Category Archives: Gear Reviews

Zee Avi’s debut album a vocal and instrumental masterpiece

Album art courtesy Brushfire Records

Album art courtesy Brushfire Records

Why do I like Zee Avi so much?  Could it be her novelty?  If you’ve listened to her, you know what I mean by that.  Avi’s voice is completely unique.  And not in a calculated or blatant way.  Her sound is a striking mix of Billie Holiday and Norah Jones.  The former was known for tailoring her vocals to sound like a horn.  Indeed, play some Billie Holiday and walk away from the speaker until the words sound muddled.  What you still hear will sound very similar to a trumpet or a sax playing.

Purposefully or not, Avi’s voice shares this characteristic, which may be why the horn accompaniment on her recently released debut album sounds so appropriate.  In fact, one of this album’s pillars is the instrumentation used in these songs, my only previous exposure to which were Avi’s minimalist YouTube videos.

The more I listen to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire artists, the more I conclude that ingenious instrumentation is what sets them apart.  Somebody (or somebody’s) over in Mango Tree has an impeccable knack for mixing instruments and sounds.  I’ve noticed it ever since the Jack’s In Between Dreams.  For the record, whoever tweets for Brushfire told me kudos on Avi’s album go to members of Jack’s and Matt Costa’s bands and Ozomatli.  Somebody’s calling the shots, though, and I’d like to shake their hand.

Of course the real star on this album is Miss Zee Avi, her songs, and the emotion she conveys in her voice.  Avi is one of those artists that make you feel like you know them simply by singing a song.  Each of the albums 12 tracks is a musical delight.

I won’t go track by track, but favorites include “Just You and Me,” “Monte,” and “Honey Bee.”  If you’re a selective music purchaser like I am, I’d buy these tracks online for a nice introduction.  Then, in this case, of course I’d buy the rest.

Noteworthy highlights include the simple guitar melody on “The Story,” a song that is best listened to at night in the mountains, and the horn/vocal duet on “Just You and Me” which illustrates my point about the voice-horn comparison.  The rolling “Darling” would sound equally at home on a road trip or in a club.

You might assume, based on my previous doting, that I’d have no complaints about the album.  You would be wrong.  “Poppy,” Avi’s first original song, and “First of the Gang” are lackluster at best.  And “Kantoi” is downright annoying.  Mind you, these tracks are fine vocally and musically.  They’re just somehow less than the sum of their parts.

I also might have arranged the album differently.  Ordering the slow, emotive “Is This the End” right after the bubbly “Just You and Me” takes the air out of things mid-album.  “Is This the End” would be better appreciated were it the album closer.  A track featuring Jack Johnson in some way would have topped things off very nicely.  Here’s hoping that happens on her next album.

These criticisms considered, Miss Avi has me hooked.  This album is mature beyond its scope and rich beyond its simplicity.  I just ask that after she becomes a mega star, that Avi not forget the little old bloggers like me who had her back from the beginning.  Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful career!


Product review: Buffalo Jerky from gotta be honest—my first thought when I opened up my latest package from was “Oh no, not pepper.  Anything but pepper!”

I was worried about giving their buffalo jerky a fair shake in my review, since I have no doubt they wouldn’t have sent me the sample were they not fairly confident I’d like it.  I just happened to dislike peppered jerky just like I happen to dislike mushrooms.  Would it be fair to discount a gourmet dish prepared by Iron Cheff Bobby Flay simply based on the inclusion of mushrooms?  No, it wouldn’t.  And that’s why I was worried about this review.

Of course that worry was decisively quelled the second I opened up the bag and gave the stuff a try.  Aside from “delicious,” one word can describe the taste:  balance.’s peppered buffalo jerky is quite possibly the best jerky I’ve ever tasted.  Before you dismiss that claim as hyperbole, consider that beef jerky might as well be its own food group for me, and that I live just down the street from a very popular local jerky manufacturer.

Anybody can gather good ingredients, just like prominent sports teams can buy the best players.  But as any sports fan will attest, if the team doesn’t have chemistry, they’ll fall short every time.  And while the fine ingredients used to create this buffalo jerky certainly play their part, it’s the balance of those ingredients that makes it so good.

I quickly realized that I don’t hate peppered jerky—I just hate how the pepper upstages all of the other flavors in every other peppered jerky I’ve tried.  Don’t get me wrong, the pepper here isn’t muted.  It simply knows its place:  to enhance rather than define.

The buffalo itself is amazing.  I’ve always preferred it to beef when it comes to jerky.  Buffalo isn’t gamey at all, and it’s much healthier than beef.  The soy sauce and pineapple juice marinade used here brings out the natural flavor of the buffalo meat impeccably.

When it comes to texture and chew, this stuff gets a solid A.  One element that’s often overlooked by jerky makers is manageability.  I was able to portion out slabs of the jerky with one hand while negotiating a rough doubletrack in my minivan (see my recent post about bushwhacking near Iosepa), proving that jerky doesn’t need to be processed and formed into bite-sized nuggets in order to make it a good on-the-go snack.

In short,’s Buffalo Jerky is a satisfying balance of salty and tangy that is positively addictive.  My advice?  Exercise restraint and savor it when you get yours in the mail.  Because even if you go with the big pack, all too soon you’ll wonder where it went.

Buffalo Jerky comes in 2 and 8 oz. bags ($9.99 and $25.99 respectively, free shipping).  Buy it here.

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Posted by on June 3, 2009 in Gear Reviews


Product Review: Sasquatch jerky from

jerkycom-sasquatch-jerkyI don’t know if my review of’s pineapple jerky generated any business for them, but they must have been at least somewhat pleased, because I received another package from them the other day.

“I’m sending you some of the good stuff,” read an email from president Doug Iske a few days prior.  Excellent, I thought.  Some sweet and spicy kobe beef jerky, or maybe some of those gourmet elk strips.

Nope, the guys at surprised me again.  And this time, I gotta say I was a little overwhelmed by the contents of my sample bag.

I’ll admit I listen to a little Art Bell from time to time– when I’m driving at night and have decent AM reception.  But I’m a natural skeptic.  And the last time the word “Sasquatch” entered my mind was the day I saw “Harry and the Hendersons” at the theater.

Last time I checked, big foot was still a myth.  So how these guys 1) captured the animal, and 2) made it into such a delicious smelling snack, I’ll never know.

I didn’t ask questions. The pleasantly light, savory aroma brought the wheels in my head to a screeching stop.

For some reason I thought Sasquatch would be gamey, or at least have a heavy iron aftertaste, like duck.  I didn’t expect it to taste similar to venison.  The hint of liquid smoke– if that’s what it was– was unnecessary.  The meat’s natural flavor stands on its own.

Had I checked out the price on’s Sasquatch Jerky product page before I devoured most of my sample pack, I would have taken more time to savor it.  I’m not going to lie, an 8 oz. bag of this stuff will cost you a pretty penny.  But given the rarity of sasquatch and, as Doug explained, the cost and red tape involved with drawing a sasquatch tag in Oregon, the price isn’t half bad.

I’ll leave the hunting and politics to’s contractors.  I’m still enjoying the aftertaste of my last piece of sasquatch jerky.  Even if you don’t have $500 to drop on a bag of this exotic stuff, it’s worth checking out anyway.

Thanks again for the sample, jerky guys.  Another excellent product.

Sasquatch Jerky comes in 8 oz. bags containing a generous 8-10 slices ($499.99 with free shipping). The widest selection of U.S. made jerky products to fit every budget.

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Posted by on April 1, 2009 in Gear Reviews


Product Review: Pineapple Jerky from

When the guys at said they’d like to send me some of their pineapple jerky for review, I naturally expected some kind of pineapple flavored beef jerky.  After all, the word “jerky” derives from the ancient Incan word “Ch’arki,” meaning “dried meat.”

So I was a bit surprised when I received a package of actual pineapple slices.  As jerky-savvy as I pride myself on being (it’s been a staple of my existence as far back as I can remember), I was unaware of the industry’s forays into the jerkification of actual fruit.

Not that the concept of dried fruit has eluded me.  I just never thought to call the mango chunks in my trail mix “jerky.”  Maybe that’s because dried fruit usually comes so infused with sugar that it looks and tastes more like a cheap candy than fruit.  The ingredients in’s pineapple jerky?  Pineapple, honey.  Period.

Good jerky is prepared with the intent of preserving and highlighting the natural flavors of the food.  I’m happy to report that’s pineapple jerky achieves that goal in delightful fashion.

Kudos to whomever came up with the idea of dehydrating slices of fresh Maui pineapple and glazing them with honey.  I ate one slice immediately after the package arrived and vowed to save the rest for later.  Another 10 minutes didn’t pass before two more were gone.

The slices in my sample were supple and much less sticky than I imagined when I read “honey” on the label.  Each slice was thick enough to be satisfying, but thin enough to bite right into with my front teeth (no folding or pre-tearing necessary– excellent).  The pineapple’s full taste was front and center, the honey a very subtle undertone.  It was obvious that the team put some serious thought into this snack.

I know what you’re wondering:  How’s the core?  Can I eat the core?  Indeed, dear reader, you can.  The cores in my sample varied slightly in texture from slice to slice, which I imagine is because not every slice in the bag comes from the same fruit.  Some cores had a near-perfect consistency while some were a little on the pulpy side.  I don’t eat the core parts of raw pineapples, but in their jerkified state, they’re a surprisingly edible bonus.

I felt like I needed to put on a little Jake Shimabukuro or Jack Johnson music to fully enjoy the rest of my sample, but the remaining slices didn’t last that long.  Bottom line:’s all natural pineapple jerky is just plain good–  made in the true spirit of jerky, and worthy enough to carry along on any adventure.

Pineapple Jerky comes in ¼ pound bags containing 5-8 slices ($9.99 with free shipping). The widest selection of U.S. made jerky products to fit every budget.


Posted by on March 12, 2009 in Gear Reviews


Weekly Run-Down: Horse tales, new U2, and Twitter

Horsing Around
As much as I respect and admire the elegant creature that is the horse, we’ve had sort of a rocky relationship.  Last weekend I was reintroduced to horseback riding thanks to Janet Hancey of the West Desert Chapter of the Back Country Horsemen of Utah and her 15 year old mustang, Reno.

Our ride along the Oquirrh benches is the subject of this week’s newspaper article, which will print in Thursday’s edition of the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.  I’m limited to 1000 words for these columns, so I didn’t have time to fully explain my falling out with Equus ferus caballus.

Had I more room, I would have told about the time an overly affectionate horse nearly sent me plunging to my bloody death in Pockets Fork, or the time a spooked stud sent my sister to the ER with a nasty concussion.

Instead, I stuck with embarrassing horse-related date-gone-wrong stories.  Believe it or not, I do indeed have more than one horse-related date-gone-wrong story.  Stay tuned!

Pineapple Jerky?
Heck yeah.  The folks at sent me some for a product review, which I’ll post sometime next week.  Good stuff.  Dang good stuff.

No Line on the Horizon is here!
Got it this morning at Wal-Mart.  I purchase the bulk of my music online, but some artists simply deserve more of an effort.  I’m about 3/4 of the way through the album now.  I’ll post a detailed review sometime in the future, but my initial thoughts may be boiled down to one line:

Lyrically lacking, musically brilliant.

More to come.

Tweet Tweet
Ok, so I caved and hopped on the Facebook bandwagon in December.  Last week I decided to check out Twitter.  I mock the cell phone texting phenomenon, which is how a lot of people do their twittering.  I still think texting is dumb (though the term “texting” may actually be dumber than the activity itself), and it annoys me when people text while driving or when their attention should be elsewhere.

But this Twitter thing is like blogging for the attention deficit.  So it’s Right up my alley!  Just FYI, though–  thus far my updates are infrequent (see my views on “texting” above) and fairly impersonal.  I think that’s a wise course of action.

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Posted by on March 3, 2009 in Gear Reviews, Music, U2, Weekly Run-Down


Gear Review: Tarpeez soft cover tarps

[UPDATE 12/07/2009 My site stats show this post gets a lot of hits, so I would do potential Tarpeez buyers a disservice if I didn’t post an update on my Tarpeez tarp.  I stand by my review below, but I should let you know that mine broke just over two months after I wrote it.

I had covered my utility trailer with it after taking my family to cut a Christmas tree.  On the drive back home (straight highway, flat road, doing about 75 mph) the tarp ripped away from its fastening cord, leaving me 75 miles from home with no way to secure my load.  I still like the product, but keeping a backup on hand might be a good idea.]

Can’t speak for the truck, but Tarpeez has my trailer covered!

Two things you can never accuse me of are being normal or fitting in. So it should come as no surprise that my very first gear review centers on the “unorthodox” use of the product in question. Now before the people at Tarpeez start sweating bullets, let me just state up front that while I have no idea how well their truck tarp works on a truck, it definitely earns an ‘A’ for its performance on my trailer.

Long story short- I received a standard-size tarp. My dad’s truck has a full-size bed.

Not a problem, because the tarp was a near-perfect fit for my 4 ½’ x 8’ SnowBear utility trailer.

Between landscaping, camping, and trips to the landfill, I do a lot of hauling with my trusty SnowBear. Up until I received my Tarpeez review unit, my search for a functional, non headache-inducing canopy for the trailer. Run-of-the-mill tarps are always either too big or too small, which meant weaving two smaller tarps together or rolling with an oversized parachute. Other more creative options were always sub-par, and I haven’t the patience to deal the tangled nightmares of a net.

So when “dumps day” rolled around this month, I decided to visit the Tarpeez website and put its claims to the test.

My load included boxes, tree branches, and a toilet. Since the tarp was specifically designed for use on a truck bed, I expected to take extra time figuring out how to secure it to my trailer. To my surprise, the single, continuous bungee and strategically placed hooks adapted well to the bars and walls on the trailer. In fact, it took only a minute to throw it on and secure the load.

Broken ceramic and sharp jutting branches strategically placed so as to thoroughly test the company’s claims of durability didn’t so much as scratch the tarp’s smooth, hearty material– even after a faster-than-normal detour down a barely passable dirt road. And though the canopy didn’t completely cover the load, none of the smaller items escaped along the way. On the way back home, I picked up a load of loose compost. Again, the tarp was easy to install and kept the load secure for the duration of the trip.

But my Tarpeez cover had one more test to pass when I got home– the test failed almost by tents, sleeping bags, and other tarps– the “will it fit back in it’s stuff sack” test. I’m happy to report that my Tarpeez easily stuffed back into it’s bag in about 20 seconds.

The verdict: Tarpeez soft cover tarps are simple, tough, functional, and adaptable. Now that I’ve got the trailer covered, I can’t wait to get one for the truck.

Check them out at


Posted by on September 17, 2008 in Gear Reviews