Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Roosevelt Dime Have Oldschool Fun with Vintage Americana

This one’s a lot of fun. Anchored by Andrew Green’s spiky banjo and Hardin Butcher’s soaring, smartly tuneful trumpet and cornet, Roosevelt Dime’s lineup is pretty unique today, although eighty years ago banjo-and-horns bands were pretty common. Their aptly titled new album Steamboat Soul sets set vintage 1960s-style soul or country songs to wry, clever arrangements that go back another forty years or so, sometimes with hokum blues or dixieland tinges. All this falls somewhere in between Preacher Boy, the 2 Man Gentlemen Band and the Wiyos. Weaving in and out of period vernacular and accent – “a pack of tobacco and a late night pay phone call,” and so on – they set a vibe that varies from laid-back to boisterous. All the songs here have the immediacy and warm interplay of a live album, Seth Paris’ clarinet and saxophones interweaving with the trumpet, pulsing along on the laid-back beat from Eben Pariser’s bass and Tony Montalbano’s drums.

The opening track, with its rapidfire lyrics, has an almost hip-hop feel, with a sweet clarinet solo: as long as the singer’s got his booze and Johnny Cash on the turntable, he’s content. The second cut, Where Did You Go kicks off with a semi-truck horn and ends with a siren: in between, it’s a swaying hokum blues that reaches for a sly Mississippi Sheiks vibe.The band motor through the fast banjo shuffle What a Shame as the kick drum boots it along, then chill out with the easy calypso vibe of Sway. Jubilee is a rousing second-line tribute to “the funkiest joint in town” and its hard-drinking house band. And Digging Song is absolutely brilliant, a spot-on swipe at trendoids with an oldtimey tune but contemporary references, as is the next track, Slow Your Roll, snidely referencing pretty much every Brooklyn neighborhood to suffer the blight of gentrification.

But it’s the soul songs here that really set them apart from the rest of the oldtimey crew. Wishing Well takes a Willie Mitchell-style Memphis shuffle back in time, a clever sendup of a golddigging girl (or one who wants to be a golddigger, anyway). Helpless has more of a ballad feel; the wistful Long Long Time reaches for the rafters with a lush, crescendoing string arrangement. The album winds up with Spikedriver, a biting update on an oldtimey railroad song. Fans of Americana music from across the decades have a lot to sink their teeth into here.

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November 11, 2010 Posted by | blues music, country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #840:

The Roulette Sisters – Nerve Medicine

Arguably the finest band to spring from the Blu Lounge scene in Williamsburg, the Roulette Sisters first combined the fearless talents and soaring oldtime harmonies of resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric lead player Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) and washboard player Megan Burleyson. Their lone album to date, from 2005, is a slinky retro feast of delta blues, hokum and sultry country swing. Innuendo has always been their drawing card, and this has plenty of it, whether Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl, the hilariously Freudian Keep on Churnin’ (“Keep on churnin’ til the butter flows/Wipe off the paddle and churn some more”) and I’m Waiting, sung with characteristically rustic, austere charm by Burleyson. There’s also the defiant, revenge-fueled Black Eye Blues and Black Dog Blues, the irresistibly charming Coney Island Washboard, a similarly antique take of Bei Mi Bist du Schoen and Reichardt’s wistful, bucolic No Particular Thing. The band brought in viola player/composer Karen Waltuch before breaking up in 2007. Happily reunited recently, they’re playing their annual Halloween show on Oct 30 at 10 at Barbes.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/12/10

OK, OK, we’re a day late. But who’s counting. This is just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will also appear on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. The only one here that doesn’t have a link to the track is #1 and that’s because it’s so new.

1. The Brooklyn What – Punk Rock Loneliness

About time Brooklyn’s most charismatic, intense, funny rockers returned to the top spot here. This one has a Dead Boys influence, with the two smoldering guitars and frontman Jamie Frey’s menacing lyric aimed at the gawkers who pass by what used to be CBGB. “You wanna be a dead boy?” Let’s get the Brooklyn What on Hipster Demolition Night!

2. Ernie Vega – Cocaine Blues

Not the one you’re thinking of – this one’s a lot more rustic and it’s hilarious, like something you’d hear on a Smithsonian recording from the 1920s.

3. Under Byen -Alt Er Tabt

A Danish version of the Creatures: catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm.

4. Golden Triangle – Neon Noose

X as played by late 80s Jesus & Mary Chain – they’re at South St. Seaport on 7/16 at 6

5. Loose Limbs – Underdog

Lo-fi garage rock with soul/gospel vocals – if you like the Detroit Cobras you’ll like Loose Limbs. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/23 at 6

6. Jeff Lang – Home to You

Wild insane steel guitar blues by the innovative Aussie guitarist.

7. Mike Rimbaud – Dirty Little Bomb

Classic new wave songwriting by a survivor from the very end of the era, still going strong twenty years later.

8. Costanza – Just Another Alien

The lyrics are the text from a US Immigration form. Eerie and apropos.

9. J-Ron – Weed Song

Texas faux “R&B.”

10. Amy Coleman – Goodbye New York

This is such a blast from the past, it’s kinda funny: the bastard child of DollHouse and Pet Benetar. Suddenly it’s 1979 again. Except it’s not.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

It’s hard to imagine a better Americana album released this year. This visionary, genre-transcending cd gives the rest of the world a chance to find out what New York audiences have known for years, that Lenny Molotov is one of the smartest, wittiest, most perceptive guitarists and songwriters of our time. As an electric guitarist, bassist and lapsteel player, he was indie rock siren Randi Russo’s not-so-secret weapon, both live and in the studio, throughout most of the past decade. Here, the setting is much more rustic, incorporating elements of delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, oldtime hillbilly songwriting and early jazz. Producer Joe Bendik (who also adds accordion) blends the textures of Molotov’s acoustic guitar and dobro, Jake Engel’s blues harp, Karl Meyer’s violin and a terse, subtle rhythm section of JD Wood on upright bass and Angela Webster (of Rhett Miller’s band) on drums into a lushly spiky, evocative web of sound. Yet the songs defy retro characterization. Molotov’s lyrics are richly metaphorical and set in the here-and-now, yet steeped in history and its lessons. Molotov knows all too well where we’ve been, and where we’re going if we keep making the same mistakes. If the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might sound something like this.

That which isn’t political here is vividly personal. Wilderness Bound chronicles one gritty image after another from a symbolically-charged pilgrimage its narrator never wanted to make in the first place. Book of Splendor is a New York roman a clef if there ever was one, an entreaty to a loved one to keep her head above water in the midst of a never-ending series of tribulations. The Woody Guthrie-esque Glorious is gorgeously dreamlike, accordion enhancing its awestruck optimism. Faded Label Blues, the most magnificently anthemic of the songs here is a corrosive, first-person account of the life and times of jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton: “I used to stand so tall and tempting like a fancy bottle of booze/Now I’m empty, discarded, with the faded label blues,” Meyer’s slinky tarantella violin adding considerable poignancy. Ill Moon is a characteristically wry, hypnotically surreal look at insomnia. And the bucolic waltz New Every Morning leaves no doubt where Molotov stands musically: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

But the best songs here are the political ones. On face value, David Reddin’s Blues is a classic 1930s style outlaw ballad about a kid from the New York projects whose attempt to outrun the law ended tragically. But it’s also a vivid portrayal of life in a surveillance state: everywhere the guy turns, he’s being watched or tracked, from the spycam outside his girlfriend’s public housing complex to the DNA flowing from his wounds. Then, with the album’s finest track, Freedom Tower, Molotov tackles the spectre of a fascist America head-on. Over a steady, swaying, fingerpicked Piedmont-style blues melody, he again offers a potently metaphorical look at what a Freedom Tower (a name floated widely for a future replacement for New York’s World Trade Center) might actually be. In this case, you can’t get too close or security will accost you, you’d better keep your windows closed if you’re in the hotel across the way, and there are helicopter gunships stationed on the roof. And that’s not even the half of it. The cd closes with the self-explanatory Devil’s Empire, a cautionary tale that doubles as a nasty slap upside the head of the scam artists on the receiving end of the latest rounds of corporate bailouts. And with characteristic wit, Molotov makes a couple of Howlin Wolf and Robert Johnson quotes work back-to-back in a way neither icon ever would have imagined – or maybe they would have. Blues is always about subtext and innuendo anyway. This is a strong contender for best album of 2009; watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

December 15, 2009 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Wiyos – Broken Land Bell

Their best album. It’s amazing how much energy the Wiyos get out of a couple of acoustic guitars, harmonica and upright bass – and to their further credit, the quality of the songs and the playing here transcends the presence of a human beatbox. Cross-pollination is usually a good thing, but this time it is not, and happily the hip-hop effects are mostly buried in the mix on all but a couple of the songs. Which represent the Wiyos’ inimitable blend of rousing 1920s-style hokum blues, ragtime, guitar swing and oldtimey hillbilly songs – everything here sound live, which is especially fortuitous since their concerts are reliably high-intensity affairs. This one kicks off with a rustic traveling song, followed by another equally jaunty number, then a starkly minor-key banjo tune. There are also a couple of hobo songs here, one a cautionary tale to stay one step ahead of the law, the other a soaring tribute to the excitement of riding the rails. Singer/guitarist Parrish Ellis’ Angeline has a Hank Williams-gone-cajun feel; guitarist Teddy Weber’s Green Bottle #6 is jazzy and swinging with a sweet lapsteel solo. By contrast, Drum, by frontman/harmonica player Michael Farkas is a dark and aptly aphoristic antiwar number with train-whistle steel guitar. The album wraps up with a deliriously fun country drinking song, a ballad that starts out hypnotic with an early Grateful Dead feel before picking up steam, and the vividly lyrical, wary Valentina, a thoughtful evocation of a girl stuck in a city that once made a great place to hide but has now swallowed her whole. “The kings can’t grow up to be kings,” Farkas muses – it’s an anthem of sorts for the new depression. Steampunks everywhere will be salivating for this. The Wiyos got their start here and make frequent return trips – these guys live on the road, watch this space for future NYC dates.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Curtis Eller and Bliss Blood at the Delancey, NYC 8/17/09

It may have been a scorching Monday night in the dead of August, but Small Beast – the weekly salon/performance event we’ve been screeching about for the past six months or so – was pretty packed. The word of the night was charisma – reviled as passe in indie rock circles but as valid as ever for the other 95% of the world. This was simply one of the best triple bills of the year – although that possibility rears its head every week here. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch (as regular readers of this space know, perhaps by heart) is a hard-rocking pianist who blends gypsy and classical motifs into his alternately ornate and austere art-rock songs. He was in a bad mood, brightened somewhat by the presence of a ringer percussionist, a tough-looking guy of about nine who contributed tambourine for practically the entirety of the set, demonstrating an appreciation for groove and an ear for creative rhythms that may develop into rock-solid timing if he keeps it up. He did a bunch of covers: a punked-out piano version of the Stones’ Faraway Eyes, a brief Paul Bowles song with a violent ending, a casually sultry take of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man and a completely unhinged Why’d Ya Do It (the Marianne Faithfull rant from the Broken English lp). He closed on a raptly soulful note with the gentle, gospel-fueled title track to Botanica’s latest, forthcoming cd.

“This may be an asshole thing to say, but I didn’t expect him to be so good,” marveled the next act, banjo rocker Curtis Eller, without a trace of sarcasm. And then took the show to the next level. With his banjo hooked up to a wireless transmitter, Eller refused to stand in one place, alternating between a high-kicking Dizzy Dean stance and a righthanded Darryl Strawberry crouch, running the length of the floor past the bar, playing the piano with his ass and keeping the audience riveted. There may be no better lyricist out there right now – a set of Curtis Eller songs is just about as good and accurate a look at American history over the past two hundred years as A People’s History of the United States, and it’s a whole lot funnier. Referencing Elvis twice, Nixon several times, the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the Las Vegas mob, Boss Tweed, doping in horseracing, Pentecostal rites and the death penalty, he ran through a mix of older songs and tunes from his most recent cd Wirewalkers and Assassins (which may prove over time to be a classic). Taking Up Serpents took a vividly literate look at how the ruling classes keep the lower ones divided and conquered; Sugar for the Horses examined the consequences of what happens when people like Boss Tweed and Elvis are separated at birth (that’s a quote). Three More Minutes with Elvis paradoxically worked equally well as wistful ballad and caustic portrayal of over-the-top idol worship; After the Soil Fails packed just about every contributing factor to the coming apocalypse into three furiously catchy minutes of minor-key noir blues. The crowd sang along on the bitterly tongue-in-cheek Come Back to the Movies, Buster Keaton and on the gently haunting closing number, Save Me Joe Louis, Eller sinking to his knees and whispering the outro like the song’s condemned man in the gas chamber.

Bliss Blood of the Moonlighters followed with a rare solo set of razor-sharp, period-perfect originals and a playful selection of covers from across the decades. A songwriter unsurpassed at evoking the subtle wit and exuberance of 1920s/30s swing, blues and Hawaiian music, her style is more cajolery than outright seduction, notwithstanding her stage outfit, in this case a vintage black slip over fishnets. “It’s like when the Moonlighters used to play Tonic, with industrial metal in the basement,” she sneered, as the thud from the downstairs room threatened to drown out her ukelele. “Let’s all stomp on the floor and scream!” The crowd was glad to comply. Her plaintive original Winter in My Heart (from the Moonlighters’ excellent new cd Enchanted) was inspired, she said, by an ex who refused her invites to join her on myspace and facebook – pretty cold, especially when you consider that there are guys out there who would probably be willing to pay to join Bliss Blood’s virtual circle of friends.

She worked every innuendo in Al Duvall‘s Sheet Music Man (also from the new album) for all they were worth, offered up cheerily swoony versions of the old jazz tunes Moanin’ Love and Fooling with the Other Woman’s Man, scurried through a fast, scorching take of the Moonlighters’ anti-maquiladora bolero Dirt Road Life as well as a trio of Kinks covers from Village Green. And then a request, Animal Farm (turns out she was a Kinks fan for a considerable time before she met the Davies brothers and Dave kissed her on the lips). “I could play all night,” she laughed before finally wrapping up her show with an original, the blithe hobo anthem Texarkana Bound, which is available as a free download. Comedic acoustic cowpunk Larry Bang Bang was next on the bill, which from what’s on his myspace could have been a lot of fun, but by then it was midnight on a work night and there were things to do, specifically, get home and stick a fan in the window before the place spontaneously combusted.

August 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Wiyos with Steppin In It at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/7/09

by Vanessa Lee Raymond

 

Joe’s Pub was cooking this Saturday night and the packed room positively hummed in anticipation. We found a perch at the bar just before the start of the show, and were pleased to find our drinks slung by none other than that ole whiskey drinker Josiah Early, a fellow roots musician.

 

Openers Steppin’ In It did us proud with their easy, laid-back oldtimey vibe. Frontman Joshua Davis kept the tone sweet and low with melodious vocals. Steel guitarist Joe Wilson did a small amount of show stealing, but we didn’t mind. And we must concede that the band is definitely getting their bang for their buck with accordionist/trumpeter/harmonica player Andy Wilson. In fact, across the board, the group’s lean roots songwriting matched their impressive musicianship. The sheer number of instruments the quartet played was astonishing – if anyone can explain the roster of oddly shaped mouth harps and flutes Wilson played throughout the evening, do tell. We’re intrigued.

 

Under the Wiyos’ marquee the stage became a street market for sounds, each musician hawking his wares in earnest. In addition to stellar steel guitar playing, driving bass, a theatre of vocals and solid guitar, we were presented with harmonicas, kazoos, wash-board, twin megaphones, beat box vocals, ukulele and an array of vocalizations and miniature noise-makers. The evening was marked with driving rhythms and witty repartee. Michael Farkas on lead vocals wooed the crowd with his winsome looks and shoe-shiner’s voice. Joebass lost his hat in the midst of a particularly hard-hitting tune. Parrish Ellis imparted a revealing road story (I thought what happens on tour stays on tour, no?) and educated us on the complex grammar of “faux-French.” The crowd was caught up in a circus of sound that whirled in with a beat boxer and whooshed out with a 10-piece encore comprised of the two touring bands and two special guests.

 

All in all we’re glad to see that the Wiyos are keeping good company, and it’s good to see them stop by their old stomping grounds every once in a while. We hope they make good on their promise to present the 10-piece ensemble next time they’re in town.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Drip Dryin’ with the Two Man Gentlemen Band

This is the kind of album you get for someone who delights in bedeviling their friends with ipod mixes and party cds. Or for a bartender. The Two Man Gentlemen Band’s fourth and latest cd has plenty of WTF moments waiting to happen and probably increases alcohol consumption. With mostly just banjo and upright bass, it’s more of the band’s characteristically lighthearted, jaunty, upbeat, oldtimey-flavored comedy songs. Multi-instrumentalist/frontman Andy Bean once again plays the incorrigible extrovert, with reliably good-natured results. The cd’s title track is a come-on, and ostensibly a dance invented by the band. The Jewel of 48th Avenue spoofs Gatsby-era love songs (she’s not just the prettiest girl in the neighborhood – she’s the only girl there). Fancy Beer is a joke song that needed to happen – though the duo don’t specify what qualifies as fancy: Amstel? Delirium Tremens? Satan? A menu would have been helpful.

 

Hey! Officer is the furthest thing from politically correct, the predictably disastrous tale of gaybaiting a cop. There’s also a tribute to one of the great sex pads on wheels, the minivan, another parody (about romancing a girl who loves croquet) and a boisterous rock remake of the title track featuring a nifty electric bass solo. The trouble with this group is that they’re a relatively quiet acoustic act who until recently played most of their shows in bars full of drunks who would appreciate their sometimes outrageous good humor but don’t get close enough to the stage. For a lot of people, this is a chance to enjoy the laughs they could have had during an evening of drinks if they’d been paying attention.

March 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review – The Wiyos

Like any other style of music that’s currently played, oldtimey music keeps evolving, maybe as much as it did eighty years ago before it went out of vogue, then eventually started leaking out of the archives, became retro and in demand again. Plus ca change. At the front of the parade are New York expats the Wiyos, best known for their frenetic live shows, but they also put out good cds and this one, their latest, is excellent. Recorded live to two-track tape, it maintains the energy and immediacy of 1920s blues and hillbilly music. Main songwriter Parrish Ellis’ playing on resonator guitar, five-string banjo and banjo uke is spiky and inspired, matched by his bandmates Michael Farkas on harmonica and washboard, Joseph Dejarnette on upright bass and Teddy Weber, mainly on acoustic guitar. Lyrically, their songs typically take on a period vernacular, particularly with the catalog of funeral requests on the rather eerie Dying Crapshooter’s Blues and cd’s opening track, the tongue-in-cheek hellraising anthem Jack and Boone.

 

The cd’s strongest suit is its diversity, matching the stark, minor-key stuff with the rueful country string band ballad Hudson Valley Line – “You were gone before you came through the pines” – and the gorgeous, more-apt-than-ever workingman’s lament Silver Spoon. To the band’s further credit, the cheese factor is kept at a minimum – while this is a band that isn’t above using as kazoo for a solo, this isn’t a silly cd (although that song about ants in pants is). Fans of all the A-list, popular retro people – Tom Waits, AA Bondy, the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the Moonlighters will all dig this. The Wiyos play Joe’s Pub on Mar 7 at 7:30 PM

March 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roulette Sisters at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/18/07

A deliriously fun, hot, sweaty show. It was late on a Monday night, but the place was packed. The crowd sang along, and when they weren’t singing, they were laughing at all the subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres the band was harmonizing on. Because (other than great musicianship and gorgeous 4-part harmonies and stone cold authentic acoustic blues playing), sex is what the Roulette Sisters are all about. Lou Pearlman couldn’t have come up with a better marketing concept: four attractive women singing innuendo-laden oldtime music – an impressively wide-ranging mix of blues, country and 1920s/30s pop – playing their own instruments, singing beautifully and writing a lot of their own material. They opened with Coney Island Washboard: guitarist Mamie Minch explained how it was an instrumental from the early 20s given lyrics by a popular pop group, the Mills Brothers, about ten years later. Lead guitarist Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) added a typically suggestive postscript, telling the audience about a co-worker who was walking around the office all day wearing something akin to the “brand new suit of easy breezes” in the song’s chorus. A little later they did another original, inspired by the Carter Family, that wouldn’t be out of place on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Minch had just asked her bandmates whether they should do a pretty song or a dirty song when she was suddenly interrupted. “Fuck!” She’d just gotten a jolt of electric current from her mic. Her bandmates grinned at each other, and the question was answered: they launched into the hokum blues classic Keep on Churnin’:

Keep on churning til the butter comes
Keep on pumping, let the butter flow
Wipe off the paddle and churn some more

The crowd roared for another in the same vein, so they obliged, with heir most popular original, Hottest Girl in Town. The song is a hoot: each band member takes a verse laden with Freudian imagery, some verging on X-rated, detailing how their boyfriends like to please them. Viola player Karen Waltuch, who played incisive, somewhat dark solos all night long, took her most intricate one of the evening after her verse and the crowd loved it.

Then was Reichardt’s turn to bring the house down with an outtake from Dolly Parton’s first album, a deliciously righteous tale of a jilted woman wanting to get even with the woman who married her man: “I feel like tying dynamite to her side of the car.” After that, Minch delivered an especially sly version of the Bessie Smith hit Sugar in My Bowl.

The excellent Al Duvall – who’s quite the master of thinly veiled dirty lyrics himself – accompanied them on banjo on their last four songs, ending with a brand-new composition about a sheet music plugger (plugger: get it?) which Minch sang off a lyric sheet. She began the song as a talking blues but by the end she’d written a vocal melody and had it down cold.

You heard it here first: this band is going places. Our predecessor e-zine picked their cd Nerve Medicine as best debut album of 2006. Good to see that prediction come true, with this fantastic band getting some real momentum.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments