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Santana Is Pure Joy
Aug 19th, 2015 by

The late Tito Puente made a few bucks last night. But more importantly, he would have been proud when Carlos Santana and his 10-piece band played a booming version of his ode to rhythm, “Oye Como Va,” which means “Listen to how my rhythm goes,” when you add the line “mi ritmo” after it.

I saw Tito Puente and his band at the Charles Ballroom in Harvard Square about 15 years ago. During that show he made a speech before playing that song, explaining how Santana made his song a hit and how at first he was a little angry and jealous, especially when audience members would say to him after his show, “you play Santana music.”

He said he used to argue with them and explain that he wrote that song and that Santana was playing Tito Puente music. “Until the royalty checks started rolling in. Now I tell them, ‘That’s right. I play Santana music!’,” he said right before his keyboardist started pounding on the opening chords to that song.

Santana is now an old master, but his chops on the guitar are as good as ever. Pure joy flows from it and he accentuates his guitar solos by offering the audience little treats:  a few riffs of classic songs thrown into the mix.

Last night, those little treats included a few riffs from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I’m With the In Crowd,” and “Layla.” He doled out many more and the audience, dancing in the aisles, ate them up.

Sacrificing Quality For Convenience
Dec 27th, 2011 by

I still have my turntable set up but hadn't played it in several years until Christmas morning.

I still have my turntable set up but hadn't played it in several years until Christmas morning.

My goddaughter Dani Siobhan gave me a vinyl record album for Christmas and on Christmas morning I dusted off my turntable and played it.

It was from 1975 and featured several bands of the British invasion including the Searchers, the Kinks, and the Foundation (did you know they’re the band that wrote and performed “Build Me Up Buttercup?”).

I loved it. Soon, I was pulling out a few of my old albums and enjoying them while sitting on the floor before the stack of stereo components. First I listened to Derek and the Dominoes Live in Concert (”Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?“).

Then I found my old “Frampton Comes Alive” album and it transported me back to 1976 (”Do You Feel Like We Do,” “Lines on my Face“). I read the liner notes and learned that he was only 25 when that album came out. I looked at his picture and could believe it. The first time I did that he was much older than me. Now, he was only a few years older than my oldest son.

The album held up in 2011, even the part in the solo where he yells, “Bob Mayo on the keyboards, Bob Mayo!”

More Pleasurable Than Digital Music

The whole experience was more pleasurable than listening to digital music from a CD or iPod. It gave me pause to think about how we as a culture continue to sacrifice quality for convenience.

This is nothing new. More than 100 years ago, industrialization made it more convenient and affordable to build furniture on assembly lines in factories at the expense of craftsmanship.

When the highway system was built in the 1950s, many people publicly lamented what was lost for the sake of speed and convenience. Taking the highway gets us there quicker but it doesn’t show us the countryside, small villages, cities or an opportunity to meet new people along the way.

The Convenience To Quality Ratio

Now technological advances seem to be coming at a faster pace giving way to more examples of convenience over quality and as that happens, I wonder if we’ve become oblivious to it all.

Microwave popcorn isn’t as good as popcorn cooked over the stove; online journalism isn’t as in-depth or thoughtful as some of the journalism that is written specifically for newspapers and magazines; and interacting with friends and family on Facebook isn’t as fulfilling  and uplifting as communicating with them in person.

It’s as though every technological advancement that replaces something also sacrifices something for the sake of convenience.

The late Robert Mapplethorpe designed this album and took the photographs.

The late Robert Mapplethorpe designed this album and took the photographs.

Why Vinyl Is More Pleasurable

The listening experience of playing vinyl record albums is superior to listening to digital music.

First there is the sound. Analog sound from a turntable is very different than digital. It’s not as clean or effortless and that makes it more real, even with the rare, popping sound exploding from the spinning disc. And it was immediately apparent that the sound coming from two stereo NHD bookshelf speakers was far superior than the sound of my Bose SoundDock, even though the sound of it is pretty impressive.

Then there is the experience of listening to one artist’s complete album in one sitting. It gives the artist’s musical idea a chance to build, to ebb and wane. And the listener learns something through that, as well as through looking at the album art and reading the liner notes.

On Christmas morning while playing Patti Smith’s “Wave” album, which was released in 1979, I learned that Robert Mapplethorpe designed the album cover and took the photos. He was the artist who’s photographic work ignited a national debate over public funding for the arts and the definition of obscenity 10 years later in 1989.

I also learned that Todd Rundgren produced that album and that he played bass on “Dancin Barefoot.” And there was also a note on the liner notes that said the song was dedicated to the mistress of artist Amedeo Modigliani. I didn’t know who Modigliani was in 1979 when I bought that album but since then I learned who he was. I had a print of one of his paintings of his mistress hanging in my dining room for several years.

Acknowledge What We’re Missing

There are advantages to listening to digital music, getting your news online, taking the highway, and even microwaving popcorn. It’s all more convenient and we’re not likely to start sacrificing that convenience for quality.  But we need to treat ourselves, every once and awhile, to some old school quality experiences so that we can at least acknowledge and be aware of what we’re doing and what we’re missing.

There are some signs that a backlash is growing against all of this convenience over quality. In recent years, the Slow Food movement has been growing; more people are choosing to pay more for locally grown and locally raised food; and even vinyl records are being reissued and showing up in music stores, both online and offline.

However, just as the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century was a way of rebelling against the convenience of mass industrialization for quality, we won’t turn back time. Instead, there will be small movements and trends that will help us appreciate and celebrate quality.

This isn’t a war that must or can be won. We simply need to occasionally recognize there is a struggle.

A Phenomenal Guitarist, At Any Age
Nov 12th, 2011 by

(Above, the 12-year-old New Bedford resident played the House of Blues in Boston in 2010.)

I had quite a surprise Friday night when I went to see Buddy Guy at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston.

I didn’t want there to be an opening act, but when I got there, I didn’t want the opening act to stop playing.

Read: Why I’m A Believer In The Mighty Quinn.

Video: Santorini Sunset
May 28th, 2011 by

Sunset smells of dinner. Women are calling to me to end my tales. But perhaps I'll see you in the next quiet place. I furl my sails.

Sunset smells of dinner. Women are calling to me to end my tales. But perhaps I'll see you in the next quiet place. I furl my sails. -- David Crosby

Click on either image to watch a video of the sunset.

Click on either image to watch a video of the sunset.

(Watch a video of the sunset on Santorini by clicking here or on either photo.)

Towards the end of the day crowds start to gather on the western side of the island to get the best view of the Greek sunset.

We were there in April, before the high-season, so the crowds were thin and there was ample room walk around or sit and watch the pinks and blues intensify over the white-washed cave dwellings and ocean. The trade-off was that the weather was chilly (high 50s to low 60s): definitely not beach weather. And although it was a little windy, it wasn’t as bad as the audio track in this video makes it seem.

So sit back and relax. Listen to the Greek folk music, watch the sunset, and dream of warmer days. They’re coming as this weekend marks the unofficial start of summer in New England.

Good Music, Food and Friends
Mar 14th, 2010 by

From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and "Little Kenny."

From left to right, Jay, Kenny, and "Little Kenny." Click on the photo to hear them play and sing.

This is what rootsliving is all about.

My friends Kenny and Katie recently hosted what we like to call a “hootenanny,” complete with guitar singing, food, and good friends. Kenny is a singer/songwriter and he, and my friend, Jay (who you might remember helped me out on the backyard makeover project) played guitar and sang, taking requests from the small audience in Kenny’s dining room.  Kenny’s 16-year-old son, “Little Kenny” also joined in for a few numbers, playing bass.

Katie is one of the best cooks I know. She made a slow-roasted roast beef (recipe below) for sandwiches with Boursin cheese and tomato. And everyone else brought one appetizer. I brought my AI (Asian-Italian) Chicken Wings.

Here are some of the food and musical highlights from that day:

Very simple and very tasty, this fig, goat cheese, and bread appetizer couldn't be any easier to make.

Very simple and very tasty, this fig, goat cheese, and bread appetizer couldn't be any easier to make.

Carol’s Cheesy Fig Delights

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • French bread, cut up into small rounds
  • Fig jam
  • Goat Cheese

What she did:

Put jam and goat cheese in separate small bowls.

Put bread on a platter

Let guests make their own “delights” by spreading fig jam on bread and goat cheese on top.

This slow-roasted method produces a very tender, rare, roast beef.

This slow-roasted method produces a very tender, rare, roast beef.

Katie’s Roast Beef Sandwiches

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Boneless eye-round roast (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound)
  • Kosher salt (4 teaspoons)
  • Vegetable oil (2 tsp.)
  • Pepper (2 tsp.)
  • Boursin cheese (about 5 or 6 oz. or so; enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making)
  • Mayonnaise (about 5 or 6 oz.; just enough to make the Boursin cheese spreadable.)
  • French rolls (or any good Italian bread) (Katie got her rolls at Colarusso’s Bakery in Stoneham, Mass. and they were great!)
  • Tomato slices (enough for as many sandwiches as you’re making.)

What she did:

Sprinkle all sides of the roast with the salt. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 18-24 hours.

Pre-heat oven to 225 degrees.

Pat the roast dry with paper towels; rub with 2 tsp. of the oil and sprinkle all sides evenly with pepper.

Heat the remaining 1 tps. of oil in a skillet over medium heat and then sear the roast until brown on all sides (about 3-4 minutes per side.)

Transfer roast to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes per pound (Katie’s 4.25 pound roast beef took 1 1/2 hours to cook).

Shut oven off and DO NOT OPEN OVEN FOR 30 MINUTES.

Put roast on carving board and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.

Mix just enough mayo into the Boursin cheese to make the cheese spreadable (about half and half).

Put a slice of roast beef in the roll. Spread Boursin cheese mixture on top. Add a few slices of tomatoes.

(Note: If you’re having a party — or a hootenanny — you can put the roast beef slices, Boursin cheese spread, tomatoes, and rolls out on separate plates and let your guests make their own sandwiches.)

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print these recipes, click here or on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)

This Punk Does Country Right
Jan 16th, 2010 by

I’m not a big fan of country music, especially not today’s saccharin, mediocre-popped-out variety. But I’m falling in atypical, unrequited love with the new country album by former punk rocker John Doe called, “Country Club.”

Most of the album consists of country covers from the ‘50s and ‘60s: old school country in the tradition of  Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Tammy Wynette.  But Doe, along with the Canadian roots rock combo, The Sadies, make these tracks new again as they make them their own.

Fans from Doe’s days with the LA punk band “X” might suspect they’re performed as parodies, but they’re not. They are tributes that make you appreciate the fine songwriting talents and clever lyrics of some of Nashville and Bakersfield’s best.

The album (hear snippets here) kicks off with the upbeat, rockabilly song made popular by Waylon Jennings, “Stop the World and Let Me Off.”  And from there Doe’s booming tenor brings you on a journey of love-lost longing, heartache, and stories of betrayal.

Highlights include the hopeful sorrow of “‘Til I Get It Right,” made famous by Tammy Wynette; “There’s a Fool Such as I,” with high-pitched harmonies from Cindy Wasserman; and the standards, “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” by Kris Kristofferson and a dramatic rendition of “The Night Life,” which starts with a far-away guitar riff reminiscent of the Animal’s version of “House of the Rising Sun.”

More proof that Doe and the Sadies have a fine appreciation for these stalwarts of Americana is found on the four original tracks on this record.

“It Just Dawned on Me,” written by Doe and his former wife and fellow “X” bandmate Exene Cervenka, sounds as if it could be an old Johnny Cash song. The duet on this number, with Doe singing low and Kathleen Edwards singing high, sounds eerily similar to a Johnny Cash/June Carter collaboration.

“Before I Wake,” written by the Sadies, is a wonderful song about hopelessness — “I can’t help you and there’s no helping me,” — where sturdy guitar riffs are the only thing holding up Doe’s and Margaret Good’s downtrodden vocals. You get a sense that both singers would collapse if it wasn’t for the steady backbeat coming from the impeccably tight Sadies.

What I’ve always appreciated about good country music is it’s innate ability to express an emotion in its raw state and its knack for taking you to another place and time. The place this album brings you to and the place John Doe is singing from is a real, country, dive: the type of place you’d like to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon drinking beer and doing shots of whiskey.

Read about other good sounds in the Music section.

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