Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

Song of the Week: Wander This World

This week's song is from blues guitarist Jonny Lang. He hit it big in the late '90's when he was still in his teens with songs like "Lie to Me" and "Still Rainin'". This week's song is from his second big label album Wander This World which contains the aforementioned "Still Rainin'".  It's the title track "Wander This World" which I hadn't heard before it popped up on Bluesville the other week.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Savior's Game by, Sean Chercover

A disappointing end to Sean Chercover's Daniel Byrne trilogy. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, but each book has been a step down from there. Gone are the strong characters and moral complexities of The Trinity Game. Gone are the global conspiracies and globe-trotting adventures of The Devil's Game. Now, Daniel Byrne finds himself in a mystical land where everyone has super powers and thinks that life on Earth is just a dream. There is a lot of metaphysical double-speak and exposition to set up what people know and an do in the world, called "Source", but then Daniel barely does anything in that land.

Also returning is the repetition of the verse from James that "faith without works is dead". Chercover doesn't push the false doctrine of works righteousness like he does in the first book, but it's a prime example of the muddle that is character motivations in this book. Byrne easily rejected the priesthood in the first book and doesn't believe in God in this book, so why would he repeat this scripture verse over and over? He has no faith, nor is he searching for one, so it makes no sense. Also, there is a heel turn by one of the characters from earlier in the series that serves no purpose except to put obstacle in his way that Byrne easily overcomes and create a race-against-the clock climax.

Chercover is a talented writer who can create complex characters and strong plots, but The Savior's Game is a complete misfire.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Song of the Week: Work Song

Happy Labor Day. To celebrate the day, here is Cannonball Adderley with "Work Song".

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The American Spirit, by David McCullough

The American Spirit, a collection of speeches by historian David McCullough, is an inspirational walk through American history. McCullough talks about why history is not just a collection of facts and dates, but the story of the people who lived before us and why reading history is the antidote for hubris. It is not just a book about history, but about why our American experiment truly is exceptional in world history. There is no other country on earth that knows the exact date of her birth and the names of those responsible for it. We can never spend too much time learning about the Revolutionary era and what those who lived in it thought.

Since the book is a collection of speeches given over a 25 year period to different audiences, there is some repetition of anecdotes and some places where he dwells on the surface instead of digging deep into his topic. But overall, this is worth a read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

The second book in the Veronica Mars series follows closely behind the first. In this one, Veronica is hired by the Neptune Grand to investigate a woman who claims she was raped and beaten at the swanky hotel. Of course, once she settles the case to the satisfaction of the hotel, she continues to investigate the crime to get justice for the victim.

This book may be a stronger one than the first in the series. It still relies on characters from the TV show and movie popping up to give readers a jolt of familiarity, but the character of Veronica has a bit more life on the page. Still, it's a little annoying that it follows the trope from tie-in novels that almost every character involved in the story is someone from the show. It's a good novel and refreshing to read a crime story that can deliver thrills and emotion without sex, violence, and profanity.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Song of the Week: Believe

This week's song is from Kenny Wayne Shepherd's fourth album, The Place Your're In. A lot of people consider this album a misstep, or, if you're not as generous, a disappointment. It steps away from the blues/rock of his first three and is mostly a rock album. Additionally, Kenny sings most of the songs himself, except for two that he brings Noah Hunt in. In my opinion, these are the two strongest songs on the album. This week's song is one of those two.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Path to Power, by Robert A. Caro

Some men seek power for what they can do with it. Some seek it just to have it. Robert Caro's The Path to Power firmly plants Lyndon Johnson in the second camp. Chronicling LBJ's life from birth (1908) through his first failed attempt at a Senate seat (1941), Caro's exhaustive book repeatedly shows a man obsessed with power and willing to do anything to get it.

Caro extensively lays out what life was like in the Texas Hill Country while Johnson was growing up and during The Depression. The government did a great many things for the poor in this part of Texas such as bringing electricity and paved roads, and you could start to get the idea that Johnson saw the federal government as a great benefactor. But that theory is dashed by his actions as a secretary to Congressman Dick Kleberg. Johnson, and many Southern Democrats, viewed New Deal money as "free money" because it was mostly Northern states who supplied it. Since they were so willing to do so, many Southern states fed at the overflowing trough.

No, Johnson was a son of a bitch almost his whole life. Caro details many examples of his poor behavior at school, including an incident where, when a classmate refused to give little LBJ his pie, Johnson stayed behind during recess and ate the boy's pie while the other kids were playing. He then promptly went outside without even wiping the crumbs from his mouth. Johnson was also abusive to his underlings and downright hostile to Lady Bird. He overreacted to any kind of punishment and was frequently disobedient to his parents.

Even though he was disliked by many, he was able to engender loyalty among a select few. He always sucked up to people above him and occasionally staffers sacrificed any kind of life they had for him.

Johnson had a knack for getting himself into positions of power. He didn't always start out at the top, but he found a way to get himself in charge of handing out jobs. First at college, then as head of the Texas branch of the National Youth Administration. At these positions, and others, he was able to spread people loyal to him across a wide area and put himself at the center of all things. Then, when it came time for him to make the jump to a leadership role, his minions were everywhere.

Caro's book is full of interesting details, but covering 34 years in nearly 900 pages, there is a bit of repetition and bloat. While things like Johnson's lineage and life in the Hill Country provide context for Johnson's actions, the detail is excruciating and could easily be pared down. Also, there is a large segment of Johnson's work at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee where Caro details almost every cent sent to congressional candidates and their telegram replies to Johnson.

I will probably read the other volumes in Caro's series on Johnson, but because of the length and how much of a jerk LBJ was, I'll probably take a break before I do so.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Song of the Week: Born With A Broken Heart

Last Wednesday (8/16), I saw Kenny Wayne Shepherd in Morristown, NJ again. As when I saw him in 2014, he put on a great show with a mix of old and new songs, six from the new album, and some blues standards. If he's ever in your area, I recommend you go see him.

This week's song is a song from his first album, Ledbetter Heights, and it's the song that was in my head for the whole week leading up to the concert. Thankfully, he played it.

Monday, August 14, 2017