Sunday, October 31, 2010

First Halloween

Baby's first Halloween costume was a ladybug. I was Nixon. I handed out candy for 2 and 1/2 hours in character. That mask was hot for 2 and 1/2 hours.

This is one of my favorites...

She can also stand up now...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Congratulations To Team X

In this equation, X = Whoever Beats the Yankees. I'm not even a Rangers fan, but I sure was rooting for them against the Yankees. Now I do not care who wins the World Series. As long as The Yankees are not there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Team Gasol (This Time On Purpose)

Earlier this week I participated in my draft for my NBA fantasy basketball league. This is about the fifth year I've been involved with this league, and it is something I look forward to every year. Our league is scored in rotiserie-style, using the following stats: points, 3-pointers, shooting %, free throw %, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and turnovers.

Draft order is determined randomly, and I ended up with the 11th spot out of 11 teams. So I knew that I would not end up with a superstar, but that also gave me the 12th pick as well. I wanted either one of the top four picks or to be at the end, I did not want that middle section of the draft this year. That is because the players in the first round that should be picked there are all serious injury risks that I wanted to avoid (I'm talking about Kobe, Wade and Granger).

Recall a few years back I made the mistake of the draft when I accidentally picked Pau Gasol in the first round (a mistake due to not understanding the new Yahoo draft settings) when he could have been had at the end of the second round. (By the way, Gasol ended up with top 10 value that season). This year, at pick #11, I grabbed Gasol on purpose for my first pick. With Bynum out until December, Gasol will dominate the Lakers middle. I am expecting near 20-20 (points/rebounds) nights. That is the best I could do at #11.

ABOVE: This time I grabbed Pau Gasol with my first pick on purpose

The first round of our draft went like this: 1-Kevin Durant (no-brainer 1st pick), 2-Chris Paul (possible injury risk and unhappy in NO), 3-Lebron James (douchebag, but will still get his numbers), 4-Dirk Nowitzki (boring but reliable), 5-Dwayne Wade (a bit high considering injury risk and competing with Lebron for the ball), 6-Stephen Curry (a risk, but could be top three value by the end of the season, I really wanted him), 7-Kobe Bryant (with Jackson already talking about limiting his minutes for the first part of the season and him recovering from knee surgery, I wanted no part of Kobe this year), 8-Deron Williams(solid), 9-Danny Granger (it is not a matter of "if" but "when" will Granger get injured again), 10-David Lee (a bit high) and 11-Pau Gasol.

My full roster looks like this: Russell Westbrook at PG, Manu Ginobili at SG, Mo Williams at G, Gerald Wallace at SF, Corey Maggette at PF, Robin Lopez at F, Pau Gasol at C, Andrew Bogut at C, Wesley Johnson and Eric Gordon at UTIL, and I've got George Hill, the injured Andrew Bynum and Reggie Williams sitting on my Bench. Decent team, but I am not overwhelmed with optimism. I think Gasol and Wallace as my first two picks were as good as I could do at 11th and 12th. Westbrook and Bogut both have huge upside (if Bogut can stay healthy). I was excited to grab Hill at the end of the draft. He is the 6th man for the Spurs, but he is so talented and Popovich loves the guy, and he is ready to start when either Tony Parker or Manu get hurt (which they will). Also, word is the Spurs are trying to trade Parker, and when that happens, Hill is the starting PG. That could be the pick of my draft if that happens.


ABOVE: George Hill could be one of my best picks if the Spurs are able to unload Tony Parker

Sunday, October 10, 2010

RIP Solomon Burke, 1940-2010

One of the last of the original great soul stars has died. Apparently he was on the way to a gig in Amsterdam and died today at the airport in the Netherlands.

Solomon Burke had many soul hits through the 1960's, most notably "Cry To Me," "Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)" and "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," which has been covered by everyone from The Rolling Stones to The Blues Brothers. Burke was equally at home as a soul shouter or singing beautiful ballads, and the line between church music and soul music was especially thin for him, as he was a deeply religious man. Interestingly, he also worked as an undertaker, even after his soul stardom.

Burke experienced a surprising and welcomed career revival this last decade with the release of a series of outstanding modern soul records which were modernized in all of the right ways while keeping the warmth of classic soul intact. Burke was one of those rare artists whose vocal powers remained intact as he aged. Two highly recommended records are Don't Give Up On Me (2002) and Make Do With What You Got (2005). Forget the usual caveat of "these are great considering how old he is" or anything along those lines. These are two straight up killer soul records, regardless of time period. Of course, it helps that he had a stellar group of admiring songwriters who contributed new or unreleased tunes for him to sing (these, for the most part, are not simply covers of well known tunes), including Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan and Nick Lowe. But Burke puts his warm and emotional stamp on all of them. His version of The Band's "It Makes No Difference" is gorgeous.

ABOVE: Here is the video for his tune "None of Us Are Free" (performing with The Blind Boys of Alabama) from 2002's Don't Give Up On Me, a surperior modern soul record.

RIP Solomon Burke.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dez Reviews Neil Young's Le Noise, 2010

Neil Young is quietly having yet another creative renaissance. Last year’s blog-post-as-album Fork in the Road was a blast of energy and spontaneity that was as much fun as it was charming (in that uniquely Neil way). Now he joins forces with producer Daniel Lanois for another potent burst of Neil idiosyncrasy. Here Neil is without a band, just grinding out six tunes of raw electric maelstrom (with two acoustic tunes thrown in to give audio relief) filtered through Lanois’s brilliant production techniques. Neil’s haunting wail is thrown through reverb and echo and an electric crunch that is primal.

At eight tunes it is rather short, but it makes its point, any more length would be overkill. As usual, there are a couple of throwaway songs (“Sign of Love” and “Rumblin’”), but the rest of the songs are quite good. “Walk With Me” opens the record with a wall of distortion, yet there is a catchy melody underlying the crunch. “Angry World” is an arresting listen, where his guitar is so distorted that it sounds like your speakers are busted. “Love and War” is an intriguing tune (one of the two acoustic numbers), because it addresses Neil’s well publicized and somewhat notorious Iraq protest album and show Living With War (a record which I consider to be one of his weakest efforts, regardless of politics). What I find interesting is that while he is unapologetic about his motives, he admits “I sang for justice but I hit a bad chord,” but he asserts that he will continue to sing about the duel topic of the title. Young is one of those rare artists who is loved by his fans as much for his failures as for his triumphs.

The other acoustic tune is a noble attempt at a historical epic, “Peaceful Valley Boulevard,” that fails, but just barely. Neil has always used American Indian imagery wonderfully in his music (from “Pocahontas” to “Cortez the Killer” to “Inca Queen”), and the first part of this song is beautifully constructed while addressing the conquest of the American West with memorable imagery ("...before the railroad came from Kansas City / and the bullets hit the bison from the train...") It loses some steam as he tries to bring it to a modern environmental message in the latter half of the tune, though. Again, noble effort with a haunting acoustic accompaniment which Lanois renders as open as the Plains that Neil sings about.

The highlight here is clearly “Hitchhiker,” which already ranks with Neil’s all time greats in my book. It is actually a tune he has had lying around since the late 70's, by some accounts. I have a bootleg of him doing an acoustic version back from about 1992. But here he and Lanois transform it into a savage journey into Neil’s heart of darkness. It is great to hear Crazy Horse-esque crunch sans Crazy Horse. It is the sound of Neil playing the distorted electric part of a song that is waiting in vain for its drums and bass. That tension just adds to the desperation of the tune. Neil goes through a litany of drug experiences, giving hash, grass, cocaine, valium and amphetamine each a verse, while tracing his life from his Toronto beginnings to the current times (“how many years have come and gone / like so many friends and enemies”), and tellingly adding a verse of Aztec and Incan mysticism. It is a harrowing song and is what makes Neil Young such a vital artist going into his fifth decade as a recording artist. I can’t think of anyone else who has stayed so vital and so relevant for so long in rock and roll.

ABOVE: The video for "Hitchhiker." Well worth watching and cranking up to 11. This is a revitalized Neil Young. Sorry for the ad they make you watch before the video.

Dez says: **** out of *****