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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS-Tiny Desk Concert #838 (April 3, 2019).

There is nothing worse than liking an artist and then having another artist with a similar name come along at the same time.

When I first heard of Courtney Marie Andrews, Courtney Barnett was just releasing her latest album.  And so every time I heard the name Courtney, I tuned in to see what Barnett was up to.  When it was followed by Marie Andrews, I was always disappointed.  Especially since I didn’t find this Courtney all that interesting.

Courtney Marie Andrews is part of that incessant tide of country musicians trying to crossover.   Okay technically she’s Americana, but certainly on the country side of Americana.

On the plus side, Courtney has a really powerful voice which is a pretty impressive thing indeed.   But I don’t really care for these three songs all that much.

“May Your Kindness Remain” opens with just keys (Alassane Gregoire Diarra) and her singing.   Even with little accompaniment, her voice is powerful and string.  And the lyrics are interesting:

“And if your money runs out
And your good looks fade
May your kindness remain
Oh, may your kindness remain”

The drums are brushed (William Mapp) and for the most part the song is pretty quiet.  Courtney herself is playing some simple chords and notes.  But as the song (and her voice) build toward the final chorus, she hits a big fuzzy guitar chord which really wakes up the song.

“Rough Around the Edges” opens with piano and bass (Ole Kirkeng) and vocals.  It’s a delicate song that definitely leans more country.

“This House” is dedicated to the best dog who ever lived (it would churlish to mock that the golden retriever is named Tucker–I’m sure it had a red bandanna too).  So yes, dead Tucker is buried near This House and he gets a mention in the lyrics. It’s that kind of song.

[READ: April 3, 2019] “Lulu”

This is a story of twins in China.  The narrator was born first “indignant and squalling,” while Lulu came next –perfectly quiet.  Lulu was precocious, and their parents showed their fondness for that.   She was always reading and easily got honors.  While the narrator… didn’t.  He rebelled against her brilliance by playing lots of video games.

Their parents were workers–their mother in a warehouse, father as a government employee.  They believed in the system and stood fast by it.

When it was time, Lulu scored high enough on exams to earn a place at university.  Their parents were thrilled.  The narrator also went to college, but with far less fanfare.  He says he didn’t really miss her then (he wasn’t old enough to realize it).  Plus Lulu was a huge user of social media.  He was able to find her “anonymous” account pretty easily since he knew so much about her and that’s how he kept tabs on her.

She came to visit when her school was in town for a debate and they had dinner.  They talked mostly about him.  Lulu thought video games were a waste of time but he said “it’s a profession now, you know… you can win big prize money.”

By the end of the night he finally asked Lulu about herself.  She said she was pregnant but would be getting an abortion. The father, Zhangwei, was a good man and they would be staying together: “He’s very noble.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDREA CRUZ-Tiny Desk Concert #836 (March 27, 2019).

I was really surprised by the music that Andrea Cruz played, especially when I learned she is from Puerto Rico.  It felt very folk-music, in the way she strummed and the trombone (Jomar Santana) was used more as a solo instrument rather than a dance-accompaniment.  That’s certainly reductive, and yet the blurb backs me up:

It’s important to note that the instrumentation of the band that traveled with her (keyboard, two percussionists and trombone) hardly fits what you’d expect music from the island to sound like these days. But Cruz is part of a movement in Puerto Rico that emphasizes largely acoustic instruments and a folk-based approach to interpreting life before and after the hurricane of 2017. It’s a bold creative statement in a land of reggaeton and salsa.

I was very pleased to see that Cruz’s live performance is very much like the stripped-down sound on her album and the handful of singles she’s released. In fact, I would say her music is a perfect soundtrack to a growing, back-to-nature movement in Puerto Rico that encourages local farming and a careful stewardship of the environment.

Cruz sings three songs, all from her first album, 2017’s Tejido de Laurel.

“No Toquemos Tierra,” opens with a lone trombone and Cruz’ guitar.  I love the delicate keyboard accents from Antony Granados. It looks funny that there are two of them playing the tiny percussion kit, but that changes later.  The way Cruz plays her guitar here I almost expected her to bust out into something like Laura Marling a few times.  The coda at the end is really pretty, too.

The emotion of the lyrics of the first song, “No Toquemos Tierra,” is evident in her angelic voice as she makes a declaration of love for the earth as a metaphor for a lover. The beauty of the song is in her poetic lyrics set to a melody that defies language.

“Santas Flores” is a prayer to the flowers.  I love in the middle that everything drops away except for the percussion and her voice.  I’m very curious how that trombone is so quiet.

“Canción de Amargura” begins with a martial beat from Francisco Marrero but when Ángel Rafael Rivera plays the cuatro venezolano, the mood lightens.  Despite the fact that this is an intense song

there was no mistaking the intense feeling behind her song about femicide on the island in the song, “Canción de Amargura.”

Their voices raised in harmony at the end are really powerful and the way her own voice just soars in the last few seconds is really lovely.

“Contigo” is listed as a fourth song but she doesn’t play it, I don’t think.

[READ: March 31, 2019] “The Match”

This is an excerpt from Whitehead’s not-yet-released book The Nickel Boys, which is set around 1964.

This part is about a boxing match at The Nickel Academy, a reform school for boys.  The main competitor is a black boy named Griff.   He is a miserable bully most of the time and the other boys really hate him.  But if he has the chance to defeat a white boy, they are all for him.

The “colored boys” had held the boxing title for fifteen years.  “Old hands on the staff still remembered the last white champion [Terry (Doc) Burns] and talked him up.”

Griff arrived at Nickel just after the last champ turned eighteen and was released back in to the free world.  Griff pulverized his opponents.  At the end of the school year, they would pit the dorm’s best fighters against each other and then in the finale, the best black fighter fought “whatever chump the white guys put up.”

Obviously, racism is inherent in this system.  Indeed, Trevor Nickel who opened the Academy was a member of the Klan.  During one of the brief asides, Turner, brought Elwood to the two trees in the back.  There were rings embedded in the trees, part of the trunk now: “Human bones would break before it came loose.”  This was where the black boys who disobeyed were brought.  The official word was that they escaped, obviously they did not. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO-Tiny Desk Concert #834 (March 20, 2019).

I feel like I’ve been hearing Alejandro Escovedo’s name for years, and yet I know very little about him.

I assumed he was a kind of folkie guy.  So I was pretty surprised by the loud sound he brought to the Tiny Desk.  And even more surprised to read

The musician, who once opened for the Sex Pistols … seemed to appreciate the difference between being pelted with spit and debris by punk rock fans and being showered with loving appreciation in the NPR Music office.

Escovedo came  in a leather jacket and a large band.  And even though I thought they were loud, apparently they intended to be louder.  They even started the show with “one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four Go Alejandro!”

Escovedo and his backing band known as Don Antonio set up behind the Tiny Desk, their first sounds were blistering loud. That’s when we broke the news: We wouldn’t amplify Alejandro’s voice. We got a slightly sullen look from the band; but despite the toned-down volume, they were all still amped up.

A little research into Escovedo, though shows that he has, indeed, played folkie/alt-country music.  But that his sound has evolved over the years.

Escovedo pulled the three-song set from The Crossing, the most recent chapter in his ongoing odyssey and a typically hard-rocking, literate saga about two teenagers looking for their American Dream of rock and roll and beat poetry.

“Teenage Luggage” opens kind of quiet with one guitar and quiet drums, but soon enough a sax and keyboards are added, then comes some bass and the second saxophone and the roaring lead guitar.  As Escovedo sing/speaks his story.  Then comes the catchy chorus:

You think you know me, you’ll never know me you’re just a bigot with a bad guitar.

By the end, everyone is rocking out with mini solos from Perinelli on saxophone and a raucous guitar solo from Gramentieri

The close quarters of the Tiny Desk allows for a kind of backstage insight into the musical and visual interplay between Escovedo and the veteran Italian band Don Antonio [Antonio Gramentieri: vocals, guitar; Denis Valentini: bass; Matteo Monti: drums; Nicola Peruch: keyboard; Gianni Perinelli: tenor sax; Franz Valtieri: baritone sax]. Lead guitarist Antonio Gramentieri is the perfect foil for Escovedo, who adds a heavy dose of edginess to the sound with his power strumming.

“Something Blue” is slow with a dominant organ sound (reminiscent of Bob Dylan).  It sounds like an old-school rock song and his delivery sounds more than a little like Warren Zevon.

He says that “Sonica USA” goes out to Don since Wayne Kramer from the MC5 played on this.  It has a great raw rock feel with Escovedo’s punky vocals and the chanted chorus of “Sonica USA.”  The soloing section is great with the two saxophones playing on top of Gramentier’s wailing solo.

It’s a really fun garage rocking set.

[READ: Summer 2018] The Long War

I found the first book in this series rather compelling–almost surprisingly so given that it’s not a fast-paced book and, to be honest, not a lot happens.

But it was really well written and the things that do happen are compelling and fascinating.  And I couldn’t wait to read more.

In the first book:

A man creates an invention (The Stepper) which allows one to step into a parallel world that is next to ours.  There are a possibly infinite numbers of parallel worlds in each direction (East or West).  The worlds that are closer to ours are almost identical to our Earth (known as Datum Earth).  The further you go, the greater the differences.  But none of them have experienced humanity before Step Day (aside from earlier hominids).

The main character is Joshua Valienté.  Joshua is a natural “Stepper.”  He doesn’t need the device to Step from one word to the next, nor does he feel the nausea and other side effects that most people feel as they travel.  Most of the book follows his exploits.

The Black corporate has a ship with an entity known as Lobsang who claims that he was a human reincarnated as artificial intelligence.  Joshua is sure that Lobsang is a computer, but Lobsang’s human skills are uncanny.  This ship has managed to Step as an entity, meaning everything in the ship can go with them.  Normally you can only bring what you can carry (aside from metal).

The novel more or less is an exploratory one with Joshua and Lobsang Stepping through millions of Earths.  Not a lot happens, but the novel never grows boring.  The interactions between Joshua and Lobsang are often funny.  And the writers have infused the Earths that they stop in with just enough differences to make each stop strangely compelling (this must be Baxter’s hard science leanings).

At the end of the book, the anti-steppers attempt a massive, deadly protest.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAO-Tiny Desk Concert #833 (March 18, 2019).

This was possibly my least favorite Tiny Desk Concert I have seen.  And it was endless.  It kills me when bands I like play short sets (often only three short songs) while shows like this push nearly 20 minutes.

Nao’s voice is a comic book character–underneath that comic book voice there’s a powerful voice, but it’s all wrapped up in this goofy–how can you take it seriously–nasally nonsense–and when she goes deep, it’s even more amusing.  Worse yet, her backing singers sound like bleating goats and sheep in the first two songs–single note: “baaa.”

And yet , clearly I know nothing because the blurb describes “Nao’s sophomore effort and one of 2018’s best albums.”

Just to top it off, the album is about astrology.

In astrology, your Saturn return is the time in life when Saturn goes back to the same spot it was at the time of your birth. As Nao explained during her appearance at NPR’s Tiny Desk, “It’s about leaving adolescence and going into adulthood.” This crossing of the threshold that happens around your late 20s to early 30s is the inspiration for Saturn

Maybe I would like the album more if her voice was drowned out in synths.

While Nao usually performs with synthy, electronic twinkles, her day at the Tiny Desk was stripped down by comparison. At times, her lyrics ring out with just a sparse guitar to carry them. Like a roller coaster of unexpected upheaval, Nao’s distinctive vocal range on this four-song set goes from bellowing and husky to soft and coy, often within the same verse. Be it the breezy, Brazilian funk of “If You Ever,” the hallowed harmony of “Orbit” (complete with prayer hands) or the valiant soul-searching of “Make It Out Alive,” it’s almost as if Nao duets with herself, answering her own questions, settling into her own quirks.

I listened to the show twice to see if I was wrong.  The first song is a bit catchy–I like the guitar lick from Ariel O’Neal.  In fact, focusing on her throughout the show is a highlight.

I also really like the part between the songs when she introduces the band, because she’s not singing–it’s a nice light jam.  I admit that it amuses me that she says “that’s my cousin Samson Jatto on drums–he’s not really my cousin I just wanted to say that.”

If she didn’t do the R&B warble, the opening of “Bad Blood” would be okay.  But the comical vocals just undermine anything serious.  And then the bleating starts.  I’m not sure if only Troi Lauren and Taylor Samuels are making the goat sounds, but it sounds like it’s coming from all around the room.

“Orbit is similarly okay to start with.   “Make It Out Alive” is the fastest song in the show, with some uptempo keys and bass from Joe Price and Henry Guy.

If it were one song on a mixtape, I’d skip it, but 20 minutes was a lot to take.

[READ: March 26, 2019] “Setting the World to Rights”

A powerful opening from this story: “All his life he lived on hatred.  He was a solitary man who hoarded gloom.”

And how about this: “Good people are afraid of hatred, and even tend not to believe in it.  If it appears before their eyes, they generally call it dedication or some such name.”

Those in the kibbutz believed the subject of the story (unnamed) was full of faith and dealt severely with the world–“We invested him with a halo of self-sufficient reticence.”  This halo afforded protection against gossip although the children called him ‘wicked Haman” and pointed fingers at him.

He works with machines and is efficient and hates waste. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KAIA KATER-Tiny Desk Concert #832 (March 13, 2019).

This Tiny Desk Concert was posted under a different category than the others and so does not appear on the Tiny Desk page (yet).  In order to find it you need this link.

The expectation upon seeing a banjo hanging is one of rollicking rowdiness, but when Kaia Kater began to strum her five-string, the mood in the office turned plaintive and a bit mournful. The Afro-Caribbean-Canadian singer and songwriter, who studied Appalachian music at West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College, often references the Black Lives Matter movement, within a music form that doesn’t exactly snap to mind as being in dialogue with modern issues.

“Nine Pin” is, indeed, a slow, plaintive song with great lyrics.  After a couple of verses, the band (it wasn’t obvious she had one) adds some very sparse accompaniment–low upright bass notes, gentle guitar chords and brushed drums.

These days, Kaia Kater records for Smithsonian Folkways, and some of the songs she brought to the Tiny Desk come from her recent recording Grenades, a record she worked on while exploring her father’s home country of Grenada.

The song feels old, except for the lyrics.

These clothes you gave me don’t fit right
The belt is loose and the noose is tight

and I love the chorus which seems like it should be sung quickly but in the way she sings it it’s meaningful

I’ll be your nine pin, eight ball, seventh day, six pound, diamond quarter girl

Before she gets to “Canyonland” she introduces her band: Andrew Ryan: bass; Brad Kilpatrick: drums; Daniel Rougeau: electric guitar, lap steel guitar.

She says this is from her new album and begins a much faster, but still quiet, banjo picking.  The bowed bass adds a new kind of tension.  The lap steel guitar brings a different kind of tension, especially when the song speeds up for the second half of the song.  This song is compelling in a different way.

I find it interesting that she seems to have a more Canadian delivery (based on the Canadian country/Americana that I know of) which I rather like.

Before the final song she speaks about Grenada and how it impacted the title of her album Grenades.

It’s a country that has “experienced a lot of political turmoil,” she says. “My father left when he was 16 years old and he came to Canada as a refugee, on his own. It’s a story I ran away from for a long time, where I didn’t want to reconcile with myself being this kind of hyphenated Canadian.”

For this final song she doesn’t play an instrument.  She just sings (in a lovely torch song vocal).  Without the banjo, the entire tone of the song is different.  The guitars, bass and drums make this song far more jazzy than folkie.  But it works well once again with those lyrics in which

Kaiatries to come to terms with that history “Rain heavy like carpet bombs, sweetgrass, and lemonade / Fold the memory into your arms and whisper it away.”

There’s much power in her understated style.

[READ: March 21, 2019] “Dandelion”

I rarely think much about how old an author is.  For the most part it’s not relevant unless the story identifies intensely with someone of a certain age.  So this story begins, in a surprisingly clumsy opening that you need to unpack:

That Henry James, when he got old, rewrote his early work was my excuse for revisiting , at ninety, a story I had written in my twenties.

Segal is 91 so this is not a far-fetched claim, although it is a bit odd to include within the story itself.

The original story (unnamed in this story, if it exists at all) is about a hike that she and her father took up a mountain.  She had wished her mother had come too, but her mother had had a migraine. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  LEIKELI47-Tiny Desk Concert #831 (March 11, 2019).

Leikeli47 made such an impression with her recent Tiny Desk Concert that NPR asked her to be part of the Tiny Desk Family Hour as SXSW.  From this Tiny Desk Concert it’s almost enough to see why.

I say almost because I don’t think the live show translated as well on video:

Remember that scene in The Color Purple when Shug Avery was somewhere between the juke joint and her daddy’s church, singing at the top of her lungs, and the Saturday night sinners got all mixed in with the Sunday morning saints, and it was hard to tell if they were praising the high heavens or raising holy hell?  That’s what Leikeli47’s Tiny Desk felt like in the flesh.

The blurb gives a little bit more explanation of the mask

She came masked up, as always, the better to catch a glimpse of her soul. And there was so much soul to bare. Backed by a four-piece band of bruhs dressed as uniformed TSA agents (introduced as “the TSA Band, taking flight with me”), Leikeli47 and her working-class crew proceeded to transform Bob Boilen’s Tiny Desk into something akin to a pulpit or a mid-century parlor room. Portier sat hunched over the upright piano, while Justus West plucked guitar strings, Simba Scott tapped out bass lines and Timmy Manson Jr. kept everything in sync on drums.

They played five songs and apparently

traversed the entirety of black music, translating her hip-hop and afro-electro empowerment anthems to live instruments by jazzing up songs like “Attitude,” from her 2017 Wash & Set major-label debut, and laying down the vamps on “Girl Blunt” from her 2018 LP Acrylic. It wasn’t genre-bending as much as it was a musical remembering of the blues that brought her here — from the hoods of Brooklyn to down-south Virginia and everywhere else she’s called home.

“Attitude” has a very cool bass line and a nice jazzy sound from everyone.  I like her delivery although I don’t need the “bitch I got an attitude” line or the “let me hear you say Kelis is god so is Beyonce.”  That’s just weird.

“Droppin'” is slower and I like her delivery on this one.  “Ciaa” is very mellow–a short song about gangs guns and cocaine.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned (Portier’s Vibe)”  is sung by Portier–a bluesy song after which Leikeli47 asks if they want to get high with her.  Presumably through a “Girl Blunt.”   It’s catchy and I like it but the chorus is so repetitive: “This shit is a girl blunt I only smoke girl blunts.”  But the music is great.   She ends the show, like in the Family Hour with “Money.” It’s a bit more fun here, but again, the lyrics are so blah.

Nevertheless, I agree with the blurb:

In an era when women are no longer the anomaly but rap’s new standard bearers, Leikeli47 deserves all the praise for pushing the genre forward with both feet steeped firmly in tradition.

[READ: March 23, 2019] “The Indirect World”

I feel like back in college, Clarice Lispector was someone I needed to read.  I didn’t, but I couldn’t forget her name.  Now I’ve read a few things by her and I find that I don’t like her style at all.

This was translated from the Portuguese by Johnny Lorenz.

The story starts with a little introduction in which Mateus, on his final business trip, brought his wife to a rented a house on the island.  We never hear about him again (although this is from the novel, The Besieged City, so I’m sure he reappears).  She was still unhappy.

She decided to go for a walk where she ran into Doctor Lucas. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKLEIKELI47-“Money” Tiny Desk Family Hour (March 12, 2019).

This was the final show recorded at NPR’s SXSW Showcase.

The SXSW Music Festival is pleased to announce the first-ever Tiny Desk Family Hour showcase, an evening of music by artists who have played NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert, at Central Presbyterian Church on Tuesday, March 12 from 8-11pm.

Leikeli47 was the ninth and final Tiny Desk Family Hour act to take the stage at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church during SXSW last week. So naturally, the charismatic, genre-smashing masked rapper closed NPR Music’s big night with as much intensity, joy and free-wheeling fervor as the moment required.

I hadn’t heard of Leikeli47 until recently when she did a Tiny Desk Concert.  I don’t know much about her except that she wears a bandanna over her face (with eye and mouth holes–it’s pretty impressive how well it stays on), because she’s about the music, not the cult of personality.

This song is fun and bouncy but the lyrics are so blah–money, money money.  I think the music is great, though–the TSA band jams nicely.  And Leikeli47 herself is full of fun and verve.

Backed by the four costumed players who make up The TSA Band (Timmy Manson Jr: drums; Justus West: guitar; Simba Scott: bass; Portier: piano, vocals). Leikeli47 exhorted the crowd to dance, sway, sing and snap along through a five-song set that just kept getting lighter and more infectiously sweet-natured. The budding star softened some of her saltier material in deference to the setting — “The Lord knows my heart,” she said through a visible smile — and closed out the night with “Money,” a springy and appropriately titled banger.

I don’t think the song is enough of a banger, frankly.

[READ: March 22, 2019] “Run Me to Earth”

It is 1977 after 7 years in prison, Vang and Prany were finally released after pledging loyalty to the country.  Their re-education was complete.

When they are released the guard explains that they are lucky to live where they do.  They will have jobs that will make them work hard–under the old regime we were not working hard enough…corrupted by the Japanese, the French, the Americans.

They are to be self-sufficient–providing for their village which will provide for the country.

When they were arrested–the guard wondered why they resisted so long–they both had their fingers broken.  Vang recovered but Prany lost the use of his left hand.  Now Prany was twenty-five.  Vang was almost 40. (more…)

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