The Top 10 Club

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

The Top 10 Club proudly welcomes two new members in Albin Kwolek and Mark Panicek! The next round is on you.  The Top 10 Club includes those people who have finished in the Overall Top 10 of the Vertical Competition at Whitefish Mountain Resort, since the inception of the program in 2003-04.

We have just completed the tenth season of the Big Vertical Competition.   Ten seasons with 10 places each year, it all adds up to 100 spots.   Those 100 spots are owned by just 32 people.  The charts below show just how prolific some of our skiers have been over time.Top 10 Club - 2013

At the top of the List, All-Time Big Mountain Vert King, Fred Frost, just finished his Tenth Consecutive Top 3 Overall finish.

Joining him with his tenth Consecutive Top 10 Overall finish is Russ Carpenter.

John Gibson notched his 8th Top 10.   Yours truly, my 6th.

Steve (Calger) and Kay (Yobst) earned their 4th.    Vert Champ and Single-Season Record-holder Tony Cooper got his 3rd Consecutive Top 10.Top 10 Club - 2013 pg2

Welcome back to Tom McCrea–earning his 2d Top 10 over the last three years.

And Congrats to our new members—Albin Kwolek and Mark Panicek.  Nicely done~!

Posted in Skiing the Big Mountain, Vert Records | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Top 10 Ladies of Big Mountain 2013

Whitefish Mountain Resort Vert Records

A hearty congratulations to Katherine (Kay) Yobst for winning the Ladies Vert Title in 2013~!   Kay skied a personal best 2,712,322 vertical feet in earning her 4th Ladies Title and fourth Big Mountain Overall Top 10 finish.  It was again a pleasure skiing with you–and especially in the steeps and the new terrain.

Coming in 2nd, Jeanne Reichstadt, also a 4-time Ladies Title-holder, skied another Ladies All-Time Top 10, amassing an impressive 2,204,216 vertical feet.  Jeanne is a model of consistency, skiing her 5th season (over the last decade) in the ballpark of 2.2 million feet.

Rounding out the ladies podium, was teen phenom Jamie Meyer.  Jamie skied 1,710,183′ of super gnarly terrain.   Whenever I skied the gnarliest, most technical lines, of our signature expert terrain (Picture Chutes, NBC, East Rim, etc), it was always the Meyers (Jamie with her Dad and brother) who I encountered on my left and right–and they were always skiing the gnarlier line.  My hats off to you.  I draw a great deal of inspiration from those who are skiing at levels that I’m still working hard toward achieving.  And she’s still a teen-ager.   Ladies Top 10 - 2013

To the rest of the Ladies in the Top 10, I offer a hearty–“Well Done~!” There are plenty of familiar faces in the group.  Luanne Metcalf, Nancy Cohn, and Betty Anne Shores all continued their streak of ongoing Top 10 Ladies finishes.   Again, congratulations are in order~!

Below are the updated Ladies Top 10 All-Time Records—The bar for entering this elite stat list continues to rise.  It takes nearly 2.2 million feet just to get in the door.   Set your sights high and give it a run.Ladies Top Vert - All-Time

Once again, these records are not official and I am not affiliated with the Resort.  I welcome any constructive inputs you may have.   I am all about accurately completing the record.   Cheers JDPF

Posted in Skiing the Big Mountain, Vert Records | 1 Comment

Lightning Round IV

Music Reviews 2012

Soundgarden – King Animal

The “Black Days” are over.   Seattle’s finest are back~! Irreverent and self-aware, they have delivered exactly what you’d expect from the Kings of the 90s.   This is the 2012 record that I’ve looked forward to the most. It doesn’t disappoint.

After hearing it, I’ve got to ask.  What was Kim Thayil doing for 15 years?  We know where Chris Cornell’s been (solo, with Audioslave, more solo).  And we know that Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam after the 97 Soundgarden break-up.  Ben Shepherd’s obviously been around the block a few times too.  But Thayil, dude? You can’t just sit down that sledgehammer axe. You must wield it. Moral imperative.

Wherever they were, its great to have them back.  Thunderous, raucous, bass-heavy, lick-infested, this Animal feels like it never left.  From the first song, Been Away For Too Long, the groove is on, with Cornell telling us exactly how they feel, how we feel.   And to put it simply and redundantly, they have been away for too long.

Non-State Actor continues the thunderous vibe, while reacquainting us with Soundgarden’s signature, psychedelic guitar layering.  All as Cornell bellows about how “we settle for a little bit more than everything.  We are not elected, but we will speak.  We aren’t the chosen, but we believe.”  Yes, indeed we do…in the power of Soundgarden to command our undivided attention while rocking our world.

By Crooked Steps follows with another proverbial punch in the face.  It feels like a SuperUnknown track (with the band clearly firing on all cylinders)–beginning with a hint of homage to Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell, before the sledgehammer announces that it is unmistakenly Soundgarden.

Then A Thousand Days Before takes me away……into the melodically euphoric, spiritual realm that Audioslave did so well (e.g. on I Am the Highway).  Cornell is a brilliant story-teller, delivering layer upon delicious layer.  He can recreate the atmosphere of the “Jesus Christ Pose” like no other vocalist in music.  Desperate and dark, yet spacious and ever hopeful–or as Shepherd sort of describes it (on Attrition) “under bombast and gloom,” life is cold, but fight on we must.  No matter the obstacle, you slam your way through, famously and fabulously. Faced with cold, dark adversity, “I’ll be on my own side.”  A Thousand Days Before is an anthem for all who aspire to self-reliance….with a Doors’ The End-like finish.  Absolutely magnificent~!

Then Thayil hammers you with Blood on the Valley Floor.  Five songs in and I’m asking myself, is this the best Soundgarden ever?  I know it’s a tall order, but I’m serious.  This is  as good as A-Sides was thru the first five songs and that’s a greatest hits-like compilation.

And it doesn’t go downhill from there. Taree is my early favorite song from the record.

All in all, King Animal is a triumph.  Soundgarden, at their best, is a force in music.  They were away long enough to sort their differences….and to appreciate that which made them special in the first place–the collaboration with each other.   Cornell, Thayil, Shepherd and Cameron are clearly greater than the sum of their parts.   Soundgarden defines synergy. Who knew?

King Animal isn’t SuperUnknown.  It’s just a logical, seventeen years hence, follow-up.  On this record, we are quickly reminded of why this band owned the 90s.  And the nineties were such a fresh change to the lame pop/hair metal excesses of the 80s.   Gimme another double-shot of Seattle’s finest—an espresso, some flannel, some Soundgarden on 11, all while enjoying another great ski day.

Kid Rock – Rebel Soul

Finally, the middle-aged rebel kid from southeast Michigan, has given in and taken his wares to i-Tunes.  Kid Rock once again followed his Michigan mentor, Mr. Bob Seger, into the once unthinkable void.  Such is life.  The market-place changes.  You adapt and take your wares to the new market…or you rail against windmills by yourself while losing all that revenue.*

All politics aside, the music on Rebel Soul is pure.  It is purely what it purports to be.   Rebellious and soulful.  Nobody does it better.  Three albums in a row.  It ain’t a fluke.  Kid Rock plays the music of the trailer park, for the trailer park, by the trailer park.  “Move your busted ass vehicle off the road” ain’t never sounded better.  Check it~!

Green Day – Dos

The second of the 2012 Trilogy, Dos continues where Uno left off.  In your face, insidious, angstful, and catchy — all at the same time.  My favorites again are the most suggestive.  F*** Time, Lazy Bones, and Makeup Party are all gems.  Three chords and a pile of guitar parts, another Armstrong rehab.  Whatever it takes, the Kids of Greenery are up to their task.  And we’re just a few weeks out from Tre’.  Can’t wait. All that angst will match the intensity of difficult ski terrain…or difficult ski buddies. Either way, one of us is going down.  I’ll just have a soundtrack playing in my helmet.

Phillip Phillips – The World From the Side of the Moon

American Idol Phillip Phillips has released his debut album–The World from the Side of the Moon.  It is worthy~!   Phillips truly has the chops he seemed to demonstrate through the weekly Idol gauntlet.   His works naturally seem to conjure a Dave Matthews meets Mumford and Sons vibe.

And yet, it’s all him.  Phillip Phillips has the moxie and mojo to pull this off.  He isn’t a manufactured entity.  Of note, of the fourteen songs on the record, he penned five himself, co-wrote four others, and used five songs written by others.

In my book, the best songs here are the ones he wrote himself.  Wanted is Love is an understated masterpiece.  It will undoubtedly end up punctuating a night-time drama TV-episode.  I’d bet on it.

To Phillip’s credit, his success and fortune have not yet changed him.  When asked how he felt about NBC and the US Women’s Gymnastics Team adopting Home as their theme song, he purportedly said he “was humbled” by it, but hadn’t actually seen any of it, since the Idols’ tour was in full-swing then.

19 Recordings (Idol’s affiliated management company) did Phillips right.   The investment is well-spent.  The arrangements are professional, the use of strings, horns and other effects are appropriate and nicely done.  I love the sax on Man on the Moon and Drive Me.

And to Jim, I say, I even hear a little Warren Zevon-esque “ahh oooh” on Drive Me.  Who doesn’t like hearing that done well?  Then follow that up with a little sax and some Blues-Brothers-style horn accompaniments.   It’s all good.

Its so good, I find myself already forgetting the Idol origins.  Phillip Phillips is why I watch shows like American Idol.  For every 700,000 contestants, there is one Phillip Phillips, one Carrie Underwood, one Chris Daughtry, one David Cook, and one Kelly Clarkson.   Those artists alone have made it worth my time.  And you never know who’s going to end up lending a few seasons to the show.  Like Steven Tyler—speaking of which…

Aerosmith – Music From Another Dimension

Love ’em or hate ’em, current Aerosmith is still in the ring.  They’re still polarizing a crowd like few other bands, old or new.   “What’s the deal?” You ask.  Well, it’s that they, allegedly, “aren’t being true to themselves.”  Some lament this records lack of ties to Toys in the Attic or Rocks.  Others lament the presence of, “ugghh”, another Diane Warren ballad.  And even worse, a Carrie Underwood duet.  That’s evidence right there that Aerosmith has clearly sold out.  To many, Aerosmith have become pop whores.  These critics ask, where’s the metal?  The lick and a promise? And why can’t they just get “back in the saddle?”

Fair enough questions I suppose.  But I do believe there is some room in this world for balladry by a Joe Perry band.  After all, despite him famously saying that Aerosmith doesn’t do ballads, they did do that one—that Diane Warren ballad—I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing–which ended up being their biggest hit ever.  Dream On notwithstanding.

You’ll have to make your own decision about this record. Personally, I like a fair amount of it.  They are at least sober and that counts a lot.  The record is coherent and that sets it well ahead of multiple mid-career Aerosmith records.

Black Country Communion – Afterglow

Prolific and powerful, the neo-classicist, dark country rockers return for their third record since 2010.  No one works harder than Hughes, Bonham, Bonamassa and Sherinian. And Ok, Bonamassa and Sherinian are Americans….but they seem to fit better in this Brit’ophile band construct.

This is as close to modern 70s music as you get.   It feels a little like Zeppelin, a little like Deep Purple.  This record leans more toward the Hughes influence with fewer Bonamassa originals mixed in.  No sweat there though, Bonamassa shines through.   This is terrific, timeless rock and roll.   People dig ’em.  What about you?


Bonus Material and Deliberate Digression follow

*Did you know that Rush sold out to a car company?  I ask as a plankholding Rush fan.

It is supremely ironic to me….that the commercial aired the very week I actually saw the band gathered around a table saying they would never sell out….ever (in 2010’s Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage).

Ok, so I was a little late in seeing the movie (Rush – Beyond the Lighted Stage), especially if I claim to be a plankholding fan……but I believed them.  They were so earnest.

And then I saw the commercial, within like 48 hours.  It was like finding out the earth really is round….right after the people you trust most assured you it was flat.

Oh well, I get it.  The truth changes.  2010’s principled line in the sand is 2012’s opportunity for enhanced cash-flow.

To be fair, I kind of like it…..despite it being some dork-face air-drumming Fly By Night at a stop light.   I certainly prefer this to seeing Joe Theismann telling me his prostate troubles or that other dude telling me how his new catheter has changed his life.  Play me some Rush baby; I’ll air drum too…..just as long as the prostate is still working and I remain catheter free.

On that note, isn’t it time you do some music reviewing of your own?

Support the Musicians you like~!  Enjoy JDPF

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Lightning Round III

Music Reviews 2012

Green Day – Uno

Oakland’s own preeminent punks are back. Uno is the first of three records coming out between September and January.   Green Day is nothing if not crazy ambitious.  Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt and Tre’ Cool are as big and polished as ever.  All while delivering retro, mid-90s-like Green Day. Written reviews are somewhat mixed….but my ears tell me this is a winner.   I wasn’t a fan of the band, until they dialed back a little angst and delivered some radio-friendly melody (circa mid-90s).  This record offers a ton of it.  That said, it is quite explicit and not appropriate for anything but adult-only radio.   Kill the DJ and Let Yourself Go are in your face with profanity and insidious suggestion, but they are also two of the best, instantly catchy and sing-along worthy songs.

Other key tracks are:  Carpe Diem, Troublemaker and Oh Love.   As American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown showed us, Green Day knows how to deliver a radio-friendly hook, song after song.  At this point, their records are as close to a guaranteed success as you can get.  Uno, for its part, rocks.  I can’t wait to hear Dos (release is scheduled for 13 Nov) and Tre (release scheduled for 15 January).

Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World

Charlottesville’s finest, Dave Matthews Band is legendary for their strong live shows.  No one knows this better than their Piedmont-based fans.  And while their studio albums haven’t often done justice to their live-show magic, Away From the World comes closer than the rest.

Away From The World is mature, full of character and depth….and flat-out jams in places.  You can just feel how these songs lend themselves to live pyrotechnics.  I’ve given Dave Matthews Band records a chance a few times previously, and yet this is the first album that really sunk a hook in me.  It’s a great listen start to finish.  I love Broken Things, Belly Belly Nice, Mercy, Gaucho and If Only.  I love the Mariachi-like horns, the backup vocals, and the jam-like feel.  Maybe one of these days I’ll catch a live show.  I’ll have to.  Brad, set it up.  In the meantime, maybe I’ll give their earlier records another listen.

Matchbox Twenty – North

Rob Thomas is back with his mates, after a successful foray into solo record-making. And while I loved his solo work, his best, most impactful work seems to come in the context of Matchbox Twenty.  Does anybody else remember how good Yourself and Someone Like You was back in the day? When most albums (originating in the late 90s) gave you a single or two of great music, Matchbox Twenty delivered a killer first record.   From Long Day, to 3:00 AM, to Push, it was one gem after another.   A lot of us jumped on to that fast-moving train.   It slowed as it went, but it still kept us moving and entertained.

This record isn’t in the same class (Album of the Year Candidate) as the first record but North is strong nonetheless.  I love the piano-based English Town above the rest.  As his solo works attest, Thomas and piano accompaniment yield some powerfully evocative moments (Now Comes the Night being the best example).  English Town begins there and surges into full-fledged pop grandiosity. In that regard, Matchbox Twenty is better than they’ve ever been.  Youself and Someone Like You showed the band mature beyond their age and experience.  North shows the band as mature commensurate to their experience. It’s no small distinction.  They’ve earned their stripes.  Having been thru the spin-cycle a few times, they appreciate their place and they are clearly working harder to keep it now.

The Wallflowers – Glad All Over

Jakob Dylan is also back from solo work. Rejoining the band which gave him his own place in this world, Dylan seems to have come full circle.   He is officially free from the strong gravitational pull of his legendary, Medal of Freedom winning father, Bob.

The Wallflowers burst on the scene in 1996 (coincidentally, about the time of Matchbox Twenty) with their own Album of the Year Contender, Bringing Down the Horse.  That record, featuring One Headlight, Sixth Avenue Heartache,  Three Marlenas, and Josephine, would forever set the standard for the band.  While each of the subsequent albums would have high points as high as the first record, they weren’t as consistent from beginning to end.   By the time we got to 2005’s Rebel Sweetheart,  the high points seemed fewer and further between, and consistency all but nonexistent .  As such, my hopes for Glad All Over were modest and tempered.

To my surprise, Glad All Over is terrific.  It isn’t as epic as Bringing Down the Horse, but it is very good.  It is fun, propulsive, and catchy in many places.  The great hooks are back. Standouts include: Misfits and Lovers, First in the Car, Reboot the Mission  and Love is a Country.   Bottom line, you can listen to this record end to end.  Woohoo, its great to have The Wallflowers back.  Jakob has always been a better vocalist than his father.  He certainly enunciates more clearly….even if he isn’t moving the world like his father did.   Fair enough.   Some are born to move the world….and others to merely entertain.  I’m glad The Wallflowers rekindled the old fire.  What about you?

Jason Aldean – Night Train

I’ll admit it.  I’m no country purist.  I don’t prefer the George Strait’s and Hank Williams.   I like the rockin’ cross-over crowd.   And Jason Aldean leads that pack.   Since I don’t ordinarily listen to Country radio, I wasn’t introduced to Jason Aldean, until his duet with Kelly Clarkson, on his last record.   After seeing their Country Music Awards performance, I bought My Kinda Party and was very pleasantly surprised.

In my estimation, Night Train continues the party.   Country, whether retro-pure or with cross-over appeal, is typically more direct and less ambiguous than other genres of music.   Like most people, country music “is what it is.”  And I like that…….that lack of ambiguity.   I suppose that’s what makes me a sucker for ballads.   Staring at the Sun and Black Tears are worthy examples.

Night Train is full of heartfelt, straightforward music.   I like: When She Says Baby, Feel That Again,  the title-track, and the aforementioned Staring at the Sun.   It’s mostly just country songs with raucous, well-placed rock-n’ roll guitar licks.   Thanks Jason….for keeping the Party going.

On the near horizon of impending new albums, Soundgarden will release King Animal in November.  Green Day will release Dos then too.  As such, I’m bettin’ there will be a Lightning Round IV sometime soon.  God willing.

Until then, get caught up with your own music reviews.

Support the Musicians you like.  Enjoy ~!  JDPF

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Huckleberry Harvest Days

Fall is here~!  The huckleberry harvest is in the freezer and we now wait for the snows. It’s time to start getting the legs and core into ski-shape.  We anxiously await ski season while enjoying fall’s magnificent splendor.   And we recap a huckleberry season to remember.

There are few more fulfilling things to do, while living on the side of Big Mountain, than picking your own huckleberries while they are ripe on the vine.  It has become an annual late August – early September ritual for us now.  When the huckleberries are ripe, we take advantage of our free chairlift rides to the summit (using the previous winter’s ski pass) to get into the mix of huckleberry pickers.   Picking hucks for a few hours will give you a new appreciation for migrant farm workers.  It is vigorous work.

The upper half of the ski mountain is literally full of huckleberries. Everybody knows this. And many folks aggressively pick here. Consequently, you may have to work a little harder, get a little further off of the beaten paths, to find abundant, not already picked over huckleberry plants. When you do, it’s worth all of the trouble.

When you get into the motherlode of unpicked hucks, you’ll feel an exhilarating rush of excitement.  That excitement derives directly from the satisfaction in knowing that you beat some of the local huck pickers at their own game. Anybody that has picked huckleberries on Big Mountain has seen them….with their gallon-sized containers over half full.  I pick into a quart-sized zip-lock bag….and on a great day, can fill three bags full. But I’m clearly an amateur. I do carry multiple baggies, in the hopes that I will happen upon a motherlode.

Hiking the mountain in search of huckleberries also yields the ever-magnificent views of the Northern Rockies, Glacier National Park, the Flathead Valley, Whitefish and Flathead Lakes.  These views don’t ever get old.

And if you are lucky, you just might see some local fauna.  Deer, elk, wild turkey, ptarmigan, grouse, and squirrels are plentiful and always a welcome sight.   You carry Counter-Assault bear spray for any unlikely and unwanted close encounters with a bear or mountain lion.   I have seen several bears this year…but thankfully not while hiking or huckpicking.

Huckleberries, when fully developed and ripe, resemble blueberries, in size and shape. More often you’ll find them slightly smaller. Perhaps thats because the Huck Local 507 has already hit the plants en masse.  Immature huckleberries start green, then take on a reddish hue, before fully ripening into blue or darker, purplish, almost black berries.  They are similar at a glance to your basic blueberry, just not always with the distinctive blue. Huckleberries actually come from a couple of different plants…..and the Big Mountain alone offers a clinic in learning the distinctive types.  A few hours picking and you end up with purple fingers.  

You can wear it like a badge of honor.  Below here are several Murphys and other Irish-folk wearing it proud.

Huckleberries, to the uninitiated, have a sweet and tart flavor to them.  I’d try to explain further….but recommend you put them on your bucket list and try them fresh for yourselves.  Maybe you can come up in late August or early September some year and pick some of your own?

This year was a pretty darned good year for us and the huckleberry harvest.  We picked in a group and we picked by ourselves.  Kevin and Lynette Murphy, their son Shaun and his girlfriend Erin, plus Kevin’s parents (and Mike’s brother and sis-in-law) Don and Carol, and Mike and I spent a late afternoon picking as a group.  

From the group haul, we had a huckleberry pie and Kevin’s crew had huckleberry pancakes.

After the Murphy visit, Mike and I have picked a hair under two gallons–which came out to nine and 1/2 pounds total.  I got up to the mountain every day for a solid work-week–learning the ropes for myself.  I had to pick in difficult to access, away from trails, kinds of locations, to get to the unpicked plants.  Even picked over plants, had immature or well-hidden berries, that were missed or ignored during previous pickings.   As the season wore on, you went from picking from green-leafed plants to orange to even completely red.  The hucks were great in all cases.

I finally met my continually evolving huckpicking goals for the season.  In the end, I picked enough hucks so that those who come to ski and stay with us this winter, will get a huckleberry pancake breakfast as part of the bargain.

Or some muffins, or a cobbler, etc. And I’ll have some modest amounts to give to friends, for them to use as they choose.

Who’s in?

It’s not too early to make this winter’s reservations now.  Although, it is an El Nino year in the central Pacific Ocean.  God only knows what that may portend for our upcoming ski season.    Oh well, we’ll ski whatever God puts in front of us.  Like picking hucks, its what we do — living on a ski mountain and all.

And if you make it up, maybe you’ll get a glimpse of our Ptarmigan whitetail bucks.

They’re here all the time….born, raised and living good on the Big Mountain.

Best regards/JDPF

Posted in Home-based Miscellany, Quests and Adventures | Tagged | 2 Comments

Lightning Round II

Music Reviews 2012

Welcome back for a continuation of the New Music Lightning Round; this is Lightning Round II.  I know, it may be tedious to some, but I prefer to think of it as “completing the record.” Just a few more albums of 2012 to get caught up — for the time being anyway. There are a few more months in 2012…and this has been a fairly prolific year for good, new music.   It’s not the Seventies…but it seems a little better than last year.  And that’s got to count for something.  If nothing else, the first 8 months of this year have given me high hopes for the remainder of the year.

Zac Brown Band – Uncaged

Last year’s break-out band is this year’s group of seasoned pros, delivering another great record, like a Pro-Bowl QB delivering another 4,000-yard season. Uncaged is a worthy follow-up to 2010’s smash You Get What You Give.

And I owe a “shout-out” to Karen Thielke for turning me onto the Zac Brown Band. Thanks Karen~! You were right, they’re country, but not on the “twangy” side of country.   The Zac Brown Band is as accessible to a mainstream audience as a country band can be.  They are using a tried and true Country formula, with ballads, up-tempo’s, hoe-downs, and even an island/beach sounding song, all in the mix.  No doubt, it’s a diverse and solid set-list for a fun concert. Everybody (who is anybody) in Country, from Kenny Chesney to Rascal Flatts, use that kind of formula.   Few do it better than the Zac Brown Band.   Zac Brown and his compadres are firing on all cylinders.  Uncaged should stay high on the charts for a long time, just like the last record did.  Why? Because its just better, and more agreeable to widely diverse audiences, than most of the other new music right now.  Of course, you can decide for yourself.

Train – California 37

San Francisco’s own, Train continues to churn out mainstream pop music, at a continually relevant pace.  Pat Monahan continues to write and perform songs that we remember.  Since Meet Virginia, Drops of Jupiter, and Calling All Angels put them on the map, Train has continued to throw hooks at us.  Like in boxing, some of them hit us hard and stick with us, and some don’t.

This album maybe doesn’t include an iconic, ubiquitously heard song, like the early records did, but it does offer some catchy ear-candy, start to finish.  I really like:  Drive By, 50 Ways to Say Goodbye, We Were Made For This, and To Be Loved.   In the course of making mainstream pop, Train has cleverly used some unconventional arrangements to make the record interesting.  The Mariachi band thing on 50 Ways to Say Goodbye is neatly done.  But the centerpiece of Train’s appeal, has to be Monahan’s smooth croon through all the hooks.  This is mellow, adult oriented pop.  It is a good listen, appropriate for audiences of all ages.  No need to overthink it.  Just listen…and eventually you will be singing along.  I’d bet on it.

Rascal Flatts – Changed

One of the 2012 records I missed in the first Lightning Round, Rascal Flatts 2012 offering is, like the Zac Brown Band’s new record, another triumph in applying Country Music’s other formula for many successful bands. The band assembles the best writers and songs available, picks ten that offer a broad cross-section of the band’s style….and the band hits a home run recording and delivering it.  Gary Levox remains among the most emotionally evocative of male voices in Country.  Let It Hurt takes you to the same place that What Hurts the Most did six years ago.  Levox just slays it.  Rascal Flatts has a long history of hits and a well-deserved reputation for being a fun band to see. They do summer songs, and ballads, and tear-jerkers as well as anybody.  Good on ’em.  I enjoy their music…and support them on principle at this point.

ZZ Top – Texicali (EP)

Who knew that the Sharp Dressed Men of the 80s, could still bang out new stuff?  Stuff that sounds authentic, original and well, downright “killer” in places.  Well, now, we all do–or at least you and me, since I wrote it down, and you are now reading it.  There it is, like the Bob Saget bit about men breast-feeding.  He said that.  Actually, he read that….well, he wrote it down first, and then he read it aloud and I heard him say it.   Those are just the facts…and you can’t argue with facts.  And the fact here is that ZZ Top can still play.  They can still get big crowds going in the same direction–toward a fictitious Bluesville, Texicali.  If you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably like this.  I was mildly surprised at how much I did.  Chartreuse rocks, and sways, beard-first, like the best of the ZZ Top discography.  I dare you to listen and try not to.  And a few weeks from now, a full-length record comes out, with these songs and more.  It is entitled La Futura.  ZZ Top proves that old guys still rock.  May we all rock that hard when we get their age.

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

I never know what I’ll get with Springsteen records.  Oh, sure, I know that I’ll get a blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth, Americana-infused set of songs.  Springsteen will throw himself into all of it.  I just don’t know if I’ll love all of it, start to finish, or not.  I loved Born in the USA that way (who didn’t?), way back when.  And The Rising in 2003 was his best ever, in my book.  But others since then haven’t sunk the same hook in me.  Wrecking Ball seems to be in between at this point–though it does continue to grow on me.   Like Magic, back in 2007, I like some of it a lot….while other parts of it I find myself skipping past.  C’est La Vie.  I can’t love everything.  You wouldn’t want to hear about if I did.

On that note, I’ll let you get to your own music reviews.  Do some and get back to me. Better yet….don’t.   Get back to me that is.  By all means do your own music reviewing.

And while you are at it, Support the Musicians you like.  Enjoy JDPF

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New Music Lightning Round

Music Reviews – 2012 – Lightning Round

In the spirit of Ted (the new Seth McFarlane – Mark Wahlberg summer comedy), I offer you my “lightning round” take on the new music of 2012.  No frills, no excess–just my “straight from the gut” take…coming at you mostly “stream of consciousness.”

Like Wahlberg and his “white-trash” girl names, new music is, for me,  in the realm of “I just know this stuff” kind of stuff.

It has been a fairly prolific year for new music, from artists old and new.   From Rush to Adam Lambert, there are lots of new records to keep us all entertained anew.  In no particular order, here’s my take on the new music that I’ve been listening to.

Rush – Clockwork Angels – After five long years, the Toronto-based power-trio has given us Rush faithful another bone to gnaw on.  With lyrics by Neil Peart, and music by (bassist Geddy) Lee and (guitarist Alex) Lifeson, the three-decades running success formula is again at work.  Peart’s lyrics are worthy.  Deep, meaningful and layered, Peart again reminds me of why I became a Rush fan in 1977.   He creates smart characters with conscience.  His lyrics demonstrate a standard of continual learning.  Like life itself, his characters always seem responsible for previous lessons.  I love that.  And Lee and Lifeson put them to power-chords and ever changing time-signatures, with Lee offering his signature wail.  This isn’t 2112.  Nor is it Moving Pictures or even Presto, but it’s new Rush and it rocks.  Check out Caravan, BU2B, the title-track, and Headlong Flight.  The more you listen, the more you’ll discover.

Maroon 5 – Overexposed – Adam Levine and his LA-based bros continue to be a hit factory.   Overexposed is, somewhat less than ironically, going to keep them in the spotlight for a long-time to come–as if Adam Levine wasn’t ubiquitous enough already, with his mentor role on The Voice (though I did see that they signed on Rob Thomas, making me wonder if Adam is done there?). For me, Overexposed isn’t as perfect, start to finish, as Hands All Over was…but it’s still a great listen.  If you listen to contemporary radio, you won’t be able to miss it.  Key tracks include One More Night and Payphone.

Joe Bonamassa – Driving Toward the Daylight                                                      –Another rock solid effort by the modern Blues master came out in June.   It is, like most of his solo records, a combination of Bonamassa originals and covers. And again, I love the Bonamassa originals more.  Driving Toward the Daylight and Heavenly Soul jumped right into my Best of Joe B playlist. Bonamassa is maintaining a frenetic pace, working on a new Black Country Communion record, while touring Europe, Asia and Australia this summer. I’m hoping to see him at the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa in November.  Who’s in?

Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania – This is the pleasant surprise of the summer for me. Billy Corgan has finally created a record that doesn’t feel self-indulgent to me.  It is reminiscent of the Pumpkins’ mid-90s best.   In fact, I like it as much as I liked Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness when they were new.  The band is mostly new again too, with Jimmy Chamberlin, James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzgy long gone. But the Pumpkins have always been Corgans’ brainchild.  My fave tracks are:  Celestials, My Love is Winter, Pinwheel and the Chimera.  But I’ve been listening to it start to finish, with no urgency to skip ahead. That alone makes this better than Zwan, Zeitgest and other more recent Corgan efforts. It’s nice to have the Pumpkins firing on all cylinders again.

John Mayer – Born and Raised Another pleasant surprise, Mayer, now a fellow Montanan, is freshly over his personal embarrassment, surrounding his 2010 “foot in mouth” debacle.  This record reflects a refreshing new perspective, both lyrically and in substance.  After Continuum, it’s hard to argue that this is his best, but this is very, very good.  His “Shadow Days” are over indeed.  Key tracks are:  Queen of California, Shadow Days, Something Like Olivia, the title track, and A Face to Call Home.  Check ’em out.

Linkin Park – LIVING THINGS –  STOP SHOUTING the album name already.    Linkin Park’s new record seems to have hearkened slightly back toward their original formula.  And that, my friends, is a good thing.  Angst-ridden Chester Bennington screams, layered on Mike Shinoda Rap/Rants, all set to electro-muscled song structures. I like it.  Some of it reflects more angst than I apparently have at my age, but I love a good hook…and Chester is a terrific vocalist.  If you’ve ever liked ’em before, you’ll prolly like this.  I like Burn It Down, I’ll Be Gone, and Castle of Glass more than the rest.

Tenacious D – Rise of the FenixJack Black and Kyle Gass are back making ridiculous music. And it is hilarious.  As with all their full-length endeavors, some of it works better than the rest and some is downright bad.  Most of it is raunchy.  Yet the funniest songs are the raunchiest. For example, 39 tells of finally getting a mature girlfriend–predictably outrageously.  The phone sex description is “milk through your nose” funny.  The album art pretty much sums up what you get on this record.  Bend over and take your laughs like a man.

Slash – Apocalyptic Love Slash has again partnered with Myles Kennedy (formerly of  Alter Bridge) for more straight-forward Rock ‘N Roll.  The record lists the partnership as “Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.”  As the last record and tour indicated, they make a great team.  At first listen, I didn’t like this record as much as the first solo album, but after seeing them “kill it” on the Guitar Center Session (on the Audience Network), I gave it another chance.  Myles wails with the best of them…but I like it better when he restrains himself and builds to the inevitable wail.

Shinedown – AmaryllisAnother great work from the Jacksonville-based group. Southern-tinged Rock ‘N Roll meets pop-radio glitz.  No wonder, old time Shinedown fans are up in arms.  Why would you glitz up perfectly good Southern Rock? For me, I like the new direction.  Brent Smith remains a phenomenal vocalist (just check out his Skynyrd Simple Man cover).  After the extraordinary success of 2008’s The Sound of Madness, Rob Cavallo returned to produce Amaryllis.  Key tracks are: Adrenaline, Bully, the title-track, Miracle, and Through the Ghost.

Adam Lambert – Trespassing –  Former Idol and current Glam-Rocker, Lambert is enjoying success like very few former Idol alum have.  He is entering territory only seen by Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, & Daughtry.  Of course that’s a good thing.  I never would have guessed, back in the day, that I would like Lambert’s post-Idol material.   During their Idol run (in 2009), I voted for Kris Allen all the way.  I thought I’d like Allen’s music more down the road.  It just hasn’t panned out that way.  Lambert has finally won me over.  He seems to be leading the charge in creating music with depth and character.  Trespassing has great dance music, thoughtful and heartfelt ballads, and a seemingly endless stream of pleasant surprises. Throughout, I hear hints of George Michael (circa his 1987 peak), Michael Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Usher among the tracks–all with Lambert delivering consistently great vocals. This record has no less than 10 standouts.   I am still surprised at how much I like this record.  All I can say is “good on him.”  Yo Adam–Go Get ‘Em.

Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth                                                                         David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen are back together again.  This is their first record together since 1984 (the album).   It isn’t 1984, but it is entertaining.   Eddie is an iconic virtuouso and he’s even better when he’s reasonably sober.  Roth is a few decades past his high-kickin’, gutteral screaming peak….but he’s still a great showman.   I honestly think they appreciate things more now.  I know I do.  For a little 70’s retro-nostalgia now, check out:  Tattoo, You and Your Blues, and Stay Frosty.  Stay Frosty conjures memories of Ice Cream Man.  Cool!

Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables –                                                  The original Tennessee troubadour is back with another set of “everyman” tales.   Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables delivers exactly what it promises.   Snider does class them up with strings and some interesting arrangements.   His experience and maturity are clearly in evidence, as he sings of God, good, evil, and “good things happen(ing) to bad people.”   His message is fresh, timely and refreshingly, if predictably, irreverent. My favorites are:  Too Soon To Tell, New York Banker, and West Nashville Grand Ballroom Gown.

Carrie Underwood – Blown Away                                                                          Oklahoma’s own and America’s collective favorite American Idol–Country Megastar–Carrie Underwood released her 4th studio record in April.  At this point, she has nothing more to prove.  Carrie is a consummate pro.  She works hard, has a great supporting cast, and she is magnanimous and regal, all at the same time.  While others try to distance themselves from the Idol branding, Carrie supports the younger Idol wanna-be’s. What a great role model.  Good for her. We fellow Northeastern State Alum support each other….so I’m all in for Carrie~!

Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls Cousin Joni owns the credit for turning me onto this band.  They apparently stole the show at Austin’s South x Southwest Music Festival this spring.   Britney Howard is a crazy, frenetic, good vocalist by reputation and the band is tight.  Howard has drawn comparison’s to Janis Joplin and sounds a little to me like Mick Jagger at times. The band appears to be seizing every opportunity, demonstrating amazing chemistry. I like:  You Aint Alone, Heartbreaker, and Be Mine.

Tremonti – All I Was Creed and Alter Bridge fans will recognize this music. Guitarist Mark Tremonti finally just did it all himself.  While Myles Kennedy was touring with Slash, and Scott Stapp was doing God knows what, Tremonti was free to write and perform on his own.  The result is All I Was. He sounds a lot like he did singing backup vocals in Creed–where he always got credit for the guitar onslaught, but yielded most of the glory to Stapp.  Like everything else he’s contributed to, All I Was is straightforward, guitar “front and center” music. I like it all.

John Fullbright – From the Ground Up                                                                 Okemah, Oklahoma’s own Red Dirt Veteran, released a polished and worthy alt-country/folk’ish (or “somethin’ or other”) styled record in May (coincident to fellow Okemah residents–the Turnpike Troubadours release of Goodbye Normal Street).  Recommended by Cousin Judi, I have finally embraced Fullbright’s charm. Similar in style to Todd Snider, but with deep Oklahoma roots, John Fullbright delivers the goods.  I like it all but really love the piano ballads:  I Only Pray At Night and Nowhere to Be Found.  Thanks again Judi~!

That’s all the 2012 music news fit to print–or more accurately, that’s all the music news I’m going to do right now.  Though, I reserve the right to re-attack and review some older music that I’ve just embraced in 2012.  But that’s another story…for later.  Until then…

Support the Musicians You Like~!

And Enjoy~!  JDPF

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Turnpike Troubadours – Hotter Than The Oklahoma August~!

Music Reviews 2012 – Turnpike Troubadours – Goodbye Normal Street

Oklahoma’s hottest traveling band has done it again.  The “Red Dirt” veteran Turnpike Troubadours have released their third studio album – Goodbye Normal Street on May 8th.  Goodbye Normal Street is a terrific follow-up to the brilliant sophomore effort – 2010’s Diamonds and Gasoline.   The new record’s title aptly reflects the likely result of the bands growing popularity. It may ultimately transform their world. Goodbye Normal Street, hello “Spinal Tap”/Crazy Nashville-world.  The Troubadours are road trained and ready.

The Turnpike Troubadours are hotter than the Oklahoma August~!  And if that seems a bit much for you, you should at least concede that they are certainly smoldering, settled comfortably in their sweet spot.   And they are undoubtedly ready for primetime.   The band now is:  Evan Felker – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Ryan Engleman on lead guitar; Kyle Nix on fiddle, RC Edwards on bass, and Gabe Pearson on drums. Giovanni Carnucci, who played drums on Diamonds and Gasoline, is now playing with fellow Okemah resident and Red Dirt veteran, John Fullbright (who has also just released a new record, entitled From The Ground Up, which is also highly recommended by cousin Judi–my insider source for Red Dirt music-scene happenings).

On Goodbye Normal Street, Evan Felker and his compatriots have again proven their song-writing genius, bringing rural, hometown life to its logical musical accompaniment. Once again, they deliver music that we can’t help but sing and tap-along with.  From the opening drumbeat and banjo of Gin, Smoke and Lies, to the “ain’t no peaches falling from the trees that I’ve been shaking” on Quit While I’m Ahead, Felker and the Troubadours take you on a current, but nostalgia-filled journey thru Oklahoma, Arkansas and beyond.   They take us with them on their perpetual “Red Dirt”-based road-trip.

That trip though–makes you feel like you are a part of it.   Oklahoma hasn’t been more simply and eloquently represented since Will Rogers.  Seriously.  And I’m hoping they’re gonna break big—becoming household names just like Will Rogers did–on the magnetic simplicity of the truth.

The record is a start to finish listen.  There are no duds….but there are several stand-outs. Gin, Smoke and Lies leads off the record with “the rooster (who’s) got 20 gals and (is) happy as lark”…before descending into the deceipt and betrayal.   The drum, banjo, and fiddle absolutely evoke the story being told.  I hear it……. and “all I smell is cheap perfume, and gin and smoke and lies.”  This is the perfect song to open the record.

Morgan Street is another highlight.  And there aren’t many accordion-up front songs that you can say that about.   It captures my own long-held self-perception with it’s “me, I’m just a wallflower soaking up knowledge, with my heart on my sleeve and a beer in my hand.”  That was me for at least 25 years.  “The movers and shakers on Morgan Street (in Tahlequah)… to anything with a good back-beat.”  Got me again.

Felker’s vocals offer unique phrasing, cadence and never fail to beckon you to join in.  His tone compliments and gives voice to the “every-man” nature of his song lyrics.  We listen and we just know these characters.   They might as well be us.  Hell, some of them are us.

It certainly feels like I know the folks in the two military-themed songs — Southeastern Son and Blue Star.   And the fellow sung of in Blue Star might well have been me.   “You’d be gone and you’d be leaving, you’d be back home again, Christmas or July 4th, I really don’t remember when” captures the perpetual move cycle inherent in military life.

“He was pushing 80, though he acted 22” is another familiar theme (in Before the Devil Knows We’re Dead.  Having skied 100+ days each season over the last five years, I know dozens of folks who fit that description.  Many retirees ski and live with an tangibly enviable zest.  And to a man (and woman), we all subscribe to the Troubadours notion — “raise another round boys, and have another glass, be thankful for today, knowing it’ll never last, and lets leave the world a’laughing when our eulogies are read, may we all get to heaven before the Devil knows we’re dead.”   Let the fiddler play a hoe-down indeed~!

Good Lord Lorrie is another captivating journey—this one about love gone wrong, a common Troubadour theme.   The harmonica here punctuates like Neil Young at his Harvest-era best.  And all of us know the Lorrie story–her dad thinks we aren’t good enough to “sit in the same room” with her…..and then later she proves to be less worthy than she initially appeared…as things go horribly wrong.

The Troubadours’ genius is not only in their ability to write songs about their surroundings and it’s inhabitants, it’s also in their ability to get that demographic on their feet.  This band gets the crowd stompin’.  Ask anyone who has seen them in a bar—since your author saw them after a University of Central Oklahoma football game (Mike, Judi, Greg, me….and three Chinese exchange students).  The Troubadours rocked that soccer field….and I knew that they’d totally kill at the Flaming Mug in Fayetteville (North Carolina).  They’ve just got to extend that Turnpike and get there.

In any event, the music business is a slog….a muddy, obstacle-ridden, and ever perilous grind. But half the battle is work ethic and the other half is craft and good content.  Felker and the Troubadours have conquered both parts.  It’s only a matter of time until the rest of Country-loving America will hear something that will sink the hook in them.  Give ’em some national exposure and in no time they’ll be playing the CMA’s and thinking “I guess we finally made it.”

I can’t wait to see that happen.   It will be their pinnacle “Goodbye Normal Street” moment.  And they will have earned it.  Judi was right from the get-go.

Get on board the Turnpike Troubadours bus.  You will see some colorful characters…..and you will be entertained.  Thanks again to Judi for sharing these Red Dirt encrusted gems~! These guys are worthy for the whole world to see.   And surely we’d rather the world know these guys….than let Tom Coburn or Jim Inhofe be the voice of Oklahoma.   We’ll certainly get more plain truth from the Troubadours.

Go Get ‘Em Troubadours~!  I can’t wait for the rest of the world to embrace your charm. Tahlequah will always feel like home, but Goodbye Normal Street is the right next step. Bring on the world as your next stage.  Knock ’em dead~!

Support the Musicians you like~!

Enjoy – JDPF

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Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick 2

Music Reviews 2012 – Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick 2

I never thought I’d be saying this…..but Ian Anderson has captured my current interest once again.  Anderson, the 64-year old genius and jester behind Jethro Tull, has recently issued the sequel to the 1972 Classic Tull Album – Thick As A Brick.

Ian Anderson, revered for his irreverence, creativity, and flute-gymnastics, has done it again–he has proven his enduring genius. Some 40 years after his Billboard #1 classic ode to Gerald Bostock, Anderson has now told us the rest of his story.

Actually, he has told several possible stories about what happened to the fictional schoolboy Bostock.  Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock (pic above), child prodigy in 1972, was fictitiously, the author of the poem Thick As A Brick, which Tull put to music for the original album.  In truth, it was all Anderson’s creation…then and now.  The new album illustrates four possible outcomes for the adult Bostock.   From ruthless banker, to homeless gay man, to military man in the war on terror, to TV evangelist and swindler, the adult themes give Anderson the means to stretch out his creative wings and deliver flute-led drama and tension.  And he does~!  For more on the premise, visit the official Tull website (

This is the freshest Anderson/Tull record in well over a decade.  It stands on its own merits. It doesn’t over-use the original themes, but does weave them in to key places for artistic symmetry.  This record, is lyrically rich and full of modern imagery–from “Starbucks” to “tsunami’s on a foreign shore” to “banker bets, banker wins.”  All while being more overtly progressive and using even more obscure instruments than the original Thick as a Brick.   The original record used flute as it’s primary “obscure” rock instrument. Thick As A Brick 2 (TAAB 2) adds accordion and other flourishes–and if that doesn’t proves Anderson’s bollocks, what does?  Who uses an accordion on a serious rock record? Ian Anderson does, and he makes it work.

After years of Chrysalis (Jethro Tull/Anderson’s long-time label) asking him to do a Thick As A Brick sequel, Anderson finally allowed himself to consider the notion in 2010.   Just opening the door to the idea, seemed to open the floodgates of originality that made Anderson and Jethro Tull the centerpiece of my music collection.

I didn’t set out for that to happen, but it is true.  I own more Jethro Tull albums (21) than any other group or artist.  It is a statement.  Or at least, it is a symbol of his prolificacy and my enduring band loyalty for the way the Tull Albums, Benefit, Aqualung, Songs From the Wood, and Crest of A Knave made me feel in their day.  Not all of the Tull albums worked so perfectly–in fact “A” was the new Tull album just when I was embracing them on a major level in 1980.  “A” was panned by both critics and fans alike.  But, the overall body of Tull’s work is amazing. Jethro Tull is forever~!

Thick As A Brick 2 is a little more reflective of the times we live in.  The original was one continuous song, separated by two sides of a vinyl record.  The sequel has 13 modest length songs—that are designed to be played as one continuous tale.  Despite the considerable technological differences, the feel is remarkably similar….and we now don’t have to turn the record over.  Woohoo!

Thick As A Brick was Tull at their most indulgent best.  And Anderson’s sequel is worthy. True Tull fans will totally dig it–of that I am quite certain.  Will it draw in new fans? We’ll just have to see.

For those looking to embrace Anderson/Tull for the first time, I’d recommend that you start with the Benefit album, then Aqualung, then Thick As A Brick, then Songs From the Wood, then Bursting Out.  Those albums demonstrate Anderson and Tull at their most creative and magical best.  If you like what you hear on them, you can then proceed on to Heavy Horses,  Stormwatch, Crest of a Knave and beyond.  If you get that far, you will probably be a Tull fan for good.

Ian Anderson is irreverent, crotchety, quirky, and pompous—all in the best possible way. Anderson’s view of the world and its occupants is unique and entertaining–even at its most indulgent.  He is part jester, part minstrel, spinning yarns with one foot on the opposite knee and right arm in the air (see flutist on album cover above).

Ian Anderson is ever the “Minstrel in the Gallery.”  I am no king…but he has entertained and enriched my life nonetheless.  I count myself fortunate to be in the gallery, witnessing the royal treatment.  How about you?

My absolutely essential (and pared way down) Best of Tull playlist follows:

  1. With You There To Help Me – from 1970’s Benefit
  2. To Cry You A Song – from Benefit
  3. Sossity, You’re A Woman – Benefit
  4. Aqualung – from 1971’s Aqualung
  5. Cross-Eyed Mary from Aqualung
  6. Locomotive Breath – from Aqualung
  7. Thick As A Brick – from 1972’s Thick As A Brick
  8. Skating Away – from 1974’s Warchild
  9. Bungle in the Jungle – from Warchild
  10. Hunting Girl – from 1977’s Songs From the Wood
  11. Cup of Wonder – from Songs From the Wood
  12. Velvet Green – from Songs From the Wood
  13. Minstrel in the Gallery – from 1977’s Bursting Out
  14. Rover – from 1978’s Heavy Horses
  15. Clasp – from 1982’s Broadsword and the Beast
  16. Fallen on Hard Times – from Broadsword and the Beast
  17. Steel Monkey- from 1988’s Crest of a Knave
  18. Farm on the Freeway – from Crest of a Knave
  19. Budapest – from Crest of a Knave
  20. Another Christmas Song – from 1989’s Rock Island
  21. This Is Not Love – from 1991’s Catfish Rising
  22. Black Mamba – from 1999’s J-Tull Dot Com

Support the Musicians you like.

Enjoy~! JDPF

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Casey James – A “Diamond in the Mud”

Music Reviews 2012 – Casey James

American Idol season 9 veteran, Casey James has recently released his first post Idol record.  It’s been two years since his “15 minutes” of big-stage experience in 2010, a career for most former Idol contestants.  But Casey is just getting started.   His self-titled record came out on March 20th.  Unlike most post-Idol first records, this one is far from the “hastily assembled” norm.  It’s a rock-solid record start to finish.  Fresh, authentic, and full of high points, showcasing Casey at his best.  Casey sings of being a “diamond in the mud” and I think it is an apt description.

Casey James was credible on Idol in 2010–does anyone remember his (Jealous Guy) Lennon cover?– and he remains so now.  Casey owns co-writing credits on all but two songs on the record.  This, ostensibly, is the real Casey.   Given how long the record took, it ought to be right and real.  His record is produced by Idol’s 19 Recordings Limited, under exclusive license to Sony Music Nashville, as a modern country record.

It’s a southern fried country record too, with a modern country sensibility.  It’s got proven southern and country themes–with songs of love and romance in “backroads” settings.   And it’s full of great hooks and harmonies.   The modern country moniker is perhaps best evidenced by the album’s slick production.   Sony Music Nashville gave Casey a royal treatment…..and it suits him well.

Of course, this kind of slick production effort is usually deadpanned by some purists within the genre.  Who knew the i-Tunes official reviewer would be a purist?  Of course, he didn’t sign his name after he said “Casey James falls through the cracks” and “perhaps the record would have been stronger, or a little more individual, if it was a little less polished.”  To this I say, in my best Simon Cowell imitation “pure rubbish.”  And in my best Okie voice–“total bullshit.”  That i-Tunes reviewer is a dipsh*t, pure and simple.  So, what else is new?

All of us know that former Idol contestants are a huge target for all kinds of haters.   They will be vilified, no matter what they do, by some—as ardently as they will be supported by their biggest fans.   American Idol polarizes a crowd like few other pop culture phenomena.

Country-Pop cross-over appeal can’t be manufactured per se….but is a highly desirable quality when you can achieve it.  Does Casey get there on this record?  You’ll have to judge for yourself.

For me, Casey’s record is better than I expected it to be….while at the same time being sort of exactly what I expected it to be.  The guy can sing, he can play his “cheap guitar.” And he’s a long way from the “cover band in a country bar” that he sings about with great relish.  He’s truly a “diamond in the mud,” culled from the modern pop culture gristmill that is American Idol.

On this record, Casey actually gets traction on the emotional front–a must for any serious country artist hoping to achieve and maintain relevance.   Country fans (and I sometimes count myself among them) can’t help but get sucked in by songs about people like us.   We like trucks and boats and Friday night parties and Saturday’s on the lake, before we thank the Lord on Sunday for all the hot girls “giving me thoughts in me head.”  Its fun, fun, fun, and thank the Lord for all the fun….and lets drive the truck to the lake and have some more fun.

Starting with the opener–the Good Life–Casey reels me in with his “No doubt, I’m right where I belong, no part of this road feels wrong.  Yeah, it looks like the Good Life’s coming on strong.”

He does it again on no less than four other songs–reels me in, that is.  Undone is a soulfully endearing ballad to “the one.”  It was also written, along with the opener–Good Life, by Casey and Scooter Carusoe.  What better country street-cred can you get than that? Casey and Scooter, Nashville songwriting tandem.  But seriously, they have clearly earned their credentials.  Undone gets at that raw heartstring, the magical way…with good lyrics, sung well.   “Finally, I’ve found the one…..who makes me come undone…..undone, like the clouds pouring out a perfect rain, undone, like the grace of heaven healing my pain, you lying in my arms, me whisperin’ your name….won’t ever be the same.”

A true test of a record, is the ability to avoid the itchy trigger finger on the skip button. And I can honestly say, that I don’t ever get that urge.  Even the middling songs offer nifty themes and interesting components.  She’s Money delivers the closest thing to a Doobie Brothers boogie that I’ve heard in at least 30 years.  Nobody does that anymore.  She’s Money delivers that Listen to the Music-esque guitar groove in a way that I can’t help but tap my feet to.  It’s hard-wired.

We’ll see how well Casey’s record ultimately does.  The i-Tunes official reviewer has already dead-panned it.  I’m sure Rolling Stone will be next….I’m expecting someone with an axe to grind will hammer it….on principle.   “I hate Idol and this record sucks—overproduced, sell-out, etc.”  I can’t wait to read it for myself.

But me, I’m still listening.  I like Casey’s record way more than I thought I would.  He wasn’t my favorite Idol contestant, but I did enjoy seeing him at his best.   I think this record showcases him at his best.  And for that, he and his compadres at 19 Recordings deserve due credit.  As for you, as always, you’ll just have to decide for yourself.  Or not.

Support the Musicians you like~!  Enjoy

And give Casey a spin. R/JDPF

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