Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Making Lemonade Out of Lemons...

Next: Touching up Tom Petty's Highway Companion solo CD.

"It's moodier than most of his records. ...This album isn't quite as fun as it initially seems on the surface." allmusic

Note: On the post, below, click on the orange link to see a video of Liverpool - a Beatles tribute band - covering a Beatles song.

Beatles Examiner: Fest For Beatle Fans update - Sunday

Beatles Examiner: Fest For Beatle Fans update - Sunday

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Home Brewing a Great Bold Cup of Coffee...

With the difficulties in securing a bold brewed cup of coffee at Starbucks, the time has come to resort to home remedies. For quite a while, Mrs. Bear has heard commercials on KGO radio for Don Francisco's Specialty Gourmet Coffee. This got us to thinking, so on a recent trip to the grocery store, I picked up a can of DF's bold French Roast ground coffee.

As noted on the DF can, this is not a blend of different beans - some of good quality, some less so - instead all of the beans used are of the same high quality. Based on a real-life taste test, this coffee may be double or triple-filtered. There's absolutely no bitter after taste and Mrs. Bear immediately noticed the absence of irritation in her stomach. (When I went back and tasted a competitor's bold ground, it tasted oily and more than a bit bitter.)

When you consider that the DF list price is $5.89 - currently $5.29 at my local grocery store - for a 12-ounce can that makes 80 to 90 single cups, this is extremely cost effective; especially when you think about what 80 or 90 cups would cost you at a Starbucks shop. As if you could get a cup of bold coffee at Bucks any time of the day or night.

So, Starbucks, is this what you want?

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Purple One Wows 'Em in L.A.

Abridged from USA Today - article by Edna Gundersen, March 30, 2009:

LOS ANGELES - Churning out hits, covers, obscurities and new tunes, Prince thrilled audiences at three back-to-back concerts Saturday night in Los Angeles. The electrifying sprint, which found the funk-rock legend dashing from the Nokia Theatre to the Conga Room to Club Nokia to perform with different bands, was to promote his new triple-disc bundle, LOtUSFLOW3R, MPLSoUND and Elixir, available at Target.

Despite battling sound systems in each venue, Prince was animated and engaged. He invited fans on-stage during the first show, packed with such crowd-pleasers as 1999, Let's Go Crazy, Purple Rain and Kiss and capped by Sheila E's appearance for Glamorous Life.

With Ron Wood looking on, the Conga Room unleashed the guitar fiend in Prince during a hard-rocking set that boasted Jimi Hendrix' Spanish Castle Magic and the new Colonized Mind and Dreamer.

The final show kicked off at 1:00 a.m., an hour late because of sound-check delays. The concert spotlighted Chaka Khan on her soulful Sweet Thing and closed with Insatiable, Scandalous, The Beautiful Ones and Nothing Compares 2 U.

Note: Elixir is actually the debut album by Bria Valente, produced by Prince.

Photo of Prince and Sheila E. by Ryan Muir (flickr).

Is New Balance Running in the Wrong Direction?

I had the interesting experience last Friday of being asked to test fit some brand new New Balance running shoes. NB has been asking some regular runners to try their new just released and pre-release models due to the adoption of a new last. I'll say this... Unless you absolutely love, love, love - that is, truly love - the fit of Nike running shoes, you probably won't like the "new and improved" NB runners.

I tried on the NB 904 (the yellow and black shoe pictured above) and what is likely to be the upcoming NB 1064. Let me start with the heavier 1064... This felt just like a Nike Structure Triax, with the same faults: a bit too heavy, too much underfoot padding in the wrong places, too narrow for a stability runner, and too straight. Of course, the straightness of the new last might be a bit more forgiveable in a "big guy's" shoe.

The issue is even more troubling when it comes to the NB 904. Just looking at the shoe you can see that it is far straighter and narrower than the fine 902 model (the orange runner pictured above). In fact, Mrs. Bear looked at it and said right away that it looked that it would be painful to run in. Agreed.

Another troubling development is that both of these models have been raised. One of the strengths of the 900 series, and of NB runners in general, was the low-to-the-ground structure which provided a lot of natural stability. The higher a running shoe is off of the ground (especially at the heel), the more a runner has to use his ankles for balance... And this is asking for trouble, especially if you have narrow and flat feet, as I do.

So if NB is going to produce shoes that are virtual Nike clones, I will not be adding any pairs to my running shoe collection. There was once a time - up until about 1999 - when the majority of all the running shoes I purchased were Nike. But then they became narrower and narrower, to the point where many of the current models do not fit even at a half-size or one full-size increase.

Prior to Friday, I was definitely planning on purchasing a pair of NB 904s. I've been happy with the NB 901, 902 and 903. Now I will not be handing my money to NB and the Adidas AdiZero Tempo II lightweight performance stability runner is looking even more like the right shoe at the right time.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

So long little Ricky (Wagoner)!

If the Associated Press is right, we may have the first good news from Detroit in quite a while. According to the AP, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is steping down immediately "at the request of the White House." Wagoner's leadership has been tone-deaf from both a political and public relations standpoint for months. Back when he flew by corporate jet to testify before Congress, we immediately asked the question: Why didn't he drive? Many others came to ask the same question.

Could it be that Wagoner actually believed that GM was building better cars, and yet simply felt they were not good enough for his butt to sit in?

We also noted, back at the time of the first hearing, that Wagoner read his comments from scripts and, strangely, didn't seem capable of answering questions on his feet - even while sitting.

In a final irony, Wagoner said on December 4, 2008, that he would not leave GM as, "I'm doing what I do because it adds a lot of value to the company." Not anymore, bud. You might think about taking a Chevy Cobalt with you for the drive home.

Who were the Small Faces?

The original Small Faces was a British band, popular in the 1960's, founded by lead singer and guitarist Steve Marriott. Marriott added Ronnie Lane on bass and backing vocals; Ian McLagan on organ, guitar and vocals; and Kenny Jones on drums. He admitted to being influenced by the guitar work of Pink Floyd, and he was a vocalist with a strong voice that appeared to be built for hard rock.

During the Summer of Love (1967), the band had its first hit record with Itchycoo Park ("It's all too beautiful..."). This was followed the next year by the hard charging single, Tin Soldier ("I am a little tin soldier who wants to jump into your fire..."). The Small Faces were unique in including multiple instrumentals on their albums.

Marriott left the group in 1969, and he was replaced by the former lead singer of the Jeff Beck Group, Rod Stewart. Stewart also brought with him Ron Wood, a fine lead and rhythm guitarist. It was this band that recorded The First Step. They subsequently changed the band's name to, first, The Faces and later simply Faces. Faces recorded several albums, including Long Player, before Stewart departed for his highly successful - if not always critically acclaimed - solo career.

Ron Wood went on to join a popular band known as the Rolling Stones. Ronnie Lane joined Peter Townshend of the Who in recording Rough Mix, a quasi-solo album of very interesting songs. Lane also recorded several solo albums on his own before his musical career was slowed by multiple sclerosis. The highly talented drummer Kenny Jones went on, appropriately, to play with The Who following the death of Keith Moon.

Ian McLagen now lives in Austin, Texas where he is an active and respected member of the local musical community. Sadly, his wife Kim died in an auto accident in 2006.

In 1969, Steve Marriott joined with a then young singer-songwriter-guitarist named Peter Frampton to form the band Humble Pie. Greg Ridley played bass, and Jerry Shirley fumbled along on drums. Ridley came from the band Spooky Tooth, and Shirley from The Apostolic Intervention.

Humble Pie is best known for its live version of I Don't Need No Doctor and the single 30 Days in the Hole. The band broke-up, for all practical purposes, in 1975.

Peter Frampton, like Rod Stewart, went on to great success as a solo artist, recording the excellent Frampton album and the chart busting Frampton Comes Alive! Frampton basically became the second coming of Dave Mason on the wah-wah guitar.

Marriott, who appeared to be winning a lifelong battle to overcome his addictions, died quite tragically in a house fire in 1991. Greg Ridley died on November 19, 2003 in Alicante, Spain of complications from pneumonia and resulting complications. He was 56 years old.

Later this year, for the 13th year in a row, a Small Faces Convention will be held in London to pay tribute to the band's music. In 2008, Steve Marriott (namesake and nephew of the band's founder) appeared on stage to help perform his uncle's music. This year, The Small Fakers and the Darron Connett band - among others - are scheduled to perform.

Long live the spirit of the Faces Small!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flying - The (Small) Faces

This was the sleeve cover for the Flying/Three Button Hand Me Down single from the Small Faces (1970).

Photo: flickr (Affendaddy)

Next: Who were the Small Faces?

Finishing The First Step by The (Small) Faces

Flying - On vinyl, this was the track that started Side B. I would have selected it to be the opening track on the album because of its dramatic nature... After about 20 seconds, it dawns on you that this is basically Traffic's Dear Mr. Fantasy with new lyrics. When the chorus comes in, it becomes the second song on Step that sounds like Handbags and Gladrags. Kenny keeps it interesting - in a Jim Capaldi-like way - and the ending actually sounds like a plane flying over the ocean; flying you home.

Pineapple and the Monkey - A fun instrumental track that used to serve as the opening for "Rock Album Review" on KUOP-FM in Stockton, California.

When, exactly, did bands stop recording instrumentals? (The Beatles recorded a couple that were never released.)

Nobody Knows - Clever lyrics: "I'm waiting here in Patience/ And I'm waiting all in vain/ Will I see you? Will I touch you? Will I hear you call my name?" A nice double-tracked vocal ballad from Rod and Ronnie Lane that actually worked. This served as a reminder of the fact that on occasion the Faces Small sounded like no one else.

Kenny added the "falling down the stairs" drumming.

Looking Out the Window - The second fun instrumental, with heavy bass and Winwood-like organ. Like an out-take from The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, although we doubt that Steve Winwood would ever loosen up this much. The lead guitar work from Ron Wood shows that he - like Steve Marriott - listened to more than a few Pink Floyd albums.

The many changes in tempo before the end arrives at 5:02 illustrates what a tight band the Faces were once upon a time.

Three Button Hand Me Down - This was one of their best songs performed live, both because of Ronnie Lane's Jack Bruce/Cream-like bass line and because Rod still sounded like he was genuinely enjoying himself.

Ian McLagan on organ, please.

"Others may come and others may go/ But that suit will be around wherever you go/ Three button hand me down..."

Summary: Although we liked the later-released Long Player, this first effort captured the Faces at their professional best. Similarly, to experience the best of Rod Stewart you need to hear the Truth - Beck-Ola - The Rod Stewart Album - Gasoline Alley four-pack.

I saw the Faces live four times and, sad to say, they got sloppier with each performance. They eventually became the Rolling Stones on an off night.

Note: If you find this CD today, you'll see a cover that reads "faces." But the original cover read "small faces." Revisionist history on the part of Warner Brothers.

Next: See the rare sleeve cover for the Flying/Three Button Hand Me Down 45 RPM single.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The First Step by The (Small) Faces - A Retro Record Review...

The drums! This album is all about the drums. Kenny Jones was let loose on this 10 song, 48-minute, collection in a way that he never would be again. If you only heard the drum work, you might think you were listening to The Who, Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Bob Henrit of Argent - who played the part of Keith Moon on the (Roger) Daltrey solo album.

Note: I won't be quoting many lyrics here as my review copy CD is a Japanese import with lyrics printed in Japanese characters.

OK, so let's review the ten tracks...

Wicked Messenger - A Bob Dylan-penned fable with heavy organ (think Emerson, Lake and Palmer) starts the album off with a literal bang. Quite fine and quite audible bass work from Ronnie Lane, Ron Wood on the lead guitar, and Kenny pounds the drums until the very last of the 4:08. Good to the last beat!

Rod the Mod does such a great job as "the voice" that he could have made a career out of covering BD songs. Oh, and, yes, the arrangement does sound like Hendrix' cover-arrangement of BD's All Along the Watchtower.

Once the last drum beat hits, its obvious that Martin Birch did an A to A+ job of engineering.

Devotion - This ballad about family ("It's so good to be with the people that know you/ It's good to hear the things they say/ At times when you are with them...") would have fit perfectly on the Elizabethtown soundtrack. This is the first of two songs on First Step that sounds like Handbags and Gladrags on The Rod Stewart Album - meant and intended as a compliment. Wood picks in circles like Dave Mason on this one. Kenny kicks the drums right before the end.

Shake, Shudder and Shiver - It starts off like Foghat with a heavy lead guitar opening riff isolated on the right channel before the rest of the band drops in on the left. Kenny pushes the band like a locomotive barreling down the tracks. There's more than a trace of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love in the lead and bass rhythm. This is one of those hard rock tracks that, heard live, would cause fans to light their Bics in tribute.

Stone - Sorry, but talky tracks with banjo and mandolin were never a favorite of mine, and this Ronnie Lane vocal goes on for all of 5:43 - about twice the length needed. As a short throwaway, it might have seemed cute. The one positive is hearing Rod as a not so bad (and barking) back-up singer.

Plynth - This was the band's live show stopper and with good reason. Early Fleetwood Mac (pre Buckingham-Nicks) meets Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Robin Trower. Absolutely brilliant stereo production - it's moving in stereo - and Wood has never played a crisper lead. The drums are so clean and clear you feel like you're sitting under the kit.

(Part I of II... Continued tomorrow, from Flying to Three Button Hand Me Down .)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Tyranny of Now...

(The year is 2430 in the Great Central Government Territory.)

Nancy Sandusky opened her medicine cabinet and sighed. There were the eight colored containers of pills supplied by the GCG.

A number of years back, the GCG's chemists had discovered the links between the ingestion of specific chemicals and dreams. The GCG-supplied pills enabled each citizen to select among permitted categories of dreams. Vacation dreams were one such approved category and usually involved trips to the GCG parks in the southern regions.

One could choose to dream about the arts, which was a benefit as live music and dramatic performances were currently banned. And loyal citizens were always encouraged to dream about the bountiful services provided by the GCG.

Nancy thought about the GCG agents who came out each month to determine which dream pills had been used, and to verify that one had been used each evening. The pills, of course, also prevented citizens from having the types of dreams that were not approved (the special chemicals both opened dream doors and closed them).

Nancy's head almost hurt with the desire to dream either about the future - a category whose details had not yet been charted by the GCG - or about the past. The past was quite sensitive, as citizens were not permitted to discuss or read about the Relocation of the Enemies era. Nor was it advisable for citizens to consider what life was like prior to the commencement of the GCG's command.

Nancy had, of course, heard about the underground hotels - places where one could dream without the GCG's pills. But the consequences of being caught at one of these facilities were far, far, too great... (To be continued...?)

Note: This content has not been approved by the GCG.

Photo: flickr (hiatus)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is This Any Way to Run A Company?

The Warner Music Group lost $56 million in the most recent fiscal year, and its stock lost 25% of its value. So the CEO of WMG, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., was paid a $3 million dollar bonus for "strong operational performance in a historically challenging industry environment"!

How's that for standing logic and common sense on its head?

(Poor Year Doesn't Stop CEO Bonuses, The Wall Street Journal, 03/18/09.)

Disclosure: This Friday and Saturday, we're publishing a two-part retro review of The Small Faces' The First Step album, which was released on Warner Brothers Records. I was not paid a million dollars for the review.

"The Small Faces was the best English band never to hit it big in America." allmusic

Room for Lefty (a song-poem)...

What I don't remember is
Is there still room for Lefty
And for all his leathers?

We're in the ring again
We're well matched pound-for-pound
This could go to later rounds

Dancing round again
Can I just make it zing?
I throw my left, he's gone
Flash - he's pounded me, I'm down

I hear the number 7
I'm on my feet, I'm dizzy
I look out at the crowd
I've gone another round

What I don't remember is
Is there room for Lefty

We're dancing round again
When do I get my chance?
Flash - My left connects
His hands go to his head
The cut appears, it's red

In retreat he moves away
But I swore I'd make him pay
I'm on him like a cat
Flash - My brilliant undercut,
He's down!

At 8 he's up again
He's hiding in plain sight
Hoping for relief
But I'm ready, I've loaded up my right

The bell rings, saving him this time
My coach says, son - you're running out of time
This night it's do or die

Three minutes left,
We're moving round again
He grabs me in the clutch,
Can I just let it fly?

I throw my left it misses,
He never sees the right
Flash - he's down, he's done

They carried him away
I've lived another day
I just beat the best
I have another day

But what I want to know
Is what I don't remember...
Is there still room for Lefty?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Retro-Review of Brian Wilson's Smile...

Note: I originally wrote this record review in early 2004, when the long-delayed Smile was released. However, at that time I had no place to post it; now I do.

"God is not subtle." Albert Einstein. But could God have a sense of humor?


OK, so first of all, forget everything you've read or heard about this being Brian Wilson's Sgt. Pepper's album. This is not Sgt. Pepper's - Pet Sounds was that and more - but another Abbey Road, side two.

Side two of the Beatles' Abbey Road was basically a collection of unfinished songs, ideas for songs that Paul McCartney called "bites." Brian Wilson called his song ideas "bits" and today, in the age of digital recording, they might appropriately be called "bytes," but that's another story. (The idea of playing song pieces derives from the English music hall and American burlesque halls, where musicians who ran out of sheet music to play filled in with their ideas for future songs.)

Smile is a collection of bites and bits and more; and like Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's the work is more than the sum of its parts. It is a collection of musical ideas intended - like the Who's Tommy or Chicago II - to be experienced by the listener as one piece, from start to finish, for better or worse.

Let me get the worst out of the way right now. The biggest flaw with Smile is Brian's need, then and now, to show us what a comprehensive student of music he is. The pivotal and repeating "Heroes and Villains" theme borrows from Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf." Further, as we listen we hear the influences of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland, Gershwin, Erik Satie, Mozart, Dvorak, movie soundtracks such as How the West Was Won, casino crooners, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, and the colored vinyl children's records that Brian first digested. Some also hear Bach and/or Schubert.

It is all, at first, a bit too much, a kitchen sink approach to music. Just like the 23 tracks on the symphony-like Chicago II was at first too much, especially with the producer's note: "This endeavor should be experienced sequentially." But the more you listened, the more the whole effort made sense and eventually you couldn't consider re-arranging the track order.

This is what happens with Smile. Initially, it seems too cute, too bloated and busy. But then you remember the very appropriate title of this collection, and the original album art that looked very much like the cover of a children's book.

Oh... This isn't meant to be SERIOUS, this is for fun, deliberately childlike and childish in a deliberately non-grown up way.

Come to think of it, too much of our music is far too serious. From Springsteen's post-9/11 The Rising, to Sinatra's aging album September of Our Years ("Tonight is not for fun, tonight is for serious..." said the liner notes), to personal and brilliant but troubling confessionals like Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks and Joni Mitchell's Blue, it is all too serious. It is all so tiredly adult.

So, Smile isn't Paul Simon's Graceland nor Peter Gabriel's Us, but it is equally life-affirming when heard with a different ear; a child's ear, before the end of the innocence. (Interestingly, like those two albums, Smile is acceptingly multicultural and not Anglo-Saxon ethno-centric.)

Smile is not one of those hard to absorb albums about the weariness of life or life's losses or heavy lessons. It's not a divorce album or an album about eventual survival or death. It is a simple collection of songs about enjoying life simply ("eat your vegetables") and having fun. Let's play that funny horn and make silly noises! Let's pretend to fly! I'll be Davy Crockett!

Smile is an album dedicated to the enjoyment of music, the enjoyment of life no matter how short - even if your siblings (like two of Brian's) pre-decease you. Enjoy life even if the worst is going to happen, when you grow up someday.

Smile tells us that music is enough. Smile reminds us that life is a miracle and so this music is Brian's prayer, his tribute, a child's contribution to God. A simple prayer, a fun prayer, a prayer meant to make even God smile.

Smile is not a masterpiece, but for human beings it is close enough.

Thank you, Brian.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Starbucks Continues to Stumble...

I regularly visit two Starbucks shops. Both now have in stock only one of the "The Way I See It" quotation cups - the one explaining that sudden success can be more dangerous than failure. I wonder if they see the irony in that?

One of the shops is out of sleeve holders, those cardboard grips you add to your to-go cup so your hands don't get burned. More problems with the supplies.

Interestingly, the CEO of Starbucks acknowledged just last week - at a coffee convention (who knew there was such a thing?) - that he's heard and read the criticisms... He even knows about Melody of Seattle, the activist attorney blogger who leads the bold coffee movement (whom I now consider to be a friend). More on Melody in the near future.

OK, let me supply this preview... As noted in the online-only version of the Seattle Post Intelligencer (Seattle P-I), Melody is one of the most frequent posters on My Starbucks Idea - where links to several of my own bold coffee comments are posted - and on the Starbucks Gossip site.

Enough said, almost... Keep on requesting those bold coffees, even after the noon hour strikes! If they won't serve you one, head on over to Peet's.

No sleep 'til Brooklyn.

Photo: flickr (nooni)

50 of The Best Ever Bands/Musicians...

The Plebeian Music Club (PMC) is a book club that revolves around music rather than books. Recently, the PMC decided to establish a music Hall of Fame (HOF) that will induct fifty musicians/bands into the PMC HOF each year. As is clear from the initial selections listed below, the five PMC electors support good music without regard to strict categories... Some of the inductees would be categorized as rock, some as folk, some as popular, some as soul... It doesn't matter, as music is one of the very best things in life.

Here the 2009 inductees in alpha order:

1. The Animals
2. Badfinger
3. The Band
4. The Beach Boys
5. The Beatles
6. Chuck Berry
7. The Blues Project
8. David Bowie
9. Jackson Browne
10. Buffalo Springfield
11. Kate Bush
12. The Byrds
13. Ray Charles
14. Chicago
15. Bo Diddley
16. Bob Dylan
17. The Eagles
18. The Everly Brothers
19. Peter Gabriel
20. Marvin Gaye
21. The Grateful Dead
22. George Harrison
23. Buddy Holly
24. John Lee Hooker
25. The Jefferson Airplane
26. Elton John
27. Carole King
28. John Lennon
29. The Mamas and the Papas
30. Paul McCartney
31. Joni Mitchell
32. Van Morrison
33. Rick Nelson
34. Gram Parsons
35. Elvis Presley
36. John Prine
37. The Rolling Stones
38. Todd Rundgren
39. Paul Simon
40. Simon and Garfunkel
41. Bruce Springsteen
42. Cat Stevens
43. Barbra Streisand
44. The Traveling Wilburys
45. The Who
46. XTC
47. The Yardbirds
48. Yes
49. Neil Young
50. Warren Zevon

Note: An error was made in the original compiling of this list, and this error has now been corrected.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The word of the day...

Plebeians (Latin noun, 'the common people'): Name given to the body of Roman citizens other than the privileged patricians.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Unclear on the Concept...

Most cats like to sleep in boxes. This one thinks you're supposed to wear the box while walking around the house!

Photo: flickr (hostyle)

L.A.'s Glorious City Hall

Recently I spent three days and two evenings at the Los Angeles Marriott Downtown. It was unfortunate that I did not take my digital camera with me, as my room had a fine eighth story day and night view of Los Angeles' City Hall. However, here's an image of City Hall at night.

L.A.'s City Hall was built in 1928 and reflects the influences of ancient Abyssinian, Sumerian and Mesopotamian architecture. It serves as an appropriate symbol of the wonders of civilization.

Photo: flickr (click on the photograph to see a much larger version)

Friday, March 20, 2009

No Longer Waitin' On Dave Mason

We were afraid that our retro review of Dave Mason's Alone Together album would not post on St. Patrick's Day due to some technical difficulties... but due to some technological miracles - and the luck of the Irish - it did appear, and you can read the full review, below.

It has dawned on us that the AT title may have derived from the lyrics of Waitin' on You, the third track on the 1970 album:

While there's no one that I can believe
It's all because I couldn't see (that)
The best friend that I'll have is me...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The poetry of...

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where the mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the back roads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss my eyes
And lay me down
In silence easy,
To be born again.

Van Morrison

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Alone Together Live...

If you're in the San Diego area this weekend, you can see Dave Mason play live on Saturday, March 21st, at Anthology in the downtown Gaslight District, 137 India Street, at 7:30 p.m. For information call (619) 595-0300.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Only He Knew & We Knew... (a retro album review)

The year 1970 was a great one for rock music, a topic that we may re-visit later. One of the albums released that year, Alone Together, was the first solo album released by Traffic's former singer-songwriter-lead guitar player, Dave Mason. Not everyone came to know and enjoy Mason's later releases, but on AT - as allmusic acknowledged - "everything (came) together perfectly."

The AT recording sessions brought together a collection of musical all-stars including Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie, Rita Coolidge, bassist Carl Radle, and two drummers: Traffic's Jim Capaldi and the highly talented Jim Gordon.

Before examining the eight tracks on this long player, one note is needed. This review is based on the Original Master Recording CD (pictured), which features A to A+ quality sound; and nicely approximates the tone of the original vinyl recording. If you're seeking a bargain, the more recent Hip-O Records/UM re-release provides 85 to 90% of the sound quality at a much lower price.

Only You Know and I Know (4:05) - Mason's Top 20 single opens the album with a lot of energy and excellent sound dynamics enhanced on the CD. Gordon on the high-hats! In tribute, Phil Collins later wrote a song with the same title. Yes, there are hints of Get Back in the beat but it didn't seem so obvious back then.

Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving (3:02) - There's a soft and humble quality to this love ballad, which may be why Mason got along so well with George Harrison. It virtually tip-toes to an ending.

Waitin' On You (3:05) - This rocker sounds even more like the Beatles; you half expect to hear Paul shout, "Get back, Loretta!" Leon substitutes for Billy Preston. Great gospel-style background vocals from the three girl singers.

Shouldn't Have Took More Than You Gave (6:00) - It starts like a song left off of Traffic's Dear Mr. Fantasy before speeding up, letting Dave showcase his impressive wah-wah skills. You think that Peter Frampton may have studied this track? Well, do you feel like we do?

World In Changes (4:30) - A track I've always loved but that still manages to completely confuse me. Mason left Traffic because he couldn't get along with Steve Winwood. Yet the featured organ on here is a 100% Winwood knock-off. Was it a back-handed way of saying he could survive without SW? "I've got a lot to learn about you/ You've got a lot to learn about me, too." All in all, this is the best Traffic song never recorded by Traffic.

Sad and Deep as You (3:35) - Leon Russell's gorgeous piano work underlies this ballad that sounds a bit like early Elton John (Your Song), early Rod Stewart (Gasoline Alley), and Cat Stevens (Trouble).

Just A Song (2:59) - "I'm tired of calling you when things go wrong/ Just take my hand and make me feel like I belong/ Just one more day and I will turn from you and run/ Although you're all I do, all I've ever done." A nicely written mid-speed track with fine mandolin work. Maybe Mason was returning the favor as this sounds like a Frampton ballad.

Look at You, Look at Me (7:22) - Needing even more wah-wah firepower, Mason turned to a guitarist who had earlier played with a band named Cream. Some guy named Eric Clapton. "I miss you like I miss the sun/ I need you every day/ As I turn around to look at you/ And you look back no more..." When this track hits its peak, it sounds like Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs had melded with Traffic and Delaney & Bonnie to produce the perfect stage band.

Some of Slowhand's best work closes out the final 2:45 of this classic album. "Wooh!" shouts Dave near the fade... Indeed.

Joseph Arellano

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tomorrow Is Not Just St. Patrick's Day... (a reminder)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009, is also the day that Van Morrison, the Belfast-born musician, selected as the release date for the DVD version of Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl. We're looking forward to seeing it.

"If you didn't hear from him, that just means he didn't call..."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On the road again...

I've been fighting RSI aches and pains the last few days, so today I decided to take Deborah Quilter's advice and get some aerobic exercise. I wound up putting on my New Balance 901's and jogged the "Vinetian" route in our 'hood, which is a bit longer than a 5K (about 3.3 miles). When you begin running again after a lay-off it's always a bit frustrating because the mind controls the body, and it takes weeks before the reverse is true.

But with a struggle I got through the run and right now I feel better than I did a few hours ago. Also, once one gets back out on the road every run seems to be easier than the one that preceeded it... I will hope that this continues to be the case. We shall see.

Photo: flickr (jakerome)

Papi gets his move on!

This is Papi the dog enjoying the sun, sand and surf in Santa Monica!

Photo: Los Angeles Times (Reader Photos)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yes, you can get help for RSI...

If you're like me, you type on your computer at work most of the day, then use your PC at home to cruise the internet and/or blog in your free time; you're also surfing the internet and blogging using a wireless machine either at the local coffee shop or in the lobby of a business hotel. Eventually, you may wind up with forearm, wrist, hand, shoulder or back pains from using your hands and arms so long. These days, this is almost normal but you still should seek to avoid the type of long-term damage that comes with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

RSI has been called the "epidemic that began in the '90s," and it can damage the muscles, nerves and tendons of the hands, wrists and arms. Fortunately, there's both free and low-cost advice available to avoid becoming a diagnosed RSI sufferer.

Three websites offer specific information and helpful recommendations on this condition: healthy computing, RSI-Relief, and rsi help. RSI help is the website of Deborah Quilter who wrote "the book" on the subject, Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User's Guide, with Dr. Emil Pascarelli. This is an excellent book that can help you determine whether you are at risk for RSI - and most of us in today's workplace are at risk - and give you the steps and tips you need to avoid permanent injury.

Once you've fully learned and incorporated the lessons of Quilter's first book, you might want to purchase her second book (pictured above), The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book, which provides a type of check-list approach to remind you to continue to use the positive techniques you're learned earlier.

A final point on RSI... Everyone is different and Quilter points out that what works for one person may not work for another. Experimenting is key. This is quite true... A few years back I was suffering an initial bout of RSI-type symptoms and the I.T. guy in the office gave me a roller-ball mouse. Like Quilter, I found this was not helpful; the roller-ball actually requires more movement and led to pain in my right hand.

The same I.T. guy then brought me a thumb-click mouse. As if by magic, about 80% of my pain and discomfort went away within days! But this remedy was not meant to be a permanent one, and I likely fell back into some bad habits. So now I'm re-reading Quilter's books to see how I can re-learn the lessons that will enable me to keep word processing and blogging.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Question of Favorite Music...

The young contestants on American Idol are often faced with a dilemma when trying to cover a famous song. If they try to sing it exactly as it was originally recorded, they're told: "Your version had better be at least as good as and preferably better than the original, or people will find it lacking." This is basically an impossible task for young performers with no experience and without much confidence.

The second option is to change or re-arrange the original song. This tends to upset the judges and viewers as happened, in a prior year's competition, when a female contestant changed Me & Mrs. Jones (Got A Thing Going On) to Me & Mr. Jones. The same negative reaction was heard when another female contestant rearranged a song that Peter Cetera wrote for Chicago.

This dilemma hits even the most successful of musicians. When, for example, Elton John covered the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds the critics found it to be neither more exciting than the original, nor enough of a change from the original to be interesting.

Cover songs are usually best when they are clearly meant as respectful tributes to the original artist - singer and/or songwriter. The Beatles cover version of Words of Love was obviously a tribute to their idol Buddy Holly. You can still hear the nervousness in their voices on Beatles VI and they never attempted to out-do a song by the late, great, Holly & the Crickets. Another example is found on The Very Best of Sheryl Crow. She shows her respect for Cat Stevens by including not just one but two cover versions of The First Cut is the Deepest. Both covers are humble, quiet, restrained in order to telegraph the message that she's not trying to out-meow The Cat. (Yet Crow is hardly known for her modesty.)

Which is a roundabout way of getting to the first way of describing my favorite music. The first test of great music, of a great song, is to ask whether anyone else could perform the song any better? With the best songs, the best performances, the answer is always no.

Think of Gordon Lightfoot singing If You Could Read My Mind. I've seen him sing this live twice and I absolutely cannot imagine anyone doing a better job. Take a second and listen to the song in your head and try to imagine another voice in his place. It isn't possible.

The same is true with Sinatra singing It Was A Very Good Year, Neil Diamond singing Solitary Man...

Joni Mitchell... No one is ever going to record a song by Joni that sounds better than Joni's original. Sarah McLachlan has recorded tribute versions of Blue and River, but her versions are, yes, respectful. Not better than the originals. The reverse would likely also be true. Take Sarah's Good Enough, Plenty or Do What You Have to Do. All of these songs were inspired by Joni's work but it's very doubtful that Joni in her prime would have recorded superior versions.

The true recording artist, at the top of his or her craft, cannot be surpassed. The same principle applies to albums. There's a young female artist who has released a cover CD version of The Who Sell Out album. It's probably interesting, but not very good.

Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Rubber Soul and Revolver by the Beatles, The Rising by the Boss, What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, Blue by Joni Mitchell... Hopefully, no one is ever going to release a cover version of these classics. If they do, they likely won't be worth listening to. Magic doesn't happen a second time.

Now we get to the second rule, or test. (To be continued... The first in a series.)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lafayette Park, Then and Now...

These are photographs of Lafayette Park in the Wilshire Center District area of Los Angeles. The black and white photo was taken in 1945.

Lafayette Park is now the site of the L.A. County Superior Court (seen in the color shot), where some of the finest citizens in the area are "invited" to appear for jury duty. The Superior Court building was once the CNA Insurance Building often seen on The Rockford Files TV show back in the 1970's.

Where did I park my Firebird?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Keeping Up with Munchy...

Attached is a recent photograph of Munchy as he rests on a warm quilt on a cold, winter's, day (California dreamin'). Munchy's fans should know that additional photos of His Munchyness can be found at the Creative Bureau Cat (CBC) blog; just click on the CBC link in the My Blog List column to the left.

Photo: Joseph/Munchy Archives; click on the photo to see a much - or Munch - larger version.

real value...

If we only knew the real value of a day, nothing would contribute more to put us in possession of ourselves. Joseph Farrell

Photo: flickr (Sheila in Millstone)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Peet's in Westwood...

This is now the Peet's coffee shop in Westwood - near the U.C.L.A. campus - that was once the site of one of the earliest Ralph's grocery stores. Peet's, in fact, occupies the original building.

Mrs. Bear remembers, as a child, driving regularly to this Ralph's with her grandfather so that he could buy the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner from the newspaper vendor in front of the store; the vendor would give her a piece of raspberry candy. Otherwise, everything remains the same.

Photo: flickr (karanmehta)

Monday, March 9, 2009

waiting on the wind

Just waiting on some sturdy wind
to blow us someplace we might belong.

Justin Farren

Photo: flickr (dan_photoman)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Domino: A Retro-Review of One of Van's Best Albums...

A lot of attention has been focused lately on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks album from 1968, which was followed by Moondance. Many of Van's fans would list one of these two releases as their favorite of his but my personal favorite is His Band and the Street Choir from 1970.

Here are some track by track notes on this album whose songs were arranged in perfect order...

Domino - A great rocker and album opener; Van with an 11-piece brass band. John Klinberg's fine bass work is clearer here than on later re-masters.

Crazy Face - A pre-Eagles Desperado-type song. "He stood outside the church yard gate/ And polished up on his .38 and said/ I got it from Jessie James."

Give Me A Kiss - A bouncy number that sounds like Elvis circa 1956. More sweet brass backing from the band.

I've Been Working - Van as a macho soul man. This has always been his best on-stage performance song, and there's just a touch of Tower of Power, War and the Doors in the break.

Call Me Up in Dreamland - Ragtime meets dixieland meets southern Belfast rock. The Band might have sounded like this if they'd been less heavy.

I'll Be Your Lover, Too - His then-wife Janet Planet explained this best: "I have seen Van open these parts of his secret self - his essential core of aloneness I had always feared could never be broken into - and say... yes, come in here... know me." A haunting love poem.

Blue Money - As much as I love Domino, Wild Night and Brown Eyed Girl, this has always been my all-time favorite Morrison single. (I still wonder if this is the song that inspired Steely Dan's Peg?) Every time a "Best of..." Van Morrison collection has been released, many complain because this song was not included. Janet Planet contributes the Linda McCartney-ish background vocal.

Virgo Clowns - A positive take on Jackson Browne's irony. "Now you know exactly who you want to be now. Let your laughter fill the room."

Gypsy Queen - Smooth as a slide across the ice... Van captures the spirit of Motown. Say it's alright. (Van himself said in 2007, "It's always been about soul.")

Sweet Janine - Back to the cradle, with a blues rocker featuring a B.B. King-style guitar lead. Elmore James has nothing on this.

If I Ever Needed Somone - Van's My Sweet Lord. "To keep me from my sorrow/ To lead me on to givingness/ So I can see a new tomorrow."

Street Choir - A great tribute to a long-lost love; one who will not be taken back. "Why did you leave... Why did you let me down/ And now that things seem better... Why do you come around/ You know that I can't see you now."

Like all of rock's best albums, from What's Going On to Graceland to The Rising, this one is life affirming. 89.5 out of 100 points.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Greetings from Vintage Modesto, California!

These are the very northern California, central valley, streets on which the film American Graffiti was filmed! During that era, teenagers would travel from all over - including Stockton - to drive "the strip." (In the film, the graduation party dance band is said to have traveled "all the way from Stockton.")

Modesto was the Hawthorne/Norwalk of northern California in the 1950's and 60's, the place where teens got around and had fun, fun, fun until daddy took the T-Bird away.

Next: Domino - A Retro Review of One of Van's Best Albums.

Sadly, This Is So True...

Jerry Holbert, Boston Herald.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Don't Let Borders Do This to You/Us...

Somehow the notion that the customer is always right seems to have gone the way of dust in the wind. This afternoon I went in to my local Borders Books store to use a coupon issued to what, in theory, are its best customers; Borders Rewards members. The coupon serves as a clear invitation to make a purchase (during a certain specified time frame), and I did so.

As I completed paying for my purchase, my music CD and my receipt were handed back to me. That's when I asked for a bag. The clerk basically told me no, and asked me if I did not prefer to be "environmentally responsible." I repeated my request, since the clerk's response indicated that she had heard my original request. The third time around, she walked away, secured a bag - they clearly had them in stock - and reluctantly handed it to me.

We should not be treated like this by the very businesses for which we serve as the most loyal customers... And when it happens, we need to make sure to contact Borders' customer service and make them aware of what amounts to rude service. The applicable telephone number for Borders is 800.443.7359.

As I indicated to the customer service staff, being told I cannot have a bag for my purchase would be like Starbucks instructing its customers to supply their own coffee cups in the interest of saving the environment... while not lowering its prices. In my case, Borders had already paid for the bags and carried them in stock. If Borders elects to make a contribution to an environmental cause with a portion of their profits, so be it. But don't try to inflate company profits by offering me less service.

(By the way, some of us have learned to be quite responsible in terms of how we use the plastic and paper bags from merchants. We use them repeatedly before throwing them away, and we use them as an alternative to more environmentally harmful products.)

Finally, I need to make this statement: No young clerk at Borders or elsewhere should assume to know who I am or what causes I do or do not support. For all he or she knows, I may contribute to several environmental or other socially responsible groups. I may even work for one. But this is my business.

Rule 1, the customer is always right. Rule 2 for a company's survival in these tough economic times when there's a dispute, see Rule 1.

A Future Lion King...

Begins to examine his kingdom.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A cute idea...

I like Paste Magazine. It's hip, cool and features some good music reviews. Recently, the magazine ran a very interesting article on the 10 cutest babies ever featured on record album covers. Yes, this is one of the album cover babies selected, from a Kantner and Slick album.

I won't give the rest of the results away except to note that they did not include the famous Nirvana cover; a bit of a surprise.

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me...

Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me
by Mary Oliver

Last night
the rain
spoke to me
slowly, saying,
what joy
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud,
to be happy again
in a new way on the earth!

That's what it said
as it dropped
smelling of iron,
and vanished
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.

The sky cleared.
I was standing under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain --

imagine! imagine!
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours

Photo: flickr (Mr. Graves)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Looking Back at Downtown Stockton...

Now we're looking back at the downtown Stockton, California of years past. This painted-on-bricks sign (from the late '50s or early '60s) was meant to advertise two businesses that no longer exist. The first, Brown-Mahin, was a small and non-franchise department store. The second, Campora Appliance Sales (CAS), was open from 1948 until approximately 1984.

CAS specialized in selling Frigidaire and other modern appliances - only the best for the homemakers of the Port City - and was located at 118 North California Street. A branch of the Campora family continues to operate Campora Propane Service in Stockton, although no fee was paid for this advertisement.

Photo: flickr (Dave van Hulsteyn); click on the photo to see a slightly larger version.

Growing Up in Los Angeles...

"If I told you I grew up living in L.A. I'd be lying. No one ever grew up in L.A."
- from the upcoming film The Informer

Photo: flickr (Benjamin Page)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Astral Weeks: Celebrating St. Patrick's Day with Van Morrison...

A number of you have both read and called my attention to the very positive reviews of Van Morrison's music concert CD, Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The 40th-anniversary retro version of the classic 1968 album was recorded over two nights in November of 2008. Better late than never. Much better!

What you may not already know is that beginning on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2009, you can order the DVD version from Amazon. Amazon will be the exclusive seller of Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl: The Concert Film ($29.99 list, $19.99 at Amazon) through mid-September of this year.

The wild night is calling. Come on out and dance.

Astral Plane

I feel like I've come back from an astral plane. And I'm still getting used to life on this planet. John L. Parker, Jr. (author)