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Archive for the ‘Film & TV’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE WEATHER STATION-Tiny Desk Concert #687 (January 8, 2017).

The Weather Station played a show in Philly a while back.  I knew that Bob Boilen really liked the album, and I thought about checking them out live.  But things came up and I didn’t.  And now here they are at a Tiny Desk.

It was the first song here, that Bob especially liked:

It’s called “Thirty” and in less than four minutes and nearly 400 words, singer Tamara Lindeman paints images of joy intertwined with the awaking jolt of turning thirty.

The dollar was down
But my friends opened businesses
There were new children
And again, I didn’t get married
I wasn’t close to my family
And my dad was raising a child in Nairobi
She was three now, he told me

The song is a pretty, shuffling song (spare drums from Ian Kehoewith a speedy rhythm guitar (from Lindeman), a roaming bassline (Ben Whiteleyand some cool guitar licks (William Kidman) over the top (both of which are really lovely).

The musicians in The Weather Station underpin these words with delicate playing and by sitting quietly but poignantly under Tamara Lindeman’s beautiful voice. Her soft voice shifts pitch with a rapid flow in a Joni Mitchell-sort of way, never coming up in volume more than a quiet, table conversation level.

There’s a great (relatively) wailing solo that really pushes the song forward and which ends perfectly when Tamara starts singing again.

“You and I (On the Other Side of the World)” has a slow slinkiness that I rather like.  There’s also some nice, understated backing vocals (deep male voices under Tamara’s higher register).  I love the bass work at the end of the song, too.

Tamara’s voice sounds very much like someone else or maybe a number of people: I hear Laura Marling and yes, Joni Mitchell, but maybe Margo Timmins as well.  In other words, all good benchmarks.

In fact, the final song, “Free” has a real Cowboy Junkies feel with the big slow echoing rhythm guitar that opens it.

On “Free,” there’s some great lead guitar work once again as well as a wonderful bass line.

a song Lindeman describes as about being both free and not free at the same time, there’s restraint in the voice and a release in the powerful guitar chords. That tension and release is an essential element to The Weather Station’s sound and one of the joys I’ve found listening to their enchanting music.

Initially I wasn’t blown away by this concert, but I found myself hitting replay over and over, enjoying it more each time.

[READ: August 20, 2017] Fierce Kingdom

I read about this story on Skimm, a daily news digest that I have since read is geared to women (and according to some criticism, treats women like they are dumb.  I have recently stopped subscribing to it because I do find it rather dumb and subtly right-wing (how could a site for women not be pissed that Hillary lost? #RESIST).  But whatever, the book sounded interesting so I put it on hold.

The premise is fairly simple: a woman and her young child (4 perhaps), are in a zoo.  Right around closing time two gunmen enter the zoo and start killing people.  What will she do?

For some reason, the blurbs didn’t reveal that there were gunmen, just that “something” happened. Well, honestly what else could it have been but gunmen. So, perhaps I spoiled that part but it came out pretty early anyway.

The story begins with a time stamp 4:55 PM. The zoo closes at 5:30 and Joan and her boy Lincoln are sitting in their favorite spot waiting to leave the zoo.  As they head toward the exit around 5:30, she notices bodies on the ground.  She had heard explosions earlier but didn’t think much of it,  But when she sees the bodies, she quickly puts things together and takes off.

Now the blurb for the book on the inside cover says “an electrifying novel about the primal and unyielding bond between a mother and her son, and the lengths she’ll go to protect him.”  That’s not wrong exactly but I feel like that puts a weird focus on it being about mother hood instead of survival.  Must be some kind of marketing thing.  I didn’t get the sense in the book that it has anything to do with motherhood–I mean frankly any parent would do that for his or her child and I’m sure any person would do the same for anyone they loved.  The fact that the child is younger and doesn’t have the same cognitive skills make the story more compelling.

Because, frankly, as she hides in an abandoned animal enclosure, there’s no reason she would ever have to leave such an enclosure–she can’t be seen, she is well protected, and it is dark.  She even has her cell phone and she talks to her husband (I find it a bit hard to believe that the police wouldn’t listen to him if he has a text from his wife in the zoo, but that’s what happens).  The bad guys even come into where she is and don’t see her.

So, end of story right?  At least I couldn’t imagine why there would be more story when she is safe and the police are coming. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Holiday Songs and Lullabies (1998).

This album “was inspired by impending motherhood and the rediscovery of a favorite children’s book–the enchanting Maurice Sendak-illustrated Lullabies and Night Songs, from whence many of these traditional tunes come.”

I wouldn’t have said it this way, but this quote from the Amazon page is pretty apt (if overwritten):

These simple, elegant songs outshine any nasty humbug associated with holidays and dark nights, offering sanctuary from the ill temper of the season.  Though she was heavy with child at the time of recording, Colvin’s sweet, girlish voice is here huskily warmed and enhanced by the fullness of womanly glow, conjuring the innocent simplicity of a safe childhood.

The songs are all gentle and have that lullaby feel.  Some songs have strings and horns, but mostly it is piano, organ and acoustic guitar.  And it is all down-to-earth, clean-sounding and cozy.

Technically this isn’t really a Christmas album, but it’s perfect to get you fall asleep early on Christmas Eve.

The songs include: “In the Bleak Midwinter” (Traditional) / “Christmas Time Is Here”  /  “Now the Day Is Over” (Traditional) /  “Rocking” /  “Windy Nights”  /  “All Through the Night” (Traditional) /  “Love Came Down at Christmas” /  “Silent Night” /  “All the Pretty Li’l Horses” /  “Little Road to Bethlehem” /  “Seal Lullaby” (Rudyard Kipling) /  “Evening Is a Little Boy/The Night Will Never Stay” /  “The Christ Child’s Lullaby” (Traditional) /  “Close Your Eyes” (Brahms)

What’s especially good is that she doesn’t take any fast or upbeat songs and make them slow and soporific, she takes most of the slow ballads and sings them very prettily.

[READ: October 31, 2017] The Dam Keeper

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the clips are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

The story is a somewhat peculiar one, at least in the beginning.

Animals live in a town called Sunrise Calley.  The fog used to consume the town.  Then they put up a dam with windmills to keep the fog out. It is up to the dam keeper to make sure it is always running. Because the fog means death.

The dam keeper is a pig .  The fog came into town and killed the dam keeper’s wife.  The father taught his son about the dam and the importance of making sure the dam is always working.  Then one day the father walked into the fog and was never seen again.

His father always said that the dam was working if the residents forget about it.  And so they have–they think the Pig family is weird for monitoring it.

So Pig, with no parents, must attend school and monitor the dam.  He has a lot of responsibility.  And he has few friends. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A VERY SPECIAL CHRISTMAS 3 (1997).

Sarah had this album on cassette, so I recently upgraded it to CD for her.  There are some good songs on here, but the end kind of degenerates into unpleasantness.  Looking at the track listing of the rest of the Very Special Christmas releases I can;t imagine ever getting (or even listening to) another one.

STING-“I Saw Three Ships”
Sting is back.  Compared to the previous song, this is a delightfully spare version of this song.  And it’s quite nice (and short).

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS-“Christmastime”
I’ve recently realized how much I dislike Corgan’s voice, but I do like his arranging.  This song is quite pretty and his voice is kind of submerged a bit so that’s good, too.

NATALIE MERCHANT-“Children Go Where I Send Thee”
O good Lord.  Sarah and I both like Natalie, but jeez this song is so repetitive and so freaking long.  One verse would have been fine.  But five? Hold crap.  I do like the “one for the little bitty baby” line, though.

REV RUN & THE CHRISTMAS ALL STARS FEATURING MASE, PUFF DADDY, SNOOP DOGGY DOGG, SALT-N-PEPA, ONYX & KEITH MURRAY-“Santa Baby” [NSFC]
Oh boy is this terrible.  A horrible update to a horrible song.  The original is kind of funny, but this is just excessive greed.  At least it mentions a ’98 benz so it is so dated that no one plays it anymore.

NO DOUBT-“Oi to the World”
Gotta say that I love this song.  It’s funny and fun and I would totally put this on a Christmas playlist.  This is back when I used to like Gwen Steafani.

SHERYL CROW-“Blue Christmas”
I don’t like this song and I’m mixed on Sheryl Crow, but this version works pretty well somehow.

BLUES TRAVELER-“Christmas”
I only know Blues Traveler from that one song with the long harmonica solo (I hate that harmonica sound).  But I love this song.  It actually reminds me a ton of Tenacious D (can t you just hear Jack Black singing this?)  It’s fun and really catchy.  I wonder if I need to listen to other Blues Traveler songs.

ENYA-“Oíche Chiún (Silent Night)”
This song is very pretty and I have the single for it.

HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH-“The Christmas Song”
Darius Rucker does have a good voice, but what the hell is going on in this cheesy phoned-in version?

CHRIS CORNELL WITH ELEVEN-“Ave Maria”
This is a nice (if not over the top–but is any version not over the top?).  But for heaven’s sake why is it 6 minutes long?

MARY J. BLIGE FEATURING ANGIE MARTINEZ-“Christmas in the City”
This is pretty much everything I hate in one Christmas song.  Cheesy beats, rambling verses, whiny choruses.

JONNY LANG-“Santa Claus Is Back in Town”
This is pretty close to everything else I hate in one Christmas song.  A blues song that feels like it goes on for 6 minutes.  Good grief.

DAVE MATTHEWS & TIM REYNOLDS-“Christmas Song”
This live version sounds better than the studio version I have elsewhere, but it’s still way too slow and mumbly and way way too long.

STEVE WINWOOD-“Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand”
No one knows this “traditional” song, I’m sure.  It’s a slow English ballad, with no real melody.  I thought it was Peter Gabriel.  I kind of like it.

TRACY CHAPMAN-“O Holy Night”
This is an enjoyable version, understated and kind of weary-sounding.

PATTI SMITH-“We Three Kings”
My daughter rightly said that this version was very weird.  Patti is at her most Patti.  There’s  aton of mumbled spoken word competing with the song.  Even the chorus, which is so wonderfully catchy, is played like a dirge.  And like everything else bad on this record, it goes on for nearly 6 minutes.  CDs were bad for allowing people to sing for too long.

[READ: December 24, 2017] “Tripping Sunny Chaudhry”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

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

This story actually takes place on Christmas Eve!

The narrator and her husband head back to New Jersey for the holidays.  Back when she was younger, all the kids would head out to the woods for beers and a bonfire.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GLENN MILLER ORCHESTRA-In The Nutcracker Mood (2012).

Glenn Miller disappeared just before Christmas on December 15, 1944. His Orchestra, in the too-short run under his personal leadership, had officially recorded only one Christmas song (“Jingle Bells”, October 20, 1941).

Year later, the orchestra has recorded three Christmas albums.

A list of desirable players was compiled. There were a few requisites — musicians had to be working currently; only alumni of the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be recruited; each individual had to have recognized and outstanding talent; each veteran had to be able to take a leave-of-absence from his current “gig”; and, of course, be available to come to New York City to record.  The average age of this band is about 50. The length of time each player performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra ranges from as little as 6 months to well over 10 years. The cumulative experience of this band recreating the authentic Miller “sound” is well over 100 years!

The first recording, “In The Christmas Mood”, was released in 1991. It was so successful that a second recording, “In The Christmas Mood II,” was produced and later released in 1993.

Almost all of the musicians performing on all three of these recordings, are the same. The only differences are the pianist for the first recording, and trombonist, Larry O’Brien, the then leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, was unable to make the second recording due to being on tour. Larry is noticeably back on this recording as evidenced by his beautiful trombone solo on Toyland.

My parents loved Glenn Miller and I grew up listening to him.  So when I saw this, I knew I had to get it–combining Glenn and the Nutcracker!

“Miniature Overture” a fun overture that puts the swing in things.
“March” I don’t know if Brian Setzer put the swing into this song before they did, but it has Glenn all over it.
“Dance of the Fairy Dragee” doesn’t differ too much for the original at least until the middle when the jazzy drums kick in.  The end totally swings.
“Russian Dance”  fast and peppy and wonderful with a big band flourish at the end.
“Arabian Dance” I love that the more Arabian sound comes from a muted trumpet.
“Chinese Dance” There’s some extra big band solos thrown into this one–cheating a bit I think.
“Dance of the Mirlitons” Some nice swinging in this dance too of course.
“Waltz of the Flowers”  This song is usually pretty sedate, but they big up the band.   The main part is still a pretty waltz, though.

“Jolly Old St. Nicholas”  The band’s singers enter on this song.  I have to admit I never really liked the Miller songs with words.  But this sounds pretty accurate to me.
“Toyland” A slow romantic ballad that I don;t recognize from elsewhere.  I could see Lawrence Welk and his bubbles doing this song.
“Ode to Joy”  You don’t hear jazzy versions of this too often, but they have the Glenn Miller sound perfectly for this swinging Classic.

“A String of Carols; Here We Come a-Caroling, Up On the House Top, a Child Is Born in Bethlehem, Deck the Halls”  The swingers are back with this nice medley of carols.

“Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” I love that they threw in a few bars of In the Mood into this song.
“Old Fashioned Christmas Tree” and “March of the Toys” I’m not sure if they are from something or just goo old swinging fun.
“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” returns the vocals to the end of the disc.  I fitting end for the Christmas holiday.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra:
Saxes: Ralph Olson Lead Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Flute; Lee Lachman Clarinet, Alto Saxophone & Piccolo; Mark Vinci Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Frank Perowsky Clarinet & Tenor Saxophone; Richy Barz Bass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
Trumpets: Tom Snelson; Ken Brader; John Hoffman; Dale Thompson
Trombones: Larry O’Brien; Eric Culver; Randy Purcell; Dennis Good
Piano: Tony Monte
Bass: Lanny Fields
Guitar: Jay Patten
Drums: Danny D’Imperio
The Moonlight Serenaders: Annette Sanders, Arlene Martell, Al Dana, Paul Evans, Kevin DiSimone

[READ: April 25, 2017] The Art of Wordless Storytelling

This book is a companion to an exhibition of Wiesner’s art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Wiesner has created some of the most beautiful children’s pictures books ever.  And most of them have no words at all.  His books include Free Fall (1988), Hurricane (1992), Tuesday (1991), June 29, 1999 (1992), Sector 7 (1999), The Three Pigs (2001), Flotsam (2006), Art & Max (2010), Mr Wuffles! (2013) and Fish Girl (2016).

This book taught me that all of his art is done in watercolor and done in such a way that he adds layer upon layer of color to create intense depth of color and shade–I’d always known his art was great but had no idea why.  But then I read that when most books are created they print all of the colors at the same time, effectively muting his work.  So all of the subtlety in his work is lost when it comes out in book form.  His original drawings and paintings sound breathtaking.

In addition to seventy some plates of paintings, this book contains a few essays and Q&A with Wiesner. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHIRIM KLEZMER ORCHESTRA-Klezmer Nutcracker (1998).

I love this klezmer version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

The first 7 songs of the disc are the popular, quickly recognizable melodies from the ballet.  But each song has been klezemerfied–which means minor keys and clarinets and spirited dances that are really peppy.

So even though the musicianship is top-notch, there’s plenty of humor here.  As this review puts it

It combines the zany wit of a Spike Jones with the class and craft of a Duke Ellington and recasts the Nutcracker as a Hannukah classic with images of a dancing Latkes Queen and marching Macabees.

The humor even extends to the titles:

A Klezmer Nutracker

  • Kozatsky ’till You Dropsky
  • Dance of the Latkes Queens
  • March of the Macabees
  • Araber Tants
  • Dance of the Dreydls
  • Waltz of the Rugalah

The rest of the disc is made up of Other Klezmer Classics.  Despite the abundance of Satie, these songs don’t quite do it for me.  They are fine, but Gustav’s Wedding and Romanian Rhapsody are a bit too long.  Although Hungarian Goulash is wonderful

Perhaps I just prefer the songs with which I’m familiar.  Having said that, the second half is full of very good klezmer, so don’t dismiss it outright.

  • Gustav’s Wedding 4:25
  • Romanian Rhapsody by G. Enesco 4:40 (see, these two are too long)
  • Gnossienne 1 by E. Satie
  • Gnossienne 2 by E. Satie
  • Gnossienne 3 by E. Satie
  • Hungarian Goulash (based on Brahms)
  • Nekhome–Solace (after “Prelude 4,” Chopin)
  • Turk in American
  • Russian Bulgar
  • Gymnopedie 3 by E. Satie

[READ: July 9, 2017] 100 Girls

I really enjoyed this book (first in a series apparently), and was about to say it’s really good for an Orphan Black-type premise, and then I saw that it came out in 2005–many many years before Orphan Black. So, three cheers for the originality then.

The book begins with Sylvia waking up from a nightmare.  Right off the bat the drawing style is notable–Todd Demong’s style is really interesting–angular and exaggerated but not “cartoony,” the proportions and angles make the story more hyper-real than cartoony, which is pretty great.

When she wakes up, she hears her parents talking about her…how she has changed and become more difficult.  Her dad blames it on her being a teenager, but her mom thinks its something more.  As she walks to school with her friends, we see that a car is doing surveillance on her. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 17, 2017] Darlingside

We saw Darlingside at XPNFest in 2016.  The outdoor setting and our wilty family led to a less than stellar experience despite the amazing sound of the band.  How can four guys with one mic sound so good in an outdoor festival?

Well, when I heard they were coming back around, I was super excited to get tickets at Bethlehem Steel Stacks–the day they went on sale I bought a ticket right in front of the stage.  And then we couldn’t go.  A commitment came up, I got rid of the tickets and then we wound up not even going to the commitment. Ugh.

But it was all fine because they had announced a show at SOPAC and I still got second row seats.

The band sounded amazing in this small venue–which had wonderful acoustics.  And they were charming and funny as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: YOU sleigh ME: Twelve songs from Twelve Atlantic artists for the twelve days of Christmas (1995).

This is one of the first “alternative” Christmas albums I bought.  At the time, I bought it for Tori Amos and Juliana Hatfield.  But this disc has not held up very well and collections have gotten so much better.

Between the poor song choices and the rather bland recordings, the whole things is kind of tedious.

MARY KARLZEN-“Run Rudolph Run”
I’ve said before that I don’t really like this song.  This version chugs along just fine.  The one thing it really has going for it is that she plays with the genders of the kids so that it’s the girl who wants the electric guitar. That’s cool.

COLLECTIVE SOUL-“Blue Christmas”
I don’t really love this song either, although surprisingly this is probably one of my favorite versions so of it.  The rhythm is a weird shuffle, almost like the hand-jive but I like the heavy guitars at the end of each verse.  Weird that his delivery is almost like Elvis though.

TORI AMOS-“Little Drummer Boy”
I can’t imagine when she would actually have sung this live (for it is a live recording). Typical Tori, her voice sounds great and it’s before she started singing in a weird style.

DONNA LEWIS-“Christmas Lights”
No idea who Donna Lewis is.  This song is a mild, inoffensive Christmas song that I can’t say much more about.

BILLY PILGRIM-“The First Noel”
I have no idea if this band is still around or even who was in them, but this version of the song is quite nice.  There’s pretty folk guitar and some great harmonies.  I can nit-pick about the No-ell-ell part but overall this one’s a keeper.

JULIANA HATFIELD-“Make It Home”
As I said, I bought this disc for Tori and Juliana.  This song is pretty, but it was used in My So-Called Life so it’s not special at all.  Boo.

JILL SOBULE-“Merry Christmas from the Family” (NSFC)
I’d always assumed that Jill wrote this song, although I see now that it was written by Robert Earl Keen.  This song is hilarious and mostly inappropriate.  And yet it also has a lovely sentiment (if you can get past the drunks and family problems).  It’s my favorite on this disc to be sure.

DANIEL JOHNSTON-“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”
I just don’t understand why people listen to Johnston.  His voice is not compelling, and this sounds like someone making fun of the song.

DILLON FENCE-“Christmas”
This is a slick song that is about Christmas in some way.  It’s sort of blandly inoffensive jangle pop.

JAMES CARTER-“White Christmas”
This is an interminable 8 minute jazz sax solo version of the song.  Wow, it never ends.

VICTORIA WILLIAMS-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Victoria Williams also has a take-it-or-leave-it voice.  I used to like her more than I do now, bu that could change any minute.  This song is faithful to the original and pretty if you like her singing.

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL-“25th December”
Another bland folky song.  The chorus is catchy, but I can’t be bothered to figure out what it has to do with Christmas.

Overall this is a disappointing disc and there are far better options.

 

[READ: December 17, 2017] “Last Woman”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

I enjoyed this piece for the way it juxtaposed a woman living by herself with the last woman left alive in a video game. (more…)

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