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tinySOUNDTRACK: GREGORY PORTER-Tiny Desk Concert #550 (July 18, 2016).

gregory Gregory Porter is a soul singer.  For this Tiny Desk Concert, it’s just his voice and a piano played by Chip Crawford.  It’s odd that in the middle of July he’s wearing a suit and what looks like a balaclava, but whatever.

The first song, “No Love Dying” is a slow piece and Porter doesn’t really get to show off his power too much.  But his voice sounds great.  When it’s over he says he likes to think of that song in times of trouble, and we are welcome to take it into our houses in time of trouble as well.

“Take Me To The Alley” is about the backstreets and forgotten places and how we treat the people who are in those alleys.  This is also a slow, pretty song.

The final song is a warning, and we’ll know what’ its about when we hear the lyric: “Don’t Be a Fool” that’s all you need to know.  It, too, is a mellow piece, full of love and offering advice to not be a fool.

I didn’t know Porter before this, and I was pleasantly surprised by his songs.

[READ: November 18, 2016] The Tiny Wife

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Kaufman’s book go to Sketch— Working Arts for Street Involved and Homeless Youth.

This has been my favorite story from Madras Press so far. It was suitably weird but it followed its own internal logic and was really funny/intense at the same time. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LAURA GIBSON-Tiny Desk Concert #200 (March 5, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

gibsonLaura Gibson performed the first Tiny Desk Concert in 2008.  The whole enterprise was started because of her.  Bob had seen her in a club and her quiet music was overpowered by the audience.  So he invited her to play in his quiet office.  And now, here it was 200 shows later and Gibson is back–the first person to headline twice.

Things have certainly changed since then.  There was one camera on her face and another on her guitar.  There was minimal editing and the sound was fine.

Since then they have stepped up the game–multiple cameras, professional lighting and, as Stephen Thomspon writes: Bob’s desk “permanently houses a microphone that’s worth more than my car. (Three hundred dollars!).”

2006 was the release year of her debut album.  She had put out her third album in 2012.  She was quite back in 2006 and is still quiet in 2012.  But for this show she has brought along some help:  Brian Perez – Vocals, Percussion; Matthew Berger – Drums; Johanna Kunin – Vocals, Piano, Flute; and Jill Coykendall – Clarinet.

The songs are very quiet.  “Feather Lungs” begins with some lovely harmony vocals and then Gibson on keyboard.  The flute and clarinet add layers of music which really fleshes out this quiet song. The thumping drum that opens “La Grande” really sets the tone of a much heavier song.  This proves to be a romping song with Gibson on guitar and a lot of intensity behind her.

“Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” slows things down again, with quiet percussion and Gibson’s delicate guitar and vocals.  She says that the last time she was there it was a Monday morning and there was not much enthusiasm to sing along with her.  But since it’s a Friday afternoon, she invites eveyone to hum a long to “The Rushing Dark.”  Of course, she has backing vocalists so it’s unclear if anyone else joins in, but this a capaella song sounds lovely.

[READ: December 6, 2016] “Bestiary”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

“Bestiary” is an interesting “short story” because it is not exactly a short story.  It’s not even exactly fiction.  Rather, after an excellent epigram from Robert Kroetsch “We are the animals who talk the fables in which the animals talk.  We are talking animals, claiming that animal’s don’t talk.”  The piece consists mostly of factual stories about animal behavior.

Each one opens with a title that ties into the piece beneath it. (more…)

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rjSOUNDTRACK: YUSUF/CAT STEVENS-Tiny Desk Concert #411 December 9, 2014).

catAs this Tiny Desk Concert opens, Bob Boilen tells his story of being 17 years old and saving up money to buy a guitar so he could learn Cat Steven’s “Father and Son.”  He says he’s now old and has a son and the song still means a lot.  And that introduction makes the song even that more emotional when he plays it later.

It’s a shame that he is so known for the controversy about the fatwa back in the 1980s, but his conversion to Islam is pretty interesting: “In 1976, Cat Stevens almost drowned off the coast of Malibu. In his panic, he says, he shouted, “Oh, God! If you save me, I will work for you” — at which point he recalls a wave that came and carried him ashore. He converted to Islam, changed his name and left the pop world after one last album in 1978.”

He released his first non-spiritual album in decades in 20o6.  He released another one in 2014, which was a record of some originals mixed with standards and blues covers.  He plays two songs from this album here (which is a bit of a disappointment, as I could have easily listened to him play the entire Greatest Hits album).  But these two songs are quite nice.  “I was Raised in Babylon” is a bit dark, although his voice sounds great.  “Doors” was originally written for the musical Moonshadow.  It’s a delicate ballad.  And it also as a religious impact with the final line being “God made everything just right.”

In between these two he says he doesn’t know what to play next, but he has some kind of gadget that he scrolls through.  And he chooses “The First Cut is the Deepest.”  He comments maybe some people know I wrote this one, it wasn’t Rod Stewart.  I really like this song a lot.  It sounds different from the record because it’s just him and his guitar, but his voice is unmistakable. and he sounds great.  And if it makes him feel better, I’ve never even heard the Rod Stewart version.

He dedicates “Father and Son” to Bob and it’s just as beautiful as the original.  And yes, it should make you tear up, especially if you have a child.

After listening to this Tiny Desk I really wanted to see him play live.  I know that he is currently on tour and will actually be in Philly on this very night.  There are still tickets available, but since the cheapest seats cost nearly $200, I’ll be skipping this one.

[READ: April 4, 2016] The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, in which the zoo animals put on a play of Macbeth.  Well, the zoo is ready again for their next performance.  I enjoyed that the audience is aware of the previous play–the kids are even wondering why it’s another tale of woe instead of something happy.  Later when the lion (who was in Macbeth) comes out, someone addresses him as the character from that play.

What I thought was interesting about the way this play was done was that they made the story kid friendly.  I liked this and that it allowed me to share this story with my kids.  Rather than being lovers, Romeo and Juliet want to have a play date, and rather than killing themselves at the end, they wind up hibernating. (more…)

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ninthSOUNDTRACK: Thee Silver Mountain Reveries-The “Pretty Little Lightning Paw” E.P. [CST030] (2004).

lightpawAfter three albums, it was time to make an EP under yet another variant of the band’s name.  This is a fun release (which is interesting to say about a band who is typically quite serious).  What made this “fun” is that many of the band members switched instruments for this recording. Violinist Sophie Trudeau plays bass guitar.  Guitarist Ian Ilavsky, usually one of the band’s guitarists, plays drums.

Also when they finished recording, was complete, the EP was played on a boombox and re-recorded from that.  I can’t tell that it was recorded in this way, so who knows if that made any difference.

There are four songs, “More Action! Less Tears!” is the first.  It begins with Aimee shouting “Hello!  Hello!” and then messing up and laughing.  So she begins again, “The name of this song is More Action.  The name of this song is Less Tears.”  It sounds unlike anything that SMtZ have done so far.  The guitar that opens it is distorted and plays a fairly conventional riff while the violins play a suitable melody over the top.  The strings build and the songs oars.

“Microphones in the Trees” opens with a guitar melody that’s quickly joined by the same melody on upright bass.  Efrim begins singing (his voice is distorted and echoed and sounds almost more like an instrument than a voice, although you can hear the lyrics: “microphones in the trees, cameras in the sky.”  The choir starts singing along with him until about three minutes when a wash of noise over takes the song. This lasts for a few minutes and then fades, allowing the words to continue.  About half way into the song a rather shambolic chorus sings “we are the flood.”  The last two minutes or so are simply feedbacky noises wafting around.

“Pretty Little Lightning Paw”is the ten-minute title track.  It opens with bass notes and chimed notes.  The strings follow Efrim’s vocal lines (which sound ragged and quiet).  And then after a minute or so new strings come in, slightly unsettling sounding.  About three minutes in the 4 voice choir begins singing an alternate melody above Efrim’s repeated mantra.  The song continues in this vein for pretty much the rest of the song, only modifying at the end where the sounds and feedback resemble birdsong.

“There’s a River in the Valley Made of Melting Snow” is 5 minutes long and is basically a solo song from Efrim.  He plays guitar, sings and plays “toybox.”  The melody is fairly simple and his voice sounds pretty good–not too shrill.  It may be the most conventional song that SMtZ has recorded.

While this EP doesn’t deviate drastically from the band’s normal sound, it is fun to see them mix things up a bit.   For this recording, the band was

  • Thierry Amar – violin, bass guitar, vocals, pianohandle
  • Ian Ilavsky – drums
  • Efrim Menuck – guitar, piano, organ, vocals, feedback, toybox
  • Jessica Moss – violin, vocals
  • Sophie Trudeau – bass guitar
  • [Beckie Foon is absent]

[READ: May 5, 2016] The Ninth Circle

Brendan and I went to college together.  In fact, I knew Brendan from his submissions to both the newspaper and the literary magazine.  He was a major talent back then (I still remember details from the story he submitted twenty some years ago) and continues to be one now.  He works in comics and has written for Flash Gordon, his own book Scatterbrain and something that I can’t wait to find a copy of: Charlie Sheen: Vatican Assassin Warlock.  Check out his output on Goodreads.

This is his first published novel, I believe. And I was hooked from the first chapter.

The story is about 16-year-old Dan.  His family is a disaster–his brother is obsessively mean to him, his father is an alcoholic, his mother is probably sleeping with someone else, and neither parent gives him the time of day.  For his 16th birthday they take him to the circus, even though he never said he wanted to go to the circus.  His brother promises to get revenge for having to go to this lame spectacle.

Dan’s not even sure that he’s going to like it, but he winds up being mesmerized from the moment he walks in.  The trickster tricks him, the freaks entice him (he finds the bearded lady especially enchanting) and the whole show is truly amazing.  Later that night, while lying in bed thinking about his crappy life, Dan decides to take action. (more…)

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fableSOUNDTRACK: CALLmeKAT-Tiny Desk Concert #152 (August 29, 2011).

callmekatKatrine Ottosen is CALLmeKAT and she is from Copenhagen.  I’m unclear what her sound normally is–if it’s fuller than it is here–but for this show, it’s her on a couple of synths and a drummer.

I like the interesting synth sound she gets in the beginning of “Tigerhead,” but, despite the two synths, the whole song feels a little thin to me. Nevertheless, she hits some admirable high notes.

She wrote the second song, “Going Home” at Newark airport—she says always miserable there, it’s “so depressing” (no argument there).  She samples herself on a tiny keyboard (Bob asks her what she’s doing singing into the tiny Casio–this has to have been before everyone was looping everything).  The song is very pretty but feels very slight again–even more so because there is no percussion.

The third song, “Glass Walls” also has a sample of her voice–the sample is just an “ooooooh” note.  She says she wrote this one in the Copenhagen airport (which must be nicer than Newark)  This song is a bit more robust.

I liked her voice but the whole show I wanted a bit more oomph, which is not a typical reaction from a Tiny Desk where I know things are usually stripped down somewhat.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Fable Comics

Following up on First Second’s 2011 collection of Nursery Rhyme Comics, comes this new collection of Fable Comics, also edited by Chris Duffy.

Duffy says that for this collection they wanted to use mostly Aesop’s fables (because they are the most widely knows).  But the book also includes a sampling from other traditions.  He says that cartoonist were allowed to embellish the stories but we asked that the lesson remained.

And so there are 28 fables and the artists are pretty much a who’s who of contemporary comics.  I’ve broken down the Fables by their creators:

Aesop

The Fox and the Grapes-James Kochalka modernizes this a bit with a jet pack, which is hilarious.

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse-Tom Gauld is back, and it’s great to see his work as he keeps the story fairly traditional

Hermes and the Man Who Was Bitten by an Ant ; Hermes and the Woodsman ; The Frogs Who Desired a King ; Hermes and the Sculptor. George O’Connor is responsible for the First Second Olympians series, so it’s no surprise that he tackles these stories about Hermes.  He remains faithful to the original and keeps up his very cool drawing style.

The Belly and the Body Members–Charise Harper has a wonderfully stylized look for this story about how the body parts need to work together or it can’t do anything.

Lion +Mouse–R. Sikoryak’s Mad Magazine style works very well for this familiar story about a mouse helping a lion (he has modified it somewhat of course).

Fox and Crow-Jennifer L. Meyer’s style is gorgeous.  This fable has a fantastic look to it with pale colors and circles of details.  I could look at it for hours.

The Old Man and Death–Eleanor Davis’s art is boxey and stark.  It works very well with this dark and Communist-looking story.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf–Jaime Hernandez.  I love when Hernandez does kids’ stoires because his characters are so perfectly cartoon and his colors are bright and fun.  His telling of this story is very good.

The Crow and the Pitcher–Simone Lia  I didn’t know this fable.  And I don’t really know how the beginning sets up the end. It shows crow as being very smart for others but the end has the crow being extremely smart for himself.   It’s a weird fable although it rings rather true.

The Dog and His Reflection–Graham Chafee does an awesome job of showing greed in others and leaving the dog’s story to be un-narrated.  He witnesses greed and acts accordingly.

The Dolphins, The Whales and the Sprat–Maris Wicks.  I was completely unfamiliar with this fable.  I’m also curious about how much Wicks has added.  I love that she adds some very funny factual details like that dolphins are actually a type of whale and that there are detailed asides about all of the animals throughout this story.  The moral is that they’d rather die than take advice from a sprat.  Still true today.

The Milkmaid and Her Pail–Israel Sanchez  This fable was also unfamiliar.  Sanchez’ drawings are stark and work well to tell this story of greed.

The Great Weasel War–Ulises Farinas.  This comes from a longer fable called The Mice and the Weasels.  I love Farinas’ art in this story.  The colors are spectacular and the creatures are great   And I love the moral is that they build these giant machines that cannot fight against nature.

The Sun and the Wind–R.O. Blechman. This fable was in Ava and Pip, so its funny to read it there and then see it here. Blechman’s simple drawings complement the story well.

The Hare and the Tortoise–Graham Annable’s art is great for this.  The tortoise is so crabby looking.  I’m unfamiliar with the deus ex machina that happens though.  It’s funny how many of these fables we may know without knowing them in total.

The Grasshopper and the Ants–John Kerschbaum’s art is so busy and full of detail, it’s really wonderful.  I’m unfamiliar with the ants asking the grasshopper to play for them at the end of the story tough.

The Thief and the Watchdog–Braden Lamb & Shelli Paroline. I really enjoyed the way these two created this fable.  The art is great–angular and simple but really powerful.  Having the dog explain why giving him meat won’t work is a great idea.

Demandes and His Fable–Roger Langridge.   I love Langridge’s clear lines and distinctive colors. He tries to get people’s attention and only succeeds by telling them a fable about Demandes.  I’m intrigued that his fable gets interrupted by himself.

The rest of the fables’ origins are mentions in parentheses after the title:

Leopard Drums Up Dinner (Angolan Fable)–Sophie Goldstein makes a fun visual of this story about animals trying to capture others with music.  I wonder how closely this aligns to the original, as its pretty crazy.

The Hare and the Pig (Indian Fable)–Vera Brosgol.  I didn’t know this fable at all.  Rabbit and Pig are arguing about who is best.  Leave it to fox to make the declaration.

The Demon, The Thief and the Hermit (Bidpai)–Keny Widjaja illustrates this amusing tale of a thief trying to join with a demon to rob a hermit

The Elephant in Favor (by Ivan Krilov)–Corinne Mucha.  I love that Corine modernizes the fable (the lion says Dude).  This is all about how everyone talks about the elephant.  He works slow but gets a raise. What makes him so great?  All the other animals speculate.  But it turns out that his ears are the real reason–for reasons other than the obvious.  This may be my favorite fable of all.

The Mouse Council (medieval European fable)–Liniers. This is the story of putting a bell on a cat and how no one wants to risk their life for the good of all.  Liniers’ art is spectacular.  I love the subtle shading of his drawings and then the rough drawings by the mice.

Man and Wart (Ambrose Bierce)–Mark Newgarden.  I love Ambrose Bierce but had no idea he wrote fables.  This one about people’s need for privacy and not belonging to a club is pretty strange.

The Hen and the Mountain Turtle (Chinese Fable)–Gregory Benton. I was unfamiliar with this story about a wise turtle saving a farm.

These collections of short pieces are quite wonderful. I wonder what genre First Second will tackle next.  #10yearsof01

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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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