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Cosair Distillery – Triple Smoke: a taste test between batches 214 and 244

I discovered Triple Smoke a couple of years ago when our family visited the Corsair Distillery in Nashville TN. Within our family, we label this kind of spirit “brown juice” – a catch-all for whiskeys of any kind. My preference in brown juice is Bourbon and Islay Scotch – as different as sweet and sour. Triple Smoke merges my preferences into a single masterpiece.

I rarely mix quality whiskey in a cocktail. I prefer it neat or over a substantial rock of ice. For this taste test, I am drinking the whiskeys neat. My gimmick for this taste test is I have a bottle of Triple Smoke with about a shot left. For small batch spirits I like to keep that last shot until I have replacement bottle. Then I can compare batches. Tonight I am comparing batch 215 with batch 244.

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I am accompanying the whiskeys with John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once The Lost Album.

When I first tasted Triple Smoke at the Distillery a few years ago, I remarked to the bartender that it reminded me of Scotch, and Islay in particular. He smiled and said that was pretty much the point of this spirit. From that point on I have described Triple Smoke as an American Islay to anyone who would listen.

Per Corsair:

The whiskey that put us on the map. We use three smoked malts (cherrywood, beechwood, and peat) to craft this deep and complex whiskey. Smoke and notes of cherry pervade the palate, finished by a slight brininess of mossy peat. Pot distilled then barreled in new charred oak, Triple Smoke has the sweetness of an American whiskey with a single malt’s rich smoke.

The first thing I notice between batch 215 and 244 is the color – batch 215 is paler.

Batch 215 is on the left and 244 is on the right.

Batch 215 and 244 have similar odors, but 215 is much stronger.

Batch 244 has a noticeably thicker viscosity.

Most importantly the taste:

  • Both taste great
  • Both mix the sweetness of Bourbon with the peaty smoke of Scotch.
  • 215 is milder and sweeter than 244.
  • 244 is more complex: a thicker viscosity, smokier, a bit more heat, a subtler sweetness and a more lasting after taste.

I can’t say that I prefer one vs. the other. They are clearly similar enough to go by the same name. I appreciate that they are not exactly the same.

If you like Bourbon and you like Scotch you will likely enjoy this clever mashup. The two flavors mix remarkably well together. If you lean toward Bourbon vs. Scotch or vice versa, this may open your palate towards your least preferred brown juice. Triple Smoke is more of a Bourbon than a Scotch. If there is any doubt about that, I finished my tasting session with a wee dram of Ardbeg 10 (a true Islay) and the Triple Smoke is clearly a Bourbon. However, it is the most unusual Bourbon I have ever tasted and one that has earned a regular place in my home bar.

Corsair has several other spirits and I have liked all that I have tasted. None of their spirits are conventional. They appear to have good distribution in the USA. A bottle of Triple Smoke is about $45.  A special shout out to Top Ten Liquor in St. Louis Park – my regular liquor store – they always have a great selection and helpful staff.

PS – Coltrane mixes well with Triple Smoke. Both are complex, but accessible.

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Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album (Deluxe Version)

I am still digesting Kamasi Washington’s recent double XL 5-LP set and this gift from the past arrives. Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album was recorded by Coltrane’s classic quartet March 6, 1963. This material was not released at the time and the master tapes were subsequently destroyed by Coltrane’s label (Impulse!) as a cost saving measure. But it turns out that the session’s producer, the great Rudy Van Gelder, had made a reference copy for Trane. Trane’s first wife Juanita (Naima) maintained possession of the tapes and they were discovered in her estate when she died. Coltrane’s label sat on the tapes a couple more decades. They were finally released in June of 2018. In the liner notes Sonny Rollins, a true peer of Coltrane, says the LP is “Like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

My introduction to Coltrane was Miles’ Kind Of Blue – one of my favorite LPs. I then ignorantly picked up Trane’s Meditations. At the time, Meditations was way to “out there” for even my adventurous taste. I next bumped into Trane in Spike Lee’s movie Mo’ Better Blues. That movie has a montage scene that uses Trane’s Love Supreme, that caught my attention. Off and on for the next twenty-five years I have explored Love Supreme and Trane’s classic quartet on Impulse! McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.

I consider myself a Trane fan, but I have to admit I am more of a Miles fan. I recently got reacquainted with Trane via Miles’ The Final Tour. On that album, Coltrane dominates the proceedings. The Final Tour reminded me of Trane’s greatness and I began re-exploring his catalog. That coupled with my infatuation with Kamasi Washington (a self-admitted Trane disciple), has me in a Coltrane state of mind as I approach Both Direction at Once: The Lost Album.

At the time this album was recorded (1963), Trane’s label had convinced him (and by all accounts Trane was complicit) into releasing accessible mainstream jazz. But on tour, Coltrane was flying his freak flag and foreshadowing the brilliance that would become Love Supreme.

The Lost Album is caught between what Coltrane was doing live and his official releases. Thus he was going “both directions at once.”

The Lost Album is primarily a Coltrane solo workout. The band is there to support him. Ravi Coltrane, Trane’s son, states that on this album “the guys are kind of stretching out and getting loose and blowing, having a good time in the studio.

The Lost Album is a high quality recording; this is not a demo. Although the original masters that were destroyed were stereo, the reference tapes that Van Gelder gave Trane were mono. I am kind of a fan of a good mono mix of acoustic jazz.

One of the great songs of Trane’s catalog is “Impressions.” I don’t believe that Coltrane ever released a studio version of the song, just live versions. On The Lost Album there are four studio versions. Two with a trio (McCoy Tyner’s piano sitting out) and two with the full quartet. For Coltrane aficionados these four versions will be worth the price of admission.

My favorite cut is “Slow Blues” which is a geared down “Chasin’ the Slow Trane.” This is an eleven and half minute jam.

This is not necessarily an essential album for the casual Coltrane fan, but it is a very solid album. It is essential for the hardcore Coltrane fan.

https://open.spotify.com/album/0NSRgubfAJoYv2kvVAcRKy?si=grgl3oOVS26ZiNiSA6PiDQ

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

I recently saw Kamasi Washington at The Current & The Walker Art Center’s mini-festival Rock The Garden. What a delight it is, that a jazz artist like Kamasi Washington has crossed over to the indie-rock and hip hop audiences. The Rock The Garden audience loved Kamasi’s late afternoon set. Although Kamasi’s music is accessible, this is not watered down jazz-lite, it is real jazz. Unlike, the overly orthodox young lion movement of the 80s (e.g. Wynton Marsalis), Kamasi is more open-minded. He is as much influenced by Coltrane, as he is by electric Miles and NWA. In Kamasi’s own words:

“We’ve now got a whole generation of jazz musicians who have been brought up with hip-hop. We’ve grown up alongside rappers and DJs, we’ve heard this music all our life. We are as fluent in J Dilla and Dr Dre as we are in Mingus and Coltrane.”

I was crazy over Kamasi’s 2015 mega release The Epic and his 2017 mini release Harmony of Difference. Heaven and Earth is equally ambitious as those two albums. It is another long work (almost three hours spread over two CDs/four LPs plus a bonus EP). I like it just as much as his first two – even a little more. Kamasi seems to have become both more confident and playful.  Kamasi pre-released a couple of songs on streaming services and I was pumped for the full release on vinyl.  I headed down to the Electric Fetus first thing release Friday to pick it up (not for the uncommitted at sixty bucks).

Serious jazz heads have been dismissive of Kamasi, accusing him as being too derivative (Pharoah Sanders is often mentioned and I get that). I hear his influences, but standing on the shoulders of your elders is hardly a crime in music – it is what you do in music. Kamasi’s originality is his writing and arrangements -they  are complex and mix many jazz flavors. On paper, his diversity looks like a hot mess, but out of the speakers it sounds perfect. Let’s face it, success in the music business is a bit of magic – and for a jazz musician to dent pop culture is nothing short of a miracle. Kamasi has the right look, the right origin story, the right connections, perfect timing (he sat on The Epic for three years waiting for the perfect moment to release it – thank you Kendrick!), but most importantly he has the chops and the balls to deliver them.

Kamasi has assembled great players both on his albums and for his live shows. What is really cool to me is that the players are all of the same generation and from the same place. Kamasi is a member of The West Coast Get Down (WCGD). WCGD is a collaborative group of musicians all born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. They play on each other’s albums and back various funk and hip hop artists/groups.

Kamasi is a guy who puts serious thought into his releases. This time he has grouped the songs into two sections: Heaven and Earth (and a third called The Choice). Per Kamasi’s Tweet:

“The Earth side represents the world as I see it outwardly, the world that I am a part of. The Heaven side represents the world as I see it inwardly, the world that is a part of me.”

The compositions and arrangements follow the same pattern as his last two releases: his touring combo, strings, vocals (soloists, duets and choir) and staring his West Coast Get Down buddies.

With almost three hours of music to absorb it is going to take me a while to fully digest Heaven And Earth (plus there is a NEW Coltrane album out). But I can tell after several listens that this is going to be near the top of my 2018 best of list. If you liked Kamasi’s first two releases, then you are going to like this one. If you have never listened to Kamasi, I suggest sampling the single/video from Heaven and Earth, “Street Fighter Mas” before taking the three-hour plunge.

The more I listen to this album the more I like it. Despite its length, there are no lags. It is brilliantly arranged, recorded and played. This album is stuffed with solos from lots of instruments – not just horn and sax. There are some serious work outs.

One of the most important instructors in my appreciation of jazz was Woody Shaw’s Rosewood album. Although it sounds nothing like Rosewood, Kamasi’s Heaven and Earth reminds me of the Woody masterpiece because of its rich arrangements that are slightly upped by the solos. As it should be – it’s jazz. Like Rosewood, it has great songs. Kamasi writes great jazz songs – sorry great songs period – no need to qualify.

Heaven and Earth is a rich blend of jazz and soul – heavy on the jazz side. I feel like Kamasi has fully embraced his hip hop soul. This is not a hip hop album with some horns. This is 100% jazz by a musician who fully understands the time he is working in (the hip hop era). He borrows from 70s soul and funk to inform his jazz decisions just like today’s beat makers sample that music to inform hip hop. Jazz has always played off pop music. Hell it was pop music once – it knows.

Quick review of vinyl: it is a nice simple and informative package. The cover art is perfect in capturing the Kamasi brand. The pressing is a bit in the red at times, but that is kind of cool because it gives it an urgent feel. I highly advise the Tidal Hi Fi version if streaming – there is a big difference over Spotify.

PS – as if this album was not big enough, Kamasi has hidden a five song vinyl EP in the gatefold of the LP version (you have to cut through a perforated edge on the top of the middle gatefold to retrieve it). It is now on streaming services too – titled The Choice. It includes three originals, as well as cover versions of Carole King and Gerry Coffin’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.”

Congratulations Kamasi, you have not been ruined by success but enhanced by it. A rare accomplishment.

How to retrieve The Choice:

Per Kamasi’s tweet – Illustration: Gaurab Thakali

Record Store Day 2018 Part Four (Final)

I have finally worked through my Record Store Day 2018 purchases. This is my final RSD2018 post. It has taken me almost nine weeks to digest my haul. I have had a few record store visits since then – so I have had a few distractions along the way.

David Axelrod – Songs of Innocence

I first got turned on to Axelrod and this album through my son pwelbs. The song “Holy Thursday” was part of his regular rotation on his Sunday night college radio show (Bad Service on Radio DePaul).

Pwelbs discovered “Holy Thursday” because it was sampled on Lil Wayne’s “Dr Carter.” Songs of Innocence has been frequently sampled by hip hop producers. Axelrod was a record producer himself – he also was a composer and arranger. He made his name in jazz and produced Cannonball Adderley’s Capitol releases from 1964-1976.

Songs of Innocence is Axelrod’s debut album under his own name released in 1968. The album was not a success at the time. It became famous in the 90s when hip hop producers discovered it,  It has been reissued several time since then to cash in on its hip hop revival.

Axelrod mixes rock, jazz, funk and classical music on Songs of Innocence. It sounds cinematic – not like a soundtrack – it is its own movie. The “hit song” from this album is “Holy Thursday.” It is the kind of song that if it was playing in a record store, you would ask what it is and buy it on the spot. This album unconsciously foreshadows hip hop.

I had this on CD as a double issue with its follow-up Songs Of Experience. It is a delight to have it on wax. The RSD2018 edition is, according to the label: “…lacquered directly from Axelrod’s original EQ’ed master tapes at Capitol Records by Ron McMaster.”  McMaster is Capitol’s most skilled mastering engineer (he just retired). The album sounds great and is a big improvement on the CD and streaming service versions. Given Axelrod’s epic arrangements it is a treat to have them fully realized. The RSD edition comes with a 28 page booklet with an extensive essay, an Axelrod interview and photos.

The coolest aspects of this album are:

  • The rhythm section: Earl Palmer (drums) and Carole Kaye (bass) of the Wrecking Crew
  • The over-the-top arrangements/charts utilizing 33 players
  • The genre – it is like listening to a symphony – but ultimately it is a rock album
  • The recording: top-notch

https://open.spotify.com/album/7cILxV3NtqDMfjQ0VD8tcs?si=tQEFgn03RQC4sl_CNHoqrw

Chris Robinson Brotherhood- Raven’s Reels Vol. 1

When I heard the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s debut Big Moon Ritual in the summer of 2012 I was blown away. It was the best Grateful Dead album I had heard in years. I have been a loyal fan ever since.

Over the years the band has augmented their studio albums with live releases recorded by legendary Grateful Dead taper Betty Cantor-Jackson. Those LPs have been titled Betty’s Blends. This RSD release takes a different twist – it is recorded by the band’s longtime engineer Chris “The Raven” Albers.

The four-LP set documents the band’s September 24, 2017 show at the Bijou Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. Sonically, it is studio quality. The band has always been better live,  so it is great to have an exquisitely recorded document of their Barefoot in the Head tour.  Barefoot in the Head had a bit more country vibe and this show has a lot of that plus the band’s boogie space blues. Overall, it is more of an Allman than a Dead groove.  I never get tired of CRB’s baked version of the Faces.

The set is a nice cross-section of the CRB’s catalog and covers. It puts the most focus on their most recent album at the time of the show: Barefoot In The Head. Here is the set list:

  1. “Lazy Days”- is a song by Gram Parsons which he recorded with three groups: The International Submarine Band, The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers.
  2. “High Is Not the Top” – is from the recent CRB album Barefoot In The Head.
  3. “Roll Old Jeremiah” – is from the Black Crowes’ eighth and final studio album Before the Frost…Until the Freeze.
  4. “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” is a song written by Jimmy Bryant and made famous by Waylon Jennings.
  5. “Star or Stone” is from the CRB debut Big Moon Ritual.
  6. “Tulsa Yesterday” is a nice long fifteen minute jam, also from Big Moon Ritual.
  7. “California Hymn” is from CRB’ 2016 album Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel.
  8. “Try Rock N’ Roll” is from the CRB’s 2014 RSD Black Friday release Try Rock N’ Roll EP. It was originally a mid 50s hit for Bobby Mitchell.
  9. “Sail On, Sailor” is a Beach Boys song from their 1973 album Holland. This is good exhibit of what a talented jam band can do with a pop song.
  10. “Good to Know” starts an extended exploration of Barefoot In The Head. This is a good song to come after The Beach Boys song in that it has similar melodic brilliance.
  11. “She Shares My Blanket” – Barefoot In The Head.
  12. “Behold the Seer” – Barefoot In The Head.
  13. “Hark, The Herald Hermit Speaks” – Barefoot In The Head.
  14. “If You Had a Heart to Break” finishes of the Barefoot In The Head section of the show. I liked Barefoot In The Head, but it did not connect with me as much as other CRB releases. Hearing these live cuts has improved my impression of the album. Sometimes, you have to hear songs live to get it.
  15. “New Cannonball Rag” is from CRB’ 2016 release If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now.
  16. “Beggar’s Moon” is from CRB’ 2014 release Phosphorescent Harvest.
  17. “Bye and Bye” is a traditional folk song based on an arrangement by Jim Kweskin.

Musically the band stretches more on this live album than any of their studio albums. The songs sparkle more than their studio versions. This is ultimately a live band, so this is the way to enjoy them.

This concludes Record Store Day 2018.

Raven’s Reels Vol. 1 is not available on streaming services, so I am providing Barefoot In The Head to give you a taste of CRB if you are not familiar with them.

Podcast: Cocaine & Rhinestones

I am not a hardcore country music guy, but I am a fan. I come to country music via 70s country rock. Then in the early 80s, I discovered Emmylou Harris. After country rock, Emmylou felt like real country, but not part of the Nashville machine. She was a real fine gateway to country music and she has continued to be a reference: is this artist or band in the same orbit as Emmylou?

As I get older I find myself more attracted to country music. A trip to Nashville a few years ago solidified this and gave me a greater appreciation of country music’s history.

I was recently listening to an episode of Celebration Rock podcast on Townes Van Zandt which introduced me to Tyler Mahan Coe who has a podcast called Cocaine & Rhinestones.  I decided to give Cocaine & Rhinestones a listen, it is fantastic storytelling focused on the history of country music made in the 20th century.

It is carefully researched, professionally produced, off the beaten track for my conventional taste and most importantly brilliantly crafted storytelling. Rather than take the conventional biography approach, Tyler Mahan Coe takes a song or biographical incident as a centerpiece.  He uses that as a jumping off point to explain the significance of the artist, to make a broader point, explain some social history or straighten out misunderstandings. After just three episodes I feel significantly more educated about country music.

The great irony of the whole thing is Coe comes off urban and nerdy – more like a conventional rock snob than a country fan. But he is clearly passionate about country music and scholarly about country music’s history. But, to repeat myself, his true gift is storytelling. Pretty inspired stuff, highly recommended.

Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer

Josh Tillman is a folkie with Sgt. Pepper ambitions. Like Vincent Damon Furnier, who plays Alice Cooper, Tillman brilliantly inhabits a character: Father John Misty. You are not sure where the man ends and the character begins. The character is not goth, does not wear makeup or a mask. Instead the character is the classic singer songwriter: an annoyingly sincere and pretentious asshole. In Tillman’s own words: “There’s something innately false about performance, I wanted to be authentically bogus rather than bogusly authentic.” Tillman has honed the Misty character over four albums and it never gets old. If you ever get a chance to see him live do it. On stage he slithers – the perfect visual for his music.

With three great albums in a row, Misty was contending to be my new Ryan Adams. Now he has thrown down a fourth great album. He really is in the Ryan Adams stratosphere – the kind of guy who can’t make a bad album.

God’s Favorite Customer is a new progression. Misty is all out psychedelic and he takes his folk rock to a Fleetwood Mac/Steely Dan level. That is, he has created his own voice and he is making production perfect easy listening, yet twisted pop. In the late 70s/early 80s this kind of act would have been huge. The late 70s and early 80s was the era that formed my musical taste, so this music is right up my alley. Misty has discovered this treasure chest and created his own version – a unique and distinctive style. This is not a classic rock impression, Misty has made a brand new classic rock. It is totally contemporary and not a tribute. This is music for now.

I know a lot of people are down on the state of the music business. But this is a great time to be a music fan. You have access to everything for a nominal fee (streaming). Musicians have to make their money touring and so they are forced to be great performers or be lost. Most shows I see these days are great because of that. And vinyl is back – what else needs to be said? Misty is a great example of what is right with the music business right now. Misty checks all the boxes:

  • Songwriter
  • LP maker (musician, arranger, producer, salesman, etc.)
  • Performer
  • Provocateur

I have been struggling recently to keep up on my blogging. I have been listening to a lot of music and enjoying it, but I was not getting the buzz. I needed a new album to grab me. Misty has grabbed me.

Last year’s Pure Comedy was a slow burn. It took me awhile to appreciate it. God’s Favorite Customer is more like a sequel to I Love You, Honeybear. It catches you on the first listen. Although Fear Fun is an outstanding debut, Misty has significantly grown. God’s Favorite Customer finds Misty more comfortably in character – dare I say sincere. Maybe this Misty character is not a put-on after all. But don’t worry, Misty has not lost any of his humor, cynicism or bite.

Misty has always been a great singer, but on God’s Favorite Customer he seems to have gotten even better.

The album opens with “Hangout At The Gallows” which is classic Misty, both sonically and lyrically. This is Misty at his most elaborate. This song could comfortably fit on The Beatles’ Abby Road or Radiohead’s Ok Computer.

“Hangout At The Gallows” seamless segues into “Mr. Tillman” which is like looking into a mirror with a mirror. Misty the character is telling a story about Tillman the guy who plays the Misty character. One of the recurring themes of this album is going crazy alone at a hotel. “Mr. Tillman” introduces that theme here.

“Just Dumb Enough To Try” is Misty at his 70s classic rock finest. It has the sound of Madman Across The Water era Elton John crossed with The Moody Blues. It is a juxtaposition of gorgeous music and tortured lyrics.

“Date Night” is the pure swagger of a cad.

“Please Don’t Die” closes out side one. This song could easily fit on one of several Ryan Adams albums. It is aching.

When you go to the flip side and set the needle into “The Palace,” you enter deep into the twisted psyche of Father John Misty. It is a combination of depression and humor. The sound of a man who has spent too much time contemplating his navel and is now sinking into an abyss and the only escape is to reunite with his true love. This could easily be a Joni Mitchell song.

“Disappointed Diamonds Are The Rarest Of Them All” sounds like a lost ELO hit. Misty eviscerates Madison Avenue sentiments:

Disappointing diamonds are the rarest of them all
And a love that lasts forever really can’t be that special
Sure we know our roles, and how it’s supposed to go
Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?

The titular cut has the nonchalance of Penn/Moman’s “Dark End Of The Street.” It is a gorgeous ballad.

On “The Songwriter” Misty turns the tables on himself. A kinder and gentler “Positively 4th Street.”

The album ends with “We’re Only People (And There’s Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” a meditation on the fact that we don’t know anything about who we really are:

People, we’re only people
There’s not much anyone can do, really do about that
But it hasn’t stopped us yet
People, we know so little about ourselves
But just enough to wanna be nearly anybody else
How does that add up?

It is a nice bow to tie up the album.

Is this Misty’s best album yet? It might be.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard

If Jerry Garcia had been a punk, he might have sounded something like Stephen Malkmus. Malkmus plays guitar with the imagination and creativity of a jam band gun slinger with the economy of a punk.

I discovered Malkmus via his solo career vs. his former band Pavement. I like Pavement, but they don’t have an album I like as much as any of Malkmus’ solo albums.

Malkmus has always been a great guitarist. His solo career has many great guitar solos, but this album’s vocals are the standout for me. Few rock artists vocals actually get better with age – Malkmus is one of the rare exceptions. He started his career with a vocal style that was slightly more energetic than Lou Reed. Over time, it has become richer and more varied. On Sparkle Hard his vocals have matured into an instrument that rivals his axe.

The album is a nice summary of what Malkmus does best, yet it feels totally fresh. Per the Matador website regarding Sparkle Hard:

It’s light ’n’ breezy, head-down heavy, audacious, melancholic and reflective, goodtime and bodacious, and it pulls off the smartest trick: it’s both unmistakeably The Jicks and – due to the streamlining of their trademark tics and turns, plus the introduction of some unexpected flourishes (Auto-Tune! A fiddle! Guest vocalist Kim Gordon! One seven-minute song with an acoustic folk intro!) – The Jicks refashioned. If 2014’s Wig Out At Jag Bags balanced the lengthy prog workouts of Pig Lib with Mirror Traffic’s sparky pop moments, then Sparkle Hard bears less obvious direct relation to what’s come before. It also has turbocharged energy and enthusiasm by the truckload.

Malkmus has crafted a slightly twisted Classic Rock album. The arrangements are elaborate without being busy. Malkmus continues to churn out quality material thirty years into his career. His solo career is now twice as long as his more famous tenure in Pavement. If you have not checked Malkmus out, Sparkle Hard is a great entry point.