Just Giblets

Not always good — sometimes it's just offal

22nd May 2017
by Michael

Top Australian Pop Songs – #’s 9 & 10

As we enter the Top 10, we get an 80’s classic and the first appearance of a more recent musical find.

#10 – Shark Fin Blues by Missy Higgins

Born in Melbourne, Missy Higgins’ first full-length studio album was released when she was only 21 years old. Since that time she has released four albums, the first three of which have all climbed to the #1 spot on the Australian album charts. Something of a child prodigy when it came to music, she learned classical piano at age 6. She wrote her first song, All for Believing which was recorded on her first album, at the age of 15. Eight years ago, Missy performed alongside best-selling novelist Harlan Coben, at the Boston Public Library. It was delightful to meet such a down-to-earth young woman who learned of her second albums’ Australian gold status while I was chatting with her.

Missy appears twice on this list, both times in the Top 10. This first entry, Shark Fin Blues was lifted off her last full-length album, Oz, an album of covers originally written by Australian artists. Shark Fin Blues was originally recorded by the Drones, and released in 2005. Higgins offers a gorgeous and haunting rendition, accompanied by a stunning video.

#9 – Bitter Sweet by Hoodoo Gurus

Formed in Sydney in 1981, Hoodoo Gurus gained popularity in the States as a alternative/college act. A successful co-headlining tour with the Bangles in the late 80’s was well-received in the States as well. They have released 9 studio albums, their most recent in 2010.

Released as the first single in 1985 off their second album, Mars Needs Guitars, Bittersweet was something of a departure for the Gurus. Lead singer/songwriter Dave Faulkner was quoted as saying, “… I vowed to myself that I would write less comic narratives and try to express my sentiments in a more forthright way. I feel I succeeded with Bittersweet though at the time I didn’t think that a) the band would want to play it and b) our audience would want to hear it. I was happily wrong on both counts.” It climbed to #10 on the Melbourne Record Charts.

 

posted in Australia, Favorites, Lists, Missy Higgins, Music | at 6:54 am | 0 Comments
19th May 2017
by Michael

Top 20 Australian Pop Songs – #’s 11 & 12

As we close in on my Top 10 Australian Pop Songs, we get a blast from the past, and the first of three entries from someone who is still actively recording!

 

#12 – Hold On by Models

Formed in 1978, Models is a Melbourne band who released five studio albums in Australia, but only one, Out of Mind, Out of Sight in the U.S. That album, their fourth, was their highest charting album in Australia, climbing all the way to #3. That same album hit #84 on the Billboard Album Chart. Their break out single, the album’s title track was their only #1 song in Australia, and was a Top 40 hit in the U.S. hitting the #37 spot.

Their final studio album, Models’ Media, spawned three top 3o Australian singles, and the third, Hold On, climbed to #21 in 1987.

#11 Alive & Brilliant by Deborah Conway

Australian mainstay, Deborah Conway, got her start with the pop-rock band, Do Re Mi out of Sydney in 1981. Do Re Mi had a surprise Top 5 hit in Australia with Man Overboard and recorded two successful albums before disbanding in 1988. During that time Conway was involved with Paul Hester who would eventually move to the States to join Crowded House. After several other bands, and a career as an actor and model, Conway launched a solo career with the release of String of Pearls in 1991. She has remained active with her ninth studio solo album released last yea.

I could have picked many songs to appear on this list, and Conway does appear three times, twice as a solo artist, once with Do Re Mi. Coming in at #11 is Alive & Brilliant the lead single from her second album, Bitch Epic.

posted in Australia, Deborah Conway, Favorites, Music | at 10:06 am | 0 Comments
18th May 2017
by Michael

Top 20 Australian Pop Songs – #’s 13 & 14

#14 – Another Day in the Big World by Eurogliders

Eurogliders are the first Perth-based band to appear on this list, and they came together in 1980. After releasing a first album that didn’t do much for them, their second album, This Island, exploded, peaking at #4 in Australia, and hitting #140 on the Billboard Top 200 albums. It spawned their first Australian Top 10 single, Heaven (Must Be There), which climbed all the way to #2. It reached #65 on the Billboard Hot 100. I saw Eurogliders live at a club in Boston, and had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with keyboard player Amanda Vincent and drummer John Bennetts at a ’til Tuesday show the night before. I think they were surprised anyone knew who they were, and even knew their names!

There are a lot of Eurogliders songs that I loved, and could have chosen for this list but the update single, Another Day in the Big World is definitely one of my favorites. This was the second of four singles released in Australia off This Island, and it peaked at #66.

And I’m sure many of you remember their single, Heaven (Must Be There)

#13 – Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain) by Inxs

Certainly the most well-known band to appear on this list, Inxs were an international sensation. Forming in 1977 as The Farris Brothers, Inxs released their first, self-titled album in 1980. The band hit it big in Australia and made some waves on the alternative scene in the U.S. with their next two albums, Shabooh Shoobah and The Swing. But it was with their fifth album, Listen Like Thieves that they achieved true international success with the single What You Need hitting #2 in Australia, and climbing into the Top 5 in the U.S. They would go on to even greater success with their follow-up album, Kick, and their #1 U.S. hit, Need You Tonight.

For my list, I’ve included their fourth single off the Listen Like Thieves album, Kiss the Dirt (Falling Down the Mountain). The song becaome their 10th Australian To 20 hit, peaking at #15, but it failed to chart in the U.S. It did however climb to #24 on Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks. The accompanying video was shot in Coober Pedy in South Austrlia. The flew direct form the U.S. to shoot the video overnight, then returned to the U.S. the following day.

 

posted in 1980s, Australia, Music | at 6:46 am | 0 Comments
17th May 2017
by Michael

Top 20 Australian Pop Songs, #’s 15 & 16 – Here Come the Ladies!

#16 – Coma by Max Sharam

Were you thinking my Top 20 was awfully male-heavy up to this point? Well, don’t you worry, here come the ladies! Max Sharam was born in Australia, and began her recording career out of Sydney, but has lived and performed extensively all around the world. She released her first EP in 1984, and her second ten years later. Her sole full length album was released in 1995, and she followed up with a third EP nineteen years later in 2014! She toured for that EP opening for Cyndi Lauper on her She’s So Unusual 30th Annivesary tour!

Max’s first and highest charting single remains the eclectic number, Coma, which combines her rock & roll sensibilities with her classical voice training. The song reached #14 on the Australian charts in 1994.

#15 – Dive by Christine Anu

Born in Cairns, Australis, Christine Anu is a singer and actor who has one many awards in her homeland. Her first and biggest hit, My Island Home, was released in 1995. The song was originally sung by The Warumpi Band, and reflected songwriter Neil Murray’s life moving from an island to the desert. Anu changed the lyrics to reflect her own life moving from her island home of Saibai to the city. Anu released nine albums from 1995 to 2015, and appeared in 15 films and/or television shows.

Dive is the third song to appear on this list with a David Bridie connection. Bridie wrote Dive and sand it on his debut solo album. Christine gives Dive a little more spirit, lifting it out of its ambient sounds, and infuses it with the soul of her island upbringing.

But upon further persual of Anu’s catalog, I decided that a better representation on this list would be her song, Coz I’m Free taken from her 2000 album, Come My Way. Either way, Anu is a singular talent and deserves her spot on this list.

 

posted in Australia, Favorites, Music | at 6:40 am | 0 Comments
15th May 2017
by Michael

Top 20 Australian Pop Songs, #’s 17 & 18

#18 – Take Me Back by Noiseworks

Formed in Sydney in 1986, Noiseworks was a hard rock band with a melodic edge in the Honeymoon Suite/Bon Jovi mold. They produced four Top 10 albums in Australia, along with three Top 10 singles. Although their first two albums were released in the U.S. they failed to chart at all. New Zealand-born lead singer Jon Freeman, was of M?ori descent, and became the lead vocalist for Inxs in 2000 for three years after Michael Hutchence’s death. Take Me Back was their first and highest-charting Australia single reaching the #7 spot.

#17 – Breath by David Bridie

As mentioned in yesterday’s entry, David Bridie first rose to prominence in the band Not Drowning, Waving, which was active through the early 1980’s through the early 1990’s and released six albums. As that band was nearing the end of its run, Bridie started a second band in the early 90’s called My Friend the Chocolate Cake which also released 6 studio albums. In 2000, Bridie released the first of four solo albums, his latest as recently as 2013. Breath  is an atmospheric track taken from his first solo album, Act of Free Choice.

posted in Australia, Favorites, Music | at 10:30 pm | 0 Comments
14th May 2017
by Michael

Top 20 Australian Pop Songs, #’s 19 & 20

A friend of mine asked if I would send him my Top 10 Australian pop songs for an article he was writing on books about the music industry, and I jumped at the chance. I was a huge fan of Australian music in the 80’s and it was quite easy for me to come up with a lot of great songs for this list. In fact, I couldn’t stop at just 10, and ended up with a list of my top 20 Australian pop songs. I’m not sure if my friend was able to use my list for his article, but I thought I could definitely share it here.

So here they are, #20 and #19 of my Top 20 Australian pop songs!

#20 – Back on the Breadline by Hunters & Collectors

Formed in 1981, Hunters & Collectors was fronted by singer-songwriter/guitarist Mark Seymour. The band’s signature sound was their three piece horn section including a trumpet, trombone and french horn, and muscular blend of rock and funk. Seymour’s gruff, masculine presentation was underscored by a lyrical sensitivity that really elevated their music to something unique and special. I had the opportunity to meet Seymour backstage at the Channel in Boston, and he’s always been someone I’ve admired as a performer.

Back on the Breadline was one of three songs added to the U.S. version of their fifth studio album, What’s a Few Men? It peaked at #6 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks. Funny story: the first time I heard it on the radio, I thought it was a new track by Joan Armatrading.

#19 – Spark by Not Drowning, Waving

Melbourne Australia band, not drowning, waving, was formed in 1983 by keyboard player/vocalist, David Bridie and guitaris, John Phillips. Their musical style combined rock, ambient sounds, and world music, and they released nine studio albums. David Bridie also released solo albums, and he appears three times on this list, once here, once as a solo artist, and once as songwriter for another musician. A couple of interesting side notes, Bridie and fellow members of not drowning, waving, formed a side-project, My Friend The Chocolate Cake to play more acoustic-based material. They also scored the film Proof starring Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving in 1991.

Spark was a cut off their 1993 album, Circus.

posted in Australia, Favorites, Music | at 7:21 pm | 0 Comments
16th January 2017
by Michael

Michael’s #1 Book Read in 2016 + a recap of the whole list

Kingfisher#1 – Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

It should come as not too much of a surprise that if there’s a new McKillip novel published in any given year, it’s likely to be near, or at the top of this list. Now, it’s not a given. Patricia’s books are coming more slowly in recent years, and there were a couple of story collections to fill in some gaps, but somehow, the quality of her stand-alone novels just doesn’t diminish. Believe me, I’m waiting for it. Nobody’s streak can last this long. Each time I pick up one of her books I think, this will be the one that disappoints me. And while I certainly do have favorites, I have yet to really be disappointed. Her latest novel, Kingfisher is no exception, and features all the McKillip hallmarks that I love so much.

It may be cliche, but I must start this review with, “How does she do it?” Without being at all formulaic, Patricia A. McKillip has managed to write a stunning series of stand-alone novels (shocking in the fantasy genre) that consistently weave wonder, magic, romance, adventure, and stunningly complex characters, male and female with such startling consistency and nary a misstep in over thirty years!

In her latest novel, Kingfisher she creates an astounding number of well-define, diverse characters in a fantastic world that blends modern day, with the time of knights, and the remains of magic. Each character is distinct and memorable, even when they don’t appear for chapter on end. She also deftly creates several factions all seeking the same goal for different purposes, but in such a way that the reader is never quite sure who to root for? Is there one group that is in the right? Another working for nefarious purposes? It’s hard to tell, right up to the fantastically mystical denouement.

As usual, her prose drips with exquisite language that in and of itself is a joy to experience. And again, coupled with a complex and delicious stories mainly centered around food, in fact, and the magic inherent in the creation of a superb meal. Patricia A. McKillip, admittedly, is my favorite author, so take this review with a grain of salt, but I stand by it.

And now a recap of my top books read in 2016:

  1. Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip
  2. The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta
  3. At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
  4. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  5. Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh
  6. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley
  7. Mercury by Margot Livesey
  8. Christodora by Tim Murphy
  9. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Hanslett
  10. An Unrestored Woman by Shobha Rao
  11. Opportunity Knocks by Alison Sweeney
  12. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  13. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal  by KJ Charles

And a few other titles I enjoyed last year:

  • A Wild Swan and other stories  by Michael Cunningham
  • A Case of Possession and The Magpie Lord: A Charm of Magpies by KJ Charles
  • Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly

In an upcoming post I will talk about some of the other books I read including graphic novels, children’s books and plays. In addition, there were a few books I read that I did not like, or I did not finish, but I won’t be mentioning those here. And I’m off to a good start in 2017 too!

posted in 2016, Books, Year-end lists | at 5:46 pm | 0 Comments
11th January 2017
by Michael

Michael’s #3 & #2 Books Read in 2016

And now we go full-on fantasy. It’s been a while since I’ve found some really great fantasy novels to top my list of books read in a given year. What’s so great about these next two books is that they took me completely be surprise, with one being an author I had never heard of before, and another being an author whose debut I had read and liked well enough, but her new novel blew me away.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees#3 – At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories by Kij Johnson

Those who know me, know I am fascinated by bees, and this eye-catching book cover and title could hardly fail to catch my eye despite it’s 2012 publication date. What an extraordinary find. This collection of mysterious and magical stories captivated me quickly and did not let go. I am thrilled to have discovered this new author and hope to read many more works form her pen.

From the first couple of paragraphs of “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss,” I knew this collection of short stories by Kij Johnson was going to be something special. Johnson’s stories explore the lives of animals, and their relationship with humans, but also explore realms of science fiction — alternate earths, or alien lifeforms. While every story is enjoyable, the standouts for me revolve around the inner lives of every day animals. The monkeys in the aforementioned tale are delightful and mysterious. The protagonist of “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles” is as heroic as any literary protagonist as she makes her way from Japan’s capitol city to The North. And the mysteries of the swarm in the title story includes a benevolent queen whose kindness will break your heart.

There are some dark stories as well, including the horrific “Spar”, the devastating yet hopeful “The Horse Raiders,” and a shockingly brutal take on the entire “My Little Pony” phenomenon as told in “Ponies.” Johnson’s longer tales, including the title story, the afore-mentioned “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles,” and the powerful science fiction story, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” could easily be spun into full novels. I look forward to reading her novel, The Fox Woman, which surely emerged from her story included here, “Fox Magic.” Kij Johnson plays with language as deftly as she plays with ideas and preconceived notions. This is a magical collection for anyone who enjoys a little imagination in their stories.

The Weaver#2 – The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta

What an extraordinary surprise, and what was so lovely, was that even after just a couple of chapters, I knew I was going to love this book. I did. Emmi Itäranta is a Finnish novelist , who writes in both her native language and English. She impressed me with her debut novel a couple of years ago, The Memory of Water, which boasted strong, lyrical writing, and in intriguing story, but fell short of really reaching greatness. Itäranta writes in the acknowledgements of The Weaver, how difficult it is to write that second novel. Well, it may have been difficult, but the hard work paid off. I wouldn’t be surprised to see The Weaver near the top of my books read for 2016.

The world Itäranta has created is mythic, complex, intriguing, mystical, harsh and fascinating. Eliana is a young woman living on the island, a weaver in the House of Webs. When during her night-watch, she finds another young woman who has been brutally attacked and left to die, her life is suddenly altered with the discovery of her name tattooed in invisible ink on this woman’s palm. This discovery leads to a journey so unexpected, so imaginative, and so compelling that I didn’t want it to end.

The characters are rich with nuance, from the mysterious young woman Valeria, to The Spinner, monstrous, wise and ancient. Alva, the healer at the House of Webs, and Weaver, who runs the house and retains her own council. The intricate society revealed in The Weaver is as fascinating  as Frank Herbert’s Dune, (and fully realized in half as many pages!) I can only hope Itäranta revisits it again someday.

posted in 2016, Books, Fantasy, Year-end lists | at 7:47 am | 0 Comments
10th January 2017
by Michael

Michael’s #5 & #4 Books Read in 2016!

The Top 5 — and there are some really great authors and titles here along with a couple of new finds/surprises! Anchoring the Top 5 are a couple of reliable favorite writers who turn in some pretty impressive stuff.

Heat & Light#5 – Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh

Jennifer Haigh tackles a challenging, often polarizing subject, and somehow manages to interweave dozens of characters and a compelling story in to a thoroughly absorbing novel that doesn’t take any easy shortcuts.

With Heat & Light, Haigh’s ambitious novel about a town experiencing its controversial second shot at life, the Bakerton trilogy comes to a close. After years of prosperity as a mining town, Bakerton, PA falls into the quintessentially American depression that comes with progress. Then unexpectedly, fracking comes to Pennsylvania, a process by which oil and natural gas is obtained.

There’s nothing simple or black & white about the issues Jennifer raises in Heat & Light, as people struggle to get by suddenly find themselves with an opportunity to make some money by leasing their land to the fracking companies. In addition, drill workers are brought into town to do the work, thereby stimulating the economy to some extent. Yet environmentalists and other concerned townspeople feel very different, worry about the long term effects that fracking could cause. It is here that Haigh draws parallels to the Three-Mile Island incident and the ill-defined that catastrophe had on nearby residents.

Jennifer juggles multiple points-of-view deftly, infusing her skilled prose with the thoughts and beliefs of her character, whether it be the salesperson trying to lease a resident’s land, a corporate exec, a concerned environmentalist, or a lonely bar waitress. This is a dense, complicated novel that takes on issues that are hard to dismiss. Whether Bakerton has yet another renaissance in its future is unknown, but Jennifer Haigh is certainly an author on the rise.

Commonwealth#4 – Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Wow. Ann Patchett has written a family drama that perfectly captures both the absurdity and the heartbreak of domestic life. This is what Adam Haslett’s Imagine Me Gone should have been. The Cousins and the Keatings, two Califorina families forever intertwined by infidelity, and permanently shattered by it. Bert Cousins leaves his wife Teresa to raise four children on her own, to be with Beverly Keating, with two children of her own. She leaves her husband Fix and travels with Bert to live in Virginia. The six children are forced together every summer where they forge a childhood bond not based on love or admiration, but the combined disappointment in their parents. As adults, they find their combined families’ stories suddenly revealed in a way they couldn’t possibly expect and are forced to reexamine some of their drama-forged relations.

Patchett chronicles each character’s life over the span of 50 years or so in the most remarkable way; joining them at a particular moment in time and bringing the reader up to speed on their lives and loves in a way that is both natural and effective. Even one character who I thought was getting the short shrift in the book got her moment near the conclusion. Her writing is compelling and elegant, and her story, while skimming the surface of a brilliant AM Homes satire, emerges as heartfelt and real.

posted in 2016, Books, Year-end lists | at 7:26 am | 0 Comments
6th January 2017
by Michael

Michael’s #7 & #6 Books Read in 2016

And here is where I know that I read some really good books in 2016. Both of these books should be much closer to the #1 slot in a normal year. From here on up, these books all thrilled me in some way or another. It’s great to finish a book that really satisfies you, and these certainly fit the bill.

Mercury#7 – Mercury by Margot Livesey

A new Margot Livesey novel is always something to look forward to. Her thoughtful and incisive writing tantalizes and  my literary mind every time With Mercury, Margot Livesey tackles obsession and how it can have catastrophic effects on a family. Donald is an optometrist living in suburban Boston after a childhood spent in Scotland. After a particularly difficult illness, Donald’s father dies, and Donald finds himself a little adrift. His wife, Viv, has found renewed passion in the form of a horse named Mercury, who is stabled at the ranch where she works. Gradually, Viv begins devoting more and more of her time on Mercury, to the point that Donald believes she is keeping things from him, and putting her family second to the need of the horse.

When Viv and Donald’s actions, or sometimes lack of actions, lead to an unimaginable accident, both must confront the realities of their behavior and how many other must suffer the consequences. Livesey doesn’t make it easy for any of her characters, and the outcomes do not fall in the happy-ever-after category, but she creates compelling, believable characters and weaves stories that are compelling and urgent. Mercury is a novel that has lasting impact.

Lily and the Octopus#6 – Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

When it comes to imaginative, creative, funny, emotional debut novels, Steven Rowley’s Lily and the Octopus definitely tops the list. While coming in at #6 overall, it’s my top debut novel of the year, and I so thoroughly enjoyed it. Reading Lily you can so clearly see the love and care that so infuses the writing that we can’t help but fall in love with Lily as well.

Anyone who has lost a pet knows how that pain of that loss defies explanation. Of course there is sadness and grief, but there’s also that niggling, irrational sense that other people don’t take it seriously, after all, it’s only a pet. After his own dog died, Hollywood screenwriter Steven Rowley decided to write a short story about the experience to help cope with his own grief. That short story turned into Lily and the Octopus a novel of great emotional impact that truly had me laughing out loud on one page, and weeping on the next.

Ted is a writer living in L.A., who noticed one morning that there is an octopus perched on the head of his beloved dachshund, Lily. He’s not sure where it came from, but he’s certain it’s not a good thing. What follows is a man’s journey through denial to realization and how his reactions to his Lily’s impending fate may have more to do with his own life than hers.

Rowley is a good writer: his humor unexpected and quirky, his moving passages authentic and without overblown pathos. There is a slight edge of that entertainment-business cynic present, but it’s offset by Ted’s inherent geekiness. The narrative uses magical realism beautifully, giving both Lily and the octopus unique, satisfying voices, and sending Ted and Lily on a daring sea adventure the likes of which ballads were written.

I also appreciated how Ted’s emotional roller coaster was so much different than my own, when my beloved, 22-year-old cat passed away nearly a year ago. Rowley explores not just the sadness of loss we feel, but how our emotional state and view of life shape that grief. It’s a beautiful and highly entertaining book, and my heart is warming up just writing about it.

 

posted in 2016, Books, Year-end lists | at 8:04 am | 0 Comments
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