Phil Keaggy CD Arrives

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On October 25th, 2007, I posted my impressions from the night before’s Kathy Mattea concert at Joe’s Pub. In that post, I highlighted my amazement at Bill Cooley’s guitar playing, stating that he was possibly the best acoustic guitar player I had ever heard.

That led to a comment by Eric Sink that he would likely disagree, based on his belief that Phil Keaggy was probably the best that he’s ever heard. Eric is rarely wrong, trust me on this one folks! Given the way he phrased his comment, he can’t really be wrong in this particular instance, no matter what I say here. Of course, I too phrased my observation as “probably”, giving myself some wiggle room. πŸ˜‰

So, after hearing such praise from Eric, I went to and searched for Phil Keaggy. Yowzer! Tons of albums. In fact, I think he has over 50 solo albums! How to choose. So, I sampled the free 30 seconds that Amazon permits on roughly 20 songs, spread across four CDs. Some songs grabbed me in that brief listen, some didn’t. Unfortunately, on each of the CDs, at least one song didn’t, so I couldn’t settle on a specific CD to buy to get to know Phil.

So, I got on to the Phil Keaggy site (linked above), and found out that he was about to release a 30 year anniversary edition of one of his more famous albums, The Master & The Musician. If one pre-ordered on the site, it would come signed by Phil. Cool. I did. That was roughly six weeks ago, and today, the CD arrived (actually, a double CD).

If you’ve read this space before, you know I love classical guitar the most (though I’m really a guitar nut in general). The very first song grabbed me (Pilgrim’s Flight), so I was instantly happy with my purchase. Clearly, Phil is a master (though in this particular album, he means to be equated to “The Musician”, I’m sure). πŸ˜‰

While the rest of the album is in general excellent, some of the cuts are strange, or even borderline boring. Wherever there is guitar playing, it’s flawless, so this isn’t a commentary on Phil’s abilities as a performer, but more so on either his writing or selecting, etc.

There are a number of other songs that are great, but some of the short ones (thankfully, they’re short!), are at best, silly (e.g., Mouthpiece).

So, how does it compare to Bill Cooley’s CDs? I wrote about them here. Obviously, I enjoyed the Bill Cooley CDs more. To be clear, I think they are (in general) better songs, which highlight his guitar playing, surrounded by complementary instruments.

Phil Keaggy is an amazing guitarist, and I don’t want to try and split hairs on which one of them has better technique, etc. For now, while I will definitely listen to most of the songs on The Master & The Musician many times (skipping the rest!), I will definitely listen to Bill Cooley more, and can’t wait for his new CD to hit my iPod sometime in 2008.

If anyone (Eric, hint, hint) wants to recommend one specific Phil Keaggy CD that I should try that you think will give me more of a thrill than this one, I’m happy to invest in at least one more.

Summary: Phil Keaggy is a brilliant guitarist, and like always, I have no reason to doubt anything that Eric Sink says. But, if I could only listen to one of them, I’d choose Bill Cooley. Thankfully, I can listen to both, even if I weight my listening more toward Bill. πŸ˜‰

Last Headphone Post for the Year

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I promise! πŸ™‚

I know how incredibly subjective all of this nonsense is, and that I’m not an audiophile, so I don’t even know what to listen for, and probably couldn’t hear it if I knew. But, still, I can’t resist, since Lois found a bag of my old headphones today, so I broadened the test. πŸ˜‰

Everything was tested with my iPod Nano, listening to the last minute of Hold It All At Bay by Girlyman from the Joyful Sign CD, ripped at 96kbps. Initial volume (and kept there unless otherwise noted) was at roughly 1/3 of the Nano’s maximum.

First up, the Grado SR80. Gorgeous sound, set the standard for the rest to live up to. While there was absolutely nothing to complain about, I was (mildly) surprised that it didn’t sound as loud as I expected it to, compared with my recollection of last week’s test of the iGrado.

Next was the ancient Sony noise canceling MDR-NC20. I have owned these for at least 10 years, probably one or two more than that. I popped in a fresh AAA battery. First, I listened without the NC turned on. This is a feature that I miss on the Bose Quiet Comfort 2, which requires the NC to be on in order to listen.

They sounded dramatically worse than the Grado. I then listened again with the NC turned on. This time, they sounded way better. Not as natural (in the least) compared to the Grado, which was still better, but the difference with NC on or off was night and day. I am sure that it was not that the background noise was ruining the non-NC listen, so I conjecture that the NC circuitry boosts the bass.

While the Sony’s sound good with NC on, it’s most definitely not a natural sound.

Next were a pair of street-style Creative headphones, which came with my ancient Creative Zen Jukebox MP3 player. They sounded reasonable, but a little thin, and a little light on the bass. All around though, for a theoretically cheap pair of headphones, they weren’t all that bad.

Next up, a low-end paid of street-style Koss headphones, that were included with some other CD or MP3 player. No model number that I could find on them. Thinner sound than even the Creative headphones, so while acceptable, not worth listening to if anything else is handy.

I then tried the iGrado again. Wow. The Nano appears to be able to drive the iGrado much more efficiently as the volume level was significantly louder than with any of the other headphones, including the SR80’s. The SR80’s were still warmer sounding (see, I can make it sound like I have a clue, which I really don’t!), but I was impressed with the sound the iGrado produced (not that I wasn’t before, but I imagined that the SR80’s would beat it badly).

I couldn’t resist, I pulled the Bose back out to check them out one last time. Turned on the NC, and listened. At the fixed volume, they were too thin. I cranked it a bit, and the sound was reasonably good. I’d rate the sound (at the higher volume) as better than the Sony, but nowhere near as good as either Grado. I will likely continue to travel (by air) with the Bose, since they completely surround the ear (unlike the Sony) and therefore are better suited for blocking out sound on the plane.

So, why bother doing this test? Aside from wanting to remember how I felt now, should I ever get the urge in the future, or buy a new set, it was a perfect excuse to listen to the last minute of Hold It All At Bay by Girlyman roughly 10 times in a row! πŸ˜‰

November 2007 Poker Summary

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Very short post this time around. I didn’t get to play too much this month, but a reasonable amount nonetheless. I already reported on the one live tourney here, with excellent results in that one. πŸ™‚

I’m posting this early because we have dinner plans tonight so I know I won’t be playing again this month.

Total profit of $268.28, all of it explained by my one in-the-money finish in the big weekly tourney this past Sunday. Clearly, the rest of the month was basically break even.

I also won four free entries into the nightly 7pm Omaha Hi-Lo tourney that I like so much. I deferred three of them (which I’ll use in December if I can), but I played in one on Wednesday night, and missed the money by two players. Oh well…

No big tourney entries earned, but I can’t play this Sunday anyway. I just missed winning a free entry by one player, but I made a profit of $21 attempting to win it, so it’s not too terrible.

Not a bad month, and back on track in the profit column. If you add the live cash too, then it was an excellent month!

See you next month. πŸ™‚

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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On Tuesday this week, Lois asked me to check if anything was going on at any of our favorite clubs for either Wed or Thu, the only two nights this week that we didn’t have plans yet.

This was highly unusual for Lois, given that we both tend to be home-bodies unless we are aware of a specific group that we like, or we have company. Anyway, I looked, and immediately saw something interesting at Joe’s Pub for Thursday, last night.

Joe’s Pub is one of a few sponsors (and they are the hosts) of a series called the CMA Songwriters Series (CMA = Country Music Association). As many of you know, Lois loves Country Music (as do I, though it’s not my favorite genre).

I knew this would be extra special for Lois, because unlike many people (I don’t have enough evidence to say most people), Lois takes a deep interest in knowing who writes the songs she loves. When a song comes on the radio, she can often tell me the specific writer (often not the actual performer). I can only imagine that this is not so typical of most listeners.

We snagged two tickets, and immediately called for dinner reservations. For only the second time (Kathy Mattea was the first time), they told us they were sold out for dinner, and we would have to stand at the bar. Since we got seated for Kathy with the same speech, we assumed we’d get seated last night as well.

We weren’t… Of all the people who stood for the entire show, we had the best spot. I was surprised that I wasn’t even a little uncomfortable standing for over two hours. Lois sat on top of one of the speakers. We were pleasantly surprised when she wasn’t asked to get off. In fact, one of the hostesses told Lois that this was her favorite spot to sit and watch the show from. πŸ™‚

I took the opportunity of our new vantage to attempt a count of the capacity of Joe’s, which I’d always guessed at 125-150. While not scientific, I think I was spot on. I think the place can seat roughly 130 people, and there can be roughly an additional 20+ people at the bar.

The only advantage of standing, in particular where we were, which was the only non-bar place to stand, was that we didn’t order dinner or drinks. I love the food at Joe’s, and I’m nuts about their chocolate martinis. That said, I order them more to support the wait-staff, and to play by the rules and order the appropriate minimums to have gotten a table, etc. I had cereal (my usual dinner) back at the apartment at 9pm. πŸ™‚

On to the show. We knew in advance that it was going to be four top songwriters. What we had no idea about was the format of the show (meaning, would they be on individually, in groups, etc.). Over 3/4 of the crowd had been to one of the previous CMA Songwriters Series shows before (as evidenced by their ovation when asked).

The format is excellent. All four performers come out together, and sit in chairs in a row across the stage. On a few songs, two play and sing together, and on two songs, even three perform together, but for the most part, each plays a song that they wrote while the other three enjoy the show, and they move on in order and keep going around.

It’s great because there is no need for an intermission, and no time is wasted while one performer leaves the stage and another sets up, etc.

The four songwriters that they showcased last night are all super famous (for their hit songs, if not for their names). In the order that they sat on the stage, and in the two photos included below, they were Bob DiPiero, Al Anderson, Ronnie Bowman and Chris Wallin.

Bob DiPiero and Al Anderson Ronnie Bowman and Chris Wallin

Click on either photo to see a larger version.

One of the highlights of the evening for me was hearing some great back stories about how songs get cut (put on albums). I know zero about how the music industry works behind the scenes, and it was all very interesting. All four of them are great showmen, and the banter between them was wonderful (much of it extremely funny).

One story (out of many) that struck me was Chris Wallin talking about a song he wrote. He explained that it was repeatedly put on hold, which is what happens when a band reserves the right to cut it, but hasn’t done that yet. During a hold, you can’t market the song to anyone else. In other words, you’re in limbo.

The song was released from hold a number of times, and put on hold (presumably) by another band. Finally, Trace Adkins did cut the song. Chris was (obviously) very happy. Unfortunately, the album never got released, so the fact that Trace cut the song, didn’t matter. Ouch!

After 3.5 years of this song kicking around, Toby Keith finally cut it and released it. It shot up to the number one country song on the charts. I believe that song was Love Me If You Can. There were a number of other great stories like this, including a very big hit for Al Anderson that didn’t get cut for eight years!!!

On to the performance itself. Of the four, only Ronnie Bowman (to me!) is good enough to be a full-time performer (mix of great voice, great guitarist, etc.). All four are fantastic songwriters, and good performers as well, but the other three don’t have the voices to pull off their own songs like the people who typically cut their songs. It was a great experience, to hear the songs as they were originally created, and we both loved the show completely.

Still, no one should mistake these performers for the people who ultimately make their songs famous. One specific example is Al Anderson’s Trip Around The Sun. I believe (but don’t quote me) that this was the song that took eight years to cut! It finally got recorded by Jimmy Buffet and Martina McBride. Al sang the song the last night. I enjoyed it, but since Al did it on his own, somehow, he didn’t sing quite like Martina sings her part. πŸ˜‰

Aside from the basic difference in the vocal capabilities of most of today’s stars, there is a production (and typically big band sound) to the more polished recordings of the songs we heard last night. Last night was about the magic of hearing the creator interpret the song, and get loving adoration from the crowd for it. It was about the raw emotion of the song, not the polished final production that makes it big enough to become familiar to millions of people.

Finally, Chris Wallin sang a song that he claims hasn’t been cut yet. It’s about living life backwards, From the Grave To The Cradle. Wow, another brilliant song. If someone doesn’t snap that up soon, they’re fools. πŸ™‚

Another great night out at Joe’s. At the end of the show, they announced that the next in the series is on January 16th, 2008, and it will highlight songwriters that have written songs for Rascal Flatts. Given that we’re going to see Rascal Flatts at Madison Square Garden two night later, we grabbed two tickets on our way out last night (and even saved the typical service charge that we pay when we order online). Cool!

Grado vs Bose Quiet Comfort 2

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I’ve written about my new Grados a few times already, so this might feel like piling on a bit.

I mentioned in a post about my new iPods that I own a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 2 headphones, courtesy of my genius gift-giving friend Ed. I only use them when I travel on airplanes, and they work like a charm. I keep them in the apartment, since I typically leave for airports from the apartment.

I’m in the apartment now, so I figured I’d do a quick bake-off between the Bose and the iGrados (the SR80’s are up at the house at the moment). I assumed that the Bose might sound a drop better, given that they are noise-canceling, and, are Bose (not a bad brand).

I happened to be listening to Girlyman with the iGrados at the time I decided to check the Bose. I had the volume on the iPod Nano set to 1/4 and it was plenty loud and very rich sounding. I then played the same song on the Bose.

First, the minute I turned on the noise canceling switch (you have to, even just to passively listen to music, which is one of my complaints about the Bose!), I was impressed with the immediate difference even in our relatively quiet bedroom. We have two laptops going and regular city background noise. I wasn’t noticing it that badly, but the Bose made it melt away. Nice. In fact, Lois got on the phone half way through the song, and her voice was way in the background, since all of the bass was washed out of it.

But, the volume of the music was low and thin. I needed to crank the Nano up to 1/2 volume to get near the same richness of sound that I got from the iGrados at 1/4 the volume. That was counter-intuitive to me, given that the noise canceling should make it require less volume. Also, at 1/2 volume, the Bose didn’t sound as good, but they weren’t bad (like the ear buds).

Since the SR80’s are at least as good (perhaps a little better) than the iGrados, I can now say that for me, the Grados are wildly better than the Bose (unless you need active noise canceling). Since the iGrados cost $49, and the Grado SR80’s cost $95, while the Bose cost $299, it becomes even more ridiculous to compare them.

Now, if I could only somehow magically fast-forward four weeks to where the iGrados won’t be as horribly uncomfortable after an hour or so, I’ll be much happier. I think I’ll be sticking with the SR80’s for anything but exercising, but unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring them in with me this time around. πŸ™

Decent Result in Sunday Poker Tourney

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Well, the title gives it all away. You don’t need to read any further. πŸ™‚

Seriously, a minor cash, but even the worst prize in the weekly tourney is a good one, when you don’t pay full freight to get in.

This is my third post of the day, and all three end with success, so this must be a good day! πŸ˜‰

Here are my detailed notes:


908 entrants, top 100 paid

Last “pre-won” entry that I had in my account. If I want to
play in another big tourney, I’ll have to play (and win) a
qualifier. I haven’t played much poker at all in the past
few weeks, and no qualifiers at all…

Nice start. After folding the first 10 hands, including my
blinds, I picked up AA. I was in middle position, everyone
folded to me. I raised (to 35 chips, blinds were 5-10). I
expected everyone to fold, since this was the first hand I
played. The big blind called. Flop was T63, two diamonds. I
didn’t have a diamond. He bet 75 (the pot). I didn’t want to
just call, because of the diamond draw.

I raised to 225. He called. The turn was 8d, big scare
card. He bet 250, I just called. River was Kh (safe card,
presumably, for me). He bet only 100. It could have been a
sucker bet, looking for me to raise, and the pot was already
a nice size, so I just called. He had QhTd, so he had a pair
of 10’s. Nice win.

On the next hand, I had 99. One person min-raised, and
another called, so did I, plus one other later on. Flop was
J94, with two spades. One person bet 95, and I just called,
hoping for another caller. None. The turn brought a 10 (so
there was 9TJ on the board). He bet 185, and I raised to 880
(pot), to make it expensive to draw to a straight.

He thought for a long time, then folded. I’m hardly “in the
chips”, but it’s a better start for me than in a while…

841 left, in 99th (I was 75th earlier)

I’m as big an idiot as they come, seriously. I just
mis-played a hand so badly, and I knew at every bet that I
was making the wrong play. Cut my chips in 1/2, which is
exactly what I deserved. Man, it’s bad enough to play badly,
but it’s way worse to be aware of it in advance, and still
do it…

779 left, in 679th (ouch!)

AA just held up against AQ. He was all-in, I wasn’t, but
close enough to be a near double. Back to a reasonable
place, though less than before I made my horrid mistake…

Made it to the first break! πŸ™‚

724 left, in 278th (somewhat better)
676 left, in 357th
653 left, in 253rd
629 left, in 361st (bouncing around a bit…)
484 left, in 396th (this hand could be it!)

Excellent! I had TT in the big blind. I had 200 in the
blind, and 1800 behind it. One guy raised to 500. I was
going to go all-in. The guy behind him went all in for
2635. I called. The first raiser folded. All-in guy had J9d,
so he was bluffing or panicing. The board ended up with four
hearts, with the Ah as well. I won, and am in reasonable
shape now (more chips than I ever had, but the average is
higher now too…).

The first raiser would have beaten me, so I was lucky he was
re-raised. He either had an A or a heart, either way, it
worked out well for me. πŸ™‚

450 left, in 210th

Made it to the second break! πŸ™‚

419 left, in 235th

Just got lucky. Guy to my right raised to 1000 (blinds are
150-300). I went all-in for 3350 with AKd. He called. He had
KK. I was in trouble. A came on the turn, and I doubled up.
Now in much better shape! He’s not happy…

327 left, in 131st
311 left, in 92nd
260 left, in 123rd

Hit with AA against AK against the same guy who I got lucky
on with my AK against his KK. He’s out, and I’m doing pretty
well now!

236 left, in 44th
180 left, in 89th (all from losing multiple blinds)

Made it to the third break! πŸ™‚

155 left, in 108th (looks like another tight one!)
143 left, in 112th
137 left, in 116th
131 left, in 114th
126 left, in 113th
120 left, in 114th

Now all-in with JJ which held up against KJ. Whew!

118 left, in 80th
113 left, in 82nd
111 left, in 90th
107 left, in 91st
105 left, in 90th
103 left, in 92nd
102 left, in 87th (about to be the big blind) πŸ™
101 left, in 86th (AT in the BB, but I can’t call) πŸ™

Ha! Someone else bombed out while I stalled, and I
re-raised all-in and got called. He had A6, and I won!

Ridiculous ending… The very next hand, I’m in the small
blind with AKo. UTG raises, everyone else folds. I raise
all-in. He has me covered, but barely! He thinks for a long
while, then calls with AQd. I was a 70.9% favorite pre-flop.
The flop came 7dJdJc. Oh oh… Turn was 9d, and I was toast.

Out in 99th. Won $300 for my “free” entry. Can’t complain,
but man, doubling there would have put me in the top 20!

No complaints, but one of these days, getting lucky just a
second time (instead of only once!), and I might have a shot
at a real prize!

Experimenting with Bit Rates in Ripping CDs

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In this post, I discussed my new Grado headphones. In that post, as well as this one, I mentioned that I am most definitely not an audiophile.

The new Grados were so far superior to the crappy ear buds included with the iPods that I started to question my choice of ripping all of my CDs at 96kbps. It’s a relatively low bit rate, but, it all sounded reasonably good to me, and it saved a ton on disk space (both on the laptop and the iPod). Still, I was hearing things so much more richly with the Grados, that I wondered if the sound would improve dramatically (for me) if I ripped the CDs with a higher bit rate and used the Grados.

So, it was time to experiment. What better album is there to experiment with than Joyful Sign by Girlyman? None! πŸ˜‰

I already had it ripped at 96kbps, and I (obvious to anyone who’s ever read anything by me) love it. I re-ripped the CD four more times (yes, a little overkill, I know). I encoded it at 192kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3, Apple Lossless (900-1000kbps), and for good measure, WAV as well (1411kbps, which is the native CD format, I think).

I then created three playlists, one of Hold It All At Bay (all five ripped versions), one of Joyful Sign and one of Through To Sunrise (again, all five versions of each song).

I then listened a number of times to each version in a row. Eventually, I narrowed down the richest parts of each song, and just played those snippets over and over between the versions. For example, I played the last one minute of Hold It All At Bay too many times to count.

To begin with, all of the above was done just with my higher-end Grados, the SR80’s. I really wanted to hear a difference, even a dramatic one, though I would have been in a real quandary about the extra disk space. But, the truth is that I can’t say that I really distinguish any difference whatsoever, even between the 96kpbs version and the WAV version (or the Apple Lossless). For a second, I think that perhaps, the lossless versions sound a teeny tiny bit brighter, but, after another note or two, or switching back quickly to the 96kpbs version, the difference is gone.

So, while I am absolutely sure that audiophiles are snickering at me (probably rightfully so), I’m personally satisfied that 96kpbs is definitely the right setting for my tastes, and, more importantly, for my sonic capabilities!

For yucks, I listened to all of the versions (but only for one song) on both the Sony ear buds and the included iPod ear buds. Hahahahaha. While I praised the Sony’s vs the iPod buds in the Grado post, the truth is that they are barely any better (I just remembered them as being better), and the Grados are so far superior to both, that listening to ear buds (at least the ones I currently own) will continue to disappoint, though there are a number of occasions where I know I’ll use them…

To be clear, there was no difference between the 96kbps and lossless versions on the buds either!

That said, once you get past the tinniness of the buds, and start concentrating on the fact that you’re listening to Girlyman, it all sounds amazing again, since the songs just unfold and explode in your head correctly, regardless of the fidelity that you happen to be listening to them in. πŸ˜‰

My Hughes HDVR2 Gets Resuscitated

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In October 2003, I bought a Hughes HDVR2 from It is a Tivo Series 2 device, which has DirecTV tuners (two of them) built in. I ordered two disks (each 160GB) which at the time, was a large system. Today, they build terabyte (and greater!) systems, so mine is pokey by those standards.

In this post, I discussed getting FiOS service and our first HDTV. We didn’t get rid of the DirecTV at the time, largely because it’s the only place you can get the full NFL Sunday Ticket package. I’m actually watching less football nowadays, so it might eventually go. I also have the full premium package, so I get all of the HBO/Showtime/Cinemax, etc., even though I rarely watch any of them. I don’t have that package on FiOS.

A few weeks back, our DirecTivo (the Hughes) died. It was rebooting itself once a day for weeks, so I knew it wasn’t going to last long, but I had no idea how long. When it died, I went on to the Weaknees forums. I posted about my problem, and an employee of Weaknees conjectured that it was a bad power supply. I responded to a few of his questions, and he then raised his confidence level to nearly 100% that it was a power supply.

Weaknees sells power supply replacements for many models, and mine cost $69 including shipping. I searched the net, and no one else seemed to sell new ones. Most people suggested buying a used machine on EBay, and then pulling out the power supply. I bid on a number of them, but lost all of my attempts. In the end, I ordered the power supply from Weaknees.

It arrived at Zope while we were away. We got home yesterday, and I popped in the new power supply (I had already removed the old one before we left). It worked on the first try, and we now have a working DVR for the DirecTV system again, and we didn’t lose any of the shows that we had previously taped. Very cool, as I am really not handy with this type of stuff, at all!

I don’t intend to do this, only because I am not investing any further in the DirecTV system (even though I’m not close to giving it up just yet), but, once I had it open, I realized how absolutely trivial it would be to pop in two 500GB drives to replace my 160GB ones, and triple my disk space. My only real complaint about the FiOS DVR is that it only has a 320GB disk, and they haven’t (yet) lit up the eSATA port to permit external disks (which they claim they will, one day…).

New Grado Headphones

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I was in the market for new headphones, and after doing some research on the web, landed on Grado. I decided that the best value was the Grado SR80. Most of the reviews that I read were on After placing an order with one site, I ended up canceling the order when they wanted me to jump through hoops to have it delivered to Zope Corporation, which wasn’t listed on my credit card as a verified address.

I ended up ordering them from HCM Audio for the same price, plus HCM threw in a 12′ extension cord (which I don’t need, but hey, it’s still a nice touch). During the shopping process, I discovered the iGrado model as well, a street-style headset meant for iPod listening. So, I snagged one of those as well.

They both showed up yesterday. Wow, the reviews were very accurate. Great sound, but not really comfortable to begin with. Everyone says that they eventually stretch just the right amount, and you end up loving the fit. It’s been one day, and I can already believe that, but man, it’s definitely uncomfortable at the moment…

What’s funny is that for the past two weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the new iPods with the included ear buds. They are wildly comfortable, but what a joke they are from a fidelity standpoint (a surprise given Apple’s usual attention to detail). I’m no audiophile, so I wasn’t all that unhappy with them, until I put on the Grados. What a difference. That said, even my ancient Sony ear buds (low end model!) kick the iPod buds’ behind. They really are a complete joke.

Now, here’s a real first for me! I wrote a post on this topic that reached 790 words and was barely 1/3 of the way toward making the points I intended to make. Highly uncharacteristic of my style, I just tossed it all and wrote this short version instead. Good for you, but bad for my normal intention of using this blog to capture my thoughts (including tons of silly details) for my own posterity when I can’t recall the details like I can now. Let’s hope this doesn’t turn into a trend! πŸ˜‰

(not including this paragraph, but including the silly disclaimer above, this post is 373 words. What a difference!)

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

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We’re in the middle our usual Zope Trip, which involves a weekend in Virginia. We typically spend the weekend with our friends. They were on a 10-day trip cruising from Italy to Greece, and were scheduled to return late last night (they did).

On Friday afternoon, during a lull in the workday, I decided to check the websites of some of our favorite artists to see where they were touring. The second one that I checked was The Wailin’ Jennys. I’ve written about them before, once when we saw them live, and once when I got their CDs.

I was surprised, and excited, when I saw that they were playing the next night (last night, Saturday) in Charlottesville, VA, at the Gravity Lounge. I could describe Gravity Lounge, perhaps even adequately, but they have a YouTube video tour which I watched, making me want to see the show even more. If you bothered to watch the video, you can see that the setting is up-close and personal. Just like we like it (specifically, at Joe’s Pub in NYC).

We rarely see shows outside of NY, so I wasn’t sure how Lois would react to the idea. We’ve been in Charlottesville a number of times, and think it’s a gorgeous town, but it’s 90-120 minutes from Fredericksburg, depending on the traffic, and while it’s a gorgeous ride, it’s mainly on two lane roads (one in each direction), so it’s easy to get stuck behind someone…

She wasn’t wild about the idea, but she knows how crazy I am about the Jennys, so she agreed reasonably quickly. I snagged two tickets online. If you watched the video, you know that they can seat at most about 150 people, so I was very pleased that there were at least two tickets left. Since it’s a first-come first-served venue, it didn’t matter if I bought the first two or last two tickets!

So, we headed out at 4pm from the hotel, and arrived at Gravity Lounge at 5:45pm, not bad. There were roughly 15 people on line in front of us. They didn’t let us in (even though the front door was open) because the Jennys were doing a sound check, and no one was allowed in until that was done.

When they let us in, we grabbed two seats in the third row, dead center. Once our coats were on the seats, we headed back to the cafe area and ordered wraps for dinner. Very fresh, very cheap, very tasty! We ate in our seats, though there were tables in the cafe area that we could have used, if we hadn’t ordered finger food.

The show was scheduled to begin at 7pm. At 6:30pm, the place seemed relatively empty. We would have been surprised if there were 50 people there by then. At 7pm, when the show was clearly not going to start on time, the place was full, clearly sold out. They started at around 7:15pm.

In addition to the serendipity of me finding out about this late Friday afternoon, having two tickets left, and us being available, it turns out that this was the last show on the Jennys year-long tour. Their next date is February 7, 2008, in British Columbia! So, this was extra-special, for them as well, as they could collapse after putting on this show!

We were roughly 12 feet from the performers. The intimacy was amazing. I’ve written in the past at the vast difference in feel of Wicked (on Broadway) when we have sat in the first few rows versus sitting further back. This was like that too. When we saw the Jennys in Tarrytown, we were in the 13th row, dead center. In addition to being considerably further back, the theater there is so much larger, and well, theater-like (tall ceiling, etc.) that everything is wildly different about the experience.

The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

As with Wicked, to Lois, being this close up made a world of difference, and she connected with the Jennys much more than she did in Tarrytown. I too felt the connection (as did the entire crowd), and noticed things I didn’t in Tarrytown (like the one boy Jenny, Jeremy Penner, who I thought was 20 years older at Tarrytown).

In my last post, I pointed you to their web site for their musical backgrounds. I won’t go into too much detail here, but I feel the need to give them a little more direct play. The leader of the group is Ruth Moody. She sings like an angel. She reminds me a little of Alison Krauss in that both sing in a register so high that most humans have trouble hearing it, let alone attempting to hit those notes. That said, Alison Krauss hits those notes with the clarity of a bell, and Ruth hits them with a breathy sultriness (still nailing each individual note every time) that is sufficiently different than Alison.

In addition to an angelic voice, Ruth plays the guitar, banjo, concertina (small accordian), percussion, all brilliantly. Nicky Mehta sings one register lower (though she can hit high notes flawlessly), and she plays the guitar, drums and harmonica, brilliantly as well. Heather Masse (the newest Jenny, third in the role she is in) sings bass amazingly (complementing and rounding out the vocal range of the three) and plays the bass as well (yes, to overuse the word, brilliantly).

Jeremy Penner doesn’t sing, but plays the fiddle and mandolin brilliantly. You could weep at some of his solos, and they are reasonably generous in highlighting his skills.

Jeremy Penner at Gravity Lounge

Click on the image above to see it full size.

Their songs are gorgeous, and flowing, and the words are generally very powerful as well. That said, the magic happens when they harmonize together. It’s stunning.

So, how did this show compare to the one in Tarrytown? For Lois, this was much better. Seeing everything up close, and hearing the power of their voices in such an intimate setting, made her appreciate them more than she did in Tarrytown. For me, I loved last night’s show, but Tarrytown was better acoustically. Last night was a little more raw, in that we were close to the speakers, and in between them. In Tarrytown, as I reported before, the acoustics were nearly perfect, and the entire feeling was significantly more lush. No complaints about last night, the raw-ness was a great experience, just different, and not as beautiful to me personally.

As I mentioned for Tarrytown as well, the Jennys connect with the audience wonderfully. They are so natural on the stage. That said, the stories were mostly identical to the ones at Tarrytown, delivered with the same apparent impromptu-ness. Don’t get me wrong, they were delivered flawlessly, and the audience loved it (as did we), but, Girlyman mixed in new stories the second time we saw them, which was a nicer touch. πŸ˜‰

Ah, so we snuck in a mention of Girlyman, finally! So, Lois was shocked (pre-concert) when I told her that I liked the Jennys 80-90% as much as Girlyman (she thought that was blasphemous!). I think she may not feel quite the same as I do about the Jennys, but she inched up a lot closer after last night. For me, as amazing as the Jennys are (I listen to their CDs a lot), Girlyman still beats them out, on a number of levels.