Etowah River–E. Cherokee to Canton

When I was in Boy Scouts, I remember a meeting at Lake Greenwood in South Carolina where we were to try out kayaks.  We received the expected safety lecture after which, gee, we had time each take the kayak about 100’ turn it around and head back so everyone could get a turn.  I remember being frustrated and fearful of flipping but liking it.  Later, we would have a canoe trip that due to heavy rainfall prior, resulted in us steering the canoes over every planned river portage, past our overnight camping site and to the end of our run in the first day.  Fun.

Since then, I’ve taken some rafting trips – which are exciting but essentially an amusement ride as the guides have the knowledge and do the work, and we’ve taken to renting kayaks, usually while on vacation.  And, probably like most people, I always have a curiosity about seeing a river when passing over a bridge.  It’s not a calling to nature, just a peaceful scene of far more interest and variation compared with, for example, pine trees along interstates and back roads.  Anyway, the interest led to desire which led to, finally the purchase of kayaks for my wife and I.  Idle conversation with other kayak owners consistently suggested that once bought, they’re frequently used.  We’ll see, but over three weekends, I’ve used mine three times.

The next step is figuring out where I might go, taking into consideration the logistics of reuniting the kayak and the car.  An iPhone App called “Launch Sites” is helpful, and there are many internet sites to review as well, to the point where it seems non-profit organizations are tripping over themselves to claim particular rivers as their enviro-causes.  The result is that by making it easier for people to use the rivers, the reach of their work and numbers of supporters expand.  For now, though proximity/convenience win, so the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI) becomes of interest, an organization that among other things is helping the development of a 160-mile long Etowah River Water Trail.  And they hold monthly events through much of the year – aka guided tours.  First up for me was the trip from East Cherokee Drive, south of Ball Ground, GA to a new launch spot in Canton, GA.  Though perhaps 6 miles apart as a car drives, this was a 13 mile kayaking trip, about 5 miles further than I’ve kayaked or canoed.  It begins in the upper right of the picture below and finishes roughly midway between the two red stars in the lower left of the map below.

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The rain forecast having improved from unenticing to perfect, I left the house to reach the boat launch by 9:00 a.m… amid a rain storm.   CRBI encourages boat launch development wherever they can, including this site, which is a short dirt (mud when raining) road that quickly leads to an area where kayaks can be off-loaded from the vehicle, then dragged or carried down a 10’ incline to a serviceable landing area.  My first lesson learned was to always bring a rain jacket.  Fortunately, one of the other two people there had an extra poncho that I could borrow.  Then I drove my car to the newly established Etowah River Park in Canton (with a formal boat launch and paved ramp for which CRBI fought) for the return trip via a van ($10) with the other drivers at 9:30.   At 10:00 came the obligatory signature of a waiver, requirement to wear a life jacket, and a brief introduction to river hazards.

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The rain, which held off patiently during the briefing, returned to greet us in full as we hit the river.

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The river is a better indicator of how heavy the rain was… Very quickly, we passed Blankenship Sand Company, which has equipment to withdraw sand, presumably, from the river.  I would have taken pictures, but, hey, it was raining.  The picture above is fairly representative of the river – flat and tree lined.  The lack of development along the banks was surprising.

With nothing, therefore, of photo interest, I found a small creek just prior to where we stopped for lunch, at the third black circle in the diagram below.  Perhaps 80’ into this creek was a train trestle, which is an active line.  I have to wonder about the ongoing inspections.

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Another beam was lying on the ground, but the supports seemed in decent repair, regardless of the detached or fallen pieces.  In any case, the trip back out of the creek was more picturesque.  (That’s poison ivy on the left, kids).

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Around the corner we find people gathered for lunch.  There wasn’t much of a sandbar with the higher water, so I opted to park on a slanted rock with my new river buddies.

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First up is Tom, Lender of Ponchos in Raging Storms, and also the group “sweeper.”  His role is to stay at the back and make certain that no one gets lost or left behind.  This particular stretch of river didn’t have any significant detours, but for ~25 people, we stretched out quite a bit, each to his or her own pace.

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And then there was Jonathon, a retired machinist, I think, whose company my wife would enjoy.  He’s sporting his new hat which was not as waterproof as he had hoped.  He keeps a good pace, enjoys spotting invasive plant species, calling out the names of birds heard in the trees, detouring to remove trash where practical, and correcting me when I point to a couple of distant circling birds and say “buzzards” with “No, hawks.”   In any case, he’s taken many of the CRBI trips and is good river company.

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The group included very few people familiar with each other, though a good number knew the guide.  The group was roughly split between people older and younger than me.  It included couples, some with kids, women with and without friends (one who was particularly bored with the lack of rapids), and unaccompanied men like myself.  In short, people enjoy the outdoors and who were consistently approachable and friendly.  After a 20 minute break, we resume, eventually coming across this guy who had caught a couple catfish and was happy to show them off.

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Sound carries on the river, whether from conversation on a kayak far ahead or elsewhere.  So, we were greeted with river music well before we discovered this house, blasting out music over their lawn.  This was, I think, one of three houses that had observable views of the river, none very closely.  I suspect that the area floods regularly.

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My wife had another obligation and was otherwise not keen on such a lengthy trip.  Very reasonably, sitting in a kayak for hours does become stifling.  So this trip served to observe and report back for future trips.  This section of the river had surprisingly little “action.”  The biggest was a large sandbar on a turn of the river with an accompanying tree overhand.  This is where our guide decided to stop for our final pit stop, thus pulling aside at the only spot where the river narrowed and had an observably fun current.  A few of the kids swam the spot repeatedly, of course.  Still, the lengths between breaks were appropriate to stretch legs and grab a snack.  Aside from the sandwiches I ate for lunch, this last minute purchase hit the spot:

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Joe Cook was our guide and also the author of “Etowah River User’s Guide.”  He’s as conversant about the river as he is area High School sports rivalries.  He had judged correctly that we would miss the Cherokee fishing weirs which are wedge shaped stone formations in the river, that were used to gather and trap fish.  These were marked by the black spirals on the map earlier.  I saw one as I quickly passed over it, the water level being too high to see them outright.

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At our break area, he pulled out a seine, had people kick at the rocks and caught various insect nymphs that were then swept into the screen. 

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Aside from any academic learning from discerning a dragonfly nymph from another invertebrate, the point is that if you’re fishing, here’s your bait:

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There may have been five rental kayaks which Joe provided, but otherwise people brought a wide variety (sit on top, cockpit), whether intended for quick turns (whitewater) or faster glides through lakes, .  Mine isn’t perfect for any specific end use, but it’s serviceable at most – light rapids, slow moving water or lakes.  It’s aptly termed “recreational” rather than “touring” or something more specific.  It has a flatter bottom than many (great stability at the cost of speed – which means more paddling as well) and has a retractable “skag” at the rear which would be a rudder if could turn.  When deployed, it helps keep the kayak straight by resisting the kayak’s tendency to turn left or right against the force created when one paddles.  This isn’t an issue for boats longer than 10.5’.  The trip helped get me get comfortable with turning the boat in a current without the skag to avoid obstacles should there be a need later.  The endurance test also confirmed it has a very comfortable seat.

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From this point, it was only a couple miles to the end.  The “paddle” was scheduled from 10-5.  We hit the water around 10:15 and pulled out at 3:45, somewhat faster than planned.  The current helped, but no one was paddling fast.  Sometimes, it’s okay just to float and enjoy. 

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I’ll be booking more of these.

Lost in Translation

“Vinyl,” as the rebirth of the record album is termed, has an album sleeve roughly 12” x 12”.   Sitting in record bins, this was the equivalent of a billboard for record companies to pimp the album within.  At times, they got either sneaky or high minded abounivlangut it and placed more seemingly altruistic stickers like s “Give the Gift of Music” on the covers.  I don’t know that I profited from that pitch, but they did as I was always mindful of gift giving in this regard.  Music lovers generally have an affinity for music lovers.  Another advertising campaign trumpeted that music is the universal language.  It resonated to a degree, even to a young teen.  

It may be universal, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to taxonomy.

When writing my occasional album review, I struggle at times finding the right descriptor of the music.  Alt-country vs. Americana, for example.  I’m not entirely clear on what the difference is.  Maybe the prior has the obligatory Nashville “country twang,” while the other carries an authentic accent from the Blue Ridge mountains or thereabout.  Or perhaps alt-country has enough artistic grit that it garners resentment from neo-country hacks… Oh, there I go creating another label; maybe it will be useful to someone.  

Back in the emerging days of blogs and online reviews, I enjoyed searching for sites that might reliably surface interesting new music or relics that I had somehow missed.  It was a worthy pursuit given the failings of corporate radio and a very tired Rolling Stone magazine. Somewhere in the late ‘90’s, I stumbled across a site that drew my interest, The War Against Silence, that seemingly had no ambition for significance other than the author’s pleasure in the work.

The author, Glenn McDonald, knew about bands which I had not heard despite being sharing the same generation, but beyond that, he had the higher level of thinking (and memory) necessary to connect artists styles and find the right words to do so plainly:  

Some years, my musical world and the public one fail to intersect at all. In general this is fine with me, as the public musical world tends to be clogged with music that is supposed to make you want to eat fast food, but instead makes me want to firebomb shopping malls.

Other times, as needed, he wrote majestically.  I don’t often come across words like “libidinous,” “oeuvre,” or “Rococo,” but a frequent intersection of musical tastes, the pace of reviews, and a frequent joy in the reading set that site apart.  McDonald started the blog with the publication of his own 542 page (downloadable) book of music reviews of his entire collection (!), then carried on for years eventually evolving into an exposition of the joys and endurances of daily living and inserting a new musical release into that context.  This was less helpful, to be sure, but for those of who find music to be very much the stuff of life, it was fascinating.  Music heard right is intellectually dissected, tested for mental merit or emotional relevance, and absorbed into the living of moments.  To evaluate music from an existential vantage rather than from an objective pronouncement of value was as inevitable as it was singular.  I would think that music writers consciously understand that the music to which they are drawn enhances the life experience, but when taking a critical eye, they lack the introspection, willingness to share  or audience to make this type of “review” work.  Or, maybe it’s the pressure of putting out a review without having lived with it long enough.  In any case, McDonald gave this up but not before the whole of the matter subtly influenced my own desire to write in a publicly discoverable space. 

Back to my classification dilemma, most recently encountered with Sturgill Simpson’s latest CD.  Recently, I was flipping TV channels and caught a few minutes of the Country Music Awards, as fast paced and entertaining as an awards show can muster...  I lasted about 15 minutes.  But, given the state of music marketing and distribution (particularly the absence of airtime in the FM radio market for rock music post 1993 or so), I had to ask myself this:  If there were independently run radio stations with program managers and DJs who took chances with new artists, as there used to be, how many of these country musicians would instead be creating what would become classic rock for today’s generation?  The posturing is there, the power chords, the melodies, and the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, instrumental solo, verse, chorus, outro structure.  The only differences are the noted twang, the costuming, and the shallow pond from which the lyrics are sipped.  And pedal steel.  Shania Twain proved (and profited from) this when she released Up! in 2002, which was released with three different mixes for country, pop and international audiences… though given those options, she might have graced us with rock and metal options as well.    

What adventurous radio stations are left are generally found on college campuses, but their anti-commercial niche is now a readily accessible cog in the music streaming machine.  Of those, I continue to prefer Spotify, where I listen to new releases as they become available while writing, paying bills, playing games on the PC, shopping or trying to find my next kayak adventure.  Most of these new releases can be heard in full, and it doesn’t cost me a dime.  Sure, I have to put up with occasional ads, but, hey, I grew up with radio. They’re not going to annoy me enough to pay for an ad-free experience.  It’s not that I’m unwilling to spend money; if I like a new release sufficiently, I’ll go buy the CD as physical possession still has a hold on me.  I like the art.  I like having the lyrics.  I like having a hard copy. 

If I don’t like a release enough to buy it, I’ll add a favored song to my personal Spotify playlist so that I can come back to it later, even if I rarely do.  This begets data, of course, but I welcome Spotify’s algorithms that observe my tastes and curate other music that I might like.  “Discover Weekly” begins my week with about 150 minutes of music for me to sample.  It’s not perfect, but it’s improving as I continue to add to my playlist.  Listening to this is not an imperative on my schedule, but efficacy of the time spent is far better than sampling the featured new releases each week.  And, circling around to my continual pursuits of new music, this is a much more immediate experience than reading strangers’ opinions, never mind deciphering their lives. 

Wondering perhaps if McDonald had regained his footing and was again reviewing CDs, I revisited The War Against Silence recently.  Not so much, but it seems he’s a busy guy.  On a different tab of the site, I find that McDonald was the principle engineer and “data alchemist” for a company that made streaming services better and which was subsequently acquired by Spotify.  That makes all sorts of sense, even if the tedium of categorizing the musical styles of bands in Indonesia does not appeal.   In any case, it seems likely he is a driving force in classifying, 1,435 1,438 music genres (He added three since I last looked.  I suppose a new genre has the buzz of discovering and naming of a new star).  An MIT grad mixed with music results in, well,  take a look, and click on the species of your choice for a music sample.  Then read the origin story of “the sorting hat.” 

In any case, I have some new options should I need them when writing a CD review.  I don’t like country much at all, so I’ll let others decide if Sturgill belongs where I assigned him or if he is better served in the newer subclades.  Country rock. Progressive bluegrass.  New Americana.  Deep New Americana. , Anti-folk.  Whatever.  I’m off to try the playlist for neo-progressive…  Oh, and:

Father John Misty – Live at the Tabernacle

This was my second time seeing Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, and both were sell outs.  I like his music, and he has a great voice.  His lyrics drip, or perhaps weep, expressing his loves and failures, and this without a filter other than to fit them to a singable prose.  He’s also an extroverted performer.  So, why not see him again?

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Before I say anything further, Tess and Dave were the opening act.  Dave can be observed stealing a few moves for the featured act in the way that he acts out the lyrics, and Tess adds a nice vocal contrast to his.  Beyond that, they were entertaining.  They had dance moves, most often deliberately kitschy, and their music might be categorized as head scratching psychedelic folk, the head scratching from the mix of songs, the entertaining but awkward presentation, playing to a backing tape and a surprisingly lively space jam at the end.  In other words, the perfect opening act – something that begs attention from the general din.

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They also happen to be members of FJM’s band.  So, when it’s time for the smooth stepping, Jesus haired approximation of male sensuality to take the stage, the tease was on from the start via careful backlighting that was featured through many of the songs.

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Ah, there he is.  Compared to most of the shows I frequent, the artist’s testosterone upped the female attendance significantly, though, apparently, many men also wallow in the mire of FJM’s experience of romantic oughts, relationship failures,  self doubts, cynicism, and theological rejections.  Among others.

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Concerts include more than lyrics and music.   It’s more of a vibe created by what the artist chooses to share – or in this case, what the little that he chooses not to.  Self absorption, for better or worse, may fascinate in artistry or exhaust those around him if there’s a lack of respite.  Who knows?  Maybe the guy is fun to chat with over a beer in the wee hours when a bar is free of distractions.

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But there’s also the energy.  However tall he is, the man has great knees.  He jumps, he falls down to them, he folds himself back to the floor, up… down… up… down.  Whatever he’s feeling, he extrapolates it with movement.  And, if there’s any measure of self-control, it’s picking up a guitar every other song to gather his breath and generally ease the risk of spontaneous combustion when he’s otherwise cavorting on the stage.

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And cavorting is an appropriate word, because aside from the general tenor of his songs and his performance of them, he takes on, as my concert buddy quickly observed, a Jim Morrison aura of mutual infatuation with an audience that, were it not for a plane to the next gig, might otherwise find its logical conclusion in mass Epicurean debauchery. 

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Because… I can’t imagine how someone so gifted and exposed, charting the course that he lives and or describes, doesn’t ultimately fall to his real or imagined vices and flame out.  Maybe, those self-survival needs are met with the celebrity complex, preening in front of enthusiastic fans and the laying on of hands.

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At least, that’s what it seemed this night.  Otherwise, he’s a fine musician and puts on a heck of a show… a show that goes on after the songs are over… dancing to Drake music well after his band has left the stage and the balconies take an exit.

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Set list:

Everyman Needs a Companion
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
When You’re Smiling and Astride Me
Only Son of the Ladies Man
Tee Pees 1-12
Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Cow
Funtimes in Babylon
Nancy From Now On
Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)
I’m Writing a Novel
Now I’m Learning to Love the War
Bored in the USA
Holy Shit
True Affection
This is Sally Hatchet

Encore:

I went to the Store One Day
Closer (Nine Inch Nails cover)
The Ideal Husband

Grumpy Old Men Brewing

Gate City Brewing recently opened in Roswell.  I’ll get there, sooner or later.  It’s local, convenient.  But tell me there’s a brewery named “Grumpy Old Men” an hour and a half away in the tiny mountain town of Blue Ridge, GA, and my priorities rearrange.

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We stopped in a Sue’s “Best Burgers in Town” Cafeteria for a solid foundation prior to the afternoon’s libations. These were actually very good, but we learned later that their claim depends on who you ask.  I’d say they have the town’s most expensive burgers, at least.  In any case, we soon drove a whole mile to get to our final destination.  I have said in my past blogs that I favor the reclamation of old buildings by the emerging craft brewer industries – old buildings with a new lease on life, historied architecture providing unique character to the experience, that kind of thing.  Blue Ridge has some of those types of buildings.  Maybe they’re all occupied.  In any case, the grumpy old men chose a presumably very affordable defunct garage.

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But, that’s okay.  Because you’re in the mountains.  The air is fresh.  The traffic is light.  And it’s no so difficult to convert a metal building to grandpa’s cabin.  Kind of.

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If the front porch had a row of Cracker Barrel rocking chairs… well, in any case, a quick comparison shows that while styled similarly, grumpy old men build a far better bathroom than Sue’s burgers.  There is other “guy humor” around the place, but this one shone brightly.

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Grumpy Old Men (GOM) brew twice a week, and they’re open Thursday-Saturday in the afternoons.  I get the feeling that it’s kind of like a kid’s treehouse.  The kids are happy to go there, and the mom is happy to have them out of the house.   So, maybe they’re grumpy for being booted from the house.  In any case, they’re facing growth, the kind of thing that happens when you make a good beer, outgrow your garage and decide to accept people’s money for it. 

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You buy your souvenir glass (from $10 to $15 depending on favored styling), then choose from the board.    I tried, the Honeybear IPA, Hells’ Holler Porter, Aska Pale Ale, Devil’s Den, Grasshoppa IPA, and the Big Booty Black IPA.  I’d say that to my tastes the Grasshoppa was my favorite, but the rest were really good.  Pale Ale’s don’t usually muster much of a reaction from me, but Aska had a little more flavor than I find in most.  The Black IPA had a nice blend of roast and hops, as the Red IPA was distinctive in a good way.  Usually in these settings, there’s something that I really don’t care for.  That wasn’t the case here.

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The building is capable of expanded production.  They have a system of 7 barrel fermenters, electrically heated system, which saves the aggravation of maintaining a boiler system for steam.  They’ve been open for about three years, and production has already tripled since 2014.  Their goal for this is ~700 bbls in production.  Both of the owners are retired engineers from Ga Tech, where they roomed together.  As we sat around the table, none of the four of us went to Tech, but we each have kids who graduated from there. It was one of those minor “huh” moments.

Co-founder Chipley was present to stamp his casual grace upon those gathering, welcoming them with informative when asked and even playing the bagpipes for a too-brief birthday serenade.   The brewery’s name is funny but it doesn’t quite speak to the personality of the two founders.  Their website has a YouTube video which pretty well establishes the WYSIWYG vibe of the place. 

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They have a good variety of gear for those in want, and they should.  They have a great logo that should translate to merchandise sales.  But I have to fault them on the T-shirts.  First, I don’t like paying $25 for a T-shirt.  But I particularly don’t like buying a T-shirt at any price with thin fabric.  It just doesn’t last. Still, my friend Rich reeled in a 72 oz. catch before we left, which was half the price of a shirt but will last an even shorter amount of time, so, maybe I lose that point.

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I’d have to say that while there are many breweries that are closer,  this would be my choice for a relaxing afternoon sitting around with beers.    Below is an interesting video of the mayhem involved when a portable canning crew arrives.  As automated as you might expect the process to be, there’s a lot of manual work to be done.  The output is roughly 38 cans per minute.

Sturgill Simpson–A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

Sturgill Simpson is a country artist.  I don’t like country music.  Some label him “alt-country,” so perhaps that creates a crease I can slide into without making myself a hypocrite.    That label is due perhaps to his nerve in abandoning today’s corporate paint-by-the-numbers formulas to reimagine country music from its classic 1960’s sound, for which he was lauded in his 2014 CD, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music.

From this artist comes the following quote, in an interview with Rolling Stone:  "All I'm really interested in musically is trying to make concept albums," Simpson said. "Serving a larger sum than the parts. I just can't sit down and write three verses and a chorus and a bridge anymore. I just don't find it inspiring."

Huh.  A country artist saying he’s going to make a concept album, until now the conceit of progressive rock bands worldwide.  Okay.  I’m curious.

Sturgill reflected on letter from his grandfather to his grandmother and newborn son, written while serving in the Pacific in WWII.  He said he learned more about his grandfather in the several pages than he would have spending time talking with him.  Sturgill, auntitled-1 Navy veteran himself, applied that notion to the travel demands of an entertainer’s life and his own newborn son, thus the concept became postcards, in a sense, telling his son the things that mattered to him now.  Given the nautical heritage, the title A Sailor’s Guide to Earth makes some sense, and he works the theme into several songs.

“Welcome to Earth” is the apology song for being away.  “Breakers Roar” is about finding hope when things are working against.   “Keep it Between the Lines” is a “Do as I say, not as I do” advice piece.  “Sea Stories,” the most overtly “country” song (agh!), is a travelogue of sights and regrets – a “not as I do” allegory. 

Following that is an imaginative interpretation of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” a song for a teenage son and a song favored by the artist when he was one.  To my ear, it’s about kids’ inward focus without yet contemplating the greater issues in life.  To fill the gap, Simpson steps up to the God question in “Brace for Impact (Live a Little)”:

Someday you’ll wake up and this life will be over
Every party must break up for burdens to shoulder
We're all dying to live and living to die
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And all of us cry for the ones we must leave

So go and live a little
Bone turns brittle and skin weathers before your eyes
Make sure you give a little
Before you go to that great unknown in the sky

Some will beg for forgiveness from someone above
For something they did to someone they love
Some scream like a baby and some go out crying
Some bid the world goodbye and welcome the dying.

Wait a second, where’s the lyric about the pickup truck, a lover scorned or a patriotic hell yeah?  Sturgill’s lyrics are as well constructed throughout.  I guess a concept album will do that.

He touches the metaphysical a little more directly in “All Around You:”

But just know in your heart that we’re always together
And long after I’m gone I’ll still be around
Because our bond is eternal and so is love
God is inside you, all around, and up above
Knowing
Showing you the way

“Oh Sarah” is, as the title suggests, probably the Cliff Notes version of his grandfather’s letter.  War (and touring) are heluntitled-3l, but love will find its way home.   “Call to Arms” closes the album, a country-rocker-protest song about political, media, and Hollywood agendas that tell a person who they should be.  I’d prefer “Oh Sarah” as the final point rather than a middle finger, but it still works.

I’ve read elsewhere that this CD upends expectations and previous labels, blessing him now with a “Southern soul” tag.  That’s likely due to the frequent and inspired use of the Dap-Kings, a supporting band for Sharon Jones that is very much in the funk/soul category.

Overall, it’s a masterfully conceived CD, from conception, songwriting, musicianship (except the occasional twang and the moments where the steel guitar rises to prominence), and… packaging even.  At the end of the day, I guess I can like country music.

5 of 5 STARS_thumb

   

 

Ian Anderson–Jethro Tull (the Rock Opera)

A bucket list artist… one that I planned on catching even before the clock turned to 2016, the year the music keeps dying.  I’m at that tender age where I’m old enough to be a fan of all the old classic rock artists, but young enough not to require an oxygen bottle and orthopedic shoes to catch the legends that still manage to tour.  It’s often surprisingly rewarding, and it keeps me young – both in memories and by surrounding myself with an older crowd (except my son). Jethro Tull A Rock Opera review

Jethro Tull is a band that I liked – not loved.  They certainly played a style of music I enjoy – emphasis on lyrical tales, musicianship, and a healthy dose of flute.  Maybe their records weren’t in the used bins when I had the cash, but I just never gave their catalogue a full review.  Aside from that, likely much to the leader’s horror, I never really paid attention to their lyrics – at least until I got the remastered Aqualung a few years ago.  It was always more about the sound for me, even if I found it sufficiently in a handful of songs.

Ian Anderson has retired the band as a recording and touring unit but continues as a “solo” act.  I’m not sure why there’s a difference.  When I heard that he was remaking the story of Jethro Tull, an 18th century agriculturist after which the band was named, I thought he would be taking songs created over the years and forming a new narrative in the sequencing.  Not so much, as it turns out.

Atlanta’s Fox Theater is a fine place to see a show.  Its décor distracts even during a show, just as much as the prowling ushers who pounce on those trying to capture their Kodak moments on their iPhones and Androids.  (Not me.  I bring a camera to a gun fight and wait until the end). 

It was a bewildering evening.  Anderson played three “hit” songs – a tried and true “Aqualung,” a roaring “Locomotive Breath,” and “Living in the Past” – a song whose timeless melody might be suitable for something as demanding as a soundtrack for a 60’s documentary or as an ear worm to bring viewers back for more of a game show.

This wasn’t a greatest hits show. The music was not otherwise familiar – being newly created for the “rock opera” – and while the new music couldn’t help but sound like Tull, it was not what anyone expected.  As  one audience member voiced during a lull, “Play something we know!”  Amen brother.

Only, that wasn’t possible.  Spontaneity isn’t really expected in big production shows these days – Springsteen does, certainly, and many bands hastily put together one time tributes to the music that died the day before – Lou Reed, Bowie, Prince, etc.  But shows are programmed from a visual standpoint that often require a fixed set list from night to night, including not just computer controlled stage lighting but in this case a video/audio narrative projected onto a back screen.

So, unfamiliar music… a band that dashes off the stage so as not to block viewer’s appreciation of the video segues between songs, then dashes back on to play perfectly in time with… pre-recorded vocals (and we trust not the music) of three performers who sing the narrative that we’re supposed to be following – the agriculturist raging against genetically modified organisms and big chemical companies.  I think.

For me to be certain on that point, I would have had to have purchased the official concert “program” for $15, an item that I didn’t know existed until at a bar after the show when another attendee let me glimpse it.  Here’s an idea.  If you want to sell a concept that, frankly, doesn’t translate in a voice yielding to the infirmities of age or even prerecorded vocals that get muddled in the din of a large concert hall, charge $5 more per ticket.  Hand a program to each attendee as they enter, or, better yet, make it downloadable for people when they purchase their ticket.  

Otherwise, your audience is watching, in this case,  three people sing their roles, clueless as to who they are supposed to be or the story they’re attempting to tell.  Young Jethro.  Old Jethro.  Jethro’s cousin? Girlfriend? Conscience? Monsanto sales rep?  I have no idea.

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I’ll say that, as failed as it was, I want to admire that an artist would attempt to reinterpret their work for relevancy decades after their star began to fade.  I can’t quite give that much credit here as this is more properly considered a new work, one heavy laden with unintelligible, but nice sounding, filler.

As I’m watching the show, I’m also understanding some of the “why things are the way they are.”  Before writing this, I had to go back and watch some YouTube videos to satisfy myself as to how Mr. Anderson got to this place, this time, this concert.  The singer playing “Young Jethro” actually toured with him last year.  Young Jethro has a very similar voice to 70’s era Ian Anderson, and he sings far better than the band leader does today.  Another video from 2003 confirmed that I’m a decade late in hearing Mr. Anderson sound like Mr. Anderson.  It makes sense then, that at any opportunity, he ceded the vocals to a virtual guest whenever the flute was an option.  Thankfully, he still has the pipes for that, and his playing was both plentiful and excellent.  That, the overall music, and Mr. Anderson’s penchant for striking rock flautist poses will carry me through for my bucket list memory.

What did others think?  My son was more appreciative for the (free) experience than a particular care about the show itself.  So I checked Ticketmaster’s online reviews.  Ouch.  I can’t help myself here… Reviewers’ tiles read: “Sucked!” - “Very Disappointing” - “Stay away” - “Boring” - “Too Old for Rock and Roll” - “Disappointed and sad” - “Save your money.”

A field is also provided for reviewers to post their favorite moments:  “Chocolate covered pretzels from the snack bar” - “leaving” – “leaving after 30 minutes” – “intermission so I could leave” – “left before the encore because I couldn’t take it anymore” – “when I left after the 5th song – I should have left after the third”, etc. I’ve never seen reviews so consistently negative, but it’s also rare that an artist, particularly of the “legendary” variety, chooses to ignore his audience.   Despite the ambition, a Grail Knight can sum it up:

 

The back screen dominated the stage and distracted from the band throughout, the female virtual guest had a pretty voice but her accent clouded all but the briefest deciphering, and Mr. Anderson’s voice doesn’t just struggle with notes but hardly resembles his recorded self, despite the spirited attempts.

But the flute… was awesome.  Instrumentally, all of the music was enjoyable. And… maybe Anderson should just sing with “Young Jethro” when he chooses.  Get him off the screen, and pay the guy to tour.  Your fans will forgive you.  Lighten the work load.  Play the flute.  Play the hits.

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Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA 4/16/2016

So I Smoked a Cigar

Did anyone get that license plate?  Hit and run!

For once, I was in the mix for winning the NCAA basketball pool, and I got an invite for people who, supposedly, were gathering to watch it.  “Bring your specialty” when it comes to food…  That would be something from the grocery store. 

Nevertheless… hmm.  Sausage balls.  I can do those.  Did them years ago.  But wouldn’t a bacon and sausage ball be better?  And, while I’m at it… how about a pepperoni, bacon, and sausage ball?  I didn’t find such a thing, but I did find a recipe for Cheeseburger rolls.  No problem, just subtract the ground beef and add sausage, right?  So I cooked spicy sausage.  I cooked crispy bacon and crumpled it to bits, and I got micro pepperoni’s for saving on labor.  Place with a couple of grated cheeses into Biscuit dough, wrap them into a ball, place them upside down, cover with Parmesan cheese and egg whites… Yeah, I can do that.  All it takes is… time.

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That done, I feel certain my teams are going to win.  Things are working out pretty well.  I arrive at the party and… there’s a ton of food, too much for the counter space even. 

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Who are all these people and why aren’t they watching the game?  No matter.  The evening trudges on with two boring blowouts instead of grand competition, one of which removing me from contention in my pool.  And, at some point during the second game, the second party starts.

Thus begin chocolate cake shots and sips of Grand Marnier orange liqueur, set around an outside fire pit.  With a wirelessly connected TV, overall a close relative to a man-cave.

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And then came the cigars. 

The last time I had a cigar was summer between 3rd and 4th grade.  I wasn’t a hell raiser by any means, but I was always told “go outside and play” which then necessitated either playing outside or going to someone else’s house.  Bad influences, I’ll say.  I didn’t like the cigar and haven’t smoked one since until…  It wasn’t peer pressure.  I could have said no.  But when I occasionally golf, others will smoke a cigar, and they seem to like it.  So, call it curiosity.   I selected the shortest one of the handful offered.

You’re supposed to draw the smoke in and exhale from your mouth, rather than draw it into your lungs.  I learn this slightly late, but carry on.  Puff, puff, puff.  Not so bad.  Not great, but… it’s okay.

Nicotine overdose is a thing, apparently not uncommon for first time cigar smokers and/or those who selected a “cheap” cigar.  I’ll single out two “symptoms” because that’s plenty.

  • Dizziness – This is believed to be caused by the restricted blood flow to the brain.
  • Stomach ache and nausea – Like all poisons, a body will work to get rid of this substance. That means via vomiting if necessary.

So, I’ll spare details of the unpleasantness that followed.  However, for those so inclined, here’s some tips helpfully offered by, ahem, cheaphumidors.com.  

  • Smoke slowly – a puff or two each minute. You’re not a human smoke factory and you aren’t getting paid for smoke production. You’re just relaxing and enjoying yourself, so take it easy. When you smoke too quickly, you get too much nicotine and can easily overwhelm yourself. As with any of life’s little vices, you don’t want to get in too deep, too fast. Take your time and keep your head attached to your shoulders.
  • Don’t inhale – this isn’t what cigars are meant for. Even if you’re a regular cigarette smoker, you may get sick from inhaling an entire cigar, especially an intense one. Savor the flavor then blow it away. That’s how it’s done.

I’d argue that the following ANSI Z535 compliant warning label should have been attached to the cigar in question:

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The following day, I awake feeling fine.  No headache.  Dry mouth though.  Wait… what is that taste in my mouth?  Bleh.  Brush the teeth.  Mouthwash.  Bleh.  Brush the tongue.  Bleh.  Repeat.  It seems that “cigar taste,” for cheap cigars at least, hang around a while.  So much so that any time I pressed my tongue, a distaste that could lead to “stomach ache and nausea” immediately returns.  Later in the day, having all but skipped lunch, it dawns on me that I should brush the roof of my mouth.  It helped me far along the road to recovery, in fact.  So, there, gentle reader, you have my lessons learned, the foremost being just don’t do it.