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Archive for the ‘Joni Mitchell’ Category

momentSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzNick Buzz is a side project of Rheostatics singer/lead guitarist Martin Tielli.  This album was reissued in 2002, when I bought it  But it came out in 1996, right around the time of the concerts I’ve been posting about.  Martin says that this album is pure pop, and that he is genuinely surprised that people don’t see this.  Of course, when your album has screeching monkeys, cars honking and circus music, pop is not the first thing that comes to mind.  There are certainly pretty songs on here, but it is an album that resists easy entrance.  There are short manic pieces, slow, languorous, almost lounge music pieces, and an improved cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then there’s the instrumentation: piano, violin, guitar, voice (no drums, although there is percussion on some tracks) and other weird sound effects.

“Step Inside” opens the disc.  It seems like a normal, mellow song (with slightly falsettoed vocals).  But 34 seconds in the circus music starts—a deviant and unsettling circus that pushes its way into the song briefly then vacating and allowing the pretty melody to return.  It’s like a mild form of Mr Bungle (with more actual circus).  It’s unsettling at first but then strangely catchy after a few listens.  There is fanfare as the song ends, interrupted by the sound of a tape speeding up (or going backwards) until song two bursts in.

“That’s What You et for having Fun” is less than three minutes and while weird, it is certainly accessible and funny.  The guitar sounds like he is slapping the strings rather than strumming them.  The refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear” gives a sense of the absurdity (especially when the President of Canada (sic) says he has one too).  “Just Because” mellows things out a lot—simple guitar with a kind of lullaby feel (it’s a bout wishing on stars).  It’s so slow after the craziness of the first two songs.  After  3 minutes of a lounge type song, it ends with a distant radio sound of an even more loungey song which melds into the live version of “River.”

The mellow “River” is followed by a raucous bass clarinet solo and wild guitar solo that is interrupted by the long (nearly 6 minutes) “Sane, So Sane.”  This is the most conventional song on the record—a simple piano melody with repeated lyrics (conventional aside from the weird distant music in the background of course).  Although it does gone on a bit long.  “A Hymn to the Situation” is an eerie two-minute wobbly song.

“Fornica Tango” is indeed a tango presumably sung in Italian. This song features a crying baby, an interesting sounding “Italian” chorus and the screeching monkey at the end.  “Love Streams” is a pretty, slow ballad.  “Aliens Break a Heart” is another pretty song.  Although this is the song that ends with traffic sounds.  “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick the Buzz” has a kind of Kurt Weill atmosphere to it with spoken words and falsettos.

It took me several listens before I could really find purchase with these songs.  I find that I really enjoy most of them now–some of those slow ones are a little too meandering for my liking.  But it seems like a fun outlet for Tielli’s songcraft.

[READ: October & November 2013] A Moment in the Sun

I read this book last year…finished it just before Thanksgiving, in fact (I was proud of my pacing).  But it was so huge that I didn’t want to write about it until I had a good amount of time.  And now here it is four months later and I probably have forgotten more details than I should have and the post will be nowhere near as in depth as I was saving time for in the first place.  Bah.

When people see this book, they say, “That’s a big book.”  And it is a big book.  It’s 955 pages (and they are thick pages, so the book itself is nearly three inches thick–see the bottom of this post for an “actual size” photo); it’s got three “books” and dozens of characters whose stories we read about in full.  It is about the United States, racism, The Gold Rush, the assassination of a President, the Spanish American War, a World’s Fair and even the exploration of moving pictures.  This is a fairly comprehensive look at the Unites States from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  And, man was it good.

John Sayles is known more for his movies than his books (18 films directed, nearly as many different ones written and only 4 novels), but the cinematic quality that is clearly in his blood comes through in this book as well. (more…)

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CV1_TNY_12_17_12Sorel.inddSOUNDTRACK: JONI MITCHELL-“The River” (2002).

joniMuch like Zadie Smith in the article, I was never much of a Joni Mitchell fan.  We may be one of the only houses in America without a copy of Blue somewhere.  Much of my ignorance about her comes from simply not being exposed to her.  Which also seems absurd and yet it is true.

I know her from covers, which should establish her as a great songwriter, if nothing else.  And by now I know a number of her songs, like this one.  This is kind of a Christmas song (it has the word Christmas in it), although it’s not very Christmassy.  I have a hard time believing that Zadie Smith’s husband never noticed that she is quoting the music from Jingle Bells in the beginning of the song though, as it’s really quite obvious.

It’s a  pretty song, and hey maybe it’s time to see what else is on Blue.

[READ: December 20, 2012] “Some Notes on Attunement”

I love hearing about Zadie Smith’s family–her hip black mother and her dorky white father.  I love that she embraces both sides of her life.  And when she writes about it, she presents it so fully.  So growing up her parents listened to Burning Spear and Chaka Khan and Duke Ellington and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and yet somehow never Joni Mitchell.  And she wonders how they didn’t know or perhaps why they didn’t like her.  [My parents were to old for folk music, so that’s my excuse].

She talks about the first time she heard Joni, at a college party (it was Blue, of course) and frowned at it.  Her friends, both black and white said, “You don’t like Joni?”  But, she explains, “Aged twenty, I listened to Joni Mitchell–a singer whom millions enjoy, who does not, after all, make an especially unusual or esoteric sound–and found he incomprehensible.”

And then at 33 she had another experience–listening to Joni Mitchell in a car with her husband on the way to Wales.  Which is where we hear her saying “And that bit’s just Jingle Bells.”  She says she didn’t expect to get much out of that line “and was surprised to see my husband smile, and pause for a moment to listen intently: “Actually that but is Jingle Bells–I never noticed that before.  It’s a song about winter…makes sense.”  Wait, how could he not hear that before??? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLOAN-Parallel Play (2008).

I’ve enjoyed Sloan since my friend Al played me their first single “Underwhelmed” back in the 1990s.  Unlike Al, however, I have enjoyed them ever since.  In fact, a few of their discs rank up as my favorites of all time (Between the Bridges, in particular).

The one thing I have never been able to do, however, is keep track of who is who in the band and who writes/sings which songs.  I think if I were younger and had more free time I’d be all over keeping these things straight.  However, at this point, it’s not worth the effort.  Which is fine, as I can’t decide who is my favorite songwriter anyway.  Just when I’m sure that “Witches Wand” is my favorite track on the record, I remember “All I Am is All I’m Not” or “I’m Not a Kid Anymore” and I give up trying to decide which guy makes me happiest.

What’s interesting about this album is that (at least according to one interview) the four guys wrote and played each one of their songs by themselves.  There are 13 tracks which means they each got 3 songs and someone got a bonus track.  The joke of the title is that, much like 2 year-olds who play next to each other but don’t interact, this album was played by 4 friends who never interacted with each other.

So, you get 4 songwriters, playing the full spectrum of their ideas, but who are all still Sloan, and you get a wildly divergent album that retains the overall sound of the band.  It’s really tremendous.   This album is also under 40 minutes, so you get great hook-filled songs that come in, rock your world, and then leave.  It’s also hard for me to pick a favorite Sloan album at this point, because each one has so many good songs.  Their last album, Never Hear the End of It was a little too long at 70 minutes, but it was still full of fantastic songs (and I guess if you have 4 songwriters each contributing something you’d be hard pressed to create crap).

Sloan are back, and still producing great stuff.  Now, if anyone wants to tell me who is who, that would be terrific.

[READ: October 29, 2008] “Hag”

I didn’t realize this was an excerpt until the very end where it states that you can read an expanded version of the story here.  I thought the story seemed unfinished, so that makes sense.  Anyhow, this story won the 2007 Summer Literary Seminar.

This two page excerpt shows Lance and the narrator hitching a ride to Calgary.  The time is the mid 70s, as noted by Creem Magazine (I used to love that mag!), Joni Mitchell’s Hejira record and vinyl albums lovingly stored in plastic sleeves.  (more…)

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