Off The Beaten Track with Mary Leary: Music Review & Musings

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The Superions: Destination… Christmas! (Fanatic Records)
Various Artists: Metal Xmas (2-CD Special Edition)
(Eagle Rock)
Michael McDonald: This Christmas – Live in Chicago
(Eagle Records)
The Beatles Christmas Album
(Apple Records – good luck finding a copy)
Channel In Channel Out: The Author and The Narrator
Various Extraterrestrials: Scrambles Of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record
(Seeland Records)

Years ago, a friend turned me onto a “secret poetry reading” Fred Schneider was giving at an East Village bar. The format was minimal: As a gathering of tolerant fans adapted to the standing-room only space, Fred read very short poems that went in one of my ears and out the other…except one I’ll never forget, in which he waxed euphoric over “making love in an apartment… with AIR conditioning.” Anyone who’s spent a summer in Manhattan in some renovated (or not) walkup could relate to that!

Fred continues to be a source of fun and inspiration: the B-52s did one of their best–ever albums a few years ago (Funplex). Apparently intent on outdoing Keith Richards, with The Superions he’s taken on a new life as a disco king “from the planet of Superion.” Latest emission Destination… Christmas! is packed with the kind of goodies that are sure to make anyone on a K-Mart budget feel bloated, including something we’ve all been awaiting, a hip-shaker about fruitcake (revealing how not-quite-young-school he is – who, other than Midwestern traditionalists, still knows from fruitcake?).

If you’ve been wondering what Santa spins at parties, The Superions have their fingers on his jolly ol’ pulse:

Eagle Rock lets metal-heads have their fruitcake and attack it with a sharp knife with Metal Xmas (2-CD Special Edition). All the goodies you can bang your head to are still onboard, along with some new tracks that could help vent gridlock angst. Dez Fafara (DevilDriver) slams through “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” Steve Lips Kudlow growls through the classic metal slaughter of “Frosty the Snowman,” Girlschool does a nice job with “Auld Lang Syne” (wish they’d use their version when the ball drops in Times Square), and Doro Pesch sounds kinda like Cyndi Lauper (to a metal non-xpert) on a nearly melodic stroll through “O Christmas Tree.” I’m still favoring the hard-rock-with-metal-ribbons of “Santa Claws is Coming to Town” (Alice Cooper whips John 5, Billy Sheehan, and Vinny Appice through their paces) – yeah!

Doro Pesch

Eagle Rock’s also considered those craving a much gentler approach with Michael McDonald’s recorded-in-high-def 2009 concert, This Christmas – Live in Chicago. Someone has to provide a soundtrack for making out and/or staring at the simulated on-screen fireplace …that will appeal to folks who got their DWIs while rolling and listening to Doobies behind the wheel. Just kidding – I actually admit to liking the Doobies. Even in the ‘70s I remember being taken aback by the warm resonance in tracks like “Minute by Minute” – so uncool to my friends in black leather, yet so… inviting. McDonald takes “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on a promenade through The Big Easy:

His original “This Christmas” is really another excuse for some blue-eyed soul… and where’s the harm in that? Just so those gilded vocal chords won’t seem too much of a tease, hot-as-Christmas-in July runs through “Takin’ it to the Streets,” “What a Fool Believes,” and “Minute by Minute” are also under the tree.

Since this is as close as I’m getting to a holiday card, let’s bring The Beatles onboard with one of their Christmas records (originally issued to fan club members in the ‘60s); I have a couple that I wish I’d cared for much better – but hey, despite getting dangerously close to moving into a box in a canyon this year, I still have ‘em. This ‘un’s from ’64:

As December 25 draws closer (please don’t be upset if I don’t also list the dates for Hannukkah, Kwanzaa, and the winter solstice), my mind seems to be toddling forward to the new year. Which has me listing toward dark midwinter afternoons spent with Channel In Channel Out. CICI is Marcus Cotten, who lives in Portland, Oregon. Like other Northwestern artists I’ve encountered, he seems to maximize on the proximity of nature (that drip, drip drip can feel pretty darned proximate), and on hours upon hours spent indoors, by crawling into introspection and creativity that then extend outward from the psyche – an expansive, circular trajectory. The sounds he makes are so interesting that the labels he’s chosen from the Myspace categories for his one of his profiles (“alternative/trance/visual”) rather understate what he’s doing, which feels deliciously open-ended. Click on another profile and the adjectives shift to “Classical/experimental/minimalist,” which better fit the mark he’s been hitting recently.

Image by/featuring Marcus Cotten

The EP Marcus sent was greeted by the “Oh!s” generally associated with opening a cool present. He has a fondness for colored dot motifs (and who doesn’t?). He even tucked in some Polaroids of the ocean and trees – how did he know the NW got in my bones, last decade, and that it refuses to budge? Marcus has a shop, and he makes visual art and photographs and T shirts and instruments.

The sounds on The Author and the Narrator are somewhat more minimal than the ones that accompany the video below. Beauty and minimalism keep coming up as possible descriptions – both of those, especially when hand-in-hand, tend to get me quite excited – I can relate to the quest (and occasional grail-garnering) – I’ve described my own performances as attempts at beauty, minimalism, and absurdity (and/or just out-and-out chuckles). The music on the video (“Precipitation is a Requisite”) tempers expression with restraint in a way that strikes me as unusually mature; an advanced level of perspective, confidence in the process, and what I can only call “connection” – but, hey, a lot of we tree-gazers tend to wander around mumbling things like that.

In the galaxy I inhabit, people like Marcus Cotten are stars. And as life goes on, or I do, it seems less and less important to me whether art is made into a “product,” or whether that product is distributed, or whether a lot of people “get” it. Art can be a profound and grateful breath from my lungs to the ear of the eternal.

I’m just saying. And Merry Christmas, blessed Solstice, and so forth – to glow is to glow.

For someone who craves noisier expressions of extraterrestrial life forms: “In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft, fastening to each a phonograph album containing sounds and music of Earth. If the best calculations are to be believed, one of these records was intercepted and “remixed” sometime in 2005 by extraterrestrial intelligences on the edge of our solar system. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence in Exile (SETI-X), a dissident offshoot of the better-known Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, in 2010 finished decoding signals believed to be transmissions of these “remixes.” Scrambles of Earth, unauthorized by a skeptical SETI, is SETI-X’s document of these audio signs of possible alien intelligence…”

Basically I’m letting the scientists tell the story – because, as they say, “You can’t make this kind of thing up.” (ummm…)

Proof of the validity of Scrambles of Earth

In any case, just the titles on Scrambles of Earth cause no small amusement, an emotion that’s heightened by the tracks themselves. I don’t want to hurt any ET feelings, so I’m not going to do a review. I don’t want to be beamed up, thank you – I’m a very terrestrial girl, liking the Northwest, and trees, and all that. But here are some of the titles: “I am getting married in a spaceship,” “Psychlo Killer,” “Gasping in Twelve Languages,” “Shakuhachi Mariachi,” and “Ill-Tempered Wedding.”

Since I’m keeping this short enough to avoid detection, I’ll just say: Bet these ETs could give The Superions a run for their fruitcake.


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