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Winter Break Diversion


This month, it is time to get your mind off baseball. Take a break. Let someone else project players for you. Whether you use Bill James, Ron Shandler, ZIPS, STATS, Baseball Prospectus or Ken Warren, they are all probably as good or better than what you would calculate on your own. This year I have projected just my own players, along with players I have considered trading for, and players people ask me about, or discuss in mcscoresheet or scoresheet-talk. However, I am going try to take December off and let Ken and BP come up with some numbers for the rest. The two of them combined are a good compliment because they use completely different approaches. BP cranks up similarity studies. Ken measures skill sets demonstrated mainly over the two most recent seasons and applies luck factors, aging, and other variables to them. He does allow a little subjectivity such as assessing the effects of particular injuries to the player’s performance. (See address on right side of this home page for Ken’s which will be out some time in February.) A BP study several years ago rated Ken’s about as good as anyone’s except theirs. Another expert confided to me that their testing method was highly flawed. Anyway, I don’ know many people who have the time to make better projections. And, if anyone has a valid study which points to other projections as significantly superior, PLEASE, let me know through scoresheet-talk. You can talk to Ken and I directly there and his respectable doubters – and sometimes some of the BP guys (Ken Huckabay and Ben King, for example) or Rotowire guys (Jeff Erickson and frequent contributor John R. Mayne) chime in, too.


So, enough baseball for now. I’m serious. Let’s talk about music. A close friend of my daughter’s Ali Slaight is getting some air play here in Toronto (“The Story of Your Life”). She sings beautifully in a wide variety of styles, and she is a big hearted fun girl. Although, she hasn’t taken the step of producing a music video. I’m not sure she has the self confidence to be a star. If you can find her version of “Kiss From a Rose on a Grave”, you will love it, I promise. However, her music is only available on special collaborative CDs. There is an all girls CD, which “introduces her” among top stars coming out soon.


Canada is long known for its hockey players, of course, and recently known for its comedic acting stars: Jim Carey, Mike Myers, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Eugene Levy, Katherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Andrea Martin, etc. Heck, Canada’s best known “band” of recent years - Barenaked Ladies  - to a large degree sings comedy.


However, I’ll take on any other country’s cache of female music talents – Canada can top them. Obviously living up here, I am exposed to much more Canadian “talent”, so take this observation with that caveat. I am aware that the U. S. has thousands of gospell trained singers who could put to shame many famous singers including ones mentioned below, but for various reasons remain doomed to obscurity. The reason I am inspired to write this article is that my two favorite ipod/itunes choices of the past month are both Canadian and both Emilies: Emilie-Claire Barlow and Emily Haines (of Metric and Broken Social Scene). Here is another coincidence: both of these girls went to Etobicoke School of the Arts on the western edge of Toronto. Allow me to add that both of my kids have close friends who went/are going there (but not Ali). Wow, so what? OK, let’s run down the list of excellent female Canadian recording artists.


Do you like jazz? You must like British Columbia’s Diana Krall (and wife of real Brit Elvis Costello). I am even more fond of Holly Cole from the opposite Canadian coast (Halifax). Her version of McCartney-Lennon’s “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is a thrill every time I hear it. Every song on Torontonian Molly Johnson’s eponymous CD is a gem. She exudes her seductive humor with her rich voice. However, this Emilie-Claire Barlow (another Torontonian) is an awesome talent covering mostly standards, nailing them with a vibrancy you cannot believe. Try “Bye Bye Blackbird”.


Perhaps, you are into country. I’m not into country per se, but when it is blended with jazz and the perfect singing/songwriting talent of Alberta’s kd lang, what could go wrong? You would likely get addicted to her masterpiece CD Ingenue or its showcase “Constant Craving”. That album is not country at all, really, but lang gets categorized as such. Of course, one of the most popular female country singer of recent times and, perhaps, all-time is none other than Shania Twain of mining town Timmins, Ontario. You might call the Rankins family country (with vocals led by the three sisters). It’s a style peculiar to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and they are the best. Listen to “Fare Thee Well Love”, for a good example.


Mainstream pop is more your thing? What have ‘70s icons Joni Mitchell and Anne Murray wrought? (Don’t overlook the ‘70s’ under heralded McGarrigle Sisters. Just listen to the original “Heart Like a Wheel” and try not to cry.) There wasn’t much to choose from in the 80s, but if I had to pick a female favorite, it might be Toronto’s Jane Siberry who’s originality and genius with vocal arrangements sets her apart. Listen to her team up with kd lang on “Calling All Angels”. In 1995, Ottawa born and bred Alanis Morrisette completely rocked us with an entire CD of great songs Jagged Little Pill. With her songs and Shania Twains’ looks, you can forgive Canada for foisting Quebec’s Celine Dion on us, but you can’t deny she is a great singer. Another Halifax girl Sarah McLaughlin emerged in the late 90s as a brilliant recording artist. Her great song “Sweet Surrender” might only be topped by her contribution to a Canadian new age group Delerium “Silence”. Around the end of the century another Canadian female songwriter blew me away with her songwriting and singing: Chantel Kraviasuk. First, she knocks me out with her cover of John Denver’s “Jet Plane” more famously covered by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Then her own “Surrounded” and “Blue” completely tie up my soul. Kraviasuk was a child piano prodigy from Winnipeg.


Of my 6 favorite CDs of the year 2000 – maybe not one of the best years - three are by English groups. As Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Yes are my all-time favorite groups, that is not unusual. In 2000, Radiohead was my favorite band, although, I felt Kid A was a disappointment compared to their previous two CDs, but what wouldn’t be? Coldplay debuted that year with Parachutes. A group led by English female singer/songwriter called Goldfrapp made a spellbinding CD called Felt Mountain. The one American CD in my top 6 that year was probably the best: The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. The other two were by Canadian women: Molly Johnson and You Were Here by Sarah Harmer a native of southern Ontario’s urban corridor. The songs on the latter CD were so simple, yet so haunting, they were immediately enjoyable and left you yearning to play them again and again. You may have heard “Basement Apartment”. The following year, my top 6 would again include two Canadian ladies. It also includes (just barely) a Radiohead CD Amnesiac, an Icelandic female singer of spellbinding virtuosity (Bjork, of course, with Vespertine), and Scottish female singer fronting the American group Garbage with Beautiful Garbage, another top-of-the-list CD made in the USA (Rockin’ the Suburbs by Ben Folds), and my favorite Christmas season record - Holly Cole’s Baby It’s Cold Out There. The other Canadian CD is Nelly Furtado’s Whoa, Nelly! Furtado is proudly of Portuguese descent from a terribly English Canadian small beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia. Now Furtado and, yet, another Canadian female pop star Avril Levigne are two of the biggest singing stars on the planet. I have to confess, however, “I’m With You” is the only Levigne song I’ve heard which I found touching. Still, she’s quite an impressive young talent from Napanee, Ontario (think of a vast stretch of farmland three hours from either Toronto or Montréal). The biggest rising female pop star of 2007, at least among music critics, just might be another Canadian: Feist. Leslie Feist grew up in Western Canada: Regina and Calgary. She joined Broken Social Scene in 2002 and won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) for You Forget It in People. Back on her own “My Moon My Man” may have mugged more FM time this year. Finally, we come to Enily Haines who has made excellent music as the frontwoman for Metric as well as with collaborations with Broken Social Scene with and not with Leslie Feist. My favorite music of hers, though, goes by Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton, which is essentially just Emily and her piano. Play “Our Hell” a couple times, then try to stay away from it. You can’t do it. I don’t know why, but you can’t. Haines’s childhood took her from New Dehli, India to the summer cottage region of Peterborough, Ontario, to Entobicoke/Toronto.

John Carter