Sunday, June 29, 2008

Classically Martin: The Oak Ridge Boys

I don't think that I've exposed myself... wait, let's put it differently. I don't think I've shown as wide a swath of the genres that had an effect on my musical appreciation. This time, I wanted to touch on country.

Thanks to Daniel and Robin, Kerry and I accompanied them to see the Oak Ridge Boys last night. I've always believed in the saying "you better see them once while they are here" when it applies to acts that have been around a long time. I usually go into a show like this thinking that I'll know several expected songs and be shocked at some others that surface from the back of my mind while they play them. I love moments like that. And I have to say that they were far far better than I ever expected. Dan and Robin figured that Kerry and I were the only ones under 40 there. (Wheelchairs, scooters and canes galore. I asked aloud later if you can get a contact high from Viagra, Enzyte or Geritol.)

I tried to explain it to our hosts at the end of the show but there is nothing quite like the sound of Richard Sterban's voice. I couldn't help but smile at the vocalist who emits a bass sound as that just astounds the listener. I saw that same smile, grin and laughter amongst the attendees and I think that it is a sound so closely tied to joy in life. Absolutely amazing. The human voice truly is an instrument. Anyhow, I decided to share a few video gems from their impressive history with you.


"Bobbie Sue"

"Tryin' To Love Two Women"

I couldn't embed the last couple... more professional videos but the are just as important to post. Here are Little Things and Thank God For Kids.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Night Ranger - Hole In The Sun

Night Ranger. Many images and songs surface to memory when you mention this band who have sold 16 million albums worldwide. What doesn't arise are memories of studio work after 1998's Seven album. Until now. Despite a changing line-up during the last decade, the group played a lot of tour dates and even released several live discs and hits collections. In 2007, the band regrouped to record Hole In The Sun.

Many of the songs will have you checking credits and possibly searching to see if there is a new group that stole the Night Ranger name out there. There isn't. (To help guide the lost, they've even provided stunning acoustic versions of their classics "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "Sister Christian" as bonus tracks.) The band have matured. The powerful alcoholic prayer that is "White Knuckle Ride" is an outstanding rock track with a stellar breakdown that engages near the 3 minute mark. Rock tracks abound on this collection. The opener, "Tell Your Vision," blazes to life and harmonizes at just the right moments (eerily sounding like Blue October.) "Drama Queen" is a guitar work-out. The first single, "You're Gonna Hear From Me," is a song that you get the overwhelming urge to chant along. (Reminiscent of "Rock N' Roll Part 2" so I can expect it to be played at sporting events.) I never would have expected a song by the group to open like "Whatever Happened" but it is a clever chorus merged with minimalist Everclear-ish verses. "There Is Life" is a beautiful piano-based triumph. "Rockstar," "Hole In The Sun" and "Revelation 4AM" aren't slackers as they keep up what is a strong rock disc. Even the mellower "Fool In Me" seems to be placed appropriately as a break between some to the heavier tunes. Guitarist Jeff Watson and the group parted ways after recording the album but his influence isn't entirely gone as the relationship reflection of "Being" and the ZZ Top-esque "Wrap It Up," written by him, close the new tracks the disc.

This album is bursting with energy... solar energy composed of group synergy. Topically and rhythmically varied, it is hard to predict what is coming next. There isn't a single let down here. Night Ranger's sound here doesn't rely on old or tried tricks and makes it positively refreshing. Despite it getting released in Japan late last year, a few goodies (the bonus tracks) were placed on here to more than make up for it. I don't see a single hole in this album and I forecast that this sun truly shines on American shores.

4 out of 5

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

All Of The Above

Time to tick a few people off. Energy issues have been a part of the American landscape for over 3 decades. It surfaced once in 1973, the again in 1979 and has come to a head again with gas prices passing $4 per gallon. Personally, I believe the status quo isn't working. So here are some quick thoughts on energy economics.

There has been a mania behind exporting jobs, importing cheap products and increased trade deficits that seems hypocritical when we consider that we export $1 billion per day (combined -- in order --to Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Iraq, Angola, Algeria and many others) in trade for two-thirds of the oil-based products we consume. (You may notice we purchase less from places further away as it costs more to ship.) When we make less than half of what we consume, that's a huge on-going energy deficit. And, when we pay someone else to extract oil, we provide a job extracting oil to someone in another country.

The notion that we can grow our own oil is a terrific one. Self-sufficiency through productive growth is ideal. Yet, it leaves us dependent on sunny weather. E-85 gets its name from the percentage of corn-based ethanol in the product (15% is gasoline.) The price of corn is climbing. Don't expect that to stop. The current Midwest flooding and other natural events such as drought affecting supply do not make for stable pricing. I will not go into the fuel's contribution to greenhouse gases as the studies will take some time. Just kind of odd to say you want to get off gasoline but you include it in the mixture when there are car conversions that allow you to run on vegetable oil which also could be affected by natural events.

Electricity is wonderful. The promise of hybrid cars is exciting. One presidential candidate has proposed a $300 million prize "for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars". Of course, the definition of 'leapfrog' is debatable but similar to corn-based ethanol... how stable is electricity? 70% of our electricity is created from fossil fuels. Many rightly claim that this means of production adds to air pollution and, yes, greenhouse gases. But, more dangerous is dependence on electricity. The rolling black-outs of 2000-2001 were not an anomaly. During another set of California rolling blackouts in 2005, The California Independent System Operator ordered the provider to "to reduce demand throughout its territory." I don't know about you, but I don't see us producing more electric energy without some clearing of legislative hurdles. Plugging in your car sounds amazing until a new wave of blackouts begin. I believe that this will lead to something similar to our watering plans ("People in plan C can plug in on Wednesdays and Saturdays.")

Windpower is wonderful. It is a growing form of renewable energy as states are able to make use of some land (and water areas) that might otherwise go unused.
As of June 30, 2006, the United States has 9,971 MW of installed wind capacity, enough to serve over 2.3 million average American households. Finding suitable area that isn't in migration paths are an issue here. For some reason, birds either don't see it or care. There are also a lot of people that don't find it visually appealing.

Hydropower has hope. But there are tons of different technologies being looked into. According to the IEEE, "
In fiscal year 2008, funding was provided to DOE for research on a wide range of advanced water power technologies. As part of its commitment to develop clean, domestic energy sources, DOE is collaborating with industry, regulators, and other stakeholders to investigate emerging water power technologies and further improve conventional hydropower systems." So possibly in the future. Sure dams have been around for a long time but creating power by releasing water is entirely dependent on rainfall and snowpack which are as predictable as... the weather.

Solar energy is progressing nicely. Oddly enough, BP -- one of those big greedy oil companies -- has been involved in its development for over 30 years. The technology is getting better for storage and return to the power grid. It's still costly due to the cost of the accumulators, the fragility of the components (glass, semiconductors and more) and regular maintenance. Again, aesthetics and land use are problems but it is getting more tempting to add panels to your house when you make the purchase. When it gets cheaper, expect panels on every roof. Yes, it requires mother nature's help again with plenty of sun.

The hydrogen engine is also appealing. There are several automobile models that are already using it. Despite the promise it may hold, there are critics that claim that it is one of the least efficient and most expensive ways to reduce greenhouse gases. And it may not even do that. According to an article published in the March/April 2007 issue of Technology Review: "In the context of the overall energy economy, a car like the BMW Hydrogen 7 would proba­bly produce far more carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline-powered cars available today. And changing this calculation would take multiple breakthroughs--which study after study has predicted will take decades, if they arrive at all. In fact, the Hydrogen 7 and its hydrogen-fuel-cell cousins are, in many ways, simply flashy distractions produced by automakers who should be taking stronger immediate action to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions of their cars."

Lastly, I'll mention nuclear energy. Remember when I said 70% of our elecricity comes from fossil fuels? 20% of it comes from nuclear energy. There are many arguments against its use (waste disposal, radiation and accidents creating a meltdown.) Of course, this isn't keeping global competition from going this route as China, Russia and India have plans to build over a hundred new plants among them in the coming decades.

If anything, what we do know is that there are a lot of alternatives out there when it comes to energy. Is America sitting on the fence when it comes to self-sufficiency? That's something for us to consider. Let's say that the best all-electric car comes along at an affordable price. Although, that kind of development is quite a ways off, it needs to be powered or it'll be useless. Emerging technologies are just that... emerging. It's important to develop these and let American ingenuity loose. Waiting and depending on the advancement of specific technologies to hopefully come save the day is wishful thinking. I wonder what would happen if we developed all of the above. Could these energy forms duke it out in a free market to lessen their costs and sharpen their focus? Could we become a nation that exports energy as well as intellectual property? I think that I'll revisit this topic 10 years from now.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Scheduling My Life Away

I have noticed that one of my biggest issues in life will be scheduling. It is so bad that when someone asks me if I will be free to do something on a specific date... I usually hesitate, delay and ask for later notice. Why? Well, it could be that I tend to take my days and associate them with tasks. Some of those have become recurring themes (the newsletter on Monday and the show on Saturdays.) After seeing those blossom, I worry about creating other weekly obligations. Especially now that I have a family that need to deal with that.

When the newsletter started, I was writing it on Fridays after I got home from work (around 3pm until 8pm or so.) They were pretty short and my search skills and correspondence with labels was non-existent. As things got more intricate, I was spending more time on Friday night writing. There was a woman that I was dating around that time that wasn't able to deal with my self-imposed obligation as it looked that I put that ahead of being with her. When that ended... I called it a day and stopped the newsletter. But, I was still looking up the news for myself and that relationship was over so I decided to move it to Mondays (which didn't affect concerts and could be seen as the start of the week news-wise.)

Now, years later, I'm looking at Mondays and most of Saturday being scheduled away. On Saturdays, when I cover the news of the week... it's missing 5 days or so of recent news. Doesn't seem right. Also, the wife has Mondays off. I've been considering doing the newsletter on Fridays as there is less missing news when I record the show the following day. Even when it went out on Mondays, it didn't get there until later on Monday so it was something people got after work. Changing this would also give me time that I can go away and really relax during the week and possibly schedule an interview here and there. Much to think about in doing this but, I think it is for the perfect reasons this time.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day 2008

A happy Father's Day to all that it applies. I felt that I needed to try to make a post today. Yes, today is my first day that I can celebrate the holiday as David's step-father. I could never really celebrate it before (despite that deep dark secret that I posted about quite some time ago.) My mother would still call me on Father's Day before to wish me a happy one but now -- I feel like I might be doing more to earn it.

David is an outstanding boy. Overly inquisitive, very expressive and very concerned about disappointing his mother. I'd say that he reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger but someone please... tell me that I had a mute button on me somewhere. I find myself being strict and sometimes the 'bad guy.' I find my level of sarcasm is sometimes too harsh. Yet, sometimes he calls me Dad. Sometimes it slips, sometimes it seems forced but it reminds me that I have a life to guide.

I can only hope that I do as well as my own father. Yes, I think he was a little cold and a little stern when I was younger. (This may be how it is coming out of me.) But as I got older and became his friend later in life, I can say that he is one of the most giving individuals that I've ever met. There are lots of things I can say at this time about how he's inspired me to betterment but that would take more than a single post. What I can do is wish him a very happy Father's Day as I truly celebrate my first.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Life Update: 061108

As usual, a lot has been going on. So, instead of letting it pile up anymore... it's time for another update.

  • Kerry's great aunt passed away during the weekend. I took today and tomorrow off from work as we will head to the funeral. I'm planning to do a little bit of reading during the ride there and back. Kerry's niece will be driving (her first out of town trip) and it should prove interesting.

  • The next time you are in the laundry room, take a look at the electrical sockets. Homes built before 1996 used a 3-wire cable (1 hot, 1 neutral and 1 ground.) The dryer we moved from the house to the rental (because we wanted to keep the good ones at the house) had a 4-wire cable. So, we had a dryer that couldn't use the outlet provided in the rental. Thanks to our friend Matt, this was resolved and relieved a lot of stress.

  • Kerry has gone back to the program that works best for her, Weight Watchers. I can understand that. Low-carb worked really well for me but I don't want to make that my lifestyle. I can see that she feels better about it already. We sat down and looked at how many 'points' that I'd have according to the Weight Watchers 'flex' plan. Something clicked in my head. If a good-sized grilled chicken sandwich could be around 8 points and I'm allowed 35 points a day (at my current weight, height, activity level, etc.), then why not think of every day as a 3 sandwich plus day. That is the idea in my head starting this week and it will help with portion control.

  • When were were having our garage sale, a family from a few houses over kept coming by to purchase items. Kerry was at the house cleaning recently (as we plan to rent it out soon) and the relatives of that neighbor stopped by to ask if we planned to rent it out. We've had that on our minds while finishing the clean-up. That family has submitted their rental application and we expect to sign the lease with them on the 21st.

  • Too many good albums came out recently. I'm floored by how good the new Journey album is. At $11.88, it's a steal. (Two CDs and a DVD... how much would each of those sell individually? Someone is taking a slight loss on this.) I expect the album to make the top 10 if reported by Wal-Mart.

  • David tested for purple belt at karate this week. It does remind me of when I took tai kwon do while in Junior High with my father. Didn't stay long enough to test beyond gold belt. In retrospect, it was a good bonding time for us back then. I'm quite proud of him.

  • So far, I've been working out on the Wii Fit about 4 days a week. It is pretty outstanding when you can get physically sore and sweaty from a game system. Never knew how aerobic an excercize using a hula-hoop can be. (Especially doing it for 10 minutes.) The lunges really do burn. I also really enjoy the rhythm boxing. Yoga is pretty interesting as well and I can feel a difference in my posture as I walk around at work.

  • Back a few weeks ago, I was absolutely giddy when I found out that Yaz (or Yazoo in the U.K.) were coming to Las Vegas. I found a secret code on their MySpace page and was able to purchase tickets early. I was thrilled... until I got the notice that they canceled the concert this week. Now I'm a bit down about it. It's like someone yanked away the dangling carrot. Over 15 years ago, Depeche Mode were coming to Las Vegas. My dad knew someone promoting it and I wound up getting tickets (which I still had to pay for.) They canceled that show the day of due to Dave Gahan having the flu or something. Alan Wilder left the band right after that and even though they rescheduled, I was still upset enough that I now didn't want to go. I'm feeling the same way at this moment.

  • Kerry has changed her last name. Yes, to mine. This has also had us going to different places to consolidate accounts. I'm heading to both her bank and mine in a moment to add our names to each others account, in case of emergency.

That's probably enough to keep you busy. So much more. Too many ideas to post. So little time. Hope you are all doing well!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bret Michaels - Rock My World

After two stints starring in Rock Of Love and a run as a celebrity judge on Nashville Star, Poison frontman Bret Michaels has released his third solo album, Rock My World. The disc features two new songs with remixed and remastered material from his previous solo albums.

Rock My World launches with the playful first single "Go That Far" which also served as the theme song to Michaels' Rock Of Love. Highly appropriate to start the disc as it is familiar to fans that are new to Michaels' solo music. The other new track is "Fallen" which is honestly the best track on the disc. Lyrically potent, the song may be looked at as "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" retread but I would have to differ there. "Driven" (which first appeared on Michaels' 2005 collection Freedom Of Sound Vol. 1) is a welcomed inclusion here as it is as high on energy as it is sexual innuendo. If anything, the most musically diverse tracks were taken for this set and sprinkled throughout the disc. The Blink 182-ish "Bittersweet" feels a little odd in the set when surrounded by powerful songs like "Raine" and "Start Again." "All I Ever Needed" is outstanding and Jessica Andrews vocal assistance adds a needed hint of femininity. "Menace To Society" is lyrically abysmal but the energy is infectious. "Right Now, Right Here" has some haunting moments nestled in the chords. "It's My Party [2008 Mix]" is just an out and out party song.

There is a reason that we avoid reviewing previously-released material. If you've heard it, there is less of a reason for us to tell you about it because you already have an opinion. This collection straddled the fence of our review policies as it contained new songs, new mixes and mastering. That said. This is a good overview of his recording styles. Some may find those 'styles' may be too much, too diverse or too manic for their tastes. That may be good, though, as the project director knew enough not to overload the set with ballads when titled Rock My World. We recommend this album for those newly interested in Michaels' solo career and believe several of these songs deserve inclusion on all of your iPods.

3 out of 5

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Understanding The Long Journey

Ok, I want you to imagine you have this amazing band that has sold millions of albums but are having lead singer problems. We won't go into all of them but the guy that brought the glory has moved on, the guy that replaced him has vocal issues (not good for a vocalist) and the guy that you had fill in for him doesn't seem to work in your vision of the group's return to prominence. Well you do a vanity search or two on YouTube.

That's pretty much where guitarist Neal Schon was when he stumbled upon this video of a band called The Zoo from the Phillipines.

So, instead of becoming the next group to be featured on Mark Burnett's Rock Star, Journey have their new singer, Arnel Pineda. The album came out yesterday and is getting rave reviews (some less so for the second disc of re-recordings of the band's hits.) A 3-disc set is exlusively available at Wal-Mart (for less than $15 from what I have heard) which includes a live DVD. You can go to their Web site and hear samples from the album as well. Not sold on it yet? Check out this video of the new Journey line-up playing a concert earlier this year in Chile.