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SOUNDTRACKJULIA JACKLIN-Tiny Desk Concert #621 (May 22, 2017).

I’d never heard of Julia Jacklin, an Australian singer-songwriter.  But I found her music to be almost painfully slow and laconic–very much like Cowboy Junkies.  It’s quite pretty, but I need a little more pep.

The blurb notes:

Julia Jacklin doesn’t need much accompaniment. Jacklin’s full-length debut, last year’s Don’t Let The Kids Win, knows just when and how to lean in to this simplicity, surrounding her with spare instrumentation that keeps that voice in the center of the frame.

For her Tiny Desk debut, Jacklin reproduces three of that album’s drowsily beautiful ballads with the aid of a backing band so restrained, you can read the effort to keep quiet on their faces.

That’s all very true.  Her music is slow and sometimes it’s so quiet that it’s all about her voice which is pretty (but drowsy).

“Don’t Let The Kids Win” is slow and quiet.  The guitar is so quiet you can hear her pick hitting the strings as she strums.  It’s unclear that Julia is Australian until she sings  “don’t want them growing up thinking three years olds are good at playing basketball” and her accent comes through on basketball).  The song eventually starts to grow a little louder with backing vocals by the end.  And I believe one climactic note from bassist Ben Whiteley (from Toronto)

“Lead Light” has considerably more pep.  The drums (from Ian Kehoe also from Toronto) are quiet but sound like gun shots in this quiet setting.  The song swings slowly with some pretty guitar lines from Eddie Boyd from Australia).

Never has a song sounded less like a pool party than “Pool Party.”  What’s interesting about singers who sing like this is that I love listening to lyrics, and yet when people sing so slowly like this I lose all forward momentum of the lyrics.  So even if they are good, I’m lost them after a verse.

[READ: April 4, 2017] “Northeast Regional”

I feel like the cover to Cline’s book The Girls was iconic in 2016.  I don’t know anything about the book, but that cover was everywhere.  So this is my first exposure to her writing.  And I rather liked it.

The story started a little clunky I thought–it took me a few paragraphs to get the flow.  But once it got going I couldn’t stop.

The story begins with Richard on a train.  He has been riding for close to five hours.  He is heading to his on Rowan’s school and we know that something bad has happened.  He keeps checking his phone.  He gets messages about his son, but nothing from Ana.

Richard has been divorced for 16 years.  His wife has primary and majority custody of their son Rowan who is now at a private school “out in the middle of nowhere.”

Richard has been seeing Ana (part a succession of married women) for some time (the divorce was over a decade ago).  He and Ana had a weekend planned together (it was the first time they would spend the night together), but nothing seemed to be going right.  Everything seemed significant to her, from groceries to clothes to movie choices.  Richard was in a mood; he hated the movie she chose (black and white?  He was only fifty.  Or fifty-one).

And then he got the phone call. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LJOVA AND THE KONTRABAND-Tiny Desk Concert #611 (April 14, 2017).

Ljova and the Kontraband play a rollicking blend of gypsy music with a twist.

There’s a viola, an accordion, an upright bass and a hand drum.  And they play rollicking fast trad music as well as delicate sow ballads.

Ljova and the Kontraband embraces Western classical, jazz and an array of international styles including tango and Eastern European and Balkan folk music. These top-flight musicians, who hail from Russia, Lithuania, the U.S. and Switzerland, pile all of these sounds atop of each other with great glee, and emerge with creations that alight on totally new and exciting terrain.

The band is led by the composer, arranger and viola player Ljova (Lev Zhurbin), who comes by this musical eclecticism naturally: the Moscow native, who comes from a family heavily involved in the arts, has worked with an astonishingly wide and starry group of collaborators, including Jay Z, the Bollywood queen Asha Bhosle and cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. In this Kontraband setting, he and his bandmates (including Ljova’s wife, the preternaturally sweet-voiced, Lithuanian-born singer Inna Barmash) create performances of deep earthiness, fragile tenderness, ebullient humor and quicksilver shifts in texture.

“Love Potion, Expired” is one of those fast songs with twists and turns and all kinds of solos.  The middle section is practically a percussion solo by Mathias Künzli (from Switzerland).  While the strings and accordion are sort of fiddling away on a couple of notes, Künzli (on his box drum) plays a sophisticated solo on the box which also includes all manner of percussion–cymbals, clackers, shakers, finger cymbals and other things that clatter (he even includes his thigh at one point).

It’s followed by an appropriately wild accordion solo (and that instrument is gorgeous) by Patrick Farrell (from Michigan).  The song is played at breakneck speed and is really fun.

The second song introduces us to Inna Barmash (Ljova’s wife). She explains that “Ven Ikh Zol Hobn Fligelekh (If I Had Wings)” is a Yiddish folk song from Western Ukraine.  She says the beginning of the poem is translated as “If I had wings I would fly to you if i had chains I would pull you to me.”  It id played as pizzicato and strummed viola while Inna sings.

But the heart of their Tiny Desk Concert was the song “By the Campfire,” whose words have a long, strange history that goes back to the Middle Ages. The words originally come from 12th-century Germany; Ljova’s grandfather, a noted translator, translated this poem from German to Russian, which Ljova uses in his musical setting.

Barmash gave us her own English translation of this unsettling, stunning, and perhaps even prophetic text: “Lies and spite command the world / Suffocate its consciousness, / Truth is poisoned, dead is law / Honor killed — obscene extolled! / … And the wisdom of our days / Teaches theft, deceit and hate.”

There are a couple of parts to this song.  As it begins, the accordion sounds like flutes.  Barmash sings beautifully for a few verses.  And then in the middle she sings a long sustained note that seems to signal the band to start on a chaotic section with everyone playing things crazily for a few seconds.  Then she does another long note and the song turns into traditional Russian type of dance.  There are many parts and this song goes through all of them.

Before the final song Ljova apologizes for disturbing their lunch.  “Walking on Willoughby” was written by Patrick, it’s a fun, wild polka that’s seven minutes long.   There are many parts to this song as well.  At times the viola and accordion play off of each other.  There’s several opportunities from each of them to solo held together by that thumping bass by Jordan Morton (from Syracuse).

The middle slows down to a one two count as the accordion plays a disjointed sounding solo.  There’s even more after that as this song just spirals in all directions.

[READ: July 10, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle

This appears to be the final book of the Lunch Lady series.  The book ends on something of a cliffhanger but to the best of my knowledge, no book has come out after this one.

But don’t be sad because this is a very satisfying conclusion.

As we left book 9, Lunch Lady had been fired.  She is so despondent that when the opening pages feature bad guys doing bad things, she’s not even there to stop them. It’s the fifth bank to be robbed in two weeks and Lunch Lady is just lounging about eating ice cream.  Egads!

But even worse, the school is a shambles–the superintendent has put a portrait of herself in every room (even the bathrooms).  Te teachers have been replaced by convicts, the principal has been replaced by Mr Edison who was put away in book 3 and even more shocking, Milmoe is being nice to them–he realizes he’s in over his head as student council president. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NONAME-Tiny Desk Concert #608 (April 3, 2017).

Noname (born Fatimah Warner) is a wrapper and crooner.  her voice is pretty and her demeanor is infectiously upbeat.  Although I don’t really love her songs, I find her attitude infectious.

The blurb says

It’s in the way she’s able to muster a smile while performing a heartbreaking tale of abortion. It’s those sometimes bleak, melancholy lyrics over brilliant, colorful production.

“Diddy Bop” is a strange mix of gentle music (delicate guitar lines from Brian Sanborn meld with synthesized flutes) and rather vulgar lines:  There’s a line “you about to get your ass beat” and lots of “my niggas” thrown around.  Phoelix (bass) sings a verse as well.  The song is only two minutes long.

After it she says she has watched many Tiny Desk Concerts and she “Just wants to be as good as T-Pain.”

The second song is actually a medley.  It begins with “Reality Check” and then segues into “Casket Pretty,” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

She says “Reality Check” is her most straightforward song, but “it would be shitty if you were like ‘damn that made no sense either.'”  I normally speak “in like, scramble-think, so hopefully you guys follow it.” “Scramble-think” refers to the clever metaphors she weaves in detailing the many ways she’s dodged destiny.

Akenya Seymour (keys, vox) takes a verse in this song and Phoelix gets some backing vocals.

“Casket Pretty” is quite an evocative expression but she repeats the lyric an awful lot during the song.  The drums by Connor Baker are interesting throughout the set, but especially in this song.

She says that “Yesterday” is her favorite song on the tape.  It’s the first song she made.  It’s vulnerable and honest and she was surprised how much people liked it so she decided she had more sadness and vulnerability for her album.

[READ: January 20, 2017] “Constructed Worlds”

I enjoyed this story very much.  It is the story of a girl who is off to Harvard.  The story is set in the early 1990s–in the time of Discman and the beginning of e-mail.  It even opens with the fascinating line:

I didn’t know what e-mail was until I got to college. I had heard of e-mail, and knew that in some sense I would “have” it. “You’ll be so fancy,” said my mother’s sister, who had married a computer scientist, “sending your e-mails.”

The girl, Selin, has been hearing all about the World Wide Web from her father. He described that he was in the Met and one second later he was in Anitkabir in Ankara. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DELICATE STEVE-Tiny Desk Concert #606 (March 24, 2017).

Delicate Steve is Steve Marion.  He plays instrumental music with great “vocal lines” that come from his guitar.

On record he plays everything himself, but for this concert he brought a backing band.  So the bass (Jessica Pavone) and acoustic guitar (Jon Wiley) play a fairly simple song structure while Steve plays gorgeous lead lines (often using a glass slide to create cool sounds and voices).  The drums area also particularly cool in these songs as drummer Max Jaffe really goes to down on the electronic drums he’s playing.

On the four songs, Steve has a Panasonic FM/AM Premium Stereo Cassette hi-fi, to plug his trusty custom guitar into.

“Afria Talks To You” is a great rocking song (the drums are particularly booming) and the backing music plays some big chords while Steve makes some great soloing throughout. I particularly love that his solos are just showing off, they are genuinely enjoyable melodies.

“Winners” has a delightfully upbeat almost cartoony sound for the first melody, before it switches into a really groovy sound (there’s also a middle section that sounds an awful lot like “Mrs Robinson” (think: “Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes,” even the bass is the same), but the rest of the song is quite unique and really fun.

“Tomorrow” is a slow groovy song with some fun bass to start with.  Then there’s a great guitar line on top.  I really love the way these songs all seem to have so many things going on in them.  The middles section turns into a different type of song entirely without sounding like it’s disconnected.  There’s also some kind of synth coming through–although maybe its just his guitar making extra sounds?

Introducing the final song “Night Life” Steve says “We took all the words out because Bob said there were no microphones”.  This is perhaps the simplest melody of all of the songs.  But it doesn’t take away from the quality of the song overall.  The end is very funny because you know it’s supposed to end on a chord but he halts it without playing it….it just hangs there feeling unfinished.

He jokes, “we’ll play that chord next time.”  You hear Bob say “we gotta wait five years?”

Instrumental music can be a challenging prospect, but Delicate Steve makes incredibly catchy songs that don’t suffer in any way from a lack of words.

[READ: July 8, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Video Game Villain

Book 9 opens with Lunch Lady saving the day with some deadly honey mustard.

But this book is all about elections. And video games!

Turns out that Hector is distracted from running for student council president because he can’t find his X Station Mobile anywhere.  But he needs to focus on the campaign because bully Milmoe is running and has already spent a ton of money on banners and cookies and everything else that makes elections so much fun.

But beyond the elections, there’s a lot happening in the school.  A lot of electronics are missing although we see Gavin Computo has a new e-reader (and he’s rather smug about it).

News is also out that the new superintendent Eliza von Grindheimer (not Betsy DeVos) will soon be revolutionizing the schools.  She will be investigating their school soon. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RED BARAAT’S HOLI CELEBRATION-Tiny Desk Concert #604 (March 13, 2017).

Red Baraat is one of a few bands who have now made a second appearance on Tiny Desk.  This return is to celebrate Holi.  And celebrate they do!

I’m not really sure how to categorize Red Baraat’s music.  They are based around a traditional drum (the dhol) and yet they play a kind of jazz with lots of brass, but they also use a guitar and lots of percussion.

In the first song “Sialkot” they march through the audience playing the music until they get behind the stage. Once they settle in, the guitarist is using a bow (making some very cool sounds) and in the middle of the first song he’s all over the whammy bar.

So what does the blurb say:

Red Baraat’s fusion of bhangra, go-go, hip-hop and jazz is driven by frontman Sunny Jain’s percolating playing of the dhol, a double-sided drum which forms the rhythmic lattice of support for their boisterous horns and guitar. And though Red Baraat graced the Tiny Desk five years ago, we had to have Jain’s band back to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of color, of good over evil, and the coming of spring. Usually you’d see the dusting of brightly colored perfumed powders strewn in the air, covering bodies and clothing. The notion of doing that in the office was a fun thought, but the band (with my nudging) opted instead for confetti cannons and passing candied treats. It made for quicker cleanup, but their uplifting spirits lingered on, giving us a chance to shake off the final days of winter and demonstrating why music is so essential to the soul.

The second song is “Zindabad.” I love watching the sousaphone player who is really into the music.  And there is so much great percussion from the two drummers.

“Bhangale” opens with some super fast chanting from Jain and then some really fun chanting from everyone.  There’s so many cool moments in between the main horn playing where the guitarist is just playing these wild noisy guitar sounds. And then some really fast guitar solos.   There is so much chanting and singing amid the music that the joy is infectious.

  I had listened to the final song “Se Hace Camino” without seeing the title and I thought that they were singing in Spanish, which they apparently are.  This song has an almost ska feel, it’s so fast.  And again the fun is infectious, especially when the confetti starts flying all over the room.

I need to get involved in a proper Holi celebration next year.

Red Baraat is: Sunny Jain (dhol, vocals); Rohin Khemani (percussion); Chris Eddleton (drums); Sonny Singh (trumpet, vocals); Jonathan Goldberger (guitar); Jonathon Haffner (soprano sax); Raymond James Mason (trombone); Steven Duffy (sousaphone)

[READ: July 6, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Picture Day Peril

As Book 7 ends, Hector has a huge zit on his nose.  And picture day is coming up!  But before we can get to the photographic evidence, Lunch Lady has to stop the bad guys from stealing people’s lunch money–from an ATM.

But back to the Breakfast bunch.  Both Hector and now Terrence are covered in acne.  An it’s picture day.  The student council president tries to give everyone makeup for the photos, but Dee wants nothing to do with it.  It turns out that lots of kids are covered in acne so they start blaming the greasy food from lunch lady.  She rightly points out that the “link” between zits and greasy food is just a myth.  But clearly something has caused this outbreak.

The photographer comes into school and she is chic and fabulous. She loves meeting the “guybrarian” and fawns over lunch Lady’s look. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: GARY BURTON-Tiny Desk Concert #318 (November 9, 2013).

Gary Burton has been on a Tiny Desk Concert before with Chick Corea.  I really enjoyed Burton then, and I enjoyed him even more this time.

Burton is a vibes player and he and guitarist Julian Lage play a delightful jazzy set.

I love the sounds of vibes already, but I really love the playing method—two mallets in each hand, spread to play a chord in each hand.  Its mesmerizing.

The first song is called “Out Of The Woods.”  The guitar is pretty and a delicate accompaniment.  Half-way through the guitar gets a solo and it’s interesting that the vibes seems to fade a bit even though he’s still going strong.

The second song “Remembering Tano” is dedicated to Arthur Piazollo, the master, whose nickname was Tono.  It has a very different feel with a mellow guitar solo at the end.

When Bob asks him about his playing style, he agrees that “4 sticks doesn’t look possible.”  But he explains that the vibes look like a piano keyboard, but the  advantage of this instrument is the visual impact it has for listeners.   He says that early xylophone players in 19-teens an 1920s played with four mallets a fair amount and then it went out of style.  He started playing in 1949 when he was 20 yeas old.   He grew up ion a farm town in Indiana by himself and when he played, it sounded empty so he needed harmonies.  Hence, four mallets.

The final piece was written for the show and is called “The Tiny Desk Blues.”  And it is fun and bluesy 3 fun and bluesy with a great vibes solo in between some nice guitar solos.

Vibes are definitely my favorite jazz instrument.

[READ: July 5, 2016] Lunch Lady and the Mutant Mathletes

As forewarned in Book 6, the Breakfast Bunch is serving a punishment for bailing on a field trip (true, it was to solve a crime, but such is the life of a secret super hero).  Their punishment is to join the mathletes team.

Before that we get a short episode of Lunch Lady foiling the bad guys from stealing ice cream from a family.  It’s the first time I’ve had to wonder if it’s the same bad guys every time.  From their reactions, I they are.

Lunch Lady feels bad that the kids are forced to join the mathletes so she makes cookies for the team.

While things are going on with the mathletes we see that angry janitor Mr Kalowski is more angry than ever. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: SARAH JAROSZ-Tiny Desk Concert #324 (December 7, 2013).

I know Sarah Jarosz’ name from somewhere (anything spelled like tha I’ll remember), but I’m not sure where.  It turns out that Jarosz plays awesome bluegrass.

Perhaps I’d heard of her because of her youth:

The singer and multi-instrumentalist first surfaced as an 18-year-old wunderkind with the release of 2009’s Song Up In Her Head, which generated the first of what will likely be many Grammy nominations; now a grizzled 22, she’s out performing songs from her fine new third album, Build Me Up From Bones.

performed with the aid of fiddler Alex Hargreaves and cellist . All

“Over the Edge” has a great riff.  It starts out with Jarosz’ guitar (which is an 8-string guitar: twinned four string, so almost like a bass and yet strummed).  She’s accompanied by a plucked cello (by Nathaniel Smith).  And then her voice comes in: distinctive, raspy and really lovely.  But it’s after the first verse when the guitar and cello both play that fast 8 note riff that the song really kicks into bluegrass territory. In the middle of the song, it’s fiddler Alex Hargreaves who throws in some great bluegrass fiddling lines.  It’s swinging and rollicking and really fun.

“Build Me Up from Bones” is more folk sounding—her voice is beautiful and the melody of this song (which she plays on that 8 string guitar) is outstanding.  There’s a cool alt-folk tone to the song, especially in the bridge.  The cello is bowed, giving a rich sound before the violin (rather than fiddle) solo comes in.

For “Fuel The Fire” she switches to banjo.  This is a great bluegrass song and that banjo sounds great.  I’d love to see a double bill with her and Punch Brothers.

[READ: November 12, 2016] Gunnerkrigg Court 3 [23-31]

I really enjoyed book 2 of the series and was pretty exited to see that book 3 was already out–in fact books 4 and five have been released, too.  This book collects Siddell’s online series–for frame of reference, this book ends with chapter 31 and as of May 2017 he is up to chapter 62 online.

I loved that Chapter 23 started with a totally different style–looking like a kind of sci-fi epic (and called Terror Castle of the Jupiter Moon Martians). But we quickly learn that this new look is a simulation–a kind of test for the main kids.  But it’s very poorly made and they solve the mystery almost instantly. This plot leads to a couple of interesting revelations.  That Parley has a thing for Smitty (everyone can tell but the two of them), and that Jones is becoming a fascinating and enigmatic important character. Reynard is also even funnier with his comeback “I think you detect a hint of shut your face” which Anni responds to with “Hah, Katerina must be helping you with your comebacks.”

The simulation room also allows for us to learn more about the origins of Reynard and Coyote. (more…)

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