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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SHERYL CROW-Tiny Desk Concert #918/Tiny Desk Fest October 29, 2019 (December 2, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 29th was pop rock night featuring Sheryl Crow.

I had tried to get tickets to the Tiny Desk Fest.  Possibly on this night, although really I wanted the indie rock night.  If I had gotten tickets to this night I would have been a little bummed to find out it was Sheryl Crow.  I did like her many years ago, but I basically grew disinterred in her after her first couple of albums.

However, this set proves to be a lot of fun.  Her old songs sound great, the new songs are fun and her voice sounds fantastic.

“I heard a big thing on NPR about the shrinking of the attention span and how now, with pop songs, everything has like six seconds before you gotta change it, because the kids swipe over,” Sheryl Crow tells the crowd early in her Tiny Desk Fest concert. “I’m just gonna tell you right now: We’re dinosaurs. … And while the kids are all writing fast food — which is super-cool ’cause it tastes great, super-filling — we’re sort of still writing salmon. We’re the songwriters that are here to tax your attention span.”

She opens with “All I Wanna Do”

Twenty-five years ago this fall, Crow was in the midst of a massive career breakthrough: Her inescapable hit “All I Wanna Do” was entrenched in the Top 5 — it would later win the Grammy for Record of the Year — and her 1993 debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, was well on its way to selling more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Gosh it seems way more than 25 years ago to me.

I get a kick that she starts the song by saying “This ain’t no country club.  This ain’t no disco. This is Tiny Desk.”  The songs sounds terrific.  It holds up well and feels rejuvenated with some amazing pedal steel from Joshua Grange.  Surprisingly, the song doesn’t finished, it just jumps right into “A Change Would Do You Good.”  This song is one of several that feature nice keyboards sounds from Jen Gunderman (who also provides backing vocals).  Sheryl hits some nice high notes and there’s a great slide guitar solo from Peter Stroud.

She played some songs from her new album.  Introducing “Prove You Wrong,” she says this song features Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris.  They’re not here but were gonna play it anyway.  This song is remarkably country-sounding with some bouncy country bass from Robert Kearns.  There’s also a honky tonkin’ guitar solo form Audley Freed and a more rocking guitar solo from Stroud.

She wrote some songs with Chris Stapleton, like “Tell Me When It’s Over.”  This opens with a little drum fill from Frederick Eltringham.  It’s got a surprisingly disco feel in the middle of the song with some real old-fashioned keyboard sounds.

Fifteen years ago she moved to Nashville to quite out the noise–you know the noise of the world.  She says NPR is calming.  There are tiny desks everywhere with good people sitting behind them telling the truth at their tiny desks.  This is an introduction to “Cross Creek Road” an Americana song with solos from first Stroud and then Freed.

She continues saying that things are crazy these days and its hard to raise kids telling them you’re not allowed to lie, truth matters, be nice to one another, be empathetic and then having to turn off the TV if the news comes on.  Her nine year old asked her if the apocalypse was real, which freaked her out until she realized he was watching a zombie movie.  This

“Out Of Our Heads” proves to be a good old-fashioned campfire sing along.

The set ends with “If It Makes You Happy.”  She starts it slowly in an improv way, but when everyone kicks in it sounds pretty darn nice (although maybe a little slow).  I really like the keys that sound like flutes in the middle.

The blurb says she performed two unexpected encores.  I assume we heard them but they just cut out the intervening clapping?  Either way, it’s a really great set and shows that Crow still has it.

[READ: December 2019] Moone Boy: The Fish Detective

This second book has an introduction from the imaginary Friend just like the first one.  It invites you to put your feet up (but not on the book unless you enjoy reading through your toes) and to have a snack (the red bits on the cover taste like strawberries).

The book opens with the explanation that Martin Moone doesn’t handle the calendar very well–he doesn’t like long stretches of time on between holidays, so he divides the calendar into “yections:”

  • Boxing for Love: St.Stephen’s Day to Valentine’s Day
  • Lovefool: Valentine’s Day  to April Fools Day
  • Fools’s Gold: April Fools Day to 20th May (my birthday when I always ask for gold gifts)
  • Golden Days: 20th May to end of term
  • Days of Wonder: summer holidays!
  • Wonder What Happened to the New School: start of term to 5th November
  • Why Won’t It End: 5th November to Christmas Day

We were in the last yection–it was 50 sleeps til Christmas and Martin wondered if his parents had thought of a good present for him. They said they were torn “between getting you new school trousers or fixing the sink in the bathroom. You love that sink, don’t you?”

Then Martin gives the crux of this book: For Christmas he wants a Game Boy.

That seems unlikely to happen so maybe Martin could get a job.  He thinks he’d like to a be a bin man.  But the actual bin man says you’re not exactly a man are you?  It’s in the job title after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOOL-“Some Days It’s Dark” (2007).

I recently learned that Tool performed this cover of a song from The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy live.

In the movie Bruce McCullough’s character Grivo’s band Death Lurks plays this very heavy song (written by Craig Northey and performed by Odds).  Lyrically it’s amusingly Dark

Some days it’s dark
Some days I work
I work alone
I walk aloooooooone.

Tool is considered to be one of the most intense metal bands out there with fans taking them very Seriously.  So the fact that they covered this song (in Toronto) is fantastic.

The cover is great (of course).  They get the sound of the original right on, especially when the big heavy part kicks in.  The only problem I would say is Maynard’s delivery.  It’s a little too deadpan,  I’d like it to be a but more over the top.  But maybe that wouldn’t be Maynard’s way.

You can hear it (no video) here.

There’s no word on if they also played “Happiness Pie.”

[READ: January 27, 2020] Extra Credit

When a beloved (and award winning) series nears its end, it is time to put out early and special features collections.  Usually they come once the series has ended, but this one has come early.  Whereas Early Registration was a good collection of early material, this collection is a bit more haphazard.

It collects some Christmas specials and some early “comic strips” from Allison.  Given this seeming completest nature of this collection, I can’t imagine that there’s another volume planned.

The first story is called “What Would Have Happened if Esther, Daisy and Susan Hadn’t Become Friends (and it was Christmas).”  It’s the 2016 Holiday issue drawn by Lissa Treiman.

We zoom in on DAY-ZEE on “the edge of the boundless sweep of space” as she zooms in one the title question.  [It’s important to read Early Registration first as this story references that story].

Esther didn’t help Daisy move in on that first day.  Esther was immediately grabbed by the popular girls.  They are sitting under a tree playing music on their phones which wakes up Susan who curses them out. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-Tiny Desk Concert #925 (December 18, 2019).

One of my favoirte Christmas songs is “Donde Esta Santa Claus?” so I’m always pleased to hear someone play it (it’s not overplayed yet).  I didn’t realize that this Tiny Desk Concert was a Christmas themed one, so when Los Lobos opened with this song, I knew it had to go on Christmas Day.

The band called up tunes from the Latin holiday song book, straight from their recently released, first-ever Christmas album, Llegó Navidad, a bilingual collection of songs from across Latin America and the U.S.

Imagine my surprise to read this about my favorite Christmas song:

They kicked it off with an obscure novelty hit that was once popular in Latino households in the Southwest, “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” It was originally a lushly orchestrated affair that is now a “lowrider oldie.”

The percussion is in full effect on this song with Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez on drums, Marcos Reyes on congas and Louie Perez on a washboard type scratcher.  The song features a cool baritone sax solo from keyboardist Steve Berlin and a little acoustic guitar solo from singer Cesar Rosas.

David Hidalogo on 12 string electric guitar takes lead vocals on the new album’s title cut, “Llegó Navidad.” The song

is actually a classic from the Fania Records catalog originally performed by the Puerto Rican composer and singer Ismael Rivera. Los Lobos retains its pan-Latin callout to holiday celebrations across Latin America, set to a slow burning montuno groove.

There’s some cool low notes from the baritone sax and Hidalo’s gentle voice over the top.

For the third song, “Christmas and You” Louie Perez plays a jarana and Hidalgo sings lead.  It’s interesting to me that I am more familiar with Rosas as the lead singer.  I wonder how many songs he actually sings.

The band adds a David Hidalgo and Louie Perez original to the Latin holiday songbook with “Christmas and You,” a plaintive ballad about desperate loss that we would easily call a carte vena (vein cutter). The great Mexican essayist Alma Guillermoprieto once wrote that it’s not a real Mexican party “until someone cries,” and this song does the trick.

A brief keyboard/bells solo from Berlin keeps the holiday spirit in the song.

For the final song “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” Hidalgo picks up the accordion and the bouncy bass from Conrad Lozano makes this a fun polka style holiday song.

The party ends by sending everyone home, dancing with “It’s Christmas Time In Texas,” a song by the great Tex- Mex troubadour, Freddy Fender. It’s a Los Lobos scorcher, complete with accordion and good times that would get even abuelita dancing.

The Tiny Desk holiday shows are always fun, I wish there were more.

[READ: December 25, 2019] “A Hint for Next Christmas”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

Yes, this is the creator of Winnie the Pooh.  I didn’t know he wrote essays, but I definitely want to read more after this.  This essay appeared in Milne’s 1920 collection If I May and it rings true almost 100 years later in nearly every way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LETTERS TO CLEO-Ok Christmas (2019).

After a lengthy hiatus and a comeback EP, Letters to Cleo have returned with a Christmas EP.

It’s four songs and the title is a pretty funny indicator that the songs here are not full of great cheer–things are okay.

It’s a bit of a surprise for such a happy-sounding band.

The first song is a fun rocking version of The Kink’s “Father Christmas.”  This song always seems happy until you listen to the lyrics.  This version is a bit more pop punk than the original, but not by much.  However, Kay Hanley has updated the lyrics from

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
But if you’ve got one I’ll have a machine gun
So I can scare all the kids on the street

to

But give my daddy a job ’cause he needs one
He’s got lots of mouths to feed
And can you melt down all the machine guns
so the kids are safe on the street

“Miss You This Christmas” is an original that sounds like classic Letter to Cleo and could easily have been written and recorded back in the 90s.  Its a song of longing (obviously) with a positive twist at the end–coming home to kiss me New Year’s Eve.

“If I Get Home on Christmas Day” was sung by Elvis.  It’s a poppy little number that sounds upbeat and has a lovely lap steel guitar. But it has a lot of questioning about being together for the holidays.

The final song “X Mas Time (Sure Don’t Feel Like It”) I heard recently by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.  I assumed it was their song–it suited their sound very well (and its about Boston).  But it turns out it was originally by The Dogmatics (which makes sense because it’s a bit too dark for the Bosstones).

It’s the twentieth of December
Rain is coming down
Kenmore squares deserted, now
The college kids have left town

This version is a little less dark than the Bosstones’ since Kay Hanley’s voice is so much prettier than Dicky Barrett’s but it’s still not a very happy ending.

I understand what the band was doing with this OK Christmas, but I do wish it ended a bit more happily. Because that album cover (a great design by Daykamp Creative) is just fabulous.

[READ: December 24, 2019] “Vigil”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is a memory of Christmas Eve,  It also includes a bunch of Polish words.

On the Holy Night vigil, Wigilia (which means “to watch” in Polish), the young narrator and his family sat around while his father read “The Night Before Christmas.” They were ready for bed when there was a knock on the door. It was the grizzled, kooky old taxidermist from downstairs.

The man presented them with a large unwieldy package.  They invited him in, but he wouldn’t stay.  They wished him Wesolych Swiat and closed the door.

The present proved to be a very large carp wrapped in newspaper with a pinkish bronze tail and a gray thick-lipped snout with its white mustachios. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Little Saint Nick” (2019).

It was only a few years ago that I realized that this song is about a car.  For years you can sing words to a song and not realize what you’re actually saying.

The song is a fun upbeat Christmas song that I rather like.

Best Coast is a rock duo: Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno.  They sing California indie pop with a rocking edge.

This version of “Little Saint Nick” is not radically different from the original.  The biggest musical difference is how fuzzy and distorted the main guitar is.  But her deliver of the lyrics is pretty clean (with some very nice backing vocals).

I appreciate this version because it finally taught me what the deep-voiced part is in the song “he don’t miss no one.”  I could never tell form the Beach Boys version.

This is a delightful poppy version that with just enough edge to get you moving for the holiday.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “The Adventists”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

Ian Williams has my favorite answer to one of the Q&A questions:

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

IW: I wrote “The Adventists” because Michael Hingston asked me for a story for the Short Story Advent Calendar project. I pretty much already had a title from the invitation. He said that the story didn’t have to be religious or about Christmas, so, good lawkeeper that I am, I wrote a story that was religious and about Christmas.

Indeed, this story is about Adventists.  Seventh-Day Adventists.  The narrator is the father of a family of Adventists and his daughter has just come back from college in Leeds for Christmas.

The story begins, “Our daughter is trying to persuade us that the world is more  than 6,000 years old.” She’s also got quite the posh British accent (after being away for a semester).

She doesn’t dismiss the Bible out of hand–it gives comfort to many people.  But not you? her father wonders.  She says you can’t deny science.  He retorts, “You’re going to trust some rocks above the Word of God?”

Soon enough, his daughter took out her phone and started “texting or tweeting or whatever she does when she has no retort for the real world.”

The Monday before Christmas [that’s today!] they went to Walmart.

I love this aside:

For a significant period our family refused to celebrate Christmas in protest against its pagan origins.  Made no dent on the economy.  Now we were back, somewhat grudgingly to being standard Protestants.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Christmas EP (2000).

I heard a Weezer Christmas song this weekend when WRFF in Philadelphia was playing a Christmas takeover weekend–rock bands playing Christmas songs.

 I discovered the Christmas with Weezer EP, but the song they played was on this 2000 release.

That song is called “The Christmas Song” which is not any other Christmas song; it is a Weezer original.

With a heavy riff, Rivers sings a song of woe as the woman who told him she’d be there with him has stood him up and he is “waiting beside the tree all by myself.”

I like how the bridge features a note that sounds a bit like the “faaaaalll on your knees” part of “O Holy Night.”  Although it is actually, “Aaaaaaaah. Could you ever know how much I care?”  It’s got a very Weezer sound.

The other song on this release is called “Christmas Celebration.”  It’s a faster punkier song and despite the title, it is not much of a celebration .After a run-through of things that happens on Christmas

Carolers are singing
Registers ka-chinging
And the presents are in place
But I’d rather eat some mace
Cos that egg nog always makes me sick

we get to the crux.  Despite the “hoo hoo” at the end of each line, the vibe is negative.  The final repeated refrain is “The pageantry is such a bore.”

Not the most sentimental Christmas songs, although they are both quite catchy.

[READ: December 22, 2019] “Government Slots”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This was another of my favorite stories in the Advent Calendar.  It was so unexpected and thought-provoking.

I love how it starts on seemingly familiar ground with a list of three items: “three brown dahlias, pressed and dried; a photograph of a meadow in spring; a compass.”

It is Christmas Day and this federal office is open–the only federal office open. They are open every day because you never know.

An old woman comes past security and hands over her papers.  After an approval, she hands over her item–a sandwich bag full of cloud white fur.  But it is denied–nothing perishable or alive.

Another list of items: an endorsement letter signed by a cardinal; a miniature compendium of prayers for the dead; a pack of condoms. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Christmas with Weezer (2008).

I heard a Weezer Christmas song this weekend when WRFF in Philadelphia was playing a Christmas takeover weekend–rock bands playing Christmas songs.

When I looked up the song, I found out that Weezer released this EP in 2008.  It had originally been released for a video game called Christmas with Weezer (?!).  Evidently the game was Tap Tap which featured 18 band-specific versions!

This EP has six songs in under 13 minutes.  Each one of the tracks is pretty straight-ahead Weezer guitar rock.  They are bouncy and short, with nothing weird or crazy in them.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” starts out with a quiet guitar and then just rocks out when the lyrics come in.  The song is quick and to the point–no messing around.  There’s figgy pudding, there’s a short guitar solo, there’s a key change and its all done in a minute and a half.

“O Come All You Faithful” moves along at a nice clip.  This song is often done rather slowly and this is a fun change of pace.  The back half has a part where the guitars fade out and its a quiet verse before they all come back in to rock the finish.

“O Holy Night” is two times longer than anything else on the EP.  It’s a 4 minute, quiet version with a simple, picked electric guitar melody.  That is until the Weezer guitars kick in after about 40 seconds.  The song is still respectful and very catchy

“The First Noel” starts with an unexpected four note heavy guitar riff before the song resumes it faithful lyrics.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” has a rocking intro before a bass slide kicks the song into high gear.  This song romps through in 90 seconds.

“Silent Night” is a slower song with no drums, just tambourine.

This is a pretty ideal alternative collection of Christmas songs–nothing too crazy, but a nice change from the familiar.   Although it did not actually contain the song I was looking for.

[READ: December 21, 2019] “The Carnation Milk Palace”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is set in 1964 and concerns fourteen-year-old Charlotte.  She and her family were invited to the Halden’s house for a New Year’s Eve party.

The Haldens were the richest people her parents knew.  They lived in a mansion that her father liked to call The Carnation Milk Palace.  Charlotte’s family couldn’t even afford new things. It was quite a disparity.  Her mother painted things to try to make them current (which meant avocado green). (more…)

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