XM in depth: Channel 11

Fortified by a listen to some “classic country” and some exposure to CMT, I was ready to dive right into Nashville, XM’s country hits station. Well, technically, “Highway 16” is XM’s country hits station, while this is “today’s current top 40 Country hits.” Anyone else think XM goes a little overboard in compartmentalizing its music database?

Bryan White, Someone Else’s Star – Slow ballad with the fiddle and steel guitar shimmering as if to suggest a gentle waving motion. That backdrop and the tasteful piano fills are nice and pleasant, as is White’s voice, but the lyrics drag this one down. Besides, they’re about envy, and that’s a deadly sin. Again, the red states listen to this stuff?

Paul Brandt, Convoy – Back to the ’70s we go … except that this is a cover version. Seemed very literal, though I haven’t listened to the original in quite a while. (Let’s see … quick check of AllMusic … yep, Erlewine says it “all too faithfully mimics” the original.) It’s basically a song about taunting the police, National Guard and even “long-haired friends of Jesus,” so AGAIN I’ll ask — these are the anthems of the red states? In fact, AllMusic.com claims that the original is basically an anthem of blue-collar libertarianism, which seems a little at odds with the core values of Bush backers. And an ode to the CB craze, of course. Remember that?

Keith Whitley, When You Say Nothing At All – This guy sounds an awful lot like Randy Travis, which is not a bad thing. The song’s a little flimsy but not grating.

Diamond Rio, Mirror Mirror – A guitar riff in search of a song.

Lila McCann, Kiss Me Now – “Get it over with … I’ll make it easy on you.” OK. If I kiss you now, will you stop singing? Will the band do what it clearly wants to do — break into a cover version of Afternoon Delight?

George Strait, The Chill of an Early Fall – I have absolutely no comment. It’s a remarkably typical country ballad, with thin symbolism, a deep voice and … you get the picture.

Emerson Drive, I Should be Sleeping – “I never knew there were such great movies on TV at 3 a.m.” Good start. And not a bad song at all. Hand it to Barenaked Ladies, and you’d have a solid post-alt-rock hit. (And wouldn’t you know it — they’re Canadian.)

Around here, the player stopped updating with the song titles. They came back on in time to catch Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying, which I can’t quite get into because if I were living like I were dying, I’d order pizza every night and call in sick to work.

So that’s enough. I’ll need to hear it all again on Highway 16 down the road, anyway.


Road trip

“A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting.” – The Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

“Am I living it right?” – John Mayer

Can you guess which of these was my yearbook quote in high school? Considering that John Mayer was even younger than his current audience when I was in high school, it’s an easy call.

The Doctor Who quote, incidentally, apparently inspired a fictional Star Trek ship in a role-playing game. (As opposed to a real Star Trek ship)

Mayer’s perceptive question was hanging in my head Tuesday, which was Day 2 of my vacation. I’ve always taken an odd approach to vacations. When I was in my early 20s and had my first taste of a week without work, I tended to do seat-of-the-pants driving with vague ideas of where I was going next. “OK, I’m spending Tuesday and Wednesday with a friend in New York, then maybe I’ll call someone in D.C., then I think I’ll go here and drive back home.”

This week’s vacation is along the lines of the one Jimmy James took in NewsRadio. I’m not going anywhere. I even showed up at the office one day, though I didn’t unload any water coolers. I’m doing a few things that are hard to fit into a normal workday, like doctor’s appointments and shopping for clothes.

But on Tuesday, I headed for the hills. For those who don’t know the geography, the D.C. suburbs are in the foothills of the Appalachians, which means you can drive there in less than an hour — unless all the people who LIVE in the mountains are commuting home from work or all the people who live in the suburbs are heading out there for the weekend, in which case it takes a couple of days.

So I had the roads to myself, more or less, through one of the prettiest areas on the East Coast. Naturally, I did everything wrong.

First of all, I didn’t check to see whether the leaves were turning. They’re not. It’s all green.

The scenery is still nice, of course. Every once in a while, the side of the road opens up a bit, and you can peer into an open valley. In Northern Virginia, a valley means three things — a lot of people shot at each other there almost 150 years ago, and developers are rushing to toss up homes that don’t really fit the landscape. Still breathtaking views.

I had two things in mind. I wanted to get out and walk around, and I wanted to eat. I didn’t accomplish either. I decided I had to find food before I stopped to walk around, and I didn’t eat until I was almost home.

Some people have a knack for going anywhere and finding a good place to eat. I don’t have that knack. It was harder in this case because McDonald’s and Subway apparently have some sort of duopoly over all the main roads.

I saw a place called “Doc’s BBQ” around 1 p.m., and I still regret that I didn’t stop. There’s good barbecue and bad barbecue, but you don’t know until you try. (Barbecue reviews are always sketchy. Some people like having big chunks of fat on a bun, some prefer actual food.)

This isn’t entirely my fault. This area is known for certain types of restaurants — big chains, smaller chains and pretentious places that offer $25 entrees for Tom Sietsema to rip apart with excessive snootiness in the Post magazine section. We don’t do simple food, which was a staple of the North Carolina towns in which I once I lived. If something is any good, it becomes a small chain. A good example is Glory Days, a sports bar with pretty good food, and I saw one advertised. But when I pulled into the shopping center, I found that the ad was actually a “now hiring,” not “now open for feeding wayward travelers.” That’s a hazard of driving through a fast-growing county. They build the rows and rows of townhomes first, then fill in the gaps with places to shop and eat.

Around 2:30, as I was heading toward home, I found a “British Pantry and Cafe.” It looked so quaint and charming that I just had to stop. But the “reservations suggested” cafe looked like it wouldn’t offer anything speedy. The little shop was intriguing, but I wasn’t going to buy much. (“Look, honey, I went to the mountains I got butter!” “We already have butter.” “Yeah, but this is Scottish!”)

I wound up getting a “Smarties” bar, which had chocolate, smarties (basically, M&Ms) and “popping candy.” The “popping candy” was a bit like the old Pop Rocks that were unfairly accused of killing Mikey. Kind of a strange sensation in my mouth. A little stranger in my empty stomach, which was breaking out in active revolt upon finding that the first solid food I’d introduced in seven hours was so explosive.

I finally found acceptable food at Boston Market, which was only slightly more exotic than going to the Chipotle at a different location than my usual Chipotle. It wasn’t bad. Then I hopped back in my car and found that I was back in what could be described as “home” in about two more minutes of driving.

So am I living it right? Probably not.

But was it a fun trip. Sure.


This is vacation?

I’m off this week, but somehow that means I’m busier than normal.

So no epic post today, but a few random thoughts:

  • To the person who came here using the search terms “stacy’s mom porn,” I’m sorry to disappoint.
  • To the person who came here using the search terms “fountains of wayne stays mom,” I think you’re looking for “Stacy’s Mom.” Not “Stay’s Mom.”
  • Had VH1 Classic on in the background today and caught the Talk Talk video for It’s My Life. Not only is this video notable because it’s one of the first in which a lead singer (at least, I think it’s the lead singer — if I had more time, I’d do the research) appears but doesn’t actually sing.
  • Also on VH1 Classic today: The Hooters’ All You Zombies, which appears in my 50 Worst … book but actually is a pretty good song once you get past the novelty of a guy yelling, “Yeah, they were the Israelites.” Interesting that the same crew went on to write One of Us for Joan Osborne.
  • Also also on VH1 Classic today: Perhaps the best song of all the protest/benefit offerings from the ’80s — Artists United Against Apartheid’s Sun City. As Allmusic.com points out, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more diverse group of artists on one song. It opens with a harsh Miles Davis trumpet blast and Run-DMC kickin’ it old school, then tosses in Pat Benatar somewhere along the way. Let’s repeat … Miles Davis, to Run-DMC, to Little Steven (who put it all together) … to Pat Benatar. Less surprisingly, Bruuuuce and Bono (bearded for the only time I can remember) sing with their trademark conviction, both taking the line “We’re stabbing our brothers and our sisters in the back.” Then it’s a little more surprising to see Bonnie Raitt, Lou Reed, Afrika Bambaataa, Ruben Blades, Joey Ramone and Bob Dylan pop into the fray at random times. The video is a little awkward in the way it tosses in random shots of people singing in the studio who apparently couldn’t make the video shoot (OK, Benatar could’ve been busy, Peter Garrett can’t just fly on a whim from Australia, but can someone explain why Daryl Hall was in the studio? John Oates was in the video shoot! I have a healthy respect for the mustache man, but it’s not a good sign if you can get Oates but not Hall.) Musically … it works. Surprisingly so, much like Run-DMC’s pioneering rap-rock efforts of that period.

And finally, our volleyball team is still unbeaten, having upset the best team in the league. No idea how we did it. Smoke and mirrors on the cold sand.


XM in depth: Channel 10

(On an unrelated note, my current must-hear song is Up to the Roof by Blue Man Group & Tracy Bonham. The verses are driven by the same staccato percussion tubes that you see in the Blue Men’s Pentium ads, making the loud guitars in the chorus that much more powerful. Bonham sells the drama perfectly, sounding like she’s yearning to escape and has just stumbled upon the way to do it. Great stuff.)

So we’ve finished off the decades, and now we’re hitting the umpteen XM channels in which they subdivide genres like a bunch of dieters sharing one slice of pie. The four or five alt-rock channels (depending on your definition) will wait for a few weeks. Today, with some trepidation, we hit the country channels.

“We’ve dimmed the lights, thrown some sawdust on the floor, and brought the honky tonk back to life,” says the XM description of Channel 10, America. I don’t even like the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, so this could be a rough ride. But I’ll keep an open mind …

George Jones, Small Y’All: Kind of a country version of Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover … “Don’t it make you feel like a jerk, Kirk.” Your basic three chords-plus-bridge on a thick-toned electric guitar with a piano reinforcing the beat, a fiddle playing the occasional fill and a slide guitar generally irritating everyone.

Paul Overstreet, Daddy’s Come Around: Did I change stations? The bass is actually funky, and I heard some ’80s synthesizer sounds. OK, there’s the slide guitar, and the lyrics are typical country — matter-of-fact storytelling with the occasional bit of cleverness (“more than the locks have changed …”), all about a woman telling a man to straighten up and fly right. Not bad. Kind of fun, actually.

Terri Gibbs, Somebody’s Knockin’: I swear I’ve heard this song. Minor key, bit of a blues feel, some gospel-styled background vocals and piano riffs. AllMusic.com confirms that this was a crossover hit in ’81 and says Gibbs, a blind woman from Miami, returned to gospel music soon after. This isn’t a bad song, but I feel like I’m cheating. Isn’t this supposed to be traditional country, not country-tinged adult contemporary?

Waylon Jennings, Drinkin’ & Dreamin’: He actually says “drink ‘TIL I’m dreaming” in the chorus, and that gives you some idea of where he’s going with this. Sounds like a Jimmy Buffett setting, which isn’t a compliment. And it’s even less successful for Waylon than it is for Buffett. I think I could listen to Waylon in an actual honky-tonk setting.

Johnny Cash, I Walk the Line: A classic. Very simple setting — a guitar picking out single notes over a scratching sound. (Probably a washboard, not a hip-hop DJ.)

Hank Williams Jr., Ain’t Misbehavin’: Coincidentally, the Monday Night Football pregame just ended. This is definitely cheating — it’s a show tune, for crying out loud! Fats Waller piano tune with lyrics written in 1929. Hank does a nice job with it, but geez, this is country? That’s like filing Wynton Marsalis’ classical trumpet work under “jazz” because his last name is “Marsalis.”

Joe Stampley, Everyday I Have to Cry: Here’s a philosophical question. Do you have to sound like your liver is begging you to put down the bottle to be an authentic honky-tonk singer? This guy doesn’t pull it off. He’s about as believable as Tori Amos rapping. (I’m assuming — Tori hasn’t tried that to my knowledge, and I shouldn’t give her any ideas.)

Mandy Barnett, Three Days: I’m picturing an American Idol audition in which Simon struggles to say anything. The song itself — with random key changes apparently thrown around in a desperate attempt to stir up something interesting — is insipid; the singing is worse. I was actually relieved to hear the slide guitar solo.

Charlie Daniels, Uneasy Rider: “With Hank Jr. blaring on the radio,” the one-time controversial commencement speaker at UNC Wilmington tells a tale of driving around for no apparent reason. Then he ends up in a bar that sounds like a punk bar first but apparently is a gay bar. (How many gay bars have punk bands and guys who look like rejects from the Sex Pistols. Gay guys have fashion sense, dumbass.) So, of course, a guy puts his hand on Daniels’ knee and touches off a brawl. You know, Charlie, I’m not gay, but I think the words “Don’t flatter yourself” are appropriate here.

(At this point, I’d like to plug the Marshall Tucker Band’s Fire on the Mountain, which happened to pop up on iTunes while I was finishing up this post. Maybe it’s not traditional country, but it’s a damn good song, and I needed a reminder that there’s better music in this genre, broadly defined.)

Johnny Lee, Cherokee Fiddle: Why is a song called Cherokee Fiddle dominated by an overbearing slide guitar? It hardly matters — this song is every country cliche thrown into one song. Never have so many references to whiskey sounded so gratuitous. Lee, incidentally, was once married to Dallas star Charlene Tilton. Coincidentally, I saw Tilton last week on my weekly Match Game viewing, enduring the paw-happy flirting that would be inappropriate today.

Highway 101, (Do You Love Me) Just Say Yes: Gotta love a country band with a guitarist named … wait for it … Jack Daniels. Seriously. And it’s a serious improvement over the last four songs. They rock a bit, the guitars trade sharp solo lines, and the singer ain’t bad.

Willie Nelson & Ray Price, Run That By Me One More Time: Something wrong with the production in the duet parts — it sounds like Willie’s only singing every other note. Maybe he was a little out of it, but he sounded fine in the verse. The lyrics sound like they were written 100 years ago, but it’s a good performance. The steel guitar player knows his place (that is, in the background), and the fiddle solos aren’t bad.

John Conlee, Years After You: Another genre-buster. This could have passed for a John Waite song until the guy started singing. Waite, frankly, would have done a better job with it. It’s a better song than Missing You, but it’s a vocal style mismatch akin to having Kanye West sing Throwing Muses.

Gary Stewart, Your Place Or Mine: Iyyyy thinnnnnkk hhhheeee’ssss ooovvvverrrdoinnnnng thhhhhe vvvvvvvvvibbbraaaatttttoooo …

Merle Haggard, Someday When Things Are Good: A slow, sad one in a major key that lends a bit of dignity to Haggard’s tale of woe. Nice bit of melancholy.

Mickey Gilley, You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me: The guest star of many a late ’70s/early ’80s TV show (Fantasy Island twice — once as himself, once not!) has a nice voice, but I think this song was written as an artificial intelligence experiment by a mainframe computer in the ’70s.

Tanya Tucker, The Man That Turned My Mama On: Speaking of the ’70s, this is straight out of the crossover era — big tom-tom fills, bit of a swaggering attitude that would have fit on BJ and the Bear or some other show involving truckers with a heart of gold, fists of fury and perfect hair. I tease, but this isn’t bad.

Dick Curless, Rattlesnakin’ Lady: The guitar plays a standard boogie-woogie piano riff, which is a cheesy effect in itself. The soloing is pretty good. The song is not.

Gatlin Brothers, Sure Feels Like Love: Has it been an hour? I’ll hang in for one more.

Conway Twitty/Loretta Lynn, Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man: Yeah, this isn’t so much “traditional country” as it is “country music as played on ’70s variety shows in which the singers acted out the song because it’s just so cute.” Bouncy bass, silly lyrics, all the usual stuff.

Dolly Parton, You’re the Only One: Guitar sounds a lot like George Harrison. I’d listen to Dolly singing Beatles tunes. Early Beatles would work best — I can’t see her getting into Mean Mr. Mustard or Revolution. The spoken section kills this song, which is a real shame.

Ronnie Milsap, I Wouldn’t Have Missed It For the World: A solid crossover song, with a solid country beat supporting a dreamy mix of guitar arpeggios, harmonica and spacey keyboards. No complaints with the lyrics or vocals. (FWIW, this is the second blind musician of the hour — that I know of.) We’ll wrap it here.

So this wasn’t so bad. I heard a couple of classics and a lot of songs that put me right back in my parents’ living room watching a bunch of bell-bottomed folks on TV. All I needed was someone responding with “I’m a little bit rock and roll.” Which I am.


Good news

I’ve often said that the A section of a newspaper is an examination of how life doesn’t work, while the Money, Sports and Life sections are examinations of how it does.

After picking up BBC’s Focus magazine on a whim and killing a long Metro ride with it, I’m inclined to add science news to the latter category.

Sure, Focus had a few stories about the things that can harm us — global warming, hurricanes, etc. Those cheering for economists to trump scientists may complain about the prominence of these issues, but at least one essay proved that they’re not towing any sort of party line.

Besides, that was hardly the point. The magazine was full of everything from entertaining puzzles (the feature story on Sudoku and magic squares) to a look at how science is improving our world. I had no idea Raytheon was working on affordable missile defense for commercial air traffic. I had no idea Japanese scientists had developed robotic exoskeletons to help people walk as their bodies decline. (Anyone else wonder if Six Million Dollar Man was prophecy, not fiction?) I didn’t know much about the role Arthur C. Clarke played in proposing satellite communications.

Focus is a bit pricey, but it’s a good read. And it makes me wonder why we in the media don’t pay more attention to this sort of thing rather than the daily disaster. (Yes, I know today’s a bad day to write such a thing because we have a legitimate disaster in Pakistan and India, but most days, that’s not the case.)


Live blogging off SNL

OK, so it’s the big occasion — Ashlee Simpson returning to the scene of the crime …

Oh, wait … isn’t that Jewel? No? It’s really Ashlee Simpson? Oh. Seriously, it’s not Jewel? OK.

It’s as if her hair has gone hip-hop but her face and fingernails have gone Goth. And she’s singing a power ballad. She has every ’80s demographic covered, I guess.

I didn’t dislike her before her SNL appearance. As far as disposable pop goes, her stuff wasn’t as bad as most. I’d feel sorry for her if … well … if she wasn’t begging us to feel sorry for her.

The main thing I wanted to see with Ashlee was whether the drummer who hit the wrong button was still employed by her. Didn’t seem to be.

The rest of show really isn’t that good. I liked the fake ad, but the most of the sketches have had really thin premises. And Horatio on Weekend Update? I defend SNL most of the time, but they’re limping out of the gate this year.

Oh, and Harriet Miers doesn’t remind me of my mom. She reminds me of Mrs. Landingham from The West Wing.