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Archive for the ‘Tessa Hadley’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SUMMER WALKER-Tiny Desk Concert #902 (October 18, 2019).

I have never heard of Summer Walker.  This is who she is:

A 23-year old singer-songwriter with an uncensored pen and brown-liquor vocals, Walker has become something of a patron saint for colored girls who’ve considered bossing up when heartbreak is too much. With the release of her official studio debut Over It, she made history last week by racking up the biggest streaming week of any female R&B artist ever. Meanwhile, the first lady of upstart label Love Renaissance (LVRN) is lowkey leading a sonic revolution in Atlanta that’s turning the trap capital back into an R&B town. Her team was equally insistent on tricking out the Tiny Desk space by hanging lights that brought a diffuse glow to Walker’s creative set.

It’s funny to read this blurb and all of the glowing praise and “fan favorites” for a person I’ve never heard of and whose debut album came out the week before.  And yet, apparently she is in high demand.

For an artist who rarely grants interviews and admittedly dreads the public spotlight — despite an Instagram feed that clearly shows off her humorous, exhibitionist flair — Walker’s Tiny Desk is revealing. In the span of 15 minutes, she performs fan favorites (“Session 32,” “Wasted,” “Riot”) and the song that made Drake hop in her DMs, “Girls Need Love,” before ending with current single “Playing Games.” Even behind the bright lights and oversized eyeglass frames, her unadorned soul shines through.

I’m quite delighted with how restrained this entire performance is.  I don’t know if her recorded songs are similarity stripped bare (I assume not) but I really like how understated and chill this is.

For the first song, “Session 32” Summer plays guitar along with Elijah “Jah” Whittingham as she sings quietly.

Seconds before the cameras started to roll, Summer Walker showed just how much she was willing to sacrifice for her day at the Tiny Desk: She clipped her nails. It wasn’t an aesthetic choice but a pragmatic one. Not even her love for a fresh set of bedazzled acrylics would get in the way of her strumming the soul out of her six-string Fender electric.

The songs fills out nicely with a gentle bass from Stox and simple drums from Remey Williams.  By the end of the song there some twinkly keyboards from Slim.wav and in 2 and a half minutes, the song is over.

Summer puts the guitar away for the rest of the set (was it worth cutting her nails for less than 3 minute of strumming?) and just sings.

“Wasted” is a bit more slinky and sultry, with a groovy bass and some piercing electric guitar lines.  This is probably the fullest song complete with her backing vocalists.  And yes it makes me smile that her name is Summer and one of the backing vocalists is named Autumn (with the unlikely last name: Autumn Tuesdae) while the other is Angel White.

The third song, “Girls Need Love” is the one that made “Drake hop in her DMs” (whatever that means).  It doesn’t sound all that different from the other songs until you listen closely to the lyrics.  Never has a verse like this sounded so gentle and sweet:

I just need some dick
I just need some love
Tired of fucking with these lame niggas baby
I just need a thug

Girls can’t never say they want it
Girls can’t never say how
Girls can’t never say they need it
Girls can’t never say now

It’s hard to believe that the woman who sings this is actually quite shy

“Look, I’m really freaking excited to be here but I have social anxiety like a mother******,” Walker told the NPR crowd at the end of her set, barely mumbling the expletive in an attempt to censor herself. “I’m freaked the hell out, I’m sweating, but this is so exciting for me.”

After band introductions, she introduces “Friend”

The guitar wasn’t the only thing she’d brought with her from Atlanta. In her lap sat “Friend,” the pink stuffed animal who no doubt provided a bit of emotional support during a five-song set that forced the shy enigma out of her creative shell.

I really enjoy that “Riot” is just her and Jah’s electric guitar.  Similarly her singing is understated.  There’s no over-the-top R&B caterwauling–she just sings really nicely.  I hope that her singing style will inspires more singers to sing like her–dial it back, huh?

And it’s less than two minutes long.  Amazingly, all of the songs are short.  The first three songs were finished in 8 minutes.

The final song “Playing Games” fills out the sound again.  Even though everyone seems to kick it up a notch, it is still understated.

I found that I really liked Summer Walker quite a lot.

Out of curiosity, I listened to the recorded version of “Riot” and was delighted to find that it is indeed 2 minutes long and is just her voice and one guitar.

Understated beauty.

[READ: October 23, 2019] “The Bunty Club”

I continue to really enjoy Tessa Hadley’s stories.  Even though nothing ever really “happens,” I love the depth she gives her characters.

This story was a little different because the narrator inhabits all three sisters at one point or another and we see through all of their eyes for a time.  Although it is really Serena’s story.

The story opens on Serena, the youngest sister.  She is awake before the other two and is enjoying the garden which is “much more lovely now than when it had been scrupulously cared for.”  The house they were in is a stolid Victorian villa.  They had all grown up in this house but had outgrown it.

The eldest sister Pippa and the middle sister Gillian were in the house, reliving some childhood incidents.

All three sisters were back in Fern Hall because their windowed mother was recently hospitalized. They were taking turns to drive the forty five minutes to the hospital. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY AND THE FUNK APOSTLES-Tiny Desk Concert #792 (October 5, 2018).

Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles blew me away with the first song of this Concert.  “Love Will Find A Way” opens with a deep bass sound as the funk starts.  And then Henry adds the great sound of the Hammond.

There’s so much joy in the sound of the Hammond organ, especially for those of us of a certain age. Hearing it can transport you to the early ’70s, when every rock band seemed to have one in its arsenal: The Allman Brothers, Santana, Deep Purple. In the hands of true masters — like the late Billy Preston and the very-much-alive Booker T. Jones — the organ can be a melodic, funky rhythm machine.

Cory Henry’s name belongs in the same breath as the Hammond organ masters of the past. The instrument creates the central sound of his dynamic, neo-soul- and funk-infused musical identity, and he opens his turn behind the Tiny Desk with what feels like an encore: the full-on soul assault of “Love Will Find a Way.” The song twists and turns, then winds up as a full-on celebration — and it’s only the first song in his set.

The song does have several part including a lengthy middle solo section.  Over the heavy organ chords there’s a wailing guitar solo and a keyboard solo from the synth player.

By the end of its six minutes it absolutely feels like an encore–a show ender.  It’s awesome.

“Trade It All” is a bit more soul, less funk, which means I don’t like it as much.  B

Henry’s keyboard skills are on full display during a synth solo in “Trade It All,” which also spotlights his entire band. To my mind, they’d have sounded right at home on Stax Records in the ’70s — no small accomplishment.

The middle shows a softer, quieter side of the Hammond–one that sounds a bit cheesier to my ear.  And yet there’s no denying Henry’s deft finger work (there’ a hint of Stevie Wonder in there for sure).

The final song, the ten-minute “Send Me a Sign” has a lengthy, almost preacher-like quality and is clearly gopsel-inspired.

It showcases some of the roots of Henry’s songwriting; it’s inspired by church sermons that bloom into group sing-alongs. Just another way Cory Henry digs way back to give us something new and exciting.

[READ: October 11, 2017] “One Saturday Morning”

I have never been disappointed with a story from Tessa Hadley.  She might be one of my favorite writers whom I’ve never read outside of magazines.

This story is wonderful because the we learn so much about so many people through the eyes of one woman.

Valerie is Gil’s second wife.  Gil is in his fifties and Valerie is twenty-four.  Gil is a successful professor and she was (as someone described her with disdain) a typist.

But as the story opens, Valerie is trying to cope with Gil’s daughter.  Robyn is nine years old, can’t button her own dress and is utterly unprepared for several days at another house.  This was the first time Valerie had met her…stepdaughter?  And Robyn was plain and kind of dull.  She was polite but had no toys (she played cleverly with scraps of fabric, but would not engage when asked about them).

She was certainly a dullard when it came to food–toast was all she could think of. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 2014).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause ta the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOWDIVE-“Sugar for the Pill” (Field Recordings, June 13, 2017).

It has been nearly a year since NPR Music broadcast its last Field Recording.  From 2012-2017, these were fun, interesting opportunities to put a band in an unlikely setting and have them play a song live,

There are 80 some of these recordings (see the whole shebang here), and I’ve decided to focus on “Slowdive Fills A Shuffleboard Parlor With Shimmering Sound.”

Before a month-and-change ago, Slowdive hadn’t released an album in 22 years. So you’d be forgiven for watching the band perform “Sugar For The Pill” and struggling to pin down what era you’re in — especially since NPR Music plopped the group in a playfully retro Brooklyn shuffleboard parlor for the occasion.

This live recording might be stripped down (I’m not sure), but it sounds great. Neil Halstead plays a pretty, shimmering guitar and sings with his distinctive whispered vocals.  Rachel Goswell is there to provide her delicate harmonies as well.  With them are Nick Chaplin (I assume) on bass.  The bass sounds terrific.  The low end is really good and moves the song along perfectly.  Simon Scott is there to add electronic drums.

A patient mid-tempo gem that’s as hooky as it is hypnotic, “Sugar For The Pill” is a particular highlight, so it’s a joy to watch the reconstituted band trot it out for this Field Recording, filmed at Royal Palms Shuffleboard in Brooklyn.

I don;t understand how this song sounds so good in a shuffleboard facility, but it does.  It sounds great.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “Dido’s Lament”

I really love Hadley’s stories.  I love that she is able to write compellingly about small moments–moments that aren’t going to end a person’s life, but will certainly impact it.

This story starts with Lynette.  She is shopping in a John Lewis–and is quite embarrassed about it.  She is described as “tall, anxious, original, in her late thirties…her hair was shaved above her ears and the rest of it, dyed bronze and pink, was piled up in a striking bird’s nest mess.” It’s the way she throws in that word “original” that I love.

A man pushes though the crowd and knocks her over.  She stumbles and hurts her ankle while trying not to trip over a stroller.

There is no way she is going to let this guy do that and not apologize or acknowledge what he did.  So she runs after him.  She is determined not to hobble or let anyone see her in pain, so she deals with the pain and goes in pursuit of the coat that she knows he is wearing.

She finally catches him on a subway platform.  She taps him on the shoulder ready to yell at him  But when he turns around, she realizes that not only does she know him, she used to be married to him.  She and Toby had separated nine years earlier.  He seems bigger now, but more confident in his ways.  Rather than yell at him, she was struck mute until he turned and was so excited to see her! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEPHIN MERRITT: Two Days, ‘A Million Faces’ (Project Song: November 4, 2007).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The first one they did was with Magnetic Field’s singer/songwriter/wizard Stephin Meritt.

Merritt is quite prolific so this seemed like it would be no big challenge.  They showed him six images and six words.  He had to choose one picture and one word.  He chose a picture and the word 1974.

Merritt does most of his writing sitting in a bar, with throbbing music in the background.

“Some recording artists write in the studio,” he tells All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen. “I think they’re crazy.”

So for the first installment of a new multimedia experiment called Project Song, All Songs Consideredset up a bar for Merritt in NPR’s Studio 4A, an expansive wood-floored room with plenty of space for a creative artist to spread out and experiment. We supplied him with a grand piano, an assortment of other keyboards (including a ’70s MOOG synthesizer), drums and guitars — even a sampler, from which Merritt extracted the sound of a vintage Mellotron.

The photograph he chose, by artist Phil Toledano, is an incredible image of a man covered head to toe in what looks like a bodysuit made of baby dolls.

In Merritt’s imagination the man shape shifts as a criminal.

For the music, he chose a “Shepherd tone” which is the illusion of ever ascending pitches.

And then we watch Merritt recording instruments and vocals and talking to the recording engineer.

It is very cool to see how this song evolves with bass, guitar, synth and more added in.

The final two minutes wrap up his take on.  He says he would normally work a lot longer.  There is only one section to the song. (It’s verse no chorus?) Yes.   The song is based on a loop because he finished the song sooner than he might have.  “But I write lots of fairly simple songs, and I like this one.”

[READ: Feb 3, 2016] “Silk Brocade”

Once again Tessa Hadley easily transports me to another time and place.

In this story, we meet Ann Gallagher, a talented seamstress who has started a small business with her gregarious friend Kit.  They are going to make couture dresses and more.

Unfortunately, old friends of theirs have come a-calling.  And today, Nola Higgins straight from Fishponds, has come asking a favor.

Turns out that Nola is getting married to nobility and she hopes that Ann can make a dress from some gorgeous old silk brocade that was in his house.  Ann is fully intending to turn her away–saying that Nola will never be able to afford their work–until she learns about the money. (more…)

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6616 SOUNDTRACK: GLEN HANSARD-Tiny Desk Concert #225  (June 17, 2012).

glenWhat can I say about Glen Hansard that I haven’t said already—he’s a powerful singer and a great storyteller.  This is his second appearance on Tiny Desk (although his first solo) and his fourth or fifth concert on NPR.

With The Swell Season, they played for 34 minutes (a Tiny Desk Record).  And this Concert is no shortie either at nearly 22 minutes.

He’s playing songs from his solo album (on that same beat up guitar).   Although he is distinctly himself, without the band(s), he sounds a bit like Cat Stevens and sometimes like Van Morrison (and he looks like Gordon Lightfoot).

He sings rather quietly and then impressively loudly–powerful and passionate.  He is clearly into what he does.

“Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting” is rocking folk song (he throws a coda of RESPECT at the end) in which he really belts out a few parts.  He’s got a delightful “La la la” middle section, and the overall melody is great.

“Bird of Sorrow” is  much more mellow song.  It builds through some verses and allows him to belt out a few lines near the end.

“Come Way to the Water” has him on a 4 string tenor guitar.  Although it is quite clearly a Glen Hansard song, the guitar is much more timid sounding compared to his voice.  And it really does give the song a very different (darker) feeling.  In fact when it’s over, he says, “that was kind of depressing wasn’t it?”

“Lucia” is a “song he hasn’t finished yet” but he’s going to play it because “it’s a little bit happier.”  Although the lyrics are “Lucia, you’re letting me down again / Lucia, your heart’s not in it babe…. And if your heart’s not in it, then your heart’s not in it, babe.”  Not exactly a happy song.  But very pretty.

“The Song of Good Hope” is slower with no big powerful singing, but it’s really heartfelt and intense.

And as always, he is unfailingly polite and thanks everyone for listening.

My friend Jonathan says that he will always try to see Hansard live, and it seems like I should be doing the same next time he comes around.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “At Home in the Past”

The June 6 & 13, 2016 issue of the New Yorker was the Fiction Issue.  It also contained five one page reflections about “Childhood Reading.” 

As soon as I started reading this, I knew that Sarah would want to read it as well.  For although I have not, Sarah has read The Secret Garden, which is what Tessa Hadley is writing about here.

Tessa says that she didn’t own many books as a child–mostly she borrowed from the library.  But the ones she did own she read over and over and “some of them soaked in deep under my skin, composing my private mythology and shaping my mind.”

She says she had a Puffin paperback of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.  The cover picture of a dark-haired girl in a white coat standing among thorny bare rose bushes looks just like Mary Lennox is described in the book.

Although it was published in 1911, she felt no separation from the Edwardians.  She felt at home in the past and often preferred it to modernity, which seemed somehow inferior. (more…)

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824SOUNDTRACK: PRIMUS-Miscellaneous Debris (1992).

debrsiAfter the success of Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Primus created this five song EP of covers.  Les had just gotten a new Carl Thompson “rainbow bass” and he used the EP as a way to try it out.

This EP is, interestingly, their most listener friendly release thus far.  In part because they are playing more conventional songs (even if in an unconventional way).  Although they are not the most obvious covers:

Peter Gabriel-“Intruder.”  This is an earlier Peter Gabriel song (when he was still kind of weird).  The Primus version is suitably spooky and weird, but it is a great version.  It sounds a lot like the original, which is creepier than you might expect from Gabriel–but he was a weirdo before he became an adult contempo sweetheart.

XTC-“Making Plans for Nigel”  One of XTC’s more popular songs, this version is faster than the original, but right on and quite fun.

The Residents-“Sinister Exaggerator”  The Residents are quite weird (and may be the one band that is closest in spirit to Primus). This version is indeed pretty close to the original (although you can hear the lyrics better on the original!).

The Meters-“Tippi Toes”  The Meters area n old school funk band.  This is a song with no lyrics.  The Primus version sounds more full than the original (which incorporates Tiptoe Thru the Tulips”)  but it is quite faithful otherwise.

Pink Floyd-“Have a Cigar”  This is clearly the most popular original on the disc.  But Primus do a great job with it (Les is under the impression that Roger Waters didn’t like their version–but what do you expect?). They have a lot of fun with this song–keeping it close to the original (except for Ler’s guitar, mostly) and the twisted lyrics that say “who the hell’s this guy they call Bob Cock?”

So while this is a great introduction to Primus, it is not entirely representative of their sound. And yet, it sort of is as well.  Hence the title.

[READ: January 6, 2015] “One Saturday Morning”

Tessa Hadley continues to impress me with her beautiful stories in which really nothing happens.  It opens with a girl practicing her piano and ends with her and her brother looking at a bug.  And in between something almost happens, but not quite.

Set in the 1960s, Carrie is a ten-year old girl practicing her piano.  Her brother is outside playing cricket and her parents are out shopping for their party that evening.  Carrie hates practicing the piano–the music just doesn’t speak o her.  She also fears that her piano tutor is mad at her because of a childish letter she wrote and may have left at her tutor’s house.

While she is thinking about this, the doorbell rings.  She doesn’t recognize the man right away but she quickly realizes that it his her parents’ old friend Dom.  Dom is a big man, somewhat intimidating but affable. Carrie is intimidated by him though, especially since her parents aren’t around.  He hasn’t been around since he moved a way a few years ago.  But he says he is in town and wanted to visit friends.  She assures him that her parents will be home shortly and invites him in.  But rather than entertain him, she runs upstairs to hide. (more…)

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