Franorama World
April 6, 2010
New albums you should know about by people I know

New albums you should know about by people I know: Black 47, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez, Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents

April 6, 2010 by franoramaworld

Black 47's latest album is "Bankers & Gangsters." From left: Thomas Hamlin, Joe Burcaw, Larry Kirwan, Fred Parcells, Geoffrey Blythe and Joseph Mulvanerty.

(Note: After a far-too-lengthy pause due to burnout, I’m getting back into doing something I’ve always enjoyed: reviewing albums.

If you have a new CD — and it has to be available in CD format — or know of an album I should hear one way or the other, drop me a line at

Spring brings not only a renewal of life, but the awakening of the music world from its long winter slumber. And a personal slumber as well, as I get back into reviewing albums, which I started doing as a high school junior (“NRBQ at Yankee Stadium,” spring 1978). I might as well ease into it with three released in the past month by people I know — Black 47, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez and Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents:

Black 47 — Bankers & Gangsters (United for Opportunity): The Irish rockers from New York, led by Wexford native Larry Kirwan, spent the first decade-plus of their career following a set formula of sorts. Their ’90s albums adhered to a recipe that worked: a smattering of vivid slices of life (and occasionally autobiography) from New York and Ireland (“Funky Ceili,” “Maria’s Wedding,” “Rockin’ the Bronx,” “Czechoslovakia,” a different take on “Danny Boy”); some martyrs for the Irish cause (James Connolly, Michael Collins, Bobby Sands); and other personal heroes of Kirwan (Bobby Kennedy, Paul Robeson, Rory Gallagher).

But then a funny thing happened. Well, actually, it wasn’t funny at all. It was the Cheney years. 9/11. Thousands of New Yorkers dead (including some of the band’s fans). The trumped-up search for WMDs. The end result was two studio albums (2004′s “New York Town” and 2008′s “Iraq,” based on letters from fans stationed there) that reflected the strange times in which they lived. They were more somber in tone overall, more reflective affairs — well-done albums, but not necessarily the type of discs that will spur people to want to listen (for a parallel, look how long it took for an Iraq war film to connect with the public, and then it took an Oscar nomination) or buy in mass quantities.

Nine years later, and now into decade No. 3, the old Black 47 is finally back. Maybe it’s the change of administration, the cautious optimism of a new decade, or feeling some competition from younger-skewing Celtic-minded bands, or a bit of all the above. Don’t let the obvious subject material of the title tune fool you — the damper’s been opened and the fire’s burning more intensely than it has in years.

They blast out of the starting gate with one of the best tunes on the disc, “Long Hot Summer Coming On,” a recollection of the ghosts of the punk days of Kirwan’s beloved Lower East Side of Manhattan (“Led by Captain Kristal,” as in late CBGB owner Hilly Kristal), and keep up the heat with another steamy gem, “That Summer Dress,” with just a dash of sped-up reggae. On both occasions, the band’s ultra-tight horn section (Geoffrey Blythe on sax, Fred Parcells on trombone and Joseph Mulvanerty on pipes) finds the heart of the song quickly and doesn’t let go.

“Celtic Rocker” is a catchy tale of a teenager who falls for a rock musician and goes whole-hog, ditching the J. Crew for Irish rock and punk (with name-checks of Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, The Clash and, natch, Black 47). It bursts with a mix of sax-based ’70s rock, as well as touches of everything from punk to The Beatles — and let’s not forget the occasional forays into manic reels. Black 47 will never go full-fury like Molly or the Dropkicks — that’s not their style — but Kirwan lets the younger listeners know they know a thing or two. Or three or … well, 47.

And when Kirwan rests on time-honored topics, the result is more fun than one would expect. “Izzy’s Irish Rose,” a turn-of-last-century love story of a Jewish guy and his Irish wife, combines a lilting Irish melody with a frantic bit of klezmer sax from Blythe. His hero tunes this time (“Yeats and Joyce,” “Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix” and “Red Hugh,” about late-16th Irish rebel Hugh O’Donnell) tend to drag some, but this album’s martyr tune strikes a resonant chord. That would be “Rosemary (Nelson),” a remembrance of an Irish human rights lawyer killed in a 1999 car bombing. It combines an ominous tone and a swaying melody with blaring horns, snarly guitar and a touch of the Clash dub sound circa “Black Market Clash.”

Sometimes formula isn’t a bad thing, especially when an artist finds a way to make it fresh again. Kirwan and his Black 47 mates had to spend a career eternity in the wilderness — and managed to survive it well enough — before coming back to the sounds that established them as one of the best bands in America in the ’90s. This is a disc that will get plenty of playtime by all the cool kids on noncommercial, internet and satellite radio as summer nears.

Woo hoo! I’m a part of history!

April 6, 2010 by franoramaworld

Well, I guess this counts as an accomplishment.

The Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative reported this morning that 44% of the 15 million unemployed Americans have been out of work for six months or more, the largest number since World War II. And 23% have been jobless for a year. According to the study, that’s about 3.4 million people, rougly the population of Connecticut.

Sunday will make it 13 months out of work. Woo hoo! I’m part of history.

And the real fun part is this little sentence early on in the report: “For individuals, the likelihood of finding a job decreases as the length of unemployment increases.”


No one’s gonna hire me. I’m too old, too skilled, too unskilled, I’m out of work too long.

So why bother?

Some Holy Week this is

April 2, 2010 by franoramaworld

Some Holy Week this is turning out to be.

This is the most sacred week in the Christian calendar, traditionally the week of palms and hosannas and preparation for the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Well, there were palms this past Sunday, but instead of hosannas, the members of the church of St. Peter were distracted by yet more heinous news on top of heinous news. Not only was Europe rocked by yet another scandal involving Roman Catholic priests sexually abusing young children, but then came the double-whammy last week from the pages of The New York Times (much of the legwork in the States by Laurie Goodstein and in Rome by Rachel Donadio):

  • Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, Archbishop of Munich, was aware in 1980 that a known pedophile priest in his diocese was being returned to pastoral duties; he was eventually convicted of molesting more boys in another parish. The Vatican still affirms that Ratzinger had no knowledge of the transfer.
  • Documents (provided to The Times by Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., lawyer who has pursued the Vatican for years) showing that Ratzinger, as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — essentially the Vatican’s top moral watchdog — decided not to defrock a priest who allegedly molested more than 200 boys at a Wisconsin school for the deaf for a quarter-century. Ratzinger, to coin a cliche, turned a deaf ear on his victims and instead listened to the plea of the now-dead priest for leniency because he was old and ill.
  • News this week that popes decades ago knew about these horrible acts. The newly elected Paul VI in 1963 was told about pedophile priests in America by a New Mexico priest who treated them. Also, canon law criminalizing sexual abuse goes back to 1917; Vatican procedures for treating such abuses was outlined in 1922 and updated in 1962.

And “God’s Rotweiler” — so known for his tenacity as John Paul II’s bad cop, ensuring the clergy toed his predecessor’s right-wing party line — responded to this crisis by turning into God’s weasel.

And is the church, as an entity, rotted beyond repair? The true holiness this Holy Week is the sight of the gaping holes and fissures that have opened in the rock upon which Peter built God’s church. And from these openings have unleashed a stench that won’t clear for years, if not generations. Read the rest of this entry »

Godspeed, Tom

April 1, 2010 by franoramaworld

Tom Becker passed away last evening.

In life, he was a quiet, behind-the-scenes person. His name may or may not show up in any obituary pages, especially considering how small newspapers have gotten.

But you should know him, or at least about him. Because it was a very good soul who left us. One of the nicest people I’ve been blessed to have known.

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1 year and counting …

March 23, 2010 by franoramaworld

The longest year of my life suddenly seems to have happened awfully fast.

It was 10:15 a.m. PST Wednesday, March 11. 2009. I was sitting at my cubicle at The Fresno Bee, where I had been an assistant features editor for five years. I was joking with my cubicle neighbor, Tom, the entertainment editor. There was a nervous energy to the laughter, and while the lightness of tone wasn’t artificial, there was electricity to it. Everyone knew this day was coming — the day that the Bee would let go some of its staff, an unprecedented event in the newsroom — but y’know, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Or laid off.

Which is often the same thing.

Or maybe not.

Or maybe yes.

The features editor came over to us with a serious look on her face.

“Can I see you two for a minute?”

Hmmmm … this was interesting. Both of us? The four notes of the “Dragnet” theme hit me as we walked to her office. But I was confused. I figured one of us would be whacked, and that would be me.

I lost four of my writers to the first round of buyouts in September, and in November, my duties were split between features and sports. I became the night sports editor Mondays and Tuesday nights, remaining in features Wednesdays through Fridays. I still had the religion writer, our lifestyle columnist and our two dozen high school writers, as editor of their Sunday features page, BackTalk.

This worked out well. I knew the sports staff from playing poker and fantasy football with them — Kenny, the assistant sports editor for page design and one my poker pals, had actually soused me out about going over to sports — and in a way, it brought my career full circle. My two summers of internships at my hometown-of-sorts paper, the evil Waterbury (Ct.) Republican-American, were split between sports and features. I was hired full-time as a sportswriter and sports desk editor for six years; during that time, I started freelancing album reviews, then a weekly club column, and in 1990 shifted over to entertainment full time.

I really didn’t want to go back to sports after all this time, but I got on well with the staff, they respected me, and I got to prove my worth by showing my versatility. Plus, having worked under two very hands-on, controlling features editors all this time who really didn’t care for anyone else’s ideas — especially the first one; I never could figure out why she hired me — I actually had a lot of input in sports. I made the calls on headlines and judgment calls on late-breaking stories, and I consulted with the page designers to accommodate the late changes. And it all had to be done by 11 so I could get the first edition off the floor.

So I figured by showing what I could do — and the sports editor really did like my work — I’d be able to dodge this bullet.

Then again, I had a feeling I might not. The night before, I was coming back from my dinner break and got to the top of the stairs, headed into the newsroom, and the voice hit me. It was the same calm voice that hit me the night I had my epiphany about my gender transition 14 months before. It kinda sounds like HAL, the computer from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and as I reached the landing, HAL asked me, in his calm, measured tone: “Do you really want to be here for the aftermath?”

And I knew the answer. And I was all right with it. For someone who knew I might lose my job, I slept very soundly.

But there’s no time like the first time — and no preparation for what it actually feels like. Even if you kinda have the notion it’s coming.

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Children by the millions mourn Alex Chilton (1950-2010)

March 18, 2010 by franoramaworld

Alex Chilton once told an Associated Press writer, back in 1987, that he didn’t mind flying under the radar as a performer.

“What would be ideal would be to make a ton of money and have nobody know about you,” he said. “Fame has a lot of baggage to carry around. I wouldn’t want to be like Bruce Springsteen. I don’t need that much money and wouldn’t want to have 20 bodyguards following me.”

That sub-radar way of operating meant that Chilton was incredibly subversive as a musical influence. Which is part of why the news of his death this morning (he actually died last night) floored me, so much more than I thought it would.

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Alone at the movies with ‘Crazy Heart’

February 12, 2010 by franoramaworld

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal earned Oscar nominations for "Crazy Heart," as a down-on-his luck country singer and a music journalist who gets more than an interview.

I had my own private screening of an Oscar-nominated film this week. Well, it wasn’t planned this way, but I was the only customer Monday night at Sierra Vista Cinemas 16 in Clovis for the late showing of “Crazy Heart.” Such is life in an area where there are 80 screens and almost all of them are showing the same blockbuster fare (five of them tied up with “Avatar”) and somehow have very little room for anything else.

That’s OK. This is a movie that deserves one’s total attention — if not for the story, then for the role of a veteran actor’s lifetime. That this film made it to multiplexland is a surprise; that Bridges may very well walk away with a statuette certainly isn’t. This won’t be a cult-following film, a la “The Big Lebowski,” so chances are Bridges won’t become synonymous with Bad Blake the way he’s become with The Dude, but in a perfect world, he would.

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Such a night (Who Dat and all that — the sequel)

February 8, 2010 by franoramaworld

So this is what it feels like — once again.

Twenty-three years ago (already!), when the Giants won their first Super Bowl, we were a bunch of drunken idiots dogpiling and dousing each other with Gatorade on the floor of the house my pal Ron Johnson was renting in New Haven.

My second and final first time — tonight, the New Orleans Saints’ turn at last to hoist the Lombardi Trophy — I was a little more subdued. Well, if yelling “WHO DAT!” and “WOOOOOOO!” at the top of my lungs at the Landmark, my hangout bar in Fresno’s Tower District, is your idea of subdued. But no piling on the floor. I was in Fresno, thousands of miles away, hoisting a shot of Jameson and a Newcastle chaser to toast the people of New Orleans.

Who Dat? Who woulda thunk that? Gawd, this is great!

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Who Dat and all that

February 7, 2010 by franoramaworld

So I’m killing time, about two hours from kickoff of what will be the greatest day in the history of New Orleans — well, aside from the time Andrew Jackson and crew needlessly slaughtered 2,000 Redcoats in a battle of a war that had officially ended already, or the time Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana from the French for $15 mil, but no one apparently is alive to remember those things …

I’m doing this backwards, I know — I should offer an introductory post first, but this is a big day, so I’ll get to the how-do-you-do next time. For now, I can’t let this day slide any longer without my 59 cents on a day I never thought I’d see.

The New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl.

It feels weird saying it.

It feels great saying it.

I’m sitting at my usual coffee shop (how cliche, I know) in the Drew Brees game jersey that arrived yesterday — with a Super Bowl patch.

I never thought I’d see the day.

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