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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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: JORDAN RAKEI-Tiny Desk Concert #935 (January 13. 2020).

I’ve never heard of Jordan Rakei.  I didn’t enjoy the first song of this Tint Desk, but that probably because I don’t really like “soulful R&B artists.”  But the other songs are a bit more jazzy and fluid and I enjoyed them more.

It also seems like Tiny Desk sets that I don’t enjoy are longer than the ones I like.  This one is four songs in 17 minutes–how do artists I’ve never heard of get more screen time than artists that Bob and Robin love?

The blurb is really glowing about the band and musically they are really tight.

The band opened with “Say Something,” from the group’s 2019 album, Origin. It’s a song that encourages people to take action and speak up for themselves.

It’s got a simple riff on the bass (Jonathan Harvey) and the guitar (Imraan Paleker).  The main feature of this song seems to be the backing vocalists: Linda Diaz, Sam Wills and Opal Hoyt who dominate the song.  I think this song just overstays its welcome since the “say something” refrain is sung about a hundred times.

They followed with “Mind’s Eye,” a commentary on technology that questions whether advancements are always a good idea.

I enjoyed the opening looping synth riffage (presumably from Jordan).  Then it kicks in with a vaguely Latin rhythm with percussion from Ernesto Marichales and a cool drum pattern of rim shots from Jim Macrae.  I liked this song a lot more.  bothe because of the really interesting middle section with cool bass lines and swirling synths and guitar as Rakei switches to piano.

This song is jazzy and it segues into the even jazzier “Talk To Me,” from the group’s 2016 debut album, Cloak.  I guess I prefer the clean piano sound and more sparing backing vocals on these two middle songs.   The end is fun with just about everyone playing some kind of percussion instrument.  Jordan sings something although i don’t know if it’s in another language or is just interesting sounds.

The final song “Speak,” was inspired by the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, it imagines a world where nuclear war has left half the women infertile, as technology runs amok.

For this track it’s just him on piano.  I thought i would enjoy him solo a bit more than with the band, but I don’t find this song all that interesting, so bring the percussion back!

[READ: January 18, 2020] “Protocol”

This was a strange story and I didn’t really understand what was happening for the most part.

The coolest part of the story is that it was a translation and translator David Short managed to write passages with a heavy British accent even though it was originally written in Czech.  I can’t imagine what was happening in the original that would give a sentence like

An’ on top o’ that being a purveyor of love, ‘aving everyone ‘ang on till his death…

Of course, I have no idea why the character would have a heavy accent–it was never alluded to.  In fact, I don’t know why any of this story was the way it was. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEST COAST-“Little Saint Nick” (2019).

It was only a few years ago that I realized that this song is about a car.  For years you can sing words to a song and not realize what you’re actually saying.

The song is a fun upbeat Christmas song that I rather like.

Best Coast is a rock duo: Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno.  They sing California indie pop with a rocking edge.

This version of “Little Saint Nick” is not radically different from the original.  The biggest musical difference is how fuzzy and distorted the main guitar is.  But her deliver of the lyrics is pretty clean (with some very nice backing vocals).

I appreciate this version because it finally taught me what the deep-voiced part is in the song “he don’t miss no one.”  I could never tell form the Beach Boys version.

This is a delightful poppy version that with just enough edge to get you moving for the holiday.

[READ: December 23, 2019] “The Adventists”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

Ian Williams has my favorite answer to one of the Q&A questions:

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

IW: I wrote “The Adventists” because Michael Hingston asked me for a story for the Short Story Advent Calendar project. I pretty much already had a title from the invitation. He said that the story didn’t have to be religious or about Christmas, so, good lawkeeper that I am, I wrote a story that was religious and about Christmas.

Indeed, this story is about Adventists.  Seventh-Day Adventists.  The narrator is the father of a family of Adventists and his daughter has just come back from college in Leeds for Christmas.

The story begins, “Our daughter is trying to persuade us that the world is more  than 6,000 years old.” She’s also got quite the posh British accent (after being away for a semester).

She doesn’t dismiss the Bible out of hand–it gives comfort to many people.  But not you? her father wonders.  She says you can’t deny science.  He retorts, “You’re going to trust some rocks above the Word of God?”

Soon enough, his daughter took out her phone and started “texting or tweeting or whatever she does when she has no retort for the real world.”

The Monday before Christmas [that’s today!] they went to Walmart.

I love this aside:

For a significant period our family refused to celebrate Christmas in protest against its pagan origins.  Made no dent on the economy.  Now we were back, somewhat grudgingly to being standard Protestants.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WEEZER-Christmas with Weezer (2008).

I heard a Weezer Christmas song this weekend when WRFF in Philadelphia was playing a Christmas takeover weekend–rock bands playing Christmas songs.

When I looked up the song, I found out that Weezer released this EP in 2008.  It had originally been released for a video game called Christmas with Weezer (?!).  Evidently the game was Tap Tap which featured 18 band-specific versions!

This EP has six songs in under 13 minutes.  Each one of the tracks is pretty straight-ahead Weezer guitar rock.  They are bouncy and short, with nothing weird or crazy in them.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” starts out with a quiet guitar and then just rocks out when the lyrics come in.  The song is quick and to the point–no messing around.  There’s figgy pudding, there’s a short guitar solo, there’s a key change and its all done in a minute and a half.

“O Come All You Faithful” moves along at a nice clip.  This song is often done rather slowly and this is a fun change of pace.  The back half has a part where the guitars fade out and its a quiet verse before they all come back in to rock the finish.

“O Holy Night” is two times longer than anything else on the EP.  It’s a 4 minute, quiet version with a simple, picked electric guitar melody.  That is until the Weezer guitars kick in after about 40 seconds.  The song is still respectful and very catchy

“The First Noel” starts with an unexpected four note heavy guitar riff before the song resumes it faithful lyrics.

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” has a rocking intro before a bass slide kicks the song into high gear.  This song romps through in 90 seconds.

“Silent Night” is a slower song with no drums, just tambourine.

This is a pretty ideal alternative collection of Christmas songs–nothing too crazy, but a nice change from the familiar.   Although it did not actually contain the song I was looking for.

[READ: December 21, 2019] “The Carnation Milk Palace”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is set in 1964 and concerns fourteen-year-old Charlotte.  She and her family were invited to the Halden’s house for a New Year’s Eve party.

The Haldens were the richest people her parents knew.  They lived in a mansion that her father liked to call The Carnation Milk Palace.  Charlotte’s family couldn’t even afford new things. It was quite a disparity.  Her mother painted things to try to make them current (which meant avocado green). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Gimme Some Truth” (2001).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Gimme Some Truth” was written by John Lennon during the Nixon administration.

Pearl Jam played this song live a bunch of times during the George W. Bush administration.  They had played it twice before recording this version at the Groundwork Benefit, Key Arena, Seattle. October 22, 2001.

It’s quite a faithful cover.  The original has angry guitars and Lennon’s growly voice. Although the original has a very distinctly Beatles-sound from the guitars (Which is obvious, but still somewhat surprising).  Even Lennon’s guitar solo has that Beatles sound.  The Pearl Jam version doesn’t have that feel at all–it sounds very much like a Pearl Jam song.

In fact, Eddie and the guys updated the lyrics for the George W. Bush administration.  I’ve listed both sets of lyrics at the bottom of the page.

The song is catchy and passionate and, frankly, is even more applicable now with the Liar in Chief’s administration literally incapable of saying a true word.

[READ: December 12 2019] “The Sacred Family”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I have read a number of stories by Rachel Kushner.  I tend to enjoy them, although this one was more thought-provoking than interesting.

The story concerns a man, Hauser, who is warden at a women’s prison.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEREBA-Tiny Desk Concert #919 (November 27, 2019).

Who the heck is Mereba?

Very few artists get to return to the Tiny Desk, and fewer still return twice in the same year. But after contributing background vocals behind the desk for Dreamville artist Bas in early 2019, we invited Mereba back for a solo set that puts her eclectic, major-label debut The Jungle Is The Only Way Out into sharp focus.

As with many singers I’ve never heard of, I’m not sure if these songs sound like this on the record or if they are more dancey.  I do quite like the simple, organic sounds that accompany these songs.

The stripped-down soundscape Mereba achieves live with her four-piece band is equally dreamlike here, drawing from influences as wide-ranging as the many places she’s called home (Alabama, Philly, North Carolina, Atlanta, Ethiopia). As she pulls from genres as seemingly disparate as folk, rap and spoken word, her set reflects the years she spent perfecting her craft on live stages in Atlanta cafes and clubs, where she attracted the attention of the indie creative collective Spillage Village  before joining them in 2014.

She sings three songs and recites a poem (all on the album).

When “Black Truck” started I thought she sounded exactly like Alanis Morissette.  The way she says “and I said world would you please have some mercy on me” sounds very uncannily like her.  The song is a quiet, mellow piece that starts with a simple bass line (including some harmonics) from Chris James and guitar washes that turn into a nice picked melody from Sam Hoffman.  After a minute or so, Aisha Gaillard plays a simple drum beat and the song kicks into higher gear.

Through all of this, the backing vocals from Olivia Walker were just beautiful.  The end of the song turns into a kind of rap as the guitar and bass fade out.  I say kind of a rap because Mereba is also a poet and she has more of a poet’s delivery than a rapper’s delivery.

For “Stay Tru” the guys switch instruments and the bass takes on a slightly more lead role.  But this song is also very mellow.  Mereba’s vocals sound a bit more Jamaican in his song.  Midway through, James switches to violin and Mereba plays keys which adds a whole new texture.  I didn’t like this song as much because the chorus is kinda lame with a lot of repeating of “cut the bullshit, this time” sung in a sweet voice.  It also seems to drag on for a really long time (although it is very pretty).

“Dodging The Devil” is a poem she wrote when things just didn’t seem to be going right.  After a couple of verses, a quiet guitar line fills in the background.

On the last song, “Kinfolk,” Mereba plays the main guitar line while Sam plays single soaring notes.  The song kicks into gear with a simple guitar riff and some prominent bass.

I really enjoyed this set.  I thought the music was beautifully restrained and her voice distinct enough in each song to show such a range of sounds.  It’s always nice to be surprised by a new musician.

[READ: November 15, 2019] Cursed

I saw this book in the new YA section at the library.  I was attracted by the cover and fascinated by the “soon to be a Netflix Original Series” sticker.

I have known of Frank Miller for years.  I’m sure I’ve read graphic novels by him, although I don’t know if I’ve read Sin City (maybe a long time ago?).  Mostly he drew superhero comics which is not my thing.  Turns out I really don’t like his artistic style in this book (at least for the way he draws the heroine–I rather like the way the bad guys are drawn).  If the series was in any way designed to look like the art in the book I don’t think I’d watch it.

But the story itself is petty darn good.  It took me a while to read it for some reason. I guess maybe the opening was a little slow because there’s so much going on it takes awhile to really get settled in this universe.

But the description of the story is pretty intriguing: Whosoever wields the sword of power shall be the one true king.  But what if the sword has chosen a queen?

For this is a story of Arthurian legend with many many twists.  My knowledge of Arthurian legend is surprisingly minimal.  I love the story and I know the main participants, but there is a lot of information in here that I didn’t know about–or even how much Wheeler is making up. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING’S X-Live Love in London (2010).

King’s X released their most recent studio album (XV) in 2008.  It’s been over 11 years since that album came out, but King’s X still tours pretty much all of the time.  They could stand to mix up their setlists a bit from time to time, but they still sound quite good.

This concert was recorded on January 22nd, 2009 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, London, not long after XV came out.  As such, there’s five songs from that album.  I actually thought that XV was a pretty great record and these songs hold up quite well with the rest of them.

This show starts, as pretty much all shows do since 1998 with “Groove Machine.”  The opening of “Welcome to the Groove Machine” is a pretty terrific way to introduce everyone to the show.  There’s a slightly extended drum solo in the middle of the song, but nothing too crazy.

It’s followed by a new song, “Alright.”  It features some noisy, squeaky guitars from Ty and is really catchy in it’s simplicity: “one day, (one day) it’s gonna be, (it’s gonna be) alright, (alright) alright, (alright).”  It’s a great singalong.

They quickly jump back to a popular older song, the quiet “Pleiades” although Ty’s vocals sound a little rough on it.  Back to the new record with “Move,” a suitably heavy song, although “What is This?” from the debut sounds much heavier.  You can tell that the band has played this song a lot because dUg is taking liberties with the lyrics: “make you look so fucking foolish.”  And lots of screaming.  Ty’s guitar solo is pretty epic.

Then they play two songs in a row from the King’s X album.  Up first is the quieter, grooving “Lost in Germany.”  Then comes the hugely popular “Black Flag.”

There’s a slightly lengthy bass intro as the band sets up for the new, absolutely rocking song “Pray,” in which dUg once again grapples with religion.  This is another great chanting sing along.

The crowd is excited for the older hit “Dogman” with some more noisy guitars from Ty.  dUg also makes his first reference to pot: after the line “give me a skinny or give me a fat,” he says “I smoke em fat.”

Then there’s two new songs in a row, yet another great sing-along” Go Tell Somebody.”  It’s a rollicking song that sums up the King’s X ethos pretty well: “if you like what you hear, go tell somebody.”  It leads into the quieter, Jerry Gaskill-sung “Julie” a nice song to his wife.  That’s it for new songs as they head back to older albums from here on out.

The first one is the only song from Ear Candy, the rocking “Looking for Love.”  It’s interesting when Ty plays his solo how much the rest of the sound goes away–its just bass and drums while Ty totally wails–a rather long solo for a 4 minute song.  The crowd goes crazy for “Summerland” and you can hear them all singing along to the final verse including the slight pause before it resumes.  The crowd is incredibly important at a King;s X show and it is a bit of a shame that the crowd is mixed out of this recording (I assume it’s a sound board and therefore hard to include the crowd).  But it’s really great to hear them sing along.  Apparently there is also a lot of chanting and such that is edited out for the CD, which makes sense, but is a bit of a bummer if you want to really capture the energy of the show.  At one point dUg even says, “I’ve been listening to you sing all night and its alright.”

They end the set with a rousing 12 minute “Over My Head.”  The extended part comes in the middle, of course.  The song slows down, the crowd starts clapping, and Ty plays a really impressive solo–just wailing around for almost 3 minutes.  Then it’s dUg’s turn.  “Welcome to the first church of rock n roll.”  He talks about the importance of music, “Music got me through a lot of hard times.”  In almost every show he tells a different anecdote.  This time he says, “My aunt told me … its a terrible thing for a man to do the thing he don’t wanna do for the rest of his life.  I decided I’m gonna make fucking music.”  The audience then sings the chorus pretty much through to the end of the song.

Then it’s time for the encore.  (The encore breaks are not evident on the CD).

dUg says, “This is gonna be a long encore.”  It starts with two songs from Faith Hope Love.  “It’s Love” was probably their biggest hit.  The song sounds great, although truthfully their impeccable harmonies sound a little tired here.   It segues perfectly in to “We Were Born to Be Loved” one of the great show enders.  This version runs to about six minutes with some extended moments and that awesomely complex ending sequence.

They come back out for encore 2 and play the lovely “Goldilox.”  The big difference this time is that the crowd sings the entire song!  Quite well, in fact.  dUg doesn’t sing anything and Ty only plays loud between verses.  It’s pretty cool.  They stay with the debut album for one more song, “Visions” which returns to the heaviness but keeps the harmonies.  The end part really takes off with some wild soloing from Ty as dUg and Jerry jam out together.  It’s a wonderfully wild ending and seems like it could easily end the show.  But the band isn’t quite done yet.

There’s one more encore break before they come back with the wild “Moanjam.”  The harmonies seem to have completely lost them by this time, but musically the song is outstanding.  Just a terrific jam that rocks out.

King’s X is a fantastic live band.  And, yes, they are getting older and don’t sound as amazing as they once did, but the energy and musicianship is still top-notch, even almost ten years after this release.

[READ: February 2019] King’s X: The Oral History

Even though I love music, I don’t read a ton of books about musicians.  I kind of don’t care all that much about most of them.  I want to see and hear you play, but I don’t have that much curiosity about your history.

But some bands defy the tropes of rock, and their story can often be interesting.

I’ve been a fan of King’s X for decades and while I knew some things about them, it turns out I didn’t really know all that much.  And it was fun to read this book which is constructed of quotes from the band and the people who were around them.

Most of the people interviewed are huge fans of the band and can’t understand why they were never more successful (a common question).  I also had no idea there was such acrimony between the band and their original unofficial fourth member, Sam Taylor (who does not make an appearance in the book).

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was to find out that Doug (dUg) Pinnick is 68 years old! That certainly explains why his voice doesn’t sound superlative live anymore.  And fair play to him.  He sounds amazing for 68.  He is otherwise ageless, that guy.  dUg had a pretty rough upbringing–and he didn’t get a bass until he was 23!

Jerry Gaskill has had two heart attacks (!) and is from South NJ (and now lives near Asbury Park–wow, imagine running into him).  He started a band with his dad and his brother when he was 7 years old (Jerry & The Knights).  And they played out at weddings and parties.  How fun is that?

Ty Tabor is the baby at 58. Ty learned guitar from a babysitter and has been playing ever since.  He and others keep referring to Phil Keaggy.  I had never heard of him and was surprised at Ty’s reverence.  Well, Keaggy is an adult Christian musician so clearly I’d never have heard of him.  I listened to a track or two but just couldn’t get past the Christianness of it to really appreciate the music. (more…)

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