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Archive for the ‘Stephen Leacock’ Category

SOUNDTRACKAMY GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #813 (December 17, 2018).

Amy Grant is “The queen Christian pop” and as such I have no use for her.

Amusingly this Christmas-themed Tiny Desk Concert was organized by Lars Gotrich who also loved death metal.

Lars explains his connection to Amy:

Growing up in the ’90s, there was never a Christmas without Amy Grant’s music. Home for Christmas, in particular, was a favorite around our household, its string-swept nostalgia wrapped around the family den like a warm blanket and a plate of cookies. So when I invited the Nashville pop singer to perform our annual holiday Tiny Desk, I had to bring my mom.

When I saw she was playing I feared the worst–bland inoffensive pop and offensive Christian music.  But rather, this Concert proves to be bittersweet with two songs about Christmas that welcome Christmas but also know that it’s not always perfect.

“As I’ve gotten older, sometimes I’ve realized the bravest thing you can do at Christmas is go home,” she tells the Tiny Desk audience after performing “To Be Together,” from 2016’s cozy, yet lived-in Tennessee Christmas. “Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is open the door and welcome everybody back.”

Her band sounds tight–piano and acoustic guitar and a cool five string bass.  Her backing singers do a nice job–and while it hovers along the line of too much for me, she reins it in nicely.  And “To Be Together” is really a lovely Christmas song.

And that’s when it all comes home for Amy Grant. “Tennessee Christmas,” written 35 years ago, takes on new meaning here — this was the first time she’s performed the song since her father died this year. You see her eyes glisten, and her voice catch on the final “tender Tennessee Christmas,” everyone feeling that wistful tenderness and offering some back in return.

If you don’t need therapy before Christmas…hang on you’re gonna need it after,

To shake out her sadness, Grant dons reindeer antlers (generously provided by someone at NPR because of course someone at NPR keeps festive wear on hand) and dashes through a delightful version of “Jingle Bells.”

This version of “Jingle Bells” is almost manic in its speed and juxtapositions of slow and fast.  It’s really great.

[READ: December 20, 2018] “Christmas Triptych”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although I do love to include a Tiny Desk Christmas Concert like this one.

This is an actual Christmas story (or three) by the Canadian master of comedy, Stephen Leacock. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK : BLACK MOUNTAIN-Wilderness Heart (2010).

As the Tea Party showed, it’s never too late to pay tribute to Led Zeppelin.  Of course in 2010, it seems really uncool.  So, why not go whole hog?  The opener, “The Hair Song” sounds uncannily like Led Zeppelin, from chord structure to guitar sound.  And then just wait until after a verse or two and you get the guitar solo which comes straight from a Led Zep song.  And, amusingly enough, the duet vocals of Stephen McBean and Amber Webber combine to sound an awful lot like Robert Plant.

It may not be fair to compare them to their forebears, but they seem so intent upon referencing them.  “Old Fangs” sounds a ton like Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” (at least they’re fellow Canadians).  But the wonderfully 70’s-style sound of the keyboards raise the track above any mere copycat.

“Radiant Hearts” is a gorgeous acoustic ballad where you can really appreciate the split vocals of McBean and Webber (and which should make you go back to the first two songs to really listen to how great they sound together.  This is that rare ballad that doesn’t feel like a kind of sell out track.

“Rollercoaster” returns to the 70’s-lovin’ with a monster riff (and a solo) that Tony Iommi would be proud of.  But rather than simply bludgeoning us, the riff stops in its tracks and then slowly builds itself back up.  “Let Spirits Ride” moves out of the 70s and sounds a bit like a Dio riff circa 1983.  But there’s some cool psychedelic vocal processing on the bridge (and a massive organ solo) to really mess with your retro time frame.

“Buried by the Blues” is followed by “The Way to Gone.”  They’re both folkie songs (although “Gone” features a re harder edge).  After the heaviness of the first half of the album , these tracks seem like a bit of surprise but they match the album’s retro feel very nicely.  “The Space of Your Mind” reminds me in many ways of Moxy Fruvous’ “The Drinking Song” (you won’t see that reference too much to this album).  Until the chorus comes in, when it turns into something else entirely.

But it’s not all mellow for the end. The title track has some heavy riffage (and great vocals by Webber–she reminds me of some of the guest vocalists on The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love, although she really sounds like any number of great 70s rock vocalists).  I love the way the track ends.  The disc ends with “Sadie” another folk song (which makes the album half delicate folk tracks and half heavy rockers). It’s a fine song, but the album is kind of ballad heavy by the end, and the teasing drums and guitars just never bring forth the climax I was looking for.

Despite the obvious homages to classic rock bands, (if you can get past that, the album actually sounds fresh (or maybe preserved is a better word) and strangely original.  Like the preposterous cover, the album is preposterous–over the top and crazy.  Yet unlike the cover, the pieces all work together to form a compelling picture.  Obviously it helps if you like classic rock, but there’s nothing wrong with good classic rock, now is there.

[READ: February 14, 2011] Literary Lapses

Despite the cover picture above, I actually downloaded this book from Google Books (and the cover of that one was boring).

So, obviously, reading the biography of Stephen Leacock made me want to read some of his humorous fiction.  True, I also wanted to read Mordecai Richler, but his books are much longer and I wanted this done by the end of February!

So, according to Margaret MacMillan, it is this book, specifically the first story, “My Financial Career,” that solidified Leacock’s reputation as a humorist.  And I can totally understand what she means (without having read the other books, of course).  “My Financial Career” is indicative of the others stories: not laugh-out-loud funny, but clever, kind of silly and very smile-inducing.  The gist is that the narrator is very nervous about going into a bank with his large amount of cash ($56!).  He asks to speak to the manager who thinks he’s Very Important and then proceeds to embarrass himself further. And further. It’s quite amusing.

“A Christmas Letter” is one of my favorite in the book.  It’s a very snarky look at a friend’s Christmas Party, with a great punchline.  And stories like “How to Make a Million Dollars” or “How to be a Doctor” are wonderfully amusing tales in which the narrator mocks the wealthy and “professionals.”

There are 42 stories in this book, so there’s bound to be a few clunkers.  Some were mildly amusing, some were mere trifles, and some are crazily out of date for a 2011 audience.  This book turned 100 years old last year.  (Neat). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TEA PARTY-The Edge of Twilight (1995).

In the way that Ian Astbury of The Cult reminded everyone of Jim Morrison, so does Jeff Martin, singer of The Tea Party.  He looks a bit like him and he sings in a baritone voice that, while all his own, sounds like perhaps a 1990s Jim Morrison.

This, their third album, is full of what I think of as their trademark sound: all manner of exotic instrumentation laid over heavy Zeppelinesque riffs.  Opener “Fire in the Head’ is not unlike “Kashmir” in its riff, and what’s funny is that the exotic instrumentation makes it sound even more like “Kashmir” than “Kashmir” does.  Zep didn’t use instruments like the sitar and sarod to make their sound more authentic.  Indeed, authenticity seems to be what the band is going for, as later albums describe them spending time in the middle east where they learned to play these instruments more proficiently.

“The Grand Bazaar” takes that concept further with some really Eastern sounding music within a very heavy rocking track.  And “Ianna,” although not my favorite track, really showcases the Middle Eastern instrumentation in this cool, twisty track.  There’s also a more traditional rock number, “Drawing Down the Moon” which features lengthy blues-guitar solos over a fairly conventional track.

It’s not all heaviness though, as “Correspondences” is a seven minute piano based ballad in which Martin’s voice is right in your ears.  It’s on this track that you decide whether you love his voice or think he’s preposterous.  If the latter, well, then there’s the beautiful instrumental “The Badger.”  And “Shadows on the Mountainside” is a quieter acoustic number in which Martin sings in his much more delicate range.

But perhaps the most over-the-top, and consequently, best track on the disc is “Sister Awake” which features 12-string guitar, sitar, sarod, harmonium and goblet drums.  It starts slowly and quietly and builds into multiple climaxes (complete with loudly whispered “Sister!”).

Whether or not this confers any kind of approval on The Tea Party or not, Roy Harper (as in “Hats Off to Roy”) does a spoken word bonus track at the end of the disc.  I don’t know much about Roy Harper or what he was up to in 1995 (perhaps he’d do anything for a buck?) but it give an air of legitimacy, no?

The Tea Party is a band that splits people into love it or hate it groups.  They have sold millions of copies and yet there are those who despise them.  Their next album Transmission found some success in the U.S. because it was a bit more industrial sounding (with samples and loops), but they never really broke through down here.

[READ: February 4, 2011] Stories from the Vinyl Cafe

I’m not sure how I found out about this book.  I know I bought it in a Chapters in Toronto.  I wonder if it was on a display and I was intrigued by the title.  Or, more likely, I had heard a bit about him in my preparations for my trip and decided to buy his book.   Whatever the case, I didn’t read it until now.

McLean is described in one of the (practically a dozen) pages of praise and advertisements for his other books as a Canadian Garrison Keillor.  And, as lazy as that seems, it’s fairly accurate.  Especially because although McLean is a humorist (he won the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humor), like Keillor, who is mostly funny, McLean also deals a lot with serious matters.  Indeed, some of the stories in this collection are utterly unfunny: ending with a dead dog or a dead grandmother.

And here’s the thing.  These stories are slices of people’s lives.  They are incidents that impact them and are worth recollecting, but that don’t cause anyone to change.  They’re like perfect little anecdotes, and I imagine they are excellent to hear aloud. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE WEAKERTHANS-Live at the Burton Cummings Theatre (2010).

I’ve enjoyed The Weakerthans for a few years now, so I was pretty excited to see they had a live album out.

This live album works like a greatest hits.  All of the songs are great catchy pop songs–why aren’t The Weakerthans huge?  Maybe because their songs are literate and clever (and have weird titles (like “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)”).  In fact that song is one of only two songs that I know of that mention Jacques Derrida (the second being Scritti Politti’s “Jacques Derrida”).

Admittedly, The Weakerthan’s songs are simple and catchy and these live versions aren’t radically different from the originals.  There’s no extended jams or maniacal freak outs or anything.  But the album is very charming (John Samson is unfailingly polite) and the one big surprise is quite a surprise!

On the track “Wellington’s Wednesdays” Samson introduces a guy: “This is Ernesto.  He’s from Mexico.  He’s going to play a guitar solo.”  While listening to the disc I couldn’t imagine this peculiar introduction for a band member.  My version of the disc comes with a concert DVD of the show.  I didn’t get to watch the DVD until recently and… mystery solved:  Ernesto is a fan in the front row.  Samson talks to him mid-song, pulls him up on stage, introduces him and gives him his guitar to play the solo!  Then Samson jumps into the front row to watch.   How cool is that?

The video doesn’t deviate from the audio, except for leaving in a few moments of patter from Samson. In fact, I found the video to be somewhat choppily edited.  When Samson plays “One Great City!” (solo…which wasn’t obvious from the audio.  I mean, you can tell he’s solo, but it’s much more dramatic in the video) at the finish of the song, it immediately cuts to the next full band song, rather diminishing the return of the band.  (Although I do like the jump cuts to the audience which reveal what appears to be a room full of teenagers–it’s adorable!)

The other confusing thing is that the recording notes say that it was recorded over two days, and yet the video appears to be one night’s show. And the audio matches it, so who knows.

But those are little quibbles.  The music is great, the sound quality is fantastic and the song choices are great.  There are some cool surprises on the disc (like the horns and violin), but mostly what you get is an enjoyable evening at a small hometown concert with fans who love to sing along to the chorus of “One Great City:” “I hate Winnipeg!”

[READ: December 18, 2010] Stephen Leacock

What I’ve really been enjoying about this series of Extraordinary Canadians is how the writers of the books (at least the three I’ve read so far) are writing in such very different styles.  Obviously Coupland did his own thing.  Vissanji is a novelist, and he wrote his in a more novelistic way (its not like a novel at all, but it’s constructed in a kind of narrative style).  Macmillian is a historian, and I suppose for that reason, this biography feels more like a history (of Leacock, but also of economics) than a simple biography.

The strangest thing about this book is that although MacMillan obviously likes and respects Leacock, a surprising amount of the book is taken up with her talking about things he either said or did wrong or about his books that really aren’t that funny.  This is surprising because Leacock is a noted humorist. (In 1947, the Stephen Leacock Award was created to recognize the best in Canadian literary humour).

This biography looks at his life, but mostly it focuses on his academic and humorous works.  Leacock was an economist although he seems to generally disapprove of economists.  He had begun by teaching high school but found it incredibly stifling.  Eventually he found his niche at McGill University where he was well-respected and highly regarded by students and faculty alike. (more…)

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