A Southern Christmas Haiku

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mists dance in the light -
children sleep snugly knowing
wondrous joys await
© Reese

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Rollin’ Golden Pub - 2015

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After 2014’s wondrous success of the Rollin’ Golden Pub, there was no doubt that it must keep on rollin’.  For any who might suspect that a rollin’ golden pub would present a significant insurance risk, not to mention a public hazard, you would be correct.  However, the RGP is simply a vehicle for sharing Captureassorted brews, offering, most typically, a platform from which to pour (the tailgate) and, in adverse weather, provide shelter from the storm.  Truly, there  is no mobility involved, until the present property owner becomes alert to their increased premises risk, at which point the RGP will roll on.

Rather than immediately delving into the details,  a statistical review may first be helpful to shed light on past experience and provide a predictive path forward.

 

  2014 2015
# of Pub Visits 12 15
# of Beers Sampled 34 63
Avg Alcohol % 8.6% 8.4%
Ratebeer Avg 98.5 97.1
BeerAdvocate Avg 94 91.7
# of Brewery States 15 41
# of Foreign Beer 4 2
Ratebeer 100’s 10 17
BeerAdvocate 100’s 4 5

 

CEO’s everywhere should be drooling.  For an extra 25% of activity, we almost doubled (185%) our output.  Er, intake.  That is the result of planning, endurance, dedication and beer mules.  What’s that?  Beer mules.  These are people we send on buying errands as they travel.  Friends.  Coworkers.  Direct reports.  Bosses.  Get ‘er done (check the link; no sexism here!).   However, our beer mules are more like beer bees, despite their faithfulness and utility.  This comparative article shows the type of competition that the RGP faces in our acquisitions.  Yes, brethren, we need your help for 2016!

In other results, we slightly reduced our alcohol by volume (ABV) consumption.  That wasn’t intentional, but if it makes you feel better that we’re not challenging our sobriety at the conclusion of a tasting, there you go.  And, on that subject, we are savvy enough to know that it is not the ABV that is the issue.  The percentage matters, of course, but it’s the volume that may imperil us. Don’t worry! We’re professionals at managing risk, thus:

RGP Bylaws

The following are understood to be the operating principles of the RGP, an IFG (Informally Formed Group) without legal standing, to meet approximately monthly at a publicly undisclosed parking space, for the tasting, enjoyment and subsequent judgment of beers reputed to be of the very highest quality or which, in a pinch, have a really cool label.

Forthwith, RGP members shall:

1.  Limit group consumption to a total volume of 72 fluid ounces, in due regard for preventing injury to public health and civility.

2.  The presenting host member(s) are required to arrange for suitable glassware and product refrigeration for each scheduled event.  And a bottle opener.

3.  A quorum is required for a standing event to take place, a quorum being defined as more than three members but fewer than five. 

4.  As requirements for IFGs are, by definition, not well defined legally, if at all, the RGP hereby establishes that its count shall be four members, such that the quorum requirements can be met.  Such is considered fitting and appropriate so as to not overtax participants with a deluge of e-mails, conflicts, cancellations, delays, etc. etc. etc. so that such good times may be first be scheduled and then enjoyed.

Henceforth declared,

February 16, 2015 Anno Domini.

*All beers for one, one beer for all*

It should be noted that our volume limit is not always exactly 72 ounces, but any variance lies well within our unstated margin of error.

Directly related to our almost doubling of output, our average scores by the rating agencies declined somewhat.  If we pursued “the best” as a sole pursuit, our supplies would be scarce and our gatherings infrequent.  We find our results to be acceptable, as the average ratings remain within the “Excellent” range as defined by the advising authorities.  Additionally, with consideration given to the supply chain difficulties of conniving rogues (see previously linked article), we achieved an exceptional year for our beerholders.

 

Like so many other entities, our results also indicate an intentional effort to keep American jobs.  We cut our imports by 50% and greatly increased our domestic purchases.  Supporting “local” businesses depends on where you are, or, for our endeavors, where the brewery is located.  As such, we  applied ourselves to supporting each State within the Beer Union.  In the course of two years, through our own reconnaissance and our tireless plying of obligations from  our beer bees, we have sampled beers from 46 of our States.  Plus, the District of Columbia.  Arkansas, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming… we’re coming for you.  This ambition is more difficult than the average reader may appreciate.  Our general “cut” line is a 90 score on Beer Advocate.  Certainly, we’ve enjoyed beers rated less, but some States can only get you so far.  Which begs the question:  If an almost unpopulated State like Idaho can deliver a beer with an 85 rating, what’s Tennessee’s excuse?

We demand quality.  And while the beers we tasted this year with a 100 rating from BeerAdvocate marginally increased, the Ratebeer result almost mirrored our increase in intake percentage.  Well done, troops.  And, in the course of the two years, we’ve had three of Beer Advocate’s Top 10 beers, and five of their Top 20.  In consideration of the high demand for these beers, some of which are available only at the brewery, it’s a strong achievement.  We’re golden.  Or orange.  Or, let’s just segue to Julius.  Absolutely delicious.

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That then, is the summary of our annual report.  We encourage you to click on our icon below for our full calendar year results, now doubled in size from one page to two, which will open an Adobe .pdf view.

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Dulles – My Favorite Airport

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I’ve been traveling significantly more for my work the last two years.  New places are good to visit, especially if I have time to venture beyond the local company office or a client’s facility.  In the pursuit of visiting places that are distinctively local and that are open after business hours, that typically leaves breweries.  That said, I’m not unaware of the places I pass by or through or other opportunities. 

I’ve been through Washington Dulles International Airport three times now. I was struck by the architecture my first visit, and on the third, I had time to take some photos with my fairly capable iPhone.  Among many historical footnotes, Dulles was the first to be designed specifically for jets, opening in 1962.  It’s said in Wiki that it is “highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight.”  Perhaps, as you can judge for yourself from Wiki’s picture:

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It is striking, but it is the interior that I favor.  The roof/ceiling is the dominating feature.   It’s made of precast lightweight concrete and hangs on tension cables (catenary) somewhat ominously without the support of any interior columns.  The roof is supported, therefore, only by the walls, which are angled outward to bear the load.  Considering the minimalist steel structures and the ample light, I’d call it simple elegance. 

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This is one of two airports owned by the Federal government, and from a visitor standpoint, this facility seems to be something they that did and continue to do right.  For example, they have likely resisted efforts to paint, finish, or otherwise artistically “improve” upon the unfinished concrete surface.   And, it has blessedly remained absent of any attempts of further finishing or decoration. 

Another favorite is the simple styling of the airline kiosks, which run the length of the terminal.  In short, it’s an old terminal that despite updates has retained its then “Modern Movement” retro look.

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The traffic control tower looks like a cross between an aircraft carrier bridge and structural Jenga.

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Elsewhere, the facility maintains a simplistic styling, with open sight lines and color consistency throughout.  Here we have a walking platform that looks suitable for sparring Jedi.

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That walkway runs above the passenger shuttles, which run within lighted enclosures.

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Where escalators are involved, it’s open areas that emphasize angles.

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Lastly, the color is maintained at the departure gates as well.

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The airport’s architect., Eero Saarinen, also designed New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport terminal and the St. Louis Arch (another catenary structure of a sort).  As well, he designed MIT’s Kresge Auditorium (a spherical dome of concrete set on only three points) as well as the MIT Chapel, a simplistic cylinder with… a moat.

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The Economically Displaced

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My career has offered the opportunity to visit all sorts of industries, manufacturers, wholesalers, real estate owners and more.  On the one hand it’s all very interesting to see how things get made and occasionally meet the people who moved ideas forward to create companies and, one hopes, personal wealth.  Back in High School, it didn’t really take a careful eye to discern those that were moving forward immediately into college or a specific trade based on their interest.  The rest… I really had no clue what their next steps were and didn’t dwell upon it.  Having visited employers over the years, I’ve seen the jobs that people take when they lack skills and/or a higher education.  In other words, I’ve seen a lot of crap jobs that I’m thankful that I don’t have to do.  Operating a machine press.  Fileting chicken breasts.  Sewing garments.  “Material handlers.” Rendering.  De-shelling shrimp.  Logging.  There are many more, which involve either the extremes of manual labor and/or mindless repetition. 

Wall-e

Thank you, Henry Ford.  Tradespeople used to develop advanced skills, guaranteeing their livelihood until the production line simplified tasks and made human labor interchangeable, increasing productivity and lowering per unit costs via wage reductions.  Fast forward to one of my favorite movies, WALL-E.   The people who have fled Earth are on a spacegoing cruise ship until the despoiled Earth may recover.  Over generations, they have lost muscle strength and possibly bone density due to space travel and the lack of a need to work.  Other than being obese and possibly lazy, a question is how appealing that future is, to recreate full-time and be served by robots.  As I occasionally think to myself, “I was born for a life of recreation but wasn’t provided the financing.” Drat.

That vision expectation demands, as underpaid (ahem) fast food workers would declare, social engineering solutions so that everyone by virtue of being born can enjoy their deserved bounty.  After all, if the Kardashians get all the toys, why can’t everyone?   Closer to reality, I have a broader appreciation of the trends I’ve witnessed… exporting of jobs due to global competition and lower wage costs, warehouses with automated picking and sorting equipment, individual tasks replaced by robots that are safer, more efficient, and reliable, etc.   For a business owner, there’s a lot of pressure to provide products at a price that will sell.  Quality has to be exceptional to command a high price (iPhones) or productivity has to be super efficient to make a profit in intensively competitive products (Amazon).  Viewed another way, if you were a business person, would you prefer a larger workforce with the assocaited wage increases, increasing benefits costs, vacation schedules, absenteeism and a host of other issues, or a more predictable production environment aided to the greatest extent possible by automation?  At a minimum, those tasks that do not require skills  or are repetitive are ripe to go.   Need that chicken cut up into sections?  Get a robot with appropriate software to scan it, analyze and calcualte the optimal cuts, and engage a high pressure water jet to cut and trim it.  While you’re at it, build a smart conveyor system that sorts and sends the parts to the next stage, be it breading, packaging, individual quick freeze, etc,   Multiply that by however many production lines there are and…  you’re not only competitive, but as a business owner, you’re probably profiting more.   It’s not just manufacturing, wholesale or agricultural jobs where machines are dominating.  Driver-less taxis may be next.

How about logging?  It’s difficult and very dangerous work.  Can it be automated?  You betcha.

 

In this case, that machine displaces three additional employees in a crew, and outproduces manual methods by a high multiple.

Well, those are just issues for unskilled laborers, right?   Not so fast.  Let’s say you’re young, not worried about eye diseases but want a new prescription.  Get out your smartphone.  Buy an app and save on the expenses of an optemistrist visit.  Society (and parents!) has encouraged its youth to get into high-tech, and they’re great at it, writing code that essentially replaces the “thought product” of humans and coupling it with systems that work great… while displacing people from their jobs or occupations.   Here’s a lengthier article with some specific examples. 

I’m not arguing for/against or assigning blame.  Economic disruption doesn’t just upend businesses, but people as well.  We all know that from the impact of a Wal-Mart in a small community, the same Wal-Mart we shop at because we’re controlling our personal costs just like employers.   Still, for the moment, it seems that the people with “job security” are those who build automation and can service/repair it.  For a time.  A healthy consideration should also be given to the trades that affluent or well educated parents would caution their kids to avoid, but plumbing, electricians, etc… those are jobs that require skills and knowledge… and can’t be automated.

As the media wage war on the Top 1% of wealth holders vs. the rest of the population, I’d expect the wealth gap to worsen… and we’re reminded regularly that it already is.  Perhaps that’s the result of technological advancements moreso than the attributed uncaring greed.  If Wal-Mart is going to sell your favorite product at a price you can afford, the suppliers have to reduce their own costs.   Taken to it’s logical end, how do all those displaced people get by?  Taxation of the 1% can’t feed, clothe, and shelter the… let’s say 80%.    Where the dispossed become suitable numerous and motivated, societal upheaval ends may be ugly.   Well, I’m cheery today, so let’s see what Steven Hawking is getting at when he warns of “technological socialism.”  The headline gets it wrong, but I’d generally agree with the possibility that he suggests.  We’ll always have our poor, but the recent downturn in the economy displaced many who could not and still can not find jobs to return them to their prior incomes.  Certainly part of that is economic shrinkage, but faced with cutting employees, consider the improvements that companies made in efficiency out of the pure necessity of it.  Leaner management, smarter operating systems, fewer positions.  

And finally, an article about paying people for being alive, something which we do for a sizeable portion of our population already.  With this kind of progressive thinking, the future is awesomely bright for mankind on all fronts.  We just have to figure out who will pay for it, and leave WALL-E to clean up the mess.

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All Them Witches–Dying Sufer Meets His Maker

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Another year comes to a close, and… this just in.  All Them Witches is a Nashville based band that has everything to do with happenstance location and nothing to do with stereotypes.  Dying Surfer Meets His Maker is an odd title but also aptly named.  If you’re thinking sort2015-1-2-2 of a stoner, hippy, psychedilc sound based on the “Surfer,” you may be right.  If you’re thinking of the Silver Surfer and a jam band that makes the sounds for traveling through space to an ill end, you may be right.  I’ll tend with the latter, due to the band’s motif of “stars.”

This is an interesting album, one that improves with each listen and one that fares best when heard as a whole.  I’m undecided on “El Centro,” that promises much with a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club aggression, heavy, dark and ponderous.  But at 8:25 in length, I expect it to go somewhere.  This varies a little but never has a payoff.  Maybe hippies like it that way.  To me, it whets the appetite but ends up sounding like filler.  Skipping that song, though, what an enjoyable album this is, part instrumental jamming, part tightly writen song structures, with obtuse lyrics or spoken word passages that suggest a liveable disappointment regarding an acknowledged but inaccessible god… maybe. 

Whatever.  The music is great, and this album is built to be heard as a whole.  There are highlights, certainly. “Mellowing,” an acoustic instrumental, is where the album begins to soar.  This serves as a beautiful prelude to “Open Passageways,” one of the album’s two standout tracks.  Similarly, the curiously titled “Instrumental 2 (Welcome to the Caveman Future)” serves as a preparation for “Talisman,” the song that captures the spirit of the whole endeavor perfectly. 

I’m hoping this CD will keep my interest, and as their limited past recordings suggest, they’re already evolving, developing an intentional focus.  I want to hear more.

Suggested: “Talisman” and “Open Passageways”

4 of 5 STARS_thumb

 

 

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Decatur CD

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I remember at the dawn of CDs a music enthusiast who lived his dream by opening a store named Atlanta CD, a bit of a misnomer as it was located in Roswell, GA.  It was a treat because... they had a store full of CDs, not a rack of CDs amid rows of vinyl.   Those vinyl albums sold for $7 and CDs sold for twice that, but cleaning vinyl discs, while a labor of love, is a labor, as is flipping it over after 20 minutes.  And despite best practices and intentions, a snap, crackle or pop may appear which I can only characterize like this:  You’re in this listening “place,” then you’re cast from it immediately, once for the interruption and twice for the desperation to determine if further cleaning would remove the blemish or if you were stuck with it forever.   So, yeah.  Double me up on that pricetag.   That was circa 1987, and I guess I didn’t travel often enough from Birmingham to keep Atlanta CD in business.  It wouldn’t be a sole occurence in the years to come.

I was recently in Decatur, GA for a concert, and decided to opt for a quick detour to metro Atlanta’s only remaining quality CD store.  Yeah, Best Buy still has a rack of best sellers that is replenished annually for Black Friday, and used CDs can be found everywhere in a few remaining stores that sell comic books, action figures, DVDs, Blurays, gaming cards and anything else that might touch the wallet of the presumed demographic.  I called ahead to see if they had the CD I wanted, from an obscure band who had only been released it several weeks earlier.  They did.  I asked how much it was, and was asked/told “how much you got.”  I could hear the tension, and I understood it. 

Why does anyone buy something from a retailer?  This depends on the product, but it comes down to a “I want it now” price vs. “Wait for it in the mail” price.  I’m willing to pay more to support a local business, but, truthfully, that difference is not stricly defined.  It depends.  And, as I don’t live anywhere close to Decatur, this isn’t a decision that I have to make that regularly.

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When amazon.com arrived some years ago, I thought it was the savior for my music purchasing interests.  Big-box retailers with massive selections like Tower or Virgin weren’t convenient, and smaller chains like Turtle’s maintained selections that primarily met the needs of people who listen to pop music or who were, like me, replacing thier albums with CDs.  And never mind going to a Record Bar or Musicland in a mall… $18 for a CD?  egad.  But for me, spying that imported copy of Renaissance’s “Song for All Seasons” made me a spiritual disciple of searching “the big river.”  For whatever reasons, other countries led the U.S. by far in converting  more obscure works to CD, the very things that were the target of my musical quests.  Amazon became a habit, but it still held second place for new releases.  New music demands a listening asap.  And that could be found in some store down the street.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, continues to push at innovating online retailing.  My “Wait for it price” has surprisingly not increased as the competitors are essentially banquished.  Whatever reservations I had about paying Shipping & Handling seem to have vanished now that I pay a good chunk for Amazon Prime, a sum that I probably come out ahead on but haven’t taken the time to study.  And whether it’s the USPS delivering on Sundays or Bezos’ investigation in having drone deliveries, having to wait means less, especially in areas where Amazon now offers same day delivery (not to my street as yet).  He’s disrupted commerce by providing products and services in a new way, and he recognizes the potential for others to disrupt his model.  I won’t enter the ethical argument of displaced business owners and their workers.  I feel for them all, just as I feel for production methods which keep workers unskilled.  But. 

That “but,” multiplied many times over by the CD buying public, has netted Atlanta one quality CD store… that result no less because of a full generation of those who prefer digital streaming, iTunes, etc.  (Note, there are several other notable CD stores remaining in the area that others may prefer, but I’m confident in the line between “notable” and “quality.”)

So what is a quality CD store to do these days?  1) Charge a fair price,  2) Maintain an inventory that people desire,  3) Know your product, and 4) Treat your customers well.

Well, they had my CD.  It was the owner, Jerry, who took my call, and he offered to hold it.  Deal.  I had a few minutes to browse before meeting friends.  It’s not a large store, maybe 1300 sq.ft. of retail space.

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To keep with trends, he has some vinyl and some used CDs, but the main rack for my interests is at the right above.  In this and other visits, I’ve noticed that he maintains an excellent selection of CDs for artists favored by a discerning buyer.  You’re not going to be exhillarated by the Bieber selections here, if there even is one.  But, let’s say Robin Trower, a 70’s era guitarist who was exceptional then and remains so now:

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To find 10 different titles is amazing anywhere and unfathomable in a store of this size.  And that’s the secret.  Vary the selection, but keep the quantity simple.  You’re not going to sell two of the same title on the same day.  Sell one, buy another to replace it.  Listen to your buyers.  Know their tastes.  And add your own appreciation of music to the mix. 

I wanted to go ahead and start the disc spanning in my short drive from the store.  I slit the package, opened the sleeve and no CD.  No CD?  I’ve been buying albums, casettes, and CDs, in my reckoning, for 37 years.  I have never bought any of these to open the sleeve and find no product within it.  Until now.  Great.  I hate returning things, moreso for the “little guy” who somehow knew to stock “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker” by All Them Witches.  Anyway… Jerry, somewhat frequently referred to on Yelp as an amalgam of “old bearded guy,” apparently has seen it happen before.  Miracles, he had another copy, which he opened to verify that the CD was properly ensconced within and non-begrudingly sent me along my way.  That’s customer service, folks.  I hope he gets a credit from his supplier.

I don’t envision myself driving to Decatur any more frequently than when I go to Eddie’s Attic or the Decatur Art Festival, but I’ll continue to make time for this store.  Oh, and the awesome Brick Store pub.

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Windows Live Writer Won’t Connect

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I’ve searched the title of this blog a number of times over the years, always finding threads where Google points at Microsoft or vice versa.

If you found this page and are a bit frustrated, there is great news!  Microsoft, the absentee owners of Windows Live Writer, finally yielded the code to the aggravationOpen Source community.   The short of it is that the new equivalent, Open Live Writer, has Google’s OAuth 2 authentication system, which means… the software will synch to Blogger as it should, without you having to figure out where to find that dang link is to generate a one time “app password for less secure software.”

Announced Dec. 9th, Open Live Writer works now, and I trust that it will only get better.  You can read more about the technical details and download a working copy (for free) at the .NET foundation.

This whole “issue” for bloggers is somewhat stupefying.  First, that across blogging services, there are really very few blogging options when it comes to third party software choices.  I’ve tried several, they all have various shortcomings so that no one is fully satisfied – and generally suffer for lack of updates.  Where Windows/Open Live Writer shines is importing and placing images, which is more complicated or inconsistent in other software.  It seems like competition would have netted a better product by now.

The second surprise is that Microsoft essentially let it go for free.  There are many who use this product, and it’s surprising that someone somewhere had not offered a few bucks for it… a while ago.  I’m not complaining with this good news.  My blogging is likely to increase now that I have a way to write that is familiar and compatible to my needs (and works).

I don’t blame Google, whose free Blogger service I use, for improving their authentication systems.  However, for a company that profits from their search engine, I’m surprised that they hadn’t devoted some attention to improving thier own direct blogging interface at the Blogger site, which has a bare minimum for WYSIWYG entry. 

Whatever.  I look forward to seeing the software evolve, finally.

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Ralph Stanley - Live at Eddie's Attic

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That, ladies and gentlemen, is false advertising.  I admit I'm not a Ralph Stanley fan.  I hadn't heard his name or his music before this show.  I'm a music enthusiast, though, offered a quite affordable evening out.  I like some bluegrass music but not enough to know the history of it.  It's easy to research that Dr. Stanley holds an esteemed position within that genre, beginning with The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys.  Accolades include a National Heritage Award from President Reagan, National Medal of Arts by "W" Bush, a member of the Grand Ole Opry, inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame... etc.   

This was his 6th annual appearance at Eddie's attic.  There was an enjoyable opening act who played 6 or 7 Christian songs on solo acoustic guitar, thankful for the opportunity to play at Eddie's for several days.  Next was a bluegrass band whose name I didn't catch but who had received the Dove Award, a music award specific to Christian music.  They were pretty good, but played too many songs for a second opening act.  The leader of the ensemble had recounted a story of being two years old, on stage and holding the leg of his "paw paw" then played a song about him.


And, after he called his "paw paw" to the stage, it still took more than a few seconds to realize that this was the Clinch Mountain Boys and "paw paw" was Dr. Stanley, though noted to be a little under the weather and with recent stomach surgery... but he wanted to be there for his fans... 


Well, there he is, singing "Man of Constant Sorrow," a song he popularized in the 1950's.  I'll have to say that I'm glad to have heard him sing it, even it was less than a two minute version.  The next couple songs I don't recall, but both required his grandson to kick start his memory of the verses.  Then it was time for the intermission which invited quite a line of people seeking his autograph and photo. They're the purists called out for an event like this, a chance to see an 88 year old legend.  We had seats in the front row and decided they would be better enjoyed by others who desired to be closer to greatness.  Er, it was a work night.

The first half, at least, did not have any Christmas music either.  Maybe the second half did.  The Clinch Mountain Boys were an enjoyable, talented group though, with three of the members having released their own CDs.  I know I'd enjoy it more with Alison Krauss on lead vocal.

It was a pleasant evening, but going forward, they should advertise the Clinch Mountain Boys and note a possible appearance of Dr. Stanley.  I have no disrespect for the performance, but none of us anticipated his present infirmities, which appears to have advanced significantly in the last two years based on YouTube videos.  




... which actually doesn't fare too poorly against a young Bob Dylan in his first televised performance in 1963.


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David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock

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I’ll never complain that David Gilmour has released something new.  I like his guitar style so much I’ll buy his product unheard.  He delivers that on Rattle That Lock, not in an unsparing way, but in, sadly, too songs that are too subdued and melancholy to be revisited often.  Track by track we’ll go:
“5 A.M.” – a nice way to wake up, but not the ideal mood setter for a CD.  It too closely recalls the recent Endless River coda by Pink Floyd, a lifeless meandering of soothing sounds.

“Rattle That Lock” – I would prefer that he hadn’t taken an 80’s pop approach to this song, particularly the synthesizers, but the tune is decent.  Gilmour’s voice barely manages the strain of the higher notes, but the guitar sees this song through.  In the canon of playlist worthy songs, this one is good for a short season. 

“Faces of Stone” and “A Boat Lies Waiting” – “Faces” has its  moments, but in another era, both of these would be known as album filler.  If anyone listens to the album enough, maybe they’ll become more appreciated.  The tone they set, however, is to deflate any sense of pace.

“Dancing Right in Front of Me” is an offbeat waltz of a song, distinctive stylistically yet finding ample room for his guitar, not quite a gem, but not too far, either.

Gilmour’s guitar salvages “In Any Tongue” which is to say that the solo sounds like it might fit in any of his better songs.  That’s good enough, right?  “Beauty” follows, an instrumental song that might have been borrowed from Floyd’s The Division Bell.  It’s good, though unfortunate that you have to wait for two minutes for the lift.

Although the overall tone of the album is a little too slow and meandering, it does venture into quirky instrumental flashes, if not overall styles.  “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” is a jazzy number that is completely different from anything he’s done before (such as featuring a sax and refraining from a guitar solo), and judged outside of expectations, it’s a real treat…

“Today” continues with visible signs of life.  There’s a lot to like about it, including the tune, backing vocals, and guitar… but there’s nothing to love about it other than it’s not listless.

“And Then…” is a typical Gilmour instrumental – beautiful, showing the craft that his fans have come to love… and requisitely slow enough for his slow slide technique to have its space.

Overall, this is an okay album.  It won’t appeal to fans outside of the Pink Floyd universe, and those, like me, are just thankful to hear something new, even if it isn’t what we hoped for.  The answer isn’t a Roger Waters, but some collaborator with the gumption to remind him that at 69, it’s still okay to rock.  I wonder if he’s met Robin Trower…


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The Man in the High Castle

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I have found that, given the time, I like “binging” on a TV series, and moreso when an entire season of shows is released at once, such as Netflix’ extraordinary “Daredevil.”  Amazon has been in the production business  competing against Netflix, Hulu, and any other competitors or disruptive newcomers.   Maybe it’s the advertising, but “The Man in the High Castle” is the first that I’ve watched of theirs. Or, maybe I’m a sucker for new content uninterrupted by commercials.  Whatever.  I’ll take it.

It’s based on a Hugo (science fiction) award winning novel released in 1962.  Essentially, it’s an alternate history based on the Axis powers having won the war, and as a result, the U.S. has been split into zones, with the Nazi’s holding the eastern two thirds of the U.S. and the Nipponese on the West coast.  And, there’s all sorts of tension afoot, such as Hitler’s failing health, Germany’s superior technology should they wage war against Japan, and, let’s face it, it’s just stressful for everyone living in a fascist State.  Throw in films made by an unknown party that show alternate past and future events, and the sci-fi factor further unsettles what is already a changed world.  If the film showing triumphant Allies is real, what happened?  Or, is the depiction of a person in their character a sealed fate? Or open to change?  These are ultimately intended to be delivered by the resistance to “the man in the high castle” who may be the one who created them or someone who wants to watch them.  It’s never really made clear.   We do eventually arrive at a man viewing the films, but not the titular one, I think.   The show takes some liberties with the plot, simplifying it some regards, but also restructuring it for an open-ended number of seasons depending on interest.  Without plot spoilers, it certainly ends with a twist (with a capital T). 

We have the “good” guys – a lady whose sister is killed while trying to transport one of those terrible films, that’s Juliana, who I suppose is the protagonist but who is essentially the vehicle for moving from one crisis or aha moment to the next.  We like her because she’s resisting the evil around her, even if not believably so.  There’s Frank, her boyfriend.  He takes a licking and continues to find ways to put his friends at greater risk.  And there’s Joe, a newly recruited resistance fighter who falls for the heroine, but otherwise suffers from the resulting conflicts between her and his Nazi uncle, who, of course, sent Joe on the mission as a spy.  Nevertheless, he makes better moral decisions than most in this tale of woe.

Then we have bad guys.  There’s Tagomi, the Japanese Trade Minister of the Pacific States of America.  Only, he’s a good guy.  And there’s a Chief Inspector Kido, the kind of cruel and sadistic police representative you expect in these situations.  He has no hesitation to torture or kill, but, dang it, we find out that he’s honorable.  And there is Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith – I guess 15 years of occupation can make a loyal American Nazi – and he suffers the same vices as Kido and, alas, the same virtue.  He’s also the cleverest (and most watchable) of the bunch.  It’s unfortunate that the other characters were not as well sketched.  Likewise, the script is not as tight as it could be – killer moments, pun intended, are too infrequent.  The period interpretation is pretty great with cultural references dropped periodically, and the production valumanhighcastle_home_top_storyes are appropriate for an oppressive environment, though gloomy, desaturated colors were already a tired artistic approach. 

It’s not great TV, but it’s enjoyable enough.  I like that Tagomi holds to his Buddhist beliefs, despite the “modern” mocking of others.  His heart is for the Empire, as it should be.  For the same reason, I like the aspect of Inspector Kido in that, as brutal as he is, he recognizes his role in the Empire, which requires as much self-sacrifice as “by the book” police work.  I like Obergruppenfuhrer (it’s a mouthful, but the actors say it with a straight face) John Smith as well.  Brutality is expected, but he has tested his morals in an undisclosed past event (likely his role in ethnic cleansing) and is unshakably resolved that Nazi rule is the best for civilization… even as he finds corruption within its ranks or is confronted with his son’s inherited disease that will someday result in a death sentence (a “drag on the State”).  And there’s Mark Samson, who is Jewish and dares to openly raise his kids in the traditions while in a Nazi State.  And, there’s, Juliana, who is searching for truth, justice and the American way as suggested by the secreted film, even though it’s never suggested how history might be caused to change. 

Nevertheless, these are all faith issues which ground the characters in a sense of believability, despite the challenges presented to each and unyielding forces against.  I may have enjoyed seeing a more action oriented alternative history, but that ship, or “rocket,” has already sailed.  It will be interesting to see where they take this in the next season.  But, if they keep playing an alternate version of “Edelweiss” to start the show, I’ll continue to fast forward through it.  Creepy.

 

3 of 5 STARS_thumb

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Sonny Landreth – Bound by the Blues

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Every guitarist has a voice, or should. As much as notes and chords sound out a tune, a vibrato here, a favored scale there, a bend of the strings, it all gives expression of the guitarist’s intent, never mind choice of instrument, amplifier or effects pedals.  Many guitarists are immediately identifiable; Mark Knopfler, Santana, David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, and Jeff Beck are some of my favorites – a few notes and I know who it is.   Landreth is another.  His genre is the blues, but his influences of Louisiana Zydeco music applied with his slide technique makes his sound extremely distinctive.
Sonny Landreth - Bound by the Blues - CD review
On Bound by the Blues, Landreth has five originals, two of which are instrumentals, and otherwise pulls out five blues standards, often played but waiting for his interpretation.  Also, as the title suggests, the mix of songs offers the opportunity to maintain a stylistic whole.  While this may seem limiting, the alternative is to risk offering an album with a couple of treasures (to be enjoyed by the iSingles generation depending on stylistic preference), rather than enjoying the album as a whole… like in the good ol’ days.

“Walking Blues” is a solid entry.  The Robert Johnson standard, as often as it’s covered, would, to someone who hasn’t heard it, sound distinctively “Landreth.”  The only negative here, as on the remainder of the album, is the submerged bass.  As his voice, guitar tuning, and even percussion live within the high end, the sound would be helped with a firmer anchor. 

“Bound by the Blues,” an original, is the mission statement, an enjoyable song throughout.  “High Side” is another original, and while the song is otherwise excellent, getting to the guitar parts are the reward for moving beyond an awkward chorus phrasing.  “It Hurts Me Too” is an oldie, played to perfection.

My favorite song is “Where They Will,” an original where all the parts fit, not the least of which is Landreth’s intent to rock, in relative terms, a bit harder than he has in recent years.  That’s true of much of this album.

The Skip James classic, “Cherry Ball,” is enjoyable and is well covered, but it less than it does when Skip James sings it.   But, they’re still Landreth’s slide guitar which makes it all worth it.  “Firebird Blues,” an instrumental tribute to Johnny Winter, where Landreth stretches his sound through the middle, but regrettably finishes with a lackluster, tried and true progression at the end.  It’s not bad, it’s just that the opportunity existed for something greater.

He returns to classics, “Dust My Broom” and “Key to the Highway,” which he dispatches with an aggressive relish.  “Simcoe Street,” an instrumental original, concludes the album ably.  I might argue it’s positioning and opt for  “Key to the Highway” as a stronger finish, but in any case, this is a very good listen.  Landreth doesn’t redefine any songs, he just blisters it where appropriate.  And that’s a good thing.


Recommended: “Where They Will,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Key to the Highway”
(rounded up slightly)

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Denny Laine – Live at Red Clay Theater

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There was a time when I was a sucker for anything Paul McCartney recorded.  As time moved on, I realized that not all of it was as good as I had once thought, but the remnants remain firmly as “guilty pleasures.”  Wings’ albums are a soundtrack to a period of my life in a sense.  A cool thing about albums was that they were of a size where inserting posters was possible, something McCartney did more frequently than most.  And… among other posters of album covers and rock stars, they got rotated on my wall space, such as this, from Wings’ London Town album, a guilty pleasure in its entirety.

Denny Laine live

So, that’s Paul, Linda, and who that adorned my wall?  Well, Denny Laine, a stalwart companion through most of McCartney’s 70’s output.  McCartney intended for his post-Beatles band to be a contributing band, rather than a supporting band for his lead.  As one would suppose, he selected Laine due to his credits in both songwriting and singing, most notably with The Moody Blues, who also opened for his prior band during a tour.  So as I scour the various Atlanta concert venues for potential holiday shows and beyond, there is Mr. Laine, playing three days later at Red Clay Theater in Duluth, an intimate venue with 260 capacity.  For… $15.  No brainer.

Denny Laine live

The Cryers performed as the opening act, then served as Laine’s backing band. They’re from New Jersey and feature another Wings’ alumnus, Steve Holley, on drums.  Drums are not usually my thing, but I’m always intrigued when I see one reading music as he plays.  They played a couple covers, including George Harrison’s “Horse to the Water”  and a few originals.  They’re better musicians than songwriters, it seems, but would afterwards deliver Laine’s music very capably.   Laine arrived looking a bit stiff, like he’d just woken, but once plugged in he turned to the microphone and belted out “I’ll Go Crazy,” a James Brown cover that opened the first Moody Blues album.  Laine was a founding member of the Moodies, who would later go through a major personnel change that led the band to a different musical direction and greater success.  Laine is well suited to the throwback rockers, as he would include others from the era including “Go Now,” a #1 hit in England, “Lose Your Money (but Don’t Lose Your Mind), “Say You Love Me” (later covered by the Zombies), “Boulevard de La Madeleine” (which was released just after he left the band), as well as a thankfully straightforward “I Wish You Could Love” which was a solo song from the 1980’s.  The Cryers added a good punch to each of these songs.

Denny Laine live

Laine seems to understand his audience, who, like me, came from a reverence of things Beatles, McCartney, and/or Wings material.  Helpfully, he doesn’t disappoint in conversing with the audience.  Each song gets its introduction, pointing to his successes while name dropping as appropriate.  The humor shared with the audience may be a variety of canned chatter, but it doesn’t come across that way.  Additionally, the jibing with drummer Holley let on that if you’re going to choose a band mate to share years with, Laine is probably a lot of fun to have around.   An off-topic trail of the Moodies led to a minute long attempt at “Nights in White Satin,” which.. wasn’t bad.  Notably, Holley quickly filled in perfectly with the drum piece.  The McCartney era songs were mixed, not in the quality of the songs, but in that Laine’s vocal range is better suited to those that he originally sang.  “Time to Hide,” the second song of the night, was a quick reminder that this is a guy who has belted it out in stadiums and arenas.  Where McCartney had sung the lead, well, age takes its toll, but McCartney’s not hitting those notes anymore either.

Enter Chris McKay, with whom Laine seemed visibly relieved to share the mic during the high notes.  McKay was new to me and probably everyone in the audience, but a little research shows he’s a musician, of course, and a reluctant but accomplished concert photographer.  In any case, he added a visible relish to “Live and Let Die” and “Band on the Run”  not to mention an active stage presence.  Those, as it turned out, would be the closers, as there was nothing to offer as an encore except a promise to meet people in the lobby afterwards.  I was hoping for “Richard Cory,” which was a highlight of the “Wings Over America” 1976 tour.

Denny Laine live

Otherwise, kudo’s to Eddie Owens Presents Red Clay Theater, which helpfully has been shortened to an otherwise mysterious EOP logo.  The facility is an old church owned by the City, but the venue has been upgraded since my last visit for lighting, and the sound is crystal clear.  That should prove to their benefit as Smith’s Olde Bar and The Masquerade shortly close their doors, significantly impacting the area’s available venues.

Denny Laine live

Setlist:

I’ll Go Crazy (James Brown)
Time to Hide
No Words
Say You Don’t Mind
Deliver Your Children
Mull of Kintyre
Listen to What the Man Said
Again and Again and Again
Lose Your Money But Don’t Lose Your Mind
Boulevard de la Madeleine
Nights in White Satin (spontaneous abbreviation)
Go Now
Spirits of Ancient Egypt
Wish You Could Love
Live and Let Die
Band on the Run

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Drive-by Truckers Live at Track 29

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This was the fourth time I’ve seen the Truckers, and I’m pleased to say that my confidence in them as a concert band is restored.  When last seen, they were making noise, going through the motions and without any consideration of sonic quality in a facility that allows it.  This time, they were making music in a facility that is challenged to provide it.  Track 29 provides an opportunity for Chattanooga’s music faithful to see shows, essentially in the absence of any other venue.  But it’s a skating rink.  Good things don’t happen to sound in a plain metal building.  The good news is that they’re relocating their brand to an old movie theater nearby.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

The Dexateens opened, an Alabama band whose bassist, Matt Patton, is also now a full time member of DBT.  I wasn’t familiar with their songs, but could make out enough through the sound system that I’ll check more out later.  A friend remarked that Patton was the smilingest bassist he’d ever seen, and he may be.  I think though, that he’s just really enthusiastic about making music and the life he’s living.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

The band dismissed their prior guitarist, and then-keyboardist Jay Gonzalez is now tasked with many of the band’s lead guitar work.  The keyboards sometimes get lost in their sound, so it makes sense that they use his talents to full effect.   He has a very unassuming stage presence, which is unfortunate because it’s easy to miss out on his contributions.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

When it comes to DBT, though, it’s really all about leaders Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.  Recent reviews reflect a consideration of the Paris terrorist attacks and resulting song selections, and it’s hard to imagine Hood without some sort of “peace, love and screw the f*ckers” monologue to go with it.  This night, though, it was just about the music.  It was pretty smartly selected, too.   There was an appreciated absence of the monotone narratives that Hood has gravitated to in recent releases and more of a focus on what has become anthemic fist-pumpers for the audience.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

Highlights for me included the speak-along “18 Wheels of Love,” “Hell No I Ain’t Happy,” “Zip City,” and, as always, “Sinkhole.”

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

These were all more enthusiastically enjoyed, in part, to the wisdom of bringing ear plugs.  It’s amazing how they moderate the speaker system and even make the lyrics more intelligible.  The only song that was lost was a new one, whose title I don’t recall.  It was fairly short, aggressive and otherwise, obviously, forgettable.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

The venue closes at midnight, due to its proximity to the Chattanooga Choo Choo’s motel rooms.  Given that, at 11:15, there were only 45 minutes remaining for an encore, Hood suggested that they skip the exit and return to stage for an encore.  So, the non-encore included four to five songs which happened to take the remainder of the available time.  “Zip City” was fantastic… the closer, “Grand Canyon,” aside from its personal fondness for the band, isn’t a great song for fans, but it does allow the band to stretch the piece, leaving the stage one at a time.  As a finale, it’s getting tired.  DBT has earned their fans and their career.  Here’s hoping they add some new classics to their repertoire.

Drive by Truckers concert review Track 29

Set list (not in order)
Primer Coat
Shit Shots count
English Oceans
Shut Up And Get On The Plane
Where The Devil Don't Stay
Hell No I Aint Happy
Sinkhole
Sounds Better In A Song
Let There Be Rock
Three Dimes Down
English Oceans
18 Wheels of Love
New Song
Heathens
The Righteous Path
Zip City
Grand Canyon

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Wild Heaven Craft Beers

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Another few months, and another Atlanta vicinity brewery visited.  I’ve liked a couple of Wild Heaven Brewery Craft Beers since they were introduced to the market, but at the time, they were made by contract by another brewery in South Carolina, I think.  Still, they’ve been in Decatur long enough that… well, you just have to wait until the time was right.

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And the time was right on a recent Saturday, when it was cool and cloudy and UGA was playing football.  As a result, it was a very low key visit though done with a small group of coworkers/friends (if you can imagine those being the same).  Anyway, look at the crowd!

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Wild Heaven has a slightly different take on their brewery visits, with three options.

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I chose #3, which included each of their year around beers, plus an option for one of their three seasonal beers.

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Except… they were out of the White Blackbird, which wasn’t likely to be a favorite anyway.  Instead, they let you swap it out for one of their three seasonal beers, from which I chose Autumn Defense, their (Oktober)Fest beer.

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They generally pleased me the more I progressed from right to left.  Let There Be Light was essentially absent a desirable flavor.  Obviously, it works for some multitude or it wouldn’t be a year around beer.  Maybe people that don’t like beer but feel obligated to drink it opt for that one.

The Emergency Drinking Beer has a catchy name (and an accordingly utilitarian can design).  I admit, my curiosity has been piqued for quite a while.  I think their description is apt.  I’d have it again, but I’d probably opt for a Bud Lime first (not a compliment).

The Autumn Defense was okay – a different interpretation of an Oktoberfest, which I guess is as it should be.  If you’re thinking I don’t like their beers, understand that usually I choose which ones I know will suit my preference, rather than a “taste them all” approach.

Which brings us to Invocation, which may have been their first I tasted.  Not quite rich enough to be termed “rich,” not so bitter to be named “bitter,” and not quite spicy enough to be thought “spicy.” But it’s a pleasing Belgian styled beer all around.

Next was Ode to Mercy, dark without a sharp edge to it, a beer that doesn’t have to be taken in small sips but objects to being taken at a mouthful.  Good stuff.  In fact, I had a pint of it afterwards.

Lastly (pun intended), Eschaton, a Belgian quad, had a roasted wood smell and… well, people can make up their descriptions.  It was dark, tasty, and by it’s nature loaded with alcohol at 10%.  I liked this just as much as Ode to Mercy, but… safe driving matters.

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Cask aged beers are the rage, and it looks like Wild Heaven is experimenting with a wide variety of alcohols.

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One of the other seasonal options was a sour beer greatly improved with a smoked flavor.  This randomly selected couple enjoyed it greatly.

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