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Archive for the ‘Crash Test Dummies’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-“The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” (1994).

 Crash Test Dummies are mostly known for Brad Roberts’ deep voice.   But for this song Roberts only says the opening “Let’s begin” while the main verses are sung by Ellen Reid.  Reid has an amazing voice and was often underutilized by the band.

Musically, the song is pretty similar to the original–guitars and harmonica and the like.  The choruses are a little bigger because Roberts contributes his bass vocals to Reid’s lead.

It is still catchy as all get out.

For the final verse, they bring the music down and focus on Reid’s vocals.  The big difference comes with the “awful lot like me” line.  Where XTC plays a big guitar chord, CTD has more of a keyboard buildup.  It still works though.

It’s a really solid cover.

Hooray!

[READ: October 31, 2019] “Dead Man’s Hate”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

This is a bonus story printed on the inside of The Ghost Box.

There’s no context, no biography, not even a year (I had to look that up).  So this poem stands on its own.

It is written in rhyming couplets with an easy meter and is quite easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Oooh La La! (2010).

Crash Test Dummies were once huge, then mocked and then silent.  They are still a band, although the band is really only singer Brad Roberts anymore.

In fat they were more or less broken up but then in 2010 Roberts began experimenting with toy instruments, the Optigan and Omnichord.

Those instruments were the inspiration for this music and yet the songs don’t sound like novelty or “toy” creations.  Both of the instruments were proto-samplers and they allowed Roberts to generates sounds on styles he didn’t normally play.  And so we get this interesting and fun release which features many contributions from fellow Dummy Ellen Ried, who still sounds amazing.

Roberts’ voice is still deep, but he really has his songwriting chops down well.  “Songbird” is a pretty folk song with a lovely chorus.

“You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” was recorded as a Dummies song, although this version is more fun, with the way he sings it and the way he uses the instruments’ effects.

“And Its Beautiful” really is beautiful–it’s a very catchy song with pretty instrumentation and great backing vocals from Ellen Reid.  “Paralyzed” is a slow piano ballad while “In between Places” has some cool effects sprinkled on the song.

“Not Today Baby” is a goofy song.  Dummies have always been seen as a novelty band, and it’s songs like this that are why. But honestly, what’s wrong with having a sense of humor in your music.  This song isn’t ha ha funny but it should raise a smile.

“Heart of Stone” is the kind of sad song that Brad does so well.  Ellen Reid’s doo doo doo doo” are a lovely touch.

“Lake Bras d’Or” is a pretty ballad with minimal instrumentation, while “What I’m Famous For” is over the top.  This one has a kind of Western feel–a banjo-picking, fast-talking monstrosity.  And yet it’s a fun country ditty with some pretty funny lyrics.

Roberts talked about the big band sound of “Now You See Her” as something of an inspiration for the album–that this toy could make this kind of music and he wanted to see if he could wrote a song in that style   is a kind of big band.  It’s again, kind of a novelty, but I think he pulls it off really well.

The final song “Put a Face” is played with accordion and violin and is sung entirely by Ellen Reid.  It’s a beautiful song and a lovely ending to this unexpected disc.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Two Men Arrive in a Village”

I usually love Zadie Smith stories–even when she writes things that are quite different from her usual style  But this one is simply odd.

The title is sort of a parable and the story reads like one as well.  It even starts as if the title is the first half of the sentence:

Sometimes on horseback, sometimes by foot, in a car or astride motorbikes, occasionally in a tank—having strayed far from the main phalanx—and every now and then from above, in helicopters. But if we look at the largest possible picture, the longest view, we must admit that it is by foot that they have mostly come…. Two men arrive in a village by foot, and always a village, never a town. If two men arrive in a town they will obviously arrive with more men, and far more in the way of supplies—that’s simple common sense.

After a fairly long setup of the things two men might carry, we find that these two men arrived in the narrator’s village at sunset. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 9, 2016] Crash Test Dummies

I thought and still think that God Shuffled His Feet is a great album.  The lyrics to that disc are just fantastic.  And while Brad Roberts’ voice might take some getting used to, it’s really an amazing instrument.

The one thing that has always bugged me though is that Roberts is treated as something of a novelty because of his voice.  When someone like Johnny Cash has a very similar style of singing, yet he has never been thought of as a joke.  Perhaps that’s because Roberts has a sense of humor.

I was pretty excited to see this show, having never seen him/them before.  I wasn’t sure if it was a full band or just him.  It turned out to be Roberts and guitarist Stewart Cameron.  In preparation for this show I listened to his previous live album Crash Test Dude.  On that one he played a bunch of covers and sang a few old songs.

I was really hoping to hear my favorite CTD songs, and would have liked a cover or two.  So I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

Well, Roberts came out and the Stewart sat next to him.  And they launched right into “God Shuffled His Feet,” and I was ecstatic.

And it turned out that the set was almost entirely taken from the Shuffled album.  He played four songs from their last album Ooh La La, and one or two other songs.  And it was an amazing evening.

Roberts’ voice sounds amazing.  And especially so in the great acoustics of Sellersville Theater.  His deep bass is just as powerful as ever (does a bass singer lose the ability to hit low notes as a tenor loses the ability to hit high notes?).  He was resonate and really sounded perfect.

The only cover song they played was the Replacements’ “Androgynous” which doesn’t really count as CTD recorded it on their debut album.

All told, he played nine songs from Shuffled.  Now, the orchestration of the album is amazing, so how did it work with one guitarist?  Well, it turns out that Stewart Cameron is an amazing guitarist.  He plays jazzy licks, beautiful solos and complex structures.  While it wasn’t the same as the album, it worked really well to convey the fairly complex songs.

The only thing I missed the whole night was Ellen Reid’s harmonies.  Cameron did sing a little, but he never tried to do her harmonies, which really do make the songs sound a wee bit better.  But no matter, he sounded amazing enough by himself.

The newer songs are much more simple, and they allowed Cameron to open up a bit and play some fun licks.  The last album, Ooh La la, which he autographed for me after the show is sadly overlooked.  It’s a very simple album but with some of Roberts’ loveliest songs.  Gone are the days of his baroque lyrics, but his gift for melody has returned.

He also played a couple of his darker, funny songs, like “Just Shoot Me, Baby” and “I Don’t Care If You Don’t Mind.”  Which are “mature.”  As is his banter.  He told a bunch of stories (none as vulgar as the stories on his live CD), but they included tales of his botched vasectomy, and about vaporizing.

All in all it was a great night in a great venue with a great voice.  And as I said, he signed things for us afterward and was very nice.

 

  • God Shuffled His Feet
  • Androgynous
  • Not Today Baby
  • Here I Stand Before Me
  • Just Shoot Me, Baby
  • Swimming in Your Ocean
  • You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)
  • How Does a Duck Know?
  • Afternoons & Coffeespoons
  • In the Days of the Caveman
  • Song Bird
  • When I Go Out With Artists
  • Heart of Stone
  • Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
  • I Don’t Care That You Don’t Mind
  • Two Knights and Maidens
  • Superman’s Song

 

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information_cover_FINAL_webSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Vertigo, Victoria British Columbia, (January 21, 2000).

21Jan2000I recently learned that the Rheostatics Live website has added dozens of new (old) shows.  It has been almost exactly a year since I last did a tour of some of these live shows, so it was time to move into 2000 (with one new show added since I last looked).

As of 2000, the band is still touring the Harmelodia album, and the set has a lot of songs from that album.  I recently relistened to the album (something I don’t listen to all that much).  I was surprised to hear how many songs had narration–which pretty much precludes them from playing them live.  So that explains why they focus on just a few songs live.

Lucky’s notes for this show state: The Rheos were on a short west-coast swing and they played in Whistler the night before this show. In fact, the inspiration for ‘Satan Is The Whistler’ (from their following album) came from this trip, as Martin remarked something along the lines of ‘They are a bunch of Fascists in Whistler!’.

This is a really good set.  The sound quality is excellent and the band is in very good form.  There’s some great harmonies on “Loving Arms” and Martin really rocks the guitar on “I Fab Thee.”  “Junction Foil Ball” sounds awesome here–a good breakdown in the middle.  And it’s a rare sighting of “Oneilly’s Strange Dream” and a replay of “Good Canadian.”

It’s always fun when the band is feeling chatty.  In this show they joke about the Crash Test Dummies and even sing, “Superman never made any money saving the world from Crash Test Dummies.”  They also have fun with “My First Rock Show” with talk of blood on the seats.

The band has some technical failures, and they play a Stompin’ Tom song (“Bud the Spud”) while they get fixed.  But it doesn’t mess them up as they play a killer version of “Stolen Car” with a great solo.

Luke Doucet (now of Whitehorse, then of opening act Veal) plays during “Legal Age Life” and the band jokes about the Vealostatics.

The whole show ran for nearly two hours.  It’s a great set and the first of two nights at Vertigo.

[READ: February 10, 2015] Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free

This short book is Doctorow’s plea for Copyright common sense, Net Neutrality and internet freedoms (among other things).  Of course Net Neutrality just passed–hurrah!– which makes this book less urgent but no less spot on and worth remembering while going forward.

Doctorow starts each section by stating his three laws:

  • “Anytime someone puts a lock on something you own, against your wishes, and doesn’t give you the key, they’re not doing it for your benefit.”
  • “Fame Won’t Make You Rich, But Yo Can’t Get Paid Without It”  (or as Tim O’Reilly said “The problem for most artists isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.”)
  • “Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, People Do.”

(more…)

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freedomSOUNDTRACK: CRASH TEST DUMMIES-Jingle all the way… (2002).

ctdEven though the Crash Test Dummies are often seen as a joke band or a one hit wonder (which I guess they are), I’ve liked them for a while (their earlier stuff a lot more than their later stuff, admittedly).  But it seemed like they’d have a fun take on Christmas music.

And it starts out in a comical sort of way with Brad Robert’s deeper-than-ever voice reciting about his life in Los Angeles, where it is warm and sunny at Christmas time.  I like that he rhymes 24th with up north.  The spoken section is quite loud in the mix (it sounds like he is right in your ear).  Unfortunately, that is the case when he starts singing too–he is uncomfortably loud in the mix and it sounds like he is holding back because of it–he doesn’t sound great and his voice sounds more comical than interesting.  Which is a shame because the music (with cheesey keyboards) is great.

Roberts sings lead on about half of the songs.  Ellen Reid sings lead on the other half except for a couple where they split lead duties.

The rest of Robert’s songs include: “Jingle Bells” (which is certainly comical–it sounds like a chain gang song with the “Hey!s” sounding almost like a prison chant).  It’s weird and cool though (even if his voice is once again too loud in the mix).  “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” has his voice mixed much better–he seems to be really singing.  And this version–a loungey/jazzy rendition is much great fun.  “God King Wenceslas” sounds proper (with Reid’s close backing vocals).  It has a pretty penny whistle keeping the song going.

Ellen Reid has a great voice and I love hearing her sing.  But in the first two songs she sings lead on in this disc she sounds like she is singing too slowly.  “O Little Town of Bethlehem” especially sounds like the music is going to pass her up at any minute.  I also don’t like the country vibe of the song.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” is also (intentionally) slow, which I don’t like.  Perhaps I just don’t like this song (although I do think the melody is lovely).  “The Little Drummer Boy” is beautiful and Robert’s bass backing vocals are perfect.  “Silent Night” is done in a countryish style, but I like this version.  Although normally this song can make me cry, this version absolutely does not–too honky tonkish.

The final song, “The Huron Carol” is quite formal and proper–just Reid and a piano opening the song.  It sounds very holy, very pretty.  When Robert’s bass backing vocals come in, it adds more depth to the song.  And it’s a lovely way to end.

[READ: October 30, 2014] Freedom

I read this a couple months ago and then got so caught up in reading other things that I never got around to posting about it.  And that’s a bummer because I really liked the book a lot and I fear that I won’t remember everything I wanted to say about it.

I had read a couple of excerpts from the book in the New Yorker (quite some time ago).  They were helpful in grounding the story for me, but they didn’t prepare me for the breadth of the story.  It follows one family, the Berglunds, through several decades, focusing on each of them in great detail as they navigate through the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and a smidge of the Obama years.

The Berglunds are a liberal family.  They were among the first white families to move onto their urban street in St. Paul, Minnesota (after white flight to the burbs).  Patty is a charming (some say smug) homemaker and Walter is a lawyer (public defendant, naturally).  They have two kids, Jessica and Joey.  Patty dotes on Joey to an embarrassing degree (Joey is embarrassed by it, Jessica is infuriated by it and even Patty is kind of embarrassed when she really thinks about it).  At the same time she is rather neglectful of Jessica.  Naturally, Jessica becomes quite the success (loves reading, committed to the environment), while Joey rebels and finds all kinds of ways to disappoint them and make money.  (This isn’t a bad thing, but the family has plenty of money and Joey doesn’t need to (especially not the way he goes about it).  Not to mention Walter and Patty are not into the money for money’s sake thing.

The book opens that there was some “news” about Walter. He and Patty had moved to Washington DC two years earlier.  He clearly did something bad (we won’t find out until much later).  But that serves as an introduction to the Berglunds.  And then we go back to see them, years earlier, settling into St Paul. (more…)

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gidwitzSOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“Headline News” (1994).

HeadlinenewsThis single was released to coincide with Al’s box set Permanent Record (the only other place the song appeared at the time).  It’s a parody of Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.”

The song was very funny in 1994.  Now, twenty (holy cow) years later, it loses some, well, really all of its topicality.  If people even remember the subjects [Singapore caning American delinquent Michael Fay, figure skater Tonya Harding’s then-boyfriend attacking her rival Nancy Kerrigan, and Lorena Bobbitt severing her husband’s penis with a knife] that just goes to show that al was right in joking that he “wanted to write a song about these people because [he didn’t] think they’re getting quite enough media attention.”

The second track is an “Alternate Mix” of “Christmas at Ground Zero,” one of Al’s better Christmas songs.  I’m not sure what is Alternate about it, and I was really hoping that it would include the voice of Ronald Reagan, like it did in the video, but I suspect even Al has limits of access.  Nevertheless, the song sounds a lot better than the original, so there’s nothing wrong with that.

[READ:April 20, 2013] A Tale Dark and Grimm

Sarah gave me this story to read because she loved it.  It’s a re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel.

The narrator tells us that we we don’t really know the original story all, that’s it (and many fairy tales) are much much darker than one expects.  I know that Grimm’s stories are more violent than the versions we tell our kids, but I don’t know exactly how different these stories really are.  As such, I don’t know how much of the this Gidwitz is making up.  In many respects, that doesn’t matter at all because the story is great either way, but it is a point of curiosity wondering whether or not these stories really did say this back then.

Anyhow, this story begins with bold print, bold print in which the narrator talks to the reader directly: “Once upon a time fairy tales were awesome.”  And he prepares to tell us about Faithful Johannes, the precursor to Hansel and Gretel.  We learn how Hansel and Gretel’s parents met (primarily through thievery and greed) and were eventually married (despite the literal curses against them).  It turned out that Faithful Johannes, their servant, stayed with them all along, as all of the curses came true.  But then Johannes died, and then it was revealed that if the king cut off Hansel and Gretel’s heads their blood would restore Johannes to life.  So he did.

Hansel and Gretel came back to life (obviously) but they were so distraught when they overheard what had happened to them (they didn’t remember and of it) they ran away.  And that’s how they met the witch. (more…)

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