Tuesday, November 24, 2015

2015 Thanksgiving

About a year ago, I was in south Florida bouncing between Homestead and Key Largo over a long weekend with a few buddies. I can't believe with a blink and a snap another year has passed. The 365+ days from then until now have rewarded me with several good times as well as a healthy dose of challenging moments. Taken as a whole, however, I continue to look up and forward as I recall a few of the many things for which I'm grateful.


I grew up as a city kid though I was born in the country, the home of my folks. Growing up in the burbs, it was always fun riding in the back seat and counting silos and barns on the way to Granny's house. (Near riots broke out as my sister, brother and I fought over who spied a certain silo first.)

My Great Uncle lived near his sister, and we often made the walk through the pasture from Granny's to his barn to pull a few hay bales. The place felt so cavernous regardless of how many trips we made to it. It's been decades since I've stepped foot in that barn yet it still stands. I have a few vivid mental images of it but no photos. The only pic I have is a screen cap from Google Maps.

Over the years, I've almost come to believe that all barns are built in a dilapidated condition. I'm not sure I've actually seen a brand spanking new barn - and frequently doubt they ever existed.

From the mid 1990s through the early 2000s, I lived about 45 minutes northeast of Nashville and traveled Long Hollow Pike on my way to work. Each morning, I'd spot the same 2 or 3 barns as part of my commute

  • Some mornings, the sun glinted off their rusty red metal roofs. 
  • Other days, the gray of the aged wood blended seamlessly with the rain that made my commute a living hell as I approached Nashville's city limits. 
  • Yet other days, the base of the barns floated on a cloud of fog.

Regardless of the weather, the sight of the barns from my peripheral vision was tranquil. They gave me a daily, split-second moment to reflect on my childhood before traffic snapped me back to the realities of today. Occasionally, I'd work through a never-begun plan in my mind to craft a coffee table book: The Barns of Long Hollow.

As a parent, my son grew up in a barn so to speak. Though I've continued to live in the safe confines of a planned subdivision, my son and I experienced several life forming moments in a 150+ year-old, barn as the meeting place for his Boy Scouts troop.

Over the past year, many of these memories have been rekindled through the photography of Chad Cochran (web | Twitter). He regularly tweets photos of barns from across the state of Ohio and elsewhere. Though they aren't pics of my barns, I smile with a connected memory each time I see one of his works of art.


♫ All we need is just a little patience ♫

So goes the line following soon after the whistling in the Guns N Roses song. Whatever. With his rep, it was always clear to me that Axl Rose's singing of the lyric had little in common what he could actually offer. But hey, I'm right there with Axl. Patience is not one of my inherent traits - never has been. I have, however, worked on developing it over the years. A lot. Over the past year, I've needed to draw frequently on the limited patience I've got. Surprisingly, I've generally been able to rally an abundant supply when needed. It's genuinely been a relief when those moments happen.

Otis Gibbs.

I've listened to the music of Otis Gibbs some. I've met Otis Gibbs once. And I've listened to Otis Gibbs' podcasts frequently.

Otis  (web | Twitter), an Indiana transplant to East Nashville, is a talented musician and songwriter. He is also passionate about the history of music. It's too convenient to say he is mainly interested in the history of country music - though he is. His regular podcast Thanks For Giving A Damn touches on a wide variety of music history - traditional country, Dylan, Americana, the East Nashville songwriting scene, Nashville's rock history, Texas outlaws, etc.

Otis' format is about as simple but effective as you can get. He sits down with a guest, sets up a mic, presses record, and lets the stories unfold. No polish, no filters. Just an enjoyable trip through history. I've learned more than one piece of trivia during my listening of every single podcast.

I simply can't recommend his podcast (or his music) enough. You can get it through his website, iTunes or Soundcloud.


I'm not sure if it's a man vs. woman thing, an introvert vs. extrovert thing, an age-based thing , or something else. But my approach over the years has been to have a lot of friendships. Many, yes. Shallow, yes. Many are fleeting as they ebb and flow. Some continue for a few years. Few have been life long. Generally speaking, if we can share a beer together, it's highly probable we can become friends.

Of late, however, I've re-thought that model. I've developed a deeper relationship with a handful of buds - and you know who you are. You've been there when needed. I remain grateful for those genuine friendships. As for everyone else, I'll still share that beer and a laugh with you. But I'm pretty sure it's your turn to buy.


Growing up, Donelson was my world. Donelson was and remains an unincorporated 'burb of Nashville. The boundaries stretch roughly from the Percy Priest Lake dam to the airport to Briley Parkway/I-40 to what is now known as the "Opryland complex" to the Stones River bridge on Lebanon Rd. Nashville was the big city.

For ages, I thought Nashville should be in the same convo as the big playahs of the US. I seethed when folks didn't know where it was. "Tennessee? Oh yeah! Isn't that where Memphis is? Where Elvis lived?"

As the years have flown by, I grew to accept Nashville for what it is - or for what I thought it was. Instead, folks now tell me how much they dig my hometown.

  • We vacationed there!
  • I'm taking a job there!
  • We're touring there!

Nashville now seems far larger than I think of it. I suppose traffic is the first indicator of that reality. The cool thing for me, however, is that I still find it home and as comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. I make my living there. I occasionally drive into town to take advantage of an incredibly vibrant music scene. And I can still easily find my way to see my folks in Donelson.

Despite the explosive growth, I often take the long way around to visit them. I enjoy cranking some music, lowering the windows, and taking a tour from the dam to the airport to McGavock Pike to the Hermitage breakpoint and back to my folks' house for a cup of coffee and sump'n sump'n homemade sweet made by my mother.

May each of you reading this enjoy your Thanksgiving - with your immediate and/or extended family. And regardless of how you roll, please pause - even for just a moment - and consciously reflect on a few things for which you are genuinely thankful.

If you've read any of my posts this year (here or my racing-related ones at my other blog) or follow me on Twitter, I can only say in the words of Otis Gibbs, thanks for giving a damn.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rod Picott - Fortune

Four or five years ago, I went to Nashville's 3rd and Lindsley to hear DADDY, the collaboration between Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. I didn't know if an opener was also scheduled but arrived in plenty of time just in case. I didn't catch the singer's name as it was announced, and none of the songs were familiar to me - though I dug what he was playing.

He then caught my ear with his performance of a song I did recognize: Slaid Cleaves' Broke Down. Following his set, I had a couple of moments to chat with him as DADDY was setting up.

I introduced myself to the songwriter I then learned was Rod Picott (web | Twitter) and complimented him on his cover of Slaid's song. He politely but directly replied he had written the song and was good friends with Slaid. DOH! A bit of an awkward opening. I pleaded my ignorance, and we concluded all was good. Another "all good" thing I learned over time was a bit more of Picott's music.

Rod has released about a half-dozen albums over the past 15 years. Most of his songs have been about telling stories, making observations, reflecting on the lives of others, etc.

Hard to believe, but 2015 has now edged solidly into fall with winter at the end of the driveway. Darkness arrives a bit earlier and stays later, and daylight is often experienced as gray light. That seasonal change seems to reflect the mood of Picott's recent new release, Fortune.

Rather than another album's worth of songs about others, Fortune reflects much more of an introspective look by the songwriter. About half the album's twelve songs were recorded in one day, and the remaining ones were wrapped-up over the following two weeks.

Picott recorded his songs in an open room along with guitarist Will Kimbrough, bassist Lex Price, and drummer Neilson Hubbard (who also produced the album). The purpose for the recording location and the expediency of tracking the songs was to provide an album somewhat akin to what one gets from a live Rod Picott show.

You aren't getting party music with Fortune. The songs likely will not lead you to sing them in the shower or practice your steering wheel drumming skills. But from start to finish, the album commands deliberate, intentional listening and repeated plays. A few highlights from the album include...

Elbow Grease, the album's second track. Picott includes themes about his life - that introspective look he wanted to capture on the album - with references to his father, his struggles as a songwriter, the tenacity to stay in The Business, and the luck needed to make all of the pieces come together.

Lord, help me find where I belong
I broke my back trying to find that song
Threw a straight right just to keep some pride
I gave the middle finger to the hurt inside

We all have that nutjob relative within our family tree. Or maybe not a crazy one but one that's a bit off or dysfunctional when it comes to relationships (mine is named Luther or maybe it's ME). Uncle John may well be one of Picott's uncles. Perhaps he is a composite of folks distilled into one individual for the benefit of a song. Either way, life seems to be all about family relationships - some strong, frayed, elastic, dysfunctional, transparent, sequestered, etc.

Though many of the album's songs may be considered contemplative or even somber lyrically, Uncle John brings out a good laugh - as do many of Rod's stories during his live performances.

Drinks beer from a can 'cause bottles break
Nine fingers and one mistake
Plaid shirt, Carhartt pants
He ain't never been to a singles' dance

Jeremiah is sung from the perspective of the wife or girlfriend of a soldier who never made it home. The band sits this one out. It's simply Picott, his guitar, and his haunting narrative.

They say you died out in the desert
With a name I can't pronounce
I can't remember if I said I Love You
That don't matter now

Sisters cry and dads can't speak
Girls like me sleep alone
A mother's work is never done
Soldiers don't come home

Fortune can be purchased at Picott's website or others including iTunes and Amazon. Also, Picott is a touring machine. Those out west may be able to catch one of his shows in November. In December, he piles into a van with Decembersongs, a loose knit East Nashville foursome of Amy Speace, Doug and Telisha Williams from Wild Ponies, and Picott. The four of them tell stories, play several non-Christmas songs, and then share a few holiday favorites. It's a show not to be missed if you have the good Fortune of them visiting your town.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Magnolia Collective - An Old Darkness Falls

MagCo isn't a turbo engine, a flashlight or a venture capitalist-launched company. MagCo is short for Magnolia Collective (web | Twitter). The Carrboro / Chapel Hill, North Carolina band has been a perennial performer at Couch By Couchwest each March.

The band wrote several songs over the past few years, tweaked them a bit here and there, played many a gig, and made efforts to raise a bit of bank. The culmination of those efforts has been distilled in the band's first full-length album, An Old Darkness Falls, to be released on October 24th.

Musically, Old Darkness experiments with varied Americana elements on its 10 songs such as captivating but not overused steel and slide, alternating electric and acoustic guitar emphasis, full-on drums on songs such as Gran Torino and Sweetness, and  to greater use of toms with mallets but little snare with brushes on Coldest Winter.

Lyrically, the album's title is no play on words. Like thematic darkness? Well, you'll get it with this release. The dark themes, however, match exceptionally well with the musical varieties offered.

The album's opener, The Devil Is Real, is hypnotically enchanting. The underlying meter of the song reminds me a bit of Todd Snider's This Land Is Our Land going back to his Daily Planet debut. But Devil has complex musical layers, distant vocals, and alluring harmonies - all attributes that cause me to pause and acknowledge that yes, the devil is real.

Outside, tonight
Your street lights / Are foaming at the mouth
There's an old darkness falling / On your new south

The second track, Coldest Winter, was the band's submission to Couch By in 2014. The buzzkilling but captivating lyrics speak of a dark and haunting story kept secret over two decades. Listening to it intently, feelings of grief ... of pain ... of regret ... of hurt ... of fear ... of despair ... and perhaps shame are present. A favor is requested of another with an accompanying promise that nothing more will be asked or spoken about the request - ever.

...you looked me in the eyes and said
"Do me this one favor, one favor please"
Pulled out a wooden box and said
"Bury this for me..."

Then "what's in the box?" I said
You shuddered shyly as a newborn as you turned from me
And you said "No matter what happens next
Whether it be rapture or a shipwreck
Promise me you'll never open what I give to thee"

Doldrums was submitted to Couch By back in 2013. To be honest, I didn't get it then - but admittedly I didn't spend a lot of time overthinking this one. I just listened to it and became consumed with absorbing the visual of all their props. Wait, those are props, right?

MagCo submitted Girl From Guadalajara to CXCW over 3-1/2 years ago in 2012. The song is a fun listen. To this day, I really want to enjoy ceviche and a cerveza ... and a nap ... on that couch.

California and Julianne represent a notable change musically from many of the other songs on the album. Both are closer in style to Doldrums than they are to the two opening and closing songs. With a solid backbeat, steel, and some jangle and twang, the two tracks hold true to what many think of as an Americana sound.

Because you
Ya say you're going to California
And you're gonna be a star
And you'll find everything that you have ever wanted
Oh just don't you forget who you are

Now bury your secrets in the backyard
Right next to your mother's bones
Deep down, dark and lovely
Where nobody else will know

Mimi McLaughlin's prominent harmonies on the album's seventh song, Sweetness (as well as on several of the other tracks) are pleasing - yet they add an eerie element. Going back several years, I'm reminded a bit of the harmonies that accompanied Moe Berg on The Pursuit of Happiness songs such as Hard to Laugh or Beautiful White. (If you aren't familiar with TPOH, they were a fantastic, rocking band out of Toronto.)

Unlike the album's title, Sweetness as a song title is the antithesis of its lyrical contents. And the song is perhaps the most rocking one on the album.

Like the time I crawled back home at dawn
from your house in the hills in the burning sun
and how the humid air was thick 
with the bones and teeth and fingerprints
and I think I need your sweetness

Tie Me To The Mast ranks among my favorite songs of the album along with Devil, Winter and Sweetness. The middle of the album includes the tracks with alt-country leanings. But as the album nears its end, Mast returns the band to a more complex song instrumentally and with a series of tempo and intensity changes. And once again, Mimi's wonderful harmonies complement the song as a contrast to her low-end bass playing.

Old Darkness closes with the uplifting (tongue firmly in cheek) A Reminder. The song includes a simple request to have someone play them a song to keep their memory sharp and spirits raised as they grow older, go through illness, ponder life, become frail, and face their inevitable end. Despite the challenging subject, the song's lyrics are indeed poignant.

Now let this be a reminder
For when we're old and slow and filled with cancer
There was a time when moments lasted hours
So don't forget these words that I recorded 

And if I get crazy and mean
Turn to me, turn to me
And look me in the eye again
And say the same damn thing
Or sing me this song all the way to the end
Until I remember it
Until I remember it again

Seek ye this fine record this fall.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

The End Men

Earlier this spring, Couch By Couchwest stalwarts The End Men (web | Twitter) released their new album Terms and Conditions.
Historically, the core of The End Men has been the husband-wife duo of Matt Hendershot on guitar and vocals and Liv Ranalli on drums and backing vocals. A year or so ago, saxophonist Matthew Elia joined the band to enrich an already grinding sound.

The quick and easy summation of the band has been to say "he sounds kinda like Tom Waits". Admittedly, Waits and Hendershot share a gravelly, low-end vocal style - but the comparison needs to end there. Make no mistake about it. The End Men is a full-on rock-and-roll band.

The new album's opener, Copycat, was written at least two years ago before finding its way to an album. The video for it was featured on CXCW in 2013 as part of their Brooklyn rooftop, eight-song concert. Those unfamiliar with the band get an immediate sense of Ranalli's drumming style. Don't stand within her immediate circle as she is playing - or you'll likely find a pair of ProMark tips upside your head.

The second track, Beast of NYC, opens with some great, low-end guitar and a full-frontal attack by Liv on her toms and cymbals. On the recorded version, Elia's sax arrives about a minute into the song and complements the bottom end of the song's sound by Hendershot's guitar and vocals.

Morning Birds - the third song - may be my favorite of the album. The song opens with a quick face featuring all three of the band members. After about 30 seconds, the tempo drops back into a jazzy, NYC speakeasy feel where Elia's thick sax sound is featured before Hendershot's lyrics begin. Then with a minute to go in the six-minute song, Liv grabs the tempo and makes it her own. The song's vibe turns on a dime as they race home the final 60 seconds.

Need another song that will guarantee you'll crank the volume and open the throttle wherever you're driving - po-po be damned? Grab Caretaker. Think Bon Scott on vocals - but with a deeper octave growl from Matt.

If you are a comics fan, you may dig East of West. It's a solid song in its own right, and the song was inspired by the science fiction Western comic by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta.

Defining Deviance Down winds down the album with almost a Southern rock'ish groove open. As Elia and Ranalli join, however, the full, greasy sound of the album returns.

Despite the legalese, Terms & Conditions is a must listen. Get it for an easy 8 bucks at Bandcamp. Face it - you'd spend that much or more on a few bottles of craft beer anyway.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

2015 National Train Day

Amtrak created National Train Day in 2008. Celebrated on the Saturday closest to May 10th, the made-up holiday is one I've enjoyed nonetheless - certainly more than others such as Groundhog Day, April Fool's Day and the multitude of National [name a food] Day.

So here we are - May 9th - for National Train Day 2015. Right?

Credit: Chad Cochran of Chad Cochran Photography 
Not so fast. For 2015, Amtrak announced:
After seven years of successful National Train Day events, where train enthusiasts would gather to show their support of the trains and train travel in over 300 communities across the nation on the same day, we decided to make it even bigger and better. Amtrak Train Days is kicking off at Chicago Union Station on May 9th, and then will hit the rails, traveling to multiple locations across the country May through November.
Bigger and better? Rather than add an "s" to National Train Day, they rebranded the deal as Amtrak Train Days?? In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny...

As for me, I'll continue to refer to what I believe is the generic yet appropriately-named National Train Day. How about another annual six-pack batch of train songs to help commemorate NTD.

I first heard Boxcars sung by Joe Ely on his album Live Shots. Later I learned the song was written by Butch Hancock. Ely recorded many other songs written by Hancock and collaborated with him in The Flatlanders.

TMC's Great-Granddaddy - far left in shirt & tie
A lonesome yet rhythmic sound - words often used to describe a train - and perhaps the music of the late, great Townes Van Zandt including BW Railroad Blues.

Credit: Chad Cochran
A Man And A Train - Not only am I partial to trains - but also to a good bit of music favored by my dad. Included in the list of performers he has long enjoyed is Marty Robbins.

Perhaps my favorite album from 2014 was the haunting Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth by Otis Gibbs (web | Twitter). Included on the album was the fantastic song It Was A Train.

Source: Ben Tufts
It's a bit hard to believe it's taken me three years to include Georgia On A Fast Train by the legendary Billy Joe Shaver in my NTD compilations. Here is a video of Billy Joe performing his classic with his late son, Eddy Shaver on lead guitar.

Sturgill Simpson hit my radar about a year or so ago, and I'm playing from behind to catch up to his music. But in keeping with the fast pace of Billy Joe's song, here is Simpson's Railroad of Sin.

Well, I said I'd include a six pack. But how 'bout we have one for the road. With the earlier mention of Joe Ely, I'll include Midnight Train sung by him.

So today, hop a train, visit a train, introduce a child to a train, go watch a train, lay awake tonight with a window open to listen to a train, or simply smile peacefully as you enjoy your own favorite train song.


Friday, May 1, 2015

Sharing A Six Pack with Jesse Lafser

As I've mentioned more than once, the annual Couch By Couchwest festival has opened my eyes to many fantastic performers the last few years. (As a reminder, CXCW happens live each March. Unlike other festivals that end after a days, however, CXCW remains available for listening year-round.)

One such artist I've met and grown to enjoy is Jesse Lafser (web | Twitter). Her sophomore record, Raised On The Plains, was released earlier this week on April 28th.

Jesse is an unabashed Dylan / folk song fan and mentions frequently his influence on her songwriting style. Yet she brings her own individuality, insights, musical twists to traditional folk and grace to her approach in writing and performing her songs.

The few times I've seen perform Jesse perform - on CXCW and in Nashville - I've experienced her with a guitar and a microphone. For Plains, she surrounded herself with a full band adding a rich and complementary yet deferential sound to her own guitar and vocals work.

The album's hopping opener, Jack Hat Blues, was her submission to Couch By Couchwest 2015.

Jesse and I recently shared a virtual Six Pack ... of Questions.

TMC: So right from the jump, the world wants to know. How many hats DO you have?
JL: A fair question. Currently, I've got about 5 hats. I get really into one at a time and wear it until it doesn't feel like me anymore and then I switch it up. Recently, I've been on a quest for the perfect black hat...they are surprisingly hard to come by. Hoping I'll find one on the road out west this May!
TMC: You worked with Will Kimbrough on the new album. Were there a couple of "a-ha!" moments - from either of you - as the two of you spent time working through songs, the recording process, etc.?
JL: Will and I agreed before the session that we wouldn't rehearse the songs he played on ahead of time. We tracked them live in the same room which gave the tracks a great energy. 
I think sometimes the most inspired sounds come when you feel slightly unsure, like you're dancing on the edge of a cliff, not sure if you'll fall or not. He never falls though. I trust him. He's one of the greatest players of all time, and it was an honor to have him on the album. 
Darling, It's A Waste of Time is a swinging, tap-your-toe, yet blusey song - one with which you cannot suppress a smile as you listen to it.

The fourth track from the album, The Chores Song, is one of my three favorites from the release. The song also happens to have been Jesse's submission to CXCW in 2014. On the album, the uptempo song is enriched by a prominent fiddling riff and some wonderful harmony vocals from Lindsay Hayes. It also features Jesse's gifted guitar picking.

I don't want you to do the chores
I don't need you to sweep the floors
If you wanted a maid, you made a huge mistake

We could steal away to Barcelona
I'll be Jack, and you'll be Ramona
We could find a place down by the sea
Spend all day at the cafe down the street

Well, I  never minded working hard
Never minded doing my time
Do the dishes, work in the yard
Pay the bills, write a rhythm and a rhyme

TMC: You aren't FROM Nashville - yet you've BECOME part of Nashville's ever growing variety of music. After relocating here a few years ago, what has been the best or maybe easiest thing about living here? And the most challenging aspects? (That's actually 2 questions, but let's pretend it's just happy hour.)
JL: The hot chicken. Also East Nashville itself - I'm not sure I could still live in Nashville if it weren't for this neighborhood - it's amazing how rivers have always forged two very different parts of town with completely different energies. I feel lucky to be able to walk a few blocks and see Todd Snider and other great songwriters like Don Schlitz (he wrote "The Gambler") for happy hour at The 5 Spot. It's really incredible how collaborating with other artists can happen so naturally here. All you have to do is take a few steps out your front door. 
That's not to say living here doesn't come without challenges - there are many of those too. For one thing, there are no mountains. I am the best version of myself when I can see nature all around me in an obvious way - that's what inspires me most. 
I also think that because this town is so saturated with incredible talent. There is this survival mentality and maybe even a sense of fear of being left behind. It can become this 'every man for himself' kind of place where everyone is begging for scraps from the table. It's not easy, but I am learning if you can get past this perspective and try to continue to cultivate a supportive community of artists, it's a much more enjoyable experience. I am also very competitive so this is a good reminder for myself on a daily basis. 
TMC: I understand many of the songs on the new record are based on your travels a year or ago through the southwestern states of the US. (By the way, I dig the subtle accordion on Gone Gone Gone.) Did the songs come to you in those moments - or did you reflect back on those experiences to compose them somewhere down the line?
JL: Thank you! The songs pretty much came out in a flood once I returned home. Whenever I go out on the road, I try to explore and take in as much as I can - it's amazing what you can find in a town if you go on long walks. I end up collecting these sensory experiences and observations of the characters and the cultures I come across. This always finds a way to the page.
TMC: How about songwriting in general. What is your pattern - if you have one - for writing songs? I'm curious if you dedicate time during the week to write, if you frequently write them in a single setting or two, or if you tend to log lyrics or stanzas over time with some of them eventually finding their way together to build a song.
JL: This is a very insightful question because everyone really is different in these three main ways. My best songs are the ones that come out of thin air, I guess you could say from the big creative wellspring, or the muse. This is a strange thing, but my very best songs come two at a time, back to back, in one sitting. This is rare though. And some songs come to me bits at a time and require more work. Either way, I always try to come back and edit them after the 'honey moon' phase has passed. 
Mountain Air is another of my genuinely favorite songs from the album. As recorded, it's thoroughly enjoyable. But heard live, it takes on a different perspective. I've listened to it - outdoors - in East Nashville - sitting with my eyes closed -  a bit of rhythmic head nod - a slight smile on my face - and a cold one on the table untouched as the song unfolds..

TMC: When I've seen you perform, I've sat quietly, listened intently, uttered the occasional "umh" when a particular lyric resonated, and then clapped when you were done with a song. You aren't really a performer who brings out the moshing, screeching or Flick-the-Bic fan bases. How do you measure, interpret, evaluate, or whatever you want to call it your connection with your audience during a show? And do you find you get different responses or engagement depending on what part of the country you tour?
JL: I think I feel a connection with my audience when they are actively listening - pretty much what you just said, you're the perfect audience member! It does depend a little on the song though. I think for the more rollicking blues songs it's nice to look out and see people moving and feeling the music. I have noticed I do really well out west, and I'm not really sure why. If I figure it out, I'll be sure to let you know!
As the album nears its end, my third fave Virginia Morning continues to hold the listener's ear. The title and visualizations don't exactly evoke the U.S. west. Yet I'm glad it was included. The richness of the backing instruments is again featured as is Lafser's spot-on pitch in varying vocal ranges. Plus,one can never have enough mountain - or train - songs.

I took the train from Virginia
With a head full of rain
And I saw my reflection
In that Blue Ridge Mountain range

You are waiting on me, I am waiting for you
Wheels are flying, steel driving, feeling free
As I'm closing the distance between you and me

Raised on the Plains can be purchased at all the normal spots - iTunes, Amazon, Grimey's in Nashville, and perhaps even your local record store - especially upon request.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Life's Perceptual Fraction

We have a management program at work based on conceptual models grouped into a series of themes. One of the models is called the Perceptual Fraction which posits the way an item is viewed depends on its relationship to other items. For example:
  • Fork over $1,000 for a car stereo? No way. But include a $1,000 audio package as part of a new car purchase? Sure, OK. I'll finance it! 
  • Pay eight bucks for a bottle of beer at the local grocery or liquor store? Hell no! But go to dinner and add a local microbrew high gravity stout to your tab? Hey, it's cool supporting the local brewers!
  • Year 1 raise is 8 percent. Year 2 is only 4 percent. Uh oh. But what if average year 2 raise for everyone was 2 percent?
From a management perspective, the model says a manager should (1) understand if a change will even be noticed and (2) put the change in the right context when it will be noticed.

I recently notched a half-century and am not ashamed to say so. I am, however, reluctant to say I fully comprehend what it means. Am I half-way there, two-thirds of the way along, or living on borrowed time?

I know I react differently to things at 50 than I did at 18 ... or 25 ... or 40. Maybe my denominator has just grown larger so that my 'perceptual fraction' isn't as affected relatively as it once was. Impulsive reactions years ago seem to be replaced by more intentional, deliberate actions today. Well, some of the impulsiveness remains - just not as much.

Generally speaking, I'm not a big birthday guy. Every year, I just view the day as one day more than yesterday. But I'd be lying if I denied that this one has made me think a bit more than I did at 30 or 40.

Over the last few years, I've blogged about all sorts of stuff. Music, faith, travel, parenting, racing, beer, idiocy of others, home improvement - just to name a few subjects. I imbibe in all of the above and am average at best in most of them.

Several years ago, Tommy Womack wrote and recorded Going Nowhere (and was included by co-writer Jason Ringenberg on The Scorchers' Clear Impetuous Morning). The refrain is:

I'm going nowhere, just going nowhere
I can't see tomorrow, but I'm leaving here today
I'm going nowhere, but at least I know the way

Those few lines still make me laugh - but they also resonate with me perhaps more now than at any point of my life. I'm confused about many things, and I stumble about working on all of them these days. Yet I figure I'm still trying to keep life in a forward gear vs. reverse.

I've honestly tried to be a good pop. Perfect? Shooooot, there's no such thing as a perfect parent. But so far, so good in all material respects - without trying to be too prideful about it or overly optimistic about where things go from here. Regarding my son, I've blogged about such things as:
Yet, its really hard to think how quickly time flew from this...

... to this 15 years later later ...

And now the boy ... err, young man will hit 20 this year. Twenty!

My daughter is killing it academically and has convinced me to shut my pie hole when she sets her mind about committing to something.
  • Middle school: "You haven't taken tap or ballet, and we're not sure you'll make the dance team squad." "I'll practice." Boom, she makes it.
  • Middle school: "You haven't gone to any sort of cheer or tumbling camp. You sure you want to try out for cheerleading?" "I'll watch YouTube." Boom, she makes it.
  • Band: "You want to march with with the high schoolers as an eighth grader? It's awfully hot at band camp." "I can do it." Boom: done.
  • High school: "You want to march in drum line?" "Yep." "Done, I have full confidence you can handle it."
A few other perspectives of late - things that ever entered my mind a quarter-century ago:
  • My knees are shot, I'm overweight, and my doc now lectures me about my blood pressure. On the up side, I still have a full head of hair with only a smattering a gray around my temples. Take that, you younger, graying, balding dudes I see jogging regularly.
  • Newspapers - I concede that like many I've bailed on the paper version - yet I regularly reference old ones through Google News Archive and my local library. Yet how will the news of today be archived for future researchers to study - from an availability perspective and without retrospective editing.
  • A nervous I do and I will suddenly became half my life with a ring on my finger. Dang.
  • Twitter has become a dark place. I'm grateful for the accounts I follow and that follow me. I've avoided being directly engaged with the ugliness and hostility that seems to permeate it but I see many others hit with it. It'll eventually strangle Twitter.
  • I grew up listening to my parents' LPs. Some I liked - many I didn't. But I  remember the albums, and a lot of their preferences influenced the music I now enjoy. They also knew (and didn't like) my preferences of KISS, Boston, Rush, Frampton, Aerosmith, AC/DC, etc. As an adult and parent now, technology has altered the paradigm for my kids and me. I listen to most of my music on computer speakers, in the car, or through ear buds - away from others. My kids do the same. Result? Neither side knows much about what the other is listening to. Upside: They'll create their own interests. Downside: They'll have no memories of what their old man listened to in their childhood.
  • I realize how naive - maybe even just plain dumb - I was as a teen. Over time, I became open-minded - then skeptical - then cynical. The last few years, I "peaked" at cynical and reverted back to a blend of skepticism and open-mindedness. I just hope I don't become a naive, vulnerable dope again in my later years, and I earnestly pray I never become a bitter curmudgeon.
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
 of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary

to everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary

'cause sometimes the target is you


Monday, January 26, 2015

Screen Door Porch - Modern Settler

New York. LA. Chicago. Austin. Nashville. Seattle. Jackson Hole. Wait. What? WYOMING???

Screen Door Porch (web | Twitter) will release their third album - Modern Settler on February 10th.

Seadar Rose and Aaron Davis front the band musically, lyrically and vocally. Though now based in Wyoming, the duo have southern roots in North Carolina and Kentucky. That background seems to have influenced the song's musical arrangements - though most of the lyrics are heavily rooted in the great expanse of the western states. For Modern Settler, the band's grooving rhythm sound is rounded out with Tom Davidson on bass and Andy Peterson on drums.

The album is a fun listen from beginning to end. A few of the ten tracks are straight-forward musically with thought-provoking, poetic lyrics. Others have a very full, rich sound resulting from complex yet enjoyable musical arrangements including slide guitar, an organ, horns, interesting percussion additions, and solid-yet-jazzlike drumming.

Collectively, the sound and vocals remind me a bit of Donna The Buffalo ... and The Reivers from the late 1980s ... and Natalie Merchant from 10,000 Maniacs.

The album's opener Wild Ways grabs you from the jump. While easy to simply enjoy its wonderful music fullness, additional absorption of the lyrics causes you to stop and think "whoa, now this is pretty dark."

Shouldn't be the one to guide you outta the fray
Absurd enough there’s a middle man leading the way 
Your parents withdrew when it all hit hit the fan
A stage dive met with nowhere else to land

The Canyon was the first song written by Rose and Davis for the album.The groove to it is immediately addictive along with the organ, guitar riffs and drumming. But the musical aspects are trumped in my opinion by Rose's sultry vocals. Rose and Davis were inspired to write the song by the magnificence of  a canyon noted from atop Dead Indian Pass on the Wyoming-Montana border.

Credit: BillCaid.com

1937 starts the second half of the album and opens with a slide guitar riff and a hint of a cool, eerie and evil echo. Davis was led to write the song based on some of the early American settlers in Wyoming who were granted a bit of land and 600 bucks cash as US railroads began to cross the expanding nation. (As an aside, be sure to read the late Stephen Ambrose's great book Nothing Like It In the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869.)

Rose returns to lead vocals on her song Little Bit More. The track is arguably one of the richest ones musically with horns, keys, slide guitar, and a solid rhythm on toms but no snare.

The band seems to have had a genuinely fun time recording Wish I Was a Teton. You can't help but smile as you listen to it.

Wish I was a Teton, maybe the middle 
Or I could be Buck and still be tough
Standing tall through hard times and all

But as it stands I’m just a little hill
Starved for attention because I never get mentioned
I’d even settle to be called a butte

The album closes with She Speaks Through Me. Though its lyrics are sparse, the song seems to be arranged as somewhat of an encore. Davis opens with a Roy Orbison'ish vibrato, and Rose soon joins him with wonderful harmony vocals. Many of the instruments present in various songs make a return appearance on She Speaks. Also, Peterson's drumming is more straight-forward rock rather some of the more subdued fills present in earlier songs.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Craig Market and Thomm Jutz - The complexities of simplicity

Six months ago, I'd never heard of Thomm Jutz (web). Shamefully perhaps - but the truth.

Though he has been around Nashville with really no effort to hide, I didn't find Jutz until learning he co-produced Mac Wiseman's latest collection of songs with Peter Cooper.

In December, I saw Jutz' tremendous work as the lead organizer and song writer for The 1861 Project whose latest album was a collection of songs written about The Battle of Franklin during the Civil War.

Credit: Ken Gray Images
Within the last month, I learned Jutz teamed with Nashville-based songwriter Craig Market to record Nowhere to Hide, scheduled for release on January 29.

The album is a cool recording - two guys with guitars singing songs without being overly produced. No bass. No drums. No keys. No horns. Simplicity seems to be the theme. They wrote the songs over a period of three years. When it came time to record them, they proceeded without a crunch to hurry through the effort. They recorded one song per day until they were done.

The album's timing release in the winter is appropriate. The album cover is dark and a bit cold - as is the lyrical content of several of the songs. The guitar work between the two is exceptional, but the lyrics require a deliberate listen. The Civil War, World War II, the funeral of a West Virginia miner, transparency as a musician and songwriter, etc. - not exactly themes one generally streams poolside through their iPhone and Bluetooth speakers.

Market's vocal range and style remind me a bit of Randy Travis and James Taylor (tuned down an octave). Though the two collaborated on the songwriting, Market sings lead vocals on 10 of the 12 tracks. Jutz' singing is featured on one song, and the two sing as a true duet on WV Miner, about the passing of one of those who work underneath the mountain.

In the middle of some tough songs thematically is one of simplicity - That's Enough. A house. A companion. A stove with some firewood. Safety, security. No need to invest wasted efforts chasing ghosts in search of something grander. What more does one need truthly? Well, some beer and a trusty dog, but maybe that's just me...

The album's final two songs reveal a bit more of the two as individual artists and well...as individuals - Nowhere To Hide and You Take Me As I Am. Preceding them, however, is the song of the twelve that perhaps stills me the most: Thunder. Jutz sang it on the second volume of The 1861 Project. On Nowhere To Hide, Market's deeper and darker voice is featured.

I'll be the first to admit my ignorance of the details of the Civil War. I've got the big picture - the North defeated the South, and I can rattle off the names of many of the battlefields. Gaining a deeper knowledge about the details - particularly the personal and gruesome details - of the battles, the young soldiers, the townsfolk, the horrifying injuries and head-shaking medical care, etc. has not been front and center for me. One of the themes Jutz explored with 1861 is the role of Irish immigrants. Many fled for the US in hopes of finding a better life. Instead, many found themselves smack dab in the middle of it's war between the states. Some served, some fought - some for the North, some for the South. Many lived, many died - and were buried in shallow, dirt graves. And some - immigrants or US lifers - were faced with having to dig those graves.

Plowing furrows in the Irish soil
Now I'm digging shallow graves for Irish boys

My soul is weary, and my back is sore
Today alone I buried twenty-four

Two feet deep and lined up in a row
Fishermen and farmers I suppose

Will anyone remember through the years?
The flowers once again are blooming here

A contemplative album to be sure - one whose guitar work will be easily absorbed but whose lyrics will require intentional listening.