John Gorka – Lyrical Baritone

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John Gorka is an astonishingly gifted American Folk singer whose lyrics are witty, clever, sad, uplifting and wise.

Songs like Houses in The Fields dealing with farmers having to sell their farms to housing developers because the are bankrupt is a great example of his craft.

His songs can be intensely personal and you get the impression that here is a singer that communicates with a great integrity.

As an introduction, his best work is on the Red House Record label. The Company You Keep is my favourite amongst these. This album displays all of Gorka’s skills as a lyricist. A Saint’s Complaint, Over There, Let Them In and Oh Abraham being to me, some the best songs he has written.

The Methow River at Winthrop

We recently stayed at the River-run Inn on the Methow Rover in Winthrop. I have already blogged some details and pictures of Winthrop town centre but wanted to share some images of the river and to show off some more the capabilities of the amazing Leica X1.

The River Run Inn is a fantastic place with wonderfully spacious and clean rooms. It’s location by the Methow River is the icing on the cake. Anyone looking for a place to stay on their way through the North Cascades National Park should stop by and check it out. It even has a fantastic pool and some swings to keep the kids occupied.

Another advantage is that it is only a short walk into town where Winthrop’s shops and restaurants await you. Three Finger Jacks, The Old Schoolhouse and The Riverside Cafe are all great places to eat and relax.

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A view of the Methow River – a short walk from our room.

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I love the way the Leica exposes images. Kept it on automatic mode for all shots and it never let me down.

One more…….

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There were hammocks tied to some of the trees for chilling out. Oh and the kids loved swinging in them.

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Not the most exciting photogragh in the world but again I love what the Leica has done with the exposure.

Lector CDP 7TL – The Ultimate Bargain in CD Playback?

An old review but well worth repeating here. I still own this CD Player and the following still holds true:

After reading the review of the Lector CDP-7T CD player in The Absolute Sound, I became curious to hear this alleged giant-killer for myself, so I borrowed one from the UK distributor. When I think of Italian hi-fi, I picture exquisitely designed, beautifully constructed pieces of audio jewelry. The Lector certainly bucks that trend. Instead of Swiss-watch-type construction and attention to detail, this player gives the impression that it is hand made, in a small workshop, in a tiny village nestled in the Italian mountains. It looks simple at best, prosaic at worst.

What do you get for your £2000? Aside from the power cord, the remote, and the CD puck, there are two black boxes. The smaller of the two houses the power supply. The bigger box, which is around twice the size of the other, houses the transport, DAC, and valves. It is adorned with two slabs of wood, to give it an up market look. This practice of screwing half a forest to audio components seems to be exclusively Italian. There are sonic arguments for it—the wood will damp the chassis and make it more inert—but from an aesthetic point of view, it works in some cases, others not. In this case, it doesn’t look too bad, but audiophiles are a shallow lot, and when the Lector player is compared, on looks alone, to the likes of Musical Fidelity or Cyrus, it doesn’t stand a chance. There are very few dealers in the UK that sell the Lector, and it is not hard to tell why. Before you conclude that the Lector feels cheap, let me assure you that it doesn’t. It feels solid and well put together, but it just doesn’t look it. As they say, though, you should never judge a book by its cover.

CDs are loaded by sliding back a plastic door on the top of the machine, left of the transport. You place the CD on the spindle, then secure it with the magnetic puck. When you slide back the door, the player reads the information on the disc. On the front of the player is the simple display, which can easily be seen from around fifteen feet away. The display can be switched off, but this can only be done by accessing a toggle switch on the back of the transport. For some reason, this also disables the remote control. Strange. I tried the player with the display on and off, and could not detect enough difference to justify having to get up from my chair every time I want to choose a different track.

I placed the Lector on my Henley Designs glass-and-aluminum rack, and connected it to the Pathos Logos amplifier using Chord Cobra 3 interconnects. I did not use any isolation, nor did I feel the need to explore this avenue. This may be something worth experimenting with, but for review purposes, I listened to the Lector as it came out of the box.

I left a CD on repeat for a few days, then grabbed a few discs and settled down to listen. My first impression was that the player may look like it cost a hundred dollars, but it sounds like it cost a million. Well, perhaps not quite that much—even the highest of the high end doesn’t reach those levels—but on initial exposure, the sound of this machine was shocking. I found myself looking incredulously at those unassuming black boxes as they produced a sound so beguiling, so ethereal in the midrange, so powerful in the bass, and so delicate in the treble, that I had trouble convincing myself that I was listening to a £2000 player.

The first thing that hit me was the low end. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the quality and quantity of the bass that this player can produce. On previous listens to “Broken Wings” by Dougie Maclean, from his fantastic album, Marching Mystery, I had been aware that a bodrhan (an Irish frame drum) was providing a slow but insistent rhythm below Maclean’s sublime acoustic guitar playing and singing. With the Lector, I became far more aware of this instrument. It was not obtrusive, but it now had a much grayer part in the song. Its powerful beat was urging the song onward, almost like a heartbeat. Every strike of the drum now had shape, impact, and most important, purpose. I was so taken by this that I didn’t really focus on anything else, and needed to listen to the song again. Only with the shock of that bass performance behind me could I appreciate the other attributes of the Lector player.

Every detail of the plucked strings of Maclean’s guitar, and every inflection of his voice, sounded like it was in the room, while a deep, wide soundstage expanded across the back wall. Everything was there to be heard, and not just on this recording. The Lector seems to be able to turn its hand to any type of music, without fuss or fanfare. I was able to enjoy disc after disc without the audiophile voices in my head questioning this or that element of the performance.

My own player is a Wadia 302, which sells in the UK for around double the price of the Lector. I have owned the Wadia for over a year, and have been more than happy with the sound. I use its balanced outputs into the balanced inputs on the Pathos amp, as this takes full advantage of the circuit topography of both units and is the best way to use them. The Lector does not have balanced outputs, so I could only use single-ended interconnects. In view of the cables that I had on hand, I had to use interconnects that were inferior to the ones that I use with the Wadia.

After playing quite a few discs on the Lector, I played several of them on the Wadia. I won’t dissect each performance, but it was clear to me that the Lector was the better machine at half the price. The Wadia does everything it is supposed to do in hi-fi terms. Bass and detail retrieval, to name but two elements, are exemplary, but as I say, only in hi-fi terms. With the Wadia, I felt as I always have—that I was listening to different pieces of a musical jigsaw—and I had to make a conscious effort to relax and listen to the whole picture. This was not true of the Lector.

In material and aesthetic terms, the Lector comes across as a poor value. In the market at a similar price are players from Ayre, Linn, and Copland, to name but three. Each looks arguably better than the Lector, but beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. They also say that beauty is only skin deep, and this is where the Lector triumphs. In sonic terms, the Lector is in a different league, and in my opinion, that gives it great value for the money.

“Upgrading” is a word that appears everywhere, from magazine advertisements to reviewer diatribes about the next best thing. I feel that most changes to a system are merely that—changes—not necessarily better, just different. If different floats your boat, that’s great, but must of us work hard to fund this hi-fi hobby, and in most households, the purchase of a £2000 CD player is well down on the list of priorities. However, if you can buy a £2000 player that gives better performance than a £4000 player, thoughts of upgrading are put to one side because you know that you will have to spend more than £5000 to get one that’s even better. The Lector, to my mind, falls into the category of a minor miracle, and one worth cherishing.

Hotel Nightmare

Imagine the scene: you wake up in bed and immediately realise that you are somewhere strange. Somewhere you instinctively know you shouldn’t be.

Then it comes flooding back to you. You were out with work the previous night at a social function. A hotel room was booked for you.

You then realise that, hang on, this is not same room as you checked into the night before. Panicking, you look around the room. If you’re not in your room then who’s room are you in? What did you do last night?

What you do know is that you have to get out of there. You look for your clothes but they are no-where to be found. Your heart starts to race. Forget the fact you are naked other than your boxer shorts. Escape is the only thing on your mind. You step towards the door, open it and let it shut behind you.

A few steps down the hotel corridor and……

You wake up.

What the fuck?

What a time to sleepwalk.

So there I was, it was the early hours of the morning (I would later find out it was actually around 3.30am) standing in the corridor of a hotel with just my boxer shorts on.

I had two choices. I could either knock on the door of one of my colleagues and ask to sleep in their room. Or I could go down to reception and ask for a copy room key.

Knocking on a colleagues door? I knew what I would think if someone I worked with showed up at my door half naked in the early hours. If I went down this route I would no doubt get the door slammed in my face. Alternatively, knowing what one of the guys I worked with was like (any port in a storm, literally) I might get more that I bargained for.

So I had no choice and I sheepishly went down to reception. To be fair the night porter didn’t even flinch when he saw me.

I explained my situation. From his reaction he had clearly seen it all.

“What room number?” he asked.

I thought and stuttered and admitted that I had no idea.

“Name?”. This I did know and within a few seconds he located where I should be sleeping and I padded off back through reception and to my room, key in hand.

As soon as I got in I wedged a chair behind the door to avoid a similar incident. Not the safest thing to do if there was a fire but I had no choice. I didn’t want to take the chance. Once bitten……

If nothing else it made a good story to tell at breakfast. Every time I stop alone in a hotel I always put a bag in front of the door. I hope that the process of moving the bag out of the way would be enough to wake me……so far so good.

A confession……….

You may have heard of Simon Mayo’s confessions on his drivetime Radio 2 show? Well here is a confession of my own….

I am seeking forgiveness from any who read this for my father and myself for the events that took place around 20 years ago when living in a small town north of Manchester.

If I can take you back to a bright Saturday morning in the late 80’s. My father roped me in to helping wash the family car and this we did until we finally buffed and shined the metalwork until we could see our faces reflected in the paintwork.

Once this task was complete and whilst we were standing back admiring our handywork we noticed a middle aged lady swaying and swerving along the pavement. She carried two carrier bags of shopping, however, it was apparent from her gait that she was inebriated. Unusual for a  Saturday lunchtime but, I guess, not unheard of.

As she approached us she began to speak, however, due to her slurred speech (confirming our suspicions that she had recently imbibed copious amounts of alcohol) it was impossible to understand what she was saying.

She shuffled between my father and I and the newly valeted car and then proceed to rest her bottom on the bonnet banging the front of the car as she did so with the carrier bags full of shopping. She continued trying to speak but the words would not come out in any intelligible way.

My father “encouraged” her to get off the car and proceeded to take her by the elbow and lead her away from the vehicle suggesting that she go home and get herself sobered up. In her final attempts to make us understand she was clearly becoming emotional. My father repeated his advice that home was the best place for her to go.

With this she turned and head down, shambled her way away from us. Beyond our house were open fields at the end of which there was an estate of houses.

We watched her make her way down the road from our house. After around 400 yards she finally gave up, put her bags down and sat on the kerbside with her head in her hands.

My father and I went in side shaking our heads. What a shame that such a respectable looking woman had  let herself get into such a state on a Saturday afternoon, we agreed.

It wasn’t until around a week later that the reality of what we had witnessed came stomach churningly to light.

I was thumbing through the local paper when I noticed, in a small article buried on page 8 or 9, the photograph of a woman I recognised was smiling back at me. I wonder why I know her I thought. When I read the article it became horrifyingly apparent.

The article related the tale of a woman in her mid 40’s who, upon walking home from the bus stop following a visit to a local supermarket had suddenly started going into Diabetic shock. Aware that she needed to get home for her medication she tried to get as far as possible to her house. Unable to get any further she was eventually found by a passing motorist slumped at the side of the road. He raised the alarm and an ambulance was soon whisking her off to hospital in order that she could receive life saving treatment.

She thanked the passer by for calling the emergency services an act which clearly saved her life.

I occasionally saw the woman walking past and she always smiled and said hello. She clearly remembers nothing of our encounter for which I was always relieved.

I am therefore seeking forgiveness for the ignorance of my father and I to the lady’s plight and for not appreciating that we were faced with someone in a life threatening situation and we did nothing about it. In hindsight it should have been obvious that all the signs were there to suggest that there was something wrong with this woman and the likelihood that she had been drunk seemed remote.

Please be gentle with any comments………

Slaid Cleaves

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You know that you have hit rock bottom as a musician when to supplement your flagging music career you end up as a science experiment down on the “Farm”. The Farm is American slang for laboratories where drug companies pay you to try out their latest pharmaceuticals and then have you report the side effects.

And with Slaid Cleaves (great name, huh?) the characters in his songs reflect the everyday struggle that most working class people have to face – One Good Year is a great example of this.

Slaid’s albums are a cross between Americana and Country. He has an incredible raw voice that draws you into the characters lives he creates.

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Broke Down would be the album I would recommend as a taster for what the man has to offer. When I first heard the first three tracks I was hooked.

Unsung is great too on which he sings songs written by up and coming or generally unknown songwriters that he admires. Flowered Dresses always brings a lump to my throat on this one.