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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

marchSOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Tiny Desk Concert #578 (November 14, 2016).

jpwThe name John Paul White always sounds familiar to me, but I have a hard time remembering just who he is.  He was, among other things, one half of The Civil Wars, a great folk duo (who I didn’t realize had broken up, oops).  He has also released a previous solo album and a new one last year.

He begins the set with “Black Leaf.”  It’s just his acoustic guitar and voice.  He plays some interesting chords and makes some great folk music.  He hits some nice falsetto notes in the verses. And I love the way the song changes direction in the middle–a dark little turn but one that is musically great.

Joining him for the next two songs are Kelli Jones-Savoy on violin and harmony vocals and Adam Morrow second guitar.  Before “Hate The Way You Love Me” he says I’m gonna switch guitars one every song so it makes me look like an accomplished guitarist.  He switches to a hollow bodied electric while Adam plays acoustic.

This song sounds very different, especially when the backing vocals come in (Kelli adds a very country inflected voice..and that violin too).  But the melody in the verse sounds so much like another song I just can’t figure out what.  It’s a great song though and that chorus takes it in a  very different direction.

Before “What’s So” he grabs another guitar and says “three songs, three guitars that’s not pretentious, is it?”  Before beginning the song he thanks everyone in public radio.

[paraphrasing] I’ll do anything for Bob.  He knows that.  I hope he doesn’t exploit that.  NPR is a big deal for a kid on the Alabama/ Tennessee line. You grow up around mainstream pop and country radio and you feel like a square peg.  Thank god for public radio.  Thank you for the work you do for people like me.

Now, I’ll leave you with one last one and then you have to go back to work.

For this song he grabs another acoustic guitar.  This one has a pretty raw sound, and he plays a great bluesy riff.   It sounds quite different from the other two and when they sing the chorus together, it’s got a great yearning quality.

When he finished, Bob walks up and thanks him and then says, “Did you say you were going to stay here and serenade us all day?”

[READ: March 1, 2017] “Thin Crust”

I enjoyed this story so much.  It is my favorite story in The Walrus in a long time.

And I also loved the play in the title.  When I think of thin crust I go to pizza.  But there’s also the crust of the earth.  And that’s what this story is about–that the crust is thinning.  Maybe?

And it starts out so strangely, I honestly didn’t think I knew what was happening.  A fisherman off of Los Cabos watches the horizon line as it wavers.  And then forms a “frozen indigo wall stretching the length of his vision.”  A cormorant dives into the water, misses its catch and the flies towards the void where “it slipped silently into nothing.”

What the hell is going on? (more…)

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jf josephSOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Tiny Desk #574 (October 28, 2016).

I have been hearing “White Flag” quite a bit on the radio. I had a hard time keeping track of who sang it (it doesn’t help that this trio of women is called Joseph).  But I have really grown to love the “ooh ooh” part and the screamed chorus.

So it’s interesting to see Bob Boilen’s blurb in which he says

My first experience seeing Joseph was in 2014 as an opening act in New York City. It was just the twins Meegan and Allison Closner and their older sister, Natalie Closner, and it was clear then they had something special. Over these two years, Joseph’s sound has grown beyond the Closners’ harmonies. Now, you’re likely to see them with a band or hear songs from their latest record, which is filled with sounds far beyond voice and acoustic guitar.  It’s been a treat to witness Joseph’s journey, but I was also fairly thrilled that for their Tiny Desk the sisters stripped it down to their original setup: three voices and one guitar.

They play “White Flag” first.  I was a bit disappointed at first because even though Bob loves the stripped down sound, I like the recorded version a lot.  But by the end I was loving how great their voices work together.  Plus I was able to hear the word a little better: “I’d rather be dead than live a lie…burn the white flag.”  Natalie sings lead on this one, while Meegan and Allison do the great oooh oohs.

When the song is over Natalie tells us why she wrote the song: a response to everything going on in the world and how it wants to push you back into your home and stop you from going out and living your life and deciding no thank you I’m going to do that anyway.

 Meegan introduces “I Don’t Mind” by saying it’s about sadness… and it was something she wanted someone to say to her about her sadness.  But she realized she had to say it to herself before she could receive it from anyone else.  She sings lead and it builds slowly with some harmonies coming in. I love how big it gets from such a small opening.  The final chorus reminds me a bit of Lucius–big bold singing in close harmony.

I was delighted by how different the three songs sounded.  “Canyon” sounds nothing like the other two–the chorus is powerful and hypnotic with the repeated sounds.  It also has an incredible moment in the middle of the song where the twins are singing backing vocals and Natalie is singing a lead line and the three of them all end on a really long note together.  It’s mesmerizing.

So even if I really like the album version, these versions are pretty spectacular.

[READ: February 27, 2017] “An Occurrence on the Beach of Varosha”

This is an excerpt from a novel called The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep and I’m glad I knew that going in because the story mentions some previous incidents and also ends rather dramatically but in an unfinished way.

Set in October 2012, Elias is on the beach at Varosha in Northern Cyprus, marveling at the size and number of the hotels that line the barbed wired fence on the beach.   Elias’s aunt and uncle currently live on the Greek Cypriot side of the Green Line, but they were among the first to build a hotel there.  However, there’s was just three  stories with twenty-four room.

Elias is there ostensibly to check out he property to see if it is still standing during the conflict.   He is capable of doing this because he is Canadian and has a foreign passport.  Thus, he can cross the Green Line without trouble. (more…)

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dec2016SOUNDTRACK: BUDDY MILLER & JIM LAUDERDALE-Tiny Desk Concert #275 (May 13, 2013).

buddyjimBuddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale are apparently legendary players, but I’ve never heard of either of them. So the blurb tells us:

Buddy Miller is the guitar player to hire if you’re playing heartfelt, not-so-shiny country-rock songs.  Jim Lauderdale writes award-winning country songs. He’ll once again host the Americana Music Awards alongside Miller, with whom he shares a radio show on Sirius XM’s Outlaw Country Channel; that’s where the corny humor comes in.

There’s something endearing, old-timey and almost vaudevillian about Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale — even the way they bill themselves as “Buddy and Jim.” Both veteran musicians are in love with country music in all its many forms and influences; their music incorporates the blues and bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll and a good deal of craft.  The songs they performed, at NPR’s offices and on the album, have titles like “I Lost My Job [insert pregnant pause here] of Loving You.” Some good fun to be had at the expense of heartbreak and life’s loves, both lost and found.

They are indeed funny and charming.  They both play guitar and the rest of the band includes fiddle, upright bass and a mailing tub for percussion.

Jim is the corny comedian.  He says he doesn’t have his contacts in—how’s everybody up there in the balcony?   Bob asks if either you guys have had a desk job.  Jim says, kind of, he was messenger at Rolling Stone (not a bike messenger).   And then he jokes that he had to do some firing of people—and he makes an exaggerated attempt at firing someone in the audience.

Besides the goofiness, they do play three fairly traditional-sounding country songs.  “The Train That Carried My Gal From Town” sounds very old timey country (compete with thick singing accents).  “It Hurts Me” was written by Buddy’s wife.  It’s a slow country ballad.

After the second song, Jim says, “Were having such a  good time up here, we’re gonna stay all day long.”  Buddy jumps in “That’s what George Jones” says all the time and then he plays one more song and leaves.  The final song is  “I Lost My Job Of Loving You”  my favorite of the three because it’s a little more rocking sounding.

[READ: February 25, 2017] “A System from the North”

This was the second story from Ohlin that I’ve read recently.

I liked the other story but I really liked this one a lot.

It is a strange little story about a woman who is “teaching” in a school.  I put teaching is in quotes because this is a school with its own Philosophy. as in “they went outside every day, regardless of the weather; it was part of the Philosophy.”

The teacher is outside with the kids when she notices that the boy in the blue coat is not there.  She counts the kids, but the fifth child simply isn’t there.

She takes the children inside and then gets inside her head about where the boy may have gone. (more…)

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last3 SOUNDTRACK: NIGHT BEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #266 (February 18, 2013).

nightTypically we don’t see what happens before the Tiny Desk Concert begins, but for this show, there’s a very funny introduction.  Robin clacks the clacker and as the Winston Yellen starts singing you hear Robin interrupt him and say something.  He sings “When the sorrow goooozz….” and laughs as Robin says “much more important than your singing is my introduction.”  Someone in the band jokes, “gather round, take a knee.”

Night Beds are certainly anchored around Yellen’s voice.  The first song is a brief a capella track called “Faithful Heights.”  It segues perfectly into “Ramona,” where you get a better sense for what the band sounds like.  The band kicks in with some lovely guitar work on the electric guitar while Yellen plays acoustic.  Near the end of the song he launches unexpectedly into some really powerful falsetto.  It’s a very pretty song.

“22” features a more pronounced slide guitar which offers some cool spare, echoing sounds.  The final song is “Hide from It,” and older song tha they haven’t played much. It’s a bit faster with nice backing vocals.  There’s a very pretty guitar riff (I love the gentle echo) and keyboards instead of slide guitar.

I found Might Beds to be quite winning.

[READ: January 17, 2017] LastMan 3

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  For the first book I said that it might be okay for a slightly younger audience, but this book changes things–prostitutes, porn mags, threats of violence–nothing explicit but still, way too much for young kids.

This book is also very different from the first two in that it is set in an entirely in a new location.

Adrian and his mom, Marianne, have ridden out to the Rift on her motorcycle.  His mom says that she is going to walk into the mist for a few minutes and she wants him to stay where he is.  And I love this bit:

-Listen Adrian, they say a lot of things in school and at church but in the end what should you always listen to?
-Uh, yes,  I know. Your heart?
-No Silly, what your mother says.

She comes back with a map and realizes that the rift is passable.  They arrive on the outskirts of a town and are caught by some thugs.  It’s very Mad Max looking with the men being really grotesque and planning to proceed with the rape of the delinquent.  Yikes.

As they get close, Adrian’s mother does a summoning and knocks everyone around her down–many of them flee.  Adrian is in awe of his mom.

They ride into Nillipolis and she is convinced that Richard is there.  But Nillipolis proves to be a scummy town.  We meet a guy who works at a brothel, Francis.  He’s the only nice person in the whole town (as are the prostitutes, particularly Flora, the prettiest woman in the book).  They suggest looking in the pawn shop for evidence of Richard.  And indeed in the shop they see the cup that he and Adrian won–it’s even got their names on it.

There’s a lot of excitement in this book with Adrian and his mom fleeing from the thugs who are with the police and the fireman and then  dealing with two attorneys: Raven and Delacruz.  She is being placed under arrest for charges of false prostitution.  But it’s really because they have tied her to Richard–who is in fact in the same prison.

The last quarter of the book is taken up with the trail.  And this trial is unlike any you’ve seen.  There are cheerleaders.  And, it quickly becomes obvious that you win your case through violence and strength and little else.  If your attorney is killed, then you get the death sentence.

We also learn that there’s a grizzled old creepy dude in a wheelchair who wants the map that she has–he believes that the Valley of Kings–where Adrian and his mom are from–has the secret to eternal life.

The book ends on board a ship to Paxtown–a questionable city.  Richard is heading there as well, and it looks like Cristo, the person in the mask who Richard defeated in the battle is there too.

But we’ll have to wait until book 4 to find out just what’s going on.

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lastman2 SOUNDTRACK: THE xx-Tiny Desk Concert#265 (February 11, 2013).

xxI have really come to like The xx quite a lot.  And this Tiny Desk Concert is easily one of the best instances of them.  It is just the two of them, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft and singer-bassist Oliver Sim She [No beats from member Jamie Smith, who opted to hang back at the hotel].  She sings and plays a very echoing guitar and he plays a very spare bass (also echoed).  Her voice on “Angels” is whispered but not quiet—she sounds amazing. Everything about the performance is clear and beautiful

The only bad thing about the Concert is that they only play 2 songs (and for less that 7 minutes total!)

The blurb says that one of the things that makes this show especially great is that “the setting and band configuration robs them of cover.  [There is] no shroud of darkness or bright lights pointed outward to blunt the crowd’s stares. Throughout their characteristically compact seven-minute performance, Croft and Sim avoid eye contact, as they visibly try to ignore the huge throng and cameras positioned maybe 10 feet away from them.”

When Oliver sings the middle verse on “Sunset” it is a wonderful, stark (and sexy) moment.   When she starts playing the guitar again after the brief bass interlude, it sounds magical.  And their duet at the end is amazingly powerful (especially for something so quiet).

[READ: December 17, 2016] LastMan 2

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (Unlike the first book, this one is slightly more explicit–nothing actually shown, but Richard runs through the town naked and he and a woman are in bed together).

This book picks up where the previous one left off.  Adrian takes on Gregorio.  And Adrian is able to knock him out of the ring.  Adrian wins!  This means he must now fight Elorna, his friend.  Gregorio is humiliated at losing and he is rather mean to Elorna.  And during the match, Elorna bursts into tears and flees the ring, forfeiting and letting Adrian and Richard go to the semifinals.

They are up against Alyssa and Haldes (Haldes is preposterously large and Alyssa is covered by a scarf on her face).  Things get weird in this one when Alyssa recognizes Richard (I won’t say from where).  I’m not exactly sure what happens to her, but she is eventually dragged out of the ring by Haldes–more or less forfeiting as well.

So our heroes are going to the final. (more…)

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lastman1 SOUNDTRACK: BLACK PRARIE-Tiny Desk Concert #262 (January 14, 2013).

blakcpBlack Prarie is 3/5 of the Decemberists (that seems like a hint directed at Colin Meloy, ha ha).  No actually they are a kind of folk-country band “started by Chris Funk and Nate Query, who wanted an outlet for some of their rootsy, mostly instrumental string-band wanderings.”  Jenny Conlee from the band has also joined on accordion.  That leaves Annalisa Tornfelt’s who sings “sweetly countrified vocals and [plays] violin.” I feel a little bad for the other guys in the band who are not mentioned, but I don’t know their names either.

They play three songs.  “Dirty River Stomp” is a fun instrumental with prominent accordion in the beginning and then a banjo solo and then a violin solo.  It is indeed a big stomping song.   I love the way the song sounds like it has built to an ends but there is a small accordion coda tacked on.

For “Nowhere Massachusetts” there’s a switch from banjo to guitar.  The opening section of the song sounds so much like Guster’s “Careful” that I was sure that’s what song this was.  But indeed, it is not and it goes in a very different direction after that intro.  Coincidentally, Guster also has a song that about Massachusetts (“Homecoming King”).  But this sounds really nothing like Guster once the song starts—there’s accordion and slide guitar and fiddle and of course the vocal melody is very different.

Jenny introduces “Richard Manuel” with “We’re gonna rock this out.  We’re gonna bring it.”  It turns out to be a fairly slow, quiet song.  But with some intense lyrics.  And again there is some great accordion work on this track.

As the show fades out there is much excitement about tote bags, although I’m not sure who is getting what.

[READ: December 15, 2016] LastMan 1

This is the final series of older First Second books that I hadn’t read yet.  I brought home this book 1, some time ago, but when I saw that there were six volumes and that they’d all be released relatively quickly, I figured I’d just wait until they were all out and read them closer together.

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

The art is black and white (and grayscale) and the characters are what I can only describe as very French looking. The faces are very minimal, with some of them looking almost bleached out but for eyes and a mouth.  Some of the men are rather grotesque-looking while the one woman is a knockout.  (The book is safe for younger teens, with just a cleavage and an underwear shot, although the whole book is about fighting).

So the story is a little confusing (at least in Book 1).  The main plot is not at all confusing, but the context is never given, so we must try to piece it all together,

Set in an unamed village, the 184th annual Tournament of the Realm is coming up.  We first meet young Adrian who is practicing for his first competition tomorrow.  His teacher is Mr Janesen (with a full head of blond hair and a goatee) and while he is hard on them, he seems fair.  He tries to get Adrian to really harness his powers for the battle. (more…)

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febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #595 (February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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