The Third Man

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I walked after him
that villain that died with me.
With a third we struggled
on the road to Calvary.

Messiah! King! Savior!
Some of those people said
that he made the very tree
from which his cross was made.

We carried our own cross,
yet he could hardly stand.
It was clear then to see
the King of Jews was just a man.

I found it hard to believe
the claims his followers made
that this broken, disfigured man
would have saved us all someday

Two sides of the same face
we could see as we were tied.
We were all caught in pain
as they nailed us on either side

Why die together, we three,
if this man is who they say?
“Save yourself and us,” I asked,
but you turned His face away.

“He has no fault,” you said,
condemned justly are we.
To you He made a promise,
but what good is that to me?

I saw the clouds roll quickly in
and very soon He was gone.
I too followed and suddenly stood
in the presence of the Son of God.

How could one so holy
have been on a cross with you and me?
I didn’t know the face of god,
but you saw what I didn’t see.

Before Him now I see your joy,
by grace He set you free.
By his justice I am undone.
Who will remember me?

Luke 23:39-44

© Reese 12/17/96

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Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing

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Steven Wilson’s third solo release, The Raven That Refused to SIng, confirms his artistic commitment to consistently evolve.  He continues to work from a base form of progressive rock.  For the unfamiliar, this means that radio-friendly songs are unlikely and that the musicality is likely to be challenging to music lovers who prefer predictability in the music they hear. 

His last release, Grace for Drowning, was an intentional effort to embrace the pioneering progressive rock bands from the 1970’s, but modernize it with his trademark production values and insistence on inserting prog-metal or other stylistic insertions that abruptly change the songs’ flavor.  I liked it at the time and still do, but amid the breadth of his other recordings, I don’t find myself returning to it.

Wilson has been upfront on this new release that he wanted a more organic CD, less plotted by him and more open to the gifts that his touring band could bring to it.  What was unexpected for me was how much closer in feel the recording would be to the old prog bands, with overt references to King Crimson, Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Pink Floyd, the first three of which relished orchestral approaches of time changes, movements, etc.  To my ears, I wish a little more of the latter bands were heard, with their graceful transitions between musical sections rather than Wilson’s penchance for the abrupt. 

The CD begins with “Lumnol.”  At first listen (indeed, the first several), I didn’t take to the first 4:30 of the song. It’s not identifiable as a piece but rather a quickly evolving introduction to all of the band members’ talents.  It’s a strange start to a song; it’s a stranger start to an album.  Viewed that way, the section is a victim of instrumental hubris.  Many others have noted that the intro and the remainder of the song are amongst Wilson’s best instrumental compositions.    To me, this section sounds like a studio jam that could have been tacked on to any song.  As instrumentally intriguing as it is, it doesn’t relate.  It does bear witness that Wilson has opened himself to a jazzy improvisational approach.   The band has talent.  Let’s see what they can do with it.

And that’s where the remainder of the CD shines.

Shines darkly, that is.  Wilson’s inspiration for the set of stories was Poe era dark and brooding fiction.  This is a natural fit for his nihilistic worldview, first expressed here during an odd insertion into the intro jam:

Here we all are born into a struggle
To come so far but end up returning to dust

The lyric for the major portion of the story reframes the social commentary of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung into an individual one.  A street panhandler plays old songs on his guitar, going through the motions having never tasted inspiration himself.   Metaphorically, he’s a living ghost, unseen by those around him and living a life unlived.  The song’s title suggests it’s a crime that he didn’t try.  Wilson has been clear that within a finite life, each person should live life fully, and this reads as a commentary on the untold millions who work, watch TV every night, go to bed and repeat.

Instrumentally, Wilson’s band brings their virtuosity into focus now that there is a purpose, and it’s a very engaging listen.  I might point out Govan’s excellent guitar work, but that would minimalize others’ contributions. 

“Drive Home,” a narrative involving a fatal car crash and survivor’s guilt, feels like the loser in a contest with “Time Flies” from Porcupine Tree’s last release, The Incident.  Still, it’s a beautiful song featuring a soaring guitar solo and is the most likely song on the album to fit within a random shuffle play.

“The Holy Drinker” has a title that pretty well sums up the lyrical dispatch: a hypocritical preacher is addicted to alcohol, tastes his last drink with the Devil presiding, and goes to hell.  Musically, this piece is diverse, heavy on the keyboards, with details that reward the listener over time.

Wilson also sings differently on this release, tailoring his tone and delivery to the benefit of each song.  That’s most obvious on “Pin Drop,” where he clearly doesn’t sound like himself... ghostly, even.   The lyrics are cryptic at first, but they speak from the grave as a woman laments the violence that resulted in her marriage from a pin drop that she didn’t hear. 

Less violent though sadder is “The Watchmaker,” chronicling a man skilled at his profession who never found the mate he desired, married the one who was at least a comfortable fit, and arrives after 50 years together with unkind regret.  Wilson in interviews has suggested that he kills her and she returns to haunt him, but I don’t find the point clearly made in the words.

Eliza dear, you know there’s something I should say
I never really loved you but I’ll miss you anyway
You were just meant to be temporary while I waited for gold.
We filled up the years and I found that I liked having someone to hold

The song begins peacefully and beautifully but, of course, ends somewhere else.

Finally, there is the title track, a deeply symbolic one.  In short, a man near the end of life remembers his sister, who died when they were young.  She used to sing to him, and he imagines that should a raven which visits his garden sing to him, it would be her inviting him to join her in death.

This is a slower song that builds to a coda, and it’s beautifully captured on the official video release, which I’ve embedded at the end of this post.

Thematically, this is an exceptional album.  Wilson has created a concept album that doesn’t overreach in a story arch but rather dwells on similar scenes of ghosts, loss, sadness, and death.  Instrumentally, the music reveals new things with each listen, a harbinger of music that will be enjoyed for a long time.  It is rather complicated, but there are standout instrumental moments throughout which speak very favorably to his selection of musicians and their collective creativity. 

And, lastly, this release sounds fantastic.  Each instrument is clearly heard, and the sonic quality is exceptional.

I can’t help but wonder about Wilson’s next steps.  One might consider that he can see himself in similar roles to those he depicts here, incomplete. When emotion enters into his lyrics, he tends towards the negative, or, at best, an abstract depiction of love.  It makes me wonder how his music might change if he were as immersed in a passionate relationship with a person as much as he is with his craft.   He may not be capable of better than The Raven That Refused to Sing.

4 of 5 STARS



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Robin Trower – Roots and Branches Review

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Robin Trower, a gem of a guitarist who was more widely known in the 1970’s, continues his lengthy career with the release of Roots and Branches.  For the devoted, and that’s generally his entire audience, this release is probably welcome in that it generally holds true to basic blues/rock songs. 

As the title suggests, the “roots” are cover songs, and they’re quite the selections, as noted below, intermixed with “branches” which are new songs of his own.  Altogether, they fit seamlessly, as the blues is the blues, and the tone and production values here give a consistent sound to the whole endeavor... not that it’s been an issue in recent years.

I’ve never been much of a fan of “Hound Dog,” but his reworked guitar progression almost gets me there.  The lyrics are just too tired for my ears, despite the great effort.

The standout for me is B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone,” to which he applies the guitar tone he’s been heavily mining in his past two releases.  The lyrics emote, his vocals relate, and his guitar speaks what can’t be said. 

“When I Heard Your Name” is a pounder, the drums defining the aural “hook” while the guitar lead shapes around the lyrics.  Vocalist Richard Watts is, to my ears, a clear upgrade from Davey Pattison’s contributions on recent releases, and he’s a natural fit for the five songs on which he appears.  

Some might consider “Little Red Rooster” a superfluous challenge given its heritage of covers, but Trower clearly coveted this song.  This sounds like he plotted it for the longest time, shaping not just the howls of his guitar but his vocal delivery to make the song sound like it had always been one of his own.   He would have succeeded, too, if he had extended this rascal another 2-10 minutes.  Nailed it.  This is yet another of his abundant examples to the fleet fingered hordes that tone, control, and expression are where guitar mastery lies.

Next is a slower song that warms but never burns.  “I Believe to My Soul” is a good song.  It’s not filler, but it’s not the song you rush to hear, either.  The background chorus is a great root to the branch.

“Shape of Things to Come” shouldn’t be confused with The Yardbird’s similarly titled song.  It’s a good song, but it’s more rock than blues and slightly out of place in the whole due to its more intricate groove.   His guitar certainly has its moments, though, and that’s why we listen.

Maybe I’m just not that big an Elvis fan, but “That’s Alright Mama” is just serviceable for me.  I actually prefer McCartney’s version, thought the guitar punch and harmonica make it enjoyable enough.

“Save Your Love” slows the pace down again, and a minimalist organ lets you know that the quieter moments will speak the loudest.  And when it comes to Trower, those moments are a note by note thing.  Beautiful stuff, even if the tune and lyrics don’t set the song apart from the host of other slow blues burners out there.

“Born Under a Bad Sign” would seem a natural for Trower, and it is.  The guitar lead waits... and waits... for the vocals to give pause.  Then it rips loose and is too quickly bottled for the next stanza.   Why Trower felt it inappropriate to include a legitimate jam in this set is beyond me.  This song ends far too soon, incomplete even. 

“Sheltered Moon” is an immersive song, with great singing by Watts, minimalist backing guitar swells, and a deft, noodling lead guitar that plays in the depths.

The finale is “See My Life,” an unrevealing near-the-end-of-life sketch that allows him to stretch his solos beyond the blues conventions mostly held to through the record.  It’s a good closer, lyrically and musically.

Maybe I’m too picky a listener.  This CD sounds great.  It’s enjoyable through its full length.  It’s just disappointing that Trower felt it necessary to stick to a formula where the songs are allowed to say only so much and no more.  That said, six of the eleven tracks clock in at over 5 minutes.

This is a less exploratory than What Lies Beneath, and more consistent than The Playful Heart for fans of the “old” Trower.  For me, I like both of those releases better, where he seemed to be pursuing, if not the lost chord, that perfect tone.  Maybe next time, and I hope the next one doesn’t take a full two years to arrive.

4 of 5 STARS

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A Hex on Saturn

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There you go.  Saturn on February 26, 2013, from 360,049 miles away by NasA/JPL/SSI’s Cassini robotic spacecraft, which launched in 1997, which also includes a lander for the moon Titan.  I had never heard of the hexagonal formation at the poles, about which there is much speculation of velocities, fluid dynamics, vortices, and other such things beyond my patience to dwell upon.

Here’s the image with some coloring:

And here’s a size comparison someone put together.

This just makes me want to sign up for an adventure.


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Nathan Fillion Cracks Me Up

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Yeah, I watched Firefly on DVD long after it was cancelled.  Yeah, I saw the advertisements when it was aired, but I never made it a point to watch.  Yeah, it would have been a fantastic show had it continued for more than its single season and a moderately satisfying theatric finale several years later.

And, yeah, it was still a fantastic show even if it lasted only one year.  Fans are innumerable, calling themselves Browncoats.   I’m one, too, but of the closet variety, appearing only at any Firefly panel at Dragon*Con amongst the hordes who are much more likely to dress the part.

And, it was at one such panel years ago that Nathan Fillion, “Captain Mal” from the series, held court with his co-stars.   I’ve been to other panels with the co-stars.  They’re tremendously entertaining.  But Nathan Fillion is like a gas.  He expands to fill the available space.   Even when he’s not there, he’s there, calling the cell phones of panelists while he’s on a shoot.  He’s virtually there. 

It’s all tremendously entertaining, enough so that as a Sci-fi fan, I was, despite an initial disappointment that he was leaving the genre, curious as to what he might make of Castle, a crime drama.  On Castle, Fillion plays a murder mystery writer. No disappointment there.  It’s often hilarious with via Fillion being himself.  Either the writers are excellent, or Fillion creates or ad-libs many of his lines. Funny guy. I don’t foresee his acting career falling short, but should it, I think he has a writing opportunity ahead.

He’s regularly entertaining enough that he’s worth following on Twitter for a person who doesn’t tweet.

Following is a recent blast of tweets, cut and pasted:

  • Today I will be dispensing poor advice and over-simplified solutions to problems. Who's first?
  • I'm outta peanut butter. What should I do?” Get more.
  • What should I put on my rash?” Shame.
  • I have an itch. Should I scratch it? It's itching.” Make an X on it with your nail.
  • Me! Any advice for a budding writer?” Less budding, more blossoming.
  • How do I get my cat to love me?” Put tuna in your shoe.
  • I'm hungry. Advise!!” You aren't hungry. Your problem is being truthful to yourself.
  • I'm a grown man who's too shy to talk to women! Help me!” Humiliate yourself twice a day. The rest will be cake.
  • How do I get my teenage daughter to clean her room?” Wait 1 hour b4 she goes to a party. She can go when it's clean.
  • Iron my wrinkled clothes or buy new?” Throw out iron. Buy a steamer.
  • I have five kids and my husband wants another. Should I go for six?” At this point, what's the diff?
  • how do I stop receiving mail? getting bills is annoying.” Pay online. Save a tree.
  • I got a paper cut. What should I do?” Lemon juice, if you aren't a baby.
  • I'm 23 and struggling to find a job. How do I get mum to stop yelling at me about it?” Tell her you got a job stripping.
  • i wanna be an actress- parents don't approve.” Tell 'em you've decided to be a professional gambler.
  • llama or cat ?” Cat. Llamas spit. Unless you're into that.
  • I have a crush on an older guy, 17 years difference. What should I do?” Imagine dating someone 17 years younger.
  • Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?” Because just like me, they long to be close to you.
  • My neighbours are aguing outside, what should I do?” Download a crying baby sound and crank it.
  • I can't reach the remote, what should I do?” Go buy a new one.
  • I like a guy but he doesn't like me back. What should I do?” Like his friend.
  • My burrito was delicious but it's gone now. What should I do?” Put up signs.
  • I want more firefly but I've already watched all episodes + serenity. What now?! :(” Find an Internet support group.
  • How do I find my bliss?” It's underneath your purpose.
  • I keep unintentionally injuring myself, how do I prevent this?” Start intending it.
  • my ship crapped out in reaver space. Crew moral is low. What to do?” Sacrifice pilot.
  • My mom won't stop crying over her stupid boyfriend. I feel useless! What should I do?” Educate her boyfriend.
  • "Across the Universe" playing now. What should I listen to next?” Country roads.
  • my friends are having a feud, how can i help?” Pick a side.
  • will you be my dad?” Yes. You're grounded. And wash my car.
  • Do real men wear pink?” Would a real man be afraid of a color?
  • How can I persuade my mother to let me be a detective?” By finding some really great dirt on her.
  • why can't I make myself finish my novel?” Try blackmail.
  • I don't want to go to work, what should I do?” Find a place to live rent free.
  • how should I get rid of my pregnancy stretch marks?” Keep them to guilt trip your kids later.
  • advice for an aspiring actress?” Do things that scare you. Fail constantly.
  • I want to go into tv and film but I have no relevant talents that I know of, got any ideas?” Produce.
  • are you a good computer gamer?” We just say gamer, sweets.
  • Advice for a sleepy librarian?” Prop yourself up looking down at a book. Nap,wake, turn page, nap.
  • Do men prefer intelligent women or bimbos?” Men prefer women who don't need them, but can pretend they do.
  • there's a dead mouse smell. What should I do?” Dead cat smell will get rid of dead mouse smell.
  • If I swallow magnets will I be attractive?” No, but you'll point north.
  • my girlfriend is sick. What do I do?” Save up for a really good one.
  • Quickest way to catch Boy of Dreams” Set up snare in Field of Dreams.
  • how can I get my sister to watch#Castle?” Change the wifi password until she does.
  • what's the best thing in life?” To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women.
  • what would you say to a future teacher?” There is a 10 year delay on student gratitude.
  • How do I know for sure if I'm a Demigod?” Have they made a movie about you?
  • What should I do if I can't get my ex to leave me alone?” Tell his mom.
  • are you cheetah licious?” Remember. Cheetahs never prosper.
  • I'm building my own lightsaber...any advice on how to get started?” Toshi Station has the best power converters.
  • Are you a Highlander?” Dere can bee only won.
  • What's the manliest cocktail?” The Bloody Caesar.
  • What is your favorite book?” The one I stand on to reach the cookies.
  • I just turned 21. What should I do?” Pace yourself.
  • ok. what's the girliest of cocktails?” The Apple-tini.
  • how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?” The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
  • any advice for a grammar nazi?” Ending sentences with prepositions is something up with which you should not put.
  • what question cannot be answered?” "Are you still dead?"

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