"That's why it's so tough. If you're on one side or the other, you've got friends to back you up. In the middle, there are no friends."
The Los Angeles Times
May 12, 1970
Kevblog Music: Best Albums of 2008
Posted 4:45 p.m., Dec. 31, 2008
Politics is at a bit of a standstill at the moment, thankfully, so it's time to open the Kevblog to a bit of musical criticism.
What follows is my personal best-of list 20 albums released during the might-as-well-about-it year that was 2008. Ranked in no particular order, because they're all good.
The Baseball Project: "Vol. 1 Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails." The musical choice of sabermatricians across the land. The Baseball Project is something of a supergroup, comprising former Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn, Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey, and ringer Peter Buck from R.E.M., is exactly what it says it is. Thirteen ripping songs about baseball. And these guys are no fair-weather fans, they're historians. They sing knowingly about baseball throwing Curt Flood under the bus after he opened up the free agent market to the generations of players that followed. They tell the harrowing story of "The Death of Big Ed Delahanty," they argue a case that Harvey Haddix should be included on the list of perfect game winners, and nail the thorny personality of the Splendid Splinter in a rocking tune they call "Ted Fucking Williams." Building an entire album around Major League Baseball is narrowcasting of an extreme kind, but rock music did't get much better than this in 2008.
Erykah Badu: "New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)." Whether you agree with Ms. Badu that hip-hop is bigger than religion and the government, whether you appreciate her shout outs to Lou Farrakhan is up to you. But this is some freaky-fine neo-soul with a menacing political edge, and just a touch of jazz. "New Amerykah" darkly harkens back to the slinky funk of Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye, but without slipping into a simple genre exercise. Badu's most outside and hip-hop orieted album yet is also her most autobiographical: "Ev¬erything around you see/The ankhs, the wraps, the plus degrees...It's all me," she sings in "Me." Think of this as urban music from inner-city fortune teller with a strange sense of humor--and a hard eye fastened on the grim realities of modern America--and you've got some sense of what makes this one of the great albums of the year.
Bon Iver: "For Emma, Forever Ago." Seems like I should know Justin Vernon, the guy behind the one-man-band Bon Iver. But if I ever knew him, I don't remember him. His press material states that he emerged from the same Eau Claire, Wis., music scene that I was part of myself in the mid- to late-1980s. But maybe he wasn't a campus dude like I was. Don't know. Whatever the case, I only know that Vernon has made an album I wish I had the talent to make, a haunted folk masterpiece recorded mostly alone in his dad's hunting shack in Northwestern Wisconsin with just a couple of microphones and some ancient recording gear. The enigmatic "Flume," with its strange, buzzing strings, lonesome soaring tenor vocals, and unmistakable cabin ambience might be the most intriguing song released during the year. Can't help feeling a bit of pride that my scene has finally produced something the greater world is now digging. It wasn't Minneapolis during it's heyday, but Eau Claire circa 1985 was a pretty damned good music scene. Way to go, Justin Vernon.
Black Mountain: "In The Future." If Led Zeppelin had a witchy-chick singer supplementing Robert Plant, and if their material had been less less about faux-spiritual runic mythology and more about the pending apocalypse, they never would have needed to exist. They'd be Black Mountain. This is the kind of bombastic heavy-rock I thought I left behind when I was 15 in that fateful year of 1980. Makes me wonder why I gave it up. This is a gift from the rock gods. The whole thing would be silly--let's be real, it probably is silly--but the stoned-out sincerity with which this unapolgetic Vancouver band delivers the material makes me feel like sending all those Zep albums to the second-hand store. With Black Mountain operating in the here and now, the mighty Zep feels just a touch superfluous. And so do Rush, Sabbath, the whole crew. Turn out the lights, power up the lava lamp, and zone out to the mellotrons. "In the Future" is one of those old-fashioned wild, dreamy heavy-metal ride that you didn't think you'd ever hear the young folks produce ever again.
Raphael Saadiq: "The Way I See It." Saadiq was a member of '80s new soulsters Tony! Toni! Toné!, a band I vaguely remember hating. But I might have to reassess that knee-jerk response, because his latest is an old-school classic. "The Way I See It" is a brilliant genre exercise, as good in its execution of vintage 1960s Motown male vocal soul as Utopia's "Deface the Music" was in exorcising the ghost of the Beatles. But where Todd Rundgren played it for laughs, Saadiq has written a group of songs that are no less "serious" than the tunes the Holland-Dozier-Holland axis wrote for a bevy of Motown stars. Saadiq absolutely nails everything he tries here, whether it's a Smokey Robinson homage ("100 Yard Dash") or the tribute to the sound of early Marvin Gaye ("Sure Hope You Mean It"). If you despise musical regression, this is not your cup of tea, but if you love that early Motown sound as expressed by a musician who here proves himself a master of the craft, this one must not be missed.
Ray Davies: "Working Man's Cafe." OK, so I worship Ray Davies. He could release a mud pie in a CD jewel case, and it would probably make this list. But the former Kinks leader has saved me considerable embarrassment, because this is album proves a worthy follow-up to his proper solo debut album, "Other People's Lives," released a scant two years ago. Which suggests Ray may be in an extended creative spurt as he streaks toward his seventh decade on tierra firma. That he's in an ornery mood gives him no demerits. (If you haven't noticed, these times sort of suck.) So he rails against globalization ("Vietnam Cowboys"), people who look to Davies for pop-star wisdom ("You're Asking Me") and "a world out of control," where it's hard to get things done despite the ubiquitous presence of computers ("No One Listen"). The centerpiece, however, is one of those incisive character sketches that Davies has always excelled at, "The Morphine Song," which is set in a hospital ward--presumably the one Davies was confined to after being shot during a mugging in pre-Katrina New Orleans. God save the Kink.
The Fireman: "Electric Arguments." The Fireman is the adopted monniker for the infrequent duo of Paul McCartney and former Killing Joke bassist Youth, who collaborated on a pair of interesting but mostly ignored electronica albums over the past 15 years. "Electric Arguments" is as much a departure from the previous Fireman albums as the Fireman albums were from McCartney's solo work.
The rest of the best:
Dr. Dog: Fate
R.E.M. : Accelerate
The Fireman: Electric Arguments
Bob Dylan: The Bootleg Series: Telltale Signs
Paul Weller: 22 Dreams
Alejandro Escovedo: Real Animal
Elvis Costello and the Imposters: Momofuku
The New Standards: The New Standards
The Gutter Twins: Saturnalia
Charlie Haden, Family & Friends: Rambling Boy
Pugwash: Eleven Modern Antiquities
Old Crow Medicine Show: Tennessee Pusher
Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords
Panic at the Disco: Pretty. Odd.
-- Kevin Featherly
Nate Silver: Franken Will Win By 27 Votes
Posted 8:16 p.m., Nov. 23, 2008
As mentioned earlier, baseball-stat nerd Nate Silver, who has become the nation's most accurate election prognosticator. Two weeks ago he blogged an intriguing numerical breakdown of Al Franken's odds of beating Norm Coleman in Minnesota's ongoing U.S. Senate recount.
That column waffled a bit, but built a compelling case that Frank had nearly even odds of taking the prize.
No such equivocation today. On Silver's 538.com site, Silver makes his case explicit. The headline reads, "Projection: Franken to Win Recount by 27 Votes."
Silver gets there through means of what to this math dummy is a pretty dense regression analysis that I will not attempt to explain. Read the column yourself. He shows his work.
Silver acknowledges that the error bars on his analysis are relatively high, so the projection should be read only to suggest that Franken is the favorite in the recount by the slimmest of margins.
"Nevertheless," Silver writes, "there is good reason to believe that the high rate of ballot challenges is in fact hurting Franken disproportionately, and that once such challenges are resolved, Franken stands to gain ground, perhaps enough to let him overtake Coleman."
Despite Silver's guarded optimism for a Franken victory, the Coleman margin has grown slightly over the last few days, from +167 Saturday to +180 tonight, according to a Star Tribune news graphic posted at 8:04 p.m. The recount is now 68 percent complete.
It gets interestinger and interestinger....
-- Kevin Featherly
Mitch Mitchell Dies
Posted 5:54 a.m., Nov. 13, 2008
Mitch Mitchell, the fabulous drummer with the Jimi Hendrix experience, has reportedly died at age 61.
Not much to say about the death of the only musician to remain at Hendrix's side throughout the duration of the superstar guitarist's career beyond, "bummer." But it strikes me that his passing marks the first time that a major '60s supergroup has lost all of its members.
The Experience is dead. Long live the Experience.
-- Kevin Featherly
Nate Silver: Franken's Recount Odds at 44%
Posted 11:39 a.m., Nov. 10, 2008
Nate Silver, the baseball-stat nerd who has become the nation's most accurate election prognosticator, has an intriguing numerical breakdown of Al Franken's odds of overcoming his tiny deficit in the disputed U.S. Senate race against Norm Coleman.
You need to read pretty deep into the column to get what Silver is driving at, and you're going to have to be patient with all the numbers and matrices--not to mention his somewhat waffling conclusion.
But bear with him, and you'll see that Silver makes a pretty compelling case to suggest that Franken has nearly even odds of overcoming Coleman's slim lead when the recount ends.
Worth noting: Silver's numbers are based on slightly old data. At the point Silver put his report together, Coleman led Franken by 226 votes. That margin has since been reduced to 206 votes. That would suggest a slight corresponding improvement in Franken's odds.
Of course, the lawyers are all over this one. There is little chance this will be resolved without going to court, regardless of the final recount tally.
Here are a couple of warring videos.
First, the Franken flak.
And next, Coleman's urges Franken to halt the recount.
Get ready, folks. Minnesota is about to stage its own highly provincial version of Bush v. Gore.
-- Kevin Featherly
Electoral College Count: N.C. Goes for Obama
Posted 1:45 a.m., Nov. 6, 2008;
Updated 7:10 p.m., Nov. 7, 2008
Several news organizations are now calling North Carolina for Obama.
That leaves 12 electoral votes yet to be counted, 11 from Missouri and one from a single congressional district in Nebraska, a state where electoral votes are apportioned district by district.
(An aside: That district-by-district apportionment system is one I favor nationwide as eminently more fair than the current winner-take-all electoral college, despite arguments by my liberal friends who worry that such a system would take California out of the auto-Dem column. Wouldn't bother me. Fair is fair.)
It appeared to me when I last looked that the votes remaining to be counted in Missouri were from a Republican county, so I'd assume the Show-Me State will ultimately be awarded to McCain. I won't hazard a guess about what's going on in Nebraska.
However you look at it, though, I underestimated the tilt of American voters in favor of Obama. In my Oct. 27 column, I predicted a 355-184 electoral vote split for Obama. I specifically did not think North Carolina would go for a black man. (I did think he would win Montana--which he did not.)
Shows what I know.
MSNBC is now showing that the actual electoral-vote margin is 364-173.
As those who know me are aware (even if they don't believe me, and my red-state pals don't), I am not a Democrat. Nor am I, as some of my fellow church-goers believe, a Republican. But I did vote for Obama.
Now, two days after the fact of this mind-blowing election, I can't shake the feeling that somehow I've been startled awake, and that somehow I'm back in a familiar reality, awakened from a bad eight-year dream--and living once again in the United States.
So, once again it's morning in America, dear readers. But, as our new president-elect is no doubt painfully aware, it's looking like it's going to be one bear of a day.
Late Update: (Nov. 7) Put another electoral vote, this one from that renegade congressional district in Nebraska, in the Obama column for a 365-173 tally.
-- Kevin Featherly
Jez 'Cuz I'm So Blown Away...
Posted 10:40 a.m., Nov. 5, 2008
I can say this no better than the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan.
"Well, it looks as if [Sarah Palin] may be the gift that keeps on giving. The narrative is now beginning to look something like this: the McCain campaign picked her essentially out of a hat and with Bill Kristol's recommendation letter. They did no vetting. They assumed she wasn't completely out of her mind and dumb as a rock, which, one should concede, is not that big an assumption for a sitting governor with her approval ratings but still ...
"Then they find out the truth:"
You do notice that the two guys in the embedded video are from FOX News, right?
-- Kevin Featherly
Handled With Care
The Oarsmen perform a Traveling Wilburys cover tune during a Sept. 27 concert that was part of the White Bear Township, Minn., 150th anniversary celebration. Pictured is Kevin Featherly (the guitarist with the fedora, left), and fellow Oarsmen guitarists Paul Adelmann and Barron Whittet. Monte Hanson plays bass, right. Nate Featherly, far left, runs the sound board. Drummer Scott Maida can be glimpsed to the rear. (Photo courtesy Karin Maida.)
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