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Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAPANESE BREAKFAST-“California Dreaming'” (2018).

As I was thinking about what song to put with this book, Japanese Breakfast released a cover of the wonderful original.  I don’t know too many songs by The Mamas and the Papas, but this is one of my all time favorite songs in general.

I was a little disappointed as the song started because it just Michelle Zauner singing over a delicate organ (it’s the harmonies that I love so much about the original).

But then it becomes evident what Zauner is doing.  The song is dirgey and cold, as the lyrics suggests, which is kind of cool.

And then after for the second verse she drops a big beat which adds a cool guitar lick and backing vocalists.

It brings a cool, sensual twist to the song which in the original is kind of poppy, yet dark.  The production of the song is quite nice, but it really can’t beat the amazing harmonies of the original.

[READ: July 20, 2017] California Dreamin’

This is a delightful biography of the woman who would become Mama Cass.  I knew little about The Mamas & The Papas, and I knew even less about Mama Cass, so this proved to be an excellent and fascinating introduction.

And it is all told with Bagieu’s wonderful drawings–there’s something so wonderfully French about her drawings of the hippie sixties in the US–it’s wonderful.  She also makes Mama Cass–who could be drawn fat and unpleasant–as perpetually pretty and sexy, which is pretty cool.

The scene opens in the summer of 1965 (although in the shopping center there is Kohls which I don’t think was in California in 1965, but whatever).  A DJ is asking kids what they love about the Mamas and the Papas.  They all say Cass obviously,  she’s the nicest and coolest.

Then we flashback. And I love the way that she has constructed this story–it focuses on a different person in each chapter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CIGARETTES AFTER SEX-Tiny Desk Concert #682 (December 13, 2017).

I only know of Cigarettes After Sex from when NPR played a song of theirs and Bob asked us to guess whether the singer was a man or a woman.

Greg Gonzalez has one of those wonderful voices that is deep and husky and sounds feminine (although his speaking voice is very deep).

This Tiny Desk Concert is very quiet (like The XX).  It is just Gonzalez on heavily echoed guitar and vocals and his unmoving, emotion-free longtime bandmate Phillip Tubbs on spare keyboards.

Although there’s not a lot to these songs, the melodies are truly terrific.

The three songs sound very similar–unmistakably them.

“K.,” the opening track to this Tiny Desk Concert – and the opening cut to the band’s eight year-long awaited debut album – is especially memorable. The lyrics are simple and easy to remember: “Kristen, come right back/I’ve been waiting for you to slip back in bed/When you light the candle.”

Amazingly, for almost half of each song, there are no keyboards, just the guitar.  So that extra, gentle wash of music sounds huge.  “Apocalypse” has the lovely swooning chorus of “you’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye” and “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” follows that same pretty structure (although it’s my least favorite of the three).  With the minimalism:

each note and each word seems to count for more  …  and the office environment of the Tiny Desk Concert [may work better] than in a club, where just the chatter of a crowd can drown out this gentle music.

[READ: November 1, 2017] The Hunting Accident

I loved this book. Everything about it was utterly fantastic.  The story, the way it was told, and the amazing drawings of Landis Blair

The book opens on a snowy day in Chicago in 1959.  A boy whose mother has just died has moved from sunny California to miserable Chicago to live with his blind father, Matt.   The boy had lived with his mother since he was four (his mother’s mother thought that his father was a trouble and that they needed to get away from him).  So he barely knew his father.  And now it was time to find out everything about the man.  Like, first off, how he became blind.

The father told the boy all about the hunting accident.  He and his friends were screwing around, playing by the train tracks.  They were having fun scaring each other.  All the kids were afraid of real life bogeymen Leopold & Loeb local murderers.  The boys even believed they found the pipe in which Leopold & Loeb stuffed their victim.

There’s even little reminder of the crime:

In 1924, two wealthy educated men kidnapped and brutally murdered Bobby Franks, a 14-year-old neighbor…just for the thrill of it… to see if they could commit “the perfect crime.”

Anyhow, the boys had a shotgun and heard a deer.  When one of those boys shot at the deer he missed and his Charlie’s father right in the face.

Soon Charlie must learn what it is like to live with a blind man–how everything must be in the exact same place.

Charlie’s father writes all the time (on a braille machine).  He writes about morality and poetry.  He quotes Dante.  And soon, Charlie’s dad was having Charlie help with the writing–by proofing and checking things (Charlie learned a lot at the same time).

Charlie’s grandmother also said that Chicago was dangerous, but not for Charlie.  He got along fine. He even made friends with Steve Garza–the coolest kid in the neighborhood.    Garza was so cool he bummed cigarettes off of Charlie (from his dad–even though Matt, counted them and got mad about it).

Charlie also began getting involved in extracurricular activities–he loved tap dancing and tried the cello–two things his father appreciated. But soon Steve and his buddy started pressuring Charlie.  He “left” his tap shoes at the park, he stopped playing cello and he got involved in some ugly things.

Garza wanted to join the JPs–a local mob related gang.  But he was too young so he started the Junior JPs and soon enough that involved theft.  And since they were dumb, they were easily caught.

And that’s when the truth comes out.

I was already hooked into the story and then I was blown away.  Charlie’s dad did not lose his sight in a hunting accident.  Charlie is furious that his dad lied to him.

Garza convinces Charlie to head for Canada to avoid the cops.  (The third guy has already gotten there and is at a free-love commune or something).  Charlie is prepared to drive them both (he’s the one with the car after all).  And then his dad tells him the whole truth, which gets Charlie to pause.

The rest of the book cover’s Matt’s story.

He was poor in 193os Chicago and got mixed up with the wrong crowd.  His did go blind from a gun shot, but it was a very different setting–and it led to prison.

On the day he got to prison, the same prison that Leopold and Loeb were in, Richard Loeb was killed in the shower.  This left Leopold alone.

Charlie asks if he met Leopold.   And Charlie’s dad says that Nathan Leopold is the reason for his divorce.  What?

Turns out hat not only did Charlie’s dad know Nathan Leopold. He was Leopold’s cell mate.  Since Loeb was killed there was concern that Leopold might be next.  And since Matt was blind, they were put together under watch.

After Matt was out of prison, Leopold sent him a letter (in braille) which the grandmother intercepted.  Matt had never told anyone he was in jail, and that made Matt a Liar.

Matt was miserable in jail.  He couldn’t see, his father was disappointed in him and he had nothing to live for.  He just wanted to die, but that was pretty hard to do under constant supervision. We see daily life for a blind man in jail–food stolen all the time and knocking his cellmate’s things over.

Leopold was angry and bitter and wanted nothing to do with a blind man.  But soon, Leopold began talking to Matt about the life of the mind–something he realized that Matt lived all the time.  Because he couldn’t see everything was in his mind. Leopold used to hold educational lessons in the library at the jail.  He also showed Matt how to make a Glim Box (a way to use a spinning coin to light a fire to light cigarettes).

Matt tells Leopold that he has no family.  Meanwhile, Leopold’s dad visits every two weeks (the visits are awkward and uncomfortable but are a way for Leopold to get things from the outside).

Soon, Leopold is trying to convince Matt to learn Braille.  Why?  well, this gave opportunity for Leopold to learn it to and thereafter he could read after lights out.  (Leopold was a master of many languages and picked up braille easily).

And that’s when Leopold persuaded Matt to read Dante’s Inferno.

The story of Matt’s imprisonment jumps back to the present where Charlie is still annoyed with his father, but is really interested in the story. Especially when he leans that his father almost committed suicide there.

I loved the philosophical ideas in the story–they way the book interprets both Plato and Dante for the everyman .  I loved that Matt’s story runs throughout the book and I loved the whole idea of a blind man helping one of the most notorious criminals of he 20th century.

This story is thought-provoking and exciting at the same time.

The only thing that I feel was left out–did Charlie wind up going to jail or not?  It’s never addressed.

The end of the story and that final two-page spread are just breathtaking.

I also love that David L. Carlson more or less found out about this amazing true story by accident.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA-In The Nutcracker Mood (2012).

Glenn Miller disappeared just before Christmas on December 15, 1944. His Orchestra, in the too-short run under his personal leadership, had officially recorded only one Christmas song (“Jingle Bells”, October 20, 1941).

Year later, the orchestra has recorded three Christmas albums.

A list of desirable players was compiled. There were a few requisites — musicians had to be working currently; only alumni of the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be recruited; each individual had to have recognized and outstanding talent; each veteran had to be able to take a leave-of-absence from his current “gig”; and, of course, be available to come to New York City to record.  The average age of this band is about 50. The length of time each player performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra ranges from as little as 6 months to well over 10 years. The cumulative experience of this band recreating the authentic Miller “sound” is well over 100 years!

The first recording, “In The Christmas Mood”, was released in 1991. It was so successful that a second recording, “In The Christmas Mood II,” was produced and later released in 1993.

Almost all of the musicians performing on all three of these recordings, are the same. The only differences are the pianist for the first recording, and trombonist, Larry O’Brien, the then leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, was unable to make the second recording due to being on tour. Larry is noticeably back on this recording as evidenced by his beautiful trombone solo on Toyland.

My parents loved Glenn Miller and I grew up listening to him.  So when I saw this, I knew I had to get it–combining Glenn and the Nutcracker!

“Miniature Overture” a fun overture that puts the swing in things.
“March” I don’t know if Brian Setzer put the swing into this song before they did, but it has Glenn all over it.
“Dance of the Fairy Dragee” doesn’t differ too much for the original at least until the middle when the jazzy drums kick in.  The end totally swings.
“Russian Dance”  fast and peppy and wonderful with a big band flourish at the end.
“Arabian Dance” I love that the more Arabian sound comes from a muted trumpet.
“Chinese Dance” There’s some extra big band solos thrown into this one–cheating a bit I think.
“Dance of the Mirlitons” Some nice swinging in this dance too of course.
“Waltz of the Flowers”  This song is usually pretty sedate, but they big up the band.   The main part is still a pretty waltz, though.

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”  The band’s singers enter on this song.  I have to admit I never really liked the Miller songs with words.  But this sounds pretty accurate to me.
“Toyland” A slow romantic ballad that I don;t recognize from elsewhere.  I could see Lawrence Welk and his bubbles doing this song.
“Ode to Joy”  You don’t hear jazzy versions of this too often, but they have the Glenn Miller sound perfectly for this swinging Classic.

“A String of Carols; Here We Come a-Caroling, Up On the House Top, a Child Is Born in Bethlehem, Deck the Halls”  The swingers are back with this nice medley of carols.

“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” I love that they threw in a few bars of In the Mood into this song.
“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” and “March of the Toys” I’m not sure if they are from something or just goo old swinging fun.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” returns the vocals to the end of the disc.  I fitting end for the Christmas holiday.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra:
Saxes: Ralph Olson Lead Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Flute; Lee Lachman Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Piccolo; Mark Vinci Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Frank Perowsky Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Richy Barz Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Trumpets: Tom Snelson; Ken Brader; John Hoffman; Dale Thompson
Trombones: Larry O’Brien; Eric Culver; Randy Purcell; Dennis Good
Piano: Tony Monte
Bass: Lanny Fields
Guitar: Jay Patten
Drums: Danny D’Imperio
The Moonlight Serenaders: Annette Sanders, Arlene Martell, Al Dana, Paul Evans, Kevin DiSimone

[READ: April 25, 2017] The Art of Wordless Storytelling

This book is a companion to an exhibition of Wiesner’s art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Wiesner has created some of the most beautiful children’s pictures books ever.  And most of them have no words at all.  His books include Free Fall (1988), Hurricane (1992), Tuesday (1991), June 29, 1999 (1992), Sector 7 (1999), The Three Pigs (2001), Flotsam (2006), Art & Max (2010), Mr Wuffles! (2013) and Fish Girl (2016).

This book taught me that all of his art is done in watercolor and done in such a way that he adds layer upon layer of color to create intense depth of color and shade–I’d always known his art was great but had no idea why.  But then I read that when most books are created they print all of the colors at the same time, effectively muting his work.  So all of the subtlety in his work is lost when it comes out in book form.  His original drawings and paintings sound breathtaking.

In addition to seventy some plates of paintings, this book contains a few essays and Q&A with Wiesner. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 6 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (December 13, 2005).

This series contains the final Rheostatics live shows that are left to write about–except for their “final shows” and their “reunion shows (which I really hope to see some day).” This was the 6th night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  It was a free Tuesday night.

Note:  After the encore break Ford Pier plays a solo version of Diaphanous Heart and then Dave fortuitously jokes that the band just decided to break up.

As the show opens, Dave says they’d like to that Kat and Leeroy for playing with them tonight.  He then says that this is their fifth night, “lucky number 5.” But it clearly isn’t.

They open the set with a stretched out version of “Fat.”  Mike asks, does that stand for “File Allocation Table?”  Dave: “Of course is does.”  “Aliens” has an unusually heavy riffing opening but then the song is played fairly straight.  During the quiet part, Dave doesn’t play anything else but there’s some pretty twinkling keys from Ford.  The song ends with an unexpected guitar solo.  And as the band starts to play the next song, there’s more soloing–a solo unlike what Martin typically does.  I assumed it was a guest but apparently not.  And yet, it lasts for just a moments before the song becomes “Claire.”  Martin’s got some interesting guitar sounds going on for the lengthy solo.

Martin tries the opening of “Torque Torque” but it sounds wrong–naw it didn’t work.  Dave: “Bit of a clunker.”  The next try is fine although there’s a really ugly moment in the middle of the song where the chord is just wrong.  But they get past it pretty quickly.

Dave announces that that was from the film Whale Music, the soundtrack to which is available on zunior.com, a site that is making our musical available digitally.  “We also just released a recording called Calling Out the Chords Vol. 1 which is a recording of last years’ Fall Nationals.  It’s a 12 song souvenir of that event.”
Ford: “I’m astounded that this is volume one.  What do you need someone to take out a fistful of money and burn it in front of you before you get a goddamn clue?”
Dave: “I thought vol, 1 because you know those albums like Cruisin Vol 1.  No one every goes, ‘Wheres Vol. 2?”
Ford: “I felt that way about Kill Bill.  There’s more? Ew.  A martial arts movie with no martial artists?”

When they start “It,” Martin jumps a ahead to the dinosaurs verse and then says  “Is it the wrong verse?”  Dave tells him to go back and they more or less start over.  This time when he gets to the dinosaurs, he roars.   Next up is “Queer” which rocks.  Before the end coda, Ford take a lengthy jazzy piano solo.  It’s followed by “Pornography” which feels a little rushed. There’s some ugly static on the guitar.

When the song is over Ford asks who watched the Grey Cup.  “Everybody did, naturally.  And you all saw The Black Eyed Peas and enjoyed them very much.  And you know that woman Fergie?  She was one the voice of Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally in the Peanuts cartoons [this is true].  And now, when you watch the special and she says ‘My Sweet Babboo’ you’ll hear her saying ‘My humps, my humps’ and that’s just wrong.”
Dave: “Yeah, but what a band.  And what a great cup.”

After a nice “Sunshine at Night” Dave introduces Ford: “all the way from Edmonton, via Vancouver, via Eastern Europe, that’s Ford Pier on the keyboards.”

Then Dave thanks everyone who donated to Alpha and Huron Schools (Tim’s daughter goes to Alpha and my son goes to Huron, and they’re both co-op and they need it.  You gotta love a new toilet, right?  Everybody remembers their first toilet.  You probably had some pretty crude toilets in Caprino, eh Martin?”
Martin: “oh yea!  Toilet technology is catching up, but in the 70s it was primitive.  In my aunt’s bar, there was a hole and two porcelain footprints.  And it reeked.”

Martin starts tuning and then does a really awful chord–“whoa, I tuned it cool.”  Mike: that’s some serious positive reinforcement…  Shit, I slept in.  Cool.”

Martin says the next song is about a rock musician with a special haircut, a pompadour.  It’s a great version of  “Sweet, Rich, Beautiful and Mine” and it’s followed by a particularly intense version of “The Land is Wild.”  Written by “Dave Augustino Bidini.”  Dave really screams during the “it didn’t have to be” part.  And he has now added the final verse about Fogarty’s death.

There’s a huge reaction when “Here Comes the Image” begins and it features Augustino on the rums and Wojewoda on the synths.

Out of the blue Dave asks, what was your favorite Triumph album, hammer or anvil?  Then Dave says that the band Anvil were from Etobicoke and were originally called Lips.

Dave says the next song is dedicated to Ford’s shirt (someone in the crowd shouts we love you Ford Pier).  It’s “P.I.N.” and this time it ends with them chanting “I love my humps, my lovely lady lumps.”

Dave says that “Mumbletypeg” is one of those jump up and down songs, just like the last one.  They end the set with “Satan Is The Whistler: which totally rocks.  Martin ends it with his robot voice and then go to an encore break.

After the break, Ford comes out to sing a solo song on guitar. It’s his song “Diaphonous Hairshirt” which I’d never heard before.  It’s catchy but also a little odd, with some interesting vocal lines. Then he goes back to the synth and plays some pretty intro music.  Dave says he wants to tell everyone the band wants to break up.  Mike: “And then we can get on with our lives.”  (They would officially break up in January).

Martin starts counting 1, 2, 3, and keeps going up to 18.  Dave says “if my kids heard you do that they’d think you were a god.  How did he remember so many numbers in order?”  They play “Fan Letter To Michael Jackson,” but instead of the “Michael” chant, Dave shouts Autobahn!  Then during the slow part, Dave sings “fun fun fun in the autobahn.”  He continues, “Always defer to the Germans.  Always defer to krautrock when you’re looking for a good rock n roll slogan.”  Martin starts singing “It feels good to be alive” with a German accent.

The end the night with Part 2 of “The Ballad of Wendel Clark” It segues perfectly into Stompin’ Tom’s “Bridge Came Tumbling Down.”  Before continuing Dave chastises, “Stop looking at your camera, sir” and then they end “Wendel” and say good night.

That’s nearly two hours of free music.

[READ: July 21, 2017] Science Comics: Flying Machines

I really enjoyed this book about Flying Machines. When I heard the title (without the subtitle) I assumed it was just going to be a book about various flying machines.  I didn’t realize it was going to be a story of the Wright Brothers (and their competition).

And even better is that the story is told by their sister Katharine Wright.  We get a brief bio of her in the beginning and then a longer (but still brief) sketch of her at the end.  Katharine was the youngest child in the family and when their mother died (when Katharine was 14) she took over the family work.  She was also her father’s secretary as well as Orville and Wilbur’s “public relations director”–she dealt with kings and queens for them.

The story begins with Katharine trying to teach flight to an unruly classroom of kids (including one who needs to go to the bathroom).  And then she flashes back.  I love the way Brooks does this flashback, with Katharine as a kind of blue and white ghost look where she observes the other panels in full color.  The inspiration for her brothers wanting to fly was their father’s bringing home a hélicoptère–a small wooden “bat” that spun and flew.  It was designed by Alphonse Pénaud, he never made one big enough for people to fly, but inspired many.

The Wrights were from Ohio but they drove to Kitty Hawk to test their planes because the place was flatter and windier.

The book shows all of the people who tried to master flight (and the names of their ships) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS TOO? (2003).

This second installment of this Nettwerk Christmas series is much darker than the first.  Perhaps this is indicated by the tree being on fire.  In fact, of the three it’s the one I listen to the least, despite the fact that it has a couple of my favorite Christmas songs on it.  The downer songs are labelled [NSFC] Not Safe for Christmas.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-“Spotlight on Christmas”  I love this song.  It’s actually quite sad and stands up for poor little rich people at Christmas, but the chorus is so pretty.  And i really love Rufus’ voice.

EISLEY-“The Winter Song”
I’ve never heard of this band outside of this song (they are still active).  The song is terrific and their voices and harmonies are really wonderful.

AVRIL LAVIGNRE & CHANTAL KREVIAZUK-“O Holy Night”
This version of the song has stuck with me for years.  I simply cannot decide if Avril has the most pure and unmodified voice when singing his song or if she is just totally flat (which I don’t think she is).  I find her delivery is haunting in a very strange way.  Krevizauk, on the other hand has and absolutely incredible voice and her parts are amazing.

RILO KILEY-“Xmas Cake” [NSFC]
This is the first of many depressing songs.  Five and a half minutes of bad news and sad tidings.  Good grief.  The melody is nice and maybe in another context it would be powerful, but holy crap, no one want to hear this at Christmas.

DAMIEN RICE & LISA HANNIGAN-“Silent Night” [NSFC]
This is a really dark song that turns Silent Night from a song of hope to one of despair.

GUSTER-“Donde Esta Santa Claus?”
This is perhaps my favorite Christmas song, ever.  It’s fun and lighthearted and super catchy.  I can’t believe it is wedged in between these really dark songs that I always skip.

THE BE GOOD TANYAS-“Rudy” [NSFC]
This is a sweet, catchy song until you hear the words and that its about a red-nosed wino who dies.  Good grief.

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND-“Christmas Song” [NSFC]
This song has a pretty decent melody but Matthews sings it really quietly and, man, it just never goes anywhere. It’s five and a half minutes long and has no energy.  Gah.

OH SUSANNA-“Go Tell It on the Mountain”
I always forget that this is a Christmas song, but it certainly is.  It’s full of gospel tinges, as it should be.  Apparently new lyrics have been added but I don’t know all the words so it was news to me.

BARENAKED LADIES-“Green Christmas”
BNL has recorded three versions of this song.  It was written for the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas and appeared on the soundtrack.  It also appears on Barenaked for the Holidays.  Each of those versions is different and they both differ from this one.  It’s a bit of a downer but only as much as BNL can be downers.

MARTINA SORBARA-“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” [NSFC]
Never has anything wonderful felt so sad and mopey.  This bluesy version is kind of interesting but man is it ever at odds with the meaning of the song.

BADLY DRAWN BOY-“Donna & Blitzen”
This is another terrific song.  Its got a  great melody, some terrific piano and a super catchy chorus.  Its not exactly Christmas although it sort of is and certainly works for the Christmas season

THE FLAMING LIPS-“White Chritsmas” [NSFC]
Despite my love for the Lips I really don’t like this version of the song at all.  It’s subtitled that it is a demo for Tom Waits which might explain why it is sung in such a crazy way, but Waits would do it so much better.  He just sounds mocking all the way through.

SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER-“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”
This band used to be pretty huge back in the day.  This song is very pretty–played on a kind of Spanish-sounding guitar with some neat and kind of spooky keys playing single notes at the end of each verse.  It’s a really cool version and ends the disc on a good note.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Kings”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

This is a story about D.H. Lawrence and his life in Kandy, Ceylon in 1922.  I don’t know anything about Lawrence, so I assume this is all based on research.  As with most fictionalizations of real people’s lives, I don’t get why it was written.  But it was quite interesting and enjoyable, so maybe that’s why.

He and his German wife had exiled themselves from England immediately after the war.  They met an American, Brewster, who invited them to Kandy, nicknamed Little England.  But it was a sad trick, that name, for it was all jungle.  Lawrence suffered from tuberculosis and the jungle heat did not help. (more…)

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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk Concert #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PATTY GRIFFIN-Tiny Desk Concert #282 (June 24, 2013).

I have Patty Griffin’s first two albums—I like her folkie sensibilities and her voice which I tend to think of as a little unusual.  And yet it’s not unusual here at all.  She sings powerfully and beautifully.

For this Tiny Desk Concert she’s playing some from her then new release:

she takes care to balance the exquisite mourning of “Faithful Son” — and the sweetly somber “That Kind of Lonely,” which Griffin describes as “a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence” — by closing her set with the playfully bawdy, kindly celebratory “Get Ready Marie.” Inspired by a favorite photo of her grandparents, the song finds Griffin viewing two complicated lives with the generous, hopeful eye she’s been casting on her subjects for three fruitful decades now.

She opens with “Faithful Son.” I love how the middle of this has a cool section where the two acoustic guitars (played by Griffin and Dave Pulkingham) face each other and strum hard for a bit.  The problem for me with this song is that the baritone guitar (played by Craig Ross) is either out of tune or the Ross hits a few wrong notes.  Since it resonates a bit louder than anything else, it’s really noticeable.  The accordion (played by John Deaderick) isn’t loud enough either.

“That Kind Of Lonely” is, as noted, a song about finally letting go of your delayed adolescence.  It’s a pretty, quiet number.  A good contrast to “Get Ready Marie.”  She says she is always picking on her family for stories.  She says she got this idea from a photograph of her grandparents taken just after they wed in the 1920s.  Her grandmother is looking at the camera like maybe she made the biggest mistake of her life and her grandfather (who looks really handsome) looks like he can’t wait to get his hands on her. They had a wild relationship—plates were lying.  This is a comic bawdy song that sounds like a traditional drinking song with some great lyrics:

No this isn’t the end of our story
No our marriage stuck like a habit
But I had a good hunch, when she kissed me a bunch
She could do other things like a rabbit

It’s in ¾ time and the accordion is louder here and it all sounds terrific.  It’s hard to believe that she’s been playing for 30 years, but she sure sounds like a pro.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis 2

I found Persepolis to be an amazing book.  A peek inside a regime that was sort of mythically wicked during my childhood. Marjane’s personal story was interesting of course, but I enjoyed seeing just what was happening in this world that seemed so mysterious when I was growing up.

This sequel is a little less exciting because it is more or less about a lonely teenager in Europe.  I think if the first book wasn’t so groundbreaking, this one wouldn’t feel as disappointing.  Her story is interesting and her experiences are story-worthy, but compared to the first book this one is the awkward teenage years.

We see that Marjane’s being sent to Europe didn’t go quite as planned.  She stayed with her mom’s friend.  But the friend fought with her husband all the time and their house was not a happy one. They felt that they couldn’t look after Marjane so they sent her to boarding school in Vienna–Marjane didn’t speak German. (more…)

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