Category Archives: Music

Good Words

Sometimes, good words are found in unexpected places.  Yesterday, I twice and unexpectedly heard (saw) life lessons.  The first time was while watching Series 1, Episode 2 of Endeavour, the BBC program about a young Inspector Morse.  At the end of the episode, Detective Inspector Thursday offers Detective Constable Morse advice about music.

Go home.  Put your best record on loud as it will play, and with every note you remember that’s something that the darkness couldn’t take from you.

Later that day I walked past Valley Bookseller here in Stillwater.  A bright yellow poster in the window advised me to

Snack

Nap

Read

Snack Nap Read

When I got home, that’s just what I did.

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Poetry and 1950s Music

I’ve never been interested in poetry, so I surprised myself recently by registering for a workshop for beginning poets.  Imagine me writing a poem.  As things turned out, I dropped out after the first day.   I am however, still thinking about poetry.  I’m not giving up on it just yet for a number of reasons.

My good friend Nick whose judgement and taste I respect values poetry and recently loaned me books by three of his favorite poets.  One of the three is Charles Bukowski.  I like some of his poems.

Chapter 3 in The Immortal Irishman, a biography of Thomas Francis Meagher,  is titled Poetry In Action.  It begins with reference to a poem that set Ireland afire during the potato famine in the 1840s.  This was for me a demonstration of the power of poetry.

It was poetry, the bend of words to frame a cause, that lifted Ireland from its gloom in the last good months before catastrophe [the potato famine].  Thomas Davis, educated at Trinity; the Protestant son of a British army surgeon, came forth with a burst of verse that roused a generation. . . . In a country where most peasants were illiterate, the poetry of Tom Davis spread by word of mouth – stanzas repeated on a sheep path or a loading dock.

. . . Meagher grew infatuated with this rarest kind of subversive:  a poet with power.

Yesterday’s Brain Pickings Newsletter had a post about fear of poetry for which there is actually a term:

Metrophobia, or the fear of poetry, is surprisingly common. Many people first develop this phobia in school, when overzealous teachers encourage them to rank poems according to artificial scales, break them down, and search for esoteric meanings. [definition from Verywell.com]

The post say this:

But meditation is somewhat like poetry — a lamentable number of many people hold a stubborn resistance to it, a resistance that “has the qualities of fear,” borne out of a certain impatience with learning a new mode of being that doesn’t come easily but, when it comes, brings tremendous and transcendent satisfaction.”

I am skeptical that poetry will ever bring me such satisfaction, maybe some, but I’ve never encountered anything that is tremendous and transcendent, and I doubt that I ever will.  In the same way that I’ve never had epiphanies or road-to-Damascus moments.  Again, I doubt that I ever will.  Whatever changes or improvements or insights I’ve had have come slowly over years or decades as a result of experience, perseverance, stumbling and getting up again and moving forward and getting hopefully a bit further down the road before stumbling again which I certainly will do.  On the brighter side, I know that I will always get up from my stumbles until that final big one.  I’ll always get up to appreciate the moment, the day, the summer, a thunder-storm, a little taste of the summer, music (I’m listening to Greg Brown singing about his Grandma canning a bit of the summer).  Being able to write this entry.  Being able to listen to great music right now (Zambesi, a great instrumental from the 1950s done by Lou Bush who I had never heard of until I stumbled on this song, a cheery song.)  Being able to look forward to today, tomorrow, next week, my trip to Madeline Island in a month.  (Another instrumental, Skookian, Perez Prado, another fine, cheery song from the 1950s)  This can of La Croix sparkling water that I just popped – Blackberry Cucumber.

So I guess I’ll at least continue to read Bukowski although it’s hard for me to read even his poems for much more than ten minutes at a time; probably better than nothing.  Before I started this entry, I watched a short video on meditation that stated that the research shows that its benefits come with only five to ten minutes of meditation a day.  Five to ten minutes of poetry will at least keep me in the poet’s game.  (Stranger On the Shore, Acker Bilk, the song that got me going down this road of searching for 1950s instrumentals.  I heard the song as part of a sound track, recognized it as a song I love, and then promptly forgot its name and the name “Acker Bilk”.  I succeeded in finding the name through research which led me to a half-dozen other 1950s instrumentals worth a listen.)

How Much Is That Doggie

I started to look at Billboard Top-100 lists from around 1958.  There didn’t seem to be any earlier than that on the Billboard website.  I see now why rock-and-roll arrived with such force and was able to take over the popular music world and shove the old music aside.  The hits of the fifties, the best sellers, are a soup of unbroken insipidity, cute sometimes likable music that stirs nothing in the soul.  It’s easy to see why my generation preferred listening to rock over songs about doggies in the window and the like.

 

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Help! I Can’t Stop!

I thought this would be just another morning at home.  Then I stumbled upon the song Guantanamera done on YouTube as part of the Playing For Change project.  That led to watching and listening to La Bamba, What’s Going On, Stand Up Sit Up . . .   Lots of great songs.  Watching the videos caused goose bumps – they are that good.  Fun.  Uplifting.  Especially the out-of-this world rendition of Lean On Me.  What a show!  What a show!

Help, I can’t stop.  I’m going to be here all day listening to music. Oh god!  Now it’s What a Wonderful World!

Each video has many different musicians and groups that contribute to the songs.  They play in locations around the world on every continent.  Somehow, all the clips of all the different musicians and all the different locales are combined into wonderful creations.  They musicians are the best.  The videos are the best.  The music is the best.

Playing For Change has a motto:  Connecting the World Through Music.

Mark Johnson, the co-founder, says

The idea is to show people enough different cultures using music to uplift themselves, so that we can see the connections we all have.

Keith Richards

. . . that’s the way music was meant to be.

Grandpa Elliot

. . . man, all my life I’ve been putting out love, but not like that

Far from being just another morning, it’s been an inspiring, fun, music-filled morning.  I feel like it’s a bright, sunshiny day even though it’s wet and cloudy.

Peace Through Music

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Trust and Good Faith

Michael Hann at The Guardian recently wrote about what he has learned after 16 years as The Guardian’s music editor.

Of course, there are spivs and money grubbers, as there are in any industry that has historically promised large and fast returns. But pretty much everyone I’ve met who works in music does so because they love it, and they don’t make fortunes from it. Music is a remarkably uncorrupt world: there’s an awful lot of trust and good faith involved. And it ignites the passions, still. The surest way to get an interview with one of the old lags of rock off to a good start is to ask them about the music they loved when they were 17. You can see their eyes light up as they recall how they fell in love with music.

His point that music still ignites the passions started me thinking about what I loved when I was 17, and 27, and 37, and, God forbid, 67.  I remembered many highlights.  Here are some in a tediously long list.

Church music, always, from my earliest memories onward.  Listening to my Dad in the Senior Choir at church.

Going with Mom to hear the Minnesota Symphony at the junior high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Early 1960s.

A band from the Twin Cities playing at the Telemark Ski Resort near Hayward, Wisconsin, circa 1965.  The band featured an organ – definitely cool.  Great music mixed with skiing and my fellow teenage skiing buddies.

Rural beer bars in north-west Wisconsin, 1960s.  In those days, there were rural areas where those under 21 years of age could drink in taverns that served only beer.  Some of them had live music.  We had some fine times at the beer bars (they always had dirt parking lots) and are lucky we never crashed our cars on the country roads after a night out.

The Beatles, Bloomington, Minnesota, August 21, 1965, at Met Stadium, the old ballpark where the Minnesota Twins played in the 60s and 70s.  The stage was set up on second base.  I don’t remember much about the concert except that we almost left the tickets at home.  I, my girlfriend, and two other couples.

A country tavern on Long Lake in Chippewa County, Wisconsin owned by an old German with a heavy accent.  I think his name was Maxie and the tavern was Maxie’s; I don’t remember.  On request, he would get out his accordion (or was it a violin) and play for us.  Late 1960s.

Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, late 1960s, Madison, Wisconsin.  This was straight out of the movie Animal House although we didn’t realise it at the time.  We just thought we were cool.  On two or three Saturdays a month we would have beer parties with bands from Milwaukee or Chicago – black soul bands; the frat was all white.  We drank and danced up a storm; my frat brothers and my girlfriend.

Music festivals in the Woodstock era.  I went with a girlfriend to Sound Storm, Wisconsin’s first outdoor rock festival in 1970 outside Poynette in Columbia County a bit north of Madison.  Here’s what a Wisconsin Historical Society essay says about Sound Storm:

About 30,000 people attended Sound Storm, the majority sneaking in through the woods without paying. [I think we paid, but I remember climbing over a barbed-wired fence.  Perhaps my memory is shaky.]  The Columbia County sheriff, seeing his officers exponentially outnumbered by hippies and bikers, wisely decided to ignore misdemeanors such as nudity and drug use. LSD and other psychedelic drugs were everywhere, along with marijuana and cheap, screw-top wine. Medical students staffed first aid and “bad trips” tents [that I had to visit after ripping my thigh open on the barbed-wire fence], volunteers from the Hog Farm commune in New Mexico helped as stage announcers, and Madison’s Mifflin Street Co-op provided free food. Throughout the weekend, ecstatic dancers whirled before the stage. When undercover officers infiltrated the crowd, Pete [the event organizer] dropped 10,000 fliers from a helicopter urging the audience not to harm them. Fans frolicked in nearby Rowan Creek, even crowning their own “Mud King.” Two members of the band Northern Comfort got married on stage. At night, the York farm sparkled with hundreds of campfires. Only a handful of injuries or arrests were reported.

A block party in Madison, WI, early 1970s.  A band called Virginia Rose (or was that the name of the female lead singer?).  This was when I was discovering country music under the influence of early country-rock bands like Poco.  Virginia Rose was great.

Johnny Cash, Champagne -Urbana, IL, early 70s.  I and my girlfriend drove down from Madison to visit friends from high school and see the man in black.  Johnny only got better and better in the succeeding years.

Nights at the Birchmere in a Northern Virginia suburb of Washington, DC. , mid-to-late 1970s, The Red Clay Ramblers, great stage show; the original Seldom Scene with Ben Eldridge, John Starling, Mike Auldridge, Tom Gray, and John Duffey.  More beer drinking with my latest girlfriend, my best buddy Bruce, and a few other cronies from work.  The best bluegrass ever!

The Annual Indiana Fiddlers’ Gathering in Battle Ground just outside of Lafayette, IN, summer of ’79.  At the time, a small bluegrass festival, today in its 45th year.  The first time I saw people bring pieces of flat, thin, smooth wood to a festival that they would put on the ground as a surface for flat dancing or clog dancing (not sure what is the correct name for this style of dancing.)

Stumbled on a free, outdoor show by The Whites (Buck and daughters Sharon and Cheryl) in Georgetown, Washington, DC.  I think they were then called Buck White and the Downhome Folks.  Sharon later married Ricky Skaggs.  They are now in the country hall of fame.

A Holiday Inn in Lafayette, Indiana, 1978.  A bluegrass band.  I’ve tried to find the name of the band only to come up with a number of possibilities.  I think the band included Rickie Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and J.D. Crowe, but would such hotshots of bluegrass and country be playing in a Holiday Inn in Indiana?  Can I trust my memory?  They were wonderful musicians and well-known in bluegrass.  Keith would die too soon.  Rickie would be swamped in the Nashville scene but later escaped to return to something closer to his roots.

National Folk Festival, at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, an outdoor music venue near Washington, DC.  Many stages set up throughout the rolling countryside of is Vienna, Virginia.  Great music, non-commercial music.

Springfield, IL, 1998, driving home from Atlanta, my wife and I stumbled on an old, brick, two-story Italian restaurant in the university neighbourhood.  We ate upstairs where there was a wandering fiddler.  We listened for a long time and, because we were almost the only ones there, we had the fiddler to ourselves for a long time.  He played everything we requested.  A similar experience with my wife at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter (circa 2000) in Stillwater, Minnesota where we were entertained by the house accordionist.

Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, MN: late 80’s, early to mid 90’s.  It’s still there and going strong, but I, unfortunately, haven’t been back in too long a time:

  • A group of Hawaiian slack-key guitarists and singers.  They didn’t know quite what to make of the winter.
  • Robin and Linda Williamson, tremendous in person.
  • Pat Donohue, the long-time Prairie Home Companion’s guitarist
  • John Hammond, blues man

I shouldn’t have started this list.  I now realise how little live music I’ve heard in the last two decades.  I have partially made up for this by spending lots of time and money on building a home library of music.  It’s now all digital, but in the past, for financial reasons, I’ve sold a large collection of LPs and two large collections of CDs.  How I wish I still had them, some of which were a bit obscure and might be hard to find these days.  For example, in the late 70’s in a record store in Georgetown, Washington, DC, I bought an LP – a very fine LP – by Country Ham, a group I had never heard of when I bought the record.  I can find no records on iTunes by a band called Country Ham.

A German beer and dance hall in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC with my Czechoslovak girlfriend Vera, 1978.  My first experience waltzing.

Connecticut Ave, NW in Washington, DC, near the zoo in what was then a block or two of small retail, bars, and restaurants, circa 1976 – 77.  I think one of the first metro stations was built in this block

  • Donovan’s.  One night a week a band called Sheepshead Bay played.  I sat at the bar (once again drinking beer) thoroughly enjoying their mix of folk and political and cultural satire (Reston Isn’t Resting Anymore).
  • Right across the street, Ireland’s Four Provinces where I first tasted the pleasures of Harp Lager and listened to the best Irish music I’ve ever heard.
  • Also across the street was the movie theater where I saw the very first Star Wars in 1977.

Madrid 1973 in a tapas bar.  I and an acquaintance I met on the overnight train from Paris.  A three or four man combo strolls in off the street and blow our socks off with Spanish songs.

Mykonos, Greece, 1973:  listening to Greek music and watching the locals do their Greek circle dances.  Seemingly impromptu, but probably staged for the tourists, maybe a bit of both.

Blues Saloon in Frog Town in St. Paul.  The stage was on the second floor of an old, wood frame building.  One got upstairs using a seedy-looking staircase.  No frills in the concert room.  Just loud, raucous blues.  It reminded me of the movie Devil In a Blue Dress based on the first of Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins books.  The movie was my introduction to West Coast Blues, Jump Jazz, and other music of the black neighbourhoods in southern California in the years after World War II.  The movie didn’t get much attention and still doesn’t but is one of my favorites in part because of the music and a good performance by Denzel Washington.

Small Italian Restaurant on the far outskirts of N. VA suburbs of DC.  Bluegrass on weekends.  An old time, family group, I think a wife and husband singing.  As usual, I am at the bar drinking beer, eating pasta,  and soaking in the music and vibes.  On the rural fringe of the urban area.  An out of the way spot that I stumbled on by accident.

And still, above all, listening to music, dancing to music, working out to music, being brought to tears by music, fighting the blues (bad, bad blues) with music, smiling with music.

Let’s play on!

 

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A Soul Ripped Apart

Emmylou Harris

Have you ever listened to a song that reaches inside and shreds your soul?  I listened to one this afternoon on my way home in the car – an Emmylou Harris song.  The germane lyrics are below.  I think that a song can cause such anguish only when one has experienced what the song describes.  That was the case with me this afternoon.  I was near tears.  I don’t know why I am choosing to share this experience.  Maybe I’m trying to expiate my sins (for all the love I never gave her) as I enter gingerly into old age.  If I don’t do it now, maybe I’ll never have another chance.  Who knows?

He never thought he would marry
Too many women to explore
And even standing at the altar
He knew, somehow, he wanted more
Until the night he almost lost her
He kneeled beside her bed and cried
For all the love he never gave her
He felt so ashamed inside

He cried, my darling, please forgive me
I’ve been been lost and I’ve been blind
Trying to fill the empty places
While you’ve been waiting all this time
One true thing is all I want
One pure light to shine on through
Oh, my darling, please forgive me
I didn’t know it was you

Emmylou is one of the best singers of the last fifty years, regardless of genre. She is the best duet singer.  Anyone can sound good singing with Emmylou.  (Well, perhaps not myself.)  She can impart more emotion in a song than anyone else I am aware of.

I heard Emmylou on my iPod routed wirelessly through the car speakers.  I had the iPad set to shuffling through a long playlist.  The imp in my iPod who manages the shuffling followed up the song that shredded my soul with another weeper, this one by Rhiannon Giddens.  Then the imp, out of over a thousand songs to choose from selects another sad Emmylou song.  The probability of that happening by chance are similar to that of being hit by a meteorite just after you’d hit big on the lottery.  My iPod imp is mean!  I’m thinking of contacting Apple support and asking for a new imp that’s a bit more pleasant.  Has anyone had any luck with that?

The second Emmylou song wasn’t so wrenching.  The song, All That You Have Is Your Soul, has a message:

Hunger only for a taste of justice
Hunger only for a world of truth
‘Cause all that you have is your soul

The imp redeemed herself or himself (do imps have gender?) on the rest of the drive home.  Sweet Soul Music by Arthur Conley:

 Dancin’ to the music
Oh yeah, oh yeah

Soul Man by Sam and Dave, another classic from the sixties:

Got what I got the hard way
And I’ll make it better each and every day
So honey don’t you fret
‘Cause you ain’t seen nothing yet

Eventually, the imp played Walk Through The Bottom Land by Lyle Lovett.  Guess who accompanies Lyle on the song.  You’re right, Emmylou Harris.

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

François Jaques: Peasants Enjoying Beer at Pub in Fribourg

I’ve blathered on enough.  I’m in a low dive on Main St drinking beer.  I’m going to sit back and enjoy one more.  Just one more, I promise.  Then I’ll go home.

Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
Goodnight, sweetheart, well, it’s time to go
I hate to leave you, but I really must say
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight

The McGuire Sisters

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The Mighty Pen

Keep Me Singing

Keep Me Singing

From Van Morrison’s The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword:

You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the law
Every man is me, every man is you
I can’t tell you what you have to do
You’ve got to live by the pen ’cause it’s mightier than the sword

westFrom Lucinda Williams’ Word:

Screaming and throwing your weight around
My words choose knowledge over politics
You can’t kill my words… they know no bounds
My words are strong and they don’t make me sick.

They still remain my only companion
Boiling truth to the very end
They’ll never ever completely abandon
Ever give up the paper and the pen

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Punk in 1970s New York

city-on-fireI’ve recently read or watched two items that involve the punk scene (or should I say punk-rock scene?  I’m not sure.) in New York City in the mid-1970s:  The book City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg and Spike Lee’s movie Summer Of Sam.

City On Fire is a long book, almost 1000 dense pages.  The nexus of the plot is the murder of a young woman in a New York park on New Year’s Eve 1977.  The book describes in great detail the lives and relationships of the people who were involved in one way or another with the murdered woman.  It jumps back and forth in time from the early sixties to the start of the 21st Century while also jumping back and forth between characters.  Many of the characters are punks participating in the New York City scene that apparently started in the mid-1970s.  I cannot speak from experience about any aspect of punk.  During that time period I was moving in the opposite direction; exploring bluegrass, country, and mountain music.  So while the punks in this novel were moving away from the musical (pop) mainstream and finding punk, I was moving away from the mainstream and finding bluegrass.  Given what I learned from the book and movie, I’m glad I moved in that direction.

City On Fire also covers the massive and  complete blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977.  Some of the book’s climactic events happen during the night of the blackout.

summer-of-samThe movie Summer of Sam uses the background of the Son Of Sam serial killings to depict life in New York when David Berkowitz was on his killing spree.  It focuses on the punk scene and on life in the city’s Italian neighborhoods.  City On Fire presents more of a political and artistic picture of punk as a search for a sort of anarchistic freedom.  Summer Of Sam, in contrast, focuses a lot on the sexual goings-on within the punk and club scenes.

I’m not sure I would recommend watching the movie or reading the book.  I was often irritated at the book’s author for jumping around so much.  I kept wanting him to stick to the plot line in which I was engrossed.   Eventually, I just wanted him to wrap things up and tell me what happened to all the characters whom except, I think, for one, were strung out on drugs or alcohol.  They were all drinking excessively, strung out, shooting heroin, dropping pills, sometimes doing it all in one day.  I did not think it was possible for a person to use as many drugs and as much alcohol as some of the characters.

Watching the movie left me feeling like I had besmirched my soul.

eye-and-tear

 

 

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I Still Can’t Sing!

I’d like the share more from Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain On Music.  Yesterday I shared some of Levitin’s thoughts on the chasm between performers and listeners.  What I quote today shares that theme.

. . . in every society of which we’re aware, music and dance are inseparable.

But it is only in the last five hundred years that music has become a spectator activity – the thought of a musical concert in which a class of “experts” performed for an appreciative audience was virtually unknown throughout our history as a species.  And it has only been in the last hundred years or so that the ties between musical sound and human movement have been minimized. . . . The polite listening response, in which music has become an entirely cerebral experience . . . is counter to our evolutionary history.  Children often show the reaction that is true to our nature:  Even at classical music concerts they sway and shout and generally participate when they feel like it.  We have to train them to behave “civilized.”

In jazz, “Bebop developed as the younger generation of jazz musicians aimed to counter the popular, dance-oriented swing style with a new, non-danceable music that was more of a “musician’s music” that demanded close listening.” ∗

And as Levitin describes,

Classical music as most of us think of it . . . has diverged into two streams.  Some of the best music in that tradition is being written for films . . . and is only infrequently the object of directed listening, as in a concert hall.  The second stream is twentieth-century art music, much of it challenging and difficult for the average listener . . . .  Contemporary “classical” music is practiced mostly in universities; it is regrettable listened to by almost no one compared to popular music; much of it deconstructs harmony, melody, and rhythm, rendering them all but unrecognizable; in its least accessible form it is a purely intellectual exercise, and save the rare avant-garde ballet company, no one dances to it either.

dance_and_sing_poster-r4298727ac34f4914894ac5b0ffc3ee93_0uf_8byvr_324So , what to do?  I suggest we dance and sing!

 

∗ Wikipedia entry on “Bebop”.

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I Can’t Sing!

Brain On MusicDaniel Levitin, in This Is Your Brain On Music, asks “why is it that of the millions of people who take music lessons as children, relatively few continue to play music as adults?”  He answers the question by describing the many people who say to him that

their music lessons “didn’t take.”  I think they’re being too hard on themselves.  The chasm between musical experts and everyday musicians that has grown so wide in our culture makes people feel discouraged, and for some reason this is uniquely so with music.  Even though most of us can’t play basketball like Shaquille O’Neal, or cook like Julia Child, we can still enjoy a friendly backyard game of hoops, or cooking a holiday meal for our friends and family.  This performance chasm does seem to be cultural, specific to contemporary Western society.  And although many people say that music lessons didn’t take, cognitive neuroscientists have found otherwise in their laboratories.  Even just a small exposure to music lessons as a child creates neural circuits for music processing that are enhanced and more efficient than for those who lack training.  Music lessons teach us to listen better, and they accelerate our ability to discern structure and form in music, making it easier to us to tell what music we like and what we don’t like.

I’m glad to know that the many years of piano and cello lessons I had, and the excruciating (for me) experiences of annual piano recitals were not wasted.  And I have come to realize that I can sing, just not very well, but good enough to benefit from the emotional value of music.  Levitin writes that “music increases the production of dopamine . . .  [and] is clearly a means for improving people’s moods.”

Sing On!

Keep_On_Singing

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Can’t Go Back

The last time I wrote about drinking and listening to music, I was drinking beer, probably a good IPA.  Tonight I’m listening to music and drinking herbal tea.  It is great herbal tea (Honest Ginger Oasis), but, honestly, it’s not beer.  I’m trying to limit myself to drinking beer only one day a week.  That’s Mondays when my good friend Nick tends bar in the tavern I used to frequent.  Since I can only drink once a week, I no longer can say I frequent the place.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

field songsAnyway, the music is great.  It makes up for the absence of beer.  William Eliot Whitmore, who I just discovered a few months ago.  He’s a guitarist, banjo picker, singer, blues man, and songwriter from Iowa.  I’m listening to the album Field Songs from 2011.  Field Songs is a spare and simple album with just Whitmore accompanying himself on guitar and banjo.  The notes about the album in iTunes calls his voice a thundering instrument.  I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to listen to.  I especially like the banjo songs.

I have one of the songs, Can’t Go Back, from his most recent album, Radium Death from 2015.  On this album, he plays with a band.  This is one of those songs that I’ve listened to over and over until I’ve figuratively wore out the grooves on the record.

Now that it’s June, here’s what we’ll do
We’ll howl at the moon and patch the old canoe
Put it down in the water, let it take us where it may
Head downstream and (just) float away

He has some stuff on YouTube.

 

 

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Let’s Enjoy the Day

Manana

Manana

If you’re not enjoying the day, check out Amanda Martinez’s song Let’s Dance.  It can make your day.  Let’s Dance is on her album Mañana.  The album is chock full of good songs.  Another wonderful song to perk up your day is Que Bonita Es Esta Vida.  Also Va Y Vienne.

Here are a few words from Let’s Dance:

Don’t wait
Take time today and celebrate
Until another moment
This one’s ours to claim
Until another sunset, let’s enjoy the day

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Learning To Sing

The other day I told a friend that I was going to start singing. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to sing on pitch unless I was sitting right next to a good singer.

A few days later, I decided I was going to try the guitar again. Unfortunately, all the many years I tried to play the guitar, I was always practicing.  I never reached the point where I was just playing.   Also unfortunately, tendonitis in my hands and thumbs forced me to quit guitar.

I’ve decided I’m going to ignore all the “unfortunately”s and proceed with singing and guitar picking.  I’ve gone so far as to buy a new guitar.  I’ve also found a protocol for dealing with guitarist’s’ tendonitis (it involves lots of ice baths).  Wish me luck.

I should perhaps get over the notion that I have to always be on pitch or play like Doc Watson.  I can sing for my own enjoyment.   So what if I hit a few bad notes.  I’ve already learned Zip a Dee Doo Dah. (I find a lot of Disney songs from my misspent youth popping into memory)  Granted, it’s a very simple song but a fun one that can make for a better day.  When your down and out, sing Zip a Dee Doo Dah – better than a pill.

the music lessonI think I’ve  been sent some kind of mystical message.  I found a book at the Guitar Center.  It seemed out of place – misfiled – among the instructional books.  The clerk who checked me out had never seen it before and didn’t know that they sold books of that nature (trade paperback format; all text).  It was as if the book was waiting for me.  The book has reminded me that I need to learn to play.  I use “play” to mean both making music and having fun.  Over all the years I played guitar, I never played.  All I ever did was practice.  Maybe the book will help me learn to play and have fun.

Any advice will be appreciated.

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Cheer Up

Woke up on the wrong side of the bed

Too tired to move

Listened to A Little Bit Of Soul

Cheered up, was able to start the day.

 

 

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Chávez Ravine

You may know about Chávez Ravine if you are a baseball fan, or if you are old enough to have been following baseball in the early 1960’s, or if you were a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, or if you or your family once lived in Chávez Ravine, or if you’re a hardcore Ry Cooder fan.  My family never came close to Chávez Ravine.  We’re blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians who rarely strayed from the Mid-West much less into big cities like Los Angeles.  I do fit all the other criteria for knowing about Chávez Ravine.

Years ago I borrowed Ry Cooder’s album Chávez Ravine from the library.  I was recently reminded of the album when I stumbled upon one of its songs while browsing in iTunes.  The album is a concept album that tells about the city of Los Angeles and the Dodgers destroying a Mexican-American community in order to build a baseball stadium.

The first song on Cooder’s album is Poor Man’s Shangri-la.  I don’t know if it was a Shangri-la but in the 1940’s

the area was a poor, though cohesive, Mexican-American community. Many families lived there because of housing discrimination in other parts of Los Angeles.

The city designated the area as blighted and moved forward with plans to redevelop the area.  The plans included a public-housing project, and the city began buying land from individual home owners.  The buy-out efforts were not completely successful.  Holdouts who did not wish to sell were part of the

Battle of Chavez Ravine, an unsuccessful ten-year struggle by a small number of remaining residents of Chavez Ravine to maintain control of their property, after the substantial majority of the property had been transferred to public ownership, during the period in which the city intended to use the land for the Elysian Park Heights public housing project.

The housing project died, and L.A. transferred the land to the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of a land swap.

With Chavez Ravine slated to become the site of the new Dodger Stadium, the tiny number of remaining members of the Chavez Ravine community were physically forced to relocate, although they were compensated for their properties at fair market valuations. While some had initially left the neighborhood, voluntarily or involuntarily through either the use of eminent domain or condemnation, a number (quite a small number after about 1954) stayed until the end. Eventually the sheriff’s department went in with bulldozers and armed men. A few property holders in the area had actually managed to avoid eminent domain proceedings and they were finally bought out by O’Malley [the owner of the Dodgers]. The final holdout eventually accepted the city’s offer of $10,500 for his former home. The homes and streets were razed, the larger community having been destroyed years before in the public housing effort.

Ry Cooder’s album tells the story of Chávez Ravine through songs in English and Spanish.

Cooder sought out musicians from the era and the place, including the late Pachuco boogie boss Don Tosti, the late legendary Lalo Guerrero, Ersi Arvizu, and Little Willie G., all of whom appear with Joachim Cooder, Juliette & Carla Commagere, Jim Keltner, Flaco Jimenez, Mike Elizondo, Gil Bernal, Ledward Kaapana, Joe Rotunde, Rosella Arvizu, and others. Chávez Ravine was nominated for “Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album” in 2006.

Check out the album if you like Mexican music and Ry Cooder and want to get a taste of what the  Mexican-American music of that era sounded like.  The above quotes are all from the Wikipedia entry on Chávez Ravine.  It has a lot more information, citations, and links.

chavez wall

Something similar happened in St. Paul when the African-American, Rondo Street community was gutted to make way for the I-94 freeway.  Here’s is a page from a newsletter published by my former employee taken during the construction of the freeway.

rondo

 

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Colors

funtatsicI’m working on a slide show for Out Of Focus, the camera club in which I’m a member.  This month’s theme is Color.  Here are a few of the photos that will be part of the slide show.  I’m trying to decide what music to use.  The two possibilities I have in mind are quite different.  One is hip-hop (Shining Through (True Colors) by Fredo Starr).  The other uses children’s’ songs (Funtastic Songs by Marie Waters-Gerbrandt).  Any suggestions would be appreciated and would make my choice easier.  I’ll probably use both songs and save two slide shows.

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Angélique Kidjo Sings

KidjoI’m listening to my latest iTunes purchase:  Angélique Kidjo & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg.  The name of the album is Sings.  Each time I’ve listened to it I’ve appreciated it more.  Two songs stand out:  Malaika and Otishe.  Malaika is a slow, melodic beauty that shows off Angélique’s wonderous voice.  (By the way, isn’t Angélique Kidjo a gorgeous name?)  The Digital Booklet doesn’t have a word about the songs, but I think Malaika, written by Fadhili William, is an African song.   Otishe is a traditional song adapted by Kidjo.  She adapted well.  Otishe is a bit more uptempo than Malaika.  The orchestra sounds great on both songs and on all the other songs.  It’s a perfect complement to Kidjo, never overpowering, never too syrupy, just right.  This album is fast becoming one of my favorites.

I think that most of the songs are African.  There is one French song, Petite Fleur, a Sidney Bechet song. There is one Spanish song, Samba Para Ti, the Carlos Santana song.  Kidjo slows down Samba Para Ti.  It turns out so relaxing that it makes you start to sway and hum along.  (By the way again.  I’ve been learning Spanish and can actually understand a bit of Samba Para TiSamba For You.

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Three Singer/Songwriters

Whenever I poke around in the iTunes store I check out new releases in the singer/songwriter category.  The category is broad with many different styles.  Take for example Robert Earl Keen, Amy Speace, and The Wood Brothers.  They were all listed in the Singer/Songwriter category, but their music is very different.

Robert Earl Keen has been a traditional singer/songwriter (whatever that means) centered in traditional American music.  Wikipedia says that

although both his albums and live performances span many different styles, from folk, country, and bluegrass to rock, he is most commonly affiliated with the Americana movements. In fact, he was the first “Americana” artist to appear on the cover of Gavin magazine when the style was officially recognized as its own genre in 1998.

Keen just released a bluegrass album, Happy Prisoner:  The Bluegrass Sessions.  Good bluegrass, good songs, good music.  A number of the songs are bluegrass and country standards such as T For Texas that he does with Lyle Lovett.  Besides Lovett, Keen works with other great artists on this album.  Natalie Maines, once of the Dixie Chicks, joins him on the traditional Wayfaring Stranger.

I was especially pleased to hear Peter Rowan, he of the unmistakable, high-lonesome voice.  I first learned about Peter Rowan in the 1970s.  He was a singer and guitarist for the group Seatrain that also included the fiddler Richard Green.  Wikipedia calls Seatrain an American roots fusion band.  Back in the 70s we would have called it country rock or maybe folk rock.  Rowan started his career as a bluegrass player with Bill Monroe, so his musical pedigree is impeccable.  He is still plugging away writing, playing, and singing good roots and bluegrass music.

speaceUntil two days ago I had never heard of Amy Speace, another find in iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter category.  I am glad I now have heard her lovely voice and fine songs.  Many of the songs are country songs but not the oh-how-I-love-small-towns-and-trucks-and-beer schlock purveyed by the industry in Nashville.  Her songs, her voice, this album are good.  (Trust me.)

The third album of my latest, impulsive purchase on iTunes (of which there have been many) is The Muse, the latest from the Wood Brothers.  I like best about this album some of their lyrics, particularly from the song Sing About It.  Here are the first couple verses:

 

 

wood brothersIf you get too worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you get worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you get too worried

What you ought to do is sing.

If you sing about your trouble it just might pass

 

If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

If you get lost

what you ought to do is sing

sing about your trouble it just might pass

sing about your trouble it just might pass

Wonderful.  Better than a shelf-full of books on how to be happy.

There are more from the brothers about feeling good, but I don’t think these words would make it into a self-help book.  I take them to heart (I am sitting at the bar at LOLO in downtown Stillwater drinking beer as I write. Isn’t retirement great!).

Last night,
I got loaded
On a bottle of wine
On a bottle of wine

Last night,
I got loaded
On a bottle of wine
On a bottle of wine

But I feel alright
I feel alright
I feel alright
I feel alright

alrightWell, OK.  I’m much too old to get loaded.  But I feel alright!

 

 

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Carlos Vives and Cachao

Clasicos de la ProvinciaI’ve been listening to Carlos Vives’s Clasicos De La Provincia, a new discovery for me.  I ran across a music critic – Carlos Quintana – who had contributed a video on Yabla Espanol.  I followed his trail to the web site where he writes about Latin music.  I read his article on the best-ever latin albums and ended up buying two.  One by Carlos Vives who specializes in Vallenato.

Colombia’s vallenato started as a type of romantic cowboy music that provided a commentary on the lives of ranchers and campesinos cut off from the urban centers. It was played primarily in the countryside until it received radio commercialization in the 1940’s.  Since both vallenato and cumbia [another type of Columbian music] use similar instruments, the easiest way to distinguish vallenato is by the use of the accordion. . . .  Vallenato has recently seen an explosion in its popularity with the music of one-time soap opera star, Carlos Vives. Vives assembled a group of older folkloric players with some of the best coastal musicians around his home town of Bogota, creating a rock/vallenato style that has made the form popular with younger Colombians as well as bringing this music into Latin music’s mainstream.

Quintana also recommended Cachao’s Master Sessions, Volume 1.  This is Cuban jazz with touches of many types of Cuban music such as Son, Danzon, Mamba, Rumba.  I couldn’t help but like this album considering that Cuban Son in one of my favorite types of Music.  [I’ve turned up the volume twice since I started writing.]

A few years ago I started to learn more about Latin music and to listen more.  Since then I’ve been rewarded with some wonderful listening.  The variety and depth of Latin music I find endlessly rewarding.  At the start of my exploration of Latin music I read Caribbean Currents.  As the book describes, the roots of Latin music differ from island to island or country to country.  They differ according to what country colonized the area (England, Spain, France) and to what extent the area had a plantation economy or more of a European-settler economy.  Areas with plantation economies used African slaves extensively, and the plantations were often owned by absentee landlords with hired managers, thus there was relatively little European musical influence.  Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to ReggaeHaiti is an example of an area where African influences are strong, European influences weak.  Cuba was more of a settler economy so European influences are stronger.  Haitian music is French.  There are other French-speaking areas in the Caribbean that with Haiti produce the music called zouk.   Cuban is Spanish and has many different types of music some with stong European influences; others with stronger African influences.  Jamaica was last controlled by the British Empire and thus the language is an English patois and the music is ska, reggae, rock steady, etc.

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Sam Sings the Blues

I thought that today, it being Martin Luther King’s day, I would write a bit about Sam Cooke.  I hadn’t planned on it, but then I decided to listen to Sam’s album of the blues while cleaning the kitchen (mundane chores go much better with good music).  My first brainstorm was to write about the album because it’s so fine and I think it has been somewhat forgotten.  Next step:  I realized it was Martin Luther King day and Sam composed and recorded what has become one of the anthems of the Civil Rights Movement.

The song is A Change Is Gonna Come and was actually the B side of a 45-rpm recording.  Sam wrote the song after being refused lodging at  a whites only motel in Louisiana.  Sam and his band mates protested vigorously and were subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace.  Sam also had heard Bob Dylan’s Blowin In the Wind and was chagrined  that a white boy – and not himself – had written such a song.

Sam Cooke was without a doubt one of the finest singers and composers in the fifties and sixties.  He remains an inspiration and an influence.  His music remains fresh. Even on the more frivolous of his songs, the quality of his voice is unmistakable.  If you want to explore his music I would start with one of the many greatest-hits albums and the one I’m listening to as I write – Night Beat from 1963.  Peter Guralnick devotes a chapter to Sam in Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.  A great book for learning more about a great style of music, music with soul.

Finally, here a link to a fun, good-feeling video using one of Sam’s great hits:  Chain Gang.

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Low Highway

Earlier this week I drove to The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis.  The Electric Fetus is a great, fun store; not least because it is now the only store I’m aware of in the entire Twin Cities metro that still has a good selection of music CDs.  I end up making a trip to the Electric Fetus a few times a year even though it’s about a one hour drive if I can avoid rush-hour traffic.  I bought a copy of The Low Highway by Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses).  When I finally got home after a long afternoon, I put The Low Highway on the player with the thought of lying down and drifting off for my afternoon nap.  I was tired, but the music wouldn’t let me nap – it was too good.  I liked the sound, the lyrics, the instrumentation was great.  The music has elements of country (it’s filed in the Country section), folk, rock, mountain music . . .  My only gripe is that one or two of the songs were a little too much hard-rock – but this gripe is no more than personal preference.  I’m sure if you like hard rock you’ll like these songs.

If there is a theme to the songs, I think it is being between despair and hope.  In the title song Low Highway, the lyrics are about

the ghost of America watchin’ me
Through the broken windows of the factories
Naked bones of a better day
As I rolled on down the low highway

Later in the CD, the son 21st Century Blues says that

We stand now on the verge of history
The world can be anything that we want it to be
Where there’s a will there’s a way where there’s a fire there’s a spark
Out in the streets downtown in the park
Maybe the future’s just waitin on you and me
In the 21st century

Another song, Burnin’ It Down, is very bleak, hopeless until the last line of the song:  “‘Cause the door’s always open and it’s never too late.”  Another song, Love’s Gonna Blow My Way, is similar.  The singer is “. . . stranded.  Standin’ in the pourin’ rain.  Really comin’ down but someday Love’s gonna blow my way.  Repeatedly, the singer describes how miserable his current condition is then says “Love’s gonna blow my way.”  I don’t think that there is a conclusion on the CD.  What will win the day?  Despair and misery or hope and love?

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Strange Music

Last night I listened to one of Tom Waits’s early CDs recorded in 1973.  The first song is Ole ’55, one of my all time favorite songs.  This CD is “normal” singer-songwriter music; melodic, lyrical, sentimental, somewhat melancholy – enjoyable.  As Waits became older his music became increasingly weirder.  He seems to be a strange man.

I have a CD from thirty years later, Alice, recorded in 2002.  The artwork on the cover of Alice makes me think of an old-fashion carnival side-show with odd, misshapen creatures.  Tom is still Tom – the music from 2002 retains qualities of the music from 1973.  Especially the distinctive, gravelly voice that has gotten more gravelly with age.  There is less of a singer-songwriter feel and more of a rock feel, maybe a genre called weird-rock with Waits as it’s main if not only member.  To give a flavor of Waits’s lyrics I’ll quote the lyrics from No One Know I’m Gone [the lack of punctuation is Tom’s]:

 Hell above and heaven below  All the trees are gone  The rain makes such a lovely sound  To those who are six feet under ground The leaves will bury every year and no one knows I’m gone  Live me golden tell me dark  Hide from Graveyard John But the moon is full here every night  And I can bathe here in his light  The leaves will bury every year  And no one knows I’m gone.

Here is another song, Poor Edward:

Did you hear the news about Edward?  On the back of his head He had another Face  Was it a women’s face  Or a young girl  They said to remove it would kill him So poor Edward was doomed  The face could laugh and cry  It was his Devil twin And at night she spoke to him Of things heard only in Hell  They were impossible to separate  Chained together for life Finally the bell tolled his doom  He took a suite of rooms  And hung himself and her  From the balcony irons  Some still believe he was freed from her  But I knew her too well  I say she drove him to suicide  And took Poor Edward to Hell.

I don’t quite know what to make of such lyrics.  The seem to paint such a bleak and dreary picture.  A picture of a hopeless world.

But no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave  As one rose dies another blooms  It’s always been that way  I remember the showers  But no one puts flowers on a flower’s grave

I hadn’t intended to write so much about Tom Waits.  I put on his CD and started writing about him.  I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music from 1973 as I write.  I’ve not decided if I get any pleasure at all from the 2002 recording.

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e.s.t.

I  write this post sitting at my dining room table using my netbook and drinking a few (a few too many) Harp Lagers.  So this post is a free flow of alcohol-fueled impressions of the music of the group e.s.t..

I don’t know what e.s.t. stands for.  It’s a German, jazz trio (piano, bass, percussion) that I discovered on Amazon.  I just got the CD in the mail today.  The music is relaxing – so far – and enjoyable, but it’s nowhere near “easy listening”.  So far I find their music great.  The group has mixed musicality, inventiveness, and good sounds to deliver music that is fine to listen to, but not to far out and jazzy as to be only for hard-core jazz aficionados.  I guess I’m saying that It’s not too deep for me to enjoy.  Great late night listening.  Definitely a CD that will not gather dust on my shelf.

———————————————————————————————————————–

e.s.t. is now starting to verge on too far out for my tastes.  Far out but still funky.

———————————————————————————————————————–

e.s.t. getting a bit frenetic and improvisational for my tastes.  Still great music; as soon as I started writing the previous sentence the music eased off on the frenzy and faded away into the end of the song.  A good song.

Next song starts out slow and bluesy.  The drummer is using brushes, the tempo is slow and relaxed.  The piano easy and melodic.  Wonderful.  Exactly fits my late night, all alone mood.  Not a lonely mood, but a mellow mood where I’m enjoying the music, the Harp Lager, writing this journal entry.  The music is good, life is good.  The music is making me lazy.  I want to just sip on my beer, sway to the music, and let the mood of the music take over my soul.  The song is Believe Beleft Below and the CD is Seven Days Of Falling.

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Late Night Ramblings On Music

I’m drinking Leinenkugels and listening to Gatemouth Brown on Pandora after just listening to Keb Mo sing Suitcase.  Brown’s song is Somebody Else.  Both great songs.

Product DetailsI’ve lately been listening to three types of music depending on my mood and what I’m doing at the time.  I have come to like the blues more than I ever have.  I’ve loved the blues for decades, since I was in college when I discovered the blues.  I’m not sure that I knew that the blues existed before I went off to college in Madison in the 1960s when everything was in ferment and the old bluesmen from the Delta and elsewhere in the south were being rediscovered during the folk revival of that era.  Recently for some reason, maybe because over the last decade I’ve often lived the blues, I feel them more.  I tend to prefer blues that are more folky and jazzy, slower, even laid back.  I actually dislike the more heavy, rock oriented blues (like Walter Trout who I am listening to now or like George Thorogood).

Secondly, I have been listening to a lot of jazz vocalists or vocalists doing the Great American Songbook.  The best CD I’ve purchase over the Product Detailslast few years is Volume V of Rod Stewart’s Great American Songbook series of CDs.  Volume III is also great.  I’ve also enjoyed Diana Krall, Madeleine Peyroux, Melody Gardot, Kat Edmonson, and others.  Another of the best CDs over the last few years is From Paris to Rio by Karrin Allyson, one song of which is Plaisir D’Amour, a song that I can listen to endlessly.  And how about Etta James doing At Last?

Taste is a strange thing.  As I mentioned, I adore Plaisir D’Amour, so much that I had to play it for my daughter and one of her friends.  We were in my car, they were in the back seat, I started the song, and pumped up the volume.  They didn’t react at all.  They weren’t impressed and I ended up feeling a bit embarrassed.

A few months later, my daughter drove up from the great state of Nebraska to spend a few days visiting.  She had heard a CD by Natalie Maines (ex of the Dixie Chicks) that she liked so well that she bought a copy for me and copies for some of her friends.  I was not impressed with the CD. It did nothing for me.

Is there such as thing as good taste?  Or bad taste?  I trust my daughter’s taste but she is not moved by songs I love and vice versa.  I think there may be educated taste and non-educated taste, but is educated taste necessarily any better than non-educated taste?  I don’t know.  There only conclusion that I feel competent to state is that people’s tastes are different (duh!).

Product DetailsBack to the third type of music – afro-cuban music in all its various forms:  son, salsa, bolero, merengue, bachata, township music from South Africa, the proto-bluesmen from Mali.  One great CD is Eric Bibb and Habib Koite teaming up on Brothers From Bamako, a mix of a folksy American blues with Malian music.

Product DetailsThis is the stuff I’ve been listening to lately.  Throw in a bit of Mozart and Beethoven, a smattering of jazz (Errol Garner on the piano), some contemporary singer-songwriters (Amos Lee), bits of Opera (O Mio Babinno Caro), and you’ve got my CD collection.  Did I forget to mention a bit of Americana and country.  How about Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens doing The Streets Of Bakersfield?  Johnny Cash?  The Nashville Bluegrass Band?

Well, I’m running out of words.  Still drinking beer, still listening to the blues on Pandora.  Night all.

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