Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday, July 31, 2017

Song of the Week: Baby Got Gone

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is releasing a new album this week, so this week's song is one of the tracks from it. Take a listen.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Song of the Week: Got My Mind Set On You

This week's song is from George Harrison in the 1980's. It definitely has the '80's sound with the drum machine in the background. I assume like many people my age, I became aware of this song through Weird Al's parody "Six Words Long".

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Soul Circus by, George Pelecanos

Soul Circus is the third book in Pelecanos's Strange/Quinn series. Strange is hired by Granville Oliver's defense attorney to help keep Oliver from getting the death penalty. Strange takes the case for the money and to make up for something he did in his far past. And Terry Quinn is helping his girlfriend, and fellow private investigator, search for a missing girl. But these stories are basically the hook Pelecanos needs to write about the epidemic of gun violence in Washington, D.C..

I still haven't made my mind up about Pelecanos. I loved Right as Rain, but everything else I've read by him hasn't reached me in the same way. He definitely has the street patois down and knows the ins and outs of gangs, investigations, and straw purchases.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Force by, Don Winslow

All Denny Malone wanted to be was a good cop.

Don Winslow's The Force is the story of the fall of a dirty cop. Denny Malone runs the Manhattan North Division's Task Force as its undisputed king, but things aren't all rosy in his kingdom. Set against the backdrop of Ferguson, Freddie Gray, and a fictional shooting by an NYPD cop, extra scrutiny is being paid to all NYPD task forces by the community, the brass, the mayor's office, and Internal Affairs. Pretty soon, Malone is neck deep in a pile of crap.

As always, Winslow's prose is tight and punchy. Even though I sped through the first 100 pages, I felt it was a lot more establishing the world and the character of Denny Malone than anything actually happening. At that point, it kicked into high gear.

In the back third of the book, The Shield's Vic Mackey kept popping into my head. In many ways, Malone and Mackey are similar, but with distinctions. Malone is the stereotypical dirty cop. He first starts by being extra violent with some offenders, then takes freebies, then finally starts taking and being a courier for bribes. Mackey was a more nuanced dirty, where he let certain crimes go and protected certain gangs if they played by his rules (no selling in school zones, no kids involved, you snitch when I tell you to snitch). He does it to provide for himself and his team in their retirement. Malone does it because everyone does it (and to provide for his family). Both their downfalls are initiated by stepping over the line from dirty cop to outright criminal:  The Shield's Armenian Money Train and Malone ripping 50 kilos of high quality heroin from a scumbag. The other difference is in how they react when trapped. At one point Mackey realizes what he did was wrong and he takes actions to first protect his team, then his family, then himself. Malone never admits that he's as bad as the skells he puts away and, reluctantly at first, burns down everyone he knows in order to save his own hide.

For readers of this blog to hear me compare something to The Shield, know that's high praise from me. You'll also know how much I love Don Winslow. This is another great book by a guy at the top of his craft.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Since We Fell by, Dennis Lehane

On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-seventh year, Rachel shot her husband dead.

Now that's how you write an opening sentence. Dennis Lehane's latest novel is part literary character study, part thriller. It starts out detailing Rachel's life: the emotional damage inflicted on her by her mother, her very public nervous breakdown on live TV, and the slow rebuilding of her psyche by her husband. Then, while out to lunch with a friend, she notices her husband exiting a building across the street - when he's supposed to be on a plane to London. The story then goes through a lot of twists and turns to it's exciting conclusion.

Some people may thing the first part of the book is slow, but I guess that depends on what you're looking for. It's a great look into how Rachel got to that point and what makes her tick. In a standard thriller, it would probably be morseled out as the story goes on instead of being an infodump at the beginning. I didn't mind it, but then again, I think Dennis Lehane could write about paint drying in a riveting way.

This is the first book of Lehane's I've read outside of the Kenzie/Gennario series, and I enjoyed it. Probably not as much as that series, but I did like it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Song of the Week: The Egg

This week's song of the week is another one from the musical 1776. This one is from Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson called "The Egg".

Monday, June 26, 2017

Song of the Week: She Said, She Said

Readers of this blog will know that I'm a huge Beatles fan, so it's no surprise that I'm loving the new SiriusXM Beatles channel. Along with Beatles songs and songs from the former Beatles' solo careers, they also play people who influenced the band and musicians doing covers of Beatles tunes. This week's song is one of those:  Gov't Mule playing "She Said, She Said". It's a pretty good interpretation of the song.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have just become the first team in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back Cups. It wasn't an easy road, having to face teams with two of the three best records in the regular season (the Penguins were #2) and tons of injuries to key players. The Penguins have now played 39 playoff games over the past two years; the most ever by any team in any sport over a two year period.

Congrats to the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators. Nobody expected them to make it this far, but it shows how a great defense and a hot goalie can take you far in the playoffs.

Friday, June 9, 2017

MST3k Friday: Hercules

I'm still working my way through the new season of Mystery Science Theatre and I still love it. When I saw they did a Hercules movie I got so excited because they did a great job with the three Hercules movies in the original run. This movie, The Loves of Hercules, stars Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Hargitay. It was funny and well done like the others. One of the things I've noticed about this season of MST3k is each episode has one riff that calls back to a famous riff from the original run.

I couldn't find a clip online of The Loves of Hercules, but here's a clip from one of the first Hercules movies.

"Look, I don't need the golden fleece. You keep it."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Men at Work by, George F. Will

A nice, warm tribute to America's favorite pastime. There are some great tidbits of baseball trivia and some fun stories about the game's history, but a lot of the book is a behind-the-scenes look at how each different baseball discipline approaches the game. Will talks to a manager (Tony La Russa), a pitcher (Orel Hershiser), a hitter (Tony Gwynn), and a strong defender (Cal Ripken, Jr) about all the tiny details they have mastered to be the tops of their particular crafts.

A fun read for anyone who loves the game.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Song of the Week: Seaons

Soundgarden and Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell killed himself last Thursday at the age of 52. We'll never know what drove him to this place, but the world is a poorer place without his immense talent.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Song of the Week: I Will Never Let You Down

This week marks the first album from the band Fastball since 2009. I hope it's as good as their others. This is one of the songs on the new record.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Song of the Week: Voodoo Working

Samantha Fish is a great new talent on the blues scene. She's a great guitar player and that voice! Here's a song from her new album.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

The third volume of Edmund Morris's Theodore Roosevelt series is as well-researched and written as the first two. It covers Roosevelt's life from 1910 and his exit of the White House until his death in 1919. At times, Morris provides too much detail that the book is almost a day-by-day account of Roosevelt's life, which bogs down the narrative in spots. The epilogue, which discusses the fates of his children and the historical impact of TR, is as beautiful as anything Morris wrote in the first two volumes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Song of the Week: The Blues is Here to Stay

Another song this week by Tab Benoit. I love this one because it's got a nice groove and pays tribute to the rich history of the blues.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Song of the Week: You Need Love

If there was any doubt how much Led Zeppelin was influenced by blues (which there isn't), check out "You Need Love" by Muddy Waters. How similar is this song to "Whole Lotta Love"?

Friday, April 21, 2017

MST3K Friday: Reptilicus

The new season of MST3k is pretty close to tone to the original. It even has silly songs during the host segments! This song is from the first episode "Reptilicus".

Friday, April 14, 2017

MST3k Friday: Revival League Edition

Today is a special day. Not only because it's Good Friday, but because Netflix is releasing the first new episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 since August 1999. As a backer of the Kickstarter campaign, I got early access to the episodes. I am sworn to secrecy about the new season, but I'll offer a few quick thoughts.

  • It feels like classic MST3k
  • The volume of jokes seems to be higher than in the original series
  • Crow's voice sounds similar to what we're used to.
  • Tom's voice will take some getting used to
  • I don't know if it's because they're in the same vocal register or because they're new voices, but I had a hard time figuring out who said what riff in the theater.
  • I don't understand (yet) why the Mads have a house band.
Do yourself a favor and check out the new episodes on Netflix. I know I'll finish the episodes of the season I haven't watched yet.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Song of the Week: Mississippi Blues

Here's a very tight blues jam by Jarekus Singleton at the Festival of Discovery in 2012. His bass player is pretty darn good, too. I wonder when he's going to put out a new album.

Friday, March 31, 2017

MST3K Friday: Village of the Giants

I watched this movie last week and it was a pretty funny one. You see some stars in MST3K movies, but how about Beau Bridges and Ron Howard in the same movie? You get that in this one.

Here's a collection of bits with Mike and the bots making fun of Tommy Kirk's tiny pants.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Blind to Sin by, Dave White

What ever happened to a good old silent alarm?

Jackson Donne has spent the year since the events of An Empty Hell in prison. Being a former cop, a PI, and the scapegoat for a political assassination, nearly everyone in prison is gunning for Donne, but he has protection from Matt Herrick's father, Kenneth. Counter to Donne's wishes, the pair are released from prison, but the terms of their release include performing a heist on the Federal Reserve. Soon Matt Herrick is drawn into the pair's orbit and finds himself trapped in an explosive web of lies and family history.

With this novel, Dave White shows himself a true student of the genre. The heist theme is straight out of Donald Westlake, to whom White pays tribute by naming each part of the book after a different Parker novel.

Raymond Chandler once wrote about the private eye "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid." But modern authors are turning Chandler's famous sentence on its head. Ray Banks put his PI, Cal Innes, through so much physical punishment that he was a cripple in Beast of Burden. Dave White seems to be putting Chandler's maxim to the test by putting Donne through so much emotional punishment to see if the mean streets can tarnish the man and turn him mean.

The history of the genre only informs and enriches the story. The actions of the characters are original (sometimes surprising) and White's characters feel lived-in. One criticism I have is multiple characters' reactions to events are described by an icy feeling in their chest or something stewing in their bowels. Also, more than one character counted to 10 or 20 before reacting in order to slow their heart rate and not be impulsive. I don't know how often this happened in the novel, but it happened a number of times in a short number of chapters that it felt repetitive and stuck out.

As always, White's books are enjoyable page-turners with actual depth. This one comes recommended.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by, Jennifer Graham

Paradise doesn't just get lost in Neptune. It gets razed to the ground.

Spring break and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica Mars is called in to investigate. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. When a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica's past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

Writing a tie-in novel to a popular TV show or movie is a tricky tightrope to walk. The author must both serve the source material, capturing the nuance of the screen character, and the casual audience who many not be familiar with the show. Graham and Thomas do a good job with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. Veronica's sarcastic sense of humor and the banter with her father are hallmarks of the television show and are both rendered well here. There are many cameos from almost everyone in the show, and only one or two seem gimmicky. For non-fans, the mystery itself is compelling and twisty. The "shocking connection to Veronica's past" mentioned above will resonate with fans of the show and movie, but it explained well enough that even fresh eyes will empathize with Veronica.

The novel is well plotted and the characters have depth, but there are moments that are a bit over-written. This doesn't detract from the overall enjoyability of the book. I will read the second book in the series at some point.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Song of the Week: Red Solo Cup

This week is St. Patrick's Day. I wonder how many red Solo cups are going to be sold around college campuses this week.

Friday, March 10, 2017

MST3K Friday: The Thing That Couldn't Die

I watched this movie last week. Not too bad.

"The king's men approacheth."
"You're all evil and I hope you all have snacks."

Monday, March 6, 2017

Song of the Week: Evil Is As Evil Does

I first heard this song on SiriusXM's BB King's Bluesville station. Apocalypse Blues Revue is a band consisting of the former drummer and guitarist from Godsmack (Shannon Larkin and Tony Rombola), plus a bassist and frontman. While writing for Godsmack's 2010 album, Larkin and Rombola were burned out by hard rock and took to jamming in their South Florida rehearsal spot. During one impromptu session, the drummer laid down a slow, simmering groove, and another side of the guitar player reared its head. "I couldn't believe it," smiles Shannon. "I didn't even know he was into blues or could play the way he does. My reaction was immediate. We had to officially start a blues band.”

The self-titled debut album is a mix of grinding blues, traditional shuffle, and others. At certain times, I could detect the influence of Jim Morrison and The Doors in the vocals. Overall, it's a solid debut, but there are definitely two songs that stand above the rest. This week's song "Evil Is As Evil Does" is one of those songs, and the first of theirs I heard.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

John Quincy Adams by, Paul C. Nagel

John Quincy Adams was in many ways the first resume president. He was the United States's minister to four countries (the Netherlands, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom), United States Senator from Massachusetts, and Secretary of State before becoming President. After his single term in office, he is famously the only former President to become a member of the House, serving nine terms and seventeen years until his death in 1848. Many people those days, and historians these days, consider him a failure as a President and a curmudgeonly figure, but the outpouring of national grief after his death was surpassed only by Abraham Lincoln's in the 19th Century.

With John Adams as his father and someone as remarkable as Abigail as his mother, Adams was compelled to make something of himself at an early age. He traveled across the ocean to Europe twice before the age of 20, and even traveled from St. Petersburg back to Paris alone at age 14. He became a giant in the political arena, but all he wanted was literary acclaim. JQA loved books, frequently wrote poetry, and constantly lamented to his diary about the lack of time to read and write.

The book is full of great details that I never knew before (or had forgotten). John Quincy Adams served in the House, Senate, and as President, but he was almost a member of the Supreme Court. In 1811, James Madison nominated him for a vacancy on The Court. His approval was almost assured by the Senate, but Adams was serving as ambassador to Russia at the time and declined citing his wife's pregnancy and the hard travel they would have to face to return to Washington. Adams did confide to his brother and his diary that he felt he was too partisan to be an impartial judge, so his wife's pregnancy was simply a convenient cover story. Since he remained an ambassador, he was available to negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812 (much like his father negotiating the end of the Revolutionary War)

As Secretary of State, Adams was responsible for writing and promoting what became known as the Monroe Doctrine. He put in place the agreements that established the border between the US and Canada and the annexation of Florida from Spain. He is arguably the most important foreign policy figure in American history.

But he really won the hearts of Americans as a congressman. He was instrumental in directing funds that established the Smithsonian and was one of the most vocal opponents to slavery. Do yourself a favor and watch Anthony Hopkins's portrayal of JQA during the Amsitad case from the 1997 movie.

One of the things that most struck me about this book was how Abigail Adams was presented. In every other book I've read about the founding or the Adams family, she is shown to be a smart, feisty, remarkable woman. It this book, she comes across as an overbearing, hectoring woman constantly fretting about people falling into moral decay. Perhaps it is because most other stories are told through John's eyes, but this one is through the eyes of her son.

Nagel's biography balances JQA's private and public life to provide the reader a good idea of what he was like. There were several points that Nagel constantly repeated (JQA's want of a literary career, his frustrated relationship with his mother) that became grating after a while. However, it didn't detract much from the overall book.

If you're interested in American history, this book is a worthwhile read.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Song of the Week: So Much In Love

Here's a nice tune for Valentine's Day. It's one of the a capella music groups that influenced Billy Joel in his writing of the Innocent Man album. If you listen to this song and "For The Longest Time" back to back, you can really here it.

Here are The Tymes with "So Much In Love".

Monday, February 6, 2017

Song of the Week: Last Kiss

A number of years ago, Pearl Jam had a hit with the song "Last Kiss". Most people these days are probably more familiar with their version than they are with the original by Wayne Cochran. Cochran's version was released in 1961, but failed to do well on the charts. It was then recorded again in 1964 by J Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, which was a hit for the group. Theirs is the version of the song we feature this week.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Song of the Week: Day After Day

For some reason I woke up Saturday morning with this song in my head. I thought I'd share. According to Wikipedia, the song was written and sung by Pete Ham and produced by George Harrison, who plays some of the slide guitar parts of the song along with Ham. After reading that, I can definitely hear Harrison's touch in the slide guitar solo toward the end.

Here is Badfinger with "Day After Day".

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Ceremony by, Robert B. Parker

"She's a goddammed whore," Harry Kyle said.

Kyle's daughter, April, has dropped out of school, ran away from home, and become a prostitute in a seedy part of Boston. He doesn't seem eager to get his daughter back, but his wife is a little more caring, so she hires Spenser to find her.

Ceremony is the ninth Spenser novel by Robert B. Parker, and the first to feature April Kyle. As with all his novels, it's full of tough guy antics, beer, cooking, and interesting moral questions. What would you do with a teenage girl who is working as an underage prostitute, but doesn't want to go home and nobody at home wants her? The next paragraph discusses Spenser's solution, so if you don't want a book from 1982 spoiled, feel free to skip it.

After much thought and debate with his girlfriend, Susan Silverman, Spenser comes up with an ingenious answer to the question. He introduces April to a madam he knows in New York City. April's only marketable skill seems to be having sex for money, so Spenser figures why not let her do it in a nice place and get paid well? Instead of turning half a dozen tricks a night in alleys or parked cars, April will get to do one a night (at most) in a nice hotel and get paid well for it. She can also leave whenever she wants, which is much more understanding than your average pimp. Putting aside that underage prostitution is wrong, Spenser's solution is a humane one and probably provides the best future for April. If he returned her to her home, her parents wouldn't do anything to change, April would run away again to the life and probably get hooked on drugs or get beaten to death by her pimp or a john. With the madam, April would have a sense of security and a freedom she wouldn't have otherwise.

Two additional books feature April Kyle, Taming a Sea-Horse (#13) and Hundred-Dollar Baby (#34), which will probably be my next two Spensers.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Song of the Week: I Done Quit Getting Sloppy Drunk

It's a couple weeks into the new year. How are your resolutions going? Did you resolve to take better care of yourself? Perhaps you wanted to drink less. Well, then here's a fun blues tune for you from Anson Funderburgh and The Rockets.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Red Right Hand by, Chris Holm

The man staggered into the lobby of the Albuquerque field office shortly after three a.m.

I've been lax in my book reviews lately, so let's see if I can get back into the swing of it. Red Right Hand is the sequel to Holm's prior book, The Killing Kind.  Both feature protagonist Michael Hendricks, a former soldier who is now a hit man of hit men. If Hendricks finds out there's a bounty on your head, he'll kindly inform you and offer to take care of the hitter - for ten times the contract price. In Kind, a shadowy conglomerate of mob bosses finds out about Hendricks and puts a bounty on his head. Chaos ensues.

We pick up Red Right Hand not too long after the events of Kind. Hendricks is now on a mission to take down the syndicate that tried to kill him in the first book. In the meantime, after a terrorist attacks the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, FPI Charlie Thompson notices a long thought dead federal witness in one of the eyewitness videos. Her bosses don't want her to pursue the witness, so she gets in touch with the only man she trusts to keep him safe:  Michael Hendricks.

As with his other books, Holm does an outstanding job describing the action sequences, but the core of the story is the relationship between his characters. Hendricks is more of a loner than in the first book, but his relationship with his new teammate envisions a new level of humanity for the damaged ex-soldier. The geography of San Francisco is presented well, too. I had many flashbacks of my recent trip there.

As with Holm's other books, this one comes recommended.

Monday, January 9, 2017