Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I'll Take a Tall, Non-Fat Joni

Cross-posted over at newcritics.

Hear Music, the record label owned by Starbucks has recently announced that Joni Mitchell will release her newly recorded album “Shine” in September of this year following in the footsteps of Paul McCartney. This has come as a shocking disappointment to some of her fans. Not this one.
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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ian Hunter's Big Mouth

Ian Hunter "Shrunken Heads"
Shrunken Heads
Ian Hunter
May 2007

Cross Posted at Newcritics.

If you still believe that George Bush and his buddies are on the right track and you have the entire Journey catalog on your iPod, you’ll hate this record. If, however, for the last 5 years your emotional state has been on a wheel that rolls from outrage to disbelief to despair back to outrage again and your iPod contains the likes of vintage Stones, Dylan and The Kinks, drop everything and order Ian Hunter’s fabulous new release, Shrunken Heads.

I have to be careful here. This record has been front and center in my car and on my mp3 player since I picked it up last month. It has unexpectedly taken me by storm. I say “unexpectedly” because while I’ve always liked Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople, I’ve never been a huge fan. Again, I say “unexpectedly” because, quite frankly the man is 68 years-old. You just don’t expect to get a rock record this good from anyone who was born in the 30’s.

Well, then, what’s so good about?

First off, there’s the music. I don’t care how eloquent, relevant, ironic and funny the lyrics might be (and here they most certainly are all of the above,) the music has to move me emotionally. The music on this album goes down like a fine lager after a long day at the office. The band is loose like The Stones circa 1971, but also tight like the bands that back John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett. Real instruments played by seasoned musicians with heart. And the songs. Friendly open melodies, classic chord progressions, solid rhythm section and understated piano and guitar.

Then there’s Ian. I don’t think I’ve ever heard better singing come out of this man. Granted, he’s in the studio and they can fix the mistakes, but his delivery and passion can’t be faked. He can bring tears of sadness to your eyes as he laments from When The World Was Round:

'Cause everybody lies 'n' we're stuck in the middle
I think I liked it better when the world was round
There's too much information but not enough to go on
I think I liked it better when the world was round

You think to yourself, “He’s one of us.”

But then in the very next song (Brainwashed) those tears turn to laughter as he crows:

T-shirt with the maker's name,
Can't believe you bought it!
Brainwashed, brainwashed
You're still falling for it.

And again, you think, “He’s one of us.”

I can’t pick a favorite track, as there are so many good ones. The opener, Words (Big Mouth) tells the age-old story (in the first person, of course) of a bloke who’s had a few too many at the pub and then comes home and unloads a barrage of insults and complaints on his long-suffering woman, only to regret it the next morning. You’ve heard it before, but Ian Hunter tells it with just the right amount of sincerity and wit to make you want to listen again and again.

Fuss About Nothing sounds a bit like a John Mellancamp track, and like John Mellancamp the target of the song is a bogus conservative politician who’s just protecting your interests. The similarity ends there though, because instead of singing to the subject, Ian Hunter adopts the persona of the scoundrel and does a brilliant send-up:

You're making a fuss about nothin'
Everything's under control
That bee in your bonnet's got liberal on it
Sit back and relax, watch it all unfold

(and later on)

Now I'm just protecting your interests
I'm just defending your faith
These guys that were caught with their hands in the till
Nothing to do with me, mate, nothing to do with me

In the sad, spot-on title track, he sings about how we’re all victims of the Shrunken Heads. Are they the tiny heads on the TV screen that distract, baffle and lie to us, or the ones on the pieces of paper that line a few peoples’ pockets and are scarce in so many others?

Nothin' matters anymore
The rich get richer, and the poor get sorer
You took our loyalty and you tore it to shreds
We're all at the mercy of shrunken heads

Ian Hunter has served up 11 new songs in all, and there isn’t a loser in the bunch. If you’ve made it this far, just trust me. Go out and buy this record. Now.



Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Yeah, I’m still here.

I spent last week with The Viscountess splitting my time between the beach and the pool in Punta Cana, D.R. drinking pina coladas by day and eating familiar foods prepared and spiced uniquely in the evenings, all served by some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.

This week I’m teaching a class in Chicago.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Title This Post

First I wanted to call it The End is Surely Near - then I changed it to This Just in From Hell.

Any ideas?

Paul Anka

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tagged By Jeremy and Lance

Eight Things About Me

  1. I'm not as well-read as I should be. I'm not up on the classics. Because I was a clever student, I was able to get good grades in literature classes by paying attention to the things the teacher or professor stressed and often skipped actually reading the book. I can't read Shakespeare. These days I mostly read non-fiction and pop-novels by authors like Dean Koontz and Jeffrey Archer and like them.

  1. I have a soft spot for some pretty schmaltzy 70's songs. Close To You by The Carpenters, Everything I Own by Bread, Freida Payne's Band of Gold are just the tip of the iceberg. I like Lady by The Little River Band. On and On by Stephen Bishop. Have You Seen Her by The Chi-lites? Yep.

  2. I wish I could I sing. Of all the things that I can't do, it is the one that I regret the most. I hear the right notes in my head, I hear when other singers are off key even by a hair, and that is the part that is so frustrating. I know exactly how I would sing it – inflection, intonation, emotion – all it. But I can't do it. Oddly enough, I can't whistle on key either. Faulty wiring someplace I guess.

  3. It is getting harder and harder for me to be patient and respectful of religious beliefs of any sort, especially when the believer is intolerant and incredulous over other's equally absurd, unsubstantiated beliefs. This has now extended to belief in alternative medicine. While I accept that chiropractors can offer some relief from back pain, they aren't “Doctors.” They are overpaid masseuses. Chiropractic medicine is based on a theory that disease can be traced to the misalignment of vertebrae. This is patently untrue, and yet chiropractors are widely recognized as medical practitioners. I think that the perpetuation of any myth is ultimately destructive to civilization. You hear people saying things like, “I don't believe in evolution,” or “I don't believe in global warming” as if those things are matters of faith. They are not. Evolution is a fact. Some of its processes are not yet fully understood, but it is not a matter of belief. Global warming is happening. We may not fully understand the causes, but it is a fact. People have trouble discerning fact from fiction because of the perpetuation of myth, especially religious belief. That one probably doesn't count if you have read my blog before. Tough.

  4. I am a very fussy eater. Yellow mustard doesn't count as mustard. It should be renamed and considered a separate condiment. (How about smerconish? " You want mustard or smerconish on that pretzel?") If I ask for a hot dog or a sandwich with mustard and I forget to specify that I want brown mustard and instead I get smerconish, I'm angry. Just one example.

  5. I can ride a unicycle.

  6. I'm sick of the computer field. I would very much like to change careers, but my lifestyle depends on my salary, and I'd have to take a huge pay-cut if I were to change careers.

  7. One of the biggest disappointments of my adult life was when Howard Dean's candidacy was derailed by those idiots in Iowa because some years before he made some disparaging yet spot-on remarks about the caucuses. Don't even bring up “the scream” okay? Dean was the only presidential candidate in my entire life that I ever really believed in without compromise. When he lost I pretty much decided that I'll always be voting against the candidate who can do the most damage rather than for someone who I actually believe can do some good.

I don't have 8 people to tag. I tag Bobby and Kevin, but I'm not sure either of them are up for it.