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Archive for June, 2016

lilychen SOUNDTRACK: BARRY DOUGLAS-Tiny Desk Concert #536 (June 3, 2016).

barryBarry Douglas is a “classical” pianist from Ireland.  I’ve put classical in quotes because although what he plays is classical in sound, the music actually comes from Celtic tradition rather than the classical canon.

“The Coolin” (An Chúileann) translates to “The Fair-Haired Girl” and dates to around 1641.  His arrangement has a very baroque feel (he is actually a classical pianist, too), which gives the traditional song a more regal air.

He follows that lovely delicate song with “Planxty Dylan.”  Planxty is an Irish dance.  He says that harpists would travel around Ireland and people would look after them.  The harpist would then thank the homeowner by writing a song named after the home where they stayed.  This romp of a dance (at only about 1 minute long) was dedicated to the house of Dylan.

From playing a planxty to the band Planxty.  Douglas has arranged the Planxty song “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” for solo piano.  It has been around since the 18th century.  Planxty made it more famous as a vocal song (which I know) but Douglas’ piano version has a lot of fun with the melody as well.  The melody is also known as “Black Jack Davy.”

“My Lagan Love” is about the River Lagan in Donegal (there are actually four Lagan Rivers in Ireland).  The melody and poem were written by unknown persons.  Douglas arranged this without words in an attempt to make it more timeless.  I know the original and this is a really lovely in this instrumental version.

I can say that I was pleasantly surprised to hear this was the kind of solo music that Douglas was going to play.

[READ: April 2, 2016] The Undertaking of Lily Chen

The whole premise behind this story is disturbing and apparently true.

Novgorodoff includes a section of an article from 2007 which says that parts of rural China have seen the rise of “ghost marriages.” In this situation, when an unmarried an dies, his parents procure the body of a woman, hold a wedding and then bury them together.  This has led to a black market in corpse brides.  EW!

This story explores that revolting concept. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 28, 2016] Phish limb

phishA friend of mine in college first got me to listen to Phish (circa 1992), but it wasn’t until the LivePhish releases starting in 2001 that I really got into them.  [Incidentally, if you bought those discs and kept them in that plastic liner thing, check your discs because those plastic things have eaten away most of the whatever is on them that allows a player to play music.  Most of my discs have sections that are totally see-through and register an error.  I don’t think anything can be done about it DIY and I’m quite sure that Elektra isn’t about to give us new copies or anything.]

I had never gone to a Phish show for a couple of reasons.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to dive into the “culture” of the shows, which seemed intimidating at best.  And, once I decided I wanted to see them, I could never actually get tickets.  Well, the Phish lottery came through and I scored a ticket to this show at the Mann Center.

A word about Phish now.  I knew that people were devoted to the band, but I never knew how much the band reciprocated.  In order to let fans have a fair shot at getting tickets to their shows, they have set up a lottery.  All ticket prices are the same and you either get tickets or you don’t (you can later by them on Ticketmaster or whatever).  If you get tickets, your seat could be front row or lawn or anywhere in between.  And the price ($49 face value for all) is quite cheap, I think.  Well, I won a lottery ticket, and my ticket came all psychedelic instead of a standard Ticketmaster type ticket.  Which is cool.  But not only that, your ticket gets you a free download of that night’s show when it becomes available on the LivePhish website.  And that’s usually within a few hours of the end of the show.  The shows are normally around $10 to download, but if you bought a ticket you get a free one.  That’s super cool.

Also, every once in a while (12 times now) the LivePhish site has released free compilations of live songs from various shows throughout the band’s history.  Most of these downloads are 3 hours or more.  That’s a ton of free music.  Nice.  So I’ve listened to these collections a lot and I know most of the songs they play very well.

Back to the Mann.  (more…)

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3shadSOUNDTRACK: ANDREW BIRD-Tiny Desk Concert #535 (May 31, 2016).

andrewbirdI haven’t known too many of the recent Tiny Desk performers, but I do know Andrew Bird.  I heard him on NPR and was quite taken with his whistling (one of his trademarks).  I bought his album, but learned after listening to it that I prefer him more in small doses and single songs rather than a whole album.

And while I didn’t love the album (it’s good but didn’t blow me away), these three songs are pretty great.

That whistling is present a lot during this Tiny Desk Concert.  The first song “Are You Serious” has a lot of whistling and is an incredibly catchy song (possibly because it has a very similar melody to “Oops I Did It Again”?).  Regardless of the reason, this song is really fun.  One of the delightful things about Bird, in addition to his whistling is that he also plays violin in number of different ways.  He strums it like a guitar for the beginning of the song and even plays a plucked solo (while still holding it like a guitar).  There’s also some “proper playing” by the end of the song.

“Roma Fade” also opens with his whistling and violin plucking and then shifts to s much more uptempo violin bowing.  It’s got a very catchy melody and again I love how he switches from plucked violin notes to bowed melody.

“Capsized” is a song I have been hearing on WXPN quite a bit.  I had no idea it was him and I really liked it so it was a surprise treat to hear it here.  I don’t recall if the radio version opens this way but in the Tiny Desk, there’s a great fast violin intro and some bowed upright bass rumbling.  The verses are great but it’s the the catchy chorus “and when you wake up” that rules the song.  There’s a cool plucked violin solo and some more nice bowing.

The band he has (bass, guitar and drums) also sings great harmonies which really make these songs sound big.  It’s a great Tiny Desk and means I’m going have to dig out the album I have and give it another spin.  And actually it is good, just a bit more mellow than I like.

[READ: March 10, 2016] Three Shadows

I really liked just about everything in this graphic novel.  I was struck almost from the start by Pedrosa’s drawing style, which relished in loops.

The first page has a boy and his father walking in the garden.  The tree is comprised of circles, the man’s pipe is producing circle smoke rings, even the apples in the trees are swirling circles.  The whole pages looks to be in motion.  And it has a very interesting folk-art feel.  On the next page the trees are simply big swirling circles.  It’s really visually striking.

However, once a story begins “Back then life was simple and sweet,” you know that the story isn’t going to be a happy one.

But it does start off peaceful.  This small family–mom dad and little boy live in an idyllic little house far from the world.  But one day, their dad sees three shadows on the top of the hill.  He gets really freaked out about them even though they don’t come close.  His wife thinks that he is overreacting, but every time he sees them, he knows they are up to something.  And then one night they come in adn try to take the little boy. (more…)

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broxoSOUNDTRACK: CARRIE RODRIGUEZ-Tiny Desk #534 (May 27, 2016).

carrieCarrie Rodriguez is also from Texas.  She sings in both Spanish and English, plays guitar and violin and has a wonderful stage presence.  Her voice is powerful and confident and her duet partner Chip Taylor is a perfect accompanist for her.

Her first song is called “I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltrán.”  Beltrán is one of Mexico’s most highly regarded ranchera singers.  In the lyric she sings, “and you were Javier Solis” (he was another highly regarded ranchero singer).  The end of the lyric is “and we were baile baile baile while you sang to me.”  It’s quite romantic.  Rodriguez plays the four string guitar while Taylor plays slide guitar.  Given the instrumentation, this song could feel very country, but it doesn’t primarily because of the way she sings–more sultry than country with a dapple of ranchero on top..

She introduces the second song, “Llano Estacado” by saying that her grandmother is from there.  It’s up near the panhandle with ghost towns and strange people up there.  She says people there pronounce the town Lano es Tacado.  Taylor switches to electric guitar and she stays on the four string acoustic. There’s some wonderful Spanish pronunciations there.  This feels more like a cowboy song (except for the buzzy electric guitar).

Somebody brings her a beer (or maybe champagne) which she says is perfect as the final song is a drinking song “Noche de Ronda” (a night out on the town).  She says that in this song, “She is singing to the moon because her lover isn’t with her because he is out with his friends having a good time.”  Taylor laughs and says, “it’s a fictitious song.”

He plays guitar.  She sings a beautiful Spanish and hits some lovely notes.  After a lengthy introduction, the song turns into more of a Spanish lullaby (with some very fast lyrics).  It’s a really beautiful ballad. Then, about four minutes in, Carrie picks up a violin and begins playing a solo.  After about a minute of beauteous soloing, she shifts gears and starts playing a wild solo fiddle with scratchy bowing and some really fast playing. It’s fun and intense and  the whole solo lasts about 4 minutes.

Rodriguez really showcases all of her talents in this Tiny Desk.  She’s a force to be reckoned with.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Broxo

The drawing style of this book reminded me a lot of Bone.  Between the setting and the way the human characters looked, it had a very Jeff Smith feel.  On closer inspection, there are enough dissimilarities to make Broxo its own.  And it’s compelling in a very different (and darker) way.

What is particularly interesting about this story is how elliptical it feels.  The story begins with a woman, Princess Zora of the Granitewings, reaching the top of Peryton Peak in search of the Peryton Clan.  But we don’t learn all that much about her or all that much about the world she’s in (we get enough to make the story work, but that’s about all).

Peryton Peak looks abandoned, there’s no sign of human life.  While exploring, she is set on by little ferret-looking creatures, but she quickly gets rid of them.
(more…)

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chester SOUNDTRACK: ROBERT ELLIS-Tiny Desk Concert #533 (May 23, 2016).

robellisRobert Ellis is a singer-songwriter who I was unfamiliar with (a familiar refrain in recent Tiny Desk Concerts).

Ellis is from Texas and his voice rings of country singers.  But his guitar playing and song styles sound more Americana or singer-songwritery than country.  he walks a fine line, which probably means he is loved by neither faction.

He plays three songs.  The first sees both men (him and Kelly Doyle) on electric guitar, with a catchy riff and fun chord progressions.  (Their suits are pretty spectacular too).

After the first song, Ellis says, “I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce my favorite guitar player on the planet, Kelly the Telly Doyle.”  After a pause he smiles and says, “There’s only two of us up here so there’s only two things I could have said” to much laughter.

“Driving” was written about being in Nashville TN and going nowhere. But it is a masterful piece of guitar work with him (on acoustic) and Doyle (on electric) playing these wonderful fast lines that overlap and intertwine and sound amazing together.  The vocal melody line is fast and familiar, but it’s those recurring fast guitar lines that are really wonderful.  And indeed, Doyle does some wonderful pyrotechnics on his electric guitar, including a nice harmonic at the end.

For the final song, “California,” Ellis switches to piano with some more nice guitar harmonics from Kelly.  His voice sounds very familiar on this song–it’s a slower more expansive piece that allows him to sing bigger.  I like the way the chorus seems to work as a continuous melody after it seems like it ought to have stopped.  There’ a real 70s vibe to this song.

I’m always curious to see if I’ll hear more from someone like Ellis after seeing him on the Tiny Desk Concert.

[READ: February 19, 2016] Bloody Chester

This is a story of the Old West.  I don’t especially care that much about the Old West.  It seems so totally unreal that I never know what actually happened.

This story starts out especially dark with a boy named Lady Kate getting beaten up in a bar.  We back up on the story a little and realize that this boy is Bloody Chester.  He was a feared tough guy based on reputation. True, his last name was Kate, but Bloody Chester suited him well.  Until he had an unfortunate experience with a lady of the evening and his reputation changed from Bloody Chester to Lady Kate.  And that’s when the abuse came.

Trying to get by in town is now pretty tough.  He drinks a lot and all he has left is his horse.

The one major problem I had with this story is that Chester looks like he’s about 12 years old–like the other young people.  While I’m not doubting that young kids did horrible things in the Old West, they seem too young for everything that happened (especially the lady of the evening). (more…)

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slowstormSOUNDTRACK: ANDY SHAUF-Tiny Desk Concert #532 (May 20, 2016).

shaufI was unfamiliar with Andy Shauf although once he started playing, I thought his songs sounded familiar.  One of the more interesting thing about him is his singing enunciation (which reminds me a bit of SOAK for a recent comparison–although she is from Northern Ireland and he is from Saskatchewan).

It’s interesting to me that Shauf plays only rhythm guitar–all of the melody lines and solos come from his keyboardist.  It’s also interesting how motionless Shauf is.  He stands quite still and doesn’t even really move as he sings (his voice is mellow but not exactly quiet).

“The Magician” has as some great riffs from the keyboard and some interesting chord changes as the song draws to and end.  And of course, Shauf’s calming, delightful voice (complete with do do do dos) make the song quite lovely.

“To You” sounds similar to the first–same basic tempo and tone, with nice little fills that elevate the song from a simple chord structure.

His final song, “You’re Out Wasting” is “an older song” from his last album.  There’s another great melody running through this song and it’s a bit more uptempo.

I’m not sure if it’s his hair or his posture but he looks uncomfortably hunched-over while playing.  But that doesn’t stop his voice from sounding great and his songwriting from being really enjoyable.

[READ: February 2, 2016] Slow Storm

I really like the way Novgorodoff works with watercolors to create cool backgrounds. However, I don’t really like the way she uses her pen–I don’t care for the look of her characters.  And I don’t love the hand lettering all that much either.

This story is one that I wouldn’t read if it weren’t a First Second book.  And while I’m glad I read it and I found the convergence s of characters to be really interesting, it was a rough road getting thee.

The story begins with no words, just a series of images that juxtapose a tornado/storm and the Kentucky Derby.  The storm is hitting a barn where horses are kept, so these horses are also running, but hey are frightened of course (I especially didn’t like the style of the frightened horses).

Then we see a man get hurled by the tornado into a barn. (more…)

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corpseSOUNDTRACK: STEVE KIMOCK-Tiny Desk Concert #531 (May 16, 2016).

kimockI’d never heard of Steve Kimock before.  He is a guitar player, evidently known for his improvisational playing.

Based on that, I was doubly surprised that the first song not only had vocals, but that they were by someone else in the band (the unnamed female pianist).  “Careless Love” sounds incredibly familiar.  Even on the first listen, it sounded like I’d heard it before–the vocal melody and her voice, the bass riff, everything seemed familiar, although I’m still not sure if I actually know it.

Kimock’s guitar is metal (or aluminum).  It’s quite unusual looking–all shiny and silver.  It’s a hollow body but it sounds unlike an acoustic guitar.  He’s joined by Bobby Vega on bass–and his bass is so smooth (even on this acoustic).

For the second song, he switches to a hollow bodied electric guitar.  He says that “Tongue N’ Groove” is an oldie for himself and Vega (for whom it is also very early in the morning).  The singer switches to piano for this instrumental that has a light jazzy feel.  It’s quite a lovely song.

For the final song, “Surely This Day,” he switches to an acoustic guitar which he plays across his lap (and uses a slide).  This is beautiful solo song with some wonderful moments.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Exquisite Corpse

I really enjoyed this First Second comic.  It was translated by Alexis Siegel and it doesn’t feel translated at all.

This is the first book by Bagieu that I have read and I immediately loved her style which has simple lines but also subtle shading.  It feels at time realistic and at times cartoony.

The story focuses on Zoe.  She is working as a kind of model–a pretty girl who stands near things like cars or boats or whatever.  She doesn’t love the job (who would) and on the second day we see a guy honks her ass.   The other models are doing the work part-time to put their way through school, but Zoe is the only one with no other options.  They tell her she should change jobs or stop complaining. (more…)

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