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SOUNDTRACK: MAGOS HERRERA AND BROOKLYN RIDER-Tiny Desk Concert #849 (May 15, 2019).

Brooklyn Rider was on a Tiny Desk nearly a decade ago.  My main take away was how poorly it was lit.  I enjoyed them for their multicultural take on classical music.  For this Tiny Desk, they team up with Mexican singer Magos Herrera (whom I’ve never heard of).

When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They’re as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

For this visit though, we knew exactly what was on tap. The band, fronted by the smoky-voiced Magos Herrera and backed by percussionist Mathias Kunzli, performed three songs from the album Dreamers, a collection steeped in Latin American traditions.

The versatile Mexican singer, who has never sounded more expressive, notes that these songs emerge from struggle.

She says, “Although there is a lot of light and usually I don’t sing that early, my heart is warm and expanding.”

The first song, Gilberto Gil’s bossa nova-inspired “Eu vim da Bahia” is “a tribute to his home state. He released it in 1965 as Brazil’s military dictatorship took charge.”  I love that between the heart-felt words, there is a gorgeous instrumental passage from the quartet (Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen: violins; Nicholas Cords: viola; Michael Nicolas: cello).

She says the songs transcend dark times with the values of their words.  Gil wrote the tune a year before the dictatorship was installed in Brazil

The atmospheric, flamenco-tinged “La Aurora de Nueva York,” composed by Vicente Amigo, has lyrics from a poem written by Federico García Lorca, the Spanish poet who wrote it while he was in residence in New York in the 1920s.  She says “A Poet in New York is my favorite book” and this poem is the most iconic poem from the book.  Her voice is smoky and impassioned.  There’s some wonderful pizzicato from the quartet.  There’s some lovely solo moments from the violins and some spectacular percussion sounds from Mathias Kunzli.

García Lorca, who fell to assassins during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

The final track “Balderrama,” by the Argentine folk legend Gustavo Leguizamón, ruminates on a café which served as a safe haven for artists to talk about their work.

One of the members of Brooklyn Rider says that when they talked about this project, they wondered which songs to do.  Which would best represent beauty in the face of difficult circumstances–an antidote to cynicism.  What is most precious and beautiful to a culture.

This song and all of them certainly do that.

[READ: May 16, 2019] “The Presentation on Egypt”

I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Bordas.  And I really enjoyed this one.  A story would have to be good if the apparent main character has your name and–before committing suicide–has to pull the plug on a brain-dead man with your son’s name.  [That was painful to read].

The story opens with Paul telling the wife of the brain-dead man that he is completely brain-dead.  Unlike on TV, he wasn’t going to magically snap out of it.  When the wife finally agreed to pull the plug and the main died, Paul went home, had a cigarette, and hanged himself.

Paul had a wife and a daughter (if either one had my wife or daughter’s name, I would have had to give Bordas a call).  Paul hanged himself in the laundry room, perhaps knowing that his daughter would never go in there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GEORGIA ANNE MULDROW-Tiny Desk Concert #839 (April 8, 2019).

I’d never heard of Georgia Anne Muldrow.  My takeaway from this set is that Muldrow is a wonderful hippie–spreading love and peace and being a total free spirit.  But what do we know about her?

The blurb says

The first song I ever heard from Georgia Anne Muldrow, back in the early 2000s, was called “Break You Down.” The opening line spoke directly to my experience as a twentysomething coming into my own:

“Don’t let them make you forget who you are
Don’t let them break you down”

I later found that she wrote, produced and performed that song when she was only 17-years old. She possessed talent and perspective beyond her years and I became a fan.

But more interesting than that is this piece of information.

She’s also made a name for herself as a collaborator with artists [like] Erykah Badu, with whom she introduced the notion of “staying woke” to the world, years before it was appropriated as a hashtag.

“Overload” opens with her doing some crazy muttering and sounds.  I didn’t think I’d like the song at first, but it got really funky with some cool keys from Mokichi (his keys dominate most of the songs as the main instrument) and a very cool six string bass from Bronson Garza.  I really like the chours.  By the end she is totally intense and into it–an amazing performer

I know they want to kill ya. I know they want to break ya.
I’m sure they envy you because your love is so true.
They want to break your mind they want to drive you crazy.
They don’t love no black man unless hes in slavery.
But let my love raise you higher.

It’s pretty awesome.

Some time would pass before she eventually released her debut album, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth, in 2006. Since then, she’s released well over a dozen, mostly self-produced projects. While much of her music’s focus has been on the healing, preservation and education of African American people, the themes are universal: family, struggle and of course, love.

Up next was “a reworked and animated versions of the song ‘Flowers.'”

She and the band were floating the possibility of swapping the duet with her partner in music and life, Dudley Perkins with another song. But she decided it was more important to showcase their shared love on the song “Flowers,” originally from Perkins’ 2003 album A Lil’ Light.

It’s a softer song.  She sings the beginning and then Perkins takes over.  I don;t like his voice all that much and find this song rather dull.  But they clearly had fun plying it.

They end the set with an extended and jazzy version of “Ciao.”  She plays bongos to start this one which accentuates Renaldo Elliott’s drum kit.  It has a jazzy bass line and feels really improvised.   She starts riffing on going to Africa–South Africa or Togo she stars rhapsodizing about all the places they could go Nigeria  left alone by the police there because we’ll be in the majority.

Pack my bags and go where the equator hugs me, maybe even pick me a mango.

Georgia Anne Muldrow is a force of love and it is hard, and somewhat foolish to resist her.

[READ: April 10, 2019] Be Prepared

T. has had this book at home for quite a while (she’s quite the collector of graphic novels).  I have seen the cover for ages and so I had an idea of what the book was about.  Boy was I wrong.  For I assumed it was about summer camp.  And while it is, it is about so much more.

I really enjoyed her drawing style in Anya’s Ghost but I like it so much more in this book.  Her drawings of Vera with her big glasses is just so charming and sweet.  I was hooked from the first page.

As the story opens we see Vera at a birthday party for Sarah Hoffmann.  The party is important–an ice cream cake, pizza, (with a stuffed crust) and of course, a sleepover.  All the girls have fancy sleeping bags, but Vera’s is Russian and very utilitarian.  All of the girls gave Sarah accessories for her fancy historical doll. While Vera drew her a picture.   The girls wonder where Vera’s doll is, and Vera lies (badly) about hers being at home.

When Vera has her own party later, she tries to create the same atmosphere–but fails miserably.  The ice cream cake is a Medovik tort (with writing in Russian), the pizza is from Dmitri’s and the drink is Kvass (carbonated beverage made from rye bread).  Everyone slept over, but they all called home to get picked up in the middle of the night.

Vera didn’t really fit in with anyone.  But she still had friends (and Sarah was certainly nice enough). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Harbour Station, Saint John, NB (December 08, 1996).

This is the 20th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour.

This show opens with a Stompin’ Tom recording of “Bud the Spud.”  Then there’s some tuning up and some cool noises from Martin as they prepare to soar with “Song of Flight.”

They follow it with “Fat” and after the line, “I drank pop, ate Pez, laid down and played dumb” Dave explains, “I wasn’t really sick.”  They whole song is fun and they tack on a melody of “Artenings Made of Gold” at the end.

“All the Same Eyes” rocks a much faster than usual.  At the end, Tim says, “Get well soon, Willow.”  Wonder who that was.

Dave thanks St. John and describes the show as “a little matinee affair.  It’s like going to see a movie on a Sunday.”  He continues, “We’re from Toronto.  Actually we’re from Etobicoke.  We went to Vancouver, all the way to St John and now we’re crossing back.”

A fun “Motorino” is followed by “Four Little Songs” which Dave promises is “Four songs in One.  Honest.”  Tim: “What a deal.”

After the song Dave asks, “What was that last bit of shouting?  For “Record Body Count?”  We see we have some Green Sprouts in the audience.  They’re standing.  See them over there.  What are your names?  Rob is the leader I can tell because I heard his name.”

Instead of “RBC” they play “Bad Time to Be Poor” which segues into a nice “Self Serve Gas Station” in which Martin asks, “What went wrong with Nimrod?”  The ending has Martin playing a lengthy series of notes that just bumps abruptly into a ripping “RDA.”  Tim says “Bye,” at the end of the song but they jump into “Dope Fiends” instead.  Tim’s backing vocals sound particularly excellent during the end part.

After the roaring ending, the rhythm guitar picks out a lovely melody while Martin soars away.   Its a nifty denouement.

[READ: April 29, 2019 Science Comics: Sharks

Joe Flood has drawn many of the Science Comics books and this time he writes and draws it.  This one is all about sharks.  And what I found fascinating about this book is that there’s a bunch I didn’t know about sharks, but there’s not a lot to know about them overall.

The book opens with an introduction from David Shiffman a marine conservation biologist.  Then Flood gets right into it by talking about how the movie Jaws has unfairly harmed the reputation of sharks.  We must never forget that the sharks were here first (for millions of years–their ancestors go back 420 million years) and we are trespassing on their turf.

Like most of these Science Comics, there’s a narrative.  And the “story” of this book is of a stupid ship’s captain in the hunt for a shark.  He;s an ignorant and rather unpleasant guy but our guide is here to set him and us straight,.

We are also helped by out friend Red Snapper who is justifiably afraid of sharks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Memorial Stadium, St John’s, NL (December 04, 1996).

This is the 18th night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. Only recording of “Record Body Count” from the tour.

The opening music for this show is “Good Times” by Chic.  And they jump right in with the opening of “Fan Letter.”  Dave says, “Nice to see you again, we’re the Rheostatics and we want to be your friend.”  It’s a terrific version and the end segues beautifully into Martin playing the intro to “California Dreamline.”  He gets lost in the lyrics for the first verse and then comes out of it just fine.

Washes of guitar end the song which segues in a wonderfully weird way into “Claire.”  It’s like a minute of whale songs before the guitar for “Claire” starts.   The solo is an almost synth chorus sound from martin before going into a more typically wild Martin solo.

While chatting, Martin says, “scruncheons.”  He continues: “they’re not small people, are they?  I mean the scruncheons.”  Whatever he’s talking about I have no idea.  Then he says, It’s great to be in St Johns.  This is a song about death.  “Feed Yourself” has some whispering in the middle but nothing too intense.   But the crashing chords near the end totally rock out.  The noisy feedback segues into “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”

Dave says “we played in a place called Boomers last time we were in St John’s–an Australian themed bar on Water Street.  Unusual place.  Some people wanted us to play there again and we’re not.  We’re sorry we’re not.   Those who emailed us… those people waving their arms, I’m guessing.  Good arm waving.  The best in Canada.”

A solid “Bad Time” is followed by that solitary “Record Body Count,” which the crowd loves.  It goes out to “our new friend Darren, good luck in PEI.”

After hearing this RBC, it sends home just how long most of the songs are that they are playing–many of them running six and seven minutes.  Not exactly pop radio friendly.  Like the set-ending “Fat,” which sound great and stretched out comfortably.  There’s some great bass lines at the end of this song, too.  Tim is n his heyday.

[READ: April 3, 2019] Idle Days

This story started really dark and I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.  But the combination of the stunning art from Simon LeClerc and the fascinatingly intriguing story from Desaulniers-Brousseau proved to be fantastic.

World War II is crashing to its end.  This story is set in Canada and we hear about the final weeks on radio broadcasts.  Jerome Beauvais is a Quebecois deserter from the Canadian Forces.  It’s a strange setup.  Because his desertion doesn’t exactly have anything to do with the story of the plot.

He is back home but he is not living at home.  His mother has sent him to live with his moody grandfather in the woods to avoid any detection.  In fact, as the book opens, his mother is very unhappy to see him in town.  She knows (and he knows) that if he is spotted he will be arrested for desertion.  Signs say, “See someone hiding? Help your country.  Get Cash.”

His grandfather is rebuilding an old house that he bought.  The house has a history–rumored and real–of death (the woman commuted suicide) and a possible haunting.  So Jerome is there to help.  He’s kind of useless, but is becoming more practical and useful to his snarky grandfather. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKFRAGILE ROCK-“Smile More” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next two shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

It’s hard to talk seriously about Fragile Rock since they are a band of puppets.  Literally.

To say that Fragile Rock sent the evening hurtling sideways would be an understatement, as the band unleashed a torrent of faux-grim hilarity and chaos when it wasn’t urging the audience to shout out its prescribed antidepressants or berating fans for grinning along. (“We don’t appreciate your smiles,” seethed Brently Heilbron, in the persona of wounded frontpuppet Milo S. “You wouldn’t do that to Conor Oberst.”

And yet they are a good punk band and their lyrics have become even more pointed.  Especially this one.  They explain:

This is a song that Nick and I wrote reflecting on the #metoo and #timesup movements (that’s right lady in the back snapping your fingers you are correct).

This is a great punk blast and frankly it’s nice to hear a song sung by the female vocalists instead of the Fred Schneider-sounding male lead singer.

For “Smile More,” the spotlight shifted to Emily Cawood (performing as Briex Cocteau) and Megan Thornton (aka Nic Hole), who spent two minutes savaging the patriarchy. “Don’t tell me to smile more, don’t tell me what my mouth is for, from a man who started every war,” Thornton and her puppet shouted in unison. And, see, here’s the secret to Fragile Rock’s raucous, ridiculous charm: Subtract the puppets, the stage antics and the silliness of all, and you’re still left with some pretty damned good songs.

And nice succinct lyrics:

You could have had it all
You blew it didn’t you
I’m gonna watch you fall and
Never ever pity you
You’re purposeless
Your license is expired
Your services are no longer required

Your time has come and gone….time’s up!

All in two minutes.

[READ: March 14, 2019] Florida

When I started reading this book, I instantly remembered reading “Ghosts and Empties” in the New Yorker.  I assumed and was pleased that this was a full novel built out of that story.  Why?  Because nowhere on this book does it say that these are short stories.   Not on the cover, not on the front page, nor the back page.  It’s somewhere on the fly leaf, but since Groff also writes novels, it’s a bit of an oddity to not say “stories” somewhere on it.  I looked at the Table of Contents, obviously, but just assumed those where chapter headings.

I was exited to read the fuller story of the woman who walks at night.  And then I found out that the next “chapter” was a new story.  It turned out to be a fantastic story.  So that’s all good.  I don’t mind reading short stories at all, it was just a surprise.

It also turned out that I have read five of these short stores before (she is often printed in the New Yorker–the other stories were in different journals which I put in brackets after each title).

“Ghosts and Empties” (New Yorker, July 20, 2015)
I see now that I didn’t really enjoy this story the first time I read it (and yet it stayed with me all these years).  But I did enjoy it more this time (I still find it unsatisfying that the opening parental freakout part is never really addressed).  But basically this is a story in which woman walks around her neighborhood every night and observes things changing–for better or worse.  Old nuns dying, new houses being built, neighbors changing.  All in the heat of Florida. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Pacific Coliseum Vancouver BC (November 9, 1996).

Rheostatics opened for The Tragically Hip in Fall 1996.  Some of the shows were online already, but in 2018, Rheostatics Live added about ten more shows.

This is the 2nd night of the 24 date Canadian Tour opening for The Tragically Hip on their Trouble At The Henhouse Tour. It also includes “Fan Letter To Michael Jackson” from the first night in Vancouver November 8, 1996.

Rheostatics as an opening band are quite different from a headlining show.  As headliners, they play for over two hours, the banter a lot and they are quite funny.  As an opening act (especially for a band like The Tragically Hip), they are much more efficient.  They have about 45 minutes.  I imagine the fans are receptive, although it’s hard to tell from these recordings.

Of course, the Rheos had been together for over a decade by then and had certainly done their share of opening slots, so they play  their songs and sound pretty great.  They even set up the night for fun by having their walk on music “Popcorn” by Hot Butter.

They are playing a lot of songs from The Blue Hysteria, their recent release.  And this set features Tim Vesely on lead vocals quite a lot.  Three of the eight songs!

The show begin with “Fat” with Dave on vocals and Tim playing some fun bass parts.  Both guitars sound great.  Everyone’s vocals are in top form.  Dave gives the rather bold introduction: “Thanks, Vancouver, we love you and we’d like to change your life.”

Up next is Tim singing “All the Same Eyes.”  The note on the cassette says it was hyperfast.   Then it’s back to Dave with “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Instead of Jackson, he sings Tielli and Martin gets a great solo.  Martin also hits some great high notes.

Martin’s first song of the night is a great “Dope Fiends.”  There’s a mellow middle section with some nice drum work before Martin roars back in.

Dave says we come from Etobicoke–it’s a long way from here.

Then it’s back to Tim for “Bad Time to Be Poor” which energizes the crowd.  Even more Tim follows with a lovely “Claire” in which Martin gets a ripping solo.

Martin says, “The guy with the bald head is Dave Bidini….  now you introduce me.”

Dave tells everyone that after the show (after the show??!!) at the Starfish Room on Homer Street is a bill with The Inbreds from Kingston, the Local Rabbits from Pointe-Claire Quebec and Citroën from here.  It’s cheap and it’s great and it’s new and it rocks.  And this is a song about pumping gas.  Not having gas, pumping gas.  Don Kerr says that that song is not on their new album which just came out.

They play a terrific “Self Serve Gas Station”  It ends beautifully and then it’s jarred out of the beauty but a slamming “RDA” to end their set.

This recording has a bonus track from the night before (which is kind of odd–why just this one song?).  It’s a recording of “Fan Letter to Michael Jackson.”  Martin asks if Michael Jackson ever played there.  We can’t hear an answer.  It’s got quite a slow opening and when they get to the line “I play Bad until my parents….” Dave winds up repeating the line.  It seems like a stylistic choice until he then says Here I am at the Pacific Coliseum and I forgot the words.  It’s my greatest moment of rock so far.

Otherwise the song sounds pretty great.

[READ: March 1, 2019] Hocus Focus

I have really enjoyed these short comic books based on the Adventures in Cartooning series.  Although this one was a little subpar, I felt.

Each one follows the adventures of the Knight and his horse Edward.  In most scenarios the Knight is impulsive and gets himself into trouble (often at Edward’s expense).

The Knight is tired of peeling vegetables,  he is working for the wizard and decided that he wants to learn to do spells.  So he asks the wizard to help him make a spell that will turn him into the greatest wizard ever.  He want to use a horn of unicorn and the feather of a phoenix for his super spell.

The wizard says she should learn stuff first (like patients) before jumping into something, but the knight refuses. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEG MYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #830 (March 6, 2019).

Meg Myers has a fascinating delivery–singing rather low on the first verse and then in a kind of falsetto on the second verse.  It’s kind of interesting but it seems at times like she’s mocking the lyrics or something.  But I love the music on the song.  I especially love the violin slide to the high notes at the end.

Apparently the instrumentation here is very different from the album.

Meg Myers put out one of 2018’s most intense and cathartic albums. Take Me to the Disco raged and threw sonic punches at anyone who’d ever attempted to use or abuse her, from former record executives to past lovers. Dressed in a sparkling blue leotard, Myers re-creates that fire and ferocity behind the Tiny Desk, replacing her album’s roaring electric guitars and electronics with a pulsing string quartet, piano and brushed drums.  [Jared Shavelson: drums, percussion; Josh Rheault: keys; Kristin Bakkegard: violin; Livy Amoruso: violin; Paul Bagley: viola; Carol Anne Bosco: cello].

But the most intense part of the performance is Myers herself. The distant, piercing looks she gives during the set’s opening cut, “Jealous Sea,” are unforgettable and unforgiving as she sings about a rat’s nest of feelings — anger, fear, jealousy, desire — over an ex. “Everything’s right, everything’s wrong / When you call my name,” she sings while half-hugging herself. “And I don’t think I can stop the jealousy / When it comes, it comes like waves and I can’t breathe.”

I am mixed on her delivery, but I like most of her lyrics.  I am fascinated by the imagery of “I don’t think I can stop the jealous sea, when it runs, it runs like lightning through my teeth.”

Myers follows with a searing version of what she calls “a very lovely, uplifting song” from Take Me to the Disco called “Tear Me to Pieces,” a frenzied takedown of liars, buried secrets and “wicked temptations.”

In the middle of “Tear Me to Pieces,” she sings “it’s in your eye,s you fucking liar” which she sings in what I assume is her normal voice.  And she sounds so powerful and clear there that I rather wish she sang more like that.   I wonder if all of these vocals styles sound different with guitars.  Because by the end, her yelling seems a bit out of tune.

She takes a little break before the final song because she played last night.  While she’s rehydrating, she talks about the next song, a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.”

She then dials back the fury and indignation to close with a surprising version of “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. Myers is a longtime fan, and often gets compared to the British singer. But Myers tells the audience she fell in love with the song for its meaning. “It’s about men and women and the differences between them, and learning to have empathy for each other.”

At first I wasn’t too keen on her version–again, her vocal delivery seemed really wrong for this song.  But as she was singing–and singing the lyrics so clearly, I started to really appreciate the way she was performing it.  So I’m overall mixed on her.  I wanted to like her more than I did.

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper: World Without Darkness

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part two, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home.  But they need the help of that weirdo frog character named Van.  Van shows them the city where he lives.  And it is incredible. So many people, so many colors, and the dams are all automated.  But when they get down into the city, it is just fill of smog,.. so much smog that they need to wear masks.  Van gets ahead of them and they lost him, but everyone speaks a different language and it’s hard for them to find anything.

After wandering around looking for Van, Pig spies the ancient symbol of damkeepers.  He remembers back to his father saying it’s a symbol of the damkeepers’ promise to protect the city–they sacrifice for a greater cause. (more…)

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