Thursday, April 29, 2010
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
In getting our house on the market we've hired a bunch of contractors over the last two months, and I want to say a word of endorsement for each of them and encourage any readers in the Austin area to hire these guys for any work they need to do on their house.
Bathroom/Tile work: Pedro Hernandez of P & J Tile. We had a broken shower pan the entire 8 years we've lived in that house, and we never came up with the money to repair it. Pedro gave us an excellent estimate, had his crew at the house working late every night, and made our new bathroom my favorite in the house. Why didn't we do this earlier? (512) 947-1535.
Plumbing: John Boone of John Boone Plumbing. Pedro found a leak that rotted out the wood holding up the shower stall and recommended Boone to come repair the plumbing side. John came out that day and did the work necessary to keep the remodel on schedule, then came back to finish the install when P & J were done. John's a good guy and does good work at a reasonable price. (512) 577-6833.
Landscape: Jeff Maxwell at Garden Gnome Landscaping. Jeff installed two amazing gardens at the house: a rain garden in the back yard and a lovely garden in the front. Both use native plants exclusively and add some considerable appeal to our yard. Jeff's a great guy, too, and he worked with our budget to come up with the best possible garden for our money. (512) 940-4761, website here.
Contract Broker: Valerie Tait at Connecting Contractors 360. Valerie was recommended by our cleaning company (endorsement to come). She found the right painter for our house immediately and never anything other than upbeat and professional. email@example.com or (512) 699-4008.
Exterior Painting/Floors: Erick Gerdeman at Urban Painting. Erick was the right painter and floor guy for the house who Valerie found for us. He made the exterior pop, found a better color for both front and back doors, and buffed our floors to a fine gleam. Not too pricey, either! Erick was a fantastic guy to work with, too. firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 745-0706.
Cleaning: Holly Moore at Maids and Moore. Holly had been our cleaner of choice for a while, but I figured I would give her a mention here. Her cleaners put the necessary final touches on the house, and when they were our biweekly cleaners, kept our lives in some order. email@example.com or (512) 731-2145.
Handyman: Dan Bednar. Dan's our neighborhood handyman. When you're dealing with a handyman, you want a smart, creative guy who can solve a wide array of problems. Dan's not just sharp and creative but his prices are better than most, too. If you're in Austin, especially Windsor Park, you should have Dan's number on your speed dial. firstname.lastname@example.org or (512) 799-3514.
Killer blog about the music on David Simon's amazing new show Treme. Check it out.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Linda Thompson - Dreams Fly Away: A History of Linda Thompson (released 1996, recorded early 70s-mid 80s), Fashionably Late (2002), and Versatile Heart (2007).
Linda Thompson Kenis was the greatest instrument for the music of Richard Thompson. The guy might be the greatest guitarist of his generation and he might have dozens of other instruments in his tool belt, but his music never sounded better than when his then-wife Linda breathed sweetness and light into his trademark darkness. Her nuance, her dramatic reading, her vulnerability in channeling his words and music: these create a listening experience that is nothing short of sublime.
Her first solo album, 1985's One Clear Moment, which she made with Rafferty's keyboardist Betsy Cook, bears this out. Slick to a fault, it cakes Linda Thompson (not yet Kenis)'s lily-perfect voice and songs with the slickest shit from 1985's version of electropop. Herein lies my problem. I want to believe - in fact, I've taken it as an article of faith - that most artists will better serve their material if given the freedom to create what they want along with a sympathetic producer. But in the real world, there are many, many examples to the contrary. Arthur Lee in the 70s. Neil Young in the 80s. Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines. Ah, strike that last one.
One Clear Moment is the work of an artist whom I admire making the music that she wants to make, and I hate it. It is, in the deathless words of Samuel Goldwyn, worse than bad: it's mediocre. As a fan, I don't want her to experiment, or at least, I don't want her to experiment unsuccessfully. This is not how experimentation works, I know, but what's particularly galling in this case is that Linda Thompson made One Clear Moment and then no further album for 17 years. Hysterical dysphonia: the psychological inability to sing. To sing now requires painful botox injections in her throat. Think of that: one of the most extraordinary voices of her generation and it takes a painful shot to the throat to unlock it. The next time you hear a pretentious ass of your acquaintance explain about how he or she suffers for his or her art, please take this as permission to punch him or her in his or her overprivileged and self-indulgent neck.
In fact, as I write this, sitting in the Charlotte airport, some kid with long hair is playing some seriously boring jammy pseudo-bluegrass bullshit over and over again on his acoustic. I'm tempted to take my own advice. The guy needs to suffer before inflicting his art on innocent bystanders.
To the music. Dreams Fly Away is a collection of songs from her ten-year collaboration with Richard Thompson along with a few from afterwards. There's a great story in the liner notes about how she was introduced to the Everly Brothers in the years after her marriage and collaboration with Richard had fallen apart. When they found out who she was, they took her hand and sang "Dimming of the Day" to her. Wow.
Dreams Fly Away has a few album tracks, but it's mostly demos and live recordings that tend to showcase Linda Thompson at her best. I'm not crazy about the Rafferty session tracks or the music from One Clear Moment, but they do make the tracks around them sound better.
Her more recent albums Fashionably Late and Versatile Heart are both lovely albums, but (and here I'm fickle, perhaps) they don't quite muster the passion of her early work with Richard Thompson. They're wonderful for what they are, though, and I wouldn't trade them for two decade's worth of One Clear Moments. I especially love her duets with her son Teddy, who has a voice that I tend to compare with hers when he's on his own, except that here he sounds much more like his father than I ever suspected. And she sounds like herself, not an instrument at all but someone who has lost and found something very important.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Libertines - "Can't Stand Me Now." Only-ok sleaze rock song. Don't know the rest of their stuff, but this is neither offensive nor anything to get too excited about.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Music Library: Leon Payne, Leonard Cohen, Leroy Jenkins, Les Savy Fav, Lester Bangs, Lester Young, Letdowns, Li'l Cap'n Travis
Leon Payne - A Smattering Of Leon Payne Songs (1947-1956), A Living Legend of Country Music (1963), and I Love You Because (unknown). I ganked all of these from a blog, so I'm not sure if any one ever had a proper release. Payne was a blind songwriter who wrote, most notably, "Lost Highway," which is the most American song that has ever existed, and also "I Love You Because" and "Psycho," which mine two quite different veins of country music.
Leroy Jenkins - Mixed Quintet (1979) and Live! (1992). Not a lot of free jazz violinists out there. Jenkins brings the riffable skronk, sounding quite a bit like King Crimson on some of these tracks.
(1986). Bangs isn't that bad of a singer, actually. His hoarse yelp has a little of Joey Ramone in it at times, which is fitting since the last of these bands features Mickey Leigh (aka Joey Ramone's brother). The Delinquents are my favorite of these bands, actually, with their two guitar approach that has a bit of Television and Talking Heads to it.
The Letdowns - "We Could Make Beautiful Space Babies Together, Wendy." No idea where this single came from. But it's a great power pop single with a killer chorus.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Music Library: Lee Morgan, Left Banke, Lemon Pipers, Lena Horne, Leo Kottke, Leon Payne, Leonard Cohen, Leroy Jenkins, Les Savy Fav, Lester Bangs,
Lee Morgan - The Cooker (1957), Search For The New Land (1964), Cornbread (1965), and Delightfulee (1966). Hard bop sax. Amazing fact that I just learned from Wikipedia: Morgan was 33 when he was murdered in 1972. So he was all of 19 when The Cooker, his SIXTH album, was released. Wow. Anyway, great hard bop if you like hard bop, and you probably do. I could have sworn I had The Sidewinder, too.
The Lemon Pipers - "Jelly Jungle" and "Green Tambourine." Two fun psychedelic bubblegum tracks from 1968.
Lena Horne - "Stormy Weather." I forget where this is from. Lena Horne's voice is not anywhere close to my favorite.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Music Library Catch-Up: Beautiful Supermachines, Andrew Bird, Danielson, Distant Seconds, Fucked Up, High On Fire, King Crimson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton
Have a listen! The Beautiful Supermachines are both noisier and poppier than the DS and have a maximalist sound that provides a great contrasting complement. Pick up the EP.
my last King Crimson write-up. Very good call! I rounded them out with the two 70s albums that I didn't have plus the two 80s albums that I didn't have. Poseidon and Islands are both jazzy, but Poseidon is a better album (although not as good as In The Court Of The Crimson King, which preceded it, nor Lizard, which followed). I could forgive the meandering on Islands if not for the terrible pop songs that break it up. Earthbound, Deceiver, and USA are all live albums. Earthbound has some great performances, but the sound quality is utterly miserable. Deceiver has incredible sound quality and some pretty seriously amazing proto-metal music on it. USA is in the same boat. Beat and Perfect Pair are from the new wavish KC of the early 80s, and both feature the twitchy guitars and bizarre riffage that make Discipline such a fine album. But neither is quite as strong as Discipline, although both have their moments.
Monday, April 05, 2010
But You Don’t Love Me Yet is a disaster instead. As with Chronic City, the protagonist--a person the novel doesn’t step away from--is quite blank and unlikeable. There are interesting secondary characters, but they prove unknowable to this protagonist. And the fundamental conflict that drives the story is a nonstarter. Both of these novels seem like they should work, but neither has the passion to engage me as a reader. As someone who wants to enjoy Lethem’s writing no matter what, a fan as I am a fan of Neil Young’s, I cannot help but be disappointed.
I’m willing to grant that my expectations might put me at fault for my failure to enjoy these books, but that’s really a backhanded slap at the man when I’d rather approach this directly. Lethem built an increasingly solid body of work in the 90s through the masterful Motherless Brooklyn and the jaggedly brilliant The Fortress Of Solitude. Then he won a MacArthur genius grant, which isn’t just confirmation of his brilliance but, unfortunately, a gift that bestows extra weight on the man’s work afterwards. And it’s possible that after The Fortress of Solitude, an intensely personal examination of his own sense of identity and loss, his obsessive intellect hasn’t found another subject painful enough to lend to his writing the necessary catharsis. Perhaps - and I feel like a cad for suggesting this, but this is my uninformed conclusion nevertheless - Lethem is simply too happy to write a good novel right now.
Or, at least, under the model that his prior novels were written. There’s always the rip-up-the-rule-book-and-start-over option.
As a fan, do I want more of Lethem’s great work? Yes, certainly. But as a human being, would I rather read Lethem being great or would I rather he be a happy man? The latter, definitely. But what I don’t want is this middle ground of novels that feel unengaged and half-written. Lethem, don’t make David Geffen sue your ass to get your muse working again. Neil Young had a handful of great albums left in him after the 80s before he settled for turning out elder statesman-style mediocrities. So either bring the pain or write essays, but don't settle for Are You Passionate?-type crap.
Sunday, April 04, 2010
Astute readers of this blog might notice that I have been mostly absent of late. Here’s the skinny: my wife has a new job in North Carolina and we’ve been preparing to leave Austin. Or, rather, I have. The rest of my family has already moved.
But that leaves our house in Austin to consider. and I hope that Austinites do consider it. Make me an offer, people.
We lived in Austin for almost 10 years. Our children were born there, and the bulk of our friends live there. Moving away is not easy. There is a lot about Austin that I love: besides the amazing people that it collects, there’s the Alamo Drafthouse, the Carousel Lounge, the Continental Club, Chango’s, The Tacocorrido, Stubb’s, The Dog And Duck (aka the Mallard And Mutt, the Quack and Woof, and so on, a place that I feel such affection for that I’ve nicknamed it over and over), Nomad, Waterloo, End of an Ear, and many other places of business that are undeniably awesome.
There’s some things that I dislike, too. I feel that the arts scene is incredibly insular, for one. And the way that the environment tricks my body into thinking that fresh air is poison with only a few allergens--well, I just hate that.
But I’m sad to be leaving, even as I’m happy to be returning to North Carolina. I’m proud that I could be an Austinite for a decade, ambivalent though I felt about it at times. Someday soon I’ll no longer have a house there, but I’ll always think of it as a place that I could call home.