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100 Essential Albums: #100 — Black Moses by Isaac Hayes (1971)

Posted by on Jul 19, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 0 comments

 

 

“Man, what am I going to do to follow up the ‘Shaft’ LP?  I know — let’s try something badass!” 

— Isaac Hayes

 

Nearly a half-century after being released, Black Moses stands the test of time.  It’s a meandering mishmash of disjointed instrumentation and unanticipated musical influences somehow welded together by a singular prophetical artist then at the pinnacle of his power and creativity.

Isaac Hayes’ fifth studio album was so highly anticipated that it was probably doomed from the start upon its original release, given the record company’s lofty expectations combined with insurmountable public demands in the towering shadow of the epic and groundbreaking Shaft movie soundtrack, still climbing the charts, which had been released during the summer five months earlier.  Indeed, Shalf solidified Hayes’ presence as a musical monolith, netting him a well-deserved Oscar for its theme song, becoming the first Black Academy Award winner in history in a non-acting category.  As the seeds of what would become a funk classic were airing on transistor radios and spinning on turntables everywhere, Hayes re-entered Memphis’ Stax studio pressured to rush-record what would be his second double-album released in the late half of 1971.

Think about that for a moment — Isaac Hayes recorded and released two double albums within a five-month stretch.  That’s staggering.

A truly great album becomes transformative, ushering in a new sound reverberating into a vast cultural shockwave.  Black Moses was not that album.  It would be far more accurate to call it the third in Hayes’ soul trilogy, coming on the coattails of Shaft, which had followed up his breakout masterpiece album, Hot Buttered Soul, released in 1969.

Hot Buttered Soul had been that perfect storm of an album at the ideal time in urban contemporary recording history by a supremely self-confident artist fully prepared to swagger into the empty void left when Otis Redding died young.  Hayes grabbed the soul baton and ran into the studio with it determined to create a new sound which became a shared musical holy trinity among his co-contemporaries, Curtis Mayfield and Barry White.  But Hayes went beyond sound, morphing into both sytle and statement.  His sound and appearance were both daring and deeply introspective.  Ultimately, the fruit of Hayes’ three-album musical trifecta would become the soundtrack of the ’70s for millions of listeners, a creative amalgamation which inspired Soul Train (which debuted at precisely the same time of this album), enduring for another decade, and beyond.

Here’s a quick taste.  Listen to Hayes interpretation of “Part-Time Love,” which as was so often the case with Hayes, a marked improvement on the original track (hey, give it a listen with headphones while reading this retrospective):

The songs on Black Moses aren’t original.  Most of the 14 compositions running a total length of 96 minutes (averaging an unheard of 7 minutes per song, which undoubtedly hampered radio airplay and hurt sales on the singles market) were written and previously recorded by other artists.  Nearly a half-century later, what gives this album such an evergreen quality that’s lacking in other collections is the seemingly discordant soundtrack laced so perfectly together with Hayes’ trademark baritone voice and interpretive adventurism, combined with an impeccable sense of musical timing.

By reinterpreting what were once known as songs from the “easy-listening” bin, cut originally by Burt Bachrach (The Carpenters’ #1 hit “Close to You”), Diane Warwick (“I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”), and Kris Kristofferson (“For the Good Times”) — Hayes risked his badass reputation among his most loyal urban base.  By doing his own thing, Hayes demonstrated just how cool risky musical genre crossover could become when performed with genuine affection and authenticity for the music and lyric.  Only Hayes could get away with singing song lyrics made famous by Karen Carpenter and still be looked upon as the hippest guy on the block.

Black Moses was accompanied by considerable behind-the-scenes conflict and public controversy that began even before its release.  The album title — “Black Moses” — was widely considered sacrilegious.  Hayes had been tagged with the religious and racially-tinged nickname in the racy headline of a Jet magazine feature article, and the name stuck.  Hayes, who was deeply religious, initially didn’t like it.  Gradually, Hayes began to embrace the nickname, not so much for his own aggrandizement, but rather for the message of power and pride it conveyed.  Years later, he said:

“Black men could finally stand up and be men because here’s Black Moses; he’s the epitome of black masculinity. Chains that once represented bondage and slavery now can be a sign of power and strength and sexuality and virility.”

If the album title raised eyebrows, then the cover design was downright scandalous.  Many called it outrageous.  Some fans who wore out copies of Hot Buttered Soul and Shaft refused to buy Black Moses.

We now forget that album covers were once bold statements, looked upon and works of art and pinnacles of photography.  Now, “album covers” barely fit into a tiny square the size of a downloadable thumbnail.  Liner notes all but disappeared.  Artistry is gone.  All the accessories that once made LP albums not merely something to be heard, but also to hold in your hands and fully absorb as a total sensory experience have been replaced by mouseclicks on iTunes.  This is what masquerades as progress.

Black Moses took cover art and album design to the very extreme.  On the cover, we see Hayes adorned in his Moses-like robe, his eyes shielded by Ray-Ban sunglasses, gazing up to the heavens.  Those who first unwrapped the album were in for an even bigger surprise.  The cover design opened into a shocking six-square inner fold which, when fully extended to four feet in length, transformed into the shape of a cross.

Not exactly subtle.

Then, there was the music.  The sound has since become fertile fodder for parody, which unfortunately has distorted what was (then and now) unique blend of voice, instrumentation, and rhythm.  Hayes performs all the lead vocals, frequently backed with a trio of female voices, a staple of late ’60’s R&B that came to define the Motown sound.  Hayes also plays all piano and keyboards, including a Hammond organ — which is heard throughout.

It’s as though Hayes never wanted to chase the musical record books.  He intentionally extended the lengths of his songs to unplayable lengths on commercial radio stations, going way beyond the conventional 3-minute hook designed to sell records.  Every selection on Black Moses clocks in at 5 minutes or more, with some tracks approaching 10 minutes in duration.  With Hayes, it was never about the money.  It was about the music, one reason he declared bankruptcy a few years after this album was released to lackluster reviews, despite this third in a stellar trilogy of creativity.

Black Moses was panned when it came out.  Rolling Stone trashed it (since then, they’ve regraded the album far more favorably).  In retrospect, we’ve come to recognize this album’s enduring musical and cultural legacy, with its shattering of conventional expectations during an era of intense change and upheaval.  It’s become a pillar of soul reflective of a coming out party for urban culture and ultimately an expression of self-identity.

Black Moses ranks among my top 100 essential albums of all time, although it’s a flawed masterpiece.  With each new album and interpretive take on a familiar song, we hear and see Hayes struggling to out-do himself from the one before.  Even for Isaac Hayes, in the recording studio or performing live, he was an impossible act to follow.

Here’s Hayes’ recording of The Carpenters’ classic, “Close to You.”

 

Note:  This is the first of a series of reviews and retrospectives of my 100 essential albums, expected to be posted here over the next year or so.  Countdown #100: “Black Moses” by Isaac Hayes

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Strangers in the Night

Posted by on Jul 16, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Rants and Raves, Travel | 0 comments

 

 

The sexes aren’t just different biologically.  The sexes are divided by a chasm — those who live in safety versus those who do not.  Most men can walk the streets at night.  Men answer their doorbells without feeling panic.  Men step onto an elevator and don’t worry about who’s on board.  Men are free to live their lives without fear.  Women don’t have this luxury of being careless.  Women need to be on the lookout at all times.  Women must on the defensive, always, not only wherever they go, but who they talk to and what vibes they give off.  Women must be cautious, even inside their own homes.  Hence, men are free.  And, women are not.

 

One of my senior cats got loose the other day.  He ran outside, jumped over a fence, and disappeared into a neighbor’s yard.  Then, the cat jumped another fence and another.

My cat ended up in the backyard of a house around the block.  So, I went to the front door and rang the bell expecting to be greeted by a neighborly welcome.

There was no answer.  Then, a middle-aged woman looked out the front window and peered through the drapes.  She stared at me.  I looked back at her and saw something strange.  It was a look of fear, laced with confusion.

“What can I do for you,” she hollered through the window pane.

“I lost my cat.  I think he’s in your backyard.”

The woman appeared confused.  It was obvious, she didn’t know what to do.  Frankly, I was a it annoyed by the incident.  “Hey, just go into the backyard, open the door, and give me my cat,” I thought to myself.  Okay, I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking.

The woman on the other side of the door had an entirely different perspective from me.  It’ a perspective I hadn’t ever contemplated before.  It’s probably a perspective oblivious to most men, including some of you who are reading.

After reflecting on the incident, I came to the realization the woman was simply protecting herself.  She was maximizing her very best chance of staying safe.  She was smart.  Opening the front door to a stranger might not seem like it poses much of a danger, but certainly comes with some element of risk.  What’s the risk exactly?   Five percent?  Or, even 1 percent?  Does it matter?  Is it worth it?  The percentages of risk are certainly higher when the potential victim is a woman and the stranger is a man.  Robbery or rape must be a serious concern for nearly every woman at some point, whether it’s in the workplace, walking across a parking lot late at night, and even when driving.  This is true especially when she’s alone.

After some verbal haggling with the lady, I ended up getting my cat.  I also learned a lesson firsthand that made me think more deeply about what I’d experienced and what precisely women have to go through almost daily, well, just because they’re women.

_____

In this country, White men are freer than all other demographic groups.  I don’t mean freer in the political or economic sense since the advantages in career and finance are obvious.  I mean the far more essential aspect of what constitutes a much broader definition of “freedom,” which means going through daily life without worrying about being harmed by someone whom we may or may not know.

Fact is, women have to make judgments about their safety every day.  Most men (including myself) cannot grasp this.  We can pretty much walk down any street day or night and not worry about being robbed or raped.  We can enter a deserted parking lot and not fear what might happen just around the next corner.  We aren’t really much concerned about our personal safety if the car fails to start or it breaks down along the road late in a so-called “bad area.”

One of the casualties of America’s increasing awareness of sexual harassment, physical assault, and abuse of power inside the workplace has been losing our focus on all the seemingly mundane interactions that take place between men and women, usually who don’t know each other, who are forced to interact together in all kinds of social and casual situations.  In virtually all such circumstances, it’s the woman who’s at risk, not the man.  Think about this.

The best example of this is the 30-second elevator ride scenario.  It goes like this:  A woman is working late at night.  She leaves her office and presses the elevator button.  The elevator opens up and a strange man is standing there on board, alone.  Does she enter?

Women must assess situations like this very quickly on an everyday basis.  Should she get on the elevator?  It depends.  Does the man’s appearance matter?  It shouldn’t.  Some rapists can appear very normal.  Ted Bundy wasn’t just normal — he was good-looking.  After killing at least 30 women, Bundy later admitted he used his appearance to gain their trust and prey on victims.  What about his age?  What about his race?  These are indeed tough questions to ponder.  For men, these questions are purely academic, and for myself — what amounts to a writing exercise.  For women, these questions may be a matter of life or death.

Tim Wise, writing in Medium recently, discussed the 30-second elevator ride when just such an incident in a hotel late one night triggered significant anxiety for the solo female passenger [READ THE STORY HERE].  Some men reading this are sure to dismiss women’s fears, either as irrational or an overreaction.  Perhaps some are likely to revert to an even more crude reaction.

Nonetheless, married men, and certainly all men with daughters and sisters, would be the first to say that women closest to them cannot be careful enough in these types of situations.  We don’t want our wives, daughters, or sisters walking down dark streets late at night.  We don’t want them getting on elevators alone when such a thing might be avoided.  So, on one hand, many of us refuse to accept the gender divide that men aren’t burdened with nearly as many precautions and fears in life.  Yet at the same time, we lecture our dearest loved ones and insist they can’t be too careful.

Having two different positions on the 30-second elevator question — one in general and the other for your own loved ones — is duplicitous.

_____

Gina Fiore lives here in Las Vegas.  I don’t know her well, but she’s a Facebook friend.

Yesterday, Gina posted a short story about a knock on her front door.  She peeked out and saw a man she didn’t know:

 

 

Gina’s decision was made much easier by seeing something she perceived to be unusual and dangerous.  The man was holding a brick.  That’s not a normal thing to do when knocking on someone’s door.  In fact, that’s probably a good enough reason to dial 9-1-1.  What man wouldn’t insist that his wife, daughter, or sister call the police in such a scenario?

But returning now to my earlier story about me looking for a cat, how is a woman able to make distinctions between normal everyday activities that we all encounter — versus real danger?  Is it the time of day?  Well, no.  Most robberies happen during the daytime, often in nice neighborhoods when people aren’t at home.  Should decisions be based on the appearance/gender/age/race of the person knocking on the door?  This is certainly a factor for most people.  Most of us would be quick to open our front door to an elderly lady.  Then, there’s the obvious counterexample which many won’t admit:  A young dark-skinned person probably wouldn’t be as trusted, nor extended those same courtesies.

 _____

There’s no easy answer about how to deal with situations at front doors, on elevators, an in parking lots.  One size doesn’t fit all.  Whatever the question, it almost never does.

However, given the very real risks that all men pose to women in their perceptions of situations viewed as potentially dangerous, it’s probably incumbent on us all to do what we can to make women feel more at ease.

I’d like to hear from women as to how we can do this.  I think it’s important, and so should you.

Please join the discussion either here in the comments section and/or on Facebook — CLICK HERE.

I look forward to reading and learning more.

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MSNBC: Mueller’s Latest Indictments Show That ‘Witches’ Are Very Real

Posted by on Jul 14, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Politics | 0 comments

 

 

Crediting the MSNBC website for this article (posted below), there’s absolutely NO DOUBT the so-called “witches” in Robert Mueller’s FBI investigation are indeed very real.

This is one of the clearest yet most comprehensive briefings on precisely where we stand at the moment in the criminal inquiry which is in the process of exposing the President of the United States as a criminal, and quite possibly a compromised asset of a hostile foreign power.  All the President’s Men are already being charged (Manafort, Flynn, and other liars) and some have pled guilty.  Manafort’s eating cold beans in jail right now for tampering with witnesses, a federal crime.  The dragnet is picking up the drudge.

Here’s the article from MSNBC re-posted in full, which I encourage everyone to read:

 

Mueller’s Latest Indictments Show That ‘Witches’ Are Very Real

 

Four vital takeaways from today’s charges:

Earlier today the Grand Jury for the District of Columbia charged twelve Russian intelligence officers with conspiring “to gain unauthorized access (to ‘hack’) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” The operation was sustained and sophisticated, and it targeted “over 300 individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC,” according to the indictment.

Furthermore, the operation was consequential. When, in February, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office released its indictment of Russians involved in the effort to impact American debate through social media, there was some justified chuckling at the small scale and amateurishness of that effort. The messages were silly, and the spending was a drop in the ocean compared to the massive, sustained, and coordinated social-media spending of American political parties and their allies.

The hacking scandal was different. The hacking scandal mattered.

There’s no way to know if it moved enough votes in key states to swing the election, but the leaks of hacked emails dominated multiple news cycles, embarrassed key Democrats, and sowed a degree of discord within the Democratic party. Republicans, including Donald Trump, exulted in the revelations and sometimes explicitly called for more. “Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump said publicly on July 27, 2016, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Interestingly, it appears the Russians may indeed have been listening. “After hours” on July 27, the conspirators “for the first time” targeted “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office,” according to Friday’s indictment.

There will be much more analysis and dot-connecting in the coming days, some of it valuable and much of it specious. But for now here are four key takeaways:

1. This indictment demonstrates why it’s important that Mueller be permitted to finish his work. Our nation needs to know what happened in 2016, and Mueller — through both the social-media indictment and the hacking indictment — has provided a clearer picture of the precise details of alleged Russian election meddling than any other source. This is a valuable public service, and to the extent that he can hold the actual conspirators accountable, it’s also an act of necessary justice.

2. It’s now becoming increasingly clear why intelligence agencies believe that Russians were trying to help Trump and hurt Clinton — the scale of the attack on the Clinton campaign, the DCCC, and the DNC was troubling. And while there are past reports that the Russians attempted to hack Republicans, this indictment outlines a comprehensive and sustained effort against the Democrats and is silent about a similar conspiracy aimed at Republicans. Perhaps more information will emerge, but the available public evidence at this point bolsters the intelligence agencies’ unanimous conclusion that Russia tried to help Trump.

3. The indictment practically screams, “More information is coming!” — including additional information about Russian communication with American citizens. For example, paragraph 43a of the indictment contains the first evidence of possible Russian collusion with an American candidate for public office — not President Trump, but an unnamed candidate for Congress:

Then there’s this disturbing detail about a transfer of information (including the personal identifying information of Democratic donors) to a “state lobbyist and online source of political news”:

Finally, there’s this partial record of communication between the newly indicted Russians and a “person who was in regular contact with senior members” of Trump’s presidential campaign:

Thus, while the indictment doesn’t establish collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, it clearly indicates that Mueller possesses evidence and information that the public hasn’t yet seen. Guesses about that additional evidence are just that, guesses, but we can make an educated presumption that there is more to come.

4. This indictment makes it even more troubling that Trump mocks, denigrates, and undermines the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt.” We now know that there was real wrongdoing; we just don’t yet know its extent.

We don’t yet know if Trump cooperated in any way with Russian schemes. But when we learn more about the extent of Russian efforts to disrupt the 2016 election (and aid Trump), when we remember that Donald Jr. actually tried to collude, when we ponder for more than a few moments the web of financial connections between senior Trump aides such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn and the Kremlin or Kremlin allies, and when we know that Russians contacted Trump friends and advisers to offer “dirt” on the Clinton campaign — well, Trump’s repeated demands that the investigation end become much less understandable.

Republicans were rightly outraged when Barack Obama opined about the pending Clinton-email investigation, and we have since learned that his gratuitous and public exoneration of the then–likely Democratic nominee created a headache for the FBI. Now it’s time for Republicans to be consistent. As Mueller reveals more facts about Russian interference and indicts more individuals for troubling crimes uncovered as part of his entirely legitimate investigation, it’s time for the GOP to tell the president that the hunt needs to continue, because the witches are very real.

 

Be sure and visit my Facebook page for more discussion on this article and other related topics.

 

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Doyle Brunson’s All-Time Favorite Movie Westerns — Part 2

Posted by on Jul 11, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

 

 

I recently went to dinner with poker legend Doyle Brunson.

Prior to this interview, which took place at Roma Deli in Las Vegas in May 2018, I asked Doyle to come up with a list of his “20 favorite westerns.”

Doyle couldn’t restrain himself.  He not only came up with 20 great westerns.  He tripled the request and listed more than 60 favorites.  Doyle probably could have listed at least 100 movies and talked about every single one of them.  Most incredible, without any notes or references, even at age 84, Doyle was able to remember and recite intricate details about each movie and shared with us why each film on his list meant something special to him.

Here is PART 2 of the series, which ranks Doyle’s favorite movie westerns — numbers #11 through #30.

 

Miss the previous episode?  Here’s a link to PART 1 — numbers #31 through #60.

These video clips last about 25 minutes each.

You can also see the complete list of Doyle’s favorite westerns ranked here at the 5th Street Sports website once Part 3 has been posted.  The final segment will be posted shortly, which contains Doyle’s “Top Ten” list.

This video series is brought to you by 5thStreetSports.com.

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My Interview with the Duke of Fremont Street

Posted by on Jul 2, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Las Vegas, Talking Points, Video 1 | 3 comments

 

 

The Duke of Fremont Street is a cathedral to class.

If you’ve been around Las Vegas for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve seen the dapper gentleman dressed to the limit.  If not, then perhaps the 1938 Cadillac caught your attention.  From his earliest origins spent gambling along the Mississippi River all the way to the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, the Duke has been there and always seems to be closing a deal.

In this 25-minute interview, I sat down with the Duke where we talked about his life, what he thinks of Las Vegas and casinos today, and where he thinks we’re all headed.  No surprise, the Duke delivers.  He holds nothing back.  He sounds just as cool as he looks.

CLICK AND WATCH HERE:

This was one of the first (of several) interviews we’ve recorded as part of a new series called “The Basement Tapes,” brought to you by 5th Street Sports.  We shot the video in a basement, where the studio is located — hence, the show’s name.

I had a great time interviewing the Duke, which is obvious in this video.  Thanks to my guest for coming on to the show and setting a shining example of elegance, perhaps matched though never surpassed.

Hope you enjoy.

 

Note: See more interviews and sports gambling-related news at 5thStreetSports.com

 

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