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Archive for the ‘New Yorker’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Calgary Folk Fest, Calgary, AB (July 1996).

1996 is an interesting year for Rheostatics Live recordings.  In addition to this Folk Festival show, there’s a show they do at their old high school.  And then there are many shows with them supporting The Tragically Hip.

This is an acoustic set from July 1996 at the Calgary Folk Festival – don’t know exact date. It features Martin Tielli, Dave Bidini and Tim Vesely. There is no drummer though Tim does play a bit on My First Rock Concert. Dave Allen plays violin on Shaved Head and RBC and Dan X of the Rhinos and played drums on RBC. It’s available here.

The introduction is a nice one: “My favorite eastern band… the Rheostatics.”  Dave jokes, playing like you’ve never seen them before.

Teh show (which is fairly short) sounds very different.  It’s all acoustic and they seems to have created special arrangements for the songs.

For the first few songs it’s just Martin, Dave and Tim.  They open with “Introducing Happiness.”  There’s a few sloppy moments near the end but otherwise it’s a very interesting version.  Tim says it’s “a song for my cats back home.”

Dave dedicates the second song (a delicate “Digital Beach”) to Graham James and his wife who drove out here “from somewhere in Saskatchewan to come and see us play and to take in the weekend and the festivities.”  He asks, “any other people from Saskatchewan?  We love that place.  We love Melville.

There’s a long intro for a mellow “Dope Fiends” that features some really great harmonies.  It’s very loose and fun with the guys shouting out lines. It feels like a real campfire version.

After the song Martin says, “It’s hard to sit down.”
Dave: “You like sitting down?”
Martin: “Not particularly.”
Dave: “Me neither”
Martin “I’m squirrely as hell.”
Dave: “We thought if we sat down for once it would be a whole new thing and catch on.  But we plan to get up later for the show-stopping finale.”

Dave plays “My First Rock Show” (one of the earliest times I’ve heard it played live).  He says, “This is a song about attending a rock festival.  This is folk festival.  The song is the first time I went to a rock festival.  It was at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition).  As the song starts he says there’s a Janis Ian kind a feel happening.

After Dave sings the “Took away the car keys” he says, “Timmy, get on the drums there, brother.”

After the song Dave says that earlier today we saw a young fellow with a tattoo.   A Rheostatics tattoo! It’s not real, it’s magic marker.  But you gotta show it off!  You rubbed it off?  Aw!

“Clarie” goes out to James Meritetch (?)  There’s a kind a classical opening and after the solo Martin segues the song into Neil Young’s “L.A.”

And then the guests start coming.  Dave says “A friend of ours from Kingston Ontario, a noted member of the drinking band The Mahones,  Dave Allen the doctor is in the house….  well …park.  We haven’t played with Dave for four years–he was on Whale Music.  He says they didn’t expect to see hm but he showed up at the festival and “they lassooed him, as you do.”  They play great, moody acoustic “Shaved Head.”

Then Dan Michell, Dan X of The Rhinos from Guelph and Kitchener–everyone here from Ontario is on stage now.  They play an interesting folkie “Record Body Count” with a violin. There’s an electric guitar solo.  Interestingly, they end with an extra chorus. And then they are gone.

The announcer says, “The Rheostatics!” …   “A drum stick!” … “The Rheostatics!”

It’s one of their more interesting shows and quite fun.

[READ: July 6, 2017] “Caring for Plants”

This was a rather dark story translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell.  At first I thought that there was no way this story could be as long as it was–it seemed almost over when it started.  But then by the end, I wanted it to go on for many pages more.

The story opens with Oghi in the hospital.  He has been there for 8 days since the car accident.  His wife died in the accident and he was badly mangled.  He cannot speak, he is in incredible pain and is clinging to life thanks to an IV drip.  His face looks like a waffle stuck to the iron–that’s how his wife would have described it.  And worst of all is that he accident was his fault.

It took six months before he could go home. His mother-in-law had been taking care of his wife’s garden (the only thing his wife loved taking care of).  Since he cannot speak, his mother-in-law is more or less doing whatever she wants in the house–going through the jewelry and taking what she wants–things he doesn’t even recognize. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATCIS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto, Ontario (August 24, 1995).

The blurb tells us: This was the first proper Don Kerr show in Toronto. They had played the Roadside Attraction tour but this was the first in Toronto. It also features 4 songs played for the first time – Connecting Flights (aka Two Flights of Stairs), Four Little Songs, Sweet,Rich,Beautiful and Mine, and All The Same Eyes (aka Crescent II). Also the only known cover version of Joe Jackson’s I’m The Man.

As the show opens, you can hear Martin playing some cool sounds but you can also hear people asking questions on the tape, like “what are you guys doing after?”  “It depends on who has what where.”  And the snarky response, “Oh I think I know who has what and I can tell you where it is.”

Then you can hear even more chatter: “We got the best seats in the house.  You’ve seen them before haven’t you?  We have to get right up front.  When we finish our drinks.”

Martin’s noodling resolves into a lovely “Song of Flight,” and once the song starts properly you can’t hear the talkers (aside from occasional shouts).  This segues into a gentle “California Dreamline.”   After Martin sings the line, “in love with each other” Dave chimes in “and all of them wearing shirts like that” (this is not the first time I wish there was a visual).  Shockingly, or not, you can hear the chatter again during the quiet section of the song.

There’s a kind of weird version of “MJ”—it feels like they’re being a little goofy with it.  It segues into a more folkie sounding than usual “Cuckoos.”

Dave chimes in that these “songs feature all kinds of strange beings and creatures cuckoos Michael Jackson (Martin: that’s the weirdest one of them all) whale people, bird people, turtle people, and people from space;  not to be confused with People from Earth [the opening band] who use their talent for good not evil.”  This is a lengthy intro to “Aliens” a song I love which I feel they hadn’t been playing very much.

This is the first known recording of “Fat” which wouldn’t come out until 1996.  It sounds great.

For some reason, Dave says, “I told you you shouldn’t have worn such a flashy shirt, Martin.”

For “Introducing Happiness,” Dave says, “Make us happy Tim, send us a little message of joy.”

“Claire” opens with Tim singing a couple of lines Spirit of the West’s “Scaffolding”  (from their then-new  album).  “Claire” features Tim oohing in the beginning (with a la la thrown in), I think this was  fairly recent convention.  There’s a pretty wild solo from Martin.  The whole song is nearly 7 minutes and when it’s over, Dave says, “That’s the weirdest version of ‘Claire’ we’ve ever done.  And that’s something, I think.”

Dave says they’re going to debut some new material tonight (I guess they’d played “Fat” before?).  The first is Tim’s brief “Connecting Flights.”

“Fishtailin'” has a quiet ending.  But it’s followed by a rocking “Dope Fiends.”  Dave says it’s a song about Etobicoke.  The middle features a drum solo (a good one with different drum sounds like in the previous show which also featured Don Kerr–although Dave calls him  something else.  It has a great soaring ending.

Dave says, “We’re going to do a very serious piece now. I think it’s our most profound work to date.  Tim chimes in: Especially the very end.   Before continuing, Tim says, “I think this is  our first proper show in Toronto with Don Kerr on the drums.”   Dave: “It won’t be our last we’re playing here tomorrow and Saturday.”

The “serious” song is “Four Little Songs” which they mess up right away and then start again.  The song sounds pretty much as the record does, except he says “I had a dream I was in Neil Peart’s kitchen.”

There’s a kind of cut in the tape and when it comes back, someone is shouting “finally, finally, it’s about fuckin’ time” and Dave says “no kidding eh, it’s about time we got serious and …”  Then he is interrupted: “you want me to take off my hat?  That’s a steel-rimmed hat.  That’s a Kodiak hat.  (Tim: it’s pure dachshund, that’s very expensive).  Dave: Do you want to wear it or do you just want to touch it?  What do you want to do?  There’s a thing with the scabies on the scalp. Not cooties… scabies.  Or is it rickets?

Dave continues, “We had a great summer we opened for The Tragically Hip on their Roadside Attractions tour.  They played with Eric’s Trip.  Julie from Eric’s Trip is going to open for us… Welcome Julie to Toronto! and Benji and Julie’ husband whose name I forget.”

They play another new one: “Sweet Rich Beautiful Mine.”  After the song, Dave says, “Martin, I think that can be the slogan for the 90s what do you say.”

We’ll complete our new song trilogy with another new song: “All the Same Eyes” is another gentle Tim song which segues into a furious “RDA.”

Introducing “Self Serve Gas Station,” they tore down the gas station and the hopes and dreams of little Rexdale boys everywhere.  I’m awfully settlement about it.  How about you?”  Martin: “little boys love gas stations.”

Martin thanks the People From Earth for opening.  Some shouts they sounded too much like you… Martin replies.: “they’re related”  (Martin’s brother John Tielli was the lead singer).

“Self Serve” starts and then Martin stops it: “I thought Dave hit a wrong note but he was tuning, I forgive him.”

“Soul Glue” is as usual boppy and fun.  After the “They dragged the bottom of the lake” line, there; s a rough scratching guitar noise and Dave shouts “I found a shoe!.”  When they get to the end section Martin sings “didn’t say anything at all” (he hits a really high note–atypical for this song and it sounds great.”

They start the vocal introduction (you you you you) to “Horses” and someone in the audience shouts “Here we go.”  After Dave does a little chant the band starts.  It’s a very unusual version as the first verse is very quiet with Dave practically whispering the lyrics and the only loud thing is Tim repeating the “you you you” the song itself grows really intense, as it should.

During the encore break, Tim says “Don had to go to the bar to get beer for them. Sorry it took a little while.”

They end the show with two covers.  Dave announces that Jane Siberry has a new album out (that would be Maria). This is from her new wave period, her pink period, which is my personal favorite period.  “One More Colour,” obviously.  It’s followed by a fast, wild and chaotic version of Joe Jackson’s “I’m the Man.”  I can’t quite tell who is singing lead.

This is a really fun show with the introduction of new songs and some experimenting.  It was the last show of 1995 (on this site) excluding the Group of Seven show which was quite a different thing entirely.

[READ: March 4, 2009] “The Adventure of a Skier”

This is the first piece I have read by Italo Calvino.  Calvino’s name has been around for ages, but I honestly didn’t know a thing about him.

So, with that in mind, Italo Calvino was, at the time of his death, in 1985, the most translated contemporary Italian writer.  This story was translated by Ann Goldstein.

This was a simple, very simple story.

It begins with a bunch of disorderly boys clamoring for the ski lift.  There’s some wonderful details of just what an uncoordinated pack of rowdy boys looks like. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DJ PREMIERE & THE BADDER BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #643 (August 21, 2017).

This is a fascinating Tiny Desk Concert. DJ Premiere plays turntables–scratching records and hyping the audience.  But he is accompanied by a live band: a five string bass, a trumpeter, a trombonist and a drummer.

Who is Premiere?  Three-time Grammy winner DJ Premier, one of the definitive architects of New York hip-hop, brought a new type of life to NPR’s Tiny Desk: our first concert helmed by a DJ.

The set list rested on the undeniable footprint of Preemo’s classics, but this was more than just another DJ mix. His touring outfit, The Badder Band, overlaid Premier’s blends with an undulating electric bass courtesy of Brady Watt, a steady accent on the one from drummer Lenny “The Ox” Reece and boisterous horns from Mark Williams and Jonathan Powell.

I don’t know much about DJ Premiere, although I have learned that he was part of Gang Starr (which explains why there is so much Gang Starr represented here).  He medleys these songs together in a 24 minute mixtape

  • KRS-One – “KRS-One Attacks”
  • KRS-One – “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”
  • Das Efx – “Real Hip-Hop”
  • Nas – “Nas Is Like”
  • Jeru The Damaja – “Da Bichez”
  • Gang Starr – “Step In The Arena”
  • Gang Starr feat. M.O.P. – “1/2 & 1/2”
  • Royce Da 5’9 – “Boom”
  • Gang Starr – “Moment Of Truth”

So he spins the discs and includes some of the raps from the records.  Especially the ones where he himself is mentioned:

Clap your hands everybody, if you got what it takes
‘Cause I’m KRS and I’m on the mic, and Premier’s on The Breaks
(from “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know”)

there’s also this line

If you don’t know me by now I doubt you’ll ever know me
I never won a Grammy, I won’t win a Tony
[Premiere points to himself and holds up three fingers at the Grammy line]

He gets the Tiny Desk crowd hyped with them repeating “Hell yeah, fuck yeah, the real hip hop.”

He does a lot of scratching and repeating with Das EFX

And he features some of these great lines:

Yo, you niggedy know that I’m back man
You’re wack man, I eat a rapper like I’m Pacman
I briggedy bring it, straight from the cella
Fo’ realla, packin more hits than Lou Pinella

It’s me the Nigga wit G’z
The B double O K-S
So say yes I’ll bust your caliber
When I pop shit and rock shit like Metallica

The original song is a simple slap bass line, but here the live band adds a cool funky bass line and live drums.  It’s really cool watching how he does all his turntable work

As it switches to Nas, the horns come in, playing a jazzy riff with some nifty bass underneath.  Premiere hypes everybody up Tiny Desk WHAT! Don’t be no motherfucking bitchez (from the Jeru the Damaja song).  There’s a ripping trumpet solo followed by an interesting trombone solo

Gang Starr gets a pretty lengthy rap from “Step in the Arena.”  There’s a pause and then the violins from “1/2 & 1/2” kick in.  Premiere air violins (poorly) before a shout out to M.O.P.  He raps the end line with the record.

He does a very long scratching intro to Royce Da 5’9’s “Boom” and the drummer spins his cymbal.  Premier adds some clicking sounds from another record.  He gets another name check in this song:

Me and Premier, we kind of the same in ways
We both speak with our hands in dangerous ways

He seems to be adding samples to Gang Starr’s final song.  He’s pressing buttons and making sounds but I don’t know if they are part of the original or not.

When the rapping is done, they jam for two minutes.  Premier plays some samples, the bass rumbles away, the drums keep a fast beat and the horns kick in to rock out to the end.

This is a really fun show and I could totally see how much fun a live DJ show like this would be if you knew the songs he was mixing.

[READ: June 25, 2017] “The Piano Teacher”

This is a short piece about a piano teacher, Miss Nightingale.

She was in her early fifties and was a quiet beauty.  Although single, she felt she was fortunate.  She might have married but is involved with a married man instead.

But mostly she is happy that she can make a living teaching students to play piano.

The boy with her now was a delightful student, eager and talented with a bit of cockiness.  Although he was always silent.  He seemed shy somehow–never prattling on and she couldn’t understand why he had been moved through several teachers already. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALA.NI-Tiny Desk Concert #642 (August 14, 2017).

ALA.NI is a London-born, Paris-based singer who draws inspiration from her uncle, a British ’20s and ’30s cabaret star by the name of Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson.  She writes her own songs in the style of the standards he sang.

ALA.NI is sweet and funny and very charming.  She exudes calm and grace as she stretches and waves her long limbs and fingers.  It’s mesmerizing.  And her voice sounds amazing.  The blurb notes:

The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It’s a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI’s voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

“Cherry Blossom” sounds terrific.  The guitar is gently echoed and her voice is soft and delicate but incredibly right on.  You could easily imagine hearing the pops and clicks of old vinyl behind her.

Between songs she is chatty and funny.  She raves about the NPR gift shop, “I got some beeswax paper that I can wrap my sandwiches in.”

She says that “Ol Fashioned Kiss” is about kissing.  She plays an acoustic guitar which she uses mostly for percussion in the beginning, but then she adds some gentle strums herself.  It’s a simple, old-fashioned bluesy song.  She does a lot of scatting.  And as the song comes to its natural ending, she says tells her guitarist, “no no keep it going, there’s too many toys here.”  She plays all kinds of things on the desks—a small drum set, some other percussive thing and even the cow mooing can.

“Suddenly” sounds like an old song–it’s so hard to believe these are new.  And then comes

Darkness at Noon is a powerful old-fashioned sounding song that opens. “We agreed to end this love affair.”  It’s chilling and gorgeous.

When the song is over she introduces her guitar player, “this is Marvin Dolly on guitar.  It’s actually Marvin’s birthday today.”  She leads everyone in a version of Happy Birthday she hits some amazing high notes while everyone else sings along  She turns as the song ends, “wow you all can sing as well.”

What a delightful person with such an enchanting voice.

[READ: June 25, 2017]  “Why Aren’t You Laughing”

Sedaris has become a lot more reflective in his later writing.  There’s still humor to be had, but for the most part this is a sad tale about his mother.

He begins by talking about the plainness of the North Carolina house he shares with Hugh (he calls Hugh his boyfriend, although I thought they were married).  He says even the theater manager at the box office he performed at knew what their house look like: “spread out over four levels and paneled in dark wood like something you’d see on a nineteen seventies TV show.”  Hugh liked to point out that the pint of the place was the view.

The title of the piece comes as he says he is signing his name on tip-ins for his books while Hugh reads the final draft of the manuscript.  Depending on Hugh’s reaction or silence David would shout Whats so funny? or Why aren’t you laughing? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

I don’t really know all that much about John Paul White, except that he was in the fabulous duo The Civil Wars, and that he writes intelligent but downbeat folk music.

For indeed, his songs are not cheery by any stretch.  But they are very pretty.

I know the first song, “Black Leaf,” from his Tiny Desk Concert.  I loved it then and I love it now. After the song, he asks, “How are you?  Are you well?  You should be well.  No one should be complaining, least of all me in this black suit.”

And, despite his tone, he is not above making jokes with his audience.  Like when he introduces the second song, “Martyr,” he says, “We’ll be doing  while lot of death metal covers. I figured this would be the place. This song is by a band called Sepultura.”  [Nervous titters from the crowd before he starts playing a pretty JPW song that sounds not unlike a contemporary Barenaked Ladies song, especially his delivery of it].

“The Once and Future Queen,” is a slow, quiet song with a big chorus full of pretty harmonies.  When it ends, he says:

I guess it’s probably my duty to warn you….  You came to a folk festival so you probably weren’t looking for happy songs anyway…  If you came to this set looking to be cheered up, you’re screwed.  Let’s get that out of the way.

I loved “Hate the Way You Love Me,” during the Tiny Desk Concert, but when the backing singers accompany him on the chorus and the gorgeous fiddle from Kelli Jones fills the song, it’s really wonderful.

He jokes, “Glad you’re enjoying the death metal.  I didn’t think it would go over as well as it has.”  But he then plays “Fight for You,” a fairly rocking song–with some rocking distortion on his guitar and a snarl in his voice (and a pretty heavy chorus).

I tend to think of JPW as kind of a mellow singer with a great voice, but he really lets loose in the middle of “Hope I Die.”  In addition to a really powerful singing section, there’s a pretty wild solo going on (violin or guitar or both).  He introduces Adam Morrow over here on the guitar, so I assume he had something to do with it.

He says, “I’m not gonna pretend that all of you have any idea who I am.” [cheers]  He jokes, “That’s called fishing for a compliment.”  But he continues,

To those of you who do I apologize.  It’s been awhile.  it took a lot to get me out of the house.  I was incredibly happy sleeping in my bed and going to dance recitals and football games and the lot. And then these melodies started coming back in my head.  And if I gave into it I’d be back out here doing this.  I and I didn’t want that at all.  No.  No offense, but I didn’t want of see any of your faces.  But once I wrote these songs I wondered if people would connect with them…  and I still doesn’t know why I did that.  So thank you.

In introducing the slow ballad “I’ve Been Over This Before,” he says “This is one of the first songs that came to me. I was obviously listening to a lot of old country music, because that’s where it all starts for me.”

He continues, “I promise you I won’t bore you with song meanings because most of the time I have no idea what they mean most of the time.  But this one is personal for me.”  He says “Simple Song” is indicative of the folk spirit of telling stories and passing them down to further generations.

This came from my grandmother.  When my grandfather passed away he was battling many demons that everyone was having to battle alongside him.  She was raising 14 kids because of those demons.  So… I thought he was perfect, I though that he was always happy, but that was not true and when he passes away, she didn’t cry.  I asked her why  and she said ‘I cried so much for your grandfather when he was on this earth, there’s no way I’m gonna cry for him now that he’s better off.’  And so I thought, ‘Number 1, I want to punch you  in the face.  And then 2 much later in life, that that is a song waiting to happen.’  So this will also cheer you up.

The song and sentiment are beautiful with plaintive lap steel guitar: “I will remember I will remember I will remember you… but I will cry for you no more.”

He continues, “So it’s said that festival crowds… this quiet does not happen.  This is beautiful I really do appreciate it.  I’m a very dynamic performer and I need this kind of environment so…  Festivals scare the shit out of me.  I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  This is an unbelievable atmosphere to play in.

before the final song, the rocking “What’s So,” which I also know from Tiny Desk, he says “This is the first time Newport for all of my band so they’re geeking out pretty hard.”  In addition to Jones and Morrow, there’s Reed Watson on drums and Matt Green on bass.

“I need more band members so I have time to tune.”

“What’s So” has an aching descending chorus line that is just terrific.

I really like John Paul White’s music and I’d love to see him live in a quiet sit down club..

[READ: June 24, 2017] “It’s a Summer Day”

I know Andrew Sean Greer from a few McSweeney’s books.

This was a simple story but told in a really cool style.  It concerns Arthur Less, a writer, who has been called to an international conference where he is in the running to win a prize.  But the prize is minor and no one–not he nor his agent–thinks he has a chance.  In fact, the only reason he went was to get out of going to a wedding of an old flame, Freddy.

Freddy had once given him advice about international flights: “They serve you dinner, you take your sleeping pill, they serve you breakfast, you’re there.”

I love the narrator’s voice in this story.

He had been to Italy before. Once when he was 12.  And the second time with Robert Brownburn (Yes, that Robert Brownburn, the famous poet).  They had been dating for a while and were at a good point in their relationship.

He did as instructed with the pills, but woke up in the middle of the night–only two hours having passed!  He takes out another pill and then it’s time for breakfast.  He is in a fog and the first few pages are an amusing comedy of him possibly going the wrong way.  He barely makes his local flight (and is shocked to see ashtrays in the airplane seats–charming or frightening?) And then… was it a mistake to get in the car marked for Sr. Ess?  The driver speaks no English and it sure looks like he is heading in the wrong direction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Another Roadside Attraction: Cayuga Speedway – Hagersville, ON (July 20, 1995).

The band sounds kind of different for a festival like this, they downplay some of their weirder elements, to be sure, although maybe it’s just practical to play your more popular work to a wider audience.  This looks like a pretty good festival, check out the line up –>

The beginning of the set is kind of muddy–mostly because you can hear audience chatter, but it clears up okay.

After a warm introduction (You’re gonna love these guys), they play a nice “Self Serve Gas Station”

For the next song Martin says, “This is a song about a kid writing a letter to Michael Jackson.”

After a nice “Soul Glue” Martin says “Dave, I’m the CN Tower.  You be the Bank of Montreal.”

Before “California Dreamline,” Dave says, “That last song was about a lake, this next song is about an ocean.”  During the song, Martin sings “spooning” instead of “fucking” in the dry sand–is that a festival decision?

There’s a lengthy, trippy, swirling opening to “Claire” with a Dave announcing: “Tim Vesely has gone electric, stop the presses.”  Martin does a really wondrous guitar solo.

The most notable concession to “normalcy” is their cover of “One More Colour” which lessens some of its heaviest noises.  The ending. which can go pretty far afield, is also pretty straightforward.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” sounds a little prettier than usual.  The middle section has a kind of instrumental section with a drum solo and waves of sound.  (This is the first show on this site with Don Kerr on drums, although no mention is made of him).

The end segues into RDA which is fast and cool but leaves off the final “Americas!”

This is a very unchatty show for the band, although at the end Dave says they’re playing at Woolsock (Woolstock?) on August 12 in beautiful Welling.  Welling is in Alberta, but I find a Woolsock Music Festival listed in Nova Scotia, so I’m at a loss.

[READ: June 27, 2017] “Show Don’t Tell”

I can’t get over that Curtis Sittenfeld has had three stories published in the New Yorker in the span of about a year.  This one is set in a graduate school writing program.

The narrator explains that the most prestigious fellowship one could earn at their school was the Peaslee–$8,800 with no work requirements. It was the gold standard.  Other ones paid less and required a fairly heavy work load.  Ruth is in her first year and, like everyone else, hopes desperately to win this fellowship.

No one knew exactly when the acceptance letters went out, but there was also a rumor, so Ruth waited in front of her mailbox to wait for the mailman.

When her neighbor heard the door shut, she assumed Ruth had left so she came out with her cigarette–something that she and Ruth had had words about several times. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

 Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Joseph set; stream it while it’s still active.

Joseph is a band of three sisters and their sound is a little like Indigo Girls–if there were three of them.

When Natalie, Meegan and Allison Closner shout together to the heavens, accompanied only by Natalie’s acoustic guitar, it’s a joyful noise that intrinsically celebrates their bond.

So yes, Joseph is all about harmonies.  They play six songs from their recent album I’m Okay, No You’re Not which is a pretty great release (with a few songs that go a little too commercial).  For the most part, it is just one guitar and three voices.

Their first song “Stay Awake” starts off quietly with one of the sisters (Natalie, I assume) singing and plucking a spare melody on the guitar.  And then about a minute and fifteen second in, all three sisters sing and suddenly the song is magical.

 “Canyon” has a number of amazing moments, but especially when they sing along with one of the sisters taking lead and the other two doing some great harmonies.  When the lead sings “I wanna feel it,” all three singers soar to the rafters in a gorgeous harmony (around 7:25 of this set).

They get applause for “S.O.S.” before playing it.  This is their poppiest song and the one that verges closest to a sound I don’t like (especially for them).  But it’s hard to deny it when they sound so good live.

For “Planets” they ask if anybody wants to sing and they give the audience a mildly complicated melody to sing.  I can’t really tell if the audience is any good at it, but the sisters seem to like it.  And “I Don’t Mind” has a terrific melody even without the harmonies, but when they come in it’s even better.

They describe “Sweet Dreams” as like a lullaby that they used to say to their mom ” Sweet dreams, I love you, good night.”  But this song is anything but a lullaby.  The melody is sophisticated and their voices are powerful.  It’s quite something,.

They have time for two more.  We’ll sing one from our old record and…maybe our single.  That single, “White Flag” finds a stellar balance of pop and folk.  It hits just the right edges of pop to make the song insanely catchy but with an almost aggressive folksiness that is undeniable.  And live it’s almost breathtaking.

Their voices are just amazing.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “I Have Fallen in Love with American Names”

Earlier this month I posted a piece from Roth about names.  I assume that this excerpt comes from the same source.

Roth’s parents were born in New Jersey at the start of the twentieth century.  They were at home in America even though “they had no delusions and knew themselves to be socially stigmatized and regarded as repellent alien outsiders.”  And that is the culture that Philip grew up in.

Butt the writers who shaped his sense of country were born in America some thirty to sixty years before him.  They were mostly small town Midwesterners and Southerners.  None were Jews.

What shaped those writers was not mass immigration from the Old Country and the threat of anti-Semetic violence, but the overtaking of farms and villages  values by business culture.

He says what attracted him to writers like Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe and Erskine Caldwell was his own ignorance of everything North South and West of Newark, New Jersey.  And the way that America from 1941 to 1945 was unified: (more…)

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