It's been quite some time since my last update, so I feel I owe an explanation: I arrived back home in the USA after a 7 month deployment just a month ago. I moved across the country, made new friends, and started working hard getting ready to be on a ship for 7 straight months, so I couldn't find the time to write since my most recent work. I also missed out on a ton of football, but luckily I was able to watch MOST of my basketball Wildcats' domination of their season until that heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin. But more sports later.
Where I hang my hat presently is Norfolk, VA, and it's been great getting to know a new town and see what it has to offer. (Technically I've lived here over a year but I still feel new since, you know, 7 months were spent on a ship across the world). Even though I'm pretty comfortable with my immediate vicinity I still don't know the names of bars or restaurants when I go downtown, and this past weekend I stumbled upon a local speakeasy: a 20's themed bar "so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors." - (a 1889 newspaper, via Wikipedia). This particular themed bar is called Gershwin's and it also has a piano.
"Yea yea yea, piano bars are cool and all but what the heck is that up at the top of this post!?" Great question. That, my friends, is smoke-infused bourbon. You see, somebody apparently thought that the natural smokiness of good bourbon (that comes from the charred oak, duh) wasn't, uh, smoky enough. So let's see what this is all about.
The pictures basically tell the story, but this $10 cocktail is far more than just another drink you will order sitting on a stool. It's an immersive visual experience with the smell of a campfire. And then at the end you get to drink it. Even though I've been craving another one all week, they have more than just one signature drink, and they offer all styles of spirits. The fun thing about speakeasy's is that they don't just have American light beers and shots of Fireball; your bartenders are the kind of bartenders from whom Bond would order a Martini. These aren't overly-sweet mixes of one liquor and a colored syrup, they are true cocktails and frankly more bars should be like this.
Coach John Calipari of the Kentucky Wildcats Men's Basketball team is one of the greatest recruiters in the history of the sport. Kentucky has seen more and more top talent come to play during Cal's reign each year with mostly high but varying success. He led the team to an Elite Eight, Final Four, the school's 8th Championship, then an NIT berth where they lost in the first round as a #1 seed. This year is still in the air, but after two losses to unranked teams in a row (Arkansas and South Carolina) and two home losses (Calipari has kept the Wildcats to only one home loss in his tenure until this season) there is much disappointment and speculation as to the future of this team.
This Kentucky team was supposed to go undefeated, but Witchita State accepted that challenge and we gave it up in a close game to Michigan State early in the season. We had 6 McDonald's All-Americans, two major returning sophomores in Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, and a little bit of experienced leadership in Josh Polson. We've never been deeper and never had a better potential to use the dribble-drive offense that Coach Cal likes with Cauley-Stein, Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Julius Randle as tall, strong talent in the inside. But alas, we're only 21-8 and are looking at a 7-seed for the NCAA tournament.
It's interesting that Kentucky fans are so negative with a season like this. No program that I'm aware of has such high expectations of their team year after year; Kentucky expects greatness every single game, every single season in order to hang another banner in Rupp Arena. We're the winningest team in Division I Men's Basketball history, with the second-most championships and a plethora of post-season records like post-season wins and Final Four appearances. But with the challenges facing John Calipari, it's time he changes gears just a little bit when it comes to new recruits for this legacy.
The NBA requires eligible entrants to be one-year removed from high-school; I'm not sure who had this bright idea, but it has ruined college basketball. Before that rule, student-athletes like Lebron James were eligible for the NBA draft directly out of high school, so almost everybody that went to college needed a couple of years of development before they were ready for the pros, but now we have students that are essentially "one-and-done" and it's not their fault. The problem is that these players have their own best interest in mind, and that is playing professional basketball for 6, 7, or 8 figures. That is very commendable, but because they are required to do something for one year before the NBA draft, they go to college... for one year.
It's not Calipari's fault that this rule is what it is; it's also in his best interest to recruit the best players possible every year. I don't blame him for this "one-and-done strategy". Why would a coach that is capable of pulling in the best talent intentionally recruit less-talented players? I've been a defender for Cal's strategy, but I think it may need some fine-tuning.
This year, Kentucky's team that is full of top talent and some depth is still very young and they make young mistakes. We play spotty defense, have a terrible half-court offense where players refuse to move off the ball, and only play with heart for short spurts. The key that is missing isn't talent, but heart. When the Wildcats played South Carolina today (March 1st) they played with heart for about 7 or 8 minutes of the game, and it made all the difference. Coach Cal should continue to focus on the top talent, but should look at the players' work ethic and ability to play with a team. College athletes cannot succeed without full devotion to the team and if John Calipari doesn't adjust his recruiting efforts to find athletes willing to work hard for 40 minutes and bond with a team, they aren't worth their high-profiles. This year's team will be interesting down the stretch, but they don't seem to be bonding and
I had a fun weekend, thanks for asking. I guess I'll talk about it, or, technically, blog about it. I visited New Orleans this weekend and I got to see my fiance and some old friends. A stop by Dos Jefes cigar bar and Harrah's casino trigger a certain tune about a nun-named-Maria's favorite things. I ate brunch at a place called Surrey's which featured some eclectic but distinctly New Orleansy artwork, with clay sculptures of architecture and paintings of skeletons, alligators and birds playing brass instruments all colored with bright pastels. Yes, the food was great too.
My fiance got me some Beats by Dre headphones, and they are everything they are hyped to be. Super distinct sound with low bass and bright treble, the clarity and definition is hard to beat in any sound environment. As I simultaneously tested my new headphones and checked the Twitterverse, I ran into a tweet by Dierks Bentley and CMT promoting Dierks' newest album, "Riser" and the album's namesake song (yes, "Riser") and I am really excited about it. The album will be released, at least on iTunes, on 25 Feb and I will be putting "Riser" in my country playlist. It features an awesome set of guitars with combinations of picking and strumming that was nothing if not enhanced by my new Beats. Dierks talks about it being an inspirational song and album, about rising after failure. Wait for it... maybe Kentucky's Basketball team will be a "Riser" after that miserable showing on Saturday. There it is.
I watched the promotional video, which is great, linked from the tweet. but you can click straight to it here.
This album includes his newest singles "Bourbon in Kentucky" and "I Hold On", and Dierks has proven he is more than relevant. This is going to be a great new album of country music.
The Pro Bowl is an anomaly in professional sports. It's one of the highest achievements and a noble honor to be asked to play in the Pro Bowl, and hence is a game of All Stars. The problem is that generally nobody cares about it. No player wants to risk injury to himself or others, and there's very little incentive to actually play hard to win the game (usually the players are paid ~$25,000 for losing and ~$50,000 each to the winning team.) It also boasts an extremely modest viewership, both on TV and in the stadium. It's basically a vacation in Hawaii every year and the players don't have to try hard. This makes it boring.
So they changed it up. First, the uniforms were upgraded from a cheesy red, white and blue that looked like it was copy-and-pasted from an Olympic team in the 80s to the sleek, modern green and orange above. I don't personally love the chosen colors, but it's an upgrade. Before, the players were asked to play and if their team was in the AFC they played for the AFC, and if they were from the NFC then they played for the NFC. Boring.
It sounded kind of ridiculous at first, but the brilliant idea was to turn it into a backyard-captain-picks style of team selection. Many comparisons were made to a fantasy football draft. Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were brought in to build the teams, and they and their first three picks chose the rest of the team, alternating. Grown men were visibly butt-hurt about being "picked last", and emotions were already heating up. The intense rivalry between Sanders and Rice became a rallying cry for the teams, chosen by them, to play for bragging rights that went beyond a corporate logo. It was brilliant, and the game was a lot of fun to watch. Players from the same team were hitting each other just as hard, if not harder, than everyone else, and it was a low-scoring, action-filled football game. I'm very excited about the future of the Pro Bowl and hope to see legends such as Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Tony Gonzales and Richard Sherman come back as honorary alumni to pick a team to play for them one day.
I was lucky enough to visit Colorado with my family this winter. We went to Steamboat Springs, a big gorgeous mountain that's famous for its consistent "champagne powder" snow. Even during "mild" winters when we visited there was deep powder to be found just off the beaten trails, but usually we would get fresh, dry powder dumped on us more than once during a 5-or-so-day visit. See below.
We all (7 in our group, with 5 to join us later in one packed condo) flew into Hayden/Steamboat Springs airport, a tiny little tarmac that I think was converted from a helicopter pad. Some 20-somethings had been drinking and talking loudly with each other throughout the flight, all with slight but noticeable Texas drawls, and when we piled into the shuttle I was slightly dismayed to find they were joining us for the 30-45 minute ride into town. You see, Steamboat was promoting their mountain with a big Texas music festival, so there were more cowboy hats than usual (even for a western Colorado town) and these boisterous folks were in town to listen to local Texas country stars. I thought, "Great! I love country music!" After my personable brother befriended and lent the group his mini-speaker to use to play music, we learned that this wasn't what we were used to hearing in the South.
You see, there is Nashville country, and there's Texas country, and now I'm sure there are plenty of other sects where the local sound differs from other regions. I think our (somewhat ironically) favorite song that was played was called "Snake Farm" (click to watch the YouTube video and listen to this weird song). It's kind of hard to describe sounds, but either trust me when I say this ISN'T Nashville country, or watch the video. There were some comments about Nashville being superior, but mostly the odd western twang and the inebriated early-20s girl trying to sing every word with an exaggerated drawl drowned them out.
But we did find a diamond-in-the-rough. The photo above is inside a ski-in bar and grill where we were gathered to watch the Florida State/Auburn BCS Championship (RIP BCS Championship, welcome NCAA Playoffs!). The first picture has the name of one Josh Ward. He's the guy playing in this photo. His big album is called "Promises" and features some great songs; some of hurtin', some of cryin', some of whiskey and some of love. There are great fiddles crescendoing throughout a western Texas twang, but I swear to you the man sounds like Travis Tritt, and that's what I loved so much about him. I recommend "Promises," "Pony Town," and of course "Hard Whiskey." The album is on Spotify, so if you want to hear a new country singer that you won't hear on southern radios and sounds like the guitars and pianos are echoing off of wooden slats in a small western saloon, give it a listen. You won't regret it.
I attached a GoPro to my helmet and snowboard while I rode on the mountain all week, and yes, it's as awesome as it sounds! I'm currently cutting the video with some music that I hope to show to friends and family. I'll definitely try to embed a video here when it's ready!
I'm late in wishing everyone a Happy New Year, and late in updating this blog. 2013 helped me start this blog, gain a small audience, and learn a few things about my voice and style. We explored music, football, a bit of basketball and golf, and lots and lots of bourbon.
This is a special post for me, not just because it's been a long time since I've written, but also because now I have some history and feedback from family and friends to reflect upon. I'm encouraged by kind words from readers and statistics showing that my website still draws modest traffic, despite my last post being in October.
With all that being said, I'll share a few New Year's Resolutions with you. I won't bore you too much with the standard "lose weight and work out" goals, as my resolutions are tailored to what I think is an enthusiastic and thirsting entertainment blog audience which I hope you are as excited about as I am:
In 2013, I worked very hard in my job, started this blog, improved my infantile golf game, saw a most disappointing end to Kentucky Basketball in the NIT, watched a very hopeful beginning of Mark Stoops' reign of Kentucky Football, got engaged, and made it here, to 2014. There is much promise in this new year, and I hope you all will travel with me through it to cherish new hopes and reach new goals.
Eagles are beautiful and impressive animals; they are graceful and powerful birds that soar, sweep, swirl, and dive over forests and rivers. They are at the top of their food chain (what bear catches eagles?) but they are elusive and rare. And so I could describe Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10-year Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Eagle Rare is distilled and bottled in Frankfort, KY at the Buffalo Trace Distillery. There's a 10-year and a 17-year bourbon (both of which are aged much longer than the average 5-7 years for a decent bourbon) and the version I'm drinking tonight is the 10-year.
Eagle Rare soars, sweeps, swirls, and dives smoothly; I would describe it as sweet with an orange spice tone, and the pros at Eagle Rare describe it thus:
(photo courtesy of http://sippingwithsmoth.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-bangin-single-barrel-bourbon-eagle.html)
To the left you see Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, the lead singer and guitarist (respectively, right to left) of Aerosmith, arguably one of the best rock 'n roll bands of all time, and certainly one of the best selling rock 'n roll bands of all time.
The band's history is storied; a dynamic and explosive start, several years of success, then Joe Perry and Brad Whitford (the other guitarist) leave the band, followed later by their return and a Rare return to success and continued fame. But you can read about the band Aerosmith on Wikipedia. Perry is a brilliant guitarist, writing much of the music with Tyler and even lead singing in a few of their songs. His style is smooth and sweet, like the bourbon in this feature; just listen to songs like "Sweet Emotion", "Same Old Song and Dance", "Rag Doll" and "Dude Looks Like a Lady" (can't hear this song without picturing Robin Williams in an old lady costume air-guitaring and dancing in pumps with a vacuum cleaner in "Mrs. Doubtfire"). The amplifier settings no-doubt feature some crunching riffs that rock 'n roll enthusiasts long for, but the notes flow and sweep through the songs, creating a very enjoyable sound most people can tap their feet to.
My favorite Aerosmith song, however, is "Last Child". Steven Tyler's almost sassy voice weaves in and out of the strong notes played by Perry through the verses, taking off to his almost wailing of "Last Child!" during the chorus, perfectly complementing the warm and resonating strings being plucked by Perry. Perry steps up and down on the neck of his guitar, sometimes soaring with Tyler's voice, sometimes swirling and sweeping through brief solos and riffs, and sometimes diving like a Rare eagle aiming for its prey.
There's no question that Eagle Rare is a fantastic bourbon, reasonably priced for such an aged whiskey. Its sweet flavors are perfect for the beginner bourbon connoisseur and complex enough to be enjoyed by long-time bourbon enthusiasts with its spice and bite. Joe Perry is a perfect pairing, offering gentle but still edgy noise to the ears of rock listeners.
Kentucky. It's known as the Bluegrass State because of its beautiful strain of grass that grows out of the rich soil. It's known as the Bourbon State because we make it. It's the 15th state admitted to the Union, and the year was 1792.
That's where the heritage of this great whiskey starts, but it's far from where it ends. It is an 8-year, small batch bourbon and the rye recipe keeps the flavor strong and dry for those who drink a lot of scotches, but like all bourbons keeps its dark honey-brown color and finishes smooth. Speaking of honey, I think I caught a note of honey, along with cinnamon, pepper and just the tiniest hint of vanilla. In my laymen's terms I think I would describe this as a transitional bourbon between the sweeter, wheat bourbons like Maker's Mark, and the drier, lighter-in-color scotches that leave the weak crinkling their face as it bites their palate.
I had a hard time finding this bourbon at first, out in San Diego, but I soon remembered a small liquor store near SDSU called Keg N Bottle. Below are a couple of photos of their wall of majesty, a.k.a. their whiskey selection.
It's reasonably priced, but it's more of a premium than a value. Keep in mind this is San Diego and it was a small liquor store, but I paid around $40 for it. Still not bad for a rich, complex and smooth bourbon straight from Bardstown, KY.
Kill... the Ghost... that hides... in your soul, rock 'n roll....
How do I transition from a top-notch bourbon to Slash? Because he's a top-notch guitarist. 1792 has the sweet smoothness we enjoy in our bourbons that separate them from scotch and "plain" American whiskey (think the "Sweet Child 'O Mine" intro), but keeps our tongues swirling with a dry spiciness that is unique and bites just enough to offend a few (the song "Ghost", performed by Slash and featuring Ian Astbury has a catchy, up-beat guitar riff that is as classic as it is unique, see lyrics clip above).
Doctor Alibi is another great song on Slash's 2010 compilation album (called, creatively, "Slash"). Lemmy Kilmister's raspy voice matches the crunch on the guitar and the almost choppy but steady rhythm. As I've mentioned before, I recommend Spotify for listening to music, but you can also YoutTube, or iTunes if you like pain.
I'll be trying to write more "guitarist and bourbon pairings". It was a great concept given to me by family, and I hope I can mold it into something interesting, unique, and enjoyable, like a slightly chilled glass of 1792 and some Slash guitar riffs.
Two last-minute thoughts: If you like scotches, try Red Breast. It's a smooth, cinnamon-y and spicy whiskey. And you may recognize the song "By the Sword" on "Slash".
Today was a solid day of golfing and sitting on my rear trying to come up with something to write about.
So here's a new list of some country songs that are pretty new that are deserving of my noble recommendation, as well as one of Mumford and Sons' newest songs, and lastly an under-rated song with a link to the music video because VEVO hates free internet.
Dierks Bentley: if you know anything about country, you've heard this guy. Maybe not the best, but he has longevity. This is a newer one that's on the top 40 right now. I love any song that references Kentucky, and I'm sure most of you guys appreciate a little bourbon reference. The song is called "Bourbon in Kentucky", and it features a modern country/rock guitar sound but in the spirit of the sad old country songs "There ain't enough bourbon in Kentucky for me to forget you". Listen on youtube, Spotify, or iTunes if you must, but listen to it somewhere.
Have I really not talked about any of Mumford and Sons' songs on here yet? I know I've mentioned the group at least, but maybe this is the first full song recommendation. Anyway, one of the most amazing things about Mumford is that all of their songs sound almost the same, but are still unique and incredible to listen to. A funny meme parodies the band here: http://cheezburger.com/7264897280. I can't guarantee that that link is G-rated, there's some enthusiastic language, but it definitely made me laugh. If you have go to restaurants or bars like normal humans, or have access to the radio, you've probably already heard this song. Let this be a reminder that it's awesome.
Mumford and Sons "I Will Wait" from the album "Babel".
I can't get over how alike this guy sounds to George Strait. It's uncanny. It's also great for our ears. The song "All Over the Road" is kind of a humorous romantic song where Corbin sings about a woman distracting him while driving. It's not explicit, but the music video is definitely a bit suggestive, but still fun. I believe the last time I mentioned him I recommended "Roll With It." The guy just has a great voice, you should listen to him if you haven't.
Easton Corbin "All over the Road"
Photo from this Site: http://bigfrog104.com/inside-easton-corbins-tour-bus-video/
Jake Owen is (or at least with the country music folks) already famous for songs like "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" and "Eight Second Ride", but he's been keepin' it comin' with songs like "Keepin' it Country" and "Anywhere with You". The latter is one of those few that the radio would otherwise ruin if it was a lesser song, and the former has a great guitar riff that makes me want to kick back and have a beer while sitting on a tailgate. (His guitar in "Keepin' it Country" sounds eerily similar to Brad Paisley's; Brad usually has a very distinct setting on his amplifier for almost every one of his songs.) There's just certain sounds and notes, like the twang in a distorted Fender Telecaster or steel guitar, that make me think of home and of backroads and corn fields. This is one of those. Keep it comin', Jake Owen.
Jake Owen "Keepin it Country"
Photo from this Blog: http://www.countrymusicrocks.net/2011/10/jake-owen-was-keepin-it-country-with-a-sold-out-low-dough-show-benefiting-a-childrens-hospital-2.html
Now, finally, the most under-rated song and music video of the decade: Brad Paisley and Keith Urban "Start a Band." I know, I know, it's not a new song, but this isn't your blog.
The song starts like a few other of Paisley's storylines, like "Cooler Online", but the beauty of this song is with the guitars and the video. (Also that beautiful Telecaster that Paisley plays, seen to the left!). You can hear some nice, twangy riffs that song distinctly like Keith Urban and Brad Paisley (Watch Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy" video on YouTube to hear how his guitar usually sounds). Come about 2:45 into the song, the two start going into solo-battles, and if you watch the video you can just see how much fun they are having, playing off of each other's leads and even playing each other's guitars in the middle of the solos. It's incredible, and these two are easily the best guitarists in mainstream country music. The video has great shots of their hands while they are playing and folks who have played guitar know what's going on and folks that haven't should get a little better appreciation for what goes into learning these instruments. So like I said, click here to watch the YouTube video of these two in action and maybe you'll see what I'm talking about.
Remember, I'd love to hear any of your own recommendations or thoughts on music, country or otherwise.
Today I'd like to talk about some of the conversations I've read recently regarding the music industry, musical artists, and the role that the internet, technology, and ever-changing expectations play in them.
I'll start by stating something that should be obvious: most musicians are poor, broke, or don't make their money through their music. In the past, musicians have made money through record deals and concerts. That's about it. Now we have iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Slacker, and even Google and Amazon have music services; so don't musicians have all sorts of new revenue streams which just feed them money as they lay back and enjoy the ride? Well, here's the problem: These guys care just as much about musicians as record labels.
I've read a few articles recently which address these phenomena, and people have lots of things to say, like "shouldn't musicians be paid 'fairly'?" or other complaints about either the corporate monster or the poor, victimized musician. Now, I can understand both of the sides here. After all, if grown men can play sports and get paid 6, 7 and 8 figures a year, why can't musicians get paid for their hard work? You guys know that I love music just as much if not more than your average American, but I'm not so sure I would be willing to pay more than I currently do for my music. And that's the other side, the corporate side, which knows that people want their music in mass quantities, and they want it all the time, and they don't want to pay a dime out of their own pocket for it.
So what can we do? Well, for one, musicians will always make the most money from concerts. That's why concerts cost so much, and so many people are packed in, and beer and booze are marked up 8,000%. Musicians make some money there. They also used to make money from CDs or "albums". This isn't a totally dead technology, but anybody under the age of 40 should know that CDs are dying like the VHS before it, and the digital age has provided people not only the capability to pirate music, but the opportunity to carry gigabytes of songs on their arm or in their pocket. Soon it will terabytes, and our ability to shrink data will be second only to Rick Moranis.
And here I reach my point about musicians making money: people don't WANT to buy music, but they are willing to pay for entertainment. It's important to understand the difference, and for aspiring musicians, you need to understand that record labels and companies don't owe you anything. I've read that companies like Spotify pay musicians fractions of a cent per play on a song; the bottom line is, for most of you, it's a waste of your time fighting that process. Take the exposure and publicity for what it is, and focus on delivering the entertainment that people will pay for. Oh, and if you aren't a musician, don't fight companies like iTunes and Spotify; you'll ruin the cheap, legal music for the rest of us ;)