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Archive for the ‘Matthew Holm’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG-“I Think We’re Alone Now” (2020).

This quarantine has already brought out a ton of creative work from musicians.  If not new items, exactly, then certainly a lot of home concerts.  And also a lot of cover songs.

Billie Joe Armstrong released the first cover that I heard about that was specifically quarantine themed (even if jokingly).

It includes a homemade video (of what one might do at home with a lot of time on your hands).

So, yes it’s a cover of the song by Tommy James and the Shondells.  It’s about 2 minutes long and it’s terrific.

A simple. formulaic Green Day pop punk take on a simple, formulaic pop song.  It’s instantly recognizable as Billie Joe.  He recorded the song in his bedroom.  I feel like it sounds like it’s not the full band (the drums are really simple and the bass isn’t as prominent as usual).  But it’s a really short poppy song, so the spareness is understandable.

Whatever the case, it’s a fun cover and one of the, by now, dozens of fun things musicians have done to keep busy.

[READ: March 20, 2020] Comics Squad: Detention!

I really enjoyed the first two Comics Squad books and I was delighted when T. got this third one.  I wanted to read it when she brought it home, but I forgot all about it until I saw it the other day.

And what a better time to read a book about detention than during a quarantine.

Like the first collection, this one is edited by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (Babymouse/Squish) and Jarrett J.  Krosoczka (Lunch Lady).

This book has comics from Krosoczka, George O’Connor (the Olympians series), Victoria Jamieson (Rollergirl), Ben Hatke (many many great books), Rafael Rosado & Jorge Aguirre, Lark Pien, Matt Phelan and the Holm siblings.

Like the previous book, the Holms and Krosoczka sprinkle the book with comments and interstitials from Babymouse and Lunch Lady. Like that Babymouse is in detention and Lunch Lady is going to slide her some cookies (no cupcakes?). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RENÉ MARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #557 (August 12, 2016).

René Marie has a classic jazz singer’s voice.  She has the tones and bounce perfectly.  In fact, her entire performance is timeless–one would be hard press to guess when this was recorded (if you didn’t know).

Her first song “Colorado River Song” was inspired by an NPR coincidence:

René Marie was answering phones at Denver’s jazz radio station KUVO when she sat down across from a fellow volunteer fundraiser. He would soon invite her on a canoeing trip and, without yet having seen the eponymous river, she wrote the giddy “Colorado River Song” on the way there.

She said had never been canoeing before and she was so excited that wrote this song on the way to the river.

Her voice sounds great, especially when she does some mild scatting in the middle of the song.  There’s a great jazzy piano solo, too.  She accompanied by her Experiment In Truth band (John Chin on piano, Elias Bailey on bass, Quentin Baxter on drums).

“This is (Not) a Protest Song” covers serious topics, but sing in a gentle and caring way.   She sings of her homeless brother and her crazy Aunt who fell through the health care cracks (not sure if these are actual relatives, but it doesn’t matter).  This song is a bit less jazzy (although it has some cool jazzy bass lines).  It’s a surprisingly upbeat song although none of it is in a hurry to get anywhere, it just sounds great.

“Sound Of Red” is a bit faster with a pretty wild (relatively) piano solo. She also has a lot of fun teaching everyone to do her dance moves–put your weight on it.

And the sweet canoeing trip has a very sweet ending:

In the audience [for this Tiny Desk Concert] was the bold KUVO volunteer from that day 10 years ago. His name is Jesse, and they’re now married and live in her home state of Virginia;

[READ: April 1, 2016] Sunny Side Up

The Holms siblings are responsible for the Babymouse series.  It took me a little while to get used to their artistic style in such realistic story (no mice or amoebas), but it doesn’t detract from the story at all.

I especially loved this story because it reflected my childhood in the settings (although not the story).  I loved seeing the images from the 1970s (like Tab in the soda machine and going to the iron-on T-shirt store down at the shore).  There’s even a Polaroid camera!

The story is told in flashbacks, and I have to say that if I hadn’t been told that there was a sad element to the story, I wouldn’t have guessed that at first.  But once I knew there was a sad section, my anticipation of the sadness proved to be worse than what the actual sad part was, so phew. (more…)

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20SOUNDTRACK: ARTURO O’FARRILL-Tiny Desk Concert #303 (September 14, 2013).

arturo Arturo O’Farrill is not, as I expected, an Irish traditional musician.  He is, in fact, a Latin jazz pianist.  And the blurb states:

Latin jazz works best when the musicians involved are as fluent in Afro-Cuban rhythms as they are in the deep grooves and advanced harmonics of bebop. Arturo O’Farrill has that pedigree in his DNA: His father, Chico O’Farrill, was part of a groundbreaking group of musicians who created the mash-up of Afro-Cuban music and jazz back in late-’40s New York.

The octet you see in this video is a stripped-down version of the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which is at least twice as large — don’t think I didn’t try to get the whole band behind Bob Boilen’s desk — and dedicated to both preserving the legacy of the elder O’Farrill and documenting the younger musician’s efforts to move the music forward.

The octet includes trombone, trumpet, sax, bongo, conga, drums, bass and of course, piano.  And they play three pieces (for quite a long set).

“In Whom…” has a good swinging feel with O’Farrill’s piano running wild.  At one point they cut to the conga player and the lady behind him is checking her phone (rudeness even in 2013!).  But it’s not all about the piano, there s sax solo and then a fairly lengthy bass solo.  Indeed there are many bass solo moments in this concert–Arturo certainly shares the spotlight.

The second song is “Compay Doug.”  He explains that “compay” means some who is not family but who is as close as family or maybe even closer.  The main melody has a cool fast/slow riff and then there’s another long bass solo.  There’s some great conga work in the middle of the song ( you can hear the percussionist use a rain stick, too).  Late in the song there a trumpet solo.  So even though this is ostensibly a pianist’s performance, there is much more–but don’t be fooled, his piano playing is intense!

The final song is called “Mass Incarceration Blues.” He says many years ago it was called “Blue State Blues,” then it became “Stop and Frisk Blues” and now it’s called “Mass Incarceration Blues.”  NPR’s Felix Contreras joins them (he ha so many cameos!).  There’s a super fast series of opening piano runs.  Then there’s a surprisingly fun (given the name) staccato melody and lots percussion.  And, as if to get everybody a moment to shine, this song includes a trombone solo, a sax solo and Felix even gets a conga solo.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Goes for the Gold

This book came out in time for the 2016 Summer Olympics, and Babymouse joins the swim team!

The book begins with her doing a fantastic dive (called the Reverse Messy Whisker Dive) only to wake up in her backyard kiddie pool.

Despite her fantasy of doing dramatic dives, she actually spends all of her time after school reading and eating cupcakes.  Her parents insist that she do something–join a team or whatever.  She chooses to join the school swim team, “The shrimps.”  She figures how hard can it be, “I mean, swimming’s not even a real sport.”

Well not when you wear the suit that Babymouse has on.  She is encouraged to wear a proper swimming suit and goggles and a cap (to much amusement of everyone).

But swimming proves to be hard–between trying to go straight, the way the chlorine dries out your fur and the whale living in her locker (Moby-Dick, anyone?), it’s more than just splashing in a pool.

Especially when we see the other team–actual sharks!  And is that a giant squid at  the bottom of the pool?

But The Shrimps are very good and when Felicia Furrypaws dismisses swimming as not even a real sport, Babymouse has second thoughts–or at least would rather stay up late eating cupcakes.  Will she feel guilty about letting her team down?  Of course, she will.

But what will she do about it?

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19SOUNDTRACK: MARTIN HAYES & DENNIS CAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #269 (March 11, 2013).

hayescahillEven though I have enjoyed much Irish music over the years, I was unfamiliar with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.

The blurb says:

You’re about to watch one of the best fiddlers on the planet and a subtle guitar master work their magic. For too many of us, Irish music is something that merely gets trotted out around … St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of spring — and made a cliche by commercialism.

But for a moment, stop, put aside your notion of jigs and reels, and just listen. Martin Hayes plays his fiddle with an exquisite touch and tone, as well as a magnificent sense of melody and rhythm that never ceases to astonish.

Hayes has worked with many accompanying musicians, and some are equal partners, but with Dennis Cahill you get delicate support. It’s a rhythm that keeps the tune in; that accents and colors it but never overtakes it. It’s brilliant restraint that serves the music and perfectly suits his partner. So with fresh ears, come join us in a rare treat with a familiar sound.

And indeed, this is just beautiful fiddle playing and understated guitar work.  It’s a fantastic pair.

They play three pieces (some of which are actually made up of smaller independent pieces).

“The Mountain Lark/Tom Doherty’s Reel” I’m not sure when the first part ends, but I love as they get near the end of the piece—the fast bowing is just great.   Hayes gets some really amazing sounds.

As with many great Irish players, modesty is the key.  He talks about how he learned while watching his father and how he enjoys other players.  He talks about how traditional Irish music is not slavishly about the past, but it incorporates new elements into an old tradition.  As you can tell by the name of the second half of this next pair: “P. Joe’s Reel/The Barack Obama Reel.”

He also says that it’s good to see you get music breaks.  Music breaks should be part of all work—lunch break and music break.  The final piece is in fact a traditional piece called “O’Carolan’s Farewell To Music.”  It was originally written for harp by Turlough O’Carolan and is rumored to be the final piece that O’Carolan played before he died.  The transposition to fiddle and guitar is perfect.

[READ: February 8, 2016] Bad Babysitter

Babymouse continues to delight with the funny stories and amusing spoofs.

This story opens with Babymouse dreaming about “The Old Woman Who Live in a Shoe” (which is instantly transformed into a bunny slipper).  She wakes from her daydream about comics to see an ad for a Super Scooter, only $79.  There’s no way Babymouse’s mom will pay for this, so Babymouse better save up!

The next day at school one of her friends say that there’s a babysitting job available if Babymouse would like it.  Babymouse imagines herself as Mary Poppins until the dream kitten (who looks suspiciously like Felicia Furrypaws) complains about her whiskers.

Babymouse is set to babysit for Mrs Ladybug whose child (she swears) is a sweteahrt and only cries when he is hungry.  And, he should sleep the night. Ha!  He is up all night and, just like with her goldfish, Babymouse overfeeds the baby until it throws up all over her.  This job ends with her watching a zombie movie (called Babysitting Movie) and causing serious damage to the hosts’ house. (more…)

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squish-7SOUNDTRACK: CANTUS-Tiny Desk Concert #264 (February 4, 2013).

Cantus is an a capella cantusgroup of nine men with beautiful voices.

The blurb tells that there are many choral groups all over Minnesota (I had no idea):

Is there some kind of weird vocal vortex in Minnesota? The state turns out so many excellent choral groups — at the school, church and professional levels — that it can arguably be dubbed the choral center of the U.S.

Cantus went professional in 2000 and has cut 15 albums on its own label. Unlike some choral groups who specialize in one style of music, Cantus prides itself on diversity. Just take a look at the three songs its members chose for this concert.

“Wanting Memories” is a song steeped in African-American culture, written by Ysaye Barnwell from Sweet Honey in the Rock. “Zikr,” composed by A.R. Rahman — the same guy who scored the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire — has roots in the Sufi tradition, where deep chords and repeated phrases signal a slow burn toward religious ecstasy. And the group closes with German composer Franz Biebl’s gorgeous “Ave Maria,” a signature piece for the group that blends traditional plainsong (or chant) with delicate melody and voluptuous harmonies that ascend heavenward.

I was really impressed with this set.  “Wanting Memories”was very pretty all the way through.  From what I can tell there are two “bass’ singers who hum the melody while the others sing different parts with various harmonies.  (There’s also a shaker keeping rhythm, but that doesn’t count against the acapella in my opinion).  In the middle of the song, the basses stop the humming and sing along (in a fugue style).  The absence of those droning sounds is a dramatic change in the song. They resume the hums and end the song like it began–beautifully.

“Zikr” has incredibly low bass notes–they are genuinely impressive.   There is an occasional drum that adds some Sufi authenticity–but the sound like they have been singing in this style their whole lives.  It’s really impressive that they are doing something that seems so unlike the Minnesotans that they are.  The end of the song speeds things up a bit which is a very cool sound added to a very cool song.

In introducing “Ave Maria” they explain that they started in 1995 with four guys.  They expanded to 7 so they could perform this piece.  This turns out not to be the traditional Ave Maria.  It is very different indeed–with a traditional Latin (not Latin America, but Roman Latin) feel.  And here again there is the amazing deep voice of the bass and some amazing tenors.

It’s amazing how different they sound in each of these three songs–their range is tremendous.  There’s a comment in the blurb about the beauty of the human voice and that is really the case here–their voices are pristine and beautiful.  It’s a marvelous Tiny Desk.

[READ: July 20, 2013] Squish #7

I love the Squish books.  They’re funny and quick and often teach you a thing or two.  I also love that most of the characters are named after real microbes.  And each issue also has a Super Amoeba comic book scattered throughout.

As this book opens, we see Small Pond, where Super Amoeba lives.  Something flies out of the sky and crashes into the pond.

As with every time Squish reads this book though, he is interrupted,  This time it’s to go to school.  His friend Pod is drowsy walking down the street.  He was up late working on his top-secret project.  Squish asks is he can help, and Pod says yes–give him Squish’s Twinkie.

At school the teacher is showing them about acids and bases. The kids are bored until he pours vinegar into baking soda and they all wake up.

The next day on the way to school, sneaky Squish takes a bite out of his Twinkie.  So that when he offers it to Pod, Pod refuses.

But when Squish gets to school, his stomach starts to gurgle and he turns green (literally). (more…)

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squish-6SOUNDTRACK: ALLISON MILLER’S BOOM TIC BOOM-Tiny Desk Concert #223 (June 7, 2012).

boom I hadn’t heard of Miller–who is a drummer primarily in jazz circles.  Although the blurb says that she has also played live with Ani DiFranco so it’s very possible that I saw her play a decade or so ago.

But this band is all about the jazz.   The quartet has an upright bass, piano, sax and of course Miller’s drums and percussion.

And yet for a band which has her name in it, the drums and percussion are not very prominent.  This was a little disappointing as I wanted to hear some wild percussion, it also makes sense since she’s writing these tunes with melodies in mind.

They play three songs. “Big And Lovely” is primarily a sax song with a few moments of piano playing by itself.  The drums are certainly present but they don’t seem like the centerpiece of this song (and I gather they are not meant to).  It is fun to watch Miller play, though—jazz drummers really do seem to smile a lot more than rock drummers.  This was written for Miller’s friend, musician and activist Toshi Reagon.  During the end of the song—when it’s just bass and piano, Miller breaks out all kinds of bells and percussion which is neat.

“Spotswood Drive” is where a man named Walter Salb once lived; “he was a beloved and respected drummer, and by most accounts a larger-than-life character.  His 2006 Washington Post obituary ran with the headline ‘Drum Teacher Was Scurrilous, Rude — and Greatly Admired.'”  Salb was her drum teacher.  She says he was a “mentor and great guy… sometimes great guy.”  The blurb tells us that “Salb’s mentorship remains so important that Miller started a scholarship fund in his name, and recently dedicated a new tune to him — a searching, slow-burning meditation with lots of percussive coloring between the lines.”  It’s a slow song with lots of interesting percussion which sadly doesn’t really make it to the forefront in the song.  There are gongs and bells and other interesting things—its fun to see Miller scrambling around back there to grab different items.   A few minutes in, there’s a cool bass line (which I’d also like to be louder) that rides under the sax.

She introduces “The Itch” by saying “There’s a story behind this too, (laughter) it’s a little personal…”  Bob says you can stop there.  This was my favorite of the songs.  It opens with a Miller playing the floor tom—but the floor tom has all kinds of things on it—a cymbal, bells, a gong of some sort and she hits them all while keeping rhythm on the tom.  Then she gets to do some really snappy drumming—nice paradiddles and whatnot.  It was a little funny to watch the sax player just standing there watching her for the first minute and a half before joining in. After she gets a rhythm going the bass joins in.  The sax and keyboard lines are interesting and a little wonky sounding.  There’s some piano soloing and then a dissonant section with the sax and the keys playing off of each other.

Overall, this was an enjoyable set.

[READ: March 18, 2016] Squish #6

This book is about admitting to your fears.   Everybody in town wants to go see The Water Bear, a scary horror movie–with a great scary poster.  It’s all anyone can talk about.

When they finally get to the movie, I love that the first scare is a cat jumping out at you (classic horror movie trope).  But then everyone is terrified by the genuinely frightening Water Bear.  A footnote informs us that the Water Bear is entirely real.  Fortunately, it is also only 1 mm long (click if you dare)

The movie is super scary and Squish is terrified for days afterward. However, his friend Pod thought it was cool and Peggy thought the kitty was cute (Squish notes that it was cute until it got eaten). (more…)

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squish1SOUNDTRACK: I’M FROM BARCELONA-“Just Because It’s Different Doesn’t Mean It’s Scary” (2009).

miaI like I’m From Barcelona, although I don’t know too much about them.

This song opens with ukuleles (or small guitars anyhow) and a big farty bass line. It offers a sensible lyric about things being different and offers suggestions of new things you might enjoy, like fruit or a park.

The band has some fun backing vocals (“let’s taste it baby”), (“run run run run”) and have made a fairly complex song out of what is a very simple concept.

For these Yo Gabba Gabba songs I have to wonder if the bands have taken old songs and made them kid friendly or if they have written all new (fairly complex) songs just for the show.

This is a good one.

[READ: May 16, 2014] Squish: Super Amoeba

I thought I had written about all five of the Squish books so far (there’s a sixth one coming soon).  Except, I realized, that I never wrote about the first one.  So, here, three years after I first read it (I received it as a prepub for crying out loud, so I’ve had it for over three years), I’ve read it again for this post.

I hadn’t even read Babymouse when I read this book, although in retrospect it’s easy to see the similarities between the two (especially in the drawing style).  Of course, while Babymouse is colored primarily in pink, Squish is colored primarily in green.  And of course, Babymouse is a girl and Squish is a boy (well, a boy amoeba, but still a boy).  But there are kid friendly hardships and valuable (if not necessarily obvious) lessons to be learned.

All the characters who have been with us for the duration of the other books were introduced here: Pod another amoeba, who is Squish’ best friend and who is super smart, Peggy (a paramecium) who is happy all the time and Principal Planaria, who is a flatworm (and like all flatworms is really crosseyed).  This issue also introduces us to The Adventures of Super Amoeba, the comic book which Squish loves and the guy who acts as a role model for Squish. (more…)

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