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Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 2

Funny Musicians For A Serious Cause

Columnist's note: Back From Antarctica. (Updated to say:) View all the pictures from the trip at Porpoising To Antarctica.

Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Volume 2 is 77:35 minutes of demented music and skits from many of today's most warped performers. All of the profits go to relief for hurricane Katrina victims. None of the artists got paid: We all donated material. Here is your chance to get a sampler of the best of the 21st Century (so far) and donate money to charity!

A great Holiday gift, no matter what holiday! Order now!

My own contribution is The Possible Dream (or The Power of Non-Negative Thinking), one of the most requested Shockwave Radio Theater skits, performed by the great Luke Ski as Sancho Panza and Dennis Sherwood as Don Quixote. It's a segment of Let's Play Doctor which features (in other parts of the play) Dr. Demento, who wrote the liner notes for the charity CD.

Speaking of the great Luke Ski (which should be done more often), Luke contributes two otherwise unavailable tracks from his vast collection of sardonic asides. Give Lindsay Lohan A Sammich Foundation and the unlisted bonus track Stone Cold Steve Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery are both spoken bits that take on pop culture icons (or pop culture icon wannabes).

Barnes and Barnes (of Fishheads fame) contribute a new song, Granny and the Kid, which is an unconventional lust song.

Another unique track is You Were Wrong Cabinet Sanchez by Worm Quartet. In it, =ShoEboX= deftly details just how, um, Cabinet Sanchez is wrong.

Before they broke up, local Mpls band The Nick Atoms contributed the previously unreleased My Urinal Cake. Departing from their usual punk rock covers of tv theme songs, this one is about... well, I'm not entirely sure, but it's fun.

Weird Al Yankovic updates Happy Birthday from his first album: It's now in stereo!

Grant Baciocco of Throwing Toasters produced Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon, and gets the last, uncredited but popping up in the CDDB listing, track ScrewU. A live country version of their song about dealing with grocery store managers.

Roy Zimmerman, Tom Smith, Eric Coleman, Cab City Combo and many more bands, some of which I'm not (yet) familiar contribute favorite or brand new tracks.

Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Volume 2 is highly recommended for anyone with a slightly off kilter sense of humor or who simply wants to help out the victims of Katrina. You will hear a wide assortment of talent never before collected in one place. A most worthy project and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Dementia Music '06 part I

Worm Quartet and Tom Smith

Marscon 2006 in Bloomington, MN had featured a major Dementia Music track. Shoebox, the sole member of Worm Quartet, is a friend of mine. I like weird people, and apparently he does too. Tom Smith and I have crossed paths at a distance for many years and I finally got a chance to see him perform.

Worm Quartet's first AND latest CD is Sumophobia Alpha 2 Ex Super Championship Turbo Edition. Shoebox calls it Sumophobia A2EXSCTE but I prefer the more descriptive Sumophobia Alpha. By any name is a rerelease of older but remastered material material plus new stuff. Worth every acronym. Heck, it was worth the extra penny to buy it directly from him at Marscon. 72:44 of impure bliss, plus space between tracks.

The only real problem I have with Sumophobia Alpha is that I can't play a lot of my favorite cuts on the radio without bleeping. I'll get around to eviscerating the material for the sphincter conservatives, but out of the box I was reduced to playing Russian McDonald's Commercial in which, if there are Naughty Words, they are in Russian. Worm Quartet is in the proud, if grungy, tradition of anti-establishment young rebels: Scatological, insulting of celebrities, self-deprecating, off the wall and he usually makes you laugh even when you don't think you should. The music sounds almost childish but isn't; his use of looping and rhythm machines masks some nice tunes. He sings songs of procreation, coffee, not giving a sh*t about your website, hair on the soap, William Shatner, carbonated hampsters, being a hopeless romantic and hamsters again.

What separates Shoebox from all the other smartass college kids who never grew up is his use of language. He has the astonishing ability to juxtapose ideas and concepts that have never even contemplated being on the same planet together, much less in the same line of lyric. Sure, anyone can write a song about vampire penguins but it takes special talent to make a spatula into a phallic symbol. Only Shoebox can sing his songs; when other people want to sound like WQ, they bring in Shoebox to provide their Inner Voice (the most requested song on the Dr. Demento show in 2005). Imagine if a kid in Tom Lehrer's college math class crammed for finals by immersing himself in Italo Calvino, Weird Al Yankovic and the Sex Pistols. Okay don't, see if I care.

Sumophobia Alpha is highly recommended if you liked any other Worm Quartet CD. If you've never heard WQ, this is a pretty good overview, with early songs and recent songs and a wide range of material to choose from.

Flex Your Nipples - Live, is a DVD that is so hot it's not listed on the website. I picked it up at Marscon, and have been dipping in it ever since. It's got a full Worm Quartet concert, with commentary but not a subtitle track in Portuguese, and a bunch of other stuff I'm not going to get to in this lifetime. It looks like a basement tape but the sound is surprisingly good and it's very well edited so you don't have to wait around for the sound checks. An excellent addition to any Worm Quartet collection. Heck, if you're the type who prefers concert films to the audio alone you might want to start with this DVD. Write Shoebox and beg.

Tom Smith comes from the science fiction fandom filk tradition: Parodies of well-known songs with new lyrics. He's been around for a long time -- I have a couple of his tapes from the early 90s -- going to cons and writing parodies and original songs. The ease and facility of his songswriting is almost a game: He bills himself as "the world's fastest filker" and challenges people to come up song titles he'll write the songs to... but that album isn't out yet.

Plugged is a Tom Smith CD from 1997 but still feels current. The computer references in On-Line Religion and Spam Spam Spam still work ten years later; a tremendous feat. He effortlessly goes from Superman pining for sex to a beautiful song for his grandmother. His stfnal influences show with Cthulhu Lite FM (re Lovecraft) and Falling Free (from the Lois McMaster Bujold novel).

And They Say I've Got Talent, from 2004, is Tom Smith's most recent CD, though at least one more is in pre-order. Tom's songs range from Howie's Norwegian Blues, and old-timey blues song about a bachelor farmer; to The Illuminati Polka a danceable tune about the Bavarian organization that controls the world. The Skull and Crossbones also make an appearance in Talk Like A Pirate Day. He cuts close to the bone with Happy Conception Day that will be snapped up by the anti-abortion movement... unless they're paying close attention. He gets to sing a hopeful song by the defeated villain. Aah.

I don't really have a lot to say about Tom Smith. If you like this kind of fan-driven music, Tom is one of the best pure filkers and you will like these CDs and probably the rest of his oeuvre. If you don't, but are curious, you should get one of the CDs just to do a reality check on your taste. Follow the concert schedule on his homepage; he's good live too.

Dementia Music '06 part II

Hot Waffles, Technobbble and Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 1

Marscon 2006 in Bloomington, MN had featured a major Dementia Music track. I knew many of the musicians from previous Marscons, and made some new friends.

The Hot Waffles are two brothers, conveniently name Chris and Tim Waffle (on bass and banjo/guitar, respectively), who have been performing humorous music for many years now. I'd never met them; indeed, I'd never heard their music except for their cut on Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 2. This situation has now been rectified.

Ready To Laugh? We Don't Care is their most recent CD, from 2005. The CD's most common theme is the inability to get laid, so I commiserate. Bass is a solo lament about the lack of respect bass players get (except Gene Simmons). The End is a plea for groupies during these troubled times. Of course, they're kind of choosey, telling a girl she's Too Skinny and working on The Breakup speech. GTA: Vice City Blues is an interesting song from the POV of the first-person shooter in the video game Grand Theft Auto. Christmas When You're Goth is a sad, dark song with sleigh-bells. Ooh, those young whippersnappers: George Lucas Raped Our Childhood is about how the Special Editions of the first trilogy pisses off the kids who grew up on the originals.

Will Rock For Food, from 2004, also ends with The End, so it must have worked. This is a live version. When Metal Owned The Strip is a hard-rocking nostalgia tour of heavy metal power ballads that brought girls to their knees. Drunken Shaolin reveals the origin of the Drunken Style of ancient fighting. El Niño gives weather its due. The Nerds Who Rule The World is about the kids who couldn't who couldn't get dates who became dot com millionaires. This is their contribution to Technobabble, which I'll get to in a moment.

I don't think Hot Waffles has hit its stride yet. Ready To Laugh is better than their earlier material, much of which is worthy, and isn't as good as they can be, if I may be allowed to predict these things. Someday... someday!... they will create a metal/goth fusion using a banjo, come to terms with George Lucas and other nerds, and get laid. When they do, watch out. Recommended, to keep an eye on them.

Technobabble is a compilation CD that just came out from Sudden Death. It's "a compilation CD of funny songs that celebrate technology in all its forms". Most of the ones and zeros are chuckling. The great Luke Ski contributed his doo-wop paean I Love You TiVo while Logan Whitehurst and the Junior Science Club rap about the Robot Cat ("It slices, it dices, it catches the mices"). Everyone who uses a computer at work will appreciate The Gates, by Da Vinci's Notebook; an a cappella update of the traditional tune The Fox. Grizzled nerds from the mainframe era and Gen-Y Gamers with only one piercing can sit down and listen to songs about MySpace or the Atari 2600 or Konami Code III, or simply share your pain while Reinstalling Windows. Technobabble is recommended for nerds and proto-nerds alike. The only thing it needs to be better is some Shockwave Radio Theater material...

Shockwave Radio Theater is represented on Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 2, the charity CD for Katrina relief. At Marscon, I finally picked up the original Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon: Funny Musicians For A Serious Cause, the September 11 Charity CD from 2001. Like Vol. 2, the subject matter and quality ranges up and down and reaction to any one song will vary by taste. Still, you'll find something to laugh at. Jamie Anderson hits the right feline note with When Cats Take Over The World. Grant Livingston takes Albert Einstein on the road with Gypsy Rose in the Country & Western Gasoline Angels. Hot Waffles describes his obsession with building The House Made Out Of Underpants. Kornflake describes her obsession with Toenails and other things you have. Her live recording features Dan Hart on guitar, a former psychologist who contributes Understanding Blues, sort of the flip side to Christine Lavin's Sensitive New Age Guy. From the introduction by Dr. Demento to the songs not found in other collections, it's worthwhile over and above the donation to the victims of 9/11.

A word about The Gothsicles. I'm not really a fan of mosh pit music so didn't pick up their CD. But I've got to give props to the video that accompanies their live performance. Computer-generated video, lovingly crafted by geeks with too much time on their hands. Watching the images as they flash by helps those of us who can't really catch the lyrics as they get screamed. If you like this kind of music, go for The Gothsicles. If not, see if you can catch one of their concerts. You might acquire the taste.

Tex-Mex From Seattle

Independently produced CDs

Vagrant Records, out of Seattle distributes independently produced CDs, including some of their own, and their catalog goes well beyond Grunge. Warner Music Group just bought Ryko Corp, which is probably good news for the artists, but I cringe at the through of Frank Zappa being a part of AOL. I like to encourage independents.

Stone Crazy Blues Band's first CD is the 2006 release Barnyard Boogie. They are self-described as "a high energy Northwest based blues trio" doing "classic, modern, as well as original blues" which seems about right, though much of their energy is spent wisely: It's hard for a blues band to be tight and emotional. Too often, bands think that thrashing away at a driving beat is sufficient, but SCBB realizes that recorded music is a different art form than performing live. They are a pleasure to listen to the first time, and a pleasure to hear again. Recorded in Seattle, the photos on the CD look like a grunge band with some self-respect, but they sound like they're wearing Stetsons and bolos, rocking back on their heals to work their instruments more than the beer on the stool next to them. No sawdust at their venues, I'm guessing; the walls will be decorated with bull horns and rattlesnake skins and photographs of canyons.

The songs are a nice mix of country and blues. Most of the songs are original, but they nicely channel Willie Dixon, Sonny Boy williamson and Eric Clapton. Lots of references to chickens and roosters. The talking blues are also good rockers, especially Working Blues. Their instrumentals are working perfectly on this rainy day in Mpls especially the title song and the dark Introspect. I'm not going to say more about individual cuts. If you like laid back country blues rock with a driving beat, Barnyard Boogie will work for you. Recommended, and definitely iPod worthy (iPw).

La Familia is the second CD by The Plaintiffs, released in 2005. Joey Kline wrote all ten songs which their web site tags the songs with "desperation, betrayal, addiction". The CD is produced by Career Records of Montana, but the band has Seattle roots. If I had to invent a category for The Plaintiffs, it would be Gangsta Tex-Mex, sort of in the tradition of I Fought The Law but with a harder, more violent, edge.

"Damned if I do and I certainly won't" is a danceable hands off song, continuing, "Stay away from me, I've got some walls around my heart." I'm not sure if they mean it or are just trying to attract women who are attracted to men who are bad for them. "Up my meds and tell the Feds I'll send one hostage out. Give me a chopper and a pilot that knows the route," threatens a man as he gives the police a Final Chance. Lots of driving outlaw rock about rampage and shooting first, especially the Tex-Mex title cut La Familia, "Chollo tried to jack me for the tiniest marijuana. I put a sombrero on his corpse now he smells like old Tiajuana." My favorite cuts are the bass-driven rocker Skipjack about a violent felon dreaming of horrible crimes; and their contribution to the holiday season, Happy New Year:

I handed you my heart, you wiped your ass with it.
I treated you like gold you treated me like shit.
And now I'm down and out, spinning in the ditch.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year
La Familia is not really my cup of tea, but the songs are very tight and the album is consistently well produced. If you're tired of coutry songs whining about a cheatin' heart or looking for love in all the wrong places and want to feel like an outlaw as you're driving around in your battered pick-up with a gun rack or dancing in a grungy sawdust-strewn barn, you'll probably like this CD. Some of the songs are definitely iPod worthy, if you're into it.

Los Peligrosos hasn't officially released a CD yet, but I got a sampler released in 2005, with the six songs listed as mp3s on their site (plus a brief hidden track). Their major hook is that almost everyone sings, and many songs have two or more lead singers often taking different characters. Walked Out is fuzzy rock about a drunken wastrel who "didn't know what I had until the day you walked out on me." Smart move on her part. They make fun of rock fads in Flavor of the Week "Don't you know who I am? You might not know my name I'm big in Japan. I've got a cheap-ass guitar and a bad attitude. So that gives me the right to be bitchy and rude.... You better give me everything I demand because I'm in a hot shit band." These guys should meet the Hot Waffles. When you're not that hot, touring has its downside as they stay in cheap places like La Hacienda Motel. "Screamin' Mimi doesn't dance to please me" and is "the kind of person who's has something to say about everything it's got to be her way" but he stays with her because she has "one foot in the bedroom and one foot out the door" which is a position not recommented by the Kama Sutra. (You're Kind Of) Trouble explores a similar theme from the female pov. I guess it's better to love and be stomped on than never to love at all, unless it's the Alcohol Talkin', in which case she can successfully regret her decisions.

Any management company with the catchphrase "The more you drink, the better it sounds" probably needs to send their bands out for more seasoning. Still, I don't think Los Peligrosos has hit their stride yet and I'm willing to give them an encouraing word. For five bucks including postage ordered directly from the band, or ordered through the website, the Los Peligrosos sampler CD is iPw. Plus, the CD comes with a sticker of the "swords through the heart" logo on the upper right of the web pages.

Minneapolis Music '05

Nate Bucklin, Howard Ashby Kranz, The Auto Body Experience

Minicon 41 is this weekend [April 14-16, 2006CE] here in Mpls, and several local musicians are going to be performing.

Water Over the Bridge is the second and most recent CD by Nate Bucklin, one of the pillars of local fan music parties. He's a long-time friend and former housemate. Nate's jazzy guitar and intensely personal lyrics have brightened thirty plus years of filk circles, music circles with fans that didn't want to call themselves "filk", science fiction conventions, various professional bands and just about anything else where music was to be found. This recording is as close as he's come to capturing his presence in a music circle. Produced by his wife Louis Spooner Bucklin and recorded by Mark D. Sterling, Nate gets some of the area's best musicians to sing and play with him. He does great versions of some of my favorite Nate songs: The Road is a very moving song, even if you don't know the people Nate is singing about, and I don't; it's a sad song about the end of dreams based, like many of his lyrics, on real events in his life. Louie and Becca Allen of Riverfolk provide harmonies, Gary Schulte on fiddle and Nate playing all other instruments. Preposterous is a great song that never seemed to work as well recorded as live. Much of the fun is finally captured thanks to the harmony from Howard Ashby Kranz and a sassy clarinet line by Max Swenson.

I'm not entirely sure what Cow Got the Measles is about, but it's not about cows. I think it's about a lost love. Nate write a lot about failed romances, such as the bouncy but creepy Pieces of the Weather:

Pieces of the weather on my windshield
pieces of the sky beneath my front wheels
pieces of the weather
and we'll all die together
and if you don't feel it, it isn't real.

Nate brings several science fiction fan friends together for a great version of New Life nominally about aliens taking us away, but really about a failed romance [Nate doesn't think so, but I'm trying to convince him]:

... the people who know and the people who care
don't ever seem to be the same.
And if that spaceship of angels is really there
we all wonder why they came.
They're taking people to a new life, new life, new life
somebody take me.

Similarly, Hurt Again and I Can't Get Over You So Why Don't You Get Under Me and even We Kept on Dancing ("what else is there to do?"). Nate Bucklin neatly straddles the old-time filk tradition of sing-along parodies and the newer filk tradition of performing parodies to rap eg the great Luke Ski. As a time-tested performer/songwriter, Nate has powerful lyrics, a steady bass, an innovative lead guitar and sense of craft that few can equal. Recommended. More than iPod worthy.

Water Over the Bridge should be your introduction to Nate Bucklin... unless you can see him live. From there, go to his previous CD Rainbow's Edge or get the tapes, still available through his site.

At The Edge of the World, songs by Howard Ashby Kranz, "is in some sort of limbo," says Nate Bucklin, who appears on the CD with many of the same cast as Water Over the Bridge. Even his web page cited above doesn't have anything, and inquiries should go to Nate or Louie. Just as well: While the music is good, the packaging is off-putting: Basically a songbook with a CD stapled in the middle. It doesn't fit in any of my CD holders, and is likely to get lost in the shuffle. And my copy works in the CD player but not in the computer And that's too bad.

Hard to Be Human is a blues doo-wop wherein a man tries to explain to his son, "Life's a weird puzzle and then you die." Dinosaur's Dream is a soaring warble with a similar topic to Dr. Jane's Ambition:

Consider the weather!
Let's scale down to feathers;
it don't take that much brains:
let's become birds.

Hey! I'm Dancing should be a companion to The Red Shoes or Frosty the Snowman, since it's about uncontrollable terpsichory. Middle Class Tax Cut Blues is political doo-wop. Howard bounces off religious topics asks his heart to tell him how to love. I'm not sure whether to recommend At The Edge of The World until a better pressing/release comes out. But if you follow such things, watch for it.

My friend Laurel has recommended many great groups I'd never heard of, the most recent is The Auto Body Experience (who are from St. Paul, but that's close enough) They've been performing for over a decade, and I got their most recent CD.

Forgotten Lots combines Big Band arrangements with bouncy rock tunes, Beatles-like background harmonies and a gentle sense of humor. Imagine Wayne Newton channeling Dilbert, sort of. Scott Yoho is the lead singer "and frequent memorization seminar participation" who wrote all the songs and did the arrangements. Scott wants to be interviewed by NPR's Terry Gross. When he gets a bad grade in class it's Everyone's Fault but his own. He wants to leave his job to come home to Six Friends which Scott says is about beer but a band member from Wisconsin interpreted as "that Dahmer song." Many of the songs are comments about Scott at his day job. For his music gig in 1992, "the crowd demanded both Herb Alpert and some Polka" so Tom Fixed His Spit Valve Spring. He conscientiously took a CPR course and promptly fell in love with Annie.

Forgotten Lots is an unexpected pleasure, since I usually know about guys like these but they were under my radar. I've been hanging out with musicians at sf cons, and tend not to go to bars to hear music; my loss, I guess. I've already played a cut on Shockwave: Guess which one. Recommended; more than iPw. Note to self: Get the other three Auto Body Experience CDs.

Boomer Music: Roots and Technology

The Rooftop Singers, The White Album

It's a mistake to lump music by decades. "The 1960s" doesn't tell you anything in terms of music influence or style. Here are two collections, only five or six years apart, that reflected and altered the tastes of many in the Baby Boom generation. It's also a mistake to lump all Boomers together, as these CDs demonstrate. With some overlap of audience, the teens listening to AM radio in 1963 were a very different group than the teens listening to FM radio in 1968.

One of the best aspects of CDs is Best of collections. Companies can mine old material without new recordings at all. Try to avoid the little 10-song throw-aways and get the extensive retrospectives. I've reviewed Boomer music collections from some of the major artists, and finally got to The Best of the Rooftop Singers. I, like most people, know them for their one hit, Walk Right In. They weren't together for very long and produced only three albums 1963-65. They were formed by Erik Darling (who had replaced Pete Seeger in The Weavers) and other pros.

The CD is unexpectedly great. The Rooftop Singers never quite caught on, but should have. They introduced 12-String guitar to folk, and their harmonies terrific and song selection varied. 1962 was right at the beginning of the folk revival (though many would say it never went away) and at the end of the 50s beat era. Imagine the harmonies of Peter, Paul and Mary with the jazz vocals of The Manhattan Transfer with dialog coach Maynard G. Krebs.

Interestingly (to me), one of the songs on the CD, credited to Darling, I'd just heard the week before. The American Folksay vinyl wasn't worth getting at the time, but the CD releases are better. The sound is still awful, but at least they put two records on a CD, and the digitization means I can try to clean up the tracks myself. American Folksay 5-6/Chain Gang, is one of several CDs in the series. I was unable to find the date of the original released, but Leadbelly died in 1949 so I'm assuming the recordings are from the late 30s or early 40s.

Both CDs have a version of Ham and Eggs and Froggy Went A'Courtin'. The latter is simply "Adapt. with new music" while the former is stolen. A common occurrence with folk music, alas. The obvious connection -- Pete Seeger -- isn't on either song. Still, I'm vastly amused that two records, from as much as 30 years apart, are mining the same material. Circa 1963, Depression Era music and Chain Gang work songs weren't quite as popular as they had been in the days of Woody Guthrie.

Walk Right In may have been The Rooftop Singers' only song to chart nationally, but some of the songs got regional airplay; a good example of the taste of independent radio stations. The songs still work today. Recommended, and more than iPod worthy.

The White Album (technically, The Beatles) could be a Best Of. I hadn't needed to enter the double CD set into my Individual Song Database since I was very familiar with the songs, but it rose to the top of the stack. Formally entering the songs into my system means a close listen with headphones.

What a great album! The ninth best selling album of all time in the US is near the top of several Music of the Millennium lists. Some of the all-time best songs by one of the all-time best musical groups. While My Guitar Gently Weeps has long been one of my two favorite Beatles songs (the other being Eleanor Rigby) but I had to also give my highest rating to: Dear Prudence, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Piggies (how can anyone live without hearing Piggies now and again?) and Rocky Raccoon.But you knew that. What really prompted this review was Revolution 9. It's a very famous song that almost everyone recognizes from Ringo singing, "number nine, number nine, number nine..." but almost no one could tell you anything else about. I don't think I've heard the entire 8:13 since... well, I'm tempted to say ever but I'm sure I made it through the whole thing at least once in college. Certainly, it's not a song in the traditional sense. On the other hand, it is a very early example of what's all-too-common now: Sampling. Revolution 9 doesn't have a plot (that I can discern) but the bits and pieces are edited exceptionally smoothly. This was quite a feat in 1968, when the Killer App was... stereo.The first two Beatles albums were released in Mono (in the US). One of the reasons The Firesign Theatre made such a splash was their innovative use of stereo. By 1968, the year The White Album came out, stereo was no longer cutting edge but was still a new toy for producers to play with. Indeed, The White Album was released in mono in Britain (along with a stereo release). Revolution 9 uses stereo very nicely; that it still holds up as a piece of engineered sampling nearly 40 years later is testament to George Martin, the Producer.

I will unhesitantly recommend The White Album for anyone. Pick your favorites, if you will, but most of the songs should be on your iPod. I don't necessarily recommend that you listen to all of Revolution 9 more than once every 30 years or so...

United 93

Capitol Steps, Pete Seeger

United 93 isn't a documentary but isn't quite a standard thriller. You know what happens, and you get to see how it plays out. Almost in real time. Yes, it's fiction but it's probably as accurate as we're going to get. You should see the movie to remind yourself of who we're fighting and why our current efforts haven't led to closure from the attack of 9/11.

I was really impressed that so many people played themselves. We find this out in the credits at the end: Many of the FAA and military were the actual people on the job during 9/11. This adds verisimilitude as the events unfold. I'm sure they've airbrushed out some of the blemishes, but we get to see real professionals remembering how they really acted that day.

In retrospect, I think the movie shouldn't have had music. There's not much music, and what there is dramatically heightens only a few scenes. And I'm not sure those scenes needed heightening. The real events and real background noises would have been sufficient. It would have been easy to squeeze tears from the audience and I congratulate the producers' restraint.

I don't know if it's capital-I Important, but United 93 presents one piece of a large picture with which we are still grappling. We've gone to war with two countries, and the events of that day have dominated US politics ever since. Films like United 93 are long overdue. I hope similar recreations of that tragic day are as thoughtfully produced.

I'm not going to give United 93 any sort of rating. It's not that kind of film. I recommend that you mentally brace yourself, then go see it.

America is being attacked from without and within. We know how our foreign enemies want to hurt us, and our response has been military. Inside, the sphincter conservatives have made corruption a way of life. The Republicans who control Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court have screwed up, bigtime, and they're scared of being outed. Stephen Colbert proved that with his performance at the Correspondents' Association dinner. In a timely fashion, The Capitol Steps celebrate their 25th Anniversary with a new CD, I'm So Indicted. They tackle Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project, how Tom DeLay is helping the Democrats retake Congress,

The Capitol Steps' can be considered political filk. They take popular songs and write new lyrics. They skewer everyone they can make a rhyme for. Cuts include Here's To You Reverend Robertson, I'm So Indicted, What A Difference DeLay Makes, This is the House that Jack Bribed and God Bless My SUV. Sometimes the entire song leads to a punchline; sometimes they just pile it on. There are no Kurds in the way. My favorite cut on almost all of their albums is Lirty Dies, a spoonerism-filled oration detailing dirty lies and the people who tell them. In this case, writer Bill Strauss has loads of fun talking about Ecret Sagents, Ack Jabramoff, Chick Daney (I'm going to use that one), Yubble-Doo and the Storrible Horm.

The Capitol Steps rip their humor from today's headlines. All too often, their material becomes dated all too quickly. The ephemeral nature of their humor means you should leap on the CD now. Highly recommended, as are all Capitol Steps CDs. Get 'em while they're hot.

Pete Seeger turned 87 on May 3. He is a survivor of the last time the ultra-right abused the political process during the McCarthy Era. Later, Pete was a family friend and I was a charter member of the Hudson River Sloop Restoration Society in the late 60s. Pete's a tremendous person, and an exceptionally nice guy. While it's been 30 years since I last attended one of his great performances, I've probably seen more Pete Seeger concerts than anyone else. The prettiest sound I ever heard was Pete Seeger getting 1500 people in the Middletown (NY) High School auditorium to sing Kisses Sweeter Than Wine in two-part harmony. An amazing musician, a brave outspoken political observer and a major influence on American culture. He wrote, co-wrote or introduced songs including: We Shall Overcome, Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Turn, Turn Turn, and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Others have written about Pete Seeger, so for now I'm just going to give the great Pete Seeger a shout out.

Hey Pete Seeger: Thanks!

A Musical History of Disneyland

Quick Thoughts and a review of the commemorative set

Quick Thoughts

I propose a Constitutional Amendment:

No flag burning at gay weddings.

This is an amendment anyone can get behind. The current No Flag Burning amendment proposal is eking its way through the ultra-right dominated Congress, and may be an issue in the upcoming election since conservatives are so dangerously wrong on virtually every other issue. My proposal is a middle ground, allowing the anti-free speech types to claim a victory and also allowing the love-conquers-all types to claim a victory. A win-win situation! Osama bin Laden and his ilk love to burn our flag and are virulently homophobic. If you don't support this Amendment, you are on the side of the terrorists. Tell your Congress person.

Yesterday (as you read this) was Mother's Day. "Hi Mom! We're #1!"

Al Gore's opening on Saturday Night Live (5/13/06) was brilliant. Maybe not Stephen Colbert brilliant, but still pretty good. He gave an Address To The Nation from the sixth year of his presidency. Here's a link to the transcript and the video. He was also good in a short Weekend Update segment. The rest of SNL ranged from bad to terrible, and not even two good Paul Simon songs could rescue the show. But it's nice to see Al still out there swinging.

Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, has been bumped up the "must see" ladder.

Compare: 1) Radical Muslim reaction to critical cartoons published in Denmark, months later after 350+ believers died in the Hadj and 2) Reaction to The DaVinci Code book movie by fundamentalist Christians. The Xtian fundies are making fools of themselves (again), but at least they don't go around burning embassies (they save violence for churches and medical clinics). I know a fair amount of the history behind the story, and will review the movie soon. I don't know enough about Islam to make fun of it. Sorry.

A year late on a timeless place:

Disneyland opened just a few weeks after I was born, but no one made a musical history of my life. A Musical History of Disneyland is as close as I'll get.

Walt Disney's speech at the opening of Disneyland, July 17, 1955 (the first cut of the set): "Welcome to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past And here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America. With the hope that it will be the source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

Much of Disney's vision has born fruit: The imagineering of past and future has indeed inspired others around the world. But, like the right-winger he was, Walt ignored inconvenient truths. There is no Manifest Destiny Land, where the killings and torture of the native population in the name of Christianity is played out. Slavery is glossed over. Cock-fighting is not part of Frontierland. There are more mice than people of color in Disneyland. Nationalities are stereotyped.

So what? Reality is for adults. Disneyland is for children. A Musical History of Disneyland is for former children.

If you've never been to Disneyland or any of the later theme parks, or never watched The Wonderful World of Disney on tv or spent part of your childhood watching The Mouseketeers, these CDs won't mean much to you. And you will be in the minority.

I've been sitting here, dipping into the six-CD set. I haven't listened to the whole thing; to do so would be to relive the rides and experiences. This isn't music, it's what you heard while you were in the park: It is the park. I can smell the sawdust, stand on line, taste the ice cream, hear the magic. They're hard to take out of the player. Ride after ride, pavilion after pavilion, once again. When Mr. Lincoln comes to life, the audio of the animatronic display still stirs:

"Let reverence for the law be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in the schools, in the seminaries and in the colleges. Let it be written in primers, in spelling books and almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And in short, let it become the political religion of the nation. And let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay of all sexes and tongues and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly at its altars."

Al Gore could speak like that; George W. Bush wouldn't understand half the words.

Much of the music is simply the background to the park. Disneyland is a talking movie. Honky-tonk music and marching bands and wholesome women in pleated skirts and trains and birds and dancing elephants are everywhere. Not just on the rides: More than anything else, Disneyland excels at having people waiting on lines. Being on a Disneyland queue is more fun than most other theme parks.

The CDs have the introductions and internal dialog for the various rides and exhibits. They are part of the experience, a part that isn't on the happy music CDs for kids. No, they are for people who've been there. You have to have been there.

The nationalities and races may be stereotyped by costume, music and broken English, but at least they are represented. Disneyland served as the major introduction to African drums and Siamese gongs for most white Americans. And may still serve that purpose, packaged in a safe environment, for all too many. Sugar coated, the world is seen through the eyes of a child.

None of this is why I borrowed the set from a friend. I was trying to find a childhood memory that wasn't available when I last visited Disneyland in 1996. In 1964, the New York World's Fair opened up with a ride that eventually wound up in Disneyland: it's a small world (officially without the capitals). Created from scratch in less than a year, the costumes are marvelous and the atmosphere is enchanting. The song is so infectious that it's loved the world over. It's also reviled by those who've had to hear it too many times: Tough. As only a nine-year-old can, I bugged my mom into buying a 45rpm with the music to the ride. The second side of the 45 started off with It's A Small World in yodel. I loved the yodel. I've been trying to find the yodeling version ever since. Without success. Disneyland in 1996 didn't have it, and writing Orlando yielded no results. The commemorative set has the music from it's a small world, but it's not the same as the 45. At 13:42, the cut is much too long for two sides of a 45rpm, and indeed the music from the record doesn't start until 2:32 in. It's been maybe 40 years since I heard the record, but I recognized the introduction right away. The liner notes said they reconfigured the ride it moved from New York to Anaheim, but I've been to both and they're not that different. (As an adult on the ride, I marvelled at the sound baffles between sections. You can't hear the previous section's music in the next. Brilliant, simply brilliant, in every aspect.)

It's been an amazing week, yodel-wise. I've been listening to Riders In The Sky and Bing Crosby yodeling with the Andrews Sisters, but I was really looking forward to the Disney. Unfortunately, the yodeling isn't the same as my memory. Now that I've heard it several times, I'm not so sure anymore, but the brief stint at 7:33 into the song still seems light. There is some Matterhorn Yodeling on the previous CD, which is still unsatisfying. (Now that I think if it, I'm pretty sure I still have the 45 around here someplace, hopelessly scratched and unplayable but beloved enough to drag through every move. Might be worth trying to get a digital file, however bad, to compare directly. Hmm....)

I'll save for another time a long story about how I was in Disneyland while Woodstock was happening forty miles from where I lived.

According to the interview with the Sherman Brothers on the Mary Poppins CD, my favorite Disney song, Feed the Birds, was also Walt Disney's favorite Disney song. He was a fascist in many ways, but he had great taste in music. The CDs have a nice instrumental.

The six CDs come in Mickey Mouse packaging, literally: The boxed set has an accompanying coffee-table book with the track listings and brief explanatory text on the many wonders of the park. The CDs are in a separate box, with two Mickey-shaped indentations to hold the disks (one in the middle of the face, one in each ear, times two.) Clever without being useful. A Musical History of Disneyland is designed to be displayed more than listened to. Memories more than ambience. And I can't fault them for the marketing.

Disney is the most important company in the world because of it's hold on children and former children. Disney has been moribund of recent years, firing top people for various reasons. But hope is on the horizon! One of the 20th's Century's most important imagineers now has the highest single stake in Disney stock: Through the sale of Pixar, Steve Jobs is poised to be the 21st Century's Walt Disney. There is no better person to create the future.

On the Shockwave scale of 9 to 23 with 23 being tops, I have to give relative ratings. If you've ever been to Disneyland -- and remember fondly the child-like wonder -- I'll give A Musical History of Disneyland about a 21 (losing two whole points for not recreating my 45). If you've been to Disneyland, or any of the other Disney parks, and didn't like it so much but maybe have kids who did, I give the six-CD set about a 15. What the heck. If you've never been to Disneyland or any of the related parks and have never seen a Disney movie or watched a Disney tv show... this review is not for you.

Boogie Knights

Renaissance Festival Filk

All Knowledge Is Contained On Bartcop-E. I have been unable to come up with a definitive answer to the question, "who owns the parodies?" I'm specifically looking for the issue as it relates to filk: Using a popular tune with unrelated lyrics and where the song is not directly commenting on the original. From some sources, I've heard that ASCAP and BMI treat parodies as covers, and new lyrics don't count in terms of ascribing rights. The original author of the song gets all the royalties for the use of the song, and the performer gets a smaller cut. The standard for parody, as opposed to cover, was set by 2 Live Crew's version of Pretty Woman which used chunks of the Roy Orbison song. Orbison's publishers sued, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court, deciding in 2 Live Crew's favor. The parody was deemed a valid commentary on the original, which doesn't answer my question. 2 Live Crew gave proper attribution to the writers and publishers, but I don't know how the royalties were split. Does anyone out there in Bartcop-E Land know? If someone makes a filk song using Billy Joel's music, can Joel record the cover without mentioning (or paying) the filker? Send me e-mail, and I'll print the results next week.

Filk has now pervaded society -- well, my part of society: Science fiction fandom -- that it's spawned several sub-genres. For many years, the only place to hear filk was in live performances or on scratchy tapes of live performances. Tapes of original songs were sold, but traditional sing-along-because-you-know-the-tune parodies were not marketed because they couldn't afford the rights to the songs. I'm not entirely sure what's changed (hence my request, above), but more and more filkers are releasing CDs of parodies. Perhaps it was the success of Weird Al Yankovic (who was building on the success of Spike Jones etc etc) for non-sf audiences. Perhaps the shift to CDs over vinyl has made production affordable for low-budget enterprises like myself. Pretty much anyone can record audio, slap it on a CD, make a cover, and release the music to the world. So they did.

Renaissance Festivals and the Society for Creative Anachronism were always up for a good parody, largely because the songs they were using were hundreds of years old and copyright issues didn't matter much. RenFest Filk (to coin a term) popped up now and again, but mostly as individual novelty songs on serious albums.

Boogie Knights are having fun. They smash both traditions. Not only are all their CD filled with parodies (with an original or two), but the parodies are of modern songs (ie songs under copyright, for which they carefully give attribution). The upside to Boogie Knights is the gorgeous vocal arrangements and beautiful harmony of the ensemble. The parody lyrics are good and fit the original very well: Half the skill in writing good filk is finding the right hook, often the first line. They are enjoying themselves tremendously, and you can hear it. I bet they're great live. The website sells songbooks, and who wouldn't buy them after hearing a concert? The downside to Boogie Knights is that they too often need more rehearsal (perhaps a taskmaster for a CD producer). Mostly, the songs are accompanied by solo guitar and percussion with kazoo (or kazoos) tossed in. This probably works on stage at a Renaissance Festival, but doesn't always come off on a CD. The singers are good enough that the kazoo adds to the song... sometimes. Somebody in the group should learn to play penny-whistle or another guitar. Again, this probably works better live, and even on the CD the joy is infectious.

Their first album, Cavalier Attitude, from 2001, is endearing right from the start. The first cut is Dragon Feeds Tonight, a parody of one of my favorite songs, The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The last cut is Arthurian Pie, a parody of American Pie and almost as long. It details the King Arthur legend. Like the original, it's good but the length is daunting for a casual listen. In between are songs from ecletic sources: The Carpenters, Billy Joel, Schoolhouse Rock and The Ramones. My two favorite cuts are (Man of) La Mancha, a parody of La Bamba (a subject I have explored in the skit The Possible Dream, on Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon Vol. 2 and from me as part of Let's Play Doctor) and Exclamations, a parody of Schoolhouse Rock's Interjections.

Their second album, Oh The Horror is also from 2001 and deals mainly with vampires with an occasional song about Medusa or the Werewolf. Like Folk Underground, they treat the subject with respect. Almost love. Castle Transylvania, to Hotel California and Put A Wooden Stake Through His Heart, to Put A Little Love In Your Heart, will keep you close to your garlic. While it's a weak song, I'll mention ('Tis Only) Leprosy because Weird Al parodied the same song as I Lost On Jeopardy. My collection of popular song for which I have two different parodies and not the original is growing again, after a flurry of picking up pop albums. As is often the case with filk, a lot of the enjoyment of the parody is at least partially dependent on how much you like the original, and they do a good job with one of my favorites. She's A Medusa is a parody of the I'm A Believer: "And then I saw her face...."

Hysterically Inaccurate takes them up to 2004 and you can hear their development as the material ranges wider, and includes a couple of originals. They try harder, and the arrangements are more complex, but their timing is a bit off and this is their least professional CD. The last song, D and D, is a parody of T.N.T and is a hard rock ballad of a gaming adventure using electric intruments. The Roman Legion could have used S.P.Q.R., a parody of YMCA, for recruiting. The title is Latin, but the song is in English. The original Buccaneer Rap, almost a cappella with a drum and backing vocals, is more of holler than a rap, but what the heck. The Anarchy/Monarchy Song is a delicious takeoff on The Authority Song; someday I'll play them back to back. Song topics range from catapults to a foxy Philistine to fighting in a Mail-Clad Melee. My favorite song on the CD, perhaps my favorite Boogie Knight song so far, is Irish Samurai, a parody of the traditional Wild Rose:

My name is O'Saka, a Samurai man:
An Irishman born, but I live in Japan.
I don't speak the language, that bothers me none;
I'm here for the fighting and havin' some fun.
  (So it's) Sayounara
  To the ways that I ken.
  And hello to a country
  I don't understand.
Celtic folk/rock is one of my favorite genres, and I like it when when Celtic collides with filk. The Irish fighting ballad has the same feel as samurai ballads, and the mix works particularly well. (They had me on "O'Saka".)

of Mythic Distortions is their most recent CD, from 2005, and the most complete. The performances are tighter and the parody songs are even stranger. Gandalf Got Molested by a Balrog is a parody of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Think about that for a second: A parody of... oh, never mind. It's been done before (I think), but not about characters from Lord of the Rings. Arthur Rex Was King, a fun doo-wop to Rock and Roll Is King, complete with a great introduction. Zombies insist People Are Tasty, a parody of People Are Strange. They can't recreate the Doors, but at least they whistle instead of kazoo. Another appropriate parody is Xena, bouncing off Venus. Listed as original, but sounding very much like Ghost Riders In The Sky, Zombie Pete is Country/Western and B-Movie at the same time. They once again pander to my taste with Odyssey, a remarkably concise retelling of the Homeric epic to the tune of The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle. Shao-lin Temple Garden, a parody of Octopus' Garden, mostly works if you remember the tv show Kung Fu. The gods and pyramid builders of Old Egypt get a Caribbean treatment from a parody of Kokomo:

Anubis, Apophis,
Hathor, Re, And Isis,
The Tales Of Osiris
Written On Papyrus...
Seth, Horus, Nut, Sakhmet,
Sobek, Amun, Bastet.
Down in Old Egypt.
We'll live life fast
and then we'll take death slow.
I want a fancy crypt
Way down in Old Egypt.
From Thoth and Maat.
You oughta learn a lot.
There a man can die
And party through eternity.
By and by we'll defy,
The concept of mortality.

I love Boogie Knights. They're fearless and expressive, and we have similar taste in music. They tackle sf/fantasy themes with gorgeous harmonies and a pellucid ear. If you can stand the occasional missed cue and an over-reliance on kazoo, you'll like them too. Highly recommended for filkers or bardic circle participants, or if you like the entertainers at Renaissance Festivals. If you don't want to gobble all of them at once, I recommend starting with the most recent, of Mythic Distortions.

Music from the 2006 Minnesota State Fair

Tonic Sol-Fa, Brave Combo

Three Butterfly Baron Dave
Baron Dave with three butterfly friends

The 2006 Minnesota State Fair is still going, as of this writing, but I'm not going to face the crowds on Labor Day (as you're reading this) so my one sojourn last week will have to suffice. I wrote about this in my LiveJournal, so I won't repeat it here. To read the report (plus an interesting range of comments) go to "Who would you impeach first: Bush or Cheney" My Day At The Fair. The picture above comes from Butterfly World.

Tonic Sol-Fa are still trying to be a Top 10 Boy Band and they are still too good for that sort of pop success. Four boys doing a cappella doo-wop classics and arrangements of standards with the occasional original song have as much fun as Sha Na Na and all the talent of the Nylons. They have a loyal following around Minnesota, and regularly release small (10 cut) CDs and now have a DVD. The DVD (of one of their Christmas shows at Orchestra Hall in Mpls) isn't on their web site but almost everything else is. The site is full of pretty Flash animation and sound (mercifully short) and you can download songs (individually for 99¢ per or entire albums for an additional nine¢). I still prefer to own the Tonic Sol-Fa CDs.

A while back I reviewed Red Vinyl and have picked up several since, all at the Fair. One of their earlier CDs, Left Turns, is now unavailable except in their 3-Pack, and I hesitate to recommend that otherwise good deal since one of the CDs is their Christmas CD (which I don't have) and most of the best songs from Left Turns are on their 2004 CD By Request, which I picked up this year. Style remains my favorite of their albums, with terrific a cappela versions of Eleanor Rigby, Man of Constant Sorrow, Na Na Na and Land of 10,000 Dances. The whole album is iPod worthy (iPw).

By Request claims to be an Enhanced Album, but doesn't seem to do much for the Mac but open up a page that supposedly links to a special page, but doesn't. Still, it's a good album with crisp re-recording of several great songs from the deprecated Left Turns, the remix of a novelty song and a few new cuts. Their covers of Cecelia, Brown Eyed Girl and El Paso probably won't make you forget the originals but do bring some great songs to a news audience. The electronic remix of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? is even more fun than their first time around. They get all Backstreet Boys/N-Sync/Boyz II Men with ballads such as At the Dark End Of The Street and Until Forever's Gone. Their Christian Radio cut is Long Back Train (to hell).

I wish they'd put a few more cuts on every CD (they do several songs in concert that aren't available) and I wish they'd concentrate on making music rather than trying to market themselves (though I can't fault them for trying to be in that lucrative niche). Still, Tonic Sol-Fa is iPw and I'm going join the 21st Century by recommending individual songs to download for a buck each: Eleanor Rigby, Man of Constant Sorrow, Na, Na, Na (from Style); Sold, Scooby Doo, Where Are You (remix) (from By Request); and the original song they're promoting, Boston to Beijing. Any one of these will give you a taste of, and any two will give you the flavor of, Tonic Sol-Fa.

Brave Combo is another long-time favorite group who gave a great concert at the MN State Fair and I picked up two CDs (out of many that I didn't have). Indeed, this will be a rarity for me: I'm about to review a Grammy winning CD!

Brave Combo can make a polka out of anything, and usually does. You can dance while being strange and hip at the same time. What a deal!

Lets Kiss is their 25th Anniversary Album and won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Polka Album. (Oddly enough, Lets Kiss is the 2nd Grammy Winning Best Polka Album I own...) As a polka album, naturally it starts and ends with a sailor's hornpipe. Dutch Hornpipe as a schottische is daring enough and to do a full band version and a dub version shows mastery of the craft that few possess. Arrr, matey.

But wait, there's more! (A nod to mark the passing of direct marketing pioneer Arthur Schiff.)

The Red River Valley polka is appropriately Western dance swing, either Take Me Out To The Ballgame polka or Take To The Ballgame oberek will enliven those seventh inning stretches and The Simpsons polka was, iirc, used on tv. The Lets Kiss czardas may put some good ideas in the right person's head. I've only dipped into the CD, and all the cuts are tremendous and danceable.

If you want to get the PDQ Bach crowd on the dance floor, then Box of Ghosts is just the ticket. Classical music, from Mozart to Tchaikovsky, will get your bootie shaking in styles from polka to disco. I'm not going to go into all the cuts, but I will mention a few favorites. Dance of the Hours, Parts 1 & 2 is well known to any boomer: Part I is the tune for Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!, here done as a cha cha. Part II is standard circus music ala the Ed Sullivan Show, here done as polka. I didn't know Swan Lake had lyrics, much less that it could be done as a tango. If you never imagined the William Tell Overture a polka, you will never forget. Fear (Air on a G String) is a meditation: ethereal Back, with lyrics, almost new age. Habenera, a tango from the opera Carmen, works as a twist in a live recording.

Brave Combo are extremely good musicians and fearless performers. The liner notes are great. The song selection is great. The arrangements are great. The music is great. Highly recommended and highly iPw.

The Prince Myshkins

and some 2006 Fringe Festival pick-ups

Several years ago I reviewed The Prince Myshkin's Shiny Round Object by saying "I bet their concerts are even more fun than the CD". This was demonstrated by their show at the 2006 Minnesota Fringe Festival, Great Hymn of Thanksgiving/Conversation Storm reviewed here a few weeks ago. Shockwave Radio Podcast with them as guests, reading a bit of their show.

The Prince Myshkins have a more recent album, I think. Total Myshkin Awareness is listed as being from 2004 but listed on their web site as "(coming soon)". I have no idea how to order a CD, except from them (try or what it might cost. On the copy handed to me at the Fringe, iTunes lists the album as "Total Myshkin Awareness (ADVANCE)". Too bad, since it's a better album than the first and well worth the effort. Fortunately, you can download mp3s of several songs, including my favorite. The songs are political, and Ministry of Oil is a dirge about Iraq what we went out of our way to protect as we bombed everything else with precision.

TPM likes creating an aural environment while their razor sharp lyrics skewer the far right. Sort of Brian Eno meets Roy Zimmerman. Many of the songs are over seven minutes of ethereal accordion, rhythm guitar and heartfelt vocals. As background, or on an iPod, I can appreciate the longer form. As songs, I think the shorter versions work better, and most of the cuts I like best make their point without dawdling. Nail Clippers is about the folly of airport security (and this was before hair gel became a terrorist weapon). Freudian Slip suspects that when Minority Whip Dick Armey called Rep. Barney Frank, "Barney Fag" it wasn't really a slip, he was playing to his potty-mouth right-wing base. Anyone can commiserate with their frustration in a Traffic Jam. They make further political hay out of Iraq War protesters with Mimi LaValley and 100 Nuns, the need to hard sell A War Without An End and remind us of the criminals who escaped justice during Iran-Contra because Reagan pathetically testified I Don't Remember. After 9/11, Clear Channel blocked certain songs form being played on the radio, and they protest not being on The List. The CD ends with Ahmed, an appeal to the melting pot of America.

I feel a little odd recommending an album that's hard to get, but try the downloads linked above, and if you want the rest of the album, bug The Prince Myshkins until they release Total Myshkin Awareness.

One of the Fringe shows that might travel to your area is The Wonders of the World: Recite. You should see it. I saw their last performance here, and they ran out of cast CDs, but I picked up two by cast members.

Peter Dolan is Chin Up, Meriwether!, and his seven-cut CD is Out East. Most of the songs are tuneful punk with topics mostly about friendship and love. I don't know how you can get the homemade CD except from him, but four of the songs are available for download on his MySpace page. Worth a listen, and to encourage talented young artists.

Similarly, My Contribution to the World, by Donna Sellinger, is self-published. I've only dipped into the narration: It's two stories, broken up into ten tracks each. She reads well, and the snippets I've heard seem interesting and even a bit sftnal, but I'm only going to give this a provisional recommendation until I've heard it all.

As long as I have a little space, let me mention a CD from last year's Fringe. Three Sticks Theatre Company, performers of this year's Borderlines did a music comedy in 2005. Based on a Welsh myth, and largely in Gaelic, Mythed was a lot of fun. The songs are tuneful and the harmonies fine, and the tracks preserve most of the music but not the dialog, so you get about half the show. The CDs are homemade and I don't know if any are still around, but worth an e-mail to Three Sticks, especially if you've seen the show and want a souvenir.

A brief nod to an artist who was taking time-lapse pictures at the 2006 Convergence: Chris Jordan. With cameras becoming both ubiquitous and high-res, artists are playing with the medium with old ideas but new toys and fresh eyes. I have his Timelapse Sampler, which isn't for sale but is the 2006 work in progress. I suspect YouTube has made projects like these easier to distribute and harder to sell. Ah, art.

American Pop

and a few observations on Ralph Bakshi

American Pop is an animated film, with rotoscoped images and bits of culture flashing behind the characters, that takes us from the end of Fiddler on the Roof to the era of Syd and Nancy. Maybe a bit beyond. In between, it covers One Upon A Time In America, Lady Sings The Blues, The Benny Goodman Story, Dobie Gillis, Head and many others. In 96 minutes, American Pop covers four generations of Jewish musicians in their quest to make a life and to make music. It nearly succeeds. The wide panorama of 20th Century America is seen from near the bottom. War, violence, death and drugs are tempered with hope, family, some kind of love and an attempt to live an honorable life. All the main characters in American Pop try to be a mensch, even if they don't know the Yiddish word. They nearly succeed.

I saw American Pop when it first came out in 1981. I loved it. One of the people with me didn't like some of the song choices. The punk rocker at the end sings "Night Moves" and that threw him. Didn't bother me much. Punk is about giving up, and American Pop is about persevering across generations.

Starting off with the pogroms that kill the devout patriarch and drive the family to America, the story continues in jazz clubs in the early part of the century which created a unique American music and in the speakeasies of Prohibition which created gangsters. The despair of the Depression is alleviated by WWII, giving a purpose to people who don't know their own strengths. The be-pop 50s slide into the protest rock 60s. The punk 70s slide into the techno 80s. The film ends on an uncharacteristic high note.

Each era is well represented by music and images. No song is sung all the way through, though the music selection is excellent. The mood is evocative and sensual. It paints a picture with daubs of sound, and the images reverberate. Like an Impressionist painting, it's best viewed from a bit of distance. Like a jazz improv solo, individual notes are less important than the riff.

No film can hope to cover most of a century in an hour and a half, and American Pop is more of a ride than a history. It works best if you have an appreciation of history and knowledge of music. I liked American Pop a great deal, but as an appetizer more than a main course. On the Shockwave scale of 9 to 23, with 23 being top, I give American Pop about a 19.

Ralph Bakshi almost changed animation. Almost. His solution to the expense of creating animated movies was to throw static images behind main characters. This is better than Hanna-Barbera limited animation, but still feels artificial. Wizards uses the same technique, as does his attempt at The Lord of the Rings. These are good experiments, but didn't change how people made films. We had to wait another couple of decades for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and CGI.

Fritz the Cat is still fun (though I haven't seen it for a while) and his Mighty Mouse series was cancelled by the sphincter conservatives before it had a chance. His frenetic style was adopted by bad music videos, which isn't his fault. He stretched the acceptability of big budget animated features, which is to his credit.

Bakshi's career lasted 40 years, and he still makes appearances at conventions. He may not have been the animation pioneer of his hype, but his films are still watchable and his influence is still felt.

Dude From Mars

Art Paul Schlosser: The Tribute and Django Twango

Dude From Mars

Let me get the bad stuff out of the way first: Songs From Mars has a single theme: overproduced Martian surf music by someone sounding a bit like an alien channeling Weird Al.

With that out of the way, I must point out that the songs are fun and some of them are lots of fun. The lyrics are from the point of view of the Dude From Mars. Message From Mars is the intended Hit Single. It's the most overproduced and repeated as an instrumental on the last track. It's bouncy fun, pandering to the base urges of mankind. The message: Send girls. I liked the techno Mars Robotica and even In Memory of Mars Rover

Rover was her name, I met her on the Martian plain
And though she was an alien
Her shiny wheels drove me insane
Her chrome dispelled the darkness like the Martian sun
I loved to hear her motors purr and run
And when the sun shone down upon her glistening solar cells
O how I swear I could hear wedding bells

Songs From Mars was a clever idea nicely done but could have been better. Recommended to fill out a dementia playlist and for collectors of songs about other planets (such as myself). A nice novelty gift for the right teen.

Django Twango

Surf music, bouncy rock dance tunes with a drum beat and lead electric guitar, are often instrumental covers. Django Twango harkens back to the early 60s, those simpler times before Vietnam sent surfers to war, AIDS took away some of the innocent fun and pollution fouled the beaches. None of the songs on their epynomous first album are great, but all of them are solid instrumental dance tunes.

007/Goldfinger is a nice James Bond set. Hawaii Five O is a slow cover of the tv theme song at first, then rocks up for the second half of the song. Pink Panther is an okay cover. Night In Tunesia sounds more like The Munsters than Dizzy Gillespie. And so on. Django Twango is probably the most iPod Worthy of the three albums reviewed here. Good stuff in your ears while waiting for a bus.

Art Paul Schlosser: The Tribute

I've talked about Art Paul Schlosser's Vote For Me and as an acquired taste I haven't acquired yet. Still basically true; I can't listen to more than a few cuts in a row and have yet to hear many of them at all. Makes reviewing harder. Still, one can't help but admire his persistence. Having a friend like the great Luke Ski is a major plus, since I admire Luke. When word came, via Luke, of a "Tribute Album" I was very amused. Many of Art's tracks are basically spoken bits of routines and rants. I can do that. What the heck.

Art Paul Schlosser: The Tribute CD is barely available through Art. I'm not going to go so far as recommend it, but I will say that many of the artists who contribute take him seriously. My contribution, Just A Noise is a commentary on fear-mongering in the broadcast industry; 26 seconds that will make you think (perhaps).

Whimsical Will, of the Dr. Demento Show, contributes his 2001 Halloween spoken set of clips that features Have a Peanut Butter Sandwich to frighten you. Joe Bainbridge dresses up the songs with blues riffs. Several nice entries. Luke Ski and Art challenge each other. Aaron Ackerson's version of They Thought He Was A Wiseman is odd, in an electronic Christmassy way. Carrie Dahlby, Luke Ski's female counterpart for Vader Boy and others, does really nice multitrack harmonies to D.

Okay, I had to stop. Even covered by talented weird people, Art Paul Schlosser's music is best taken in small doses. The Tribute is an album I'm glad I own, but more than that I will not say.

Hail to the Thieves, Volume III: Songs to Take Our Country Back!

New political music for 2006 and a reminder to continue the outrage from 2004

Election Day 2006 is November 7, eight days from now.

The next week will be very nasty. Pedophile Republicans and Sphincter Conservatives will sling mud, whine and lie. Especially, they will lie. They don't know how to do anything else.

No matter what the outcome, the Pedophile Republicans and Sphincter Conservatives will spend the next two years whining, finger pointing and refusing to face reality. They simply do not have the mental capacity to accept responsibility for their own mistakes. Especially, they will lie. They don't know how to do anything else.

The shame of being a conservative has never been greater... and I've been saying that for a long time. It's more true every year. At some point, you have to sink to their level just to get their attention. Sad, but true. We must save their souls. There are some for whom it is too late. Ignore the Lost Souls and Nine Commandment Christians. Talk to the ones who have a chance. (Update, October 2007: Wow, did I call this one right. Long-time call girl client Sen. David Vitter and Unresigned Sen. Larry Craig are hypocrites at best and philandering fornicators by their own relative morals.)

To take back America, you should volunteer to help get out the vote, and watch for voting irregularities. Also watch for non-irregularities, as the radicals will claim problems when there weren't any. Republicans don't believe in Democracy, and will do anything to win. Conservatives don't believe in America, and will subvert the Constitutional right to vote in their pursuit of power and money. Especially, they will lie. They don't know how to do anything else.

I don't want to sound like a shrill right-wing hate radio asshole, so I won't repeat too much of previous posts on the subject. Just be aware that the empty barrel makes the most noise, and the far right has had forty years to perfect their mud-slinging and hate-filled rhetoric. Let them get the last word, so you can mull over a proper response to the real questions that should be asked.

In the meantime, here are some political CDs to tide you over. All of these contain iPodWorthy songs that will still be relevant for 2008.

Hail To The Thieves, Vol. III: Songs To Take Our Country Back!

George Mann and Julius Margolin have been singing the truth for many years. Julius has been a lefty and a labor activist for many of his 80+ years, and George has continued the tradition. The first in this series was Hail To The Thief! Songs for The Bush Years, a pre-9/11 indictment of the gang of thugs which I reviewed earlier.

Hail to the Thieves, Volume III: Songs to Take Our Country Back! is the third in their series about the Bush administration and cronies, with many guests. The songs are dead on target, performed beautifully with just the right amount of outrage and amusement. My favorites include: Royally Oily, by Colleen Kattau about the Bush family dynasty based on oil and a lack of morals. Deadeye Dick, by Steve Brooks, about Dick Cheney's lack of gun control. If There's a God In Heaven, by George Mann, about how Bush and co. are doomed to hell. Friends like Utah Phillips and Billy Bragg have their turn.

Highly recommended, even after the election.

Thieves III is a new CD. The 2004 election spun out numerous political music. Perhaps cowed by the slimy right wing attacks on people who tell the truth, fewer musicians have been brave enough to release new stuff this year; perhaps I'm just not seeing it. To be sure, much of the outrage at Bush and co. in 2004 seems almost prescient, and the criticisms then still hold.

And it's hard to sing about the most pressing issue of our day: Global Warming (aka Climate Change). There is no other issue where you can say, unquestionably, "Liberals were right an conservatives were wrong." But I digress.

Total Myshkin Awareness

I talked about Total Myshkin Awareness a few months ago, so I won't repeat too much. It's so new, it's not even officially out (according to their webs site). But you can listen to many of the songs for free as mp3s, (Prince Myshkin site, click on mp3s). I especially recommend The Ministry of Oil.

Roy Zimmerman

I was simply going to talk about Roy Zimmerman's discography of political humor music, but going to the Roy Zimmerman Web Site I note he has a new CD! Whee! I don't know anything about Faulty Intelligence but I'm going to recommend it anyway. I recognize a few songs, such as Defenders of Marriage, which goes back a few years and was covered on Thieves III. His new version is nicely done. I still highly recommend Homeland and Security (get them both together) and I have all the Foremen albums and can recommend The Best of the Formen as a good selection.

Election Day USA

Election Day USA was commentary for the 2004 election. They made little effort to sell the CD, and all the tracks are available as free downloads. Many of the songs are relevant if not prescient. Duct Tape (streaming audio), by John McCutcheon, about the idiotic fanning of the flames of terrorist fears, seems almost tame given the death of Habeus Corpus. codePINK (streaming audio), by Pat Williams and Sandy O, is a good view from the women's perspective. Peace Inside (streaming audio) is a long song about how the Iraq war is not our fight. And so on. If it's dated, it's because the situation is so much worse.

Pull No Punches

Another old favorite CD from an old friend is Pull No Punches, by the Android Sisters. The Android Sisters are characters on the various Adventures of Ruby The Galactic Gumshoe, available from ZBS, and have a few CDs of their own. In 2003, Meatball Fulton/Tom Lopez got fed up with the Bushies and pulled no punches in their outrage. It's not necessarily great sf, or even great political commentary, but when it lands it lands hard. Hey, Monster Maker, about the manipulation of media buzzwords, and Cowboys and Arabs, about playing childish but deadly games, are two iPw favorites I play on the air.

Coda: The reason to vote Democratic this year and in 2008

One of the biggest lies by the conservative news media is that the Democrats will win this election because the Republicans have screwed up, not that the Democrats have a plan to govern. This is half right: The Republicans have screwed up. But the Democrats have a plan once they take the House of Representatives. The media isn't covering it, since it's not a White House Talking Point, but it was mentioned here a few days ago:

The First 100 Hours. The Washington Post covers the story, making it about the Republicans, Pelosi Says She Would Drain GOP 'Swamp'. From the article:

As in the first 100 hours the House meets after Democrats -- in her fondest wish -- win control in the Nov. 7 midterm elections and Pelosi takes the gavel as the first Madam Speaker in history.
Day One: Put new rules in place to "break the link between lobbyists and legislation."
Day Two: Enact all the recommendations made by the commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Time remaining until 100 hours: Raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, maybe in one step. Cut the interest rate on student loans in half. Allow the government to negotiate directly with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices for Medicare patients.
Broaden the types of stem cell research allowed with federal funds -- "I hope with a veto-proof majority," she added in an Associated Press interview Thursday.
All the days after that: "Pay as you go, " meaning no increasing the deficit, whether the issue is middle class tax relief, health care or some other priority.

Republicans will lie. They don't know how to do anything else. It's up to you to tell the truth. Character matters.

Okay now: Vote! Help get out the vote in your district. Let's show the tide has turned.

X-Mas 2006CE

new Capitol Steps, new and old Chaston & Groditski, old songs remembered

A political digression

The War on Channukah

Must be the holiday season: The Nine Commandment Christians are whining. The complaint is of a made-up War On Christmas. Yeah right. Aren't they watching tv? Don't they look at the ads in the newspapers? A good economic indicator is how early Christmas begins. When Clinton was president, Christmas began after Thanksgiving, or at least stores were pressured not to put up their holiday decorations until the day after Turkey Day, known as Black Friday. Now, under Bush Lite and after 12 years of Republicans rule in Congress, you don't see many Thanksgiving decorations up at all. Stuffing doesn't have a high enough profit margin. We've gone right from the black-and-orange of Halloween to the white-and-red of Christmas. The stock market may be high, as overseas investors pick off bargains due to the falling dollar, but most US citizens have less money to spend on necessities like presents for the kiddies.

Meanwhile, most retail establishments wish customers "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays". What ever happened to the oldest holiday celebrated during the season: Channukah. Let's not even talk about Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice or Sol Invictus.

Why not celebrate the holiday that Jesus celebrated? What's wrong with Christians nowadays? Be like your Savior, and wish everyone a Happy Channukah. This year, it begins an sunset on Kislev 25 5767 (Dec. 16, 2006CE) and is celebrated for eight days, until the night of Dec. 25. I hope there isn't a football game or anything to mar the celebration.

Meanwhile, in your ears

O Christmas Bush

The Capitol Steps are always timely and ephemeral. Their albums are funny and on point, but become dated fairly quickly. I want to mention this one while it's fresh. O Christmas Bush is already a bit dated, obviously pre-election, but with Bush in office and Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State, it's still relevant. The songs are parodies of standard Christmas songs, so get 'em while they're cold.

Too many of these songs will, alas, be relevant for a long time. My favorite cut is The Fright Before Christmas is a spoken word parody of The Night Before Christmas as read by Michael Chertoff, Director of Homeland Security . The terrorists have won: We are frightened, and this song captures much of the institutionalized fear. Do You Fear What I Fear takes on the politically-generated paranoia of Bush and Deadeye Dick Cheney. Little Bomber Boy skewers Bush and his lies about Iraq. In the spirit of bipartisanship, Told You So jabs at Al Gore and global warming.

I miss the Lirty Dies spoonerisms, but I can wait an album. O Christmas Bush is highly recommended as a stocking stuffer or to add to your Capitol Steps collection or simply to have alternate versions of standard songs.

Note to the Capitol Steps: Put your albums in CDDB, please.

Yuletide Anarchy

Have you always admired Good King Wenceslas? Well, Chaston & Groditski are "Your Headquarters for Demented Wensislavian Rock Music". Probably just as well, as the 10th Century king was murdered by his brother not too long after the events of the carol; his family was demented, not he.

Chaston & Groditski's latest CD is a two-song sampler called Yuletide Anarchy. Both songs are to the same tune. The second song is their old standard We Roasted Santa Claus, about Santa coming down a chimney onto a lit fire. It's not so much sung as exuberantly warbled, with fire sfx. The first song is We Burned The Christmas Tree, with a rhythm machine and a back up singer and everything. A fine(r) piece of music. It's like they rehearsed!

I'm not going to go so far as to recommend this disk, but if you like their other work then you'll be pleasantly surprised with the new variation. Here is a link to their mp3 sample of WBTCT.

A few quick oldies, to pad a short column

Green Chri$tma$

Back in 1958, Stan Freberg issues a scathing indictment of the commercialization of Christmas (the real War On Christmas) entitled Green Chri$tma$. Green as in $. It received no airplay on AM radio until 1983.

A Christmas Carol

A few years after Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer took on the same subject in A Christmas Carol

Both these songs can be found on Dr. Demento Presents: Greatest Novelty Records of All Time, Vol. 6. This collection also contains such necessities as Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer and All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth. All Dr. Demento CDs are generically recommended.

The Chipmunk Christmas Song

Oddly, one of the few great Christmas songs not on the Dr. D collection above is The Christmas Song by The Chipmunks. "... I just want a hoola hoop..." In a sign of the times, you can buy this song from iTunes (and a whole bunch of other Alvin & the Chipmunks) for $0.99 each, but the Freberg and Lehrer songs aren't listed. You can get the video of the 25th Anniversary Edition of A Chipmunk Christmas. What the heck.

Christmas At Ground Zero

Weird Al Yankovic will make fun of anything, from his hair to sacred holidays. One of the latter is Christmas At Ground Zero, a darkly funny song that fell out of pop culture after 9/11, but is coming back after Korea tested a nuke. It's on his Polka Party CD, and you can watch the video on YouTube: Christmas At Ground Zero (takes a while to load).

More Independent Music From Seattle

Howlin' Houndog, Wad, 24 Hour Church of Beer

Vagrant Records

Every few months I get a nice package from Vagrant Records owner Erik 4-A. They are a mixed bag, as befitting independently produced music. Some are live recordings, some by groups that came and went too fast for a second CD and sometimes just Other Stuff. Very few are entered in Gracenote's CDDB. It's always an adventure listening to Erik's offerings, and I'm woefully behind. Here are some of the ones I liked from the last batch or two.

Howlin' Houndog & The Infamous Loosers

Erik starts off his own CD of Howlin' Houndog & The Infamous Loosers (yes, loosers) with an outtake. Grunting and howlin' for a minute. Most people put this sort of stuff at the end, but here it's a perfect beginning, leading into the actual Dylan song Tell Me Mamma. Howlin's roots are up front: In addition to his own compositions, the CD has two covers of Captain Beefheart songs, one from a science fiction movie and reworks several blues classics.

Benson Arizona is from the college movie project Dark Star and this isn't the first cover, but I appreciate it. Psycho refers to the same shooting incident that Kinky Friedman recounts in The Ballad of Charles Whitman. He tries to write a letter to his former girlfriend, and while Worm Quartet comes up with a Great Idea For A Song, Howlin' laments I Couldn't spell @#%&!* Send this one to Dr. Demento!

A solid collection of blues that takes the music seriously but almost nothing else. Recommended.


Tales From The Short Bus is an offering from pissed off rockers Wad. You can hear samples of songs from both their CDs on the web site, which connects to

They try to be angry rockers, they really do. They threaten to to on a gun rampage in Time To Kill and wander around in a Schizophrenic Nightmare. While they can't muster the hard edge of real counter-culture groups, they are tight musicians in their toned-down outrage. Naturally, I like the science fiction of Abduction and appreciate the anti-political Nothings Gonna Change.

Quite a few second albums have a song (or two) about the rigors of touring, and Wad's entry is Out here: "Out here I see millions of faces/All the same no gender or races". Meanwhile, they want to Smash My Radio, presumably because they're not on it. The track listing helpfully notes which cuts are "Not FCC friendly". And keeping with their Not-Quite-So-Bad-Boy image, they flag a song with the word "ass" which you can actually say on the air (though maybe you shouldn't, if you're trying to shock).

I can't give an unqualified recommendation for Tales From The Short Bus, but most of the songs are iPw (iPod worthy) and may very well get better on second listening. In any event, they're good enough at their craft to keep an ear on.

24 Hour Church of Beer

What can you expect from a band called the 24 Hour Church of Beer and an album called The Incredible Impoliteness of Being? Aimed at the drunk frat boy crowd, the album never really settles on a drug of choice. The first song is a proper revival meeting sliding into a good blues-rock tune, but then the second song 1/4" (that is, a quarter pound) is about marijuana. Ah, but they get back to the subject in Beer. Yikes, the next song is about the Tyrant Mind saying "no beer today". Crest of the Wave is a spacy blues number probably better on marijuana than beer. We get back to beer with G.I.T. (if we could only "Get It Together"). And so on. A dash of unplayable language and some fuzzy guitar peg the band. They'll never be The Grateful Dead or Jimmy Buffet, but, I bet they're a lot of fun live (or inebriated).

I'm too far removed from the excesses of youth to really appreciate the 24 Hour Church of Beer (why doesn't anyone write songs about single-malt Scotch? or extol good beer?) but your liver might be more receptive. Listenable to and iPw, if you're in the mood.

Stocking Stuffers

Here are a few quick suggestions of gifts presented by friends of mine, some of which have me on them (though I don't benefit except by association).

The great Luke Ski has a new DVD out called The EGO Has Landed (I'm in the background of one of the songs, I think). The two volumes of Funny Musicians For A Serious Cause are still available; vol 1 for the victims of 9/11, vol. 2 for the victims of Katrina. Shockwave Radio Theater contributed to the second one. Art Paul Schlosser: The Tribute, with a contribution by me, is on Former housemate Nate Bucklin re-released his CD Water Over The Bridge in a better format.

A reminder of my brother's book on global warming coming out in January. Hell and High Water. You'll hear a lot more about it in the coming months.

The War on Channukkah

Don't let the right-wing PC crowd stop you from celebrating the holiday that Jesus celebrated! It's time for The Festival of Lights. The various English spellings of "Channukkah" commemorate the "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem after it's destruction by foreign forces. Only one day's worth of oil was left, but it was necessary to light the menorah for eight days to complete the rededication ceremony. The oil lasted! It was a miracle! We celebrate on the 25th of Kislev (the evening of Dec. 15, 2006CE) and continue for eight days (through the evening of Dec. 23).

The story of Channukkah is the story of religious freedom. Whatever your beliefs, join the Jewish people in rededicating your life to preserving freedom from intolerance and oppression.

Judaism leaps into the 57th Century with a YouTube video of the Hanukkah Train. Send some Hanukkah e-Cards.

Channukkah Grab Bag 5767

High Strange Drifters, Groovie Ghoulies, Mr. Neutron

A small gift for the third day of Channukkah

These are a few leftover CDs that didn't seem to relate with anything else I wanted to talk about at the time. They've been in my stack for a while, and deserve mention.

Ancient Tones and Death Knells

The High Strange Drifters is a collaboration, and their sole produce is the marvelous Ancient Tones and Death Knells. They don't have a web site, but they do know their music. The songs on the CD originated as Broadside Ballads, and their origins go back to the British Isles of the 16th Century, if not earlier. If you're at all into Celtic Folk, or Folk in general, you'll recognize many of these songs. But The Drifters do the celtic songs with a distinctly country flavor. It works.

The Cuckoo has been covered, in one form or another, by groups ranging from Steeleye Span to Peter, Paul and Mary. The cuckoo is a symbol of conjugal love for the Greek Goddess Hera. In later mythologies, and in these songs, its as a symbol for unfaithfulness (a man raising a child not his own) and relating to the concept of a woman's parts as the cuckoo's nest and the man being a cuckold. The High Strange Drifters make it a song about a woman with older lover (I think) in a modern country style using banjo and melodica.

Similarly, Gypsy Davy is around, in one form or another, from Planxty to Koerner, Ray and Glover. It's about, usually, a lowlife commoner (gypsy referring to wanderer, black jack referring to the tar of shipbuilding; low status positions without money or hope of advancement) who sweeps a fine young girl from her rich husband (and newborn child) into the feral carnality of life on the run. The husband chases after them, and kills them both. (As opposed to some versions of The Gypsy Rover, where the daughter is unmarried and the stranger turns out turns out to be a prince). Here presented as country swing, complete with slide guitar.

Streets of Laredo is part of a long history of songs that go back to British sailors and The Unfortunate Rake (bringing back syphilis, perhaps) and up to St. James Infirmary (while the precise hospital of song hasn't been identified, it's most likely associated with the poor and dying). A good recording of related songs is The Unfortunate Rake: A Study in the Evolution of a Ballad from the Smithsonian Folkways collection. The Strange Drifters reach back to Sailor Cut Down In His Prime. In this version, the sailor is dead and the "flash girls" (prostitutes) are bemoaning his too-early death while they carry his coffin to the grave. A very country arrangement with British slang. The cut ends with a dialog from The Treasure of The Sierra Madre...

... for Buffalo Skinners about a very hard plains winter in the states. A dark country rock version of a standard. Another dark song, from 17th century British maritime lore is The Golden Vanity about the captain's betrayal of an heroic crewman. This one sounds like a sea song, yet feels more country than celtic. Folkies will recognize Mattie Groves, Barbara Allen, Sam Hall and the rest, and will appreciate the well-designed but non-traditional arrangements.

Ancient Tones and Death Knells is a brave and successful achievement. A must for any serious collector and a major addition to any library. iPw (iPod worthy) for many listenings.

World Contact Day

Sabrina and The Groovie Ghoulies was a Hanna-Barbera spinoff from characters in Archie Comics. The Groovie Ghoulies is (are?) a hard-rock band from Sacramento, CA. I tend to acquire such tv stuff, especially if it has stfnal and/or weird sounding song titles. World Contact Day is such an album, though it's obscure and a collector's item. Sure, what the heck.

The songs that would appeal to me are mostly only okay. Running With Bigfoot is decent punk, and they do a decent cover of the Billy Bragg tune A New EnglandThe World Contact Day spoken cuts, which intro and outro the CD, are appropriately alien and stfnal.

Still, for me the best cuts are a theme, a science fiction song and a cover. Ghoulies Are Go! might almost have worked on The Banana Splits. A children's ghoulish punk song:

You're a punk and you're a kid
Doesn't matter what you did
You can keep our records hid
You're a Groovie Ghoulie yeah

50,000 Spaceships (Watching Over Me) is a simple but effective punk/hard rock dance with a good instrumental break. Singing The Blues was first recorded in 1956 but covered by several people, and the Ghoulies punk version works pretty well; imagine the Ramones channeling early Elvis.

World Contact Day is a good CD, and punk rockers may like it more than I did. The Groovie Ghoulies aren't Angry Punks, they're trying to be Scary Punks. The CD is from 1996, and would probably be on the edge of Goth if it were darker. Keep the cartoon cover in your mind as you go to garage sales; if anyone gets the prices listed, it will be well worth your time. And give a listen before you sell it off.

Mr. Neutron Loves You

Mr. Neutron Loves You, by Mr. Neutron, is generally pretty good but rarely really good surf rock. Danceable and tuneful, they would go well at most mixers and their subject matter is weird enough for me. Listen to some cuts here The Monty Python reference shamelessly panders to my taste.

Pyramid Scheme is an okay song about Egyptian mummies. "If you'll be my sarcopha-girl, I'll be your sarcopha-guy. Mummy Love! Dreaming I'm Driving is a fast rocker about dreaming, with some eerie laughs. Robot Arm is a love song from a robot. "See the lovely things my IQ can do for you." Whirligig is a good country instrumental that'll keep your toes tappin'. You can guess who Soledad O'Brien is about. Meanwhile, they need a girl with very strong arms, like Mrs. Neil Armstrong to romance on the moon. No, it doesn't make any sense, but you can dance to it.

Not all of Mr. Neutron Loves You works, but enough of it does that I'll put out a qualified recommendation. Several of the songs are iPw, and there are some songs I can play on Shockwave Radio.

Channukkah bonus recommendation: A Very Charlie Brown Holiday Collection

Fighting The War On Channukkah means enlisting the help of the US Post Office. Classics like the animated tv special A Charlie Brown Christmas help spread the word of peace and religious tolerance from the Judeo-Christian perspective. Being the Post Office, they can bend the rules a little. A Very Charlie Brown Holiday is a CD available only in post offices or through the USPS web site. It's not even listed on the web site printed on the album. It's a very nice album, with the best cuts being the very familiar Vince Guiraldi jazz from the 1965 tv show. Indeed, the whole CD seems to be mixed cuts from various Charlie Brown CDs. Charlie Brown Christmas CDs, I should point out. No Channukkah, Kwanzaa or Feast of St. Stephens songs here, no siree. Still, in the spirit of religious tolerance, a perfectly reasonable stocking stuffer/Channukkah gelt to pick up while you're waiting on line to mail those presents. If you have other Charlie Brown CDs, this will be redundant. If not, this is a decent compilation.

Classical Music Guest Columnnist David Bratman

Takacs Quartet, Philip Glass, Henry Cowell

A gift of the Classical Magi.

David Bratman has been a listener of classical music and commentator for many years. Here are some of his recommendations for Bartcop-E!

by David Bratman

Classical music sometimes strikes fear in the heart of people who don't listen to it regularly. It's so complex and full of recapitulations and other oddly-named things, and its fans are such snobs, unwilling to give you the time of day if you don't know how many symphonies Shostakovich wrote or can't tell the difference between Toscanini and Furtwängler.

As a classical snob myself, I have some advice: ignore us. Don't let us condescend to you (Ringo's famous comeback, "I love Beethoven, especially his poems," is still good), and above all don't be paralyzed by our picayune discrimination between different recordings of the same work. Compared to the average difference between two different performers in the same pop song, the difference between two different performances of classical music - especially instrumental music - is minuscule. To the casual ear trained in popular music, they're likely to sound exactly alike.

So don't worry about it. If you've heard a piece and like it, buy that recording, or just get the cheapest or the one with a familiar name as performer. Listen to classical stations, in broadcast or on the web, or check out the enormous subscription-only sound files on the Naxos label website. There's lots of good books giving guidance through the repertoire and explaining exactly what's going on in a piece that lasts forty minutes with no words. Or listen to the excellent explanatory talks on the BBC website.

All the same, if you want the best possible performance of some of the greatest music ever written, one that knocked my socks off a fair distance was the Takacs Quartet in Beethoven's string quartets. There's sixteen of these works - plus a piece called the "Grosse Fuge" (Great Fugue) which was the original finale of number 13 (Opus 130) - and they start easy and get harder. Like most complete sets, Takacs's is in three volumes of two to three discs each. The early quartets are modeled after Mozart's, but they still sound like Beethoven: less genteel, more brusque. The middle quartets are big, forceful works from the same period as the Eroica and Fifth Symphony, the best-known part of Beethoven's career. The late quartets should be saved for last: they're introspective, tough, and gnarly, though they have their surprising soft spots: if you're a Joss Whedon fan, you'll recognize the "danza tedesca" (German dance) movement of that same Opus 130 as the party music from the "Shindig" episode of Firefly.

As for the performance, the Takacs Quartet are just amazing. They really listen to each other, their music breathes as if they were one entity, and as I wrote in reviewing their live performance, they play as if all Hell were on fire. It's only four fiddles (two violins, viola, and cello), but there's as much intensity and vividness here as from any band ever formed.

But people have been recording Beethoven for a century. Someone asked for my favorite all-new music of 2006, and I answered, "Philip Glass's Symphony No. 8." Some people will tell you that Philip Glass writes mindlessly noodling, endlessly repetitive music, but they haven't been paying much attention. He got that phase out of his system over thirty years ago, and added harmonic progressions and shifts in perspective to his discoveries in repetition. His music today has both large and small-scale movement: it goes somewhere, and does it interestingly. Glass is a good classical composer for rock fans. When he builds up a climax from a repetitive motif, it sounds a lot like a rock song with a catchy riff. He's written two other symphonies (the "Low," No. 1, and "Heroes," No. 4) based on David Bowie/Brian Eno albums, and in the 80s put out a song album, "Songs from Liquid Days," with lyrics by Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, David Byrne, and Laurie Anderson, with vocals by Linda Ronstadt and the Roches. And now he's up to his Symphony No. 8 for orchestra - big (39 minutes), kaleidoscopic, and colorful, with dark strings and piping winds, fast and churning in its first half, quiet and stealthy afterwards. Besides, the number is cool. If you're not a big classical collector, how many Symphonies No. 8 do you have, anyway, besides maybe Schubert's Unfinished? Be honest, now.

All right, let's finish with something short, weird, and a bit obscure. Henry Cowell was one of the great eccentrics of 20th century American music. He invented playing the piano with his whole forearm (softly, producing a hesitant wash of sound), served time in prison on a morals charge, and championed folk music both at home and abroad. Cowell was the man who brought the first great American composer, Charles Ives, to public attention; and he inspired John Cage, the man who rewrote the definition of the word "music."

Of the CDs of Cowell's music, maybe the most interesting is Dancing with Henry, a collection of pieces from the 1920s and 30s mostly written to be danced to, played by a group called the California Parallèle Ensemble. The album has nine different works. There's bouncy dances, exotic Asian harmonies and Irish folk music, plain harmonies and crazy dissonances, and strangest of all, a piece called "Atlantis" including voices that don't sing: in the words of the liner notes, they moan, groan, wail, sigh, grunt, and squeal. It's like some strange modernistic pirate music, or the musical battle between King Kong and Godzilla. Aargh, me hearties!

Blackmore's Night I

Shadow of the Moon, Under A Violet Moon, Fires At Midnight

Blackmore's Night was founded in the mid-1990s when Ritchie Blackmore, the founding guitarist with the 60s-90s rock group Deep Purple, discovered a mutual interest in Renaissance Music with Candice Night. As of this writing, they have eight CDs and a DVD. I'll try to cover them all over the next few weeks.

Like many of my favorite Celtic Folk/Rock groups such as Steeleye Span, they manage to stay under the radar of Top-40 radio, but produce terrific and distinctive music. They tour heavily, mostly in Europe, which you can hear in the professionalism of their craft. Candice is both lead singer and object of most of the photography on the CDs and videos, reflecting her beauty and an eye toward marketing.

Normally I would link to their merchandise page, but it is down for the moment, so I'll link to other vendors.

Shadow of the Moon is the first Blackmore's Night CD, from 1997. As befitting the experience of an old rocker, the CD is gorgeously packaged with balanced back and front cover art/photograph and lyric sheet. Several cuts get played a lot on Shockwave. Clock Ticks On is about growing older... or at least the passage of time. And they will return to the time! They seem to playing not so much for fans of renaissance music, but visitors to one of the many Renaissance Festivals. The Minnesota Renaissance Festival, one of the if not the largest RenFest in the country, is held nearby, so I yearly trot out Renaissance Faire:

I was told once, by a friend of mine,
She had seen an olden sign,
She said she was not from this time,
And did I feel the same?
So I told her, "Yes", I knew her fear
As I felt the truth draw near
Told her back three hundred years,
Was the time that I held dear...

Many of Blackmore's Night songs are about lovers, failed and successful. Mostly failed romances, in a country music sort of way but with more emphasis on dreams and magic. Night's voice (and overdub harmonies) are gorgeous and ethereal. Blackmore's connections and musical background are evident in a guest appearace of Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull fame, on flute), a lush cover of Renaissance's Ocean Gypsy and an idiosyncratic rock version of the traditional Greensleeves.

Shadow of the Moon also contains a bonus track version of Minstrel Hall, for solo guitar. Ritchie shows his chops! A great first album; a great album. Highly recommended whether you're a Festie or not.

Under A Violet Moon picks up from Shadow of the Moon and gets stronger. The title song, Under A Violet Moon, is for Festies, or anyone who wants to dance: Durch Den Wald Zum Bach Haus is an instrumental, the kind of stately dance one might perform in court, Stay awake for the Morning Star like the Gypsies; two lovers are "locked in the arms of a dancer" to Spanish Nights (I Remember It Well); "magic rules as king" back in the days of Avalon:

Raise your hats and your glasses too
We will dance the whole night through
We're going back to a time we knew
Under a Violet Moon
Cheers to the Knights and days of old
the beggars and the thieves
living in an enchanted wood
Under a Violet Moon
Henry the VIII's march Past Time With Good Company gets a modern arrangement while the lyrics still resonate:
Past time with good company
I love, and shall until I die
Grutch who lust, but none deny
So God be pleased, thus live will I
For my pastance
Hunt, sing and dance
My heart is set;
All goodly sport
For my comfort
Who shall me let?
Youth must have some dalliance
Of good or ill some pastance
Company methinks then best
All thoughts and fancies to digest
For idleness is chief mistress
Of vices all; then who can say
But mirth and play
Is best of all?

There are songs of lost love and dreams, which are all good. In their second album, from 1999, a dash of politics. Whether in the Renaissance or now, the wish is to March The Heroes Home:

Over land and over sea
March The Heroes Home
For the faithful, for the free
March The Heroes Home
We'll be waiting when you
March The Heroes Home

Under A Violet Moon continues the tradition of good artwork and lyric sheet and expands it's audience a bit farther than Festies. Highly recommended.

Fires At Midnight leaps into the 21st Century with a bonus song AND a video extra track. Blackmore's Night continues to build on a Renaissance tradition, but stretch their music legs yet wear their pop sensibilities sensibilities with pride: Even the "magical" songs are about unrequited love, and she sings of him leaving her.

Bob Dylan gets the celtic folk/rock Blackmore's Night treatment with a layered version of The Times They Are A Changin'. The lyrics were too expensive to print (I'm guessing), so the lyric booklet simply says, "A special THANK YOU to Bob Dylan for being Bob Dylan." The "CD Extra Video Track" is the music video of this song, mostly shots of Candice Night on a craggy seashore. The images don't have much to do with the lyrics, but Candice is pretty and the photography excellent.

Lots of celtic and country songs deal with hanging, but few are from the POV of the Hanging Tree. Renaissance Festivals get to march to the Crowning of the King. She gets to go with a pirate in the Tull-influenced Village On The Sand. Mid Winter's Night is a French carol (with some French lyrics) about bells and trying to sleep as the moon sets all alone. Benzai-Ten is the only female among the Seven Gods of Good Fortune from Japanese Folklore:

Sister of the seas
Wrapped in silken robes
Waves are falling at her feet...
Play your haunted songs to charm the dragon king,
Winds are calling out your name...

Several good instrumentals and unusual instrumentation give the band members a chance to show off. And we find out that love is great All Because of You:

Is this happening? Is this fantasy?
Never did I believe
There could be such happiness
Feels like nothing on earth
Started with one little kiss...
I could stay in this moment forever
I could reach every star in the sky
I could lose myself when I look
Into your eyes...

The track listing on the CD doesn't mention the hidden track (a continuation of track 16), but the web site has the lyrics to Sake of Song, another good moon & bells & dancing tune.

Fires At Midnight is more rock than the previous two CDs, and I'm going to give it a few more listenings before rendering a final judgment. Still, if you liked the previous two CDs you'll like this one; possibly more. I'm a couple of centuries behind in keeping up with the celtic/folk rock offshoots, and I'm very glad I caught up with Blackmore's Night.

Blackmore's Night II

Ghost of a Rose, Village Lanterne, Winter Carols

Blackmore's Night was founded in the mid-1990s when Ritchie Blackmore, the founding guitarist with the 60s-90s rock group Deep Purple, discovered a mutual interest in Renaissance Music with Candice Night. I reviewed their first three albums last week: Blackmore's Night I. I'll review their live double album and DVD/CD set next week.

The Blackmore's Night merchandise page, is up and has been expanded to include books, beer steins, DVDs and more. The CD page has the albums for sale, plus several songs available for sampling, and I'll continue to reference the other commercial pages for individual albums.

Ghost Of A Rose continues their trend away from true Celtic Folk/Rock into harder rock music and easy listening lyrics. My favorite cut on the CD is instrumental Queen For A Day (part II). Queen For A Day (part I) sounds medieval, but the lyrics are gentle and wistful:

A featherbed to rest my head
On roses would I lay
A full moon would glow every night
And summer would be every day
We'd dance and sing all afternoon
And rain would wash troubles away
Every wish would be granted for me
If I could be Queen for a Day...
Part II is a rousing dance, presumably the dance of the dreaming Queen. Celtic and sprightly!

They do a rockin' Aughts version of Jethro Tull's Rainbow Blues and a dreamy, swirling, cover or Joan Baez' Diamonds and Rust. Both these songs are about (among other things) looking back nostalgically, with regret or acceptance. Hindsight is a key theme of Blackmore's Night. Dandelion Wine (not to be confused with the Canadian folk group Dandelion Wine named after the Bradbury story) asks "where has all the time gone?" 3 Black Crows look down on us mere humans as we pass by and cackle in joy at their freedom. Remembering a brief affair is symbolized by the Ghost of a Rose. Way to Mandalayy wanders down a pathway "he did a thousand times before" until she's trapped by the journey. Where Are We Going From Here looks back with "lines on my face, lines on my hands" but points forward.

Ghost Of A Rose continues the solid craftsmanship of Ritchie Blackmore's music tempered with Candace Night's gentle romantic lyrics and lovely singing voice. On the CD is a bonus video track of Way To Mandalay which has everything that's right about Blackmore's Night, and exposes their weakness: Pretty images, Renaissance costumes, professional rock music with no emotional feel for the subject matter. If you liked their earlier albums you'll probably like Ghost Of A Rose, but it's not the best introduction to the group.

The Village Lanterne is even more rock, and even more lush, to the point of being overproduced. I really looked forward to this album, since it has a cover of my all-time favorite song, Streets of London:

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
and say, for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand
and lead you though the streets of London,
I'll show you something to make you change your mind.
The Blackmore's Night version is very Blackmore's Night: Nice arrangement, terrific guitar and vocals. Yet lacking the hard edge that helps keep Ralph McTell's original recording the standard even after 35 years. This version may grow on me -- it's very iPodWorthy -- and I'm happy the song is spreading past the Roger Whittaker/Glen Campbell/John Williams folkies. But.

Meanwhile, some of the production works. Continuing the theme of looking back, Village Lanterne, inspired by the Siegfried cycle, describes the emotional journey from being alone to sharing battle scars with a lover:

The olde village lanterne
Is calling me onward
Leading wherever I roam
The olde village lanterne
A light in the dark
Bringing me closer to home..

Another song that worked (for me) was John Osborne's St. Teresa, which starts with a bravura guitar solo which becomes driving rock. The production fits the song which is about (I think) a drug dealer, much like Friend of the Devil or Mr. Tambourine Man. Similarly, the Celtic Folk/Rock Mond Tanz/Child In Time slips from a good instrumental to a revised take on Blackmore's Deep Purple anthem Child In Time; the juxtaposition enhances both.

I hear Spanish influences in the instrumental The Messenger, some of which colors Windmills. Nominally about The Man of La Mancha, it's hard to take that from the lyrics, which don't mention Don Quixote or tilting at imaginary beasts. Medieval mythology is explored in Faerie Queen, about loss and hope. I just made a mix CD on the theme of Drinking, for Marscon and could have used Old Mill Inn, about camaraderie

Village Lanterne is a bit too baroque for my taste in Renaissance music, but the maturity of the artists carry great weight. If you like the Rock part of Celtic Folk/Rock more than the Folk part, you'll like this CD. It has several iPw cuts.

Instead of a movie for a bonus track, they add three songs, including a "Radio Edit" of a song from a previous album. Those two version plus another are on the CD Single All Because of You, so let me briefly talk about it here. The Album Version from Fires At Midnight is the third cut, and the Radio Romantic Mix from Village Lanterne cut is first. The Regenwald Mix, cut #2, may actually be my favorite. It's got all the bells and whistles of an overproduced techno mix, and that's what a lot of Blackmore's Night feels like anyway. Almost disco, with some vocal filtering and overdubs. The Album Version is danceable, with various celtic instruments. The Radio Romantic Mix is more rock, but danceable. The song is clearly their attempt at a Top-40 "Music To Fuck By" hit. I did not do a field test. If you like the song in any of the album versions, the EP isn't worth it for the one version not on either of the other CDs, but if you really like the song, go for it.

Unlike all the other Blackmore's Night CDs, their most recent offering, Winter Carols, does not come with a lyric booklet. That's probably because most of the songs are familiar. The exceptions are the two originals by Blackmore and the Chanukkah song.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing/Come All Ye Faithful and I Saw Three Ships get rousing, lush orchestration. Standard well produced (some may say overproduced) Celtic Folk/Rock (but mainly rock) with organ and violins as traditional for Christmas carols. While they are mostly traditional songs, the lyrics are interpretive. More secular, as befitting a "Winter" CD vs. a "Christmas" CD. Being Jewish in a Christian society, I had to sing Christmas Carols in Choir, and slurred over a few words. Mostly, these versions don't require that sort of scrupulous diffidence. Thanks.

Even Ding Dong Merrily On High starts off sweet and understated, then builds to an uplifting counterpoint. Ma-O-Tzur starts off with the Sephardi Hebrew than repeats with a non-traditional, almost Christian, interpretation of the words. Good King Wenceslas gets medieval instrumentation, though more Scottish than Polish. Lord of the Dance/Simple Gifts interweaves both interpretations for a stately inspiring dance which fades slowly and leads into the next cut, the joyous We Three Kings. They reprise Wish You Were Here from their first album, about missing someone during winter. As I write this, it's about -10C in Mpls, and I'm not going anywhere, so I can relate.

I'd never heard Emmanuel growing up in New York. Maybe it's a regional thing. The song always struck me as odd, an attempt to reconcile differing prophecies about the messiah. This version is gentle and reverent. "We gather together on Christmas Eve, peace to everyone" goes their original addition to the carol pantheon. We Wish You A Merry Christmas is a traditional Dickens-ish Christmas carol, sung by a choir that just begs to be invited in for wassail.

I'm vastly amused that I have a large collection of Christmas music, much of it traditional. Winter Carols is a good addition to my collection. Few of the renditions are stand-out, but all are nicely done and if you like Blackmore's Night style of Renaissance-influenced rock, you'll like this CD.

Blackmore's Night III

Past Times With Good Company, Beyond The Sunset

Blackmore's Night was founded in the mid-1990s when Ritchie Blackmore, the founding guitarist with the 60s-90s rock group Deep Purple, discovered a mutual interest in Renaissance Music with Candice Night. I reviewed their first three albums two weeks ago: Blackmore's Night I. Last week I reviewed three other CDs (plus their EP): Blackmore's Night II. This week, I'll review their double CDs. To my knowledge, this is all the extant recording.

The Blackmore's Night merchandise page, is up and has been expanded to include books, beer steins, DVDs and more. The CD page has the albums for sale, plus several songs available for sampling, and I'll continue to reference the other commercial pages for individual albums.

Past Times With Good Company

After 40 years of studio albums, the temptation to release concert CDs and DVDs must have tugged on Ritchie Blackmore's tresses like a sirocco. (Okay, I'm waxing lyrical.) Nonetheless, recordings of live albums are always tricky. Live performances and studio music are two entirely different art forms. Past Times With Good Company has the fine craftsmanship of Blackmore's Night plus some uncomfortable spots where the audience or the engineer don't quite enhance. Still, for the most part, this double album succeeds.

The packaging is very nice. While I don't have the leather bound Limited Edition, the CD from the link has two bonus tracks. The concert, from 2002 in Goningen Holland, was sounds like a lot of fun. I'm guessing that they included most, if not all, of the concert: Not counting the extra tracks, it's more than an hour and a half of music. As usual, the accompanying lyric booklet is nicely done.

Capturing the energy created by the audience is a delicate balance. On one hand, you want the band to feed off the energy. On the other hand, you don't want the audience noise to get in the way of the recording. And that's presuming that the audience is a positive influence. It takes a while for the Holland crowd to quite warm up; it takes a while for the band to completely get in the groove. Still, Ritchie Blackmore and the musicians are as good as ever, and Candice Night's vocalization packs more emotion than in the studio.

Even without Ian Anderson from their first album, Play Minstrel Play is a fine dance tune. Even without King Henry the VIII, Past Time With Good Company shines in places. Fires At Midnight (the title track of their previous album), a magical song about watching the sparks of flame rise into the night sky, does a live show right: A long instrumental break. The audience get to sing the line Under A Violet Moon, a good RenFest dance song. (In my plays, I like to write a part for the audience, and you need more than one line to really get their blood going.) Ritchie reaches back to Deep Purple for Soldier of Fortune to end the set.

The audience is more into it by the second set, which opens with the hard rock 16th Century Greensleeves and the gentle instrumental Beyond the Sunset before leaping into a good version of Morning Star. At last, a rendition that's not merely good to experience firsthand, but is as good or better than the studio recording. They continue playing to the crowd with a nice version of Renaissance Faire, from their first album, and a great instrumental, Durch den Wald zim Bachhaus, and end with the upbeat rock song Writing On The Wall. The appreciative audience spends the last minute or so applauding; I usually cut that intros and outros for the air (or fade out), but they're part of the live experience.

Two bonus tracks from a concert in Germany bring the second CD to nearly an hour: A good acoustic performance of Fires At Midnight with a long instrumental break, and a pounding version of Mid Winter's Night. The bonus tracks are different in other limited/foreign releases, so if you're a completist you have your work cut out.

Like much Blackmore's Night, Past Times With Good Company gets better after multiple listenings. If you like concert recordings, this is a good one. If you're not familiar with the group, this is probably not the first recording you should hear. Recommended, with qualification.

Beyond The Sunset

Beyond The Sunset: The Romantic Collecton is quite the package, at least in the Special Edition. The crystal case has two disks: One CD for audio and one DVD for video. Tucked in the box is an EP with three Christmas carols, released later as part of Winter Songs (reviewed last week). What a deal!

Some songs were introduced in previous albums. Some get completely new arrangements. All the songs are more, er, romantic. Lush, orchestral, harmonic. Softer, less Renaissance but far above Easy Listening. I'm not going to comment again on individual songs

I'm not quite sure how to recommend Beyond The Sunset. Blackmore's Night goes Baroque while maintaining a Romantic outlook. This is a CD you can listen to in the background while coding web sites or in bed with a lover. It's a step away from their Celtic Renaissance Festival early work yet never strays from their love of an idealized Renaissance. Candice Night has never been better: Soaring, beautiful, vocals and harmonic backing choir, expressing her emotions in song. Ritchie Blackmore has never been better: Lush wall-of-sound arrangements with distinctive instrumentation making virtuoso performance sound easy.

Perhaps I'm just a romantic softie (pass the tissues), but after one listening Beyond The Sunset is currently my second favorite Blackmore's Night CD, after their first release, Shadow of the Moon. A superb melding of emotion and craftsmanship. At this point, if you want to hear Blackmore's Night, start with their first CD and move forward chronologically or start with this CD and go backward through their oeuvre. In any event, and just in time for Valentine's Day, highly recommended.

But wait, there's more!

The RenFest in Schloss-Burg Solingen, Germany must be fun in the authentic setting. Blackmore's Night uses the castle and keep for the video of a 2002 concert. The camerawork is gorgeous, though the lighting is for the live audience. The band uses the castle to effect, and the standing audience is having a great time. Everyone's in costume, and many of the instruments are period. The DVD, at 22:30, is a merely a bonus to the CD, but a major plus to the package.

Hint: Play All. The DVD chapters don't quite divide where I would, so just play the whole thing through.

But wait, there's more!

Also in the package is a three-song EP with an original Blackmore's Night Christmas carol plus two traditional ones. As a sampler for Winter Carols, the EP will tell you if you'll like the full release. As a bonus to Beyond The Sunset, Christmas Songs makes an attractive package more desirable.

Beyond The Sunset: The Romantic Collection more than lives up to its name. Included in the Special Edition are extras that make it a must for any long-time fan of Blackmore's Night, and make the collection a good introduction for new listeners. Over and above the CD, the boxed set is highly recommended.

The Marscon 2007 Dementia Track Fundraiser CD

Dementia Artists at a Mpls science fiction convention

Today's column will be Anna Nicole Smith 25/8, uninterrupted by real content.

The Marscon 2007 Dementia Track Fundraiser CD

From the great Luke Ski's web site:

To the future attendees of MarsCon 2007 and all funny music fans,

Since 2003, the folks at MarsCon have graciously allowed us to create a wonderful piece of convention programming, the series of main stage comedy music concerts which is now known as the MarsCon Dementia Track, co-chaired by Earl “Wyngarde” Luckes and myself, Luke Ski. To the best of my knowledge, MarsCon is the only convention in the world with a dedicated dementia track, to which we all owe the powers that be at MarsCon a great amount of appreciation. While the con does provide for the Music Guest of Honor each year, it’s not in the convention’s budget to cover the costs of all of our other comedy music acts, who cover their own travel & lodging expenses just to come out and perform for all the fans at MarsCon. Many of them end up carpooling and staying at off-site hotels as a way to conserve their costs, which I personally feel is an inconvenience to them and takes some of the fun out of their MarsCon experience. This year, I want to change that, by organizing a way to cover the costs of the lodging for our other comedy music acts, while also getting them lodging in the MarsCon hotel itself. I have asked several of the dementia artists from this year’s and last year’s MarsCons to donate tracks to a dementia compilation CD to sell to you fans, with all of the funds going to cover the lodging costs of our other dementia artists, making it easier for them to come out and perform for all of you. So here it is, the track listing for…

The MarsCon 2007 Dementia Track Fund Raiser CD!

1. The A-Team is POed - Possible Oscar

2. Antihistamine Zombie (radio edit) - DJ Particle

3. Reelin' In The Grease (radio edit) - Carrie Dahlby

4. If I Did It - Carla Ulbrich

5. Cheney's Got Your Back - Carla Ulbrich

6. Nice Guys - Eric Coleman

7. Only Coffee House In Town - Eric Coleman

8. My Cat Is Afraid of the Vacuum Cleaner (unused original version) - Power Salad

9. Our Menu Has Recently Changed - Power Salad

10. Don't Shoot - Rob Balder featuring Worm Quartet

11. I'm Gonna Procreate (live) - Worm Quartet

12. I Can't Get A Job (live - radio edit) - Worm Quartet

13. Inner Voice (live at MarsCon 2005) - Sudden Death featuring Worm Quartet

14. Spam (live at MarsCon 2005) - Sudden Death

15. The Yolk's On You (live from Marscon 2006) - Hot Waffles

16. You Might Be A Trekkie (live at MarsCon 2006) - the great Luke Ski

17. Love Theme From Mystery Spatula Theatre 11 - the great Luke Ski

18. Theme From The Dork Of The Rings - the great Luke Ski

[19. A super secret unlisted new parody song track - the great Luke Ski]

Album length: 64 minutes

To order this album, just PayPal $15.00 to Sara Trice (our faithful Dementia Track assistant) at her email address,, and your CD will be dropped in the mail, sent via First Class USPS, within a day.

We have initially only printed 50 copies of the CD, and it would help us out the most if you could purchase the albums ASAP, so we can collect the total raised money on Monday, February 26th in preparation to pay the hotel that weekend. There is no guarantee that copies of will be available at MarsCon itself, so if you’re interested in getting it, it’s better for you and us if you could order it now.

So there you have it. I hope you’ll be willing to purchase this new comedy music compilation CD to aid the dementia artists in their quest to entertain you at MarsCon this year. Thanks, and as the good Doctor always says, stay demented!

-- Luke C. Sienkowski, a.k.a. “the great Luke Ski”

Marscon is a science fiction convention in Bloomington, MN (a suburb of Mpls) which will be held March 2-4, 2007CE. Preregistration is over, so At-The-Door rates apply. I don't have any association with the con except as an attendee and panelist, and am proud to have been Fan Guest of Honor in 2003 when this whole Dementia Track business started. Most of the people on the CD are friends of mine, so I know they (as a group) could use the boost. And I have the CD, so can recommend the compilation as much as the charity.

Two of my favorite cuts on the CD are from an artist I don't know and don't have any CDs from: Carla Ulbrich. She contributes two cuts that Bartcop-E readers will enjoy: If I Did It about OJ Simpson and Cheney's Got Your Back about the VP everyone hates to hate. Carla is admired by many sick people, and I'm glad to have a chance to meet her at the con.

I was at the performances of many of the live cuts. If you listen very carefully, you can hear me in the audience, being quiet. The engineers do a good job picking out the performers from the ambient sound, and an okay job bleeping ShoEboX of Worm Quartet. The background harmonies for I'm Gonna Procreate are not on the studio version, and make the live performance stand out. I Can't Get A Job (live - radio edit) is technically airable, and it might be worth the attempt just to find out. But maybe not.

The great Luke Ski's tracks are fun, as to be expected. He continues to squeeze humor out of You Might Be A Trekkie, and the audience is appreciative. Theme From The Dork Of The Rings is LotR rap from tgLS, not on any of his commercial CDs as yet. I won't give away the hidden track information, but it's good.

Most Dementia collections are hit and miss, depending on your sense of humor and tolerance for language and impertinence. The Marscon 2007 Dementia Track Fundraiser CD has a cut I don't like and a couple that are only okay... which is remarkably high quality! You may very well like/dislike different tracks, but if you've enjoyed any of the artists on the CD you'll probably find this one is well worth it, joining the Laughter Is A Powerful Weapon CDs as donations that don't feel like charity.

This just in: Brittany Spears does something!

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