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Christmas in Eight Measures

Album Cover

My mother sang alto in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for over a decade, so when Christmas rolls around, the Choir’s Christmas CDs are in heavy rotation in the car and at home.

As I was driving home tonight, their 2004 recording of Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Away in a Manager” came on and I had to pull over for a bit. I’ve had the pleasure of singing that arrangement with a number of excellent choirs, and every time I do I have to watch out because the third verse will knock the wind out of me if I’m not careful.

I assert (and my friend, Brent, will back me up on this) that Mack Wilberg is one of the most brilliant arrangers in the world, and I give you this recording, with the 360-member Choir and the 110-piece Orchestra at Temple Square, as Exhibit A.

The first verse is sung in unison by the women; the second verse by the men. It’s all very simple and straightforward up to that point, with the beautiful, flowing orchestration providing the only real points of interest.

And that’s where we pick things up…

As the sopranos, altos and tenors come in on the third verse, the orchestra drops away, leaving the voices suspended in mid-air…and the next eight measures are probably the closest thing to perfection that I’ll ever be a part of in this life.

Away in a Manger (Clip)

For tenors, life doesn’t get much better than this. You just hang there at the top of your register singing the most interesting note in each of these intricate, unexpected chords. And when you drop into “…and love me, I pray,” it’s like coming home.

For me, those eight measures…those eight beautiful, delicate, haunting measures…full of longing, hope, and joy…are what Christmas is all about.

Sleeping With The Light On

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. Emma and I were reading quietly and Zoë was doing a puzzle on the floor when, out of nowhere, Zoë started singing:

There’s an order to things
There’s an order to things
There’s an order to things, now that you’re gone.

There’s an order to things
There’s an order to things
There’s an order to things, now that you’re gone.

It’s the chorus of “Sleeping With the Light On” from Jonatha Brooke’s new CD, Back in the Circus:

Sleeping With The Lights On

It’s a melancholy song to begin with, but to hear those words carried through the air on that sweet, crystalline, little voice was downright haunting. I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since.

Top 10 Albums of 2002

OK, I think I’m ready to name my “Top 10 Albums of 2002.” Why, you may ask, am I just barely getting around to this in March 2003? Well, while I have pretty decent critical analysis skills, I’m a little slow.

When I walk out of a theater and someone asks me, “What did you think of the film?” I almost have to say, “Ask me in a week or two.” It takes me that long to reflect on the film’s bouquet, roll it around my tongue (assessing the film’s body, acidity, sweetness, fruitiness, etc), take in a little air, reflect on the finish (Was there a pleasant aftertaste? Did it still resonate after a week?), and then cleanse my palette with a mindless action flick. Only then can I come up with a, “Yeah, I sorta liked it.”

I’ve been thinking of launching a column entitled “Delayed-Reaction Film Critic” where you can read my stunning insights on films that have just left a theater near you.

Anyway, to get back to the matter at hand, here are the Top 10 Albums of 2002, by the Delayed-Reaction Music Critic:

#1. Beck: Sea Change

Beck: Sea Change

I’ve never been a big Beck fan. It’s not that I’ve avoided his stuff in the past, I’d just never gone out of my way to listen to it. What little I’d heard seemed rather smug and self-absorbed. It seemed like my job as a listener was to stand back and admire how hip and clever he was. I’d never heard anything that drew me in and made me feel like I was supposed to be a part of what was going on. I have now.

Beck supposedly wrote the songs on “Sea Change” in a one-week marathon song-writing session after breaking up with his long-time girlfriend. It may not be true, but I want to believe it anyway because for the past few months I feel like Beck and I have been heartbroken drinking buddies (granted, I don’t drink, but still…), swapping tales of loss and regret. After each song I’ll lift my head off my desk, nod vaguely, and mumble, “I hear you, brother. I know exactly how you feel.”

One of the most gut-wrenching songs on the album is “Guess I’m Doing Fine”:

There’s a blue bird at my window
I can’t hear the songs he sings
All the jewels in heaven
They don’t look the same to me

I just wade the tides that turned
Till I learn to leave the past behind

It’s only lies that I’m living
It’s only tears that I’m crying
It’s only you that I’m losing
Guess I’m doing fine

…and a little later in the song he laments:

Press my face up to the window
To see how warm it is inside
See the things that I’ve been missing
Missing all this time

It’s only lies that I’m living
It’s only tears that I’m crying
It’s only you that I’m losing
Guess I’m doing fine

I hear you, brother. I know exactly how you feel.

Some long-time Beck fans have complained that they can’t even make it through “Sea Change,” but by moving from the self-referential to the self-revelatory he’s won me over completely. Or maybe it’s just that misery loves company.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Guess I’m Doing Fine
  • Nothing I Haven’t Seen
  • Side of the Road

#2. Bright Eyes: Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

Bright Eyes: Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground

This is the fourth album from Conor Oberst, a 22-year-old snot-nosed genius-punk from Omaha, Nebraska, and it is a big, sloppy, rambling mess. The music careens all over the place, the lyrics veer from the simplistic to the overripe in a matter of measures, and the whole production is so pretentious that you sometimes just want to reach through the speakers and slap the boy silly.

Trouble is, I can’t stop listening to the big, sloppy, rambling mess. And every time I listen to the big, sloppy, rambling mess, I find something else to love.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Lover I Don’t Have To Love
  • False Advertising
  • You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will.

#3. Kris Delmhorst: Five Stories

Kris Delmhorst: Five Stories

So, how can one of the best albums of 2002 be something that was released in 2001? Like I said, I’m a little slow. I’m not sure how I missed Kris Delmhorst for as long as I did. I’m pretty familiar with the folks in the Boston folk scene, but somehow, even though Patty Larkin and Jennifer Kimball sang backup on her debut album (and JK sings backup on this one, too), I wasn’t even aware of her existence until halfway through 2002. That just goes to show you how much I know…

There is some really beautiful stuff here. Take this from “Damn Love Songs”:

How can I carve your name in the trunk of a tree that’ll be here long after we’re gone?
I can’t even write it in the steam on the mirror.
And with nobody listening, not even myself, it’s as much as I can do
To whisper those words in your ear.

After all of these years, look at me here
With this love song stuck in my throat.
Got the weight of the world and there’s not too much else I can hold.

Even taken out of the context of the music, her lyrics are fantastic. She has a real gift for melody, she’s got a great voice, her guitar playing is rock-solid (all the more impressive since she only started playing the blasted instrument six years ago), and the album’s production is pitch-perfect.

I really love it when I discover new artists. I only wish I’d discovered her sooner.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Damn Love Song
  • Words Fail You
  • Just What I Meant

#4. Coldplay: A Rush of Blood to the Head

Coldplay: A Rush Of Blood To The Head

This is the kind of album Radiohead would be putting out if they hadn’t become Navel-Gazing Robots of Electronica. This is brilliant, well-crafted rock-and-roll. 10,000 Gwyneth Paltrows can’t be wrong.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Amsterdam
  • God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  • The Scientist

#5. Martin Sexton: Live Wide Open

Martin Sexton: Live Wide Open

I’ll have a chance to see him again, live at the Zephyr Club, on March 18. I just hope it’s a more pleasant experience than last time.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • In The Journey
  • Freedom of the Road
  • Black Sheep (All nine minutes of it…)

#6. Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel

Elvis Costello: When I Was Cruel

This album proves that Elvis Costello is the exception to the rule that, with time, all great artists just become caricatures of themselves.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • When I Was Cruel No. 2
  • Alibi
  • 15 Petals

#7. Nickel Creek: This Side

Nickel Creek: This Side

A word of advice: Always put out a crappy debut album. It makes any follow-up that much more impressive.

Nickel Creek had the unenviable task of coming up with something to top their stunning self-titled debut…and they came close. Not quite, but close. Rather than just doing more of the same traditional bluegrass that they do so well, “This Side” is all over the genre map, from a reworking of Pavement’s “Spit on a Stranger” (easily better than the original), to the funky/poppy/bluegrassy title track.

Some of it works, some of it kinda works, but it’s fun listening to the kids playing with new ideas and styles when they could have just repeated themselves for the next ten years without anyone complaining.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Spit on a Stranger
  • Should Have Known Better
  • This Side

#8. Patty Griffin: 1000 Kisses

Patty Griffin: 1000 Kisses

Personally, I loved Flaming Red, but for some folks it was too much of an ear-popping altitude adjustment from Living with Ghosts. Those people will be happy to hear that Patty seems to have recovered from being possessed by Melissa Etheridge with little or no residual effects.

And “Nobody’s Crying” may be one of the most beautiful songs you’ll ever hear.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Nobody’s Crying
  • Stolen Cars
  • Making Pies

#9. Badly Drawn Boy: About A Boy

Badly Drawn Boy: About A Boy

A warm, witty, and charming soundtrack from a warm, witty, and charming film. It’s just a genuine pleasure to listen to.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • Something to Talk About
  • Above You, Below Me
  • River, Sea, Ocean

#10. Dixie Chicks: Home

Dixie Chicks: Home

Their music becomes more rootsy even as they become more slick and glamorous. Something’s gotta give but, until it does, enjoy the music.

Best Songs On The Album:

  • White Trash Wedding
  • Long Time Gone
  • Travelin’ Soldier

Hot Shot City Is Particularly Good

David Hasselhoff: Looking for...THE BEST

This may sound odd, but some the best comedy writing today may be going on over at Amazon.com.

There has been some bizarre confluence around Looking For–Best of David Hasselhoff [IMPORT] that has resulted in (as of today) 420 of some of the most hilarious reader reviews you’ll ever have a chance to read. Go. Read. Now.

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they are discovered, disapproved of, and deleted, so I’ve preserved the last ten entries here for your enjoyment:

I have seen the light!

December 4, 2002

In fact, I quite literally saw the light; within ten seconds of forwarding to track six (Hot Shot City, which is particularly good), I had an aneurysm and woke up twelve hours later in hospital. Sadly, the ambulance crew who went to my aid also suffered an array of mysterious head or ear-related maladies upon reaching my house – in the end they had to force a power cut before anybody could safely enter.

I would dearly love to rhapsodise further the merits of David Hassleheamorrhoid’s album, but the doctors have warned against me having any further contact with said product. I shall have to content myself with buying a pair of very tight jeans, black leather jacket, and installing an effetely-voiced Speak and Spell in my car.

A white-knuckle, deep-throated love fest!

December 4, 2002

If there’s one thing the Maori are known for, its their age-old wisdom and curly hair. Through generations of oral tradition and perseverance, the proud Maori people have endured as storytellers, innovators, and as Jango and Boba Fett in the latest George Lucas installment. David Hoopervamp knows this, and he openly admits taking this formula for success and making it his own. So with the release of “The Best Of David Hoopervamp (IMPORT)” he reinvents the wisdom-and-curly-hair thing. The end result is a sweeping epic of kapa haka proportions.

Brimming with freshness and musky skank and accompanied by a voice that sounds like eight llamas impaled on a jousters lance, these hymns of hunkiness stay with you like an extended case of mono. Hoopervamp takes off his leather boots, rubbing his moistened feet all over the compact disc, even rubbing it between his toes to soak up the funk. When we listen to this CD, it is as if we are inhaling the aroma of his sweaty, hairy callouses with all the power our lungs can muster. And who wouldn’t want that?

The song Hot Shot City is particularly good.

A thesis…

December 4, 2002

Don’t you feel sorry for all of those misguided fools who were manipulated by an over powering global network of media “style over substance” ethos? All of those who voted for “Imagine” by John Lennon as the greatest song of the last millenium were duped.

Duped by a global conspiricy. A conspiricy that will not market this album, scared of the political and social upheaval that it’s success may entail.

This seminal album has changed so much of my life already with the brilliance of the tracks included, so imagine my surprise when after a long session of what I call my “David” time I noticed something that had been staring me right in the face the whole time.

That’s right…..the title. It made me think, in this world full of despair and misery are we not all looking for something to make our lives a happier and generally more fulfilled?

We’re ALL looking for David Hasslehoff.

We’re ALL looking for the best of something.

On import.

We’re ALL looking for Hot Shot City, a place for revolutions at 11 o’clock, which after all is a particularly good place to be.


December 4, 2002

There are the good. There are the great. There are the truly great. And there Is David Hasselhoff; a man alone on a lonely musical pinnacle. This is a record for everyone; a multilingual multigenre powerhouse compilation that brings to you, the grateful listener, the majesty of David’s euvre to date.

There is, to my knowledge, no better way to kick off such an anthology than with an uplifting rock anthem to freedom. Track one is entitled ‘Looking for Freedom’ That’ll do nicely, sir. Track 13, ‘Freedom for the World’, just piles on the joy all over again, showing that he has not forgotten what a groovy hep thing freedom is.

David proves he’s no stiff with the zany fun of ‘Do the Limbo Dance’, a masterpiece of crazy party fun that would disarm a heart of stone.

‘Flying on the Wings of Tenderness’ proves that David’s no clichᅵd macho man, with levels of lyrical tenderness unrivalled in the history of literature.

For the young sophisticate, ‘Everybody Sunshine’ is a searching existential critique that, in my humble opinion, could stand shoulder to shoulder with the finest works of Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer or Minogue.

I could go and on about this remarkable man’s achievements, his tunesmith’s ear, his lyrical genius, his truly euterpian connection to the music of the spheres, but I think one listen to ‘Hot Shot City’ will say more, far more than my stumbling mortal words can express.

The sound of a sperm whale being minced into sausages

December 4, 2002

If music were a religion, its Messiah has arrived in the form of the uber bouffant David Hissyfit. With a voice that has been justly compared to the sound of a steam train colliding with a busload of eunuchs, the Hasslemeister belts out hit after mind numbing hit, covering all genres of music from banal to trite.

His facile defence of his dishonest friend in “I Believe – Laura Branigan”, shows that not only is he a hackneyed entertainer par excellence, but he’s also a decent bloke. Somewhere in heaven, the angels are putting down their harps, picking up pointy, 80’s styled guitars, and strumming out cover versions of such venerated classics as “Flying on the Wings of Tenderness” and “Everybody Sunshine.” Only a genius could make the word ‘sunshine’ a verb.

A master of production wizardry, Hanselgreteloff, has included the sphincter gritting song “Danice Dance d’Amour” which played backwards becomes track three “Do the Limbo Dance. ” Also included on this compilation of excrutiating Euro chart toppers is the legendary “Wir Zwei Allein”, which was awarded the prestigious Institute de Dentist prize for best tooth grinder 1987. Your enamel won’t stand a chance, and neither will your loins when you get to “These Lovein’ Eyes”. The song’s enigmatic title has spawned scores of Internet sites where people espouse theories as to the extra ‘e’. My own take is that it’s a typo and that there should be a space after the ‘e’, making it “These Love in Eyes”, since Hasbro’s trill vibrato is enough to make the strongest man bust a nut with such vigour that you’ll want to have your eyes closed, lest you go blind from sheer the velocity of your well spent love juice. I’m getting half a mongrel just humming the tune to myself.

With the particularly good “Hot Shot City” in his repertoire, Knockitoff, is not merely a bigger love walrus than Barry White, he is truly a sperm whale.

Liquid love

December 4, 2002

Take my advice, buy the album new and not second hand. Why? Because the previous owner must have died to have parted with it, maybe from a terrible disease. Yes, it’s that good.

Buying this album is an investment in your ears’ future, and you will be richly rewarded by them for your effort. A mixture of puppy dogs for the soal and the stark reality of life on the streets, it will have you running the full gammut of emotions, from “a” through “k.”

Don’t just buy this album, live it.

Craseey for Daviid

December 3, 2002

The first time I saw David singing I was 13. I saw him on ITC’s “The Chart Shor”, he did his song “Crazy for You”. The way he punched the air repeatedly with his leather glofe clad fist whilst he was riding on his motorbike through the forests of Bavariea got me hooked like only Elkie Brookes or Kim Carnes had done before. I think David is a very good singer and i am sure he is a talendet guitar player an harmonicist. When the Berlin Wall came down I saw him in his light bulb jacket like on the pink Fliyd oalbum and I thought that maybe he would do a cover of “Love in the school yard” or “it’s a time of mayhem”, but he didn’t, he did the wonderful “Looking for Freedom” and I think it’s really good, better than the Bergman movie or that thing with the two angels when a rock lands on someone’s head and he’s dead and he wakes up by the wall and it’s in black and white. David’s better than all that and Baywatch and NichtRider prove it, but his singing is the best of it all and this compilation, which i have on my mp3 player and my jukebox and i play it all the time on my BMX, proves it, and I hear kids today and they’re asking about what’s the best music to listen to, and I say david hasselhopf and they say “who’s he” and I say he’s the person off nightr ider and baywatch and theyy’ve seen the shows byt they don’g know he sings and i say he dows and they listen and they hear “looking forf freedom” and all the hits and i say “now you know, this is waht music is about and your bf49 isn’t as good and they say, yes i know.

Well, that’s what david hasselhoff is about to me. He is like a fine wine that matures, and that bit at the bottom of the bottel with all the sediment is the best, and david’s like that, his voice, his powerful persona, his big hands and his curly hair like a garden full of peat. I love david and I will play his music to my child when she comes out of hospital and maybe when she hears his voice she will realise that the world has been made what it is as the result of david’s presence and she will know that when she is older all she has to do is look at baywatch and knith rider and listen to the song “looking for freedom” and she will have mmore of an opinion of the world than if she went to kindergarten or read books or learnt how to speak.

The song “Hot Shot City” is particularly good.

A Milestone in Music History!

December 3, 2002

For decades, musicologists the world over have pondered one question: Could anyone achieve a divine synthesis of the advances of Schoenberg and Stravinsky that would include the breakthroughs of musicians like Ellington, Parker, Armstrong and Mingus, yet also include the emerging tonalities and rhythms common to Carribbean cultures, West Africa and certain parts of the Yalu Valley? And now, my friends, we have the answer: David Hasteloff!

In the same way that the ruggedly handsome Hassletoff’s contributions to the dramatic arts have challenged the very boundaries of theater, compositions such as “Is Everybody Happy?” or the instant classic “Flying on the wings of Tenderness” challenge us to rethink the very definition of music. More than the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, “Everybody Sunshine” is an ode to mankind’s greatest joys; more than Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, “Do You Believe in Love” challenges us to question the very nature of our existence.

As a singer, Mr Hustlenoff is without peer. Hearing the easy bilingualism of “J’Taime Means I Love You,” the only possible comparison is with Placido Domingo’s effortless transiton between various operatic idioms.

Perhaps most praiseworthy of all is the fact that, unlike so many of the 20th century’s great artists, Mr Hesslefoff has used his considerable gifts in the service of a philosophy that flies in the face of the nihilism espoused by the likes of Schopehaur and Neitze. In compositions such as “The Best is Yet to Come,” he clearly acknowledges the darker side of the human predicament, and yet adorns it in rays of radiant hope that spray outward like rays from some sort of hope-producing ray gun.

This is talent of a sort which cannot be denied. Ignore him at your peril!

He is simply the best.

December 3, 2002

David Hankelbonk is someone who does not call a ‘spade a spade’, he calls it a ‘shovel’. This is evident throughout this latest masterpiece that has me diving through the surface of the lyrical content to discover what is and what could well be.

The world is David’s lobster, as he has proved time and time again through his career firstly as a man who traveled the frontiers in his talking car and then as Mitch Buchanan, a modern day ‘Charles Ingels’ on Malibu Beach.

His music is as forceful as his TV shows. One walks away from each gem of a song wondering about life and what we can do to make things a little better for ourselves – and boy there are many things! When I listen to his crooning I am taken away to a magical place where only people with clean underpants are admitted. This place is ‘Hot Shot City’ which is a particularly good song.

Not Yet Heard It

December 3, 2002

As I have not yet heard this album, could someone recommend any tracks as being particularly good

Viva La France

A few weeks back, the California correspondent for Libération in Paris (France, not Idaho) contacted me about the death of Radio Free Tiny Pineapple. She was doing a piece on the impact of the recent CARP ruling and wanted my perspective on things.

They published the piece this past weekend, but since I don’t speak French I’ve had to rely on the web-based translaters in order to see how it turned out. As sometime happens, it appears that most of my stuff ended up on the cutting room floor, but near the end of the article entitled “American webradios with the barks” I’m quoted as saying:

[Note: This sounds especially good if you say it with an indignant French accent.]

“Honestly, I do not see any means of survival for the majority of radios Internet. The industry of the disc does not want any, and will return the impossible life to them.”

I don’t know about you, but I will henceforth always refer to the media conglomerates as “the industry of the disc.” And I if anyone ever crosses me, I swear I’ll “return the impossible life to them!”