Coldplay - Viva LaVida
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Artistic growth is a good thing. Had the Beatles stayed with "She Loves You" and never moved to "A Day in the Life," they might be viewed with as much regard as the Backstreet Boys in the annals of popular music. I tend to like bands that change over time, assuming, of course, that it is for the better.

Coldplay is a very capable band that is pushing its envelope. Following 2002's "A Rush of Blood to the Head," they made a decent follow-up ("X & Y") that kept much of their style while allowing their guitarist more room in the audio mix. By itself, this isn't a bad thing, but if the rhythm section wasn't drawing enough comparisons to U2, overt copying of The Edge's singular guitar style threw the collection into a solid but unimaginative heap. Maybe it was a safe thing to do, but happily, they appear to be moving forward rather than recapturing their past.

While "A Rush..." had possibly 8 songs that could fare well in commercial air-play, LaVida has one or two. Had Coldplay not been a proven brand, the stylistic differences beg the question whether this release would receive any airplay.

And that's the risk of growth. While not as radical a move as U2's "Zooropa" or Radiohead's "Kid A," they certainly seem less interested in delivering what was becoming a Coldplay formula; LaVida isn't commercial in a radio-ready sense, though no doubt they will earn tidy paychecks. It may not be possible for them to depart far enough from their core musical instincts to throw off their fans.

Most of the growth here is by the singer/writer, Chris Martin. Like U2's Bono, he shares an ability to emote through his singing. Whereas Bono ultimately yielded to the sanctimonious temptations of the self-righteous, Martin remains a colorful interpreter of his message. What that message is isn't exactly clear.

Songwriters quite often write snippets of lyrics that leave it to the audience to sort out. That's fine and often rewarding. Here, I can't point to more than a couple songs and say clearly, "this is what it is about." But by joining snippets, it's clearly a spiritual development, though the end is still uncertain.

The possibility of this development was hinted at 2 releases ago with "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," possibly one of the smartest and best delivered God pondering songs ever. A lyric snippet and/or the video from that:

Where do we go, nobody knows
I've gotta say I'm on my way down
God give me style and give me grace
God put a smile upon my face

Where do we go to draw the line
I've gotta say, I wasted all your time, oh honey honey
Where do I go to fall from grace
God put a smile upon your face, yeah

Now when you work it out I'm worse than you
Yeah when you work it out, I want it too
Now when you work out where to draw the line
Your guess is as good as mine...

That guessing is likely universal amongst thinking people, and it's a theme found in many lyrics. A couple snippets from other songs:

From "42":

Time is so short and I'm sure
There must be something more.

From "Yes":

God only knows I'm trying my best
But I’m just so tired of this loneliness.

Whereas Bono is dressed in vanity, it appears that Martin is headed towards humility, as also evidenced in the title track:

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemies eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing:
"Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!"

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt, and pillars of sand

I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

Musically, the audio space is much more congested than previous releases, with an emphasis on string sections. This isn't always for the best, as they tend to overemphasize the dramatic tendencies in Martin's singing. That said, it's also likely to continue to be part of the band's sound. Other notable differences are the trademark electronic sounds added by producer Brian Eno and, to an extent, Martin seeking new ground by singing at a lower key than his typical range and falsetto.

Overall, this is their most interesting CD to date, and there's enough here to suggest their best may be yet to come.

Suggested Tracks: "42," "Viva LaVide," "Cemeteries of London"

4 Stars

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Universally Entertained

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We have vacationed with a group of Clemson friends (and a pair of alt-orange Tennessee grads who possibly regret the error of their ways) the majority of the 20+ years since we graduated. Our biggest expedition was a 7 day cruise several years ago, for which we had 12 adults and 13 kids. This year a more modest sized bunch (9 adults, 6 kids) ventured to the southeastern capital of tourism, Orlando, FL. One might be tempted to say "sunny Orlando, FL," but the truth of it would be "sunny when not raining Orlando, FL." The youngest of the kids is 14, so the sight of mouse ears was never a consideration.

That 14 year old is Brian, my son, well known for his fondness of traipsing away from the computer/ TV/X-Box and rations of Hot Pockets in search of new adventures. Not! And he's particularly not fond of hot, humid places. His experience was better than this picture might suggest. He'll just never admit it.

We spent two days at Universal Studios and one day at Typhoon Lagoon (a lame Disney water-park; Wet 'n Wild would have enthused the above, at least for a time).


1. You might be an engineer if... your three year old son asks why the sky is blue and you try to explain atmospheric absorption theory.

You might be an engineer if... instead of talking about the rides at a theme park, you thoughtfully discuss the construction aspects while waiting in line. The new 4D Simpsons ride, for example, is a very well painted attraction - vibrant colors, thick coats of paint, straight edges where colors meet, undersides of surfaces painted, etc. Hmmm. Brushed? Sprayed? Stenciled? Pre-coated? How much did it cost? Were the components painted prior to assembly, or after? Ultimately, we agreed it was a mixture of both, but kudos to the crew - they paid attention to the details.

Overall, Universal is a great park - spacious, colorful, ample fauna, fun rides (Hulk and The Mummy were favorites)... oh, and technically interesting! One of the older attractions (meaning, outdated and due to for replacement...) was The Lost Continent, and specifically "Poseidon's Fury." Having viewed a splendid moving holographic image of Christopher Walken at the "Disaster" attraction, we observed "old" technology projecting a war of gods on a curtain of water. Engineering perspective: Does the attraction innovate the technology? Or does new technology innovate the attraction?

Okay, I won't bore you further with that.

2. Back to The Lost Continent...

Parks are very good at building to a theme.
Below, there's even a restaurant with windows built into the façade.

As might be surmised elsewhere, I think Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was correct when he said "music is the universal language." I must allow that "the West" adheres to a different perspective, proclaimed at the foot of these ancient ruins.

Ca$h. There you go. Most take these altars for granted, but some apparently take them very seriously.

3. Due to our group's size, we rented a very nice house in a gated community in Kissimmee, a Disney border town. 7 bedrooms, 6 baths, and a slightly leaning streetlight:

Pool (plus hot tub, not pictured):

The house we were in overlooked a pond at the rear, along with a number of other homes:

There was the expected sign warning about alligators. We didn't risk life or limb. The mosquito-free enclosed pool was a quite sufficient water feature.

The strange thing about this particular neighborhood, and apparently a good number of others, is that it largely is not a residential neighborhood. Yes.. huh?

Only several houses had mail-boxes, and there was no personalization observed throughout the complex. They're mostly built for investment via the rental income from Florida's cash crop, tourists.

I'm not against the idea at all. If it works, that's great. It certainly served our purpose. But how strange would that be to live in a $1M home knowing 95% of your "neighbors" are only there for the week? Bizarre.

4. Friends are friends. Separated by distance and with relatively minimal communication through the year, we still click when we're together - it's always like old times, though the "old" is no longer entirely within the context of the phrase. With a packed fridge and pantry, and shoes and towels scattered around, it's enough to turn a very nice (but sterile) house into a home, if only for a week.

We'll gather together again on New Year's Eve, when we'll celebrate at midnight with Coke Zero and yawns, after a day full of football, cards, Wii, Bananas, Knock, Texas Hold 'em and the other amusements for which this gang is known.

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Sonny Landreth - from the Reach

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Having heard a live recording by Landreth, I knew him to be a fairly good electric slide guitarist, with a popular following primarily in his home State of Louisiana. He's probably considered a blues guitarist at the core, but he isn't limited to that genre.

This CD caught my interest as a couple of other guitarists I like contributed, Mark Knopfler and Eric Clapton. All but one song is accompanied by other guests, including Robben Ford, Vince Gill, Dr. John, Eric Johnson and others. Rather than a "duet" type approach, Landreth attempted to write songs that would fit the style of each of his guests, which seems a solid approach, though the implication that others' collaborations don't find material to suit is flawed.

The first track shows both the good and the bad that mars this set. It starts with "Blue Tarp Blues," which includes the required political commentary on the New Orleans flood debacle, but it also features a very energetic lead guitar from Knopfler, which hasn't been heard from him in years. Though given his own solo space, Knopfler's guitar is not as clearly heard in the mix, and his vocals are very faint.

A part of the limitation is Landreth himself. While he can pronunciate extremely clearly, his voice does not carry much in the way of warmth or notable range, though quite passable. His guitar work, on the other hand, is splendid, and, rightfully, it is the "voice" that is featured throughout.

So, with some artists who are fairly well known for their voices, it's curious that their contributions are lost in the mix. Knopfler and Clapton both sing, for example, but they may as well not have. Dr. John's vocals are limited to flourishes at the end of stanzas, a waste of a singer who is prevented from adding his substantial presence. Jimmy Buffet is credited for backing vocals on the same song, but he may as well have been mixing a Margarita. Yet, Landreth's voice is heard clearly above them all. It's his CD and he's entitled to it, but the result is that any sense of spontaneity and mutual inspiration in the studio is absent. The other performances may have been mailed in, which is actually a fairly common practice.

There are redeeming aspects. Lyrically, Landreth is a good writer. Examples include the hopeful: "So here's a toast with one last pour to last forever and a minute more. May fortune sing to you her song, to live and love way past long."

And the less hopeful: "There's a downward turn into fearful hollows, where hope stalls and faith can't follow. In the wee hours that seed the dark, the only thing that grows is us apart."

The other redeeming aspect of the CD remains the guitar work, which is energetic and often soaring. That is enough to keep it my rotation. It's just disappointing that, either due to production judgment or a desire to keep his own voice front and center, the disc doesn't deliver on its stated goals.

Recommended tracks: "Way Past Long," "Let it Fly," "Storm of Worry"

3 Stars.

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The Incredible Hulk

An "All Boys Weekend" is a rare thing, when wife and daughter are both occupied elsewhere, but such was the case this weekend. As my son is only 14, this doesn't beg opportunities for wine, women, or song... not that it would when he becomes 18. But it certainly opens the door to a departure in (fast) food. Pizza Hut, we thank you for the cheese crust extra cheese pizza and the yummy garlic and Parmesan chicken wings! Taco Hell, we thank you for, well, the boys thank you for the burritos. Zaxby's, my friend, you served us well, as usual. Throw in a couple of PB&Js, and you have the heart of an all boy's weekend. But, as for the other possibilities...

...they were ignored. My son was quite content easing into a weekend of World of Warcraft, and I was as amicable to a weekend of Runescape, our respective addictions. And so we shared proximity, but not deep thoughts. Deep thoughts were also not a likely occurrence as his friend, Chase, visited for a two-night sleepover, thus remaining an "all boys weekend," just with amplified teenage goofiness.

On Saturday, we all took a gaming break, and took in Cherry Icee's and a bucket of popcorn during the matinee screening of "The Incredible Hulk." Having seen the previews, I told them I would drop them off, then waffled and ultimately watched the movie.

I admit it. I was raised on comic books, and I'm a sucker for the related movies.

Deep thoughts... were not stirred by this movie, either. Hulk was never a favorite, and I never quite understood a fan base for a character that, at his most eloquent, grunts, "Hulk Smash!"
The movie takes a page from the Bill Bixby series, concentrating on the "on the run" aspects of the story, which it does reasonably well at the beginning. Edward Norton, while turning in a passable performance as Dr. Bruce Banner, is not a particularly sympathetic actor, so there is little emotional attachment of whether he lives to run another day.

Does this look like a scientist?

The more surprising acting weakness is turned in by William Hurt, who typically excels at emoting in his various roles. His General Ross, however, is cartoonish (I know, I know... what did I expect?), wooden, and a bore. And with the lead role occupied by a computer-generated, oversized Shrek (without the humor), this boils down to the visual equivalent of "Bruce Run! Hulk Smash!"

Deep thoughts? No. Enjoyable enough for watching (once) on DVD instead of the theater? Yes, if nothing else is on. It's probably better than Ang Lee's 2003 "Hulk," but my thought is that they're both limited by the source material. In fact, I think Hulk would have made a far more interesting villain. Dogs saving lives aside, in order for something to be heroic, there has to be something human involved, and, as Dr. Banner admits, there's mostly noise in Hulk's head.... no deep thoughts in Hulk's head, either.

There is a clever cameo by Marvel creator Stan Lee, an obligatory one with Lou Ferigno (who apparently hasn't heard of the dangers of steroids, though looking quite ready to reprise his TV role), and a franchise inclusion of Robert Downey that sets up an Avengers movie in 2011, which combines Hulk, Iron Man, Spiderman, Wolverine, and possibly others.

Overall it was good escapism for an all boys weekend, if not a particularly good movie.


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When Time Walks Away

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Over the years, one sometimes forgets the various diversions which have preoccupied us for a season. Perhaps hobbies are the most transitory of things that come and go, but what, really, is a diversion?

Is it a side dish to the main entreés of "work, family and friends?" How far afield from the things really matter must something be for it to truly be a diversion? I think it's safe to say that, by and large, we all have interests that are explored and attempted before, typically, moving on. Perhaps diversions are best understood as things that never quite panned out, or, at best, had an ending.

I made a fairly serious effort at understanding the game of Penté. I studied the game, its strategies, and the tactics of my opponents in two years of on-line gaming (no cash involved...). I eventually found myself ranked in the top 70 players in the world, based on computer rankings of tournament results at three gaming sites. Go me! I also knew that I wasn't going to beat those pesky Russian think-tanks unless I invested even more time and energy. Eh, no thank you.

Some diversions, like Penté, can be tried and left in the past. Others recur.

My first poem was about zinnias (they were three feet tall and my sister cried when they were cut - ah, the stuff of true literature!), and it was included in a small book of poems while I was a student at Merrywood Elementary. It was pretty cool stuff to be published at such a tender age, and I didn't even get beaten up on the playground. My efforts at poetry became regular in 7th - 12th grades (an affordable means of escapism?), occasional in college (better things to do), and rare since (now why is that?).

I've just re-discovered one from the rarity period, which is rarer still as it is my only effort at writing a song. It was written in 1998, mostly while listening to Son Volt's "Wide Swing Tremolo," which was released that year. It's strange what one remembers.

To be fair, it is not a song. It is a lyric. The formula for a song is fairly simple: Song = poem + chorus + tune. Two out of three ain't bad?

Ah, but the music... I never came up with a tune, which wasn't surprising or unexpected. After all, when it comes to music, I'm best equipped to play a CD. Oh, fine... I'm not that limited. I can handle a turntable, cassette, 8 track and, yes, even an I-pod...and a kazoo, if forced and with no one listening.

Re-reading this lyric, the meter is far from perfect, but it captures fairly well that small eternity in which one debates if it's the right time to say the thing that needs to be said, and heard, in a relationship. I know... I shouldn't give away the answer before you come to the question.

When Time Walks Away

The kiss has been tried;
The time’s just flown away.
But is now the right time
For what I’ve wanted to say?

Do your eyes ask a question?
It seems words are due.
But if I risk an answer
Will you feel that way too?

If time would walk away
I’d be caught staring at you
But my mouth would be hanging open
And you’d be staring at me, too.

If time would walk away
I’d have time to figure how to say –
I love you.

This porch light flickers
The moment keeps getting wider
The words are on my tongue
But my lips have gotten tighter

Somewhere I know there are words
That would give you a reason why
To shine that look and a smile my way
Each time I meet your eyes.

If time would walk away
I’d go grab a pen and paper
And surely I’d find the words
Three or four sheets later

If time would walk away
I’d know my heart wants to say –
I love you.

You step closer within my arms
And all the world feels right,
All except my pounding heart
On, otherwise, a perfect night.

Your ear brushes my lips
Your eyes are out of sight.
But did you step closer to hear
Me say those things I might?

If time would walk away
I know the words would be few
But all that time I’d be thinking
Of how to say them to you.

If time would walk away
I’d surely get the nerve to say –
I love you.

Your face shines so brightly
And I know it’s just for me
A future without you in it
Is a future I can’t see.

There’s just three words
That I’ve had tucked away.
I hope you want to hear them.
So hear me when I say:

Time always walks away
Whenever I’m with you.
I live for these times,
When the world comes down to two.

When time walks away
Now and forever I’ll say –
I love you.

Diversions like creative writing are ultimately part of the fabric of life, just as much as "the things that really matter"... and The Andy Griffith Show, Clemson football, a robot shooting a blaster, blogging to an audience that can be counted on one hand, etc. That fabric grows a little larger each year, and this lyric is a welcome reminder not of a failed exploration but of part of who I am.

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The (evil) Traffic Light

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Corporate mergers take their tolls in untold ways. My experience has been that they are for the better, at least for those that remain after improvements in "allocations and efficiency." It is not always so, and I admit that I'm fortunate.

Among many changes that result, one has been that for the last 3.5 years, I've been driving past the "old" office to get to the "new" office... twice as far, in fact. My attitude towards this commute has not improved over this time. If one is familiar with Atlanta traffic, it can lead a man to drink. Or Frank Sinatra.

Another complication is that one of the busiest intersections I travel through has been reworked for three of those years. The attending traffic signal has been a respected foe, I must say, enough to personify with an evil intent. I know... that seems to be an overstatement. After all, his main duty is the safety and protection of motorists under his watchful gaze. I'm not denying the results, but I am taking issue with his means. He takes it personally if someone passes without first stopping to pay homage to his red light. He's apparently rather proud of it and wants the world to behold it. Seriously!

In the mornings, he puts up a fair fight, but I have to say, I beat him about 50% of the time. That's not much for bragging rights, and, in fact, he doesn't appreciate it. I just know...he's mocking me on those occasions I pass through unabated, knowing that he has my number in spades in the afternoon as his cronies up the road network against me. The last laugh each day is definitely his.

And when he's particularly cruel, he calls out to the world of delays and invites his friends to join the party, and not just the construction crews. This would be the morning Amtrak "Crescent" run. More fun is the much lengthier afternoon freight train... the perfect spoiler for leaving the office a few minutes early! The railroad track is only 50 yards or so from my buddy, the evil traffic light. On these occasions, he's been known to stare me down with an unspoken "Gotcha."

I enjoy art. This does not extend to observing the latest trends in grafitti embellishment on passing railcars, however. I'm not alone in this struggle, thus tax monies are applied to the three year construction project, rerouting one road under both the other road and the railroad track.

Well, as of last Friday, farewell, my nemesis. I was concerned that he would hold on until after I relocated from the "new" office to an even "newer" office in several months (that halves the distance, glory be!), but the old buzzard's day is over. This giant leap forward in highway improvements will remove a total of about 5 minutes of commute time per day (not including trains...), which, in writing, seems a trivial gain. But I knew this day was coming, and I can now look back on it without a grimace.

This reminds me of a useful perspective of time that has been a comfort now and again. Time is inescapable, of course, and when a dreaded event (oh, like public speaking!) is on the calendar, certain moments of dread filter into my day. Am I alone in this? I think not.

Time is more than a concept; it can be relied upon to continue ticking towards those dastardly intersections of life. Although unavoidable, there necessarily will also be a time when I can look back at the dreaded event, and it will be no more than a thing of the past.

This didn't just occur to me, but rather it is something I dwelled upon and absorbed when I first read "Dune," a science fiction book by Frank Herbert, as a teen facing... the sorts of things teens face. In it, Paul Atreides, the protagonist, is taught a mantra to recite in facing fears:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fortunately, I do not have to face rival factions, manipulating witches, or mechanized assassins. I've faced my traffic signal, and only I remain.

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Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull

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With initial feedback from several friends, I approached this movie with lower expectations in the hopes of having them exceeded. And they were. This is a decent movie and was worth the $ and the time.That said, for a similar piece of "some years later" adventure, I prefer "Live Free or Die Hard," which features a similar pairing of an aging veteran protagonist and a younger sidekick.

For most people, Harrison Ford's age was the primary cause of concern. Would a much older Indy ruin the memories of a fine franchise? The years since "Last Crusade" can't be disguised, so it was written into the story. Nevertheless, do we like seeing old men take a beating? Nope, but that's what Indy does. Ford's age was ultimately a non-factor, in part due to an energetic performance, but mostly by being far overshadowed by greater suspensions of disbelief. I'd have to say that Harrison Ford handled the Indy role better than the script served to provide excitement. Unlike "Raiders," I wasn't amazed, enthralled, or on the edge of my seat. Instead, it was a pleasant visit with an old friend, a friend that I was happy to see is getting along pretty well.

One shot near the beginning of the movie was particularly reminiscent. It's interesting how images or icons affect us. I had a friend in college who wore an "Indy" hat. He never said much about it, and he was a big fan of the movie. Did he feel in some way connected to Harrison Ford? Did he project himself into pivotal scenes? Did he seek to attract comment from other fans? Did he think he looked cool? Or, not to be completely dismissed in college, did it work as a chick magnet?

I don't know.

But icons are everywhere. My wife wears a Coca-Cola T-shirt. Nike conquered the golfer as Tiger conquered the courses. A Jaguar hood-ornament speaks British sophistication. "Harley Davidson" is read on any variety of things owned by late-model baby-boomers. And sadly, when I was in the 8th grade, I was not sociably outfitted with a Member's Only jacket, a sensitive time for me. Sniff.

We're victims of marketing, and if we were not, then sellers wouldn't advertise. Some advertise a function or utility of which a consumer might not be aware, but most stimulate desire by appealing to the viewer's self-image.

A study in Europe approximately two years ago measured responses in a certain part of the brain when viewing slides of brand logos. By wired connections and some other technical mumbo-jumbo, they could record a person's overall sense of satisfaction as each image was displayed.

As expected, BMW and Mercedes brought very positive neural responses. When thinking of consumer commodities, that's not a surprise. Again, these appeal to self-image (and to be sure, there's a positive perception of the operation and quality of the vehicles, but people in the sample groups didn't necessarily own these). The surprising result was that icons associated with less glamorous institutions, such as banks and insurance companies, also generated a significant response.

What this means is that advertising works, even sub-consciously. So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Were we born with a need to find satisfaction in things other than base needs of food, clothing, and shelter? Or does advertising create the demand?

It's rather easy to point fingers at the Madison Avenue folks, but I have to allow that we seem to be born with a desirous nature that is heavily self-centered. It's more than possible that we are fashioned with a need that awaits fulfillment. That makes us ripe for marketing.

A financial management class I took some time ago told the story of a manufacturer that opened a plant in a third-world country, where jobs were scarce (and, obviously, low cost). They trained the workforce, and as they entered production, paid the employees their first wages. However meager the wages might seem to us, they far exceeded the employees' base needs, literally affording them wealth to meet their needs for a long period to come. Result: there needs were met with a single paycheck.

The manufacturer, faced with a crisis, chose an interesting course. They provided the populace with catalogs, making the people aware of how much more "stuff" is out there that would either ease their lives or make it more enjoyable. The money was spent; they returned to work.

I recognize the influence of advertising that leads me to spend when I should otherwise save, but I have to admit I'm hooked. With that monkey comfortably on my back, I'm fairly certain I'm going to buy a Battlestar Galactica T-shirt in the near future. I'm not exactly sure why I want one, but one possibility can be removed, as I'm certain that my wife will have no fear of it being a chick magnet.

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Micah Dalton - Pawnshop

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Maybe I’m overstating, but to me, sepia tones in photography tend to point back to a bygone era, before color filled our printed world. While certainly not historic, sepia toned pictures of wagon trains, gun-slingers, or a grandmas in their rocking chairs do preserve the historical. From the era when these originated, there’s certainly something “earthy” or that gets back to the roots of modern life.

I’ve been fortunate with CD’s with sepia cover art. Shannon McNally’s “Geronimo” is a treasure, musically, lyrically, and vocally. And more recently, I’ve added Micah Dalton’s “Pawnshop” to the ever-growing collection. While neither has a true sepia treatment to the cover photograph, there are musical similarities as both tell their stories mixing the modern with the equivalent of sepia-music.

First, there’s the basics: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums, bass, piano, B3 organ. But then there are the more organic sounds: mandolin, cello, dobro, banjo, hand drum. The mix of these instruments is only occasionally heard in radio-land today and, therefore, likely absent of major commercial intentions.

“Pawnshop” is doubly blessed, which is to say that it is presented in two ways. The first is a booklet that includes a short story based on a man named Pawnshop, complete with sketches. Odd characters come in fast sequence to a drifter’s tale, who stops in a named but nameless crossroads of a town. The story is divided by 12 titles which roughly separate the story into vignettes.

Each of these also corresponds to the name of the songs on the CD. Whereas the story tells a tale ultimately of a man who is an observer of people and their traits, Dalton wisely avoids a storied narrative and touches on an interaction or emotion that relates to each.

Dalton describes his music as alt-soul. Whatever that is, it may be that. However, the songs embrace blues and electric guitar jazz licks as underpinnings, and there’s not a horn section to be found. Each of the songs is blessed with an astounding taste for accompaniment, and the tunes are great from beginning to end.

An irony is that in the mid-1970’s, some of these may have found room on the radio. Today, alt-soul or not, it’s likely never to be heard. Dalton’s CD is offered by a non-profit label and is relatively hard to find, but his is definitely a voice to be heard. I could point out that .mp3s are available at some sites, but that would be hypocritical, and you wouldn’t get the short story or the sepia reminder that some things are worth preserving.

5 Stars

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Growing Up With Robots

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I'm not really sure what expectations, if any, I had for the presence of robots in my life. Certainly the ever smaller nature of electronics has accomplished much of what a robot might have done, but as a kid, there was a fair sense of utility and even companionship that was suggested by the notion of a robot.

Let's review!

Robby the Robot, from "Forbidden Planet." A dork of a robot, but it's a start.

Rosie, from "The Jetsons." No more chores! Maybe a robot that complained less would be better, though.

At times, they're good for humor. "Star Wars" got it right:

"Buck Rogers" got it wrong:

But such things can be set right again:

(Bender from Futurama)

As is our nature, we can turn the best of ideas into something less utilitarian and more destructive, and at the same time, making them more "human."

In case you somehow missed the humanity in a Cylon, I think a quick comparison with a random human sheds some light. Mix these two together and you get...

Cash. Lots of it. But back to Cylons. 20 plus years later, they were updated:

Sinister looking, I think! And even in fiction, robots become obsolete:

(CGI - Computer Generated Imagery). But then, even Cylons weren't content, so they upgraded where CGI isn't required.

Yep, a robot, named Caprica 6. We're finally realizing the potential in these things!

And not just in TV. I doubt I'll have a handy robot to mow the yard, cook dinner, and vacuum the house. (I left out ironing the shirts. Does anyone do that anymore? Ah, but does anyone need to do that anymore?)

Why? Nanotechnology - Re-engineering the world at the molecular level. We can change fibers, and thus fabrics, so that they don't wrinkle. We can change the metal on a plane's wing at the tiniest of levels so that it repulses water and will not let ice form. Nanotech is the heart of technology advancement today.

What's coming? Nanobots, of course! These are not exactly the warm and fuzzy stuff of childhood imagination, they're little gizmos (smaller than 100 nanometers - a nanometer is one billionth of a meter) that, for example, will help carry oxygen in our blood and carve out blockages in our arteries or cancerous cells.

Oh, and let's not forget replacing faulty neurons...

This is the stuff of imagination and untapped potential, and it is much more likely to affect my life than, oh..., a Caprica 6 (not yet available at Wal-Mart).

But, for someone who will be trusting others to imagine, develop, harness and implement such things in a way that doesn't accidentally spell D-O-O-M for mankind (as robots are want to do), I must say that the "old and familiar" provides comfort in a changing world, and, of course, provides amusement.

Which is why, in part, I made an impulse purchase at a art show recently. It's as simple as "see, desire, purchase."

Folks, that's a robot being a robot, with the bonus of being painted on "Captain America" comic pages. Admittedly, I didn't know that I was buying a category called "low-browed art," but, really, I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, it's a blue, one-eyed robot shooting a blaster! It's definitely worthy of my walls.

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