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Archive for the ‘Suzanne Vega’ Category

may16 SOUNDTRACK: SUZANNE VEGA-Tiny Desk Concert #336 (February 10, 2014).

vegaSuzanne Vega is practically a one hit wonder except that she has released a half-dozen great albums that are full of wonderful songs.  I stopped listening to her some time in the mid 90’s, so I missed her 2000s comeback, but this four-song show from 2014 has her two most famous songs and two songs from her then about t o be released album Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.

As the Concert opens, she asks “for real?” and the hits the Tiny Desk gong (with quite a flourish).

Then she launches into “Luka.”  She plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Her voice sounds pretty much exactly as it did twenty years ago.  In part, sure, it’s because her singing voice is practically a whisper, but it’s amazing how good she sounds.  She has a second guitarist, Gerry Leonard, with her (on electric guitar) who plays a great sounding solo in the middle of the song.

The first new song is “Crack in the Wall.”  She says that it  describes when a crack appears allowing you to see into the spiritual world.  In this version (I don’t know the studio version), it sounds a lot like an old song–stripped down and simple, with Vega’s interesting gentle acoustic guitar chords and voice.  There’s also a cool echoed electric guitar solo.

For “I Never Wear White” she takes off the acoustic guitar.  It’s just her singing and Leonard playing.  And his guitar his rough and distorted.  It is pretty shocking for a Vega song, but it works really well with her voice.  I really like this song a lot.

She ends with “Tom’s Diner.”  She was going to say the one and only, but says they’ve done so many different versions of it.  So this is their latest.  She sings parts a capella but the guitar plays some wonderful washes of sounds (looped) with different parts layered.  He also plays a percussive sound that makes the song kind of danceable.  And when she mentions the bells of the cathedral, Gerry plays some cool harmonic notes that are echoed and sound like clock chimes.  It’s very cool.

Vega’s speaking voice sound a little like Hillary Clinton’s (especially during the thank yous at the end).  But it’s nice that her singing voice still sounds the same and that 2014 album seems like it might be interesting.

[READ: July 6, 2016] “High Maintenance”

The May 16, 2016 issue of the New Yorker had a series called “Univent This” in which six authors imagine something that they could make go away. Since I knew many of them, I decided to write about them all.  I have to wonder how much these writers had to think about their answers, or if they’d imagined this all along.

I’ve never read Mary Karr, I only know her peripherally as connected with David Foster Wallace.  This may not have been the best introduction to her, although since she mostly writes memoirs, maybe this is the perfect introduction.

Mary Karr would like to uninvent high heels.  And while she does speak of this with some humor, the entire article just reeks of vanity and foolishness.  (The fact that she even mentions she can still squeeze into a size 4 should tell you all you need to know about this essay). (more…)

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rainbowSOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-Steamers, Victoria BC (September 1, 1999).

steamersOf all of the three main Rheostatics, Martin Tielli has released the most music outside of the band.  He had a band called Nick Buzz who has released three albums and then he has released three solo albums under his own name. His first came out in 2001.  And this tour was something of a preview for that album.

He called “Farmer in the City” (a song with this title, originally sung by Scott Walker was released on the 2001 album).  This was the second night of the tour (Torfino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island was the first date).

What is most amazing about this show (aside from the fact that the audio quality is outstanding) is that there are a number of songs here that never made it onto any albums.

Also interesting is that even though the show sounds great, Martin was having trouble with his monitor all night. He keeps asking if the crowd can hear him, and saying that he could barely hear himself at all.  And yet his voice sounds fantastic.

The show begins with an intro loop—Martin playing his guitar in waves and crescendos. It’s interesting and unexpected.  “Farmer in the City” is probably my least favorite Martin song—and I find it interminably slow and spare on the record.  Although each live rendition reveals something new in it.

The songs that are heard only on this bootleg include:  “Elkdog” (a description of horses as seen by people for the first time) it’s a rocking and fairly conventional song.  The next is “Indian Arrow” which is as song about his dad being killed by an arrow. It’s a simple rock song (and I just learned was actually recorded very early on a Rheos demo).  “Dear Darling” is a slow song with lots of dramatic singing—very Tielli.  “Redwing Blackbird” is another fairly conventional song but with great harmonies.

“Don’t You Forget It” is a loud, vulgar, sexual song which is dedicated to Vivian (happy birthday).  It’s even got a kind of funk metal middle section.  And “All My Life” is a funky song too.

Although Martin is not very chatty, his band is.  The rest of the band includes Mike Keith on guitar Andrew Routledge on bass and Max Arnason on drums (Mike introduces them as Bob Loblaw on bass and Basic Max on drums).  He also says that during their three days in Torfino, Andrew became a certified surfboard mechanic to which Andrew replies that Mike became a driftwood sculptor (len Tukwila).

There are a number of covers as well-Joni Mitchell’s “River” (which is on the Nick Buzz album, too) Three Bruce Cockburn songs, the mellow “Thoughts n a Rainy Afternoon” (I prefer the original) and then a blistering take on his “Arrows of Light” (I love this version a lot) which segues into “Joy will Find a Way.”

They even do a cover of the Suzanne Vega song “Tombstone.”  Actually, the backing band plays it while Martin goes for a smoke.  It sounds nothing like the original, as their version is loud and rocking.  When Martin comes back from his smoke break he says it didn’t sound like a Suzanne Vega song (I had to look it up by the lyrics).  The other cover is Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues,” which is a rather unusual Neil Young cover I would think.

After a few songs Mike the guitarist says that they were eating some tasty spicy black bean chips which he’s going to pass around for everyone to share… But don’t take them all ”you guys with the hat you take everything.”

They also do a Nick Buzz song “That’s What You Get for Having Fun,” which is a rocking song that sounds great.

He throws in some Rheos songs too.  Their versions of “Digital Beach” and “California Dreamlne” sound great. Martin is in fine voice and although it is somehow different than with the Rheos it still sounds fantastic.  “Shaved Head,” is more dramatic.  A quieter take on the song with no guitar solo.

But when he plays “Record Body Count” he messes up the lyrics so bad that he stops and says “I fucked up my own song.” He refuses to play the end and when someone says he’s being pretentious, he says he’s not he just can’t play it.

The final two songs are just him on his guitar.  He plays “Self Serve Gas Station” which sounds great.  After this he says he doesn’t know what to play.  Someone shouts out “Claire” and he says that he didn’t write that (of course he didn’t write the other covers either, but that’s a funny answer).  For the final song he plays “Christopher” which is truly fantastic.

This is a fantastic show, with lots of dramatic songs, a bunch of real rockers and some rare treats.  It’s a great starting point to listen to Martin solo, and a must listen for any Rheos fan and you can get it (and all these live shows) from the Rheostaticslive site.

[READ: July 27, 2015] Inside the Rainbow

I grabbed this book because I am intrigued by Russian and Soviet art.  I don’t always like it, but I find it utterly fascinating (I wish I could read Cyrillic too, which I think is such a cool looking language).  This book collects illustrations–covers and interior pages from Russian children’s books.

The Soviet Union was formed in 1922 and Joseph Stalin was head of the Union.  A nutshell history of the titular terrible times is: Stalin launched a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial power. However, the economic changes coincided with the imprisonment of millions of people in Gulag labor camps.  The initial upheaval in agriculture disrupted food production and contributed to the catastrophic Soviet famine of 1932–33, known as the Holodomor in Ukraine.

The images in this book do not date to the Socialist propaganda style (the striking graphic images of red black and white), rather, these are a more pastoral style.  All of the images come from the Raduga (Rainbow) publishing house. (more…)

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ladySOUNDTRACK: NEKO CASE-The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You (2013).

nekoSarah got this disc for me for Christmas last year.  Amusingly, she wrapped it and then we couldn’t find it  So I got to listen to the auto download on amazon and to wonder who threw it out.  When we took down the tree several weeks later, we found it on one of the branches.  Belated Christmas gift!

I have enjoyed most of Case’s output since I first heard he several years ago withe New Pornographers.  And this album is no exception.  There are 12 songs and most of them are quite short (no guitar solos for Case–well, okay a couple). And I love how great her voice sounds.  Although, perhaps surprisingly I do not like her voice in the few a capella moments she does.

“Wild Creatures” showcases her great songwriting.  “Night Still Comes” has some amazing harmonies in the chorus (I didn’t realize this but vocals are by Jim James).  I love the way the song builds and retracts as she criticizes “you” for not holding a falling star “at the right angle.”

“Man” is one of my favorite songs ever.  It’s so punchy and rocking.  And lyrically it is both subversive and really funny.  In addition to the whole premise “I’m a man, that’s what you raised me to be/ I’m not your identity crisis” it features the great verse: “and if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume, then I am the man on the fucking moon, coz you didn’t know what a man was until I showed you.”  There’s also a great simple guitar riff from M. Ward.  And at 3 and a half minutes I could listen to it over and over.

But Case plays with all differs style soft music on this record, so “I’m from Nowhere” is just her and an acoustic guitar (and her voice is gorgeous in this stripped down setting).  “Bracing for Sunday” is just over 2 minutes, but it’s not a fast punk song it’s just a speedy shuffling rocker (with horns!).

Then comes “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.”  I don’t think I have hated a song as much as I hate this one.  It is more emotionally fraught that “Suzanne Vega’s “Luka” (which I like) with none of the subtlety.  I’ve only listened to it once or twice and don’t even want to listen to it again to say what else I hate about it.  Maybe if it was spoken instead of sung it would be more palatable, but ugh it is awful, and really seems to ruin the mood of the record for a couple of songs (even if I skip it).

“Calling Cards” is a countryish song, mellow and pretty, but after the bad taste of “Honolulu” I feel lit just kind of falls flat.  “City Swans” brings back the thumping drums and rocking guitars.  “Afraid” is a more successful a capella ish song (with vibes and autoharp accents).

Of course, I prefer when the album perks up again.  “Local Girl” has a simple but cool bassline and great backing vocals.  After a slow weird intro, “Where did I Leave that Fire” turns into a cool jazzy number.”  Although I don’t have a clue what she’s singing about at the end.  The final song, “Ragtime” has a kind of dreamy “Blue Moon” quality until the big horns kick in at the and it really swings and makes me want to listen to the album again

Despite how much I like Case’s voice I just don’t like the slow a capella moments on the album.  There’s so much I do, but I feel like those moments really mar the disc for me.  And yet after the final song, I’m always game to listen again (especially when “Man” comes on).

[READ: November 16, 2014] Lady Cycling

I saw this book at work and thought that with that title and that cover that it would be a very funny tome about how women shouldn’t really ride bikes (I mean “what to wear” comes first, right?). But to my surprise and delight, this book is actually very pro women riding (Miss Erskine herself is a rider) and while she does warn women not to overdo it (no more than 40 miles a day!), it is actually quite a practical and, dare I say still, useful book for female and male riders.

The funny, out-of-date parts are mostly about dress—she encourages all women to wear wool all the time because cotton chafes and wool keeps you warm when you get wet (and you will sweat a lot).  Now I’m not going to overstate the practicality of it in modern society, really, but there are some things in it which are terribly useful and which many contemporary riders do not observe.

But from the get go, Erskine is adamant that women do and should ride bikes.  She says it is much cheaper than owning a pony (true) and is more than just recreation it can also be a means to an end.  She addresses the then controversy by saying that if women “ride fifty miles when ten ought to be their limit—in short, if in cycling they cast reason and common-sense to the four winds of heaven—then, beyond all doubt, cycling is harmful.” (2). The one really out of date aspect here is that she says women ought not to race (it is bound to end in disaster), although I’m unclear if she disapproves of women racing or of racing in general.

In chapter three she answers the question about what kind of bike women should buy. And while she doesn’t exactly name brands she does sensibly say that a cheap bike will wear out and be less well constructed, so it is worth spending more up front.  More practically, she also talks about the location and adjustment of the seat and handlebars. She even talks about the proper way to pedal (using rat-trap pedals—which are apparently the ones we still use today with the metal grippers). (more…)

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wz1 SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-Off the Deep End (1992).

Weird_Al_Yankovic_-_Off_the_Deep_EndIt was this “Weird Al” album that brought me back into the fold.  His parody of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (“Smells Like Nirvana”) was hilarious.  And the video was even better.  It was enough for me to get this album (the cover of which even parodied Nevermind) and was a huge seller for Al.  This great cover makes the rest of the parodies seem so strangely one-hit wonderish (which is, of course Al’s bread and butter), but when you read the other parodied songs, it’s so amusingly “who?”

We have  “I Can’t Watch This” (“Can’t Touch This,” MC Hammer).  This parody is pretty funny as his TV stuff is usually very good.  “The White Stuff” (“The Right Stuff” New Kids on the Block–really??) is very very funny.  It works on a parody level and it works so well internally including the way the O-O-O-OREO fits in in both respects.  It’s probably his best overall parody for a song whose original I dislike.  “Taco Grande” is a parody of Rico Suave” (does anyone remember that song?).  This song also happens to be a favorite of mine–the way he says “Taco” in an oddly sexy way makes me laugh every time.  And, internally it works really well, too.  “The Plumbing Song” is a parody of Milli Vanilla.  While the plumbing  jokes are good, the actual chorus, the “punchline,” really doesn’t work.  Just like Milli Vanilli.

The originals are quite strong on this disc, too.  “Trigger Happy” is a Beach Boys style parody which actually is quite relevant in the big gun debate of 2013.  “I Was Only Kidding” is one of his anti-romantic songs, in which he says all of these romantic things and then takes it back.  It’s pretty funny, even with the Wayne’s World joke.  Wikipedia suggests that it’s a style parody of Tonio K, but I don’t know who that is or what he sounds like.  “When I Was Your Age” sounds a lot like a song from the UHF soundtrack–that same musical style, I wonder if the band works on the music together. It’s a funny song that’s all about old people yelling about how easy young people have it.  It’s a good one.

“Airline Amy” is an original song about a stewardess which doesn’t really do much for me.  But the final song on the disc “You Don’t Love me Anymore” is just outstanding.  It’s a funny acoustic ballad, an anti-romantic song with some very funny lines.  The video parodies Extreme’s “More Than Words,” even though the original song wasn’t a parody of that song (but since people thought it was he made the video reflect it). The video is awesome.

And of course, the polka medley is wonderful.  There’s such a weird mix of songs, and this one really dates the record (not in a bad way).  The previous medleys mixed a lot of different eras, but the songs in this one are of a very specific time: “Cradle of Love,” “Tom’s Diner,” “Love Shack,” “Pump Up the Jam,” “Losing My Religion” (the second R.E.M. nod from Al), “Do Me” (I don’t know the original but I love that he throws in a yodel at the end of it), “Cherry Pie,” “I Touch Myself,” “Dr Feelgood” and the unforgettable “Ice Ice Baby.”  It May be the only place where Metallica and “The Humpty Dance” play next to each other, too.

In a final nod to Nirvana, Al tossed in a 5 second piece of noise after ten minutes of silence which he called “Bite Me” (because Nevermind had a very noisy song called “Endless, Nameless” after some 30 minutes of silence).  My friend Matt has a very funny story about not knowing that “Bite Me” would come on and getting the crap scared out of him by it.  Al makes us laugh in many different ways.

[READ: February and March 2013] The Weird Zone series

wz2Readers will know that Clark and I love Tony Abbott.  We keep looking for his older, somewhat harder to find series, and this past month the library came through with The Weird Zone, eight books set in the small town of Grover’s Mill.  There’s a Secret Government UFO testing base at the north of the city, a dinosaur graveyard to the west of the city and Humongous Horror Movie Studio to the east.  Living in this weird triangle between these oddities can mean only one thing–Grover’s Mill, is known to the kids as the Weird Zone (their school is even call W.Reid Elementary).  The adults in town don’t seem to realize what’s going on (although, clearly they must) are called Zoners.

The Humongous Horror Movie studio is run by Mr Vickers.  His kids, Sean and Holly, are two of the five protagonist.  Although it’s a little funny that in book one, Sean is away at camp.  Mr Vickers makes a horror movie every week–they are terrible  but he shows them at the drive in and people come (perhaps because of the huge searchlights he waves around through the sky).  But having this crazy creature shop in town means that things are very rarely normal anyway.

In Book One, Zombie Surf Commandos from Mars!, Liz Duffey, Holly Vickers and Jeff Ryan are enjoying a day at the beach of Lake Lake (named after someone named Lake) when a tidal wave surges forth from the water.  Riding that wave are a bunch of Martian zombies.  They march after the kids looking for brains! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Volume 1 (DVD) (1997).

Back in the 1990s, PBS ran one of their TV series devoted to contemporary music, Sessions at West 54th.  It was primarily, but not exclusively adult alternative music, with a mixture of jazz and country thrown in as well.  I never watched the show when it was on, but I was intrigued by this DVD because it has a number of artists that I liked quite a bit then. I haven’t watched it in ages, and when I watched it recently I was interested to see that I liked some other artists better than the ones I bought the disc for in the first place.

There was a recent radio show on All Songs Considered called Splitsville: Breaking Up with Your Favorite Band.   This is something that I think about from time to time–bands that I loved and no longer do.  Or bands that I loved and then stopped and maybe now love again.  This show dealt with that very issue.  Most amusingly, Robin Hilton, one of the cohosts had this wonderful quote that applies to me (and this DVD) almost directly.

It’s Not You, It’s Me (Bands We Grew Apart From): “I (dug) out my old CD books and dusted them off. And this recurring theme that came back at me, just haunting, I realized it was the whole Lilith Fair crowd. It was so painful. I had Shawn Colvin, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Indigo Girls, Paula Cole, Beth Orton. I just listened to that music non-stop. And now, maybe I’m not the sensitive, new-age guy that I used to be.” — Robin Hilton

So, what happened, Robin? The same thing happened to me.  I still love the concept of Lilith, but I really just don’t care about the music anymore.  And much of this DVD caters to the Lilith crowd. But it doesn’t start that way.  It opens with

WYNTON MARSALIS-“Back to Basics” A fantastic jazz number.  Wynton plays some wonderful stuff (I particularly like the “laughing” horns).  It’s a really rousing opener.

SUZANNE VEGA-“Caramel”  Vega is not a Lilith Fair person to me because I learned of her long before then.  This is not my favorite song of hers

RICHARD THOMPSON-“I Feel So Good” It’s funny to me that when I bought this I didn’t know who Richard Thompson was.  It’s always great to hear him rock out like this.

SHAWN COLVIN-“Diamond in the Rough” I like Shawn Colvin, although not as much as most of the other Lilith Fairers.  This is one of her songs that I don’t know very well

ANI DIFRANCO-“32 Flavors” I loved Ani and her self publishing empire.  And her songs were good too.  I saw her in concert once or twice and she totally rocked the house.  Then sometime in the early 2000s she went in a new direction and I completely lost touch with her and pretty much stopped listening to her.  It was nice to hear this song again, although it’s a bit slower than the way I know it.

NIL LARA-“How Was I To Know”  I didn’t know who he was then, I’m still not sure who he is or if he’s still around.  This is a pretty serviceable folk rock song

RICKIE LEE JONES-“Road Kill” I did not care for this song at all.

DANIEL LANOIS-“Orange Kay” this was a wild guitar solo and effects song.  It was really quite different from anything else here.

EMMYLOU HARRIS-“Wrecking Ball” This song had cool harmonies although I’m not a fan of Emmylou in general.

BEN FOLDS FIVE-“Smoke” I love Ben Folds, and this song is wonderful (seeing him play the “strings” of the piano is very cool.  And my god he’s so YOUNG!

KEB’ MO-“Just Like You”  I like Keb’ Mo’ quite a bit and this is a good song by him.

SINÉAD O’CONNOR-“The Last Day of Our Acquaintance”  Sinéad was another of those ladies who I loved before Lilith.  I fact The Lion and The Cobra was one of my favorite albums.  Then she got super political (and put out more amazing music) and then she got really weird.  And I stopped listening.  She’s an odd duck in this show as well (this was in her speaking only in falsetto phase, which is pretty odd.  And she has a little grunted /spoken bit in the middle of the song which is pretty odd too).  But for all of that, man is this song awesome. I haven’t listened to it in a long time, and holy cow I forgot how impactful it is. And live, with the electric guitars and the backing vocalists, it is really amazing.  A definite highlight of the disc.

YO-YO MA “Libertango”  Yo-Yo Ma is pretty awesome.  I wouldn’t listen to a lot of his stuff (I like classical, but in small doses) but man, he rocks the cello.  This is a great piece.

PATTI SMITH “People Have the Power” Patti Smith is a legend.  An icon.  Her early music is amazing.  So why do I hate this song so much?  The sentiment is wonderful, but gah, what a dreadful song.

JANE SIBERRY-“Love is Everything” I really like Jane Siberry.  She’s a strange lady with a quirky but wonderful voice.  This is a beautiful song, but a little slow (I find it works well amidst her other songs, but it’s a bit stodgy on its own).

It’s a fun collection of mellow songs (what I think of as the old PBS/NPR audience, since now they have shows that are much louder).  And it’ always fun to see artists perform in an intimate venue.

[READ: April 12, 2011] “Shock Jock”

This is the first play that The Walrus has published.  It is not so much in Acts as it is in Ten Scenes.  Scenes 1-3 are printed in the magazine, while Scenes 4-10 are only available online.  (Sadly 1-3 are not included online).

This is the story of a political shock jock, a Canadian version of Rush Limbaugh (these were the days before Glenn Beck).  The opening scene shows him railing against everything and nothing.  He proves to be very popular with his fans but when they call him up to tell him that, he abuses them too (but they don’t seem to mind–or to notice).  It seems like a pretty straightforward parody of a radio blowhard.

But the next scene shows him at home, where he is not so much meek as completely incapable of making a decision.  His wife seems like something of a harpy, but it’s clear that she has put up with this ineffectual man for nine years and has just had it with his inability to even communicate.  These two scenes play off each other as somewhat obvious counterpoint and yet, they are strangely compelling enough to keep you reading.  And it’s worthwhile to do so. (more…)

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