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[LISTENED TO: June 29, 2016] No Girls Allowed (Dogs Okay) 

Scab McNally is a clever fourth-grade kid who is always inventing things. But he’s also kind of selfish and pretty mean to his sister.  Isabelle is his twin but because she really uses her brain (She is smart times ten) she has been bumped up from 4th grade to 5th grade.

Isabelle doesn’t understand Scab’s brand of cleverness (and mischievousness) and so she writes a daily news report about all of the things that Scab has done to her (and done at school) through the day.  She reads this to her parents every night.  It’s pretty hard for Scab to catch a break at this point.

But obviously, the more Isabelle tells on him the more things he does to her.  He puts cheese in her underwear drawer and dead bugs in her room.

This is all some background to the fact that more than anything else Scab wants a dog.  (There seem to be a lot of books about kids who desperately want a dog).  Scab’s best friend has a dog, Oscar–a wiener dog.  And Scab is super jealous but always happy to help out with Oscar.  Of course, since Isabelle is always attaining on him, his parents don’t think he is responsible to own a dog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANTONIO LIZANA-Tiny Desk #614 (April 28, 2017).

I am fascinated by Lizana, but more for his voice than anything else.  Lizana’s singing voice/style sounds a lot like the lead singer of Gipsy Kings (musicians from Arles and Montpellier in the south of France, who perform in the Spanish language with an Andalusian accent).  Lizana is from Spain, but he has that same strained and fascinating delivery.  The blurb here hints that maybe that is just the style of flamenco:

In many ways, the traditions of flamenco and jazz could not be further apart, but in the hands of a few Spanish jazz musicians, these two worlds commingle and find common ground. Antonio Lizana is one such musician, both a saxophonist and vocalist with one foot firmly planted in each tradition. As a vocalist he has mastered the Moorish, note-bending improvisations that make flamenco singing so beguiling, while the fluidity of ideas he expresses as a saxophonist place him in the time-honored tradition of composing while playing.

Indeed, between jazz-like saxophone, Lizana sings flamenco vocals.  For these three songs, Lizana and Jonatan Pacheco (percussion) and Andreas Arnold (guitar) play quite a mix and it works very well.  The band is also quite multicultural as well as Andreas is from Germany and Jonatan is from Spain (and he plays a mean box drum).

“Airegría” is about 6 minutes long.  It begins with hims singing over the percussion.  It after a minute and a half that the guitar comes in and not until almost 2 and a half minutes before the sax comes in.  The guitar is kind of staccato while the sax is pretty fluid.

Introducing the band he says, “We’re very happy to be here playing.  We have today on the stage or on the desk…”

“Déjate Sentir” more conventionally jazzy sax but the main melody comes from his kind of scat singing.  Ad I find tat when the guitar kicks in I prefer him singing to guitar rather than playing the sax–I suppose traditional flamenco over jazz. But I can appreciate the sax too–especially when it seems to push aside the flamenco style for a bit.

“Viento De La Mar” is a smoother song with some pretty guitar and light jazzy sax.  My favorite moments comes in the middle with the chiming percussion and the big ending.

[READ: June 24, 2016] Big Bad Ironclad

How cool is this series?  It is so cool that this is the official author bio:

The spy Nathan Hale was executed in 1776.  The author Nathan Hale was born in 1976.

Nathan Hale is the author/illustrator’s real name and he uses the spy Nathan Hale as the narrator of his stories about history (or in this case the future–for the spy, that is).

The book begins on September 22, 1776 as Nathan Hale is about to be hung for treason.  The British soldier in charge of the execution is cross, but the executioner himself is kind of giddy because Hale is going to tell another tale.

After some amusing introductions, designed to antagonize the solider, Hale settles in to tell the story of the iron ships (iron doesn’t float!).

And thus he begins the story of the Merrimack and the Monitor.  The year is 1861 and Abraham Lincoln has just been elected.

Hale uses some very funny narrative devices to get some of the salient battle points across, like General Scott’s anaconda plan–surround the enemy and squeeze.  But how can they do that with only four, yes four, ships?

The North’s man in charge was Gideon Welles, nicknamed Father Neptune.  Stephen Mallory is in charge of the confederate navy–the executioner dubs him “sharkface.”  And in the most amusing nod to comics, Gustavus Fox (Foxy) is rendered as a fox (he’s a cute li’l fox). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANILO BRITO-Tiny Desk Concert #618 (May 12, 2017).

This is a pretty great  introduction to the music of Danilo Brito:

After four chords, the notes start to fly — Danilo Brito and his four collaborators, three Brazilians and one American, are off like jackrabbits in front of a hound, having hustled their instruments to the Tiny Desk at the end of a North American tour.

Brito plays the mandolin, and boy how his finger fly.

Brito a 32-year-old mandolin player, made his first record when he was a teenager, plays a type of music called choro (pronounced “shore-oo”).  It’s said that choro started in the streets and back yards and made its way to the concert hall. Brazilian musicians of all genres have drawn on choro, from popular composer Antonio Carlos Jobim to Heitor Villa Lobos, one of the giants of Latin American classical music. Its literal translation from the Portuguese is “to cry,” but in Brito’s dextrous hands a better translation may be “crying out to be heard.”

They play five songs.  “Sussuarana” is just full of amazing finger work.  The pace is breakneck and exhausting.  How does he do it?.  There are two guitars (Carlos Moura (7-string guitar) and Guilherme Girardi (guitar)) playing chords and the mandolin zipping all over the place.  In the background, Lucas Arantes plays a small guitar called the cavaquinho and Brian Rice (the American) keeps the beat on the pandeiro.

Between songs he has a translator explain that they are playing “a little bit of Brazilian instrumental music.”  He says this style of music started around 1860, mixing jazz and classical and African music.”

“Lamentos” is a much sadder song (as you might imagine), but it is gorgeous.  For “Tica” Arantes and Rice step aside.  “Tica” is his own composition.  It is a waltz in two tempos.  There’s some wonderful lead lines that run up and down the instrument.  It’s fascinating that while his lines are still fast the rest of the musicians are at a slower pace.  There’s a lovely middle section of delicate guitar, but once it ends they take off again.

The next song is “Melodia Sentimental” it sounds like the soundtrack of a weepy romance film–heart string tugging.

Brito and his colleagues play their arrangement of Villa Lobos’ “Melodia Sentimental,” originally written for voice and orchestra.  What you’re actually hearing is a kind of formal Rodas de Choro, the circles of players who developed this music more than a century ago and have carried it on to the present.

Only — in the backyards, they don’t wear suits and ties.

The final song “Pega Ratão” is also an original piece.  It is short and never stops.  It is great watching his fingers fly.

[READ: June 12, 2016] One Dead Spy

How cool is this series?  It is so cool that this is the official author bio:

The spy Nathan Hale was executed in 1776.  The author Nathan Hale was born in 1976.

Nathan Hale is the author/illustrator’s real name and he uses the spy Nathan Hale as the narrator of his stories about history (or in this case the future–for the spy, that is).

This is the first book in the series so it begins with the historical Nathan being brought up to the gallows.  The people are all there to watch a hanging, but they are disappointed that the guy to be hung is a spy, not the arsonist.  And then Hale is brought up to the British soldier and the executioner (who looks at Hale and say “This is awkward”).

Hale mutters his famous last words: I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.  And as that happens a The Big Huge Book of American History comes down and swallows Hale and then lets him back out because he just “made history.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: OK GO-Tiny Desk Concert #278 (June 3, 2013).

I love OK Go’s music videos.  They are stupendous. I have watched all of them several times.  And yet I can’t remember a single song.  But that doesn’t diminish my appreciation for them.

When NPR was moving offices, they made a “Tiny Desk Concert” of the band proceeding from their old location to the new one.  And in OK Go fashion, they made a great video to go with it.  The music is live (I believe), even though they must have shot the footage hundreds of times.  It’s sort of a stop motion video, except that it’s not single frames but short 2 second clips spliced together.

You can watch as the old office is dismantled, as they walk through the halls to the moving truck.   As they play on the truck in the streets of D.C. and then as they enter the new building.  There are cameos from NPR colleagues: Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, David Greene, Guy Raz, Scott Simon, Alix Spiegel, Susan Stamberg and more.  There’s a hilarious moment with Karl Kassel who gives them a dirty look.  And then they march through the offices, the news room and into the new Tiny Desk location where they finish the song.

The song is fun and catchy and even has new lyrics that reference the NPR move.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.

And if you like figures here are some details from the shoot:

  • Number of video takes: 223
  • Number of seconds Carl Kasell spent in the elevator with OK Go: 98
  • Number of times Ari Shapiro played the tubular bells: 15
  • Number of days it took to shoot: 2
  • Number of cameras: 1

Incidentally, NPR and I are out of sync with our counting of Tiny Desk Concerts.  I can’t figure out what happened.  The reason mine is correct is because I have written down every concert and numbered them.  So I feel that for them one doesn’t count?  They say this was number 277.  Someday they’ll read this and we’ll get to the  bottom of everything.

[READ: April 1, 2016] No Mercy Vol. 1

Because of the way books are being handled at my work now, I don’t get to see as many books as I used to. So i was pretty delighted to get this graphic novel on my desk.  Even if I didn’t quite know what it was about, I wanted to read it.  And boy did I enjoy it.

I had no idea that the cast was a group of aspiring Princeton University students on a per-freshman trip to an underprivileged county (I like the t-shirts that say Building Bridges Helping Hands with a kinda Princeton P on the front.

We meet the cast in a cool way–each one steeping forward a bit in the crowd and giving a bit of information about themselves…mostly through text messages. Oh and I loved the way the opening colophon pages looked just like Facebook (or whatever) with a timeline photo and then on the right side–sponsored images with drawings of the author and the illustrators and an ad for an other Image comic by Alex de Campi called Valentine–genius layout idea.

There’s also a comment under the photo which says “OMG how sad, they were also young.”  So you know something bad is going to happen these poor kids. (more…)

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tyrantSOUNDTRACK: CHRISTINE SALEM-Tiny Desk Concert #326 (December 14, 2013).

As with many artists behind the Tiny Desk, I had never heard of Christine Salem.  So who is she?

Christine Salem sings songs that are old: They’re work songs and chants from the maloya tradition on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean. I first heard her in New York City as she shook a flat board called a kayamb, made of cane reeds, with two percussionists flanking her to provide rhythm.

Salem makes powerful, strongly focused music in which all the elements are essential, with nothing superfluous. She says it feels like the spirits move through her when she plays, and though you may doubt her if you’re a nonbeliever, you’d be hard-pressed to deny her your attention once you hear her.

And that’s pretty spot on.  She sings like a woman possessed–but in a good way–serious catharsis for these intense pieces which are amazingly musical for songs with no instruments except percussion.

“Listwar” showcases her strong, powerful voice when she sings by herself but the whole thing grows amazing when the other voices come in.  But even that doesn’t even prepare you for the wonders of the percussion that come next—that kayamb is mesmerizing, the big drum is so deep and the percussive sticks (which seems like he’s hitting what might be a lectern) all work perfectly.  All of the melody comes from their voices.  The backing guys also seem possessed by the music and the drummer is even laughing he’s so filled with joy.

“Alouwe” begins with claps and rhythmic chanting, which is pretty cool, but again, when the drums come in its even better. Halfway through the tempo picks up and she grabs that kayamb again and the intensity ratchets up.  There’s chanting from the men with lots of laughing and clapping at the end.  The final song is “Komor Blues.”  For this one, she is just by herself playing the drum.  While not as big as the other songs, it is just as intense, especially when the pace speeds up about halfway through.

I have no idea what she’s singing about, but I was mesmerized by the whole thing.

[READ: May 15, 2016] Tiny Tyrant

I read this book last year, never even imagining that it could somehow be comparable to our then highly unlikely leader.  Reading back on it now, I can’t get over the similarities between this fictional character and our television-inspired president.  I mean, look at how King Ethelbert is described: “Selfish, short-tempered, unscrupulous, stubborn, and willing to do anything to get what he wants.”

This book collects all of the Tiny Tyrant stories into one volume (Volume One: The Ethelbertosaurus & Volume Two: The Lucky Winner) were published by First Second with six stories each).  They were originally collected into four books in French (and translated into English by Alexis Siegel).

First Second had a lot of books by Lewis Trondheim in their earlier publication days but that seems to have gone by the wayside somewhat this decade.

Perhaps it is because his books are hard to classify.  They are basically kids books but they are pretty dark kids books–there’s usually death and blowing up and horrible things happening to people.

Tiny Tyrant is one of the sweeter Trondheim books that I’ve read.  Because even though the Tyrant is a tyrant, he is mostly unsuccessful  in his demands and nobody blows up [let’s hope we are so lucky with our country’s current wanna-be-dictator]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ADAM TORRES-Tiny Desk Concert #577 (November 11, 2016).

Adam Torres has a pretty singular voice.  It is gentle and delicate and slips into a beautiful falsetto with relative ease.

As it turns out his songs are a little too slow for me to fully enjoy, but I do enjoy the melodies and can certainly appreciate his voice.

“High Lonesome” has a great melody–especially on the violin (played beautifully by Aisha Burns)–it’s her melodies at the end of each verse that really makes me want to listen to this song more.  It’s also amazing to watch how effortlessly he switches to the falsetto notes (the high, in high lonesome).  I also really enjoyed the way Dailey Toliver so delicately plays the bass–I actually assumed it was a six string for how gently he is strumming it–and that he can still play some appropriate notes on the Wurlitzer at the same time.

“Outlands” is certainly my favorite of his songs.  Between the scratchy, lonesome violin, the pretty picked guitar notes and the way he instantly switched to falsetto on the second note of each verse–it’s haunting.

“I Came to Sing the Song” is a new song which is even slower than the others.  Once again, his voice is lovely and the melody is very pretty, but this one is just too slow for me to fully enjoy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that percussion (just two congas) is provided by the wonderful Thor Harris (who might have the most Tiny Desk appearances with various bands).

[READ: February 2, 2017] LastMan 6

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

I was under the impression that this was the last volume in the series.  Why?  Well, mostly because at the end of this book, the ad for the previous book calls #5 the penultimate volume.  But this story not only ends with a WHAATTT?  It also ends with a total cliffhanger last page.  According to Wikipedia, there are 8 volumes of the original French, so I can only hope that First Second plans to print the other two (and more?) volumes.

But ending aside, this volume was outstanding.

It opens with a flashback to what Richard did to his partner Duke Diamond to get him in so much trouble back when.  The crux is that Diamond was doing serious drugs and Richard didn’t like it–the friction, and Richard’s reaction, all centers around that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ESME PATTERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #597 (February 10, 2017).

I saw Esmé Patterson at the XPNFest last year.  Her live show was dynamic and fun and she was really charming.  I got to meet her briefly after the show and she was super friendly as well.

This Tiny Desk Concert (in which she has totally shaved off her big wavy hair), is a somewhat quieter, but overall accurate representation of her live show.

I love that she’s playing a big echoing guitar while the rest of the band Alex Koshak (drums); Jeremy Averitt (bass) and Jake Miller (lead guitar) support her perfectly–the lead guitar lines especially.

I have listened to her record a few times and I never considered that she sounds a bit (vocally) like Edie Brickell.  Well on “No River,” the comparison is apt.  Especially given the lyrics.  But the cute squeak in the vocals is quite endearing.

“Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin” is a cool song with a surprising twist on the theme of the lyrics:

When I ask if you love me / And you say that you might

I’ve got your love wrapped around me / So I put up a fight
Cause I wanna believe you

But I’ve heard that
Wantin ain’t gettin
No, wantin ain’t getting.

I like some of the staggered moments in the song too.  And she’s adorably smiley, throughout, even after singing a fairly dark song like that.

“Yours And Mine” has some great flanging echo on her guitar.   It’s a slow sweet song with nice guitar harmonics throughout.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 5

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

Book five opens by returning to the Village of Kings (the home of Adrain and Marianne–where the first two books were set).  Everyone is despondent at the loss of the Velbas. Master Jansen–spurned by Marianne has been inconsolable and all of his students have left him.  Although Elorna has stayed faithful and is ever training (although she thinks that Marianne is a ditz for falling for Richard).

A meeting with the leaders also shows that Richard’s arrival has meant nothing but trouble for them.  They believe that the iguana queen resides in the canyon at the edge of their village (the one that Richard and Marianne crossed).  They believe that a medieval king closed the opening when he sacrificed himself by jumping in.  And he insists that they reinstate the Royal Guardians at once. (more…)

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