Valerie June appeared on my radar when several friends included Pushin’ Against the Stone on their 2013 “Best of” lists. It took me a few listens to figure out if I liked it. Thank you, Spotify. I then fulfilled my anachronistic foundings and purchased the CD. I’m glad I did. It was exceptionally tuneful with sharp lyrics as had an enthusiasm to it due to a spirited vocal delivery and the backing music. The only issue was her voice. Female, fine. African-American, fine. Blues/Soul styling, fine. Appalachian accent? Or, a pronounced southern twang? I’m not a country music fan, but.. whatever. That was the hurdle.
Her new CD doesn’t sit quite as well as the last, but not for lack of quality but rather a tone that musically and lyrically speaks more directly to tough times - a life of labor, the passing of time, broken and disappointing relationships… Accordingly, the music leans more to the blues rather than soul, not that the subject matter is tremendously different from her previous effort. But to my ear, while there’s a little less ear candy, there’s more to concentrate on lyrically given her mature reflections and, often, precision in expression. Following are sample stanzas from some of her songs.
Men are born strong
Then broken down
Burdened at birth
’til six feet in the ground
Pops earned his bread in dust
But his hard working hands fed us
Sun up to sun sink down
His body worked to the ground
Folks thought we had it made
‘Cause we always kept a face
Meanwhile there’s bills to pay
Stack growing everyday
When my voice was dry
And my eyes were sore from tears
You taught me how to face my fears
I’ve tasted love before
But I never saw the light
Until you opened up the door
I had learned to live alone
A quiet house keeps a weak mind strong
Though I’d settled in my ways
Mighty fine waking to your face
This is a really good CD for music listeners who pause to appreciate intricacies of a work. I’d prefer slightly less production, though, because understanding her words is sometimes difficult – but also an affirmation of buying the CD with lyrics included.
From the opening roll of McKenzie Smith’s drums, it’s good to hear the sound of (some of) Midlake, a favorite band for years despite their intermittent work. That could once can be blamed on their former leader, Tim Smith, but as their last release without him was in 2013, it’s apparent that they’re all to blame, side business pursuits notwithstanding.
BNQT (pronounced “banquet”), then, is definitely not a Midlake album but rather the sound of musicians stretching their muscles after a long break. And, I credit them for that, not only for taking a risk, but trying a different musical challenge with obvious enthusiasm. Here, they’re the backing band for various singers, including their own Eric Pulido and other front men from other bands who are also growing distant from the spotlight, including Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses, Granddaddy and Travis, each of whom contributed two songs each. And it works.
The lineup of songs is fairly peppy, with a dose of pop here, trippiness there, and enough musical diversity to sell whatever song the singers brought to the table. It’s kind of like Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist – it all fits my interest, but with one exception, there’s nothing that I would star for later replay. Still, it’s a nice listen.
The only misfire to my ears is the profanity laden “Tara,” which may be funny in it’s way, as in, once. The lyrics and even the music get tired quickly, and it’s placement near the end of an album without making it the closer suggests someone else agrees. Ben Bridwell, from Band of Horses, almost makes up for it with “Unlikely Force.” At the bright end is “Hey Banana,” a trippy throwback, with cello and violin even. Pulido’s “Real Love” took me a while to appreciate, mostly because it strikes very closely to a rather dreary John Lennon demo with the same name. It’s a different song, though, and I decided BNQT’s version is perhaps only Lennon’s voice short of a placement on Magical Mystery Tour. George Martin would like the arrangement, in any case.
I read in one review that the four participating members are what is left of Midlake. I’m hoping that is not true, because if anything, Vol. 1 strongly suggests that they have more to say, as implied by the album’s title. That said, perhaps they should go raid former leader Tim Smith’s house, grab a stash of lyrics, set them to music, then invite him to come sing and play flute where there’s space. Life isn’t that simple, so, like BNQT, we take what pleasures we can get.
I’ve been enjoying craft beer as a hobby the last five or so years, regularly trying new beers and visiting breweries when I travel as they are something that is distinctively local – and open after business hours. Most beers taste so similar that I can’t tell them apart, but I can state whether I’d want to try one again (rare) or opt for one that I had not yet sampled. It’s like a collection that doesn’t take any room, and there’s an app (Untappd) to help me inventory and rate what I’ve tried.
The pursuit is on for the next “most favorite” beer, but the change in the industry is not lost on me. According to the Brewers Association, there are 5,234 craft breweries as of 2016, a 16.6% increase from the prior year – and consider there were ~50 craft breweries in 1990. Of the statistics below, an interesting one is that craft beer accounts for 12.3% of beer volume. Elsewhere, Anheuser Busch InBev and SAB Miller, the two global conglomerates of pedestrian beer offerings, have seen their market share decline by 7%. I might think that number should be higher, but it makes sense. Package stores sell cases of Bud and similar for fairly cheap, and there are people I know who hammer away through case after case – low alcohol content and low cost allow that. But in tap space in restaurants, Big Beer has less and less presence. In grocery stores, craft breweries have claimed maybe 15% of the shelf space. And business at the brewery is big, as evidenced locally by the changes in State laws that allow breweries to sell their own beer directly to the consumer beginning in September.
So, when Elysian, Terrapin, or Wicked Weed are purchased by Big Beer, I hadn’t really thought about it much. I like capitalism. It’s American that someone can build a business and a brand, then cash in on their efforts. In the case of a brewery, selling the business allows the owners to generally run the brewery as they had, find opportunities for more efficiency, and gain wider distribution and marketing. But, among the consumer concerns/trends that have emerged since Wal-Mart and Amazon began dominating the retail world, buying “local” or “Independent” beer sticks with me, even if it costs a little more and is difficult to reliably find. Quality is the main factor in this, and of the companies purchased so far by Big Beer, only several of their beers compete for my taste buds. I’d rather support the little guy financially – the breweries who sold out already made their profit.
The reaction to the recent acquisition of Wicked Weed was quick and derisive. They’re in Asheville, which invites a sort of hipster appeal just on demographics, plus their beers are really good. They earned their fans, the same ones who are now tweeting their retreat. Wicked Weed was immediately cast out as a voting member of the North Carolina Brewer’s Association, whose members are defined by a certain amount of barrels produced which, obviously, InBev exceeds handsomely. Several breweries who were collaborating with Wicked Weed for special brews canceled their work, craft beer stores and bars are dropping Wicked Weed product, and a beer festival that Wicked Weed was planning to host was forced to cancel when about half of the attending breweries from around the nation cancelled their participation. There are reasons for that which are fairly interesting – pride in independence among brewers and their supporters as well as questions of business ethics in a transactional world where if you’re not growing, you’re declining. In short, the fears of “the small guy” is that Big Beer wants to destroy the craft beer market. That makes sense. Big Beer plays to win. To support that argument, here are a couple articles for those with an interest:
Why Bud or Miller buys craft breweries – It’s not (just) a “if you can’t beat them, join them” proposition. A very interesting read regarding the billion$ in brand value.
The Devil made me do it – The owner of Wicked Weed said they had “always been limited by access to raw materials. [We make] really hop-forward beers, using upwards of four pounds of hops per barrel. And those are hard to get your hands on , and that’s why they’re great and why they’ve won medals. So for us, having hops no longer being a limited factor of growth is exciting for us.” It helps them and protects their business and employees. For everyone else? Try the link.
I’ve seen McNally three times before, and I finally caught her on the right stage - as in one with good sound quality. The Red Clay Theatre in Duluth, GA isn’t exactly an easy commute from where I live, particularly on a weeknight, but it’s worth it. RCT is a 260 seat listening room, as in, “You’re here to enjoy the music; your idle chat can wait until after the show.” On CD, McNally’s voice is a joy – production levels can be mixed to make clear its depth and inflections. But live, with an electric guitar or two, bass, and drums, and her bluesy, gravely voice and nuanced delivery get obliterated by the din amplifiers and less than ideal house/stage speakers.
Not here. She was accompanied only by guitarist/singer Johnny Duke, who opened the evening with a solid set of songs. He’s been a sideman to many high profile Nashville country artists, but his own style seems to be the singer/songwriter indie variety – respectful of whatever makes the song work. It was apparent why he tours frequently with other artists, because instrumentally he’s a significant upgrade for McNally – a versatile ally to give space to her voice yet elevate her fairly straightforward song structures with a variety of guitar styles – and mandolin at times.
McNally is just beginning a tour to support her new CD, Irish Rose, from which she played a good number of songs. The centerpiece is “Banshee Moan,” whose theme takes the Irish mythology and personalizes it. This may also have been the song whose musical intro was accompanied by a passing train horn behind the venue. Spooky like.
McNally had ample time and enjoyed telling stories between the song, which is all the better in my opinion when artists let some of their personality or interests show. We heard how she stood next to J.J. Cale on a New Orleans sidewalk, without introducing herself, the early career of Bobby Charles (of whose songs she recorded an entire album), another celebrity proximity story as she received a passing acknowledgement from Guy Clark as she was heading to a stage, and her pleasure in hearing rain on the roof. And there were others.
The only thing lacking was a larger crowd to enjoy the show. It seemed those there knew her catalog pretty well. Probably like many artists, the only thing separating her from a wide audience is the means - all it would take would be one song placed in a TV or music soundtrack. In the meantime, I hope her live shows continue with the acoustic/light electric approach – it allows her to be heard to her best advantage.
Some of the songs she played:
- You Made Me Feel For You
- Black Haired Boy
- Low Rider (JJ Cale)
- I Don’t Want to Know
- Banshee Moan
- Bohemian Wedding Song
- Old Man (Neil Young)
- Bolder than Paradise (I think)
- The Worst Part of a Broken Heart
- This Never Happened, I Was Never Here
Another kayaking trip with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, or, more to the point, 30 people who signed up for their guided trip. Actually, the name of the river is the Etowah, but for some reason they call it the Euharlee as it passes by that small town. It would be a nine mile trip on a perfect Earth Day. And what better place than to paddle downstream from an environmentally impactful coal fired power plant?
And… the Etowah isn’t a pretty river. Sure, there are setbacks for most development, but it’s wide and brown. Below I feature stairs to nowhere.
They probably lead some distance to a residence, as there were indications of very nice homes out of sight from the river banks. You figure this out when you Google Earth the river as you kayak it… Here’s someone’s resting spot.
This has the look of a farm or plantation to it, but it’s a killer “clubhouse” overlooking the river – Lights, bar, bathrooms, the works. One possibly unknown to readers is that while boaters enjoy Federal rights to use rivers, they do not have the right to enter private property that borders it. Many of the residents chose to post their friendly “No Trespassing” signs.
Swallows were in great abundance. Under the bridges are many clay nests where they entered and departed. Whether they were African or European, I don’t know!
Life finds a way, like this tree hanging on to an old bridge support.
No trouble ahead!
Ah, well, there’s a “rock garden,” both observable and very close to the surface. My kayak got a few scratches this trip.
The most interesting person was a lady possibly from German descent who wanted to explore the river for mushrooms. She tries to eat an all natural diet and was searching for a specific variety of mushroom that tends to grow on oak tree roots. With her wandering eye, she got stuck twice on rocks and flipped her kayak as well. I did my good deed for the
day month by helping her once, when it was pinned under a tree and she was standing next to it, almost in shock. Or, maybe it was the loss of her iPhone… and whatever was in her dry bag, as she didn’t seal it correctly. In any case, fungi are passion for some.
A little lunch break above in presumably a no-man’s land. We also passed a good number of people fishing, two of whom I saw with bass catches. I think maybe I’ve seen one other fish caught on the Etowah in all my previous trips. The lady below was a good conversationalist, along with her husband. She won the “color coordinated” award.
All in all, about a 4.5 hour trip in great weather, and a section that was more fun than others on the Etowah due to the rock garden and the Indian fishing weirs, which create minor obstacles/rapids. In other words, you don’t just paddle straight down the river!
Hopefully you already know him.
Maybe we’re not far off, but I can’t help but wonder if George will be flying these or whether they’ll be autonomous.
The company’s website has more details.
Political subjects consume a lot of time to research, to make certain that my opinions are reasonably grounded and not based upon the media influences that come my way. I don’t do it often, mostly due to fatigue brought about by daily news. However, sometimes I get curious, where issues draw my interest like the allegations of racial reasons for the naming of a Clemson building. It’s important to keep an open mind and start with the facts.
So we’re having a march for science, to demonstrate that the participants are against… Donald Trump. I would be on board with the March for Science if the claim was that they suffered for funding due to administration priorities for poetry, literature, drama, political science, philosophy, or, I’ll say it, even football. That’s obviously not the case here, but neither is the politicization of science..
The agendas of our political parties differ greatly, but the common outworking in terms of lawmaking, rulemaking, funding, fiscal policy, etc. is the reward or punishment for U.S. stakeholders - corporations, entities, organizations, individuals – heck even foreign governments - depending on where they stand on a political party’s agenda. Whether tweeted or spoken, Trump points out a direction, but with a maximum of eight to ten words to a sentence (and a wise preference for brevity), he either lacks the ability to persuade or chooses not to do so. Such is the “us vs. them” nature of our current bicameral system. So, we take what little he gives us and try to guess at what the ramifications are. Two major campaign promises, which he seems to hold to, are reigning in the regulatory power of the Federal government and cutting government spending.
In matters of science, Trump has said “We stand ready … to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the Earth from the miseries of disease, and to harness the energies, industries, and technologies of tomorrow.” That’s a broad, ambitious statement that seems to support scientific investment and endeavors. But, to some, this means, respectively, wasting money that should go to the needy, overpopulation, and global environmental disaster. And, I understand reasonable doubts are deserved given, for example, his anti-vaccine stance, which begs the question of who he turns to for credible information.
His first budget confirmed the fears for many who are “invested” in science. With proposed cuts to the EPA, NIH, Dept. of Energy (funding for renewable energy), and NOAA among others, what’s a scientist to do? Well, join other scientists, concerned citizens and Trump protesters and march on April 22nd, Earth Day! The March for Science does a nice job of outlining their goal, essentially to bring political pressure on governments to save people and/or the planet though Science! …but mostly it’s about climate change (“in the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus.”) So who backs the March for Science? Institutions that promulgate objective science discovery? Or those that support political actions who cling to science that agree with their philosophical (or other) leanings? Take a look at the partner organizations, and test what the motivations would be for each. There are both, plus others with apparently a few bucks to chip in (The Wick Poetry Center?).
I like science. I like the idea of testing an idea and finding that it holds true under close scrutiny and is repeatable when tested by others. What I don’t like is the political pseudo-science that holds popular opinion as much as any “fake news.” All men can be created equal, but it doesn’t mean that their opinions should hold equal weight, especially when fringe voices, if not louder, are certainly so plentiful. Or the hucksters, like Dr. Oz. It all points to the continuing failure of Western society to educate in general but also in critical thinking, which isn’t that distant a cousin from the scientific method. Should we trust science? Yes. Support it? Yes. Is all reported science true? No. Perhaps we’re too lazy or trusting. When science disagrees with our opinions, too many are quick to condemn the results based on who funded the research. There may be influence there, but not if it’s truly a scientific finding that is supported by other scientists. But like my rare political posts, it’s worth investigating anything that shapes your priorities about the way you live your life, whether it’s the resurrection of Jesus, global warming, or cancer from (insert favorite food here).
As for the Walk for Science/Earth day, I’ll be enjoying nature on a kayak, picking up occasional litter rather than littering the streets. I’ll trust good science but not necessarily those who tell me what I should think about it.
Here’s some things you can think about.
The March for