This year’s bounty of box sets is a strong one, with plenty of great choices for holiday gift giving. Here are the prime candidates for your shopping lists.
• Bob Dylan and the Band: “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11” (Columbia Legacy) – Dylan’s comments over the years suggest he never viewed “The Basement Tapes” as being that important. But this six-CD set, which documents the summer 1967 writing and demoing sessions by Dylan and his backing group that would soon be known as the Band, proves otherwise.
There is a loose and relaxed quality to the recordings and at times the sessions get downright goofy – especially on several of the many covers of old folk, country and blues tunes. But there are also dozens of Dylan originals. Some, such as “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “The Mighty Quinn,” were covered by other artists, and also became staples of the Dylan live repertoire.
Others, such as “Odds and Ends,” “Too Much of Nothing,” “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and many more, had potential, and one wonders why they weren’t developed into finished studio tracks. A very good – and logical – follow-up to Dylan’s classic 1966 “Blonde on Blonde” album could have been made from this material. Instead, Dylan decided to explore the simpler country stylings of the “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline” albums.
In any event, the many discoveries, curiosities and just plain good songs, make this an important addition to the official Dylan catalog. – Rating: 4 ½ stars
• Wilco: “Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014” (Nonesuch) – To celebrate its 20th anniversary as a band, Wilco has given fans quite a gift – this four-disc set of unreleased music from the vaults. Many of the unreleased original songs (such as the perky country honk of “Tried and True” and the hooky pop-rocker “Glad It’s Over”) deserved release before now. Some alternate versions of familiar tunes (“Camera” and “Hummingbird”) are eye openers. And the live tracks show why Wilco is so good in concert. No surprise here, but Wilco’s leftovers are better than the A-list material of most bands – Rating: 4 stars
• Johnny Winter: “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story” (Columbia/Legacy) – This set traces the late bluesman’s career from late 1960s blues beginnings into the early 1970s rock albums that gained him major popularity and through his return to the blues that began with his 1977 album, “Nothin’ But the Blues.” Drug problems slowed Winter’s output beginning in the late 1980s, but he regained control of his life and returned to form over the final several years of his life. – Rating: 4 stars
• Michael Bloomfield: “From His Head to His Heart to His Hands” (Columbia/Legacy) – To the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Miles Davis Michael Bloomfield was one of most talented, versatile and soulful guitarists going. This three-CD/one DVD set shows why Bloomfield so impressed fellow musicians, as it brings together performances from his work with Al Kooper on the Super Sessions projects, his time in the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band and various session work. He died too soon, but Bloomfield left an indelible mark on rock history. – Rating: 4 stars
• Rod Stewart: “Live 1976-1998: Tonight’s The Night” (Warner Bros./Arnold Stiefel Entertainment) – Stewart’s best work – with the Faces and on his early solo albums – was behind him by 1976. Nevertheless, Stewart was (and is) an accomplished performer, and particularly on the ‘70s recordings, he shows plenty of grit, sass and swagger. He also shines at making the many covers here sound like his own songs. And the best news: the set stops before Stewart tried going Sinatra with the Great American Songbook. – Rating: 4 stars
• David Bowie: “Nothing Has Changed” (Columbia/Legacy) - This three-CD set summarizes Bowie’s adventurous 50-year career by collecting the singles (and a few key album tracks) from across his career. Because the excellent 1989 box set “Sound + Vision” featured demos and live versions of some of Bowie’s best known songs, the single versions of the classic hits featured here make “Nothing Has Changed” more essential than that earlier set. – Rating: 4 stars
• Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: “CSNY 1974” (CSNY Recordings/Rhino) – In 1974, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young launched a historic stadium tour famous for rock star indulgences and tension. Along the way, as “CSNY 1974” shows, some great music got performed. The electric songs here are full of energy and creativity, while the acoustic set was varied and strong enough to keep stadiums full of people entertained. The shows include CSNY favorites and solo songs (some of which weren’t yet released such as Young’s “On the Beach” and “Pushed It Over the End”). – Rating: 4 stars
• Miles Davis: “Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3, Miles at the Fillmore” (Columbia/Legacy) – Previously available in heavily edited form on a two-album set, this four-CD set presents the great jazz trumpeter’s four-show June 1970 run at New York’s Fillmore East as it went down. There’s plenty of inspired soloing and cohesive playing – and moments when the playing feels chaotic and aimless. But that was part of the bargain with Davis, who was continuing to break down song structures and redefine jazz. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Joni Mitchell: “Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced” (Reprise/Asylum/Nonesuch/Rhino) – This project started as an attempt by Mitchell to assemble songs from her catalog for a ballet about love. She couldn’t make it work within the time constraints of a ballet, but it evolved into this four-disc set using love (with its many highs, lows and complexities) as a connecting thread. This isn’t exactly a best-of anthology (some of Mitchell’s famous songs are omitted – presumably they didn’t fit the theme). But the compelling and at times challenging music – encompassing folk, jazz, pop, soul and rock - coupled with Mitchell’s own insightful liner notes, should give fans a new level of understanding and appreciation for her work. – Rating: 4 stars
• George Harrison: “The Apple Years 1968-75” (Universal/Apple) – If you don’t own the former Beatle’s early albums, this set is for you. It features the 2001 expanded reissue of “All Things Must Pass,” which remains the finest post-Beatles album from any of the members of the Fab Four. Harrison didn’t match that excellence on his three follow-up albums. , “Living in the Material World,” “Darkhorse” and “Extra Texture,” but each album had its moments.
This set also lets fans discover two obscure pre-“All Things Must Pass” instrumental albums. “Electric Sound” was his soundscape experiment using the then-new Moog synthesizer. It’s a snooze. But “Wonderwall Music,” which was largely recorded with Indian musicians in early 1968, is a fascinating journey into Indian music, cross-pollinated at times with pop. – Rating: 4 stars
* John Denver: “All of My Memories: The John Denver Collection” (RCA/Legacy) – Critics may have bashed Denver for making lightweight country pop, but he had millions of fans. Whichever side of that fence you occupy, this four-CD set does a good job chronicling Denver’s best material. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
* Soundgarden: “Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path” (A&M/Ume) – The unreleased originals, cover tunes, remixes and instrumentals that make up this three-disc set may not match the best material on Soundgarden’s studio albums, but core fans will find enough to want this collection. – Rating: 3 stars
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:37
Many years, when November arrives, it’s time to brace for the onslaught of Christmas albums, fearing the selection will be filled with the usual by-the-numbers versions of holiday standards that add nothing to the hundreds of holiday albums that have come before them. This year, we get a break. Sure, there are a few predictable releases. But just as many boast some truly inspired and original approaches to Christmas music. Here are some releases to add – and delete – from your holiday album shopping list:
• Taj Mahal/The Blind Boys of Alabama: “Talkin’ Christmas!” (Sony Masterworks) – This holiday summit between blues legend Mahal and the equally venerable gospel/soul vocal group, the Blind Boys, is a rousing success. “Talkin’ Christmas!” features several songs co-written by the Blind Boys, including “The Sun Is Rising” (which sounds a bit like Hawaiian gospel) the funky and perky title track.
But the treatments of familiar holiday tunes are just as original. “Christ Was Born On Christmas Morn” becomes a playful romp, while “Do You Hear What I Hear?” gets a pleasant grooving swagger. Simply put, this is 2014’s best holiday album. – Rating: 4 stars
• Earth, Wind and Fire: “Holiday” (Legacy) – The veteran group does exactly what one would hope with a holiday album – it remakes a set of Christmas classics (“Joy To The World,” “Winter Wonderland”) in its own rousing horn-laced R&B image. A couple of originals, the spirited “Happy Seasons” and “December,” a variation on the group’s hit “September,” round out this enjoyable set. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Farmer Jason: “Christmas on the Farm” – Jason Ringenberg (otherwise known as the frontman of the turbo-fueled country-punk band Jason and The Scorchers) adapts his kids music persona for this collection of originals and standards. The title track opens things in fine style, mixing country and mariachi and setting the humorous tone that carries through the album. Ringenberg keeps things fun and clean for the kids, but also rocks enough and shows enough cleverness that grown-ups will also get some kicks out of “Christmas on the Farm.” – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Heart and Friends: “Home For The Holidays” (Frontiers) – This CD/DVD set captures a special December 2013 holiday concert in the veteran band’s hometown of Seattle. With a smartly chosen set that draws from songs written by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Harry Nilsson, the group (joined by several notable guests) presents a warm and inviting set of holiday-related songs. Before the proceedings end, though, Heart kicks things into overdrive with “Barracuda,” “Even It Up” and a cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” Then Train’s Pat Monahan, Richard Marx and Shawn Colvin join in on Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells,” a stirring finale for a fine – and unique – holiday show. – Rating: 4 stars
• Over The Rhine: “Blood Oranges in the Snow” (GSD) – It’s actually a stretch to call “Blood Oranges in the Snow” a holiday album – even if it’s being marketed that way. Instead, it’s more of a collection of mostly original songs set to a backdrop of the holiday season. So don’t expect cheery covers by the long-running Ohio duo. Instead, these are tales of everyday struggles, small joys and wishes for better days ahead, set to the elegant folk-pop sound that remains Over the Rhine’s musical signature. “Blood Oranges in the Snow” may not conjure Christmas cheer, but it’s a compelling, and frequently lovely, listen. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• The Roys: “Bluegrass Kinda Christmas” (Rural Rhythm) – There’s nothing “kinda” about things here. The Roys have made a true bluegrass Christmas album. It happily leans toward lesser-known tunes (”Santa Claus Looked A Lot Like Daddy,” “Christmas Time’s a Comin’ “) done up in lively style - while several solid originals, including “Santa Train,” “There’s a New Kid in Town” (not even remotely the Eagles song) and the title track, are welcome as well. – Rating: 3 ½ stars
• Home Free: “Full of Cheer” (Columbia) – Winners of NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” this a cappella group sounds like a cross between the Oak Ridge Boys and Straight No Chaser on “Full of Cheer”– only with a bit of a comedy bent (note the title track, a rare happy Christmas breakup song). The vocal arrangements are fun and frequently inventive, making for an entertaining album that lives up to its title. – Rating 3 ½ stars
• Dave Koz and Friends: “The 25th of December” (Concord) – The smooth jazz star’s latest holiday effort is a star-studded vocal-oriented affair. Johnny Mathis does a fine job on a jazzy version of his signature holiday song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Several other guests, including India.Arie (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”), Heather Headley (“My Grown Up Christmas List”) and Jonathan Butler (“O Holy Night”) give particularly inspired performances. They help add some sizzle to a nice mix of traditional classics and newer holiday songs. – Rating: 3 stars
• Jim Brickman: “On a Winter’s Night” (Green Hill) – This is Brickman’s eighth holiday album, but he continues to seem invested in holiday music. Here, he puts the famous poem “Night Before Christmas” to music (with John Oates doing a credible job with the vocals). Kenny Rogers pitches in on “That Silent Night.” Much of the rest of the album is instrumental and features Brickman’s signature gentle piano stylings. But he does a nice job reinventing “Blue Christmas” (made famous by Elvis Presley) and the Mariah Carey hit “All I Want For Christmas Is You.” – Rating: 3 stars
• Darius Rucker: “Home For The Holidays” (Universal) - It’s so tempting to call this album “Hootie For The Holidays” – even though Rucker, I’m sure, is tired of explaining there was no Hootie in Hootie in the Blowfish (and Hootie is not lead singer Rucker’s nickname, either).
Anyway, Rucker, who has gone country as a solo artist, plays it safe, doing agreeable, if predictable, versions of standards like “Let It Snow,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” – Rating: 2 ½ stars
• Idina Menzel: “Holiday Wishes” (Warner Bros.) – The Broadway/film star’s entry into this year’s field is mostly standard issue holiday stuff. “Holiday Wishes” is heavy on the usual staples given familiar orchestrated treatments.
To be sure, Menzel has a voice that should make most of today’s pop divas jealous, but she frequently crosses the line with vocal acrobatics, over-singing her way through most of the songs. Of course, Broadway isn’t a bastion of vocal nuance and subtlety, so maybe that’s to be expected. – Rating: 2 stars
• Celtic Thunder: “Holiday Symphony” (Legacy) – The male Irish vocal group is back to cash in on the holiday CD season with its third holiday album (and second in two years). “Holiday Symphony” doesn’t sound particularly Irish, either vocally, instrumentally. A few lesser known selections (“Gaudete,” “Fairtytale of New York” and “Comfort Ye”) help, but they don’t save this calculated effort. – Rating: 2 stars
• Various Artists: “Christmas at Downton Abbey” (Warner Bros.) – There’s no reason this album exists except to sell it to fans of the excellent BBC series. If whoever put this double album (talk about over-indulgence) together really wanted to evoke the feeling of Christmas in England in the early 20th century, why wasn’t the album recorded in a studio with equipment from that era and pressed on 78 rpm so we could listen on a vintage crank-handle hi-fi? Otherwise it’s just a group of actors singing (some competently, some not quite that well – often with choirs carrying the performances) songs that have nothing to do with the television series. Skip “Christmas At Downton Abbey” and just watch the show. Rating: 1 star
Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:07
At the center of Burke Jam’s new exhibit at Montana State University Billings’ Northcutt Steele Gallery is a piece titled “Closer” – a simple Plexiglas box on which the words “Come Closer” are etched.
“That is one of my mantra pieces,” Jam said during a Gallery Talk about his pieces. “I like to ask myself and other people to just slow down a little bit and listen because there is a lot of amazing information that you can pick up if you just listen.”
This mantra is one of the key ideas behind Jam’s new exhibition, “Fracture,” which combines visual media with music and sound to create a meditation on the artist’s recent year-long trip to Iceland.
Jam was born and raised in rural Montana and attended high school in Billings. He graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor’s degree in art in 2006 and a master’s degree in 2013.
“My master’s degree dealt specifically with sound, and I was really fascinated about the relationship that sound has to our understanding of place,” Jam said. “After completing my degree, I was looking to find out how I could push that study further. And I thought the best place to do that was one of the most remote places on the planet.”
Jam wrote up a proposal for his trip and sent it in to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which gave him a year-long Fulbright grant so that he could continue his research.
Jam’s primary work in Iceland involved field recording, which is the process of collecting environmental sounds. After collecting the sounds, Jam ran them through a computer program that he created himself. The program extracted the spectral notes that make up natural sounds and placed them into a musical score.
Jam created three different musical pieces through this process and arranged them in the form of a symphony: the first movement is for solo piano; the second is for a full orchestra; and the final movement is performed by a vibraphone, piano, harp and bells.
“Each movement is made from field recordings that were taken in different places in Iceland,” Jam said. “For example, the second movement was taken from sounds that I recorded while on the Westman Ferry. What was really interesting was that, when I shared that piece with Icelanders, 99 percent could tell that the field recordings were taken on the Westman Ferry. It was a really striking reminder that we relate to place through sound – and that we can recognize that sound even if we change it into an abstraction.”
Although his symphony is one of the most striking aspects of his new show, Jam didn’t rely on just one form of media to convey his experiences in Iceland.
“This show is a combination of a lot of different things that were going on at the time,” Jam said. “A lot of the show is more visually oriented than my shows usually are because I was trying to include everything I experienced and thought about while in Iceland – through sounds, drawings and photographs.”
Jam continued, “I work primarily in sound and new media at this point, but I also try to work all over the map, which I think is important to do in today’s art world. We talk about all of this new media and technology, which is great and very important, but I think it is also important to maintain simpler ways to think and reflect.”
One of these ways is through a series of 35 line drawings that Jam calls “Fault Lines.” Jam said that the simple drawings are a “response to the physicality of the places I was experiencing.”
Jam, who teaches at Portland State University, also took more than 3,000 photos while in Iceland. Seven of these photos are displayed in the artist’s show.
“As I was putting this show together, I was reflecting on what Iceland was and what the most impactful moments of that time were,” he said. “Out of all the photographs I took, these seven depict specific chronological points that were impactful to the recording process and to my heart. There were both high and low points during that year so I wanted to contain those in photographs and send those back into the world.”
After the “Fracture” exhibit leaves MSU Billings on Dec. 11, the majority of the show will move to Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Jam’s score will return to Iceland where it will be performed at the Tectonics Festival, which celebrates contemporary experimental classical music.
Jam hopes to translate some more of his field recordings into music and to continue his investigation into the relationship between sound and place.
“When I take the original sounds and abstract them into music, I think the ways that people are able to react to it and interact with it are really intriguing to me,” Jam said “So music for me right now is a loose tool that allows me to talk about something much bigger: our relationship sonically to place.”
Burke Jam’s “Fracture” Exhibit is open at MSU Billings from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. One of Jam’s musical movements plays at the top of every hour.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:25
MISSOULA – For the second time this year, Stephen Kalm, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Montana and a music professor, will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
On the evening of Friday, Nov. 21, Kalm will sing in an American Composers Orchestra concert of Meredith Monk’s “Night” under the direction of George Manahan.
Monk is Carnegie Hall’s Composer of the Year for its 2014-15 season. For many years, Kalm was a member of the Meredith Monk Vocal Ensemble, and participated in the creation and premieres of several of her works, including the Bessie Award-winning vocal work “The Politics of Quiet” from which “Night” originated.
For more information about the performance, visit the Carnegie Hall website at www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2014/11/21/0730/PM/American-Composers-Orchestra/.
Last April, Kalm also performed at Carnegie Hall in the opera “The Wayward” by Harry Partch in a program curated by 2013-14 Carnegie Hall Composer of the Year David Lang. The New York Times reviewed the performance with high acclaim. The review can be accessed online at www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/arts/music/david-langs-collected-stories-at-zankel-hall.html?ref=music.
Kalm holds a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a master of art from Queens College and a doctorate in music from The City University of New York.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:12
A few months ago, Drowning Pool guitarist C.J. Pierce got a major surprise as he went through some video tapes of the band searching for material to include on a deluxe re-issue of the group’s 2001 debut album, “Sinner.”
Within the stack of video tapes was an audio cassette labeled 6-28. It was a soundboard mix of the final rehearsal Drowning Pool did before the starting the 2002 Ozzfest tour. The rehearsal included what figures to be a highlight of the “Sinner” reissue — a complete version of “Heroes Sleeping,” the last song Pierce, drummer Mike Luce and bassist Steve Benton worked on with singer Dave Williams.
On Aug. 14, 2002, just a few weeks after that rehearsal, Williams died from a heart condition, cardiomyopathy, suddenly and sadly ending the original edition of Drowning Pool.
“I heard it (the rehearsal) was going to get recorded, but I didn’t think much of it,” Pierce said in an early October phone interview. “Those last couple of rehearsals, we worked up a new song (“Heroes Sleeping”). And I didn’t even remember finishing the song.
“We actually did the song all the way through. So it’s totally a gem of a find. Definitely, it’s an emotional song to hear. ‘Heroes Sleeping,’ it’s about other musicians who had passed away before us. That was Dave’s (angle) on the lyrical content. Then literally just a few weeks later, he passed away. The song’s kind of about him now. So I’m glad we can share that with our fans.”
The re-issue of “Sinner” is now out, and along with the original album, it includes a second disc with 13 demos. In addition to “Heroes Sleeping,” it includes versions of a half dozen other songs that didn’t make the original “Sinner” album.
The new version of the debut album arrives 13 years after it was originally released, which to Pierce seems entirely appropriate.
“Our career has been laden with unlucky situations that we’ve been fortunate to overcome,” he said. “So it just made sense, the unlucky 13.”
To that end, Drowning Pool has begun a U.S. tour billed as the “unlucky 13th Anniversary ‘Sinner’ Tour.” The shows will find the group playing the entire “Sinner” album, as well as songs from the four albums the band has made since losing Williams.
Williams’ death wasn’t the only setback that surrounded the “Sinner” album, which was released in June 2001 to coincide with the group’s stint on the third stage of that summer’s Ozzfest.
Drowning Pool made such a big impression that the group was quickly elevated to a far higher profile slot on the Ozzfest second stage. As the buzz around the group intensified, the song “Bodies” took off at rock radio, and sales of “Sinner” soared – passing one million copies in just six weeks.
There seemed to be no stopping Drowning Pool – until the tragic day of Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon stopped the world in its tracks.
“Bodies,” a song written about the mosh pits that would break out at Drowning Pool shows, was immediately pulled from radio – a logical move for a song that opens with the line: “Let the bodies hit the floor.” Right then and there, the “Sinner” album was commercially dead in the water. And less than a year later, Williams was gone.
It’s been a roller coaster ride of sorts since then. After taking time to deal with Williams’ death, the surviving band members decided to continue as Drowning Pool. But finding the right vocalist proved tricky before the group hired current singer Jason Moreno. Jason “Gong” Jones lasted for one album, 2004’s “Desensitized,” while Ryan McCombs departed after doing two albums with the group, 2007’s “Full Circle” and the 2010 self-titled album.
Along the way, there have been issues on the business side of the band’s career.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, too, that every band goes through,” Pierce said. “I think we’ve had just about one of every classic thing you’ve heard of that has destroyed bands.”
Pierce, though, is optimistic that Moreno will be a long-term fit as a vocalist. He recorded the 2013 album, “Resilience,” with Drowning Pool, and the band plans to begin recording its sixth album after the “Unlucky 13th Anniversary ‘Sinner’ Tour” wraps up in late fall.
“We could probably put out three or four records right now,” Pierce said, noting that the album is likely to take Drowning Pool’s music in a heavier direction. “We have our list of what we want on the record. We’re making sure these are the right songs. We want to put out an amazing record. We’ve been taking our time, and we want to do it right.”
For now, Pierce is happy to be on tour and have the chance to play the “Sinner” album front to back.
“There are a lot of songs we haven’t played (live) since Dave,” he said. “So I’m excited to play those songs again.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:13
“This Vanishing,” the first print poetry collection by Dave Caserio, has recently been released by CW books, an imprint of Word Tech. This company also published Montana poet laureate Tami Haaland’s latest book. Watch for future offerings of the work of Billings-area poets from this press.
Billings residents with a taste for poetry already know Dave Caserio as one of the most recognizable talents in south-central Montana. His multi-art performances featuring on-the-spot painting, interpretive dance and outstanding musicians such as bassist Parker Brown and guitarist Alex Nauman have been featured at the Billings Fringe Festival, Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub, Sacrifice Cliff Theatre, NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, and the Babcock Theater.
Dave has also worked with cancer patients at Billings Clinic, focusing on the restorative power of words. He teaches poetry with the Big Sky Writing Workshops, has offered Humanities Montana presentations throughout the state, and will be a featured speaker farther afield this year at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in New Jersey.
Drawing on the experience gathered from his years in the Seattle slam poetry scene, Dave has also served as a guiding spirit and mentor for young artists and writers for whom downtown Billings is home base. Two such writers, Pete Tolton and James Dean Hickman, whose ventures include not only Montana Slam but Noise & Color, contributed their own considerable talents to “This Vanishing’s” design and layout.
As anyone who has seen him perform can attest, poetic music and rhythm are extremely important in Caserio’s work. One can hear rhythmic echoes ranging from “Beowulf” to “Leaves of Grass” in these poems. It is also evident that Caserio has mastered the subtle modulation of late 20th century free verse. “Ghost Eye,” for example, is rich with alliteration and assonance:
Even the neighbors
Back in Warrington
Waited with their tea leaves.
I asked Caserio how studying poetry with Sharon Olds and Galway Kinnell at New York University had influenced his work. He notes that these meticulous craftspeople brought to his attention different aspects of the poet’s art.
From Kinnell, he learned the “weight and texture of vowels and consonants.” Since Dave had been working as a mime, this revitalization of language “was heady stuff to me then and it remains so, even now.”
Olds, in addition to her own sense of sound, focused on concrete detail and the power of ordinary life, the animated discourse of families, and, on a larger scale, the arguments of politics and social criticism. She also introduced him to the healing capacity of poetry, which he cultivates today in his work with cancer patients.
The accents and rhythms of jazz are present in many poems, along with an appropriate measure of urban dissonance. But Caserio is also capable of achieving a quieter pastoral music in poems such as “Vermont Etiology,” which begins with a passage recalling the work of James Wright and, especially, Robert Bly:
Since first dark
Only the snow has come
And what would be sound
Is taken back into the body
Like an oar lifted from water
In a poem by Bly or Wright, such atmospheric lines generally lead to surrealistic “deep imagery.” Caserio offers such a moment of heightened consciousness, but, true to the gritty aesthetic of the Chicago-born poet, weaves the illumination into a tough urban context:
Around blunted corners and back-alley ways,
Through quiet gates of snow,
Through half-covered broken glass
And the rusted time of automobiles
The poem may offer something like the kind of meditative subjective perception typical of Bly or Wright, but it will not leave anyone, not even “the slow, the lame, the deemed impure,” behind. The descriptive catalog of undesirables and encompassing generosity of spirit recall one of Caserio’s Humanities Montana presentation subjects, Walt Whitman.
Readers familiar with Caserio’s performance pieces will recognize some of these poems.
Seeing these familiar works in print complements the experience of the live performances. After reading “William Cumbry Moss,” for example, I have a more complete understanding of one of Caserio’s best-known characters, a homeless schizophrenic. Details of Moss’s background, his apparent involvement in the sex trade, for example, can be more clearly seen in the written poem, and his descent into his current state, though presented in broad strokes, is rendered clear.
The poem in print offers a counterpoint to Caserio’s live interpretation of the character. It’s almost like reading a brief, impressionistic autobiography — the poem is in first person from the character’s point of view — as opposed to unexpectedly encountering Moss in the subway tunnels and alleys he haunts.
The complexities of his character, his intelligent but catch-as-catch-can scientific bent (“I was / Reading about brains”), and his devotion to “St Dorotheus” are perhaps more accessible in the printed form. If you live in Billings and know this character from Dave’s performances, prepare to meet him in a new, more coherent if perhaps less immediate way.
As a reader, I’m not always comfortable with Caserio’s over-the-top approach to poetry. But the theatrical impulse is no stranger to the art, and, in American poetry in particular, represents a distinguished tradition. Dave’s poetic voice blends an American sense of expansive ego with a poetic vulnerability that somehow both intensifies and ameliorates the potential for self-indulgence. One thinks of Walt Whitman balancing the tender sensibility of “Live Oak with Moss” and his acceptance of all human frailties in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” against the breathtaking audacity of “Song of Myself.”
Perhaps this is what Caserio means when he cites “Whitman’s consciousness to hold the vertical interior in undistracted balance with the immense variety of the horizontal exterior.” A related blend of self-deprecating humor and self-expansion can be seen in the post-World War II work of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, even Sylvia Plath. I hear an echo of Kerouac, for example, in Moss’s reaction to being labeled a “schizophrenic catatonic amnesiac / And a drunk. Hell, I knew that” as well as in the more obvious Kerouac-esque jazz evocation in “My Father Used to Stay Up Nights.”
But, as shown by the epigraphs introducing each of the book’s six sections, the volume’s influences are not exclusively American. Much of Caserio’s sense of sound comes from the Old World: Anglo-Saxon ballads, Beowulf (another of his Humanities Montana subjects), Chaucer, Irish poetry.
Caserio’s idiosyncratic American is not some neo-Adam created afresh. As with Kerouac and William Carlos Williams, Caserio’s ear is attuned to the wealth of urban and immigrant speech rhythms, a focus that dates back to his work with Kinnell.
During his years at NYU, says Caserio, “I began to carry cloth- bound artist blank sketchbooks (I dislike lines on a page) with me everywhere I went, on subways, on buses, on trains, or while walking the streets of Manhattan or Brooklyn, to record the varied voices, stories and rhythms of speech that continuously filled the air in snatches and phrases and sometimes whole soliloquies.”
Caserio matches these voices to the aspirations of his motley characters and personae, as well, perhaps, as to aspects of his own family history and personal experience.
When asked how, after stints in Chicago, New York, and Seattle, he came to live in Billings, Dave recalls his childhood reading and his grandfather’s glowing memories of a sojourn in Butte.
“Lewis and Clark and their journey through Montana wound up my imagination,” he says. “I remember pestering my father that he should quit his nice-paying blue-collar job and move the lot of us out to Montana. I bugged him about it on a consistent basis and I used my grandfather’s claims to try to bolster my argument.”
Dave’s story, and the story of American westering in general, resonates with a desire that may be as old as humanity itself, the urge to transcend the limitations placed on our individual lives while somehow retaining our familiar identity in the process, to start anew while not forgetting where we’ve been.
This theme is intimated in the collection’s title and explored in the first poem. The only poem in Section One, “Forensic Love” telescopes from “2098” backward into prehistory, to “Lucy from Olduvai Gorge” (The Lucy fossil was actually found not at Olduvai but at Hadar in Ethiopia, but who can resist the sound play of place and personal names?). The poem returns to the future with the Whitman-flavored observation that “those who discover me / Will come to know what fragrance lies unbloomed.”
But Caserio’s vision is generally darker and more ironic than Whitman’s, with roots sunk deep in the 20th century’s peculiar aura of omnipresent nightmare. In the formative decades of a new century, Dave’s poems recall the chaos of the last one.
These poems inhabit a dangerous world. Like it or not, they tell us, the future may lead inevitably to Gallipoli, to a William Cumbry Moss demi-world, or simply to the “nameless coffin” of “Forensic Love.” Better get used to such uncertainty and learn to live with it, Dave Caserio tells us in “This Vanishing.” Better yet, learn to celebrate it.
Bernard Quetchenbach teaches English at MSU Billings.
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:38
MISSOULA – Bamboo fly-fishing rods, heavy-duty man baskets, a family Chai recipe, gourmet chocolates and a new energy bar made from Montana-raised beef are the subjects of a University of Montana student-produced television program featuring Montana-based businesses.
“Business: Made in Montana” profiles companies that create products in Big Sky Country and do business around the state, the country and the world. The new program will premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, on MontanaPBS and will broadcast again at 10 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 and at 1 a.m. Monday, Oct. 27. This episode introduces viewers to Tom Morgan Rodsmiths in Manhattan, Lifting Technologies Inc. in Missoula, Tipu’s Chai in Polson, Posh Chocolat in Missoula and Omnibar in Ovando.
Producers follow the waters of the Madison River to a Manhattan company that aims for perfection when creating finely crafted bamboo fly rods. Tom Morgan and his wife, Gerri, have owned and operated Tom Morgan Rodsmiths since 1996.
Man-basket manufacturing company, Lifting Technologies in Missoula, is a local family business with an international market.
After successfully running an Indian restaurant in Missoula, Tipu’s Chai owner Bipin Patel moved his business to Polson with hopes of spreading his grandmother’s authentic chai tea recipe around the country.
Posh Chocolat, a Missoula chocolate company, celebrates nearly a decade of making delectable treats for its customers and has even bigger plans for the future.
Omnibar is a new Montana-made energy bar for extreme athletes. Owner Cooper Burchenal uses beef from his family ranch near Ovando to create a savory alternative for a growing market.
Students at UM’s School of Journalism and Department of Radio-TV produced the program during spring semester 2014. Senior journalism student Sam Waldorf hosts the program. Over a span of 21 years, “Business: Made in Montana” has featured nearly 200 different businesses.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:18
When Evan Weiss looks at “Intersections,” his latest album under the band name Into It. Over It., it takes him back in an important respect to when he first wrote and recorded his own music. He recaptured something he hadn’t felt since that first album, the 2009 release “52 Weeks.”
“It was more about writing, doing what came naturally,” Weiss said of his debut project in a recent phone interview. “I like chances and risks, which is most of what ’52 Weeks’ was about was taking risks and trying new things and not being afraid to experiment. That was the big thing about ‘Intersections’ was kind of being fearless in the writing and the recording process, which brought me back awhile. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that attitude going into a recording session.”
That first album was an ambitious endeavor. Weiss challenged himself to write a new song each week over the course of an entire year. The songs were released one at a time online and then compiled on the two-disc “52 Weeks” album at the end of that period.
“Intersections” didn’t require him to create anywhere near that much material. But Weiss went into the new album determined to change up some of his methods and not second guess the decisions he made as the songs were written and the album was recorded.
One of the ideas that put a twist on “Intersections” was to put some limits on how songs were written and recorded. Another was to not use a pick on the guitar parts, a decision that was designed to serve a larger goal for “Intersections.”
He also had drummer Nick Wakim scale back his kit by removing certain cymbals and drums.There wasn’t any grand scheme behind such decisions. Not using a pick, for instance, happened after Weiss realized the approach might serve a larger goal for “Intersections.”
“Basically the idea came from writing the first song (“A Pair of Matching Taxi Rides”) and wanting the album to sound, to have a tonality and a feel to it,” he said. “We wrote the first song that way and it was kind of like oh, let’s ride this and create something that sounds like a complete thought, 12 songs and a complete thought. That was really where that came from.”
What also helped shape the sound of “Intersections” was Weiss’ choice of Brian Deck as producer.
In particular, Weiss wanted more of a raw, organic sound than he had on his second album, “Proper,” and Deck’s approach to recording suited that goal.
“I just wanted to make something that was not artificial, that wasn’t made by a computer, or not necessarily made by a computer, but influenced by that,” Weiss said. “I think Brian is a great engineer for that kind of music. He doesn’t like f***ing around with a computer. He just wants to record a band being a band or record a musician being a musician. I just wanted it to sound like a real band playing in a room. That was the main goal.”
Songs such as “Spinning Thread,” “New North-Side Air,” “Favor and Fiction” and “Upstate Blues,” set the tone with their mid-tempo, but edgy sound. The songs rock, thanks to the assertive attack of drummer Wakim and the serrated electric guitar tones that Weiss favors, but the tempos are deliberate and Weiss’ graceful vocals soften the overall feel of the tunes. A couple of ballads (“The Shaking of Leaves” and “A Curse Worth Believing”) and the occasional song that slightly amps up energy (“Spatial Exploration”) bring nice variety to “Intersections.”
Overall, “Intersections” finds Weiss showing he has the talent to build a lasting career.
Ironically, a music career wasn’t Weiss’ original plan. In fact, he expected “52 Weeks” to be a one-off project when he started writing and posting the songs that eventually were collected on the two-CD set.
“Essentially ’52 Weeks’ came out and I was done with it. This was when it was still for free online,” Weiss said. “Then a label called No Sleep released it on CD. So when we released it on CD, it was like I guess I should play some shows to sell these CDs. It’s like (they) put some money into this. I should put some time into it and play some of these songs if people want to hear them. Then I got asked to do a couple of short tours and came home from one of them and didn’t have a job anymore.
“It was kind of like well, if I don’t go for it (a music career) now, I’m never going to get to go for it, ever,” he said.
So Weiss moved ahead to make 2011’s “Proper,” his first conventional album, and then set his sights on “Intersections.”
He has assembled a four-piece band to tour in support of “Intersections.” This should enable Weiss to bring his newest material to life on stage - not that his set will be limited to that material.
“The band has pretty much gone out of its way to learn a catalog of roughly 40 songs,” Weiss said. “So we’re doing a rotating set of 20 every single night. The set probably will not be the same at any show ... . We’ve been trying to do a really good balance of all of the material.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:13
The Autumn ArtWalk in downtown Billings includes nearly 30 galleries, museums and studios in the downtown Billings area. ArtWalk, now in its 20th season, goes from 5-9 p.m. Friday.
Many venues offer complimentary food and refreshments. Maps are available at all participating sites and at www.artwalkbillings.com.
ArtWalkers are invited to an open house at the offices of the Downtown Billings Association, 2815 Second Ave. N., to meet new ArtWalk President Virginia Bryan, from 3-5 p.m. on the afternoon of the Autumn ArtWalk. Light food and refreshments will be served.
Among the highlights on Friday:
• Rachel Jones’ whimsical images on reclaimed wood and canvas are on exhibit at the Anderson Art Studio and Gallery. Laura Marie Anderson’s work will also be featured.
• Selected works from Billings artist Stephen Haraden on display at Good Earth Market include colorful, sensual images that reflect his appreciation of the outdoors developed during boyhood years living in several national parks. Billings poet David Caserio signs copies of his new book, “The Vanishing.”
• The featured show at Big Sky Blue Gallery is “The Wonders of This Land” with featured artists Lori Blaylock, Maggie Webber and Dana Zier. Ms. Blaylock works primarily in drawing and jewelry, and delights in finding “beauty in the details.” Webber is a free-lance photographer; Zier is a plein air landscape artist who “finds light and truth in many subjects.”
• At the Billings Open Studio, Kira Fercho curates a three-artist show, “Imaginarium,” that includes her abstract impressionism pieces and others by Kevin Rose and Louis Habeck that range from landscapes to the whimsical and melancholy. Sculptor Brenna Paulson’s “bronze expressionism” series features bronze castings in abstract form with a variety of textures and patinas. A mysterious photography show, “Portraits of Billings,” is a collaboration by Tony Anderson, Jessie Blake, Jenna Martin, Casey Page and Bryce Turcotte. Acoustic music by Grant Jones and Adam Copeland accompanies the three shows.
• The Catherine Louisa Gallery features “Alterations” by Jean Albus, who was featured recently in the Big Sky Journal Arts issue. Jean’s photo assemblages merge her love of the Eastern Montana landscape with artifacts that surround her.
• At the Chinatown Art Gallery, Alaina Buffalo Spirit, a Northern Cheyenne artist from Colstrip, shows paintings on ledger art paper that honor artists from past centuries who documented nomadic Cheyenne life. Sara Ness, who graduates from MSU Billings next spring, has her first gallery showing.
• Clark Marten Photography shows “Real or Fake: Camera Takes Landscape Art to Unreal Levels,” which includes photographs by Clark Marten using a rare, specialty camera. Marten captures details and color layers that are three times as sharp those captured by a 35mm camera.
• Renata Haidle’s photographs of Paris are on display at CTA Architects Engineers. The exhibit, entitled “A Moveable Feast,” draws inspiration from Ernest Hemingway’s quote, which suggests that an extended stay in Paris will stay with you for the rest of your life.
• Downtown Billings Alliance welcomes John Stout of Sheridan, Wyo., for his second show in Billings. Stout, a log home builder, works in watercolors and landscapes. He has taught art classes at Sheridan College and has been a guest artist at MSU Billings.
• Gallery Interiors hosts several artists, including Bob Barlow, Joseph Booth, Dennis Boyd, Barbara Butler, Jessica Durnell Smith, Greg Eislein, Loren Entz, John Felten, Connie Herberg, Jim LeBar, James Poulson, Jeff Schaezle, Kevin Showell, C. David Swanson, Tom Temple, Robert Tompkins, Joseph Trakimas and Susie Van Pelt. James Poulson provides guitar music.
• Gallery Nine shows a selection of paintings of interior spaces and photographs of exterior spaces by Connie Dillon, artistic wood boxes by John Felten and handmade journals by Linds Sanders.
• Karen Johnson is the featured artist at Global Village. Johnson’s oil paintings of western landscapes include Yellowstone and Teton National Parks and the Mediterranean region.
• Pug Mahon’s Autumn Art competition opens in its walkway behind the bar and eatery. Twelve outdoor mural spaces are available to artists on a first-come, first-served basis. Murals must be completed by Oct. 31, with public viewing and voting in November. Call Bill “Mac” McIntyre at 259-4190 to secure a mural space.
• The Jason Jam Gallery shows “Monsters and Stuff,” with subjects ranging from monsters to pumpkins. Mr. Jam’s work is created in diverse styles, including cartooning, plein air and illustrations.
• “Maybe It’s the Moon” is showing at the two Jens Gallery & Design locations through October. The duo galleries feature pastel paintings by Libby George, drawings by Gerald Kindsfather, and photography by Connie Jens and Gerald Kindsfather. Also featured are works by Kenny Alefteras, Jenny Moller, and Sue LaFountain.
• “Falling into Fall” at Kennedy’s Stained Glass opens with new pieces that bring autumn colors into the studio. A preview of the studio’s annual Christmas ornament is featured.
• Limber Tree Yoga Studio students become artists during a gentle flow yoga class. Wearing their paint clothes, yoginis move through various poses and breathwork while painting with hands and feet. Supplies are $40. Yoga painting is from 6-8 p.m.
• Mothers and Daughters is the primary theme of the exhibit at McCormick Cafe for the Autumn ArtWalk. Jean Mehlhaff and her daughter, Linda Mehlhaff, show watercolors, marker on paper, graphic art and collages. Photographs are shown by Peggy Schroeder-Adams and her daughter, Grace Adams, and their friend, Jacquie Prittson Kittson.
• At the Northern Hotel, Steven Kuennen and Robin Earles showcase linoleum press prints and provide information about upcoming Buffalo Art Press linoleum block workshops (www.buffaloartpress.com). Other artists and their work include pottery by Cassey Crafton Kramer and jewelry designs with gemstones by Cindy Lou Smith.
• “Contemporary Art for the Modern World,” at Sandstone Gallery features a new series by Lana Bittner in which she uses an ink alcohol technique in her abstract watercolors. Mary Knapp’s fused glass pieces are combined with metal and range from jewelry to wall pieces to furniture. Heather Connolly’s works in mixed media are also part of the show.
• It’s time to see what’s been cut up and what’s survived for the Autumn ArtWalk at the Stephen Haraden Studio. Mr. Haraden exhibits new collages created from cut pieces extracted from his previous paintings. A “few old favorites” from his body of work also be shown.
• At susang, Susan Germer’s new creations for the Autumn ArtWalk include fine silver jewelry, watercolor note cards, pastels, bead embroidery and framed photography.
• Toucan Gallery’s show features Red Lodge artist David Vogel and his artful trout. While known primarily as a painter, Vogel’s trout, all representing species indigenous to Montana, are created from bended, stamped, welded and torched steel.
• Exhibitions on display at the Yellowstone Art Museum include “The Art of the Brick,” “T.L. Solien: Toward the Setting Sun” and “Boundless Visions.” Work by Hardin sixth-grade students are in the Young Artists Gallery. Wes Urbaniak plays live music.
• Tony Anderson of Big News Photography showcases his latest series “Dia de los Muertos” at Underground Culture Krew. Regular gallery artists include Crystal Rieker; photographers Kristin Rude, Jenna Martin and Ellen Kuntz; glass artist Gloria Mang; pottery by Tina Jensen; and five local graffiti artists.
• A vintage jewelry sale from private collections of museum patrons celebrates the return of the High Plains Women’s Museum to the ArtWalk lineup. Also displayed are millinery classics from the hat collection of Lorraine Marsh and vintage wedding dresses.
Last Updated on Thursday, 02 October 2014 16:13
By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features
Wanted: A musician to join established band that tours worldwide and has released has six previous studio albums to play banjo, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar and keyboards. No prior experience playing those instruments required.
The Dropkick Murphys didn’t actually place an ad like that when multi-instrumentalist Marc Orrell left the group in 2008. But the musician who got the gig, Jeff DaRosa, would have met those requirements.
A bassist by trade, DaRosa, aside from guitar, had never played any of those instruments when he was contacted by Dropkick Murphys guitarist James Lynch about filling the vacancy in the band lineup.
“I was coming off of a plane checking my messages from my last tour and I had a message from James Lynch, the guitar player,” said DaRosa in a recent phone interview. “He just said I don’t know if you want to learn any crazy instruments or not, but if you do, the job’s open.”
DaRosa accepted the offer.
“He (Lynch) gave me a bunch of CDs and a banjo, a mandolin, bouzouki and everything else, and I sat in my bedroom for about a month and just woodshedded, practiced,” DaRosa said.
“That was the only concern,” he said. “Can you learn these wacky instruments? I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at any of them, but I can do it.”
The Dropkick Murphys were willing to take a chance on DaRosa because he had a history with the Boston-based Irish-accented rockers.
He had been friends with Lynch since they were kids, and DaRosa’s former band, the Exit, had toured with the Dropkick Murphys and was signed to the record label own by Dropkick Murphys bassist and founding member Ken Casey.
“I’m old friends with a bunch of the guys in the band,” DaRosa said. “So they didn’t have to look too far to find me.”
DaRosa joined the band in time to contribute to the writing and recording of the seventh Dropkick Murphys studio album, 2011’s “Going Out In Style.” That album turned out to be something of a landmark release for the group.
It became the Dropkick Murphys’ highest charting CD when it debuted at No. 6 on “Billboard” magazine’s album chart. It was also arguably the group’s most ambitious album to date in that it was a full-on concept record.
“Going Out In Style” told the story of a fictional Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin, as the songs looked back on the character’s lineage and life in his new homeland of the United States.
In addition to the songs, the album’s liner notes included a short story about Larkin’s life, which was written author Michael Patrick MacDonald.
“We didn’t set out to write a concept album, actually,” DaRosa said. “The concept, as we were looking at the list of songs, it kind of came out to us and we were talking about James Lynch’s grandfather, who was Cornelius Lynch, and his story of coming to America. We kind of took from our families’ histories and kind of made a fictional concept around it.”
“Going Out in Style” was well received critically and helped continue the gradual growth in popularity that has characterized the Dropkick Murphys’ 18-year career.
The band was formed in 1996, and after self-releasing a 1997 EP, “Boys in the Docks,” got signed to Hellcat Records (the label led by Tim Armstrong of Rancid), which put out the band’s first full-length CD, “Do or Die,” in 1998.
The next CD, 1999’s “The Gang’s All Here” marked the debut of lead singer Al Barr (who replaced Mike McColgan) and saw the group solidifying its trademark brand of rollicking and Irish and punk-rooted rock.
The band’s national profile has grown steadily over the subsequent albums, while the Dropkick Murphys have become hugely popular in the band’s hometown of Boston. The city has been celebrated in a number of the group’s songs, most notably “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning film, “The Departed” and is currently used (in an acoustic version) as the theme song of the TNT drama “Rizzoli & Isles.”
The group’s local hero status became blatantly apparent in summer 2011, when the Dropkick Murphys played two shows at Boston’s Fenway Park. An 18-song live album from those shows was included in the deluxe edition of “Going Out In Style” when it was released this past March.
“It was amazing,” DaRosa said of the Fenway experience. “We did two shows there and just to say you walked on the grass of Fenway is one thing. But to be able to say you played there, the two nights were great. We had the (Mighty Mighty) Bosstones with us, and just walking on the Green Monster down to play and the excitement of being home on such a legendary field (was special).”
Now the band, which also includes drummer Matt Kelly, guitarist/accordion player Tim Brennan and bagpiper/tin whistle player Josh “Scruffy” Wallace, is back to playing its more customary mix of theaters and large clubs as it tours behind its eighth studio album, “Signed and Sealed in Blood,” which was released in January 2013.
With its busy touring schedule, that meant essentially writing and recording “Signed and Sealed in Blood” between June and August 2012.
“We had to just go in and schedule the studio and get it done and force ourselves to work every single day on it,” DaRosa said. “It was like having a day job, wake up, go to work every day.”
The project, though, was also fun, and DaRosa said that feeling translates to the music on “Signed and Sealed in Blood.”
“The whole album is very uptempo compared to ‘Going Out in Style,’ he said. “They’re fun songs to play live, songs you don’t have to concentrate on so much, just have a good time playing.”
Last Updated on Thursday, 18 September 2014 14:39