WIB #65: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

featuring…

♫ The Baseball Project, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

🍺 Brew Dog Curve Ball West Coast IPA / Cold Beer Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

To paraphrase sixties rock’n’roll icons The Animals: It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. It’s my mind and I’ll think what I want.

Today, on Opening Day, my favorite day of the year – better than Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July rolled into one – I am thinking and writing about baseball.

Depending on who you ask, baseball is either an excruciatingly slow and boring athletic competition that’s well past its sell-by date as America’s favorite pastime or the most beautiful, artistic, compelling and enjoyable sport on earth. I’m in the latter camp, so if you’re a hater, you may want to jump off here. 

I’m a sucker for anything baseball. Books, movies, ESPN docs about its heroes and history. Boxes of the baseball cards, programs, newspapers and other memorabilia I collected as a kid still reside at my mom’s home. And to this day, I can’t break the habit of following my favorite team, the Yankees (just lost a few more of you) on a day-in, day-out basis. I live in Germany. It often results in me staying up for games that start at 1:00 a.m. when I should be sleeping. I was born into a Yankee family in New York. It is simply in my blood.

So let’s throw a baseball-themed Listening Party, shall we?

Musically we’ve got tracks from Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails, originally released in 2008 on Yep Roc Records. It’s the first volume of songs by The Baseball Project, a sort of baseball nerd supergroup that has been chronicling the sport to music for a good 15 years now.

I’ve also got a couple of canned beers lined up for us courtesy of BrewDog: Curve Ball West Coast IPA and Cold Beer Pale Ale. In the spirit of Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks … let’s play two today!

Just don’t throw the empties on the field.

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WIB Listening Party #64: Stingray

featuring…

♫ Kenny Brown, Stingray

🍺 Two Chefs Funky Falcon Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

2003’s Stingray is a classic example of a really good album that slipped through the cracks.

Recorded at The Money Shot in Water Valley, Mississippi and released on Fat Possum, it’s the work of singer and guitarist Kenny Brown. Best known as the musical sidekick to R.L. Burnside until the latter’s demise in 2005, Brown grew up in the North Mississippi tradition, apprenticing with local legends like Joe Callicott and Johnny Woods before hooking up with Burnside for a partnership that lasted roughly three decades. More recently, his guitar featured on The Black Keys’ Delta Kream, Robert Finley’s Sharecropper’s Son and Hank Williams Jr.’s Rich White Honky Tonk Blues. So he’s out there, still doing his thing.

I scooped up my CD copy of Stingray for a measly $3.95 at a second-hand book outlet in Nashville, Tennessee, following a string of unforeseen circumstances. More on that in a bit.

What we got greasing the wheels this time around?

That would be Funky Falcon Pale Ale from Two Chefs Brewing. Founded in 2012 by a pair of now-former chefs (duh), Two Chefs calls itself “Amsterdam’s Finest Craft Beer Brewery” and adorns its beers with bold, brash colors and characters, like the Dia de los Muertos Mariachi gracing its Mexican-style lager or the gunslinging cowboy on its Green Bullet IPA. I admit I’m a sucker for creative names and designs – undoubtably they’re a part of what makes craft beer fun. But it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

We’ll see what the Funky Falcon has to offer and dive into the Kenny Brown album on the other side.

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WIB Listening Party #63: A Celebration Of New Orleans Music

featuring…

♫ Various Artists, A Celebration Of New Orleans Music

🍺 Yankee & Kraut Maracujizzle Brombizzle

Words & photos (except where Indicated): Vincent Abbate

 

Something unusual happened this morning. My adopted hometown made CNN.

Cologne is a large German city of over a million. But it’s not London, Paris, Brussels or Berlin. So we don’t often see international camera teams wandering around town. But they were here yesterday, capturing the images that surprised me today at breakfast: thousands of locals in their clown suits, young and old, filling one of the main squares, smiling, singing, swaying, and having a ball.

The occasion was Cologne’s famous Carnival celebration. As in Rio and New Orleans, the people here like to blow off steam in a big way in the days prior to Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. They’ve been doing so for roughly 200 years. I’ve been here for the last 30 of those and confess I have never truly warmed up to the tradition. Sometimes I join in, often I don’t.

The Carnival societies with their meetings and weird Colonial officer-looking uniforms; the swarms of visitors from other towns and cities who come here to make merry, booze it up and piss all over the place; the local anthems, sung in a dialect I will never learn, endlessly singing the praises of the Stadt am Rhing. All of it leaves me feeling like an outsider and a killjoy.

Photo (c) Festkomittee Kölner Karneval

Now if the streets and pubs were full of the sounds heard on A Celebration Of New Orleans Music, well … it might be a different story.

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WIB Listening Party #62: Souls On Fire

featuring…

♫ The Neckbones, Souls On Fire

🍺 Everything Sucks DIPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

It’s okay to write about The Neckbones once every 20 years or so, right?

I mean, sure, the band only existed for a brief, intense period starting in the mid-90s, leaving behind a trio of discs: the self-released Pay The Rent, 1999’s The Lights Are Growing Dim and today’s featured album Souls On Fire, their 1997 Fat Possum Records debut. The Neckbones’ limited shelf life didn’t stop me from falling in love with them, though. Now, some 20 odd years down the road, I still find myself returning to those albums – usually when I’m out and about and need a jolt of youthful energy. The music they left behind is vicious and exciting, sounding like it sprung from the oil-stained garage of a low-rent house right next door to Richard Hell & The Voidoids and just down the block from where Chuck Berry parked his Cadillac.

The fiery and rebellious Souls On Fire will be served today with Everything Sucks, a Double New England IPA brewed with a wheat, barley and oat malt bill. It’s a collaboration between FrauGruber Brewing and Superfreunde, two young German brands with a flair for experimentation.

The name of the beer is as close as I’ll get to commenting on the state of the world. As promised!

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WIB Listening Party #61: Wild Again

featuring…

♫ The Proven Ones, Wild Again

🍺 Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

First beer of a new year.

I’ve been at this for a while now. I’ve learned a thing or two about beer and quite a bit about myself. With any luck, the first 60 entries in the series will have reached a few eyes – the click counter on my website has registered more than 20,000 – and in the process, led beer and blues enthusiasts to albums they may have missed or beers they’d never heard of.

My original intention was to use the Listening Party to celebrate those two great passions.

But last year … I dunno … there was a lot of Weltschmerz mixed in with the beer and music. I wound up writing about war and politics and my disenchantment with social media. I’ve promised myself – and promise you, dear reader – to limit the amount of social commentary moving forward. Because, personally, I hate parties where the topic of conversation is how the world is on a downward spiral and we’re all doomed.

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WIB Listening Party #60: I Got Love

featuring…

♫ Albert Castiglia, I Got Love

🍺 Baladin POP American Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Pop goes 2022.

In this, the year’s final Listening Party, I’ll reflect on a challenging twelve months and the respite and release I experienced at a summertime blues festival. Together, we’ll open a gaudy can of POP – an American Pale Ale from Italy –, listen to some choice cuts from Albert Castiglia’s April release I Got Love and generally celebrate being alive.

I hope, when all is said and done, it will make some kind of sense.

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WIB Listening Party #59: Hey Joe

featuring…

♫ Various Artists, Hey Joe (One-Song-Edition)

🍺 Meantime Brewing London IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Today’s the birthday of the great James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix. Had he not joined the so-called 27 Club in 1970, but rather lived on for another 52 years, Hendrix would have turned 80 today. (Shows you just how short a life of 27 years is.) In other words, he’d be as old as Sir Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson or blues vets Taj Mahal and Elvin Bishop. It’s given me occasion to raise a glass and write about a song I’ve grown to hate. “Hey Joe.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s undeniably a good song if not one of Hendrix’s absolute best. What’s ruined “Hey Joe” for me is its fate as a go-to crowdpleaser for thousands of bluesrock bands who have nothing else to offer. If I’m at a show and I hear the opening guitar riff – this happens way too often – that’s my signal to head to the bar or take a bathroom break. No offence to listeners who haven’t tired of it, but for me, this tune is well past its sell-by date. It has become the ultimate yawn elicitor.       

I’m tempted to write that Hendrix already exhausted the song’s possibilities with the landmark version he recorded with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. In fact, several other worthwhile interpretations have emerged on record, mostly in the years immediately before and after. (Note: Hendrix was by no means first to record it: The song had been circulating for many years with various parties claiming authorship. Notable pre-Hendrix versions include those by the Leaves, the Standells and the Byrds.)

Today’s featured album Hey Joe (One-Song-Edition) compiles 20 different versions of varying quality. (Nineteen if you subtract the “Karaoke Playback” track at the end.) We’ll listen to some of the best as we crack open a bottle of Meantime Brewing’s London IPA in honor of the beloved guitar trailblazer.

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WIB Listening Party #58: It Serves You Right To Suffer

featuring…

♫ John Lee Hooker, It Serves You Right To Suffer

🍺 Aleworks Tavern Brown Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Rotten times call for urgent measures. Let’s drink. Just like that. Bango. No messin’ around.

That’s right. I’m upending the traditional structure of this beer-and-blues soiree, the usual slow build-up before we get to the beer tasting. That’s because after eight days without a drink, I am truly craving one.

Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale, with which I will momentarily break my fast, is one of five year-rounders made by the Alewerks Brewing Company of Williamsburg, Virginia. Here’s what it looks like smiling at me:

Cheers.

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WIB Listening Party #57: At Last

featuring…

♫ Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, At Last

🍺 Misfit Pumpkins Imperial Pumpkin Stout

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Halloween is stupid.

I mean, can we at least agree that it is becoming increasingly stupid?

For kids, I get it. In fact, later today I’ll be chaperoning my son and a few of his friends as they do the traditional trick-or-treat thing.

When I was a boy on Long Island, trick-or-treating was an annual thrill. I’d go with my siblings or closest friends and come home with bag after bag full of Tootsie Rolls, Milk Duds, Mary Janes, Jawbreakers. It was excessive and I loved it. After some swapping with my sisters, we’d each pour our respective haul into a big cardboard box and then devour the contents over the course of many weeks. Nobody thought much about the consequences for our teeth back then.

If that sort of thing exists in suburban America today, when everyone is far more afraid that the reclusive guy who lives four houses down could be a cannibal axe murderer, well kids – more power to you.

But when I go on social media and see how much effort normally level-headed forty- and fifty-year-old acquaintances of mine put into dressing up as zombies and horror clowns, I can only shake my head. If only folks would put one-tenth of the same energy into more important things, like, say … feeding the poor?

This past weekend’s tragedy in Seoul, South Korea – where the desire to celebrate this bizarre ritual cost more than 150 young people their lives – made me hate Halloween even more.      

So why do a Halloween edition of the Listening Party?

Here’s a hint.

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WIB Listening Party #56: Set It On Blast!!

featuring…

♫ Stevie Salas, Set It On Blast!!

🍺 Unverhopft Galactic Splash Milkshake IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Sometimes you’ve got to roll out the big guns. The heavy artillery.

Remember how last time around I was feeling down and how a few timeless blues songs seemed to lift me out of the hole I was in? I didn’t quite make it.

Maybe it’s the change of seasons, a case of the fall blahs as each day grows a few minutes darker than the one before it. Maybe it’s the exhaustion brought on by the rigors of parenting – presiding over a vicious fifteen-round fight between a pair of rival siblings can take a lot out of you. Maybe it’s just how fucking sick and stupid and depressing the world is sometimes. All of it is adding to a sense of heaviness and loss that hangs stubbornly in the air, weighing me down.

So I’ve been looking for a stronger and more muscular musical drug to keep me moving forward. One that kicks me squarely in the keister and says – snap out of it, man, get out there and get busy living. The record I’ve gone to most often these past few weeks is Stevie Salas’s Set It On Blast!!, a brash explosion of funk and guitars and conquer-the-world attitude. In name and in spirit, it pairs beautifully with Galactic Splash, a Milkshake New England IPA from Berlin’s Unverhopft brewery.

If this high-octane dream team doesn’t get it done, I may be a hopeless case.

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