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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LILA DOWNS-Tiny Desk Concert #590 (January 13, 2017).

This is yet another example of musicians, artists who are bridging the divide that certain politicians have been trying to wedge int our country.  Between the translated works of Zambra and the multilingual works of Lila Downs, it’s pretty obvious that cultural racism is just stupid.  #ITMFA

The blurb tells us

Downs has spent her career exploring the furthest reaches of Mexican folk music. With a voice that borrows heavily from opera, Downs performs the kind of full-throated mariachi singing that would fit right in at Mexico City’s Garibaldi Square — ground zero for mariachi.

She can also coax the most tender moments from romantic boleros. But Downs is at her best when she and her band gather all of those influences to create cross-cultural expression that breaks down musical barriers. Entertaining and inspiring, she’s as much a storyteller as a singer, and her between-song banter lays bare the Mexican soul, only to have it punctuated in song.

She plays four songs and dedicates the first “Humito De Copal” to “all the journalists in the line of fire.”

Even though this song has many components of traditional Mexican folk, the size of the bad (nine pieces) and the big sound she creates transcends folk and makes it sound really catchy for all.  I love it when midway through, the song takes off in a fun fast dancing section

She is really striking and her voice is amazing.  She’s also playing a cool scratchy/grater item.

“La Promesa” comes from a series of song about he ritual and the offering of the Day of the Dead.  She asks, “what does the homeland mean to us as Latin Americans as Mexicans and as Mexican Americans. It begins with a great electric guitar sound and cool organ accompaniment.  And then she sings in quite a low voice holding notes for amazingly long (about 18 seconds).  It turns into a bluesy song with a lengthy bluesy guitar solo.

The third song, “Viene La Muerte Echando Rasero” was written by a campesino, a farm worker, about rich and poor and young and old being taken by death.  He says “even hit men are going to die.”  She switches to a jarana, a small eight-stringed guitar-like instrument.  After a slow intro the song picks up a bit with a kind of reggae feel.  There’s already a big echo on the mic already but in the middle she cups her hands and gives the whole sound a much bigger echo.  It has a catchy ending with everyone singing along.

She introduces the final song, “La Patria Madrina” by saying “In Mexico, you wake up and put on the news and see a lot of depressing things and you wake up and hope today will be better…and it isn’t.  But despite all of this everything will be better tomorrow.”  It’s a slower song with more reggae sounds and dramatic flourishes.  This time there’s a kind of slide guitar running through the song.

The band consists of : Lila Downs (vocals, jarana); Paul Cohen (sax); George Saenz, Jr. (trombone); Hugo Moreno (trumpet); Marcos Lopez (seated percussion); Yayo Serka (seated drums); Rafael Gomez (electric guitar); Leo Soqui (jarana); Luis Guzman (bass).

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Reading Comprehension: Text No. 3” 

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Zambra’s works and this one is no exception.  I’m particularly intrigued by the “quiz” portion at the end of the piece which really takes the story in a different direction.

The structure of the story is similar to other stories I’ve read by him–I have to assume that he is being reasonably autobiographical about his youth and his life with the woman who would be his son’s mother.  If not then he has really appropriated this character.

A man is writing a letter to his son.  I loved the way the beginning started with the narrator telling his son to forget all of the thing that he has said or done: “mitigate my shouting, my inappropriate remarks, and my stupid jokes.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANDERSON .PAAK & THE FREE NATIONALS-Tiny Desk Concert #557 (August 15, 2016).

I had heard so many great reviews of  Anderson .Paak but I didn’t really like his album.  But I love this Tiny Desk—there’s something great about this live set.  First off, I love that he’s on the drums–and I love Paak’s drumming—all high hats and rim shots and total funk.  Especially when he starts tapping with his fingers on the snare.  And I really love the funky sound of the keys and the bass.

For this Tiny Desk, they reworked three cuts from Malibu,

Guitarist Jose Rios and bassist Kelsey Gonzalez inject a hard-rock edge into the Hi-Tek-produced “Come Down.”  He opens this by saying, “This song is appropriate since its like a sauna in here right now.”  (The opening lyrics are: Y’all niggers go t me hot.”  It is fun and funky and a great opener.  At the end, he asks the bassist: “What is that song about, Jose?  Coming down off of what?  Substances?  That’s what you into?”  “No. Naw.”  “I like water myself.”

The second song “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” features a lot of keyboards.  It’s a slow, groovy song.  Much more soulful than funky.

“Put Me Thru” is really funky.  He says “This song is about Jose’s ex-girlfriend.  She still your ex-right?”  “Yea.”  When it ends he jokes Tiny Desk, Big Heart.

Normally bands play 3 songs, but everyone is so into the set that they get to play one more.  “What else y’all wanna play?  Should we do requests?” Someone shouts, “Suede”  And he shouts, “OH!  I though this was a more cultured, mature….  So you all like being called bitches over here?”  He cautions, “I talk a lotta shit on this song, is that okay?”  We’ve never done this song like this.  He asks Jose, “Go over the notes. You know the chords?”  “It’s only a loop—only two chords.”  They all laugh.

“Suede” is a super funky, pretty vulgar song.  But .Paak is so charming, it’s hard to criticize.  Especially at the end of the show when he says, “That actually my mom’s favorite song.”

[READ: September 5, 2016] “Let’s Go to the Videotape”

This was a fascinating story about a widow who submits a video of his child to Americas Funniest Home Videos.  His son, Gus, was riding a bike for the first  time.  As he was going along, he hit a rock and flew over his handle bars into the bushes.  His helmet pulled down over his eyes.  Nick kept filming, seeing that he wasn’t hurt.  And then Gus looked up and said “Daddy, am I okay?”

Nick sent the video to some friends and they all thought it was very funny.

The video had made it to the finals and they were in the studio watching the other finalists’ videos.  And then it was their turn.

Gus was very uncomfortable–mostly because of his clothes but also because of the attention. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: TAKEN BY TREES-Tiny Desk Concert #253   (November 29, 2012).

treesTaken By Trees plays only 2 songs, and it’s one of the shortest Tiny Desk Concerts I can think of (it’s not even 7 minutes long).  I clearly have gotten Taken By Trees confused with a number of bands with similarly constructed names (band with By and The in the title), for I had no idea what this band sounded like.

They are a four-piece with a lead singer, Victoria Bergsman, who sings in such an understated way that it’s almost melodic speaking.

“I Want You” has a reggae feel to it—the quick guitar chords and slow bouncy bass, but with Bergsman’s delivery the song couldn’t sound less reggae.

“Only You” is a bit more uptempo.  It was in this song that I noticed Bergsman’s accent (she and the band are from Sweden).  The set up of this song is similar to the previous one–a deep bass running through under high guitar chords.  It doesn’t sound reggae this time, but it sounds very delicate.

This was a gentle concert, which I enjoyed, although I don’t know that I’d ever want to see them live.

[READ: July 14, 2016] ”La Vita Nuova”

I enjoyed the fragmentary way that this story was constructed.  The story begins on the day that Amanda’s fiance left her.

Her parents were upset and angry.  Her friends said that he was no good.

She walked home, took out her wedding dress and brought it to work where she had all of the children at her school “decorate it.”  The school didn’t appreciate this gesture: “your personal life is not an appropriate art project for first grade.”

Then she lost her job at the school and later that year her ex-fiance married someone else (as her friend said he would). (more…)

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2014_11_10SOUNDTRACK: LORD HURON-Tiny Desk Concert #247 (October 25, 2012).

lordhironLord Huron is one of those bands that I hear of a lot, but whom I don’t really know much about. I also think they are someone I like, but listening to this Tiny Desk Concert, it’s clear they are not any of the bands I think they are.

As far as this Tiny Desk Concert goes, Lord Huron proves t be a five piece folk outfit.  They have lovely harmonies

“She Lit A Fire” is a pretty standard folk song.  Although I like the way the song shifts gears to a faster guitar style.  I really like the way the one guy’s guitar sounds like mandolin, too.  “Time To Run” is a bit faster and catchier.  In fact, when the oh oh oh oh part comes in, it’s hard not to want to sing along.  And the middle part where it’s just guitar and bongos is pretty hard not to enjoy.

“Lonesome Dreams” opens with some echoed bass notes. It’s got some really catchy parts although I don’t really love the yodeling voice that he puts on.  The band does four songs (practically unheard of).  “Ends of the Earth” opens with that same yodeling voice, but once the harmonies kick in it sounds great.

I didn’t realize that Lord Huron had only released their first album in 2012.  They have really made a name for themselves.

[READ: July 20, 2016] “Primum Non Nocere”

I enjoyed this whole story except for the very end which seemed to turn the story into something else.  In retrospect that something else is also pretty interesting and it throws a whole new light on the story, but I enjoyed the story so much as it was that the twist really impacted the way I enjoyed the rest of the story.

The title translates as “first, do no harm” and the story is about a youngish girl and her mother–who is a psychotherapist. 

I loved the way the story began.  Jewel is totally embarrassed that her mother asks her patients if they are “Cell phoning.”  She says it all the time.  How lame.  Until she realizes that her mom is actually asking if they are “self-harming.”

Her mother was brutally honest about a lot of things and was, of course, right about everything.  One thing that her mother always said was “that no one ever gets beyond high school. It’s all high school for the rest of your life.” Not true, Jewel knew, yet also true.

Her patients loved her for that unconventional understanding. She stood up for them; she visited their homes and talked to their problematic relatives, went to the store with them, walked them along the river, allowed them to bring their pets to their therapy sessions. She came to her children’s defense, too, with teachers or friends or the parents of those friends. She was brutally honest, blunt.

(more…)

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 socks kronosSOUNDTRACK: KRONOS QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #322 (November 25, 2013).

2013 was the 40th anniversary of Kronos Quartet.  I first heard of them about eight years after they started with their cool arrangement of “Purple Haze.”  And then I learned that they were like a sponge, soaking up and playing music from all over the world: In just one year they released albums with tango, songs by South African composers, Polish composers, jazz musicians and so much more.

I have many of their releases, although I realized I more or less stopped listening to new stuff from them around the turn of the century (since when they have released some 16 albums!).

Well, amazingly, the Quartet is still the same original players (except for the cellist–the cello is like Kronos’ drummer as they seem to replace her every couple of years).

They play three pieces here and the three range the gamut from dark and broody to rather sweet to quirky.  In other words, typical Kronos.

For more info:

The musicians —  David Harrington (violin) and longtime members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) and new (as of 2013) cellist Sunny Yang — could reminisce over more than 800 new works and arrangements they’ve commissioned in 40 years. But instead, the new-music train pushes ever onward to new territories. They remain a living, breathing world-heritage site for music.

Now in the midst of its 40th-anniversary tour, Kronos brings to this Tiny Desk Concert a new arrangement, a work from a new album and, for Kronos, something of a chestnut, a piece the group recorded a whopping five years ago.

“”Aheym” (Yiddish for “homeward”) was written for Kronos by Bryce Dessner; a member of the Brooklyn rock band The National, he studied composition at Yale. The music thrives on nervous energy, pulsating with strumming and spiccato (bouncing the bow on strings) while building to a tremendous fever.”

I love this piece. It is intense and dramatic with its 4-3-3 bowing from all four members.  There’s an interesting cello melody with pizzicato strings from the rest.  The overall melody seems somewhat circular with different instruments taking on different leads.  But this song also plays with some interesting bowing techniques.  In addition to the spiccato (about 4 minutes in), the players drag the bow for momentary scraping and scratching sounds.

Another wonderfully dramatic moment comes at 7 minutes where each musician takes a turn bowing his or her note while the violin plays a super fast series of notes.  The song builds and build in dramatic until it gets to about nine and  half minutes and it reaches its powerful ending.

“Lullaby,” opens with plucked cello notes and strummed viola.  “It is a traditional song with Afro-Persian roots (from the group’s Eastern-flavored 2009 album Floodplain), [and] is woven from different cloth altogether. Colorful tones that lay between our Western pitches are threaded through the music, anchored by a gorgeous solo from violist Dutt; his contribution takes on the warm and weathered sound of a grandmother singing to a child.”  It is slow and moody and beautiful.

Harrington introduces the final piece by saying it’s by a performer that no one had heard of–including, until recently, even himself.

“Kronos caps off the concert with another hairpin turn, this time to a fresh arrangement of “Last Kind Words,” a little-known blues song from around 1930, recorded by singer and guitarist Geeshie Wiley. In Jacob Garchik’s exuberant arrangement (which Kronos premiered this fall), interlocking strums and plucks provide a kind of rhythm section, while Harrington’s violin stands in for the now-forgotten blues singer.”

There’s lots of plucked notes from everyone–including plucked bent note on the viola which gives it a real “early” guitar sound.  While I don’t know what Geeshie sounded like, so I can’t compare the violin to her vocal, the whole thing sounds great together.  In fact the whole thing is unlike any string quartet I’ve heard–so different and wonderful.

I’m going to have to bust out so Kronos CDs.

[READ: September 10, 2016] There’s a Monster in My Socks

I’ve been quite puzzled about the publication history of the Liō books.  And this just adds another layer of confusion.  This book covers the exact same time period as Happiness is a Squishy Cephalopod which was published in 2007.  The difference is that Cephalopod placed all of the strips in order, while this one seems to move things around quite a bit (the thinner format also means that it can’t quite handle the single panel strips very well.   But more egregious is that this volume (remember, the one printed after the previous one) prints the Sunday color strips in black and white.

The book also leaves some of the strips out.  It covers the date range from May 15, 2006 – Feb 16, 2007 (Cephaolopod went to May 23), but while it has the Feb 14 strip, it does not have the Feb 15 strip.  Weird.

So, basically this is an inferior version of the same book, but the publishers presumably wanted the books in this more friendly size (or some other nefarious reason).

I’ll include the review of Cephalopod below.

And, here’s the current list of existing Liō books. It’s a shame that there are years and years of strips thus far uncollected. (more…)

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nydec blind-piotSOUNDTRACK: BLIND PILOT-Tiny Desk Concert #572 (October 21, 2016).

I really only know Blind Pilot because of NPR–they are favorites of a few of the hosts of All Songs Considered.

I don’t know their music well, but I remember enjoying what I’ve heard.  But I was still surprised by this Tiny Desk Concert because in addition to guitar and drums, there’s an upright bass (bowed and plucked), a ukulele, the ubiquitous Tiny Desk harmonium and a set of vibes!

Evidently since 2008 the band has expanded from a duo to a sextet.

The band plays four songs.  They are lovely folk song.  The vibes add a cool touch to some otherwise simple melodies.  “Umpqua Rushing” is a pretty song with a very catchy bridge.

Introducing “Packed Powder,” Israel Nebeker explains that it stems from when he was a teenager and they used to modify legal fireworks to make them more interesting.  This is my favorite of the four songs primarily because of the wonderful backing vocals during the chorus–when everybody sings “I want to see how the POWDER BURNS!”  It’s a great moment (or three) in the song.

“Don’t Doubt” is a mellow song, quite pretty, with some more lovely harmonies.

They planned to play three songs, but when Israel asks how many they should play, someone on the staff says “…four.”  So someone in the band then says, should we play, “Hot for Teacher” or “Jingle Bells.”  They decide to play “Joik #3.”  Israel explains that it was his first  attempt to write a song called “Joik.”  “I could tell you what that is, but you have Google…and an amazing team of researchers here.”

He says that before the album came out, Ari Shapiro aired it on NPR.  It’s a pretty song and Israel’s voice sounds especially powerful on it.  And, again, when the band sings the loud harmonies, it sounds terrific.

[READ: March 15, 2016] “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders”

Many authors seemed to get two stories in the New Yorker in 2008, but this has to be the closest gap between stories–Sept 15 to Dec 1.

Like the previous Mueenuddin story, the actual story part is pretty simple to recap.  And the sizable length of the story is mostly taken up with details and interior feelings.

And like the previous story, this one is set in Pakistan and looks at someone who might be able to move up a level of class, but who knows that it is a hard road.

The story begins simply enough. Husna needed a job. (more…)

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