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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE KLEZMER CONSERVATORY BAND-Oy Chanukah! (1987).

For the first day of Hanukkah, it’s time for a Chanukah album.

This is a collection of traditional Chanukah songs interspersed with brief stories and a history of the holiday.

It works as a musical collection, although the dialogue does obviously stop the flow every couple of minutes.

Klezmer music is fun (provided you like the clarinet), but it really can’t be dissociated from the stories behind it.

The first narrator talks about the Maccabees and the Festival of Lights.  There’s the tales of Judith and Hannah and memories of klezmorim coming to the shtetl.  There’s even a recipe for latkes and the story of the dreydl.

Some of the songs have words (sung in Yiddish) but just as many are instrumentalist.  The majority of the songs are traditional, of course, but my favorite is “Klezzified,” which is written by one of the band.

This disc is a good introduction to Chanukah music.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Souterrain”

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

This story was really powerful and it revealed all of the details and connections in a slow and excruciating way–once you realized what was happening.

There are several characters in the story which takes place primarily in France.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS (2010).

This is one of my favorite Christmas discs.  There’s not a lot of traditional Christmas music on it, but the originals are all either spot-on Christmas songs or at least work nicely for this time of year.  The only song that doesn’t fit is Ben Folds’ which is funny and vulgar.  It is not safe for Christmas and should be skipped in a family setting and saved for the drunken debauchery part of the night.

PHANTOM PLANET-“Winter Wonderland” Back in 2010, Phantom Planet was a kind of buzzy, talked about band (you’ll have to look up why).  But this is a great version of the song, I especially love that it’s kind of rocky and slightly dissonant but still really pretty.

RON SEXSMITH-Maybe This Christmas.
It’s a shame that this series of records is named after this song, which is so forgettable.  I usually like Sexsmith’s stuff, but I can’t keep this song in my head at all.

COLDPLAY-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Unlike Phantom Planet which was all buzzy when this was recorded, Coldplay had yet to take off and had a small hit with “Yellow.”  It’s interesting to hear this spare version (just Chris Martin singing and playing piano) and how he modifies the words in small ways.

VANESSA CARLTON-“Greensleeves”  This is a lovely version of this song, even if Carlton’s voice is a bit affected (and its technically not a Christmas song in this lyrical version).

BRIGHT EYES-Blue Christmas
This is a nice version of this song, mellow and catchy.

SENSE FIELD-“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” The more I listen to this song, the more I think it’s really weird.  “The yellow and red ones” (?).

JIMMY EAT WORLD-“12/23/95”
This is a very catchy Jimmy Eat World song (once again, before they got huge for a time).  It’s hard to realize its Christmas-related until late in the song when they mention the holiday.

JACK JOHNSON-“Rudolph”
I love this version of “Rudolph” so much because Johnson tacks on an ending where the other reindeer feel bad of making fun of Rudolph.  And Johnson’s vibe is just always so mellow and chill.

BARENAKED LADIES & SARAH McLACHLAN-“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”
This recording is quite old–from 1996.  The artists work very well together and Sarah’s voice sounds great.

BEN FOLDS-“Bizarre Christmas Incident” [NSFC]
Ben played all of the parts himself on this song.  I love Ben and I love when he is funny and vulgar.  But this song which is very vulgar and mildly funny is so out of place on this disc.  You can’t play this for the kids, whereas everything else is totally fine. I might like it on a vulgar CD collection bu I dislike it a lot here.

DAN WILSON-“What a Year for a New Year”
Dan Wilson always writes pretty, catchy songs.  This is a lovely song that seems (possibly) even more appropriate in 2017 than it did in 2002 when he wrote it.

NEIL FINN-“Sweet Secret Peace”
This is a very pretty, delicate song with a wonderful chorus.  It’s not necessarily a Christmas song, but it works at this time of year.

LOREENA MCKENNIT-“Snow”
McKennit’s voice is amazing, and this song is hauntingly beautiful.  It’s a stark and lovely ending to this disc.

[READ: December 14, 2017] “Lady with Invisible Dog”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

This story was pretty bizarre and really wonderful.

There’s so much going on.  And much of it is pretty weird.  The story is set in 1995.  The narrator, Edwin, has had a run-in with a man called “The Narrator.”  And that has set all of the action of the story in motion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUNK ROCK XMAS (1995).

Long before it was cool to make “punk” things for mass consumption, Rhino released this Christmas album.  I bought it because I was pretty tired of Christmas songs back in 1995 and this was a pretty good antidote.

Listening to it twenty years after it came out, I was surprised to hear how many songs would fit pretty nicely in a contemporary rocking playlist.  Although in the true spirit of punk, there are a number of songs that wouldn’t fit at all, either because of the very anti-Christmas sentiment or the bad language.  I have labelled those [NSFC] Not Safe for Christmas.

THE RAVERS-(It’s Gonna Be A) Punk Rock Christmas
This song is actually quite fun.  Santas’s gonna be a Sex Pistol for a Day and Farrah Fawcett is going to change her hair.
THE DICKIES-Silent Night
This is a fairly faithful rendition of the song, just done as a surf punk song with the nasal vocal delivery of The Dickies.  I’ve know this song for decades and have rocked out to it on many a non holiday eve.
SLOPPY SECONDS-Hooray For Santa Claus Theme From ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’
This is a rocking cover of the hilarious song from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  I can’t even imagine how they know it as I only know the movie from MST3K.
FEAR-Fuck Christmas [NSFC]
This song starts off like a slow ponderous song and then it ends abruptly with a hardcore chant of the title.
THE GREEDIES-A Merry Christmas
This is a fairly straight punkish blend of Christmas songs, puts some pep in your ho ho ho.
THE DAMNED-There Ain’t No Sanity Claus
This song is just great, Christmas themes or no.  In fact I don’t even know what the rest of the words are and it could easily NOT be a Christmas song–except for Santa Ho Ho Hoing at the end.
PANSY DIVISION-Homo Christmas [NSFC]
Kudos to Rhino for adding this aggressively queer song to the mix.  But it is quite explicit.  Also, I never noticed before but the opening chords could easily have the harmonica solo form Blues Traveler’s big hit fit in there very nicely (and wouldn’t that be a hoot).
BOUQUET OF VEAL-It’s Christmas [NSFC]
This is a mildly inappropriate song about sex and drugs but it’s catchy and short.  You could probably slip it in without people noticing.  (That’s what she said).
THE CELIBATE RIFLES-Merry Xmas Blues
The Celibate Rifles were an Australian punk band.  I don’t really know them at all.  The verses of the song are fast and hard to understand but they’re darkly comic and the chorus is just a punk version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  The end is a fairly straight blues riff.  A fun addition to a party.
RAMONES-Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)
This song is pretty widely accepted as a classic Christmas song now.  Listening to it amid these other punk songs, it made me realize just how far the Ramones drifted away from their punk sound and into a more metal feel.
METAL MIKE, ALISON AND JULIA-Deck The Halls
This is a pretty goofy, sloppy, slurry version of the song.  There’s mention of a helicopter.  It’s a minute of fun.
EL VEZ-Feliz Navinada
This is one of my favorite Christmas songs.  A wildly buzzy guitar, fast chanting of Feliz Navidad and some serious Public Image Limited love thrown in.
HUMPERS-Run, Run Rudolph [NSFC]
This would be a pretty straight punk version of this Christmas song, fun for all, except for the “Check this shit out” comment before the solo.
TVTV$-Daddy Drank Our Xmas Money [NSFC]
This is a sad (funny) drunken tale of a drunk dad spending all of the Christmas money.  It starts out with a slow intro and then a fast punk conclusion.
THE FROGS-Here Comes Santa’s Pussy [NSFC]
 This is a slow creepy song that feels like it’s meant to be really naughty, but it’s just kind of dumb.
MOJO NIXON-Christmas Christmas [NSFC]
I just don’t really like Mojo Nixon (my store could use some fixin’).  I do, however, enjoy the idea that the chorus is done in the style of “Louie Louie.”  But the verses are a bit beyond the pale.
D.I.-Mr. Grinch [NSFC]
The song starts with the melody form the song “Black Sabbath,” but it soon becomes a more standard punk version of the song.  The biggest problem with the song is that it’s nearly 4 minutes long.  People will clamor for the original, which is more fun anyway.
STIFF LITTLE FINGERS-White Christmas
This is a sloppy but faithfully punk version of the song for the first verse.  The second time around is blistering sloppy noise punk.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “The Face”

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

This story is told in an interesting way.  It begins with a boy raking leaves in an old couple’s front yard. He’s making money and having some fun (he leaps in the pile and wrestles with the bags once they are full).  Then he sets the pile on fire.

While he’s watching it burn, the homeowner, an 80 year old man comes over to talk to him.  Mr Aurelius asks if was true that the boy had been to Hong Kong.  He had and he told the man some things he saw there (most of what he saw was ferries and dead animals). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PINEGROVE-“Intrepid” (2017).

Pinegrove frontman Evan Stephens Hall just announced that, because of indiscretions, he was cancelling the band’s winter tour.  I had tickets to two of these shows, so that’s certainly a bummer.

I can only hope that whatever the details of his trouble, he can work it out amiably, get the help he needs and get back on the road in a better place.

Before this all happened, the band released their first new single since Cardinal took off.  “Intrepid” opens with a quietly strummed guitar and Hall singing quietly, including an unexpected falsetto note.  The song threatens to get big and loud but then seems like it might just end.

But after a minute and a half the rocking guitars and backing vocals come in and the song lifts off.  It strikes me as far less catchy than anything they’ve done so far, but it feels a lot more complex, as well.

The end of the song drops in volume, with one more little rocking guitar part before it fades out quietly with the same part that sounded like the end earlier.

It’s really well crafted.

[READ: May 7, 2017] Dark Shadows

This fourth book is once again Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.  It also has an introduction by J.J. the search and rescue dog whose current civilian job is to look after the Chicken Squad.  I would love to see what the humans think of these chickens acting this way, I think that would be a very funny insight.  But maybe it’s best if it’s left unknown.

The family, including J.J. and the chickens are in the car going to a farm to “See things you’ve never seen before.”  Sugar says she has seen everything there is to see.  J.J. counters that she has never been out of the backyard.

Their mom, Moosh, explains that this will be a family reunion–they’ll meet all of their aunts, uncle and cousins.  And when they arrives there are hundreds and everyone expects them to lean all of their cousins’ names. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEDISI-Tiny Desk Concert #675 (November 21, 2017).

Even though I don;t follow R&B, I’m always surprised to discover an artist whom I’ve never heard of.  Especially when she is described as “a veteran R&B queen…with nine Grammy nominations and an impressive discography.”

So, yes, I’ve never heard of Ledisi, but she earns her accolades. Her voice is powerful and her attitude is wonderful.   She opens with “Let Love Rule” where she hits some really impressive notes.  It’s interesting to hear R&B done on a simple box drum (James Agnew) and an acoustic guitar (Kerry Marshall).  But Ledisi is clearly an R&B singer and the way she and her (amazing) backing vocalist Sara Williams really get cooking their vocals are really impressive.

She introduces the next song: “This next song is from my last album.  I figured we do some up tempos to keep you awake.”    She’s so funny.  When she says the title, “I Blame You” and people react, she gets excited and says you know it.  “Everybody like (dances).”  In the middle of the introduction, her make up artist comes out.

In person, what’s just as impressive as her exquisite artistry is her radiant spirit of contentment and grace. You can see it when Terrell, her makeup artist, goes behind the desk between songs to powder her face. (It was an exceptionally hot day.) Ledisi responded to the interruptions not like a diva, but with humor, humility and gratitude (“Oh, you again”).

“I Blame You” sounds like a 70s song (and she has a major Whitney Houston thing going on).  Although  as the blurb notes, she’s not just about the high notes:

Classically trained, Ledisi is also celebrated as a jazz artist, which she clearly demonstrated when she broke out into a effortless scat outro on her second song, “I Blame You.”

She switches into the “New Orleans” style of scatting, which is pretty enjoyable.

I loved her introduction to the third song, “Add To Me,” which is about having self-confidence and ensuring self-care in any relationship.  She says women want to know, but all people should ask anyone new who comes into your life: I know what I can add to you but what can you add to me?  She was feeling sassy that day as she sang lyrics like

Clothes, rings, all of that means nothing to me I need more than what you’re offering me.  ….

I can be good on my own, but I don’t want to be alone.  But you gotta have it all together ….

Tell me all your dreams and your goals / I’m paying all my bills on my own
I made a lot of money last year / I plan to make more this year.

And then comes the final song, “High,” a tribute to Prince with even more positive messaging. She says that “High” is about being high on life.  That no matter what the circumstance around you, find one good thing in a day… be high off of that one good thing.

Ledisi’s an impressive musician.

[READ: May 5, 2017] Into the Wild

I didn’t love the second book in this series, but this one was really funny.

Interestingly, this book has a different illustrator.  While Kevin Cornell continues to do the covers, the interiors are now illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.  The pictures aren’t noticeably different.  (I didn’t realize it was a different illustrator), but on closer inspection I can see slight changes (mostly in style rather than quality).

What I found more fun about this one that the previous one was that the mystery was a more interesting.  The chickens’ back yard has been invaded by a box.  The human Barbara has put a rather large and worrisome box in their yard.  Sugar immediately suggests that whatever is in the box must be dangerous–what else would she keep in the box but something that is wild and dangerous?  (Even though they live in a box).

And then Sugar lays out the facts: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-Tiny Desk Concert #673 (November 17, 2017).

Benjamin Booker has a lovely soulful voice with a distinct “accent” or enunciation.  He sounds more mature than his 28 years.

It’s interesting to watch the video because Booker seems so laid back and calm singing while backing vocalist is much more impassioned with her gestures and look.

“Believe,” seems like a happy song, but there is emptiness at its core: “I just want to believe in something, I don’t care if its right or wrong.”

For the second song, “Witness,” Booker plays the lead guitar riff while Saundra Williams (who sang alongside Sharon Jones on a previous Tiny Desk Concert) sings the opening chorus.  The verses are faster and Booker’s delivery is a bit rougher.  The song swings, but as the lyrics are serious: “The song reflects on two main questions: Will we be a witness to the wrong in the world and is that enough?”  It also “bears witness to both the racism he’s experienced and the hatred still prevalent in our culture and reflected in the daily news.”

 It’s amazing that his speaking voice is so different from his singing voice as he introduces Mikki Itzigsohn on bass, Sam Hirschfelder on drums and Matthew Zuk on guitar.

The final song, “Carry” picks up musical intensity a few times as the bridge seems to build and build before returning to the slow pace of the music.  Booker has a quiet intensity that is hard to resist.

 

[READ May 7, 2107] The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken

For Thanksgiving, why not do some Chicken Squad books?

This is the second book in The Chicken Squad series illustrated by Kevin Cornell.

I had fondly remembered the first book in the series.  I saw what I thought was the second book at the library but it turned out to be the fourth! So I waited till the 2nd and 3rd came in so  could read them in order (which is not necessary).

I remembered enjoying the first book quite a bit but I didn’t love this second one as much.

One of the things I liked about the first book was that it was basically narrated by J.J. the dog.  This one, while having the dog as a sort of bookend, didn’t follow that formula exactly.  And maybe that’s why it wasn’t as funny?  It also felt really insubstantial. (more…)

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