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Archive for the ‘Leonard Cohen’ Category

[ATTENDED: February 2, 2018] Steven Page

I was thrilled to see Steven Page play with Art of Time Ensemble back in 2015.  When I saw that he was playing (somewhat) locally again, I was really excited to get tickets.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was doing a Songbook tour with the Art of Time Ensemble and not playing songs from his (excellent) solo albums.

That was fine, because I loved his Songbook release with AoT, but as always, I’d much rather see someone sing his or her own songs than covers. But Page had picked great songs for his album with AoT and he picked an even better selection for this show.

The ensemble came out on stage followed shortly after by Page.  Steven explained that the purpose of the evening was that these songs were designed to have their vocal melodies remain largely unchanged but for the arrangers to push the boundaries of what  these songs could sound like.  To go as far as possible without going too far.  He thought many people wouldn’t a lot of the songs but that this might inspire them to check out the originals. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STARBUCKS Hi-Fidelity Holiday (1998).

This is one of my favorite Holiday CDs.  Say what you will about Starbucks (and I know you will), they know their audience (even if I don’t drink coffee).  Almost the entire CD is excellent, or at least in that groovy Hi-Fi style.  There are a few songs that don’t quite fit with the others, but overall, this is a keeper.

ESQUIVEL-“Jingle Bells”
I love Esquivel, and this space age jingle Bells is just the most fun.  You look ravishing tonight.

KEB’ MO’-“Jingle Bell Jamboree”
Keb’ Mo’ is a great performer, but this song doesn’t quite fit on this CD.  Especially after Esquivel.  Maybe if it was a little later in the sequence?  But the song itself is great and should be heard more at Christmas time.

COCTEAU TWINS-“Winter Wonderland”
I have loved Cocteau Twins for decades.  This version of “Winter Wonderland” has been a perennial favorite.  I love what they do with the song and how they keep it faithful but make it their own.  This should have followed Esquivel.

DEAN MARTIN-“Baby It’s Cold Outside”
This song is problematic for many reasons.  But if you can get past the creepiness, Dean’s version is fun.  It’s interesting that the female singers are practically a chorus of voices.

COMBUSTIBLE EDISON-“Sleigh Ride”
I’ve pretty much forgotten about Combustible Edison, but I love this swinging instrumental version of this song.  It’s totally terrific.

LEONARD COHEN-“Hallelujah”
This is not a Christmas song.  At all. It is also so over played that I never really want to hear it again.

XTC-“Thanks for Christmas”
I love this song.  It’s bright and happy and the XTC voices and guitars are just perfect.

EL VEZ-“Christmas Wish”
I have a soft spot for El Vez, but man I don’t care for this version of this song.  It’s not bad, but I kept thinking it was some B list actor form a 1950s rock n roll film (like Arch Hall).  I suppose if it was more in the El Vez spirit I’d enjoy it more.

JAMES BROWN-“Merry Christmas, Baby”
I like this song except it always bugs me that there’s a line about not being drunk but being all lit up like a Christmas Tree.  James seems a little not into this recording, to be honest.

THE ALARM-“Happy Christmas (War is Over)”
This song bugs me.  I think it’s the obnoxious (but well meaning) idea that war can be over if we want it.  But whatever.  This version is kind of flat, which is springing given The Alarm is all stadiumed out most of the time.

THE TEMPTATIONS-“Little Drummer Boy”
This song is tough to pull off.  The Temptations were a little flat at first I thought, but they pulled through to the end and won me over.

PEGGY LEE-“I Like a Sleighride (Jingle Bells)”
This song is weird and fun.  The “I like a sleighride” chorus is weird and kind of creepy, but it’s got a real fun feel overall.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON-“Christmas Must Be Tonight”
So I listened to this song and had literally no recollection of ever hearing it before–even though I have listened to this disc every year for a decade.  And even now, I have no recollection of it either.

THE BLUE HAWAIIANS-“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy)”
Is it because I have heard every Christmas song a million times that I gravitate to the oddball recording?  Probably.  I love this surf guitar instrumental version of “We Three Kings,” it brightens my day.

BOBBY DARIN-“Christmas Auld Lang Syne”
This is a classic.  It used to bug me that he goes so over the top with the LOOOOOOORD business at he end, but it doesn’t bug me much anymore–its makes me smile.  I really like the melody and the way the songs are conflated.

Overall this is a great collection of songs.  It’s not all as groovy and space-age as it appears, but it’s still good holiday fun.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Skinks”

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 I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This story is told by a little boy, Wendell, who wants to be called Dilly.  He tells us that Jesse doesn’t like it when he calls him Dad.  Jesse always says “Two things.”  Like “One, your dad left a long time ago and two, although you don’t want to say he’s your dad, he still is.  I’m not.  Clear?

Clear.  Clear as mud, he says.

Jesse is now in the hospital and the boy has been talking to his mom a lot.

When he goes into Jesse’s room the pastor is in there.  “He thinks all the answers are in that book,” his mother says to him.  She then says to the pastor, “I know it’s serious, but that was years ago when you both loved getting into trouble.  He’s different now.”

The pastor bristles at this and says “some of us know better than to get into fights over things people say.”

There’s a lot of observations from the boy about his mother (and what both she and Jesse say about women in general)

And sometimes he just goes in and talks to Jesse, which he thinks is weird, but he does it anyway.  When he heard there was skink in the hospital he knew Jesse would want to see it. “It’s a weird word but I like it.”

But mom and a police officer enter and Dilly hears the officer say, “I’m sorry, but things have changed.”  Before he can leave the room he sees that Jesse is now restrained.

The pastor comes out while Dilly is outside and asks Dilly what he’s doing.  When Dilly mentions the skink, the pastor gives him some suggestions about bait and ways to catch them.   During this brief conversation, a lot of truths come out.  About Jesse, about Dilly’s father and about the pastor.

But I feel a little too much like Dilly in this story–like everyone is talking around me.  There’ a few too many gaps that I can’t fill in to fully get what happened.

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SOUNDTRACK: FOO FIGHTERS-Wasting Light (2011).

The Foo Fighters are huge.  Duh.  But when I think of that, it amazes me that a) the Foo Fighters are the band from “the drummer from Nirvana” and that b) while Dave Grohl knows his way around a melody, he is a metal dude at heart, and some of his most popular songs are really heavy.  He can scream with the best of them.

I’ve enjoyed the Foos for many years, but I didn’t listen to their previous discs all that much (or at least I didn’t listen to the mellow disc from In Your Honor and I don’t remember anything off of Echoes…), but this new one is fantastic.  There’s not a dull song on the disc, and Grohl has hit new heights of catchiness and singalong-ness. 

I also like how noisy the disc is.  It opens with some great discord before turning in a majorly heavy rifftastic scream fest in “Bridge Burning.”  Despite the screaming and noise of the opening, the chorus is super catchy.  “Rope” was said to be inspired by Rush.  Knowing that, I can hear a lot of little Rush-isms in the track: The main riff is very Rush-like, there’s a cymbal tapping that reminds me of Neil Peart in the verses, as well as a little drum solo in the middle (with a cowbell!) and the solo is very Alex Lifeson. (It also feels longer than 4 minutes).

“Dear Rosemary” features Bob Mould on backing vocals (but you can hardly tell it’s him).  It’s got a great chorus as well.  “White Limo” is a wonderful punk song, completely incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Meanwhile “Arlandria” (whatever that means) is another totally catchy track (I find myself singing it a lot).

“These Days” should be the next single: catchy and easy on the ears.  I wonder why it hasn’t been released yet.  “Back and Forth” has another great noisy riff.  One thing that I like a lot about the Foos is that they put different things in the same song:  so “A Matter of Time” has a very simple verse and a catchy chorus, but there’s some really buzzing heavy guitars too.  “Miss the Misery” has a kind of sleazy feel which I think is new for the Foos.  And “I Should Have Known” is a kind of angry ballad (I’d like to see Richard Thompson cover it). 

The final track, “Walk” is a fast rocker that sums up the album really well.  Bravo Dave Grohl.  I can’t get enough of this disc, regardless of how popular it is.

[READ: July 2, 2011] Five Dials Number 15

After the brevity of Number 14, Five Dials Number 15 comes back to a fuller size.  It’s strange to me that the issue is titled The November Issue, in part because they never tell us when the issues were published, but even more because this is actually the Québec Issue.  Most of the authors are Quécbecers and the issue release party was in Québec as well.

I’d like to point out that while I was looking something up about this issue (more later) I discovered the Five Dials News Page.  There are currently 43 pages worth of posts.  But most of them are short.  If there are any especially noteworthy ones, I’ll add them to reviews of future issues, but for the most part so far they’re just announcements of how well received their books are (I’ve already made notes to read two of them).  They also give release dates for the issues, which is how I have been able to retroactively attach dates to some of them.

There are many Québecois writers included in this issue (thoughtfully translated into English), as well as some standard features by Alain De Botton and frequent contributors David Shields and Raymond Chandler.

CRAIG TAYLOR-On Our Québec Issue, and Young Novelists
Taylor’s introduction discusses many Canadian’s attitudes about Québec and their (seemingly perennial) vote concerning separation from the country (“so, let them go”).

creepy beard

The confusing thing here is that it appears that Taylor is Canadian (or at least lived there in 1995/6).   But surely he is British, no?

There’s lots of information about Québec in here but no grand statement (except that Celine Dion’s husband’s beard is still creepy).

He also introduces a new section called “Our Town” which is all about London.  The final section of the note says that

we are releasing our second Five Dials list of Top Ten Novelists Under Ten (or ‘Ten Under Ten’,or ‘Ten-Ten’, or as some of the writers themselves call the list: ‘Tintin.’) As you know, many of the writers we chose for our first Ten Under Ten list went on to things such as high school.

This is how I discovered the Five Dials News page, because there certainly was no Ten Under Ten section in a previous issue of the magazine.  Of course, nor is there any mention in the news that I have seen.  So I can’t decide if the whole thing is just a big joke or what.  I assume it is (but I’d hate to not give credit to the waaaay precocious kids at the end of the issue). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-Live at the 9:30 Club, Washington DC (2010).

Best Coast made Carrie Brownstein’s best album of the year accolades, but when I listened to the track she selected for the post, I wasn’t all that impressed.

But I have to say that live, Best Coast blew me away.  Bethany Cosentino, the lead singer and guitarist has an amazing stage presence.  She is charming and funny and very silly (and I guess she loves cats).  The band sounded tight and impressive and even though the songs are kind of dopey bubblegum pop, they are drenched in enough noise and rock to make them really wonderful

They seem like they should have come around during the 90s, when all those rocking female bands were all over the map.  And so this is like a wonderful blast from the past.  Best Coast is sort of like The Muffs (except they write love songs) and other bands that play really catchy pop but bury it under a layer of fuzz and rock.  This is a great set available on NPR, and will definitely get me to check out their album a little more.

[READ: March 28, 2011] “Seven Love Letters”

Six of the seven letters here were later collected in the book Four Letter Word which I reviewed in September 2009.  When I reviewed the book, I didn’t give very much in the way of detail, I just summarized the letters.  I’m going to copy what I wrote then (since my thoughts didn’t change all that much), and I’m going to include a few more lines about some of the pieces (original stuff is in italics).  I’m also including titles which (for some reason) were not given in the book.

I’m also not sure why Sheila Heti’s story did not appear in the book.  (It’s only 4 paragraphs and is, indeed, a letter so why not include it?)  If you enjoyed the book, think of this story as a Bonus Feature. (more…)

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LoveLettersSMSOUNDTRACK: SONIC YOUTH-SYR 7: J’accuse Ted Hughes/Agnès B Musique (2008).

syr7The first side of the disc (for it was only released on vinyl) is a ballsy blast of music.  Ballsy because it was the opening track of their live set at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2000.  And who opens up their set at a festival that features bands like Super Furry Animals, Sigur Rós, and Stereolab (basically a who’s who in awesome Brit-rock) with this 22 minute shriek of noise?

The set was so derisively received that the cover of the NME (hilariously reproduced on the cover of the LP) stated “Goodbye 20th Century, Goodbye Talent.”

The noise is palpable: squeals and squalls and all manner of feedback.  Kim even gets a strange little spoken word section in the middle.  I would think fans might have enjoyed it for 5, maybe even 10 minutes, but by 23 it’s pretty numbing.  The rest of the set included instrumentals from the not yet released NYC Ghosts and Flowers.  It almost seems like the set was payback for the invitation.

The B-side is an 18 minute “soundtrack” of sorts.  Agnes B. is a French clothing designer and yet somehow the music feels like it could be for some scary kids’ movie.  It has a number of creepy elements to it.  I kept picturing people sneaking around a little cottage.

The liner notes are written in Arpitan, a steadily-declining-in-use language spoken mostly in Italy and Switzerland.

Not for the faint of heart (or the vinylphobic).

[READ: August 31, 2009] Four Letter Word

I read about this book in The Walrus and then I ordered it from Amazon.ca as it doesn’t seem to be available in the US.

The book is a collection of “love letters.”  What is so very interesting about the collection is the varied nature of the letters themselves.  It’s not just: “I love you XOXO” (of course).   There are letters to mothers, stepmothers, mountains, and the Earth itself.  There are letters of love, lust, anger and respect.

I was most attracted to the book by the great list of authors, some of whom I read religiously and many others whom I just really like (and of course a bunch who I’ve never heard of).

It’s hard to review a collection of short stories that is as varied as this, especially when the pieces are this short (as most of them are).  And, I guess technically, they aren’t even short stories.  They are just letters. I would never base my opinion of these authors from this work.  Although some of the authors that I know well definitely retain their signature style.  There were only one or two letters that I didn’t enjoy, but for the most part the entire collection is very good.  And if you like any of these authors, it’s worth checking out.

I’m going to list all of the authors, mention who the letter is to, and any other salient features (without trying to give anything away–several letters have a surprise in them)! (more…)

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