Archive for February, 2012

Music Review: Miles Davis; Kind of blue

February 23, 2012


Music Review: Miles Davis; Kind of blue

Release date: 17 August, 1959


I can hear it now… some wag is dying to say: “You’re kind of late getting this aren’t you?

Obviously, they are, or will be, correct. But then I only learned about it a month or so ago myself. I am not a jazz fan. This is not to say that I do not like jazz. I do but until recently I knew almost nothing about it. I still know almost nothing about it, but maybe just a little bit more than before. A buddy of mine is a jazz fan and it was he who we have to thank for this suggestion.

But even I know that to say that Miles Davis was a legend is to make “legend” too small. Even so, “Kind of blue” is an almost perfect collection of almost perfect selections played almost perfectly. Some would say absolutely perfectly and actually I’d have to agree.

You will no doubt recognize many of these tracks when you listen to the disc. And the smooth, OK, I’ll say it, “blue” quality is arguably unsurpassed. That is what “classic”. So many thanks to my pal Ted for suggesting this album. Did I like it? I liked it so much that I bought a copy for myself. It is in my CD played right now. If you are not a jazz fan try this, you might change your mind.

bill littlefield


Inferno by Max Hastings

February 23, 2012


Book review: Max Hastings; Inferno

Publication date: September, 2011

For almost 70 years now people of all kinds have been filling hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pages, on humanities worst folly, the Second World War. In fact so many have written, so much, so often, that one is quite rightly tempted to say; “another one”?

Sir Max Hastings achieves the almost impossible in one moderately sized volume in covering the aptly titled “Inferno”. It is true that we all now know vastly more about this war than we did even twenty and certainly forty years ago and Hastings makes use of that information.

We now see that this “Second” World War was in fact the second half of the then so called “First World War” or what was once known as “The Great War”. The imposition of the peace terms at the Treaty of Versailles, caused the brilliant, if acerbic, Marshal [and the first Supreme Allied Commander] Ferdinand Foch to quite correctly remark; “This is not peace. This is an armistice for twenty years”. Twenty years later the world was indeed ablaze. That the marshal was then correct is no longer in any doubt whatsoever.

I enjoyed this book. It is somewhat dry, but if you have more than a passing interest in this the greatest of human follies read it.

bill littlefield


Available as an ebook on Libby/Overdrive

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Purge, by Sofi Oksanen

February 18, 2012


A breathtaking tale of women’s lives in the eastern block today and earlier in the 20th century, revealing not much has changed in the way society or individual traffickers use and abuse women. Can’t wait to read more from this great young finnish writer…

Available as an ebook on Hoopla


Music Review: Blondie – Greatest Hits and Panic of Girls

February 16, 2012


Music review: Blondie

Albums: Greatest Hits and Panic of girls

The WML a year or so ago acquired a copy of Blondie’s Greatest Hits, a real blast from the past—remember? Lots of great fast, punchy and zappy songs that could only be from Debbie Harry and the boys, it is certainly worth a re-listen. Heart of glass, Union City blues, Dreaming and all the rest. I love them all.

Now comes “Panic of girls” released 30 May, 2011. Some have found fault with “Panic”, moaning that it’s not like the old Blondie. And they are correct. The idea was to try new things. Folk sometimes forget that some singers/writers/bands actually want to try something new. It might work, then again, it might not.

Yet it is not 1974 nor is it 1982 which in itself is now thirty years ago. So there. I look a whole lot differently today then I did in February 1982. I expect you so too. If by a miracle of good genes, exercise, diet and / or plastic surgery and perhaps throwing in cryogenic reanimation, I am delighted for you. For the rest of us it has been a long hard slog. So don’t be quick to find fault.

In the same vein a Prius is not your dad’s Oldsmobile either. Blondie may not be the 2012 hybrid but they are most certainly not the Old Olds either. They are not old hat and the CD “Panic” in my mind deserves a listen as does “Greatest hits” also deserves a few minutes of your time. You might want to see what Debbie Harry is writing today.

Maybe you’ll like it maybe not. You’ll never know unless you listen. You might just find that while you are not in 1979, 2012 has a lot going for it too. “Panic of girls” not great, but still lossa fun.

bill littlefield


Burn by Nevada Barr

February 10, 2012


I’m a big fan of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon series.  Anna is a Ranger in the National Park service.  I like that she is an independent and strong character.  The books are solid mysteries and putting them down is always hard to do.  That the series takes place in our National Parks is an added bonus, and I especially enjoy reading about where I have been and those I hope to go to.  As usual for me, the two books she set on Isle Royale in Lake Superior – were among my favorites (I grew up in the Upper Pennisula of Michigan).

“Burn” is a prequel to the Anna stories, the missing link of how Anna transformed from city girl to Nat’l Park Ranger.  It’s set in Lake Powell, Arizonia and the descriptions of the park made me feel like I was visiting – just like so many of the other books.   Fans of Nevada Barr will love this book and those new to her Anna series will enjoy it as well …. or start with “Track of the Cat and read the whole series and see our National Parks through “book eyes”.  Enjoy!

Carpenters – Music CD Review

February 6, 2012


Music Review: Carpenters [a. k. a. “The Carpenters”]

Do you have a guilty pleasure? I do. I daresay you will be surprised, or more likely disappointed, when I tell you. OK, I love The Carpenters, or more correctly simply “Carpenters”. This was a brother and sister duo that defied categorization. Rather like ABBA, but that is another story altogether…

Carpenters had the gross misfortune to be in the wrong place in the wrong time. Musically Karen Carpenter’s voice was arguably amongst the best in Pop/Rock, it is full and rich with amazing range. Alas, the times in which Karen and Richard [her brother and co-writer] performed were in no way conducive to their music. There was never any doubt as to Karen’s ability as a singer, for even critics will acknowledge her phenomenal voice. Rather the problem was the score—at least at the time. But think of those times if you will 1968-1982, a fourteen year period of upheaval and social unrest, scarcely guaranteed to be welcoming to smooth, harmonious and lyrical pop music with frankly gentle lyrics.

But there was always something missing and their music was gleefully derided as sugar-coated pop treacle, at the time I detested it. Now in 2012, in what was once the far away future, we are hopefully, most of us at least, somewhat more liberal in our attitudes. And by “liberal” I do not mean in the current misnomer for American politics. I mean in the definition of classic economic theory of say, John Stuart Mill; which is to say a freeing of oneself from unthinking orthodoxy. It is also regrettable that Karen was the first popular person to die from Anorexia, but back to the music, or my guilty pleasure…

Actually, I personally now believe that Karen and Richard knew exactly what they were doing at the time. As I continue to “bang on”; if you actually listen to the music you will be remarkably surprised. We at the WML have a collection of Carpenter singles 1968-1981. It is really excellent. Although they were at the time, the group you loved to hate, God knows I did, but not anymore. Hopefully we see clearer and further now then in 1980, and certainly in 1970, which is as the current cliché goes, “a good thing”.

If all of this seems to be strangely convoluted, you are quite right. But then so is life and art and art often mirrors life and occasionally vice versa. So in our modern world of 2012, we are tempted to say what is the big deal? The big deal is in retrospect the modernity of “Carpenters” music. In my  opinion the reason that their music was so derided in its time is that it was in fact futuristic and as such, hardly suited to the orthodoxy of the 70’s, its society and mores and what was expected, actually required for music. It is certainly beyond its time. If you listen to the orchestration and the instrumentation I’m sure you will be surprised at its modernity. It is staggeringly current and still futuristic, in my opinion.

As an example, music in 1972 does not sound all that different from music in 2012, in a way that 1932, another interval of forty years, sounds altogether different from 1972’s music. And, as another example, there was the “surprise”. I remember it well and it planted a seed, which has lain dormant, and as you can see recently sprouted. It was Karen’s duet with Ella Fitzgerald on their short lived TV show in 1980. Their duet was of Leon Russell’s “Masquerade”. It was a then unnoticed, yet dangerously prescient love song sung between two women, one black, one white. If today you read the lyrics you may, even now, be shocked. I’m not sure the Great American Public at the time even noticed it, or ever caught on. But I did. It was very, very daring, and did a lot to redeem “Carpenters” in my eyes.

So in 2012, I now feel safe to admit that the guilt has finally gone although the pleasure has remained and thankfully and maybe for you too. So with apologies and many thanks to both Karen and Richard Carpenter, “We’ve only just begun”…

bill littlefield