Monday, May 28, 2007

I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle

Here’s a rarity, as it’s about words as opposed to sound, but I just finished reading what may be the most laugh out loud, funny book I’ve ever managed to devour, and when I say laugh out loud, I actually mean it…I was in public, so there are witnesses.

A few days ago, I was in your local neighborhood literary superstore and happened to stumble across, I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle, a one time writer for The Simpsons, sitting on this amazingly overcrowded table. It had a snazzy orange and white cover with a rather amusing illustration, a weird yet eye catching title and the jacket write up made the book sound like a mix between every John Hughes movie ever made (prior to his preteen phase) and a train wreck you just couldn’t look away from. Needless to say, having watched a certain movie by Mr. Hughes so many times I could recite the dialogue on command, I was sold. So I bought I Love You, Beth Cooper and, for one of the few times ever, a purchase ended up being everything it was billed to be…and more.

From start to finish the book was hysterical, sometimes relentlessly so. It follows uber-geek, Denis Cooverman (”The Coove” to his best, and possibly gay, friend and “Penis” to absolutely everyone else) through his highly unanticipated high school valedictorian speech and all of the repercussions that come with it when he decides to cast off regret and tells everyone who’s listening, “I Love You, Beth Cooper!”

While embarrassingly funny (I don’t recommend reading it in a packed coffee shop if you really don’t like to draw attention to yourself) I Love You, Beth Cooper is not just a lunatic joy ride without any grasp of reality. Denis Cooverman is identifiable, relatable and genuine…unless you’re the knuckle-dragger whose girl he just tried to woo, in which case, I’m actually surprised you can read at all. Along with all the hysterics and insanity of what is, admittedly, an entirely over the top graduation night and next morning, there’s also poignancy, friendship and, well…hot cheerleader types who really wouldn’t have given you the time of day in high school anyway…uh, but I digress.

I Love You, Beth Cooper is a truly funny and brilliant read. It’s quick, witty and never dry. Larry Doyle has crafted a great story that shows its not always about being who you’re expected to be, but who you can be that makes all the difference. Sure, you may say to yourself that there are already classics in this genre and I’d have to say you’re right. Most of them are on film and have names like Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Some Kind of Wonderful and Say Anything. But, there’s always room for another name on that list and I Love You, Beth Cooper fits right in.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Frames – The Cost

The Frames – The Cost

The Cost, which happens to be the new album by the Irish band The Frames is absolutely my new favorite album of 2007 so far. That should be enough for you to run right out to iTunes and download a copy, but if my word isn’t quite enough, I can give you one more simple reason…The Cost is so worth buying just to hear its nearly perfect second song, Falling Slowly.

Falling Slowly is rich and delicate, subtle and yet all encompassing. It has a chorus that pulls you in melodically and then you actually hear the words and are all the more captured. It begins simply enough, with just a voice and guitar, but then builds into a piece of music that swirls around the space between your ears until you think you might burst. Lyrically and musically, Falling Slowly gives you the idea of hope and yet holds onto an undercurrent that makes you wonder if things ever do really work out. I really can’t say enough about this song, as if that’s not obvious, but I guess I’m just under its spell in the best possible way...and do you want to know the best part? There are nine other songs on the rest of the album.

As an album, The Cost delivers ten songs of mellow intensity with flawless execution and terrific musicianship. Guitarist and lead vocalist, Glen Hansard is spot on with his delivery, breathing life into The Cost while the other current band members, Joe Doyle on bass, Colm MacConIomaire on violin and keyboards and Rob Bochnik on lead guitar shape the sound of the album into it’s cohesive and complex whole.

One of the many notable things about The Cost is the inclusion of the violin into the mix of sound that is The Frames. As restrained as it is, it not only gives this band another color to paint with aurally but also the ability to not be pigeonholed into the format that rock traditionally is. It gives another dimension to what is already a multi-dimensional band and helps afford them the luxury of being something unto themselves and not just another in a long line of more of the same.

I guess that could be the reason it’s taken me so long to hear about The Frames. Since 1995 they’ve released eight albums, including The Cost and if it weren’t for World CafĂ© on NPR this past Saturday night, I’d still be missing out…and that would definitely be my loss.

I wonder if that could be a reflection on the music industry and what passes for talent these days? I guess anythings possible, but that’s another story all together. Go buy this album and introduce yourself to The Frames.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Art Turner – Sonora

Art Turner – Sonora

So I’m a fan of the Wailin’ Jennys incase you hadn’t noticed. If you go to their website or their MySpace page, you’ll see all of these wonderful photos of them…and if you look, you’ll see they were taken by Art Turner. If you go to the Jennys’ Link page you’ll see the following, “Art Turner: Art is a great friend of ours, a fabulous finger-style guitarist and he is also responsible for our new promo shots.” I read this and thought to myself that, “Hey, I’m a guitar player and a photographer too.” Needless to say, I clicked the link and I’m glad I did.

Aside from the great pictures, as if that weren’t enough, Art Turner is just an outstanding guitar player. While I may be a “Jack-Of-All-Trades and master of none,” Mr. Turner appears to be a master of both. I listened to some of the song samples on his Albums page and was just blown away. Not only is Art Turner amazingly technically proficient, he also has a gifted ear for melody and the ability to craft a full and expressive piece of music using only a single acoustic guitar.

That’s not to say that the tracks on Sonora are only solo acoustic guitar. Guest musicians also add the flavors of other string instruments to the tracks, but if you were to take all of them away, Sonora could still stand as a perfectly beautiful album.

Sonically, Sonora is beautifully simple with nothing getting in the way of the performances, and those performances are wonderfully crafted and simple in an amazingly complicated kind of way.

If you’re a guitar player or just love the guitar, I wouldn’t miss the chance to hear Art Turner play.

Meet Peter Ostroushko

Coming Down from Red Lodge


Meet Peter Ostroushko

Way back on December 23, 2005 as I introduced myself to you in what was to be my first post, I mentioned that I was listening to Peter Ostroushko and that I would tell you about it later. It’s taken me a while, but I didn’t forget the promise. Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet a master of the Fiddle and Mandolin, Peter Ostroushko…

As a regular listener to Garrison Keillor’s radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, I’ve heard a lot of artists that, in the course of my normal listening habits, I wouldn’t have otherwise. Peter Ostroushko is one of those artists. As a frequent guest of PHC, most of the really cool Mandolin and Fiddle pieces that you may have heard on the show are probably pieces written or played by Peter Ostroushko.

On a Saturday night back in 2002, one of the most beautiful pieces of music I had ever heard came drifting through the speakers of my car. I can still remember the feeling that I had that night. I was so moved when I heard it and that feeling has never left me. I never really knew who had written it at the time, but a few years later, during a listener request show Teelin Bay Waltz by Peter Ostroushko was re-aired. Ever since then, I’ve been a fan.

I don’t mind saying that every time I hear Teelin Bay Waltz, especially as the piece moves into and through its bridge section, my heart just breaks. Aurally, I suppose it’s the interplay between the Fiddle and the Slide Guitar. Musically, I would guess its how everything seems to hit its crescendo, how it peaks then very gracefully begins to slide towards it conclusion. Personally it all just comes together with such emotional force that it moves me in a way that very few pieces of music do.

Teelin Bay Waltz was recorded for Peter’s Coming Down from Red Lodge album, released in 2003 on the Red House label. Since finding that out, I purchased both that album and Peter’s most recent musical offering, 2006’s Postcards. Both are full of wonderful displays of just how much can be accomplished with the Fiddle and Mandolin when in the hands of a master composer and player.

If you haven’t been lucky enough to hear Peter Ostroushko play before, I managed to find a link from the PHC website to the original performance of Teelin Bay Waltz that originally aired on the show way back on March 2, 2002.

If you like what your hear…and really how could you not, I highly recommend either Coming Down from Red Lodge or Postcards as a great introduction to Peter Ostroushko and his immense musical talents. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Coming Down from Red Lodge


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Calling

Mary Chapin Carpenter – The Calling

I fell in love with Mary Chapin Carpenter on her album Stones In The Road. Something about that album and all of it’s songs just connected with me on some level that most music doesn’t often do. Thirteen years and three albums later, Mary Chapin Carpenter has returned with her latest effort, The Calling, and I think that I’m falling in love with her all over again.

On her ninth album, Mary Chapin Carpenter seems to have found that place where her writing, her playing and her singing all come together to build a collection of songs that are bigger than themselves to create an album that is as much full of songs as it is full of feeling and emotion. From gentle ballads to rolling country flavored rockers, The Calling manages to score with every track.

The overall sound of the album is crystal clear with each instrument and vocal performance existing in it’s own space and yet playing perfectly off each other giving the album both texture and space at the same time.

The instrumental performances on The Calling are all top notch, as anyone familiar with Carpenter’s previous albums would expect. Along with a host of other players, Mary Chapin Carpenter again turns to her long time collaborator John Jennings on all manner of stringed instruments as well as one of my favorite pianists, Matt Rollings and his remarkable talents with all things keyed.

For her fans and for anyone who’s not really familiar with her previous work, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s The Calling is a great way to get to know her…or get to know her again.