Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Belize Breeze, songs about us

A Mama calls her baby in the back orchard
It's a very quiet, foggy morning - going to be hot today. The monkeys are on the back 100 gorging on mangos. Can't say I blame them, we're doing the same down here riverside! The rainy season is starting off with a bang. We have had some truly torrential rains. The river is running high and brown and the forest dripping and vibrant green. Mangos falling everywhere. I love this time of year. This is the best time to catch a trail-cam picture of the game feeding in the orchards as well. The night shots are infrared. Tapir are common at night back there. We've had at least one baby born here a couple of years ago. You have to wonder how that happens as male and female never show up on the same night!

clockwise from left: Doktah D, Paul Flores, Sam Harris,
 and Santos Dominguez
But the BIG news is that Belize Breeze is up and running and available at cdbaby.com/cd/doktahd, as well as at all your favorite download and streaming sites. Twelve songs all about Belize and Belizeans offered in a wide variety of styles and moods. The overall mood, however is informal and fun. A couple of backup singers (Sam Harris and Karissa Alvarez) bring a new sound and feel to these songs that I think you'll enjoy. I certainly intend bring them back for the next two albums. The songs are a mix, including songs about Belize and the Belizean experience, songs about expats in Belize, and even a song about Belizean expats in the U. S. In order they are: Sweet Belize, Belikin For Breakfast, Blue Belize, The Hidin' Expat Blues, Kriol Gyal, Maya Mountain Moon, Bayman In L.A., Mr. Mike's Blues, Belize Breeze, Another One Barell Morning - Again!, On The Old Belize, and Beefwum Boogie. Buy and enjoy!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Quiet Mot-Mot Morning

view with morning coffee
Sitting on the veranda, 5:15am listening to the Mot-Mots mot-moting - yes, that's really what they say -  as I sip a cafe mocha and watch the sun come up. The Mot-Mots are bank nesters and so populate the forested gully that runs alongside the west end of the house. As you look at them it seems incredible that they can maneuver that spectacular tail in such a confined space. but, they do. It seems like such a flamboyant bird should be rare, but it's a common sight at Toucan Bluff. But let's get on with taking a look at the first CD, Bittersweet Dreams.

a Blue-crowned Mot-Mot
Having already met the "team," let's take a look at album number one, churned out as the 1st in what has to be one of the most efficient music production efforts ever. 

As explained earlier, Bittersweet Dreams was never intended to become a commercial effort but was intended to the first installment of a kind of family document. The first song (and the only one in the so far 30 songs published to use a prerecorded drum track as its base) Another One Barrel Morning, rather surprised us and tempted us to shoot for a higher goal. One Barrel, by the way, is Belize's most popular bar rum and the protagonist of the song a pretty common avatar of an "ex-pat" around here. We followed up with I Love, which features me on both Dobro and Harmonica, and is a straight forward slow-drag blues. Mostly, though, I only lay down base tracks with the Dobro or guitar to set the song and teach it to Sam. Later, Paul will eliminate those tracks, letting the "real musicians" take over.

 For this first effort we selected songs that Santos and I had played together for years and felt comfortable with. The only new songs on the album are Text Sex and Diamonds in the Sun, both of which take a lighter-hearted look at modern life and love and are intended to soften the general mood. 
original of what became the Bittersweet Dreams cover
While I don't think it hurts the overall quality of the album nor reduces its listenability, you can hear us gradually finding the sound that will come to maturity on the next album, A Quiet Man. The arrangements on Bittersweet Dreams are a bit more lush than we will subsequently come to favor, so the CD has its own special feel about it. The songs, in order of appearance are: Blood Red Moon, I Love, Another One Barrel Morning, Sweet Memory, Black Coffee and Blues, Text Sex, Wistful, The Leaver, Lost In Her Eyes, and Diamonds in the Sun.

OK, these are unashamedly the songs of an old man. The earliest of them written when in my 40s, the latest just now in my 70s. Looking back or looking around, this isn't a kid's viewpoint. Every song has grown out of a real story, has real meaning in my life. Of course, although the listener won't always understand what the song means to me, I certainly hope they can find a resonance with something in their own lives and feelings. The opening track, Blood Red Moon is about the very worst day in my life, yet, it always elicited one of the two most enthusiastic audience responses of the night. Go figure! (The other biggy was often God Loves A Naughty Girl, which sometimes elicited really quite fun responses from the young women in the crowd! That one has yet to appear on a CD)  Well, that's it. Let's move next to A Quiet Man.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Home Again!

Home again, Home again, Home at last!

Well, it's been a month since I was last with you here. After a trip North to be poked, prodded, and stuck, pronounced fit and regurgitated back home to Belize, I'm ready for back-a-bush life! How nice to wake up to the bawling of howler monkeys again. OK, it was 4am so not that great, but still...... It's still dry here but the rains are coming now. A good rain yesterday and another storm is approaching as I write this. The return of the rains is such sweet relief from the harshness of the dry season. Mangoes are ripening, a few already ready to pick, The Bolivian Mangosteens are ready as well. A lot of birds are still nesting so not so much morning mating mayhem but babies will be out and about soon, Let's start you off this month with a picture of a tom Occulted Turkey. This is our local native turkey and it's getting pretty rare but we have a flock of about 15 that frequents the back 100. Someday I'll surprise one with his fan up! Right now though, lets meet the final member of the Doktah D recording team.

Paul Alvarez (aka Flores) is a drummer and gifted keyboardist that has played with many bands over the years. He has represented Belize playing in Taiwan, Mexico, and The United States. He is currently playing with Sam Harris' World Culture Band and his church gospel group. While his rhythmic and keyboard skills are an important addition to the "Doktah D" sound, He is most in evidence as the entire studio tech team all by himself. He cut his studio teeth with15 years working at Belize Music. He records, he critiques and tweaks, he mixes and he masters. Its all him. He works out of Studio A in Belmopan, Belize which is owned by Paul and his wife, Karissa. Like Sam and Santos, there could be no replacing Paul without a major change in sound. And we don't want to do that! We like the sound we're getting. Here's a shot of Paul at work in Studio A.

So, the rain has started. At least we can replenish the cistern. The solar system has been malfunctioning ever since we got home. Our friend Silvan came out to help but it looks like the problem may be a bad cell in one of the batteries. Super bad if if so, They run about $900US apiece. We're hoping the batteries level out with resumed use. Fingers all crossed. No fridge and return to kerosine is nostalgic, but..........

Monday, 1 May 2017

Sumer Is Icumen In

Well, "Sumer Is Icumen In," as last night's and this morning's screeching buzz of cicadas has unmistakably announced! No worries about tinnitus now! I won't hear it again until the myriads of various cicadas mate, lay their eggs, and die. Otherwise, one is entertained over breakfast with the Toucans amorous billing and the doves romantic cooing. With any luck, my wife will get the message!! Things are really heating up here though, temps up to a 105 the other day. We spent all afternoon yesterday up to our necks in the river splashing around with friends. It takes the sting out of the heat! Here's a pretty little Hummingbird that visits the veranda now and again. He's a White-necked Jacobin.

As to the birth of Bittersweet Dreams, however, we had gotten as far as bringing Sam Harris to the project. Without him, there would have been no project. But, halfway into the first day, we decided we needed help with using the multi-trac recorder. My former performance partner, Santos Dominguez, had been learning to use the machine before we disbanded Doktah D and Santos, so Sam and I piled into the truck and took off in search of Santos. Fortunately, he was home and agreed to come out and give us a crash course in Boss digital multi-trac recording. Once getting him there, we cajoled him into teaching Sam the keyboard part to Another One Barrel Morning. But then, of course, it was so much easier to just play it himself! And so he was on the team.

Santos learned keyboard from his dad and older brother playing by ear. He cut his teeth playing in church but, in truth, he just couldn't limit himself to that. The "Bwai" just couldn't keep his fingers off the keyboard! He's a quiet guy, so I don't know a lot about his early playing, but I first ran into him playing with Sam and the World Culture Band. A year or so after we both left that band, we got together and formed the duo Doktah D and Santos. We played about town for a few years before he decided to play on his own again. Santos is an amazing talent and both Sam and I were thrilled to have him join the team. Suddenly we had the potential for a serious musical effort. What you will hear on Bittersweet Dreams are my songs and Sam's rhythms and arrangements but the musical fireworks are 95% young Santos Dominguez. He's an "arty" guy, here's an "arty" picture of him. Kinda cute, huh?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Birthday Morning, hello 73!

Birthday morning - clear, calm, and quiet. Are those insects or persistent tinnitus? Hard to say. A distant Toucan creaking away, a few sassy parrots across the river. Pretty quiet. But, right next to the house, in the gully's high bush, the gentle chuc-chuckling of Trogons. Such a calming chorus. A very nice way to greet 73. Here's a picture of the little guy (a Violaceous Trogon) right next to me off the veranda.

Well then, on to taking a look at the Bittersweet Memories team. Let's meet them in the order they came on line with the project. That would bring Sam up first. Sam Harris is the founder and leading artist in the regionally popular World Culture Band. He writes and arranges the music, sings, and plays lead guitar. He is also the lead guitarist for the award winning Garifuna Collective. Living Stateside for many years, he has played with many of the leading artists up there as well as a number of European acts. His experience and reputation in the industry is international. When he finally decided to come back to Belize, he settled into his family home here in San Ignacio, formed his band, and quickly became the God Father of Cayo music. (Here's a look at Sammy above) A more generous, open, encouraging leader we could not hope for.
I first played for Sam after death dissolved my little group Neva Betta and I was cast up on the dry shore of "playing with myself" on the veranda. Sam, hearing me from his farm right across the river, invited me to help him open his new club in San Ignacio by playing four of my original tunes with the World Culture Band Backing me. What a thrill to hear my songs played by a truly great rocking band! I sat in with them on and off for a couple of years after that, but finally went back to performing solo singer/songwriter gigs. It was though playing with Sam that I  met his young keyboard player, Santos Dominguez, but that's the next story! Santos and I played a duet act for some years billing ourselves as Doktah D and Santos. It is here that my repertoire of performance ready songs grew. But, Doktah D and Santos ran its course and a few years later I was back to a solo act. I didn't find that satisfying, though, and drifted back into howling at the moon of evenings on the veranda.  Finally, deciding to make a record of the music for my daughter and grand kids, I gave Sam a call asking for help. And we were off to the races!

Sunday, 23 April 2017

the good, the bad and the beautiful

Well, it was a kind of "good news, bad news" morning. The good news was the, from early, screeching of the Chachalacas and Parrots with the underlying steady rhythm of croaking Toucans. That was also, however, the bad news. Terry threw one of her famous parties last night and I drank maybe just a little too much red wine and for sure dirty danced little bit more than an aging spine really should do. I could have done without Mommy Nature's good morning wake up calls just this once! Still and all, I live and it's all good.
Today's picture is of a Green Vine Snake we happened into down by the shore Friday when we went down for a cooling dip and a beer. As you can see, it knows I'm there and is trying very hard to look like a leaf. Although this is a big snake, going on 7ft. I'd guess, the head is shaped to mimic a leaf and we would have missed it if Toshi had not noticed a great loop of the body in the brush. Oxybelis fulgidus (tie-tie snake in Creole) feeds mainly on small lizards, frogs, birds, and occasional small mammals. it is rear-fanged and mildly toxic to humans. So much for the sublime, on to the ridiculous!

The CD, Bittersweet Dreams, started life as an attempt to leave something more than just "stuff" to my daughter and grandchildren. There is nothing more uncomfortably revealing of the inner self than one's poetry. Still and all, being old and soon enough dead, I figured I wouldn't really have to endure the discomfort all that long. So, the first thing to know is that these are not a kid's songs. They were written from around the age of 40 or so to just months ago. The idea of actually selling the songs came from Sam Harris. I had hired Sam to help me arrange and record the music. But after our first song was recorded (Another One Barrel Morning), Sam played it around for friends in the business and the feeling was that we could do something more with the music than lay it out on a casket as a legacy. So, we had already brought in Santos, my former performance partner, we then brought in Paul Flores of Studio A in Belmopan. I picked out 9 more songs and we were off to the races! Here's the original of the picture that became the CD cover. next up, a closer look at the songs and the team.

Friday, 21 April 2017

announcing love on earth

Although I promised to talk about Bittersweet Dreams in this blog, that has been delayed by the completion of CD #3, love on earth. It hit the internet, becoming available on cdbaby.com, yesterday. It will be available on all your favorite music download sites very soon - each site has its own pace of getting new material uploaded. We are pretty proud of this effort and look forward to hearing your opinions. The cover photo, taken in a May Plum tree in front of the house, is of a pair of amorous Wishwillys (Spiny-tailed Iguanas) showing us that "love" is hardly limited to ourselves. Check out the tongue! I'll be back on track with more news and views from backabush Belize next time around. Meanwhile, keep up with us on Doktah D's Facebook page.