Father John Misty – Fear Fun

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At first listen, this CD suffered for not sounding exactly like Fleet Foxes, from which Joshua Tillman, here recording under a pseudonym, recently sang and played drums. However, he brings with him a suitable helping of FFs eclecticism and backing vocals, and that’s a good start.  He’s swapped the northwest for his new home, Hollywood, and humor often prevails.  The CD entertains with its whimsy, to-the-point instrumentation, and lyrical variety.  On the other hand, it’s sometimes clunky with its beat and at times runs too close to other artists (“Every Man Needs a Companion” ~ Neil Young).  Don’t know if it has staying power, but it’s an enjoyable listen.

Recommended: “Nancy From Now On,” “Writing a Novel,” “Now I’m Learning to Love the War”

3 of 5 STARS

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Happy Birthday, Jackie

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A 21st birthday brings with it the promise of meat.  “Meat” shouldn’t be inferred as ground sirloin, ground chuck, or a chicken breast.  For my little T-Rex, quality meat is demanded and lots of it.

And it was that our family of four made our way to Fogo de Chao, where hot sizzling steak arrives at your plate whenever you want it.  Simply flip your cue card to green, and offerings of meat are presented for your approval, in a portion and temperature of your choosing.  Jackie prefers the green side of the card.

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And then good things happen.

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Which results in mandible exercise.

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For those not familiar with a Brazilian steakhouse, the concept is fairly simple.  For a fixed price, you get an unlimited salad bar followed by unlimited meat.  And, you’re not even required to eat at the salad bar.  However, it should be said, that everything at the salad bar, from the cheeses to the chicken salad, etc., were excellent.  But you don’t want to eat too much of that because, well, you pay a tidy sum, and that would be for the carnivorous portion, all fire roasted.

And my 21 year old carnivore did something like...

  • Filet Mignon – The foundation upon which T-Rex’s meal expectations are based.  Fail here, and teeth are bared.  She was happy with three (3) fairly generous portions, all of which were excellent.
  • Filet Mignon – but bacon wrapped. (1)
  • Picanha – A prime cut of top sirloin, with a very tasty seasoning.  This was T-Rex’s favorite, as it turned out, evidenced not only with words but actions with an estimated eight (8) helpings.  The gaucho server pretty much knew to stop by our table each time he emerged with a hot roasted skewer.
  • Picanha – ah, yes, there is a garlic version.  “The best,” said the cook.  Too much garlic, and it wasn’t a repeat. (1).
  • Lombo – Pork loin encrusted with Parmesan cheese... T-Rex prefers beef, but thought well of Lombo.  Two (2) helpings.  This scored high on my list as well as my son’s.
  • Alcatra – A seasoned top sirloin (1)

Sixteen (16) helpings +/- 1.  I guess she couldn’t make it to 21.

I also had a very moist helping of Linguica (cured pork sausage), Frango (a Cornish hen tasting chicken), a well seasoned but somewhat tough Fraldinha (essentially a Flank steak) and Cordeiro (gamey tasting lamb).

Escaping our notice were the Costela (beef ribs), Costela de Porco (not surprisingly, pork ribs) and Beef Ancho (Rib Eye).  We didn’t see them come by, but had several opportunities to ask for anything we wanted. 

Dinner was also served with several side dishes (grit cake, mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas), as well as very fresh cheese bread, made in snack sizes.

To top it off, we received a carry-out bonus, a Panettone cake for dining with them during the holiday season.  Nice touch.

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And all of that made for a happy kid.  You’ll note the glass of water, hardly the drink expected for one’s 21st birthday.  Well, it was a couple days early, and she hasn’t taken an interest in anything other than a daiquiri or piña colada... virgin ones.

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On the ride home, a car in front of us had a bumper sticker which read, “Enjoy this day – compliments of God.”

To which my daughter added, “And to my dad and the two guys with yummy skewers of steak!” – taking note, of course, of Mr. Filet and Mr. Picanha.

5 of 5 STARS

(Rating is for my daughter AND the restaurant, a perfect pairing)

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Red Hare Brewing

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So, on a beautiful autumn Saturday, with ample football to watch, I opted instead to go with a friend to visit a local brewery for their “Brewery Tour.” 

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The brewery is located in a small commercial/industrial park NW of Atlanta.  We arrived to find a fenced area with a small crowd, along with a singer and guitar. 

For $10 you get a pint glass, 6 tickets to sample the brews, and a tour.  On tap Saturday they had:

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I started with the Retro-Reserve Chocolate Porter, a beer that they retired, cut its benefits and forced back into production.   ...  This was my favorite of their beers, a dark, chocolaty, roasted malt flavor common to the variety and average or better compared to its peers.  Given a choice with the same, I’d support the local guys.  

An interesting note on small craft breweries is how much space they have to dedicate to “tours.”  Red Hare allows a gracious space, and I’d imagine their weekday evening tours draws more people, but nevertheless, considering rent costs, it’s a lot of space to dedicate a minimal revenue stream.  Not that it isn’t necessary to promote a brand.

They have 8 taps, standing tables, plenty of standing room, and a curious corner den.

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Next up was the Long Day Lager.  This is reportedly their mainstay, as they make the lager year round.  As the brewing process takes longer, most competitors only do this on a seasonal basis.  As a result, Red Hare found an entry point to many of the bars in the Atlanta market.

The beer itself poured clear and golden, light bodied with mellow hops.  I don’t drink many lagers, but it’s a solid choice if I wanted a lower APV and a lighter beer.

This I carried with me to the brewery tour.   I missed much of what was said, as the first tour (there were two) was overly crowded.  But what is there can easily be seen.  Here, our tour guide discusses the brewery, essentially getting paid to drink the Porter.

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Red Hare remains a small craft brewery, now just over one year old.  The company produces over 3,000 barrels of beer, which in a commercial sense means they’ve found an audience but have ample room for growth.  At present, the beer is sold only in Georgia and primarily within the Atlanta market.

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Foregoing the typical bottling operations, the company is leaping from draught directly to canning of its two most popular beers, the Lager and the IPA.

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With a tortoise hare-like production rate of 32 beers/minute, Red Hare is the first Georgia brewery to off their product in cans.  As the new line gets settled in, it’s required some long hours and another measure of quality control.

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Tour complete, I returned for their Watership Brown ale, a clever name given their rabbit motif. It was more amber than brown, and, skipping all the eloquent beer descriptive terminology, was okay.

Red Hare, wisely, has joined in the commercial pursuits of “stuff,” and the neatest was a tin suitable for hanging on a wall behind a home bar.  T-shirts, caps... even a lip balm.

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It’s an affordable way to spend a couple hours.  I might return for a more informative tour, during the week just because beer seems more suited to the evening than the afternoon.  As with other brewery tours, the failing is the absence of pretzels or other snacks to provide relief to the palate between beer styles, not to mention beer is better with munchies.  In any case, it’s a worth addition to Georgia’s fledgling craft brewery scene.

Note: Shame on me for not taking pictures of any of the sampled beers...

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WAR – Live at Variety Playhouse

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WAR, who did not sing the Vietnam protest song that shares the same name (Edwin Starr did), was a 70’s rock, funk, jazz, Latin and everything else band that sold over 50 million records.  “They” returned to Atlanta Saturday, and I was overdue for a concert.  With my likewise bored son in tow, off we went to Atlanta’s greatest concert venue.  I’ve never bought any of their songs and couldn’t name any off the top of my head, but there’s some history there.  And, they were a good band.  Why not?

And there were many firsts.  It was my first time to see WAR.  It was the first time I’ve seen people buy popcorn and sliced pizza before a concert at Variety.  It was the first show I’ve been to that Variety stopped selling many of the better craft beers brands.  It was the first time where audience members brought their own tambourines.  It was the first concert where the band did not have a table full of T-shirts and other wares for sale.  It was the first concert where I was significantly in a racial minority.  And, it was my first concert with a DJ as the warm up act.  But not for the first time, it was a great show.  Live music is just great.

Somehow connected with a local R&B station that helped sponsor the show, the DJ played snippets of vintage soul and R&B songs most of which I had never heard.  I’m not sure if it was his repeated referrals to “Old School” (the songs or the way people danced?), but the old bones in the crowd got moving just fine.

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WAR has one original remaining member, Leroy “Lonnie” Jordan.  There’s some legal history about naming rights, and several other members tour as the Lowrider Band.  Going back to 1968, it’s good that they’re around; it’s just too bad that aren’t playing together, I suppose.  It didn’t matter to my ears. It was quite apparent that Jordan was accustomed to being the Master of Ceremonies long before MC This and MC That appeared a decade later, and he was in fine spirits and voice.

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The reminders of just how old the music was, or he was, or the audience was, were frequent.  It is history in a sense, but he made light of it in an enjoyable way, with recollections of the, eh, state of mind he was in when many of the songs were written.

And a master of ceremonies can keep a good vibe coming.  Jordan roamed the stage, with humorous and interesting intros to the songs.  Most of the current members of the band have been with this version of the group for over a decade, and their experience playing together was heard.

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They covered many of the band’s hits, including “Galaxy,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”, “The Cisco Kid,” “All Day Music,” “Low Rider,” and an exceptional version of “The World is a Ghetto.”  The sax solos were generally terrific, as well as the tandem sax and harmonica melodies.  The rhythm section of drums, percussion, and bass kept the music hopping and the audience on their feet.  (Recognizing this potential, I opted for front row balcony.  Winning.)

With a general festive air to the flow of the show, the only minor hiccup was inviting several audience members to sing on stage.  The only major hiccup was what my son referred to as “the longest outro ever.”  The band introductions included a solo feature and a snippet of the members’ favorite songs.  There were some good moments, and they’re good musicians to be sure, but it was a stop and go annoyance.  A few more songs, whether theirs or covers, would have closed the night on a higher note.

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And what, no encore?

3 of 5 STARS

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Donald Fagen – Sunken Condos

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One advantage of having a thin voice amidst a limited vocal range is that, at 64, Donald Fagen with a little computer wizardry can sound like his old self.  His old self is in abundance on Sunken Condos, his 4th solo release. 

The album sounds immediately familiar – the jazzy groove where guitars, bass, drums, saxes, keyboards and horns go snap, crackle and squirk in all the right places.  Oh, and very tasteful harmonica.  And don’t forget the female background singers... 

Everything is in its right place, including extended space for some of the instrumentalists to stretch out and play, most notably lead guitarist Jon Herington who shapes sounds and chops to add punch to the funky smoothness that largely defines the record.

One might say that you’ve heard everything here before.  I said that to myself.  But it’s not quite true.  Musically, there’s a much more relaxed feel than on Fagen’s previous recordings, as opposed to a bitter feel on others.

Lyrically, though, familiar themes are found.  “Slinky Thing” picks up 32 years after “Hey Nineteen” from Steely Dan’s Gaucho.  If she didn’t know Aretha Franklin then, what does he relate to a 19 year old now?

We went to a party
Everybody stood around”
Thinkin’: Hey what’s she doin’
With a burned out hippie clown
Young dudes were grinnin’
I can’t say it didn’t sting
Some punk says: Pops you better
Hold onto that slinky thing

Kudos to Fagen for consistently writing from his age.  I wish other artists were as brave (McCartney, Bono, Springsteen, Jagger).  The only thing missing on this particular song is the hook.  It tries, but falls just short.

“I”m Not the Same Without You” is a great love song, surprisingly devoid of Fagen’s usual sexual overtones.  “Memorabilia” carries a groove, and while it might have added another shade to aging, it manages only to prove how difficult it is use the word in a chorus.  It’s a listenable miss amongst the whole.

The best song is “Weather in My Head,” which equates global warming and weather catastrophes with a broken relationship.   The song also breaks from Fagen’s rather even vocal delivery with some attitude and carries with it a memorable tune.  Given the title of the CD, this is as close as Fagen gets to a snarky comment about the world today, which is too bad.

I haven’t researched Fagen’s personal life, but I can’t help but think aging rock stars perpetually seek Hey Nineteens.  In “The New Breed” Fagen faces competition from an IT type:

You the new breed alright
I guess you’re what she wants now
You’re young and strong
And you own the night
Good luck to you both
I’ll get along somehow

I get it  - you look at me and think
He’s ready for Jurassic Park
He’s sweet – but it’s time to fine a keener spark

Bad for Fagen, but funny as hell for me.

A cover of Isaac Hayes’ “Out of the Ghetto” provides a jump start from the smoothness, and it’s a lyrical kin to Fagen’s own songs.   “Miss Marlene” is comfort food, something heard many times before from Fagen.  “Good Stuff” follows takes Fagen’s distinctive narratives in a different direction, this time taking a warm, funky groove for celebrating Mafia jobs.

“Planet D’Rhonda” is an entertaining floozy story, but it drags along musically, ending the CD with one step back after several steps forward.

Overall, Sunken Condos is a good listen, but too much of it fades into aural obscurity.

Recommended Songs: “Slinky Thing,” “Weather in My Head,” “Miss Marlene”

3 of 5 STARS

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Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu!

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When you grow up with Star Trek, you tend to dream of all sorts of things.  I’ve commented before that my preference would be a phaser.  Alas.  And I do wish I had understood the potential economic benefits of developing communicators.  Alas x 2. 

Not too far down the list, though, is warp drive.  What’s the point of exploring strange new worlds if everyone you know is dead before you get there? And by the time you get there, you’re dead and it’s your kids doing the exploring?  You need to get there fast. Einstein and his inconvenient observations on light, mass, and energy.

Enter warp drive.  To heck with Einstein’s inconvenient observations on light, mass and energy.  I’d rather appeal to a higher authority.  Since Star Trek got so many things right, it’s fair to use the warp speed guidance from the official Star Trek Technical Manual.   

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Note note the y-axis grid.  That’s a logarithmic scale.  That means Warp 2 isn’t simply twice the speed of light, but 10 times the speed of light, and that’s just Warp 2.  Now we’re getting places.  Fast. 

It’s not like this should be shocking news.

Consider all the alien ware housed in Area 51 and UFO's sighted around the world.  It’s obvious that beings from all those strange worlds have obviously already figured this out.  We’re just slow, pun intended, getting there.

It’s somewhat disappointing that current modeling won’t allow for a USS Enterprise or a Millennium Falcon shaped ship.  But I’ll take a Space Football, even with a ring around it.


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You can read about it HERE.

And, so what if the energy required would be the equivalent of converting the mass of Jupiter to energy.  That, of course, is well within the specs of dilithium crystals.

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Paul McCartney - RAM

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A great album or a guilty pleasure?

This 1971 album was remastered and updated earlier this year.  Like Band on the Run before it, it’s a welcome sonic upgrade.  Whether anyone is interested, I’m not sure.  It’s not loaded with hit songs, by any means.

For me, this album was worth getting up, removing the album from the sleeve, placing it on the turntable, wiping it clean with Disc Cleaner, setting the needle, and listening to a side.  Then flipping, washing and resetting for Side B. Often.

McCartney had his share of hits in his post-Beatles career, but most attention falls on his albums released from 1973 – 1978.  In the commercial sense, his first few albums, McCartney, Ram, Wild Life, & Red Rose Speedway, left many speculating whether, absent the Fab 4, he had lost his way.  I disagree.

McCartney, released just before The Beatles broke up, was the equivalent of a home demo record, with one exceptional song (“Maybe I’m Amazed”) a couple decent ones, and ideas that deserved further evolution, if not a quiet space on the shelf.   Ram, then, was to be his first full commercial effort in his post-Beatles career.  Insert several expert session musicians and a string section amidst a return to full recording studio. 

The album, though, is appropriately credited to Paul and Linda McCartney.  Like its predecessor, it begins and ends with the same personal approach that McCartney had while working at home.  “Personal,” for McCartney was not a lyrical and aural soul baring a la Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.  Instead, RAM is a joyous, intimate, unrestrained affair that would point towards McCartney’s best traits and his worst tendencies.

“Too Many People” begins the album and is representative of what will come:  pop tunefulness, searing lead guitar, McCartney’s often full throated delivery, and Linda’s harmonies.  The quaintness of Linda’s voice and harmonies may at first put listeners off, but overall they’re very much a part of the fabric of the project, a professionally recorded version of songs that otherwise may have underwhelmed without the full production.  While it’s McCartney’s album, the inclusion of Linda captures a moment in time in the artist’s life, as such things go.

Elsewhere there are easy hooks, pace changes, gorgeous orchestration, and multilayered backing vocals.  The album flows, with every song speaking to the ease at which McCartney can craft a worthwhile tune.  But it’s his vocals that make the album special.   McCartney is freed from pop-single expectations, and his enthusiasm is heard in every song, from the naked rawness of “Monkberry Moon Delight” to the decidedly anti-pop delivery of “Smile Away” to the variety of every type of fill vocal of which he’s capable. 

And the negatives?  Well, some of Linda’s drones are too obvious a glitch to be passed over.  I’ve learned to tune my ears elsewhere.  Secondly, it’s not too hard to figure out how most of this album was written.  With piano or guitar... Paul sitting around finding the right vocal sounds for each tune which gradually morph into words.  Those words, and that approach, would consistently detract from his work for many years. 

It’s kind of fun to speculate what the session musicians expected coming into this gig to work with a Beatle, what with Linda’s help and inane lyrics such as:

A dog is here
A dog is there
My dog he got three legs
But he can’t run

Or,

Well I know my banana is older than the rest
in my hair is a tangled baretta
but I leave my pyjamas to Billy Budapest
and I don’t get the gist of your letter

Well, Lennon didn’t always have lyrics that made sense either.  Still...

To the unfamiliar, it may sound that each side of the original album ended on a high note.  Indeed, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” feels like it was actually penned (though joined together) and “The Back Seat of My Car” is probably one of McCartney’s best songs, period.  But as good as they are, it’s the rest of the album that plays through the guilty pleasures, great instrumentation, great song structures, and McCartney’s voice let loose.

Note: Disk 2 has various rarities that should have remained on the shelf, of interest to dedicated fans only.  This is a disappointment following Band on the Run’s exceptional bonus disc.

I don’t care if it’s a 4 Star album.  I’m giving it:

5 of 5 STARS

 

 

Because I like it that much.

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Skyfall (2012)

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50 years of Bond? 

I can’t say that James Bond has been part of the fabric of my life, but I’ve enjoyed all 23 Bond movies to a decent degree or better, save Moonraker.  That count excludes Never Say Never Again, which was not an official Bond release.

Until recently, the Bond movies had been a bit of pure escapism, complete with sexy women, comic book madmen, cool gadgets, globetrotting location scenes, imaginative action sequences, and a never-in-serious-jeopardy British agent.

I know some don’t like Daniel Craig as 007.  Past actors have portrayed Bond within a fairly narrow deviation from the benchmark set by Ian Fleming and Sean Connery, but beginning with Craig’s first portrayal in Casino Royale (2006), my expectations regarding Bond were forced to change.

Bond smoked like Peter Lorre, drank like Humphrey Bogart, ate like Sydney Greenstreet, used up girls like Errol Flynn.. then went to a steam bath and came out looking like Clark Cable.”  - Harry Reasoner

And to that end, Skyfall completes a questionable transition.  It begins with Adele’s restrained title song, carries through under overcast skies and somber landscapes, interweaves plot points of aging to its characters and mission, and, ultimately, leads to a sense of loss as films draws to a close.  Past Bonds have worked within an environment of optimism.  The world is a great place to enjoy, and when bad guys show up, good prevails. 

Things are not as cheery now.  Is the greater depth provided to the character worth a transition to sterility?  Is fierce loyalty a sufficient heroic strength that makes the warmth of deeper human relationships unnecessary?  Must a 007 remain emotionally detached from a continuing love interest to do what he needs to do?

As he says to Eve, “Field work isn’t for everybody.”

Gone are the cool gadgets, the world travel has been trimmed, the sexy women are reduced to two (one, really), and the humor is felt rather than uttered.  Even the Bond “How will he escape?” mousetraps are infrequent and pedestrian.

And yet, I like the movie.

A better way of viewing this movie, if not all three of Daniel Craig’s films, is as an alternate storyline within the James Bond “universe.”  Things are different today, as Skyfall reminds us.  Villains have changed.  Their means of wreaking havoc have changed.  The characters remain, but their time, place and abilities have changed. 

Skyfall keeps a nutty villain, but much more emphasis is placed on the characters themselves, which is a good thing.  Smart people and computers are enough of a threat in 2012, and although Turkey, China, and Macau are briefly visited, there’s no better place to learn about Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny and MI6 than within London itself.  And there’s ample old buildings to make the cinematography worthwhile.

Having lost his life love in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall introduces and then removes his remaining emotional link to the world around him.  I’d like to see Daniel Craig one more round, rebooting his character to reopen a worldview beyond the grim.  He brings a physical strength and believability to the role that his predecessors, save Connery, have lacked.  MI6 and the surrounding characters are now set for the next 10-15 years of the Bond franchise, but... like all his predecessors, the question remains whether Craig is due for a reboot as well.

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

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Mark Knopfler – Privateering

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A bright spot in a year of few interesting CD releases is Mark Knopfler’s 7th solo release, Privateering.  I like the sound of that... a ship at sea, men conquering the elements, pirates...  Ah, testosterone, a song that surely signals a return to his wickedly fine guitar solos in Dire Straits days...

“Redbud Tree.”  That’s the first song on the CD.

Hunted down, I came upon
a place of ferns and grass
Gathered to a redbud tree
And now their footsteps pass

Redbud tree, shelter me, shelter me

Well, certainly there’s a lyrical hint of menace, but it’s delivered in solo-Knopfler style, that is, devoid of blazing solo.  It’s a rather slow, acoustic song.  Perfectly conceived, perfectly played, perfectly mixed.   It’s placement as first in a generous helping of 20 songs bears witness to the death of radio.

Well, then, what’s next.  “Haul Away”

Uilleann pipes?  Oh dear, it’s a flashback to Titanic.  Please, no!  Then “Don’t Forget Your Hat,” a blues rocker, with the harp competing for sonic space with Knopfler’s slide guitar.  Sigh.

Finally, “Privateering.”  Acoustic narrative yields to an accordion.  Sigh. 

Those sighs are my fault.  My head keeps reaching back to all of those songs Knopfler used to play, the kind where it was impossible to sit while prying emotions from his guitar.  His last four releases or so should have taught me that Knopfler is in a completely different place and that I should alter my expectations.

Well, hell.  I’m getting older, too, and damned if every song on this CD isn’t beautiful.  Is it much different from his previous efforts?  No, but... what he does, he does well, and he does it incrementally better each time.   Is everything worthwhile on 2 disks of music?  No.  “Seattle” and “Go Love” could go.  Others sound too similar to what we’ve heard before.  But there’s growth here, even if it’s allowing other band members to contribute more, adding several blues based songs, and giving over to fuller British folk treatments.

Lyrically, whether a love ditty, a narrative, a sketch of a person, thoughts of a place, or a humorous snapshot, this is a music for people who like listening to music.  Neither the words nor the music fight road noise well.  Privateering begs for headphones, or better, home speakers, for those who still have such things.  And danged if the songs with the uilleann pipes don’t tend to be the better ones.  I best go find my meds.

Recommended Songs: “Privateering,” “Yon Two Crows,” “Gator Blood”

4 of 5 STARS

 

 

Note:  This CD is not currently released in the U.S., but can be ordered from Amazon or found at more enterprising record stores.

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