Monday, November 10, 2008


Well, it finally happened. Barack Obama actually won the election and handily, surprising all the cynics and curmudgeons and worry-worts among us. Apparently our country isn't quite as ignorant or racist or whatnot as one sometimes is led to think. Good for us! (Although ignorance and racism and whatnot do still exist -- as evidenced by anyone eavesdropping on those old guys talking in the corner booth at Denny's on any random Tuesday morning. But I digress...)

Obama's victory is historic for any number of reasons. The first black president, the first post-baby boomer president, and so on and so forth. And whether the vote was one for hope and change or one final repudiation of the Bush/Cheney near-dictatorship, what we get is the opportunity to correct all that has gone wrong over the past eight years and set a new course into the 21st century. That's a good thing.

What pisses me off, however, are all those conservatives and Republicans and media pundits who keep insisting that Obama has to "govern to the center" and be all bi-partisan and such. These are the same people who insisted that Bush had a "mandate" with much smaller popular and electoral vote majorities in 2000 and 2004, and set about ramrodding their ultra-conservative agenda down everyone's throats. Democrats, liberals, and even moderates were marginalized in particularly ruthless fashion; the Bushies didn't even give lip service to that whole "govern to the center" and bi-partisan thing. Bush said that since he won he got to do whatever he want, the other 49.5% of the country be damned. And look what happened.

So now the same bastards who locked the Democrats away for the past eight years now want those same Democrats to play nice with them and include them in all their major decisions. Fuck that shit, I say. There is no reason at all for Obama and the Dems to give the defeated minority the time of day; why should they treat the righties any better than the righties treated them for the past eight years. What goes around comes around, my friends; karma demands retribution.

But we're a "center right" nation, the righties argue. Oh no, we're not, I reply. This supposedly "center right" nation just voted the supposedly most liberal member of the United States Senate into the presidency; the supposedly "center right" nation is also in support of supposedly liberal issues such as universal health care and against staunch conservative issues as abortion bans. No matter what the pundits might say, the facts are clear that this is a center left nation, a land of closet progressives with socialist leanings. Obama should keep this clearly in mind as he moves forward, and not be tempted to placate the whining minority.

The conservative elite have a lot of balls, I'll give them that. They take a slim win and call it a mandate, then take a major loss as a basis for co-governance with the winning side. The real winners -- Obama and the American people -- shouldn't listen to this massive spin. To the winners go the spoils, to the losers go four years (at least) in the political wilderness. Let the Republicans deal with the fact that they're the ones that are out of touch; the rest of us have more important work to do rebuilding our country. That's the real change ahead.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


This election cycle has been both dispiriting and inspiring. Dispiriting for the negative tone of the McCain campaign, along with the rumors and innuendo and lies and outright racism on the part of many ignorant conservatives. Inspiring for the support of Obama's uplifting message of hope and populist redemption, along with a long-needed support of the middle class.

I started this campaign with much respect for McCain, who even if he didn't align with me on all the issues, at least seemed to have an independent integrity. I've lost all that respect for McCain since then, due to his opportunistic flip-flopping on key issues, embrace of the nut-wing social conservative right, selection of the extremely under-qualified Sarah Palin as his running mate, and overall willingness to do practically anything to get elected. It's one thing to have the ambition, another to pursue that ambition in an honorable manner. The John McCain of the 2008 campaign is not an honorable man.

Then there's Palin. What was going through his mind (or his advisers' minds) with that selection? At first blush, the woman seemed like another petty small-town politician, not too far removed from the mayor of Burnsville, Minnesota, my new home town. (For whom I will not be voting next week.) But Palin's a petty small-town politician with big ambitions -- and the ability to fire up a crowd of ignorant, small-minded racist trash. She's like the cheerleader from hell, no ideas of her own beyond advancing to the next level, by whatever means necessary. It's kind of like George Bush in a skirt, but amped up a couple of levels. I would fear for our nation if she were in any position of power.

The hero of this campaign is Barack Obama. His is an inspiring story, a rags to riches climb from impoverished childhood with a single mother to editor of the Harvard Law Review to United States Senator and hopefully to President. He didn't come from a four-star military background or an Ivy League family; like his equally inspiring running mate, Obama is one of us who made good. It really pisses me off when the blathering right tries to paint him as an elitist; he's really the culmination of the American dream.

That he's done all he's done is even more remarkable when you consider his race and his name. A black man has to work twice as hard in America to achieve any level of success; having a Muslim-sounding name certainly didn't help, either. But Obama overcame all his disadvantages and is now poised to claim the highest office in the land. Remarkable.

That's assuming that he actually wins on Tuesday. The polls all say he will, but there's still a lot that can go wrong -- from a racist backlash to the Republicans outright stealing the thing via election fraud, suppressed votes, and easily tampered-with electronic voting machines. It's not over till it's over, which is why all Obama supporters must keep up their efforts until every last vote is counted.

And here's one more thing I like about Obama: He's made it cool to be smart. With the Republicans pandering to those with little education and even less ambition, and society seemingly being prejudiced against smart people, Obama's education and intelligence is a shining light. We need to admire and reward intelligence, the way other countries do, instead of celebrating ignorance and lack of accomplishment. Here's hoping that Obama can lead by example and make our country just a little bit smarter.

So make sure you get off your ass and get out and vote on November 4th. My vote will go to Obama and Biden, and I hope yours will too; I earnestly believe that they represent the voice of change this country dearly needs.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Levi Stubbs passed away yesterday. A great voice has been silenced.

Levi was the lead singer for the Four Tops, one of the most successful groups of the Motown era. His voice was commanding, plaintive, soulfully emotive. You could hear pain and anguish and just a little hope when he sang; there was no more distinctive voice in his or any era.

He was my favorite male singer of the rock era. (Favorite female rock-era singer: Dusty Springfield. Favorite pre-rock singers: Mel Torme and Ella Fitzgerald.) I wanted to use the Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" as the recessional music at our wedding (it's the perfect tempo for strolling down the aisle -- plus I love the song), but my wife vetoed it; we settled on a Stevie Wonder tune instead, which was fine, but not a Tops song.

And there were so many great Tops tunes, most written by the premiere songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, all backed up by the pitch-perfect Funk Brothers, and all featuring the gospel shout baritone of Levi Stubbs. Remember them all: "Baby, I Need Your Loving," "It's the Same Old Song," "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)," "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette" (with its ground-breaking James Jamerson bass line), and exquisite covers of "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Walk Away Renee." Plus many, many more, classics all, all songs that hold up nearly a half-century later. I can listen to the Tops all day and all night and not tire of them.

(To honor his memory, here's a clip of the Four Tops singing "Baby, I Need Your Loving" from 1965. Enjoy.)

The Tops were unique in that they stayed intact with original members for so long. Levi and Duke and Obie and Lawrence were the Four Tops from 1954 until Lawrence's passing in 1997. The Temps didn't stay intact for near that long (20+ members and still counting), nor did the Supremes. But the Tops were the Tops, musical soul mates from beginning to end.

I had the good fortune of catching the Tops in Las Vegas in the early 1990s. They were on a double-bill with the Four Seasons (Four Tops/Four Seasons -- get it?), and it looked to be a standard Vegas lounge gig. It wasn't. Oh, the Four Seasons were as lame as you can imagine (and even then Frankie Valli couldn't hit the high notes), but the Tops brought the house down. The show was super high energy, nonstop hits, everybody dancing in the aisles and on their seats. It was a joyous noise, propelled by Levi and that voice. There was nothing like it -- and there probably never will be.

It saddens me to see the great performers of my generation getting old and passing on. Isaac Hayes a month or so ago, Levi Stubbs just yesterday, who's next? I don't want to know.

Anyway, here's to Levi Stubbs. I will miss his voice.

Monday, October 13, 2008


By all accounts, Barack Obama should be trouncing John McCain's ass something fierce. Historically low approval ratings for the current Prez, general dislike of anything incumbent or Republican, weariness of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the economy spiraling towards a Not-So-Great Depression... anybody running as a Democrat ought to be up by 15 or 20 points by now. Yes, Obama is starting to approach a double-digit lead, but that's recent and still not as big as you might imagine. The fact that McCain is still in the running, to me, speaks to a single issue.


Yes, there are some people who prefer McCain to Obama on policy issues, and some on "leadership." There are also the die-hard Republicans who would never switch sides, those closet cases with Daddy issues who always gravitate towards the older guy, and some older voters who identify more with a pre-Baby Boomer than a post one. But there is also a disturbingly large segment of the population, both young and old, who would never vote for a black man. They may couch their opposition in terms of "character," rail about Obama's past associates, or ask vague questions about "do we know who is is?," but at the core they're voting against Obama because they're racist. There is no other explanation.

Even in our supposedly enlightened society, racism still exists, and I see evidence of it daily. Relatives who shall remain nameless persist in spreading scurrilous emails that call Obama a terrorist, a Muslim, the anti-Christ, you name it. A surprising number of people consent to be interviewed on camera to say they'd never vote for a black man (although they often use a more insulting phrase). "He's not like us" is just a euphemism for saying he's back and you're white and you hate those blacks something fierce. Far too many ignorant people in America today still feel that way, some quite strongly and perhaps violently so. I worry for Obama's safety should he actually get elected.

Ignorance breeds prejudice and racism, and there are a lot of ignorant voters out there. Witness the near-rabid crowds at Republican rallies of late, crying out "terrorist" and "kill him" and likely worse epithets that the news media is self-censoring. You don't see any dark faces at these rallies; Sarah Palin's crowds, especially, give off the aura of a lynch mob or Nazi rally. It's frightening.

Palin may be over her head in lots of ways, but in this instance she's the perfect Nazi cheerleader, inciting the crowds with whatever propaganda she's been fed; I expect no less from someone who can deliver no more. I do expect more, however, from McCain. He's always seemed an honorable if somewhat curmudgeonly sort, and he should be better than all this. Or at least the old McCain was; the new 2008-edition John McCain appears to be the lowest form of pandering politician, doing anything his advisors suggest will help him win.

Granted, McCain has belatedly started tamping down some of the worst rhetoric. At a rally this week in Lakeville, MN (just a few miles from where I now live), an old woman in the town hall crowd said she wasn't voting for Obama because he was an "Arab." (It's sad when they can't even get their racism straight...) McCain stepped in to correct her and call Obama an honorable family man, but the crowd was already heavy in its blood lust and booed him. That tells you something.

I'd have a lot more respect for McCain if, at the upcoming final debate, he looked directly into the camera and said, "My friends, Senator Obama and I have some legitimate disagreements, and I think I'd be a better President than him. But if you're voting for me only because my opponent is a black man, I don't want your vote. Feel free stay home on election day, but don't vote for me because I'm white and Senator Obama is black. I don't want your racist votes."

That would turn a few heads, help to quiet the racist uprising (a little), and bring a much welcome note of civility to this increasingly uncivil election. I don't think it'll happen, but wouldn't it be pretty to think so?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Anyone who is surprised by the current financial crisis hasn't been paying attention. From Wall Street's financial mavens to Main Street's craven mortgage brokers, everybody's been playing a giant confidence game. It's a pyramid scheme built on a base of bad loans, a multi-level marketing plan gone one level too far. In the game of risk vs. reward, the risk got too high -- because the rewards were so large as to be irresistible. And you and I, fellow taxpayers, are expected to bail out those gamblers who bet and lost billions (if not trillions) of dollars they didn't really have.

This financial crisis was totally predictable. All bubbles burst, eventually; a house of cards inevitably falls. That the high-stakes gambling and sub-prime lending went on so long speaks as much to unbridled greed as it does to the lack of governmental oversight. Somebody should have stepped in and said "no," but nobody did. In the Bush world, big government is bad when industries need regulating -- but good when bailouts are needed.

Should we, the taxpayers, bail out those firms that gambled and lost billions dealing with various forms of financial securities? Put it another way, would a big Las Vegas casino step in and write a big check to its biggest losers? I don't think so; you place your bets and you accept the consequences. The gamblers on Wall Street should be held no less accountable than their counterparts in Sin City.

If anybody needs bailing out, it's the consumers who were flim-flammed into taking out mortgages that they didn't need or couldn't afford. How many inexperienced potential homeowners got talked into interest-only mortgages that would blow up in their faces a few years down the pike? How many naive current homeowners were tricked into taking out home equity loans for 125% of their property's value? One could argue that these people signed their own fates, but with so many snake oil salesmen masquerading as mortgage brokers, somebody should have overseeing what was going down.

Yes, it all comes down to greed. And as many have stated, you can't legislate greed. (Some have even gone so far as to say that greed is a good thing, that it drives our capitalist society; I might argue with that.) But here's the thing: Unbridled greed does great harm. So while we can't regulate greed, we can control its effects. When outsized greed affects individuals, markets, and countries to this degree, we need to put regulations into place that limits the harm this greed can do.

In doing so, however, we don't need to put even more unfettered control in the hands of the Executive Branch. Excuse me for being just a little bit paranoid, but could this whole "crisis" be just another excuse for consolidating Executive power?

Exhibit A: Section 8 of the proposed bailout plan, which says that the Secretary of the Treasury (an appointed -- not elected -- official in the Executive Branch) has total unanswerable control. Here it is in full:

Sec. 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Got that? The new Financial Czar can do anything he wants and nobody -- not Congress, not the Supreme Court, not nobody -- can question him. Sound familiar? It's a common refrain in the Bush presidency.

So maybe the government does need to inject some funds into the financial markets. Maybe some firms do need some sort of bailout. (Heck, some individuals need a financial helping hand, too.) And maybe (or most definitely) we do need more stringent controls over high-stakes financial gambling going forward. But we don't need to further eviscerate the Constitution to give the Executive branch unstoppable powers to deal with this real or imagined crisis. Let Congress take its time and put together a plan that helps those individuals that truly need help -- and doesn't reward the fat cat financial "wizards" who gambled too much and unwisely.

But that's just my opinion. Reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


In my last post I noted some of the many things that have gone wrong during my move from Indianapolis to Minneapolis. One of the major things I mentioned was the demise of my prized Media Center PC, which suffered from its second power supply problem in three years -- a big enough problem to deem the entire unit virtually unrepairable, or at least unrepairable for a reasonable cost.

At the time, the folks at Niveus said that the power supply took out the motherboard, that the old motherboard was no longer available, and that that meant I'd need to replace the power supply, motherboard, video board, audio board, you name it, for a price somewhere in the $2500-$3000 range. Given the number of problems over the years (caused, I suspect, by components running too hot in the silent, fanless chassis), I decided against repair, instead opting for a new PC custom-built by my home theater firm, Connect Home Theater.

Since that post, I've been pleasantly surprised by the response from the folks at Niveus, particularly VP of Marketing Brian Paper. I've always had a good relationship with Brian and Niveus, and when he heard of my plight, he offered to upgrade the entire PC for free. That, as they say, was an offer I couldn't refuse -- a $3,000 upgrade for free. So, after making sure that the folks at Connect Home Theater wouldn't be left in the lurch, I gave Brian the okay to proceed.

The "upgrade" involved shipping me an entirely new PC -- the latest Niveus Denali model. That included a 1TB hard disk (twice as big as the old one) and 2GB of memory (twice as much as the old one), along with the requisite new motherboard, video card, audio card, power supply, and the rest. Suffice to say, the new model performs superbly, and is just as quiet as the old one.

My only concern with sticking with a Niveus model was the early component failure issue, which I surmised was caused by too much heat build up in the unit. (My old PC got hot enough to fry an egg on . That's not an exaggeration; it needed plenty of ventilation, and even then got hot to the touch.) Brian assured me that while that might have been a problem with a PC made three years ago, today's components run much cooler out of the box, plus their cooling technology has improved. Turns out he's right; the new unit runs much cooler than the old one (warm, not hot), and hasn't given me a lick of trouble in the month I've had it back.

So here's a welcome exception to all those things that turn me curmudgeonly -- a company that stands behind their products, bends over backwards for their customers, and improves their products over time. Thanks, Niveus!

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


With moving, marriage, and such over the past few months, there has been ample opportunity for things to go awry. These are the things that bring out my curmudgeonliness, as most derive from simple human carelessness -- which, these days, is abundant.

What follows, then, is a simple cataloging of the major mistakes that have befallen me in my recent move from Indiana to Minnesota, for your reading pleasure.

We'll start with the firm that moved me from Indiana, which did a relatively decent job -- with a few exceptions. First, they moved three halogen floor lamps as-is, without first disassembling them; the result was three very bent and twisted floor lamps. In addition, they lost/broke/misplaced the coasters underneath my dining room table, requiring a makeshift repair on our end.

The firm that moved my wife (less than a mile down the road) did a much worse job. Their mistakes included somehow breaking the mechanism on my stepson's futon bed, as well as losing all the screws and related hardware for my stepdaughter's daybed and refusing to make good on the replacement, necessitating the purchase of a new unit.

Then we have the furniture, of which we purchased a bunch. Of the two swivel chairs we purchased for our new sun room, one arrived with a broken/missing caster; the rather inefficient fix was not to replace the single caster, but to give us a completely new chair.

We also ordered a new desk for my office, which took almost two months to arrive. When it was delivered the left-facing return we ordered was actually a right-facing one packed inside a box marked for the left-facing version. It took another two weeks for the correctly labeled return to arrive.

A similar mislabeling occurred with the 125-gallon saltwater aquarium we purchased. We ordered the whole setup in black, but when the fish store owner opened up the stand marked "black," he discovered an oak-finished stand inside, instead. We're still waiting for the black replacement.

We had two home theater systems installed (upstairs and down), as well as smaller systems installed in my wife's office and our bedroom. When one of the installers went to connect the audio receiver in the bedroom to the new in-wall speakers, he discovered that his fellow installer had forgotten to actually install the speakers; the grilles were there and the speaker wire was run, but there weren't any speakers behind the grilles!

The worst situation, however, involved my beloved Media Center PC, which houses my 1300-CD music collection in digital format. It was the very last part of our main home theater system to be connected, and when we plugged it in it went "poof." (Literally, that was the sound it made: "Poof!") The home theater firm sent it back to Niveus, the manufacturer, who confirmed that the power supply had gone bad. They also told me that the power supply had taken out the mother board with it, and that the mother board was an older type no longer available, and that that meant we had to replace the audio card, video card, and so on along with the power supply and the mother board -- easily a $2500-$3000 repair. (Although they also offered to let me trade in my old model on a current one for just $5000 --what a bargain!)

Given that this was the second bad power supply (and the third problem requiring factory repairs) in three years, I decided against the repair, instead opting for the home theater firm (Connect Home Theater) to custom build me a newer and more powerful model for just $2499. While I appreciate what Niveus was trying to achieve with a fanless, totally silent living room PC (and also appreciate the help they've given me over the years), I think their model is flawed; a fanless PC simply runs too hot, resulting in premature component failure. For me, the whole situation means that I'm now two months into the move and still don't have my music system up and running -- although I will be $2500 over my initial budget.

I'm sure few of you care about my little annoyances. That said, they are annoyances, and most could have been avoided with a little bit more in the way of quality control. And that's why they're so annoying.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I haven't posted in a few months, because I've been extremely busy. In addition to my normal hyperloaded writing schedule, I moved to Minnesota, got married, and went on a honeymoon. That's two months or so of solid activity, from which I'm only just now recovering.

I'll leave the marriage bit for a future post, and focus for now on the moving part of the equation. First off, know that I've lived in the same city for all of my 50 years; this was a move out of state, which made it a big deal. While I did a fair share of moving from apartment to apartment when I was younger, I've lived for the past 16 years in the same house -- which means I simply didn't have much current experience with the moving thing.

I made it easy on myself by hiring movers to do the whole thing -- packing, loading, driving, etc. That was a good thing; what might have taken me weeks took them a few days. Luckily for me, the only damage I've noted (so far) was in three halogen floor lamps, which arrived somewhat bent out of shape. No big deal; the big stuff made it through relatively unscathed.

I moved from a 1700 sq. ft. one-story house to a 4000 sq. ft. two-story with a full basement. The extra space is nice (in spite of the stairs), especially with all the other people in the house. For the first time since high school, I'm sharing my abode with others; it's not that bad, really. My new wife and I have no problem sharing space, of course, and the house is big enough that the two kids and one grandkid sharing the house with us have their own private spaces. I don't even mind that the grandkid picked my office and my music room as his two favorite spaces; it's easy enough to close the doors when I don't want him in there.

While sharing the (bigger) space has worked out well, sharing stuff has proven more problematic. Quite frankly, I'm not used to sharing. It's not that I'm selfish (although I probably am), it's just that everything in my old house was my stuff -- I knew exactly what it was and where it was and no one else touched it. Not so anymore; it seems that everybody touches everything. I have to get used to that.

An example. In my old place, my kitchen refrigerator was filled almost exclusively with liquids. (I don't cook, so why buy food?) In the new place, the kitchen refrigerator is filled with food -- everybody's food. So we have a spare refrigerator in the garage for liquids, and I get half of one very short shelf in the main refrigerator for my personal stuff (still mostly liquids). Is that too much to ask, half of one shelf? But still, half the time someone has put something on my half a shelf, typically some sort of baby food or yogurt container. Can I not have my space?

But that's a minor thing. We've spent a lot of time and money fixing up the place to be our place. It's a massive house with a great big great room, complete with 20 foot ceilings and a floor-to-ceiling custom fireplace. We ended up buying almost all new furniture for the place, and splitting my old home theater system in two to service two different floors. I like my new music room, which is enough bigger than my old one to finally let me be comfortable. We got rid of the previous owner's basement bar setup and replaced it with built-in bookshelves for a nice little library, and we're in the process of setting up a 125 gallon saltwater aquarium. Lots of money for all this, but I like to get everything out of the way at once -- if I want it done, I want it done now, not a year or two from now.

All this (plus the wedding and honeymoon) has occupied a lot of my time, hence the lack of posting. In addition, I've had to get used to living in Minnesota, the land where winter never stops. (They're talking about snow flurries tomorrow -- on April 26th!) It was nice, however, when the main snowpack melted and we finally got a chance to see the yard we purchased. It's a big half-acre, which means lots of mowing and such this summer. Fortunately, we got a riding lawnmower as part of the deal, and it has a cupholder, so that should work out okay.

In any case, I'm trying to hone my Minnesota accent and learning to drive under the speed limit (something no one in Indiana ever does). The populace is stereotypically nice up here, and they've made the move easier. So has my wife, of course -- she being the reason I moved up here in the first place. I think I like it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, February 08, 2008


There seems to be a resurgence of interest in Dusty Springfield of late, in particular her landmark 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis. This is good.

Dusty in Memphis was a great album; it's on my top five all-time album list. That's due in part to Dusty's sensual white soul vocals, of course, but also due to the choice of material. This was back in the day when singers didn't feel obligated to write their own material, which meant they chose songs from professional songwriters -- almost always of a higher caliber than that from non-trained writers. In Dusty's case, she had a knack for choosing first-rate songs from the top songwriters of the day. Or maybe the top songwriters singled her out for their best tunes. Whatever the case, one can't argue the results.

On Dusty in Memphis one finds tunes by Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("In the Land of Make Believe"), Carole King and Gerry Goffin ("So Much Love," "Don't Forget About Me," "No Easy Way Down," "I Can't Make It Alone"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("Just a Little Lovin'", Randy Newman ("Just One Smile," "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore"), and Alan and Marilyn Bergman with Michel Legrand ("Windmills of Your Mind"). Plus the superb "Son of a Preacher Man" (by John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins) and "Breakfast in Bed" (Eddie Hinton and Donnie Fritts). Not a ringer among them.

Among all these great songs, my personal favorite is Newman's "I Don't Want to Hear It Anymore," which is just heartbreaking. Of course, Dusty delivers on the heartbreak, just as she does on the sweet seduction of "Breakfast in Bed" and the sublime Southern sexuality of "Son of a Preacher Man." For a white chick from England, she had a lot of soul.

Believe it or not, we're coming up on the 40th anniversary of Dusty in Memphis; the album was released in 1969 to much fanfare but disappointing sales. Like many of pop music's best works, Dusty in Memphis gained stature over the years, eventually being recognized for the classic that it is. I expect we can see some sort of special 40th anniversary re-release next year, complete with alternate takes, bonus tracks, and a long-lost recording of Dusty putting on her mascera. While I welcome a remastered version, I'm not all that hot on "expanded" versions of classic albums; I want to hear the album as it was originally released, not tarnished by unwanted bonus tracks. If you have bonuses, put them on a separate disc; let the original album end as it was intended.

Perhaps it's the pending anniversary which has inspired the current attention to Dusty and her landmark album. It started last year, with Breakfast in Bed, a somewhat overlooked CD by Joan Osborne that was obviously inspired by Dusty and Dusty in Memphis. I found that CD ultimately disappointing, despite the choice of material and Osborne's inspired vocals; the production and arrangements had too much of a 2000-era sheen and approach instead of the classic understated accompaniment that the collection of soul tunes required.

A much better tribute is Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin', just released to much publicity and acclaim. I've been a Shelby Lynne fan since her extraordinary 2000 CD, I Am Shelby Lynne, and this new album cements her reputation as a Dusty-insprired songstress. On this album she takes several songs from Dusty in Memphis, along with a selection of other Dusty tunes, and makes them her own. The album has a Norah Jones-type vibe; the instrumentation is laid back and stripped down, which lets Lynne's sultry vocals come to the forefront. It's a worthy tribute to a great vocalist and a great album, yet more than stands on its own as a showcase for one of today's most talented artists.

As with the original Dusty in Memphis, of course, much of the appeal of Just a Little Lovin' lies in its selection of quality material; again, all the best songwriters of the 1960s are represented. Great songs sung by a great singer; that will always be a winning combination.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.