Archive for the ‘Y La Bamba’ 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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SOUNDTRACK:  NINA DIAZ & Y LA BAMBA’s LUZ ELENA MENDOZA-“January 9th” & “Living Room” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2017).

I was intrigued by this pairing because Luz Elena Mendoza has a shirt buttoned up to her neck and, from the angle of the first song, it appears that she has her long sleeves down, while Nina Diaz (originally from Girlfriend in a Coma) is wearing a sleeveless T-shirt with tattoos showing up and down her arms.  They seem somewhat mismatched.  Until they sing.  (And also during the second song when it becomes obvious that Luz Elena’s arms are covered in tattoos as well).

The two have never played together, but after NPR Music paired them in the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church for a late evening performance, we’re beginning to wonder why not. They’ve both played the Tiny Desk (Diaz twice, once with Girl In A Coma) and both navigate complex emotions and notions of identity in their music. Also, they just sing beautifully together, Mendoza’s yodel swirling in Diaz’s gritty croon.

Luz Elena’s song “Living Room” is first.  She plays guitar and sings. It’s a short song with Nina’s nice high harmonies over Luz Elena’s deeper voice.  The blurb also notes: Mendoza shares a brand-new song here, “Living Room.” When the two harmonize its confession — “I feel like I’ve been undressing all my thoughts in front of you” — it is, in tandem, starkly intimate and separate.

Nina Diaz’ song “January 9th” is a bit more fun (partially because I know it from her Tiny Desk Concert, but also because it’s a bit more upbeat).  I like Diaz’ singing quite a bit.  Mendoza’s backing vocals add nicely to the “bad one/sad one” part of the chorus.  The blurb adds: “It’s a bluesy ballad with a through line of ’60s pop, a tribute to her late grandmother, cooed and howled into a warm Austin evening.”

Future collaborations should be called for.

[READ: June 27, 2016] Explorer: The Lost Islands

This is the second in series of graphic novel short stories edited by Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of Amulet.

The three books are not related to each other (aside from thematic) so it doesn’t matter what order you read them in.

This first one is all about “lost islands.”  What was neat about this book was that since the premise of an island is so broad, the stories were all very different. (more…)

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dec2015SOUNDTRACK: Y LA BAMBA-Tiny Desk Concert #143 (July 21, 2011).

ylabambaWith a name like Y La Bamba, I expected, a band, possibly from Mexico, singing in Spanish.  So imagine my surprise that the band is from Oregon and sings (almost) entirely in English.

The band’s musical make up is really interesting–accordion, percussion, guitar and lot of singers.  Lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza’s (who is Mexican..I was sort of right) voice is cool and unusual, passionate and anguished and perhaps a little intimidating.

For the first song “Crocodile Eyes,” Mendoza’s voice is right up front as she sings and plays guitars.  And her voice is a little surprising.  But it’s even more surprising when the (rather loud) drums come rumbling in after the first few seconds (it’s especially disconcerting because you can’t see the drummer).

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Y La Bamba is the backing singers.  Two bearded men sing wonderful “whoah ho hos” to accompany her as she sings.

For “Fasting In San Francisco” the guitar switches to one of the (unbearded) men.  And instead of percussion there is a wonderfully clear xylophone that adds a beautiful counterpoint to the plucked guitar.  On this song the backing vocals sound amazing.  I especially loved the middle section “I’m a fragile dandelion” where that line is repeated in many different ways (including spoken) and then all the singers break in to a series of fugue-like “doh” notes at different pitches–it is mesmerizing,.

“Hughson Boys” opens with fast acoustic guitar picking.  And the vocals are a duet with the guitarist and Luz Elena.  This song is not quite as anguished, but the harmonies are once again wonderful–and his falsetto vocals at the end are a great touch.

There’s a story about Luz Elena Mendoza on NPR (from a few months earlier) where they have some of their studio songs available to stream).

This was such an unexpected treat–totally not what I anticipated and a band I definitely want to hear more from.

[READ: January 11, 2016] “Too Good to Be True”

I didn’t know Huneven before reading this story.  And I was a little dismayed that the story was going to be about A.A.

However, it was about A.A. in a very unexpected way.

The protagonist is a woman named Harriet. Harriet had bottomed out not too long ago and lost the job that she really liked.  She was recently hired by a woman name Lois.  Harriet and Lois met at an Al-anon meeting and now Harriet is their housekeeper.  Well, Lois and her family are very wealthy and they have a maid and a babysitter.  So, technically, Harriet is more if a personal chef–making far more money than she ever would as a chef somewhere else.

As the story opens Harriet has agreed to take Gayle to A.A.  Gayle is Lois’ daughter.  Gayle is the middle child between a successful older sister in college and an adorable younger brother (he was a happy accident).  Gayle was an A student until she left one day at age 15 and didn’t come back for several months.

As they are driving to the meeting, Gayle tells Harriet the details of all the things she did (and people she did) to score drugs on the streets.  Gayle was dragged home once but left again twelve hours later.  She had been in forced rehab but it never took.  And now, this time, Gayle is getting clean on her own accord.  She saw a vision of her future as a successful international business woman and she intends to see that through.

So, in addition to A.A., she is studying Mandarin and being an exemplary daughter.

But then one night, as has happens so many times before, Gayle doesn’t return.  Gayle’s dad assumes that something bad happened to her–an assailant or the like.  But Lois assumes she hopped in the back of car and is getting high again.

Harriet has been told so many details of Gayle’s past.  She knows that yes Gayle wants to get clean but also, yes, she spoke so fondly of the highs she had. She doesn’t know what to think.  The police, aware of Gayle’s past, assume she has left as well.

Every phone call brings a charge of fear.  And while Lois says that she would rather Gayle were dead than missing–it would be so much better to know-of course, she also obviously hopes she isn’t.

This is an unhappy story and no real ending is going to shine a bright happy light on it.  But the route that Huneven went was unexpected.

I don’t really like stories like this in general, but it was well told and very engaging and the details (like the phrases that Gayle learned in mandarin) were great.

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