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guibertSOUNDTRACK: JACKSON BROWNE-Tiny Desk Concert #394 (October 6, 2014).

jbI don’t really think much of Jackson Browne.  He’s always been a staple of classic rock radio, but I never especially sought him out. His voice is unique and recognizable although if pressed I can’t think of the names of any of his songs (but I’d know them immediately if I heard them).

Bob Boilen talked with Browne in his book and that’s where I learned that Browne dated Nico from The Velvet Underground fame and even wrote songs for her.  I also learned that he is quite the activist.  And that he plays a lot in California with various performers (the blurb says “he’s largely free of obligations”–that’s a nice phrasing).

He plays three songs here.  I assume they’re all new as I don’t recognize them.  And they all sound very much like Jackson Browne.  He voice is largely the same although it does crack and break a few times (could that be the setting or the time of day or does he just accept that he’s getting older?).

It’s also interesting that Browne plays the rhythm guitar for most of the songs–allowing Val McCallum to play the lead guitar and Greg Leisz to play “all manner of stringed things” (including the slide guitar solos).

The three songs are “Call It A Loan,” “The Barricades Of Heaven” and “Long Way Around.”  I’m surprised at just how long these three songs are (the whole set comes in around 20 minutes).

Before “Long Way Around” (which is quite political), he says that they’re “Lucky to play for such an informed group.”  Bob says they stopped the news–there’s no news being made–so that Browne could play.

Some of the lines in “Long Way Around” are: “It’s hard to say which did more ill, Citizen United or the gulf oil spill” and “It’s never been that hard to buy a gun, now they’ll sell a Glock 19 to just about anyone.”

The songs are nicely accentuated by the backing vocals of Jeff Young who also plays keyboards for them but which they couldn’t bring.

This is a delightful, mellow (and thoughtful) set of music (with a huge crowd watching).  And there’s a funny moment at the end where someone triggers a James Brown doll and Browne does a pretty good “hit me!”

[READ: March 2, 2016] How the World Was

I was intrigued to read this book by Emmanuel Guibert because I’ve really enjoyed his work lately.  But how was I to know that How the World Was is a prequel of sorts to Alan’s War?  It was also translated by Kathryn Pulver.

This book is a”loving, immersive portrait of Alan Cope.”  Cope was born in 1925 when California was still the frontier and life was simpler and harsher.  And Guibert felt that it was a gift for Cope “in the last moments of his life” (unlike in Alan’s War there’s no word on whether Cope saw this book).

So this book is indeed all about Cope’s childhood.  And while he did have some pretty interesting things happen to him, his childhood was in no way extraordinary.   This is just a simple portrait of growing up in Californians in the 1920 s and 1930s as seen from one man’s eyes. Continue Reading »

solomonSOUNDTRACK: RYAN KEBERLE & CATHARSIS-Tiny Desk Concert #393 (October 4, 2014).

keberleWhen Trombone Shorty played the Tiny Desk I said that I was surprised to see that the leader of the band was a trombone player.  Well, perhaps it’s not that unusual as Ryan Keberle is a trombonist as well.  But unlike many recent jazz performers, Keberle & Catharsis aren’t showing off. As the blurb puts it, “he’s not after any high-concept framing. He’s just targeting the sweet spot where a nifty arrangement meets a solid groove.”

This band plays pretty traditional jazz (complete with upright bass solos and everything). Although, interestingly, their first song is a cover of  Sufjan Stevens song (turns out that Keberle toured with Stevens).  “Sister” is my favorite of their three songs.  I really enjoyed when the full band kicked in after the intro riff from Keberle.  The band has a vocalist, Camila Meza, who mainly does wordless vocal sounds.  As the song nears its end she does sing lead vocals, and it’s quite pleasant.

Her vocals work pretty well for this song, but I didn’t like it is much later.  That could be because “Sister” is a catchy pop song, where the other songs are jazzy.  And I find her singing style to be a little lite-Fm for my tastes.

“Gallop” is a bit faster than the first song.  It moves along at a nice clip and then stops for a bass and drum solo–very very jazzy.  There’s a trumpet solo in the middle of song too (no trombone solos which is interesting, I guess).  The other guys in the band are Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, Jorge Roeder on bass and Eric Doob on drums.

“Zone” opens with two contradicting three note riffs on both trombone and trumpet which is pretty cool.  Then the song settles down to just bass drums and voice and Keberle playing the melodica (beloved instrument of Tiny Desk Concerts) which works but sounds odd in the mix.  It seems like the song is going to end as the music fades to just bass, but it soon picks up again with anew trumpet solo.

I don’t love mellow jazz like this, but these players are excellent.

[READ: April 13, 2016] Solomon’s Thieves

I had this book on hold for quite some time.  When it finally came in, I thought, hey this art looks familiar.  And then hey, this book is about the Templar knights, what a strange thing that First Second would have two book about the Templar Knights.   And then as I flipped through it I realized the author and artists were the same.  And for a split second I though, they wrote two books about the Templar Knights?

And then it came to me that the first part of Templar was called “Solomon’s Thieves.”  And that this is indeed the First Part published long before Templar actually came out in full.

So even thought I had read the whole of Templar not too long ago, I decided to read this as well   As far as I can tell it is exactly the same as the first part of Templar.  Although it’s possible that there are some minor changes, I wasn’t sure if things that I didn’t remember were just because I can’t remember everything, you know?

Perhaps because I had read the full book not too long ago, I really enjoyed this run though again.  Since everything looked familiar, it was fun to pick up on things I missed the first time, and to see how things made a little more sense once I could tell who everyone was and what their roles were (there is something to be said for re-reading).

I’m including what I wrote about the first part of Templar here because it’s the same, but if you want more about the whole book or background about the Templar Knights check out the full post.

As the story opens we see Martin, a Knight, looking longingly at a woman, Isabelle.  We learn that he had been “dating” her (or whatever they called it back then) and then one day he found out that she left to be married to the brother of King Philip.  So he joined the Knights.  As they march through the city, we see that they are drunkards and carousers.  They get in all manner of trouble.  And one evening they were heading back to Paris when suddenly the above dictum was established–all Knights were to be arrested.  And Martin is one of them.

But through some excellent machinations (and good fighting) he escapes.  And he soon joins together with a very unlikely band of merry men, including Brother Dominic (a real priest with the tonsure and everything) and Brother Bernard, a loutish drunken man who is not above thieving from people.  Martin is offended at the thought of working with him, and they wind up at odds with each other from the start.  Before the end of the first book, we see that they have a letter revealing where all of the Templar gold and jewels are hidden.

There’s a great bit of accounting work done in which the bookkeeper shows on his ledger that rooms were empty when in fact it appears that the gold was taken out on hay carts.  The bookkeeper, even under torture, swears he knows nothing of the fortune’s whereabouts.

Mechner tells a really exciting story with humor and sadness.  The fact that it’s linked to history is just a bonus.  Another winner for First Second and their #1oyearsof01 anniversary.

stuffedSOUNDTRACK: BIO RITMO-Tiny Desk Concert #392 (September 29, 2014).

bioritBio Ritmo is a nine-piece band that has played salsa music for 23 years (as of 2014).  The back beat and rhythm is pure salsa–there’s a drummer (who has that classic salsa drum sound) and two bongo players.  There’s shakers and scrapers and timbales and congas and a cowbell.

The four horns players (two trumpets, sax and trombone) punctuate all o the right notes to get you moving along.

The first song is “La Via.”  The main driving force seems to be the keyboard, which was unexpected–it adds a kind of Latin jazz feel to the proceedings.  I love the way the keyboards shift from a Latin feel to a more groovy 70s feel before the vocals start.  There’s a cool break in the middle of the song when it stops and we get a few pounding notes before the song resumes.  Classic salsa.

“Picaresca”has fun dancey rhythm and a lengthy trumpet solo, giving it another interesting salsa/jazz feel.  The keyboard solo sounds a little cheesey here–like they need better sounds on that program, but it’s the drums “solo” in the middle that makes this song so much fun.  It’s a great instrumental.

“Perdido” goes through many different genres.  He explains that it begins like a Puerto Rican dance from the 1800s and then goes “into other stuff.”  The opening does indeed sound like an old song and after a few verses it morphs into modern salsa once again.

I really enjoyed this set a lot.  Most salsa music sounds the same to me, but I really like it when I hear it. On the downside, this is the first Tiny Desk Concert where I felt like the band wasn’t mic’d effectively.  The vocals are really quiet (almost inaudible at times), and when the trombonist does a solo it’s also a little too quiet.  But the main focus is the percussion and that’s plenty loud!

[READ: May 10, 2016] Stuffed

I have had to interlibrary loan a lot of the rest of the First Second books because my library system doesn’t have them.  Usually if a library doesn’t have an older book it’s because not many people read it any more so they got rid of it.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the book is bad, but it doesn’t  give you a ton of confidence about it.  But this book defied every expectation and wound up being outstanding!

I assumed this title would be a cautionary tale about someone eating too much.  I had no idea what I was actually in for!

As the book opens, we meet Tim. He works for a benefits department of an insurance company (it sounds awful).  He gets a call that his father is dying.  He rushes to the hospital just in time  to see his father insult him once more before breathing his last.  His father’s estate is to be split between himself and his half-brother, Ollie.  No one has seen Ollie in ages.  When they do track him down, he is now known as “Free Spirit.” Continue Reading »

nameless SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #391 (September 22, 2014).

tweedyI’ve recently become a major fan of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting.  This band is Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer (on drums).  They usually perform with a full band, but here it’s just father and son.

The songs sound very much like Wilco (Tweedy’s voice is unmistakable), but there is a different, almost patient feel to these songs that makes them seem not-Wilco.  Spencer’s drumming is not flashy (that wouldn’t work here anyway), but it is right on the beat with occasional flourishes.

“Wait for Love” is a sweet ballad.  “New Moon” is a bit more upbeat.  There are 20 songs on the record.  After the second song, Jeff says he doesn’t know how many songs they’re supposed.  Bob says they’re supposed to play til 6″ (it appears to be early afternoon).

Jeff says they can stay till six, There’s nothing happening in the world, right? Bob states, “There is no news today.”  Jeff smiles and says that later “Spencer and I are going to reveal our strategy for ISIS, so it’s a good thing you’re here.”

“Low Key” is more rocking with some cool chord change progressions in the middle (ans a little drums-only section).

Before the final song, he says he wrote it for Mavis Staples (She didn’t sing it when I saw her…bummer).  He says that “Spencer didn’t play on that record… but we know how to play it together.”  He pauses and says, “We know how to play all of our songs together.”  Pause  “I’m such a good front man” (to much applause from everyone).

Jeff laughs and says that Spencer is gonna get a microphone and “you’ll have to talk to people.”

“You’re Not Alone” is a bit more complex and powerful than the others and that repeated refrain of “open up this is a raid” is really great.

The Wilco Tiny Desk Concerts have been raucous and fun.  This one is much more low-key and shows off a different side of Tweedy.

There’s a sweet moment at the end of the set where Spencer give his dad a hug.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Nameless City

Faith Erin Hicks has been consistently excellent with her graphic novels.  I was pretty excited to see that she had a new book coming out.  And I was even more excited to go to the library and see that Sarah had requested it already.

I dove right in to this story.

It begins with some unnamed people riding down the River of Lives and going into a city.  They ask several different people what the name of the city is and they get several different titles.  They determine that this is the nameless city.

It turns out that every civilization that has conquered the city (which happens every thirty years or so) renames the city.  And, depending on which invaders you like best, that would be the name you would choose to call the place.  We later learn that most of the conquerors only conquer the main walled city proper and that the houses and markets on the other side of the wall pretty much just go with the flow.  The people who live outside hate everyone who is in charge and just try to keep their heads down to survive. Continue Reading »

colony3SOUNDTRACK: LULUC-Tiny Desk Concert #390 (September 15, 2014).

luklucBob Boilen has loved Luluc for a while.  I never really appreciated them as much as I do on this Tiny Desk Concert.  The duo is from Australia (and now Brooklyn), and I’d always felt that their songs were nice but nothing special.  But you can really hear what’s going on in them.  Zoë Randell’s voice sounds like a revitalized Nico and Steve Hassett’s accompaniments are really interesting.

“Small Window” starts with Zoë strumming a small acoustic guitar and singing.  Steve accompanies on electric guitar.  It’s a pretty song with a nice melody. And his solos accentuate the song.  But when the song shifts gears to the “crystal waters” section and an unexpected chord change it becomes much more than a simple folk song.

For the second song “Without A Face,” Steve switches to bass.  When Zoë talks, her speaking voice is gentle and somewhat high-pitched so when she begins singing she sounds even more shockingly like Nico.  And the bass is wonderful on this song.  He throws in a lot of little fills that really add a lot to the verses.  And the “oh oh” section in the middle is wonderful with some great harmonies from each of them.

Zoë says they used to play with just two guitars and mics and they have added a lot more gear lately, but that they’ve they’ve stripped down for this show.  For “Reverie On Norfolk Street” he plays electric guitar (cooly vibrato’d) and his gentle backing vocals on this song are a nice almost bass addition to the song.  There’s even a guitar solo which after the song he says is “the quietest guitar solo in existence.”

Luluc really surprised me with this session and I may have to give their studio tracks another listen.

[READ: July 23, 2016] The Lost Colony 3

Book 3 ramps up the excitement quite a bit,  and also a had a lot of flashbacks that fill in some story lines.

Like the other two, it also begins with someone lost saying “Dear God where the %$!* am I?”  But this time he is a beautiful hunk of a man with gorgeous blond locks.  He is Buck Swagger and he is transported to the island on the ferry because of a letter from Olympia Snodgrass (the Mayor’s wife and Birdy’s mom).
Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: JUSTIN TOWNES EARL-Tiny Desk Concert #389 (September 8, 2014).

colony2 jteI had an idea that Justin Townes Earle was a country singer.  Although I’m sure I’m conflating him with Steve Earle (his father) and Townes Van Zant (whom he’s named after).  But I realized I’d never heard him.  He’s more of a folk singer and he’s very charming.  He implies that he flew from Nashville just to play the show (“a quick trip just for y’all”) which gets an awww from the crowd) and like Trampled by Turtles and Jessica Lea Mayfield, he’s heading back home right after he’s done.  He also had his guitar maker send his guitar to him in DC so he didn’t have to travel with it.

He has an interesting percussive strumming style (he doesn’t use a pick) and he sings about love and loss.  The first song, “Burning Pictures” has a great line about how he doubts you even remember your love’s name since it’s another girl in the picture frame.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith In You” is a bit more bluesy sounding.  He picks some melodic notes between full-fingered strums.

Amazingly, he seems like he might quit after just two songs.  Bob asks him to do one more–doesn’t have to be new–it can be one he loves.  His favorite so that he ever wrote was “White Gardenias” (for Billie Holiday).  He says it feels like he’s about to miss the beat as he’s starts singing–which scares the shit out of a rhythm section.

Before beginning, while tuning, he says he has to learn a lot of his old songs for the upcoming tour.  Bob asks if he listens to the records, and he laughs and says he Googles the songs, which is just so ridiculous.  Bob asks if he illegally downloads them but he says no he just streams them.

“White Gardenias” is a lovely song with beautiful lyrics although I don’t really get that Billie Holiday vibe from it.

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 2

The inside cover of book 2 gives a little summary of book 1 (which is helpful). It also give s little recap of all of the main characters (which all series should do, frankly).

I loved that book 2 also starts with someone asking “where the %#!* are we,” it’s a man and a very large woman.  They also convinced Fud’na (the screeching violin playing guardian of the ferry) to ferry them to the island.  The large woman reveals that she is wearing a  stars and stripes dress which is very tacky.  But more importantly, she is a singer herself (almost as bad as Fud’na perhaps).

As the bok opens, Louis the slave boy is being set upon by the rocks bugs (although we dont know why).  He is recused by Jo’Pa an Indian who lives on the island (it is rumored that he used to be a real savage Injun).  And there’s Birdy, she is dressed as Squinto, compete with feather and bow and arrow.

Then we meet the Snodgrass family and Birdy’s heretofore unmentioned Gramdy, a cantankerous old man (who is her mother’s father). Turns out that Grandy hates the Injuns and is very mad that Birdy is dressed like one. “We’re at war with the Indian, dont you know they’re evil.” Continue Reading »

colonySOUNDTRACK: JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD-Tiny Desk Concert #388 (September 6, 2014).

jlmI had an idea about who Jessica Lea Mayfield was.  I thought she was sort of a folkie/country singer who I had heard of but had no real exposure to.  So I was quite surprised to see this performer with pink hair, short shorts, no eyebrows and a ton of pink glitter under her eyes.

Turns out that her earlier records are kind of folkie but that for her 2014 album she was inspired by her grunge roots to make a noisy album.  This Tiny Desk concert has her playing three guitars–one for each song.  Each guitar is covered with glitter and one has stickers all over it.  For “Standing in the Dark” she plays her pink glitter 12 string guitar with lots of reverb.  It’s a fairly upbeat song.  The melody is simple and she sounds happy while singing it (this is notable).  The middle section has a solo which sounds really alien by itself (that 12 string with vibrato), but which works really well for the song.

She says she brought all of her guitars because she wanted to show them off.  Her speaking voice is cute and adorable.  And she seems almost childlike asking if “you have any cats” are you allowed to bring them to work.  Bob says that bands have brought their dogs and she says she wishes she’d brought hers.

“Party Drugs” is a slow song with more echo on the guitar.  It’s a slower , darker song “party drugs just make my head sing…  I won’t die in this hotel room, I’ll be here when you return.”  It ends with a dark chord and mildly distorted whammy bar and is rather creepy.

The final guitar is a hollow bodies white guitar.  The stickers on the knobs are ponies.  She says the direction of the ponies tells her how the knobs should go.  There’s a pony, an alien cat and a unicorn “system I got going on.”

“Seein* Starz” is slow chords (with more echo).  Her twangy accent peeks its way in a few times in this song.  I like the way the picking notes are vibrated enough to sound unpredictable.

There’s something really captivating and almost vulnerable (but not really) about her performance.   She says she could stay here and do this all day and show you how loud it usually is.   Bob mentions something about six hours implying that she traveled six hours just to play for them (like Trampled by Turtles did the previous show).

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 1

I read this book last year.  But since I wanted to  read the other two books in the series, I wanted to re-read this before moving on to Books 2 and 3.

My recollection is that I didn’t really like the first book all that much, so I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it this time around either.

But, as it turns out, I really did enjoy it (and I’m not reading wheat I wrote the first time, just to see how this reading compares).  I think perhaps I didn’t really know what I was getting into the first time.  And now with hindsight, and understanding how and when some of the things are supernatural, it made more sense. Continue Reading »

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