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Archive for the ‘Photo Essays’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK UHURU-Tiny Desk Concert #917 (November 29, 2019).

I don’t have a very good overall feeling about reggae.  As a person who listens to a lot of music that people have said “all sounds the same,” I can’t help but admit that to me all reggae sounds the same.

Or, perhaps all of Bob Marley’s reggae sounds the same and that’s the only reggae I’ve really been exposed to.

Because this Black Uhuru concert is clearly reggae, but it sounds new and exciting to me (even if the band has been around for 40 years).

I’ve been aware of Black Uhuru forever–they always seemed to be in the Columbia House 20 albums for a penny ads back in the day (along with Boz Scaggs, another artist I’ve heard of since I was a kid but have never actually heard a note from).

Considering the state of global politics, there’s never been a better time to get reacquainted with the righteousness of Black Uhuru. The iconic reggae band, whose name means “Black Freedom” in Swahili, is still going strong after more than 40 years, and they brought their much-needed songs of solidarity to the Tiny Desk. Fittingly, the set begins with “Here Comes Black Uhuru,” a telling and literal re-introduction to the group’s legacy for audiences that may be unfamiliar with their extensive catalogue.

This song is clearly one that I needed, as I didn’t know anything about their music.

While most-known for their late-’70s and early-’80s classics — years defined by a game of musical chairs within the group as played by founding members and/or collaborators Michael Rose, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, Sandra “Puma” Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and even Junior Reid — this incarnation of Black Uhuru, with frontman and co-lead Andrew Bees, has been touring and recording since about 1997 or so, longer than any of the configurations that precede it.

“Here Comes Black Uhuru” has some groovy bass from Daniel “Axemon” Thomson (who plays a white five-string Steinberger).  The verses feature some cool synth sounds from Horace “King Hopeton” Campbell and the drums are chock full of fun percussion from Rolando “Phanso” Wilson.  The biggest surprise to me was the ripping guitar sound from Frank Stepanek.

The vocals are shared between Derrick “Duckie” Simpson and Andrew Bees, with additional backing vocals from Elsa Marie Green.

This song has simple but catchy riff and it ends with a big powerful rocking sound.

“As The World Turns” comes from their new album of the same name.  “As The World Turns, is an album that was mired in issues around its master recordings, was finally released in 2018 — six years after it was recorded — and earned a Grammy nomination for best reggae album.” The song opens with the stereotypical Egyptian riff while Duckie and Elsa Marie Green sing the main verses.   I love that there’s spacey effects from the keys and Stepanek plays a blistering solo (twice).

“I See You,” is a love song “led by Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, a co-founder and the only steady member of the group since its beginnings in the early ’70s.”  It has the most conventional reggae sound and I like the way Andrew Bees works as a kind of hype man in this song,

“What Is Life” is their most well-known song.  It

explores the hopelessness endemic to those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and explores the complexities of the human experience — what life could be, versus what it is. Despite being written and recorded in 1984, you can probably recognize the endurance of its themes.

Andrew Bees sings lead which adds a very different tone to the song.

While I really liked the first two songs, the second two weren’t quite as exciting to me.  Maybe I don’t need more reggae in my life, but I’m glad that there are different style out there.

[READ: February 1, 2020] DPR Korea Tour

I was really surprised to see this book at work.  I didn’t realize that North Korea sent propaganda to English-speaking countries  I assume this isn’t meant for American eyes specifically, more likely to European eyes, but who knows.

The book is written in English, Chinese and Cyrillic, but the writing is all just captions for the photos.

And I have to say that the landscape of North Korea is absolutely gorgeous.  I had no idea their land was so lovely.

Mt Paektu shrouded in clouds is striking.  And Lake Chon underneath the mountain is crystal clear and beautiful.  Taehwa Peak on Masikryong Pass has chair lifts that look like they are thousands of feet in the air (no people on them in the picture though).  It is a large skiing mountain–I didn’t know they skied there.

There are also wondrous waterfalls like the Hyongje Falls at Mt Paektu and the Rimyongsu Falls with a mansion atop them. Isonnam Falls is peaceful and serene while the Saja Falls are roaring (its hard to get a sense of scale though).  I’m also very impressed by Kuryong Pool and Eight Pools Under It. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FOUR LADS-“The Bus Stop Song (A Paper of Pins)” (1956).

Given the content of this book, I thought it might be fun to pick a song that was popular in Canada in, say 1956.

I was pretty fascinated to learn from the Canadian Music Blog:

National charts did not begin in Canada until the launch of RPM Magazine in 1964. Below, from Oh Canada What a Feeling A Musical Odyssey by Martin Melhuish are lists of popular songs in Canada through the 1950s. We have also included big hits by Canadian artists that made the year-end charts of U.S. Billboard Magazine with their year-end positions on the chart.

Some popular artists back then were

Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians: Enjoy Yourself, The Third Man Theme, Dearie, Our Little Ranch House, All My Love, Harbour Lights, Tennessee Waltz. (all 1950) If, Because of You (1951) Crazy Heart, Blue Tango, Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, Half as Much (1952) Hernando’s Hideaway (1954)

The Four Lads: Moments to Remember (#17) (1955) My Little Angel, A House with Love In It, The Bus Stop Song (A Paper of Pins) (1956) Who Needs You, I Just Don’t Know, Put a Light in the Window (1957) There’s Only One of You, Enchanted Island, The Mocking Bird (1958)

The Crew-Cuts: Earth Angel, Ko Ko Mo, Don’t Be Angry, Chop Chop Boom, A Story Untold, Gum Drop, Angels in the Sky (1955) Mostly Martha, Seven Days (1956)

Paul Anka Diana (#24) (1957) You Are My Destiny, Crazy Love, Let the Bells Keep Ringing, The Teen Commandments (1958) Lonely Boy (#5) Put Your Head On My Shoulder (#12) My Heart Sings, I Miss You So, It’s Time to Cry (1959)

My dad was really into big band music of this ilk and he had records from Guy Lombardo and The Four Lads.  To me the switch from that kind of sound to the style of Paul Anka in 1957/1958 seems like a pretty big shift.  I feel like my dad didn’t like the kind of crooner-y music that Paul Anka sang.  It’s interesting that The Four Lads never rose above a chart position of 52 after 1958.

I chose this particular song because I know  The Four Tops a little.  But mostly because this song is very perplexing.  I had no idea what a “paper of pins” could be.  Turns out the lyrics are a traditional English children’s song.  A “paper of pins” is a sheet of paper with different size pins for sewing.  Why on earth would you give them as a sign of your love?

In the original, the song is a call and response, with the second verse being the rejection of the first verse.

I’ll give to you a paper of pins
And that’s the way our love begins
If you will marry me, me, me
If you will marry me

[The original verse two is :
I don’t want your paper of pins,
If that’s the way that love begins,
For I won’t marry,
Marry, marry, marry
I won’t marry you.]

[The original next verse is not a feathery bed but:
I’ll give to you a silver spoon,
Feed the baby in the afternoon]

I’ll give to you a feathery bed
With downy pillows for your head
If you will marry me, me, me
If you will marry me

After a few more verses, the Four Lads end:

But you don’t want my paper of pins
And you don’t want my feathery bed
You want my house and money instead
That is plain to see

Well, here they are take everything
My house, my money, my wedding ring
And in the bargain I’ll throw in me
If you will marry me

But in the original ends like this

If you give me the keys of the chest,
And all the money that you possess,
Then I will marry,
Marry, marry, marry,
I will marry you.

Ah ha ha, now I see,
You love my money but you don’t love me,
So I won’t marry,
Marry, marry, marry,
I won’t marry you.

So The Four Lads made this song kind of sweet, but also kind of pathetic.  Weird choices.

And why in the world is it called The Bus Stop Song?

[READ: November 17, 2019] The Canadians

This is a book of 79 photos taken from The Globe and Mail archives.  The are not art, they are not beautiful.  They are documentation.  Documentation of a specific time and place–Canada in the late 1950s and early 60s.

These are pictures of regular folks working, doing chores, meeting politicians.  There’s no posing, there’s no “beauty.”  It’s just grim reality.  I grabbed this book because Douglas Coupland wrote the introduction (I’m not sure who wrote the copy for the pictures–each picture has one line of information about it).  The collection was edited by Roger Hargreaves, Jill Offenbeck and Stefanie Petrilli.

I love Coupland’s take on these picture because he looks at things from such a different vantage point than I’m used to.  Like the way he opens the book.  He says that the Canada depicted here pretty much didn’t exist anymore by the time he was born.  He describes Canada then as “a country in which, it would seem, people were born, became teenagers, and then magically at the age of 21, turned into chain-smoking fifty year-olds with undiagnosed cancers.”

He observes that few people smiled and those that did had teeth riddled with nicotine stains.  This is by and large true.  The photos with politicians seem to have the biggest smiles although the young members of Chelecos and Lancers Motorcycle Club certainly mug for the camera. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS FORSYTH & THE SOLAR MOTEL BAND-Dreaming in the Non-Dream (2017).

I was anticipating watching Forsyth at the end of last year but the show sold out on me.  (Note: he is playing nearby this Friday).

I heard about him from a stellar Tiny Desk Concert and was totally psyched to hear this four-song full length album.

The disc opens with the 11 minute History & Science-Fiction that starts with a slow bass line and lots of percussion.  After a short intro the guitar comes in with whammy bar’d chords.  It resolves into a really catchy “chorus” and then a slow down that reminds me of a softer “Marquee Moon.”  But instead of turning into a rocking solo section, it totally mellows out, with keyboards and cymbals and a pretty guitar melody.  It slowly builds out of that by switching from organ to sax.

“Have We Mistaken the Bottle for the Whiskey Inside” is the only song with words.  Of the four it’s my least favorite, but that’s only because I like his guitar playing better than his singing.  It’s a fairly simple riff–kind of Crazy Horse-ish with Forsyth’s deep spoken-singing asking the title question.  After about 3 and a half minutes, the song starts to pick up speed and turns into a huge freak out of noise and chaos. 
“Dreaming in the Non-Dream” begins as a simple picked guitar line repeating.  Throw in some a steady drum beat and some buzzy synths and the song starts to build. And then Forsyth’s soloing makes an appearance.  At first he is just playing harmony notes alongside the lower notes but at the 2 minute mark, the full throttle wah-wah guitar soloing takes off (the backing guitar also throws in some cool wah-wah, too).  And the song runs as a full instrumental for over 15 glorious minutes.  But it is not just a 15 minute guitar solo.  The whole band gets involved–the rest of the band is fully present and there’s a synth solo.  But it’s all within that catchy melody line.  Fifteen minutes never went by so fast.
 “Two Minutes Love” is a beautiful two-minute song.  Gentle guitars interweaving over lush bass lines and twining with the other guitar.  It’s a nice delicate end to that spiraling CD.

[READ: December 27, 2017] Obama: An Intimate Portrait

Sarah got me this book for Christmas and it is awesome.  I wanted to spend 2018 looking forward, getting past the dumpster fire of 2017 and hoping we can move past what we are bogged down with.  #ITMFA #RESIST

But this book was just an amazing look back and something that gives me hope that we can move forward past what we have now.

Pete Souza is a tremendous photographer and this collection offers amazing access to a President who was full of gravitas and thoughtfulness.

We were concerned that reading this would be too depressing given the State of our country and the Embarrassment in Chief.  And in some ways it was depressing.  But in many ways it was what it was intended to be: inspirational.

It’s hard to believe that before our Chief Idiot was bumbling his way through life and giving literally zero thought to anything except his own ego, we as a country had 8 years of a leader who, these pictures show, put serious thought and concern into (almost) everything he did.  Obama was never quick to do anything–he was often mocked for his slow speech patterns–but this is a job where rushing to judgment never does anyone any good.  And you can see the pressures of the world weighing on him.

But this book is not all about pressure.  There are delightful moments of joy–with his daughters, with delightful citizens, with staff and of course with Michele. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GYPTIAN-Tiny Desk Concert #102 (January 2, 2011).

dec2014gyptian I had not heard of Gyptian.  He is a Jamaican singer.  His singing style is kind of like rap, but with all of the Jamaican inflections and emphases that make it sound more flowing and smooth.

I enjoyed his sound quite a lot.  It helps that he has an acoustic guitar player (Anthony “Tony Bone” DiFeo) keeping the melody and rhythm.

Evidently his first song “Hold You” was a huge hit, although I didn’t know it.  “Beautiful Lady” has a bit more of a reggae feel, a bit slower with lyrics about, yes a beautiful lady.

The final song, “Nah Let Go” feels like a lullaby with his gentle delivery.  I don’t listen to this style of music very much but when it’s done well, I can totally groove on it.

[READ: January 7, 2015] “Travel Day”

“Travel Day” is a photo essay about airports.  Dyer was assigned to write a short essay for it.  I like Dyer’s work and I found his essay a lot more compelling than the photographs.

Dyer begins by talking about how when he was 8 years old, his family was on vacation in London and took a special trip to Heathrow Airport because, back then, it was a destination.  In the sixties and seventies the glamour of air travel was at its peak.

The earliest airports were designed to look conservative to reassure nervous flyers.  But by the Sixties, airports gleamed with sleek confidence and modernity.  But now airports are just hubs–non places.  The allure of the future that guided the design of airports in the sixties and seventies also makes airports look really dated now.  Especially since the “future” was based on designs from the Sixties anyway.

You can also see it in flight attendants outfits who had sort of futuristic look back in the Sixties (at least what the future was supposed to look like).

He talks about Garry Winorand who took photos of the social landscape in the Sixties and Seventies and has a book devoted to airports.   He says the photos really documented the social life of Americans as much as it did airports.

In addition to the main photos of this essay, there are two small older photos included.  The first is by Sklava Veder and it is a photo of Lieutenant Colonel Robert L Stirm being greeted by his family at Travis Air Force Base in 1973 after spending five years as a POW in Vietnam.  It’s an amazingly powerful photo.  The other is by Winorand which shows a subtle version of the same image– a fellow with a beaming face holding a sign that says “Welcome to California Jane.”  It’s about a person coming to a new place and Winorand captured the eternal promise of flight and of the American West in a single moment.

These photos in the essay were taken all over the world and do show the human condition.  But it is less glamorous and therefore to my eyes less interesting.

The one interesting idea however, is that people have stopped reaching for their cigarettes when the get off the plane and have started reaching for their phones.

But that doesn’t make for very interesting photography.  And with a few exceptions these photos aren’t that compelling.  Perhaps because airport themselves are no longer compelling places.

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madlangSOUNDTRACK: TARRUS RILEY-Tiny Desk Concert #59 (May 11, 2010).

tarrusTarrus Riley is a reggae singer with a delicate voice.  His accompanists are a guitarist and a sax player (on a cheesey sounding alto sax–although somehow it works).  And while the music is still quite reggae in style, it doesn’t sound too much like reggae–perhaps the light guitar strumming removes the backbeat?

So these three songs feel a bit more like pop.

“It Will Come (A Musician’s Life Story)” is a funny, but serious song from a woman to her musician boyfriend.  She has lots of complaints “Why don’t you get a job” “do you mind telling your plans to the landlord?” and he tries to explain how music is his work,

“Lion’s Paw” is not so much about the strength of his belief in Jah as it is about the strength of Jah’s belief in him.  He seems very happy and joyful during the song (sometimes drifting away from the mic while dancing).

“She’s Royal” is a pro-women song.  It’s the most pop sounding of the three.

I’m not a huge fan of reggae, but this is a good collection of sweet, positive songs.

[READ: August 30, 2015] The Mad World of Sign Language

This is a goofy collection of bad English on signs across the world.  It turns out that this is the fourth collection of said signs all generated by readers of the British newspaper The Telegraph.

This book is set up geographically.  They begin in The Americas, then on to UK & Ireland, The Mediterranean, Africa, Middle East, India, China, and end in South East Asia and Australasia.

Now I love this kind of thing, but there were a lot of pictures in this book that were mildly amusing at best.  (Could the fourth collection mean diminishing returns?).  Since this is a UK book there is a lot of mirth at British slang which other countries wouldn’t know anything about–which is kind of unfair, right?).  Anyhow, the signs are funny in a very limited way. (more…)

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chloeSOUNDTRACK: ROGER McGUINN with THE ROCK BOTTOM REMAINDERS-Tiny Desk Concert #62 (June 1, 2010).

mcguinn There are many unusual Tiny Desk Concerts, but this may be the strangest.  Ostensibly, the show is from The Rock Bottom Remainders, an informal and revolving assortment of good-natured authors who masquerade as a rock band for charity.  In this incarnation, they are Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Roy Blount Jr., Kathy Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry, none of whom brought any instruments.  But leading them is Roger McGuinn, who brought his guitar and the chords to two songs.

The authors (mostly Dave Barry) are funny and self-deprecating, “We’re gonna attempt a song involving actual singing now,”

So McGuinn leads them in a rendition of “Sloop John B.” which they and the audience sing in a fun, campfire sorta way.  On the second song “May The Road Rise To Meet You” the backing singers mostly just sit and watch McGuinn.  And McGuinn seems fine with that.

He of course has a lovely voice.  And at the end, he does  neat little guitar solo.  And they all applaud.

[READ: July 29, 2015] Chloë Sevigny

I saw this book at work and decided to flip through it.  It has an introduction by Kim Gordon and an Afterword by Natasha Lyonne, so that seemed interesting enough.  The rest of the book is photos of Sevigny.  And nothing else.  Although Gordon says that “this book allows us a peek into her teenage bedroom and evokes the visceral thrill of getting dressed.”

I don’t really have an opinion of Sevigny.  Although I noticed that she tends to appear in things that I like–she’s like the cool guest star that appears on fun shows (like Portlandia).  But I don’t really know anything about her.

And I still don’t. (more…)

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celluloidSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Group Of Seven Live, Ottawa, ON (October 21 1995).

vesely This concert, available from Rheostatics Live, is a recording of the band playing their Music Inspired by the Group of 7 live.  I’m not sure how many of these shows there were, or even if this is the show in its entirety (it seems like it, but there’s no intro, and maybe there was more after the set?).

At any rate, the Group of 7 album is almost entirely instrumental–scored music that is certainly rock, but quite different from typical Rheostatics fare.   In this live setting, we have piano,  upright (and bowed) bass and cello.  And yet it is distinctly Rheostatics.  Band friend (and Barenaked Lady) Kevin Hearn plays piano (he joins them on many of their live shows) as he helped them compose the original soundtrack.

The band doesn’t say much during the set.  In fact, they don’t talk at all until the half way point, when Bidini introduces everyone and talks about how they came to write this music.  He talks about crossing Canada and is generally a jovial fellow.  And then he talks about the reworking of “Northern Wish.”

The Group of 7 album is probably my least favorite Rheostatics album because it is basically a score (I do like it, and think it’s a great audialization of the Group of 7, but it’s not like their proper albums).  And there are some beautiful songs here.  One of the most interesting is “Boxcar Song,” which has a great riff.  It also includes the reworking of “Northern Wish.”

Incidentally the album’s tracks are just listed as one through twelve, but they have gained names from live shows.  And they don’t match up exactly with the album in this concert setting, as this makes it seem that the final song is the long waltz, which it isn’t.

Anyhow, this download isn’t a top ten.  Unless you really like the CD, in which case this is a must hear.  The show includes the samples from the album and a bunch of very interesting takes on the songs.

For a brief news story on the collaboration, check out this from CBC’s The National from 1996.

and part two

[READ: February 2, 2014] Celluloid

I actually assumed this was a new title, as it just came across my desk the other day, but I see that it is three years old.  I’ve always admired McKean’s work, which I think is grotesquely beautiful.  His characters always seem somewhat pained, and the angles of his lines are often harsh.  So I was really unsure what to expect in an “erotic” story from him.

The fact that one of the first few pages states that this book is not to be sold to anyone under the age of 18 should let you know that by erotic, they mean explicit. (I did notice that the caveat was buried a few pages in, though).  And, indeed it is.  Far more than I imagined it would be. (more…)

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