September 26, 2012

Brian James obscures reality in "Headstone"

SOMERVILLESCOUT.COM--“The story you will soon come to be acquainted with is in part truth and in part fiction,” Brian James warns in the foreword to his short novel Headstone: October 27, 1915—August 30, 1984, “a large percentage of it is fact-based, while a significant portion is pure bullshit.” Over the course of reading the book those percentages fluctuate wildly creating a narrative of pure fact-based bullshit. It’s a quick, magic ride through eras: father and son, builder and inheritor. [READ ON]

September 24, 2012

The Phlegm Master Returns

Bob Dylan, disciplined and froggy, drops lyrical pint after pint of blood on new album, Tempest.
When Bob Dylan, 71, opens his throat to sing on his newest album, Tempest, the listener almost has to wonder if the songwriting legend is alright. Is he choking? Is that the sound of blood coughs? Did he just swallow a bunch of corrosive acid? Dylan the Phlegm Master. Dylan the Road Scholar. Never once known for a voice of gold, the man once referred to as Judas, returns with a stark, spooky album concerned with death and his rocky quaver suits it perfectly.
Dylan continues on his late-career surge with Tempest following the drawn-out story albums Time Out Of Mind, Love And Theft, Modern Times and Together Through Life. The new one, though, is less mid-afternoon bar band and more Sleepy Hollow night-croak. Its tales are of murder, suicide, revenge and longing. Times changed long ago and now we’re stuck in the pit of despair.
A light piano breeze opens the record on “Duquesne Whistle,” a warm, gauzy jangle. The guitars tangle side by side and sound like little birds laughing to each other. Dylan is breathing his first (and last) sunny breath as he carouses around town. It only gets darker from there.
By the next song, “Soon After Midnight,” Dylan is alone and contemplating a life of hardships with the utmost ease. His grin is chiseled as he wishes for someone not there. “Narrow Way” picks the mood up with a rolling snare shot and guitars like alarms. Throughout Tempest his voice is mostly a constant rasp, but every now and then it’ll settle into a wavering and ghoulish tone. At points, especially in "Scarlet Town," you can actually hear his lips curling above his teeth as he carefully enunciates. It's sinister, static spine stuff.
“I pay in blood, but not my own,” Dylan warns on “Pay In Blood.” If any other performer at this age wrote a song with that chorus it would come off as hokey. With Dylan, though, it’s actually believable. I imagine smearings of blood on his lyric sheet as he writes at some unknown hour.
If “Duquesne Whistle” feels like a serene day in early June, then by “Scarlet Town” the album has reached a dark late-October night. The song floats along with ghost-sense as Dylan bellows and cackles. The scene is filled with beggars, junkie whores, intruders and missed opportunities with the end very near. Midway through an irksome guitar solo worms its way to the front of the mix, electrifies the listener’s senses, then disappears.
“Early Roman Kings," the following song, keeps the dread from overtaking with a Mannish Boy stroll. Dylan’s playing master and commander. “I could strip you of life, strip you of breath, ship you down to the house of death,” he sings. I fear the moment this man dies and his soul is unleashed unto the world.
Truly triumphant is Dylan on "Tin Angel." The listener is carefully walked through a bloody knock-down scuffle with knives drawn, bullets grazing ears and faith drying up. The music is steady and ambient, built around a sweet recurring pull on the bass string that tunnels in on the density of the scene. The shadow of each character flares on the attic walls of the listener’s mind.
The album ends with two final odes to death: “Tempest” about the Titanic sinking and “Roll On John” about John Lennon’s passing. Much has been written about these two songs and they mostly feel out of place musically, but what’s an album of death without mention of two historically significant endings? One can only hope it’s still a long time coming before Dylan is himself the subject of such a song.

Key Tracks: "Tin Angel," "Scarlet Town," "Pay In Blood," "Duquesne Whistle"

September 11, 2012


It was my mother who introduced me to the
Post World. Waking me up gently but with
sharp concern, Don't want you to worry but
something happened in New York.
Growing up in Arizona turned NYC into a
distant metropolis of magical realism. May
as well have been OZ far as we knew
sweating in the desert. I sat at mattress edge
seeing the broadcast hole burning and flaks
of debris spit, watching my mother practicing
her routine patterns best she could. Must
be accidental, we assumed. In awe and
naiveté I saw the second plane enter
bottom right of screen chuckling
at the prospect of it, too, crashing. When
it did just that the fear came tumbling: that
was no rescue plane. Jumping from bed
the images and news-anchor panic dawned
something uncertain weeks into my high
school existence. My thoughts, then, could
not form into the structurally cemented
opinions I have now. Then, it was all
blank. I fixed my hair in the mirror and
just before leaving to catch the school
bus a third plane cut the Pentagon like
a cake. *

from The American Rut

September 10, 2012

"Nibble" Paints Union Square in Delicious Colors

SOMERVILLESCOUT.COMUnion Square, with its farmers markets and art fairs, has come to represent the point in Somerville where all things food and art flow into. Nibble: Exploring Food, Art, and Culture in Union Square—and Beyond presented by The Somerville Arts Council looks to connect the dots between the two worlds. Primarily the 132-page book acts as a local recipe guide while weaving the reader through the stories behind the dishes and the restaurants they come from. What’s presented is a wide look at Union Square with food goggles. Make ‘em say, “Mmmm.” [READ ON]