Twenty-two years ago, popular music was drenched in and defined by alternative rock. Although grunge was reeling from Kurt Cobain’s suicide the previous year, artists spanning the alt world – Live, Alanis Morrisette, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains – all had number one albums. Even as mainstream artists such as Hootie and the Blowfish burned brightly and then quickly faded away, it was alt rock that commanded the lion’s share of media attention and acclaim.

One would think given its lifelong penchant for aping the regular music world, in 1995 the Christian music industry would have been pumping out anything in flannel with a fuzztone as it attempted to cash in … er, reach the world by promoting artists attuned to the latest style in tunes. There were a few efforts, but to a one they made scarcely a dent in the regular music world’s conscious, let alone among the music-buying public (yes, kids, there was a time when people had to buy the music they wanted to hear instead of turning on Spotify and variations thereof to get it all for free or near-free). This left the handful of artists who played Christian alternative rock tucked into a cul-de-sac well off popular music’s main road. They were cherished by the faithful few who managed to find out said artists existed despite the profound absence of promotion and airplay within Christian music. Sadly, they were completely passed over by the mainstream audience that couldn’t get enough of artists and bands mining the same tuneful veins who ofttimes were the artistic inferiors of Christian artists, yet received all glory and praise while others languished in near total obscurity for the primary reason of those responsible for promoting these deserving artists being either unable to, or unwilling to, get the word out. One such band we today acknowledge, namely The Prayer Chain. Having recently put its 1995 and final studio album Mercury on its Bandcamp page provides the perfectly opportunity for unveiling this unknown slice of brilliance.

Rooted in Southern California, The Prayer Chain was on a record label owned by the management team that had made Amy Grant into a pop star. Yet even with this, it had not the slightest idea how to get the word out about this ferociously creative band. Apparently they were too busy blackballing me from the Christian music journalism world to undertake such an effort. But, that is a tale told elsewhere; back to Mercury.

The Prayer Chain was at its inception a fairly straightforward Christian rock band, albeit one with its sound firmly rooted in alternative rock’s aggressive guitar persona. The first hint this was not going to be a band prone to invitation at your local youth praise and worship session was 1993’s Shawl, when, on its first song, over a background chorus resembling an American Indian ghost dance chant fueled by peyote vocalist Tim Taber intoned ‘Shine is dead.’ For the record, “Shine” was the title of the band’s most upbeat Christianese song from its 1992 debut EP. From there, Shawl repeatedly bared its fangs, mixing songs such as one about a father abandoning his young son amid rich, florid without being pretentious Christian imagery. As superb as Shawl was, it only hinted at what was to come.

Mercury was originally presented to the record label in 1994 under the title Humb, an effort that so freaked out the powers that be they demanded some songs be removed altogether, other shuffled in play order, many remixed and reworked, and would you boys kindly record something new for the album we can actually release in the Christian marketplace. By this time in its brief lifespan the band was already falling apart, but it managed to put together the requested new track (“Sky High”). Yet even with this, The Prayer Chain maintained a fair amount of the anarchistic spirit that permeated the work; “Sky High” clocked in at a totally radio friendly exactly nine minutes.

Even in its slightly muted form as compared to the original, Mercury isn’t so much an album as a collection of cohesive chaos. A thick layer of effect-laden guitar sometimes drones and sometimes screams – quite regularly both simultaneously – as it swirls in and around slithery, frequently distorted bass lines, with drums more akin to an acidic percussionist than standard timekeeping completing the foundation for vocals from midnight in the garden where good and evil do battle. Had any of its standout tracks – “Waterdogs,” “Creole,” “Grylliade,” the list goes on – would have turned the mainstream alt rock world on its ear had they ever been brought to the attention of said ear. Which they weren’t. And so Mercury, and The Prayer Chain, regrettably slid out of view.

If you have any taste for raw, real music, don’t let past mistakes prevent you from seizing on this dark masterpiece. Get thee to the band’s Bandcamp site and buy Mercury today. It will shake you up for all the right reasons.

Some years back, alt rock cult favorite Wilco released a song titled “The Late Greats.” It paid homage to a set of fictitious artists, all creators of tremendous albeit unknown musical achievements. The 77s did a cover version of the song that is vastly superior to the original:

There are many real life bands and artists whose career bore, or bears, the hallmark of near anonymity in a world slavishly devoted to commercial garbage. They should be heralded music royalty (for example, The 77s). Instead, it requires an archeological expedition to find out they ever existed or continue to press on. It is of one such band from the past we speak of today: Barnabas.

Unless you are a devotee of ‘80s Christian metal, it’s a real life ripe dead certainty you’ve never heard of, let alone heard, Barnabas. It did little touring; its albums were not smashing sales successes. But it persevered far longer than most would have, or did, under the circumstances, releasing five albums during its nine year run that ended in 1986.

Barnabas first came to public attention beyond whoever attended one of its L.A. club shows following its 1977 inception when in 1980 Hear The Light was released on the well-intentioned and utterly incompetent, hence short-lived Tunesmith label. Band founder, guitarist, and leader Monte Cooley, accompanied by the husband and wife team of Nancyjo Mann on vocals and Gary Mann on bass and later keyboards, along with Kris Klingensmith on drums, put together an effort rewarded with the only negative record review in CCM Magazine’s history. In retrospect, although it would be utterly eclipsed by subsequent albums Hear The Light’s raw mix of punk and metal wasn’t that bad:

The band moved from L.A. to the Midwest, following which Cooley called it a day and quit. The three remaining members decided to carry on, recruiting guitarists Mick Donner and Kris Brauninger while Klingensmith assumed lyric writing duties. Although this lineup was short-lived, it did release 1981’s Find Your Heart A Home, a huge step up from Hear The Light in color and scope. Klingensmith’s lyrics were sophisticated and occasionally brusque. For example:

The conflict of desire sucks the spirit dry
Inside, madness haunts us; outside, eyes are dry
Hungry little baby cries throughout the night
But mother’s breasts are busy because the price is right

For some unfathomable reason, this didn’t get much airplay on Christian radio. Neither did “Southern Woman,” which if there was a shred of fairness in the music business would have been a smash hit on regular as well as Christian radio:

Brauninger left the band after Find Your Heart A Home was released. Donner stayed on, with Brian Belew joining the band as first an additional, and then its only, guitarist as Donner bowed out at the end of 1981. Belew was a dive bombing fret-shredding metal player of the highest order, his addition bringing Barnabas to a place where it could accomplish most anything it wished. And oh, did it wish.

1983 saw Barnabas signed to the Light label and recording music that was anything but light. Approaching Light Speed was manna from heaven for metal fans. It blended straight ahead crunchers with prog metal, sometimes rolling both into one song as was the case with the epic “Subterfuge:”

1984 brought Feel The Fire, further exploring the multiple facets of Barnabas’ metallic diamond. Somewhat oddly, the album’s standout track was “Hearts,” a relatively gentle keyboard outing that, as was the case with “Southern Woman,” should have been a smash hit on both Christian and regular radio:

Sadly, the lack of deserved success finally broke the band apart in 1986. However, it still owed Light one more record. The band vented its full fury on Little Foxes, setting most all of its quieter and prog notions aside in favor of a blistering assault in tracks such as “China White:”

And that was that. Everyone went their separate ways, including the Mann’s whose marriage disintegrated. All indicators pointed toward Barnabas being forever nothing more than a fond memory for those who still cherished its LPs and cassettes.

A funny thing happened on the way to the “whatever happened to” file, however. A fan put up a web page, Klingensmith came across it, and for several years a thriving online community site reminisced and rejoiced. Presently, Klingensmith and Nancyjo Mann are active on Facebook. (WARNING: Brief moment of shameless promotion ahead.) Yours truly interviewed Klingensmith, Nancyjo Mann, and Donner for my book on the early days of Christian alternative rock as Barnabas, while metal, were definitely pioneers. No, Stryper didn’t invent anything.

It’s sadly fitting that for the most part, bringing Barnabas’ recorded output into the digital age has been for the most part a complete botch. First there was a compilation of Approaching Light Speed and Feel The Fire that left out “Lights” and even more egregiously replaced Klingensmith’s powerhouse drumming with a puny drum machine. Next, the now thankfully defunct Millennium 8 (or M8) did its usual hack job, releasing discs with atrocious sound quality and such little attention to anything that one of the songs from Little Foxes, mastered from vinyl as the original tapes have long since gone missing, had three painfully audible skips on the record from which the CD was made that no one noticed or cared enough to correct once those who bought the CD pointed it out. It was not until this year that all five albums were done right on CD by the Retroactive label, yet even there with a catch: the number of discs made was small, and are already becoming difficult to find save on the secondary market.

Chances for any kind of so much as a one-off concert reunion are as close to guaranteed never as it gets due to lack of interest by, and strained relationships between, assorted members. Yet this, and until late last year the near impossibility of finding the band’s recorded work in listenable condition, have not dimmed Barnabas’ light. It was the band that should have, but was never allowed to. Its music has aged well, still fresh and vital some thirty plus years after the fact. Barnabas was a brilliant metal band, arguably the best such band that sadly very few knew existed. It truly is the greatest lost metal band of all time. If you have any affection for the hard stuff, go find them. You will be glad you did.

By John Ruberry

Season four of the post First World War-set British gangster drama Peaky Blinders returned to Netflix ten days ago. It aired last month on the BBC.

Read my review of the first three seasons here.

For the uninitiated, the show is about, yes, the Peaky Blinders; who are named for the razor blades sewn into their flat caps which they use to attack their foes, that is when they are not shooting them. They are a Gypsy organized crime family headed by Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). In 1919 Shelby Family Limited is a nothing more than a bookmaking operation based in the grimy Small Heath neighborhood of Birmingham. When season four begins at Christmas in 1925 the Peaky Blinders operation has expanded into London and it has extensive legitimate business holdings.

Hyman Roth told Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part Two, “We’re bigger than U.S. Steel.” Tommy has no such line Peaky Blinders, but it would be credible if he did.

The next paragraph is worthy of a spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the first three seasons.

Season three was a mixed bag for me as the Russian caper that dominated it was a road to storyline-nowhere. That season ended with a bang as Tommy rats out the rest of the Shelby family–and season four picks up from there. And that’s not the only season three hangover. New York mafioso Luca Changretta (Adrien Brody) is seeking vengeance for the murder by the Peaky Blinders of his father and brother. Brody’s performance ranks among his best work. As Changretta, there are traces of Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone accented with the psychoses of Joe Pescsi in Goodfellas.

The 1920s weren’t roaring in Great Britain–the economy struggled and communism gained a foothold within the political sphere. An attractive young communist woman. Jessie Eden (Charlie Murphy), is stirring up trouble in the Shelby factories. Hmm, I wonder where that is heading? Tommy clearly hasn’t forgotten his gambling business roots–he hedges his bets in the struggle by also scheming with the 1st Baron Stamfordham, the king’s private secretary.

To fight Changretta Tommy hires another Gypsy, Aberama Gold (Aidan Gillen), whose reputation for evil even unsettles the other Peaky Blinders. Yes, Gillen is Littlefinger from Game of Thrones.  Gold and Tommy hatch a boxing match caper involving Jewish mobster Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy).

There is much bloodshed much betrayal. But Tommy perseveres and like a snake slithering up a flagpole, he keeps climbing despite the odds against him in class-obsessed Great Britain.

Will Tommy fall? If he does, we’ll have to wait until at least until season five to find out.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

by baldilocks

At the New York Post, Jay Cost talks about why he’s considering giving up watching the NFL; mostly about officiating and “freak” injuries.

It’s not that much of an interesting read, but it made me think about the time that I almost became one of those women.

12-year- old me to my dad: “I hate football.”

Dad: “How can you hate something you know nothing about?”

Long before I met the man who became my dad when he married my mom, Dad was a tall — 6’4″ — lanky  teenager who played football and basketball in high school and in college. He says he was better at basketball, but that he enjoyed playing football more.

Later, like almost everyone else’s dad, he’d be in front of the TV on Sundays. This was before he became a Christian and, after that, a pastor.

By the time Dad asked me that fateful question, I was beginning to parrot what I’d heard adult females say, even though I don’t remember if Mom ever gave her opinion on the game. I do know that she wasn’t watching it.

My parents had spotty success with getting me to do what they wanted using threats or shame, but they could almost always manipulate me with logic. So, when Dad asked me The Question, I was forced to conclude that he was right: that I could not come to a valid conclusion about the quality of football because I didn’t know jack about it.

To remedy this, Dad suggested that I join him in front of the TV each Sunday for one season, while he explained the goal, strategies, rules, tactics, etc. of the game, and then, afterward, make an informed opinion about the game.

By the end of that season and for many years afterward, I was a big fan of football and the NFL. Then something happened; something long before Colin Kaepernick first knelt during a rendering of the National Anthem.

I got tired of football players and their off-the-field antics. I think Rae Carruth was the death knell – in more ways than one. Kaepernick was the cremation.

Something that has always been an aversion to me is ingratitude for the blessings which God bestows, whatever the nature of that blessing: intellect, physical gifts, earthly opportunities, etc. I’ve only been able to articulate this aversion in recent years, but it has always been there as nebulous, un-evaluated disgust. And, as the character quality of NFL players seemed to descend, my interest in being entertained by them varied directly. (The same thing happened with the NBA; I stopped watching them even earlier.)

The future LA Stadium in the Rams’ and Chargers’ dreams

But now that I’ve evaluated that disgust, I do wonder how long the NFL will last, considering that I’m far from alone

in turning my back on the NFL, if all the empty stadiums and the losses incurred by ESPN, etc. are indications. Here in LA, we have two football teams that can barely sell its dirt-cheap tickets.

Back to Dad. As I said, he long ago readjusted his Sunday priorities – and so did I. It’s for the best.

One wonders what an NFL-less America would look like.

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng blogs at baldilocks. (Her older blog is located here.) Her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game, was published in 2012. Her second novel tentatively titled Arlen’s Harem, will be done one day soon! Follow her on Twitter and on Gab.ai.

Please contribute to Juliette’s JOB:  Her new novel, her blog, her Internet to keep the latter going and COFFEE to keep her going!

Or hit Da Tech Guy’s Tip Jar in the name of Independent Journalism!

Two days after the event, I’m still having incredible difficulty processing the thought that Smithereens lead vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Pat DiNizio is gone. DiNizio had been fighting some major health issues for the past several years, but to lose him at 62 seems almost criminal.

The Smithereens were never a huge commercial success. They never had an album crack the top 40, and enjoyed only two top 40 singles. Nevertheless, they maintained a strong, loyal fan base that stayed with them throughout their multi-decade career. A sign of how revered they were by rock and roll royalty was that none less than the late Tom Petty insisted they come tour with him in 2013.

The Smithereens music was gritty, gut-level, always tough yet always melodic rock and roll. It was power pop minus the excessive cheeriness, a weary and wary overview of relationships gone wrong (and sometimes right). It was real music played by real men; no vapid pretty boy posing allowed. The Smithereens never took themselves overly seriously, but they were seriously brilliant.

This one is hard to process.

God speed, Pat DiNizio.

By John Ruberry

If you know a millennial who craves communism, then I suggest that you sit that person down to watch the documentary Karl Marx City by Petra Epperlein and her husband, Michael Tucker, which was released last year. Epperlein was born in 1966 in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany, which is now, as it was before, the city of Chemnitz.

And as it is was when she was a child, the most noticeable feature of her hometown is the giant bust of Karl Marx, which looks over the dwindling population of Chemnitz. Its bulk makes it too expensive to remove from its perch on the former Karl-Marx-Street.

The Marx monument is the ideal metaphor for the former East Germany. Just as Big Brother is always watching in George Orwell’s 1984, the Ministry for State Security, colloquially known as the Stasi, was watching too. Cameras were seemingly in every public space, as were Stasi agents and informants. In a nation of 17 million people, there were an astounding 90,000 Stasi agents aided by 200,000 informants. In contrast, the FBI employs a paltry 35,000.

What was the Stasi looking for? Everything. Just grab whatever information that can be found and use it for a case later. Because not only was everyone a suspect in this worker’s paradise, everyone was probably guilty. And if they weren’t guilty they likely would be soon.

Early in Karl Marx City Eppelein tells us that her father, 57, committed suicide in 1999 after washing his company car and burning his personal papers. Afterwards her family discovers cryptic typed letters anonymously mailed to her father that accused him of being a Stasi informant.

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Shot in black and white, perfect grim communist hues, Epperlein, looking similar to Liv Ullmann’s mute character in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, in a bit of twisted humor wanders the decrepit and mostly empty streets of the former Karl Marx namesake town holding a massive boom microphone and wearing vintage headphones while we listen to her voiceovers–in contrast to the clandestine recording done by the Stasi.

Epperlein visits the Stasi archives in Chemnitz and Berlin where we see file after file on multiple floors. She’s looking for her father’s file, but we learn that the German Democratic Republic didn’t organize its files in the manner that Google stores information on mainframes where we can instantly retrieve volumes of information on just about anything. Instead there’s something here, there’s something there.

We see a grainy Stasi film of a couple walking on sidewalk. The man picks up an object. Then he puts it down. Why did he do that? Another man picks it up. The object turns out to be a knife. He keeps it. Why?

Epperlein tracks down a childhood friend who was a true-believer in communism. Now she worships trees. Her father, a retired Stasi agent, recounts his regular break-ins at apartments. What was his most common discovery? Handwritten schedules of West German TV shows and small bags containing a tooth brush and other personal hygiene items, just in case the occupants are arrested–or forced to escape to the West.

Many political prisoners were indeed locked up for subversion. Many ended up in the West, but rather than this being an innocent Cold War liberation, we learn they were sold by the workers’ paradise for ransom to the West for much needed hard currency.

The suicide of Epperlein’s father was hardly an anomaly, taking one’s own life in the GDR was common after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Recently Chemnitz had the lowest birthrate of any city in the world.

One of the experts interviewed for the film scorns the Oscar-winning film, The Lives of Others. While Oskar Schindler of Schindler’s List was real, there was no Stasi hero fighting back against oppression.

Near the end we learn the truth about Epperlein’s father.

Karl Marx City is available on Netflix and on Amazon.

John Ruberry, whose wife was born in the Soviet Union, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

In most every area of life, there’s a seeming perpetual second fiddle; someone or something that while garnering a certain amount of acclaim is always viewed as the poor man’s version of whoever, or whatever, is the high profile high roller. This happens a lot in music, where an artist in a given genre no matter their skill or accomplishments is usually written off with a “well, he/she/they is/are okay, but he/she/they will never be as good as so-and-so.” Some artists acknowledge this fate; veteran British mellow progressive rockers Barclay James Harvest self-depreciatingly titled one of their songs “Poor Man’s Moody Blues.”

Keeping with the music theme, various instruments also fall into this perpetual silver medalist category. There are many superb pianos out there, but none have the allure of a Steinway; there are many superb violins, but none have the cachet of a Stradivarius. In a more down to earth category, namely the electric guitar, while the Gibson Les Paul is revered and rocked by players great and small, the Gibson SG is usually relegated to the that’s-nice department, often with a “so you couldn’t afford the real thing, huh?” smirk aimed its owners way (a new standard SG costs $1,650 less than a new standard Les Paul).

The SG was born out of, hard though it may be to believe given the Les Paul’s omnipresence, necessity when in the early 1960s Gibson was faced with a dilemma: no one was buying Les Pauls. Some rethinking and reengineering was called for, with the SG being the result. The SG’s body was noticeably thinner than the Les Paul, with some strategically located beveling incorporated for greater player comfort. Away went the maple top on a mahogany body that was the Les Paul’s normal wood selection; instead, the body was all mahogany. The neck was moved further away from the body, allowing easier access to the upper frets although much to Gibson’s chagrin it became rapidly apparent they had gone overboard as the neck-to-body joint was notoriously weak (this was corrected in the mid 1960s). Electronics and hardware were essentially the same, but the SG’s substantially different construction resulted in a somewhat less bright, more rounded tone than the Les Paul along with less sustain. Gibson discontinued making the Les Paul after 1960, introducing the SG in 1961 initially under the Les Paul name. The real Les Paul — yes, Virginia, there was a man named Les Paul who was a monster guitar player and guitar building innovator — was decidedly nonplussed with the new guitar and requested his name be removed from it. Which happened, the guitar being renamed the SG for solid guitar. Apparently no one at Gibson had any naming ideas that week.

Should one be inclined to peruse music video and concert footage from the 1960s, a fair number of SGs will be spotted. Eric Clapton played one boasting, sort of, a psychedelic paint scheme durin his time with Cream. Pete Townshend of The Who routinely played (and demolished) SGs during the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, the Les Paul was rediscovered during the 1960s, leading Gibson to reintroduce it in 1969 at which point the SG was relegated to “and we still make these too” status.

While the Les Paul is synonymous with rock royalty — Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Duane Allman, Slash from Guns ‘N Roses, etc etc etc etc etc and a few dozen more etc after that — given how the two guitarists most commonly identified with the SG are Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and Angus Young of AC/DC, the SG is more commonly associated with underworld pretend deity. Its pointed body tips are oft referred to as “devil’s horns.” Given how the SG is nine times out of ten finished in a medium to dark cherry red, I prefer to think of them as the tips of angel’s wings dipped in the blood of the martyrs. A simultaneously more lofty and sobering identifier.

I own a SG. It’s my favorite guitar to play. With the proper technique you can make it sound good for multiple musical genres, including country, in addition to the blues and rock with which it is normally associated. Does it have the almost unlimited sustain of a Les Paul? No. But it has its own unique, warm sound and you can hold a note for a decent length of time. It’s a dream to play, with low string action and its light weight helping you focus on the music alone rather than wondering if there’s a chiropractor in the house slinging a Les Paul over your shoulder for any length of time suggests.

The SG will never have the panache of a Les Paul. It will never be a status symbol or trophy guitar. Rather, it modestly exists for the sole purpose of enabling music creation.

Which, after all, is the idea behind any musical instrument.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m bouncing off John Ruberry’s post this week; he reviewed the Netflix Longmire series and so I’m going to share my favorite series: Detectorists, which is a charming, funny, and beautifully written British series by Mackenzie Crook.  Let me stress the “beautifully written” part.

Oh, and the photography – breathtaking.

The show centers on characters Andy (Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones).  The two friends are metal detectorist hobbyists; the show is filmed in Suffolk and it’s always beautiful and golden.  The landscapes are stunning and the macro shots of bees or butterflies are breathtaking.  The ear-worm theme song by Johnny Flynn is perfection.  The series is sensory appealing in every possible way but the writing is what sells it.

The writing is smart British humor, not slapstick Monty Python humor (as gold as that is…).  Crook does the writing and he has a clear picture of his overall story arc.  Originally he planned for only two seasons but after the second series ended, he began to miss his “friends” Lance and Andy as well as their quirky friends in the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMCD), and he began to feel like he needed to have his characters put down roots and get settled, so he came back for a final third season.

Fans were elated.

From a 2015 review:

Another joy of the writing is the host of charming characters that come from it. The supporting characters of the DMDC and beyond are all quietly eccentric and really develop across the two series into a lovely group of oddballs. I particularly love Hugh (Divian Ladwa) and Russell’s (Pearce Quigley) joint mission in series 2 and basically any time Simon and Garfunkel (Paul Casar and the ever-brilliant Simon Farnaby) are on screen it’s comedy gold.

Rachael Stirling is really lovely as Andy’s wife Becky. She could so easily have become the nagging girlfriend sitcom staple but her relationship with Andy is so well drawn she never does. The show never claims that its characters are perfect so on the occasions where Becky does get frustrated with Andy it feels totally justified.

At the core of the show are two brilliant performances from Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones. As good as everyone else is they are absolutely the glue that binds the show together. The two play their chit-chat and occasional neuroses with absolute honesty; they bounce off each other so naturally that their relationship comes across as unfailingly genuine. Mackenzie Crook has a pedigree in comedy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as good as he is here.

Season 3 is running in Britain now and will be in America after the first of the year.  Unable to wait, I found the first episode online and watched it and will admit that at the end of the thirty-minute episode I gasped with love and anticipation for what is to come.  It was simply beautiful.

If you haven’t yet discovered this little piece of gold, you can stream the first two episodes on Netflix; they are also available on DVD.  The trailer for Series One is here.

Check it out.  It’s just lovely.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By John Ruberry

The Netflix neo-western Longmire has ridden into the sunset after six years. The final season started streaming on the network nine days ago and the results should please its fans. I enjoyed it.

My Da Tech Guy review of the first five seasons of is here.

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), a widower, is a sheriff in the fictional county of Absaroka in Wyoming. He and his three deputies patrol an area that is larger than Delaware. While Walt, an old-school lawman who knows the difference between right-and-wrong and who rarely crosses the ethical line, at first glance appears to be an anachronism, he still has the smarts and the brawn to set things straight.

If you haven’t watched Longmire but think you might, I suggest you skip the next paragraph as there are some series spoilers.

At the end of Season Five, Walt’s personal and professional life are in shambles. The smartass mayor of Durant (Eric Lane) wants Longmire to resign, and he gets in a brutal knock-down bar fight with his best friend who has turned into a vigilante, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). Henry’s situation gets worse after he is kidnapped by corrupt former Bureau of Indian Affairs police chief Malachi Strand (Graham Greene) and his goons. Walt faces a wrongful death lawsuit from the estate of a businessman who also happened to be the father of one of his deputies and the brother of Longmire’s predecessor as sheriff. (Hey, not many people live in Absaroka County.) Walt’s most trusted deputy Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff) is pregnant–no one knows who the father is. And the Native American casino in Absaroka, run by the compromised Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez), is fostering the crime Walt predicted would result, although I’m pretty sure that he didn’t expect Irish mobsters from Boston being part of it. Walt’s daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman) is running a free legal aid clinic on the Cheyenne reservation, but she’s being paid by Nighthorse.

Season Six kicks off a new story thread about a serial bank robber known as “Cowboy Bill.” A stereotypical blogger–who is bearded, overweight, and shoves iPhones into people’s faces while garnering minuscule traffic on his site, causes another headache for Walt when he reports that the sheriff  “ambled in” to the robbed bank long after Cowboy Bill made off with his loot. Of course that infuriates the mayor. As for this blogger, I’m thin, clean-shaven, I own a camcorder, and I have many more hits daily on my blog than that other guy has received in the life of his blog. Da Tech Guy of course crushes the traffic of that fictional blogger’s site too.

Anyway…

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

The lawful death lawsuit against Walt begins. Cady continues to face difficulty striking an equilibrium between the law, her ethics, Native American culture, and Nighthorse. As for the casino operator, his juggling act becomes even more difficult, as it does for Walt’s pal Henry. And we learn that the Irish mob doesn’t take “no” for an answer from a Wyoming sheriff.

The series ends with a surprise twist, one that is satisfactory too.

The first three seasons of Longmire ran on A&E, and while the ratings and the critical response were favorable, the network cancelled the show because the demographics favored older viewers. A&E is run by dopes. Thank you Netflix for rescuing the program.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Namely, pop music that doesn’t suck.

Nikki Edgar, née Nikki Leoni who released a few contemporary Christian albums back in the day, has just put out her first solo album in quite some time and first under her married name. Heartache Easy is … well, it’s so good it’s almost ridiculous.

Presently, pop music is marked by two characteristics. One, it uniformly dominates airplay, sales, and concert draws. Two, it’s uniform Cheez Whiz cookie cutter recipe drek, soulless machine-made aural junk food with layers of autotuned pseudo-singing atop even more layers of virtual instruments glued to drum machine blips. No heart. No depth. No human interaction. Rather like political Twitter. But I digress.

Into this teenage wasteland comes Edgar with seven songs worth of — brace yourself — real, live music. Let’s start with her voice. Edgar sings with synchronized heart and skill, serious joy that’s both confident and confessional. She grabs you by the heartstrings and holds on tight without ever squeezing the life out of you via excessive vocal gymnastics. Once heard, for all the right reasons Edgar’s singing is never forgotten.

Next up, the songs. Memorable and comfortable without being regurgitated rehashes of everything else presently out there, they are presented with understated human musical interaction. No drum machines. No synthesizer loops. Instead, they are appropriately sparse without affected ‘oh look how cool and stripped down we are’ pretentious annoyance. They provide the perfect backdrop for Edgar’s powerhouse singing.

Lyrically the album focuses on relationships, be it the overcoming spunk of “I’ve Learned” or the heart-rendering asunder power of the title track. Edgar and company know how to be real without falling into the bottomless pit of excessive emotion.

Heartache Easy is superb. It’s sublime. It’s every other superlative you can throw its way. Yes, it is really that good. If you’ve written off the radio and wearily resigned yourself to there being little if any new music worthy of so much as a passing listen, let alone purchase, rescind your resignation and buy this album. Now. Your life will be the better for it. No exaggeration.

The album is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.