self leadership storI'm chastened and jaded before my time. I have seen and experienced things that I wish for no one, namely personal development courses. They seem to respond to certain basic needs. I'm too young to have taken part of sensitity training in the 1970s. People were supposed to scrutinize and reveal each other and thereby gain self-knowledge and the ability to openly interact with one another. Reportedly, through nonverbal excercises like snake pit cuddling on wrestling mats. The training often ended in tears and sometimes in visits to psychiatric clinics. Well, some say there's a learning in everything. However, no learning seems to have taken place. In the beginning of the 1990s self-improvement courses became popular in Sweden. Most disreputable was Landmark Education. The original concept for the courses (EST) was invented by Werner Erhard, a former car salesman. In 1991 he sold his intellectual property to his employees, who formed Landmark Education. The company quickly expanded like a Hydra over the world. The courses were built upon sleep deprivation, testimonies, group pressure and a home-made potpourri of religion and philosophy. The course participants paid top dollar to be humiliated and humbled. An important part of the business model was to make participants attend more advanced (and expensive) courses and, not surprisingly, recruit new course participants among friends and relatives. Sometimes in an aggressive, unsensitive and mechanically way. Just like car sales. The Swedish expansion became shortlived. Investigative journalism came into play. Landmark Education was described as a dangerous cult and accused of not taking responsibility for any negative effects of their business, i.e. mental breakdowns among participants. The meeting between dream and reality could be quite brutal, as you can imagine. The company tried hard to refute the allegations, but crisis and media management didn't work. The company did the math, closed shop and left Sweden for more fertile pastures. But this is not the end of the story. Over the years I have participated in many work-related courses. I can't say I like it. On the contrary. I'm not impressed by people who get high on their own yackety-yak. I've become very observant of the warning signals. A change management consultant recently said "all popcorn's pop, but on different times". Did she know that this is part of the course content of Landmark Education? Did she attend the courses herself and is now spreading the word? I don't know. Nonsense always tends to come back, but in different shapes and forms. The newest of nonsense is self leadership, a management trend which has spread like a plague. Actually, a huge and socially important public agency in Sweden has spent a ridiculously amount of money on this new age trend. The expanded definition of self leadership is having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, where you are going coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviors on the way to getting there. In short: how to get your shit together. What would happen if you asked a musician in the gothic country genre: who are you, what can you do and where are you going? You would probably get a punch in the face. 

thewallscarfeThe ultra-epic concept album "The Wall" was released 40 years ago today. It doesn't feel like yesterday, but not like four decades either. Anyway, the album still blows me away. The album peak is the third side of the LP; from "Hey You", "Is There Anybody Out There?", "Nobody Home", "Vera", "Bring The Boys Back Home" to, last but not least, "Comfortable Numb". The second guitar solo by Dave Gilmour is one of the most brilliant and suggestive solos ever. The double album has followed me hard on the heels over the years. During the shortest period of employment in my life, in school bureaucracy on the national level, I had the children's choir from "Another Brick In The Wall Pt.2" as the ring signal for internal calls. "Teachers leave those kids alone / Hey teachers, leave those kids alone". I muddled through in the deep state and was obviously in denial. Speaking of denial, the album triggers a memory 40 years back ago when the album was released. I attented my second year in senior high school. I was a preppy (pea coat, crew neck Alan Paine cardigan, Lacoste tennis shirt, Dexter loafers and checkered golf pants). Officially, I liked disco. Unofficially, I held on to my old unpreppy musical taste. "The Wall" forced me to make a stand. A friend and classmate (we can call him M) took this a step further with a home-made badge picturing a wall. A clueless teacher asked him what it was. Since M was a master instigator he answered without any hesitation: "The badge symbolizes that a wall should be built to separate students in university prepatory and vocational programs. Personally, I have nothing against vocational students, but they're smirching our sofas with their filthy boilersuits". Of course, none of this was true. However, M knew exactly which buttons to push (dividing class conflict and arising elitism in the school). These unwanted tendencies should be nipped in the bud. The principal called to a meeting with the student council. They didn't understand the concern. After the meeting M was confronted. He denied to have said anything of the kind. "It's just Pink Floyd - The Wall". In fact, M was more trained in denying than of instigating. He could easily pass a polygraph test. One time on a field day he fired an emergence rocket (which was school property) from the top of an outdoor diving tower. The gym teacher clearly saw what happened. M denied energetically to the accusations. The gym teacher began to question his first sense, sight. M somehow got away without any consequences. After this incident M became more arrogant. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall" (King James version). Later in life justice caught up with M. As an irony of fate "The Wall" ends with a trial: "The evidence before the court is / Incontrovertible, there's no need for / The jury to retire / In all my years of judging / I have never heard before / Of someone more deserving / Of the full penalty of law". Well, M wasn't quite that bad.    

480If there for some inexplicable reason had been a service like TripAdvisor for the gothic country genre then Those Poor Bastards would have received customer reviews like "key provider", "reliable", "always high and consistent quality" and "on time". Now is time for delivery again. Their tenth album "Evil Seeds" was released on November 15, 2019. For this album they barricaded themselves in the basement of a 1930's schoolhouse to see what horrors they could conjure when completely cut off from the corrupting influence of the modern world. The album title probably refer to Matthew 13:38 (King James version) "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one", i.e. the Devil. TPB assess that this is their perhaps most cohesive album. It may be cohesive, but not beyond reproach. The album is a departure from their raw, unpolished and distorted style. Clearly, the edges are abraded. In my opinion, the TPB greatness lies in that their music is rough around the edges. The new songs are not bad, but the songwriting doesn't live up to their usual standards. The declaration "These songs feature classic themes of violent struggle and loss with bizarre overtones of supernatural menace and dread." doesn't match my expectations. I hope this was a one-off event and not the beginning of a downward trend. One song stand out, the slow and dreamy "Neglected Wife". To sum it up. "Evil Seeds" doesn't live up to the seductive album cover. Only "Neglected Wife" will take place on my prestigious TPB compilation list.  

Doom Blues Front FinalUnaffected, uncompromising and underrated. I associate these three adjectives, but not necessarily in that order, with T.K. Bollinger. A year or so ago the Australian artist went, without prior notice, off the grid. Reportedly, he felt a strong need to tune out from social media and concentrate on songwriting and think about what was next. I wish that more artists had the guts to follow his example. Instead, they do the complete opposite. Anyway, T.K. Bollinger has returned with a "new" album called "Doom Blues". This is a whole band album - t.k. Bollinger & That Sinking Feeling with Vis Ortis (drums) and Richard Amor (bassist). The word "new" is knowingly placed between quotation marks since the eleven songs are the result of the rehearsals and recording sessions in Northcote (a suburb of Melbourne) during 2013/14. The songs have been nursed over the years and finally been mixed and released. This odd circumstance got my attention since these recordings preceded T.K. Bollinger's three solo albums "Shy Ghosts" (2016), "What's Left Now You Are Dead To Me" (2017) and "The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands" (2018). Could there be a link to them or a piece of the jigsaw here? I've had the opportunity to pre-listen to the album. I pushed the play button with trembling hands. The opening song "My Shadow's Loving Arms" brutally transcends me to Wasa Skivbörs, an old record store in Stockholm better known for exclusively and constantly playing albums with 12 Bar Blues Progression. I froze on the spot. Could this be a dedicated blues album? No, thankfully it isn't. My limbs thawed. It is what it says: doom blues. It incorporates moods from mangling gothic to sensitive hymnal. The second and third song "Fear Comes Knocking" and "A Land of Thieves and Liars" are good examples of the shifting moods. The fourth song "The Bridges You Burnt" clearly belongs to one of the highlights on the album. "Fortune loves you best / When your heart knows no rest / It brought you here to build / But you chose to break its will / And made those bridges burn". The fifth song "Hold Her When Her Heart Is Breaking" clearly has a softer approach and could easily fit in on of any of the later solo albums. The sixth song "What My Devils Know" is twangy, but a bit weak. The seventh and eight songs "Leaving Me Empty" and "To Lose the Darkness" are simply magnificent. The same can be said about the ninth song "The White Man's Game". So far, I'm impressed of the song quality and it's not over yet. The next to last song has the witty title "Sex Starved and Money Hungry". In this tenth song T.K. Bollinger stretches his vocal abilities to the limit. The closing song is very important. It concludes the album and, when it's done meticulously, wraps it all up. What's better than to end an album in a splendid crescendo? The eleventh song has the title "Twelve Reasons Not to Live Forever". "There is no pause, no escape button, one exit clause / No control Z, just this endless loop running in your head / Why? Why, why, why / Will no answer come? And all you can do is / laugh or cry". And then it's all over. I ask myself: is there a link and a common thread from this album to the solo albums? I think the answer is yes. If this was copyright law than this album would pass the threshold of originality with very large safety margins. "Doom Blues" is more versatile than "A Catalogue of Woe" and an indispensable part of the musical progress of T.K. Bollinger. The press release is modest: "Others may have given up, but t.k. bollinger and that sinking feeling continued to have faith in these songs and the process that they committed themselves to, uncaring for recognition or reward, they merely wanted to bring these stories to the light. Now it’s your turn to listen and see if you can hear their worth." The answer is yes, yes and yes! If this is the final testament of t.k. Bollinger & That Sinking Feeling then they surely went out in style. You can order the album here (opens in a new window). 


thehousecarpenterThe traditional song "The House Carpenter" has been covered many times. Too many times, if you ask me. One version is worse than the other. The interpretations span from old gutsy sea shanties to torturous singer-songwriter takes. In some cases it's not so obvious. The late Dutch-Swedish troubadour Cornelis Vreeswijk just ripped the chords in his song "Somliga Går I Trasiga Skor" without giving any credit. However, one version stand out: a duet with Gabrielle Louise and David Rynhart from a show in 2009 (if you double-click on the image, a video clip will open in a new window). For what I can tell she plays a Martin guitar (Sustainable Wood Series model) and he plays an Epiphone mandolin (MM30 model). I feel uncomfortable to point this out, but David Rynhart is a wooden-stiff pretty-boy who should have stuck to the mandolin playing and backing vocals. Bear in mind, his vocal parts are supposed to represent a dead ghost or the Devil trying to entice the female protagonist. So what makes this version great? It's Gabrielle Louise, at the time a twenty-four year old woman with tied up hair, barefoot, in cardinal dress. She pulls all the weight. And I mean, all the weight. Her empathy, sensitivity, stage presence, energy level and facial expression are truly amazing. Take a good look. This is how a musician looks like. Her crystal-clear vocal parts represent the female protagonist and cuts through bone and marrow. Read more about the song here (opens in a new window). The last two verses in the song are dark as the night and heavy as lead (even by gothic country standards).

"What hills, what hills are those, my love,
That rise so fair and high?
Those are the hills of heaven, my love,
But not for you and I." [this version: "That you and I must deny"]

"And what hills, what hills are those, my love,
Those hills so dark and low?
"Those are the hills of hell, my love,
Where you and I must go." 
The normal thing for me to do would be to thoroughly check out her music and albums. But, I'm afraid of what I might find. I honestly don't care if she later became a mainstream artist. However, I do want this moment to last forever.    

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