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SOUNDTRACK: JUANES AND MON LAFERTE-Tiny Desk Concert #746 (May 23, 2018).

Juanes did a solo Tiny Desk Concert back in 2011.  Amusingly, seven years ago the blurb said: The blurb says that “he usually plays arenas and large venues, so it’s a treat to see him up close like this,” (see the third quoted paragraph below).

Colombian pop star Juanes and Chilean singer Mon Laferte recently wrapped up a sold-out tour of the United States, which (lucky for us) included a stop at the Tiny Desk.

Laferte began the concert solo with the torch song “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?). She sang the break-up story with a smirk that belied the heartache hiding in her poignant lyrics. Then… Juanes joined her to perform the duo’s sultry single, “Amárrame” (Tie Me Up).

It’s rare to see Juanes in such an intimate setting. After almost two decades of performing solo, the Latin pop star is more of a stadium and arena kind of guy. It’s a treat to hear his voice unencumbered by loud speakers or crowd noise, and to see his facial expressions as he sings lyrics that many of us know by heart. This marked a return to the intimacy that fueled his earliest days and that’s still present in the personal lyrics that have sold millions of records.

That intimacy was heightened by the presence of Laferte. The duo performed a PG-13 version of “Amárrame,” a passionate pop song with lyrics reminiscent of 50 Shades Of Grey. You can sense an obvious chemistry between the two during that song, as well as on the Juanes classic “Fotografia” (which originally featured Nelly Furtado).

Juanes closed out the concert solo with a stripped-down version of “Es Tarde” from his last album, Mis Planes Son AmarteThe performance demonstrates why Juanes and Laferte’s duet tour sold out across the U.S. this year. There is a magic here that makes for repeated viewing. It’s that much fun to watch.

SET LIST

  • “Pa’ Dónde Se Fue” (Where Did You Go?) by Mon Laferte. She sings and plays guitar and has a beautiful, powerful voice.
  • “Amárrame {Tie Me Up} [feat. Juanes]” by Mon Laferte.  An additional guitarist plays the cool funky riff while Mon Laferte sings (and rolls her r’s beautifully).  Juanes sings (and makes some asides, “Mon Dios!”) the (beautiful, soaring) chorus and alternating verses.  They sound fantastic together, with his voice being particularly sultry and steamy.
  • “Fotografía [feat. Mon Laferte]” by Juanes.  This is a sweet ballad, with again both singers playing off of each other and joking with each other (there’s a phone gag that is pretty funny).  It’s delightful.  And their voices meld perfectly once again.
  • “Es Tarde” by Juanes.  It’s just him singing on this one (with the guitarist on accompaniment).  His voice has a slight gravel to it but is mostly smooth and delightful.  The middle of the song has a kind of whispered spoken word.  It’s quite obvious why he is a megastar.

[READ: January 22, 2017] “The End of the End of the World”

This is an essay about birding in the Antarctic and the death of Franzen’s Uncle Walt.  Both of these stories were fascinating.

Two year earlier, Franzen’s Uncle Walt died and left hims $78,000.  Wow.  (My uncle left me a pitchfork and sheep shears).  He wasn’t expecting it, so he decided to do something special with it in honor of his Uncle.  He had been planning a big vacation with his longtime girlfriend, so this seemed like the thing to us it for.  When he suggested a deluxe cruise to Antarctica, she was puzzled but agreed.

After booking the cruise, he was filled with reservations, and so was she.  Her concerns were more serious–an ailing parent–and his were just nerves.

He intersperses this trip with memories of his Uncle.  Like in August of 1976 when he found out that Walt’s daughter had died in a car crash.  Walt and his wife Irma were his godparents, although his mother couldn’t stand Irma (Franzen’s father’s sister).  She said that Irma had been spoiled at the expense of his father.  Walt was far more likable anyhow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIMBER TIMBRE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I’ve known about Timber Timbre for years but I seem to always get them mixed up with someone else .  I think of them as a dark synthy pop band, which is entirely false.  Their sound has been described as having “an aesthetic rooted in swampy, ragged blues” and “beautifully restrained blues from an alternate universe.”

Their music is cinematic and kind of spooky and their’s is the first of the Massey hall videos in which the stage is very dark.  It seems barely lit at all.

Taylor Kirk seems to be the main voice of the band (he sings as well).  He says he used to take the train to Massey Hall.  And says there is something that affords a big audience and intimacy at the same time.  He wonders what the band could possibly do after this.  He thinks it’s impossible that they sold it out.

“Grand Canyon” comes alive with washes of guitars and synths (Mathieu Charbonneau) and thumping drums (Olivier Fairfield) before Kirk speaks the lyrics:

From the Phoenix liftoff
Somewhere over Blackfoot reserve
High above Drumheller
Sky hostess starts to serve
Cloud shadows on the mountain
And our shadow on the mountainside
After Salt Lake City
I have time to close my eyes

The music is a soundscape with washes of atmosphere and some noisy feedbacking guitar from Simon Trotter.

Kirk says, “Welcome to the most exciting night of my entire life.”  He asks “Are you ready for this shit?” as the woozy echoing guitar chords open “Hot Dreams,” with the peculiar lyrics

I wanna dance, I wanna dance
I wanna dance with a black woman
It’s peculiar because it never returns to that idea in any way throughout the song
I wanna still, I wanna still
I wanna still my mind
And I wanna chance, I wanna chance
I want another chance
To distill
To distill that time
And I wanna write, I wanna write
I wanna write to someone so true
I wanna wake, I wanna wake
I wanna wake from hot dreams
Hot dreams of you
Oh hot dreams

There s a kind of Nick Cave vibe in his storytelling singing style the song stays pretty quiet until the guitar solo rings out.

“Bad Ritual” opens with moody guitars, a simple drum beat and noir piano and echoing guitars.  I love the way he sing/speaks the lyrics and the single piano note that echoes throughout the end of the song.

“Creep On Creepin’ On” sounds like an old 50 songs the way it starts, but with a more sinister keyboard spiking moments.  The lyrics are suitably disarming:

Oh, I buried my head in my hands
I buried my heart there in the sand
I was cocked, blocked, cured and charmed
I was ferociously put upon until it was clear
I should not keep on, I’ll just creep on creepin’ on

“Trouble Comes Knocking” ends the show with a slow, menacing riff with echoing synths sitting on top.  That jittery vibrating synth is there through all of the splashes of noise and menace that the echoing guitars provide.

It’s a pretty great set.  The band is really transportive live.

[READ: March 1, 2018] Otherworld

Segel and Miller’s first trilogy, Nightmares!, was terrific.  It was funny and exciting.  Frightening and yet safe enough for kids.  I absolutely loved the audiobook of it (and my daughter listens to it all the time).

I had forgotten that they were writing a new series and then I saw this book at the library.  I was curious if there was an audio book version, but I was so intrigued to read it that I didn’t even bother to look for one.  I also feel that I have Segel’s voice in my head pretty well at this point (and yet I still want to hear what he does with this collection–maybe I’ll listen to this book when the next book comes out).

In an interview with Segel and Miller they said that the biggest difference between writing a kids book and a YA book was that they didn’t have to censor themselves as much. That’s true here.  The language isn’t over the top, but there are a few four letter words thrown in.  The biggest difference is that since the main characters are teenagers, they talk about sex (a little) and the violence they experience is a bit more gruesome.  But otherwise it reads a lot like Nightmares did–a great combination of fast plotting and intriguing ideas mixed with some (dark) humor. (more…)

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olymmpSOUNDTRACK: LOGAN RICHARDSON-Tiny Desk Concert #734 (April 23, 2018).

Logan Richardson is a jazz saxophonist.

I’ve been down on saxophones lately, but I do really like the sound he gets.  I’m a bit more impressed by the rest of his band, though.

Since I don’t know Richardson, I’ll let the blurb speak for me, with some of my comments.

Richardson ‘s latest project, Blues People,  … was derived from the early slave calls that inspired the earliest American jazz and blues musical traditions. Here at the Tiny Desk, the saxophonist revisits that history with four remarkable songs from the album, all performed with a hope that our country’s future will be less painful than its past.

“80’s Child” is a reflection on the decade Richardson was born. Its colorful melody complements the band’s energetic fusion groove. Continually pushing forward with momentum and anticipation, its 8/8 time signature moves seamlessly into 10/8 to create an intensity that is both focused and free.

I love the opening guitar work (by Igor Osypov) which sounds very un-jazzy to me–you could hear an alt-rock sound being built out of that.  While Igor is doing a simple but pretty guitar solo rhythm guitarist Justus West keeps the rhythm work with some interesting whammy bar bending.   About three minutes in, drummer Ryan Lee gets some great little improv moments.  I really enjoy the song even if I find myself tuning out the sax and listening to the guitar.

Richardson notes, “The desk is tiny but it’s mighty.  I have a tiny saxophone that I forgot to bring.”

The next groove, “The Settlement,” maintains a similar tone and features DeAndre Manning slapping on his funky bass.

This song feels more jazzy to me–prominent sax with jazz guitar chords.  But I do love the jazz/prog rock section with the slap bass and the guitars following suit.  I definitely tune out the sax to listen to the great riffage from the strings

While the band is ringing out the last notes of the song, Richardson introduces the next

The song gently segues into the only vocal piece, “Black Brown & Yellow,” a lovely reminder that racial diversity is something to celebrate.

They do a short chant of “Black, brown and yellow is beautiful.”  It’s a pretty, almost sensuous song sung first by West and then joined by everyone else.

I love that I am now quoting someone quoting some else about this last song:

“Anthem (To Human Justice)” ends with brilliance best described by my colleague Nate Chinen, “By design, too, Richardson’s alto saxophone often functions more like a lead vocalist than as a virtuoso solo instrument. He’s a good conduit for soaring, plaintive melody…. And however the band surges or thrashes around him, there’s a feeling of urgent communion in this music.”

The backing music is once again excellent and interesting, with cool time changes a nifty guitar solo (while the second guitar is doing some other cool stuff too) and some great bass work.  I really like the way the whole band jams it out at the end–the band sounds great and Logan’s sax is right there with them soloing the whole time.

I feel like this is jazz for people who don’t like jazz.

[READ: March 17, 2018] Olympians 10

I’m still not sure how many books O’Connor has planned for this series, although in his introduction he talks about saving his favorite books for the end, so I assume there are at least two more (although 12 seems reasonable).

Here’s the summary of the man himself:

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: September 2017] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy complete radio series

The history of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is almost as convoluted as the story itself.

Douglas Adams (with help from John Lloyd) wrote the radio story in 1977.  It aired in 1978.  A second season aired in 1980.

Adams wrote the novel based on the radio series in 1979.  And then the second book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in 1980.

Then they made the TV show.

Apparently Adams considered writing a third radio series to be based on Life, the Universe and Everything in 1993, but the project did not begin until after his death in 2001.  The third, fourth and fifth radio series were based on Life, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless which were transmitted in 2004 and 2005.

It’s interesting and a little disconcerting how different the radio play is from the story of the book. There are a lot of similarities of course, but some very large differences.

The first series obviously leaves a lot out from the book, since the book wasn’t written yet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BIG DADDY KANE-Tiny Desk Concert #708 (February 19, 2018).

I remember Big Daddy Kane, of course, although I don’t think I knew any of his songs.  As far as I can tell, Kane hasn’t released an album since 1998.  But his voice sounds great and he seems pretty content to rap his old hits.

The smooth operator, Big Daddy Kane, still emits that same palpable swag he did as a lyrical heartthrob during his heyday. He strides into the room and fully commands it with his presence.

One of the greatest to ever bless the mic, Big Daddy Kane treated Tiny Desk to an office block party in the true essence of hip-hop.  Kane, aka Dark Gable, was a breakout member of the seminal Juice Crew in hip-hop’s golden era during the latter part of the 1980s. He popularized quick-cadence flows and multisyllabic rhyme schemes.

He performed a short set of classics, including “Smooth Operator,” “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” “Raw” and a bonus freestyle. Through his warm, engaging and devilishly self-effacing style, the pioneer used an interlude between songs to address the intergenerational divisiveness defining rap today and the importance of fans of all ages supporting whatever they like, while “focusing on what’s positive and keeping that in the spotlight.”

The Concert opens with a great drum beat and a funky bass line for “Smooth Operator.”  The rather wimpy keyboard riff with the sax is kind of a wasted opportunity to give fuller sound to this song.

It’s interesting that Kane–whose voice still sounds deep and full–keeps the old songs with incredibly dates references like “Freddy Krueger walking on Kane Street.”

Mid song Kane says, “stay right here Ben… gonna make this into a family affair.  Are there any smooth operators out there?”  They sing the riff.  Then, “Let me see whats happening behind me.  Jay Dub (John Williams) on sax, is he a smooth operator?”  He is.  Kane tells him to “Make yourself at home” with a good solo.

While that solo is going on, he says “certain members of the band just can’t wait till their turn (looks at keyboardist who had been playing with the solo).  He says, “He’s been with me a long time, he’s the baby of the crew we call him J Minor (Judson Nelson)–most places we play he’s not supposed to be there, he’s not old enough. If I ask you to play like a grown man, how’s that sounds, baby?  He plays a smooth solo.

Kane: “I forgot there was another verse.  I was having so much fun looking at them.”

We should keep this party going.  I saw a couple of these people looking at their watch.  Some of you all might be on lunch break I don’t want to mess it up

“Ain’t No Half Steppin” starts off with simple sax and some more dated lines:  “Friday the 13th, I’m gonna play Jason.”  (Rappers loved horror movies back in the day).  He gets the crowd into it: “Say it like it’s 6’o clock Ain’t no half steppin’.”

“Let me hear you once more…  I lied, just one more time y’all.”

After the song he says, “I’m enjoying myself.  This is all right for real I might fill out an application for a job here next week.  this ai’iiht.”

“I’m gonna do one more song and then were gonna shut it down and this ain’t got nothing with y’all getting back to work, I’m starting to get hot in here.”

A great drum beat starts off “Raw” which is followed by that crazy squeaky sax.  And there’s this one last pop culture line: “The rhymes I use definitely amuse better than Dynasty or Hill Street Blues.

Mid-song, a cool faster drum beat is added–I love the snare sound Matt Lambert gets and then the whole band kicks of for a great riff on bass and sax to end the song–it’s a shame it ended there as it was really taking off.

People don’t want him to leave, so they do a freestyle.  A cool slide bass line from Benjamin Geis and staccato piano.  It’s my favorite music of the show.  And the speed of his freestyle rap is really impressive.  And he (virtually) drops the mic and is off.

It’s a great old school set.

[READ: Summer 2017] The Long Earth

I have read nearly everything that Terry Pratchett has written (I kind of drifted a bit towards the end, but I’ll catch up eventually).  Anyway, I was in the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA and saw this book.  It’s a series I’ve known about but didn’t know very much about.  I decided to check it out to see what it was all about.  I don’t know very much at all about Stephen Baxter except that he’s a hard science fiction writer, meaning he focuses as much on the science as he does on the fiction.

So how does this pair–a hard science writer and a comic parodist of fantasy work together?  Well, honestly the story is much more Baxter than Pratchett. Although since I haven’t read any Baxter, I guess I can’t say that legitimately, but it’s definitely not very Pratchetty.

Well, maybe some of the character interactions are kind of Pratchetty, but certainly not like any of his Discworld characters.  As with any co-writing experience, I wondered how this story was constructed.  So I found an interview with Stephen Baxter from around the time they finished writing the fourth and final book

How did the idea for the Long Earth series come about?

The whole thing was basically Terry’s idea. He’d started work on this project and short stories set in this world back in the ’80s but he got stuck with it.  He wanted to have a very human, level way to access these words. You don’t need to get there on a rocket ship, you can just walk in.  At the same time, the vision for the end was going to be out on a galaxy somewhere.

We’d known each other for years and [about] five years or so ago at a dinner party, Terry [said he] was going through his archives looking for unpublished short stories and things like that and he came across an aborted project from about 30 years ago.  We were just talking about that and it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.  By the end of that [party] we already had the storylines and Terry was going to send me the material.

Terry was having trouble seeing so Stephen did the typing and then “We fixed each line and each scene together.”

So that’s that sorted.

Baxter also says “it just struck me as immediately a great idea because it’s so simple and yet it’s got endless possibilities.”

And that is the truth.  The story can be summed up pretty easily. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GEORGE CLINTON & THE P-FUNK ALL STARS-Tiny Desk Concert #697 (January 24, 2018).

George Clinton is famous for being from outer space and for bringing the funk.  That was a pretty long time ago.  He’s now 77, but he still has the energy and the passion, although it is weird to see him looking so…normal.

He’s just got on a cool coat–no colored dreadlocks, no dresses or sequins.  But he still holds a room’s attention.

P-Funk’s lineage runs 50-plus years. From The Parliaments to Funkadelic to Parliament Funkadelic to the P-Funk All Stars, George Clinton has conducted the mothership as a reliable father figure. When he commands you to “put a glide in your stride and a dip in your hip, and come on up to the Mothership,” he’s presenting to you the first law of Funktonian physics. We at NPR pledged our groovellegiance when he and his P-Funk All Stars touched down to bless the Tiny Desk.

I love that Clinton has kept the spirit and familial nature of P-Funk alive all these years:

Clinton has brought his own bloodline into the most recent lineup of P-Funk: His grandchildren are the newest backup singers, while another grandchild serves as tour manager. Though this was a much smaller outfit than their traditional stage shows — no horn section, no dancers, no Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk — the extended family was also in full effect. Garrett Shider on rhythm guitar, filling in for his late father, Garry Shider, aka Starchild. Even original trumpeter Bennie Cowan, who still tours with the group but didn’t make it to the Tiny Desk, typically plays alongside his son Benzel on drums. Blackbyrd McKnight and Lige Curry cement the foundation as elder statesmen who’ve been rocking with Clinton since 1978.

They play three songs.  I don’t know how much Clinton sang back in the day–was he the lead singer or just a bringer of the funk?  But in “Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On” most of the vocals are chanted and sung by the backing vocalists (Tonysha Nelson, Patavian Lewis, and Tairee Parks).  Clinton is more like the hype man–getting everyone worked up, clapping and making noise.  Rhythm guitarist Garrett Shider takes a lead vocal, keeping the funk going.  The song is big and the riff is great and the funk is entirely in the house.  Dwayne Blackbyrd McKnight plays an awesome funky guitar throughout the Concert.

“One Nation Under A Groove” is a more mellow (relatively), smoother song.  I love the guitar sound, and there’s some suitably funky and retro-sounding keyboards from Danny Bedrosian.

“Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker)” is the real classic.  Clinton is really into this one–dancing and clapping and the bass by Lige Curry and drums by Benzel Cowan are terrific.

He may not have the interstellar look, but Clinton still has the funk.

[READ: October 25, 2017] Birthright: Volume Five

This is the first Birthright volume that I didn’t love.  There was a lot of demon head ripping off and tentacles and splatters.  Fire and blood and gore, but not a lot of coherent action.

It started out quite good with Rya’s back story. We see her as a baby on a battlefield being rescued by, of all creaturs…an orc.  He told her of the prophecy to defeat Lore.  And then she met young Mikey and “knew that the prophecy was a load of razorbeast dung.”

Then we see Mikey quickly develop into the man he is–and then disappear.  It was rumored he was killed but then Kallista gave away that he was still alive.  That made Rya really mad. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKTHIS IS THE KIT-Tiny Desk Concert #685 (December 13, 2017).

I know this band because I received a download code for their EP “Spoon Quake Bash.”   I found it really intriguing.  Kate Stables’ voice is unique and has an appealing affectation that I can;’t quite figure out but which I enjoy hearing  And the music on “Moonshine Freeze” is just tremendous–different textures coming from different guitars. I really can’t get enough of it.

The band’s only permanent member is singer Kate Stables.  For this show, she’s accompanied by Rosalind Leyden, Jamie Whitby-Coles, Noil Smith, Adam Schatz, Jonah Parzen-Johnson.  It’s amusing that for the first song, everyone but the bald man is wearing a toque.

In this Tiny Desk Concert the first song is “Bullet Proof.”  It’s just a four piece: bass (Rosalind), drums (Jamie), guitar (Noil) and Kate on lead banjo and vocals.  Her voice sounds like classic British folk singers–very clean and open-voweled.  Once the echoed guitar rises in, the song sound really full.  The song also tells a story, as the blurb points out.

And the stories … Kate … weaves are profound but sweet with a tone that quietly reels you in.

Although it is my least favorite song of the three, possibly because the other two are so much fuller.  For songs 2 and 3 Jonah and Adam join on sax.

“Moonshine Freeze” has so much going on.  A great bass line, echoing harmonics on the lead guitar and Kate’s gentle chugging rhythm guitar.  The drums are a cool shuffle.  It’s such an intriguing song, especially with Kate’s cool vocal delivery.   And then there’s the backing vocals singing in a round.  It’s fantastic.  The horns are a nice touch, too.

“Hotter Colder” sways with a wonderful rhythm guitar melody and some great lead guitar lines from the guitarist hiding in the back.  I love the intermittent oohs from the various singers.  The two saxes also sound great here too.  The song is capped off with awesome bursts of buzzy guitars at the end of the song.

[READ: November 5, 2017] Cucumber Quest 1

Cucumber Quest was (is?) a webcomic.  This book was originally published (via Kickstarter?) back in 2012.  It is now getting a more formal release from First Second (I don’t know if there are any changes in the book).

The book opens with a monster delivering a sphere to an evil queen: “This makes lucky 7, one more and the world will know the meaning of terror.”

The next page is the Prologue.  Cucumber is a bunny and he is about to go off to the school of his dreams–Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted and/or Incredibly Wealthy).  He is nervous but his younger sister says you’re the biggest nerd I know, you’ll be fine.

But then they get a letter from Cuco’s dad (who was in he room when the queen revealed her plan).  He is concerned about world domination and he says hat only Cucumber can put an end to it.  But Cuco is going to school tomorrow!  Plus he’s a real coward. Meanwhile his sister Almond is pretty exited to go on this quest herself.

There’s some really funny jokes in this section

Mom: “Almond sweetheart, you know it’s too dangerous for you.”  Cuco: “But not for me?”  Mom: “Well, Almond IS your little sister.”

As the chapter ends, “Why does dad find a way to ruin everything?”

The Dream Oracle finds him, she is protector of this world and has important information about his quest.  The Oracle then confirms that little sisters aren’t legendary heroes. (more…)

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