Delta Rae – Live at Vinyl

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Absent the vacuous “talent” shows on TV, how does a talented band find widespread appeal in 2012?  Tour.  Leno.  Conan.  VH1 Exposure. Major recording label.  Special events.  Internet radio.  Real radio.

Delta Rae’s done all of that.   Except real radio.  Where is a radio station that plays new music that isn’t approved on a corporate list of acts blessed with songs that sound like all the other ones currently in rotation?  You won’t find it in Atlanta.

Ever since I saw first Delta Rae at Bele Chere at the end of July, I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to see this band again. In the last three months, they’ve played their way to California and back, had the late night TV music spots, just missed playing the DNC had President Obama been able to fill the stadium, and been listed as VH1’s “You Oughta Know” Artist of the Month.  They released an exceptional CD, Carry the Fire, four months ago.  They’ve made very entertaining videos for YouTube for their leading songs.  There’s an ample selection of fan videos of their concert history.  Add active Twitter and Facebook postings, And Delta Rae is making all the right moves.

Add to that, they’re insanely talented group.

So, $10 at Vinyl?  Are you kidding me?

I’m quite pleased to only pay $10 to see them.  The time will come when I’ll have to pay a multiple of that to see them from much farther away.

And at Vinyl?  I’d expect with their hard work that they’d be playing at the Masquerade or another venue where “acts on their way up” find themselves... with larger crowds.  I guess that just represents the glut of talented artists and/or the travails of finding commercial success for musicians in the modern era.

Well, small venue, limited sight-lines... arrive early!

We did, just as the The WildFeathers took the stage.  At it’s core, their style takes acoustic roots and amps it up to a southern rock feel.  It was an enjoyable opening act.

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Following them was Erin McCarley, a little lady with a big voice.   With guitarist and keyboardist in tow, she played a variety of songs with an independent spirit that might sound like Fiona Apple if she played closer to centerfield.  She had a great stage presence and was very entertaining.

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It was 10:00 on a Wednesday night in Atlanta when Delta Rae took the stage.  Where the heck was the crowd?  The fans that were there mostly knew the band and their songs, but I was disappointed in two ways.  1) A lot people missed out, and 2) I’d hope that their venture from NC would be profitable enough to warrant another visit in the future.

Delta Rae is a band to be heard live.  I’ve listened to their CD many times over the last few months, and, as good as it is, it remains a pale reminder of how this band exploded at Bele Chere.  It’s not like the singers have quiet voices.  In a given song, they may start that way, but they built to a full throated delivery.  How would they sound after three months of fairly hard touring?

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Just fine.  Eric and Ian Hölljes’ voices sounded good, but Ian struggled at the high end.  The set list (at the end of the blog) seemed to recognize this, featuring the other band members on lead more heavily.  The female harmonies, particularly, seemed truer than several months ago.  And Elizabeth Hopkins’ voice may actually be stronger at this point.  Happily, Brittany Brittany Hölljes retains her trademark squeak and fiery delivery on the band’s more rocking songs.  

Much (but not the full measure) of their vocal powerhouse approach can be heard on their CD, but live, it becomes apparent how important the rhythm section is to the band.  Mike McKee’s drums and Grant Emerson’s bass added punch and variety to match the intensity of the group’s vocals.  This band has all the right pieces.  They click. 

And their overall energy? On a small stage on a Wednesday night with an undersized crowd? Just awesome. Sign me up for more $10 tickets.

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They introduced two new songs.  “Cold Day” is much darker than their other songs, with lyrics about a relationship that has fallen apart.  It has a heavier rock feel, a different direction and potentially a good complement to their set.   The other, likely titled “My Whole Life Long” pointed to soulful R&B.  Both had had hit and miss moments and didn’t sound as polished as their other songs.  It will be interesting to see if they evolve.  “Bottom of the River” remained a highlight, but really, this band is so joyful in every song that they do everything well.

Not exactly a disappointment, but the band chatted much less than they had at Bele Chere, during which they really connected with the audience, giving insights into most of their songs and the band itself.  However, notable here was that the Hölljes siblings had lived in Marietta for 6 years when they were young, and they made use of the tour stop to pay regards to their school music teacher.   

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How many artists take the time to seek out educators that had an influence? It says a lot about them, and it says a lot about their teacher (who attended the show).

Another  disappointment was that Delta Rae’s set was abbreviated to an hour and 10 minutes, including the encore.  I’d rather skip the opening acts and hear this band sing nursery rhymes or phone books if they’re out of material.  I guess three bands were needed to sell an evening’s worth of beer, as commerce demands.

The band’s encore, by the way, was in the round, entering into the crowd for their album closer, “Hey, Hey, Hey.”  Pretty cool stuff.  I hope the best for this band, because they deserve it.  But, I’ll be quite happy if they continue to perform in small venues...  There’s no better bargain in live music.  Wow. 

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Set list:

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Harvest Balloon Festival

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I went all the way to Flowery Branch, GA, the town that is the practice home of the Atlanta Falcons, for a Hot Air Balloon festival.  I’ve always wanted to go see Freedom Aloft weekend in Greenville, SC, but plans on Memorial Day weekend always seem to include something else.  Harvest Balloon Festival would at least offer some picture taking opportunities, and my Photo club arranged a “meetup.”

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I expected open fields with balloons.  What I found was a nice park area nestled in a sprawling residential development... a very nice one, to be sure.   We arrived at 4:00 to find ample kids activities (a couple rides, walking in a plastic bubble, pumpkin carving), a live band stage, two (2) food vendors (cold pizza and what looked like an overwhelmed amateur grill for burger and hot dogs) and... no beer?  No Italian Ice?  Heck, no CORNDOGS? 

Well, okay.  There were boiled peanuts.

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The Harvest Balloon Festival is a fantastic neighborhood event, but it either lacks ambition on the part of the organizers or operates under a mandate of “family friendly and let’s dissuade it from growing too big” philosophy.

The afternoon was left to wondering about and taking pictures of “whatever.”

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I’m okay with that.

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But, let’s be honest. The best pictures to be had are of cute kids getting their faces painted, sliding down hills, throwing balls, and generally acting cute.  Taking pictures of them, these days, is no problem... if you’re the parent.  Otherwise, “Who is that strange middle aged man taking pictures of our kids?  And why?”

If it were my kids... understood, so no kid pictures.  That left time for goofy things, like Mr. Bendy here (not advertising a sale at the present time).   Mr. Bendy, although always full of motion, was further guided by 7-10 mph winds.  That’s a problem for hot air balloonists, it seems.

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So, I was left with ample time to sit around and chat with other photographers while admiring their expensive lenses.  Some day...

Finally, dusk settled.

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And the wind died down, and the various balloonists began unloading their trailers. 

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Oh good.  It’s not a ReMax balloon. 

Let it get a bit later, and finally the question is resolved... how do you inflate a hot air balloon?  Well, with a Binford Turbo Mach One fan, of course, seen bottom left.  Tim the Tool Man Taylor would approve.   Actually, it’s a unlikely looking fan, powered by it’s own gas motor. 

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Just hold the open the skirt of the balloon and fill it with non-heated air.  And then, when it’s getting some shape... turn on the jets.

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And, voila!  One Clemson Tigers hot air balloon!  Awesomeness.  And no Georgia schools present.  Perfecto!

This was not intended to be an “aloft” event – that was planned for the next morning. Instead, it was to be a “Glow” event, with balloons lighting the area for cool effect.  And they did, though one balloon was tethered and offered rides up to 30’ or so.

Glow on:

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Glow off:

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And, finally, a picture of the park area.  You can click on any of the pictures for a hi-res view.  They look much nicer that way...

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Global Obligatory Day

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{Insert Andy Rooney voice}

It didn’t take too long in my adult life to begin resenting Hallmark cards. There’s birthdays and anniversaries. Got it. Family matters. These pop up annually, and, as your family expands, they seem more frequent if only for the planned outlays of cash.  

Christmas costs money, too.  Some people save all year for this; others use the bank of Visa.  This was a Christian holiday at some point, but now it’s a fully secular gift giving day.   Make of it what you want, but that’s not the point.

Let’s see, for a family of four, that’s 4 birthdays, one anniversary, and Christmas.  6 days.

Goodness, we have parents.  Father’s Day barely gets noticed, but Mother’s Day may as well count twice.  That’s 8 days.  Never mind Grandparents day.  When did kids ever think of their grandparents?  That’s upside down.  And when did parents think of their parents on the behalf of their kids?  That day was destined to fail and doesn’t count.

Then there’s the fake important days, like Valentines and Halloween.  You can hear the jingle of cash registers for both, back in the days when people actually used cash.  Or coins.  One is for lovers, the other is to avoid the love of spoiled brats with tricks up their sleeves and both invite unpleasantness if forgotten.  We’re up to 10 days.

Easter... Easter counts as a half day.  It’s funny how these religious holidays get bamboozled by chocolatiers, but many feed the kids some Springtime calories.  Thanksgiving counts as a half day as well.  It’s pleasantly non-commercial, but say that to the mom’s who have haul the groceries and serve the feasts.  11 days.  Roughly one a month.  Huh.

And then there’s the “observance days.” There’s one for about everything.   International Anti-Corruption Day.  I suppose that’s the day when everyone is supposed to be honest.   World Kindness Day and World Hello Day both occur in November.  I suppose they tag team well with Thanksgiving.

I wonder if World Post Day will last.   Keepers of the postal flame might need to segue way into World E-mail Day.  That way kids will know what it means.  Well, no.  World Twitter Day, then.  Maybe they’ll tweet about International Talk Like a Pirate Day from the month before, but more likely that would be left to parents who put off such important things to a later date.  Another casualty might be Ballpoint Pen Day.  Texting Day would be more 21st century, I think.

Puppetry, Poetry, Clean Water, Intellectual Property Day... it seems like they’re something remarkable about almost every day, outside of living them.  And if they’re not, we can expand the scope for observances like Breast Cancer Awareness Day.   I think that’s a great day, and it’s so popular it’s become a full month.  Even NFL players are wearing pink.  Well done!

But not so many are taken that we don’t have room for another.  I would like to propose Global Obligatory Day.

This day would provide a day of reflection and absolution for all those obligations left forgotten or incomplete. For all the phone calls you forgot to make, for all those cards you forgot to send, for all the less than optimal candy you purchased, for all the stops you forgot to make at the grocery store after work, for all those occasions that just slipped your mind, and for those observation days of which you were completely unaware, Global Obligatory Day is your “get out jail free” day.

It wouldn’t require a card. Nor would it require a cash outlay.  It would just be a day where a repentant person is obliged to say, “I failed to meet the obligations imposed upon me by my family, society, deserving organizations, Hallmark, the government, the U.N. and assorted nitwits.  For some of it, I’m sorry. I might do better.”  And all would be forgiven.

I think Global Obligation Day might be suitable for my staff at work, who this past Tuesday, October 16th, failed to even comment upon National Boss Day.  It’s fair for me to be judgmental, because I can be judged.  I’d join them on Global Obligatory Day, because I didn’t throw praises, or a free lunch, on my boss either.   I wasn’t aware of it.  And if I had... well, I might have pretended I wasn’t aware anyway.  I’m just cheap that way.

Global Obligatory Day has another benefit.  For the countless who exclaim, “Oh, my God!” without any intention of actually calling a Deity into play, the phrase may be better interpreted as “Oh, my GOD!” – a call to Global Obligatory Day, so that they can rest easy knowing a day is coming to make it all better.

 

For those who forget what an Andy Rooney voice is...

 

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Aimee Mann - Charmer

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Hmm. You might notice how Aimee Mann’s new CD cover might be considered a variant of Fiona Apple’s recent cover. However, one is comical. The other is tortured. And, from there, we’ll begin back-to-back reviews of CDs by women who encapsulate a lot of negativity.

Why, indeed, do I bother listening to Aimee Mann’s music? If she relates personally to every lyric, I doubt she could write a stanza before retreating to pills and a pillow, never mind put together a CD of 11 catchy tunes. And, at 52, I’d hope she’s making better choices for herself than her lyrics might reflect. But amidst the onslaught of human inadequacies, I know what draws me back, and it’s not that I identify with the lives she depicts.

Rather, I’m amused at the stories she tells, both the characters in them and the way she expresses their less than ideal traits. One such song might be sad, two would prompt a frown. But an album full of them? It’s funny as hell. And best of all, if you’re like me and listen to the tune without focusing on the lyrics, your foot is likely tapping long before you begin to cypher through what she’s singing. Strong melodies, simple phrasing, clever lyrical and musical insertions, biting guitar and synthesizers tuned to a mocking lilt… good stuff.

A summation of the 2012 edition of Mann capsules is that everyone is a fraud in some way. She doesn’t delve into psychoanalysis. It’s all about how people are, less so about examining what caused them to be that way. If you want that stuff, try Fiona Apple’s latest, and godspeed.

The title track sets the table:

When you’re a charmer
The world applauds
They don’t know that secretly charmers
Feel like they’re frauds

Next are those who can’t handle others getting too close. From “Disappeared”:

Somehow, I wound up on your bad side
Til now I guess I had a free ride
But now I join the queue
Of people dead to you

Then there are those who return for more abuse, in “Labrador”:

But I came back for more
And you laughed in my face
And you rubbed it in
Cause I’m a Labrador.

Then we have, by my reading:

  • Fools who get sucked in by girls who have a habit of acting out in crazy ways
  • How people tend to cover up unpleasant truths in order to get by
  • holding on to false appearances until they crash and burn
  • Conflict avoidance by any possible means
  • The futility of helping those who won’t help themselves
  • Unresolved wounds that cause isolation
  • Reliance on drugs and alcohol to resolve guilt
  • People who suck others into their misery

No, the topics don’t sound like enjoyable entertainment. That’s why she’s an artist. It’s all in the interpretation. As for inspiration, I’d like to think Aimee Mann sits at a bar with friends, making fun of Dr. Phil or reading who-knows-what on her iPad for “Can you get a load of this person?”, and laughing as they cast unfortunate souls in her prose.

4 of 5 STARS

(includes bonus credit for introducing me to the term “Irish Goodbye”)

 

 

 

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Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel

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I’m not a great fan of Fiona Apple’s, but I liked her previous release, Extraordinary Machine (2005).  Enough so that with a few very positive reviews and a summer drought of musical interest, I went ahead and made the purchase. 

It turns out that judging a book by its cover is a reasonable means of caveat emptor. 

That looks like a very distressed person at the point of a nervous breakdown.  If I were to look at the cover without a review, I might ask myself, “Why would I want to listen to that?”

I like her voice.  Her songs are never catchy with clean hooks, but they’re interesting.  She’s certainly not bound by popular music conventions, which can be refreshing.  And her piano is a nice variant from my guitar heavy listening pleasures. 

I will say that her lyrics are fascinating.  She doesn’t filter, revealing much about herself while picking sores that won’t heal anytime soon.  It’s good reading as poetry.

say I”m an airplane
and the gashes I got from my heart-break
make the slots and the flaps upon my wing
and I use ‘em to give me lift.

Or,

and now I’m hard, too hard to know
I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore, no, no.
Tears calcify in my tummy
Fears coincide with the tow
How can I ask anyone to love me
when all I do is beg to be left alone

Cheery stuff.

But, throw into that a percussive focus, the piano, and little else, it’s surprising that it goes down smoother only if you can appreciate the words while listening.  Otherwise, it’s a dreadful listen.  Even when there are opportunities to sound “pleasing,” she careens off into making a phrase as unpleasant as possible.  For those wanting art, it fits.  For those wanting happy ears, it does not.  If she ever finds a happy place, she may well strike up something similar to Vince Guiardi’s “Linus and Lucy.” Someday.  It promises so much more... but, that’s not where she lives today.

Let’s sort some reviews in a helpful order:

“... essential 2012 listening for anyone interested in popular music as art.”  LA Times

“... the Idler Wheel is fearlessly austere.” Pitchfork

“... it’s highly confessional and creative and temperamental, and will probably make you fall crazy in love.” Entertainment Weekly  (comment:  WHAT???)

“... gnashing in her pathos, having long since dropped the outward-calm mask most of the rest of us wear, lets her neuroses fester before taking them out into the light.” Spin

“Stripped of all her carnivalesque accouterments, Fiona Apple remains as rich and compelling ash she ever was, perhaps even more so.” Allmusic

“... It ain’t easy listening. But it’s worth it. A” Entertainment Weekly

“The Idler Wheel... is a challenging album.” Rolling Stone

“... though it may be her best album yet,”... “it’s the one you’ll least want to hear again.” – The Washington Post

“There’s not a single song I want to hear again.”  Me

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Oakland Cemetery – Sunday in the Park

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Sunday in the Park, billed as a Victorian Festival, is an annual fundraiser of sorts for Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta’s “garden cemetery,” begun in 1850. 

Rather than a maudlin affair, the day includes guided walking tours (offered during most of the year), live music, food trucks, Victorian costume contests, children’s play area, and several crafts vendors.

With that type of variety, it’s not just tombstones to photograph.  I didn’t come for any of that in particular, but mostly to get out of the house on a beautiful day, further enabled by my photography group. 

But, let’s start with the dead.  We’ve got Confederate dead (in a segregated section), Union dead (in a segregated section), Jewish dead (in a segregated section), African American dead (in a segregated section), and the Christian or otherwise dead, who may as well be considered in the remaining segregated section.

Why a fundraiser?  The place is old.  Some plots are perfectly maintained, and some sidewalks have been fully restored.  In other places... careful where you step or you might take a tumble.

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The above is actually average for the site.  Nice walkway, but other signs of decay.  As for the gardens concept, there’s much work to be done.  The emphasis seems to be placed on keeping the grass to avoid erosion.

Gravesites vary widely as well, from tiny, toppled markers for infants to sizeable mausoleums for families.

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Many of the vaults are open, with surprising ornateness in materials and decoration.

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Adventurous photographers may choose to enter a crypt and close the doors.  During the day, that is.

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If there was any disappointment, it was that very few of the markers had personal information beyond names and dates.  I had hoped for more information about the deceased, but that takes money, I suppose.

Of those that I did find, my favorite quote was:

His life was an inspiration
His memory a benediction

Runner up was Proverbs 16:32:

He that is slow to anger is better than a hero;
and he that ruleth his spirit than he that conquers a city.

Did I mention the classic cars?  There were a variety of 1950’s era Cadillacs, and if there is a takeaway from that, it’s that all cars should have hood ornaments.  Seriously.

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Below are a variety of other photos from the afternoon.  Some were intentionally serious “photographer” shots, others are just snapshots, and some tampered with on the computer.

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As opposed to just corrected.  And some just make me scratch my head, like, “What kind of shoes did Victorian women wear?”

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I don’t know that any are “obligatory.”  Oh, wait.  Here’s one.

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And some make laugh.

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That’s “funny” funny.  Below is stupid funny.  A restored Caddy with a trailer hitch?  Really?

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Anyway, here’s the rest:

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