Parsonsfield afterparty Flirts Boundaries of Chaos

Signature Sounds 2067
* * ½

How do you like your old-time (ish) music, straight up or mashed? Languid and melancholic, or caffeinated and raucous? Controlled or ragged? I generally get bored with stuff that hews too straight to tradition. In that spirit, Parsonsfield (formerly Pure Old Shine) ought to be just my shot of Old Red Eye. And so they are, but just one shot, not the whole jug. There is much to be admired about this young band, not the least of which is that everyone in it has a good voice and they know how to harmonize. They also sport a fine balance of whimsical songs (Mississippi John Hurt's "Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me"), funky (a cover of Bert Jansch's "Strollin' Down the Highway"), 50's style doowop rock ("Anita, Your Lovin'"), and some old-time mountain pathos ("Hang Me" and "Lay Some Flowers on My Grave.") Not only do these five lads sing well, they're also fine musicians on everything from the usual stringed instruments to things such as glockenspiel, trumpet, and musical saw.

So why a middling rating? Frankly, these guys exhaust me. afterparty is an EP and its seven tracks are pretty close to my limit. The reason lies in the execution, not the effort. These tracks involve the kind of involvement one puts into training a kitten–both the fun parts and the moments when you just want things to calm down. That is to say, Parsonsfield tends to arrange material that teeters on the brink of chaos. Usually they pull back just in the nick of time, but sometimes they don't. I get the idea that they wanted to make a spirited album evocative of evenings when the real party begins when the official one ends. I also get it that they wanted to keep the mood light and the music unrestrained. Oddly, though, all this full-tilt energy has the net effect of making seven really different songs feel the same. There's a reason why more experienced lineups spend a lot of time working on the pacing of their set lists. afterparty still makes it onto my personal playlist, but I like it a whole lot better when it's loaded on my iPod with other albums and the mode set to shuffle.  Rob Weir


Can Fracking Lead to Foreign Policy Shift?

They say you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but maybe that's wrong. Consider two things that most reasonable people think are problematic: fracking and redeployment of military personnel into Iraq. If you think both are nightmares, you get no argument from me. Fracking is a public health and environmental disaster and I don't want to be within a hundred miles of a hydraulic fracturing site. Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam. But if a combination of the two makes the U.S. government radically rethink both its energy policy and foreign policy in the Middle East, history may look more kindly upon these dual follies.

Could this lead to...
Because of fracking the United States is now awash in oil. We've got so much that you don't hear much from the got-to-drill-in-the National Parks crowd anymore and those big companies that lined up for right to drill offshore and create the next Deepwater Horizon spill have deserted the queue. Even Texas wildcatters are complaining there's not enough profit to justify sinking new wells. They’ve had the gall to seek subsidies and price supports, but not even this Congress buys that sorry tale.

I don't give a damn about making the world safe for gas-guzzling SUVs, but it sure would be fun to see the US flip the bird to OPEC and it would be positively delicious to witness a radical shift in Middle East priorities. Step one would be to call Saudi Arabia what it is–the world's number one exporter of Islamic terrorism. The ruling Saud family has been a band of authoritarian thugs since 1902, and we've looked the other way since the 1973 oil boycott for fear the Saudis would turn off the petrol nozzle. Payback time, baby! Tell King Abdullah if he wants to keep his butt on the throne and his head on his neck, we have a few conditions: (1) Aggressive action by the Saudi secret service to ferret out and destroy terror cells, (2) Full civil rights for Saudi women. Don't want to play? I'm sure Egypt, Israel, and Jordan would love to some of that U.S. aid that won't be coming your way.

Speaking of Egypt, does anybody still believe in Arab Spring? The U.S. should stop pulling punches and get behind the el-Sisi government. The overthrow of Morsi was a good thing and saved Egypt from the loathsome Muslim Brotherhood that would have led to another war with Israel and occasioned the misery of any Egyptian with a desire to live in a century more advanced than the 7th. A strong Egypt is crucial to U.S. interests in the region. What we don't need there is another Erdogan.

Does that name ring any bells? Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the putative democratically elected president of Turkey. He's actually an Islamist in a Western-style business suit, and his band of cronies are as backward looking as the Saud family and ISIS. Did you catch his craven and cowardly non-response to the siege of Kobani? As Kurds died on his border, he lifted not a finger to help, refused to arm Turkish Kurds who wanted to help repel ISIS, and wouldn't allow US planes to use Turkish sites or airspace. He cried like a hungry toddler when we dropped weapons to Kurds on his border. Why? Because he and ISIS are on the same page and he's scared to death of the Kurds.

If there's anyone (big IF) we ought to arm in Middle East, it's the Kurds. If Syria and Iraq ever stabilize (an even bigger IF), an independent Kurdistan is a given. A U.S. backed (and militarily secured) Kurdistan could help a whole host of problems. Kurdish nationalists have long envisioned a homeland that embraces parts of modern-day Syria, Iraq, northern Turkey, and western Iran. Imagine what a presence it would be. Imagine how nervous it would make America’s enemies. And get this–Kurdistan would be a predominately Muslim country that has no historic hatred of Jews or modern grudge with the existence of Israel.

Turkey would drop out of NATO and good riddance. Along with that withdrawal would go any hope of joining the EU and all of Europe would breathe a sigh of relief. The Turkish economy makes those of Portugal and Greece seem like Saks Fifth Avenue by comparison. Should we mention human rights? Turkey has a deplorable human rights record internally, and ask the Macedonians, Greeks, Cypriotes, and Armenians about what good neighbors they've been. Turkey has yet to admit to its genocide against the Armenians in 1915 because it claims those 1.5 million women and children it slaughtered were really enemy combatants. That's their story and they're sticking to it.  But the West shouldn't stick with Turkey. The Cold War is over, Turkey isn't essential any more, modernizer Kemal Ataturk died in 1938, and Turkish democracy is an oxymoron. Turkey is in dire need of a makeover and Erdogan, the Turkish lira, and Sharia law can't be part of it.

Dare I dream of Lebanon without Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas? Or Palestine? Too much, you protest. Perhaps. Don’t even get me started on Cold War dinosaurs Pakistan and Afghanistan—short version, embrace India and dump those other two like the toxic bad dates they were. Fracking oil and the end of the Cold War means we don't have to deal with bastards who bankroll monsters. If we can shut off the money pipeline to Texas oil drillers, we can do it to tinhorn dictators. Open that sow’s ear silk purse and spend the lolly on dance partners with whom you’d not be ashamed to be seen.