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Monthly Archives: December 2014

My Favorite Music of 2014

First, a disclaimer…

I don’t buy much music. Not as much as you might think. I’ll buy a few new country CDs, a classic rock CD here and there, and some music by indies and local artists a year. I listen to country and classic rock radio stations, old CCM, and like going to performances by local artists.

Also, this end-of-the-year review thing is new to me, so even though I know that I went to a few shows this year, I didn’t keep any notes on them. My memory plays tricks on me these days, too. I could have sworn that John Fogerty’s album Wrote a Song For Everyone came out in 2014, but when I checked the CD it turns out that it was released in 2013, a year and a half ago. I intend to keep better track of everything that I do this year so I can have a better list for next year.

Meanwhile, my favorites from this this year…

Album:

There were three albums this year that I knew about in advance that I could not wait to hear. They were Brad Paisley’s Moonshine in the Trunk, Bob Seger’s Ride Out, and Weird Al Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun. Brad Paisley is hands down the hottest guitar player I’ve heard in a long time, and he has a good blend of country sentiment and humor on his albums. Bob Seger is one of my favorite songwriters in rock. Weird Al is just a nut with a killer cover band. I loved every one of these albums.

The winner for my favorite, though, has to be Weird Al. To be honest, Weird Al is sometimes the only way I know what’s going on out there in the larger pop world. I was in a store and I could have sworn that Weird Al’s ‘Foil’ started playing over the PA. It took me a minute to realize, “Oh…that’s got to be ‘Royal’!” Weird Al is so much fun! His band is so versatile! Here are a couple of Weird Al videos in case you missed them:

Concert:
My favorite show this year was Creedence Clearwater Revisited at the Cascade Theater in Redding, Ca.
CCR has got to have the saddest story in rock. It’s amazing that after all of these years these guys still can’t put aside their differences and at least keep a peace treaty. Even the Eagles reconciled and toured again, for cryin’ out loud!

Anyway, even though the band is estranged into two camps, CCR is still responsible for some of the best rock songs ever written. I am just glad it can still be heard live by two-thirds of the surviving band members, anyway. Stu Cook (bass) and Doug ‘Cosmo’ Clifford (drums) started a band to keep the old songs alive when John Fogerty wasn’t playing them out of concern that he no longer owned the rights to them. It’s a complicated story. When I found out that CC Revisited was going to be playing Redding, I jumped on the chance to buy tickets. I never had a chance to see the original CCR, and John Fogerty has never played close enough to me to make it to a show.

What a fun show this was! From the fade in swamp guitar of Born On the Bayou through the celebration of Up Around the Bend, the old songs came alive. John Tristao has a voice made for these swamp rock songs. He’s not John Fogerty, but my wife Patsy actually prefers Tristao’s voice…gravelly and bluesy. The keyboard player had a homecoming. He’s from Redding! The lead guitarist was smooth. It was just a great evening of singing and dancing to great ol’ CCR tunes.

I’ve seen video of Fogerty playing the old CCR songs in concert and noticed a difference between what he does and what CC Revival does. I think that CC Revival’s versions sound closer to what the original albums sound like. Fogerty seems to interpret them a little bit more. He wrote them, of course, and he can certainly go however the music takes him, but there is no mistaking the original album version from anything he plays on stage now. When I listen to a playlist combining the original albums with CC Revisited, though, sometimes it’s hard to tell which band is playing on any particular song.

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Posted by on December 31, 2014 in Culture, Music Review

 

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Favorite Book Series of 2014

http://www.amazon.com/Annihilation-Novel-Southern-Reach-Trilogy/dp/0374104093/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1419711957&sr=1-1&keywords=jeff+vandermeer

I discovered this series by reading a National Public Radio review of the third volume, Acceptance, when it was released in September. Jason Sheehan, the NPR reviewer, had the same problem that I have…how to tell you enough about these books to want to read them without giving anything away. I know…that is a problem with every review, but it is a problem that usually has an easy work around. Not so with Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach series.

Something Strange is happening in the coastal wilderness of the United States’ Eastern seaboard. We are never given an exact location. I always thought it was South Carolina, but it could just as well be northern Florida or Georgia. These Strange Things started happening decades ago, and have caused the government to quarantine the area now known as Area X. The only people allowed into Area X are government research teams. The first book, Annihilation, begins with the insertion of the twelfth such team. After sending in eleven teams already…nobody still knows anything about Area X. The twelfth team is a party of four women; a psychologist, a biologist, an anthropologist, and a surveyor. Why all women?

And that’s about all I can give you. (Ain’t I a tease? 😉 )

OK…I can tell you the story involves a mysterious lighthouse. And a tower. Or is it a tunnel? And who wrote those words on the walls of the tower/tunnel?

OK. That’s all I can give you. Honest.

One reviewer said that this series is ‘genre-blending’. That is true. Is it an espionage thriller? A horror story? Science fiction? All of the above. And each book has a slightly different tone and perspective.

I think Jason Sheehan summed it up exactly in that first NPR review that I read when he said “If the guys who wrote Lost had brought H.P. Lovecraft into the room as a script doctor in the first season, the Southern Reach trilogy is what they would have come up with.”

If this book series had been a role playing game, then several of the player characters had to make sanity rolls…and failed. Or did they?

This series is so-o-o-o-o delicious! And that is why The Southern Reach Trilogy is my favorite book series of 2014.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Book Review, Books

 

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Favorite Book of 2014

http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/0307887448/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419711703&sr=8-1&keywords=ready+player+one

This book was actually written in 2012, and I bought it around Christmas time in 2013. Patsy and I were at Barnes & Noble in Redding and I just happened to walk past a stack of these out on a book table. The cover looked interesting. The title, implying a video game reference, caught my attention. I read the back cover and decided to get it for our sixteen year old son Joshua for Christmas.

I think he finished reading it by dawn on December 26. It jumped into his ‘Favorite Book’ slot, and being a video game and Rush fan, he couldn’t say enough good things about it. I finally picked it up and read it a couple of months later.

Josh was right!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline takes place in a future world in which virtual reality has become commonplace. On-line gaming has grown to the point that the virtual world has become the predominant form of society’s entertainment. Even school is accomplished virtually. A basic virtual immersion rig is part of every school kid’s supplies. Actually, it’s the only school supply. Everything else that is needed is found and saved on-line. Most kids go to the free Government virtual school. Kids from richer families can afford better virtual immersion rigs, and can afford the ‘pay-as-you-play’ format of being able to explore away from your free basic school world.

James Halliday, the creator of the virtual universe, has died without heirs. He has left his entire fortune to the first person to crack the Easter eggs he has planted throughout his virtual universe. His fortune is so huge that even multi-national corporations dedicate corporate divisions to solving these Easter eggs, but nobody has even solved the first one yet. Halliday grew up in the 1980s, and the virtual universe and the Easter eggs are a treasure trove of ‘80s pop and geek culture. Enter poor but uber-geeky teenager Wade Watts, and the race is on!

One sci-fi writer has referred to Ready Player One as a ‘nerdgasm’. Apt.

Reviewers at Amazon have given Ready Player One 3,184 5-star ratings, as of December 26, 2014. Ninety reviewers have given it one star. I think some of the comments on the poor reviews might be right. The one stars were probably given by dementors, trying to suck all of the fun and joy out of life.

Unlike Josh, I would not say this is my favorite book of all, but it was definitely my favorite read of 2014.
Ernest Cline’s next book, Armada, is due out summer of 2015. I’ll be looking for it!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2014 in Book Review, Books

 

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