After some 30 years, Life in a Blender keeps whirling
The new album Happy Enough is very good and very Blender
And their set at Joe’s Pub in the New York Public Theater was well attended and greatly received.
Granted they may be an acquired taste. And the shows may be a bit rough-edged when it comes to tightness and the vocals and strings all being in tune, over the years since front man Don Rauf moved to Seattle, so that they do not get much in the way rehearsal or gigging to stay honed and sharp.
But the current line up of Life in a Blender has been together over 20 years. And their many fans are more than happy enough to sing along to the old favorites and soak up the new songs imparted with gusto from the quirky, cathartic perspective from inside the Blender.
Town Hall, NYC, May, 4 2017 – Final Concert of the Transatlantic Tour
Since 1995 the Transatlantic Sessions have delighted audiences with collaborations between Scottish, Irish, English, and American roots music devotees.
According to their official Wiki – Transatlantic Sessions is the collective title for a series of musical productions by Glasgow-based Pelicula Films Ltd, funded by- and produced for BBC Scotland, BBC Four and RTÉ of Ireland. Each half-hour episode features a core “house band” led by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain, and special guests, recorded at a unique location, such as a stately manner house.
The 2017 American tour was an almost-three hour extravaganza featuring some of the finest musicians ever produced in the UK or Ireland, along with many special guests from the USA, most of whom have appeared at various Transatlantic Sessions in the UK.
Here are some excerpts from the incredible Transatlantic Sessions show last night, with a list of performers listed beneath.
Jerry Douglas – Steel Guitars, Vocals (USA)
Aly Bain- Fiddle (Scotland)
John McCusker – Fiddle, Whistle (Scotland)
Michael McGoldrick- Pipes, Flute, Whistle (England)
Donald Shaw – Accordion, Piano (Scotland)
Russ Barenberg – Guitar (USA)
John Doyle – Guitar, Guizouki, Vocals (Ireland)
Daniel Kimbro – Bass (USA)
James MacKintosh – Drums (Scotland)
Mary Chapin Carpenter (USA)
Rosanne Cash (USA)
Sarah Jarosz (USA)
Declan O’Rourke (Ireland)
Aoife O’Donovan (USA)
John Paul White (USA)
Karen Matheson (Scotland)
Look for Transatlantic Sessions on BBC, PBS, and Youtube
Since 1977 the Cornelia Street Cafe has enriched the cultural life of New York City.
For almost 40 years, this West Village mecca has provided delicious food and the unique, inspiring performance of music and the spoken word.
And it is currently proving as impressive and delightful an experience as ever, if not more so.
Stopping by for an excellent meal, I learned about their summer Solo Fest, starting this week.
Each evening will feature solo performers, beginning with Amy Stiller on Wednesday, July 13, in “Just Think,” a semi-autobiographical journey of the only non-famous member of a very famous family.
All Solofest offerings are at 6 PM and cost $10, which goes to the artist, plus a $10 food or drink minimum.
That is a spectacularly great price for the chance to see Arturo O’Farrill, the multi-Grammy-winning composer and leader of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, playing alone on the baby grand piano in an intimate setting. As he will on Friday, July 15.
And on Tuesday, July 19, the cafe’s own Robin Hirsch will present “The Whole Word Passes Through” with tales of the many fascinating people, both famous and obscure, who have crossed the threshold of the Cornelia Street Cafe.
This former Oxford, Fulbright, and English-Speaking Union Scholar never disappoints when it comes to his prose or his extemporaneous storytelling.
The festival runs through July 27, with music, comedy, theater, and political satire. See the cafe’s official website for the full line up and the many other performances taking place this summer.
There isn’t an item on the menu I cannot recommend. But my favorites include the kale caesar salad, with just the right amount of avocado and grape tomatoes; the smoked salmon plate with toasted bread, chopped red onion, herb cream cheese, and large capers on the stem; and the richly luscious sea scallops, when they have them.
My go-to entree has been the crusted salmon, which is always excellent. But I only recently had the chicken breast for the first time. Was I ever missing out? It is so tender and juicy and flavorful that it may make you rethink ordering more exotic fare when dining out around New York City. It really is that good.
Mr. Hirsch is understandably proud of the wine list, which offers some interesting and quite reasonably priced selections from around the globe, many of which you are unlikely to taste elsewhere.
I am a new and enthusiastic fan of the Skyline Red, from Idaho, of all places. This blend of several grape varieties is velvety to the point of buttery, with plump dark berries, and integrated oak that is spread throughout, rather than just providing the fruit bowl.
There is also the Cafe’s own label, which appears on a refreshing chardonnay of grape skins, with orchard fruits ripening over time, and on a juicy plum of a pinot noir, both with nicely mild oak and extremely moreish.
And just last night I had a very interesting white wine from France – Perle Bleue, made with a grape used for Cognac and Armagnac. I am not by nature a white wine drinker, but this was extraordinary. Not sweet, but not particularly dry, it had a wisp of sea salt on the nose, and arrived on the palate like an ocean wave, with a vibrant splash that quickly subsided into a relaxing, lingering finish. Itself moreish, but in a curiously enigmatic way.
I cannot speak much to the beers. When people ask me if I am a beer snob, my reply of “Beer is an English word for something made in England by Englishman,” usually shuts down the conversation rather quickly.
But the cafe currently has Bell’s Two Hearted Ale on tap. This Michigan brew is one of best beers in America, with a medium body that is dry yet malty and buttressed by a crisp hoppy edge that remains firm but not overbearing. So it is on par with an English IPA and therefore not the face-puckering astringent grapefruit juice typical of American craft brewing.
But I of all people would be remiss if I did not mention they have some nice Cognac brandy available, which is reminiscent of typical cafe digestifs in France – grounded and pleasant at a decent price. And they also have Brenne, the French single malt whisky.
Made with French barely in French stills in the Cognac region, Brenne is aged in new oak from the Limousin forest, and finished in casks that had previously aged Cognac.
A pure malt spirit of high quality, it is hard to believe it is a scant 7 years old. The telltale toasted marshmallow and wood spice of French oak are further enriched with the orange zest, white pepper, and maraschino cherries of the cognac finishing.
Its youth is revealed by the bubble gum vanillins and lactones on the nose, and the relatively quick finish. However, single malt this young would normally be a blend of various casks, to cover up the rougher edges of immature spirit and smooth out the uncouth tannins. Brenne is bottled as single cask whisky! – astonishing, since it shows none of the harshness normally experienced in younger malts.
If you haven’t already figured it out, the Cornelia Street Cafe is a veritable jewelry box of sensual pleasures and sensational Jazz, poetry, and other artistic expression. It is well worth the time if you are in Greenwich Village, and well worth the effort to get there if you are not.
Open every day except Christmas Day, with 700 shows a year.
But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Trip Advisor has to say on the cafe.
And that is one man’s word on…
Painting by Stephen Magsig
Wonderful Resource Filled with New York City Landmarks
Interactive map provides a close look at historical sites local to each neighborhood
Tremendous Treasure Map, Easy to Use
Whether you are tourist or a native, so many sites of historical interest often go unnoticed in the whirling stimulus of New York City. This map will let you see what is just around the corner, or provide reasons to visit areas you might not think of at first, when out for sightseeing.
When you zoom in, whole historic districts are illuminated.
Clicking on a an individual site brings up a breakout box, with information and a photo of the site in question, and a link to the official landmark designation.
The Lefferts Homestead in Prospect Park
How could I have lived this long without the scrumptious culinary delights at Russ & Daughters Cafe?
Well, it is partly because they opened just 14 months ago. But there is 101 years of tradition on sale at this shiny new eatery, located at 127 Orchard Street, a few doors above Delancey.
(click photos to enlarge)
The fourth-generation family enterprise has been in the business of “appetizing” since 1914. Their thriving sliver of a shop on Houston Street features smoked and kippered fish that temps from behind the left counter, while sweets are longed for from behind the right counter. It is one of the last holdouts from a time when the neighborhood was dotted with similar shops.
But while the cafe offers traditional Jewish fare from indulgent delicacies like caviar to kibbutz comfort food like kugel, it is a thoroughly modern concern, with a hip, multicultural staff and clientele, reflecting the demographics of today’s Lower East Side, although the menu is focused very much on tradition, and quality.
Even the coffee is excellent, if pricey at $3. There was none of the citrus sourness too often infecting boutique brews these days. It was nutty and robust, while the acidity was understated, so I had no inclination to add milk. But I did eventually, just to see. It actually took a good deal of milk to make a dent in such a deep, dark roast, but with the proper ratio it transformed into a luscious café con leche. Left black, it is full-bodied, with a taste akin to espresso, making it the perfect companion for my chocolatey desert.
But I am getting way ahead of myself, as that was the jewel at the end of a satisfying meal.
As a waspy Ohioan growing up a long way from the sea, I never liked fish of any sort. But I had always wanted to try matzo ball soup, after hearing about it in countless movies and TV shows. I have since become something of a connoisseur, so of course I had to order it, despite the 95 degree heat outdoors. Thankfully, the cafe’s AC is top notch, and it’s been ages since I tasted this centerpiece of Jewish bobeshi cooking. It was a great way to end my matzo fast.
Traditional but not typical, R & D’s matzo ball soup ($8) is made with a dark and savory bone broth. Russet colored and flecked with herbs, with a smallish ball of dense matzo accompanied by buoyant arcs of celery and a rogue piece of carrot that lounged against the side of the bowl.
It is incredibly salty! Stunning really. But my pallet adjusted quickly, and all that salt was balanced with the subtler flavors in the broth, accented by the tannic crunch of fresh celery.
The menu listed chicken in the ingredients, but I didn’t see any. And then I realized it was in the matzo ball. That is a nice touch, as it imbues much more personality than found in the usual bland wad of pithy dough.
Each bite provided a schmaltzy satisfaction, enhanced by the occasional little morsel of dark chicken meat. And the matzo ball was not salty, so it proved a toothsome counterweight for the broth, which took on more chickeny taste as the ball was sliced up. I only kept from drinking the last ounces because of all I had yet to ingest.
While I still avoid the fishiest of fishes, decades of living in a deep water port have expanded my tastes, so I followed the soup with “the Classic” smoked salmon plate ($16) and was enraptured.
This fish is delish, and oh so rich. Silky yet firm, thin yet massive and melting with tenderness. It was lightly smoky – think Oban rather than Laphroaig, both of which are available by the glass at market prices for diners who like to pair smoked fish with smoked single malt whisky.
Being late in the day and intent on desert, I had my lox with pumpernickel bread, rather than one of their bagels (which are sourced from the Bagel Hole right here in Park Slope.) And I indulged in the tangy pleasures of the salmon, alone or as a tier in a stack of onion, tomato, capers, and cream cheese.
The menu refers to this fish as gaspe nova smoked salmon. Once upon a time that would have meant wild salmon from the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec that was prepared like traditional Nova Scotian “lox.” Today it means high-quality farmed salmon from Norway (where my favorite sashimi comes from,) which is smoked in Brooklyn, to approximate the gaspe nova lox experience. And it was terrific! The same can be said about the quality of everything that passed my lips.
The July tomato was meaty and tasted like it came straight from a garden, or at least the farmers market. So good, I ate most of it by itself. The onion was crisp and kindly, and every bit as fresh as the tomato; the cream cheese earned its qualifier, and the capers were plump and popping with flavor. My only complaint is that the smidgen of dill wasn’t nearly enough for the ample supply of fish. But I do know it has gone missing from local bodegas, so perhaps they are trying to stretch their current supply. Also, the bread was so mild it was basically a delivery platform. Next time I will try their old-fashioned shissel rye, as this salmon should stand up to it nicely.
Although they have a well-stocked supply of spirits and wines, I had one of their soft drinks, concocted at the soda fountain from seltzer and various flavored syrups. I enjoyed the cucumber soda ($5.) It was a good choice for the meal, softly flavored with essence of jasmine, fennel, dill, anise and lime, and garnished with a long slice of fresh cucumber, which when eaten was an ideal palate cleanser between the lox and the “babka french toast,” ($10) full of gooey chocolate spread, and served with fresh strawberries and sour cream.
Even with the very adult coffee, the babka was almost too much for one person – almost. But I did get a good look and whiff of the fruit compote blintzes, and I am definitely having them next time, after a knish or perhaps some latkes, and another smoked fish plate. I have always wanted to see what sturgeon tastes like.
Yes, one pays some premium to sit down to delicacies that can be had at the Houston street shop for less. But many things well worth having are available only at the cafe. And the AC is awfully nice, even though the seats at the counter seem made for one sprier and smaller than I. But otherwise, the environment is quite enjoyable, as is the cheerful, young wait staff, for their fashions and body art if nothing else.
I just happened to pick up some rugelach at the shop to take with me to Martinfest in a couple of days, and I was feeling a bit peckish. So I thought I would finally check out Russ & Daughter’s cafe, to see what it was like.
I am glad I did, even if I am also glad it is not closer to home or near my usual thoroughfares. Otherwise, it could be far too habit-forming.
And that is one man’s word on…
Russ & Daughter’s Cafe
127 Orchard Street, above Delancey
Sigh! My first pocket-picking.
In Times Square, in a rush through rush hour crowds to meet a friend at a hotel.
A full shopping bag weighing down one hand, my guitar weighing down the other, some tall white guy with greyish crew cut, khaki shorts and white t-shirt smacked hard into my guitar, as he rudely passed me and zoomed through the crowd, knocking me into other people. That is probably when his partner lifted my wallet out of the front left pocket of my cargo shorts.
I was late and kept on going. I got to the hotel, texted I was in the lobby. Ordered an ice coffee and found I had no wallet.
The ATM and credit card were cancelled immediately without incident. But I lost my various IDs, (love that NYC DMV experience) and less than $100.
So, my college chum paid for dinner and loaned me subway fare to get home before she went to the theater.
It All Came Back To Me
I take solace in the fact my guitar was not harmed, which of course was my only concern in those 10 seconds of confusion when it all went down.
But I also take solace in an experience that happened to an old friend, just a few blocks away, a few years ago.
The guy who fixed the printers in the law firm I worked at was staggering drunk as he left me after the Xmas Party at the Roosevelt hotel.
A balding, older man who walked with a stoop, and looked like he was wearing the comic “funny nose, glasses and mustache,” he was an easy mark for the three toughs who jumped him from behind.
When the police arrived he was sitting on one of them. Another was comatose in a heap. The third had gotten away, but was arrested later at a hospital.
My friend was suffering from a torn shirt pocket and lack of cigarettes.
He told me he had no real memory of the incident, other than the fact that when the first one wrapped an arm around his throat from behind, “It all came back to me…” and he was suddenly in 1970, a Green Beret behind enemy lines in Cambodia, as a late member of the Viet Cong attempted the same tactic.
The cops gave him a cigarette and found a safety pin at the station for his torn pocket.
I must admit, for all my pacifist, humanist leanings, it is nice to know that at least somewhere, sometime, some lowlife morons choose the wrong target to victimize.
What became of the soldiers from the Great War who left behind the mysterious wishbones of McSorley’s Ale House?
According to the story on Atlas Obscura, there remain to this day, hanging over the bar at McSorley’s, wishbones placed there by servicemen as good luck charms prior to their being shipped overseas in 1917. Just one example of the amazing bits of history to be found at 15 East 7th Street in New York’s East Village, where McSorley’s Ale House opened in 1857.
The last American veteran of the First World War was named Frank Buckles, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 110. He had been a 16 year old motorcycle driver “over there,” and in the 1940s he survived a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines during the Second World War, where he contracted the beriberi that continued to trouble him the rest of his life.
As we have now crossed the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War, more attention has been brought to those who took part in what sadly failed to end all wars, as was predicted. They are all gone now, like the veterans of the American Civil War before them.
But what of the wishbone hangers? Some of the men came back to remove a wishbone and celebrate their safe return to McSolrey’s bar. What became of the others, whose wishbones remain there to this day, a silent reminder from the Lost Generation?
Did they not make it back to New York, or to McSorley’s? Or did they not make it back at all?
When next at the bar and ordering your mugs of light or dark, be sure and look for the wishbones and toast those warriors whose fate is now shrouded in history as well as mystery.
For more reading:
Thanks to River E. for the link!
Around the Web is a new feature where we will provide links to interesting and worthwhile items from around cyberspace.
We Already Have Birds That Sing, the new CD from Life in a Blender, is an album of tunes developed through live performance, and perfected in the recording studio, with the addition of extra guitar parts, refined arrangements for the resident strings, and a hard-hitting horn section of guest artists.
But the blood and guts of each cut on this, their 8th album, is the rock n roll core of drums, bass, and electric guitar propelling the singing that is voiced by the guy next door, with an affable lilt that can change to carnival barker or shrieking banshee on a dime.
Life in a Blender arose in the post-punk art rock scene of the mid-1980s. The current lineup has been together over twenty years, with a loyal fan base that continues to grow, thanks to the inventive thinking man’s rock composed by an ensemble of veteran musicians, and the sneakily adroit lyrics of front man Don Rauf, which are like little short stories, filled with quirky characters defined by the imagery of a specific time and place, yet achieving the cathartic impact of broader human experience.
The album opens with a blast of raucous horns, leading into Tongue Cut Sparrow, a boisterous burlesque number, closely based on the published biography of a young Japanese-American singer who was initially forced to work as an exotic dancer at Forbidden City, a popular men’s club in 1950s San Francisco. Shunned by all her family, except a grandmother, she ultimately finds her voice and career as a chanteuse.
In Shards, a man describes his daily life to an old acquaintance, and exhibits a confident outlook even if things could be better, and then suddenly reveals the private, backyard anguish of loss and lamentation. The juxtaposition of human façade and interiors is a theme Don Rauf has explored on previous records, as with the upbeat transient with the broken heart in the song Professional Mover (from The Heart is a Small Balloon, 2007,) along with the eccentric crank of a neighbor who turns out to be a friendly, regular guy once you get to know him, in Hoot Owl (Homewrecker Spoon, 2011.)
But in Shards, the switch between outward appearance and inner reality is more poignant and more surprising, as the brass-driven funk of the first part underscores the growling declaration that, “I’m looking fine. I bump and grind…,”only to have the music and the singer suddenly stripped to the basic beat, as the violin rises up to play on the heart strings while accompanying the strained confession of regret. It is a classic example of just one life in a blender, found in the canon of this long-lived band of the same name.
A less weighty lament is expressed by a lonely guy out on the town, in Mamanama, a romping, stomping two-step, complete with electric fiddle solo. He searches for companionship and good times across the expanse of Los Angeles, appealing to bar flies and surfers alike, with a chorus of “Can’t you see? I’m good company!”
In the song Falmouth, a cheery fella imposes his unquenchable optimism on an emotionally distressed friend going through some unnamed crisis, and not taking no for an answer. A press release reveals information about the character’s specific situation. But Falmouth works so well on its own exactly because of the tight focus details of chicken, flowers, and roller derby, set before the background of ambiguous emotional circumstance. It allows a listener to connect the song’s sentiment with their own life experience, where they or one they care for has made similar efforts to reach someone in a bad place and pull them out.
Often when immersing myself in a new record there is a tune that goes unnoticed, only to put a hook in me later on, so that it becomes a permanent part of the repertoire of fragments sung when cleaning the house or walking down the street. Falmouth is that song on this CD. I think it has something to do with the syncopation in the clean picking pattern from guitarist Al Houghton, in combination with the sporadic vocal harmony lines, and the smart and infectious interludes from the horn section, arranged by bassist Mark Lerner.
Then again, the counterpoint underpinning Good Answer, which Lerner composed for cellist Dave Moody and violinist Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, is just as memorable, and it provides plenty of space for drummer Ken Meyer to fill up with tasty accents. Where that song is a flippant response to the bandwagon catch phrases of American pop culture, Frankenstein Cannot Be Stopped breathes new life into one of the most popular stories of gothic horror. The point of view is that of a member of the cinema audience, who is haunted by the tragic scene where the unintentional monster kills his youngest victim, and so he returns again and again to try to warn her from the dark.
The album closes with Sea in a Sieve, a buoyant appreciation of the joys found in setting sail in a small vessel just for the fun of it. And like the record as a whole, it is a transportive entertainment that is worthwhile and enjoyable, but ends sooner than one might wish, leaving a taste for more.
We Already Have Birds That Sing can be downloaded direct from the band’s website, for the indecently affordable price of $7, or you may order an actual CD for $10, which also includes the digital download.
It is also available on iTunes and other fine music outlets.
And that is one man’s word on…
Life in a Blender’s new album
Here is a video of Shards, shot in concert at Joe’s Pub, at the Public Theater in New York City, and features the fledgling horn arrangements. You can see and hear how the song evolved, by comparing it to the video farther down, which was shot at Rockwood Music Hall several months earlier, when Shards was being performed for the very first time.
You will have to get the album to hear the definitive version.