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Archive for the ‘Kevin Cornell’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PINEGROVE-“Intrepid” (2017).

Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall just announced that, because of indiscretions, he was cancelling the band’s winter tour.  I had tickets to two of these shows, so that’s certainly a bummer.

I can only hope that whatever the details of his trouble, he can work it out amiably, get the help he needs and get back on the road in a better place.

Before this all happened, the band released their first new single since Cardinal took off.  “Intrepid” opens with a quietly strummed guitar and Hall singing quietly, including an unexpected falsetto note.  The song threatens to get big and loud but then seems like it might just end.

But after a minute and a half the rocking guitars and backing vocals come in and the song lifts off.  It strikes me as far less catchy than anything they’ve done so far, but it feels a lot more complex, as well.

The end of the song drops in volume, with one more little rocking guitar part before it fades out quietly with the same part that sounded like the end earlier.

It’s really well crafted.

[READ: May 7, 2017] Dark Shadows

This fourth book is once again Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.  It also has an introduction by J.J. the search and rescue dog whose current civilian job is to look after the Chicken Squad.  I would love to see what the humans think of these chickens acting this way, I think that would be a very funny insight.  But maybe it’s best if it’s left unknown.

The family, including J.J. and the chickens are in the car going to a farm to “See things you’ve never seen before.”  Sugar says she has seen everything there is to see.  J.J. counters that she has never been out of the backyard.

Their mom, Moosh, explains that this will be a family reunion–they’ll meet all of their aunts, uncle and cousins.  And when they arrives there are hundreds and everyone expects them to lean all of their cousins’ names. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEDISI-Tiny Desk Concert #675 (November 21, 2017).

Even though I don;t follow R&B, I’m always surprised to discover an artist whom I’ve never heard of.  Especially when she is described as “a veteran R&B queen…with nine Grammy nominations and an impressive discography.”

So, yes, I’ve never heard of Ledisi, but she earns her accolades. Her voice is powerful and her attitude is wonderful.   She opens with “Let Love Rule” where she hits some really impressive notes.  It’s interesting to hear R&B done on a simple box drum (James Agnew) and an acoustic guitar (Kerry Marshall).  But Ledisi is clearly an R&B singer and the way she and her (amazing) backing vocalist Sara Williams really get cooking their vocals are really impressive.

She introduces the next song: “This next song is from my last album.  I figured we do some up tempos to keep you awake.”    She’s so funny.  When she says the title, “I Blame You” and people react, she gets excited and says you know it.  “Everybody like (dances).”  In the middle of the introduction, her make up artist comes out.

In person, what’s just as impressive as her exquisite artistry is her radiant spirit of contentment and grace. You can see it when Terrell, her makeup artist, goes behind the desk between songs to powder her face. (It was an exceptionally hot day.) Ledisi responded to the interruptions not like a diva, but with humor, humility and gratitude (“Oh, you again”).

“I Blame You” sounds like a 70s song (and she has a major Whitney Houston thing going on).  Although  as the blurb notes, she’s not just about the high notes:

Classically trained, Ledisi is also celebrated as a jazz artist, which she clearly demonstrated when she broke out into a effortless scat outro on her second song, “I Blame You.”

She switches into the “New Orleans” style of scatting, which is pretty enjoyable.

I loved her introduction to the third song, “Add To Me,” which is about having self-confidence and ensuring self-care in any relationship.  She says women want to know, but all people should ask anyone new who comes into your life: I know what I can add to you but what can you add to me?  She was feeling sassy that day as she sang lyrics like

Clothes, rings, all of that means nothing to me I need more than what you’re offering me.  ….

I can be good on my own, but I don’t want to be alone.  But you gotta have it all together ….

Tell me all your dreams and your goals / I’m paying all my bills on my own
I made a lot of money last year / I plan to make more this year.

And then comes the final song, “High,” a tribute to Prince with even more positive messaging. She says that “High” is about being high on life.  That no matter what the circumstance around you, find one good thing in a day… be high off of that one good thing.

Ledisi’s an impressive musician.

[READ: May 5, 2017] Into the Wild

I didn’t love the second book in this series, but this one was really funny.

Interestingly, this book has a different illustrator.  While Kevin Cornell continues to do the covers, the interiors are now illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.  The pictures aren’t noticeably different.  (I didn’t realize it was a different illustrator), but on closer inspection I can see slight changes (mostly in style rather than quality).

What I found more fun about this one that the previous one was that the mystery was a more interesting.  The chickens’ back yard has been invaded by a box.  The human Barbara has put a rather large and worrisome box in their yard.  Sugar immediately suggests that whatever is in the box must be dangerous–what else would she keep in the box but something that is wild and dangerous?  (Even though they live in a box).

And then Sugar lays out the facts: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-Tiny Desk Concert #673 (November 17, 2017).

Benjamin Booker has a lovely soulful voice with a distinct “accent” or enunciation.  He sounds more mature than his 28 years.

It’s interesting to watch the video because Booker seems so laid back and calm singing while backing vocalist is much more impassioned with her gestures and look.

“Believe,” seems like a happy song, but there is emptiness at its core: “I just want to believe in something, I don’t care if its right or wrong.”

For the second song, “Witness,” Booker plays the lead guitar riff while Saundra Williams (who sang alongside Sharon Jones on a previous Tiny Desk Concert) sings the opening chorus.  The verses are faster and Booker’s delivery is a bit rougher.  The song swings, but as the lyrics are serious: “The song reflects on two main questions: Will we be a witness to the wrong in the world and is that enough?”  It also “bears witness to both the racism he’s experienced and the hatred still prevalent in our culture and reflected in the daily news.”

 It’s amazing that his speaking voice is so different from his singing voice as he introduces Mikki Itzigsohn on bass, Sam Hirschfelder on drums and Matthew Zuk on guitar.

The final song, “Carry” picks up musical intensity a few times as the bridge seems to build and build before returning to the slow pace of the music.  Booker has a quiet intensity that is hard to resist.

 

[READ May 7, 2107] The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken

For Thanksgiving, why not do some Chicken Squad books?

This is the second book in The Chicken Squad series illustrated by Kevin Cornell.

I had fondly remembered the first book in the series.  I saw what I thought was the second book at the library but it turned out to be the fourth! So I waited till the 2nd and 3rd came in so  could read them in order (which is not necessary).

I remembered enjoying the first book quite a bit but I didn’t love this second one as much.

One of the things I liked about the first book was that it was basically narrated by J.J. the dog.  This one, while having the dog as a sort of bookend, didn’t follow that formula exactly.  And maybe that’s why it wasn’t as funny?  It also felt really insubstantial. (more…)

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two-worse  SOUNDTRACK: CHEICK HAMALA DIABATEN-Tiny Desk Concert #285 (July 6, 2013).

hamalaNPR Music has been the sole source of my exposure to music from Mali.  I have really grown to like its slightly unusual patterns which are all based on a fairly standard rock structure.  But unlike some of the other Mali musicians I’ve been exposed to, Diabaten does not play guitar.  He plays banjo and the ngoni (but there is plenty of guitar in the song too).

The blurb tells us

Malian tradition lies at the heart and foot-stomping soul of Cheick Hamala Diabate and his band, but their melodies and undeniable rhythms cut across age and ethnicity. Diabate primarily plays the ngoni and the banjo; think of the ngoni as a great-grandfather to the banjo and it all makes sense, because both instruments share the ability to convey melody and plucked percussive rhythm.

Diabate is from Kita in Mali and born into a family of griots, or storytellers; his first cousin is the legendary kora player Toumani Diabate. Cheick Hamala Diabate makes his home these days in a Maryland suburb a few miles over the D.C. line, and his musicians are American-born and inspired by this lively lyrical music, which often tells a tale about Mali and its people as part of the sway and shake.

“Mali De Nou” sounds fairly traditional–with all of the percussion.  And then about a minute and half in a noisy scratchy guitar solo plays over all of the music–a very Mali sound.  But it’s interesting that, for the beginning anyhow, Diabate isn’t doing all that much.  In fact, the song feels almost overwhelmed by percussion (but in a good way). There’s a shaker or two, big floor drums (congas?) and a drum held between the knees and there’s even that big round gourd drum.

There’s also a sax and a bass, the lead guitar and of course, Cheick’s banjo.  By the middle of the song,  Chieck does some lead banjo playing.  And then it sounds like he’s put some effects on the banjo making it sound almost like a kettle drum—he even plays the strings below the bridge.  He really gets a lot of cool sounds out of the instrument

After this song he chats briefly and wants to “Invite you guys to visit Mali, it’s a beautiful country, you’ll be more happy.”

For “Talcamba” he switches to the ngoni.  He explains that the original ngoni had 4 strings, but his has 7 so he can play…more.  This instrument can play reggae, salsa, everything.  This is when he says the American banjo is like the grandson of ngoni.

Tacamba is a dance from north Mali—you can move your body (he waves his arms).  There are vocals but they are mostly a chanted refrain   The solo on the ngoni isn’t a conventional solo, it’s him flicking the strings making a very interesting sound.  I could have used more close-ups of this instrument as you could barely see the strings, and I’d love to see how he fit 7 on that small neck.  Half way through the song it shifts gears and the tempo really picks up—there’s a fast guitar solo with all that percussion keeping up.  And then the percussionist puts down her shaker and starts dancing in the center of the room.  It feels inspired and impromptu and it’s a lot of fun to watch.  While she’s doing that, Cheick picks up a hand drum and starts creating a new rhythm.  It is joyful and celebratory.

For the final song, “Djire Madje,” he switches to acoustic guitar which he plays lefty upside down (so the high notes are at the top).  He plays the lead riff.  At one point the electric guitar is also playing a lead but in a very different styles and they work very well together.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed The Terrible Two, and this sequel is just as enjoyable.  The pranks are bigger, but the victim has changed.  Why?

Because Niles Sparks’ and Miles Murphy’s pranks got their principal fired!

Principal Barkin was the perfect guy to play a prank on–he had no sense of humor, he was pretty jerky and his face got really purple when he was upset.  But Principal Barkin is nothing compared to his father.  We met his father in the previous book–he yelled a lot, especially at Principal Barkin.  You see, the principal’s father was the previous principal, and he was a tough guy–he took no guff from anyone.

So after a delicious opening prank, Niles and Miles set about to making a great prank on Photo Day.  One of the great things about these books is the illustrations (by Kevin Cornell).  Sometimes the text incorporates the illustrations into the story. Like with Picture Day–the hilariously bad “pictures” absolutely make the sequence.  But it’s what they do to Principal Barkin’s son (who has paid the extra $10 for a gray background) is frankly genius.

But even better is what they have done to the whole school photo– a prank many months in the making.

(more…)

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two SOUNDTRACK: MOHAMMAD REZA SHAJARIAN-Tiny Desk Concert #276 (May 20, 2013).

rejaI had never heard of Mohammad Reza Shajarian, but I see that he was voted one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices.

With the visit of the incredible, honey-voiced Mohammad Reza Shajarian from Iran, we lucked out by having him sing on not just any day, but on the biggest holiday of the Persian calendar: Nowruz, the New Year.

Shajarian is accompanied by brothers Sohrab and Tahmoures Pournazeri (celebrated musicians in their own right) and French percussionist Robin Vassy.

They play one song, an improvised piece called “Az Eshgh (Love Song).”  There is an upright, bowed instrument, the Kamancheh which plays the lead melody for much of the song.  The rest of the music comes from the Tar, one of the most important musical instruments in Iran and the Caucasus.  It has a rather tinny sound.

Meanwhile, the drummer has several different gourd drums.  He hits one with his fist and scratches the notches on the side.  Around three and a half minutes in, he starts blowing into this whistle-like object that makes a wind sound.  He also has two gourds that are floating in water.  He takes one out and we can hear the dripping.  He gets almost two minutes of a solo to play all of these sounds.  Its very cool.

Interestingly, even though this Tiny Desk is all about Shajarian, he doesn’t sing all that much.  But when he does, it’s quite powerful.  As the blurb says:

In the course of this love song, titled “Az Eshgh,” Shajarian unleashed torrents of swooping, soaring, goosebump-inducing sound — still perfectly controlled at age 73.

[READ: September 20, 2016] The Terrible Two

I love Mac Barnett.  He’s one of my favorite children’s authors.  I only know Jory John a little but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by him.  There are also fantastic illustrations by Kevin Cornell to make this book a delightful story about pranksters.

The book opens in Yawnee Valley, a quiet place where cows are the main thing.  Literally.  They are everywhere–and you hear them mooing all day and night (and throughout the book).  Miles Murphy (the dark haired boy on the cover) is moving to Yawnee Valley.  And he is not happy.  He has already sighed 100 times that day.  He hates the thought of leaving his friends and starting a new school.

Page twelve lays out an excellent summary of what it’s like to be a new kid in a school.  What kid are you going to be?  chess kid? basketball kid?  front-row kid? kid who’s allowed to see R-rated movies?  Kid whose family doesn’t own a TV and just wants to watch your TV?  And so many more options.  But Miles knows who he is.  He’s the prankster.

But when he gets to school (this is the first day of school), someone has moved the principal’s car to the front of the stairs–blocking the front door. Looks like Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy already has a prankster.

The principle is Principal Barkin.  He loves being principal of the school, as his father and his father and his father and his father had been.  There was one embarrassment in the family chain of command–the principal who actually closed the school during a blizzard, but otherwise, their record was sound–no closures.  And Barkin’s own son was poised to become the principal as well. After all, he had been elected president the past two years–just as had all of his ancestors–president and then principal–that’s the plan.

But this first day of school was not a good day for Principal Barkin.  And Chapter 6 lists the 40 things that happened as soon as he found out that his car was blocking the main entrance (none of them were good for him).

Principal Barkin suspects and questions everyone for being responsible for doing this prank.  And when he sees Miles–the only child he doesn’t recognize–he automatically assumes he is guilty.  Miles assures him that he didn’t do it.  Principal Barkin says okay but he will have his eyes on him.

Barkin then gives him a book called 1,346 Interesting Things You May or May Not Know About Cows.  He also gives Miles a buddy.  The buddy is named Niles.  He is dressed in a blazer with a sash that reads “school helper.”  The introduction goes like this: “Niles is the student who first told me abut my car.  Miles is the student who I suspect moved it.”

Niles is the most cheerful, obnoxious child Miles has every seen.  And he will not let up.  Niles introduces Miles to people (like Holly the girl who sits next to him).  He states the obvious.  And he tells Miles about Josh Barkin, the Principal’ son.  And boy is Josh a jerk.  Josh intentionally hits Miles in the face with his backpack as he walks by.

Niles says “while i don’t want to call anyone the worst, Josh is pretty mean sometimes…also he really likes the word nimbus for some reason.” (Josh calls everyone a nimbus as an insult).

Another kid who makes a lot of noise and is used mostly for comic effect is Stuart, Stuart talks in all caps and really really states the obvious.  Everyone hates him.

Miles is still pretty bummed about someone else being the school prankster.  But when Josh comes over in the cafeteria to give him a hard time, Miles deliberately dumps his food all over himself and then manages to blame Josh.  Josh says he didn’t do it, but Niles supports Miles.  When Miles asks why he would lie for him, Niles says that Josh made him swallow a rock over the summer–twice.

Miles gets home an has a kind of rough night.  So doe Principal Barkin whose father calls to yell at him for the embarrassment of his school day.  But while Bakin is beaten down, Miles is inspired.  And he comes out with his greatest prank ever.

The awesome birthday party of a boy he just made up, Cody Burr-Tyler.  The plan?  Make the party secret, tell only a few people and then watch everyone show up with presents.

It’s a great plan and it works.  And just as he is about to reap his rewards, Cody Burr-Tyler shows up and steals the show.  What just happened?

I don’t want to spoil who the prankster is.  He is impressed by Miles but sees some serious flaws.

Like the birthday party–did Miles really think he could fool the entire class and walk away with a bunch of presents and have people still like him?  He had to learn to be subtle.

And so the prankster offers to let him join forces to become a great pranking team.  But there is no way Miles is going to join forces with HIM.  So instead, Miles challenges him to a prank battle.

And the rest of the book is a series of escalating pranks.  The whipped cream one is outdistancing as is the diorama double cross (everything about the plan is genius–on both sides).

Can these two join forces to torment the person who most needs some comeuppance?  (Yes).  But what can they do that will really be a spectacular prank that people will talk about for years?

I was surprised and delighted by the final prank and I love the way they pulled it off.

I’m really looking forward to book two.

 

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croninSOUNDTRACK: THE OKEE DOKEE BROTHERS-“Can You Canoe?” (2012).

okeecanoe I found out about The Okee Dokee Brothers from Kids Corner.  They are two guys (one on guitar one on banjo) who sing folk songs about going outside, “with a goal to inspire children and their parents to get outside and experience nature. They believe this can motivate kids to gain a greater respect for the natural world, their communities and themselves” (from their website).

This is a fun folk song–easy to sing along to and very catchy.  It reminds me in spirit (but not voice) of John Denver–the guys have very good harmonies as well.

And since spring time may (finally, maybe) be coming, we should be busting out our canoe soon as well.  Perhaps we’ll sing along to this

Can you canoe on a little boat built for two?
Can you canoe? I’ll be your captain and your crew
Can you canoe if there’s nothing better to do?
I wanna float down a river with you.

In addition to the catchy chorus, there are some great lines in the song, too.  Like:

“We don’t need no outlets, we don’t need no wires
Primetime entertainment will be lightnin’ bugs and fires”

and

“I’ll take the bow brother, you can take the stern
I’ll move us forward, while you choose when to turn”

and

“Sound waves on the water don’t need to be amplified.”

I have become a quick convert to this band whom I’d not heard of until very recently.  I’m looking forward to my kids hearing this (and watching the videos too).

Here’s the video:

[READ: April 15, 2014] The Chicken Squad (1)

I grabbed this book for the kids because it looked like a lot of fun.  And indeed it was.  I didn’t realize that Cronin was the author of such fun kids books as Click, Clack, Moo and Diary of a Worm (and other insects).  This book is quite different from those picture books in that this tells a (admittedly short) longer story.  And it has chapters!

The story is told by the family dog, J.J. Tully, a retired search and rescue dog.  J.J. Tully is in charge of the yard and that includes watching out for the chickens.  He introduces us to the four chicks who live in the yard: Dirt (speciality: foreign languages, math, colors, computer codes), Sweetie [who has glasses] (speciality: breaking and entering, interrupting), Poppy (speciality watching the shoe [which is where they live]) an Sugar [has a triangle head–which comes in for a very funny joke later] (specialty: None that i can see).

The plot begins when a squirrel named Tail comes running into the coop.  He is in a panic shouting, “It’s after me.”  When the chicks question him, he can only get out variations of: “Its big and scary!!.” “It’s BIG and it’s SCARY!!”  And while he is panicking, trying to get out the details of what it looks like: (Big), J.J. comes in to see what the ruckus in.  And Tail faints dead away. (more…)

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