Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Five Artists Whose Music I Would Take with me to a Desert Island

This is a dumb article that I'm only writing because it's New Years Eve (12/31/2020) today and there's nothing else to be doing right now.

If I could only take one band or musician's music to a desert island that one band would be....


I don't know exactly what the rules are in this make-believe scenario - whether it's only official releases that can be taken, or a mix-tape "best of", or only a certain number of hours but whatever the parameters are Phish would be my number one pick. 

I  know it's cliché, but if I could bring along a 2nd catalog of music it would be The Grateful Dead. And by Grateful Dead I primarily mean Jerry Garcia. So if a loophole in the rules allowed me to select "Jerry Garcia" and that allowed me to bring both his solo work and the Grateful Dead's output that would be ideal.

Next I would choose the music of Sun Ra. The number of recordings that Sun Ra has had his name on probably numbers in the hundreds, so there's a lot to choose from when selecting Sun Ra. This choice also widely expands the range of sounds to be heard as Sun Ra delved into everything from big band to straight ahead jazz to exotica to funk to free form noise. 

I would also have to include John Prine among the five. John's music meant a lot to me and I can think of no one better to fill the singer-songwriter role than him. I don't know if there would be alcohol on this island, but many a night could be spent singing along with John Prine's well crafted songs, with or without booze.

There really isn't an order to this, it's just how they came to mind, but for the last pick I'd have to go with Gillian Welch. If there's something that Phish, The Grateful Dead, John Prine, and Sun Ra all have in common is they put out a lot of music. Until this year the same couldn't quite be said about Gillian Welch, but thanks to the recordings that have emerged this year she now has enough output for that to no longer cause any hesitancy.  

If it's five and done I'm missing Bill Frisell, Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Medeski Martin and Wood, and soooooooo much more. 

This was a dumb thing to write but now I'm done. Time to watch The Wolf of Snow Hollow.

Which is Better? Kettlebells vs Dumbbells, Steel Mace vs Steel Clubs

Kettlebells, dumbbells, mace bells, club bells. Before 2020 I had only heard of or used one of these: dumbbells. Each of the others I was introduced to over the course of this year. Here are my current thoughts after about one year of exposure. This could evolve as I gain more experience.

I like the handle on the
Domyos kettlebell

Kettlebells for the win

There's a reason kettlebells continue to be so popular. Once you obtain kettlebells in a few different weights you basically have all you really need. Lighter weight kettlebells are great for certain moves or cardio based "get your heart pumping" type workouts, while the heavier weighted KBs can pretty much cover all of your full body, strength-training goals.

There's a plethora of YouTube videos to provide you with new ideas when you run out of old ones. And there's definitely more to kettlebells than just swinging, and more to swinging than just the first couple swings you learn about. The only con that I see to kettlebells comes from personal experience. One day this summer I felt a sharp pain in my back while swinging one and that put me off kettebells for a few days, and any type of swings for a while longer. I recommend seeking out the assistance of a professional trainer (like Will Parker at Girya Garage) when first starting with kettlebells to make sure your form is correct and that you have all the help and guidance you need.

Steel Mace in at number two

I signed up for Instagram this year and curated my feed in such a way that 80% of what I see seems to be men and women doing mace 360's or 10-and-2's so I'm not a good judge of its popularity. By this standard steel maces are "everywhere", but of course in reality they remain pretty obscure. I will say that I really, really enjoy exercising with steel mace and for the bulk of this year it was my overall personal favorite exercise tool. You can tap into some kind of primeval vibe when using a mace or gada, and that is a big part of its appeal.

Kettlebells overtook mace on my personal list by the end of this year simply because kettlebells are more versatile - there's a wider variety of things you can do with them, or at least that's how it feels right now. Mace is a bit more limited in my experience thus far, but for what it does it does it well.  One of my goals for 2021 is to expand my steel mace knowledge and become more creative with it. 

Clubs at number three (club bells, steel club, Persian meels, et cetera)

Karlakattai or mudgar style club made in India

I found it hard to make full use of clubs this year, be it wood or steel. I made some mistakes early on by buying the wrong type of steel club. The wrong design for me at least. And after going all-in for kettlebells and steel mace it was hard to make room for or see the need for club bell practice each week. I also bought some lightweight wooden Indian Clubs earlier this year before realizing what I really wanted was heavier clubs like Persian Meels. Things started to shift once I got a shena pushup board and some starter meels to go along with it. What felt heavy at first eventually became pretty manageable as I carved some time each Tuesday and Friday morning for this specific activity.

As we roll into 2021 I fully expect club swinging to have a bigger impact on my life, so its status could change. Thanks to Mark Robson at Me First Fitness I've finally been turned on to a brand of steel club bell that has the proper weight distribution and dimensions (the TAP Bell Club by Oates Specialties) and I have become vaguely familiar with terms such as "karlakattai" and "mudgar" which should open doors to new possibilities.

Goldens' cast iron dumbbells 
Made in the USA

Batting Fourth - Dumbbells

2020 wasn't the first year of my life that I've really gotten into exercise, although it was the first year in a long time where I really went at it this seriously and sustainably through a combination of research and diet plus commitment/obsession. In years past when I would go through sporadic, fleeting exercise spurts the dumbbell was my usual go-to. So for the first few weeks of 2020 dumbbells were all I had handy as I got back into strength training on a regular basis. Once kettlebells entered my home the old dumbbells once again began to acquire dust. That is about to change though!

If kettlebells are like vinyl LPs, then dumbbells must be like CDs or maybe even cassettes. Maybe a better analogy is if clubs are like chopsticks then the dumbbell is like a fork. They aren't trendy or as cool looking or as exotic, but they are dependable with a tried and true design. My wife and I plan on converting our guest bedroom into a home gym, and once that is set up I plan on adding some heavier dumbbells to my collection and making it part of my regular routine.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

2020: More or Less

In 2020 the more was more, and the less was less. I don't know why I did the italics like that. 

I did some form of exercise almost every day this year, whether it was kettlebells, steel mace, shena pushups and wooden clubs, long walks in town, tai chi heavy ball, or nature hikes. And no I didn't know what a lot of that was on 1/1/2020 but I learned. Unlike previous years, a once a week 3 or 4 mile hike in the woods was not my primary form of exercise, so it became positioned as a can't miss leisurely country ramble I did on my off day. A nature bath, if you will.

Music Playing
After a 2.75 year stretch of creative output and an 8 year period of daily music playing, I started to let that go this year. Something had to give I guess and musical instrument playing (ie creativity) took a hit. It was actually kind of a relief to let this slip after an almost three year grind where I had tasked myself with a stressful ongoing goal of writing one tune per week. I don't know when I'll be opening that tap again or even if it will be a decision I'm fully in control of.

I easily read over fifty books this year. Granted, 80 to 90 percent of them were in the detective fiction mystery series genre, as in Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch, Renee Ballard), Walter Mosley (Easy Rawlins), Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer), and Gar Anthony Haywood (Aaron Gunner). Why that kick?  I don't know but I stuck with it. Every so often I'd also read a vintage horror book from the Valancourt Books catalog to change things up, although it was mainly hard-boiled series.  If I found something I liked, I tended to read several if not all the books in the series in 2020. That was new for me. 

What is Fourth World?
Never heard of that genre.
Shouldn't it have been 4th though?
Live Music
Nothing unique here. My big three live music events for 2020 were all cancelled: the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, three nights of Phish in Atlantic City, and the Richmond Folk Festival. Personally, I didn't miss it as much as you might think. As someone for whom live music is expected to be a big part of their life, whose identity was partially defined by being a live music person, it was surprisingly easy to shed. Frankly, the party-like atmosphere and the risk of over-indulgence associated with going out to see music has been casting a shadow on that experience in my case for years now. So having a forced break allowed an opportunity for introspective growth, self-discipline and preparedness for what's to come. Hopefully I'll be ready.

It's amazing how much time not having to do a 50 minute commute back and forth each way to work adds to your life. (Is it amazing though? It's 50 minutes. That in and of itself isn't amazing, per se.) I enjoyed/I've been enjoying working from home. It didn't/It doesn't bother me. I like repetition and consistency. If most days are the same that means going to bed by 10pm and getting up by 6:30am. Instead of not having time for a morning workout I suddenly had plenty of time for a 30-minute workout with time left over to read a book and enjoy coffee before having to open up the work laptop. Saving on gas. What's not to like about that? I did listen to fewer podcasts in 2020 since that's mainly something I would do while driving by myself in the car to and from work. Nope, my home office involved sitting at the kitchen bistro table with a view of the birds and squirrels at the bird feeders out back.

In 2020 I ate nearly all of my meals at home, so I was able to get a handle on my food intake and take control of my diet. Consistency helps. A keto drink for breakfast. Cheese, fresh spinach, and deli meats for lunch. Chicken thighs with cauliflower rice, or ground turkey with celery, or bacon, eggs and arugula for dinner. Repeat. Not going out to eat. Not getting takeout that often. Not over eating. Keeping it simple. This, plus daily exercise, allowed me to lose forty pounds this year. I also wore the same shirt for 30 days in a row without washing it. You could do kind of thing in 2020.

I don't know what more I can do in 2021 other than just try and dial everything up a notch.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

A Decade's Worth of Top Album Picks: 2011 To Now

Here's a look back at a decade's worth of best album of the year picks...from 2011 until now.

2011 List

In 2011 I picked Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong as my album of the year. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Dawes and I may have cooled some in the years since, but it was an amicable parting of ways. I could play Nothing Is Wrong right now and sing along with every song, and maybe even get a little teary eyed as a result. However, my #2 pick from that year - The Harrow and the Harvest by Gillian Welch - has risen to even higher prominence in the ensuing years, proving to be one of the best albums of the last decade. Meanwhile, a forgotten gem from 2011 is the Jamacian mento album We Will Wait (like a folkier reggae) by Blue Glaze Mento Band. Well worth seeking out. 

2012 List

2012 is very heavy on folk, old-time and trad but its supreme leader is still the same as it was then: The Murphy Beds' self-titled debut album. A desert-island disc for me. The Murphy Beds are Eamon O'Leary and Jefferson Hamer. They're still somewhat active as a duo, but unfortunately there never was a 2nd Murphy Beds album. At least not yet. 2012's dark horse is Dan Gurney - Traditional Irish Music on the Button Accordion. That one's pretty pure. Plus Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio. Nice!

2013 List

Even by 2013 The Sadies were already an established favorite of mine, but a young previously unheard of Scottish Alt. Country band called The Wynntown Marshalls gave them a run for their money. The Sadies won out in the end and that was a good decision as I have continued to listen to Internal Sounds quite frequently in the time since. A couple forgotten gems from that year are Mandolins at the Cakewalk by The Ragtime Skedaddlers and Redlight Rag by Rattletrap Ruckus.

2014 List

Here we see the beginnings of an experimental streak that continues to this day. Rhyton - Kykeon as number one. Nice pick if I do say so myself. Go back and listen to that and see if you don't agree. Greg Cohen - Golden State is one that I have grown to love even more, and Xylouris White - Goats continues to get better and better with every listen. Goats might be the new number one if I was to do it over again.

2015 List

2015 wasn't that long ago and I don't see anything wrong with any of these picks. Nowadays I would definitely elevate Mary Halvorson - Meltframe to the top of the list. Although I'm not sure it could unseat Tomeka Reid. Mary Halvorson is all over this list actually. Also give Susan Alcorn a listen if you can find her recordings. 2015 is looking pretty good.

Woolen Men - Post.
I totally missed this one in 2018!

2016 List

For some reason I could only come up with five favorite new albums in 2016? I guess I didn't yet know about Idris Ackamoor - We Be All Africans, Psychic Temple - Plays Music for Airports, or Atlantis Jazz Ensemble - Oceanic Suite. If one of those didn't occupy the number one slot, then a worthy resident would have been I Long to See You by Charles Lloyd and the Marvels.

2017 List

In 2017, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile helped get me back on track. And they stayed one step ahead of The War on Drugs. There's some really good stuff further down this 2017 list: Ches Smith, Jenny Scheinman, and Wolf!  Actually Wolf! should have been on the 2016 list! Missing altogether is Jake Xerxes Fussell. I didn't know about him yet.

2018 List

Nothing wrong with this list. It's full of goodies. Even my 2018 albums that you might have missed list has got it going on. And to think that I hadn't heard of the band The Woolen Men until this year so there's no mention of them at all yet. I'm pretty sure The Woolen Men's brilliant 2018 album Post would have been near the top of the list had I known about it.

2019 List

By 2019 I was fully under the influence of Spotify for good or ill. The platform's algorithm had figured out my musical taste and spoon fed me one personalized hit after another. It looks like I chose not to rank my 2019 list but instead just narrowed it down to ten favorites. A year later I'm thinking Carla Dal Forno - Look Up Sharp is a strong contender for number one. Although there is some very strong competition from Goes West by William Tyler and The Borametz Tree by C. Joynes and the Furlong Bray. One year ago I didn't yet know about The Reds, Pinks and Purples yet so Anxiety Art is strikingly absent from last year's list. That was a pretty big omission. Apologies to Glenn Donaldson.

2020 List

Just posted today!  Will Sleeper and Snake hold on to the top position or will they be overtaken by Silverbacks? Or will I soon be turned on to something that I'm currently unaware of and kick myself for not including it? Time will tell. I also posted a much longer 2020 music list and chances are good that some off-handed reference from that grouping will grow in stature in the future. 


Friday, December 11, 2020

The Ten Best Albums of 2020 - As Chosen By Me

Last week I posted a long, toilsome list of the year's best music albums. Link here.

For those that don't have time for that kind of slog, here's a quick rundown of the year's ten best. And yes I am picking a sleepy little Ozzie wombat pop record as my number one. 

Number 1: Sleeper and Snake - Fresco Shed

Conjures Visions Of: kangaroos, barbecues, Subaru Outbacks, down under blankets, and those frilled-neck lizards that run on their hind legs. Those thorny devils those.

Reminds Me Of: The Moldy Peaches, Young Marble Giants, Lotta Sea Lice, Daniel Johnston.

Why I Like It: drum machines, super catchy songs, saxophones, and a DIY approach. What's not to like?

Number 2: Silverbacks - Fad

Conjures Visions Of: Singing along with the radio.

Reminds Me Of: Camper Van Beethoven, Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, The Hold Steady.

Why I Like It: These Irish lads (and lass) know how to rock.

Number 3: Ron Miles - Rainbow Sign

Conjures Visions Of: Being at one of those ideal jazz clubs like you see in movies, for both the early and late sets (you ain't going nowhere).

Reminds Me Of: Blue Note's golden era where every record was a winner.

Why I Like It: One word - Melody. Ron Miles can write some tunes, and with the best of the best accompanying him this band delivers track after track after track. A soon to be classic.

Number 4: Gillian Welch: Boots No. 2 - The Lost Songs, Vol 1, 2 and 3

Conjures Visions Of: Walking the streets of 'Frisco in a brand new pair of shoes.

Reminds Me Of: Gillian Welch songs willed into existence.

Why I Like It: Quantity and quality. These "throw-away" songs are unbelievably good.

Number 5: Surprise Chef - All News is Good News

Conjures Visions Of: Having a tailor make you a suit designed to look like it came from a thrift store, but with just enough bespoke touches that someone with an eye for it can tell that it's hand made.

Reminds Me Of: That legendary funk jazz album from the 1970's the crate diggers rave about.

Why I Like It: From the sound of it, you would never know that this is another contemporary Australian band. 

Number 6: Bill Frisell - Valentine

Conjures Visions Of: That strange dream you had last night.

Reminds Me Of: Three musicians listening and responding to each other.

Why I Like It: Not many artists produce a career-defining work 30+ years into their career, but Frisell did with Valentine.

Number 7: Elds Mark - Elds Mark

Conjures Visions Of: Strange rituals in the deep dark woods of the far far north.

Reminds Me Of: Everything that's good about Scandinavian music right now.

Why I Like It: You're constantly wondering, "is this the same album?".

Number 8: This Is The Kit - Off Off On

Conjures Visions Of: Popping a cassette tape into the boombox and playing it loud enough so that someone else can hear it besides me.

Reminds Me Of: Someone who writes and creates her own songs, with internal muse as the primary influence.

Why I Like It: What kind of banjo is that she's playing? Then those horns come in.

Number 9: Martin Rude & Jakob Skøtt Duo - The Discipline Of Assent

Conjures Visions Of: Constantly being on the verge of something.

Reminds Me Of: Too much. Desert Blues, Miles Davis, Pink Robots.

Why I Like It: It's what I was looking for.

Number 10: Los Days - Singing Sands

Conjures Visions Of: Tumbleweeds, distant horizons, trotting horses.

Reminds Me Of: Friends of Dean Martinez, Atmospheres and Soundtracks, Ennio Morricone.

Why I Like It: It's Tommy Guerrero.


Saturday, December 5, 2020

2020: The Year's Best Music Albums - Jazz, Rock, Folk, and more

More good music came out in 2020 than any year in recent memory. Here are some you might want to check out if you haven't already.


When it comes to rock, and by rock I mostly mean post-punk, nothing rocked me as hard as 3D Routine by Leeds, UK band Mush. You have to be in the right mood to listen to it, but when you are it sounds great. For a more well rounded yet still punkish approach, try Fad by the Irish band Silverbacks. During the album's thirty-five and a half minutes this Dublin-based guitar-oriented group pulls off every (rock) trick in the book. Delving further, Berkeley, California's Naked Roommate proudly demonstrates some Arthur Russel worthy grooves on Do the Duvet, while Portland, Oregon's Lithics make a good case for a getting a snake tattoo with Tower of Age.  If Krautrock is more your thing, have a listen to Mexico City's Sei Still.


Something strange is going on in Northern Europe - a mix of spiritual or modal jazz meets heavy doses of their native folk music, sprinkled with spices from Africa and other parts of the globe. Prime example: Downhill Uplift by Norway's Stein Urheim, a journey which can go from sounding like Sun Ra to Ry Cooder to Pink Floyd in one song. Staying in Norway for a moment, 2020 also saw the release of Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth's Fragmentarium, which features Stein Urheim on guitar and bouzouki.  

Some of the best jazz of the year - if you can call it that - came from Denmark's Martin Rude and Jakob Skøtt Duo who released not one but two brilliant albums this year: The Discipline of Assent and The Dichotomy of Control. Returning to Norway, the self-titled Elds Mark record made me imagine woodland wizard creatures celebrating their annual holidays.

Aussies Represent
Thanks to artists like Courtney Barnett, King Gizzard and many more that I'm not going to mention, Australia has been hard to miss the last few years. Hey, Men at Work was prolly my first legit favorite band (Cargo on vinyl in 1983 at age 9) so my Australian credentials go way back. This year I want to mention two Australian artists that jumped to the head of the cluster. Firstly, Sleeper and Snake from Melbourne. There's a sound I tend to like and Sleeper and Snake makes it on Fresco Shed. The drum machines, the saxophones, off-the-wall anti-folk. Me like it. 

For a totally different Australian band, I highly recommend Surprise Chef, also from Melbourne. (Sydney - you need to step up your game). Four young Australians should not be able to make funky groove music with this much soul and maturity. All News is Good News might have been first released in 2019, but we didn't hear it here in the states until 2020 so it's a 2020 album. To top it off, Surprise Chef surprised us with a 2nd full studio album a few months later with Daylight Savings. New favorite band alert.

New Acoustic
A classic example of the instrumental New Acoustic "genre" is 1989's masterpiece The Telluride Sessions which featured the cumulative efforts of Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Mark O'Connor, and Edgar Meyer. Whoah. Other examples might include The David Grisman Quintet, Turtle Island String Quartet, Scotland's Shooglenifty, and Sweden's Väsen. Anyway, to my ears there's been a dearth of this type of music for a good couple decades now. 

The wait is over. Two up and coming bands are carrying on this innovation, albeit in different ways, and those are Hawktail and Jon Stickley Trio. Both released fantastic albums in 2020. Hawktail's Formations has all the tune-writing, nuance and sophistication one could hope for, while Jon Stickley Trio's Scripting the Flip is sure to get you dancing in the aisles. So make some aisles in your kitchen and then dance in them.

Slow Stoner Jams
Singing Sands is more easy-going than anything Tommy Guerrero has ever put out. Under the moniker Los Days, Tommy G. teamed up with Josh Lippi to make a set of chilled out tracks that conveys tumbleweeds, arid horizons, and Spaghetti Western atmospheres. I pretty much dig anything that Tommy Guerrero has ever done, and so naturally I ended up loving this album after being unsure at first. 

Along those same lines, there's Passage by Vancouver, B.C. based musician John Jeffrey. It features steel guitar, vibraphone, and a helping of new age. With a BPM that romances a trot but doesn't quite get to first base, this one will still hold your interest across four extended cuts.

Gimme Some More Vocals of the Folkier Sort
You want vocals, of the folkier sort? This is the Kit. Kate Stables was back in 2020 with perhaps her best work ever in Off Off On. Whenever this would come up on random play over the last few weeks my wife would ask, "what is this?" and I would say, "This is the Kit!". You want more? OK, how about Three Queens in Mourning / Bonnie Prince Billy - Hello Sorrow Hello Joy. Listen closely for a cameo by Kermit the Frog. Third on this list of Gimme Some More Vocals of the Folkier Sort, we have Bonny Light Horsemen. There's a Y at the end of this Bonny. Fruit Bats fans know what I'm talking about.

For All Ya'll Deadheads Out There - You Know Who You Are
Let me know when you're done listening to podcasts or watching YouTube reactions videos. Ready now? OK. I guess I don't even need to mention Circles Around the Sun by Circles Around the Sun because you've heard that already, right? Oh that's right, you hate disco so never mind. Hold on, isn't Shakedown Street kind of a disco song? Anyway, for those still taking acid at age 50 or 60 I suggest you stop doing whatever you're doing right now - whether that be Tibetan yoga, chasing a three-legged chicken around the yard - and put on some Rose City Band. Have your tech person cue up their newest offering Summerlong.

What else do I have for those of you in this secret club? Have you heard LaMP????  It features guitarist Scott Metzger (does he sleep?) jamming with the keyboardist Ray "Grab the Skunk By the Tail" Paczkowski and drummer Russ Lawton from Trey's Beacon Jams that you just got done watching. It'll make you pine for the days of Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood. You could keep the party going with Como De Allstars by The Greyboy Allstars. Karl Denson is a member of The Greyboy Allstars. You might remember Karl Denson from that festival set 15 or 20 years ago when he blew your mind. Last on this Deadhead friendly portion of the show, you haven't heard of them yet, but check out Brooklyn, NY's Rhyton. It's on Bandcamp and the album is called Krater's Call. Good luck finding it!

I'll take this opportunity to mention that I created this Afrofuturism category simply as a means to recognize The Sun Ra Arkestra's new album Swirling. Sun Ra might have swirled into space in 1993 but his band has continued on under the leadership of Marshall Allen. This still evolving post-1993 version of the Arkestra has finally made a statement in 2020, and it's music for now, just like it always was. Sun Ra the person might be absent but his presence is strongly felt. And just to show that there's other life in this Saturnian universe, Shaman by Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids is worth a few minutes of your time.

Bill Frisell Gets His Own Category (Shout Out to Ron Miles)
Bill Frisell - Valentine. If you know me at all then this selection should come as no surprise. Frisell finally got around to putting out a studio album documenting his trio with Rudy Royston (drums) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Even before I had even heard it I knew that this had a one-hundred percent chance of making my best-of the year list. It did not disappoint.

Bill Frisell is also on Ron Miles' new record for Blue Note called Rainbow Sign. This might be the best straight up jazz album of the year. You read that right. Certainly it will stand the test of time. Released in 2020 but Rainbow Sign can hold its own with the best of decades prior.

Gillian Welch Gets Her Own Category (Shout Out to David Rawlings)
When in one year you expose the world to almost 48 new songs, plus an album of covers, effectively doubling your recorded output over the last three decades, it's worth mentioning. (I say "almost" because a couple of the songs released as part of the The Lost Songs collection are earlier or alternate versions of ones that saw the light of day on 2003's Soul Journey). 

It's hard to believe that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings were sitting on three albums worth of songs. Meanwhile her fans from 1996 'til now had convinced themselves that OK she's not the most prolific of artists and had learned to worship even the slightest whisper of a new album in the works. It's such a 2020 thing to then unleash an unheard of quantity of material practically all at once. More please.

It wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so good. Everyone's mix-tape would be a little different, but I could easily assemble a 12 song mix tape made up of these 48 so-called Lost Songs and it would easily be a contender for her best work of all time. How's about you?

Classical - As Far As I Know
I'm not the most hip or educated person with regard to classical music, especially if the two recordings I'm prepared to mention are tied to seasoned dignitaries like Steve Reich and Philip Glass. If you haven't heard of these guys by now what kind of rock have you been living under? Nevertheless here's an opportunity to either extend your love of their music or discover it for the first time as interpreted by new artists.

Namely, I'm referring to Erik Hall's COVID-friendly solo interpretation of Steve Reich's 1970's masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians.  Getting 18 musicians into the same room ain't happening right now, but one home-bound musician with time on his hands might feel inclined to tackle a classic. This may be the fastest 54 minutes on record.

The other classical one that rightly caught my attention is Glassforms by Bruce Bubaker and Max Cooper. You can read about what others have to say while you listen to it. The methodology behind the music seems cool but I won't pretend to understand how it was done, so I'm not going to attempt to put it in my own words. More importantly and to the point, Glassforms has that quintessential, unmistakable Philip Glass sound familiar to anyone who has seen Tales from the Loop on Netflix and that's what I like about it the most.

Country Music
I've been forgetting about Country music these last few years. Maybe it's been ever since Garth Brooks came out as Chris Gaines? Sure there's Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Margo Price. Gotta love 'em. But if you put any of those on the jukebox at the redneck bar around the corner nobody even recognizes it. The kind of country I'm talking about is Merle Haggard and Marty Robbins country. Dwight Yoakam and Randy Travis country. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock country. I want some of that. Enter Corb Lund and Colter Wall - two Canadian songwriters who are as country as any American might be.

Corb Lund's been around a while but I hadn't heard of him until this year. His new album Agricultural Tragic is just shy of being great. I'm only docking it because of one or two novelty songs, but novelty is part of the tradition so maybe these add to its appeal. Who knows. He may not be joking when he sings about "Acid trips and rocket ships....I'm lucky to be alive". Composition is certainly something that Corb Lund pays attention to. It could be his jazz education or stolen licks from Lynyrd Skynyrd, but Corb Lund's songs have some pretty clever melodies, choruses, chord changes and bridges. A cut above the rest.

As far as Colter Wall goes, at 25 or so he's still too young to be making music this good, but he really does feel like the 2nd coming of Ramblin' Jack Elliott. I found out about Colter Wall via Corb Lund as both are from somewhere north of Montana. Colter Wall does in fact have an album out in 2020, making him worthy of mention on this list. It's called Western Swing and Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs. It's heavy on covers, including an excellent version of Marty Robbins' Big Iron. Now that I know about him, I am eagerly awaiting Colter Wall's next batch of original songs.

One more little paragraph on this topic. Randy Travis' 1986 debut album Storms of that's country. So naturally, an all instrumental steel-guitar driven track-by-track tribute to Storms of Life called Storms of Steel is going to be like cotton I mean denim candy for the ears. Done. Thanks Aaron "Ditch" Kurtz for this 2020 release.

Mallet Music
I have a penchant for instruments where the players uses mallets to bang on the keys/bars. Vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, name it. Here are couple from this year that hit that nail on the head.

Vula Viel - What's Not Enough About That? Call it jazz, call it African, call it punk. I don't know of many bands with a gyil as the lead instrument, but that is the case for London's Vula Viel. Ms. Bex Burch fronts the band while standing behind the gyil. What's a gyil? According to Wikipedia, the gyil is "the primary traditional instrument of the Dagara people of northern Ghana and Burkina Faso, and of the Lobi of Ghana, southern Burkina Faso, and Ivory Coast." What's a nice Yorkshire woman doing playing one of these? Making great music that's what!

Mike Dillon - Rosewood. I'm familiar with percussionist and malletier Mike Dillon through his work with Nolatet. (When I say malletier I don't mean suitcase maker). When it comes to output under his own name, I've never given Mike Dillon a good listen until now. I wasn't expecting Rosewood to be as good as it is. Instead of having hard-to-listen-to edges it's actually quite soft and appealing all around, recalling Walter Wanderley, Cal Tjader, and Dave Pike. If what those guys did was jazz then I suppose this is too.

Library Music - It's a Thing

A prime example of library music in 2020 is Island Visions by Seahawks. You don't even need to know that it's a take-off on library music to enjoy it. In actuality, it owes just as much to early 90's downtempo jams as it does to library music. The other 2020 album that comes to mind under this umbrella is Our Feeling of Natural High by L.A. Takedown. I don't know where else I'd pigeonhole this if it weren't for this category. L.A. Takedown is the work of Los-Angeles musician Aaron M. Olson. If you're craving nostalgia and warm fuzzies this year, have a go round with Our Feeling of Natural High

Celtic Style Trad Folk
I thought I was done but I was forgetting about Celtic style folk music. I have two suggestions for you from opposite ends of this spectrum. One is Hold Fast by Stick in the Wheel. This London group experiments with traditional rhythms and song structures to conjure up something that sounds totally new. On the other hand, we have Seamus Egan's Early Bright. As a co-founder of the legendary band Solas, you might expect Seamus Egan's solo offering to be a fairly predictable and standard run through the formula of progressive tunes designed to get the feet tapping and the hands clapping. It's actually a lot more than that, harnessing an enlightened sense of composition, tension/release, and production that sets him apart from his peers. Early Bright could just have easily sunk into the New Acoustic category with Hawktail and Jon Stickley Trio.

EPs - them shorter playing little mini albums
Doggone it. I really thought I was done. But if I stopped now then I would fail to mention Cate Le Bon / Group Listening's 5-song 22-minute collaboration called Here It Comes Again. Magnificent. Or the piecemeal output by Oslo's Orions Belte. Another EP favorite is Tape 4 by Felbm. I'm done typing so this description of Felbm I copied and pasted will have to take it from here: "lo-fi, instrumental, jazz-infused sketches were written on guitar, with cascading keyboards, vibraphone and drum machine."

There you have it. In a week or two I might try and cull this down to an essential top ten list, although that might be impossible! I left a lot off already as is. If you're seeing a bunch of links above then good, I went back and added them. If not then I didn't go to the trouble. It's easy enough to find these on your own.

Thanks for Neddyo whose 2020 four stars Spotify playlist turned me on to several of these!

Thursday, December 3, 2020

New Workout Equipment: Core Coaster and BASEBAR

Kettlebells, steel maces, clubs, Persian meels, a shena pushup board, a fitness trampoline, weighted medicine balls, even a bowling ball(!) -- I've accumulated a lot of workout equipment this year. Granted, you could get by with just one kettlebell or one steel mace, but I like the variety these assorted tools allow for. Even with all this equipment I still recognized what might be at least two voids: some type of ab roller device, and a chin up bar. Enter the Core Coaster and the BASEBAR.

After doing some research into the different ab roller options, the Core Coaster seemed like a no brainer. I suggest you go for the 2 Core Coasters set like I did. This allows you do a wide variety of exercises including some cool push-up like moves and plank position mountain climbers. Adding a few minutes with the Core Coaster to my weekly routine has definitely made a difference.

The other thing that I felt in need of was a chin up bar. In classic impulse buy fashion, when an ad for the BASEBAR came up on my Instagram feed I made the purchase without hesitation. It was just what I was looking for. They caught me at the right moment, I guess. Now I know that there are several products like this with BASEBAR simply being one of many to choose from. Nonetheless, it has given me the opportunity to do some pull-up/chin-up type actions two or three times a week.

Besides moving up in kettlebell or steel mace weights, I feel pretty much complete at the moment. I have all the tools needed to get a pretty good workout. 

At home.


Thursday, November 5, 2020

Ishi Sashi Stone Locks, Chi Ishi, Hojo Undo

There's an ancient - thousand plus years old - Chinese tradition of lifting, swinging and throwing/catching heavy stones with handles called stone locks (ishi-sashi, shisuo). These weights look similar to modern day kettlebells or dumbbells. These single grip handle medicine balls might work. Take a look at some video demonstrations.

There's also a Japanese form of body training called Hojo Undo that looks like something you could do with a steel club, meel, RMT Club, or bulava. Maybe also called chi ishi in Goju-Ryu karate? I'm not sure. See below.


Saturday, October 31, 2020

Exercising with a Fitness Trampoline (Rebounder)

One of the best workout/exercise gizmos I've gotten this year is a JumpSport Fitness Trampoline. I don't actually use it for jumping though. I'm too chicken for that. Instead, I apply JumpSport's PlyoFit Adapter accessory which angles the trampoline and allows it to be used as a medicine ball rebounder.

When I was a kid I used to love throwing a baseball or tennis ball at one of those old school bounce back pitchback nets. Now as a fortysomething year old dude I get to have that same level of fun again, while also getting a great workout.

Sometimes I use a 10lb Amazon Basics medicine ball and this trampoline rebounder can take everything I've got when I throw it at it. Even better than that medicine ball is the D-Ball Indoor Shot. Tossing a 10lb D-Ball at the trampoline really gets your heart rate going. For a lighter weight but faster-paced alternative I like to use the Driveline 2000g (4.4lb) Plyo ball. Their black color ball. 

Working out can be a chore. I try to make it enjoyable - always. A twenty-minute high intensity workout with this trampoline rebounder is about as good as any other exercise option I can think of. And since it feels like play you end up having fun the whole time.

PS: you can also do a cool type of squat using the angled rebounder!


Saturday, October 10, 2020

2020 Album Releases - Old Favorites Bill Frisell and Gillian Welch Leading the Way

For some reason this year I haven't been as motivated to keep up with new releases as I should be. Despite this, I was more than ready for the gifts that old favorites Bill Frisell and Gillian Welch have given us in 2020. Just gimme something I'm used to!

Bill Frisell's output and recording sessions are vast. But one thing he had never done until this year is release a studio album documenting his trio with Rudy Royston (drums) and Thomas Morgan (bass). I've made two separate trips to New York City in recent years to see this trio, so I know how magical the music they make can be.

This trio could have easily recorded several hours worth of material (and maybe they did), but I'm not going to complain about the solid 65 minutes presented on their debut album Valentine, which came out in August on Blue Note Records. Like a lot of Frisell's work, this is a slow burn with an emphasis on restraint. It might not dazzle you but there is some serious umph bubbling here - a three-brained alchemy with non-perishable ingredients.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Bill Frisell is a band member in another Blue Note release just out. I'm talking about Rainbow Sign by Ron Miles. This might just be the album of the year. Cornetist Ron Miles is a gifted composer. His tunes sound like songs. Like instrumental versions of songs you could sing along with, if they had words. Ron Miles has re-assembled his A-List band on Rainbow Sign: pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Brian Blade. Yep, Thomas Morgan again too. He's got to be one of the best bassists in jazz.

Unlike Bill Frisell, prolific is not a word used to describe Gillian Welch. Not until now. This year she's been releasing her "Lost Songs". When it's all said and done, the three volume collection will add almost 48 songs to her canon (at least for now). The first two sets are already out, tracks 1 through 32, and I'll say this: Gillian's so-called throwaway songs are better than almost anyone else's regular songs, at least anyone whose last name is not Prine. That's not an original thought but it's the truth. Some of these songs sound like the best songs she's ever written. Chinatown, as one example. 

All it takes is a few listens and then these recently introduced Gillian Welch songs will be in your head forever. The melodies may not seem distinctive at first, but that's part of her genius. She uses a familiar style to find never before explored nooks and crannies. Two parts Carter Family, one part Soft Boys.  

As a bonus Gillian Welch and David Rawlings have put out a newly recorded surprise album of covers called All the Good Times. On this one they stretch out a little bit, taking extended instrumental choruses between verses which allows David to demonstrate his heady soloing style. The only glaring omission I can think of on this album of covers is the lack of a Grateful Dead song. This loose style would have really suited a He's Gone, Ship of Fools, Candyman or China Doll. Oh well. We did get Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie and Señor, which are almost Grateful Dead songs anyway! Plus a Ginseng Sullivan for the Norman Blake fans out there.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

New Band Discovery - The Woolen Men

Portland, Oregon's The Woolen Men aren't a new band, but they are new to me. I guess their earliest recordings date back to 2009. Quite a few of The Woolen Men's albums, tracks and EPs are on Spotify, which is where I found them. Or rather Spotify's algorithm brought them to me.

Woolen Men. Photo taken ??? by ???

(I'm temporarily stumped as to how to add a caption to the above photo, but even if I could figure that out I still couldn't do it properly because this is just some random photo from 2015 or earlier that I found online. I don't know who took it but you can tell it's an older picture because it's back when beer was cool.)

The Woolen Men are a rock trio - guitar, bass, drums. I could use terms like post-punk, college rock, jangle pop(?), stripped-down, and DIY. Someone hipper than me could probably name drop some obscure record shop guy influences or similar sounding present-day bands. The ones that come to mind for me are earlier trios with the same instrumentation - The Police, Meat Puppets, The Minutemen. More recently maybe Hammer No More the Fingers.

Sometimes there is no The in the band name. Sometimes it's just Woolen Men. 

My favorite Woolen Album might be Human To Human, although clocking in at less than 25 minutes it's more like a long EP perhaps. Their 2018 album Post is equally good, if not better upon repeat listening. In fact, I like everything I've heard by this band!

Of course I wasn't satisfied with just liking The Woolen Men. I had to check out the Fans also like section of Spotify and do similar research on Bandcamp and AllMusic in an effort to find more bands of this ilk - past or present. Unfortunately that search didn't turn up much, although it did turn me on to some weirdo groups like Mope Grooves and Lithics. My inability to find other bands in this style and at this level is a confirmation of how good these Woolen Men are. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Finished Harry Bosch Book Series - Now What?

Last month I finished reading all of the currently published Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. It was a great stretch of 22 consecutive books including the two latest ones where Bosch co-headlines with new character Renée Ballard. Once I was about 5 or 6 books in I knew that Bosch books were pretty much all I was going to be reading until I had finished them. Now that it's done I'm wondering what's next?

I tried a couple obvious choices before landing on something I could really enjoy. Naturally I first gravitated to Robert Crais, whose Elvis Cole / Joe Pike series is one of the most commonly recommended for Bosch readers. It's also set in Los Angels and there are 18 or so books in the series, but I found Crais' writing style to be too glib or flippant for my taste. I just can't see myself digging into this series in a satisfying manner.

Next I tried a couple Harry Hole books by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø. (Note: For the pronunciation of Hole, think of the Hawaiian word "hula"). This series wasn't quite to my liking either. Too many filler tangents and awkwardly forced scenes presumably there to serve the plot. I found myself asking why do I care? This has kind of put me off of the whole Nordic Noir thing, although there are surely some other Scandinavian mystery authors that I should check out.

Fortunately, I then happened upon the Aaron Gunner series by Gar Anthony Haywood
. I'm on the third book of the seven and will definitely go through the remainder over the coming weeks. This series is not very well known so you don't see it recommended a whole lot as something to fill that Michael Connelly (Bosch) jones. Comparisons to Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series are more common. 

Haywood's character Aaron Gunner is African-American private detective and the series takes place primarily in the black neighborhoods of South-Central Los Angeles, beginning in the late 1980's and continuing before and after the 1992 LA riots. After an almost twenty year drought, book number 7 in this series Good Man Gone Bad was published in 2019. Hopefully there will be more books in this series.

Speaking of Ross Macdonald and his Lew Archer series, it might be time to check out some classic crime writers such as Ross Macdonald or Ed McBain and possibly Elmore Leonard. I have books picked out by each of these authors, all from the 1970's as a matter of fact. More on that later.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Tai Chi Ruler

Screen shot from Glyn Williams' DVD
Of all the different exercise practices I’ve adopted over the last six months, perhaps the most beguiling is the Tai Chi Ruler. The Ruler exercises that I’ve been doing come straight from the Masterworks International Tai Chi Ruler DVD by Phil Young and Morag Campbell. There is also a video on Amazon Prime by Fred Jennes called Ruler Qigong that teaches essentially the same set of exercises. Either one will work but seeing them both has been a helpful way to cross reference.

To supplement my learning I also obtained copies of Fong Ha’s Qigong/Yiquan DVD (which has a brief section on the ruler plus a lot of other great and related content) as well as Glyn Williams’ Tai Chi Chih DVD. Williams was taught this by Franklyn Sills, a senior student of Fong Ha, as was Phil Young of Masterworks International back in the early 1980's. So actually all 4 of these videos are interrelated and complement each other.

What Is Tai Chi Ruler?
Tai Chi Ruler is like a taoist yoga, qi gong, or internal martial art. A “standing form of seated meditation”. It consists of simple rhythmic movements done repetitively. There are no flashy moves. It is simple almost to the point of boredom. Inside you are tranquil and still. Outside you are moving.

You can do one exercise or all of them. As far as I know you can do the exercises in any order. You can do it for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes. It’s up to you. Tai Chi Ruler is an opportunity to cultivate a moment in each day where stress and other worries of the world can't get in. It’s an opportunity to find complete relaxation. If you notice any areas of resistance let it go.

You are free to find your own way to play with the ruler. Learn the essence rather than the form. Each time you do it, do it “less wrong”. Benefits accrue from regular practice over a period of time.

You Need One Piece of Equipment - A Ruler (or not)
The ruler itself is like a wooden dowel or rod with rounded ends, between 9 and 12 inches long depending on your physical size or preference. You can use a simple wooden tortilla roller for this purpose, you could make your own from a dowel or a stick you find in nature, or you could purchase one online with a contoured shape. I have links at the bottom of this post.

Hold the ruler in the palm of the hands to stimulate the lao gong acupuncture point and enhance the flow of chi. You can also do the exercises without the ruler in what is called an "empty hands" variation. Doing it empty hands liberates some of the movements, but you miss the lao gong stimulation.

Purpose and Benefits
Sifu Fong Ha
The purpose of Tai Chi Ruler is to help cultivate chi for self-healing/recovery and to act as a catalyst for future workouts. So there! You use an external tool (the ruler) to aid in this development. You may find the following to also be true:
-Has a calming effect.
-Enhances your connection to and awareness of nature.
-Helps develop mindfulness - being able to hold presence.
-Increases balance and poise.
-Improves breathing patterns.
-Reduces tension in the body (or at least brings awareness to it).
-Brings attention to posture and structural alignment.
-Facilitates a timeless state of mind - a state of “no” mind.

The stance is narrow and short. Feet are about a ruler width apart. The rear foot is at a 45 degree angle. The front foot is forward slightly. The heel of the rear foot lifts up as your rock forward. The toes of the front foot lift up as you rock back.

Slowly rock forward and backward while transferring weight from one foot to the other. The heels of the rear foot and the toes of the front foot are raised alternately. The shifting of weight should be smooth and rhythmic. Drive your weight into the ground through the front foot as you rock forward and sink deeply into the ground through the back leg as you rock back. Don’t let the front knee go beyond the toes of the front foot. Pay attention to the quality of the movement rather than the quantity. (Quality is more important than how big, how strong, or how fast).

The rhythmic, rocking movement builds chi in the 3 dantians - the lower dantian (below the navel), the middle dantian (heart), and the upper dantian (third eye). The alternate toe-heel lifting stimulates the bubbling spring/bubbling well acupuncture points on the bottom of the feet where energy from the earth enters the body.

Inhale as you rock back. Exhale as you rock forward. That said, you don’t necessarily have to coordinate breathing with the movement but I find that it helps to do so. Staying in sync keeps things nice, slow, and in time - creating a rhythm.

Relax - The World Will Spin Beside Itself and Suck You In
Relax your shoulders. Mentally do a body check - foot to calf, knees, thing, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders - releasing tension on each out breath until every part of you is relaxed. Relax yourself thoroughly and try to achieve complete quietness within yourself.

Posture, Head Alignment, Upper Body
Posture is super important especially for those like me who are prone to a “text neck”, head forward, hunchback position. Your chest should be relaxed and the head should be level and balanced directly above the shoulders. Don't slouch. You may have to lift the chest to balance head alignment, but then relax the chest to prevent the chi from stagnating there. Shoulders should be relaxed.

Optional Visualizations
-Imagine that you’re invisible, bearing in mind that you’re mainly made of up space.
-Your upper body is empty, while your lower body full, heavy and rooted.
-Focus your awareness on the dantian and the dantian rotation.
-Blend the chi of the body with the chi of the earth and universe.

Variations-Vary the speed.
-Raise or lower your stance.
-Change the height of your arms - up, middle or low.
-Increase or decrease the size of the circle, oval or figure 8.
-Perform each exercise "empty hands" without the ruler.

Where To Get A Ruler
-Masterworks International (free shipping from Ireland!):

-Blue Heron Tai Chi, Longmont, CO:

-Ruler Boxing, Greeley, CO (cool design, lots of options):

-Charles S. Tauber (even more options!):

-Wing Lam Enterprises, WLE. (nice for a budget option):

-DIY - find a stick in nature or make your own out of a dowel.

There you have it. I don't really know what I'm talking about yet so take all of this with an open mind and a grain of salt!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Justin Stone's T'ai Chi Chih and Bruce Johnson's Chinese Wand Exercise

When I was taking an interest in old-time Appalachian music, one thing that became apparent was the attention paid to lineage and pedigree. It wasn't enough to just learn a tune from your fellow jammers, or from a recording by 2nd generation or contemporary musicians like Bruce Molsky or Riley Baugus, no you had to seek out source recordings of who they learned it from. And, if possible, who that person learned it from, unless that was before recordings were made. There also wasn't much emphasis on writing your own tunes in the style.

Now that I'm starting to study traditional exercises like tai chi, I see immediate parallels. In martial arts especially, a form doesn't carry as much weight if it isn't backed by a centuries old, authentic and unbroken heritage. Teachers take pride in being able to trace their style back generation by generation to the earliest known sources.

Which brings me to two interesting takes on this that I've recently become aware of: T'ai Chi Chih (Justin Stone) and Chinese Wand Exercise (Bruce Johnson). Both books debuted in the mid-1970's. Both authors were white (non-Asian) Americans. In the case of Justin Stone, he considered himself the originator of a movement practice called T'ai Chi Chih. He took credit for its creation, although it seems as though Mr. Stone borrowed heavily from pre-established movements, like those associated with qigong the tai chi ruler.

Bruce Johnson, on the other hand, adhered to the lineage tradition, stating that he learned his Chinese Wand Exercises in the 1940's from a 93 year old grand master named Dr. Ch'eng. My guess is that Dr. Ch'eng is mostly fictional, similar to Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan. It is possible that Bruce Johnson saw some or all of these exercises being done by Chinese practitioners but filled in the narrative portion himself. We'll never know for sure, but Dr. Ch'eng may have just been a conglomeration of various personalities that Johnson encountered while stationed in Shanghai. (These wand exercises also bear some resemblance to gymnastics teachings of the late 1800's/early 1900's which could also have been an undocumented influence).

I'm trying to remain ambivalent about how I feel about a venerable background versus an original creation. Both have their pros and cons. No matter how you feel about them, there are great things to be learned from T'ai Chi Chih as well as the Chinese Wand Exercise. I'm glad that I have found vintage copies of each book to study and add to my collection.


Monday, May 25, 2020

Pawel Widuto Bulava Short Mace and Jeff Martone D-Ball Indoor Shot

I've been doing some training sessions with trainer/coach Will Parker, who this past week told me about two exercise tools I hadn't heard of: the Bulava by Pawel Widuto and the D-Ball by Jeff Martone. I'll start with Pawel Widuto.

Pawel Widuto is a Polish-born fitness master now living in Norway. He is the founder of the Tengu ECS (Element Cycle System). Most longer maces like the kind made by Onnit or Set for Set are 40 inches (100cm) or more, but Pawel Widuto came up with a short mace he calls a bulava in weights ranging from 3kg (7lbs) to 11kg (24lbs).

House of Tengu Bulava mace
I think the length is about 60cm. The exercises you can do are similar to what you would do with steel clubs, meels, or longer maces. While it's not necessarily revolutionary, the bulavas sure are cool looking! I want one.

Now for the D-ball from Jeff Martone's The D-Ball is like an indoor shot put. They have a rubbery grip with ridges to allow for grabbing and do not bounce. The weights range from 3lbs to 14lbs, but the diameter remains the same (5 inches) over all the available weights.

D-Ball Indoor Shot
Jeff uses these D-Balls as part of his Superior High Output Training (S.H.O.T.).  The movements and exercises you can come up with are seemingly endless, dependent only on your own creativity, skill and motivation. There's also a series of training videos you can download here:

Exciting stuff.