Saturday, March 5, 2016

Don't Hate Me because I am Not Native: Fish Fries and the Labyrinth

I moved to St. Louis in December of 1998, a fresh eyed Californian grateful to be on a full ride. One thing that was immediately apparent was the massive amount of Catholic influence. I knew one Catholic in high-school, but it definitely appears to be the dominant religion here.

This influence colors the region in a variety of ways, there are Saints everywhere you look, and Lent means Friday Fish Fries. Somehow I managed to miss out on that action for the first 18 years of living here, but yesterday I changed all that.

To be honest, I may have attended one early on, but it was college, and I wasn’t a Saint, so things can be fuzzy at times.

But, before we get to fish fry, let me tell you a little story about a 37 year old watching Labyrinth for the first time.

For a while my circle was doing weekly movie nights. When they found out I had never seen the Labyrinth they lost their minds. HOW. COULD. I. HAVE. NOT. SEEN. THAT. MOVIE? Clearly, it was next week’s selection. As we piled into Julie’s and Vinnie’s living room, sprawling ourselves across coaches and chairs, I was ready to have my mind awakened, to witness the missing piece to my childhood, to experience cinematic greatness. What I saw was one of the most ridiculous, corny, films I had ever seen. The acting was horrible, and the production was abysmal, but they LOVED it. It was as if the seed that had been planted so many years ago, rooted itself so deeply, that it was altering reality. The memory of the magic was far greater than the reality of the movie itself. The only thing we could agree on was there was some SERIOUS moose knuckle going on. 

That was my fish fry.

From an outsider’s perspective, I think the fish fry is more about nostalgia than great food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t awestruck. I didn’t find myself lamenting over the flavors tangoing across my tongue. I didn’t stare down at my plate wondering how they made this magical fish like I have done when eating meals at Niche, Home (RIP), Southern, Juniper, Three Flags Tavern, and Quincy Street Bistro, to name a few. For the locals, the diehards, you are probably thinking I didn’t go to a good one. Well, that may be, but I went to the one that got the most votes on my SM poles, so some people clearly think it is good. And no, I will not say where I went. That is not the intent of this post.

The point is, I suspect the memories of those early fish fries, the running around the gym floor with your friends while your parents talked politics in their best Charlie Brown voices, the first bites of freshly fried fish after waiting in the eternal line, the greasy French fries that filled your hungry little bellies, those moments of freedom and satiation left such an indelible impression that you still look forward to the experience thirty years later. This, folks, is the magic of the mind.

Will I go again?


Teddy thought it was the best fish he had ever had, and Wendy Mae loved her shrimp. I don’t want to take that from them, but I’ll be going in knowing it is the Labyrinth, not Dead Poets Society

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Warning for Concert Goers: Don't Poke Papa Bear

First, no I am not turning this blog into a Dad blog. My wife and I are planning a parenting blog, but we are still trying to solidify the voice and title. We had a GREAT idea, and we knew it was great because someone already took it, so… In the meantime, being a step-dad is my current station in life, so it is bound to find its way into my musings. Luckily, this time, it is also about music.

Amanda and I are very big on experiential gifts, so this year one of the family gifts was to see Jason Isbell at the Peabody. Because I ain’t cheap, I got us good seats, like 10 rows back. The seats were perfect, patrons around us seemed chill, and we were ready for a great night of listening to our favorite as a family.

The evening kicked off with a rumpus set from Shovels and Rope. Always great to see a group really feeling it, and they were so gracious. I will say they were a bit loud for my taste, and not loud in the “get off my lawn” kind of way, loud in the we are a two piece so we are going try to fill the void with volume. This happens. Hell, I started running split amps when Corey Woodruff  and I were playing out as a duo. I’m not mad at them. I know why it happens. I am just saying the songs were strong enough to stand on their own without being propped up by volume causing uncontrolled feedback.

After a lengthy change over, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit took the stage, and we lit up. For the first time in the six times I have seen him, his wife, Amanda Shires, was on stage with him. There is something so incredibly moving about seeing a husband and wife perform together, when the looks of love are not a mere fa├žade. Plus with a budding 8-year-old fiddle player in the house, we were thrilled for her to be able to witness greatness. As they always do, Isbell and the band destroyed the stage. They were tight as a hipster’s jorts. Their joy and enthusiasm for the music could be felt everywhere in the room. They brought smiles and tears, bringing the house down with “Cover Me Up” which, by all accounts, was everything. It was shaping up to be a perfect night, and then there was the encore.

As is common, folks tend to inch their way forward during the pause between the last song of the main set and the encore. Some people bail, hoping to avoid traffic, while others clamber to get closer. The majority around me were sitting still, so I didn’t think much of it, but behind us was a row of folding chairs reserved for folks attending the concert with someone in a wheel chair. The row was vacant for the entire show, until the encore. That’s when things took a turn for the worse.

Behind us stood a very intoxicated Mid-Life Crisis Barbie, well into her 40’s and dressed for clubbing, and her friend I am Too Old for American Idol but I Think I Can Sing Barbie. Now, I am not mad at AI Barbie. You do you. If you are feeling it, sing your ass off. As a performer, we LOVE it. It helps that you were almost in tune, too. Crisis Barbie, on the other hand, not a fan. As the band returned to the stage, they eased into “Flagship.” As you will see below, this is not a rocker; this is a subtle ballad that begs to be listened to. Crisis Barbie didn’t see it that way. She was very content to loudly hackle and talk with AI Barbie. I kept my cool. Rolling my eyes and breathing, and then she dropped her drink, almost dropping it on my step-son. I gave a quick cutting glare, but still maintained. Then as AI pointed out what she had done, I hear Crisis say, “Fuck that kid.” I was in her face in a nanosecond. I am not entirely sure what all I said, but I know there was a “Shut the Fuck Up” and not like the way Elaine would have said it to Jerry if Seinfeld was on Showtime; more like Stone Cold would have said it to Vince McMahon. She gave me a couple “Fuck Yous,” but the only thing I heard from her the rest of the night was the rattle of her ice cubes against the plastic up, as she tried not to waste the remaining drops of vodka.

Now, I will be the first to admit I did not handle this situation well. I definitely needed to be more tactful. I envision she is telling stories about the asshole at the concert as I write this. Clearly she isn’t going to own that she was the asshole. Drunk people rarely do. And I know I made an impact because, at some point, her fella came to her side. Like many, I’ve been there before, where the girl I was with was running her mouth, justified or not, and I had to step in to end the conflict. When the show ended and the lights came up, he made eye contact and offered a “good show” fist-bump. This is similar to a bear showing a submissive posture or yielding space. While his mouth said, “Good show, right?” his eyes said, “Look Bro, I see you. I get that your arm is as big as my leg, and you are sober while my reaction time clearly is impaired. Let’s chalk this up to what it is: she’s drunk, and I don’t want to fight you.” I nodded and helped little man get his coat on.

While I regret the manner in which I approached the situation, I do not regret responding and, frankly, I am TIRED of people not doing anything; of people enabling this kind of behavior or biting their tongues because, “(s)he’s drunk.” In an effort to avoid similar situations in the future, I will offer a few tips. I am pretty sure I have written something like this in the past, but it needs to be repeated.

  • If your intention is to talk through a show, please stay home. People have paid good money to HEAR the performer. And, as a performer, talking is seriously disrespectful. What I have written has meaning, and I am offering it to you, so please listen. If you are more interested in hearing the sound of your voice, belly up to a bar somewhere without live music and talk until you are hoarse.
  • If you are going to the show because it presents a good chance for you to become intoxicated, please stay home. Think about the cost savings. That $80 worth of rail drinks would cost you about $25 at home with the good shit, plus you don’t have to worry about paying for Uber, or worse, driving drunk. You can be as obnoxious as you want and no fucks will be given. Well your friends may, but they already love you, so they’ll likely forgive you.
  • If you try to get slick at a show and move into some vacant seats with a better vantage point, realize you can easily be removed, so be on your best behavior.
  • Lastly, if you see a bear and his cub, don’t poke the bear.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Choosing Effort: Shoveling at 4:30 a.m.

Why did I shovel my drive way at 4:30a, filled with the fear of pissing off my neighbors as the dull blade scraped across rough concrete breaking the silence of early morning, you ask?

I mean I certainly didn’t need to. What appears to be a little more than two inches is definitely no match for either of our cars, and the driveway isn’t really steep enough to cause any issues with getting up it. In addition, Amanda’s school called off and I can work from home, so we really don’t need to leave the house today. And it’s Missouri. We’ll heat up above 32 this week, and it will all be melted by Friday. So, why, indeed?

Well, there are actually a few reasons.

First, the kids were getting dropped off in the morning, and I didn’t want them to have to walk through the snow to get into the house. That may sound pretty caring, like I am concerned for the warmth of their little tootsies, but I can assure you it is less altruistic than that. Have you seen a 5 year old and an 8 year old walk in the snow? It’s never just walking. As soon as the first snow boot hits the fluffy white flakes of good-times and magic, the bitter dichotomy of ecstasy and pain would descend upon that moment like Dionysus showing up to a party on a three day wine bender. It would only be a matter of time before someone would end up with icy tears and a face full of snow. Hell, even with the shoveled drive way that happened, but at least they didn’t track it through our clean house.

More importantly, it is the example I am trying to set for the kids. I want them to understand life, want them to realize life isn’t all snowball fights and snow-angels. I want them to know that their step-dad believes in hardwork, and, through my example, I am hoping they adopt the same philosophy. Not now, not when they are teenagers, necessarily, but when they are on their own trying to figure it all out. I want them to think back to these moments and allow them to be their guide. I want them to take pride in their property, as they have seen me and their mom showing our pride by keeping the house clean, the lawn mowed (okay, I have a lawn dude, but still…I work hard to pay him J), the and driveway shoveled. I want them to know that there was an easier way, a lazy way, to deal with this little snow storm, but I chose to deal with it by putting forth a little effort; I chose to deal with it the right way. And they need that. They need those examples because the car they were dropped off in was still covered and looked like Hailey’s Comet as it sped away.

Lastly, I would be lying if I didn’t say I find it somewhat cathartic, despite the fear of waking the neighbors. The silence of early morning. The snow glistening under a tired streetlamp. The cold air making nose run and cheeks rosy. The rhythm of the scrape and step. The sense of accomplishment as something that was once covered in snow is now clean. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Top 10 CDs of 2015 - #2 & #1

You have landed on the final installment of one singer/songwriter's list of the Top 10 Albums of 2015. What makes my list more important than someone else's? Nothing. Just some ramblings from me to you. Me giving praise to CDs that got me through the year. CDs that inspired me. CDs that I think you should consider for your own collection because I am obviously egocentric and think you should like what I like.

For those just jumping in. If you want to know what's come before, you can read the full blog HERE.

#2 Jeffrey Foucault – Salt as Wolves: My obsession with Foucault is well documented. The first time I heard Stripping Cane, I was moved in ways I didn’t think possible. He is the consummate poet. With each song he pulls back the curtains and allows his listeners to watch a new vignette unfold before them. While previous recordings have been acoustic forward, Salt as Wolves comes from the dirt, gritty guitars, driving drums, and open space. Foucault offers a respite from the drive with tunes like, “I Love You (and You are a Fool)” which feature a nice down tempo and a clean Tele telling part of the tale. “Blues for Jessie Mae” is another down tempo number with a thick slide for accent and subtle guitar riffs played in the distance while Foucault’s voice sits up front, inviting you to bear witness to the moment. Tremolo is used liberally throughout the recording, but I never tire of it. Salt as Wolves was cut live to tape in three days at a studio in rural Minnesota. The energy and precision that it takes to accomplish a task of that magnitude can be heard in the details. This is another recording where I cannot solidify the standouts. The disc works as a whole, each song supporting the totality of the movement. Foucault’s voice always sounds incredible, and this recording is no different, each tune features the thick, rich, sound of a father’s baritone, and while he is two years my junior, I would happily sit at his feet and let him teach me about life.   

#1 the Oh Hellos – Dear Wormwood: Brother and sister harmonies backed by an insanely large touring band complete with two drummers, three (sometimes four) guitarists, fiddle, banjo, keys, bass, and whatever else they want to bring to the show…what’s not to love? Right now, I need you to forget everything else you have read on my Top 10 of 2015 because this CD transcends all of that. This recording is about an emotion that is often foreign to me, joy. That’s not to say I am not happy. I am. I have a great life, a life I am grateful to have, but I don’t often stop long enough to appreciate it. However, when I put on this CD, everything disappears and I am overcome with this sense of exaltation. It is not just the words or the music. It is the energy that the combination creates. The album moves from moments of calm to sheer an unbridled exuberance, “Dear Wormwood” taking you through both in 5 minutes and 16 seconds. This often happens on my Top 10 lists, I seem to have the least to say about the #1. It’s because my reasoning isn’t explainable. It is an emotion that I have in response to music, and I am hopeful that you will have the same response when you listen to this CD. 


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Top CDs of 2015 - #4 & #3

You have landed on one singer/songwriter's list of the Top 10 Albums of 2015. What makes my list more important than someone else's? Nothing. Just some ramblings from me to you. Me giving praise to CDs that got me through the year. CDs that inspired me. CDs that I think you should consider for your own collection because I am obviously egocentric and think you should like what I like.

I am releasing two CDs a day in new blog posts until I get to all ten, so you do not have to bother yourself with scrolling to get to the new information. For those jumping in mid-list. If you want to know what's come before, you can read the full blog HERE.

#4 Alabama Shakes –Sound & Color: Well, you should know that the placement of this album at #4 has placed me in the doghouse with my wife. If Amanda was writing this list, Sound & Color would get the top honors, but she’s not, and I need to remain authentic. I love this recording and am continually impressed with each listen. They are spreading the fabric of soul, refusing to be locked into patterns and instrumentation. When incredible singers, such as Adele, are listing you as a favorite:

As a band I love their vibe, the way they look and interact – all with their own little character going on, but I'm obsessed with (lead singer) Brittany Howard. There's something about Brittany that puts fire in my soul. She reminds me of Etta James, Ann Peebles – she's so fucking full of soul, overflowing, dripping, that I almost can't handle it.
You’ve officially earned your badassery. Everything Adele says is true, as is every reason my wife has for Sound & Color being higher on the list, but the wall I run into is connection. At my core, I am a writer, as a result I am drawn to strong lyrics, lines like this Tom Waits gem, “And the sky turned the color of Pepto Bismol.” I want to peel back the layers. I want to hear phrases that paint pictures for me when I close my eyes. I want the details, what the room smelled like, how your skin felt, what you were wearing, who else was there. I want to be in the moment with every one of my senses. And while this album gives me all the feels, for the most part, my mind is blank when listening with shutters drawn. Sometimes music transcends lyrics. I appreciate that concept, which is why I placed it in the Top 5. If you are a music first devotee, feel free to drop me some hate in the comments. I can take it. I’ll read them while sleeping on the couch – jokes, I am too warm for my wife to kick me out of bed J

#3 City and Colour – If I Should Go Before You: Dallas Green is back and he dropped a CD that makes me weep. Of the CDs on the list, this is the one I would be most likely to have recorded, if I had an incredible falsetto. Sonically it sits between Alt-Country and Indie Rock with ample amounts of pedal steel and atmospheric delays. If I should… was a love at first listen CD. Often, when an artist I am obsessed with releases new material it takes me a while to warm to it, as I am still clinging to the love of the previous recordings, but “Woman” smacked me in the face, held me tightly, and let me know I was loved. The 11 tracks range from sultry to contemplative. Green provides a range of emotions for his listeners to experience. Like, The Hurry and the Harm, he refuses to shy away from discussion on the finality of this existence, something a lot of us 40 somethings are tackling this New Year. Standout tracks: “Woman,” “If I should go before you,” “Friends,” and “Blood.” The recording has a nice flow allowing an easy front to back listen and it spent days on repeat in my car.    

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top 10 CDs of 2015 - #6 & #5

You have landed on one singer/songwriter's list of the Top 10 Albums of 2015. What makes my list more important than someone else's? Nothing. Just some ramblings from me to you. Me giving praise to CDs that got me through the year. CDs that inspired me. CDs that I think you should consider for your own collection because I am obviously egocentric and think you should like what I like.

I am releasing two CDs a day in new blog posts until I get to all ten, so you do not have to bother yourself with scrolling to get to the new information. For those jumping in mid-list. If you want to know what's come before, you can read the full blog HERE.

#6 Jason Isbell – Something More than Free: Those that know me and follow my daily drops of music on Facebook, probably thought by name alone this was going to be #1. There was a period of time when I assumed it would be too. There is no question that I think Jason Isbell is one of the best, if not the best, singer/songwriters, and not of this generation, but of all generations. For years, Nighthawks at the Diner by Tom Waits was my all-time favorite CD, and then Southeastern happened; it assumed the #1 position. During his recording process, I remember reading Tweets from Isbell indicating that he believed Something More than Free was gonna be better than Southeastern, and maybe it is, maybe its genius is above me or maybe I am such a glutton for sadness that the vibe on Free just doesn’t hit me like Southeastern did. That is not to say it is not a great CD; obviously it is. I mean, it’s on the Top 10 of the year. Isbell continues to write songs that I wish had come from my pen. He paints pictures so vivid that I can see them unfold before me like 8mm shorts. “Speed Trap Town,” “Something More than Free,” “To a Band that I Loved,” and “Hudson Commodore” were standouts for me. I think what placed this mid-pack wasn’t the songwriting but the production. I am infatuated with the starkness of Southeastern, the woody sound of Isbell’s Martin, the way that it makes me feel like he is sitting in my room singing to me. I realize it isn’t fair of me to expect an artist to duplicate the sound of previous recordings, to stay in their foxhole for another 12 songs, but life ain’t fair and I love what I love. While Something More than Free reinforces the strength of Isbell’s storytelling and word choice, the distance of the recording prevented me from becoming fully obsessed.  Knowing how calculated he is, I am sure that there is a metaphor here, maybe the distance in sound represents the distance from his demons, and for that he deserves applause.

 #5 Chris Stapleton –Traveller: I am a fucking lemming. I’ll admit it, I had never even heard of Christ Stapleton before the CMAs and his breakout performance. And even then I didn’t immediately buy the disc, but after seeing it pop-up on some respected end-of-year lists, I followed the masses, and I am glad I did. This dude is brilliant. Sincere. Eloquent. Weathered. Earnest. And he sings with the soul of an old church pastor who has caught the spirit. I thought I was gonna get a disc with a bunch of throwaways, trite modern country ditties with weak metaphors and obvious pop-culture references, but Traveller is the exact opposite. It is timeless. I could listen to “Tennessee Whiskey” on repeat and never grow tired. “Sometimes I Cry” has me coming back for more with Stapleton’s husky voice at full growl and single coils screaming into a dirty amp, but “Whiskey and You” captures the starkness that I love so much, just a woody guitar, an incredible voice, and a story that plays on the strings of emotions coursing through my body.

One’s the devil, one keeps driving me insane
At times I wonder if they ain’t both the same
But one’s a liar that helps to hide me from my pain
And one’s the long gone bitter truth
That’s the difference between whiskey and you

Friday, December 25, 2015

Top 10 CDs of 2015 - #8 & #7

You have landed on one singer/songwriter's list of the Top 10 Albums of 2015. What makes my list more important than someone else's? Nothing. Just some ramblings from me to you. My attempt at giving praise to CDs that got me through the year. CDs that inspired me. CDs that I think you should consider for your own collection because I am obviously egocentric and think you should like what I like.

I am releasing two CDs a day in new blog posts until I get to all ten, so you do not have to bother yourself with scrolling to get to the new information. For those jumping in mid-list. If you want to know what's come before, you can read the full blog HERE.

As always, comments are appreciated, especially if you have a list of your own for me to read.

#8 Samantha Crain – Under Brand & Thorn & Tree: Samantha Crain has probably appeared on my Top Ten lists more than any other artist. She is prolific and continues to grow CD after CD. Her songwriting gets stronger, and she continues to sonically advance her music, making creative choices that prove she cannot be tamed. Under Brand & Thorn & Tree opens with “Killer,” lyrically earnest but musically whimsical, offering a synth part that tries to distract the listener for the subject at hand, “The killer of girls, the killer of self; turned the Garden of Eden into a fiery hell.” Her voice is as distinct as I have ever heard, and I have seen her pull it off live for years whether backed by full band or just her and her trusty Martin. The album is full of gems. Standouts for me: “Outside the Pale,” “You or Mystery,” “Moving Day,” and “Cold Hands.”

#7 Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi: I cannot pronounce it, but I sure do love to listen to it. I hate to say it, but a sad Benjamin Gibbard is better than a happy one. He was too content when he was married to Zoey, as evidence on Codes and Keys and his solo recording, both decent recordings, but Kintsugi is Gibbard at his best, scorned and passively letting us know it. Okay. I cannot prove any of that, but in my mythical land of star relationships this was a contributing factor to the brilliance of this recording. Of course, Chris Walla is also at his best on Kintsugi, and we are all still mourning his departure from the band, but the tapestry of sounds he has created is inspiring. I cannot stand this disc because every time I think I’ve solidified four or five standouts, I listen to the next song, and I am equally enamored. Lyrically, Gibbard is up there with Waits, Foucault, Isbell, and Farrar. He tells universal stories, and he makes them accessible to all while applying every poetic device available. Kintsugi deserves an hour of your time with headphones and no distractions. You’ll emerge better from the experience.