Steve J. Moore

Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Spider Music and Sad Stories

In Music, poetry, Radio on January 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

 Chris ThileSara Watkins, and Sean Watkins started making music together before they were old enough to drive. With violins, a mandolin, a guitar, and sirenesque voices they made five albums just this side of inspired. They took me in and introduced me to folk music as a genre; told me stories about foxes catching their dinner, lighthouses concerned with love, and little birds leaving the nest. Their sound was so rich in emotion, so authentically human, I couldn’t get enough. Why Should the Fire Die  was their most mature, and final album. We were invited continually into their lives through allegory and heard about their hard luck, their heartbreak , and their crises of faith. Then, in 2007, something very sad happened. The band Nickel Creek parted ways after over twenty years of making music together. 

 

Chris Thile had already made a career on the side as a virtuoso mandolinist even while Nickel Creek was touring and recording. He joined up with a few other neoclassical bluegrass-heads and formed The Punch Brothers. They continue to churn out overpaced octaves and twinkling tiny tunes today along with giving Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer a run for their money.

 

 

Sean Watkins took a little more time off. It wasn’t until he met up with former Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman that he got back to work. Together, the two formed Fiction Family. Not the team-up I would have suspected. I hadn’t really even heard Switchfoot since “Dare You to Move” back in 2004. NPR’s Ken Tucker gave the review that introdced me to the Family. He called their work, “spider-web music — delicate, industrious and intricate. Here today and, perhaps, gone tomorrow.” After listening to their work, I couldn’t think of a better fitting description. There are glimmers of beauty like dew drops in the sun, less filled-in areas that leave its makers vulnerable, and awkard stretching strands to some far-away branches. 

 

ffalbumcover

 

  1. “When She’s Near” – 2:55
  2. “Out Of Order” – 3:31
  3. “Not Sure” – 3:06
  4. “Betrayal” – 3:03
  5. “Elements Combined” – 3:38
  6. “War In My Blood” – 2:57
  7. “Throw It Away” – 4:14
  8. “Closer Than You Think” – 3:12
  9. “Please Don’t Call It Love” – 5:11
  10. “Mostly Prove Me Wrong” – 3:02
  11. “We Ride” – 3:18
  12. “Look For Me Baby” – 1:35

 

 

When you listen to this album you will hear the simplistic elements of Switchfoot’s New Way to be Human, but infused with the poetic wonderings of songs like Nickel Creek’s When in Rome. Especially on “Elements Combined,” we get a true marriage of styles. You hear the high-strung mandolin’s plea against Foreman’s tin-can voice singing “some day you’ll be mine.”  Other tracks like “Throw it Away” introduce us to the slow contemplation of a man drinking wine alone–the image of a closed book in the corner. This folornness is whispy like the spider web too, because it is easily wiped away by the very next track, “Closer Than You Think.” 

 

I can’t decide if I like it as a whole. At times it’s “Scotch and Chocolate” and at times it’s alt-rock in a church I heard in 9th grade. It builds its pace up, slows down, shows you a delicate flower in the road, then spends the next fifty miles mourning its loss to the wind. There are songs I’d very much like to come on the radio at random to lift my spirits, maybe to help me appreciate a sunset or to help me find my way home. “We Ride” has a sound of that sort. Ambiant and ambling, the ticking clock of the stringed instruments tumbles forward clumsily into slow drum breaks and a lyric solo.

 

Sometimes I get very tired of hearing Switchfoot’s laothesome signature ding ding ding ding… circus chime xylophone in the background (you know what I mean), but generally this album stands out as one of the more interesting trials I’ve heard this year. I leave you with their first track, and first single, “When She’s Near.”

 

A Poetic Inauguration

In poetry, Radio, TV, World Events, Writing on January 20, 2009 at 9:48 am

Because I love poetry, because I love politics, because I am too lazy busy to write anything else, I am posting a copy of the inaugural poem that Robert Frost read for John F. Kennedy on this very day in 1961.

Barack Obama has chosen Yale poet and scholar Elizabeth Alexander to pen the fourth presidential inauguration poem for him. She was a Pulitzer finalist in 2005 and has written several volumes of poetry.

 This first poem, Dedication (pictured below), was written in commemoration of John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inauguration, but due to 87 year old eyes, Frost could not read the type. Instead of the poem below, he read The Gift Outright (further below) from memory.

 

frost

 

Dedication

 

Summoning artists to participate

In the august occasions of the state

Seems something artists ought to celebrate.

Today is for my cause a day of days.

And his be poetry’s old-fashioned praise

Who was the first to think of such a thing.

This verse that in acknowledgment I bring

Goes back to the beginning of the end

Of what had been for centuries the trend;

A turning point in modern history.

Colonial had been the thing to be

As long as the great issue was to see

What country’d be the one to dominate

By character, by tongue, by native trait,

The new world Christopher Columbus found.

The French, the Spanish, and the Dutch were downed

And counted out. Heroic deeds were done.

Elizabeth the First and England won.

Now came on a new order of the ages

That in the Latin of our founding sages

(Is it not written on the dollar bill

We carry in our purse and pocket still?)

God nodded his approval of as good.

So much those heroes knew and understood,

I mean the great four, Washington,

John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison

So much they saw as consecrated seers

They must have seen ahead what not appears,

They would bring empires down about our ears

And by the example of our Declaration

Make everybody want to be a nation.

And this is no aristocratic joke

At the expense of negligible folk.

We see how seriously the races swarm

In their attempts at sovereignty and form.

They are our wards we think to some extent

For the time being and with their consent,

To teach them how Democracy is meant.

“New order of the ages” did they say?

If it looks none too orderly today,

‘Tis a confusion it was ours to start

So in it have to take courageous part.

No one of honest feeling would approve

A ruler who pretended not to love

A turbulence he had the better of.

Everyone knows the glory of the twain

Who gave America the aeroplane

To ride the whirlwind and the hurricane.

Some poor fool has been saying in his heart

Glory is out of date in life and art.

Our venture in revolution and outlawry

Has justified itself in freedom’s story

Right down to now in glory upon glory.

Come fresh from an election like the last,

The greatest vote a people ever cast,

So close yet sure to be abided by,

It is no miracle our mood is high.

Courage is in the air in bracing whiffs

Better than all the stalemate an’s and ifs.

There was the book of profile tales declaring

For the emboldened politicians daring

To break with followers when in the wrong,

A healthy independence of the throng,

A democratic form of right divine

To rule first answerable to high design.

There is a call to life a little sterner,

And braver for the earner, learner, yearner.

Less criticism of the field and court

And more preoccupation with the sport.

It makes the prophet in us all presage

The glory of a next Augustan age

Of a power leading from its strength and pride,

Of young ambition eager to be tried,

Firm in our free beliefs without dismay,

In any game the nations want to play.

A golden age of poetry and power

Of which this noonday’s the beginning hour.

 

 

gift-outright-frost

The Gift Outright

 

Poem recited instead by Robert Frost at the

1961 Inauguration

  

The land was ours before we were the land’s.

She was our land more than a hundred years

Before we were her people. She was ours

In Massachusetts, in Virginia,

But we were England’s, Still colonials,

Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,

Possessed by what we now no more possessed.

Something we were withholding from our land of living,

And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

Such as we were we gave ourselves outright

(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)

To the land vaguely; realizing westward,

But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,

Such as she was, such as she would become.

 

As a gem for those of you who at least scrolled to the bottom of this post (not everyone reads poetry carefully, I know) I stumbled upon two poems that Obama, himself, had published in an Occidental College journal years ago. Read them for yourself here.

Not Too Late for This White Horse

In Music, Radio on January 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Warning to People of the Internet: the following post contains references to country music.

Taylor Swift’s sophomore album, “Fearless,” enters the room of coked out pop starlets that is pop music with an enchanted poof of fairy dust, looks around, dusts off a stool with a pink feather, and orders a Coke. Prince Charming, Akon, and John Mayer all ask if they can get her a straw. Swift disposes the notions quickly that she’d be someone’s bong hit (sorry Johnny) or something to smack ’til sore (no love for Mr. Kon). Only a gentleman will do.

fearless_cover

Five years ago, I would have never told you that I enjoyed country music, and if I did it would have been a lie. It was usually an experience relegated to the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s car. Slowly but surely, I was assimilated through various means like my interests in folk music (Bob Dylan leads to Gordon Lightfoot, who leads to Nickel Creek, who leads to Dixie Chicks… you get the picture).

I knew even  then that resistence was futile; I would surely soon be reborn in a straw hat, coveralls, a carhart jacket, riding an international harvester. I suppose my conversion is total now, except for all of the stereotypical items I just rattled off, because here I am writing about Taylor Swift.

To be fair, even now I’ve only heard the album because of my wife (still don’t have CMT set to record my DVR, sorry), but I crave variety. My Coverflow should go from Kraftwerk to Tom Waits, from Hootie and the Blowfish to Dave Bruebeck, and from Yo-Yo Ma to (old) Metallica. I’d recommend trying new things to everyone 😉 I find that the more I branch out the more I come to appreciate new things about old favorites.

Back to Taylor, it always makes me happy to see cohesion on an entire album as opposed to a series of single tracks that just happen to be on one disc. Fearless goes from title to title like the pages in Swift’s diary (take that for what you will, but it flows). The fact that she wrote every song herself, with help on only a few, including the female Jack Johnson herself Colbie Caillat, makes for a nice authenticity in style. Every song feels necessary, which, on a pop album of any sub-genre, is not easy to find.

Check out the album on the new DRM-free iTunes +

Taylor Swift - Fearless