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Posted by on Jan 14, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Hafez Persian Cuisine (Las Vegas)

 

 

RESTAURANT REVIEW:
HAFEZ PERSIAN CUISINE (LAS VEGAS)

I’ve enjoyed Persian (Iranian) cuisine for more than 30 years. Ever since I ordered my very first Koobideh, the authentic preparations from that part of the world have me completely hooked.

Persian food often gets miscategorized as Lebanese, Turkish, Armenian, and even Greek. Indeed, some of the dishes and many of the basic ingredients are very similar to other nations in the area. However, Persian food, which dates back many centuries, is distinct for its glorious mix of spices and flavors, meticulous preparation and attention to detail, and a few odd ingredients specific to the land which is now Iran.

Las Vegas has half a dozen or so decent Persian restaurants. Zaytoon’s within walking distance of my home, has been a family staple for more than a decade. Shiraz, on Decatur, is also very good. Now, let’s add Hafez to that list of dependable, delicious, and affordable restaurants.

Owned by a family that immigrated to the US many years ago (their photo hangs on the wall and they work in the restaurant), the location is somewhat the outlier. Hafez is smack dab in the middle of Chinatown, which means it’s easy to miss and not so easy to find. But the search and journey is well worth it.

On Monday, Marieta and I enjoyed the house lunch special which is offered 7 days a week. Koobideh (and other items) are complete and sell for only $9.95. What a steal. Marieta added an Aush soup, as well, and noted it was the best she’s tried since Royal Persis (LV’s first Persian establishment, now closed). The soup was plenty large (easily enough to share).

Hafez, named for a 14th Century Persian poet, is a spotless restaurant. The decor is modern and tastefully done. Large television screens with visuals of nature and animal life compliment a bright room that is open and airy. Modern Middle Eastern music was playing during our visit, which was just the right volume and vibe. There’s also a bakery connected to the restaurant. Everything is made in-house.

Dinner prices are about one expects from the typical Mediterranean establishment in Las Vegas. Main entres are priced in the $12-20 range. This makes the lunch special quite a bargain (same food for essentially half the price, though the portion is smaller).

Hafez deserves a visit, especially if you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine. And even if you don’t give Hafez a try. They merit a strong recommendation and deserve to succeed.

 

HAFEZ:  WEBSITE AND MENU HERE

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Posted by on Jan 11, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

2019 NFL: Divisional Playoff Round

 

 

Yes, the thought did occur to me.

Take my nearly $2,000 in profit, then wager conservatively over the next three weeks, and lock up a guaranteed profit for the season.  Then, I could boast 5 out of 7 winning years and coast on my laurels heading into next season.

Yeah, the thought did occur to me.

Thing is, I think most of you reading this are going to be in action on every playoff game going forward. It’s probably in our nature. While it’s wise to pass on games that produce no tangible advantages when it comes to the betting numbers, most of us do tempt our fate. Accordingly, I must deal with that reality. That means wagering on situations that look to be contrarian in nature and appear to offer some degree of value.

So — nope, I’m not slowing down.  It’s full steam ahead.

NOTE:  Here’s two articles I posted on SIDES and TOTALS for this week’s games.  Check them out.

 

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2019 NFL WAGERING RECORD

Wins — Losses — Pushes          78 — 63 — 3

Starting Bankroll:   $ 8,398.

Current Bankroll:   $10,316.  (+ $1,918.)

Last Week’s Results (Week #18):         5 — 1 — 1  (+ $975. minus $200 lost in season-long picks contest)

**************************************************************

THIS WEEK’S WAGERS 

This week, I made FIVE bets.  I’m wagering $1,375 to win $1,250.  I’ve wagered on three of the four games.  However, I’ve analyzed all four games.  Here are my thoughts:

SATURDAY GAMES AND ANALYSIS:

Minnesota/San Francisco OVER 44 — Risking $275 to win $250

Minnesota +7 vs. San Francisco — Risking $275 to win $250

Minnesota Team Total OVER 19.5 for Game — Risking $275 to win $250

Comments:  I need the Minnesota Vikings to score points. So, what makes me confident they will do so. Answer — several factors:

— I was mighty impressed with head coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan last week.  He badly outcoached the Saints and I think he can do the same thing here.  Zimmer has significant playoff experience, while this is 49ers’ coach Shanahan’s first playoff game (as head coach).  With the Vikings freerolling here off the big upset last week, I think this team will be loose and confident. Minnesota also enjoys far more playoff experience than the San Francisco players.

— Mike Zimmer’s ATS record is remarkable, and probably the most compelling reason to bet the Vikings in multiple wagers. Zimmer-coached Viking teams are just 18-18 ATS versus divisional opponents.  However, they are an astounding 44-20 ATS versus all other opponents.  That’s better than 70 percent, which is unheard of.  For whatever reason, Zimmer-coached teams perform way above market expectation when out of the division.  Minnesota getting +7 makes this virtually an automatic wager.

—  San Francisco began the first half of the season with a fierce defense that was one of the NFL’s best.  But more recently, the 49ers have looked very average on the defensive side of the ball.  San Francisco has given up 20+ points in 8 of their last 9 games.  Hence, I expect Minnesota can certainly cover the 19.5 team total, which is one of my three wagers.  Inexplicably, bettors have moved the vig towards the under on this total/prop in a few spots, which I can’t understand. Minnesota moved the ball very well in New Orleans last week and should enjoy some success here, as well. WR Thielen is out for the Vikings, which might have been the main factor for a small move, but this team total should still be at least 20, especially given the less-than-impressive performance of the 49ers defense in the second half of the season.

— Minnesota’s offense has scored 20+ points in 8 of its last 9 games.  So, given San Francisco has surrendered 20+ in 8 of last 9 (since midseason), it doesn’t seem like a stretch to expect 20+ from the Vikings in this game.

— So long as Minnesota reaches the 20-point threshold, that sets us up for a possible scoop with all three wagers. San Francisco should get points themselves given their offensive prowess — 28 PPG on average since midseason. Hence, this total at just 44, looks a little low.

— Weather will make for ideal playing conditions, probably an edge to the offenses:  Temperature in the mid-50s. Wind gusts 10-15 mph. Likely, aside from a little wind, these are ideal conditions for football, including both offenses. Edge to the “over.”

— Minnesota has traveled west this season two previous occasions.  The Vikings scored 39 points versus LA Chargers and 30 points versus Seattle.  Both games soared over the total.  Here’s some more data on both teams and totals this season:

  • San Francisco has gone over in seven of its last 10 games
  • San Francisco has gone over in five of its last six home games
  • In nine of the last 13 games played at San Francisco between these two teams, the total has gone over
  • Minnesota has gone over in six of its last nine games
  • Minnesota has gone over in five of its last six road games

The bottom line is — Minnesota appears to have value catching the +7.  This is the more experienced playoff team.  The total looks a bit low given the recent performances of these teams.  Scoring should be helped by ideal playing conditions.  All these factors have inspired me to wager Minnesota +7, the Vikings team total to eclipse 19.5, and the game total to sail over 44.

 

Tennessee/Baltimore UNDER 47 — Risking $275 to win $250

Comments:  Both of these teams should run the ball more than average, and that will keep the clock moving.  Three ball carriers are former Heisman trophy winners.  The added pressure of a playoff game and two offenses with little big-game experience should add to a move conservative game plan by each team.  Weather should also be a factor, at least marginally so.  The weather was expected to be bad earlier in the week when cold rain and high winds were forecasted. But now it looks like the winter storm might come after the game. Nonetheless, winds will be in the 10-15 mph range, gusting up to 20 mph. There is a chance of drizzle. The conditions should favor the under.  I locked in a bet on the under early in the week and caught the very important key number of 47 (this way, a 27-20 final, or similar number combo won’t kill the ticket).  The number moved to 46.5 for a time, but is now back to 47 as the swarms of bettors flood the windows thinking the Titans and Ravens (both strong over teams this season) will get into a shootout.  My contrarian leanings tell me that playoff football in January is a very different type of game, and pressure.  I expect at least one defense to come up big and this point total to fall beneath the posted total of 47.  Note:  One of the odd intangibles I read while researching this game relates to the head referee.  While handicapping referees and totals isn’t the science we see in Major League Baseball, there may be something to some referees speeding up the pace of play (keeping the clock moving on marginal our of bounds plays, for instance) or in the way penalties are called.  Bill Vinovich will be officiating this game.  In his career as an NFL official, his games have gone 57-42 to the under.  No, that’s not a huge factor.  But it’s worth mentioning and just another reason to bet this total to fall lower than 47.  Note: The game total has climbed to 47.5 in some places, as public pounds the over.  I may have taken a bad number. However, I bet this earlier in the week thinking weather might get bad and drive the number down a point or two.

 

SUNDAY’S GAMES AND ANALYSIS:

Houston at Kansas City — No plays

Comments:  I don’t see any value in this game, though I lean slightly to Kansas City laying -9.5  Chiefs defense is playing far better the last five games of the season, and could make for a long day for the Texans offense, which was shut down completely for the first 43 minutes of last week’s home playoff game versus Buffalo.  Texans task will be for tougher this week, facing an explosive and rested offense.  I think if you can get -9.5, Kansas City is probably worth a look.  The Chiefs should be very confident in this spot at home and will face an opponent that was very lucky to win and get to this game, falling behind 16-0 at one point.  Anything resembling that kind of poor effort will result in a blowout here.  What keeps me off the game is Houston beating Kansas City at Arrowhead previously this season.  In fact, the Texans dominated that game.  That was way back in Week #6, but I’m still wary of how that game turned out.  I also don’t like laying lots of points in any game, let alone the playoffs, so that compels me to pass. But I can certainly see why many bettors would be attracted to Kansas City laying less than -10.

 

Seattle at Green Bay UNDER 46.5 — Risking $275 to win $250

Comments:  I tend to like highly-experienced quarterbacks to go over the betting total, especially when playing against each other.  If one QB gets on fire, that sometimes creates a shootout situation.  It would be hard to find two better-suited QBs for these conditions than Rodgers (Green Bay) and Wilson (Seattle).  So, why am I playing the under?  Here are my thoughts:

— Weather could be a factor:  A later start (5:40 pm CST) means temperatures could be even colder than the low-20s forecasted for the high. But Green Bay, notorious for Ice Bowl weather in January, might be spared. Still, this level of cold is unlikely to suit Seattle. Edge to the “under,” though historically, Green Bay scoring totals haven’t been affected much by cold weather.

— Seattle’s offense is an injury ward.  I won’t get into details, but the Seahawks came out of last week’s Philadelphia road win as a hobbled team.

— Seahawks haven’t exactly lit up the scoreboard lately, averaging just 18 points per game in their last five contests.  They’ve scored just 13, 21, and 17 in their last three contests and now play a road game versus a top defense.  Back-to-back road games, this one in frigid conditions with an injured team isn’t the recipe to turn mediocre offensive numbers around.

— Meanwhile, Green Bay has been sporadic offensively, going under in 4 of their last 5 at home.  Former MVP QB Rodgers isn’t having a great season, despite the Packers’ impressive 13-3 record.  They got to the #2 seed by running the ball and playing solid defense.  Packers since midseason in their last 8 games are averaging just slightly better than 20 points-per-game.  This total might be inflated based on previous years of Packers’ home playoff games when they would often produce big plays and lots of points.  This looks to be a very different team this season.

— Green Bay’s defense is playing terrific.  Their last five games — allowed 13, 15, 13, 10, and 20 points, respectively.  They’re also riding a five-game winning streak, so don’t look for the coaching staff to rock the boat with any significant changes.  The Packers will run the ball and expect their defense to contain the always-dangerous Wilson, who is by far the Seahawks’ best weapon.

— The betting total at 46.5 doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of injuries, weather, and the way these teams have performed in the latter half of the season.  I do see value at this number, and anything higher than 44.  That would be my projected total.

Accordingly, I’ve wagered one unit on the under 46.5 in this game, which hopefully results in another winning weekend.

 

Good luck!

 

INVESTMENT GROUP [37 persons Active]

Investor  —- Amount —- Pct. of Total Fund
Heldar $ 211 2.51%
Watanabe $ 100 1.19%
Peter Lucier $ 1,000 11.91%
Kramer $ 302 3.60%
Finbar O’Mahoney $ 200 2.38%
Howler $ 100 1.19%
Linda Keenan $ 500 5.95%
John Pickels $ 100 1.19%
Patrick Kirwan $ 100 1.19%
Sean McGinnis $ 300 3.57%
Jim Anderson $ 252 3.00%
Chad Holloway $ 200 2.38%
Eric Schneller $ 500 5.95%
Randy Collack $ 351 4.18%
Dave Lawful $ 100 1.19%
Paul Harris $ 1,000 11.91%
Dan Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Sharon Goldman $ 51 0.61%
Ken QB $ 102 1.21%
Chuck Weinstock $ 102 1.21%
Peter Taki Caldes $ 102 1.21%
Kenny Shei $ 51 0.61%
Jeff Deitch $ 51 0.61%
Kevin Un $ 128 1.52%
Becca Kerl $ 22 0.26%
Corey Imsdahl $ 102 1.21%
Don Bingo Rieck $ 102 1.21%
Jeff Siegel $ 1,000 11.91%
Stephen Cohen (payment pending) $ 100 1.19%
John Reed $ 114 1.36%
George Wattman $ 51 0.61%
Mickdog Patterson $ 51 0.61%
Larry Lubliner $ 100 1.19%
Grizz Berentsen $ 100 1.19%
Edmund Hack $ 100 1.19%
Bob Feduniak $ 500 5.95%
David “Quick” Horowitz $ 102 1.21%
TOTAL $ 8,398 100.00%

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Posted by on Jan 10, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Aroy Thai Kitchen (Las Vegas)

 

Pad Thai

 

AROY THAI KITCHEN

[On Ft. Apache, just north of Tropicana]

We discovered a new place yesterday, AROY which is right next to the beltway and Ft. Apache in a strip mall. Nothing fancy. Just a cheap and solid lunch spot.

Thai specials were $6.95 to $8.95 and include small soup, fresh Thai roll, lettuce, and entre of choice. Food was every bit as good as any casual Thai place — but super fast and affordable.

Marieta and I dined for $18.50 and left very satisfied.

Inside is clean, somewhat spartan, but real silverware, and amenities. It’s a bargain for the money.

When I used to travel all the time, Thai food was often my “go-to” road cuisine because rarely have I had a bad experience with Thai menus. Las Vegas is packed with cheap and good Thai restaurants. I really don’t need more choices, but do also like to step out and try new places, on occasion.

If you’re in the mood for good Thai food at a bargain price and live on the West Side, AROY is yet another solid recommendation.

Website:  Aroy Thai Kitchen

Note: I had the Pad Thai on my first and only visit. Marieta had the spare ribs, which were fall-off-the-bone delicious.  I’m returning there for lunch again today.

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Posted by on Jan 9, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 5

 

Van Morrison

 

“I write songs.  Then, I record them.  And, later, maybe I perform them on stage.  That’s what I do.  That’s my job.  Simple.”

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS:  WEEK 5

Part 5 (Days 29-35) of an ongoing retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 29

“Your Mind is on Vacation” (1995)

On May 3rd, 1995, Van Morrison booked Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London for an afternoon. This was to be quite an exclusive engagement. Van brought in three fellow jazz masters and within just five remarkable hours recorded an entire album that became, How Long Has This Been Going On.

There was no audience that day. The only witnesses to the impromptu jam session were the musician themselves, including two of Van’s longtime collaborators — Pee Wee Ellis (on sax) and Georgie Fame (on piano). It’s practically unthinkable that Van and friends recorded 14 tracks in all that day, including four original songs. Again, in just FIVE hours.

The rest of the songs, 10 in all, were jazz covers. One of the covered songs was Mose Allison’s 1976 composition, “Your Mind is on Vacation.” This song has been recorded by an eclectic mic mix of performers, at different speeds, and done in various styles. Elvis Costello, Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, and Van Morrison were but a few to add their signatures to Allison’s classic.

Typically, most covers are not as good as the original. However, Van and the jazz ensemble absolutely kill on this tune. Even though there’s no live audience, the vibe very much sounds and feels like a jazz nightclub, which is precisely what Van was aiming for in the session.

RECOMMENDED: First, listen to the original release by Mose Allison, which is very good. This original recording is HERE. Then, play the 1995 remake with Van in what amounts to a live take. No overdubbing. No filler. No autotune. No special effects. No mixing. No real post-production. Just pure jazz.

Van’s long career has been driven by erratic spontaneity. Fans never know what direction he’ll swerve next, nor what project he’ll undertake, nor know just who might appear alongside him in the studio. In a recording industry strictly driven by genres and pigeonholing, Van has never succumbed to boundaries, something which has probably cost him exposure and sales. He’s done disparate albums categorized as rock, blues, jazz, country, folk, meditative, skiffle, soul, traditional, and even appeared on movie soundtracks. He might do a jazz album one day, and engage in gospel music the next.

Interestingly, when Van was asked about these sessions sometime afterward, he noted that the album wasn’t planned. Van and his jazz compatriots had all been talking about doing a jazz album together for 25 years, dating back to the “Moondance” period. Then, everyone discovered they happened to be in London with a free day, so Van said, “Let’s do it.”

How Long Has This Been Going On fared poorly just about everywhere, except in the U.K. where it charted at #1 in the jazz genre.

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 30

“Naked in the Jungle” (1974)

Some songs sound far better when performed live rather than the studio version. “Naked in the Jungle,” performed in 1974 at Van’s live set in Montreux, Switzerland is a perfect example.

The song was composed sometime in the early 70s and was a staple of Van’s live shows during that prolific period of both touring and recording. However, other than appearing on several bootlegs and one obscure live album with a limited release, the track remained unavailable publically until more than 20 years later. It’s baffling as to why there was such a lengthy delay, given the tremendous energy of the song and the distinctive electric-techno riffs, which were cutting-edge sounds in that time period. Certainly, the opportunity for a hit record was missed.

Van’s “backup band” here is stellar. And that’s an understatement. Dallas Taylor, the former drummer for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, is on drums. Taylor is extraordinary on this track and seems to play so effortlessly. I like how the camera on this video focuses on the musicality, including Taylor’s drum work. Jerome Rimson is on bass, who is equally up to the task. But the real star of the track, perhaps even outshining Van on vocals and acoustic guitar, is Pete Wingfield on the Wurlitzer organ. Watch the hand movement here, which for a live set is pretty amazing. Incredibly, this backing trio of session musicians didn’t play together prior to this engagement at Montreux. Yet no one misses a note, nor skips a beat. Other than a few rehearsals, the band never did any studio work nor other tour dates (though Wingfield did appear on Van’s later album, Into the Music). A great song is made even better here by the spontaneous energy from each musician.

Eager to separate himself from the rock genre, Van sought to play at jazz festivals and outlier events whenever possible. Montreux was one of the biggest and most prestigious jazz gatherings and being invited to play was a big deal. Van made two Montreux appearances — one in 1974 and the other in 1980 — which are among his best live shows. Perhaps this is some indication he took these gigs more seriously than standard tour stops. In an upcoming series of “lessons,” I’ll devote more time to the Montreux backstory, which has some fascinating twists and turns.

Van’s appearance here is also worth noting. Looking every bit like the math Graduate Teaching Assistant with the 70’s-era glasses, beige corduroy pants, and brown shirt, Van is very much anti-hipster. He’s so uncool, that he’s actually cool. While David Bowie was doing Ziggy Stardust, Elton John was displaying wild costumes, and Mick Jaggar was prancing around stages, Van — very much their contemporary — went in the totally opposite direction. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MUSIC, NOTHING ELSE” Van was quoted as saying.

This clip says everything about being into the music with no regard for commercial sales nor personal flamboyance. It’s one reason, of many, Van has a very unique following. Like aged scotch, it’s not for everyone’s tastes. But it’s an acquired appreciation.

“Naked in the Jungle” is a great song, enhanced here by exceptional musicianship. Have a look and a listen and see if you agree.

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 31

“Spanish Steps” (1987)

One of Van’s edgier instrumentals is “Spanish Steps,” which opens the album, Poetic Champions Compose.

Van intended this album to be composed entirely of jazz instrumentals. But after writing and recording the first three tracks, in typical VM fashion, he veered off-script and opted instead to add a grab bag of songs of varying genres. That inexplicable whim made this album terribly difficult to pigeonhole — was it a jazz album or a pop album? Unfortunately, the mid-1980s were a rigid time when vinyl records (and CDs which were first introduced) were sold in retail stores and strictly categorized by genre. There were different music sections and most buyers didn’t cross into other areas. Van’s recordings, particularly from this period with so much varied instrumentation, never quite fit in anywhere.

Indeed, Van has always been something of a musical nomad.

Circa 1987 was also the height of the MTV era when pop music was accompanied — some say dominated — by music videos. To produce a hit single, a music video was absolutely mandatory. Well, Van never gave a damn about any of that, and just did his own thing. That’s one reason most readers, even fans of Van’s music” are unlikely to be familiar with the recording being examined today.

Poetic Champions Compose received a mixed response from critics. Rolling Stone magazine dismissed it as “a cranky self-imitation.” Over time, the album has gained some traction and respect. From listening to “Spanish Steps,” it’s easy to understand why there are mixed feelings. The song is gritty. It sounds like something Quincy Jones might have recorded in the early ’60s.

Van often does much of his own saxophone work in live performances and in some recordings. He does great work here on the lead sax. Also, pay particular attention to the tempo change about midway through. Very creatively done.

Sometimes, words aren’t necessary. All we need to hear is the sound of the sax to change our mood and go to a different place.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 32

“Tupelo Honey” (1971)

 

“….You can’t stop us on the road to freedom.
You can’t stop us, ‘cuz our eyes can see….”

“Tupelo Honey” is the title track on what began as a country-western album. Van had spent the previous two years writing dozens of new songs while living in upstate New York. He was heavily influenced by his neighbors — namely Bob Dylan and members of The Band who had veered away from electric guitars towards acoustics and a more folk- and country-based sound

Van had just come off two successful albums released in the previous year heavily rooted in jazz and R&B. So, shiting to a very different musical genre posed significant career risks.

One of the downsides to Van’s newfound success and fame was having to fend off groupies and other distractions. Just as he began recording these tracks, he got fed up with the local scene and abruptly moved across the country, settling down in Marin County. California. Van’s sudden relocation meant he’d have to form a new backup band from scratch and also hire a new production team. Already beset by a reputation for being difficult to work with, Van hoped to be able to find suitable musicians and freelancers in the Bay Area. While Van enjoyed a few steady sidemen over the years, this impulsiveness led to a revolving door of band-mates that made every new recording and touring a tedious process.

Tupelo Honey is to Van Morrison what Nashville Skyline was to Bob Dylan. That is to say, just as the 1969 album represented a significant break from expectation, Van was also searching for some simpler musical distillation. Just as Dylan thought the New York music scene had grown stale — and so, he looked south to Nashville where recording studios were popping up and many of the best songwriters and session players were relocating — Van’s bolt for the West Coast was a similar act of rebellion. There he would be able to craft a more homespun folky sound.

Van got what he wanted and Warner, his new recording label, got their new album. “Tupelo Honey” is arguably the strongest track on the 11-song collection. The single was a modest hit, charting at #27 in the U.S. Also, an unusual reversal of fortune for Van, the album sold very well inside the U.S. but bombed elsewhere it was released. Hence, it’s a mixed bag of both success and failure.

Surprisingly, Van later regarded the album as one of his worst, saying the songs were just “a bunch of leftovers” from too much time spent in Woodstock. The trial and stress of putting an entirely new band together and being pressed to go on tour again within weeks also contributed to a feeling for rejection for the material.

Nonetheless, “Tupelo Honey” remains a lovely song with some beautiful lyrics, clever instrumentation, and a catchy sing-a-long chorus. The song title refers to a specific type of honey produced in and around Tupelo, Missississippi.

“Tupelo Honey” might seem simple and country-themed, but it slowly expands into something far more powerful over more than 6 minutes in duration, driven by a rousing combination of percussion, folksy guitar, and Van ad-libbing many of the unusual lyrical connections and bridges.

Finally, while Tupelo Honey wasn’t really the folk/country album Van had originally planned, 37 years later he went into the studio and recorded Pay the Devil, a collection of country classics and some originals. So, Van did eventually deliver on the full folk/country theme, albeit many years later.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 33

“Fame” (2003)

Van Morrison’s near-pathological loathing of the media and his distaste for granting interviews is comically epic. Or, epically comical.

Consider this story. Years ago, Van was in a Paris hotel room while on a tour break. Per his record contract, he’d agreed to grant a half-hour interview to a top journalist with Le Monde, one of the biggest publications in France. The interview seemed to be going relatively well, when out of nowhere, just as the reporter was in mid-sentence asking a question, Van looked at his wristwatch, then snapped, “your 30 minutes are over. We’re done.”

The roots of Van’s distrust and deep resentment of media, show business, the music industry, and fame will be the topic of future lessons. However, this topic has driven Van to write a number of provocative songs that vilify his critics and unnamed members of the press. One such song is “Fame,” from the 2003 album, What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is one of 13 original compositions, mostly blues-oriented, which earned him a well-deserved Grammy nomination for Best Album. Over the years, this album has been largely forgotten by the public due to a voluminous number of other recordings — before and since.

Van’s lyrics are both masterful and incendiary. I particularly love the Andy Warhol reference. I won’t give away any surprises. You’ll just have to listen.

In one of my earlier notes, I wrote about “Greta,” off the Born to Sing: No Plan B album, which is a tribute to the late Greta Garbo and her intensely private manner which became a life of self-seclusion. “Fame” is very much in the same vein, though he doesn’t play as nice on this recording. Van tears into the media and like a junkyard dog and doesn’t let go. Not since Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” (1982) has there been a more spirited attack on the establishment press than this bluesy chestnut.

Note that this initial recording (off the 2003 album) is the only one available on YouTube. But it cuts off at the 3-minute mark. Van re-did the song as a duet on the utterly forgettable 2017 album, Roll With the Punches. This later version sounds unrehearsed and lacks the vocal clarity of the original. However, Van’s harmonica work on the recent version is quite good.

Also note this original version of “Fame” isn’t the same hit song composed and recorded by David Bowie (1975).

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 34

“The Way Young Lovers Do” (1968)

Astral Weeks was Van Morrison’s second solo album and is widely considered to be his masterpiece. In the half-century since its release, it’s been deciphered, discussed, debated, and dissected by everyone from rock critics to fans to poets to fellow musicians. The seminal work is often ranked as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

Yet, Astral Weeks isn’t a rock album at all. It’s in many ways the antithesis of a rock album. It’s not an outward expression so much as an internal sojourn. Each song in its own way cements the collection as a whole, yet none of the tracks was suited for top-40 radio airplay nor destined to become a hit single. Van is clearly intent on exploration on his terms.

The album was Van’s follow-up to the success of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” but it was a monumental disappointment both personally and for the record company. It sold poorly. At the time, critics largely ignored it. It took years, decades even, to gain the respect and reverence it rightly deserves.

Astral Weeks is best listened to alone, purely as a musically meditative exercise. There’s nothing conventional about the lyrics, melodies, timing, nor messaging, which like most great works in literature are open to the broadest possible interpretation. One can listen over and over again and gain something different each time.

Whatever one’s opinion is on this melancholy and weirdly complex album, it’s astonishing that Van wrote and composed this entire body of work on his own at age 23. He had no George Martin-figure in the studio nor an alter-ego to share ideas with. Indeed, Astral Weeks is the complex distillation of a lone struggling musician strumming a guitar over and over again, trying to get it right, experimenting with different lyrics, and re-arranging the melody into idiosyncratic patterns. It’s a Salvadore Dali. It’s a Jackson Pollock. It sounds like nothing of its time.

“The Way Young Lovers Do” has been criticized as the weakest track on the album, described as “uncomfortably out of place,” which I think is a terrific place to begin when discussing this work.

Unlike conventional rock which is written in quadruple metre, “The Way Young Lovers Do” is in triple metre, a jolt to standard pop music convention. With its odd syncopation and multi-layered instrumentation, the song is a virtual narcotic of sounds. It’s a trip.

Nothing on this track sounds quite like it fits — the jazz beat, the double bass, Van’s wailing vocals, the ode of young love in the lyrics. Everything clashes., even the backing echoes of horns and strings. Yet, oddly enough — it all fits.

Quoting my good friend Benjo DiMeo, who resides in Paris and is a fellow amateur music aficionado:  “Long ago I read that Van just asked his musicians to go crazy on their instruments, without paying too much attention to each other. Don’t remember if this applied to the whole album or just this song, but you can hear it clearly here.”

Rock critic Craig McCallister wrote:

“Astral Weeks is a critics’ wet dream of an album, consistently frothed over and placed at the upper reaches of ‘Best Albums Ever’ lists. It’s a particular kind of album; a heady mix of rock, folk, jazz, and soul which doesn’t always hit the mark for me, but, when it does, bullseye!…..Van sketched out the track on his acoustic guitar and encouraged the others to fall in behind him. Going against the grain of late 60s studio work, Van didn’t prepare chord charts or musical scores. Instead, the whole thing was kept together with head nods, subtle glances and the unspoken telepathy that happens between seasoned pros. What was recorded for posterity is essentially the first run-through of the track.”

 

VAN MORRISON DOCUMENTARY:

PART ONE (EARLY YEARS)

Here’s an excellent documentary on Van’s early life, from 1945-1964 (up through the creation of Them).  Well worth watching if you’re following the MasterClass.

The main takeaway from this 10-minute segment:  Van grows up on a steady diet of country-western music, the blues, jazz, skiffle, and other influences.  He gets into rock n’ roll because “there was no other outlet for what I really wanted to do.”

I’ll post more segments as the MasterClass continues, going forward.

 

Previous Segments:
Note:  Follow me on Facebook for the latest editions of the Van Morrison MasterClass, and more.
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Posted by on Jan 8, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

Restaurant Review: Juan’s Flaming Fajitas & Cantina

 

juan's flaming fajitas las vegas

 

The difference in a good restaurant and a great restaurant can be summed up in one word:

DETAILS

It’s the details that matter. The small things. The little touches.

Flaming Fajita is a Tex-Mex restaurant on W. Tropicana. Marieta and I have dined here perhaps 20-25 times. The food is very good. The service is friendly. The prices are reasonable. It’s an above-average eatery in most ways.

But what makes Flaming Fajita great are the DETAILS.

Consider this complimentary sampler that comes when we sit down, at lunch no less, when prices are cheaper. The warm bottomless basket of chips, with three side dips. But the kicker is the slices jalapeno peppers with roasted onions on the side. Served without asking. Free of charge. To me, that’s class. That’s a bargain.

The lunch margarita is $3.99 — so what you are looking at in the photo (above) is essentially $3.99 worth of food. The Tuesday special is any TWO items off the menu, with rice and beans, for $11.95.

No, this isn’t the greatest Tex-Mex food I’ve tasted, though it’s always reliable and quite good. What makes me take 10 minutes out of my day is when I see a private establishment go out of their way to serve the customer and take pride in the presentation and value. So, let this post serve as my personal endorsement.

BTW, there is one other Flaming Fajita location, on Water Street in Henderson. I’ve had two people tell me that spot is even better than the westside location. But, I have never been there.

Glad to share what I think is one of the better lunch places in Las Vegas, especially if you reside on the west side (or in Henderson).

WEBSITE:  JUAN’S FLAMING FAJITAS & CANTINA

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