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SOUNDTRACK: VIOLENTS & MONICA MARTIN-Tiny Desk Concert #625 (June 5, 2017).

I don’t really understand why Jeremy Larson chose the name Violents.  His music is anything but–pretty piano melodies with (in this show) really nice string arrangements.  I love the way the strings really dramatize the pop song elements.

About the strings, (who go by the Rootstock Republic),he says “they saved our lives this week–because even though a solo vocal performance with her would be amazing…,”

“Equal Powers” has such beautiful melodies.   I really like the way Martin’s voice plays off of the piano.  The chorus melody line is perfect and the high notes “I know I know” are like a perfect icing topper.  I like this lyrical construct:

lean in, let me feel your breath on my skin/I know, I know
lean in, liquor on your breath/ I’m tasting, I know, I know

Her voice has a lovely delicate straining to it that is really pretty.

So who is Martin?  The last time we saw singer Monica Martin at the Tiny Desk she was singing with Phox, her folky, poppy band based in Madison, Wisconsin. But, while that band is on hiatus, Martin took time to walk into the world of Violents, the project of pianist, string arranger and songwriter Jeremy Larson. Larson and Martin make a lovely pair and have created a subtle, soulful record — Awake And Pretty Much Sober — that benefits greatly from Larson’s classical training.  It’s the first full-length Jeremy Larson has released as Violents, a project that, generally, sees him joined by a different singer each outing, resulting in an EP.

“Unraveling” has a pretty, slow piano melody.  It’s more of a ballad.  Once again the chorus is gorgeous–especially the way Martin hits some of those notes in the ooooh section.

and again her voice hits some lovely notes and her ooohs are delightful against the strings.

Before introducing “Spark” he says playing the Tiny Desk is “a bucket list kind of thing.”  He says they’re gonna do one more song.  We were supposed to do a different one but this one’s a bit more appropriate for a smaller setting its called “Spark.”  It has a simpler melody and is certainly a ballad.  It is not as powerful but it’s still quite lovely.

The Rootstock Republic is Juliette Jones (violin); Jessica McJunkins (violin); Kristine Kruta (cello); Jarvis Benson (viola).

 [READ: May 3, 2017] “On the Street Where You Live”

I have really enjoyed Yiyun Li’s stories of late, although i didn’t fully enjoy this one.  I found the location of it a little hard to follow and then it seemed to be about something but was then about something else.

It begins in China, with Bella and Peter walking down the street.  Bella and Peter are friends and have been for 25 years.  They met in Boston.

Bella is Chinese by birth but moved to the USA to study.  They are in China because Bella and Peter always talked of going there.  And it turns out that Peter’s boyfriend Adrian is doing research on his ancestors from China.  So they decided to use it as a chance to travel together.

This was kind of mistake.  (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: NICK GRANT-Tiny Desk Concert #624 (June 2, 2017).

I had never heard of Nick Grant either.  And I wasn’t that impressed on an initial listen.  However, it says he’s got a bit of a flu, so kudos to him for pushing on.

In general, though, low-key rap shows are kind of weird.  They are mostly about hype, but its hard to hype a few dozen people.  But Grant is certainly game.

[Grant hails ]from a region where rap’s young guns and lil innovators tend to defy tradition, the South Carolina-by-way-of-Atlanta native proves being a purist is not just for the old heads.

Being cut from a vintage cloth has kept him in good company. He groomed himself on high school freestyle battles before working his way up to become the first signee to Culture Republic.  He’s a sly reminder that, contrary to popular opinion, the South still has a mouthful to say — and it doesn’t always have to be yelled, gurgled or Auto-Tuned to death. Sometimes it can be conveyed coolly, from a seated position, while backed by Washington D.C.’s soul garage band Black Alley, and still cut through all the noise.

I really like the live band, Black Alley.  The percussionist (Walter Clark) is particularly interesting with his congas and an electronic “plate” that plays all kinds of effects.  The bass (Joshua Cameron) is also great and the guitarist (Andrew White) plays a lot of interesting sounds.  I also like how muscular th keyboardist is playing simple chords.  And the drummer is pretty bad ass too.

The first song “Return of the Cool” (feat. B. Hess–not sure what the B. Hess is all about, I think he’s sampled in the chorus).  And that chorus is especially weird because the other singer is recorded and Grant is sort of quietly over the top of it.  It’s the smallness of the audience that makes the whole “hands side to side” part seem kind of weird.  Although it’s funny when he says, “you ain’t got your hands up.”  When it’s over he says “Give yourselves a round of applause.”  Before the next song starts he says “flu is killing me.”

It’s also strange to me in a lot of hip hop that the rappers feel the need to state who they are and where they are and sometimes when they are.  It’s been going on for decades now, but it’s odd .  So when he says “Nick Grant.  Tiny Desk.  NPR.”  it’s just what you do.  About the second song “Drug Lord Couture” he says that “street life wasn’t for me but I was fascinated with the fashion and the material things that came with being a drug dealer being in the streets.”  He says, “it wasn’t for me I found out quickly.”

He introduces the final song, “Luxury Vintage Rap” by saying that you “must be strong, have a lyrical ability to be #1.”  This song is faster with some good lyrics: “I don’t believe the devil would come as a snake / why would he come as something you would actually hate?”   There’s a cool dark end section with a funky riff.  His lyrics turn rather explicit with the startling line “sugar on a clit / that’s a sweet lick.”  As the songs sort of ends, he tells everyone, “Don’t stop.  Keep (the arm waving) going.

Grant won me over by the end.  And as the screen goes to black you can hear him saw, “Flawless….  Flawless any questions?”

[READ: April 22, 2017] “Deaf and Blind”

Vapnyar had a story in this same issue one year and a day ago.

This is the story of a young woman’s mother and her mother’s friend.  The friend was named Olga.  Olga and her mother had met at a fertility clinic.  The narrator’s mother had a child (obviously) while Olga did not.

But they bonded over their collective unhappiness. Olga said her husband loved her like crazy but that she never felt much for him–she always wanted to love someone with every fiber of her being.  The narrator’s mother was just the opposite: she loved her husband but was fairly sure he didn’t love her back.  She hoped a child would bring her husband back.

It didn’t.  And Olga didn’t get pregnant either. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: GABRIEL GARZÓN MONTANO Tiny Desk Concert # 622 (May 26, 2017)

I have no idea who Gabriel Garzón Montano is.  The blurb suggests that even if I don’t know, others certainly do.

I was, admittedly, thrown for a loop when Gabriel Garzón-Montano told me that he wanted to perform unaccompanied, just him and a piano. The meticulousness of his work is clear on his debut album, Jardin, a three-year creative process in which Gabriel plays most of the instruments, tracking them to two-inch tape, layering its overall sound. Jardin takes its title as an umbrella; fruits, bugs and other plants are the driving metaphors tying together this dense work, which blooms over successive listens. Garzón-Montano doesn’t necessarily wear his heart on his sleeve — he forces you to listen and peel the layers back.

Garzón-Montano’s career trajectory veers wide — living with Philip Glass for a year while his late mother played in the composer’s ensemble, sitting under the minimal maestro’s piano as he practiced; Lenny Kravitz making possible his first tour experience; while Drake exposed Gabriel’s sound to the masses.

That decision to go it alone at the Tiny Desk made sense, though, the moment he started to play; his talent is left elegantly exposed in this unadorned performance. He says his visit to the Tiny Desk “with just piano and vocal reminds me of what is lost when a song is fully produced and arranged — it was an exciting and vulnerable experience. I was nervous for this one.”

Here then, are three songs from Jardin, along with the song that introduced Gabriel to the world… laid bare.

When I listened to this the first time I thought he played 2 longish songs but indeed, there are 4 shortish songs.

I really love the piano sound he gets but the r&b style of pop singing is not my thing and so many “babys.”

I singled out a few things in the songs.  The line in “My Balloon” “I’ll get back on my balloon and meet my baby on the moon” I find endearing even if it is kinda dumb.  I enjoyed the way “Long Ears” came seamlessly from the first song.  It starts with a high note and falsetto vocals. It’s much more interesting than the first song.  And the second half of “Long Ears” is quite interesting, almost dissonant–although I could do without the you you you section.

I thought the first line of “6 8” was “fuck me real slowly,” which was disconcerting.  Especially since a later line was “I’m just like a baby drooling over you.”  But I believe it is “rock me real slowly.”  It segues cleanly into the final song, “Crawl.”  I think he stars in the same falsetto but then switches to a deeper voice.  I love the bouncy middle section that sounds like a musical.  Although once again there’s too much oo ooo ooo ooo.

All of those vocalizings sound especially flat during an under produced occasion such as this.

[READ: April 26, 2017] “You Are Happy?”

This story was fairly straightforward, but it opened up a cultural aspect that I had no idea about.

The main character is Laskshman, an Indian boy living in the United States.  As the story opens, we see Lakshman’s grandmother telling Lakshman’s father that he should break his wife’s arms and legs to prevent her from getting to the bottle.

Lakshman’s mother is an alcoholic, and, apparently, there is no greater disgrace for an Indian woman.  At parties–parties that were usually segregated–she often joined the men and drank and gave her opinions, to the disgust of all present.

She had begun drinking was Lakshman was 8 and they moved to America.   But by the time he was 9 she was drinking during dinner.  When he turned 11 she was drinking during the day.  His father had had enough.  He stated matter of factly that she was a drunkard.  Their marriage had been arranged and they never grew to love one another.  This certainly didn’t help. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKJULIA JACKLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #621 (May 22, 2017).

I’d never heard of Julia Jacklin, an Australian singer-songwriter.  But I found her music to be almost painfully slow and laconic–very much like Cowboy Junkies.  It’s quite pretty, but I need a little more pep.

The blurb notes:

Julia Jacklin doesn’t need much accompaniment. Jacklin’s full-length debut, last year’s Don’t Let The Kids Win, knows just when and how to lean in to this simplicity, surrounding her with spare instrumentation that keeps that voice in the center of the frame.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Jacklin reproduces three of that album’s drowsily beautiful ballads with the aid of a backing band so restrained, you can read the effort to keep quiet on their faces.

That’s all very true.  Her music is slow and sometimes it’s so quiet that it’s all about her voice which is pretty (but drowsy).

“Don’t Let The Kids Win” is slow and quiet.  The guitar is so quiet you can hear her pick hitting the strings as she strums.  It’s unclear that Julia is Australian until she sings  “don’t want them growing up thinking three years olds are good at playing basketball” and her accent comes through on basketball).  The song eventually starts to grow a little louder with backing vocals by the end.  And I believe one climactic note from bassist Ben Whiteley (from Toronto)

“Lead Light” has considerably more pep.  The drums (from Ian Kehoe also from Toronto) are quiet but sound like gun shots in this quiet setting.  The song swings slowly with some pretty guitar lines from Eddie Boyd from Australia).

Never has a song sounded less like a pool party than “Pool Party.”  What’s interesting about singers who sing like this is that I love listening to lyrics, and yet when people sing so slowly like this I lose all forward momentum of the lyrics.  So even if they are good, I’m lost them after a verse.

[READ: April 4, 2017] “Northeast Regional”

I feel like the cover to Cline’s book The Girls was iconic in 2016.  I don’t know anything about the book, but that cover was everywhere.  So this is my first exposure to her writing.  And I rather liked it.

The story started a little clunky I thought–it took me a few paragraphs to get the flow.  But once it got going I couldn’t stop.

The story begins with Richard on a train.  He has been riding for close to five hours.  He is heading to his on Rowan’s school and we know that something bad has happened.  He keeps checking his phone.  He gets messages about his son, but nothing from Ana.

Richard has been divorced for 16 years.  His wife has primary and majority custody of their son Rowan who is now at a private school “out in the middle of nowhere.”

Richard has been seeing Ana (part a succession of married women) for some time (the divorce was over a decade ago).  He and Ana had a weekend planned together (it was the first time they would spend the night together), but nothing seemed to be going right.  Everything seemed significant to her, from groceries to clothes to movie choices.  Richard was in a mood; he hated the movie she chose (black and white?  He was only fifty.  Or fifty-one).

And then he got the phone call. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TIM DARCY-Tiny Desk Concert #619 (May 15, 2017).

I really like Darcy’s band Ought, but I don’t really like this solo concert.  In Ought, I find his voice contrasts nicely with the punky music (and his arch delivery of the kind-of-spoken-words if entertaining to me).  But here he’s singing some pretty straightforward songs and I find his affected delivery to be kind of annoying.  The blurb name checks Roy Orbison and I’ve never liked Orbison’s voice either.  So I guess that makes sense

Darcy plays four songs–he’s on guitar for three of them.

“Still Waking Up” is first. He says that “Joan Pt. 1, 2” is more of a rocker on the record but he’s taking it down–wonder if I’d like it more as a rocker?  Musically I like the way it switches gears for Part 2 and I like his voice a lot more for this second part.  “Sledgehammer And The Rose” is a new one.  I like the slinky guitar lines at the end of each verse. For the final song, “What’d You Release?” Toronto songwriter Charlotte Cornfield plays piano (with no guitar).  His voice is a bit deeper on this one and it works pretty well with the slowness of the piano.

But I gather I’d prefer him with his band.

[READ: March 22 2017] “Herman Melville, Volume 1”

The previous Lodato story that I read concerned a young meth addict.  This one concerns a twenty year old homeless girl.

She remains unnamed throughout the story and we learn snippets of her past.  Her father apparently committed suicide recently and she has nobody else.  Her only thought about him is that she hopes someone is watering the grapefruit tree in his backyard.

She had been experimenting with running away–she gathered a lot of her stuff and some money and would head to the Greyhound station.  She would hang out there for a while and then ultimately go home. Then one day Evan was there.  He smiled at her and commented on her skateboard and banjo.  She began to cry and he held her and they have been togetehr for the past seven months.  He has even proposed to her (although nether one has mentioned in since, so who knows if it meant anything).

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AIMEE MANN-Tiny Desk Concert #617 (May 8, 2017).

Aimee Mann is pretty legendary at this point.  Starting out in ’til Tuesday, she has since made a name for herself as a solo artist (and collaborator).  Her solo albums are sweetly sad: she writes pretty melodies with rather downcast lyrics that sometimes have humor in them.  She has done a previous Tiny Desk with Ted Leo–they were called The Both.

Her voice is calm and kind of deep and she casts rather an imposing figure given her height.  I saw her live about ten years ago and while I don’t remember all that much from it, I know I enjoyed her.

I have a few of her albums, but I haven’t really gotten anything recently because she’s a bit to melancholy for me, and I feel like her songs tend to sound a bit the same–I keep waiting for all of these songs to end with the chorus of “I’ve Had It” (one of her earlier songs that I rather like).

Despite these criticisms, there’s no doubt that her songs are quite lovely, and when Jonathan Coulton sings backing vocals it’s pretty great.

She plays four songs from her new album, Mental Illness. On “Rollercoasters” it’s just her and Coluton.  The second song is “You Never Loved Me”–“It’s another cheery, optimistic number.”  For this track, Aimee plays guitar and is joined by Paul Bryan on bass and Jamie Edwards on piano.  The band fleshes out the sound nicely, with a good bottom end.

The title of “Goose Snow Cone” is never explained, which is a shame.  There’s a lovely guitar melody on this song.   “Patient Zero” opens with a backing ooooh vocal.  There’s some great deep bass notes from the piano and I love the way the end of the song features the guys singing a chorus while Aimee sings a counterpoint vocal.  It’s my favorite moment in the show.

[READ: March 2, 2017] “The I.O.U.”

I didn’t think I’d read any storied by Fitzgerald (aside from Gatsby) but it turns out I had read a short story by him about five years ago.  I described it as enjoyable but slight.

This story from 1920 is clever and funny and was previously unpublished.

I enjoyed the initial construct:

The above is not my real name—the fellow it belongs to gave me his permission to sign it to this story. My real name I shall not divulge. I am a publisher. I accept long novels about young love written by old maids in South Dakota, detective stories concerning wealthy clubmen and female apaches with “wide dark eyes,” essays about the menace of this and that and the color of the moon in Tahiti by college professors and other unemployed. I accept no novels by authors under fifteen years old. All the columnists and communists (I can never get these two words straight) abuse me because they say I want money. I do—I want it terribly. My wife needs it. My children use it all the time.

Interesting opening, right?

So the unnamed publisher tells his story that six months ago he contracted for a book that was going to be a sure thing.  It was by Dr Harden, the psychic Research man.  He had published Harden’s first book in 1913 and it was a huge success.  This one promised to be even bigger.  The crux was that Harden’s nephew had been killed in the war and Dr. Harden had been able to contact him with psychic powers.  Harden was a distinguished psychologist–no fruitcake–and his book was neither callous nor credulous.  He even mentions in the book how a man named Wilkins had comes to his door claiming that his deceased nephew owed him three dollars and eighty cents–but Dr Harden refused to ask his dead nephew about the money–that was like praying to the saints about a lost umbrella.

When the book was finally done (and it looked beautiful), they sent copies everywhere–300,000 first print run.

The book was a success already and he decided to visit Dr Harden to celebrate.  He hopped on the train with some free copies of the book.  He handed them out to people on the train

Before we came to Trenton, a lady with a lorgnette in one of the staterooms was suspiciously turning the pages of hers, the young man who had the upper of my section was deeply engrossed in his, and a girl with reddish hair and peculiarly mellow eyes was playing tic-tac-toe in the back of a third.

The publisher fell asleep and when he woke he saw the man reading the book seemed deeply agitated.  The publisher asked him what the matter was and the man said that the value of the book depended entirely on whether the young man was actually dead or alive.  The publishers said the the man must be in Paradise not–in Purgatory.  The man said it would be even more embarrassing if he were in a third place.

Like where?

Like Yonkers.

For, it turns out that the man reading the book was in fact Cosgrove P. Harden: “I am not dead; I have never been dead, and after reading that book I will never again feel it quite safe to die.”

I loved this joke:

The girl across the aisle was so startled at my cry of grief and astonishment that she put down a tic instead of a tac.

The rest of the story concerns our publisher’s attempts to figure out what to do about this mess.  Surely the not-dead boy wouldn’t spoil all of the fun (and money).  They wind up going to the doctor’s house where the publisher meets Thalia, the woman who was in love with Cosgrove.  And she is angry at the Doctor for humiliating Cosgrove in death.

And the publisher gets an idea.

So he plays out his idea as best he can and things seem to be going along pretty smoothly but then Fitzgerald does something rather unexpected and I really got a kick out of it.  It turned this story which was pretty funny into a story that was pretty funny and really clever as well.

I wonder why it was never published.

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTONIO LIZANA-Tiny Desk #614 (April 28, 2017).

I am fascinated by Lizana, but more for his voice than anything else.  Lizana’s singing voice/style sounds a lot like the lead singer of Gipsy Kings (musicians from Arles and Montpellier in the south of France, who perform in the Spanish language with an Andalusian accent).  Lizana is from Spain, but he has that same strained and fascinating delivery.  The blurb here hints that maybe that is just the style of flamenco:

In many ways, the traditions of flamenco and jazz could not be further apart, but in the hands of a few Spanish jazz musicians, these two worlds commingle and find common ground. Antonio Lizana is one such musician, both a saxophonist and vocalist with one foot firmly planted in each tradition. As a vocalist he has mastered the Moorish, note-bending improvisations that make flamenco singing so beguiling, while the fluidity of ideas he expresses as a saxophonist place him in the time-honored tradition of composing while playing.

Indeed, between jazz-like saxophone, Lizana sings flamenco vocals.  For these three songs, Lizana and Jonatan Pacheco (percussion) and Andreas Arnold (guitar) play quite a mix and it works very well.  The band is also quite multicultural as well as Andreas is from Germany and Jonatan is from Spain (and he plays a mean box drum).

“Airegría” is about 6 minutes long.  It begins with hims singing over the percussion.  It after a minute and a half that the guitar comes in and not until almost 2 and a half minutes before the sax comes in.  The guitar is kind of staccato while the sax is pretty fluid.

Introducing the band he says, “We’re very happy to be here playing.  We have today on the stage or on the desk…”

“Déjate Sentir” more conventionally jazzy sax but the main melody comes from his kind of scat singing.  Ad I find tat when the guitar kicks in I prefer him singing to guitar rather than playing the sax–I suppose traditional flamenco over jazz. But I can appreciate the sax too–especially when it seems to push aside the flamenco style for a bit.

“Viento De La Mar” is a smoother song with some pretty guitar and light jazzy sax.  My favorite moments comes in the middle with the chiming percussion and the big ending.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Big Bad Ironclad

How cool is this series?  It is so cool that this is the official author bio:

The spy Nathan Hale was executed in 1776.  The author Nathan Hale was born in 1976.

Nathan Hale is the author/illustrator’s real name and he uses the spy Nathan Hale as the narrator of his stories about history (or in this case the future–for the spy, that is).

The book begins on September 22, 1776 as Nathan Hale is about to be hung for treason.  The British soldier in charge of the execution is cross, but the executioner himself is kind of giddy because Hale is going to tell another tale.

After some amusing introductions, designed to antagonize the solider, Hale settles in to tell the story of the iron ships (iron doesn’t float!).

And thus he begins the story of the Merrimack and the Monitor.  The year is 1861 and Abraham Lincoln has just been elected.

Hale uses some very funny narrative devices to get some of the salient battle points across, like General Scott’s anaconda plan–surround the enemy and squeeze.  But how can they do that with only four, yes four, ships?

The North’s man in charge was Gideon Welles, nicknamed Father Neptune.  Stephen Mallory is in charge of the confederate navy–the executioner dubs him “sharkface.”  And in the most amusing nod to comics, Gustavus Fox (Foxy) is rendered as a fox (he’s a cute li’l fox). (more…)

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