Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-Tiny Desk Concert #824 (February 13, 2019).

I had only heard of Mountain Man from an earlier Field Recordings Session on NPR–back in 2012!  Since then the individuals have all gone to different successes but they have reconvened for a new album and this Tiny Desk Concert.  We’ll also be seeing them at Newport Folk Festival this summer.

Mountain Man is endearing.  And they are so quiet.

Mountain Man is the perfect band for a Tiny Desk concert. These three women make the most intimate music; and behind the desk, the voices of Amelia Meath, Molly Erin Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig were the stars. Adorned by only light, rhythmic acoustic guitar, they sing songs that conjure a simpler life: dogs, friends, moonlight, sunlight, skinny dipping, beach towels and sand.

These dear friends have known each other for more than ten years, since their college days in Vermont. They released their first album in 2010 called Made The Harbor and only recently had a follow-up with the pleasantly surprising, 2018 fall release of Magic Ship.

They play three songs.  “Rang Tang Ring Toon” has a two note guitar melody from Alexandra Sauser-Monnig.  While she plays, she sings the first verse.  Then the other two join in (that’s Molly Sarlé on the really high notes).  It’s a very simple guitar melody–so simple that when she plays a kind of solo (also very simple) it really jolts you out of the gentle melody.

There’s a true kinship that happens in this trio. Things get quiet, sometimes funny and playful or, at moments, awkward, especially when they talk about “savory oatmeal.”

It’s Alexandra who talks about the savory oatmeal (with wild mushrooms, fried garlic, poached egg and chives).  It was delicious–although Molly says, “I had a different thing.”

For “Moon,” Molly plays guitar.  Her playing is more strumming.  She sings very high and the others join in.  One fascinating thing about most of these songs is the nonsense syllables they sing.  Obviously the first song (just the title alone), but even this one has a refrain of:  “Dai dai dai dai dai dai dai dai.”

For the last song Amelia Meath (yes, of Sylan Esso) sings a capella.  Before the song she says she’d like to dedicate it to “all my NPR crushes–anyone who works at NPR who has looked me in the eye and asked me questions about myself.” The song starts with all of them humming.  Then Amelia sings and they accompany her with their hums until they all sing amazing harmonies.  It’s all so quiet and sweet, you just want to lean in to hear them better.

In the eight years between Mountain Man records, Amelia Meath went on to create Sylvan Esso with Nick Sanborn. Molly Sarlé, meanwhile, was in a meditation center in California — at a cliffside trailer in Big Sur — and worked on her own, beautiful solo album, which is due out soon. And Alexandra Sauser-Monnig worked with Hiss Golden Messenger, released her own music under the name ASM and has a new record coming as well.  There’s a tour about to happen, and hopefully they won’t vanish after that for another eight years. There’s no other band like them.

[READ: February 12, 2019] “The Confession”

The confession in this story is a rape.

The narrator is the rapist.  He can’t reveal his name or the rural village where it happened because his father is a feared and respected man and he doens’t want to bring shame on him.

The summer this happened, the boy says his father didn’t want him to be idle, so he was sent to the countryside for hard work with the villagers.  The villagers were illiterate and there was no electricity.  He was bored out of his mind.  The only entertainment was the story that the boys all told about a girl from the area who had been rejected by her clan because of her sexual behavior.

One afternoon he went with one of the older men to the plains to gather grass for the animals.  The man treated the boy with deference because of the boys father, but he did show him how to do the work efficiently.

Then they both saw off in the distance, a young woman crossing the plains.  They both imagined it was the girl from the stories.  So immediately the man ran up to the girl.  She didn’t react to the man–she was too tried to resigned to her fate,  He threatened to hit the her if she screamed and then he tore of the girl’s harem pants.  He then presented the girl to the boy like a gift. (more…)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-“Ma Vie en Rose” (2019).

Lucy Dacus has been on a roll lately.  Her album Historian is fantastic.  She has put on some amazing live shows (I’ll be seeing her again in March), she did some amazing work as 1/3 of boygenius and now she has made a delightful version of “Ma Vie en Rose.”

The original is swooning and slow, allowing for the words to linger and tickle every inch of the listener’s ear.  But sometimes love isn’t slow and languorous.  Sometime, it hits you hard and runs fast with your heart.

So Lucy has recorded a version with this tempo in mind.  She says

I want someone to listen to this while running at top speed to the doorstep of the person they adore, ready to profess their deep, undying love.

Musically the song is pulsing beat and piano–electric guitar and bass and it is just relentlessly chipper.

She sings the song first in French and then in English in her gorgeous quiet(ish) voice in under 3 minutes–that’s a minute faster than the original which is only in French.

And she released it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

[READ: February 11, 2019] The City on the Other Side

The book begins on the other side of the veil that separates our world from the fairie realm.  It is a very thin but very powerful veil and virtually no one can cross it.

This is a story of fairies and humans.  And how our worlds impact one another.  When we build buildings, the fairies feel the digging and when the fairies had a war, it caused earthquakes,   The massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906?  That was caused by a massive fairie war.  That fairie war started when the Seelie (the creatures who bless brightness–birds, ferns, humans) and the Unseelie (who celebrate darkness-worms, rotting logs etc) couldn’t agree on a ruler.  They are expected to rule the underworld in equal parts–six months at a time.  But recently there had been trouble. The leader of the Unseelie didn’t like the way the Seelie seemed to be taking over (because humans were becoming so powerful) so he captured the Seelie leader’s daughter and waged war.

Back on earth we meet a young girl, Isabelle.  She is the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat who wishes her to be perfect–clean, respectful, and quiet.  In the summertime, she is shunted off to her father–an artist who is more interested in his work than his daughter.  But at least she can relax and play and get dirty.  It is while she is here that she sees a Seelie with a magical necklace. The Seelie is supposed to get that necklace to the kidnapped daughter of the Seelie leader.  But he has been wounded.  Since Isabelle is allowed to cross dimensions he pleads with her to help the Seelie.

While heading into the city with a helpful talking mushroom named Button, Isabelle’s necklace is stolen by…another human?  This young boy is shocked to discover that she is a human.  When he tells his story they agree to work together.

It turns out that the earthquake killed his parents and his discovered a rift between the worlds when the ground opened up.  He was rescued by the now-missing Seelie daughter which granted him the power to cross the veil. But no one has seen the daughter for many years so he–who is not welcomed in Fairlieland and has nothing waiting for him in human land–has become a simple thief.

The thief knows his way around the fairie world and has made something of a name for himself.  But that also means that Unseelie warriors are aware of what he does and where he goes.

How will these two humans find a princess in the fairie realm?  And will they ever even want to go back home?

This story was a little to fast for my liking–everything seems to be very truncated.  Maybe that’s because it’s a children’s book?  And while I am glad that it wasn’t stretched into two books, it just felt like it took on a lot and resolved it all really fast.

I also didn’t love the artwork.  I really didn’t like the fairie characters at all–they seemed hastily drawn and I didn’t really like the main characters all that much either.  The whole book felt like it was done very quickly.

Having said that, it’s a good introduction for kids to know about the Seelie and fairie stories–there are so many they can explore later on.  I did like how the final pages with Button the mushroom (my favorite character) were informative both about the story process and the history of San Francisco and the earthquake.

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: LAU NOAH-Tiny Desk Concert #823 (February 11, 2019).

Lua Noah is a Spanish singer/guitarist with a fascinating story.  She sings mostly in Spanish (with subtitles!).

Lau Noah’s journey as a songwriter and guitarist occurred by happenstance. She was born in Reus, Spain barely a few hours drive from Barcelona. She speaks and now sings in Catalan, Spanish, English and sometimes Hebrew. She’d played piano growing up (never guitar) and left Spain for New York City five years ago while in her late teens.

On a visit to Montreal in 2016, Lau hoped to go to a Patrick Watson concert with friends. But the performance sold out and she was left alone in an apartment while her friends went to the show. Then a snowstorm ensued. The apartment had two guitars and, with nothing else to do, she picked one up and began to play. She wrote her first song, “Pequitas,” which means “Little Freckles.”

Her songs are quite short.  “El Jardinero (The Gardener)” is barely 2 minutes long.  She plays complex chords but not in an elaborate way–just making lovely sounds in beautiful patterns.  The speed of her singing is somewhat at odds with the gentle playing, but it all works, as if she needs to get these passionate words out.

There’s a magical aura that surrounds Lau Noah as she sits behind my desk and embraces her guitar with one foot propped unnaturally high on a stool. As melodies pour from the strings, she sings these words in Spanish: “On the verge of the soul, there is a red petal, attached to the skins of mortals.” A few lines later in the song she continues, “a fragile petal that drinks the water of the most cruel stories: children who have never heard a fairytale, lovers who love, dressed in regret.” This is the sort of poetic tale that captured my heart amongst the thousands of entries I watched during the Tiny Desk Contest in 2018. Her song she submitted for the contest is called “La Realidad.”

I love the way in “La Realidad (The Reality)” she returns to a part where she plays a low note that rises and falls while everything else stays the same as she sings.

She says thats she is from Catalonia and was always afraid to sing in Catalan, so she sang mostly in English.  She is very happy to sing the next song “L’Adéu (The Goodbye)” in Catalan.  It has a beautiful melody and sounds very differrent from the other two songs.

She re-tunes her guitar for “La Belleza (The Beauty)” which has a very different fingerpicking style–faster and a bit more intense.  The melody rises and falls both from her fingers and from her voice.  It’s a mesmerizing song.

Before she played her final song, “Red Bird,” (in English) she quoted Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, from his novel Don Quixote: “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies,” Lau said, reading from her notes. “Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams is madness. And maddest of all: to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

She sounds just as lovely singing in English as she does in her other languages.

[READ: February 11, 2019] One Day a Dot

I don’t normally post about children’s picture books.  But this one has two things going for it.  It’s published by First Second and it’s pretty awesome.

This is, as the cover says, “the story of you, the universe, and everything.”  All in 40 pages.

It begins: One day a dot appeared.  And it was so excited to be there that it burst.

And that is the children’s version explanation of the big bang. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KURT VILE-Tiny Desk Concert #822 (February 6, 2019).

I love Kurt Vile.  I love his sense of humor, I love his attitude and I love most of his music–I love the way his songs are often circular with catchy parts.  I wish I liked his music a lot more-but some of his stuff is a little too meandering for me.

Having said that, he was dynamite live.  And this Tiny Desk is a delightful distillation of his live show.

For this show Kurt plays acoustic guitar and he’s joined by guitarist Rob Laakso and a drum machine.

“Bassackwards” is a wonderful song–and really highlights everything I love about Kurt.  It’s a mellow song with chill out lyrics, a beautiful melody and a circular style in which the song never really seems to go anywhere and yet even at over 6 minutes, it never gets dull.

I love that Kurt does most of the musical heavy lifting even on the acoustic, with Lassko providing the rhythm.

He’s very funny between songs.  This son is from my new album as well.  It’s called “A Working Class HEro is Something to Be” but, uh, also “Loading Zone.”

“Loading Zones” is a faster song which feels like it’s going to overtake itself at some point.  The totally relaxed harmonica (I’ll give John Popper a run for his money…as usual)and his laconic delivery of I park for free is a wonderful contrast.

For the final song “Tomboy” his switches guitar and jokes, “this song’s about John Popper.’  I love this song with its beautiful guitar lines and his halting vocal delivery.  Again, a wonderful juxtaposition of styles, which the blurb addresses:

Kurt Vile exudes a casualness at the Tiny Desk in his style and body language that is so unlike most anxious artists who come to play behind my desk. …The way he plays guitar, he seems distracted, yet the complex guitar lines he so nonchalantly plays, along with his musical mate Rob Laakso, are effortlessly beautiful and lyrical.

On the surface, it all can seem just chill. But there’s a lot of rumination in these songs — and even when he’s gazing into the overhead office lights, I think he got his mind on the stars and the world at large.

Imagine how good he is live when he switches between seven or eight guitars (and banjo).

[READ: February 4, 2019] “Asleep at the Wheel”

I really hope this is an excerpt because I want to read a lot more.  Plus there’s a lot going on, not all of which is resolved.

Set in the not too distant future (I fear), technology has taken over more than it has now.  Cindy is driving a self-driving, cognizant vehicle named Carly.  It not only tells her which way will be fastest, it also reminds her about a purse she wanted to pick up (which is now on sale).

In fact, there are no non-automated vehicles anymore–except in race tracks and in the desert.  There are ad-driven free cars called Ridz that take you to your destination after stopping by a few of the stores you like to shop at first.  Some daredevils even try to hop on automated cars –they ride on the roof–despite the dangers–and go as far as they can.

One such daredevil is Cindy’s son.  While he is riding on top of a car he sees his mom in the car next to him.  He is sure he’s busted until he sees that she is napping. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: BLOOD ORANGE-Tiny Desk Concert #820 (January 29, 2019).

One night when I was going to a concert at the small club The Foundry, the main stage Fillmore had sold out for someone called Blood Orange, whom I’d never heard of.

And now he is at a Tiny Desk Concert.  From the name (and the popularity) I assumed it was an intense dance show.  I don’t know what Blood Orange normally sounds like but nothing could be further from loud dance music than this Concert.

Devonté Hynes is the main man behind Blood Orange.  He is “a groundbreaking producer and songwriter” and “a composer who fits as comfortably in the worlds of R&B, gospel and electronics as he does in the classical world of someone like Philip Glass.”

Blood Orange addresses

themes of identity, both sexual and racial, through the eyes of a black East Londoner (now living in New York).

For me the most powerful song was the first one, “By Ourselves.”  I don’t love the saxophone sound, but it’s the words that are so moving.

The opening song at the Tiny Desk, “By Ourselves,” features Dev Hynes on piano, Jason Arce on saxophone, Eva Tolkin and Ian Isiah on vocals along with a powerful spoken word performance by Ashlee Haze. Ashlee’s story is a tale of finding herself and her identity in the words and music of Missy Elliott when she was, in Ashlee’s own words, an eight-year old, “fat black girl from Chicago” who discovered “she could dance until she felt pretty” and “be a woman playing a man’s game.”

Her spoken word is amazing–moving, powerful and inclusive in many ways.  It will resonate, I hope.  And Hynes’ piano playing at the end is just lovely.

Ian sings the opening melody with a gorgeous falsetto.

“Jewelry,” the second song performed, welcomes Mikey Freedom Hart on piano while Dev moves on to electric guitar and vocals reminiscent of a languid Jimi Hendrix, with soul-baring lyrics of pride.

Hynes switches between spoken word (with his great deep, accented voice) and delicate singing.  Then the song shifts gears entirely as he starts playing a gentle echoed guitar.  I don’t hear Jimi Hendrix (maybe in his echoed guitar playing), I hear more of a Prince vibe.

The group then offers a rendition of “Holy Will,” inspired by the Detroit gospel group The Clark Sisters, as singer Ian Isiah takes this song of praise to a whole new level.

Introducing the song he says, “This song, my family Ian Isiah is gonna… tear the fuck up.  Can you swear on this?  You put the thing before hand that says explicit language, right?”  And Isiah does tear it the fuck up.  It’s a quiet song but Isiah’s voice (especially when paired with Eva Tolkin) is almost otherworldly.

For the final song, “Dagenham Dream” everyone but Ian and Eva leave.

Dev Hynes works an organ sound while singing about being beaten and bullied as a school kid in his hometown of Dagenham in east London.

I love the cool organ sounds and the way the seem to rise out of the deep darkness into a bright note of hope.

The power of each of these songs is magnified by the way Blood Orange has woven this performance together. He’s a rich, rare and caring talent we first met 11 years ago in a grassy field in Austin, Texas back when he still used the moniker Lightspeed Champion. Now his thoughts are deeper, his message of finding one’s place in this world more deep-seated, with a clarity few artists ever achieve.

[READ: November 2, 2018] “Friday Black”

I’m not sure how many Esquire issues have a short story in them.  I thought about going back to previous issues and seeing just how many stories there are over the course of 85 years.  But it’s a little hard to read their website when it comes to what’s actually fiction and what just talks about fiction.

So, I’ll be content with stories like this one, which I loved.

The story opens with ravenous humans howling at a gate.  The narrator explains that he is sitting on a cabin roof with an eight-foot metal pole.  He uses it to grab hangers off the highest racks and to smack down Friday heads.  For this is a zombie story about Black Friday.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: STELLA DONNELLY-Tiny Desk Concert #819 (January 22, 2019).

Stella Donnelly has been generating some buzz lately, but I wasn’t familiar with her.  I didn’t even realize she was Australian.

She is adorable with her hair in two little nubs at the back of her head and a big smile most of the time.

She immediately won the office over with her broad smile, warmth and good-natured sense of humor. It’s the kind of easy-going, open-hearted spirit that makes her one of the most affable live performers you’ll see. While there’s no doubting her sincerity, she’s also got a disarming way of making her often dark and brutal songs a little easier to take in.

And indeed, she does not mince words when she sings.

“Beware of the Dogs” is a delicate song with Stella strumming her guitar with no pick and singing in a beautiful but soft voice.  There’s such a gorgeous melody for the chorus.

It turns out that this song and the other two are new.  Because she doesn’t even have an album out yet!

For this set, she performed entirely new — and, as of this writing, unreleased — songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs. Opening with the title cut, Donnelly smiled cheerfully through the entire performance while reflecting on the horrors that often lurk beneath the surface of seemingly idyllic lives. “This street is haunted like a beast that doesn’t know its face is frightening to behold,” she sings. “All the painted little gnomes, smiling in a line, trying to get your vote.”

As the song builds she gets more pointed:  “There’s no Parliament / Worthy of this country’s side / All these pious fucks / taking from the 99.”

She follows with “U Owe Me” which is “about my old boss at  a pub I used to work at back home.”

This song has a gentle guitar melody and some surprisingly soft vocals (including some vibrato at the end of each verse).   But the lyrics are straightforward and pointed (all sung with that disarming smile)

you put your great ideas up your nose /
and then try to tell me where the fuck to go /
you’re jerking off to the cctv /
while I’m pouring plastic pints of flat VB [or Foster’s or whatever].

At the end of the song she says, “He actually paid me a week after.  I was on the wrong week of my payroll.  It was very dramatic back then.”

She says “Allergies” is a run-of-the-mill breakup song.   “I’ve only got two of them and this is one of them.”  It’s a delicate, quiet song (capo on the tenth fret!) and once again, her voice is just lovely.

How can this Concert be only ten minutes long? I could listen to her all day.

Surprisingly, Donnelly chose not to play any of the songs that have gotten her to where she is in her young career — songs like 2017’s “Boys Will Be Boys” or last year’s “Talking,” two savagely frank examinations of misogyny and violence that earned her the reputation for being a fearless and uncompromising songwriter. But the new material demonstrates that her unflinching perspective and potent voice is only getting stronger.

I’m bummed that I am busy the night she’s playing a small club in Philly, as it might just be the last time she plays such a small venue.

[READ: January 26, 2019] Brazen

This is an awesome collection of short biographies of kick-ass women.  Bagieu has written [translated by Montana Kane] and drawn in her wonderful style, brief, sometimes funny (occasionally there’s nothing funny), always inspiring stories about women who spoke up for themselves and for others.  Some of the women were familiar to me, some were not.  A few were from a long time ago, but many are still alive and fighting.  And what was most cool is that the stories of the women I knew about had details and fascinating elements that I was not previously aware of.

What a great, great book.  It’s perfect for Middle School students all the way to adults.  I actually thought it might be perfect for fourth and fifth grade girls to read and be inspired by.  However, it skews a little bit older.  There’s a few mentions of sex, abortion, rape and domestic violence.  These are all real and important issues, but may be too much for younger kids.

Bagieu’s art for most of the pages is very simple–perfectly befitting a kind of documentary style but after each story she creates a two page spread that is just a breathtaking wash of colors which summarizes the previews story in one glorious image.  Its terrific. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: TERRA LIGHTFOOT-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I know of Terra Lightfoot because she has done some (very minimal) work with Rheostatics.

Amazingly, she is not related to Gordon Lightfoot (how many people have this last name?).

Terra Lightfoot opened for Whitehorse (a double bill I would love to see).  She plays a half a dozen songs.  I thought she might be a sensitive folkie (again that Gordon connection), but it turns out that she rocks (and blues), has a powerful voice and plays a pretty wicked guitar as well.

Lightfoot is a great front woman–engaging and funny–and she has some great stories to tell about each of her songs.

“Stars over Dakota” just rocks out–big guitars, smashing drums (from Joel Haynes) and then settles into a swinging shuffle.  Lightfoot has a singular voice which I quite like.  I also like the little guitar riff she gives after the “gin martinis make dizzy” line.  She is joined mid-song by Melissa McClelland of Whitehorse who sings some amazing harmonies.  That’s two killer voices on one stage.

Drifter is a slower song, with a really lovely opening guitar melody.  She has been inspired in her career by her grandmother and her aunt who both played music.  Her grandmother recently died, but her aunt is still playing.

Introducing the next song “You Get High,” she says she has a special new guitar–a woman made it for me Ashley Leanne from Waterloo, she’s 26.  While Terra’s going to play this acoustic, she invites Daniel Lanois up on the stage.  “Can we get a spotlight on the man here?”  They can’t so he scooches over to her spotlight amid much chuckling.  Lanois plays a beautifully fluid electric guitar while she picks out a lively melody on the acoustic.

“Norma Gale” is about a famous musician from the 70 who played with Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash and went on a date with Conway Twitty (I guess he didn’t call her back).  While she was doing all these cool things, she was also raising a young son on her own.  So Terra wrote this song for her.  It starts as a pretty, slow ballad but builds nicely with the addition of keys (from Alan Zamatis).

“Hold You” rocks up again, and it’s got a cool call and response with a bass melody (from Maury LaFoy) rumbling along.  “Two Hearts” is a song she wrote in a couple of places in Europe when she was very much in love…. with a couple of people.   The song starts slowly but build to an intense climax with pounding drums and Terra on her knees rocking out,.

Having had a total mis-perception of Terra Lightfoot, this show blew me away and I want to hear more from her.

[READ: January 19, 2019] All Summer Long

This was a fun story about friendship, distance and guitar playing.

As the story open we see Austin and Bina getting ready for 7th grade summer vacation.  They have been friends since they were five years old and have spent all of the previous summers together.  They even created the Combined Summer Fun Index–a way to tally just how much fun they have each summer.

Last summer’s included:

  • Cats petted: 22
  • Went swimming: 51 times
  • $idewalk change: $1.18
  • Sneaked into R-Rated movies: 2 times

But this summer, Austin can’t participate.   He is going to soccer camp for a month.  A whole month.  Summer is ruined–for Bina at least. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »