Sunday, December 30, 2007

Merry Christmas

Huxley, along with the rest of our household, hopes you had a Merry Christmas! He sure did. More pics from Xmas morning to follow, maybe on Tuesday.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Skyclad - A Semblance Of Normality

Artist : Skyclad
Title : A Semblance Of Normality (2004)
Genre : Folk-Metal
Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Skyclad came recommended as an English Folk-Metal band, but ASON also has some great Hard Rock tracks on it, as well as 14 members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra adding strings to a couple of the songs.

They've been around since 1990 and, along with Bathory (who?) are said to be the founders of the "Folk-Metal" genre. ASON is their most-recent studio album, although they also released a 4-song EP in 2006 titled "Jig-a-Gig".

What's To Like...
The lead singer ...umm... sings. As opposed to snarling, grunting, screeching, and/or breathing heavily. You don't need the lyrics sheet to understand what he's singing Everyone in the band seems to be musically gifted; even the drummer (please tell me this isn't a drum machine). And at times, there's even ...surprise, surprise... harmonizing! There is a pleasant musical variety to the 13 songs. You won't get bored by every track sounding the same.

A majority of the tracks have themes of social and political issues. There is a subtle "English" humor to these songs, akin to Randy Newman lyrics. There are also some great guitar soloes, although it has to be said that, unlike UFO, not every song has one.

Track 3, "Anotherdrinkingsong" (sic) has a Korpiklaani-esque wit to it that will compel you to go have a pint at your local pub. Finally, the title of Track 11 is "NTRWB", an acronym not even Alan will know.

What's Not To Like...
This is the first album after one of the band's founding fathers and lead singer, Martin Walkyier, departed. Some feel there is a let-down, but since I haven't heard any other Skyclad albums, this isn't a problem for me.

The "pure metal" tracks (such as "Do They Mean Us" and "Ten Little Kingdoms") are musically the weakest links of ASON, although even then, the issues-oriented lyrics make these tracks worth listening to.

Where Have All The Musical Activists Gone?...
The social-political leanings of Skyclad are unashamedly left-wing and working-class. That dovetails neatly with their name, "Skyclad", which is of course derived from... well, I'll let you google/wiki that bit of trivia.

This makes me wonder - where have all the politically-active counter-culture Rock-&-Roll bands gone? In my day, you had folks like Joan Baez, John & Yoko, and Country Joe & The Fish to remind us of the injustices going on in the world. Even the folksy group Lindisfarne had a streak of anarchism in them.

So who are the activist bands of 2007? It's not like unjust wars, bigotry, political corruption and screwing-the-peasants are things of the past. I recognize that singing about these issues won't get a band much radio airplay, but that was true in the 60's/70's as well. I don't expect every musical act to be activist (we had Debby Boone and The Captain & Teneille as hit acts back then), but there ought to be at least a few well-known acts today that can be counted on to have challenging activist lyrics prominent on their albums.

But I digress. A Semblance Of Normality is a very good 8* album, despite the fact that Skyclad is a genre-founding band that is virtually unknown even in their home country. If you want to hear good folk-metal rock-&-roll, and listen to lyrics that are three steps ahead of the soporific drivel played on the radio today, pick this one up.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Polar Bares

Some Friday night cuteness to usher in the weekend. No, I'm not in this photo anywhere.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas in Iraq

No matter what the dittoheads say, "Support Our Troops" is NOT synonymous with "Support The War". If you really want to support our men and women in Iraq, remember to vote next year for whoever will bring them home more quickly. The invasion and occupation of Iraq is nothing but chickenhawk politics, for which thousands of our finest have paid for with their lives, limbs, and sanity.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lone Justice - Shelter

Artist : Lone Justice (Maria McKee)
Title : Shelter (1986)
Genre : Rock-Pop
Rating : ***** *** (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
I came across this album in the $1 Vinyl bin at the Rock Zone. The album was put out by Geffen Records, who generally have good acts, so heck, what can you lose on a 1-dollar record, except for an hour of your time?

Lone Justice was a short-lived group. They put out an eponymous album in 1984. It was in the alt-country genre, and didn't sell well. Then the whole band quit, except for lead singer, Maria McKee. A bunch of session musicians were brought in, and the result was a pop-rock album, Shelter, in 1986.

Its sales were equally dismal, and the band (such as it was) was officially dissolved shortly thereafter; with McKee embarking on a long and undistinguished solo career.

What's To Like...
This is a surprisingly good album. Maria McKee sounds like an American version of Kiki Dee here. Lots of energy to go with an above-average voice.

The rest of the band may be sessions players, but they are given time & space to cut loose, and do so quite ably, blending in nicely with McKee's singing.

What's Not To Like...
Not much IMNSHO. Others claim the album isn't "alt-country" enough, compared to their debut LP, and that the production is "too slick".

Who is Maria McKee, and why didn't she ever make it big-time?
Shelter is probably mislabeled by calling it a Lone Justice album. This really should've been released as McKee's debut solo effort. Since then, she's put out 8 more studio albums, none of which I've heard or recall seeing. Her 15 minutes of fame comes from one of her tracks being used in that highly-acclaimed waste-of-film Pulp Fiction.

So how come McKee's never made it big? She's got talent, looks, and a great voice. Well, maybe she got off on the wrong foot with alt-country. That's a great genre, but what radio station is going to play it? C&W stations will find it too rock-ish, and Rock stations consider playing anything even remotely Country as a mortal sin.

Then there's the major genre-deviation with Shelter, from cow-punk rockabilly to pop-rock. There goes her initial fan base. It would be interesting to see if and how her music has changed over the ensuing 20 years. Alas, you won't find any Maria McKee albums at Best Buy, even now during the Christmas season.

Of course, there's something just a tad bit worrisome about having your whole band quit on you. Ask Tarja. So maybe McKee's rather ...erm... difficult to work with. Still, it's hard to figure out why she's remained in relative obscurity, while no-talent people like Christopher Cross garner 5 Grammy's, a Golden Globe, and and Oscar.

But I digress. Shelter is a good album, and it should've sold a lot better than it did. Let's put that down to poor marketing. If you come across this in the bargain bin at your local record store, pick it up and give it a listen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why Petraeus is optimistic about Iraq...

From an article today :

"BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of "occupying forces" as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.

That is good news, according to a military analysis of the results. At the very least, analysts optimistically concluded, the findings indicate that Iraqis hold some "shared beliefs" that may eventually allow them to surmount the divisions that have led to a civil war."

Thanks, Dubnutz. It's nice to see there's a purpose for almost 4,000 of our soldiers dying over there.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughterhouse-Five

Title : Slaughterhouse-Five (1969; 275 pages)
Author : Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)
Genre : Fiction (Classic, Science Fiction)
Rating : A+

This Month I Read...
Slaughterhouse-5 is arguably Kurt Vonnegut's most-famous novel. It explores a variety of great themes - free will; the absurdity of war; fatalism; and one of my pastimes - time travel.

Jason says I can call this a classic, since Vonnegut has now passed on. That's great, since "traditional" classical American Literature is the pits. We'll discuss that at a later date, probably when I review Thornton Wilder's The Bridge At San Luis Rey.

What's To Like...
It was an easy read. I devoured this book in three evenings. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is a likeable, ordinary bloke. The aforementioned themes are dealt with extensively, but in such a way that you don't feel like Vonnegut is preaching at you. Indeed, it's hard to say just what the author's personal viewpoint is on fatalism and free will.

What's Not To Like...
The storyline jumps around a lot, time-wise. That's natural for a time-traveler, but it may take some getting used to if you've never read any Vonnegut before; and haven't come unstuck in time.

Characters from previous Vonnegut novels (Kilgore Trout, Eliot Rosewater) come into the story with little or no introduction. This is one of Vonnegut's recurring literary devices, and it drove me nuts some years ago when I trudged through his book on evolution, "Galapagos".

Listen : Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time...
It should be noted that Slaughterhouse-Five consistently makes the yearly 100 most-challenged books by the self-righteous "let's keep our kids brainwashed" crowd. Ostensibly, this is because there are some cuss words in the book, and because God is not given sufficient reverence by Vonnegut. In reality, I think they fear the anti-war (and Dresden bombing) message in S-5. Vonnegut is qualified to write on this - he was being held as a POW in Dresden on the night the Allies decided to fire-bomb the city just for the heck of it. The consequence of our nastiness (there were no military targets in Dresden) was that 20,000-100,000 innocent civilians perished.

Of course, the book-banning fundies have never wavered in their drive to tell others what to read, watch, and think. At present, Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass (both the movie and the book) is the target of their wrath. It is claimed TGC will turn any reader/movie-goer into a Satanist. Of course, everyone who read/watched any of the Harry Potter series is already a witch. I wonder which is worse. I guess I'll find out, since I've just started to read TGC.

But I digress. Slaughterhouse-Five is a fantastic book by a great American author. Read it today, just to tweak the book-burners. Then give it to one of your ditto-head friends as a Christmas present, and start to de-program him as well. It is worthy of an A+ rating. Poo-tee-weet!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Quote For The Day

"It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English - up to fifty words used in correct context - no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. " (Carl Sagan)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Agalloch - The Mantle

Artist : Agalloch
Title : The Mantle (2002)
Genre : Prog Ambient-Metal
Rating : ***** **½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Agalloch is a metal band out of Portland, Oregon. The Mantle is their 2002 offering. They apparently have quite a dedicated following, as there are no less than 964 reviews/ratings for this album at RateYour Music, and another 68 reviews at David Hasselhoofen, eat your heart out.

Picking a genre t0 describe them is difficult. RYM lists 17 genres (pretty good for only three albums, eh?), none of which seemed to fit the bill, so I chose a new one : Prog Ambient Metal.

What's To Like...
The Mantle is a unique blend. If Pink Floyd (from the "Meddle" time-period) decided to do a Metal album, it might sound like this. Track 2 (In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion) is a 15-minute masterpiece. The music is complex, with lots of Floydish bells, wind, echoes, spacy guitar soloes, etc.

The album-length is slightly over 68 minutes, so you get your money's worth.

What's Not To Like...
The mixing could be better, but I'm learning to accept that when it comes to Metal groups. At times, the superior guitar solo is masked by the mundane metal-chording. Overall, the music is a bit too repetitive (but one could say that about Tangerine Dream too, n'est-ce pas?).

The snarling gets old, although to be fair, there is some singing mixed in. The lead and acoustic guitar-work, although good, is almost entirely at a slow-tempo.

Finally, it appears that Agalloch goes on tour about as often as Enigma does, and rarely strays out of their PNW environs.

In between the Intro and the Outro is the...
Most of the songs seem to consist of an Intro and an Outro, but it feels like something's missing in between, even when the Intro is 10 minutes long. If Pink Floyd was doing this album, they'd cut the repetitive parts down by 75%, and stick in a half-dozen songs (you know, intro, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus, outro).

But I pick at nits. This is still a good album, especially if you want something to play in the background while you read, say, the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe. It doesn't match up musically to the best of Scandinavian metal, but what American metal band does? The Mantle as its own, unique sound, and Agalloch goes its own, unique direction. If David Gilmour was allowed to produce and mix the next Agalloch album, it would surely be a ten-star affair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Meet Emily. Emily is a actually, I'm not sure what breed she is. She came to visit us on Thanksgiving, along with Ryan.

Emily & Ryan

Here's the happy couple. Emily has weird, "zombie" eyes. A l0t of white in them, compared to most dogs.

Preacher & Emily

There were five dogs at the house for Thanksgiving. And 16 people. Emily was a bit overwhelmed by all the new beings to deal with.

Jason & Emily

Everyone on the backporch got a chance to hold and spoil Emily. She had us trained pretty good by the end of the day.

Three dogs and a ball

Jynx, Emily, and Preacher at play. It was perfect weather for throwing a ball. Jynx is fetch-obsessed. The other two mostly just ran along with him, not really knowing why they were running around the backyard.

The trained throwers

Some of the ball-throwers from Thanksgiving afternoon. The back porch is also the meeting place on Holidays to discuss literature, politics, and music.

Jynx & his ball

Here's a scene that was repeated about a thousand times on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Jynx training the humans

The "problem" with Jynx is that he doesn't give you any excuse to NOT play ball with him. He brings the ball back every time, and drops it at your feet. If you ignore him, he'll pick up the ball and put it in your hand. If you tell him to go away, he'll take his ball to the next trained thrower.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

John Fogerty - Revival

Artist : John Fogerty
Title : Revival (2007)
Genre : Rock
Rating : ***** ***½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
The album's title is "Revival" and Track 3 is called "Creedence Song". That will pretty much clue you in as to what this album's about. If you were a CCR enthusiast back in the 60's/70's, you're gonna like the music on Revival.

FWIW, this album came out on 02 October, the same day as Bruce Springsteen's "Magic", and Annie Lennox's "Songs of Mass Destruction". All in all, a great day for classic rockers.

What's To Like...
The lyrics are excellent. The guitar-playing is excellent. Fogerty's voice is still good. All the songs rock. The CCR sound is back.

What's Not To Like...
There's no new ground being covered here. The longest song is 4½ minutes, so you don't have any epics, like "Heard It Through The Grapevine".

Most of the negative reviews bemoan the fact that there are two overtly political songs on the album (Long Dark Night and I Can't Take It No More).

(I'm) Sick & Tired Of Your Dirty Little War; I Can't Take It No More...
Once upon a time; way, way back in the 1960's, Rock & Roll was rife with groups singing protest songs. This included , Country Joe & The Fish, The Doors, John Lennon, and yes, it also included CCR (see Fortunate Son). And the radio stations were forced to play these songs, due to their immense popularity.

Then the war ended, Tricky Dicky got his a$$ kicked out of the White House, and company-mandated random drug tests seriously curtailed partaking of the sacred weed and other assorted hallucinogens.

Meanwhile, Rock & Roll got replaced with weak, tame, pop music. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, and Janice Joplin found themselves pushing up daisies. The record companies then started telling us that Foreigner and Steely Dan were cutting-edge R&R, and those who couldn't remember the 60's believed that malarkey.

But the truth is, Rock & Roll is, and has always been, inherently counter-culture. Before the Beatles, Elvis was offending the establishment; and even before him, Frank Sinatra was viewed as being a bad influence on impressionable teenagers. So it goes.

Now we have a major a$$hole for President, who invades countries based on known-to-be lies and doesn't care a whit that almost 4,000 of America's finest young people have died for his right-wing politics. Since Dubnutz apparently didn't get the message in last year's congressional elections, I for one am glad that Rock & Roll is once again proclaiming that we're sick and tired of his dirty little war.

But I digress. Revival is a great album. Fogerty's probably too old of a geezer for this to get much airplay. But as long as poeple like him keep getting out the anti-war message, there is hope that we aren't totally doomed to having Hannah Montana shoved down our throats.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Motivational Poster For The Week

Having gone to Penn State, I'm neutral as far as the Ohio State - Michigan rivalry goes. But there's no denying that the series has been a bit one-sided lately.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Bourne Identity (the book)

Title : The Bourne Identity (535 pages)
Author : Robert Ludlum (1980)
Genre : Action
Rating : A-

This Month I Read...
Thanks to the Matt Damon movie, The Bourne Identity is undoubtedly Robert Ludlum's best-known novel. A bullet-riddled-yet-still-alive guy gets plucked out of the briny and discovers he's got a bad case of amnesia. He spends the rest of the book/movie trying to regain his memory; dodging bullets from (and then killing) a slew of professional assassins; and attempting to figure who is so all-fired anxious to kill him.

What's To Like...
The book is radically different from the movie, so there's a totally new plot and ending. In fact, the only similarities between the two are :
1.) Our hero has amnesia.
2.) The heroine pulls a "Patty Hearst", gradually morphing from unwilling kidnappee to active GF and confederate of Jason Bourne.
3.) There is an outfit called Treadstone.

The plot is complex; the action is non-stop; and the book is a page-turner. There is both a good climax and a "door" left open for a sequel or two.

What's Not To Like...
I'm still nonplussed about the amazing foresight of Jason Bourne to have the number of his Swiss bank account implanted in his hip. Sheesh, how convenient.

The Treadstone in the book (which is very different from the movie's version) seems to be suicidally lax in security when it comes to high-level meetings.

Lots of other people b*tched about the movie being so different from the book, and this is probably valid if you read the book first. I didn't, so this isn't an issue for me.

Sequel, Threequel, Fourquel, Fivequel...
Ludlum of course mapped this out to be a trilogy, so one should expect some huge loose ends at the conclusion of Bourne-1. In addition to the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum, a guy named Eric van Lustbader has penned another two books in the series (after Ludlum was so rude as to die), titled The Bourne Legacy and The Bourne Betrayal.

So if you can't get enough of the saga, there's a couple thousands pages-worth of sequels out there. I'll take it one book at a time. Bourne-1 was a great read. We'll see if Bourne-2 can keep up the pace.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Liz's Birthday (a)

Liz has a birthday coming up this week. I am forbidden to say how old she is, so let's just say it rhymes with "nifty", "shifty", and "thrifty".

We celebrated on Saturday night by going to our favorite Belgian restaurant in downtown Phoenix. "Trente Cinq". Good food and good service. Highly recommended for any once-a-year celebration.

Liz's Birthday (b)

After dinner, we went to an R&B place, called the Rhythm Room, on Indian School, betwixt 11th and 12th Street.

Liz's Birthday (c)

A San Diego-based group called "The Fremonts" was playing that night. Good old 50's blues. The lighting sucked for taking flashless pics, but this gives you a good idea of how the place actually looked.

The Fremonts aren't big enough to rate a listing in Wikipedia, but they do have their own website at

Liz's Birthday (d)

Here's a flash-shot of The Fremonts. The guy in the blue shirt and beret also blew a mean harmonica. There was lots of dancing. The Fremonts played a 2-hour set; then took a break. I'm sure they came back and played another couple hours, but the intermission came a little after 11:00 PM, so we headed home to bed.

Liz's Birthday (e)

Here's a better shot of the lead singer - Mighty Joe Milsap. We bought their "Mighty Crazy" CD. Good stuff, provided you like blues. BTW, that couple at the right were quite a good pair of dancers. It was strongly hinted, via jabs in the ribs, that I should learn to dance.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Korpiklaani - Spirit Of The Forest

Artist : Korpiklaani
Title : Spirit Of The Forest (2003)
Genre : Folk-Metal (and Polka-Metal!)
Rating : ***** ****½ (out of 10*)

This Week I'm Listening To...
Korpiklaani ("Forest Clan") is a Finnish folk-metal group. They had an earlier incarnation called Shaman, but were forced to change their name cuz there were two other bands (one Brazilian; one Finnish) with the same name. SOTF is their debut album. Their most-recent release (2007) is called Tervaskanto, and they have a 2008 CD planned.

What's To Like...
Fantastic musicianship. The "folk" portion is an integral part of the music, not some trivial add-on, like you find with some Metal-Hybrid bands. The lyrics are in English. There's no filler here.

Best of all, there is a bunch of "polka-metal" on this album, which I happen to be quite partial to. This is a Finnish variety of polka, called "humppa". Last but not least, there is some "yoiking" on the album, which I'll let you look up in Wikipedia.

What's Not To Like...
At 9½ stars not much. Most of the criticism seems to be that there's not enough Metal in this Folk-Metal, and/or that the Vocals could be better. I don't agree with either of those viewpoints.

My only criticism is that Korpiklaani has apparently never toured the USA, and it doesn't appear that they have any plans to do so. C'mon out to Arizona, Korpiklaani! Just do it in the winter.

Is there such a term as "Happy Metal"?
SOTF is an upbeat, happy album. Indeed, it appears that Track 1 on any Korpiklaani album is always a drinking song, just to set the tone. That's a nice change from the usual drudge of Metal themes : loneliness, despair, etc.

SOTF will make you want to hit the local pub and share a pint with your friends. It's about trolls, forests, and yoiking; not about gloom, doom, and Satan. If you want a bit more Metal and a bit less Folk, I recommend Finntroll, with whom Korpiklaani occasionally does some collaborative work.

Bottom line : this is an excellent album, although it's hard-to-find in the USA except at Their website (in English) is at
Visit them, and drop them a line asking them to come over to this side of the pond!