Friday, July 24, 2015

Music Friday: "Speed Trap Town"

If you read my previous post, you know why I'm featuring this song today. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stay Positive: Something More Than Free by Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell garnered all manner of acclaim after the release of Southeastern, which won album of the year at the Americana Music Awards but, predictably, didn't win the Americana album of the year at the Grammys.

Southeastern is one of the finest albums to come out from anyone in decades, so Mr. Isbell had a tall order writing a follow-up album. If I had to compare Southeastern to a baseball squad (something Isbell might appreciate because he's a baseball fan, in particular a Braves fan), I'm thinking the '27 Yankees. Sluggers up and down the lineup.

His new album, Something More Than Free, has a lot of live up to. And while Southeastern is a superb album, I still pine for Isbell's music that has a rockier tinge ~ if you recall tunes like "Never Gonna Change," "Goddamn Lonely Love," "Grown" (one of my favorites from his first album), "However Long," "Soldiers Get Strange," etc. Heck, if you listen to the first five songs of Here We Rest, you get the idea of the idea of what I'm talking about. 

But that is all minor complaining really. I'm just being picky. Sure, I'd like to have more electric-guitar-forward songs on his latest albums, but that wish flattens out with repeated listens to Something More Than Free

To take up baseball comparisons again, the new album could be compared to the 1995 Braves

And as I look at the lineup of songs, the first four are solid hitters. I envision three of the four batters getting singles in a baseball game with "24 Frames" getting a double or maybe a triple. 

Then comes the four power hitters of the lineup: "Children of Children," "The Life You Chose," "Something More Than Free," and "Speed Trap Town." Just fantastic songs.

Having followed Isbell's music closely since he was in Drive-By Truckers and then went solo, I see some common themes in this album with his earlier work: regret, flight, desire, nostalgia, bad decisions, grim optimism, sadness, loss, alienation, et al.

The album starts out of a pleasant tune, but looking more deeply, the lyrics of "If It Takes a Lifetime" reveal a pessimistic tone. When hearing, "I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by,/ If it takes a lifetime," I get the sense that the persona of the song will never find happiness. "If it takes a lifetime" lingers in the air. Big "if." Later on, some of my favorite lines in the song provide this outlook: "A man is the product of all the people that he ever loved./ It don't make a difference how it ended up." I hope that's true. 

"24 Frames" provides one of the more interesting choruses I've heard in a long time: "You thought God was an architect. Now you know/ He's something like a pipe-bomb ready to blow./ And everything you've built that's all for show goes up in flames/ In twenty-four frames." I doubt the rubes who run radio stations will play a song comparing God to a pipe bomb. Their loss. 

The first of the power hitters, "Children of Children," could invite some criticism from the liberal intelligentsia (and I say this as someone who would be considered "liberal") because people could interpret it as a coming out against single motherhood. That would be flat-out stupid. The lyrics stoically look at teenage pregnancy with music that reminds me of Neil Young. 

If there's a song out there that in one line references Jack Daniels and in the next line references The Bell Jar, I'd like you to find it. The themes of flight, desire, and nostalgia resonate throughout "The Life You Chose." 

If people don't listen closely enough, they could see "Something More Than Free" as some kind of positive workingman's anthem, similar to how some people think "Born in the USA" and "Pink Houses" are optimistic songs about America. The persona of the song clearly is working too damn hard and has no life outside of working at least two jobs. When the persona thanks God or feels "lucky" "for the work," you get the sense that the character of the song is underpaid and overworked with no recourse or way out. 

As stunning as "Elephant" was on Southeastern, I think "Speed Trap Town" is its equal. It's a gut-wrenching song about a guy wanting to flee his hometown as his dad dies in an ICU: "But it never did occur to me to leave until 'til tonight/ When I realized he'll never be alright./ Sign my name and say my last goodbye, then decide./ There's nothing here that can't be left behind." 

The last two songs are odes to Charleston, SC and Centro-matic. The former, "Palmetto Rose" is a fun, jaunty number with soul. The latter, "To a Band That I Loved" surprised me because when I think of Centro-matic, fuzz-laden electric guitars come to mind. In contrast, the song is a slower-moving melodic treatise on the early days of the band when Isbell played with them when he wasn't touring with DBT. It's a song I didn't care for at first, but it's grown on me. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Music Friday: "Surfin' Bird"

Some commercial has this old tune tattooed in my brain as of late. 

You might as well enjoy this earworm too. 

Of course, you might also know it from Family Guy

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Chinese Cabbage & Kale Salad

I planted Chinese cabbage in my garden this season. This recipe is an adaptation of an online recipe I found and the Asian kale salad I made recently. 

1 head of Chinese cabbage, chopped roughly
4 fronds of kale, stems taken out and chopped roughly
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cup of vidalia onion
1 10 oz. package of steamed edamame, shells discarded
1/2 cup of rice vinegar
Little less than a 1/4 cup of sesame oil
Smidge of reduced sodium soy sauce
Smidge of olive or vegetable oil
Smidge of cracked black pepper

Chop the cabbage and kale and place them in a large mixing boil. Shred the carrot and place in the bowl. Microwave the edamame, pop out the soybeans, and put them in the bowl. Since I hate raw onions, I sautéed the onion in a little olive oil until they were nice and soft. I drained them on a paper towel, let the cool, and added them into the mix. 

In another mixing bowl combine the rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, oil, and black pepper. Whisk briskly. Pour over the cabbage, kale, etc. and toss. Set in the refrigerator and let it chill. 

Stay Positive: Bloom County

As related by NPR, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, among other outlets, Bloom County by Berkeley Breathed is back. 

I'm loving this fact because it is one of my favorite comic strips of all time. 

Because the strip ended with Donald Trump buying the strip and replacing the characters, it'll be interesting to see how Breathed plays with Trump now that he's a presidential candidate. I suspect Mr. Breathed is going to have a lot of fun with the upcoming presidential race. 

Regardless of all that, I'm happy to have the strip back because of its mixture of political and social satire and low humor. 

He's going to publish the strip through his Facebook page, so I'm a bit concerned I'll miss some of the installments. I guess I'll just have to be more disciplined with my Facebook activity.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Random Notes from a Crank

The most recent issue of The Atlantic had a good article about Saudi Arabia moving toward major solar power projects: "Why the Saudis Are Going Solar." The initiative has political and reference-point hurdles, but part of the impetus behind the move  is that Saudis are crazy inefficient with energy consumption: "The Saudis burn about a quarter of the oil they produce." Another major reason behind the solar initiative is $$$. Regardless, as the author, Jeffrey Ball, concludes, "Saudi Arabia's energy challenge is a more extreme version of the one that faces the rest of the world. But if the kingdom's leaders can find the political courage to act decisively, Saudi Arabia, of all nations, could become a model for other countries trying to shift away from oil."

And China is moving toward renewables because of air pollution problems, climate change, and business interests. A National Geographic article concisely relates what's going on: "NASA Photos Show China's Plan to Meet New UN Climate Pledge." China has agreed to halt the rise of greenhouse gases and plans to get at least 20% of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.  

The past couple of weeks my kids have been featured as "swimmers of the week" in the local paper. One of the coaches talks about each kid, and they ask the kids about their favorite strokes and their goals. Local celebrities, people.

Here's another good installment from Existential Comics: "Philosophy News Network: The Death of God." 

I'm thinking about starting up a flip-phone support group in this world awash with people staring at their smartphones. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Music Friday: "Gates of Dawn"

I don't know about this goofy video that features a pseudo minotaur, but here's a song from the recent release of the Heartless Bastards. The new album is titled Restless Ones

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Kale Parmesan Hummus

Since I'm looking for ways to incorporate kale into my diet because I have a crapload of it in my garden, I found a recipe on one of my apps on my iPad and changed it up a bit. 

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and washed
1 large fistful of kale, spines cut out and chopped roughly
2-4 cloves of roasted garlic (depending on how much you want)
1/4-1/3 cup of olive oil
Juice from one half of a small lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

The process is easy. Put all of it into a food processor and blend until you have consistency you want. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Music Friday: "Scream at the Night" & "Something for Nothing"

I tried out an album from a new band (to me). Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band is an outfit from southern Indiana. 

They truck in a bluesy-country-rock, ass kickin' brand of music. The first song is from the album I purchased this week, and the other is from one of the band's first two albums I don't have. Check 'em out. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Stay Positive: Vladimir Guerrero

The international signing period is underway. The Cubs inked a number of players to contracts, but another fact that got my attention is that the Mets signed Gregory Guerrero, who is Vladimir Guerrero's nephew. 

During his peak playing days, I coveted Vlad as a player, but I never could seem to draft him in my fantasy baseball league. He had a cannon for an arm. He'd hit like crazy and drive in rbi. And back in his younger days, he stole some bags. 

Let's take a look at his numbers. 

He played for 16 years ('96-'11). Here are his career numbers (thanks to Baseball Reference):
  • 2,590 hits
  • 477 doubles
  • 449 home runs
  • 1,496 rbi
  • .318 batting average
  • .379 OBP

When he was with the Expos and early on with the Angels, he raked. 

Check out these stat lines per year when he was at his peak:
  • 1998: 108 runs, 38 home runs, 109 rbi, .324 ba,.371 obp
  • 1999: 102 runs, 42 home runs, 131 rbi, .316 ba, .378 obp
  • 2000: 101 runs, 44 home runs, 123 rbi, .345 ba, .410 obp
  • 2001: 107 runs, 34 home runs, 108 rbi, .307 ba, .377 obp
  • 2002: 106 runs, 39 home runs, 111 rbi, .336 ba, .417 obp
  • 2003: 71 runs, 25 home runs, 79 rbi, .330 ba, .426 obp (112 games played and last year with the Expos)
  • 2004: 124 runs, 39 home runs, 126 rbi, .337 ba, .391 obp
  • 2005: 95 runs, 29 home runs, 108 rbi, .317 ba, .394 obp
  • 2006: 92 runs, 34 home runs, 116 rbi, .329 ba, .382 obp
  • 2007: 89 runs, 45 home runs, 125 rbi, .324 ba, .403 obp

Guerrero was one of the best players of his era, and I hope he gets into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, which will be 2017. 

If you want to read more about this fine ball player, check out Jonah Keri's "Vladimir Had Hubris, And He Had Balls." 

While you'll have to put up with hearing crappy music, below is a highlight video for Vlad. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

(Belated) Music Friday: "Little Lights" plus "Look Up"

I'm way late with this post. The boy and I drove over to the Cincinnati area on Friday for my daughter's dance competition. The ladies de Nasty had already gone over there on Wednesday, and we came later because the boy had rookie league games on Wednesday and late Thursday. 

But enough of my excuses. Let's get to the music. 

If you look at the back of the cd case of the Punch Brothers' The Phosphorescent Blues, you'll find all members of the band starting at smart phones with their faces illuminated. 

"Little Lights" closes the band's recent opus. 

While I guess you can read the lyrics as being positive, I see the song as negative and morose, a commentary on our "connectedness" via technology. Turkle's Alone Together comes to mind. 

These verses support my reading: "Look at us we're glowing/ tripping the dark fantastic," "I can love it all to distraction/," Look at us hold each other spellbound/ Every moment a polished silver/ link in a chain forever," and "Guide us back to where we are/ From where we wanna be." 

Here are the full lyrics to the song: 

"Little Lights"

Look at us we're glowing
Tripping the dark fantastic
Singing the phosphorescent 
pinks and blues
To beloved tunes
In beloved rooms
I can love it all to distraction
With this...

Look at us hold each other spellbound
Every moment a polished silver
link in a chain forever
rattling through
Our beloved tunes
In our beloved rooms
God I've loved you all to distraction
With this

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine

Shine little lights of ours
Like Orion's belt of stars
Connected only from afar
Shine little lights of ours
Like Orion's belt of stars
Guide us back to where we are
From where we wanna be

The tune reminds me of the video "Look Up," which I got introduced to this year at one of my daughter's other dance competitions when a large group of ladies danced to the audio of the video. See below. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Random Notes from a Crank

As I was driving down a main road in my town today, coming the other way was a 4x4 pickup truck parading down the road with two large flags situated at the front of the truck's bed, flapping in the wind as it drove. One flag was the American flag. The other was the Stars and Bars. With what happened in Charleston and with the governor of SC wanting to take the Confederate flag down from the state capitol building (as if that act would assuage what happened in that church), you can't pinpoint the motivations for what those two morons in that truck are trying to do. Regardless, it was a spectacle of idiocy I haven't seen in a while.

Roxane Gay has a solid opinion piece in the New York Times: "Why I Can't Forgive Dylann Roof." 

Later that day I was watching my son doing his tae kwon do class. The large women two rows in front of me had one of the uglier tattoos I've seen in a good while. It was on her left shoulder, and it was large version of Hello Kitty, but it was green to make it a zombie Hello Kitty. 

Recently I noticed my son likes saying, "Holy smokes." Then I noticed that I say that too. I can't figure out if I picked it up from him or he picked it up from me. It's a rooster-and-egg thing. 

Since I'm an assistant coach for a machine-pitch baseball team, I've been contemplating pitching a new reality series: Baseball Moms. 

The season premiere of True Detective was quite the episode. Wow. That Colin Farrell character looks like a classic antihero. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Music Friday: "Right on Time" & "Things Happen"

Dawes came out with a new album this month. It's titled All Your Favorite Bands, which comes from a line in one of the songs on the album.

Here are a couple of songs from the album if you want to check them out. One of my favorite tunes on it is "I Can't Think About It Now," but these two songs are more accessible via YouTube. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Random Notes from a Crank

Here are some provocative gleanings from the Harper's Index from the past few months:
  • Portion of American who think it is safe to eat genetically modified foods: 2/5
  • Of U.S. scientists who do: 9/10
  • Percentage of deaths in the developing world caused by chronic diseases: 64
  • Percentage of all medical development aid allocated to fighting chronic diseases: 1
  • Percentage of evangelical Christians under the age of 40 who supported gay marriage in 2003: 20
  • Who do today: 43
  • Percentage of Americans who believe vaccines are safe and effective: 53
  • Who believe that houses can be haunted by ghosts: 54
  • Factor by which a Democratic senator is more likely  than the average Amercian to be a lawyer: 127
  • Projected portion of global wealth that will be held by the richest 1 percent of the world's population by the end of 2016: 1/2
  • Portion of high-school dropouts who say they left school to work: 1/4
  • Portion of those dropouts who earn less than $10,000 per year: 3/5
  • Number of the ten most challenged books at U.S. libraries last year whose main characters are non-white or LGBT: 8

One of the more depressing articles I've read in a while is "Rotten Ice: Traveling by Dogsled in the Melting Arctic" by Gretel Ehrlich in April issue of Harper's

It's officially lightning bug season here in east central Illinois. With all the wet weather we've gotten, they're thick as thieves at night.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Music Friday: "American Idiot"

As a prelude to election season, most of the lyrics of this song seem appropriate.