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Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
April 29, 2007

First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC.

Carrie Rodriguez, Sunny Sweeney, Tribal, Iz, and Mascara

I really don't buy the weirdest CDs on the rack on purpose. Most of the time, I can tell from the jacket that I will hate what is on a CD. Ordinarily, I would simply buy the newest CD by performers that I already trust.

But I have a terrible memory. So I pick up the latest Vince Gill or Diana Krall and I look at the copyright date and I look at the titles of the tracks and I still can't remember if I already own the CD.

Since my family holds me up to constant ridicule for my habit of buying the same object multiple times (including, on more than one occasion, as Christmas gifts for the same person, either at the same Christmas or the one right after), I am loath to buy an album the I might already own.

I think it's not very stupid to forget which albums you've bought. After all, the most recent album by a particular artist is the one I have listened to least (so far). And since I mostly listen while working or while running, I am not checking the track titles.

Nor does most of the music I listen to get any radio airplay -- no, not even on XM -- so I don't have announcers saying the track names.

Which is a good idea, when you think about it. MusicMatch or RealMusic or i-Tunes really ought to have an option to have an electronic voice announce each track title before and after it is played. You could turn it off if you don't want it -- but if you do, you'd have a shot at knowing what music you already own.

Anyway, I'm in Borders, looking in the tiny Country section, and I see an album by Carrie Rodriguez. From the look of the cover, I know that it's probably Country Punk, or Alternative Country, and when I get the CD home, indeed that's what it is.

But it's really good Alternative Country. She's like a cross between Reba McIntyre and Jane Siberry. (I realize, of course, that country fans probably won't know who Jane Siberry is, but on her brilliant album Bound by the Beauty, she has some unforgettable songs like "Everything Reminds Me of My Dog" and "Something about Trains" which really are, in their own weird way, countryish.)

On Rodriguez's album Seven Angels on a Bicycle, some of the songs are fully drawn from the country tradition, with great energy and a touch of anger: "I Don't Want to Play House Anymore" and "Before You Say Another Word" would not be shocking on the radio.

But the title track ("Seven Angels ..."), "Big Kiss," and "Got Your Name On It" are astonishingly original. They come out of nowhere: blood drawn straight from the heart, then magically transformed into haunting music.

There are moments when Rodriguez reminds me of Julee Cruise, which is high praise indeed: She seems determined never to sing the same song twice, or ever sound exactly like anybody else. If you love country music, you might hate this album. But if you think you hate country music, you might actually love this album. (As for me, I love country music and I love this album.)

Sunny Sweeney's first album, Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame, is almost the opposite kind of music. Sweeney out-twangs John Anderson. And nobody's going to doubt she belongs in Country.

But what I loved about her songs is the sense of fun and, to quote her website, "swagger" in her music. She loves country. She is country. But she also thinks country music is a great way to be witty; she takes the music lightly and you get the sense that she's just flat-out having a great time singing songs that are painful and funny at the same time.

My favorites: "Mama's Opry," "Slow Swinging Western Tunes," "Next Big Nothing," and "Refresh My Memory."

And because Borders puts "Native American" music right next to Country, an album called Tribal caught my eye. It's sort of a combination of Native American chanting, lightweight American Pop, and New Age. I have nothing against any of those genres, though I found Joanne Shenandoah's "Dancing on Mother Earth" to be so bland and out-of-tune that I erased the MP3 from my computer.

The rest of the tracks, though, work for me very well as moody background music. And it's certainly a broad sampling of kinds of Native American music.

Did you know that Hawaiian music is tossed in with Native American? Well, it is, and I'm glad, because it meant I found an album by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole -- "IZ" -- called Alone in Iz World.

I bought this album for the cover. It shows an enormously fat and supremely happy Hawaiian man -- presumably, Iz himself -- floating in a swimming pool. It made me happy just to see his shameless grin.

This ain't Don Ho, folks. Iz knows American pop -- there's a poignant-yet-ironic "Mona Lisa" and a haunting "Over the Rainbow" that was used, I believe, on the soundtrack of Fifty First Dates.

On this album I learned for the first time that the ukulele can be a lead instrument. I also heard one of the sweetest tenor voices I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. If all Hawaiian music were like this, I'd be a fan. It's not, so I'm not. But now I'm definitely a fan of Iz!


In the off-the-wall, on-the-floor funny (and misspelled) "Truth Or Crap" column at (http://red.blogs.aol.com/truthorcrapred/truth_or_crap/?Page=2), the question is raised: "Why can't women put on mascara with their mouth closed?"

Their answer ended with: "Honestly, you open your eyes wide in order to apply mascara and for some reason the mouth plays follow the leader. The mouth is dumb, we think"

But there's a real answer, and it's obvious if you just try it. In applying mascara, it's not your eyes that open (i.e., you don't part your eyelids really wide to expose the eyeball, the way you would to frighten children), you are instead nearly closing your eyelids, but then widening the space between upper eyelashes and eyebrows, and between lower eyebrows and cheek.

In other words, you vertically stretch the skin around your eyes. To create the widest possible gap on top, you raise your eyebrows while lowering your upper eyelid. To create the widest possible gap on the bottom, you raise your lower eyelid (until your eyes are actually squinting), and you stretch the skin of your cheeks.

The only way to stretch the skin of your cheeks is to lower your jaw. And when you lower your jaw, your mouth naturally opens. (You can keep your lips together, but why bother?)

As far as we know, our ancient ancestors did not do much mascara application. So this facial expression probably evolved in order to allow other proto-humans in our tribe to pick ticks and lice out of the folds of our eyelids. That is my best guess, anyway.

And just for the information of the folks at Red.Blogs, the incomprehensible question "If you had water in your mouth and stuck your lounge in a light socket would you get electrocuted?" is from someone who actually spells as badly as you do, but uses a spell checker.

Since he spells "tongue" as "tounge" (and who doesn't, really, except pretentious prigs like me?), the spell checker made the wrong guess and supplied the word "lounge" instead of "tongue."

In each case, only one letter is changed, and spell checkers are exactly as illiterate as the average American high school graduate, making them redundant.

The real answer to the question, therefore, is: Your mouth always has water in it, unless you're parched and dying in the desert. So if you ever stick your tongue (tounge, lounge) in a light socket, you will get a severe shock.

Whether it will be severe enough to be called "electrocution" has much to do with how recently you paid your power bill and how far out in the county you live.

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