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Archive for the ‘Political Humor’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: TERRI LYNE CARRINGTON + SOCIAL SCIENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #954 (March 4, 2020).

There is something that sets this apart from many other rap-centric performances.

Perhaps it’s because the music is complicated and fascinating–elements of jazz and prog and not just a 4/4 beat.

Perhaps it’s because on the first song “Trapped In The American Dream,” Kassa Overall on vocals doesn’t dominate the music, he is part of it.

Maybe it’s because singer Debo Ray has an utterly amazing voice, whether she is singing lead on “Waiting Game” (which sounds like it could be from a musical) or the amazing operatic backing vocals she contributes to the opening song “Trapped In The American Dream.”

It’s definitely because bandleader and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is phenomenal:

In the jazz world, Carrington is a celebrity — a 40-year professional musician who’s won Grammy awards and performed with a seemingly infinite list of jazz dignitaries such as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Geri Allen. An outspoken activist, teacher and mentor, she is also the founder and artistic director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice, a multidisciplinary program whose motto is “Jazz Without Patriarchy.”

Her skills are really impressive and it’s fun to watch her really get into it.  There’s a moment where she is going super fast on the hi-hat and snare and it’s super cool.

“Trapped” has some interesting guitar melodies that run through the song.  When Ray sings along with them it’s quite magical.  The bass from Morgan Guerin sounds great and it’s quite a surprise when he busts out a saxophone solo.

“A Waiting Game” starts with just a piano and Ray’s voice.  There’s washes of guitar and Carrington hits her drums with her hands–flat open sounds.

The song is very pretty and ends with someone (I can’t tell who) playing bells.  As the bells ring out there’s rather a surprise as Malcolm Jamal Warner (yes) comes out to recite poetry “Bells (Ring Loudly),” in between verses from Ray.

The third tune, “Bells (Ring Loudly),” written by Parks and Carrington, features actor Malcolm Jamal Warner who also wrote the spoken word. Carrington had just seen the Philando Castile shooting and her powerful lyrics imagined what she would say to the offending police officer.

Throughout the set, pianist Aaron Parks plays some fantastic melodies and solos and guitarist Matthew Stevens seems to be perpetually filling the soundscape with little solos and accents.

Social Science [is] a collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks and guitarist Matthew Stevens (both performing here). In the works for some time, their project culminated in 2016 when the cultural divisiveness brought on by the presidential election inspired the trio to take action. “I think there’s an awakening happening in society in general,” Carrington writes on her website, “I feel a calling in my life to merge my artistry with any form of activism that I’m able to engage in.”

This performance features music from the band’s new album, Waiting Game. It’s story-filled, groove-music performed by a group of accomplished musicians who improvise, rap and sing over complex but highly crafted and accessible instrumental motifs. A perfect synthesis of jazz, indie rock and hip-hop influences, the four songs they played address important, culturally relevant protest narratives: mass incarceration, collective liberation, police brutality and Native American genocide.

The final song “Purple Mountains” features Kokayi rapping as Debo Ray sings beautifully with him.  The music in this song is outstanding–complicated and interesting (reminds me a bit of Frank Zappa, which I did not expect).

It opens with some really heavy chords from guitar and bass together while guitar play a cool atonal melody and Aaron Parks played an electric keyboard instead of piano.

The end of the song when Kokayi is rapping faster with yea yea yeas in the middle is really intense and cool.

“I hope that you can enjoy this music because it can be heavy,” drummer and bandleader Terri Lyne Carrington told the NPR crowd gathered for this Tiny Desk. “We’ve tried to figure out a way to make it feel good and still give these messages.”

“There is so much we can be angry about but you can’t really stay there,” Carrington told NPR. “Instead, you can reach somebody on a human level.”

I was totally won over by Social Science.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Carlitos in Charge”

This story was really great and also an interesting (presumably true) look into what (might) happen at the United Nations.

This story was written in a fluid and ease to read style.  I especially enjoyed the lengthy passages of lists that he threw into the story.

Carlitos was nicknamed “Charles in Charge.”  Why? because he didn’t like standing out in an American middle school with such an ethnic name.  So he asked to be called Alex P. Keaton. But his father pronounced it like Alice, which didn’t help.  So he settled on “Charles in Charge.”

Carlitos has worked in the United Nations building for a little over a year assembling data for the Health Department.  And in that short time he has had sex with

the South Korean ambassador, the spokesman for the Swedish Mission, and Irish delegate, a Russian interpreter, an Iraqi translator, the assistant to the deputy ambassador from El Salvador, an American envoy, the chief of staff for the Ukrainian prime minister, the vice presidents of Suriname and the Gambia, a cultural attache from Poland, the special assistant to the Saudi ambassador, the nephew of the ruling party’s general secretary of Laso, a distant cousin of Castro, a film director from Mauritania, countless low-level staffers, a few guides, a half-dozen tourists and Brad.

He says that they had to leave their phones in a lock box on the second floor so cruising happened the old fashioned way.

He got the job through a college friend William Mycroft Quimby–Quim–an authentically Irish fellow living in Brooklyn. He says it was weird working for the world and not his country.  But really his jobs was “Convincing the U.S. to do no harm.”

The United States was immune to easily interpretable, commonsense data on everything–pollution, tuberculosis, birth control, breastfeeding, war, rape, white phosphorous, blue phosphorous, red phosphorous, lithium, P.T.S.D., G.M.O.s, slavery, winged migration, lions, tigers, polar bears, grizzly bears, panda bears, capital punishment, corporal punishment, spanking, poverty, drug decriminalization, incarceration, labor unions, cooperative business structures, racist mascots, climate change, Puerto Rico, Yemen, Syria, Flint, Michigan, women, children, wheelchairs, factory farms, bees, whales, sharks, daylight savings time, roman numerals, centimeters, condoms, coal, cockfighting, horse betting, dog racing, doping, wealth redistribution, mass transit, the I.M.F, CIA, I.D.F., MI5, MI6, TNT, snap bracelets, Pez dispensers, Banksy.  It didn’t matter what its was if the Human Rights Council (or Cuba) advocated one way, the U,S, Went the other.

He soon learned that people used their liaisons to influence decisions.

Do you mean blackmail?
Not blackmail, but, yes, blackmail.

Many of those dalliances resulted in changed results on important bills.

As for Brad, he met Brad at a bar.  Brad also worked at the U.N. but in a different department.  They started dating and got pretty serious. Their one rule was no talking about business.  That worked very well until something was bringing Brad down.  They tried not to talk about it but it soon became too much.

It turned out that Brad was working on a bill calling for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate war crimes in El Salvador.  (Charles in Charge’s family is from El Salvador).

The problem was that China signaled support for it and the U.S. can’t go on record agreeing with China about a human-rights issue.  That would be a bad precedent.  Carlitos said he had been working at the U.N. long enough that this made sense.

China was supporting the resolution because El Salvador cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan. If El Salvador and Taiwan agreed with each other, that might change China’s decision.

Brad wonders of Charles in Charge cam have an impact on this momentous vote.

The way the story and the vote play out are both pretty surprising.

I enjoyed this a lot.

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SOUNDTRACK: BABY ROSE-Tiny Desk Concert #943 (February 10, 2020).

I had not heard of Baby Rose, which I suppose makes sense since she put out her debut album last year.

The blurb makes it sound like she has been through a lot more than her 25 years might suggest.

But when the voice behind those words is as seasoned and vintage as Baby Rose’s, everything it utters reverberates like the gospel truth. The D.C. native — who came of age in Fayetteville, N.C. before coming into her own as an artist in Atlanta — returned to her birthplace.

She even speaks like a much older person:

“I would not be able to write with such emotion about these things without my fair share of regrets.”

It sounds like a sincere statement until you realize it’s a bit, an introduction to the song strangely spelled “Ragrets.”

But that is my favorite song here.  It’s got a great opening guitar riff from John Scherer that is duplicated on the bass (with some great high notes) by Craig Shephard.  Backing vocalist Erika JaNaé is there with her throughout–matching her with lovely backing ooohs.

Baby Rose has a voice that sounds a bit like Antony from Antony & the Johnsons–wavery and operatic.  Especially as the Concert opens with “Sold Out” which features strings from Jasminfire on viola, Yuli on violin and Noah Johnson on cello.

It’s also evident in the third song “Over.”  In the middle of the song she sings low and it sounds very Antony, although I suppose another comparison would be “the bluesy melisma of Nina Simone and the deep register of Sarah Vaughan–two of her idols.”  This song is, surprisingly, less than two minutes long.  It has a simple piano melody from Timothy Maxey.  In addition to Erika JaNaé, Jasminfire and Yuli sing backing vocals.  I like the bass slide at the end, which seems like it’s a transition to another part of the song, not the end.

The next song is “Mortal” which opens with a loud drum hit from Tauseef Anam and quiet shimmering guitars.  There’s a lot of backing singing on this song and they all sing very nicely.

As this song is ending she introduces the band and says

“This is what real love sounds like.  This is what it feels like.”

The blurb says

From any other new artist, a Tiny Desk declaration like that might sound a tad bit presumptuous if not altogether premature.

I actually thought pretentious was the word.

She asks if she can do one more (because of course an artist I’ve never heard of gets an 18 minute set).  And in introducing “All To Myself,” she says she is

Dedicating the song to herself — and “to anyone here that’s ever wanted to call or text somebody that you know you should not call or text” —  congratulating those of us who’ve refrained from squandering our emotions on the undeserved.

Her voice is really impressive on this song and I like that the blurb acknowledges that she’s not using autotune

In an era when the over-reliance on Autotune has nearly everybody in radio R&B land sounding like automatons, her unadulterated voice is almost otherworldly. It’s confounding how a vocal tone so weathered and wise emerges from her so effortlessly.

I was a bit cynical about her at first, but Baby Rose really brings the goods.

[READ: July 10, 2019] Who is Rich?

Rich Fischer is a cartoonist.  As the book opens, Rich is beginning his annual week-long teaching assignment at a New England beachside Arts Conference.  Rich was once sort of famous for his first (and only) published book and that’s why he was initially invited to instruct.  In the intervening six years, he has not really produced anything except drawings for magazines, but the head of the council still likes him, so Rich has that annual work to look forward to.

Although he doesn’t really look forward to it.  At this point, he knows what he is and how he fits along with the rest of the teaching staff:

unknown nobodies and one-hit has-beens, midlist somebodies and legitimate stars.

His was a four day intensive workshop that cost $1500.  He details his students–a former high school art teacher (who tried to take over the class), a med student who didn’t want to start med school, a trans kid, a Vietnam War veteran, a grandmother and a teenager skulking in the back.

He talks about his precocious success–at first it seems like a mistake, but you get used to it quickly. You assume it will always be there.  Until it isn’t.

(more…)

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Terry Jones [1942-2020]

Terry Jones died last night at age 77 because of complications from a rare form of dementia.

I was a huge Monty Python fan back in the day.  I’ve seen all the episodes (even the German ones) and the movies.  I have the records and the books and just about everything they’ve done.  They influenced me terrifically.

Terry Jones was a founder of Monty Python and while I tended to not think of him as my favorite on screen person, thinking about all of the amazing characters he played over the years, I think I’ve unfairly put him too low.  Especially as I think of some of the most quotable lines and how he either said them or was in the skit that spawned it (wafer-thin, anyone?).  Not to mention he did some of the best women’s voices in the series.

Most of the Pythons have been slowing down as of late, which is to be expected.  I was supposed to see John Cleese live recently but my plans fell through. Terry Gilliam is making some unfortunate comments in the media lately.  Eric Idle seems to always be about.  Michael Palin has been doing fantastic work travelling and writing no-fiction. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JANN ARDEN-“Leave the Light On” (2018).

Jann Arden is a Canadian singer-songwriter who I know pretty much exclusively from her 1994 song “Insensitive.”  Arden has also made numerous media appearances over the years, including showing up on Corner Gas, Robson Arms and other shows that I haven’t seen.  She also appeared extensively on Rick Mercer Report (I found out by reading the book).

“Insensitive” is a slow song with a bit of mid-90s production.  The melody is catchy and the lyrics are great:

Oh, I really should have known
By the time you drove me home
By the vagueness in your eyes, your casual goodbyes
By the chill in your embrace
The expression on your face, told me
Maybe, you might have some advice to give
On how to be insensitive, insensitive, ooh, insensitive

Now, nearly 25 years later, Arden has other things on her mind.  I don’t know much about Arden, but evidently both of her parents suffered significant health problems in the last decade.  Her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a battle with Alzheimer’s as well.

“Leave the Light On” is a beautiful song about her mother.

A slow piano opens before Arden starts singing–her voice sounds wonderful–powerful and exposed.

I never pictured life
Alone in a house
Surrounded by trees
That you’d forget yourself
Lose track of time
Not recognize me

The bridge comes in with a harmony voice that shows even more pain.

Then the chorus kicks in and a song that could be maudlin or easily schmaltzy goes in exactly the right place to prevent that.  It shouts a sense of optimism that’s the only way people can keep going sometimes

A four note melody picks up the pace and uses a perfect parenthetical voice (the first voice is quieter, almost internal)

(Out of the dark)
I leave the light on
(In through the cold)
I leave the light on now
(Safe from the night)
I keep my eye on the road
(Good for the soul)
For when you come home to me

What is so compelling about the song is how musically understated it is.  While it could go big and heartbreaky with strings and over the tops effects, it stays quiet with the piano and a quiet electric guitar playing a melody deep in the background.  And really once the drums kick in, it’s almost like the drums are the only instrument–like Arden’s voice is the melody and the piano and guitar are there purely as support.

There’s a short bit near the end of the song that is a real gut punch though.  After a short guitar solo, she sings following the guitar, “do you know my name, do you know my name?”

Dang.  It’s a starkly beautiful song.

It also showcases what a great songwriter she is because she is apparently a truly fun person to hang out (according to Rick Mercer).

[READ: December 2019] Rick Mercer Final Report

I read The Mercer Report: The Book over ten years ago.  I had been a fan of Rick Mercer Report on Canadian TV (we used to be able to get Canadian satellite down here).  As an introduction to that book I wrote

Rick Mercer is a great political comedian.  He puts all American political commentators to shame. I’m sure that much of this difference is the way Canada is structured. There seems to be so much more access to politicians there than in our system.  While politicians do appear on our TV shows, on the Mercer Report, Rick goes white-water rafting with the head of the Liberal party. Rick has a sleepover at the Prime Minister’s house.  For reasons I can’t fathom, all of these politicians agree to hang out with Rick even though in the next segment he will rant about their incompetence.

It’s these rants that were a highlight of his show.  Every episode, he would stand in an alley and go off for 90 some seconds about the issue of the week.  His rants are astute, funny, and right on the mark.  He takes aim at all sides by ranting against incompetence and hypocrisy.  The only disappointing thing is that since this book covers the lifetime of the show and some of the topics have appeared multiple times, I guess it shows that his rants didn’t accomplish their goals.  But they made us feel better, anyhow.

The book is organized in reverse chronological order, with the final rants (April 3, 2018) coming first.

Topics in the final year included how run down the Prime Minister’s residence is.  Justin Trudeau said “The place is filled with mould and lead–I’m not raising my children there.  Typical Liberal.”  Also payday loan sharks; the Paralympics (Mercer was a huge supporter) and technology. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHARLY BLISS-Tiny Desk Concert #899 (October 9, 2019).

I wanted to wait until I saw Charly Bliss live before I watched this Tiny Desk Concert–even if the promo picture was certainly intriguing.

Lead singer Eva Hendricks was so much fun live, so full of joy and energy, that I’m glad I wasn’t expecting anything when I saw them.

In this Tiny Desk Concert, she is no less subdued, and her outfit–a pink tulle flouncy dress–is as vibrant as she is.  There’s even a whole bunch of gold balloons!

Charly Bliss arrived at the Tiny Desk with roughly 20 gold balloons, a burst of energy and some glitter to match. The vibrancy, especially from singer Eva Hendricks, can feel childlike and candy-coated. On the other hand, the subject of these songs is more about the pain of entering adulthood and leaving some of that sweetness behind.

Actually she is somewhat subdued because these songs have been changed for the Tiny Desk.  There’s even a small string section! (Rogue Collective: Kaitlin Moreno: violin; Alexa Cantalupo: violin; Natalie Spehar: cello).

They start with “Capacity” (which they started with when I saw them).

This song started with a drum machine because drummer Sam Hendricks was playing keys.  But what’s surprising (and was surprising when I saw them is that the lead “synth” line of the song is actually played by guitarist Spencer Fox.  Bassist Dan Shure is also playing keys on this song.

One of the most wonderful things about this song is how you can hear Eva Hendricks smile as she sings this song.  Even if, as the blurb says

 The three songs performed at the Tiny Desk, all from the band’s second album, Young Enough, are dark songs laced with the hope of bettering oneself.

After about two minutes, Dan switches to bass as the strings kick in and the song really takes off.  Eva even does some pogoing (she never stopped bouncing when I saw them, although she seems to be restraining herself somewhat here).

Up next is “Young Enough,” which is the name of their second album.

While introducing the title track, Eva Hendricks tells the NPR crowd, “It’s been really incredible rearranging these songs for this [Tiny Desk Concert] because it makes you remember how you were feeling when you wrote it all. And this song is kind of about when you finally realize that you made it out to the other side of something really painful.”

One thing that was really great when I saw them (and here) is when all the band members sing along.  Presumably that’s because

Eva Hendricks and her brother Sam Hendricks write the songs along with the other band members.

“Young Enough” starts quietly with just the keys (from Sam) before the gentle guitars chords strum in.  For the first few verses, it’s the bass that is prominent as Eva sings.  She is very into these songs–you can feel the emotion on her face (even with the eye shadow and glitter) as she sings.  Midway through, she adds acoustic guitar and the strings fill in more.

Sam switches to drums for the final song, “Chatroom.”  Eva introduces it with, “one of the most important things you have to do to grow is to cut some toxic people out of your life.”

When I saw them live, this song was a rocking fun fest.  It’s certainly more subdued here (no pogoing or wailing solos) , but you can feel the infectious nature of the songs in the way everyone gets into it (including Rogue Collective).  And the string crescendo at the end is a nice touch.

This is a band that is fantastic live–in any setting.

[READ: November 15, 2019] “On the First-World Campaign Trail”

I’m not sure how often Larry David writes for the New Yorker.  I feel like this is the first piece, but I’m probably wrong about that.

This piece is political–sort-of-and is timeless in the sense that it could apply to any campaign of the last thirty years.

This piece isn’t crazy funny, but it is much funnier if you read it in Larry David’s voice.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROSANNE CASH-Tiny Desk Concert #893 (September 23, 2019)

I don’t know all that much about Rosanne Cash (I couldn’t recall how she was related to Johnny).  I also assumed that she would be a country artist.  Yet this set is anything but country.  But I guess the key to that is that her voice isn’t country at all, it’s just good.

This blurb also blows my mind a bit about how quickly (or not) they post concerts.  This show was posted in September but was recorded in January–she had to wait quite a while to see it.

Rosanne Cash and her band arrived at NPR to play the Tiny Desk on a freezing cold, bright sunny day in January — one of those brittle, crystal clear winter days when the snow reflects the sun and there’s nowhere to hide from the light. Her intense performance had that same balance of heat and ice.

Cash plays four songs

most taken from her 2018 album She Remembers Everything, have a lot of emotional heat, but they’re shaped and sculpted by the wry wisdom of age and experience. More than at any time in her career, her spirit and approach to performance these days reflects the influence of her father, the legendary country singer Johnny Cash.

“She Remembers Everything” opens with John Leventhal on with Rosanne on acoustic guitar.  Like most of these songs, it feels slow and powerful–kind of bluesy with a dramatic chord progression.  Mid song, Leventhal switches to guitar and plays a great little solo.

When the song is over she praises everyone: “So attentive.  Like a listening room at the NPR offices.”

Up next is “The Only Thing Worth Fighting” which she co-wrote with T Bone Burnett and Lyra Lynn  This song is not so much country as western-sounding.  There’s more nice guitar work from Leventhal.

Zev Katz on bass and Dan Rieser on drums don’t do anything to single them out except for keeping the songs moving properly.  The bass does do some nice lines, but mostly, these are simple songs which need little accompaniment.

For “Everyone But Me” she takes off the guitar.  This is a lovely piano ballad after which she says, “I don’t know if the young people can relate to this song but it means more as you get older.”

The last song is from her album The River and the Thread.  She says the album won a Grammy and the last time she won a Grammy, Ronald Reagan was president.  From this she plays the cool bluesy “A Feather’s Not A Bird.”

This isn’t the kind of music I enjoyed, but I liked this Tiny Desk Concert a lot more than I thought I would based on what I thought I knew about Rosanne Cash.

[READ: August 26, 2019] The Adventures of Barry & Joe

After the election that has sent the country spiraling into a level of hell, Adam Reid wanted to do something to make decent-thinking people laugh.

When I saw first saw this, I assumed that Adam Reid was Adam Reed, the creator of Archer and other delightfully dark cartoons.  It took a while for me to realize that he isAdam Reid who is responsible for The Tiny Chef Show.

Aside from that, I don’t really have any familiarity with him.  So that’s kind of interesting, I suppose. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Polygondwannaland (2017).

KGATLW continued to amaze in 2017 with their fourth record of the year.  This record was given away for free in November–it was released under an open source licence—meaning the band did not sell copies of the album, but uploaded the master tapes online, encouraging fans to make their own copies and bootlegs of the album. They wrote:

Make tapes, make CD’s, make records.  Ever wanted to start your own record label? GO for it! Employ your mates, press wax, pack boxes. We do not own this record. You do. Go forth, share, enjoy.  P.S. If u wanna make cassettes I don’t really know what you would do.  Be creative. We did it once but it sounded really shit.

As of 2019, Louder tells us

They put the master tapes and artwork online, and indie labels all over the world filled their boots. According to Discogs there are currently 246 different versions of the album, coming in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the label who released a triple vinyl 8″ lathe-cut edition of 101 copies. Australian label Rhubarb Recordings released an edition of 500 housed in a reflective silver foil laminated gatefold sleeve with psychedelic UV printing. Pocket Cat Records released a run of 20 with the grooves cut into blank laserdiscs. Aural Pleasure Records used a Kickstarter campaign to fund their edition of five “Glitter Lizard” LPs, with transparent blue and yellow vinyl featuring embedded glitter and “lizards.” It all got a bit crazy out there.

Conventional wisdom would say that obviously if they’re giving it away, it must not be very good.  But that’s the surprise (or not, given the quality out put of these guys)–this album is just as good as their others, and in many places better.  They really seem to have unified their sound for the bulk of this album, incorporating so many aspects of previous albums, but successfully merging them into a coherent whole.  There’s an epic song, a whole bunch of songs that segue into other songs, songs that refer to other songs, loud vocals, quiet vocals, flutes, harmonica, and it’s all wrapped up in an early Pink Floyd-era synth sound. (more…)

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