Well it’s that time again. Here are my top albums of 2016 in no particular order:
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
David Bowie – Black Star
John Doe – Westerner
Eagulls – Ullages
Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape
Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being
Kyle Craft – Dolls of Highland
Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place – You’re Doomed. Be Nice
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow
Sturgil Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth
BEST REISSUES OF 2016:
David Bowie – Bowie at the Beeb)
This Heat – This Heat
Budgie – The MCA Albums
Yes – Tales of Topographic Oceans (Steven Wilson Mix)
Sun Ra – The Singles
Public Image Ltd – Metal Box
Big Star – Complete Third
Led Zeppelin – Complete BBC Sessions
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock
John Doe, formerly of the band X, performed a solo acoustic show in the Gathering Space at KEXP last night. It was absolutely fantastic. Everybody was so quiet, even John mentioned that he never gets to play in front of such a quiet audience and he felt like a folk singer at a club in the 60s. A total treat!
If you are not familiar with this band, you should definitely check them out. Finn Andrews is the son of original XTC member and Shriekback founder Barry Andrews. The Veils have an amazing sound. Highly recommended.
This funky house in Woodinville presented some challenges as the inside was quite dark and the outside was very stormy. In addition to that, the seller was building a new patio in the back and didn’t want to wait to photograph it until it was finished.
BlackRapid, a Seattle-based camera strap company, has been one of my go-to strap companies for quite a few years. In fact, I worked with them as a consultant and ambassador in 2013 and 2014. They’ve always represented quality and ingenuity by elevating the lowly camera strap to something much more elegant and utilitarian.
After a very long effort, BlackRapid has finally updated their entire line of camera straps and marketing them as the Breathe series. While the build quality was always there, the new series takes it up a notch by adding a poly air mesh in the padding to make them much cooler. Another improvement is the new hook which attaches to the updated FastenR5 which has a nylon molding over it with a rubber washer. The FastenR5 screws into your tripod mount and the nylon molding makes it nicer to the touch as well as scratch protection to your other gear. The new hook system, with it’s barrel lock feels much more substantial and secure. The new locking mechanism seems to have fixed the issue of not staying locked that plagued the earlier models. During my use of the new Sports Breathe, I found it much more secure and stable than the previous incarnation. This is great news!
There are several models to select from. The Sport Breathe comes in both right and left handed models. This strap has a substantial pad with an underarm strap to keep your strap firmly in place. This is great for walking or even running while chasing down that perfect sports shot. The Cross Shot is a leaner, simpler strap that goes cross body. As with all BlackRapid straps, these go across your body with your camera hanging at your hip. As you lift the camera to your eye, the connector smoothly slides along the strap. I think these new straps are even smoother than the older models.
New to the lineup is the Street Breathe. Priced at $39.95 (about half the cost of the sport), this strap is designed for lighter weight, mirrorless cameras. I’ve been pushing for a mirrorless version of their strap for a few years, and we finally have one. Paired with my Fuji X-T2, this strap is lightweight and works perfectly for my smaller camera.
Their double strap has been a staple of mine for concert and event photography. I can carry two full-frame DSLRs and large lenses all day using this shoulder harnessed double strap. Each camera hangs at a hip for easy access and drop and shoot speed. I’ve loved this strap since day one. The new version is even better. One complaint I’ve had with this strap was it could be quite warm on a hot, sunny day. Since it’s already September here in the Northwest, I haven’t been able to test out the Double Breathe, but just feeling and trying it on, I’m convinced the Breathe will live up to its new name and be much cooler. This will be well received by sports and wedding photographers who know what it’s like to carry 20 pounds of camera gear around on a hot day.
I’m also excited to see the release of a new hand strap, which I will review at a later date.
For me, there’s one downside to the entire BlackRapid line. To use these straps, you have to connect them to the tripod mount of your camera. For most, this may not be an issue. For me, there are a few. I shoot vertical a lot, especially with a grip. This means, when I go to shoot vertical, the strap is connected right in the middle of where I put my hand. Also, I have L-Brackets on all my cameras. That means I need to either attach the FastenR5 to the bracket and removing it to put the camera on a tripod, which negates the advantage of keeping the bracket on the camera, or I have to use an adapter from Acratech or Really Right Stuff which adds even more bulk.
One other downside, though not a deal breaker, is you are carrying your camera upside down. This is great while shooting for several reasons, but chiefly because when you have the camera to your eye, the strap is below and completely out of the way. I’ve always loved this about the BlackRapid strap. Not so when shooting vertically. But, that also means when you put your camera down while holding the strap, you tend to put it down on the camera’s top which is the most sensitive part of the camera. It’s not a big deal if you’re careful, but remember, the strap is attached to the bottom, so you need to pay attention to how you are laying it down. After a while, this can become muscle memory and easily avoided.
All in all, the new updates are a welcome change. The new hook and fastener give me increased security that my camera will stay safely attached to the strap. This is great news for BlackRapid fans. If you already own their straps, I’m not sure you need to run out and drop a hundred dollars on a new one (the Double Breathe is $150, though the air circulation may be worth the investment), but, if you are looking for an advanced, functional strap, the new lineup may be just the thing.
Echo and the Bunnymen have created some of the greatest songs in history. Just ask lead singer, Ian McCulloch who mentioned fan favorite “Killing Moon” as such during their sold out show at The Moore on September 24th. Unlike many of their 80’s piers, Echo continue to record and release albums, most recently the quite good “Meteorites”. This gives them an edge when performing as their creative juices continue to flow.
Echo introduced their dark, doors-inspired post punk in 1980 and attracted a huge cult following which continues to follow them 36 years later. Originally begun by Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope, who left before their first album to form Teardrop Explodes, guitarist Will Sergeant joined Ian in 1978 and finally released their first album in ’80 called “Crocodiles”. Their output ever since has been incredibly consistent and creative. Ian and Will are the only remaining members, but they’ve put together a tight and capable band which, this year, includes Sub Pop’s own Kelley Stoltz on rhythm guitar.
Ester Drang opened with a set of experimental, post rock to, unfortunately, a paltry crowd. It’s their loss because they sounded great. From Oklahoma, Ester Drang’s music is a wash of reverb drenched beauty. Personally, I had never heard them and I was completely won over by their Radiohead nodding airy music. Totally enjoyed them.
Echo hit the stage Going Up off their first album. As usual, the stage was dark with the band mostly backlit. In fact, Will Sergeant off the side in complete darkness for the entire show. What followed was a parade of mostly hits such as Doo It Clean, Seven Seas, Rescue, Never Stop and Bring On the Dancing Horses with a few obscurities thrown including All That Jazz and In the Margins. It’s no secret that Ian loves The Doors and we were treated to a rousing rendition of Roadhouse Blues.
For an Encore, we got a medley which included an interlude of Lou Reed’s Walk On the Wild Side which was a ton of fun. Lips Like Sugar concluded the first encore followed by one last ending tune “Ocean Rain”.
All in all, it was a great night. Ian was in top form as he smoked and slugged bottles of Milk throughout the show. The band was tight and high energy taking the show to a higher level than most of their 80’s counterparts. Thumbs up!
If you are going to shoot a sexy camera such as the Fuji X-Pro2 or XT-2, you’ll want an equally appealing bag to carry it in. Think Tank has developed an entire line dedicated to the mirrorless camera systems and the Urban Approach just may be my favorite.
The Think Tank Urban Approach bag comes in two sizes. This one will hold a mirrorless camera and 1-3 lenses plus a 10″ tablet. The Urban Approach 5 will carry a smaller mirrorless, a lens or two, plus a 7″ tablet. For my money, the Urban Approach is a home run.
On a recent concert shoot for KEXP radio in Seattle, I was able to comfortably fit my Fuji X-Pro2 with the 18-55 lens attached PLUS the 50-140mm f/2.8 (with the hood reversed), 10-24 f/4 and the 16mm f/1.4 prime. Not only that, I had spare batteries and my flash in the side pocket. I fit all this in a bag that measures about 12x9x5.5 inches on the outside! It’s laid out THAT well!
This bag is full of great features including wide, easy access to all my gear. The flap is well designed with Velcro fasteners that tuck away if you need silent access plus, and this is new, a buckle for even more security. There’s a side pocket for a flash or small water bottle. The front pocket is big enough to throw in some batteries, cleaning clothes, pens, etc. There’s a zip pocket on the outside for a small notebook or other items and a pocket on the inside for your tablet. All this in a water-resistant, light-weight material. The shoulder strap is outstanding as it has non-slip silicone stripes to keep it in place on your shoulder. You can wear this bag as a cross body or shoulder bag.
I have to admit, I have a lot of bags (all of them, by the way, by Think Tank), but this one is going to get a lot of use. It’s easy to grab and carry (thanks to the adjustable grab handle on top), it looks good and it is so darn functional. I mean, that’s a lot of gear to fit in such a small package. I could easily carry this bag all day long. While shooting the concert, all I had to do was flip the top, throw one lens in and grab another as all of them were easily accessible.
If you are a mirrorless shooter and like to carry around a couple of lenses, this bag is the bag for you. Highly recommended. Buy it here with FREE SHIPPING and a FREE GIFT.
On a clear and warm Wednesday night at Woodland Park Zoo, avid KEXP supporter Brandi Carlile played before her second sold-out crowd in as many nights. Obviously energized by performing in her home town, she wowed the audience while moving between stomping Americana and bluesy ballads with ease.
The harmony duo Secret Sisters opened the show with an intimate 30-minute set. Supporting their upcoming album produced by Brandi Carlile, the sisters delivered sweet harmonies and solid, self-proclaimed songs of tragedy interspersed with intimate stories. Truly in awe of opening Brandi, a friend for whom they sang at her wedding, The Secret Sisters left me wanting more.
After a short break, Brandi immediately lit up the place with the two rousing stompfests “Raise Hell” and “Hard Way Home”, both from her Bear Creek album. Backed by her two guitarists, twins Phil and Tim Hanseroth, she got the crowd on their feet, enthusiastically clapping and singing along.
As she waved at friends and family and handed guitar picks to kids in the front, Brandi launched into “Wherever Your Heart” from her latest album. Knowing shows at the Zoo have to be over by 8:30, Brandi got standing cheers when she asked “Do you think the Zoo will let me go Bruce Springsteen tonight and play for 3 ½ hours?” While that wasn’t going to happen, we were treated with an hour and a half of spirited music from a John Denver cover of “Country Road” to Dolly Parton sing-a-long “Heart Young”. We got an exciting wash board and percussion jam on “Dying Day” from her 2009 album Give Up the Ghosts.
Next up she told a story of going to the Grammy’s last year with dresses in plastic bags “so they could be returned after the awards” and joining Bonnie Raitt for an Eagles tribute after which Brandi and the band played “Peaceful Easy Living”.
In spite of playing in front of 5,000 people, the evening felt intimate as Brandi brought everyone into her world with personal stories and spirited songs. She shared her feelings about the complexities and sacrifices of motherhood with “The Mother”, a song about raising her daughter Evangeline.
Finally, we got the anthem “The Story” from 2007, the clap-along “Mainstream Kid” and show-ending Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” joined on harp by Brandi’s brother Jay Carlile who lit it up with Tim’s guitar challenges.
For an encore, Brandi hit the stage and divided up the crowd for 3-part harmonies on “Turpentine”. Blazing in purple light and sporting a cello opening, Brandi killed it with Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California” complete with the reverb-drenched refrain before bringing out The Secret Sisters to wrap up the show with an acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace”.
The show could have gone on all night as Brandi carried the evening with her powerful voice, charm and spirit. All in all, this was a memorable performance and everyone left happy.