Thursday, March 24, 2005

Letters, I Get Letters…

Life As I Live It


Some excerpts from recent emails that I’ve received:

First, for the more serious side, here, courtesy of the ASPCA News Alert, are the five plants that are the most hazardous to your pet’s health:

Lilies
Azaleas
Oleander
Sago Palm
Castor Bean

More details available here.

And now, the ridiculous. The Nigeria Scam has been brought up to date with recent worldwide political events. Here is an excerpt of an email I got last night:

“Dear Friend

This mail may not be surprising to you if you have been following current events in the international media with reference to the Middle East and Palestine in particular. I am Mrs. SUHA ARAFAT, the wife of YASSER ARAFAT, the Palestinian leader who died recently in Paris. Since his death and even prior to the announcement, I have been thrown into a state of antagonism, confusion, humiliation, frustration and hopelessness by the present leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the new Prime Minister. I have even been subjected to physical and psychological torture. As a widow that is so traumatized, I have lost confidence with everybody in the country at the moment. You must have heard over the media reports and the Internet on the discovery of some fund in my husband secret bank account and companies and the allegations of some huge sums of money deposited by my husband in my name of which I have refuses to disclose or give up to the corrupt Palestine Government. In fact the total sum allegedly discovered by the Government so far is in the tune of about $6.5 Billion Dollars. And they are not relenting on their effort to make me poor for life. As you know, the Moslem community has no regards for woman, hence my desire for a foreign assistance.”

Emphasis mine. Everything else is unchaged.

And finally, what the world needs now is…Christian Debt Counseling! It's certainly one of the more interesting bits of spam I've gotten lately. I guess the next one will be for Christian Viagra! It seems to me a much more “Christian” thing to do would be to stop the “moral values” political party from selling everyone out to the credit card companies.

Arrived in the Mail

Magazines

Between Iraq and Social Security, the political situation is so damn dismal right now, that you have to take every chance you can to laugh. It’s either that or go stark raving mad. These guys are helpful. I just got one of their sample issues and will be subscribing as soon as I can. And then ordering a few of these as gifts!

I also got an unsolicited sample copy of this publication the other day, which looks quite interesting. It’s a novel approach to history, that’s for sure.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Back Strain and Blog Strain

Personal

I strained my back over the weekend moving a short comic box full of trade paperbacks, so I didn’t get a chance to do any posting or much of anything, except lying in the bed. Now, it’s catch up time, plus a mish mash of some new stuff too.
Funny Book Mish Mash

Comics

Dorian wrapped up his week of non-comic book talk on Friday in a particularly eye-catching way.

There are very few super-hero comics I want to read these days, and it looks like the one I’m most interested in reading will never be published again.

Newsarama has been doing a long-term series of articles that follows a brand new comic shop from its opening day. It’s been an interesting look at what goes into operating a small business. I find it almost intriguing that only one of the owners is a comics nerd. The other one is a friend who got drug into the business.

The latest installment is up, and it contains this telling little tidbit:

"There was a girl who came in who looked like she was about high school age. I asked her, "Can I help you find anything?" And she said, "I don't know. I was just curious. I've never read a comic before." I said, "What kind of things are you into?" She just says, "Um. I'm into romance." That's a tough one to swallow when it comes to comics. I don't really carry manga. So I was trying to think of a romance title. I had just finished reading a few Noble Causes trades a couple weeks before that. It's like a superhero soap opera. So I turned her on to the first trade of Noble Causes. A couple weeks later she was loving it. Digging it. She wanted Volume 2. It's a great title."

On the one hand, they’ve stated a couple of times that they want to be able to serve the casual reader/browser that wanders into the store. On the other, when one does come in (a female, yet), they’re almost at a loss for a recommendation! Happily, the one they can make seems to have clicked with her, but the whole incident makes it look like the store is lacking in a depth and variety of selection (and the owners are definitely lacking in their knowledge of what's out there), which is kind of sad. You can’t get new readers/customers without the material that will appeal to them. I wonder why so many LCS owners don't seem to get that concept.

The guys at Alter Ego may think they're operating a store that's friendly to the non-comics reader and casual browser, but they're not.

I wish APE would post their programming schedule. I already know that I’m going to be doing a lot of browsing and shopping, but I’d like to know what else they’ve got planned.

Shows, CD's and What Not

Music Mish Mash

Keith and I went to see Kieran McGee do an in store show at Ear X-tacy on Saturday, pre-back strain. I don’t get where this flood of young folks doing this music that’s so heavily influenced by traditional and old-time tunes is coming from, but I hope it doesn’t stop any time soon. To look at him, you’d expect him to do these droney emo-core mope-ass songs, and he hits you with this flood of old time country bluesy twangy music! His lyrics could have used a tweak or two in places, but it’s obvious he’s got great talent and potential. I’ll have to check out his CD, soon!


I ended up going to see Natalie MacMaster with a friend from work, since Keith wasn’t feeling well. There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe the show. From start to finish it was a blast of high energy playing, charisma, and fun. MacMaster took great pains to point out that despite all the flash, her music is firmly rooted in the Cape Breton tradition, with “a few bells and whistles added on.”

I think it’s this sense of rootedness and tradition that made for such a great show. Yes, there were all sorts of extra touches, electric bass, drums, and so on, but they never overpowered the fiddle-playing. Instead, they supported and complemented it, creating a mix of the old and the new that was intoxicating.

MacMaster is a consummate musician and entertainer as well. She spent the show interacting with various band members, pulling them off to one part of the stage or another, as if they were a mini-band within her larger band. She carried the audience along too, teaching about Cape Breton and its music, as well as entertaining. She’s also not afraid to let her musicians shine on their own; in the middle of the show, her piper, Matt MacIsaac, gave a solo on the Highland bagpipe.

It was just a super show.

I found an Edith Piaf CD at a thrift store recently and spent yesterday playing it. I really got a kick out of it. Great, great stuff! It was a fun change of pace from my usual listening habits.

Keith and I have become really enamored of the Americana music channel we get on cable via Music Choice lately. We can listen to a variety of artists, many that we know and like and many that we don't kow but find intriguing, without having to change CD's! It's encouraging that they'll play even more politically-charged music, like stuff from Steve Earle's last CD. We are puzzled by a few of their choices, though. I mean, Alan Jackson? On an Americana channel? C'mon!

Better Late Than Never, I Guess

Comics

Note: I actually had hopes of getting this posted in a somewhat timely fashion. I was kind of proud of actually completing a Previews write up, early in the month, for the first time since I started this blog. But, for some reason, it never happened. However, I'm determined to have more comic-related content here, so I am going ahead and posting it (as originally written) to meet that goal, if nothing else. Since I am posting this so late in the month, I have decided to forego adding links to titles and publisher.

Previews has pretty slim pickings this month. Maybe that means I’ll finally get one of these things finished and posted. Maybe not, but a guy can dream, right? Think of this as nothing more than a few things that came to mind as I looked over this month’s listings. Some of them I will order. Some I won’t. Some I already have. Some just brought out my snarky pundit, for whatever it’s worth.

Dark Horse has another of their wonderful Little Lulu volumes: Sunday Afternoon. I just wish they would include volume numbers, to make it easier to keep up with things. As a long-term Lulu lover, I’ve been getting a great kick out of this series. John Stanley rocks!

DH also has the first new Too Much Coffee Man book in FOREVER, which will make Keith very happy. Me too, especially when it’s combined with a new volume of What’s Michael. I haven’t seen this munch to look forward to from Dark Horse in AGES!

DC continues to mine the aging fanboy nostalgia market with The Wrath of the Spectre tpb, which reprints some genuinely creepy Spectre stories from the 70’s by Michael Fleisher and Jim Aparo. For their time, these were some pretty disturbing stories, but I doubt that feeling has held up in the years since their original publication. TwoMorrows stakes its own claim to aging fanboy nostalgia dollars with a book about the THUNDER Agents.

Hoping to hitch a ride on the coattails of the movie (sorry about that), DC is also trotting out their Hitchhiker’s Guide tpb again.

A few months ago, Brian Hibbs stated in one of his Newsarama columns that Image had an image problem (sorry again). He feels that the company lacks a clearly defined identity. Several people took issue with that statement, but this month’s solicitations support his thesis. Mixed in amongst the standard Image fare is this:

SLOP: ANACLETA TP
May 25 • 144 pg • BW • $12.99
written by DAVE CROSLAND & DEBBIE
art & cover by DAVE CROSLAND & DEBBIE
This digest-sized volume is a collection of short stories from underground kingpin DAVE CROSLAND (BAD IDEAS, PUFFED, HEAVEN LLC) and his partner in crime, DEBBIE (Venus Magazine, Spin, tastes like chicken). The book culls the best stories from the five-year run of their out-of-print mini-comic, SLOP, including the Zine Yearbook Award-winning “Patience Gets You Nowhere, Tolerance Gets You Hurt.” It also contains original pinups and rare sketchwork from DAVE and DEBBIE’s art book, Acid Bomb, monthly “Slop” comic strips that appeared on tlchicken.com and all sorts of never-before-seen doodles and goodies. As if that wasn’t enough, SLOP: ANACLETA is rounded out by four brand new, mind-blowing comic shorts. It’s all the humor, drama and social commentary these tenacious Ds could muster, finally collected and available to the worldwide masses!

I know that Image prides itself on being a home for creator-owned work, but that’s too vague a concept to be a core identity. What they need is a series of imprints and lines, kind of like DC does, to at least organize their output a little better. I can see four:

Crappy comics from the Image founders
Lame super-hero comics from other people
The few titles we publish that are actually good
Oddball stuff like Slop: Anacleta that’s probably pretty bad

Moving into the back, Mike Allred is offering another issue of his retelling of the Book of Mormon. I may be alone in this, but I’m finding this series to be fascinating. In my Southern Baptist upbringing, Mormonism was considered a cult, so I don’t know much about their central scripture book at all. It’s pretty hokey and outlandish in places, but no more so than any other scripture collection. Allred’s art suits the story well, and this is obviously a labor of love for him. If I’m going to indulge my weakness for religiously-themed comics, it’s nice to see one done my one of my favorite artists!

Speaking of religiously-oriented works and favorite artists, Vertical has another volume of Tezuka’s Buddha up for release. When they first started this series, I worried that they might fold before getting all eight volumes out. They’re up to six, so it looks like they’re proving me wrong. This is probably the best series being published right now, and certainly the best thing from Tezuka I’ve ever read. (Which says a lot when you realize how much I love Adolf.)

Out of all the other manga, the only thing that looks interesting is Pale Pink from CPM. You don’t see many manga dealing with topics like bulimia and self-esteem issues. I just hope the book doesn’t end up going for melodrama at the expense of serious storytelling. ADV is releasing the original Gatchaman anime series, the one that was bastardized into Battle of the Planets. I have wanted to see this for YEARS, so this is exciting news!

On the alternative side of the comics playing field, Alternative is offering a Xeric winning book by Bishakh Som, called Angel. On the one hand, it sounds interesting. On the other, a solicitation that references Beardsley, Klimt, Gorey, and Jaime Hernanadez may be raising expectations too high for the work to meet. Drawn and Quarterly has the first of their Gasoline Alley collections. At 400 pages, it’s going to be pretty hefty! I hope it does well for them. I’d like to see the King strips completely collected. DQ also has a new book from Luc Giard. I don’t think I’ve seen anything from him since the earliest issues of DQ.

Fantagraphics has a new collection from Johnny Ryan. Oh, joy. They more than make up for that lapse in judgement, however, with new books from Thomas Ott, Jason, and Paul Hornschmeier.

I cannot remember seeing Britsh publisher Knockabout in Previews before, so their solicitation came as a pleasant surprise. A very pleasant surprise, indeed, given the listing of a book from Hunt Emerson! NBM takes on Lincoln’s assassination in the newest Victorian Murder volume from Rick Geary. And Top Shelf rounds out the alt round-up with a new volume from James Kochalka—featuring super-heroes, believe it or not!

And to prove that not every thing in the back of the Previews catalog is worth reading, Dementian Comics has another volume of Stylish Vittles from Tyler Page. I’ve never seen a series with the potential to be so good waste its time on pretense and indulgence the way this one does. The core of Page’s story, a retelling of his first serious relationship, is pretty solid, but he lays out conflicts that aren’t resolved and can’t resist playing all kinds of authorial tricks which bog things down and distract from the story. If he had a good editor, this three volume sprawling epic could have been pared down to one volume of solid story.

Also in the over-praised disappointment category, the new True Story Swear to God trade is solicited from AIT/Planetlar. This one will contain what I consider to be the absolute low point of the series: the protagonist coping with the thought of a hurricane threatening his lover’s home by imagining them both as super-heroes! Thankfully, it’s just for one scene at the beginning of a story, but it almost completely undermines the emotional impact of the rest of the story. It’s a shame that the scenes showing Lily and her friends barricaded inside while the hurricane rages all around them and Tom waits and worries by the phone are undercut by the nonsense that opens the story.

This continues to be one of the most frustrating series I read. It has such potential, but manages to waste a lot of it. Even when they aren’t flying over hurricanes, there still seems to be something in the story that keeps me from totally investing in Tom and Lily and their story. For a true to life story, I often feel like everything is being carefully crafted to place some topics and areas of discussion off-limits to me as a reader. Unfortunately, these are the very things that would make the story much more interesting and realistic.

Of course, every time I think I’m going to drop the series, it has a minor upswing, so I stick around optimistically hoping that the series will start growing into its potential. Needless to say, I usually end up disappointed. Thankfully the recent issues dealing with Tom’s decision to uproot himself from the only home he’s ever known to move to Puerto Rico with Lily have much more emotional resonance than is typical for this series. Which, of course, means I’m still hanging on.

Finally, looking at things more tailored for the bookstore than the comic shop, Marjane Satrpi has a new book, Embroideries (Pantheon) and Puffin has a whole raft of classics as gn’s, including MacBeth and Black Beauty. Keith Knight is putting out another K Chronicles collection too. Pickings may have been slim, but some of them look really nice.

For other opinions on Previews: check out Johanna Draper Carlson, Augie de Blieck, (both de Blieck and Carlson have more favorable opinions of True Story and Stylish Vittles than I do), and Ninth Art.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Fine Art of Re-Surfacing

Music

This is the weekend's musical update. According to the latest email newsletter from Not Lame Records, the entire Boomtown Rats catalog is being reissued! This stuff has been out of print FOREVER!! Yay!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Concert Catch Up

Music

I have a real bad habit of writing posts and setting them aside for proofing and editing and then never getting around to posting them. As a result, I’ve pitched about a dozen Days of Our Lives updates because they got to be so out of date. I really don’t want to do that to these concert posts, because I thought all the shows were worthy of comment. So, if you’ll pardon the length, here is a run down of the shows we’ve seen so far in 2005. I’m trying to paste and edit together all those old, unused blogs, so I hope it all flows okay.

Family Children First Fundraiser (sometime in January—can’t find the date now)

It was all about good music for a good cause in January at the Rudyard Kipling. Five local bands came together to raise money for Family and Children First, a local counseling/social service agency that had been hit by two devastating break-ins recently, resulting in the loss of many of the gift certificates and things they use to help families in need.

Some of our agency’s programs partner with and interact with Family and Children First, so I thought it would be good to go. The fact that two of my favorite local performers, Tim Krekel and Danny Flanigan, were on the bill had nothing to do with it, of course. The cause was good. The price was right for a show featuring three acts we didn’t know anything about.

I’m always up for exploring new artists, usually more than Keith, and there were a few signs that indicated I just might like them. The event organizers had gotten alt-country mag No Depression to sponsor the show, for one thing. As an avid ND reader, I know the music they support and it’s typically what I like.

Besides supporting FCF and hearing the bands, going to a show sponsored by ND was kind of important to me too. One of ND’s publishers lives in Morehead, KY and this was the first show in the state that I knew of where they were involved. I wanted to support that idea, so that maybe this kind of thing can happen again. Louisville and Lexington are full of the kind of musicians ND supports, so are Berea, Frankfort, the Northern Ky area, and on and on.

Tim Krekel opened the show with his rootsy rock. It was the first time we’d ever seen him with his band, which includes a couple of horn players. Tim can rock out on his own with just his guitar, so what the band added to his songs was a little more color and dimension. It was fun to hear live versions of songs like Sunshine Baby and Happy Town with full instrumentation.

I love acoustic music. I always have. I like the organic feel it has, and the way the unadorned connection between the performer/songwriter and song comes to life. It’s almost like hearing the song the way it was heard the first time it was played. Nevertheless, I also like the chance to get a different perspective to familiar songs. That’s what I got from the Krekel band that night..

Of course, Krekel ended up with a small crew of Krekies in the audience. Their singing and dancing brought an element of fun to the event and helped set the right mood for the evening.

I’d never heard The Betweeners, who came next. They’re a smaller group and their music struck me as a mix of old timey music, alt-country, and some rock. Unfortunately, the lead singer’s vocals weren’t miked very well, so he kept getting lost in the mix. That’s not a good way to hear a group for the first time, because you can’t get a handle on the lyrics. Still, I was intrigued enough by them to want to hear them again, which is a good thing to say about someone you hear for the first time.

Dallas Alice was next up. They take their name from Willing, a truck-driving song that’s been recorded by dozens of folks. I think of it primarily as a Linda Ronstadt song, but the band kept referring to Willie Nelson’s version. Of course they also performed it as part of their set. Their songs have some twisted humor in them, which I really liked. I’ll definitely be getting one of their CD’s soon.

I wasn’t that impressed with the next act, the John Mann Band. He had a three piece horn section, which was fun to watch and listen to, but his songs didn’t have anything to them that reached out and grabbed me.

Danny Flanigan closed out the show, with his band, the rain chorus. Like Krekel, it was the first time we had seen him with his band. They did a pretty complete set of their best crowd-pleasing songs: Vernon’s Mud, the ode to the working man, Flanigan’s exhortation for people to get involved and make change, Work the Change, Faith Never Sleeps, a song about hard times, Iowa, about an emotional family reunion, and others. They really rocked out throughout the whole set, on into the encore, where they did covers of Country Roads and Me and Julio among other songs.

Their best moment, though, came when Flanigan debuted a new song, one that the band hadn’t even heard before. He told them to take a break and started to play, but bit by bit they started picking up on the melody and playing along with him, even improvising guitar solos and backing vocals. It was fun to watch a group of creative minds coming together ad hoc to contribute to the song.

The only real downer to the night was slow service from the Rud, which is perennially understaffed. There was a huge crowd all night long, and there were only two servers to cover everyone. I felt sorry for them. Judging from the size of the crowd, Family and Children First raised quite a bit of money, which is good. I hope they’ll use some of it for new locks.

Music Weekend in February

The weekend of February 25-26 was a good one for music. That Friday night we went to see Chicago folk duo Small Potatoes at the Kentucky Theatre. I’m glad to see the Kentucky having more performances and getting active again. They’ve had a tough year in terms of funding. I hope things are starting to look up for them.

I had not heard Small Potatoes, but had heard of them. I talked Keith into going based on that reputation, which is the kind of thing I’m prone to do. He calls me our social planner, based on my tendency to find some odd little musical event or art exhibit for us to check out.

Anyway, it was a great performance. Like a lot of more grass-roots oriented musicians, Small Potatoes’ repertoire is a combination of insightful songs mixed with slightly silly ones. The best of the silly category was a ditty about a traveling salesman who meets the Knott family: Will, his wife Norma Lee, and daughters May Bea, Shirley, and Wy (short for Wynona). They called this their “Abbot and Costello on Hee Haw” song, and if you say those names out loud with the family name, you’ll see why. It was fun.

Their other songs dealt with the things that make up life: aging, love, living in community, trying to make each moment count. The song A Thousand Candles, A Thousand Cranes used the story of two women scarred by World War II to make a case for growing beyond past pains to build a peaceful world. The lifetime of hatred one woman has borne for the Japanese after losing two of her sons in the war is finally overcome when a woman who survived Hiroshima becomes her nurse.

Small Potatoes play several instruments and a variety of genres, referring to themselves as “eclectomaniacs,” but their greatest strength is their songwriting. During the song Time Flies the narrator grapples with getting older, saying “Time flies and I can’t get off the ground.” In their closing song, they used a series of (not so) rhetorical questions to make a case for deliberately living to make a difference, even if it’s small.

For me the high point of the concert came after the intermission, when they opened with an ancient Irish tune and segued immediately into Phil Ochs’ I Ain’t Marching Any More, a poignant anti-war song, which details the devastation wrought throughout American history by war. At the end of the song, they made the comment that a few years ago they would have thought the Ochs song was just a “quaint bit of nostalgia.” Sigh!

Saturday evening, we went to Headliners to see Buddy Miller. It was the most interesting Headliners experience I think we’ve ever had. We got there a half hour before the door opened to find we were the first people in line. Usually getting there that close to opening puts you behind a couple dozen people. This is significant when you realize that Headliners doesn’t have a whole lot of seating and all the shows are general admission.

By the time the doors opened, there was only one other couple waiting there with us. We actually began to worry that the turnout would be low. The place filled up after a little while though. Since the only station that plays Miller’s music is our AAA format public radio station, the audience was largely made up of station-listeners, which meant a lot of people our age or slightly older. As a result, there was a lot less cigarette smoke to deal with and fewer annoying drunks. It was Headliners like we had never seen it before. I almost think I could get used to that.

The most noticeable exception was the other couple who was waiting outside with us. They pulled up in a cab, and she was carrying a highball glass from the hotel where they were staying. (They were from out of town.) Before the show started, they had several mixed drinks, and I saw him ordering vodka shots at the bar. After the music started, they had no telling how many beers. Still, they managed to keep to themselves and not bother anyone else the whole night. And at least they weren’t driving!

The opening act was Louisville alt-country band 10 Months Later. I had not heard them before, but I liked what I heard enough to want to check them out again some time. Some times that’s about the best thing you can say about a band that’s new to you.

Buddy Miller only had a three piece band (drums, bass, keyboards, along with Miller on electric guitar), which gave the songs a sparse, stripped down feel that benefits his somewhat dark, brooding material really well. I thought things would feel different without the powerful, gospel-oriented back up singers he’s been using lately, but the low key back up let the power of Buddy’s killer guitar playing and songwriting take center stage.

They opened with rocking versions of Hole in My Head, Does My Ring Burn Your Finger, and Worry Too Much, and then went in to some of the more gospel-oriented material from his latest CD, Universal United House of Prayer. There was an oddly communal feeling to signing along with his cover of the Louvin Brothers’ Higher Power with a room full of strangers! Shelter Me Lord had a similar feel to it. Much more of that and it would have been almost like being at church, albeit one which features alt-country bands and keeps an open bar.

That churchy vibe might explain the wedding in the middle of the show. Yes, I said “wedding.” The drummer and his long term girlfriend were married by the keyboard player who is apparently ordained in some fashion. The band put on little while silk flowers as boutonni√®res, and the bride carried a bunch of carrots. The ceremony was short and direct: The keyboard player asked if they loved each other and wanted to commit. They said “Yes.” He pronounced them married. They kissed and put on rings made of guitar strings. As odd as it all sounds, I think it was serious.

Keith was even recruited to serve as official wedding photographer. He was taking pics of the band, when two women asked him if he would take some shots of the ceremony. He talked one of the security folks into letting him go up into the balcony area, which was closed for this show, and fired away. You just never know what’s going to happen when you leave the house some evenings.

Miller interacted with the crowd all evening, on and off stage. I actually ran into him going into the bathroom before the show. He smiled at me! During the show, he talked at length about how Emmylou Harris intervened when his record label wanted to call Universal something else. He didn’t find out she did that until after the fact, but for me it only reinforces her status as the Mother Goddess of Music. She looks out for her “children.” He also shared his conversation with Jim Lauderdale about appropriate Grammy dress.

Even with all the extra happenings, it was Miller’s music that was the star of the show. His version of his wife Julie’s song In My Father’s Arms raised the hair on my arms, while his wail in Midnight and Lonesome ripped my heart out. It was a heckuva show and a heckuva night. Awesome.

Homefront in February

The new season of Homefront started last month, and we were right there picking up our season passes. We both feel so guilty for missing so many shows last season that I doubt we let one go by this spring.

John Gage and company started off on the right foot this time, with Traveler’s Dream, Junkyard Jane, Janis Pruitt, and Steve Jowasis. The first show opened with Jowaisis, who used traditional instruments to perform a variety of traditional and orginal tunes. He performs in a variety of venues, including schools, and his love for traditional music and drive to share with any audience that will listen was evident in his performance. I bet that his engaging personality is great with kids.

Traveler’s Dream was next up. Like Jowaisis, they perform a variety of traditional and original tunes, but they incorporate folk tunes and instruments from a variety of other cultures that have helped form the American experience: Irish, French, Gypsy and others. Their performance was marred by a couple of technical glitches, but part of the fun of going to a Homefront taping is the occasional re-take. Given all of the things that can go wrong in a live performance, I’m always surprised that there aren’t more do-overs.

The second show veered more towards the contemporary end of the scale with singer-song-writer Janis Pruitt. I’ve only heard Pruitt a couple of times, but she has a way of telling stories and crafting songs that reminds me of both Kate Campbell and Carrie Newcomer. I was especially touched by her song about the way love of music helped form a bond for Pruitt and her father, despite the fact that their musical tastes were wildly divergent. I also liked the bouncy Amsterdam, an ode to a love long lost.

Junkyard Jane followed with their “swampbilly” sound—a conglomeration of rock, Cajun, folk, blues, country and anything else that can be thrown into the mix. They’re almost as much fun to watch as to listen to. Their drummer has a kit that’s largely homemade, seemingly out of whatever odds and ends he could get his hands on, while vocalist LeeAnn Trevalyan also plays everything from a washboard to a kazoo shaped like a trombone. They were great!

In between the acts on both shows, storyteller Graham Chapman shared stories of his experiences teaching English in Japan. Each story was liberally sprinkled with bits of Japanese (along with a translation), which gave them a grounding in the culture where they happened. It was a great start to a new season.

Homefront on March 12

In honor of St Patrick’s Day, Homefront shows in March typically feature Celtic acts, featuring a couple of this region’s many talented bands that play music of Irish origin (frequently with some Scottish, English, and Bluegrass tunes thrown into the mix). I tend to look forward to those shows, because we’re guaranteed good music. (I really like authentic Celtic music.) Unfortunately, this particular Saturday’s show didn’t fully deliver on that promise.

The first hour was the Celtic hour, as the show that was taped featured Colin Grant-Adams and Guilderoy Byrne. Grant-Adams is a transplant to Kentucky from Scotland, and his set included both original and traditional tunes. While introducing Grant-Adams’ set, Homefront host John Gage said that they had been trying to get him on the show for a long time. After his set, all I could do was wonder “Why?”

He has a pleasant enough voice and plays guitar competently, but his original compositions were underwhelming, with awkward lyrical structures that made them hard to follow. His rendition of Barbara Allen sounded like it was lifted right off a Burl Ives album, turning this tragic love ballad into some kind of bouncy, sing-a-long campfire ditty. The only good song in his set was another original Where the Rhododendrons Grow, which drew upon this plant, common to both a certain area in Scotland and a part of Tennessee where many Scots settled, to tell the story of people making their way in the new world, taking comfort in the familiar, while overcoming the challenges of the new. The song’s lyrics were plain and direct, which meant that the emotion they carried was powerful and real. Unfortunately, from there he went back into sing-along schmaltz mode by closing with When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.

Thankfully, Guilderoy Byrne more than made up for the poor first act with their set, a mixture of traditional music, original songs, instrumentals, and more. They played a combination of traditional instruments with non-trad items like bongos mixed in. I was really impressed with their fiddle player (who also played the viola at one point). In addition to the nimble fiddling typically associated with Celtic music, she frequently used her instrument to add mournful undertones to the songs, an effect I found really haunting. The mix of music (including a couple polkas!) kept the audience engaged, clapping along, and singing from time to time. They closed with a four-song medley that showcased a variety of instruments and left me wanting much more.

It’s rare when Homefront has an act disappoints me as much as Grant-Adams did, but the other three acts usually make up for it. This Saturday turned out to be the first night that two of the acts were mediocre. The second set featured Jason Eustice and Danny Flanigan. I knew that Flanigan was performing without his band, and I only saw one chair set up for Eustace (who opened), so I guessed that the theme for the show was going to be sensitive singer-songwriter guys. Boy, was I wrong.

In introducing Eustice, John Gage described him as a young man making his way in Nashville, which started to make me a little apprehensive. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how one goes about making one’s way. Then he started to sing. And it wasn’t a good thing. Not at all.

It’s not that he wasn’t talented. He played well. He sang well. He’s young and cute. He’s got good hair and trendy clothes. And he writes overwrought, sentimental songs with all the substance of a cotton ball. In other words, with the right management, he’s primed for mainstream, contemporary country music success, either as a songwriter for others or a performer in his own right. And none of that is what I go to Homefront to see.

About halfway through the first song, I thought: “This is way too Rascal Flatts for me.” Two songs later, he announced that the next song is being considered for a Rascal Flatts album! (And this was after two that were being considered by Brooks and Dunn.) The whole set was just awkward and out of place. Homefront is about preserving musical traditions and grassroots artists. It’s not about lyrics like: “Every morning when I wake up/The first breath I exhale/I tell the man in the mirror/To go straight to hell.” (Try saying that with a straight face. I dare you.)

Admittedly, I’m not the demographic for this kind of stuff, but bad music is bad music. And Homefront exists to counter stuff like this and celebrate the good music that’s out there. I’m chalking this one up as an aberration.

Once again, the show was saved by the second set. After John Gage sang an Irene Kelley song and reminded us how good country music can be when it’s simple, honest, and direct, Danny Flanigan took the stage and repeated the lesson. Opening with Three Days to Benjamin, his song about leaving his son to go on a tour. With a few simple, low key phrases, Flanigan sums up his frustration with having to leave the son he loves to play the music he loves. Rather than dwell on the difficulty of the separation, he builds on the anticipation of the reunion, as the song counts down the things that stand between him and his son: three days, three states, three hours, three roads, three walls. It’s bittersweet and touching, and the complete opposite of anything performed in the first set.

The rest of his set was just as moving—sometimes to laughter, sometimes to deep thought. Unfortunately, the show was running over, and to make the tape length, he had to cut things short. But Gage asked him to do an encore once the tape stopped, and he obliged with Dumpy Like Dad, a new song about the perils of middle-aged metabolism.

It was the most mixed night I’ve ever seen at Homefront. But even a mixed night at Homefront is better than a good one somewhere else. On the plus side, the place was packed. I haven’t seen it that full in a long time. There were hardly any empty seats! I hope those folks saw enough of the good side of Homefront to want to come back.

They announced at the beginning of the show that they’re looking into taping the shows for TV broadcast in addition to radio, which is a fantastic opportunity for them. To prepare for this, they’ve been putting together a new set for the stage. It’s supposed to debut next month. Unfortunately, I have to miss that show, so I’ll have to wait until May to see it. They’ve also gotten back into the groove of updating their web page regularly, which is a good thing.

Whew! Thanks for bearing with that. I’ll work harder at keeping up with that. I’m worn out from putting it all together!

Upcoming Shows

For Keith and Eddie:

Natalie MacMaster at the Kentucky Center for the Arts (Tonight!)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Brown Theatre (Next Friday)

For Eddie in San Francisco:

Shivaree with Clem Snide
Michael Penn

For Keith in Louisville while Eddie’s in San Francisco:

Steve Earle at Headliners(!)
Todd Snider at Headliners

Looks like we’ll both miss Homefront in April!

Possible Shows for Keith and Eddie:

Kieran McGee at Ear X-Tacy (This Saturday)
Sahara Odyssey: Arabic Music and Dance at Kentucky Theater (Next Saturday)
Girlyman at the Rud on March 30 (I just got an email saying that they've got a new CD ready to come out soon!)
Alan Rhody and Tim Krekel at the Rud on April 15
Slaid Cleaves at the Rud on April 27

(I haven’t talked with him about any of these, but they’re all easily doable.)

I also have a feeling—call it a hunch, if you will—that Keith will catch the free Todd Snider show at Ear X-Tacy on April 9….

And there’s also a certain singing Cajun passing through here in May….

Plus, this guy coming in April!

Musically, at least, life is good!

Say “Go-Shay” Y’all!

Music

Woo hoo! I am so excited I cannot stand it! Keith told me yesterday that Mary Gauthier is going to be opening for Kathleen Edwards here in Louisville on May 17! I haven’t heard Kathleen Edwards’ newest one yet, but if it’s anything like her old one, it’s awesome.

Mary Gauthier is, of course, beyond awesome.

Can’t wait! Can’t wait!
You Can’t Do Everything…

Music

My trip to SF next month has put some crimps into our usual travel schedule, since I’m using a store of vacation days that would normally be available to us for overnight trips and the like. Of course, I’ll get more time, but that takes a while. Keith is being a good sport about it, which I appreciate. However, I could not help being bummed yesterday to find out that Jill Sobule is going to be in Lexington and Bloomington right before I leave. The timing just doesn’t work, since either of them would require an overnight, because Keith doesn’t like to drive late at night. Bummer.

Still, I can console myself that Rodney Crowell is going to be in Lexington on June 25, which is a Saturday. That means an overnight stay with no time off and a chance to shop at a couple of my favorite bookstores!

Plus, The Duhks will be here in Louisville on May 12 and Scott Miller will be here on April 21. They’re both mid-week shows, which we don’t often do, but I’m filing them away for future reference….
SF in APE-ril

Travel and Comics

So, why am I going to San Francisco anyway? Why to go to APE of course!

I have no interest in ever going to any comic convention organized by Wizard, and San Diego has grown to the point that it’s become a hassle to attend. Plus, the “mainstreaming” of comics has inevitably marginalized the stuff I like to read even more than before at San Diego. I just have no desire to put up with the crowds and the headaches, not to mention the further glorification of crappy comics (and crappy movies made from crappy comics).

That leaves me with few comic convention choices. There are several great shows that focus on the smaller publishers and alternative titles, of course. In fact, I was planning on going to SPX last year, when I changed plans so Keith and I could go to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco instead. I don‘t regret that switch, but it left me really wanting to do a comic con this year. SPX is out already, since we’re headed back to Hardly Strictly, so I decided that if one SF trip in a year was great, then two should be even better! And, voila, I’m heading to APE.

And looking forward to it. I got a great package deal on travel and a cool hotel, not far from APE. I’m going a few days early to chill a bit. Keith has decided to stay home, but he’s being really nice about letting me go, which I greatly appreciate!

With the upcoming cancellation of Human Target, my regular reading list is shorter than ever. I’m hoping to discover some new stuff at the show.
Tidying Up

Blog

I edited yesterday's music post to add some links and correct the titles of the Nanci Griffith and Mary Gauthier albums. Geez....

I listen to the damn things constantly and still can't get the titles right. I've called the Mary G. CD "No Mercy" instead of "Mercy Now" from the moment it was announced.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Musical Chairs

Music

Dorian at Post-Modern Barney has declared a moratorium on comics posts for the week, and the results, so far, have made for great reading. I love Wednesday’s post about music. I now have to check out French pop music! I’ve got to take a tip from anyone who listens to 80’s music, Polyphonic Spree, Dolly Parton, and Ashley MacIsaac! (Ashley’s gay? How did I miss that?)

Speaking of music, I got a neat bit of mail about the blog the other day. You can tell it’s a rare occurrence, because I feel the need to mention it. Chris, a fellow Sam Phillips fan, sent some kind words about my best of 2004 list, particularly since it included A Boot and a Shoe. He also passed on the news (to me) that Sam has her own web page now and is planning another new album for 2005! Yay!

Of course, I also got a slightly less positive email about my best concerts of 2004 list, from Keith, of all people. I knew he wouldn’t be to happy that I put any other show above Kris Kristofferson at the Ryman. He started grousing about it even before I finished the post! I kept telling him that if he didn’t like it, he should get his own blog. Well, he did.

Finally, some stuff I’m enjoying the hell out of lately:

Shivaree: Who’s Got Trouble?
Suzzy and Maggie Roche: Why the Long Face
Nanci Griffith: Hearts in Mind
Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous

And Mercy Now from Mary Gauthier kicks ass! But you already knew I’d say that….

There’s No Place Like Home

Personal

I’ve been house-sitting for some friends of mine who’ve spent the past week in Europe. God! It’s good to be home! I’ve got a million and one things to do before I take my vacation to San Francisco in a few weeks, but I’m home. To celebrate, I’m catching up on Days on the DVR and blogging!