Works Progress Administration and Tastee Freez

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I thought I would share two good things that I’ve discovered recently, first up the self titled CD Works Progress Administration (WPA). This group is what we would once label a “supergroup”, but most of today’s music listeners never read a CD package to see who is playing or singing, much less writing the songs. That’s an impossible task if you download your music, especially song by song. I love albums, to me they’re like books with chapters, each one an integral part of the story leading to a conclusion. When I think of my favorite music, I think in terms of albums not singles. I admit it, I am a geezer dinosaur holding on to an eroding bastion of my youth.

But every once in a while as I hold on to that decaying rope I discover something that makes my grip tighter and WPA is one of those discoveries. WPA is made up of Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sproket and solo work), Sean and Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), Luke Bella (Tony Douglas Band, Lyle Lovett Band), Belmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers), Greg Leisz (Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell), Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher (Elvis Costello). That’s a distinguished group, not only of diverse ages but diverse musical genres; you have alternative rock, bluegrass, jazz, country, and more, all mingling into a audio stew pot of greatness.

The songs are fantastic, full of lyrical complexity and lovely melodies; and with four lead vocalists taking turns on lead and harmonies, the sound is  fresh every listen.  The first track “Always Have My Love” is a good summation of what is to follow. The song “Not Sure” is as lovely a love song I’ve heard in a long time. This is the best new music I’ve bought this year, just wanted to share it so it’s not overlooked. I’ll post the website so you can check out some samples. It’s also available at Amazon. Just get the damn thing, you’ll thank me.

Secondly, Tastee Freez has reopened in Berryville, Virginia. It’s in a new shiny space right on Main Street. Tastee Freez is one of my Mom’s favorite places to eat, always has been. So when I told her it was open she said she would love to go, she missed their BBQ sandwiches. Well, when your 81 year old mother wistfully wants a BBQ sandwich from Tastee Freez, by God you take her to Tastee Freez.

I did and she loved it, I realized as I sat there eating my chili slaw dog, that it wasn’t just the taste of BBQ, it was a taste of her life so far. She remembered taking my brother and sister and me to the Tastee Freez in Leesburg long ago, the times we brought one home to her as we were out cruising, and the times she and Dad would ride over to the old one in Berryville and have lunch. The smile on her face was one I haven’t seen for long time, it was more than a BBQ sandwich,  it was magic BBQ sandwich made in Mr. Peabody’s Time Machine.

Life is funny and mysterious, and sometimes the answers can be found in a Tastee Freez.

Note: The Tastee Freez in Berryville has since closed, I don’t know where you can go get a Big T now, but you can get WPA here.

You Say You Want A Revelation…The Beatles Remasterd.

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For those not wanting to read the whole flaming pie, and just want to know if the remastered CDs are worth it? The answer is absolutely, but if you already have all The Beatles you want, and you mainly listen to your iPod and you are going to take the new stuff, pop it in your computer, then place it into iTunes, well, I’d say no. In order to hear the full glory of this marvelous collection, it needs to played on a stereo system, not through a compressed digital link. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPod, but it’s a snapshot of music compared to uncompressed full sound.

Still there? Let the Magical Mystery Tour begin.

I have the whole remastered catalog, but I’ll just write about the stereo versions. I’ll break them down to the three stages of The Beatles span, first up:

The Fab Years : Please, Please Me/With The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night/Beatles For Sale/Help

Most of this work was done live in the studio and listening to it you will feel as if the Fabs are in the room with you. The sound is so pristine that you hear the friction of the strings, the crack of the snare and, for the first time for me, the separation of the gorgeous 3-part harmonies. You will ache for John’s vocal chords as he shreds them on a visceral take of  Twist and Shout, the stunning beauty of  If I Fell, the complete joy of that reverberating chord that introduces Hard Day’s Night.Honestly, I felt like that young kid again discovering rock and roll on my Sears record payer, grabbing onto something that was totally foreign to my family, something I could call mine, that a generation called and still calls  “ours”! The Fab years is like dusting off an old sepia photograph of a dear friend and realizing for the first time,  it’s in color.

The Middle Ages: Rubber Soul/Revolver/Sgt. Pepper/ Magical Mystery Tour

Just listen to Nowhere Man, the vocals sublime with a new depth of sound, a guitar solo that to this day remains one of my favorites. The remastering of Rubber Soul is one of the jewels in the crown of this collection, the other being Revolver. Eleanor Rigby, Tomorrow Never Knows and Taxman sound like different versions, the sound is that good. On this record, Ringo and Paul shine; the bass is punched up and the drums are now in the front of the mix, not behind like a tin set. (As a matter of fact the biggest winner in this whole remastering thing is Ringo, his fills and clockwork back beat is such a crucial aspect of The Beatles’ sound you wonder how he can ever be under rated again.) Sgt. Pepper is a sonic boom right from “It was 20 years ago today”” to the masterpiece A Day In The Life. I don’t have to tell you what a thrill it is to hear this work of art shiny and new. A note, the trumpets on Good Morning will knock you out! Roll out! Magical Mystery Tour’s title track sounds great but the true gems here are Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, it sounds like a whole new palette. This is Lennon and McCartney at their best. Here’s the true test of the remastered CDs, for years, at the fade out of Strawberry Fields, it was thought that John said “I buried Paul” here, very clearly, you hear the true words, “cranberry sauce”. Yep the sound is that good.

The Final Acts: The Beatles (The White Album)/ Yellow Submarine/Abbey Road/ Let it Be

Wanna know what a jet sounds like taking off in your house, now you can as The White Album blasts you into the group’s most complex and challenging work. The new sound here is marvelous, with channel separation and fading left to right so crisp it’s startling. Back in the USSR never sounded like this before, nor has Savoy Truffle, they both smack you with sound. Conversely Goodnight and Julia never sounded so wistful and heartbreaking. As John sings “When I cannot sing my heat, I can only speak my mind” you feel his pain of loss, not only for his mother but for a band on the edge of dissolving. Yellow Submarine also sounds great, Bulldog now punches through the speakers as if you were in the mixing room with Mr. Martin. Speaking of Mr. Martin, half of this album is comprised of his instrumental orchestral work from the titled film, and it’s beautiful. Abbey Road *sigh*, Something sounds fantastic, it really is George’s masterpiece. But it’s The Suite (side two) that shines. You can hear George’s fingers on the strings as Here Come the Sun starts, the harmonies on Because are astonishing, you actually hear the single voices in the blend, for those you don’t believe that The Beatles had three of the best singers ever to grace one band, here’s the proof. Golden Slumbers is a audio highlight of this brilliant piece of music, and though released before Let it Be, Abbey Road was the last time all four of the lads were in the studio together, it remains the ultimate rock swan song. Let it Be was to be a “get back to basics” for the band, recorded after the acrimonious sessions of  The White Album, Paul thought that a more live recording process would do them good. The results were a mixed bag, and the project was scrapped, but the tapes were eventually given to Phil Spector to work with.  Let it Be was released after Abbey Road at that time the breakup was on. The result was “The Beatles meet the wall of sound”, and though I love how this album sounds, and it sounds unbelievable now, I prefer the stripped down versions found on Let it Be Naked released a few years ago. But any album with songs like Let it Be, Long and Winding Road, Two of Us and Across the Universe cannot be considered anything but phenomenal, and the remastered version is just that.

Lastly the final CD in the remastered set is Past Masters, it contains the Beatle singles that didn’t appear on the albums, and it’s great. The new sound of Hey Jude brings out the beauty of the piano and the masterful harmony that both John and George contribute. It also has one of my favorite Beatle songs Yes It Is and it sounds great too, but the prize of this set is the remastered Paperback Writer; the bass backhands you like a mad uncle, and the song thumps along powered by a great rock band loaded with great singers. This song sums up what the remastered set is all about: great music and memories that have collected in your heart and soul, brought back for you to revel in today and hopefully pass on to a new generation. This is music magic played and sung by flesh and blood, not manufactured by bytes and programs. It really is the soundtrack of our lives…yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Here’s a direct link to The Beatles Remastered Box Set at Amazon.

I miss Bela Lugosi

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I grew up a Universal Monster kid, I loved and still love those black and white thrillers with Boris Karloff, Dwight Frye, Lon Chaney, Jr. and many more. I devoured the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland monthly, looking at Frankenstein’s Monster, The Mummy and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But it was Bela Lugosi’s performance of Dracula that had the biggest impact. His accent, his stiff movement and his piercing eyes captured the undead nobleman and forever became the benchmark of Bram Stoker’s celluloid Count. Thus the vampire was raised into modern cinema, a creature of the night, using his powers to suck the blood of the living and, in some instances, add more members to his fanged flock. And that’s the way it was, Christopher Lee and other bearers of the Dracula crest were creatures to be feared, created to scare the beegeezus of children and adults alike…until lately.

Now vampires are portrayed as brooding sullen romantics, who even in daylight, walk among us and become anti-heroes and young girl’s sexual fantasies. Blech, give me the redeyed, fanged devil scrathing outside the window, waiting to sneak into the home and lay waste on the unsuspecting. Give me the old school monster that sunlight destroyed not make his skin sparkle like diamonds. Give me a Dracula who would lay bloody havoc on a slumber party, not brood in the corner about why he shouldn’t be there, thus endearing himself as the new bad boy girls fall for. It was a leather jacket and a convertible, now it is pale skin, an aversion to solid food and a goth hairdo making the girls a twitter.

So yes, I miss Bela and his brothers and sisters, his children of the night and the things of nightnares. Now vampires don’t take you in bed, they’re more interested in taking you to bed… and tucking you in.