Archive for December 27, 2010

2010, Best Of: My Year In New Music

Any list of best music should really be called “favorite music,” and mine has to begin with the standard caveat: I didn’t listen to or absorb nearly enough to make an informed choice.

But in addition to that, and possibly as a result of my advancing age (49), I find myself less infatuated with “the new” and “the next,” so don’t chase after the latest & greatest with the same zeal I once had. And there are diminishing finances to consider in this slumping, sluggish economy. While I’m always interested in hearing great new music, sometimes that amounts to discovering early Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac or a neglected John Fahey disc. Shouldn’t I just spend more time exploring the Kinks back catalog? So a lot of things that were new to me in 2010 were not at all new to the world, just new to mine.

That said, here goes:

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This was the year when I derived a lot of pleasure from the so-called British nu-folk movement, especially new disks from LAURA MARLING (“I Speak Because I Can”), MUMFORD & SONS (“Sigh No More”), TOM McRAE (“The Alphabet of Shadows”), and STORNOWAY’S debut (“Beachcomber’s Windowsill”).

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I also fully endorse some of the obvious choices, more on the hipster tip: ARCADE FIRE (“The Suburbs”), THE NATIONAL (“High Violet”), BROKEN BELLS (“s/t”), BEACH HOUSE (“Teen Dream”), and BLACK KEYS (“Brothers”). Love each one of those disks.

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In terms of singer-songwriters, I especially liked SHARON VAN ETTEN (“Epic”), LAURA VEIRS (“July Flame”), THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH (“The Wild Hunt”), and CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (“IRM”).

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A few old favorites came through with solid efforts, led by TEENAGE FANCLUB (“Shadows”), their best since “Songs of Northern Britain.” Others: PETER WOLF (“Midnight Souveniers”), and THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS (“Together”). In the alt-country vein, RYAN BINGHAM & THE DEAD HORSES (“Junky Star”), PHOSPHERESCENT followed up their disk of Willie Nelson covers with “Here’s to Taking It Easy,” and I’m still trying to wrap my ears around JAMEY JOHNSON’S 25-song, double-CD, “The Guitar Song.”

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More rock-based bands that I liked: TITUS ANDRONICUS (“The Monitor”), DEERHUNTER, (“Halcyon Digest”), and THE LIARS (“Sisterworld”).

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Some things that didn’t easily fit into the categories above: BLITZEN TRAPPER (“Destroyer of the Void”), BAND OF HORSES (“Infinite Arms”), and WILLIAM TYLER (“Behold the Spirit”). Bubbling Under: JOSH RITTER (“So Runs the World Away”).

Lastly, things I would own (and likely like) if I had more money: CAROLINA CHOCOLATE DROPS (“Genuine Negro Jig”), JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE (“Harlem River Blues”), MIDLAKE (“The Courage of Others”), THE WALKMEN (“Lisbon”), FRIGHTENED RABBIT (“The Winter of Mixed Drinks”), THE ROOTS (“How I Got Over”), SPOON (“Transference”), THE VILLAGERS (Becoming a Jackel”), JOHNNY FLYNN (“Been Listening”).

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Acclaimed that I did not care for: VAMPIRE WEEKEND (“Contra”), THE BOOKS (“This Way Out”). Then there’s a lot of stuff I elected not to own, based on limited listenings, such as SLEIGH BELLS, WAVVES, YEASAYER, and a boatload of others that were praised elsewhere and I never gave, for a variety of reasons, a fair listen. Hey, my ears can’t be everywhere. And my taste currently leans much more into wooden music than electronica, and for me song craft continues to trump attitude.

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That leaves KANYE WEST’S “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which is probably the most widely praised disk of the year. As a personality, I find Kanye unbearable –- and as a live performer on television I find him bloated and dull (an unlikely but devastating combo). Yet he does have an undeniable musical gift and made a compelling disk, with all kinds of high marks. The opening track, “Dark Fantasy” strikes me as ground-breaking and brilliant. Not to mention any time a rapper brings together King Crimson and Bon Iver is worth at least a wtf. I won’t listen to this CD much, but there’s definitely some head-turning moments that I couldn’t ignore.

So . . . My Top Nine:

Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling, The National, Black Keys, Beach House, Jamey Johnson, Tallest Man on Earth, Broken Bells, __________.

I’ll leave the tenth spot blank, because I probably didn’t hear it.

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As always . . . your mileage may vary. Hopefully you’ll find something you like here.

Wishing You the Best

Busy time of year. Or maybe you’ve noticed?

I’m going to push aside bloggy thoughts for the holidays, and likely won’t do much here until January.

Thanks for stopping by, for your interest in children’s books, for everything. I really do appreciate it.

Here’s a little Fats Domino to ring in the holiday . . . “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

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Maggie’s iPod Cake & Photos to Prove It!

Ten years ago today our youngest child, Maggie, was born in our bedroom at home. It was a cold, wet, blustery night and Lisa labored long and hard with two midwives at her side.

Today it’s a living wonder, how this . . .

led to this . . .

led to this . . .

led to this . . .

and now this . . .

Around our house, Maggie somehow acquired that idea that birthdays are a big deal.

A really big deal.

The other day I shared Maggie’s request for breakfast. And so Mom made it happen, with a small bit of grudging help from me . . .

Not too far off from the artist’s original rendering . . .

Maggie ate it up, happily, beaming, humming to herself.

Then there was the problem of the cake. Last week Maggie announced that she wanted Lisa to make a homemade birthday cake, and added, “I want an iPod cake for my birthday!”

An iPod cake? Lisa and I exchanged worried glances. A . . . what!? Where did that come from?

Undaunted, Maggie’s mom dug around, discovered this recipe and stayed up past 1:00 AM last night to bake and decorate this cake.

Mothers, you know, are just crazy about their kids. She’s a lucky girl. But I have to believe she’s not nearly as lucky as her parents.

Fan Mail Wednesday #104 (Thursday Edition)

Fabulous Fineas writes . . .

Dear James Preller,

I love your books!!! I am 8 years old.  I have pretty much read all your jigsaw jones books! My teacher always says I am getting up there! she says i am getting too old for your books because they are too short. Please write bigger books.  Write more mysteries!

From your fan, Fineas

I replied:

Thanks, Fin! Is it okay to call you Fin? Or Finn?

Good news: I have been writing longer books. I’d say the next step beyond Jigsaw in terms of length and difficulty would be: Along Came Spider, Justin Fisher Declares War, Six Innings, then Bystander.

But you are right, I should write another mystery. I’ve been meaning to get around to it again, at an older level, but I guess after 40 Jigsaw Jones books, I needed a break from that type of book. I’d like to write one that’s more complicated and perhaps even dangerous, more along the lines of a thriller. But right now, today, I’ve got nothing. Zippo.

Rough cover sketch by R.W. Alley. Click here to learn

more about his creative process!

You know, I have to confess that I hear this kind of thing a lot — kids being encouraged to move beyond “easy” books. And worse, that their current choices are somehow unworthy, certainly frowned upon, and I suspect that disapproval sometimes spills over to the reader himself.  I think many boys who loved reading comic books, for example, heard the same complaint all through childhood. It’s an unfortunate message, especially in a world where so many boys are not reading for pleasure at all.

So this is what I think, Fin. Your teacher is right to gently encourage you to continue to grow as a reader, to challenge yourself with new books. There are so many great books out there, just waiting for you. But at the same time, as a reader, I often like short books. And I like . . . what I like. The most important thing is that YOU ARE READING BOOKS, any books, even mine. Just keep that up — keep on reading, at least a little bit every day — and you’ll do fine. No worries.

Thanks again for the nice note!


P.S. I recently made a video in response to a reader who had a similar issue at school. You can check it out below!

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Thoughts on Blogging . . . and Maggie’s Birthday Breakfast

I often tell myself, “I’m not going to blog for those creeps anymore!” But each day I find something that I want to say, or share, and return to this outlet. Obviously, I’m blogging for me as much as for you, and very possibly moreso.

Sure, it’s a drag that no one ever seems to comment. It can too often feel like talking in an empty room. But, hey, that’s the writing life. And besides, you’re here! (And I don’t really think you’re a creep.)

People have asked if it takes away from my “real” writing. I don’t believe it does. I may spend too much time on the blog some days, but at least I’m writing and thinking and entertaining myself. I love the archival aspect of the blog, too. It’s all here, neatly saved and organized. A document, a record. Another plus, this blog has been a vehicle for new, unexpected friendships. Crazy as this sounds, I’ve made a few real friendships out of this thing.

So if, Dear Reader, you’ve ever considered starting up your own blog, I recommend it.

The point is, today I had to share this:

Maggie turns ten on Friday, so she can have whatever she’d like for breakfast. When Lisa asked that question last night, Maggie smiled and said, “Let me draw you a picture!”

She hunched over for a few minutes, working with determination, and then explained the picture to Lisa, the banana cut in half for the mouth with chocolate chips on top, the pancake and whipped cream, a cheery for the nose, slices of strawberry on the edges, etc.

After two boys, I’m always grateful that I was blessed with a daughter, now soon to be ten years old.

My Maggie. Amazing.