Monday, March 21, 2022

Album Review - Terry Scott Taylor - This Beautiful Mystery

How many times am I going to write about Tim Chandler?  Apparently at least once more!

Recently Tom Willet created and posted a video about Tim as part of a series of outstanding deceased Christian musicians that are horribly underappreciated, musicians that should have had an impact on the world at large but didn’t even make a huge splash in the CCM community.  The first two highlighted musicians were Mark Heard and Tom Howard, if that gives any indication.  While the video was good, it was the comments from his fellow musicians, people that lived and played with Tim, that really stirred my soul.

And this leads me to the reason for this article: the new Terry Scott Taylor album (or double album) This Beautiful Mystery.  I’ve been hesitant to vomit my thoughts out into the digital world because I’m not 1000% enamored with the new album, but that’s one of the things Tim liked about me, that I would tell him my thoughts on his music without a fanboy sugar coating.  If it’s amazing I’ll say so in the album reviews I used to write.  If a band turns in a stinker I’ll just not write a review.  This is why I’ve been hesitant to write this quasi-review, because everyone else online has been gushing about how glorious this album is, and I’m left scratching my head wondering if we’re listening to the same set of songs.

When I first heard This Beautiful Mystery I was struck with how few rockers there were, how the overall tone of the album teeters on maudlin.  Then I caught myself thinking “Tim would have probably done such and such on this track” or “Whoever is playing bass on this one isn’t really adding anything.”  Then I realized that such thinking is unfair.  Tim isn’t playing and whoever is shouldn’t try to be Tim.  It would be like an American trying to do a British accent.  They could get close but eventually they’d say “apartment” instead of “flat” or some such and the whole farce would fall down. 

Terry has said that Tim “gave me courage to venture beyond my supposed creative limitations and in so doing, lose my self-conscious restraints and give into a kind of wild abandonment.”  That is the missing element on This Beautiful Mystery.  If Tim had been alive he would have most certainly contributed on most, if not every, track on the new Taylor album and likely would have helped shape the songs, pushing Terry to swing for the fences.  As they stand almost all of them play it safe and despite Rob Watson gussying them up with his keyboard orchestrations (that unfortunately often sound a bit dated sonically) the songs fail to excite my aural neurons.

I listened to both discs a number of times and felt underwhelmed. I’m no enemy of slow songs but there were just too many of them.  Eventually I remembered that, like turning DOWN the bass will actually boost the guitar, often times removing a weak song from an album will increase the overall listening experience.  What if I removed the weaker songs and created my own “This Beautiful Mystery” of only those songs that appealed to me?  I printed off a list of the song titles and listened again, rating each song on a 1 to 10 scale.  Then, being the dork that I am, I listened to a few tracks at random and rated them again, not looking at my original score.  Seeing that the ratings matched I decided that it wasn’t necessary to endure the entire double album again.

Out of 21 tracks there were just eight that I rated a 5 or above.  I listened to these by themselves and found that instead of a ho-hum slogging through I have excitement now when listening to the album.    It’s just about on the level of “John Wayne” and “Knowledge and Innocence.”  If a strong handed producer had been brought in I’m sure some of the “cut” thirteen tracks could have been tightened up to make a full album.  I’m sorry if this sounds harsh (especially to Terry should he ever find himself reading this) but I have to call it like I hear it.  This Beautiful Mystery is a great album hidden inside a mediocre one.

In case you were wondering, the eight songs on “my” version are:

Signs and Wonders (this one has the most Tim-like bass part)

The Meek

The Everlasting Man

The High Tech Tribulation Force

The Very One I Love

A Great Good Is Coming

Worried Waters

Under The Mercy

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Instrumental Conundrum

 As someone who is self-taught in just about everything (that's what you get when you're a loner raised by PBS), it pains me to pay money for instrument lessons*.  I've gotten this far on my own, and most of that learnin' was before YouTube!  But I've hit kind of a wall in my electric guitar playing so lately I've been wondering if perhaps a few lessons would help be over the hump.  I've gone so far as to find the instructor.  

Now comes one of the difficult part (and it gets real deep psychologically): What is it that I want from these lessons?

I started jotting down some notes.  Do I want to learn how to position my fingers to avoid fret buzz when picking that high note of a F#m chord?  Maybe I need some pointers on certain guitar parts that I've been playing for years but am still not consistent.  What about tips and tricks to jazz up my strumming patterns?

Somewhere along the way I started to analyze myself... never a good thing.  Do I *want* to learn more electric guitar?  What would happen if I spent as much time practicing electric guitar as I do, say, looking at guitar pedals?  Do I even really enjoy playing it?  I mean, I LOOOOVE playing bass, especially with a group.  I'll admit that it's kind of "meh" playing bass by yourself, which is why I learned acoustic guitar almost twenty years ago.  I have a thick binder full of songs and have enjoyed many hours singing along to some of my favorite songs while strumming away on an acoustic.  But some songs don't lend well to acoustic guitar and I do so love me a wall of distortion.  

Are there any songs I can play all the way through on the electric?  I'm not so sure and therein (therein?  Who am I?  Gandolf?!?!) lies the question of passion.  Do I really, really, really want to learn this instrument and if so, why?  And what?  I know many bass lines all the way through and the same for acoustic strummin' songs.  Maybe the issue is that I'm always practicing guitar and never playing it**.  The difference, as I see it, is practicing is like going to school and playing is using what you learned.  I've been in electric guitar school for years and don't have much to show for it.  When I hear a song I may appreciate the guitar riff/line/whatever*** but it's the bass part that truly grabs my ear.  Am I just learning electric guitar bits because they stand alone better than playing bass by itself?  Can you see the conundrum that I'm in?!?!?



* Plus I'm a cheap-skate.  Er, I mean I'm thrifty!

** Or if I do play it usually resorts to power chords.  Lots of fun... for a few minutes.

*** Especially Summerland.  And Goldilox.  Those are some great songs!  If I learned those songs my wife would fall even deeper in love me with.  Even though she doesn't know the original songs I'm certain it would happen and she might even go out on a date with me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

All King's X All The Time

Because I wasn't wanting my kids exposed to constant commercials while listening to Spotify I decided to sign up for a family membership.  It hurts me to pay a company knowing that the artists receive so little for their work but maybe I can just leave my playlist on repeat 24/7.  

I wasn't a Spotify user before this but since I was paying for it I decided to give it a whirl.  Maybe I can get some good music recommendations.  Not yet, but maybe one day Spotify will be able to figure out my schizophrenic music tastes.

One thing I did, though, was to create a play list of every King's X album.  They are certain in my top tier bands, although it's really only the first five that are their best.  So far I'm seventy songs into their 151song catalog and I've been enjoying hearing songs from the albums that don't get a lot of play.  I'm one of the weirdos that really likes Mr. Bulbous but the most recent one (from a decade ago?) and the Black Like Sunday don't get many listens.  In fact, I actually disliked Black Like Sunday and while hearing it again I can hear some juvenile bits, it's not too bad.  And overall, even the albums I didn't care for much are pretty high quality... certainly much better that a lot of tripe out there.  Perhaps the reason I didn't like some of those albums is because you wait and wait for a new album, knowing that whatever you get is going to have to tide you over for a few years so it had better be great.  But instead of being amazing it's just really good.  And it certainly isn't as good as those magic early albums where pixie dust was seemingly sprinkled on every song.  So you're let down.  But I'm able to appreciate and enjoy hearing these out of historical context.

 Yeah, a stupid entry but that's where I am these days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Great Pizza Adventure #14 - Casa Restaurants

And then there's pizza from Casa.  The Casa restaurants are a local-famous group of restaurants in Fort Wayne (there are four of them) best known for their house salad and lasagna.  The one about a mile from my house has the formal name of Casa Grille Italiano and, like the others, is a reasonably priced sit down restaurant.  My wife and I were having a rare lunch date with another couple and they always pick Casa due to specific food allergies.  My own food allergy is that if I have too much red sauce (which I love) I get heartburn.  And also there some specific herb or ingredient found mostly in Italian food that causes the bursa in my knee to swell painfully, so for me eating Italian food is a little like playing Russian Roulette.

I wasn't feeling up to the risk that day* so I ordered the Tutti pizza.  Although it sounds like it should be served with an umbrella, it really means that it has pepperoni, sausage and mushrooms, plus, accordion to the menu, "Casa's pizza sauce and italian cheese blend."  Because I hadn't intended to order pizza I didn't have my scale or camera with me**.  Or my tape measure, although I did manage to sneak a "hand measure" when I thought no one was looking.  I also managed to bring two slices home, pieces that were more than happy to pose for a picture.

And there it is.  It doesn't look like a very thrilling pizza, does it?  Spoiler Alert: It wasn't.  For a $11.29 pizza (plus tax AND tip, bringing it to $14.02) one would expect a very good pizza.  Unfortunately nothing really stood out.  The overall sensation wasn't one of savory goodness, which you'd expect from the toppings.  Despite being baked on a stone the crust was barely okay (good texture but no flavor), the cheese was nothing to write home about, and the meager toppings didn't scream "QUALITY" like a B. Antonio pizza.  The sauce was, well, was there sauce?  Overall it seemed like the owner said "Hey, this is an Italian restaurant!  We should have pizza 'cause, like, pizza is Italian!" and someone in the kitchen half-heartedly put a recipe together.  This is a rough draft pizza, kids.

 
Weight: 32 oz
Diameter: 11.5"
Cost: $14.02

Service: 7
Crust: 4
Sauce: 4
Toppings: 4 (quantity) + 5 (flavor) / 2 =4.5
Value: 4 (43.8 cents per ounce) / 13.5 cents per square inch

                  Overall Score: 4.7

                  Flavor Score: 4.2

 

* And I remembered that this restaurant was on my list of "Pizzas of 46815"... two birds with one kidney stone!

** Also because I'm not a weirdo freak who takes pictures of their food in public.  The diameter is an estimate and although I wish I took the time to weigh the last two slices and multiply them by four, I didn't.  Besides, the cut on the pie was so wonky that none of eight pieces were the same size.
 

 

Friday, December 31, 2021

In Summary

The reason why I started writing all of this was to document for myself the many ways God worked in this process.  I’m very much like the proverbial man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like, even more so in forgetting the great indebtedness I have to God for the many times He intervenes in my life.

To begin with, there was the whole bit about my manager being a butthead to me in the summer*.  I’m very much a loyalist and prone to learning to live with dysfunctional environments, so without this event I might have never kicked myself out of the nest.  The timing is also a consideration, as are many things.  Had this happened in the spring I wouldn’t have been looking at Linked during the time period when Scott posted that he was leaving.  Had it happened in the fall it would have been too late.  People say that God’s timing is perfect and normally I’m prone to poo-poo these people, but maybe, just maybe, they are correct.

The second thing was the just mentioned post by Scott, which prompted the lunch meeting and gave me a direction of where to search.  Before this I was just a “guy who worked in tech but wasn’t a techie” and was fairly certain that my next job would not be in computers, so low was my estimation of my abilities thanks to a decade plus of neglect.

Number three would be the sudden urgency to get my resume and cover letter completed quickly, even though I had a number of months before I could switch jobs.  If not for getting the resume in that quickly my current job might have gone back to Scott.  Again, that timing knack God has.

A final thing (though surely there are more and I’m just too blind to see them) was getting an interview AND a job offer on my first attempt**.  I didn’t have the emotional reserves to take much rejection and had that occurred I might have slumped into depression and given myself up to my current lot, performing worse and worse until I was fired. 

So thanks God!  Thanks for pulling me through the rough times and growing me and eventually landing me in a position that is both challenging and enjoyable.

 

1/4/22 - A late addition!  Over the past few years I had asked God many times that He would pull me out of that place before it imploded.  I just learned that the head programmer of the "new solution" had left for greener pastures.  The deadline for implementing this was going to be a huge stretch and now it's completely blown out of the water.  Plus a co-worker in my department has/is been out for about a month with a surgery.  This would definitely not have been an enjoyable place to work these past two months. 

 

 

* At one point my wife told me about a conversation she had with our son, about how “something had changed with dad and work about two months ago.”  I went back and checked the date of the message where my manager accused “Did you add this…” and it was almost two months exactly.

** And boy did THAT boost my self-esteem.  Someone wanted my skills and abilities!  Take THAT, Mr. ex-“manager”.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Is This Thread Ever Going To End?

It turns out the place I interviewed WAS talking about me.  I was offered a job and, being a horrible negotiator, took what they offered.  What they offered turned out to be $240 less per year than I was making after my recent raise and a few less PTO days. 

About that raise… Like most corporations the manager is given a pool of money equal to three percent of all their employees salaries.  If someone gets more than a 3% raise then someone else has to get less.  In past years I received the standard 3% raise and hoped inflation stayed low.  This year I received a 2% raise.  A team mate I spoke with received a 2.2%, meaning someone received a very nice raise, indeed!  The person formerly known as my manager mentioned in a department meeting that the new policies gave him greater leeway to distributing raises.  When I questioned the 2% in my private meeting with him I was essentially told “you need to step up your game if you want more.”  This from a guy who also admitted that he didn’t know all the things I did to keep the place running.  “Do more and better but I don’t know how much you’re doing to know if ‘more’ is even reasonable.  For all I know you could be doing three jobs with acceptable accuracy, but still, do more.  But don’t you dare mess up on any of the many things you do.”  What this told me was that I could expect this kind of raise for as long as I continued at Investigo, and probably bonuses as well.  Fortunately, even though this was before I started applying for jobs, I knew that this was likely the last review I’d have with this bloke.

Brotherhood Mutual wanted me to start in three weeks but that was a day that my wife had an expensive medical procedure scheduled, which would be fully paid under the old employer and not the new (it’s just how health insurance works).  Egads!  Brotherhood has orientation sessions every two weeks so now I wouldn’t be able to start for five weeks.  Double egads!  Two weeks is long enough to endure knowing that you are leaving but five weeks?  Pure torture!

But also bliss!  Nothing can touch you during this time.  My team was given more information about the new process and it looked messy.  But I didn’t care… I wouldn’t be doing it.  We were told about new duties we were taking on because certain people had been let go and it looked like a convoluted mess.  But I didn’t care… I wouldn’t be doing it.  At team meeting where we were told about all the challenges coming our way with more work and a tight timeframe… but I didn’t care… I wouldn’t be doing it.  I had my monthly one on one with my manager where he threw a bunch of negatives my way.  But I didn’t care… I wouldn’t be working for him soon.

Everything I read about turning in your resignation said not to give your present employer more than two weeks.  You might think you’re doing them a favor but they could turn around and let you go immediately, leaving you without pay.  So all of the above happened in the first three weeks, with the one on one being just a few days before I was able to deliver the news to my manager.  It was difficult to keep my mouth shut but I did manage to slip in a statement like “I’m work on a plan to improve the quality of my work.”  Like leaving.

The big day arrived and I sent my manager an instant message.  “Can I call you about something?”  Why was my heart pounding?  “Sure” was the response. 

“I need to tell you that I’ve accepted a position at another company.  My last day will be October 22.”  Silence.  I really think he thought he was going to be able to kick me around for as many years as necessary until I could be let go.  I said something about who I thought should handle the various parts of my work and he said something as well.  The whole thing lasted about a minute and a half.  I then contacted team members and a few others in the company that I had worked with, letting them know.  My favorite response “Is this some kind of sick joke?” 

If you thought that my manager would contact me to discuss transition of work duties some time during my final two week you would be wrong.  I stopped expecting it after the first week.  In fact, he didn’t contact me at all.  No email, no instant message, no calls.  “Oh well,” I thought, “I guess he has it all figured out.”  I wrote a few things down and gave them to the team member who would be handling most of my day-to-day duties.  Other than that I just kept on working at my usual pace and quality. 

When an employee leaves it is customary for the manager to send out an email to the company, wishing them well, sad they are going, thanks for all the work over the past seventeen years, etc.  It didn’t happen.  Sure, he sent out an email a year before when an employee that he liked left after five years but I apparently wasn’t worth the effort.  Since I was planning to work very little on Friday* I sent out my own email on Thursday morning.  I got a few responses from co-workers but since we’d been working from home for a year and a half, I think most everyone felt disconnected.  More than one let me know that they were looking for jobs elsewhere.  That’s telling.

On my last day of working at Investigo I logged in, took care of whatever production support issues needed my attention, and attended my last 9:30 daily meeting.  I dinked around a bit and cleaned up my desk and drawers** and then went upstairs to take a shower.  I came back down, checked my email to see if anyone else had written and then left for my long co-worker (solo) lunch (my favorite Chinese place which is waaay across town so I don’t usually go). 

I returned two hours later and saw that my manager broke two weeks of silence by sending me an instant message around 11:15, which I guess I didn’t see earlier when I checked my email.  “Got a minute?”  What’s the point in giving him a minute more of my life?  He’s had two weeks and anything he had to say would be disingenuous.  I signed off my account and closed the Broadridge laptop for the last time. 

 

 

* When we worked in an office and an employee left, it was customary for his team to take him out to lunch early on their last day, to stay away for a 2-3 of hours, and then to leave.  I planned to follow this pattern.

 ** Since receiving the job offer I had moved all of my personal files and deleted them from my laptop.  Seventeen years is a long time to accumulate personal emails and documents and spreadsheets.  The parent company increasingly locked things down over the years so there was no writing to USB drives and anything that even remotely looked like a social security number blocked the entire email.  So how does a fellow get out dozens of spreadsheets, hundreds of emails, and a few databases?  If you have access to the FTP server you find a client who didn’t set up a firewall, that’s how!  Upload from work, download at home.  Yes, I could have easily stolen every single SSN and address of every client we’d had for a decade but of course I didn’t.  That’s where big companies get it so wrong.  Sure, you need to have some safeties in place but mostly all those guards meant to ensure data safety only make people less productive, making the job more difficult and time consuming to do.  Even without the FTP server I could have easily gotten out SSNs etc through email with a simple scramble/descramble spreadsheet.  It’s all about trusting your employees. 

*** Post script: Apparently there was a reason why I felt great urgency to get the application in.  Scott, who I had lunch with, decided he didn’t like where his new job and asked to come back.  However they had just offered me the job.  So instead they created a level three position for him, which was needed, and everyone was happy.  Had I waited even one week my job would have been open and would have gone back to Scott.  God does some pretty nifty things.