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Archive for the ‘Myths’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KARINE POLWART TRIO-Tiny Desk Concert #840 (April 10, 2019).

I had never heard of Karine Polwart and her beautiful and thoughtful music.   And I suppose that’s not surprising.

Scottish singer, songwriter and essayist Karine Polwart seldom comes stateside. She prefers to limit air travel in order to minimize her carbon footprint. She took exception, however, to fly from Edinburgh to New York City to participate in the Carnegie Hall Migrations festival, a celebration of the history of the movement of people all around the world. Polwart and her brother, guitarist Steven Polwart and multi-instrumentalist, Inge Thomson, then escaped New York for a day to play the Tiny Desk here in Washington, D.C.

They play three beautiful songs.  Steven seems to play the main guitar melody while Karine adds lovely accents.

The first song is “Ophelia.”

Polwart writes songs about hope, music that harnesses spiritual power and lyrics that address important social justice themes. Stories of human emotion and the human experience are also commonplace as in the first tune, “Ophelia.”

“There’s a wind in from the desert
Red dust blows across the sun
It bleeds into the evening
We watch it from the garden
Your hair glints in the strange yellow light
We let go of all our fighting
Ophelia”

There’ some very cool sound effects–wind and warped sounds echoing–surrounding this song and I can’t quite tell where they are coming from (presumably from Thomson).  It’s a cool if unsettling backdrop for this pretty song on acoustic guitar with lovely vocals (wondrous backing vocals from Thomson, who also plays a gorgeous accordion solo.

Indeed, the music is wonderful and the blurb describes it perfectly

Lyricism and messages of hope and beauty heard throughout punctuate a stunning accompaniment of inventive instrumentation. The steady, resonant guitar riffs played by Steven Polwart ground the delicate vocal harmonies. Inge Thomson’s accordion lines, combined with an array of percussion instruments and synth-generated effects, add a complimentary layer of sound without overpowering the music. Karine Polwart’s bellowing and drone-like Shruti box provides a sweet serenity.

She speaks with her wonderful accent between songs, introducing the band and then introducing the second song, “I Burn But I Am Not Consumed.”   It features a mesmerizing spoken word denunciation of trump, from his hated golf course back in Scotland to everything he does now.

Your mother was a wee girl once,
who played upon my rocky shore.
And you, you are broken boy,
and you want more and more and more.
You build a tower. You build a wall,
You live in fear that they might fall.
You who see nothing but your face
in the sheen of The Hudson River.

The music is wonderful too.

Read the whole thing here and watch a performance on the eve of the inauguration with an orchestra for the BBC.

How does one follow that up?  With a song called “King of Birds” which praises the power of small things.–in their guile and their nimbleness.

In it Polwart recounts the legend of a wren who piggybacks a lift on an eagle’s wing. Just as the large bird is unable to fly any higher in the sky, the tiny wren catches a breath of air, soars higher than the eagle and is crowned the king of all birds.

Tinkling bells and gentle guitar introduce this verse

“At Ludgate Hill
where the towers of smoke and mirrors bruise the sky
the pilgrims huddle in
as the tiny King of Birds begins to cry
the people start to sing
to light glory in the dark
to ring the bell
and to breathe hope in every heart”

And as the song reaches its loudest Thomson is playing a cymbal and the accordion while she is singing.  Wow.

This concluding blurb is spot on

This performance will quite likely inspire you to learn more about Polwart. The NPR program, Thistle and Shamrock often features her music. This recent episode features cuts from Polwart’s latest album, plus her ideas on movement and migration.

[READ: April 14, 2019] “Medusa”

This is a brutal story about a woman who has been raped.  But the brutality isn’t in the way it happened–in fact, when I first read it I wasn’t entirely sure it had actually happened.  It’s in her reaction to the event and how it changes her life.

It was raining and the narrator left her back door open as she went outside to take out the garbage bags. How could this man have gotten in in that short time?  When she first saw him she thought he was a lost student from across the way.  But it soon dawned on her that that was not his reason for being there.

She introduced herself, trying to humanize herself to this man.  He said his name although she could tell he was just “trying it on for size.”  She got a good look at him–his hair, his tattoos, a good smell of him.  She tried to run but fell in her front hall–leaving her in the perfect position for what he wanted. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Tiny Desk Concert #837 (April 1, 2019).

Weezer is surprisingly polarizing for a band that writes fairly mundane pop songs.

I can’t help but think that this Tiny Desk Concert will just add fuel to the fire.  It’s the four Weezer dudes (Rivers Cuomo: lead vocals, guitar; Brian Bell: guitar, vocals, keys; Scott Shriner: bass guitar; Patrick Wilson: drums) on acoustic instruments.

Why polarizing this time?  Because they play unexpected songs.  They don’t play Africa, nor do they play any of their popular songs.  They also don’t play fan favorites from the first two albums (well, sort of).

They open with “Longtime Sunshine,” a 1994 track that’s only appeared as a Rivers Cuomo home recording on bootlegs and compilations, and on the deluxe edition of Pinkerton.  With piano and acoustic guitars, it really sounds nothing like Weezer, except that it is clearly Weezer (the lyrics, that voice).  Rivers plays the guitar solos and there’s some surprisingly loose bass work.

They sound good, but a little less than perfect, which is cool.  As the blurb notes

This is probably the loosest you’ll ever see Weezer. Known for meticulously produced — and electric — live shows, frontman Rivers Cuomo and the rest of the band settled in behind the Tiny Desk for an entirely acoustic set without the in-ear monitors, click track or vocal separation they usually employ to stay locked-in and tight for bigger performances. The result is surprisingly intimate, with songs that feel lived-in and rumpled, like an old flannel shirt from the ’90s.

They follow that up with a new song.

Then the band performed a stripped-down version of its electro-pop song “Living in L.A.,” from Weezer’s new self-titled “Black Album,”

I actually don’t know the proper version of this song (but I do know a lot of people don’t like the electro sound of the new album). So maybe this version (which is really good) will make them wish the recorded version were more like it.  Bell adds another acoustic guitar and the riffing is pretty heavy (for acoustic guitars).

For everything that polarizes people about Weezer, the one thing people seldom talk about is their musicianship.  All four of them (Bell in particular) are very good and even if they are loose hear, they still sound right on.

I was pretty excited to hear them play “Across the Sea” from Pinkerton, since the certainly don’t play this much.   I never really understood the lyrics all that well, but i enjoyed singing the parts that I knew.  The blurb puts it well:

It’s a song Cuomo originally wrote in his early 20s, inspired by a fan letter he’d received from a young woman in Japan. While beloved by many Gen-Xers who’d first heard it on 1996’s Pinkerton, the song’s lyrics haven’t aged terribly well.

But if you can look past that (I think it’s only the one line that’s uncomfortable-making), the version sounds great.  I especially like the combination of Rivers playing the solo and Bell playing the other guitar.

It’s nice that they were allowed to play four songs.  They play the new song “High as a Kite.”  I didn’t know this song either and I actually can’t imagine it done in any other way.  It’s quite a pretty song.  I’m very curious to hear the recorded version.

There’s a moment n the song where it shifts gears where it sounds like they screwed up, but I don’t think they do, it’s just a little clunky in this format.  Again, I want to hear what it sounds like on record.

Weezer is known for being kind of goofy, so it’s easy to expect them to do something fun, but they are all business.  Aside from this goodbye, “We are Weezer, from the planet Earth. Have a nice life!” they don’t really say anything or break from playing straightforward songs.

The blurb, again, puts it well. It says the song “High as a Kite,” is a

song of innocence and escapism, Cuomo sings about daydreaming and how he wants to disappear — which is exactly what the band did once the song was over.

Longtime fans of Robin Hilton will know that he loves Weezer.  I never found out how he reacted to this Tiny Desk.  Was it polarizing for him as well, or was it just cool to see this side of an otherwise very polished band.

[READ: April 9, 2019] The Return of King Doug 

I have had this book on my bookshelf for a decade, apparently.  I’m not even sure where or how I came to have it although the Oni Press label is a good indicator.

The book starts twenty-five years earlier in the Magical Kingdom of Valdonia.

Valdonia is made up of strange-looking creatures.  Part of this is also because of Wook-Jin Clark’s really odd drawing style.  It took me a while to get used to and enjoy the way he draws and even now I still find it a little off, somehow.

Two centaurs are speaking about the Dark Queen and how she will not rest until she has defeated their kingdom. Balthazar shows off their one defense, the Magical Heart of Agnon.  They just need someone pure of heart enough to wear it.  And Balthazar has heard that one of the Tumtums, Feldspar, has met a stranger–a human child–who might just be that pure being.

The human is Doug and he found his way into their village.  He also bears the mark of the prophecy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (February 17, 2001).

It’s hard to believe these shows were 18 years ago!

This was night 4 of 4 of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 53rd Birthday bash.  It was the final night and one of the longest shows I can recall at almost 3h in length. The Chickens opened the show.

It was hard to find information about The Chickens.  What I learned was that they were originally a band called U.I.C. which was first an acronym for Unemployment Insurance Commission but was later changed to Up in Canada.  They broke up and then years later reformed but as a different band.  From Now Toronto:

Not only do the Chickens boast the propulsive rhythm section of former U.I.C. drummer Murray Heywood and bassist Dan Preszcator along with the devastating firepower of U.I.C. guitarist Fred Robinson, but they also have the megacity’s most exciting microphone mauler, U.I.C.’s Dave Robinson, fronting the band.  That’s right, Exeter’s answer to the Stooges have clawed their way back from obscurity to kick ass with a vengeance. So why the name change? Well, despite the fashion-world dictate, the 80s are over and the Chickens aren’t a nostalgia act.  The songwriting savvy of former El Speedo guitarist Ken Mikalauskas has added a sharper pop edge to the compositions, as can be heard on the Chickens’ cranking new Prepare To Plug In (Egg-cellent) album.  “We went through about a million names and even contemplated going back to U.I.C., but it didn’t click. Ken has contributed so much to our sound that this really feels like a new group. Besides, none of us really liked the name U.I.C. anyway.”

So that’s the opening act.

For the main act, the band plays for nearly three hours.  They played almost all of Night of the Shooting Stars (songs are in bold–excluding “Remain Calm” or “Satan”).  There was a nice intro by Jeff Cohen (which states that The Horsehoe was originally a country club, which makes sense.)

And then they jumped n with six new songs.

“The Fire” which Martin says is “a new song Dave and i are working on.”  There’s some great harmonizing between the two of them at the end–they don’t duet enough.  It’s followed by some short, poppy song: “It’s Easy To Be With You” and “Superdifficult.”  Martin speaks the title through his robotic voice in low and high register and Tim says that thing was in my dreams last night.  It’s such a great but far too short song.

“The Reward” has such a great slinky guitar riff.  It’s another satisfying new song.  As is “Mumbletypeg” although they can’t seem to synch up on the intro to this song.  Dave yells “all together now” and they get going.  The new stuff ends with “Song Of The Garden” which Tim dedicates to Sarah Harmer’s new album.

Then it’s back to older songs.  There’s a soaring “Self Serve Gas Station” which segues into a screaming “RDA.”  They throw in some tags to The Clash’s “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” with DB shouting: “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.  I’m so angry at the U.S.A.  I don’t give  a fuck about the U.S.A.”  When the song is over, Dave says,  “We almost sounded like The Chickens there.”

There’s a discussion of music and hockey and The Chickens should be called The Gas Station Island Five since the starting line is the entire chickens band–they’re amazing on the ice.  One of them says “We’re gonna kick The Morningstars ass (Bidini’s team) at the Exclaim Cup.  DB notes: “Different division.  They can’t put us in the same division because there’s always a big terrible beautiful brawl when we play each other.  The Exclaim Cup.  April 13-15–it’s free.  It surprises you that it’s free to watch these guys play hockey?

Tim says they’re going “way back for” “Torque, Torque” which was fun to hear.  Especially since the follow-up the new song “In It Now” has a similar guitar sound.  I love the guitar riff and melody of this song.

They tale a small break to talk about the celebrities they’ve spotted on the last couple of nights, including Dave Reid, from Centennial High, where they performed Harmleodia.

Someone shouts “I’m looking for some fun” (the opening of Fish Tailin’)  DB: “Hey Martin that guy wants to talk to you.”  Martin says they’re playing something else.  When the guy shouts again, DB says, “Perhaps you would like to try another club if you’re still looking  Because we’re cooking.”

They play a great “Junction Foil Ball” during which a fire alarm goes off.  After the song Tim checks, “that wasn’t a real fire, right?  It was just Dave’s riff was too hot.”

They play a long “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” with a wild drum solo in the middle and loud and roaring ending.   Then they play “Me and Stupid” and Dave forgets the words in the first verse (perhaps the first time I’ve heard him forget a lyric) but he is undaunted and they do fine until the end.  Mid song, Don quotes a poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “and done a hundred things/You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung.”  Then Dave quotes Wilderness Gothic by Steven J. Gibson “something is about to happen / two shores away a man hammering in the sky.”   [Both poems are printed in their entirety at the end of the post].


Martin’s been nominated for a Juno award for original art work–they’re never nominated for a musical category–the art has always been better anyway.  The Story of Harmelodia is being produced by the One Yellow Rabbit theater company in Calgary.  So up next is “The Sky Dreamed” on which Don Kerr takes lead vocals.

Don says he’d like to thank Maureen for “giving me an official Canadian tartan jacket, which means I am now an official Rheostatic.  Martin says Canadian tartan used to be our uniform.  Tim: and our bedding.

“Baby I Love You” a goof track from Nightlines Session is requested many times.  Tim says they considered it for Valentine’s Day, but it’s too complicated and doesn’t work without a Fender Rhodes.

For “Loving Arms” they are joined by Carmen from a fine band called Check (I guess). She sings backing vocals which sounds very pretty.  I never noticed that the ending melody sound like the guitar for “Here Comes the Sun.”  It’s followed by one more new song–a great version of “P.I.N.

Dave says they played Sydney, Cape Breton where they don’t get a lot of bands and they go crazy.  Somebody sent up shots of tequila and we stopped a song and played “Tequila.”  We kept shouting tequila but nobody was sending up any more shots.  And then all of a sudden there were 48 of them.  We’ve never been the same.

Then the bust out a surprise: “The Ballad Of Wendel Clark Part 1 and 2.”  During the song, Dave B talks to Dave of the chickens about what it would be like playing against Wendell.

Then it’s time for two Stompin’ Tom songs.  “Horseshoe Hotel” which they learned just for this occasion.  Tom wrote it in 1971 about this hotel where people drank a lot.  Tim follows with “The Ketchup Song.”  people requests “Bud the Spud”, but they have a two song Tom quota.  Plus, no more than one song about potatoes you don’t wanna get to filled up on potato songs.

Then comes an amazing trip of a set ender.  A simply beautiful version of “Stolen Car” followed by an intense “Horses.”  The version includes Dave chanting the Talking Heads’ lines from “Crosseyed and Painless” and Martin reciting the Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” through his computer voice.  The noisy outro of Horses segues into a lovely quiet intro of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” and the crowd goes nuts.

It’s an amazing set ender that should satisfy anyone, but the Rheos are not done.  After a fairly long break they’re going to play for about 40 more minutes.  Someone shouts “Saskatchewan” and Dave says, yes, we were gonna do that but we ran out of time.

So instead, it’s “Legal Age Life At Variety Store” which features Tim Mech on guitar.  As they start the chords, Dave says, “you’re writing something in your notebook but how do you know which song were doing?  We could be doing “Rockin My Life Away” by Jerry Lee Lewis or “The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III.  But of course it’s “Legal Age Life” and everyone gets solos: Freddy and Davey from The Chickens and Timmy (Mech) who does a weird solo.   Tim Dave and Fred–the triple threat!

Somebody shots “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” but Dave says they can’t do it without The Bourbons and the guy shouts “I take it back!”

Two more new songs include a rockin “CCYPA” and “We Went West” which seems a weird song for an encore (it’s pretty slow), but it sounds good.  It’s followed by another surprise, their version of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.”  Dave says that they have a song on the (incredibly diverse) compilation box set Oh What a Feeling 2.  Proceeds go to charity.  They are on it after Jane Siberry.

Then they leave, but they’re not done.  JC comes out and announces that it’s 2:30 in the morning (!).  Do you want to hear any more? No rules tonight.

The guys play “Northern Wish” in the crowd acoustic and unmic’d.  The recording is pretty good and the crowd really sings along–great fun there.

Everyone assumes they are done, but they’ve got room for one more, a rocking, late night version of “Introducing Happiness,” which sounds like it’s 2:45 in the morning but is pretty awesome, nonetheless.

What a show.

They played 63 different songs over the four nights.  There were 30 songs that were played more than once.

[READ: February 14, 2019] Mythical Irish Beasts

This book is a fun illustrated collection of the historical origins of Irish beasts.

Joyce does a lot of research (there’s footnotes!) and mentions many original documents to explain where these myths came from, but it is still a very simple introduction to these stories–a way to pique your interest.

He also illustrates every beast in his striking but unusual artistic style.  I really like the look of his beasts, but they are certainly unconventional.  They’re very modern looking, which is interesting for these ancient creatures.

There does not appear to be a reason for the order, but I’m going to list all of the creatures just because it’s fun to have some many weird words in print. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“Ma Vie en Rose” (2019).

Lucy Dacus has been on a roll lately.  Her album Historian is fantastic.  She has put on some amazing live shows (I’ll be seeing her again in March), she did some amazing work as 1/3 of boygenius and now she has made a delightful version of “Ma Vie en Rose.”

The original is swooning and slow, allowing for the words to linger and tickle every inch of the listener’s ear.  But sometimes love isn’t slow and languorous.  Sometime, it hits you hard and runs fast with your heart.

So Lucy has recorded a version with this tempo in mind.  She says

I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love.

Musically the song is pulsing beat and piano–electric guitar and bass and it is just relentlessly chipper.

She sings the song first in French and then in English in her gorgeous quiet(ish) voice in under 3 minutes–that’s a minute faster than the original which is only in French.

And she released it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

[READ: February 11, 2019] The City on the Other Side

The book begins on the other side of the veil that separates our world from the fairie realm.  It is a very thin but very powerful veil and virtually no one can cross it.

This is a story of fairies and humans.  And how our worlds impact one another.  When we build buildings, the fairies feel the digging and when the fairies had a war, it caused earthquakes,   The massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906?  That was caused by a massive fairie war.  That fairie war started when the Seelie (the creatures who bless brightness–birds, ferns, humans) and the Unseelie (who celebrate darkness-worms, rotting logs etc) couldn’t agree on a ruler.  They are expected to rule the underworld in equal parts–six months at a time.  But recently there had been trouble. The leader of the Unseelie didn’t like the way the Seelie seemed to be taking over (because humans were becoming so powerful) so he captured the Seelie leader’s daughter and waged war.

Back on earth we meet a young girl, Isabelle.  She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who wishes her to be perfect–clean, respectful, and quiet.  In the summertime, she is shunted off to her father–an artist who is more interested in his work than his daughter.  But at least she can relax and play and get dirty.  It is while she is here that she sees a Seelie with a magical necklace. The Seelie is supposed to get that necklace to the kidnapped daughter of the Seelie leader.  But he has been wounded.  Since Isabelle is allowed to cross dimensions he pleads with her to help the Seelie.

While heading into the city with a helpful talking mushroom named Button, Isabelle’s necklace is stolen by…another human?  This young boy is shocked to discover that she is a human.  When he tells his story they agree to work together.

It turns out that the earthquake killed his parents and his discovered a rift between the worlds when the ground opened up.  He was rescued by the now-missing Seelie daughter which granted him the power to cross the veil. But no one has seen the daughter for many years so he–who is not welcomed in Fairlieland and has nothing waiting for him in human land–has become a simple thief.

The thief knows his way around the fairie world and has made something of a name for himself.  But that also means that Unseelie warriors are aware of what he does and where he goes.

How will these two humans find a princess in the fairie realm?  And will they ever even want to go back home?

This story was a little to fast for my liking–everything seems to be very truncated.  Maybe that’s because it’s a children’s book?  And while I am glad that it wasn’t stretched into two books, it just felt like it took on a lot and resolved it all really fast.

I also didn’t love the artwork.  I really didn’t like the fairie characters at all–they seemed hastily drawn and I didn’t really like the main characters all that much either.  The whole book felt like it was done very quickly.

Having said that, it’s a good introduction for kids to know about the Seelie and fairie stories–there are so many they can explore later on.  I did like how the final pages with Button the mushroom (my favorite character) were informative both about the story process and the history of San Francisco and the earthquake.

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SOUNDTRACK: SPIKE JONES-Let’s Sing a Song of Christmas (1994).

I like Spike Jones’ comedy music.  I feel like my dad was a fan.  I know he knew a lot of Spike’s songs, whether or not he knew they were from Spike, I don;t know.  So when I was looking for non-traditional Christmas music, I saw this and thought it would be a zany collection of songs.

Well, it is not.  In fact I remember being really disappointed at the time because it’s pretty straightforward.  Although now, some 14 years later, I listened to it again and realized it’s a lovely collection of Christmas music.  There are some “funny” songs, but they’re more traditionally funny and not so zany.

This is a collection of twenty songs and my version has pretty much no information about the songs.  But the recording is top-notch if you like mid-50s, big band, “very white” (my term) singers.  The City Slickers and the City Slicker Juniors along with The Jud Conlon Singers take on all of these classics:

Jingle Bells Medley: Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town / The Christmas Song / Jingle Bells; Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer; Silent Night; Sleigh Ride;  Snow Medley: The First Snow Fall / Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow; Deck The Halls Medley: Deck The Halls With Holly / Away In A Manger / It Came Upon A Midnight Clear / The First Noel; White Christmas Medley: Winter Wonderland / Silver Bells / White Christmas; Hark Medley: Hark, The Herald Angels Sing / O, Little Town Of Bethlehem / Joy To The World / O, Come All Ye Faithful; Christmas Alphabet Medley: Christmas Alphabet / Merry Christmas Polka / Christmas In America; Victor Young Medley: It’s Christmas Time / Sleep Well, Little Children and What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

They also do a couple of songs with the Saint Victor’s Boys Choir:  The Night Before Christmas Song and Christmas Cradle Song.

Interspersed with these songs are the ones featuring George Rock.  Rock is the quintessential voice of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.”  You know the one where it’s clearly an adult, but somehow he sounds like a tiny kid.  Well, that was George Rock.  And Rock has a pretty fascinating history himself.

A large man, he attended Wesleyan University on a football scholarship, before turning pro as a musician at the age of 20. His first national exposure was in the Freddie Fisher’s Schnickelfritz Band. In 1944 he signed up with the Spike Jones Band.

It must have been fun to see the large guy singing like a little kid.  This collection includes, “Two Front Teeth” as well as “My Birthday Comes On Christmas,” and “(I’m The) The Angel In The Christmas Play.”  They also had a few songs sung by actual kids, The City Slicker Juniors.  They perform “Nuttin’ For Christmas,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.”

None of these songs are particularly funny, but I think people laughed a lot easier back then.  Nonetheless, if you’re not freaked out by the voice (or wondering why anyone would WANT to say “Sister Susie sitting on a thistle,” these songs should raise a smile.

This collection would work well on random with all the modern Christmas songs at your holiday festivity (as long as the volume is mixed loud enough).

Interestingly, I can’t find the cover of my CD version (only a cassette version of it).  So I must have a less popular version that the one that’s above.

[READ: December 3, 2018] “Endless City”

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.

This story comes from Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey (apparently it was printed in the first, small-press edition, but not the second major-press edition, which seems weird).

So, this is, as the book title notes, a side story of Odysseus .  What a weird, thankless project it seems to add to The Odyssey. (more…)

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olymmpSOUNDTRACK: LOGAN RICHARDSON-Tiny Desk Concert #734 (April 23, 2018).

Logan Richardson is a jazz saxophonist.

I’ve been down on saxophones lately, but I do really like the sound he gets.  I’m a bit more impressed by the rest of his band, though.

Since I don’t know Richardson, I’ll let the blurb speak for me, with some of my comments.

Richardson ‘s latest project, Blues People,  … was derived from the early slave calls that inspired the earliest American jazz and blues musical traditions. Here at the Tiny Desk, the saxophonist revisits that history with four remarkable songs from the album, all performed with a hope that our country’s future will be less painful than its past.

“80’s Child” is a reflection on the decade Richardson was born. Its colorful melody complements the band’s energetic fusion groove. Continually pushing forward with momentum and anticipation, its 8/8 time signature moves seamlessly into 10/8 to create an intensity that is both focused and free.

I love the opening guitar work (by Igor Osypov) which sounds very un-jazzy to me–you could hear an alt-rock sound being built out of that.  While Igor is doing a simple but pretty guitar solo rhythm guitarist Justus West keeps the rhythm work with some interesting whammy bar bending.   About three minutes in, drummer Ryan Lee gets some great little improv moments.  I really enjoy the song even if I find myself tuning out the sax and listening to the guitar.

Richardson notes, “The desk is tiny but it’s mighty.  I have a tiny saxophone that I forgot to bring.”

The next groove, “The Settlement,” maintains a similar tone and features DeAndre Manning slapping on his funky bass.

This song feels more jazzy to me–prominent sax with jazz guitar chords.  But I do love the jazz/prog rock section with the slap bass and the guitars following suit.  I definitely tune out the sax to listen to the great riffage from the strings

While the band is ringing out the last notes of the song, Richardson introduces the next

The song gently segues into the only vocal piece, “Black Brown & Yellow,” a lovely reminder that racial diversity is something to celebrate.

They do a short chant of “Black, brown and yellow is beautiful.”  It’s a pretty, almost sensuous song sung first by West and then joined by everyone else.

I love that I am now quoting someone quoting some else about this last song:

“Anthem (To Human Justice)” ends with brilliance best described by my colleague Nate Chinen, “By design, too, Richardson’s alto saxophone often functions more like a lead vocalist than as a virtuoso solo instrument. He’s a good conduit for soaring, plaintive melody…. And however the band surges or thrashes around him, there’s a feeling of urgent communion in this music.”

The backing music is once again excellent and interesting, with cool time changes a nifty guitar solo (while the second guitar is doing some other cool stuff too) and some great bass work.  I really like the way the whole band jams it out at the end–the band sounds great and Logan’s sax is right there with them soloing the whole time.

I feel like this is jazz for people who don’t like jazz.

[READ: March 17, 2018] Olympians 10

I’m still not sure how many books O’Connor has planned for this series, although in his introduction he talks about saving his favorite books for the end, so I assume there are at least two more (although 12 seems reasonable).

Here’s the summary of the man himself:

George O’Connor is a massive geek and Greek scholar.  He has done lots of research for these books, including going to Greece and visiting sites and antiquities as well as comparing all manner of ancient stories to compile the most interesting pieces. He explains that since these stories were orally passed down, they were modified over the years.  He doesn’t change the myths, he merely picks the story lines that are most interesting to him.  And then he adds a lot of humorous modern touches (and dialogue) which keep it from being at all stuffy.

O Connor’s drawing style is also inspired by superhero comics, so his stories are presented in a way that seems much more like a super hero than a classical hero, which is also kind of fun.

Each book ends with an author’s note which is hugely informative and gives plenty of context.  It also has a bibliography, but more importantly, it has a list of notes about certain panels.  Do not skip these notes!  In addition to providing a lot of insight into the myths of the characters themselves, there are a lot of funny comments like “Greeks raced in the nude (point and laugh)” which really bring new depths to the stories. (more…)

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