a change of venue

Sometimes its a change of venue that can start you down the road of curing what ails you. Mrs. Geek and I are out of town this week, while she attends a work-related conference. I’m tagging along for a little relaxation at the hotel pool.

Travel can be good for breaking up so many kinds of routines. Routines of action, of feeling, and of thought. It allows me to get away from what is worrying me both metaphysically as well as physically. I have a sudden, urgent need to sleep a lot, which can only be a good think in my opinion.

Looks like I’ll have to find a good book and a lot of sunscreen. It’s going to be a slow week… and I’m loving it.

the giving tree

Mrs. Geek showed the book The Giving Tree today in a children’s toy store. I’m more than a little strung out today; I didn’t sleep well, I’ve still got the mean reds (or the blues), and one of the largest bills of the year arrived yesterday requiring payment. The book struck me as infinitely sad. In my highly strung state, I almost teared up in the store. I’m kind of tearing up now as I write this.

It can’t help but empathize with the tree. She gives everything. The boy only takes.. and takes… and takes.. until there is nothing left.

Maybe it’s everything else going on in my life, but that seems so incredibly dysfunctional. Is it a parable about abuse of the environment? Or abusive relationships? Or just a warning that there is sadness in the world? I don’t know. Right now though, it makes me very sad.


I’m sorry that I haven’t been updating here more this week. I’ve been in a bit of a funk. I’m not sure if it was the blues or the mean reds. It’s made irritable, and left me with very little energy for writing.

What I have been doing is playing with the playlist features of my iPod/iTunes to come up with some new mixes. I find myself getting more and more into doing this. My CD buying habits have tapered off over the years. With a collection numbering about 600, I suspect I may have reached my quota, or it just may be that our new house is causing the CD budget to suffer. I’ve been meaning to write an entry about the half dozen CDs I received/purchased in the first six months of the year. I’ve got to be writing from my computer at home though — the date when I put CDs into iTunes is the only way I can keep track anymore.

Anyway, the latest mix I completed is entitled 4×4+2 (Summer Afternoon). Basically, I was looking for an hour set of music that would set a nice, sunny easygoing summer afternoon kind of vibe. The name comes from the fact that the 18 songs are divided thematically into four groups of four, with an extra two tracks thrown in. Here’s the song list:

Stop This Train – John Mayer
Into The Mystic – Van Morrison
The Very Thought Of You – James Hunter
A Sunday Kind Of Love – Etta James

I call this the R&B group. The John Mayer track starts with an easy going almost lullaby-like vibe that just continues through the next three songs. I wanted to find music that felt like cool water on a warm day; something that could feed a need and cure what ails you.

Two Loves Have I – Nat ‘King’ Cole (with Stuff Smith)
Hot Lunch – The Asylum Street Spankers
Somewhere A Long Time Ago – Pete Anderson
Rag Mama Rag – The Band

This the “fiddle” set; all four songs feature a strong fiddle part. This is a direct response the last mix CD that Harri3tspy sent me. She had fiddles. I have fiddles. The Nat Cole tune makes a nice bridge from the Etta Jamess.

Hell To Pay – Dan Baird
Make Mayan A Hawaiian – Southern Culture On The Skids
Soul For Every Cowboy – Big Head Todd & The Monsters
Lovesong Of The Buzzard – Iron & Wine

This is the “Slow Burn” set. These are all mid-tempo tunes with savoir-faire, mostly by male singer-songwriters. I wanted to add a little intensity to the mix, but you never want too much of that on a warm summer afternoon.

Joy Of My Life – John Fogerty

This is the first of the two added songs. I needed something that would set up a simpler mood, and this does it with slow joyful lyric driven by Fogerty’s dobro playing.

Hopes Too High – Tift Merritt
Good Enough – Sarah McLachlan
One Sweet Love – Sara Bareilles
Lullaby – The Dixie Chicks

The last group of four is composed of women singer-songwriters. There is the mountain clear alt country stylings of Tift Merritt, an old favorite from Sarah McLachlan, a new one from Sara Bareilles (of “Love Song” fame), and a gentle lullaby from The Dixie Chicks.

Forget The Flowers – Wilco

This track got thrown into the mix late in its development and seemed to be a good way to either end on an upbeat note, or bridge back to the first track (if the playlist is on ‘repeat’).

busy, busy weekend

This weekend has been full to the gills with activities.

The most significant was re-building a bed frame. One of Mrs. Geek’s good friends got a hand-made wooden bed frame from her brother as a wedding gift. They now have two young boys, who took to jumping up and down on their parents bed one day too often. One of the side rails broke. They decided to get a new bed. They initially thought they would put it up on Craiglist, but decided to see if they could give it to friends who could make good use of it. As we’ve been sleeping on the metal bed frame I got with my mattress set in the summer of 2001 with no headboard or footboard, we happily said yes. Some wood filler, screws, glue, and toothpicks(?!?) later, we have a lovely new bed, with a wonderful history. I performed the fixes yesterday, we let the glue dry overnight, and we assembled the bed today. We’re looking forward to our first night on it tonight.

I’ve also been doing some work for Company O. this weekend. We’re leaving town next Sunday, and I have to complete a series of software tests. I also got a request from a colleague at work (who I would very much not mind working for at a future date) to run some tests for him before I leave town as well. My manager approved the “extra credit” work as I call it, as long as it doesn’t mess with my regular duties. So, I had to take a couple hours yesterday to fix some structural problems with the testing… I wasn’t able to fix them all, but I was able to fix enough that I could run some tests yesterday and today.

I also had to do some work for my “second job” this weekend. The school year at Mrs. Geek’s school has ended. We spent some time this week upgrading the security measures on the campus wireless network. Not everything went quite as planned, so we had to make a visit yesterday to do additional upgrades and testing. Judging by the number of student computers that need to go into the shop at the end of the school year, I am dismayed at the care that students take with the equipment.

I also did some garden work. We have a LARGE lavender plant in our front yard, that bloomed prodigiously in April. The first blooms are now growing old. Following the advice Mrs. Geek’s stepmom, we elected to trim away some of the old blooms in the hope that the plant will begin a second bloom. Have we killed the plant? I hope not.

Herb garden update: *fingers crossed* everything is ok. A warm spell a few weeks ago, caused some browning on some of the leaves of the basil plant… but it is now almost a foot tall. The replacement oregano plant is busting out all over the place. The replacement thyme plant is looking healthy. The replacement rosemary plant is also growing nicely. I think I may need to harvest some herbs just to keep some of the plants manageable.

Finally, I completed phase 1 of a long overdue rebuild of my mountain bike. I used to ride to work a lot during my days as a grad student. I’ve only been on the bike once or twice in the time since I graduated and started at Company O. An extended stay on the covered balcony of my apartment has left the bike dirty, a little rusty, and in need of new tires and tubes. I finally found a bike store I like and got some new tires. I went for a short bike ride this afternoon, with Mrs. Geek along on a razor scooter I gave her shortly after we started dating. Once she gets back into practice with her roller blades, we may start riding/blading together.

That’s it for now.

pig blood not included

I was reading an article in the New York Times today entitled Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 Is ‘Corral Pig’. It’s about recipes that scare off cooks by including ingredients or techniques that some cooks won’t touch. Some cooks are scared by the words “If you don’t have a helper”; others find that words like “Fillet and butterfly 12 4-inch fresh anchovies” stop them cold. Still others get find making fleur du sel from scratch to be more trouble that it is worth.

Perhaps it is part of my evolution is as a cook, but techniques and ingredients are more likely to inspire frustration rather than fear in me. Am I going to reach for a recipe for blood sausage any time soon? No… I’m not ready for that. But, do substitutions bother me? No. I can recall once how I was making a recipe that called for fresh lemon juice, but I forgot to get lemons. So I dug up an old bottle of margarita mix and that worked great! I was in a similar bind on Saturday when I was trying to make pound cake for Mrs. Geek’s Dad and Step mom and discovered that I was out of sugar. It was honey and brown sugar to the rescue… and while I probably won’t make it that way again, the results were quite edible.

I’m looking at recipes to teach me something… a method, a way of preparing a type of food, or a key to a particular palate of flavors. It’s a maddening process. Sometimes things come out easy and repeatable the first time. Other times, I have to read and experiment until I get it right. As I think I mentioned a few weeks back, the current bane of my existence is baby back ribs, smoked on the grill. I’m going to need to make another batch of those soon.


It’s a warm, nearly summer night here at the Geek hacienda. If you pass near an open window, you can hear crickets. This is something I haven’t heard on a warm night for many years. The last two places I lived were apartment buildings that faced either highways or parking lots. Before that, I rented a room in a house that faced another home across a very narrow space. None were quiet enough or facing in a direction where crickets would likely be.

Crickets are something I associate with childhood, especially with visits to my grandparents. That, and lightning bugs… but I don’t think we’ll see any of them here. No, the sound of crickets takes me back to sleeping on a folding bed on the floor of my grandparents house.

It is a lovely memory — the kind where you crawl into bed after spending the day walking through woods, crossing creeks, and eating meals that only grandma could make.

new blooze reviews

Harri3tspy has been good enough to post detailed comments about a mix I recently sent her called “Rhythm and Blooze”. As a part of the musical conversation she and I are having, I’m going to quote liberally from her entry on the subject, offering my own comments where appropriate. If you haven’t already, you should check out her blog. She’s an awesome blogger, a “gentlewoman and a scholar” as my dissertation adviser used to say, and lately putting my own meager diary output to shame.

Without further ado, here goes:

Alvin Youngblood Hart : Big Mama’s Door.

Alvin Youngblood Hart

is a contemporary artist performing here in a traditional style. I believe that Dr. Geek introduced me to Hart in a previous mix, but I can’t seem to locate the disk. … I’d have thought it was a Lomax recording. I still wonder if he’s replicating an older recording. His voice is amazing.

Alvin Youngblood Hart is a living encyclopedia of the blues. I first heard him over 10 years ago when I saw him live, opening for Taj Mahal. The CD including this track, “Big Mama’s Door”, has been a favorite ever since. My goal for the first few tracks of this mix was to explore the oft-overlooked roots of Delta Blues. I chose this track because its banjo-picking underlines links with folk and old-time music that the racially segregated commercial music industry would rather forget, even 75 years later.

Mississippi John Hurt: Avalon Blues.

This is an actual vintage recording – 1928. … Listen in particular for the way the guitar plays both strummed chords and picked out melody and counterpoint, all in highly repetitive rhythms.

From a modern blues revivalist, we jump back to the original stuff: Mississippi John Hurt influenced generations of later players who grew up in and around the Delta. I chose this particular public domain recording (the Mississippi John Hurt catalog fell out of copyright when OKeh records went under during the Depression) because of its clarity and accessibility, and because of the upbeat energy of Hurt’s playing.

Rev Robert Wilkins : O Lord I Want You To Help Me.

… I’m not sure when this recording was made. The disk it comes from, Takoma Blues, came out in the late 80s, but it’s a multi-artist disk, most likely made with earlier recordings.

Takoma Blues is a compilation CD reissued in the 90’s based on two earlier out of print vinyl LP’s from the 1970’s. All the tracks were recorded in and around Chicago in clubs and halls by Chicago blues producer Norman Dayron. There’s another CD from the same tape library called “Rare Chicago Blues, 1962-1968” on the Bullseye Blues label. If you want a couple thick slices of the 1960’s Chicago blues scene, get both these discs. There are tracks by everyone from Elvin Bishop and Paul Butterfield to Son House to really obscure folks like Maxwell Street Jimmy. I chose this track because it shows the links between blues and gospel. As B.B. King has said (and I paraphrase) “the only difference between the blues and gospel is that you may find yourself singing ‘baby, please don’t go’ on Saturday night and ‘Lord, help me please’ on Sunday morning.”

Son House : Death Letter.

I can’t remember when I first heard Son House, but I’ve always loved his particular version of the Delta sound.

Son House is a crossroads of the blues. I can’t put together a “Delta Blues” mix without including him somewhere. Of the generation of Mississippi John Hurt, Son House was the one who taught Robert Johnson to play… and unlike Johnson was famous and influenced a generation of blues players (including Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf) who were the godfathers of rock’n’roll. This recording is taken from a 1960’s revival set… and one of the most powerful recordings of the bunch.

The Asylum Street Spankers : If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day.

I am so happy that Dr. Geek has introduced me to the Asylum Street Spankers. … The miking is interesting; the fuzzy sound of the cymbals and snare is front and center and the voice sounds like it’s coming from the back of a smoky bar at the end of a long night. It’s a great and evocative sound, the kind of thing that conjures up an invisible narrative that I like.

The Spankers are an incredible band… who love to quote liberally from all sorts of 1930’s music. This particular recording was made in the living room of a house in Austin, completely live and acoustic, with the Spankers clustered around a single microphone in the center of the room. I love this particular track because Pops Bayless’s vocals completely overpower the track… and the arrangement is not the overly-reverent interpretation that so many artists make of Robert Johnson songs.

Martin Simpson : Broke Down Engine.

Great virtuosic acoustic guitar-playing on this track.

Yeah he’s a white English guy with massive guitar chops, but this whole CD (“Smoke & Mirrors”) is infused with blues that cut to the bone.

Buddy Guy & Junior Wells : I’m In The Mood.

This is a great tune performed by two legends (Guy on acoustic guitar, Wells on vocals). A classic.

I’ve seen Buddy Guy live three times. I had to include a track off of the “Alone & Acoustic” CD because it’s a stripped down sampling of vintage blues, informed by later developments, but not particularly influenced by them.

Muddy Waters : I Can’t Be Satisfied.

I’m a huge Muddy Waters fan and this is a great tune. The Delta-style guitar playing is terrific.

This is off “Hard Again” a Johnny Winter-produced album from the 70’s. Muddy Water’s songwriting pen had dried up by this point, but Johnny Winter did a great, GREAT live-in-the-studio album that re-introduced white Baby Boomers to the Muddy Waters catalog. A real favorite in my collection… the version of Mannish Boy on this record is not the original, but is seminal. I included Mannish Boy on the original Harri3t Mix, and wanted to include a track here that fit in more with the folk blues feel of the first half of the mix. At the same time, Muddy Waters was a heavy influence on the blues-rock artists of the 1960’s and 70’s. It seemed appropriate to include him here.

John Lee Hooker : Boom Boom.

This is one of those songs I’ve heard a million times, but have never really listened to.

I’m a big John Lee Hooker fan and it would be a shame to do a blues mix without some John Lee in there somewhere. This track is off “Urban Blues”, one of his stronger efforts from the 1960’s. This is a stereo re-recording of “Boom Boom”, one of his classic hits from the 1950’s. As a member of the Rock’n’Rock Hall of Fame as an early influence, I am again stressing the transitional elements between blues and blues-rock.

Little Hatch : Rock Me Baby.

Little Hatch is another legend of the blues, but I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard him before…

Little Hatch is a pretty obscure harp player out of Kansas City. He’s one of those “nearly undiscovered” classic finds that I discovered in the liner notes of another audiophile blues recording. I chose this track because while the form is pure blues, the lyric vernacular is very much rock’n’roll… again emphasizing transition.

Here is where the mix turns a corner. Up until now, we’ve heard from historic blues artists or contemporary artists performing in an historic style. The rest of the mix is more about where the blues has taken us.

The Rolling Stones : Sweet Virginia.

Yes, the Stones, of the Exile on Main Street Album and sounding quite Dylanesque (at least until you hit the sax solo)…

You can’t discuss “blues-rock” without mentioning The Rolling Stones. I think that this is one of the most directly blues-influenced tracks from “Exile On St.”, which was the Stones at the peak of their powers.

The Black Crowes : Whoa Mule.

This song opens with another Dylan-inspired harmonica solo. I’ve heard of The Black Crowes for years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever really heard them before…

The Black Crowes are the Stones modern musical descendant… or throwback musical imitator, depending on your point of view. They represent a logical next step for the mix. This track, released in March, represents the end of the 80 year period started with Avalon Blues. I think the a capella start to the track represents an interesting textural addition for the Crowes, and is one of the things that makes me like their new CD “Warpaint”.

John Hammond : 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six.

This has a mood similar to Tom Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” which I put on a mix for Dr. Geek…

This was the only direct musical response to the “Geek Mix” that Harri3t sent me. She sent me the original version of “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and I responded with a track also appearing on “Beautiful Maladies — The Island Years” I wanted Harri3t to hear what the Hammond re-interpretations on “Wicked Grin” (with Waits himself producing) could sound like.

Alvin Youngblood Hart : Will I Ever Get Back Home?

Hart is back, this time electrified. His vocals rock my world… I can’t exactly why that is exciting, but it is. I think I need Hart by the albumful.

Both the track starting this mix and “Sallie, Queen Of The Pines” on the “Longing and Crooning” mix were both basically acoustic tracks. I wanted to showcase what Hart can be like in a more modern, electrified idiom. It also made a great companion to the John Hammond. Harri3t, all his albums are awesome.

Tarbox Ramblers : Country Blues.

This is another band that is new to me. I love the rhythmic drive of this song and the rough, scratchy sound – a buzz on the electric guitar and also in the vocals.

A cover of an old Dock Boggs track from the 1930’s, the Tarbox Ramblers are a modern band with a cowpunk-blues-alt country sensibility. It seemed appropriate as the mix starts to wind down.

North Mississippi Allstars : Po Black Maddie.

I am so happy to have a recording by the North Mississippi Allstars. I heard them a while back on NPR, but couldn’t remember the name. This song is what happens when Delta blues meets a jam band.

These boys are the real thing, straight to you from the modern Mississippi Delta. Here, they are referencing the past… but they drive and drive hard toward the future. Their guitarist, Luther Allison, is now also playing for the Black Crowes.

Eric Clapton : Reconsider Baby.

It would be hard to have a mix about blues revival without including Mr. Slow Hand… It sounds disingenuous. But still, a rocking song and a solid conclusion to this fantastic group of tunes.

You can’t say it any better than that. Yes, it’s not his best effort… his vocals don’t cut at you with the grit of many of the other recordings in this mix, but that guitar moans and cries with the best of them. The call is good; the response is better. This seemed like the best track on “From The Cradle” (a blues-roots-rock record if there ever was one) to round out the mix.

Well, that’s it. I can’t wait to see what Harri3t’s musical response to this mix will be… unless I send her another one first.