Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Review of Bill Mallonee's WINNOWING

Bill Mallonee & The Darkling Planes: Winnowing

The life of a troubadour is often romanticized. Whether it’s a fascination with the mysterious Woody Guthrie or the freedom supposed in Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” most of us have fantasized about being the man with a song and a guitar, rambling through the world and leaving a trail of songs, like gold nuggets along the Rio Grande.  It sounds great for romance, but what about reality?

Bill Mallonee may be the closest thing we have to this romantic idea in the flesh. Writing and recording since the late 1980s, Bill has released close to sixty projects—most full-length, some EPs. Bill knows the blistering road, the intimate house concert, and the small change to show for it at the end of the night, yet he continues to put pen to paper and fingers to fret board as he shares his gift of song.

With no superstructure of support or financial safety net, he depends on his fan base to continue funding the projects. Earlier this year, Bill decided to try Kickstarter, the now famous crowd sourcing platform. Within days of posting his project, Kickstarter suffered a security breach, and Bill opted to pull the plug rather than jeopardize any of his fans’ financial safekeeping.  Call it a false start, or just another unlucky bump in the road; Bill dropped back to taking pre-orders through his site and Bandcamp.

Winnowing, Bill’s latest record, is now in post-production and scheduled to release in early September, 2014. I recently spoke with him about the new songs, and even scored a chance to give the tracks a listen.  Here’s what I found.  (You can hear my interview with Bill HERE.)
Bill told me that there’s something about the desert canyons and the big sky that beckon
contemplation and reflection.  The vastness of the night sky brings a perspective of smallness and the need to trace one’s steps.  This new batch of songs bears witness to this sentiment.
The opening three tracks (“Dover Beach”, “Those Locust Years” and “Old Beat Up Ford”) blend together in mellow, contemplative swirl, as if mesmerizing the listener like a desert sky. They pull us in with lines like “Now I am not a scoffer / withholding his thanks / my purse it is empty / my heart overflows its banks” in the opener.  The reflection continues in track 3: “sunlight sifting through the shadows / it seemed brighter way back then / and I walked the world in wonder / all dressed up in my new skin.”    

“Got Some Explaining to Do” breaks the opening spell with its noisy guitars a la Neil Young and reminiscent of The Power & the Glory (2011). Full of clever lines and social commentary, Bill admits an evil in the world, but refuses to answer for it; instead he writes, “no matter what the disguise is/ well, you gotta give the devil his due / but whoever he is / he’s got some explaining to do.”  

The next two tracks “Dew Drop Inn” and “Blame it on the Desert Whispering” could have easily found themselves on Bill’s album Dolorosa (2013). The stripped-down musical arrangement and the narrative focus of geography capture the sense of place that is unmistakably New Mexico. For instance, Bill sings on the former “The road winds hard and the road winds cruel / hearts being what they are / Let’s just say it will be ok / and I love you, just because.”  

“In the New Dark Ages” has the signature of one of Bill’s most ambitious albums, Locket Full of Moonlight (2002). With Beatles-esque organ and guitars, Mallonee explores the current state of expectations concerning relationships where “no one trusts anyone… [and] they forget to have fun.”  

The album was originally going to share its title with track 8 “Hall of Mirrors / Room Full of Woe,” and that doesn’t surprise me. This track is the musical epicenter of the album, with its layered guitars grabbing the spotlight.  And again, Mallonee delivers a tight metaphor with the following: “Now Death is a boxer / always stalking the ring / grabs all the prize money / and a few other things / with a 1-2 punch that’s been stealing the show.” The track’s haunting tone continues, but the lyric turns a hopeful corner with “what is lost is nothing compared to what gets found.”

“Now You Know” is like a letter to an old friend, with as many questions as statements. With its delicate instrumentation, the song sounds as if it could be performed on horseback, meandering through the canyon. And once again, Mallonee weaves an historical perspective into his craft with the following:  “Well Caesar sat upon a steed / and waited till the dawn / without a word the die is cast / across a Rubicon / history's muddy, bloody boots / are ever marching on / now you know.” This appears as a settled peace that no longer fights to answer questions about the ever-elusive fame and notoriety hiding around the next bend. Instead, the craftsman continues to apply his tools of melody and metaphor, with wit and passion.

“Tap Your Heart on the Shoulder,” like “Now You Know,” projects the feel of the troubadour, with the cadence of a slow ride near sunset. The lyrics, too, paint the picture of a horse-mounted observer, depicting this present age.  Mallonee writes, “Ain’t nothing left in Oklahoma / On your right or your left hand / We took God’s good, green earth / and we turned it into sand.”  

Overall, Winnowing comes in at 10 cohesive tracks (just over 43 minutes). It’s a journey full of questions, reflecting on the might-have-beens and the almost-but-not-quites of one of the most prolific songwriting careers that has been all but overlooked. From the haunting, opening track, Dover Beach, to the closing track, Mallonee delivers a fresh collection of tunes while he scrutinizes the cards he’s been dealt, sorting through both mistakes and misfortunes. Closing out the album, he sings “Only so many smiles you can fake…Hey reach over / tap your heart on the shoulder / and see if she’s still awake.” While we’re left with unanswered inquiries—some that may never be rejoined, we’re also left with these ten jewels of honest, though-provoking melodies that cause us to examine our own steps and motives, and in their stripped-down honesty, awaken our hearts from slumber.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Value of S3 Stat

If you own a blog or a website, there's a strong chance that you are at least curious about your traffic. Usually we try to avoid traffic, but cyber traffic is a different story.  Certainly there are people who blog for a small audience and have no ambition to grow the readership, and surely there are other writers who don't care anything about statistics and data. Most of us, however, who spend time creating and publishing work online are at the very least curious about the audience we are reaching.

When I started my podcast seven months ago, I faced a steep learning curve with just about every aspect of blogging and podcast technology.  I had to check out dozens of WordPress tutorials and learn how to use various software programs. After a couple of months of producing podcast episodes, I grew more curious about my audience.  Is anyone listening? What episodes are drawing the largest audience?

As it turned out, I had two means of monitoring my traffic, both provided by my web host. This was great!  Each month I reviewed the site visits and was encouraged by the upward trend.

But it didn't take long to realize there was a discrepancy.

My two reports were not telling me the same thing...not even close.  One, for example, was reporting 6,000 visits per month, while the other was reporting 1,200 per month.  The difference between the reports began to cause doubt and uncertainty.  It also tempted me to share either the higher or lower stat with whomever I was discussing web traffic.  This resulted in feeling like I was either not shooting straight with the other person (elevating my stats) or that I was selling myself short (using the lower count). Neither of these options was good.

And then I ran across S3 Stat.

Since I was already using Amazon S3 to host my podcast episodes, it made sense to give it a try...especially with their free trial.

What's been the result of using S3 Stat?
Great question!

No more guessing.  I can share my daily, weekly and/or monthly traffic results with confidence now. I can determine which episode is drawing the largest audience.  I can also get a global report, detailing where my audience is located.

S3 Stat has provided dependable reports that have allowed me to chart the growth of my podcast with confidence.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Lucky Penny

I don't believe in luck- good or bad. If I did, I would be trying hard to get out from under a black cloud that's been hanging around for the last three weeks.

Two days ago, I stopped and reached for a tarnished penny on the sidewalk.
As I placed it in my pocket, the term lucky penny came to mind.  Growing up, that phrase was very commonplace. I would pick up a coin and wonder what good might come my way.  As an adult, I now know it is ridiculous to think finding a token on the ground will actually alter the future. I also have come to understand what is meant by the expression lucky penny.

Lucky is the person who finds the penny, right?  What do you mean by lucky? Well, let's use the term fortunate or profitable. Many people use these terms interchangeably in their minds. If they see someone who has prospered in his or her business, they think: he's lucky or she lucked out.

Many people don't want to accept that many hours, months and years went into the success.

And that leads us back to the lucky penny.

The penny was found because someone saw the opportunity and pursued it.  The new owner of that lucky penny was aware of her or his surroundings. He or she was paying attention to the details, and not just moving along unconsciously. And that is a lesson worth learning.

Opportunity exists for us all.  We just have to be willing to notice it and go after it.

As Seneca is often quoted: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."

Are you looking for opportunities around you?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The World's Greatest Water Filter

The World's Greatest Water Filter (I'm convinced) was designed and installed in each and every duck! We bought three ducklings this spring, and unlike our chickens, they will drink any water-- no matter what it looks like.

Chickens are a bit pickier, and who can blame them?  I prefer clean drinking water myself, but DUCKS... they swim in it, bathe in it, and then take a slurp.  At first, I was worried it may harm them (showing my ignorance of ducks when we brought them home), but that's certainly not the case.

We are about to purchase a water filter for our home.  I came in a couple of days ago and commented to my wife that the ducks must come equipped with a Royal Berkey!  In case you don't know about the Royal Berkey, it is a water filtering system that sits on your counter-top and filters H2O much better than the filters in our refrigerator or filter pitcher.  In fact, the Berkey will make ditch water drinkable!  You can read more about it HERE.

Friday, June 13, 2014

How & Why I Stopped Taking Zyrtec

Like most people, I struggle with seasonal allergies.  The typical culprits like pollen, ragweed, and leaf mold set me off.  You've probably experienced the symptoms: runny nose, sinus pressure, headache, clogged throat.

So, years ago I started taking OTC antihistamines to deal with the effects. I tried two or three before I landed on Zyrtec because it seemed to pack the most punch. Just half a dose before bed, and I was knocked out.

But after awhile, I started noticing some negative effects. First, a half dose was not providing the same relief that it once had; however, taking a full dosage rendered me extremely drowsy. Plus, around twelve hours after taking even a half dosage, I would find myself very irritable.  I began to wonder if the irritability was worth the sinus relief.  The straw that broke the camel's back for me was when my wife started reading about the drug's damaging effect on the liver.  She challenged me to stop taking it.

Common sense tells us that if we are accustomed to taking something regularly and we stop, we should replace it with something else.  So what did I start taking instead of Zyrtec? Glad you asked! I started taking a multivitamin and a grape-fruit seed extract tablet, plus one teaspoon of local honey at least three times per week. It has been six months or more since I have taken Zyrtec, and my sinus issues are better than ever. Plus, I don't struggle with afternoon irritability, and my wife's not worried about my liver.  Do you know of any alternatives to the regular use of antihistamines?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

It's Time to Clear the Clutter From Your Inbox!

Admit it! You and I both have too much junk in the Inbox.  There are lists I subscribed to looking for a $2 coupon, and now I get ads three times each week.  I find myself not even opening the email. It's as if the email does not exist, yet it's clutter that I have to deal with each day.

You're probably thinking: I agree, but I don't have time to go through and unsubscribe to all of those.

Guess what?

You don't have to spend that much time on it.

Start with a simple plan to attack the clutter.

Determine that you will unsubscribe from one list every other day.  Within two weeks, you will have removed 7 annoying email generators. You'll begin to have room to breath in your inbox, and your stress level will drop. Within a month, you'll be close to being finished with the chore.

Give it a try!  Start small and be consistent. Get rid of the virtual clutter!

After that, apply the same approach to your closet or garage.
That's what I need to do!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Search Tip for Craigslist

Do you search for bargains on Craigslist?

The key to success on Craigslist is about timing.
Since it's not an auction, the rule of first come- first served applies. If you aren't able to monitor the postings often, your chances of finding the item for which you are searching shrink.  Therefore, consistency and patience are crucial, and there's not short-cutting that process.

Here's one tip I try from time to time.  Being a recovering high school English teacher, I can confidently say that at least half of the general public struggles with spelling. Sometimes when I am searching for an item, especially if it has a proper name, I will purposely misspell the name a few different ways in the search box.  If someone misspelled the item, chances are people are not going to find it by searching for it.  It may be yours for the taking.

Give it a try and let me know how it works.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Good and the Bad of Knowing Yourself Too Well

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to critique or coach someone other than ourselves? Perhaps the adage Familiarity breeds contempt best describes this challenge.  While most people would say that knowing ourselves too well becomes a weakness (which I agree), I would add that it can also be a strength if we can slip on a pair of objective lens from time to time.
Let me explain.

There's a reason the plumber's spigot has a drip and the mechanic's car has a clink in it.  When we see the same things everyday, they become part of our landscape.  We become blind to what others see easily. This is why a REALTOR will give a seller a to-do list to the surprised homeowner before the home is ready to show. The homeowner thought it was ready to list. This is why a career consultant has to ask us fifty questions before we articulate our skills.

So this is a huge challenge because we learn to settle for less than the best. Whether we're dealing with housework, lawn maintenance, exercise, personal growth, or healthy diet planning, we struggle with seeing our blind spots.

The flip side of this is the good news.

Many of us have trouble identifying our strengths, skills, and abilities.  The term Tacit Knowledge refers to the skills and competencies that we perform without even realizing we are doing them.  We have mastered them to the point of being rote. Quite often we see this when a veteran teacher, mechanic, engineer or physician attempts to explain a process to someone who is brand new to the skill. At that point, the person with experience either grows extremely frustrated or realizes the steps in the process that she or he has learned so well that they had otherwise become invisible.

So here's the challenge: We have to learn to take a step away from ourselves and our surroundings long enough to objectively assess ourselves. What areas do we need to improve? What areas need attention? (That's the weakness.) What skills have I taken for granted?  What can I do that others struggle with? (That's the strength.)

If you're struggling with objectively assessing yourself, ask someone your trust and respect to help.

Do you have other tips for personal development?

Monday, April 7, 2014

An Important Business Lesson I learned from Disney’s Frozen

I recently joined Platform University, which is a tremendous entrepreneurial resource provided by Michael Hyatt and his daughter Megan Hyatt Miller. 

One of the many lessons I have already learned is the importance of having a photo in which you are facing the camera directly on the About page of your website. 

Why is this important?

Great question! It may seem ridiculous to some people and nit-picky to others,
but there is a subtle issue of trust involved in the position of your eyes in the photo.  Your About page is an opportunity for your audience to meet you—often for the first time. Think about meeting someone in person: do you make eye contact with them?  I certainly hope so.  We all associate trust with direct eye contact, and websites are no different.

As I shared this principle with my wife, my daughter overheard me and chimed in, “that’s just like Hans in Frozen, Dad. In all the pictures I’ve seen of him, he’s never looking at the camera.” 

Hmm. Subtle does not mean unimportant.

As Coach John Wooden was fond of saying, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Starting a Podcast is Like...

Earlier this month, I launched a podcast called Twelve Minute Muse and what I've learned is that starting a Podcast is like learning a foreign language by immersion. My friend Devin inspired me to pursue starting one, and he rightly warned me about the steep learning curve.  Devin started his podcast-- Connected Homeschooling about five months before I started mine, so he already knew about technical issues and necessary steps. It was great to have him as a resource to help with terminology and directional tips.

One of the tips Devin shared was to check out Pat Flynn's videos on Youtube.  Pat's series was very helpful with the basic steps, from getting started all the way to publishing and tagging.

The 48 Days Group for Podcasting and New Media was another great resource for information and encouragement.

Over the last three weeks, I've learned not only new terms, but have also managed to build and connect pages, links and plug-ins that I had previously feared out of my ignorance.  I'm not saying that the process is easy, but with so much support and information readily available, starting a podcast is very possible for anyone.  The most important element is to have a vision and passion for your show.  Once that's in place, step bravely into the realm of cyber-broadcasting!

Let me know if I can assist you with your project!