Rock and Roll Musicians Who Were More Influential Than Anyone Realizes

Fats Domino

Fats Domino’s first single, “The Fat Man,” from 1948, had an undeniable rock and roll backbeat several years before Chuck Berry, Little Richard, or other rock and rollers.

Bo Diddley

One of Bo Diddley’s biggest contributions to pop and rock music is the distinctive “Bo Diddley” beat, a famous Afro-Cuban “cave” or “jungle” beat derived from the Latin American clave pattern and West African drum patterns. This beat, also known as the “I Want Candy” beat, is the basis of many rock songs, including “(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame” by Elvis Presley, “Magic Bus” by the Who, “Faith” by George Michael, and “Mr. Brownstone” by Guns ‘n’ Roses.

Link Wray

In addition to being the only known musician to have an instrumental banned from obscenity (the dark, menacing garage rock classic “Rumble”), Wray invented the power chord, a key development in the rock sound, and is one of the earliest Native American pioneers of the rock genre.

The Everly Brothers

The harmony game was completely changed by two brothers whose complex, creative, discordant two-part harmonies were imitated by the Beatles, the Hollies, the Bee Gees, and many others.

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys had a huge impact on British invasion bands, notably the Beatles, whose Sgt. Pepper was inspired by Pet Sounds (which was inspired by the Beatles’ Rubber Soul) and the Who, whose early music carries an obvious Beach Boys influence in both harmony and surfy feel.

Diana Ross

Diana Ross in Concert | Hollywood Bowl | Hollywood Bowl

Among the Supremes, Florence Ballard may have been a better singer, and Diana Ross may have become the lead vocalist mainly due to her supposedly better looks, but in a genre typically defined by soulful, thick, powerful pipes, Ross’s quiet, “thin” voice influenced male and female vocalists alike, including both Michael and Janet Jackson.

The Who

Pete Townshend’s Link Wray-influenced aggressive, ringing rhythm guitar style, along with Keith Moon’s manic drumming, and John Entwistle’s busy bass, along with a larger emphasis on dynamics as well as rock operas, changed all rock music that came after.

The Kinks

Before the Kinks, British bands made a point of not being too British, with Mick Jagger, Robert Palmer, and others singing in American accents. The Kinks did not do this, with a storytelling sensibility that was distinctly British. The Sex Pistols, Squeeze, XTC, Blur, and other British-sounding British bands followed in their footsteps.

Love

The first multi-racial rock band, Love, should have been the biggest LA band of the 1960s. Although he was an excellent singer and songwriter, Arthur Lee’s colorful style as a frontman influenced his friend Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Prince, and others. He also got his pals, the Doors, a record deal with their label, Elektra.

New Edition

Although Boston’s New Edition were themselves a quintet somewhat in the mold of the Jackson 5, New Edition wrote the rule book that later boy bands followed. The man behind their fame, Maurice Starr, later struck more gold and platinum with his next creation, New Kids On the Block. The Backstreet Boys, ‘NSync, and many others followed owe their success to the groundbreaking boybandery of New Edition. Next time you pop on your favorite Bobby Brown, Bell Biv Devoe, Ralph Tresvant, or Johnny Gill album, consider that New Edition is also possibly the only band other than the Beatles where every band member had success as a solo artist. (NWA almost cuts it, but when was the last time you listened to DJ Yella’s album?)

The Melvins

Montesano, WA’s own Melvins, who have been around since 1983, were Kurt Cobain’s favorite band. Their honest, sludgy, lumbering lumberjack music later became the Seattle sound and the ’90s alternative rock sound.

Run DMC

Run-DMC stripped rap music down to its core, ushering in the era of “new school rap,” while being the first major artist to mix rap and rock, and arguably the first successful rap group in the 1980s rock world of MTV and Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone named Raising Hell not only the best rap album but also the best rock album of 1986. Everyone who has ever rapped over a guitar riff, be it MCA or Anthony Kiedis, is following in the footsteps of Run-DMC.

Young MC

For the period of about a year and a half between the release of Tone Loc’s “Wild Thang” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby,” Young MC had written the highest-charting rap single of all time, which, as I just alluded to, was “Wild Thang.” What separated Young MC from other clean cut “pop rap” rap artists of the day were his phenomenal lyric-writing, story-telling, and delivery. Young MC was the rare “crossover” rapper who, without profanity or violence, was respected for his first-rate MC skills.

Technotronic

Belgium’s Technotronic brought house music to a larger audience with the invention of “hip house.” Without Technotronic there would be no Black Box, no C&C Music Factory, no Snap, no Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Technotronic’s contemporaries Milli Vanilli, Black Box, and C&C Music Factory all employed lip syncing, with glamorous models lip syncing other singers’ pipes. Technotronic tried this too, with a model named Felly lip syncing the rapping and singing, but the public had a warmer reaction to the real vocalist, the charismatic, backwards-baseball-cap-and-loose-clothes-wearing, tomboyish Ya Kid K, who appeared in the group’s later videos, proving that the public may in fact appreciate a front-woman who isn’t a glamor model.

Arctic Monkeys

Although these guys from England’s music was not revolutionary, the original MySpace success story’s route to fame was. Although the social networks have changed, Macklemore, Billie Eilish, and other artists their gained fame the same way.

Review – Apple AirPods

File:Macintosh Quadra 700.png

This is a Macintosh Quadra 700, released by Apple in October of 1991. The Quadra 700 is easily recognized by its unusual vertically-oriented floppy disk drive. It was not a particularly successful or iconic product, but it was a “legacy” Mac I have always had a strange fascination with.

Apple Macintosh Portable M5120 Vintage Mac Laptop 1990 for sale ...

This is Apple’s first laptop, the very heavy Macintosh Portable, which proceeded their much more successful PowerBook series. If you like lead acid batteries this is the laptop for you.

20th Anniversary Mac

This is a “Twentieth Anniversary Mac,” introduced in 1997 at a cost of $7500. While Apple never sold many TAMs and the design language is nothing like Apple’s current portfolio, this machine somewhat hinted at Apple’s future design philosophy.

Fancy-free crafts: DIY bobbypin holder from a dental floss container

This is a dental floss container.

This is the charging box for Apple’s AirPods. My AirPods came with the original non-wireless-charging version, so my box does not have the little light on the front.

Apple CEO Tim Cook quietly changed Twitter avatar to add AirPods ...

This is Tim Cook wearing AirPods. If I were to stroll through a pedestrian-filled area today I would likely see at least one person wearing a pair just like them.

I would not normally have spent $170 on these, but the Apple Education Store has a “free AirPods with select Mac or iDevice purchase” offer, so I now own a pair myself.

For the most part, much like the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, AirPods are a design marvel. The two earpieces snap via magnets into the beautiful dental floss-looking box, which connects to a power source via . . .

The included USB-A to lightning cable? Macs, including my brand new MacBook Pro, feature nothing but USB-C ports, and that has been the case since 2016 or so.

Yes, that means if I need a dongle to use a brand new product which includes a cable with a proprietary plug (lightning) on one side and a “legacy” plug (USB-A) on the other. Apple does sell a more expensive version with wireless charging.

Before I further explore these wireless ear buds I find myself asking “Why?” not just with AirPods but with wireless portable headphones in general. I cannot think of a time when, wearing wired Apple ear buds of the past, I thought “these wires between my ears and my device are really creating a problem that would be solved by them being wireless.” Even if I had thought such a thought, I am not sure if I would have gone on to continue thinking, “And having wireless ear buds is so important to me that I would be willing to contend with them needing to be charged, needing to carry some kind of charging device around, paying an extra $140 or so, looking silly, and having a potential choke hazard around small children.”

I suppose now I can wear headphones while my iPhone is plugged in, being charged. Except now I have to worry about charging the headphones, so I’m solving a problem by creating another problem.

Using the AirPods, I am reminded of wonderful things about corded ear buds that I had taken for granted. The cable keeps the pair together. The cable allows the microphone piece to be in an optimal location. The cable makes them easier to spot and hold. Long live cables.

Overall these, and wireless ear buds in general, remind me of the Onion article “new remote control can be operated by remote.” Wireless printers are handy. Wi-Fi is handy. But a wireless connection between headphones and a device two or three feet away does not make a whole lot of sense to me, and so far, after using them a bit it still does not make a whole lot of sense to me.

Let’s try them on.

There have been a number of complaints about the “universal” fit of AirPods just plain not working with some peoples’ ears, or at best allowing an imperfect fit without the best bass response. These fit my ears (which are on the huge side) perfectly.

Setting these up was particularly painless in a particularly pleasing “Apple way.” Just hold them near your device, and the device allows the user to click a single button and voila! AirPods! The AirPods will also take Siri commands, and they can be figured so double-tapping the left or right AirPod can do a function like “next track.” There is no inline volume control. There could have been if these had a cable.

These make sort of a chime noise to let the user know when they are being “paired” or “unpaired” with a device, and they pause when they are removed from the ear. They are also labeled “L” and “R.” Everything about using them provides the user with the famed “Apple” experience that no one else can seem to replicate.

As someone who likes traditional big studio cans, the sound of these is not great but deceptively pleasant. It is tailored for “what people like to hear,” with enhanced bass and mids, allowing vocals and such to really pop out but hiding details by masking certain frequencies. This can make music deceptively pleasant to listen to but does not reveal what the recording truly sounds like.

There is a major problem here in the area of isolation. These are not canal phones, and they are completely open back. Some audiophiles like open back headphones, and some Grados and such use a non-isolating open back design. But those Grados are designed for audiophile-listening in a quiet environment. AirPods are designed for use on noisy public transit and the like.

Because these do not attenuate outside sounds at all (they do, however, seem to reduce outside treble a bit, making it hard to understand people speaking), what we tend to do when we are in noisy environments is to simply crank up the volume to block out ambient noise. And after not too long that damages our hearing.

I believe that was also the case with the original Apple ear buds, but I feel like more recent versions have been somewhat “closed back-ish” and noise-attenuating.

Apple makes a version called “AirPods Pro” that look like canal phones, and I would wager those attenuate outside sounds. But they are ludicrously expensive.

Although these are cool looking in their box, they have a way of looking extraordinarily dweeby while being worn, which is odd, because the old iconic wired Apple ear buds were sorta hip looking. They said “I am a hip person listening to tunes while I ride the bus or lift weights” rather than “I am a businessperson ready to take a phone call on my bluetooth earpiece.”

These seem like they would be very easy to lose. They seem like they could fall out of someone’s ear and end up being swallowed by a cat or something, or they could end up in a storm drain. It would be easy to lose the charging box on a subway or in a university lecture hall.

Although I was critical of it earlier in this very review, I am somewhat glad the product comes with a USB-A to lightning cable, as those are so easy to lose. You can never have enough of those.

I wonder how often people put floppy discs into the Macintosh Portable backwards. I wonder what happened if people did. Did the machine just not accept them? Could you jam or destroy the disk drive? I realize in typing this how I am no longer used to spelling “disk” with a “K.”

Although I am very pleased with my new MacBook Pro, the AirPods are not what folks today would call a “game changer.” They are another nice-looking, well-built engineering marvel with as many flaws as the Macintosh Portable. C-

Reviews – The Impossible Burger plant-based grounds, Love/Four Sail

The Impossible Burger (Plant-Based Grounds)

Last summer I reviewed The Impossible Whopper with Cheese. I have eaten a few more of them since then. I have also eaten Red Robin’s Impossible Burger a couple times. Although I am not a huge Burger King fan (they have some of the worst fries in the business), the Impossible Burger is significantly meatier-tasting and all-around-tastier than the competing product, the Beyond Burger.

The Impossible Burger is now available as beef-style grounds in a twelve ounce package. The package is cheaper than the similar package from Beyond, but it is also twelve ounces rather than sixteen. I have not seen the Impossible Burger sold in grocery stores as patties, which is fine with me. If I were shopping for beef to make burgers I would rather form my own patties than buy pre-formed ones, and I appreciate forming my own here as well. This gives me options. What size of buns did I buy? Do I want a thick, imperfectly-shaped “tavern” style burger or a thin “fast food” style burger? Do I have the kind of itch for Wendy’s that only a square burger can scratch? I like options.

Cooking directions for the Impossible Burger are similar to the Beyond Burger. Greased pan, medium heat, three minutes per side. The Impossible Burger smells much better than the Beyond Burger (which smells somewhat like dog food) out of the package. It also makes less of a mess when cooking, as it isn’t loaded with beat juice.

Unlike the Beyond Burger, which stays soft even after excessive cooking, the Impossible Burger becomes crispy, perhaps even crispier than all but the leanest beef. I note this because I have formed thin, overcooked “Dick’s” style patties, and it is easy to get them a bit too crispy without exercising some care.

I have made two versions of vegetarian “Dick’s Deluxe’s” with these patties. The second time I cooked the patties a little bit less, and I was very pleased with the result. As I have said before, the Impossible Burger tastes like meat but not necessarily beef. I have never eaten buffalo or ostrich, but if I ate one and someone told me it was a buffalo burger, an ostrich burger, or a burger made with some other fairly lean and slightly gamey beef-like meat, I would believe them. It is certainly tastier than ground turkey.

In any event, the texture and flavor is quite good, especially on a fully-dressed burger with “the works,” but unlike the Beyond Burger I do not find that it is necessary to “disguise” the taste with dressings and condiments.

Twelve ounce packages are on sale at Safeway and Freddy’s for just under seven dollars. Safeway’s Open Nature grass-fed beef is currently $7.50 per pound, meaning at the moment the Impossible Burger is just under a third pricier. I would like to see the price drop below the price of beef.

Since the Impossible Burger is made from soy as opposed to the pea protein of the Beyond Burger I would only have a reason to recommend the Beyond Burger over the Impossible Burger for folks with soy allergies or other reasons for avoiding soy products.

Although I have only tried these as burgers, I have every reason to believe they would work well in tacos, spaghetti sauce, and other places where ground beef would be used.

A+

Love/Four Sail (Elektra Records, 1969)

Upon looking at the cover of Four Sail, one might say, “This isn’t Love. This is Arthur Lee and three random strangers.” They may or may not be right.

The conventional wisdom about Love is “They were an LA band that recorded a garagey cover of Burt Bacharach’s ‘7 and 7 Is,’ the psychedelic nugget 7 and 7 Is,’ and the masterpiece Forever Changes, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about.” Love was also possibly the first successful multi-racial rock band.

But, as anyone who has listened to the side of Da Capo that isn’t a horrible 20-minute jam would tell you, there is more to Love than Forever Changes.

Forever Changes is, however, the last album made by the “classic” line-up of Love, which also included Brian Mclean, who wrote a few of their most well-known songs and added a softer, poppier element to the band, which resulted in the gentle brass arrangements and other orchestration of Forever Changes. And Four Sail doesn’t sound much of anything like Forever Changes.

Arthur Lee was apparently convinced that he was going to die soon after releasing Forever Changes. He didn’t, and somehow he decided to fire the rest of his band while he still owed the label, Elektra, another album. He formed a new version of Love and set up a makeshift studio in an LA warehouse and recorded three albums worth of material. Elektra got to choose an album worth of the best material, releasing it as Four Sail. Love released the rest of the material on their new label, Blue Thumb, as Out Here.

The sound of Four Sail is hard to describe, because, as opposed to, say, Love’s self-titled debut, which sounds like the Byrds, it sounds like nothing else. One thing it certainly doesn’t sound like is Steely Dan. At the time Elektra, with some of LA’s best engineers and probably the best equipment available at the time, was known for making some of the best-sounding records in the business. The poorly-recorded Four Sail sounds nothing like an Elektra album, with distortion on tracks that shouldn’t be distorted and wacky stereo, with – for example – drums and guitar entirely in the right channel, and bass and vocals along with just the reverb from the drums in the left channel. For some reason Arthur Lee double tracks a lot of the vocals, which works well.

This new version of Love has a much harder edge than the classic lineup with Mclean. The drums are particularly over-the-top, giving songs a manic Keith Moon-esque energy. The new bass player, with fast walking lines and such, sounds remarkably like the old bass player. The new guitarist likes wah wah and distortion along with jazzy and Spanish-style leads one would associate with Love. With one exception, the horns are gone. While Forever Changes had an underlying darkness about it, Four Sail has an overt, immediate darkness throughout, which is evident from the first few seconds of opener “August,” in which some strange Spanish guitar gives way to manic jazzy guitar pyrotechnics along with insane drums before Arthur Lee’s unmistakeable voice sings “I said August is all that I know” with the type of melody only he would dream up.

Lee, who was incarcerated at least three times and struggled with mental illness throughout his life, is a fascinating figure and an excellent songwriter. Serving as producer, these songs are a lot more directly Arthur Lee than previous works, in with Lee’s music is filtered through McLean, producer Bruce Botnick, and others.

The music here brings the listener closer to Arthur Lee’s psyche. While I praise his songwriting and singing and believe he was wrongfully imprisoned for about six years toward the end of his life (his friend literally confessed to being the one who fired the gun into the air), he was also a violent man who was convicted of arson.

While Four Sail is not Forever Changes, it is a number of things – catchy, haunting, dark, and deeply-affecting. Songs like “I’m With You” and “Singing Cowboy” have a way of getting right under your skin. Arthur Lee had a great voice – at times unexpectedly high-pitched and gentle, he wrote great melodies and lyrics, and he knew how to combine melodies with words in such a way that a seemingly innocuous line like “You’re gonna have a good time! No more bad times!” (on Good Times) is eerily soulful.

The lush arrangements of Forever Changes are gone, but Arthur Lee’s songwriting chops and unique musical signature are fully intact.

The unusually hard-rocking “Robert Montgomery” combines a very aggressive guitar lick with a gorgeous melody, again propelled by effective lyrics while the dark but sinisterly cheerful “Your Friend and Mine – Neil’s Song” addresses the band’s roadie who sold their equipment to buy drugs then died of an overdose. Album closer “Always See Your Face” comes closest to Forever Changes, but this is nowhere near the same album.

A similar parallel could be drawn between Four Sail and the Beach Boys’ Smiley Smile, an excellent yet minimalist and creepy album delivered after the celebrated and impossible-to-top Pet Sounds. Although Pet Sounds is the masterpiece, I listen to Smiley Smile at least as often.

A+

Reviews – Young MC/Brainstorm, Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro 32 Headphones

Young MC/Brainstorm (Capitol Records, 1991)

I have more of an attachment to this album than I probably should because when I was about ten years old I won a Brainstorm poster autographed by Young MC himself from some rap magazine.

For a brief period in the late 1980s English-born, Queens-raised, Los Angeles rapper Marvin “Young MC” Young was the author of the top selling rap song of all time, Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing.” (He also wrote “Funky Cold Medina.”) His debut album, Stone Cold Rhymin’, produced by Michael Ross, Matt Dike, and the Dust Brothers, is a bonafide classic, including the smash hit “Bust a Move” in addition to other fan favorites, including “Principal’s Office” and “Pick Up the Pace.”

Yet while the world stayed tuned into Young’s mainstream rap contemporary, Will Smith, it left Young behind, along with Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Kid ‘n’ Play, and many others.

Stone Cold Rhymin’ is a tough act to follow. Leaving Delicious Vinyl for Capitol and producing himself, Brainstorm has the distinct feel of a non-classic album. It may have even been a career-destroying album. But it isn’t a bad album.

Although it may be well-constructed and well-mixed, Young’s production work does not have the timeless quality associated with Ross, Dike, and the Dust Brothers. Those producers lent a Rick Rubin-esque sort of minimalism to Stone Cold Rhymin’, which Young has replaced with more of a “more is more” sound. This being a mainstream rap album from 1991, attempts at house backing tracks also appear on “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” and elsewhere. The opening track and leadoff single, “That’s the Way Love Goes,” features a gospel-inspired lead vocal and attempts to match the easygoing wit of “Bust a Move.”

Despite the focus on danceable beats, with one heavy message after the next, Brainstorm has a tendency at times to feel more like a lecture than a party. Stone Cold Rhymin’ had its share of “well-behaved” moments too, including “Just Say No,” but they were sandwiched in between classic boasts, minimalist beats, and unforgettable hooks.

Young MC tried for a hit with “That’s the Way Love Goes” and “Keep It In Your Pants,” but without a strong single or a compelling sequence of tracks (ending the record with two nearly eight minute songs probably wasn’t a great idea either), the brilliance of Brainstorm and the artist behind it is easy to miss, which is a shame, because on track after track, Young MC proves himself as a stellar MC and first-rate story teller. Even the track called “Album Filler” really showcases his talent. The message of some of these songs is actually pretty compelling. In some small way, growing up with this album probably helped convince me to steer clear of drugs.

To my ears, the message to new artists here is “work with a producer.” The Delicious Vinyl crew Young MC worked with on the previous album knew how to package his talent into a winning hit album where one track flowed easily into the next. While Young may have been able to arrange backing tracks that resembled house music of the day, he was not able to package his considerable skill into another hit record, which is a shame, because Young MC’s story telling and flow are first rate. B+

Beyerdynamic DT-770 Pro 32 Headphones

I bought these a few years ago from Massdrop to replace a beat-up pair of Sennheiser HD-280 Pros that either my son or my cat peed on. (I don’t remember which.) Beyerdynamic are a smaller name than most of their competitors in the headphone game – Sennheiser, AKG, Sony, etc., but they have a long history, and their headphones are made in Germany, along with a small collection of ribbon, dynamic, and condenser microphones that are apparently very good.

The DT-770 Pro model is offered in several impedances. The 32 ohm model might have been the lowest impedance model at the time, but I believe Beyerdynamic has at some point made a 16 ohm version. The 32 ohm model needs less “juice” (has higher output) than the higher impedance models and is thus a better choice for use with iPhones and other portable devices. It also has a shorter cable, since long “studio cables” aren’t great for a walk in the park or a ride on the bus. I am not sure what exactly the advantage is of the less-efficient higher impedance models, but they tend to be the choice of studio pros, so there must be some advantage in the sound department.

In any event, while I use these as portable headphones, they are still big circumaural studio cans rooted in the 1970s, and they lack “today’s features.” They are not wireless, and they do not include a volume control or microphone. Although I am crazy enough to wear them at the gym they are not designed for that sort of thing.

Made of sturdy metal and retro hard textured plastic, these are a very well-constructed pair of headphones, and they come with the most ridiculous vinyl storage case (with a name tag!), which very much suggests the 1970s. The clamping force of these are pretty high, and the metal parts can actually pinch fingers in a pretty brutal way. The ear pads are very nice grey velour. The original release of this model may have had less-nice leatherette pads, but this puppy has the comfy grey velour ones. The cord, which includes the usual eighth inch plug with screw-on quarter inch adapter, is not detachable, which is disappointing, because AKG and some others include a detachable cord.

The cord in question is pretty short and not coiled. Although coiled cords can cause all sorts of problems, I like them on headphones. If these had a detachable cord like the competition multiple cord options would be handy – long and short straight cords and a coiled cord. The shortness of the cord makes them difficult to use for some studio uses where they would otherwise be useful, like recording drums. (Yes, I could get an extension.)

The sound of these is nice and detailed, if ever-so-slightly harsh in the upper frequencies. These are not a “big bass” headphone, but they are also not a “light bass” headphone like the Sennheisers they replaced. They sound good. They bring out all sorts of details in any type of music. It can be pretty fun putting these on and seeing what you have been missing out on with other headphones. Although the frequency response of these is fairly response of these is pretty flat, they seem to be a bit “scooped” in the mids, which means vocals may get less emphasis than other sounds.

As someone with big ears and outlandishly large, droopy earlobes, I appreciate that these headphones do indeed encircle my entire ear. They are very comfortable, managing to clamp pretty tight without clamping too tight.

It is also worth mentioning that, thanks to the fluffy velour pads, these are comfortable with glasses, which is not always the case with studio headphones.

Although the carrying bag is a nice touch, these do not win many points in the portability department. Some studio headphones, including some models from Sony, collapse fairly small for storage. Although the earphones pivot a bit, these don’t collapse down, and there is no way around the fact that these are a big pair of headphones.

Although these are a closed-back pair, there is apparently some very slight “openness” to the back of the headphones. I have not had a problem with sound leakage. Beyerdynamic does, however, make a model called the DT-770M with drummers and live sound engineers in mind that is completely, 100 percent closed-back and has more clamping force.

By the way, I typically use a pair of AKG K-271mkii headphones as my “studio pair,” primarily because they have a longer coiled (and removable) cord, because I am used to them, and because the Beyerdynamics are typically upstairs ready to wear on a walk or in the back yard, but I absolutely could use these as my “studio pair” instead, especially if I invested in an extension cable. The build quality on these, by the way, is quite a bit higher than the AKGs, which are made in China, are very lightweight, and have somewhat of a “toy” like quality. (AKG was bought out years ago by Harmann, who was bought out by Samsung, who don’t seem to be all that interested in the proud legacy of the AKG brand.) The AKGs, which are 55 ohms, are also noticeably lower output.That said, I do appreciate the 271’s self-adjusting headband and detachable cord. It also doesn’t pinch any fingers with clamping metal parts. Aside from the Beyers being louder, it would be hard to describe the difference in sound, except that the AKG’s might be a little less bright. At least subjectively, the Beyers do sound better.

I also own a pair of AKG’s ubiquitous K-240 headphones, which I would describe as a “somewhat uncomfortable, loose and cheap-feeling but great-sounding headphone” with a “semi-closed” back design that lets in and lets out a little bit more sound than I would prefer. Compared to these, the 240s are lower output and bassier. These are much more comfortable and heavy duty in construction.

These definitely have more bass than the Sennheisers (made in Ireland!?!) they replaced, along with better construction. They are also more comfortable, although the very-tight-clamping Sennheisers probably have better isolation. I am not sure which are higher output, but they are probably roughly in the same range. The Sennheisers are more collapsible (as well as entirely made out of plastic – including the parts you’d expect to be made out of metal).

I would recommend these headphones as a studio, casual listening, or probably gaming headphone, although for strict studio use the 80 ohm or possibly 250 ohm model may be a better bet. For casual listening, especially on the go, understand that these are a pair of big traditional wired studio cans, and you have to enjoy the look, feel, and ear-surrounding luxury to appreciate them. While they are not a perfect pair, they are a very good pair. A

Pros: clean, detailed sound; comfort; classic ’70s design; well made; nice materials; hilarious carrying bag; unobtrusive, barely-visible branding; made in Germany by a relatively small company that has been around for a long time

Cons: cable is not detachable; a bit too much treble; headband is not self-adjusting; metal pieces on sides can violently smash fingers

More reviews – TBASA, The Shaggs

TBASA/4 Track Limitations or Demos For a Band I Will Never Form

In high school I used to record on a TASCAM 424mkII that recorded on two sides of a tape at the same time at double speed (so a special “30 minute cassette” would yield 7:30 of audio) learning rudimentary audio engineering in the process.

On his bandcamp Tim notes that he recorded this using “the four track process,” bouncing four tracks down to two tracks then repeating. I am not sure how exactly he recorded it, but I don’t hear tape hiss, and while I remember bouncing three tracks down to one track I actually don’t remember being able to bounce four down to two on a Portastudio. If that is or was possible seventeen year old me would be very excited to hear how to do that.

While the not-as-lo-fi 4 Track Limitations may not be Vampire On Titus or even Nebraska (which I mentioned in my previous blog post reviewing Taylor Swift’s new record), the particular lo-fi sound here, along with the current nature of the songs, which my old pal Tim is very connected to, and the HOOKS, are among Tim’s best work. He is able to support BLM and take on conspiracy theorists and Covid deniers much more effectively because he has the HOOKS in place. “Mercy Mercy Me” would be just another song about the environment . . . except that Marvin, like Tim, gave it HOOKS. And we’re talking all caps, bold, and italics.

In addition to the timeliness of the tunes, 4 Track Limitations brings together some of my favorite TBASAisms from his vast catalogue. We have the catchiness of Tim’s poppier Don’t Say Sucks along with the bareness of my favorite Brevity Is Its Hallmark, along with the hard-to-describe TBASA sauce that can be found in his various Hitchcock-movie-name-themed bands of the past.

If I had to criticize something about this record, it would be the same thing I always criticize about EPs – the fact that it’s an EP. It’s good to leave the listener wanting more, but sometimes when I eat a personal pan pizza, as much as it is a good thing that I find myself wanting more, that still doesn’t make me feel any better about the fact that I’m out of pizza and I would still like to be eating pizza.

The Shaggs/Philosophy of the World

Many people listen to the Shaggs for a laugh. Others find some sort of brilliance in their “so bad it’s good”-ness. I can’t really fault anyone for their own personal reason for listening to or not listening to the Shaggs.

What I will say is that one’s ears need to become acclimated to the Shaggs in order to appreciate the album. Traditional expectations about rhythm and tuned instruments need to go out the window. If you are expecting to hear a guitarist and a drummer sound like they are playing the same song at the same time, you will be very let down by the Shaggs.

While the Wiggin sisters were apparently not even interested in being in a band or making the record, Philosophy of the World gets points for sounding like nothing else. Two out of tune guitars, drums completely out of sync with the guitars, and unusual unison singing make for an album that is both compelling and more abrasive and punk rock than punk rock itself.

While the album is almost universally off-beat and out-of-tune, there is some variety here, including the triumphant out-of-tune chords of “My Pal Foot Foot” and the straightforward charm of “Things I Think About.”

There is one notable point on the album, at the very beginning of the song “Why Do I Feel?” where the two guitars and drums are in sync and an actual groove emerges before the tempo abruptly changes and the rest of the song sounds like the rest of the album. I mention this because it is one of the more curious things about the album.

As a music teacher, it is also pretty endearing hearing the familiar sound of beginners almost succeeding at creating music. At that one particular point there’s that triumphant sound of them actually working as an ensemble.

There are a number of reasons I would recommend listening to the Shaggs. In a rut? All music sounding the same? Tired of hearing perfectly polished pop music all around you? Want to really give your ears a “reset” by listening to an album that throws out traditional concepts like rhythm and intonation?

It is hard to grade this album because it is so different than anything else under the umbrella of music, be it Black Sabbath or Bach, that it would be hard to use the same measuring stick one would use for other music. I don’t grade TBASA’s albums because I was in a band with him, so I guess I don’t need to grade the Shaggs either.

Reviews – Taylor Swift, that dog., Harry’s Shampoo

Taylor Swift/Folklore (2020)

Several years ago I gave 1989 a spin to see what all the fuss was about, and as far as pop albums from country stars go, it didn’t speak my language. It was no Bangerz. Four albums later, Tay is back with another critically-praised album, and this time it does speak my language.

Folklore, recorded in quarantine during the start of our pandemic, is hard to classify, although, with its lack of pop gloss, it does fit neatly under the indie rock umbrella. Clocking in at over an hour, Folklore is a folky set of character studies in somewhat of a folk rock style with elements of PBR&B, country, and pop. I won’t bother going into depth about any of these lyrics, but they are original and refreshing, lacking the usual cliches. There are no “whiskey rivers,” “southbound trains,” or songs rattling off the names of various southern cities, to be found.

Although this slow-burning candle of an album has Swift working outside of her usual genres, the songwriting here – featuring her trademark rapid-fire lyricism, is classic TSwift, with stories of love, money, and whatever else she was dreaming up. If the production were stripped back just a tad more this could be described as her Nebraska.

At times this album reminds me Gran Turismo by the Cardigans minus the more wildly electronic Radiohead noises, but that’s probably because the second song is called “Cardigan” and I’m very suggestible. But it is a deliciously down-tempo set of songs that make me think of a very early morning walk in the fall before anyone else gets up. I would say the same thing about my favorite Beck album, Sea Change.

And I gave both Gran Turismo and Sea Change an A+. Nice work, T. A+

that dog./Retreat from the Sun (1997)

I pretty much only remembered about the existence of this band because Rachel Haden has been posting “bass and vocals” covers of various songs on Facebook these days.

According to reviewers at the time, that dog. could be described as a very “connected” band of insiders (relatives of Lenny Waronker and Charlie Haden) whose music could be described as a more polished, radio-ready version of Liz Phair. Now please excuse me while I go listen to some of my favorite Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Nancy Sinatra, and Hank Williams III, Wilson Philips, Miley Cyrus, and Janet Jackson albums.

And it wouldn’t be right to write off the best album from a band with some pretty unique things going for them.

I never owned this album, but I heard it a lot on other peoples’ car and home stereos during a brief period in my late teens. I associate it with a particular time in my life, but that time was now so long ago that I can evaluate it with a fresh set of ears. By the way, I did own Return of the Rentals and Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out, both of which feature the magic of Haden Triplet harmonies (or at least Petra Haden harmonies). And I’ve never been crazy about the Decembrists.

Unlike the Rentals, in which those signature harmonies are part of a sonic picture centered around original Weezer bassist Matt Sharp singing in a soft baritone over simple three or four chord songs loaded with synthesizers, that dog. is anchored by the faster-paced and more sophisticated songwriting and pleasant vocal delivery of Anna Waronker.

I believe the sound of the record would be difficult to approximate on stage with just the four piece band, because it is based on layered guitar parts that sort of clash and fight with each other, creating a pleasing dissonance, joined by violin, piano and/or synthesizer, and those harmonies. Why is it that whether it’s the Everly Brothers, the Beach Boys, the Jacksons, the Bee Gees, or in this case the Haden Triplets, there is something truly special about relatives harmonizing together?

Lyrically, it would be easy to write this off as “silly songs about boys and crushes and stuff,” but Waronker along with Petra and Rachel Haden (the third Haden triplet, Tanya, who is married to Jack Black, was not in the band but apparently plays cello on the record) combine them with chord progressions and melodies that just press all the right buttons and a line like “every time I try, I cry” resonates. I just picked that one out at random, but every line on the album is like that. The single, “Never Say Never,” is particularly infectious and heartfelt in a way that is hard to describe. Right up there with “Iesha” by ABC. Coming from me that is a giant compliment.

Time isn’t always kind to ’90s music. But honest, creative music with a touch of something special always prevails. A+

Harry’s Two-In-One Men’s Shampoo

Let’s not beat around the bush. It would be difficult to write a review of Harry’s Two-In-One Shampoo without mentioning candy canes.

In any event, we have a pandemic going on, I like to place drive-up orders at Target, and Target doesn’t carry my usual brand of shampoo (Got2B PhenoMENal), so I figured I’d tried Harry’s, which is about the same price.

It smells like candy canes. And I mean it really smells like candy canes.

Don’t worry. I will get to describing whether or not it weighs my hair down, makes it shiny, or makes it softer later, but first it is important to consider a few questions.

Do you like candy canes?

Do you like the smell of candy canes?

Do you like having a signature smell?

Do you want your signature smell to be candy canes?

Do you want your signature smell to come from your hair?

Is whether or not your shampoo smells like candy canes more important than other qualities the shampoo may have or not have?

Do you want to be described as “That person whose hair smells like candy canes?”

If you answered “yes” to most or all of those questions, Harry’s may be for you.

Aside from smelling like candy canes, let’s see what else I could say about Harry’s. It lathers less than the average shampoo. There is a warning that you need to wash your eyes immediately if you get this shampoo in your eyes. It doesn’t really thicken, soften, or add a luxurious shine to hair. Then again, it doesn’t dry out hair or make it dull or frizzy either. It isn’t awful. It isn’t good either.

My wife tried it out and mentioned that it made the tub slippery.

It is also worth noting that, due to the fact that I haven’t had a haircut since January or February, my hair is much longer than normal, so I may notice things about a shampoo that I normally wouldn’t be concerned about. Some clippers should be coming in the mail from Amazon any day now. Until then, when I inhale my bangs I will be looking for Santa’s sleigh. C

I respond to your concerns about masks, school closures, and other topics

“Wearing a mask is uncomfortable. I have a hard time breathing. My glasses fog up. It is hard for others to understand me when I speak. Furthermore, I am concerned about breathing my own carbon monoxide (sic).”

Many doctors, construction workers, asbestos removers, and others wear a mask all day. Yes, they aren’t all that comfortable, just like motor cycle helmets aren’t all that comfortable. But this is about saving lives – other peoples’ lives, so this is serious business. As a glasses wearer, wearing a mask especially tight (this may mean choosing certain masks), breathing through the nose rather than the mouth, and shaving cream help with the glasses. We also don’t exhale carbon monoxide*. Get your Biology 101 right. Wear your mask.

*Correction: Technically, although we exhale much more carbon dioxide, we do exhale some negligible level of carbon monoxide.

“I’m not anti-mask. I am just anti-mask-mandate, and I’m anti-no-mask-shaming”

Seat belts were optional for decades, and many people just plain chose not to wear them. People had all sorts of misguided beliefs and complaints about seat belts. They supposedly impeded movement. People falsely believed they would be luckier flying through a windshield than harnessed in a demolished car. Some people just plain didn’t like them. It was only in the early 90s when they became mandatory and drivers faced fines that the overwhelming majority of drivers actually wore them. And unlike seat belts, which primarily protect the person wearing them and anyone unlucky to be in their path when they become a projectile, masks primarily protect others from a virus that, unlike car accidents, spread exponentially. Nothing in the Constitution gives you the right to not wear a mask to protect others during a pandemic, and if you feel entitled to not wear a mask that could mean life or death to those you love and those you do not even know, you should be ashamed of yourself.

“If social distancing works, why masks? If masks work, why social distancing?”

Because combining two or more safety precautions that are not one hundred percent effective decreases risks in an exponential way. Mask-wearing, while effective, is not 100 percent effective. If two people are both wearing masks they became exponentially more effective. If the two people are also practicing social distancing and taking other precautions even more so.

Because many people think in analogies, let’s return to automobiles. Automobiles today are safer than they have ever been because they may employ multiple imperfect safety systems – three-point seat belts with pre-tensioners, head rests, crumple zones, air bags, power-assisted antilock brakes, traction control, stability control, backup cameras, lane departure warnings, collision detection, and automatic emergency breaking. On top of that, driving becomes safer when we are safe drivers. Drive a safe speed. Adjust for inclement weather. Don’t tailgate. Put down your phone. Call a cab or have a designated driver when you have been drinking. This combination of safety measures makes for a much safer driving experience.

“They originally said masks don’t work. Now they said they do. What if they say they don’t work again? I don’t know what to believe.

This is called a “novel” Coronavirus because it is new, so we don’t know as much about it as we do about Measles, Scurvy, Anthrax, or Malaria. We are learning new things about it all the time, and the farther along we get the better information we will have. We have better information now than we had in March. After originally thinking masks weren’t that effective, new information became available. We learned that transmission is dose dependent. We learned that masks are indeed effective, particularly against spreading the disease to others. And that is a hard one for people to swallow. The mask isn’t necessarily to protect you, although it does protect you somewhat. The mask it to protect others. Caring for others. Novel thought, huh?

“What’s the big deal about opening up schools? People in other industries like grocery stores have been working through this for months.”

By now I hope every grocery store is making the necessary accommodations for shoppers and employees – masks, six feet of distance, one way aisles, contactless pickup, etc. etc. etc. These accommodations, while requiring somewhat of an adjustment and inconvenience for workers and shoppers alike, do not ruin the shopping experience. Want to buy some ears of corn, pancake mix, balsamic vinegar, and a 12-pack of Ruby Red Squirt? You are in luck.

Schools are a bit different. At this point, in order for schools to operate with some semblance of safety, the adjustments necessary would ruin the educational experience so much that it would not provide any benefit in terms of education, socialization, or even childcare. Two shortened days of school per week with teachers and students, all masked, staying six feet apart, will not make for a good experience.

Furthermore, we are talking about kids. If we as adults aren’t great about mask compliance and children are not getting supportive messages at home, are they going to be compliant about mask wearing and physical distance when they get to school? Are first graders going to successfully not pick their noses for an entire day? Is the kid who flips over desks when he gets angry going to keep his mask on? Will they never be used as slingshots? What will happen at lunch, which is traditionally “mid-day scream time,” when students need to take off their masks to eat? How about the bus ride, a time that has historically been the “scream hour” that bookends the school day, when students cannot stay six feet apart?

“But kids are low-risk for Coronavirus.”

Kids live with adults – parents and even grandparents. They also go to school with teachers, and our teaching population is a bit older now.

“Kids aren’t going to the hospital when they get sick.”

But their parents and grandparents, who they infect, are.

Also, please have some respect and acknowledge that medically fragile children exist.

“They have been able to open up schools along with this, that, and the other thing in Denmark, along with this, that, and the other place. Why can’t we do that here?”

Because people in those countries stayed home and wore their masks without making a stink about it. That could be happening here too, but we have some very strong and misguided feelings about what “personal freedoms” means. (By the way, the folks who seem to feel that not wearing a mask is a personal freedom do not tend to seem particularly supportive of protesters exercising their first amendment rights, particularly if they are using those first amendment rights to promote something they do not personally agree with.)

Parents who work depend on schools for childcare.

At this point, are you able to support your family by working just two partial days per week? Having your kid in school that much isn’t very helpful, is it? And what did you gain by unnecessarily exposing your child, yourself, and teachers?

Yeah, I need my kid(s) to be in school five days a week. So why can’t kids go to school five days a week?

Children each surrounded by a minimum of thirty six square feet each takes up some serious room. Because, in order to maintain six feet of social distancing, at best half of students can be in classrooms at the same time. And it’s actually even worse than the pure numbers would suggest because of the ways classrooms are laid out and used. You can’t have students seated in front of a swinging door, with their noses touching a whiteboard, blocking the beam of a projector, blocking an exit, or in other places in the room.

So why not just send them all to school?

How many children, teachers, and parents’ lives are you willing to sacrifice in order to make this a reality?

Or if you are the kind of person who thinks in terms of dollars rather than lives, how much longer are you willing to delay the eventual economy recovery due to the frequent massive interruptions that would frequent occur?

I don’t trust anything the government or the “MSM” says.

This isn’t just our government or networks associated with the huge media conglomerates saying this. This is coming from health experts from around the world. Also, how is it that people who question anything they hear from governments or mainstream media sources accept the most ridiculous ideas as truth without question from iffy sources like yelling men from the Internet?

“The media caters to peoples’ fear. The government wants us to be fearful. I am not going to be controlled by fear.”

Let’s not get carried away with that. If I go for a bike ride, I wear a helmet. I probably won’t get in an accident, and the helmet isn’t all that comfortable. It messes up my hair. So why do I wear a helmet? Because not wearing a helmet is dumb. I also lock up the bike if I need to go inside, which is added inconvenience and weight. Because I want my bike to still be there when I return. Is that being controlled by fear? And, yes, you probably should be fearful of a disease that could have you or your loved ones struggling to breathe, dying alone in a hospital bed. Or, worse yet, not receiving any care whatsoever because the capacity of hospitals was overwhelmed by folks “not willing to be controlled by fear.”

“The numbers” are massively inflated.

Really? What is your source? If you were to call up the families of victims would they tell you “Nope, he or she didn’t have it. Fake news?” I’m pretty sure you just want to believe this.

The numbers are only going up because the amount of testing has gone up.

If you were to walk into a hospital, would doctors, nurses, and others on the frontlines confirm this? Or is it possible that you just want to believe this? Or would they say that, no, sometime around Memorial Day everyone became apathetic and just kind of gave up? Because that’s what happened.

Not many people in my county have died.

Yet. It seems cities, where lots of people live and work in close proximity, get it first, and then people in those areas get smart and make adjustments while people in less populated areas, feeling invincible, do not make those adjustments and then get hit harder later.

“[Insert name of densely populated urban area],” which instituted a strict lockdown, had a huge number of cases. [Insert name of isolated rural area], which never instituted those restrictions, saw very few cases.”

This is a “chicken and egg” scenario, and by the way, it is widely accepted that the egg came first. New York and such put those lockdowns into place because there were a large number of cases. South Dakota didn’t because nearly no one lives in South Dakota and nearly no one has any reason to go there. Until Sturgis. What could possibly go wrong? By the way, my family is from South Dakota.

“I had to wear a mask, and I still got a cold. Therefore, the mask doesn’t protect me.”

The most likely explanation is that, while you wore a mask, someone else didn’t, and they gave you a cold. Although the mask is somewhat effective at protecting you, the mask is primarily to protect others. Just like how if that person wore a mask you would not have gotten a cold. Does the concept of protecting others make sense?

By the way, we have no way of knowing or appreciating how many times we were protected by others wearing masks. Because we didn’t get sick, so we didn’t know about it.

“Woodstock was held during a pandemic.”

Yes, Woodstock, an outdoor festival, was indeed held during the Hong Kong Flu pandemic, which was a much smaller pandemic than this one.

“Imagine the cost to society if Woodstock hadn’t happened.”

Uh, Pete Townshend would have smashed his guitar somewhere else? Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t have played the national anthem for a crowd of hippies? Woodstock wouldn’t have led to such cultural milestones as, say, Altamont?

“You are more likely to die from a car accident, heart disease, or other causes.”

Nope, not true at all. Covid-19 is currently the largest killer in America, overtaking heart disease and the other big ones.

The overwhelming majority of people who get it don’t die.”

First of all, but some do, any how many is OK with you? Second, the people I know who have it and have not died will tell you it’s pretty miserable to have when you do survive it. I don’t walk into a beehive, even though I am pretty sure a bee sting will not kill me, because I know that a bee sting is unpleasant. And for many survivors, we are talking about months, years, or a lifetime of something much worse than a bee sting.

“I don’t know or interact with anyone who is elderly or high-risk.”

Do you also not interact with anyone else who interacts with anyone elderly or high-risk? If one were to draw a web of your social circle with branches extending out a few degrees of separation, would that web not include a single medically-compromised, elderly, or obese person, perhaps a person who doesn’t even know they have an underlying condition? And does that web of interaction never include strangers?

“These people who died would have died of something else eventually.”

Gee, if John Lennon hadn’t been shot, he would have eventually died too. If Kobe Bryant hadn’t gone for a helicopter ride he too would eventually die. I understand that there is an assumption that folks highly at risk for dying from Covid-19 are approaching the end of their lives anyways, but are we saying, “So-and-so who would have lived to be 82 only lived to be 68, and so-and-so who would have lived to be 85 lived to be 74, and that’s OK?” Even if you are morally OK with peoples’ lives being shortened by years or decades, do we want that many people all filling up hospitals at the same time?

The economy can’t handle more of this.

First of all, how many lives are you willing to sacrifice for the economy? Second, if we were to bite the bullet and take this seriously, like pulling off a bandaid, the economy could really open up again – back to normal, restaurants open to capacity, bars serving until 1:45am, etc. – sooner. Kids could be back in school every day without masks. The economy certainly recovered after the Spanish Flu.Why did they call it the “Roaring ’20s?” But first we need to get through this. This means working together. This means empathy. It’s amazing how foreign of a concept that is to so many people.

Review – Beyond Sausage “Brat Original”

While the Beyond Burger and particularly its competitor, the Impossible Burger, have raised the bar for realistic vegetarian burgers, good-tasting vegetarian sausages have been around for a long time. Because real sausages are typically made with cheap, miserable organ meats in the first place, tasty heavily seasoned tubes of soy protein have been on the market for twenty or more years.

BEYOND SAUSAGE® Brat Original - Beyond Meat - Go Beyond®

The Beyond Brats come in a four pack. Luckily the packaging isn’t nearly as wasteful as the Beyond Burgers, which are typically packaged in a two-pack with a surprising level of stiff plastic. Like Beyond Burgers, the main ingredient in these puppies is pea protein, and they are vegan.

I have cooked Beyond Brats twice now. The sausages are sort of limp and not perfectly shaped, much like a real bratwurst would be. In the name of realism, Beyond has apparently tried to simulate some of the inherent grossness of real sausages. I followed the directions on the package, frying them in a pan, and turning them frequently. They brown easily and seem like they would be on the verge or burning any time. While cooking most vegetarian sausages equates to reheating them, Beyond seems to aim to simulate the experience of cooking a meat product. Like the burgers, these “bleed” some sort of liquid onto the pan. It is hard to tell this liquid apart from the canola oil I greased the pan with, so it can be hard knowing if you are frying in an oily or dry stretch of pan. At first these sausages are fairly flat on the top and the bottom, and they want to have a “top” and “bottom” with undercooked sides unless you go out of your way to sort of smash them down on their sides, which I did both times I made them.

The finished product reminds me of a “lean” sausage like turkey sausage, albeit one that is so heavy on the nutmeg that it tastes like eggnog. I believe that in a good sausage product, while it may be loaded with fennel, gloves, garlic, black pepper, and other flavors no one flavor should dominate. In the case of Beyond Brats, this is a pumpkin spice season sausage all the way.

The first time I served the brat on a bun with ketchup, mushrooms, mayonnaise, relish, and kraut. The second time I served it with just ketchup and mayo. I made a point of cooking the sausage longer the second time I cooked them, which did not really improve anything. This is still a relatively dry turkey-ish sausage that tastes like egg nog.

While I did not pair these with a beverage, I believe these would call for a dark ale, maybe a “cream” ale, a root beer, or an ice-cold Coke. I’m not much of a cream soda guy, but cream soda might work. Not Dr Pepper though. I think the flavor from these and Dr Pepper would totally clash.

That said, while these certainly aren’t good, they aren’t bad either. They are just plain weird. Although this will not become one of my favorites, I can see myself eating them again. I can see myself having a weird craving for them at some point, or Costco having a good deal on a big box. I would recommend someone try a box in the same way I would recommend listening to Chinese Democracy. And, for all their faults, these do indeed satisfy a hankering for “meatiness.” These could easily pass for some kind of lean sausage from a healthier-to-eat animal than a cow or pig. If someone said “Hey, try a bite of my homemade ostrich sausage,” I would not say, “Hey! This isn’t ostrich! This tastes like peas!” But I probably would think “My sausage-making friend must really like nutmeg.”

“So,” you must be asking, “Who makes these better vegetarian sausage products you speak of?” Good question. Field Roast, for one, in many varieties and flavors. I particularly like the apple sage varieties and some sort of spicy variety. Other brands like Tofurky and Lightlife make decent ones too. I’d wager Trader Joe’s has some. In the breakfast sausage world, Morningstar, Gardein, Trader Joe’s, and others have some good products.

It is also worth noting that some of the products above are made with things are common allergens and/or trendy foods to avoid, including soy and wheat gluten, and that some, like Morningstar, contain milk and/or dairy. These are vegan as well as suitable to folks who are allergic to everything.

Except nutmeg. If you are allergic to nutmeg I’m assuming you are out of luck here.

Pros: meaty texture and taste, environmental and ethical advantages associated with vegetarian food, healthier than meat-based sausage, novelty factor associated with realism of product, vegan/soy free/gluten free

Cons: weird eggnog taste, somewhat difficult to cook, approaches gross-out factor of real sausage when cooking, many better alternatives have already been on the market for many years

B-

Review – DR “Sunbeams” Phosphor Bronze Acoustic Guitar Strings (.012-.054)

DR Sunbeams in paper packaging with built-in hang tag

There’s nothing like the fresh, clean “zing” of a new set of strings. Having only changed the strings once in the three years since I purchased a second-hand Ovation it was more than past-time for a new pair of strings. It was also a nice enough day that I could change them on the porch while my son watched YouTube videos of children playing with toys.

Before – Tired old D’Addario phosphor bronze strings. “How do you remember that they are D’Addario?” you may ask. 1) Because I remember buying a three-pack of them at Music 6000 in Olympia 2) Because they have colored ball ends. Also, note that Ovations don’t have bridge pins.

As is the case with DR strings, Sunbeams come in three envelopes with two strings in each (E and G, A and B, and D and high E) surrounded by a plastic “corrosion-proof” bag. My wife often keeps string envelopes if they are cool looking like, say, LaBella. The yellow DR envelopes aren’t all that cool looking, and there are only three of them. The strings are not really coiled together either. They are just kind of shoved into the envelope loosely and pop right out among opening the envelope. This is a consistent idiosyncrasy of DR strings, and there may even be a reason for it. Because of the odd “three envelope” thing, I change the strings in the order “E G A B D E'” rather than the usual “Earn A Degree Get Better Earnings.”

Plastic bag inside of paper box; yellow envelopes

D’Addario (and lots of other brands now, come to think of it) color code their ball ends. DR does not. They are all gold.

Although this picture is blurry, note how much brighter the brand new E and G strings are than the old, tired A and D.

I do not use a string winder, trimmers, or any other tool when changing strings. The loosening and tightening procedure was particularly pleasant on this string change thanks to the guitar’s particularly nice tuners. Let’s take a look at them.

Old gold-plated Schaller in tuners in “OK” condition – They work very nicely!

I often say “Don’t bother changing the tuners on your guitar. If your guitar won’t stay in tune it’s probably user error, and here is how you should tie the strings around the post.” That said, these old Schaller tuners are a joy to use. I couldn’t imagine a tuner that is smoother to operate and more stable. The proud name “Schaller” doesn’t appear on junk.

One thing I noticed when tuning these up – and the strings and the tuners must be conspiring in a perfect way – is that these strings became stable right away without me stretching them, which is something I have always noticed about DR strings. Maybe not being coiled tightly in the envelopes contributes to that. I’m not sure.

It is always difficult to compare brand new strings to the old ones that were on a guitar before. Of course the new ones will sound better because they are new. I will, however, say that the DR Sunbeams are much nicer feeling than the D’Addarios, which are the same gauge and same material (phosphor bronze). The most likely technical reason for this is that the D’Addarios have a modern “hex core,” which makes for a higher-tension string, whereas the DR strings have an old school round core. (What that means is that, underneath the bronze wrap on the four thickest strings there is a round noodle rather than a hexagonal noodle.)

With both fingers and a pick, these strings respond nicely. There’s sort of a twangy attack, followed by a nice trailing sustain where the sound transforms into kind of a pure, outer-space sort of sound.

I do feel like the DR strings have less bass than the D’Addario strings. That may be because they are lower tension, but it also may in fact not be true. The case may be that they don’t have less bass but more treble since they are, you know, brand new. I often feel like some bass goes away when I change strings. And it doesn’t. There’s just more twangy treble zing.

Overall, as with their electric strings, I would say that the DR is more of a twangy, trebly string than a deep, rich string. This string will provide more articulation than warmth. On a guitar like an Ovation that prides itself more on balance and articulation than on deep warmth DR strings make for a very “articulate” tone. Every note in every chord will be clear. I would wager the DRs would also provide some extra articulation and clarity to a boomier, woodier guitar like a Martin.

A box of DR strings tends to be about a dollar more than a box of D’Addario/Ernie Ball/GHS/Dean Markley, etc., coming in at just under seven dollars. At the moment they are actually several dollars cheaper than LaBella strings, which are probably very similar, and they are, of course, much cheaper than “coated” or “long life” strings like Elixirs or EXPs, which I don’t like.

I will have to see how long these hold up and how I like them before the next string change, but so far I would recommend them.

Grade: TBD

Track-by-Track – The Beach Boys/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)

The Beach Boys/Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (Capitol-1965)

  1. The Girl from New York City – Drop the needle on the groove and wait. A wailing sax? Goofy Mike Love bass vocals? Although the ensuing song ends up being pretty catchy, this is not a promising way to start the album.
  2. Amusement Parks USA – It’s perfectly valid for a band to take a step back and return to an earlier, simpler sound, but after the brilliant Today! this throwback to almost a Surfing’ Safari sensibility (carnival noises just like “County Fair”) sounds downright infantile.
  3. Then I Kissed Her – After two not-so-great opening tracks, resorting to a serviceable but unremarkable Phil Spector cover for track three sort of confirms the listener’s worst fears about this album. On the plus side, Al sings lead.
  4. Salt Lake City – There is some clever arrangement going on here, but this is still a silly song about . . . . uh, yeah, how groovy Salt Lake City is.
  5. Girl Don’t Tell Me – Then the album takes a surprising turn. This Beatlesque number is literally my favorite Beach Boys song and has been for decades. I’m a big fan of Beach Boys harmonies, yet there are zero harmonies here. Just a double-tracked solo lead vocal. For some reason little brother Carl had never sung lead before this, and it turns out he has an even better set of pipes than Brian. The band, who rarely contributed much of anything to backing tracks at this point, actually played all the instrument here, including a celeste. This sweet song about knowing a summer romance is likely to end is about as honest as it gets. It’s a touching song to begin with, but Carl’s vocal delivery is what takes it to a very special place.
  6. Help Me Rhonda – This leaner, meaner version of “Help Me Rhonda,” which became the Beach Boys’ second number one, has all the right stuff. Al sings a memorable lead, and Brian adds a distinctive falsetto harmony to this version that is really the “point after touchdown” here.
  7. California Girls – And then another one of the Beach Boys’ most beloved tunes with its bompa-bompa beat and “ooh-ah” harmonies. This one hit #3.
  8. Let Him Run Wild – You see, the first four cuts on this album weren’t great, but the next four are a downright classic patch of wonderfulness that’s hard to beat. If someone were to ask “Why do you like the Beach Boys anyways?” this song is a pretty good answer. Something about the opening line “when I watched you walk with him, tears filled my eyes” over a vibraphone or something followed by a reverb-drenched little guitar motif really does it for me. If anyone says “I’m not that into the Beach Boys,” the first few seconds of this song (as well as the rest of it) are an easy rebuttal. By the way, I think this song is about Brian, Dennis, and Carl’s sad Murry’s extramarital affairs.
  9. You’re So Good to Me – This self-loather is kind of like a sequel to “She Knows Me Too Well.” Brian does this sort of thing very well.
  10. Summer Means New Love – This is the sort of Hollywood-inspired instrumental music father Murry adored. It turns out Brian was pretty hip to it too.
  11. I’m Bugged at My Old Man – Considering how uninspired sounding the first few tracks are, this album becomes oddly personal. This may be an attempt at humor, but considering how abusive the elder Wilson was, this piano-and-voice only number has a strange rawness about it.
  12. And Your Dreams Come True – Some pretty harmonies close out the album.

At this point Brian certainly didn’t have another Today! in him and must have decided to tread water, but he did have about half of another great album in him. In much the same way that “Don’t Worry Baby” and “The Warmth of the Sun” seem like they should be on a better album, a good portion of this album does not belong on the same album as “Amusement Parks USA” and “Salt Lake City.” Oddly this one isn’t front-loaded though. There isn’t a good song until track five, and then there are a solid five or so good songs in a row.

“Gee,” you must be saying, “I hope the Beach Boys follow this one up with an album that sounds like that Sublime acoustic album with a bunch of overdubbed fake party noises.”

You may be in luck. Stay tuned to gabemusic.org.

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