13 November 2007

The Sixth Sense

So there I was today, downstairs with Hank--who was pretending to be a cat--arranging my CDs--you know, putting all the "recent purchases" into their proper place--when I moved through the 'D' section. "Ah, the Drive-By Truckers, I haven't heard Decoration Day in a while. I'll take it upstairs with me and play it."

Wendy returned from work before I made it upstairs. She called to me, "There's a package for you."

Last February, we visited friends and family back home in Idaho, Nevada, and Utah. Bob and Britt live in Utah. We stayed with them and had an idyllic time as usual skiing and eating and drinking. When it came time to leave I asked Bob if I could borrow a couple CDs for the drive up to Idaho, in particular Decoration Day. I like the Drive-By Truckers but, at the time, didn't know that album. He said, "Yea, keep it. It's yours. We're not really into it." Bob is a generous person. I took it, listened to it quite a bit, and liked it. Once back in Chile, feeling that I knew and understood the album enough, filed it away in the appropriate place.

A few months ago we ran out of our Valentina hot sauce, sent to us last Christmas by my brother. For us, Valentina is a staple. Not a staple like ketchup but a staple in that it holds a special place in our gastronomic world. Valentina is from Guadalajara and we know it and we were introduced to it in Guadalajara. Unlike
Tapatío (the colloquial term for someone from Guadalajara) Valentina is a common and favorite salsa in Guadalajara. Tapatío is also made in, ahem, California.

I introduced Bob to Valentina one summer when he and I worked on Wendy's family's Idaho ranch. In 2003 we built what must be the finest fence two friends have ever built.

About a month ago I sent Bob an email. We were desperate for hot sauce down here. Chile must be the most mis-named country on the planet. To the Chileans, black pepper is spicy and it's not to be taken lightly. In fact, the only condiment that is regularly featured on tables in restaurants is salt. You have to ask for pepper.

I know there is a great Mexican market not far from Bob's house. I decided to press my luck and ask if he would send us a bottle or two. As usual, Bob responded quickly, liberally, and in precise time.

From upstairs, Wendy called to me once again, "Steve, there's a package up here; it's from Bob and Britt." I smiled. I wrapped up my obsessive ordering, grabbed Decoration Day, walked upstairs, and put the CD in the stereo. The two bottles stood on the kitchen table, straight and tall, like the beginning of a perfect fence.

The Drive-By Truckers:
Sink Hole.mp3
My Sweet Annette.mp3

You like? You buy. Support the troops!
Drive-by Truckers at Amazon, Insound, and their website.

11 November 2007

The Sounds of Summer

I think I found my summer album. Or at least one of them. Or at least a late spring album. Or at least one of them.

This has become an annual issue with me: finding an album that will ease my transition from a ski season into the heat and long dreary days of summer, a ski season that is always too short and a summer that is always entirely too long. And hot.

Past honorees have included Sam Prekop and his first beautiful self-titled solo album; the Kingsbury Manx and their first beautiful self-titled album; the Beachwood Sparks and their, um, first
beautiful lovely self-titled album; and, Gram's first band, The International Submarine Band's first and only 1968 album Safe At Home.

I don't take these things lightly and, in fact, I don't think I've had a summer album for the last year or so. It's been a bit chaotic and awkward. After moving to the bottom of the world spring has felt like fall and winter like summer, etc. I'm just barely starting to adjust. And, typically, these
things don't happen by searching for them. Like true blue loves, these inspired pieces of digital plastic just sort of pop out of nowhere. And so it was with Hercules.

I bought the second Lullaby Baxter album (the first, by the way, would have been a contender for last year's summer album had I not bought it in June--the beginning of the South American winter) and it didn't click like her first album did. I wanted to know why so I started reading about it. On the Allmusic website it referenced a band called Hercules under their See Also section. I clicked the link and voila! A couple clicks later and I owned it.

"Near-impossible to categorize" isn't exactly true. Several parts Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, a few parts Burt Bacharach; a nod or two to the High Llamas (themselves adherents to the Wilson/Bacharach aesthetic); and a whole mess of sweetly 1960s inspired, melancholy pop that beams sunshine and warm, quiet breezes. Not pastoral but not quite hip urban either. Sort of, appropriately enough, suburban. I love it.

The album was released in 2004 and features unlikely appearances by J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne, and the suave vocal stylings of Gordon Zacharias from a band called Fan Modine. Minimal but dynamic. Soft but never lazy. Sweet but not syrupy. What every summer afternoon should feel like.

I have no idea who this Hercules band is and, apparently, few others do either. A coupla guys, Ben Sumner and Peter Baldwin, who play all the instruments and hire out for the other parts. In their credits they thank Lloyd Cole and, though I wasn't keeping score back then, the 1984 album Rattlesnakes was certainly one of my summer, if not entire year, albums. Also, they thank Thom Monahan who is a member of the Pernice Brothers and whose first album Overcome By Happiness should, if not mine, be someone's summer album. So, what was once unknown slowly starts to gel and smooth out and now makes perfect sense.

Have a listen:

Can't Go Out.mp3
It's A Big World.mp3
Let's Go Out.mp3

You like? You buy. Support the troops!
Hercules at Amazon and Insound. Cheap!

10 November 2007

Meat & Wine

We headed back to Restaurant Tierra Noble last night. It's a fairly new place in an upscale neighborhood close to the US Embassy. It's todo parrillas--everything is grilled. Loads of beef and fresh fish but also tasty treats like duck, lamb, rabbit, and wild boar. The real draw is the wine list which is extensive, well-chosen, and very affordable. It's also one of the few places that we know that features wines from other countries! Chile is very good at exporting but seems to cringe at the idea of importing anything (but that's another story we'll probably take up more in the future).

The first time at the restaurant we brought our own wine and were promptly charged US $25 for corkage. Then I looked through the wine menu. Taittenger NV Brut champagne for US $60! 1996 Cos D'Estournel for US $26! This, as I expected, turned out to be a horrible typo and a zero should have been added after the six. However, there are several other wines that, for restaurant pricing, are a steal and come with decent bottle age. I chose the 1999 Gruaud Larose from St. Julien and at $42 that's about the going rate in retail stores in the US.

The 1999 vintage in St. Julien and most of Bordeaux was difficult at best. Hot and wet were the defining characteristics. St. Julien fared better than most appellations and turned out some of the most consistent wines of the vintage. Keep in mind this was all just a vague memory at the time. I saw the name and the price and the fact that the vintage is now eight years old and I figured it was worth a shot.

And it was. The godhead spoke and when he spoke he said the wine deserved somewhere between 89 and 91 points. I don't know what that means exactly but even after close to an hour of decanting it still reeked of little but oak. The color was a beautiful ruby red and through the oak you could sense some of the cherries and leather and cassis common in the St. Julien appellation. What immediately struck me, though, is how infrequently I drink wines like this. The wine is a blend of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon
(+/- 80%), Merlot (somewhere close to 20%), and the rest Cabernet Franc. It was a Bordeaux through and through: structured, sturdy, and stout. Pretty to look at, a tad uninteresting to drink. Give this another five years or so for the oak to mellow and it may just turn into something fun.

09 November 2007

A First and a Last Day

I will start this birth with a death. Hank Thompson died last Tuesday at the respectable age of 82. Known as the King of Western Swing, Hank Thompson was given his first big break all the way back in 1948 with the help of Tex Ritter. Thompson championed the cohesive country album rather than what was more popular at the time: a couple singles and the rest filler. In doing so he put together two classics in the world of Honky-Tonk and Western Swing: 1958s Dance Ranch and 1959s Songs for Rounders. In 1999 Koch Records released the two albums on one CD and it's well worth tracking down.

He also recorded what is apparently the first live country music album, the 1961 At the Golden Nugget that features the amazing finger picking of Merle Travis.

Anyone interested in the relatively contemporary honky-tonk/swing influenced music of the likes of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, Wayne "The Train" Hancock, BR5-49, and even Merle Haggard, Asleep At the Wheel, and Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen should pay off a debt to Hank and do some backcataloging. A real treasure.

Read Allmusic.com's tribute here.

And now for the business at hand. This is my attempt to consolidate thoughts and experiences into a single place rather than a large series of emails, websites, links, photos, web forums, and such. I hope it works. I hope my desire and inspiration to create something will surpass my level of frustration as I sit in front of a computer screen and stare at strange buttons and even stranger instructions. Wish me luck. I have a long way to go.

My head hurts. I'm off to listen to Hank.
A Fooler, A Faker.mp3
The New Green Light.mp3
Total Stranger.mp3
Oklahoma Hills.mp3

You like? You buy. Support the troops!
Hank at Amazon.