Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Favorite Albums Released in 2007

1. Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
2. Feist - The Reminder
3. Voxtrot - Voxtrot
4. The National - Boxer
5. St. Vincent - Marry Me
6. Field Music - Tones of Town
7. Great Northern - Trading Twilight for Daylight
8. Elliott Smith - New Moon
9. Wilco - Sky Blue Sky
10. Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Honorable Mentions: Soundtrack - Across the Universe, Ryan Adams - Easy Tiger, Stars of Track and Field - Centuries Before Love and War

Blasts from the Past that found their way into my iPod: Dire Straits - Dire Straits, Jackson Browne - Late for the Sky, Joni Mitchell - Blue

What a wierd year for me finding music. I'm sure your top 10 is very different than mine. If you post yours let me know.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Into the Wild

Sean Penn's thoughtful, beautiful-to-look-at tour de force is well worth your time.
Questioning society, authenticity, and the search for the heart in life, this film and its protagonist grab you by the throat. Shot in DV, 8mm and videotape for various effect, "Into the Wild" is also interesting to look at. The acting of Emile Hirsch is oscar-worthy. The dieting to achieve the physical effect of looking like the ematiated Christopher McCandless at the end of his life is doubly effective due to the superb acting on Hirschs' part. William Hurt is perfectly cast as the overbearing father and Vince Vaughn turns in a strong performance as the midwest farmer Wayne Westerberg, proving he can act beyond the buddy picture. Hal Holbrook shows up deep in the spiritual heart of this movie to offer some hard-won wisdom to the young Alex Supertramp.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Recording Under Way

Finally, finally recording material for a new album.
Worked feverishly on four songs last weekend and hope
to finish those this week and start 2 more this weekend.
In the mean time here is an unfinished but still nice little
instrumental titled "Heart Shaped Conversation No. 2" Download Mp3

More soon...

Carolina Basketball Begins

Ok, not a big secret that I'm a Tarheel fan. Preseason games in Chapel Hill are the one chance that fans have to sit in the padded seats of the first level of the Smith Center. We even ultimately wound up on the second row. You do have to show up early to get the good seats though. As hoped (and usual) the UNC won this game against Lenoir-Rhyne handily after a well played first 10 minutes for the visitors. Carolina wound up winning easily 107-52.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Josh Ritter, Eric Bachmann, Maria Taylor and... Pylon

I'm going to start with the headliner at the Cat's Cradle and work backwards I think.
Alt-whatever veteran Josh Ritter brought his lengthy tour for his CD The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter the the Chapel Hill last night with with all of the elan of someone who was just starting a tour, their first tour ever. Wide-eyed and astonished at the overflowing appreciative crowd, he kept thanking us for just showing up. The band, attired in 50's suits and porkpie hats began with a bang blasting through "Minds Eye" from the new CD with its clash-like opening chords. Other up-tempo notables were "Open Doors," the extra-chunky "Rumors" and "Still Beating". As raucous as it was it was the quiet moments that ultimately won the day. A drop dead gorgeous version of John Prine's "Mexican Home" was the first clue as to how versatile this show was going to be. "Temptation of Adam" and finally a beautiful version of Bruce Springsteen's "The River" done at the front of the stage off-mic sung to the pin-drop-quiet-audience who were reverently quietly singing along for the first encore.

Eric Bachmann's set was fluid, interesting and well-played. The former Archers of Loaf songwriter and guitarist was in fine voice and performed in an interesting duo format. Using loops, extra drums, megaphones, violin and electric and acoustic guitar
and sometimes singing in spanish to full effect, this set was engaging enough to make me find out more about Eric's solo records.

Maria Taylor was the surprise of the night for me. Elegant in person and voice, this poised young siren can really write and sing. A very effective duo of drums and a bass/guitarist as backup and as vocalists, this band really was in service to the songs.
If you get a chance to see Maria, don't miss it.


So after leaving the Cradle and strolling to the 506 to see Pylon hoping they were still playing, I lucked out. The Athens stalwarts were rocking the nearly packed bar 80's style. Decked out in red t-shirts that said "cool," Pylon still embodies the 80's indie spirit. Their clear, heavy, poppy sound entirely in tact, it was a pleasure to watch the crowd throb along. Highlights included "M-Train" and "No clocks".

Monday, November 5, 2007

Whats on the Shuffle

I have been really enjoying ambient music while exercising lately and I've found a wonderful website that offers the music on a pay-what-its-worth basis.
The Thinner/Autoplate netlabel has some wonderful ambient artists worth checking out at

Marsden Jules - Golden
krill.minima - urlab auf balkonien
Faulter - Taumelflug EP
Paul Keely - Sussex Blue EP
krill.minima - Zwishchen Zwel und einer sekunde

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson reaches for deeper shades in his latest film The Darjeeling Limited.
Written with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman and featuring strong cameos from Natalie Portman and Anjelica Houston this is a less kitchy version of Wes Anderson.
The shift in tone suits this subject matter completely helping push the story and not the ephemera center stage. Yes, the soundtrack is still fabulous and yes there are some of the undeniable "Andersonesque" touches (small diorama like shots setup up with preciously placed items for maximum effect, funky art, interesting "collections" that sum up the essence of a given character). Schwartzman projects deeper inner quality in his role than in any of his previous work. The short film by Anderson preceding the main feature is an interesting twist as it is a true prequel to the film itself.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Carrboro Music Fest Kickoff

Very fine performances last night at the Carboro Music Festival Kickoff show at the Cat's Cradle with Great Big Gone, Two Dollar Pistols and Tres Chicas.

The Two Dollar Pistols did lots of new music from "Here Tomorrow Gone Today" their very fine new CD. Tres Chicas found time in their already full set for new songs written this summer at a retreat in the mountains. If these new songs are any indication the new CD will be one to look for.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Elvis Costello and the NC Symphony

So Elvis (the real Napoleon Dynamite) Costello held forth at Regency park last night for a nearly sold out house on a cool September evening. The programme began with an excerpt from Il Songo, his adaptation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. He reminded us in his world Puck sounded like a saxaphone. This literal warm-up led into a fine rendition of "All This Useless Beauty." Elvis' voice, sounding brittle but warm on this first song, was famously full by the end of the evening. The first half of the program was relatively short (four songs plus the orchestra piece) and was closed out by the beautiful "The Birds will Still Be Singing" from The Juliet Letters. A note about the arrangements here: the songs that were arranged by those who compose for orchestra were more successful than some of Elvis' attempts. That is not to say that Elvis didn't have his compositional moments, especially in the second half of the show.

Attractions pianist Steve Nieve joined the proceedings for the second half and it really started to feel like an Elvis Costello show. Steve cajoled the orchestra with his brilliant playing and the whole affair went up a notch. Highlights from the second half included two songs from Painted from Memory. "God Give Me Strength" and "I Still have that Other Girl in My Head" were very close approximations of their recorded originals but sung in a more relaxed, focused way than the CD versions.
Speaking of focused, "Shipbuilding" was extremely so. It's amazing how beautiful that song is in performance no matter how much you may have enjoyed it as the closer of Punch the Clock. "Accidents Will Happen" and "Green Shirt" from Armed Forces were deftly arranged for orchestra as to not completely take all the edge off them.
The perennial show closer "Alison" was again nearly the last musical statement of the evening. Neatly rearranged chords showcased the versatility of this melody in the first verse but reverted to its familliar audience-sing-along form from the first chorus on.

A quick note about Elvis' stage persona: ever the genial host, he was also deadpanning facial expressions and gestures based on what the orchestra was playing or going to play and it was very entertaining. Combine this with patter about The Dixie Chicks, NASCAR and the birth of his twin sons and you get the feeling he was quite ready to chat a bit. I believe this is a strong format for him as he likes to talk and genuinely connect with quieter crowds.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Jeffrey Dean Foster and Don Dixon at the 506

Last night saw long time Chapel Hill denizen Don Dixon return to town to perform at the local 506. He brought along with him Winston Salem's own Jeffrey Dean Foster. Jeff opened the show with songs from his early days from the Pinetops up to the "Million Star Hotel" solo material. Particularly effective were "I'm so lonesome I could Fly" from the "Above Ground and Vertical" record and "Lily of the Highway" from "Million Star Hotel." A haunting version of the "Summer of the Son of Sam" was a highlight as well.

Don Dixon was up next with the announcement that yesterday was Otis Reddings birthday. In that spirit he proceeded to do one song from every album he ever made and talked alot about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the music and the cover art for the CDs. So he began with the CD "Most of the Girls LTD" and of course did "Praying Mantis" and went chronologically all the way to "The Entire Combustible World In One Small Room."

Dixon had an houglass that denoted the time that was his before any requests would be taken from the audience. Notable in his set were
"(If I Could) Walk Away" from the album "#38" and "I Can Hear the River" from "EEE"

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Paperhand Puppet Intervention Strikes

Paperhand presented "A Shoe for Your Foot" at the Forest Theater August 10 - September 3rd. I was lucky enough to see it tonight and was taken by the programs originality, creativity and thematic consistency. The program begins with a lifeboat metaphor for the earth and a small boat that comes to encompass an entire bustling city. The ancient and wise creatures of the sea witness the coming and going of the boat city as another of many events that are recalled from the centures past. The lowly shoe for the lowly foot keeps the show rolling with a humorous vignette entitle "The Life of a Shoe". Paperhand ties so many themes together in every presentation. Those of our duty to the planet, to ourselves, and to each other. The music and musicians for this show were terrific. The songs memorable and appropriate and the pit orchestra versatile enough to do sound effects and voice overs as well.
Also notable were the "boxheads." The stilt dancers and shadow puppet segment at the end are not to be missed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pelican House

This is the second summer I have gone to Pelican House at the Trinity Center in Salter Path, NC. Pelican House is a secluded house by the sea, away from the noise and distraction of everyday life. Most retreats here at Pelican House are silent. Yes, no talking. Yes again, me not talking. I hear your incredulity at this thought but for two summers for the length of a week I have not uttered a word. Being quiet and shutting down the "monkey mind" of daily chatter is essential for getting in touch with your inner peace and wisdom. Oh, and it never hurts that the food is fabulous...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wembley, Great Northern and Comas at the 506

Saturday saw a confluence of really good bands at the Local 506. First up was Wembley featuring Nathan Brown from Regina Hexaphone and the former Laramie UK. A terrific gig for such a new band. The arrangements were inventive and attractive to listen to. The vocals were clear and expressive. I wish I had a comparison for this band but they were very original. Definitely ensemble pop.

Next up was Great Northern from LA. They rocked hard from the very first note. A very tight performing ensemble they could stop and start on a dime. The material
was excellent as well. Lead Singer Rachel Stolte was impressive and guitarist Solon Bixler was amazing. Often coaxing overtones and harmonics out of the guitar this band is alot more rock oriented than their record would lead you to believe. Their new cd is called "Trading Twilight for Daylight"

Last was the Comas, alot of them, playing the solid material from their new album.
A particular favorite was Red Microphone. Members of the Comas had been off and on stage during the Great Northern set to help out with percussion and singing. It felt like these two bands who had been touring together were a singular support unit for each other. A rare thing in the current music industry climate.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What's on the Shuffle

The iPod shuffle is a forced exercise in distillation.
I love its portability and its need for me to be
precise with how it helps my workout. It is the karmic
opposite of my iPod Video. That said...

What's on the Shuffle:

The Comas - Spells
The Stars of Track and Field - Centuries Before Love and War
Voxtrot - Voxtrot
Oasis - What's the Story Morning Glory
Guster - Ganging Up on the Sun
U2 - October
U2 - How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb
U2 - One Single
Driveblind - Promo EP
The Police - Ghost in the Machine

Last 3 CDs Bought:

Claudio Abbado - Beethoven Symphony no. 9
Evgeny Kissin - 1984 Chopin Concert
Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Monday, July 2, 2007

A Walk Around the Hill

So my son and I took a stroll around Chapel Hill yesterday
when we encountered this rather Seussian sculpture.
It looks like something right out of "How the Grinch Stole
Christmas" to me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Golden Compass

Just finished reading Phillip Pullman's page-turner "The Golden Compass." My daugther tells me she read it in sixth grade. Well, it wasn't written yet when I was in sixth grade. Regardless, it's a fabulously engrossing story written for any age with all the ingredients that books that have complete worlds within have. The richness of detail and likable and detestable characters along with the exotica that usually pops up in any good tale. I read this book in two sittings and it is compelling all on its own. Now I'll have to go back to finishing up "Last Temptation of Christ" which I thought I was reading first until I read the first chapter of this book. I don't know if I'll read about the rest of Lyras travels but this first bit was fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I went to see director Ken Loach's new epic on the Irish revolution on Sunday. The age old story of brother pitted against brother is recast yet again. Damien and Teddy are the main protagonists in the story and as brothers wind up having differing views on how to achieve what is best for their beloved homeland. Damien winds up being converted to the IRA in the most impressionable way after a British brigade busts up a train station. Teddy was already in the IRA and welcomes Damien to its ranks. The film begins in the 1920's and follows the progression of Irish politics from there. Its very clear from the directors point of view that the English were nothing short of storm troopers harassing the locals and torturing where necessary. The interesting bit is beyond the two dimensional depiction of the Brits and all about the evolution of Irish politics on into the Republican days after the signing of a truce with England for peace in most of Ireland. There is a scene where the truce is discussed that is a history lesson all its own.

Dohnanyi and Mozart

Attended the Chapel Hill Chamber Music Workshops opening concert on Sunday afternoon in the Graham Memorial. It was a perfect setting to hear two really different chamber pieces. First up was Serenade in C Major by Enro Dehnanyi. The intensity and beauty of this piece immediately put me in mind of Dvorak. The complex harmonies of the 3rd and 4th movements are a wonder to hear. It was played crisply and clearly by a trio of cello, viola and violin. I do not know this composers work but this piece has inspired me to learn more.

The second piece of the afternoon was Mozart's Horn Quintet which was much less challenging to the ear. A brisk 3 movements where the latter two felt almost like rondos of the first. Again beautifully performed but not quite as interesting to the ear as the first.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Temples and Tombs at the NC Museum of Art

Focus in this exhibit is always on the Egyptian royalty. Numerous statues and stelae attest to the greatness or power of many a forgotten monarch. Really interesting to see the shift in styles from the old kingdom through the middle kingdom
and onward to the new kingdom. Shifts toward realism are evident in the representations of kings and nobility as time passes toward the present.

Included in the exhibition are sculptures, reliefs, papyri, heiroglyphs of all kinds, jewelry, cosmetic objects, and funerary items in a variety of media – including stone, wood, terra cotta, gold, glass, and papyrus.

The first room is scattershot with objects used by artists and nobles. Among the included items are objects of decoration and protection, such as amulets, earrings, rings, a beautiful necklace, and cosmetic jars. Other items, such as a scribal palette, drawing board, practice drawings, and inked grid show the inner working of the artist's process and training.

There is a whole section of the private statuary. The earliest statues of private individuals were found in tombs, as a place where the spirit of the deceased could reside. The statuary here ranges from about 3000 B.C. to the first century A.D.

The last section of the exhibit focuses on Egyptian tombs and the afterlife. Seeking to gain life after death, items interred with the deceased were intended to protect their physical body and insure a successful afterlife for the soul.

There are bowls, palettes, headrests, ostraca (pieces of clay or stone with writing on them), and other everyday objects in the exhibition are embedded with protective symbols because they were intended for protection of the burial tomb.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mr. Sebastian and The Negro Magician

Just finished reading an early copy of the Daniel Wallace book called "Mr. Sebastian and The Negro Magician." Fans of "Big Fish" will appreciate its return to magical realism. I did not intend to finish the whole thing in a day and a half but I could not put it down. I found the story itself to be the star and myself really wanting to see what happens next. It will make a great summer read when it comes out in July! Not revealing any particular details but suffice it to say any book that has magic, the devil, a dash of bone-crushing American history, and a bit of true love is worth our time.

Monday, February 5, 2007

dB's at the Cats Cradle

Yes it sounds like a headline you would have read in the Spectator 3 times a year in 1982, but its 2007, and yeah it's been that long since they played here. The recently reformed dB's put on a show of wide ranging material in front of a packed house saturday in Carrboro. The audience and the event itself came very close to outshining the actual show. Folks like Robert Kirkland, Mike Connell, Terry McInturff, Mitch Easter, Kitty Moses and many many others turned up. So many in fact, you could not turn around without seeing someone who had some context for the NC music scene. There were people at the show who had not been in North Carolina in a decade who had come home to see the godfathers of NC pop one more time. All these familiar faces in the same old places turned back the clocks for one night.

On to the bands! The Mayflies USA opened up the show with their one-night-only reformed status. They clearly had to knock some rust off but got it going in time to have their single "Walking in a Straight Line" sound great. As for the dB's they came on around 10:45 and cranked it up with the opening guitar salvo from "Black and White." Suffering from a poor house mix it took about 4 songs for the band to sound like they were clicking at all. Particularly great songs that night included: "Molly Says", "Living a Lie", "Lonely is as Lonely Does", "Ask for Jill", and of course "Amplifier." By the time of the encores the band really was sounding great and like they could have played another hour and we all wish they had. Now for the mitigating factors... The house mix was never really satisfying or very clear. Solos never turned up etc.. The other issue was tempo which at times was way under where it felt like it should have been. In spite of all that it was still a "had to be there" NC rock history moment.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Warm Winter Day, A Good Walk

Spent last saturday showing Andrej Cibej around my hometown of Hillsborough. You can read his account of it here. I am impressed how much of our discussion that day went into the post. I am looking forward to going to Slovenia and getting a tour of his hometown someday.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Glenn Tilbrook Redux

I've just finished watching Amy Pickard's documentary on Glenn titled 'One for the Road.' At times a bit more Amy-centric then I felt it needed it to be, but all in all a nice look at a very talented, funny, and geniunely happy guy. It's fun to watch Glenn's antics as he revels in his new RV and tries his hand at acting like an American among other things. Tilbrook had said at the Raleigh gig in mid-January that ex-songwriting partner Chris Difford was easy to spot because he dressed and acted like Mr. Rogers. In watching the bonus material for this DVD I see that nothing could be more true. Sporting a v-neck sweater and a pink button-down shirt Difford could not be more different from Glenn if he tried. It makes it even more obvious why Glenn's animation and pure energy and Diffords weightiness worked so well together. Not a technical wonder in any sense, the documentary is a real behind the scenes look at a man connecting with his audience. On stage or off Glenn is fun to watch.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Judgement of Paris

Is the book I'm reading this week. Its a lengthy exploration of the conditions that led up to the Salon de Refusees and the birth of Impressionism. Focused around the career of the painter Manet, Ross King expertly handles the details of history, personalities, and events in an eminently interesting and readable fashion. I really think he is the best current popular writer about the arts.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Glenn Tilbrook at the Pour House

One half of the songwriting team of Difford and Tilbrook from the group Squeeze, Glenn Tilbrook helped pen some of the most recognizable hits of the '80s like 'Pulling Mussels (From the Shell), 'Another Nail in My Heart 'and 'Tempted.' He did all of those and more on Tuesday this week at the Pour House in Raleigh.
Interspersing Squeeze hits with solo material and guitar god classics like Jimi Hedrix's 'Voodoo Chile,' Tilbrook was ever the congenial host making sure we all had drinks and smiles contantly. Great to finally
figure out the lyrics to 'Pulling Mussels' by hearing them first hand. A bit of hilarity ensued during the encore when he asked women from the audience to dance to the Tom Jones hit 'Its Not Unusual' and form 'The Glenn Tilbrook Experience'. A great guitar player, a good singer, good songwriter and a good time. Don't miss him.

Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men"

Went to see Alfonso Cuarón's "Children of Men" on Friday and was literally on the edge of my seat. Having both helped written and directed this movie, Alfonso Cuarón has made a movie that feels at times like a documentary of the future. Ending with a spectacular 17 minute tracking shot the camerawork is notable. The film is a blend of hand-held documentary style combined with well constructed set pieces. Though dystopian in tone the humanity of some of the characters and the outcome of the final frames leave you hopeful. Clive Owen and Michael Caine are invaluable to making this movie work.

Dvorak, Bartok and Beethoven

Attended an extremely beautiful concert last night featuring the Vega string quartet.
They played quartets and a quintet by the aforementioned composers. The Beethoven Quartet (F Major, Op. 14 no. 1) was a delightful early work composed in 1798. Full of echos of earlier composers it still had the strong intimations of what was to come in Beethoven's future compositions.

The Bartok (String Quartet No. 4) piece was up next. A composition featuring 5 movements each forming an "arch" the 1st and 5th movments, the 2nd and 4th with the 3rd being what the violaist called a "keystone" for the whole piece. The 3rd movement starting with a low sonic bed of layered tones and the cello whirling on top like a musical equivalent of an ice skater on clean ice. The violiaist broke a string at the end of
the fourth movenment and went on to explain much about this piece and Bartok himself while she calmly exchanged the strings.

The last piece of the night was the Dvorak quintet with piano (A Major, Op 81) which was easily the most sonically "fleshed out" due to the addition of the piano. It was a wonderful conclusion to this energetic and thoughtfully performed evening of music. The Vega string quartet is well worthy of our attention and our time.