Monday, February 27, 2017

The Music Nazi!

I've hammered on Seattle-area radio for being lame before, but listening on a dull Saturday night at work this past weekend made me wonder if it isn't time to renew the attack.
You'd think in a market with three million potential listeners there'd be something for everyone, but....
During two hours of listening Saturday evening (when you'd think local stations would be playing their A-list stuff) and another hour on Sunday, half a dozen non-scientifically selected Seattle stations played an appalling list of hackwork, some of which -- if I ever become Donald Trump -- will Never Be Played On Radio Again, by Executive Order.
There WAS some good stuff, which will be marked by a * below. But even the good songs were selections you've heard 10 million times before. What does this say about most of the public, if the music they apparently want to hear is such thin garbage?
The entire sorry list follows. Join with me in gasps of horror.
Michael Jackson -- *Beat It (twice), Billie Jean (twice), Man in the Mirror, The Way You Make Me Feel (twice), Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough, Bad, Smooth Criminal. MJ gets more air-time now than he did when he was alive.
Wham! -- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. (Can't wait for the George Michael Nostalgia Revival....)
Madonna -- Material Girl (twice), Into the Groove, Like a Prayer (last couple minutes are pretty great).
Dire Straits -- Sultans of Swing, Money for Nothing.
Journey -- Separate Ways, *Lights, Don't Stop Believin', Open Arms, Patiently.
AC/DC -- You Shook Me All Night Long, *Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.
Van Halen -- You Really Got Me, Jamie's Cryin', Jump (I used to almost like this, once).
Guns 'N' Roses -- Welcome to the Jungle.
Frankie Goes to Hollywood -- Relax.
Rod Stewart -- Forever Young.
Eric Clapton -- *Bell Bottom Blues.
Billy Idol -- Rebel Yell, Dancing With Myself (twice).
Jimi Hendrix -- *All Along the Watchtower.
Pink Floyd -- Money, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2.
Goo Goo Dolls -- *Iris.
Toni Basil -- Mickey.
John Cougar Mellencamp -- Jack and Diane (twice).
Led Zeppelin -- Whole Lotta Love (great comedy), *Stairway to Heaven. (Still love the guitar meltdown at the end.)
No Doubt -- It's My Life.
Tom Petty -- I Won't Back Down.
Metallica -- *Nothing Else Matters (twice).
Eddie Money -- Take Me Home Tonight. Ronnie Spector's great, but....
Chicago -- You're the Inspiration.
Prince -- *1999 (twice).
Bangles -- *Manic Monday.
Stevie Nicks -- Leather and Lace.
Steve Miller -- Rock 'n' Me, Take the Money and Run.
Billy Joel -- Uptown Girl, It's Still Rock and Roll to Me.
Talking Heads -- Once in a Lifetime.
Queen with David Bowie -- *Under Pressure (twice).
Grateful Dead -- Touch of Gray. Still not sure how much I like this one....
Modern English -- *I Melt With You. This is a bigger hit now than it was in 1983....
Police -- Every Breath You Take (twice).
Aerosmith -- *Dude Looks Like a Lady (twice).
Loverboy -- Working for the Weekend.
Queen -- Another One Bites the Dust, Bohemian Rhapsody (for me, this was pretty much dead by 1977).
Kenny Loggins -- Danger Zone, Footloose.
War -- Why Can't We be Friends? (I admit this is more charming now than it was back in the day....)
Toto -- *Africa.
Soundgarden -- Black Hole Sun (twice within 15 minutes).
Phil Collins -- In the Air Tonight (this is a bigger hit now than it was in 1981).
Madness -- *Our House.
The Who -- *Won't Get Fooled Again, *Bargain, *Love Reign O'er Me, *Baba O'Riley.
Mr. Mister -- Broken Wings.
Steve Winwood -- Higher Love.
Pat Benatar -- Hit Me With Your Best Shot (twice).
Rush -- The Spirit of Radio, *Freewill.
Whitney Houston -- I Want to Dance With Somebody. (For me, the best thing she ever did.)
Sheryl Crow -- *Every Day is a Winding Road.
David Bowie -- Let's Dance, *Space Oddity.
Tracy Chapman -- Fast Car (twice).
Foreigner -- I Want to Know What Love Is.
REO -- Can't Fight This Feeling (twice).
A-Ha -- Take on Me (three times).
Adele -- Rolling in the Deep.
Hall and Oates -- Maneater, Sara Smile.
Soft Cell -- Tainted Love.
ZZ Top -- Sharp Dressed Man.
REM -- Losing My Religion.
Rick Springfield -- Jessie's Girl.
Should note that this wasn't a "scientific" study. I tuned-in one station aimed at 13-to-30-year-olds, one alleged "oldies" station (KJR FM, who were great when I was 12 years old and whose limited, repetitive playlist REALLY sucks now), "Seattle's only classic-rock station," two others aimed at adults, and one of those "We play what we want" stations. And the playlists weren't that different. Clearly.
Even counting the good stuff, I think what this list shows is that we as listeners are suckers for gloppy love songs, gimmicky/catchy/stupid stuff, and loud guitars that mean nothing. Oh, and repetition.
It could have been worse. There's no Eagles here, no "Smoke on the Water," no "Sweet Home Alabama," no "Hotel California." But "Stairway" still snuck in there. It wouldn't have been the weekend without "Stairway."
If this is what radio stations and advertisers think we want to hear so we won't change channels, we should demand better. It's sad that we settle for so little variety.
If radio stations could play one NEW song not on their playlist -- or one overlooked classic -- EACH DAY, radio would be so much better. And we as listeners would be happier. We might even hear something new that we liked....

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bands I've never heard of -- with no coffee!

OK, back in the day one of the neat things about tracking down Strange Music was finding good stuff by bands I'd never heard of. Basing buying decisions on cool album covers or neat instruments used by the musicians, etc. That was back in the day when I thought I was open-minded.
Now I have a handful of albums here by folks I've either never heard of or just barely heard-of, and we'll see how far I get and how well their music holds up. Maybe there's a REASON they remain obscure. Onward....
* Astralasia -- Afterlife, from THE SPACE BETWEEN (1996). OK, now this is some of that "electronica" rave stuff that the kids like so much. From England, with a spacey album-cover and a vaguely Middle-Eastern look. On Magic Eye Records. No musician's credits. swirling synthesizer, deep-voiced chanting by a male vocalist, FAST beat -- I could see doing the dishes or vacuuming to this. Imagine Gong updated to the new century and you wouldn't be far off. Not bad, but pretty speedy for first thing in the morning.
* Astralasia -- Sully's Trip, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. The drums take over -- very trebly-mixed drum kit with swirly high-pitched synth. How do they keep the beat so fast? Do people actually DANCE to this stuff? Nobody my age. Still reminded of Gong, only WAY faster. Suddenly a bit of fiddle. These folks drank WAY too many energy drinks. Still, not bad. Distant deep bass and airy wordless vocals. Interesting, and very different. But man it moves fast.... OK, Gong meets Can. Nice grooves, man....
* Astralasia -- Apple of Durga's Eyes, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. This slows things down at first, and adds female chanting. Sorta dreamy mood at first, then it picks up. Gets way faster. Nice bass and washy synths. Fast on their feet, these kids. It may not be MY thing, but it's catchy and it'll keep you moving. Whadda ya know, I'm listening to electronica and finding it ... not bad. I would never have listened to this on my own, if it weren't for the service I'm supposed to provide for y'all.... Keep that bubbly synth going and I'll become a fan....
* Astralasia -- Fantasize, from THE SPACE BETWEEN. More bouncy, swirly synth, then a heavy beat comes in, and Gong-style "space whisper" female vocals, turning into a chant. I wonder if these kids have ever heard Gong? Gong with a heavier beat and no sax, and here we are. ...Ok, this is kind of a synthesized space-whisper seduction piece. I think we might be done here.
* Banish Misfortune -- Ms. Mirelda's Beach, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS (1985). Light progressive-folk, just as I thought from the cover, which looks like a gentle psychedelic leftover from the late-'60s. Light-fingered guitar from Rusty Sabella, Tim Weisberg-like flute from Kirk Johnson. The quartet's from Alaska. On Kicking Mule Records, a folk label from California. Nice, light, pleasant -- maybe I shoulda started out with this. Good early-morning music.
* Banish Misfortune -- Sweet Delights of Music, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. String section followed by overdubbed vocals by Lauren Pelon, who sounds like a more restrained Annie Haslam from Renaissance. OK, but the vocals are so tight I can't hear the words -- it just sounds like voices chiming wordlessly, even tho there are lyrics. String section gets an Amazing-Blondel-like medieval sound.
* Banish Misfortune -- Geordie, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. Traditional English ballad. Now Pelon sounds more like Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention. Lulling male vocals in background. Nice, tho not stunning. The usual tragic lyrics you'd expect. Next.
* Banish Misfortune -- Angle of Repose, from THROUGH THE HOURGLASS. More light finger-pickin' into very lite flute jazz. Onward.
* Edwards Hand -- US Flag, from STRANDED (1970) -- All I know about keyboard-player Rod Edwards and guitarist Roger Hand is that they back Gordon Giltrap on his rather nice '70s/'80s progressive-guitar albums. this opens with some strident rocking, brief vocal chanting and then an atomic explosion. And then the song starts.... Very gentle weedy vocals, not far from Simon and Garfunkel, CSNY, like that. The lyrics are BADLY dated (anti-establishment, Mr. Man, Uncle Sam, like that), but the duo vocals are delivered with absolutely no venom, very sweet. And they can play. Produced by George Martin! John Wetton on bass! James Litherland from Colosseum on guitar! On RCA Records! This musta been from back in the day when record companies put out anything they thought the kids might buy.... They DO sound like immigrants who don't want to be sent home -- which I guess makes this relevant to today....
* Edwards Hand -- Sheriff Myras Lincoln, from STRANDED. The lyrics get worse. way worse.. Next?
* Edwards Hand -- Revolution's Death Man! from STRANDED. Ugh. heavy guitar. This is wretched. A minute in and I'm done.
* Edwards Hand -- Winter, from STRANDED. Skipping the programmed revolutionary anti-Americanism on the rest of the album. This is brief and pretty. Nice, gentle. And they can play. And sing. Maybe they shoulda tried something more pastoral....
* Medicine Head -- It's Natural, from TWO MAN BAND (1976). Acoustic, folky, nice multi-tracked echoey vocals by John Fiddler. Guess these guys had a couple hits in England. Fiddler seems to do most of the work -- guitar, piano, drums, singing. Peter Hope-Evans seems to provide the stuff that makes them sound Different: echoey harmonica, Jew's harp, "mouth bow," etc. Nice, light, different.
* Medicine Head -- Wishin' and Wishin', from TWO MAN BAND. Very light and laid-back, as we used to say. Pleasant. More nice early-morning music. Maybe TOO laid-back....
* Medicine Head -- Give it Away, from TWO MAN BAND. Ok, this is very 1976 mellow-American -- even tho they're English. Lyrics are a little too predictable and don't add to the music. This could be the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Firefall, somebody like that.
* Trees -- The Garden of Jane Delawney, from the FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK collection. Fragile, delicate English folk from around 1970. I know almost nothing about them -- their two albums are pretty rare now. Bias Boshell, who later played keyboards with Barclay James Harvest and the Moody Blues, was in this band. Celia Humphris' vocals seem very fragile. Nice harpsichord, gentle guitar. The lyrics are gently disturbing.
* Al Stewart -- A Small Fruit Song, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Heard this before, but it's been a long time. Didn't remember what a pickin' and grinnin' show-off acoustic-guitar piece this was up until the six lines of brief lyrics at the end. A quick 2:20.
* Moondog -- Stomping Ground, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. This long-gray-haired New York eccentric apparently wrote pop songs for orchestras. This opens with a Zen riddle, then it's into the orchestral score. Sounds like a Phil Spector studio session, but without the great vocals.
* Amory Kane -- The Inbetween Man, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. ? Gentle acoustic guitar, portentious lyrics. OK, but... not distinctive.
* Black Widow -- Come to the Sabbat, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Drum beat, light flute, and a male chorus chanting. Then Ian Anderson comes in from Jethro Tull to work out on the flute. Briefly. then an orchestra. Then the chorus: "Come to the Sabbat -- Satan's there!" Like, he wants to MEET you. This is hilarious. I'm pretty sure The Dark One would disapprove of the light flute and the orchestra. Where's the ominous organ and doomy bass, man? Picks up speed as the chanting continues. Brief orgasmic shouts toward the end. SILLY. Harmless. But on the album it's followed by Argent's wonderful "Dance in the Smoke," so that's OK.
* Byrds -- Gunga Din, from FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK. Wow, this could be anybody. This is from the Byrds' country period, and it's no big deal. Is that Gram Parsons singing? The lyrics are lame. But it's over quick.
* Mike Batt and Friends -- Introduction (Journey of a Fool), from TAROT SUITE (1979). Mike Batt was an English record-producer. I think the kids' group The Wombles was his big success. Here he's doing an Alan Parsons, using the Tarot deck as his concept. Parsons tried the same thing a year later, but his songs were better (TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD). Lotta friends helping out here -- Mel Collins on sax, Rory Gallagher and Chris Spedding on guitar, the London Symphony Orchestra, etc. OK, but not distinctive. Bit of a disco beat. orchestral mood music.
* Mike Batt -- Imbecile, from TAROT SUITE. Roger Chapman's shaky, gravelly vocals take over. Somehow he sounds better with the LSO behind him. Almost catchy.
* Mike Batt -- Plainsong, from TAROT SUITE. Beach-Boys-like vocal effects from Batt, with orchestra.
* Mike Batt -- Lady of the Dawn, from TAROT SUITE. Batt's dreamy vocals sound like Colin Blunstone, or Barclay James Harvest. Lulling, pleasant, airy, kinda dull. We're done here.
* Badger -- Wheel of Fortune, from ONE LIVE BADGER (1973). Tony Kaye (formerly of Yes) on keybs, Roy Dyke on drums, but guitarist Brian Parrish takes the spotlight. OK jam band, kinda thin on bass. Jon Anderson of Yes co-produced, Martin Rushent (Gentle Giant, Go-Go's) co-engineered. Nice wintry cover art by Roger Dean. Tony Kaye finally gets some room to show off on organ in the middle. But this is a long 7 minutes.
* New York Rock Ensemble -- Fields of Joy, from ROLL OVER (1970). Keybsman Michael Kamen ended up playing with Pink Floyd on THE WALL and after. Starts slow and quiet, little musical additions as it goes. This album got raves from places like ROLLING STONE back in the day -- they said something like "If there's gotta be art rock, let it be like this." Gets fairly ecstatic as it goes -- lotsa opera-like male vocals. A little self-conscious, maybe. Simpler than I expected, but not terrible.
* New York Rock Ensemble -- The King is Dead, from ROLL OVER. Even rockier. More kinda silly falsetto vocals. Maybe that's why I always get these guys confused with Pavlov's Dog. Pushy instrumentation, the keybs are the best thing here. Moves pretty well. Definitely not arty. The guitar gets better. Rocks. Not bad for 50 cents at Half-Price Books....
* Crack the Sky -- Nuclear Apathy, from SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1978). A song from their LIVE SKY album, "Lighten Up McGraw," is a freakin' classic. Which is why we're not going to play the studio version of it here. I think these guys were from Illinois. Some very nice show-offy guitar here. The lyrics are ... a little distant. I like the riffin' guitar phrases, but the tune keeps trying to turn into "Lighten Up McGraw" in my head. Some nice, subtle keyboards. But these guys want lots of drama and keep turning to the show-offy guitar to provide it. This multi-part suite doesn't quite work. the parts don't fit together with enough impact.
* Crack the Sky -- Lighten Up McGraw, from SAFETY IN NUMBERS. OK, I give up. This isn't bad, and I'm happy to finally be able to read the funny lyrics, but the live version beats this to death. it's just way more exciting. this is like a blueprint.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

High tech! Who needs it?

My income tax return came in, so to celebrate I bought a new laptop to replace the World's Smallest Laptop, which is more than seven years old. The WSL has been on its last legs for at least four years now, with a MAJOR vertical-hold problem that makes the screen "roll" if anything larger than a 1.1-magnitude earthquake happens anywhere in the U.S.
So, past time for the WSL to retire. But now I have to get used to THIS computer, which The Girlfriend has already named Wilbur.
So far, Wilbur is a cranky guy. I haven't figured out the "touch" Wilbur prefers, and so far I can't pound on him like I could the WSL. So it's taken me 10 minutes to type these three paragraphs. Some of the keys don't want to cooperate, and if I start trying to type too fast, Wilbur just locks up. Maybe he needs more coffee?
This should make tomorrow's listening session more fun....
Also, I sense that Wilbur is doing more than he seems. At some stuff he's so fast it seems like he's pouring me a cup of coffee when I've just switched him on. Or he's reading the news for me before I've decided to go there. He's always WORKING. He just doesn't type very fast.
I'm sure this will all work out and we'll get used to each other. But right now it's frustrating as hell. I'm pretty sure it's not the fault of the manufacturer, who shall go nameless. (Hello, HP!)
Jeez, and now The Girlfriend's talking about getting me a smartphone....

UPDATE, 2:20 p.m.: OK, got the hard-typing issue taken care of. Turns out there's an adjustment for ease of typing on the computer. I'm all better now. Yeezus, I'm an idiot. Thank Ghod I can't launch missiles....

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Yet more Strange Music with no coffee!

OK, I feel like crap, my head's clogged up, I can't hear out of my left ear (the treble ear) -- this is liable to make me cranky -- the perfect way to face a pile of new-to-me Strange Music. Let's begin the assault.
* Oregon -- Witchi-Tai-To, from WINTER LIGHT. Opens with a lotta pretty piano and no real melody. Brewer and Shipley do an amazing version of this Jim Pepper jazz classic on their album WEEDS. There it's a hypnotic seven-minute vocal mantra. Here it's... ? Amazingly trebly acoustic guitar. I guess there's a repeating melody, but it's so LIGHT.
* Oregon -- Deer Path, from WINTER LIGHT. This '70s jazz quartet sounds like an entire orchestra. But the melody's thin. This could be anyone. Nature-identified light New Age. Mildly pretty, inoffensive. Over with fast.
* McKendree Spring -- Equinox/Winter, from SPRING SUITE. Know absolutely nothing about these guys. Opening's at least more rockin' than Oregon, with some nice show-offy violin. Arty, pretentious, symbolic seasonal lyrics, complete with more violin and an orchestra. Rather odd, airy group vocals.
* McKendree Spring -- I Was Born, from SPRING SUITE. What's this? Some kinda country hoedown with violin? Almost rocks. Then a slower group-vocal section. CSNY meets an orchestra. Not terrible, but ... Some OK screechy guitar, and that violin does its job. Synthesizer! Sort of a Native-meets-country sound. They're trying to do a lot -- they never stay still. The guitarist and violinist like to show off. Too bad about the lyrics. Barclay James Harvest with more energy. Nice cover art by Roger Dean.
* McKendree Spring -- The Madman, from SPRING SUITE. The guitar, keybs and violin are all OK. The lyrics are a meaningless muddle. Pleasant in places, but ... kinda naive. And the singing is a little too self-conscious. We're done here.
* Blue Oyster Cult -- Golden Age of Leather, from SPECTRES. How'd these guys get in here? The beer-hall vocal opening's hilarious. After that it's more-mainstream guitar-rock, and kinda dull. Intresting how guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser wrote all this band's most haunting songs.... Some nice guitar work, but it doesn't really go anywhere. For six minutes.
* BOC -- Death Valley Nights, from SPECTRES. At least this has a structure, along with some nice choruses and flashy guitar. And then it's over.
* BOC -- Searchin' for Celine, from SPECTRES. Some OK piano, then some nice crazed guitar in the middle. Eric Bloom's shouting vocals get kinda dull after awhile.... Fades out too soon.
* BOC -- I Love the Night, from SPECTRES. This is nice. They're really pretty great when they've got the whole ominous-mood thing going. This is clearly the haunting class-act on this album. Fades out too soon.
* Van der Graaf Generator -- Boat of Millions of Years, from the REFLECTION best-of. From dark to darker. The only Van der Graaf I've heard before is PAWN HEARTS, which was ... pretty spooky in places. This German best-of covers VdGG's early albums, up to H TO HE WHO AM THE ONLY ONE. This is a spooky, ominous Peter Hammill meditation that seems to deal with Fate, the Future of Man, stuff like that. Wonder who played the guitars? My guess would be Bob Fripp from King Crimson -- who these guys don't sound so far from. You can just barely hear Dave Jackson's sax wailing in the background. Fades too soon.
* VdGG -- Whatever Would Robert Have Said?, from REFLECTION. Channeling David Bowie. But this is angrier and more outraged than I've ever heard Bowie be. VdGG's songs are about the awful things men do because they have to -- because they can't stop themselves. And the horror is: It's all their own damn fault. Nice David Jackson sax, then into a Hugh Banton organ-led jam in the middle. The jamming sections are all very good -- their mix of sax, organ and guitar sounds like no one else.
* VdGG -- Lost, from REFLECTION. Starts with swirly upbeat keyboards, quite unexpected, almost funny in this context. Then a long, tortured meditation on Romance by Hammill, interrupted by dramatic, pushy musical sections. Dramatic, theatrical, musically powerful. These guys were really something. No wonder they never made any money.
* VdGG -- Darkness, from REFLECTION. Opens with wind effects, usually not a good sign. Steadily gains in drama from a hushed beginning. David Bowie meets Johnny Rotten: "Don't blame me for the fate that falls -- I truly did not choose it." The mix of organ, sax and crazed vocal is pretty amazing. Screaming sax from David Jackson. Unique drama. Huge impact. Then cuts off dead. See above notes about "Whatever Would Robert Have Said?" Not recommended listening if you're depressed or suicidal.
* Incredible String Band -- First Girl I Loved, from the RELICS best-of. Only thing to do is lighten up. Weedy Bob Dylan-ish vocals, sweet and affectionate lyrics from Robin Williamson to his long-ago first romance: "You turned into a grown-up female stranger." Nice acoustic guitar, though the tune and vocals meander. One more great line: "Making love to people that I didn't even like to see."
* ISB -- The Hedgehog's Song, from RELICS. Mike Heron is stalked by a hedgehog (his conscience) in this sort of answer song to "First Girl I Loved." If Bob Dylan had been English and CONSTANTLY stoned, he might've sounded like this. Charming.
* ISB -- Way Back in the 1960's, from RELICS. Silly lyrics, great sloppy choruses. Recorded in 1967. These three songs are as good as anything on ISB's THE HANGMAN'S BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER. Where'd all this charm go?
* The Enid -- Albion Fair, from TOUCH ME. Ok, I've been waiting for this. The Enid was a late-'70s prog band from England. I don't think they had any albums released in the US. Their founder Robert John Godfrey urged Barclay James Harvest to pursue a classical-rock direction and conducted the orchestra that thrashed around on BJH's early albums -- not necessarily a credit that I'd want to claim. this 16-minute piece starts with almost motionless synthesizers that sound like Tangerine Dream tuning-up. If this is a fair, I'm wondering when the fun's supposed to start.... Finally, five minutes in, a squiggly little keyboard riff gets it going. Signs of life. cartoon-like keyboard riffs, tho pleasant. the B-side to Van der Graaf Generator. Added guitar, lotsa showing off on keybs. There's hope for this yet.... A soundtrack in search of a movie (or cartoon) to accompany. It's getting better as it goes. But it's still soundtrack music, complete with an orchestra. Vaguely Christmas-y sounding. Little extra guitar at the end helps brighten it up a bit, but ... Is this rock and roll? Kinda sludgy and washy, tho not terrible. Harmless.
* Enid -- Dambuster's March/Land of Hope and Glory, from TOUCH ME. Classical tune (Elgar) with LOADS of keyboards, and more structure than "Albion Fair." Little bit of showing off on keybs and guitar. Good Ghod, there's a freakin' HUGE chorus! Doing the Recessional from your average high-school graduation! is this supposed to be funny? It is, a little. take a bow, guys, we're done here.
* Ambrosia -- Nice Nice Very Nice, from their first album. Ok, it's pretty Prog to quote Kurt Vonnegut -- and give him a songwriting credit. Lite but playful vocals. Little synth touches here and there. This could never have been a hit -- it's too clever, and they're bouncing around too much. good proggy sound. Not too far away from Yes. More synth toward the end. Mixdown engineer was Alan Parsons. Very nice. And no, we're not going to play "Holding On to Yesterday"....
* Ambrosia -- Time Waits for No One, from AMBROSIA. Again, not far from a lighter, slightly more commercial Yes. The vocals are clearly their strongest suit, but nice guitar and keybs too. Melodic.
* Chris Squire -- Hold Out Your Hand, from FISH OUT OF WATER. Sounds EXACTLY like Yes! Could swear that's Jon Anderson on lead vocal. Has those nice little bass runs Squire contributed to Yes songs. Nice keyboards from Patrick Moraz. Simplified drumming by Bill Bruford. How'd that orchestra get in here? And the cosmic lyrics you'd expect. But nice. Pretty flute- (from Mel Collins) and-vocals interlude toward the end.
* Chris Squire -- You by My Side/Silently Falling, from FISH OUT OF WATER. More excellent show-offy keyboards from Patrick Moraz, and nice flute from Mel Collins highlight this dramatic, very Yes-like medley. Chris could sing just fine all by himself. A quick 16 minutes. And that's the side.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

My 900th post??!!

Yeezus. If you count the 225 posts I wrote at my old vanished website at the end of 2008 and through most of 2009, this is my 900th post since I started doing this stuff a little over eight years ago.
I'm averaging about two posts a week since I started doing this. That's surprising enough, considering the long gaps and breaks I've taken over the last few years. But I'm still here.
And though I'm more into it now than I have been in awhile -- it's still the gift that keeps on giving -- what I'm mainly thinking about lately is how many bloggers are no longer posting.
Check out that list of "Followers" down at the lower right. Except for one, every single one of those people has "retired" from blogging, moved on with their lives, have stopped talking, or maybe have moved to Facebook full-time. This bugs me, because I like to read about how people feel about things, how music fits into their daily lives -- I like knowing I'm Not The Only One, sometimes.
My buddy Crabby is still crankin' em out, Ghod bless him. He threatens to pack it in occasionally, but he keeps going despite his disgust with current music ... and almost everything else.
2000 Man has been busy with other things and posts every few months or so, which I think is a loss to music-blog fans.
But everybody else has disappeared. Gardenhead was off writing novels, last I heard. Rastro has vanished without a trace. Groove Sandwich went off to be a gigging musician. Layla/Barbara was blogging about things other than Classic Rock for awhile. Vegas Linda Lou has officially retired, though she may still be doing her standup comedy act -- she urged me to publish my first memoir through Amazon/Kindle. Lex Dexter was depressed a couple years back, then went quiet. Drew seems to have a happy family life.
And there are others who've been and gone. I miss them. If I could find someone to replace them, I'd let you know.
The Girlfriend started writing a blog back in December. I think she does good, but if politics and current issues isn't your thing ... well, she hasn't written about music yet. The best music blog I've found lately stopped posting in 2010.
This is all probably normal. Blogging is so 2007. But hey, I'd like to read more good new folks. I just can't find them.
Plus lately I've been a little more ... uh ... politically involved than usual.
Anyway, thanks for your support. I've got more planned -- more Prog reports as I continue slowly to try to get that Strange Music Guide finished. I actually did an hour's worth of work on the book yesterday....
And for tomorrow, I plan to play at least a couple hours of totally new-to-me Strange Music. This Sunday no-coffee reviewing thing is still working for me.
Thanks again to my son for giving me the best Christmas present ever. He got this thing rolling more than nine years ago, and I'm still having fun with it.
More soon....

Friday, February 17, 2017

This shit has got to stop

The Associated Press reported this morning that the Trump Administration is looking at calling up 100,000 Army National Guardsmen to help round up illegal immigrants. The government is mainly looking at mobilizing Guardsmen in the states along the border with Mexico, but is considering activating units as far north as Oregon.
Why is this the biggest crisis our country has to face right now? Why are illegal immigrants such a huge threat that the President would even consider mobilizing the National Guard?
I don't know.
What about the economy? I thought Trump was going to put thousands of people to work shoring up roads and bridges and updating the country's infrastructure? What happened with that?
Suddenly illegal immigrants are such a big worry that Immigration and Customs Enforcement teams are rounding up and deporting hundreds, if not thousands. And now this suggestion that the rounding-up could become a military operation.
Maybe it's easier to tell people what they can and can't do than it is to put people to work.
First Trump called out the Muslims. Now it's Hispanics. Why are these groups such a threat?
You realize calling out the National Guard to help fight this "problem" is the next step down the road toward living under a military dictatorship...?
If you can mobilize the National Guard to round up illegal immigrants, you can mobilize them for ANY reason. Not just for a national disaster or some other crisis.
Next they'll be rounding up anybody who doesn't have blonde hair and blue eyes. Or anybody who's opinion is different from that guy in the White House.
Sure, I'm overreacting. Maybe. But look at history.
First the regime calls out an enemy of the Homeland. Then the regime edges that enemy out of the mainstream. Then the regime rounds up that enemy. Then the regime makes that enemy disappear.
The suggestion that rounding up illegal immigrants needs to be "militarized" in order to handle the problem -- when the Border Patrol is already the largest law-enforcement agency in the country -- would indicate the Trump Administration is looking for a crisis so that the next step toward Martial Law can be taken.
The last thing this country needs in the current climate is a turn toward the military to help handle what is clearly a civilian issue -- one that's going to be argued over in the courts for a long time.
But maybe that guy in the White House -- who's so fond of quick, decisive action -- doesn't want to wait.
Things are getting uglier. If you're not a White person who was born here, or if your opinion differs from that of the ruling regime, it might be time to check your passport, start packing your bags, and consider emigrating to Canada. If troops start carrying out this illegal immigrant roundup, things are going to get a whole lot uglier. Fast.

(UPDATE: The AP is now reporting that this proposal was a Department of Homeland Security document, and that calling up the National Guard was -- according to the Administration -- "never considered." However, the proposal was reportedly discussed by Administration officials as recently as last Friday....)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

More dreams

I had another dream last night, this one much shorter. And it was actually music-related.
I dreamed I was interviewing Whitney Houston. A pretty good trick, since she's been dead for five years.
But Whitney didn't let that little problem get in her way. She was lookin' fine and keepin' it real, and the interview proceeded without pausing for any decomposition issues:
Q: Whitney, a lot of people think you had the most beautiful voice in pop music history.
A: Well, thank you. It was nothing, really. I was blessed.
Q: But a lot of people also think you wasted that voice on a lot of really awful material....
A: ...Well, I wouldn't say that Dolly Parton's "I'll Always Love You" was awful material....
Q: Yes, but a lot of people thought you howled like a dog in that song.
A: ...WELL! ....
The dream fell apart and I woke up at that point, but I decided that dream could easily wait until the next day to be posted here. And then I went right back to sleep.

More travel over the Valentine's Day weekend in the continuing mission to collect Strange Music in order to get That Book written. Among the items purchased at Tacoma's HI-VOLTAGE RECORDS and Port Townsend's QUIMPER SOUND include The Incredible String Band's RELICS best-of and LIQUID ACROBAT AS REGARDS THE AIR, Michael Hoenig's DEPARTURE FROM THE NORTHERN WASTELAND, Nektar's REMEMBER THE FUTURE, Enid's AERIE FAERIE NONSENSE (great title) and TOUCH ME, McKendree Spring's SPRING SUITE, Oregon's WINTER LIGHT and FRIENDS, Vangelis's SPIRAL, Argent's ALL TOGETHER NOW, Ambrosia's first, Chris Squire's FISH OUT OF WATER, Van der Graaf Generator's REFLECTIONS best-of, Synergy's AUDION ... oh, and Blue Oyster Cult's SPECTRES, The Who's QUADROPHENIA, and The Shoes' TONGUE TWISTER. Not sure how those last three snuck in there, but anyway.
I haven't heard most of these before, and reports on them will be posted here soon.
I continue to be impressed by HI-VOLTAGE's vast selection of vinyl. They've got lotsa good CD's, too. The atmosphere's wonderful and the people are nice. All music sounds better played on their store sound-system. But bring your wallet, and make sure your bank account can survive a visit. They also have a website:
QUIMPER SOUND has some charm with its underground in-a-cave location, and the owner is friendly and talkative. Most of the prices are quite reasonable, and he gave me a great deal on the two ISB albums, which hadn't been priced yet.
The store also has a TON of $1 albums I'd like to dig through, but it could take DAYS. The owner said he tossed a couple of Richard Thompson albums in with the cheapies awhile back to see if people were awake -- and they were gone the first day. So, someday when I have lots of time to waste....

QUIMPER SOUND is also co-sponsoring the 2nd Annual Port Townsend Record Show, set for 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 4 at the PT American Legion Hall, 209 Monroe St. Parking and admission are free. QS's owner said they're expecting nearly three-dozen record-dealers, some from as far away as Portland, Ore. More info's available here. I'm planning to attend early, even though it's a work day for me. The owner said last year's session was a blast. Sounds like a good time to me....

Also made a return trip to PT's WILLIAM JAMES BOOKS, a great little hole-in-the-wall used bookstore in Port Townsend's historic downtown district, that The Girlfriend and I hadn't been in since last summer. Back then, I was impressed with their huge music-related and science-fiction sections, but those have apparently shrunk over the last few months ... or maybe they sold a lot of stuff during the tourist season. Anyway, brought home a copy of Mark Lewisohn's THE BEATLES' RECORDING SESSIONS, so it was worth the trip.
My thanks to all these merchants for keeping their prices fairly reasonable for those of us on working-poor incomes....

...Do you think Port Townsend might be willing to change its name to "Pete Townshend" if he were to visit and maybe put on a show...?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Sniper dream

There are maybe 400 Americans in Ankara, and most of us are here in the courtyard outside the new Base Chapel, waiting for an update from the Ambassador on What Happens Next.
It's been a bad week in Turkey -- half a dozen terrorist bombings in Ankara and Istanbul, dozens dead. The Turkish Army took power again in a coup, saying they did it to re-establish order. It's happened here before.
People are scared. I don't blame them. We're all wondering if we're going to be pulled out of here and sent home. That's the announcement I'm expecting as we wait.
We've all been in shock since Halloween, when my buddy Vic was killed by a terrorist's car-bomb. Vic did everything right -- looked and acted like a Turk, didn't call attention to himself, didn't talk loud in English in public, took a different route to work every day -- and the terrorists still got him.
And it's gotten worse since then. We haven't lost anyone else here, but the rest of the country is falling apart around us. It doesn't feel even a little bit safe here anymore. I figure we're gonna be told to start packing -- military, Embassy staff, all of us.
There's a lot of loud conversation. Our Chaplain, Liz McCormick, slowly takes the stage and steps behind the lectern to try to calm us down so that maybe we'll be able to HEAR the Ambassador when he comes out. He's a soft-spoken guy, usually.
"Has anybody heard what the threat level is today?" Liz asks the crowd. There is mild nervous laughter. She must be joking. The threat level's been HIGH ever since Vic died.
"Before we get started, I thought we'd ask Mrs. Brookwell to maybe come up...," Liz says.
"-- Like I know what the threat level is?" Ardelle Brookwell calls from out of the crowd, "like I'VE got any new information for anybody...? I'm waiting for the word just like you guys."
Ardelle -- the Ambassador's wife -- is often asked to lead us in the National Anthem on formal occasions, and she's never declined. Maybe until today. But she starts making her way to the front anyway, and climbs up on the platform with Liz.
The courtyard is full, and people are agitated. The security police are keeping an eye on the perimeter -- by order of the base commander. Security's been awfully tight since Vic. Guards along the fences, searches at the front gate. Off to my right, my boss Bill Mounsey is keeping an eye on the crowd and his SP troops. Bill hasn't gotten much sleep lately.
And then there's me.
Ardelle's still heading across the platform. "I'm pretty nervous," she says, "but I'll sing if you want...." There's laughter in the crowd. We're ALL pretty nervous.
Then there's a scuffle in the crowd up front. Ardelle gets behind the lectern and close to the mike. I'm sure once she gets the Anthem started, the Ambassador will come out and we'll get down to business.
But there's a whirl of clothes and some pushing and shoving up front. Some tall older guy with glasses and long gray hair is throwing his arms up. Looks like someone leaned or fell against him and he was pushed back. And now he's pulling something out of his sleeve.
"GUN! GUN!! GUN!!!" I hear somebody scream, and the guy with the long gray hair is pulling a rifle out of the sleeve of his heavy coat, like he had it tucked in there next to his arm.
The crowd panics and scrambles. The courtyard starts clearing, not fast enough. People are screaming. The guy is whirling, looking for a target. He must have planned to shoot the Ambassador -- but someone bumped into him and now things are happening much too fast.
The guy is still pulling the rifle out and aiming when I'm on him. I see him through the scope and pull the trigger. The bullet catches him at the base of the back of his neck and he goes down in a heap of clothes and arms and legs.
But he's not alone. There's a brunette with him, behind him and to his left, and suddenly she's waving a pistol in the air. She's firing behind the stage, into the curtains, maybe hoping to hit the Ambassador before he comes out. Liz and Ardelle are screaming, cowering behind the lectern. I squeeze the trigger again, twice, and she goes down.
The screaming is non-stop now, and it's still not over. From somewhere behind the brunette, up comes a blonde with a pistol, she's vaguely Russian-looking, she's screaming angry, and she's pointing the gun toward my position on the neighboring roof overlooking the courtyard. I can see her through the scope, turning and aiming.
But something happens. The gun jams, and she pops the magazine out. It falls in front of her as she digs for another. Somehow gold bullets fall down in front of her, in slow motion, glinting in the sun, and I see her screaming. She reloads and aims again. I pull the trigger and her head explodes.
Other than the screaming, the courtyard is empty and silent. The screaming has become background noise. What I hear is Mounsey yelling "HOW THE HELL DID THESE PEOPLE GET IN HERE??!! WE ONLY SEARCH FOREIGNERS NOW, WE DON'T CHECK AMERICANS??!! GOD DAMN IT!!"
I'm not done yet. I'm waiting for more. But there's no movement in the courtyard, just the pile of bodies. There's blood everywhere. I didn't mean this -- to stain this place. Over my radio I hear that the Ambassador's secure and OK.
I'm not done. I'm waiting for more movement, more people drawing weapons. There aren't any more.
Then Mounsey's hand is on my shoulder. He's yelling in my ear: "STAND DOWN! STAND DOWN!"
I'm already turning away by then, switching the safety on the rifle, picking the weapon up and walking away. I climb down off the roof, walk out in front of the church, realize I'm shaking, and sit down next to the big tree out front. I lean back against the tree, pulling my rifle close. The SP's are all around me. The screaming is continuing. I know I helped cause some of it.
Mounsey's at my ear again: "You did good, Frank." He pats me on the back, heavily. He's my friend and he wants to know if I'm OK. I'm OK until then.
He walks away a couple of steps, and then the shaking gets really bad. Suddenly I'm crying, I'm sobbing.
I just killed three people. I feel it.
And yet I'm burning with it. Because I know this was why I was here. This is what I was supposed to do. I don't understand why it happened, but....
Now we've got to figure out how the hell they got those guns in here....

(((I want to note that I don't own a gun, and even if I did, my eyes are so bad I could never hit anything with it. I also have almost no training in handling weapons. Almost all the dreams I've had since I started blogging have ended up here, and this one was so vivid and scary it jolted me out of bed at 3:30 a.m and I couldn't get back to sleep. I don't know what it means or much about where it came from or why. But I know I'm not supposed to turn my back on an idea or a story, because you only get so many of them in one life. I'm not in charge, I just live here.)))

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Strange Music on CD with no coffee!

OK, I don't wanna mess with the turntable this morning. It's the end of my work-week and I'm not thinking clearly enuf for that. So we're gonna keep this simple and make it even easier to reject stuff we don't like by going directly to the CD player. Also better sound quality! Onward.
* Argent -- I Am the Dance of Ages, from the HOLD YOUR HEAD UP collection. Still think these guys were underrated -- when they kept things fairly simple. But some of their songs were worthy of Kansas or Klaatu ("Cast Your Spell, Uranus"? Please.) This has some of that pretentious, mystical sound going on here -- also some of the sound of the hit "Hold Your Head Up" in Rod Argent's show-offy organ-playing. But nice ... uh ... incantations. Dramatic. Wind effects. fades before it gets really silly.
* Zombies -- Care of Cell 44, from ODESSEY AND ORACLE. This is light, sunny pop, despite the subject -- which seems to be a letter from a guy to his girlfriend who's in prison! Rather too sunshiny for the lyrics, pure 1967, tho a little twisted. Nice group vocals on the choruses.
* Zombies -- A Rose for Emily, from ODESSEY AND ORACLE. More light, pretty pop. I'm of two minds about the Zombies -- nice inventiveness for their time, tho I've always hated the smarmy lyrical tone of their hit "Time of the Season." "Emily" is subtly disturbing. Wonder if this has any connection to the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story of the same title? Sounds like it does. Kinda dark for "sunshine pop," tho pretty.
* Zombies -- Maybe After He's Gone, from ODESSEY AND ORACLE. More pretty '60s pop-group vocals, OK piano and guitar. The Lettermen meet The Turtles, or The Association. In England. Pretty straight.
* Zombies -- Beechwood Park, from ODESSEY. (Hey, that's how they spelled it.) OK, this is going all dark and murky now, and it's a foggy enuf day here in Mirkwood. So we're done here. Tho still pretty....
* Genesis -- Happy the Man, from the Starbucks collection 14 FROM OUR PAST. An obscure B-side. Not too far from The Who's "Happy Jack," tho Peter Gabriel doesn't sound too happy. As usual. Nice vocal harmonies. Pleasant guitar strumming.
* Genesis -- Watcher of the Skies, from 14 FROM OUR PAST. Am I up to 7 minutes of this? Dramatic keyboard/organ opening that drags on a bit long. Get to the point, boys. Then Peter Gabriel's congested vocals. Don't think I'm awake enuf for this, tho Steve Hackett's brief guitar solo helps. Then some more organ from Tony Banks. Could that simple marching-band 4/4 possibly be supplied by The Phil Collins? Every time Hackett breaks in, things lighten up, tho the rest seems a bit simple. OK, I'm done.
* Alan Parsons Project -- You Don't Believe, from the ULTIMATE best-of. Always liked this, which seems to examine the Alan Parsons/Eric Woolfson songwriting partnership with a very bitter outlook. Builds in drama very nicely. Lenny Zakatek's vocal helps, tho he could be anybody.
* APP -- Days are Numbers (The Traveler), from ULTIMATE. always loved this, but. APP was often musically gorgeous, but the lyrics were sometimes kinda empty. Ear candy. You want lyrics that'll make you howl, check out APP's EVE. But even there, some of the music's amazing. Even if it's a little predictable. Someday I'll do an All-Alan-Parsons review post, got the albums lined up. But not today.
* APP -- Old and Wise, from ULTIMATE. Breathy-voiced former-Zombie Colin Blunstone on lead vocal. This is pretty, but I always expected it to be deeper, lyrically. Nice choruses, tho.
* Camel -- Dust Bowl, Go West, Dusted Out, from DUST AND DREAMS. "Dust Bowl" has more keyboard than I expected. "Go West" has a gorgeous pastoral sound and guitarist Andy Latimer's languid vocals. Why he got attracted to John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH I don't know, but concept-albums almost always worked for him. I already know "Mother Road" on this album is pretty great. This has that gorgeous, pastoral, laid-back later-Camel sound. Good stuff.
* Camel -- Mother Road, from DUST AND DREAMS. Disco-y beat and Latimer's kinda lazy vocals, but the great group vocals on the dramatic choruses make up for it. And then there's that great soaring-guitar middle section that locks it....
* Camel -- Needles, Rose of Sharon, from DUST AND DREAMS. Not sure why this album has The Sound, while Camel's later RAJAZ just seems kinda flat. This is good enuf to stand along with NUDE and THE SNOW GOOSE -- gorgeous, pastoral mood music. David Paton (of APP) and Mae McKenna team up for a duet on "Rose of Sharon," the lyrics to which are pretty personal and intense. Latimer had a pretty solid handle on this story. More excellent guitar at the end.
* Camel -- Milk n' Honey, End of the Line, from DUST AND DREAMS. More melodic mood music, that opens out and reprises the theme from "Mother Road" with an orchestra. "End of the Line" has more of Latimer's rather nasal vocals -- which here sound a bit like Bruce Springsteen ... which is fitting, considering the story.... Slowly gains in drama. Rest of the album is all-instrumental. I'll save that for another time....
* Phil Manzanera and 801 -- Tomorrow Never Knows, from THE MANZANERA COLLECTION and 801 LIVE. You can sure tell Eno's on this. Little atmospheric messin' around to start, then a steady beat and more spacey sound effects, including a bubbly synth. Eno also sings, which is oddly not that far off from Lennon's original -- yes, THAT "Tomorrow Never Knows." This is pretty involving, especially the bubbly synth. Sorta an update of the original, nice enuf, tho of course not "cosmic." If anything, they cut it off too soon. Good performance.
* Roxy Music -- Out of the Blue (live), from THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. Opens with brief Nazi marching music(?), then moves into Bryan Ferry's crooning. OK oboe and/or sax from Andy Mackay, wish there was more. Nice tho brief show-offy guitar from our host Phil Manzanera at the end.
* 801 -- Fat Lady of Limbourg, from 801 LIVE and THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. More Eno on lead vocals. Very odd. Sounds like something from CABARET. And this is a guitar showcase why? ... OK, a little guitar show-offery in the middle. And how bout those dated keyboard sounds? SO 1977!
* Roxy Music -- Impossible Guitars (live), from THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. OK, THIS is a guitar showcase. And it actually has some drive and excitement. Sorta a rockin' surf sound. best thing here, so far.... Ends too soon.
* 801 -- Diamond Head, from 801 LIVE and THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. Ok, more guitar show-offery, and quite nice. This collection shoulda started with more of this kinda stuff.... Always wondered where the hype about 801 came from (their LISTEN NOW sure won't convince you), now I see that their live album was the one to hear....
* Brian Eno -- Needle in a Camel's Eye, from THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. This has a sorta '50s sound, from Eno's vocals to the guitar-soloing. The pauses in the instrumental chorus are annoying. At least it's short.
* 801 -- Miss Shapiro, from 801 LIVE and THE MANZANERA COLLECTION. OK, I'm about done with Phil and his work for today. This has a Roxy Music-ish sound, even with Eno's arch vocals. Pleasant enuf, but not stunning, and there's not enuf guitar.
* The Move -- Blackberry Way, from SHAZAM! More sunshiney pop, with a little extra heaviness. Very nice, quite 1968-ish. Nice group vocals, shades of the Bee Gees: "So full of emptiness without her...."
* The Move -- Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited, from SHAZAM! Heavy! Poor English guy gets stuck in an insane asylum 'cos of his thots, ya know. Funny! Hilarious choruses. Roy Wood took too many drugs! This would be Exhibit A for the prosecution. Acoustic guitar breaks into Bach's "Joy" halfway thru! Several times! And there's some Tchaikovsky from the Nutcracker Suite. Pretty funny. beautifully produced.
* The Move -- Fields of People, from SHAZAM! Monty Python meets The Beatles. Beautifully produced, and so 1968! Poppy, psychedelic, ornate, light, fun. If ELO could have been like this, we all woulda had a much better time. ... As if all this isn't enuf, they throw in a long crazed sitar workout at the end -- it comes across as a whole different piece, just something else they had lying around. A lot of talent at work here.... And then they interview a taxi driver in the street for his opinions on pop music....
* The Move -- Hello Susie, from SHAZAM! Well now, this is rather unpleasantly heavy if I might be so bold.... And they led off the album with it?
* Gentle Giant -- Two Weeks in Spain, I'm Turning Around, Betcha Thought We Couldn't Do It, Who Do You Think You Are?, from THE MISSING PIECE. "Two Weeks" is awfully jumpy. "Turning Around" is a rather nice lost-love ballad. "Couldn't Do It" is a high-speed comment on Punk Rock -- they couldn't do it. "Who" is more jumpy stuff. Thin. But "I'm Turning Around"'s worth hearing.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Hey, just found out science-fiction writer Edward Bryant died. He was 71.
I met Ed once. When I was an Air Force base-newspaper guy at F.E. Warren AFB in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I got a chance to attend a meeting of the Northern Colorado Writers' Workshop, which was held at one of the members' homes in the Denver suburbs. There I got to meet Ed, and Connie Willis, and other SF writers who were mostly just names to me. I didn't get much from the workshop -- I was too busy being in awe at all those PUBLISHED WRITERS around me.
At the end of the meeting, Ed suggested we all go out to lunch. So we did. And at a local pizza parlor, I found Ed was easy to approach and talk with. I told him how speechless I felt about finally being in a group of published SF writers. Ed thought it was no big deal.
"Yeah, it's amazing," he laughed. "We pull our pants up the same way you do."
I told Ed I thought his 1980 short story "Strata" had captured the mood of living in Wyoming perfectly. Ed was born in Wyoming, so he knew his stuff.
"You know," he said, "you're only about the second person who's ever mentioned that story to me."
This might have been modesty -- "Strata" was nominated for a Nebula Award for best short story the year after it was published.
Bryant wrote a lot more -- his short story "Stone" is one of the great rock-and-roll short stories. He won several awards in the late '70s, including the Nebula Award for best short story two years in a row. For the past couple decades or so he'd been writing horror shorts and novels, and reviewing horror fiction in places like LOCUS.
He never got very famous, but he was one of the best. And just a heckuva nice guy to talk with.

No attn span

OK, I give up. I have no attention span anymore.
I've become incapable of reading anything longer than a news story on the Internet or a short entry in a rock encyclopedia. Can't remember the last time I sat through a movie. Can't focus on written fiction anymore. It takes too long to get to the point. Can handle some non-fiction, long as it's not too long and it's about something I was once interested in.
As for music, if it hasn't grabbed me within 3 minutes, my mind is already wandering and I'm on to the next thing. Maybe you've noticed.
Now, finally, I'm the kind of reader USA TODAY was aiming at when they started back in the 1980's. Now I almost have enough time for them.
This is a disease. Maybe it's a symptom of early senility.
I've mulled over here before the idea of starting a whole new blog for people with short attention spans. Now I'm one of them.
I assume posts here will be shorter in the future (a good thing, yes?) and that I'll be getting to The Point quicker.
For as long as I've tried to Slow Things Down, it seems now I'm leaning heavily toward going with the flow and keepin' things movin'. Faster.
Even though sometimes it makes my head spin.
I'll miss reading novels and short stories, but that parting of the ways has been coming for a long time.
Could it just be too much coffee? Is Donald Trump somehow to blame?
Jeez, the next thing you know I'll be getting on Twitter....

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday afternoon Strange Music blowout!

OK, it's after lunch and I'm tired of politics, so let's get to the music!
* Dixie Dregs -- Hereafter, from DREGS OF THE EARTH. OK, I've played this before, but it sounds different to me every time, so.... I still think the Dregs only have about three or four real tunes, no matter how nicely they play. This is one of their best -- a long guitar showcase with an elusive main melody that starts out with almost Oriental simplicity, then slowly builds in complexity and intensity. Then there's a long, sweet violin section that leads back to the crashing main theme. Nice guitar pyrotechnics by Dregs mastermind Steve Morse near the end. I coulda used one more repeat of that very nice instrumental chorus, but.... I think they were maybe a little too complex for their own good, but it pays off here.
* Zebra -- Who's Behind the Door?, from their first album. Didn't this get some AOR radio airplay? Think I heard it once or twice a decade or so ago and was impressed. Opens with some nice acoustic strumming. Sounds vaguely like Styx, or maybe Rush. Lotsa massed backing vocals behind the lead singer. Nice and airy, but then I haven't heard it a thousand times.... OK spacey sound effects, maybe getting a little cheezy toward the end. Going for some hair-metal cliches before the fade-out. Why did I play this?
* Pink Floyd -- Chapter 24, from THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN. Yeezus, haven't heard this in YEARS. Do I need to be on LSD to really appreciate this? Charming, in a very Olde Englishe way....
* Hatfield and the North -- The Stubbs Effect/Big Jobs (Poo Poo Extract)/Going Up to People and Tinkling/Calyx, etc., from their first album. Charming Richard Sinclair-vocal intro, then into light, tricky English prog. Energetic, light on their feet, a lot going on, but it's all so LIGHT. Then into Robert Wyatt's equally light, wordless vocal on "Calyx." Later, the Northettes will come in and do these same vocal tricks. I like the lightness, but nothing has any impact. Or real force.
* Rick Wakeman -- The Breathalyzer, from CRIMINAL RECORD. Isn't that the ugliest keyboard sound you've ever heard? Even uglier than Mike Ratledge's tone on old Soft Machine tracks. But at least it's funny.... And who is this Bill Oddie who seems to be a cult comedy figure in England?
* Rick Wakeman -- Judas Iscariot, from CRIMINAL RECORD. This starts out all gothic and ominous, then Rick plays around sorta dinkily with the theme, and after that he comes back to the gothic stuff even MORE hugely and ominously. Then a church organ, and a choir, and ... man, those were the days.... Then he backs off a bit for a sort of church-organ fugue, with a hushed choir, and then.... He comes back in and freakin' BLOWS YOUR SPEAKERS UP. Could he get any more melodramatic? I don't see how. I like this, because it does exactly what I expected. Great cheap laffs. What a comedian.
* The Byrds -- Goin' Back, from THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS. A gentle Goffin-King classic with nice group-vocal harmonies and a subtle string section. Bittersweet nostalgia.
* The Byrds -- Wasn't Born to Follow, from THE NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS. Goffin and King Go Country. Way back when I was a kid in California, this song was turned into a Lucky Lager beer commercial. And it sorta sounded better that way. Nice vocals, though. OK spacey guitar in the middle.
* Horslips -- King of Morning Queen of Day, from THE BOOK OF INVASIONS: A CELTIC SYMPHONY. Haven't heard this in YEARS. Rather nice sprightly pop-song/dance with medieval lyrics, nice guitar and sparkly little keyboards. The singing isn't perhaps the best, but it builds in momentum to nice medieval-style choruses. If they had a better singer, this would be pretty good stuff. Sort of a watered-down Gryphon or Amazing Blondel, if that's any use to ya.
* Starcastle -- Shine on Brightly, from CITADEL. No, not THAT "Shine On Brightly." Opens with a nice guitar-and-keyboards fanfare. Three minutes in, this is already better, livelier than the only other track of theirs I've heard, "Fountains" on FOUNTAINS OF LIGHT. Nice shimmery keyboards and guitars. Suddenly Rick Wakeman takes a brief keyb solo! Then some OK guitar. This is nicely punchy -- sort of prog looking for some radio play, not far from Styx or Kansas. And a repeating riff that's worth waiting for. Singer Terry Luttrell could maybe be stronger, he's not mixed out-front enough. But not bad. Worth hearing again. And it's over with fairly quickly.
* Starcastle -- Shadows of Song, from CITADEL. More crystal-clear guitars and keyboards. Suppose Roy Thomas Baker's production helped punch them up? The singing's still not strong enough. The group vocals are OK, but this is merely average. Not enough tune here.
* Flairck -- East-West Express, from VARIATIONS ON A LADY. Acoustic guitars, flute and a string section -- bouncy instrumentals from a late-'70s Dutch band known mostly for their sexy album-covers. Starts out all bouncy and then turns darker. Then we're into a melodramatic spaghetti-Western tune. Then back to the original theme, faster and faster 'til an abrupt ending. The original theme's nice.
* Flairck -- The Butterfly, from VARIATIONS. This is almost classical soundtrack-music, but how'd that sitar get in here? This is pretty, though it's sure not rock and roll. Some flashy violin-playing later on. Gains in intensity toward the end. Nice, different.
* Flairck -- For Antoinette, from VARIATIONS. Light, short, pastoral acoustic-guitar piece.
* Flairck -- De Stoomwals, from VARIATIONS. Flute, viola and acoustic guitar. Pretty. Gains momentum as it goes. Can't translate the title, so don't know what it means. This is nice stuff, though it's a long way from rock. The ending sounds like a merry-go-round running down ... until the train whistle goes off at the very end. And that's the side.
* Alison Moyet -- Invisible, from ALF. I've heard this English singer compared to Kate Bush, though "alto greatness rather than soprano greatness." The song was written by Lamont Dozier of Motown fame, producers Steve Jolley and Tony Swain (Bananarama, many others) are all over it. Kinda mechanical, tho Alf sings well. OK for mid-'80s pop, and it gains a little as it goes. It could have gone on longer....
* Alison Moyet -- Steal Me Blind, from ALF. OK, not bad. The '80's version of Adele?
* Alison Moyet -- Love Resurrection, from ALF. Hmm, now she sounds a little like Joan Armatrading ... or maybe Annie Lennox. I've heard this song called "tasteless," and I guess it veers that way a little in the lyrics, but not too much. Still a little mechanical-sounding. Pretty-much standard '80s pop, not too distinctive.
* Todd Rundgren -- Onomatopoeia, Determination, Fade Away, from HERMIT OF MINK HOLLOW. "Onomatopoeia" is pretty cute, though very short, sounds like it ended before it should have. "Determination" is another crazy-fast rocker, not too far from "Couldn't I Just Tell You?" on SOMETHING/ANYTHING, but faster. "Fade Away" is a slightly dreamy, slightly overdone album-ender.
* Jefferson Starship -- Winds of Change. Haven't heard this in years, either. Always used to love the Starship's science-fiction chorales, even if the songs weren't top-quality. This is on the downhill side, but I don't care much. Still love Craig Chaquico's guitar, Grace Slick's operatic vocals, the spacey science-fiction lyrics, all of it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

All Jethro Tull with no coffee!

I love these guys, so why not? There MUST be some more new-to-me classics in these mostly-unheard eight albums I've got piled up here. Let's see if I can find them.
* Quizz Kid, from TOO OLD TO ROCK AND ROLL TOO YOUNG TO DIE. Starts out sounding just like Cat Stevens, then the heavy Martin Barre guitar starts in before the first chorus. Kinda streamlined compared to Tull's folkier stuff. Later on it gets tricky and intricate. Kind of a cross between AQUALUNG and the folky stuff. Is the comic-book album-cover a satire of THICK AS A BRICK? Ok, the choruses are fairly catchy.
* Crazed Institution, from TOO OLD. More light acoustic guitar and flute. Thought this album was sposta be "heavier"? Pretty nice, and better than "Quizz Kid."
* Salamander, from TOO OLD. Brief, acoustic-guitar-and-flute piece with a few lines of lyrics. Pleasant, but short. So this album's desperate "heavy" rep was just a put-on, right?
* Taxi Grab, from TOO OLD. Maybe it wasn't a put-on. Of course, there's heavy and there's HEAVY. This sounds like the heavier tracks on MINSTREL IN THE GALLERY. Punchy but intricate.
* From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser, from TOO OLD. This is surprisingly MUCH gentler than I expected from the awful title: "Think you must have me all wrong." And that's the side. So where'd this album's "heaver, rock and roll" rep come from? And do I dare try Side 2?
* Bad Eyed and Loveless, from TOO OLD. Ian do love his ugly song titles, don't he? This is more delicate acoustic and Ian's vocals. The lyrics are kinda crude -- as usual. Ian could get in the gutter as good as any punk-rocker. Some of the lyrics are sort of stolen from "Velvet Green" on SONGS FROM THE WOOD. Plagiarising himself? = Signs of a lack of inspiration. (Later Note: TOO OLD was recorded first.) Still doesn't rock.
* Big Dipper, from TOO OLD. Ok, maybe this does.... More heavy guitar and bass here.
* Too Old to Rock and Roll.... -- OK, I've actually heard this before, recognized that orchestrated opening right off. You can't be a punker with that orchestra following you around. The verses are kinda standard "folky" Tull. And the choruses are really annoying. OK, we're done here.
* Beastie, from THE BROADSWORD AND THE BEAST. OK, this is a lot more upbeat than TOO OLD TO ROCK AND ROLL. Almost sounds ... uh ... "modern." Paul Samwell-Smith, who also produced Cat Stevens and America, produced this? Surprised Ian Anderson kept his autocratic hand out of it. Signs of life from Martin Barre's guitar. Catchy choruses, icy keyboards, overall above-average.
* Clasp, from BROADSWORD. "Modern" and catchy, with what sounds like syndrums. Fast-moving and tricky -- very nice, wonder why I don't remember ever hearing any of this back in the day? It's certainly livelier than A or STORMWATCH (which I liked, actually).
* Fallen on Hard Times, from BROADSWORD. "Clasp"'s tune starts this off, followed by brief flute and acoustic guitar. Not bad. The lyrical concerns from A and STORMWATCH are continued here. Gains momentum with some stinging guitar from Martin Barre. Ian's double-tracked vocal on the choruses also helps the intensity. Did Paul Samwell-Smith's advice help punch-up the impact of these songs?
* Flying Colours, from BROADSWORD. Pulls together the keyboards and guitar and pushes for more impact. These guys are pretty tight. Don't know where keybs-guy Peter-John Vettese came from, but drummer Gerry Conway and bassist Dave Pegg were both with Fairport Convention. This doesn't sound like Fairport -- too modern. A nice mix. Songs could maybe be a little stronger, but the production's solid....
* Slow Marching Band, from BROADSWORD. Wow, this is an impressive, haunting slow ballad with more piano than I'm used to hearing on a Tull album -- builds in intensity, nice choruses, stops at just the right spot. best thing I've heard this morning.
* Broadsword. The keyboards take over. Mystical lyrics, tribal drumming. This is more in the sword-and-sorcery/medieval-fantasy vein that Tull should be great at.
* Pussy Willow, from BROADSWORD. Heard this before on one of the Tull best-of's. Somehow it sounds better this morning. More impact. Not such a shock when the full band kicks in on the choruses.
* Watching Me Watching You, from BROADSWORD. The keyboards take over again. fast-paced but kinda mechanical. OK, that's enough.
* With You There to Help Me, from BENEFIT. Going back to 1970, now. Ian's voice sounds kind of distant and megaphonic. Production's much simpler (no surprise), lots of phasing on the vocals and flute. Easier for Martin Barre's guitar to jump out here. Not that far removed from their blues-band beginnings.
* Nothing to Say, from  BENEFIT. Hmmm, appropriate title.
* Inside, from BENEFIT. Ian in woolgathering mode. Not bad, but not stunning. Not distinctive. Cruder in musical approach, simpler. Jeez, am I wearing out after only three sides? More coffee!
* Son, from BENEFIT. Ok, I've lost track of what's what and what fits into what here....
* For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me, from BENEFIT. Best thing on this side. A lot more range, impressive loud choruses and delicate acoustic-guitar backed verses. can't really tell what Ian's going on about, tho....
* To Cry You a Song, from BENEFIT. This is too long, but Martin Barre's heavy guitar-riffing helps.
* A Time for Everything?, from BENEFIT. OK, but over way too quick. Didn't even have time to focus on what was happening.
-- Don't need to play "Teacher," because it's one of my all-time faves, so....
* Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square, from STAND UP. How bout those pitter-pat drums? Is this where Gentle Giant got their drum sound? Have heard lots of STAND UP before, know it's pretty consistent, but can't remember lotsa trax, like this one. Touch here is lighter than on BENEFIT, which is kinda odd since this album came first. This is basically light and acoustic, and over too quick.
* Bouree, from STAND UP. This mostly-solo-flute piece is pleasant enough, and the opening theme (borrowed from Bach? and then turned into sorta-lite-jazz) is memorable, but I've never understood why this seemed like a Big Deal. Maybe it was back in the day...? OK, nevertheless.... Could almost be a TV news-show theme, now....
* Back to the Family, from STAND UP. I've always liked this. The lyrics are freakin' hilarious. Could be a theme-song for all the "kids" who've had to move back in with their parents over the last decade. Nice flute, good guitar, and Ian's vocals are appropriately sleazy and funny. Rockin'.
* Look Into the Sun, We Used to Know, from STAND UP. Ian's voice is rather distant on "We Used to Know," but the flute solo helps make up for it. Then a shrill wah-wah solo from Martin Barre. And yet, overall the songs here are stronger than those on BENEFIT -- this just in.
-- No need to play "Nothing is Easy" or "Fat Man," those have both been on my Tull playlist for quite awhile....
* Reasons for Waiting, from BENEFIT. Very nice flute-with-orchestra piece, very soothing. Not rock and roll, but who cares?
* For a Thousand Mothers, from BENEFIT. Ok album-ender, nothing stunning. Still, lots of talent on display here. these guys could go far.
* A PASSION PLAY, Side One -- OK, bite the bullet. I haven't heard this in years, and it was a real chore the last time I tried.... Opens with lots of synthesizer- and guitar-atmosphere noise. But compared to some of their stuff I've played this morning, this bounces along nicely and has definite signs of life. the production's lighter here than on their earlier stuff. ... This is rather ornately detailed, with lots of synth and keyboard touches, and way-delicate acoustic guitar. Way closer to classical music than rock and roll. There are some actual TUNES here, though the playing keeps getting in the way of them. Then a snatch of Olde Englishe opera -- how did Queen get in here? And some twiddly-bits guitar and a little heavy riffing. This is how Ian strings together 10 different songs/riffs into one rock-opera/concept-album. If it weren't for John Evan's keyboards, this would be a lot more tedious.... His little keyb riff at the end of the side sounds a lot like Mike Oldfield's guitar on OMMADAWN. ...And we are NOT going to listen to "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles." It's just silly. Overall: Not distinctive. Have no idea what ian's going on about here.
And that's enough for today. There's a football game on....

Friday, February 3, 2017

Goldmine -- and it may cost you one

OK, I'm feeling guilty because after posting 17 times in January I have yet to post anything for February.
So when I'm not looking for outrageous news stories on the Internet these days, I've been slowly absorbing the info collected in Vernon Joynson's massive THE TAPESTRY OF DELIGHTS (2006), a thousand-page compendium of data about English R&B, psychedelic and progressive-rock acts from 1963 to 1976.
It's freakin' HUGE. A rather awkwardly large-sized paperback crammed full of bio info, album- and single-release data, short histories of the recording artists, CD re-issue info, where you can find their songs on various-artists collections, chart info if they made any known chart, a "rarities" scale to help collectors judge how much they should pay for an album, etc. etc. etc.
There are errors, mostly very minor. And in light of the gargantuan amount of info gathered here, much of it on acts I guarantee you've never heard of, I can easily overlook the mistakes.
WARNING: It's expensive. If you can find a copy for $40, you'll be doing OK. And there are some truly outrageous prices for it out there.
How much you'll get out of it depends on how much you're addicted to English rock weirdness. For instance, the book helped me decide if I should buy the fairly-rare first album by Gracious! Joynson's description informed me it'd probably be right up my alley -- but also helped me conclude that even with the curiosity factor I probably wouldn't enjoy it $18 worth. The book also told me who REALLY played the acid-blues guitar on Peter Bardens' THE ANSWER.
All the usual English rock stars are in here -- Beatles, Zep, Stones, Who, Floyd, etc. -- but some of the longer entries are on underground groups that are high on the coolness scale but mostly unknown to the general public.
In his write-ups, Joynson often suggests outstanding tracks to listen to -- and definitely lets you know Stuff To Avoid. He also points out "rare" items that are wildly overpriced compared to their musical worth. So call it a collector's buyer-guide.
Joynson's written other massive informational tomes -- a couple on American rock of the same period, entitled ACID FUZZ and THE FLASHBACK, and one on the Punk Rock Years, called UP YOURS! Plus a few others.... The prices on these go from astronomical on up -- way up.
Providence is listed in TAPESTRY OF DELIGHTS, and they were Americans. So there are a few loopholes. And I wish the book covered a few more years into the late-'70s, though Joynson's position is that's a whole different musical era. And you have to cut this stuff off someplace....
But overall, hours of browsing pleasure. I've had this in the house since just after Christmas, and I'm still finding new stuff....