Friday, December 31, 2010

Forgotten Music: December 2010 - The Summary

Just because I didn’t have a chance to write my own Forgotten Music essay doesn’t mean that others found the time to write one. I want to thank Todd Mason for not only writing and posting his own essay, but also for collecting the links of others who found the time to post yesterday. I’ll get my act together by next month.

Bill Crider - Recitation records
Jerry House - Cisco Houston
Randy Johnson - Joe Satriani - Surfing with the Alien
George Kelley - Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records
Evan Lewis - Jerry Landis (AKA Paul Simon) - "The Lone Teen Ranger"
Todd Mason - “Sunday Night/Night Music” (NBC-TC); Dave Brubeck on CBS Radio
Charlie Ricci - John Bosell - Festival of the Heart
Patti Abbott - Hoagy Carmichael - "Am I Blue?"

Until the next Forgotten Music on 27 January 2011

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" (Annotated) - A Review

Yesterday, as I have done the past few December 27ths, I re-read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's only Christmastime Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." Only this time it was a little different.

For Christmas, I was given the first two volumes of the new annotated Sherlock Holmes, edited by Leslie S. Klinger. These volumes, hardbound and in a slipcase, are gorgeous. Any self-respecting Holmes fan simply must own a copy of this set.

What I expected was the typical definitions of random pieces of Victorian tidbits that modern readers wouldn't know, starting with the original publication date of January 1892. Moreover, a note describes how Dickens and the Victorians "invented"Christmas as we know it now, while another gives light as to how gems are measured, or how long The Times had been in existence. That kind of detail, along with the illustrations by Sidney Paget or contemporary photos of 1890s London, is a boon to the reader.

What surprised me was the scholarship devoted to figuring out if Holmes's deductions were correct or not. I know all about the gentle fiction that supposes Holmes and Watson were real people. I don't have a problem with that. That's kind of fun, really. It's the need to, I assume, outwit Holmes, or, at least, point out where he erred. I wonder where that need arises? I guess that's the true treasure of this new, annotated anthology: we get, all in one place, a century's worth of criticism.

Part of me wonders if all this nitpicking isn't just a veiled attempt to point out the flaws in Doyle's writing. "Blue Carbuncle" is one of the stories that has an addendum, a separate essay related to the events in the story. This story earns "A Winter's Crop," a complete discussion of whether or not a goose has a crop. Interesting scholarship, to be sure, and worthy of discourse. But, seriously, does the fact about the existence of a goose's crop add or subtract to the reading of the tale? Or whether or not Holmes inferences about the hat hold water? No.

I glanced at the dates of the stories in front and behind "Blue Carbuncle" and noticed that they are a month apart. Thus, Doyle is writing these stories, one per month, from July 1891 to June 1892. He still has a day job as well as a wife and one kid. He didn't have the internet to double-check to see if a goose has a crop. I suspect he wrote these tales in a flash and edited afterwards, if at all. Also, the reading public in the 1890s probably were not the avid geeks many of us are today.

All this is to say that while it is a fun exercise to go back and see if Holmes's reasoning is sound and to point out where it isn't, one should enjoy the story as it is. Give Doyle some slack. He's only a writer. It's not like he was as good as writer as Watson...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 16 at Denver Broncos

Don't have it in me
To attempt a haiku now
How long 'til next year?

Game was such a snooze
That I almost forgot to
Write these few poems.

Late in the contest
I just knew we'd lose somehow.
Did not disappoint.

It's almost funny
How talented we are at
Not earning more wins.

Houston Texans - 23
Denver Broncos - 24

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Noir at Do Some Damage

Over at my group blog, Do Some Damage, we're running a series of Christmas noir stories. The stories are posted just about everyday--with some days having two--until Sunday, 2 January 2011.

So, if you need a little extra spice during the holiday season, head on over and take a read.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Charles Dickens/Writing Style Question

(Lest anyone think I've abandoned all mystery-related posting in favor of bad Haiku for a bad NFL team, today's post is presented.)

I started Charles Dickens' "The Cricket on the Hearth" today. I've never read it and am looking forward to reading it in these days leading up to Christmas.

What struck me was the style of prose. Not the lofty, lengthy sentences Dickens was prone to write. I'm talking about the insertion of Dickens himself into the story. Or, rather, A Narrator. Exhibit A is the first paragraph:
The kettle began it! Don't tell me what Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peery- bingle may leave it on record to the end of time that she couldn't say which of them began it; but, I say the kettle did. I ought to know, I hope! The kettle began it, full five minutes by the little waxy- faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.
The Narrator knows the story and is telling the story. He has authorial asides but also knows the inner thoughts of the main characters.

Is there a term for this type of writing? My first thought was that it was third person omniscient, but, usually, the Omnipotent Author doesn't insert himself into the story. C. S. Lewis does this, too. Is this an English thing?

Any thoughts?

(NOTE: My writing at this blog has been pretty sparse in recent months. I plan on re-upping on my blog commitment starting in January. Thanks for reading.)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 15 at Tennessee Titans

Was asked "Why haiku?"
I'm asking myself the same
After today's game.

Five and nine. Oh boy.
Week One seems so far away.
Was it this season?

No playoffs. Draft rank
Not as "good" as the Panthers.
It's purgatory.

Is the mere presence
Of professional football
In Houston enough?

Got outta church at
Ten past twelve. Already down
Seven. It figures.

So apathetic
That I don't even care t'was
The Titans beat us.

Time to do what all
Texans fans do every year:
Watch another team.

Houston Texans - 17
Tennessee Titans - 31

Monday, December 13, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 14 vs. Baltimore Ravens

Looked great for one half.
To come so close, yet so far.
Like a hard groin kick.

Season now over.
Tell me what we're playing for?
Really. Please tell me.

Coach K does enough
To keep things interesting.
Is that just enough?

Can't complain too much.
Damn fine second half. Thrilling.
We win if "heads" called.

Two long scoring drives
Why can't we do that more? Why?!
Snatched defeat again.

Baltimore Ravens - 34
Houston Texans - 28 (OT)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 13* at Philadelphia Eagles

Still not good enough.
Not ready for prime time games.
Will we ever be?

Q3 like Week One.
Power football. It looked grand.
Engine just wore out.

Arian Foster.
Why is he not on the field
On every dang play?

December football.
The Texans fall. Then play well
When no one's looking.

I long for the time
When it's the Texans who are
Supposed to win games.

Coach K getting mad.
At least he has some passion.
Just not quite enough.

Division is ripe
For the picking. Texans show
Up without basket.

Houston Texans - 24
Philadelphia Eagles - 34

*No, I didn't miss Week 12. I just forgot to account for Houston's bye week.

Nice to *see* the game since the NFL Network used to be a premium channel.

Sigh. No more local football until 13 December, the Monday nighter with Baltimore. Lovely.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Review Club: Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason

(This is the December 2010 edition of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click on the icon at the end of this review.)

I can’t even remember why or how I came to read Jar City a few years ago. I know it was during the winter. I sometimes tend towards seasonal reading and, well, what better setting for a winter novel than a story set in Iceland. After watching the PBS series “Wallander” with Kenneth Branagh, I had the hankering for another foreign novel and my thoughts returned to Iceland.

Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason is the second major book to hit English-speaking bookstores. The protagonist of Indridason’s series is Detective Inspector Erlendur, a morose, divorced man with two estranged children and a small team of detectives who try their best to keep his spirits up. As someone who might never step foot on Icelandic soil, Indridason’s book are rich in local flavor. Not so much large descriptions of the landscape, the customs, or the food, mind you, but there’s a palpable sense of place in these stories. It’s what invigorates the reading of the tale even if the main character sometimes can’t figure out where to sleep.

The book itself isn’t gruesome, but the first sentence might give you the creeps:
He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it.
Ick. The baby’s brother leads his mother to the place where he found the “funny rock” and discovers a buried skeleton. Erlendur’s team is called in and, upon a quick inspection, decides to defer to an archeological team. The archeologists begin their digging, which goes on agonizingly slow. The pace frustrates Erlendur, but allows the author to weave a separate, parallel story.

In this second story, an unnamed mother of a crippled daughter, marries a man. With him, she has two boys. What she didn’t know when she agreed to be his wife was that he is a wife beater. In unflinchingly harsh descriptions, Indridason shows the reader this family’s life, how the mother and children cringe at the husband’s seemingly random acts of violence and how her will is gradually ground to dust.

The mother is not the only one dealing with familial issues. Erlendur’s daughter, a habitual drug user in her twenties, is pregnant. He has had few good times since his divorce twenty years ago and to describe his relationship with her as troubled is putting it lightly. She calls Erlendur out of the blue asking for help. In the main subplot, Erlendur searches for a finds his daughter, Eva, lying in a coma on the street.

Not too far into the book do you, the reader, realize two things. One, the time period of the mother’s story is in the past. Two, the skeleton that Erlendur is investigating somehow is related to the mother’s family. You just don’t know who. Or why. Gradually, Erlendur and his team uncover some truths of the past--and he has to come to terms with his own failed family as he sits by his daughter’s bedside in the hospital--but they can’t quite get every detail in order. The mother’s story line moves forward, too, and it gets to a point where you start guessing about the identity of the skeleton. I know I did, and I am not afraid to admit that I was wrong about a detail or two. That’s the fun of reading a book like this.

The prose, translated by the late Bernard Scudder, moves along briskly, Indridason’s lean style as bleak as Erlendur’s outlook on life. The characterizations are rich, even if only an outline of a person is given. More than a few times I found the technical writer side of me wanting to edit the grammar. It isn’t bad or wrong, it just that I had to re-read a passage or two to make sure which noun referred to which pronoun. Nothing major.

Silence of the Grave won the 2005 British Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger award for best novel. The cover lists the story as a “thriller” and, frankly, I was expecting the usual type thriller, a la James Bond or Dan Brown. This isn’t that type of thriller. In fact, I think the book is mislabeled. There’s little thrilling about this story, except a certain passage towards the end. Guess we all have different definitions of the same word.

I enjoyed Silence of the Grave and I’ve already moved on to the third English-translated book, Voices. Jar City was made into a pretty decent movie. I’d like to see more of Indridason’s novels made into movies. They are perfect for the PBS Masterpiece Mystery show. If you like those types of programs, you’ll like this book.

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, November 29, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 11 vs. Tennessee Titans

I missed the win. Natch.
Christmas shopping at game time.
Think I had more fun.

Now that the season's
gone astray, Texans play good.
Wait 'til next year, 'gain...

Hockey game broke out
During the football game. No
Place for that at all.

Tennessee Titans - 0
Houston Texans - 20

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - Chicago 25: The Christmas Album

Back in 1998, Christmas arrived in August. Well, it did if you were a Chicago fan, that is. You see, it was in that month, the hottest down in here in Texas, when the then-thirty-year-old band released their first ever Christmas CD. And wouldn’t you know it was numbered twenty-five?

When you stop to think about it, you had to wonder why one of America’s most successful rock acts never recorded even one Christmas song. Peter Cetera did a one-off, semi-countrified version of “Silent Night” and Robert Lamm recorded “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but that was it. The closest the band ever got to a winter song was “Song of the Evergreens” off of Chicago VII.

Chicago 25, coming three years after Night and Day, Chicago’s CD of newly-arranged big band standards, the expectations among the Chicago fan base was quite high for the Christmas CD. What songs would they select? How would the band stamp their indelible sound on time-honored classics? And, honestly, how could they add anything new to the endless steam of Christmas music we hear year after year. And would any of these versions become definitive?

I could certainly give a track-by-track run down of Chicago 25 (and I have, to many friends and fellow Chicago fans) but I’ll point out a few high points of this CD. As I have mentioned before in previous reviews of Chicago records, the sheer number of instruments and vocalists in the band brings a multitude of possibilities to any one song. These seven musicians are professionals who can evoke any number of nuances from their instruments. Walt Parazaider brings all of his saxophones and his flute is featured on many songs. Robert Lamm’s piano playing, including electric piano, is a joy to hear throughout the fourteen songs of Chicago 25 but especially “The Christmas Song”. Bill Champlin’s vocal arrangements (“What Child is This?”) can give boy bands like N*Sync a run for their money to say nothing of his tickling the keys of his B3 organ. Keith Howland’s guitar embellishments interspersed in the songs evoke a jazz feel more than a rock sensibility. Back in 1998, trumpeter Lee Loughnane was undergoing a renaissance in the band as his trumpet playing markedly improved in the concerts and showed up on Chicago 25.

All the songs selected and arranged got the typical Chicago treatment. Some of the tunes are better for it. A few surprises do pop up. “Feliz Navidad,” as sung by Jose Feliciano, is one of the happiest Christmas songs out there. I dare you not to tap your toe when this song starts its inexorable march in your brain. Under Lamm’s reading, the song is a slow, moderately-paced song of beauty. In a nice touch, Lamm adds some xylophone and marimbas. It’s one of the unexpected yet understated songs on this record.

You can’t say Champlin’s bluesy “Santa Clause is Comin' to Town” is unexpected, however. To say that Champlin is soulful is to understate the obvious. But the rest of the band—especially Jason Scheff’s bass playing—really gets into the act. This is one of the funkiest cuts in Chicago’s catalogue and it gives the horns a chance to stand and just wail. What makes this rendition so much fun is Champlin’s lyrical riffs. “You better be cool\y’all gotta chill\you gotta behave\you all know the drill.” And the B3 just weaves in and out of this track. A highlight if you like your carols just a little bit dirty.

“Christmas Time is Here” is the Vince Guaraldi song from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Lamm acknowledges his appreciation to Guaraldi with a delicate version of this newer classic. The horn arrangement is quite good as is Howland’s guitar licks. You'll love Lamm’s electric piano. He noodles in and out of the melody and his own vocals. Loughnane’s muted trumpet ends the piece, setting a lovely mood that can sweep you away back to your childhood.

The next track, however, will wake you up. Chicago’s secret weapon in 1998 was Lee Loughnane’s vocals. Yes, the trumpeter sang a few songs back in the 1970s (on Chicago VII, X, and XI) but had not stepped behind the mic since. So “Let it Snow” was a wonderful treat. In a version that would be at home down in New Orleans, Loughnane’s pulls a Louis Armstrong, singing and playing. This song proved so popular in 1998 that the band recorded a version in Spanish. “Let it Snow” even found its way into the summer tour set list. It was a little weird hearing this song in the heat but the feel of the song will melt snow or your margarita.

As good as these renditions are—Feliz Navidad” is a nice change and other songs, like “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are my preferred versions—most of these songs don’t quite reach the level of definitive. One exception exists. Chicago’s reading of “Little Drummer Boy” puts all the other versions—and, yeah, that includes the Bowie/Crosby version—to the back of the line. The song itself, while nice, never had the heft of other Christmas songs, secular or sacred. Chicago changes the equation. In a fade-in, the drums kick up a shuffle beat, not fast, not slow, but just enough to get your toe tapping and to make you realize this is something different. As Bill Champlin’s soulful voice begins to sing the first verse, producer Roy Bittan’s (E Street Band) accordion colors the feel of the song, giving the song an acoustic quality underneath the main beat. Champlin makes it through the entire first verse with only the horns offering the answering counter melody. As you first listen to this version of the song, you’ll probably think “Okay, this is a great song and the horns are wonderful and discreet.” Then the chorus kicks in. And, in a first for Chicago, there is a choir: twelve additional singers to go with the three main Chicago vocalists. The result is somewhere between magical and sublime. Verse two brings in Jason Scheff’s high tenor, floating above Champlin and the choir. During this vocal onslaught, the horns continue to wail away and the accordion drones on and on. The horn charts are so stamped in my head that I hear them even when listening to another rendition. I consider this song one of the best songs in Chicago’s entire catalogue and a definitive version of "Little Drummer Boy."

Five years after Chicago 25, Rhino updated the disc with six additional songs and renamed the collection Chicago Christmas: What’s it Gonne Be Santa? It’s a testament to a band with vocalists growing out of the woodwork that five of the six new songs showcase a different lead singer. Again, the newer songs give that distinctive Chicago stamp on old classics. Lamm’s “Winter Wonderland” is pure Chicago circa 1973. In retrospect, “Winter Wonderland” provides a nice clue to the types of songs Lamm would release a year later on his excellent “Subtlety + Passion” disc. “This Christmas” has Scheff in full R&B mode while the acoustic “Bethlehem,” an original tune, provides a nice, acoustic glimpse of the three kings.

Just as “Little Drummer Boy” stood head and shoulders above the other tracks on Chicago 25, “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” is the best song from the extra tracks. Simply put, this is one of the flat-out most fun songs Chicago has ever recorded. The newest—and youngest—member of the band, guitarist Keith Howland, arranged this song and sings lead. It’s a fast, up-tempo song that brings to mind “When is This World Comin’ To?” off of Chicago VI. The horn charts are fantastic and, as is my wont, the bari sax all but blats its way out of your speakers. In the original lyric, the final verse lists the various toys that kids want. Howland tailors the final verse to instruments for his band mates. At the end, after he’s questioned Santa on what treat will be left for him, Howland shouts out “How ‘bout a shiny electric guitar?” and lets rip a guitar riff and solo that would have made Chuck Berry proud. It’s an exuberant ending to and exuberant song. It’ll leave you smiling and tapping your foot long after the song fades away.

Christmas is all about memories, usually from childhood. At times, it’s even about memories you never had but a nostalgia induced by music. Nat King Cole’s reading of “The Christmas Song” is definitive and no Christmas would be complete without hearing it at least one (fifty?) time. Ditto for Crosby’s “White Christmas.” But if you want something fun, occasionally different, but altogether satisfying, you can’t go wrong with inviting Chicago into your house for Christmas.

Forgotten Music: November 2010

Welcome to the November 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. Inspired by Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Friday series, here we examine music that has fallen off the public's radar or other music that never made a blip. We're doing this on a once-a-month basis, the last Thursday of every month.

With today being the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, the entries are a tad slim. I've gone ahead and posted the full list of our usual suspects. So, between turkey and football, click away and read some interesting posts (even if they are not about forgotten music).

Paul D. Brazil
Bill Crider
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Charlie Ricci
Ray Foster

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - It's a Go!

I'll post the list of folks who participated last month. I'll get the summary later on this weekend (since I'll be traveling and may not have access to a computer).

Since this is the only forgotten music entry ahead of the Christmas holiday, I'm posting a Christmas CD. It's not a theme, but if you've a favorite Christmas CD, this might be a fun time to post it (so we can all go out and get it during the season).

Until Thursday...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Forgotten Music: November 2010 - Poll and/or Call for Entries

I have a quick question for those of us who do the Forgotten Music. For November, the last Thursday is Thanksgiving Day. I can easily write a post ahead of time and post it. But I'll be out of town as of Wednesday, and may not be able to consolidate all the entries for Thursday. Granted, we have our standard list of regulars and I can post them.

Question: do we want to do a Forgotten Music for November?

If not, we can pick it up in December.


Houston Texans Haiku: Week 11 at New York Jets

Four and six again.
All four seasons in one game.
Why, how do we watch?

Big D changed coaches.
Two and O with J. Garrett.
Is there a lesson?

Houston Texans' role:
Give highlights to other teams.
Heartbreak for H-Town.

Houston Texans - 27
New York Jets - 30

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 10: at Jacksonville Jaguars

A tale of two halves.
First half sucked. Not so half two.
T'was a fun ending.

Here we go again.
Season sliding down the hill.
Just like every year.

The game's called football.
Not volleyball. In football,
You catch the ball, man!

Houston Texans - 24
Jacksonville Jaguars - 31

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 9 vs. San Diego Chargers

Missed it yet again.
Gaudy stats no longer good.
Bye-bye playoff bid.

We're hurt. So were they.
Why do their reserves beat ours?
No killer instinct.

Coach K: My advice.
Ride Foster every dang play.
He's the best we got.

Home cooking not good.
Season ticket holders: y'all
feeling gyped 'bout now?

San Diego Chargers - 29
Houston Texans - 23

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review Club: Naked Heat by Richard Castle

(This is the November 2010 edition of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Trying to wrap your brain around the Nikki Heat Novel Concept is like Doc Brown trying to explain alternate universes to Marty McFly. “Naked Heat” is the second novel written by Richard Castle, the protagonist of the ABC television show “Castle.” On TV, Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, who photograph in on the back of the dust jacket of the new novel. In the show, Castle tags along with New York Police Detective Kate Beckett, using her as the inspiration for the character of Nikki Heat, the protagonist of the Nikki Heat novels.

Confused? You could be excused if you are, but there’s one thing that’s without question: the Nikki Heat novels, whoever wrote them, are good. Last year, I reviewed the first book, “Heat Wave,” for the November 2009 Book Review Club. How ironic that, nearly a year to the date, I am reviewing the second one.

If you caught the season premiere of this, the third season of “Castle,” then you’ll remember that Beckett and her team bust into the scene of a crime only to find Richard Castle himself there, looking rather guilty. In “Naked Heat,” there’s a similar thread. It’s October in the novel. The magazine article Jameson Rook (i.e., Castle’s stand-in) wrote about Nikki Heat (Beckett’s stand-in) has hit the stands, but Rook is nowhere to be found. What complicates this relationship is that Rook and Heat had a romance in the first book. Heat broke it off, but you can tell that she’s still got feelings for him.

Heat and her two lead detective helpers, Raily and Ochoa, (AKA “Roach”) are looking into the death of an apparent homeless person, dubbed Coyote Man, when they get a second call. Upon entering the apartment, the discover a dead body, stabbed in the back, slumped at her desk. They hear a sound from the kitchen and, bursting in, guns drawn, find Jameson Rook. The dead body is Cassidy Towne, gossip columnist for the New York Ledger. Rook, it turns out, was doing a feature on Towne as a follow-up to his successful piece on Heat, but “without the sex” he assures Nikki.

Thus, the team of Heat and Rook, like Beckett and Castle, are together again. And, all things considered, this book was pretty darn good. It has an effortless grace to it, a seamless string of good scenes and sparkling dialogue that is a pure joy. It’s easily better than “Heat Wave” despite the fact that I really enjoyed Heat #1. Like an episode of “Castle,” Naked Heat is not deep and thought provoking. It’s fun. And, more importantly, the “why” of the murders (as always, there are more than one) was cleverly hidden until the right moment.

“Castle” has been my favorite TV show since it started airing a couple of years ago. Just yesterday, I re-watched the pilot and was surprised at how well it holds up, what with all the ingredients of the “Castle” formula ready from the get-go. The Nikki Heat books are exactly the same way. The pieces are so well defined that you’d think they’ve been around for years. It is my sincere hope that two things happen. One, that ABC keeps paying the ghost writer to write new Nikki Heat books. And, two, that ABC never reveals the true writer. In this meta-fiction-within-fiction conceit, that’s one mystery that I don’t want solved.

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, November 1, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 8 at Indianpolis Colts

Texans lose. Again.
Still can't hang with the big boys.
Is the hope a dream?

Bad night for Texas.
Texans lose. Rangers closed out.
Time to go to bed.

Texans in prime time.
Don't like it. Prefer Sundays.
Enjoyed "Castle," though!

Houston Texans - 17
Indianpolis Colts - 30

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Forgotten Music: Chiller by Erich Kunzel

Mozart never made a concept record. And, no, I don’t count opera. It wasn’t until the 1800s that music took the natural next step and created a sonic landscape with a unified story or theme. A concept record before there were even records.

What am I getting at? Program music—that is, music with the intended purpose of creating images in a listener’s mind—didn’t flourish until the Romantic Period in the 1800s. And it wasn’t long before music evoking a pastoral landscape gave way to things that scared us: demons, witches, and death. Often referred to as tone poems, some of the best are collected in the 1989 CD “Chiller,” by the late Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra.

Kunzel made a niche market of popular music from movies being recorded and packaged together to go with a common theme. “Round-Up” features western music, “Star Tracks II” showcases some great themes from science fiction films, while “William Tell and Other Favorite Overtures” shore up the usual pops orchestra material. So it was natural that they tackled the music of the macabre.

One of the fun things on a Kunzel CD is the sound effects. “Round-Up” begins with sounds around a campfire. The CD that includes music from “Jurassic Park” starts off with the sounds of a T-Rex stomping through the forest. So, as you can expect, “Chiller” starts off with a scream. A very loud scream. You hear thunder and rain, a mewing cat, and footsteps running up some wooden steps. Three knocks of the door knocker boom and the door creaks open. The woman, so happy that some is home, turns to look at the…thing in the doorway and screams. The thing screams back. The short piece ends with the door slamming shut and immediately, the opening to the Andrew Lloyd Rice’s “Phantom of the Opera” kicks in, the pipe organ played to full volume. It really starts things off with a bang.

After the Phantom has left the stage, the remainder of the CD’s first half (time wise; these are long pieces) meanders through the great supernaturally-themed orchestral pieces from the 19th Century. All the great ones are here save one. “Night on Bald Mountain” blows through your speakers with its accustomed ferocity. You hear the intense string line flurrying around and, then, suddenly, the thunder of the low brass bolts from the sky. Having played this piece before, it never gets old.

My personal favorite supernatural piece of music is Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre.” Musically, you hear night fall and the dead rise, led by Death sawing through his violin concerto as the dead dance. Kunzel and the orchestra nail this reading of the piece, bringing forth all the innuendos of the instruments: xylophone as dancing bones, harps tolling midnight, the oboe as rooster, among others. This piece just floats along and, man, you can just see the skeletons and ghouls prancing in the graveyard and over the tombstones. It all climaxes in a fantastic melding of two scales, one ascending and one descending, being played over each other. Just like when you turn up the volume on your car radio when you hear “Hotel California,” I always crank up the volume when these scales do their thing. And then it all ends at dawn.

The rest of the classical music includes two pieces from Berlioz (“March to the Scaffold” and “Pandemonium”) and Greig’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, a piece that can always leave you panting. The one piece whose inclusion would have made this CD perfect is Paul Dukas’s “The Sorcerer's Apprentice.” You’ll have to get it elsewhere. “Classics from the Crypt” includes it as a few other pieces not on this CD. I have both and pretty well have all the great supernatural orchestral pieces out there.

The second half of “Chiller” is a let-down after the spectacular music from the 19th Century. It’s film music from the 20th Century. None of it is bad, it just suffers when compared to the older music. Moreover, the carefully-crafted mood evoked by the classical music is broken with happier-sounding material like the overture to the movie “Sleuth” or the theme to the movie “Without a Clue.” If I had selected the music for this disc, I would have included more pieces like the Herrmann music from “Psycho,” complete with the exact sound effect you’d expect from the famous murder scene. The theme from “The Bride of Frankenstein” does its job well, bringing to mind all the fantastic images from that horror film of that era.

The fact that there are images associated with the film music is why I enjoy the older tone poems better: they were intended to stir up in the listener images of their own imagination. Film music, by its very nature, compliments eerie pictures on a silver screen. There’s nothing wrong with that. Some great music is out there to correspond to some great horror films: the theme to the movie “Halloween,” for example, or the music from “Silence of the Lambs.” But so much horror film music is best experienced within the context of the film. The classical music on “Chiller” is of itself and the images are entirely yours. Yeah, I’ll admit that I can’t listen to “Night on Bald Mountain” and not think of the demon from “Fantasia” but that’s the exception (and, oh boy, what an exception!).

What made these concept classical pieces of the 19th Century so compelling was that we, as humans, didn’t know as much as we 21st Century citizens know. With our ultra modern lifestyle, we can keep the supernatural at bay more easily than we used to. Heck, we keep nature at bay. To some extent, with greater scientific knowledge comes with it a greater understanding that supernatural things our ancestors were scared of are merely figments of our collective imaginations. Death doesn’t rise from the grave and play a violin. There is no supernatural witches’ Sabbath. With nature largely conquered in the western world, the things that scare us are falling stocks, serial killers, terrorism, or bio-warfare, things all man-made. We don’t get scared at the supernatural anymore.

Which is why “Chiller” is such a wonderful CD. With the classical pieces included here, you can get a sense of the frightening wonderment audiences experienced two centuries ago in the concert halls. After an 1870s concert featuring “Danse Macabre,” I can imagine a few folks looking around shadowed corners as they walked home or rode in carriages. Horror films do the trick for us nowadays but there’s a part of you that knows, logically, that the amputated leg is fake, that the demons in a film use fake blood, or that it all is created on a computer.

Not so with this music. It’s all in your head. Which is why I would have loved to experience a demonic piece by Mozart. With his brilliant orchestral work, can you imagine how messed up and scared the citizens of Vienna would have been if Mozart trotted out a “Danse Macabre” or “Night on Bald Mountain”? I know your smiling one of your devilish smiles at that delicious thought. I am, too.

Forgotten Music: October 2010

Welcome to the October 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. Inspired by Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Friday series, here we examine music that has fallen off the public's radar or other music that never made a blip. We're doing this on a once-a-month basis, the last Thursday of every month. Aside from my own entry, here's today's line-up:

Paul D. Brazil
Bill Crider
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Charlie Ricci
Ray Foster

If I have missed your name or got the wrong address, let me know and I'll fix it here and for future months. Anyone can join: just let me know here in the comments section, by e-mail, or in the comments section of my entry that you'd like to join in next month and I'll add you to the list.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

PBS's "Sherlock" - A Review

Earlier this year, when my friends in the UK started writing about this new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, I'll admit I was jealous. The gist of what I read--the new creators plucked Holmes and Watson out of 1887 and plopped them into 2010--had me curious and excited if not a little worried. It's not a given that PBS brings every single BBC mystery program over here to the States. I did a weird thing: I stopped reading about the new show, partly because I didn't want to be disappointed if Masterpiece Mystery chose not to broadcast "Sherlock" and, partially, I wanted to keep from reading too many spoilers if we Yanks saw the show.

On Sunday, our patience was rewarded. "A Study in Pink", the first of three episodes in the "Sherlock" series, debuted. And I couldn't be more thrilled at the outcome. As one who has read and knows the original source material--Holmes first adventure, "A Study in Scarlet"--I enjoyed many of the in jokes and winks to knowledgeable Sherlockians. But my wife, who is only a casual Holmes fan, liked the program as well. In an interesting bit of history repeating itself, the new Watson was, like his original counterpart, a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan. How...timely. Of course, for us Americans seeing the show for the first time, we had to contend with the recent news that the actor who plays Watson, Martin Freeman, is also the new Bilbo Baggins. He, like Jude Law in last year's feature film, play Watson not only as a competent doctor but also a man of action. He's not a bumbling idiot, Watson. He's an able ally for Holmes. Freeman did a great job of keeping the good doctor's desires for action and frustration at his injury just below the surface.

Benedict Cumberbatch wears the skin of Holmes well. His frantic delivery of his lines, especially when trying to explain how he arrived at his deductions, played well as an example of our oversaturated modern life. And, pointedly, I appreciated that creators Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat didn't have the new Holmes use cocaine, instead getting his fix via nicotine patches.

Lastly is Lestrade. Most long-time readers and watchers of the Holmes canon knows that Inspector Lestrade is considered by Holmes not to be very bright, but he's the best Scotland Yard has to offer. Not so this Lestrade. Rupert Graves gives strength to his Lestrade, interlacing cool one-ups-manship (as when he uses his police powers to raid 221B Baker Street looking for drugs, letting Holmes know that only one man wears the badge) with clear admiration for the mind of the consulting detective.

The story is good for an introduction to the new Holmes: a series of deaths that, on the surface, appear as suicides, but is actually the work of a serial killer. Of all the neat things the producers did with this new Holmes, the one aspect they can never do is get inside Holmes' brain. In "Sherlock," they depict Holmes' mental miracles in two ways. One, a typical slo-mo replay, very similar to the Downey film. The second way, however, was brilliant: actually show text on the screen, fading in and out, keeping a list of things Holmes notices. It also worked well when he and Watson texted each other

I'm not one of those people who thinks every favorite thing is sacrosanct. What makes Holmes and Watson so timeless is that they can be reinterpreted time and again and the basic foundation of their characters and relationship remain constant. I am looking forward to future episodes and series of "Sherlock" and highly recommend the series.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Forgotten Music: October 2010 - Call for Entries

Hello all. This Thursday, 28 October, is the October 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project.

Per usual, I'll post links on Thursday to everyone who posted in September. If you have the time, great. If you can't make it, you can either let me know before Thursday (and I'll remove your name) or not (whereby readers can jump to your blog and read your latest entry and be amazed at your erudition). If you want to join and you haven't posted before, just let me know and I'll get your name on the list for Thursday morning. As usual, I"ll do a summary at the end of the day.

Looking forward to everyone's entries.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hard Case Crime 2.0

As reported by Patti Abbott, James Reasoner, and Gerald So, Hard Case Crime has made a deal with Titan Publishing to resume publication of books starting in 2011. And the titles they have on tap--new Christa Faust, new Quarry novel--is something that'll make the next year seem longer than it'll really be.

The Hard Case Crime books are great products: smaller paperbacks, wonderful art, easy to fit in the back pocket. Plus they look awesome on the shelves. But I have to say that I'm just as excited that the new deal will also include some ebooks. That, to me, is the icing on the cake.

Now, if we could get more audio versions...

Congrats to Charles Ardai and the entire Hard Case Crime family for inking this deal. We readers are really, really happy!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beat to a Pulp: Round One - In the House!

It is difficult to describe the feeling I got on Saturday when my contributor's copy of Beat to a Pulp: Round One landed in my mailbox. There wasn't a cloud in the sky here in Houston that day, but I had my own cloud nine.

There, in print, was a story I had written. Everyone I know had already read the tale back in April 2009 when it first was published at the Beat to a Pulp website. But having it there, in my hands, was a truly awesome experience.

If you read my Do Some Damage column on Saturday, you saw the state of my writing space here at my house. Now, with this new addition...

Thanks again to David and Elaine for including me in this first of many volumes. The company I keep in this volume is humbling.

Beat to a Pulp: Round One is available at Amazon or at Createspace. Put it on your Christmas list. Better yet, make a gift of it this year. I know I am.

Now, I'm off to read the other stories...

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 6 vs. the Chiefs

Andre the Giant!
Sir Matt the Magnificent!
Thrilling as always.

Texans got it done.
Season one point O over.
Two point O, let's go!

Kansas City Chiefs - 31
Houston Texans - 35

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 5 vs. Giants

First half was pungent.
Question: Do laundry or watch?
Ah! The smell of lint.

Memo to Bookies:
Stop picking Texans to win.
It's our albatross.

The high of Week One
Now a distant memory.
Might have been a fluke.

Playoffs are for teams
Who know, in their skins, winning.
To date, Texans don't.

Talent for playoffs
Is something Texans possess.
Now, just prove it. Please.

New York Giants - 34
Houston Texans - 10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review Club: The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

(This is my October 2010 entry for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For the complete list, click the icon at the end of this review.)

Halloween is a day to remember what we have forgotten. What have we let slip from our collective human consciousness? Fear. Being scared of things we can’t explain, things that go bump in the night. Isn’t that why we dress up as scary monsters, to help laugh at the things that used to scare the dickens out of us even if we don’t know why? I think so, and the same is true for the heroes of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

Eight boys dress up for Halloween in various costumes: an ape-man, a mummy, a druid with a scythe, a ghost, a witch, a beggar, a gargoyle, and a skeleton. They are beside themselves with excitement. It’s Halloween! The best day of the year, including Christmas. But their cadre is not complete. They need Pipkin, the ninth boy of their group. “Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived.” As the eight gather on Pipkin’s doorstep, awaiting their friend to bolt out of the house and lead them, Pipkin meekly walks out. Without a costume. He tells them he’s okay but that he’ll meet them at the house on the outskirts of town. Bewildered, they go.

Once there, they see it: the Halloween Tree. “There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a-thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes.” Suddenly, some thing shows up: Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a tall, skeletal man. He asks them why they are wearing those particular costumes and then chastises them for not even knowing what those costumes represent. The boys implore Moundshroud to tell them about the history of Halloween. At that instant, however, from a distance, the soft voice of Pipkin wafts to their ears. He’s trapped. He needs saving. They run to him but Pipkin disappears into the darkness and only the mysterious Moundshroud can help. With swirling fantastic magic, he whisks the boys away on a giant kite. They need to hunt for Pipkin in the history of Halloween. First stop: Egypt.

The bulk of the book is given to the eight boys’ flight through time and space, learning the history and folklore of the celebration we now call Halloween. It’s a phantasmagorical history lesson, really. At each stop—Egypt, pre-history, Greece, Rome, England, Europe, Mexico, etc.—the boys experience the traditions of the various regions and how each place celebrated—dreaded?—the coming winter darkness. And at each stop, Pipkin is there. But he’s not. He’s enshrouded as a mummy in Egypt, he’s a gargoyle atop Notre Dame in France, or trapped in catacombs in Mexico. He’s always just out of reach, always requiring another jump through time.

The manner in which the boys travel from one place and time to another is fascinating. Hanging onto each other’s heels, they act as the tail of a giant kite created from old circus flyers. The catch: all the animals on these flyers are alive and growl and roar. At one time, they are whisked away by leaves. Leaving Mexico, they are commanded to break a piñata and little figures fall from the piñata, each corresponding to one of their own costumes. Thus freed, the little figures lift each boy up and fly him back to Illinois.

If there’s one thing that stands out in The Halloween Tree, it’s Bradbury prose. It’s had a singsong quality to it, a brazen joyfulness in just being alive. It’s like the prose itself were a twelve-year-old boy dressed up on Halloween and running through the town. It picks you up and sweeps you back to a time and place you may never have known but, somehow, know. It’s a part of the human DNA. Take these wonderful Dickensian opening lines:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…Boys.
And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And all the houses shut against a cool wind.
And the town full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone.
The day dying, the sunlight being “murdered” as Moundshroud puts it, is an important theme in this book. Halloween, throughout history, is the celebration of the ending of the season of light. The passing of October 31 equates to past generations of humans, far and wide, the beginning of the long, dark winter. As Moundshroud asks the boys, once the sun sets, what assurance do we have that it’ll rise again the next day? What if it never does? It was a real fear for our ancestors, something the boys and our modern culture have forgotten.

Not too long ago, the darkness in our world was quite a bit closer than it is now, at least in the modern western world. We have science to tell us the true nature of things. We can rely on it to cast away the superstitions and fears our ancestors had. Our children say “trick or treat” but don’t really know why.

Halloween, however, is the celebration, the remembrance, of our past. It’s a cumulative organism now, an amalgamation of traditions and beliefs passed down. It’s a celebration of death as marked by the living. Toward the end of the book, Moundshroud forces the boys to make a choice to save Pipkin or not. The price they have to pay is a year of life, taken at the end of each of their respective lives. He warns them that here, when they are twelve, life seems so long. Later, however, when they’re going to want one more year, it won’t be theirs. Here, Bradbury, through Moundshroud, gives these modern boys a taste of the past, a past they know nothing about but, by learning about history and what makes life special, they make their choice.

At the end, one boy, Tom, the default leader of the eight, asks a question of Moundshroud: “…will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?” Moundshroud has an answer. You may have another. But, on Halloween, for one day a year, we get to revel in the fear that our ancestors lived with daily. We get to remember. And, on November 1st, we get to put it all away and forget about it all over again.

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, October 4, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 4 at Raiders

Weapons not all there.
Sloppy, brilliant, down to wire.
A win is a win.

A note to Foster:
Whatever you did, stop it.
Be the Texans' Earl.

Houston Texans - 31
Oakland Raiders - 24

Record: 3-1, 1st in the AFC South!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Forgotten Music: September 2010 - The Summary

Thanks to all who participated, including Ed Gorman who joins us for the first time.

Paul D. Brazil – Swoon by Prefab Sprout
Bill Crider – David Seville
Chad Eagleton – The Groovie Ghoulies
Martin Edward – Jackie Delshannon
Ed Gorman – Dakota Staton
Randy Johnson – Shake Your Money Maker by The Black Crowes
George Kelley – Bitches Brew by Miles Davis
Evan Lewis – The Black Adder Theme
Todd Mason – Rainy Day (and the Bunch)
Scott D. Parker – Brand New Day by Sting
Perplexio – Days of Innocence by Moving Pictures
Eric Peterson – Zulu Death Mask by Deadbolt
Charlie Ricci – Do You Remember by Cashman and West

Until the next Forgotten Music Thursday on 28 October...

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Forgotten Music: Sting - Brand New Day

For the past ten years, as the first wisps of fall fill the air, I have changed my listening habits. Packed away are the classic rock anthems that seem to go best when summer's high, out come the more melancholic stuff. The two CDs I most associate with this time of year are David Bowie's ...hours and Sting's Brand New Day.

Coming three years after “Mercury Falling,” Brand New Day (BND) was the return of Happy Sting. For many, the 1996 Mercury Falling was a somber collection. Yes, it had its downer songs—what Sting CD doesn’t?—but his Motown influences certainly made the CD unique among Sting’s oeuvre. You can't miss the lightness with BND. If you’re like me, most of Sting’s music reminds me of seasons and weather. If Mercury Falling was a “winter” CD, BND is full of that late summer, early autmn vibe. Musically and lyrically, Sting was in a sunny, warm, and often inviting place.

Coming mere weeks before the millennial calendar change, Sting channeled the anniversary with his first track, “A Thousand Years.” Not one to shy away from grandiose themes, Sting’s meditative singing is almost a devotion to love and longing. Evoking lovers who exist in some sort of transcendental plane not our own, Sting sings of love lost, regained, and cherished. If the album BND is a summer day, “A Thousand Years” is the darkness before the dawn.

If BND is known for one thing, it’s “Desert Rose” (introduced to the world via the Jaguar commercial). The compelling, fast-paced song is intoxicating in its rhythms, beats, and feel. Cheb Mami, an Algerian vocalist, sings the Arabic lyrics that act as counterpoint to Sting’s English lyrics. Interestingly, when Sting asked Mami if he’d like to sing with him, he sent Mami the instrumental track. Both men listened and wrote essentially the same song. How’s that for synchronicity? (Ba dam ching.) This is a happy, fun song, even if the lyrics speak to the lost. More than one critic, in 1999 and beyond, have noted the over synthesized nature of BND. It’s certainly here in “Desert Rose,” but the layers merely add to the overall effect of what is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. I’d rank it in the top two or three of all time. Here's the video from his live concert.

If there is a secret weapon on BND, it’s trumpeter Chris Botti. For Sting, jazz has always been a major influence on his music (remember Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland in the 80s?) and one of his jazz heroes is Miles Davis. With Botti, playing with a Harmon mute, dancing in and out of the shadows of songs, Sting is essentially playing with Davis’s heir. Botti first shows himself in “Big Lie, Small World,” a nice little Brazilian song. Botti’s trumpet flits in and around the melody, sometimes complimenting a lyric, other times doing his own thing. He closes out the song with a solo that, in 1999, had me scrambling for the liner notes to figure out just who this guy was. On tour, Botti played on almost every tune, bringing nuances to the songs that I don't think Sting knew existed. Brilliant trumpeter who knows that silences and rests are just as important as thousands of notes. I have followed his career ever since.

The remainder of the album has the types of songs you’d expect from Sting’s experiemental mind. “After the Rain Has Fallen,” with its call for a life of adventure and romance, is a story song not unlike “The Pirate’s Bride,” a European-only cut from the previous album. With tongue firmly in cheek, Sting sings from a dog’s POV (for the second time; bonus points if you know the first time*) in “Perfect Love Gone Wrong.” Botti’s all over this song. In a fun treat, when the POV shifts to the dog’s owner, the music not only shifts from its jazzy jaunt to deep funk but the lyrics are rapped in French (by a female vocalist). Yeah, really, but it works. “Tomorrow We’ll See” has Sting singing about a prostitute, bringing out his clever use of vocabulary, rhythm, and rhyming. Sting returns to his country & western vein (that he tried out on Mercury Falling’s “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying”) with “Fill Her Up. It’s a fun, up-tempo tune with steel guitar, fiddle, cat calls and a gorgeous backing choir. If you could say any song is jarring, it’s this one. Not to say it’s bad; it’s just a little off-putting when you’re in music and rhythms that are decidedly European in origin to be jettisoned to Memphis, Tennessee. The message, however, is all Sting: pure optimistic joy at the power of love.

Effervescent, joyous, jubilant, infectious, “Brand New Day” is one those quintessential Sting songs. You can’t help but smile as the song just bops along while Sting tries to get all the words out of his mouth in time and on beat. Stevie Wonder contributes harmonica on the album, something Sting mimics during the tour. As the song fades away, the theme from “A Thousand Years” returns, bookending a fantastic CD. With its exhortations of turning the clock to zero to start a brand new day, it’s no wonder Sting sang this song at midnight of 1 January 2000 in New York’s Times Square.

There isn’t a Sting album I don’t’ like. The first album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, is a milestone in my musical evolution as I was introduced to jazz in a big way. "Nothing Like the Sun" and "Ten Sumner’s Tales" are classic examples of nearly perfect pop records that speak to love and world issues. Brand New Day can sit right besides those albums. While it’s not as perfect as those first three, it’s a very good piece of music by one of the more erudite and searching songwriters of our times.


The Brand New Day Era was capped with a concert he performed at his home on 11 September 2001. If you remember, he was to simulcast the concert on the 11th via the internet, with many of the BND songs reworked and reinterpreted. In preparation of this event, Sting had a documentary crew film him and his band. The resulting DVD, “All This Time,” showed the rehearsals and gathering of friends, family, and fans at Sting’s Italian home. We know what they didn’t: the attacks were coming. It’s fascinating to watch artists deal with the violence in their own way. In the concert that night, Sting chose to play a reimagined “Fragile” as a tribute to the victims. Here’s the video. What follows, on the DVD, is proof of the things Sting sings about: the power of music and love to deal with unimaginable grief. As the concert progresses, song by song (truncated though it was by the exclusion of certain stables like “Desert Rose” and “Englishman in New York”) you see and hear this band of musicians and audience members find joy despite sorrow and power through music. As much as the song “Fragile” was dedicated to the victims of the attacks, the rest of the concert was as well. For the reworked songs, the DVD (and CD) is worth the price. For the joy you will get by the concert’s end, that’s priceless.

Extras, part 2:

In 1999, many songs found themselves remixed for discotheques all over the world. Usually, this entailed putting backbeats to the song, no matter the original rhythm. Some of the Brand New Day tracks have that. “A Thousand Years” is different. Bill Laswell takes the nearly six-minute song and *doubles* it’s running time. The opening is orchestral, introducing the theme with Middle Eastern effects subtly playing in the background. Back beats do start and Sting’s wispy voice seemed even more ethereal here. But it’s Chris Botti’s trumpet that get all the glory. The vocals end with over four minutes left, leaving Botti time to play with the melody. One could argue that this version of the song should have made the album.

*1987’s “Conversation with a dog,” available on the “We’ll Be Together” single.

Forgotten Music: September 2010

Welcome to the September 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project. Inspired by Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Friday series, here we examine music that has fallen off the public's radar or other music that never made a blip. We're doing this on a once-a-month basis, the last Thursday of every month. Aside from my own entry, here's today's line-up:

Paul D. Brazil
Sean Coleman
Bill Crider
Chad Eagleton
Martin Edwards
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Evan Lewis
Todd Mason
Eric Peterson
Charlie Ricci
Ray Foster

If I have missed your name or got the wrong address, let me know and I'll fix it here and for future months. Anyone can join: just let me know here in the comments section, by e-mail, or in the comments section of my entry that you'd like to join in next month and I'll add you to the list.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Music of Summer 2010

Here in Houston, we've got our first taste of cooler weather. It'll only get up to the mid 80s today. By Texas standards, it's time for a jacket.

As my listening habits naturally follow the seasons, I thought I'd give a rundown of some of my favorite songs from this past summer. I put them all on a CD and have been listening to it during my commutes. See what y'all think.

Haven't met you yet - Michael Buble - If there's a favorite song for the year, this one gets it. Absolutely love this tune.

Nobody's Perfect - KISS - From Sonic Boom, the new CD. This song--and the CD as a whole--hearken back to KISS's original mission statement: to be the Beatles on steroids. This is a good, old-fashioned rock and roll tune and I'm tapping my foot every time.

Someday - Rob Thomas - All this guy does is write great, catchy pop tunes. We should all be so fortunate.

Hey, Soul Sister - Train - No, I haven't grown to hate it. In fact, I've pulled out my guitar and am learning to play it. You know you're old when the reference to Mr. Mister is considered classic.

Tighten Up - The Black Keys - My favorite new "discovery" of 2010. Excellent CD and this is my favorite tune.

American Slang - Gaslight Anthem - The descendants of Springsteen. Put this CD/song on your car radio, roll down the windows, and drive fast.

Anchor - Alejandro Escovedo - New CD by the guy who shared the stage with Springsteen in Houston back in 2008. While I don't immediately like the new CD as much as 2008's Real Animal, it's good to see (let's say it again) good old fashioned rock and roll still being made well.

Mockingbird - Rob Thomas - I could have put most of the songs from his 2009 CD on this list, but left it at my two favs.

Need You Now - Lady Antebellum - I love a good breakup song and this is among the best of the lot. The dueling singers, male and female, put this in a class of its own.

Heartbreak Warfare - John Mayer - Part two of my breakup mini-trilogy. I'm still a sucker for a mix CD with a perfect track order.

Breakeven - The Script - This one grew on me and, through multiple listens, have grown quite fond of it.

The High Road - Broken Bells - You've heard it on some commercial (can't remember the one). One of the few "indie" songs I listened to while the sun blazed down.

This Too Shall Pass - OK Go - I'll admit that the video is what hooked me.

Ishin Densy - Keane - As a child of the 80s, I've grown to dislike a lot of it. However, Keane's new CD channels early 80s Brit-pop to make a new sound for themselves. Later on the CD, they pull out the Rocky theme song.

Southern Pacifica - Josh Ritter - One of the fun discoveries via the Starbucks/iTunes free songs. Really dig the chilled-out nature of this song. Makes me want to get to the beach with my guitar, watch the sun set, lit a fire, and play.

Summer Day - Sheryl Crow - Sheryl does "Motown" with a California vibe. If Ritter's tune is the song I listen to at sunset, Crow's song is the one you listen to during the day while you're driving to the beach.

California Gurls - Katy Perry - Yes, I like this song. The first five or so times, I didn't. The next one hundred, I got to where I really like it.

Modern Day Delilah - KISS - The lead track off Sonic Boom and the opening song at the recent concert here in Houston. KISS was my first, favorite band. With Sonic Boom, they've captured their mid-70s sound. The guitar solo by Tommy Thayer is fantastic.

That's my list. Are there any songs you've loved this past summer? And come back tomorrow for Forgotten Music.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Forgotten Music: September 2010 - Call for Entries

Hello all. This Thursday, 30 September, is the September 2010 edition of the Forgotten Music Project.

It got cool here in Houston, 65 degrees this morning. It'll get up to the 80s, but that's fall down here in Texas. Looking forward to breaking out the music that just doesn't seem to fit when it's upward in the 90s. There's probably some music I've forgotten along the way.

Per usual, I'll post links on Thursday to everyone who posted in August. If you have the time, great. If you can't make it, you can either let me know before Thursday (and I'll remove your name) or not (whereby readers can jump to your blog and read your latest entry and be amazed at your erudition). If you want to join and you haven't posted before, just let me know and I'll get your name on the list for Thursday morning. As usual, I"ll do a summary at the end of the day.

Looking forward to everyone's entries.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 3 vs. the Cowboys

Oh where, oh where did
That keen swagger go? Oh where,
Oh where did it go?

First, goal from the one.
Whole team moves backwards. No guys!
The other end zone!

Houston is my town.
But I don't hate them Cowboys.
Not even today.*

Dallas Cowboys - 27
Houston Texans - 13

*Especially since the Texans basically didn't show up...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 2 at Redskins

Sixty minute men
Found a way to win. Big Time!
Andre the Giant!

Overtime's the bane
Of the Texans' history.
Except yesterday.

Houston Texans - 30
Washington Redskins - 27 (OT)

Record: 2-0

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering my friend, David Thompson

In the small world of independent bookstores that cater exclusively to mystery fiction, Houston has a jewel in Murder by the Book. For thirty years, the good folks at Murder by the Book have extolled the wonders and magic of mystery fiction. Every one of the folks who have worked at Murder by the Books loves the genre and can talk endlessly about their favorite book, author, or character. But I've never known anyone so exuberant about crime fiction than David Thompson.

What's great about the people who work at Murder by the Book is the diversity of opinion and interest amid the wide spectrum of mystery fiction. While David was a fan of just about any genre, he held a special place in his heart for old school hard-boiled stories. It's one of the reasons why the Hard Case Crime series is prominently displayed very close to the register. Over these past two years as I underwent my own personal education into hard-boiled fiction, David was a guide. He told me his favorites among the Hard Case Crime line and, sure enough, they are among the best of the bunch. More than once I'd stop in the store and ask his opinion about some new titles as well as get his input on older names I'd run across in my crime safari. Just talking with him, hearing him get excited at my journey, knowing that I was reading one of his favorites for the first time, you couldn't help but smile and get excited yourself. I couldn't wait to get home to start reading. His passion was infectious.

Most importantly is that he remembered me. He learned my name, knew my interests, and had suggestions whenever I went to the store. Every now and then, he'd drop me an e-mail or hold a collection of newly arrived used books, giving me first crack. He knew that I had a blog and took the time to read the posts and comment on them. In this modern world where most of us are nameless, walking into Murder by the Book and having David greet me by name meant something. On some days, it almost felt like he was my personal bookseller.

As the day progressed and my thoughts kept returning to David amid my day job deadlines, I grew troubled. I knew David only as a bookseller and fellow mystery book fan. We never went out to a bar after an author signing (although he invited me). We never exchanged Christmas gifts or wished each other well at the holidays. And, yet, the loss leaves a hole in my life. My loss is minuscule to that of his wife, McKenna, and the others in the Murder by the Book family. But it is a loss. I wondered if just being a fan of crime fiction was enough to constitute a friendship. Have I lost a friend?

Leave it to my wife to reveal the truth. When I called her this afternoon to let her know about David's passing, the first words out of her mouth was, "Isn't that your friend at the bookstore?"

Yes, David Thompson was my friend. And boy am I going to miss him.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Houston Texans Haiku: Week 1 vs. Colts

First drive, third quarter
got the monkey off our backs.
Can we keep it off?

Indianapolis Colts - 24
Houston Texans - 34

Can't say enough how much I was looking forward to Houston Texans football and this game. I know it's only one game, but boy! What a game!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review Club: Dr. No by Ian Fleming

(This is the September 2010 contribution to Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For more great books, click the link at the bottom of this post.)

In a year where we should be looking forward to the new James Bond film, we have nothing. The next new James Bond novel--written by none other than Jeffrey Deaver--is almost a year away. If you wanted a Bond fix, you could easily break out a DVD or check cable TV but, perhaps, some of the films have staled after repeated viewings. Then I have the remedy for you: read one of Ian Fleming's original Bond novels.

With only fourteen published works, I try to pace my reading of the Fleming stories, not wanting them to end as I enjoy them so much. I've been reading them in published order and this summer, I got up to book #6, Dr. No. Interestingly, Dr. No is the first Bond film and I've seen it enough times to know the general story. What the movie lacks, however, is the uncertainty that permeates the beginning of the story.

The last book, From Russia With Love, ended with 007 getting himself poisoned by Rosa Klebb's hidden shoe blade. As Dr. No opens, Bond is given the "easy" task of investigating the seeming disappearance of the head of the Jamaica branch of the secret service, Strangways. Had you read the books in order, this is a reappearance for Strangways, having helped Bond in the second literary adventure, Live and Let Die. Bond's boss, M, frankly doesn't think Bond is ready and thinks this "rest case" will do 007 some good. No one expects what Bond uncovers.

Like the film, the literary version of Dr. No has a slower pace, not all action-packed like the later movies. Bond actually does some detective work and gets himself quite dirty, another fun trait of the literary incarnation. The novel, written in 1958, is full of the type of hard-boiled language and prose befitting a story of this era. It's a reminder of Bond's true pulp origins.

The movie has arguably the most iconic shot in all the Bond canon: that of Honey Ryder, as portrayed by Ursula Andress, rising from the beach, clad in a skin-tight bikini. Well, she's flat-out naked in the book. You can see why they could not do that scene in the 1962 film. Her backstory is fleshed out and, while its interesting, it isn't exactly fascinating. Bond's repeated reference to her as "girl"--she really is years younger than Bond's thirtysomething--puts a bit of distaste on the tongue. Yes, it's a book of its time, but it still grates.

The big finale in the book is nothing like the film. In fact, as Bond struggled through the Big Scenes in the novel, I kept waiting for the filmed version to show up. It never does, and that is one of the biggest treats about reading Fleming's original books. For every faithful version (From Russia With Love), there is a Dr. No or, more specifically, a Moonraker or Diamonds are Forever.

I can easily recommend any of the Bond books to any fan of 007 or the spy genre in particular. They are great fun and a nice peek in the origins of one of the most famous characters of the 20th Century.

Oh, and that reading pace I mentioned earlier? I enjoyed Dr. No so much that I chucked the one-book-a-year pace out the window and plunged directly into book #7, Goldfinger. But that's for another review...

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@Barrie Summy

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forgotten Music: August 2010 - The Summary

Thanks to all who participated.

Special Note: Today is twentieth anniversary of the death of Texas guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. I first learned who he was in listening to David Bowie's 1983 album "Let's Dance." SRV's unique sound is what, to me, makes "China Girl" such a good song. Of all the musicians Texas has produced--country, rock, rap, swing, whatever--if I had to pick one artist and one sound to explain how Texas *sounded*, it would be SRV.

Until the next Forgotten Music Thursday on 30 September...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Forgotten Music: Two Men and the Blues by Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis

I know what you’re thinking? Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis? Together? I thought the same thing, too. Look, we're talking about Willie Nelson, the Texas troubadour who will duet with, well, just about anyone who asks. And then there’s Wynton Marsalis, the jazz purist—puritan?—who disdained even his brother, Branford, for touring with Sting back in the 1980s. How in the world did these two get together?

Upon closer inspection, the pairing is not as far from left field as you might think. Nelson has covered everything including reggae (yeah, really) but one of his biggest albums was Stardust (1978), an album of standards from the Great American Songbook, that helped to define what Nelson does best: blend many varied genres and elements to create something different, if not original. Marsalis, in the meantime, has spent the bulk of his career bringing back the prominence of acoustic jazz, the jazz before Miles Davis “corrupted” the genre by plugging in and going electric. And Marsalis succeeded, reminding folks (and record executives) that traditional jazz can be good and make money at the same time. The songs Marsalis used to usher in the Young Lions movement in jazz were those from The Great American Songbook.

Beyond the two men drinking from the same well of music, look at their backgrounds. They are both southerners, Nelson from Texas and Marsalis from New Orleans. Southern music is a smorgasbord of sounds and influences. Gospel, blues, jazz, bluegrass, folk, country, Texas swing, and more all can be found in almost any song by a southerner. So it was, two southerners and their band members went up to New York and recorded a concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

"Two Men and the Blues" is a live recording. It serves the music well because, I think, the perfection of a studio would have lessened the impact and spontaneity of the performance. You get the sense that these seven men are not on a stage at a prestigious concert hall but in the drummer’s garage. It’s a Saturday night, it’s hot, the door’s open, the beer getting warm in the ice chest full of melting ice, and these guys are just jammin’ for no other reason that they love music.

“Bright Lights Big City” kicks off the set. Wynton’s band—he brought himself on trumpet, Walter Blanding (sax), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Dan Nimmer (piano), and Ali Jackson (drums)—sets up the nice lilting shuffle feel. Mickey Raphael’s harmonica is also there, adding that certain flourish that only a harmonica can. All the instrumentalists take a turn at soloing, even Nelson on guitar. You know going into this recording that Wynton’s band is top notch. If you thought there might be a weak link, it was going to be Nelson’s guitar playing. I was interested in hearing if Nelson took a turn on soloing. He did, and, while it’s not superb, this is the type of song where fancy pyrotechnics are out of place. So Nelson did just fine.

The longer you listen to this recording, you realize how close the phrasing of Nelson’s vocals and his guitar really are. His Martin nylon-string guitar does not hold the sustain like a steel-string guitar. Nelson usually compensates by repeatedly striking whichever string he’s playing. But on this recording, he doesn’t do that a lot. He lets the struck string fade when it wants to, much like his voice. Nelson is not a singer who can hold a note for a long phrase. Where a singer like, say, Sinatra, would carry his phrasing past the four-measure break, Nelson breaks his vocal phrasing short. As a result, there are usually more silences in a Nelson tune. That’s his style and it really works in this set.

“Night Life” is one of those tracks where you imagine it being played in a late-night jazz club, after midnight but before closing time, the smoke hanging low from the ceiling, all but the die-hards have gone home. It’s the time of night for the faithful, the friends, and for the girls in the audience who want to date a jazz performer. Wynton’s trumpet shines here, opening the track with a long solo that sets the down tempo mood. But it’s his flutter sound during the chorus that really takes the roof off. Out of nowhere, it blasts above Nelson’s vocals. And Willie brings out a better solo on guitar, a nice, soft theme that put my worries about his abilities to rest. He also played a good melody on “Basin Street Blues.”

Since Stardust is still one of Nelson’s most famous records, you knew the band was going to cover some of those songs. They do the title track and, of course, “Georgia, On My Mind.” "Stardust" has a beautiful, lush tenor sax solo, the kind where you can hear the air passing over the reed in the lower register, a nuance that, for me, a sax player, I love. “Georgia” starts off showcasing Nelson’s vocals as the centerpiece but the soloist shine just as brightly. Marsalis’s wah-wah trumpet wails, Raphael’s harmonica sings, and Nimmer’s piano playing bring a new, but slower, energy to this song. If I had to pick a definitive version of this song as sung by Nelson, it would be this one.

When you listen to the record start to finish, it’s at this point where the audience and the band start to let loose. From the band side, this is the first tune where you can hear Nelson compliment his fellow players during the song. From the audience, they knew the song as it began and they cheered audibly at its conclusion. I could say the audience was polite but tepid in their applause at the beginning of the set. Perhaps they, like new listeners, don’t know what to make of this seemingly strange pairing. By the end of “Georgia,” they knew they were a part of something special. And they let the band know it. For the rest of the set, you can hear cat calls from the audience as they get into the spirit of the night.

An old Hank Williams tune, “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” has the vibe of the New Orleans Preservation Jazz Band, complete with a squeaky clarinet and a drum solo, greeted with whistles and cheers of the audience. They cheer Nelson’s best guitar solo in Cole Porter’s “Ain’t Nobody’s Business. ” They laugh as Wynton brings his only vocal performance on this song, telling Nelson and the audience all the things he might do that are, you guessed it, nobody’s business. The set closes with “That’s All,” a fast blues shuffle where everybody has their last chance to shine. Amid the audience clapping along (wonder if they were standing?), you get a taste of the power of Wynton’s trumpet as he let’s loose with one of his famous long notes, high and a little dirty.

By the end, the band and the audience have relaxed and just let the night sweep them away. And we as listeners can get a taste of what it was like those two nights at Lincoln Center. When performances like this crop up, my immediate impulse is to want more of it. Sometimes, the sequel does not live up to the promise of the original. In this case, however, another CD would be more than welcome. And I’d love to see the band perform down in Austin at the South by Southwest or on Austin City Limits.

I love it when two musicians realize that there are more things that unite them in their approaches to music rather than things that divide them. It reminds you that music is universal and can bring just about anyone together. And, if the results of unique pairings are like that of this CD—where you can’t help but smile and tap your foot—it really is lightening in a bottle.