Archive for the ‘Michelle Huneven’ Category

dec2015SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #143 (July 21, 2011).

ylabambaWith a name like Y La Bamba, I expected, a band, possibly from Mexico, singing in Spanish.  So imagine my surprise that the band is from Oregon and sings (almost) entirely in English.

The band’s musical make up is really interesting–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  Lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza’s (who is Mexican..I was sort of right) voice is cool and unusual, passionate and anguished and perhaps a little intimidating.

For the first song “Crocodile Eyes,” Mendoza’s voice is right up front as she sings and plays guitars.  And her voice is a little surprising.  But it’s even more surprising when the (rather loud) drums come rumbling in after the first few seconds (it’s especially disconcerting because you can’t see the drummer).

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Y La Bamba is the backing singers.  Two bearded men sing wonderful “whoah ho hos” to accompany her as she sings.

For “Fasting In San Francisco” the guitar switches to one of the (unbearded) men.  And instead of percussion there is a wonderfully clear xylophone that adds a beautiful counterpoint to the plucked guitar.  On this song the backing vocals sound amazing.  I especially loved the middle section “I’m a fragile dandelion” where that line is repeated in many different ways (including spoken) and then all the singers break in to a series of fugue-like “doh” notes at different pitches–it is mesmerizing,.

“Hughson Boys” opens with fast acoustic guitar picking.  And the vocals are a duet with the guitarist and Luz Elena.  This song is not quite as anguished, but the harmonies are once again wonderful–and his falsetto vocals at the end are a great touch.

There’s a story about Luz Elena Mendoza on NPR (from a few months earlier) where they have some of their studio songs available to stream).

This was such an unexpected treat–totally not what I anticipated and a band I definitely want to hear more from.

[READ: January 11, 2016] “Too Good to Be True”

I didn’t know Huneven before reading this story.  And I was a little dismayed that the story was going to be about A.A.

However, it was about A.A. in a very unexpected way.

The protagonist is a woman named Harriet. Harriet had bottomed out not too long ago and lost the job that she really liked.  She was recently hired by a woman name Lois.  Harriet and Lois met at an Al-anon meeting and now Harriet is their housekeeper.  Well, Lois and her family are very wealthy and they have a maid and a babysitter.  So, technically, Harriet is more if a personal chef–making far more money than she ever would as a chef somewhere else.

As the story opens Harriet has agreed to take Gayle to A.A.  Gayle is Lois’ daughter.  Gayle is the middle child between a successful older sister in college and an adorable younger brother (he was a happy accident).  Gayle was an A student until she left one day at age 15 and didn’t come back for several months.

As they are driving to the meeting, Gayle tells Harriet the details of all the things she did (and people she did) to score drugs on the streets.  Gayle was dragged home once but left again twelve hours later.  She had been in forced rehab but it never took.  And now, this time, Gayle is getting clean on her own accord.  She saw a vision of her future as a successful international business woman and she intends to see that through.

So, in addition to A.A., she is studying Mandarin and being an exemplary daughter.

But then one night, as has happens so many times before, Gayle doesn’t return.  Gayle’s dad assumes that something bad happened to her–an assailant or the like.  But Lois assumes she hopped in the back of car and is getting high again.

Harriet has been told so many details of Gayle’s past.  She knows that yes Gayle wants to get clean but also, yes, she spoke so fondly of the highs she had. She doesn’t know what to think.  The police, aware of Gayle’s past, assume she has left as well.

Every phone call brings a charge of fear.  And while Lois says that she would rather Gayle were dead than missing–it would be so much better to know-of course, she also obviously hopes she isn’t.

This is an unhappy story and no real ending is going to shine a bright happy light on it.  But the route that Huneven went was unexpected.

I don’t really like stories like this in general, but it was well told and very engaging and the details (like the phrases that Gayle learned in mandarin) were great.

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