Tag Archives: culture

Alabama Shakes: The Real Deal

brittany-howardWhen I first heard the reverb-drenched, Soul-infused rock & roll of Alabama Shakes‘ 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, I was instantly hooked.

This band just seemed to come out of nowhere, fully formed and brilliant, a gorgeous mix of Memphis and Muscle Schoals, but with a guitar-centric rock approach, and a frontwoman, Brittany Howard, who is, in my opinion, an audacious superstar in the making.

That said, describing Alabama Shakes as “The Real Deal”, as I did in the title of this post, warrants some explanation.

See, pop music is littered with superficial formulaic poseurs, always has been, but it’s become a veritable pandemic in the music video era.

If I had to choose one musician who serves as a “Real Deal” benchmark, someone whom all other “Real Deals” must approximate, it would be the late, great Joe Cocker, circa the late 1960s through the mid 1970s.

In my obituary post for Joe this past December, I described him thusly:

If I had to use one word to describe Joe Cocker’s greatness, I would use the word commitment, because, when you watch and listen to Joe perform, you see and hear a man committing himself to the music to the fullest extent possible, giving himself over to it completely, giving all of himself without reservation.

There’s no way to fake what he did…

I’d add that Joe Cocker was no pretty face, and especially during his 60s and 70s heyday he’d never be mistaken for a fashion model.

With that in mind, consider this description of Brittany Howard, from an article in The Atlantic:

During the young band’s already-legendary concerts, she taps into what she’s called the “the spirit world”—“latching on to a feeling, riding it, trying not to come out of it. You stop thinking, you’re just performing—that’s the spirit world.” The ideal of a total-abandon performance, of being in the zone like an athlete, isn’t a new one for musicians. But it’s one that seems especially powerful in relation to Howard, a singer who rasps and booms in styles that recall icons from Robert Plant to Nina Simone.

Add the fact that Howard bucks the trend of the Barbie Doll pop singer, in all her voluptuous glory, and she more than meets the Joe Cocker “Real Deal” standard.

I’ve been listening their sophomore album — Sound & Color, just released today — on repeat all morning, and as if they needed to garner any more accolades, they have absolutely earned them.

They could have easily played it safe here. Their first album sold respectably, but more importantly the tour that followed was marked by, as The Atlantic put it, “legendary concerts”, powerful TV performances, and critical acclaim.

But, rather than sticking musically close to their debut record, Sound & Color is stunningly bold in its variety, with some Southern Soul carryover accompanying elements ranging from jazz, funk, and disco to punk and psychedelia.

Quoting The Atlantic again, it’s “delightfully unglued”!

But, I’ll shut up now and let Alabama Shakes do the talking, with these recent SNL performances of Sound & Color tracks Don’t Wanna Fight and Gimme All Your Love.

Enjoy!

Eyecatchers: Upcycling: Allied Arts Recycled Art Exhibit

Allied-5It’s been ages since my last Upcycling installment, but this weekend I visited an exhibit at a local art gallery that focused entirely on pieces made from recycled materials, and I just had to share.

Allied Arts of Whatcom County hosted their second annual Recycled Art & Resource Expo (RARE) this past weekend, an event that included exhibits, workshops, and presentations at various locations in town.

My favorites were on view at Allied Arts’ Cornwall Avenue gallery, where the majority of the works took the form of multimedia sculpture, like Graham Schodda’s Magneto, featured in the lede photo here, fashioned from: a vintage drill, piston, rods, fuel filter, insulator, and radio antenna.

I LOVE the imagination on display here, how the artist saw in these discarded scraps — once intended for much more utilitarian purposes — that they might be pieced together to form various subjects or some new functional item, like this clock by Karin Mueller, titled Time To Call Mom, made from a vintage cigar box, telephone, clock:

Allied-7

The exhibit will be up through April 24th, so, if you are in Bellingham consider checking it out. And/or, check out my other Upcycling installments, or just Google ‘upcycling’ if this kind of thing strikes your fancy.

In the meantime, here are some of my other faves from the RARE show:

Graham Shodda: vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.

Graham Shodda, “Thermo” – vintage thermos, jigsaw, window winders, spatulas, gas can spout, etc.

Karen Mueller, "Chicken or the Egg" - mixed media

Karen Mueller, “Chicken or the Egg” – mixed media

Rafael Mithuna, "Bomb Fin Lantern" - WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts

Rafael Mithuna, “Bomb Fin Lantern” – WWII bomb fin, WWII military transport parts

Launi Lucas, "Gnarwall" - mixed media

Launi Lucas, “Gnarwall” – mixed media

Rafael Mithuna, "Budenberg Steam Lamp" - early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts

Rafael Mithuna, “Budenberg Steam Lamp” – early 1900s steam test equipment, lamp parts, plumbing parts

Alana Coleman, "Lovers Tango" - mixed media

Alana Coleman, “Lovers Tango” – mixed media

Video Fridays: Donovan

donovanThere’s a time to rock, such as last week’s post featuring the music of The Who.

And, there is a time — such as a sleep-deprived Friday, after an exhausting, stressful week — to listen to a simple, beautiful song, sung by one person playing an acoustic guitar and harmonica.

I’m not a HUGE Donovan fan, but there are a handful of his songs that I love a lot, and when I came across a video of one of these, posted by a friend on Facebook this morning, it felt really, really good to hear it.

Catch The Wind is only 2-minutes long, but it soothed my raggedness, and as outside the past few days of sunny weather succumbed to the clouds of an approaching rain storm, at least one verse of the lyrics seemed offered up just for me:

When rain has hung the leaves with tears
I want you near to kill my fears
To help me to leave all my blues behind

Whether or not you feel as worn out as I do, I hope you’ll enjoy this sweet little ditty as this week’s Video Fridays installment.

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Fat Bikes Go Electric

Fat_TireWhen I first heard someone refer to a ‘fat bike’ a couple of years ago, the first thing that popped into my mind, as I’m sure it did for many beer drinkers, was Fat Tire Amber Ale from New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Boy, was I mistaken.

As it turned out, fat bikes, ‘fatbikes’, or ‘fatties’, are a type of bicycle originally designed for the ultimate in off-road cycling, sporting fat, knobby tires as wide as four or more inches, allowing the bike to seemingly float on loose sand and snow. They are typically much heavier than mountain bikes, and the tires can be under-inflated in order to absorb shock on bumpy terrain.

Fat-Bikes-Blog-Wide-Tire-Shot-2

But, I described them as “originally designed for off-road”, because a fair number of people have simply found fat bikes to be super cool-looking, they’re increasingly showing up on city streets underneath people using them as commuter bicycles, and even Walmart sells them now.

And, while it doesn’t make me angry, like one blogger I came across, who published a post titled Fat Bikes Are Not for City Riding, You Trendy Asshole You, it does baffle me.

I used to own a mountain bike, with the knobbiest tires I could find, but once I found out that I didn’t have the guts to be a single-track mountain biker, zooming down hills dodging VERY large immovable trees, I retreated to using the bike as commuter transportation to and from work.

In some ways, a mountain bike is a great choice for a commuter. With wheels meant to take a pounding, and mine had front shocks, hopping curbs and dealing with the occasional unavoidable pothole is a cinch. Likewise, here in rainy Bellingham, Washington, the wide, knobby tires offer good traction and less chance of dangerous slippin’-and-a-slidin’.

But, when it came time to replace my bike, I test drove a hybrid commuter bicycle, sporting a mountain bike frame with road bike wheels, the wheels had a larger circumference and the tires were half as wide as the mountain bike, with some tread but nowhere near knobby, they were built to roll, and from the moment I took off on the thing I was blown away!

It.Felt.Effortless! With so much less rubber on the road there was WAY less resistance, and while I occasionally did jump curbs and ride on packed gravel and dirt interurban trails, most of my riding is on asphalt, and this hybrid was a revelation.

I simply couldn’t fathom riding a fat bike in the city … until now.

In the past two days, I’ve come across two new fat bikes, both of them electric, and these could be game-changers for folks who like the fat bike looks and want one as a commuter.

Introducing the radrover and the Sondors eBike:

rad-power-bikesSondors-eBike

Those electric motors could go along way toward compensating for the extra resistance from the extra-wide tires, but it still seems odd to ride a bicycle, intended for sand and snow, in the city.

Whatever floats your bicycle, I guess!

Why We Love, And Even Need, Photos & Videos Of Interspecies Animal Friends

dog-jerryFrom 1984’s comedy classic, Ghostbusters (my emphasis added in bold in the last line of dialogue):

Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker…
Walter Peck: My name is “Peck.”
Venkman: Or you could accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, “biblical”?
Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff!
Venkman: Exactly.
Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling!
Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes!
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave!
Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!

That the idea of cats and dogs living together in peace should be included in a list of biblical-scale events works as the punchline of this joke, because it’s so tame compared to the other items listed. And yet, it speaks to the endurance of the stereotype that cats and dogs are natural enemies.

cat-dogMeanwhile, anyone who spends nearly any amount of time on the interwebs or watches any number of home video TV shows is familiar with the near-ubiquitous photos and videos featuring animals from different species — in some cases species known to have a predator-prey relationship in the wild, or would likely be enemies if they shared the same habitat — interacting playfully, or even, though some might call it anthropomorphizing, lovingly.

I have to admit, while I’m a true lover of animals, I’m not someone who goes all gushy over them, regularly browsing cute animal photos and videos on the web, using puppy or kitten photos as the desktop background on my computer, etc.

And yet, the videos that feature friendly interspecies interactions do grab my attention and move something deep inside me, and I suspect the same thing happens for millions of people, even, perhaps, some hardcore cynics. I’m sure there are some who would rather suggest that these are nothing more than the result of artificial domestication, but I suspect that this is a slim minority, judging by how often these videos go viral.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, often horrific and deadly human conflict, it’s easy to despair, to conclude that there will never be lasting peace.

tiger-pigUnder these conditions, how can we not be moved when we see a cat and a dog peacefully snuggled together, as in the above photo, or, let’s say, a tiger and a piglet doing the same? And even if the two species interacting aren’t known or likely enemies, many of the pairings appear surprising and unlikely and serve as powerful symbols of harmony and hope in the face of differences.

Given that we live in a world perpetually wrought with human conflict, we are drawn to, and I’d even say we need, these images of animal harmony and hope, to keep us from despair. In fact, our biochemistry helps us benefit from these images. Human brains produce a hormone called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the “love hormone”, because it’s released when we experience love and joy, and it’s been proven that we produce oxytocin when we observe baby humans and cute animals.

I could go on and on with this topic, perhaps by bringing the spiritual component to the topic, for instance how Buddhism, which I dabble with, teaches the value of cultivating harmony with all living things, but I think you get the point.

So, even if you think these interspecies friendship videos are a bit cheeseball, try to let go of your initial resistance, allow yourself to notice the sweetness, to consider the far-reaching implications of the fact that our brains allow us to experience feelings akin to love when we see such sweetness, try to extrapolate how this sweetness could possibly melt away human-to-human and human-to-animal conflicts.

Start now, watch this brief yet powerful video of a monkey affectionately interacting with a litter of puppies, notice how gentle the monkey is with these fragile, practically newborn pups, notice the monkey’s fingers lightly stroking the puppies, truly caring regardless of the fact that these creatures must seem incredibly different and strange.

Enjoy.

Video Fridays: Van Morrison – 1973

van-morrisonI’ve got a real treat for this week’s Video Fridays installment!

An Irish singer-songwriter I’m fond of, and who I’ve written about here before, Glen Hansard, tweeted this clip today of his fellow Irishman singer-songwriter, Van Morrison, performing his song Cyprus Avenue, from an amazing 1973 concert, and it is SO great on a number of levels.

First of all, there are singer-songwriters, lead vocalists, even frontmen/women, but not all of these are also bandleaders. And, if you’ve ever read up on Van Morrison you’d know that he was extremely picky about the musicians who played with him, selecting the cream of the crop, demanding that they follow his direction exactly as he wished them too.

This leadership is abundantly clear throughout this performance. You can see how the band, the incredible Caledonia Soul Orchestra, keep their eyes fixed on Van, stopping and turning and blasting out in response to a wide variety of hand and body gestures. As a musician, myself, I can attest that this is an extraordinary thing, it requires deep immersion in the music, deep listening, deep concentration, and, paradoxically, for the music to be good and enjoyable, this has to be done without sounding like any deep concentration is involved at all, so that the music feels natural and flows as if it was effortless, as is absolutely the case here.

Second, the musicians here are remarkable for another reason. This is a HUGE band, with a rhythm section, lead guitar, horns, keyboards, and a 4-piece string section, and yet there is a wonderful spaciousness to the music, the players don’t showboat and step on each others’ toes, they are, indeed, a true orchestra rather than a cacophonous wall of sound.

Third, there’s this sweet thing that happens at around the 3:30 mark, when a little girl appears on the stage, it seems from the smiles of Terry Adams, the cello player, that this might be her daughter, and the little girl stands calmly by Van Morrison’s side, in front of all those people in the audience, just hanging out, the cameras move away, capturing the rest of the band for a full minute and a half, and when it returns to focus on Van, you can see that the little girl is still there by his side, you see him look down at her and smile, smiles being a rare thing for Van Morrison, as he lets out a drag he’s taken from his cigarette, until, at one point, he leans over to say something to the girl, who now has a tambourine in her hand, and the girl starts walking away off stage, with the tambourine, all along with the song continuing, and Van starts to follow the girl, as if he intended to leave the stage in the middle of the tune, only to turn around abruptly and finish it out with an extended improvisational series of fits and starts.

Anyway, ’nuff said. It’s pure awesomeness.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend everyone!

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation … Trailer Review?!

cruiseSo, apparently, reviews, not just of movies, but of movie TRAILERS, is now a thing.

There’s even an entire website dedicated to this new form of journalism.

I feel so old. I mean, I remember when moviegoers ALWAYS referred to trailers as “previews”, and I never accepted the reason why the term “trailer” is even used anymore.

After all, the suffix “pre-” suggests something that comes before something else, which has two meanings in this case: 1. previews come out before the actual movie comes to theaters; 2. in the theaters, previews come before the feature presentation.

“Trailer”, on the other hand, refers to something that trails behind, that comes after something.

The fact that, historically, previews were shown after the feature presentation — which in the case of the popular serial films of the time made a lot of sense, since you wouldn’t want to watch the preview for the sequel before watching the prequel — doesn’t make up for the fact that any reasonable person would agree that the name should have been changed to “preview” once they no longer were shown after the feature.

Even the Motion Picture Association of America uses the term “preview” in something that appears at the beginning of every so-called trailer:

preview

ANYWAY, ironically perhaps, I’m not actually working toward an outright condemnation of movie trailer reviews. On the contrary, I’m working toward recommending the reading of one such review, one of the funniest reviews I’ve ever read.

Here’s a snippet, from The Guardian:

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation trailer review – dangles with Cruise

In a year packed to the gills with returning heroes like Star Wars and Jurassic Park and the Avengers, it’s easy to overlook something like Mission: Impossible 5. And that’s perfectly understandable, because what are the Mission: Impossible films if not incredibly expensive excuses for Tom Cruise to dangle off stuff? And, in all honesty, if you’ve seen Tom Cruise dangle from one thing, you’ve pretty much seen him dangle from everything.

That said, yesterday’s teaser for Mission: Impossible 5 – now titled Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation, presumably because Mission: Impossible: Attack: Of: The: Overzealous: Colons was too unwieldy – had all the makings of Tom Cruise’s dangliest adventure yet…

If only they gave out Oscars for dangling, Tom Cruise would cinch it. Incidentally, this is the moment that I decided not to go and see Mission: Impossible 5 until the whole thing is reedited to be one continuous shot of Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane while it flies all the way to, say, Berlin or something. I cannot be alone in wanting this. Someone should start a petition.

There’s plenty more where that came from, so please do check it out and enjoy some hearty chuckles.

In the meantime, here’s the Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation PREVIEW: