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marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

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jf josephSOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Tiny Desk #574 (October 28, 2016).

I have been hearing “White Flag” quite a bit on the radio. I had a hard time keeping track of who sang it (it doesn’t help that this trio of women is called Joseph).  But I have really grown to love the “ooh ooh” part and the screamed chorus.

So it’s interesting to see Bob Boilen’s blurb in which he says

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph’s sound has grown beyond the Closners’ harmonies. Now, you’re likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.  It’s been a treat to witness Joseph’s journey, but I was also fairly thrilled that for their Tiny Desk the sisters stripped it down to their original setup: three voices and one guitar.

They play “White Flag” first.  I was a bit disappointed at first because even though Bob loves the stripped down sound, I like the recorded version a lot.  But by the end I was loving how great their voices work together.  Plus I was able to hear the word a little better: “I’d rather be dead than live a lie…burn the white flag.”  Natalie sings lead on this one, while Meegan and Allison do the great oooh oohs.

When the song is over Natalie tells us why she wrote the song: a response to everything going on in the world and how it wants to push you back into your home and stop you from going out and living your life and deciding no thank you I’m going to do that anyway.

 Meegan introduces “I Don’t Mind” by saying it’s about sadness… and it was something she wanted someone to say to her about her sadness.  But she realized she had to say it to herself before she could receive it from anyone else.  She sings lead and it builds slowly with some harmonies coming in. I love how big it gets from such a small opening.  The final chorus reminds me a bit of Lucius–big bold singing in close harmony.

I was delighted by how different the three songs sounded.  “Canyon” sounds nothing like the other two–the chorus is powerful and hypnotic with the repeated sounds.  It also has an incredible moment in the middle of the song where the twins are singing backing vocals and Natalie is singing a lead line and the three of them all end on a really long note together.  It’s mesmerizing.

So even if I really like the album version, these versions are pretty spectacular.

[READ: February 27, 2017] “An Occurrence on the Beach of Varosha”

This is an excerpt from a novel called The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep and I’m glad I knew that going in because the story mentions some previous incidents and also ends rather dramatically but in an unfinished way.

Set in October 2012, Elias is on the beach at Varosha in Northern Cyprus, marveling at the size and number of the hotels that line the barbed wired fence on the beach.   Elias’s aunt and uncle currently live on the Greek Cypriot side of the Green Line, but they were among the first to build a hotel there.  However, there’s was just three  stories with twenty-four room.

Elias is there ostensibly to check out he property to see if it is still standing during the conflict.   He is capable of doing this because he is Canadian and has a foreign passport.  Thus, he can cross the Green Line without trouble. (more…)

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dec2016SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY MILLER & JIM LAUDERDALE-Tiny Desk Concert #275 (May 13, 2013).

buddyjimBuddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale are apparently legendary players, but I’ve never heard of either of them. So the blurb tells us:

Buddy Miller is the guitar player to hire if you’re playing heartfelt, not-so-shiny country-rock songs.  Jim Lauderdale writes award-winning country songs. He’ll once again host the Americana Music Awards alongside Miller, with whom he shares a radio show on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Channel; that’s where the corny humor comes in.

There’s something endearing, old-timey and almost vaudevillian about Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale — even the way they bill themselves as “Buddy and Jim.” Both veteran musicians are in love with country music in all its many forms and influences; their music incorporates the blues and bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and a good deal of craft.  The songs they performed, at NPR’s offices and on the album, have titles like “I Lost My Job [insert pregnant pause here] of Loving You.” Some good fun to be had at the expense of heartbreak and life’s loves, both lost and found.

They are indeed funny and charming.  They both play guitar and the rest of the band includes fiddle, upright bass and a mailing tub for percussion.

Jim is the corny comedian.  He says he doesn’t have his contacts in—how’s everybody up there in the balcony?   Bob asks if either you guys have had a desk job.  Jim says, kind of, he was messenger at Rolling Stone (not a bike messenger).   And then he jokes that he had to do some firing of people—and he makes an exaggerated attempt at firing someone in the audience.

Besides the goofiness, they do play three fairly traditional-sounding country songs.  “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town” sounds very old timey country (compete with thick singing accents).  “It Hurts Me” was written by Buddy’s wife.  It’s a slow country ballad.

After the second song, Jim says, “Were having such a  good time up here, we’re gonna stay all day long.”  Buddy jumps in “That’s what George Jones” says all the time and then he plays one more song and leaves.  The final song is  “I Lost My Job Of Loving You”  my favorite of the three because it’s a little more rocking sounding.

[READ: February 25, 2017] “A System from the North”

This was the second story from Ohlin that I’ve read recently.

I liked the other story but I really liked this one a lot.

It is a strange little story about a woman who is “teaching” in a school.  I put teaching is in quotes because this is a school with its own Philosophy. as in “they went outside every day, regardless of the weather; it was part of the Philosophy.”

The teacher is outside with the kids when she notices that the boy in the blue coat is not there.  She counts the kids, but the fifth child simply isn’t there.

She takes the children inside and then gets inside her head about where the boy may have gone. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: BILL FRISELL-Tiny Desk Concert #191 (February 3, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

billI’ve been aware of Bill Frisell for decades.  He has played with just about everyone that I like, and I’m sure I have his guitar on about a dozen albums.  And yet I don’t really know all that much about him.  I certainly didn’t know what he looked like and, honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Tiny Desk Concert.  I feel like most of the places I know him from are noisy avant-garde music.  So I was pretty surprised to hear that this would be a concert of delicate reworkings of John Lennon songs.

From the blurb:

On this day, Frisell came to perform the music of John Lennon. Now 60, Frisell witnessed the birth of The Beatles and all that it meant to moving the world from cute, catchy songs to sonic adventures — a world of music we don’t think twice about anymore. After all these years of hearing The Beatles’ music, he’s still discovering it, finding small phrases in the songs we know so well — “Nowhere Man,” “In My Life” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Frisell introduces a lot of songs by saying that the Beatles have been a huge part of his life.  And yet, he’s never really played them by himself in this exposed way.

Bob describes some of the gear that Frisell uses, like the

Electro-Harmonix 16-second delay, a pedal I used to use in live performance in the 1980s. I know how fragile and sometimes unpredictable it can be, but it’s the backbone of Frisell’s bag of many tricks. With that equipment enhancing Frisell’s nimble, deft fingerwork and uncanny sense of melody, it all adds up to a brilliant and disarmingly humble performer.

I didn’t recognize “Nowhere Man” for much of the song—he’s exploring areas and pockets of the song–but every once in a while the vocal line peeks through.

When he starts “In My Life,” he plays what sounds like the opening notes to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” I was sure he was going to play it so it’s quite a shock when he doesn’t and then he takes a really long intro solo before getting to the familiar melody of “In My Life.”

For such a legendary figure he is amazingly soft-spoken and humble.  He’s even embarrassed that he’s reading the music rather than having it a part of him.

There’s a pretty lengthy intro before he gets into that very familiar melody of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”    This one is my favorite of the bunch because of all the effects that he plays on it—echoes and reverses and all kinds of cool sounds that emanate from his guitar.  And “Strawberry Fields” is always present in it.

This is 20 minutes of very pretty, sometimes familiar music

[READ: December 25, 2016] “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I have read this story before (and I’m pretty sure one of the Sherlock shows did an episode of this story).  It’s probably one of my favorite Holmes stories.

But first thing’s first: For this story, carbuncle is not the first definition: an abscess; but the second: a bright red gem (except this one is blue). (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: THE CRANBERRIES-Tiny Desk Concert #197 (February 23, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

cranbI really liked The Cranberries’ first album, but was turned off by them when they got overplayed on their second album (If I never heard “Zombie” again…”).

I didn’t realize that they launched a comeback of sorts back in 2012.  And this Tiny Desk Concert was a stop on their tour.  They play five songs–far more than most bands.  They may have been one of the biggest st bands to play up until now.

For this set, they strip down to acoustic guitar, tambourine, electric bass and Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals.

One of the things I liked about their first album was her delicate voice.  She found her more aggressive voice on later songs (where her accent really leaks through).  And that brash style is present here.  Which makes “Linger” sound a little odd and a little less pretty.

They play two then new songs which I rather like: “Tomorrow” and “Raining in My Heart.”  Since I’ve no expectations about them, I find her voice works very well with them.  They also seem much simpler than some of their earlier songs and she not doing anything unusual with her voice..

“Ode to My Family” (the doo-doodoo-doo song) sounds pretty good in this setting.  Although I always laughed about the “does anyone care” refrain because well, sometimes I didn’t.

They take a request to play “Zombie” and I have to say I really like it in this acoustic format.  She straps on an acoustic guitar and plays most of the “leads.”  She definitely does some unusual things to her voice, but overall its sounds good.  Somehow the electric bass really adds to all of the songs–I never noticed how much it added before,

Overall, the “lads” sound good and her voice has maintained its power.  Although I can help but think she looks a lot like Billie Joe Armstrong with that haircut.

[READ: December 24, 2016] “Being Mary”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is theoretically the final book in the Short Story Advent Calendar (wow that went fast).  But there is a bonus story for tomorrow (how cool!).  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This short story is about a girl, Laura, who is supposed to be Mary in the school Christmas pageant.  She has always wanted to be Mary (she is six now) and feels she was destined to play her.  Last year she was an angel, which was disappointing.  But at least she wasn’t Jezebel or Judas or “poor old Leah, the unwanted older sister.”

But tragedy has struck.  Literally. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: MIGUEL-Tiny Desk Concert #260 (December 31, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

miguelI didn’t know Miguel before this.  I’d heard of him, but I didn’t know any of his songs.  Given the above blurb I assume that his songs are poppy and really dancey.  But this acoustic performance is fantastic.  Miguel’s voice is great and he has amazing presence up there.

Miguel turned up in the NPR Music offices early one morning, after playing a show late the night before. He appeared light and calm, and betrayed no hint that he was nervous about stripping his highly produced hits down to their bones. Accompanied by just his guitarist, Dru DeCaro, Miguel eschewed flash and went big on small gestures — ingratiating ad libs, only one full spin and voice control that kept the songs close to his chest but emotive enough to translate to the back of the room.

He commands the room with little gestures like when he takes off his sunglasses or lifts his hat briefly.  And then there’s his winning smile.

“Do You…” opens with a fun lyric: “It’s Friday and I’m feeling good.” Then he turns to the audience and asks, “It is Friday right?”  The chorus is also fun, and rather unexpected.  “Do you like drugs?  Do you like drugs?”  “Well, me too”(too much laughter) “Do you like hugs?  Do you like hugs?  Me too.”  He hits an amazing falsetto in the middle of the song and then keeps it up high as he sings the next section.

“The Thrill”is his favorite song off his second album.  It feels like an anthem or a dance song that people might love.  It’s about being at a club, and this line struck me as interesting:

Jamie, Johhny and Jack know
Shoot ’em up, shoot ’em down, jus-jus-just sh-sh-shoot up
Dance it up, we never black out

It’s not quite as successful as an acoustic song, although he sounds great and comfortable singing it.  He does some small dance moves during the quiet end section.

“Adorn” was apparently a Grammy nominated song. I wish I knew the original for comparison’s sake.  But the song works really well with an acoustic guitar.  Frankly, Dru DeCaro is masterful at playing these songs–heavy strumming and even harmonics when called for–nice accents too.  Miguel hits some great falsetto hoooos and the ending where he goes high on adore and then ends with a quietly spoken “you” is nicely dramatic.

I don’t know what’s become of Miguel in the last four years, but if the pop music thing doesn’t work out, he’s got a  great career with just a guitar and his voice.

[READ: December 23, 2016] “The Lunacy of Gumbo”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This was the least story-like story of the collection.  Honestly, I’m not even sure what to make of it.

The narrator says that back in 1980, he was in Louisiana.  It was 11PM and they had been drinking all night.  Finally someone said they should have a gumbo and the narrator thought that that was insane. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: YVA LAS VEGASS-Tiny Desk Concert #241 (September 24, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

yvaYva Las Vegass is a fascinating performer.  With just her voice and a small stringed instrument she sounds like no one else I’ve heard.

The blurb says:

she infuses Venezuelan folk traditions with a punk aesthetic. I heard songs as allegories, songs that told stories and songs that felt like deep primal screams, all accompanied by a traditional Venezuelan cuatro — a small stringed instrument similar to a ukulele.

She does not use a pick and her strumming varies from delicate and soft to aggressive and loud   And her voice is really powerful.

“Mariposas” starts off slowly with some delicate strumming and her singing.  When she gets to the fast chorus, her playing is so hard and percussive that the song changes tempo incredibly.

Introducing “Tonadas Y Cantos” she says that people in Venezuela sing this song to milk their cows.  It’s a traditional song but she plays it a little harder and a little punk “because that’s who I am.”  She sings fast and aggressive (some lyrics so fast it’s impossible to even know what the words are).   And while most of the song is in Spanish, there are some English lyrics too: “What do you do when you can’t pretend anymore. What do you when being dead sounds good.  Be brave be strong.”

This song ends very abruptly and the next one starts just as fast—there was clearly an edit–I wonder what they edited out.

“Polo Margaritenoio” is a traditional Venezuelan song “with no author because someone stole it.”  The writer “was a woman who was very vulgar like me.”

Yva is a fascinating performer and while she’s not very flashy, she commands attention with her voice and her playing.  I only wish I knew what she was singing.

The blurb continues:

You can’t quite see her cut-off jeans and Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers behind Bob Boilen’s desk, but in attitude and style, Yva Las Vegass is punk-rock through and through.

As the show ends, she says “I worked my ass off, you can tell by how much I sweated in my wool hat.”

[READ: December 22, 2016] “At Christmas Time”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This is the first story on this collection that I have read before!  That’s not bad out of 22 stories.  (Or it’s very bad t hat I haven’t been reading enough stories).

I haven’t read that much Chekov, but I have read this one.  When I read it last time, I liked it but was more than a little confused by the ending.

I feel like I got a little bit more out of it this time, but the ending is still a puzzle.

This very short story is set up in two parts.

In the first part, an old couple from the country wish to send a letter to their daughter in the city whom they have not seen in four years.  She had gotten married and had sent two letters to them.  But they have not heard from her since that second letter several years ago.  Her mother, Vasilissa , wanted to send a letter sooner, but there was no one to write it for her.

At long last, and with so much to say, Vasilissa finally she asks Yegor, the innkeeper’s wife’s brother, “who had done nothing but sit idly at home in the tavern since he had come back from military service, but of whom people said that he wrote the most beautiful letters, if only one paid him enough.” She pays him 15 kopecks.

Vasilissa had spent so much time imagining what to say to her daughter.  But now that she is under pressure, she has drawn a blank.  Yegor asks what their son-in-law does.  He used to a be a soldier but now he is a door-keeper at a hospital.

Yegor begins writing some very formal sounding military instructions, “Fate has ordained you for the military profession.”  Of course the mother wants to tell her daughter about the famine and their poor crops.  And she wonders if she is a grandmother yet.

Vasilissa is revolted by this man (although I’m unclear if she knows what he is writing or not).  But she looks at him: “He was the very essence of coarse, arrogant, stiff-necked vulgarity, proud to have been born and bred in a pot-house, and Vasilissa well knew how vulgar he was, but could not find words to express it.”

The next morning, Vasilissa walked 11 miles to the post office and mailed the letter.

Part Two opens on New year’s Day, with the daughter’s husband working as a porter at a doctor’s office.  He receives the letter and delivers it to his wife.  The daughter is very excited to receive the letter. She reads the letter to her children.  And she is excited–laughing or crying, it’s hard to tell.  She reads of the snow and the warm fire and the doggie.  She huddles close with her children until he leaves the room.

The husband remembers back to three or four letters that she had asked him to send but which are still lying around somewhere.

And it’s super poignant.  And the more I think about it and reread it, the more powerful it is.

But then there’s a final line which I simply didn’t get.  I even translated the French “Charcot douche,” but it didn’t really help.  I can’t decide if those final words are meant to be significant or just suggesting that life goes on.

Incidentally, there are several different translations of this story available.  This one was by Constance Garnett.  Although I found the version online at Eldritch Press, translated by Marian Fell to be a bit easier to read–despite the fact that it was translated in 1915.

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