The Partridge Family; Dirty Three…
I'm young enough that I've only sketchy moments of recall regarding the likes of Shirley, Keith, Laurie, Danny, Tracy, Chris and Mr. Ruben Kincaid -- y'know, the Partridge Family. Gotta admit, far as the 1971 CBS lineup 'tween the hours of eight and nine pm goes, I was more of a Brady Bunch guy. I guess I didn't get the sunny, West Coast exotics of the set. To me, living in Michigan (ass-biting cold), the Partridge's SoCal home (filled with shiny-happy types) might as well have been Mars. And what's up with that redheaded kid? Still, I watched it. Of course I watched it. Susan Dey. Ya know.
The Definitive Collection
And, of course, I sang the songs. I was five years old ferchristsakes. I yelled and shouted and drove my poor folks bananas singing the dumb songs featured in every episode. But man, what beautifully dumb songs they are. And whether you care to admit it right now or not, if you're between the ages of 25 to 35, you howled Partridge Family tunes too. Now, of course, the Partridge Family functions as a nostalgic footnote to the seventies. But that doesn't mean we still can't enjoy the music, singing dumb, puppy dog love songs until we fall down laughing. Thank God for this totally cool compilation -- David Cassidy and the Partridge Family: The Definitive Collection.
The first track on the set is the Partridge's monster hit, "I Think I Love You." The first time you spin this tune, you'll be convinced this is the best goddamn song ever written. Period. From that moment forward, "I Think I Love You" will repeat continually on that little CD player in your brain. It gets worse! That's how good this CD is...it actually gets cheesier, more gloriously schmaltzy and more irresistible. I'll tantalize you with but a few of the gems that lie herein: "I'll Meet You Halfway" (possibly the third or fourth best goddamn song ever written), "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do," and even a live version of David Cassidy ripping through "Please, Please Me." C'mon, you need this. Admit it.
Before I cranked the cork on this dreamy bottle of 1996 Edmeades Anderson Valley chardonnay, the only previous Edmeades juices I'd ever slurped had been zins. And I'm sorry, but I can't seem to recall their vineyard-designate names or vintages. I do remember, however, that I liked them. A lot. Medium-bodied. Idiosyncratic. Lean, but with decent raspberry fruit. Very "Western." Heck yeah, I liked 'em. It made for an easy decision when it came time to drop $14 for a white variety.
As for the Edmeades chard, it's really quite delicious, nailing that spot on the chardonnay taste scale that's rich and buttery. The well defined, crisp-apple fruit is cut by a citrus bite of lemon or lime while still, somehow, managing to retain a delicate floral nose. That's some serious work for 750 ml of juice, but the Edmeades gets the job done with (dare I say) grace. Ahhh. This chard's all over that sweet spot, and it hums with harmonious, resonant flavors. This wine isn't just singing -- it's belting out a ridiculously catchy pop tune the likes of "I Think I Love You" as loud as it possibly can.
A note: The Edmeades tasted best cold. Not freezing cold, like you might serve a sav blanc, but pretty darn cold.
Whatever You Love, You Are
It's remarkably easy to get lured into the swirl of the Dirty Three's gorgeously shambolic instrumental music. Compressing gently strummed guitars, sweeping violin and hints of percussion into forms that suggest everything from mournful Celtic airs to stirring Baltic melodies to the buzzing cacophony of Sonic Youth, the Dirty Three are able to sound remarkably fresh and innovative, yet still raw, romantic and improvisationally energetic. At times, Dirty Three burns white hot, blazing a path of passion that leads directly to a stirring climax. Other times, hardly anything happens except for a plaintive swipe at a guitar and a pensive rap on a drum. Yet either approach leads to a roiling, engaging musical journey. While not substantially different from their previous albums, Ocean Songs and Horse Stories, Whatever You Love, You Are presents an entirely new portfolio of the band's stormy musical landscapes. Usually, violinist Warren Ellis leads the tune and establishes the pace and melody, while guitarist Mick Turner strums with halting subtlety and drummer Jim White adds faint percussive punctuation. On "Some Summers They Drop Like Flies," a gently plucked violin gives way to a swirling, multitracked melody and a beguiling string tangle from the guitar. On "Stellar," barely-there guitar scrapes establish a hypnotic web of bumped notes and hesitant chords, while the drums and fiddle improvise and weave their own knot. At first, it hardly sounds as if a tune will emerge, but one does...slowly, mysteriously and with all the rough-hewn poetic eloquence that's become the Dirty Three's trademark. Whatever You Love, You Are, while not a revelation in this band's career, is yet another wonderful, beautiful piece of music.
Of course, since the Dirty Three hail from Melbourne, Australia, any sensible wine/music critic would seize the opportunity to write about a big-ass Aussie red. I'm no different. Example: the 1996 Chateau Reynella Basket Pressed cabernet merlot.
Yes, the back label on the Reynella warns against drinking too soon: "As in previous vintages," it warns, "this wine will reward with patience if given time in the cellar for five to 10 years." Too bad I read that after I popped the cork. The "basket pressing" refers to the process of extracting the juice from the grapes, and this wine is so raw you just might see chunks floating around in the bottle. The Reynella clan claims that this process produces characteristics that are "rich" and "soft." Well, maybe in ten years. Against the lamb -- cooked up with olive oil, Tom Douglas lamb rub and a splash of 1996 Reynella then seared two minutes per side and baked at a nice high temp for about 10 minutes... which turned out to be rather spicy with notes of cinnamon, by the way -- this young wine put up a valiant fight. Immediately uncorked, it smells exactly like a cigar humidor, with sweet, tangy cedar wafting from the bottle. The just-opened fruit's juicy and spicy, almost like a zin. After less than five minutes, though, the overwhelming notes of oak (14 months of a French/ American blend) begin to take over, and the bottle turns into a brute, cutting through the lamb with a truckload of tannins. They certainly aren't kidding when they suggest five to 10 years of bottle age for this juice. Yeah, I committed infanticide on this bottle, but I'll buy another. It's sure to be a sweetheart by, oh, say, 2010.
Jonas Hellborg is a Swedish acoustic bassist known for his rather lengthy melodic improvisations. Often teaming with ethnic musicians, Hellborg's a master at creating a deeply resonant atmosphere and then zipping around that space with mind-blowing fretwork. His music's expansive, exotic and a sublimely gorgeous way to fill a good pair of speakers. Hellborg's latest is Zen House, a collaboration with guitarist Shawn Lane and a percussionist named, oddly enough, Apt. Q-258. Hellborg plays a bass that looks and sounds more like a baritone guitar than the large double bass you'd normally see in an acoustic jazz band. His instrument's also much more nimble than a double bass. Hellborg can pick deviously intricate melodies and strum chords with a swirling abandon. In short, his bass sings. Zen house is divided into two suites, each about a half-hour long. Both ebb and flow between languid, floating melodies and blistering solo runs. This show's clearly Hellborg, but his bandmates offer sympathetic playing. Shawn Lane's guitar wafts, gravity-free, in every weightless zone Hellborg creates, while also matching him explosion for explosion when things begin to get hot. For his part, the aforementioned Mr. Apt. Q-258 is remarkably restrained, adding only tasteful banging and rattling, depending on the needs of the situation.
Hellborg's playing is certainly exotic -- filled with mystery and delightful surprises. It suggests faraway, little-seen places. I don't consider Australia very exotic (Disclosure: author has never visited Australia). In fact, I reckon it's like a continent-sized Texas --big, dusty, lotsa money in the cities, lotsa tumbleweeds and pickup trucks 10 miles outside of town. That doesn't mean the Aussies don't make great wine. In fact, Rosemount shiraz has already been enshrined in the Cheap Wine Hall of Fame. It's a wine that, as long as I can remember, has meant quality. So when a friend offered me a bottle of the 1996 vintage (a regift?) a few days ago, I greedily snatched it. Once cracked, the juice inside was wonderful, soft, delicious. A few years of bottle age relaxed the tannins and brought out a rounded tone to the fruit. 'Twas lovely. That's why I just bought a bottle of Rosemount's latest vintage. This bottle's still a great bargain. While the fruit and spice may not be pronounced as back in the good ol' days, the Rosemount's a no-nonsense, solid red that's ready to drink now -- even better after a five year nap. Consistent wine values are few and far between. Drink Up!
Kamikaze Ground Crew
Kamikaze Ground Crew is an odd name for a jazz band, but then again, the Kamikaze Ground Crew's an odd jazz band. Led by the slide trombone of Steven Bernstein (his other band's named Sex Mob, also a rather odd jazz band), the Kamikaze Ground Crew is a big, sprawling brass band with tremendous musical chops and a terrific sense of play. On their new album, Covers, the group offers its version of music from the likes of Jimi Hendrix to Huey "Piano" Smith. It's both an intriguing mixture and a worthy experiment: can an unruly gang of big, woozy brass instruments convey the wide range of emotions that this music demands? The answer's a resounding yes. From quiet, plaintive passages to raucous, drunken rave-ups, the Kamikaze Ground Crew fills this CD with a wonderful, curious spirit, making each note sound new and every song whirl with the spirit of discovery. This one, friends, comes highly recommended.
I get extremely excited when I can recommend wonderful new music to friends. But I only get excited about recommending wine if it tastes great and is a terrific value. What can I say? I'm a tightwad. My pals are tightwads. And nothing tastes quite as good as a great bottle snagged on the cheap. J. Lohr Paso Robles cabernet's a wine that satisfies the universal (well, universal among tightwads, at least) craving for a wine that makes me want to take big gulps yet spend small money.
Out of the bottle, this cab doesn't play coy. It's about berries and berries. After 15 minutes, the wine's structure begins to emerge and, for a wine around $10, the tannins are remarkably silky (but certainly there) without any hint of flab. But lord o'mighty, what fruit! Well-placed dollops of vanilla and cedar goad glorious flavors of strawberry and cherry forward. This is a delicious wine that did well with an All-American burger (medium, cheddar, grilled onion, just a touch of full-grain mustard please, and thank you!). Because the J. Lohr's so widely available, it's certainly within the realm of possibility for you to have a case safely tucked away in your closet by dinnertime tonight. You lucky devil, you.
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Nowhere's this sentiment more heartfelt than on Blue Break Beats, a deliciously groovy box set just released by the Blue Note label. The idea behind the Blue Break Beats series is to collect the greatest grooves -- the grooves that've been sampled on every funky record for the last 15 years -- in their original soul funk versions. The artists represented herein are no one-hit wonders, no lightweights, no "average" players. Names the likes of Richard "Groove" Holmes, Herbie Hancock, "Cannonball" Adderly, Lou Donaldson and Grant Greene... names that mean funk, funk and more funk. Ladies and gents, this is true and honest funk -- the real freakin' deal. And with four CDs, if this baby doesn't get the party started, perhaps you need new friends.
The 1997 Gustavo Thrace Carneros chardonnay also displays a certain level of funkiness, and with a large, buttery low end goin' toe-to-toe with a pronounced mineral quality, this is a chard that's serious about shakin' the shack. Directly out of the bottle, the Thrace reveals its nose of minerals, with the first few sips tasting flinty and sharp. A few minutes out of the bottle and the wine begins to soften as the buttery notes begin to take over. The Thrace, while not as full or well rounded as the very best chards, still offers enough phat flayva and tangy bite to lubricate a broiled fish creation or a groovy kebab of veggies and prawns.
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