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A good day of fishing

Our uncharacteristically spotty blogging this past week has been due to a large project in my life and dayjob. A project that has been going well -- including my finding myself, for the last three days, in that exhilarating and indescribable place known as "the Zone." If you're a writer, or even if you're not a writer, then you might know the Zone: where unlike the other 95% of the time (or maybe 98%) of the time, when finding words is like pulling blood from the stone, it instead comes easy, pours down like silver.

Which, of course, leads one to worry that the product is dung. But that's besides the point. The Zone in this case shouldn't be confused with the Zone of diets, which I'm kinda trying to adopt -- the low carb thing -- or the Zone of sports, where you feel like you can do no wrong, and you somehow get all the good parking spots. I feel like I can do wrong, I just feel that it's all going smoothly in the writing department.

There also hasn't been too much new for me to report music-wise, but today I did pick up several CDs on a quick trip to Aron's after having lunch with Manfredi at Ammo -- it's starting to become a monthly Saturday tradition (well, as much as a tradition or a pattern can be set by two instances), and a good one, I think.

I picked up the most recent Ron Sexsmith, Cobblestone Runway. Sexsmith's eponymous, major labor debut is a record I like quite a bit, but I've felt that his subsequent records never quite earned the raves that Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle et al have been so quick to throw at him.

I've liked his covers on several tribute records I own -- Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe," off of Bleecker Street; "Ships Go Out," off of the Tom T. Hall Project. I'd heard that his second-most-recent record, Blue Boy, produced by Steve Earle, broadened his sound a bit, so I was curious to try the new one. I listened to it in the car, and already there's a song that's caught my imagination: "These Days" -- not the Jackson Browne song, but an original, with catchy background vocals and a great chorus line: "That's what passes for love these days."

I also picked up the Jim Lauderdale, Ralph Stanley, and the Clinch Mountain Boys disc of last year, Lost in the Lonesome Pines. Lauderdale's solo records have never grabbed me, even though I like much of the crowd of his fellow travellers -- Buddy Miller, Steve Earle, et al. I listened to it once, and really enjoyed it, both the production and the melodies -- and also the fun these guys obviously had in making the disc. And its hard to resist the song "She's Looking at Me," where everyone in the band claims a gal in the audience is looking at him, ending with 80-year old Ralph Stanley saying, "Nah, she's looking at me."

Also, though my hopes for finding a large J. Geils Band, pre-Centerfold anthology continue to be dashed, I did find used a Rhino/Atlantic reissue of their seminal live record, Blow Your Face Out. Listened to it a bit in the car -- Peter Wolf belting out Diana Ross and the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go." Listened to it more at home, and in fact jogged with it -- enjoyed it, and it makes a great case that Magic Dick was the finest harmonica player of the post-Little Walter era. Makes me want to make sure to see Peter Wolf next time he comes through town.

I finally filled a longstanding void in my compact disc collection by finding, used, a two disc Smokey Robinson anthology. When I had a record player, I used to always listen to a four side set of Smokey on vinyl. My vinyl still is in a trunk in my mother's garage. So it was time to go digital. Listened to some of this in a car today -- "You Really Got a Hold On Me," which, let's be frank, is one of the sexiest, most romantic songs ever to pass through high fidelity speakers; "I Second That Emotion," which if you don't play at your wedding, I will; and "Tears of a Clown," which I can relate to more than I'd probably like. Perfection.

Next up was a Manfredi recommendation: the new Joseph Arthur disc, Redemption's Son. It's released on Real World, but it ain't world music. Singer-songwriter, and I haven't listened to much of it yet, but I bought it because the song "Dear Lord" in the listening station was easily one of the best single tracks I've listened to in months. Acoustic guitars, harmonica, a great melody.

Van Morrison went through a period in the late 80s and early 90s where he was on a winning streak almost as good as his unsurpassed streak in the 70s: Poetic Champions Compose, Avalon Sunset, Enlightenment, and the masterful two disc Hymns to the Silence. Then he kinda fell off, hung around a little too much with a wimpy-voiced singer named Brian Kennedy, and the material just felt limper, less inspired. I picked up last year's release Down the Road, and while the lyrics still seem a bit hapdash, there's some beautiful harmonica and melodies. A pleasant disc.

Finally, for $3.99, I picked up a disc by David Lindley, 1988's Extra Greasy. Lindley is a fantastic slide guitarist, who played on most of the Jackson Browne records of the 70s, and who has both a strange voice and a strange appreciation for reinterpreting classic songs in oddball ways. On his El-Rayo X record, his first solo album, he did that with the Everlys' "Bye Bye Love"; on Extra Greasy, he does this with "Werewolves of London," and the melody is unrecognizable from Zevon's classic original.

As always, all linked album titles will take you to the Palmermix Amazon page, where you can purchase the album and support Palmermix while you do it!

posted by Anon. 4:58 PM


Poor man's blues

WASHINGTON(Variety) - Jazz musicians have a new reason to play the blues -- they are underpaid and lack the right access to health and retirement benefits, according to an extensive survey released by the National Endowment for the Arts on Thursday.

Jazz players tend to be male and well-educated, with nearly half holding a bachelor's degree or higher, yet they draw a considerably lower salary than do their counterparts in other fields, according to "Changing the Beat: A Study of the Worklife of Jazz Musicians."

In the vast majority of cases, the 2,700 musicians polled made an annual salary of between $20,000-$40,000. Americans with the same amount of education earn between $53,000 and $66,300, roughly.

"'Changing the Beat' gives us a much clearer picture of the working life of the jazz artist," NEA deputy chair A.B. Spellman said. "With this detailed information, Arts Endowment and other funders can develop programs that better address the concerns and challenges jazz musicians face in creating and playing their music."

The NEA says it's imperative that jazz is ensured a future, and thus, it's important to improve the ability of musicians to work in the field.

The study was conducted by the Research for Arts & Culture at Columbia University's Teachers College in cooperation with the NEA and the San Francisco Study Center. Musicians queried were from Gotham, New Orleans, Detroit and San Francisco.

posted by Anon. 7:46 AM


Take these broken eyes and learn to see

"Dear Prudence," written about Mia Farrow's sister, who was skeptical about that group trip to the Maharishi.

"Sexy Sadie," written about the Maharishi, who turned out to give good reasons for people to be skeptical.

"Martha My Dear," written about Paul's sheepdog.

"Don't Pass Me By," the first song to bear sole Ringo songwriting credit.

"Blackbird," "I Will," "Mother Nature's Son," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

God, I love The White Album.

posted by Anon. 9:43 AM



The New York Times critics offer up their favorite "alternative" records of 2002. For those who fetishize obscurity ... well, you've probably already heard of all of these guys, anyway.

posted by Anon. 4:41 PM
Grammy boo boo

David Browne at EW explains -- and deconstructs -- the thinking of this year's Grammy voters.

posted by Anon. 10:00 AM


To live outside the law, you must be honest

Good piece in Salon about how Dylan owes a great deal to the bootleg industry he, unintentionally, helped create. (Thanks to JMD for the heads up.)

posted by Anon. 3:26 PM

Well, I was glad Springsteen received a bunch o' em. And there were a few other interesting picks. The Flaming Lips, getting a nomination for best rock instrumental. Beck, receiving a nod for best alternative album.

But year in year out, I always focus on one category in the Grammys, a category they never seem to air on the broadcast: Contemporary Folk Recording. Which seems to include everything from Dylan to Johnny Cash to Wilco to Lucinda Williams to John Prine to Richard Thompson and a ton of other artists I love.

Even if I don't consider half of them "contemporary folk" artists. But seeing as how I look at the other Grammy nominations and just shake my head and go, "huh? whozatt?" let's take a look at the nominations this year for Contemporary Folk.

• American IV - The Man Comes Around
Johnny Cash
[American Recordings/Lost Highway Records]

• Down The Old Plank Road
The Chieftains
[RCA Victor]

• Jerusalem
Steve Earle
[E-Squared/Artemis Records]

• 1000 Kisses
Patty Griffin
[ATO Records]

• This Side
Nickel Creek
[Sugar Hill Records, Inc.]

So, we have Johnny Cash yet again getting a nomination for the latest of his Rick Rubin American Recordings sessions. While there are occasional moments in these albums that I love -- "Like a Soldier," "Kneeling Drunkard's Plea," "Sea of Heartbreak" -- too much of it always feels gimmicky ... hey, let's have JC cover Danzig! and so on. My negative feelings about Steve Earle's latest record have been well documented here. The Chieftains I find boring, and Nickel Creek I find pleasant enough.

Which leaves Patty Griffin's 1,000 Kisses, which while not her best effort (that would be her first album, Living with Ghosts) is still one of the stronger albums of this past year.

It should be noted: not a single nomination among the entire Grammys for Wilco. Hmmmm.

posted by Anon. 3:16 PM

The Grammy nominations were announced this morning.

And here's the complete -- and lengthy -- list of nominations.

posted by Anon. 8:03 AM