Saturday, February 17, 2007

Drewcifer is proud to announce the arrival of Drew the Fourth, aka Drew-Bear, born Friday Feb 16th at 11 am, weighing-in at a very bear-like 8lbs, 12oz! Mama and baby doing great!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Drew’s Reviews:
Occasionally I will review a CD, film, guitar or piece of audio gear. Here’s a review on a CD I am currently addicted to; Loreena McKennitt’s “The Book of Secrets”.


The Book of Secrets, 1997 Quinlan Road Records
By Drewcifer Von Tone

Take a musical journey through an exotic, alluring world with Canadian singer/multi-instrumentalist Loreena McKennitt; a world where east harmonizes soulfully with west.

I am a late-comer to McKennitt's music, but what a wonderful find she has been! "The Book of Secrets" is a musical masterwork, conjuring magical imagery and dreamscapes of rich color. The 1997 release is, like all her albums, on her own Quinlan Road label. Being a fan of Clannad, and to a lesser extent of Enya, I find McKennitt's music to be more haunting, more imaginative and more aurally textural than either of the other two.

There are many enchanting tales inside "The Book of Secrets", but none more stirring than the 1997 hit single, "The Mummer's Dance", a positively addicting blend of Arabic percussion, hypnotic drones, and soaring vocal melody. I consider myself much more a Celtic music fan than a New-Ager, but this song is a genre-buster; cutting a wide appeal across World, Celtic, New Age, Folk, and even Pop. The more traditionally Celtic "Skellig" paints the lonely picture of a Medieval Irish Monk and Scribe, living in devout solitude in the harsh Skellig Islands. The instrumental "Marco Polo" transports us to the smoky late-night Bazaars of Persia, where mystery, danger and romance await around every darkened corner; behind every silken veil. You can almost smell the opium on the night air. And perhaps my favorite is "The Highwayman", a tragic love story whose lyrics are adapted from the famous poem by Alfred Noyes. McKennitt is obviously a life-long student of classic poetry, and her own lyric-writing reads like it. These songs resonate. These songs intoxicate.

McKennitt's musical quest has set her on a pan-continental journey from the misty moors of Ireland to the mysterious markets of Marrakech. Atop it all, her ringing soprano stirs the very soul of the ancient traveler, the lover; the dreamer. You wouldn't imagine that an artist could weave Celtic and Arabic styles so seamlessly in to one tapestry, but not only does McKennitt do just that, she does it so beautifully that it makes one realize that these ancient sounds are not so diverse after all. She has found, at the core of it, that eastern and western music share a common and radiant soul.

RECORDING NOTES: From a production standpoint, “The Book of Secrets” is immaculate. The project was tracked and mixed at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studio in Wiltshire England, and was mastered stateside by Bob Ludwig at Gateway in Maine. Producer credits go to McKennitt and Brian Hughes, with engineers Stuart Bruce and the famous Kevin Killen (U2, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello). It was an all analog recording, recorded in 1996 and ’97 using multiple Studer machines and Gabriel’s wrap-around SSL 4000. The challenge of blending no less than fifty different instruments of every era and timbre must have been incredibly daunting. Heck, just getting them in tune was a project, so I’m told. McKennitt blends traditional European instruments (piano, harp, pipes, strings) with Arabic drums and drones, while also incorporating ancient devices like hurdy-gurdy, viola da gamba and Victorian guitar. Add to that McKennitt’s resonant operatic soprano, and the result is the most eclectic and exotic sonic-texture I have experienced, maybe ever.

Loreena’s web-site
Look for Loreena’s PBS TV special, “Nights from the Alhambra” coming in March.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Part 2: Chili's Red is Dead! Long Live The Red!

You've heard the expression, "Don't Mess With Texas". Well, there's a lesser-known version of that saying that goes, "Don't Mess With a Man's Texas Chili!" This is what Chili's restaurant has done; another indication of the further dumbing-down and homogenization of America. Local color and authentic flavor are dying faster than Lindsey Lohan's brain-cells!

Before I explain what Chili's has done, let's get some back-story: Chili's started in Dallas in the late '70s. I'm sure it's goal was to be a national chain right from the git-go. Dallas is the home of national food chains such as Friday's and Bennigans. I lived in Dallas back then, and I was fond of lunching at one of the first Chili's on Belt-Line Road in Carrolton. Why were we drawn to Chili's? Shoot, for the chili, silly! Yeah, way before the "Baby Back Ribs" jingle, the place was known for its "Texas Red". There was a big sign over the door which read, "Eat More Chili". And yeah, the name of the freakin' restaurant is Chili's...hello! We were under the impression, correct or not, that this was an award-winning Texas Red recipe, as indicated by all the photos on the wall from the famous Terlingua, Texas Chili cook-off. This event takes place every year with hundreds of contestants and chooses the supreme Chili of small feat! And what is "Texas Red", the non-Texan might ask? It is a BEAN-FREE, all meat version of Chili native to Texas, characterized by its red-chili-pepper induced heat and masa-flour thickness. That's right. No beans! Never had 'em, never will. That would be a sin. Or worse; that would be yankee chili!

In later years, I found it funny when we'd go to Chili's here in Boston or elsewhere and find people who had never had Chili's chili. That'd be like going to The Lobster Pot and having a hamburger. As Chili's "national" brand identity evolved, we found that even the waitresses thought of the chili as a side-dish, an appetizer, or on-occasion were not aware of it at all, especially if you asked for "Texas Red". To me and my wife, the Red was the heart and soul of the menu and almost the only reason we went there. You could go to any Chili's anywhere and get it, even if it wasn't on the menu (which for a while was the case), and it was always the same good recipe. Our "bowl o' Red".

Now chili snobs are going to say, "Drewcifer, this is really COMMERCIAL chili!" Bunk, says I! Sure, there's better chili being slopped up at some little road-side shack south of Austin. I make an incredible bowl of Red about twice a year myself, but it's time-consuming and messy. Chili's Red was very good, and very reliable and very consistent. It would vary in heat from visit-to-visit, but we saw that as a sign of its authenticity. Yes, Chili's is a huge chain, but the chili WAS authentic. Especially by the poor standards here in New England, this was the best bowl around. That includes the offerings of very well-intentioned small restaurants attempting to make the real deal. Too bad, but true. We have been to some Chili contests here in the area and have not tasted anything as good. If Chili's entered those contests, their Red would win the blue ribbon.

So, back to the present. About a week ago, as we do on a regular basis, we call in our pickup order: Two bowls of chili, a bag of chips, and side of guac. When I get there to pick up, and after a quick Presidente margarita, the girl tells me that the chili has been changed, somehow knowing that this was important to me. What?! No!! You're joking, right? No joke, the Texas Red has been discontinued. Aaargh! This is not happening! Go to my happy place...go to my happy place...Don't tell me it has beans. Oh God please don't let it have beans! Yes, it has beans! NIGHTMARE!!! I am seeing white. The room is spinning. I am disoriented as my reality falls away. It feels like the floor has dropped out from under me. What, just at this location? No, all of Chili's. I have fainted dead away.

OK I didn't really faint. But I was apoplectic to the point she called the manager over, who was very apologetic and offered to comp us the order. He explained to me that Chili's makes these decisions based on "national tastes", and only in Texas do people demand bean-less Chili. Right! So, the fact the company is Texas-based and loosely Texas-themed no longer has a bearing on the classic, authentic Texas chili. "People expect beans," he explained. So I sampled the new stuff: Thin, soupy, beany and a bit less spicy. And clearly lacking the masa-harina corn flour ingredient. So, what makes this any different than what Uno's or Friday's offers? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This is just another indication that we are heading in the direction of a world where nothing's original, nothing's authentic, nothing's unique. All must appeal to a larger and increasingly LOWER common denominator. The dumbing-down of everything. More Wal-Marts, more Targets, more Ikeas and Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts and Burger Kings and malls with all the same stores as every other mall. Is there ONE of anything anymore? My kid's being born in to an America very different from the one I had.

On top of my anger at Chili's, I am just sad. Christ! I really LIKED that chili. I'm going to miss it. Of course I sent an outraged email to their corporate headquarters expressing my displeasure and requesting the recipe for the Red. To their credit, they actually responded and, surprisingly, DID give me the recipe. (It's astonishingly similar to mine, only without the diced tomatoes and green chilis that I use).

CHILI'S TEXAS RED, RIP 1978 - 2007

Monday, February 5, 2007

Ikea, Chili's Restaurant, and the Wal-Marting of America, Part 1

Yes, this is supposed to be a recording Blog, I know. But if you let me rant away about the malaise of the American marketplace in general, trust me; I will get to pro audio. Believe you me, I will drive straight in to the heart of the so-called "pro audio" scene, which I call "amateur audio". Because this all tied together. Think of this as an on-ramp to my opinions about pro audio. Or better yet, an "on-RANT".

First, let me address Ikea. I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about, because we needed a dresser, and we were going to Jordan's Furniture, whose nearest location happens to be right next to the new Ikea mega-store. This fact in itself was curious. This Jordan's store has been there for 20 years, and Ikea opens up in 2006, literally right next door. A coincidence? Obviously not. Why does Starbucks always open up a new location within a block of an existing neighborhood coffee shop? To kill the old shop, that's why. It's probably in their mission statement. Wipe out the old mom and pop shops until there's nothing left but green signs selling $5 burnt, bitter excuses for a cups of coffee.

Wow, first paragraph and I already digress.

So we are approaching Ikea, and it looks like we are driving up to The Boeing Factory. Or some giant industrial building in Detroit. Or a prison. I am reminded of those future-shock movies where people have become hopeless automatons of The State. No windows. Even prisons have windows. So we drive around the huge parking area for what seems like hours trying to find parking. At one point we stop and ask one of the guys directing traffic if there's an expectant mother parking zone, as my wife's nine months at this point. Um....gosh, uh like, no, we don't uh, have... OK, well, what's the closest lot to the entrance? Oh, uh, over there... So we go "over there" where he said, and I dunno if he was mentally challenged or just stoned, but this was absolutely nowhere near the entrance. 500 yards away, at least. So we waddle in to the flow of hundreds, following signs to the huge entrance. At this point it feels like we are going in to a sporting event. Crowds like this are more typical of Fenway Park or The Boston Garden. Up escalator! Once inside, we discover quickly that this place is designed like a giant cattle-run. Or a really bad ride at Disneyland. You are in a maze laid out on a grid, with only one way and one direction of flow, passing by one cubicle of prefab "style" after the next. OK, I see. Well, I'm not a crammed city-dweller in
Tokyo or a college student wanting to outfit a one-room dorm. I'm also a full-size person with some weight to me. Even if I was 22 and starting out for the first time, I don't know that this cardboard world would appeal to me. The prices: $59.95, $79.99, $129.95, $29.95, $9.99. Cardboard, cookie-cutter, D.I.Y. crap! No quality. No sturdiness or reliability. Why on earth were people telling me this place was fab? "Have you been to Ikea yet?" "Dude, ya gotta go check out Ikea!" And for every hundred people, there is one haggard-looking Ikea customer-service person. One such guy is answering questions about a $30 foam fold-out couch/bed thingy. What's there to explain? It's thirty freakin' dollars, it's made out of foam, you lay on it, and in about four months it's in the dumpster. Seems like the buyer (good thing he was a smaller Asian man) is concerned about the quality. Again, $30. Same thing Wal-Mart has. Actually, I think I've seen this "bed" at Petco! You want sirloin for hamburger money, or what? Very quickly the wife and I realize we want to get out of this crowded, horrible place. That's when the real trouble began. We follow a sign that says, "Shortcut to Exit". We keep following...and following... making turns, going in to big one room after another, making our way from one "shortcut to exit" sign to the next. This is the same kind of "shortcut" a New York City cabbie takes when carrying a drunk, rich tourist from Texas. We are getting more and more agitated. We realize at one point we really are going in circles. Then down a level. Yet more store to walk through. It's starting to feel like a nightmare you can't wake up from. My wife is going to have the baby before we get out of this Goddam store! Horrible. You get the picture. It takes us WAY longer to get out of the store than we actually spent browsing the store. I'm sure this design is on-purpose. All it did for us was piss us off.

We will never go back there. But what haunts me is this is what America is coming to. Mass marketed, no-quality, cookie-cutter crap. No customer service. Nothing authentic. Nothing unique. What's worse is there in NO expectation of quality anymore. The bad thing isn't just Ikea itself, it's that people throw good money at Ikea. They shop there, in droves. They support it! Not only that, they have bought in to some clever marketing, and actually think it's COOL! And they are cool by association.

Sadly, I notice a lot of the older, higher-end furniture stores in the area are going out of business now. Is it because of Ikea? Yes. Yes it is. My Dad was in the furniture business, having two or three small specialty stores. Everything was custom. Nothing was cheap.

This is America now: Ikea, Target, Starbucks, McDonalds, Wal-Mart. In fact, I have an idea: What if we took the Ikea sign off the big blue building, and put a Wal-Mart sign up in its place? Because that's what it is. It's Wal-Mart furniture. Forget the whole Swedish design marketing bullshit. Maybe the meatballs are good. I don't know or care. But if it said "Wal-Mart" up there, how hip and trendy would it be then?

So the wife and I make our way to Jordan's, a store with high quality, fair prices and great customer service. (And yes, Jordan's has its gimmick side, but it's a very smart and entertaining one) We buy a $500 dresser for the baby's room; a very slightly blem'd floor-model, for $315. That's more than anything in the whole Ikea store. It's a solid, real wood dresser that will last for decades.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Chili's discontinues it's original, award winning "Texas Red" chili after 30 years. The last authentic Texan thing on the Dallas-based chain's menu is replaced by a dumbed-down, bean-filled imposter, and Drewcifer from "Big D" is beside himself with rage.

It's All About The Tone, Baby!