Monthly Archives: October 2013

Listening to the Remastered Saved (Bob Dylan)

Listening to the Remastered Saved Bob DylanAs previously noted, the most interesting thing about the forthcoming mega-Bob-Dylan-Box-Set seemed to me to be the prospect of hearing a remastered version of his 1980 album, Saved, which no one seemed to be satisfied with in its original incarnation, including Bob Dylan himself. The question was how one might obtain only that item (legally) without buying the entire two hundred dollar set. Well, the remastered albums from that set have apparently already been made available in MP3 and similar compressed formats, on Amazon and elsewhere, although the actual box set isn’t officially released until November 5th (thanks to to Ben for originally giving me the heads-up).

Given my druthers, I’m someone who would like to be able to buy the music in question in a lossless format, e.g. FLAC, or on an actual CD. However, given the significance of this particular content, and the unlikelihood of easily getting it as I would prefer, I could not resist splurging for the MP3 version a few days ago. Continue reading Listening to the Remastered Saved (Bob Dylan)

The Cinch Review

River of Love – T-Bone Burnett

T-Bone Burnett River of LoveStopping by the local chapel this morning, some might have heard Psalm 46:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Hearing mention of that river which makes “glad the city of God” caused my brain to make a connection—which might not be so wildly inappropriate—to this old T-Bone Burnett tune, “River of Love.” He’s known all over these days as the producer to tap when a deft touch on rootsy-realness is called for (recently even bringing Reggie Dwight back to basics) but yours truly was the closest-thing-possible to a real fan of his back in the mid-1980s when he was still releasing records under his own name on a semi-regular basis. His music had a special charm (and so still does), being a fine cocktail of wryness, cynicism and hope, with memorable melodies and a decent degree of that rootsy-realness. Continue reading River of Love – T-Bone Burnett

The Cinch Review

Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

Lou Reed, R.I.P.It was something of a shock seeing the announcement today of Lou Reed’s death. Although chronologically he was 71 years-old, and although it was known he’d been having health problems, Lou Reed seemed more ageless than most. It’s hard to recall when he might have been young. He was just … Lou Reed. Never overexposed, but popping up from the periphery with reassuring regularity.

Despite his orneriness and his sometimes arrogant persona, and despite his tendency (at least in my opinion) towards self-indulgence in his work, there was something very likeable about Lou. He didn’t just have a unique singing voice; he was a unique voice. Although his music was intensely simple, he was one of the few true stylists of the whole rock & roll circus of the last fifty years, a seminal influence to countless other performers and one who never lost his creative spark. Continue reading Lou Reed 1942 – 2013

The Cinch Review

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – The Erasmus Lecture

The Erasmus Lecture Rabbi Jonathan SacksRabbi Jonathan Sacks—who recently moved on from his post of Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, which he occupied for 22 years—gave the Erasmus Lecture in New York City last Monday night, an annual event sponsored by the journal First Things. Yours truly was fortunate enough to attend, and judging by the energy and passion of Rabbi Sacks’ talk, he is not interested in fading away, but looks rather likely to relish his new freedom and devote it to advocating for the value of faith in the contemporary world. The title of his lecture was “On Creative Minorities,” which would seem to be a yawn-inducing topic before you even get to the fourth or fifth syllable, but turned out to be quite the opposite: it seemed very timely, even urgent, and it was delivered with a spirit, erudition and humor that earned the rabbi a number of standing ovations from the religiously-mixed audience (Catholics, Jews, Protestants, intellectuals, and the usual motley band of dilettantes to which I subscribe).

The term creative minorities has a quite specific origin, but Sacks structured his lecture to introduce that source later, the better to begin, I suppose, with a broader sense of what a creative minority might be. So he began 2600 years ago, with a letter from the prophet Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon, including these verses from Jeremiah 29:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Sacks pointed out that in contrast to Jeremiah’s reputation as a prophet of gloom or doom, he was fundamentally a prophet of hope. And in the lines above Jeremiah is (while speaking for the LORD) giving a hopeful prescription to the exiles from Israel who were a small minority in Babylon: live, increase, pray for that place in which you live, and seek its welfare. Sacks later recommended a similar role for public religious intellectuals today; that is as prophets of hope rather than doom. Continue reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – The Erasmus Lecture

The Cinch Review

Toxic Jerky Treats Killing Dogs

Jerky treats killing dogsThis issue has actually been going on for years—at least since 2007—but a new warning from the FDA is highlighting the fact that many dogs and some cats have been sickened, some fatally, by a variety of jerky products commonly sold in pet stores. 580 pets are reported to have died from the effects of such treats in the past six years. However, since dogs and cats unfortunately die all the time, and a full investigation into the cause of death is relatively rare, it seems to this writer safe to assume that many more have actually fallen victim to the toxic jerky.

Most of the implicated products have been manufactured in China, but the FDA, despite continuing attempts, has been unable to isolate the source or nature of the toxin. Typical symptoms observed include:

  • decreased appetite;
  • decreased activity;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea, sometimes with blood;
  • increased water consumption; and/or
  • increased urination.

(via FDA)

Some of the jerky products have already been taken off the market, but the illnesses have continued, albeit at an apparently reduced rate.

The FDA is not recommending what Continue reading Toxic Jerky Treats Killing Dogs

The Cinch Review

On the Intelligence of Elephants

Intelligence of ElephantsI love elephants. I would like to have an elephant as a pet, and, as there is no specific rule against elephants in my apartment building, I figure this is quite feasible, once I locate one.

Recently there was a news story about a scientific study in Zimbabwe which demonstrated that elephants, unlike most animals, immediately understand the purpose of human pointing. That is, their attention will be directed to the place that a human trainer points to with his or her arm and hand, even in advance of any training for this purpose. This was considered a real discovery, and perhaps it is, but on consideration it doesn’t seem too surprising that an elephant would see a human arm kind of like it sees the outstretched trunks of fellow elephants, and would pay attention to it.

I’ve never met an elephant, but my own affection for them seems to date back to when I was about ten or eleven years old, when I read a book titled “White Gold,” a kind of history of the African ivory trade. I was reading anything that came within my arms reach at that age, and it was just another book I got out of the library. But it left an impression upon me. I especially remember the writing within this book on the intelligence of elephants. The writer went into some detail on the sophistication of an elephant’s trunk, on how many quite fine motor tasks an elephant can perform with this remarkable appendage. A relationship was theorized between the brain strength required to power such a complex organ or limb and the general intellectual capacity of the elephant. Continue reading On the Intelligence of Elephants

Hullabaloo Cerys Matthews review

Cerys Matthews – Hullabaloo

Review of Hullabaloo by Cerys MatthewsHullabaloo is the eighth full-length solo album from Cerys Matthews, and the second to be devoted largely to traditional Welsh songs. It is in fact very much a sister album to 2010’s TIR, which was packaged similarly with sepia-colored photos from days gone by, with the songs’ lyrics lovingly laid out in Welsh and English along with notes on their background. In a certain sense Hullabaloo is a mirror-image of her first Welsh-traditional collection. While TIR included some lighter numbers it was anchored by such great, stirring ballads as “Myfanwy” and “Calon Lan;” whereas while Hullabaloo has some poignant ballads it is defined more by its uptempo and danceable tunes and arrangements. And while TIR was built upon voice and guitar, Hullabaloo flaunts a great ensemble of pipes, all manner of stringed instruments, esoteric percussion and whatever might be called for at the given moment.

Cerys Matthews excels at inspiriting and refreshing old tunes, and she also excels at finding and lifting up the common thread that runs through the really great songs from a variety of musical traditions. It’s very difficult (actually impossible) to define that thread in mere words, but one shot at it is to suggest that it is one entwined with insight into that which is fundamentally human and quite often that which is sacred; and, when it inhabits a melody and a lyric, it makes for a song that can stick around for centuries. Continue reading Cerys Matthews – Hullabaloo

The Cinch Review

Are Dogs Only Human, After All?

Dogs Are People TooThe New York Times a few days ago published an opinion piece (“Dogs Are People, Too”) by Gregory Berns, a professor at Emory University and author of How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain. Berns and fellow researchers have been using an M.R.I. scanner to look at the brain activity of conscious dogs, in an effort to better understand the canine brain and how dogs might think and feel.

There was some publicity about these studies more than a year ago, and in fact it was also covered in this space back then. At the time, I felt that the most amazing thing about the whole story was the fact that dogs had been successfully trained to stay absolutely stock still in an M.R.I. machine while it was noisily operating (and indeed while they were reacting to signals from the researchers for one thing or another in order to view their corresponding brain activity). Anyone who has had to bring a pet to get an x-ray or any other kind of scan would know that they are always anesthetized for such examinations in order to ensure that they will not move and so ruin the pictures. This makes the whole thing a much bigger deal for the animal, not to mention significantly more expensive for the paying human. Perhaps all dogs should be trained while they’re young to stay still for scans. And cats too. And turtles!

As far as the actual results of the research go, Professor Berns believe he has demonstrated based on their brain activity that dogs experience pleasurable anticipation when they are offered an edible treat, and also when they are given evidence (olfactory or otherwise) that their owner is nearby. This is based on activity in the area of the caudate nucleus. Continue reading Are Dogs Only Human, After All?

The Cinch Review

Elton John – The Diving Board

Review of Elton John The Diving BoardI’ve always had a big soft spot for Elton John. As a kid, I was a real fan, and this was quite a while after his 1970s heyday, during a time when it was highly unfashionable to be an Elton John fan; so I endured much abuse over it, but that only made me dig in my heels all the more. And I will still make a case in hostile company for Elton John when he is doing what he does best. The question is, what does he do best?

The producer of this new album, The Diving Board, is the estimable T-Bone Burnett, and he characterizes it as being “an album of music by a master at the peak of his artistic powers.” (It would naturally be highly dismaying if the album’s producer said it was merely mediocre.) For T-Bone, it’s all inspired by the shows in America that Elton did in 1970, which broke him into the big time: just piano, bass and drums, and some incendiary performing. (Well represented on the album 11/17/70.) This album is based around the same basic trio, although there are occasionally some other colors added such as horns and backing vocals.

It’s my own conviction that Elton is at his best when he succeeds in channeling some kind of deep American rootsy-ness, letting it burst forth through his highly-English soul in his piano-playing and singing, and creating something rather unique, inspirational, charming and joyous. It might be a gospel kind of feeling, it might be R&B, it might be country and western, and Elton might be hamming it up to a ludicrous level, but when all the cylinders are firing and the song itself is good enough, Elton can really hit a height. He can get somewhere. A few examples I’ll just pick without regard to whether they are “greatest hits” or not, from the approximately 25,000 songs he’s recorded: “Honky Cat,” “Where’s the Shoorah?,” “I Don’t Care,” and “My Father’s Gun.” In addition to these kinds of tracks where Elton really “gets the feeling” (as Van Morrison might put it) there are also those occasional standout lush ballads that you just can’t not like (e.g. “Your Song“) and his super-catchy if quite inane masterworks (e.g. “Island Girl” or “Crocodile Rock“). He’s done so much stuff. But the space in between the things he does really well leaves a lot of room for things that don’t ultimately go anywhere (even if they go to the top of the charts). These are records that cannot escape being merely maudlin, or cloying, or bland. Continue reading Elton John – The Diving Board