Compatriot Music (Mary Gauthier, Rifles & Rosary Beads review)

An album that addresses the lives of active military members, veterans and their spouses? Sign me up. But don’t be surprised if I’m choking back the tears…

 

Mary Gauthier – Rifles & Rosary Beads

released January 26, 2018
********* 9/10

Mary Veronica Gauthier, better known by her stage name Mary Gauthier, is an American folk and country singer-songwriter.

She was adopted from the very young age of one, but struggled with the idea of being adopted as she grew up. She ran way from home at fifteen, lived on friends couches and in halfway houses, and used drugs for many years. She almost completed a philosophy degree at Louisiana State University, but dropped out her senior year. She then opened and ran a Cajun restaurant for eleven years, which coincided with the birth of her interest in music and success at sobriety after an arrest for drunk driving on her restaurant opening night in 1990.

Fast forward 28 years, 11 albums (8 studio albums) later and a lifetime of experience singing a combination of folk, Americana and country music and we land at Rifles & Rosary Beads. This is a collaborative album which was cowritten by Gauthier and members of the nonprofit, Songwriting with Soldiers, an organization that pairs veterans and active duty service members with professional musicians to tell their stories.

Sometimes healing and sweet, other times sour and full of pain, this album is super powerful and deserves top marks for telling meaningful stories in a poetic way. I’ll admit I had not heard much of Gauthier’s catalogue prior to sitting down with this concept album, but gosh this just incredible to listen to, and I’m a sucker for this kind of music to begin with. Add in a favorable mix of genres, and you have timotheories gold.

Starting off rather sober with the opening track, Soldiering On, this lyric I lifted from the song describes the tone well – what saves you in the battle, can kill you at home. Or better yet, how about this one from The War After the Warwho’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war.  Gauthier is already a strong writer, but these are real stories we are hearing, featuring the voices of both the military types and their spouses, and all get credit in the liner notes.

Brothers describes a viewpoint of military women looking for equality, whereas Bullet Holes in Sky offers mixed emotions about Veterans Day from a navy veteran. And we get the obvious question of circumstantial death in Still On The Ride because the loss of a friend in war is unshakeable and reverberates for a lifetime.

This is not easy listening, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful to behold and when layered with a great number of profound and heartfelt stories, Gauthier provides a chilling account of military service and how it impacts everyone in those peoples lives.

This is an important album and filled with love.

The two tracks which exemplify this notion of love best are It’s Her Love and closing track Stronger Together. Both are titled appropriately, with the first demonstrating the healing power of a support system, and the second about the significance of unity, leaving us with the notion that while military life can and sometimes does break us down, it’s through compassion and love that rebuilding happens.

Pros: The authenticity behind the lyrics, and the compassion in the delivery are what drive this album forward and take it from a 7 to a 9.

Cons: The fact that an album like this exists is an amazing thing, but where are the songs specifically calling out against sending people off to war with so much regularity?

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestMary Gauthier is also an accomplished author, having had short stories published in the book Amplified, and a couple of magazines. Her songs are taught in universities and she is currently writing a book titled The Art of Songwriting.

I’ve said this before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of listening to albums in full, and an album like Rifles & Rosary Beads demands attention, because these stories are what not only snapshots into individual lives, but excellent case studies for understanding the world around us better.

theories Summarized

Prioritizing the needs of those without a voice is such a folk music thing to do, as folk music typically stems from an oral tradition, without a producers voice or even better in a public domain. Now, this music wasn’t constructed in the back woods, but it absolutely is not commercial in nature or classic, and it’s brilliant.

And on the subject of brilliance, Brendon and I have a review of the eponymous debut of alt rock group Weezer from 1994. This is a classic album, and one that also deserves some time and attention if you haven’t listened to it recently, or ever.

And if you like either of these album reviews or both of them, please like and share the video, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

The Role of Art In A Spiritual Life (Dave Von Bieker, interview preview)

This happens so often to us as creative professionals – we attempt to tackle issues far greater then ourselves in the hope that we contribute something meaningful in the world around us. Which is why I personally believe that whether you hold a secular world-view, are a monotheist, or believe in many different gods, holding onto that time for reflection, contemplation, studying, devotion and ritual can inform your artistic practice and vice versa.

Now, I realize that the word spirituality actually means a great many different things to different people. So consider this for a moment.

I often like to think of spirituality as the process of getting to know yourself so that you can begin to know what is greater then yourself through commitment to an ideal. And so, that act of creation is very much tied into reflection. As we spend time with our work, contemplating the purpose of it, studying ways to make it better, devoting copious amounts of time to the act of making, and creating routines or rituals to enable good habits in ourselves.

Dave Von Bieker also believe this. He specifically told me that being an artist is about paying attention, and as a consequence we can’t but help acknowledge the sublime, being in a state of wonder. Having spent so much time in churches, art galleries, concerts, and reflections, he sees similarities in practising art versus practising spirituality. Further to that point, he recognizes that for him, God is far greater then a specific set of views and elements of life.

And I find that fascinating.

Which is why I think you’ll get some value out of spending some time with this preview of our interview on spiritual alignment. Dave Von Bieker is a musician, singer, songwriter, and arts chaplain who runs an art gallery in central Edmonton (Bleeding Heart Space). His stage name is Von Bieker, and his music defies genre, so he prefers to call it bow-tie rock to haunt your heart, for thematic purposes.

theories Summarized

But what did you think? Can art, science and spirituality work together in tandem in our lives? What artistic practices can you think of that would satisfy two or even all three of those models of thinking?

I hope you got something out of this initial discussion on the role of art in a spiritual life, and if you did, please like and share the video, and leave me some comments on future topics you’d like to see. I’ll drum up some theories we can rock out to!

With that all said, I thought it would be appropriate to follow up this post with an album review by Mary Gauthier, Rifles & Rosary Beads, so please check back in tomorrow evening for more theories! You won’t be disappointed.

Tim!

Throwing Glass In Brick Houses (Phantom Thread review)

Romantic love can last but a moment, but companion love often lasts for a lifetime. And this is important because it’s a much more real feeling then something so fleeting as lust – the desire to be needed, to be important to someone, to be truly understood, it’s just so much more powerful.

Thankfully, dear readers, this film does expresses just that.

 

Phantom Thread (2017)

Cast: Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
released on blu-ray April 10, 2018
********* 9/10

IMDB: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%, Audience Score 70%
The Guardian: *****

Paul Thomas Anderson is an American filmmaker. He has been nominated for over eight Academy Awards, and his films have generated over 25 nominations for cast and crew. His list of films is fairly short, having made 9 films over a 20+ year career – Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, Phantom Thread, and 2018’s Waterlily Jaguar.

Now, I would be willing to argue that There Will Be Blood is one of the best, if not THE best film of the 2000s, so when I learned that Mr. Anderson directed it, I took notice and seriously looked at his portfolio. This is important because Phantom Thread is the second film that Daniel Day-Lewis has starred in with this director, and it’s also the last one before he retires.

Special thanks to Focus Features for the IMDB summary of the film –

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love

Now, I’m going to posit another theory, and you can choose to agree with it or not.

Romance is about a fantasy, whereas companionship is about taking a very real journey together. I originally watched this movie because it was nominated for a Best Picture award, and it registered with me, but didn’t affect me at the time. Then I decided to watch this film for a second time because I was reminded of something a friend of mine had said. He told me that this film was especially compelling because the two leads challenged each other. While I agree that Reynolds and Alma challenge each other, and I’m about to spoil an important part of the movie, so be forewarned, I think that poisoning someone to shift the balance of power in the relationship is pretty dramatic. So it still works as a movie, because movies typically take the highs and lows of life and leave out the majority of in-between moments.

But it’s in the in-between moments that human connection exists, and that’s why the story of the house of Woodcock, and the waitress that threw a brick into the front window, is the real focal point of a real love story. Not Daniel Day-Lewis, and we are all the better for it.

Pros: Vicky Krieps steals the show, and while Daniel Day-Lewis is enigmatic and bold, as he is in all of his roles, Alma is far more powerful in her strong-willed directness. The attention to detail in the sets, costumes, and interactions amongst the cast will hold you in, make you gasp for air for a moment, and finally accept the beauteous new outlook on life.

Cons: It is a very insular world, and because it doesn’t invite the casual viewer in, you might miss the fact that this is a far better telling of Fifty Shades of Grey.

Runtime: 2 hours 10 minutes

Points of Interest: The name Alma means “soul” in Spanish and Portuguese. Daniel Day-Lewis has not seen the finished film, and found the role incredibly emotionally demanding.

It might seem obvious now, but the title Phantom Thread eludes to several things. The role of dressmaking in Reynolds identity, the familial ties between Reynolds, his sister, their mother and their business, Reynolds relationship with his mother, and more importantly, the unseen connection between Alma and Reynolds. And this last thread is what drives the story. It might not seem obvious that there is an unbreakable bond between the two lovers, but try as fate might, their love cannot be broken, only strengthened.

That’s what real love does over time, it continues to define the identities of its partners.

theories Summarized

I love this movie. It grabbed hold of my attention, because it demanded a second viewing. I can see myself watching it multiple times over the years. Paul Thomas Anderson has done something wonderful in creating a period film that is timeless, but is very rich in it’s depictions. It’s a little sad that the only award it won was for Best Costume Design, but ironically enough, that might be the highest compliment it could receive given how intimate a role clothes play in our lives.

The exterior beauty of the dress could only exist with the loving labour of dressmaking.

And so that leads us into the Watch Culture video review I have lined up on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut – Don Jon. It’s a story about sex addiction, and how one man’s addiction to pornography has defined how he views most of his intimate relationships. It’s totally worth a watch, and like Phantom Thread, it has some great insights romantic love VS companion love.

Lastly, please let me know what you thought of both of these reviews on love, like and share the video, and subscribe to the channel (and email) if you haven’t already. Next week I’ll have a review on folk album and a horror-comedy film, and an interview preview with a pretty cool musician.

Tim!

The Most Critical Hour (Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour review)

Did you know that the golden hour is the first hour after a traumatic injury, and the reason why it’s called this, is that it’s often the most critical for successful treatment in emergency situations.

Now, I don’t think that’s what Kacey Musgraves intended with her album title, but it still holds significance given that this album is worth a critical listen, whether you are a music critic or not. It’s almost like a first look at the world after a life-changing event.

 

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

released Mar 30, 2018
******** 8/10

Kacey Lee Musgraves, better known by her stage name, Kacey Musgraves, is an American country music singer and songwriter. Like many popular country artists today, Kacey is a seasoned professional who has been performing for the better part of twelve years – Golden Hour is her third studio album, following three years after Pageant Material, and her first with MCA Nashville.

She has been met with generally positive reviews on all three of her albums, but Golden Hour is the first album that has ranked at over 90% on review aggregator Metacritic. The consensus seems to be that it’s a great record because her vocal range is quite high and very appealing, and not to mention the fact that while many of the songs are very saccharine, but most importantly there is a sincerity in the dream world she is constructing, and it deviates from typical country fare..

I think it’s great that the Butterflies and Space Cowboy are the first singles. They represent all of the high notes this album wants to hit, and then the rest of the album goes on to prove it over and over again. If you listen to Mother and/or Rainbow you might just be moved to tears. Both of them are positive songs, one about the heritage of motherhood and the other speaking out to minority groups (read: LGBTQ youth).

This is not the type of content you see in mainstream country, it’s atmospheric, and generally just lovely to listen to, but because it’s not ham-fisted with it’s content, it feels better to sing along to a song about a woman giving her lover the space to be independant, for the right or the wrong.

Pros: Space Cowboy, High Horse, Slow Burn and Wonder Woman all almost instantly appealed to me purely as melodies, and upon subsequent listens their lyrics have grown on me to the point that I’m reciting them back to myself. Her vocalist work is just so good.

Cons: While the content is interesting for a pop country album, it does soften the country sound purely to appeal to non-country fans. And it was even mentioned in all of the marketing of the album. And in the process… well, it doesn’t blend in other genres so much as it dials back on the country tones. And the expected sassiness isn’t really there, which might be difficult to accept for existing Kacey Musgrave fans.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of InterestAs I already mentioned, this album has widespread universal acclaim from most critics, having debuted at number four on the US Billboard 200. It’s primarily about the “golden hour” of Musgraves life as she comes out of the glow of just recently getting married, with many things in her life coming together.

This is a nice album. I know that sounds like a safe statement to make, but not every major event in life needs to leave us scarred and broken. Introspection can be a positive experience too. Which is why the uplifting music with an appreciation for the real world, is what we are given, and why I gladly accept it. It’s true that we might not have expected this from Musgraves, but I think the reason why I enjoyed it so much is that she clearly doesn’t care.

theories Summarized

Whether you believe the hype or not, this is a really entertaining and heartwarming album. If it can stand the test of time and enter the ranks of the timeless is yet to be seen, but I’m happy to say for today that Golden Hour has lots of power.

On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Brendon and I decided to do a video review on the chiptune original, Crystal Castles, by none other than Crystal Castles. Using a circuit bent Atari 5200, this music can be jostling, calming, exciting and generate a host of other feelings, but it manages to do this without much help from lyrics.

In fact, Alice Glass often feels like part of the instrumentation, and not a leading vocalist.

There you have it creative cuties. Two great albums, with two very different emotional cores, but I think you’ll find that each have valuable tracks and are worth a spot on the shelf. And please give them repeated listens, because I have a theory that you’ll feel the same as I did initially. That said, hit us up in the comments, like and share the video if you found it valuable, and of course, please subscribe to the blog and channel for more awesome theories on the arts.

Tim!

Themes In Film – Redemption (Cross Talk EP 36)

Redemption is a fairly universal theme in cinema.

It’s something that can motivate anyone no matter what their moral, ethnic, or social standing is. In fact, some of the most beloved characters of all time are ones who follow a path of redemption. You have Darth Vader, Severus Snape, the T-800, Phil Connors (Groundhog Day), Derek (American History X), and Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption) for starters. Whether the story is one of holding out hope, belief in something greater then ourselves, a desire for change or simply fighting injustice, it’s a great theme that invites us to see the possibility of choices in life.

Now to be clear, the stories we’re talking about in this episode of Cross Talk aren’t exclusively about redemption, even if some of them have an overt story arc featuring the theme. What’s more important to me is to demonstrate how this topic transcends genre, it can be in action movies, dramas, comedies, crime stories, horror and a whole host of other examples. These themes permeate our culture, and I personally think it’s because at any given time we are all holding out for a hero. Redemption teaches us that we are fully capable of becoming our own source of rescue.

Chris and I decided to provide a selection of films to demonstrate this point about the significance of redemption in life. We selected The Green Mile, Unforgiven, Good Will Hunting, In Bruges, Gran Torino, The Hurricane, V for Vendetta, and Les Miserables. All of these films have an element of drama to them, but the stories are wildly different, some being based in fantasy, others based on history, and still others simply fit a time and a place.

Redemption can bring freedom. Freedom from societal oppression, creative limitations, and intolerable views. And sometimes it can absolve past wrongdoings.

I’m really excited to share this one with you because while we are going to go over each of this four examples, Chris has decided to focus his attention on Les Miserables, the 1935 version, and not one of the other twelve film adaptations out there, though I do have some special love for the Liam Neeson vehicle. And then for my pick, I’ll give some insights on why I think the redemption in V for Vendetta comes from Evey, as portrayed by Natalie Portman, and NOT Hugo Weaving’s theatrical V.

And so this is episode thirty six of Cross Talk. Themes of redemption in film.

theories Summarized

That was such a fun topic for us to discuss – I learned something about myself that even I didn’t know, how important a seemingly popcorn flick like V For Vendetta can represent an ideal about culture. And now I need to check out yet another version of Les Miserables, as Chris promises that the 1935 film is the best version out there.

But what are your favourite examples of redemption in the movies? Do you prefer The Shawshank Redemption? What about The Wrestler? Until next time, please like and share the content! And subscribe to the mailing list if you haven’t yet. I’ve got really cool folk country album to share tomorrow from Kacey Musgraves… and I’ll give you your space cowboy!

Tim!