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St. Vincent, by St. Vincent (Album of the Week)

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

I read somewhere that an interviewer asked St. Vincent why she named her album eponymously, and she explained that MIles Davis wrote in his biography that the hardest thing in music is to sound like yourself. She feels like this album sounds like her, so she named it St. Vincent.

That’s a fine notion, and a good explanation, but it morphs into something a little more weird when you recall that St. Vincent’s real name is Annie Clark. Without pushing the point too hard, I think it could be argued that the album St. Vincent is one step away from truly personal, but it’s a damned good invention. I think it’s another instance of St. Vincent being just a touch more subtle and clever than most people recognize.

My suggestion that she’s kind of playing with us is borne out, I think, by the many references to her stage life in the album. In Severed Crossed Fingers, there’s “When your calling ain’t calling back to you/I’ll be side-stage mouthing lines for you.” In Prince Johnny, “We’re all sons of someone’s/I wanna mean more than I mean to you/I wanna mean more than I meant to him/So I pray to all to make me a real girl.” In Digital Witness she complains, “Digital witnesses/What’s the point of even sleeping/If I can’t show if you can’t see me.” I could pull more examples from the lyrics, but she explains what she’s getting at in an interview I found: “Anything that knows it is being watched changes its behaviour. We are now so accustomed to documenting ourselves and so aware that we are being watched and I think psychologically that takes a strange toll . . . ”

Enough of the talk of self-awareness – this is a great album. So great that it’s hard to choose a favorite song, or even a least-favorite song. They’re all kind of brilliant, and they cover a wide range of style from a touching soft homage to her mother (“I Prefer Your Love”) to jaunty dance tunes and ethereal sound splashes.

Robin seems pretty enthralled with this album – and, who knows, it might lead her to pick up her own guitar and imitate some of St. Vincent’s work?

I want to be cautious about tossing comparisons around, because I think it’s insulting to artists to say that they sound like someone else when they are trying to communicate in their own fashion. How many male singer/songwriters get referred to as Dylan or Young or Petty if they sound a bit nasally, even if they’re dishing out reasonably fresh treatments to different themes?

That said, I want to give you an idea of what you’ll hear when you buy this album, as you really should. “Huey Newton” shares sonic similarities with “”You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette, but it’s a lot more fun. “Rattlesnake” sounds like Annie Lennox in a cathedral. “Digital Witness” has Blondie in its bloodline. But, truly, St. Vincent puts her own spin on these masters – she’s not imitating anyone, and why would she?

One other aspect of this album that I found refreshing and encouraging is her use of sexuality. The very first words you hear on the album are, “Follow the power-lines back from the road/No one around so I take off my clothes/Am I the only one in the only world?” The great thing is, though, that she doesn’t go that way with the song – the nakedness is merely a factual element of her sense of fear and vulnerability in nature. She’s not singing about being naked so that she will come off as some sexy vixen – she felt like communing with nature and got scared by the sound of a rattlesnake. You might be able to do some Freudian analysis on that song, but it is proudly NOT coquettishly sexy. It’s great to see a contemporary pop singer flat out refuse to play sexy for us. Then, she follows it up by starting the next song with “Oh, what an ordinary day/Take out the garbage, masturbate/I’m still holding for the laugh.” She’s daring us to try to box her into some sexy starlet pigeonhole, because that’s not who she is.

Annie Clark is profoundly self-aware and wildly intelligent, so, yeah, I think she’s jerking our chains when she says “I sound like myself on this record.” She knows she sounds like St. Vincent.

Next up: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, by Against Me!

EBT will help you understand your parent’s and grandparent’s vision of high-class cuisine

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

EBT is simply one of the best restaurants in Kansas City, with no qualifications necessary. It achieves its preeminence with nary a nod toward culinary fashion or glance at what they are doing on the coasts. If everything old is new again, then EBT deserves a fresh wave of admiration for daring to remain steadfastly focused on serving outstanding food with spot-on service.

It’s too easy to write EBT off as a museum piece – a relic of the slightly post Mad-Men era. The conclusion is a short hop, not even a jump, given that the space includes actual relics from the long-gone Emery Bird and Thayer downtown department store, and the restaurant is located in the lobby of Kansas City’s most old school banking institution, UMB. Yes, there is a museum-like quality to the space, and the space only enhances a classic menu.

Some could look at this menu and conclude that EBT has fallen behind the times, but that would be a mistake. Instead, the menu should be admired for its display of discipline in focusing on the elegant classics that have withstood the test of time. It would be a simple thing to jazz up the Pepper Steak by substituting something trendier like venison or at least bison, and the chef might earn hipster points if he used to rye whiskey instead of brandy, but that’s not what EBT is about. It’s great to show creativity and to riff off the classics, but EBT is dedicated to actually doing the classics.

When I say that your grandparents would love EBT, I’m not implying that the fresh-baked rolls and exquisitely crisp buttered garlic toast points are dull or old-fashioned; I am saying that your grandparents will recognize a sense of composure and dignity not often found in a hype-driven restaurant world. When they wheel up the cart to make the Caesar salad tableside, it’s not an homage, it is a well-presented freshly dressed salad with meticulously dried lettuce so that the pungent anchovy-laced dressing will cling to every leaf. Bone-dry lettuce is a detail that gets overlooked in 99% of restaurants where salads are pre-chilled and gather condensation on the way to your table. EBT does it right, and is one of the very few in KC who even know there’s a difference.

As you can see from the menu, this classicism doesn’t come cheap, but it does come with outstanding service. Paul took great care of us, and the hostess kept our water glasses and bread plate full. (I forgot to mention the whipped butter – so good for spreading! Why do other restaurants slap a chunk of stiff cold butter in front of you and expect you to figure out a way to consume it without shredding your bread?) It was half-price wine night, and we relied on Paul’s recommendation of a hearty red which turned out to be Simi’s “Landslide”, a tannic counterpoint to my rich, rich, rich Osso Bucco. Robin had the appetizer portion of vegetable risotto with diver’s scallops as her entree, and the scallops were caramelized on the outside with a perfectly cooked interior. She proclaimed them among the best she’s ever had.

We walked in joking about lime jello and meatloaf. We walked out “wowed” by a fantastic meal from an overlooked gem of a restaurant. Rye, Julia(n), Story, the American, Bluestem and Justus Drugstore will continue to capture attention and ink with their great razzle-dazzle meals, but if you want to sit down to the classic Kansas City restaurant experience without a micro-green or piece of artisanal offal in sight, head down to 435 and State Line. And bring your parents or grandparents, too.

Songwriter, by Kristie Stremel (Album of the Week)

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

I bought this CD from the artist on a Saturday evening a couple weeks ago at the Record Bar. It didn’t get reviewed in Rolling Stone, and Metacritic doesn’t have an entry for Kristie Stemel. There’s no big marketing machine behind this, no slick production, no focus groups to tweak the lyrics and no billboards to let us know her concert dates. Just a determined musician stubborn enough to think she can make something out of a home studio, a few friends, and a willingness to play venues before it’s even dark out.

Let me talk about the live show before I tackle the album. I’d never heard of Kristie Stremel, and we only went because a friend/musician from Springfield told us he was going to be there, and we wanted to hang out with him. A 7:00 show, it always feels a bit weird to be drinking beer and watching a band while the bright sun still shines whenever people part the curtains.

Live music is transporting. You can’t help but get wrapped up in it when a singer is having a blast, the guitarists are wringing notes out of a simple guitar, and the bass player stands there backing up the whole thing like a stoic god. “Why don’t I do this more often?” bugs the back of my mind. (The only reason I can think of is the just-barely-controllable desire to do something mean to the inconsiderate idiots who shout conversations over the music.)

If you get the chance to see Kristie Stemel live, just do it. She rocks on her low-slung guitar and makes it all fun. It’s worth venturing out of your living room for the evening, I promise.

On to the album, which I’ve probably delayed because it’s hard to get this exactly right. I like this album a lot – it has some infectious pop songs and some plain beautiful numbers. That said, it has a few songs that kind of land with a thump, but they don’t ruin the album at all. They just make it human and, in a way, even more inspiring, when you think about the lack of a safety net. This woman wrote the music, recruited friends to play with her, recorded and produced the CD in her home studio, chose the cover art, booked the dates of her tour, and showed up to rock the house. If “String Theory” kind of lapses into three minutes of formulaic rock, well, too bad – she’s mixing up sounds on this album, and someone else might love it.

One of Kristie Stemel’s real strengths is her range, both in her voice and her music. I sometimes get bored with artists who can sing three pretty notes and that’s it, but Kristie covers the range from a growl to a clear high note expressively and dead on. One of my favorites on the album is “Friendville”, a quiet number with some great guitar work that shows off her vocal range. “Breaking up with Dreams” is a majestic anthem, and “Sun Sky and the Moon” is just a beautiful song.

At this stage of her career, Kristie Stemel won’t be the fresh-faced phenom like Kacey Musgraves is, but if you like female troubadours like Karla Bonoff or Tracy Chapman you ought to find one of her shows, listen to the music (if you’re going to shout over it, stay home, please!), have a great time and hand over $10 for a CD after the show. That’s how you support artists who are working hard and deserve it.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin notices similarities to other female rockers, like Lucinda Williams, Pat Benatar, and Amy Rigby, and agrees with me that this is some really nice home-grown rock and roll.

I just noticed that Kristie Stemel will be performing an acoustic show with Holmes Street and Adriana Nikole at Californo’s in Westport on June 21. Yeah, you should be there, unless you talk too much. (If you can’t make it to a show, you can buy her music on iTunes here or from her own website.)

Next Up: St. Vincent, by St. Vincent

Morning Phase, by Beck (Album of the Week)

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

It’s hard to believe that this Beck is the same guy who burst on the scene with the catchy “Loser” (“I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?”) 20 years ago. Morning Phase is a mature, thoughtful album by a completely different guy.

Robin and I both have struggled a bit to come up with something to say about this album, except that it’s really good and we both enjoy it. It’s funny – almost everyone we mention it to hear’s something else that they really like in it. Robin hears old Elton John. I hear the powerfully surging vocals of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” – one of my favorite albums of all time. Robin ultimately just tells you to listen for yourself – which is great advice.

A friend last night described Beck as a “shape-shifter“, in the tradition of David Bowie and Neil Young. There’s some truth to that – Beck has changed his sound in major ways, but always comes out with interesting, well-worked music.

Unfortunately, that talent at drawing from different sources to produce something uniquely Beck makes him a target for some awful writing. I almost blew coffee through my nose when I read this sentence in the Rolling Stones’ review of the album – “Beck remains a master of pastiche, and trainspotters can have a field day mapping reference points: ‘Blue Moon’ shares a name with the Rodgers-Hart and Alex Chilton songs, but more closely resembles Bob Seger’s ‘Mainstreet’ getting abstracted by Brian Eno in a Laurel Canyon time share.

If that’s the kind of crap that professionals write about this album, what chance do two middle-aged Kansas Citians have to capture its essence?

One of the interesting facets of this album are two brief instrumental pieces – “Cycle”, which serves as the first 40 seconds of the album and then bleeds into “Morning”, and “Phase”, which provides an aural breath of relaxation about 2/3 of the way through the album.

In the hands of 99% of musicians, these simple but beautiful pieces would have come across as gimmicky and overblown, but Beck makes them work. You know that you’re in the hands of a serious artist when you’re listening to Beck. Not a note is out of place – the sounds are pure and well-engineered. Even the buzzing guitar string on “Heart is a Drum” sounds like it belongs there – a personal reminder that there’s a human behind this slickly produced album.

It’s wonderful to hear this album. It’s absolutely serious, thoughtful music without being ponderous or self-indulgent. It’s polished, but there’s human emotion abounding in it. I liked “Loser” and “Two Turntables and a Microphone”, but this is way better. Beck is an artist, not just a clever musician.

Next up: Songwriter, by Kristie Stremel

Teeth Dreams, by The Hold Steady (Album of the Week)

Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

This album is another in a series of The Hold Steady albums exploring a drug-fueled, violence-prone dystopia with human touches that keep everything just barely this side of despair. The music is solid bar-room rock with plenty of guitars and drums. The thoughtful lyrics are snarled with a mix of anger. contempt and wise-ass swagger.

This is what The Hold Steady does. Real aficionados can discuss major differences among the albums put out by Craig Finn and the band, but the essence of The Hold Steady – bar rock with evocative lyrics spat out with Finn’s distinctive style – doesn’t change a bit. Unless you’re a real student of the group, this is more of the same, but you will like it because it is a truly excellent “same”.

My reference to students of the group is worth emphasizing. The Hold Steady has, over its 6 albums, created a fictional world with recurring characters, plot lines, and references. The annotations over at Rock Genius can help you figure out some of the references, if you’re interested. If you want to dive deep, you can plunge into the 785 entries at The Hold Steady Wiki.

The good news is that you don’t have to be interested in probing the references to enjoy the music. Even if you don’t know who Charlemagne is or that the Cityscape Skins are an imaginary Minneapolis gang, you will catch clever lyrics and solid rock music when you play this CD. Everyone knows the people described in “I Hope this Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You”:

They never care if it’s true
As long as they got something to prove
And they always got something to prove

And you can probably recall that youthful feeling of being slightly out of control like this girl from “Spinners” at some point in our lives:

Once you’re out there every things possible
Even the bad nights aren’t that terrible
Loosen your grip it feels so incredible
Let the city live your life for you tonight

And here’s some good advice for a young woman whose vulnerability after a heartbreak makes her an easy target for the next insincere relationship:

I’m sure they’ll come up in the parking lots and at parties
You know you don’t have to accept
Collecting boyfriends isn’t such a healthy hobby
I’m sorry, but there’s other words than yes

Craig Finn is a sharp-eyed observer of human behavior, and his tales of life on the edge of drugs and violence are approachable because they are so human. It’s not a freak show – it’s more of a voyeuristic look at what humans who are just like you and me might do in harsher circumstances. It’s relevant and relatable, unlike some other albums that require you to learn a whole iconography to make heads or tails of the work.

Robin, over at Deliberate Obfuscation, gets swept away by the poetry, and expresses a real appreciation of the album. She’s right – it’s a darned good album.

Next up: Morning Phase, by Beck.

Acoustic at the Ryman, by Band of Horses (Album of the Week)

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

This album is a limp handshake from a future friend.

This week, Robin chose to have us listen to Acoustic at the Ryman, as an introduction to a band neither of us know knew, but will be seeing live later in the summer. This is not a band that should be met on an acoustic stage, stripped of the muscle and energy that make them compelling. It’s kind of like watching someone play whiffle ball and learning later that it was Albert Pujols swinging the light plastic imitation of his power.

Now, having gone back and listened to some of the Band of Horses catalog, I can see how this could be a fine addition to a fan’s collection of their work. If you see this album as a fresh version of some old faves, then, yeah, you might rave over it. But I’m here to tell you that it’s a terrible first exposure.

If you saw Mick Jagger plucking away at a banjo and wistfully singing “Miss You”, you’d think it’s awesome, because it contrasts with the “real” version you already know. But if you didn’t know Mick Jagger, and had never heard him do it right, you’d think “Why would anybody listen to that, and that wooooo-hoooo-hoooo-hoooo crap has got to go!”

Take, for example, “Slow Cruel Hands of Time“. On first listen of this album, it is so awful that you will start to snicker at it. The harmonies are slap-your-knee funny, as the two singers awkwardly botch their starts and stops like someone had just handed them a sheet of music for the first time and smashed their metronome. “No, you first . . .,” you can almost hear them muttering. Maybe it’s endearing if you love these guys, but if you’re giving it an honest listen, it is hilariously bad, and the over-wrought lyrics just make it funny. But when you go and listen to the original studio version, it’s actually a pretty good song.

Another song that suffers from the translation to an acoustic version is the kind of dickishly named “No One’s Gonna Love You”. The album version uses a great bass line, crisp drums and electric guitars to suck you into bouncing along with the bitter loss of the song. Slowed down and stripped of the wattage, it’s a pathetic emo psycho piece of crap that would be marked as Exhibit A in proceedings for a restraining order.

It says something major about the album that my favorite parts were the “Thank yous” and the cheering. They are heart-warming. The audience LOVES this band – you can sense that everyone there knows every word to every song, and they respond lovingly. In turn, Ben Bridwell thanks them with absolutely charming “Thank yous” that are so genuine that you have to like the guy. He just seems like a really great guy.

Objectively, though, as a piece of music, this album is kind of awful. Really awkward. Embarrassing, even. But I accept that if you bring enough baggage to the performance, you could have a great time with it.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin misconstrues entirely what I’m saying about this album, and offers a completely different appreciation of the work. Robin agrees with me that the audience loved it, though she imagines that I thought they giggled at it (I wrote “they respond lovingly”). She takes a kinder approach to this album, by going back, listening to the studio versions of the songs, and then appreciating these acoustic knock-offs as fun variants. In a sense, she went back, picked up the baggage of a fan of the band, and returned to the Ryman ready to appreciate Mick Jagger crooning an acoustic “Miss You”. That’s great and generous, but if you’re not already a fan, and you listen to this album as an independent work of art, I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with me, not her.

Next up: Teeth Dreams, by The Hold Steady

Reincarnated, by Snoop Lion (Album of the Week)

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Haters gonna hate, but that doesn’t deter Snoop Lion from launching out in a new direction with “Reincarnated”, a likable reggae-based album. Can you take Snoop Dogg’s reincarnation as a Lion seriously, or should you dismiss it as a shallow commercial venture misappropriating the religion, culture and even accent of others?

That may be the fundamental question presented by this album, but who are we to ask, really? I can’t possibly judge Calvin Broadus, Jr.’s spiritual awareness or sincerity from my living room in Kansas City. I believe from what I have read that he is at least trying to be genuine, and that’s good enough for me. I like what he puts on the album, and I’ll leave the questioning of his motives and depth to others bolder with their judgments.

The normally nice Robin isn’t so gentle. She has categorized Snoop Dogg as a huckster, and she is not willing to reconsider. She acknowledges that some of the music is great, but it’s all just a novelty joke album to her. Well, mon, I tink she missin da joy, so sad.

As for the music, I have a bias in favor of reggae music. The third beat emphasis just works for me – it has a jaunty, optimistic and kind of cool feel. Coming from my background, it’s a bit exotic, and tends to come across as happy music, even when it addresses the poverty and violence of slum living in third world conditions.

“Reincarnated” delivers a fine dose of reggae. Despite the stiff-necked murmuring of some “purist” detractors, it was nominated for a Grammy as the best reggae album of the year last year, and the album captures the mix of silly fun, word play and spirituality that appear on many great reggae albums.

The album starts with a touchingly vulnerable spoken introduction by Snoop Lion: “It’s so much death, it’s so much destruction and it’s so much mayhem and it’s so much misunderstanding in music, we losing so many great musicians. And we don’t love them while they here. And I want to be loved while I’m here. And the only way we get love is to get love.” This album is presented with love, and it shows.

“Rebel Way” is the first song, and it’s all about an amazing bass line and sinuous lyrics. “Love is the cure and courage is the weapon you can use to overcome.”

“Here Comes the King” is a sun-splashed gem with dance hall power expressed in a bass sound that threatens to blow speakers. It makes you wish you were at one of the massive beach parties launched with massive truck-based sound systems that helped start off the reggae scene in Jamaica.

“Lighters Up” is a unification song featuring actually feuding musicians coming together with brass band. I’ve never heard tubas sound so funky – I don’t know how you could not like this song.

Each of the songs has its own charm. You probably won’t love every one of them, but you ought to find a few new favorites if you have an open heart for a guy moving from Long Beach gang wars to peace-loving reggae.

Some of my favorites are “So Long”, “No Guns Allowed”, the almost embarrassingly sweet and stripped down “This is the Good Good”, and the reassuring and inspirational “Harder Times”.

Next up: Accoustic at the Ryman, by Band of Horses.

Blak and Blu, by Gary Clark Jr. (Album of the Week)

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

This week’s album is a seminar in sub-genres of the blues. Jumping horns greet you in the album’s opener, but then the second number is smokey like a Texas roadhouse. The third number is a funk groove – followed by a little Jimi Hendrix-style. Each of the songs is completely unique, and each is a great example of its slice of the blues.

I loved this album, and there’s no way I would have come across it if not for this “Album of the Week” series that Robin and I have been doing. I don’t set out to listen to blues all that often, and when I do, I head to one of the classics. Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughan are my go-to guys, or I’ll listen to a Trampled Under Foot album if I want to recall a live show. I’ve become calcified in my blues selections, but this album has shaken me by the lapels.

More than any album we’ve listened to so far this year, this one makes me want to just tell you to go out and buy it. Just buy it – you will find some songs you will love. I promise.

More than just a demo album of Gary Clark Jr., showing off that he has the chops to play every style of blues that you can mention, he comes up with some songs that ought to become classics in their own right. The title track, “Blak and Blu”, is a smooth funk gem. “Glitter ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ for Nothin’)” is as good a psych-up song as I’ve heard since Living Colour. “Travis County” is just a fun romp with some great guitar licks, a boogie-woogie piano and a drummer having a blast. I want to see this one live! And “The Life” is a piece of introspection by a guy who knows he’s on a bad path.

Robin likes the album, too, and looks forward to seeing him live later this summer. I feel the same way, but cranked to 11. I loved the album, and cannot wait to see this guy live!

Next up: Reincarnated, by Snoop Lion.

Symphonica, by George Michael (Album of the Week)

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

If loving George Michael’s amazing voice is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

By all rationality, I should hate this album, but I just don’t. If you want to read a fair, accurate and negative review of Symphonica, George Michael’s album composed of lushly arranged compositions played with a group of musicians (an orchestra?), go read Robin’s much less generous account at Deliberate Obfuscation.

I won’t argue with her. She’s right. This album is a ridiculous, self-indulgent, pompous, self-pitying, over-dramatic, cringeworthy spectacle by a man with a penchant for cruising for anonymous sex and a record of driving while stoned – several times. In 2013, he suffered a head injury when he fell out of his own car on a highway in Britain. Yet he expresses bewilderment:

I guess it’s tough, I guess I’m older
And everything must change
But all this cruelty and money instead of love
People, have we no shame?

Indeed, George, have we no shame? Apparently, “we” have no shame. None whatsoever.

Despite it all, I’ve been a fan of George Michael since the days of Wham. I can’t explain it. Maybe I had a thing for stubble in the mid-80s – I’m also a big fan of Don Johnson, who played Sonny Crockett in those days.

This album offers a few true gems. “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” is a soaring version of the song that Roberta Flack owns. Michael’s version is somehow bigger, and shows off his impressive range, from rumbling lows to highs that shift on the winds at that altitude. His version doesn’t supplant Flack’s, but it stands right there with it.

“Brother Can You Spare a Dime” is a reintroduction of a truly great American classic song from the Depression era, made famous by Al Jolson and Bing Crosby. It laments the fate of a generation suffering from economic turbulence not of their making. I hope that the presumably very-well-heeled crowds in the halls where this album was recorded caught its message of empathy for the poor.

Yes, this album is recorded live, though I’m not entirely sure why. At one point, he has to “shush” the audience, and like the ill-mannered apes that show up at most concerts, even then a few buckle to their strange compulsion to whoop at wrong moments. (To be fair, this incident happens on the most laughable song of the album, which “features” the absolute worst harpist I have ever heard – I honestly believe I could do better wearing a pair of boxing gloves if given two days to practice.)

An earlier album by George Michael was entitled “Listen Without Prejudice”, but I don’t think that is possible. Even the normally gentle and forgiving Robin opens her review with the flat statement that she doesn’t care for him. I started my own piece with a statement that I don’t wanna be right. George Michael provokes prejudice because he is George Michael.

George Michael is more than just the voice on this album. He is more than an icon. He is several symbols – each eclipsing the others in separate observers.

In Robin’s review, she talks about a wreck of a man lacking all self-discipline. She’s entirely correct, and her recounting of his failures as a human being are a mere skimming of the surface. When she rolls her eyes at his dramatic delivery of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, she’s absolutely entitled. She calls him schmaltzy and over-the-top, and I cannot say that she’s wrong. He’s a symbol of all that.

If I were a member of MADD, I would be apoplectic that this multiply-caught altered driver is getting any attention whatsoever. I get that. He’s a symbol of someone willing to risk the lives of others by driving while wasted.

For many hetero males, myself included, his gayness is the biggest reaction point. For a lot of such folk, that’s the point of departure. Not only for people like Fred Phelps, but probably for a lot of generally tolerant people out there. He wears it on his sleeve – why must he wear it on his sleeve? Now, an album of George Michael playing show-tunes?? Aaccckkk! He’s a symbol of in-your-face gayness.

And I guess that is the source of my own prejudice in his favor. There’s a part of me that reacts exactly like those generally-tolerant people who just don’t want to have to face up to his gayness. Maybe it’s a bit of atonement for my own inner homophobe that I cut some slack for the guy who is so fabulous that his liner notes on this album don’t include lyrics, just more pictures of George, George, George.

And, really, his voice is absolutely amazing.

I dare you to listen without prejudice. I can’t, and I bet you can’t.

Next up, Blak and Blu, by Gary Clark, Jr.

G I R L, by Pharrell Williams (Album of the Week)

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

I suppose that I could possibly have the inner strength to resist the infectious melodies and upbeat attitude of this album, but why would I? You would have to be a bit of a prude or an asshole to dislike this album.

This album is Robin’s follow-up to the baffling introspection and sonic slop of Damien Jurado’s Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, and the contrast could not be greater.

Amusingly, the two albums share a bit of thematic space. Jurado’s album confronts alien beings in a surreal dreamscape involving “Silver Katherine” and it compels Jurado to describe a weird pseudo-theological response. Pharrell Williams has a different reaction to his encounter with an alien being – he envisions them banging like a cheap screen door:

I think you are a lost queen
Let me serve you, serve you
Hot sex and gold, shiny things

Alright, I’ll admit that it’s not very deep, but it’s a lot more fun to listen to! I am sure that some people would be offended by some of his more salacious lyrics, but if you lighten up and accept them for the joyously horny juvenile perspective they bring, you’ll be better for the experience.

This album is crafted to make you move your feet and swing your arms. It’s dance music, cut from the same cloth as Prince and Michael Jackson. I know that is high praise, but I think that Pharrell Williams deserves the comparison. This is unserious music at its absolute best.

While the music is unserious, there’s a ton of work going on here. Backing strings, great bass work, funky guitar and sharp drums are put together on songs that have a fair amount of range within the dance genre. You won’t get bored listening to this album – I listened to it at least a dozen times this week, and it still gets my toes tapping.

Of course, it would be blogger malpractice to talk about this album without mentioning the phenomenon of 24 Hours of Happy. Click on the link, and see if a smile doesn’t sneak onto your face. You might even find yourself clapping along if you feel like a room without a roof.

I’m kind of shocked that all this exuberance hasn’t worn me out this week. I don’t want to listen to this type of music constantly, but I do want to add this to my “upbeat” playlist. We should all have one of those.

Next up: Symphonica, by George Michael