Archive for the ‘T. Coraghessan Boyle’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: CÉCILE McLORIN SALVANT-Tiny Desk Concert #790 (September 25, 2018).

The blurb talks about Cécile McLorin Salvant’s punk roots.  This made me thing that their might be some rough elements in these songs.

But these songs sound akin to old-fashioned-sounding jazz standards (even if she wrote them recently) in the vein of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn.

The nod to punk seems to come in the vaguely erratic piano which verges on atonality at times.  And yet:

From listening to McLorin Salvant’s exquisite performance here, I also couldn’t tell that when she was 15, she was listening to Alice in Chains, sported a Mohawk and was into what she calls “radical feminist punk stuff,” as she told NPR after the performance. “Sometimes I still really like Bikini Kill, and I still have my little Pearl Jam grunge moments.”

What can be heard in each song is a seasoned jazz singer with a vast vocal range, meticulous technical execution and a superb classical vocal foundation, which actually began when she was just 8. Her background in classical piano is evident in the inventive harmonic and melodic construction of the first three songs heard here; all are romantically themed McLorin Salvant compositions from her third album, For One to Love, recorded in 2015. The record won her a 2016 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

“Fog” opens with some striking minimalist almost atonal piano playing.  The song veers through many different tones and styles throughout its five plus minutes.

About “Look At Me” she says, “This was originally called “‘Friend Zone’ which is a zone I know so well.”  The piano is delicate–twinkling–as she sings about being the friend when she wants more.

She says the next song is called “Monday,” “Lets see if I remember the lyrics.”  After introducing Foster, he comments, “I just learned this on the train here, so bear with me.”  This is notable because there is a lengthy, lovely piano instrumental part in the middle.

After a hog, Foster leaves and McLorin Salvant prepares for the last song.

McLorin Salvant closes with “Omie Wise,” an American folk song that tells the tragic story of murder victim Naomi Wise and her husband and killer, John Lewis:

Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown
He jumped on his pony and away he did ride
The screams of little Omie went down by his side.

Feminist themes are common in McLorin Salvant’s music, and while “Omie Wise” addresses gender-based violence, she says she sings difficult songs like this to address an important historical legacy. “We don’t sing to our kids and we don’t know any of our folk music anymore,” McLorin Salvant says. “But like all of the history of race songs, coon songs, minstrel music, music from Vaudeville, all of that is like, ‘No, we’re not going to address that — that’s too ugly.'”

This song is especially powerful sung a capella and even more so when it is heard on the weekend that that piece of excrement Kavanaugh is having his Supreme Court hearings.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “Admiral”

T. Coraghessan Boyle is an incredibly prolific writer.  He writes about a huge variety of topics as well.  Some of his stories are down to earth and realistic while others, like this one, are based in a near-future fantasy.

The premise of this story is simple and not all that far-fetched (especially in 2007).  A rich couple has cloned their beloved dog, an afghan named Admiral, for $250,000.  They want to raise this dog exactly as the first Admiral was raised.  They believe in the cloning to create an identical dog, but they also believe in the nurture aspect which means they need the girl who dog-sat for him to do everything exactly as she did all those years ago.

That girl, now a woman, was recently laid off and needs some cash. So when Mrs Striker called and told her she had an opportunity, Nisha said… why not?

She returned to the house where she hadn’t been in four years but which was such a large part of her childhood. (more…)

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july7 SOUNDTRACK: NICKEL CREEK-Tiny Desk Concert #385 (August 26, 2014).

nickelI have listened to this Tiny Desk Concert so many times I can’t believe I never posted about it. This was my first exposure to Chris Thile, and in the two years since I watched this I have become a huge fan of his (and of singer Sara Watkins).

“Destination” was probably my favorite song from 2014 and is still amazingly catchy.  Nickel Creek’s harmonies are superb-lead by Sara and accompaniment by the other three, this song speeds along at a great clip with all kinds of fun instrumentation.

In addition to Thile on mandolin and Sara on violin, there’s Sean Watkins on guitar and Mark Schatz on upright bass.

I liked the way the players shifted positions to let Chris sing lead on “Rest of My Life.”  He introduced this song by saying, “this is the first day that I will be singing with my new braces.  I am 12 years old.”  With his new singing impediment he says this song is “Sung not as a its hungover protagonist but by its be-brace-ed protagonist.”   The melody is done on guitar and upright bass with Thile’s mandolin playing most of the higher notes and occasional grace notes from Watkins’ violin.  There’s also a delightful “lullaby” sounding  section in the middle.

“21s of May” is sung by Sean.  He introduces this jaunty song with “Remember when the rapture almost happened three years ago?”  May 21st was supposed to be judgement day so he thought he should write one more song and so he did.  He plays a great lead guitar melody on this song with great harmonies.

At the end of the song Thile bangs the gong and then asks if they want one more short song.  Then he admits that its longer than the other three.  It’s an instrumental song called “Elephant in the Corn.”  When the crowd cheers, Sean says it’s “Huge in Washington DC.”

I love that Chris and Sean get some fast solo and then Sara take as really slow violin leads that leads to a cool bass slide.  The song picks up again with Thile playing some amazingly fast mandolin licks.  And just when you think it’s all over, there’s a coda tacked on as well–and not just a “this is the end coda” either.

Nickel Creek has been around forever, and I’m only bummed that it took me until 2014 to actually hear them.

[READ: February 26, 2016] “Thirteen Hundred Rats”

Somehow I didn’t expect the title of this story to be taken literally.  And yet, it most certainly was.

I really enjoyed the way this story was constructed.  It is told by a man who is somewhat proud of himself.  He talks about the small village that they live in–a small village of 50 or so houses created by industrialist B.P. Newhouse (who hoped it would be a model of utopian living).  The narrator and his wife live there although they tend to travel the world now that they are older.

He tells the story of a village resident named Gerard.  He and Gerard had been friends and had congratulated themselves on not having any children.  Gerard’s wife had recently died and Gerard took it hard.  He wasn’t eating, wasn’t going out.  And people began to worry about him.

Villagers suggested that he should get a pet.  Even the narrator’s wife suggested it.  So the narrator trudged down to Gerard’s house, with his two dogs in tow to talk to Gerard. (more…)

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TNY 4.14.08 cvr.indd SOUNDTRACK: HAMILTON LEITHAUSER-Tiny Desk Concert #375 (July 21, 2014).

hamleitHamilton Leithause was the lead singer of The Walkmen.  When they went on hiatus, the guys in the band made solo records.  For this set, Leithauser is accompanied by The Walkmen’s Paul Maroon on guitar and Hugh McIntosh, who played drums in Leithauser’s old band The Recoys.

Leithauser has a big voice and these songs allow him to really wail (in a restrained and tasteful way).  “11 O’Clock Friday Night” has a very folkie feel to it with a big chorus of “you and me and everybody else.”

“Alexandra” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a cool rumbling bass line provided by the electric guitar (he really gets to belt out the chorus and the bridge in this song).

“5AM” is a moody ballad which shows he can play mellow as well as big.

Incidentally perhaps it was back in 2014, but Leithauser was doing some kind of concert in Philly and they must have advertised it ten times a day for months.  I was rather tired of hearing his name (I didn’t know who he was at the time). I had to look him up and he was fine.  About the same as I felt during this show.

[READ: February 18, 2016] “The Lie”

I have really been enjoying Boyle’s stories.  He has a way of making his protagonists unlikable and yet somehow sympathetic.  But this time, I felt like his protagonist was just too much of an asshole.  He went too far.

Lonnie is a new dad.  He’s a young guy who has married a woman whose nighttime sleepwear is a Cramps shirt and nothing else.  Her name is Clover, but she hates that her hippie parents named her that and wants to change it to Cloris.  He says that Cloris sounds like a detergent and she hates him for that.

Anyway, he wakes up and doesn’t feel like going to his editing job (I may have been more sympathetic if the job were harder).  He is tired of hearing the same people recite the same dialogue every day.  He says he’s not rally an editor, he’s a logger. (more…)

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S2008_01_21OUNDTRACK: BASIA BULAT-Tiny Desk Concert #106 (January 24, 2011).

basiaFor some sad reason, this video cuts off about half way through the second song, so you need to watch it on YouTube instead.  Basia Bulat is a Canadian singer of Polish descent.  She’s adorable and plays weird instruments.  What’s not to like?

The first song “The Shore” is done entirely on a pianoette–she may be the only singer to play one.  The pianoette is a zither-like instrument with a strummed section and a hammered section.  Her voice is low and breathy.  And when, during the second verse, her backing band’s harmonies come in, it’s quite breathtaking.

The second song is done on guitar. It’s a Polish folks song–she says it was a big hit in the 60s in communist Poland.  She sings it in Polish and says it was a great way to learn her Polish words and pronunciations.  “W Zielonym Zoo” means “In The Green Zoo.”  It’s cute how happy and smiley she is as she explains this song.  It begins with just her on guitar and it’s quite a delight when Holly Coish on ukulele, Allison Stewart on viola and Ben Whiteley on bass join in.

pianoetteHer brother Bobby Bulat joins her on percussion for “Heart Of My Own.”  This song is louder and more dramatic and a lot of fun. The final song  “In The Night” is one she normally plays on the autoharp (see, unusual instruments) but she didn’t have it so she plays a rollicking guitar version with the full band (there’s some great violin solos in it).  Just before it starts she says that if it sucks, don’t use it.  It doesn’t suck at all.

I really like Bulat’s music a lot and this is a great way to witness it up close.  And here’s a picture of a pianoette.

[READ: January 8, 2015] “Ash Monday”

I wasn’t sure how much I would like this story (same old intro from me) because I didn’t like the main character (or one of the two main characters).  Dill is a delinquent.  He’s 13 and with a car (well, he has the car, he just cant drive it).  And hes loves the smell of gasoline.

When his mother tells him to goes outside to light the grill (as he does most nights–his mom doesn’t cook in the house apparently), he puts gasoline in it to light it up.  On this night he discovers a rat in the grill, so he takes the opportunity to dose the rat with the gasoline and set it on fire.  (If you’re squeamish, there is also the death of hundreds of chinchillas although that is from natural causes).

We don’t learn much about Dill’s mother except that her husband is gone and she is looking to date someone new.

The scene cuts to the next door neighbor, Sanjuro Ishiguro (Dill calls him “Itchy-goro” and once called him a motherfucking gook).  Ishiguro is a respectable businessman.  He works long hours often getting to work before everyone else.  And although he gets along with his workmates, he is definitely not one of them.  They like to ask him about sports when they know he knows nothing about it. (more…)

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harp marchSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Call the Office London, On (August 11, 2000).

calltheofficeCall the Office sounds like a great live venue.  It sounds small and intimate and, for this recording anyway, the sound quality is great.

The band is in great form with a ten minute version of “Fat.”   Then there’s a bunch of new songs: “In It Now” (the first time I’m aware of them playing it), “CCYPA” and a great version of “The Fire.”

Then they jump back to an old song and play “Torque Torque” with a very funny introduction about how they wrote this back in the early 60s and that it out-dorks the Doors (the Doors had no bass player).  Dave also says they’ll never play Full Moon Over Russia because it’s too hard.

There’s a lengthy introduction to “Satan is the Whistler” in which Martin tells about writing it–how it was originally going to be about Bigfoot (he used to read Bigfoot books as a kid) and the scariest thing about the Bigfoot stories was when people heard whistling.  The intro devolves into some funny talk about Whistler, the city, and extreme sports.  Someone eventually winds up describing the song as Ian Anderson skiing.

There’s a sadly aborted “Junction Foil Ball.”  Not sure if they just never played it or if there’s a problem with the recording.

There’s also an “off color” joke about Michael Jackson and Bubbles and Dave teases the jokester (Don Kerr?) saying that a guy with neck beard shouldn’t make off color jokes.

“Feed Yourself” a song they don’t play often enough sounds great here with some awesome soloing chords and effects in the middle.  And “Legal Age Life” also has some funny silly parts in the solos.

“Horses” (which the fans have been cheering for all night) sounds fantastic–a great version of it.  The middle section has Dave talking and ranting (all with his voice echoed).  It’s quite intense.  As is the final “Moon” high note at the end of “Dope Fiends and Booze Hounds” which they cap off with another fast run through “Satan.”

As I said this is a great sounding bootleg (and the notes on the site agree: “This is one of the best sounding Rheos boots I have heard. Listen to Don’s drumming. It is awesome. I loved seeing him play.”

[READ: March 2, 2015] “No Slant to the Sun”

I have read so many stories by Boyle, and they are all so very different that I never really know what to expect–or even where they will go.

This story begins with the title–“there as no slant to the sun–it was just there, overhead.”  It is about a man, Sten, and his wife Carolee on vacation.  They are on a cruise and are currently taking a day trip to an island garden path (although he seems unsure where they are–not Mexico or Guatemala or Belize–somewhere with a lot of rum where they listen to reggae).

They, along with everyone else, are on a bus, being driven maniacally by a man wearing earbuds (listening to reggae) as he flies over potholes and around harsh left and right turns.

Sten refuses to drink the water here even though everyone else does. And despite his thirst he sticks only to the rum based drinks (and so is a bit drunk and parched).  He will only drink bottled water, but he forgot his bottle.  When Carolee falls asleep he roots through her purse for her water (which he then drops and it rolls under another seat).

All the people on the bus (mostly older retirees) are unhappy with the driving.  Finally Sten gets up to say something to man and even flicks out his ear buds.  But the man ignores him, clearly disgusted by the white people on the bus.  He grudgingly says they can have a restroom break in five minutes, although it’s more like 15 before they get to the site of their hike–something that Sten now regrets given the heat and his thirst.

As soon as they settle in, a car roars up next to them and some local boys get out.  One has a gun.  And the boys start demanding everybody’s wallets and jewels.

It’s then that we learn that Sten was once in the military.   And he has to decide if he should react to this insolence.

The story went in a direction I absolutely did not expect.  I enjoyed it, especially the way the ancillary characters react to what happens.  I never intentionally seek out Boyle, but I always enjoy his stories (and I am astonished at how prolific he is).

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CV1_TNY_03_17_14Liniers.inddSOUNDTRACK: HOZIER-Tiny Desk Concert #360 (May 27, 2014).

hozierI had been cataloging the Tiny Desk Concerts from the beginning, but in recent days they have had so many good bands that I didn’t want to wait until I caught up with them.  So, for the next few posts there will be current Concerts (I have no idea what number they are, but I hope to fix them retroactively).

Hozier is responsible for the insanely catchy song “Take Me to Church.”  WXPN plays this song all the time.  I didn’t like it at first but then when I really listened to it I was hooked.  Of course I had no idea that the guy who was singing this powerful soulful song was a soft-spoken Irishman.  Hozier is Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a 24 year old from County Wicklow.  And while he’s singing this song here he makes it seems so easy to belt out those big notes.

Although it doesn’t quite reach the gravitas of the recorded version in this stripped down live session, he sounds great and the keyboard, cello and drums (and backing vocals) really bring this song to life.

The next two songs Hozier plays by himself.  “To Be Alone” is a very old-sounding blues—the sound of his guitar and the way his plays combined with the way he sings really hearkens back to early blues.  Typically I don’t especially like early blues but I do like this song quite a bit.

The final song is an acoustic ballad.  (So he plays three different guitars in this set).  It has a kind of Richard Thompson guitar feel and is a rather touching ballad.

Hozier has only released two EPs thus far, but with this amount of diversity I am looking forward to lots of other things from him.

[READ: May 29, 2014] “The Relive Box”

This story made me think of what the “Entertainment” in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest might actually be like.  In Infinite Jest, the “Entertainment” is a video so intoxicating, you watch it–ignoring all other needs–until you die.  In this story, the “relive box” is a machine that plays back any memory that you have in full 3D. And people get so absorbed in their past that they forget about the present.

Specifically, the narrator is so intent on reliving that he ignores his daughter and his job.  As the story opens, the narrator’s daughter Katie says she wants to relive.  They just recently got this new relive box–it cost a fortune–and Katie wants to visit with her mother.  Her mother left them and Katie seems to have lost friends and impetus to do much else, so she would like to relive some good times.  But the narrator was planning on reliving for several hours that night, so he can’t have her hogging the machine.  So he sends her to bed, crying heavily, so he can have the machine to himself.

And what’s so important that the narrator has to relive?  After reliving his best sex moments, he goes back in time to the night he met Lisa, his first girlfriend.  She was a goth girl in a club and the narrator had the nerve to buy her a drink and ask her to dance.  Which ultimately let to sex and eventually to a relationship. And he relieves all of the highlights of their time together–something he has done several times this week already.  In fact, he has been doing this so much that he has been late for work twice and when he’s there he’s bleary-eyed and pretty much out of it.  So he says he’ll only do it once more this week.  And just for a few hours. (more…)

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