Saturday, April 28, 2007

New McCartney single "Ever Present Past"

Paul's new single, "Ever Present Past", is catchy, poppy and fun. This is the first glimpse from his new album, Memory Almost Full which was, apparently, partially recorded soon after Driving Rain. The word is that Paul went back and finished it. I'm looking forward to the album but for now I'm happy to be able to hear this song. It is reminiscent of Wings in that is has more bounce than anything else he's done lately and it also reminds me a bit of the style of McCartney II, Paul's synth experiment and his first post-Wings (and post Japanese incarceration) album. But after having the song stuck in my head for a few days I've finally realized why the first line seems so familiar - it's the same as "Don't get Around Much Anymore."

Still, after that first line it moves on to Paul-only land and the more I hear it the more I like it. Listen for yourself here:

EDIT (4/30/07) See some official words from McCartney about the new album here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Congratulations, Bethany!

My daughter Bethany (who blogs about her life here and blogs about other things here) successfully defended her Masters Thesis in Speech Communication at the University of Georgia today and did pretty well - her advisor said it was the "most glowing" defense meeting he's ever been in. And now to celebrate she goes back to school to begin her Ph.D.

Monday, April 23, 2007

'While My Guitar Gently Weeps: the Music of George Harrison' by Simon Leng

While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a Beatles Geek Beatles book. The bulk of the book is an album by album tour through the music of George Harrison, primarily after the breakup of the Beatles. Not only is it album by album, each song gets its own little write up. In addition to listing all the musicians on each song the songs are discussed in depth followed by a discussion of the album as a whole. For the average person with a reasonable interest in the Beatles this book is the very definition of overkill. For people like me it’s about right.

There is no way that you can enjoy this book and not be thought of as a total dork by your friends. First of all, if you enjoy this book you probably have copies of even the obscure and not great Harrison albums, like Gone Troppo. You also probably know many of the obscure facts in the book and already have opinions on the plethora of trivia and inconsequencia that lives on almost every page. But that’s just the point. So much has been written about the Beatles that it’s hard to find new things to say but Leng has said a lot here that, frankly, hasn’t been gathered in one spot before – at least not that I’ve seen.

He does a nice job of highlighting Harrison’s contribution to the music of the Beatles in the first section of the book, pointing out that George was more about adding to the song than being a guitar-slinger. He’s such a fan of George’s though that he might be giving him a bit more credit for things than he deserves. Actually, if I have a complaint about this book it’s that Leng is too much of a Harrison fan, finding the good in even his most trite and mundane songs. Granted, to write this much about a musician you better be a fan (or at least be very well paid) but Leng is occasionally over the top in his praise of all the things that George did. Even when he reviews albums that are universally panned he finds many good things to say about them often pointing out that the pans were more along the lines of “look at all these people who missed the point.” To be fair, Leng is pretty harsh on Harrison's album Somewhere in England but he lays most of the blame for that one on the record company who rejected George's first pass at that album.

So, Leng’s book is certainly one that you will want to read if you’re a real Beatles Dork. But, surprisingly, Leng’s writing is crisp enough and the story is interesting enough that even the more casual fan will enjoy many parts of it. I certainly have enjoyed it and I’m guessing that most Beatles fans will – even those who don't own Gone Troppo.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Book title finalized

The book that I've worked on for the past few years now has a title and is scheduled to be released in December 2007 or January 2008. The title (slightly different from what I thought it was going to be) is Helping our Children Grow in Faith: Nurturing the Spiritual Development of Kids and it will be published by Baker Books. I understand that I'm going to be seeing cover art soon!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Time for a new name for this blog?

Over two years ago when I first started writing on this blog I really didn't think about any long-term ramifications of it. Blogging was still, for me at least, pretty new and I thought I'd play around with it. I chose the title for this blog, "Bob's Bloggery," on a whim and now I've lived with it for nearly two and a half years. I've continued to blog and have enjoyed communicating with friends and strangers this way. Plus, I've used this as an opportunity to "think out loud" about things I'm reading, watching and listening to.

On the one hand, the title I quickly selected is right on target using both my name and a made up word which refers to blogging. But now I'm wondering if I should try to come up with something better. The word "bloggery" sometimes strikes me as somewhat silly and I think that maybe I should find a better name. Something artsy and cool rather than, you know, pedestrian and uncool.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Should I try to find a new name or is "Bob's Bloggery" probably the best I can do?

EDIT (4/20/07) - Well, after a week with nary a comment I can assume one of two things, either nobody but me cares or people care but have no better titles for me. (I suppose it is also possible that nobody read this post so if that's the case then it REALLY doesn't matter what I call the blog.) So, unless I come up with a title that I can't resist, Bob's Bloggery will continue to be called that.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Paul McCartney and Wings’ ‘Wild Life’ – Anatomy of a Lousy Album

Every once in a while I decide to listen to one artist’s albums in order in my car. I have a six CD changer and a 45 minute commute. It takes a while to get through an artist’s output but that’s OK – it’s all about the journey anyway. And I don’t JUST listen to that artist – I mix it up a bit so it’s not all one artist all the time.

I’m actually working my way through a couple of things at the same time right now – Heart’s entire catalog (see my reflection on Heart), the Emerson Lake and Palmer’s boxed set Return of the Manticore and McCartney’s solo work. This particular trip through McCartney’s work started a couple of weeks ago when I felt like listening to Ram (his second solo album) and decided to go from there. So the next stop on my listening tour was the much maligned Wild Life, the first album with McCartney’s new band, Wings. This album is generally considered the weakest in the whole McCartney catalog (which, by the way, is a LOT of albums!) I’ve certainly heard it multiple times before but I hadn’t listened to it in a couple of years and, while I’m driving alone I often do some of my best listening. I decided that this album is, indeed, pretty poor and there are a couple of good reasons why this album is considered so weak.

Reason #1: The recording. McCartney loves to try gimmicks in recording his albums. Band on the Run was recorded in Nigeria, London Town on a boat in the Caribbean, Run Devil Run was recorded by Paul coming into the studio with hand-written lyrics to old obscure rock songs, teaching the band, rehearsing a few times and then quickly recording the track. On a few albums, (notably McCartney and McCartney II) he plays all the instruments himself. On a few others (some of his very best like Flaming Pie and Chaos and Creation) he plays many of the instruments and is joined by guests only when needed. Just before recording Wild Life Paul read that Dylan had recorded an album quickly (like in a week) and he decided that he wanted to do that with Wings’ first album. So the finely crafted production that defines so much of Paul’s best work is completely absent on Wild Life. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a crack band like he did on Run Devil Run or even Driving Rain, his other most notable quickly recorded albums and it shows. The opening seconds of Wild Life gives us the sound of a tape machine coming up to speed as the band is already playing and we hear McCartney say “tape it, Tony!” We hear performances and arrangements that seem like they were done on the spot and could really have benefited from some rethinking, re-recording and editing. But there was no time – this album was recorded in a flash because McCartney wanted to try making an album that way.

Reason #2: The band. Sorry, I have to say it; this band wasn’t good enough to make an album this quickly. Linda’s vocals were never great but on this album they’re really poor and pretty high up in the mix, giving many of the songs a slightly out-of-tune feel to them. The combination of Paul, Linda and Denny’s voices gave Wings its unique sound but at this point they just aren’t together and it doesn’t work. The playing is, for the most part, uninspiring. Even Paul’s vocals on songs like the title track are weaker than almost any other album.

Reason #3: The songwriting. This is perhaps the weakest collection of songs that McCartney has released on an album over his entire career. “Mumbo,” the opener is just a jam that was recorded. “Bip-Bop” is as trite as it sounds like it might be from the title. Some of these songs could have been salvaged with better production – for example, there is a fully produced and arranged bootleg version of “Tomorrow” floating around that is quite nice. But overall these songs just don’t cut it. The high point is probably Wings’ cover version of an old Ian and Sylvia song, “Love is Strange.” This is a sorry state of affairs for one of the best songwriters of the last fifty years.

So I think this album deserves the poor reviews it gets. The good news is that Paul fixed almost all of these problems with his next album, Red Rose Speedway, which is better in every way and is a delight to listen to. It also featured the mega-hit “My Love” so Paul not only made a better album; he got back on track commercially. I loved it in 1973 and I love it now. I think I’ll listen to it a few more times before I move on to the next one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The hits keep coming

Look at what happened to the number of hits on my blog. Here is a chart that shows you:

As you can see, I was happily sitting at around 700 or so hits a month until the first of the year. Then I shot up dramatically to more than triple that. How do I explain this? One word - Beatles. Actually two words - Beatles and U2. It seems that some time over the past little while one of the Beatles pictures that I used in one of my posts got picked up by the Google image search engine and I got listed as the number 2 pic if you typed 'Beatles.' I also have, for a long time, had a fair number of U2 hits because I list them in this blog often too. So in a sense I'm remarkably popular. In another sense I'm just a storage unit for a picture lots of people want to see. Most of the people don't stick around very long but some do and some read a bit of what I have to say which is nice.

I also should note that this week my latest George Harrison post was linked to by a Transcendental Meditation site. How about that!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

A George Harrison Conversion to Christianity?

In this post about the excellent biography of the Bealtes by Bob Spitz, I wrote
I did notice two errors, both involving George Harrison: he mentions “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby” as a song Harrison wrote (he only sang it, I believe it is a Carl Perkins song) and said that George embraced traditional Christianity at a point late in his life which, I think, is just plain wrong. It’s my understanding that George remained a Hindu. I’d love for someone to give me confirmation one way or the other regarding this.
Now today, looking at a recent post in an email list that I used to be part of I saw this in a posting:
But I was chatting with a guy I know who is a professional musician
and who did some consulting for Beatlemania. He told me about a book
by Bob Spitz (The Beatles: The Biography) which makes that point on
p. 567:

"Later in life he would become vegetarian, consult an astrologer,
and devote himself to Transcendental Meditation before embracing
traditional Christianity."

When my friend contacted Bob Spitz about his source for that fact,
the reply included the following excerpt:

"As for the source of George's return to traditional Christianity,
the source was the man himself, conveyed to me some months before he
died. Because of agreements with the Harrison estate, I was unable
to list him as a source." [note - this is slightly edited from the longer post which you can find here.]
So, it appears that I may have been wrong about that. But how do we explain, some of the lyrics on George's last album, Brainwashed? One way is to recognize that George wrote these songs over a period of about ten years and that they may not all reflect his thinking at the end of his life. Plus, I'm willing to bet that IF (still a big if in my book) George did indeed convert to Christianity that it was more of a "hey this sort of makes sense to me" kind of conversion rather than a "throw everything else I ever did or thought overboard" kind of conversion. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if that still "counts." Actually, I'll leave it to God - he's better at that anyway.

I'm also, frankly, a little skeptical that the source is George but he "couldn't t list him as a source ." Why can he tell this now? On the other hand, I've been in correspondence with another Beatles book author who was able to tell me some things that did not get in the book (which I'm not telling) so it could be true that Spitz knows things that he was unable to write but yet is willing to tell people personally. So, the jury is out but Spitz got so much right in his book that I'm leaning toward admitting that he was right about this too.

But I'm still convinced that Carl Perkins wrote "Everybody's Tryin'..."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Over the Rhine - Live from Nowhere Vol 2

I try not to review albums the day I get them because it usually takes me a few times through to really get it and to feel like I have something intelligent to say about it. For example, I STILL haven't written anything about Arcade Fire's Neon Bible because I'm still working out what to say other than "I like it."

However, there have been a few exceptions - albums that grab me so quickly that I can't resist writing about it. Case in point - the new Over the Rhine album, Live from Nowhere Vol 2 arrived in the mail today and it is a delight. The Live from Nowhere series is a now yearly collection of live recordings from various venues which so far have included some new and different live recordings of OTR songs and some killer cover versions that haven't shown up on any of their studio albums. This is a chance for OTR to put out an album for fans with as sort of scrapbook of the year's tours - including the Christmas tour that came through Holland, MI in December that Lynnae and I saw together (where her Over the Rhine infatuation really took hold.) This is a limited edition release that is signed and hand-numbered (I got number 2600! - the exclamation point has been written there too on my CD case.)

The first thing I noticed about the new album was how amazingly clear the recording is - it seems like Linford and Karin are right in the room with you. But the performances - they just jump right out of the speakers and into your heart. The album opens with one of the more stunning songs from Drunkard's Prayer, "I Want You to Be My Love" and the song sets the tone for the whole album: intimate, flawless and compelling. I haven't heard it enough to even have picked a favorite yet but the vibe brings me right back to the fourth row at the Knickerbocker Theater for the outstanding show they gave. But the violinist they have on a few of the songs wasn't on that tour with them and, whoever it is, is fabulous!

This album is great. It's a small band playing great tunes with a remarkable vocalist. It doesn't get much better than this. Order it before they sell out! (Live from Nowhere Vol 1 ended up on itunes so there is still hope if you miss out.)

Monday, April 02, 2007

It’s a small world after all

So I was getting ready for my class which meets first thing tomorrow morning and I decided that my PowerPoint needed a little spicing up. So I went to Google images, typed in “teacher” and went looking for pictures to add to my presentation. I found this one which I thought was fun and clicked on it. I thereby stumbled across a blog called Confessions of an Untenured Teacher written by a second year teacher from Orange County, California. I thought “this sounds like fun” and so I read a little. Then I read a little more. I liked it. I liked the way the writer, Sarah, talked about being a teacher. She didn’t minimize the frustrations but they all seemed to be couched in a love for the profession and for the kids she works with.

This was just what I needed for the lesson I am doing tomorrow so I printed one of the posts and copied it for my students and sent Sarah a comment letting her know how much I appreciated her blog. Within an hour I had a comment back from Sarah and – guess what – she’s a former student of mine!!!!!!!!!!!! I commented back to her and she wrote me a nice email giving me an update on her life and profession. This was so cool! The internet must be a lot smaller than I thought it was.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Getting ‘Lost’

I mentioned quite a while ago that I was turning into a fan of Lost. I got Season Two on DVD for Christmas but I decided that, even though I had not seen Season Two yet, I would just dive into the beginning of Season Three as it was broadcast last fall. Fortunately, the show took a lengthy hiatus in the middle allowing me to catch up a little but I don’t have the time to watch every episode of Season Two in quick succession (plus I was watching DVDs of 24) and it took me a while to get to my Lost DVDs so I’m still in the middle of Season Two while I’m also in the middle of Season Three. Sometimes it can get pretty confusing but it also has the benefit of making me able to connect the dots because I JUST saw some scenes that are being referred to across seasons. And once in a while I have to ask Bryan what's going on.

Anyway I’m realizing that as good as Lost was in the first season it got even better in the second season. I especially like the way that the producers give us new insight into things that happened in the past. The flashbacks of course are a big part of the charm of the show but we learn things about what happen earlier on the island as well. They really flesh out the characters and the mysteries keep piling up. It's nice to finally be getting at least some answers in Season three!

So people on the internet can complain all they want (and they do) but I think it’s a great show – I hope I finish watching season two by the time season three ends. While I sometimes think some of the online fans can never be happy I’ve really enjoyed the Lost Easter Eggs website and find it a lot of fun and worth checking out.