Archive for the ‘Sharon Van Etten’ Category


This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)


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[ATTENDED: January 31, 2017] Mary Lattimore

2017-01-31-20-21-17I wasn’t sure who would be opening for Parquet Courts.  I was surprised and delighted to see that the opening act was going to be a harpist.   I had never heard of Mary Lattimore before, although on looking her up it seems quite likely that I have heard her before–she seems to be a go-to harpist for a lot of bands [a shortened list includes these records: Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts ; Jarvis Cocker – Further Complications ; Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo & Wakin on a Pretty Daze ; Sharon Van Etten – Are We There? ; Quilt – Plaza ; Hop Along – Painted Shut].

When I arrived her harp was onstage–lit up and gorgeous–and I was really excited to hear her show.

She came out while we were waiting and made some final adjustments.  And then a few minutes later she sat down at the harp, quietly thanked us for coming and began playing. (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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augSOUNDTRACK: GWEN AUSTIN-“Child” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2016).

maxresdefaultLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  I want to draw attention to a couple of them.

The production values of this video belie the quality and intensity of the song they play.

The video is set in a dark room with the only light coming from an open window.  The vocal is a bit staticy and at times too loud for the mic.  But that doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is a beautiful, sad song.  And that Gwen Austin has a powerful, somewhat haunting voice in the vein of Sharon Van Etten.

The music is simple Gwen on acoustic guitar and an accompaniment of a very echoey electric guitar Russell Marshall, but she sings with intense aching in her voice.  The song comes from Austin’s feminist folk opera about the nativity story, which I’d sure like to hear more about.

[READ: February 10, 2016] “Fever”

The August 2015 Harper’s had a “forum” called How to Be a Parent.  Sometimes these forums are dialogues between unlikely participants and sometimes, like in this case, each author contributes an essay on the topic.  There are ten contributors to this Forum: A. Balkan, Emma Donoghue, Pamela Druckerman, Rivka Galchen, Karl Taro Greenfeld, Ben Lerner, Sarah Manguso, Claire Messud, Ellen Rosenbush and Michelle Tea.  Since I have read pieces from most of these authors I’ll write about each person’s contribution.

I believe that everything I know from Taro Greenfeld I know from Harper’s magazines.

The title of this one had me preparing for something very different.  I imagined an article about illnesses and not a basketball team.  His daughter played for a team called Fever and he was called upon to be a coach because no one else would (that sounds familiar).

Unlike my own soccer league with many different teams, this basketball league had but two teams, and Fever played Sky every week for 12 weeks.  Karl was a first time coach and didn’t know much about how to be a coach.  The other coach was pretty good (he had a clipboard) and somehow managed to get all of the tall, talented players compared to Karl’s less experienced ones.

Since the played the same team every week, they lost 12 games in a row.  Which is pretty disheartening.  Especially when the games were pretty much blowouts.  He even lost a few players to disenchantment. (more…)

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harpers maySOUNDTRACK: SHEARWATER & SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (2013).

Shearwater-Sharon_RSDEverybody knows this song.  It was  way overplayed (overplayed enough that Weird Al parodied it in 1983).  So I can’t say I was all that excited to hear this cover.

What’s nice about it though is that if you’ve heard a song a million times, hearing a slightly (not radically) different version can reintroduce it to you in a new way.

It’s noisy and clunky in the music–giving a more folkie vibe.  And while Sharon sounds a bit like Stevie Nicks—she gives that same raspy quality to it–she’s definitely not trying to be Stevie.  The Shearwater vocalist does moderate mimic of Petty—enough to show that he knows what the original sounds like without duplicating it.  The whole feel has a kind of tossed off, less polished vibe that really works with the lyrics.

It turns out that this version is live and it was released on a  7″ single (but NPR gives it to us for free).  I like this version quite a bit although I do miss the “Ah ha has” and “Hey hey heys” in the bridge.

[READ: May 29, 2013] “The Gift”

This was a very strange little story.

In it, a woman wakes up after her house has flooded.  Not entirely, but there was certainly a few feet of water (she can see the residue marks).  What’s also strange is that she had not left her apartment for five days and she had just spent nearly $90 (the bulk of her grocery money) ordering a box of glacé apricots from Australia–in gold foil at extra cost–no less!

She feels guilty… but they just looked so good in the catalog.  Of course, so did the mosquito netting–but really what use had she for that?

She spent some time thinking about the Australians working in the glacé apricot factory–did they ever steal an apricot?  Were they hungry? Somehow she imagined them enshrouded in the mosquito netting.

She was awoken from her reverie by the water rushing around her living room–and the piglets grunting around in the mud. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“She Drives Me Crazy” (2011).

Sharon Van Etten (man, she is everyhwere!) went to the AV Club studios and did a cover of The Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy.”

The first time I heard the Fine Young Cannibals song was on MTV.   There was pretty loud guitar and then Roland Gift walked up to the screen and sing in a prposterous falsetto.  And I laughed really hard because I thought it was some kind of joke.  Over the years I’ve grown to really like the song.  I also really like Sharon Van Etten, who sounds nothing like Roland Gift.

This cover demolishes the oirginal.  Van Etten makes it her own–slowing it down outrageously.  She makes it twangy and more creepy sounding.  And obviouly, she removes those big crashing guitars and sharp angles of the original. There’s some backing vocalists (and a full band) so the song had breadth.  And it is fairly recognizable once you can follow the lyrics (it’s much slower, so it takes a good 45 seconds before you fully recognize the song.  But it is so very different. 

I enjoy the original more, bit this is a cool interpretation.

[READ: July 20, 2011] “Where I Learned to Read”

I don’t know who Scibona is.  As such, I’m wasn’t sure how interested I was in his past.  I mean, did I really need to care about him in this piece (by that token, should I really care about any of  the authors in the Starting Out series?). 

Anyhow, it’s an interesting introduction to the author.  This story talks of how Scibona deliberately tried to fail out of school.  He was happily making $3.85/hr at KFC and new he could get transferred anywhere in the country to another KFC.  It would be an easy way to travel.  So who cared about school.  Who cared about reading?

Well, he did, actually. As long as it wasn’t assigned, he very happily read everything he could get his hands on. But then senior year, a girl showed him a brochure for St. John’s College which offered a Great Books program.  It was just reading. Reaing great books.  Not books about Aristitle, but by Aristitle.  And it was in New Mexico.  He was hooked. (more…)

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Sharon Van Etten has a lot of sessions at NPR.  Not too many are downloadable, but this one is.  This is a fascinating set because it’s a special breakfast show for KUT. (See in the picture she’s doing Java Jive).  (She also plays a show later that night, but it’s not available here).

The set is four songs (all from Epic) on acoustic guitar.  The really different thing about this set than any of the other things I’ve heard from her is that her voice sounds really gravelly (like she just woke up–which she may have, almost all of her between song banter is about how it’s early–it’s either endearing or annoying).  Normally, Sharon has a really amazing voice–high and soaring.  This time it’s much  raspier.  But the interesting thing is that it works well.  She never misses a note and it brings an interesting growly tone to these (somewhat) angry songs.

It’s a great (although brief) set.

[READ: March 30, 2011] “Mont Royal”

This is a very brief (three column) story that reads like a stream of consciousness piece.  And that is appropriate because it not only references Ulysses, it actually quotes the end of the novel.

There are many fascinating things about this story.  First off, it is written in direct address: “When I moved to the city, ladies, …” but we never find out who the ladies are.  Second, it begins with the humorous idea that the narrator–upon moving to Montreal–believed for many years that the cross on the to of Mont Royal was a plus sign (he is an engineer). (more…)

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