Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Music Review: Putumayo's Blues Lounge

This is the latest addition to Putumayo’s Lounge series. Preceding it were World Lounge, Euro Lounge and Sahara Lounge. Those familiar with the Putumayo label might find the premise for this collection a little unusual. But the mood and sound of the CD are not so far removed from their usual international collections that a fan of the label cannot take pleasure in it.

The first requirement to enjoy this disk is an appreciation or at least a tolerance for electronica. The idea behind Blues Lounge is a collection that uses, to varying degrees, blues samples. The overall collection is mellow and mesmerizing as the slow rhythms glide from one track to the next.

The pieces cover the spectrum of electronica interpretation. The most obvious and common to those familiar with the genre, are those tracks, such as the ones by Tangle Eye and Moby, that simply re-mix already existing blues pieces. While their work on these recordings provides an interesting frame for the original performance, it also acts to sanitize it. Gone is the gritty soul of the original and we are served a very pleasing but unchallenging song.

The other electronica extreme displayed here can be found in the tracks by Little Axe and Johnny Farmer. They feature entirely new recordings made specifically for these ultra-produced pieces. Again, while they are reminiscent of traditional blues, they seem to miss the heart of it.

Finally, right in the middle, we have tracks such as those by Mo’ Horizons and Organic Grooves. Their work features both live musicians and samples from old recordings.

The result is a very relaxing, even hypnotic, album. It can easily slip away from the listener’s conscience attention as the synthesizers and drum machine rhythms loll along. If you are a fan of electronica and are intrigued by a slightly different twist on the often frantic nature of that style, you will probably greatly enjoy this album. On the other hand, if you are a devotee of historic and more modern blues music, the collection here will likely disappoint.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Book Review: Unfit Commander by Glenn W. Smith

OK, before I get to the book, did I mention why I actually started this blog? I wanted to be a contributor at And now I am but one of the few requirements of membership is that I maintain a personal blog. So, I will be posting my reviews that I write for blogcritics here as well just to keep it going. And now, on to the review...

‘Tis the season for political punditry passing as books. In the ticker-tape tornado of tomes about the Texan, we now have Unfit Commander. Glenn W. Smith addresses the president's military record with the focus and intensity of a victim of OCD washing his hands for the fiftieth time. He admits a certain degree of narcissism when he says, “My own feelings about the issue are deeply personal.” The degree of relevancy of this perennial issue aside, it is unlikely that anyone that has been awake through this or the 2000 presidential campaign doubts that there is something questionable about George W. Bush’s appointment and subsequent performance in the Texas Air National Guard. But it is also apparent that, despite the fact that there are legitimate questions about his service, the voters are willing to overlook them both in Texas and in the nation as a whole.

The first chapter, and the only real writing done by Mr. Smith, is a long and rambling journey through Bush’s military past and his administration’s somewhat deconstructionist interpretation the documents related to it. He wanders in and out of his own narrative, reminding us that this is a right and good fight that he fights. He says, “the real reason for publishing Unfit Commander [is] because in the swirl of charge and counter charge, it is imperative that Americans not lose sight of the real question, which is, quite simply, How did George W. Bush choose to serve his country during the Vietnam era?” Chapter Two is entirely concerned with the White House press briefings relevant to the documents that have trickled down throughout 2004 regarding Bush’s military record. Finally, in Chapter Three, we are actually presented with the documents themselves. The reader can thumb through page after page of blurry and hard to read copies that chronicle, more or less, George’s brief and inglorious military career.

The facts are there. If it were not so before, this book makes it crystal clear that something was not completely fair about George W. Bush’s time in the military compared to that of any other young man of that time whose family was not rich and politically connected. But there is little to that. That is to say, this has been true throughout history and, fair or not, there is a degree of grudging acceptance of it by the voters. Nor is there anything new to the fact that the White House has tried to spin the story. There might have been a story here if the young George had turned down what was offered him then or if the White House now freely admitted that the obvious conclusions are also the right ones. All in all, though, Mr. Smith’s cry for truth is a weak one in the roaring whirlwind of spin and re-spin that crowds the shelves of the bookstores here at the end of this campaign season.

Friday, October 15, 2004

My default position

My dominate trait is depression. Have you seen many Ben Stiller films? You know the same character that he plays in every one of them, then, right? Furry, bent, dark and angry. I don’t find his films funny at all because I am that guy. All the slaps that life gives him make me wince while everybody else sniggers.

I don’t have a point that I’m leading up to, I just haven’t posted in a while and this is why. I very seldom have much to say except to complain and I don’t even complain in an entertaining way. So there it is.

My birthday was two days ago. Now, don’t start jumping to the obvious conclusion that I’m only saying these things because I have that depression that comes with this anniversary. You know, the melancholy that comes from reflecting on your life and realizing that you are so far off of the goal, that you can’t even remember what the goal was. The blue feeling that engulfs the anniversaried because they’ve passed another one year milestone and, if they died tomorrow, the world would not even notice their passing. No, those feelings don’t take me during the birthday days - they live with me all the time like noisy neighbors that I know will never move.

And I have met some life goals. I got my pilot’s license. Nothing to sneeze at, that. I am fully qualified to jump into a simple, single engine Cherokee and fly anywhere I want. Ho-hum. I haven’t exercised that right for 10 months. Mostly because of money, it’s an expensive hobby.

So, reaching goals doesn’t help. Or at least reaching that one didn’t. So now I’m chasing the dream of the book. I pound away at that thing like my life depends on it. And in a way it does. Not on the book per se, but on the idea that I have a plan to escape to that greener grass. If it wasn’t the book, it would be something else. But for now it’s the book.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Book Fair

I imagine that most writers that really want it, have a network of cheerleaders that believe that they have the next Stephen King in their midst and are eager to provide whatever advice and inspiration that they can. I certainly have my. My group of supporters is small but passionate. Among them is my older sister. Recently she emailed a link to me about a book fair that she thought I might be interested in. The website said, in part, “All throughout the day (10am-5pm), various publishers and distributors will have their tables set up…”

Well, this was a book fair and not a writers’ conference but I thought that, given this sentence, there might be something useful for me here. You see, according to what I’ve read and what I’ve been told, most conferences take place between April and September. I wasn’t ready to start thinking in this direction this summer so I didn’t look for a conference. They cost money, usually a few hundred just to attend. Then most are in big and distant cities so I’d have to pay to go and stay as well. That’s a healthy chunk of money in the end for a project that I’m still not even sure of. So, I stayed home and I wrote.

My understanding is that the point of conferences is twofold. One is for technical, nuts and bolts, advice on the publishing industry and writing and, for a few dollars more, even the piece that you are working on. That alone would be wonderful. But the other purpose is to put a horde of writers in a room with a horde of agents and publishers. Few deals are closed at these things but contacts are made. People network. I hate that word!

But I didn’t go to any. I stayed at home with my indecision and my laptop and here I am, nearing the end and I have no friends in the industry, no contacts that I’ve networked and schmoozed. I can send blind letters to agents but those have a pretty high failure rate.

Which brings us back to the book fair and that line. “Contacts,” I thought and happily headed out for it.

It was held in an Episcopal Church in St. Louis. When I walked through the door, I was hit in the face with the ripe smell of pot and body odor. This wasn’t your typical “I just went jogging” body odor. This was the well seasoned stink of somebody that hasn’t showered for days and using the laundry system of, “I’ll wash it when it walks to the washing machine and begs me.”

The main room was rather small and crammed with long folding tables. They were lined up wall to call and cover with pamphlets. OK, there were a few books but mostly pamphlets. On one table was a stack of Xerox copies that were stapled together and being sold for $1. There were a couple of proper publishers but they had manned their tables with hippy kids that wouldn’t have known how to buy my book. Besides, there wasn’t a bit of fiction to be found.

This was a book fair for the far left wing, “let’s legalize everything” crowd, certainly not the right venue for networking and contacts. I waded through the muck for a little while but eventually had to just leave.

Oh well, there’s another book fair at the end of October. Maybe this one will go better, y’think?