Music Review
Ronstadt Generations

Prelude - Ronstadt GenerationsI’ve intended to review Prelude, the latest from Ronstadt Generations, ever since it came out in July. But almost immediately, a Route 66 road trip got in the way then the quick appearance and disappearance of a related opportunity caused me to push it way to the side. It took doing a review of a newer album to remind me that this was on deck.

Technically, Ronstadt Generations is Michael J. Ronstadt and his two sons, Michael G. and Petie, but there are so many musicians in their world that it seems the trio rarely performs or records entirely alone. This recording benefits from some fellows that the Ronstadts often perform with in their home town of Tuscon, Arizona. When they aren’t touring, the Ronstadts perform each Monday at the Chicago Bar. They have taken to referring to the informal group that has been accompanying them and holding down the stage during their absences as Los Tucsonenses. Los Tucsonenses turn Ronstadt Generations into a full band and really flesh out Prelude.

At some point in that Route 66 trip, I realized that there was a good chance the return leg would put me near Tucson on a Monday. This was the fleeting opportunity I referred to in the opening paragraph. I was excited at the possibility of seeing Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses performing together. The excitement peaked when my Monday in Tuscon looked certain and faded when I learned that the Ronstadts would be touring in Ireland while I was in Arizona. I did go to the Chicago Bar and saw members of Los Tusconenses with other vocalists and under another name. The fact that they were great took the edge off of my disappointment at missing the Ronstadts but it didn’t eliminate it. I think that maybe it was almost seeing Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses that made me forget about reviewing Prelude for so long.

The Ronstadt Generations website features the slogan “History Through Music”. Packaging for their first CD, Lulo, tells us that “Ronstadt Generations exists to explore the music traditions of a family through time by keeping alive what was and exploring what is to come.” Those sentiments are evident in Prelude. “What was” is addressed by several tunes from the last century and the one (at least) before that. The source of two songs, both sung in Spanish by Michael J, is “Traditional”. A total of seven tracks are covers. “What is to come” gets essentially equal attention with six tunes penned by the Ronstadts.

All three sing, play multiple instruments, and write. Each contributed songs to Prelude. Perhaps in the interest of fairness, each writer has two tunes on the CD. Their writing styles do differ. Songs from Michael G, the classically trained cellist, contain a touch of complexity with slightly cryptic lyrics. Michael J’s songs tell stories and are usually fairly straightforward in doing it. They, and their writer, might seem pretty much at home around an Arizona campfire. Petie’s stuff is somewhere in the middle.

As part of the core trio, Michael G’s cello does set Ronstadt Generations somewhat apart. Sometimes it’s in front leading the song but it also floats in the background adding depth and smoothness. On this CD, the always impressive guitar work of Petie and Michael J gets some help from Johnny Blommer and the saxophone of Alex Flores adds that something extra to several tracks. Bassist Sam Eagon and drummer Aaron Emery provide a firm foundation for everybody else though Emery’s tasteful fills frequently shine through.

Each Ronsadt takes the vocal lead on songs they’ve written and each sounds good. But a real “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” element kicks in when the three voices are joined. This happens a bunch but might happen a little more readily on the covers than on songs whose “owner” is present. The harmonies on Stephen Stills’ For What It’s Worth are impressive; Those on Stills’ Find The Cost of Freedom even more so. Here the voices are accompanied only by Pitz Quattrone’s didgeridoo. Beautiful.

Find The Cost of Freedom fades seamlessly into Joe Glazer’s The Mill was Made of Marble which flows directly into Petie Ronstadt’s Like a River for a CD ending medley that showcases everything that makes this recording so listenable; Nicely layered voices and instruments on ear catching songs old and new. The three Ronstadts are accomplished solo artists. Together, they form a polished “family band”. Prelude is a nice example of what they can do with a little help from their friends.

My Gear – Chapter 14
Lenovo T400

Lenovo T400An HP Pavilion barely made it two years, a Toshiba Satellite didn’t quite make three, and both were limping during their final months of service. This post is being written on a Lenovo T400 that’s still going strong after three and a half years as my do-everything and go-everywhere computer. My computers aren’t really treated harshly but they certainly aren’t pampered. That includes the Lenovo and I’m convinced that its relative longevity is due entirely to superior design and build quality. It seems to truly be an example of “getting what you pay for”.

The T400 was not my most expensive laptop but it did buck the prevailing downward trend and was fairly high in the price range at the time I bought it. It’s almost impossible to compare 2009 electronics with 2006 electronics but the T400 was not worlds above the Toshiba it replaced. Its processor was faster and its hard disk was bigger but those are improvements that often occur for free (or less) in the realm of electronics. At $1297, the T400 cost over $400 more than the Toshiba. That price includes aftermarket hard disk and RAM. I ordered the computer with the smallest hard disk available and immediately replaced it (with the much appreciated help of co-workers who really knew their stuff) with a 320 GB drive. I also installed 4 GB of RAM before putting the machine into service. The processor is a 2.4 GHz Intel Core Duo. The OS is Microsoft Windows Vista Basic.

Maybe some of the performance improvements were a little ahead of the cost reduction curve and account for some of the price difference but I doubt it’s more than half. I’m thinking that maybe $250 of the T400’s price went into things like the ThinkVantage Active Protection System and the ThinkPad Roll Cage. These things aren’t visible and don’t show up in performance tests. They are not as easy to justify as a faster processor or a bigger hard disk. I do think they are justified, however, by the lack of cracks in the case, which I’ve seen in every other laptop I’ve owned, and the fact that the machine is still functioning well in its fourth year of riding in trunks, backseats, and foot-wells. If the HP to Toshiba timeline is scooted to start with the Lenovo purchase, the HP would have expired long ago and the Toshiba’s life would already be about half over.

I’m sure others have had better and worse experiences with each of these brands and things have not been perfect with the Lenovo. I’ve had about a half dozen panic attacks when it failed to find any boot device. Cycling power a time or two has, so far, always resolved this. It has hung several times but I’ve attributed that to a particular application or, in one case, a faulty SD card. I’ve had to replace the battery though that could be considered a good thing; Most of my laptops haven’t lasted long enough to wear out a battery.

The only thing that even resembles an existing issue is disk capacity and that’s not Lenovo’s fault. Pictures just keep getting bigger and maybe I’m taking more of them. I keep as many pictures as possible on the disk and the time period that covers keeps getting less and less. I recall that when I first got this machine, it held every digital picture I had ever taken — roughly ten years worth. Now it barely holds one year and it requires frequent attention to do even that. That is still a lot of pictures and is definitely not a justification to retire this baby. So I expect this to be the last computer described in My Gear for quite some time. I’m hoping the next one is a few years down the road and there’s a good chance that it will be a new Lenovo of some sort.

My Gear – Chapter 13 — Nikon D40

Controversy, Photos, and Inclines

I long ago reserved a seat on a bus tour of Cincinnati incline sites and had in mind that the Saturday outing would be the subject of this Sunday’s blog entry. But not only did Thursday’s visit to the Pumpkin Show result in an unscheduled post, it led to me visiting a couple of exhibits that I think worth mentioning. So, before getting to today’s feature, I’m presenting a couple of short subjects.

Ohio History Center Controversy 2Short subject one is Controversy 2. Rather than driving home from Circleville in the dark on Thursday, I drove just a few miles toward Columbus and grabbed a motel room then headed on to Ohio’s capital in the morning. My first stop was at the Ohio History Center where the second exhibit of controversial items in the Ohio Historical Society’s collections is in progress. The photo at the right is of an area at the end of the exhibit. Large pads of paper hang next to photos of the five items on display. Presumably the pads were there for comments but they were entirely blank when I saw them. Around the corner, several comments made on smaller cards were displayed. Most were positive regarding the exhibit and thoughtful regarding the items in it but a few were unhappy that the objects have been allowed into the light.

Ohio History Center Controversy 2Ohio History Center Controversy 2The first Controversy exhibit, which I missed, included a hooded KKK costume and a nineteenth century condom. Controversy 2 contains an original Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo jacket from 1946, children’s toys depicting ethnic stereotypes, degrading racial caricatures, a poem written in dialect, and a Nazi flag. The cloth bowling pins were made sometime before 1914. An adjacent description is here. The prints were published by none other than Currier and Ives between 1882 and 1893. A dozen or so are displayed. Their description is here. The line at the bottom of the print shown here is “De gals all mire me so much dey makes me blush.”

Wexner Center, Columbus, OhioNot surprisingly, no photos were allowed at my next stop, an exhibit of Annie Leibovitz photographs at the Wexner Center. I’m not at all bothered by that since I am not all that fond of taking pictures of pictures and, in this case in particular, doing anything near justice to the subject was clearly out of the question. The exhibit includes all of Master Set and much of Pilgrimage. Master Set consists of 156 images hand picked by Leibovitz to represent four decades of work. Most are from professional assignments but there are some family shots in there, too. Pilgrimage is made up of photos that Annie took for herself. There are no people in these photos but every object and location is firmly associated with an historical figure.

The walls are filled with remarkable images but I’m going to comment on just two. My favorite in Master Set is a 2001 picture of Pete Seeger standing at the edge of the Hudson River wearing hip-high waders and a banjo. It can be found online with a search for Leibovitz and Seeger. I want to grow up to be as happy as Pete Seeger looks in that photo. In Pilgrimage, I was drawn to a picture of Annie Oakley’s boots taken at the museum in my home county. I’ll certainly look at those boots, that I can now connect with two sharpshooting Annies, a bit differently on my next visit.

Inclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiThe Cincinnati Museum Center conducts a number of Heritage Tours each year including several that are repeated every year. One of those is Inclines and Overlooks. I’ve signed up for this in the past but didn’t get to attend because of a schedule overload. This year I made it as the feature event of a busy weekend. Unfortunately, a lot of clouds were also able to attend this year and there was even a little rain but that did little to dampen spirits on the sold out tour.

Inclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiInclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiOur first stop was in Kentucky’s DeVou Park which provides a great view of Cincinnati. From here our guides could point out where the city’s five inclines were and explain why they were needed. There were four guides on the tour; All excellent and all of who’s names I’ve forgotten.

Inclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiInclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiThen it was back to Ohio where we would eventually visit all five incline sites. The first was the Price Hill Incline on the west side of the city. This was the second incline built in Cincinnati and the next to last to die. Constructed in 1874, it operated until 1943. A turn to the right yields a nice view of the Ohio River and the Southern Railroad Bridge.

Inclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiInclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiI make multiple goofs in preparing every blog post and journal entry. Most I can simply ignore but some, like forgetting all the guides’ names and not getting a skyline shot from the Mount Adams overlook are hard to conceal. Instead, I’ve got a shot of some of the piers from Cincinnati’s last incline and an overhead view of one of my favorite taverns. I briefly thought of trying to cover my oversight by claiming that I intentionally omitted a view of the city because I wanted you to visit the City View Tavern so you could experience the view for yourself. I quickly realized that it wouldn’t fly as an excuse but it’s still a great suggestion. The Mount Adams Incline opened in 1876 with two enclosed passenger cars. Three years later the incline was converted to open platforms which would carry horse cars, and eventually electric street cars, to and from down town. The Mount Adams Incline is shown in the picture at the top of this section. It closed in 1948.

Inclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiInclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiInclines and Overlooks Tour, CincinnatiThere was a little rain at the Mount Adams stop and that may have contributed to my failing to get a proper overlook view. It definitely contributed to my failure to get one from the top of the Mount Auburn Incline route. It was also a deterrent to walking the stairs that essentially trace the route but that was outweighed by the fact that the bus would meet all walkers at the bottom. A chance to de-climb 355 steps without also climbing them doesn’t come along every day. The overlook views are from the top of the Bellvue Incline and near the midpoint of the Fairview Incline. Operating between 1871 and 1898, The Mount Auburn Incline was the first and shortest lived of the Cincinnati inclines. It was also the only one with fatalities. In 1889 a car plunged down the track killing six of eight passengers. The Bellvue Incline operated between 1876 and 1926; The Fairview Incline between 1892 and 1923.

I learned quite a few things on this tour including the fact that, while San Francisco was first and last with cable cars, Cincinnati had them, too. Between 1873 and the end of the century, as many as three cable car lines operated here. The power house for one of them still stands and is used for office space. Another surprise was getting a copy of Cincinnati Streetcars No. 2 The Inclines at the end of the tour. This was a gift from the Ohio Book Store and a reminder that it has been entirely too long since I’ve been inside that wonderful place.

This was an extremely well done tour. As I write this, I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t praise it more on the evaluation form. I’m also thinking that I just might try to sign up again next year and hope for better weather.

Circleville Pumpkin Show

Circleville Pumpkin Show2012 is the 106th year that Circleville, Ohio, has held a pumpkin show/festival. They did the first 105 without me but I finally made it to one on Thursday. The festival started with a Tuesday night preview and will continue through Saturday. The closest I’ve come to attending in the past was a morning after drive through when the tear-down process was in full swing. I could tell from the empty booths and stages that this was a pretty big affair but I don’t believe I realized just how big.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowSeveral blocks of downtown Circleville are blocked off and the streets are lined with vendors and at least a half dozen stages. Craft booths and food booths make up the bulk of the offerings but there was at least one fortune teller, a petting zoo, and a tent filled with more exotic creatures. Some vendors added pumpkin themed items to their normal offerings while others were “all pumpkin, all the time”. In addition to ice cream, funnel cakes, and deep fried pie, there was, pumpkin fudge, cookies, bread, and good old fashion un-fried pie. There was also an abundance of standard festival fare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, Italian sausage, french fries, tacos, and deep fried everything. The longest line was at a chicken booth.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowMy dinner was something festival appropriate. The question on my lips was obviously one that had been asked many times before. The folks operating this trailer simplified things immensely by posting a description. The pumpkin burger was a sloppy joe sort of thing and quite good. It even had just a hint of pumpkin flavor if I held my mouth just right.

Circleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeThe Circleville Pumpkin Show calls itself “The Greatest Free Show On Earth”. In addition to those six stages with bluegrass, rock, symphony, and everything in between, there are parades. Lots of them. This year there are seven with beauty queens, marching bands, and all the trimmings.

Circleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeCircleville Pumpkin Show paradeYou may have noticed that Mr. Pumpkin had a stroller with a little Pumpkin. That’s because this is the Baby Parade with somewhere around 500 babies; All under three years of age.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowCircleville Pumpkin ShowSo you lug your half-ton pumpkin to the show and it’s only good for third! Yep, 1141 pounds of pumpkin was bested by 1216 and 1315 pound giants. There were actually several 1000+ pound entries. In theory, just one of those big pumpkins could produce several pies like the one pictured since a mere 96 pounds of pumpkin is required. The complete recipe is on the wall for all you home bakers.

Circleville Pumpkin Show Ohio University Marching 110I stayed long enough to see part of the evening Band Parade which featured the Marching 110 from Ohio University. It was really too dark and I was too far away to get any decent pictures but it’s pretty obvious that “The Most Exciting Band in the Land” filled the streets. Several high school marching bands filled out the parade for a rousing musical finale to my day.

Circleville Pumpkin ShowIt’s not easy getting your crops to grow in formation but Ohio farmers are up to the task.

Music Review
Modern Vintage
The Newbees

Modern Vintage coverModern Vintage is the name of the latest Newbees’ CD. This post is ostensibly a review of that CD but there’s some concert/venue/band/radio in the mix, too.

Over the last few years, WNKU has pretty much replaced another local NPR station in my heart and in my ears. I made it official a while back by donating a few bucks and becoming a “member”. Among other things, that put me on a mailing list that includes invitations to be part of the studio audience for their Monday night broadcast-live Studio 89 concerts. I finally got around to asking for a seat for the fourth concert of the current series. I made the cut.

The performers at that October 8 concert would be the Newbees. I’d heard of the band but didn’t really know much about them. Before sending in my request, I spent a little time on the internet learning that this was a group I’d almost certainly like. Online videos include things like the quintet doing a bunch of Beatles tunes backed by a high school orchestra plus plenty of performances of original material. This was not your run of the mill garage band.

The setting for the Studio 89 concerts is inside a room called the Griffin Hall Digitorium. I believe digitorium translates to “really cool and intimate state-of-the-art place for concerts”. Counting the attendees would have been easy but I never got around to it. I was part of the group occupying three rows of theater style seats facing the stage. Each row has maybe 10-15 seats. Between the seats and the stage are some tables where host Pam Temple and a few VIPs sit. That space is also home to video cameras and other gear. I have no idea how or when the multi-camera video is used.

And now, at last, some words about the CD. It makes me smile.

A Modern Vintage CD release party had been planned for Saturday, October 6, during the grand opening weekend of a new/relocated venue, Southgate House Revival. Last minute construction issues caused that to be cancelled on Friday so the Studio 89 appearance was something of an introduction for the CD and very much a disappointment reducer for the band. The five core members were psyched and ready and so were the half dozen (3 horns, 3 strings) backing musicians. I’d heard one cut on the radio and a couple on the internet but I heard more of the CD’s songs for the first time as they were broadcast live from the Digitorium. They sounded great and, with a CD obtained after the concert, I could later verify that they sounded “just like the record”.

The CD’s title is a good one. I said that it makes me smile and part of the reason is the music’s “vintage” aspects. It’s more of a vintage feel than a vintage sound. The songs are new. The sound is “modern”. Some of the tunes do remind me a bit of stuff that came from my AM radio “when I wore a younger man’s clothes”. They’re not the same songs. They’re not knockoffs of those songs. They don’t even sound quite like the songs from my youth. But they do feel like them.

All five Newbees write. Visit the Bio page of their website and you’ll see them distinguished by their primary instruments; two guitars, bass, drums, keys. Then they are all tagged with “Vocals” and “Songwriter”. The packaging doesn’t identify who wrote individual songs on the CD but there is no doubt that everyone contributed. It really does seem like a musical team.

Tracks range from dance-able rockers like Up All Night and Don’t Knock It (‘Til You Try It) to sway-able stuff like Nevermore and Goodbye Sun. Some are really “sticky”. In the last week, I’ve frequently heard Medicine Show, Nobody to Blame, and others playing inside my head. Though some pretty serious topics appear (Medicine Show immediately comes to mind), the entire CD has a fun feel. I’ve often said that nothing helps me like music more than knowing the folks producing it are having fun. I saw the Newbees having fun on stage and I can hear them having fun on this CD. That is, of course, another reason it makes me smile.

It is almost impossible to write about the Newbees without bringing in the Beatles. Over the years, the group has put a lot of time and energy into faithfully reproducing Beatle tunes and they’ve impressed crowds at nostalgia fueled events like Abbey Road on the River. They even included some Beatles in the off the air conclusion of the Studio 89 concert. This aspect of the band was in my mind as I listened to Modern Vintage for the first time. I guess I was actually listening for the Beatles but I didn’t quite hear them. I heard songs the the Beatles could have done and some that I told myself could have fit on this or that specific album. I did not hear copies or knockoffs. By the second or third listening I was hearing the Eagles, Leon Russell, Paul Simon, and probably every other musician who, along with the Beatles, influenced the members of the Newbees. I’m pretty sure that Find, the CD’s final cut, could have been covered by Peter, Paul & Mary. The Newbees are indeed a great Beatles cover/tribute band but they are so very much more.

Things came together at Southgate House Revival and the “Rescheduled Album Release Shindig” is, according to the Newbees site, set for November 21 though it’s not yet shown on the Southgate House Revival site. Hope they catch up soon so I can order my ticket.

UPDATE: 27-Oct-2012 – The Southgate House Revival site did catch up and tickets are available here. However, just as I was about to place my order, an email arrived telling me that Cincinnati legend Larry Goshorn would be playing a retirement gig that same night. I’d love to catch the Southgate party but Larry’s “farewell” wins this conflict. Good luck, Newbees, with the CD release. I know I’ll see you in the future.

Trip Peek #3
Trip #9
Augusta Spring

August FerryThis picture is from my 2004 Augusta Spring day trip. A Corvette club that I belonged to at the time had cruised some great southern Ohio back roads then crossed over to Kentucky at Maysville and drove to Augusta for lunch. We had intended to return to Ohio on the ferry but high water kept it docked.

Trip Pic Peek #2 — Trip #16 — Doin’ Eighty

Trip Pic Peeks are short articles published when my world is too busy or too boring for a current events piece to be completed in time for the Sunday posting. In addition to a photo thumbnail from a completed road trip, each Peek includes a brief description of that photo plus links to the full sized photo and the trip journal it is from.

Great Outhouse Blowout 2012

Penn's StoreThe porch at Penn’s Store has unquestionably been the setting for scenes like the one at right countless times. The majority probably didn’t include electric amplifiers or microphones but I know an awful lot of guitars have been played at the old store; and mandolins and fiddles and other instruments too. On Saturday, I attended the Great Outhouse Blowout at the store for the second time. My first time was in 2004.

Penn's StorePenn's StoreThe Penn family has owned the store since 1850 and it is known to have existed prior to 1845. The place has taken a few beatings over the years. It took one in May of 2010 when flood waters rose well above the floor and the store was forced to close for awhile. That floor has been replaced along with some other bits and the store is again open for business. Penn’s isn’t open around-the-clock like a big city 24/7 kind of place but it’s open enough.

Penn's StoreToday’s event gets its name from the structure at right. The first Great Outhouse Blowout was held in 1992 to celebrate the completion of the first ever outhouse at Penn’s Store and the big step up from “plenty of trees”. Chet Atkins headlined the entertainment at that first GOB.

Great Outhouse BlowoutGreat Outhouse BlowoutGreat Outhouse BlowoutThe Blowout officially got started with a little parade. There are some pretty cool hot rods and customs in there but I thought these two Fords looked like they really belonged.

A centerpiece of the GOB has always been “outhouse” races but not this year. Although I doubt it’s the full story, liability and the signing of waivers had something to do with the lack of racers. To keep the race course from being entirely idle, a three man foot race was organized.

Great Outhouse BlowoutGreat Outhouse BlowoutMy interior pictures of the store included one with and one without people. In the one with people, the fellow at the center is Squirrelman. After taking that picture, I spent some time in front of the store talking to a fellow named Bob. Bob is one of several locals who help the Penn family keep the store going. Squirrelman came out while we were talking and the two exchanged greetings. “That’s Squirrelman,” Bob told me. My complete lack of recognition prompted him to explain that Squirrelman was part of Turtleman’s crew. “You know? Call of the Wildman on TV,” he said in a way that made it clear that not recognizing Turtleman would almost certainly lead to questions of mental competency. “Oh yeah,” I answered. The walking race was between Bob, Squirrelman, and another member of Turtleman’s crew named Muleman. Bob barely beat Muleman to the toilet paper with Squirrelman a distant third.

I’ve since learned that Call of the Wildman is one of the Animal Planet network’s most popular programs and that Turtleman lives less than twenty miles from Penn’s Store. Researching local celebs might be a good move before I return for another Great Outhouse Blowout.

Great Outhouse BlowoutGreat Outhouse BlowoutBefore leaving, I ate some good BBQ, listened to some good music, took a wagon ride with Muleman, and took a look at the festival from inside the famous outhouse.