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Archive for the ‘Artists’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 204).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause ta the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOBY-One Song, Two Days, Three Versions (Project Song: May 4, 2010).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The fifth and (presumably) final one they did was about six months after the previous one.  This Project was offered to Moby.

Moby generally works alone in his New York apartment, but for Project Song, we asked him to bring along a collaborator. He picked Kelli Scarr, a Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter with a breathtaking voice. They arrived at NPR, a bit nervous and eager.

It takes weeks, even years, to write a song. NPR Music’s Project Song challenges musicians to do it in just two days. And every Project Song participant has worked right up to the last-minute — that is, until Moby.

He and collaborator Kelli Scarr finished their song in a little more than a single day. In fact, they had so much time left over, they recorded a second version of the song. And after that, they gave a small concert for the staff at NPR.

I kicked off the songwriting process by showing them a series of photographs and words. The surreal images came from New York artist Phil Toledano; you can see more of his work at NPR’s Picture Show blog. Moby and Scarr are both drawn to an image of a man in the woods wearing a trenchcoat. [Moby: “A disconcerting loneliness that I really like”].  There’s a brown briefcase on the earthen floor beside him, and his head looks like a glowing storm cloud.

Next, I gave them a series of words to choose from. Moby picked the word “flight.” Scarr chose “Sunday,” which Moby calls “the most depressing day of the week.”

Not too long after, Moby puts the card with the word “Sunday” printed on it, along with the photograph, on a nearby chair. He picks up a bass guitar and immediately starts playing a riff in the key of E. Turns out, this hastily played bass line would become the bedrock for their new song.

Just six hours later, the first of three versions of “Gone to Sleep” was recorded.

When he arrives he says he thought about cheating with chords ahead of time, but he likes the idea of jumping headlong into a project.  And as the blurb says, within minutes he’s got a bass line, some synths and drums.  Then a guitar line and more keyboard sounds.

Then they work on lyrics.  Moby says, “My favorite type of unsettling art is art that isn’t immediately unsettling.”  he cites the classic example of “Mack the Knife.”  You first hear it and it’s happy and then you listen to the lyrics and its terrifying.

The end of the video clip plays the whole song, guitar and piano and atmospheric.  Then over the closing credits they play a somewhat less atmospheric, gentler version of the song.  And then there’s the Tiny Desk which is altogether different.

It’s like Moby broke Project Song by making it seem too easy.

[READ: July 27, 2017] “Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224)”

I’ve read a few things by Vladez Quade, but this one is quite different from anything else.  It’s actually quite different form anything else I’ve read, period.  The closest author this reminded me of would be Brendan Connell, who likes to thoroughly investigate a historical character (real or imagined).

But this story is based on an actual; person:

St. Christina the Astonishing has been recognized as a saint since the 12th century. She was placed in the calendar of the saints by at least two bishops of the Catholic Church in two different centuries (17th & 19th) that also recognized her life in a religious order and preservation of her relics.

The story tells of her life from the point of view of her older sister and is written in a rather formal, almost canonical, style with section headings in an old style: “How She was Led Forth from the Body and How She Lived Again.”

The narrator, Mara, tells us that Christina lay dead in her coffin, a grave awaiting her.  Mara is sad, she loved Christina, “I see this now.  She was difficult, unknowable but I loved her.”

But at the same time she says that perhaps if they had hastened, outrun the melody.  If we’d only got those last words out, “He might have spared us our miracle.”

For indeed, the dead Christina not only rose bodily from her coffin, she levitated to the rafters. The narrator and her sister Gertrude clutched each other in fear. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKGEORGIE JAMES-Builds ‘Monument’ In Two Days (Project Song: December 17, 2007).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The second one they did was with Georgie James

Georgie James is a band on the rise [Note: they broke up on August 4, 2008]. The duo makes smart, infectious pop with tight harmonies and jangling guitars — an upbeat and innocent sound that’s made its debut album (Places, 2007) a sleeper success.  Georgie James got its start when drummer John Davis’ former band, Q and Not U, disbanded in 2005.  Davis turned to his singer-songwriter friend, Burhenn, to forge something new.

At first, the two seemed like an unlikely pair. Davis had spent the past seven years releasing records with his bandmates on the legendary D.C. punk label Dischord and touring the world. Burhenn, on the other hand, had been releasing solo projects on her own label, Laboratory Records, and playing smaller venues on the east and west coast.

They eventually settled on a stark but serene image by New York photographer Phil Toledano, depicting a bare room with a large pile of books stacked in the middle. For the phrase, the band chose “Something Joyful.”

Their process seems tense to me.  But maybe that’s just how they bounce ideas off of each other.

He chose the words “something joyful.”  She chose David Bowie and 45.
She likes the pile of books in empty room–she sees it youthful and he sees it as disuse, disrepair, neglect.  They decide to use that picture and the phrase “something joyful.”

She plays piano melody banging out ideas for the tune on the first day. There’s lots of discussion and back and forth–very different from Merritt’s solitary style.

“It’s really difficult when you have two people who are trying to meet in the middle,” Burhenn says. “We each had a different vision of where this was going to go, and to try to very quickly throw that together is a difficult thing.”

They change styles.  She suggests maybe a Talking Heads’ vibe.  She sings it in a David Byrne-ish drawl but he doesn’t like it.  She says this is turning into a nightmare and fears the song sounds like John Cougar Mellencamp or Rod Stewart.

But in the final hour they pulled it out.

Davis added drums, bass and guitar. The two layered the sound with multiple harmonies and hand-claps.

Two days later, they had a song they called “Monument.” It’s a three-and-a-half-minute pop gem that marries the contrasting loneliness of the photograph with the spirit of “something joyful.”

As they walk out she says, “I think it’s awesome.”  And it’s very catchy.

[READ: February 2, 2018] “All That Glass”

This is a peculiar story that starts out seemingly reasonable and then just goes off the rails.

A man says his wife no longer wants to sleep in the bedroom anymore.  He took it as an attack against him and wondered what he did.  But she ignores that and says she wants to move into the conservatory.  He agrees but says that “All that glass, it gets cold in there at night.”

She moves some basics into the conservatory.  He thought it was odd, but it gave the conservatory a good spring cleaning.

It was cold in there at night  She wore extra clothes though, and that was that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEPHIN MERRITT: Two Days, ‘A Million Faces’ (Project Song: November 4, 2007).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The first one they did was with Magnetic Field’s singer/songwriter/wizard Stephin Meritt.

Merritt is quite prolific so this seemed like it would be no big challenge.  They showed him six images and six words.  He had to choose one picture and one word.  He chose a picture and the word 1974.

Merritt does most of his writing sitting in a bar, with throbbing music in the background.

“Some recording artists write in the studio,” he tells All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. “I think they’re crazy.”

So for the first installment of a new multimedia experiment called Project Song, All Songs Consideredset up a bar for Merritt in NPR’s Studio 4A, an expansive wood-floored room with plenty of space for a creative artist to spread out and experiment. We supplied him with a grand piano, an assortment of other keyboards (including a ’70s MOOG synthesizer), drums and guitars — even a sampler, from which Merritt extracted the sound of a vintage Mellotron.

The photograph he chose, by artist Phil Toledano, is an incredible image of a man covered head to toe in what looks like a bodysuit made of baby dolls.

In Merritt’s imagination the man shape shifts as a criminal.

For the music, he chose a “Shepherd tone” which is the illusion of ever ascending pitches.

And then we watch Merritt recording instruments and vocals and talking to the recording engineer.

It is very cool to see how this song evolves with bass, guitar, synth and more added in.

The final two minutes wrap up his take on.  He says he would normally work a lot longer.  There is only one section to the song. (It’s verse no chorus?) Yes.   The song is based on a loop because he finished the song sooner than he might have.  “But I write lots of fairly simple songs, and I like this one.”

[READ: Feb 3, 2016] “Silk Brocade”

Once again Tessa Hadley easily transports me to another time and place.

In this story, we meet Ann Gallagher, a talented seamstress who has started a small business with her gregarious friend Kit.  They are going to make couture dresses and more.

Unfortunately, old friends of theirs have come a-calling.  And today, Nola Higgins straight from Fishponds, has come asking a favor.

Turns out that Nola is getting married to nobility and she hopes that Ann can make a dress from some gorgeous old silk brocade that was in his house.  Ann is fully intending to turn her away–saying that Nola will never be able to afford their work–until she learns about the money. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACE VANDERWAAL-Tiny Desk Concert #751 (June 6, 2018). 

I had been listening to the All Songs Considered podcast when Bob Boilen told the below story about how he found Grave VanderWaal.  Since I don’t watch any show with anyone with talent of any kind, I had never heard of her either.

When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my “accidental concert experience,” I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America’s Got Talent was.

It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.

When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn’t look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you’ve likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we’d recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America’s Got Talentand, now, a Columbia recording artist.

Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn’t take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as “Moonlight,” a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.

“She always has a smile
From morning to the night
The perfect poster child
That was once in my life
A doll made out of glass
All her friends think that she’s great
But I can see through it all
And she’s about to break”

Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It’s easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace’s show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you’re about to pass on watching this one, figuring you’re not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.

I was curious about this Grace after his story (and also wanted to make sure I didn’t make the same mistake when I saw that Grace Vonderkuhn was playing nearby in Philly ( I didn’t make that show).

So this Grace has a raspy voice, making her sound much older than 14.  But when you look at her she looks like a fragile child.  I’m not sure how poppy her recorded music is, but the ukulele-driven song “Moonlight” is fun and different, despite the very poppy overall feel.

She’s accompanied by “her beautiful beautiful guitarist” Melissa Dougherty.   Dougherty also sings great backing vocals.  Is she annoyed being the accompaniment for a 14 year old?

She says that “Darkness Keeps Chasing Me” has become her favorite–she was always told the song was too much of a downer.  Her voice is surprisingly deep in the beginning.  Indeed, she has a nice command of her voice–low and high notes.  The guitar melody is quite lovely, too.

“Clearly” is kind of a cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”  They thought that it was such a bright happy song and her producer thought it would be cool to add darker lyrics leading up to the happy chorus.  I don’t know the original verses I don’t think, but of course I know the song.  And listening to it now, it doesn’t need darker lyrics, but it’s fine that they’re added.

So this isn’t so much a cover as taking a really great idea and building a new song around it.

But don’t like the way the chorus has changed:

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone.
I accept all of the things I cannot change.

What did they put the AA slogan  in the voice of a 14 year old?

Plus I hate that they have modernized the delivery of the “bright bright sunshiney day.”  Part.  It sounds like  contemporary vocal melody and it’s just wrong.

So I’m mixed.  Glad I heard her.  But even more glad that I didn’t make the same mistake that Bob did.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “The Polish Rider”

This was an interesting story about an artist and Uber.

Sonia is a Polish artist–she grew up in Poland.  She is about to have a show at a gallery curated by Elena.  But she wakes in the night realizing that she has made a terrible mistake. She has allowed two of her paintings to be hung on the wall with paint on the edges.  The rest are “blank” or painted white and look clean, but these two–she is full of regrets that she allowed them to be hung as they were.

Her paintings are all variations of the same thing: the famous kiss between Erich Honecker, the leader of the German Democratic republic from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall and Leonid Brezhnev, the head of the U.S.S.R. from 1964 to 1982  The iconic Socialist fraternal kiss took place in Berlin and was photographed by Régis Bossu in 1979.  The photo was ubiquitous in Kraków.

After The Berlin Wall came down, a Soviet artist Dmitri Vrubel painted the image on the East side of the wall with the caption: “God help me survive this deadly love affair.”  In March 2009 the artist spruced up the paining, which Sonia thought cheapened the whole thing.

Sonia’s canvasses all showed this kiss, meticulously done and very clean, But each canvas was done in a different style: cubist, chiaroscuro, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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