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Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #595 (February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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fakeSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 3 Mississippi Moonchile [CST110] (2015).

cst110cover_258x242I felt like the first Coin Coin disc was way too long, so imagine my surprise to discover that the whole Coin Coin series is planned as a 12 chapter collection!

Unlike the previous 2 chapters, this album was created entirely by Roberts.  She is credited with playing saxophone, Korg Monotron and a 1900s upright piano.  But like the others, the tracks bleed into each other and seem to end indiscriminately.

This disc also quotes from The Star Spangled Banner, Beautiful Dreamer, The Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Lift Every Voice and Sing and All the Pretty Horses.  As well as samples from Malcolm X and a field recording of a travel through Mississippi, Louisiana Tennessee and NYC.

The first song, “All is Written” is 10 minutes long.  She sings quietly and starkly (voice breaking) while spoken words overlap behind her voice (and the saxophone and drones).  Her singing is at times pained and strained—aching with the truth of her words.  As “The Good Book” begins, the spoken word continues but the main sound is an industrial throbbing.  Near the end, a new metallic sound comes screeching in and then resolves into a kind of drone while angelic voices takes over for song three, “Clothed to the Land, Worn by the Sea” which is more pleasant.

“Dreamer of Dreams” resumes some spoken word and synth noises while two overlapping tracks of sax solos play.  “Always Say Your Name” has some more drones and a wild sax solo.  “Nema Nema Nema” experiments with analog synth noises while she sings a pretty melody with other voices circulating behind her.  “A Single Man o’War” has a high pitched drone. which is accompanied by several three note chants.

“As Years Roll By” is spoken words, with drone and church bells.   And lots of “Amens.”  “This Land is Yours” has lots of voices speaking and overlapping.  It ends with someone singing “come away with me come away,” which segues into “Come Away” with a noisy background and spoken voices talking about Zanzibar.  Then there is a keening, pained voice singing the middle. “JP” is a speech about he slave trade.

Although this album is difficult, it is more manageable than her other releases in this series.  But manageability clearly isn’t her plan, she is making a statement and it is exciting and frightening to listen to.

[READ: August 10, 2016] Original Fake

You should never judge a book by its cover.  But I really liked the cover of this book a lot.  And the title was intriguing, so I grabbed it off the new book shelf.

And what a great, fun story it was.

The book opens with Frankie sneaking into his school at 6:30 AM.  No one else is there except maybe the janitor.  He is sneaking into the school to do a small amount of vandalism. But the vandalism is not your typical vandalism.  On the school hallway is a mural that is currently being painted.  Frankie is an artist but he was not asked to paint the mural (no one really knows he does art).  The mural is a of a lake and farm fields and all that.  And he has decided to tag the mural.  He has painted a water-skiing abominable snowman giving the hang loose sign in the corner of the lake.  “He’s maybe six inches tall, and I kind of put him close to a rock so he’d blend in, but if you get close, its pretty obvious he doesn’t belong. He’s completely amazing.”

Amid the telling of the scene is a drawing of Frankie painting the snowman–this book is full of illustrations by Johnson.  Most of the illustrations complement the story but a couple actually tell the story, too. (more…)

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coin2 hiddenSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 2 Mississippi Moonchile [CST098] (2013).

The first chapter of this series was a sprawling disc of free-form jazz and spoken word.  It was interesting and strange with a powerful message (not always elegantly delivered).  It felt too long, but I think it was done live which would make it more understandable as a long presentation.

Chapter 2 is quite different.  It is much shorter, but it has 18 tracks that flow seamlessly (and often without apparent logic) into each other.  Most of the songs are quite short as well.

“invocation” is a sultry jazz number (Matana Roberts plays saxophone).  There’s also piano, trumpet, double bass and drums.  One thing that I didn’t like about the first chapter was Robert’s “poetry slam” deliver of her spoken words.  This album more or less erases that all together with the inclusion of Jeremiah Abiah on “operatic tenor vocals.”  I don’t know what he’s saying (if anything) most of the time, but his voice soars above the jazzy din.

“humility draws down blue” starts in the middle of a trumpet solo and lasts for a minute and a half.  “all nations” is only 8 seconds long and seems to coincide with a vocal line from Abiah.  “twelve sighed” settles things down some.

The first real change comes with “river ruby dues,” which opens with a gentle piano motif, and Abiah’s vocals.  Roberts’ sax solo plays throughout.  There are somewhat recognizable motifs played throughout the album.  I was sure I heard parts of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“amma jerusalem school” also opens with a new melody–a four note sax line–without a doubt the prettiest melody of the disc.  About mid-way through the song, Roberts begins speaking/reciting.  There’s a lot going on in her saga.  When that ends, more instrumentals continue and “responsory” has a lovely falsetto singing section.

This half of the album has been fairly conventional jazz: rather pretty with some nice melodies—far more conventional than Chapter 1.

Although by “the labor of their lips,” things have become a bit more avant-garde.  But even that doesn’t last too long and by “was the sacred day,” a pretty melody has resumed and more spoken word comes in, this time in stream of consciousness.  It’s a story of childhood with some happy and some sad details including: “they didn’t like black people at the hospital. you could use a room but no nurses would attend to you.” and the story of a woman getting whipped for not saying ‘sir.’   Interspersed through this tale is a sung line “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free.”

‘woman red racked’ features Robert’s singing voice—pretty and pained—with some nice, deep backing voices accompanying.  Interestingly, this vocal part ends with them singing “Amen,” but the song is not over… a sax solo emerges from this and plays a kind of wild section with Abiah’s vocals until the end.

“thanks be you” is a spoken piece, a story told to a child about the past “there are some things I just can’t tell you about” which references a lot of childhood songs.  It ends with the repeated refrain “Mississippi is a beautiful place.”

This disc is only 48 minutes and it feels just about the right length,  “benediction” ends the disc with a quietly sung song with another singer accompanying her: their voices sound great together.

As with the first one, the narrative is a little unclear.  The main thrust of the story is obvious and effective, but it would be hard to diagram the story.  Nonetheless, her use of jazz and traditional sources (“red ruby dues,” “woman red racked” and “benediction” are based on traditional American folk songs), make for an evocative look into slavery from the point of view of one family.

[READ: March 20. 2016] Hidden

Having recently read the Resistance trilogy I am much more aware of France’s role in WWII.  But that could never have prepared me for this children’s book about the Holocaust.  (written by Loïc Dauvillier, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel with illustrations by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo).

The book opens on a little girl.  She wakes up in bed and hears her grandmother crying.  When she asks what’s wrong her grandmother tells her about the “nightmare she was having.”

And that nightmare is her story as a young Jewish girl in occupied France and how her life was brutally upended.  This is all told with fairly cute little characters with oversized heads.

I’ve never heard this story from the point of view of a child before.  Her grandmother was a little girl going to school.  She and her friends did everything that you’d expect little kids to do and the story starts out very sweetly.  Then one day she comes home and her father says that they must all be sheriffs–wear the yellow star on their lapel.  Once they stray doing that, she is effectively shunned.  But she has no idea why–why does everyone hate the sheriff? (more…)

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colony3SOUNDTRACK: LULUC-Tiny Desk Concert #390 (September 15, 2014).

luklucBob Boilen has loved Luluc for a while.  I never really appreciated them as much as I do on this Tiny Desk Concert.  The duo is from Australia (and now Brooklyn), and I’d always felt that their songs were nice but nothing special.  But you can really hear what’s going on in them.  Zoë Randell’s voice sounds like a revitalized Nico and Steve Hassett’s accompaniments are really interesting.

“Small Window” starts with Zoë strumming a small acoustic guitar and singing.  Steve accompanies on electric guitar.  It’s a pretty song with a nice melody. And his solos accentuate the song.  But when the song shifts gears to the “crystal waters” section and an unexpected chord change it becomes much more than a simple folk song.

For the second song “Without A Face,” Steve switches to bass.  When Zoë talks, her speaking voice is gentle and somewhat high-pitched so when she begins singing she sounds even more shockingly like Nico.  And the bass is wonderful on this song.  He throws in a lot of little fills that really add a lot to the verses.  And the “oh oh” section in the middle is wonderful with some great harmonies from each of them.

Zoë says they used to play with just two guitars and mics and they have added a lot more gear lately, but that they’ve they’ve stripped down for this show.  For “Reverie On Norfolk Street” he plays electric guitar (cooly vibrato’d) and his gentle backing vocals on this song are a nice almost bass addition to the song.  There’s even a guitar solo which after the song he says is “the quietest guitar solo in existence.”

Luluc really surprised me with this session and I may have to give their studio tracks another listen.

[READ: July 23, 2016] The Lost Colony 3

Book 3 ramps up the excitement quite a bit,  and also a had a lot of flashbacks that fill in some story lines.

Like the other two, it also begins with someone lost saying “Dear God where the %$!* am I?”  But this time he is a beautiful hunk of a man with gorgeous blond locks.  He is Buck Swagger and he is transported to the island on the ferry because of a letter from Olympia Snodgrass (the Mayor’s wife and Birdy’s mom).
(more…)

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colony2SOUNDTRACK: JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE-Tiny Desk Concert #389 (September 8, 2014).

 jteI had an idea that Justin Townes Earle was a country singer.  Although I’m sure I’m conflating him with Steve Earle (his father) and Townes Van Zant (whom he’s named after).  But I realized I’d never heard him.  He’s more of a folk singer and he’s very charming.  He implies that he flew from Nashville just to play the show (“a quick trip just for y’all”) which gets an awww from the crowd) and like Trampled by Turtles and Jessica Lea Mayfield, he’s heading back home right after he’s done.  He also had his guitar maker send his guitar to him in DC so he didn’t have to travel with it.

He has an interesting percussive strumming style (he doesn’t use a pick) and he sings about love and loss.  The first song, “Burning Pictures” has a great line about how he doubts you even remember your love’s name since it’s another girl in the picture frame.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith In You” is a bit more bluesy sounding.  He picks some melodic notes between full-fingered strums.

Amazingly, he seems like he might quit after just two songs.  Bob asks him to do one more–doesn’t have to be new–it can be one he loves.  His favorite so that he ever wrote was “White Gardenias” (for Billie Holiday).  He says it feels like he’s about to miss the beat as he’s starts singing–which scares the shit out of a rhythm section.

Before beginning, while tuning, he says he has to learn a lot of his old songs for the upcoming tour.  Bob asks if he listens to the records, and he laughs and says he Googles the songs, which is just so ridiculous.  Bob asks if he illegally downloads them but he says no he just streams them.

“White Gardenias” is a lovely song with beautiful lyrics although I don’t really get that Billie Holiday vibe from it.

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 2

The inside cover of book 2 gives a little summary of book 1 (which is helpful). It also give s little recap of all of the main characters (which all series should do, frankly).

I loved that book 2 also starts with someone asking “where the %#!* are we,” it’s a man and a very large woman.  They also convinced Fud’na (the screeching violin playing guardian of the ferry) to ferry them to the island.  The large woman reveals that she is wearing a  stars and stripes dress which is very tacky.  But more importantly, she is a singer herself (almost as bad as Fud’na perhaps).

As the bok opens, Louis the slave boy is being set upon by the rocks bugs (although we dont know why).  He is recused by Jo’Pa an Indian who lives on the island (it is rumored that he used to be a real savage Injun).  And there’s Birdy, she is dressed as Squinto, compete with feather and bow and arrow.

Then we meet the Snodgrass family and Birdy’s heretofore unmentioned Gramdy, a cantankerous old man (who is her mother’s father). Turns out that Grandy hates the Injuns and is very mad that Birdy is dressed like one. “We’re at war with the Indian, dont you know they’re evil.” (more…)

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colonySOUNDTRACK: JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD-Tiny Desk Concert #388 (September 6, 2014).

jlmI had an idea about who Jessica Lea Mayfield was.  I thought she was sort of a folkie/country singer who I had heard of but had no real exposure to.  So I was quite surprised to see this performer with pink hair, short shorts, no eyebrows and a ton of pink glitter under her eyes.

Turns out that her earlier records are kind of folkie but that for her 2014 album she was inspired by her grunge roots to make a noisy album.  This Tiny Desk concert has her playing three guitars–one for each song.  Each guitar is covered with glitter and one has stickers all over it.  For “Standing in the Dark” she plays her pink glitter 12 string guitar with lots of reverb.  It’s a fairly upbeat song.  The melody is simple and she sounds happy while singing it (this is notable).  The middle section has a solo which sounds really alien by itself (that 12 string with vibrato), but which works really well for the song.

She says she brought all of her guitars because she wanted to show them off.  Her speaking voice is cute and adorable.  And she seems almost childlike asking if “you have any cats” are you allowed to bring them to work.  Bob says that bands have brought their dogs and she says she wishes she’d brought hers.

“Party Drugs” is a slow song with more echo on the guitar.  It’s a slower , darker song “party drugs just make my head sing…  I won’t die in this hotel room, I’ll be here when you return.”  It ends with a dark chord and mildly distorted whammy bar and is rather creepy.

The final guitar is a hollow bodies white guitar.  The stickers on the knobs are ponies.  She says the direction of the ponies tells her how the knobs should go.  There’s a pony, an alien cat and a unicorn “system I got going on.”

“Seein* Starz” is slow chords (with more echo).  Her twangy accent peeks its way in a few times in this song.  I like the way the picking notes are vibrated enough to sound unpredictable.

There’s something really captivating and almost vulnerable (but not really) about her performance.   She says she could stay here and do this all day and show you how loud it usually is.   Bob mentions something about six hours implying that she traveled six hours just to play for them (like Trampled by Turtles did the previous show).

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 1

I read this book last year.  But since I wanted to  read the other two books in the series, I wanted to re-read this before moving on to Books 2 and 3.

My recollection is that I didn’t really like the first book all that much, so I wasn’t prepared to enjoy it this time around either.

But, as it turns out, I really did enjoy it (and I’m not reading wheat I wrote the first time, just to see how this reading compares).  I think perhaps I didn’t really know what I was getting into the first time.  And now with hindsight, and understanding how and when some of the things are supernatural, it made more sense. (more…)

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colonySOUNDTRACK: YES-9012Live: The Solos (1985).

9012liveYes had released live albums before, and most of them had been quite indulgent, but none were as strange and indulgent as this live EP–a tie in with the popularity of 90125.  And yes, I have it on LP.

There are seven songs (in 33 minutes).  Two of them are proper songs from 90125.  The other five are the titular “solos.”

The two songs, “Hold On” and “Changes” both sound quite good.  The are notably less perfect than the album which is to be expected, but it’s still a little disconcerting given how perfect that album is.  The guitars are heavy and Anderson (and the other singer) sound in very good form.

Then there’s the solos:

“Si” is a rather uninspired keyboard solo.  It lasts 2:30 and the biggest cheers come when he starts playing “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”  I just have to wonder what Wakeman would have done with this–or if his head would have exploded at the sound of the disc.

“Solly’s Beard” is the guitar solo from Trevor Rabin.  Not unlike Howe, he plays mostly classical guitar.  It’s a good solo, although really not that mindblowing (or even as interesting as Howe’s “Clap”).  There are some keyboards in the background too, which I guess means this isn’t a solo.

“Soon” is Anderson’s solo.  He sings the end of “The Gates of Delirium” from Relayer.  I imagine that’s the only thing you’d hear from that album, so it’s a nice addition.

Chris Squire and Alan White get two solos together (so I guess they are duos, but then the title of the album is wrong).  The first is Squire playing “Amazing Grace,” which bleeds into the 8 minute “Whitefish.”  This is actually a medley of a few past performances like: “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” “Tempus Fugit” and “Sound Chaser.”  Since Anderson said he would never sing anything off Drama, you can only hear “Tempus Fugit” during this solo.

I’m not really sure anyone needs to hear this more than once or twice, but it was fun to dig it out all these years later.

[READ: April 25, 2015] The Lost Colony

I really enjoyed the graphic style of this book.  It has a look of a wood press–thick lines and dark colors.  It was also very cartoony, which was a great way to address many of the issues that were brought up here–especially slavery.

The book opens with a man in a green suit and bowler hat hanging up signs for a slave auction.  There’ a little girl, Bertha Snodgrass, who sees the sign and thinks that she can afford one.  She follows the stranger as he heads to an island (the lost island presumably) in which Alexander Hamilton Snodgrass seems to have made himself president and treasurer.  There are black and white people on this island.

Obviously, there’ a lot of racial issues in this story.  There’s a “Chinaman” named Pepe Wong who dresses in a “bathrobe” and offers Chinese medicine but also speaks in Spanish (Madre dios!).  There’s a black woman who distrusts the heathen Chinaman and wants nothing to do with the slave auction. (more…)

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