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tyrantSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTINE SALEM-Tiny Desk Concert #326 (December 14, 2013).

As with many artists behind the Tiny Desk, I had never heard of Christine Salem.  So who is she?

Christine Salem sings songs that are old: They’re work songs and chants from the maloya tradition on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. I first heard her in New York City as she shook a flat board called a kayamb, made of cane reeds, with two percussionists flanking her to provide rhythm.

Salem makes powerful, strongly focused music in which all the elements are essential, with nothing superfluous. She says it feels like the spirits move through her when she plays, and though you may doubt her if you’re a nonbeliever, you’d be hard-pressed to deny her your attention once you hear her.

And that’s pretty spot on.  She sings like a woman possessed–but in a good way–serious catharsis for these intense pieces which are amazingly musical for songs with no instruments except percussion.

“Listwar” showcases her strong, powerful voice when she sings by herself but the whole thing grows amazing when the other voices come in.  But even that doesn’t even prepare you for the wonders of the percussion that come next—that kayamb is mesmerizing, the big drum is so deep and the percussive sticks (which seems like he’s hitting what might be a lectern) all work perfectly.  All of the melody comes from their voices.  The backing guys also seem possessed by the music and the drummer is even laughing he’s so filled with joy.

“Alouwe” begins with claps and rhythmic chanting, which is pretty cool, but again, when the drums come in its even better. Halfway through the tempo picks up and she grabs that kayamb again and the intensity ratchets up.  There’s chanting from the men with lots of laughing and clapping at the end.  The final song is “Komor Blues.”  For this one, she is just by herself playing the drum.  While not as big as the other songs, it is just as intense, especially when the pace speeds up about halfway through.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Tiny Tyrant

I read this book last year, never even imagining that it could somehow be comparable to our then highly unlikely leader.  Reading back on it now, I can’t get over the similarities between this fictional character and our television-inspired president.  I mean, look at how King Ethelbert is described: “Selfish, short-tempered, unscrupulous, stubborn, and willing to do anything to get what he wants.”

This book collects all of the Tiny Tyrant stories into one volume (Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus & Volume Two: The Lucky Winner) were published by First Second with six stories each).  They were originally collected into four books in French (and translated into English by Alexis Siegel).

First Second had a lot of books by Lewis Trondheim in their earlier publication days but that seems to have gone by the wayside somewhat this decade.

Perhaps it is because his books are hard to classify.  They are basically kids books but they are pretty dark kids books–there’s usually death and blowing up and horrible things happening to people.

Tiny Tyrant is one of the sweeter Trondheim books that I’ve read.  Because even though the Tyrant is a tyrant, he is mostly unsuccessful  in his demands and nobody blows up [let’s hope we are so lucky with our country’s current wanna-be-dictator]. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ADAM TORRES-Tiny Desk Concert #577 (November 11, 2016).

Adam Torres has a pretty singular voice.  It is gentle and delicate and slips into a beautiful falsetto with relative ease.

As it turns out his songs are a little too slow for me to fully enjoy, but I do enjoy the melodies and can certainly appreciate his voice.

“High Lonesome” has a great melody–especially on the violin (played beautifully by Aisha Burns)–it’s her melodies at the end of each verse that really makes me want to listen to this song more.  It’s also amazing to watch how effortlessly he switches to the falsetto notes (the high, in high lonesome).  I also really enjoyed the way Dailey Toliver so delicately plays the bass–I actually assumed it was a six string for how gently he is strumming it–and that he can still play some appropriate notes on the Wurlitzer at the same time.

“Outlands” is certainly my favorite of his songs.  Between the scratchy, lonesome violin, the pretty picked guitar notes and the way he instantly switched to falsetto on the second note of each verse–it’s haunting.

“I Came to Sing the Song” is a new song which is even slower than the others.  Once again, his voice is lovely and the melody is very pretty, but this one is just too slow for me to fully enjoy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that percussion (just two congas) is provided by the wonderful Thor Harris (who might have the most Tiny Desk appearances with various bands).

[READ: February 2, 2017] LastMan 6

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

I was under the impression that this was the last volume in the series.  Why?  Well, mostly because at the end of this book, the ad for the previous book calls #5 the penultimate volume.  But this story not only ends with a WHAATTT?  It also ends with a total cliffhanger last page.  According to Wikipedia, there are 8 volumes of the original French, so I can only hope that First Second plans to print the other two (and more?) volumes.

But ending aside, this volume was outstanding.

It opens with a flashback to what Richard did to his partner Duke Diamond to get him in so much trouble back when.  The crux is that Diamond was doing serious drugs and Richard didn’t like it–the friction, and Richard’s reaction, all centers around that. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: ESME PATTERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #597 (February 10, 2017).

I saw Esmé Patterson at the XPNFest last year.  Her live show was dynamic and fun and she was really charming.  I got to meet her briefly after the show and she was super friendly as well.

This Tiny Desk Concert (in which she has totally shaved off her big wavy hair), is a somewhat quieter, but overall accurate representation of her live show.

I love that she’s playing a big echoing guitar while the rest of the band Alex Koshak (drums); Jeremy Averitt (bass) and Jake Miller (lead guitar) support her perfectly–the lead guitar lines especially.

I have listened to her record a few times and I never considered that she sounds a bit (vocally) like Edie Brickell.  Well on “No River,” the comparison is apt.  Especially given the lyrics.  But the cute squeak in the vocals is quite endearing.

“Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin” is a cool song with a surprising twist on the theme of the lyrics:

When I ask if you love me / And you say that you might

I’ve got your love wrapped around me / So I put up a fight
Cause I wanna believe you

But I’ve heard that
Wantin ain’t gettin
No, wantin ain’t getting.

I like some of the staggered moments in the song too.  And she’s adorably smiley, throughout, even after singing a fairly dark song like that.

“Yours And Mine” has some great flanging echo on her guitar.   It’s a slow sweet song with nice guitar harmonics throughout.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 5

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

Book five opens by returning to the Village of Kings (the home of Adrain and Marianne–where the first two books were set).  Everyone is despondent at the loss of the Velbas. Master Jansen–spurned by Marianne has been inconsolable and all of his students have left him.  Although Elorna has stayed faithful and is ever training (although she thinks that Marianne is a ditz for falling for Richard).

A meeting with the leaders also shows that Richard’s arrival has meant nothing but trouble for them.  They believe that the iguana queen resides in the canyon at the edge of their village (the one that Richard and Marianne crossed).  They believe that a medieval king closed the opening when he sacrificed himself by jumping in.  And he insists that they reinstate the Royal Guardians at once. Continue Reading »

last4SOUNDTRACK: LONE BELLOW-Tiny Desk Concert #268 (March 4, 2013).

loneI know the Lone Bellow song “You Never Need Nobody,” a song that has great harmonies.  But I don’t really know much about them beyond that song.

For this Tiny Desk Concert, there are three players—two guitarists, Brian Elmquist and Zach Williams, and one mandolin player, Kanene Pipkin.  Williams, is the primary singer, and all three have amazing harmonies.

“You Never Need Nobody” is a bit slower than the recorded version and while it lacks something that I like from the recording, this version makes up for it in other ways.  At the end, they are wonderfully tight when they hit that dramatic pause.

Its possible the singer is sickly as he sniffs quite a bit through the second song, but his voice sounds great.  At the end, she jokes that he is sweaty and he really is.

“Two Sides Of Lonely” is much slower but the chorus is powerful with their harmonies.  You can see how hard the lead singer and the mandolin player are singing–even the blurb says “with Zach Williams singing every word as if it’s the last time he’ll ever get the chance.”  The bridge is just gorgeous.

On “Teach Me To Know” it’s fun to watch their hands strum in synch.  This song is faster with some cool little guitar lines.  There are just wonderful harmonies all the way through.  As the blurb says, “Their voices harmonize with Williams’, sometimes making vocal power chords and at other times supplying delicate textures.

“You Don’t Love Me” jumps right in with big harmonies.  For this song, Williams puts down his guitar–presumably so he can sing even more intensely.

It’s really amazing seeing bands put so much intensity into their music.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 4

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the women are getting sexier with each book (one quite over the top).  No question about the age level of this series now–things are getting much darker and much more intense–keep the kids away.

In the previous book, a bunch of thugs were all ogling a pop star in a magazine, wondering if “they were real or fake.”  In this book we actually meet the pop star (but we don’t learn if they are real or fake).  Her name is Tomie Katana and she was married to Richard for a while before he left.

We also find out (finally) what Richard did to make him flee the city.  It has to do with a previous fight–I suspect we will learn more details about exactly what happened in a later book.

The book opens in Zotis Inc, the company with the biggest pop stars, the biggest sporting events and the biggest everything.  Including The Fight Fist Funeral Cup.  Marianne is talking to one of the executives of the company who sets her up with a car and a hotel for the night.  When Tomie hears her mention Richard, she runs out to try to talk to her. She even runs out into the street–fighting off paparazzi–but to no avail. Continue Reading »

marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? Continue Reading »

jf josephSOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Tiny Desk #574 (October 28, 2016).

I have been hearing “White Flag” quite a bit on the radio. I had a hard time keeping track of who sang it (it doesn’t help that this trio of women is called Joseph).  But I have really grown to love the “ooh ooh” part and the screamed chorus.

So it’s interesting to see Bob Boilen’s blurb in which he says

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph’s sound has grown beyond the Closners’ harmonies. Now, you’re likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.  It’s been a treat to witness Joseph’s journey, but I was also fairly thrilled that for their Tiny Desk the sisters stripped it down to their original setup: three voices and one guitar.

They play “White Flag” first.  I was a bit disappointed at first because even though Bob loves the stripped down sound, I like the recorded version a lot.  But by the end I was loving how great their voices work together.  Plus I was able to hear the word a little better: “I’d rather be dead than live a lie…burn the white flag.”  Natalie sings lead on this one, while Meegan and Allison do the great oooh oohs.

When the song is over Natalie tells us why she wrote the song: a response to everything going on in the world and how it wants to push you back into your home and stop you from going out and living your life and deciding no thank you I’m going to do that anyway.

 Meegan introduces “I Don’t Mind” by saying it’s about sadness… and it was something she wanted someone to say to her about her sadness.  But she realized she had to say it to herself before she could receive it from anyone else.  She sings lead and it builds slowly with some harmonies coming in. I love how big it gets from such a small opening.  The final chorus reminds me a bit of Lucius–big bold singing in close harmony.

I was delighted by how different the three songs sounded.  “Canyon” sounds nothing like the other two–the chorus is powerful and hypnotic with the repeated sounds.  It also has an incredible moment in the middle of the song where the twins are singing backing vocals and Natalie is singing a lead line and the three of them all end on a really long note together.  It’s mesmerizing.

So even if I really like the album version, these versions are pretty spectacular.

[READ: February 27, 2017] “An Occurrence on the Beach of Varosha”

This is an excerpt from a novel called The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep and I’m glad I knew that going in because the story mentions some previous incidents and also ends rather dramatically but in an unfinished way.

Set in October 2012, Elias is on the beach at Varosha in Northern Cyprus, marveling at the size and number of the hotels that line the barbed wired fence on the beach.   Elias’s aunt and uncle currently live on the Greek Cypriot side of the Green Line, but they were among the first to build a hotel there.  However, there’s was just three  stories with twenty-four room.

Elias is there ostensibly to check out he property to see if it is still standing during the conflict.   He is capable of doing this because he is Canadian and has a foreign passport.  Thus, he can cross the Green Line without trouble. Continue Reading »

dec2016SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY MILLER & JIM LAUDERDALE-Tiny Desk Concert #275 (May 13, 2013).

buddyjimBuddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale are apparently legendary players, but I’ve never heard of either of them. So the blurb tells us:

Buddy Miller is the guitar player to hire if you’re playing heartfelt, not-so-shiny country-rock songs.  Jim Lauderdale writes award-winning country songs. He’ll once again host the Americana Music Awards alongside Miller, with whom he shares a radio show on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Channel; that’s where the corny humor comes in.

There’s something endearing, old-timey and almost vaudevillian about Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale — even the way they bill themselves as “Buddy and Jim.” Both veteran musicians are in love with country music in all its many forms and influences; their music incorporates the blues and bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and a good deal of craft.  The songs they performed, at NPR’s offices and on the album, have titles like “I Lost My Job [insert pregnant pause here] of Loving You.” Some good fun to be had at the expense of heartbreak and life’s loves, both lost and found.

They are indeed funny and charming.  They both play guitar and the rest of the band includes fiddle, upright bass and a mailing tub for percussion.

Jim is the corny comedian.  He says he doesn’t have his contacts in—how’s everybody up there in the balcony?   Bob asks if either you guys have had a desk job.  Jim says, kind of, he was messenger at Rolling Stone (not a bike messenger).   And then he jokes that he had to do some firing of people—and he makes an exaggerated attempt at firing someone in the audience.

Besides the goofiness, they do play three fairly traditional-sounding country songs.  “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town” sounds very old timey country (compete with thick singing accents).  “It Hurts Me” was written by Buddy’s wife.  It’s a slow country ballad.

After the second song, Jim says, “Were having such a  good time up here, we’re gonna stay all day long.”  Buddy jumps in “That’s what George Jones” says all the time and then he plays one more song and leaves.  The final song is  “I Lost My Job Of Loving You”  my favorite of the three because it’s a little more rocking sounding.

[READ: February 25, 2017] “A System from the North”

This was the second story from Ohlin that I’ve read recently.

I liked the other story but I really liked this one a lot.

It is a strange little story about a woman who is “teaching” in a school.  I put teaching is in quotes because this is a school with its own Philosophy. as in “they went outside every day, regardless of the weather; it was part of the Philosophy.”

The teacher is outside with the kids when she notices that the boy in the blue coat is not there.  She counts the kids, but the fifth child simply isn’t there.

She takes the children inside and then gets inside her head about where the boy may have gone. Continue Reading »

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