Making Fajita’s

I nixed my planned run this evening on account of extremely hot and shitty weather conditions and I’m planning on running in the morning tomorrow.  And you know what that means:  “Shit.  Now I have no excuse to make dinner!”

Frig.

At least I’m in control of the stereo in the dining room since this family seems to observe the same principle of stereo control in our kitchen that others might in, say, their car. Meaning:  the person in charge of the food is the person in charge of the music.  So with that being said, tonight’s fajita-making soundtrack is the ‘Destiny Road‘  by the Peter Green Splinter Group.

Destiny Road‘  is the 4th album by the former Fleetwood Mac helmsman and guitarist with his band the Splinter Group, released in 1999.

In the late 60’s, Peter Green was one of a handful of British lead guitar heroes who were turning the music industry upside down; on a par with Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page and many championed him as the top of the heap.  Unfortunately, Green’s promise came crashing down quickly as drugs and his involvement with the occult drove him from the band and public life.  He sold his beloved Les Paul guitar to become a grave digger and severed all ties to show business.  Over the years, he has slowly eased himself back into it, making surprise appearances at other stars’ concerts and starting to play regularly again. While his legions of true believers were waiting for him to find his way back to full recovery, they got this album, recorded after a successful American tour with the band.

Well, there’s no original material here, but his guitar playing definitely shows flashes of the old brilliance in spots.  His voice, although a tad rusty in reaching for the high notes, has generally aged well, never gaining full roar and totally laid-back, much like the slower items in the early Fleetwood Mac songbook. In fact, there is a reworking here of a new version of the Mac hit ‘Man of the World‘.  My favorite is the immediately catchy ‘I Can’t Help Myself‘, which actually owes credit to the bands other guitarist Nigel Watson.

Green’s not the ‘ol tortured basket case of days long past on this particular album, but there is some great music aboard, you just have to root around for it.  Of course, between BBQ-ing the steak, frying the veggies, dicing the lettuce, warming the pita, grating the cheese (okay, I missed that one – so sue me), doling out the sour cream, salsa, etc., it’s not like I didn’t have time to do much rooting. I wasn’t looking for any deeper meanings as I just wanted to have something interesting to cook to.

Mission accomplished on that front.

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The Day After Hump Day in Corporate Hell

I was successfully up at the crack of dawn this morning for my fast-paced group ride which went well enough before I managed to get dropped at the very end.  Too much pulling into the wind and not enough breakfast beforehand.  Well, that’s my story anyway and I’m sticking to it.  Now I’m at the office for another exciting day of Powerpoint presentations and random email bullshit.  Oh joy.

I’m keeping with the Aussie theme I kick-started yesterday and choosing to listen to a more modern Australian album, the ‘Innerspeaker‘  album by Tame Impala.

In case you’ve been living under a bridge Tame Impala hails from Perth and formed in 2007 by Kevin Parker in 2007.  The group began as a home recording project for Parker, who writes, records, performs, and produces the music.  As a touring act, the project consists of Parker (guitar, vocals), Jay Watson (synthesiser, vocals, guitar), Dominic Simper (guitar, synthesiser), Cam Avery (bass guitar, vocals), and Julien Barbagallo (drums, vocals).  More than likely you’ll already know about their hit single ‘Elephant‘ (click HERE) from their hugely popular second album ‘Lonerism‘  since it was popularized in the Blackberry commercial as well as a half dozen television series.  Yeah, the ‘Elephant‘  guys.

Anyway, this album is actually their debut album released on the 21st of May, 2010.  In November of that year, ‘Innerspeaker’  won Australian youth-oriented radio network Triple J’s highest honor, winning the J Award for Album of the Year.

“Well, throw another shrimp on the barby, that’s the koala’s knackers mate!”

But it really is an excellent album.  On first listen, it provides a lot of dots to connect: There are patches of late-60s American psychedelia, buzzy Motor City riffage, and decades of British pop, ranging from the pastoral pop of the Kinks to the vivid expansiveness of the Verve to the narcotic warmth of the Stone Roses.  It all kicks off with my favorite, ‘It’s Not Meant To Be‘  which has a very “Beatles in Space” feel to it.  It’s a hefty, heartfelt debt to the hazy churn of late-60’s/early-70’s psych rock.  This is very much an album’s album – it sounds best as a piece, where you can get lost in its heady expanse. With the kaleidoscopic stereo-panning on ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?‘  or the maddening stomp on ‘Bold Arrow of Time‘, ‘Innerspeaker’  demonstrates a subtle yet encompassing sense of control, never obstructing the grander motifs while still offering a variety of odd details that guide you back to the album’s hooks.  There aren’t any standout singles on the album in the sense that it’s unlikely that people are going to be asking you to throw on certain tracks by name (though if in a pinch, ‘Expectation‘  and ‘Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?‘  should suffice nicely).

On a different note, the album’s cover features artwork from Australian artist Leif Podhajsky, an image of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, United States.  So, an Australian artists who does American landscapes.  Huh. What’s really neat though is that the original image has been digitally altered using the Droste effect in recursion to make it appear as if the image continues into itself, creating a distinctly psychedelic feeling reminiscent of Pink Floyd‘s album cover for ‘Ummagumma‘.

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Hump Day at Corporate Hell

Three months ago – for whatever reason – I decided to begin going through all my Aussie albums, which really means, I’m going through all the stuff I listened to on my Walkman while delivering newspapers back in the late 80’s; the hallmark era of Australian musical influences.  I’m picking up that quest again today I suppose in my choice to listen to another landmark album of Aussie influence.  Likewise, it is probably up there with Huey Lewis as the album I was most in love with at the time, the legendary ‘Kick‘  album by INXS.

Kick‘ was ultimately unreleased on the world on WEA Records (Atlantic Records in the US) in 1987.  As the band’s most successful studio album, it is certified six times platinum by the RIAA, and spawned four US top 10 singles, ‘New Sensation‘, ‘Never Tear Us Apart‘, ‘Devil Inside‘  and ‘Need You Tonight‘, the last of which reached the top of the Billboard singles charts.  I’m pretty sure I listened to this album about a zillion times.

What You Need‘  had taken INXS from college radio into the American Top 5, but there was little indication that the group would follow it with a multi-platinum blockbuster like Kick.  Where the follow-ups to ‘What You Need‘  made barely a ripple on the pop charts, ‘Kick‘  spun off four Top 10 singles, including the band’s only American number one, ‘Need You Tonight‘.  ‘Kick‘ crystallized all of the band’s influences – Stones-y rock & roll, pop, funk, contemporary dance-pop – into a cool, stylish dance/rock hybrid.  It was perfectly suited to lead singer Michael Hutchence’s feline sexuality, which certainly didn’t hurt the band’s already inventive videos.

But it wasn’t just image that provided their breakthrough.  For the first (and really only) time, INXS made a consistently solid album that had no weak moments from top to bottom.  More than that, really, ‘Kick‘  is an impeccably crafted pop tour de force, the band succeeding at everything they try.  Every track has at least a subtly different feel from what came before it; INXS freely incorporates tense guitar riffs, rock & roll anthems, swing-tinged pop/rock, string-laden balladry, danceable pop-funk, horn-driven 60’s soul, 80’s R&B, and even a bit of the new wave-ish sound they’d started out with. More to the point, every song is catchy and memorable, branded with indelible hooks.  Even without the band’s sense of style, the flawless songcraft is intoxicating, and it’s what makes ‘Kick‘  one of the best mainstream pop albums of the 80’s.

From my perspective listening to this album primarily as a teenager, it brings back not-so-fond memories of sore shoulders and the smell of fresh newsprint.  So to compliment my sense in reconnecting with this specific album today – at the office of all places – maybe I will drop and do a hundred push-ups before huffing the fumes from the photocopier.

It’s about as close as I’m ever going to get to reliving the summer of 1987.

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Cooking Dinner

I’ve completed my intended workout for the day as well as Stage 5 of this years ‘Tour de Ridgeway‘ with HRH  this evening (the post is coming, don’t worry) and now I’m trying to prepare dinner before Kelly comes home since it sounds like it’s been a pretty rough day at the office for her too, so dinner there had better be.

Anyway, although it seems I don’t cook enough these days I do enjoy quiet time in the kitchen with some music and tonight that musical choice was the ‘Dead Man Walking‘  soundtrack.

Dead Man Walking‘  was the soundtrack to the 1996 crime drama film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, and co-produced and directed by Tim Robbins, who adapted the screenplay from the non-fiction book of the same name.  The plot revolves around Matthew Poncelet has been in prison for six years, awaiting his execution by lethal injection for killing a teenage couple.  Poncelet, held in the Louisiana State Penitentiary,  committed the crimes with a man named Carl Vitello, who received life imprisonment. As the day of his execution comes closer, Poncelet asks Sister Helen, with whom he has corresponded, to help him with a final appeal and, Bob’s your uncle, you have a classic cult on your hands and this soundtrack perfectly captures that same rogue spirit.

Although it is not strictly a soundtrack – only four songs on the album were featured in the Tim Robbins film – ‘Dead Man Walking’  is nevertheless an incredibly fascinating listen. Robbins played a rough cut of his film to a number of musicians, asking them to contribute a song if they were intrigued by the story of a condemned prisoner on death row.  Nearly every musician he approached contributed a song, and they are collected on ‘Dead Man Walking‘.  The star power of the album is impressive – Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, Lyle Lovett, Patti Smith, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Steve Earle all are featured on the record – but names alone wouldn’t make ‘Dead Man Walking‘  a musical success.  Fortunately, most of the musicians contribute first-rate material, such as Springsteen’s spare, haunting title track, Waits’ gallows humor, and the bizarrely appropriate teaming of Vedder and Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn. Not only is the album an unusually constructed soundtrack, it is an unusually effective one, boasting almost no dead weight.  It’s one of those rare soundtracks that is as compelling as the film itself.

Taking it one step further, the soundtrack was infinitely more compelling than the gluten free sriracha-flavored vegetable cracker encrusted chicken strips I made for dinner.

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Dad Rockin’ it up at My Desk in Corporate Hell (Part 2)

It’s after lunch and I just quaffed down a slice of leftover lasagna and a yogurt cup and I need to recapture some of that momentum and drive I had this morning so I’m stepping the afternoon up with another Phish album that might also be classified as “Dad Rock“, the vastly under-appreciated ‘Joy‘  album.

‘Joy’  is the 14th studio album by the Vermont jamband moguls, released on September 8th, 2009, on the band’s own label, JEMP Records.  The album marked Phish’s return after a four year break, and also re-united the band with producer Steve Lillywhite, who last worked with Phish on their 1996 release, ‘Billy Breathes’.  When the band broke up in 2004, for what many thought would be forever, they went out on a bad note.  Their last performance, closing Coventry Festival, was an epic muddy disaster, and their last album (‘Undermind‘) is still widely regarded as their weakest (it was terrible).  The release of ‘Joy’  bridges the gap then between the end of that summer tour and the next Phish extravaganza, Festival 8, being held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

The album is a balance between the signature upbeat, short ditties of the late 80’s and the long jams that marked the band’s climax in the early ’90’s.  The 15-minute ‘Time Turns Elastic‘  is countered by the short, spirited ‘Kill Devil Falls‘; the whole album is a series of back-and-forths between extended improvisations and cheery, kicking tunes.

The album kicks off with ‘Backwards Down the Number Line‘, the first new song to be performed live by the band. The two-minute guitar solo, courtesy of one Trey Anastasio, sets the bar for the rest of the album.  ‘Stealing Time From the Faulty Plan‘, is a similarly-rocking number and the title track ‘Joy‘  is the kind of song that makes you want to hug all your friends in one big schmoopy goose pile of love.  Here at the office, though, I’ll just shoot a quick, non-committal smile at anyone who happens to walk by desk of their way to the bathroom.  It’s about as good as they’re gonna get.

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Dad Rockin’ it up at My Desk in Corporate Hell (Part 1)

I successfully managed to drag my lazy ass out of bed this morning for a 7k tempo run and, low and behold, I’m awake and feeling PRODUCTIVE!   Who knew?  I might even get something actually accomplished today other than reorganizing my email inbox (uh-gain!) and all these music posts.  So while my spirit and motivation is up I’m plugging into a similarly lively album to see if I can keep this momentum going for another 45 minutes or so (or until I need my next coffee maybe).

Typically, I drag out the live juggernaut of Phish’s live sets during my long runs but, today, I’m embracing my whole “Dad Rock” phase of music appreciation and culling into the bands studio archives beginning with the ‘Farmhouse‘  album.

Yes.  It’s official.

Phish has officially become “Dad Rock” (click HERE).  Meh.  I can live with that.

Like most things in life, I officially hopped on the Phish bandwagon rather late so although I had heard the other (older) albums by the band this was the one that was officially released during my “Phish Obsession” phase and, therefore, the album I most bonded with.  Most other Phish fans probably considered this their “Sell out” album but, hey, haters gonna hate.

Recorded at lead guitarist and front man Trey Anastasio’s “Barn” studio in Vermont, the album was officially released in 2000 on Eletrka Records which, coincidentally, was my first year participating in the Phish tour.  It was also the last album before the bands official/unofficial break-up in the same year.  Songwriting for ‘Farmhouse‘  was a joint effort between Trey Anastasio and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, with contributions from Tony Markellis, Russ Lawton and Scott Herman. All of the songs were already part of Phish’s live concert song rotation before being recorded for the album, some dating back to 1997.  ‘Heavy Things‘  became Phish’s biggest single to date, and was a hit on Adult Top 40 radio and on the Radio & Records pop 100 chart, and ‘First Tube‘  (by then a live performance staple)  was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

Regardless on your perspective of the album you can’t deny there’s a certain, shall we say, ‘je ne c’est quoi‘.  It flows.  It collects, builds then releases in total watershed moments of musical celebration.   The eponymous album opener and follow-up ‘Twist‘  are, well, okay, but ‘Bug‘  is a pretty, sweet song, particularly when set against the steady freight train rhythm of ‘Back On the Train‘,  and ‘Heavy Things‘  is certainly not without it’s charms.

There is a bit of a lull in the middle thanks to the downbeat ‘Sleep‘ and the fun acapella vibe of ‘The Inlaw Josie Wales‘.  From there it’s the insanely snappy hook and chorus of  ‘Gotta Jiboo‘  which brings back fun memories of local buddies plugging away on acoustic guitars at the Merchant Ale House, the smoldering ‘First Tube‘  and ‘Piper‘ which, while still not having the same magic as the live vehicle of their set two extended jams, is still pretty awesome.  Of course there’s also the opportunity to dwell a bit on the heavy lyrical meaning of the song’s only chorus:

“Piper, Piper, the red, red worm / woke last night to the sound of the storm / her words were words I sailed upon.”

Weird alright.

The album then wraps up with one of my favorite barn-stormer tough guy tracks ‘Sand‘  which is awesome…live or not.  Of course, 15 minutes of ‘Sand‘  is better than 3 minutes of ‘Sand‘  but, hey, it’s still an inspired listen.

Little did I know that when I first jumped into this whole Phish jamband crazy train that the time would eventually come when I would rediscover it all again as a dad.  That’s heavy, brah…heavy.  Or is it ‘sick’?  Whatever.  I’m actually cool with the whole “Dad Rock” thing.

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Easy Tempo Run (7k)

Getting up in the morning hasn’t been so easy lately, particularly when it’s for the purpose of working out; running especially.  I can embrace getting up to go, say, swim, but running?  Not so much.  I was going to go Thursday morning but I blew that off and slept in.  I was going to wake up early again yesterday but Monday just wouldn’t let me get out of bed at 6:30am. Today, I’m talking that laziness “troll” to task and getting up and out for this easy 7k run. No excuses.

I’ve queued something then of particular interest to motivate me to lace up the runners this morning, the ‘Nina Simone Sings the Blues‘  album by Nina Simone.  If I’m cranky to be up then I may as well as revel in the blues while I’m at it.

I watched ‘The Amazing Nina Simone‘ on Netflix a while back and was all like, hey, I can dig that.  It appeals to my good “jazz boner” sensibilities.  Prior to this, I only really knew ‘Sinnerman‘ which is one of my favorite jazz songs, like, ever.  The version by ‘Plants & Animals‘ (click HERE) is also a pretty good version.  As an artist, beyond that songs, I knew shamefully little about Nina so the documentary gave me some new found appreciation for Simone.

‘Sings the Blues’ (1967) is an album by singer/pianist/songwriter/political activist Nina Simone.  This was Simone’s RCA Records debut after previously recording for Colpix Records and Philips Records.  Here, Simone is backed by a pair of guitarists (Eric Gale and Rudy Stevenson), bassist (Bob Bushnell), drummer (Bernard “Pretty” Purdie), organist (Ernie Hayes), and harmonica player who doubled on saxophone (Buddy Lucas).  Simone handled all the piano chores herself.

The song selection is key here. Because for all intents and purposes this is perhaps the rawest record Simone ever cut. It opens with the sultry, nocturnal, slow-burning original ‘Do I Move You‘, which doesn’t beg the question but demands an answer:

“Do I move you?/Are you willin’?/Do I groove you?/Is it thrillin’?/Do I soothe you?/Tell the truth now?/Do I move you?/Are you loose now?/The answer better be yeah…It pleases me….”

Okay, so my jazz boner has definitely been achieved.  Thank God it’s only 10 after 6:00 in the morning and there’s not a lot people out at the moment, although, I’m pretty sure the woman sitting in the passenger seat of the sole passing car along Thunder Bay Rd. caught herself a good eyeful of my Lycra-clad breakfast sausage.

There are other sultry songs on the album as well like ‘In the Dark‘.  There are a number of Simone signature tunes on this set, including ‘I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl‘, ‘Backlash Blues‘, and her singular, hallmark, definitive reading of ‘My Man’s Gone Now‘  from Porgy and Bess.  Other notable tracks are the raucous, sexual roadhouse blues of ‘Buck‘, written by Simone’s then husband Andy Stroud, and the woolly gospel blues of ‘Real Real‘, with the Hammond B-3 soaring around her vocal.

Simone also reprises her earlier performance of ‘House of the Rising Sun‘ (released on a 1962 Colpix live platter called ‘At the Village Gate‘).  It has more authority in this setting as a “barrel house” blues; it’s fast, loud, proud, and wailing with harmonica and B-3 leading the charge. The original set closes with the slow yet sassy ‘Blues for Mama‘, ending with the same sexy strut the album began, with and me standing there with a jazz boner in my driveway for all the waking neighborhood to enjoy.

Good mornin’, y’all.

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