Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Today's Lesson

Today's lesson is on the subject of Home Renovation, or Home Repair, whichever you find yourself doing.  When installing a toilet, you are obligated to cut off the bolts that secure the toilet to the flange.  The instructions tend to say to use a hacksaw.  If you find yourself using an angle grinder, and if you have an angle grinder or have ever wanted to have one, you will find yourself using an angle grinder for this purpose, get ready to spend some time prepping before you cut.  Like many things in life, doing this task right will take much longer than you are imagining.

There will be sparks when grinder meets bolt.  This is an incontrovertible fact yet it may be overlooked.  Do not overlook this fact. It is incontrovertible.

Cover the toilet and the nearest wall with barriers of some sort.  Painter's tape will do fine for the curvy parts.  Heavy paper or cardboard is adequate for the walls, floor, and large parts of the toilet.  Estimate where the sparks will go and cover the porcelain thoroughly.  Then measure the distance from your bolt to where the barricades end, then double the distance and cover that area.  Then increase the amount of the covered area by half again and cover that area.

Check for gaps in the covering and cover any gaps with tape.  Check again.

Carefully decide at what level the bolts need to be cut off.  Mark the bolts.  The correct place to cut will be hard to see once the grinder is running.  Mark the bolts well.  Cut off the bolts.  Use eye and ear protection.  Use exhaust fans if you are near a smoke detector.  The smell of burning metal is a by-product of grinding metal.  This fact is also incontrovertible yet sometimes overlooked.

If you have learned from this lesson, you will now spend about 15 minutes removing your mostly-tape barricade.  Your toilet will look wonderful.  Do not ask how I learned this lesson.  It Is Just Known.  Now excuse me while I spend the next hour buffing some porcelain.  That is not a euphemism.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Refinancing Semi-Debacle, the Way-Past Conclusion

Almost four years ago, I refinanced my mortgage and blogged about it as I neared the finish line in the post "Refinancing Semi-Debacle."  The adventure concluded shortly after that post but not without further excitement.

Let's start with the date.  In a series of e-mails where we hashed out details, my loan officer from the credit union set a closing date of January 13.  She then asked me to get a payoff statement from the old lender for the 18th, which I did.  On the 13th, she e-mailed me with "Urgent" in the subject.  "You missed your appointment," she said.  No, I didn't, I replied, you changed it to the 18th.  No, she said, the appointment for the 13th stands - the 18th is the settlement date between institutions.

I see I'm starting to lose you with this riveting dialog, so let's move along.  It turns out you can't trust everyone.  In December, she set a closing date and asked for a payoff statement for the same date.  If we had closed as scheduled then, the numbers would have been off and we might have had to start over, but only in hindsight did I find her mistake.  For the January incident, she was right, but so was I for following the same pattern she set in December.

Well, my workday is generally flexible, so I grabbed my papers and set off for Minneapolis.  On a normal business day, the credit union is about 15 minutes from my office.  On a normal day.  On January 13, 2011, the Twin Cities received 8+ inches of snow, six of them by the time I headed out.  It took just over 90 minutes to reach my destination.  I won't bore you - further - with tales of sitting in traffic, except for one distraction that I enjoyed.

If you are familiar with I-394 eastbound in Minneapolis, you know that there is a chokepoint where it meets I-94.  We call it the Lowry Tunnel exit because as soon as you clear the exit ramp, you go through the Lowry Hill Tunnel.  We Minnesotans are awfully clever with our names.  394 eastbound carries a lot of traffic and about 2/3rds of it gets funnelled into a single, curvy lane and that causes a backup on a good day and on a snowy day, it can backup four miles or so.  Like this day.

As you approach the Dunwoody exit, the last one before Lowry Tunnel, a fourth lane appears on the right.  It's a brief extra lane, part of an on-ramp and off-ramp pair that are less than half a mile apart.  A woman came off that on-ramp and her ultimate destination was Dunwoody, so even with the backup on the main three lanes, she had clear sailing to her exit.  She was also driving one of those Honda four-wheel drive cars.  Should have been easy for her.  However...

I was in stop & go traffic, making maybe 5 MPH.  This lady could could easily have gotten up to 30 MPH or so for the minute or so needed to get to her exit. I first noticed her in my rear-view mirror, where she would travel slowly, cautiously, and dare I say safely, up to about 20 MPH, then slam on her brakes.  Four wheel drive and anti-lock brakes or not, in heavy, wet snow, you slide when you slam on the brakes.  Slamming on her brakes caused the Honda to slip sideways, maybe 45-60 degrees to the right of center.  When she had stopped completely and regained her composure, she would straighten out, then slowly, cautiously, and dare I say safely resume her trip and get her speed up to about 20 MPH, and do the whole thing over again.  I saw her do it maybe three times in my mirror, twice while she was beside me, and another three times before I lost visibility around a curve.  Considering I wasn't going anywhere, it was as entertaining as anything could be at that point, but not so much for the line of people that had formed behind her.

So I eventually got to the credit union and met with a junior loan officer.  We started going over the paperwork and immediately realized that it was wrong in several places.  You remember all those details I went over with the senior loan officer?  Yeah, it appears she got all the information and did nothing with it.  So, the paperwork had to be redone.

It all worked out.  Everything that had to happen between the credit union and one-payment lender happened.  I got my lower rate and have saved $11,148 in interest and PMI since.  I mainly like dealing with the credit union more than the too big to fail banks, but I like Suntrust's web site better - the credit union doesn't allow you to apply extra principal without making a call, for example.

My trip home that day was only 75 minutes, which was a victory in and of itself.  In the scheme of things, we shall lump all my annoyances and travails regarding the refi as first world problems.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Let There be Light

I'm putting up christmas lights this year.

I know, I know!  Who am I all of a sudden?

Well, the details tell the tale.  I have a 12 foot deck on the front of my house.  It has your basic railing system constructed of 2x4 cross members and 2x2 uprights.  I bought a single, 9 ft strand of icicle lights (LEDs, of course) that I will attach to the top railing.  Nothing fancy, just a little light and less than $10.

I went with all blue because I think that looks nice, and to avoid the glare of all-white lights if any of the light peeps in the house when I have the drapes open.  It's all very middle-aged childless guy who lives alone.  I was tempted to get a cascading set, but that would have been $40 for the same size and I have to draw the line somewhere.  Yet, there are still a couple months of temptation that I will have to resist before the lighting season is over.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Whither Rose McIver, or, The Cautionary Tale of Sharon Stone

No, you've probably never heard of Rose McIver.  She's a Kiwi actress, born in 1988, and hardly a household name.  Tonight, however, we have a watershed moment in her career - her first appearance on Once Upon a Time, in the recurring role of Tinkerbell.  It may very well be Rose's big break - we'll analyze that in a few years.  Tonight, however, I will be watching Once Upon a Time with decidedly mixed feelings.

We're not to the Sharon Stone part yet.

I first became aware of Rose McIver on Febuary 3, 2010*, when watching The Lovely Bones.  I didn't want to see the movie.  It was about a story I had no interest in, by a film maker who made two of the worst movies in the history of cinema (Lord of the Rings and King Kong (2005)). The only reason I went is because Saoirse Ronan played the lead.  I was blown away by her Academy Award nominated performance in Atonement, and she even rescued an otherwise awful City of Ember a year later.  I put her on my 'must-see' list and so I went to see The Lovely Bones despite my misgivings.  It's an awful movie, full of Oscar and Emmy winners and nominees, and with a big budget, but it's all-around bad.  The novel didn't translate to the visual medium at all, the acting was generally wooden, the comic relief was jarring, the back-to-the-70s look was cliched and even the amazing Saoirse Ronan seemed to sleepwalk through entire scenes.

It was bad until late in the movie, when the lead character's younger sister decided to investigate her murder. She suspected a neighbor and broke into his house.  I felt I was watching a real person, not just an actor in a movie.  Instead of watching a movie, I was suddenly experiencing a movie.  It's the feeling every moviegoer wants to feel.  It's why I see 100 or more movies a year.  And in a movie with so many handicaps, one actress playing an 18-year-old girl in a life-or-death situation made the magic happen.

After that, I started to pay attention to Rose McIver.  It wasn't easy, since she's from New Zealand and doesn't work steadily in the US market.  But in the next year and a half, I saw her in a couple of TV movies and I noticed that she made the movies better than they had any right to be.  Her style is so natural that I automatically believe I'm seeing a character - a real person, actually - and not an actor.

Then, it got even better in an unbelievable fashion.

Have you heard of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers?  Yeah, well, they're still on.  They change the cast and setting every year or two but the show is still being produced.  It also changes its name subtly every incarnation.  In 2009, Rose McIver became the yellow ranger on Power Rangers RPM.  I'm going to spare you any references to the Power Rangers formula, except that if you fast forward through the cheesy battle and morphing scenes in RPM, you get a pretty good post-apocalyptic story and you can finish an episode in 15 minutes or less.  I streamed all 30 episodes on Neflix in 2011.  Rose McIver's scenes were out of place - too good - in a program aimed at preteens.  In fact, the whole show overshot what other incarnations of Power Rangers tried to do, in scope, vision and acting.

OK, so at this point, I've got to cop to a fanboy crush on Rose McIver.  I saw something funny on the internet a while back that summarizes it best - a form titled "Marital Status."  There were three check boxes: "Single," "Married," and "In a committed relationship with a celebrity that neither knows nor cares that I exist."  I could check box number three.  At least as a joke.  Which brings us to Sharon Stone.

The details are somewhat different, but in the early 1980s, when I should have been studying, I watched a lot of TV, and on several programs, I noticed a 20-something cutie named Sharon Stone here and there.  I developed a bit of a crush on her as well, but not quite to the same degree as with Rose. Then, in the late 80s, came Total Recall and Basic Instinct, and Sharon Stone was a star.  Superstar.  You couldn't get away from the publicity and she went from being a working actress to a tabloid name brand and I stopped liking her.  I stopped enjoying her work and when her flavor-of-the-month career crashed, I didn't care.  I barely noticed.  Fame and success took the 1980s Sharon Stone away from me.

Tonight at 7:00 (8:00 Eastern and Pacific), Rose McIver will be presented to the country - nay, the world - in Once Upon a Time and who knows what will happen?  7.65 million people watched Once Upon a Time last week.  That's a lot of people who will be seeing Tinkerbell tonight, and, if I'm allowed to project a little, a  few will become smitten by her.  Possibly a few casting agents.  Will this be the beginning of a new star or just a steady paycheck for a working actress?  Will my fanboy crush crash and burn?  Time will tell.  I wish Rose McIver well, but at the same time, I don't want to get Stoned.

* Yes, I spell 'Febuary' the way I pronounce it.  It's my blog.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Day Late and Several Votes Short

I was perusing a news site a few minutes ago and found this ad targeted towards me.  The top one of the three.
Notice the date.

Two problems.  First, I'm not in Representative Stensrud's district, so directing this ad at me was problematic.  Second, THE ELECTION WAS YESTERDAY.  "Private Sector Know How" people should know how to control their advertising better.  "Common Sense" would be to put an end date on his advertising.

And oh, yeah, the doofus lost.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Little Reality, Please

As I listened to the news on independent media outlet NPR this morning, their esteemed Capitol pundit, Cokie Roberts, said the presidential race was neck and neck, or some similar cliche.

No, it's not.

As every third-grader in this country knows, the president is elected by the electoral college.  The electoral college is, with only two exceptions, determined by winner-take-all votes on a state-by-state basis.  This is not news.  It's why we have swing states.  It's why presidential candidates aren't campaigning in California, Texas or New York this year, but spending a lot of time and money in Ohio and Florida.  This is not news.

So why does every joker who gives us news start by referring to the national popular vote?  It's meaningless.  It's less than meaningless - it's misleading.  It's a lie to even mention that there is such a thing as popular vote in a presidential election.

The legendary poll-explainer Nate Silver at 538.com has a historical/projecting chart of the electoral college race.  It's not even close.  As of this morning, Barack Obama has 298 likely EC votes while Mitt Rmoney has 240.  It takes 270 to win.  It's not even close.

Nate crunched some numbers - I don't understand how but I trust him - and determined that Obama has a 69% chance of winning in November; Romney has 31%.  That's a far cry from the 46%-45% story that Ms Roberts and the rest of the punditocracy would have us believe.  Reporting that would give the chattering class less to chat about, I suppose, but isn't it important for people who report the news to report the news?

Anything can happen in politics and November is a long ways away, but let's report the news rather than the distraction, shall we?

Friday, August 24, 2012


I loaded a new album into iTunes this morning (Journey's Frontiers, if you must know).  At the bottom of the main iTunes screen, there is a summary of number of songs, how long it would take to play them all and how much disk space they take up.  Look at my new number of titles.

Didn't plan it; it just happened.  I'm a numbers guy.  I like seeing totally meaningless yet elegant numbers.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Alison Scott is a Class Act

I've told you about Alison Scott before and I will continue to do so because the more I listen to her music, the better I like it.

Ali's latest album, Chinese Whispers, came out in September, 2010. I was planning on going to the CD release party at the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul, but I had a philosophical disagreement with Ticketmaster - they wanted me to pay some exorbitant handling fees; I did not.

Instead of picking up the CD at the release party I skipped, I ordered it from Alison's web site. I figured I would put the greatest amount of cash in the artist's pocket by buying directly from the artist. I bought her previous two CDs from her in person and she was nice enough to autograph those CDs. Had trouble getting the wrappers off but was very nice.

For Chinese Whispers, there was a comment box on the on-line order form. Since she signed the other CDs, I thought she might sign this one as well, so I entered a comment, "Would it be possible to get this CD autographed? Alas, when it arrived a week later, it was still in the shrink wrap, unsigned. That's fine. I figured she might be using a fulfillment house that made signed CDs impossible, or maybe did them only in person, or charged extra, or some completely innocent and understandable reason. I took no offense and I loved the album.

A few weeks ago, I pick up the mail and see a craft-paper media mailer package in the midst of my junk mail. Curious. I had no unaccounted for on-line orders. I looked at the addressing. To: Me. From: Alison Scott. Curiouser. She doesn't have a new CD out and when she has songs to promote, she sends MP3 attachments to her mailing list people (like me). Why would she send something through the mail to me? And the mailer was filled out by Alison herself - I look at two of her autographed CDs every day and recognize her handwriting. Curious.

Once I was back in the house, I opened the package. Out slides a Chinese Whispers CD with a sticky note attached.

"Hey Patrick

We were recently analyzing our 2010 online sales. I noticed that you had sent me a note asking me to sign your CD. Nobody ever attached a note to their order before, so I've never looked for one.

I feel terrible that I may have appeared to ignore your request. Sorry for the delay. Better late than never I suppose.


I peeled off the sticky note to reveal a personally signed CD of Chinese Whispers.

She needn't have worried; it didn't bother me at all. Taking care of a single fan's inconsequential request a year after a CD purchase makes me appreciate the gesture even more.

Alison Scott is a class act.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 3

Welcome to The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 3. Volumes 1 and 2 are this blog's most popular posts by far, so I hope many, many of you enjoy this list.

The first two lists were designed to introduce my sister to a wider variety of good music. Volume 3 is designed to appeal to anyone on the internet who stumbles by.  I realize that some of you will recognize a few of the songs or at least a few of the artists, but I hope there are enough obscure tunes and musicians in here to expand every reader's horizons several times.

Without further ado, hear are The Best Songs You've Never Heard, Volume 3.

Mother's Finest - Baby Love (1978)
writer: Joyce Kennedy, Glenn Murdock, Jerry Seay, Barry Borden, Gary Moore, Martin Keck
album: Another Mother Further

This is not a cover of the Supremes' 'Baby Love.' It's better. Well, you decide. Mother's Finest was from Georgia and 'Baby Love' was a regional hit way back when. When I lived in Atlanta in the 90s, people would start dancing in their chairs the moment the opening notes came from the jukebox. It's a rocking, soulful blast of adrenaline that deserves to be played loudly and often.

Boz Scaggs - You Got My Letter (1994)
writer: Boz Scaggs
album: Some Change

Boz Scaggs has always been hard to pin down. Even his three biggest hits, 'Lowdown,' 'Lido Shuffle,' and 'Look What You've Done to Me' don't even share a common genre (Jazz-Blues, Power Pop and Ballad, respectively). He continued that trend with his 1994 album Some Change. 'You Got My Letter' has a country feel to the rhythm section but the instruments are jazzy while the vocals are pure blues.

Like I said, Boz is hard to pin down but he's made some great music over the last 40 years and 'You Got My Letter' is right up there, with a great beat and that unmistakable voice. I get the feeling that if played live, his band would just want to keep playing the song for 20 minutes or so. And I'd let them.

Bering Strait - Porushka-Paranya (2003)
writer: traditional
album: Bering Strait

I dare you to not get up and dance or at least tap your foot when listening to 'Porushka-Paranya.' It's like hoe-down music on speed. It's also in Russian, a duet between the two female voices of the now defunct band Bering Strait. The first voice you hear is Lydia Salnikova, who is one of my Facebook friends. Really. The other is Natasha Borzilova, and both are currently trying for solo careers in English-language music. Neither is being terribly successful, which I do not understand at all. Their music is country-tinged and very good, but not selling great guns. Except to me.

'Porushka-Paranya' may be in Russian, a language I do not speak, but is really in the universal language of bluegrass. And fun. And joy. And as weak as my description of 'Porushka-Paranya' is, I really wish I could play a sample to convince you right now. Hi, Lydia!

Sonny Landreth - Bad Weather (1992)
writer: Sonny Landreth
album: Outward Bound

Sonny Landreth is a blues musician from Louisiana. He has a unique style, both in his singing and the way he plays his axe. He uses a slide on his left hand but also finger-picks with his right. Its's probably trippy to watch him play and it's certainly a joy to listen to.

From early in his career, 'Bad Weather' is a good example of Landreth's talent with some wild guitar, great beat and infectious lyrics. And if you can tell the caliber of a musician by the company he keeps, you will occasionally see the name Mark Knopfler listed in the credits of Sonny's albums as a BACK UP musician.

As a Louisiana resident, Landreth had to record a song about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Check out his 2008 song, 'Blue Tarp Blues,' perhaps the definitive song on the subject.

Jon Astley - Jane's Getting Serious (1987)
writer: Jon Astley
album: Everybody Loves the Pilot (Except the Crew)

Jon Astley doesn't even qualify for one-hit wonder status as 'Jane's Getting Serious' - his most successful release - didn't hit the top 40 at all but it did get a lot of play on rock stations. You can, I suppose, guess the subject of the song. It's layered with some funky percussion and a cool vocal arrangement that reinforces the bewilderment of the singer.

Winifred Shaw - The Lullaby of Broadway (1935)
writer: Harry Warren, Al Dubin
As shown in Gold Diggers of 1935

Oh, you've heard 'The Lullaby of Broadway' before, but never the original version. Written for the Busby Berkely movie, Gold Diggers of 1935, it must have been racy in its day, lauding Manhattan babies that party all night and sleep all day, and have sugar daddies buy their favors. How scandalous!

In the movie, the song is used to introduce one of Berkeley's patented musical numbers. The stage curtain opens. An up-tempo, full orchestra tune - the one you recognize - plays. A small white disc appears at the extreme rear of the stage. The singer, not yet visible, begins singing the lyrics that will become iconic. The disc becomes larger. After about half a minute, you realize the growing disc is actually the singer's face, and the camera is dollying in towards her. By the time the song ends - it's barely two minutes long - the singer's face fills the screen, and she sings the last part in extreme - extreme - close up. The movie then goes off on an extended production number that is as complex as Shaw's song was simple, at one point having hundreds of dancers synchronized inside a restaurant, and tap dancers viewed from underneath a glass stage.

Many people have sung 'The Lullaby of Broadway,' but only Shaw really captured it - the only one that could call it original. The fidelity is a bit thin for the modern ear, but it's a wonderful throwback.

Pink Martini - Lilly (2004)
writer: China Forbes, Thomas Lauderdale

First, my history with Pink Martini. Until I heard 'Lilly' in the background of a movie a while back, I had none. No history. Never heard of them. I downloaded 'Lilly,' then used Wikipedia to see who they were. Pink Martini's genre is World Music. I guess that means they have a brass section, extra percussion and occassionally sing in languages other than English. Lead singer China Forbes is in my music collection with exactly one other song - the pop-kitsch theme to the 1996 movie Clueless.

A few months ago, Scott Simon interviewed the band on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Saturday, and introduced them by saying that regular WESAT listeners need no introduction to Pink Martini. Waitaminute. I listen to Weekend Edition every Saturday and have for over a decade. Either Mr Simon was exagerating or I'm just not retaining information in my old age.

'Lilly' is arranged in a 1940s-era saloon style, rhythmic, silky-smooth and brassy. I can picture it being sung in a smoky Rick's Cafe Americain by a band in tuxedos. Lilly is a bad girl - a classic and beloved temptress. Witness the opening lyrics:

"Lilly comes when you stop to call her
Lilly runs when you look away
Lilly leaves kisses on your collar
Lilly, Lilly, Lilly, Lilly, stay!"

I've had a few Lilly's in my life. I could use another one once in a while. The song - unlike the titular babe - is a keeper.

Quarterflash - Crazy Quilt (2008)
writer: Marv Ross
album: Goodbye Uncle Buzz

I put Quarterflash songs in the previous volumes of The Best Songs You've Never Heard and I did it for a reason. They're very good. For the past 30 years I have not been able to understand why the band never caught on with the pop music public. In 2008, the leaders of Quarterflash put out a solo album and slapped a disclaimer on the label admitting that they were the only members of Quarterflash to appear on the record. A classy thing to do.

The melody of 'Crazy Quilt' caught my ear first. It's bouncy and kind of happy. Rindy Ross' vocals are unmistakable. It starts out with the singer telling us that she's worried about her friend, a quilter, who obsesses over her quilts, driving herself crazy trying to make them perfect. In the third verse, the singer tells us about herself and uses the same words to describe how she obsesses over the songs she writes. In other words, we're all part of the same crazy quilt.

Unlike most Quarterflash songs, where the instrumental break features a saxophone solo, 'Crazy Quilt' uses what I believe to be a flute, probably played by Rindy Ross. It's melodic and very soothing. 'Crazy Quilt' would fit right in with the music on any Adult Contemporary radio station.

My sister-in-law CJ is a quilter. Unlike the crazy quilter in the song, CJ makes quilts in copious quantities - she doesn't have time to obsess, and they all look fine to me. After I discovered 'Crazy Quilt,' I gave her a copy to see if she'd enjoy a cute and melodic song about her hobby/lifestyle. When she gave it back, she just shrugged. We don't talk about music anymore.

Henry Lee Summer - Hey Baby (1989)
album: I've Got Everything

'Hey Baby' is the only song in my collection by Henry Lee Summer. It hit number 18 on the pop charts so some of you may have heard it. 'Hey Baby' is your basic three-chord uptempo rocker about, what else, trying to land a babe. It could easily be mistaken for a Bryan Adams or John Mellencamp song, in the best possible way.

Ellen Reid - Anybody Will Do (2001)
writer: Ellen Reid, Greg Wells
album: Cinderellen

Ellen Reid is usually the back-up singer for Crash Test Dummies, a band I find unlistenable unless Ellen is singing lead. 'Anybody Will Do' is from her only solo album to date, and the only song from that album I've been able to find. Ellen has a great style and voice, and I would love to have more of her in my collection.

Deadeye Dick - Marguerite (1994)
writer: Caleb Guillotte
album: A Different Story

Like many people, I thought Deadeye Dick recorded only one song, the gimmick-laden but totally wonderful 'New Age Girl.' Nine years ago, I was perusing my buddy Joel's CD collection and saw that he had the album where 'New Age Girl' came from. I decided to rip a high-quality version of 'New Age Girl,' and, since it required no extra effort, ripped a copy of the full album and boy am I glad I did. The entire album is superb.

Deadeye Dick is a remarkably tight band and Caleb Guillotte is a fantastic singer and songwriter. 'Marguerite' is an uptempo pop song with great lyrics and wonderful harmonies. I relistened just prior to sitting down to write this and I'll be dog-goned if the song isn't about missing a woman who died. Even without that extra meaning, perhaps in spite of the morose undertone, it's still a great, catchy tune.

Kathy Mattea - Quarter Moon (1991)
writer: Bob Millard
album: Time Passes By

Unlike Pink Martini, Kathy Mattea truly needs no introduction. Time Passes By was her sixth LP, going top 10 on the country charts and top 100 pop, but who really listened to little old track 7? 'Quarter Moon' doesn't fit within the rest of the Mattea canon - it's a bluesy, soulful tune about someone with nothing to lose.

"Quarter Moon better than none when you travel the night road
Quarter Moon better than none when you carry a light load"

Kathy's never been shy about branching out from country but this is her only dive into the blues pool that I'm aware of. I kind of wish there were more. In 'Quarter Moon,' her powerful voice is subdued and she uses just a simple accoustic arrangement for the music. Simple, elegant and fantastic.

India Arie - Ghetto (2009)
writer: Branden Burch, India Arie Simpson
accoustic version as aired on NPR, recorded in Studio 4A

India Arie needs no promotion from me. She's had four top ten albums and is no stranger to the R&B singles chart. Yet, when she was promoting Testimony: Vol. 2, Love & Politics on Weekend Edition Sunday in 2009, I had never heard of her. As part of the interview, she did a live version of 'Ghetto,' a song on the album that wasn't released as a single. With just a rhythm guitar for backing, her soulful delivery blew me away. It's a very politically astute song as well, making the statement that the impoverished areas of the third world look an awfully lot like the ghettos and slums of the United States.

To find this version, go to NPR.org. Search with these keywords: India.Arie: 'Love And Politics,' Live In Studio. Watch the performance of 'Ghetto' recorded March 8, 2009, and/or listen to the whole interview.

Alison Scott - Crazy Game (2007)
writer: Alison Scott
album: Wish on the Moon

I've mentioned Alison Scott before, but for those too lazy to follow this link, she's a Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter working in any number of styles. I thought she did blues at first, then jazz, then pop, then who knows what. She even insists on rapping sometimes. No matter what style we call it, she plays catchy, soulful stuff that is downright irresistable.

'Crazy Game' was the first Ali song I heard and it's still my favorite. I could have picked any number of songs for this list from her latest LP, Chinese Whispers, such as 'So Why?,' 'All the Good's Gone,' 'Long Way Down' or 'When the Needle Hits the Groove,' but for today, 'Crazy Game' is the one. Anyone who has ever heard a good song, and if you're reading this you obviously have, then you'll recognize Alison Scott's 'Crazy Game' as an immediately memorable, great song.

Steve Lukather - Stab in the Back (2008)
writer: Steve Lukather, Randy Goodrum
album: Ever Changing Times

I've pledged to write up this song without going off on a tangent about how Steve Lukather is one of the best guitarists in the history of the instrument, so give me a minute.

OK. Luke, as he is known to his fans, was the lead guitarist for Toto and started releasing solo work starting in the late 1980s, during his Toto downtime. Fast forward to 2008, when he releases his first solo album in ten years. Its style is all over the road, something Luke fans seem to appreciate. The song that grabbed my ear first was 'Stab in the Back.' It's an allegory for music deals where the artist gets screwed but more importantly, it's a chance for a couple of patented Luke solos. The man can play.

'Stab in the Back' is a very jazzy tune, with melodic vocals and some almost whimsical guitar licks. If the lyrics didn't contain mentions of cell phones and voice mail, you'd think it was a song off a Steely Dan album from the 1970s. It's that good.

Susanna Hoffs - So Much for Love [edit] (1991)
writer: John Hanes, Patricia Gilbert, Peter Dunne, Hilary Hanes
album: When You're a Boy

In the Summer of 2008, I decided to flesh out my collection of artists that I appreciated but didn't possess their entire discography. Susanna Hoffs was one of those. You may know her as one of the Bangles. I picked up her 1991 album cheap - it may have been a penny - and loaded it on my music player. It's a fairly funky album but on my first listen-to, I wasn't impressed. On the second listen, though, something clicked.

At that time I was living in a sub-let apartment in a should-have-been condemned building/slum across the street from my office. It was literally a three-minute cube-to-hovel walk. On a hot June or July day, walking back to the office from lunch, cut 7 from When You're a Boy started playing. The third verse caught my attention.

"I got a contract to protect my labor
I got it worded so it always works out in my favor
Got no loose ends to untangle
I got a written guarantee that covers every angle
So much, so much for love"

Until you listen for yourself, you have to imagine those words being sung by the voice that sang 'Manic Monday,' 'Eternal Flame' and the last verse of 'Walk Like an Egyptian.' It's very cynical, very funky and very fun. I think Susanna's record company missed out by not releasing 'So Much for Love' as a single 20 years ago.

You may have noticed the word "edit" in the title above. After maybe a dozen listens, I realized the song was broken. Like many pop songs, 'So Much for Love' was arranged in the format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus. I used my WAV editor, found a couple of natural edit points and killed the first chorus, changing v-c-v-c-v-c to v-v-c-v-c. The song flows better and builds up more musical tension this way, but if you don't have the ability to edit music files, hey, the stock version is still a great song.

Kay Hanley - Satellite (2002)
writer: Kay Hanley
album: Cherry Marmalade

I love Kay Hanley's voice. It hits a resonate frequency deep within and brings me great joy. I don't always love her song selection and her propensity to drop the F-bomb makes me a little uneasy, but what can you do? Instinct tells me to put my favorite Kay song on this list, but the purpose of The Best Songs You've Never Heard is to expose you to great songs, not force you to like my favorites, even if they are sometimes one in the same. Having given it that much thought, I have chosen a Kay Hanley song that demonstrates her amazing singing and songwriting ability, even if it's not quite my actual favorite Kay song.

Which brings us to 'Satellite,' from her first solo LP. She sings in a straight-forward pop style, with easy to understand lyrics and a chorus that is catchier than chicken pox at day care. I picked 'Satellite' in part because it uses overdubbing both to give her voice depth and so she can sing harmony-back up vocals herself. Those harmonies pop 'Satellite' up to a whole 'nother level of pop song.

The song is a fairly opaque look at a break-up, one with dumper's remorse, I guess. The second thoughts allow Kay to sing with a little more emotion than on many of her songs, yet 'Satellite' is ultimately a happy sounding, up-tempo song. And you just have to love a song where the lyrics rhyme "black coat" with "Veuve Cliquot." I had to look it up - Veuve Cliquot is a brand of champagne. No, I have no idea what the word Satellite means in the context of the lyrics - it sounds like a person's name. No, she doesn't drop the F-bomb in this song.

Joan Osborne - What Becomes of the Brokenhearted? (2007)
writer: William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, James Dean
album: Breakfast in Bed
DVD: Standing in the Shadows of Motown

You've obviously heard the song 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?' This cover version was created for the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the story of the musicians behind the incredible success of Motown Records in the 1960s. The musicians playing on this cover are (mostly) the same ones that played on Jimmy Ruffin's original version in 1966. Who woulda thought that Joan Osborne had so much soul?

I recommend watching the whole movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but at the very least, check out Joan's version of 'What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?' beginning at the 1:11 point in the movie. It's better than the original.

Steve Forbert - On the Streets of This Town (1988)
writer: Steve Forbert

Everybody has heard Forbert's 'Romeo's Tune,' with its infectious piano and his sandpaper voice, but 'On the Streets of This Town' is a better song. It's a simple moving-on ballad with a sparse four-part arrangement that makes the most of that rough voice.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd - Everybody Gets the Blues (1995)
writer: Angel Michael
album: Ledbetter Heights

I'll close with one of the best feel-good songs in the history of recorded music. It's from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's early, hit-making days, but 'Everybody Gets the Blues' was not released as a single. It's a powerful, fast, exciting song that is a celebration. If something's got you down, it won't seem so bad after you listen to 'Everybody Gets the Blues.'

And that concludes volume 3. I won't promise a volume 4, certainly not anytime soon. I will make an offer to burn a CD of this list for those of you who know me personally. For the rest, you will have to seek out the music through regular channels. I guarantee that many, no, most, no, ALL of the songs here are worth seeking out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Let's Let Apple Be the Change We Want to See

I read that Apple Inc is sitting on $76 billion in cash. Good for them. Apple puts out products that people want to buy and they make a profit on it. Fine by me.

$76 billion is more than the annual GDP of over half of the countries in the world. Granted, some of the countries are pretty small but Apple is just one company in one industry. We can conclude that Apple is successful and profitable.

Yet, this all-American company, selling phones, computers and music players to Americans, doesn't build anything in America. Everything they make is outsourced to Mexico or China. I understand that business is cyclical and that bad times will surely follow good, but with a $76 billion cushion, shouldn't Apple move all of their manufacturing back to the United States? Most companies will say that they outsource to save a few percentage points on manufacturing costs, but when your profits are so huge that you have more cash on hand than the United States treasury, can we let Apple use that excuse? Shouldn't we, the American consumer, insist that they become an all-American company?

Hey, guy who replaced Steve Jobs as Apple CEO - Time to open some factories in the United States, dude. Now.