Archive for the ‘All Songs Considered’ Category


I feel like I was pretty lucky to see Mal Blum just days before they went to SXSW and made a Lullaby.

Without the band, Mal sings more quietly which certainly lets you hear the words more clearly–and Mal is a gifted lyricist.  But Mal also writes catchy tunes.

I love that the verses are quiet and muted, but there’s loud strumming in between.

And as the song nears the end, the intensity ratchets up for a line of “why can;t they see me?”  …before the quiet conclusion: “I was right there.”

Mal performs in front of the Future of Secrets art installation.

The Future of Secrets was conceived by Sarah W. Newman in collaboration with Jessica Yurkofsky, Rachel Kalmar and metaLAB at Harvard. The installation, which is part of the SXSW Art Program, asks those attending to anonymously type a secret into a laptop and in exchange someone else’s secret is given to you. Those secrets are then projected on a wall, which is the backdrop for this video.

“‘See Me’ is an unreleased song that will be on our next record (sometime next year),” Blum tells NPR. “It’s about the disparity between how one sees oneself, or the struggle of being seen as we are, versus how others view us, which can result in an unintentional hidden self or a perpetual feeling of invisibility. Being transgender informed the song, but it’s not exclusively about that.”

[READ: September 10, 2017] “An Education”

This is a short piece about two girls in school  I assume it is set in Hungary as it is translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix.

The narrator said she was always a hard-working child filled with self-discipline.  But her parents never understood that she did it all for herself–not for them or to make anyone else happy.  Her father was the school principal and was absolutely proud of her–she was hardworking and punctilious like he was.

Her mother, on the other hand, was clearly more loving to her sister Blanka–when she lost her temper with Blanka “there was something frenzied and indiscriminate about the way she pummeled her.”  Her father tried to push her very hard to make her learn more.  Her father was far more proud of the narrator than Blanka, but “no one was ever as proud of me as Blanka [was].” (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT-“100+ BPM” (Live in front of the Brooklyn Public Library) (June 2, 2014).

Continuing with the fun that is Red Baraat, I stumbled upon this recording from the NPR studios.

As part of the Make Music New York Festival, NPR commissioned new music from Red Baraat and Sunny Jain created “100+ BPM.”  And as the blurb informs us:

“We put out a call and they came — by the hundreds. When we invited wind, brass and percussion players to join us yesterday in Brooklyn to perform a world premiere by Red Baraat‘s Sunny Jain for the annual Make Music New York festival, we were hoping that lots of different kinds of musicians would join us. And boy, did they ever.

On this absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon, about 350 musicians assembled on the steps of the Brooklyn Public Library to play Jain’s 100+ BPM. Young, older, professional drumlines, community marching bands, seasoned jazz players, Indian wedding band musicians, Brazilian samba drummers and scads of amateur players came out to play. It was just incredible.

I don’t know how they managed to record the music so perfectly, but it sounds fantastic.  You can really hear the different instruments (well, except maybe the poor violins and that piccolo) as they zoom in on one section or another.

The whole group plays along perfectly.  And there’s even some great sax solos (how did they decide who got to solo?) an excellent trombone solo and lots and lots of drums and percussion.

I love that after the wild soloing everybody joins back in for that great melody once again.

At 6:15, the song stops (and you get to see how psyched Sunny is).  Then after a short pause he starts clapping and selects which group of instruments will keep the beat going.  First it’s drums, then percussion, then the tubas and then the brass comes into play a new staccato riff that is fun and catchy and easy to speed up. Which it does.

He drops out the drums and selective instruments until it’s just the tuba and percussion.  Then the drums come back in and he starts picking up the tempo of that riff again.  Faster and faster do they get to 100BPM? According to this excellent free BPM counter, they make it to 106/107 BPM during the main part.

Then after a breather it’s time to keep going, faster and faster until they reach 126 BPM by the end and Sunny gives an exultant leap to end the song.

What an excellent way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

[READ: February 26, 2018] “Pardon the Intrusion”

Lydia Davis stories are usually really short–a paragraph or two or three.

This one is very different.

It is a series of posts–requests and thanks for various items.  And that’s it.

It’s hard to tell if a story can be constructed from these requests–at times it seems like you can follow a narrative.  But mostly it just seems to be people requesting goods and services. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 26, 2017] Purling Hiss

I know Purling Hiss from NPR’s All Songs Considered.  Last year they played the band’s “3000 AD” which I instantly fell in love with.  There was a cool shoegaze feel to it with a bunch of noisy elements that I really enjoyed.

I knew that the bulk of the band’s catalog was basically Mike Polizze making music for himself.  It was pretty noisy and abstract with lots of jam moments.  They are now a band–I’m not sure who the other two guys in the band were (based on the latest album, I’m assuming Ben Hart on drums and Dan Provenzano on bass)–and they have gotten more musical since then.  But thy are still noisy.  So I expected a lot of squalling feedback and pummeling sounds.

I was quite pleased with how melodic the band’s songs were (no idea what songs they played, but I assume most of it came from their newest album).  (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PAUL WHITE-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

I don’t really know all that much about John Paul White, except that he was in the fabulous duo The Civil Wars, and that he writes intelligent but downbeat folk music.

For indeed, his songs are not cheery by any stretch.  But they are very pretty.

I know the first song, “Black Leaf,” from his Tiny Desk Concert.  I loved it then and I love it now. After the song, he asks, “How are you?  Are you well?  You should be well.  No one should be complaining, least of all me in this black suit.”

And, despite his tone, he is not above making jokes with his audience.  Like when he introduces the second song, “Martyr,” he says, “We’ll be doing  while lot of death metal covers. I figured this would be the place. This song is by a band called Sepultura.”  [Nervous titters from the crowd before he starts playing a pretty JPW song that sounds not unlike a contemporary Barenaked Ladies song, especially his delivery of it].

“The Once and Future Queen,” is a slow, quiet song with a big chorus full of pretty harmonies.  When it ends, he says:

I guess it’s probably my duty to warn you….  You came to a folk festival so you probably weren’t looking for happy songs anyway…  If you came to this set looking to be cheered up, you’re screwed.  Let’s get that out of the way.

I loved “Hate the Way You Love Me,” during the Tiny Desk Concert, but when the backing singers accompany him on the chorus and the gorgeous fiddle from Kelli Jones fills the song, it’s really wonderful.

He jokes, “Glad you’re enjoying the death metal.  I didn’t think it would go over as well as it has.”  But he then plays “Fight for You,” a fairly rocking song–with some rocking distortion on his guitar and a snarl in his voice (and a pretty heavy chorus).

I tend to think of JPW as kind of a mellow singer with a great voice, but he really lets loose in the middle of “Hope I Die.”  In addition to a really powerful singing section, there’s a pretty wild solo going on (violin or guitar or both).  He introduces Adam Morrow over here on the guitar, so I assume he had something to do with it.

He says, “I’m not gonna pretend that all of you have any idea who I am.” [cheers]  He jokes, “That’s called fishing for a compliment.”  But he continues,

To those of you who do I apologize.  It’s been awhile.  it took a lot to get me out of the house.  I was incredibly happy sleeping in my bed and going to dance recitals and football games and the lot. And then these melodies started coming back in my head.  And if I gave into it I’d be back out here doing this.  I and I didn’t want that at all.  No.  No offense, but I didn’t want of see any of your faces.  But once I wrote these songs I wondered if people would connect with them…  and I still doesn’t know why I did that.  So thank you.

In introducing the slow ballad “I’ve Been Over This Before,” he says “This is one of the first songs that came to me. I was obviously listening to a lot of old country music, because that’s where it all starts for me.”

He continues, “I promise you I won’t bore you with song meanings because most of the time I have no idea what they mean most of the time.  But this one is personal for me.”  He says “Simple Song” is indicative of the folk spirit of telling stories and passing them down to further generations.

This came from my grandmother.  When my grandfather passed away he was battling many demons that everyone was having to battle alongside him.  She was raising 14 kids because of those demons.  So… I thought he was perfect, I though that he was always happy, but that was not true and when he passes away, she didn’t cry.  I asked her why  and she said ‘I cried so much for your grandfather when he was on this earth, there’s no way I’m gonna cry for him now that he’s better off.’  And so I thought, ‘Number 1, I want to punch you  in the face.  And then 2 much later in life, that that is a song waiting to happen.’  So this will also cheer you up.

The song and sentiment are beautiful with plaintive lap steel guitar: “I will remember I will remember I will remember you… but I will cry for you no more.”

He continues, “So it’s said that festival crowds… this quiet does not happen.  This is beautiful I really do appreciate it.  I’m a very dynamic performer and I need this kind of environment so…  Festivals scare the shit out of me.  I have to thank you from the bottom of my heart.  This is an unbelievable atmosphere to play in.

before the final song, the rocking “What’s So,” which I also know from Tiny Desk, he says “This is the first time Newport for all of my band so they’re geeking out pretty hard.”  In addition to Jones and Morrow, there’s Reed Watson on drums and Matt Green on bass.

“I need more band members so I have time to tune.”

“What’s So” has an aching descending chorus line that is just terrific.

I really like John Paul White’s music and I’d love to see him live in a quiet sit down club..

[READ: June 24, 2017] “It’s a Summer Day”

I know Andrew Sean Greer from a few McSweeney’s books.

This was a simple story but told in a really cool style.  It concerns Arthur Less, a writer, who has been called to an international conference where he is in the running to win a prize.  But the prize is minor and no one–not he nor his agent–thinks he has a chance.  In fact, the only reason he went was to get out of going to a wedding of an old flame, Freddy.

Freddy had once given him advice about international flights: “They serve you dinner, you take your sleeping pill, they serve you breakfast, you’re there.”

I love the narrator’s voice in this story.

He had been to Italy before. Once when he was 12.  And the second time with Robert Brownburn (Yes, that Robert Brownburn, the famous poet).  They had been dating for a while and were at a good point in their relationship.

He did as instructed with the pills, but woke up in the middle of the night–only two hours having passed!  He takes out another pill and then it’s time for breakfast.  He is in a fog and the first few pages are an amusing comedy of him possibly going the wrong way.  He barely makes his local flight (and is shocked to see ashtrays in the airplane seats–charming or frightening?) And then… was it a mistake to get in the car marked for Sr. Ess?  The driver speaks no English and it sure looks like he is heading in the wrong direction. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

 Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Joseph set; stream it while it’s still active.

Joseph is a band of three sisters and their sound is a little like Indigo Girls–if there were three of them.

When Natalie, Meegan and Allison Closner shout together to the heavens, accompanied only by Natalie’s acoustic guitar, it’s a joyful noise that intrinsically celebrates their bond.

So yes, Joseph is all about harmonies.  They play six songs from their recent album I’m Okay, No You’re Not which is a pretty great release (with a few songs that go a little too commercial).  For the most part, it is just one guitar and three voices.

Their first song “Stay Awake” starts off quietly with one of the sisters (Natalie, I assume) singing and plucking a spare melody on the guitar.  And then about a minute and fifteen second in, all three sisters sing and suddenly the song is magical.

 “Canyon” has a number of amazing moments, but especially when they sing along with one of the sisters taking lead and the other two doing some great harmonies.  When the lead sings “I wanna feel it,” all three singers soar to the rafters in a gorgeous harmony (around 7:25 of this set).

They get applause for “S.O.S.” before playing it.  This is their poppiest song and the one that verges closest to a sound I don’t like (especially for them).  But it’s hard to deny it when they sound so good live.

For “Planets” they ask if anybody wants to sing and they give the audience a mildly complicated melody to sing.  I can’t really tell if the audience is any good at it, but the sisters seem to like it.  And “I Don’t Mind” has a terrific melody even without the harmonies, but when they come in it’s even better.

They describe “Sweet Dreams” as like a lullaby that they used to say to their mom ” Sweet dreams, I love you, good night.”  But this song is anything but a lullaby.  The melody is sophisticated and their voices are powerful.  It’s quite something,.

They have time for two more.  We’ll sing one from our old record and…maybe our single.  That single, “White Flag” finds a stellar balance of pop and folk.  It hits just the right edges of pop to make the song insanely catchy but with an almost aggressive folksiness that is undeniable.  And live it’s almost breathtaking.

Their voices are just amazing.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “I Have Fallen in Love with American Names”

Earlier this month I posted a piece from Roth about names.  I assume that this excerpt comes from the same source.

Roth’s parents were born in New Jersey at the start of the twentieth century.  They were at home in America even though “they had no delusions and knew themselves to be socially stigmatized and regarded as repellent alien outsiders.”  And that is the culture that Philip grew up in.

Butt the writers who shaped his sense of country were born in America some thirty to sixty years before him.  They were mostly small town Midwesterners and Southerners.  None were Jews.

What shaped those writers was not mass immigration from the Old Country and the threat of anti-Semetic violence, but the overtaking of farms and villages  values by business culture.

He says what attracted him to writers like Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe and Erskine Caldwell was his own ignorance of everything North South and West of Newark, New Jersey.  And the way that America from 1941 to 1945 was unified: (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Wilco set; stream it while it’s still active.

I have been really enjoying Wilco’s most recent albums, but it’s their live shows that are exceptional.

Opening with “Random Name Generator” they segue into a very string-heavy “Via Chicago” (a one-two punch of greatness that would leave me flabbergasted).  The recording of this song is particularly great because you can really hear the craziness that Nels Cline adds to the noisy sections.  And the strings also loom large, which I find interesting.  It sounds like a full string section, but maybe its’ just synths?

Wilco have so many albums and so many songs.  Most of their live shows run over two and a half hours.  So this barely-over-an-hour set means excising.  And yet they don’t just play a hits set.  There’s quite a few songs from their latest album, Schmilco and a deep cut from Wilco (The Album).  That particular song “Bull Black Nova” has a cool guitar solo back-and-forth between Cline and whoever else was on guitar at the time.

A mellow “Reservations” leads to a lengthy “Impossible Germany” with an extended guitar solo from Cline.  “Misunderstood” gets a big round of applause (and a suitably chaotic middle section–a mini freakout).

Earlier, Jeff Tweedy said “I don’t feel like talking” but before “Heavy Metal Drummer he says, “I guess I feel like talking a little bit…  Nah.”  Then “Hope we didn’t ruin your lovely day, we didn’t mean to if we did.”

They play a fairly shambolic “I’m the Man Who Loves You” which means not that they play it sloppily but that they play it noisily–from time to time one instrument or another has a little noisy fun while everyone else keeps playing like normal.

As the set starts winding down and Tweedy starts to chat with the crowd, someone shouts something and he says

Happy birthday?  Don’t bring that up.  It’s nowhere near my birthday.  [pause] I might never have another one. [groans from the audience] I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention back to our mortality.  I thought we were having too much fun… it sucks. [pause]  You guys have been heartwarming and reassuring.  Every time I think that everything in the world completely sucks we get to play in front of an audience and share something with people that I know is real and I know it exists and will always exist…  And there will always be more of this than whatever the fuck that is.

They play a lovely “Hummingbird” and a crowd pleasing “The Late Greats.”  Tweedy tells us that “my dad says ‘life is happy and sad and it hurts,’ I wrote about 1,000 songs to say that.”

Tweedy can’t help impart some more advice for our troubled times:

Just show up.  Just show up for everybody and things will be all right.

Before the final two songs, he says, “A lot of people have been yelling for this song, which is understandable.”  It’s from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs and it’s called “Christ for President.”  It’s more true now than ever.

For the final song, Billy Bragg himself comes out (that’s what so cool about Newport Folk Festival) and they play a rousing rendition of “California Stars.”

Festivals are never quite as good as regular concerts if you really want to see one band. The sets are always shorter than you want.  But this is pretty fine.  And the recording quality is superb.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Countess’s Private Secretary”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Jennifer Egan was indeed the private secretary to a Countess.  The Countess was a woman of some authority.  One time Egan was on her way to work for her.  There was some kind of fire emergency in the building and pedestrian traffic was halted.  The Countess shouted out the window to the emergency crews insisting that Egan be let through.  And she was.

Egan said that being the private secretary often meant “becoming” her–starting at 1PM their lives were more or less the same. It helped that Egan herself was tall and slender, Catholic and full of nervous energy.  She was also short-tempered, just like the Countess.  Indeed, even their handwriting matched pretty well.  Although the Countess told Egan that she liked and her, Egan always knew she was just a servant.  The Countess was not above telling her that garlic oozed from her pores for days after she ate it.  Plus her cowboy boots were coarse, her spelling was atrocious and so on.



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SOUNDTRACK: MARGARET GLASPY-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 30, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Margaret Glaspy set; stream it while it’s still active.

Margaret Glaspy has been making music professionally since 2010, but she released her solo debut last year and it’s really good.  She plays a rocking guitar, although she seems to play a lot on the higher strings.  Her sound isn’t tinny, but it’s a much more treble than bass.  But she’s got a two piece backing band to pick up and complement the low end.

She also has a unique vocal delivery style.  She enunciates words with a strange inflection–I never would have guessed that she is from California.  And it’s that unique sound that I think makes her lyrics that much more interesting.  She’s also not afraid to throw in a curse or a graphic description in her lyrics.

Glaspy played 13 songs in total.  10 of the 12 songs from her record, two new ones and a Lucinda Williams cover.

She doesn’t speak much, she just gets right to the music, playing the first five songs faithfully to the record with just enough grace notes to make it stand out.  But she seems to let it all hang out by the time she gets to “Situation” which has a much louder, rougher guitar sound–she really lets loose and it sounds great.

She introduces the band Daniel Ryan on the bass and Tim Kuhl on the drums and then she starts the slower “Black is Blue.” I hadn’t noticed before but at times her delivery is kind of like Laura Marling’s in this song.  “You Don’t Want Me” has a spoken word section and her delivery once again reminds me of Marling’s.  They certainly don’t sound alike, but there is something similar in the style–that would be an awesome double bill.

She might explain her lack of talking when she says, “This is my first time at Newport and I don’t take it lightly.  So thank you so much for having me.”

The NPR blurb also sees a lot of strength at the end of her set, so I’ll let them sum up

She says she’s “Got some new songs for you:”

a slow-burner called “Mother/Father” and another that doesn’t yet have a title [the chorus: life was better before we were together].  A late-set highlight was “Memory Street,” which boiled over into a seething solo before a final verse that had Glaspy repeating a disjointed phrase over and over, to the point of uneasiness [it is quite long, she sings the words “Times I” with an appropriate skipping sounding drum click for over 20 seconds]— a compelling imitation of the skipping record her lyrics invoked.

She plays a cover of Lucinda Williamss’ “The Fruits of my Labor.” and then ends with “You And I” and that catchy circular guitar riff that is so wonderful and original.

Glaspy has been on my list of people to see live and I hope she comes back this way after she tours around for a while.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Work You Do, The Person You Are”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Toni Morrison (it’s hard to think of her as doing something “before” being an author) speaks of working for Her, in the 1940s in a house that had all kinds of things that she had never seen before: a hoover vacuum cleaner or an iron not heated by a fire.

She gave half of her earnings to her mother–which meant she was helping pay the rent, which made her feel good. But she also got some money to squander of junk. (more…)


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