Wednesday, October 6, 2010

James Dalton-Butterflies and Passerbys

There seems to be a central theme running through James Dalton's new album, "Butterflies and Passerbys", and that theme would be "Jersey." But hold on a second-this album sounds like it could have been recorded at Sun or Muscle Shoals studios, or in some steamy back woods shack. It's a hearty collection of blues and folk tales, peppered with acoustic guitar, beautiful mandolin breaks and harmonica solos(Dalton is quite the Harp player).

But, getting back to the Jersey thing, there are actually only a few mentions of Dalton's New Jersey upbringing, such as this line in the upbeat ballad, "The House My Grandfather Built." "They say Jersey's nice this time of year, she gently whispers in your ear, your face is long and you're feeling oh so old, and there's a dialogue between the country and your old soul..." Dalton seems to be lamenting lost youth with lines like "Goodbye, Trenton Avenue, so loud, so loud, you want to sing, but the banjo in your lap has got broken strings." The harp solo on this anthem would certainly fit in anywhere on Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks."

The slower and more sentimental track, "Wednesday Night Mass", is in a major key, but has the feel almost of a minor key dirge. This beautiful tune really showcases Dalton's vocal abilities as well as his proficiency with a blues harp. The lyrics seem to evoke the feelings of a child who is getting dressed for church, but would much rather be playing football, or doing just about anything else: "Well, the Wednesday night mass for students has come to an end, and I wish I would let it slip my mind, the clouds come and clouds go by, but they always seem to hang around my sky..."

Dalton, although originally from New Jersey, is very well traveled, according to his bio, and he has the well worn passport to prove it. He's played tiny pubs and festivals, clubs like the Bitter End and Stone Pony, and even ships at sail on the Baltic Sea. The haunting tune "Senator's Square", which is certainly comprised of some minor chords, has some of the best lyrics on the album: "She lost faith in the revolution, a red jacket like a rose in the snow, cute smile, cute revolver too, she's the darling of the Helsinki Metro..." There is a mellifluous, Eastern sounding mandolin solo in the middle of this one, which ties the whole story together.

The deep and dense "Senator's Square" is followed by the straight up Country Blues tune, "Alafaya Mama", which really showcases Dalton's grittier vocal and harp style. Intertwined throughout the diverse ditties on this solid album are very short instrumentals such as "Kiss of the Dark Haired Girl" and "Spout and Ivy."

"Butterflies and Passerbys" is musically and lyrically impressive, but it's most impressive quality is the way it tells a story. It's certainly not a concept album, but rather a book of fairy tales from a wandering bard from Jersey.

Friday, October 1, 2010

J-Punch and Dave Moonishine-Stick Figure Guy.

The most striking aspect of the home page of J-Punch and Dave Moonshine's official web site is this quote: "Blast us with wind, melt us with acid, and set us ablaze, and what are we left with? Stick Figure Guy." Followed by the tag line "Music for the wire frame."

The theme of stripping everything down to it's base elements seems to run throughout this DC duo's brilliant new album,"Stick Figure Guy." The tunes are dreamy, moody and darkly danceable. J-Punch, a veteran house music producer from Washington D.C., decided to scientifically engineer a new genre of music called "alt-Tempo" or "Down rock." It's truly a complex cocktail of many different genres mixing elements of house, indie, trip hop and more with abstract and contemplative lyrics.

The song "Shoes" is a great example of the stark and stripped down theme running throughout the album. It starts out with a haunting musical intro and breaks in to the lyrics "I got no shoes, I got no hands, I got no feet, I don't have a leg to stand on-it's borrowed. There is no today and there is no tomorrow." This song and others like "We Had It All" may seem to have a desperate almost nihilistic tone, but the music seems to blend an upbeat tone with the lyrics. There seems to be a thread of hope running through the hopeless stories on "Stick Figure Guy."

The completely danceable and addicting tune "Hours Late" is a superbly crafted, even tempo anthem that focuses on disenchantment and an almost limbo-like state of waiting. The lyrics are sadly brilliant: "Now I'm passed my prime-I wonder if we're even going to die on time. I waited for you forever."

"Almost Over" is reminiscent of early Depeche Mode or Yaz with hints of Everything But The Girl, and would certainly light up any rave or house dance party. The continuous droning of "It's almost over now" mixed with the synth-harpsichord effect is contagious and a lot of fun. It's certainly not light-hearted fare, but a great dance track, nonetheless.

The songs on "Stick Figure Guy" are not all sad and nihilistic. The ironic and almost tongue in cheek tune, "Comedy Song", has the seemingly obvious lyrics "This is a comedy song, designed to make you laugh." It's certainly not slapstick, but that line alone is strangely amusing.

J-Punch is an excellent producer who is getting more creative and credible with each new project. The ambient soundscapes,tribal rhythms and multi-layered vocals help to make "Stick Figure Guy" J-punch and Dave Moonshine's crowning achievement.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

JJ Bittings Brew Pub-An Oasis on the North Jersey Coast Line

I've taken the North Jersey Coast Line train from NYC to the Jersey Shore hundreds of times in my life and most of my train time is spent reading a book or listening to my iPod, occasionally peeking out the hazy windows to take a gander at the outside world flying by at 50 or 60 miles an hour.But, there is one point it the trip where I behave like a child hearing the distant jingle of the ice-cream truck, and that's when we pull up to the Woodbridge, NJ, stop and I can see J.J. Bitting's Brew Pub. My mouth waters like that kid waiting for his ice-cream fix.

Established in 1997, J.J. Bitting Brewing Company was the first brewery to operate in Woodbridge Township, NJ, since the repeal of prohibition in 1933. It resides in a spacious, one-hundred year old building that once housed the J.J. Bitting Coal and Feed Depot. These days, the fuel of choice is hand crafted beer, and James Moss is the Brew Master behind the tanks.

J.J. Bitting's hired Moss, who is originally from the West Coast, to spice up their beer menu, and spice it up he has with favorites such as Victoria's Golden Ale, a light ale featuring a blend of pale malt and unmalted wheat. It's lightly hopped and fermented slightly cooler than most ales for a crisp finish. It pairs well with food menu items like the Acapulco Gold Quesa Dillas or Seafood Fra Diavlo.

If you like your beer hop heavy and bold in flavor, you can't go wrong with the Barely Legal Barley Wine, which is packed with hops, yet balanced by the malt. You may want to slowly savor this barley wine, which weighs in at 10.0% ABV (Alcohol By Volume). It pairs well with the Stuffed Pork Roast with Pear Sauce or the One Pound Prime Rib.

Other beers of note include the Raspberry Wheat Ale, Avenel Amber, Garden State IPA, and X-Duff Beer, for the Simpson's fans.

Bitting's also has impressive buffalo wings, excellent burgers, and very tasty baked pizza. Happy Hour is Monday-Friday from 3pm-7pm, featuring $2.50 pints and free food at the bar. Also ask about the Mug Club and Frequent Diner Specials. They also feature live music, Karaoke, and a Guitar Hero night.

Writing about all this is making me thirsty! I think I'll get off at the Woodbridge stop and raise a few pints.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What You're Missing (text, text,text...)

I've been living across the street from an old school that has been empty for about five years. Most mornings I would open my blinds and take a gander at the majestic old building that was erected in 1927. They recently started demolishing the building, and I have to say that it's a bittersweet experience.

Every morning around 8pm they warm up the big yellow wrecking machine as I put on a pot of coffee and get ready to sit at my window and watch old windows, desks, chairs and urinals tumble down in to the eagerly awaiting dumpsters. So far no one has been hurt in the process, but I did witness a close call. A very busy looking woman was walking in the street, texting-obviously oblivious to the awesome demolition project happening just feet away from her Blackberry. One of the workers yelled "Hey, you're too close! Cross to the other side of the street!" The woman looked up for a nanosecond, resumed texting and crossed the street-
without looking, of course.

This rather minor incident made me angry and sad at the same time. Besides the fact that she could have been killed, she didn't even take the time to stand back and witness, what in my opinion is a pretty awesome site. She couldn't stop texting for thirty seconds to at least pay attention to where the glass was flying?

And this my friends is the problem with our hyper-connected society. I've said it a million times and I'm sure many other pundits and bloggers have as well, but, my God, people, pay attention! While we are texting and calling and iConnecting, there are wonderful and horrible things happening in the world that we are missing because most of us refuse to live in the moment!

Put down your mobile device, for God's sakes, and see what you're missing!