Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Medusa's Web

Okay, I lied. I said I was going to read a worthwhile book. But, my concentration was off due to some medical-foo going on, so I decided on more escapism.

I read Tim Powers' latest "Medusa's Web". Powers has made a living with stories involving odd forms of magic and mysticism and famous historical figures. This time the magic is "spiders": 8-legged mandalas that cause odd effects, including time travel and body jumping. The famous historical figures are Hollywood silent movie figures, including Rudolph Valentino.

The main characters are flawed "normal" people. They kind of reminded of the characters in my favorite Powers: "Last Call", which is a Fisher King story with Bugsy Siegel and other figures from the the founding of Las Vegas.

I've always enjoyed these stories. They are page-turners. But it's starting to seem a little like he's got a machine cranking them out. Still, an enjoyable read.

I also read "The Vital Abyss", by James S. A. Corey. This is a novella that provides more backstory in the world of The Expanse. I've watched the 1st season of the The Expanse on SyFy and I think it has been very good. It's nice to watch something that has an intricate yet logical plot that takes its time developing.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Music (Byrd Song)

A little over 2 months since I last did this.
  • Joanna Newsom, "Divers". Very similar to her last one which I talked about 2 months ago. Funny, still no song even close to being as strong as the one my daughter pointed me at - "Good Intentions Paving Co.". 3 stars
  • Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite #1 & #2 (1876), Piano Concerto in A Minor (1868). I put my Halloween playlist of scary classical music on while I was giving out candy. I noticed I was missing "On October 31 ..." I figured out this was "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg, the 4th piece of Peer Gynt Suite #1.

    The album also came with the Piano Concerto in A Minor, with which I was very familiar. I think I was introduced to this in college by my friend Charles G. St. Pierre, aka "The Saint" and "Greg". In a piece of synchronicity, I've had some correspondence with Charlie via this blog, and determined that I had started following his economics blog a few months ago. 4 stars for the Grieg.

  • Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band, "Take It Like A Man". More modern folk than some of Jim White's other stuff. Very reminiscent of Old Crow Medicine Show say. Still some of his witty lyrics, say on "Gravity Won't Fail" or "Paranormal Girlfriend". 3 stars.
  • ELO, "Jeff Lynne's ELO - Alone in the Universe". The Electric Light Orchestra is back! Decent material but nothing to match my favs from the old days like "Mr. Blue Sky" or "Nightrider". 3 stars.
  • Adele, "25". Adele seems so genuine - not manufactured by the recording industry. This album has been an unbelievable smash, weeks and weeks at #1. I don't like it as well as her 1st 2. I think part of the reason for her success is the way she belts out these songs makes them very popular for other people to belt out, particularly in singing competitions. But, I don't know, I'm getting kind of tired of it. 3 stars.
  • Dirty Projectors, "Bitte Orca" (2009). I continue to work backwards collecting this band's music. This one is much more experimental. The sound has not gelled as in the later ones. I'll still go with 4 stars for it. Here's "Two Doves", with one of the females singing lead.

  • Deerhoof, "La Isla Bonita", 2014. These guys are as Japanese, quirky, and energetic as ever. 4 stars. Here's "Mirror Monster".

  • Coldplay, "A Head Full Of Dreams". Very laid back and easy to listen to. It's hard to imagine they are the Superbowl halftime show this year. 3 stars.
  • Charlie Byrd, "Sketches of Brazil, Music of Villa-Lobos" (1967). Ripped from vinyl. Very nice classical guitar etudes and preludes. Prelude #2 is very familiar to me. I think I must have practiced it back when I was taking classical guitar lessons (mid-60s), but the skill level sure seems beyond mine. 3 stars.

  • The Byrds, "Mr. Tambourine Man" (1965), "Turn, Turn, Turn" (1965), "Fifth Dimension" (1966), and "Younger Than Yesterday" (1967). #1, #3, and #4 ripped from vinyl. Finally! I was really looking forward to these, and they did not disappoint. I was 14-16 when these came out, and they were among my total favorites at the time. And when your hormones are 1st kicking in is when the music really burns itself in.

    The Byrds were known for creating folk rock and later country rock; covering Dylan songs; 12 string electric guitar played by Roger (originally Jim) McGuinn; and great 2 and 3 part vocal harmony. I found that my favorite songs were the ones written by Gene Clark, who left the band after the 2nd album due to a fear of flying, and who died in 1991 at age 46 after a life of substance abuse. The David Crosby written songs are the best after that. The history of the band, as per the wikipedia page is really interesting.

    After these 4 albums, David Crosby and bass player and vocalist Chris Hillman both left the band, leaving McGuinn as the only founding member. Graham Parsons was with them for a while and led them to a more country sound, but fabulous session guitarist Clarence White, who can be heard on some of the tracks of the 4th album, joined and I think really defined their sound thereafter. I saw that lineup in Boston in 1972. Per Wikipedia, Clarence White was born Clarence LeBlanc and was from Maine - so, French-Canadian stock. And, sadly, which I never knew, he was struck by a car while unloading equipment from a truck and killed in 1973, after which the band disbanded.

    So, 4 stars for everything except 2 stars for "Captain Soul" from the 3rd album - you just can't play blues licks on a 12-string electric - and several new 5 star songs, yay!

    The song I liked best of all I would not have gotten if I had had the vinyl. "She Don't Care About Time" was the B-side of the "Turn, Turn, Turn" single and never made it onto a vinyl album. They included it when the album was remastered in 1996. A Gene Clark song, with some ripped-off Bach melodies.

    From the 1st album, "Here Without You", another Gene Clark song.

    From the 2nd album, "Wait and See", a David Crosby song.

    Another Gene Clark song, "The World Turns All Around Her".

    Getting psychedelic on the 3rd album, which featured "Eight Miles High", "I See You", by Crosby and McGuinn.

    Finally, from the 4th album, "Have You Seen Her Face", by Chris Hillman. A little cheesy, I don't care, I like it.

  • Buddy Emmons and others, "Suite Steel", 1970. Ripped from vinyl. A compilation of the greatest pedal steel guitar players covering pop songs. The Buddy Emmons cover of "Wichita Linesman" I may already have posted, it is so beautiful, 5 stars. 3 stars for the rest.

That brings us into the new year, I think I'll stop here. Happy New Year!