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October 11, 2005

Some More Music Notes

A quick bit of lunchblogging from Schlotzky's:

Great Big Sea has a new album coming out in a couple of weeks (in the States; Canada gets it today, I believe). The Hard and the Easy is exclusively Newfoundland trad, reinterpreted in their typically no-holds-barred pace. You can hear a snippet of their first single, "Captain Kidd," at their website if you're using Internet Explorer. I'm looking forward to this album, but at the same time wish that they'd been able to continue their trend of mixing original work with trad classics. Something Beautiful, the previous album, suffered a bit from having only a couple of trad tracks to ground the disc. A couple of the weaker pop songs like "Sally Ann" could have easily been replaced there. Now we could have the opposite problem, with a lack of creative songwriting. On the other hand, the tracks I've heard are good so far (especially "The River Driver," which I heard in full at Wolf Trap this summer). GBS will be in Charlotte this April, and I'm likely to be there.

Carbon Leaf continues to impress, especially with their willingness to avoid being pigeonholed. Shannon and I saw them at Cat's Cradle last month, and they turned in a thoughtful, mellow set that included a quiet, philosophical song called "Porpoises." The drunken fratboy behind me who screamed during that song gets to go to the "special Hell," but the band carried themselves well through that and the desperately-shouted requests -- during other songs! -- for a couple of cover songs that have just gotten too tired. Good for them for not buckling under -- they turned out a great show without pandering to the drunkest and loudest in the crowd.

Steven Kellogg and the Sixers opened for Carbon Leaf at that show, and they were an amiable, funny bunch -- professional musicians with a fratboy cover band facade. What was the most striking about their set, however, was the generational divide from their closing cover tune. Shannon and I were amused to see a bunch of college kids surrounding us completely confused by why the thirty-somethings were laughing with delight over "Footloose."

October 10, 2005

Seven Nations, Present

It's about time.

Thanks for Waiting is Seven Nations' eighth studio album (seventh if you consider The Pictou Sessions as an advanced release of the self-titled disc), and it's been long overdue. The previous album, and now it's come to this was released on the Razor and Tie label in 2002. The next couple of years saw the band scaling back their touring and working on side projects. Singer Kirk McLeod released a piano CD, piper Scott Long put together a nice compilation of his own (including an unreleased track with him and Ashley MacIsaac), and Dan Stacey's Crank It kicked Canadian fiddle butt. All we saw under the Seven Nations name was a couple of releases of a Christmas EP, and some noncommittal remarks that they were working on something.

That "something" is their best album yet. All of the music is new -- not a single track recycled from a previous album, which has been a minor complaint of mine. What's more, the music is a real creative stretch for the band. It sounds like they had fun with it, especially "Waltz for Crystele," a decidedly skewed look at a hellish ex-girlfriend. There are bluegrass hints sprinkled all over the album. "Tradition," "Ordinary," and "Sumthin Sumthin" come the closest to capturing 7N's older anthemic sound, and "It's Alright" is a terrific country-fried drinking song.

Thanks for Waiting was worth it.

Seven Nations, Past

I should have written this up months ago, when the news was current -- but I was in my writer's block wilderness. So I'll be brief.

Clan Na Gael: 10 Years On: Seven Nations is my favorite Celtic rock band, in all their incarnations. About a couple of years ago, I exchanged brief e-mails with their former piper Neil Anderson -- I think I was asking his permission to distribute flyers for an upcoming Seven Nations concert while his band was scheduled to play in Cary. (Sadly, he got rained out.) I asked because there had been rumors of animosity between the old band members, and of course the typical online sniping between fans of the old lineup and the new. Anderson's reply was gracious. He had no problem with me handing out some fliers at the show and -- if I recall correctly -- expressed that he was pretty tired of the fannish rivalry. He and the others bore no animosity.

Sure enough, this summer the four original band members, Anderson, Kirk McLeod, Struby and Nick Watson, got together again to release a best-of compilation under their original band name, Clan Na Gael. The result is two completely new songs, four new arrangements (includiing one of my favorite old songs, "No Reason") and eight remastered classics. The new arrangements are marked improvements on the originals: "Rain and Thunder" and "For James" have some real weight to them now. Anderson sings lead on the classic The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down, bringing a strong voice (with McLeod's excellent harmonies) to bring back some of the Southern culture that infused 7N's earlier work. It's a solid album, highly recommended.

The foursome will be playing a few gigs in Albany, Keswick PA, and the Newberry Opera House -- site of Seven Nations's onetime homecoming shows -- in October and November. Details are at 7N's website.

Best Black Dress

So now I can wear a dress in public.

Last Saturday I passed my shodan test in aikido. It feels remarkably unreal. It's admittedly rare for someone to fail a black belt test in our system -- our senseis don't approve you for testing unless they're confident you'll pass -- but I have seen it happen. I was partially convinced that I was going to blow it as well, particularly because the test was coming up in the middle of some nasty crunchtime at work.

But the test went well. Hardly perfectly -- in retrospect it's kind of amusing how I managed to fill the gym with gasps by almost getting myself run through with a wooden sword. But I felt strangely confident during the test. I felt like I belonged out there. Completely unexpected. Completely right.

I'm taking a night off from aikido tonight. I haven't had nearly enough time with my son while I've been pushing to be ready for the testing. But when I go to class Wednesday night, I'll be wearing a black belt and the long pleated hakama pants that look like a flowing skirt. And my fellow students who were calling me "Chip san" will now be calling me "sensei."

For a change, everything feels different. Everything feels better.