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Archive for the ‘Huh?’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BAILEN-NONCOMM 2019 (May 14, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I love the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes (one-way) for.

But since the shows are streaming you can watch them live.  Or you can listen here.

Bailen is a trio made up of siblings Julia, Daniel and David Bailen.  The have an interesting mix of rock and country with folk leanings all serving as a backdrop for their stunning harmony vocals. 

They opened with “Rose Leaves,” which features lead vocals fro Julia and lovely harmonies from David.  Those harmonies continued on “Something Tells Me” in which both of them sang the whole song in perfect synchronicity.

“Going on a Feeling” is a much faster song with, again, dual vocals for the verses and then some cool Fleetwood Mac-esque vocals for the chorus.  There’s some really gorgeous wordless-harmonizing during the middle of the song and the a fairly rocking guitar solo from Julia.  That’s Julia on guitar for all of the songs as well as Daniel on bass and his twin David on drums.  So they’re sort of like the mixed-doubles version of Joseph.  Daniel says they couldn’t find any friends to be in their band, so it’s just family members.

After a jokey “thank you for choosing NonComm over ComicCon,” they play “I Was Wrong.”  The song has been getting a lot of justified airplay on WXPN and I really like it.  I really like the riff and the way it counterpoints with the smooth chorus.  It’s also catchy as anything (and their voices are stunning–even live).

It’s fun to hear a young band play a festival like this and talk about meeting some of the other bands.  I think it’s David who says, “we’re technically opening for Morrissey… with some stairs involved.”

“Your Love is All I Know”  sounds even more Fleetwood Mac the way the guitar and drums open the song.  There’s some country leaning in the sound,  but then another ripping buzzing rock guitar sound rocks the ending.

Their set ended with “Not Gonna Take Me.”  One of the guys sings the main lead vocal.  But when Julia adds harmonies after a few verses, it’;s magical once again.

I can see Bailen getting huge and yet, I can also see them being too hard to market.  Which is a shame because their music is superb.

[READ: May 3, 2019] “The Second Coming of the Plants”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue.  This year’s issue had three short stories and three poems as special features.

I have enjoyed Gartner’s stories in the past. I liked the premise of this story but felt that, even at its short length, it was too long.  I get that the over the top language is done for effect, but plants can be boring too.

The premise of the story is that plants have taken enough from people and animals and are ready to dominate the earth.

There are three parts to the story, with the first being “Twilight of the Insects.”  This section is very long compared to the other two.  In this one, we hear about the plants kingdom’s rage.  Rage at letting “the insects carry on our fornication for us.”  Especially since “some of us virtually all vulva and vagina, penis and gland.”  They are the true hermaphrodites. The Mighty Hermaphrodites! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE CALIDORE STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #843 (April 22, 2019).

Whenever I hear a wonderful string quartet, I yell at myself for not listening to more classical music.  I’m not sure why I don’t–I just like my rock too much I guess.  But these 18 minutes of strings are really fantastic.  And I’m adding The Calidore String Quartet [Jeffrey Myers, violin; Ryan Meehan, violin; Jeremy Berry, viola; Estelle Choi, cello] to the list of quartets I particularly admire.

The blurb is great for unpacking what’s going on, so I’ll let it do just that.

The [string quartet] genre was born some 250 years ago and pioneered by Joseph Haydn, but composers today are still tinkering with its possibilities. Consider Caroline Shaw. The young, Pulitzer-winning composer wrote the opening work in this set, First Essay: Nimrod, especially for the Calidore String Quartet [back in 2016].

Over a span of eight minutes, the supple theme that opens this extraordinary work takes a circuitous adventure. It unfolds into a song for the cello, is sliced into melodic shards, gets bathed in soft light, becomes gritty and aggressive and disguises itself in accents of the old master composers. Midway through, the piece erupts in spasms that slowly dissolve back into the theme.

I love the pizzicato on the cello–there’s so much of it, from deep bass notes to very high notes.  Including the final note.

Their new album explores composers in conflict.  In the case of of the next song, loveless marriage.

The Calidore players also chose music by the quirky Czech composer, Leoš Janáček who, in 1913, set one of his operas on the moon. He wrote only two string quartets but they are dazzling. The opening Adagio, from “String Quartet No. 1, ‘Adagio'”, is typical Janáček, with hairpin turns that veer from passionate romance to prickly anxiety.

This piece is much more dramatic with powerful aching chords ringing out.

Reaching back farther, the ensemble closes the set with an early quartet by Beethoven, who took what Haydn threw down and ran with it. The final movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet Op. 18, No. 4, Allegro – Prestissimo” both looks back at Haydn’s elegance and implies the rambunctious, even violent, risks his music would soon take.

2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth.  They are celebrating by playing all of his string quartets in various cities.  He says that this piece is the most exiting part.

I love the trills that each instrument runs through in the middle of the song.

All of these pieces sound amazing.

[READ: April 22, 2019] “Cut”

This story started out is such an amusing way:

There’s no good way to say it–Peggy woke up most mornings oddly sore, sore in the general region of her asshole.

But it’s not an amusing scene at all.  It burns when she uses the toilet and she finds blood in her pajamas.

She could see a cut but only when using a hand mirror while she was crouched at the right angle.  But even so, her groin “was that of a middle-aged woman and not as strictly delineated as it once had been.”  Nevertheless, whenever she looked for it she always “paused to appreciate the inert drapery of her labia.”

The cut was there, but it seemed to migrate.   She tried to look it up online, but only found porn.  Adding Web MD brought back porn in doctor’s offices.  And adding Mayo Clinic introduced her to people with a fetish for mayonnaise. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Points (1981)

Negativland’s second album continues with the noisy nonsense of the first.  This disc actually has track titles, which is nice.  It’s about 38 minutes of experimental sounds, home recordings and all manner of noisy sound effects.

“Harry to the Ferry” features David teasing his mom who is playing the accordion–retake after retake with laughing and frustration.  Totally covered by jamming noises.  At the end his, aunt sings while his mom plays the title song.

“The Answer Is…” is simple synth sound–possibly even a demo from a synth?  It sounds like an ice skating rink.  It’s quite nice.  After three minutes we get the title sampled and then the music begins again with a bit more improv.

“Scolding Box” over menacing synths, David says “Green boy is extremely mad, he’s going to start scolding.”  The rest of the nearly six minutes is wavery, unsettling synth waves and what might be clarinet samples.

“That Darn Keet” David shouts, “Blue boy escaped!” followed by thumping and more menacing synths.

“Dear Mary” with a buzzing sound underneath and amid slamming noises, a man recites a stiff, formal letter to Mary about how hard it is to be yourself.  The end is a TV clip from a game show.

“Clutch Cargo ’81” piano improv with weirdo synth sounds bouncing in an out.

“Babac D’babc” all manner of weird chirping sounds and maybe balloons and then people arguing about their marriage.  The argument comes in chunks with each one getting more intense.

“A Nice Place to Live” a promotional audio for Countara Costa county.

“A Bee Fly” mechanical sounds and high pitched noises for a minute before it jumps to a track that actually talks about a bee.

“No Hands” starts as a song of sorts under lots of echo.  Then come voices of people at a barbecue (with more bee interruption) and meat sizzling.

“Potty Air” is basically six minutes of various electronic noises and static–seems like they are testing out to see just what their electronic machines can make.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “White Walls” 

This story is set in Russia and was translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell.

It begins with the tale of Mikhail Avgustovich Janson, a pharmacist of Swedish descent.  In 1946 he built a dacha near Leningrad intending to rent it out to city folk.  He was soon ready for tenants and a family.  But “The Lord had something else in mind,” and Janson died soon after finishing everything.

The narrator’s family were his tenants and they bought the land from Janson’s widow.   But that was years before the narrator was born–she never met Janson.  But she and her brothers found all kinds of artifacts in the house.  Items in the attic and a large iron object that the kids assumed was a bomb even though they were told it wasn’t.

In 1997, the narrator and her family decided to strip the wallpaper and make the place their own at last.   They bought new wallpaper that they rather liked and began stripping the old. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Negativland (1980).

Negativland was (is?) a weird “band” who released absurdist sound collages.  Their purpose was culture jamming and they created quite a stor throughout their “career.”    The band was more or less created by David Wills (born 1954) also known as “The Weatherman”.. He was a cable repairman when he joined the group with a then-teenage Mark Hosler (1962) and Richard Lyons (1959-2016) also known as Dick Vaughn, Dick Goodbody, and Pastor Richard Seeland.

Their first record came out in 1980 and had twenty untitled tracks.  The “songs” were mostly sound effects, radio broadcasts and home recordings. There was some original guitar and drum machine, but mostly it is just collage.

About the tracks:

[SIDE 1]

1. You can hear a spoken word news announcer in the background as a guitar line comes in followed by a drum machine.  Then comes a woman (David’s mother, I believe ) reciting “This is Negativland.”

2. A ticking clock with a pretty guitar melody and then increasingly loud table saws (one in each ear)

3. A drum machine with a spoken word announcer.  This blurb comes from a fan on YouTube:

The man speaking, Mitch Werbell, worked for U.S. covert operations. At the time, (late 70s) there was a big problem with urban terrorism in Argentina. They had threatened to kidnap Coca-Cola reps in Buenos Aires. Werbell is explaining (on the ABC TV show 20/20) what he told the terrorists would happen if they tried, when he was hired to go help the executives escape the area.

4. Horns playing single notes.  It abruptly ends with ringing alarms

5. Guitars (electric and acoustic) playing and echoing.  This is the longest track at almost 5 minutes. Lots of spoken words among the trippy sounds and boopers.

6. Drum machines and noises and then after a violin line comes the most famous early phrase from NegativalndL “Seat Be Sate” (Play Black Sabbath at 78).  The “poem” is soon taken over by noise and a looped spoken word.

7. A menacing static noise and very sci-f sound effects couple with a German language instruction tape.

8. Static noises and de-tuned acoustic guitar strumming as someone sings a bit

9 A looping string of interesting sounds–booper, waves of sound and a clip o kids singing and then Don’s family speaking, all looped into a rhythm.  Finally a classroom rule about silent E

10. Drum machine with a whispered singing vocal and a catchy guitar riff with (of course) lots of distorted noises.

The lyrics:

Cara mia, why
Must we say goodbye
Each time we part
My heart wants to die
Darling, hear my prayer
Cara mia fair
Here are my arms
You alone will share

All I want is you
Forever more
To have, to hold
To love, adore
Cara mia mine
Say those words divine
I’ll be your love
Till the end of time

My cara mia
My cara mia
My cara mia

[SIDE 2]

11. French speaking and the an a loop of an older man saying “everything’s going fine, no trouble just get set and get going. Amen.

12. Warbled distorted vocals of a man and woman reciting the Hail Mary.

13. A family scene with people talking over a news broadcast (WCBS news time).  You can hear David saying “It’s not alive, Drew.”

14. Some more kids talking with all kinds of jammer sounds over them.  The final line has a woman saying “Reading the book by the seamen within would be very helpful.”

15.  Blues on an acoustic guitar (pretty well played) although by the end the solo is out of tune and crazy.

16. Boopers and outer space sounds.  Multiple radio broadcasts overlapping including one about a bedpans in hospitals.  And a joke ( I can’t guess the comedian, but he sounds a bit like Bob Goldthwait or Les Claypool, but it obviously isn’t) “I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on earth.”  The punchline is obscured then the laughter come in.

17. A slow drum beat and random noises on a guitar

18. A family scene David’s mother talking about the affordability of buying meat by the pound.

19. A low deep siren sound followed by this dire message from the Emergency Broadcast Network: “The office of civil defense has issued the following message “this is an attack warning” this is an attack warning.  An attack warning means an actual attack against this country has been detected.  Then there’s David inviting Everett to a barbecue that afternoon.  It’s followed by some audio from the American Airlines 191 plane crash from 1979.  This segues into a family scene where the dad is telling a joke about cannibals.  A man walked among cannibals with cases of Pepsi.  The cannibals drank the Pepsi and ate the man.  All except his thing.  When they were later asked why they didn’t eat his thing, they sang, “Things go better with Coke.”

20. The final track states, “Now hear how a real parakeet should sound.”  Then a woman says good morning and then a crazy raspy voice repeats here.  The album ends with this oscillator sound that my parents had in the 1970s–a kind of looping really fake bird chirping.  No idea why they had it.

This actual release of this record was accomapnied by all kinds of original magazine clippings and artwork. And the CD came with pins and other cool things.  It’s a weird artifact from the dawn of culture jamming.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “The Glass House”

I decided it would be interesting to go back to the year 2000 and to read all of the New Yorker stories up to the present.  I think as of now I have read through 2005.  By the time I have finished (next year, I’m sure) I’ll have 20 years of stories read.

This story is set during the Civil War.  The main character, Will, has just enlisted.  His brother, Sam, was killed at Bull Run and Will came to take his place.  His Captain was very happy to have him because Sam was a brave and well-liked man.  But Will, as he himself would admit, was neither of those things.

After Sam’s death, the Captain intended to go to Sam’s house personally to pay his regards to their family.  Had Sam’s mother seen the Captain, she would have spit on him.  But before that could happen, Will decided to enlist.  He forged his mother’s signature and didn’t tell anyone when he left. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS–American Interior (2013).

Gruff Rhys was (is?) the singer and composer in Super Furry Animals, a fantastic indie-pop band from Wales.   After several years with SFA and several solo albums, Gruff decided to do something a little different.  Actually, everything he does is a little different, as this quote from The Guardian explains:

“The touring musician can feel like the puppet of consumer forces,” he writes, bemoaning the way that “cities have now been renamed ‘markets’ and entire countries downgraded to ‘territories'”. So, over the last five or so years, he has come up with the idea of “investigative touring”: combining the standard one-show-a‑night ritual with creative fieldwork. In 2009, he went to Patagonia to trace the roots of a disgraced relative called Dafydd Jones, and the Welsh diaspora in South America more generally, and played a series of solo concerts, as well as making a film titled Separado!. Now, Rhys has reprised the same approach to tell another story, and poured the results into four creations: an album, another film, an ambitious app, and this book – all titled American Interior, and based on the brief life of John Evans: another far-flung relative of the singer, who left Wales to travel to North America in the early 1790s.

So yes, there’s a film and a book and this CD.  This album is a delightful blend of acoustic and electronic pop and folk.  Rhys’ voice is wonderfully subdued and with his Welsh accent coming in from time to time, it makes everything he sings somehow feel warm and safe (even when it’s not).   Rhys creates songs that sound like they came from the 1970s (but better), but he also explores all kinds of sonic textures–folk songs, rocking songs, dancing song, even songs in Welsh.

“American Exterior” is a 30 second intro with 8-bit sounds and the repeated “American Interior” until the piano and drum-based (from Kliph Scurlock) “American Interior” begins.  It’s a catchy song with the repeated (and harmonized) titular refrain after each line and it’s a great introduction to the vibe of the record.  It’s followed by the super catchy stomping “100 Unread Messages” which just rocks along with a great chorus.  You can see Gruff “composing” the lyrics to this in the book.

“The Whether (Or Not)” introduces some electronic elements to this song.  It’s basically a great pop song with splashes of keys and some cool stabs of acoustic guitar.  “The Last Conquistador” and “The Lost Tribes” are gentler synthy songs, as many of these are.  “Liberty (Is Where We’ll Be)” returns to the acoustic sound with some really beautiful piano.

“Allweddellau Allweddol” (English translation: Key Keyboards) is the only all-Welsh song on the record and it romps and stomps and is as much fun as that title suggests it would be.  There’s even a children’s choir singing on it (maybe?).

“The Swamp” is a simple electronics and drumming pattern which leaps right into “Iolo” one of the most fun songs on the record.  It’s a nod to the Welsh poet who inspired but backed out of Evans’ expedition at the last-minute but also a rollicking good time with the chanted “yoloyoloyoloyolo” and great tribal drums from Kliph.

The end of the album slows things down with “Walk Into the Wilderness” a slow aching ballad and the final two animal-related songs.  “Year of the Dog” is kind of a mellow opus when it is joined by the instrumental coda “Tiger’s Tale.”  Both songs feature goregous pedal steel guitar from Maggie Bjorklund.

Gruff Rhys is an amazing songwriter.  He could write the history of an obscure Welshman and still get great catchy songs out of it.  And that’s exactly what he’s done here.

[READ: December 2018] American Interior

How to explain this book?

I’ll start by saying that I loved it.  I was delighted by Rhys’ experiences and, by the end, I was genuinely disappointed to read that Evans’ trip didn’t pan out (even though I knew it didn’t).  The only compliant I have about the book is that I wish he had given a pronunciation guide for all of the welsh words in there, because I can’t even imagine how you say things like Ieuan Ab Ifan or Gwredog Uchaf or Dafydd Ddu Eryri (which is helpfully translated as Black David of Snowdonia, but not given a pronunciation guide).  But what about the contents?

The subtitle gives a pretty good explanation but barely covers the half of it.

Here’s a summary from The Guardian to whet one’s appetite for Rhys himself and for what he’s on about here:

[John] Evans was a farmhand and weaver from Waunfawr on the edge of Snowdonia, who was in pursuit of something fantastical: a supposed tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans said to live at the top of the Missouri river, who were reckoned to owe their existence to the mythical Prince Madog, a native of Gwynedd who folklore claimed had successfully sailed to the New World in 1170. In 1580, this story was hyped up by Elizabeth I’s court mathematician and occultist John Dee (born of Welsh parents), in an attempt to contest the Spanish claim to American territory. Two centuries later, with the opening of new frontiers, talk of a tribe called the Madogwys and “forts deemed to be of Welsh origin” began to swirl anew around Wales and North America, and became tangled up in the revolutionary fervour of the time, along with a radical Welsh spirit partly founded in nonconformist Christianity.

All this was moulded into a proposal made by a self-styled druid named Iolo Morganwg (“a genius”, but “also a fraud of the highest order”, says Rhys), who “called for the Americans, in the light of Madog’s legacy, to present the Welsh with their own tract of land in the new country of the free, so that the Welsh could leave their condemned royalist homeland”. Morganwg stayed put in Cowbridge, near Cardiff (the site of his “radical grocery” shop is now occupied by a branch of Costa Coffee), but Evans was inspired by his visions, and eventually set sail.

Rhys goes on a “journey of verification”, following Evans’s route from Baltimore, through such cities as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, and then up the Missouri river to the ancestral home of the Mandan tribe of Native Americans, who had been rumoured to be the Welsh-speakers of myth, and among whom Evans lived, in territory argued over by the British and Spanish. Along the way, he does solo performances built around music and a PowerPoint-assisted talk about Evans’s story, keeps appointments with historians, and also tries to glimpse the America that Evans found through the cracks in a landscape of diners, what some people call “campgrounds”, and Native American reservations.

The Guardian’s review also talks about why the book works: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  LEIKELI47-Tiny Desk Concert #831 (March 11, 2019).

Leikeli47 made such an impression with her recent Tiny Desk Concert that NPR asked her to be part of the Tiny Desk Family Hour as SXSW.  From this Tiny Desk Concert it’s almost enough to see why.

I say almost because I don’t think the live show translated as well on video:

Remember that scene in The Color Purple when Shug Avery was somewhere between the juke joint and her daddy’s church, singing at the top of her lungs, and the Saturday night sinners got all mixed in with the Sunday morning saints, and it was hard to tell if they were praising the high heavens or raising holy hell?  That’s what Leikeli47’s Tiny Desk felt like in the flesh.

The blurb gives a little bit more explanation of the mask

She came masked up, as always, the better to catch a glimpse of her soul. And there was so much soul to bare. Backed by a four-piece band of bruhs dressed as uniformed TSA agents (introduced as “the TSA Band, taking flight with me”), Leikeli47 and her working-class crew proceeded to transform Bob Boilen’s Tiny Desk into something akin to a pulpit or a mid-century parlor room. Portier sat hunched over the upright piano, while Justus West plucked guitar strings, Simba Scott tapped out bass lines and Timmy Manson Jr. kept everything in sync on drums.

They played five songs and apparently

traversed the entirety of black music, translating her hip-hop and afro-electro empowerment anthems to live instruments by jazzing up songs like “Attitude,” from her 2017 Wash & Set major-label debut, and laying down the vamps on “Girl Blunt” from her 2018 LP Acrylic. It wasn’t genre-bending as much as it was a musical remembering of the blues that brought her here — from the hoods of Brooklyn to down-south Virginia and everywhere else she’s called home.

“Attitude” has a very cool bass line and a nice jazzy sound from everyone.  I like her delivery although I don’t need the “bitch I got an attitude” line or the “let me hear you say Kelis is god so is Beyonce.”  That’s just weird.

“Droppin'” is slower and I like her delivery on this one.  “Ciaa” is very mellow–a short song about gangs guns and cocaine.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned (Portier’s Vibe)”  is sung by Portier–a bluesy song after which Leikeli47 asks if they want to get high with her.  Presumably through a “Girl Blunt.”   It’s catchy and I like it but the chorus is so repetitive: “This shit is a girl blunt I only smoke girl blunts.”  But the music is great.   She ends the show, like in the Family Hour with “Money.” It’s a bit more fun here, but again, the lyrics are so blah.

Nevertheless, I agree with the blurb:

In an era when women are no longer the anomaly but rap’s new standard bearers, Leikeli47 deserves all the praise for pushing the genre forward with both feet steeped firmly in tradition.

[READ: March 23, 2019] “The Indirect World”

I feel like back in college, Clarice Lispector was someone I needed to read.  I didn’t, but I couldn’t forget her name.  Now I’ve read a few things by her and I find that I don’t like her style at all.

This was translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz.

The story starts with a little introduction in which Mateus, on his final business trip, brought his wife to a rented a house on the island.  We never hear about him again (although this is from the novel, The Besieged City, so I’m sure he reappears).  She was still unhappy.

She decided to go for a walk where she ran into Doctor Lucas. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-“The Long Way Home,” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

I have recently been re-listening to The Civil Wars and re-remembered how great John Paul White is.  He’s playing near me in a few weeks, but I can’t go see him.  I do hope he comes back.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He’s performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour.  The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He’s got a voice made for high ceilings.

White is up on stage with just his guitar and his voice.  He plays a song that is about his love/hate relationship about the music business.

White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: “I want to do a song for you now that I’m really happy to say makes my kids cry.  It’s not easy. My kids are hard. I immediately felt guilty but knew I was going to record it for the next record. But “The Long Way Home” taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.

It’s a bouncy minor key song and you know it’s going to be a gut-wrencher.  The chorus: “I ain’t leaving, I’m just taking the long way home to you.”

Yikes, if all of White’s songs are as emotionally charged as this, maybe I don’t want to see him in person.  But his voice sounds fantastic.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “Sweet”

This was one-page and thoroughly confusing.

It begins: “Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mike Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly.”

Then we get small sections about Speen.

Speen can tell that a woman is cruel. (more…)

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