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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #595 (February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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storiesSOUNDTRACKPOLYPHONIC SPREE-Tiny Desk Concert #259 (December 21, 2012).

The Polyphonic Spree performs a Tiny Desk Concert.I really enjoyed Polyphonic Spree’s first album (and their strange robes and cult-like following (apparently even within the band).

They put out a Christmas album some time ago, and since we have a big pile of Christmas albums, I grabbed that one.  I didn’t love it, but it was a fun addition to our collection.

This Tiny Desk Concert is notable for just how many members of the band are behind (and on the side of) the Tiny Desk (perhaps 18?).

And the band is suitably musical–trombone, trumpet, keys, drums, bass, cello, violin and a ten (or so) piece choir.

Interestingly, I find that the weak link in this whole thing is leader Chris DeLaughter.  It’s just that his voice is really not that interesting. It’s especially notable on “The Christmas Song” where he sings some high notes unaccompanied.  When the choir comes in (and they change the melody) it sounds really cool.  I especially love the way they make “reindeer really know how to fly” into a high note.

The first song is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” which I feel is the Christmas song they might be best known for.  It’s pretty traditional to the original, with the choir filling in for the kids.  The addition of horns really adds a lot to it.

“Silver Bells” gets a pretty rocking treatment–the buildup at the beginning is pretty cool.  They change the main melody to an almost circus-like waltz. I love the way it sounds when everyone joins in–and when the choir is singing along to the rocking end (with a very different melody) it sounds great.  But once again DeLaughter’s voice doesn’t seem up to the task of leading this larger group.

But it’s festive and fun, especially with everyone in red robes (and DeLaughters green one).

[READ: December 2016] Christmas Stories (1854-1864)

Last year, I started reading some Charles Dickens Christmas Stories in December.  I imagined that I’d finish the whole book this season (all 750 pages of it), but I didn’t come close.  I enjoy these stories but they are not quick reads by any standard.

The fascinating thing with a lot of these stories is that they appeared in All the Year Round, a Victorian periodical founded and owned by Dickens and published between 1859 and 1895 throughout the United Kingdom.  But just because these stories came out for the Christmas issue doesn’t mean they have anything to do with Christmas directly.

I thought I’d be reading a whole chunk of the book in a row, but I wound up skipping around a bit.  Maybe next year I’ll finish the remaining stories. (more…)

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jerusalemSOUNDTRACK: JERUSALEM IN MY HEART-If He Dies, If If If If If If [CST114] (2015).

ififif Since 2005, Jerusalem In My Heart has been Radwan Ghazi Moumneh (all music) and Charles-Andre Coderre (all visuals).  This is only their second album, however, because they were always more of a live band.

Obviously there’s no real visual component to the record.

Since I don’t know all that much about this band, I rely on the Constellation records website for my information.  Thus:

Moumneh expands his compositional palette on If He Dies, If If If If If If, exploring new deconstructions and juxtapositions of both traditional and popular Arab musical currents, with an album that oscillates between powerfully emotive vocal tunes and instrumental works that primarily make use of Radwan’s expressive acoustic playing on buzuk as a point of departure.

The album’s first song “Al Affaq, Lau Mat, Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau Lau (The Hypocrite, If He Dies, If If If If If If)” opens the disc with a short piece of processed vocals.  The Arabic traditional voice is mildly auto-tuned which sounds kind of cool.  [FROM CST: One of Moumneh’s finest melismatic a cappella vocal performances].

Track 2, “A Granular Buzuk” is a 7-minute instrumental piece of Moumneh on buzuk with pulsing electronic background music.  [CST: the buzuk is processed, re-sampled and otherwise disrupted through Radwan’s real-time custom signal patches]. As with a lot of this record, pretty instrumental passages are interrupted and taken over by noise—this time a kind of mechanical scratching.  It ends with some quietly ringing percussion as the electronics all slowly drift away.

“7ebr El 3oyoun (Ink From The Eyes)” is a vocal track with an electronic drone.  It sounds traditional and mournful, but about 3 minutes in, a drum and buzuk keeps time and the song grows a bit more upbeat.  [CST: languidly plaintive vocals set against a gradually accelerating riff underpinned by hand percussion].

“Qala Li Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa Kafa (To Me He Said Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough Enough)” has incredibly loud static with a buzuk playing in the background.   After a minute and a half the static drops away and the background is filled with a quiet pulsing kind of static.  You can finally hear the instrument being played in all its glory.  [CST: a scabrous white noise intervention wherein the entire audio mix is fed through a contact mic placed in Radwan’s mouth].

“Lau Ridyou Bil Hijaz (What If The Hijaz Was Enough?)” is mostly synth–again an old sound with metronymic electronic percussion and quiet vocals. It’s all kind of muffled and very retro.  [CST: Moumneh continues to channel his love for Arabic pop and Casio/cassette culture with this silky lo-fi dance].

“Ta3mani; Ta3meitu (He Fed Me; I Fed Him)” is a faster piece.  Echoed vocals and drones rest behind a fast buzuk melody.  [CST: he pays homage to the until-recently-exiled Kurdish poet and singer Sivan Perwer on this traditional-minded, unadorned folk tune].

“Ah Ya Mal El Sham (Oh The Money of Syria)” opens with a loud vocal and a flute mirroring the voice.  It runs for seven-minutes and ends quietly.  [CST: a tour-de-force drone piece built from Bansuri flute (performed by guest player Dave Gossage)].

The disc ends with “2asmar Sa7ar (The Brown One Cast A Spell),” a fast buzuk solo played over the relaxing sounds of oceans waves.  It has a cool melody and runs quickly and then calmly for some five-minutes before the disc ends with more waves lapping against the shore.  [CST delicate acoustic number set against the sound of waves recorded on a beach in Lebanon].

As with the previous record, song titles employ the transliterative characters used in Arabic phone texting, which I think is pretty cool.

[READ: March 30, 2016] Jerusalem

With a title and subtitle like that you know this isn’t going to be a fun and lighthearted story.  And it is not.  The introduction explains how this is the story of a family, but it is more about the land and the strife that has been there for generations.

A lengthy history of Jerusalem is given, but for the purposes of this story the most recent action is the 1929 dispute over prayer rights which led to riots.  And then the British imposed the White Paper of 1939 which blocked Jewish immigration and was in place as the Nazis were riding to power. This led many Palestinian Jews to regard the British as hostile. And yet many Palestinian Jews joined the British army to fight the Nazis in Italy and the Middle East.  At the same time there were underground forces of Palestinian Jews who were attacking the British.

The action of this story takes place in 1945.

There is also a history of the Halaby family about whom this story is concerned.  Yakov Halaby was born after a series of girls were born in his family.  His father vowed that if they had another son they would move to Jerusalem.  After Izak was born they did so.  But Yakov was jealous from the start.  And he made Izak’s life miserable.  Eventually Izak left and married an Egyptian woman and they both moved back to Jerusalem. (more…)

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harpjulySOUNDTRACK: JERUSALEM IN MY HEART-Mo7it Al-Mo7it [CST093] (2013)

mo7So just what is Jerusalem in My Heart?  According to the Constellation records website:

Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) has been a live audio-visual happening since 2005, with Montréal-based producer and musician Radwan Ghazi Moumneh at its core. Moumneh is a Lebanese national who has spent a large part of his adult life in Canada.  Moumneh is also active in the Beirut and Lebanese experimental music scenes, where he spends a few months every year.

but more specifically, what does it sound like?

Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) is a project of contemporary Arabic and electronic music interwoven with 16mm film projections and light-based (de)constructions of space, exploring a relationship between music, visuals, projections and audience.  …   [The album blends] melismatic singing in classic Arabic styles and electronic compositions with contemporary electronic production. …  Moumneh’s voice has become a powerfully authentic instrument, [along with Saturated synths and the overdriven signals of Moumneh’s acoustic buzuk and zurna].

And what’s up with the title of the record?

The numeral 7 is pronounced like an h; all titles on the album are rendered in contemporary colloquial “mobile” Arabic (the transliterative characters used in Arabic phone texting).

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, the album begins with “Koll lil-mali7ati fi al-khimar al-aswadi (Speak of the Woman in the Black Robe)” which opens with an echoed voice that reminds me of the way a dance track might start.  But it quickly becomes clear that the singer is sing in Arabic and in a somewhat traditional manner (but with an echoed effect on the voice).  I don’t really know how Arabic music might be sung, but this is what it sounds like to me.  By the end of the track, some keyboards are added, echoing to the end.

The second track, “3andalib al-furat (Nightingale of the Euphrates)” is a 9-minute instrumental.  It opened with acoustic stringed instruments Dina Cindric playing the Rast Virginal on the banks of Al-Furat.  It is a beautiful piece, recorded outdoors with the sounds of birds and other animals contributing.  It never grows louder than these instruments.

And then this acoustic and mellow piece jumps into the very electronic sounding third song, “Yudaghdegh al-ra3ey wala al-ghanam (He titillates the shepherd, but not the sheep…).”   The opening riff is very late 70s Tangerine Dream-sounding.  I expected a lengthy instrumental, so I was very surprised when the female vocalist (I assume Malena Szlam Salazar) began singing in tradition Arabic style.  It’s a great mix.  Especially at the end as her voice gets more processed.

Track four, “3anzah jarbanah (Sick, Diseased Goat)” is a mostly a capella vocal song with Moumneh singing in his mournful keening voice.  He sounds pained as his voice has a slight echo to it.  After about three minutes a distorted keyboard plays behind the voice.  It has a distinctly 1980s sci-fi vibe.

“Ya dam3et el-ein 3 (Oh Tear of the Eye 3)”  is 5 minute-instrumental which I believe is done mostly by Sarah Pagé playing the Bayat Harp on the banks of Dajla.  Again birds are heard throughout.  These instrumentals are just lovely.

“Ko7l el-ein, 3oumian el-ein (Eyeliner of the Eye, Blindness of the Eye)” has a kind of solo opening on what I assume is the buzuk.  It’s fast and a little wild by the end with an electronic sounding synth line running in the background that more or less takes over the song.  The final track is ” Amanem (Amanem)” which has Moumneh’s vocals and a keyboard drone behind it.  It’s a rather mournful and spooky  vocal style and sounds likes he as about to cry.

Since I don’t really know what the album is about, the ending seems like kind of a downer.  But since I am exposed to practically no contemporary Arabic music, I found this to be a really interesting listen, and I wonder if it is in any way representative of contemporary Arabic music.

[READ: August 22, 2016] “My Holy Land Vacation”

I read this more of Bissell, not because of the contents, as I like Bissell quite a bit.  But I found myself strangely engrossed by this story of traveling to Israel with a busload of Conservatives.

Bissell says that he enjoys listening to right-wing radio.  He names a few hosts who I don’t know and then ends with Dennis Prager.  I don’t know him either, but he is the impetus for this article so there ya go.  Bissell describes him as the “patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded” which sounds pretty good.

Prager is Jewish and his audience is largely Christian.  And in the summer he organized a Stand with Israel tour.  For about $5,000 you could go on an all-inclusive guided tour across the world’ holiest and most contested land.

Bissell provides some context that the religious right hasn’t always been fans of Israel.  Indeed my recollection is that the Christian right was very antisemitic.  But by 2002 conservatives were vested in the cause because of some common beliefs like forbidding abortion and being suspicious of Muslims.

When Bissell first saw Prager in person he admits to the man’s charisma.  Bissell talks about what is known as the Israel Test which is summed up “if you ever find fault with Israel, you’re horrible.”  Prager believes that all American parents should send their children to Israel between high school and college to let their moral compass be righted again.

As for the trip itself–the food is plentiful everywhere–embarrassingly so.  He doesn’t like many of the people on the trip.  And he and his wife have to remember to not act like New York liberals.  But the one thing that Tom and his wife (and the people he has grown to like on the bus) can agree on is that their guide David is “the tour guide to have while Standing with Israel.”

Bissell is pleased to hear that the locals are pretty even-handed about a lot of things, always trying to explain up how most of the citizenry–both Israelis and Palestinians want peace.  But the travelers are appalled at this even handedness.  They want partisanship.  A woman yells that there no way that Israelis are teaching their children to hate.  A soldier–a man who lives here–responds to her that he knows Israeli families who do raise their children to hate Palestinians.  She responds, “Respectfully, no.  Respectfully, no.”

Later when they go to Nazareth, their tour guide explains that Nazareth has pretty much always been Arab territory–they didn’t take it from the Israelis, but no one appears satisfied with this answer.

Eventually they go to a settlement and meet self-described “Israeli rednecks.”  The man was born in Cleveland and moved to Israel in 1961.  He is a rabble-rouser and makes Bissell uncomfortable.  Bissell has to leave the room during the man’s excoriations.  When he steps outside, he meets Pastor Marty who is also appalled at the belligerence.  Marty blames talk radio in general and wonders when the last time “anyone was forced to have a civil discussion with someone who thought differently.”

But the real crisis is aboard Bus Five–Bissell’s bus–because their beloved tour guide has been fired because of complaints.  And a whole section talks about the bus’ reaction to this.  They even form factions who want to Stand Up for Dave, and the de facto leader begins trying to find out who is for or against Dave.  The section is pretty fun and strangely exciting.

But the final section grows much more serous.  They visit Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust Memorial.

Soon the rest of the bus and its occupants are forgotten and Bissell simply thinks about this memorial and the thousands of dead.  And then he thinks of his own family–he and his wife left their relatively new-born daughter home with grandparents.

I expected that this essay would be full of some crazy people spouting crazy things.  And to an extent it was, but what I like about Bissell’s writing is how empathetic he is and how he can really convey different perspectives while retaining his own individuality.  The essay also  contained a lot of interesting information and had a surprisingly emotional ending–one that is far removed from right-wing radio..

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guibertSOUNDTRACK: JACKSON BROWNE-Tiny Desk Concert #394 (October 6, 2014).

jbI don’t really think much of Jackson Browne.  He’s always been a staple of classic rock radio, but I never especially sought him out. His voice is unique and recognizable although if pressed I can’t think of the names of any of his songs (but I’d know them immediately if I heard them).

Bob Boilen talked with Browne in his book and that’s where I learned that Browne dated Nico from The Velvet Underground fame and even wrote songs for her.  I also learned that he is quite the activist.  And that he plays a lot in California with various performers (the blurb says “he’s largely free of obligations”–that’s a nice phrasing).

He plays three songs here.  I assume they’re all new as I don’t recognize them.  And they all sound very much like Jackson Browne.  He voice is largely the same although it does crack and break a few times (could that be the setting or the time of day or does he just accept that he’s getting older?).

It’s also interesting that Browne plays the rhythm guitar for most of the songs–allowing Val McCallum to play the lead guitar and Greg Leisz to play “all manner of stringed things” (including the slide guitar solos).

The three songs are “Call It A Loan,” “The Barricades Of Heaven” and “Long Way Around.”  I’m surprised at just how long these three songs are (the whole set comes in around 20 minutes).

Before “Long Way Around” (which is quite political), he says that they’re “Lucky to play for such an informed group.”  Bob says they stopped the news–there’s no news being made–so that Browne could play.

Some of the lines in “Long Way Around” are: “It’s hard to say which did more ill, Citizen United or the gulf oil spill” and “It’s never been that hard to buy a gun, now they’ll sell a Glock 19 to just about anyone.”

The songs are nicely accentuated by the backing vocals of Jeff Young who also plays keyboards for them but which they couldn’t bring.

This is a delightful, mellow (and thoughtful) set of music (with a huge crowd watching).  And there’s a funny moment at the end where someone triggers a James Brown doll and Browne does a pretty good “hit me!”

[READ: March 2, 2016] How the World Was

I was intrigued to read this book by Emmanuel Guibert because I’ve really enjoyed his work lately.  But how was I to know that How the World Was is a prequel of sorts to Alan’s War?  It was also translated by Kathryn Pulver.

This book is a”loving, immersive portrait of Alan Cope.”  Cope was born in 1925 when California was still the frontier and life was simpler and harsher.  And Guibert felt that it was a gift for Cope “in the last moments of his life” (unlike in Alan’s War there’s no word on whether Cope saw this book).

So this book is indeed all about Cope’s childhood.  And while he did have some pretty interesting things happen to him, his childhood was in no way extraordinary.   This is just a simple portrait of growing up in Californians in the 1920 s and 1930s as seen from one man’s eyes. (more…)

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may16SOUNDTRACK: MARISA ANDERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #374 (July 19, 2014).

marisaMarisa Anderson may be the most unassuming guitar wizard I’ve ever seen.  There’s nothing flashy about her or her look, but man can she make those guitars sound great.  And she plays an old-timey bluegrass style of guitar with slides and lots of picking.

For this set she plays 5 songs (on four different guitars).  She doesn’t sing, she just lets the music do all the work.

“Hard Times Come Again No More” is done on a hollow-bodied electric guitar.  It’s noisy, and fuzzy.  She plays finger-picks the main melody in the high notes and then in the middle of the song she plays big open string chords–buzzy and noisy–while still playing the melody.  She says the song “gets stuck in my head if I’m driving through snow.”

“Sinks and Rises” is about a swimming hole in Kentucky.  She went there in a car, but she wasn’t driving and she’s never been there since but it was the best swimming day of her life.  For this song she plays a lap steel guitar that looks to be made of ivory.  It’s so much fun to watch her slowly moving that slide up and down the neck (sometimes only playing one note) while her picking hand goes like crazy.

For the third song she plays a different hollow body guitar.  “Hesitation Theme and Variation Blues” was inspired by her favorite guitar player Rev. Gary Davis.  She says this is a deconstruction of his “Hesitation Blues.”  She doesn’t sing so she took it apart and put it back together.  It begins with an almost classical theme before launching into a very cool blues.

Then she switches back to guitar #1.  She says she plays in settings didn’t allow cover songs, she didn’t want to do just originals so she played songs from public domain–like the national parks if we don’t use them we’ll lose them.  In 2013, she released an album that was all songs in the public domain.  “Canaan’s Land Medley” is a medley of three gospel songs.  She plays the melodies with her fingers and a slide on her pinky–which adds some cool textures to the song.

For the final song, “Galax,” she brings out guitar #4, a Fender Strat (or knock off). She says she went to a bluegrass festival and was overwhelmed by all of the good songs being played in the parking lot–she’s not even sure if she got to the show.  This song is about all those songs being played at once.  There’s some really fast guitar playing and slide at the same time.  It sounds great and is even more fun to watch.

Anderson is really a marvel–totally soft-spoken and seemingly shy, but main is she amazing to listen to.

[READ: July 13, 2016] “Call Me Crazy”

The May 16, 2016 issue of the New Yorker had a series called “Univent This” in which six authors imagine something that they could make go away. Since I knew many of them, I decided to write about them all.  I have to wonder how much these writers had to think about their answers, or if they’d imagined this all along.

Of the six articles, Brownstein’s was certainly the funniest.  It’s also the most contemporary and almost the most obvious thing to complain about.  But it suits her comic style very well.

She wants to uninvent the conference call.  She assumes that we all agree that the conference call is a bad idea, but in case we need convincing she offers this example. (more…)

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may16 SOUNDTRACK: SUZANNE VEGA-Tiny Desk Concert #336 (February 10, 2014).

vegaSuzanne Vega is practically a one hit wonder except that she has released a half-dozen great albums that are full of wonderful songs.  I stopped listening to her some time in the mid 90’s, so I missed her 2000s comeback, but this four-song show from 2014 has her two most famous songs and two songs from her then about t o be released album Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.

As the Concert opens, she asks “for real?” and the hits the Tiny Desk gong (with quite a flourish).

Then she launches into “Luka.”  She plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Her voice sounds pretty much exactly as it did twenty years ago.  In part, sure, it’s because her singing voice is practically a whisper, but it’s amazing how good she sounds.  She has a second guitarist, Gerry Leonard, with her (on electric guitar) who plays a great sounding solo in the middle of the song.

The first new song is “Crack in the Wall.”  She says that it  describes when a crack appears allowing you to see into the spiritual world.  In this version (I don’t know the studio version), it sounds a lot like an old song–stripped down and simple, with Vega’s interesting gentle acoustic guitar chords and voice.  There’s also a cool echoed electric guitar solo.

For “I Never Wear White” she takes off the acoustic guitar.  It’s just her singing and Leonard playing.  And his guitar his rough and distorted.  It is pretty shocking for a Vega song, but it works really well with her voice.  I really like this song a lot.

She ends with “Tom’s Diner.”  She was going to say the one and only, but says they’ve done so many different versions of it.  So this is their latest.  She sings parts a capella but the guitar plays some wonderful washes of sounds (looped) with different parts layered.  He also plays a percussive sound that makes the song kind of danceable.  And when she mentions the bells of the cathedral, Gerry plays some cool harmonic notes that are echoed and sound like clock chimes.  It’s very cool.

Vega’s speaking voice sound a little like Hillary Clinton’s (especially during the thank yous at the end).  But it’s nice that her singing voice still sounds the same and that 2014 album seems like it might be interesting.

[READ: July 6, 2016] “High Maintenance”

The May 16, 2016 issue of the New Yorker had a series called “Univent This” in which six authors imagine something that they could make go away. Since I knew many of them, I decided to write about them all.  I have to wonder how much these writers had to think about their answers, or if they’d imagined this all along.

I’ve never read Mary Karr, I only know her peripherally as connected with David Foster Wallace.  This may not have been the best introduction to her, although since she mostly writes memoirs, maybe this is the perfect introduction.

Mary Karr would like to uninvent high heels.  And while she does speak of this with some humor, the entire article just reeks of vanity and foolishness.  (The fact that she even mentions she can still squeeze into a size 4 should tell you all you need to know about this essay). (more…)

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