Friday, December 27, 2013

Music Friday: "Joy to the World"

For the past week, our family has been in Fort Dodge-Humboldt for Mrs. Nasty's family's family reunion. Today after driving from Fort Dodge to Waterloo where we'll stay for a couple of days, this song was the last song on my iPod. My kids love this song.

I'm also an admirer of men who have fine mustaches, and the lead singer has a robust 'stache.  

If I ever grow one, I'll become a member of this fine institution.

Anyway, here's Three Dog Night circa 1975. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Random Notes from a Crank

As Xmas approaches, I've seen all kinds of jewelry commercials. I don't know why anyone would actually name a jewelry company Jared, an innocuous male name but one that reminds of some bitter late-20s dude who lives in his parent's basement. And Kay jewelers, right... Every kiss begins with them supposedly. How annoying. The portrayal of women is both commercials is the same sexist tripe we see lots of places, but I wonder if "If you liked it, you should have put a ring on it" is not much, if at all, different? 

On one of the InterWeb fora I visit regularly, people were talking about their top five John Cusack movies. Lots of people like Say Anything, but it never blew me away like it has other people. I'm a big fan of one of Cusack's early comedies, Better Off Dead. In the midst of the discussion about Say Anything though, I was reminded of Lloyd Dobler's excellent answer about his career interests. 

I don't have a ton to say about the Phil Robertson interview and suspension, but it's not surprising he holds such dumb, intolerant views. As one of my buddies on FB pointed out, Christians don't pay attention to all kinds of passages anymore, such as the ones that condone slavery, so this seems just to be another case of applying silly passages to the real world. The whole deal reminds me of what either H.L. Mencken said about Christianity (or maybe was it Twain?). I'm paraphrasing here, but the statement was something like this: It's not that Christianity is a bad religion. It's just some of the followers are whack-jobs. 

Nevertheless, here are some quotations about religion by Mencken if you're so inclined: Mencken on religion

This statement seems relevant: "The way to deal with superstition is not to be polite to it, but to tackle it with all arms, and so rout it, cripple it, and make it forever infamous and ridiculous. Is it, perchance, cherished by person who should know better? Then their folly should be brought out into the light of day, and exhibited there in all its hideousness until they flee from it, hiding their heads in shame. True enough, even a superstitious man has certain inalienable rights. He has a right to harbor and indulge his imbecilities as long as he pleases, provided only he does not try to inflict them upon other men by force. He has the right to argue for them as eloquently as he can, in season and out of season. He has the right to teach them to his children. But certainly he has no right to be protected against the free criticism of those who do not hold them. He has no right to demand that they be treated as sacred. He has no right to preach them without challenge."

Music Friday: "Relatively Easy"

Because Isbell's album garnered my number one album for the year, I'm featuring the final song on the album, "Relatively Easy," with lyrics.

Relatively Easy
By Jason Isbell

Are you having a long day,
Everyone you meet rubs you the wrong way?
Dirty city streets smell like an ashtray.
Morning bells are ringing in your ear.

Is your brother on a church kick?
Seems like just a different kind of dopesick.
Better off to teach a dog a card trick
Than try to have a point and make it clear.

You should know, compared to people on a global scale,
Our kind has had it relatively easy.
And here with you there's always something to look forward to.
My angry heart beats relatively easy.

I lost a good friend
At Christmas time when folks go off the deep end.
His woman took the kids, and he took Klonopin,
Enough to kill a man of twice his size.
Not for me to understand.
Remember him when he was still a proud man,
A vandal's smile, a baseball in his right hand,
Nothing but the blue sky in his eye.

Still, compared to those a stone's throw away from you,
Our lives have both been relatively easy.
Take a year and make a break--there ain't that much at stake.
The answers could be relatively easy.

Watch that lucky man walk to work again.
He may not have a friend left in the world.
See him walking home again to sleep alone.
I step into a shop to buy a postcard for a girl.

I broke the law boys,
Shooting out the windows of my loft, boys.
When they picked me up I made a big noise,
Everything to blame except my mind.

I should say, I keep your picture with me everyday.
The evenings now are relatively easy.
And here with you there's always something to look forward to.
My lonely heart beats relatively easy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Top Twentysomething Albums of 2013

It's that time of the year again.

As I did in 20102011, and 2012, I'm providing my top twenty albums that came out this year. After the top twenty, there's a list of albums that deserve honorable mention. 

If there are other albums that you think should be in the mix, please let me know in the comments section. 

1. Jason Isbell, Southeastern

If you know me or follow my Music Friday posts regularly, this selection is no surprise. Isbell garnered all kinds of publicity this year for getting sober and producing probably his best record to date. Compared to his other albums, Southeastern is a more low-key affair. This opus represents some of his best songwriting to date. I'd argue that "Elephant," a tune that presents a husband's thoughts about his wife is dying from cancer, is the song of the year. The song should be studied in poetry classes. 

Here's a stanza from "Elephant": "But I'd sing her class country songs, and she'd get high and sing along./ She don't have a voice to sing with now./ We burn these joints in effigy and cry about what we used to be,/ And try to ignore the elephant somehow, somehow." In a darkly humorous moment in "Different Days," the persona reflects on a troubled young lady before him: "Ten years ago I might have seen you dancing in a different light/ and offered up my help in different ways,/ but those were different days." In "Songs That She Sang in Shower," he works in references to Monty Python's "Bring Out Your Dead" and Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here." And finally in "Relatively Easy," Isbell reminds us, "You should know, compared to people on a global scale,/ Our kind has had it relatively easy,/ And here with you there's always something to look forward to./ My angry heart beats relatively easy." There are good reasons why American Songwriter magazine ranked Southeastern as the number one album of 2013.   

Favorite songs: "Stockholm," "Different Days," "Songs That She Sang in the Shower," "Relatively Easy," and "Elephant." 

2. Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt

Maybe I'm starved for a new Pearl Jam album or just hankering for a strong offering of hard rock, but Lightning Bolt gets me going. The boys from Seattle provide an excellent mix of uptempo, mid-paced, and slower tunes. "Future Days" is probably the most romantic Pearl Jam song I know of. It took me by surprise. Many of the other songs have sociopolitical messages if you're listening. Favorite songs: "Swallowed Whole," "Future Days," "Infallible," "Getaway," and "Mind Your Manners." 

3. Caitlin Rose, The Stand-In

I was fond of Ms. Rose's previous release, Own Side Now, but she created a more complete album with this one. Just outstanding. It's classified as country, I guess. She certainly has country influences. Her mom writes songs for Taylor Swift, if you consider Taylor Swift "country." From inspecting married obsolescence in "Pink Champagne" to getting vampy in "Old Numbers," there are solid tunes throughout. Favorite songs: "I Was Cruel," "Waitin'," "Only a Clown," "Everywhere I Go," and "Menagerie." 

4. Blitzen Trapper, VII

One way to describe Blitzen Trapper's sound is funky alt-country. I really like it. I was a big fan of the band's previous release, American Goldwing, which for whatever reasons got panned by some critics. VII may overtake that album as my favorite Blitzen Trapper release. Favorite songs: "Shine On," "Thirsty Man," "Neck Tatts, Cadillacs," and "Drive On Up." 

5. Eels, Wonderful, Glorious

I've been of fan of Mr. Everett's work for some time now after discovering the concept-album trilogy of Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning. Wonderful, Glorious provides a buffet of earwormish grooves. If you were smart and bought the deluxe CD, you get a bonus disc with extra studio tunes (three of the four are excellent) and live performances of past material. Favorite songs: "Stick Together," "Kind of Fuzzy," "Peach Blossom," "Bombs Away," and "Open My Present." 

6. Anders Osborne, Peace

This is the only album I have by this fine gentleman. Yet. I'll be acquiring more sometime. He's a hell of a guitar player. For those of us in the middle-aged crowd, his song "47" will strike a chord. In contrast to the darkly humorous album cover, the lyrics are reflective and smart. Favorite songs: "My Son," "Peace," "47," "Five Bullets," and "Windows." 

7. J. Roddy Walston & The Business, Essential Tremors

I discovered this band through one of the finer music blogs out there, HearYa. This band has all kinds of energy. It's mainly guitar-based rock that might make you get up to wiggle your ass or bang your head a bit. As the opening song says, "All hail, heavy bells." Favorite songs: "Tear Jerk," "Sweat Shock," "Hard Times," and "Heavy Bells." 

8. Sarah Jarosz, Build Me Up From Bones

Well, doesn't Ms. Jarosz look all sassy and determined on that album cover? She's one of the finest musicians out there right now. Her previous releases were strongly bluegrass, but this one ventures in some interesting directions while keeping to the core. If you do not know about this artist, you need to. Favorite songs: "1,000 Things," "Fuel the Fire,"  "The Book of Right-On," and "Over the Edge." 

9. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Made Up Mind

Excellent guitar work and a lead singer with soulful, bluesy voice complemented by eleven other band members--it's that simple. Well, I suspect it's not simple with thirteen people in a band, but it's a damn good album. Favorite songs: "The Storm," "Whiskey Legs," "Misunderstood," and "Made Up Mind." 

10. JJ Grey & Mofro, This River

Mr. Grey, who was recently featured in Oxford American magazine, keeps churning out solid albums, and I keep buying 'em. His swamp-soul-blues-rock is too hard to resist. One of the shining moments on the album is "The Ballad of Larry Webb." Favorite songs: "Harp and Drums," "Somebody Else," "Standing on the Edge," and "Your Lady, She's Shady." 

11. Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork

Of the Queens... albums I have (only have three), I like this one the best. "If I Had a Tail" is one of the better songs of the year. "It's how you look, not how you feel. A city of glass with no heart." Favorite songs: "My God Is the Sun," "Smooth Sailing," "I Appear Missing," and "Keep Your Eyes Pealed." 

12. North Mississippi All Stars, World Boogie Is Coming

As I think I noted when the album came out and I featured a song from the album and an interview with the band, this is one of my favorite NMA albums, one that basically gets back to the roots of what they're doing and why they're doing it. The album reformulates some older material, but it's mainly new songs. Favorite songs: "Boogie," "Shimmy," "Goin' to Brownsville," and "Goat Meat." 

13. Ha Ha Tonka, Lessons

These fellows from southern Missouri put out another fine album. I think it's the band's fourth. The lead singer continued his literary bent with "Colorful Kids." He's clear he's read his fair share of Mark Twain based on those lyrics and from "The Humorist," my favorite song on Death of a Decade. Overall, if you liked the band's previous work, you'll also like this. Favorite songs: "The Past Has Arms," "Rewrite Our Lives," "Lessons," and "Staring At the End of Our Lives." 

14. Deer Tick, Negativity

First off, that's a great album cover. More importantly, it's an important follow-up album to Divine Providence, which was artistically scattered and seemed as if they recorded it while under the influence." Negativity is a cohesive and pleasing album. Favorite songs: "The Dream's in the Ditch," "Pot of Gold," "Mr. Sticks," and "The Rock." 

15. Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, Carnival

Ms. Struthers is a new artist to me, and I'm glad I found her. Her work is straightforward, old-timey bluegrass. Favorite songs: "Party Line," "Listen With Your Heart," "Sourwood Tree," and "Jack of Diamonds." 

16. Amanda Shires, Down Fell the Doves

I was a huge fan of her last album. In fact, it was my top album of 2011. Down Fell the Doves is a good one, but I'm just not as smitten with it as I was with Carrying Lightning. Solid songs all around this disc. Favorite songs: "Wasted and Rollin'," "A Song for Leonard Cohen," "Bulletproof," "Devastate," and "Like a Bird." 

17. Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple

Mount Moriah produces some great music. I still haven't figured out who the lead singer's voice reminds me of. I can't place it for whatever reason. This band reminds me of a number of alternative bands that came out in the 90s that had female lead singers. And that's a compliment. Favorite songs: "Those Girls," "Rosemary," "Eureka Springs," and "Bright Light."

18. Dawes, Stories Don't End

2013 brought us the third album from Dawes. This band helps me when I need a "adult contemporary" fix of sorts. Or are they considered "alternative"? Who the hell knows. Anyway, it's a strong offering, one that possibly equals the quality of Nothing Is Wrong. Favorite songs: "From the Right Angle," "Someone Will," "Just Beneath the Surface," and "From a Window Seat." 

19. The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow

The neo-psychadelic outfit went less experimental with this offering. If you want to get all groovy, this is your album. Favorite songs: "War on Holiday," "I Hear Colors (Chromaeasthesia)," "Evil Things," and "Holland." 

20. Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Lickety Split

Robert Randolph and his band keep on doing their thing--solid ballads and good-time, uptempo tunes. He hits on an important topic in "Welcome Home." And the album has two songs where there's a collaboration with Carlos Santana and one song with Trombone Shorty. Favorite songs: "Welcome Home," "Take the Party" with Trombone Shorty, "Brand New Wayo" with Carlos Santana, and "Amped Up." 

Honorable Mentions

Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion

Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite, Get Up!

James Cotton, Cotton Mouth Man

Josh Ritter, The Beast in Its Tracks

Pokey LaFarge, self-titled

Son Volt, Honky Tonk

Southern Hospitality, Easy Livin'

Trombone Shorty, Say That to Say This

Music Friday: "Heavy Bells"

In my annual and forthcoming Top Twentysomething Albums of 2013, Essential Tremors by J. Roddy Walston & The Business comes in at number 7. 

The opening song of the album should get you energized. I have no idea what the lyrics mean, but I dig the song. 

Regardless, head the lead singer's warning...

You're gonna wake up,
You're gonna wake up,
You're gonna wake up,
Find the heavy bells
Toll their tune for you too.

All hail, heavy bells. 
All hail, heavy bells.
All hail, heavy bells.
All hail, heavy bells.
All hail, heavy bells. 
All hail, heavy bells. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Sausage & Cabbage Soup

This is a two-part recipe because I first made a veggie stock as the base for the soup. 

Here are the ingredients for the vegetable stock:

  • 4 carrots, chopped in large chunks
  • 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
  • half of a green pepper, chopped in large chunks
  • 1 whole bag of frozen broccoli
  • 10 whole peppercorns

I put all of that in a stock pot and covered it with water. The water came up to about two-thirds of the way up the stock pot. I simmered that for approximately two hours, and it reduced by at least a half. I cooled it for a while and then strained the goods. 

Here is the next set of ingredients:
  • 3/4 lb. of smoked sausage
  • half of head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 32 oz. of store-bought chicken stock
  • Healthy smidge of Boquet Garni
  • Good smidge of Penzey's Northwoods seasoning
  • Some garlic powder
  • Some thyme
  • Salt and cracked black pepper

I took three-quarters of a pound of smoked turkey sausage, sliced it thinly, and then browned it in a cast iron skillet. Once browned, I transferred the sausage to a plate covered in a paper towel and then cut up the cabbage. After all that's done, dump in the chicken stock, sausage, cabbage, and seasoning and then simmer it all for about 30 minutes. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Random Notes from a Crank

I try to depend on a Big 10 team to win in that conference's championship game because I don't want Auburn in the BCS Championship, and all I get is disappointment. Thanks Buckeyes. You're a typical Urban Meyer team--good offense with an at-time shaky defense. I have always kind of liked Michigan State though, and they were playing well at the end of the season, so there's a lot of bitter in that bittersweet because Alabama should have won that Iron Bowl. Regardless, the Tide will be in New Orleans to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on January 2nd. 

If there is a team like Alabama though, it's Florida State. Jimbo Fisher used to run Saban's offense when he was the head coach at LSU. When Saban took the job at Alabama, there was rampant speculation that Fisher would become the offensive coordinator at the Capstone, but he kept where he was (FSU, I believe) and then got the head job there after Bowden got forced out. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Music Friday: "Carry Me Back" & "Bobcat Tracks"

My daughter's fourth-grade class is now focusing on the Southeast for the states and capitals. The way it works in her class is that students get to put in for their top-three choices. She requested 1) Alabama, 2) Mississippi, and 3) Virginia. 

She got her third choice, and in the midst of doing research about the state, we found out that the state song of Virginia is "Carry Me Back to Virginia." Interestingly enough, the new album by Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) is titled Carry Me Back, and the lead song is possibly a reformulation of the state song. 

So today I offer OCMS's "Carry Me Back" along with "Bobcat Tracks" from Big Iron World

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Random Notes from a Crank

Sunday we finished putting up our outside Xmas lights. So did the neighbors. For the most part, we're pretty traditional. We have some frosted bulbs outlining the front expanse of the house that I put up on Friday, and Mrs. Nasty placed the garland and lights around the front porch. We have a couple of smaller lighted outdoor knick nacks dotting the front yard. Nothing garish but only celebrating the season. Our neighbors across the street, on the other hand, have some of those damn inflatables: one monstrous penguin with a Santa cap that's probably at least seven-feet tall, another large inflatable of Santa and his sleigh, some large lighted presents, and SpongeBob with a Santa hat. SpongeBob, for God's sake. 

In the spring we will put our house on the market. My daughter, a well-known hater of change, informed us the other day that's she's going to "sabotage" the selling of our house. Her tentative plan is that she's going to plant all kinds of bugs throughout the house, so people won't buy it. Who knows if we'll actually sell it because a) we have to find a buyer and b) we have to find a house in the Charleston metropolitan area we like enough to move to something different. I'd like a home with either a pool, a pond, or a barn. I doubt any of those will happen, but we will not buy a new house without a basement. We saw the destruction a tornado can do when we visited Tuscaloosa last fall. I also need space for some manner of a garden, so we'll see what the market brings this spring. 

The start of December marks the time when the kids and I get into high gear quoting lines from the movie A Christmas Story. We'll recite some lines from that flick from time to time throughout the year, but when December hits, it's ON, baby. Below is the scene we act out most often. 

The Old Man: [angry muttering] Don't you touch that. You were always jealous of this lamp. 

Mom: [feigning innocence] Jealous of a plastic lamp?
The Old Man: Jealous ... jealous because I WON.

The Old Man: [angry] GET the glue.
Mom: [resolutely calm] We're OUT of glue.
The Old Man: [Indecipherable angry noise] You used up all the glue ... on PURPOSE!"

In other fine media matters, new episodes of Clubhouse Confidential have started. C[C] is one of finest sports-related programs around. 

And wow, what about the Doug Fister trade, huh? The Nationals appear to have done very well for what they gave up for Fister. Here's a detailed analysis of the trade from MLB Trade Rumors.  And here's an acerbic analysis by Fangraphs titled "Nationals Steal Doug Fister from the Tigers." 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Hangover: Auburn

What a horrific ending to a frustrating game. 

If you're reading this post and don't know about the ending of the Iron Bowl yesterday, I am not going to recount it. It's too fucking painful to describe. 

Regardless of the stupid-ass ending, the Crimson Tide should have won this game. During the course of the game, Alabama missed four field goals. Foster missed three, but one that went through the uprights was called back because of a phantom movement penalty on Arie K. 

Nevertheless, the Tide played an unfocused game early (and late), so they were lucky to only be down 7 to nothing in the first quarter. They got it together during most of the second quarter, but the offense was plagued by dropped passes, inaccurate throws, poor blocking, and running the ball into stacked boxes. 

From what I recall, when Auburn passed, they rarely if ever passed on Deion Belue, Alabama's best corner. Cyrus Jones, in contrast, got abused for two big touchdowns. 

As Iron Bowl losses go, this is the worst I've experienced.