Monday, December 19, 2016

Song of the Week: Merry, Merry Christmas

I've played a lot of blues during this year's Song of the Week, so why not a Christmas blues song? Here is Koko Taylor singing "Merry, Merry Christmas".

Monday, December 12, 2016

Song of the Week: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

This week we have the greatest, Ella Fitzgerald, singing a swinging Christmas song about Santa.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Song of the Week: Mistletoe and Holly

Oh by gosh, by golly. It's time for the Christmas season of song of the week! Our first entry is Frank Sinatra singing "Mistletoe and Holly".

Monday, November 28, 2016

Song of the Week: Locomotive Breath

A classical + jazz piano introduction and some flute in a rock and roll song? It must be Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath".

Friday, November 25, 2016

MST3K Friday: Untamed Youth

This MST3K Friday is the full movie of Untamed Youth (season 1, episode 12). It's a really good episode with some great riffs (and terrible songs). For some reason, the riff at 1:19:13 really cracked me up.

"You think I look good? I do."

Thursday, November 24, 2016

On Gratitude

On this Thanksgiving Day, let's read the words of William F. Buckley, Jr. on gratitude.

"We need a rebirth of gratitude for those who have cared for us, living and, mostly, dead. The high moments of our way of life are their gifts to us. We must remember them in our thoughts and prayers; and in our deeds."

Click here to read the full speech.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

I Am Pilgrim by, Terry Hayes

There are places I'll remember all my life...

I wish I could remember who recommended this book because I'd never listen to a recommendation from them again. I Am Pilgrim is described as a "breakneck race against time", but you're more likely to want to break your own neck than read another page.

The novel starts out with an unnamed narrator at a murder scene in New York City and ends up being a globetrotting chase for a terrorist who developed a vaccine resistant strain of smallpox. In mysteries where there are two unrelated cases, they almost always end up being different sides of the same coin. In this novel, the two story lines are only connected by the thinnest of coincidences. In fact, every link of the plot is made by either dumb luck or coincidence.

Terry Hayes is a seasoned journalist and a successful screenwriter, which makes the amateurness of this novel surprising. If you drop about 150 of the first 170 pages, the novel is greatly improved. With that said, you'd still have to deal with a ton of overwriting, a whole mess of passive voice, confusing points of view shifts within the same scene, and what I can only assume he thinks is foreshadowing but comes off as annoying and not in any way suspenseful. Never mind the fact that the book is all tell, tell, tell. The balance between scene and summary is way out of whack.

There are elements in here that could work if there were many more drafts or a better editor, but as it stands, the book is not very good.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Song of the Week: I'll Stay Here

This song popped into my head the other day. Tantric's first three albums are so great that I can listen to them any time.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Bonus Song of the Week: Kennedy

Yesterday I posted Nixon's 1972 song, but I'd be remiss if I didn't post one of the most famous songs. "Kennedy. Kennedy. Kennedy. Kenn-e-dy for me!"

Monday, November 7, 2016

Song of the Week: Nixon Now

Since tomorrow is election day, how about we go back in time to when politicians had campaign songs? This song is from President Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972 and it's called "Nixon Now".

Monday, October 31, 2016

Song of the Week: The Unforgiven III

I've had "The Unforgiven II" in my head off and on for a couple days, but this week's song is going to be Metallica's "The Unforgiven III". I think I like this song better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Choice by Bob Woodward

The Choice, Bob Woodward's book on the 1996 Presidential campaign, is a well written account of the ins and outs of a primary campaign. It follows both Bill Clinton and Bob Dole from the Dole's early discussions on running for President to his announcement on May 15, 1996 to resign from the Senate. Based on old-fashioned reporting and countless interviews, it's obviously a well-researched piece of work.

As with his later book Shadow, you definitely see Woodward's attachment to the Clintons. Bill is a caring, thoughtful, powerful leader who couldn't understand why people didn't like him after all his successes in the first two years of his presidency. Hillary is a smart, awesome woman who can do no wrong. Bob Dole comes off as a good, decent man, but one who has a hard time being direct or expressing his opinions.

With the advantage of reading this 20 years after its publication, it's fun to see some of the familiar names pop up. Before picking Jack Kemp as his running mate, Dole's short list included Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Tom Ridge, who all eventually served under George W. Bush. Bush also makes a three paragraph appearance as the first-term governor of Texas who endorses Dole just before the Texas primary. Perhaps most prescient is where Woodward, in the span of 30 pages, says that Colin Powell would make a good Secretary of State.

Even though Woodward's political leanings are clear, the book presents a fair portrait of the campaigns and those involved that any political junkie would enjoy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Song of the Week: Wichita Lineman

The Billy Joel Channel on SiriusXM is back. They play a good collection of lesser-known Billy Joel songs, B-Sides, and, of course, his hits. Being a Billy Super Fan (tm), I've heard almost all of them before through bootlegs, etc. But there is one song I heard that was new to me. In 2010, Billy and Jimmy Webb recorded a duet of "Wichita Lineman". It's a hauntingly beautiful version of the song, and here it is.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Song of the Weeks: All Hands

It's been a while since I've posted a Blues Traveler song. This one's been in my head for a couple days.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Governor Reagan by, Lou Cannon

Good, fair, and balanced book about Reagan's years as governor and his campaign for President. Cannon obviously did a ton of research and interviewed many of the players involved in those days. There were still some undeserved pot shots at Reagan, but Cannon seems to understand him better than most other biographers. His analysis of Reagan's political skills and instincts is worth the price alone.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

Song of the Week: Day In, Day Out

I always thought Nat Cole's version of "Day In, Day Out" was superior to any other version I'd heard. My one quibble with this particular version is that it seems a step too fast.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Song of the Week: Too Many Dirty Dishes

At the risk of turning the Song of the Week into my own personal blues channel, this week's song is from guitarist Tab Benoit. It's another example of the creativity of the blues genre. It's a simple premise of a man suspecting his wife of cheating on him, but it's addressed in an oblique manner with a fair amount of humor.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Song of the Week: Cedars of Lebanon

This week's song is the closing track from U2's 2009 album No Line on the Horizon and is one of my favorites from that album.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Song of the Week: Why Get Up

This week's song comes from The Fabulous Thunderbirds with Jimmie Vaughn on guitar and Kim Wilson on vocals.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Song of the Week: The Worst is Yet to Come

I've been hearing a bit of Keb' Mo' since I started listening to B.B. King's Bluesville on SiriusXM. This weeks' song is from his album BluesAmericana and it captures the essence of what the blues is about. The guy's having a crummy day, he knows there's more crummy stuff coming, but, yet, he's a bit upbeat about what the future brings.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Song of the Week: Second That Emotion

This Smokey Robinson tune has been in my head for a couple days. I blame Sirius '60's on 6.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Song of the Week: You're an Ocean

This weeks song comes to us again from Fastball. Rumors are that the band is working on a new album. Their last was 2009's Little White Lies.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Revolver by, Duane Swierczynski

What do you get when you add an unsolved murder, three generations of cops, and the city of Philadelphia? The best book of the year. Duane Swierczynski has outdone himself again with Revolver.

In May 1965, Stan Walczak and George Wildey are murdered in a corner bar. In 1995, Stan's son Jim, now a homicide detective, finds out the man he thinks murdered his father has been released on parole for another crime. Jim follows this man and stews over how he's going to get a confession out of him In 2015, Jim's daughter Audrey, a forensic sience student, pitches her professor the idea of using modern forensic science to solve the murder and boost her failing grade.

As with all of Swierczynski's books, the pacing is superb and the characters are all interesting and richly drawn. I appreciate the way he alternates telling the story of all three protagonists:  first Stan, then Jim, then Audrey, then back to Stan. There are a few twists along the way which I didn't see coming, but felt completely natural to the story Swierczynski told.

A masterful job and Highly Recommended.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Song of the Week: We Got The Funk

This is the theme song of my last vacation and an inside joke for those of us who went on it.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Song of the Week: Sleep Walk

Inspired by "Walk, Don't Run" a couple weeks back, here is another famous guitar instrumental from the 1950's/60's:  Santo and Johnny's "Sleep Walk".

Monday, July 11, 2016

Song of the Week: Bennie and the Jets

On this date in 2009, I saw Billy Joel and Elton John live in Washington D.C.. To mark that anniversary, here is a Billy/Elton piano duel from their first Face To Face tour in Tokyo back in 1998.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Song of the Week: But Mr. Adams

Here's another song from the musical 1776. It's between Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston about who should write the Declaration of Independence.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday, June 20, 2016

Song of the Week: Breathe

"Sixteenth of June 9:05, doorbell rings.."  I missed June 16th last week, but I'll use the song this week instead.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Song of the Week: Strut

I'm happy because of last night's Penguins Cup win, so here's a happy song from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 2011 release How I Go.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins

Woo Hoo!  The Penguins have won this year's Stanley Cup!

I'm typically not one to blame the coaches for failure, but it was obvious that Mike Johnston wasn't a fit for this team. The move to replace him with Mike Sullivan and trade for guys like Trevor Daley and Carl Hagelin was probably what turned this year around. In 12th place in the league and out of the playoffs at Christmas, the Penguins were the best team in the league in the second half of the season.  Crosby came alive and Letang started scoring like he can, but it was a full effort by everyone on the team that made this team as good as it was.

The Rangers tried to beat them with hitting, but the Penguins skated circles around them and chased Henrik Lundquist before the halfway point of two games.

The Capitals tried to out-skill Pittsburgh, but they proved no match to Pittsburgh's resiliency.

The Lightning tried to match speed with speed and almost pulled it off, but came up short in a Game 7.

The Sharks had an improbable run of their own; almost as bad as Pittsburgh in the first half and almost as good in the second half. They pull out some gritty wins in their playoff series, but couldn't match Pittsburgh in the Finals.

Congrats to the team, the coaches, and the GM for a great 2016.

Friday, June 10, 2016

MST3K Friday: Skydivers

Last week, I watched the MST3K episode "Skydivers'. It's another Coleman Francis "classic". It's not quite as painful to watch as "Red Zone Cuba", but you can tell it was made by people who have no idea how to tell a story.

"I saw my hair in the mirror and I panicked."

Monday, May 30, 2016

Song of the Week: Thrift Shop

"Damn, that's a cold-ass honkey."  That's probably what people say when they see me. :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

Song of the Week: Molly's Lips

This Nirvana song has been popping in and out of my head for the last couple days. I guess that's what I get for listening to a lot of Lithium.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

Song of the Week: She Got Over Me

This week's song is from the band Saving Abel. I liked the band's first two albums, then they kind of fell off the radar (at least mine).  Our song is "She Got Over Me".

Monday, April 25, 2016

Song of the Week: Kiss

I'm not a big fan of Prince, but, with his passing, one of my first thoughts was of Tony DeSare's version of "Kiss". It really shows the versatility of Prince's music that a song of his can be reinterpreted so fabulously as a jazz standard.

Friday, April 22, 2016

MST3K Friday: "Agent for HARM"

Thanks to the Official MST3k Facebook page for reminding me that there were a ton of Prince references in the riffs for Agent for HARM.

"Have you seen my raspberry beret?"

Monday, April 11, 2016

Monday, March 21, 2016

Song of the Week: Alternative Girlfriend

I don't know why, but this song popped into my head the other day. I haven't listened to Barenaked Ladies in a while, but they always have catchy tunes.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Shallows by, Nicholas Carr

Are you finding it harder and harder to concentrate? Are you having trouble remembering what you've read? Have you already skipped to the end of this review to see whether or not I recommend this book? Then you're not alone. Nicholas Carr noticed these symptoms in himself and decided to research what the Internet is doing to our brains. The result of that research is The Shallows.

Carr's research led him to a number of studies that have shown the nature of the Internet is rewiring how our brains work; not only that, but it does so quickly. A study in Boston compared brain scans between veteran Internet users and relative novices. A certain area of the brain of the veteran users lit up while reading web sites, while the novices' did not. Both groups were then sent away for five days with the assignment to use the Internet for one hour a day. After the five days were over, the test subjects' brains were scanned again and the novices' brains lit up in the same areas as the veteran users. Even as little as five hours of Internet use rewires your brain.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? The answer isn't black and white. Another study shows video gamers can identify more things in their field of vision than non-gamers. Internet usage appears to optimize the multi-tasking parts of our brains, allowing us to move more quickly from item to item. It may even boost our working memory. But, as any good software engineer knows, optimization in one area can slow down another. The process of moving things from our working memory to long-term memory is hindered by Internet use. So while we may be getting what we need quicker, we don't retain it, and our ability to think deeply and create unique insights is becoming weaker.

The book is fascinating, but I have a few quibbles with it. For most of the first third of the book, Carr goes into the history of different media:  from when we first developed written language, to the telephone and radio, to motion pictures, and, finally, to the Internet.  The long digression provides good background to put the Internet into context with what came before it, but my Internet-addled brain had a hard time staying engaged. There is also a long digression toward the end about the history and culture of Google that I failed to find relevant.

The takeway for this book is the Internet is changing how our brains work and we should be aware of that. Taking time to occasionally unplug is good both for our emotional and mental health and will help us retain the ability to think deeply about problems and find creative solutions.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Song of the Week: Ain't Messing Around

"I don't believe in competition / Ain't nobody else like me around."

This is another one I heard during the Blues Hour on WBGO.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

An Empty Hell by, Dave White

Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in. -Michael Corleone

I open my review of An Empty Hell with a quote from The Godfather, Part III instead of the first line of the book because it must have been what Donne was thinking.  A year after the events of Not Even Past, Jackson Donne has settled into a nice routine in Vermont; he does odd jobs for a local motel, he avoids attention, and he drinks lots of beer. Back in New Jersey, members of the narcotics task force Donne belonged to when he was still a cop start showing up dead. One of the few remaining former cops thinks Donne is behind the murders and, thinking he is next on the hit list, hires PI Matt Herrick to track down Donne. Herrick finds Donne and a whole lot more than he bargained for.

No matter what he does, Donne can't stop being haunted by his past  No matter what he does, whether it's the right thing or running away, he always ends up in pain or causing pain to those he holds dear. It's even evident in the action that wrecked his police career, which is told in flashback in the middle of the book.

Matt Herrick his haunted in his own way, too. In some ways he is a mirror image of Donne. He is a high school basketball coach who is a retired soldier. Like Donne, he is haunted by his past actions, but those actions ended up saving lives, instead of costing them. He also does the right thing, even when the right thing is quite often is the path of most resistance.

In many ways, An Empty Hell is Herrick's book, not Donne's. He gets more screen time (page time?) than Donne and is a very active character, while Donne is more reactive. The two are a good pair and, at times, I had visions of them becoming a Derek Strange/Terry Quinn private eye duo. But, since White likes to put his characters through the emotional wringer, that was not meant to be.

As always, Dave White knows his New Jersey. There are times you can almost smell the Taylor ham (or pork roll, if you prefer that term). And the novel's pace threatens to give you blisters as you turn the pages.

In terms of the series, I wouldn't recommend this book as the starting point because the events are tied very closely to what happened in Not Even Past. But every Donne book is worth your time.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Song of the Week: Baroque Impressions

Cyrus Chestnut is an American jazz pianist. Today's song was the first song I heard him perform. It masterfully blends the classical style of a Baroque invention with some really swinging jazz. I kick myself for missing out on the opportunity to see him in Princeton a few years back. Every time I check out the tour schedule on his website, he never has any dates in the northeast.

Here is "Baroque Impressions" from his album The Dark Before the Dawn.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Song of the Week: Across the Ocean

It's been a while since I posted something by Tenpenny Joke. There's still nothing new from them, so they do look like a one and done band, which is too bad because I like them. I listened to the album Ambush On All Sides again and this week's song stuck in my head for a couple days.  It's called "Across the Ocean".

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hope by, Richard Zoglin

Bob Hope was arguably the greatest entertainer of the 20th Century. His life spanned almost the entire century (May 29, 1903 - July 27, 2003) and he mastered every entertainment medium.  He was one of the top draws in vaudeville as a song and dance man and later as an emcee. He stared in several major Broadway plays by major producers and introduced standards by great American composers such as Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. He had the Number 1 rated radio program for much of the early 1940's and remained in the top five the entire decade.  He ranked among the top box office draws in then 1940's and was the Number 1 earner in 1949. He had the top television program in the 1950's and his Christmas specials aired on television every year from 1950 until 1994.  His 1970 special from Vietnam was viewed by 46.6 percent of all televisions in the United States - only the finales of Dallas, M*A*S*H, and Roots eclipsed that rating.  Plus, his monologues in vaudeville and on the radio essentially invented stand-up comedy.

Hope also defined celebrity for the generations to come. His hosting of the Oscars raised it from an industry event to a nationally broadcast capstone of the year in film that is analyzed, dissected, and bet on by people even outside the industry. He was a tireless self-promoter of himself and his movies, but, with his USO tours and other actions, gave back to his fans and drew attention to charitable causes.

He was also a shrewd businessman, investing largely in California real estate, negotiating large guaranteed contracts for himself, and was one of the first to see the potential of using television to run advertisements for movies.

Unlike many celebrities, he didn't drink or use drugs. He gave almost all his time and attention to his fans, but was cold and remote with his family. He was generous to servicemen and people he met, but could be miserly and cruel to those who worked for him. He was married to his wife Delores since 1934, but had several long running affairs.

Richard Zoglin's biography Hope does an excellent job capturing the life and times of Bob Hope. It details almost everything Hope did in his long life, but doesn't provide much insight into Hope's personality or his raison d'ĂȘtre. Given Hope's relationship to his family, this is not surprising.

It is a very well researched and written book that I recommend for any fan of Hope or anyone interested in the history of the entertainment industry.

Thanks for the Memory.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Song of the Week: Our Love is Here to Stay

Ella Fitzgerald is the greatest singer of the 20th Century - male or female. And pairing her with the great composer George Gershwin is pure bliss. It's hard to pick a favorite Gershwin tune, but this one has to be a top contender.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Song of the Week: Lucky One

It's been a while since I posted a Tantric song. I could probably post the entire The End Begins album.  This week's song is "Lucky One".

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Gone Tomorrow by, Lee Child

Suicide bombers are easy to spot. They give out all kinds of telltale signs. Mostly because they're nervous. By definition they're all first-timers.

Gone Tomorrow opens with Jack Reacher on a late night New York subway with five other passengers - one of whom sets off Reacher's well trained radar. Reacher intervenes in the situation, which puts him in the cross-hairs of the NYPD, FBI, DIA, and a congressman running for the US Senate. What follows is a non-stop roller coaster ride of a novel.

Other than the movie starring Tom Cruise, this is my first introduction to the character. The book is extremely suspenseful and written in a way that compels you to keep turning the page. Some people may be bored with thrillers where the protagonist is ultra competent, but Child pulls it off in such a way to make Reacher relatable to the audience.

I'll be reading more Reachers in the future.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Song of the Week: Hammer Head

No matter the personnel configuration, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers was one of the tightest groups around.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Devil's Game by, Sean Chercover

Today is a good day to die. But I've decided to stay alive until tomorrow.

Picking up several months after The Trinity Game ends, The Devil's Game finds Daniel Byrne out of The Vatican and working full time for the Fleur-de-Lis Foundation. The Foundation has discovered a strain of The Plague has re-emerged and their nemesis, The Council for World Peace, wants to get their hands on it. Will Byrne stop them in time? Or will the Plague once again ravage the entire world?

As I felt in my review of the first book, the global conspiracy angle introduced at the end was to set up future installments of books featuring Byrne. The cold war between the two groups drives most of the book and it looks like the third book in the series will turn this war hot.

Both the Council and the Foundation have discovered that this strain of the Plague gives a small portion of those infected with it the ability to predict the future. The Council wants to aerosolize the virus and infect as many people as possible with it with the aim to cull those few given the ability to see the future and use them to get a leg up in their struggle with the Foundation. The fact that the virus gives people predictive abilities explains how Tim Trinity did what he did in the first book, but also takes some of the magic out of it.

Members of certain crime fiction circles on the web will notice the name-drop of Internet good guy Gerald So as Byrne's tech asset in New York. Instead of just being a name drop, So is actually a pretty active character in the last third of the novel.

As with all of Chercover's books, it's gripping and well written, but I didn't empathize with Byrne as much as I did in the first novel. I'm looking forward to the third installment.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Song of the Week: Do I Want to Know?

After being hit by one of the top 5 blizzards in the history of New Jersey, this week's song of the week was picked solely because of the band's name:  Arctic Monkeys.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Song of the Week: Cornbread

This week's song is the title track from Lee Morgan's 1965 Cornbread album. It features Lee Morgan (trumpet), Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), Hank Mobley (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Larry Ridley (bass), and Billy Higgins (drums).

Recorded at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on September 18, 1965.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Song of the Week: Your Decision

"Your Decision" is one of the songs from the new Alice in Chains. It feels a lot like the original band and is a good tune in its own right.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Song of the Week: Happy New Year

Happy 2016! At this time of year, everyone is usually looking forward to what they plan to do to improve their lives and themselves. But let's take a look back with one of the greatest voices of all time:  Nat Cole.