In the 50-some years since Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned for African-American rights, some aspects of his legacy have begun to fade from memory. Many people know King’s “I Have a Dream” speech by heart.
However, few can remember concrete details about the March on Washington or the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Even fewer can tell you much about King himself.
Of all the virtues of Ava DuVernay’s film “Selma,” perhaps the most important is that it brings an important and slowly forgotten story from the Civil Rights movement back to the forefront of the public consciousness 50 years after it first occurred.
Selma chronicles the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches that took place in order to raise awareness of the need for African-American voting rights. African-Americans were legally able to vote, but local governments in the South often put up barriers that prevented them from voting.
The film tells us that, in 1965, 50 percent of Alabama’s population was African-American. Only 2 percent of those people were able to vote.
However, the issues at stake were much bigger than simple voting rights. As King (played here by the talented David Oyelowo) tells us in the film, voting rights were directly connected to ending the persecution of African-Americans. Whites who committed crimes against blacks were not indicted because the white jury almost always voted in their favor.
Only when African-Americans could serve on a jury could there be true justice for these criminals. And they couldn’t serve on a jury if they couldn’t vote.
The film begins with King’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and ends with passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In between, it shows the many struggles faced by King, his family and his followers.
In so doing, DuVernay is careful to not idealize King or any of the other marchers. In the film, King is shown to experience moments of doubt and fear. It also hints briefly at the man’s extramarital affairs.
However, King is also shown to be courageous, charismatic and committed to his cause. The man’s religious faith, often overlooked and forgotten, is shown to be the catalyst for his campaign for social justice.
He is also shown to be unexpectedly shrewd. “Selma” tells us that King’s use of nonviolent methods wasn’t just about taking the moral high road (although that is a part of it).
Rather, King wanted to show the world that African-Americans were taking abuse. King knew that, when people around the world saw this, outrage would follow. Outrage would, in turn, be followed by change.
Though King is the central character in DuVernay’s film, the director also remembers other historical figures who played a key role in the fight for voting rights. Some, such as Malcolm X and President Johnson (played here by Tom Wilkinson), have been remembered by history, while others have been forgotten.
For example, consider white pastor James Reeb (Jeremy Strong), who comes to Selma because “I can’t stand by while God’s people get hurt.” Reeb was one of two people killed during the events leading up to the marches.
Through the depictions of these and other characters, DuVernay provides a stark reminder that the people who instituted change in the U.S. 50 years ago were men and women just like us. They simply chose to stand up and do what they felt was right.
“What happens when a man stands up and says enough is enough?” King asks a friend.
“The world knocks him back down,” the man replies sadly.
Indeed, King and his followers were knocked down many times. However, they never failed to get back up, dust themselves off, and continue marching for what was good, right and true.
Selma is playing four times daily at Shiloh 14. The two-hour long film is rated PG-13 for “disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language."
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 January 2015 15:27
LAUREL — Next to the cash register at the Owl Café, there is a framed menu from the restaurant’s grand opening on Aug. 13, 1916. At the bottom of the menu it says: “Patrons will be entertained with music.”
Now, just shy of 100 years later, new owner Kathy Boyd can make the same promise, at least on Saturday mornings. She has revived the “bluegrass Saturday breakfast” tradition that made the Prairie Winds Café in tiny Molt so popular from 2001 until it closed in 2013.
Bringing in the bluegrass was suggested by John Letcher, a Laurel resident who has been a fan of Boyd’s cooking for years.
“She has quite the following,” Letcher said. “She’s a pretty famous cooking person around Laurel.”
Letcher was also friends with Larry and LaLonnie Larson, residents of Molt who cooked up the idea of playing music at the Prairie Winds. Letcher figured the Larsons’ band, Highway 302, would be perfect for the Owl.
He suggested it to Boyd, and she was game. As Letcher put it, “I knew her and I knew Larry and those guys, so it just kind of clicked.”
Highway 302 kicked off the new tradition on Saturday, Jan. 10, then played again last Saturday. As in Molt, the music will run every Saturday from 9 to noon. The first week there was a good crowd, but last Saturday, after small blurbs ran in newspapers, the place was packed.
Spur of the Moment is scheduled to play this Saturday, and other bluegrass bands from the area are making arrangements to get a performance rotation going. Boyd said Larry Larson “got me hooked up with all kinds of other bluegrass bands.”
Among the crowd last weekend were Lynn and Bill Solberg of Laurel, who showed up with their granddaughter, Ember. Ember got up at one point and plucked along on LaLonnie Larson’s upright bass as the band played “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Lynn Solberg said they don’t normally venture out quite so early, and her husband added, “But we got up for this.”
Boyd said her first job in Laurel, when she moved there from Nebraska 20 years ago, was cooking at the Owl. The café has been through several owners over the years, and Boyd started working on calling it her own more than a year ago.
She worked at other restaurants in Laurel before buying the Owl, and lots of people who followed her from restaurant to restaurant are excited that she’s found a home.
“I’m pretty proud because I feel like I have groupies,” she said.
She said she’s taken the menu back to basic ’50s and ’60s offerings, and “just about everything we do here is homemade,” including bread pudding and cabbage rolls. She serves lots of side pork at breakfast and lots of burgers and fries at lunch. Dinner standards include chicken-fried steak, pork chops, liver and onions and “wonderful cod for fish and fries.”
The Owl is about three times bigger than the Prairie Winds, with seating for 130, not counting seats in the banquet room behind the main dining area.
The café is open seven days a week at 203 E. Main St., next door to the old Sonny O’Day’s bar. It opens every day at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., except on Sunday, when it closes at 3. Starting in February, Boyd plans to stay open 24 hours on Fridays and Saturdays.
Boyd said the Owl has been “a mainstay around here forever. I’m very proud of the tradition, and that’s what I’m trying to bring back.”
LaLonnie Larson knows about that tradition.
“My mom was born in 1923,” she said, “born and raised in Belfry, Montana, and she said she remembered riding the bus to music festivals in Billings and stopping at the Owl Café to eat. The Owl Café — it’s just been there.”
As at the Prairie Winds, musicians get a free breakfast and whatever tips are thrown their way, usually into an open mandolin or guitar case. LaLonnie said Highway 302 had a fine time at the Owl and is looking forward to more Saturdays there.
“Musicians need a place to play,” she said. “They just only want to be warm and dry. And if it’ll help that little gal get her place off the ground, that’ll be great.”
Last Updated on Sunday, 25 January 2015 14:59
As I started to ponder my picks for the top 10 albums of 2014, the 2015 Grammy nominations were announced. I couldn’t help but notice how much the nominations mirrored my thoughts on the year in music.
Mainstream pop radio has reached historic levels for being vapid and disposable. And it’s telling that only Beyonce’s self-titled album got a Grammy nomination in the marquee album of the year category – in which commercial performance of the albums factor into the voting. Not to diss nominees Ed Sheeran, Beck and Pharrell Williams, but it looked obvious that Grammy voters had few options in this important category. The only album of the year nominee on my top 10 list is Sam Smith’s “In the Lonely Hour,” and Smith should clean up come Grammy night. (FYI: Taylor Swift’s “1989” won’t be eligible until 2016.)
But all was not lost in 2014. Rock, country and Americana had strong years, and 2015 Grammy nominees from those genres are littered across my list of top albums. It was such a good year that albums from the Black Keys, Tom Petty, the New Pornographers and Jack White - which would have cracked the top 10 in many other years – only made my honorable mention.
So let’s celebrate a year that was deep in superior albums. They didn’t all light up the charts, but these albums sure brightened my year.
1. Eric Church: “The Outsiders” (EMI) – One of mainstream country’s boldest artists, Church not only breaks new ground on “The Outsiders” – at times he completely obliterates it. “That’s Damn Rock and Roll” delivers more than its title promises, as Church injects grimy funk, rap and good ol’ Southern rock into this tasty track. The title song, with its heavy texture and an adventurous instrumental passage that almost qualifies as prog-metal, is unlike anything anyone’s ever put on a country album. The sassy “Cold One,” subverts the expected theme (“She had her feet up the cooler/As she put our love on ice”) and then tops things off by erupting into a furious fast-picking segment that would make Charlie Daniels envious. Such brave and creative moments make the “The Outsiders” my album of the year.
2. St. Vincent: “St. Vincent” – The artist otherwise known as Annie Clark goes even deeper into a synthy/electronic sound on this, her fourth album. And underneath the cool sonics, she combines killer hooks and a left-of-center edge on prickly pop-rock tunes like “Birth In Reverse,” “Regret” and “Digital Witness”), and smart, sometimes provocative lyrics (“Prince Johnny”). Her earlier albums were good, but “St. Vincent” suggests Clark is really hitting her stride now as a songwriter and performer.
3. Lana Del Rey: “Ultraviolence” – On “Ultraviolence,” Del Rey sounds like she walked out of a scene in “Blue Velvet,” part seductress, part scarred survivor, yearning to tempt the thrill and hurt of love all over again. The music fits the “Blue Velvet” motif, too, as ballads like “Shades of Cool,” “Pretty When You Cry” and “The Other Woman” are the musical equivalent of film noir, filled with sensuality, danger and beauty. And Del Rey, with her striking and silky voice, is ideally suited to the dramatic darkly hued songs that make “Ultraviolence” such a captivating work.
4. The Black Keys: “Turn Blue” - Once you get over the shock of hearing the dreamy Pink Floyd-ish textures of “Weight of Love” or the sleek synthy soul of the title song and “10 Women,” the depth and creativity – not to mention quality – of “Turn Blue” shines through.
Bits of the Black Keys’ familiar gritty garage blues-rock surface in the grooving soul-rock of “In Time,” and the uber-catchy “Fever.” And “Gotta Get Away” gives “Turn Blue” one stellar rocker that reaches back to the Black Keys’ earlier sound. But mostly, “Turn Blue” is the sound of this duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney exploding any expectations or limits created by their earlier music and emerging with a fresh and exciting album.
5. Rosanne Cash: “The River and the Thread” – With “The River and the Thread,” Cash explores her roots in the South – both geographically and in the music of the Delta region – specifically reclaiming her Memphis roots, while also tipping her hat to Alabama and Mississippi.
Her perceptive and emotionally resonant thoughts are expressed in a collection of melodic rough-hewn ballads (balanced by the occasional friskier tune), making for a rich addition to Cash’s catalog of excellent albums.
6. Sam Smith: “In the Lonely Hour” – With his falsetto to die for and several genuinely stunning soul-laced pop ballads – “I’m Not The Only One“ is as good as a ballad gets – Smith sounded destined for big things before he hauled in a half-dozen 2015 Grammy nominations.
Several songs could have easily gotten Manilow-esque over-production, but Smith’s producers wisely kept things fairly restrained, leaving space for Smith’s amazing voice to work its magic.
7. Ty Segall: “Manipulator” – Eight releases into an adventurous career, Segall’s wide ranging influences – punk, psychedelic, glam, metal, prog rock – coalesce into his most focused song set in “Manipulator.” Seventeen songs deep, “Manipulator” covers lots of ground – the acoustic glam punk on “Tall Man Skinny Woman,” stunning Lennon/Bowie-esque drama on “The Singer,” driving dirty blues-rock on “Feel” and intense psychedelia on “Susie Thumb.” Nearly every song is a winner from a bold and talented artist who just keeps getting better.
8. St. Paul and The Broken Bones: “Half the City” – If “Half the City” had come out in the late 1960s, it might have gone down as one of the era’s better soul albums. Instead this auspicious debut introduces us to a talented new band fronted by a powerhouse singer (Paul Janeway).
The group simmers sweetly on ballads like “Grass Is Greener” and “It’s Midnight,” gets jazzy on “Don’t Mean A Thing” and evokes classic Memphis soul with the killer horn riffs of “That Glow.”
9. Miranda Lambert: “Platinum” – Lambert’s earlier albums established her as a whip-smart, take-no-you-know-what country rabble rouser. And that spirited and downright funny gal (“What doesn’t kill you only makes you blonder” from the song “Platinum”) is very much present on this ambitious 16-song set. But Lambert also finds room for a wistful ballad with “Smokin’ and Drinkin’” (a collaboration with Little Big Town) and ponders a time not long ago when people didn’t seem so entitled (on the song “Automatic”). Could a little more maturity and wisdom be creeping into Lambert’s music? Yes, and it adds some welcome color and depth to Lambert’s artistry.
10. Taylor Swift: “1989” – Swift had already gone pop on her 2012 album, “Red,” but the glossy, synth-heavy sound of “1989” puts her squarely in step with today’s commercial pop trends. And Swift is aiming for a blockbuster with this album, working with several hit-making co-writers/producers (Ryan Tedder, Max Martin, Jack Antonoff), to create songs with maximum accessibility and (fortunately) more smarts than most of fluff dominating pop radio. Sorry, Charli (and Ariana, Iggy, Miley), there’s a new queen of pop, and she came from Nashville.
Honorable mention: New Pornographers: “Brill Bruisers,” Foo Fighters: “Sonic Highways,” Rodney Crowell: “Tarpaper Sky,” Weezer: “Everything Will Be Alright in the End,” Tom Petty: “Hypnotic Eye,” Sharon Van Etten: “Are We There,” Jackson Browne: “Standing in the Breach,” Against Me!: “Transgender Dysphoria Blues,” John Hiatt: “Terms of My Surrender,” Gaslight Anthem: “Get Hurt,” Jenny Lewis: “The Voyager,” Jack White: “Lazaretto,” Spoon: “They Want My Soul,” Leonard Cohen: “Popular Problems,” The Both: “The Both.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2015 16:14
With literally thousands of albums getting released each year – let’s thank computer music programs, affordable home recording equipment and internet marketing for enabling just about anyone who wants to make a CD to get it done and release their music – it’s getting harder for artists to be heard and harder for fans to find the good albums hidden in the mass of mediocrity that each year floods the marketplace.
There’s no way for one person to hear every worthy album, but I came across my share of obscure gems and stellar releases that got some attention (Sturgill Simpson, Manchester Orchestra), but not nearly as much as they deserved. Here are my favorite 20 albums for 2014 that flew under the radar.
1. Old Monk: “Posing as Love” – Take some early quirky Talking Heads, some of the angular punk of Pavement or the Velvet Underground, then spice things with a little of the Buzzcocks’ spiky punk and a touch of the punchy pastoral rock of Blitzen Trapper and you may get an idea of what to expect from Old Monk on its second CD, “Posing As Love.” Songs like “Volcanic,” “Alta Rush,” “Seymour,” “Art Heist” and “Fowl and Foe” are edgy, offbeat - even a bit weird – but they possess hooks that embed themselves in the brain and have an energy that’s undeniable.
Old Monk may never make the impact of a Talking Heads or a Velvet Underground, but this band bears watching – and enjoying – both now and as it continues to explore its unique musical path in the future.
2. Parquet Courts: “Sunbathing Animal” – The band’s second album offers more of the kind of jagged, taut, melodic and at times spastic punk rock that earned its debut album, “Light Up Gold,” plenty of critical raves. “Sunbathing Animal” is just as fun, as it ping pongs between frenetic rockers like “Always Back in Town,” “Black and White” and the title track, more measured Velvet Underground-ish tracks like “Dear Ramona” and “What Color Is Blood,” and angular, offbeat tunes like “Vienna II.”
3. Hannah Aldridge – “Razor Wire” – Falling somewhere between being a rockabilly-ish raver and introspective Americana singer-songwriter, Aldridge shows a gift for strong, uncluttered melody and plain-spoken lyrics that cut to the bone, yank at the heart and sometimes take no prisoners (“I miss you like morphine” – how’s that for an opening line in “Lie Like You Love Me?”). If Aldridge can maintain the standard set by “Razor Wire” she could emerge as the next great singer/songwriter on today’s vibrant Americana/roots music/country-soul — whatever you want to call it – scene.
4. Ex Hex: “Rips” – The debut album from this band is a brash, extremely catchy collision of punk energy and psychedelic quirkiness. The raucous feel of songs like “Beast” and “You Fell Apart” is matched by the big guitar and vocal hooks that make them irresistible. On “Waste Your Time,” Ex Hex dial back a bit on the intensity, while “Waterfall” has more of a chugging tempo that suggests a rootsier influence lurking under the band’s punky exterior. “How You Get That Girl,” meanwhile, has a bit of a girl group pop thing happening. The latter three songs bring just enough changes of pace to keep “Rips” from becoming too much of a one-trick sugar rush. As it is, this is a sweet introduction to a promising group.
5. Manchester Orchestra: “Cope” – On “Cope,” Manchester Orchestra calms down some of the chaos and cacophony that sometimes muddied its first three albums.
The band has by no means gone soft, but the slightly more settled feel of “Cope” allows the potent and catchy riffs that drive songs like “Choose You,” “The Mansion” and “All That I Really Wanted” to shine through. This is loud, arena worthy rock done right.
6. The Rural Alberta Advantage: “Mended With Gold” – Forget the images of dusty prairies and bluegrass evoked by the band name. A rock and roll heart beats loudly throughout “Mended With Gold,” the group’s third full-length album. Yes, there are hints of Americana in the airiness built into tunes like “On the Rocks” and “Terrified” or the acoustic strumming of “Runners in the Night,” but these are brisk, and energized songs. And “This City” delivers a visceral two-and-a-half-minute blast of U2-on-steroids arena rock, while “45/33” has a big riff that would make the Who proud.
7. Sturgill Simpson: “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” – “Turtles All the Way Down,” the opening song on this album, evokes a bit of Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.” It’s a fitting way to start an album that reaches back to what many consider the “real” country of the ’60s and ’70s – a sound that seemingly had disappeared from the music landscape. Sturgill, though, brings that sound roaring back to life with this first-rate collection of dust busters (“Life of Sin” and “A Little Light”), ballads (“The Promise” and “Voices”) and everything in between.
8. Temples: “Sun Structures” – Mixing together gauzy psychedelic rock, Beatles-esqiue Brit-pop and some Middle Eastern overtones and a little pop jangle, Temples carve out a distinctive and intoxicating sound on “Sun Structures,” the band’s full-length debut. The songs, though, are even more striking than the sound. Standouts on the album include the Byrds-ish opening tune “Shelter Song,” the dark, dreamy and irresistibly catchy “Colours to Life,” which has an appealing bit of the aforementioned Middle Eastern accent to go with its thumping rock sound, and “Keep In The Dark,” a song which blends pop, acoustic folk and some strong echoes of the Led Zeppelin epic “Kashmir.” Obviously, Temples can be a bit hard to pin down stylistically, but just forget about labels and enjoy the music.
9. Crookes: “Soapbox” – This third full-length album from this Sheffield, England, band is a consistently engaging and entertaining collection of songs that evoke a few eras of Brit-rock/pop. The songs on “Soapbox” range from the thump and shimmer of Play Dumb” to the Oasis-ish driving power pop of “Before the Night Falls” to the ringing Smiths-ish rock of “Outsiders,” to the shimmering balladry of “Howl.” In a time when the rock/pop scene is getting inundated by new synth/electronic acts, it’s good to have a band like Crookes to remind us of the virtues and timeless appeal of guitar-based Brit-rock.
10. Trigger Hippy: “Trigger Hippy” – With a lineup that includes such established talents as singer Joan Osborne, guitarist/keyboardist Jackie Greene and Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman, this debut release should have drawn more attention than it has so far. The music more than lives up to the resumes – and the stylistic backgrounds – of the band members. The rootsy soul of the luminous “Heartache on the Line” and the easy-going “Rise Up Singing” are right in the wheelhouse for Osborne, who delivers her trademark lovely and sensual vocals, often in combination with Greene. “Turpentine” and “Tennessee Mud” are Southern-tinged rockers that hang with the best of the Black Crowes’ songs. Perhaps the biggest changeup is “Adelaide,” a folky Neil Young-ish ballad written by bassist Nick Govrik, who is a main part of the songwriting mix throughout the album. If Trigger Hippy can maintain the quality of this debut, this won’t be considered a side band for long.
Honorable mention: Eagulls: “Eagulls,” Alvvays: “Alvvays,” Ought: “More Than Any Other Day,” Moonlight Towers: Heartbeat Overdrive,” Joyce Manor: “Never Hungover Again,” The Safes: “Record Heat,” Delta Spirit: “Into The Wide,” Hans Chew: “Love & Life,” Ume: “Monuments,” Hard Working Americans: “Hard Working Americans.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 12:26
This year’s bounty of box sets is a strong one, with plenty of great choices for holiday gift giving. Here are the prime candidates for your shopping lists.
• Bob Dylan and the Band: “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11” (Columbia Legacy) – Dylan’s comments over the years suggest he never viewed “The Basement Tapes” as being that important. But this six-CD set, which documents the summer 1967 writing and demoing sessions by Dylan and his backing group that would soon be known as the Band, proves otherwise.
There is a loose and relaxed quality to the recordings and at times the sessions get downright goofy – especially on several of the many covers of old folk, country and blues tunes. But there are also dozens of Dylan originals. Some, such as “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “The Mighty Quinn,” were covered by other artists, and also became staples of the Dylan live repertoire.
Others, such as “Odds and Ends,” “Too Much of Nothing,” “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and many more, had potential, and one wonders why they weren’t developed into finished studio tracks. A very good – and logical – follow-up to Dylan’s classic 1966 “Blonde on Blonde” album could have been made from this material. Instead, Dylan decided to explore the simpler country stylings of the “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline” albums.
In any event, the many discoveries, curiosities and just plain good songs, make this an important addition to the official Dylan catalog. – Rating: 4 ½ stars
• Wilco: “Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014” (Nonesuch) – To celebrate its 20th anniversary as a band, Wilco has given fans quite a gift – this four-disc set of unreleased music from the vaults. Many of the unreleased original songs (such as the perky country honk of “Tried and True” and the hooky pop-rocker “Glad It’s Over”) deserved release before now. Some alternate versions of familiar tunes (“Camera” and “Hummingbird”) are eye openers. And the live tracks show why Wilco is so good in concert. No surprise here, but Wilco’s leftovers are better than the A-list material of most bands – Rating: 4 stars
• Johnny Winter: “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story” (Columbia/Legacy) – This set traces the late bluesman’s career from late 1960s blues beginnings into the early 1970s rock albums that gained him major popularity and through his return to the blues that began with his 1977 album, “Nothin’ But the Blues.” Drug problems slowed Winter’s output beginning in the late 1980s, but he regained control of his life and returned to form over the final several years of his life. – Rating: 4 stars
• Michael Bloomfield: “From His Head to His Heart to His Hands” (Columbia/Legacy) – To the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Miles Davis Michael Bloomfield was one of most talented, versatile and soulful guitarists going. This three-CD/one DVD set shows why Bloomfield so impressed fellow musicians, as it brings together performances from his work with Al Kooper on the Super Sessions projects, his time in the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band and various session work. He died too soon, but Bloomfield left an indelible mark on rock history. – Rating: 4 stars
• Rod Stewart: “Live 1976-1998: Tonight’s The Night” (Warner Bros./Arnold Stiefel Entertainment) – Stewart’s best work – with the Faces and on his early solo albums – was behind him by 1976. Nevertheless, Stewart was (and is) an accomplished performer, and particularly on the ‘70s recordings, he shows plenty of grit, sass and swagger. He also shines at making the many covers here sound like his own songs. And the best news: the set stops before Stewart tried going Sinatra with the Great American Songbook. – Rating: 4 stars
• David Bowie: “Nothing Has Changed” (Columbia/Legacy) - This three-CD set summarizes Bowie’s adventurous 50-year career by collecting the singles (and a few key album tracks) from across his career. Because the excellent 1989 box set “Sound + Vision” featured demos and live versions of some of Bowie’s best known songs, the single versions of the classic hits featured here make “Nothing Has Changed” more essential than that earlier set. – Rating: 4 stars
• Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “CSNY 1974” (CSNY Recordings/Rhino) – In 1974, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young launched a historic stadium tour famous for rock star indulgences and tension. Along the way, as “CSNY 1974” shows, some great music got performed. The electric songs here are full of energy and creativity, while the acoustic set was varied and strong enough to keep stadiums full of people entertained. The shows include CSNY favorites and solo songs (some of which weren’t yet released such as Young’s “On the Beach” and “Pushed It Over the End”). – Rating: 4 stars
• Miles Davis: “Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3, Miles at the Fillmore” (Columbia/Legacy) – Previously available in heavily edited form on a two-album set, this four-CD set presents the great jazz trumpeter’s four-show June 1970 run at New York’s Fillmore East as it went down. There’s plenty of inspired soloing and cohesive playing – and moments when the playing feels chaotic and aimless. But that was part of the bargain with Davis, who was continuing to break down song structures and redefine jazz. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Joni Mitchell: “Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced” (Reprise/Asylum/Nonesuch/Rhino) – This project started as an attempt by Mitchell to assemble songs from her catalog for a ballet about love. She couldn’t make it work within the time constraints of a ballet, but it evolved into this four-disc set using love (with its many highs, lows and complexities) as a connecting thread. This isn’t exactly a best-of anthology (some of Mitchell’s famous songs are omitted – presumably they didn’t fit the theme). But the compelling and at times challenging music – encompassing folk, jazz, pop, soul and rock - coupled with Mitchell’s own insightful liner notes, should give fans a new level of understanding and appreciation for her work. – Rating: 4 stars
• George Harrison: “The Apple Years 1968-75” (Universal/Apple) – If you don’t own the former Beatle’s early albums, this set is for you. It features the 2001 expanded reissue of “All Things Must Pass,” which remains the finest post-Beatles album from any of the members of the Fab Four. Harrison didn’t match that excellence on his three follow-up albums. , “Living in the Material World,” “Darkhorse” and “Extra Texture,” but each album had its moments.
This set also lets fans discover two obscure pre-“All Things Must Pass” instrumental albums. “Electric Sound” was his soundscape experiment using the then-new Moog synthesizer. It’s a snooze. But “Wonderwall Music,” which was largely recorded with Indian musicians in early 1968, is a fascinating journey into Indian music, cross-pollinated at times with pop. – Rating: 4 stars
* John Denver: “All of My Memories: The John Denver Collection” (RCA/Legacy) – Critics may have bashed Denver for making lightweight country pop, but he had millions of fans. Whichever side of that fence you occupy, this four-CD set does a good job chronicling Denver’s best material. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
* Soundgarden: “Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path” (A&M/Ume) – The unreleased originals, cover tunes, remixes and instrumentals that make up this three-disc set may not match the best material on Soundgarden’s studio albums, but core fans will find enough to want this collection. – Rating: 3 stars
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:37
Many years, when November arrives, it’s time to brace for the onslaught of Christmas albums, fearing the selection will be filled with the usual by-the-numbers versions of holiday standards that add nothing to the hundreds of holiday albums that have come before them. This year, we get a break. Sure, there are a few predictable releases. But just as many boast some truly inspired and original approaches to Christmas music. Here are some releases to add – and delete – from your holiday album shopping list:
• Taj Mahal/The Blind Boys of Alabama: “Talkin’ Christmas!” (Sony Masterworks) – This holiday summit between blues legend Mahal and the equally venerable gospel/soul vocal group, the Blind Boys, is a rousing success. “Talkin’ Christmas!” features several songs co-written by the Blind Boys, including “The Sun Is Rising” (which sounds a bit like Hawaiian gospel) the funky and perky title track.
But the treatments of familiar holiday tunes are just as original. “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn” becomes a playful romp, while “Do You Hear What I Hear?” gets a pleasant grooving swagger. Simply put, this is 2014’s best holiday album. – Rating: 4 stars
• Earth, Wind and Fire: “Holiday” (Legacy) – The veteran group does exactly what one would hope with a holiday album – it remakes a set of Christmas classics (“Joy To The World,” “Winter Wonderland”) in its own rousing horn-laced R&B image. A couple of originals, the spirited “Happy Seasons” and “December,” a variation on the group’s hit “September,” round out this enjoyable set. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Farmer Jason: “Christmas on the Farm” – Jason Ringenberg (otherwise known as the frontman of the turbo-fueled country-punk band Jason and The Scorchers) adapts his kids music persona for this collection of originals and standards. The title track opens things in fine style, mixing country and mariachi and setting the humorous tone that carries through the album. Ringenberg keeps things fun and clean for the kids, but also rocks enough and shows enough cleverness that grown-ups will also get some kicks out of “Christmas on the Farm.” – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Heart and Friends: “Home For The Holidays” (Frontiers) – This CD/DVD set captures a special December 2013 holiday concert in the veteran band’s hometown of Seattle. With a smartly chosen set that draws from songs written by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Harry Nilsson, the group (joined by several notable guests) presents a warm and inviting set of holiday-related songs. Before the proceedings end, though, Heart kicks things into overdrive with “Barracuda,” “Even It Up” and a cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” Then Train’s Pat Monahan, Richard Marx and Shawn Colvin join in on Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells,” a stirring finale for a fine – and unique – holiday show. – Rating: 4 stars
• Over The Rhine: “Blood Oranges in the Snow” (GSD) – It’s actually a stretch to call “Blood Oranges in the Snow” a holiday album – even if it’s being marketed that way. Instead, it’s more of a collection of mostly original songs set to a backdrop of the holiday season. So don’t expect cheery covers by the long-running Ohio duo. Instead, these are tales of everyday struggles, small joys and wishes for better days ahead, set to the elegant folk-pop sound that remains Over the Rhine’s musical signature. “Blood Oranges in the Snow” may not conjure Christmas cheer, but it’s a compelling, and frequently lovely, listen. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• The Roys: “Bluegrass Kinda Christmas” (Rural Rhythm) – There’s nothing “kinda” about things here. The Roys have made a true bluegrass Christmas album. It happily leans toward lesser-known tunes (”Santa Claus Looked A Lot Like Daddy,” “Christmas Time’s a Comin’ “) done up in lively style - while several solid originals, including “Santa Train,” “There’s a New Kid in Town” (not even remotely the Eagles song) and the title track, are welcome as well. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Home Free: “Full of Cheer” (Columbia) – Winners of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” this a cappella group sounds like a cross between the Oak Ridge Boys and Straight No Chaser on “Full of Cheer”– only with a bit of a comedy bent (note the title track, a rare happy Christmas breakup song). The vocal arrangements are fun and frequently inventive, making for an entertaining album that lives up to its title. – Rating 3 ½ stars
• Dave Koz and Friends: “The 25th of December” (Concord) – The smooth jazz star’s latest holiday effort is a star-studded vocal-oriented affair. Johnny Mathis does a fine job on a jazzy version of his signature holiday song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Several other guests, including India.Arie (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”), Heather Headley (“My Grown Up Christmas List”) and Jonathan Butler (“O Holy Night”) give particularly inspired performances. They help add some sizzle to a nice mix of traditional classics and newer holiday songs. – Rating: 3 stars
• Jim Brickman: “On a Winter’s Night” (Green Hill) – This is Brickman’s eighth holiday album, but he continues to seem invested in holiday music. Here, he puts the famous poem “Night Before Christmas” to music (with John Oates doing a credible job with the vocals). Kenny Rogers pitches in on “That Silent Night.” Much of the rest of the album is instrumental and features Brickman’s signature gentle piano stylings. But he does a nice job reinventing “Blue Christmas” (made famous by Elvis Presley) and the Mariah Carey hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” – Rating: 3 stars
• Darius Rucker: “Home For The Holidays” (Universal) - It’s so tempting to call this album “Hootie For The Holidays” – even though Rucker, I’m sure, is tired of explaining there was no Hootie in Hootie in the Blowfish (and Hootie is not lead singer Rucker’s nickname, either).
Anyway, Rucker, who has gone country as a solo artist, plays it safe, doing agreeable, if predictable, versions of standards like “Let It Snow,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” – Rating: 2 ½ stars
• Idina Menzel: “Holiday Wishes” (Warner Bros.) – The Broadway/film star’s entry into this year’s field is mostly standard issue holiday stuff. “Holiday Wishes” is heavy on the usual staples given familiar orchestrated treatments.
To be sure, Menzel has a voice that should make most of today’s pop divas jealous, but she frequently crosses the line with vocal acrobatics, over-singing her way through most of the songs. Of course, Broadway isn’t a bastion of vocal nuance and subtlety, so maybe that’s to be expected. – Rating: 2 stars
• Celtic Thunder: “Holiday Symphony” (Legacy) – The male Irish vocal group is back to cash in on the holiday CD season with its third holiday album (and second in two years). “Holiday Symphony” doesn’t sound particularly Irish, either vocally, instrumentally. A few lesser known selections (“Gaudete,” “Fairtytale of New York” and “Comfort Ye”) help, but they don’t save this calculated effort. – Rating: 2 stars
• Various Artists: “Christmas at Downton Abbey” (Warner Bros.) – There’s no reason this album exists except to sell it to fans of the excellent BBC series. If whoever put this double album (talk about over-indulgence) together really wanted to evoke the feeling of Christmas in England in the early 20th century, why wasn’t the album recorded in a studio with equipment from that era and pressed on 78 rpm so we could listen on a vintage crank-handle hi-fi? Otherwise it’s just a group of actors singing (some competently, some not quite that well – often with choirs carrying the performances) songs that have nothing to do with the television series. Skip “Christmas At Downton Abbey” and just watch the show. Rating: 1 star
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:07
At the center of Burke Jam’s new exhibit at Montana State University Billings’ Northcutt Steele Gallery is a piece titled “Closer” – a simple Plexiglas box on which the words “Come Closer” are etched.
“That is one of my mantra pieces,” Jam said during a Gallery Talk about his pieces. “I like to ask myself and other people to just slow down a little bit and listen because there is a lot of amazing information that you can pick up if you just listen.”
This mantra is one of the key ideas behind Jam’s new exhibition, “Fracture,” which combines visual media with music and sound to create a meditation on the artist’s recent year-long trip to Iceland.
Jam was born and raised in rural Montana and attended high school in Billings. He graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in art in 2006 and a master’s degree in 2013.
“My master’s degree dealt specifically with sound, and I was really fascinated about the relationship that sound has to our understanding of place,” Jam said. “After completing my degree, I was looking to find out how I could push that study further. And I thought the best place to do that was one of the most remote places on the planet.”
Jam wrote up a proposal for his trip and sent it in to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which gave him a year-long Fulbright grant so that he could continue his research.
Jam’s primary work in Iceland involved field recording, which is the process of collecting environmental sounds. After collecting the sounds, Jam ran them through a computer program that he created himself. The program extracted the spectral notes that make up natural sounds and placed them into a musical score.
Jam created three different musical pieces through this process and arranged them in the form of a symphony: the first movement is for solo piano; the second is for a full orchestra; and the final movement is performed by a vibraphone, piano, harp and bells.
“Each movement is made from field recordings that were taken in different places in Iceland,” Jam said. “For example, the second movement was taken from sounds that I recorded while on the Westman Ferry. What was really interesting was that, when I shared that piece with Icelanders, 99 percent could tell that the field recordings were taken on the Westman Ferry. It was a really striking reminder that we relate to place through sound – and that we can recognize that sound even if we change it into an abstraction.”
Although his symphony is one of the most striking aspects of his new show, Jam didn’t rely on just one form of media to convey his experiences in Iceland.
“This show is a combination of a lot of different things that were going on at the time,” Jam said. “A lot of the show is more visually oriented than my shows usually are because I was trying to include everything I experienced and thought about while in Iceland – through sounds, drawings and photographs.”
Jam continued, “I work primarily in sound and new media at this point, but I also try to work all over the map, which I think is important to do in today’s art world. We talk about all of this new media and technology, which is great and very important, but I think it is also important to maintain simpler ways to think and reflect.”
One of these ways is through a series of 35 line drawings that Jam calls “Fault Lines.” Jam said that the simple drawings are a “response to the physicality of the places I was experiencing.”
Jam, who teaches at Portland State University, also took more than 3,000 photos while in Iceland. Seven of these photos are displayed in the artist’s show.
“As I was putting this show together, I was reflecting on what Iceland was and what the most impactful moments of that time were,” he said. “Out of all the photographs I took, these seven depict specific chronological points that were impactful to the recording process and to my heart. There were both high and low points during that year so I wanted to contain those in photographs and send those back into the world.”
After the “Fracture” exhibit leaves MSU Billings on Dec. 11, the majority of the show will move to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Jam’s score will return to Iceland where it will be performed at the Tectonics Festival, which celebrates contemporary experimental classical music.
Jam hopes to translate some more of his field recordings into music and to continue his investigation into the relationship between sound and place.
“When I take the original sounds and abstract them into music, I think the ways that people are able to react to it and interact with it are really intriguing to me,” Jam said “So music for me right now is a loose tool that allows me to talk about something much bigger: our relationship sonically to place.”
Burke Jam’s “Fracture” Exhibit is open at MSU Billings from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. One of Jam’s musical movements plays at the top of every hour.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:25
MISSOULA – For the second time this year, Stephen Kalm, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Montana and a music professor, will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
On the evening of Friday, Nov. 21, Kalm will sing in an American Composers Orchestra concert of Meredith Monk’s “Night” under the direction of George Manahan.
Monk is Carnegie Hall’s Composer of the Year for its 2014-15 season. For many years, Kalm was a member of the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble, and participated in the creation and premieres of several of her works, including the Bessie Award-winning vocal work “The Politics of Quiet” from which “Night” originated.
For more information about the performance, visit the Carnegie Hall website at www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2014/11/21/0730/PM/American-Composers-Orchestra/.
Last April, Kalm also performed at Carnegie Hall in the opera “The Wayward” by Harry Partch in a program curated by 2013-14 Carnegie Hall Composer of the Year David Lang. The New York Times reviewed the performance with high acclaim. The review can be accessed online at www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/arts/music/david-langs-collected-stories-at-zankel-hall.html?ref=music.
Kalm holds a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a master of art from Queens College and a doctorate in music from The City University of New York.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:12
A few months ago, Drowning Pool guitarist C.J. Pierce got a major surprise as he went through some video tapes of the band searching for material to include on a deluxe re-issue of the group’s 2001 debut album, “Sinner.”
Within the stack of video tapes was an audio cassette labeled 6-28. It was a soundboard mix of the final rehearsal Drowning Pool did before the starting the 2002 Ozzfest tour. The rehearsal included what figures to be a highlight of the “Sinner” reissue — a complete version of “Heroes Sleeping,” the last song Pierce, drummer Mike Luce and bassist Steve Benton worked on with singer Dave Williams.
On Aug. 14, 2002, just a few weeks after that rehearsal, Williams died from a heart condition, cardiomyopathy, suddenly and sadly ending the original edition of Drowning Pool.
“I heard it (the rehearsal) was going to get recorded, but I didn’t think much of it,” Pierce said in an early October phone interview. “Those last couple of rehearsals, we worked up a new song (“Heroes Sleeping”). And I didn’t even remember finishing the song.
“We actually did the song all the way through. So it’s totally a gem of a find. Definitely, it’s an emotional song to hear. ‘Heroes Sleeping,’ it’s about other musicians who had passed away before us. That was Dave’s (angle) on the lyrical content. Then literally just a few weeks later, he passed away. The song’s kind of about him now. So I’m glad we can share that with our fans.”
The re-issue of “Sinner” is now out, and along with the original album, it includes a second disc with 13 demos. In addition to “Heroes Sleeping,” it includes versions of a half dozen other songs that didn’t make the original “Sinner” album.
The new version of the debut album arrives 13 years after it was originally released, which to Pierce seems entirely appropriate.
“Our career has been laden with unlucky situations that we’ve been fortunate to overcome,” he said. “So it just made sense, the unlucky 13.”
To that end, Drowning Pool has begun a U.S. tour billed as the “unlucky 13th Anniversary ‘Sinner’ Tour.” The shows will find the group playing the entire “Sinner” album, as well as songs from the four albums the band has made since losing Williams.
Williams’ death wasn’t the only setback that surrounded the “Sinner” album, which was released in June 2001 to coincide with the group’s stint on the third stage of that summer’s Ozzfest.
Drowning Pool made such a big impression that the group was quickly elevated to a far higher profile slot on the Ozzfest second stage. As the buzz around the group intensified, the song “Bodies” took off at rock radio, and sales of “Sinner” soared – passing one million copies in just six weeks.
There seemed to be no stopping Drowning Pool – until the tragic day of Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stopped the world in its tracks.
“Bodies,” a song written about the mosh pits that would break out at Drowning Pool shows, was immediately pulled from radio – a logical move for a song that opens with the line: “Let the bodies hit the floor.” Right then and there, the “Sinner” album was commercially dead in the water. And less than a year later, Williams was gone.
It’s been a roller coaster ride of sorts since then. After taking time to deal with Williams’ death, the surviving band members decided to continue as Drowning Pool. But finding the right vocalist proved tricky before the group hired current singer Jason Moreno. Jason “Gong” Jones lasted for one album, 2004’s “Desensitized,” while Ryan McCombs departed after doing two albums with the group, 2007’s “Full Circle” and the 2010 self-titled album.
Along the way, there have been issues on the business side of the band’s career.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, too, that every band goes through,” Pierce said. “I think we’ve had just about one of every classic thing you’ve heard of that has destroyed bands.”
Pierce, though, is optimistic that Moreno will be a long-term fit as a vocalist. He recorded the 2013 album, “Resilience,” with Drowning Pool, and the band plans to begin recording its sixth album after the “Unlucky 13th Anniversary ‘Sinner’ Tour” wraps up in late fall.
“We could probably put out three or four records right now,” Pierce said, noting that the album is likely to take Drowning Pool’s music in a heavier direction. “We have our list of what we want on the record. We’re making sure these are the right songs. We want to put out an amazing record. We’ve been taking our time, and we want to do it right.”
For now, Pierce is happy to be on tour and have the chance to play the “Sinner” album front to back.
“There are a lot of songs we haven’t played (live) since Dave,” he said. “So I’m excited to play those songs again.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:13
“This Vanishing,” the first print poetry collection by Dave Caserio, has recently been released by CW books, an imprint of Word Tech. This company also published Montana poet laureate Tami Haaland’s latest book. Watch for future offerings of the work of Billings-area poets from this press.
Billings residents with a taste for poetry already know Dave Caserio as one of the most recognizable talents in south-central Montana. His multi-art performances featuring on-the-spot painting, interpretive dance and outstanding musicians such as bassist Parker Brown and guitarist Alex Nauman have been featured at the Billings Fringe Festival, Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub, Sacrifice Cliff Theatre, NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, and the Babcock Theater.
Dave has also worked with cancer patients at Billings Clinic, focusing on the restorative power of words. He teaches poetry with the Big Sky Writing Workshops, has offered Humanities Montana presentations throughout the state, and will be a featured speaker farther afield this year at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey.
Drawing on the experience gathered from his years in the Seattle slam poetry scene, Dave has also served as a guiding spirit and mentor for young artists and writers for whom downtown Billings is home base. Two such writers, Pete Tolton and James Dean Hickman, whose ventures include not only Montana Slam but Noise & Color, contributed their own considerable talents to “This Vanishing’s” design and layout.
As anyone who has seen him perform can attest, poetic music and rhythm are extremely important in Caserio’s work. One can hear rhythmic echoes ranging from “Beowulf” to “Leaves of Grass” in these poems. It is also evident that Caserio has mastered the subtle modulation of late 20th century free verse. “Ghost Eye,” for example, is rich with alliteration and assonance:
Even the neighbors
Back in Warrington
Waited with their tea leaves.
I asked Caserio how studying poetry with Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell at New York University had influenced his work. He notes that these meticulous craftspeople brought to his attention different aspects of the poet’s art.
From Kinnell, he learned the “weight and texture of vowels and consonants.” Since Dave had been working as a mime, this revitalization of language “was heady stuff to me then and it remains so, even now.”
Olds, in addition to her own sense of sound, focused on concrete detail and the power of ordinary life, the animated discourse of families, and, on a larger scale, the arguments of politics and social criticism. She also introduced him to the healing capacity of poetry, which he cultivates today in his work with cancer patients.
The accents and rhythms of jazz are present in many poems, along with an appropriate measure of urban dissonance. But Caserio is also capable of achieving a quieter pastoral music in poems such as “Vermont Etiology,” which begins with a passage recalling the work of James Wright and, especially, Robert Bly:
Since first dark
Only the snow has come
And what would be sound
Is taken back into the body
Like an oar lifted from water
In a poem by Bly or Wright, such atmospheric lines generally lead to surrealistic “deep imagery.” Caserio offers such a moment of heightened consciousness, but, true to the gritty aesthetic of the Chicago-born poet, weaves the illumination into a tough urban context:
Around blunted corners and back-alley ways,
Through quiet gates of snow,
Through half-covered broken glass
And the rusted time of automobiles
The poem may offer something like the kind of meditative subjective perception typical of Bly or Wright, but it will not leave anyone, not even “the slow, the lame, the deemed impure,” behind. The descriptive catalog of undesirables and encompassing generosity of spirit recall one of Caserio’s Humanities Montana presentation subjects, Walt Whitman.
Readers familiar with Caserio’s performance pieces will recognize some of these poems.
Seeing these familiar works in print complements the experience of the live performances. After reading “William Cumbry Moss,” for example, I have a more complete understanding of one of Caserio’s best-known characters, a homeless schizophrenic. Details of Moss’s background, his apparent involvement in the sex trade, for example, can be more clearly seen in the written poem, and his descent into his current state, though presented in broad strokes, is rendered clear.
The poem in print offers a counterpoint to Caserio’s live interpretation of the character. It’s almost like reading a brief, impressionistic autobiography — the poem is in first person from the character’s point of view — as opposed to unexpectedly encountering Moss in the subway tunnels and alleys he haunts.
The complexities of his character, his intelligent but catch-as-catch-can scientific bent (“I was / Reading about brains”), and his devotion to “St Dorotheus” are perhaps more accessible in the printed form. If you live in Billings and know this character from Dave’s performances, prepare to meet him in a new, more coherent if perhaps less immediate way.
As a reader, I’m not always comfortable with Caserio’s over-the-top approach to poetry. But the theatrical impulse is no stranger to the art, and, in American poetry in particular, represents a distinguished tradition. Dave’s poetic voice blends an American sense of expansive ego with a poetic vulnerability that somehow both intensifies and ameliorates the potential for self-indulgence. One thinks of Walt Whitman balancing the tender sensibility of “Live Oak with Moss” and his acceptance of all human frailties in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” against the breathtaking audacity of “Song of Myself.”
Perhaps this is what Caserio means when he cites “Whitman’s consciousness to hold the vertical interior in undistracted balance with the immense variety of the horizontal exterior.” A related blend of self-deprecating humor and self-expansion can be seen in the post-World War II work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, even Sylvia Plath. I hear an echo of Kerouac, for example, in Moss’s reaction to being labeled a “schizophrenic catatonic amnesiac / And a drunk. Hell, I knew that” as well as in the more obvious Kerouac-esque jazz evocation in “My Father Used to Stay Up Nights.”
But, as shown by the epigraphs introducing each of the book’s six sections, the volume’s influences are not exclusively American. Much of Caserio’s sense of sound comes from the Old World: Anglo-Saxon ballads, Beowulf (another of his Humanities Montana subjects), Chaucer, Irish poetry.
Caserio’s idiosyncratic American is not some neo-Adam created afresh. As with Kerouac and William Carlos Williams, Caserio’s ear is attuned to the wealth of urban and immigrant speech rhythms, a focus that dates back to his work with Kinnell.
During his years at NYU, says Caserio, “I began to carry cloth- bound artist blank sketchbooks (I dislike lines on a page) with me everywhere I went, on subways, on buses, on trains, or while walking the streets of Manhattan or Brooklyn, to record the varied voices, stories and rhythms of speech that continuously filled the air in snatches and phrases and sometimes whole soliloquies.”
Caserio matches these voices to the aspirations of his motley characters and personae, as well, perhaps, as to aspects of his own family history and personal experience.
When asked how, after stints in Chicago, New York, and Seattle, he came to live in Billings, Dave recalls his childhood reading and his grandfather’s glowing memories of a sojourn in Butte.
“Lewis and Clark and their journey through Montana wound up my imagination,” he says. “I remember pestering my father that he should quit his nice-paying blue-collar job and move the lot of us out to Montana. I bugged him about it on a consistent basis and I used my grandfather’s claims to try to bolster my argument.”
Dave’s story, and the story of American westering in general, resonates with a desire that may be as old as humanity itself, the urge to transcend the limitations placed on our individual lives while somehow retaining our familiar identity in the process, to start anew while not forgetting where we’ve been.
This theme is intimated in the collection’s title and explored in the first poem. The only poem in Section One, “Forensic Love” telescopes from “2098” backward into prehistory, to “Lucy from Olduvai Gorge” (The Lucy fossil was actually found not at Olduvai but at Hadar in Ethiopia, but who can resist the sound play of place and personal names?). The poem returns to the future with the Whitman-flavored observation that “those who discover me / Will come to know what fragrance lies unbloomed.”
But Caserio’s vision is generally darker and more ironic than Whitman’s, with roots sunk deep in the 20th century’s peculiar aura of omnipresent nightmare. In the formative decades of a new century, Dave’s poems recall the chaos of the last one.
These poems inhabit a dangerous world. Like it or not, they tell us, the future may lead inevitably to Gallipoli, to a William Cumbry Moss demi-world, or simply to the “nameless coffin” of “Forensic Love.” Better get used to such uncertainty and learn to live with it, Dave Caserio tells us in “This Vanishing.” Better yet, learn to celebrate it.
Bernard Quetchenbach teaches English at MSU Billings.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:38