Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Every year I visit my father to put a Christmas wreath on his grave stone.   Even though my mom is alive, I've usually undertaken the task alone so as to minimize the sadness that goes along with the task.  It's easier to simply do it alone, pay respects, and then provide my mom with a photo.  Anyhow, this time around I decided to invite my mom along.  Together we tried to keep things upbeat and then it got strange and kind of cool.

My father is buried in a cemetery in Leesburg, Virginia.   The cemetery has been around for a couple of hundred years and through an odd series of events my father was buried in a plot located in the old part of the cemetery.  He's literally surrounded by civil war Union veterans - kind of ironic for a man born and raised in Alabama.

We got out there on a surprisingly warm and sunny Friday morning.  There was nobody around the place except for the two of us so it was extremely peaceful and quiet - exactly what you'd hope for when visiting a cemetery.   As we were tying the wreath to grave stone there was a loud fluttering sound and something literally swooped by us.   I was startled, unsure what it was, but as I looked around, less than twenty feet away sat a large hawk (at least I think it was a hawk).   The majestic bird had settled on a grave stone literally right next to where we were and didn't seem to have any fear of us.  In fact, the bird let me walk right up to it in order to take a photo.   For the next ten minutes we stared at the bird and the bird stared at us.   Eventually we went back to doing what we'd come there to do, tying the wreath on to the stone; saying our silent prayers; snapping a couple of photos.  When we turned around to say goodbye to the bird, it was gone.  I didn't even hear it leave.  

It was kind of unsettling, but also kind of comforting ...   Happy Holidays to all.

postscript -  So I mentioned the episode to my wife and showed he the photos.  She laughed and pointed out to me the fact my mother is pretty small and happened to me wearing a fur jacket when we were out there.  She half jokingly suggested the hawk spied my mom and thought she would be a quick snack ...  might be right.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Last Friday started what will be a ten day stretch away from work ..   Other than when I got married, I've never taken ten days off in a row.   Got to say that four days in and I'm starting to really like this lifestyle.   Guess the downside is that it will eventually come to an end and then I'll have to face reality once again.   As friends remind me, the next seven years will go by quickly.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Seriously - I'm sitting right here !   Riding the bus to Metro this morning and there's a
young woman talking on her cell phone to what sounds like a girlfriend.  That's fine, however the details she's going on about are way too personal for public display.   I'm literally sitting a couple of inches away from her and she's going on about the boyfriend's this and the boyfriend's that ...   I suspect the boyfriend would be horrified to know that he's being discussed in such a colorful and graphically detailed manner.   Add to that, I
kept thinking "am I invisible?   "Does she not know that I'm sitting here and can hear (and understand) everything she is saying?"  Maybe she thought I was simply too old and senile to matter ...   Anyhow, I now know that the boyfriend likes her new pink thong undies; if he has four or more beers he falls asleep in bed which ticks her off; he doesn't like to spoon ...   I'll spare you the grosser parts.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Over the last year I listened to and reviewed 225 albums - virtually all of it older material.   The most recent release was a 2008 CD by Andy Zwerling (Hold
Up the Sky") which might as well have been a 1970s release.   The oldest releases wee a pair of 1968 albums: The Esquires - "Get on Up and Get Away" and the Italian psych/progressive band Equipe 84 "Stereoequipe".  So out of that jumble of releases, what stood out from the rank and file ?    On my simplistic 1 to 5 star rating scale (1 being unlistenable; 5 a must own product), 32 of these albums got four or five stars (12.8%).   That's a pretty high proportion and I'm sure it would change if I went back and checked them all out again. 

Anyhow, looking back at the list, here Well, here are the top ten albums I listened to over the last twelve months.  I put them in favorite order and included links to the original reviews

Johnny Jenkins "Ton-Ton Macoute!" (1970)

Geez, Jenkins "discovered" Otis Redding; plays some mean blues guitar, and get's a helping hand from a big chunk of the Allman Brothers Band.  How can you go wrong ?


Badfinger "Wish You Were Here" (1974)

Their second release for Warner Brothers should have made them mega stars, except for the fact the record company pulled all support for the album over an issue involving the band's management and missing promotional funds.   You can only wonder what would have happened under other circumstances.


Kensington Market " Aardvark" (1969)

One of the best pop-psych albums to ever come out of Canada ...


Junco Partners  "Junco Partners" (1970)

English blues, but not the stodgy kind that found folks like Mick Fleetwood trying to fake their way through the genre.   These guys had the real thing going for them


Otis Clay -"Soul Man: Live in Japan" (1983)

Speaking of the real thing - one of the last true soul masters tearing it up in front of a Japanses crowd.   Why is it American never recognizes its true talents until it is too late ?



Doc Holliday "Doc Holliday" (1973)

All but unknown outfit who turned in a consistently engaging album that disppeared without a trace.


Equipe 84 "Stereoequipe" (1968)

Italian pop/psych/progressive outfit.   The language gap is not an issue on this one.


Atlanta Rhythm Section "Eufaula" (1999)

With late Ronnie Hammond on vocals, a wonderful, if completely overlooked "comeback" set that should have returned them to the charts.


Philippé Wynne "Wynne Jammin'" (1980)
Still best known for his work with The Spinners - this set finds Wynee working
with George Clinton and the P-Funk crowd.   I'm still not sure how the late
Wynne managed to find a sweet spot between classic soul and P-Funk, but he did.

Andy Zwerling "Hold Up the Sky" (2008)
National Public Radio's favor ost pop cause.  The funny thing is that NRP got it
right with Zwerling.   Classic pop and goofy enough to be fascinating.


And two bonus selections:

Terry Reid "Seed of Memory" (1976)
I've owned this album for years and always though it was pedestrian.   I was wrong.   Maybe his best solo release.


Bobby Womack "Lookin' for a Love Again" (1973)
Three words are all you need to know - CLASSIC SOUL ALBUM.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


It was kind of a slow evening at our house.   Wife was sick.  Younger child was playing a video game.   I was channel surfing with no particularly destination when I stumbled across the weirdest thing I'd seen in a long time - it appeared to be Lady Gaga singing with some of The Muppets.   That was simply too bizarre a scene to be true so I stopped to see what was actually going on.  Yes, in fact it was  - she was the co-star in  ABC's Lady Gaga & The Muppets Holiday Spectacular.  

So where do you even start to describe this weird mash-up of genres and demographics ?   You kind of had to wonder what marketing genius came up with the idea of a show that would allow five years olds to watch Gaga cavorting with The Muppets, while going through some of the ugliest stage costumes known to mankind (one looked like an oversized condom).  That's not even addressing the blatant  attempts to sell her newest album "ArtPop" which judging by the couple of songs I heard, wasn't particularly catchy, or inspiring.   That said, the "ArtPop" efforts were better than lukewarm duets with the likes of Elton John (a remake of "Benny and the Jets" - "Gaga an the Jets" and "ArtPop"), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a lame and surprisingly sexless "Baby, It's Cold Outside"),


and  RuPaul ("Fashion").   The latter sounded like a third-rate Bowie tune, but had Gaga wearing the "condom" outfit.  Damn, either RuPaul is gigantic, or Gaga is petite:


I'll admit that "Applause" wasn't half bad in a mindless techno kind of way.  Not sure I'd want to have to explain to my young kids why she was dance with her assets shakin' all over the place and what was with the wild eyed look ?


The "ArtPop" duet with Elton John was ...  well dull came to mind (nice hair there Lady):


As for Kirsten Bell - I have no idea what her role on the television program was - maybe she was there to make The Muppet characters seem even more talented?  If so, well it worked.

The show apparently tanked with audiences.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Everyone seems to have their top-10 holiday season songs (yes, you'll notice I've adopted the politically correct terminology for the season).    As much as I love the old standards, in a world where releasing a holiday album seems to have become a personal right, I've elected to go with an eclectic list showing my top 20 Holiday songs (plus three bonus selections).  Not intended as a slam on any of the standard top-10 picks, but you won't see John Lennon's ""Happy Christmas (War is Over)",  Wham's "Last Christmas", or David Bowie and Bing Crosby's 'Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy" on the list.   Hopefully, what you'll see is a list that features lesser known, but no less enjoyable offerings.   Where possible, I've included a YouTube link allowing you to enjoy the actual tune.  By the way, the list is in alphabetical order by artist name.  And if I were asked, I'm not sure I could pick a favorite from the listing.       

Postscript 12/7/2013 - I guess you can argue this isn't a true Christmas song, but I think it exhibits more of  the spirit of the season than most of the other songs on this list combined.  Anyhow, I stumbled on to an amazing story about a 17 year old named Zach Sobiech.   An aspiring musician, Sobiech died of cancer in May of this year, but before he died he wrote a song entitled "Clouds".  The song was intended as Sobiech's goodbye to his family and friends.   A local radio station had been playing Sobiech's song for the last year and as a charity fund raiser, the station decided to sponsor a large chorus to perform the song at the Mall of America.  Some 5,000 people showed up.   The results were simply stunning.   As a 54 year old I don't cry very often - probably the last time I cried was when my father died.   It was all I could do to not tear up after seeing this video clip.   Sobiech was clearly a special person ...


James Brown "Santa Claus Go Straight To the Ghetto"
One of the tunes on Brown's "Funky Christmas" album, this was classic James Brown with an able assist from Maceo Parker and his classic backing band.   I'll let the YouTube link do the talkin'


The Carpenters "Merry Christmas Darling" (1978)
Okay, you can accuse me of being lowbrow and totally caving to commercial pandering.   I'll readily admit my guilt - this is easily the sappiest song on the list.  The thing is I can remember taking
the train home from college for the holidays and while I was waiting to board the train in the midst of a nasty snow storm, this was one of the songs playing in the waiting room.   There was just something very comforting in hearing the late Karen Carpenter's sweet voice.


Cheech and Chong "Santa Claus and his Old Lady"
Christmas is not all about sentimentality.   There has to be a feel good dimension to it as well and who better than Cheech and Chong to introduce that facet to the season ?    I actually seem to remember hearing this one played on a local radio station.   With it's stoned revision of the Santa Claus story, there's no way that would ever happen today.


Vince Guardaldi  "Christmas Time Is Here" (1965)
Since 99.99% of Americans have seen the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas television show, I'm guessing that people would recognize this song from the opening chords ...   Instantly reminds me of Christmas.  Always wondered why this one doesn't show up on more top-10 lists.


Donny Hathaway "This Christmas" (1970)
I guess it just struck me, the list as  lot of songs by folks who have passed on ...   guess that's a  nice reflection on the fact we need to enjoy and appreciate the limited time we have.   Hathaway actually released this as a 1970 single and it was included on his second studio album - 1971's "Donny Hathaway".   The song's been recorded dozens of times by everyone from punk band The Summer
Set, to Usher.   Hathaway's original remains the classic performance, though I've always wondered about the bizarre drums that keep popping up in the back of the mix.

The Kinks " Father Christmas" (1977)
Ray Davies and the band were always at their best when  upset about something and in this instance their target was seemingly the brutalization of Christmas.   There was something endearing about the dark lyrics that portrayed Christmas through the eyes of a department store Santa confronted with kids asking for money instead of presents, or simply asking for help getting one of their parents a job.   Even more relevant now than in 1977 when it was initially released as a single.

Brenda Lee "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree"  (1958)
Okay, okay this is one that makes every top-10 list and it should.    The oldest tune on my list, it was originally released as a single back in 1958 (how many of you were even born in 1958?).   Lee was only 13 when she recorded the tune and as good as her performance was, Hank Garland's giddy guitar and Boots Randolph's sax are the icing on the musical cake.   Funny that many people know the song from the fact it was included in the original "Home Alone" film (1990).


Darlene Love "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" 1963
So here's a true old-school  addition to the list (Love originally recorded the tune in 1963 as part of Phil Spector's "Christmas Gift for You" compilation album.   Spector originally planned on having Ronnie Spector and The Ronettes record the tune, but was unhappy with their version of the tune.  The tune was handed to Love and say what you will, her dynamite voice made this one of the most romantic Christmas tunes ever recorded.  Love's made a tradition of singing the tune on David Letterman's late night show.  While she does a killer live performance of the song, I'll stick with the original studio version with the classic Spector wall-of-sound production:



Bob and Doug McKenzie "12 Days of Christmas" (1981)
Did this really come out in 1981 ?   Starring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, SCTV's "Great White North" segment was consistently funny and at the time this was amazingly funny.   Admittedly it has lost a bit of appeal, but it is still funny.


Moody Blues "In The Quiet of Christmas Morning" (2003)
This one came off the Moody's "December" album which technically wasn't a Christmas album.  For some reason I've come to really enjoy the entire album, but since this one basically appropriates a Bach melody, it's hard to go wrong.


The O'Jay's "Christmas Ain't Christmas New Years Ain't New Years Without the One You Love
To my ears The O'Jays had a sound that was perfect for seasonal tunes and in spite of the hideous title (my college thesis was shorter), this is simply one of the best soul Christmas tunes out there.


Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers  "Christmas All Over Again" (1982)
This one was initially included on 1992's  'A Very Special Christmas Volume 2'  Special Olympics charity album and his "Playback" boxed set.  Great jangle rock tune that sounded like a George Harrison and the Travelling Wilburys tune.  I included two YouTube links; one to the studio version and one to a 2000 live performance at the White House:

The Pogues "Fairytale of New York"
Has anyone written a classic Christmas song in the last thirty years ?    Yes.  The Pogues did with a song that's apparently about a guy spending Christmas Eve in a New York City drunk tank while thinking about a busted up love affair.  Certainly not everyone will agree with that statement, especially folks who aren't big fans of Shane MacGowan's totally out of tune vocals.   Course' the late Kirsty MacColl makes up for some of  MacGowan's shortcomings.


Sir Mack Rice - "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin"
Seriously, you can't have a list without at least one Stax tune on it.   Picking one is a major chore, but this Sir Mack Rice tune is amazingly funky and will bring a smile to virtually everyone's face !!!    Why has America lost it's ability to write socially relevant commentary like this ?


Root Boy Slim - "Christmas At K-Mart" (1978)
One of the memories that will haunt me until the end of my life is seeing Root Boy and the Sex Change Band doing a mid-'80s  Christmas concert at Radford University.  In addition to playing the usual Root Boy classics, as I recall, the man threw in some seasonal selections (including this tune).   Even though I was clueless at the time, there was lots of snow - including what appeared to be
a generous portion on Root Boy's face.   It's a near perfect Christmas tune for those of us in the lower socio-economic rankings.


RUN-DMC "Christmas In Hollis"
I'm not a gigantic rap fan, but regardless of what you musical tastes are, this has to be considered a classic holiday tune.  Nothing more to say on this one.


Bob Seger And The Last Heard, 'Sock It To Me Santa" (1966)
So this 1966 nugget was Seger before he became an FM-radio mega-star with the Silver Bullet Band.  As much as I loved the mega-star Seger, the garage rocker Seger was even better, though he was clearly channeling more than a little bit of James Brown.


Slade "Merry Xmas Everybody" (1973)
Another tune that remains criminally unknown to most Americans, though it was a massive UK hit (# 1 for weeks in late 1973 and early
1974) ...  For a band that weren't known for being particularly subtle, that one was a major surprise, showcasing an attractive
working class vision of the holidays.  Noddy Holder's vocal chord shredding performance has to be heard. 


Bruce Springsteen "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (1985)
Another one that deservedly shows up on every top-10 list.  The version most folks are familiar with was recorded at a 1975 performance at a small Long Island college and initially appeared as the flip side to Springsteen's 1985  "My Hometown" 45.    What isn't there to love on this one ?  Springsteen sounded like he was having a blast (it's still part of his live catalog);  great sound effects, and Clarence Clemmons was the perfect Santa bellowing "ho ho ho's"
throughout.  Simply wonderful.  The video is from a 2007 performance in Paris - hysterical to hear the French audience singing the chorus in English.


The Waitresses "Christmas Wrapping" (1981)
Ah, the late Patty Donahue ...   I loved her quirky voice and The Waitresses were one of my favorite new wave bands.   Anyway you look at it, "Christmas Wrapping" had a giddy combination of punk, new wave, and even early rap influences which made it a killer holiday tune.  Even better - David Hofstra's amazing bass line.


Roy Wood and Wizzard "I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday" (1973)
I've always loved this tune; there's no denying it was highly mid-'70s commercial, but have long suspected Roy Wood's eccentric edges were simply too English for American audiences.   Roy Wood (white hair and beard) is prominently featured  in the promotional video (which is a major glam hoot).


Weird Al' Yankovic 'The Night Santa Went Crazy'
Another tune that hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves; not that Yankovic is an unknown, rather it probably has something to do with the unsettling nature of his reworking of Soul Asylum's "Black Gold".   To say Yankovic gave the original tune a truly demented PG-13 lyric would be an understatement, though his performance  seemed to suite the less sentimental nature of the holiday season.  I'll let you judge for yourself.


Stevie Wonder "What Christmas Means To Me" (1967)
Not sure why, but picking my favorite Motown holiday tune was a major pain.   To be honest, most of the Motown holiday product is pretty tame - lots of MOR efforts meant to appeal to middle class American stereo systems.   Luckily this 1967 Stevie Wonder original captured that magical Motown sound.   I think this Disneyland clip was recorded in 2009.  About all I can say it that it shows Wonder still has it after all these years.