Greatness On The Installment Plan: Driftwood Pyre’s “Strangeways” EP

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 22, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Driftwood Pyre claimed Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Album of the Year honors, and a few days later, we were pleased to publish an interview with the Minneapolis psych band who carried the half-filled chalice left over from First Communion Afterparty.  Where FCAP was a Summer of Love band reborn with punk grit, Driftwood Pyre revealed themselves open to other nominally more straight-ahead rock influences, including the likes of Oasis.

Now, en route to a follow-up album to their incredible Driftwood Pyre debut, they’ve released an EP, Strangeways, which fills us with confidence in their future, for this is another installment on their march toward greatness.

“Shatter Star” kicks off the proceedings with a nod to Anton Newcombe, a heretofore unacknowledged influence on Liam Watkins, either in his current band or in First Communion Afterparty, which we think was the greatest psych band of the 21st Century, no small praise. On “Into Blue” we get a taste for what a fine punk band they must be live, an exultant, up-tempo number, important to have second in the line-up lest we think that mid-tempo rockers are the land where the band resides. Courtney Olsen’s drumming kicks like a herd of wildebeest, and with the full panoply of ex-FCAP guitarist Joe Werner on lead and former Rocking Horse People-bassist Aaron James laying a solid rhythm down, we can hear the band in all its glory.

“Protozoan” is a reminder that no one starts a song with a slow-picked guitar line as sensuously as Liam Watkins. “The Tide” sounds like what woulda happened had early Dream Syndicate crashed a Television rehearsal, all jangling Fenders and too-animalistic drumming. By the time we get to the lush and sludgy title track, keyboard player Jeanne Oss adds sonic space winds to the proceedings, as Watkins’ voice reminds us of everything we loved most about his former band.

Strangeways fulfills the essential showbiz challenge: it leaves us wanting more.  For anyone who missed their chance to grok on First Communion Afterparty during that band’s unfortunately short life, you have much to look forward to with Driftwood Pyre.  For God’s sake, start now.

The #TaxDay Protests In DC: A Gallery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux.

The April 15th Tax March in Washington should scare Republicans even more than their narrow victory this week in the Kansas special election.  Oh sure, the crowds were smaller than the Womens’ March on January 21st.  But they were still large, and beyond their size was the enthusiasm, the anger, the joy in being able to protest against Trump.

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Republicans used to own Tax Day, and now, so long as Trump doesn’t release his taxes, April 15th is symbolic of how taxpayers are screwed, not by high taxes, but by people like Trump.  It’s a stunning reversal, as important in its way as the appropriation of patriotism as the American flag was by Democrats at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.

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The signs continue to show creativity, the demographics continue to span age and racial groups.  And as the Trump team continues to make missteps — announcing they won’t release White House visitor logs one day before a national series of marches and protests against Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns — the promise of the 2018 elections continues undiminished.  Herewith some images from the event today in the Nation’s Capital.

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The Late J. Geils Was Once A Giant

Posted in Music with tags , on April 13, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It’s possible that the only thing more absurd than the wave of ’60s British blues bands is how five Jewish kids from the Boston suburbs created the early ’70s’ most perfect blues and R&B album.  J. Geils was the only gentile in his eponymous band, and he was from New Jersey.  But together with Peter Wolf, Magic Dick, Seth Justman, Stephen Jo Bladd, and Danny Klein, the blues guitarist who died Tuesday created, on the band’s self-titled first album, one of rock’n’roll music’s greatest records.

Yeah, we know, they made hits in the ’80s.  But by that time we’d stopped listening.  And while the follow-up album The Morning After, as well as 1973’s Bloodshot (the first red vinyl album we remember), were both pretty good, it was the band’s debut that secured The J. Geils Band’s permanent place on our hard drive.

The J. Geils Band had three soloists and a great singer.  Magic Dick usually went first, invoking Little Walter on blues harp.  Seth Justman’s keyboard work was stellar.  But it was J. Geils who played those stinging leads, as angry a lead guitarist as ever there was, a near perfect student of Hubert Sumlin, Robert “Junior” Lockwood, and Luther Tucker.  And like the soloists in the band, Geils was willing to drop down into the rhythm section when Peter Wolf was singing, or when the others were holding the spotlight.

In their own way, the early J. Geils Band were like one of Miles Davis’ combos, with different focal points but no question who musically was the leader.  Peter Wolf got all the attention, but it was J. Geils who ran the band.  No band has ever killed a John Lee Hooker song like they did on “Serve You Right To Suffer,” and the indelible groove on our brain came from Geils’ guitar.

We loved this band, and especially that first album.  Our fond memory isn’t only because of the way, when we were 16-years old and ran into Peter Wolf on the streets of Cambridge, he took time from picking up his dry cleaning — all black shirts — to talk to us at length.  Our fond memory is because of the way a bunch of Massachusetts misfits synthesized the best Chicago blues and Motown into a tight machine that live played like it was nothin’ but a house party; they never just noodled over a 12-bar span.  Never so important, perhaps, they were as tight, and as loose, as the Rolling Stones of that era.  Which is one helluva of a compliment.

We lost interest in the band when they seemed to repeat themselves in the ’70s, and by the time they’d gone New Wave and had hits, we were long gone.  But the news this week that J. Geils had died alone was sad, as we remembered one of the great guitarists of the age, now obscure, but once a giant.

The Tulip Frenzy, 2017 Edition

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 11, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Washington had an unfortunate month of March, and we’re not just talking about the Trump Administration.  First it was warm, and then it was cold.  By April it was warm again, but the damage was done, first to the cherry blossoms, then to the tulips.  We didn’t take pictures of tulips the week of March 31 because they weren’t ready, and by the 7th, they were overripe.  But in a secret spot where our beloved tulips congregate, Tulip Frenzy found these.  All images taken with a Leica SL and the 50mm Summilux SL, with an ND filter.

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On Why, Of All The Photographers Exhibited At The Photography Show, Evgenia Arbugaeva Was The Standout

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , on March 31, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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At Pier 94 in New York this weekend, AIPAD’s The Photography Show brings together more than 100 of the world’s best galleries specializing in fine art photography.  It is a staggeringly impressive collection of first-tier gallerists showcasing their best work.

There are some amazing Robert Franks (alas, sold, and at a pretty penny) and a glorious image by Martin Munkacsi at The Howard Greenberg Gallery’s space. At the Throckmorton Fine Art booth, there’s a wonderful collection of mostly Mexican and Latin American photographers (Bravo, Iturbide, and a rare image from Salgado’s Other Americas.) We were amazed to see, for the first time as large prints, Dominque Tarlé’s images of Mick and Keith during the Exile recordings in Villefranche-sur-Mer, circa 1971, courtesy of La Gallerie De L’Instant.  At The Peter Fetterman Gallery, there’s a stunning Steve McCurry landscape from Japan, some wonderful images by Jeffrey Conley, and pieces by John Szarkowski that show him to have been a lovely photographer, not just the heroic curator who, in his years at MOMA, ushered photography — and color photography at that — into the front ranks. Gallery Fifty One brought from Antwerp some of those amazing images of Nigerian hairstyles taken by J.D. Okhai Ojeikere in the 1970s.

Throughout the show, you’ll find works by Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, and others from the pantheon known to us, and with exhibitors from Brazil, India, and Switzerland, artists we’d never heard of.  So how is it that, among all these great photographers, the work that stuck with us on the train ride home was by the young Siberian visual storyteller, Evgenia Arbugaeva, whose presence at the show was the proximate cause of our journey there?

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Evgenia Arbugaeva grew up in Tiksi, a Siberian town above the Arctic Circle that is closer to Alaska than Moscow.  She speaks better English than we do, has proved to be every bit as intrepid in her journeys as Sebastiao Salgado, and her visual narratives are as richly detailed, poignant, and in many ways more emotionally resonant than a film by Wes Anderson or a novel by Garcia Marquez.

American audiences likely became aware of her when they came across this image in the pages of The New Yorker in late 2014.

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Weather Man is one of the stories that Arbugaeva tells through a compact series of images.  Even before we first saw it on her website, we’d been aware of her work through Tiksi, the connected series of images that garnered her in 2013 the prestigious Oskar Barnack Award, awarded each year by Leica.

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Tiksi is magical, a journey to Arbugaeva’s hometown in the north of Siberia, its story told through the eyes of a young girl who is a stand-in, certainly, for the artist.  There is something about the clear white snow and pale blue sky and the cast of characters we’re introduced to that takes her work from the realm of photography — though the photography is gorgeous — into something deeper, something that skirts the line between cinematography and novelistic non-fiction.  Her pictures in Tiksi get us to understand the vulnerability of characters living at the edge of the world in a post-Soviet era in which the newfound prosperity in Moscow, and even Vladivostok, is far, far away.

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This is Arctic Magical Realism, and its depiction continued when Arbugaeva released Weather Man one year later.

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The Photographer’s Gallery in London represents Arbugaeva, and yesterday at The Photography Show, they invited her to speak in their space.  They have a number of images from Weather Man exhibited, and even in a show with as many incredible works of art on display, Arbugaeva stands out.

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What she told us about her work, and her approach to storytelling, was inspirational.  She originally met Slava, the weather man who lives alone with his bird in the far north, when she was traveling from outpost to outpost by ice breaker.  She talked to him him briefly, determined his was a story worth pursuing, and months later came back by helicopter.  He agreed to let her stay and take photographs — what if he hadn’t? — and she got to work.  Her observations go beyond what can be captured on the sensor of her Canon — for example, in the image that shows Slava looking at his canary, rather than the wild onion growing toward the light, it apparently grows toward him.  A novelist’s sense of detail.

In the months ahead, The Photographers Gallery is going to exhibit her most recent work, Amani.  It is as far from the work she’s previously exhibited as the tropics are from the Arctic.

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Amani is set in Tanzania, at a semi-abandoned scientific research station she depicted late last year in National Geographic..  As with Weather Man, there is a solitary figure whose life Arbugaeva depicts in the most poignant, poetic manner.  Over the years, Nat Geo has employed a great many of the world’s best photographers, but we don’t think they’ve ever published images as resonant as these.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, well represented at The Photography Show, famously talked about the decisive moment, the street photographer’s capturing in 1/500th of a second an event that, a split second later, is over.  Evgenia Arbugaeva’s work is more like a decisive month, or what Daido Moriyama referred to as a “fossil of light and time.”  Arbugaeva studies places removed from time itself, capturing in the most amazing light and detail a life, as it is being lived, in the most vulnerable environment.

There are hundreds of great galleries and thousands of great artists exhibited at The Photography Show.  No one else’s work plied that line between narrative fiction, cinematic dreamscape, documentary photography, and pure beauty as Evgenia Arbugaeva.

Evgenia Arbugaeva is represented by The Photographers Gallery in London. 

The Jesus And Mary Chain Are Back From The Dead and The Hallelujah Chorus Is Awesome To Behold

Posted in Music with tags , , , on March 26, 2017 by johnbuckley100

It may be apocryphal, but James Joyce is alleged to have said about Finnegans Wake, “It took me 17 years to write it, and it should take 17 years to read it.”  I thought of that when, 19 years after their best album, Munki, was released into the wild, The Jesus and Mary Chain put out its followup, Damage And Joy.

When a band comes back from the dead — or in the Mary Chain’s case, from reforming only to tour, not release new music — they’ve already heard all the nice things said about them at their funeral.  The Reid brothers broke up their act in 1998 either because they’d brought it to what they thought was its conclusion, or they just couldn’t take another day together.  But of course, even before they went back on the road some years ago, the Jesus and Mary Chain have lived on in the form of all those bands who saw what they had done — graft Velvet Underground songwriting and guitar chords onto the possibilities of drum machines and new recording technology — and were inspired.

In the time since they metaphorically burned their guitars, a lot has happened, and we’re not talking about all of the nasty changes in our world since the boom days of the late Clinton Administration.  Jim Reid got sober.  JAMC’s festival shows led to semi-regular touring, and despite — or because of — they way they turned the amps to 11, a new generation of fans for whom Psycho Candy was as distant, in some ways, as The Velvet Underground & Nico, saw them as the masters that they were.  It became inevitable that they would release new recorded music.

We were unprepared for how great an album Damage And Joy is.  Purists may not like it because it’s not Finnegans Wake, it’s not difficult, it’s Dubliners: simple, easy to absorb, damn near perfect.  By the time December rolls around, we are certain it will remain high on our list of the year’s best albums.  It’s the Jesus and Mary Chain album we have waited for, somewhat anxiously, for a long, long time.

We confess that we never loved Psycho Candy all that much.  The juxtaposition of Beach Boys’ songs, Sterling Morrison guitar, and Ramones’ propulsion against an industrial squall was interesting, but in many ways unlistenable.  Darklands was where we fell in love, with its spaciousness and gorgeous songwriting coalescing into a sound we could embrace.  Through those early ’90s hits, we hung on as they created a machine that was an early precursor of EDM while maintaining its linkage to real rock’n’roll.  For us, Stoned and Dethroned was the keeper, the classic, the songwriting at a peak, the wrestling match between melodies and riffs, between Jim’s hoarse whisper-singing and William’s guitar textures becoming not only one of the ’90s highlights, but an album for the ages.  When Munki came out in 1998 — perhaps rock’s greatest year — it was the culmination and the end of the line, Jim and William’s ambivalence — and conflict — were captured in the songs that began and ended the album: “I Love Rock’n’Roll” followed by “I Hate Rock’n’Roll.”  But now they are back, and for the moment the ambivalence is gone.  Whatever happens from here, The Jesus and Mary Chain have returned from the dead, and the Hallelujah chorus is awesome to behold.

What His Administration Must Look Like To “The Closer”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 26, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit SL 24-90, Kamokuna Lava Flow, Big Island

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