Saturday, December 19, 2015

Random thoughts on Christmas music

Johnny Mathis wrote on the back cover of one of his Christmas records that every home needs to have some of those seasonal songs. With Philly's 98.1 WOGL sort of joining the early all-Christmas format flip this year, there's just no getting away from it.
*It's a shame that with the all-Christmas terrestrial radio stations in the area -- including More 101 in Philadelphia, 100.7 WLEV in Bethlehem and 99.5 WJBR in Wilmington -- they only actually play a small sample of the wealth of holiday musical offerings out there.
*"Linus and Lucy" by the Vine Guaraldi Trio is NOT a Christmas song, just because it was in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Please stop treating it like one.

*Despite the passing reference to it snowing Christmas Eve in the opening verse, "Same Old Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg is more of a New Year's song. When it was originally released in 1980, it entered the top 40 singles chart on Dec. 27.
*This time of year is so weird because it is the only time ever you will hear Wham! (with a double dose of George Michael in "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid), The Carpenters, Amy Grant and Jose Feliciano on the radio. Does no one remember Jose's top 5 Doors cover from 1968?!

*Walmart Radio is playing some re-makes of Christmas classics that are so terribly done that I want to tune in terrestrial radio to cleanse the bad taste out of my ears. Make that nonsense go away.
*It's the mooost stress-ful time/of the year. Or it's the most wonderful time to drink beer. I also have my own rude, obscene alternate lyrics for the wretchedly campy song "Happy Holidays."
*There's a howler of a bad lyric in "There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays:" "From Atlantic to Pacific/Gee, the traffic is terrific." Traffic is never terrific. Horrific would be more accurate.
*Is Dean Martin really as drunk as he sounds on his records, or is that just an act?

*I break into The Beach Boys every time "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" comes on, thanks to Paul Rudd's character in the movie "Forgetting Sarah Marhsall."

*I do my Vince Vaughn impression every time "Here Comes Santa Claus" comes on, thanks to the movie "Fred Claus."
*What's with the threatening tone of the song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town?" What happened to peace on earth, and good will to all?
*Someone in particular who gets into the season is Neil Diamond -- a Jew who's recorded at least three Christmas albums. His cover of Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song" is fun.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanksgiving music

There's no Thanksgiving songs, you say.
With assists last year from "Paste" magazine and WXPN, I found that's not necessarily so. I'll start your Turkey Day soundtrack off with something that didn't turn up on Spotify, "Thanksgiving Prayer" by Johnny Cash. Would love to know how the Man in Black ended up on an episode of, according to the YouTube poster, "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman."

When I was growing up, and without fail traveling to be with my paternal grandmother's side of the family every Thanksgiving, my mom had me convinced that the song that begins "Over the river, and through the woods/to grandmother's house we go" was about Thanksgiving. That was until I recently found "Over the River" by Danny Kaye & The Andrews Sisters, which has lyrics about Christmas. I refuse to believe "Over the River" is a Christmas song! And since I'm a holiday purist -- believing in breathing space for holidays, instead of the overlapping Hallo-Kwanz-ukkah-mas mess advertisers and stores have forced on us -- I can't bring myself to pollute my Thanksgiving playlist with a Christmas song. We'll all be bludgeoned to death by Christmas music soon enough.
Luckily, my wife knows I'm not insane (nor is my mom), and agrees that not only is "Over the River" a Thanksgiving song, but said there is a verse of "Over the River" that ends "Hooray for Thanksgiving Day." So who can tell me where a recording of that variation can be found?
I was also dismayed to find that The Beatles B-side "Thank You Girl" is not on Spotify. Come on, Macca! The world didn't end when The Beatles music was made available on iTunes. Gimme a break! The good news is the cover by The Smithereens is brilliant, and I will reward that band by sharing this interview I did with Pat DiNizio.
So fire up your Spotify and sing along with Arlo Guthrie (I get a kick out of his $14.27 reference from Roger Miller's "Dang Me" in the now-50-year-old "Alice's Restaurant"), through all the thank-you songs I could think of, to Dan Bern's modern-day-Desolation-Row "Thanksgiving Day Parade." Any suggestions you have for additions are encouraged!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Down the YouTube mashup rabbit hole

Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're going to tell me that mashups are so 2006. I don't care.
Thought most of them were complete crap until one of my Facebook friends shared this haunting pairing of completely unrelated songs -- "The Boys Are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy and "Monkey Gone to Heaven" by The Pixies. My seal of approval for a mashup, besides if it rhythmically fits, is given if it causes you to appreciate the original songs more.  

Then that cursed YouTube, always at the ready to suggest something related to what you've been searching lately, pointed to another Pixies mashup, "Where is My Mind?" coupled with The Beastie Boys' sadly overlooked War on Terror commentary "In a World Gone Mad."

There's several "Smells Like Teen Spirit" mashups, but the one that makes the most sense is this one with White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Seven Nation Teen Spirit, if you will  
Then these next two were so good -- because of the polar opposite juxtaposition of overt '70s pop with '80s hard rock -- they brought actual tears to my eyes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Memorable and creative local band names from MGK's 2015 House Band Competition and beyond

Just like covering the Philadelphia Folk Festival, I think being a judge in the WMGK House Band Competition could become an annual thing for me.
A semi-final round Aug. 6 at Havana in New Hope featured mid-day jock Debbi Calton as emcee, and a slate of competing bands whose names are burned into my brain.

  • The band I thought was going to win was Moroccan Sheepherders because of all the wild stuff they had going on stage -- three-piece horn section, multiple singers, a guy on bongos, interesting set list ...

Other favorite local band names I have are Norristown's Jean Claude's Damn Van. And don't forget Crossroads Tavern semi-regular Two For Flinching.
Worcester Township bar The Keystone Lounge has a whole scene of crazy band names to keep an eye out for, among them: Funk Church and Native Maze (as opposed to Native maize). Another of those bands that you can sometimes catch at The Keystone, Mr. Fuzzy & The Barbarian, is scheduled to play the Music on Main Street Lunchtime Concerts series in Lansdale's Railroad Plaza at noon Sept. 9

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New adventures in hi-fi

A visit to my stepdaughter's townhouse greeted me with the surprise that she and her boyfriend had "inherited" a circa 1960 Voice of Music hi-fi record player, manufactured back in the days when people didn't consume their music on the go, unless it was on the car radio.
Some of its functionality has diminished. The other speaker isn't working. And I've either forgotten how to activate the platter drop, or it's not working either.
The young people -- who smartly knew to use a nickel as an anti-skip device -- were impressed how much I was able to improve the sound simply by tweaking the speaker balance, bass and treble. They were also wowed that it was possible to stack 10 records, or more, on the spindle for hours of hands-free party DJ entertainment (which sadly, I was unable to successfully demonstrate). I think the smell the vacuum tubes make when they heat up makes them nervous.
"They're not used to having to do that," my wife explained, reminding me how children of the '90s interface with their music.
Selections we listened to included some latter day vinyl by Phantogram and the first interesting (but not quite classic) album that Pink Floyd ever made, 1971's "Meddle."

And you're welcome for the Pandora's Box of rabbit hole links.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Between downpours on a stormy Monday, my wife and I are doing some landscape maintenance in front of the house, when down our street zooms these kids on their bikes. One randomly shouts out: "Does anybody here know who Black Sabbath is?"
This led to a very unexpected revisit to my junior high headbanger days. Turns out the two boys were middle school students, and shocked me that they knew who Metal Church was ... and that the late Ronnie James Dio once sang for Sabbath ... and that Ozzy Osbourne's recordings with them are the better ones.
I always got a kick out how Ozzy (Randy Rhoads, actually) quotes the truly scary guitar riff from the now 45-year-old song "Black Sabbath" in this song from his storied solo career.

"Do you know Metallica?," one asked. Well it's funny you should mention that, son ... I remember when they first came out (I ended up saying the same thing at the mention of The Red Hot Chili Peppers).
James Hetfield signs my Lollapalooza 1996 backstage pass in Charles Town, W. Va.
 The conversation leaped from Motley Crue and Iron Maiden to a newer group called The Skull, and Slipknot and Pantera, neither of which I've ever been able to get into. Heavy metal has become significantly angrier and much, much, much less fun than it was in the '80s. For example, how about this proto rap-metal nugget, sampling Sam Kinsion, Beastie Boys and Metallica's "Master of Puppets?"
"Do you like Guns 'N' Roses?"
Sorry, never liked them. However, I'd listen to Slash and Duff jam in Velvet Revolver (who will probably never record together again because Scott Weiland is turning into as big of an idiot as Axl Rose) till the cows come home. But thanks to browsing the playlists of Dee Snider's House of Hair radio show, I did find this worthy cover by the late Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot.

And with that, please crank up this playlist:

Friday, June 26, 2015

That 'Weasel' tune

There's an ice cream truck that roams through Telford playing the same tinkling music over and over. But today, the ice cream man changed the song to "Pop Goes the Weasel." Right away I thought of the second-ever Three Stooges short, "Punch Drunks," the only one of their Columbia Pictures shorts that Moe, Larry and Curly get writing credits. Note that Curly also uses his regular speaking voice.

And then I remembered this Weasel tune.

A blistering jab at Vanilla Ice -- sampling Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer," The Who's "Eminence Front" (which oddly is being used to sell GMCs), and Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothing"(Presumably, unlike Ice, 3rd Bass got their samples cleared) -- in a bizarro turn of the tables, Vanilla Ice landed on his feet, even hosting a home improvement TV show on DIY. Meanwhile 3rd Bass has been relegated to the answer of a '90s trivia question.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Craft distilling the new in thing

Craft beer brewing? Old news.
You've perhaps heard about Lansdale getting an artisanal liquor distillery. Here's the latest on that development.
But the Mamedovs of Boardroom Spirits are not the only ones in on this party. Since April 2014, Chris Moyer, a 1988 Souderton Area High School grad, and a fraternity brother from his days at Bloomsburg University, have been harnessing the bounty of New York's Hudson Valley to make hand crafted vodka, applejack, gin, whiskey, and something called "Fine Shine," from ingredients harvested from their farm and apple orchard (The whiskey involves a New York craft porter beer). The Hudson Valley Distillers LLC tasting room is on Route 9 in Clermont, N.Y. HVD celebrates its one-year anniversary of being in business with an all-ages public party, featuring live music, on Saturday June 20.
In a phone interview, Moyer said that the biggest differences between mass produced liquors and craft spirits like the ones he and business partner Tom Yozzo are distilling are the absence of additives, but with distinctive flavors brought by naturally occurring yeast, the wood of the barrels (There's a lot of nuance to the barrels the liquor ages in) and the Hudson Valley's soil and weather.  
After he explained that Fine Shine is really just a clear, non-aged, but still alcoholic, applejack, I asked Moyer if there were any plans to try making rum or tequila. After all, a rye whiskey made with New York rye and barley (a crop The Empire State is not known for, he said) is in development.
Surprisingly, sugar cane for rum can be greenhouse cultivated, and an experiment to see if it'll work is a realistic future challenge. However, there will not be a Hudson Valley Distillers tequila because it's not the right climate for agave.  

Chris Moyer (left) and Tom Yozzo of Hudson Valley Distillers.

Detail of the still at Hudson Valley Distillers in New York.

The distillery and offices are in a 150-year-old barn building.

The Cocktail Grove at Hudson Valley Distillers in New York.

Their website tells you when they're open for tours, how to get there, even some cocktail ideas. They're on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but how about exporting to the folks back home in Pennsylvania? While he didn't completely rule it out, Moyer did say: "We'd have to get a distributor. We're not in this to distribute nationally."
Hudson Valley Distillers has high marks on Trip Advisor, so who's up for a road trip? According to Moyer, HVD gets between 150-200 visitors each month,

Thursday, May 7, 2015

When Philadelphia bombed itself 30 years ago

Andino Ward is an admirable dude. He's a child of God, an IT entrepreneur, a musician, a voiceover narrator, a good friend (He encouraged me to start this blog about 6 years ago), an outstanding example of what every parent should be ... and unfortunately, someone who endured what no father ever should. I found that out when we sat down for a revealing interview about his son, who was forever linked to the MOVE bombing disaster on Osage Avenue in Philadelphia on May 13, 1985.
Arriving to pick up his son from his ex-wife for visitation, he was informed that she had taken the child, renamed him "Birdie Africa," and went to live in the MOVE compound. Considering the number of alarming problems, dating back to the mid-'70s, that the radical, confrontational back-to-nature group had caused their neighbors, the police and the City of Philadelphia, it was the epitome of a worst nightmare.

For years, he unsuccessfully attempted to get custody. Then the Philadelphia District Attorney's office -- at that time the DA was future Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell -- made some outrageous proposals, according to Ward.
He watched the frightening footage on TV of emergency personnel allowing the fire to ravage Osage Avenue. That's how desperate the city was to rid itself of MOVE. Then Ward, unaware at the time that his son was the only child survivor of the blaze, got a shocker of a phone call from his father. The family later successfully sued the city over how the situation was handled. The boy had been severely burned. 

While the boy was healing, and very slowly adjusting to a normal life outside the cult-like environment of MOVE, there was the issue of changing his name.

Going on to graduate from North Penn High School -- even playing football for the Knights -- and for the most part quietly living his adult life, Michael Ward passed away in 2013. The coroner's official ruling was drowning due to acute alcohol poisoning -- a strange thing considering that he was conscious about his health.

The positive we can take away from all the struggle and tragedy is Michael Moses Ward had what can be considered an extraordinary life thanks to the love of his father, stepmother and sisters. Andino Ward was mulling writing a book at the time this interview took place.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Morrissey WHO?! Johnny Marr kicking butt and taking names

You may know that Smiths guitar wizard Johnny Marr has released two solo albums in recent years, but did you know he has a cover of Depeche Mode's "I Feel You" coming out on Record Store Day April 18? Yay! Johnny sings, adding some muscle to this tune.

I was hoping he'd play one of his signature solos in this recording, perhaps something like the short one he plays on Noel Gallagher's new song "Ballad of the Mighty I." About the only reason I would willingly listen to anything by those self-important snots from Oasis would be something like the jangle you hear 4:45 into this song.

AND a 2016 release date has been set for Marr's autobiography.

For good measure, here's my favorite of his outside of The Smiths, alongside of New Order singer Bernard Sumner. Jangle, crisp acoustic guitar rhythm and a wailing solo right out of The Smiths' heyday.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Last call for the Philadelphia Flower Show

We're headed into the final weekend of the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show - the 8th largest flower show in the world, I hear. The weather this week really disrupted things, so I bet the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia will be jam packed. Here's a couple pictures I took during one of the snowy days we had. Happy Spring!

I like Disney/Pixar, and everything, but with the movie theme the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society was going with, I expected a broader cinematic representation.
The miniature dioramas of movie scenery were so popular that my wife and I couldn't get much of a view, except in passing. Too bad going on a weekday wasn't an option.
From what I hear, the Flower Show marketplace has gotten noticeably larger. Linger in that part of the convention center at your own risk because some of the vendors get kind of aggressive.
And bring extra cash because the Gene London display of Hollywood clothing and "The Butterfly Experience" will cost you extra. The food's pricey too.
A pleasant surprise is the variety in the Pennsylvania Fine Wine & Good Spirits tasting area. It's a lot more than just wine.
The show runs till 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday the 7th, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday the 8th. Get tickets here. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's next for local winners of CNBC "Restaurant Startup"?

On Tuesday March 3, chef Steve Latona was the toast of Montgomery County Community College, and the school's Culinary Arts Institute, after he and fellow culinary instructor Mark Bellini prevailed on an episode of the CNBC show "Restaurant Startup." In case you missed it, you can watch it here (You'll need your cable provider username and password):

"Now I can show this in class," Latona commented.
A viewing party featuring a screening of the episode and a buffet-style luncheon sneak peek of Smoke Kitchen dishes, held for MCCC staff and students of  The Culinary Arts Institute of Montgomery County Community College, was hosted (and catered) by Montco's CAI in Towamencin.

At top is a bowl of chicken and andouille sausage gumbo. Above is a plate with (counterclockwise from right) a piece of Smoke Kitchen rotisserie chicken; poblano turkey meatloaf; roasted potatoes; Brussels sprouts with apples, bacon and shallots; and a cole slaw with purple cabbage.

When the restaurant opens in the Malvern area, the menu will also have sides that include four-bean salad and macaroni and cheese. Before the chicken hits the oak wood fire, it's brined for 12 hours, Latona said.
"I would like to thank the students for supporting chef Mark Bellini and chef Latona. You are making us so proud of what we've accomplished," said Dr. Victoria Basteki-Perez. MCCC's provost and vice-president of academic affairs.
"What it's done for the school is amazing. I'm very proud of what he's accomplished in a short period of time here," said Francine Marz, director of the CAI of MCCC. 

Latona, who intends to continue teaching at the culinary school, shared that he and Bellini prepared sliders, chicken salad and side dishes that didn't make it into the broadcast. Security was also very tight on the set. He described being constantly escorted by what sounded like the Secret Service. Stepping outside for a breath of air involved the walkie talkie communication: "Taking the talent outside."  
When asked about their competition from Austin, Texas' Ms. P's Electric Cock Fried Chicken, Latona -- who hinted he would've liked to have tasted their chicken -- said they were nice people and had appeared on other competitive culinary shows before.
When Latona and Bellini's pledged money from Tim Love arrives, a long process to building the Smoke Kitchen begins -- including securing a location, permits and a liquor license.
Image courtesy of CNBC

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: The Psychedelic Furs at the Ardmore Music Hall

The old Brownie's 23 East was jumping Friday Jan. 9.
Perhaps thinking that people had forgotten about them, since they haven't released any new music since 1991, one of the truly great bands of the '80s booked a show at Montgomery County's Ardmore Music Hall. The Psychedelic Furs officially sold the place out a couple weeks before the concert date. So surprise guys, people do still find the music you made -- punk aggression with heartfelt, desperate longing (and a honkin' dollop of saxophone) -- very meaningful. My wife noticed that the audience skewed to people of our "certain age," and gave the evening a vibe of parties she enjoyed back in the day.
Richard Butler still has that wonderfully distinct, nasal, smoky, Johnny-Rotten-snarling rasp, so he sounds cool singing anything. 
Here's a story that appeared in Ticket that reveals that new Furs music is pending.
Priding itself on having good sight lines, my suggestion to the Ardmore Music Hall -- which is an interesting hybrid of a general admission/standing club like the Trocadero with a cabaret having precious-few bar seats -- would be to cap the sell-outs at a slightly smaller number. By the time the Furs took the stage for the roaring opener, "Into You Like a Train," the best view I could get was an under-somebody-else's-butt-level angle.
 Whew! When there's a sell out at Ardmore, get there about when the doors open. You have been warned.
But before I tell you more about The Psychedelic Furs' performance, here's a few words about an unexpected bonus -- an opening set by the Philly band Travel Lanes. Being a fan of the local hook-based roots rock bands Buzz Zeemer and Flight of Mavis, I recognized Frank Brown's voice, which my wife astutely observed has quite a bit of Elvis Costello in it. That led to me tweeting @djcaterina about them, and getting confirmation that yup, that is the Buzz Zeemer guy. Travel Lanes' highlights included the Buzz Zeemer songs "Break My Heart" and "Crush." The latter sounded even better than the BZ recording. They also put an ace spin on The Ramones' "She's the One."
They smartly promoted their Jan. 24 show at Dawson Street Pub, but the deadpan quip of "we're a local band, which you can see ... locally" came across as snarky and rubbed me the wrong way. Dude, you're opening for the freakin' Psychedelic Furs! That's a plum slot for a new group; embrace that with a smidge more gratitude and enthusiasm, please!
 The Furs hit crowd-pleasers like "Pretty in Pink," "Love My Way," "Heaven" and these killer tunes:

 They also mined their catalog for excellent songs like "Until She Comes," "Mr. Jones," "Only You and I," "Run and Run" (which lyrically is kind of a bookend companion song for "Pretty in Pink," IMO) and "Fall," which features this unforgettably sneering punk couplet:
Marry me and be my wife/You can have me all your life
Our love will never end/Parties with stupid friends
LOL -- damn!
Who'd have thunk it ... these songs have aged rather well, especially with the new life breathed into them by the band.