"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, June 30, 2005

In Your Ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
String Cheese Incident
One Step Closer
Yellow Bus Records, 2,800 yen
The most common, and occasionally even justified, complaints leveled against so-called jam bands are that too much emphasis is placed on long, meandering instrumental solos and that after a while all the songs sound the same.

Neither applies to One Step Closer, the latest studio effort from the Colorado-based String Cheese Incident. While longtime fans may bemoan the lack of bluegrass-flavored tunes, One Step Closer is by far the band's most cohesive and democratic album to date. All five members of the band contribute at least two songs, all take turns as lead vocalist and, with the exception of keyboard maestro Kyle Hollingsworth, all play guitar on at least one track.

To a some extent, String Cheese Incident have taken up the mantle of the Grateful Dead as touring torchbearers of hippie counterculture. Like the Dead, they've always been primarily a concert experience with live recordings being preferred over studio work by most fans. One Step Closer may change that.

Grateful Dead collaborators John Perry Barlow and Robert Hunter are partially responsible for the album's two most atypical songs. Barlow teamed with SCI's mandolin and fiddle whiz Michael Kang to pen the catchy U2 pastiche "Give Me the Love" that kicks off the disc, while on the ambitious "45th of November" Hunter and Hollingsworth fail to reach the heights the former scaled with Jerry Garcia.

The album's title track is a typical SCI uptempo, upbeat bit of sunshine from guitarist Bill Nershi, who also cowrote ballad "Big Compromise" and the rootsy "Farther" with singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale. Other standouts include the rocker "Swampy Waters," a song that wouldn't sound out of place on a White Stripes album, and bassist Keith Mosley's radio-friendly "Sometimes a River."

No eight-minute guitar solos here, just tight rock grooves and catchy hooks. For those who still prefer live Cheese, the Japanese edition of One Step Closer includes a companion disc with eight live tracks recorded at the 2004 Bonnaroo Music Festival, enough to tide the faithful over until the band revisits Japan for dates in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka at the end of September.

North Mississippi Allstars
Electric Blue Watermelon
Buffalo Records, 2,500 yen
Another group of Bonnaroo stalwarts, the North Mississippi Allstars, blend elements of '70s rock, hip-hop, and traditional southeastern U.S. fife-and-drum music with a heaping dose of energetic delta blues on Electric Blue Watermelon.

Slide guitarist Luther Dickinson and brother Cody (drums) combine their high-intensity attack with rock-solid bass guitarist Chris Chew to reenergize the blues genre. The brothers, sons of top Memphis-based producer Jim Dickinson (Ry Cooder, The Replacements), have been recording since their teens, working with blues greats like R.L. Burnside and most recently backing up John Hiatt on his latest album, the excellent Master of Disaster.

Electric Blue Watermelon starts at full gallop with the driving blues of Charley Patton's "Mississippi Boll Weevil," downshifts into a bluesy hip-hop groove as the band teams up with rapper Al Kapone on "NoMo." Other guests include Lucinda Williams, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Robert Randolph on tracks that run from Stones'-style rock shouters to jangly pop. "Bounce Ball," a fife-and-drum track by the late Otha Turner--a Dickinson family mentor--closes the album with the relaxing chirping of north Mississippi hill country crickets. An only-in-Japan track "Dragonslayer" tacked on the end, returns the listener to the present day.

(Jun. 30, 2005)

Happy Canada Day eh!

Yup, that time of the year again to celebrate all things Canuck. So kick back with a few Molson's or a nice cold CC and Canada Dry, make yourself a backbacon sandwich with a side order of poutine and enjoy watching Strange Brew or a tape of an old hockey game. Or just throw some Neil Young/Stompin' Tom Conners/Tragically Hip/Frere Brothers or even (gulp) Bryan Adams on the boom box and enjoy the right to smoke and/or marry what or who ever you want.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The kids are NOT all right

A very scary bit of info from a well written NYT editorial about how the U.S. doesn't really care who it locks up. or even who it shoots

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Off the radar

Since neither AP or Reuters seems to have covered this, I suppose it is up to the blogosphere to let people know that Forbes has been taken over by liburils that hate America

"US acknowledges torture at Guantanamo; in Iraq, Afghanistan - UN
06.24.2005, 11:37 AM

GENEVA (AFX) - Washington has, for the first time, acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at US detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on on condition of anonymity.

'They are no longer trying to duck this and have respected their obligation to inform the UN,' the Committee member said. "

Like Claude Raines in Casablanca, I'm shocked, shocked I tell you!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

"Does not play well with others"

The latest Pew survey has some interesting numbers on what other countries think of the United States and its foreign policy, as well as what they think of each other and what they think other countries think of them. A massive number of Canadians (more than 90%) apparently think everyone likes us. The most interesting part is the steady slide in world opinion of the United States. Almost every country in the report likes the US less now than five years ago, except (and don't forget them) Poland.
Apparently there is one thing that Americans and Middle Eastern Muslims agree on - that the United States should be more religious.

Extremely talented and incredibly readable

Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
By Jonathan Safran Foer
Houghton Mifflin, 368 pp, 24.95 dollars

With his latest novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer maintains a connection to his award-winning 2003 debut Everything is Illuminated. Like his previous novel, his latest is told mostly in the first person by an idiosyncratic narrator and concerns the effect that mass death on a historic scale has on the narrator and his family.

In Everything, most of the narration comes from a Ukrainian translator who is guiding Jewish American college student Jonathan Safran Foer as he searches for the Ukrainian woman who hid his grandmother during the Holocaust.

Extremely Loud follows the quest of precocious 9-year-old Oskar Schell to unravel the mystery of a key left behind by his father, who was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Foer has brilliantly captured the voice of the eccentric young self-described "inventor, jewelry designer, jewelry fabricator, amateur entomologist, francophile, vegan, origamist, pacifist, percussionist, amateur astronomer, computer consultant, amateur archeologist, [and] collector of: rare coins, butterflies that died natural deaths, miniature cacti, Beatles memorabilia and semiprecious stones."

His constant inner monologue and odd dialogue ring true, reflecting perfectly the rambling, scattershot and utterly nonlinear thinking and speech of an intelligent and traumatized young boy. In Oskar, Foer has created a younger, 21st-century version of Holden Caulfield.

While Oskar spins his story of what happened after his father died and his dogged efforts to track down all 262 people named Black in the New York city telephone directory to inquire about the key, the reader is treated to an array of characters worthy of J.D. Salinger or Wes Anderson: Oskar's centenarian war correspondent neighbor, his father the professional jeweler and amateur copy editor, the various Blacks of New York, and especially his grandparents, survivors of the horrific World War II bombing of Dresden, Germany. Characters are as often as not the sum of their quirks: Oskar will only wear white, his elderly neighbor keeps biographical files of thousands of important people that consist of a single word, his grandfather is a compulsive writer who scribbles on walls or even shirt sleeves, if no paper is at hand.

Oskar's grandmother provides some of the narration in a few relatively straightforward autobiographical chapters about her childhood and how she came to America. Oskar's grandfather, a mute, half-crazed sculptor the boy has never met, tells part of both Oskar's story and his own, a quirky and emotional tale reminiscent of some of Kurt Vonnegut or Paul Auster's best work.

There are a number of well-executed set pieces in the book, some tragic, some comic. Oskar's conversations with his mother and the passages about him listening to his father's dying words from the World Trade Center, recorded on the Schells' answering machine, are as heartbreaking as Oskar's correspondence with various prominent people is hilarious. One of the shortest of the latter is:

"Dear Stephen Hawking,

Can I be your protege?


Oskar Schell."

Foer's writing is by turns sentimental, playful, sly and experimental, but always engaging. While the background of the events in the novel is tragic and the characters' motivations and outlook often heartrending, the author always manages to lighten the mood with a dose of whimsy or wry humor at unexpected moments. Foer explores a variety of themes: the importance of expressing love and not keeping secrets from loved ones, surviving and coming to terms with grief, the allure of mystery and the thrill of discovery.

The use of photos, unusual text layouts and other visual stunts is interesting and not without impact, but overall adds little to an already appealing and expertly rendered novel.