Review: S.S.B.’s “Wild Edges”

I’m about to take some road trips; I have some speeches to give and seminars to lead. Shiny Shiny Black’s new album, Wild Edges, is going with me. (If only they could come play live at my speaking gigs.)

One of the best things about taking a road trip is finger food. Crackers are a good place to start: I always liked Ritz crackers or Wheat Thins. My problem is that I just keep eating them until I’ve eaten a whole sleeve, or a whole box. They’re just kind of there in your lap and you keep on munching. That’s the snare drum on this album, it just keeps popping into your mouth and you can’t get enough. You’re going to eat the whole box, and you know it when you turn the key in the ignition, before you back out of the garage. You can’t help yourself.

Shiny Shiny Black’s entire sound for not only this album, but the previous one (Travelers) as well, majors on this guitar that I want to call twangy though it’s nowhere near country-western. Among the tags SSB uses on their own website (how they define their own sound) are labels like Rockabilly and Americana. The guitar sounds very rockabilly indeed, but I think of that genre as being a bit faster-paced. Now, when this guitar comes in on track one (Gone) it’s like putting a thick slice of garlic venison summer sausage on your snare drum-Ritz cracker. I mean, they just go together, and you can just keep eating that until you’ve eaten all the salami, too. That might sound like something you’d get tired of, but it’s only five songs (plus a bonus track) so it doesn’t get old before it’s over.

Other than the snappy drum and clean reverberating guitar, there’s not a ton of instrumentation on the album; at least not in any sort of prominent way. There’s a bit of Hammond organ, which I really like, maybe a touch of banjo. But my favorite part of the mix is Amber’s voice (blended other female voices, Nate tells me) backing vocals. They’re mixed in perfectly: the harmony is tight, her voice is as smooth as ever, and the volume level is perfect too. Your ear’s going to enjoy that vocal and the organ here and there like a Starbuck’s Frappucchino: when you’re listening to an album that feels like it’s precisely designed for a road trip in the car, you need something that eats up time, but keeps you awake, too. That’s what the touch of organ and the backup vocals do for this album: they are the caffeine. They make you listen closely, just the way caffeine helps you watch the road.

In  simple yet poetic language, the lyrics give you the dynamic tension between wanting to always be away and a hunger for home. This is the perfect album for a “third-culture kid”. It’s said that children whose parents are from one culture, and who are raised in a different culture, are most at home in airports. They have a sort of perpetual wanderlust. Lyrically this album should appeal to everyone who has been raised in different cultures than they inhabit, left home, made peace with those cultures, and somehow found their way back home. Or, at least, people who have made a nest inside of different cultures that fits them, like one of those Russian nesting dolls. The track “Hallelujah” speaks of finding something good out of a wacky culture.  Overall, the first five tracks take you away from home and bring you full circle back. The bonus, a nod to making music while raising children, teaching them to shoot for the stars, gives us a reminder that no matter how road weary, how much we’ve found our home, there’s always something new to wonder about.

There’s one change I think I would have preferred: I would have used that soft Hammond organ on track six instead of the guitar. They could get a sound that’s a little less percussive than the arpeggio plucking of guitar strings, and capitalize on the fact that the organ was there in the first place. It would have been cohesive and a bit softer.

Nate Butler has been around a bunch of different musical styles. I wouldn’t say he’s played everything, (I don’t remember seeing him in a tux playing William Tell’s Overture on the timpani, though I’m sure he could do it) but for those who remember his Frequency Theater days, and who may have missed SSB’s first album, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. The Butlers haven’t. In fact, Nate, especially, has taken a lot of back roads to get on this Interstate, or Intergalactic highway, steered his semi straight, and he’s going to get that million miles behind him. What I’m saying is, he’s found his truck, or his route, or his Millenium Falcon, and they’re in hyper-drive. They are cruising. SSB says this is their best effort yet. I’m not sure it’s better than Travelers, but that was a really great album, more songs, which equates naturally to perhaps more depth and variety. Lyrically, Wild Edges has every bit as much depth as you can cram into an EP. I’m also a fan of simple, non-esoteric lyrics, and they’ve nailed that.  This sophomore album is so consistent with the debut, it’s clear they’ve not only found the niche (Americana) but developed a trucking brand. Shiny, Shiny Black, y’all: not a product of luck; rather, a product of sweat, high polish, spit-shine, time, and drive.

Why you should buy this album: If you are a blue-blooded American, there’s a good chance you take a road trip now and then. You need this album for your next road trip. “The best place I’ve ever been is on the road.” If you don’t have “Travelers” you should pick that up for your road trip, too.

Here’s where you can preorder the album, a whole variety of stuff, including tickets to the album release show, signed drumsticks and other whatnots. Available through September 23. This is not a Kickstarter– the album is happening no matter what, so they’re using a different service, but similar.

Here is the band’s website.

Album release party info for people in the Goshen, IN, area (or willing to drive or fly in, I’m sure you’re welcome!) is available at this facebook link.

I was not compensated by SSB to write this review, although I was of course given a pre-release copy of the CD.





What do Egypt and Belize have in common? I’m going.

HERE’S the SCOOP: This is a personal update to my friends, family and global community plus readership.

Writing: The first Stetson Jeff Adventure is published. I’m making slow but steady progress on Zeppelin Zeke. I write a decent poem every now and then. Megan and I will be working on Your Guide to Understanding the Twelve Purposes of Art this fall once kids get back in school.

Coaching/ Training: For my nonprofit work I’m preparing to travel some more. It’s a long story how I ended up looking at a trip to Egypt and Belize in the same season, but for brevity, let’s just say that’s where I feel strongly in a spiritual sense that I’m supposed to go next. At an event several weeks ago things began to gel for a trip to Egypt, when I met two people who both enthusiastically encouraged me to go there in early October. These connections were not random and gave me a certain confidence in this direction, something that’s been percolating in my brain since February.

Honestly I’m not entirely sure what God has for us to do there. We’ll take our coaching and coach training experience and skills in our hip pocket and go see what the Father is doing. That feels a little nebulous, but there’s definitely been a growing sense that this is next, so I’m going for it. When I say we I mean myself, and two other guys who are considering going.

I have friends ready to go work long term in Belize; I get to drive them to the airport on August 5th and they will arrive there the same day to get to work, so it would be great to go see their lives after they’ve had about three months on the ground. I hope to go in early November. I’ll be in a coaching support role for them long-term so it will be really good to get to know their context just a little bit.

So here’s the deal: I want to invite you to consider giving to my nonprofit work. For these two trips I still need to raise $4700. If you’d like to give, electronically or by check, please click here.  I want to channel donations to Evergreen Leaders’ travel fund if you give through this blog, so drop a comment if you’ve given something (you don’t have to say how much) and let me know on the blog so I can route donations appropriately. I don’t often do asks through this blog, so if you’re wishing this blog was about coaching, or poetry or something else… next time!

Congo: Day One, May you please have a try.

Here I am at MPH Guesthouse. When our family first arrived in 1987 we stayed here. The drive in from the airport is long and crowded, and the city is full of hustle even at 9 PM. On my bed is a towel, a bar of soap in a box. The box says Beauty Soap Juliet TM Floral Bouquet, Lingering Freshness, New and Improved, and has a picture of a very attractive Indonesian woman on it. The soap is made in Indonesia, marketed from Malaysia, and imported in Algeria by SARI Far East Marketing. Somehow it’s here in Congo. It’s pretty good soap, it really does smell nice, leaves you feeling clean, rinses off well. I also get a complimentary roll of crepe paper, apparently for when I need to go take a crepe. Seriously the paper looks like a dull lavender version of that streamer stuff you decorate for your birthday with. This reminds me of the t.p. we had long ago which was made in China and said “BAMBOO Toilet Paper. may you please have a try.”

My bags didn’t arrive with me, I barely had time to catch my flight in Brussels. I had to run to my gate, and when I asked the gate attendant if I had time to use the restroom before boarding she said “TWO minutes” so I am just glad I made my flight. But since we arrived in Brussels late from Chicago, my bags didn’t get on the plane. I’m very glad I observed Travel Tip #1, which is to always carry an extra pair of underwear and socks in your carry-on luggage. I probably won’t have my suitcase until tomorrow afternoon, so it looks like I’ll be in my favorite pair of jeans for 4 days straight, and borrow shirts from Bill Frisbie and Charles Buller. Fortunately they are both bigger than I am.

I don’t have photos for you yet because the cable that connects my camera to my laptop is in my suitcase.

On the drive in from the airport, the night was breezy and cool. It’s dry season, so even as it gets warm this afternoon it will be a dry warm and I doubt very much that we’ll ever get seriously sweaty. The air is full of smog, fumes from cars and motos that don’t have proper exhaust systems, plus charcoal fires. I exit the airplane and the first thing i notice is the smell: heat wafting off the asphalt. I catch a whiff of barbecuing meat. I smell diesel rolling off trucks. People carry cartons of eggs on their heads, sometimes a couple hundred eggs. You could buy one right off their head, a hard-boiled egg. People are carrying anything you might want to buy on their heads. They drift through traffic, hanging on the sides of minibuses, harassing drivers who’ve done everyone a disservice by trying to cut around a line of traffic — if you can call it a line. One intersection has a “robot”, a sculpture designed by an art student which has alternating red and green lights. Apparently because this thing has arms it gets more recognition as a legitimate traffic director, and when the light goes red people actually stop. Aside from this one intersection, it’s go when you can and stop when you must. Charles orders pizza while we are still driving in.

We arrived and our driver was tired.  They started out for the airport at 3:30 PM, it took them over two hours to get there, through rush hour, and an hour or so to get back, so he’s been driving quite a while. I would not want to drive here, it’s stressful. If you hit a pedestrian you’d be likely to suffer mob justice: a beating or worse. We passed a hospital I am almost positive I saw on the documentary “Kinshasa Symphony” a few months ago.

Pizza arrives. It is wood-fired, and the crust is delicious. There is “tropical” which is onions, mushrooms, chicken and pineapple, and “o poeto” with green pepper, burger and sausage. I haven’t eaten pizza for so long … we put piment on it too. That’s a bright red pepper paste, which I ate for the first time at this very establishment 28 years ago. It’s hot. REAL hot. But does have a certain flavor enhancing property. I ate piment on my first two slices, and then I noticed my eyes were leaking for some odd reason, and didn’t put any on my third piece.

Showing up at a guesthouse where our family stayed for a week and a half in 1987 is bizarre to say the least. My brother would remember playing ping-pong with me here. The place is dilapidated to be sure, the tennis court, which was beginning to be overgrown in ’87, is now completely unusable. But the interior is still comfortable, with clean sheets and comfortable cots, a clean bathroom with hot water, fans that keep the air moving, and though I didn’t have a mosquito net, I didn’t need one. Dry season means no mosquitoes this week. As far as jet-lag goes, I fell asleep at 11:30 local time and woke up naturally at 6:45. I’ll probably be drowsy this afternoon and might need a nap, but because I didn’t sleep too well on the airplanes I’ll probably adjust faster because I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and slept almost eight hours straight.

In 27 years many things have not changed. Old buildings are older, but what is noticeable is the ubiquity of cell phones. Huge billboards advertise free Facebook all the time with a certain cell-phone plan.

A tailor showed up to deliver a shirt for Charles this morning. On spec he brought a second one, and Charles bought it. I liked the fabric so I ordered one as well, and in three or four days, he said, he’ll show up before lunch time to deliver it.

Bill Frisbie felt affirmed when I noticed at breakfast that he said “tell me more.” I told him that was an old standard coaching hymn. He said, “that doesn’t make it any less special,” and I said, “no, of course not, it’s like singing Amazing Grace.” Bill is off for Kikwit this morning, he was supposed to go yesterday but that fell through. We were glad to see each other. He’ll be back in next Saturday and we’ll go to the airport together as we come home (though on different flights, we depart within an hour of each other).

We’re just getting started, but for those who are praying for me here are two things to pray for: 1) Pray that my stomach tolerates the unusual amounts of gluten I’m consuming. 2) Pray that my bags will arrive intact today and that we can pick them up without a hitch tomorrow.