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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LALAH HATHAWAY-Tiny Desk Concert #769 (July 25, 2018).

I have no idea who Lalah Hathaway is.  The blurb doesn’t really help, giving her familiar lineage but not much more.

Lalah Hathaway comes from royalty: Her late father Donny Hathaway’s … set the bar for inspired, old-school soul singing. But living in that kind of shadow can also be a burden, robbing the offspring of an identity apart from that of the famous parent.

This was by my estimation, the most boring Tiny Desk Concert I’ve seen.  The blurb raves about her once but I found it dull and flat.  Her lyrics were uninspired and the music was spare to the point of nothingness.

I always watch a Tiny Desk twice to see if I miss anything the first time.  This one was painful to watch twice. At least it was only 11 minutes.

The younger Hathaway’s appearance behind the Tiny Desk pulls back the curtain a bit for a close-up encounter with her powerfully expressive voice  [powerfully expressive?]

In “Change Ya Life,” Hathaway’s dusky contralto paints an exciting portrait of blissful cohabitation — but on her terms. “I’m going to teach you how to treat me like I deserve,” she sings, adding, “I’ll give you the world.” She draws on a tradition of romance and sensuality in the best soul music, but with a feminist twist that eschews old-school, male-centric lyrics and attitudes.

I like the feminist twist, but when a song has twinkling keys (Lynnette Williams) and a cheesy bass line (Eric Smith) the line “I can fuck around and change your life” just doesn’t seem to fit.

“Boston,” her ode to her second home (she’s from Chicago), is a meditation on self-discovery and longing. The band perfectly straddles slow-jam R&B and a jazz-ballad sensibility.

She was signed in college and told to move to L.A. because Arsenio is there (did she work with him?).  She wrote this song about Boston .  It’s a slow torch song type of song (tikki tikki drums) that name checks tons of Boston area locations (Charles River, Cambridge, Downtown Crossing)

So much of the most powerful music from the Civil Rights Era wasn’t about literal accounting of injustices; many of those songs enshrouded morality plays in the guise of romantic longing. Hathaway introduces the set-closing title track of her new album Honestly as an explicit reflection “of my country at this time.” If you heard it for the first time without the introduction, it comes across as a lover’s lament. But Hathaway’s soaring vocals infuse it with the passion of resistance to bring her set to a close on a hopeful, joyous note.

I love the premise of this song and how it was written.  But even a cool, angry song like this is so tepid.  She asks the audience to sing along to these great lines:   “I don’t even want you no more.  You can walk out that door.”  And you can barely hear them (and the audience is certainly loud between songs).  She does a little of that R&B vocal gymnastics that I dislike at the end just to cap it off.

Not my thing, I guess.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “Family Means Nothing to Me”

This is an except from a story called “Family Means Nothing to Me and I Dislike Children.” I can’t really imagine what the context of the rest of the piece is, but this is  a funny/honest appraisal of the narrator’s self.

She says she finds her nephews and nieces odious.

She has had pets in the past but when she breaks up with a boyfriend she makes him keep the pet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PALEHOUND-Dry Food (2015).

I have seen Palehound twice, once as a headliner and once as an opening band (in that order).  I love Ellie Kempner’s guitar style and her slackerish vocals.  Her lyrics are usually incisive and the way she pulls all of that together is really terrific.

Her recorded output is pretty stellar.  She has a few EPs and/or singles and then this, her first album, which comes it at less than 30 minutes.  It features some of Kempner’s great guitar, prescient lyrics and really catchy songwriting–a potent combination.

“Molly” opens with a great rumbling bass line, a cool guitar riff and a wonderful overdubbed distorted guitars.  It’s immediately catchy.  The whole verse is crazy catchy and then after two lines, she adds a new riff before returning to the first one.  There’s so much going on and its all terrific.  Next up is a cool bridge followed by a third part with yet another great guitar soloing type of riff and loud chorus of “ooooohs.”  There is so much going on in this song, I was shocked to see that it’s under 3 minutes long

“Healthier Folk” starts out as a kind of bedroom-sounding acoustic guitar song, but after a verse there’s a trippy chorus with soaring guitars

Mouth ajar, watching cuties hit the half pipe
I only feel half-right
Around healthier folk
But oh, why don’t hold me?
They just
Cradle me like a homesick child

Mid way through, the guitars get louder with a heavy riff before returning to that trippy middle section.

Even though Kempner rocks out, she also has some slower songs.  “Easy” is a slow song with this great line: “I’m pushing back your tongue / With my clenched teeth home security system.”  I love how the chorus (and more) is just a blast of noise without speeding up the tempo of the song.  Two thirds of the way through, the song picks up briefly (“All I need’s a little sleep”).  And the last thirty seconds are a wild, chaotic-sounding series of riffs (with a noisy feedbacking guitar solo).

“Cinnamon” has yet another terrific riff.  Live, this song absolutely scorches–vocally and guitar wise.  This version is a little tamer, but you can really hear what a great guitarist she is.

“Dry Food” starts slowly, with a pretty guitar line and a cool vocal delivery.  I love the way the verses are slow and the chorus builds into a strangely catchy melody without really picking the tempo up.

“Dixie” is a quiet confessional with some great lyrics and a catchy chorus.

And people that I’ll never meet
Have been showing up naked in my dreams
And I try to close my eyes but I really want to see
Their breasts like eyes are staring back at me

The hair that’s in my shower drain
Has been clogging up my home
And I try to scoop it up but I retch until I’m stuck
To stare and gag into a Dixie cup (with a cough on the repeat of this line)

“Cushioned Caging” is a more aggressive rocker, but her vocals don’t really match the guitar loudness, making you lean in to hear her.  The disc ends with “Seekonk,” the longest song on the disc (nearly 5 minutes).  It’s slow with a couple of different parts to flesh it out.

Kempner really showcases the various aspects of her songwriting.  It’s a really solid album and could easily be much longer.

[READ: January 15, 2018] “The Little Boy”

This short story was interesting in that it seemed far more about an old woman than a little boy.

Mrs. Bea Davis is walking through an airport after visiting her daughter Megan in upstate New York.

We learn a lot about her and her daughters Megan and Susan as well as her ex-husband.  We learn some about her because she is talking to her self.  A woman with a small boy passed and the boy turned to look at her.

The trip had been okay, as best as could be expected. Bea felt that Megan and her husband enjoyed making fun of ugly people (“That guy is like an anteater in leisurewear. That girl, she can’t wear that dress, look at her stomach.”)  the way Bea’s own sisters Tomasina and Livia would go to Woolworth’s and comment on the ugly poor people.    (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NELLIE McKAY-Reveals ‘Cavendish’ (Project Song: April 2, 2008).

Project Song was a nifty little show that NPR Music created.  The premise was that NPR would give a musician some prompts and a recording studio.  They then had two days to write and record a song.  I don’t know how much of the process was to be filmed, but presumably most of it. Then it would be edited down to a fifteen minute show.  The results are pretty cool and it’s a shame they only made five of them.

The third one they did was five months after the previous one.  As with the Stephin Merritt project, McKay was solo, but she had a lot of problems and recriminations.

When I invited Nellie McKay to participate in Project Song, I figured she’d write some witty words and hammer something out on the piano. I don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but listen to the music of Nellie McKay, and she’s the one who makes it seem so easy.

McKay came into our studio looking as if she’d just walked off a movie set. In fact, at times in conversation, a young Judy Garland came to mind. She took great care with her curly blonde hair and her beautiful pinstriped suit.

I laid some photographs [all from the Library of Congress] and some words on our makeshift bar for her to consider as jumping-off points for the song she would write over the next few days.

It didn’t take long for McKay to settle on a black-and-white photograph of some men dancing the Charleston out in front of a movie theater. To go with the picture, she chose the word “Bravado.” Those two things would inspire and inform her song.

And then, despite a bit of hemming and hawing, McKay proceeded to sit behind the grand piano and begin drawing musical staff lines on some note paper. She began composing her song.

Although perhaps the consternation and questioning was more of her conscious mind, because it sounds like she was much more confident than she appeared.  “Why couldn’t I have written a song in secret and brought it in and pretended to be confused?”

Here’s what I now know that I didn’t know at the time: In just a few hours of playing at the piano, Nellie McKay wrote her song. I know that now, because I can look at the zoom lens of our video camera and see all the scribbles in her notebook. The words are mostly there, and so is the music.

She pokes out notes on the piano and scribbles in her book.  Then she plays the ukulele (with wah wah).  She hems and haws quite a bit, playing with Bob’s computer to make three distinct drum parts.  She talks with Bob.

“Its hard enough to do a bad pastiche which is what I’m aiming at now.  This is the worst thing, I wrote a complicated bad song.”

She finally asks Bob, the constant cheerleader, “where’s your cynicism, you work for NPR?”

From my perspective in the control room of our studio, what I heard for the better part of our first day was some tinkering, some scribbling, and more tinkering. She’d pick up the ukulele and play more piano, but I couldn’t hear a song emerging.

Then she plays some cello on top.  Then it’s on to some haunting backing vocals.

Bob’s mind is boggled: “to put down the uke part first after what I’ve heard, why not play the piano first?  Her answer: “I’m sick of the piano!”

She says she’s big on secrecy and doesn’t understand how other people did it.  Before revealing that she decides to put down “the thunderclap, perhaps the loon, a little bit of backing vocals, and then I’ll freak out a bit more and then I’ll try to do the main vocals.”

The lyrics, however — and even the title — were a closely kept secret until the final hours of the final day.

Then she reveals the dramatic, multi-faceted, three-part song.  It is stunning that she came up with this.  There’s sound effects, spoken word, Latin rhythms and then a torch song part with horns and falsetto.

And this is it, a song about a London hotel called the Cavendish. A song about some of its guests, like D.H. Lawrence and The Beatles, and of better, simpler times. A wonderful theatrical journey from Nellie McKay — someone who seems connected with the past and unsure of her present.

The Cavendish was a real hotel.  They went through a lot of change.  The hotel has been through two wold wars.  The Latin part is exotic–lovely and yet unsettling.

[READ: January 24, 2018] “The Gulch”

The centerpiece of this story is vile and horrible even to think about.  The story begins with it, it focuses on it but then it also kind of dismisses it at the end.

The story is basically about three juvenile delinquents who have crucified a boy in their class (he did not survive).  It begins with a description of the cross they created with pressure-treated wood and rope from a neighborhood laundry line.

It is written in a kind of casual style from Detective Collard’s point of view.  There’s lots of parenthetical asides “The one who dreamed up the scheme (for lack of a better word).”

One of the boys admitted to digging the hole but then said he wasn’t there in sport or heart. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID BECKINGHAM-Live at Massey Hall (December 5, 2017).

I don’t know Beckingham or his main band Hey Ocean.

Beckingham says that he and Ashleigh Ball from the Hey Ocean started playing together in their early 20s.  They met Dave and formed Hey Ocean and it took off in a surprising way.

He’d always wanted to do something solo but felt he wasn’t ready and then they took time from Hey Ocean and worked on it.  But he never expected to play Massey Hall.

The show begins with “Explosion” which has a sweet vocal line and a very friendly sound with strings.  As he starts “Window Frame” they interrupt it with an interview in which he says that Hey Ocean is more around Ashleigh and her vocals while the solo stuff is more personal.  He feels a lot more exposed physically as well as with the material.

Adi’s Song is a quiet powerful ballad

Late in the evening
She starts to cry
She’d been down on her luck since summer now she’s stuck
In the longest ever winter of her life

She called the doctor
Asking for pills
To make it all seem far away like the stars in outer space
She says the feelings doesn’t hurt, she says it kills

And the salt in her tears carves a line down her cheeks
So when the drops reach her mouth, well you’ll almost believe she was smiling

Just when the light hits it right

During “Slowly” he gets the crowd to sing along “don’t it take the words from you sometimes.”

The final two songs are his biggest: “Soldier” and “Forest.”  His music is quite consistent–pretty and folkie without a lot of drama.  But these last two songs have something extra.  The bridge in “Soldier” bombs overhead / trying my best to find you / I was blind and deaf is really powerful with the strings.  “Forest” has a distinctive catchy melody up front, which a lot of these songs don’t.

He’s joined by Mike Rosen on the keyboards and a small string section Michelle Farhermann (cello) Rachael Cardiello (viola) and Kelly LeFaive (violin) and he thanks them for pulling this all together in a few days time.

[READ: January 7, 2017] “Stuff”

“Stuff” is a terrible name for a story.  But this story is pretty much full of stuff, so maybe it does work here.

I’m not really sure what happened to this story because it started out so linear and interesting (a little weird, yes, but interesting) and then it turned into something else–much more weird.

Henry was in the doctor’s office.  His own doctor was not there, so he was seeing a new doctor.  This new doctor told Henry that he had lung cancer and would die soon.

Henry talked about the cigarettes he smokes–called the work sticks because they help him write. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FRÉDÉRIC YONNET-Tiny Desk Concert (July 9, 2018).

Dave Chappelle introduced his friend Frédéric Yonnet as “an unlikely talent from an unlikely place, Normandy France.  He plays an instrument I didn’t even know I liked.  Fred, give them a sample of how we became friends [plays a glorious harmonica melody].”

Fred has toured with all the greats Stevie Wonder, Prince (and more, see below).  With the Band With No Name welcome Frédéric Yonnet.

The blurb fills in

Harmonicist Frédéric Yonnet has played with Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran … even Prince. But his biggest fan and supporter is Dave Chappelle, who worked with the Normandy native on Dave Chappelle’s Juke Joint, a series of intimate parties featuring Yonnet, his Band With No Name, and an all-star cast of unannounced special guests.

That’s how the comedian came to introduce Yonnet (pronounced YAH-nay) at his Tiny Desk concert. From the moment the NPR staff first heard his pocket-sized harmonica, you could feel the electricity in the room. There are virtually no limitations to this instrument in the hands of Yonnet, who is famous for his ability to play chromatic notes on a diatonic harmonica.

During Chappelle’s introduction, he told the crowd about how Yonnet met Wonder at the Grammys and eventually was asked to hop on the Songs In the Key of Life tour. “He’s so good at playing harmonica that another man good at harmonica [Wonder] hired him,” Chappelle has been known to say.

They play three songs.

Yonnet began the show with a mélange of reggae, hip-hop and New Orleans funk, and his Band With No Name were right in the pocket with original funky numbers “Four20” and “FRéEDlosophy,” both of which will appear on his upcoming album, Reed My Lips.

“Four20” starts with strange harmonica riff and then the band come in with an incredibly funky jam (with Christopher Bynum on drums), Dennis Turner on bass).  Yonnet plays some incredible soloing over this really jam from full mouthed harmonica to incredibly dextrous (or whatever that word is for your mouth) single notes the likes of which I’ve never heard on a harmonica before.   Midway through he slows things down points to saxophonist Matthew Rippetoe and says “solo?” which he proceeds to rip out.

After the sing he introduces Kailen “our mascot.”

“FRéEDlosophy” requires some participation from the audience (which includes Chapelle dancing up a storm).  There’s a great heavy riff that propels the song forward as well as some really rocking guitar.  Yonnet moves pretty much nonstop and his playing is really wonderful.

Chappelle’s desire to hear some of that “Mississippi Delta blues” prompted an improvised tune, “No Smokin’ Blues,” which gave guitarist Robbie McDonald, saxophonist Matthew Rippetoe, trumpet player Joe Herrera and keyboardist Daryl Hunt a chance to shine.

Dave encourages them to “Jam it out a bit” blues.  Start with the blues, you can take it anywhere, play yourself out.  But Dave wants “Mississippi Delta blues… sweltering heat I don’t get paid enough blues.”

Yannet obliges.  He puts down the mic (no idea if it’s the same harmonica) and proceed to play a pretty classic blues.  There’s solos from all of the above (McDonald’s is pretty stormin’)

[READ: July 9, 2018] “Under the Wave”

This is a terrifying story.  Well, the first section is terrifying and the rest is the uncomfortable aftermath.

It’s the complete lack of details that make it so terrifying.  A woman and her husband and son are separated by a wave.  That’s all we know.  It must have been huge.  Earthquake?  Tsunami?  Hurricane?  No details are given.  She is asleep and then she is alone.

She walked to the city center where a warehouse was set up and people were huddled.  Food was given out, cots were prepared.  And she sat, for two days, unloving.  Then she saw a girl, a feral girl, crawling through the warehouse sneaking people’s food.

When the girl got to her, she grabbed the girl’s wrist and held her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKLISA LEBLANC-Live at Massey Hall (June 6, 2015).

I thought I didn’t know who Lisa LeBlanc was, but it turns out that I knew her song “5,748 km” from a NPR episode.  How funny.

LeBlanc thanks Massey Hall for putting her on and for supporting new artists.  It’s so legendary, she can’t imagine what’s going to happen right now.

The show, in which LeBlanc opens for Spirit of the West, opens with this formal introduction.

Welcome to Massey Hall. To get the night going when you have a band like Spirit of the West who is dynamic and fun, who else can you bring to match that kind of excitement?  Please welcome to the stage Lisa LeBlanc.

She walks out on stage, grabs the banjo and plays a slow banjo melody.  After a beat or two she starts whistling a forlorn melody–a perfect Western-sounding instrumental (her whistling is very impressive).

Her whistling is great.

Then she gets a sly look and starts playing her banjo a little faster.    And then completely unexpectedly (to me anyway) her drummer (Maxime Gosselin) and baritone guitarist (Jean-Phillipe Hebert) start trashing like lunatics.  “Gold Diggin’ Hoedown” is a song that perfectly meets what her style is called: “trash rock” It is crazy and fun.

She says she grew up in New Brunswick playing music in the “kitchen party” scene.  She played with her uncles in the garage instead of going partying with the cool kids.  “I was kind of a loser.”

The next song is in the same style, but it is sung in French.  “Cerveau ramolli” which she translates as “My Brain is Mushy.”  This song is totally rocking with great thumping floor toms.

I can’t find the names of all of the songs (usually the video names them, but not this time).  There’s another song in French.

She switches banjos and then talks about “Katie Cruel,” a song that no one knows where it came from and it’s her favorite song of all time.  There’s a quiet part in the middle with just banjo and then nearly a capella before rocketing back to life.

She gets a new banjo and sings quietly over gentle picking:

Don’t try to figure out what’s going on his head / he ain’t trying hard to see whats going on in yours….  I love these lyrics:

He’ll give you the shirt off his back but he wont give you his heart.

She tells the audience she’s from New Brunswick.  Cheers from half the crowd.  Then she says she’s from a town of 51 people.  She was trying to date someone from Vancouver.  Canada is really big.  This is an introduction to “5.748 km” in which she plays guitar instead of banjo.  It’s a spoken/sung song.

She says “Let’s talk about cowboys” and then sings a song in French called (I believe) “J’pas un cowboy.”

For the final song she says the title “You look like trouble but I guess I do too” is quite self-explanatory.  After a few verses they take off.  That baritone guitar is so low and rumbling.  Things slow down in the middle where she plays a great banjo solo and then the sing thrashes to an end.

Over the credits she sings part of one more song this time with electric guitar.

LeBlanc is multi-talented and a lot of fun.  She’d be an excellent opener for anyone.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Mum’s the Word”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

This is a funny (sort of) essay about being a parent and how “as a parent I spend a good amount of time talking about things that don’T interest me like My Little Pony, or pasta, or death.”

The death part is funny because her four-year old daughter is suddenly obsessed with it.  But in unusual ways: “When I die…I want to die in Egypt so that I can be a mummy.”  After half paying attention, Rivka nods assent then her daughter says “Mummies make other mummies.  With toilet paper.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CONSTANTINES-Live at Massey Hall (May 27, 2015).

From the clips I’ve seen, Constantines are (were?) an incredible live band.  They have so much intensity.

In the opening, they are asked  Are you guys nervous?  They don’t seem to be although they concede that “Nervous is good, it keeps you on your toes.”

At some point we decided to run the band where we would play anywhere with a three-pronged outlet.  It led to playing a lot of amazing spaces…non-performance spaces like skate shops and basements and art galleries.  This feels like an incredible extension of that to play Massey Hall… a historic venue.

“Draw Us Lines” opens the show with thunderous drums and squalling feedback as the band gets the audience clapping along to a simple rhythm while Bry Webb sings in his deep raspy voice.  I love how much noise the keyboardist makes just pounding on keys–at times leaning on the machine with his whole arm.

“Our Age” has martial beats and an interesting low riff that runs through the verses–but the choruses burst forth really catchy.  “On to You” was a single I believe.  It has loud verses and a quiet, understated chorus.  I love how much they raise their guitars–the bassist even plays with the instrument raised over his head

“Young Offenders” rocks as hard as anything else they play, but it adds the surprising lyric: “young hearts be free tonight … time is on your side,” before launching into the heady section with the crowd shouting “Can I get a witness.”

“Nighttime/Anytime {It’s Alright)” has a great slinky guitar intro and sounds very familiar–as if it’s quoting another song, but I can’t figure out what.

More thumping drums (the drummer must be exhausted) and some distortion and feedback introduce “Young Lions” which starts as kind of catchy rocks song but features wonderful noise section in which everyone plays with feedback and the keyboardist actually sits on the keys before returning to that really catchy section.

The show ends with “National Hum,” a blistering loud track with discordant chords and intense vocals.  The drums just seem to go faster and faster as the song goes on.

They play this show like it’s the most important show they’ve ever played.  And the crowd responds accordingly.  It’s unclear to me if Constantines are broken up or not, but if they ever come around, they are a must-see show.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “What is Possible”

This issue of the New Yorker had a section entitled “Parenting.”  Five authors tell a story about their own parents.  Since each author had a very different upbringing the comparison and contrasting of the stories is really interesting.

I love the opening of this essay in which Mohsin says that his mom worked an entry-level job at what would now be considered a Silicon Valley tech business.  They made audiocassettes.

His father made peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and picked Mohsin up from school on his bike.  His dad had a mustache and sideburns but no hair.  They went to the university where his father was studying.  Or they went home to watch cartoons on the small black and white TV.

Mohsin says he always saw colors on it “though I was told by friends that this wasn’t possible.”  I relate to this because I had a black and white TV in my room growing up and I was sure it was color until one day when I went to my parents TV and compared sided by side and saw just how colorful their TV was. (more…)

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