Zac Brown Band – A Country Music Review – Part 1

The Zac Brown Band has been putting out country albums since 2005 but the two albums that caught my attention are “The Foundation” (2008) and “You Get What You Give” (2010).  These two albums have some of Zac’s best songs.  Many of them are ones you’ll enjoy listening to over and over.  Here are some of my favorites:

Foundation

Chicken Fried

Highway 20 Ride

Toes

You Get What You Give

Colder Weather

Knee Deep

I Play the Road

 

 

Zac fills his albums with songs that are original and meaningful.  He has a sound that combines elements of country, bluegrass and Southern Rock.  On a few songs on these albums he’ll mix in some reggae stuff which isn’t my favorite thing but usually it’s okay.  He writes most of the songs and fills them with great instrumental work and heartfelt lyrics.  And he even has a few comical songs which I like.  Of course, nobody will like all the songs and I’m sure there are some folks who won’t like his stuff but I’ll risk a statement that most country music fans will like quite a lot of these two albums.

Zac has a bunch of other albums but in my opinion, these are his best two efforts so far.  In another review I’ll pick out the rest of his work to highlight the best of these other albums.

Tobey Keith – A Country Music Review

Since nothing new has caught my attention in Country lately I’ve decided to do retrospectives on some of my favorite artists.  I’ll start with Tobey Keith.  I consider Tobey one of the most successful Country Music singers.  He has quite a number of songs that are truly excellent.  These are songs that you can play over any number of times without wearing them out.  And Keith has a variety of song types.  He has serious patriotic ones, comic ones and ones that sing about the vicissitudes of modern life.  He has a strong pleasant voice and he uses both country and western melodies with occasional rock and other music types.

Another aspect of Tobey Keith is his unashamed patriotism and his well-known support for the military.  Keith performed in Iraq during the war and embraced charities that helped the wounded soldiers and penned the song American Soldier as a tribute to the fighting men.

So, Tobey writes his own songs, has produced twenty-five albums, won numerous awards and is worth over five hundred million dollars.  Not bad for a country boy from Oklahoma.  But all that is beside the point.  He has a boatload of good country music and if you go through his greatest hits, you’re bound to find several that you’ll enjoy.  Well, at least, I think you will.

Here are a number of songs that I especially enjoy in the categories I’ve grouped them in.

Americana

Courtesy of The Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)

Made in America

American Soldier

Beer for My Horses

Should’ve Been A Cowboy

 

Modern Life

How Do You Like Me Now?

Whiskey Girl

Get Drunk and Be Somebody

Clancy’s Tavern

Stays in Mexico

 

Comic

Big Blue Note

As Good as I Once Was

Red Solo Cup

Get Out of My Car

Sturgill Simpson – A Country Music Artist Review

When I played Sturgill Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” a while ago, I was struck by the fact that he could write an excellent and very genuine country song like Panbowl but didn’t really seem to belong to the genre on a consistent basis.  Later I listened to “High Top Mountain” and noted that this was an album that followed the country music conventions but breathed an original and idiosyncratic life into them.

Recently I bought Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” and “Sound & Fury” albums.  I can officially declare that Sturgill Simpson’s days as a country musician have ended.  A Sailor’s Guide is an album of personal songs, some to his young child, that might be characterized as some kind of combination of folk/pop and a smattering of everything else.  Sound and Fury is what a musician I know described as techno-metal.

Whatever they are, they ain’t country.  It seems that musicians wander into country via folk music origins, probably because it’s commercially viable and then can’t maintain the interest.  I think many of them feel too constrained or long to add other sounds to the mix.

So unless someone tells me that Sturgill Simpson has become possessed by the spirit of Hank Williams Senior I won’t be checking out his subsequent releases.

Tyler Childers – Country Squire – A Country Music Review

I’m a fan of Tyler Childers’ music.  He’s a singer songwriter with an interesting voice and talent for producing lively melodies.  And he tells stories about modern Appalachia.  Stories about country people and stories about himself.  One of my favorites of his songs is a murder ballad on his Purgatory album called Banded Clovis.  His lyrics paint an engaging picture of the murderer at the moment when greed and desperation over comes camaraderie and decency.

Childers’ new album Country Squire is in the same cast as Purgatory.  It has songs that describe the life of every day folks in Appalachia and also has more autobiographical songs about his life on the road as a musician.  For me these personal songs are not as compelling because that lifestyle doesn’t resonate with how I live.  But the other songs are more interesting to me.  So, unsurprisingly the three songs I like best on the album are of this type; Creeker, Peace of Mind and Matthew.  They’re just stories of everyday people living everyday lives.  But Childers is able to generate good country songs with it.  The other six songs have a number of what I called above autobiographical songs and here it’s more hit or miss.  “Country Squire” and “Bus Route” are pretty good.  But “Ever Lovin’ Hand” I’ll take a pass on.  The musicality is fine but the story is too odd for me.

So if you’re a Tyler Childers fan you’ll like Country Squire.  If you’re a country music fan give it a try but I would start with his Purgatory album first.  I think it’s a better introduction to his range of songs.

 

Hell or High Water Soundtrack – A Country Music Review

So this is the companion to my review of the movie “Hell or High Water” movie.  The film brings up to the present day the Texas outlaw genre.  The music is a mixture of evocative movie background instrumental and then songs from various artists that speak to the theme.   The artists, Townes Van Zandt, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Waylon Jennings, Colter Wall,  Scott H. Biram and Chris Stapleton are far from uniform in their styles or even genre.  I believe Van Zandt is considered a folk music singer/songwriter but the songs fit the theme and even the instrumental pieces provided by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis fit together well and qualify as actual music and not just sound effects.  I’ve listed the non-instrumental songs below.  All in all, an enjoyable album of music.  Recommended for when you’re feeling like an outlaw which for me lately is most of the time.

Dollar Bill Blues
by Townes Van Zandt

Dust of the Chase
by Ray Wylie Hubbard

You Ask Me To
by Waylon Jennings

Sleeping On The Blacktop
by Colter Wall

Blood, Sweat and Murder
by Scott H. Biram

Outlaw State Of Mind
by Chris Stapleton

31DEC2018 – Best of 2018 List

Here’s my retrospective on 2018, completely subjective of course and whenever I can’t make up my mind or I don’t want to leave something out I’ll cheat and provide more than one choice.  And that’s one of the wonderful things about being the boss, you get to break the rules and do what you want.

 

Best Quotes of the Day

Some are political, some philosophical and some just human nature.  The order is just chronological of their appearance on the site.

 

“In the many forms of government which have sprung up there has always been an acknowledgement of justice and proportionate equality, although mankind fail in attaining them, as indeed I have already explained. Democracy, for example, arises out of the notion that those who are equal in any respect are equal in all respects; because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.”

Aristotle

 

“No state will be well administered unless the middle class holds sway.”

Aristotle

 

“When there aren’t any smart decisions, I suppose you just have to pick the stupid decision you like best.”

Orson Scott Card

 

“No one likes the fellow who is all rogue, but we’ll forgive him almost anything if there is warmth of human sympathy underneath his rogueries. The immortal types of comedy are just such men.”

W. C. Fields

 

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

H.L. Mencken

 

Carpe diem!  Seize the day!  Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.

Horace

 

“And this is the simple truth – that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce.”

Soren Kierkegaard

 

If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.

Camille Paglia

 

Best Books Reviewed

Fiction

I’ll have to go with the Galaxy’s Edge series:

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/01/18/legionnaire-galaxys-edge-volume-1-by-jason-anspach-nick-cole-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Over the course of 2018 I read and reviewed all eight of the volumes in the main series (first volume linked above) and they only got better as the series went along.  It was good old mil-sci-fi space opera.  I assume I won’t live long enough to see the end of the series but so far that isn’t a problem.  I look forward to the next installment soon and am in no way tired of this particular universe.  Kudos to Anspach and Cole.  Long may they stoke their dumpster fire at the Edge of the Galaxy!

 Fiction Runners Up:

“The Hidden Truth” by Hans G. Schantz

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/30/the-brave-and-the-bold-book-3-of-the-hidden-truth-by-hans-g-schantz-a-science-fiction-book-review/

Schantz has also upped his game as his series progresses and the “The Brave and the Bold,” the third volume, is the best so far.  Kudos to him.

 

“Southern Dust” by Caspar Vega

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/08/25/southern-dust-by-caspar-vega-a-science-fiction-and-fantasy-book-review/

Vega is an acquired taste for me and as I’ve written about him, “It’s for those who like gritty crime dramas with a staccato, post-modern, minimalist writing style.”  Even though my tastes are a little more conventional I appreciate that there is an audience for the more unusual so I look around for interesting stuff.  As I’ve said before, your call.

 

Non-Fiction

The two books listed below provide two different takes on the way to interpret the results of ancient DNA analysis.

“The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

“Who We Are and How We Got Here; Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Past” by David Reich

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/24/the-10000-year-explosion-a-book-review/

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/06/18/who-we-are-and-how-we-got-here-ancient-dna-and-the-new-science-of-the-past-by-david-reich-a-book-review/

 

David Reich being an academic embedded in the politically correct culture of the university system treads ever so gently around the edges of how the science of human genetic history should be interpreted.  Cochran and Harpending are much more direct and sometimes possibly presumptuous in the conclusions they draw from the evidence.  Both books together tell a fascinating story of how much we now know about the complex and diverse origins of the various human populations.

 

Best Movie

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Incredibles 2

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/07/08/the-incredibles-2-a-science-fiction-fantasy-movie-review/

This is a kids’ movie but it far exceeds any of the other “superhero” movies for just plain entertainment value.  I won’t say it was as original as the first installment but it mostly kept to the spirit of the original and provided a fun vehicle for parents (or grandparents) to enjoy a movie with their kids.

 

Older Movies

True Grit

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2016/12/07/true-grit-the-duke-the-dude-and-the-dutiful-daughter-part-i/

 

This is a twofer.  For younger folks I’ll only recommend the new version by the Coen Brothers.  For people who grew up on the John Wayne movies of old I recommend they view both movies back to back in chronological order.  They each have facets to its advantage.  Each differs slightly from the source material.  But each is a fine movie.  And I’ll also recommend the novel that is the source for the movies.  It also has facets that aren’t available in either movie.

 

Music

Country Music

Album of the Year

Colter Wall by Colter Wall

Song of the Year

Pan Bowl by Sturgill Simpson

My music choices are very idiosyncratic so I won’t try to justify them.  To paraphrase a recent annoying politician, they just reflect who I am  Pan Bowl is an older song from Simpson’s 2014 album.

 

TV

The only truly notable television I watched in 2018 was the State of the Union address by the president.  Everything else was at best just okay.

 

On – Line Articles

 

Here are the articles that I thought were informative on our political situation.  There were many others that were intersting but these seem to encapsulate the developments in the political thinking this year.  Basically it’s the red-pilling of the normies.

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/03/23/american-greatness-pick-of-the-day-total-political-war-by-matthew-j-peterson/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/04/15/a-different-kind-of-red-shift/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/05/29/john-derbyshire-post-electoral-gold-for-the-stupid-party-the-anti-anti-white-vote/

 

http://orionscoldfire.com/index.php/2018/10/25/our-revolutions-logic-angelo-codevilla-an-on-line-article-review/

 

Humor

Trump vs

These are of course the most subjective things to judge.  I just kind of liked these a lot.  I admit they are absurd but such is life.

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 1)

Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 2)

Search hell Trump vs the Hell Storm (Part 3)

 

Photos

Here are my favorite photos of the year.

Landscape

 

 

Nature

American Museum of Natural History, New York City, Sony NEX 5N, Sony 24mm F\1.8 APSC lens
macrophotography with Sony A7 III, Minolta 200mm f\4 macro lens and extension tubes, long horned beetle
Monotropa uniflora, Indian pipe, ghost plant, corpse plant, Sony A7 III with Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro lens
Sony A7 III with the Sigma MC-11 Adapter and the Sigma 180mm f\2.8 APO Macro EX DG HSM OS for Canon

 

Portly Politico – A Very Dokken Christmas, Part III:  Under Lock and Key

1985 was a great year.  President Ronald Reagan began his second term in office, The Portly Politico was born (not the blog, just me), and Dokken released their finest effort to date, the start-to-finish gem Under Lock and Key.

 

Their third studio album was also their most commercially successful up to that point, perhaps due in part to a more commercial sound.  That said, Under Lock and Key isn’t just a Def Leppard sound-alike, or full of crowd-pleasing power ballads.  It’s an album that rocks consistently, and even the mid-tempo material is full of fist-pumping fury.

 

Take the opener, “Unchain the Night.”  Just like Tooth and Nail’s “Without Warning,” Under Lock and Key kicks off with a brief but effective instrumental intro (albeit part of the title track, instead of a separate tune), this time with synthesizers.  I crank this part up as far as my Dodge minivan’s sound system will allow for the full, gut-punching effect—after a slow synth arpeggio drop, the guitars kick in full blast, and “Unchain the Night” truly begins.

 

I don’t know exactly what Dokken is trying to convey when he sings, “Never unchain the night/don’t tell me that the love is gone/never unchain the night/’Cause tomorrow’s another turn,” but it’s powerful, and a powerful earworm.  I also can’t help but note the contrast with Breaking the Chain’s title track, which is all about breaking free of personal and emotional chains (a later chorus in “Unchain the Night” ends with “I’m never gonna set you free”—dang).

 

“The Hunter” is an equally effective second track.  It’s the perfect song before heading out for a night on the town, as it’s all about being a hunter on the prowl, “Searching for love on these lonely streets again.”  A common theme in rock ‘n’ roll is the pantheric nature of the wandering troubadour, never fully satisfied with his lot in life and love, constantly stalking the concrete jungles for a shot at romance—or unbridled lust.  It’s not as intensely sexy as Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night,” but it gets the point across well.

 

The third track, “In My Dreams,” is a solid track, and was a minor hit for the band.  Here the fullness of the band’s ensemble vocals is heard from the get-go.  It’s a strong rocker, and one that showcases the band’s overall style and range well.

 

But for money, the best track on the album is “Lightnin’ Strikes Again,” a furious, intense, full-throttle rocker that never lets up.  Like sitting through a raging thunderstorm, you can feel this track in your bones.  It features an incredible, multi-measure drum fill that sounds like acoustical lightning, and some of Don Dokken’s finest vocal work as he leaps to seemingly impossible heights, with a call-and-response, “Lightnin’!/Lightnin’ Strikes Again!” repeats until the end.

 

The rest of the album is solid throughout; if anything, my failure as a reviewer is how hooked I am on “Lightnin’ Strikes Again.”  When I listen to Under Lock and Key, I force myself to listen to the last five tracks, not because they suck, but because “Lightnin’ Strikes Again” is so good.  “It’s Not Love” is a fun song about breaking with an obsessive girlfriend (not fun if you’ve ever experienced, but the song handles it cheekily).  “Will the Sun Rise” is a brooding, beautiful, sad tune about warriors setting off in a post-nuclear war, and asks dolefully if they’ll ever see the sun or sky again.

 

Most reviewers recommend Under Lock and Key as a good place to start with Dokken, and I will repeat that advice unabashedly.  It represents a mature version of the band, and it has something for almost any taste (as long as you’re broadly into hard rock and heavy metal from the 1980s).  It remains one of my favorite albums of all time; if not in the Top Five, it’s definitely in the Top Ten.  Highly recommended.

Portly Politico – A Very Dokken Christmas, Part II:  Tooth and Nail

We continue our yuletide celebration of Dokken with the 1984’s Tooth and Nail.  After the tepid performance of 1983’s Breaking the Chains, Dokken found themselves in debt to the tune of a cool half-a-million, and Elektra contemplated dropping the band.  Don Dokken and his management convinced the label to give the group one last shot; thus, the tenacious title.

 

That tenacity paid off, and is heard in every riff of Tooth and Nail.  If Breaking the Chains had some gems, Tooth and Nail shines like a diamond throughout.  Indeed, it’s a testament to the band’s songwriting that their third album, Under Lock and Key, would improve upon Tooth and Nail’s sonic attack.

 

Simply put, this album rocks, while also offering up more pop-oriented tunes.  Dokken opens the album with an atmospheric instrumental opener that’s just the right length.  I’m a big fan of extended instrumental introductions, so long as they lead somewhere.  “Without Warning” lives up to its title, as it seamlessly, suddenly transitions into the full-frontal assault of the title track, “Tooth and Nail.”

 

“Tooth and Nail” is the kind of opening rocker that should start every metal album.  The track is fast and fun, with an excellent, memorable chorus.  Don Dokken had been working with a vocal coach in Germany, and his improved range and technique are evident on “Tooth and Nail,” as he hits a stratospheric “Straight to the top!” toward the end of the song.

 

There are several other standout tracks, including the power ballad “Alone Again,” a song that helped boost flagging album sales.  Some listeners scoff at power ballads, but I love them if they’re executed well, with solid dynamic contrast, memorable choruses, interesting bridges, etc.  “Alone Again” doesn’t quite get to the level of, say, Heart’s “Alone” by these metrics, but it’s fun to sing in your car.

 

For my money, though, “When Heaven Comes Down” is a solid, underappreciated rocker, one that demonstrates the strength of the backing vocals.  Don’t underestimate the power of good backing vocals (see also:  Michael Anthony on almost every Van Halen song).

 

“Bullets to Spare” and “Turn on the Action,” the album’s closer, are similarly rockin’ affairs, though I’m partial to the latter.  “Bullets to Spare” is the kind of cheeky tune that makes me love the macho humor of glam metal, but “Turn on the Action” sounds like the kind of tune that could have come on the heels of “Tooth and Nail” to make for the iconic double-rocker-opener that I crave.

 

Ultimately, Tooth and Nail helped get the band off life-support, and set the stage for the exquisite Under Lock and Key—the subject of our the third and final album in our series A Very Dokken Christmas.

Portly Politico – A Very Dokken Christmas, Part I:  Breaking the Chains (1983)

To celebrate the Christmas season, I’d like to explore 80s hair metal giants Dokken’s first three albums, starting with their 1983 debut, Breaking the Chains.  The story of this album is curious in itself, as there are actually two versions:  one recorded in 1981, then in another with the classic Dokken line-up of Don Dokken, George Lynch, Mick Brown, and Jeff Pilson (Pilson played bass on the tour, but not on the album).  The best treatment of that story is The Rageaholic’s Metal Mythos: DOKKEN video; indeed, that video first turned me on to Dokken, a band I’d almost entirely missed in past forays into 80s metal.

 

This review will cover the 1983 album, as that’s properly when “Dokken” as such began (some pressings of 1981’s Breakin’ the Chains—note the dropped “G” in the ’81 version’s title—listed the artist as “Don Dokken”).  Also, I haven’t heard enough of the ’81 cut to comment upon it adequately.

 

Breaking the Chains kicks off with its excellent title track, a tune that’s both rockin’ and sleek.  It’s central riff—built around a persistent transition from E minor to D to C, and back again—is simple but effective, and resolves nicely into the G major of the distinctive chorus.  Like much of 80s hair metal, the tune effortlessly combines a brooding sense of rock ‘n’ roll machismo with a catchy, radio-friendly chorus.

 

The album’s second track, “In The Middle,” is another mid-tempo rocker, but feels like a missed opportunity.  The opening track itself, while exquisite, is already a slower tune.  The decision to follow that up with another andante selection makes for a lackluster double opener.  Dokken would perfect the “rockin’-double-opener” approach on future albums, but the best tracks on Breaking the Chains await.

 

Really, the album doesn’t really get cooking until the fifth track, “Live to Rock (Rock to Live),” an unapologetic rocker all about, well, rockin’ out.  I’ve yet to give this track the “drive test” I referenced in my Down to Earth review, but I’m sure it would pass.  Speaking of the drive test, Dokken follows “Live to Rock” with “Nightrider,” which sounds like driving a sports car with a panther on the roof through the rain-slick neon of an 80s night.  These two tracks should have appeared a bit earlier on the album.

 

The album closes with a live recording of “Paris is Burning” from a 1982 show in Berlin.  That track rips open with a George Lynch guitar solo that sounds like Van Halen’s “Eruption.”  That kind of guitar pyrotechnics is missing from most of the record, so this live recording is a welcome addition to the album.

 

Much of this initial effort is enjoyable but forgettable, but there are some real gems on Breaking the Chains, not just the title track.  All in all, it’s a solid record that points to the intensity and power of future Dokken releases.