Saturday, December 30, 2017

Music Friday: "All American Made"

As I was compiling my annual top twentysomething albums of 2017, I realized that I hadn't featured the fine tune "All American Made" by Margo Price. 

What a shame. 

So I'm delivering it now. 


Friday, December 29, 2017

Top Twentysomething Albums of 2017

It's that time of the year again.

Like I did in 20102011201220132014, 2015, and 2016, I'm providing my top choices of albums that came out this year. 

If there are other albums you would recommend that came out in 2017, please let me know in the comments section.

1. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound

Not a big surprise here. Isbell put out another fine album this year. Unlike the previous album, this one showcased more rockers, which I thoroughly enjoy. Isbell and his comrades need to plug in the electric guitars more often and turn it up to eleven. "Hope the High Road" is one of my favorite songs of this year, and it effectively sums up my sentiments about the shit show that was the election and this past year. "White Man's World" is provocative exploration of white privilege. 

I am a bit flummoxed by the title of the album, however. Perhaps it was a juke move to get on the ballot of the CMT awards? I doubt it. Regardless, he has the poetic license to name the album whatever he wants, but I have these candidates for a better album title: Fire in Her Eyes, One Great Burden, One Fate, or Hope the High Road.

Favorite Songs: "Hope the High Road," "White Man's World," "Something to Love," and "Anxiety"

2. Benjamin Booker, Witness

This year I discovered Benjamin Booker. I'm late to the party. I like his mix of rock, R&B, and punk sensibilities. I need to get his debut album. 

Favorite Songs: "Motivation," "Truth is Heavy," "Overtime," and "All Was Well"

3. Father John Misty, Pure Comedy

I really got into this dude's music this year. The video of "Pure Comedy" has to be one of the highlights of the musical year. It reminds me of Twain's Letters from the Earth, and that's a huge compliment from me. That's one of my favorite Twain books. At times the album seems like Mr. Misty pontificating to musical tracks, but I like his pontificating. It's an album that when you sit down to or have on in the car on a road trip, it gets you trippy. In a good way. 

"Where did they find these goons elected to rule them? What makes these clowns they idolize so remarkable? These mammals are hell-bent on fashioning new Gods."

"I hate to say it, but each other's all we got." 

Favorite Songs: "Pure Comedy," "Total Entertainment Forever," "When the God of Love Returns There'll Be Hell to Pay," and "In Twenty Years or So"

4. Queens of the Stone Age, Villains

Man, Sirius XM's The Spectrum played the Hell out of "The Way You Used to Do" this year. I know it's a good song and all, but there are many other solid songs on the new Queens... album. If you like guitar-driven rock, this is worth your time. 

Favorite Songs: "The Evil Has Landed," "Feet Don't Fail Me Now," "Head Like a Haunted House," and "Domesticated Animals"

5. The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding

I had read critical praise for this band here and there over the years, but I didn't pay much attention to it. Then I took the dive and bought the band's new album. I got hooked. There's a hypnotic quality to the band's songs. They just suck you in.  

Favorite Songs: "Nothing to Find," "Holding On, "Up All Night," and "In Chains" 

6. JD McPherson, Undivided Heart and Soul

Now that's a great album cover if anyone cares about album art anymore. McPherson has a old-time rock-n-roll vibe to his work. What a great voice. What was missing from this album were the horns. His previous album featured horns in a good way. Regardless, this is a strong album that I happily listen to. 

Favorite Songs: "Let's Get Out of Here While We're Young," "Under the Spell of City Lights," "Style (Is a Losing Game)," and "Desperate Love"

7. Deer Tick, Vol. 2

Deer Tick came out with two albums this year. Vol. 2 is the more rock-oriented offering, the mustard of the two. This band is one of the more underrated groups playing right now. You need to buy their albums. Depending on the day, I could easily flip Vol. 1 for Vol. 2 in the rankings. 

Favorite Songs: "Jumpstarting," "Sloppy," "Tiny Fortunes," and "S.M.F."

8. North Mississippi Allstars, Prayer for Peace

After World Boogie is Coming, I didn't know what to expect from NMAS. This is another solid offering from the guys who provide healthy doses of rock/blues. Like Benjamin Booker's "Witness," "Prayer for Peace" weighs in on race relations. 

Favorite Songs: "Red Rooster," "Prayer for Peace," "You Got to Move," and "long Haired Doney"

9. Deer Tick, Vol. 1

Vol. 2 is the more folk-oriented offering of the two albums. 

Favorite Songs: "Doomed from the Start," "Hope Is Big," "Cocktail," and "Sea of Clouds" 

10. Son Volt, Notes of Blue

I think I have unrealistic expectations for Son Volt, aka Jay Farrar and other dudes he plays with. I found Honky Tonk disappointing, and considering the greatness of the band's earlier albums such as Trace and Swing Wide Tremelo, I cast a hypercritical eye on the new releases. 

I bought this album when it came out, listened to it a few times, and then didn't revisit until I drove up to Iowa to visit my dad. I decided to give it a second chance and realized it's a good album.

Favorite Songs: "Back Against the Wall," "Sinking Down," "Lost Souls," and "Cherokee St." 

11. Eric Bibb, Migration Blues

In a time in which a narcissistic, fact-challenged, pathological liar claims that he's going to build a wall to stop the illegal immigration that has actually declined, Migration Blues was a needed tonic. This is traditional blues fare we should be thankful for. 

Favorite Songs: "Delta Getaway," "Diego's Blues," "Masters of War," and "Postcard from Booker"

12. Matthew Ryan, Hustle Up Starlings

I dig this artist's scratchy voice and singer-songwriter bent. I had never heard of this guy before I read on some blog post that he had a new album out. The album is a mix of acoustic numbers and straightforward rock-n-roll. 

Favorite Songs: "It's a Delicate Waltz," "Battle-Born," "Close Your Eyes," and "Summer Never Ends" 

13. Trombone Shorty, Parking Lot Symphony

You know the deal. Trombone Shorty melds jazz, R&B, and rock to please your ears. I don't think it's the strongest of his albums, but it's enjoyable. 

Favorite Songs: "Tripped Out Slim," "Where It At?," "Laveau Dirge No. 1," and "Here Come the Girls" 

14. Turnpike Troubadours, A Long Way from Your Heart

This band keeps putting out strong after strong albums. I don't know if top 40 country stations play this band's songs because, in general, top 40 country sucks. The current "Nashville sound" is crap. Feces. Fertilizer. Merde. Unimaginative Shit.

Favorite Songs: "Oklahoma Stars," "The Housefire," "The Hard Way," and "Something to Hold on To"

15. Black Joe Lewis and the Honey Bears, Backlash

I like this guy's work. His songs often get selected when my iPod is doing its shuffle. He and his mates mix rock with horns. This album seems to be more guitar-oriented. 

Favorite Songs: "Global," "PTP," "Shadow People," and "Prison"

16. Foo Fighters, Concrete and Gold

I really enjoyed the band's previous album and the HBO series that corresponded with it. If you like hard rock, check out this new offering. 

Favorite Songs: "La Dee Da," "Run," "The Sky is Neighborhood," and "Make It Right"

17. Blitzen Trapper, Wild and Reckless

The band billed this as a dystopian album of sorts. I need to listen to the lyrics more carefully to suss that out. From what I recall, darkness lurks. 

Favorite Songs: "When I'm Dying," "Dance with Me," "Joanna," and "Baby Won't You Turn Me 

18. Margo Price, All American Made

This Illinois native is one of the few country musicians to speak out against MoscowDon. Good for her. 

Even better is that she has crafted a strong album that is worth your time. 

The title song and "Pay Gap" are great. 

Favorite Songs: "All American Made," "Pay Gap," "A Little Pain," and "Wild Women"

19. Prophets of Rage, self-titled

It's good to hear Chuck D doing his thing again. 

These songs could be political. 

Favorite Songs: "Living on the 110," "Hands Up," "Unfuck the World," and "Radical Eyes"

20. Weezer, Pacific Daydream

That was quick. This band that made its name in the 90s just had an album out last year. How productive. If you like Weezer, you'll like this album. 

I like Weezer. 

Favorite Songs: "Feels Like Summer," "Weekend Woman," "Any Friend of Diane's," and "Happy Hour"

Honorable Mentions

Bash & Pop, Anything Could Happen

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice

Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up

Josh Ritter, Gathering

Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street

The Secret Sisters, You Don't Own Me Anymore

Supersonic Blues Machine, Californiasoul

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Makeshift Lablabi

I got this base recipe from the January-February issue of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Magazine, but I had to improvise because my grocery store doesn't carry harissa or dry chickpeas. Walmart might have those items, but I hate going to Walmart. 

So instead of using harissa, which I'm going to order by the way, I used Sambal Oelek. That chili pepper paste is not Tunisian (it's Asian), but it's the closest thing I had. I also didn't have capers, and I forgot to chop green olives, so I need to get my @#$% together when I have leftovers tomorrow. 

Anyway, here's the recipe. I also used a lime for serving just because I like limes better than lemons 

Olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
2 shallots, chopped finely
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
4-6 tablespoons of harissa or Sambal Oelek
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of ground cumin
2 quarts of chicken stock
2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

For serving
Croutons, homemade or store-bought
Wedge of lime
Wedge of lemon
Small handful of cilantro, chopped
Small handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Hard-boiled eggs, halved or quartered
Chopped green olives
Capers to suit

Coat a Dutch oven with olive oil, heat the oven to medium, and sweat down the onions and shallots. Once they are soft, dump in the garlic and cook it for less than a minute. Put in the tomato paste and cook for approximately five minutes. Add in the chili paste and cumin and cook for a few minutes. 

Add the chicken stock and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for 5-10 minutes. 

When serving, put the croutons in the bottom of the bowl, ladle the soup over the bread, and top with a couple of hard-boiled eggs. Sprinkle capers, olives, cilantro, and parsley atop the soup and then squeeze the lime and lemon on top of the soup.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Random Notes from a Crank

This entire holiday season I did not once say, "Merry Christmas." Fuck you, FoxNews. 

On my way back from Iowa yesterday, I listened to the "E Street Shuffle" on E Street Radio. Springsteen fans voted on the top 100 Springsteen songs. I'm a fan of the "Boss," but it's always bothered me how in some of his songs he adopts a Southern drawl. He's from New Jersey for God's sake. 

If there were any American songwriter to win the Nobel, it should be Springsteen, not Bob Dylan. 

If you need a good piece of nonfiction to read, I highly recommend Sherman Alexie's You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. It's a fantastic book, people. 

Speaking of the Nobel Prize for Literature, why not Sherman Alexie? 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Stay Positive: Transitioning to Clean Energy

In a world in which a narcissistic, climate-change denying, corrupt, sexual harassing, pathological liar is President of the United States, it's hard to stay positive. 

But these articles from Yes! Magazine should provide a bit of solace. 

Mash "Fairness in Renewables" to read "The Transition to Renewables Is Hard -- And Easy" by Stephen Miller, "Why Not Even Trump Can Stop the Renewables Revolution," and "Why Climate Change Is a Civil Rights Issue" 

Music Friday: "Christmas in Hollis"

I'm sure I've featured this video before, but this is one of my favorite Xmas songs. 

Happy Holidays. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Music Friday: "Battle Born" & "It's a Delicate Waltz"

In my upcoming "Top Ten/Twenty Albums of 2017," Hustle Up Starlings by Matthew Ryan is likely to be featured in some fashion. 

From what I understand, he's been making music for a good while, but his work is new to me. 

Here are two tunes from this year's album. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Random Notes from a Crank

I watch The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on a regular basis. I watch it so much that when I have the displeasure of hearing MoscowDon's voice, I tend to hear Colbert's funny impression of his voice when he imitates him. 

The Senate race in Alabama was a pleasant surprise. Doug Jones is the guy who put away the KKK members who bombed the church in Birmingham that killed four African American little girls. 

I find it good that Alabama, one of the reddest states on map, voted in a Democrat. When I went to school there from '98-'02, the Governor of the state was a Democrat. And I always thought that if African American voters were mobilized and they combined with the liberals in the state, young voters, and college-educated reasonable people, that more Progressives would get elected to office in the state. 

That happened, but it was way too close. 

Jones barely won by just over 10K votes. What does it say about conservatives that Roy Moore got that many votes? Even conservatives in the state recognize he's simply using religion to dupe people to vote for him. He was twice removed from the Alabama Supreme Court because of his bullshit. And of course, it seems clear he had/has a thing for young girls. What a creep. 

Fumbling Toward Culinary Talent: Slow Cooker Cubed Steak with Mushroom Gravy

I based this recipe after one I saw online. I went to my local market, and that grocery store didn't have French onion soup, or at least I didn't find it. So I substituted golden mushroom soup instead of using French onion. 

Cubed steak is a cheap cut of meat. I like how this recipe is for the thrifty. And it's easy. 

2-3 lbs. of cubed steak, tenderized
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of golden mushroom soup
1/2 cup of water
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
3 shallots, chopped finely
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 packages of baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons of corn starch
3 tablespoons of cold water
Pepper to taste

Mix the soup, water, onion, shallots, and garlic together in the slow cooker. Place the cubed steak in the crock. Add freshly cracked black pepper. Cook for 6-8 hours on low. 

With an hour or two prior to the end of slow cooking, drop in the mushrooms. 

Right before you're ready to serve, mix the corn starch and water together and pour into the mixture. Mix so the gravy thickens. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Random Notes from a Crank

I've been a college professor for a good while now, and I will be happy to see this semester end. I want to plunge a wooden stake in the semester's soul-sucking heart. I had some good students who did very fine work. But I had a number of students who still think they're in high school, are unmotivated, and are unwilling to put in the work necessary, or a combo of all three. It's not like I'm doing anything significantly different in my classes. It was just bad luck of the scheduling draw. 

I've been watching the AMC series Robert Kirkman's Secret History of Comics. It's a worthwhile series for fans of comic books and graphic novels. The episode about Wonder Woman was really good, the one on the start of Marvel was interesting, and the recent episode about Image Comics was excellent. 

Next year AMC will feature another series in a similar vein: James Cameron's Story of Science Fiction. I hope there is an episode about Phillip K. Dick. I don't read a lot of science fiction, but I'm interested to learn more about it. 

With all the men getting canned or stepping aside from elected office, it's not surprising this is the first sentence of the article "Three Women Reassert Allegations of Sexual Harassment against President Trump": "The #MeToo sexual harassment movement roiling the nation reached the doors of the White House on Monday, when three women who last year accused President Trump of sexual misconduct began a renewed public push to gain attention for their allegations." 

The Mueller investigation is likely to continue to unearth more dirt on MoscowDon and his associates, but I like that he's getting hit on these charges again. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Music Friday: "Doomed from the Start" & "Jumpstarting"

Deer Tick came out with two albums this year. They are appropriately titled Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. 

Here's a song from each album. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Music Friday: "Make It Right"

I've always enjoyed the music of the Foo Fighters, but when they came into prominence in the rock world, that was a time in my life that I wasn't listening to a lot of new music. I was listening to old stuff and jazz primarily. 

I've purchased the last two albums from the band, and I have no idea how they stack up against their previous work. I really enjoyed Sonic Highways because I watched the HBO series that went along with the album. 

The new album is called Concrete and Gold

Here's one of my favorite tunes from the new album.