Sunday, January 27, 2008

I'm sick again. Just a cold. But it's annoying, I've been sick a hell of a lot lately. Had the flu for pretty much all of November. Then food poisoning over New Year's. This cold isn't too bad, but it's still pretty nasty, as colds go. I thought I would go to work today, but I'm glad I didn't; slept in 'til well past noon, and still feel like a zombie.

I was supposed to go to L.A. yesterday with my mom for her birthday, but too sick, so that will have to wait until next weekend. Given the weather, that's probably for the best.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 offering free streaming of music from all major labels, and a good selection of indies. I'm a fan of, more from the statistical side, enjoying the various lists the site accumulates tracking my listening habits (you can see my weekly top ten lists on the right-hand side of this blog, or see my full profile). I really haven't been using the music streaming options they offer recently, even though they've improved over the years, primarily because the speakers on my computer at work suck too much to make listening to music rewarding, and at home, I have access to my entire music library, so who needs internet radio? But this announcement will likely encourage me to spend more time on the site.

Basically, anyone can stream any song available three times. No need to register/log-in, as a cookie on your computer tracks the plays (so, three plays at home, three plays at work, three more plays when you delete the cookie). After the three plays, you can still hear the song just like you could before on, by including it on a playlist for a customized radio station (the songs play in a random order, so no on-demand satisfaction, but since this mimics the iPod's shuffle play, it is a style of music listening I and most people are familiar with in this digital age). This is a bit more restrictive than Imeem, for instance, but has a quality catalog of good-quality mp3s uploaded directly by the label or artist (unsigned artists can upload their own songs and get paid), while Imeem relies on user-uploaded content, which has caused me problems in the past. Also, seems to have a better relationship with indie labels.'s new service is up now, and my very brief exploration of the site was satisfactory. Things look pretty much the same, but much more music is marked as available for streaming than was the last time I visited. Out of my top ten artists, seven are available for full-length streaming (the other three are only available as thirty-second samples, which I believe means I can still hear the full tracks as part of internet radio playlists). Seven of my top eleven tracks (there's a tie for tenth place) are fully playable, and one more is available as a sample, meaning three tracks aren't available in any form. The first song I listened to, however, revealed that things aren't quite as nice as they first appeared. Robbie Fulks' "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)" is available, but the version is from a live performance (not his recent live album, which made my top ten of 2007 list, but a random concert available on eMusic), which was disappointing. Better than nothing, but it makes me wonder if a quick glance at the percentage of songs available may overstate how many top-quality albums are available. This problem is exacerbated by the site's focus on singles over albums; all listens to a song by the same artist are lumped together, regardless of the album. So when you look at, say, Johnny Cash's page, lots of songs are available, but you don't know what you're getting until you click. This is hardly a deal-breaker, but it would be nice to be able to choose between hearing, say, "Folsom Prison Blues" recorded at Sun Records or "Folsom Prison Blues" recorded at Folsom Prison.

I'm sure I'll be playing around with some more in the near future. There's plenty of room for improvement in their catalog, but I'm satisfied enough at first glance that I doubt I'll be going back to Imeem.

Monday, January 21, 2008

John Stewart, dead at 68. He was originally from San Diego, and while he no longer lived here, he died in San Diego working on a new album. He performed house concerts in San Diego fairly regularly, but I never made it out to see him live.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

So, like last year, I've been dragging my feet on my best-of music list, until I was damn sure no one would still be interesting in such nonsense. But I'm gonna crank this out tonight. In coming up with nominations for the list, I realized 2007 just wasn't that great a year for new releases. A good year for music, for me at least, making some discoveries from the vaults ("Will to Fail" has become my theme song--I was shocked just now to discover I never linked to it), but even coming up with ten albums from 2007 I could get excited about was a challenge. But going over the releases, and remembering some albums I'd forgotten about, things ultimately started looking up, and I was able to come up with a respectable top-ten list, with some decent albums not making the cut (sorry, Lyle Lovett):

#1: Porter Wagoner, Wagonmaster So apparently it will be a tradition that my best-of year-end list will be topped by a dead country legend. Which is fine, as so far they have richly deserved their placement. And for the record, Wagoner was very much alive when I praised the album effusively. I can't really add to that much, except to say, in light of his passing, the album encapsulated his career in the most positive light possible. A fitting coda to a legend among legends.

#2: Pink Martini, Hey, Eugene! Pink Martini's third album suggests they have arrived as an institution, which actually makes the arrival of new material not the earth-shattering news that Hang On Little Tomato was. But still, there's very little not to love here, and Jimmy Scott's guest appearance on "Tea For Two" just makes things that much more magical.

#3: Jon Rauhouse, Steel Guitar Heart Attack The most fun I had with a country album all year. Laid-back western swing, reworked classics and new material. And who knew the theme from The Andy Griffith Show had words?

#4: The Greencards, Viridian Absolutely beautiful bluegrass. The Greencards' output has been so consistent, it's easy to get complacent and forget just how lucky the world is to have an album like this.

#5: Los Straitjackets, Rock en Espanol, Vol. 1 Oddly compelling. It's Los Straitjackets, so of course this is going to be a good album, and the addition of guest artists providing Spanish vocals to cover songs of Anglo hits is a perfect fit to the band. So that I enjoyed the album isn't a surprise, but I was taken aback by just how ingratiating tracks like Little Willie G's take on "Ana" (AKA "Go To Him") are here, and how this turned out to be a much more substantial album than I expected. While still being as fun as any Los Straitjackets album. This could be my favorite Los Straitjackets album.

#6: Detroit Cobras, Tied and True Unlike Los Straitjackets, this album does not transcend the expectations one has for the Detroit Cobras. But that's fine. The rough edges are a bit smoothed out here, but overall it's exactly what we've come to expect from the band, and I for one am glad to have it.

#7: Nellie McKay, Obligatory Villagers Nellie McKay has produced an album here perfectly suited to her sound and attitude. Theatrical and witty, her technical mastery and clever songsmithing (is that a word?) are on full display, and her flaws are somewhat obscured. Sure to please her fans, and keep as fans those of us who found ourself wobbling in her support.

#8: Project: Pimento, Space Age Love Songs It's been four years since their last album, and while Space Age Love Songs isn't as earth-moving as Magical Moods of the Theremin, it does essentially double the number of theremin-based lounge music albums available, which is a good thing.

#9: Robbie Fulks, Revenge The last time Robbie Fulks performed in Southern California, I had other commitments, so I have yet to see him live, but now I have a live album. Live albums aren't the most exciting things, but there is a bit of strong new material, and lots of his classic songs, in both electric and acoustic sets.

#10: Various Artists, Song of America Filling in the last slot was difficult: Lots of albums vied for contention, all notable, but none strong enough for me to expand the list beyond ten places. Lyle Lovett and John Prine both had new albums this year, and I feel bad leaving them off; but while neither was bad, neither particularly grabbed my interest, either, and including them in this list would have felt like an act of pity. Song of America, a boxed-set collection of iconic songs from throughout American history, is certainly hit-or-miss, but the best songs of the bunch are more than enough to encourage me to overlook a few stinkers. Certainly a notable release for the year, and if, like me, you enjoyed Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster, I think you'll find a lot to like here, too.

Well, I've been working on this list for about a week, but I think I've found a list I can formally endorse. The top ten of 2007: If it's not here, it's garbage.

I was going to add an Imeem playlist here, but virtually none of these albums are streamable there. They have deals with all four major labels, but the indie situation isn't as bright. Either that, or their filtering software sucks; I noticed recently uploaded songs by Sara Bareilles, for instance, don't stream, claiming they don't have a deal with her label, when I know for a fact they do. Anyway, if you want to hear the albums on my list, I'm sure you know of a way to do so, so good luck with that.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Steve Job's MacWorld keynote address was today. This is the speech where he rolls out new products; last year, it was the iPhone. Rumors had this year's speech announcing movie rentals on iTunes, an updated Apple TV, a new ultra-light laptop, and possibly an updated iPhone. So when I got up this morning and started reading the liveblogging of the event, I wasn't too surprised to read about movie rentals on iTunes, an updated Apple TV, a new ultra-light laptop, and an update to the iPhone's software. The video of the speech isn't up yet, so I haven't taken in every detail, but about the only surprise for me in those announcements was that every major studio is on board with the movie rental store, with new arrivals due one month after the DVD release (and presumably several months after the pirated digital release). Prices weren't too out of line, $2.99 for back catalog, $3.99 for new releases, and an extra dollar for HD releases. Cheaper than Xbox Live Marketplace, especially for HD content (I refuse to rent a movie for $6), but I'll probably stick with Netflix (even though I often go two or three weeks without watching a Netflix movie, which makes the monthly fee difficult to justify, until a month comes where I go nuts with movie watching). But the fact that all the major studios are involved suggests they may finally be serious about pursuing new digital distribution models (an iTunes subscription model for movies would be very interesting to see).

So anyways, the announcements were made, it looked like things were wrapping up, and I was a bit disappointed by the lack of surprises. Certainly nothing to compete with last year's iPhone announcement. That's when the announced the closing musical entertainment, Randy Newman. I was half-convinced Steve Jobs was just fucking with me: "Not surprised, huh? How's this for surprising?" Or was the speech simply tailored to every observer, and Randy Newman is whom Steve Jobs knew could sell me a $1500 laptop? In any case, I was glad to see him there. I was especially surprised that he sang his latest single, "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country," which hardly strikes one as an effective jingle. But I was very excited, and this assures that I will be downloading the video of the speech when Apple puts it up. And it was nice that non-Newman fans were exposed to a side of him besides his Pixar stuff. He did sing "You Got a Friend in Me," but prefaced it with his Toy Story shtick that he uses in concert. Certainly made an impression on Gizmodo's livebloggers:

Jason Chen:
Aaaand it’s over. Holy crap. Who knew Randy Newman, the guy who makes the songs your kids play over and over and over again, would sing such crazy crap about our government?
10:41 am ON Jan 15 2008

Jason Chen:
The first song’s over, but now Randy Newman’s just riffing about random stuff. The next song is from Toy Story. Randy says he wrote another song to go with the love scene between Buzz and Woody, but the scene was cut. This guy is blowing our minds right now.
10:39 am ON Jan 15 2008

Jason Chen:
“It pisses me off a little that the Supreme Court is going to outlive me.” What the crap is he singing about? We have no idea. We think he’s gone nuts.
10:36 am ON Jan 15 2008

Jason Chen:
Randy’s singing a song about America, the president, and comparing them to Hitler and Stalin. USA! USA! USA!!!!!
10:34 am ON Jan 15 2008

I would point out that our present leadership is compared favorably to Hitler and Stalin (faint praise, of course). Anyway, always nice for audiences to be exposed to the full scope of Newman's talent (though I think "The World Isn't Fair" might have spoken to more of the audience).

I'm downloading the new iPhone firmware as I write this (just managed to connect to the update server after many, many tries); perhaps I will write about the new features (and my general satisfaction with the phone) in the near future.

UPDATE: Video is up. Newman did a fine job. I mentioned his Toy Story routine; he didn't do that here, just made a one-off joke about Buzz and Woody's love scene.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I was only vaguely aware of the existence of The Bucket List, but was still enthralled with Roger Ebert's must-read review:
The movie, directed by Rob Reiner, was written by Justin Zackham, who must be very optimistic indeed if he doesn't know that there is nothing like a serious illness to bring you to the end of sitcom cliches. I've never had chemo, as Edward and Carter must endure, but I have had cancer, and believe me, during convalescence after surgery the last item on your bucket list is climbing a Himalaya. Your list is more likely to be topped by keeping down a full meal, having a triumphant bowel movement, keeping your energy up in the afternoon, letting your loved ones know you love them, and convincing the doc your reports of pain are real and not merely disguising your desire to become a drug addict. To be sure, the movie includes plenty of details about discomfort in the toilet, but they're put on hold once the trots are replaced by the globe-trotting.