Saturday, January 30, 2010

My favorite albums of the decade

In the spirit of listing ‘the best of…’ at the close of one decade and reading some of the lists made by others, I figured I’d sit down with my own collection and make my own list. This is purely my own, and is very subjective – I didn’t measure this according to most played, highest rating, number sold, etc., but I can tell you this: each of these albums hits a certain part of me any time I listen. It might energize me, pump me up, relax me, provide a nostalgic escape, stir up tears, get me dancing, and even inspire me to sing along. I stopped at five and these are not necessarily in order - in considering others, and there are many good ones, I realized these five stood out on a top tier to themselves.

Bluerunners' Honey Slides

Honey Slides is perfect, though probably not for everyone. Cajun, zydeco… plenty of guitar, accordion and steel pedal, the songs on this album are as good all together as a fried catfish smothered in crawfish etoufe complete with a whiskey sour on the side.

The Bluerunners have officially hung their instruments up except for playing an occasional event in and around Lafayette – they are, in fact, a scheduled performer at Festival International de Louisiane this year. It is worth me expressing here that Festival International is the best music festival in this country, period.

Ali Farka Toure Savane

The opening notes of Savane strike a thrill of potential energy - when the harmonica comes in, you realize the familiarity of this music, of what set Ali’s music apart, is how he has pieced together known environs in a comfortable way you had yet experienced.

Konono No. 1 Congotronics Vol. 1

Congotronics Vol 1, Crammed Discs named this album to expose the wonderful resourcefulness that is Konono No. 1. Amplified with used parts from cars and other such abandoned equipment, they weave incredible beats and rhythms with traditional instruments, vocals, and homemade percussion. Raw energy.

Steve Earle Jerusalem

The liberal’s get-up-and-go catalyst, Steve Earle lets his frustrations out in a time when questioning authority was frowned upon as unpatriotic. He packs a punch here, and whether one agrees or not with his lyrics, many of these songs have remained relevant years after he wrote them.

M Ward Hold Time

One problem I’ve always with such lists as this is a combination pull of the recent, but here I am placing on my own list this album that came out in the spring of 2009… but this is one of those albums that captured me upon my first listen. It’s warm, it’s playful, it’s thoughtful, happy, sad… it’s just good.

Rural Sidewalks

A young woman rode her bike down her long driveway and across the street to get her mail out of the mailbox when a car going way too fast on this flat country road straight-away hit her. Reports say she flew 20 feet. The driver never saw her.

I learned of these unfortunate incidents in Hollister through a conversation with a gentleman whose mother’s house lies on that very road. He explained to me that another kid had been killed in a one-car accident on the same stretch of road – was driving too fast and lost control. The road is flat and straight here, and many logging trucks will use it as a short cut to Hwy 43. That same day, I saw two kids three different times in the day walking this mile-plus stretch of road to the county line, dribbling a basketball in the middle of the road. It is not a busy road.

A couple months later, I was an effort here in Carrboro to garner support to make Estes Drive safer for pedestrians and bikers. The road in question has a sign at the railroad track welcoming traffic the Town of Carrboro – ‘Bicycle friendly.’ I can attest that the fast-moving vehicles cause an unsettling feeling when walking just a 50-foot stretch of this road.

The town would need several million dollars to accommodate the widening that bike lanes and sidewalks would require, let alone widening for increased vehicular traffic demand on this arterial connector between Chapel Hill and Carrboro. NC DOT could accommodate funding such a project, but not for several years. Feeling among town leadership is that town residents would not support funding a bond to do the work on an expedited timeframe despite the groundswell of attention to the issue.

I do not know the number of injuries or fatalities on Estes. One night upon leaving my friend’s house near Estes, we were unsettled by the police and emergency vehicles having closed the road to one lane of traffic. When we get through, we both rubberneck to appease the curiosity as to what happened. We see a car, unscathed, pulled onto the grass shoulder of the road. And we see a bicycle.

These two communities are quite distinct from each other, yet have a similar need. Obviously, drivers already do not pay attention to the speed limits established. The urban setting of Carrboro is more likely to get more attention, more political will, to make changes to the various transportation needs. The situation in Hollister is both dampened and amplified by its setting where the community is smaller, rural, and reliant on motorized vehicles, but where each life has a greater impact.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

gift of karaoke

Memory is a funny thing: a conversation years ago gets moshed, images vivid but so specific. Prior to the holidays, I had in my head a conversation I had with a friend - a connection made through work, but a very special person. She is from a community just outside of Beaufort that we had been working with to get improved wastewater services. That effort has yet to successfully get those services to the community, but that will be the subject of another blog post.

It was between Thanksgiving and Christmas and I was down visiting Mary to plan a meeting with the county manager, and we met for lunch. Over lunch we shared our plans for the upcoming holidays. She was most notably sharing the gift she had gotten her son: a karaoke machine that's available at Wal Mart. "That's what he really wants. I asked him if he's sure, if he's really going to use it, and he said 'definitely.' I know that in a few months he will probably put it in the back of his closet and not touch it again. I don't like getting him things he won't use, but he said he really wants it..." She went on to talk about getting him from basketball practice in time to see the Christmas parade. "I'll probably stop at McDonald's and get him something, as long as he doesn't have much homework. It's his little reward."

This is somehow, to me, a quintessential snapshot of life in America. A household in which both parents work: she is staff at the hospital and he is a truck-driver. The son in 8th grade plays football and basketball, does alright in school. Christmas gifts are a big deal in that they want to give the kids something they want. They plan a family vacation each summer, most often around visiting family - that next summer was planned a big trip to Disney World. And the indulgence of stopping by McDonald's on occasion after practice.