Archive for the ‘Dragons’ Category

[LISTENED TO: January 2017] A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

We listened to this book on our recent trip to Vermont. dragon

It was utterly unnerving to have the delightful Susan Denaker read this book because she was the author of the Penderwicks series which we love.  And her voice of Batty in that series is identical to the voice of the main girl, Winnie in this series.  But once we got past that (and it did take a while, we found this story to be fun and enjoyable.

But this story went in a direction I absolutely was not expecting–especially based on the title.

Each chapter has a heading like in an instruction manual for the care and feeding of Humans: If you value your happiness and sanity, take your time and choose your pet wisely.  To train your pet you will need three things patience, patience and above all patience.

And it seems to start out with that premise in mind.

For this book is narrated by a dragon, known as Miss Drake.   As the story opens, Miss Drake is in mourning because her pet, Fluffy, has died. Fluffy is the name she gave to Amelia, and older lady whom the dragon appeared to.  When Fluffy died Miss Drake planned on going to sleep for 20 or 30 years to get over it.  But just two days later, a little girl waltzed into her den–the girl had the key and everything! (more…)


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I loved DakhaBrakha’s Tiny Desk Concert.  It was mesmerizing and beautiful.  And so the performers came to SXSW and did a lullaby.  And as the blurb says, they brought their “cello, keyboard, accordion – and tall, wool hats! — to the balcony of the Hilton Austin hotel.”

This lullaby of “Kolyskova” quiets things down a bit.  The song opens with simple keyboard notes.  One of the women sings, and when they reach the end of the verse, the male accordionist sings a falsetto that matches the women’s tone.  The woman on drums makes a strange sound–like a baby crying or animal yelping.

Then he winds up singing lead on the second verse in that falsetto with the women singing backing vocals.  Then the cello and drums kick in to build the sound.   The third verse is sung by the cellist as the keys play a pretty melody.

The song is upbeat with lots of bouncy vocals, even though the lyrics seem rather dark.  ‘The band only ever calls it “Lullaby.” It’s a quiet, contemplative song that the band says is a “connecting of several lullabies” with “philosophical lyrics that [say] we have time for everything — time to laugh and cry, time to live and die.’

I love at the very end as the song slows down to just the keyboardist singing because the drummer adds a very cool breathing as a kind of percussion accompaniment.  And then as the camera pulls back the two attack the keyboard making a cacophony of fun notes.  I bet they’re a lot of fun live.

[READ: June 2 2016] Explorer: The Hidden Doors

This is the third (and I assume final) in a series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

I really enjoyed the first one a lot and was pretty excited to read the rest. As with the other two I was delighted by the authors involved and the quality of these stories.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This book revolves around the theme of “hidden doors.”  I like the way each author takes a concept that seems like it would be pretty standard and turns their stories into things that are very different indeed. (more…)

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activitySOUNDTRACK: MY BUBBA-Tiny Desk Concert #485 (November 6, 2015).

mybubbaMy Bubba are a duo that consists of Sweden’s My Larsdotter and Iceland’s Guðbjörg Tómasdóttir (Bubba).  They sing quiet, delicate songs about Scandinavian things (including knitting).

The set begins with a clapping rhythm as both My and Bubba execute a complex rhythmic clapping (in cool synchronicity) using all parts of their bodies.  They both sing delicately with occasional harmonies.  And the sweet title of the song: “Dogs Laying Around Playing.”

For the second song, “Charm” Bubba plays guitar and My plays an old table harp.  This song is just as delicate as the first.  Somehow that table harp seems to make the song even lighter than the first.

There’s a pause after the second song where My drinks some tea and Bubba asks if there are any questions?  Bob asks them to tell a scary train story, because My is a locomotive engineer when they are not singing.  She laughs and says “My train hit a wild boar and it made a big bam and then she kept going.”  She hopes her boss isn’t listening.   Then My says she writes a lot of songs while she is driving the train to relieve boredom.  Bubba confirms that on one song on the new album you can hear the train because My recorded herself singing in the train.

“Knitting” is a capella and may have more going on than knitting, but  don’t think so.  The final song, “Ghost Sweat” is a new one. Bubba plays guitar and loops it.  My sings lead and when Bubba comes in with the harmonies, it sounds fantastic.

The music is delicate but not so precious that it will float away.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning Activity Book

The guys from Adventures in Cartooning are back.  This time with a book that encourages the reader to fill in the blanks.  The full title of this release is The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents Adventures in Cartooning: Activity Book.

But unlike most do it yourself books, this one has two functions.  It tells a story that you get to impact and it teaches some of the basics of cartooning as well.

The story focuses on the same gang from the main book–the knight, Edward the horse and the Elf, but there’s much more going on.  As the book opens, we see the moon and sun talking.  The moon is ready to go to bed and he is content because of the bedtime story he heard.  Bu the sun never gets told a bedtime story and she begins to cry.  Poor sun. (more…)

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adventSOUNDTRACK: THE WILD REEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #489 (November 20, 2015).

wildreedsThe Wild Reeds are a five piece band who prominently feature a trio of women with beautiful voices. They had submitted a video for the 2014 Tiny Desk Contest, and they are pretty excited to be at the Tint Desk just a short time later.

The trio change instruments so it’s not easy to say who does what.  And since all three of them have gorgeous voices, you can’t even single one out!  When they sing together it’s even more impressive.

“Where I’m Going” is the great lead-off track (from their 2014 album).  Kinsey Lee sings lead and plays acoustic guitar (and harmonica).  Sharon Silva plays electric guitar and Mackenzie How plays harmonium (and harmonica).  Kinsey has a powerful kind of rocking voice while the other two offer great harmonies.  There’s some moments where all three are singing super loud and it’s really impressive.

The next two songs are new.

Sharon sings lead on “Everything Looks Better In Hindsight” and continues to play a really rocking electric guitar (she really crushes those chords). Kinsey switches to banjo, but also plays harmonium.  Mackenzie also plays electric guitar and this song rocks pretty hard.  Sharon’s voice is a bit smoother until the chorus where she wails.  And the harmonies are again outstanding.  I think it is Mackenzie’s harmonies that really elevate the song.

There are a bassist and drummer (unnamed) who add low end to the first two song (but not the final one).  The trio is the focus, but the rhythm section’s contributions are really good.

Mackenzie sings lead on  “The World We Built”  This is the most mellow of the three songs. She plays electric guitar (the only music in the song) and the other two sing harmonies.

Although their music can veer in the country direction, their voices are so good you can easily look past it.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning

The full title of this release is The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents Adventures in Cartooning: How To Turn You Doodles into Comics.  This is an instructional cartooning book which also tells a fun story.

And I loved it.  I have recently discovered James Sturms’ books, and I love his simple but powerful style.

As it opens “Once upon a time, a princess tried to make a comic.”  The girl says she can’t draw well enough to make a comic But the Magic Cartooning Elf comes to help her.  He says that if she can draw simple stuff, then there is nothing stopping her. (more…)

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divibne SOUNDTRACK: DAYMÉ AROCENA-Tiny Desk Concert #531 (May 13, 2016).

daymeDaymé Arocena is a Cuban singer with a powerful voice and a great sense of fun.

“Madres” opens the set. This may be the first song I’ve ever heard that uses a rain stick (or box in this case) as a prominent source of percussion.  After a minute and a half of beautiful a capella singing (in Spanish, I believe) the six-string bass comes in with a very unusual syncopated riff.  And then comes the staccato piano–it has a very jazz feel.  After a minute of this, the song settles into a groove and gets really catchy. The music is very jazzy (the piano especially) with some really complex bass lines.

And it’s amazing to watch Daymé smile big as she sings (and shakes her maracas).  It’s even more amazing to read that she is only 24!

She ends the song by singing a thank you to everyone for being here today, and then thanks President Obama for going to Cuba (this was around March 25, 2016).  Then she is so cute introducing the second song, “Crystal,” written for a boy “the kind of boys you get in your life who give you nothing.”  It opens with jazzy pianos and her powerful voice (singing in English this time). There’s some wild bass soloing in the middle of the song.  The end of the song features her scatting and improvising and making some fascinating vocals sounds.  It’s really fun.

She says that in the 1970s it was obligatory for Cubans to study Russian.  She is only 24 so she never did, but she wrote this groovy song “El Ruso” about that time.  This story is very jazzy with a catchy riff and more cool scatting.  The blurb talks about how since the U.S. has opened up communication with Cuba, that we may be getting more Cuban music here. And that’s no bad thing.

[READ: March 10, 2016] The Divine

This is an ugly story.

It was inspired by the AP photo of 12-year-old Thai warriors smoking cigarettes (see bottom of the post). These twins, Johnny and Luther Htoo, held 800 people hostage in 2000.  They led a group called “God’s Army” and fought the Burmese army.  It was said that the twins  had magical powers.

And that is the basis for this story.

It opens with a very ugly American, Jason.  He is a soldier who describes the joy he received in shooting animals from his helicopter: zebras, parrots, etc. Until he wound up shooting a dragon.  A dragon, man!

We see this soldier trying to convince his coworker Mark (in some kind of science lab) to return to Quanlom–it’s a ton of money for only two weeks’ work.  The ostensible job was to explode volcanoes to try to get the minerals out of the mountains. (more…)

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dragonsbewareSOUNDTRACK: GIVERS-Tiny Desk Concert #144 (June 22, 2011).

giversGivers play a light on poppy tropical kind of music.  Their music feels summery and light.  Between the sorta reggae guitar and the tons of percussion, the songs are fun and danceable.

As “Meantime” opened the show, I was really struck by the bass.  The bass plays a lot of high notes and some seamless riffs.  It’s really the lead instrument.  And there’s also percussion all over the place.  The sound the great is really full for so few instruments.  Of course, it really comes as no surprise to hear there’s a flute solo, even though it wasn’t apparent that anyone had a flute–it’s as if a wandering flute minstrel happened by just at the right time.

The band has two singers, Taylor Guarisco and Tiffany Lamson.  On “Up Up Up” the two duet in the beginning and then switch off vocal lines.  Taylor’s voice is higher, while Tiffany’s is deeper, raspy and interesting (although I’m not quite sure it works with their sweet music, or perhaps she’s just not loud enough).  There’s more fun bass lines in this song (I’m intrigued that he switches from a pick to pickless playing).  This song features some xylophone which also sounds perfect with their music.  Perhaps it’s the way he sings the “up up up” part but it definitely gives the song a reggae feel (especially with that afropop bass).  I really like this song, especially the surprise ending of one, two, three, four-xylophone slide-five.

For the final song, “Atlantic” there’s much switching around.  Tyler and the bassist switch instruments and Tiffany picks up a large ukulele.  She sings lead and you can really hear her raspy voice (again, not loud enough).  This song is mellow and as such the bass isn’t quite as fun (although Tyler does have a similar bass sensibility).  I’m curious to hear what they sound like when they are not unplugged.

Although frankly, I can do without Tyler’s crazy faces.

[READ: March 27, 2016] Dragons Beware

After the successes of Claudette in Giants Beware, everyone is back (with a new problem created by Claudette) in Dragons Beware.

As the book opens, Claudette is telling the story of a great sword made by the great blacksmith Augustine (her father).  The sword was called Breaker and no magic could defeat it.  One day Augustine went to fight the fearsome dragon Azra the Atrocious.  Sadly for him, the dragon is the one who did the damage that we saw in the first book (missing an arm and a leg..and the dragon swallowed the sword too).

When she finishes the story, she says that she can go fight Azra herself, with her own little wooden sword.

In the next scene we see that the evil Grombach is amassing an army–he has been magically converting ravens into giant walking gargoyles.  So although Claudette has invented a problem to solve, the village has a real problem coming their way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BARENAKED LADIES-Live at the NJ Festival of Ballooning, July 30, 2011 (2011).

I ‘ve loved BNL since their first album.  I’ve even seen them live a few times.  And “One Week” was a huge hit, not to mention they did the theme for The Big Bang Theory.  So, imagine my surprise to see that they were playing at the Festival of Ballooning in an airport near my house!

I thought perhaps their star had fallen on hard times.  Ever since Steven Page left, I haven’t been too sure what the band has been up to (their post-Page release is kind of bland).  And maybe they didn’t get very much for their performance (no way of knowing of course).  Nevertheless, the audience was packed with fans and, in what must have been a cool site for the band, hot air balloons filled the field, many of them lighting up their balloons in sync with the music.  It was very cool.

It was great to see that the Ladies were still fun live–one of the best things about their shows is their spontaneity.  They play tight songs and they sound great, bu they also goof around.  Like with this Ballooning Rap

I was also impressed that without Page–their primary lead singer (and one of the best voices in music)–the band was still able to play their old songs that Page sung.  Now lead vocalist Ed Robertson (who does the fast part in “One Week”) manages a remarkable approximation of Page’s voice.  Indeed, a few times, I forgot that he was gone.  Check out “The Old Apartment”, which Page used to sing:

There are some notable differences of course, “If I Had $1,000,000” misses the repartee between Page and Robertson.  But in fairness, drummer Tyler Stewart more than makes up for it (he even does lead vocals on one of the songs).

There were a number of newer songs which I’d never heard (I don’t have the newest album), and they were pretty uniformly mellow.  But they sounded great. And when the band played some of their older tracks (“Falling for the First Time”?!) it was magical. And I’ve had “Brian Wilson” in my head for three days now.

Sarah took a brief video of the balloons lighting up, to “Light Up My Room”.

And here’s mine at the end of “Brain Wilson”, the bass solo! (sorry it’s sideways, I’ll try and fix it).

[READ: March 12, 2011] Babymouse: Dragonslayer

This has been my favorite Babymouse so far.  Perhaps it was because there was more of a “story/plot” than in the other stories–and the other stories were fine without a real plot, but this one was more focused.  Also the fantasies sequences were wonderful referenced to great stories like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Lord of the Rings.

I honestly couldn’t imagine what the title of dragonslayer would refer to.  I mean, aside from the animals, the story is pretty accurate to a middle school life. I assumed there’d be fantasies, but what could ground a dragon story in middle school? W ell, the big surprise for me is that the “drgaon” in the story is actually math.  Babymouse hates math and has just failed a math test with an F-!  The teacher says that she will overlook the test if she joins the mathletes (okay so maybe it’s not ENTIRELY based in reality). (more…)

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