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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Tree House Brewing

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The time frame was, shall we say, challenging?  The brewery opened at 5:00, and my flight was at 6:45.   Oh, and there’s a 50 minute return drive during rush hour, plus refueling and returning a rental car, the shuttle van to the terminal, checking a bag, and a sprint to the gate. 

It started innocently enough, calling a beer store to see if they happened to have Julius, from Tree House Brewing, in stock.  “No, they don’t sell anywhere but at their brewery, but we have lots of others blah blah blah.”  Two minutes later, he called my cell phone and said. “It’s really, really good.  You should go to the brewery.  They’re open today.”  Julius is rated a 100 on Beer Advocate, the best available objective resource on such things, and I love IPAs.

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So, I’m off to Hopson, MA, a dot on the map located fairly centrally, on that given day, of perfect fall foliage in rolling hills with farms.  Hey, there’s a farmhouse.  And there’s the brewery.  As it turns out, the brewer married the farmer’s daughter.

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See the people above?  They’re just hanging around.  That’s because the brewery isn’t open yet.  The guy on the phone said Thursdays are really, really busy, because it’s the first day they’re open and fans arrive with their growlers ready to be filled with fresh beer.  Eh, not so bad.

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So, what I thought were markers for a suggested line to form turned out to be the coolers belonging to those lounging at the tables.  Ah.  Airplane to catch.  I best stand in line. 

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By the time they opened, there were about 75 people in line; I was 17th.  Still being mindful of my flight, I admit I was more than a little worried.  But… the staff come out to take orders and pre-fill the growlers prior to the opening.  The guy behind me said, “Don’t worry.  You’ll be out of here in 10 minutes.”

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Nine, actually.  6 cans of Julius to go, please.  Sadly, it was much later that I reflected that although I purchased the limit on Julius, I could have bought other varieties as well.  The limits are not mutually exclusive, and my suitcase still had available tonnage before excess weight charges would have applied.  Ah well.  Perhaps I was too distracted by the shiny vats.

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And… after tasting the beer, I really should have grabbed a T-shirt.

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But, I had to wait until I got home to do that.  I made the plane with about 10 minutes to spare, and… I have to figure out my next opportunity for returning my refrigerator to its happy state below.  My three favorite beers are each within a whisker of each other, and this one… might just win if I were able to compare all three at once. Oh, and yes, there’s a slight orange flavor to it.

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