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Archive for the ‘The Steep Canyon Rangers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: NPR: The All Songs Considered Holiday Cruise 2018 (December 19, 2018).

Every year Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton “try to do something special for the holiday and it never works out.”  This year’s Christmas special sees them taking a cruise to Bermuda.  What could go wrong?

Every year I have loved the Christmas special–the fun music, the silly story, the guests. But this year’s was my least favorite so far.  And this is mostly because of the music and the guests.  The story was absurd and funny which I liked, but they really didn’t have any artists I was excited about.

Robin is of course unimpressed and concerned (given that they are sailing on Calamity Cruises) and Bob is as ever a gleeful optimist.  And there’s a strange recurring joke about rooms and cabins.

The show opens with a nice (unattributed) version of “Christmas on Christmas Island.”

There were some fun guests for sure, though.  They arrive at their cabin and find Mickey Dolenz (whose Paypal joke is quite funny, but he laughs a bit much at himself).  Most of the artists have a Christmas album out.  The Monkees-“What Would Santa Do” is a fun little ditty and it was written by Rivers Cuomo, so you can hear the Weezer in it.

Things kind of go south as soon as they look at the newspaper and see that William Shatner is lost at sea.

They meet Aloe Blacc on deck who says he created an album of new Christmas songs which were fun and dancey.  The song “Tell Your Mama” is okay.  Nothing special.  It is a little dancey, but maybe it’s not the best track on the disc.  I don’t know.

Robin goes on a journey and meets Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.  “The Strangest Christmas Yet” is a fun song, but it came out in September so it’s not new or anything (which is what I tend to think this show is about).  But it’s enjoyable to hear Steve tell the crazy story.

Then Bob & Robin zipline along the ship where they run into Lucius.  They play the Lucius version of “Christmastime is Here,” which is pretty as most of their songs are but not very festive.  The story by Holly afterwards about hearing actual jingle bells is a highlight of the show.

Rodney Crowell also tells a funny story about playing basketball on the road.  Although his album is pretty dark, he says his album is about being Scrooge and looking for redemption.  They play “Let’s Skip Christmas This Year,” a bluesy romp that’s more fun than the title lets on.

The guys find themselves caught in the Bermuda Triangle and Shatner makes his appearance, “singing” “Blue Christmas” with Brad Paisley.  Shatner can’t overpower Paisley’s twang.

Up next is John Legend.  What I like about this is they try to talk to him about being lost and Legend is talking about his Christmas album–a funny spliced interview.  They play John Legend singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with Esperanza Spalding. It’s pretty good but they do too much vocal acrobatics at the end.

As the show ends, the final joke is revealed thanks to a grant (great joke).  Although the show ends with another Shatner song, an over the top “Feliz Navidad.”

So no one terribly exciting for this journey, but there are a few good Christmas songs to add to your favorites.

[READ: December 21, 2018] “The One Who Is”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection, although today’s soundtrack is an NPR special.

This story shows the conflict between native culture and white culture.  It’s unclear when it is set, but at least the white doctor does sterilize his instruments.

Nona is about to give birth and she is having a very hard time. Her water broke, but she has been pushing for days with no luck–the baby is breached. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: STEVE MARTIN AND THE STEEP CANYON RANGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #653  (September 22, 2017).

Yes, that Steve Martin.

When I was a kid I used to listen to Steve Martin comedy records all the time, he often included a lot of banjo with his stand up.  He was good then, but he is pretty amazing now.

Throughout his 50-year career, one constant in Steve Martin’s life has been the banjo. It was a staple of his early standup shows and even fans who only wanted to laugh couldn’t help but marvel at his playing. Over the years, he’s continued to perform and record with country and bluegrass luminaries like Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and others.

These days Martin is working on music full-time. He’s just released a stellar bluegrass album he recorded with The Steep Canyon Rangers called (perfectly) The Long-Awaited Album, a record filled with often hilarious story songs and world-class performances.

The band plays three songs and then an “encore.”  “So Familiar” starts as a banjo “solo” an impressive display of fingerprinting and string bending from Martin.  Then it settles into a traditional-sounding folk song with a lot of mandolin from Mike Guggino and fiddle from Nicky Sanders.  I pity Graham Sharp, the Rangers’ banjo player who clearly takes a back seat to Martin.

After the song, Martin says, they’re gonna tune for this next little song.  He says it’s tricky tuning indoors when there’s heat and air conditioning.  “It’s a scientific process  I could explain it to you but… [laughs].  The photons come in and they effect the positrons so that [points to himself] the moron can play.”  “All Night Long” features “our lead singer [and guitarist] Woody Platt.  It’s a pretty traditional song held down by the steady thump if Charles Humphrey’s bass.  The lyrics are sweet (“I only love you in the day and all night long”) and the harmonies are wonderful.  Martin plays the lead intro and a cool little outro.

“By the way, he asks, “who’s running NPR right now?”  He says the melody of “On the Water” came to him in a dream.  He woke up and recorded the melody so it probably sounds like “Oklahoma.”  The band starts with box rums and harmonics from the other banjo.  He messes up an says “Let’s start again.”  Steve turns on the drummer Mike Ashworth (who did nothing wrong and teases: “Yeah.  You screwed up so badly.  Try to get it right this time.”  Ashworth jokes, “Am i fired?  I’m scared.  Martin says, “I’m so glad someone else screwed up besides me.”

Platt leans over and says “How about ‘Caroline’ for an encore?”  Martin says, “This is not for the Tiny Desk.  I don;t think it’s suitable for the Tiny Desk.  It’s about a romance gone bad-looking back two years later.”   As the blurb says, the song is a “hilarious, first-person account of how not to handle a breakup.”  Martin delivers a funny story with a great catchy chorus.

I never got to see Steve Martin do standup, but I would love to see him do bluegrass.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Amulet: The Cloud Searchers

Book four opens with Emily dream-talking to the spirit in the stone.  It tells her that it can no longer be with her in Cielis and it gives her some warnings.

When she wakes up, Max is there to greet her and they are going to head off to the council.  But things aren’t very happy in Cielis.  Trellis and Luger are Elves, true, but even though they are vouched for, the residents still put them in jail for being the elf king’s son.  And none of the non-human creatures are allowed into the city proper.

So when Leon and the cats go looking for a bite to eat, they are not welcomed anywhere.  Until a girl named Aly sees the good in them and invites them into her restaurant (despite her parents protests).  Her parents say the guardian council will lock them up if they are caught. Leon say that the council invited them to help.  But the council is no longer what it once was.  And that’s when Aly reveals that the council is made up of the ghosts of dead people.  Her parents tell her to hush but she refuses to be silent any longer.

Until the rapping on the door makes them all hush. (more…)

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