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Tag: tamara hey

An Intensive, Informative, Entertaining Music Course For Everyone

Tamara Hey’s intensive Alphabet City Music Workshops are all about bang for the buck. Classes meet once a week and are very immersive. In a city where topnotch private instruction is everywhere, what’s the advantage? Money, obviously, but also an entertaining environment: these classes are very lively.

Who takes these courses? This blog was in the house for Hey’s Basic Theory 1 class back in 2014, and also for a relatively rare installment of her more advanced Basic Theory 2. The participants in the more advanced class were an intimate bunch: a busy jazz guitarist, a Moroccan-born classical pianist, a singer-songwriter, the frontwoman of a cover band and a longtime sideman working up material for his own project, looking for a refresher course in chart writing. Hey’s currently teaching her popular Music Basics 2 course, for the fist time in a couple of years, in an information-packed three-week session starting March 19, meeting weekly on Tuesdays from 7 to 9 PM through April 2. Comparably speaking, the $105 fee – which can be paid once class starts – is a real bargain, less than a single individual session with a topnoch instructor. The classroom is about a block from the Astor Place train station on the 6 line.

Beyond erudite banter and debate over issues like whether a swing beat is based on a triplet rhythm, or whether the Stones’ Time Is on My Side is in 6/8 or 12/8 time – both of which came up in Basic Theory 2 the last time around – these classes are all about information. You are expected to participate – classes are small, so there’s really no way to be a wallflower – and complete your homework. If you can handle a brisk pace and are committed to learning the material, you will have an awful lot of fun; if you fall behind, it will be less so.

Hey tailors these courses to students’ needs, beyond the basic syllabus. In the Basic Theory 1 class that this blog’s proprietor took, everybody wanted to write charts, so that’s what we focused on. The Basic Theory 2 crowd was more consumed by in the nuts and bolts of songwriting, so there was a lot of analysis and disassembling, using examples from the Beatles to the Kinks to Maroon 5, to name just three.

Along with a weekly class, there’s audio and also a workbook which might be the best bargain of all. Months after you’ve taken the course, if you’ve forgotten something, you can look it up. Basic Theory 1 was built around the circle of fifths: we didn’t get to minors and seventh chords like we eventually did in Theory 2. Ear training and transcription are integral parts of all her courses; Theory 2 requires a basic ability to read music and at least a familiarity with the circle of fifths, while with the course currently being offered, Music Basics 2, a basic knowledge of major scales and rhythm is useful but not mandatory: everybody is welcome.

Hey’s wit in front of the class reflects her devious, clever approach to songwriting – she’s been touring a lot lately, which is why she hasn’t offered this course in awhile. She had a fondness for very short songs with big punchlines, and she really knows her catchy hooks. To get  a sense where she’s coming from in the classroom, you might want to check out her show March 27 at 6 PM at the small room at the Rockwood, where she’s followed at 7 by another deviously funny, more eclectic tunesmith, Lorraine Leckie.

Tamara Hey Brings Her Wickedly Funny, Smart Story-Songs to the Rockwood

Tamara Hey’s soaring voice has charmed and captivated audiences here in her native New York for over a decade. She writes meticulously detailed, magically crystallized three-minute pop songs which, just like her vocals, are disarmingly deep. She’s also one of the great wits in music: an edgy sense of humor infuses everything she writes, even in the gloomiest moments. And her punchlines have O. Henry irony and Amy Rigby bittersweetness.

Yet even in Hey’s most optimistic scenarios, there are always dark clouds somewhere in the distance. She also happens to  be the rare conservatory-trained musician who doesn’t waste notes or let her chops get in the way of saying something as directly as possible, musically or lyrically. She’s playing the small room at the Rockwood on July 1 at 6 PM as part of an intriguing lineup. You know how it is at that place: run ‘em in, run ‘em, off without any regard for what the segues might be like, but in this case the 5 PM act, lyrical parlor pop band Paper Citizen make a good opener. And the 10 PM and midnight acts – southern gothic keyboardist/singer Sam Reider and guitarslinger Mallory Feuer’s fiery power trio the Grasping Straws – are also worth seeing, if you can hold out that long on a work night.

Hey played her most recent Rockwood gig to a packed house back in March. “Thanks for choosing me over Stormy Daniels,” she grinned, appreciating that everybody wasn’t pulling up CNN on their phones instead. Hey’s hilarious opening number, Your Mother Hates Me set the stage. Anybody who’s been in a relationship long enough to meet the ‘rents can relate. The resentment simmering just beneath Hey’s steady fingerpicking was visceral, and the jokes – especially the one about guys’ moms assuming that the girlfriend is a slut – were too good to give away.

She took her time working her way into Miserably Happy, the title of her 2008 album, drawing a few chuckles along the way as she picked up steam – it was like Blondie’s Dreaming, but wide awake, and with a stronger singer out front. Hey went back into stingingly funny mode after that with another new one, Rainy Rainy Cloud, a drivingly anthemic, snarky, spot-on portrait of a jealous frenemy.

She followed We Lean on Cars – a bittersweetly vivid portrait of North Bronx adolescent anomie – with Umbrella, a similarly imagistic, mutedly jazzy rainy-day tableau. Round Peg, a subtly slashing commentary on women’s body image and ridiculous societal pressures, was next and drew rousing applause.

Hey dedicated a stripped-down take of the powerpop gem Somebody’s Girl to fellow songsmith Lorraine Leckie, who was in the house and had dedicated her song Nobody’s Girl to Hey at a recent Mercury Lounge gig.

Isabelle, a plaintive folk-rock ballad with an evil twist, pondered the potential of a newlywed friend getting subsumed in her new marriage. Then Hey picked up the pace again with Drive and its understated escape subtext. 

After Girl Talk, which rose from a goth-tinged bassline to a powerpop insistence, Hey closed with David #3 – an absurdly funny tale about guys women really should stay away from – and encored with the gentle Thanks a Lot, New York, NY, a shout-out from an artist who doesn’t take her hometown for granted. Something like this could keep you enchanted on the first of the month down on Allen Street.

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.

Assessing Tamara Hey’s Intensive, Practical Music Theory Class

One aspect of the New York music scene that this blog hasn’t covered until now is music education. You can get as high-level training as you want in this city…if you can afford it. But you also don’t have to come from robber baron money to take advantage of some of the opportunities available to musicians who are hungry for practical knowledge.

It might be an overstatement to say that you get a semester’s worth of music school out of one of Tamara Hey‘s intensive Alphabet City Music workshops, but there’s still an enormous amount of material packed into a five-week course. Hey describes her Basic Theory 1 class – which this blog attended the previous time it was offered – as a way to learn to read and write music, understand keys, transpose melodies, create basic charts for songs, and have fun in the process. All of this is true…and there’s much more to it.

Be aware that Hey’s courses, taught in small groups with plenty of attention to students’ individual needs, are not for people who want to goof off in class or skip homework. On the other hand, if you want to get the most bang for the buck, you’re committed to learning a great deal of useful information in a short period of time, and you’d rather not spring for a huge student loan or pay conservatory tuition, these courses are a real bargain. The Basic Theory 1 with an Intro to Chart Writing Workshop will be offered again beginning on Tuesday, Oct 28 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM and continuing weekly through December 2; the classes are located close to the Astor Place 6 train station and 8th St. N and R stations.  No advance payment is required for preregistration.

And the material you get for outside of class is just as substantial: there are exhaustive ear training exercises based on a vast library of mp3s – enough work to keep you busy for a whole night – and also a workbook that enables you to build your understanding intuitively . It nudges you along so that if you don’t get something the first time around, you will the second time if you’re paying attention. Yes, there’s homework, every week, and yes, you’re expected to participate in class. That’s how it is in an elite conservatory environment, the kind where Hey received her training. But this is a lot less stressful and more fun.

Hey’s bona fides are her education (she’s a Berklee grad), her background (twenty years of teaching, beginning in her undergrad days) and her own tunesmithing. Her songwriting is catchy, counterintuitive and urbane to the nth degree, spiced with humor and clever puns. Maybe somewhat ironically, she’s not the cutup in class that she can be onstage. Leading a workshop, she’s all business. Don’t expect to be ignored in class: she likes to get a handle on what your individual goals and reasons for studying are and will direct her attention to you when a topic or device is particularly applicable. Her approach is friendly and down-to-earth but very focused.

What was class like? Intense. Hey moved through the material methodically, using examples from the past five decades of music as diverse as Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Cheap Trick and Tom Petty (remember, this was an introductory course). Who takes these classes? The students in this one included one of New York’s elite rock songwriters, who is now performing choral music as well; a longtime sideman with designs on leading a group and therefore in need of a refresher course in chart writing; a busy jazz singer, who was able to fix a messy chart in a pinch at a high-profile gig based on information learned in this class; a beginner singer-songwriter and guitarist; a retired pianist, and a nonmusician. While there wasn’t the kind of competition you might find in a music school environment, being around good musicians is like being in a band with them: they’ll push you to take your game to the next level. And there was plenty of that, with lively debate over technical issues, and terminology, and the minutiae of notating a melody, which Hey arbitrated with considerable relish. Moments like those are clearly fun for her, and she made them fun for the class as well.

Purist Tunesmithing and a Slipper Room Show from Tamara Hey

Tamara Hey is New York to the core. She’s got an edgy sense of humor, a laser sense for a catchy classic pop hook and one of the most unselfconsciously ravishing voices in any style of music. Her album Miserably Happy (streaming at Spotify) is aptly titled: there’s a bittersweet dichotomy in her songs, biting lyrics with indelible New York City imagery set to a warmly tuneful blend of acoustic and electric folk-pop and powerpop. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on May 8 at 7 PM; cover is $10.

The opening track, You Wear Me Out sets the stage: a deceptively sugary pop narrative about an exasperating guy who won’t give his girlfriend any breathing room. One minute he’s in the West Village with her, hell-bent on showing the world he’s not gay; the next he’s getting his mom on his side since the girl just happens to be the right religion for the holidays. The second track, Round Peg puts an only slightly lighthearted spin on the grim issue of female body issues: the narrator wishes she could relax and eat up like her full-figured friend rather than being “bitter in the center and no fun to be around.”

Umbrella, a delicate, vivid rainy-day tableau is a showcase for Hey’s clear, cool, crystalline maple sugar voice. Hey follows that with the backbeat powerpop gem Somebody’s Girl, a cleverly quirky number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Patti Rothberg catalog. Then Hey gets quiet and reflective again with Isabelle, which could be about schadenfreude, or the exasperation that comes with watching a dear friend screw up for the umpteenth time – or both.

Drive will resonate with any oldschool New Yorker. It starts with a 9/11 reference:

Any bright sunny day
With a low-flying plane
New York City, I lose feeling in my fingers
When there’s no subsequent crash
The blood returns and I go back
To doing what I do
But it still lingers

Then it hits a powerpop pulse with staccato strings and a biting Art Hays guitar solo, Hey hell-bent on just a momentary respite from crowded trains and random urban hassles. Likewise, the lushly arranged nocturne Long Dog Day vividly evokes post-dayjob exhaustion and the challenge of pulling yourself together for the rest of the evening.

The album’s funniest song, David #3 sardonically looks at how women get caught up with guys they really ought to stay away from – she hates his Red Sox hat, and when he’s in jail, since she can’t bail him out, she’s going to miss him! With Hey’s elegant tenor guitar intro, the album’s title track reimagines the Blondie hit Dreaming with more of an Americana edge. The final cut, October Sun, a gentle, pretty waltz, examines the price you pay for living intensely: “I unravel, not unwind,” Hey scowls, her lead guitarist channeling George Harrison during his solo. The whole album is one of the unsung purist pop releases of recent years.

Hey is also offering a very inexpensive series of Tuesday night workshops in music theory and writing lead sheets and charts beginning April 29 and continuing for five weeks through May 27.. As you might expect from her lyrics, Hey has a sardonic wit, and a disarmingly direct, commonsensical approach to music, qualities well suited to teaching. Classes run from 6:30 to 8:30 in the Astor Place neighborhood, close to the 6, N and R trains. If you can’t make the classes, Hey will also have courses available online starting in May, email for information or register online.

New York Music Daily’s Sunday Salon: Blowing Our Own Horn

Sooner or later, every music blog seems to get into the business of booking bands. For this blog, that means coming full circle, having come out of booking into blogging and then back again. It makes sense: if you do your homework, you’re connected to a vast musical network. Some blogs do it for the money, booking acts everybody else does. The indie rock blogs do it for status. New York Music Daily does it to be part of history. That’s ultimately what this blog is about, anyway: an attempt to chronicle some of the most important musical things happening right now. Unlike the Bushwick blogs’ loft shows, the weekly 5 PM Sunday Salon at Zirzamin isn’t a clique. Quality artists are always welcome to participate, and anyone is welcome to watch the show. Today’s review is a shout-out to the core of brilliant New York artists who’ve kept the Salon going since its debut right after last year’s hurricane, with a look back at the last few weeks of shows by those acts and some others who’ve been featured on this page in recent months as well.

The Salon typically finishes with a 7 PM set.  Sunday Salon #27 was a cancellation, so the acts took turns working out new material and showcasing a few audience favorites. Acoustic blues singer/guitarist Lola Johnson was a highlight of this show, joined by her excellent washboard player, whose custom-built instrument had bells and all sorts of other percussion built into it. Working her way from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago, Johnson impressed the most with a gospel-fueled version of Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move that was a lot closer to the original than the famous Stones cover. Songwriter Tamara Hey – who’s playing the 7 PM set on August 11 – also wowed her fellow songwriters with her wry, bittersweet, vividly detailed, quintessentially New York tales of playing gigs in Lower East Side dives and metaphorically-charged explorations of the dilemma between gluttony and self-discipline, with soaring, maple sugar vocals and intricate guitar fingerpicking. And Kelley Swindall treated the crowd to yet another creepy new murder ballad, this one a purist, oldtime country blues.

At that show, Lorraine Leckie did what she often does, opting to sit on a table with her acoustic guitar and belt to the audience without any amplification. A founding member of the salon, she’s never stopped growing as a songwriter. Her show here the first week of May spotlighted her elegant, brooding chamber pop songwriting, including many of her collaborations with journalist/gadfly/social critic Anthony Haden-Guest from her album with him, Rudely Interrupted. Her following two shows here, at Salons #30 and #34, featured her scorching rock band the Demons. Whether she’s playing ornate art-rock, Britfolk-influenced open-tuned pastoral themes, snarling retro glamrock or the Steve Wynn-esque Canadian gothic she made a name for herself with in the late zeros, there’s no one more interesting, or more at the top of their game as a songwriter than she is right now. Her band has been solidified by the addition of a regular bassist; her vocals, stronger than ever, have been bolstered by the amazing Banjo Lisa and her spine-tingling high harmonies. Her not-so-secret weapon is guitarist Hugh Pool, whose maniacal yet nuanced, Hendrix-inspired lead playing gives the songs a volcanic intensity.

Walter Ego is another songwriter who’s never sounded better. A mainstay of the Salon since it began, he likes to challenge himself, whether that’s playing solo on drums (an instrument he’s just picked up), or taking a stab at playing totally unamplified at Sidewalk after Salon #30. And it turned out to be a format that works for him. Without a mic, he had to pick up his cool, crisp vocals a little; his sardonic humor and tuneful songs, played both on acoustic guitar and piano, spoke for themselves. A couple of his best, recent numbers reminded of vintage Ray Davies. The most haunting one was 12/9 (subway code for “passenger under the train”); the funniest one was Mitterand’s Last Meal, a cruelly detailed account of the late French President’s final supper whose final course was an endangered species which in France is illegal for human consumption. Double entendres, puns and clever jokes met with catchy, sometimes Beatlesque changes throughout a mix of upbeat and more pensive tunes.

Chanteuse Carol Lipnik has also been a mainstay of the Salon. Since the late 90s, her four-octave voice has been stunning audiences across this city, yet she’s also grown in the past year: there is simply no diverse or captivating singer in New York right now. Her work spans the worlds of noir cabaret, the avant garde, British folk and art-rock. Her headlining set at Salon #32 featured her Ghosts in the Ocean project with pianist Matt Kanelos, mixing haunting, raptly atmospheric songs with more aggressive material including a machinegunning cover of Nick Drake’s Black Dog Blues. A couple of weeks before that, she treated the crowd at Barbes to over an hour and a half of her Coney Island phantasmagoria, backed by her band Spookarama with jazz pianist Dred Scott (Kanelos was also summoned from the crowd for a couple of unexpected and very welcome contributions). She’s been busy this year, with several shows at Joe’s Pub and le Poisson Rouge; she’s also appearing with her frequent collaborator, crooner John Kelly, at Joe’s Pub this Sunday, July 14 at 7:30 PM.

And the guy who’s arguably been the Salon’s most reliable anchor, John Hodel – the Bukowski of the New York acoustic music scene – plays a full set at 7 PM this Sunday the 14th.

A Month’s Worth of Nightcrawling, Part One

Don’t you just want to smack people upside the head when they say ignorant things like “There’s no good music in this city anymore?” Obviously, those people are either spending time in the wrong neighborhoods (Bushwick), or they aren’t paying attention. This past month has been amazing as far as live shows in New York are concerned. What’s the likelihood of seeing Katie Elevitch and Matt Keating back to back, for free? It happened, after Sunday Salon 23 at Zirzamin. She was the special guest to play after a characteristically lively exchange of tunes bristling with puns, double entendres and catchy hooks from the likes of Walter Ego, LJ Murphy, Lorraine Leckie, Tamara Hey and other usual suspects. Keating was a last-minute booking.

Elevitch’s music is more about setting a mood and building to a feral crescendo, or a quieter, more mystical ambience; Keating’s songs are narratives set to catchy changes that build to a similar angst-fueled intensity. While Elevitch’s music looks to soul and jazz and Keating draws on Americana for his tunes, ultimately they both reach back to punk rock for their energy. Keating is a cynic; Elevitch finds hope against hope despite crushing reality (during last year’s hurricane, a tree came crashing through the roof of her house and caught her on the head – she seems none the worse for it). Keating has a cult following across the country and in Europe; Elevitch plays the Hudson valley circuit and is well liked there.

What were they doing in Manhattan? Having fun. Elevitch played solo on acoustic guitar, stripping down a mix of new material and songs from her previous album Kindling for the Fire to their skeletons. From a sultry whisper to a full-on roar, she worked her way through pain and exasperation and emerged triumphant and sweaty from the workout. Likewise, Keating ran through a mix of slowly unwinding favorites like Lonely Blue and The Fruit You Can’t Eat as well as a handful of more soul-influenced songs from his latest album Wrong Way Home. But the highlight of the set was a LMFAO cover of Twist and Shout, done as Lou Reed would do it, Keating said. And he nailed it. It’s as good a song to parody Reed with as you could imagine: where the melody jumps around, Keating did just the opposite. It wouldn’t be fair to give away any more of the joke – when the video comes out, it’s going to go viral. Watch this space for future Elevitch shows in NYC; Keating is back at Zirzamin at 8 PM playing after the Dog Show’s equally lyrical, intense Jerome O’Brien on May 13.

The following Saturday night, Dawn Oberg played her second-ever New York show (the first one was the previous night at Desmond’s). A popular draw in her native San Francisco, she’d come to do the dives of New York. Somehow she’d found herself at the dreaded Bar East (the former Hogs and Heifers space on the upper east), playing solo on electric piano. What’s the likehood of getting what was essentially a private show from someone so entertaining? Well, it happened – only in New York, folks. Much as her new album Rye may be one of the year’s best, Oberg is even better in person: she airs out her vocal range, she’s a terrific gospel/soul pianist and she brings her intricate torrents of wordplay, endless puns and literary references to life with more energy than you would expect, considering how subtly and carefully rendered the studio versions are. And for someone whose music is fueled by a seething anger spun through layer upon layer of sardonic humor, she’s more lively and upbeat in person (it’s tempting to call her vivacious or even sweet, but she might take exception to that). She opened the set with the deviously funny Old Hussies Never Die, a track from her previous album Horticulture Wars (she cannot resist a pun, ever), then later did the wry (pun intended) title track from the new one along with the unselfconsciously wrenching, doomed, elegaic Cracks and the wickedly catchy, personal-as-apocalyptic alienation anthem End of the Continent, working its earthquake metaphors for all they were worth. From here she went on to far better-attended shows in Nashville and Austin before winding up her tour in her hometown. Here’s hoping she makes it back to town sometime.

The following night, salonniers John Hodel and LJ Murphy kicked off the feature set at Sunday Salon 24 with nonchalantly slashing songs about imperfect strangers who should avoid each other no matter what, and also the kind of crowds you find in bars on a typical Tuesday morning: not pretty. But the music afterward was. Americana songwriter Sharon Goldman had been booked for a solo show, but fortuitously, her pals Nina Schmir and cellist Martha Colby were in town. Back in 2009, Goldman and Schmir released a tremendously good, eclectic album as the Sweet Bitters, so this was a rare NYC reunion of sorts. Both Goldman and Schmir are brilliant singers – Goldman being more crystalline and Schmir more misty – and gave the sound guy a workout as they switched back and forth between mics, necessitating constant tweaks to make sure both voices were where they needed to be in the mix. The harmonies were exquisite, especially as Colby grounded the songs with a moody, haunting sustain. The show reached a peak with Goldman’s haunting, ominous Clocks Fall Back, a chilling early winter narrative set to a ringing, funereal guitar melody. “Women in gowns sparkle downtown as the tired crowd walks their route,” the duo sang, painting as evocative a portrait of current depression-era New York as anyone has written. Finally getting a chance to hear this song live was arguably the high point of the year, concert-wise. The trio also made their way nimbly through the machinegunning vocal gymnastics of Schmir’s Tom Thumb (On Brighton Beach) as well as Goldman’s nonchalantly ominous 9/11 memoir, Tuesday Morning Sun. Goldman will be at the First Acoustics Coffeehouse in downtown Brooklyn on June 1, joining her co-conspirators of the Chicks with Dip songwriters’ collective in their celebration of their remake of Joni Mitchell’s Blue.