Friday, April 26, 2013

Album Review: Love Has Come for You, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

This review was written by request.  A friend emailed me a link to John Scalzi's blog post about the album (here) and demanded a review.  I obliged, being a fan of bluegrass and a self-proclaimed reviewer of life.  So here ya go, Bill!

Steve Martin is an adept banjo player.  He's also acclaimed for several other things.  Edie Breckell is, according to Google, Paul Simon's wife, and also a folk singer that I've never heard of.  The two collaborated and released Love Has Come for You, a relatively tame but entertaining bluegrass album.  I've reviewed this like an anthology, critiquing each track.  Also, you can listen to the entire album on Youtube right now by clicking here.
When You Get to Asheville – A gentle opening track, perfect for a sunrise.  The banjo work is reminiscent of the sounds I can hear when walking through the Appalachian hills, accompanied by a voice made for country/bluegrass.  The song stays mellow and begs for a crescendo but we’re left wanting.

Get Along Stray Dog – A faster rag, almost Arabic sounding in the middle.  This is what comes to mind when thinking about Martin’s bluegrass songs, light-hearted and fun.

Love Has Come For You – Brickell’s voice really hits the twang here, gushing on love for a newborn baby that was at first unwanted.  Style is similar to the opening track.  This is the title track, which definitely sets the tone for the album up to this point.

Friend of Mine – Relatively unremarkable.

Siamese Cat – Haha.  Great opening line.  This song rises above the minimalist style that has been apparent so far, adding some “ooh-la-las” and more background music.  Still leaves me wanting to hear a more robust sound.  I do like the story this song tells.

Yes She Did – The darkest song that’s been on the album so far.  A mother, married to a drunk, throws herself in the river.  That’s pretty much it.  There’s no musing, just matter-of-fact presentation.  Kind of how a lot of old timey folk/bluegrass music does.  A short lick that’s catchy.

Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby – More upbeat and fun, with a chorus that has Martin (presumably?) lending a vocal harmony to.  I actually heard this song first on the Bluegrass Junction Sirius station.  The twang shines here, too.  Another fun song.

Fighter – I like the beat of this song, and the minor chords really add to the mood.  This is one of my favorite tracks on the record.

King of Boys – This is a bit on the ethereal side, just slightly.  Some reverb might sound pretty cool here.  The cello work in the background is a nice addition, too.

She’s Gonna Shine – An optimistic song, which is increasingly rare in the bluegrass genre.  A simple song, but nonetheless pleasant.

Who You Gonna Take? – No.  Well… the opening is annoying, but the song improves.  The music is perfectly fitting, but I just don’t like this style of talk-repetitive stuff.

Shawnee – The chorus has a line that says, “You know my creepy cousin with the handlebar moustache?  He opened up a cold one and sat down on my lap.”  Great music work and fun lyrics.  Nice beat, too.  One of my favorites on the album.

Remember Me This Way – A suitable ending to the record.  The song has a bit of finality to it.  Nothing special here.
The focus of the album is obviously Martin’s banjo work and Brickell’s vocals.  Martin plays a five-finger traditional style banjo.  His work is tight and polished and completely traditional.  Brickell sings with a powerful voice, but not explosive.  Her voice is heavy on the twang, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Together the two create some great sounds.

Overall, Love Has Come for You is an easily accessible bluegrass album. It does a good job of hitting the traditional mountain music sounds, but it also does a pretty good job of telling some modern stories, too. There are a few notable highlights, but some songs that fall into obscurity, too. If you’re looking to try something different, Love Has Come for You is probably not it. But if you’re looking for some polished studio work and a solid bluegrass record, especially with a head nod to Appalachian music, look no further than this album.

See also the Rolling Stone review (3-star) here.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Don't Want to Kill You, a Review

John Wayne Cleaver is a sixteen year old diagnosed sociopath.  His obsession with serial killers and death make him a bit of an outcast, as does the fact that his mom owns the county mortuary, but John is okay being an outcast.  John lacks empathy, after all.  And a man without empathy is a dangerous man, especially one with a dark side like John.

I Don’t Want to Kill You, the final book of the John Cleaver series by Dan Wells, is a satisfying conclusion to the dark and twisted story Wells has created.  Clayton County has experienced a fair deal of death recently, ever since the harrowing Clayton Killer left a string of bodies two years back.  John Cleaver, now a junior in high school, is still struggling with his dark side.  Even more of a struggle is dealing with the terrible secret he knows about the serial killers, a secret that some people want to keep hidden.

I can’t say much about this book without spoiling the previous two.  The short of it is that Dan Wells has created a dark but remarkable protagonist.  John is instantly accessible in that his thoughts and feelings are things all teenagers experience.  Dialogue is poignant rather than cringeworthy.  Action is tense rather than passive.  John is a flawed character that the Reader cannot help but root for.

The structure of this novel is in the same vein as the other two, but slightly different, too.  There are murders and John wants to try and get a step ahead of the killer, thus the teenager once again begins playing whodunit.  I Don’t Want to Kill You continues to up the ante with John’s inner demons until a conclusion that was foreseeable-but-perfect.  I say perfect because honestly I can’t think of a better, more appropriate ending for the series.

On a side note, I Don’t Want to Kill You was my least favorite of this series.  In I Am Not A Serial Killer [my review here], the story was fresh, the plot intense, and the Great Reveal knocked my socks off (metaphorically).  With Mr. Monster [my review here] the pacing was at full-throttle and just macabre enough to not utterly repulse me.  I Don’t Want to Kill You is hard (nigh impossible) to put down, but at the same time the story is also winding down, too.  Dénouement is in the air.  The story is still great and very entertaining, but to me it is less fresh, less urgent than the previous books.

I very much enjoyed the story Dan Wells penned.  It’s always a delight to form a connection with a character, even one as creepy-weird as John Cleaver.  I can very much recommend the whole series to anyone with a stomach for the murders.  Fans of Dexter or CSI should like the stuff, just be advised that the series is not for the faint of heart.  Overall, John Wayne Cleaver is a fascinating character and I’m glad to have read about his story.  It’s a shame that the series is over, but I’m thankful, too, that Wells was capable of writing a satisfying conclusion.  I boldly recommend the whole kit and caboodle.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: How Warren Got His Groove Back

      “All you have to do is pull the sword from the sheath.  It’s not rocket science, Deeling.”
      “Just a purely physical observation, Warren, but I can’t pull the sword out of its sheath if I can’t get to the sword in the first place.  And while it’s not rocket science, there are some logistics, are there not?”
      Warren smiled.  “Of course there are, but that’s nothing for you to worry yourself over.  I’ll kick open the door and man-handle any fool dumb enough to get in my way.  While I’m doing that, you simply need to move yourself to where the sword is in your, how do you say it, physical hands.  Easy.”
      Deeling opened her mouth to protest, but was cut short.  Literally.  She grunted as she fell, the top three-quarters of her body hitting the stone floor with a thud.  Her legs, she noticed, were still standing erect.  A knight stood just beyond her, his broadsword gleaming.
      Deeling screamed.  Warren had his weapons out in about two-hundred milliseconds.  He was always quick, like the brown fox that has been known to jump over lazy dogs from time to time.  Metal clashed on metal, but Warren Deadlyblades didn’t flinch at the discordant noise.  He moved with grace and precision, a lethal weapon bloodthirsty.  He leapt over his fallen partner (“Sorry, Dee!”), forcing the knight’s retreat.
      “Thou canst win,” said the knight, but to Warren’s berserker rage he misheard the man and took it as a compliment.
      “I know I can, fool.  And you will pay for what you’ve done to my partner.  If you’ve harmed her…” 
      The evil black knight laughed.  “Methinks I have, knave.  And I shall smite thee, too.  Hiyah!” Warren spun, catching the knight’s sword on the tines of his sai.  Worry crossed the knight’s visage; fury crossed it when Warren plunged his dagger into the man’s chest; pain blossomed into view lastly, and the knight collapsed in a heap.
      “And that’s why you don’t play with sharp things,” Warren said, though his catchphrase sounded forced this time.  Perhaps he’d been using it for too long.  He sheathed his dagger and sai and knelt to console his partner.  Deeling was still alive, but she didn’t look like she could hang on for much longer.
      “Listen,” she was saying.  “I never got to tell you about the time my friend Lucy baked me the pecan pie with the raisins in it.  She swore they were currants, but I saw through her lies.  But it was Lucy that told me about the prophecy and the sword.”  Deeling coughed, winced, gasped, and resumed.  “I don’t think I’ll forgive her, Warren.  Maybe I’ll haunt her when I’m gone.”
      “There there,” Warren said.  “You’re gonna be just fine.  We’ll put some wheels on you and you’ll be twice as fast as me.  Maybe even hook up some motors or something, eh?  It’s not rocket science.”
      Deeling grimaced.  “But it is, Warren.  That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.  It is.  Can’t you—oh.”  Warren shook his head.  A single tear fell from his left eye.
      “I will avenge you, Deeling.  I will avenge you.”
      And he did just that.
      Well, he tried, anyway, and that’s what really matters.  Results aren’t nearly as important as effort, right?  He didn't get the sword, but that's unimportant.  And the world did end prematurely due to his failure, but prematurity matters little when dealing with geologic epochs.  Had their mission succeeded the world might have survived another few thousand millenia, but who's to say?  Certainly not Warren Deadlyblades.

Mostly an attempt at absurdity and humor.  Written primarily because I haven't done any creative writing in far too long.