

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Beautiful Bones, by Kelley Hunt (Album of the Week)

A work friend gave me this CD, and I let it gather a bit of dust before I bothered to listen to it.  When I finally fired it up, I had zero expectations – I knew only that I was going to be listening to a woman, and that the person who gave it to me was unlikely to be handing me hard-core rap or metal. 

Listening to Kelley Hunt for the first time, you get the sense that you’re catching a star about to burst on the scene.  She was born in Kansas City, but now lives in a lesser town a little less than an hour west.  Her music reflects a life in the Midwest – a crossroads of styles and influences.  She says that “The Beautiful Bones” of the title are the varieties of music that shaped her style.

She has a diva’s voice – deep, resonant, and soulful.  Her sound is gospel-infused, bluesy, honkytonk soul.  Her piano playing jumps, and the rest of her band is tight and talented.  I haven’t seen her live, but I’ll be keeping an eye on her website for concert dates in town. 

I remember once seeing a skit where a blues musician’s career was ruined by a string of good luck, and that premise could have been ripped from this album.  This is not a dark, deep, bluesy album, though the arrangements would do justice to stories of shady lovers and drunken regrets.  Her songs are brimming with optimism and joy – a far cry from traditional blues.

The closest she comes to complaining is her defiance of the rightwing politicians in her state: “I’m taxed enough already/No law should fence us in/But they worry who’s in my bedroom/They’ll make a law, it might be a sin”, but even that comes in a song named “I’ve Got a Good Feeling” and it’s followed by the lyrics, “I can’t put my finger on it/Don’t know why I feel this way/But I can’t help but thinkin’/Everything is gonna be okay/I’ve got a good, a good feeling/You know I’ve got a really good feeling/I have got a good feeling about today.”  Can it be gospel if she’s arguing for freedom in the bedroom?  Can it be blues if she’s got such a good feeling?

There are lots of pleasant surprises here.  “This Time” kicks off the album with a jumping horn section and calls on people to be who they were born to be.  “Golden Hour” has a background chorus celebrating glory days.  “Let it Rain” is a soaring pick-me-up.  “Simplify” has a solid message and just enough electric guitar spice to keep it from being preachy.

I liked this CD more than Robin did over at Deliberate Obfuscation, though I share her not-quite-entirely-captivated feeling.  For me, the album is all smiles.  She can sing this whole album to her mother and grandmother without risk of offense.  This is the Kelley Hunt that can sing at church meetings – she doesn’t want politicians to legislate her bedroom, but she’s not going to make you think there’s anything exciting going on in there.  There’s nothing wrong with positivity, but for me to really fall in love with this artist, I’m going to need to see another dimension.

If her next album is less rigorously sunny and proper, she’s going to be the star that she’s capable of becoming.

Next up: "No Cities to Love", by Sleater-Kinney


Friday, January 23, 2015

Elizabeth Blackwell - Bulletin Board Post of the Day

166 years ago today, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree.  

"If society will not admit of woman's free development, then society must be remodeled."

Cartoon:  "I really can't emphasize this enough, Peters -- you no longer work here."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Money is like Muck - Bulletin Board Post of the Day

"Money is like muck, not good except it be spread." - Francis Bacon

Cartoon - Calvin has a terrible day, and, at the end, observes, "You, know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don't help."  Hobbes replies, "Well, you've done all you can do."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Advantage through persistence - Bulletin Board Post of the Day

Advantage comes not from the spectacular or technical.  Advantage comes from a persistent seeking of the mundane edge.  - Tom Peters

Cartoon - Bird singing - "The perennial favorite - 'This is My Tree and If You Even Think of Flying Near Here I'll Peck Your Eyes Out."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bulletin Board Post of the Day - Donor Service as a Surrogate

"Donors have little way to assess your charity's work; they use the service you provide to them as a surrogate." - Adrian Sargeant

Cartoon - Apartment shoppers in vast space: "It's a terrific space, Tony - but do you think the TV will fit?"

Monday, January 19, 2015

Bulletin Board Post of the Day - Emotion and Reason

"The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions." - Donald Calne
Cartoon - Minister in front of sparsely attended funeral - "He brought joy to tens."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Absent Fathers, by Justin Townes Earle (Album of the Week)

You can dive deep, way deep, in your understanding of this album, and others have done so.  If you're a miner for meaning, stake your claim in this album and get to work.  The son of Steve Earle, named after his godfather Townes van Zandt, abandoned by his father as a toddler, drug addict son of a drug addict, kicked out of his father's band, now happily married and apparently turning his life around - well, step up to the white board and start diagramming the levels of depth here.

Robin does a bit of that analysis over at Deliberate Obfuscation, where she scoffs at Justin's claim that this album is not aimed at his father.  She's right, of course, though she, too, is hooked by the outstanding musicianship on the album.

I know it's all there, but something about this album is too damned good for me to want to dissect it.  From the opening thud to the closing high note, I just want to revel in the sound of this amazing album.  The bass, the snare drum, the guitars and that yowling voice of Justin's.  That's what he asks of us in the opening track:
So if you have any heart
If you've any heart at all,
Then you just sit right back down
And listen to me talk.
On the other hand, I'll acknowledge that those who want to delve deep into the meaning are served a juicy morsel in the following line:
I've suffered for your foolish heart and your desperate needs
Now after all this time you're still slipping farther from me
All this in the opening track of an album named "Absent Fathers" (recorded at the same time as an earlier-released album named "Single Mothers") - yeah, the album certainly warrants the close attention it is receiving elsewhere.  This is like a Pick Up Sticks game with needle-sharp sticks of emotional pain.

But the sound is the thing for me.  Classic barroom country music, but it sounds a bit closer and a lot more personal.  There's a lot of beautiful steel guitar on this album, and I've already mentioned the snare drum and Earle's flexible voice, but it's not a show-off album of soaring instrumental solos.  It's so perfectly in balance that I don't want to think about how serious it all is.

I read somewhere that great music can create nostalgia for a place you've never been.  That's exactly how this album works for me.  I'm the son of a caring father, haven't had any major breakdowns or been through rehab, I'm married to the girl I fell in love with when I was 18, and I've lived in the same house for over a quarter century.  Justin Townes Earle and I are not exactly living parallel lives, are we?  And maybe nostalgia isn't exactly the right term to describe what I feel when I hear about Justin's rougher life of despair and abandonment.

I can imagine listening to this album over a dive bar's sound system, peeling the labels off of Budweiser long necks and shuffling through a slow waltz in my cowboy boots with someone I just met when I hear "When the One You Love Loses Faith".  I don't even own cowboy boots, and I'm certainly not a dancer, but that's what comes to mind for me, not the genuine reality of what Justin Townes Earle was describing.  Listening to great county music makes you feel sorry for yourself, even if you don't need or deserve the sympathy.

If you're more caring than I am, and you want to plumb the depths of Justin Townes Earle's Dante-esque miseries, you'll love this album.  If you're like me, you'll love the music and the emotional tourism it brings.  Either way, this is a truly great album, and I'm pretty certain it will wind up near the top of 2015.

Next up:   The Beautiful Bones, by Kelley Hunt

Friday, January 16, 2015

Bulletin Board Post of the Day - Optimism is true moral courage.

by Ernest Schackleton.

Dog cartoon - "It's always 'Sit,' 'Stay,' 'heel.'  It's never "Think,' 'Innovate,' 'Be yourself.'"

Superman in a window seat - "I have to warn you, I don't exactly have a bladder of steel."

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Bulletin Board Post of the Day

"One of the first things you learn when you travel is that nowhere is magical unless you can bring the right eyes to it.  You take an angry man to the Himalayas, he just starts complaining about the food."
- Pico Iyer

Dog cartoon - "It's always 'Sit,' 'Stay,' 'heel.'  It's never "Think,' 'Innovate,' 'Be yourself.'"

Caveman with fire cartoon - "Great little product, but the liability could eat you up."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone", by Lucinda Williams (Album of the Week)

Reviewing an "Album of the Week" is a project that Robin over at Deliberate Obfuscation and I started last year as a solution to the calcification of our musical tastes.  We love seeing live music, but didn't know much about most of the bands that come through town.  So we decided to start choosing an album we would both listen to for the week, and then write separate reviews.  We don't discuss our impressions in any depth at all during the week, to avoid influencing each other.  Sometimes we disagree strongly, but we usually agree in a general sense.  Never before, though, have we come close to writing the same damned review, but that's pretty much what happened this week.

For this year’s first “Album of the Week”, Robin and I tackle Lucinda Williams’ “Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone”, a double album released in 2014.  20 tracks spread over almost 2 hours, this is a big dose of music from an artist I’ve long admired.  Well-written, well-performed and well worth the $5 Amazon download, this album would have knocked someone out of my 2014 top ten list if I had invested the time to listen to it a few months ago.

Some instant classics pop out of this colossus.  “Cold Day in Hell” is a smoldering break-up song, in which she assures her former lover that it will be a cold, cold day in hell before he gets to use and confuse her again.  It’s a honky-tonk slow dance classic, with wailing guitar solos that break your heart.  

“Wrong Number” is cut from the same cloth.  Simple slow music sung with intensity.

It’s not only sad slow songs on this album, though.  “Stand Right by Each Other” brings a little energy to the party, in the form of a make-up song:

Babe I care too much, I won't give up that easy
So give me that much, baby don't give up on me
If you could see yourself the way I see you baby
Then you could see for yourself why I don't want nobody else
We gotta stand right by each other
We gotta try harder baby
I got stand right by you
And you gotta stand right by me

You’re never going to hear Lucinda Williams warble a glossy Taylor Swift dance number, but there’s a clear-eyed optimism that prevents her from being a Debbie Downer.  She explains her approach in “When I Look at the World”:

I've been out of luck
I've been talked about
I've been locked up
I've been shut out
I've had some bad dreams
I’ve been filled with regret
I've made a mess of things
And been a total wreck
I've been disrespected
and taken for a ride
I've been rejected
and had my patience tried
But then I look at the world
in all its glory
I look at the world
And it's a different story
each time I look at the world

It doesn’t hurt the album that she assembled some great musicians to accompany her.  Some critics have complained that the album feels “padded” with extra guitar playing, but they’re simply wrong.  The guitar work on this album provides the bedrock that everything else grows on – it transforms the lyrics from barely passable poetry to expressive music. 

Speaking of poetry, the title of the album comes from a poem written by her father.  She reworks the poem into the opening track, and it’s a beautiful piece that stands apart from the rest of the album.  Always show compassion, she advises in a lean acoustic setting, because what comes across as conceit, bad manners or cynicism is

Always a sign
of things no ears have heard
Always a sign
of things no eyes have seen
You do not know
What wars are going on
Down there, where the spirit meets the bone

Friends, I wish I had listened to this album a few months ago so that I could have listed it in my “Top 10”, but, on the other hand, I’m happy I started out my 2015 listening with such a wonderful and important album.

Next up, Absent Fathers, by Justin Townes Earl

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2014

I've seen where others are complaining that this was a mediocre year musically, and I won't quarrel with that perspective.  It's been decades since I have even listened to 10 new albums, so I can't compare this to other years.

That said, I truly enjoyed reviewing albums of the week with Robin, over at Deliberate Obfuscation.  My original top 10 list had 23 in it - proof, to me, that there is a LOT of great music out there.  The fact that I couldn't find room for U2's Songs of Innocence or the outstanding album by St. Vincent is astonishing.  If those claiming this wasn't a great year are correct, I can't wait for 2015!

Without further ado, here are my Top 10, with one sentence each of explanation.  If you want to read the full review, click on the link.

1.  Home Town Heroes, by Hurray for the Riff Raff.  A gem of bluegrass, Americana and New Orleans I discovered in the Wall Street Journal. 

2.  Vari-Colored Songs, by Leyla McCalla.  McCalla is a classically trained cellist who puts Langston Hughes' poems to music and the result is shockingly good.

3.  Lazaretto, by Jack White.  A guitar genius at the top of his game puts out an album that is touching, meaningful, a bit out of control and deranged.

4.  1989, by Taylor Swift.  Top-notch, glossy pop music - if you don't like this, you're a grumpy old man.

5.  Diploid Love, by Brody Dalle.  Brody Dalle snarls like Joan Jett, crafts like Pat Benatar, and then cranks it all up to 11.

6.  Run the Jewels 2, by Run the Jewels.  I should be offended, and I am, kind of, but it's catchy and engaging.

7.  G I R L, by Pharrell Williams.  When you hear the infections "Happy", you get the idea, but it's a lot more lewd that.

8.  Art Official Age, by Prince.  Fun, classic, lewd Prince.

9.  Give the People What They Want, by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. If the people want classic, enjoyable, snap-your-fingers funk and soul with clear and brassy-voiced female vocalist, this album is exactly what they want.

10.  Transgender Dysphoria Blues, by Against Me!. Punk lives, and this album adds gender transition to the list of topics tackled by the genre.