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Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FIRE IS MOTION-Days 1-7 (2014), Demos (2014), Flowers in Kawameeh Park (2017).

Fire in Motion is more or less the project of Adrian Amador.  But he had a full band when they opened for Public Service Broadcasting.  I got a copy of their CD at the show (which you can stream or download here).

The first 7 songs were done with this template:

I decided to write and record a song every day for an entire month using no pre-written material. Around the third day, I realized just how overly ambitious this idea was

“Day 1” has nice ringing guitars and some great backing vocals.  There’s drums on this song too. (Ambitious first day).
“Day 2” is one of the most exciting songs here.  The riff is fantastic in this slow version (Live they played it faster), but the way the guitar echoes is really lovely. When more guitars get layered on top, it’s really quite something.
“Day 3” is an acoustic ballad.  Simple guitars with a falsetto note in the vocals that keeps it interesting.  It’s just over a minute, but when the clapping comes in around 45 seconds it feels like it could be developed into a really full song.
“Day 4” is a delicate acoustic ballad with some pretty overdubbed guitars and vocals.  This could also be expanded into something lovely.
“Day 5” Again, the overdubbed guitars are lovely and the vocal melody on top shows another interesting start to a song.
“Day 6” In the spirit of “Day 2,” this has a slow guitar melody that unwinds as the vocals sing a slightly different melody.  This song could use an interesting guitar line on top, like in “Day 2” but otherwise its very promising.
“Day 7” has an organ sound for some diversity and the female and male vocals offer nice harmonizing again.

The demos are a bit more complete sounding but still sound like demos, of course.

“How Long to Get Home” is the cleanest sounding song so far.  It has that wonderful echoed main guitar and several different pretty guitar lines.  I love the way this built from a quiet song with some big drums and backing vocals.  This song sounded great live.

“Ringside” sounds more like a demo.  It has plucked guitar sound and deep vocals.  The song is spare at the start but when it gets to a bout a minute in, more instrumentation and percussion is added and the song feels really full.  The harmonics near the end are rally a nice touch and the kind of distantly screamed vocals add a sense of urgency.

“Smile It Makes This Easier” has an upbeat melody on acoustic guitar (with a nice little riff) and the  harmonies (both high and low ) are nice addition.

I’d love to hear any of these songs fleshed out and I wonder what is on their forthcoming CD.

“Flowers in Kawameeh Park” is a single that is not going to on the record and is only available here.  It is the most full-sounding of the bunch with vocals from Avery Salermo and Adrian Amador (who plays everything else but the horns).  The quiet middle section with the great backing vocals leads to a large crashing section.  The horns make the song get bigger and bigger until the dramatic buzzy ending.

It’s really cool to listen to these songs in order and hear the band develop.  They are going to be opening for Pinegrove in late December.  I’m looking forward to that show and the CD.

[READ: August 2, 2016] Amulet: Firelight

Kibuishi has stated that there will be nine books in this series.  This is number seven and it was just released this year, so it will be a pretty long time (I suspect) before books 8 and 9 come out. Which is a real shame because, although the story has been good so far, this book was hugely exciting.

It opens with Emily and her father (!) hiking.  He gives her some advice which I have to wonder if it is true–gently push yourself away from the rock…we’re at enough of an angle that it will give you leverage.  Holding the surface tight is only going to make you slide.  Sounds like it should work.  And it also might be a good theme of the book–push away rather than grabbing tighter for your safety

But Emily realizes it is only a dream (not even a memory and soon it is gone).

She is actually still on the ship with Enzo and they are pulling into a station to hope for refuelling. The station seems empty, although it is full of memories.  As they explore, they discover that they are already on Algos Island –their intended destination (which was not an actual island after all).

But before they can secure the ship, they are boarded and a fight ensues–little Dagno even manages to help out.  It turns out the invader is Galiban–the elf from earlier in the story who stole everyone’s memories.  They secure him and he reveals that he has been saving all of the memories he stole in an underground ship.

And that’s when Galiban lays a tough truth on everyone–the stonekeepers were chosen for their weakness not their strength.  He is quite certain that Emily is being used against her will.  And while he hated the stonekeepers for the horrible things they did to his home, he realizes it was not their fault-they couldn’t control it.

And then we flash to Navin and his friends.  They are trying to get to Valcor but they are still in those giant rumbling robot suits.  They can’t earn enough money to book a ride to Frontera, so they get jobs working on the ship–they are the waitstaff (and they are terrible).  And worse yet they are spotted by Elven solders.

But it turns out that soldiers are in disguise, they were sent by Riva and she tells them that there are bounty hunters here looking for them.  The “soldiers” are Loni and Roni and they are going to fly Navin and friends to safety.

Back on the underwater memory ship, Galivan shows Emily and Trellis where the memories are stored.  This leads them to a memory that Trellis needs to see–the one where he learns that his father has been taken over by the voice.  And that the shadows have really overtaken their people.  That memory was clouded so he would forget it.

Then two exciting thing happen at once. They are detected in their underwater location and the bad guys come to attack them.  And Emily chooses a path (against Trellis’ wishes) which might be an escape but turns out to be actually another memory.

And this memory is of someone who Emily doesn’t recognize.  But he turns out to be someone who is instrumental in the accident that killed her father (it’s an intense sequence to be sure).  But in this memory she uses her power to rescue her family (including her self).  And as the memory concludes, her father is getting Riled up about the guy who caused the accident and the says he’ll make him pay.  Which means that Emily has given up control over the stone.  And that can’t be good for anyone.

While things are going very badly for Emily, things are going pretty well for Navin.  The crew lands on Frontera.  And while the landing area looks pretty run down we soon learn that Frontera has served as an underground base for the resistance–they have another base in the planet’s atmosphere (and they have a very cool-looking ship to take them there).  So while one sibling is taking control, the other one is losing control.

How can  wait a year for book 8?  [Word has it Book 8 will come out in 2018].

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SOUNDTRACK: DAWG YAWP-Tiny Desk Concert #654 (September 29, 2017).

I first heard a Dawg Yawp song on All Songs Considered.  Since then I’ve heard the band’s name mentioned around but I’d kind of forgotten what they sounded like.  I certainly forgot that they played with a sitar.  In fact, it is just a duo: Tyler Randall (sitar, vocals, guitar, synthesizers, drums) and Robert Keenan (guitar, vocals, synthesizers).

I love watching unconventional (Western) instruments.  And I love watching them played unconventionally–in this case

A man in a black cape holds a sitar like a guitar all while singing a dreamy tale about wanting to be a dog. Well actually a “dawg.”  [The band is] a vessel for humor, experimentation and foot-stomping fun, whether that stomping is to an original techno beat or a classic bluegrass tune.  Listening to their debut, self-titled album is like listening to kids music made for grownups. It’s both clever and wonderfully weird.

“I Wanna Be A Dawg” is a gentle ballad–a pretty, rather complex melody on the acoustic guitar with the lead and vocal melody played on the sitar.  I love the middle section where the guitar is playing a finger-picked section and the sitar is soloing.  It sounds terrific.  I love that he is employing the sitar with some traditional sounds but also with an electric guitar sensibility.

“Can’t Think” opens with some rowdy sampled guitars and a neat drony singing style while Tyler plays the sitar.  There’s even a sample of someone scratching the strings of an electric guitar.  It is repetitive but with enough variation to make it incredibly infectious.  And it rocks, too.

Before the third song, Tyler mentions talks “the first sitar capo.”  He says they weren’t supposed to talk but the silence is intense.  “East Virginia Blues,” is a song made famous by the Stanley Brothers “that first won my heart when I heard them replace the more traditional banjo with a sitar”.  You can tell that this song was probably played on a banjo but he sitar give its such an interesting twang (as their vocals twang a bit, too).  I’m not sure if the drums are done by foot pedal or sequencer.

Before the final song, “Lost At Sea” Robert says, “we’ve played a lot of outdoor summer festivals and I don’t think I’ve sweat as much.”  This song is incredibly catchy.  The melody is familiar but with a new spin.  There’s interesting plucked guitar and a nice sitar solo.  There some other kinds of sounds in the sequencer, too.  It’s fun to watch them push the squares to get a whole new set of drums and such.

This band seems like a must-see attraction.

[READ: July 26, 2016] Amulet: Escape from Lucien

As the book opens, Max addresses the Elf king and asks for one more chance to destroy the stonekeepers.  The king is not in the habit of clemency, but Max’s thirst for vengeance impresses the king, so Max is given another chance.

Meanwhile back at “school” (I seem to have missed this transition), Emily and Navin are flying some aircraft and wind up being late for class.  Navin takes the blame to spare them Emily getting in trouble.  But his teacher put a governor bracelet on him which prevents him from flying anything on site. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRONIXX-Tiny Desk Concert #653 (September 27, 2017).

Chronixx and his band Zincfence Redemption paid a long-awaited visit to the Tiny Desk to perform three songs from his sophomore album, Chronology.

At a time when dancehall has been dominating the Jamaican soundscape, its refreshing to hear the man born Jamar McNaughton carrying the roots-revival torch for a younger generation and expanding upon the footprint left by his world-renowned predecessors.

This is especially true for roots reggae, whose staccato guitar licks, billowing bass, and sonic splashes on a canvas of negative space, are like salve for the soul. The mid-tempo pulse conjures up relaxed days on the beach, living amid nature’s unrestricted beauty.

I allowed the blurb to speak for me because I really don’t care for reggae.  Or I should say I like one or two songs but beyond that it’s all too samey to me.

But Chronixx adds some changes to the classic sound.

In “Skankin’ Sweet,” the tempo is faster than a lot of reggae so I like this a bit more.  Chronixx’s delivery is light and fluid.  I enjoy in the middle section that the percussionist Hector Lewis has time to dance before he gets back to the bongoes.

“Majesty” is a smoothy dancy song with a solid bass line from Adrian Henry and drums from Oliver Thompson.

On “Spanish Town Rockin'” percussionist  Lewis sings some delightful falsetto backing vocals. There’s a cool moment when one of the guitarists Stephen Coore or N’Namdi Robinson slides his finger up the next with a neat echo effect on it. This song is pretty extended and dancey and Chronixx does a little freestyle.  I can’t quite make out everything he says, but there’s a bit about “NPR session / Chronixx rasta mon / roll up the mad ribbon / and then he cracks up.  J. Evan Mason on the keys has done most of the melodies while the guitars played chords, but he gets a special little section during the outro of this song.

he hasn’t converted me to reggae, but it’s much more fun live than on record.

[READ: July 24, 2016] Amulet: Prince of the Elves

The book begins with Max as a young boy.  He is learning from his friend, an elf named Layra.  Then we meet Max’s dad.  Max’s dad is pretty intense and he wants Max to serve on the Guardian council “he will follow my path, not my father’s.”  Then we see that Max’s father does not like elves

When Max goes to Layra’s house, her parents have been put in jail and a headline reads “Elves declare war.”

Max runs to the prison, frees her parents and has the three of them get on a ship to freedom.  But as soon as they try to escape, the ship is blown up and all the passengers killed (this story is really dark).  Max is sentenced to prison for helping prisoners escape.  Soon enough Max escapes prison and the stone is trying to tell him what to do–“just give me complete control and I can keep you alive long enough to have your revenge.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #652  (September 22, 2017).

Yes, that Steve Martin.

When I was a kid I used to listen to Steve Martin comedy records all the time, he often included a lot of banjo with his stand up.  He was good then, but he is pretty amazing now.

Throughout his 50-year career, one constant in Steve Martin’s life has been the banjo. It was a staple of his early standup shows and even fans who only wanted to laugh couldn’t help but marvel at his playing. Over the years, he’s continued to perform and record with country and bluegrass luminaries like Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and others.

These days Martin is working on music full-time. He’s just released a stellar bluegrass album he recorded with The Steep Canyon Rangers called (perfectly) The Long-Awaited Album, a record filled with often hilarious story songs and world-class performances.

The band plays three songs and then an “encore.”  “So Familiar” starts as a banjo “solo” an impressive display of fingerprinting and string bending from Martin.  Then it settles into a traditional-sounding folk song with a lot of mandolin from Mike Guggino and fiddle from Nicky Sanders.  I pity Graham Sharp, the Rangers’ banjo player who clearly takes a back seat to Martin.

After the song, Martin says, they’re gonna tune for this next little song.  He says it’s tricky tuning indoors when there’s heat and air conditioning.  “It’s a scientific process  I could explain it to you but… [laughs].  The photons come in and they effect the positrons so that [points to himself] the moron can play.”  “All Night Long” features “our lead singer [and guitarist] Woody Platt.  It’s a pretty traditional song held down by the steady thump if Charles Humphrey’s bass.  The lyrics are sweet (“I only love you in the day and all night long”) and the harmonies are wonderful.  Martin plays the lead intro and a cool little outro.

“By the way, he asks, “who’s running NPR right now?”  He says the melody of “On the Water” came to him in a dream.  He woke up and recorded the melody so it probably sounds like “Oklahoma.”  The band starts with box rums and harmonics from the other banjo.  He messes up an says “Let’s start again.”  Steve turns on the drummer Mike Ashworth (who did nothing wrong and teases: “Yeah.  You screwed up so badly.  Try to get it right this time.”  Ashworth jokes, “Am i fired?  I’m scared.  Martin says, “I’m so glad someone else screwed up besides me.”

Platt leans over and says “How about ‘Caroline’ for an encore?”  Martin says, “This is not for the Tiny Desk.  I don;t think it’s suitable for the Tiny Desk.  It’s about a romance gone bad-looking back two years later.”   As the blurb says, the song is a “hilarious, first-person account of how not to handle a breakup.”  Martin delivers a funny story with a great catchy chorus.

I never got to see Steve Martin do standup, but I would love to see him do bluegrass.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

Book four opens with Emily dream-talking to the spirit in the stone.  It tells her that it can no longer be with her in Cielis and it gives her some warnings.

When she wakes up, Max is there to greet her and they are going to head off to the council.  But things aren’t very happy in Cielis.  Trellis and Luger are Elves, true, but even though they are vouched for, the residents still put them in jail for being the elf king’s son.  And none of the non-human creatures are allowed into the city proper.

So when Leon and the cats go looking for a bite to eat, they are not welcomed anywhere.  Until a girl named Aly sees the good in them and invites them into her restaurant (despite her parents protests).  Her parents say the guardian council will lock them up if they are caught. Leon say that the council invited them to help.  But the council is no longer what it once was.  And that’s when Aly reveals that the council is made up of the ghosts of dead people.  Her parents tell her to hush but she refuses to be silent any longer.

Until the rapping on the door makes them all hush. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BOMBA ESTERO-Tiny Desk Concert #651 (September 22, 2017).

Band leaders Simon Mejia (bass/keys) and Liliana (Li) Saumet (lead vocals) have been consistent in their devotion and homage to Afro-Colombian music throughout their five albums, and steadfast in their fantastic mash-up of electronic music, creating a sonic signature that has become popular around the globe.

But you won’t hear that on this video.

What you’ll hear is the power of their songwriting and arranging with this stripped-down presentation— which helps remind us of why we fell for this band in the first place.

“So Yo” opens with some flute and cool synths.  I like the almost menacing quality those two notes have, Li raps in what seems a very fast delivery and then the chorus comes in and she sings with a beautiful voice.  The song is groovy with some cool guitar from Jose Castillo.  I like the way it reverts back and forth between rapping and singing and the constant presence of the flute from Efrain Cuadrado.  There’s a cool mix of defiance and dance in this song.

Before the second song “Somo Dos” she pushes a button on a device that says “come on people.”

During their performance, Bomba Estereo’s Simon Mejia (bass and keyboards) observed that it was the quietist the band has ever played; they rose to the occasion with an intense performance that reflects their earliest days working smaller venues in Colombia.

He says, “we’re like always boom boom boom.”

“Somos Dos” is an even groovier song with some nice low bass and gentle singing with some echoed guitars.  I really like the main riff and the picked riff in the verses.  Through both songs, the live drums from Andres Zea really bring an exciting element to these songs.

They only play the two songs and then it’s over far too quickly.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

As book three opens, we see the two Elves, Luger and Trellis.  But Trellis seems to have changed.  He is now angry with Luger who was once powerful and has been brought low.  And he is willing to stand up to his father–whether that makes him good now or not is something to be seen.

Meanwhile the father has called Gabilan, the assassin, and has sent him to kill his son, Prince Trellis.  And it seems that he has his sights set higher.

On to our heroes.  They are heading to a small town called Nautilus, the capital of Alledia.  For they are in search of an Airship.  Their ultimate goal is the (possible fictional) city of Cielis.    When they get to the bar where the pilots hang out (much to Emily’s mother’s dismay), they talk to a cat creature, Enzo, who has been looking for Cielis all of his life but has recently given up–he lost everything.  But they show him Emily’s stone and the journal of Silas Charnon who got very close to finding the city.  And Enzo’s search continues. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SSINGSSING-Tiny Desk Concert #650 (September 21, 2017).

I have never seen or heard anything quite like SsingSsing.

It’s easy to dismiss them as a novelty by looking at them, but their music is really compelling.  Their songs may be (as stated below), a regional folk style, but the music is really groovy and interesting–the bass is nicely prominent but never obtrusive, and the guitar plats a lot of different strumming techniques, bringing very different intonations to the music.

And then there’s the front trio who are totally infectious.

One look at (and listen to) the cross-dressing, Asian rock band SsingSsing and you would hardly think they’re singing music inspired by traditional Korean folk. But SsingSsing isn’t like any other band I’ve ever seen or heard.

The group sings a regional folk style called minyo and the gender bending look has to do with shamans not glamour. As singer Hee-moon Lee describes it, “In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channeling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer), and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps.”

They play three songs:

“Minyo Medley” opens with reggae guitars and the strangely infectious vocal of the female singer doing a nearly cartoon-high pitched” Oh” sound and the taller male singer (with the cute white bob and white lipstick) laughing and then stating “Oh,” as if surprised out of his laugh.  It’s weird and catchy and cool all at the same time.  The lead singer with the magenta curls sings traditional vocals and eventually the other two join him.  The middle of the song slows down to a quiet guitar motif and mellow singing from the lead singer.  The end of the song picks up speed with an almost ska feel as it rocks to an end.  Then there’s a little coda of that opening (and even more crazy laughter) as the song ends properly.

On “Nanbongga (Song of Beloveds)” the woman sings lead which opens with a slinky groove and all three gently dancing.  The two men alternate spoken words before the woman singing in a traditional female Asian style takes over.  By the middle of the song everyone is dancing with the men singing back up and the tall guy (I love that he is holding a clutch the whole time) saying what sounds like “caw.”

The final song, “Saseol Nanbongga (Narrative Song of Beloveds)” appears to be a variant on the middle song (although perhaps not, it is musically quite different).  However, the taller guy does a lot of very fast recitations in the verses with impressive delivery.  The backing vocals are really catchy and the lead singer is really into it. The song totally rocks by the end.

How bummed am I to have found out that they were at MusikFest this summer and I could have seen them?  Because this is a band that begs to be seen live.

I don’t know which singer is which, but here’s the band members: Hee-moon Lee (vocal), Da-hye Choo (vocal), Seung-tae Shin (vocal), Young-gyu Jang (bass guitar), Tae-won Lee (electric guitar), and Chul-hee Lee (drums).

[READ: June 25, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper’s Curse

I read the Amulet series last year but for some reason never got around to posting about the books.  So, let’s get this series finished.

The Stonekeeper’s Curse opens pretty dark.  We head to a tower where guards have captured the creepy looking guy from book one (Emily could have killed him when he attacked them, but she spared his life).  Turns out this guy is the son of a faceless creature (in a scary mask).  The father says that his son has failed him again.  The son argues but the father’s mind is made up.

He will have one more chance to get the amulet and the girl and he will have help from an older looking creature named Luger.

Cut back to a colorful scene with a walking house (that happened in book one, too). Navin is “driving ” the house and is doing a pretty good job.  They are on their way to Kanalis to get medicine for their mother who was injured in the first book.

Kanalis has suffered a curse and most of the people in town are slowly turning into animals.  It may or may not be contagious.  As our heroes walks around, a fox-person is following them. But as soon as the creepy elf guy charges, the fox steps in.  Emily sees him and asks who is he.  He says he’s a bounty hunter.  Miskit says they don’t want to deal with his kind.  He ultimately relents and admits he’s not really a bounty hunter.  His name is Leon Redbeard and he offers to help them if they will help him too. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2017] Falling In

Our trip to New Hampshire wasn’t going to be that long but I decided to really stock up on audio books.  This one sounded interesting, but I was mostly intrigued because I’ve enjoyed Jessica Almasy’s narration in the past (she sounds very young and like she is always smiling).

I liked the premise of this story: a girl walks through a door into another world–not terribly original, I admit, but still interesting.  And the way O’Roark Dowell set up the story was really promising.

The main character is Isabelle Bean, a middle school girl and a misfit.  And I absolutely loved the way her character is set up:

Over the years Isabelle had demonstrated an impressive talent for irritating teachers to the extremes of their patience. It wasn’t something she set out to do. In fact, she never quite understood what she did to raise her teachers’ blood pressure to such dangerous levels. Neither did her teachers, and this irritated them even more. Teacher’s college had equipped them to handle nose pickers, fire starters, back talkers, hitters, biters, and whiners. But quiet girls who weren’t shy, girls who talked in riddles but were never actually rude, girls who simply refused to comb those confounded bangs out of their eyes, well, girls like that were beyond them.

(more…)

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