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Archive for the ‘Snow’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK UHURU-Tiny Desk Concert #916 (November 29, 2019).

I don’t have a very good overall feeling about reggae.  As a person who listens to a lot of music that people have said “all sounds the same,” I can’t help but admit that to me all reggae sounds the same.

Or, perhaps all of Bob Marley’s reggae sounds the same and that’s the only reggae I’ve really been exposed to.

Because this Black Uhuru concert is clearly reggae, but it sounds new and exciting to me (even if the band has been around for 40 years).

I’ve been aware of Black Uhuru forever–they always seemed to be in the Columbia House 20 albums for a penny ads back in the day (along with Boz Scaggs, another artist I’ve heard of since I was a kid but have never actually heard a note from).

Considering the state of global politics, there’s never been a better time to get reacquainted with the righteousness of Black Uhuru. The iconic reggae band, whose name means “Black Freedom” in Swahili, is still going strong after more than 40 years, and they brought their much-needed songs of solidarity to the Tiny Desk. Fittingly, the set begins with “Here Comes Black Uhuru,” a telling and literal re-introduction to the group’s legacy for audiences that may be unfamiliar with their extensive catalogue.

This song is clearly one that I needed, as I didn’t know anything about their music.

While most-known for their late-’70s and early-’80s classics — years defined by a game of musical chairs within the group as played by founding members and/or collaborators Michael Rose, Garth Dennis, Don Carlos, Sandra “Puma” Jones, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and even Junior Reid — this incarnation of Black Uhuru, with frontman and co-lead Andrew Bees, has been touring and recording since about 1997 or so, longer than any of the configurations that precede it.

“Here Comes Black Uhuru” has some groovy bass from Daniel “Axemon” Thomson (who plays a white five-string Steinberger).  The verses feature some cool synth sounds from Horace “King Hopeton” Campbell and the drums are chock full of fun percussion from Rolando “Phanso” Wilson.  The biggest surprise to me was the ripping guitar sound from Frank Stepanek.

The vocals are shared between Derrick “Duckie” Simpson and Andrew Bees, with additional backing vocals from Elsa Marie Green.

This song has simple but catchy riff and it ends with a big powerful rocking sound.

“As The World Turns” comes from their new album of the same name.  “As The World Turns, is an album that was mired in issues around its master recordings, was finally released in 2018 — six years after it was recorded — and earned a Grammy nomination for best reggae album.” The song opens with the stereotypical Egyptian riff while Duckie and Elsa Marie Green sing the main verses.   I love that there’s spacey effects from the keys and Stepanek plays a blistering solo (twice).

“I See You,” is a love song “led by Derrick “Duckie” Simpson, a co-founder and the only steady member of the group since its beginnings in the early ’70s.”  It has the most conventional reggae sound and I like the way Andrew Bees works as a kind of hype man in this song,

“What Is Life” is their most well-known song.  It

explores the hopelessness endemic to those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, and explores the complexities of the human experience — what life could be, versus what it is. Despite being written and recorded in 1984, you can probably recognize the endurance of its themes.

Andrew Bees sings lead which adds a very different tone to the song.

While I really liked the first two songs, the second two weren’t quite as exciting to me.  Maybe I don’t need more reggae in my life, but I’m glad that there are different style out there.

[READ: February 1, 2020] DPR Korea Tour

I was really surprised to see this book at work.  I didn’t realize that North Korea sent propaganda to English-speaking countries  I assume this isn’t meant for American eyes specifically, more likely to European eyes, but who knows.

The book is written in English, Chinese and Cyrillic, but the writing is all just captions for the photos.

And I have to say that the landscape of North Korea is absolutely gorgeous.  I had no idea their land was so lovely.

Mt Paektu shrouded in clouds is striking.  And Lake Chon underneath the mountain is crystal clear and beautiful.  Taehwa Peak on Masikryong Pass has chair lifts that look like they are thousands of feet in the air (no people on them in the picture though).  It is a large skiing mountain–I didn’t know they skied there.

There are also wondrous waterfalls like the Hyongje Falls at Mt Paektu and the Rimyongsu Falls with a mansion atop them. Isonnam Falls is peaceful and serene while the Saja Falls are roaring (its hard to get a sense of scale though).  I’m also very impressed by Kuryong Pool and Eight Pools Under It. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Santa Cruz” (1993).

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.

Pearl Jam released a song called “Santa God” the other day. This song also has Santa in the title, but it is not about Santa Claus.  It is indeed about Santa Cruz.

This song appeared on the b side of the band’s terrific take on the John Doe song “Golden State” (co-sung with Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney).

This song also has a folkie feel–acoustic guitars and multi-tracked vocals from Eddie.  It even opens with a harmonica!

It’s a delightful road song abut travelling to Santa Cruz:

Heading South a compass reads
Look at our speed, we’re going sixty-three
Look out the window as the trees go green
I look at them and they look at me
Got Neil Young on the stereo
He comes along whenever i go

It’s a really pretty song and deserves to get more airplay.  Frankly if Santa Cruz hasn’t used it their official anthem, the town leaders are fools.

[READ: December 9, 2019] “The Snow Man”

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, written over a hundred years ago, felt rather timeless.  Aside from a few word choices and spelling, this story could have been written this year.

It’s also amusing that it is a Christmas story but is actually about a thief doing a job on Christmas Eve.

He starts the remembrance saying that he has both good and bad reasons for remembering Christmas of 189-.  He’d had his eye on Wharton manor “as a crib worth the cracking” (being ahead of MTV Cribs by over 100 years).  This particular job ended his thieving career and set him on the path to good.

The narrator assures us he was never the mere midnight marauder who is supposed to “lurk under the bed until the family is asleep.”  He fancied himself better than that.  He never carried a weapon and trusted fortune to be his guide:

if i were dolt enough to walk into a trap or let another man’s wits outwit mine…I ought to yield him the palm like a gentleman.

The manor was well protected–a large wall and a winding drive kept it hidden from sight.  The wall was there more as a protection from the precipitous drop on the other side of it than to keep people out.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RAPEMAN-“Steak and Black Onions” (1988).

Rapeman was a project by Steve Albini named after a Japanese graphic novel character.  They put out one LP and one EP and were protested everywhere they went.

I wasn’t intending to use this song for this story.  As I was finishing this post I read that Carlson was accused of the sexual assault of a minor.  I didn’t want to associate the musician I initially had on this post (who I loved) with this asshat.

So, I am tying him to Rapeman.

Whether the band name is inherently good or bad is not the point.  I wanted something appropriate for the author.  If only the song had been called “T-Bone Steak and Potatoes.”

But then there’s the music, which is really good.  This song, as with most things Albini plays on, is full of sharp, piercing guitar stabs and ricocheting feedback.

The lyrics are pure meat-eating aggro:

Why don’t you snuff it, then?
You plant-eating pussy

Well I know that you wanna tell me what I’m…
What I’m eating, ah yeah
Shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Shut your mouth
I know what I want and I don’t like onions

And yet it’s surprisingly catchy–catchier than his work with say Big Black, anyway.

It is hard to listen to a band called Rapeman, which is a shame since the sounds that Albini generates are so extraordinary.

[READ: April 16, 2019] “At the Jim Bridger” 

I was reluctant to read this story because the title is so puzzling.  And then, as I read it, I was reluctant to finish it because I assumed i knew where it was going and didn’t want to read a story about homophobia.  But I read it all and it surprised me.

The man is named Donner (which seems too easy) he and a woman (not his wife, as the story keeps pointing out) have just pulled into the parking lot of the Jim Bridger Lodge.  He’d been talking about a steak and a cocktail at the Jim Bridger for days.  He talked a lot–more than anyone she’d ever met.  And his stories seemed so poetic.

He had taken the woman on his annual week long hike in the woods.  There was much talk and much sex and he had left beers in the river for when they returned and they were the best she’d ever had. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SCOTT MULVAHILL-Tiny Desk Concert #825 (February 18, 2019).

download (18)I had never heard of Scott Mulvahill.  And when I saw him with his big upright bass, I assumed he was a jazz guy.  But I was wrong.  And the reason I’d never heard of him?

Scott Mulvahill has been trying to win the Tiny Desk Contest for each of its four years. He’s always been one of our favorites, though he’s never been our winner. The double bassist entered his song, “Begin Againers” in 2016 and though it wasn’t the winning entry, we all loved it so much, I invited him to my desk to perform his extraordinary song. He opened the Tiny Desk with it, only this time he was joined by bandmates Jesse Isley and Josh Shilling who shared vocal harmonies.

“Begin Againers” is such a delightfully simple song–a cool upright bass melody that runs through the whole song (with an occasional flourish) and three voices.  Scott sings leads and he sounds like a fairly conventional old-school folk singer, but with a bit more punch.  He sings the lead and his two Jesse and Josh add some great harmonies. (who play guitar and keys).

There’s a bit of Jackson Browne [I was thinking James Taylor, but I think Browne is more accurate] in his voice and a bit of Paul Simon shows through in his self-reflective words.

When the song’s over he says, “That was the first song I ever sent into NPR and of course I wanted to play it behind this desk.  Isn’t it beautiful guys?”

For track two, “Gold Plated Lie,” Jesse and Josh switch to (guitar and keys) and two other guys come out to play drums and dobro [Terence Clark: drums; Gabe Scott: dobro].  With a full band, the music sounds fantastic.  The track opens with a zippy keyboard riff which everyone else soon joins in on.  There’s some cool ah ha has in the bridge and then a really stellar big chorus.  By the end the ah has turn into oh hos hos and and the catchy melody edges a bit sinister.  It’s fantastic.

Scott Mulvahill honed his craft touring with the great bluegrass mandolin player Ricky Skaggs. “Playing bluegrass with him is like playing jazz with Miles Davis,” Scott told the Tiny Desk crowd.

He says that it taught him to learn to write on the bass, which led to this new album.  For the title track “Himalayas,” it’s just him and his bass, and his bass writing is very cool.

For the final tune, the title track from his self-released and current album Himalayas, Scott Mulvahill goes solo, brings out a bow for that bass and we hear a spaciousness I don’t often find in the Nashville world he inhabits.

He bows the bass (playing some really deep and some really really high notes).   And when he starts singing, he plays harmonics and slaps the bass for percussion.  After slapping and singing for a bit, he starts bowing again, and even though the song doesn’t change, the new sound really changes the tone of everything.  I love the way he ends the song with such a high bass note.

[READ: February 7, 2019] The New Brighton Archeological Society: Book One

I was immediately attracted to this story because of the drawing style.  There was something really fascinating about these little kids with big heads, dressed like adults. And of course the title was really cool (especially given the fact that the kids has crossbows and there were goblins with them as well).

The story starts 50 years ago as an island stands up out of a lake and walks away.  On the island it looks like fairy marrying a goblin.

It jumps to 50 years later in Antarctica where four people are chasing a lone figure.  The lone figure pulls out a magic lamp with a genie in it.  He says a magic word and the people vanish. Then we cut to the children on the cover. Their parents were the ones who have gone missing (presumed dead) and now the kids are moving in with an older couple in a giant mansion.  Their relationship to the older couple is a bit vague, but they knew the kids’ parents too.

The kids acclimate well, playing together in the fields in all seasons . And then one day they happen upon clubhouse.  A clubhouse that clearly belonged to their parents. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-I’m in Your Mind Fuzz (2014).

Even though this record came soon after Oddments, this has been considered the first major release by KGATLW (maybe that’s because it was the earliest recording that was still in print (until the reissues).  This album is a major step forward in their psychedelic garage rock sound.

The first four songs are more or less a continuous suite.  Not really, but all four songs contain the same breakneck drum pace and rumbling bass line and each one segues into the next.

“I’m in Your Mind” has a simple guitar riff, lots of wickedly distorted harmonica and a catchy vocal line.  It segues into “I’m Not in Your Mind” which is a three-minute jam based around a guitar solo.  The tone has changed slightly, but only slightly.  The solo features the main melody from “The Streets of Cairo or The Little Country Maid” (which we in the States think of as the Egyptian song or the snake charmer song because it was in every cartoon from the 1950s). The end of the song features a bass rumble which segues into the intro to the classic KGATLW song “Cellophane” (where the lyrics are nearly all nonsense singing and the word “cellophane”–catchy as anything).  The quartet returns to the opening song with the reprise called “I’m in Your Mind Fuzz.”   The same guitar melody and tempo resume with a similar-sounding chorus.

A click opens the next song, “Empty,” which halts the fast-paced bass and drums and grows much slower.  With a new rhythm and a more staccato delivery, this song maintains the fuzzy sound and distorted vocals and adds, I believe, a flute.  It’s followed by the wonderful “Hot Water.”  It’s an uptempo song with muted delivery in the vocals and guitars.   It’s also got the simple chanted chorus of “Hot Water” all surrounding this cool 70s sounding melody.

“Am I in Heaven” begins as a folkie acoustic song.  It’s pretty gentle for about 45 seconds until it turns into a screaming and thumping rocker with all kinds of wailing—guitars, vocals, harmonica.  Then at 3 minutes it returns briefly to that original folkie melody until, once again, the loud rocking just overtakes the whole thing with psychedelic soloing.

“Slow Jam 1” slows things down a lot. “I need to slow my mind down” is the lyrical opening.   It is slow and hazy for a few gentle minutes.  “Satan Speeds Up” sounds like it might be an old lost psychedelic/metal song–a cool vibrato guitar riff and flutes play this excellent opening.  The verses are gentle–falsetto singing as the band chills out around it.

“Her and I (Slow Jam 2)” returns to that acoustic mellow sound, this time with some extra fuzzy notes sprinkled around the song.  After about a minute and a half (of the 8 minute song), the tempo picks up and there’s a cool guitar solo which returns a couple of times by the end adding harmonica and wah wah guitar.

This is a very cool album that really shows what KGATLW is all about.  At least until their next release.

[READ: February 18, 2019] “White Out”

This issue of Harper’s had two stories and I didn’t really enjoy either one.

This first one was written in Korean and was translated by Deborah Smith.  What I didn’t like about it was that I wasn’t sure if these nine short pieces were sections of a big story or individual (somewhat) connected stories.  Either way the blocks of text were all quite short and not always complete.

Frost
This tells us that she was born on a day of frost but her father chose seol, snow, as one of the characters for his daughter’s name.  I found that pretty interesting and would have liked to know more about that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRISTMAS All-Time Greatest Records (1990).

This is one of those Christmas compilations that S. or I buy every year.  This one came from S.’s stockpile.

This one is meant to be on the traditional side, with a few surprises thrown in.  Amazingly there are songs on this compilation that we don;t have on other ones.  I mean, how many different versions of these songs are there (Answer: quite a lot).  This collection is almost entirely unique in that there are about ten songs that don’t appear on any of our other collections.  Cool.

BING CROSBY-“White Christmas” is a classic, but man, it’s kind of a downer.  It’s not nearly as much of a downer as…

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” which is a truly lovely song and everyone loves singing it.  And yet, lyrically, wow, it’s a bummer.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  It was written for soldiers overseas during WWII.  This version is by GLEN CAMPBELL it’s quite slow and somber.  His voice is quite nice too.  When I listened to it I had no idea it was him.

NAT “KING” COLE-The Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  It’s great to hear it every year.

LENA HORNE-“Winter Wonderland”  I have a bunch of Christmas songs by Lena Horne, but again, not this one.  This collection really is rather unique.  Lena puts a fun zing in most of her Christmas songs.  Maybe its time to get a collection of just her.

THE BEACH BOYS-“Little Saint Nick” is much more fun now that I’ve seen it live.

LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this has a swinging side (even if the tempo is slow).  Rawls’ voice is pretty great I must say.

ELLA FITZGERALD-“Silent Night” I love this song and I love Ella, but I don’t love this version of this song for some reason.

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD-“The Star Carol”  One of these things is not like the others. I actually never heard of this song before.  And Ford’s voice is crazy operatic.  I hadn’t realized the slight country angle on this disc until this song which sounds not-country, but with that name.  It’s a weird song to have amid these others for sure.

BING CROSBY-“Do You Hear What I Hear” Bing is back.  I love this song, it’s a lot of fun to sing, and Bing makes everything better.

MERLE HAGGARD-“Silver Bells”  This country addition is also weird.  It doesn’t sound like a country song, but Merle still has that accent.

DEAN MARTIN-“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Eight years ago I said this was one of my most-hated Christmas song versions.  I don’t really feel that way now, although the things that bugged me then are still weird to me:

I guess it’s supposed to be funny or cute, but I don’t understand why he starts messing around with the song and sings: “Rudy, the red beaked reindeer” or why he suddenly busts out the pseudo-German: “Rudolph mit your nose so bright/Won’t you guide mein sleigh tonight?”  It’s just weird.

Was it cool to make Santa German in 1959?  Were we over the war by then?

And I hate the way the backing guys all chant “Rudolph” like it’s some kind of threat.

Of all the classic crooners, Dean is my least favorite, but maybe I just need to embrace the possibility that all Dean Martin songs are Drunk Dean Martin songs.

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Jingle Bells”  Bing is a little over-represented in this collection, but The Andrews Sisters are always under-represented.  This has a manic piano opening and some over the top horns, but the Andrews Sisters are always a hoot.  This is a marvelous ending to the collection and again, one more song that I don’t have anywhere else.

[READ: December 6, 2018] “The Glamour of the Snow”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of Hibbert who was normally conscious of two worlds but who, while visiting a mountain town in the Alps became conscious of a third.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHROMEO-Tiny Desk Concert #797 (October 19, 2018).

I’m not sure if I’ve heard of Chromeo, but the name is pretty great.

The band consists of David Macklovitch (Dave 1–Vocals/Guitar) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg–Bass/Talk Box).  They have a pretty classic Prince/funk sound.  But how can they be so funky if they don’t have a live band?

Self-proclaimed “Funklordz” Chromeo played with a live band for the first time at the Tiny Desk. The duo usually performs their live shows over backing tracks with shimmering chrome guitars and keyboards mounted on mannequin lady legs.

I need to see that.  But for this show, there is a live band, which may change their desire to be just a duo, because they sound great.

For “Count Me Out” Dave 1 sings and plays guitar.  P-Thugg plays a great slap bass and, the biggest surprise–a keyboard-operated talk box.

Mid song they shift gears to a major funk storm in “Jealous (I Ain’t With It).”   I love hearing P-Thugg robot singing “I Ain’t With It” and then talk-boxing a synth solo.

But the story of Chromeo is pretty fun as well.

David Macklovitch (Dave 1) and Patrick Gemayel (P-Thugg) met when they were 15 while growing up in Montreal and have been cranking out the electro-funk jams ever since. At first glance, their Jewish and Arab partnership might seem unlikely. But their signature sounds are undeniably infectious, epitomized by P-Thugg’s Talk Box – an instrument that transforms his vocals into robotic sounds.  On being Canadian, P-Thugg announced in his robot voice “it’s very, very cold” to which Dave 1 quipped, “it’s cold… free healthcare.”

The backing band mostly adds synths and drums.  I assume that these could all be electronic, but it feels so much more real with everyone else there.  In the middle of “Jealous,” P-Thugg takes off his bass and Eric “E-Watt” Whatley starts playing a great funky bass of his own.  But the band looks like a cohesive unit (it’s amazing that this is the first time they’ve played together).

The band was outfitted in go-go-style matching uniforms custom embroidered with the words “Funk Lordz.”  The Philadelphia based line-up included keyboardist Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts and legendary percussionists Rashid Williams and Aaron Draper.

“Don’t Sleep” has a very 70’s sound–with some great synthy work from Man-Man.  I don’t know if the song always has this middle section, but Dave 1 shouts, “we’re in DC right?”

With a nod to DC’s own funky go-go music scene of the ’70s, their …. breakdown at the end of the song “Don’t Sleep” was a fitting tribute to NPR’s hometown, Washington, D.C.

Even though their songs seems to be kind of negative (Jealous, Don’t Sleep on Me), the music is fun and dancy.  The final song “Must’ve Been” continues that fun, talk-box hook-filled tunage.

 Listening to Chromeo is a joyous affair. Watching them get funky with a stellar band behind The Desk for the very first time, it’s impossible to sit still.

Chromeo completely won me over.  Also, how do they not have French accents?

[READ: November 28, 2018] “Snowing in Greenwich Village”

The December 3, 2018 issue of the New Yorker was an archival issue, meaning that every story was taken from an earlier issue.  The range is something like 1975-2006, which is odd since the New Yorker dates back so much longer.  Although the fiction pieces are at least from the 1940s and 1950s.

This story felt a lot more timeless than the Stafford story.  It is about a young married couple and the first visitor to their new place.

The Maples had just moved in and their friend Rebecca Cune had come over for a drink.

Rebecca tells them about her previous living arrangement with a woman and that woman’s boyfriend.  The Maples had lived in a log cabin in a YMCA camp for the first three months of their marriage.

Drinks were passed around and Richard was playing the good ghost. (more…)

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