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Archive for the ‘Culture Shock’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

The video opens with Nils Edenloff saying that this concert is an amazing posterity thing.  That it’s ungraspable for them right now, but they’ll look back after the fact and say, “Oh wow, I looked great then.”

“As a scrappy indie band it feels wild to be allowed to set their gear on stage for a spell.”

I have hears some songs by the band, but, wow, live they are a powerhouse.

The way “Luciana” opens is incredible: Drummer Paul Banwatt is a maniac sounding like two or three drummers as he crashes through some snare drum pattern variants and cymbals galore.

Nils Edenloff’s guitar has a great loud sound–very electric and large.  It sounds like the strings are loose wires smacking against the guitar and the fretboard (bot not detuned or anything).  And he sings with abandon.

Amy Cole’s keys are not as powerful as the rest but they provide a foundation for the rest of the band to play on

Muscle Relaxants has Cole singing backing vocals which fleshes out their sound even more.  They make a large racket for a trio that’s almost all acoustic.  Between songs, Nils comments:

“Wow you guys are quiet, no phones out, I guess.”

Don’t Haunt This Place is slower.  The vocal melody is familiar if not common, but the drums are just so thumping, it sounds great.  And the backing vocals are perfect.

Introducing “Tornado 87” he says

For those not from Alberta, you don’t have to sing Alberta songs if you’re from here, it’s just something we stumbled on.  Oddly enough we played part of this song last weekend at the Stampeders home opener and there happened to also be a tornado while we played this song.  Lets hope for the best tonight.

The song continues with the intensity of the other songs but it has a wonderful quiet middle section which erupts into an explosion at the end.

Two Lovers is solo, just Nils and his guitar.  It’s a nice break from the intensity.

“Terrified” is a new song that opens with just a guitar but then …boom…  great harmony vocals and a powerful chorus.

The show ends with “Stamp” which has a great clap-along section and wonderful ooohs to end the song.

This was the final video in Season One of the Live at Massey Hall series.   There are four seasons in total thus far.

[READ: May 9, 2018] ”Without Inspection”

This is the story of a man falling to his death: “It took Arnold six and a half seconds to fall five-hundred feet” is how it opens.

The story zooms in on Arnold’s mind for those six and a half seconds and the few seconds that remain before he actually dies.

He sees his son, Paris and Paris’ mother, Darlene.  And he flashes back to how they met, what has happened since they met and what he hopes will happen after he is gone.

The fall was unplanned and occurred when his left foot slipped off a scaffold and he fell out of the loosened (or broken) safety harness.

The story also details the fall–faster by the second. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TYLER CHILDERS-Tiny Desk Concert #729 (April 11, 2018).

I didn’t expect to like this set–I’ve really had it with country music encroaching on my radio station.  So when Childers was described as having “a coarse and soulful Kentucky drawl,” I wasn’t interested.

Especially when the songs were “about hard lives and hard love with direct heart.”

But he surprised me because it’s the coarseness that comes to the fore more than the drawl.  At least on the first song “Nose on the Grindstone” a song about a miner and the consequences of addiction.  I like his delivery and the intensity of the song.

The second song “22nd Winter” is a little less aggressive and his drawl does comes out, but he keeps it on the side of folk, in fact I would say more like English ballads than American folk.  He describes:

“This is a song about the first time I got snowed in with my in-laws,” he says, expecting a laugh, and giving it a beat. “It’s not a blues song, it’s a love song”)  “I’m pretty partial to my in-laws.  If you see my in-laws tell ’em I was talking good about then.

The final song is about the love of his life, “Lady May.”  It also has the feel of an old English ballad with the interesting chords and melody that opens the song.  I won’t be a huge fan or anything but I’d take him over many of the alt-country artists that I hear these days.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Whites”

This is an excerpt from The Buddha in the Attic.

This excerpt is written entirely in the second person plural and it is about Japanese women coming to America–the first wave of migrant workers

It tells all of their stories in a sort of continuous forward motion.

The women settled at the edges of “their” towns. Unless “they” wouldn’t let them.  They moved from labor camp to labor camp.  They learned the word for water or they died from heatstroke.

In the beginning they wondered about the white men–why did they mount their horses from the left, why were the always shouting, why did they drink cows milk?

We were told to stay away from them to say yes sir no sir or nothing at all.

Some worked quickly, to impress, and they were admired for their tiny fingers and stature.

Even if their husbands were layabouts

Sometimes the bosses would proposition them with money or threats

Other times they shot holes at their shacks.

Some went to the suburbs and worked as maids, “we sang their children to sleep ever night in a language not their own.  Nemure. Nemure.”

We were taught how to light a stove, use a faucet, light a cigarette.

Some were inept and easily dismissed. Some made stupid errors and may have been fired or not

Some were seduced by the husbands.

Some went to J-Town which was more like Japan than Japan.

We promised ourselves we would leave and go to some other place.  Argentina or Mexico.  But eventually we’d go back home.

But for now we stayed.  What would they do without us?

This was an interesting excerpt–a realistic look at an overlooked subject.

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL YOUNG-Harvest (1971).

I like loud rocking songs and I dislike most country.  So really I shouldn’t like Neil Young’s Harvest (at least compared to his more rocking albums).

But Neil is Neil and while I would never say he can do no wrong (he definitely can), I give him the benefit of the doubt.  And on this album he delivers.  Plus, it’s really not a country album at all.

I think what I particularly like about Harvest is the looseness of it, which I see signified primarily by Neil’s harmonica which is never off, but which is never perfect either.  Plus, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with it–I’ve heard these songs a lot and they have really sunk in.

“Out on the Weekend” is the opening track and it was one of the songs I knew least well–which is odd certainly for an opening song.  There’s slide guitar and harmonica.  But it’s followed by “Harvest,” which is so simple and so notable–bass, a gentle acoustic guitar and basically a snare drum play that simple up and down melody as Neil sings “dream up, dream up, let me fill your cup with the promise of a man.”  It’s those steel guitar lines that seems to fade in from nowhere that really rather make the song.

“A Man Needs a Maid” is one of those weird songs that is so odd to me–the song is literally about him getting a maid (but much more): “keep my house clean fix my meals and go away.”  Neil sounds like he is singing from a mile away as he plays the melody on the piano.  And then after the first verse all kind of orchestration fills in–bells and strings and the song gets really really big.  By the time the song comes around again, the chorus is swallowed by the strings and bells.  It feels much longer than its 4 minutes.  I sort of hate it but kind of like its oddness at the same time.

And then comes the wonder that is “Heart of Gold,” another simple melody with soft bass notes and that harmonica.  Incredibly catchy and undeniably great.

Harvest is more of a folk album with slide guitar (and orchestration), but a song like “Ready for the Country” certainly leans toward country (or is it mocking country?).  It’s got a good beat and is kind of fun, with a lighthearted joshing about the country.

“Old Man” is a another slow classic.  When the harmony vocals come in later in the song it’s really wonderful.  I never knew that James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on this song and that that’s Taylor on the banjo.  “There’s a World” is a ponderous song from the get go–almost as if it left off from “Maid,” with strings and kettle drums.  After a verse a harp swipes away the song and plays a delicate melody which is just as quickly wiped away as this song which seems so big comes to a rather quick ending–only 3 minutes in total.

“Alabama” introduces a fuzzy electric guitar with what seems like it should be a classic riff but which …isn’t.  It doesn’t quite resolve into anything and the chorus is almost satisfying–it starts really big with a chorus of “Alabama!” but it also doesn’t exactly resolve into anything.  I think I keep thinking it’s other songs, and yet it is distinctly its own.

“Needle and Damage Done” is just great.  A terrific riff and a poignant song simple and brief (2 minutes!) but really powerful.

“Words (Between the Lines of Age)” is nearly 7 minutes it’s the longest by far on the record.  It builds slowly with a big chorus.   There’s a great instrumental section with a nice piano melody.  The song ends with a very Neil Young guitar solo as well.  Pretty great stuff.

I’m not gushing about the album only because it is a classic and all classics have flaws.  But I could listen to this any day, even “Man Needs a Maid.”

[READ: July 1, 2016] Harvest

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.  But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This story gives a lot of history of Neil himself and a lot of context of the albums surrounding this one.

Inglis starts by talking about how when Harvest Moon came out in 1992, it was a call-back to Harvest and it was highly regarded, even though Harvest itself wasn’t at the time.  Even Neil himself seemed to recoil from the unexpected success of Harvest by playing every kind of music but folk/country for decades.

In fact, Harvest was panned when it came out–described as superficial and without meaning.  It was deemed pleasant rather than passionate.  It also worked to define Neil Young as a melancholy songwriter full of catchy tunes, smiling with prairie straw n his mouth.  Meanwhile other fans dismiss this picture entirely, preferring the gritty songwriter from Tonight’s the Night. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAKEY GRAVES-Tiny Desk Concert #495 (December 14, 2015).

I thought I had posted about every Tiny Desk Concert, but on double checking I found that I had missed this one.  I had heard of Shakey Graves and I assumed he was a country/folkie singer.  Which he is, although really his style is to mix country, blues and rock ‘n’ roll.  I also had no idea his real name is Alejandro Rose-Garcia.

This set sees Graves on acoustic guitar (with a strap with his name on it) accompanied by another acoustic guitar (which seems rather small) and a mandolin.

“To Cure What Ails” is a pretty, slow folk song. It’s simple enough with nice high mandolin notes and a good guitar line between verses.  Shakey has a nice voice and the song feels compelling like a story, although I don’t think it is.  He’s also charming and funny in little ways–he makes a lot of funny faces and chuckles.  But his music is really solid and the harmony at he end of the song is really great.

For “The Perfect Parts” the mandolin switches to bass and they have a little discussion n how to play it.  Shakey tells the drummer how to play the beat and then says they’re going to make it us as they go along.  This song is darker and has a cool sinister vibe.  He sings in kind of deep mumble for this song which works well for this song.  The song gets a little intense for a few lines.  And by the end it builds pretty loud with some good whoa ho ho backing vocals.  So much so that for the last chord, “he attempted a stage dive at the Tiny Desk.”

For the last song, “Only Son,” he:

breaks out his guitar and suitcase kick drum/hi-hat, [and] a palpable rush of swooning adrenaline hits the room. I felt that at the Americana Festival in Nashville, at the Newport Folk Festival and here at the Tiny Desk.

He says it is soon to be the last of the suitcase kick drums (this is his third).  He dreamed about having an object that he could cart around with him and still make a lot of noise.  The drum is actually behind him and he stomps the pedals with his heels (I can;t believe the camera never zoomed in on it).

He says the song is about “the moment in your life when you realize you’re not alone… there’s an aha! moment where you’re like ‘not just me?’  The drummer plays bass, the mandolin player has the mandolin back and Shakey has the kick drum suitcase.  There’s some terrific harmonies (and chuckling ) throughout the song, and I love the way it stops and starts.

[READ: Late 2016 and early 2017] McSweeney’s #45

The premise of this collection was just too juicy to pass up.  Although it did take me a while to read it.  Eggers’ introduction talks about the contents of this issue.

DAVE EGGERS-Introduction
Eggers says he came across a collection of stories edited by Hitchcock. He really liked it and then learned that Hitchcock had edited 60 volumes over the course of 35 years.  He was excited to read literary genre fiction.  But he was more impressed that theses stories did what literary fiction often forgets: having something happen.  He then bought a cheap book edited by Bradbury (Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow) and he liked it too.  He was surprised that there were so many canonical writers (Steinbeck, Kafka, Cheever) in a Bradbury collection.

So, why not make a new collection in which we can compare the two genres.

Despite this looking like a pulpy paperback, there were still Letters.

LETTERS

CORY DOCTOROW
Doctorow says that Science fiction is not, indeed, predictive.  That any genre which deals with so many potential future events is bound to get some things right.

JAMIE QUATRO
Quatro says she was asked to write a letter for this genre issue, but Quatro doesn’t do genre, so she was about to pass.  Then her son, from the backseat, asks what bulwark means.  Then inimical.  Then miasma.  He is reading a book called Deathwatch about soldiers whose brains are removed so they no longer fear. Suddenly, when she compares this idea to her essay on Barthelme, she sees that maybe McSweeney’s was on to something after all.

BENAJMIN PERCY
In fifth grade Percy (who has a story below) gave his teacher a jar full of ectoplasm.  He has always been different.  He proposes the Exploding Helicopter clause: if a story does not contain an exploding helicopter (or giant sharks, or robots with lasers for eyes or demons, sexy vampires. et al), they won’t publish it.

ANTHONY MARRA
Marra discusses Michael Crichton and how something doesn’t have to be Good to be good.  He says Crichton was a starting point for him as an adult reader.  And what can be wrong with that? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JETHRO TULL-Aqualung (1971).

I loved Jethro Tull.  I have all of their records up until Crest of a Knave when I must guess I decided that they were uncool (as if they were ever cool).  But man are they ever cool and this book reminded me just how cool they are.

The whole record is solid from start to finish with string rockers, string riffs and then mellow folkie songs in between.  And the dynamic nature of Anderson;s voice–he could be five different characters.

How great is “Aqualung,” the song?  A terrific riff, a gentle middle section, a rocking section, some great bass lines all with some wild acoustic guitar and those lyrics–so graphic, so descriptive.  I am always taken with the drums–little thumps and a cymbal throughout the rocking verse.

It’s followed by the flute intro of “Cross-Eyed Mary.”  There’s rocking guitars and another complex riff with Anderson’s snarling vocals (echos on everything).  “Cheap Day Return” opens with a pretty classical-esque acoustic guitar intro and then Anderson’s more gentle vocals.  It’s a 90 second song that segues into the fairy tale melody of the flute for “Mother Goose.”  There’s some very nice harmonies on this song.

“Wond’ring Aloud” is all folk and the laughing that bounces around the headphones before the great riff of “Up to Me” on both guitar and piano.  And how neat that the lead guitar is circling around in one ear while the flute and vocals are down the middle of the song.

“My God” opens with a lengthy acoustic guitar display.  It’s quite pretty until the minor chords come in.  It’s followed by the piano and that distinctive voice.  Two minutes in, the guitar joins and the vocals get louder and more sneering.  There’s a terrific flute solo (complete with him giving a “yea” in the middle of it) and then a choral accompaniment that adds a whole new level of pious and impiety.

“Hymn 43” has a great heavy riff, chugging guitars and Anderson’s snarling lyrics (and so many whirling guitars solos and even a flute solo throughout).

It’s followed by the minute-long “Slipstream,” a pretty acoustic guitar song with gentle strings and more lyrics obliquely about god.  The song ends with some woozy up and down sliding on the strings which segue into the lengthy classical sounding piano intro of “Locomotive Breath.”

There’s a distant guitar solo under the piano before the guitars get louder and louder for the great chugging riff of the song.

The disc ends with “Wind Up,” a quiet intro on acoustic guitar and vocals that gets slowly louder;  and then the song rocks a swinging beat as he sings of excommunication and being packed off to school.  There’s a wild solo (different in each ear) in the middle of the song, which

and then the end where a jaunty piano accompanies these straightforward lyrics:

When I was young and they packed me off to school
And taught me how not to play the game
I didn’t mind if they groomed me for success
Or if they said that I was just a fool
So to my old headmaster and to anyone who cares
Before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers
Well, you can excommunicate me on my way to Sunday school
And have all the bishops harmonize these lines
I don’t believe you
You had the whole damn thing all wrong
He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays

[READ: July 1, 2016] Aqualung

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was the third book in the series that I’d read.  The first (Colin Meloy’s) was a personal take on one of his favorite records, The Replacement’s Let It Be.  The second (Steve Matteo’s) was a detailed look at the recording sessions of The Beatles’ Let It Be.  This book is all about interpretation–Allan Moore’s take on an album that has fascinated him since his brother bought it over 30 years ago.  He is quick to point out that right and wrong interpretations of art are kinda impossible, but that won’t stop him.  Ian Anderson has written “What listeners get from the lyrics is theirs, what the lyrics are for me is mine.”

Moore breaks the book up into sections–the first situates the album at the time of its release, the rest looks at various songs (including bonus tracks on new releases). (more…)

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