Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘The Civil Wars’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-“The Long Way Home,” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

These next few shows were recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

I have recently been re-listening to The Civil Wars and re-remembered how great John Paul White is.  He’s playing near me in a few weeks, but I can’t go see him.  I do hope he comes back.

John Paul White is a Tiny Desk veteran two times over: He’s performed once as a solo artist and once as half of the decorated and now-defunct Americana duo The Civil Wars. So he was a natural to take the stage for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Family Hour.  The room felt at once packed and cavernous, with White perfectly suited to the setting. He’s got a voice made for high ceilings.

White is up on stage with just his guitar and his voice.  He plays a song that is about his love/hate relationship about the music business.

White introduced the song with a boast any artistically inclined parent will understand: “I want to do a song for you now that I’m really happy to say makes my kids cry.  It’s not easy. My kids are hard. I immediately felt guilty but knew I was going to record it for the next record. But “The Long Way Home” taps into greater universal truths than that, capturing the way even our most ambitious pursuits can feel like a mere stepping stone to the comfort of the everyday.

It’s a bouncy minor key song and you know it’s going to be a gut-wrencher.  The chorus: “I ain’t leaving, I’m just taking the long way home to you.”

Yikes, if all of White’s songs are as emotionally charged as this, maybe I don’t want to see him in person.  But his voice sounds fantastic.

[READ: March 3, 2019] “Sweet”

This was one-page and thoroughly confusing.

It begins: “Gregory Speen learns to not doubt himself and Mike Brenlan supports him wholeheartedly.”

Then we get small sections about Speen.

Speen can tell that a woman is cruel. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: THE CIVIL WARS-“Kingdom Come” (Field Recordings, November 8, 2012).

I discovered The Civil Wars after they had broken up.  Which is such a shame as they make such beautiful music.

They were Joy Williams and John Paul White and

the two [had] built a gentle, harmony-rich folk-pop sound in which warm chemistry more than counteracts the tension under the music’s surface. Though not a couple themselves — each is married, and Williams just had a baby — they convey many hallmarks of a loving union, particularly in the way she stares at him sweetly as they sing.

That staring is really uncanny–she seems so happy with him.  So it is amazing that at the time of this airing

Williams and White announced that they’ve canceled all of their tour dates in response to “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition.” This, naturally, has fueled talk of a breakup — the assurance that “our sincere hope is to have new music for you in 2013” doesn’t specify whether that music would be made together or separately — which is a pretty crummy development

This Field Recording [The Civil Wars: A Song Of Loyalty, Before It’s Tested] was done in (presumably) happier times — during the Sasquatch! Music Festival in George, Wash.

The pair sing in a field of grapevines.  Just as John Paul arrives, the wind picks up incredibly, almost comically.

Amazingly, given the setting, this song sounds fantastic.  I love that you can hear whistling wind faintly (it might even be cooler if the wind was a bit louder).  But you can see the grapevines (and their hair) blow as the wind picks up.  But their voices and guitar sound perfect.

This song, like every song from The Civil Wars is wonderful.  Their voices are just magical together.  Even if there’s not a lot going on musically (it’s a single guitar although the melody is great), it’s the way they loop their voices together that is just out of this world.

I love them on record, and they sound even better here–White just lets his voice soar at one point and it’s fantastic.

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Back the Way You Went”

I was really puzzled by this story.  I couldn’t tell if it was one story with three parts or three separate stories.  I hoped it was three separate stories because the three pieces don’t seem to go together at all.  But at the same time, the internal parts of each story isn’t entirely coherent either.

Garland
D and F take a woman with them on a weekend getaway.   The woman’s mother recently died.  They go to a honeycomb.  Bees stream through the streets and the night.  D and F are bees too.

But they aren’t, of course.  Because the next day they ride bikes (the woman never learned and is quite bad at it).

Years later she wonders “what it was like for D and F to be thugging her around.”  Thugging?

The next paragraph is a flashback and is a good one.  But each paragraph seems to be separated from each other.  The title appears in the body.

Mexico
In this part “they” go to visit Dad in a home.  He is  in a room with a man whose eyelids don’t close–doctors don’t want to touch them in case they stayed permanently closed.

One Sunday they were coming home from visiting Dad–it was no different from any other visit. but her insides had gone bleak and dangerous. She sat in the back of the taxi thinking about an art work she saw in Mexico

The title of this piece appears in this section as well.  And, again, I enjoyed the part about the art piece and I enjoyed the way her dad tells her this bon mot, but I don’t see how they connect

Trouble in Paradise
Her mother in law Verna is four feet nine.  She feels big and bestial hugging Verna.  Her own mother was also short, but otherwise unalike. She is unlike her own mother except that they both think she needs to shop for clothes because they don’t like the way she dresses.

Vera is telling stories about her best friend Mildred who died.

But the narrator is thinking back to drying dishes with her own mother.

And then the narrator snaps out of it and asks Verna a question about Mildred which she finds quite surprising.  The ending in which she mentions the filmmaker Lubitsch, is just as puzzling as all the rest f the story(ies).

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACKHOLIDAYS RULE (2012).

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.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AND SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
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.

IRMA THOMAS WITH PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-“May Ev’ry Day be Christmas”
This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

HEARTLESS BASTARDS-“Blue Christmas”
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…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #579 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

Read Full Post »

walkerSOUNDTRACK: THE CIVIL WARS-Tiny Desk Concert #137 (June 27, 3011).

civilMany Tiny Desk performances just show the band playing.  But there’s evidently a lot of time before hand where the band sets up and has fun.  I love seeing that, and it’s kind of a shame they cut so much of it out.

As this show starts, Joy Williams is holding the film clacker with Bob.  He tells her to give it a loud clack.  She kind of lets it go on its own accord and then says she didn’t do a good job.  John Paul White then says “I could have done it so much better,” to much laughter.

The Civil Wars are Joy and John Paul and they have terrific chemistry.  The first song is “Barton Hollow,” John Paul plays a loud percussive resonator guitar and the two sing great harmonies.  He sings loudly with her nice harmonies, but the middle part is quieter with her gorgeous voice singing out the lyrics.   I really like the down step chords in the “walking and running” section at the end of the song.

Before “Twenty Years” Bob asks if they ever had a desk job.

Joy says no: daycare, rock climbing.   John Paul says No: forklift driver, seed cleaning, (she asks what that means, but he doesn’t hear her which is a shame as I’d like to know too) cleaning out chicken houses.  He pauses…. I wanted a desk job.

For the song, John Paul switches to a simple acoustic guitar and plays less percussively for this somewhat quieter song.

It’s really fun to watch the two of them play together.  As the blurb notes: “There’s blissful, swooning chemistry as they stare into each other’s eyes and sing magnificently together.”  So it’s a bit of shock that they are not married to each other (they each have spouses, though).  Turns out that they met at a songwriting session at a Nashville studio in 2008.

Before “Poison & Wine” John Paul asks if they are all so quiet and respectful or if Bob rules with an iron fist.

Joy plays the keyboard for this song while John Paul plays a quiet guitar.  This song has wonderful harmonies in the beautiful if puzzling chorus , “I Don’t Love you, I always will.”

I didn’t know The Civil Wars before this set and I am really hooked.

[READ: February 2, 2016] The Unsinkable Walker Bean

This book has some pretty great blurbs attached to its (from Brain Selznick and Jeff Smith) but I found that I couldn’t really get into it.

A lot of the problem was the artwork.  Interestingly, the artwork on the cover (which I assume is also one by Reiner since it looks like his style) is really great.  But the interior art feels like a sloppy version of this cover art.  And while it’s not sloppy, of course, it just doesn’t look as nice as it might.  Couple that with text that is hard to read, a story line that is full of weird little details and twists and it all wound up being a story that felt way too long for what it was.

There was a lot that I did like about it.  I liked the general premise and I liked two of the crew members that Walker Bean befriends, and of course I loved the various gadgets that they created.  I just didn’t enjoy the story all that much. (more…)

Read Full Post »