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SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY AND THE FUNK APOSTLES-Tiny Desk Concert #792 (October 5, 2018).

Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles blew me away with the first song of this Concert.  “Love Will Find A Way” opens with a deep bass sound as the funk starts.  And then Henry adds the great sound of the Hammond.

There’s so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early ’70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

Cory Henry’s name belongs in the same breath as the Hammond organ masters of the past. The instrument creates the central sound of his dynamic, neo-soul- and funk-infused musical identity, and he opens his turn behind the Tiny Desk with what feels like an encore: the full-on soul assault of “Love Will Find a Way.” The song twists and turns, then winds up as a full-on celebration — and it’s only the first song in his set.

The song does have several part including a lengthy middle solo section.  Over the heavy organ chords there’s a wailing guitar solo and a keyboard solo from the synth player.

By the end of its six minutes it absolutely feels like an encore–a show ender.  It’s awesome.

“Trade It All” is a bit more soul, less funk, which means I don’t like it as much.  B

Henry’s keyboard skills are on full display during a synth solo in “Trade It All,” which also spotlights his entire band. To my mind, they’d have sounded right at home on Stax Records in the ’70s — no small accomplishment.

The middle shows a softer, quieter side of the Hammond–one that sounds a bit cheesier to my ear.  And yet there’s no denying Henry’s deft finger work (there’ a hint of Stevie Wonder in there for sure).

The final song, the ten-minute “Send Me a Sign” has a lengthy, almost preacher-like quality and is clearly gopsel-inspired.

It showcases some of the roots of Henry’s songwriting; it’s inspired by church sermons that bloom into group sing-alongs. Just another way Cory Henry digs way back to give us something new and exciting.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “One Saturday Morning”

I have never been disappointed with a story from Tessa Hadley.  She might be one of my favorite writers whom I’ve never read outside of magazines.

This story is wonderful because the we learn so much about so many people through the eyes of one woman.

Valerie is Gil’s second wife.  Gil is in his fifties and Valerie is twenty-four.  Gil is a successful professor and she was (as someone described her with disdain) a typist.

But as the story opens, Valerie is trying to cope with Gil’s daughter.  Robyn is nine years old, can’t button her own dress and is utterly unprepared for several days at another house.  This was the first time Valerie had met her…stepdaughter?  And Robyn was plain and kind of dull.  She was polite but had no toys (she played cleverly with scraps of fabric, but would not engage when asked about them).

She was certainly a dullard when it came to food–toast was all she could think of. Continue Reading »

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SOUNDTRACK: BIG BOI-Tiny Desk Concert #793 (October 9, 2018).

Like everyone is America, I loved OutKast’s “Hey Ya” when it came out (still do).  And that album was pretty great (if a little long).  And then they kind of imploded.

I was always more of a fan of Andre 3000’s trippy side than Big Boi’s pop side.  And yet for this Tiny Desk, Big Boi is  aton of fun and the songs are really catchy.

These guys helped redefine the sound and style of hip-hop in the ’90s, incorporating funk and psychedelia while transcending genre boundaries. As half of OutKast — still the only rap group ever to take home Album of the Year at the Grammys —

The energy in the room was buoyant and vibrant from the moment they walked in the door. OutKast star Big Boi, Sleepy Brown of the prolific Atlanta production collective Organized Noize, and their eight-member backing band have been working together for 20-plus years, and their chemistry is instantaneous and undeniable.

And Big Boi is hilarious from the get go:

We have come from the planet of Stankonia to give y’all three big songs behind a tiny-ass desk.

The set starts with OutKast’s: “So Fresh, So Clean.”  It sounds as good as it did in 2000, and possibly a little better live.  Big Boi’s voice instantly sounds like it does on the record (the way he echoes clean).  The bass (Preston Crump) sound great running through the song and the gently echoing guitar (David Brown) sounds great.

The backing vocals (Keisha Williams and Terrance “Scar” Smith) are spot on.  Perhaps the biggest surprise comes from the trumpets (Jason Freeman and Jerry Freeman).  It didn’t occur to me that he’d use them, but they really make the track.

After the track, he cracks up the room by saying “the Tiny Desk needs a Tiny fan” (of course they are all wearing matching hoodies that say TRAP HOUSE (in the style of WAFFLE HOUSE).

Big Boi continues to thrive as a solo act, riding the charts with last year’s Boomiverse and its hit single “All Night.”

He describes the song as a “current pop smash hit with L.A. Reid–the first hit to launch that label.”  It opens with a super catchy and fun piano riff (very old-school sounding). The piano is a sample which DJ Cutmaster Swift plays on his Mac and then scratches it on the turntable.

Holy cow is that song catchy.  I love at the end when Big Boi and his rapping partner Sleepy Brown mime the piano part perfectly.

The final song is “The Way You Move” from 2003’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.  He describes it in a hilariously casual way as “one of the biggest things we’ve ever done.”  It opens with some great scratching and the snappy drums from Omar Phillips.  This is a song that was a little too poppy for me on the record, but man it’s an undeniable track.

It’s a terrific set and one that I wish was ten minutes longer.

[READ: October 14, 2018] “The Coast of Leitrim”

This story seems like a simple case of a loser-ish guy trying desperately to woo a woman.

Seamus Ferris is thirty-five.  He lives alone in an inherited house and he has fallen hard for a Polish woman who works in a cafe down in Carrick.  He has no mortgage, which is a plus, but he’s not especially exciting, generally speaking.

He feels that the situation is like a vast love affair, although he has never spoken to her–more than ordering anyway.  But he knew that she was sensitive, with a “dreamy distracted air” and she was “at a remove from the other mullockers who worked in the cafe.”  She was pretty but no supermodel–Seamus admitted he himself was not hideous.

Using some sly detective work–he peeked at the work schedule while using the toilet, he learned her name and then did some research on Instagram.  Her full name Katharine Zeileinski was unique enough for him to be able to narrow down the account quickly.  She didn’t post much, but what she did suggested she was single. That’s all he wanted. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: CAFÉ TACVBA-Tiny Desk Concert #794 (October 12, 2018).

Back in the 1990s I was quite the fan of Café Tacvba (I was exposed to a lot of rock en Español in the 90s and Café Tacvba stood out).

I’d never seen them and wasn’t even sure they were still together.  So it was great to see them in this Tiny Desk Concert.[“the four principal members together for almost 30 years”].  I didn’t know much about them back then (their liner notes are all in Spanish).

As usual, lead vocalist Rubén Albarrán is a captivating central presence, evoking a sense of down-home camaraderie with his ever friendly smile that has become the band’s most outward image. Having seen the band play in front of dedicated fans in massive stadiums in Mexico City, it’s striking to see his movements limited to a few careful spins and dance steps while still managing to embody the intense energy of their music.

The first song is “Olita del Altamar” (“Waves from the High Seas”) from the group’s 2012 album El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.   Albarrán says it is “dedicated to the sacred water–not for mining, not for fracking but for humans and all living beings.”

It’s essentially an incantation of the magic that transpired during their performance behind Bob Boilen’s desk. The lyrics sing of the comings and goings of waves, symbolic of the passage of time and fueled by the Mexican folk rhythm son jarocho, a favorite of the band’s since their start almost 30 years ago.

The song has a real folk quality.  Their instruments are all acoustic (two of those tiny Mexican guitars and a full-sized guitar).  There’s a delightful solo on the melodica. Despite the song’s poppiness, at one point Albarrán begins screaming happily away from the microphone and dancing.

They then fast forward to “Diente de León” (“Dandelion”), from their 2017 album Jei Beibi. It’s a majestic, stripped-down version that puts the emphasis back on the lyric, a plea for existential and environmental harmony using the metaphor of the weedy flower.

It’s a beautiful song with Albarrán’s voice at times gruff and at times soaring.  The addition of electronic percussion is a little jarring, but it is quiet and works well with the music.

The third song is one that I knew and it was great to hear it again.  Introducing “The Flowers,” he says, “When we play this live we ask the people to raise heir hands so we can see a beautiful garden of different colors, different perfumes.  if you want you ca try it, it’s free.”

Their song “Las Flores,” from their 1994 album Re, slips into the ska groove that attracted fans to rock en Español in general and to Los Tacvbas in particular, a beat that captures the adventurous musical energy that swept all of Latin America in the early 1990s.

Clearly this energy is what swept over me in 1994.  Once again that melodica solo is delightful.  But so is everything else about this song–the guitar notes, the upright bass and of course, Albarrán’s infectious singing.

Not all bands would end their set with a power ballad, though very few bands hold their audience’s attention and dedication like Café Tacvba. But that’s just how they close their set.

“Que No” is their latest single, a pretty ballad.  Once the full band kicks in, it’s got a fun beat (that upright bass really keeps he beat).  Albarrán’s once again steals the show.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “The Death of Lazarus Averbuch”

This is an excerpt from The Lazarus Project.  It is story set in 1908 Chicago and one that I wasn’t very interested in until the very end.  Read as a short story it takes way too long to get where it is going, but as a part of a novel its a nice build up to the climactic scene.

A scrawny young man went to the house of the chief of police.  The chief’s wife told the man the chief didn’t see anyone before 9 AM.  The young man leaves and says he’ll come back.  Chicago is cold, bitter cold, and the man is sick of being so cold.  He had a nice summer here and even a  lovely autumn day in October, but he want the cold to end.

He decides to go into a grocery store because of the smell of warm bread.  The owners suspect of the man immediately–his stomach growls when he smells the fresh bread.  Meanwhile, another man walks in and has a friendly chat with the owners. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: MERCHANDISE-“Become What You Are” (April 17, 2014).

I feel like I’ve heard of Merchandise, but I can’t be sure.  Especially given their complex history:

Merchandise got its start on the Tampa punk and hardcore scene, then got weirder as artier influences like krautrock took hold. As its sound became harder to pin down, the band inspired an 18-month bidding war between record labels: This year, Merchandise finally signed with 4AD, and adventurous new material has begun to trickle out.

For this Field Recording [Merchandise Sprawls Out In The Sunlight] singer Carson Cox and guitarist Dave Vassalotti — a configuration Cox describes as “some component of Merchandise” — held court for an informal session at Friends & Neighbors,

Before he starts singing a bird goes squawking by, Cox says, “The bird’s on backup vocals.”

As the song starts, it’s acoustic guitar and gentle crooning.  Then Vassalotti’s  electric guitar powers in.  It’s so much louder but the acoustic is perfectly audible–great mixing!  For all that build up of punk and krautrock, this proves to be a pretty straightforward folk song with buzzy guitars.

The end builds nicely with the two of them rocking out.  With the ending guitar solo, the song wends it way to over 9 minutes long.

Though it usually keeps its songs to reasonable lengths, Merchandise also knows how to sprawl out: Its new single, “Begging for Your Life/In the City Light,” spans a whopping 14 minutes. So it’s no surprise that even a truncated version of the group would be capable of wringing an epic out of such a casual environment.

[READ: June 2018] The Misfortune of Marion Palm

Because I have been trying to empty my drafts folder of all of the New Yorker and Harper’s stories that have been cluttering it for two years, I have not read that many books this year.  I’m usually good for 100+ books a year, but this year it will be closer to about 30, if that.

I’ve also read some of these books quite a while ago, so my memory isn’t as fresh as it should be.

I’m not exactly sure why I read this book.  The title was intriguing–“misfortune” is a rather compelling noun.  Plus the chapters are almost all around 3 pages.  But I think it was the very premise that was so fascinating.

Marion Palm is a Brooklyn Heights wife and mother.  She works at her children’s (fancy, expensive) school and was a devoted, if suffering wife.  But as the book opens, she is on the lam with $40,000 cash in her pockets.  She said goodbye to her children but did not say goodbye to her husband.

This is all questionable behavior.  What is even more questionable is that she said goodbye to her two girls (aged 8 and 13) in a diner and then ran out on the bill.  It was cash only and all of her cash was in her knapsack and she didn’t want her girls to see it.  So she left them there. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: D.D DUMBO-“Walrus,” “Tropical Oceans” (Field Recordings, May 15, 2014).

I don’t know when people started looping drums and guitar to make fuller sounds.  I guess it’s been a decade or so.  But this recording from 2014 seems positively ancient.  And yet D.D Dumbo uses the technology perfectly.  And in this Field Recording [D.D Dumbo: Looping Sounds In An Austin Alleyway] this one guy sounds huge!

Mystery seems to swirl around D.D Dumbo. We’d heard all sorts of crazy rumors about this solo musician; namely, that Dumbo is a modern-day nomad whose only worldly possessions are his guitar and some crazy customized pedals. But once he arrived for one of our SXSW Backyard Sessions, here’s what we discovered: Dumbo was born outside of Melbourne, Australia (birth name: Oliver Hugh Perry). He performs with a 12-string electric guitar, a simple drum set-up and some loop pedals. And he prefers to let his eclectic, drone-filled music speak for itself — so, alas, no comment on the nomad rumors.

As “Walrus” opens, he plays a nifty guitar riff that is part sliding notes and part harmonics.  These are looped.  He adds some vocal “ahhs” and “eeehs” and then puts in a very simple drum beat.  When the song properly starts, his style of playing reminds me of the West African guitarists I’ve heard on Tiny Desk.  It’s slinky and repetitive, almost turning into a droning rhythm.  He sings, but I’m not even sure if there are actual words.

The song builds and shrinks as he adds previously looped parts and it stops perfectly when he needs to do a quick guitar section before it starts again.

If you listen closely to his music, though, one thing is certain: It’s hard to nail down Dumbo’s influences. As he performed for a curious crowd at Austin’s Friends & Neighbors during SXSW, we heard numerous global destinations in his music — including stops in North African deserts, as well as a jaunt to the American South for a touch of the blues. Here, D.D Dumbo showcases two uniquely minimal songs: an unreleased song called “Walrus,” and “Tropical Oceans,” from his recent self-titled EP.

“Tropical Oceans,” starts with some scratched guitar strings as a percussive sound.  He builds t he ambiance by tapping his guitar body to create waves of sounds.  After the drum beats, he begins playing and singing the song proper.

[READ: June 26, 2014] “Usl at the Stadium”

So Usl is the name of a character in this story.  It’s a strange name and kind of distracts from the story somewhat because why would anyone be named that?

This story actually has nothing to do with his name, so it could have been something else and we wouldn’t even think about his name.

This story is about Usl at a Yankee game.  The Sunday game started at 2PM and Usl had gone. He had fallen asleep and was featured on the Jumbotron intermittently between 4:02 and 4:09.  Usl became an internet sensation because the announcers had talked about him while he was on screen.

So he was getting calls from newspapers and other places for “celebrities.” Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: HASSAN HAKMOUN-“Balili (My Father)” (Field Recordings, June 11, 2014).

I didn’t know Hassan Hakmoun, but he is one of many West African musicians whose music I have come to really enjoy.  I absolutely love this song.

Hassan Hakmoun’s music is very much rooted in his homeland. Born in Marrakesh, he is from the Gnawa community, whose ancestors were brought from West Africa to North Africa as slaves in the 15th and 16th centuries. Gnawan music and dance, which are central to their spiritual tradition, fuse Muslim mysticism with sub-Saharan traditions in rituals meant to heal the body and lift the soul.

This Field Recording [On a Magical Mystery Tour with Hassan Hakmoun] has a different component to it–it is (so far) unlike any other one.

When we plan Field Recordings, we usually look far and wide to find off-the-beaten-path locations for filming musicians. But a unique opportunity presented itself when a duo called Wanderlust Projects — designers of “transgressive placemaking experiences” for urban explorers, usually in abandoned or otherwise places — invited us to come along on an adventure.

Wanderlust invited a crew of intrepid New Yorkers to accompany the fabulous Moroccan musician Hassan Hakmoun and his band on a mysterious day trip. So we piled into a van with the musicians, and off we all went to points unknown. After a long morning being driven to our secret destination — with no one but the organizers knowing where we were heading — we arrived upstate at the stunning Widow Jane Mine.

Along with providing spectacular visuals, the mine proved to be an oddly fitting location for Hakmoun and his musicians. The Widow Jane is a limestone mine that once supplied cement for such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Capitol. Hakmoun’s music has found its fullest flower in New York with a highly transnational lineup of nomads.

The song opens with Hakmoun playing a fast riff on his instrument.  I cannot believe that they don;t say what it is–is it homemade?  is there one string or more?  how does he get such a great sound out of fit?).

He starts playing what will be the song’s main riff–a cool fast melody with some counterpoint loud notes.  The percussionist sings along , the flutist plays a solo of sorts and then after about a minute, the drums kick in and the song just rocks.

His band includes

Percussionist Chikako Iwahori is originally from Japan; guitarist Raja Kassis hails from Beirut; flutist Bailo Bah comes from Guinea; and drummer Harvey Wirht is from Suriname.

The sound is incredible.  Whether the caves enhance the music is unclear, but it sounds wonderful there.  The song is about 8 minutes long.  There’s not a lot to it–the riff is repeated almost throughout, but there are great variations throughout. The flute solo, the guitar solo or when he starts stomping his feet on the limestone while wearing bells on his ankles–it adds a great new component to the music.

This is just fantastic.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Sprawl”

This is an excerpt from Dutton’s novel Sprawl (getting a reprint in 2018).

It’s a little hard to tell what the novel is about from this excerpt but I loved the whole take on suburbia that the export displays.

The excerpt is full of letters, presumably written by the same person (it’s unstated).

The first one is to Mrs Barbauld and is designed as a re-orientation to the neighborhood.  It is a bit confusing so I’m moving on.

The narrator is talking to us, I suppose as if setting the ultimate example: Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: October 10, 2018] Lorkin O’Reilly

Lorkin O’Reilly is a Scottish musician who has been living in upstate New York for the past while.  He opened for Gruff Rhys.

Other than the fact that he worked construction a bit (and wrote a song about his boss), I don’t know much more about him.

However, because Philadelphia loves to start construction projects before adequately preparing the drivers for said projects, I wound up being a little late to the show.  I don’t think I missed much from Lorkin (maybe a song and a half?) and what I heard was excellent.

Lorkin is a wonderful guitar player.  He has an excellent fingerpicking style and really creative use of capos and tuning. Continue Reading »