Thursday, December 27, 2018

Quote From Jeff Tweedy's Memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)

At the bottom of page 168 in his memoir Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) Jeff Tweedy writes:

I try to make something new, something that wasn't there when I woke up, by the end of every day.  It doesn't have to be long or perfect or good.  It just has to be something.

Those words really resonated with me.  For my own purposes, I would re-phrase that statement to read something like: "Try to create something new, something that didn't exist before, every week.  It doesn't have to be exceptional, or original, or vastly different than what came before.  It just has to be something."

I also like on page 158, when Jeff describes going through Woody Guthrie's writings for the Mermaid Avenue project and found a note by Woody that read "Write a song every day."  Jeff says That's the best advice I've ever gotten as a songwriter, and it wasn't directed at me. It was written by a man who died two months after I was born, as a reminder to himself.

For the last year and a half I've been trying to write about one tune a week (by "tune" I mean an instrumental melody).  I'm up to about 80 now so that's right on pace.  So far I've really enjoyed this process.  There is a high that comes from creating something new that wasn't there before but now is.  However, I've also given myself permission to let go of this goal if it ever becomes too demanding or no longer fun.


I ordered Chinese take out on Christmas night and drove by myself to pick it up.  On the way back from the restaurant a melody came to me along a dark stretch of road which I then hummed into my phone and didn't think about again for the rest of the night.  Then yesterday, December 26th, I had a bug or some kind of mild illness all day.  Even though I wasn't feeling one-hundred percent I decided to transcribe the melody I had sung into my phone the night before.

In my sickened state it didn't make me feel better to realize that my sung melody was not very original and pretty scalar, something I've been wanting to avoid.  So I cast it aside and then tried to gain inspiration from an obscure LP of Guatemalan marimba music that I had found in a thrift store on December 22nd.  That didn't work out so well either and I think might have inhaled some dust mites which made me feel even worse.

This morning I slept in late, to like 10am, which has pretty much shaken off whatever malady had me down.  The first thing I did after getting up was to revisit that melody I had hummed on 12/25 and transcribed on 12/26.  As is usually the case, something I wrote a day or two earlier that didn't seem to be any good at the time becomes a little more likable after sleeping on it.  This made me think of that Jeff Tweedy quote, "It doesn't have to be long or perfect or good. It just has to be something."

Here's what I wrote today.  If it survives, which I think it might, it'll be tune number 81 and will carry me through to 2019.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tunes 78, 79 and 80! Inspired by John Kadlecik, Dorothy Ashby, Steve Kimock and Hailu Mergia

I've got a little catching up to do because I've neglected to share tunes 78 and 79, and just this morning I wrote number 80. So here goes.

John Kadlecik has an excellent new CD called ON THE ROAD.  My favorite track on that album is the song Seen Love.  It's very well recorded and there are some jammy composed bits that really stand out.  So I came up with my own melody (hopefully my own melody) called Shooby Doo Weep based on parts of that song Seen Love.  A third part got added to Shooby Doo Weep and for that third part I pulled from the Dorothy Ashby composition Action Line.  (Dorothy Ashby was a jazz harpist.  Look her up, especially her album AFRO HARPING).  It would be best if the similarities between what I wrote and the source material is only in my head only not straight up plagiarism, but I don't have a good enough ear to tell.

Shooby Doo Weep

In early December I was reading Joel Selvin's book Fare Thee Well on the "Grateful Dead's" post-Jerry years, which made me want to re-listen to those April 1999 Phil and Phriends shows featuring Phil Lesh, Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Steve Kimock and John Molo.  I remember those shows being a huge deal when they happened almost 20 years ago and the music made across those three nights has stood the test of time.  On the first night 4/15/99 before going fully into Uncle John's Band the group plays around with a really cool sounding Caribbean melody, which I just learned for the first time is the Steve Kimock tune A New Africa.  I searched for another version of A New Africa and the first thing that came up was a Steve Kimock show from 2/22/2002.  I had never really listened to any of Steve Kimock's original music, but I was really taken in by this 2002 recording from the Gothic Theater in Colorado.  In addition to A New Africa, I found myself loving the tunes Cowboy and Cole's Law.  Long story short, Sudden Lee was brought to life by listening to that Kimock music.

I had an initial part that I recorded on glockenspiel which I'll share below.  But I had actually been adding more to this when playing it on banjo.  So here's the main theme on glockenspiel, and then the full version on banjo.

Suddenly glockenspiel

Sudden Lee tenor banjo

Saturday mornings have recently proven to be a very productive time.  If I get up early, around 7AM, and get straight to work, usually by noon I will have created something new that didn't exist before.  That happened again today, thankfully.  Today's tune was inspired by sounds heard on Hailu Mergia's WEDE HARER GUZO album.  (Hailu Mergia is another musician you should look up).  I'm calling this tune Za'atar after the middle eastern spice I used last night in an out of this world vegan-keto fattoush salad with baked ground flax seed in place of the bread.  I really like this one!  But of course the most recently written piece is always going to be a favorite.


OK - that catches it all up to now.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Favorite Books of the Year (2018)

I started off the year reading pretty heavily, had a mid-year lull, then got back on track in September and pretty successfully read about a book a week from then 'til now.  Enough to compile a list of this sort. These aren't necessarily books that came out in 2018, although most are fairly recent.

Many of my fiction selections for this year were what you might call magical realism.  Not quite traditional fantasy or sci-fi, but something a little weird was going on.  My favorite novel like this was GALORE by Canadian author Michael Crummey.  The book tells the story of the unusual residents of a small Newfoundland settlement over a period of many decades, starting in the 1800's. I've never read anything quite like it.  GALORE is now one of my favorite books of all-time.

Other novels I enjoyed include THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey, THE SEAS by Samantha Hunt, and a quirky little book called THREE TO SEE THE KING by Magnus Mills.

2018 is also the year I was introduced to sci-fi/weird fiction writer Jeff Van DerMeer.  ANNIHILATION - the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy - is another that is now an all-time favorite of mine.  I loved the spell this book put me under...sci-fi with elements of Lovecraft or THE ROAD.  I feel like ANNIHILATION stands on its own as a complete work.  I also read the next two books in the series, AUTHORITY and ACCEPTANCE, but those didn't sparkle for me as well as the first book.

For short stories, I loved, loved, loved Neil Gaiman's retelling of the Norse myths, aptly titled NORSE MYTHOLOGY.  Believe it or not this was the first Neil Gaiman book I had ever read and it led me to others such as THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, CORALINE, and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE.  This also inspired me to read other tellings of the Norse myths.  For example, NORSE MYTHS: TALES OF ODIN, THOR AND LOKI by Kevin Crossley-Holland.  I even, gasp, enjoyed watching a Thor movie!

 Another book of short stories that I loved this year is TALES OF FALLING AND FLYING by Ben Loory, which is a follow-up to his equally entertaining STORIES FOR NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY.  Loory's stories (hey that rhymes!) are so unique and imaginative that it makes me wish I had written them myself.  They are almost like Russell Edson poems expanded to a few more pages.

Speaking of Russell Edson, this year I became aware of another poet I would consider to be in the same league as him.  I'm talking about James Tate.  Tate passed away in 2015 but he left behind a lot of work.  I purchased his DOME OF THE HIDDEN PAVILION and have been perusing it when the mood strikes.

In the world of non-fiction, when I found out there was a book covering the inner squabbles and struggles of the four surviving members of the the Grateful Dead Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann in the post Jerry Garcia years, I just had to read it.  The book is called FARE THEE WELL by journalist Joel Selvin.  It was an eye opening read.

Last night I finished the Jeff Tweedy memoir LET'S GO (SO WE CAN GET BACK) and it is probably in my top three or four books this year.  Even though I had an Uncle Tupelo and Wilco mini-obsession period about 15 years ago, I wouldn't say that I am a regular listener to Tweedy's music.  I've never seen him perform live, for example.  Still, I had an interest in this book and turning its pages over the last few days has been a calming and oddly pleasant experience.  I laughed, I cried. I can't recall ever enjoying an autobiography to this degree.  You're a good writer Jeff.  We knew that already from your songs, but now we have further proof.

The book that had me laughing out loud the most this year wasn't CALYPSO by David Sedaris, although I liked that one a lot.  No the book that had me chuckling uncontrollably was VACATIONLAND by John Hodgman.  Don't let Hodgman's previous books of hobo facts be a deterrent.  VACATIONLAND is a turn towards dry, whimsical, nerdy, essays.  Like dad-rock in written form.  I'm hoping there's more where that came from.

Lastly I need to mention a cookbook.  It's a book, so technically it can be on this list.  The cookbook is called VEGAN KETO by Liz MacDowell.  It was the title that got me.  This is exactly the book I've been needing.  I've flirted with and had great success with the Keto diet since 2016 but you eat way more meat and cheese on that diet than I am comfortable with.  On the flipside, I also like to romanticize a vegan way of eating but that has always been too high in carbs for my body, among other excuses.

Along comes Liz MacDowell's VEGAN KETO - a compilation of recipes that take take into account two restrictive diets and through what must have been a lot of trial and error finds the Venn diagram where they can deliciously meet.  What I love about this book is she doesn't in any way sacrifice her Vegan Keto principles in an effort to gain flavor - she holds fast to the format and then finds ways to create incredible meals within those restrictions.

I haven't gone completely vegan or completely keto or completely anything in my overall existence, but I have cooked almost exclusively out of this book at least for dinner almost every day since after Thanksgiving and everything I have made has been not just tasty but also healthy and positive.  These are meals you have no complaints about afterwards.

OK I think that covers it!

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Best Albums of 2018

My top five albums of 2018 are, in this order:
1) Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids - An Angel Fell
2) Phish - Kasvot Växt í Rokk
3) Eamon O'Leary - All Souls
4) Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell - The Maid with the Flaxen Hair
5) Andrew Marlin - Buried in a Cape

The next five, in less particular of an order, are:
Alina Engibaryan - We Are
Khruangbin - Con Todo El Mundo
John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness
Jimi Tenor - Order of Nothingness
Circles Around the Sun - Let It Wander

Below I have categorized these in more detail.

Best Singer-Songwriter Album - All Souls by Eamon O'Leary
Eamon O'Leary beat out one of the all-time greats (John Prine) to take the top slot in this category.  John Prine's The Tree of Forgiveness falls in the top ten overall, but All Souls probably ranks in the top three for me this year.

On All Souls Eamon has fine-tuned his brand of self-penned melancholy ballads and distilled it into a near perfect ten song package. There's a charming, seductive edge to these songs and still another quality that for some reason brings to mind the sounds of Wake of the Flood and From the Mars Hotel era Grateful Dead studio albums.

Best Acoustic Instrumental Album - Buried in a Cape by Andrew Marlin
I'm a sucker for CDs of all original fiddle tunes and Buried in a Cape is perhaps the best album I've ever heard in this category.  The primary influence seems to be vintage late 70's/early 80's Newgrass ala Tony Rice and Sam Bush.  But there's also stately compositions like the type found on Norman Blake's Natasha's Waltz, jazzy numbers that wouldn't sound out of place under the fingers of Jethro Burns or Tiny Moore, and crooked old-time fiddle tunes that seem as if they were plucked straight from the hills.  

Andrew Marlin is best known as a songwriter in the increasingly popular duo Mandolin Orange.  With the all-instrumental Buried in a Cape it's clear that he can add "formidable tune composer and instrumentalist" to his reputation.  It doesn't quite seem fair that a lyricist of Andrew's caliber should also be capable of writing such memorable fiddle tunes but here is the proof.

Best Electric Instrumental Album - Con Todo El Mundo by Khruangbin
This is the most competitive category for my musical taste.  I had several contenders in this style, including Five Star Motel by Gitkin, Spacesuit by Robert Walter's 20th Congress, Road to Knowhere by Tommy Guerrero, The Serpent's Mouth by Bacao Rhythm and Steel Band, and Let It Wander by Circles Around the Sun.

Khruangbin wins, however.  Con Todo El Mundo expands upon the retro thai funk they established on their full-length 2015 debut The Universe Smiles Upon You while still keeping that signature blend of guitar melody, counterpoint bass-lines, and "snap" drumming.  Whether you approach this music as chilled-out psychedelia or uptempo exotica, there's a dependable magnetism to Khruangbin's unique take on the art of music making.

Best Album Featuring Mary Halvorson or Bill Frisell - The Maid with the Flaxen Hair
It's true that I eat up almost everything Bill Frisell or Mary Halvorson puts out.  In 2018 the choices were many.  In Mary's case, among the releases she participated in, I returned frequently to Theirs by Thumbscrew.  In Bill's case it's hard to overlook his long-awaited solo studio album Music Is.  Nonetheless, crushing everything in its wake is the monumentally demure and completely unexpected collaboration between Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell called The Maid with the Flaxen Hair.

On this duo record, Halvorson and Frisell meet on middle ground by interpreting music associated with 1950's era guitarist Johnny Smith. What could have turned into a competitive battle of notes is actually the exact opposite. The two guitars blend in a delightfully cooperative way that is way more meditative and far less noisey, flashy or "out" than one might have expected. Hearing these innovative guitarists' immediately recognizable and iconic individual characteristics being played in tandem, as on the track Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair, is quite satisfying.

Most Unexpected Album - We Are by Alina Engibaryan
A random choice caused me to duck into 55 Bar late in the afternoon of Saturday, March 24, 2018.  The place was empty and it looked like a nice, quiet spot to have a Guinness before going to the Village Vanguard later that evening.  Little did I know that an hour later I'd be taking in one of the most memorable live sets of my life.  The bartender mentioned that the band starting in a few minutes was going to be good.  Soon the room was packed and the music had started.  Not being familiar with Snarky Puppy I had no idea that this ensemble included Michael League on bass and Chris Bullock on sax.  I just knew it sounded good, incredibly good, and that I really liked the songs by the keyboardist and vocalist, who turned out to be Alina Engibaryan.  She was featuring material from her brand new CD titled We Are.

We stayed for the entire first and set and would have stayed for more had it not been for other commitments. It was not until the next day that I started to look up who and what that was we had seen play.  Moments later I was listening to We Are on Spotify knowing that it would likely end up on my best of 2018 list.  And here it is!  Alina's music is a little more poppy than I'm used to, but having seen the organic live at 55 Bar version I know it's the real deal. And with that backing band (Michael League, bass; Chris Bullock, saxophone; Ross Pederson, drums), her jazz-informed songs are nothing less than ear candy.

Best Surprise Album by My Favorite Band - Kasvot Växt í Rokk by Phish
This is what space smells like.  Phish started the now common live band musical tradition of secretly covering an album on Halloween with The Beatles' White Album in 1994.  Subsequent years have included Remain In Light by The Talking Heads, Loaded by The Velvet Underground, and the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.  Faceplant into rock.  Phish occasionally turns this tradition on its head by using the Halloween "cover" set as an opportunity to debut an album of all new original material.  Perception is spoon fed.  That's what happened for their middle set on 10/31/18 when they performed a 1981 record called í Rokk by the so-obscure-they-are-fictional Scandinavian band Kasvot Växt, even going so far as to plant back-dated album reviews, interviews and crate-digger articles on the internet as proof of its provenance.  I'm the glue in your magnet.

All of this proved to be a hoax of course....Kasvot Växt í Rokk was simply an excuse to inhabit the persona of a fake band of Phish's own creation as a means of debuting ten new original songs in a style that does and doesn't quite sound like the Phish we know and love, with lyrics that are however so Phishy that they could in fact be lost in translations from a mixture of Icelandic, Norwegian, and Vonlenska.  Say it to me S.A.N.T.O.S.  Even if these songs weren't so damn good and catchy Phish would still deserve an A for the artistic design work that went into this (stage setup, wardrobe, choreography, performance...).  We are come to outlive our brains.  But the songs are good - better with each listen.  I hope someone notices.

(I might as well create another category called "Best Improvised Music Played Live on Stage That Leaves Behind the Song Structure".  If so, this category would be created so that it could also recognize Phish based on moments during almost any show they played during their Summer or Fall 2018 tours.  There's a type of improvisation that Phish does which its fans have named Type II Jamming in which they leave the song structure behind and compose new, (usually) awesome sounding music on the spot while on stage in front of live audiences in excess of 10,000 peeps.  Phish is the best ever at this type of in the moment full-band live composition and that skill was on full display this year in a clean, melodic way that is unique to the last year or year and a half).

Best Party Album - Order of Nothingness by Jimi Tenor
Spotify has been helping me hone in on the sound I'm looking for and now it probably knows what I'm going to like better than I do. Jimi Tenor is one of those that popped up on my new release radar. I started with the songs My Mind Will Travel and Quantum Connection. Those made it to a summer playlist I put together and primed my taste for this album of full-on trippy and soulful Euro funk jazz.

My idea of a party album is for the party in your mind.  And I hope it never stops.  Order of Nothingness meets those needs.

Best Overall Album - An Angel Fell by Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids
If I were to make up a special category for this it might be "Best World Music Meets Spiritual Jazz CD" or "Best Album in the Sun Ra or Mulatu Astatke Lineage".  But those qualifiers are unnecessary since An Angel Fell can simply be labeled Best of the Year.  

Coming from a cosmic, here-and-now globalist perspective, the rhythms and melodies that are traversed over the course of this album's hour are so dead-on that it had no peer in 2018. The music is patient and freely spread out; the groove never dissipates, and the chant-like vocals are quite profound, not throwaway.  For me a highlight is the tones band member Sandra Poindexter is able to summon from her violin.  She takes an instrument - the fiddle - that doesn't always shine in a jazz setting and makes it growl.  With her at the controls the violin acts as a co-lead match to Ackamoor's sax.  For a band whose first album came out in 1972, An Angel Fell felt as fresh as anything I heard this year. 

Best EP (tie) - Cardamom Garden by Habibi and Down in the Basement by Mauskovic Dance Band
I think I found out about Mauskovic Dance Band by searching for bands that might be influenced by Liquid Liquid or Arthur Russell - both of which are apparent in their songs.  In the case of Habibi, the liking of them stems primarily from the allure of it being a kick-ass all female rock band.  I'm still waiting for that all female jamband that takes the music out there on twenty-minute rides like JRAD, by the way.  Back to the point, make a playlist of these two EPs back to back and you've got a killer 25 minutes ahead of you.  

Best Archival Compilation - Sun Ra Exotica
The folks at Modern Harmonic who put this three LP collection together really hit the nail on the head by calling attention to Sun Ra's connection to Exotica. The Saturnian prophet is not usually recognized as a member of or contributor to this style of music, but you can certainly notice an exotic thread there now.

Even those who don't know they know it, know the genre of Exotica when they hear it. Also called Lounge, Bachelor Pad Music, Tiki Music or Cocktail Music, Exotica was popular in the 1950's and 1960's as people opened themselves up to a post WWII sense of wordly culture and prosperity filtered through a clichéd idea of what Polynesian or Island music might sound like overlapped with the growing hi-fi stereo technology of the space age. All filtered through a white, middle-class, Disney-like, pre-Beatles perspective.

Who knows where Sun Ra was coming from when he made tracks like the ones found here, but he elevates the coolness of Exotica just by association.  It doesn't matter where you start or stop with this Sun Ra compilation - it's all good.  

Best Archival Live Release - The Grateful Dead Pacific Northwest '73 and '74
As someone who listened to a massive amount of Grateful Dead during my twenties, I do have to say that the GD's position as the nucleus of all my music listening and liking has shifted somewhat over the last 15 years.  This might explain why my jaw dropped and then remained there as I first listened to this music recorded between 1973 and 1974 in Oregon and Washington.  Those two years have always been favorites among Deadheads.  I've always thought of myself as more of a Brent Mydland era kind of guy (1979 to 1990) but this release puts that opinion to shame.

Maybe I had just forgotten how incredibly good - on every level - this post-Pigpen yet pre-hiatus time-period is, but these recordings make that explicitly clear.  With standout version after standout version, songs such as Bird Song, Eyes of the World, Brown Eyed Women, Row Jimmy, Playing in the Band and Dark Star demonstrate that there was some important historical music being made back then.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Tunes 76 and 77 - Helen's Bridge and Baked Zizi

I had a goal of writing just one tune the week I was in Asheville earlier this month.  On the drive down we listened to the Phish 10/31/18 Halloween set and during the third set in both Tweezer and a A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing there were cool melodies being played during the improvisational Type II jamming, and I made a mental note and even some had some phonetic lyrics to go with the sounds.

Once we got to Asheville I realized how close where we were staying was to Helen's Bridge - the most haunted place in Asheville according to local folk lore.  I knew I wanted to title this yet to be written tune Helen's Bridge.  The first full day we were there I worked on trying to write something, but I was a little hung over and nothing came of it.

After a good night's rest, I woke the 2nd morning before dawn and jotted down the following song titles to think of as inspiration: Down in the Willow Garden (Red Clay Ramblers), Cold Blows the Wind (Ween), All of These Dreams (Phish), Peggy-O (Grateful Dead), Been All Around This World (Grateful Dead), Blackberry Blossom (Bill Frisell version), Off To Sea Once More (Jerry Garcia), As I Went Out One Morning (Bob Dylan), Far Far From Me (John Prine), Moma Dance (Phish), Wayside/Back In Time (Gillian Welch), and Slow Train Through Georgia (Norman Blake).

Basically I wanted something sort of minor key sounding with an old-English ballad or Blue Ridge Mountain type feel.  Before I really even had a chance to use the above songs as inspiration I picked up my guitar and sung a melody to these made up words: Lost on Beaucatcher Mountain is a place called Helen's Bridge.  There I first felt the tapping and the dawning of the midge.  The notes on the guitar that matched this melody fell right into place.  Then I needed a B-part so with a different melody I thought of the following words:  Now that my car won't start, I'll just have to walk, over the mountain to, Helen's Bridge.  That became the 2nd part.

I don't know if I really needed a bridge, but I did want a third part, so I listened back to that Tweezer jam from 10/31/18 3rd set and added something like that as the "C" part.  So the structure of Helen's Bridge is AABBAABBCCCCCCAABB.  It's the only tune I have like that.  Or basically it's AABBAABB, then the C part as many times through as I want - usually six times through - before going back to AABB for one last time through.  Here it is.

Today is 11/17/18.  Last night I woke up at 4am with a melody in my head that was like a combo of the Haitian Folk Song Zizi Pan Pan and the Irish tune Rakes of Mallow.  I even saw in my head how I would write the first part out on paper.  Then I went back to sleep.  By 7am I was up and working on it.  The A-part came out similar sounding to my 4am revelation.  To construct the B-part I reminded myself of how the B-part to Rakes of Mallow actually goes and then tried to come up with a variation based on it but far from it.   And here's Baked Zizi.

Helen's Bridge is a more guitar-friendly melody, while Baked Zizi definitely feels better on tenor banjo than guitar.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Week In Asheville - bars, restaurants, hiking and more

Several times back in the early 2000's I would make the six-hour drive from Richmond, VA to Asheville, NC to see bands like Yonder Mountain String Band or Sound Tribe Sector Nine at the then newly opened Orange Peel in this progressive, hippie-friendly city in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We would always stay at the now closed Days Inn on Patton Ave. (must have been cheap), and besides seeing those shows the extent of my exploration in Asheville mostly consisted of drinking at the Jack of the Wood pub across the street.  The last time I was there was in 2009 for Phish so having now returned for a week as a tourist in Fall 2018 I found a bustling city more cosmopolitan than the dreadlocks and patchwork oriented town I remembered, with a food scene, bar scene, and hiking opportunities that more than matched my current interests.

We tried out several restaurants in Asheville including some of the more buzzworthy or well regarded places, but the two restaurants I'd like to give a shout out to are Calypso and Rosetta's Kitchen.  

Calypso is a Caribbean restaurant and rum bar offering St. Lucian style dishes and island cocktails.  They might not be as popular as some of the nearby restaurants like Salsa's or Nine Mile, but for me Calypso had the best food of any place we ate at in Asheville.  And they make great rum drinks like painkillers and mai tais.
Rosetta's Kitchen was my other favorite restaurant in Asheville.  Plant may get more recognition as the go-to vegan/vegetarian restaurant in Asheville, but for my taste you can't beat the laid back feel of Rosetta's Buchi Bar, where they serve flights of Buchi Kombucha and even make kombucha cocktails.  Rosetta's signature dish is called Family Favorite - peanut butter baked organic tofu, sauteed kale, and smashed potatoes with gravy.  Better than any words can convey.  Yep, vegan comfort food is a real thing.

I guess I like fancy cocktails, at least while on vacation.  Topping my list of cocktail bars is the tenebrous Crow and Quill, a gothically decored speakeasy found behind an unmarked door on Lexington Avenue where the lighting is dim, the conversation is low, and the drinks are strong.  Inside you can try one of their 700+ liquors - top shelf - or one of their finely crafted mixed drinks.  Crow and Quill is a place to sip and look calm, cool and collected on the outside, pretending to read a book while getting drunk and weird on the inside.

My other favorite cocktail bar, or just "bar", was Little Jumbo which is located a few blocks north of downtown proper in an area at the edge of either North Asheville or Montford.  Anyway, Little Jumbo had more of an upscale neighborhood bar feel - less touristy than places in downtown.  Definitely worth the walk or Uber to get there.  This would probably be my local favorite if I lived nearby.  We went to Little Jumbo on two separate occasions.  Most fun for me was when each night's bartender, Kaitlyn or Lindsay, ventured off the menu to concoct special drinks worth trying.  
I'll also add The Social Lounge to this list.  We happened to notice this downtown staple on our last night in Asheville and the two drinks I got there (called Thalia and Wondermint) were tasty and refreshing.  

Actually, my cocktails rundown wouldn't be complete without recognizing my two favorite restaurants from above - Calypso and Rosetta's Kitchen - which each served up awesome and unique mixed drinks to go along with the delicious food.

I'm not as much into beer as I used to be, but craft beer is still trending hard in Asheville.  Without too much arm-twisting, I delved into some brewery sampling that included highlights at the Funkatorium (an unparalleled selection of sours), Dirty Jack's (home of Asheville's legendary Green Man Brewing), One World (cool downtown basement location with live music), and Burial (rocking the South Slope with its Tom Selleck meets the Grim Reaper ethos).

Evenings might be devoted to food and drink, but during the daytime in the Asheville area your hiking options are seemingly endless.  We were rained out a couple days, but still got some good walks in during our week there.  My favorite place was the North Carolina Arboretum at milepost 393 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Through an improvised route utilizing the Arboretum's Carolina Mountain Trail, Bent Creek Trail, Azalea Collection Trail and Wesley Branch Trail, among others, we were able to put together a fantastic two-hour hike that was adjacent to a flowing creek (Bent Creek) for much of the way.

When a cloudy day became a sunny one we took the opportunity to do the short but scenic Craggy Gardens hike to its 5,892 foot summit at Craggy Pinnacle, where the trailhead is located at an overlook just north of the Craggy Gardens visitor center on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Closer to Asheville there are many opportunities do hikes along the Mountains to Sea Trail.  A couple starting points include the trailheads at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center (MP 384) or the Folk Art Center (MP 382).  

Within the city itself there's a paved footpath/bike path/moms-with-strollers path called the French Broad River Greenway, which parallels the mighty French Broad River.  It was unclear to me how far this greenway stretches, as we only walked on it for about an hour one casual day starting near the dog park.  That said, I think it runs for several miles all the way from New Belgium Brewing to Hominy Creek.  This is a pleasant, low-key option for folks looking to stretch their legs but not have to venture too far.  
Asheville is a live music destination.  Like I said at the top of this post, I used to not think twice about driving six hours to see a band play there.  This time around I managed to encounter some good music without even seeking it out.  For example, who should be playing at Jack of the Wood as part of their weekly bluegrass "jam"?...a pick-up band consisting of guitarist Jon Stickley (of the Jon Stickley Trio), his fiddle playing cohort Lyndsay Pruett, and up and coming mandolinist Thomas Cassell.  They were doing a set of mostly David Grisman or Dawg-like tunes.
Although I failed to make it to Salvage Station for what would have surely been good times, we did pop into One World Brewing on the night of their Soul Jazz Jam and I was impressed by the musicianship of the musicians taking part in an open jam.  Another musical highlight was a jazz trio at Little Jumbo (they have live jazz there every Monday).    

One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to check out book stores.  Downtown Asheville has an outstanding indie bookstore called Malaprop's.  I enjoyed sampling their staff selections area where I picked up a short story collection called North American Lake Monsters by a local author named Nathan Ballingrud.  So far the stories in it are sort of like Raymond Carver meets Stephen King.
For used books, I liked Downtown Books and News.  There I randomly found a book I had not been expecting to find and got a kick out of just poking around its selection of second-hand books.  

When venturing into West Asheville, a somewhat disheveled yet left-leaning locals-only neighborhood across the French Broad River, a must stop is Firestorm Books and Coffee, where one could easily spend some time perusing the shelves.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Five Tunes Written on Guitar (Numbers 75 to 71)

I've had my Vagabond Travel Guitar for about five weeks, and as of today I've written five new tunes on it.  These tunes are all fairly simple in structure and a lot of fun to play.  I don't think these would have come into existence if I hadn't gotten that guitar.  They feel like guitar melodies.  Here they are.

Love Awaits
I wasn't planning on writing a tune this morning but a hint of a lyric came to me while plucking the guitar around 9am today. It had sort of a bluegrass, mountain-music type feel to it so I jotted down the notes in this melody based on the sounds of the lyrics I was hearing in my head. Written and recorded on 10/27/18.

Daylight Graveyard
I was listening to the Manu Dibango album "B Sides" on Spotify when the track Fleur De Marigot caught my ear. This melody called Daylight Graveyard is partially influenced by that tune. It was written on 10/1618. Recorded 10/24/18.

Armadillo Babirusa
I came up with Armadillo Babirusa while having the sound of the Bill Frisell composition Amarillo Barbados in my head. Hence the similarity in titles. Written 10/12/18. Recorded 10/24/18.

Double Ruler
I wrote this tune on 10/10/18 - a day when I had been listening to the new Bacao Rhythm and Steel album as well as Bill Frisell's The Willies. I picked up my Vagabond guitar and these notes immediately poured out of it. This recording was made on 10/24/18.

This is the first tune I wrote on the Vagabond guitar.  It was written on 9/29/18 and recorded 10/1/18.  The idea for this melody came to me while listening to Joe Craven's Camptown album on Spotify. I hummed a skeleton of this melody the voice recorder and then later worked it out on guitar.


Monday, October 1, 2018

Seventy-First Tune, But First One Written on Guitar (Vagabond Travel Guitar)

I started playing guitar the day my Vagabond guitar arrived.  Within a week of getting it I was already starting to pluck out a new melody on it.  By 9/29/18 I had written this melody and named it Polecat On A Mission. 

Here's a non-edited phone recording of this tune I made a few minutes ago.  I played it several times through.

I'm so glad I got this Vagabond Travel Guitar.  Luthier Kevin Smith makes them in left-handed and it only took a couple weeks to arrive.  It needed no setup out of the box and it has taken really well to the all fourths tuning - EADGCF from low to high.

Having never played guitar before, I'm not comparing this guitar to the sound a feel of a normal sized acoustic.  To me it feels really good and is a lot of fun to play.  


Saturday, September 22, 2018

P4 Tuning Guitar

I've been playing tenor banjo for over ten years now.  Tenor banjo is tuned in fifths, either CGDA or GDAE.  This tuning is very symmetrical, but the fifth interval between the strings means that notes in closed positions don't really fit under the fingers.  To remedy this and yet retain a similar symmetry, I've been thinking that an all fourths tuning would be fun to try.

The day before yesterday I received a left-handed Vagabond guitar made by Kevin Smith of and tuned it EADGCF.  Note how the two highest strings are tuned up a semitone (from B to C and from E to F, respectively).  One of the first things I did was try and play the major scale across all six strings and as expected it fits very well under the fingers all up and down the neck.

After quickly familiarizing myself with where notes one through seven of the major scale are located, I then analyzed one of my tunes called Frosted Cherry and wrote out the melody in terms of where the notes fall on the major scale.  This is something I learned from David Reed's book Improvise for Real.  See image below, where the numbers begin 3 6 1 3 2 2 2.  In the Cmajor scale this would equate to the notes E A C E D D D.  In the Amajor scale these notes would be C# F# A C# B B B.  And so on.

With the Perfect Fourths (P4) tuning on guitar, you can play all of the notes of the major scale anywhere on the neck.  This also means that in this tuning the above melody to Frosted Cherry can be played in any key, in any position on the neck without ever having to use open strings.  This type of lead sheet replaces both guitar tab and sheet music and transcends key.

To make the recording below I found a random place on the neck to play the major scale.  I then figured out where the notes to Frosted Cherry would fall within that scale and played the tune.  As mentioned above this tune starts on note 3 of the major scale.  I don't even know what key I was in while playing it.  It was about playing out of a position, not a key.

Here's another sound sample.  A tune called Bye Bye Sol.  Recorded 09/23/2018.

That's all I have to say about this right now, but the possibilities seem endless.  

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tunes 62 Through 70

Back on June 10th I posted about a year of writing tunes.  In the three months since then I've added 8 more pieces to my catalog, bringing the total to 70.  That matches the number of compositions published by Thelonious Monk.  Just sayin'.

Time for a rundown I suppose.

Number 62: Emily Redoux, written on 6/24/18
For the A-part of this one I believe I took some of the notes from the written vocal melody to portions of Phish's album version of the title track to Story of the Ghost and re-arranged the rhythm and pacing to match a sound I had in my head.  Then the B-part seemed to just play itself.  There might be a tag at the end that was totally stolen from a melody that came up on Spotify.

Number 63: Show Ponies, written 6/28/18
I had the name Show Ponies before I had the tune.  So I had to write a melody to fit.  I gained inspiration by listening to Gitkin's 5 Star Motel.  However, one part of this tune may actually be completely original that I came up with on my own!

Number 64: Beach Breeze Motel, written 7/5/18
This piece was written to commemorate a vacation to Nova Scotia.  Played here on K-Board using the SampleTank app "Alto Sax" sound.  Ideas in this have been borrowed from or at least galvanized by Eamon O'Leary's song The Second Bottle.

Number 65: Yam Cakes and Ackee, written 7/23/18
Beginning with Yam Cakes and Ackee, I got on a little three-tune Caribbean kick.  I came up with this tune after listening to some St. Croix Quelbe music and the reggae group Black Uhuru. It was fairly effortless.

Number 66: Bye Bye Sol, written 8/9/18
I had a head full of ideas after seeing Phish for three nights in Alpharetta, Georgia in early August 2018. Bye Bye Sol and its sister tune La Luz are both composed almost entirely of sounds I heard (or thought I heard) in the music played during those three nights.  I couldn't wait to get home and get these ideas onto paper.

Number 67: La Luz, written 8/9/18
As mentioned above, tunes 66 and 67 were both distilled from music played by Phish on their stunning Summer 2018 tour.  With a name like La Luz, it's likely this tune owes its existence to the version of the song Light played by Phish on 8/7/18 in Camden, NJ.  Hot off the press.

Number 68: The September March, written 9/3/18
Sometimes for a song written by someone else, if I really want to know what the notes are, I'll request a transcription from Built to Last Music Notes.  I did that a few weeks back for a ragtime sounding number from the year 1916 called Guatemala-Panama March by the Hurtado Brothers Royal Marimba Band.  However, soon after sending that for transcription I decided to come up with my own melody based on the sound of that Hurtado Brothers composition.  Four days later this had become The September March.  I'm curious to see what the actual notes are when I get the transcription.  That'll help me know how "original" this one is.

Number 69: Not a Care in the World, written 9/12/18
For some reason this week I thought of and then felt like listening to the album of O'Carolan music released by mandolinist Butch Baldassari back in 2007.  The very first track - a set of two tunes for Young William Plunkett - caught my ear and made me want to write a melody just like it.  So I did.  Maybe this is too much like it!  What I ended up with was a notey, three-part, repetitive tune.  It's called Not a Care in the World because I was writing it on the Wednesday before Tropical Storm Florence was supposed to arrive.  I like that major to minor transition which happens between the two tunes in Baldassari's setting. Something similar happens here but it is between parts A and B.

Number 70: Little Cat Nicholas, written 9/12/18
On the occasion that a melody comes to me out of the blue, I'll usually try and hum it into my phone's voice recorder for later use.  Forget about that for a moment.  Earlier this week, late in the evening just before bed, I was putting away my banjo when I pulled it back out and began improvising a quiet, pretty, waltzy melody on the instrument for a few minutes. I didn't record it. I put the banjo away and went to sleep.  A day or two later - this would have been 9/12 - I decided to recall that melody.  I'm pretty sure this is that. I called it Little Cat Nicholas:  our temperamental cat Nicholas is approaching 20 years of age and is not long for this world, so this tune is dedicated to him.  Anyway, after all that I noticed a recording on my phone titled generically as "hummed melody" and it's pretty much this same tune.  So this was floating around for a little while and needed documenting.

Biting Cat Nicholas having a typically lazy day.  September 15, 2018.

Seventy.  Whew.  These are so much fun to play!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell Make Guitar Duo Album

Somewhere around mid-to-late August I learned that two of my favorite musicians, guitarists Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell, had released a duo record called The Maid with the Flaxen Hair.  That's past tense.  Made.  Released.  As in available as of July 2018 and therefore already out now at this very moment.  Why was I just then finding this out?  Weeks earlier I could have been listening to it, if only I had known.  Maybe you are finding out right now, as you read this.  I instantly went in search of this music. 

It wasn't easy to instantly find.  Spotify didn't have it.  (The album is on the Tzadik label, whose stuff isn't usually on Spotify.)  It also wasn't on Bandcamp.  Fine, I'll order it on vinyl, I thought.  Nope it's not available on vinyl.  That sucks.  It is on CD, but who buys CDs any more?  Still I wanted to hear it ASAP so I was willing to purchase the CD and then convert it to digital upon delivery (the only CD player I still have is on an old laptop).  But then, luckily, after first searching and not finding it, I found it on Amazon ready to be downloaded.  Finally, instant gratification.

And it's as awesome and refreshing as I had hoped it would be!  

Instead of each contributing original material, Frisell and Halvorson meet on middle ground by covering music associated with the sophisticated and dare I say easy listening 1950's era guitarist Johnny Smith, whom they both admire.  I'm not that familiar at all with Johnny Smith, nor am I that well versed in the jazz canon, so most of these melodies outside of Shenandoah were new to my ears.  Not complaining, but how many times does Bill Frisell need to record Shenandoah?!

I like the idea of interpreting songs from the golden era in a project like this because these standard(?) tunes bring with them very strong melodies.  Having that classic structure in place can give two adventurous musicians plenty of material to work with and build up from.

Now to the listening part.  Would it be cliche to say that Mary and Bill contribute exactly equally?  By that I mean neither guitarist outshines the other.  If anything they attempt to out humble each other.  This is not the multi-generational competitive battle of virtuosity or egos that it could have devolved into.  No, the two guitars blend in a delightfully cooperative way that is way more meditative, and far less noisey, flashy or "out" than one might expect.

It's not always easy to tell who is playing what, but if I had to guess I would say it sounds like Bill is playing more lead stuff and Mary is doing more accompaniment, but I'm not sure if those traditional roles even apply here.  And who knows, I could have it backwards.

I definitely know it's Mary when I hear her signature pitch-shifting.  She has yet to ever stray too far from that, no matter what the setting is.  In Bill's case he seems to play things fairly cleanly, but there is the presence of the delay/looper effects he is known for.  Hearing these innovative guitarists' immediately recognizable and iconic individual characteristics being played in tandem, as on Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair, is quite satisfying.

Frankly, I'm not really listening to hear who is doing what...instead I'm just bathing in the calming sound this beautiful work induces.  I'm so happy this music now exists and it came out better and more tasteful than I could have ever imagined.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Silverleaf Travolin Travel Mandolin

Luckily I was home this morning when my Travolin mandolin by Silverleaf Instruments arrived a day early!  The Travolin is a high quality travel mandolin made by Steve Hallee in Maine.  Mine is a custom 4-string left-handed version (normally they have 8-strings just like a regular mandolin).

For reasons unknown I woke up this morning wanting to learn the Monty Norman song Under the Mango Tree from the James Bond movie Dr. No.  When the Travolin was delivered I had just about gotten the tune of it so Under the Mango Tree was the first thing I played on the Travolin.  That islandy song seems well suited to this instrument.  Here's an overdubbed recording I made today with the Travolin as lead melody, my Romero tenor banjo for the chords, and a metal scraper on a metal patio table to "approximate" the sound of a snare drum.

This 4-string version of the Travolin is 20 inches long and 5.5 inches wide.  It has a scale length of about 13.25 inches.  It's the best feeling, sounding and playing travel mandolin I've had, and the most compact.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

T Banjo's Five Favorite Albums of 2018 - So Far

John Prine - Tree of Forgiveness
When John Prine puts out a new album chances are good it's going to mesh extremely well with his existing body of work, like a new chapter in an unfinished story.  Tree of Forgiveness sits on equal terms with John's best albums from the 70's, 80's, 90's, 2000's and 2010's.  Prine has given us a tremendous gift with this addition to his legacy.  Listening to Tree of Forgiveness is like a musical meditation.

Eamon O'Leary - All Souls
He may never be well known, but Eamon O'Leary is a musician's musician - someone who is just as likely to be playing in an Irish session as he is to be on stage at a folk festival.  On All Souls Eamon has fine-tuned his brand of self-penned melancholy ballads and distilled it into a near perfect ten song package.  There's a seductive edge to these songs.  O'Leary is a charmer and this a record to be listened to on a moonlit night with your lover, a couple bottles of wine and an illegal smile.

Jimi Tenor - Order of Nothingness
Spotify has been helping me hone in on the sound I'm looking for and now it probably knows what I'm going to like better than I do.  Jimi Tenor is one of those that popped up on my new release radar.  I started with the songs My Mind Will Travel and Quantum Connection.  Those made it to a summer playlist I've been putting together and primed my taste for this album of full-on trippy and soulful Euro funk jazz.

Gitkin - 5 Star Motel
I have no idea what this is.  I just like it.  The music is a global smorgasbord, reminiscent of Akira Satake, Laika and the Cosmonats or Khruangbin.  The grooves are heavy and the melodies are up front and catchy, just the way I like them.  This could just be some guy in his bedroom playing all the instruments.  I don't know.  The track Cancion Del Rey fits perfectly on a summer playlist, although really anything here could have made the cut.

The Congos and Pura Vida - Morning Star
I only recently became aware of the 1977 album Heart of the Congos, considered to be one of the best reggae albums of all time.  So it was good timing to find out that The Congos were teaming up with Belgian Rasta musician and producer Pura Vida to put out a new album called Morning Star.  I've probably listened to this album about ten times in the last week.  It's fresh and rootsy.  Nothing beats the falsetto vocals of Cedric Myton sprinkled throughout.


Monday, July 2, 2018

Lunenburg or Wolfville?

First time visitors to Nova Scotia may feel compelled, like I did, to drive 1,000+ miles and try and see as much of the maritime province as possible: the South Shore, the Bay of Fundy, the Northumberland Shore, Cape Breton, the Eastern Shore, the Halifax metro area, et cetera. Second time visitors are probably ready to focus on one or two places.  For me those two places would be Lunenburg and Wolfville.

Lunenburg is located on Nova Scotia's South Shore, about an hour and twenty minute drive from Halifax. The walkable town is positioned on a hillside overlooking a harbour and its main section is three or four parallel streets lined with bed and breakfasts, inns, local restaurants and shops.  For a small town of about 2,300 people, Lunenburg is rich in amenities designed to welcome and charm visitors.  Despite being touristy, there's also an element of lived-in authenticity that gives Lunenburg an edge over its more bland neighbor Mahone Bay.
With its location on the Lighthouse Route - the province's scenic drive along the South Shore - you're assured of meandering waterside roads whether you head east of Lunenburg toward Chester and Peggy's Cove or west toward LaHave, Petite Riviere and beyond.  The twisty coastal road between Hubbards and Mahone Bay might have been my favorite stretch in all of Nova Scotia.  There are many beaches nearby as well.  Three well known ones are Hirtle's Beach, Crescent Beach and Risser's Beach.

If you're looking for an even smaller seaside town that's a little bit closer to Halifax, consider Chester.  I only stopped in Chester for lunch but it made me wish that I had planned to spend at least one night there.  From Chester you can take a ferry to the Tancook Islands and spend a few hours exploring.

My other favorite place in Nova Scotia was Wolfville.  This college town is about an hour north of Halifax, making it very accessible to travelers.  While the town itself doesn't have the quintessential attractiveness and layout of Lunenburg, Wolfville does back up to the Bay of Fundy's Minas Basin where the world famous Nova Scotia tides go in and out every six hours.  From Wolfville it's a short drive to places like Evangeline Beach or Hall's Harbour where this phenomenon can really be observed.

Wolfville is smack dab in the middle of Nova Scotia's wine region - the Gaspereau Valley.  Several wineries are within a 30 minute drive and the wine is surprisingly good for somewhere so far north.  Perhaps because of the wine draw, Wolfville also has an elevated food scene.  Some of the best dining in the province outside of Halifax is located here.  Nearby Port William is also worth checking out for its food and drink.
Nova Scotia's Wine Region
Evangeline Beach, Cape Blomidon in distance
If you visited Wolfville just for the wine and food alone that would be enough, but there's also excellent hiking not far away.  Cape Split and Blomidon Provincial Park each offer very challenging rambles for the hiking enthusiast.  It's also very bike-friendly (as is Lunenburg).

Being a college town, Wolfville is not so tourist reliant, so there's a progressive buzz going on there year round, complete with bookstores, an arts scene, and an awareness of healthy living options.  The thinking seems to be that if the residents are happy, then the visitors are sure to be as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Year of Writing Tunes

One year ago, on or about the 14th of June 2017, I wrote my first tune - Toca Paseo.  That broke the ice and within two months I had ten tunes to play.  By that point I had already set a goal to write fifty tunes in one year.  I got there early, reaching the 50th tune in February, 2018.  Then I gave myself a stretch goal to make it sixty tunes in one year.  Here it is June 10, 2018 and I'm at 60 tunes.  (As I write this number 61 is forming).

There were times throughout the past year where I was really focused on this project, which can be both unnecessarily stressful and satisfying.  The process writing and thinking about a melody would get my mind racing and then it would be hard to turn that off and go to sleep, especially if something felt unfinished.  

My 60 tunes now exist and I like all of them, but I think my favorites are the very easy ones, so simple they could be nursery rhymes, where due to their simplicity the act of playing them becomes like a meditation...the melody a mantra.  Hopefully more on this later as I develop a better sense of where this is going.  For now, back to the tunes at hand.  

Number 60 is called Blind Eel.  It was written on 5/23/18 just before I went to Nova Scotia and then solidified while there.  The A-part, which I play on tenor banjo in this recording, is inspired by Phish's improvised jam during It's Ice from 7/23/17.  The B-part, which I play on K-board using a vibraphone sound, is influenced by the Korean folk song Doragi.

As a bonus, here's number 61 called Rhubarb.  It didn't exist yesterday and now it does!  I hummed the sound of the melody into my phone before going to sleep last night and immediately played the notes on an instrument as I was waking up this morning.  Rhubarb is dedicated to my recent trip to Nova Scotia.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Nova Scotia Trip: Top Ten Experiences

The 9-night trip to Nova Scotia that Laura and I just took totaled over 1,000 miles of "avoid highways" type driving and included the splendid seacoast along the Southern Shore, the floral rolling hills of the bucolic Gaspereau wine region with its views of the Minas Basin, the rugged and dramatic island of Cape Breton, and much more.  Here are my top ten experiences, in no particular order:

Lunch at Le Caveau Restaurant
After stopping for a tasting of their excellent wine, we enjoyed lunch at Domaine De Grand Pré Winery's renowned Le Caveau Restaurant, considered to be among the 20 best winery restaurants in the world and certainly one of the better restaurants in all of Nova Scotia.  The restaurant lived up to its reputation and sitting outdoors on Le Caveau's garden-like patio on a warm May afternoon only added to the experience.  I opted for the Kalbi Marinated Coppa Steak with Muscat wine while Laura purchased the Big Chicken Crunch.  We parked at the viewing area for the Grand Pré historical site and rambled to and from the restaurant via the vineyard walk.

LaHave Bakery
We were one of three cars taking the LaHave Ferry on a Sunday morning.  The ferry, located off 332, crosses the LaHave River and while it does cut some driving time for those traveling along Nova Scotia's Southern Shore, one of the main reasons people take the ferry seems to be to visit the LaHave Bakery on the other side.  Turn left when departing the ferry and you can't miss it on the left along the water.  All three cars on the ferry stopped there; that includes us!  The LaHave Bakery is a hippie-ish place serving coffee drinks, pastries and scones, as well as more substantial meals.  There are benches and tables outside to linger on, plus a craft store and bookshop in the same building.
Benches an small beach outside LaHave Bakery
Barry Colpitts Folk Art
If you've seen the movie Maudie starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke then you know of Nova Scotia's famous folk artist Maud Lewis.  What I didn't begin to realize until a few days after arriving is how much of a thing folk art continues to be in Maritime Canada.  Late May/Early June is the off-season, so the Black Sheep Gallery wasn't open yet, but I did wake up on the 2nd to last day of our trip compelled to Google and then subsequently happy to learn that our driving route for that morning would take us right past the home of folk artist Barry Colpitts.  His work is primarily whimsical wood carvings painted in bright maritime colors and his home and shed are covered with these creations.  Barry was home when I knocked on his door and was more than happy to give us a tour of the property.  This was one of the definite highlights of the trip and I'm so glad I was able to get a little bear with a bird on his back to bring home as a memento!
Barry Colpitts' House - East Ship Harbour, NS

Hiking to the Lookoff at the Top of Fair Alistair's Mountain in Mabou
The Cape Mabou Trail Club prints a brochure called Hiking Trails of the Cape Mabou Highlands, available for sale at the Mabou Freshmart and probably other places.  I was looking at it while having lunch at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou when the waitress recommended the hike to the look-off on the Mabou Post Trailhead.  She gave us verbal directions to the trailhead which supplemented the description in the brochure.  It's quite a ways down a pot-hole filled gravel road so I might not have had the encouragement to make the drive there without her recommendation.  But I'm glad I persevered because once we found the trailhead the hike was a challenging yet rewarding climb to the top of Alistair's Mountain with views down to Mabou Harbour below and beyond.  The black flies on the trail were a bit pesky though.

We did some sort of hiking/trail walking every single day.  Other great hikes:  The Coastal Trail and Jack Pine Loop combo in Cape Breton Highlands National Park between Black Brook and Neil's Harbour, the Jodrey Trail at Blomidon Provincial Park, and the Bob Bluff Trail at Taylor Head Provincial Park.
Looking off at Finlay Point and beyond 
Watching the Fundy Tides at Evangeline Beach
The highest tides in the world can be found in Nova Scotia on the Bay of Fundy.  At places like Burntcoat Head the tides rise and fall over 40 feet every six hours.  It's quite remarkable.  Our ocean view room at a nondescript motel next to an RV park at Evangeline Beach offered a panoramic view view of the Bay of Fundy's Minas Basin.  At low tide you can walk out several kilometers on the muddy sea floor, but at high tide the water comes up all the way to the bank and sometimes sprays over.  We saw more low-tide than high-tide due to the times of day this was happening during our two-night stay there.  Words can't describe and pictures can't convey the beauty of looking out over the Minas Basin toward Cape Blomidon from Evangeline Beach.
Lowish tide at Evangeline Beach. Blomidon in the distance.
Walking the Labyrinth at Tangled Garden
At Tangled Garden I learned that a labyrinth is not a maze. Where a maze is intended to confuse, a labyrinth is meant to quiet and clarify. (You can't get lost in a labyrinth).  Labyrinths are ancient geometric spirals that are tuned like musical instruments to resonate at frequencies that assist one in entering the non-rational intuitive realm.  It takes about 15 minutes to walk through Tangled Garden's wildflower labyrinth at a meditative pace.  At the entrance you're supposed to quiet your mind and allow a question to form, or ask "what do I need to know at this time?"  The physical act of walking meditation balances body and spirit.  I have to admit that it was quite rejuvenating.  After walking the labyrinth and pondering the surrounding gardens we enjoyed tasting some of the delicious fruit and herb liqueurs that Tangled Garden distills.
Tangled Garden Labyrinth

Sipping on Nova Scotian Wine on the Dock of the Dunlop Inn in Baddeck
Baddeck is a nice little town in Cape Breton, however, there wasn't much going in Baddeck during the early season to make one want to linger in a restaurant or pub for the evening* - all the more reason to indulge in a bottle of wine like a Tidal Bay or Castel and savor it while taking in the view of the Kidston Island Lighthouse from the Dunlop Inn after a long day of touring the Cabot Trail.  If a stay in Baddeck is on your itinerary then I highly recommend staying at the Dunlop Inn.  Baddeck a perfect base for day trips to Ingonish, Cheticamp or Glenora, and the Dunlop Inn owners Carl and Jerrianne have a great little place there with unbeatable waterside views from the sunroom, kitchen, deck and dock, with lots of places to sit and relax.

*I have to retract that lack of nightlife statement a bit.  We stayed in Baddeck for two nights.  On the first night we walked in to Tom's Pizza just as musician Deron O'Donnobhain was finishing for the evening.  When I sat down he asked if we had any requests to which I replied "Have you played any John Prine songs yet tonight?" which garnered laughs from all those around because his set must have already included plenty of Stan Rogers and John Prine songs.  He then chose to sing Knockin' On Your Screen Door (!) - the first song on the brand new John Prine album.  It was great to hear this!  Freshy fresh.

Kidston Island Lighthouse, Baddeck
Watching a Sea Gull Try to Catch Fish on the Liscomb River
We arrived at the Liscombe Lodge on the only rainy day of our trip and discovered that the cabin/chalet we were staying in was the perfect place to spend a cold, drizzly day in rural Nova Scotia.  The Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia is not quite on the tourist map in the same way as the South Shore, Bay of Fundy or Cape Breton are, but nonetheless it offers an impressive highland landscape and coastal views aplenty along roads that are almost completely devoid of other cars.  Soon after settling in to the cabin we noticed a tenacious sea gull determined to catch fish on the river that rolled by before us.  About once an hour it might be lucky enough to catch a fish, but it couldn't fly with the fish in its mouth, it couldn't swallow the fish whole, and it wasn't smart enough or equipped with the proper talons to tear into the fish and eat it that way.  Every fish it caught would ultimately escape much to the frustration of this single-minded bird.  All the while a clever crow appeared to be eating fish galore.  Mr. Sea Gull was still hunting as the sun went down and there again perched on the same rock among the river rapids as the sun came up the next morning.  He's either onto something or not quite right in the head.  
River outside chalet cabin at Liscombe Lodge Resort
Moose Sighting Along the Cabot Trail
We did the Cabot Trail counter clockwise and on the western side during one of the few straightaways between French Mountain and Cheticamp I spotted a moose far off in the distance eating grass along the left hand side of the road.  Unfortunately a car coming the other way also spotted the moose and was stopped to take a picture just as we were passing by which may have spooked it so we weren't able to get a photo.  It was great to see a moose though, and thankfully we didn't encounter any bears or coyotes on any of our hikes or leg stretches.  The image below will have to do.

Distillery Tastings at Ironworks and Steinhart
The folks at Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg could not have been more friendly or generous with their tastings.  There must have been 15+ spirits to choose from!  I didn't try them all but the ones I did taste were all very good, especially the blueberry and rhubarb liqueurs and the limited edition Shipwrecked Rum Boat rum!  Similarly, the tasting we did at Steinhart Distillery near Arisaig was a fun time.  Steinhart is a welcome sight along the scenic yet remote stretch of road numbered 245 and 337 on the Sunrise Trail.  Steinhart is about 30 minutes from the nearest town - Antigonish - but well worth the visit.  Their Maple Vodka was yummy.

Morning view of Lunenburg from Blue Nose golf course across harbour