New Year's Poem

If you glanced through my Top 20 Albums of 2012, there were likely a few names that you did not recognize -- one of those being Olds Sleeper. On January 1st, he will graciously make available a free download of his new release, New Year's Poem.
Leading up to the release date, a handful of fans were provided an advance copy with the request for a 55 word review in return. My inner-7th-grader wanted to take a page out of the Summer School book with this review:
This album is very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very good.
But that's not cool.

Here are my 55 words about New Year's Poem:
I’m not a music critic. I just like good music. 
When describing Olds Sleeper, I’ve often said his music is best when the listener has a warm fire and a full bottle. With the latter in hand and 'New Year’s Poem' playing loudly, I’m happy to say that I will not be changing my description.
Check it out for yourself on New Year's Day by visiting the Olds Sleeper bandcamp page.

Top 20 Albums of 2011

It's that time of year, folks. Time for people to tell you what you should have been paying attention to over the past twelve months. With that responsibility in mind, I present the Flashlights 2011 Top 20 Musicians/Albums of the Year. Do you have any idea how difficult this was to narrow down!?!

20. Counting Crows - August & Everything After: Live at Town Hall

When I first saw that this album was being released, I could not have been more excited -- my favorite Counting Crows album performed (almost) in its entirety and released as a live album. Truth be told, I was quite disappointed in this album as it was pretty much a regurgitation of every other live Counting Crows recording I've heard -- complete with the same old variations on the same old songs. Still, the concept alone warrants the #20 spot on my list.

19. Dan Reeder

I realize that Dan Reeder did not actually release anything new in 2011 but I am including him in my list because I had never given him a proper listen until this year. There are very few songs that I would describe as "beautiful" but his song "Maybe" off This New Century is one of the few.

18. Hayes Carll - KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)

I'm not in agreement with the critics who say that this is the best offering yet from Hayes Carll -- that title is still reserved for Trouble in Mind. Overall, I'm not as impressed with this album as most people are; however, Stomp and Holler and the title track earn this album a spot on my list.

17. Gurf Morlix - Blaze Foley's 113th Wet Dream

I've always enjoyed the music of Gurf Morlix. There's not much better to sit back and sip some whiskey to. This album, a tribute to the late Blaze Foley, is packed with more of the usual toe-tappin' sounds of Gurf Morlix.

16. Limp Bizkit - Gold Cobra

I'm somewhat embarassed to include this album on this list. Call it a guilty pleasure, I suppose. Back in my college days I used to listen to these guys when they were at the height of their popularity. I still think Fred Durst is a gigantic idiot but this album is nothing short of a blast from the past -- juvenile lyrics set to a hardcore sound that you can't help but bob your head to.

15. Justin Townes Earle - Slippin' and Slidin' 7"

Of course, the main song on this release is great -- the whole album it comes from is top notch. But this being a second of two limited edition vinyl releases from JTE that came on Record Store Day #2 this year (Black Friday), it definitely deserves a spot on my list. Not only is Justin Townes Earle my favorite artist of the past few years, his cover of Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927 made this 7" worth every penny and every bit of the effort to track it down.

14. William Elliott Whitmore - Field Song

I picked up this album at my local library a few months ago. I popped it in my car's CD player as soon as I hit the parking lot and bought a copy of my own as soon as I got home. A five minute drive from the library to home is all it took to hook me on this one.

13. Zane Williams - Ride With Me

I've been listening to Zane Williams for a long time. While he comes very close to that type of country music that I can't stand, I've held on to him since his early days. He's just unique enough that he doesn't cross that line to the sounds of mainstream country. While I prefer his earlier work, Ride With Me is another decent effort from this humble musician.

12. Middle Brother - Middle Brother

Ironically, my brother turned me on to this album by giving it to over the summer as a birthday gift. Personally, I think it was a subtle effort to get me to listen to Deer Tick. Either way, it's great -- start to finish.

11. Tommy Womack - There I Said It

Yes, I realize this album came out more than four years ago. I've always enjoyed Tommy's music but had never given it a true listen until earlier this year. I would recommend every one of his albums without hesitation, but There I Said It is over the top. Had it come from 2011, this would be #1 on this list.

10. Justin Townes Earle - Move Over Mama 7"

Another limited edition release from my favorite musican over the past few years. Again, a bit of trouble tracking it down but the B-Side makes it worth all the effort -- a cover of Springsteen's Racing in the Streets.

9. I Love: Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow

Eric Brace and Peter Cooper blew it out of the water on this one. I picked up a copy of the original version of Tom T. Hall's Songs of Fox Hollow at a record sale a few years back. This tribute coming from some of my favorite musicians was a welcomed surprise (Congrats on the Grammy nomination!).

8. Deer Tick - Divine Providence

I can admit when I'm wrong. Despite my brother's constant urging, I've held out on listening to Deer Tick for several years now. Until this year, that is. After the Middle Brother release, I was a little more apt to give this one a try and I'm glad I did. You win again, brother.

7. Will Hoge - Number Seven

A long-time favorite of mine, this one took a listen or two before I really latched on to it. Once I gave this album its deserved listen, I'd say it's one of Will Hoge's best yet.

6. Olds Sleeper/Jellyspine Jenkins

Olds Sleeper has been this year's Cinderella story for me. Initially recommended to me by a friend, I quickly took a liking to his rough and raw sound. If you've got a full bottle and a warm fire, I'd recommend putting on some Olds Sleeper and enjoying your evening. If you like what you hear, check out his side project, Jellyspine Jenkins.

5. Scroobius Pip - Distraction Pieces

British hip-hop with a message. I've been listening to Pip for a long time. His most recent solo offering is full of opinion and beats -- both of which I fully appreciate. I'd recommend saving a few bucks by picking up this album through

4. Andy D - Songs in the Key of Magic

I was first introduced to Andy D through a video link shared by my brother. Sure, his denim vest, cut-off shorts, and fanny pack are all part of his stage presence...but I'm telling you, this guy can rhyme! Two albums in with a third on the way this spring, it's time you got freaky with the D!

3. Beastie Boys - Hot Sauce Committe Part 2

Probably the most anticipated album of my 2012. I'm happy to say that Mike D, MCA, and Ad Rock have stayed true to their roots and released another album packed with old school flavor. Forget modern trends...this is hip-hop.

2. Government Cheese - Anthology 1985-1995

Two discs packed with underrated late 80s/early 90s rock 'n' roll.

Buy. This. Now!

1. Mat Kearney - Young Love

I'm as shocked as you are that this album is my #1 of the year. Looking past the fact that this is your typical VH1-style album, I cannot get enough. Mat Kearney has come up with what I consider to be the perfect album. A little style. A little soul. A little head bobbin' baseline.

Well done, Mat Kearney. Well done.

Billy Joe, JTE, and Instant Coffee

1. I met Billy Joe Shaver.

2. Even though Bloodshot Records sent none to my local record store, I found a copy of the Justin Townes Earle 7" record released on Black Friday.

3. I think this comic was written about my daughter. She's almost four.

4. Here's a Christmas song for you to get you in the spirit.

5. I drink instant coffee. When I heat the water in the microwave, I put it in for 99 seconds. I don't enter "1-3-9"......I enter "9-9". I was asked by a co-worker why I do this. My answer is simple.

This is the hottest my coffee can get by pressing two buttons instead of three. By entering two nines, not only does my water come out hot, I have heated it by pressing the fewest number of buttons necessary to reach that temperature. I'd prefer my coffee be a little warmer but 100 seconds or anything involving minutes would require me to push and extra button.

This practice saves me just over six minutes a year.

My co-worker was not impressed.

Christmas Crunch 2011

I've never been into hunting, although I've been around it all my life. Growing up, my neighbors were avid hunters with their camo gear and their bird dogs. A guy I work with today is about as obsessed with hunting as anyone I've known considering he films all of his hunts and eats deer in some form every day for lunch. I may not be a hunter in the traditional sense of the word, but I think I understand the hunting state of mind.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving and a day off of work. While most rational and sane individuals would be more than happy to have the opportunity to sleep in and charge their batteries for the upcoming holiday, I was on a mission this morning. You see, Christmas (Cap'n) Crunch has been on the shelves for a few weeks now and I have yet to find a box.

I hit the shower at 4:30am and was out the door by 5:00. I had two hours before my kids would be awake -- two hours to find my box of Christmas Crunch. With Willie and the Wheel as my co-pilot, I was off. There are roughly 12-15 different grocery stores in the twin-city area and I would stop at every one if I had to. Coming home empty-handed was not an option.

Store #1. Nothing.

Store #2. Nothing.

Store #3. Nothing.

Store #4. Not open yet. Considering this place sells donuts and places that sell donuts are typically open at the crack of dawn each day, the fact that I was there before they opened made me consider for a second that I might be crazy. It was 5:45 in the morning and I was on my fourth stop looking for a box of cereal on a day that I should be sleeping in. Awesome. I L-ed OL and headed to my next stop.

Store #5. Jackpot.

I may not have been dressed in camo sitting in a tree stand all morning, but I think I understand why some people might enjoy that. They're happy when they get their deer. I'm happy when I get my cereal.

I win again, Horatio.

Sveum's 'stache.

Sticking with the topic of the Cubs' new manager, the recent hiring of Dale Sveum has inspired me to dig through my baseball card collection to find some of his old cards.

Sweet mustache.

Mike D, Ad Rock, and Dale Sveum

Seriously, fellow Cubs fans. Am I the only one who sees this?

I know the papers are saying that Dale Sveum was hired as the new manager, but I think we've just hired Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.

Death of the Journalist

There's a bit of irony in posting this on a blog, but considering the light-hearted content of this site, I feel no guilt in doing so.

So much truth here.

So. Much. Truth.

People used to burn pages, show their in and outrages
These days the gage is who gets flamed on comment pages
No claim is too outrageous for these constant news updaters
Lines refined to save time, less complicators to sedate us

We ingest five lines or less stories through our sub-consciousness
As times go by the Internet will kill the printed press
Where's the scroll bar on these ink drenched pages? I ain't turning this
Don't belive the hype machine, death of the Journalist

Don't believe the hype machine, death of the Journalist

Good Friday, April 18th, 1930
BBC radio news showed rare maturity
The news reporter said something that these days they wouldn't say
"Good evening. There is no news today."

They didn't feel the need to fill with leads on non-news stories
All picked apart and ripped painting fake failures or glories
Making mole hills into mountains being exaggeratory
Financial backers in their ears feeding different allegories

So let's beguile this sickly horse whispered media
Less reliable sources than Wikipedia
Journalism is in pieces of trivia
The blogger is king, the gossip column is leading ya

As the blogger becomes the journalist the art form dies
They don't have sources anymore they just have Google finds
Referencing other websites as if they're well sourced scriptures
Focused on getting their hits up not winning Pulitzers

Their journalism is lazy in the need to be first
I do more research than some of them when penning a verse
And you know how we are, we just believe it's the truth
We just accept it as news instead of asking for proof
But in a way the Internet makes journalism redundant
Freedom of information despite the attempts of some governments
Man tweets while WikiLeaks, spilling the truths of the troublesome
But truths become perspectives as soon as man discovers 'em

Don't believe the hype machine, death of the Journalist

And it ain't just the news reporters it's the muso's too
If you got a music blog, then son, I'm probably talking to you
Don't skim intros, listen to each track through
And maybe run a spell check before you post a review

They drop a million band names to get the Google hits
Remember, "You heard it here first" and it was in bold italics
Throw enough shit at the wall and some of it will stick
But make no mistake, your wall's still covered in shit

There's obtrustive new remits on the promotion slog
We need exclusive new remixes to service the blogs
And half these online networks are flattery operated
Hand feed them but let them think it was internally propagated

Your lines are recycled, you have no identity
Your words ain't gifted when they're lifted from my fucking press release
Your opinions next to nothing and that's all you'll amount to
You're so vain you probably DON'T know this song is about you

The problem here is I have a new album to sell
And I've probably burnt some bridges in the web wide world
Can I rebuild them; it's too far a distance to tell
And I ain't Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Don't believe the hype machine, death of the Journalist
Well done, Pip.

Ralphie stuff.

November 1st is a big day in our house -- at least for me it is. Every year, November 1st is the day that the Halloween and fall decorations come down and my wife humors me enough to let me to put up my collection stuff from A Christmas Story. She thinks Christmas decorations any earlier than November are simply unacceptable and I can't say I completely disagree.

A few years back, Dept 56 started marketing these small Christmas village pieces through Sears and the collection has been growing ever since. While a person could easily go overboard by purchasing every last piece available, I have decided (for the sake of my bank account and my marriage) to limit myself to the pieces directly relating to the actual movie. For example, Ralphie and his classmates pull a fast one on Miss Shields by greeting her with mouths full of wax teeth -- but a joke shop (where I assume these teeth would have been acquired) does not actually appear in the movie; therefore, the joke shop made by Dept 56 does not appear in my house.

So here you have it. My almost-four-year-old daughter calls it "Ralphie stuff." My almost-two-year-old daughter just calls it "lights." I call it awesome. There's Ralphie in just about every well-known scene from the movie.

This year's additions include a pj'ed Raphie in the backyard just after shooting his eye out as well as a Raphie who's been pushed too far by his nemesis, Skut Farkus.

Back in 2007, my wife and I stopped off in Cleveland on our way to a wedding in New York. The sole purpose of our stop was to visit the house at 3159 W 11th Street -- the home A Christmas Story's Parker family.

Talk about a surreal experience! I walked the sidewalk where Raphie, Flick, and Schwartz wandered their ways to school. I snuck around the backyard shed where Black Bart and his gang attempted to get the best of Raphie.

Of course, most popular with the tourists, I found myself under the (wrong side of the) kitchen sink where Randy hid fearing his brother's demise.

Here are some other shots from our visit that you may find familiar...

For more on A Christmas Story and Jean Shephard's other works and fascinating career, take some time to sift through the links below.