A Recipe For Life – Part 4 (For Anthony Bourdain And Anyone Hungry)

Travel shows are a mixed blessing. On one hand, they show us parts of the world we may never get to see in person, experiences we may never get to have, which is a bit sad. But there is also a positive spin, in that there are places we simply cannot get to, and these shows literally open up the world to us. Clearly it would be better to see and experience something in person, but to be able to have the experience at all, on a TV or computer screen, is something that can still bring us a bit closer together. These experiences are definitely worth having.

On the other hand, they also show us places that we may not have known about, but now have a very real desire and chance to get to. Travel shows can open up a literal world of possibilities.

Cooking shows have the same power to get our chef brains going, challenging us to replicate recipes and try new things. There is often a thrill and excitement. Many techniques and tips I use today come from watching those shows. Learning is power.

And yet, according to Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown was neither a cooking show nor a travel show. There are elements of those shows, of course, but I would agree. It was, more importantly,  an exploration of cultures… a study of people, places and times… history lessons… life lessons. It was a show about the world, for the world.

It gave many of us a wish list, a bucket list, and for a lucky few, a check list and potential travel guide. It gave all of us, hopefully, a desire to talk to other people… to go outside of our comfort zone and explore this huge and yet small, beautiful, miraculous and amazing world.

There was a new episode of Parts Unknown on Sunday. How is that possible? I mean, I know how that’s possible… but how is that possible???

This is for all of us who need soothing… who need a guide, a reminder. It is not enough to stop and smell the roses. We must really see them, smell them, gently caress them, taste them, and by all means, hear them even when it seems they may be silent. They are never silent.

Let the roses see the life in our faces, the light in our eyes. Let them smell us just as we are smelling them.

Plant a garden
Watch it grow
Learn the things
You do not know

Love the music that you make
No matter how out of tune
Love the limbs that you shake
As you howl at the moon

Sing as if no one is listening
Dance as if you don’t care
But what is in your heart
That music you must share

Take a chance
Make a bet
Say that I love you
Every chance you get

With that said… here is my recipe for life.

A RECIPE FOR LIFE
Ingredients:
Seeds or a Seedling
Soil
Water
Patience

Books, Cookbooks
Curiosity
Memories
A Pen and Some Paper

A Pan or Pot
A Quest For Knowledge
A Knife and Fork or Your Bare Hands
Passion

An Open Mind
An Open Bowl

Directions:
Plant a GARDEN from the seeds… or a seedling. Read a book if you don’t know how. Learn. Always yearn to learn.

Dig your hands into the soil. Move it through your fingers. Really feel it… hold it… Understand its potential. Get dirt under your fingernails. When you’re done, wash your hands with a garden hose.

Cover up the herbs, veggies or fruit seeds… and wait. Patience and nurturing will serve you well.

Grow anything that will give you pleasure.Nurture the garden with water and food. Talk to the plants. Realize the miracle that plants and trees are. From seeds come wood… food… sustenance…
From trees come literal life… the oxygen we breathe.
If you don’t have a yard, get a planter box or pot…
Even just one plant will make you smile.Go to a FARMERS MARKET.
Walk from booth to booth… aisle to aisle.
Look and smell and taste, and talk… talk.
It is beyond just a market… a place to shop. It is a chance to make new friends, to connect with other human beings.

To know where you food comes from is to understand it.
To know who grows it and makes it is to understand and appreciate another.

Find the very best ingredients you can. They don’t have to be expensive or fancy. Sometimes simplicity is deeper and far more complex and soulful. If you find the perfect lemon, everything that comes from it will be just as elegant, just as perfect.

And if you find the perfect lemon, what else do you need?

Cook with what you plant and what you grow.
Food can be holy. Food is passed down from generation to generation. Remember your Grandmother in the kitchen, toiling over her Honey Cake. Remembers the sights and smells, remember how every one of your senses was alive and present.

Write down FAMILY RECIPES, keep them bound and saved, and share them… Keep those memories alive. 

Sit down for a FAMILY DINNER… talk and talk… and talk. Food brings us together. Food is holy. The dinner table is your Church or Synagogue. Be thankful for what is on your table and who is around it.

Recognize this before you eat. Take a moment… close your eyes… say a prayer or just be grateful…

Food is sustenance and keeps us alive, but many go without. Food is beyond just fuel and energy. Food is a miracle. See the daily miracles in your life… eat and drink and travel, but most importantly, connect with others… be a human being… start a conversation… be curious about other people and what makes them tick… who they are.

Walk a mile in their shoes, spend an hour at their table… eat what they eat, see what they see, hear what they hear… and share. Life and love must be shared.

Here’s to Anthony Bourdain… and to all of us… to breaking bread and mending fences…

This is my recipe for life. So mangiare, cheers and L’Chaim!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant a garden

Watch it grow

Learn the things

You do not know

 

Love the music you make, no matter how out of tune

Love the limbs that you shake, as you howl at the moon

Sing and dance as if you don’t care

But what’s in your heart, you always must share

 

Say that I love you, every chance that you get

 

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A Recipe For Life – Part 3 (For Anthony Bourdain)

As a follow-up thought on my post yesterday… We say, and I said “life is ours for the taking.” But clearly this has a dangerous, double entendre, which I tried to address with some poetry and by turning the idea around. Here are some more thoughts on that…

Let us say that “Life is ours for the making!”
Grab it, seize it, embrace it, hold it, hold on to it, milk it, live it, love it, be it.
Don’t take life. Don’t take a life, don’t take your life, don’t take your life for granted.
Make your life. Use it to live and love and experience and learn.
Learn from every place and every person and every experience.

This is what Anthony Bourdain did. Let us follow in that path.

Ben Zoma would say: “Who is wise? One who learns from every man.”
(Pirkei Avos 4:1)

Things used to roll of my shoulders. I was the guy who probably bugged people because I was always so positive. Nothing seemed to bother me… I was easily able to roll with the punches. Now those same shoulders are weighted down, hunched over with aches and pains, stress and tensions. The longer we live, the more that we see… the more good, the more bad.

I never knew what depression was. Now I get it. I understand what it means to pull the sheets over your head and not want to get up out of bed.  The simple joys of warm water blanketing your body in the shower become a liquid wall to hide behind… to keep you from starting your day. Shower doors become prison gates of our own making. The longer we linger in the soothing morning sea, the less time we have to spend in reality… in the world.

This is not every day for me… It’s still rare, thankfully. But the fact that I have more than one day like this is a very different thing for me. I don’t recall lever having any. Granted, that was mostly in youth, but still…

I understand the switch that can be turned on and off. Though it takes so much effort sometimes. The incredible energy it takes to be social, and the sheer exhaustion we feel when we get home, alone, having faked our way through humor and entertainment… all performed as the mind wonders who sees through my charade, who understands my pain. We fall into bed, breathless and mentally empty, yet contemplating so many questions… and yet we get up the next morning, either with a brighter outlook or in a panic. Breathe… breathe…

We grab onto platitudes and expressions… meditations and chants… analogies, anything to put our brains back on the path of happiness. Self help, self empowerment. We turn to meditation and religion, rabbis and pastors, friends and family… if we’re lucky. Others turn to drugs and booze, sex and escape. We try to hide, but at some point we’ll slip… let it out… and if it has been suppressed for too long, it can come out in a violent flush and rush of emotion and anger.

The Oxygen Mask
It’s been said a lot… so maybe it’s a cliché. Though with all clichés, there is a deep truth behind their meaning and creation. It is why they exist in repeated perpetuity.

So here is this one… In order to help and save others, you MUST put your oxygen mask on first. This may be seem counterintuitive for a parent, whose desire would be to protect their children first and foremost… But if you pass out, what good can you do? In practicality, it makes perfect sense… protect yourself so you can help others. But the lesson goes deeper.

In order to truly love another, you MUST love yourself first. If you have no love for yourself, what love do you truly have to give? Giving yourself to another means giving YOURSELF to another. There has to be a self. Selfless means SELF LESS… We do not want to be selfish… but we have to have a SELF…

In order to give to another, there must be something to give… there must be a YOU, as fully formed and complete as possible. Do not look to others to fix you and fill you, for that is not what love is.

Why?
Human beings have a desperate need to answer “why?” It is what keeps us going, though I suppose not getting the answer might very well be what plunges us into the depths of despair.

For a fighter, what happens when the fight takes flight? When courage evades us?

While the outside sees suicide as a selfish release, sometimes those in the dark see it as a selfless act… releasing others from the troubles and burdens they believe they would cause them.

Being a caregiver is not easy, but giving care is what makes us human. Let us each decide what we can and cannot do. We should not be ashamed to ask for help when we need it. And for those in need of care, there are those who want to give it. Let them try to help you. The key is to try… to try to find the answers and solutions together… To talk and plan and connect.

Do not bury your burdens, but cast them outwards. You will find support. It’s out there.

Life Is…
Life is a restaurant, a collaboration, a rotating Lazy Susan that stops in front of all of us at least once, allowing us to take from the communal plate, to lead and to share, and to then keep the circle moving to the next person. On and on and on.Sometimes we cook, sometimes we prep and sometimes we wash the dishes. What Anthony Bourdain taught us is that food is the great equalizer… and while more Michelin stars may shine on the elegant and complex and sophisticated, far more stars of the night sky shine on a food stall in a far off land… a night market…

Ingredients and technique may be different, but the passion to please is the same.

Life is a picnic. A blanket spread across soft grass, filled with homemade goodies and friends and lovers. A colorful square set on uneven sand. These are the meals we’ll remember. A PB&J becomes the meal of a lifetime in the right place, with the right people.

An avocado sliced and sprinkled with salt and lime juice can be as soul satisfying as a foie gras foam sauce from a master chef, practiced in the art of molecular gastronomy. The same with biting into a crisp, Fuji apple. There is a time and place for everything.

We are deeply connected to the foods and flavors we grew up with. They define us, as they define our palates. They stay with us forever, calling to us when we need comfort, always bringing us home. A sub or slice from Turvino’s. A dog “All The Way” and a fries with sauce from Johnny & Hanges.  The Kosher Nosh Deli, The Suburban DinerMy Mom’s Onion Soup, my Grandma Mildred’s beyond heavenly Honey Cake, my Nana Rosalie’s Apricot Jello Mold.

And yet for the insatiable, we travel and explore to expand that palate… to open up our own horizons and experiences. To live life and understand the world, one plate at a time.

The things we hated as a child become our obsessions as an adult. Heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, truffles. An organic, heirloom tomato, imperfect in appearance, thickly sliced and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper… a pinch of truffle salt… and a gentle passing over of extra virgin olive oil. It becomes perfect. What is better than that?

There is a place and time for a fancy meal. A special occasion, a celebration, or just because. Those experiences can be glorious, memory creating, indelible. I still dream of the Lamb in Mint Cilantro Sauce from Ian’s in Cambria (Apparently adapted from Wolfgang Puck and found in his cookbook!) Meals in France finished with a bowl of homemade caramels in their lounge, the Seafood Tower at Le Dome in Paris, and going back to try to steal some of their dishes (literally) as the watchful staff knew exactly what was what the first time… Or asking the chef to come out of the kitchen at The Wine Cask in Santa Barbara.

But food on the run, and something seemingly so simple, can also hit us in a mystical and magical way. Seeking out the best of something does not mean spending a fortune on it. Nature provides perfection all the time. We just need to know what to look for. It can be found in a plant, an herb, a fruit, a vegetable.

It takes openness… an opening of the mind and the tastebuds… fully and without hesitation, breathing in the aroma, the flavors… inhaling life.

The other night I allowed pieces of Maytag Blue Cheese to gently melt on my tongue. The sweet and savory moved into my nostrils and set off every one of my senses. And then literally, warmed my chest and my heart.

A lemon can be holy, as can be a bowl of noodles. Jonathan Gold once called the broth of one particular restaurant’s bowl of ramen soulful… SOULFUL!

Sometimes the more simple, the more pure something can be. Its solo voice can be heard above the chorus… its singular flavor can be savored. Something basic can be more expressive than anything else… An analogy for people, humans as well.

The notion of loving everyone is so simplistic… yet so complicated, and almost impossible to accomplish. But the dream and the goal must remain. It must propel us forward.

Simply put… Food is love… Food is holy. Those who make food… truly make food, understand this. Yes, you may be tired after a long day of work, and the meal you make may consist of warming up leftovers, or just throwing something together, but you do it to sustain your family… you do it for love.

So what is the Recipe For Life?

Come back tomorrow, for the final, Part 4… and My Recipe For Life…

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A Recipe For Life – Part 2 (For Anthony Bourdain And Anyone Hungry For Happiness)

How does one create a life, cook up happiness, bake bliss… serve joy?

With a pinch of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle and a flourish, I long to be an adventurer, a storyteller, a healer with food, a doctor with drink, a truth seeker, and a Shaman of Ramen. To always be curious, and never too full. To always listen with open ears and heart. And to always make sure my own soul and the souls of those around me are served with sustenance, love and laughter.

As I was writing parts of this, Parts Unknownwas playing on a TV in the other room. Anthony’s voice is so specific, so unique, so full of life. It is hard… no impossible to imagine he is gone. And yet clearly he had parts unknown to us, the TV audience… but perhaps even unknown to friends and family.

TV gives us false hope. Any creative art does this, I suppose. How can Anthony Bourdain be dead, if he is on my TV??? Same with Tom Pettyor PrinceRobin Williams. Their memories are forever captured on film, tape or vinyl. They are not gone, how can they be gone?

As I ponder the impact of a man I had never met and how he has affected me, and so many others, my brain is flooded with a million thoughts and ingredients. He was a familiar stranger, and each week made me ask… How do we put together the meal of life? How do we use all we have, strive to discover new elements and techniques and stay true to ourselves, and who we are?

I look at what I have in my own pantry, my own life, and try to figure out how to make the most interesting meal possible. I try to determine how to feed the most people, including myself. I realize that I am both limited and limitless.

Food is practical and necessary, yet visionary and elevated. If we stop and ponder all the steps it takes. Pause before inhaling and express gratitude… then food becomes truly holy… majestic… magical.  Any food, from the simple to the sublime, becomes something rich.

A seed goes into the ground, and becomes wood and fruit… paper and pleasure.

How many hands go into a glass of wine, a sauce of tomatoes, or yes, even a filet? Think about the farmer, the workers, the drivers, the loaders and shippers. Take a moment. Say grace, say a prayer or just pause.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Bourdain was part Escoffier, part Hemingway. He had the rebel and musical soul of punk rocker Sid Vicious, the musical heart of a traveling bluesman… the mind of a chef, the curiosity of a historian and anthropologist. He was a truth seeker. He wrote with words, painted with sauces and spoke with his heart. He broke bread with people all over the world, and yet he was broken.

In what must have been one dark moment, an entire life was stopped with a soft, plush belt. Hanging, it seems, must be one of the most brutal ways to go. Do you simply give in and relax into dying? Or do you have second thoughts, moments of regret, where the very struggle to survive and reverse your bad decision leads more quickly to your demise?

We all want to be a rock star. In the simplest, most glamorous way. We want the flash, but not the fury. The fire, but not the flood.

Jersey… a Jewish mother… that is where the similarities stop.

It was hard not to envy the journey and adventure. On the outside, it seemed like the greatest job ever… getting paid to travel and eat, to indulge curiosity and explore a deep quest for knowledge… to satiate your belly with the most unique foods, and quench your thirst with spirit and spirits… and of course, to share all of these experiences with others… to meet fellow travelers and connect with other souls.

If food cannot sustain you, how hungry must you be?
If spirits cannot fill your glass, how empty must you be?
If people cannot keep you connected, how painful must it be?
If a light cannot break through the darkness, how dark must it be?

As we all struggle to try to understand how a man seemingly so in love with life… so passionate about humanity and the meals that bring people together… so hungry for connection… and the ability and sensitivity to be a master storyteller… and a cultural anthropologist. How that man who shined a light on so many nooks and crannies of the world, could also be lost in the darkness… in the blackened maze of his own thoughts… and so easily vanish into the corners of his mind…

If all that was not enough… If the love of a woman, and the adoration of a child was not enough to anchor a soul in place, one cannot help but be scared for their own safety… their own ability to keep fighting. Anthony Bourdain was a literal fighter, from battling the demons of heroin to the discipline of Jiu-Jitsu… If a fighter can knock himself out, give up on the fight… then what of our own mortality and the power of self-worth and happiness?

“Fortune and fame’s such a curious game.
Perfect strangers can call you by name.
Pay good money to hear “Fire And Rain”
Again and again and again.”
     – James Taylor

But as James continues… “That’s why I’m here.”

Clearly success means nothing if we do not believe ourselves to be truly successful. Love from another means little, if we do not truly love ourselves. Words of praise are like daggers and sharpened kitchen knives that cut our skin when we do not feel we are worthy.

We cover the wounds with gloves or tattoos, and bleed underneath, showing the world only the colorful, glossy surface.

Life is beautiful, but it is not easy.
Life is messy and always changing.
Life is simple and yet so complex.
Life is about balance and rearranging.

Life is quiet and loud.
Life is joyous and heartbreaking.
Life is how we define it, yet imposed on us.
Life is ours for the taking.

But do not take it… do not take it.
Do not take it for granted and do not take it.

Live life to the fullest…
Do not break it… do not break it.

 

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A Recipe For Life (Part 1) – For Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain was a rock star. He made music with food, songs with words and created and conducted concerts over a table. His albums will continue to play on bookshelves and TV screens, but like so many stars before him, he fell from the sky, pulled himself to the ground, and left us mere mortals alone, shattered and broken, left to pick up the star dust.

Part 1
I did not know Anthony Bourdain other than the way millions of people knew Anthony Bourdain.

Sadly, I had never gotten a chance to meet him. And the one memento I have, which is a personalized and signed copy of No Reservations, my friend Ty got for me.

Why then am I so deeply affected by his passing?

While I love to cook and actually work as an assistant chef sometimes, I never pursued it professionally. I did not work my way up through kitchens as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter or line cook.  While I am a writer, I have yet to finish a novel and seem to be in a creative rut, with several scripts and books started yet sitting in limbo. While I am an actor, I never really went the TV host or broadcast journalism route. And yet to have a career covering all of those things would seemingly be a dream come true. To get paid to travel the world, eat and drink and meet fellow human beings seems like perfection… and yet, it wasn’t.

When John Belushi, my idol at the time, passed, essentially at his own hand, I remember being so angry, hurt and upset and completely unable to understand how someone who had everything I could have wanted in life could throw it away on drugs and fast living. He essentially killed himself with all of that. And yet, that was not enough to push me to fully pursue Belushi’s career path of Second City and SNL. I dipped my toes into those waters but never fully swam in that comic ocean. One of the biggest regrets in my life, but that is a whole other story.

When Robin Williamskilled himself I was devastated on a different level. It took a voice out of this world that was and is so needed, given all the craziness and anger and harsh feelings that surround us. Strangely I did not blame him, especially learning later that he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease (LBD) and dementia. He must have been afraid of the pain and afraid of being a burden. But nonetheless, it gives little credit to those left behind who “would move heaven and earth” and do whatever was necessary to care for a loved one. Being a caregiver is never easy, but it is something deeply human, and something many of us would gladly take on.

The very circle of life has us taken care of by our parents… fed, nursed, clothed, protected… only to have to turn around later in life and possibly do those very same things for our parents.

With artists there is a fear of becoming irrelevant… fading away into oblivion… and so many feel it is better to burn out in a fiery explosion…a dramatic gesture…a final act. For others, it is perhaps not believing their own press… not believing the adulation heaped on them by a hungry public… feeling, therefore, like a fraud. This seems to be the case for Anthony Bourdain in that all the love and respect he had was not enough. The love of a girlfriend and a daughter and friends was not enough. The success and battles won were not enough.

Life will give each and every one of us darkness at some point. It is the very nature of existence… the circle of a day… Sunrise, dusk, sunset. How we deal with misfortune and pain is what makes us human… what defines us. Yet for some, that external darkness enters us, literally, and once there it is so much harder to overcome.

We mask it with a smile, a laugh… we try to cover the wound with alcohol and drugs… sex and escape.

There is no escape. We are with ourselves and our thoughts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as many years as we live on this earth. We can be in a crowded room, and even actively involved in conversations with others, and the thoughts of our brain are chattering away… silently on the outside, shouting in the inside… thinking of the other things we have to be doing or the places we’d rather be, or making judgments on others… and on ourselves. We are not worthy. This person is so much better than me, and on and on.

With Bourdain, I will never forget the shock of hearing the news. I woke up, as I have done a lot lately, way before my alarm goes off. And I, by almost second nature now, begin the day by turning on the news and placing a pillow over my eyes as a way of creating a dark space. Sometimes I fall back asleep. Sometimes I just linger in that place in between. I suppose it is a way of avoiding starting the day. While I want to be informed and know what is going on, it has become a terrible way to start the day… So the TV becomes white noise that I only partially pay attention to.

It is a companion, another voice in an otherwise empty room… empty bed. That voice might otherwise be another person. But when it is not, we turn to the TV or radio or music to fill the space that would normally be filled by someone else. It is important to remember that being alone is not the same as being lonely. Keeping track of when that shifts is important.

When they announced that he was dead, I jolted up and threw the pillow off my forehead. And for the next several days I would be confused and emotional and sad and angry. The thing about Anthony Bourdain I suppose, that hurt me the most, was that he was the very combination of things that are very near and dear to me. Things that I SORT OF am… but so many things I wish I fully was… a chef, a traveller, an on-screen personality, a writer, and not just about food, but about culture and human beings. He was a truth seeker, a thrill seeker, he was eternally curious… All things that normally would keep a person locked onto this earth, this planet… and yet somehow the pain and darkness and depression took over all of that. Clearly there were parts unknown to us… strangers in front of TV screens, yes… but also, apparently to friends and family.

So where do we find hope? Come back tomorrow… we’ll talk through this together… but if you need help now…REACH OUT!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
1-800-273-8255

 

 

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New Music Monday: Lao Tizer Swings For The Fences At The Swinghouse

First off, sincere and humble apologies for the delay in getting this post up and out. Sometimes life deals you a different set of cards than you were expecting and at the same time, offers up a nice side dish of gut punches to keep you in check… I don’t recall ordering those, but it is what it is… and the extra time allowed me to spend more quality time with this phenomenal album, which quite often helped me get out of my funk.

This was supposed to post when the album came out, back on March 16, so while it is not exactly “new,” I am hoping to be the one to introduce you to this amazing and fantastic artist and band. For those who already know and love Lao Tizer, welcome.

And away we go… It’s pretty easy to drag me out of the house to go to listen to live music. Especially when it’s in my own backyard.

But I was a bit tired when my buddy Sam Glaser asked me to meet him at Bogies last July 13th. Plus, I had been there a few times before, and found it to be… well… a “Cougar Bar.” Lots of loaded ladies (in more ways than one)… hitting on lots of young dudes, who were probably NOT so loaded. It was so not my scene.

But they have changed things around quite a bit… and now have live music way more often. The sound is phenomenal and the venue (seated at tables) is relaxed and quite enjoyable. It seems like they put a lot into the equipment, and the bands and artists seem to love playing there. The room is filled with people who are there to actually listen to the music… you know, be respectful, and not try to talk OVER the band, which is sadly, super rare in LA these days.

I am sure I was stressed, too… which seems to be un-subsiding as of late… but I got into my car and drove the 10 minutes to Westlake… sat down with Sam, and grabbed a beer.

And then it all changed.

There is certain music that just makes you feel good. Truly. You can not even try to be angry or upset while listening to it. Welcome to the Lao Tizer Band. Lao Tizer was insane. The band starts and literally does not stop… until they take their break between sets. It is jazz and fusion and rock and everything in between at its best and blew me away. And any frustration or anger I was having that day, vanished. Thank you, Sam!  And Lao!!!

When a band has a certain “live” energy, and just floors it on stage, it is often hard to capture that on a record. Sometimes the enthusiasm, joy and pure passion of playing is tempered, either lightly or a lot. This is SO not the case this record. And it makes total sense that it was recorded LIVE in just three days at Conway Studios in Hollywood!

I double dog dare you to listen to this record and not have a complete change in attitude, or if you are already in a good place, to be taken even higher. 

The album consists of eight incendiary original instrumentals (Yes, I have been watching Almost Famous a lot recently) and three iconic classic rock songs!

“We’ve never done anything with a vocalist and we’ve never done any cover songs, so this is the first time that I decided to delve into that realm, to basically expand the scope of our music,” says Lao.

This is the first album for the band in over five years!

Lao was a teenage prodigy from Boulder, CO, and has been playing for over 25 years now. He has nine albums which all show his eclectic musical tastes and influences.

He is the “son of hippies with a Russian-Jewish background, and the mix of that ethnic family heritage, parental new age influence and growing up with the sights and sounds of ’80s and ’90s pop culture (alongside the music of the ’60s and ’70s he heard from his parents) have brought him to a place in his artistic life where he was ready to embrace a wider range of influences and stretch himself and his players…”

If this is not “Jazz Fusion” I don’t know what is… though I am always hesitant to use that description, as so many people have a negative connotation. I started listening to Jazz Fusion in college with Spyro Gyra and Pat Metheny… quickly moved to Steely Dan in a more hardcore way… and really discovered everything.

For me “fusion”… as in Asian Fusion food, which is delicious… is just a combination of many styles, genres and influences. Maybe people mis-associate Jazz Fusion with elevator music, but if this was ever playing in an elevator I was in, I would not want to get out!

I mean come on, Lao and the band offer some complete unique and kick ass arrangements of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” U2’s “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” and Cat Stevens’ “Sad Lisa”!

Hello!!!

So of course you have Lao Tizer on keys… The vocals feature Tita Hutchison, who sang with the likes of Michael McDonald, Rick Rubin, Michael Jackson, and Foreigner, among others. Terrible artists all… 😉

The rest of the band is made up of:
Chieli Minucci, the three-time Emmy-winning and Grammy® Award-nominated guitarist and composer.
Grammy® Award-winning saxophonist Eric Marienthal, who is a permanent member of the Chick Corea Elektric Band.
EWI/saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Steve Nieves
Violinist Karen Briggs, who has played with Yanni, Diana Ross, Wu-Tang Clan, and Chaka Khan
Bass players include Grammy® Award-nominee Ric Fierabracci and Cheikh NDoye,
Grammy® Award-nominated drummer Gene Coye
Percussionist Munyungo Jackson

I had the pleasure of seeing a bunch of these artists live!

My favorite tracks, aside from the three covers… Yes, I started life as a Classic Rock guy… is the banging opener “The Source,” which begs me to get in the car and open all the windows and just drive… the late night soother “Forever Searching” which has such a soulful and deep yearning that winds itself up to the heavens with Karen’s strings… and the absolutely stunning “To Touch The Sky” which could be the soundtrack to any number of films all on its own.

Check out another video here for Metropolis”.

And if you get a chance to see Lao and the band live, it is a multiple must… Here is just another little taste… Both he and the band play with such joy and bliss, and like I said it is mood changing and infectious. I have done many posts on what I call joyful music, and it has to start with the artist and band… they have to love and want to play. You have to feel it from them, on stage and on vinyl. This record… this artist… and this band are pure and simple joy! And that, my friends, is the key (or keys) to life.

 

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Willodean – LA Band Makes Good… And Good, And Good, And Good!

Special thanks to Heather West for the heads up on these guys!

2017 seemed to be the year for bands to be truly prolific. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released FIVE albums… and local LA Band Willodean released FOUR EPs. Come on, guys… you couldn’t do five? Lazy!!!

I jest of course, as you will immediately hear the work that went into making each of these four lush and stunning records.

Awesome Life Decisions came out in February of 2017, followed by Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars in May, Life & Limbo in August and then Awesome Life Decisions: Side Two in November.

The band lays claim to Sufjan Stevens and Wilco as influences (two of my favorites), and I would also add in Beach Boys, The Wondermints and a bit of Del Amitri and Toy Matinee to the mix… basically that Indie Rock/Power Pop I love so much!

I also hear one of my all time faves pop up in a few songs, the somewhat unknown and sadly missed band The Gear Daddies.

This trio is made up of front man and lead singer Abbie Huxley, songwriter Randy Wooten and producer/bass player Eric Holden. Holden and Wooten have been working together for over a decade, when they formed Cheap Lullaby Records and their band The Bloody Lovelies. That label released over thirty records for artists such as The BellRays, Joan As Police Woman, Ivan & Alyosha, Teitur, and David Mead. Impressive list!

The songwriting is smart, the musicianship is tight and Abbie brings a nice Tennessee waltz to his warm vocals. His voice is instantly familiar and reminds me of someone specific, though of course my mind is blanking on exactly who… but at the same time, it is new to my ears.

My buddies and I love to find and share bands with each other, and there are four of us in particular that have similar tastes. It always starts out with a text or message saying… “These guys are SO in our wheelhouse!”

Well, welcome to my “musical wheelhouse,” Willodean!Awesome Life Decisions is pure jangly pop joy and easily something I could have heard coming out of my ‘80s radio. There is a brightness to the record that lends itself to being put on repeat, as the six fantastic songs seem to come and go way too fast. My stand out tracks are “Shy” and “Don’t Give Up,” which also reminds me of The Explorers Club.

The pace slows down a bit on Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars, a slow-simmering, ballad heavy output that has a more folksy feel. It is definitely a great, late night affair. The opening “Afraid I’ll Start Remembering You” moves into “Carmen,” both songs about the loss of love and reminiscing, and clear proof that heartbreak so often leads to some great music. “Sweet Autumn Music” is a nice country affair that opens with a lovely, yearning mandolin. At least I think it’s a mandolin. My favorite track is the bright “Firelight,” which casts a nice country/power pop glow.Life & Limbo has been called “this summer’s breakup album for the modern introvert…” but for me, the pain is blunted by some gorgeous tunes and melodies. I guess that’s what makes a great breakup album… shared pain and revelations and then enough beauty and hope to move us forward! The closing track “Old Friends, with its sweeping strings, is a gorgeous lullaby of a song, that may not only lull you to sleep, but give you the chance to dream yet again.

Awesome Life Decisions – Side Two acts as both the rocking rebound record and year’s finale, and is the perfect bookend to this four-release affair. Though ironically, this was the album I started with, and what served as my introduction to Willodean. “Want” is another favorite tune.

This is the kind of band and these are the kinds of records that would make for a great night home, party music, or a long ass road trip. There is a comfort and familiarity at play, but Willodean offers it’s very own take on the music my buddies and I like so much. And as I said earlier, welcome to the wheelhouse! Most definitely hope to see you boys live!

 

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Guitar Jack Wargo’s Keepin’ It Real Keeps It Kool

There is just something soothing about the Blues. Whenever it comes on or I put it on, I go to a different place. My love started back in Chicago when I was a young student at Northwestern. My limited, classic rock sensibilities opened up dramatically thanks to some friends and Frat brothers at Sigma Nu. We’d hit places like Kingston Mines, Rosa’s Lounge, Blue Chicago, B.L.U.E.S., and The Checkerboard Lounge and my personal favorite Biddy Mulligan’s (both may they RIP.) Then I started playing Blues harp (harmonica) and forget it… I was so hooked on the Blues and would follow the legends around town and go see them whenever I could.

Back in 2014, an article in Time Out Chicago said this: “Biddy Mulligan’s was a seedy rock club on the northern reaches of Sheridan Road, just south of the cemetery that keeps leafy Evanston at bay. The club opened and closed a comical number of times, at one point re-opening for a whopping four months before shuttering again. Much like the oft-promised renaissance of Howard Street, a new, revitalized Biddy’s was always just around the corner. But Biddy’s did have an admirable history in the’70s/’80s—Koko Taylor played there many times, and Smashing Pumpkins rocked it in 1989.”

When I first moved to LA, I feel in deep with 88.1 KLON (now KJazz) and their “Nothin’ But The Blues” radio show. 

In recent years I have had the pleasure of seeing Guitar Jack Wargo play live all over LA. In fact, I have even gotten the chance to jam with him… always laughing when I accidentally step on his lead and have him look over at me and say “I got this.”

To put Jack in full perspective, let’s just say he has played with a few minor artists you MAY have heard of… Solomon Burke, Thelma Houston, Billy Preston, Ray Charles and Michael Jackson to name a few!

And then there’s this:

“There is huge talent in this man that is yet to be fully expressed. With his credentials and his chops, this is a guitar player on the verge of international acclaim.” – Gary ‘The Wagman’ Wagner, award-winning DJ at KKJZ 88.1 FM Nothin’ But The Blues

“Guitar Jack is silky smooth and Clapton-esque.” – Music Connection

His latest album, Keepin’ It Real is 12 tracks of pure funky, rockin’ blues joy.

It opens with “You Don’t Feel The Same,” which has such a true classic blues feel… and that guitar… Man! This may be my favorite song on the record! I could so easily see kids playing some of these licks over and over to try to learn to play!

“Keep On Keepin’ On” makes me want to jump in the car, roll down the windows… don’t have a top to put down… and just drive. Lots of Stevie Wonder funk going on, on this one!

“Inventory Blues” is a track we should all take stock of. We all have good and bad in our lives… but to make sure we appreciate what we do have is so important and way too easy to forget. Let the music remind us!

“Nobody But You” sounds pretty autobiographical… the pros and cons of being a musician in the public spotlight… and it’s always fun when you know EXACTLY who someone is singing about!

 “She’s Got Soul” is the perfect late night tune for a night of bluesy romance.

For me, the test of a great blues record is how quickly I want to run and grab my harps and play along. I’m ready, Jack!

Jack Wargo is a master craftsman and knows exactly how to build a true house of blues! And if you ever get the chance to see him live, that’s a must. Plus, he’s a really decent human being and a good guy. That goes a long way in this crazy world. Music soothes our weary souls, but sometimes those same souls need to be rocked a bit, too. This record does it all.

 

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