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Archive for the ‘End of the World’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO-Tiny Desk Concert #834 (March 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing Alejandro Escovedo’s name for years, and yet I know very little about him.

I assumed he was a kind of folkie guy.  So I was pretty surprised by the loud sound he brought to the Tiny Desk.  And even more surprised to read

The musician, who once opened for the Sex Pistols … seemed to appreciate the difference between being pelted with spit and debris by punk rock fans and being showered with loving appreciation in the NPR Music office.

Escovedo came  in a leather jacket and a large band.  And even though I thought they were loud, apparently they intended to be louder.  They even started the show with “one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four Go Alejandro!”

Escovedo and his backing band known as Don Antonio set up behind the Tiny Desk, their first sounds were blistering loud. That’s when we broke the news: We wouldn’t amplify Alejandro’s voice. We got a slightly sullen look from the band; but despite the toned-down volume, they were all still amped up.

A little research into Escovedo, though shows that he has, indeed, played folkie/alt-country music.  But that his sound has evolved over the years.

Escovedo pulled the three-song set from The Crossing, the most recent chapter in his ongoing odyssey and a typically hard-rocking, literate saga about two teenagers looking for their American Dream of rock and roll and beat poetry.

“Teenage Luggage” opens kind of quiet with one guitar and quiet drums, but soon enough a sax and keyboards are added, then comes some bass and the second saxophone and the roaring lead guitar.  As Escovedo sing/speaks his story.  Then comes the catchy chorus:

You think you know me, you’ll never know me you’re just a bigot with a bad guitar.

By the end, everyone is rocking out with mini solos from Perinelli on saxophone and a raucous guitar solo from Gramentieri

The close quarters of the Tiny Desk allows for a kind of backstage insight into the musical and visual interplay between Escovedo and the veteran Italian band Don Antonio [Antonio Gramentieri: vocals, guitar; Denis Valentini: bass; Matteo Monti: drums; Nicola Peruch: keyboard; Gianni Perinelli: tenor sax; Franz Valtieri: baritone sax]. Lead guitarist Antonio Gramentieri is the perfect foil for Escovedo, who adds a heavy dose of edginess to the sound with his power strumming.

“Something Blue” is slow with a dominant organ sound (reminiscent of Bob Dylan).  It sounds like an old-school rock song and his delivery sounds more than a little like Warren Zevon.

He says that “Sonica USA” goes out to Don since Wayne Kramer from the MC5 played on this.  It has a great raw rock feel with Escovedo’s punky vocals and the chanted chorus of “Sonica USA.”  The soloing section is great with the two saxophones playing on top of Gramentier’s wailing solo.

It’s a really fun garage rocking set.

[READ: Summer 2018] The Long War

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

At the end of the book, the anti-steppers attempt a massive, deadly protest.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ZAYTOVEN-Tiny Desk Concert #828 (February 28, 2019).

I saw Zaytoven on the Gucci Mane Tiny Desk Concert and thought he was a good performer.  I didn’t expect that he woul det his own show.  So I wasn’t expecting all that much, but man, this is awesome.  And then I read why this show is the way it is:

Last month, Zaytoven arrived at Bob Boilen’s desk with a full band in tow with the intent of backing up his Atlanta friend and collaborator Future, who had dropped his latest album, The Wzrd, earlier that day. The plan was to translate the bass-heavy trap sound Zaytoven helped originate to real instruments with Neil Garrard on guitar, Bernard “TreWay” Lambert on drums, DJ Spinz and Elena on flute (for what would’ve been a live version of “Mask Off”).

So instead, we get this beautiful instrumental collection.  There’s three tracks that are kind of jazzy, but not exactly.  They’re pretty melodies with some great solo work from the electric guitar and lots and lots of flute.   The drums from Bernard “TreWay” Lambert are a mix of traditional and electric (with great sounds) and some nifty scratching from DJ Spinz.

Track one “Lay Up” has a ripping distortion-filled guitar solo from Neil Garrard.  But man, the real killer is the flute work.  It’s so effortlessly beautiful the way it floats around the song.  Elena Pinderhughes is just dynamite on this song and every one.

Introducing “Peacoat,” he says it feels it like jazz.  He also says he still plays the organ in church on Sundays and that he wants all of his songs to have soul.

“I wasn’t even allowed to listen to this type of music, let alone to be producing it,” he told me a little over a year ago in the church outside Atlanta where he plays organ every Sunday morning. He was remembering how conflicted he’d once felt as a young producer who’d grown up in the church to be playing his trade for street artists like future trap god Gucci Mane (who Zaytoven would later back on keys during his first visit to the Tiny Desk). “To be the godfather of the sound, it was almost embarrassing for me, like, ‘Hold on, bruh. This ain’t really how I was brought up. This ain’t really what I do.’ I’m a guy that’s in the church and I try to lead people more so that way.”

There’s some pretty piano and keyboards form Zaytoven on this song, and I like the subtle scratching throughout.

The final song “Mo Reala” is also great.  He says it’s got a church vibe.  It was his first single from the album with Future saying real things.  He’d ben producing since 2004, but Future helped him refine his piano work and his beats.  In addition to the great song itself, the flute and guitar solos are fantastic.  And again, I love the drums and scratching too.

I listened to the track with Future’s vocals on it and I didn’t like it half as much.

Zaytoven, if you read this, you should absolutely get this band together and record these songs just like this as instrumentals.  They are dynamite!  And no one is releasing music like this right now.  Get on it, man!

[READ: February 26, 2019] Cucumber Quest 4

Reading book 4 means that I am now caught up with the books that are currently out.  And that is terrible, because the series suddenly got really intense and really emotional.  And who knows how long I’ll have to wait until the next book!

When I first started this series, which is kind of a spoof on hero quests, I enjoyed it.  It made me laugh and had lots of funny and absurd twists.  I never expected to get so invested in the story of the Nightmare Knight and his explanation for why he is such a bad guy.

But back to our heroes.

When they arrive in the Flower Kingdom, they are given the terrible news that the Kingdom does not have a Princess (our heroes need Princesses to sign a sword as art of their quest). What will they do? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Murder of the Universe (2017)

Every KGATLW album is different.  Including this one.  Murder of the Universe is their second album of 2017.  It is narrative concept album split into three separate stories, each containing elements of spoken word to carry a narrative. The first two chapters feature Leah Senior’s narration, while NaturalReader’s “UK, Charles” text-to-speech application narrates the final chapter.  And it totally rocks.  There’s great riff, distorted guitars and harmonicas and lots of whooping vocals.

There are, essentially three stories on this disc.  The first chapter, The Tale of the Altered Beast, is about a human who stumbles on a mystical human/beast hybrid.  The narration is quite long and deadpan and tells a fairly complex story, which starts:

As soon as the dust settles, you can see
A new world in place of where the old one had been
Your skin is crawling with dry, crusted mud
And your naked feet are wet in a pool of blood
And the whistle of the wind in your ears is so loud
That your memories have blown up in a mushroom cloud
And as your eyes accommodate
There appears by the meadow
A brute like a bear with a long, dark shadow
And you violently shake over what you have seen
As you remember the tale of the Altered Beast

Nearly each of the nine tracks has narration interspersed with singing.  There’s a lot of repeated sections, but more as a thematic choice rather than as repetition.  The titles of the songs are indicative of this: Altered Beast I, II, III and IV and Alter Me I, II and III.  But those parts are not simply repeats.  Rather, they allude to each other with repeated riffs and words.  But even though parts are repeated there are plenty of original riffs throughout.

The third part of “Alter Me” has a cool 80’s sci-fi keyboard sound, which works perfectly before the noisy harmonica returns.

The “Altered Beast” story is the longest part of the story at 19 minutes.  And the final “Altered Beast” part has a very nifty fast section that I believe is in 11/4.

The last track “Life/Death” is very different–keyboard-fueled and almost poppy sounding, this final minute of the story is not a happy one.

The second chapter, The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, focuses on a battle between the forces of light of darkness.   And the segue between the two, called “Some Context” references “People-Vultures” from Nonagon Infinity.

It opens with guitarist Joey Walker’s Mongolian throat singing behind the narration on some of the tracks.  This adds an extra sense of ominousness to the story.

So the main story is a battle between The Lord of Lightning and Balrog and  they each get a song:

When the songs proper start, “The Lord of Lightning’s” theme is somewhat proggy with all kinds of ostinato (to use a term form the narration).  In addition to keyboard parts and some heavy rocking parts, there’s a callback to the chorus of “Nonagon Infinity.”  The music for this chapter is very complicated with fits and starts and various drum lines.

While the interstitials in the first chapter were done with an interesting guitar riff, the interstitials in this part come with a fast rumbling bass line.  “Balrog” has a lot of chanting befits a KGATLW song.

The war comes to a head in the Floating Fire which has more throat singing and a martial beat and its aftermath “The Acrid Corpse” … but which one is the corpse?

The third and final chapter, Han-Tyumi & The Murder of the Universe, is about a cyborg in a digital world who gains consciousness and decides to strive only for what a cyborg cannot do: vomit and die.  How very King Gizzard.  There’s a lot about vomit in this song. Maybe it was just fun hearing the robotic voice say vomit?

He decides to create a creature dubbed the “Soy-Protein Munt Machine” whose only purpose is to vomit. When the creature rejects his love, Han-Tyumi decides to merge with the machine, which causes it to lose control. This machine explodes and infinitely expels vomit, which eventually engulfs the entire universe: and so the universe is murdered.

It opens with keyboard swirls, like the opening credits a sci-fi soap opera

This is a much heavier bunch of songs, like the thumping (with extra drums) on “Digital Black.”  Over a futuristic keyboard section Han-Tyumi recites his problem:

I am bereft of two human things
Two things that a cyborg can never do
Two things that I strive for
Two things between myself and mankind
Death
And
To vomit

This story is bonkers.  But it totally rocks and it leads to the really catchy song (which they played live when I saw them called, what else, “Vomit Coffin.”  The final song is a tour de force of instrumental power while HanTyumi talks of vomiting and getting bigger and bigger until he destroys the universe.  Gross and hilarious and totally rocking.  Destroying the Universe never sounded so good.

[READ: February 28, 2019] Castle in the Stars 2

This gorgeous graphic novel was originally published in French and was translated by Anne and Owen Smith.

Part two continues with the beautiful look of his book.  I am really fascinated at the way these characters can look at time cartoonish and at times almost photo-realistic (in soft focus).

At the end of the last book our team escaped from certain danger by jumping aboard an aethership.  The crew is Seraphin (whose mother has been lost in the aether when she took a ship there and never returned), Seraphim’s father as well as Seraphim’s friend Sophie (a girl!) and her half-brother Hans (the very cartoony looking character). They are joined by King Ludwig whom we are told at the begiinning of the story just wanted to leave everything behind. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NATALIE PRASS-Tiny Desk Concert #827 (February 25, 2019).

I know Natalie Prass because “Short Court Style” was absolutely ubiquitous.  WXPN overplayed this song to death this summer.  At first I didn’t think much of it and then it clicked and I loved it.  The bassline is fantastic and the vocals are just amazing.  I was genuinely surprised to find out that Natalie Prass was white, because she sounded so soulful.

I genuinely had no idea who she was, so I was surprised that the accolades were so effusive and people spoke of her as if she were a legend.  Well, this is only her second album, but it really struck a nerve.

Full disclosure: We here at NPR Music have decreed Natalie Prass something of a patron saint for roséwave — our groove-laden, pink drink-soaked soundtrack for the summer. So, when the Richmond, Va. artist arrived at the Tiny Desk, it was a cause for celebration, especially amid the January blues that seemed to permeate the NPR Music office. Decked out in matching, cobalt blue outfits (with a matching keyboard stand to boot), Prass and her backing band, comprised of Eric Slick: drums; Alan Parker: guitar; Jacob Ungerleider: keys; and Brandon Lane: bass, seemed to bring a warm breeze in with them.

“Oh My” opens with a thumping bass.  When the picture appears, everyone is wearing electric blue.  The song is very funky and Natalie does a great job with her little interjections of “No,” “hey,” “oh ho ho ho” and the titular “Oh My.”  There’s a funky bass solo midsong.  And throughout, Natalie is just so cool.

I didn’t really get a sense of the lyrics so I was surprised to read this:

There’s a sly political bent to Prass’ 2018 album, The Future and the Past. Ahead of its release, she said she actually had a different album nearly finished, but scrapped a huge chunk of it after [trump’s] election, which in turn led her to make this album instead. She highlights this mission statement on the album opener — and first song she performed at the desk — “Oh My.” It’s a track that speaks pointedly about the abject feeling of horror and exhaustion that seeps in when you tune into the news cycle, with bleak lyrics set against bright, dance-y music.

For “Short Court Style” (I always assumed it was called “Round and Round”), she brings out her backing singers, Angelica Garcia and Kenneka Cook: vocals.  Everything sounds fantastic here live.  She seems so free and easy singing this song, it’s a delight to watch her.  And those funky bass lines are great.

Before closing with “Hot for the Mountain,” Prass tells the NPR office that “the song’s a little off the beaten path, but, I don’t know, it’s my favorite.” “We’ll take you on / We can take you on,” Prass, Garcia and Cook sing in unison, a refrain that resounds emphatically. Her vision was clear: If you want to overcome the times, find strength in numbers.

I don’t see what’s so odd about it.  It doesn’t have a big hook like the other two songs, but there is a sing along chorus.

[READ: January 31, 2019] Cucumber Quest 3

Book three opens as our heroes arrive at Trebleopolis which is celebrating its birthday (clowns are everywhere).  And no one celebrates louder than Queen Cymbal.  She reveals that Princess Piano is going to perform a concert.  All our heroes want is the Princess’ signature on their sword (she has signed weirder things), but they are told they have to wait until after the show.  (It’s 110 minutes long…that’s like MORE than an hour).

But as the curtain opens, it’s not Princess Piano, but Noisemaker who comes out.  Noisemaster is a hiphop DJ who is not only annoying but quite evil.  For he is one of Nightmare Knight’s Disaster Masters and our heroes’ next conquest.  Nightmare Knight makes an early appearance and is not playin’ with Noisemaster’s shtick: “I cannot believe you are still acting like this…  I am being exceedingly ‘real’ Noisematser.”   He ends, I will allow you this chance to prove yourself  Do not waste it.

Noisemaster’s plan is to destroy the whole city if the noise machine hits 100%.  And with Piano’s loud voice that should be no problem.

We learn that the Melody Kingdom was divided by two kings King Treble and King Bass. They fought and had to be separated by a wall which the Oracle created.   The two sides have not seen each other in decades.  The wall, named Mezzo is very chill and tells them exactly the kind of convoluted quest they need to go on to get the key to open the doors in the wall.  Of course Almond and Carrot are right on that quest and they take off. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (February 14, 2001).

After I thought I had finished hearing all of the live Rheostatics I ever would, Rheostaticslive posted four nights from 2001 (Don Kerr on drums).  This was night 1 of 4 of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 53rd Birthday bash.  I often wish I had been daring enough to drive to Toronto back in 2001 to see four nights of a band that I still hope to see rock out this year.

Clark (the band) opened the show.

This show is mostly new material–they played everything from the forthcoming Night of the Shooting Stars except “The Reward” and “Remain Calm” (all new songs are in bold).  The setlists would get pretty divergent by the fourth night.

This recording is great because you can hear the audience too.

As they get ready for “P.I.N.” there’s technical difficulties with Martin’s guitar: “It’s the setting up that’s the most exciting part of the show.”  The song sounds good, although the acoustic guitar is a little flat.

Even though this is primarily a new songs show, they follow up with the goofy “The Pooby Song.”  It’s a fun song with country sounding guitar and then some lunatic soloing from Martin.

Then comes a whole slew of new songs.  “Mumbletypeg” is such a happy fun song, a real pop gem with great backing vocals from Tim and wonderful falsetto from Martin.  It’s followed by “In It Now,” a poppy fun Tim song with a fantastic riff.

Before moving on to “CCYPA” Dave says “pace yourself.”  Martin says, “I don’t need to.”  Don chimes in, “What re you, Sting?”  To much laughter.  The Don notes that “Martin took off his Canadian tartan jacket.”  Dave: “They’ll arrest you in Ontario for doing that.”  “CCYPA” sounds great although Martin seems a little shaky on the words–or maybe it’s just his delivery.  Don is totally smashing the drums.

Opening “Superdifficult” Martin has fun with the voice processor for this song.   I love this song.  It’s so catchy I can’t believe it’s so short since it feels like there’s a lot of parts to it.  I also love “Junction Foil Ball” which is such a weird Martin song.  It sounds great here.   “Song Of The Garden” was on Harmeldoia but it was so good they wanted it on NOTSS as well.  This new recording should have been a huge hit, it’s so catchy.  It’s also got some really wild guitar work at the end–electronic/robotic sounding.

They take a break for some banter.  The Golden Seals.  Mike Bonnell and Dave Merritt from that band helped to write “Garden” and Don says that their then new album Storybook Endings is the best record of the year [a bold statement in February].  They discuss the worst album.  DB: The new Love Inc. album is really bad.  The first one was good.  Then they talk about a cassette tape that Ben Gunning from Local Rabbits made for their road trip.  It was so bad, they threw it out the window in Moncton.  Ironic that it was given to us by a member of a band who has made one of the best records of the year, The Local Rabbits.  Dave also says the Nelly Furtado record is quite deserving of its accolades.

One more new song, “The Fire” is a complex song with multiple parts,  It’s got a lovely melody and a gentle opening sing by Martin.  After a minute and a half, there’s some heavier guitar and lead vocals from Dave.  Then Martin takes over again.  When the two of them sing together at the end, it’s really fantastic.

Then it’s back to two songs from Harmelodia, the incredibly poppy “I Fab Thee” and the sweet “It’s Easy To Be With You” (although Martin tries to make some crazy noises during the solo–with some success).

They acknowledge Valentine’s Day–“It’s win a date with Martin, night.  Guess what color underwear he’s wearing!”  Then they play Martin’s “Valentine Song” called “The Idiot.”

They joke that they won’t play as long tonight: “Fewer songs that aren’t as good, played worse.  That’s our new direction for the 2001s.”

A pretty “Loving Arms” is followed by the story of the French woman who thought Don Kerr’s name was “don’t kerr” (Don’t care).  She also thought that David Bowie stole Don’s look (seriously).  Dave: “Bowie just came off his neck beard 2000 tour.”

The new song “We Went West” is sweet as always and it’s followed by the roaring (and sloppy) “Satan Is The Whistler.”   Martin has some fun with that robotic voice at the end.

Our “nightly dose of new wave” comes with “Four Little Songs,” which they jam out for quite a lengthy middle section.

People have been calling out for all kinds of songs, so Dave says that the next song, “Stolen Car,” combines the majesty of “Horses” with the lyricism of “Aliens,” the suspense of “Fish Tailin'” … what was the other one you wanted to hear?  The pathos of “Record Body Count.”  The solipsism of “Introducing Happiness” ….and (Martin chimes in: “it ameliorates all of them.”  It sounds great and the ending is just dynamite.

After the encore break they come back with a really poppy new Dave song, “Here To There To You.”    Then they actually do play “Fish Tailin’.”

The tape ends with a cool, moody “Saskatchewan” and then a cut-off “Feed Yourself.”  The tape is cut off before they get to the wild middle section, but what is played is pretty great.

[READ: February 13, 2019] “Finissage”

This is a weird post-apocalyptic “story.”  I honestly don’t even know if it’s a story.

The part of the story that I “got” and that I liked was:

The betrayed Earth demanded to be returned to Indigenous stewardship.  It took the crisis of mass extinction to make it so.

[and]

Males hadn’t been born for decades… but this was okay as it meant the patriarchy was finally over.  No more school shootings!  No more dick pics….

That’s awesome.  But the rest of the story, which is only one page, is less so. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-“Echoes” (2019).

Rodrigo y Gabriela are amazing guitarists.  Rod plays amazing solos wile Gab plays an astonishing rhythmic counterpoint (both on acoustic).  Although they do play classical and Spanish styles (and so much more) they often mix heavy metal elements into their songs.  I have seen them twice live and they blew me away each time.

They are back with their first album in five years.  And they have just released a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” an 18 minute song that I just love.

And their version is utterly fascinating.  How do two guitarists plan to cover Pink Floyd?  Well, the beginning of the song is a great, recognizable riff, so they play that and Rod plays the vocal line when that comes around.

The middle of the original gets really trippy and kind of dark, with all kinds of synth sounds.  So what do Rod y Gab do?  They embrace what they do best–with Gab playing an incredible rhythm, Rod takes an opportunity to shuffle around in a solo (there’s certainly some looping overdubbing here).  The middle quiets down to them just scraping strings and pounding the guitar and splaying single echoing notes.  It’s not as dark as the original, but it’s still a weird and somewhat unsettling passage.

The song comes out of the middle darkness with  a rollicking solo and a huge buildup from both guitars.

It resumes the song and finishes much like the original in about 18 minutes.  It’s spectacular.

Learn more about it and watch the video here.

[READ: January 25, 2019] Cucumber Quest 2

It has been a while since I read Cucumber Quest 1, so details were a little fuzzy, but the humor of the book is still awesome (especially the way it undercuts hero tropes.

Cucumber wakes up on an island and as he is calling for his friends, he steps on a cell phone.  As he goes to use it, someone shouts NOOO!

It is a young female bunny creature arguing with a crab.  The crab (and all of the crabs) are crabby.  They doubt that she is Princess Nautilus even if she claims she is.  Cucumber takes out his magic wand and it actually works!   He saves her.  Woah.

She says he can call her Nautilus.  He suggests “How about Nautie for sh–” and then realizes what he said. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HARRY SIMEONE CHORALE-The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival (1973 or 1959).

This is a simply beautiful chorale.  The vocalists are top-notch and the instrumentation is subtle and apt.  S. grew up listening to it and was delighted that we could find it online.  I had never heard of Harry Simeone, and had no idea he was from New Jersey (in fact the 1973 recording of the album was done in Linden, NJ).  But here’s a Wikipedia summary of the guy who co-wrote The Little Drummer Boy!

Simeone was born in Newark, New Jersey. He grew up listening to stars performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, not far from his native Newark. Initiated and inspired by this childhood passion, he sought a career as a concert pianist. To this end, he enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music, which he attended for three years, but when he was offered work at CBS as an arranger for bandleader Fred Waring, he dropped out of Juilliard to accept it.

When the Twentieth-Century Fox Records label contracted Simeone to make a Christmas album in 1958, he assembled a group he called “The Harry Simeone Chorale” and searched for recording material. After being introduced to an obscure song by friend and credited song co-author Henry Onorati, titled “Carol of the Drum,” Simeone changed the title to “The Little Drummer Boy” and recorded it under that title for his album Sing We Now of Christmas. He received joint authorship-and-composition credit for the album, although he did not actually write or compose the song. The single “The Little Drummer Boy” quickly became extremely popular and scored on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962.

Turns out this recording The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival is a repackaging of Sing We Now of Christmas but renamed to tie in The Little Drummer Boy’s success.

The music is great with a broad range of voices and often minimal orchestration (lots of French horns and sousaphone)

“Sing we now of Christmas/Angels we have heard on high/Away in a manger/What Child is This?/Joy to the World”  Lots of bells, with the women singing alternately in rounds.  It’s a great opening.  Almost threatening music comes in with the intro of “And this shall be a sign to you” spoken/sung to introduce “Away in a Manger.”  “What Child” is done with a harp–lovely.  I tend to forget that “Joy to the World” is a Christmas song.  It’s so upbeat and happy and could be much longer.

“Go Tell It On the Mountain”  a very deep voice sings this one, and it swings a bit.

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear/Good King Wenceslas/We Three Kings/Villancico/Hark, The Hearld Angels Sing” is quieter again.  A gentle vocal turn is followed by a spoken word introduction to “We Three Kings.”  Before “Villancico” there’s some “do de doo doo” bass singing from the men while the women sing.  “Hark” is wonderful with bells and horns.

The segues between sections aren’t really clean or anything and its unclear why some things are a medley and others not.  Maybe it was easier than making a ton of short tracks?  It matters not.

“Bring A Torch, Isabella / Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”  I’ve never heard of either of these and they are delightful.  A kind of folk song, I guess with Isabelle bringing a torch to see the baby.  Rose is a lot bigger and more olde-movie-chorus-sounding

“Deck The Halls/ Christian Men Rejoice /Master’s In The Hall /O’ Tannenbaum”
“Deck” is quite fast, but the voices are great and then after the first verse it turns really jazzy with a hi-hat jazz and a swinging style.  The rest of the tracks feel more formal, concluding with a lovely “Tannenbaum.”

“O Holy Night” starts out in a way I’ve never heard with a kind of introductory verse.  The deep-voiced man singing “blessed are you among women and blessed if the fruit of your womb” makes me uncomfortable.  But the lead soloist is fabulous.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is really great with the deep “rumm”-ing from the men and the high female voices.

“Coventry Carol / Rise Up Shepherds / God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen O’ Little Town Of Bethlehem / O’ Come Little Children
Carol” sounds a bit like a European spy movie with the xylophones and the accordion.  It’s very cool.  The deep voiced guy comes back for “Rise Up.” But its the impressive big horns and the repeated rounds that come in for “God Rest” which sound great.  “Town” is beautiful and quiet and it’s possible that children sing “Children.”

“Ding Dong / While Shepherds Watched Their Flock By Night / The First Noel / The Friendly Beasts”
This begins with the spoken word about the angels said unto them… which leads to a spritely “Ding dong.”  I don’t know Shepeherds” but the vocal is lovely and operatic.  “Noel” is similarly lovely with a very high note and some nice horn accompaniment at the end.   “Beasts” brings in a nice change with harpsichord and chorus.

The final medley is “Silent Night / Adeste Fideles / A Christmas Greeting”
“Silent Bight is beautiful, with a lovely solo.  “Adeste” is quiet, sung gently by men.  And the “Greeting” is like a card from the chorale wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

It’s a wonderful record and I see that many other people grew up with it.  I wish I had too.

[READ: December 14, 2018] “Will Evans Save the World”    

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I haven’t read much Ben Greenman lately, so it was nice to see his name again.  Greenman writes such a variety of things that you never know what kind of story you’re going to get.  And you don’t know exactly what kind of story this is until the end, either. (more…)

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