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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Contest’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SCOTT MULVAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #825 (February 18, 2019).

download (18)I had never heard of Scott Mulvahill.  And when I saw him with his big upright bass, I assumed he was a jazz guy.  But I was wrong.  And the reason I’d never heard of him?

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He’s always been one of our favorites, though he’s never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, “Begin Againers” in 2016 and though it wasn’t the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

“Begin Againers” is such a delightfully simple song–a cool upright bass melody that runs through the whole song (with an occasional flourish) and three voices.  Scott sings leads and he sounds like a fairly conventional old-school folk singer, but with a bit more punch.  He sings the lead and his two Jesse and Josh add some great harmonies. (who play guitar and keys).

There’s a bit of Jackson Browne [I was thinking James Taylor, but I think Browne is more accurate] in his voice and a bit of Paul Simon shows through in his self-reflective words.

When the song’s over he says, “That was the first song I ever sent into NPR and of course I wanted to play it behind this desk.  Isn’t it beautiful guys?”

For track two, “Gold Plated Lie,” Jesse and Josh switch to (guitar and keys) and two other guys come out to play drums and dobro [Terence Clark: drums; Gabe Scott: dobro].  With a full band, the music sounds fantastic.  The track opens with a zippy keyboard riff which everyone else soon joins in on.  There’s some cool ah ha has in the bridge and then a really stellar big chorus.  By the end the ah has turn into oh hos hos and and the catchy melody edges a bit sinister.  It’s fantastic.

Scott Mulvahill honed his craft touring with the great bluegrass mandolin player Ricky Skaggs. “Playing bluegrass with him is like playing jazz with Miles Davis,” Scott told the Tiny Desk crowd.

He says that it taught him to learn to write on the bass, which led to this new album.  For the title track “Himalayas,” it’s just him and his bass, and his bass writing is very cool.

For the final tune, the title track from his self-released and current album Himalayas, Scott Mulvahill goes solo, brings out a bow for that bass and we hear a spaciousness I don’t often find in the Nashville world he inhabits.

He bows the bass (playing some really deep and some really really high notes).   And when he starts singing, he plays harmonics and slaps the bass for percussion.  After slapping and singing for a bit, he starts bowing again, and even though the song doesn’t change, the new sound really changes the tone of everything.  I love the way he ends the song with such a high bass note.

[READ: February 7, 2019] The New Brighton Archeological Society: Book One

I was immediately attracted to this story because of the drawing style.  There was something really fascinating about these little kids with big heads, dressed like adults. And of course the title was really cool (especially given the fact that the kids has crossbows and there were goblins with them as well).

The story starts 50 years ago as an island stands up out of a lake and walks away.  On the island it looks like fairy marrying a goblin.

It jumps to 50 years later in Antarctica where four people are chasing a lone figure.  The lone figure pulls out a magic lamp with a genie in it.  He says a magic word and the people vanish. Then we cut to the children on the cover. Their parents were the ones who have gone missing (presumed dead) and now the kids are moving in with an older couple in a giant mansion.  Their relationship to the older couple is a bit vague, but they knew the kids’ parents too.

The kids acclimate well, playing together in the fields in all seasons . And then one day they happen upon clubhouse.  A clubhouse that clearly belonged to their parents. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: BERNIE AND THE BELIEVERS featuring ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #804 (November 12, 2018).

I like to watch every Tiny Desk Concert at least twice before I write about them.  But there’s no way I can watch this one more than once.  It is just too emotionally draining.

I only know about Bernie because of the Tiny Desk Contest, when Bernie’s entry made me cry.  Although not for the song, for the story behind it. So I’m leaving all of Bob Boilen’s blurb here:

The story of Bernie and the Believers is the most powerful I’ve ever come across at the Tiny Desk. It’s about a beautiful act of compassion that ultimately led to this performance, and left me and my coworkers in tears.

I discovered the music of Bernie Dalton among the thousands of Tiny Desk Contest entries we received earlier this year. The band’s singer, Essence Goldman, had submitted the entry and shared Bernie’s story. You should hear her tell it in her own words at the Tiny Desk (and I choke up every time I hear it). In summary she said that a few years ago, Bernie — a father, a songwriter and a musician in his mid-forties, and an avid surfer with a day job as a pool cleaner — answered an ad she had posted offering voice lessons. Essence was a performer trying to manage her own career as a single mom, and Bernie was trying to improve his talents.

Bernie drove 90-minutes from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, eagerly showing up early to his voice lessons with Essence. But not long after they started working together, Bernie lost his voice. They didn’t think much of a it at first, but then things got worse. He had trouble swallowing and eating. Essence encouraged Bernie to see a doctor and after some tests Bernie Dalton was diagnosed with bulbar-onset ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He began to lose the use of his hands and, along with it, the ability to play guitar.

With a prognosis of only one-to-three years left to live, Essence offered to raise money so that Bernie and his daughter could travel together. But what Bernie wanted more than anything was to make a record. So he asked Essence to not just be his voice teacher, but his voice. From there, they got to business. Essence pulled together a team of producers, engineers and musicians, while Bernie guided the creative direction through gestures and a dry-erase board. They wrote and recorded a new song every day. Their first single, “Unusual Boy,” was the one they included in their 2018 Tiny Desk Contest entry.

Now Bernie’s friends have gathered here in Washington, D.C. to perform his songs. All the while, Bernie watched and listened from his hospital bed on the West coast, communicating with us in a live video feed through his eye-gaze device. What you are about to witness is the ultimate act of love: Essence sacrificing her own musical ambitions to fulfill the dreams of Bernie Dalton. Through tragedy there was beauty.

So it’s hard to be critical of any of the songs, which are all solid and good.  I happen to not like “In Your Shoes” because it’s too country for my tastes.  Although it is impressive that she can sing in a country-style as well as in the other styles.

But the first song “Unusual Boy” is sweet and powerful.  The lyrics are wonderful and Essence’s voice is terrific for this one.

In between the second and third song, Essence relates the above story with more detail.  If you’re not crying by the end, you have a heart of stone.

“Simon’s Hero” is a song Bernie wrote to his daughter’s future children.  Good Lord.

[READ: January 20, 2018] “The Great Talent”

This is more of a harangue than a story.

The great talent knew he was a great talent and this knowledge allowed him to do nothing.  He was used to being given money and praise for his talent and soon he began to expect the money from everyone.  He was never grateful for any gifts he received.  Indeed he was rude to everyone.

A great talent like that is a monster. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-Tiny Desk Concert #742 (May 14, 2018).

Naia Izumi won the Tiny Desk Contest and here he is with his full Tiny Desk Concert (note to those who submit–you’ll need to have more than one song handy if you win).

He and his band play three songs.

Naia Izumi won us over with his mind-boggling and unique style of guitar playing — a combination of tapping on the fingerboards and soul-filled whammy bar-note bending. And his multi-octave singing range blended so eloquently with his guitar stylings.

Naia is often a one-man band playing on the streets with a drum machine. But for his Tiny Desk Concert he brought bassist Adam Matijasevic and drummer Kynwyn Sterling. He’d met Kynwyn after submitting one of his songs to a math rock Facebook group. And that’s the thing: Naia’s music draws from so many spheres of sound. There’s that punctual, rhythmic, mathematical pulse to what he does, but there’s also a fluid, almost African Kalimba sound in there as well. They’re two sounds I wouldn’t often think of as coexisting.

“Soft Spoken” (the song that won the contest) starts off with him beat boxing and then playing that astonishing finger-tapping riff.  He seems very relaxed and comfortable playing the song in this setting.  And the addition of the bass and guitar really flesh out the sound nicely.  I particularly like the few extra bass fills.  And of course a live drummer is always superior to the machine (even if she looks a little disinterested).   The guitar solo is really pretty, too.

It’s a song, as I hear it, that speaks to the power inherent in the gentle and quieter voices that are often drowned out by the outspoken and boisterous ones. Its title was originally “Soft Spoken Woman” and, as we later learned, Naia had identified as a woman for nearly seven years. More recently, as he said in an interview with Washingtonian Magazine, “I’m not into that anymore because I just want to relax with biology and be comfortable with what I have.”

The other two songs are new to even Contest watchers.  Can he do it two more times? Indeed he can.

“As It Comes” features some very cool guitar seconds (lots of chords with vibrato).  It’s pretty neat to watch his hands fly up and down the neck of his guitar.  He does some more finger-tapping in the middle of the song and what I love about it is that he’s not showing off or trying to impress (although it is impressive).  It’s all in service of the song (especially if he was playing by himself).

But it’s Izumi’s vocals that really deliver on this song.  He sings the bridge with a wonderfully delicate whisper that soars into his high falsetto.

There seems to be a synth on this track although I can’t place it.

The final song is “Soul Gaze” and it sounds huge.  There’s something about the guitar effects that he uses on the chords that make this song explode  with a Jimi Hendrix kind of texture.  And his vocal delivery soars into Jeff Buckley territory.  I love that those two things drew my attention more than the finger-tapping (which also sounds great).

It’s a tremendous song and Izumi seems a more than worthy winner.

[READ: May 8, 2018] “You Never Really Know”

This piece is fairly slightly Eisenberg is always able to pull the funny out of seemingly slight premises.

As the title suggests, Jesse knows a lot about the N.B.A.  And that knowledge does come in handy in unexpected places.

Like with his prospective father-in-law.  The man is unimpressed with Jesse–no stable employment, no car or house as well as being emotionally unavailable,

Jesse doesn’t disagree with the man, in fact he confirms it and notes that this must be how the Detroit Pistons’ manager felt after drafting the disappointing Darko Miličić instead of Carmelo Anthony in 2003.

This catches the father’s interest: “You know the tertiary details of the Darko Miličić saga?”

In a second example, Jesse was speeding –going ninety-one miles an hour in a sixty-five zone.  The difference is 26 mile per hour.

Jesse acknowledges his mistake and points out that 26 is also Kyle Korver’s jersey.

The officer is stunned that this guy knows the jersey number of the rotation player for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  But he explains he’s no savant, he reads about basketball all the time.

He stopped reading novels because it makes him feel competitive with other writers, whereas when he reads about basketball he knows there is no competition.

The office is sorry that he is plagues by this self-doubt and borderline hubris.

Finally, he is talking to the N.B.A Commissioner who wants to offer him a job “as a superstar player.”  Because what matters in a clutch situation?  Not quick reflexes but “an ability to name the assistant coaching staff of the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

Fun fact:

Michael Jordan an Scottie Pippen quizzed each other using flash cards.

Eisenberg always brings a smile to my face.

For ease of searching, I include: Darko Milicic.

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SOUNDTRACK: NAIA IZUMI-“Soft Spoken” (TINY DESK CONTEST WINNER 2018). 

I didn’t pay much attention to the Tiny Desk Contest this year (even though there were lots of opportunities to watch various front runner videos).  But this year’s winner was just announced.

Naia Izumi is a 34-year-old musician from Georgia who regularly busks on the streets of Los Angeles, where he now lives.  And now he has gotten some national exposure.

Naia starts the song with a simple percussion loop and then he sets out on some amazing finger tapping jazzy guitar playing.  It’s impressive and pretty at the same time.  And then he starts singing on top of it!

The bridge or chorus (I haven’t figure doubt what’s what yet) is strummed with some cool fluid soloing and then it’s back to the tapping–such a great melody.  There’s a short but pretty solo in the middle and then a quiet section before he resumes the drum loop again.

He starts singing some great falsetto notes (a good vocal range too, this guy) and then the song returns to the fingertapping before it abruptly ends.

I have no idea how it compares to anything else, but it’s pretty darn good.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 15, 2018] The Iceman #2

A whole bunch of books from Holloway House Publishing Co. came across my desk recently.  Interestingly, in 2008

Kensington Publishing has acquired most of the publishing assets of Holloway House Publishing in Los Angeles, the original publisher of such classic black crime writers as Donald Goines, adding an historic trove of gritty African American popular literature to its publishing program. The acquisition includes about 400 backlist titles which will become part of a new imprint at Kensington called Holloway House Classics. Holloway House also publishes a range of popular fiction and nonfiction titles including biographies of famous African Americans.

So this book and many other are likely to be reissued.

But this particular book (and the ones that came with it) were originals gifted to the library from someone.  There were quite a few books written by Joseph Nazel and I decided I’d read this one because it looked awesome.  And it was.

The premise of this series is:

Henry Highland West – he rose up out of the streets of Harlem to become one of the richest, most powerful Blacks in the world, earning the nickname Iceman due to his cold, calculating will to survive. He owns The Oasis, a multi-million dollar pleasure palace glistening in the desert of Las Vegas. And his success is a thorn in the side of those who envy the phenomenal success of the Black man! He’s already fought one battle. One vicious, backstabbing betrayal that left the desert stained with Mafia blood. And now he’s challenged again as modern-day carpetbaggers, hungry for the glitter of gold and the merciless exploitation of slave labor in Africa, waste an old friend in hopes of getting the very land that The Oasis is built on! He’s not alone in the fight. Besides his old street friends he’s got his own private army of voluptuous women trained in the martial arts. And he’s going to need them all, as his survival is threatened by the gold greed of men out to take what he’s so desperately earned! It’s high-stakes action on chopped Harleys and dune buggies as Iceman pulls all the stops just to keep the honkies from giving him the shaft!

And it was just as good as that description sounds. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TANK AND THE BANGAS-Tiny Desk Concert #604 (March 10, 2017).

Tank and the Bangas won this year’s Tiny Desk Contest.  And here is their official Tiny Desk Concert.

There is something so alive and fun about Tank and the Bangas.  I definitely get their appeal and how much fun they are live.  There are seven members–five musicians and two singers.  The musicians are top-notch–and almost never stop, they seem to keep the groove going even between songs while Tank hangs with the audience.

And then there’s the two singers.  Jelly is an amazing hype woman.  Her voice is terrific wit ha great deal of range and delivery style.  And then there’s Tank, versatile, emotional, funny and sweet but not to be trifled with.

I really like a lot about them.  I just wish I liked their music a little more.

“Boxes And Squares” opens with a groovy riff and a great flute intro.  Tank begins by speaking in a strangely childish voice “I like that, Albert [the flautist], but it’s missing something.  It’s missing you [the audience], can I get a snap?”  She switches to some deeper voices as she sings/recites/raps the lyrics.  Tank is adorable and fun with her huge hair pulled off to thee side and spiked with purple.

I have no idea what she’s going on about in the beginning of the song–I would have been the milk, I would have been the sup etc.  Then she switches to a kind of rapping style.  Then she interacts with Jelly: “You are like a loop.”  “A what?”  “You are like a loop.”  “A what, girl?”  “You don’t understand me?” “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “You are like a loop a hoop.  Like I’m going round and round with you like the o’s in my soup.”  There’s much laughter and fun.

I really do like the way Tank and Jelly play off of each other with the staccato riffing about whatever it is they are singing about “you…you…you”

The end of the song is a funny improv of her being excited that she won Tiny Desk.  It’s fun and funky with some great synth and bass underneath (her vocal delivery is crazy diverse).

“Quick” was their winning entry, which sounds pretty different from their contest version (I find this version to be far more dynamic and the sounds to be really cool).  But once again the focus of this song is on the two front women who are fun and vibrant and have great vocal range.

I really like the chanting: “who who who gonna save me now? (points to the audience).”    “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.”

They have a ton of fun introducing the band–singing the band members names and joking with each other.  The music pretty much never stops.

Even as they segue into the final song, “Rollercoasters.”  In New Orleans, there’s a theme park that still says “will open after storm.”  She asks “why people rode those big roller coasters.  The feeling of throwing up gave them some type of excitement that they did not receive on a regular day.”

But the song is about when she finally did ride a rollercoaster–the butterflies and fireflies fighting in my stomach.  The song is quite emotional–she even seems to be crying during the delivery.  “Jelly sings over and over fly fly fly (in a falsetto) and then oh oh oh oh in a deep voice–very cool.  I’m not sure how much of the song is improv or what’s normally there.  Rollercoasters are for people like me who have never been in love–who want to know how it feels to just fall.”  When the song ends, Tanks mumbles, “Shit, I’m such a crybaby).

Here’s a bit more detail about the band from the blurb:

Out of over 6,000 entries — more submissions than we’ve ever received — Tank And The Bangas won, unanimously, this year’s Tiny Desk Contest. I fully expected their victory performance here at NPR headquarters in D.C. to be celebratory. I didn’t know we’d all end up in tears.

This band [Tarriona Tank Ball (vocals); Jelly Joseph (vocals); Merell Burkett Jr. (keys); Norman Spence II (keys); Joshua Johnson (drums); Jonathan Johnson (bass); Albert Allenback (saxophone)] combines R&B with hip-hop’s poetry and rollercoaster storytelling, with a flair and alchemy that could only come from New Orleans. Their winning song, “Quick,” mixes liquor and revenge — a sort of modern day take on a great folk tale, but peppered with their own idiosyncratic flair and humor. What I couldn’t see, until they took over my desk, was the depth of their lyricism and the versatility of their players. At one moment fun-filled funk, the next laid-back jazz, rhythm-driven blues — and it all flows seamlessly. And it’s fun to watch: There’s a magic kinship between Tarriona “Tank” Ball and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph as they share singing roles, like two best friends finishing one another’s sentences.

So yes, i wish I liked them a little better.  But I’ll clarify.  I enjoyed this and watched it a few times.  I wouldn’t  go out of my way to see them live, but I’ll bet it would be a lot of fun.  And I’m petty excited for them that they won.

[READ: January 11, 2017] “Chairman Spaceman”

I see that I have enjoyed a bunch of stories by Thomas Pierce.  And I enjoyed this one as well.

Don Whipple, the notorious corporate raider had given away his entire fortune–everything–houses, cars, cash–to a religion.  The religion is called God’s Plan for Space and his money has earned him a one way trip to a distant, habitable planet.  He will be frozen–and not aging–for the duration of the flight.

They wish to establish a more egalitarian society on another planet and to spread the message of God’s love to e unexplored solar systems.

The story opens on his going away party–he is leaving in a day or two. All kinds of wealthy people are there to see him off  And he was happy to never see them again.  But he was also attempting to make amends with as many people as he could. (more…)

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kickass2 SOUNDTRACK: DEQN SUE-Tiny Desk #476 (October 5, 2015).

deqnDeqn Sue and her producer Kelvin Wooten play three songs at this Tiny Desk Concert.  And although she is the name and voice of the set, I’m more impressed by him.  He is sitting in front of a keyboard, holding a bass guitar.  He plays the bass, loops it and then plays it live again.  While the bass is looping he;s playing keyboards and all the while there’s percussion and other sounds that he’s programmed.

NPR had played “Bloody Monster” a while back.  It’s a wonderful kiss off song about a person that she thought was a friend until she called her “nigger” (which is addressed in the second verse).  The chorus is surprisingly poppy:  “Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, you’re a crazy bitch.  I don’t even like that word, but for you I think it fits.”  It’s fun and bouncy.

The second song is “Flame.”  She says it’s the only song she’s written about love–most of her songs are more socially aware.  It’s got a cool bass line, although I don’t like her voice on this song.  She seems to sing better when it’s louder and faster.

“Magenta” is the first song they wrote together.  She explains that magenta is about the color you feel when you’re not specifically one: you’re not pissed, so you’re not red, you’re not sad so you’re not blue and you’re not scared so you’re not yellow.  You’re a mixture–magenta.  Each verse starts with her singing “I am a color” in a deep distorted voice.  It’s pretty cool.  The song is interesting and has some cool ideas in it.

Overall though I’m not all that impressed by her.  I feel like she’s close to being amazing, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

[READ: February 1, 2016] Kick-Ass 2

This book picks up right where the last one left off.

Hit Girl is still training Kick Ass (and beating the crap out of him), but she might have to give up.  Her mom is really fragile right now and if something happened to her, it would kill her mom.

And then we see that Red Mist has returned and set up a superhero brawl in Manhattan streets.  But that’s coming in the near future. The rest backtracks a bit.

Dave has joined a superhero gang–like a real-life X-Men called Justice Forever.  He is friends with a guy named Doctor Gravity (who claims that he has made a pole that can increase gravity (actually it’s a baseball bat wrapped in tinfoil). (more…)

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adventSOUNDTRACK: THE WILD REEDS-Tiny Desk Concert #489 (November 20, 2015).

wildreedsThe Wild Reeds are a five piece band who prominently feature a trio of women with beautiful voices. They had submitted a video for the 2014 Tiny Desk Contest, and they are pretty excited to be at the Tint Desk just a short time later.

The trio change instruments so it’s not easy to say who does what.  And since all three of them have gorgeous voices, you can’t even single one out!  When they sing together it’s even more impressive.

“Where I’m Going” is the great lead-off track (from their 2014 album).  Kinsey Lee sings lead and plays acoustic guitar (and harmonica).  Sharon Silva plays electric guitar and Mackenzie How plays harmonium (and harmonica).  Kinsey has a powerful kind of rocking voice while the other two offer great harmonies.  There’s some moments where all three are singing super loud and it’s really impressive.

The next two songs are new.

Sharon sings lead on “Everything Looks Better In Hindsight” and continues to play a really rocking electric guitar (she really crushes those chords). Kinsey switches to banjo, but also plays harmonium.  Mackenzie also plays electric guitar and this song rocks pretty hard.  Sharon’s voice is a bit smoother until the chorus where she wails.  And the harmonies are again outstanding.  I think it is Mackenzie’s harmonies that really elevate the song.

There are a bassist and drummer (unnamed) who add low end to the first two song (but not the final one).  The trio is the focus, but the rhythm section’s contributions are really good.

Mackenzie sings lead on  “The World We Built”  This is the most mellow of the three songs. She plays electric guitar (the only music in the song) and the other two sing harmonies.

Although their music can veer in the country direction, their voices are so good you can easily look past it.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Adventures in Cartooning

The full title of this release is The Center for Cartoon Studies Presents Adventures in Cartooning: How To Turn You Doodles into Comics.  This is an instructional cartooning book which also tells a fun story.

And I loved it.  I have recently discovered James Sturms’ books, and I love his simple but powerful style.

As it opens “Once upon a time, a princess tried to make a comic.”  The girl says she can’t draw well enough to make a comic But the Magic Cartooning Elf comes to help her.  He says that if she can draw simple stuff, then there is nothing stopping her. (more…)

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