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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WALTER MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #677 (December 1, 2017).

Walter Martin’s name didn’t sound familiar.  So this blurb helped:

Best known as a singer and multi-instrumentalist with the band The Walkmen, Martin has spent his solo career making unabashedly joyful, sweetly innocent and playful music perfectly suited for quirky four-part harmonies.

I sort of know The Walkmen; I know them more as an outlet for Hamilton Leithauser.  But after watching this, I find Martin to be a more satisfying performer.

I really enjoy his easy singing style and the every loose way he has with his guitar and with the songs in general.

Only Walter Martin would bring a barbershop quartet to the Tiny Desk.   The barbershop quartet is known as The Glen Echoes, a group of singers he found online and met for rehearsals the day before coming to NPR. It works particularly well on the song with which he opens this performance, “I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour,” a brilliant and comical call-and-response story-song about, well, going alone on a solo Australian tour.

“I Went Alone On A Solo Australian Tour,” is indeed really enjoyable.  Martin is casual and I love how the quartet starts out singing with him, then questioning him and then just acting like casual acquaintances–he asks them questions, too and they sing the responses.  All without losing the pacing.

It’s funny but also thoughtful.

The second song, the equally charming if slightly more wistful “Me And McAlevey,” is about a dear friend who lives in Maine.  It’s about friendship and loyalty and life as a middle-aged father.

The song is relatively simple and straightforward, but the guitar picking is delightfully complex and pretty.  I really like his vocal delivery and the way he ends his verses.

Martin closes with “Sing To Me,” his best-known song, thanks in no small part to its appearance in an Apple ad.

He describes it as the romantic centerpiece of his children’s album.  It is a pretty song once again, with lovely sentiments.  The pianist switches to electric guitar for a rather different sound.

The whole Tiny Desk Concert is delightful and makes me want to check out more of his stuff.  There’s no mention of who play what, but the mudsicians were:  Josh Kaufman; Jamie Krents; Brian Kantor; Richard Cook; Ken Sleeman; Mike Holmes and  Al Blount.

[READ: March 28, 2017] Becca and the Prisoner’s Cross

This is the second (and final) novella in the series.  It comes between books 2 and 3.  And, as the title suggests it is all about Becca.

The end of book 2 had Becca “materialize” on a boat in the past–right next to Nicolaus Copernicus.  It was a weird ending for a book that while sometimes magical, seemed to follow some kind of reality.  But this was different.  What could it mean?

Well, this novella explains it all (sort of).  We suspect that Becca’s proximity to the Kronos device when it went off triggered something.  (I keep wondering if it has something to do with her hurt arm which, frankly, shouldn’t hurt anymore, it has been two weeks, right?).

Anyhow, what we determine is that Becca is sort of passing out at home and her mind is travelling to Copernicus.  No time passes at home, but she is able to spend time with the scientist.  The best reveal comes early in the book when Copernicus senses that someone is there as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOSES SUMNEY-Tiny Desk Concert #676 (November 29, 2017).

I had never heard of Moses Sumney before this show.  And the blurb seems to anticipate this:

If you don’t know this Los-Angeles-based force of nature, and haven’t heard him on tour with James Blake or Sufjan Stevens or perhaps on albums by Beck or Solange, then this is your chance to watch one of the most thoughtful talents of today as he makes music that is outside the box but easy to relate and connect to.

I’m very curious to know what he did with Beck.

I found Moses’ voice to be mesmerizing–a gorgeous soaring falsetto that he seemed to effortless get to rise higher and higher.  But beyond that, the blurb talks about his lyrics:

Moses Sumney puts a great deal of thought into the heartfelt music he creates. On his debut album, Aromanticism, he was inspired by everything from the works of Plato and Aristophanes’ account of the origin of humanity to the Bible, particularly Genesis and the story of creation. It’s all in an attempt to understand human relationships and the sorts of couplings we tend to be drawn to.

He plays 3 songs in the 20 minute time frame.  I wanted to describe the first song, but Bob’s description is too good:

The concert opens up with Moses not behind my desk, but at the piano we keep in our office. As his team of sax, harp and guitar players set up, Moses sat at the piano and began to play “Doomed.” He had instructed the band, which had already perched behind my desk 40 or so feet away, to create a transition for him to walk from piano to desk, continuing one of the most inspired 8-minute stretches I’ve witnessed here at the Tiny Desk.

So he plays the pretty piano melody and sings with those gorgeous falsetto vocals for about a minute and a half.  Then he strolls (in his cape) to the desk.  He activates some looping pedals.  He plays a beat on the microphone and then Sam Gendel plays a cool modified sax solo.  After 2 minutes of set up, he sings again.  The beats are in full and Brandee Younger is playing some simple gorgeous harp and Mike Haldeman has some echoed guitar on top.  Meanwhile, Sam has switched to a synth and Moses is also playing some kind of synth.  The song builds beautifully and he sings in a  higher and higher register.  It starts to sound otherworldly with the harp and his voice and the loops going faster and faster.  And then the wall of noise abruptly ends and the final minute is delicate and lovely.

He introduces the band and then says “we’re going to keep making noise.”  And then “hopefully no one’s printer goes off” (wonder if that happened).

“Quarrel” opens with him looping his own voice and then playing it faster and faster so it sound like a skipping CD.  Sam has picked up a guitar to pluck out notes (the head of his guitar is fascinating and I want to see it better).  Throughout the song Moses hits that looped vocal section for one or two seconds to add texture–it’s pretty cool.  The mix of that harsh(ish) electronic sound and the angelic harp is wonderful.

For the final song, “Plastic,” he removes his cape.  Everybody else leaves and he says “I want to make more room… for me!”  He picks up a guitar and says, “This is the end.  The bitter end.  Although for some of you, it will be sweet because it’s ending.”  It’s interesting how self-deprecating he is when his voice is so gorgeous.

This final song is much more jazzy with him playing interesting chords and singing to the guitar.  Overall it’s a bit less exciting than the other songs possibly because the last minute or so is just him repeating the line “my wings are made of plastic.”

But overall, Moses Sumney really impressed me with this set.  Right up to the end where he sinks slowly below the desk, to much laughter.

[READ: March 6, 2017] Wade and the Scorpion’s Claw

The Copernicus Legacy is a four book series.  But, in an interesting diversion, there are also two “extra” books inserted between the first two.  They are smaller and do not exactly affect the continuity of the main story, but they seem to delve into one character a little further (and there is some plot advancement).

Interestingly, Book One of the main series ends with Kaplans and their friends leaving Guam for New York.  The second book of the series opens with them in New York.  But this book, the first of the The Copernicus Archives, takes place between Guam and New York.  The big difference is that unlike the main books, this is told entirely from Wade’s Point of view.

En route to New York, the family has to stop in Hawaii.  They are in the airport for a while and they trust no one.  They are waiting for the flight to San Francisco when there are two notable people in the airport around them.  There’s a German man (you can tell by his shoes, Lily whispers) in a leather coat.  The kids don’t trust him and call him Leathercoat.  And then there’s a Chinese man doing acrobatics and other tricks to amuse some children while they wait. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Live Phish Downloads 5.8.93 UNH Fieldhouse, Durham, NH (2007).

This concert was recorded on my birthday.  Although I wasn’t there (and wasn’t even really a fan at the time).  This is the last show of the tour, so they thank the crew and have a lot of fun with that.  This is a great 3 CD set because there’s a lot of strong bonus material at the end of disc 3.

The set opens with a rocking “Chalk Dust Torture” and segues into a really tight “GuelahPapyrus”—I love how they can start and stop in total synch.  There’s great harmonies on “Rift” and a perfect tempo-change into “Mound.”

Then comes a jamming 12 minute “Stash” with a lot of bass sections.  It segues into the delightfully bizarre “Kung” and then returns to “Stash” for another minute before switching to “Glide.”  “Glide” has more great harmonies with a very long pause (over a minute of silence, which gets the crowd excited) before ending the song. It’s followed by a great version of “My Friend, My Friend” that segues into a 13 minute Reba.”  Trey thanks the crew and everyone for the tour after which they play a very jazzy “Satin Doll.”

The first set ends with a blistering “Cavern.”

Set Two opens with a minute of “David Bowie” before Page turns it into a cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” (including a Simpsons’ “D’oh”).  “David Bowie” returns with a 10 minute jam–no solos, just the band rocking–before mellowing out into a reggae version of “Have Mercy” by The Mighty Diamonds.   That two-minute slow down is followed by a scorching soloing conclusion to “David Bowie.”

They take a kind of break with “The Horse,” an acoustic guitar piece for Trey (It’s very pretty and one of the few times I’ve heard him play acoustic).  It turns into a great “Silent in the Morning.”  There’s a nearly 10 minute “It’s Ice” in which each player really stands out—Mike’s bass, Fish’s drums, Page’s keys—everyone is highlighted in this quirky staccato version which segues perfectly into a 16 minute “Squirming Coil.”

There’s a great jam in this song with a lengthy piano solo.  The ending is wildly erratic and weird (and I suppose is technically a “Big Ball Jam”) as they continue to jam for a few extra minutes before launching into “Mike’s Song.”  Like “Bowie,” “Mike’s Song” is broken up to include a bluesy cover of “Crossroads” with lots of piano soloing.  It segues back into the end of “Mike’s Song” which doesn’t really sound like an end to the song.  But it’s followed by a pretty “I am Hydrogen” which launches into a great, funky bass roaring “Weekapaug Groove.”

Towards the end of “Groove,” Page stars playing “Amazing Grace and as it softens up, the band sings a quiet a capaella version of the song.  And then the launches into a jamming version to end the set.

The encore is a loose “AC/DC Bag” for a nice end to the tour.

The Bonus songs include “Shaggy Dog” from the 5/8/93 soundcheck. It’s just guitar and voices with good harmonies.

“Tweezer” and “Tela” come from 5/6/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.  “Tweezer” is totally rocking and 19 minutes long.  There’s a bass-filled jam in the start and it gets dark and a little crazy in the middle.  It slows way down to just one drum and one bass note and then segues nicely into a very pretty “Tela.”

The final bonus track is a crazy 32 minute “You Enjoy Myself” from 5/5/93 Palace Theatre – Albany, NY.   It features special guests Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit as well as the Dude of Life.  There’s a funky middle section of 3 to 5 note motifs repeated.  There’s a lengthy bass solo—just Mike.  It segues into a series of descending riffs until more percussion comes in and someone (Dude?) is talking (incomprehensibly) into the microphone.  Then comes bongos and horns.  I believe there’s even a vacuum solo.  The end of the song has a jazzy scat sing along with the guitar and some rally heavy drums at the end.

On many of the discs, the bonus material is sort of interesting to have but on this one, the “Twezer,” “Tela” and YEM” are outstanding in and of themselves.

Here’s a longer essay about this show by Kevin Shapiro.

[READ: May 8, 2017] The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories

It’s always weird to read posthumous stories, especially if you’ve been a fan of the author for years.  But like the previous collection Dragons at Crumbling Castle, this book collects stories from when Terry was a young lad (between 1966 and 1973) in the Children’s Circle of the Bucks Free Press. He says that they are as they were except that he tinkered here and there with a few details and added a few lines or notes, “just because I can.”

There are 13 stories in the book, and they explore variations on Pratchett’s themes like that the unfamiliar is not the enemy (necessarily) and that people can and often will be surprised by how others react to things.  He also has  a story idea that would blossom into the Carpet People stories later on.

“The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner” (1970)
This begins with a great premise: “Uncle Ron Swimble, the magician, enjoyed performing at parties. He did lots of simple tricks and the kids enjoyed him.  But when he went to his most recent party, things went awry.  But in a way that the kids loved: when his hat fell off, three rabbits jumped out.  And when he bent over a flock of pigeons flew out from under his coat.  The kids were delighted.  But Ron was the most surprised because he had no rabbits or birds in his act.  Every time he moved his hands something vanished or appeared.  It was crazy.  Then they figured out that Uncle Ron had knocked over Mrs Riley’s vacuum cleaner.  And as all the kids knew (but the adults didn’t seem to ) Mrs Riley was a witch.  The resolution to this story was really delightful. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Tiny Desk Concert #675 (November 27, 2017).

Phoebe Bridgers has an incredibly delicate voice.  And yet despite its delicacy it is also really powerful (as evidenced by the note she holds at the end of “Motion Sickness”).

I know the original of “Motion Sickness” which has a big raw guitar and a powerful chorus.  Her entire sound is stripped down here, with just pianist Ethan Gruska and violinist Rob Moose accompanying her on her quiet guitar.

Together, they celebrated the occasion with languid renditions of three of the album’s best songs: the sad and seductive “Demi Moore,” a drastically muted “Motion Sickness” and a piano-driven take on Bridgers’ first-ever single, “Killer.”

“Demi Moore” has some interesting synthy sounds accompanying Phoebe’s gentle guitar.  I really like the way the violin is playing somewhat unsettling notes rather than gentle accompaniment.  I cannot figure out what this has to do with Demi Moore, though.

As noted, “Motion Sickness” is very different.  It’s a little less catchy somehow (I really like the contrast of the guitars and her voice on the original).  But the song sounds really pretty this way (and I am charmed at the way she seems to be smiling throughout the song).

She describes “Killer” as being about murder.  It includes an unsettling conversations about Jeffrey Dahmer and Bridgers singing without her guitar.  It’s a stark piano song that really lets you hear how pretty her voice is.

I’m very curious to know what she typically sounds like live.

[READ: May 13, 2017] My Brilliant Friend

In what I thought was the final issue of The Believer (it went on hiatus for a couple of years), Nick Hornby says he really enjoyed My Brilliant Friend.  So I decided to check it out (since it’s part of a series and was compared tangentially to My Struggle, I decided to keep a running tally of pages just in case I decided to read all four of these books).

I haven’t read a ton of Italian writers, I gather.  And while that doesn’t really impact the quality of the story (or the translation by Ann Goldstein) the book does talk about locations that I’m pretty unfamiliar with.

Evidently there is intrigue about the identity of Elena Ferrante (the name is a pseudonym).  I didn’t know that until after I read the book and looked up to see how many more books there were.  Ferrante (I’ll go with she, because why not) has written four books in this series and three other books with out her identity being discovered.  I suppose the reason her identity is interesting is because this book seems to be autobiographical.  Of course what do you call an autobiography by a pseudonym? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID GREILSAMMER-Tiny Desk Concert #674 (November 24, 2017).

It has been quite a while since there has been a classical pianist on Tiny Desk.  I’m unfamiliar with the Israeli pianist David Greilsammer, but his playing is wonderful and his selections are quite fun and diverse.

For this Tiny Desk appearance, Greilsammer begins with his muse Domenico Scarlatti, the 18th-century Italian whose 500-some keyboard sonatas are compelling, colorful snapshots of his decades-long service to Spanish royalty. In the “Sonata in E, K. 380” you can hear a little street band processing along with trumpet fanfares.

Greilsammer describes the piece as sounding very contemporary.  Scarlatti lived 300 years ago and his music sounds ahead of its time.  He says it’s almost jazzy or pop-like harmonies.  He says it feels like he is playing a Beatles song.

Greilsammer follows by jumping ahead 175 years to the eccentric Frenchman Erik Satie, who not only owned seven identical gray velvet suits but, with a freewheeling spaciousness and humor in his music, is often thought of as the precursor to everything from minimalism to new age. His series of mysterious pieces called Gnossiennes strike a particularly sedate mood, capable of neutralizing any source of anxiety.

Greilsammer plays “Gnossienne No. 3” which he describes as full of pop and jazz and colors and harmonies.  He was writing these strange short pieces that at the time people in Paris didn’t understand.  Everybody loves Satie now but just over 100 years ago he was completely misunderstood.

I absolutely love the way the final notes ring out in this room–they are quite haunting

Lastly, Greilsammer takes a left turn to Leoš Janáček, the idiosyncratic Czech composer from the early 20th century, acclaimed for his operas. He set one of them on the moon; another, the dramatically taut and emotionally wrenching Jenůfa, is perhaps the most undervalued opera of a generation. But Janáček also wrote in smaller forms. His piano cycle On An Overgrown Path plays out like a diary of musings, nervous tics, simple pleasures and mysteries. Within the claustrophobic tension that pervades “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away,” you can hear the rustling of wings and the repeated four-note bird call.

Greilsammer says that Janáček lived in the Romantic period and all of his music is enigmatic, with many secretive things.  He wrote things related to dreams and wild scenes with things obsessively haunting him.  In “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away” (from On An Overgrown Path) the theme of the owl comes back many times.  Every time you try to get away from it, it comes back.

For Greilsammer, who recently performed in a working crypt in Harlem, threading these disparate musical fabrics together comes as naturally as, well, playing behind a desk in an office building.

These are some really beautiful and nicely unexpected pieces.

[READ: May 31, 2017] Audubon

I have really enjoyed most of the French graphic novels that come across my desk.  This book, translated by Etienne Gilfillan, is no exception.

It is a biographical sketch of John James Audubon (born Jean-Jacques Audubon in Haiti in 1785).  His story, aside from the whole birding aspect, is quite fascinating in itself. He was an illegitimate child (his father has seduced a servant) who was eventuality adopted by his father (!) and called Forgèére (which means fern).  His father wanted him to escape military conscription, so the boy was sent to Mill Grove in he United States in 1803.  He became a US citizen and there met his wife Lucy Bakewell.

The book actually begins in 1820 with Audubon and two other men sailing on the Mississippi river.  They hit bad weather but all he cares about are his drawings.

Then we jump back to 1812 in Kentucky.  Audubon climbs into a tree to study the swallows who are living in it–some 9,000. He took home more than 100 birds to study them.  And then he tagged some others to study their migratory patterns.

As the end of the book points out, Audubon was one of the world’s greatest naturalists who did a lot for birding. Except he was also responsible for the death of thousands of birds.  There’s a section where he kills two ivory billed woodpeckers.  He is so excited at his luck because they are becoming a rarity. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEDISI-Tiny Desk Concert #673 (November 21, 2017).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ledisi’s an impressive musician.

[READ: May 5, 2017] Into the Wild

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

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: BENJAMIN BOOKER-Tiny Desk Concert #671 (November 17, 2017).

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

For Thanksgiving, why not do some Chicken Squad books?

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

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

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

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

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