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SOUNDTRACK: JIM JAMES-Tiny Desk Concert #799 (October 26, 2018).

Jim James is the singer of My Morning Jacket.  And I think he’s pretty great.

Although I like his band work more than his solo work, i was happy to see him in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Especially since he started with “I’m Amazed,” the terrific song from MMJ’s Evil Urges.  I think what’s most striking about this version is how stripped down the music is.  The song has become mostly about the words.  And, reading the blurb, that seems to be the point lately for James.

A single voice can send a powerful message – and that’s just what Jim James did at the Tiny Desk, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar. His lead-off song, “I’m Amazed,” comes from My Morning Jacket’s 2008 album Evil Urges. It’s a prophetic song in many ways – it speaks not only of a divided nation and the need for justice but also to the beauty in the life and plight of others. It’s something Jim James would find greater appreciation for after he fell from a stage at a My Morning Jacket concert, just three days before Evil Urges was to be released, sustaining life-threatening injuries. It would be a life-changing event and the inspiration for his first solo album years later, in 2013, Regions of Light and Sound of God.

Jim James’ second song at the Tiny Desk, “Same Old Lie,” comes from an album he released just days before the 2016 Presidential election.

This is a much darker song musically and lyrically.  Once again the (fingerpicked) guitar is lovely, almost all the higher strings.  But the lyrics are pointed:

The lyrics take on a deeper meaning now, just days before the 2018 elections. “It’s the same old lie you been reading about / Bleeding out – now who’s getting cheated out? / You best believe it’s the silent majority / If you don’t vote it’s on you, not me.”

James’ voice sounds a little off.  Not terribly, but perhaps it’s a little strained (these early morning shows are tough for musicians).  He also doesn’t say anything.  He’s just right there to start the third song, the strummed “Over and Over”

We fight the same fights / we drop the same bombs / put up the same walls, over and over again.

His closing tune, in what I think of as a purposeful trilogy for these political times, is from two albums he’s released this year, Uniform Distortion and Uniform Clarity. The albums contain the same songs, performed with his blistering electric guitar on one and on the other, as here, acoustically.

It’s a message of exasperation and hope, all set to a pretty melody.

After 20-some odd years of putting out music, Jim James is full of fervor and compassion for others as he sings, “How can we make / The same mistakes / and still carry on / Living the same we did yesterday / Have we learned nothing at all?”

[READ: January 12, 2017] “Tiny Man”

I have really been enjoying the Sam Shepard stories in the New Yorker.  They are surprisingly raw and gritty and feel a bit like a throwback (Shepard is 73 after all) to a more blunt storytelling style.

This one has two main sections, the Tiny Man part and the Felicity part.

The Tiny Man sections start like this: They deliver my father’s corpse in the trunk of a ’49 Mercury coupe.  His body is wrapped up tight in see-through plastic…   He’s become very small in the course of things–maybe eight inches tall.  In fact, I’m holding him now, in the palm of my hand.

Woah, what’s going on there? (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: Summer 2017] Danger Goes Berserk

After how much we loved Brixton Brothers Books 1 through 3 we were excited to get to Book #4 (which appears to be the final book since it has been six years, despite what was hinted at in the end).

However, there is no audio book!  No Arte Johnson guiding us through the mysteries of these teenage sleuths.  No one to say Rick (pause) Jerk.

Gasp.

So we did the next best thing.  S. read it to us on a long car ride.  This is second best because it’s exhausting for S. to read out loud for that long and to have the constant complaints of “can you turn it up” which makes me laugh every time one of the kids says it.

It was great to be involved with Steve Brixton and his chum Dana once again.

The detectives are back (in Steve’s hilarious new office) and there are two cases to look into.  One is about surfing.

The other is about… gym shorts.

Someone has been stealing Brody Owen’s gym shorts.  Brody even paid Steve to take the case.  But Steve doesn’t want to take it.  Both because it’s stupid and because he’s got more important, bigger cases to deal with. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “Grim Grinning Ghosts (The Screaming Song) Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride (1963).

When producer/musicians John Congleton was a guest DJ on NPR, he played some expected and then some very unexpected songs. The most surprising (although it does make sense) was this song from the Disney Haunted Mansion.

Maybe this song is the reason why he likes the dark so much.

It’s a fun bouncy song, like most Disney stuff it’s hard to believe anyone was really afraid of it, and yet as a kid, that voice and those sounds could certainly be frightening.  The song has all kinds of sounds in it–keys, tubular bells, xylophone, hammered percussion marimba, and a lot of backing vocals.  And of course the amazing vocals (and laughs) Thurl Ravencroft and others.  There’s also great effects with analog tape.  He also points out that the chord progression is quite chromatic: A to B flat to B which is jagged and close together and not easy to listen to.

Congleton says (listen around 34:50):

The vocals are done by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was the voice of Tony the Tiger and the Grinch. I mean, This is Tom Waits before Tom Waits. When I was a kid, I was so attracted to this song, but I was scared of it. The record would sit with my other records and I would see it in there, and I would be like, ‘Do I have the bravery to listen to it right now?’ And sometimes I would, and I was mesmerized by it. But the then I grew up, and I went back and listened to it, and was like, ‘This is brilliant. This is really, really well done.’ I never in my entire life heard background vocals that sounded as tight as that. Never in my life. The harmonies are the tightest harmonies I have ever heard ever. And it’s like, this is for a silly kid’s record — but they were committed to making something special. Everything about that song is incredible to me.”

And yes, it is a silly song, but the recording is really impressive.

[READ: April 20, 2017] Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?

It has been almost two years since I read Book 3.  The fact that I’ve had book 4 all this time and simply not read it was not a good sign.  And, ultimately, I found this story ending to be strangely annoying, vaguely compelling and ultimately unsatisfying.

This book mostly follows young Snicket on his solo mission.  He awakes in the middle of the night to see his chaperone S. Theodora Markson sneak out of their room.  He follows her to a warehouse where she steals something and then to a train.  She boards but he is unable to.

The train used to make stops in town but it no longer does and Snicket jumps on board at the only place he can think of).  While he’s hanging on the outside of the train, Moxie drags him in through the window.  That’s about the first third of the book.  It was nice to have another character for him to talk to.

Then a murder happens (this is a pretty violent series for kids).  And the blame is laid at the wrong person’s feet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AGNES OBEL-Tiny Desk Concert #599  (February 15, 2017).

Agnes Obel recently played a show near me, but it wasn’t until after I watched this show that I realized I should have gone to see her.

Agnes Obel, a Danish singer and writer of deeply alluring music, brought her work into what you could call its opposite — an office in the daylight. While the setting is a bit contrary to her carefully plotted, vocally dense songs, she mapped out a strategy which included her own reverb and monitor mix in the (successful, I think) hope of giving the Tiny Desk an aesthetic more suitable to these focused and powerful songs.

Obel plays three songs from Citizen of Glass alongside her band, keeping it sonically spare.  “It’s Happening Again” opens with fairly standard-sounding piano chords.  Then Obel’s voice kicks in and it’s unique–not weird, but with a cool almost detached delivery.  Accompanying her is a cellist and keyboardist.  They each sing backing vocals (along with a third backing vocalist).  When they all sing together, it is magical–sometimes creepy, sometimes beautiful.  The song builds to the end with all of the strings growing louder as the cello plays some wild, sliding sounds.  It is quite striking.

For “Golden Green,” the cellist switches to percussion (which is a kind of clacky ball that she throws in the air).  The main melody comes from the mellotron.  Once again when the backing vocalists kick, in everything is magical, especially the way the final note ends with a dramatic rise in pitch from all of the singers.

On “Stone,” the mellotron player switches to (electric) ukulele.  The melody comes from the uke and it is quite quiet until the chord when the cello and keyboard adds some deep bass notes that seem to overwhelm the room–quite dramatic and quite lovely.

[READ: December 1, 2016] Bandette Volume Three

Bandette Volume Three is just as much fun as books one and two.  It opens with Bandette getting shot at as she gives her little dog Pimento an important note for Daniel.  Daniel calls her and she proceeds to tell him about an upcoming heist (while she is still being shot at).  She says that there is a fabulous emerald on display.  An emerald that was once owned by Madame Presto: fabulist, mesmerist, woman of impudent morals.

And later that night (after she easily dispatches the bad guys) she goes to that special event and steals… a film about Madame Presto.

The next night several people (and a dog) are hit with sleeping darts from a new villain–Dart Petite. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: DANA FALCONBERRY-Tiny Desk Concert #292 (July 29, 2013).

This Tiny Desk Concert introduced me to Dana Falconberry:

Dana Falconberry’s songs are gentle, almost invariably delicate, sometimes mysterious and frequently feather-light. But her music’s sweet, intricate softness never stands in for strength: This is a confident songwriter, whether she’s ambling through six- and seven-minute epics (“Leelanau,” “Dolomite”) or chirping sweetly in the bouncy “Crooked River.”

The compositions on Falconberry’s most recent album, last year’s Leelanau, are sturdy enough to be stripped down for a space like Bob Boilen’s desk at the NPR Music offices. But each benefits immeasurably from the broad assortment of lovely flourishes she re-creates here with the help of five instrument-swapping backing players. What makes Falconberry stand out in a crowded field of singer-songwriters is her music’s unfailing impeccability, and this Tiny Desk Concert finds her and her crack band hitting every immaculately crafted mark.

I tend to agree with the blurbs, but this one really is spot on: delicate, impeccable, sturdy.  These are words I would absolutely use to describe these songs.  I would also use fantastical–not suggesting that there might be fairies floating around during these songs, but it wouldn’t surprise me if one made an appearance.

“Dolomite” is a beautiful 7 minute song with many different sections.  Falconberry’s delicate (but not wimpy, it must be said) voice works perfectly with the capoed guitar she’s playing.  After the first verse, she’s joined by a cello, banjo and backing vocals, and the song builds.  Then after almost 2 minutes the bass and drums jump in and the song, while staying basically the same, gets a whole new feel (the bassline is staccato and unexpected while everything else is so smooth).  At around 3 and a half minutes the keyboards start adding these pretty little runs that make the song seem even more magical.  The middle of the song has the three female singers rotating through a  series of oohs and ahs as they make a cool-sounding fugue.

For “Crooked River,” the bassist switches to melodica.  Once again there’s a great sequence where each of the female singers sings one note in a very complex melody–it’s quite enchanting.  The cello is plucked giving the whole song a very different feel from the first.

Before the final song Bob asks if she has had any desk jobs.  She says she has had her fair share.  “I currently have a desk job…I hope. We’ll see when I get home.”

For Leelanau, the keyboardist switches to accordion, and there is prominent banjo and delicate melodica.  The verse is really quite catchy, and after the verse there is a gently rocking section where everyone joins together–it bursts forth in contrast to the rest.  It is repeated a few times throughout the song, and each one is more fun than the previous.  The middle has a kind of slow break down with the cello scratching and the melodica and accordion sounding like they are running out of breath.  Dana even hit’s Bob’s gong.  The accordion is even “breathing” without making a musical note.  The song returns to that super catchy verse and jam section and just as you think its going to fade to an end, there’s very cool chime that echoes and then a huge buildup to the conclusion.

I was so entranced by Falconberry’s music that I need to hear more of it.

[READ: September 19, 2016] Bandette 2

Two years ago I wrote about Bandette Volume 1: “The book was very exciting and sweetly charming as well.  I’m looking forward to Volume 2.”  And I waited and waited for it to come out.  I even saw Vol 1 the other day and wondered when we’d get volume 2.  Well, apparently this has been out since 2015, but the library just acquired it.  So I’m happy to say it’s not my fault it took two years for me to get around to reading it.

Even though I didn’t exactly remember how book 1 had ended, Tobin & Coover added a helpful “Previously” section to get us caught up.

The wit and charm of the first book is back in spades. Bandette continues to be seemingly immune to the world around her–she says what she wants and does what she wants and no resistance will get in her way–whether it is verbal sparring or her uncanny gravity-defying stunts.  Her love of chocolate remains as well, of course.  And the tone retains that agelessness.  It feels like this book could have been written in the 1950s but for the cell phones and scooters.

Chapter One reminds us that Bandette is a civilizan as well  She has dark hair and a love of pastries–she even gives the bakery owner priceless urn (from where) as payment for the delicious sweets. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #545(June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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