Al James | A Continuous Lean.

Frances May | One Step Ahead

Apr 18th, 2014 | Categories: Al James, Portland Oregon, Retail | by Al James

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In the last two years Portland has seen an influx of established shops from around the country (Jack Spade, Steven Alan, Imogene + Willie) pop up next to some of the city’s home-grown Northwest retailers (Tanner Goods, Danner Boots, Poler, Nau, Filson). This combination of new and old, local and out-of-town, has created a mix that has finally started to give the city a bit of its own unique and diverse shopping scene. Yet even with all these new faces, one retailer continues to stand out in the crowd as a favorite – Frances May.

For the past six years, under the guidance of owner Pamela Baker-Miller and her Grandmother (and co-owner) Connie Codding, Frances May has been Portland’s most reliable shop for high quality mens offerings. Their selection is always evolving, always ahead of the curve and always classic. While they were early supporters of American labels like Gitman Vintage and Pendelton’s Portland Collection, they’ve continued to add to that base with more hand-picked clothing lines from across Europe and Canada (Common Projects, Our Legacy, Monitaly, Folk). The unifying theme being that each piece is extremely well made, wearable day in and day out and effortlessly timeless. These are the pieces that you wear for years, not just a season or a few months.

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Willy Vlautin Tells It Like It Is.

Mar 20th, 2014 | Categories: Al James, Americana, Books | by Al James

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Has the recent finale of HBO’s True Detective left you jonesing for more pulpy American grit? Do you like your heroes broken-hearted yet courageous, desperate but loyal? Does your hard luck story require just the thinnest beam of light to pierce the looming darkness? Then author Willy Vlautin is your guy.

A Reno, Nevada native, Vlautin moved North to Portland, Oregon in the nineties to paint houses. When he wasn’t up on the ladder he wrote and played in bands. He founded, and still fronts, Richmond Fontaine, one the most-loved rock bands to come out of the Northwest. Starting with The Motel Life in 2007, he has published four novels that fit on the shelf next to Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son and Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love. Immensely talented company, but Vlautin’s work is at home with these greats.

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Yucatán Escape | Warm Weather Packing Ideas

Feb 24th, 2014 | Categories: Al James, Gear, Travel | by Al James

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I’ve always viewed a winter get-away to warmer weather as a bit of a luxury, but this year with the exceptionally harsh and unrelenting cold, it feels more like a life line. With a ten day trip to the Yucatán Peninsula (Cancún, Isla Cozumel, Tulum) planned and booked at the end of last year, anticipating the vacation became almost as important as actually getting there. With the extra time to prepare, my packing became more thoughtful, more streamlined and more precise. This trip I got a few things right for once and I’m happy to share what I learned. —AJ

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Mystery Ranch | The Apex of Packs

Jan 9th, 2014 | Categories: Al James, Bags, Made in the USA | by Al James

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His name has been mentioned on this site before, but it bears repeating: Dana Gleason. He founded Kletterwerks in the 70s, then created (and eventually sold) the infamous backpack behemoth Dana Design. Since 2000 he’s been designing and hand-building backpacks in Bozeman, Montana under the name Mystery Ranch. They are the best packs he’s ever made and arguably some of the best packs available for purchase. Decades of research and experience go into each model and they are all absolute workhorses. Every Mystery Ranch pack is designed specifically for the unique tasks required of soldiers, firefighters, rescue professionals, hunters and mountain climbers.

This winter I bought a Mystery Ranch ASAP daypack for steelhead fishing in the Northwest. I stared into my closet full of canvas totes, weekend duffels and clever work briefcases and realized I had nothing that was suitable for hiking and bushwhacking into coastal steelhead streams with enough room for a day’s worth of extra layers, a lunch, a first aid kit, fly boxes and other fishing tackle. After a bit of research I landed at Mystery Ranch. What sold me on the ASAP was not only the waterproof 3-Zip design, but also the internal pocket configuration that takes the guess work out of accessing gear when it’s open. It has a built-in large hydration port, a grid of PAL webbing for lashing on an additional rod case and comes in 3 standard sizes and 4 colors options – multicam, black, coyote and foliage.





The ACL Guide to Thanksgiving Wines.

Nov 27th, 2013 | Categories: Al James, Americana, Wine | by Al James

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Arriving to Thanksgiving dinner with a well-chosen bottle of wine is simply the right thing to do. It’s doesn’t have to be pricey or geeky, just take a little extra time to pick out a bottle that will work well with the food. No matter who’s cooking, the staples that make up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – turkey, gravy, stuffing, potatoes, green bean casserole, etc – all land on the salty end of the flavor spectrum. Even when piled high on a plate, they don’t have the wherewithal to stand up to a big red wine (Cabernet, Merlot, Barolo, Chianti, Shiraz) which all contain significant tannins and high alcohol levels. In this case, bigger is not always better. What the savory flavors need, particularly in the case of turkey, is acidity and crispness to balance out the saltiness and brininess. Luckily there are lots of ways to achieve this balance with both New World and Old World wines that are widely available. I like the way food and wine blogger BrooklynGuy  approaches his wine picks for the holiday, “Keep it refreshing and lively, try to keep the alcohol to a minimum.” His logic being that family gatherings can already be teetering on the edge, no reason to pour gasoline on the fire.

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Elevate Your Camping Kit | Snow Peak Portland

Nov 19th, 2013 | Categories: Al James, Camping, Gear | by Al James

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There are few things that make me long for summer camping trips and weekends of trout fishing like my Snow Peak Hozuki Lantern.  Its ingenious and elegant design immediately brings to mind the soft internal glow of a dome tent, slugging down tumblers of rye around the campfire with friends and reading late into the night tucked into my little camper van. It’s a product that actually inspires me to plan a trip simply because I get such a kick out of using this smart little piece of gear. This connection falls directly in line with Snow Peak’s brand promise as the “natural lifestyle creator.” Their tools and gear truly inspire a life lived in ease and harmony with the outdoors.

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Calling It Early | Noteworthy Albums of 2013.

Nov 10th, 2013 | Categories: Al James, Music | by Al James

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These days it’s hard to find an actual musical underground where something new is truly discovered, as virtually every release gets some amount of exposure from writers online and in print. There is a lot of good music out there, it just takes time to wade through it all. So after ten months of wading, these are some of the best, and by that I mean these are the albums that have staying power; the ones that I continue to come back to over and over, the ones that are solid from front to back, the ones that made me actually feel something, the ones that didn’t lose steam or relevance after multiple spins. Like everything else on ACL, these releases are judged on quality, durability and style. Shouldn’t those always be the deciding factors, even with music? Everything listed below is available on download and streaming services, but also at your local record store on LP. – AJ