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[LISTENED TO: September 13, 2017] Believe Me

When I saw that Eddie Izzard had a book out I was pretty interested to read it.  I have loved his stand-up since 1997 or 1998 and I was lucky enough to see him on his Circle Tour (on the date they recorded it!).  I have been keeping up with his career and trying to see him in whatever he does (although I like my comedy more than drama and he has certainly made the shift towards drama in recent years).

I thought an autobiography or memoir by him would be pretty interesting (even if he claims to be boring).  But when I saw that he read the audiobook, I knew I had to give it a listen (even if it was 12 discs)!

Amusingly, there was a long delay at the library.  The lady at the counter (who is not the librarian–we librarians know the difference) said if I knew his voice, I could just read the book to myself in his voice.  It was an amusing thought, and I possibly could do that, ….yes, but Eddie’s voice is just so fantastic that it never would have worked properly.  Plus, he throws in easily an extra hours worth of footnotes and rambles that aren’t in the print book!  That’s right, an extra hour’s worth of nonsense if you do the audio.   True you don;t get to see the pictures, but it’s a fair trade-off.

Well the book finally came in and I had plenty of driving time to make short work of this 12 hours behemoth.  And I laughed and laughed.  And cried and cried.

Because while Eddie Izzard is an action transvestite (transgender, now) and one of the best stand-ups around, he is also an extremely warm and thoughtful person. He worked very hard to become the success he is.  And he has used his fame to do some absolutely wonderful things for humanity–including raising millions of dollars.  Not bad for an atheist who is sometimes in girl mode and sometimes in boy mode. (more…)

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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk Concert #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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2010 SOUNDTRACK: ANTIBALAS-Tiny Desk Concert #243 (October 4, 2012).

antibAntibalas (Spanish for “bulletproof”) is a Brooklyn ensemble.  Eleven members turned up for the Tiny Desk.  And they are quite the ensemble.  There are trumpets, saxophones, two guitars, a bass and a ton of percussion.  There’s a percussionist/keyboardist wearing a lucha libre mask (!) and the lead singer (singing in English and some other language) has what looks like tribal paint on his face. (He also plays conga and cowbell).

The blurb states:

There just aren’t many bands like Antibalas. These are jazz players making dance music: Their music is big and fun, and their guiding spirit is Fela Kuti, the brilliant big-band leader and Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer. Afrobeat is a musical style featuring nearly endless songs, mixing funk and jazz, grooves and riffs, with the rhythm carried by not only the drums, but everyone. Everyone — horn players, bass players, guitarists — plays rhythm in Afrobeat music.

It’s one thing for a big group to make a big sound — and, sure, Antibalas does that — but what stands out is the subtlety of this ensemble; the way the horns weave in and out of each other, sometimes complementing and at other times inspiring and creating musical conversation between players. That extends to all the players, from vocals to guitar. When you start to listen to that conversation and you hear that build in a rhythm, it’s so powerful, so full of joy. If they come to your town, drop what you’re doing and go see them. Wear dancing shoes.

They play two songs, but they are long and full of rhythm.  “Dirty Money” runs just under 6 minutes. I really like the way the horns seems to echo and answer each other during the slow sections.  While the whole band sings the backing voices.  And when the masked guy switches from percussion to keyboards, it’s got a  groovy 70s sound coming out of that machine.   All of it is anchored by the bass, keeping a steady rhythm.  One of the trumpeters switches to trombone for a solo as well.

“Him Belly Go No Sweet” has an even funkier feel–lots of percussion and staccato horns slowly working with each other to create a big sound.  Even though there’s plenty if music in this song it’s impressive how much they use silences—things are never quiet (there’s always a bass line or percussion) but for such a big outfit they can really get things to quiet own.  The end half of the song sees the band singing “go up  go down” while the lead singer seems to improvise a whole bunch of stuff.

It is, indeed, hard not to dance to this.

[READ: July 10, 2016] “Baptizing the Gun”

This was a very dark story and, if nothing else, it made me never want to go to Lagos, Nigeria.

The story is told in first person by a priest.  He is not wearing his collar and is driving a borrowed VW Beetle through the traffic of Lagos.

As the story opens, a woman is screaming because a thief just pulled an earring out of her ear–tearing her earlobe. He is caught and, astonishingly, “ringed with tires, doused in petrol, and set ablaze.”  Even though there is barely any fuel to be had “there’s always enough for the thief.”

The priest believes his trip was a success and many parishes have promised his parish in the Niger Delta money and materials.

But on his way back (at 18:03) the car dies in traffic. (more…)

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homeawaySOUNDTRACK: DAVE BIDINI—The Paramount Moncton, NB [audience & soundboard recordings] (July 29, 2007).

monct This final show has two different recordings at the Rheostaticslive site, an audience recording and a soundboard. The soundboard recording is cleaner and I suppose better, but the audience recording is a little more fun because you can hear the audience responding to Bidini’s comments and jokes.

For the reading he asks if people want London or Finland, and so he reads Finland.  He reads the funny story about trying to get a cheap 30 pound flight to anywhere only to get hit with a huge fine for having too much stuff.  The section ends with a funny moment when a Finnish audience member compliments him:  Your voice is excellent!  Dave is excited since that’s not something he hears to often.  The man follows up with: “You pronounce English very well.”

He plays seven songs all on acoustic guitar.  Three of the songs are Rheostatics classics: “Fat,” “Me and Stupid” and “My First Rock Show.” I feel like hearing “Me and Stupid” in this setting really let me get the lyrics better–I never really understood the middle section. All three songs sound good in this format.

The “solo” songs are the same four: “Song Ain’t Good,” “The List” “The Land is Wild” and “The Ballad of Zeke Roberts.”

While talking to the crowd he mentions seeing signs on the road: “Free PEI Spuds for Cheap Trick” and “Red Sox nation welcomes Aerosmith.”  He mentioned them in the previous days’ show as well, but in this show it sounds like someone claims to have written them (or at least seen them) but we never learn what they are all about.

He sounds great and the audience is responsive.  Of the three, I like this show the best.

[READ: November 10, 2015] Home and Away

My triumvirate of Bidini books ended with this one.

I had never heard of the Homeless World Cup (which is kind of the point of the book, that no one has).  But as you can imagine, knowing that that’s what this book is about you can be prepared for a pretty sad book.

Bidini follows a small group (4 players, including one woman) of Canadian homeless soccer players as they travel to Australia to play in the 2008 Homeless World Cup.

We meet the four players on the Canadian team and learn all about how they became homeless (a variety of reasons, but drugs feature prominently).  These people were able to get above their bad situation, most of them through the joy of playing soccer–a cheap game even for the homeless.

The Homeless World Cup gathers homeless players from around the world to play in small venues on a small pitch. (more…)

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 ganeSOUNDTRACK: DAVE BIDINI-The President of Mount Allison’s House, Sackville (July 28, 2007).

allisonUntil I looked it up, I didn’t know what Mount Allison was, nor why he would be playing at the President’s house.  I’m still not sure why he was playing there, but as part of his solo mini tour, Dave graced the beautiful house.

For this show he read for 17 minutes and played 5 songs.  He plays “My First Rock Show” as the only Rheos song.  And then plays the same four “new” songs as in yesterday’s post: “Song Ain’t Good,” “The List” “The Land is Wild” and “The Ballad of Zeke Roberts.”

He explains the Zeke Roberts song a bit more.   He spent a few days in Ghana and went to a Liberian refugee camp (all documented in the book Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs) which is how he learned about Zeke Roberts.

He talks about staying locally in the Marshland Inn and the scary doll in his room (and also how he hopes to have his picture among the famous people who have stayed there).

For the reading portion he talks about the guys he played with in China: Alun Piggins, drummer Jay Santiago and guitarist Dwayne Gale.  He talks about the scene where they get massages (very funny).  There’s another excerpt in which they meet some people on the street where a baby is playing with a lighter.  The band starts taking pictures and then—eventually one of the adults puts an unlit cigarette in the baby’s mouth, and much hilarity ensues.

Overall though, this reading gets pretty dark as he gets into fight with Jay about Rush, and he feels bad that the Rheos had broken up especially when he sees the up and coming band The Wombats loving their set.

As for the music in this set, it is too loud and peaks a lot in the recording.  There also seems to be a hornet pestering him.  It’s probably the least interesting of the three shows.

[READ: November 7, 2015] The Best Game You Can Name.

This book is about hockey.  Specifically it is about Bidini’s rec team the Morningstars and their quest for another championship (and how after winning two years in a row, they were the main target for all the other teams).  Much like how his book On a Cold Road included quotes and stories from musicians, this book includes quotes and stories from former NHL players (I didn’t really recognize any of their names, but then I wasn’t a hockey fan in the 70s and 80s).

So each chapter talks a bit about his team and then has several stories about a specific topic from the hockey guys.

He begins by talking about his athletic renaissance in his 40s (after having given up on professional hockey).  I enjoyed the stories from the hockey players who loved playing so much as kids that they would spend hours and hours and hours on the ice.  I also liked them saying that you could still become a pro if you only started playing at 15 unlike today when kids are starting at age 5. (more…)

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skin SOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-Tiny Desk Concert #90 (November 10, 2010).

loslobosI don’t really know all that much about Los Lobos.  I frankly got sick of them because of “La Bamba” (which came out 20 years ago!) and I don’t think I’d ever heard much else by them.  So I wound up enjoying this Tiny Desk much more than I anticipated.

The one big problem with this tiny desk is that the drummer is playing one of those plastic mail bins and it sounds awful.  Especially on the first song.  I think anything would have had a better drum sound than that.

I really enjoyed the first song “Burn It Down.”  It has a propulsive minor key structure and an excellent bass line.  I would never have guessed it was Los Lobos, but that may be because it’s not the singer I most associate with them (he sings on the next two songs).

“Yo Canto” is a cumbia, sung by a different guy (in Spanish) who also plays lead guitar.  The mail bin sounds better on this song because of the placement (and use of) a cowbell.  The singer sounds amazing.  I rather like the riff that underlines the song.

Those two songs are from their then latest album.  And the band sounds really good all these years on.

The final song is “Don’t Worry Baby.”  It has the same singer as the middle song (this time in English) although it is a pretty standard blues song that I found just okay.  It also features a bunch of saxophone.  I didn’t realize that it was from their major label debut in 1984! and is something of a classic.

So three songs, all of them enjoyable, from a band I didn’t really think I’d enjoy.  The funniest part is just before the show stops and someone asks, “Okay, where’s the beer?”

[READ: October 1, 2015] How to Skin a Lion

This book sounded awesome–I love outdated things that we can laugh about now (because I’m a superior git, of course).

But this book proved to be not all that funny.  The outmoded advice wasn’t treated comically exactly (well, some was), rather it was looked at rather seriously–some as good advice that still stands, some as crazy advice that is way outmoded and a few things that are, yes, just comical.

Cock-Starkey (insert joke here) says that this is a collection of materials from the vast archives of the British Library.  It culls from medieval manuscripts, Victorian manuals and self-help guides from the early 20th century.  She explains that the book aims to reveal the secrets of lost arts, remind us of how modern conveniences have changed our lives, recall the complexities of etiquette, highlight changing attitudes and beliefs and furnish us with still useful tips and guidance.

Although she also points out that readers should be advised that some pieces of advice contained herein have stood the test of time better than others. (more…)

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julySOUNDTRACK: CHADWICK STOKES-Tiny Desk Concert #432 (April 13, 2015).

chadI had recently been hearing about Chadwick Stokes on WXPN.  But I didn’t really know anything about him.  I just looked him up and found that he has been making music for almost twenty years, with the bands Dispatch and State Radio (under the name Chad Urmston) and now as a solo artist.  He apparently is a big time activist as well, and his accolades ring high.

The three songs he plays her are wonderful.  He has a great voice that reminds me in some ways of Cat Stevens (even though Stokes is from Boston and certainly rocks harder than the Cat).  Although he even mentions Stevens in the third song.

I love the way the first song, “Pine Needle Tea” starts out slowly (with Stokes on the guitar) and a delicate xylophone playing along.  Then half way through, both accompanists start playing floor toms–one with stuff on it to deaden the sound and one (Will’s) with no deadening to really pound away.

I love the faster parts in the second song “Horse Comanche” and also how in the slower parts both guys sing lovely high harmonies.  It makes me laugh that the fellow who plays the melodica solo stands almost ramrod still while waiting for his time.  (He is actually Stoke’s brother, Will).  I have grown to really enjoy the melodica lately.  I love how the end of the song has the repeated refrain with great harmonies and the melodica all playing together.

Chad jokes after the song that “Comanche” has a dropped D E string and he always forgets to retune it live (and his brother says he forgets to remind him to re tune it) so half way through the next song “it goes Wah.”

The final song is called “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” which gets a laugh.  It is a funny title but it proves to be a great simile.  I love the vocal melody of this song.  And when it really gets going it is infectious.  It’s just way too short.

I need to dig into his back catalog.  And here’s a link to this great Tiny Desk.

[READ: April 10, 2015] “Democracy in Batumi”

Sometimes an excerpt from a novel (Waiting for the Electricity) piques my interest. In this case, however, it really didn’t.

In this excerpt, Slims Achmed Makasvili is from Batumi on the Black Sea.  He is writing to Hillary Clinton (we’re not told why to her specifically).  He says that Batumi is not very well-known.  The local dictator is tearing down old buildings, but Slims wants Clinton to know that Batumi is a natural port for petroleum deliveries.  He says that there are great business opportunities available for America here. Then he asks if she knows the movie Jesus Christ Superstar.

The next letter (they are undated so it is unclear how far apart they were written) talks about how Clinton’s version of democracy and his are quite different.  The Batumi Center for Democracy has expanded and even has an air conditioning unit. (more…)

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