Okay, this is an old project with a new medium.
It’s a roleplaying setting for Savage Worlds. In simple terms it’s hell and the players play demons, but, don’t assume everything is evil about it.
The title here is misleading. This is about a whole new weekend of activities, some of which are continuations of a prior weekend’s.
Not quite finished with the painting, but you can see where it’s going.
What you see are some of our chickens on the bottom level, the run, protected by steel mesh. This stuff is much more expensive than chicken wire, which one would assume would be the proper material for a chicken run. Chicken wire works great for keeping chickens in, but is crappy at keeping raccoons, foxes and such out.
The platforms comprise the Fort portion of this thing. Nothing fancy there, just a place to stand and look down on the world, just what my megalomaniac daughter needs. The lower platform is hinged and has a handle so the whole 4′ x 4′ section lifts to allow access to the run.
What you cannot see is the coop. It’s behind the green wall between the run and the upper platform. Coop access is from the right side here and that whole wall folds down. The chickens can get from the coop to the run via a ramp at the bottom right.
That rope ladder started life as a hundred feet of rope, fifty feet of garden hose some plastic stakes to attack the rope to the ground and some eye hooks to attach it to the fort. It took me about an hour to throw together and attach.
So that’s that.
We also got a new refrigerator on Saturday. The old refrigerator fit snuggly between the floor and the incredibly stupid cabinet attached to the wall above the refrigerator. I call it stupid, not because the wood had a low IQ, but who ever installed it must have. The cabinet was a foot back from the front of the refrigerator, so as soon as we put anything on top of the refrigerator, the cabinet became inaccessible. Not that it was terribly accessible to begin with. It’s 66 inches up and a foot back. No one could reach easily anyway.
Our new refrigerator is 68 inches tall. See the problem? Remember I said the 66-inch-tall fridge was snug.
I gleefully uninstalled the cabinets, spackled and painted the wall where it had been and put the cabinets on a wall in the nook, where they could be reached and used. Win-Win. And, as a bonus, it was a pure gain in storage space since not only does the new fridge also have a top suitable for storing children’s art projects, but it has more space since half of it is not being occupied by a stupid cabinet.
I also had a bit of adventure with powertools when the guy who came to install the ice maker on the new refrigerator complained our pipes weren’t the kind he’s allowed to work on. We live in an old house that’s seen many updates over the years. I’ve mentioned the lead pipes before and the galvanized steel pipes. We do have some copper pipes, which is the only thing modern plumbers will want to work with. However our copper pipes were too small, so he couldn’t do squat.
The most important thing I know about plumbing is to leave it to professionals, which I totally didn’t do.
They make these things called “self tapping” ice maker kits. Supposedly, simply by bolting them to the pipe, they can punch the hole into the copper providing the necessary water to the ice maker. I bought one of these kits. The self-tapping part is over-rated. It seems our copper pipes are stronger than the steel they make the punching pin of the kit.
So, being brave and resourceful, no sarcasm there, really, I drilled a hole in the copper piping of my home. Yes I turned the water off to that pipe first. No, I don’t have a horror story to tell. I know it’d be funnier if I had been doused with spraying, cold water, but it didn’t happen. I had one compression bolt leak a trickle, but that was fixed with a twist or two with a wrench.
I didn’t mention drilling a hole in our stone tile floor to run the copper tubing of the ice maker water line to our basement pipes. It was boring. I measured, I drilled, again everything worked fine.
I know this is a blog and I’m supposed to tell funny stories about how things can go wrong. Maybe I’m just a talented home-improvement god. At this point, people who know me just spat their drinks all over their keyboards to keep from choking to death as they burst in uncontrollable laughter. Perhaps, and this is the more likely scenario, I just don’t have high enough standards to notice when things go wrong.
There are several not terribly level parts of that cooprunfort, the paint does not have perfect lines at the seams. The rope ladder’s rungs are not precisely even in their spacing. The water line to the ice maker does not leak, however, and that’s the only standard that matters there.
And we finished the walls I mentioned the other week. They are nice, sturdy half-walls, as designed. The spackling job is less than perfect, and the paint isn’t hiding it as well as I’d hoped. But they do their job of keeping folks from falling down the steps and giving my cats a place to perch to look down on the world around them, feeding the megalomania that all cat’s innately possess.
“Second Blood” is now available on Amazon.com
This is my first foray as into the vampire genre. It’s part one of three and I promise not to die of old age before finishing the trilogy and I won’t expand the trilogy to ninety five books either, or for that matter, four.
For a link, click on “Currently Available Published Works” up at the top of this page.
I have a tendency in life to rely very heavily on my massive intelligence rather than careful planning, education or even experience.
I used to be the epitome of masculinity in that when I brought home “some-assembly” required furniture, I would put it together without reading the instructions. They put extra pieces in the box in the event something breaks, right?
I got better and will now glance at the instructions once or twice before throwing them aside and wading into piles of bits of pieces. That one panel that is clearly on backwards or upside down–that was a choice to show my individuality in my work. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Not everything I build comes from a box, however. I have more than one set of shelves in my house constructed entirely from 2x4s. My wife think’s the ones in the kitchen are nifty, so I feel a little encouraged.
I’ve also built a display tower for my wife’s grandfather’s trains, which I blogged about a year or two ago. It’s down there in the days past somewhere with pictures.
My most recent project was turning one of those old cheap sets of self-assembled bookshelves into a drafting desk.
Last weekend I undertook my two largest projects to date and I did so simultaneously.
Actually I am doing three projects but combining two.
The first project was “simple”. The stairs that go to the second floor of our house come up in the middle of the den. They had a guard rail on each side with flimsy wooden newels holding it up. My cats liked to jump across from one rail to the other, shaking both rails wildly and scaring the bejesus out of anyone walking up the stairs under them.
I’ve been promising for years to upgrade the railings with actual walls, or at least, half walls.
I don’t know how to put in a wall. I mean the concept seems simple enough: Build a stud wall, anchor it, hang drywall, mud it up, and then paint. That’s it, right?
Right? I’m really asking.
It’s kind of too late to respond anyway, so don’t feel bad for hesitating. I built two half walls, which, though currently in need of sanding and painting, didn’t come out half-bad. They’re sturdy, which was the primary goal.
Nevermind the fact that I built one of the stud frames 3.5 inches two long and the other 4.5 inches too long. Ignore that both walls should have been the same length and werent. Some hasty power tool work and the walls were cut perfectly to size.
Hanging the drywall was another matter. Sheets of drywall are missing an important part–something to hold them by. Hanging a full sheet of drywall above your head on a flight of stairs is difficult. Let’s put it this way: For that first piece of drywall, I probably went through a cup of joint compound filling in the dents. The next three sheets went much easier.
Jason, my friend who sometimes rues the day he opted to get a pickup truck rather than a car, commented on the one gallon bucket of joint compound I bought “You won’t need that much for just two walls.”
Au Contraire. Two walls means more than two buckets of joint compound. Maybe if they were just part of a bigger wall, it would be less, but eight feet of an exposed top of the wall, means a lot of mud to flatten that gap.
If I’d used planning instead of hubris, I might have thought to pick up corner-bead when I bought the drywall and had Jason’s truck to carry it in. Like it sounds, it’s the metal stuff you line the corners of walls with. Luckily my hybrid sedan had a teensy little hole designed to allow skis to be put into the trunk and through to the passenger compartment. Yes, I put the corner bead on before I started with the mud. I’m not an idiot, usually.
The biggest lesson I learned from building the walls: Don’t randomly place the studs. Put them at carefully measured intervals. Measuring tapes work better than studfinders.
The other two things I needed to build were a bigger chicken coop-slash-run and a treehouse for my daughter.
The chicken coop is because my wife “needed” two more chickens this year, bringing our backyard eggery to five chickens, which don’t all fit in the coop we had.
The treehouse was a long-standing promise for my daughter’s birthday after kindergarten, which is next month.
Our yard has two trees. The one in the front yard, next to the street, is obviously the wrong choice. The eighty foot pin-oak is every child’s dream place to put a tree house, but I’m not a fan of heights and eighty feet is a long way to fall. Putting it lower on the trunk would almost work if the trunk weren’t eight feet around.
So treehouse became “fort” or “playset”. Me, being oh so brilliant, (no sarcasm, really), came up with the idea of building a chicken run/henhouse/playset all in one!
Don’t roll your eyes, it’s a great idea. I even drew a picture before I started cutting the wood.
However, I didn’t keep the picture with me and had to do most of my cutting from quick calculations in my head and careful measuring. When building the stud flooring, I did careful measuring and spacing so I won’t have to rely on a stud finder to screw the surfaces to the frame.
See, I can still learn. Who knew? It surprised the heck out of me.
I should note that I tend to build using minimal cutting on my part. Common dimensions are very derivative of what sizes the wood comes in. So my chicken run/henhouse/fort is 8’x 4′ at the base.
Also important to note: It works just fine to stack three pieces of 8’x 4′ plywood to cut them all into 4’x4′ pieces with one run of the circular saw. However, if you have the wood up on saw horses and cut down the middle, they will collapse into a heap when you complete the cut. Keep your feet clear.
I would say, after two days of work, the walls are 75% done and the cooprunfort is almost half done.
Pictures coming soon.
I’ve added “The Honor of a Knight” to my published stories page. It was published in Bards and Sages Quarterly.
I Might Just Be a Picky Diner.
Like many people, my wife and I’s personal schedule does not always make Valentine’s Day an ideal date to celebrate Valentine’s Day. This year we took our annual date night on Tuesday, Feb 12 which was last night. We have a favorite restaurant in town, which we will skip naming at this point for reasons to be explained later.
We often wonder why this is our favorite restaurant. Maybe it’s because its locally owned. Maybe we like their food better than other places. Maybe we just like what is familiar to us. Of those three, the last seems most likely.
I should clarify that, even though we have three kids from ages of “I need you to constantly interact with me’ to ‘Why the F**K do I still live with you’, my wife and I do go out to dinner alone more than once a year. This specific annual date night is the annual celebration of Valentine’s Day.
Back to our favorite restaurant, which we’ll call “Jon’s” just to keep the syntax simple and readable: My wife and I have actually eaten there every year on or about Valentine’s Day and several other times throughout the year. We have an inside joke that we can always reliably get at least one meal free.
Jon’s has a history, with just us, as far as I can tell of getting something wrong and they are very nice about comping a meal if they do. Some examples are undercooked meat or slow service or even in one case, my wife simply didn’t actually like what she’d ordered. Slow Service happened only once in over fifteen years. I do order my meat medium-well because that’s just the way I like it. You’d be amazed how many people take it personally when you talk about ordering steak any more cooked than medium-rare. Apparently I am just not enough of a cow-meat aficionado because I don’t believe I should be able to suck the blood out of the steak with a straw.
So, on to last night:
There are actually multiple locations for this particular restaurant and one has a better track record with us than the other. We opted, last night, for the more reliable one despite an inconvenient location.
So we go in and get seated right away, which doesn’t always happen, so we started happy.
Two point three seconds from sitting down, our waiter appears and asks if we knew what we’d like to drink. Well, no, I haven’t even opened the beer list. Do I want water? No. I prefer beverages that have been through some purification like distilling or boiling. My wife got tea. So the waiter leaves before I can ask what their special beers are that night. (I hope I’m not giving away too much about which restaurant Jon’s really is.) When he comes back six minutes later with my wife’s tea, I get the beer specials from him and order one of those. We also order our food at that time.
I admit I threw them a curve when I asked for a half-rack of baby back ribs as an appetizer. That shouldn’t have been difficult. It’s not like those are cooked from scratch when ordered. Those should be cooked all day and just thrown on the grill long enough to blacken a layer of sauce when we order them. My wife ordered from the appetizer menu.
That it was thirty five minutes after we’d arrived before the appetizers were placed before us is not something we were really bothered by. We do actually try to be understanding if the restaurant is busy.
And unlike the Great Applebee’s Debacle of 2002, they gave us time to eat the appetizers before bringing our food. I have no qualms about discussing the Great Applebee’s Debacle of 2002 without hiding the restaurant name because it was 10 years ago and only one instance at one restaurant. I’m sure they are better at all other locations and even that one location has learned that the correct order of service is not: Take order, bring dessert 5 minutes later, then the appetizer 10 minutes after that then the entree 30 seconds later.
Back to Jon’s. The appetizers were good. The manager did check on us within twenty seconds of them being set on the table. “How does everything taste?” He asked. “I don’t know,” I say as I’m pulling the first rib off the rack. No, wait, I wasn’t snide. My actual reaction was just a polite nod. My wife, on the other hand, did say that and pointed out that she hadn’t yet tried hers. He was very nice and apologized and walked away. My wife’s appetizer was served too hot to eat, but it cooled and she ate it. The ribs were perfect with the meat sliding off the bone and just the right amount of sauce.
I didn’t take too much offense that three people stopped to check on us before any of them removed the plate containing just a stack of rib-bones from the outer edge of the table.
The entrees arrived a few minutes after our appetizers had been long gone. My Prime-Rib was pinker than I prefer, but cooked well within what I’d consider an acceptable margin of error. My wife’s chicken dish was, well, we don’t actually know. At this point we discovered the food was all room temperature — cold to the touch. The menu was very specific when it listed “Medium Well” as “Hot with a slightly pink center”. I understand that slightly pink can be a subjective observation. It was actually cooked and I’ve gotten steaks that were charred but not cooked before, such as in the Dread Lonestar Incident. Hot, though also subjective, is typically much higher than room temperature.
The Dread Lonestar Incident occurred on our anniversary the year our youngest was born. I ordered a Medium Well New York Strip at a restaurant that claimed to be a steakhouse. I got a charred but raw chunk of meat. When I complained I very specifically asked for a new streak to be cooked since it’s impossible to re-cook a steak. I don’t know why I felt the need to specifically mention for them not to take the same piece of meat back and throw it in a microwave. They did actually cook a new steak and got it right that time, however I got lucky because a minute after the new steak arrived, the manager came to my table with the old steak which had clearly been nuked until all the moisture had been removed from it. Dodged a bullet there – them not me. I was already on-edge because we’d been relegated to the section of the restaurant reserved for people with screaming babies. We did have our infant with us, so I understand how they categorized us, but our baby was actually sleeping unlike the babies at the other two tables. I was a little sleep deprived since my daughter was only a month old and if they’d tried to re-serve the same piece of steak after nuking it, I’d have made quite a scene.
When the manager came by, I really tried to get him to touch the steak, cutting a bit off to show how cold it was in the middle. He just took my word for it. My wife’s dish was visibly cold; the gravy had congealed.
So we left the restaurant, having enjoyed good appetizers, good beer (and tea) and a small exercise in patience, but without having to spend a dime. We actually were also given a gift card worth more than we would have spent if we’d paid for our meal. This is why I am not mentioning Jon’s by its real name. They handled everything but the actual meal experience well.
I really am not picky or judgy. I don’t order the cheapest things on the menu and don’t skimp on the appetizers or dessert. I go into a nice restaurant expecting to spend a hefty chunk of money on a meal. I am usually a very good tipper too. I do have simple minimum standards in timeliness and I believe cooked food should be cooked and served before it cools to room temperature. Last night was the first time I’ve ever walked out of a restaurant with more money than when I walked in, however.
Let’s start, what will hopefully be a more prolific blogging year, with a bang.
Gun Control is a big topic these days. We’ve been inundated with the topic since the school shooting last month. We’ll hear even more about it in the coming days as the government looks to move on the subject.
President Obama has been the single most polarizing person on gun control in the past five years, causing the biggest jumps in gun sales in history. The irony here is that when the subject of restricting firearm purchases comes into the public spotlight, gun sales skyrocket as people fear they will, in the coming days, lose the ability to buy a gun. These fears have been running rampant since it became clear Obama would win the presidency in 2008.
Prior to last month’s massacre, the subject was never mentioned by the President. The only people bringing the subject up were the gun lobby and die-hard gun enthusiasts–exactly the people who would benefit most if people were buying more guns.
There are things the government can do and things the government can’t do and things it won’t do. As to what it will do, I cannot say. We’ll see a taste of it tomorrow in the VP’s recommendations.
We’ll start with what the government cannot do. It can’t outlaw private ownership of firearms with anything short of repealing the second amendment, which will not happen.
It can’t seize existing weapons. Historically, it has never gone well to make it illegal to own things that people already owned. Making ownership of something that people already own illegal only creates criminals. Once people are made into criminals, they might start to think of themselves as criminals and not strive to cross the line back into legitimacy. And it just seems like a bad idea to aggressively try to remove property from people we know are armed. So we are not going to see the government add to the list of guns that are illegal to own.
The government cannot maintain a database on the sanity of every individual. Currently to become disqualified for gun registration for mental illness requires a person to have been committed or declared mentally ill by a court. If we made it mandatory for all psychologists and psychiatrists to submit all of their patients to a federal database, the only result would be fewer people seeking help for mental illness.
The most conservative gun enthusiasts think we should spend more resources on identifying the criminals before they get guns. This is very short sighted. This means they want the government to fully investigate every single individual in the country and classify them as criminals or not criminals–long before these people have done anything criminal. Aren’t these the same people who want the government to be less hands-on with people’s lives? I’m not a fan of anything that creates a government list of people with the potential to be naughty. I have enough problems with the overreach of government powers in the wake of 911. No one should ever be labeled by what they are capable of without any actual history or demonstration of such or similar actions. Once we start pre-classifying potential criminals, its just a slippery slope towards segregating these people from the rest of the population. Then again, it’s not like we as a country haven’t done it before; ask anyone of Japanese descent who happened to live too close to the west coast around the time of WWII. Two more words: Indian Reservation.
Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t be more thorough in the background checks required for purchasing guns. The problem is that this is expensive. We can make the people buying the guns pay a little more for their own background checks, but we can’t charge enough to cover the cost. Any fee which is too prohibitive is the same, in the eyes of the Supreme Court, as abridging Constitutional rights. Basically we can’t make people pay to exercise any Constitutional right. So the bulk of the cost of any more thorough check system will fall on the tax-payer.
That’s probably going to be part of any solution even if it is at the government’s (taxpayers’) cost.
I mentioned that we cannot outlaw the ownership of what we already own. We can, however, outlaw the sale or transfer of such items. Several laws have failed to restrict the sale of firearms. Test after test has met judgment in the court system, so we know exactly where the line is drawn in accordance with the Constitution. The Constitution says we can own any weapon that fires a single round with a single pull of the trigger and that is not a sawed off shotgun or rifle. The second amendment doesn’t use those words, but that what it says. The courts say so and they’re the ones who say what the Constitution says.
So we won’t likely see a big change in what kinds of weapons people can buy. Some guns will probably be reclassified as machine guns, which are not protected under the Constitution. It’s a bit funny really. Some gun proponents believe that the second amendment is there so the people can be armed to defend against a tyrannical government if needed. These people use that argument to defend the private ownership of assault weapons. They think we should have the means to fight our own army. With today’s technologies, that’s so far from a reality, that the argument is moot.
I don’t think we the people need weapons capable of firing 30 shots in 30 seconds. Spray and Pray is never a good tactic. Without serious experience, most people will be shooting high after the second round leaves the barrel. Heck, I recall a study that says that soldiers tend to shoot over their enemy’s heads simply due to human nature. So, I’d give a machine gun a slight advantage, but not much over any other rifle. Very few of our mass shootings have been done by people with actual machine guns. The worst were accomplished with semi-automatic rifles and lots of bullets.
So we could restrict the bullets, or rounds as gun enthusiasts would point out. This could happen in two places, at the point of sale or in the size of the magazine. For the gun-illiterate, that means restricting how many bullets the gun can hold. So we’ll likely see the VP mention restricting the sale of large magazines. We’ll probably also see a request to track ammunition sales, which won’t go over well with the people who don’t want the government keeping tabs on them. Were these the same people who want the government to keep more tabs on criminals and potential criminals? Don’t these people know that everyone will be a potential criminal until the government examines them closely enough to rule them out?
I’m personally more against restrictions on gun control and more against any more programs designed to build a database of people and what they do or could do. I’m of the opinion that the freedoms we enjoy come with a price and that price is that sometimes people abuse the freedoms.
I’m also of the opinion that since some people already have these weapons with large magazines, and nothing is going to change that, that it’s a bit rude to tell those of us that don’t that we can’t and that we will forever be the under-dogs when the zombie-apocalypse happens. Okay, so maybe not the zombie apocalypse, but any large scale disaster or break down of society. Not likely to happen, but who wouldn’t want to be prepared and not just prepared but on even footing with the other guys?
There is truth to the idea that if we make guns illegal then only criminals will own guns. Let’s not increase the headcount of criminals in our society. In the end, I think we are going to see some kind of compromise that has no real effect on anything other than to make all of our lives a little more difficult.
The Voice is now down to 8 and dwindling fast. Two more singers go home tonight. The coaches are finding less and less to say that is critical of the contestants. Christina seems to be the only one pointing out tiny problems, though piled in with a hefty helping of praise. She’s really trying to make her last contestant, Dez, seem to be the guy to beat. He’s not, but we’ll get to that soon. And by soon, I mean now.
Here are the performances from last night rated from worst to best.
Though I love Cody Belew’s showmanship, and think, of all the people in the competition, he has the tightest grasp of who he wants to be as an artist, his performance of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” was his worst so far on the show. Queen is certainly dead center in what Cody’s repertoire should be, but there are better songs in the Queen library to show how great Cody can be. If he had the chance to do it again, he’d be better picking something from the “Highlander” soundtrack like “Who Wants to Live Forever”. His voice was occasionally overwhelmed by the music/chorus/complex arrangement.
Next worst for me, though a stellar rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, was Nicholas David. The guy has the perfect voice for way over-done classics. However, there’s nothing in the arrangements or in his take on the classics to make them any less classic and more current. Though older songs are usually better than current songs, something has to be done to bring them into the 21st century.
Terry McDermott’s rock take on Blake Shelton’s “Over” really tried to impress, but it was not Terry’s best night. From the start, he seemed unsure on stage. When he got into the song and pulled it together, it was almost something worthy of radio play, but it never got good enough to overcome the weak start.
Trevin Hunte’s return to the power ballads seemed like he was falling back into his comfort zone. But his inexperience was clear several times in his performance of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All”. I don’t quite think he did the song justice. A for effort. I’m sure he’s selling thousands on iTunes. It will only take time and practice for him to be less rough around the edges.
Justin Beiber songs are great for appealing to the tweeners and teens. I can’t get anything out of Dez Duron’s singing JB’s “U Smile”. I can’t find any flaws with it, just not something that appeals to me. The sob story about how no one respected how he dropped out of Yale to pursue music just didn’t even come close to pulling at heartstrings.
The three girls left in the competition carried the night.
Though taking on current songs, Melanie Martinez is darned good at making anything she sings her own. Everyone is familiar with Alex Clare’s “Too Close”. I mean we were inundated with it for months of Internet Explorer 9 ads. But Melanie made it new and fresh. It was also refreshing to see the new and improved foot cymbal.
Amanda Brown also went with a current song in Adele’s “Someone Like You”. She spun it into a rock version and killed it. It wasn’t as good as her “Dream On” moment, but it was good. Amanda is consistent and that might be enough to keep her through to win this thing.
Topping my list for the second week straight is Cassadee Pope with Michelle Branch’s “Are You Happy Now”. She didn’t completely own it; much of it sounded very close to the original. Some of it was pure Cassadee, however. THe song is just old enough to be a great song choice. What makes this the best of the night was the perfect fit for Cassadee and her flawless execution. Last weeks performance will be hard to top as the best for any contestant for the season, so she doesn’t lose any points for not accomplishing that. I would love to see her actually perform a Hey Monday song on The Voice like “I Don’t Wanna Dance” or take on Paramore’s “Misery Business”.
I’m done with Nicholas, Dez and Trevin, and if I had my druthers, two of them would be going home tonight. But I’m showing my age by using words like “druthers” and for not liking Dez more. But, I suspect the two leaving tonight will be Cody and Terry.
I will say that the Producers of the show are either excellent prognosticators or good manipulators. In the blind auditions, they put the “best” acts in the first or last slot for each show. Five of the current eight were either the first or last performer for one of the blind audition shows. Even acknowledging that they might have known the top 20 at the time of the blind audition broadcast, picking 5 of the top 8 is impressive. But, there are ways to manipulate an audience…
During the voting shows, the best place to be is the last performer of the night. That’s almost always a natural boost to receiving votes. I call it the “pimp” spot. Being first is often being forgotten. I call that the “death” spot. So far, everyone who’s performed first on a voting night has gone home when the results came in. Hopefully Amanda will break that cycle.
Side Note: Adriana Louise and Sylvia Yacoub were also “first” performances in the blind auditions, but made the top 12 but not the top 8.
So, again I’ve started the recaps from worst to best.
For me, the next worst was Nicholas David singing the Bill Withers classic “Lean on Me”. Sure, he sang it spot on, but the song is so iconic, there’s just not much anyone can do with it to make it theirs. He didn’t own the song at all. Not a particularly bad thing, and a truly good rendition of the song, but when everyone else on the list created a single worthy performance, this one doesn’t climb so high on the list.
Though Cody Belew’s voice was often drowned under the music, his energy and attitude on Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” was fun to watch. A little less than ideal for a show called “The Voice,” but very entertaining. His black studded amalgam of a jacket, almost stole the show, but what should we expect from team Cee-Lo?
The difference between the rest of these performances is tenths of a percent on a scale of one to a hundred. They were all near perfect song choices for their performer and great execution.
Terry McDermott managed to add a little to Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69”. I’m not sure what it is, but Terry doesn’t always seem like he’s a hundred percent into the song. 99% this time. This might be because in 1969 Terry was still years away from being born.
Sylvia Yacoub went back to a pop direction with Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire”–a song I’ve only ever heard before on a Visa commercial. It sounded good and Sylvia made the performance believable. It’s a step down from her best, and perhaps too current a song.
Bryan Keith totally nailed Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”. He’s easily the most stable, in terms of appearance, of the contestants. Unlike, previous weeks, I have absolutely no complaints about his performance. He certainly belonged on the show this week. His best to date.
Team Xtina’s male representative, Dez Duron ended the show with a great performance of “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. It will be more than his smile and hair that carry him into next week. Also, his best so far.
Melanie Martinez is stepping further and further from the soft tones of her early performances, this time tackling The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” I’m quite sure most of The Voice audience does not listen to “The White Stripes”, so Melanie won’t have familiarity with the song to help them bond with the performance. Still, a single-worthy performance. I’m sure thousands will be downloading it. A high point for Melanie.
Amanda Brown took on Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ very recently released single “Stars”. I’d never heard it. It didn’t keep me from absolutely loving Amanda’s performance. She’s still the most reliable for a great performance.
But, this week’s best was hands down, Cassadee Pope with Blake and Miranda’s very personal song, “Over You”. If this performance didn’t bring you to the brink of tears, or push you straight over the brink, you probably should check to make sure you still have a pulse. Easily one of the top three performances by any contestant so far based purely on emotional connection, and far and away Cassadee’s best performance ever.
I still have my personal tastes and would rate the contestants, overall, from best to worst (all performances so far):
Trevin’s decision of going with an Usher song probably dropped him five notches on that chart.
Taking into account my perception of the rest of the voting audiences’ opinions, here’s my prediction of the outcome of tonight’s results show.
Amanda, Cassadee, Dez, Bryan.
Melanie, Trevin, Nicholas, Sylvia
Given the trends of performances, Amanda is still a front runner, but I think the audience sees Bryan as nipping at her heels. Cassadee, if she continues getting better, will be up there. Trevin is losing ground fast. Nicholas and Melanie are too niche to make it much farther. Terry might also be a touch too outside the mainstream. The rest have been playing on borrowed time since Amanda’s Knockout Round performance.
This week on The Voice, we heard the top 12, three members from each team, sing. Without exception, this was no one’s best night. There were some good performances, but the pressure appears to be getting to people. No one really knocked it out of the park. Still, I can rate them as I saw them from worst to best.
Bryan Keith sang Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black”. I don’t really see why this guy is still around. I think he did okay, but I don’t put him as the same caliber of the other singers that remain. I suspect I just don’t see what others see in him.
Except maybe Dez Duron who did Lauryn Hill’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”. Again, no staggering flaws, just not in the same league as the next worst, which is…
…Adriana Louise and her attempt to take the country out of Carrie Underwood’s “Good Girl.” Last week she powered through Katy Perry’s Firework and tried a similar, but less potent, take on “Good Girl”. I put part of the blame on the sound mixing which allowed the band to drown out a significant portion of the performance, but Adriana takes part of the responsibility as well. Her stage presence was great, but her vocals wavered in pitch.
Nicholas David then lowered his standards and went with Huey Lewis and the News’ “Power of Love”. Absolutely the wrong song choice. This is not Nicholas’s style and it showed.
Trevin Hunte is not pigeonholed. With Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman”, he went full into power balladeer mode and just didn’t hit it as solidly as the judges seemed to think. I don’t think the performance warranted a standing ovation. Okay, it did if you take into account his personal journey, but I’m not going to allow sympathy to bias my judging of their performances. He’s a great singer, and this was an almost great performance. Almost.
I’m not sure why Michaela Paige decided Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” would be a good song choice. Any “goodbye” type song just seems unwise when you want people to keep you around and vote for you. Still, after a nervous start she proved that she still has everything that makes her very marketable.
Cody Belew took on Tina Turner’s “The Best” and I think he did well, but the choice did little to really allow Cody to show us the potential in his voice. High energy is good. Too much energy and the performance drowns out the song.
Rocker Terry McDermott rocked Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”, missing a few notes and having to compete with the music, which even his powerful voice couldn’t overtake at times. Very good Not his best and not his worst.
Starting seated as if hiding under a table, Melanie Martinez went with Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup”. Melanie didn’t keep her voice soft, so her affectation wasn’t the center of her showcase. We did learn that that breathy sweetness comes through at any power. This was her best performance since the blind audition.
Also with her best performance since the battle rounds, Cassadee Pope sang Kelly Clarkson’s “Behind These Hazel Eyes”. She’s more nervous than I would expect of a veteran performer, but when she pulls it together, it’s clear why she’s up there in the top 12.
I’d never heard Florence and The Machine’s song, “Spectrum” before Amanda Brown sang it standing on a high platform center stage last night. I don’t have a baseline to say how she compared to the original. I noticed a few pitchy moments, but overall it was great. She’s clearly the most talented of the show’s contestants.
When Sylvia Yacoub announced she was going with Celine Dion’s Titanic ballad, “My Heart Will Go On”, I was very worried. When I realized she wasn’t going to even try to sing it as a Celine imitator, I realized she had made a perfect choice. I found this to be the best of the night, edging out Amanda in my mind, probably only because I was more familiar with the song and didn’t have to analyze both performance and song.
Noting that, if I had my way, the two at the top of the above list would go home, I will now make my predictions as to how it really will happen.
Given that last week, the Judges had to save Adriana, Cody, Michaela and Melanie, the best bets would pick the bottom two with these. Adriana is almost certainly not safe. Then we have to note that in prior shows, the contestants were only being compared in vote tallies against people on the same team and some teams are far stronger (Adam and Cee Lo) and some are weaker (Xtina). My gut tells me that both of the folks going home will be from team Xtina and I’m not sure most voters will see Sylvia’s performance as other than a poor Celine imitation, which is was not meant to be. I’m hoping to see Dez and Adriana go.
But, as I said, no one was stellar on Monday night. I wouldn’t be willing to place any significant bets on anything other than Adriana going home.