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Archive for June, 2007

19.jpgSOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Across a Crowded Room (1985), Daring Adventures (1986) & Rumor and Sigh (1988).

One thing I have really noticed in my crash course of RT CDs is how completely timeless his work sounds. Aside from a few production values issues, notable on Across a Crowded Room, it’s really hard to know when these songs were done. It’s quite remarkable. And, when you factor in just how solid a songwriter he is, it’s hard to find a bad album of the lot. I wish I had done this sooner, I’d be even more hardcore RT than I am now.

across.jpgAcross a Crowded Room. The only flaw I found with this one was that the backing singers and instrument choices really tend to date this record in the 80s. Some of the songs get a little bogged down, especially when compared to the raw live versions. That said, this disc has five songs that I think are amazing, and that’s just scanning the title list. “When the Spell is Broken” and “She Twists the Knife Again” just show the amazing range of styles that RT can pull off, from beautiful heartbreak to bitter rage. Stunning.

daring.jpgDaring Adventures. Allmusic.com doesn’t seem to like this record very much, and I guess that they have a point that the middle of the record isn’t too memorable. But any record that starts off with “Bone Through Her Nose” and “Valerie” is allowed to coast for a song or two. That said, overall the album is (here’s that word again) solid. And “Al Bowlly’s in Heaven” is simply a wonderfully moving song.

rumor.jpgRumor and Sigh. Wow. This is a high point. “Read About Love,” “I Feel So Good” (one of the greatest balls out rockers that no one knows about!), “I Misunderstood” (oh, emotional heart wringing right after the rocker!). And, here’s what I’m talking about regarding the timelessness of RT, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” (such a great, tender song about thugs) came out in 1991!? at the same time as “I Feel So Good?” That song simply has classic written all over it, and here it is barely 15 years old (and hey if that’s a long time to you you must not be over 30 yet). And “God Loves a Drunk,” such a sad mournful song that I first heard in a great cover by Mary Coughlan. And this is an aspect not really talked about yet…the number of songs he’s written that others have covered and–proving how great a songwriter he is–how others can makes them sound equally good. Must…stop…gushing. Since you’re here, go check out Richard’s Song O Matic!

Incidentally, here is a great blog with lots of excellent RT info: Taking It Back to the Roots

[READ: June 25, 2007] McSweeney’s #19.

I just finished all of McSweeney’s #19 last night, and it is a real mixed bag. Let’s start with the packaging. A pretty nifty box! With cool pictures all around it. Inside the box is a fascinating array of materials. Primarily, they are war-related. And, assuming they are real, they include: a leaflet on War veterans’ pensions circa 1883; a typed correspondence from 1911; Two photos from the YIVA Jewish Research Institute 1920 and 1930; a pamphlet “The Stuff That Wins” from the YMCA to inspire boys in WWI from 1918; handwritten letter; a British pamphlet “Some Things You Should Know If War Should Come” from 1939; flier “Young Men of Seventeen! (Join the Marines Today)”; “The Big Plot (Proof of the Justice Department’s plan to jail 21,105 Americans” (anti McCarthy tract written by Paul Robeson); Air Raid Instructions pocket guide; “Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack” 1961 (written by Robert McNamara…yes THAT one); “Your Horoscope Tells You How You Can Help the Republican Party WIN!” (by the Nixon people); Rainbow mission attack plan; letter from Donald Rumsfeld about leaking classified information (2002); George W. Bush dental records from 1973; “A Pocket Guide to the Middle East” from 1957. (more…)

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sip.gifSOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Strict Tempo (1981), Amnesia (1988) & Hand of Kindness (1983).

Richard Thompson is probably the best musician that no one has ever heard of. I first heard RT through a funny coincidence. I was working in Boston and I popped into Tower Records one afternoon where RT was signing copies of his then latest release, You? Me? Us? One of my coworkers was a huge RT fan, and, there just happened to be an extra copy of the booklet in the CD, so I got an autograph for him and one for me. Since then I have become a huge, huge fan, and have seen him several times in concert.  (And I have absolutely no contact with the former co-worker, and can’t even remember his name).

RT live is a great experience, whether he’s doing full band or solo. There are several live recordings of him available on his Beeswing Records label. I totally recommend getting some of these live CDs as they are simply amazing. His guitar work live is nothing short of incredible. I’m not much for wonky show-offy guitar work (even though I do love me some prog rock), but, man, the sounds he gets and the craziness that he evokes through his instrument is simply great. Plus, he also writes amazingly strong lyrics. He can do it all, and it’s a shame that no one knows that. So, I thought with the release of his newest record Sweet Warrior (review down the pike), I’d do some back catalog reviewing.

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My wife is away at the ALA conference. One would think that this would afford all kinds of time for reading. And then one would need to factor in two things: a two year old never stops and there are lots of things to be done around the house. How is it possible that she gets ANY reading done at all? Suffice it to say that this will not be a productive reading weekend. Although I am just about done with McSweeney’s #19. With any luck that T.C. Boyle story won’t take me 4 days to read!

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22.jpgSOUNDTRACK: ARCADE FIRE-Neon Bible (2007) [update].

neon.jpgI’ve decided my previous review was a little harsh. There are some tracks that do stand out. In fact, the first four tracks are really great. With “Intervention” being perhaps even better than “No Cars Go.” Then the ending is very solid. The middle tends to meander a bit, I’m afraid. And, I still stand by my comment that the highs and lows just aren’t here. The way to really notice this is to hear how great the highs and lows of “Intervention” and “No Cars Go” are. You really miss them on the rest of the album!

It is excellent to drive at night to, though.

[READ: April 2007] McSweeney’s 22.

Since I had been remiss in reading my McSweeney’s issues, I decided that I would start (more…)

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buffy3.jpgSOUNDTRACK: ARCADE FIRE-Neon Bible (2007).

neon.jpgI was pretty excited when this album came out. I really enjoyed the last Arcade Fire album, especially “No Cars Go.” And then I found out that “No Cars Go” is redone on this one. I have not had quite the visceral reaction to this one as the previous album. I fear that it may buffy2.jpgbuffy1.jpgbe a little too “polished,” that some of the highs and lows and harsher edges have been trimmed down. I guess it’s a bad sign when you listen to the whole album and it’s really only the one song that you already know that makes you pick your head up to listen. Having said that, the album is pretty solid, and if you were a little put off by the totally indie, shouty singing of the first album, this one may be for you. I don’t want to make it sound like the album is bad, because it’s still better than most of the things you’ll hear on the radio. And, I’m really happy for them that they hit number one on Billboard. I just hope the next album gets a little more edge back to it. Of course, having said all this, I’m going to be listening to it again tonight on the way home from work, so I’ll see if maybe it’s better in the dark.

[READ: June 19, 2007] Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I loved the movie, I adored the TV show and I even liked the comic books. The comics set out from the start to be “in between,” or scenes that did not take place in the TV show. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE-The Black Parade (2006).

mcr.jpgI know that Green Day is derivative. It’s obvious that they aren’t the originators of any kind of punk anything, and yet, they seem to have been the catalyst for a new breed of poppy punk bands, and they make an excellent reference point for these snotty young kids who sing catchy choruses with brash guitars. My Chemical Romance follow in a Green Day footstep. I don’t know too much about their previous records, but this one garnered rave reviews, so I thought I’d check it out. It seems to be some kind of concept album.

It seems like every five years or so a “concept” album comes out that seems to strike a chord with the people of the time. Let’s see: Pink Floyd: The Wall (1979); Queensryche: Operation Mindcrime (1988); Nine Inch Nails: The Downward Spiral (1994); Green Day: American Idiot (2004). There are of course many more, but these seemed to really be popular at their time and beyond. So now we have this new post-Green Day concept album. The concept is of “the Patient” who is dying of cancer (which okay, after now two books and this CD, cancer is a bit too prolific on this blog, but I’m not yet ready to add a tag for it [UPDATE: tag added]). I haven’t delved too deeply into the concept of this concept album, but I can say that the songs are overall pretty catchy and singalongy which, aside from being weird for an album about cancer, makes for good listening.

The album may be a little too poppy for my tastes, but “The Teenager” is really an outstanding song (aside from the part that breaks down into only drums and vocals which is a bit too 80s metal for me) but the rest of the song is great. I’ll write an update if I get an opinion of the “concept” of the album at a later date.

[READ: June 19, 2007] The Invention of Hugo Cabret.

Speaking of concepts, this book has a great one. It is part novel, part graphic novel and part imagined biography of the classic filmmaker Georges Méliès. The book itself is really beautiful: it is designed to open flat so you can really enjoy the pictures which span two pages. There are some 280 original drawings, interspersed with fictional writing. The drawings themselves are quite astonishing. Selznick’s style is of a very thick pencil line, almost crosshatching style. He conveys realism very well, and the overall feel of the book is one of a cinematic experience, including zooms and fades to black. (more…)

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I may be a hypocrite. In the short time that I’ve been keeping this blog, I have contradicted, or flip/flopped or undermined myself in almost everything I had originally stated! First I railed against the iPod, and then complained about getting screwned (see What I leaned… (5)) which is all but alleviated by the iPod. Next, I write a big post about not being able to leave a book unfinished, and less than a week later I leave one unfinished. Then I have a huge rant against memoirs, and, lo and behold, two of my last three books are memoirs. However, what I learned is that memoirs are a very different beast from novels. And I found while reading these two is that you really don’t have to pay attention when reading a memoir. When I was reading Sacred Games I had dozens of characters to try and keep straight, any of whom could pop up and do or say something meaningful at any time. When reading the Steve Martin memoir, the only character I had to keep in mind was Steve (since almost every time he would say My Mother or My Father or My Sister for the other important characters. In Daniel Tammet’s book he consistently explains who each person in his life is. So, I guess what it comes down to is that memoirs are much easier to read, and by extension, easier to pick up and put down. And in that respect, I really don’t like them. I enjoyed Martin’s because his career was funny and had an impact on my childhood, but in general, you won’t see too many more popping up here.

What’s interesting to me is that all of these changes of mind or opinion are a sign of growth for me. I said something, and then tried something else. Whether I liked the new way or not, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you were right or wrong. It’s funny how politicians are so fearful of changing their minds and being seen as flip-floppers. Whoever started that particular insult has pretty much condemned us to a group of leaders who can never change their minds. What a terrible display of leadership that is. How can you ever trust anyone who shows no sign of growth? So, hypocrite or open minded, you be the judge.

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