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Category Archives: From the Valley

Killer Queen.

For all those people yearning to hear me sing again … all those people who think there just aren’t enough albums on Bandcamp … and all those people longing to hear John “T-Bone” Shelby immortalized in song:

Your moment has come.

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Today marks the release of Ontario Queen of the Lakes, the latest Kurt Blumenau Bandcamp album.

It’s a collection of 14 songs, some songier than others, more or less inspired by the Rochester, N.Y., I grew up in. (Some of it may leave you wondering if, indeed, I grew up at all.)

Mark Knapp, the drummer from my high school garage band Fried Pig (you’ve read about him at least once here), lends his presence to a bunch of the songs. It’s not quite Planet Waves, as reunions go, but I’m happy it happened anyway, and I hope to do more with him.

For now we’ll content ourselves with this: Ontario Queen of the Lakes, featuring pick hits such as “In Canada They Do Remark’ble Things,” “Winter Track,” and “I Found Love (at the McQuaid Invitational),” this last being surely the finest song ever written about growing up in western New York.

It’s a free download, which means you don’t have to pay anything to possess your very own copy, or even five of your very own copies.

And, as always, I will extend great personal goodwill and bonhomie to anyone who sends me a photo or screenshot of a Queen of the Lakes song being played on their iTunes, phone, or other media device. (I keep making this offer and no one ever sends me any; I guess I’m gonna have to put up cash, one of these years.)

Go. Listen. Enjoy. Walk in peace.

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“Nothing good happens in films about airplanes.”

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If you’re spending the summer in a full-body cast in a faraway state, these are the jams you need.

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The (Oh, Lord, can it truly be?) eighth Kurt Blumenau “solo album,” released on Bandcamp precisely four years to the day after the first.

The biggest influences this time around are probably Captain Beefheart and Jandek, if that gives you any sense of what kind of toe-tappin’ good time awaits.

There’s a song called “I Wiped My Hands on a Pigeon” … and an 18-minute guitar solo … and a song that sounds like you’re being dragged underwater in a cold sea behind a slow-moving trawler … and a song that starts with  a weird murky voice-mail I once got that sounds like the people didn’t know they were being recorded.

(I think there is at least one more “conventional” release in my pipeline, but it turned out not to be this one. You won’t want to miss that one either, I’m sure, when it comes along.)

Anyway: Go check it out. You certainly don’t have to buy it. Just by clicking the link and visiting the site, you’ll give me the happy illusion that somebody’s interested.

If you don’t even want to do that, here’s a taste you can enjoy without having to go anywhere at all:

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.

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Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

Another Labor Day, another ballgame.

The local Lehigh Valley IronPigs always seem to close out their season on Labor Day against my hometown Rochester Red Wings.

And I always seem to take the family — mainly b/c my younger son, who is not a sports fan, likes the last game of the year ’cause they mark down the concessions to half-price.

I went again today, for the fourth straight last-game-of-the-year-against-Rochester, and it was a more detached expedition than usual.

I only went to three IronPigs games this year, and none since Father’s Day, so I never really formed any attachment to any of the players on this year’s team.

They’re going to the playoffs for only the second time in nine years, which is nice, but unlike last time I’m not going to get tickets. It’s on a school night … and, I dunno, I just don’t care.

Maybe the arrival of an AHL hockey team to town is shifting my allegiances. (Just last night I started compiling my schedule of local hockey games for the fall and winter.)

Or maybe the IronPigs have finally worn thin on me. Though it’s been a more divorced summer than usual in baseball terms — I haven’t been to see anyone else play ball this summer either. Usually when I travel I catch a game out of town somewhere, but I didn’t travel.

I haven’t followed the Phillies that closely either, though there wasn’t much to follow this year.

We’ll see what next spring brings;  by then I will probably be chomping at the bit for baseball.

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View from the general admission hill in center field (we sat nearby.) It is a cute ballpark, even if most recently built AAA ballparks kinda look the same.

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Starter David Buchanan was brilliant – 7 IP, two hits, no runs, eight strikeouts – and I wonder if he is headed to Philly when the playoffs end.

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Red Wings reliever Jake Reed waits to enter the game. He is not on the Minnesota Twins’ 40-man roster, which means no callup, but he’s young and he pitched pretty well so he might get there yet.

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Two relievers ready at once – Reed in the foreground, the IronPigs’ Joely Rodriguez in the background.

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Reliever Neil Ramirez pitched for three MLB teams this year – the Brewers, the Cubs and the Twins – but he seems ticketed to have ended his season in Allentown.

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A burst of game action courtesy Red Wings left fielder Adam Brett Walker. Walker is a large gent (6’5″) with a propensity for either homering (27 dingers this year) or striking out (200 times in 475 at-bats).

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Silly-ass mascots.

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The seats next to the bullpen always draw the kids. I suspect all of these dudes went home with a ball and/or some autographs; they were acting that way.

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These guys from Rochester came to the Lehigh Valley, not knowing they were going to get their asses kicked. I can surely sympathize.

Fingers grow back.

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My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

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The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

A purely mathematical exercise.

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Rather than crack wise about old records, I’m going to try a different approach.

The ARSA database of local radio airplay charts has a couple of surveys from eastern Pennsylvania radio stations representing this week — one ending March 7, 1971; one ending March 11, 1974; one ending March 11, 1975; and one ending March 5, 1979.

To each song on the Top Ten, I’ll assign a numerical grade, ranging from 0 (never wanna hear it again) to 5 (one or two spins a week would be fine, thanks) to 10 (play it all night long).

Then I’ll add ’em all together, and the year with the highest score wins.

(And yeah, I’ll probably toss out a couple irresponsibly dismissive value judgments while I’m going about it.)

Here goes, then. All song titles are reproduced as they appear on the surveys, for what that’s worth.

1971 (WRAW-AM, Reading):
1. Janis Joplin – Me And Bobby McGee – 8 (I’m kinda tired of this, but I can’t deny it’s a magnificent record, especially the joyous jam at the end)
2. The Carpenters – For All We Know – 2
3. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Have You Seen The Rain – 6 (can’t give CCR too low a score, but I like it better when they put the pedal down a little bit more)
4. Jackson Five – Mama’s Pearl – 8 (this is glorious, at least until it gets too far away from the chorus and kinda loses its way)
5. Tom Jones – She’s A Lady – 7 (a different sort of glorious. Gloriously hammy.)
6. The Temptations – Just My Imagination – 6 (oh, yeah, that Stones tune)
7. Osmonds – One Bad Apple – 7 (and I could have given it a point or two more. Osmonds/Jax 5 back-to-back on the radio would have been as much fun, in its own way, as Beatles/Stones or Beatles/Beach Boys)
8. Partridge Family – Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted – 2
9. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night – 3
10. Wadsworth Mansion – Sweet Mary – 5 (for pop records about chicks, I’ll still take “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes),” but this one’s OK anyway)

1971’s total: 54
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all the songs?: Hard to say. The rest of the countdown is evenly split between killers – “I Hear You Knocking,” “Proud Mary,” “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” – and crap – “Cried Like A Baby,” “Amos Moses,” and “D.O.A.,” which would get a negative score if such a thing were possible.)

1974 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun – 0 (This one was in the midst of a three-week run at Number One nationally. The purest distillation of the tacky/mawkish side of the Seventies.)
2. Cher – Dark Lady – 1
3. John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder – 2
4. Carly Simon & James Taylor – Mockingbird – 3 (that’s being kind, probably, but it’s uncouth to speak ill of pregnant ladies)
5. Jim Stafford – Spiders & Snakes – 2
6. Redbone – Come Get Your Love – 5 (there is room in the universe for “it’s stupid but it grooves”)
7. David Essex – Rock On – 4
8. Sister Janet Meade – Lord’s Prayer – 1 (it’s probably uncouth to speak ill of nuns, also — they work hard for the money — so SJM gets a solitary point. If you look at the survey, WKAP was running a promotion for a private showing of “The Exorcist” at the same time it was spinning Sister Janet in heavy rotation.)
9. Paul McCartney – Jet – 9 (not Macca’s best lyric but a fabulous soaring piece of rock n’ roll, and one of my five favorite McCartney solo tunes, were I to list them)
10. Barbra Streisand – The Way We Were – 3

1974’s total: 30
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Yes, probably.)

1975 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1 Frankie Valli – My Eyes Adored You – 2
2 Minnie Riperton – Lovin’ You – 5
3 LaBelle – Lady Marmalade – 10 (not a typo, nor a mistake. Outrageous sassy New Orleans funk. The radio needed more of this. It still does.)
4 Doobie Brothers – Black Water – 7 (their finest moment? yeah, most likely.)
5 Sugarloaf – Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – 7 (underrated wiseassery)
6 Ringo Starr – No No Song/Snookeroo – 3
7 Styx – Lady – 2
8 Olivia Newton John – Have You Never Been Mellow – 2
9 Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces – 8 (I taped this off the radio when I was maybe 13 and just learning about a whole class of Seventies tunes that were bad and funky and colorful and totally un-Eighties. Like “Lady Marmalade.”)
10 Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful – 4 (as professional hit-making songwriters, did Dennis Wilson, Bruce Johnston and Mike Love all fare better in the Seventies than Brian Wilson?)

1975’s total: 50
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Probably not, although “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Harry Truman” and “Shaving Cream” would all have scored strongly.)

1979 (WKAP-AM, Allentown):
1. Neil Diamond – Forever In Blue Jeans – 3 (there’s more to this song than the chorus but damned if I remember it)
2. Little River Band – Lady – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
3. Rod Stewart – Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? – 4 (Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” smokes this)
4. Dire Straits – Sultans Of Swing – 4 (should get more but I’m plenty sick of hearing it)
5. Melissa Manchester – Don’t Cry Out Loud – 2 (classy and professional and ultimately rather boring)
6. The Bee Gees – Tragedy – 4
7. The Doobie Brothers – What A Fool Believes – 4
8. Nigel Olsson – Dancin’ Shoes – 4 (never heard it enough for it to wear out its welcome)
9. The Babys – Every Time I Think Of You – 3
10. Donna Summer – Heaven Knows – 4

1979’s total: 34
(Would the average have been higher if I’d rated all 25 songs?: Possibly, though even in its full incarnation, the chart is lacking in 9 or 10-scores.)

The winner: For all the time I’ve spent deriding 1971 countdowns — it is, pound for pound, not my favorite year — that was a pretty good March to have the radio on. At least around here.

Are you ready for the night train?

Dear music writers of America:

I hope you haven’t submitted your Album Of The Year ballots yet … because, as 2015 approaches its twilight, the voice of the diddley bow is once again heard in the land.

NIGHTTRAIN

Yup. Proud to announce the arrival of Night Train To Sideways as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp.

It’s the fifth Kurt Blumenau recording (I hesitate to call them “albums”), and the second to feature the unaccompanied growl of the diddley bow.

Why do I do this? Mainly because I like the noises I make, and think somebody somewhere else might like ’em too.

So, I raise a one-stringed (though not one-fingered) toast to somebody somewhere else.

PS: Screeds-and-links for my previous recordings are here, here, here and here.

PPS: Anyone sending me a screenshot of a Night Train To Sideways track playing in their iTunes, phone or other digital music outlet wins lunch and a beer if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, as well as my undying gratitude.