10:46 AM PDT, March 21, 2013
AuthorHouse; 146 pages
Poor Merlot. After Paul Giamatti uttered that now-famous line in the 2004 romantic comedy "Sideways" — the one about not drinking Merlot. Seriously, do I even need to quote it? — news outlets reported that sales of the popular wine had begun to slip. According to recent articles, the lull has since ended, but the phrase "the 'Sideways' effect" has entered wine lore, and maybe consumer lore in general, to signify the power a catchphrase can have on spending habits.
It's a small but telling moment in Lenard Davis' book "Wine Memories" when the author recalls attending a "Sideways" party with friends and savoring a glass of that maligned beverage. After all, whatever impact Giamatti's words may have had on commerce at Trader Joe's, they comment mostly on his character — Miles Raymond, a divorced and failed novelist who uses his academic wine expertise to hide a mass of insecurities.
In the film, we get very little sense of the unpublished novel that sits in Miles' drawer, but I somehow doubt it's as warm and relaxed as "Wine Memories." Davis, a Newport Beach resident and columnist for the Lido Islander, comes off in this collection of essays less like a man who would fit "quaffable" and "transcendent" into one sentence (to quote my own favorite line from "Sideways") than a neighbor who would coax you into his kitchen and beam as he poured you a glass. Maybe even a glass of Merlot, which he terms "delicious."
As a writer, Davis sometimes resembles Roger Ebert in his nonfilm essays: candid, unpretentious, eager to share memories and sometimes arriving at moments of quiet truth. Musing about his own mortality, Davis recalls a time when a woman gaped at the wine bottles in his cellar and asked when he would ever find time to drink all of them. He then gamely addresses the reader: "I have to say I don't have the answer to that one except that on my very last day on Earth I hopefully will be able to still have a glass of wine and select it from a wide range of choices."
The 19 chapters of "Wine Memories" touch on a series of other topics: the expense of creating a wine cellar at home (Davis,' which necessitated building a new basement room, set him back $50,000), the hardships of making wine in regions not commonly associated with it ("The damn stuff tasted like corn," an Illinois vintner grouses to the author) and DUIs (Davis had one). To your average non-Miles like me, there are a number of revelations along the way — for example, that "corked" is a negative word in describing wine, since it refers to a bacterial infection that gives it a musty, moldy odor.
The book, published by Indiana-based AuthorHouse, has a few technical woes — the black-and-white photos that introduce the chapters look fuzzy sometimes, and typos litter the manuscript — but the author scored a coup with one part of the packaging. In a late chapter, he describes raising the ire of master sommelier Peter Neptune during a wine-education class in which Davis poured himself a sample that the instructor deemed excessive. Davis, though, went on to ace the class, and Neptune provided "Wine Memories" with a back-cover blurb calling it "a terrific read."
That's pretty transcendent praise from a master. And it's worthy of Davis' third book, which is always quaffable and sometimes more.
The Natural Thrill
The Natural Thrill
It took The Natural Thrill some time to get all its pieces together, but when the four-piece band finally fell into place, a polished EP was created.
The Huntington Beach-based rock-reggae fusion band has been together for barely six months, but its five-track, self-titled EP makes it seem like the members have been making music for much longer.
Frontman Geoff Moss and drummer Chuy Vidales had been playing in Austin, Texas, in a band called Project MOSS. Lead guitarist Conrad Bauer was playing as a session artist for record label XACT Production in Los Angeles. And bassist Sean Erickson was touring internationally with reggae band Top Shelf.
But after the duo from Project MOSS relocated back to Huntington Beach and brought in Bauer and Erickson to complete the band, the gears were finally in motion and the crew pushed out an EP that showcases their versatility.
There's a general structure that The Natural Thrill follows in most of its songs that begins with a rock intro and transitions to a ska or reggae-type beat. This pattern switches back and forth from verse to chorus and almost every bridge in between. It may sound off-putting to some, but it actually works. The Natural Thrill somehow blends the two together, making it feel as though you really are listening to one song instead of two different tracks.
The EP opens with the track "Believe," which at the beginning hints that the song might have some ska or reggae influence. Once the first verse comes around, those influences become apparent. The song is laid-back and laced with simple upchucks (ska terminology for a fast upward strum), Moss' smooth voice and Bauer's guitar solo, which isn't overbearing.
"Sad Girl" brings the mood down and incorporates an interesting element: a delay pedal. By the time the song reaches the second verse, either Bauer or Moss uses a delay on his guitar, giving the song a more airy ambience. It reminds me of the delay riffs from the Angel & Airwaves song "The Adventure." The mixture of cross-sticking from the snare drum and the delayed guitar gives the song a lightness that, despite the song's downbeat quality, won't make you feel like a sad girl or boy.
Picking the mood back up is the third track, "Dancing in the Fire." Unforgettable harmonizing guitars kick off the song and have your head nodding in no time. The heavier riffs have you believe that the song will be like that the entire way through, but if you forgot about the song structure, the switch to a ska beat will blindside you a bit. There's a copious use of the wah pedal in the chorus, which I can do without. It's a bit distracting and raunchy. But once you pass that, your ears are treated to Bauer and Moss harmonizing their guitars.
Now comes "Run," the wild-card song on this EP. Listening to this song over and over again, I couldn't find a single trace of ska or reggae. It's the most alternative rock-sounding track the band has, and I don't think it fits in with who the musicians are. During the song, they try harmonizing the guitars with a wail, but it sounds fake or overproduced and, like this song, doesn't fit in well.
"Too Late For Love" is hands-down my favorite song on the EP. It's simple and has a solid composition, with a somewhat haunting undertone. Everything just seems to snap into place for this song. The drums carry the beat well, not in an overbearing way, and pop up with catchy fills where appropriate. The bass line is practically the supporting instrument in this track. It adds a smooth jazz feel to the choruses and breaks up some of the monotony of the song.
The verses lull you into a relaxing state, with soft, airy guitars in the background. But Moss' voice and lyrics create a sad and heartbroken undertone, making you think of a strained relationship you once had. It's almost reminiscent of Staind's "It's Been Awhile" but with a Huntington Beach twist and beach feel. If this was a full-length album, I still would have placed this song toward the end of the tracklist. It makes for a strong song to wrap up an album.
Though it was a well-packaged EP, it left me wanting more. If you go to The Natural Thrill's YouTube channel, there's a nine-and-a-half-minute cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." It starts off with that iconic, gentle chord progression in the intro but drastically turns into a freestyle-funk cover filled with solos from all the band members.
I'm looking forward to these guys dropping a full-length album in the future, but until then, this EP will have to do. It may be too late for love, but it isn't too late for this band to make waves in Huntington Beach.
—Anthony Clark Carpio