Arts, Entertainment, Living

New live Joe Louis Walker CD - "Blues Conspiracy"

Friday, 01 October 2010 12:00 AM Written by

walkerWe're going to keep rolling along with our string of excellent new blues releases this week with a CD from a blues great whose name doesn't always come up when blues greats are talked about -- Joe Louis Walker

The album is "Blues Conspiracy: Live on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise" (Stony Plain Records). Because the R&B cruises are packed with talent, the CD is filled with prime guests -- Johnny Winter, Nick Moss, Mitch Woods, Deanna Bogart, Tommy Castro, Jason Ricci, Watermelon Slim, just name about half of them.

Well..  those two paragraphs above are what you get when you start a post, then go out to see a blues show (Lil' Ed) and stay out so late you forget to finish what you started. I'd say it was a temporary inconvenience for a permanent improvement, but that would most likely be untrue.

So as I was saying, Walker's great blues style, all these guests, and the excitement of the live cruise show make for a very good album, filled with some classic blues by these great players.

The focus, of course, is Walker, who's been around long enough to have first-rate blues props, but doesn't seem to get the broader recognition he deserves. He can play torchy slow blues, or rock along in crackling good fashion. His vocals, in the higher registers, are tough and expressive.

This is an excellent CD -- it captures the fun of a live show with lots of stars, and provides plenty of good blues.

Here's a video of Mr. Walkeer at work:

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This Week's Video Game News

Thursday, 30 September 2010 11:13 AM Written by

Fall is officially upon us.  That means colder weather, leaves on the floor of the car, and a new season for video game releases.  The first week of the season was a busy one for the game industry with a major announcement from Nintendo, some screenshots released by Microsoft, and some troubling news for EA Sports.

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A night at an auto park

Thursday, 30 September 2010 09:11 AM Written by

FARMINGTON, ME. -- Still at McDonald's 

Nice to find a McDonald's. Nice to find a McDonald's open at 5:15. I tried to make it to the  Lancaster Motor Inn in Lancaster, N.H., last night -- honest -- but I couldn't keep my eyes open. Driving in a snaking tunnel of pine trees at 60 mph for three hours will do that.DSC_2025

Maine is even emptier at night, if that's possible. The distance between Millinocket -- the lumber mill town where the Pelletier family of "American Loggers" fame lives and runs a new restaurant that surprised me with an amazingly good spinach salad -- and the next big town, Milo, is 39 miles. I encountered 12 cars in 45 minutes.

Steinbeck said in "Travels With Charley" that he camped behind or beneath or beside a bridge somewhere in the middle of Maine's vast nowhereness. I was not so lucky. For an hour I looked for a  "camping" turnout or rest stop where I could crash for the night but found none.

Then I saw a poorly lighted used car dealership out in the country on US Route 2 maybe 10 miles east of here. I stopped. I backed onto the grass next to a pickup truck. With the nose of my RAV pointed at the road just like the other cars, I hung up my blackout curtains and went to sleep.

Impersonating a used car worked. My RAV4, despite its cargo top, blended in perfectly with the 30 or 40 other vehicles. The random trucks and cars that roared by in the night took no notice. I didn't take a photo of the crime scene because I would have had to use a flash. I didn't want to push my luck.

Now it's on to Concord, Vt., which is 120 miles west of here. I want to see the spot along the Connecticut River where Steinbeck slept in his camper in the parking lot of a "ghost" motel that was opened all night but had no one at the desk to rent him a room. I also want to be in Concord when Scott Simon of NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday" calls to find out if I'm safe to be interviewed by public radio.


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Good Roads, Good women

Thursday, 30 September 2010 08:08 AM Written by

FARMINGTON, ME. -- McDonald's 

Unlike Steinbeck, I never did find a potato farm on US 1 in Aroostook County that looked like it was harvesting or processing spuds with Canuck migrant workers or even machines.

Maybe next time.

In Ft. Kent I reached the northern end of US 1 about noon on Wednesday and turned south on state Route 11 for the long drive back to New Hampshire and the way West. DSC_1932_3 

On the map, Route 11 looks like a boring north-south highway stuck into the top half of Maine. 

For some reason -- maybe because Steinbeck said nothing about the road itself -- I dreaded Route 11. I imagined running all day long through pine trees over a marshy flatland.

In reality Maine's longest highway is prettier and far more interesting and fun to drive than foggy, flat US 1 -- until the sun sets, anyway.DSC_1941

 After it leaves the top of Maine, Route 11 runs over, around, up and down and through hills and low mountains in deepest, darkest, woodsiest Maine. 

There was so little traffic I began to suspect the smooth wide two-lane highway was built just to prove how empty the middle of Maine truly is. Or to give highballing' double-trailered logging trucks their own speedway.

Other cars were almost as rare as the towns, houses and farms. Steinbeck saw moose on Route 11. The only mooses I saw were painted on warning signs.DSC_1925_copy

Route 11 took me longer than it should have.

I pulled over too many times to take photos of sagging abandoned farm houses or the cute little rest stops that MaineDOT has built to provide a quiet place for  picnics or the couples who arrive separately in their pickup trucks.

When I stopped at a rest stop to snack on some peanut butter and crackers -- I wasn't counting on finding a restaurant for a another day or two -- there were three cars and only one person. Then a couple stepped out of the woods and got into their vehicles.

Maine people -- Mainers? Manians? Mainsters? -- couldn't be nicer and they've obviously been brought up to be kind to strangers.

In the little burg of Patten I turned around to go back and photograph a weed-strangled home that was obviously inhabited when Steinbeck hurried through there 50 years ago so he could get to a motel in Lancaster, N.H., before nightfall.DSC_2001_copy

As I got out of my car, a young woman who had seen me turn around pulled over and asked if I needed any help.

She thought I was lost, of course, which it looked like I was. But I was just driving the way I usually do -- as if traffic laws don't apply to journalists (or ex-journalists).

She quickly filled me in on the local history, said her town has about 1,000 inhabitants and suggested I take a picture of the corner store "because it's going to be torn down tomorrow."DSC_2009

She wasn't the first woman in timeless/spaceless/changeless Maine to think I was in distress; she was the fourth in less than 24 hours.

In Calais -- was that Tuesday? -- after I talked to the people in Karen's Main Street diner and the town bookstore, I stopped along the side of the road on my way out of town to file a blog item.

I wanted to take advantage of the sudden surge in Verizon's cell phone signal. (It was from Canada and roaming charges will apply until I call Verizon and plead my case; it happens all the time, warn the locals.)  

I was twisted around backwards, squeezed between my two front seats, typing on my laptop, which sat on my "bed." 

Since I am journalism's worst typist even when sitting up straight in a booth at McDonald's, it took almost two hours to write my blog item and load and send it and photos to Pittsburgh.

My first visitor was a U.S. Customs and Border Control officer, who pulled up behind me in her patrol car. I thought it was a local cop coming to arrest me, but she couldn't have been sweeter.

She had passed me three times and saw me in the same stupid position, so she naturally thought I had had a heart attack or had been the victim of a mob hit.

 I told her, apologizing as abjectly as possible, I was fine and explained what I was doing and begged for mercy because I was an ex-journalist and didn't know any better.

She believed every word of it, wasn't the least bit mad or officious, and left me to my pathetic typing. I didn't dare take her picture.

Ten minutes later I looked up from my keyboard to see two cars parked right behind me and two women with worried faces hurrying toward me.

They too thought I was dead or dying and were genuinely relieved, and not the least bit annoyed, to be told I was physically fine, just mentally challenged.

I finally came to my senses and pulled into a parking lot farther up the road, where I should have been in the first place. 

It felt comforting to know the good women of Maine were looking out for me. 

Where the Calais police force was all this time, I'll never know.  I'm not complaining, mind you. But based on my five-day, nearly 1,000 mile loop through Maine, police are as rare as moose. 

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'American Dad' marks 100 episodes

Thursday, 30 September 2010 02:00 AM Written by

Sc636-0039Fox's "American Dad" reaches its 100th episode in its season premiere Sunday (9:30 p.m., WPGH) and with that comes a sense of greater ease among the writers for all three of executive producer Seth MacFarlane's Sunday night series ("Family Guy" and "The Cleveland Show" are the other two.

All three shows inhabit the same universe and future episodes of the programs will include more crossover appearances from characters on one of the other shows.

Read more after the jump. ...

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juniorI want to mention two new CDs today that are not really new, but contain great old music, newly released. And they should both be a real treat for classic Chicago blues fans.

Both are from Delmark Records, the great jazz and blues label in Chicago and feature two legendary Chicago blues figures -- Junior Wells and Floyd McDaniel (sadly, I can't find a good web site for him, but his obituary speaks volumes about his life).

The Junior Wells CD: "Junior Wells & the Aces - Live in Boston 1966" is a never-released club set from a reunion of Junior (Amos Blakemore) and the Aces -- Louis Myers, guitar; Dave Myers, bass; Fred Below, drums -- the band that got Wells started in 1950, and probably one of the best blues bands. Ever.

The band members play, talk and wisecrack their way through the set, with emphasis on "play." The songs, a mix of some Wells originals and blues chestnuts, form a framework for Junior's tough, soaring harp, and crisp, bluesy guitar from Myers. Songs like "Feelin' Good,""It's A Man Down There," "Worried Life Blues" and "Look On Yonder's Wall." Classic songs, classic treatment.

And listen to the guitar, please, and learn how the blues was meant to be played -- not an extra or wasted note. Time and space between the notes that say just as much as the notes themselves. Rock solid rhythm from Below and bassist Myers.

One drawback here is the somewhat muddy sound. It's live, and probably wasn't recorded in 1966 with posterity in mind. But don't let that stop you from enjoying these historic blues.

floydThe Floyd McDaniel CD: "Floyd McDaniel with Dave Specter and the Bluebirds - West Side Baby." McDaniel spent most of his life in and around Chicago, and was an important, if unheralded, figure on the music scene.

This is a live recording from Bremen, Germany, in 1994, with a band that included Dave Specter on guitar and Tad Robinson on harp.

This is another set of crackling good Chicago blues with T-Bone Walker grooves led by jazz/blues singer-guitarist McDaniel, who was 79 at the time, about a year before his death.

And its another set of classics: "West Side Baby," "Mean Old World," "Route 66," "Everyday I Have the Blues" and more. McDaniel wasn't the household blues name that Wells became, but in his own way contributed just as much over a much longer career.

I couldn't find a McDaniel video, but here's an audio clip from the CD:  "Everyday I Have the Blues" --

And here's a video of Junior Wells from 1966, even though it's not with the Aces:

And don't forget: Lil' Ed tonight at Moondog's, Rory Block Friday night at the Thunderbird Cafe.

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Potato Country

Wednesday, 29 September 2010 10:11 AM Written by

VAN BUREN,  Me. -- 929 Steinbeck Miles

Aroostook County, famous for potatoes, is said to be bigger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.

No one behind the wheel of a car traveling north on US 1 from Calais is going to challenge that fact.

Steinbeck came all this way armed with only an AM radio and his own imagination, though he had Charley to talk to.DSC_1932_copy_copy

Probably 50 years ago today, Steinbeck headed north on US 1 from Deer Isle to the top of Maine after staying for two days at Eleanor Brace's spectacularly beautiful house on the edge of the sea.

He probably slept there in Rocinante the nights of Sept. 26 and Sept. 27. A Sept. 28 letter he sent from Deer Isle to Adlai Stevenson mentioned that he had seen part of the first Nixon-JFK TV debate (held Sept. 26) and was disgusted by the excess of courtesy the two candidates showed toward each other.

Steinbeck's long-time agent, Elizabeth Otis, had been vacationing at Brace's place for 30 years, renting a rustic cottage on the grounds straight out of a Disney movie. DSC_1940

Otis insisted that the island and the house were too beautiful for Steinbeck to miss.

It's easy to see why.


Take a video tour of the Eleanor Brace house, where Steinbeck parked Rocinante for two nights in late September 1960.

After Steinbeck left Deer Isle, he said in "Charley" that he slept in Rocinante under a bridge one rainy night and also camped overnight by a lake somewhere in Aroostook County, where he entertained a family of French Canadians at a little party in his camper shell.  

The Canucks had come across the border from Canada, as they always did during potato harvest time, to pick potatoes.

Machines do most of the picking now, and, as with most everything else that was once hard and back-breaking slave's work, human muscle has been replaced by brainpower and the magic of technology.

Not every wooden white church in New England is blazing white.

Last night I behaved like an adult and slept in the Aroostook Hospitality Inn here on US 1.

I rolled the motel-room dice from 60 miles away and I didn't lose. It's a good place with all the important amenities I need -- strong wi-fi, lots of wall plugs and a good shower.

It's an independent mom & pop, has a lot of character -- not to mention the character who manages it -- and it cost $69.

Today I set out on the long haul back down to Lancaster, N.H., on state Route 11, as Steinbeck did.

First I'll  see if I can find a big potato farm -- or big potato factory  -- or big whatever it is that potatoes come from these days. 


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IFC introduces 'Todd Margaret'

Wednesday, 29 September 2010 02:00 AM Written by

ToddMargaretAs long as you're OK with comedy-of-the-uncomfortable, then IFC's "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" (10 p.m. Friday) is by far the funnier of the two David Cross-Will Arnett series airing this fall (the other being Fox's "Running Wilde").

Read more after the jump. ...


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