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The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 6

Posted by on Jan 16, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

Part 6 (Days 36-42) of an ongoing retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison

 

Van Morrison and Janet Planet

“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 6

 

WAIT! IS THAT VAN MORRISON OR MICK JAGGER?

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 36

“Go On Home, Baby” (1965)

Some of Van Morrison’s earliest recordings with the Northern Irish band, Them, are often misidentified as Mick Jagger with the Rolling Stones. It’s easy to understand why listeners — both then and now — would presume the vocals belong to Jagger. However, Van’s voice was always a slight bit raspier. Moreover, Van never went commercial, sold out his music, nor played the fame game like most of the so-called “British Invasion” groups (a misnomer that absolutely incensed members of Them, who were proudly and distinctly Irish!).

Here’s an obscure track that could have been from any recording by Them at the time. It’s from the album titled, The Angry Young Them, which was marketed as a rebel statement and sound, which now seems terribly dated and ultimately failed to connect in the same way other groups such as the ‘Stones and the Animals were able to exploit the bad-boy image.

The album’s only hit single was the iconic “Gloria.” It contained several original Van Morrison compositions, which was still unusual at the time (Bob Dylan and the Beatles largely broke the record company’s stranglehold on bands being their own songwriters and studio players). The album also included Van’s cover of the John Lee Hooker classic “Don’t Look Back,” considered by many to be the standout track. Van’s early love for Hooker’s blues became a lifelong devotion. It would result in Hooker inviting Van into the studio in 1972 to record a duet on what would become Hooker’s most acclaimed album. More to come on that album in a future lesson.

But for today, let’s go back to one of Van’s early recordings, from 1965. The intent here is to notice the similarities in Van’s vocals with Mick Jagger, but also to notice that Van sounds a bit edgier. Perhaps sound engineers tried to intentionally make Van sound rough and mean. Now 55 years later, Van in his mid-70s, is a deep baritone and would have no shot to replicating this vocal range.

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 37

“Comfortably Numb” (1990)

Van Morrison rarely performs in gigantic rock extravaganzas, opting for reasons best left for him to explain, to decline every invitation except those connected to various charities in his beloved native Ireland (where he’s done several public appearances). For instance, he opted to skip Live Aid, the “We Are the World” recording session, the Concert for Bangladesh, Woodstock, California Jam in the 70s, and virtually all concerts with a cavalcade of rock stars.

Notable exceptions to Van’s self-imposed segregation from rock stardom were his connections to The Band (and the much-celebrated The Last Waltz concert in 1978) and his appearance at the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1990 for the epic “Live in Berlin” concert (and album) organized and hosted by and headlined by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

Waters performed The Wall album in an epic setting, witnessed by 350,000 spectators and really, the entire world which was witnessing one of the seminal events of the 20th Century. The Pink Floyd co-frontman invited several musicians to attend. Many were committed to tours elsewhere that summer. However, Van happened to be touring in Germany and took an express to Berlin where he was asked to perform the lead vocals on one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs.

Van looks like a middle-aged insurance salesman who somehow slipped onto the stage in the middle of the act. He’s about as unappealing as imaginable given the panoply of rock stars who were present. However, Van’s vocals are soaring on this track. It’s rare for a substitute vocalist to generate the same electricity as the original, but Van manages to fill in nicely.

On a far more personal note, while this concert was happening I was living and working in Romania, which had also undergone a revolution, albeit far more violent. During the same week of this Berlin concert, I did a TDY in Frankfurt, West Germany. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t travel to Berlin, instead (which would have been just as easy). Germany that summer was a rocking spectacle, as the Germans won the World Cup played in Italy. The Iron curtain fell and was ended. The West and East would reunite as one nation, soon thereafter. And, Pink Floyd’s music was the perfect soundtrack.

Back then, everything seemed ideal. The worst was behind us — or so we thought.

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 38

“These Are the Days” (1989)

These are the days of the endless summer
These are the days, the time is now
There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now

The lyrics and message of “These Are the Days” couldn’t be more clear. Live life for the here and now.

Van Morrison’s words are set to an elegant melody accompanied by guitar, an accordion, a string section, and superb backing vocals. Characteristic of many of Van’s compositions, the song begins softly and builds gradually towards a stirring crescendo.

“These Are the Days” is the final track on Avalon Sunset, which received favorable reviews but a more lackluster reaction from the public. The album sold well in the UK but barely cracked the Top 100 in the US market. Nonetheless, all 12 original tracks stand the test of time well and could just as easily be released today.

Van rehearsed his new songs in two days along with his backing band (which included organist Georgie Fame for the first time) and then went into a London studio and recorded all the tracks in another two days. This is one of several albums essentially crafted in less than a week’s time. However, to its great credit “Avalon Sunset” sounds far more polished than the jazz and blues recordings he typically rushed off the studio assembly line in other projects.

After the recording sessions, guitarist Arty McGlynn remarked about the band’s feelings — “we still don’t know if it’s an album, or maybe a demo for an album.” The answer to that question was abundantly clear: Van was aiming for spontaneity. This was evident on finalized tracks where Van he can be heard barking out chord changes to his bandmates and occasionally mumbling his approval when the sound matches the vision.

Indeed, even inside the recording studio, Van lives and follows his own lyrics:

There is no past, there’s only future
There’s only here, there’s only now.

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 39

“Brand New Day” (1970)

The extraordinary gift of a song can inspire us and change who we are. A song heard in a crisis can become a turning point. There are people who have written and said the paradigmatic melody and lyric of a song can spur hope and even save a life.

“Brand New Day,” an original composition from Van Morrison’s 1970  Moondance album is precisely such a song.

Van has written dozens of catchy tunes stoked with optimism. “Brand New Day” may convey this simple concept the best. Van later admitted he wrote the song during a low point in his career following the commercial failure of Astral Weeks. Van’s recording contract was a disaster, leaving him broke. He spent the winter of 1968-69 living in Boston while playing small gigs in bars and nightclubs throughout New England.

“Brand New Day’ expressed a lot of hope. I was in Boston and having a hard job getting myself up spiritually,” Van recalled. “Then one day this (other) song came on the FM station and it had this particular feeling and this particular groove and it was totally fresh. It seemed to me like things were making sense…..I didn’t know who the hell the artist was. It turned out to be The Band. I looked up at the sky and the sun started to shine and all of a sudden the song just came through my head. I started to write it down, right from (the first lyric), “When all the dark clouds roll away.”

Although 50 years old now, the song remains as fresh and meaningful as ever. Unfortunately, the track was somewhat lost and forgotten amidst the collection of treasures on arguably Van’s most popular album, Moondance, producing no less than six songs which received widespread airplay. Most notably, this included the title track (“Moondance”), Crazy Love (later covered and made into a hit by Ray Charles), and the timeless masterpiece “Into the Mystic.”

There’s not much to the song instrumentally. Its weight stems from lyrics that move the mind and melt the heart. And that’s more than gratifying.

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 40

“Bulbs” (1974)

In 1968, Van Morrison departed his native Belfast and spent the next six years living in the United States. Although he toured extensively throughout North America, he didn’t perform live in the U.K. or Ireland during this period. A century after millions of his ancestral countrymen had written their own chapters in the disparate story of the American experience, Van had become an immigrant.

In the middle of 1973, Van divorced his Texas-born wife Janet Planet and returned to Ireland for a much-needed vacation. He’d hoped to stay in Belfast, but the brutal terror of The Troubles made this way too dangerous. So, Van took a sabbatical from recording and touring to focus extensively on songwriting while staying on an estate in the southern part of the Irish Republic.

Three weeks later, he had enough fresh material for a new album, which would soon become Veedon Fleece.

Veedon Fleece is frequently cited as Van’s sequel to Astral Weeks, recorded six years earlier. The same stream of consciousness remains fluid throughout the 12-song collection, rooted in Celtic traditions with a distinctly country-folk twist. It’s a perfect distillation of bi-national sentiment, though Van clearly remains emotionally and spiritually attached to the homeland. The album cover includes a photo of Van sitting in an open field flanked by two Irish wolfhounds.

Many of the titles and lyrics are intentionally vague, open to broad interpretation. For instance, what does “Veedon Fleece” mean? Van later explained it was simply a phrase he made up on the spot, a sort of musical allegory “about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend.”

“Bulbs” is one perplexing piece of Veedon Fleece’s expansive puzzle. The song seems rooted in immigration and the unbreakable bonds between the past and future. One verse goes as follows:

She’s leaving Pan American
Suitcase in her hand
I said her brothers and her sisters
Are all on Atlantic sand.

“Bulbs” begins acoustically, then uses various instruments as building blocks until the end when there’s a towering celebration of sound. There may be different ways to interpret Van’s intent, but it remains a prized gift of self-revelation which not only speaks to the composer’s complexities, but our own, as well.

Even “Bulbs,” the enigmatic song title appears to have duel meanings. It’s both the origin of a flower and the first sight one sees when landing at an airport. Note — “blue bulbs” appear in the lyrics referring to the lights on a runway.

Enjoy the journey.

 

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY

“Rough God Goes Riding” (1997)

For many readers, The Healing Game will be one of many yet undiscovered gems in the vast Van Morrison pantheon of albums and songs. Let this latest installment allow the light of day to shine on this extraordinary collection of original tracks.

The 1997 album begins with “Rough God Goes Riding,” an odd title for the first song on an album constructed around themes of redemption, healing, and undying love. Music critic Greil Marcus even penned a book with a title based on this song. In Marcus’ bold narrative, he wrote:

The deep burr of Morrison’s voice buries the words, which cease to matter; you might not hear them until the tenth time you play the album, or long after that. ‘It’s when that rough god goes riding,’ he sings, drawing the words both from Yeats and down in his chest, and you might never know it’s the Angel of Death that has you in its embrace.

True to form for so much of Van’s music composed during the 80s and 90s (certainly a mellower period in contrast to his combustible early career), a single was released and reached only as high as #168 on the charts. Now, more than two decades later, the song is regarded as one of the best racks on one of Van’s most deeply personal albums. The album was recorded mostly in late 1996 in Dublin, Ireland.

Side Note: The extended (2008) re-issue of this album is astounding, complete with 30 studio recordings (including some notable collaborations), plus another 14 live tracks taken from Van’s 1997 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Four discs and 44 total songs — an amazing output.

This live recording here is simply outstanding, especially if you like watching the interplay between great musicians. Georgie Fame, Brian Kennedy, Pee Wee Ellis are wonderful. The dueling sax solos about two minutes in makes the live recording a killer. Van is in top form here and clearly enjoying himself singing his new song, which at the time of this live concert had not yet been released. In fact, it’s obvious this is the first time Van and the band had performed this song live.

Introduced to the audience by Van as simply “Rough God” (perhaps the rest of the title was added later), the song sounds fresh and vibrant, an ideal kick-off to an outstanding album that will be covered later in some detail in this MasterClass series.

 

“SIR” VAN MORRISON

THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 42

Then and Now: Two Interviews — 50 Years Apart

It’s all about the music. Not fame. Not being a celebrity. It’s always been about just one thing — the music.

Van Morrison is a great songwriter and musician. But he’s a terrible rock star.

Multiple musical aficionados have noted that had Van wanted to be on the perch of Sinatra of Elvis, he could certainly have pulled it off. But superstardom wasn’t ever in the equation. Becoming famous wasn’t an ambition. It was the price.

Accordingly, his interviews tend to awkward, even painful. It seems the last thing Van likes talking about is himself.

Consider these two interviews done nearly 50 years apart. The first shows Van months after leaving the group Them on the way to a solo career. He’s interviewed by a Dutch television station. Burned out on the rock scene at 22, Van calls the music industry “phony.”

“It isn’t real,” he insists.

The next interview shows Van in quite a different setting. He’s being knighted by Prince Charles, thus earning the royal title, “Sir” Van Morrison. Surely, given his long history of refusing accolades, he had to be somewhat reluctant to be honored in this manner. Recall the Van didn’t even show up for his own Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction. In this short interview outside Buckingham Palace Van can’t help but take a shot at celebrity. “I want to get into the music,” Van insists.

The more Van changes musically, the more he stays the same in his devotion to core principles.

Miss a previous week?  No problem!  Here’s all the prior installments:
Note:  Follow me on Facebook for the latest editions of the Van Morrison MasterClass, and more.
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Restaurant Review: Hafez Persian Cuisine (Las Vegas)

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

 

 

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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2019 NFL: Divisional Playoff Round

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

 

 

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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Restaurant Review: Aroy Thai Kitchen (Las Vegas)

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

 

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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The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 5

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

 

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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Restaurant Review: Juan’s Flaming Fajitas & Cantina

Posted by on Jan 8, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 0 comments

 

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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Restaurant Review: Limoncello (Las Vegas)

Posted by on Jan 8, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 1 comment

 

Limoncello Restaurant (W. Sahara -- Las Vegas)

 

Las Vegas is a highly-competitive city for Italian fare. Fueled by transplants, retirement, and international exposure….quality, ambiance, and price varies widely. I’ve witnessed a dozen Italian restaurants open and close in this city. As soon as one goes out of business, another one down the block opens its doors.

I’ve been greatly anticipating the new Limoncello’s opening for months. It took over a mediocre Mexican-food restaurant location on West Sahara between Cimmaron and Durango, invested heavily in remodeling, and now looks every bit the stylish but traditional Italian eatery-bistro.

The building and decor are magnificent. The dining area is unusually spacious. The first impression was positive. I also liked the host asking if we preferred a table or a booth. Most seating staff doesn’t do this. So, let me give credit where it’s due.

I’ll also acknowledge the service and management did a very thorough job. Service was attentive — perhaps even too much so. On a few occasions, the table conversation was interrupted. I don’t like that. But, that’s a small detail and I’d rather see the waitstaff trying hard to please rather than mired with indifference.

Food quality was good.  Nothing exceptional.  But good.  Admittedly, I saw only three entres and tasted two, so my score of the food probably deserves a grade of “incomplete.”

Limoncello’s mistakes and misses were small, but gradually added up over the course of our 90-minute stay to the overall grade of disappointment:

— prices were a little high for a neighborhood eatery.
— chairs are terribly small and uncomfortable
— there’s no music in the restaurant [this might be considered a good thing by some, but it seemed very quiet on a night with perhaps 10 tables occupied in a 35-table (est.) restaurant].
— the waiter tried to take my guest’s plate away when she had plenty of food still on the platter. I don’t get the “rush” here, and this happens a lot in upscale restaurants. Please stop it.
— I ordered baked lasagne. The temperature was inconsistent. Lukewarm on one side. Piping hot on the other. This would be a non-issue if I paid $11. But for $18 (no frills, everything else ala carte), a poorly heated product is unacceptable.
— Food portions were small.
— Parmesan cheese, which is a standard accompaniment in any traditional Italian restaurant had to be requested. The cheese should have been delivered on the spot at the time of dinner presentation.
— Bread was peasant-style…very rustic. I presume this is a stab at authenticity. But the bread was a teeth breaker. Not good.

Bill for three came to $115 with tip. We shared on an appetizer, had three entres, and two Stella draft beers. That price would normally be in line with most upscale dining establishments that delivered on all fronts. But Limoncello missed too many checkmarks. I simply didn’t feel we got our money’s worth.

There are way too many good Italian places all over town to return. I hope Limoncello improves and eventually does well. I like having good restaurants in my neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend them.

 

LINK TO LIMONCELLO’S HERE

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NFL 2019: Wild Card Week (Playoffs — Sunday)

Posted by on Jan 3, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 2 comments

 

 

A few generic thoughts on this week’s wild-card round of playoff games:

  1.  Many bettors step up their bet sizes because playoff games are more meaningful.  This is wrong.  Playoff game odds/numbers are often the worst matchups to handicap and bet on.  I’d much rather bet on two losing teams playing a late-season game than any of the so-called premier matchups.
  2. Unlike regular-season games where motivation, fatigue, internal team disarray, and other intangibles can influence the outcome of a game (and create the basis of a bet), all teams are motivated and ready to play come playoff time.  There really is no “bet against” team, as is the case during the season when teams and players aren’t expected to play at peak level.
  3. None of us gamblers (and certainly not fans) have any inside information as to what will happen in a playoff game.  Any legitimate rumor or betting edge would already move the line (and totals, props, etc.) before it reaches the betting public.  I know nothing more than anyone else, nor does anyone who takes this endeavor seriously.  Anyone who claims to “know something” is lying.

So, why am I wagering on this week’s games?  I’ll explain below in my weekly writeup.

I’m now up for the season about 23 percent ahead of the starting bankroll.  Let’s hope the strong second half of the season continues for four more weeks.

 

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2019 NFL WAGERING RECORD

Wins — Losses — Pushes          77 — 62 — 3

Starting Bankroll:   $ 8,398.

Current Bankroll:   $10,541.  (+ $2,143.)

Last Week’s Results (Week #17):         7 — 5 — 0  (+ $575.)

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THIS WEEK’S WAGERS 

SUNDAY GAMES AND ANALYSIS:

Minnesota at New Orleans

One Wager:  Saints Team Total Over 28.5 (-115) — Risking $287.50 to win $250

Comments:  Let me explain the reasons why there’s more that I *don’t like* betting this game:

— It’s tempting to bet New Orleans on several connected wagers to a Saints victory  (game line, first half, team total over, money line, etc.).  However, I see -400 money line as a bad number.  If these two teams were to play four times under identical conditions, my projection is — the Vikings would win perhaps a quarter of the games.  In other words, I predict they’d go 1-3 in four hypothetical matchups.  Hence, I see this as closer to a -300 lay price and even then, there’s no actual value.  So why not bet the Vikings at +300 (which is the price?).  Again, no value here.  I’d probably bite at +350 or higher.

— Laying -7.5 with the Saints is problematic.  That half-point off touchdown scares me.  At -7, New Orleans is probably a solid bet given the roll they’re on at the moment, but the best price I see comes with -135 vig.  I’m not paying an extra 25 cents to capture the half point-off the 7.  So, that’s a pass.

— Minnesota at +7.5 looks tempting.  But I’m seriously concerned with the disparity of playoff experience between these two QBs in the post-season.  Future Hall of Famer Brees is 8-6 SU in the playoffs and generally performs well in games like this, and he’s even stronger in the first round.  Meanwhile, Cousins has made one start in his mediocre career, which was a blowout loss when he was with Washington.  I’m wary about betting unproven starters, especially why they could be badly outmatched.  So, no play on the Vikings plus the points.

— Saints team total looks to have slight value for a number of reasons.  First, New Orleans will be on a delirious high for this contest.  They’ve been waiting for a year to get back to this spot, hosting a playoff game at home.  This could be their final playoff home game given the route they would likely take, even with a victory.  So, the Saints should be ecstatic here and ready to roll, particularly on offense.  New Orleans has been a scoring machine since Brees returned from the early-season hand injury.  Saints have eclipsed the 28.5-point mark in 8 of last 10 games.  Saints have gone 6-2 over that mark in all home games this season.  Bottom line is — New Orleans has proven time and time again they can score.  So, I’m willing to bet over a slightly higher-than-average team total, even with the hook added to four touchdowns (28.5).  One more point:  I don’t see New Orleans slowing down late in the game, even with a lead.  They’ve been burned in playoff games before.  New Orleans was still throwing the ball in late-season games when ahead by big scores.  Hence, this offense is likely to be in gear for 60 full minutes.  Finally, it goes without saying the New Orleans receiving corps may be the best in the league.

— Another factor that sways me to New Orleans scoring points is the impressive sack totals allowed by the Saints.  When Brees has time, the Saints score and win.  It’s that simple.  New Orleans protected Brees very well in second half of the season.  Even though New Orleans throws more passes than average (and is subject to more sacks), they ranked third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed.  If Brees has time, this spells trouble for the Vikings defense.

— So, why not also bet the game OVER 49.5?  It’s tempting.  If Saints get up on the scoreboard, this game could turn into a shootout.  But that’s the last thing the Vikings want.  Minnesota will aim for a ball-control, milk-the-clock game plan that wins time of possession and keeps the high-octane Saints offense on the sidelines.  If somehow they are successful, this game could fall under.  Let’s credit Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer for being a defensive guru.  Moreover, the Saints defense could make Cousins have a miserable day.  My bottom line opinion is — there’s a better chance New Orleans scores 28.5-plus than this game goes over 49.5.  Of course, both could very well happen.

— Note the 14.5 on the Saints first-half team total.  That half-point is very problematic and keeps me away.  It’s more likely New Orleans breaks the 14-point threshold in the second half, when defense is tired, Minnesota makes offensive mistakes in desperation when playing from behind, etc.  So, even though I’m bullish on the Saints scoring, I see that first-half total as a bad number.

FINAL DECISION:  One wager only, on the Saints to score at least 28.5 points.

 

Seattle at Philadelphia

One Wager:  First Half — Seattle PICK (-110) — Risking $275 to win $250

My first instinct was to pound Seattle at this price (PICK).  Eagles’ injury situation is epic.  While they’re somewhat healthier now, it’s hard to see many strengths on this team, which has struggled repeatedly in multiple games this season, even down the stretch facing outmatched opponents in must-win games.  I don’t see what others are looking at with the Eagles, unless they look at Seattle as a *bet against* team based on some false metrics, including a really porous defense.  The question is — does Philadelphia have the weapons to take advantage of Seattle’s weaknesses?  I’m not so sure they do.  Here are my thoughts on various numbers connected to this matchup:

— Philadelphia has been a very slow starting team in a majority of their games.  The Eagles do tend to adjust at halftime.  But for some reason, this team doesn’t look prepared early on, in the first half.  Hence, I lean to Seattle strongly based on team performances in the first half.  I also suspect the Eagles’ younger players, many with no playoff experience, might need a little time to adjust.

— Let’s also remember, Eagles QB Carson Wentz hasn’t won a playoff game yet.  I’m a fan of this gutsy player, who gives it all on the field.  But that’s a concern if you’re backing the Eagles.  During their Super Bowl season a few years ago, Nick Foles, the backup took all the snaps.  Wentz is also 0-3 in his career against Seattle, including a 17-9 loss earlier this season.

— Russell Wilson.  Enough said.

— Let’s keep in mind that Seattle was 11-5 this season while Philadelphia went 9-7.  Seahawks went 5-0 this season on the road in the East time zone, so I’m not sure there’s ANY concern with Seattle as the road team here.  A perfect 5-0 record, both SU and ATS for any West Coast team traveling three time zones is impressive.  However, I see this as Seattle being proven as a battle-tested road team.

— I’m very concerned about Seahawks losing 3 of their last four games.  However, those were to division rivals.  The other two Seattle losses were to New Orleans and Baltimore, and there’s no shame in those defeats.

— The total at 45 was tempting as a contrarian over play for me.  Total opened at 45.5 and dropped and I might have bit into the apple at 44.5 and certainly 44.  But, it’s gone back up again to 45.5.  So, this rates as a pass.  Some handicappers are pushing the under really hard here, and I see some basis for that wager based on playoff games being a little more conservative offensively, combined with some reason for optimism the Eagles’ defense might rise to the occasion.  The bottom line for me is — mixed information will keep me from betting this total, either way.

— Team totals care about where they should be.  I see no value on any of those numbers.  22.5 is team total on both for the game.  Slightly lean to at least one of these teams reaching the 23-point mark.  But not strong enough to bet it.  Interesting numbers at 10.5  both teams in the first half, with some higher juice leaning to the under.  Wish I could capture a 1o, in which case I’d probably bet either team over that number.

— As stated previously, it’s tempting to play Seattle for the game as a pick ’em.  However, given the Eagles’ slow starts this season and some concerns this injury-depleted team could make mistakes early on, I think the optimal wager is betting Seattle in the first half.  Note that there is one place in Las Vegas (MGM) which lists Seahawks minus .5 in the first half at +120 but also has Eagles at -1 and -105 for the game.  That’s one of the more unusual number combinations I’ve seen for any playoff game.  But it also tells me the Eagles slow starts but solid halftime adjustments in previous games are being factored into the spreads.

FINAL DECISION:  One wager only, which is Seattle in the first half, at pick’ em.

 

SATURDAY:  In the Saturday games, I risked a total of $1,492.50 to win $1,250.  The 4-0-1 result is posted in the updated figures above.  Here were the plays, with comments:

 

GAME:  BUFFALO +3 vs. HOUSTON — Risking $275 to win $250

FIRST HALF:  BUFFALO +1 — Risking $275 to win $250

FIRST HALF:  BUFFALO TEAM TOTAL OVER 8.5 POINTS (-130) — Risking $325 to win $250  

Comments:  Since 2003, underdogs have covered in 55.6 percent of all playoff games.  That’s enough to make me look mostly at dogs, and then pounce on one when the team look optimal conditioned to pull off an outright upset.  I think that’s the case with the Buffalo Bills here, playing at Houston Texans in the early Saturday game.  First and foremost, the Bills field the better defense.  Come playoff time, I like betting on superior defenses.  We are also getting points, in both the first half and for the game.  Initially, I was planning to wager Buffalo +1 for the first half only.  However, I saw several books move the game line to +2.5 and I was still able to get the +3 at the old price of -110.  So, unless the line moves back to +3 by game time, I’m getting line value.  On paper, these teams look pretty evenly matched.  Both are 10-6.  Both rested starters in the final week of the season and appear reasonably healthy.  Neither starting QB has playoff experience.  What tips me towards Buffalo is [1] the clear advantage on defense, [2] a suspicion Houston offense is a bit overrated (in Texans last 10 contests they didn’t score more than 28 points in any game), [3] getting the key number +3 with the dog (and +1 in first-half which is significant), [4] strong performance historically of underdogs in playoff games, and finally [5] the record of road dogs in 2019, which are covering 60 percent of the time in all games, which is historically unprecedented, which also tells me home-field edge might not be what it used to be.  I also like Buffalo to cover the low number in the first half on a team total.  It’s important to capture the 9 and 10, and 8.5 gives us a win on those two numbers:  14, 17, 0, 31, 3, 10, 14 were the first-half points allowed in each game by Texans since their mid-season bye.  So, I have three wagers in all, each connected to the Bills as the live dog.

 

FIRST HALF:  TENNESEE +3 at NEW ENGLAND — Risking $275 to win $250

FIRST HALF:  TENNESSEE TEAM TOTAL OVER 8.5 — Risking $325 to win $250 

Comments:  I see some respected handicappers on New England, citing “line value” on the dynasty team laying just -5.5.  That sounds reasonable and history is certainly on the Patriots side given their extraordinary success in the post-season.  However, Tennesee might be the worst possible team the Patriots could face at this point — a solid rushing team that doesn’t make many mistakes nor turn the ball over, an offense led by a veteran QB with lots of experience playing in Foxboro, and perhaps most shockingly ….. an offense that is scoring a ton of points:  35, 28, 21, 42, 31, 42, 35, 20, 27, and 23 since QB Ryan Tannehill became the starter.  While New England fields the #1 defense in the NFL in several categories, they did seem to draw opponents when they were struggling at their worst, namely the Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants, Browns, Cowboys, Bengals, and a heap of other trash.  So, I see those numbers as being slightly inflated.  Also, consider New England’s collapse in the previous game, where they blew the chance to get a bye.  That’s not just an outlier of a loss to shrug off.  That wouldn’t have happened to Belichick-coached teams of the past.  Patriots in last four home games — lost to Miami, had to stave off a last-second scoring chance by Buffalo to win by 7, lost to Kansas City, and barely beat Dallas 13-9.  That’s four less-than-stellar performances by the Patriots at home.  So, I can’t lay -5.5 with this team.  It seems obvious the Titans should be the play here getting generous points, but I’m going to skip the strong temptation to take the +5 and +5.5 in some places.  Note that +6 is probably a wager for me.  Instead, I do see strong value with Tennessee +3 in the first half.  If the Titans are to win the game, they likely have to avoid falling behind early.  With a solid rushing attack, I expect this will be just the right formula to make that happen.  And, in a similar wager with identical justification to the team total (Titans over 8.5), I do see value on the team that’s been scoring like crazy the last nine weeks of the season to eclipse what seems like a low number.  Weather is forecast with drizzle and 40 degrees.  I don’t think this hurts the run-heavy Titans as much as possible the Patriots so slippery conditions could actually work in our favor.  Two wagers on this game, both on the dog Titans in the first half.

 

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%

$200 Invested into Pick Contest (outcome pending)

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The Van Morrison MasterClass: Week 4:

Posted by on Jan 2, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

 

The Essential 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 4

Part 4 (Days 22-28) of an ongoing retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 22

“Whenever God Shines His Light” (1989)

This is the opening track on Van’s Avalon Sunset, but was then released 30 years ago as the one-and-only Christmas-themed single in the singer-songwriter’s lengthy career. So, it seems most appropriate as the musical offering on this day, December 25th.

This is far from one of Van’s best songs, but it’s among the most deeply personal, honest, and expressive. It’s a clear testament to faith, which Van has revisited in his music many times. To this day, Van often shows up unannounced at church services while he’s on tour, grabs an acoustic guitar, and performs something spiritual from his vast catalog of original music.

True to Van’s virtually rapid-fire pace of songwriting and composition, all ten songs on Avalon Sunset were rehearsed in just two days and summarily recorded during the following two days. Given the diversity of styles on this album, including lots of ornate instrumentation, some songs accompanied by a symphony orchestra, it’s astonishing that this entire album project came together in just four days.

Avalon Sunset produced two original hit songs, “Have I Told You Lately” (later recorded by Rod Stewart, which became an even bigger smash hit) and “Whenever God Shines His Light,” which sold well enough in the crossover Christian-rock crossover genre that was emerging at the time to hit #15 in the charts in the U.K.

Joining Van on backup vocals in the studio (and in the video, which is posted here) is Cliff Richard, who is well known in the U.K., but might not be nearly as familiar to American audiences. Here’s a stunning trivia question: “Who ranks third as the best-selling artist in British music singles history behind The Beatles and Elvis Presley?” Answer — Cliff Richard, with 250 million records sold worldwide.

No matter what your beliefs, this is a catchy, upbeat, song with obvious appeal. Van’s piano riff adds immensely to the joyous spirit of the track. Van’s lyrics aren’t too bad, either.

Whenever God shines his light on me
Opens up my eyes so I can see.
When I look up in the darkest night
And I know everything’s going to be alright.
In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him he is there.
When I am lonely as I can be
And I know that God shines his light on me.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 23

“Ordinary People” (circa 1974)

Let’s stick with the blues. Van has written some extraordinary blues-driven tunes. Few if any of these songs were commercially successful, perhaps one reason why so many of these lost treasures end up on the B-sides of singles and rare bootlegs.

Consider this blues masterpiece, “Ordinary People,” which has no liner notes available, anywhere, but which was believed to have been written and recorded sometime in 1974 before Van took his unannounced three-year career hiatus from recording and performing. He composed a massive number of songs during this combustible period, some of which were intended for a 1975 album tentatively titled, Mechanical Bliss, which was never released. Most of the songs from this period were shelved and forgotten for almost 25 years.

In 1998, Van released an extraordinary collection of lost B-sides and previously unreleased original songs which became The Philosophers Stone. There were so many songs available (30 ended up making the cut), that a double-album became mandatory. On the so-called “compilation” album — which is something of a misnomer since most of the songs had never been heard before — appears “Ordinary People.”

Van is in absolute top form here on vocals backed by a bluesy piano. But this musical canvass clearly belongs to Ronnie Montrose on electric guitar, who shreds the melody for five-full minutes. Montrose, who died in 2012, was one of rock’s most respected guitarists and was once described as “America’s answer to Led Zeppelin.” When you hear his guitar on this piece, especially the instrumental interlude, you’ll understand why.

Chances are, you’ve probably never heard this rare track before. So, crank it up. Loud. After listening to Van on vocals and Montrose on guitar, it’s inexplicable this was considered a track that wasn’t fit for release until many years after it was recorded. What were they thinking? Just listen.

In many ways, this simple yet impeccable tune exemplifies so much about the vast and varied Van Morrison musical catalog. The deeper one digs, the more treasure one finds.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 24

“Gloria” (1964)

G-L-O-R-I-A….Glooooooria!
G-L-O-R-I-A….Glooooooria!
G-L-O-R-I-A….Glooooooria!

Practically everyone knows this song or is at least familiar with the chorus.

It’s been described as one of the first songs that every beginning guitar player learns to play, easily explained, since it requires knowing just three simple chords. It’s the ultimate garage band song. But, it’s also experienced unanticipated staying power in popular music. Indeed, “Gloria” has been covered by everyone from The Doors (and their so-called “dirty version”) to Patti Smith. “Gloria” has been described as one of the very first “punk rock” songs, with Van’s raspy Howlin’ Wolf vocals and the lyrics’ overt sexual suggestion.

Van was only 18 when he wrote “Gloria” sometime during 1963, He was the lead singer for the newly-formed Northern Irish band — Them, a collaboration which lasted less than three years but which launched Van as a singer-songwriter with a rebellious streak. Recorded and released in 1964, this was Van’s first original hit song, even though no one expected it to be a success. In fact, “Gloria” was actually picked as the B-side to the single, “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” which was thought to be far more commercial.

Now, 55 years after it’s release, “Gloria” is nothing to marvel at, musically speaking. However, most critics place it in the Top 100 pantheon of songs which influenced rock n’ roll.

This video is scandalous for its day (flashing frightening images of a donkey, which makes no sense). Not great sound quality, but worth a look for nostalgia purposes. Along with “Brown-Eyed Girl” and “Moondance” this is arguably Van’s best-known song.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 25

“Down to Earth” (1975)

Yesterday, we explored “Gloria,” one of Van’s biggest hits and most popular songs. Today, we’re veering in the opposite direction, examining rare and previously unreleased material that somehow has never surfaced publically. Trust me about today’s lesson, this one’s a gem.

Van’s burnout between 1974’s Veedon Fleece and 1977’s A Period of Transition made for some glorious failures and undiscovered musical chestnuts. A number of album projects (at least three, and perhaps more) were simply abandoned, with no explanation given. Consider one of the forgotten tracks from this period titled, “Down to Earth,” written and recorded in the fall of 1975. This song was planned for inclusion on a jazz collaboration to be produced by Stewart Levine, best known for working with artists including Simply Red, Dr. John, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Patti Labelle, Sly Stone, among many others.

After Stewart Levine’s death, Sunny Levine (his son) wrote from conversations with his father about those forgotten sessions:

“….Morrison and the…..band got along great and the sessions were a joyful experience. Morrison was very relaxed and sounds extra soulful as you can hear on the tape. The whole tracking experience was a pleasure with no drama in sight. (Then) they went away for a week and planned to put the finishing touches on the record, which would have been the Tower of Power horns, followed by mixing. When they returned to the studio, Morrison and Levine had an argument that abruptly ended the sessions and that was that! The record was never released….”

So, nine tracks on a 7 1/2 IPS, half-track reel-to-reel Dolby tape are all which are known to remain from those fascinating recording sessions (see the image of the hopelessly deteriorated tape, which is posted here).

Credit:  Jeff Gold [Virtual Museum: An Unreleased Van Morrison Album from 1975 Surfaces for the First Time]

Unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t very good. Nearly five decades sitting in a garage will do that to reel-to-reel tape. But it’s still good enough to recognize there’s a really great song here. Have a listen to Van’s unreleased “Down to Earth,’ an original composition with the singer in top form backed by some powerful horns.

Here’s yet another track buried deep in the vault that inexplicably has never been re-done nor re-recorded, let alone released to the public. Well, at least not until — now.

Enjoy!

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 26

“Golden Autumn Day” (1999)

The album Back on Top is aptly named. It’s one of Van’s best albums.

The 10-track collection (plus two more bonus tracks on the re-issue) features an album cover showing Van silhouetted in black shadow with his back to the camera. Musically speaking, this isn’t so much a nostalgic return to his rhythm and blues-driven roots, so much as a glorious reinterpretation of all-too-familiar themes updated with brand new concepts. It’s almost as though Van took his 25 years as a singer-songwriter and decided to use early passions as a foundation. Here, the organ and harmonica — which appear so often on Van vinyl — aren’t the typical instrumental accompaniments. Instead, they seem intent on complementing a much richer and more complex orchestration. The song which is the subject of today’s lesson exemplifies this melding of influences and combination of styles.

“Golden Autumn Day” isn’t the best track on the album by any stretch. Alas, picking a favorite is made all the more difficult by a final finished product that doesn’t seem rushed (unlike so many of Van’s album releases, before and since). Another viable explanation — perhaps Van didn’t get bored this time around and storm out of the sessions as he’s been prone to do on many projects. The extra time spent in the studio crafting this album to near perfection pays off handsomely. The work was praised lavishly by Rolling Stone magazine, which labeled the collection as “one Monet and nine Normal Rockwells” — the Monet referring to “When the Leaves Come Falling Down,” described as “a masterpiece.”

There’s a lot happening here musically in “Golden Autumn Day,” which runs for nearly 7 full minutes. Van’s gruff but quirky lyrical realism. The unmistakable heart and soul of the Hammond organ. A full string orchestra, the volume cranked up slowly until a final grand crescendo. Van taking the lead on harmonica. Bluesy piano. A catchy upbeat chorus with a message of hope and aspiration.

Pay particular attention to the instrumental interlude at the 3-minute mark, where Van inserts his own harmonica followed by Pee Wee Ellis on sax. The fade out in the final minute with full strings is also a brilliant touch. The piece plays out like the closing credits to a movie.

Back on Top hit the top of the charts in Scandanavia when it was released in 1999. It peaked at #11 in the U.K. Although the album spawned three singles that charted and enjoyed modest airplay, it didn’t fare nearly as well in the U.S.

Back on Top is a suburb album from start to finish. It’s fitting that Van ends the 1990s, and indeed the century, not falling from the mountaintop but reaching for higher musical peaks, and hitting them once again.

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 27

“On Hyndford Street” (1991)

“On Hyndford Street” isn’t a song so much as a sermon.

It’s a fond remembrance of childhood memories, a homily to a simpler time.

Van was born in a red-bricked terrace house with a blank facade, utterly ordinary and identical to all the other working-class homes on Hyndford Street in east Belfast. The only thing that now distinguishes the building — which still stands — is a small brass plaque beside the front door, announcing that George Ivan Morrison was born here on August 31, 1945.

His father worked in the Belfast shipyards. He brought home records from America regularly, which virtually no one else in Ireland had heard at the time. Van grew up an abundant musical diet of Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Lead Belly, and others far away but with a kindred spirit.

Van has written affectionately of Belfast (Northern Ireland) and much of the Irish Republic. Song titles including “Cypress Avenue” and “Orangefield” reflect both the then and now. One need not be Irish nor even be familiar with these places. We all have our own “Hyndford Street.”

The original song includes Van’s spoken lyrics which overlap extended background chords from an electric organ. It sounds like a spoken prayer.

“On Hyndford Street” was included on the astounding 21-track double album released in 1991, Hymns to the Silence. The album received mixed reviews from critics and was even criticized for being “too long.” It did not do well commercially. In retrospect, though, it’s a definitive personal statement connecting with listeners of all ages and backgrounds, with multiple timeless compositions.

I’ve posted a live rendition of “On Hyndford Street” from a 2012 recording in Belfast. The audience, intimately familiar with these places and references, react to every vocal syncopation with wild enthusiasm. Van, best described as an erratic, dispassionate performer these days, connects to his Belfast brethren in a manner that really brings the song to life.

Have a listen.

“Take me back, take me way, way, way back….”

 

VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 28

“Celtic New Year” (2005)

Congratulations — and, Happy New Year!

We’re now four weeks into the class.

Rarely will we repeat songs and topics, but since today is special, I think one item is well worth re-visiting.

“Celtic New Year” was released on Van’s 2005 album Magic Time.  This is 100 percent trademark Van all the way, with the gruff accented vocals serenading a special time and place. Catchy riffs punctuate lavish melodic orchestration. And, as Van so often does in song — he starts off slowly and builds to a glorious crescendo.

This is a live version of Van’s original composition (which isn’t as well-known outside Ireland). One need not be Irish to reflect and enjoy.

I’m a huge fan of the creation of music. I like to know how music is made. I want to learn what inspired an artist and know why strings or a trumpet or some other instrument was added to the mix.

This live version of the song, recorded during Van’s BBC sessions broadcast in the U.K. in 2008 is a beautiful rendition with ornate instrumentation. It’s almost an anthem. Listen in particular to the Piccolo flute come in as part of a duet. I also love Van’s guitar work here, plucking notes which accentuate the folksy narrative. And the strings are truly magical.

“Magic Time,” indeed!

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Video Tribute to Poker People We Lost in 2019

Posted by on Dec 31, 2019 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Music and Concert Reviews, Personal | 4 comments

 

Empty Poker Table

 

A Note to Readers:

I didn’t plan on doing this.

In fact, I had no intention of writing anything to do with poker ever again.

But sometimes, forces extend beyond our control and sharing something meaningful becomes an obligation.

Last night at around 8 pm, I began putting together a short article about all the wonderful people who left us during these last 12 months — mostly friends, and even family.  Oddly enough, as I compiled my thoughts and reflected, I came to realize that all of them were in some way connected to poker.  I guess that’s what happens when one spends nearly a quarter century attached to the game.

Words just didn’t seem enough for the occasion.

Purely by coincidence, I’ve been working on a project called the “Van Morrison MasterClass.”  One of the songs from the daily retrospective was off the 1999 album, Back on Top.  The song isn’t just appropriate.  It’s an epiphany.

“Reminds Me of You” says it all, really.  It expresses how we feel.  It reflects a sense of longing, and even loneliness.  But the song also gives comfort.  It’s not a song of sadness.  It’s a melody of joy, and celebration.

I uploaded this hours later, on YouTube.  Some of the cuts and transitions are a bit rough.  Please indulge me.  Also, forgive any people I missed in this tribute.  I’m sure there are names forgotten who deserve to be mentioned.  Feel free to add their names, and even photos, on social media or in the comments section, if you wish.

And now, let’s remember:

 

Yours Truly,

 

Nolan Dalla

Las Vegas — December 31, 2019

 

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