Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane/mistress of destruction Sandy

This week, my thoughts are with my daughter Jade, and all my friends and neighbours on Long Island, New York. The people of the East Coast have just gone through a huge, destructive storm, named Sandy, and it's going to take a long time to get things back to some semblence of "normal".

Jersey Shore, Fire Island, Mastic Beach and many other communities took a major hit. Manhattan's power went out and the subways stopped. Bridges closed, streets flooded, homes burned.

A storm like that can pass remarkably quickly if you're looking from the outside. If you're sitting in the middle of it, it feels like forever.

Mother Nature is beautiful... she can also be vicious and cruel. And then, she smiles again, and all is forgiven.

I moved back to California last year. My time on Long Island is chronicled here:  on the old blog. I miss the natural beauty I saw each and every day, and will go back to visit, soon.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Citrus Heights Pumpkin Farm

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Citrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin Farm
Citrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin Farm
Citrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin FarmCitrus Heights Pumpkin Farm
Citrus Heights Pumpkin Farm, a set on Flickr.
Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins, corn maze, scary houses, hay rides, photo opportunities with scary people and wonderful old vehicles... and don't forget the pumpkins!

One of the things I love about the Sacramento area is its ability to surprise: this huge farm is in the middle of Citrus Heights, on Old Auburn Road, in the middle of residential homes and churches and between the busy Sunrise and Sylvan roads. Chickens, roosters, goats, pigs and more... a million pumpkins, including amazing Cinderella-like French pumpkins, and plenty of room to park.

See for more information



Coyote!, a set on Flickr.

We are often visited by coyotes; middle-of-the-night choir practice, neigbourhood cats disappearing, a parade of coyotes by the creek, feasting on the local turkeys or windfall apples. They are beautiful creatures and as long as they stay away from Muffin the cat, they are welcome.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mutabilis rose in bloom

Mutabilis rose in bloom by alison.toon
Mutabilis rose in bloom, a photo by alison.toon on Flickr.
Via Flickr:
Rosa chinensis mutabilis, also known as "butterfly rose", one of the most beautiful shrubs to grow in a Northern California garden. It's blooming in late October!

Full set of photos and story here:

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sacramento Blue Trees project

About twenty trees, on 13th Street in downtown Sacramento, between J and K streets towards the Capitol, are currently blue, grace of Konstantin "Kon" Dimopoulos. You can find out more about his installations, and the driving force behind them, here:

I'm told that no public money was invested in this art; the idea is raising awareness of how important trees are to the health of the world. Without trees, we will not survive. The paint is harmless and will disappear over time.

The affect is certainly shocking. I can't say that I noticed or "became aware" of the trees more than usual, because as a gardener, I tend to notice these things which shade us, provide leaves for compost, shelter for squirrels and birds, and just pure beauty; I notice trees more when they are missing or hurt. But if this "art" makes more people aware, and more considerate of trees, then fantastic...

I drove home down J Street and Fair Oaks. I can't say I noticed more trees than usual. I did, however, notice everything that was blue: benches, bus stops, a 99c store sign, a couple of ugly cars, a disabled parking sign, a woman's dress... and above it all, the beautiful October-blue Northern California sky.

It was a beautiful Sunday for visiting the blue trees.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Steve Vai, Ace of Spades, Sacramento CA: October 12th 2012

I didn't have a photo pass for this show. I obeyed the house rules, left my nice SLRs at home, just brought iPhone and little PowerShot, no removeable lenses. As much as I wanted to see the show, I was also wondering what quality you can really get with phones and point-and-clicks in night-club lighting... bit of an experiment. And I only took one-or-two, because I could see from the LCD that I'd just be annoying myself. I was there to enjoy the show.

I like the setup in the Ace of Spades. It's a big, square room; the stage is diagonally across the corner, with the entrance to the venue diagonally opposite. There is some raised seating, but mostly is a large, open space with an industrial feel... and chandliers above the bar. A whole row of them. And an intricate wrought-iron spiral staircase next to the stage. Good job I didn't have a photo pass, I'd have been up that staircase in a flash.

Or maybe not... walking across the parking lot to get to the show, I tripped and fell, full-sprawl, push-up position but still managed to jam knee. Yes, of course, the bad knee... ouch. Really, ouch.

Show started with a set by Beverly MacLellan. One word: OUTSTANDING! (Next guy who tells me that women can't sing rock...)   Incredible voice. I feel very lucky to have heard her. Steve Vai does a wonderful job of recognising talented musicians: see his site for examples (and check out my friend Richard while you're there /) You know that he will only tour and play with excellent musicians; he's found a gem in Beverly. I came home with her latest CD in my bag.

Just before Steve came on stage, I was standing a few people back from the stage, when this happened:

He's about 6 foot 7, about 250 pounds, and ... obnoxious. He forced his way through the crowd, pushing other fans out of the way, to get right to the front. That tall, he could have stood at the back and been able to see over everyones' heads. I guess he was a big (sic) fan, but...  Oh and then a couple of songs into the show, he did the same thing all over again on his way back out again. (If you have one of these T-shirts and it's not you, I apologise in advance for possible British swearwords.)

But then Steve Vai and his team of musicians launched the show with a couple of tracks from the new album The Story of Light.

Mr. Vai, as always, consumate musician, true showman, magnificent magician with the electric guitar. I'm a "seventh song" fan myself--the seventh track on each of his albums is usually a slow one--but I love to see him live. His pure joy in the sounds he can bring out of the strings makes the show magic. He's in love with his guitar... no, guitars. There are several. And they all have names.
I had to leave before the end of the show--had to work at 6 am the next day, and I really do turn into a pumpkin... I knew he'd play "For the love of God" after I left, and of course, he did and I missed it. Sorry, Steve, I'm sure it was amazing. As usual.

I'm not sure about the harpist. Maybe on the album you can hear her contribution, but from the stage, in the live venue, the only time I could distinguish the sound of the harp was during the solo. It looked impressive, the solo was pretty and musically-excellent, but apart from that, I just couldn't hear it.

Here are the photos. Hopefully next time Mr. Vai is in town, I'll be armed with a photo pass, a couple of SLRs and some nice glass. Instead of an iPhone with a broken screen, a baby Canon, and some Lightroom jiggery-pokery.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Marillion: Sounds That Can't Be Made, a review

Marillion's eagerly-awaited, much-anticipated 17th studio album has now been released, and I have the deluxe boxed copy, complete with DVD and a beautiful book containing lyrics, art, photography, and the names of the first fans who prepaid the purchase (my name's not on the list--they all beat me to it, that's how keen Marillion fans are on making sure we have the opportunity to hear more, year after year).

The DVD provides a great insight into Marillion's creative and recording process and motivation, the way in which they continue to adapt to technological advances and business pressures, and how they have stayed together, continually creating, for so many years. They don't always think alike, but they do work together and laugh together and together create the best-possible result--music that enchants, resonates, and calls you back, over and over again.

It's not throw-away, sugar-candy music; you do have to invest some time listening, and it is a very rewarding process. There are hidden depths that are rarely heard the first time around. They hide and linger, waiting for you to find them. At the end of the DVD, I realised; I've just watched  a couple of hours or so of the band members talking, and I cannot remember hearing one single curse-word or insult. How amazing/refreshing is that (thinks: a couple of the bands seen at Aftershock). This is not just English politeness; it's being articulate enough to be able to express thoughts, feelings, conflicts and concepts, intelligently and expressively. Why should this surprise me? It shouldn't. I feel like I know these guys, like part of my own family, and they are always welcome in my home.

The artwork is beautiful. Each song was assigned to a different artist, or photographer, including Andy Wright who we met in San Francisco and who was the US tour photographer. Some of the artwork literally comes from out of this world: supplied by NASA. And then the songs... given that these guys are total musicians, who can weave their individual sounds and rhythms and emotions to create something much larger and more whole than any set of individuals can do alone, I remind you that Marbles has, since its release, been my favourite Marillion album. I cannot yet say that STCBM has surpassed Marbles; but I've only been listening to it for a few days. It might yet. It just might...

Gaza, the opening song, rovokes both an emotional (musical) and intellectual (subject matter) response. I covered the intellectual part earlier, in a sort-of review of Gaza. Musically, emotionally, it's one of the most intricate and expressive pieces that Marilion has ever created. A blending of Middle-Eastern rhythms and tones with rock and jazz and pure "Marillion-ness"; the anguish in H's voice is palpable. (Watch the DVD to understand the development of this song, its lyrics; the awareness of the controversy that it might generate, the research, and the decision to publish. I believe it was the right decision.) This is a beautiful piece of music, a symphony of structure and parts and sounds and emotions; at times raw, at times incredibly painful, and totally haunting. It's a Marillion masterpiece.

Sounds that Can't Be Made: Music about sounds that can't be made? (Really? How is that possible?) It's about the unheard sounds, it's that something intangible, it's the part of the creation that bursts into life, "you'll hear it happen inside you"; it's that moment of true connection... The way Steve Hogarth describes it on the DVD reminded me of the anime character throwing a ball of magic fire. Soundlessly, wordlessly, it bursts open inside you, like a field of flowers in sudden bloom; totally beautiful and yet totally Marillion. (By the way, H, this is what you guys do all the time; it's that something that holds your fans so close, because it really works. We hear the sounds that can be heard, and we know the sounds that can't be made. You're doing it now. Don't ever stop.) The rhythm, bass, drums, keyboards... the backbone. And then the coda, the second part of the song takes you up, above this planet,"Seing all the planet's love floating in the air", with one of the most memorable Steve Rothery riffs ever. I just love it.

Pour My Love is heartbreaking... beautiful song, (the only one on STCBM with lyrics not initially written by Steve Hogarth, but he makes every word his own). I bawled my eyes out. More than once. (If you know Bella's story, you'll understand. She was laying on my feet when I heard, "Ill never see your eyes again"... and then the next day, she stood up and rubbed her precious, damp nose on my hand, just as I was listening to Pour My Love again. This song will always have a special meaning for me now.)

Power: I first heard this, live, at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the final date of the 2012 USA tour. It's appeal is immediate: strong, seductive, driving, one for playing full-blast and then dancing to as if no-one can see you. (You are not looking at me, are you?) "You never knew power, did you?" I feel a Middle Eastern, Persian, Indian undercurrent here. It touches a memory, a reality, and this song is so strong, you should hear it from here, to there, right now. "But now you can't function, awake or asleep, as the meaningless world falls away from your feet..." I can have Power on repeat, all day, and it gets better every time.

Montreal: it took me several listenings to really "hear" Montreal. At first, it felt very light, very simple: the recital of a diary, notes about the trip, the music somewhat ethereal... good music, but not the first on the album to grab me (that was Power) and not the one to make me think most (Gaza) nor burst into tears (Pour my Love). Dreamy, spaced-out... and about a trip to a city I have never visited, but which is home to many Marillion fans, and which often welcomes the band (weekend coming up soon). But then, after just a few hearings, suddently it all made sense. Somehow, Marillion have captured the dreamy, unreal, disconnected, never-world state of long-haul flights and time-zone confusion, and made it into beautiful, haunting music. (It's that Sounds that Can't Be Made thing again... the music is inside you, because it resonates with an experience, a memory, and brings the listener and the music in a way that very few musicians can achieve.) Another winner.

Invisible Ink and Lucky Man, are, for me, and for now, connecting songs between the more powerful tracks; they have not yet stopped me dead or been put on repeat; and yet, they pop up in my head, happy reminders, when it's empty of thought: cheerful, positive, wistful. They are both growing... and I now have a habit of hoarding small pieces of paper, just-because someone may have written something, somewhere, in an ink that I can't yet see. I know both Invisible Ink and Lucky Mane will catch me unawares one day, because that's what happened with "Angelina" (Marbles) and "Radiation" (Radiation).

The Sky Above the Rain: other reviewers, and Marillion fans, have said that this is the song that immediately made them cry: it wasn't the first for me (that was Pour My Love), but it's a close second. It is a moving, sad, somewhat-terrifying and yet hopeful song about a changing relationship, about being concious of that change, and about knowing that regardless of how dark and dismal a situation, the sun is still shining somewhere, up there, beyond the rain, beyond the clouds. And "maybe they'll talk..." and find the sun again, together. A haunting song, truly haunting. "The rain's below us."

I hope we can all find a way to that sunny place again. It's true--it's always there, above the rain, and the rain is a transient thing.

My perceptions of each piece of Marillion's music change over time, as the understanding of each song grows deeper. I've been there before. Ask me to review these songs again in a year's time. And then, again, in ten years. I can guarantee that as long as I'm still heere, and as long as my ears are still working, I'll be listening to Sounds that Can't Be Made.

(Just tell me this: has anyone else, ever, successfully used "tawdry" in a song like H just did???)

Go listen: Also available through Amazon and on iTunes.

Monday, October 8, 2012

SacWorldFest: world music and dance, Sunday

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SacWorldFest: Sacramento World Music and Dance Festival, October 6th and 7th 2012

Sunday: many stages, with music and dancing from all over the world. Folk and tango, bellydancing and reggae, jazz and storytelling and bells-on-your-feet. These are just a few samples.

I particularly enjoyed the folk bands Masters of the Midway and One-Eye Reilly (I think that's what they were called--their fiddle player was quite amazing); the very-animated Brazilian-style dancers; Gopal Slavonic and his flamenco guitar; the Bolivia Corazon de Americas; Z'Amico and Urban Fire. You needed to be in three or four places at the same time to see and hear everything, so I'm sure I missed something... better go back again next year. And of course, this all happened in Old Sacramento, one of my favourite places, just-another Western town complete with cowboys, Indians, and rails to hitch your horse while you're visiting the saloon.

For more information about the festival, see