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SOUNDTRACK: SAMPHA-Tiny Desk Concert #605 (March 21, 2017).

The name Sampha sounded sorta familiar.  I see that he is a producer to the stars (Kayne, Drake).  He’s also a musician in his own right.  The blurb says “Sampha’s music is more feel everything than feel good, which is why his fans hold him so close to their hearts.”

Sampha plays three songs:

The vulnerability on his debut, Process, isn’t hard to dissect, but can be downright agonizing to digest; his immediate family has been riddled with disease and ailments, with both his parents succumbing to cancer. Process finds Sampha interpreting this complicated emotional prism — and confronting his own mortality through it.

Sampha stopped by the NPR offices to perform 3 tracks from Process. The result is a Tiny Desk Concert as intimate as it gets (and that’s saying something). It’s just him, a piano and these heart-wrenching songs that we reckon double as coping mechanisms.

“Plastic 100°C” is played on the keyboard with all kinds of trippy sounds introducing the main song.  I like the main riff, which is full of interesting minor key notes.  I’m not really sold on his voice though, which is kind of nebulous here.  I’m not sure what his recording sounds like, but the starkness of this song makes me surprised that it is popular.  It’s quite long as well–almost 7 minutes.

The final two songs are on piano

“(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” is an ode to the piano and his reflecting on how important his mother was in his life.  “Blood On Me” is an intense song with some intense singing.  Neither one strikes me as being particularly poppy or marketable, but he clearly has found his audience.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Quarantine”

The story was so interesting, both in content and pacing.  I really enjoyed it a lot…until the end.

The story follows Bridget.  As it opens, we learn that she lived in Barcelona fora year.  She stayed with college friends, then she sublet from a guy named Marco.  She slept with Bernadette and her roommate Laurie–but not at the same time–although the thing with Laurie upset Bernadette happy.  Then she did something stupid in Marco’s apartment and got kicked out of there as well.  She moved to a cheap hotel until her co-worker Angela rescued her.

Angela was from Vancouver, “and some dewy freshness that Bridget associated with the West Coast seemed to cling to her always, even when she was sleep-deprived or drunk.”  Bridget is also from Canada. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 13, 2017] Tanya Tagaq performs Nanook of the North

No use burying the lead: I just witnessed something singular.  Something unique and unforgettable.  Tanya Tagaq is a magical performer and I consider myself lucky to have seen her (even if I wasn’t always looking at her). And to have heard her incredible band live.

Tagaq is an Upik performer who incorporates throat singing into her music.  And when she performs, her entire body is possessed by the music. She becomes animalistic, both low and growling as well as high and soaring.

Nanook of the North is considered the first documentary film.  Filmed in 1920 by Robert J. Flaherty, it depicts Nanook, a “happy Eskimo,” and his family as they go about their lives.   For many people it was their first and only exposure to Native culture.  This film has been praised for its documentary techniques, but ridiculed for its patronizing attitude and for fudging reality.

I learned last night that part of the reason some of it was fudged was because his original film was destroyed in a fire and he returned to get more footage–often recreating what happened the first time.  [Some Wikipedia details shed some light on his good intentions and controversies–see bottom of the post for a few details].

I first watched Nanook of the North about 20 years ago in a college film class.  It was fine–less boring than I imagined, with some interesting moments, but not exactly gripping after 80 years of filmmaking.  But with Tagaq’s new soundtrack, the film took on an amazing and powerful component which added intensity, drama and tension to this film. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGO PRICE-Tiny Desk Concert #581 (November 28, 2016).

It is my fervent hope that I will wake up this morning and the world will say April Fools, and that these last few months will all have been a prank.  Or that this day marks the first day in formal steps to get the buffoon out of the White House before more people get killed.

Barring that, I can post these Trump-based pieces.

Margo Price is beloved by NPR.  I find her a wee bit too country for my tastes.  And yet, once again, a Tiny Desk Concert changed my opinion of her.

Price came to NPR on the day after the election.  I was in a fog of disbelief that day.  I can’t imagine how she managed to play and sing.  Here’s the intro:

When I greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance, tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play “All American Made,” a song she’s sung many times before, those words about America’s changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.

As this Tiny Desk progresses, even “Four Years Of Chances,” her song of a love gone wrong, feels less about a lousy husband and more about presidential politics. She dedicates her third and final song, “About To Find Out,” to Donald Trump; she says it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath.” When the song ends, she rips open her red cowboy shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words “Icky Trump”— a play on the title of The White Stripes’ song “Icky Thump,” which criticizes the U.S.’s immigration policies. She smiles, wipes a tear away: It seems cathartic, but temporary.

The music includes piano, guitar (of course), some slide guitar and harmonica.

“All American Made” plays down the twang in her voice and the lyrics are great.  It was written for her previous band Buffalo Clover.

1987, and I didn’t know I then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran
well it won’t be the first time and it wont be the end
They were all American made.

I was just a child
Unaware of the effects
Raised on sports and Jesus
and all the usual suspects

It’s a slow folk song with harmonica and a nice guitar solo.

“Four Years Of Chances” is actually about a failed relationship.  And we can all only hope that we don’t have to wait as long as she did in this song before ending this relationship.  It’s a faster song with good slide guitar work.  There’s a guitar solo, a piano solo and I like the way it goes up two steps after the solo.

I gave you four years of chances
But you threw em all away
I gave you one thousand, four hundred sixty-one days

“About To Find Out” seems so uncannily about Trump it is hard to believe it was written about someone else (as it says, it was originally written about a “musician acquaintance of mine who’s a complete sociopath”).

Well I’ve had about enough of your two-cent words
And the way you’re running your mouth
No you haven’t got a clue or another thing to do
Except to take another picture of yourself
You’re living high on the hog looking down at us all
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

You have many people fooled about your motivation
But I don’t believe your lies
You blow so much smoke it’s bound to make you choke
I see the snakes in both of your eyes
But you wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass
And you’re standing much too tall
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the harder they come, they fall

Tell me what does your pride taste like honey
Or haven’t you tried it out?
It’s better than the taste of a boot in your face
Without any shadow of a doubt
You better learn where the line is
You missed a lot you’ve gotta learn about
How’s it gonna feel to be put in your place
Well I guess you’re about to find out

Some folks today have got nothing to say
Except to talk about their wealth
But the poor’s still poor and the war’s still war
And everybody wants more for themselves
Like a rich man’s child you never walked a mile
One day you won’t have nothing to sell
You may have come so easy and happened so fast
But the way I see it you fell

Uncanny.

So yes, this Tiny Desk Concert has totally won me over to Price.  Although I really need to never hear “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” again–it is just waaay to twangy for my sensitive ears.  But more importantly, I hope she hasn’t given up the fight.

[READ: March 12, 2017] “It Is I Who Styles Donald Trump…”

My only other exposure to Crosbie was in the April 2012 issue of The Walrus, in which she wrote a couple of short pieces.

Obviously, I am all for hating on Trump, for ridiculing him and making him look as pathetic as he actually is.  And this entire issue was more or less devoted to the horror that is Trump.  So having a story that mocks him is something I can appreciate.

But, as with the comedians who mock Trump’s hair or skin rather than his racism, bigotry, lack of knowledge of the world, lying and everything else, this story is strangely superficial, and overall, just kind of strange.

It begins amusingly enough: “Last night I dreamt I went to Mar-a-Lago again.  I stood shuddering at the gates–was I to be the mistress of an estate named in colloquial Spanish?”

It even seems like it might go for an interesting angle: “as he sleeps his lips purse, and his hands fly our, defensively.”

But, as the title states (so I guess I was expecting too much), this is mostly about Trump’s hair: she “quickly took over this industry.” (more…)

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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 SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Tiny Desk Concert #574 (October 28, 2016).

josephI 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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