Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lady And The Reaper Wraps 2010

ReaperEarlier this year, at the Academy Awards, Spanish director Javier Recio Gracia with Kandor Moon surprised many people by becoming a definitive Oscar contender. It was the first time Spain had ever entered a stylishly engaging short film, The Lady And The Reaper.

Although the short didn't win an Oscar, the nomination demonstrated just how far Spanish animation had come. It also demonstrated how far Gracia had some since entering the industry only five years ago.

He now works with DreamWorks Animation. He was hired in July, shortly after finishing work as a storyboarder and character designer for Goleor: The Scale And The Sword, which was also produced by Kandor Graphics.

A Bit About The Lady And The Reaper.

If you haven't seen the animated short, a story inspired after Gracia spent time with his grandmother, it's well worth the eight-minute run time. The Lady And The Reaper is the story of an old woman who lives alone on a farm, missing her husband and longing for the end of her life. Once that day comes, she even holds out her hand for the reaper to carry her away.

Javier Recio GraciaExcept, sometimes death, much like life, isn't so easy. The old woman is ripped away from the reaper at the last possible minute, being "saved" by an infamous doctor already renown for keeping the woman alive well past her prime.

After the initial resurrection, a battle between the doctor and reaper breaks out, with the life and death of the woman hanging in the balance. While most reviewers cast the doctor as being smug, I don't see it as arrogance as much as confidence. Similar battles play out all over the world, every second of every day.

For every moment of familiarity, there is something uniquely original.

The story invests a significant amount of time on a climatic three-minute chase scene reminiscent of classic Looney Tunes, of which Gracia has said he was paying homage. So there are times the treatment feels almost cliche, especially as the doctor, nurses, and reaper play a game of hide and seek among an infinite collection of file cabinets. And again, running up and down hills and stairs and crashing down one like a giant snowball. Amazingly though, these classic prats still seem to work here.

Many Americans have called the film darkly comic or dark humor. It seems more fitting to call it a comedic treatment of death. Recognizing this will give you all the more appreciation of what Gracia is trying to accomplish. Death doesn't always have to be foreboding. It can be a welcomed journey as well.

Incidentally, one of the most humorous aspects of Gracia's work comes after the credits start to roll. The reaper, temporarily beaten, heads home after a long day of hard work. Gracia has him arriving by boat across the river Styx and being greeted by his three-headed poodle Cerberus. After docking, he casually uses a remote to lock it up with a familiar "beep-beep."

The Lady And The Reaper Is A Cut Above With 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is something special about this short animated film, originally shown in 3-D. And it also seems an especially fitting way to end 2010. Everything, sooner or later, needs to be let go, 2010 included. Happy New Year!

The Lady And The Reaper is available in standard and high definition on iTunes. You can also visit The Lady And The Reaper site and production blog, which occasionally updates 3-D showings and includes the complete credit list of everyone involved.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ralegh Long Is An Emerging Artist Pick

Ralegh LongWhile many people know Brighton-based singer-songwriter Rose Elinor Dougall, formerly with the Pipettes, not many people know the musicians who tour with her. We recently caught up with one of them, Ralegh Long, who just finished a U.K. tour with Dougall in October.

Long, who plays guitar, is also an emerging 24-year-old singer-songwriter, propelled forward by a natural talent for music discovered at an early age. He formed his first band when he was ten.

We played a song I wrote, which I think was essentially a sped-up version of Bob Dylan's Is Your Love In Vain, with a sax taking the place of the vocal," he says. "I was heavily into Street Legal then, for some reason. Sorry, Bob."

His sound is much different now. Long recently released his first single, Shtick, a roughly cut home studio produced upbeat alt rock ballad of sorts. It's about how everything you do in love comes back to you or maybe how things just come back on you. The B-side, the even stronger Range, is a brooding subtle statement that touches on the cold and often empty feeling at the end of a relationship.

Neither are perfect. Both were produced quickly while Long has been working to learn engineering on the fly. He says he is ever more closer to making the music the way he wants to hear it. However, he still looks forward to working with friends who own studios in London, Ash Gardner's House of Strange among them.

"There is a reason being an artist and producer are traditionally kept separate," says Long. "And, to oversee the tracking, overdubbing, and mixing can become a drag unless you're very disciplined, even if you're reasonably disciplined like I am."

Backing Long on his single and upcoming spring EP are Will Lamport (drums) and Richard Ellis (bass). They make up the Primary 3, a mutable backing band that is still short a pedal steel player. Or maybe not. Long says there are some advantages to being a member short and avoiding a bigger sound that tends to come with rougher edges.

Besides, after working alongside Lamport and Ellis for years, the trio has developed a special kind of chemistry, perhaps telepathy, that allows them to work in two very different ways. Long writes the song and lyrics with Lamport and Ellis adding their parts weeks or months later. Or, like the album tracking session they have planned in January, they walk into a room, someone says "1, 2, 3," and something happens.

The B-side Range and another song that Long recently debuted called Winter From Here On exemplify the difference. Long recorded the demo for Range in one night. Lamport and Ellis overdubbed their parts months later. In contrast, Winter From Here On was live improvised, which explains why it clunks and chugs along as they find their groove (and lose it now and again).

Somewhere in the rawness, something is happening and it's better than good. Never mind if you don't really know what might come next. Such free spirited moments are what people remember most from live performances.

Shtick By Ralegh Long Sticks A 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

There is an unrestrained aspect about Long that not everyone will embrace, but the talent is unmistakeable. One wonders if this is how Robyn Hitchcock or Ray Davies started before becoming grounded. Maybe we'll know with the release of the first EP.

You won't find Shtick or Range on iTunes or Amazon. It is available exclusively from Bandcamp, which is a name-your-price space for artists. It seems fitting, given how one of our reviewers first stumbled upon Long after he remixed a Kristin Hersh song on SoundCloud, where he tests demos from time to time. Worth the visit. Support the artist.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Miz Mooz Boots Are The Mark Of A Deviant Kind

Miz Mooz MarquisIn early 2001, Miz Mooz was born as a private label brand and carried exclusively by a small chain of stores in New York and San Francisco. That didn't last long. The label was quickly grabbed up by specialty shops across the United States and Canada.

Two years ago, the the little label that could was thrust on the national stage as the media started to include it in fashion mashups and shopping lists. But during the holidays, one of my friends assured me that the hook behind the shoes and boots is anything but hype.

The hook is obvious. Miz Mooz makes high quality, affordable, and fun shoes by hand.

These people — Cheryl Matson, Jeffery Bart, and Ron Kenigsberg — are serious about shoes. Every time they design a new pair, they like to talk about how its entire life will be an exciting one. It starts out as a concept in New York, improved upon by Italian shoemakers, and then is manufactured in Mexico or Asia.

Miz MoozIn other words, every pair circles the globe at least once, maybe twice. And, unlike most shoe manufacturers, every pair is not perfect. As handcrafted shoes, they are all a little different from the time they arrive to the time they are worn into the ground.

The pair that initially caught my eye this weekend were Miz Mooz Marquis, the studded lace-up boot with distressed leather one-inch heels. They are the kind of boot that almost asks for compliments in the form of a nod and whisper "cool boots."

"Thanks," she smiled and shrugged. "Clearance." And that turned out to be true. Miz Mooz Marquis are clearly in the clearance column, which makes any review rather short-lived without a broader perspective.

Miz Mooz makes for a perfect winter boot.

One of the newest arrivals for the season was Sabrina, with the option to be worn as a mid-calf or ankle boot. It seems especially fitting for the East Coast, where fu- lined boots make more sense the than in the West.

Miz Mooz SabrinaMuch like the studded boots that caught my eye, it's the criss-cross strap detail at the ankle combined with the zip-up construction that makes the boot work. It gives it a layered look beyond the 2-inch fur foldover. (Not real fur, by the way.)

For the West Coast, you might take a look at the Miz Mooz Marsalis. It's not as striking as the Marquis, but still offers up that scuffed roughness that caught my attention in the first place.

Miz Mooz Winter Boots, Tough Or Cute, Slips In At 6.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Miz Mooz does for women's shoes and boots what Les Hommes does for men's winter high tops. There is an element of cool that helps you skip having to worry about quick changes in the car. They look good almost anywhere and gives guys a safer bet than trying to compliment a woman on her jewelry (which is often bought by some other guy).

Miz Mooz Marquis and Sabrina are both available at Infinity Shoes. It's not uncommon to see them on the feet of musicians and actresses, but it's still not about popularity. It's all about handcrafted shoes, uniquely suited for people who expect more out of fashion.

Special thanks to my friend Sandy, for letting me write about her boots. I can't wear them, but they still rock.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mayfield's Raggedness Makes Man-Made Machines

The sudden breakup of Moses Mayfield (originally The Stewart-Mayfield Project) after a well-received major label debut, left plenty of people shaken three years ago. The album, The Inside, proved to them that the Birmingham-based band had potential even if they sounded too polished.

We'll never know. Six weeks prior to the debut, the label created a rift within the band. And unlike many bands, they decided that they would rather walk away. But Matthew Mayfield still wanted to play. He did as an independent, with about $1,000 worth of studio time, enough to produce The Fire, an 8-track EP. He has released several more since.

Man-Made Machines by Matthew Mayfield makes ten.

Man-Made Machines builds upon Mayfield's past experience as a song crafter with an increasingly ragged voice and layered tracks. Ever since he embarked on a solo career, Mayfield has become increasingly honest, underproduced, and unpolished. This creates a compelling atmosphere.

Here's a sampling. This one is last year's Open Road from an earlier EP, captured live a few days ago by a fan in Birmingham. Attendees saved $4 by bringing two cans of food that were donated to the Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham.

If you've heard Open Road on Five Chances Remain Hers before, you'll note a new roughness in Mayfield's voice in the live play. This roughness punctuates all five track on Man-Made Machines, including the title track. So do Mayfield's melodies, that freely bob up and down on the water, sinking and rising in a measured, hypnotic pace.

Mayfield once said in an interview that all he ever wanted to do was sound like something better than just any guy with an acoustic guitar. All five tracks from Man-Made Machines reach and raise that self-set watermark. Of the five, only Cycle slips into the background. Golden Opportunity, Safe & Sound, and the title track all reach a deeper level. Who Am I is a dynamic acoustic song that questions some deep convictions.

Mayfield is currently working on a full-length album set for spring. Some of the funding for the EPs came from fans. He raised enough money for studio time with producer Paul Moak and $2,000 for the International Justice Mission, which he dedicated to contributors. Watch for it.

Matthew Mayfield's Man-Made Machines Steals A 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Singer/songwriters who take the independent route and have to slug it every step always get better with age. Mayfield is the kind of singer for whom people will be digging deep to find early tracks and special releases. That makes it all the more important to follow him on Facebook and elsewhere.

On Facebook and his website, he recently released two working demos, All The Same and Cold Day. For Man-Made Machines, visit iTunes. On Amazon, find Man-Made Machines here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Incipio Adds Flair To The iPhone With Dotties

dotties by IncipioIn 1999, a group of gadget-obsessed designers set out to fuse fashion and function in the electronics accessories industry. The result was Incipio Technologies, a company dedicated to manufacturing accessories for the iPhone, iPod, Zune, and BlackBerry.

The company had every reason to win an iLounge Best of Show Award in 2010. Their case creation, dotties, includes 15 colors loaded into the case and 30 additional colorful dots that can be easily interchanged, making iPhone cases completely customizable.

The customization makes the grade. For the iPhone 3G, 3Gs, 4G, iPod touch 4G and other electronics, there are six to eight core color combinations, including black, pink, white, blue, purple, gray, and red. Each of those, on the back, have dottie spots, where you can pop out and put in six color combinations that match the base with enough extra dots to be as eclectic or nihilistic as you want.

The iPhone 4G has 13 spots to fill. Other phones and touches have as many as 15. Most cases retail from $15 to $25, depending on where you shop.

Dotties Helps Raise The Bar For Innovative Design.

dotties blackThe case itself is made from a high density silicone core that wraps snugly around your iPod or iPhone for some more shock-absorbing protection. There are even special camera-ready holes to leave the camera open or closed, depending the model you happen to own.

Equally compelling is the new product launch Incipio has planned for January, specific to the iPhone 4G. A much bigger investment than the colorful and stylish dotties cases, the super thin offGRID case (6mm in thickness and adding only two ounces of weight) is much more than a cover.

Inside the elegant design, Incipio concealed an ultra thin rechargeable battery with an Apple Dock Connector plug, allowing you to charge your iPhone 4. According to the manufacturer, the internal battery will double the life of the already longer-lasting iPhone 4G specs. It also allows you to charge sync to iTunes using the provided micro-USB cable. Smart stuff.

If you are looking for more than high tech solutions or the smart and stylish dotties customization, Incipio has teamed up with a handful of outside designers and skaters to put their graphics skills to work. Their team page includes Greg Lutzka, Jeremy Stenberg, Louie Vito, PLG, and Ryan Villopoto.

Dotties By Incipio Customizes Case Cover Design With 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Lutzka designThere is a lot to like about Incipio, with the company making some of the highest rated consumer cases on the market. They live up to all the promises they make, and seem to be driving the accessories market in new and different directions. That sure beats some of the early case designs that either added too much bulk or hard-to-remove plastics.

You can find several retailers selling dotties like this red dotties case for iPhone 3G, 3GS. Incipio sells these direct too, including this black dotties case iPod Touch with glow-in-the-dark dots. Both links will make it easier to find other models, but we haven't seen any iPhone 4G offerings there yet.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hayes Carll Makes Us Grateful For Christmas

Hayes CarllThere are only a few singer-songwriters who belong in the same company as Kris Kristofferson, John Prine, and Townes Van Zandt. Hayes Carll is one of them.

The lanky Texan isn't especially well known beyond his hardcore fan base, but his unexpected Christmas song and pending new CD, KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories, are beginning to change that. The song, Grateful For Christmas, isn't new as Carll has been singing it for at least a year. But it might as well be new.

The song has finally started making the rounds this year, thanks to its inclusion on the forthcoming KMAG YOYO. It caught even more attention when he played it live on Don Imus’ radio show. It’s a song about family, tradition, loss, and dreams.

“Dad and the TV are starting to fight, I wish I had a drink or maybe a dozen. Lord, what I’d give for one good lookin’ cousin." — Hayes Carll

Everything about the song, much like everything about Carll, is weary, compelling, and intimate. He hails from the suburbs of Houston, but is better known for hanging his hat in Austin. Here's a clip of the song as performed on the show.

Carll is not a newcomer. He has released two independent CDs, including Flowers and Liquor and Little Rock. After signing with the Lost Highway label in 2008, he released Trouble In Mind. Amazon named it the #1 country album and #9 overall album two years ago.

It's no small feat, especially because it might be a stretch to call him country (or rock or folk). He blends the best of those genres into every album. If there is anything that makes it country, one might consider the songwriting. There are plenty of hard luck stories, down-on-your-luck stories, tales of endless miles, and lost love.

What really makes Carll stand out is his unique ability to intimately share these stories with a quick, dry wit, and an always engaging, weary voice. He sings direct to you, creating an intimacy that places him at your table or in the next seat. There’s something very real happening here.

Grateful For Christmas Chimes In With An 8.8 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Carll has been touring nonstop. Whether solo or bringing along his touring band, The Poor Choices, expect to see him in heavy rotation in the South and Northeast. His new album, KMAG YOYO, will be released on Feb. 15, 2011.

Grateful for Christmas on KMAG YOYO (& other American stories) can be pre-ordered on Amazon. You can also pick up Grateful For Christmas as a single on iTunes. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mrs. Astor Regrets And The Questions Linger On

Mrs. Astor RegretsNot everyone knows the Astor name today, but everyone did from the late 1700s on. Johann Jacob Astor was the first multi-millionaire in the United States. Even after retiring, he would continue to support culture in America, including the ornithologist John James Audubon, the poet/writer Edgar Allan Poe, and the presidential campaign of Henry Clay.

Four generations of success later, dozens of heroic stories would revolve around John Jacob Astor IV, a super wealthy American who died on the Titanic, helping women and children to the lifeboats. Four more generations later, and the tables would turn, associating the Astor name not with heroics, but fodder for tabloids and the courts.

The Tragic Story Of Brooke Astor And Tony Marshall.

For most of her adult life, Brooke Astor (who married the great-great grandson of John Jacob Astor IV) was known as the queen of New York society. As a multimillionaire and philanthropist she became synonymous with wealth, prestige, and privilege.

Meryl GordonShe had class and maintained the highest of standings. And to truly understand where everything went wrong, author Meryl Gordon had to do a thorough and painstaking job of conducting more than 200 interviews and poring over countless diaries.

The result was a reveal; the place where it all went wrong Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach. Most of it seems to have begun with a proposed gift. After spending a lovely weekend with her grandson, Philip Marshall, and his family at her Maine summer home, Ms. Astor decided to gift her grandson with a small cottage on the property.

It seemed to make sense to her. It was already understood that Philip’s father (Brooke’s only child), Tony Marshall, would eventually inherit the Maine property. However, as soon as Tony learned about the offer, he pressed Phillip to decline and inexplicably began attempting to prove his 98-year-old mother was slipping mentally.

The Unfortunate Effect Of Alzheimer's And Perception.

Although diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Mrs. Astor was supposedly lucid enough to completely redo her will in 2002. She also signed several codicils in the following years, all of which shifted the bulk of her estate away from her beloved charities and into the hands of Tony and his wife, Charlene, whom Mrs. Astor openly despised.

However, in the years following, Philip, fearing for his grandmother, sought to have his father removed as Mrs. Astor’s guardian, alleging that she was being deprived of the people (her long-time staff among them) and places (her New Jersey country home) she loved most in her final years. This eventual act seemed to remove the foundation from a house of cards.

Brooke AstorAs one fell away, many would follow. Until finally, Tony would be charged with grand larceny, forgery, and possession of stolen property. Among the dizzying cast of heroes, observers, and villains, adding even more interest to the story: Charlene (Tony's wife), socialite Annette de la Renta; a devoted butler; several concerned nurses; Henry Kissinger; board members from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; several Rockefellers; and Nancy Reagan.

In 2007, Mrs. Astor died at the age of 105. And even though octogenarian Tony was sentenced to prison after being found guilty of first-degree grand larceny (recently appealed), questions about her pilfered $200 million estate still linger.

Mrs. Astor Regrets By Meryl Gordon Weighs Heavily With A 4.6 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Gordon demonstrates enough chops to take into account the life of a remarkable woman, who seems to have become of a prisoner of her own fortunes at the hands of one dubious family member and perhaps accomplices. Readers will find the swings between the past and present a bit jarring in the beginning, but the author eventually finds her pace.

It’s a fascinating and sadly tragic story, but not without role models who try to make things right. Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach is available on Amazon. The unabridged audiobook (13 hours, 42 minutes) is read by Lorna Raver, a well-spoken older lady of whom Mrs. Astor would likely approve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Avenged Sevenfold Adds 4:00 AM As A Final Nightmare

M. ShadowsAnyone looking for an epilogue in the brilliant Avenged Sevenfold (A7X) Nightmare saga, look no further than the single 4:00 AM that was released as part of a deluxe three-song digital single on iTunes.

The previously unreleased b-side, recorded with drummer Mike Portnoy, is as compelling as anything recorded on Nightmare. Warner Brothers bills it as the last Nightmare song.

The name of the new, previously unreleased single, 4:00 AM, likely alludes to the hour that the band finished the Nightmare album. Shortly after finishing, Vengeance had posted: "Tracking is complete. There are no words that will ever describe the feeling of listening to this album while driving home alone at 4:00 AM." The lyrics express how once we finally find the words, there's no one left to tell.

4:00 AM Is A Song That Reflects On Those We Leave Behind.

The song provides another nod to the late James "The Rev" Sullivan and a fitting way to conclude the relationship forged with the masterful Portnoy. Sullivan had credited Portnoy as an influence.

"For the past few months, we've been blessed with Mike Portnoy's talent and humanity. When Mike agreed to tour with us, it was only through the end of 2010," reads the A7X Dec. 17 message. "We always knew we'd need to find another solution for 2011 and beyond. And it's time for us to take that next step."

Beginning with the Nightmare After Christmas tour, A7X will introduce a new drummer to A7X fans without calling him a member until the family and fans feel it to be a fit. If it is a fit, he will be added to the roster that currently includes Matt "M. Shadows" Sanders (vocals), Zacky Vengeance (rhythm guitar), Synyster Gates (lead guitar), and Johnny Christ (bass).

The Rest Of The A7X Deluxe Offering On iTunes.

The deluxe Welcome To The Family single also includes Welcome To The Family (a song originated by Sullivan) from the Nightmare album and a live cut of Seize The Day, recorded in Seattle. It is from their third album, City of Evil. Here's the long version of the song, live, from the LBC archives. The Seattle version is equally strong, if not stronger.

"It's about taking the people you love and holding them close," Shadows said about the song then. "You make some mistakes in life and that can all be taken away from you in two minutes, so you have to think twice about your actions."

4:00 AM By Avenged Sevenfold 9.8 Completes On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Purchasing the complete single comes with 30 photos of the band shot by photographer Greg Watermann during their 2010 co-headlining stint at the UPROAR Festival. The photos are highly stylized, with heavy graphic borders, most set two to a page. Curiously, while Portnoy's drums can be seen in some backgrounds, there are no clear shots of him.

The Welcome To The Family - Deluxe Single is only available on iTunes. For Nightmare After Christmas tour dates, visit Avenged Sevenfold. The first concert is scheduled for Jan. 20 in Reading, Pa.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Mill Street Inn Is A Historic Newport Treasure

The Mill Street InnFew states have as rich and colorful history as Rhode Island, which was originally formed by two colonies. The first belonged to the Providence Plantations (mainland area) founded by Roger Williams after being run out of Puritan Boston in 1636. The second was founded by Anne Hutchinson on Aquidneck island in 1639 after she too was run out and bought it with Williams' help.

Upon arriving, Hutchinson's party also divided in two, with some settling Pocasett (Portsmouth) while William Coddington and Nicholas Easton founded Newport in the south. The latter flourished, quickly growing to become one of five major shipping ports in America and a hotbed of American rebelliousness.

The British occupied it from 1776 to 1779 and the French, after driving them out, began a sojourn in Newport that lasted until 1781. However, even more than the American Revolution, the real beauty of Newport began to take shape in the mid-nineteenth century as wealthy southern planters and northern merchants began building mansions and luxurious cottages.

The Mill Street Inn Was At The Heart Of The Gilded Age.

Built in 1850, The Mill Street Inn was originally a large woodworking shop owned by area architect, woodworker and builder J.D. Johnston. Johnston, who worked with legendary architects like Frederick Law Olmstead and Richard Morris Hunt, designed, altered, and built many of the famous mansions and luxury cottages alongside Ocean Drive and Bellevue Avenue.

Mill Street InnWhile most have been lost to history, his architecture and alterations included work on homes such as the W.W. Tucker House (1869-1939), Caldwell House (1866-1931), The Cloister (1885-1950), and the Arleigh House (1893-1932), which witnessed the 1903 marriage of Cathleen Neilson to Reginald C. Vanderbilt.

In 1890, the original wooden structure of the Mill Street Inn burned down and was rebuilt with brick. It continued to be used for millwork until it was purchased and converted into a small all-suite hotel in the 1980s. Its last renovation, three years ago, preserved much of the history while placing an emphasis on modern green technologies and contemporary furnishings.

The Mill Street Inn Is A Blend Of Historic And Comfort.

While there are 23 suites, the best of them are the large two-level models with downstairs living room (and pull-out sleeper) and upstairs bedroom (large feather bed) with spa shower. They also include a private walkout roof patio with a distant but worthwhile view of the Newport Harbor. The split level is ideal for people traveling with children, although the single story deluxe suites work too.

private patioThe staff is exceptionally personal, taking time to answer questions in detail about the area. They will place hotel reservations, ensure parking (located below the building), and even call if someone happens to lose their glasses. They also help prepare breakfast, a diverse continental self-serve buffet with breads, grains, nuts, cereals, and fruits.

Having the option to eat breakfast at the hotel is appreciated in Newport. For all of its lunch and dining attractions, breakfast is surprisingly sparse. There are only two cafes within a reasonable distance from the hotel (plus a Panera Bread location). It seems odd, especially given the expansiveness of the Brick Market and Newport Harbor shops, taverns, and nightclubs.

Everything else is only a short drive away, including the Newport mansions, beaches, Cliff Walk, and Fort Adams (which is seasonal). Currently, Newport is also the leading contender for the next America's Cup.

The Mill Street Inn Sails With An 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While storage space is light and counter space in the bathroom nonexistent, The Mill Street Inn does a nice job of blending the best of preserved history and modern conveniences (except elevators, which is cool). The staff is incredibly attentive, not unlike having a concierge team at the desk. It's also an ideal retreat from all the activities that make Newport a remarkable stopover.

The hotel is a member of the "Green" Hotels Association and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Give that some consideration when you walk streets that still bend as they did almost 400 years ago. If you want to visit the Newport area, check Fare Buzz for special deals.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Your 33 Black Angels Paint A Bleak Near Future

Y33BAA few years ago, Your 33 Black Angels (Y33BA) caught fire when David Fricke of Rolling Stone called them a "treasure" after picking up planted copies in a local record store. That was enough for a few diehard fans to bang on bloggers' doors to help spread the buzz.

And then what happened? Y33BA quickly self-produced a second and third picked up by a handful of reviewers who could mostly muster Your 33 Black Angels "sound like..." and Your 33 Black Angels "sound like..." and Your 33 Black Angels are "a mix of..."

It's all anyone can stand. Bands written up in such a fashion accept the compliment, but only a few realize that all anybody remembers is who they sound like but never who they are. The result is what you might expect. They remain relatively obscure outside of New York and unsigned.

Songs From The Near Bleak Future delivers a few choice picks.

Their newest album, Songs From The Near Bleak Future, has started out as a release as quiet as Lonely Street. It's the fourth release from the Brooklyn-based band who won't say die. Some people wonder how long they can keep aiming high, while the rest of us can only hope they keep doing it.

There wasn't a video suitable from the newest album worth sharing. So here is something from their third album.

For anyone liking Lovers Limbo except the rough chorus, it will be easy to find a few tracks off Songs From The Near Bleak Future. Modern Girl is their strongest effort of all nine tracks. Other standouts include the somber and slow The Trouble King, steady Persistence of Vision, and upbeat lo-fi driver I Had A Modern Night Last Night. Some people like Dead Like Me too.

Skip A Song About A Car, which was a mistake; Bad Dream because it has the right vocals and the wrong arrangement; and I'm A Fool For Funtown because ... well, because its sounds like filler before a headliner takes the stage. All three provide a glimpse into why Y33BA just hasn't struck another lucky break. They need a producer to kick them up a notch and a stronger onstage presence.

Y33BA's The Near Bleak Future Rips A 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Your 33 Black Angels is the kind of band you want to succeed in the studio and on the stage. Sometimes there is a fine line between wanting a band to find greatness and whether or not they can. Here, Songs From The Near Bleak Future paints up potential while reminding us why they hold themselves back.

They need a clear band roster, photos, and some aggressive live performances to keep people engaged, especially given their name is so painfully close to The Black Angels. Still, four of their songs, especially Modern Girl, truly deliver. Get those.

Songs From The Near Bleak Future by Your 33 Black Angels is on iTunes. Songs From the Near Bleak Future is also available on Amazon. You can learn more about the eclectic mix of members who helped with this album on Facebook.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Homeless Youth Become A Holiday Focus

The Little Match Girl"In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that?" — Hans Christian Andersen

The story of the Little Match Girl has warmed hearts and chilled souls for more than 150 years. Published in 1846, the story conveys the perseverance of a little girl, with her oversized slippers lost, attempting to sell matches in the street. The story has been recast several times, including The Little Matchgirl by Disney and Pixar (below).

Although the girl is not homeless, the story often inspires people to imagine poor or homeless children and take action within their own neighborhoods, towns, and cities. They exist. One recent study estimates as many as 1.6 million children are homeless in the United States; 100 million in the world. Many of their stories end the same way as the short.

One national program that aids homeless youth is StandUp For Kids, a nonprofit organization operating in 27 states. It provides localized outreach programs that train and coordinate volunteers who go into the streets in order to find, stabilize, and help homeless kids.

How Switchfoot Helps StandUp For Kids Every Year.

One of its many partners includes the San Diego-based rock band Switchfoot. Last May, Jon Foreman (lead vocals, guitar), Tim Foreman (bass, backing vocals), Chad Butler (drums, percussion), Jerome Fontamillas (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), and Drew Shirley (guitar, backing vocals) posted a unique auction on Bidfire, with the winner receiving the chance to record a song with the band.

The song (recorded in June) appeared on iTunes and MySpace. The auction coincided with the Bro-Am in San Diego, which also benefits San Diego-area chapters of StandUp for Kids. The event, which combines a surf contest and beach concert, raised more than $100,000.

After the winner of the contest, Ruddy Gracia, recorded a song with Switchfoot in June, it appeared on a special iTunes session released in August. You can find Your Love Is A Song on the last track track of the Switchfoot iTunes Sessions.

In addition to street outreach, StandUp for Kids also operates a number of deterrence and resource programs online and at schools. More importantly, all facets of its mission are guided by a mandate that its volunteers express concern and compassion for the kids they help, and then prove it on a daily basis. There are hundreds of testimonials that say they do.

"StandUp For Kids is the only organization that treated me like I was a human," said Brian Haslip, one homeless youth who received help. "Thank you Rick and StandUp ... without you, I wouldn't be here."

StandUp For Kids Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights good will efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score them. That belongs to you.

If you would like to help, donate direct to the nonprofit StandUp for Kids on its website through PayPal. More than 94 percent of all funds raised directly benefit homeless and street kids across the United States.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cake Sings They're Sick Of You

John McCreaJohn McCrea, frontman for Cake, can be called a lot of things. But two things he cannot be called are bashful or complacent. With the idiosyncratic stylings of this Sacramento alternative funk-pop band, you never know what you'll get.

Except this time. Releasing the first single for an upcoming album might be enough for most bands, but it wasn't for McCrea.

Cake provided samplings from five more tracks on their website ahead of the Jan. 11, 2011, drop date. The idea of more teasers for Showroom of Compassion is good and bad.

The tracks seem to confirm there will be nothing as dynamic as the cover of War Pigs. And they also carry a theme of surprising singularity. All of it good, but the simplicity in a song sampling set from a band that's waited six years between albums could make for a head scratch. Five tracks still remain undiscovered. Maybe they contain surprises.

More than stripped down, the early teasers of Showroom of Compassion are steady and simple.

Mustache Man (Wasted) and Sick of You offer divergence from the pack of six. The lead single out right now, Sick of You, is familiar in that it feels as if the band never took a break. The video was released shortly after. It's classic Cake with trumpet bursts and uncomplicated guitar riffs, made new.

What makes it work is the near clash between a campy, upbeat arrangement and depressing lyrics about how hate starts broadly and then attaches to stuff that is closer to you. Then one day, you hate everything. Even yourself.

Not me. I just hate music videos with bunny suits. Otherwise, I like every sampling and the new single, even with the repetitiveness. Yet, it also makes me wonder. How much of Got To Move might be about where McCrea is as a songwriter, written from the heart?

Cake consists of McCrea (vocals, guitar, piano); Vince DiFiore (trumpet, keyboards); Xan McCurdy (guitar); Gabe Nelson (bass); and Paulo Baldi (drums). This is the first time Baldi has had a chance to be involved in making new music inside the solar-powered studio (joining the band in 2007). But it is DiFiore who stands out with his horn and most passionate delivery.

Sick of You By Cake Slices Off A 4.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Writing for some other pub, the score might sound harsh. Here, it only means that fans will like it, it's worth sharing, and it may have aftershocks. This applies to the song. The album feels like it could be the same, but we won't really know for a few weeks until it is released in its entirety. Props, regardless, for self-producing.

Sick of You is available on iTunes. Sick Of You can also be found on Amazon. Special thanks to Dorothy for the album tip a few months back.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Zora Neale Hurston's Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale HurstonFive years ago, Halle Berry stepped into the very large shoes of Janie Crawford in an exploration of self-worth, love, and independence as they might lead to fulfillment more than community conformity, familiar obedience, and fiscal security. But Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God proved to be best played with modest grace than mere wanting.

That is why, as a television movie, the pedestrian treatment never measured up to the original story. The work relies heavily on the confessional thoughts and internalized experiences of an African-American woman living in the 1920s.

It is an extraordinary book, well ahead of its time, in its contrast between Crawford's relationships with three different men, each of whom provides an environment that results in three different lifestyles.

Her first marriage, arranged by her grandmother, is to an older man who needs a wife to keep his home and help on the farm. Her second, while filled with promise during the courtship, turns sour as her new husband believes his conquest ought to earn him an empty-headed trophy wife to reinforce his powerful position in town. And finally, the third, which despite Tea Cake's imperfections, proves mutually rewarding, even if it is doomed from the beginning.

About Author Zora Neale Hurston.

Hurston became a pre-eminent American writer during the Harlem Renaissance, traveling as an anthropologist in the Caribbean and American South to better understand their cultural practices. At the same time, beginning in college, Hurston published several short stories before writing her first novel in 1934 and first "literary anthropology" in 1935.

Zora Neale HurstonHer master work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. She wrote it while conducting field work in Haiti.

The novel was considered controversial for the era and remains so today. In addition to her use of the dialect spoken by blacks in the 1920s South, friends and associates who were part of the Harlem Renaissance took exception to the divisions between lighter and darker skinned African-Americans and unbalanced gender roles.

“So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule un de world so fur as Ah can see.” — Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God

These controversies, along with her political views, regulated Hurston's work to near obscurity until 1975. Among her insights, she believed that economic support would create harmful dependencies with the government and that desegregation in schools would not lead to a better education but eventually diminish a richness of cultural tradition.

While the phonetic spellings within the dialogue can be taxing while reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, it also forces readers to consider the full measure of every word. Once they do, the authenticity carries a remarkable message that resonates long after the last page is turned and the cover is closed.

As an alternative, legendary actress Ruby Dee provides the narration for the audiobook produced in 2004. It requires careful listening in the opening chapters, but eventually embraces the listener with its warmth. While best known for her role in A Raisin in the Sun (1961), Dee was recently nominated for an Academy Award for her role in American Gangster (2007).

Their Eyes Were Watching God By Zora Neale Hurston Flies To 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale

Their Eyes Were Watching God raises the same arguments being made today, except those being made today are often without concern for race and gender. Hurston, like her heroine Crawford, would likely speak out against the unequal trade being offered today, especially given her own life experiences. She had the ability to find happiness despite life's uncertainties, which exist whether or not men and women make provisions and sign contracts to prevent them. She would rather live free.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is available on Amazon. The audiobook, read by Dee, can be found on iTunes. To learn more about this important author, visit the Zora Neale Hurston website. Last March, Harper Perennial secured the rights to continue publishing the Harlem Renaissance writer for the next decade.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Duke Spirit Finds Restrained Ferocity Inside Kusama

The Duke SpiritLondon-based English alternative rockers The Duke Spirit are seven years into their slow, steady and soulful approach to success, brushing up against the garage rock and psychedelia clubs with a brash and bluesy sound. Their newest album, Bruiser, is due out sometime in early 2011 but fans are already liking the three-track EP in heavy rotation.

Produced by Andrew Scheps with additional mixing by Alan Moulder under the Shangri-La label, there seem to be some new influences apparent as front woman Liela Moss moves away from her confessionals and gives the band's historically punishing guitar sound more polish. The direction is the right one with deeper and easily relatable music.

The Duke Spirit finds beatific ferocity inside a three-track EP, Kusama.

Along with Kusama, The Duke Spirit simultaneously released a free track, Villain, on their website. Between the four tracks released to date, there is no mistake that Bruiser will be one of their finest hours. What makes it work is the mix of rough and tumble rock alongside reflective broodiness. Villain is powerful enough you'll wish it came out along with Kusama.

Kusama is still solid. Everybody's Under Your Spell is the driver of the three, with Northbound receiving the most early attention. Victory works too, but feels overly restrained for a band that plays as if it is on the verge of breaking into a runaway jam. No surprise. That sometimes happens live.

It's not the only changes fans can expect from Moss, Luke Ford, Toby Butler, and Oliver Betts. Marc Sallis is picking up the bass, making the band a quintet while Butler is picking up the guitar. Overall, all of it feels deliberate, although sometimes plodding, with all the original power lurking in the wings.

It's good to hear. Some people wondered what might happen as Moss put her foot in fashion too. No worries there. She more or less told SPIN that her head is solidly on the music as opposed to a package.

"I was always a tomboy in jeans," Moss told SPIN about her becoming a fashion muse. "I would hate a fluffed up, bullshit experience of performing in costume. Starting a new record, it had to be about the songs, and I haven't really given anything else much thought."

Still, as a front woman, everything seems to work for Moss. She has the right look, the right voice, and a stage presence that she says comes from watching bands as a teenager, with most of her influences being male. Ironically, she may have never made a move toward music if it wasn't for Luke Ford.

The two of them shared apartments together. She has previously credited him for encouraging her to overcome shyness and step up in front. You would never know that today, especially if you have a chance to see her on stage.

Kusama By The Duke Spirit Provides The Perfect Precursor With A 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

If you can only keep two tracks, Everybody's Under Your Spell and downloading Villain for free is the right way to go. However, Northbound provides enough appeal to make owning them all a nice collection that highlights a full range of sound.

You can pick up Kusama by The Duke Spirit on iTunes. Kusama EP in also on Amazon. They will also be playing the Roxy in Los Angeles on Dec. 30, which will almost certainly introduce concert-goers to more material on their upcoming Bruiser album.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Invicta's Limited Edition Chronograph Watch Adds Invincibility

InvictaIn Latin, “invicta” means invincible. It’s also the name of a Swiss watch company founded by Raphael Picard in La Chaux-de-fonds in 1837. His concept was that fine Swiss watches could be made and sold at a reasonable price.

Picard's company did exactly that, until the 1970s. When quartz watches became the rage, many watchmakers were put out of business. Invicta virtually disappeared, but never really died. In the early 1990s, the company experienced a revival of sorts.

Invicta did what many of the classic watchmakers couldn't do. Remain invincible.

Picard’s original vision—to offer a fine timepiece that people can afford—still holds true. Invicta makes a wide variety of watches, including sport watches, casual watches, and more dressy watches. They also make watches you can wear for any occasion.

One such find is the Invicta Women’s 4718 II Collection Limited Edition Diamond Chronograph watch. It retails for $695, but is available from several online stores for 50-80 percent less. You can shop around, but I found has the best price ($113.99 to $129.99, depending on the day) with free shipping.

Invicta Women’s 4718 II Collection Limited Edition Diamond ChronographIt's a good deal, but not a watch for every woman. It's not dainty. It's heavy and bold. The band and case are stainless steel with a mother of pearl dial, and glow-in-the-dark hands and number markings, diamond and stainless steel bezel, and Swiss quartz movement.

The watch is water resistant to 330 feet, but I don’t plan on putting that to the test. What I did put to the test was the band. I took it to a jeweler to be adjusted down for people with even the smallest of wrists like me. After removing several links, it fit and looked great.

Do be aware that the diamonds around the watch look dazzling in the photos. But they are very, very tiny. So, while it might work, I wouldn't call this an evening gown match. But then again, I'm not looking to wear one and I can skip some carats for under $130.

As an additional bonus, all Invicta watches sold by are covered by a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. When I went online to register my watch with Invicta, I was automatically upgraded for free to the Invicta Platinum Warranty plan, which is good for five years. Perfect.

Invicta Women’s 4718 II Collection Limited Edition Diamond Chronograph Watch Ticks Up 6.0 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Invicta has a nice variety of watches. As long as you are willing to do some price comparisons, you can find a great deal. Amazon generally has the best prices for Invicta watches, although it doesn’t carry every model.

While I opted for the Invicta Women's 4718 II Collection Limited Edition Diamond Chronograph Watch with a round face, my second choice was the Invicta Women's 5377 Square Angel Diamond Stainless Steel Chronograph Watch, which is virtually the same, except with a square face. Visit Invicta to see every collection or visit Mr. Watch for additional savings.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hanni El Khatib Punks Up Americana Rock In California

Hanni El KhatibHanni El Khatib strips down everything to such a degree that some people say he isn't even indie friendly. His music is battered, written only for those who have only been shot or hit by a train. There's nothing nice to say about any of it.

His style of rawness mocks garage rock with more punk stylings. When he is live, he plays faster and more furious until the crowd starts to get it to the point they're ready to shrug off anybody else who might come on stage. No apoligies, just addictive.

Khatib might make his home in Los Angeles, but he grew up in San Francisco. If there is any throwback sentiment to his music, it probably comes from his self-desecribed obsession with the 50s and 60s brand of Americana culture. His influences tell it all no matter who reviewers try to compare him to — they include Johnny Burnette, Sam Cooke, and Johnny Cash.

His primitive, punk-infused Americana rock comes from the street skate culture.

Known for the specificity of his guitar tone and the fuzziness of his amp, Khatib keeps his mistakes in and dares you not to care. He doesn't. All you get is a little pop and hiss with EPs being dripped out as he works toward a full album without any release date. It does have a title though. The full-length album is called Will The Guns Come Out.

Some of the music, like You Rascal You, are covers. But Khatib has his own flashes of brilliance as a singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist. He also worked as a creative director for HUF. It almost doesn't matter if he still does. But in Los Angeles, he packs.

Most people don't appreciate that Hanni El Khatib approaches music much like design. He doesn't create work with a specific theme or concept in mind. He shoots for a look or a feeling. He likes simple. He likes classic. He likes timeless. Captured from an interview in another life...

"You can’t really control other people’s opinion of what you're doing," he said. "So I think it’s best for us to just keep our heads down and make things that we’re stoked on."

Count me among the we. Here's a live cover of the B-side, Loved One, to his new single. Check out the video from You Rascal You to get a better feel for his voice.

As good as Loved One is, it's Build. Destroy. Rebuild. that keeps me up and awake. That's not to say one is better than the other. They belong together.

Last night he destroyed at the Echo in Los Angeles. Tonight he will rebuild at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco. After that, he doesn't know. He'll just do whatever feels right.

Hanni El Khatib Builds, Destroys, Rebuilds With A 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Khatib is one of those guys who is an artist by nature. He has diverse interests and gets deeply involved in whatever pursuit he is chasing after. Add him to your watch list. Add his label too. Innovative Leisure.

The keeper, Build. Destroy. Rebuild., is on iTunes. Pick up Loved One too. Build. Destroy. Rebuild. - 7 inch [Explicit] can also be found on Amazon.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keith Richards Makes A Life Worth Living And Reading

Keith RichardsThere have been dozens of books written about the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Not one of them is as engaging as Life, Richards' autobiography written with James Fox (author of White Mischief). Not one.

If you think of Richards as a brilliant guitar player whose brain has otherwise been fried, you’d be wrong. He is a man who is entirely aware of the image that is Keith Richards while still remaining true to himself, the real Keith Richards.

He is far from the burnout he often pretends to be. He’s smart, lucid and very aware.

The New Yorker called Life “half book, half brand extension,” and that’s probably true. After all, the publisher paid Richards $7 million to write this book (which took five years to complete). It seems pretty clear that in order to do so, he dictated tape after tape of recollections, packing them with stories and wisdom.

All of it was culled together into a mostly cohesive story by the talented and able writer Fox, who also took the time to interview Richards’ friends and associates to make sure the human riff was recollecting the facts. In short, this story is vetted.

From his earliest beginnings to whatever might come next.

Richards tells of growing up in Dartford, the only child of a mother he adored and a father who was working all the time. He then shares his first encounter with Jagger, a pairing that proved to be fortuitous, even if their eventual tight friendship would erode as they achieved astounding success as a band.

Richards gives away insights into the deal behind the late Brian Jones, a founding member of The Rolling Stones. Richards doesn't parse words, referring to Jones as a “vicious motherfucker.”

Keith RichardsThere is no sadness in tone as Jones dies in a swimming pool. Richards doesn't hide his contempt or possible relief. There is, however, guilt and regret as he describes how he learned that his infant son, Tara, died in his crib while Richards was away.

These revealing glimpses are only the beginning. Richards’ insight into his passion for the guitar and his love for the Stones are among the strongest aspects of his story, as is his recollection of life on the road and the desperation of being a heroin addict. It offers a sobering reality that even the very rich are willing to do anything for that next fix, just like any other guy.

Likewise, it seems there is some sadness and bitterness over Richards’ relationship with the narcissistic and power-hungry Jagger. The Glimmer Twins may have been joined at the hip and then they were (and maybe still are) mostly cordial colleagues, but Jagger’s lack of loyalty to the band is one that Richards may never get over. It's his sticking point.

Life by Keith Richards Rolls In With A 7.3 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

It's the best of the books about Richards, but sometimes it reads much the same way. It rambles at times, but remains charming throughout. If you think of Richards as the coolest, most likeable Stone, then his elegantly wasted rock and roll persona and frankness will win you over forever. He paints a smile on life with his humor, even when it feels pained.

Life by Keith Richards is available on Amazon. The only thing that would make Life even better would be to hear Richards read it. It won't happen, but we can dream as the Rolling Stones are on the verge of their 50th anniversary.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Priests Team With Hell Raiser Shane MacGowan

Shane MacGowenHoliday collaborations don't always work. And if you ask people how a collaboration between singing Catholic priests and a hard-drinking Irish hell raiser would turn out, most will give you a blank expression. A few might wait for a punch line.

There is no punch line. Drink-loving Irish singer Shane MacGowan did collaborate with trio of actual singing priests. And they did produce something that's more than worth a listen. It's moving. You'll see for yourself in a moment.

The Priests.

The Priests are Father Martin O’Hagan, Father David Delargy, and Father Eugene O’Hagan. They are all full-time parish priests in Ireland who take care of everything you might expect: presiding over christenings, marriages and funerals.

They first met at MacNissi’s College (Co. Antrim), where their singing earning them the nickname Holy Holy Holy. Years later, they were invited by the Monsignor John Magee (Papal master of ceremonies) to sing for the Pope. And they have enjoyed a fairly successful recording career since.

Shane MacGowan.

MacGowan, of course, became famous after drawing on his Irish heritage and founding The Pogues. Most of his songs have been influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, the experiences of the Irish in London and the United States. Later, he formed Shane MacGowan and The Popes.

The idea that MacGowan would team up with a group called the Priests shouldn’t be too surprising. While he has a reputation for being a hard-living bloke (and rightly so), he is also a remarkable, although sometimes overlooked, artist.

His skills as a songwriter are immense and he helped to create an audience for a unique blend of Irish/punk music. Anyone who has heard Fairytale of New York can attest to MacGowan’s talent. His voice also lends itself well to the rollicking Irish music he loves. He is frequently tapped to sing with other groups, including Lancaster County Prison and the Mighty Stef.

Even the late Joe Strummer referred to MacGowan as "one of the best writers of the century." They frequently appeared on stage together with The Pogues.

Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth is hopeful and compelling, showing the Priests’ voices in their best form. MacGowan is a very appropriate addition to the album. His voice, the voice of a guy who’s probably seen a lot, makes it just right.

“Our sharing the song with Shane MacGowan will come as a big surprise for many fans, both ours and his," said Father Eugene. "Neither of us is about to change our respective styles of music or performance but it goes to show how music builds bridges and brings us into creative contact with unlikely partnerships."

The first two albums that The Priests produced have sold more than 3 million albums. The Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth is the fifteenth track on their third album, Noel. The most popular track is actually Sussex Carol.

Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth By The Priests Featuring Shane MacGowan Ascends To 7.8 on the Liqud Hip Richter Scale.

MacGowan and The Pogues are said to be playing their last shows ever in December of this year. It's a sad thought that we may see the fairytale end, but glad to see Shaney Mac taking chances. Recently, he covered I Put A Spell On You, a benefit for Haiti featuring Johnny Depp, Nick Cave Bobby Gillespie, Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones, Paloma Faith, and Eliza Doolittle.

Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth is the fifteenth track on Noel. There is also a version without MacGowan if you want to experience the contrast. You can also find the album, Noel, on Amazon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

X-Mini II Are The Smartest Sound In Portable Speakers

X-Minis IIWhen most people are shopping for portable speakers for iPhones, iPads, and laptops, they usually settle on one of four options: Altec Lansing, X-Mini II, iHome Mini, and the Mini USB from the Sharper Image. But which is the best?

It's a trick question. Despite all the comparisons you can read online, the iHome Minis are rebranded and modified X-Mini II capsules. And, most people suspect the same is true of the Sharper Image Mini USB.

There are some subtle differences between the original and the rebrands, but the innovation still belongs to the X-Mini. The entire expandable woofer concept was created by a little company in Singapore that had a few thousand dollars and one singular mission. Xmi Pte Ltd. wanted to create the smallest pocket-sized speaker with the richest sound possible.

What's new with the X-Mini II is that now it comes with a new, larger 40mm driver that delivers more clarity and the expanded BXS bass for a better low-end response. They sound better than the originals developed four years ago. They also loop together if you want even more sound.

The X-Mini II capsule speakers are still the best for the boom.

X-Minis IIWhen it comes to design, size, and portability, the original stands solid. And, of course, if you are looking for a little less portability and stereo sound, then they make the X-Mini Max II. They fit together like an egg, but portability leaves the room.

Understanding all this might make it easier to make a decision that really comes down to the X-Mini II and Altec Lansing. Altec Lansing makes fine speakers, even if the sound leans toward more tin in the treble and less bass. The original is self-powered with AAA batteries. There are pros and cons.

You don't have to worry about charging after 12 hours of playtime. And, lithium battery-powered portables eventually cannot be charged ($20 makes replacing them easy enough). With the exception of camping, 10-12 hours of play is usually enough to share a few songs with friends anywhere.

Altec Lansing also developed the Orbit USB speakers, which are USB chargeable. Unfortunately, they've only developed it for the laptop. And like the original design (and most rebrands), there is no volume control. The ability to control the volume off the speaker allows you to control the volume while still adjusting the device for an optimal output level.

The X-Mini II By Xmi Pte Ltd. Booms To A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The X-Mini II came to mind with the holidays. They make great reasonably priced gifts, especially since most mini speakers cost about half of what they used to. It could be a nice surprise for smartphone and iPad owners who seem to have everything else.

You can find the X-Mini II Capsule Speaker on Amazon for about $20. The X-Mini MAX II Capsule Speakers (Stereo) are about $35.

The Altec Lansing Ultraportable Speaker is also on Amazon for about $20. The Mini USB Computer Speakers at the Sharper Image are about $30.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gospel Music Duettes As Owen Holmes Hears It

Owen HolmesOwen Holmes is best known as the bassist for the American indie pop band Black Kids. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, Black Kids broke out a few years ago with some overtly indie twee-pop party tunes that won over Vice magazine, Pitchfork magazine, and CMJ (but not us).

There is more to hear from Holmes than the fizzy stylings of his band mates. After coming back from the Big Day Out festivals in New Zealand and Australia, Holmes seems to have had some extra time on his hands.

So he dusted off some duets and used them, along with some delirium caused by "two-hour, many-mile runs around Jacksonville" to produce a collection strong enough for an EP. According to Holmes, the songs were written in his apartment while brewing beer in the kitchen and then he recorded the album at home.

"When I say 'recorded,' I mean that I stuck a microphone in front of whatever I was playing," wrote Holmes on a guest post for the Kill Rock Stars label. "I played everything except for the drum set."

Duettes is vibrant collection of roughly produced alternative wanderings with anybodys but not nobodys.

To give you an idea just how accidentally the album came together, Holmes says he didn't even know the singers who accompanied him, with the exception of SoKo. He searched the net and then emailed people to see if they would sing with him.

He came up with SoKo (as mentioned), Shirley Simms (The Magnetic Fields), Tracyanne Campbell (Camera Obscura), Darren Haymen (who recently produced Essex Arms), and Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls). The effort is titled with the semi-fictitious and impossible-to-find-via-search band moniker Gospel Music.

The effort pays out in dividends. A few years back, these would have been the kind of indie duets that fans would hunt for inside obscure record shops and bootleg sections. Nowadays, digital distribution makes them more accessible. However, as it stands right now, it's hard to tell how many people know they exist.

The five songs are pretty much spelled out by Holmes in his write up. They are all straightforward cuts, random social situations woven together with things he likes, like his car, beer, and boiled peanuts. Somehow, it works.

The best of the bunch is I Miss The Shit Out Of You with SoKo. Automobile with Tracyanne Campbell was the first to see some lift thanks to a campy and underplayed YouTube video directed by Alan Del Rio Ortiz. It was shot as part of a 13-hour road trip. Ortiz has an old school vintage vision. Although he only had three vids under he belt, he's clearly a director to watch.

It's hard to say that Holmes is the best singer ever (he's likable in a Kimya Dawson kind of way), but no one can deny that he is an extraordinary composer, capable of writing some one-off music and bringing the right people together to make it happen. All five of the tracks are worth owning.

The U.K.'s Fierce Panda originally released the album as homespun, homegrown, homemade indie music. They described it as "hobo-jumping leftfield nuggets" with alternative music guest stars." And you know, they are kind of right too. Kill Rock Stars gets props for the U.S. drop.

Gospel Music's Duettes Climbs To 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

All in all, Gospel Music is the kind of stuff we look for every day. Some days we find it. Today was one of those days. Even Charles Newman (Stephin Merritt's man) deserves a hat tip. He mixed the album.

You can find Duettes by Gospel Music on iTunes. You can also find it under duettes - EP on Amazon.