secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. Continue Reading »

1968_12_28-200SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, ON (November 08, 2001).

horsetavThis is the final show for 2001 at the Rheostatics Live website.  This show is the second of eleven (11!) straight shows at The Horseshoe.  Since it was part of their Green Sprouts “week,” it is chock full of guests.

Kevin Hearn is playing this night (and a few others), but there’s also guest vocals from Sean Cullen and Gord Downie!

The recording is not quite two hours which I assume means that parts were cut off.  I mean, a Rheos show that’s under two hours during Green Sprouts week?  Unheard of.  Earlier that evening Bob Dylan was playing in town, so it seems like the early parts of the show were a bit quieter than usual.

The show stars with “Fat” which sounds like it may have been coming in from something else or that’s the intro music–hard to say exactly.  Then they play two new songs–“The Fire” (with a funny joke about someone’s folk apparatus (a harmonica)) and “We Went West.”  Then comes their first guest, Canadian comedian and songwriter Sean Cullen.  They play his Stompin’ Tom tribute/parody “I’ve Been Beaten All Over This Land.”

I love the version of “Junction Foil Ball” with th every amusing comment that a Globe and Mail reviewer described one part of the song as “a hippo jumping into a giant puddle of mud.”

There’s a very cool section that’s a Kevin special.  Songs from Group of 7 and Harmelodia: Boxcar Song, Landscape And Sky, The Blue Hysteria, Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun, Easy To Be With You, Loving Arms and I Am Drumstein.

Then Gord Downie comes out–sadly his introduction is cut off, so we don’t get to hear what they say about him (or the fan reaction).  They start in the middle of his song “Chancellor” from Coke Machine Glow.  Then they play “Canada Geese.” And then Dave asks if they can sing one of the Rheos’ songs (“sure thing, Tim, uh, Dave”).  Ha.  And Gord sings “Take Me in Your Hand.”

There’s a great version of “Stolen Car” and they end the show with three songs from the then new album: “P.I.N.,” “Mumbletypeg” and “Satan is the Whistler.” It’s the best live version of “Satan” that I’ve heard so far–perfect whistling, and they don’t mess up the fast part at the end.

I’m sure the other ten nights were equally great.  But this is all we have to close out 2001.

[READ: May 12, 2015] “The Cafeteria”

I read this story because it was alluded to in David Albahari’s “Hitler in Chicago.”  In Albahari’s story, a character on a plane is reading Singer’s book and the person next to him asks if he knows Singer’s story about a woman seeing Hitler in New York.

Indeed, in this story, there is a woman who sees Hitler in New York, so it was a nice full circle, and I applaud Albahari for playing around with an extant story like that.

This story, translated from the Yiddish by Singer and Dorothy Straus, is set in Manhattan.  The narrator, Aaron, has lived there for nearly 30 years–about as long as he lived in Poland.  He has many friends who he meets up with in the cafeteria.  They speak Yiddish and talk about the Holocaust or the state of Israel.  He looks forward to talking with them but he is a busy many (writing novels or articles) so he can’t stay too long.

Most of the people he meets with are men, but one day a woman, who looked younger than the rest of them, appeared.  She spoke Polish, Russian and some Yiddish.  She had been in a prison camp in Russia.  The men hovered around her, listening to her every word–she was surprisingly upbeat. Continue Reading »

harperioctSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Icehouse, Victoria, BC (July 18 2001).

ice-house-oyster-bar-tofinoAfter playing the free show earlier that afternoon, the Rheos played a show at The Icehouse that evening.  And it seems like quite a number of people showed up.  And they were not disappointed.  They also got to see Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums.

Although the show begins with some slightly sketchy sound quality, it clears up pretty quickly.  This show starts with a bunch of great older material “King of the Past,” “Fat,” “Northern Wish.”  There’s an amazing guitar solo in “Christopher.” And “Fat” is one of the best live versions I’ve heard.

When they play “Four Little Songs” it gives MPW a chance to sing his bit.  But when someone requests “Guns” Dave says that MPW doesn’t do poetry.  At what I believe is a fan’s request, the play “The Pooby Song,” and then joke that they are going to play the entire Nightlines Sessions. 

Then they talk about Stompin’ Tom Connors and how they met a 65-year-old man who scares the Canadian into you.  This is an intro to “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” which includes two Stompin’ Tom fragments “Gumboot Clogeroo” and “The Ketchup Song.”  The seven minute version of “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” ends with a crazy riff and noisy drums–a rare jam section.  There’s more great drums on “Song of Flight” and excellent harmonies on “California Dreamline.”

This is a really fantastic show–one of their best.  And as Lucky notes the “Dopefiends -> California Dreamline -> Song of Flight -> Self-Serve -> Winter Comes Reprise” is killer.  The end of the show tacks on an amazing version of “Horses.”  But it doesn’t seem like it’s from this show.  The sound is a little different, and it seems pretty certain that the night ended after “Record Body Count.”  But who knows.

[READ: April 19, 2015] “Hitler in Chicago”

This short story, from the book Learning Cyrillic, is fascinating in the way it begins as one thing and then turns into something else entirely.  David Albahari is a Serbian novelist and the story was translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać.

As the story opens, the narrator talks about how afraid he is of flying on planes.  He would much rather ride by carriage.  Why is everyone in such a hurry, anyway?  But he needs to fly and so he does.  He pays careful attention to the stewardesses and then tries as quickly as possible to fall asleep.

On this flight to North America, he falls asleep pretty well, but when the book he was reading falls off his lap, it wakes him up.  His seat mate picks up the book and smiles.  The book is by Isaac Bashevis Singer and is called Enemies, A Love Story (a real book).  The woman says that knows Singer and asks if he has read the story where Singer met Hitler in New York.  He has.

Then she says,

“I spent a night with him.”
“No, she said, I would never have allowed myself such a thing.  I meant Singer.”

Continue Reading »

harperioctSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Centennial Square, Victoria, BC (July 18 2001).

victoriaThis concert was a free outdoor show outside of City Hall in Victoria.  It was in the afternoon and the band also played a paid show later that night.  How interesting.  They even joke at the end wondering if anyone will be coming to their show that night.  Someone asks if it will be the same songs and Dave says yes, and same sweat too.  They have a good rapport with the audience (the fact that it is outside makes the crowd sound really tiny although I imagine it wasn’t).

It’s also the first show (online anyhow) to feature Michael Phillip Wojewoda on drums.

The sound is a little odd here, even though it is a soundboard recording.  Maybe it’s because of the outdoor atmosphere of the location–perhaps they mixed it differently?  I have no idea.

They play most of the songs from, NotSS, but there’s also a few classics like “Stolen Car” and “Saskatchewan.”  They even play a great rendition of “Junction Foil Ball” which Dave says reveals was on their Nightlines record but that they re-recorded for the new one (which was not out yet).  Martin explains that the origin of the story is about a guy who collects the tin foil from cigarette wrappers and makes a ball out of them.

In “CCYPA” there’s along part with no singing—it seems as if something went wrong.  The volume also rises and falls a bit which is weird.  There’s a similar pause in “I Fab Thee” where Martin resumes singing ooh ooh ooh.  He explains that “P.I.N.” is played on a tenor guitar.  And then later they joke that they were going to name their album Kid, Eh?

This may be the first time they’ve played “In It Now” at least that I know of.  I love when they play “Satan is the Whistler” but they never seem to get the end right—this one is no exception.

The end, “Saskatchewan” is amazing—a very slow dramatic rendition.  It’s a nice show and as Lucky says in the notes, “Always a treat to see the Rheos twice in one day!”

[READ: April 15, 2015] “The House on Bony Lake”

Boswell crams a novel’s worth of information into this long short story.  It begins as Paul wakes in his Airstream. He is next to Melinda and they are talking about old TV.  She is naked and asks if he wants to have sex again.  He says he’s too sleepy.

Then we get some back story.   Paul’s marriage is over and since that happened he has slept with several women in the area–none of them resemble his wife.

And then we go further back–“In the whole of the twentieth century, the Iris clan floated just two offspring to the shores of adulthood.”  And floated is a good choice of words, because the family, all those generations had lived near Bony Lake the whole time.

His grandfather was Colman Sheelin Iris (there’s an amusing story about their last name).  He built the house that Paul grew up in but he refused any changes to it–no electricity, no upgrades–during his life time.  And during his lifetime his wife bore four children.  Only one, Sean, survived to adulthood. Continue Reading »

gambler SOUNDTRACK: DakhaBrakha-Tiny Desk Concert #435 (April 25, 2015).

dkahDakhaBrakha are a band from Kiev, Ukraine.  There are four members, one man (unsure how he is dressed because he plays the accordion which covers his body) and three women.  The women are dressed in fetching white gowns (with lovely detail work done on them) and gigantic woolen “farmer’s hats.”

The women play drums, (with what looks like a wooden spoon), bongos a horn instruments that sounds a bit like a kazoo (I wish NPR gave more details here) and a cello.  They also provide most of the singing.

The first song, “Sho Z-Pod Duba”features bowed cello.  It opens with the male yelling quite loud and some wild yipping and shrieking from the women by the song’s end.

The second song, “Torokh” features lead vocals by the middle woman (the one with the kazoo).  But it also features interesting backing sounds and hums from the other two women.  The cellist (who is plucking the strings like an upright bass) also sings a partial lead vocal.  When the kazoo (which isn’t a kazoo at all, and is more like a penny whistle with some kind of vibrating piece on it) kicks in, the song goes utterly bonkers for a few measures.  The male singer starts yelling and the song is just insane until it stops and slowly builds again.

The end of “Torokh” and a lot of “Divka-Marusechka” has the women singing in the style of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (Bulgarian folk harmonies).  This song is the most unsettling of the three because the accordion and cello play an incessant drone that is a two note lurch.  The male sings lead while the females sing harmony and dissonant harmonies as well as a bird call kind of sound.  The end has one of the women signing an almost hip hop style while the other sings a higher, faster lyrics (all of which is in Ukrainian, so I have no idea what they are saying).

It is a strangely familiar music and yet it is also disconcerting.  I listened to it three times and I loved blasting it in my car–t woks great at loud volumes.  I also want to get one of those hats.

Check it out here.

[READ: March 28, 2015] Never Love a Gambler

This is a collection of three short stories from Irish writer Keith Ridgway.  They are quite dark and explore the criminal underbelly.

“Never Love a Gambler”
In this story we meet a family, the father of which is a gambler.  We meet his son and wife as they talk tough to the loan shark’s thug.  The son is pretty tough, standing up to Mossie, who gets the whole bar quiet when he walks in.  Mossie explains that he has been round to their house and they have some lovely things, but he can’t find the gambler himself.  They tell him that they don’t know where he is and then set out to try to find him.  In the meantime, they find a filthy homeless dog and a boy who is waiting to be picked up by his dad.  And they go on a quest together.  The stories converge in a dark but funny (but actually very dark) way. Continue Reading »

julySOUNDTRACK: JESSIE WARE-Tiny Desk Concert #434 (April 20, 2015).

jessieI don’t know Jessie Ware.  She is one of those singers who has a beautiful singing voice which totally masks the fact that her speaking voice has a hugely pronounced British accent (have you heard Adele speak?).  Ware’s speaking voice sounds a bit like Tracey Ullman, which I find charming.

She sings three songs.  They feature her and an electric guitar (played by Joe Newman) and they are soulful and pretty.  On the first song “Say You Love Me,” she is accompanied by her opening act Jesse Boykins III (meaning that this post features a Jess, a Jessie and a Jesse).

The other two songs are “Wildest Moments” and “Champagne Kisses.”

The blurb says that her shows are usually pretty big nightclub dramatic events (which is hard to imagine given how sweet she is).  I can see her really belting out these songs.  She sounds very good in this subdued setting, although it’s not my kind of music at all.

You can watch Jesse and Jessie here.

[READ: April 13, 2015] “To the Corner”

I didn’t really enjoy the other two items in this month’s Harper’s and I was a little disappointed with the way this story started out.  Interestingly, I checked and I didn’t like the way the last story of Walter’s that I wrote about started either.

This story starts with a bunch of kids–shirtless, pants hanging low, standing on a street corner. They are being tough, watching as the girl from their bus walks by.  And I just thought–yawn.

But after a few paragraphs, the perspective shifts to an old man who is watching the kids.  The man has lived in this house for nigh on fifty years.  He has been through boom and bust and bust and bust.  His siblings have all moved away and their houses are worth a fortune, but he remained, and his neighborhood has gotten worse.  He looks at the boys and their whole attitude offends him.  He, Leonard, worked hard all of his life: Korea, G.I. Bill, Junior College, marriage, kids.  And his kids are successes (even the one who listens to right-wing talk radio).  But look at these layabouts. Continue Reading »

augustSOUNDTRACK: EDMAR CASTANEDA-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 8, 2010).

edmarOne thing that’s awesome about the Tiny Desk Concerts is that they give me an intimate look at a band I love.  The second awesome thing is when you get to see an artist who is truly amazing, but whom you realistically would never encounter anywhere else.

Edmar Casteneda plays the Colombian harp.  And he plays the harp like no one else I have ever heard.  His genre is Latin jazz He uses the bass strings for rhythm and the high strings like a guitar.  And most interestingly is the way he uses his hands like a percussive addition on the strings.  I’ve never seen anyone else play the harp (usually an ethereal instrument) so aggressively before.  He sounds like several people playing at once.

Between songs he explains traditional Colombian harp playing and improvisation.  He demonstrates the way his version is different from the traditional way of playing.  And then he explains the fretboard on the harp which allows him to create sharps (which is pretty cool).

He only plays two songs, but the set is 15 minutes, so these are long songs.  And they are really gorgeous.  I prefer the first song, “Entre Cuerdas” to the slightly more new agey sounds of “Jesus de Nazareth,” although they are both mesmerizing.  At around 10 minutes, his hands are simply a blur–how does he know what strings he is hitting?

It’s kind of a shame that the dominant camera angle is face on because you really can’t see what he’s doing all that well, and his hands are really marvelous.  But it’s a small quibble with such an enjoyable performance.

Without a doubt check this out.

[READ: April 4, 2015] “Bounty”

This story begins with a flood and a dead body.  And very few other people left alive.

We have been watching The Last Man on Earth on Fox and this idea of the last person on earth is being explored on that show.  Interestingly, in this story, things are different. The owner of the house isn’t the last man on earth.  In fact, while he is safe on his mountain top house (while water levels are rising), people keep coming to his door asking for food or water.  And he is pissed about it.  He slams the door in their faces and yells at them to get lost.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about the end times in which someone was so unpleasant.

There’s a house on another hill not far from him.  And that house is absolutely full of refugees.  This is the main character’s neighbor–and they don’t like each other.  This generosity gives the protagonist even more reason not to like his neighbor. Continue Reading »


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