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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: 47SOUL-Tiny Desk Concert #883 (August 26, 2019).

I had never heard of 47Soul and, surprisingly, the blurb doesn’t give any real background about the band.  So I had to turn to Wikipedia.

47Soul is a Jordanian Palestinian electronic music group.  The band’s first album, Shamstep, was released in 2015 and they are one of the main forces behind the Shamstep electronic dance music movement in the Middle East.

So what the heck is Shamstep?

Shamstep is based on mijwiz (a levantine folk musical style) and electronic dance.  ‘Sham’ refers to the local region of “Bilad al-Sham”, and ‘step’ refers to dubstep. The band’s music is also associated with the traditional dance called Dabke.

So, that’s a lot to take in, especially if you don’t know what half of those words mean.

The blurb does help a little bit more:

Shamstep is the creation of 47SOUL. At its heart is Arab roots music laced with dub, reggae and electronic dance music, including dubstep. It’s positive-force music with freedom, celebration and hope for the people of the Sham region (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria).

47SOUL play three songs and their instrumentation is pretty fascinating.  Three of the guys sing.  They also play bass drum (Walaa Sbeit); darbuka– a small hand drum (Tareq Abu Kwaik); guitar (Hamza Arnaout) and synthesizers (Ramzy Suleiman).

So what do they sound like?

Well, the first song “Mo Light” opens with some very synthesized “traditional” Middle Eastern music.  It sounds like an electronic version of traditional instrumentation.  The guitar comes in with a sound that alternates between heavy metal riffage and reggae stabs.  The three singers take turns singing.  Walaa Sbeit is up first singing in Arabic.  Then there’s a middle section sung by Tareq Abu Kwaik who is playing the darbuka and an electronic drum pad.  His voice is a bit rougher (the Arabic is quite guttural).  Meanwhile Ramzy Suleiman adds backing vocals and seems to sing loudest in English.

For the next song, Tareq Abu Kwaik does the narration while introducing Walaa Sbeit:

“Is it ok if I do a little dance on your desk?” asked 47SOUL singer and percussionist Walaa Sbeit on first seeing the Tiny Desk. I thought a minute, went under the desk, tightened the bolts, stuck some splints of wood under a few of the uneven legs and (feeling reassured) gave him the nod. It would be our first traditional Middle Eastern Dabke dancing atop the Tiny Desk and the first sounds of Shamstep (a kind of electronic dance music) behind it.

The dancing involves a shocking amount of deep knee bends!

“Don’t Care Where You From” opens with a cool synth rhythm and then sung in English.  It’s fun watching Walaa Sbeit walk around with the bass drum slung over his shoulder as he does some dancing while playing.  The song is one of inclusion

Well you might be from Philly (?) or Tripoli / from the mountains or from the sea
maybe got the key to the city / don’t mean anything to me.

They don’t care where you’re from, it’s where you are that counts.

47SOUL’s message of equality, heard here at the Tiny Desk (and on the group’s current album, Balfron Promise) is meant for all the world. This is music without borders, mixing old and new, acoustic and electronic from a band formed in Amman Jordan, singing in Arabic and English. It’s one big, positive and poignant party.

It segues into “Jerusalem” with the controversial-sounding lyric: “Jerusalem is a prison of philosophy and religion.”  The middle of the song had an Arabic rap which sounds more gangster than any gangster rap.  The end of the song is an electronic dance as everybody gets into it–clapping along and banging on drums.

It’s pretty great. I hope they tour around here, I’d love to see them live.

[READ: August 27, 2019] Submarine

I saw this book on the shelf and was attracted by its busy cover.  I also thought the authors name sounded familiar.   And so it was.  I have read some of Dunthorne’s poems in Five Dials magazines.

This was his first novel.  And it sounded unusual.  The back cover had this excerpt:

I used to write questionnaires for my parents. I wanted to get to know them better.  I asked things like:

What hereditary illnesses am I likely to inherit?
What money and land am I likely to inherit?

Multiple choice:
If you child was adopted at what aged would you choose to tell him about his real mother?
a) 4-8
B) 9-14
C) 15-18

Dunthorne is from Wales, which made this story a little exotic as well.  It is set in Swansea, by the sea (where people surf!) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TAYLOR SWIFT-Tiny Desk Concert #901 (October 16, 2019).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts are from musicians that few people have heard of.

Not this one!

It’s hard to imagine exactly how it happened that Tiny Desk Concert managed to get Taylor Swift to play.  And to play with just a acoustic guitar and piano.  “It’s just me. There’s no dancers, unfortunately,” she quipped.

I have seen people already complain that Tiny Desk is supposed to be for unknown artists blah blah blah.  But I think it’s pretty awesome that a) Taylor Swift is a fan of NPR and Tiny Desk and b) that this show will bring more notoriety to Tiny Desk and potentially other bands.

Plus–I had no idea that Taylor Swift was not a studio creation–that she’s actually a real and thoughtful person who wrote her own music.

She talks confidently and casually about songwriting and she seems pretty genuinely pleased to be there.

As she settled in for her Tiny Desk, she looked out at the 300-plus NPR employees and guests. “Wow! This is a lot of people in a tiny office!” she said. “I love it!”

She delightfully says, “It’s great to be in DC.  You guys had anything exciting going on in the last couple of weeks?  Any possible changes in play?”

And, hey, she writes good songs, too.

I’ve never really listened to her music–although I love “Shake It Off.”  I haven’t actually heard anything of her new album so this was all new to me.

After introducing herself, she explained her objective: “I just decided to take this as an opportunity to show you guys how the songs sounded when I first wrote them.”

She talks a lot about each song and why she wrote them.

Opening with an acoustic rendition of “The Man,” from her 2019 album Lover, Swift delivered a critique of gender double-standards with a sense of humor (and a perfectly deployed hair toss), Leonardo DiCaprio name-check and all.

She says she has been thinking about the topic for many years and it was something she wanted to write about conceptually for a very long time because we have a bit of double standard issue in our society.  She wondered if there was a concise and catchy way to write a song about this?  So she decided to imagine what her life would be like if she said and did all the same things but if she was a man.

While not an original idea, she tackles it really well.  And I like that she’s using her platform to address the issue

I would be complex
I would be cool
They’d say I played the field before
I found someone to commit to
And that would be okay
For me to do
Every conquest I had made
Would make me more of a boss to you
I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya…
What’s that like?

And it’s really catchy too.

At the end of the song she gives her pick to a little one in the audience (to a room full of awws).  Then she switches instruments.

She talks about the process of writing songs–when something comes and its easy, that’s wonderful.  But most days you show up… and the idea doesn’t.  Then you have to know the craft of songwriting–you’re not always going to be inspired and that’s okay.

Turning to the piano for Lover‘s title track, with a smile, she explained the guitar-string scars of the song’s bridge.

She says that she has scars on her hands from playing guitar when she was young–when she played until her fingers bled or when a string snapped and cut her.  In your life you received all kinds of scars–emotional and physical and if someone is going to take your hand, they’d better take your hand scars and all.

It’s a pretty piano ballad and her voice is really pure.

After the song she removes her blazer to reveal a velvet top (she must have been very hot).  “You guys ever had costume changes at Tiny Desk?” She then finds three more guitar picks to give to three other kids, one of whom you can quickly see is pretty darn excited.

Picking up the guitar again for “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” Swift confronted a question that she says has haunted her career: What will you ever do if you get happy?

She receives this question over and over that “has the potential to seriously deteriorate my mental health.”  “What will you ever do if you get happy?  Will you just never be able to write a song again?    She says she used to reply that she started off when she was 12, she was writing songs about things she had no idea what she was talking about.  She wrote songs about heartbreak based on movies and books and character studies.  So she would say, “If stuff is going on in the world maybe she could hey inspiration from that.

But then she really asked herself that question.  “Would I not be able to write break up songs?  I love break up songs!  They’re so fun to write.”  She says she had friends going through breakups and she was watching movie and reading books about breakups and these ideas came to her.  She woke up with heartbreak lyrics in her head and realized “It’s still here!”

Across the song’s run-on thoughts and relentless searching, Swift offered an answer: She’ll continue to excel at crafting superb story-songs.

I rather like her songs on acoustic guitar–even if I’m not much of a fan of break up songs.

Before the final song, “All to Well,” she talks about how she never googles herself–she recommends you not do it either.  But her dad does.  He sends her links to lists that people rank her songs (she finds it very nice that people care enough to do that).  When the Red album came out, she said there’s a song and “I’m the only one who loves this song this much–because it happens to me and its personal.”  But it turns out that this song tops everyone’s favorite list.  “I’m happy that my opinion lines up with your opinion on that.”

I actually didn’t know this song at all–I guess I am really isolated from pop music.

She says, “here’s a sad song about fall.”  It’s very pretty on piano and once again her voice is really great.  I really like the way the words unfold and then reflect back on themselves.  It’s a really wonderfully crafted song.

This Tiny Desk Concert may not introduce Taylor Swift to a lot of people, but it pretty much did introduce me to her music.  And I was really impressed.

[READ: August 19, 2019] Lost Empress

I loved Sergio De la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. It was complicated and funny and clever and bizarre and thoroughly engaging.

Lost Empress is even better.

There’s a story about a woman running a football team–and being overlooked because she is a woman.

There is a storyline about 911 operators, and the guy who transcribes them.

The third story is about a tough, smart guy who is in jail.  He is his own defense for trying to get out.  And he hatches a plan that involves stealing artwork, the Paterson Falls and the Super Bowl.

I enjoyed it in part because much of it is set in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up next to Paterson and the city has for most of my life been in a state of decline.  Despite all of the great things it has to offer (like the Paterson Falls! which get a shout out in this book), Paterson gets no respect.  This book doesn’t exactly aim to correct that, but it does give the city something cool–a football team.

It also jokes about “what the hell is up with Paterson?”  The city had once tried to rebrand itself in which they staged a contest  for “an official slogan for the troubled city.”  Proposals emerged: “the verifiably untrue, the unintentionally insulting/intentionally insulating, the so vague that sense fails to be created, the rhyme or alliteration for its own sake, and the technically true but not even conceivably relevant.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN TEPFER-Tiny Desk Concert #884 (August 29, 2019).

Most of the time, a Tiny Desk Concert is an opportunity to see an artist in a quiet almost unplugged setting.  Sometimes, it’s an opportunity to see a band really show off in a close space.  And sometimes a Tiny Desk Concert will blow your freaking mind.

Like this one.

I have never seen anything like this.

Dan Tepfer has created a program that plays the piano along with him.  It’s for a project he calls Natural Machines.

Watch the keys and you’ll see this Disklavier — a player piano — plucking notes on its own. But it’s not a prerecorded script.

Here’s how it works: Tepfer plays a note, and a computer program he authored reads those notes and tells the piano what to play in response. Tepfer can load different algorithms into the program that determine the pattern of playback, like one that returns the same note, only an octave higher. Another will play the inverted note based on the center of the piano keys. These rules create interesting restrictions that Tepfer says make room for thoughtful improvisation. In his words, he’s not writing these songs, so much as writing the way they work.

Tepfer plays free improvisation–he “makes things up and tries to be present in the moment” but the computer responds to him in real time based on rules.

He says for “Canon At The Octave” theres’ an axis of symmetry on the piano and “everything I play on one side if reflected on the other side.  Super simple, but it leads to musical problems that lead to real music.”

Since he is improvising, he is also reacting to what the computer makes.

He explains that “Tremolo” is when a note is repeated very quickly.  He gives the example of a violin player playing a note quickly.  It’s much harder on piano than a violin and it’s impossible to do more than ten notes at once.

He plays single notes that generate a series of chords playing quickly all at once–it’s really cool to watch the piano take off as if with a mind of its own.

But watching the piano isn’t the only cool thing

To better communicate what’s happening between him and the piano, Tepfer converted these audio-impulse data into visualizations on the screen behind him, displaying in real time the notes he plays followed by the piano’s feedback. [We dive even deeper into this project in a recent Jazz Night in America video piece].

He explains that these improvs are super short versions to show off how the programs work.

“TriadSculpture” is all about harmonic ratios.  Pythagoras discovered that sounds work with whole numbers.  The math behind music.  So Tepfer has mapped numbers as a 3-D object and he has been printing them–even more mind blowing.  The computer program generates these shapes–  everything he plays on his left hand creates those shaped in real time on the screen.

Perhaps the trickiest part here, unlike a human-to-human duo, is that the computer plays along with 100 percent accuracy based solely on Tepfer’s moves. He compares it to dancing with a robot that never misses a beat. Tepfer has to play in kind to keep the train on the tracks, but if he falls out of step, so does the computer.

Fortunately he never falls out of time (or at least it’s hard to tell since it’s all improvised.

The final piece is “Constant Motion” in which he plays a note and the computer responds to it by playing a note either up or down.  This creates a fun fast piece that explores the full range of the piano.  The visuals for it are very cool too.

I’m not sure if this would be fun to see live (at least any more fun than an improvising pianist is) because listening to it you don’t always really know what’s happening or that the piano is doing the work.  But seeing it up close like this is awesome.

[READ: August 21, 2019] Holy Cow

Like most people, ever since watching The X-Files, I’ve liked David Duchovny (why don’t you love me?).

I watched some of the Red Shoes Diaries just for him.  I watched some of Californication just for him (Didn’t have whatever network it was on, so never watched more than a bit of it).  But I’m always willing to give him a shot because I think he’s smart but goofy.

Enter Holy Cow.

This is Duchovny’s first novel and just what a pitch it must have been.

Hi, this is David Duchovny.  Yup, that one.  I’d like to write an adult book about a cow that wants to go to India once she finds out cows are worshiped there.  Yes, David Duchovny.

I had no idea he had written this book.  I just happened to see it on my library shelf when I was looking for something else.  The book was short and had (terrible) drawings in it and seemed like it would be absurdly funny.

So, with the caveat that if you think that a talking cow buying a plane ticket and going to Jerusalem with a pig and to Turkey with a turkey sounds stupid and juvenile.  Well, you’d be right.  But you’d be missing out on an enjoyable, silly romp if that kept you from reading it. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: THE-DREAM-Tiny Desk Concert #885 (August 30, 2019).

I had never heard of The-Dream and couldn’t imagine why the name was hyphenated.  Turns out The-Dream is an R&B singer with a kind of gentle falsetto (not too high, but higher than expected).  The blurb says: “The-Dream delivered his lyrics with that signature high-pitched whisper, just shy of a falsetto..”

He’s also written hits

for the likes of Beyoncé (“Single Ladies”) and Rihanna (“Umbrella”).

and apparently he is a big deal.

R&B hasn’t sounded the same since The-Dream changed the game. Maybe growing up off Bankhead on Atlanta’s west side gifted him with a hip-hop swag native to the soil. Indeed, it’s worth remembering that he preceded the current era of melodic, sing-songy rappers who disregard traditional lyricism for raw, heart-rending delivery.

All three songs here are about getting into the bedroom as one might guess from the title of his album: Ménage à Trois: Sextape Vol. 1, 2, 3.

The first song “Bedroom” (calling all bodies to the bedroom) is soft and steamy.  It’s also got some humor

All ladies read before 11
So you got all day to get your mother-n’ nails done
I know you soak that thing ’round 7
And it’s already 4, go get your mother-n’ hair done
Ooh, you look so sexy
Come and bless me

[I found out later that these lyrics are cleaned up for Tiny Desk].

There’s gentle horns from DeAndre Shaifer and Theljon Allen (trumpet) and Elijah Jamal Balbed (saxophone) and a smooth bass line from Justin Raines.

He is also amusing at the end of the song:

“It’s kinda hard to sing like that with the daylight out,” The-Dream said after finishing the first number in a steamy set of songs more appropriate for the bedroom than the sunlit cubicles of NPR.

“Back In Love” has more simple echoing synths (from Carlos McKinney) and spare drums (from Larone “Skeeter” McMillian) and with some clever rhyming:

I miss that body in the hallway
I used to meet that body in the foyer
If you were right here, we’d have to skip the foreplay

and

I was mad at you, you was mad at me
C’est la vie, arrivederci
Still, all I loved was you

“I Luv Your Girl” is a less of a sexy song and more of a stealing-your-shawtie kind of song.

I hate the adenoidal “ahhhhh.” that apparently indicate sex, but the lyrics are pretty funny nonetheless.  Actually in looking at the actual lyrics I see that he has really made himself more PG-13 than X-Rated on these songs.

And she runnin’ Fingers through her hair, tryin ta call her over there but she like, Na Na Na Na!
She drop it down to the floor, I’m sayin shorty you should go, and she like Na Na Na Na!

Those na na’s are an amusingly safe version of the actual lyrics.  And after listening to the actual song, I found even the original to be kind of funny-while he’s stealing your woman.

As with a lot of R&B I prefer the Tiny Desk version because it’s much less produced.  Of course I still don’t know why there’s a hyphen in his name.

[READ: October 14, 2019] “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”

This is a dark story (very Joyce Carol Oates) about the environment and how you can no longer flee to the country to get away from pollution–or worse.

It begins enigmatically with

“This matter of the mask for instance.”

Luce sometimes wears the mask–a half mask, green gauze mask–but never outside of the home.  She wore it any time the wind “smelled funny,” “smelled wrong.”  Especially from the industrial cities to the South.

She removes it if Andrew comes home. When he sees her he claims she is “catastrophizing” (Is that even a word?). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: A-WA-Tiny Desk Concert #886 (September 3, 2019).

I knew of A-WA and had seen them in a South X Lullaby this year.  But  that song was performed quietly, with just a guitarist.  This session is full band with all kinds of dancey accouterments.

Liron, Tair, and Tagel Haim [left to right] are behind my desk with a full band of keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, singing more forlorn tunes in their unique three-part harmony.  Their songs mix Yemenite and Arabic traditions with splashes of reggae and hip-hop.

These songs also have the lyrics translated at the bottom of the screen.  Since Bob says the songs are sad, I haven’t been reading too much, just enjoying the melodies [I’ll let Bob talk about the song in brackets]

The first song is “Habib Galbi” (“Love of My Heart”), [a heartbreaking song that went viral for A-WA in 2016].

I don’t know much of anything in the languages they are singing, but back in 1988 Israeli singer Ofra Haza released an album that I really liked and one of the great songs was “Galbi.”  So here it is again and it means “mt heart.”

‘Habib Galbi” opens with Middle Eastern melodies played on a synth (by Noam Havkin)–it’s a cool combination of traditional and modern almost futuristic.  It even has some electronic percussion (from Tal Cohen) and some great bass from Nitzan Eisenberg.  I love that there’s an occasional “Woo!” and lots of hand claps.  It is so dancey, how can it be heartbreaking?

 A-WA have recently released a second album, Bayti Fi Rasi (in Yemenite it means My Home is in My Head). The record tells the story of their grandmother traveling from Yemen to Israel.  The final two songs come from that recent album.

The second song “Al Asad” (“The Lion”) has the reggae feel in with the staccato guitar and a cool guitar solo from Yiftach Shachaf.  It “is a metaphorical tale of facing down a lion in your path.”

Once again, their movements and tone belie the story, as they move so almost sensually to the music as they sing (in fairness, it’s hard not to).

The last song “Hana Mash Hu Al Yaman,” (“Here is Not Yemen”) features some amazing rolling of r’s as they sing–I’m thinking it’s the word for “wheat.”  Once again, despite the music, this song

paints the struggles of coming to a new land, learning the language, finding work, a place to live and making it a home.

Although this song starts out more somber, as the song moves on it picks up a more danceable beat with more interesting synthy sounds.

I couldn’t help but be interested in the lyrics for this one with the way they sang “wheat” I had to find out what the rolled r word was.  This led me to see “Land of wheat and barely, grape and olive / fig, pomegranate date and home.”

And then further on:

Where will I stake a home? (You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack (along with four other families)
And here I will raise a family (Don’t let them take your daughter)
I’ll find myself a job with an income (either in cleaning or working the earth)
And I will learn the language (Lose the accent)
With time I’ll feel like I belong (Here is not Yemen).

Dang, draw me in with fun music and beautiful voices and then wow me with powerful lyrics.  Well done, A-WA.

[READ: September 3, 2019] Herbert’s Wormhole

We listened to this book on our summer road trip.  When I saw that it was a novel “in cartoons,” I decided to check out the print to see if it was any different as a story.

The cartoons certainly add to it. The drawings are done in a very stylized way (by Rohitash Rao).  The cartoons are indeed very cartoony but that befits a story about squid aliens who wear fake mustaches and toupees.

I’m glad I listened to the audio first because it was fun having the experience of hearing the Australian accents in my head while reading the text.  I’m sure I could have imagined the accents myself, but since Jonathan Davis did such a good job, it was nice having them in place.

The other interesting thing is how much I evidently missed during the listening (if you’re driving you have to pay attention to the world around you as well).  So the book version filled in some details that I clearly missed and a few things made a bit more sense.

The opening is fairly simple: Alex Filby is 11 years old and loves video games.  He is just about to defeat all the aliens in Alien Slayer 2 which is pretty great,.  Except he promised his parents that when he beat the game, he would stop playing video games for the summer and start playing outside.  So when he destroys the final alien, his parents tell him that they have set up a play date with the weird kid next store: Herbert Slewg. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH-Tiny Desk Concert #877 (September 6, 2019).

I watched the first Tiny Desk Concert from The Tallest Man on Earth about five years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since.  He looks pretty different than he did back then.  But that’s because even though I watched it five years ago,

It’s 10 years almost to the day since we published The Tallest Man On Earth’s Tiny Desk in 2009. What I remember most about that performance was the intensity of Kristian Matsson and how astonished our audience was to discover him. I think of it as one of our very first viral videos.

It wasn’t viral for me in 2009, but I did really enjoy it.

Since then I have planned to see him on two occasions.  Back in 2018 I had a ticket for him at Union Transfer, but I wound up going on a Boy Scout hike that weekend.  This year, on October 2, he was supposed to play the Met Philly, but he cancelled the entire American tour.

So, maybe in 2020, it will finally happen, especially since he doesn’t live in Sweden exclusively.

The Swedish singer now splits his time between Djurås, Sweden and Brooklyn, N.Y., and has just put out his fifth studio album titled, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. 

I don’t honestly recall what first attracted me to his music (his voice and guitar playing, i suspect) although this observation is fascinating:

I think Kristian Matsson’s words are more focused, more observational and more appreciative of life than in the past.

I suppose it would have been interesting if he played one song that he played ten years ago to see if he did it any differently.  But it’s probably better that he plays three new songs with C.J. Camerieri on French horn and muted trumpet.

“What I’ve Been Kicking Around” opens with his fast finger-picking–there’s really quite a lot going on in this song.  He plays this one on electric guitar  and C.J is on French horn.  His voice is gruff but inviting with a vaguely Bob Dylanesque delivery.  There’s something about the way that minimal French horn accompaniment fills in the spaces between the songs that allows him to play his complex fingering and the song still feels full.

For “I’ll Be A Sky,” he switches to acoustic guitar and C.J. plays muted trumpet.  His fingerpicking style doesn’t change, but the song is a lot warmer.  I love the way he delivers these lines almost conversationally

I feel that I’m a little lost most of the time
But I don’t really mind, oh, when my heart feels young
I travel through the storms but then I hang to dry
And I don’t really mind, oh, when my arm is in the rain and the sun

For the the final song “”The Running Styles of New York,” he switches back to the electric guitar.  He has to tune it and jokes that he was trying to dumb it down by bringing fewer guitars.  The song

begins with, “I hear beauty in things / Like the neighbors return / To their love and pride / Their day like a wicked ride / But then to belong.”

Continuing with the muted trumpet, C.J. plays some solo melodies while Kristian plays his complicated fingerpicking.  There’s some really lovely harmonics on this song, too.

I hope all is well and he’s able to tour again soon.

[READ: August 14, 2019] Gone with the Mind

I’ve enjoyed most of what Mark Leyner has written to varying degrees.  He tends to be an over-the-top satirist of himself, of pop culture and of concepts like the novel.

He wrote two novels and three collections of short stories in the 1990s, was celebrated and vilified and then kind of disappeared.

He was primarily writing for magazines and TV and stuff behind the scenes.  Then he came back in 2012 with The Sugar Frosted Nutsack which I have yet to read.   Then he wrote this one.  I grabbed it from work a couple years back and finally got around to it and it was much like what I was expecting and miles away from what I imagined.

The book beings with an introduction from Mark’s mother Muriel.  She is reading aloud and explains that she is coordinating director of the Nonfiction and the Food Court Reading Series at the Woodcreek Plaza Mall.  She thanks various people for giving them such a nice location at the mall as well as the sponsors Panda Express, Master Wok, Au Bon Pain, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, etc. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAMIAN ‘JR. GONG’ MARLEY: Tiny Desk Concert #888 (September 8, 2019).

I’m not sure if everyone with the last name Marley becomes a singer, but it sure seems like it.

I had not heard of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley before, but of all of the Marleys, I think I like his music best (he is Bob’s son).  I had no idea where the “Jr. Gong” came from, but the blurb helpfully says “Jr. Gong” is after his father’s nickname of “Tuff Gong.”

Even though the blurb describes the music as reggae, this set is pretty far from what I consider reggae.  Some components of reggae are there, but it’s mostly in his delivery (and accent) and the backing female vocals–from Roselyn Williams and Sherieta Lewis.

But the main element of reggae–the beat/rhythm/staccato guitar–is completely absent.

“Slave Mill” starts with delicate keys from Sean “Pow” Diedrick.  The song is catchy with great lyrics.  I really like the percussion from Courtney “Bam” Diedrick.  I assume those are brothers known as Bam and Pow, which is great.

I like that the blurb addresses the issue of Bob Marley and yet I feel like Damian is his own musician, with a distinct (if slightly familiar) voice.

Damian’s father cast a giant, magnificent shadow on the world and it can’t be easy to follow in those footsteps as a songwriter and musician.  Damian seems to be undaunted by that legacy and instead draws on it for inspiration and guidance. Not to mention there is more than a hint of his father’s unmistakable singing voice that so often preached the same messages of self-identity and self-determination that his youngest son is now doing so successfully.

He says the second song “So A Child May Follow” is one of his favorite tracks on the album.  He thinks about his nephews and nieces who are young adults now.  The song:

addresses the troubles youth confront around the globe and how to persevere to succeed.

It’s an acoustic ballad.  I like watching Bam play, because after each piano melody, he stops and pounds his fists in the air as the song pauses and resumes.  The main verses features a gentle acoustic guitar from Elton “Elly B” Brown.  It’s a lovely song of optimism in the face of trouble.

They end the set with “Speak Life” which “sums up the message of his music: live a life that will enable us to survive life’s slings and arrows with dignity and love.”

speak life and lead a humble and meek life.

All three songs feature great bass work by Shiah Coore.  I also really love the backing “woah ohs” in the song.

Damian says that they made a video of this song which was shot in Ethiopia and is subtitled in Amharic.  He says that as Rastas, Ethiopia is very close to their hearts.

The end of the blurb makes me wonder if I would enjoy the recorded versions less, since that what I enjoyed so much:

But what makes his music stand out on this session is the prominence of the acoustic guitar and piano in the arrangements, which makes the familiar sound somewhat new.

But he is very charming and funny and he ends the set talking about boxing Babylon vs Natty Dreadlocks.  Then he shouts, “We did it boys.  In the big leagues baby!”

[READ: July 21, 2019] This Was Our Pact

I really enjoyed this graphic novel.  S. had told me about it and told me I’d really like it.  She was right!

The pact of the title is simple.  There are two rules: No one turns for home and No one looks back.

The narrator is Ben.  He is one of five young boys who have made this pact.  The pact revolves around the Equinox Festival, in which the townsfolk send hundreds of lanterns down the river.  Every year a group of kids hopped on their bikes to follow the lanterns.  Usually everyone petered out.  But this year they were going to go all the way. The wondered, “Did they really journey far into the stars, like the old song sang?”

The boys set out following the lanterns.  As soon as they head out, they are followed by, “nerd alert!” Nathaniel.  None of the boys (except Ben) is friendly with him.  Even when Nathaniel says his mom made Rice Krispie treats, they don’t turn around and let him join.

The imagery of the book is beautiful.  It’s largely in blues because the story takes place at night.  The lanterns are little white spots in the blue and black rivers. (more…)

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