The Booty

I know Christmas is about love, and family and giving. But sappy stories about sharing hot cocoa with my honey make for bad copy. Here, in all it's glory is all the cool crap my wife got me for Christmas.

DVD Burner. I think I'll write a seperate blog on this. I finally got a DVD burner and it has done nothing but drive me crazy. The procedures to be able to burna DVD are mind boggling.

Frasier: Complete First Season – I stopped watching this Cheers spinoff after about the third season. It wasn't that it got bad, but I got busy with other things, mainly college. My brother continues to tell me how great it is, and my sister-in-law got it for me for Christmas. Five episodes in and it feels like a first season of a good show. So far there is a lot of character development and the growing pains of a show trying to get a feel for itself. But its funny, and Frasier is one of the great characters of TV.

Iomega 120 Gig external hard drive. Sweet, baby Sweet! I'll never worry about deleting a thing again.

Digital Ash in a Digital Urn: Bright Eyes – My friend the Duke de Mondo has been raving about this band for ages. This is a more electronic outing than I understand the band generally does, but after one listen I really dig it. Lots of Radioheadesque blips and beeps, but some strong songwriting with intelligent lyrics.

Cold Roses: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals – I've slowly been becoming a Ryan Adams fan. I've really enjoyed some of his singles and other songs I've heard hear and there. Lately some friends have really been raving about him, and specifically this album. A killer live shows I downloaded from sealed the deal. So far this album is brilliant.

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon – I've read a couple of Chabon's books and found them to be very well written and rather delightful reads. This is his modern take on the classic detective novel, using an unnamed character that acts suspiciously like Sherlock Holmes

The Losers' Club by Richard Perez – I had never heard of the book or the author until I was looking for books I wanted to add to my Christmas list. Someone on Amazon recommended it and it looked interesting.

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection – The first in a series of DVD collections covering the best of Looney Tunes. This one has a disk devoted to Bugs Bunny and another for Daffy Duck, with two disks covering the best of all the other characters. Best movie? The classic send-up of the Barber of Seville with Buggs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip – A lovely coffee table book detailing the Grateful Dead's 35 year career. Filled with loads of full color pictures, song details, tour highlights and a whole lot more.

There were lots of clothes as well.

More will be forthcoming as I have Christmas on New Years with my wife's folks, and Christmas in mid-January with mine in Oklahoma.

Confessions of An Easy Listener

I have been listening to a lot of internet radio of late. Time and time again, much to my dismay, I have found that the station I tune into is labeled as “Adult Alternative” or as I like to call it “Easy Listening for Generation X.”

How did this happen? I used to be hip, I used to rock. My CD collection was once filled with ripping guitars, pounding bass and plenty of punk attitude. I should have known it was over when I began humming along to Bruce Hornsby while at the bank. Bruce Hornsby? I love Bruce Hornsby, he freaking rocks. Um, no, they play him at banks, anyone played in a bank most assuredly doesn’t rock.

But really, how did this happen? How could my musical tastes go from The Edge to the old man? As usual, the answer lies in Willie Nelson.

I grew up in with hair metal: Def Leppard, Whitesnake, and Poison. Loud guitars, lyrics about sexy chicks and power ballads. I remember playing hide and seek with my cousins while taunting them with the chorus to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Many an afternoon was spent pondering the deeper meaning behind Motley Crues “Girls, Girls, Girls” (ok, so maybe the time was spent ogling the hot girls in the video, but still.)

I knew the Sex Pistols, Operation Ivy and Fugazi. As a teenager I laid my long hair on the floor and let the Smashing Pumpkins panoply of sounds whirl around my head.

In college I met, and subsequently fell in love with a girl by wearing a Dinosaur Jr. t-shirt. She was one of those Punker Than Thou chicks, always out to prove that her music was hipper, that she was cooler, and had more edge in her fingernail than I did in my entire body.

Without fail, every time, she beat me. Sure I knew who Jello Biafro was, and watched Gas, Food Lodging just to see J Mascis. I can name 5 Ramones albums and drove all night to see Sebadoh play at Tipatinas in New Orleans. But she walked circles around me in terms of the bands she had seen, the records she owned, and in general punk cred. I would always lose.

It didn’t help much that I also had a soft spot for Hootie and the Blowfish.

There was a break up. A long, hard break up.

Most people would have retreated into the loud angst of punk and metal, letting their middle finger of attitude kick out the hurt and loss.

Instead I found Willie Nelson’s subtle, quiet and aching album “Stardust.”

For months, every night after the breakup, I retreated to a friend’s place who was also experiencing The Heartbreak.

We would sit up well past the After Hours burning candles, lighting incense, and letting Willie sing our blues away. Often we would talk and curse and holler about the stupid whores that left us. More often than not, we would sit and think and listen.

Stardust is an album of covers, Willie Nelson’s favorite songs. Standards and classics like “Sunny Side of the Street” and “Moonlight in Vermont.” Songs that have been sung a million times, by a million voices; yet Willie sings them like they have never been sung before, as if they were the greatest songs ever sung. And we believe him.

I think I turned away from Punk music because it reminded me of the girl. The anger and the angst didn’t bring me release, only more pain. In something softer, in Willie Nelson, I found the emotional release I needed.

My CD collection is embarrassingly light on the rock and the roll. Gone are the Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, and Alice in Chains. Now the shelves are filled with Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett and Lucinda Williams.

Periodically, when those pissing matches on who is the most punked punk around get going, I get a little nostalgic for my youth. I break out my old Sonic Youth records, crank up the stereo and feel way too inadequate to jump into the argument.

Adult Alternative listeners just don’t have those types of conversations. No one boasts of seeing Bill Monroe before he got too commercial. Blood is never shed at a folk festival. Hipsters aren’t saving their sweaty t-shirts they wore when they saw Robert Earl Keen at the Tennessee theatre back in ’88.

There just isn’t the attitude with a folk audience. We bring our families, dance with our kids and talk about the weather between sets.

Whenever I start looking in the mirror wondering how I’d look with a nose ring, or a snarl begins to creep upon my lips I turn on Gillian Welch singing “Snowin’ on Raton” or Lucinda William’s “Jackson,” then settle back and tune into the Adult Alternative station.

I’ll never be punk again.

Friday Shoes

One of the few things I bought for myself before leaving France was a pair of tennis shoes. European footwear is a bit different than their American counterparts. Where our tennis shoes tend to come in either white or gray, with a flourish of brighter colors in small flashes, European shoes are often very bold, bright and colorful.

I decided I wanted the most obnoxious pair of shoes I could find. So I got a pair of bright, neon yellow and green Adidas. They are fantastic!

As with many American companies, the workplace to which I am employed has casual Fridays. On this one day of the week I am allowed to dress down as it were and wear blue jeans and tennis shoes.

Being that my Converse Allstars now have a big gaping hole in the sole and that I left my only other pair of tennis shoes in France, I generally wear my obnoxious Adidas on Fridays. Everybody at work loves them. They have become my Friday shoes. Without fail, every Friday many people at work comment on my Friday shoes and laugh at how bright they are.

These shoes have become such a big deal that when I don’t wear them on Fridays, everybody is disappointed. Towards the end of Autumn I decided to wear my sandals on Friday, knowing the end of sandal season was coming soon. As soon as I stepped into the door I got a barrage of

“Mat, where are your Friday shoes?” Last week we got several inches of snow so I wore my bigger, more snow worthy Doc Martens. Once again I immediately got chastised for not wearing my Friday shoes.

There’s snow on the ground, those shoes have the thinnest of all soles, and have air holes cut into them. My feet would be soaked if I wore them. These things I tried to plead as my case.

They wouldn’t listen. Like a Texas jury they had no sympathy, but only wanted to see me and my big yellow shoes.

Looks like I’ll be wearing the same shoes every Friday for the rest of my life.

CD Review: The Doc Watson Family – Tradition

Rating: ***

Music is all around us. Pouring out from the radio and the concert halls. Dripping from the internet stream and the pod cast. Booming from the crowded discothèque and blues bars. Music is everywhere.

Some of the best music comes from places few have ever seen. In the empty pool halls, the back yards, the living rooms and thousands of garages there is beautiful, passionate, amazing music being played. Right now, from every corner of the globe, someone is playing a tune, singing a song.

Before there was DVD audio, CDs, 8 tracks and even vinyl records, there was a caveman sitting around a fire howling out a song about his battles to his cavewoman. Through time we moved out of the cave into cozier dwellings, but we’re still sitting around a fire, singing about our lives, loves, and losses.

Years ago I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of people and singing and playing. And it was like a spiritual experience. It was wonderful. I decided then that was what I wanted to do with my life was to play music, do music. In the making of records I think over the years we’ve all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect. And we’ve lost the living room. The living room has gone out of the music. –Emmylou Harris

In 1977 Doc Watson released Tradition, a record designed to put the living room back into the studio. It is not so much of a studio record, as a family sing a-long – quite literally since Watson uses his real family as a band. Doc is playing grandpa here, picking the guitar and singing songs older than the entire family put together. Dolly Greer is the grandmother singing silly children’s songs on the porch and lonesome fiddle tunes in the kitchen. The rest of the family pitches in on guitar and banjo singing old timey tunes while we gather round to listen.

The record is like an old photograph found buried in the back of the closet in your great grandmother’s closet. It’s not the prettiest picture ever taken, nor something to take out and hang on your living room wall. It’s a little tattered and worn, faded by the sun. Yet there is something familiar, comforting and beautiful about it.

Simple tunes like "Reuben’s Train", and "Biscuits" will surely put a smile on your face, and if they don’t make you get up and dance, you’ll at least be tapping your foot along to the tune.

There are lots of little half-songs and snippets of tunes. Dolly Greer sings a medley of four children’s songs that lasts less than three minutes in total. Her country accent is so heavy that you can hardly understand what it is exactly, that she’s singing, but she does it with such a happy zeal you can hardly fault her for any of it. There are other half-played fiddle tunes and songs that seem so spur of the moment and forgotten halfway through that the album really does feel like a family sitting on the back porch watching a lazy summer day float away.

It is definitely not an album for everyone. Fans of tightly wound, well crafted pop songs will surely find disappointment in the casual feel of the songs. I suspect even bluegrass and country music fans may find themselves looking back at the record bin through part of the 45 minutes of music here. But for anyone interested in traditional music, for a patient listener willing to wait for something special, there is a wealth of beautiful music in this disk.

CD Review: Bela Fleck – Crossing the Tracks

Rating: **

It is always interesting to revisit the roots of an innovative artist who has been around a long time. Bela Fleck has been playing professional banjo since 1982. He played with the new-wave bluegrass band New Grass Revival to start out with before creating blu-bop (an impressive mix of blue grass, jazz, funk and rock) with his own band, the Flecktones. Rounder Records just re-released his first solo album, Crossing the Tracks, originally released in 1979.

It is mostly a straightforward bluegrass album with some acoustic swing tossed in for good measure. Though you can already see the blu-grass innovator wanting to branch out. What other bluegrass musician would dare to cover Chick Corea’s masterful "Spain"? And that with a lead Dobro part!

For his first solo outing, Bela managed to find some of the premier bluegrass players around to join him. The band includes Mark Schatz, Bob Applebaum, and Russ Barenbert. Everyone’s favorite mandolinist, Sam Bush, joins the fun on fiddle, and Jerry Douglass plays Dobro on a few tracks.

All but two tracks (the spry ode to a broken heart "How Can You Face Me Now", and the mournful "Aint Gonna Work Tomorrow") are instrumentals. Often Bela lays back, allowing the other musicians to step up and shine. Though, in title it is a solo album, he never puts his own picking ahead of the song.

Crossing the Tracks is a fascinating glimpse into the beginnings of a masterful musicians journey into innovation. For bluegrass lovers, Bela Fleck fans and even jazz junkies looking for new takes on a favorite tune this should be of interest.