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Archive for the ‘South’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IGOR LEVIT-Tiny Desk Concert #917 (November 22, 2019).

Igor Levit is a 32 year-old Russian-born pianist.  I really don’t know anything about him, although the blurb implies that he plays Beethoven and little else.  It says that he

has been playing the German composer’s music for half his life. He recently released a box set of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas and once again he’ll be performing complete cycles of the sonatas in various cities to mark the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020.

Most of us know many Beethoven pieces whether we realize it or not.  And, of course most of us know them by their “nickname” rather than their full name.  So when you see “Piano Sonata No. 14 ‘Moonlight,’ I. Adagio sostenuto” it’s easy to forget that that means “Moonlight Sonata,” the beautiful piece that is familiar with the very first notes.

Levit’s “Moonlight” emphasized the mesmerizing qualities in the music, with its oscillating pulse, smoldering low end and tolling bells.

After saying that “Moonlight” seemed like a good beginning to a Tiny Desk, he says he’s about to disrupt the situation as much and as hard as he can with anther sonata–this one a little bit earlier.  This one has no nickname, no title, no marketing gag, nothing.  Just G major sonata (officially “Piano Sonata No. 10, II. Andante”).

Levit says that this it is one of the funniest, wittiest pieces that Beethoven ever wrote. And…wait til the end.

The second piece proved Beethoven wasn’t always the grumpy guy he’s made out to be. His sly sense of humor percolates through the set of variations in a jaunty march rhythm, punctuated with a final, ironic, thundering chord.

After this, he returns to the familiar with “Bagatelle in A minor, ‘Fur Elise'”  Everyone knows ‘Fur Elise’ from the moment it starts.  Levit even jokes about playing it:

Sure, it’s a “total eye-roller,” Levit admits, but he also describes it as “one of the most beautiful treasures in the piano literature.”

He says people argue whether it was Beethoven’s piece–he thinks it is.

His playing is beautiful–I love that you can hear everything so distinctly.  He makes the familiar songs sound vibrant and alive.  And the unfamiliar piece (while not rolling-in-the-aisles funny or anything like that) does have little moments that will induce a smile.  He is also quite subtle in “Für Elise”–not emphasizing the most familiar parts.

Although many people have performed Beethoven over the years, I would absolutely look for his name if I wanted to hear a great performance.

 [READ: August 2019] American Housewife

This book had been sitting around our house for a few years.  I feel like I saw the cover of the woman on the toilet doing her nails every time I went into the spare room.  Then a TV show came out called American Housewife.  I knew that Sarah Dunn, the creator of the show, had written novels, but I had forgotten her name.  So I assumed that this book was the basis for the show.  Whatever the case, this book has nothing to do with the TV show.

This book is a collection of very short pieces and somewhat longer pieces.

Generally speaking, I found the shorter pieces a lot less funny as they seemed more like bullet point lists than actual jokes. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAN AUERBACH-Tiny Desk Concert #726 (April 4, 2018).

Everybody loves Dan Auerbach, but I’m just lukewarm on him.  I could never get into The Black Keys and the Arcs were okay.  I will say that I absolutely love the final song they play here today and didn’t realize it was him.  But I think I dislike the style of music he makes not the quality of the songs.

Dan brings his Easy Eye Sound Revue to the Tiny Desk. It’s an abundance of gifted musicians who have all played with a long, long list of legends, including Elvis, Don Williams and John Prine. …  The small band for this stripped-down version of the “Revue” is fleshed with Dante Schwebel on guitar and Russ Pahl’s resonator guitar sounds.

Midway through the four-song set (that includes tunes from his 2017 album Waiting on a Song), Dan introduces a powerhouse: the seasoned but relatively unknown blues-and-soul singer Robert Finley. The husky voiced gentleman, with a giant smile and magical charisma, is heart-winning and heart-warming. It’s remarkable that this legally blind singer is only now getting the attention he deserves….  Robert Finley and Dan Auerbach released [an album] at the end of 2017 called Goin’ Platinum.

In the recent Tiny Desk Concert from fellow Nashville musician John Prine, [he told a tale] of writing songs with Pat McLaughlin in the morning, going to town for some meatloaf and then recording the song by day’s end. Well that’s Pat on the mandolin here in this Tiny Desk set. His playing is both astonishing and low-key.

The Review plays four songs

“Waiting On a Song” is a folk song with a country feel and a slide guitar solo on that resonator guitar.

“Never In My Wildest Dreams” feels like an old cowboy song complete with what is almost cowboy yodelling from Schwebel.

“Get It While You Can” features Robert Finley on vocals.  It is the traditional song and Finley does a great job, singing with gusto and making clear some lyrics that I never heard before.  His voice is pretty great too.

“Shine On Me”  This song is irresistible even if it sounds exactly like a Travelling Wilbury song.

It’s just a matter of time before he hits on a genre that I really like, I’m sure.

[READ: January 5, 2018] Haynes Explains Americans

This book came across my desk and it looked pretty funny.

There was no author name on the cover, but inside it mentions that it is written by Boris Starling.  I’d never heard of him, but I looked him up and found that he has written seven crime novels and that his first, Messiah, was notable for its fast pace and high levels of gore.  He has written a bunch of other stuff too, including several (at least 12) of the popular ‘Haynes Explains’ series of tongue-in-cheek mini-manuals.

So this is written as a manual (based on a stripdown and rebuild).

It is written very much like a car manual: “the aim of this manual is to help you get the best value from the American.”  It includes lots of pictures of car parts with labels for other things.  It’s a good mockery of the manuals .

Normally I enjoy a good mockery of Americanisms.  We are ripe for parody.  But this book feels just too easy. (more…)

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joySOUNDTRACK: STEVEN PAGE-Page One (2010).

pageoneThis is the first proper solo album for Steven Page, former Barenaked Lady.  He did have a side projet while he was still a BNL guy, called The Vanity project, but this comes after he left the band.  As a lead songwriter for  BNL, this album sounds an awful lot like a BNL album.  But he does branch out a bit for better and worse, on a couple of songs.  I like that the record is designed sort of like a book.  And that there’s a library check out sleeve and that one of the names who checked out the “book” is Leland Palmer (ha).

“A New Shore” sounds like classic Barenaked Ladies, with a big chorus (and Page’s great voice), strings and even a whistling section.  If you imagine the harmony vocals are by Ed Robertson, this could easily fit on a BNL disc.  “Indecision” sounds like latter BNL with the “whoo hoos” and the way the verses really slow down the craziness of the chorus.  The big difference is the female backing vocals.  “Clifton Springs” opens with a ba da da section and a very catchy melody that sounds like a sitcom theme song (hey sitcoms, check this out!).  It’s a mellow song that really highlights Page’s voice.

“Entourage” is a kind of dance song.  It has a kind of Pet Shop Boys feel (or else I’ve been listening to the Pet Shop Boys too much).  It even has a line “I only love you when I’m drunk” which echoes Pet Shop Boys’ “You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk.”  But I love the way Page says “Alright” at the end of the chorus and it could possibly have been a dance hit.  It ends with a minute or so of a jazzy coda.  “Marry Me” could also be a theme (to the new show Marry Me, duh).  It’s energetic and poppy.

“All the Young Monogamists” has cello and violin and in some places, little else.  It’s quite a different sound for the album, like a minor orchestral piece.  It works mostly.  “She’s Trying to Save Me” is a great return to the bouncy single that BNL did so well.  “Over Joy” has a very sixties feel (the way Page’s voice is processed).  I believe it is also the same melody as the Barenaked Ladies song “Hannukah Blessings” which Page wrote.  And why not?  It’s very catchy.

“If You Love Me” has a very synthy 90s pop feel.  I can see it being on the far end of Page’s fun zone, but I don’t really like it.  When the song ramps up to the next notes around 2:50, it is excruciating.  On the other end of the spectrum is “Leave Her Alone” which opens like a big band number (and stays that way in the chorus) but has verses that are very electronic.

“Queen of America” is a big bouncy song, that I wish I liked more.  The final song, the five and a half-minute “The Chorus Girl” is a sad ballad (the kind that Page also writes very well).  The song seems to want to be an epic (with horns an extended coda), but I think it drags on a bit too long.

Anyone who misses Page in BNL will certainly like this album.  And those who are a little disappointed in the Page-less BNL newer records could easily mix half a dozen songs from this and some of the best songs from the newer BNL records into a very satisfying BNL+Page disc which would sound totally coherent.

[READ: April 25, 2014] Further Joy

This is Brandon’s first collection of short stories and I enjoyed them all quite a lot.  Brandon specialized in disaffected protagonists, settled and settling in the South.  And there is a nice amount of diversity in these stories.

The Favorite
In this story, Gardner returns to his home town after ten years of being away.  he was quite a success when he left, but his return is less than exciting.  He lives in small town that was big into high school football and he was glad to be away from it.  But now that he is back he goes to games with his mother. The locals are happy he’s back, they think it’s great that he returned to be with his mom and to look after her.   But he is miserable.

The only thing that makes the return palatable is seeing Ainsley.  They dated in high school but didn’t have a bad breakup when he left.  She is divorced now and single. She works in a doctor’s office and tells him stories about patients (despite it being against HIPPA–although she ever gives names).  Since he is short on cash, he uses some information that she gives him to bet on an upcoming football game (he was able to figure out one of the players from the injury she described). Now the question is, could he go through with the scheme.  He calls on a favor from another former friend who has never had much success.  It could all go horribly wrong, of course.  I really enjoyed this story a lot, and I loved the way the title played into the story unexpectedly.
(more…)

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edwardSOUNDTRACK: HAM AND BURGER-“Don’t Put Your Finger in Your Nose” (2010).

tributeCoverA very serious and sad book needs a very silly song to accompany it.

I heard this on Kids Corner last night and it led me to this tribute album to Barry Louis Polishar, an artist whom I’ve never heard of (and am not sure why he has a tribute album to him, but whatever).

The title of the song tells you all you need to know.  But I enjoyed the way it went beyond the nose, into other body parts where you shouldn’t put your finger–eyes, ears, throat.  As with most kid’s songs, this one is short.  And when it starts to fade out at around a minute fifty seconds, you think it’s over.

But they add an extra chorus and then a final punchline which is really funny.  Check it out at this link to the Tribute to Barry Louis Polisar record.

[READ: September 8, 2014] The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

The students entering fourth grade in our town were supposed to read this book over the summer. Clark’s teacher actually read the book to them last year, and he was disinclined to read it again.  So I offered to read the book to everyone in the family.  I figured if it was important enough for all the kids to read, maybe I should read it, too.  He said he really didn’t like it, but I persisted and read it to everyone anyway.

And I totally understand why he didn’t like it.

Although the cover looks kind of haunting (the illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are awesome), I didn’t realize just how dark this book could get–all in the name of love.

I’ve never read anything else by Kate DiCamillo so I don’t know if this is typical of her work.  But man, is it a tear-jerker.

The book itself is rather short.  It’s 200 pages, but there’s a lot of pictures and the type was very large.  And it read fairly quickly, perhaps because it was so episodic.  Before I get on to the story, I want to say how beautiful the illustrations are.  The chapter headings are wonderful grayscale drawings, and the occasional full color plates are stunning.  Very dark and foreboding and at times a little creepy, but very evocative of an older time.

The strange thing is that the book is summarized pretty well on the jacket, as well as in the book’s coda.  So, if you prepare yourself in any way, you might expect just how low Edward has to go before the miracle happens. (more…)

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lp12SOUNDTRACK: OXFORD DRAMA-“Asleep/Awake” (2014).

dramaOxford Drama is, unexpectedly, from Poland.  Their lyrics are in English, although their Facebook site is all in Polish.

“Asleep/Awake” is a slow, synthy track with Małgorzata Dryjańska singing in a breathy whispery voice.  Her voice feels delicate even if the lyrics are somewhat empowering (and she has no discernible accent).  The instrumentation (all synth and electronic drums) is by Marcin Mrówka.  I like the way he throws in some occasional bass lines to add more texture to his simple beats.

The song feels very much like a 90s British trip hop sound.  Although on the more mellow side of trip hop. It’s quite pretty and dreamy.  It’s interesting to hear this kind of music coming out of Poland (although why shouldn’t it, honestly?).  I rather hope they break through in the states.

Their 4 song EP is available on bandcamp.

[READ: September 7, 2014] “Trilobites”

Lucky Peach issue 12 is all about “The Seashore.” And thus there are lots of beach-related foods under discussion. Lisa Hanawalt has a wonderful story about hanging out with otters (if she weren’t so hilariously vulgar (she’s wearing a shirt that says “Every day I’m not covered in otters is a piece of shit”) I’d have my kids read it because it is so cute). There’s a brief article explaining the particular smells of the seashore.

Chris Ying has a hilarious article about sea cucumbers (and just how hard it is to make them appetizing). And there’s a wonderful little section that compares the “sea” version of things to their “land” counterparts. Like the Sea Anemone, the Sea Cow and the Sea Horse and how different they are from the land based creatures with the same names.

There’s an amusing tribute to the Goonies (a movie I haven’t seen in 30 years); and a lot of talk about Crayfish. Perhaps the most interesting of these articles was the seaweed farmers—who basically say that any seaweed is edible, so next time you’re in the ocean, chow down.

And then there’s the clams and abalone and whatnot. This includes a brief explanation of the edibleness of 8 different bivalves. There’s also Robert Sietsema’s trip down the Atlantic Seaboard going to as many clam houses as he can.

There’s also an article about sushi—but not the sushi itself, rather the stuff that comes with it. Like Krab, which is not crab at all, but various fish pieces minced up and dyed to look like crab! Or the wasabi that you get, which is not real wasabi (real wasabi is super expensive ($100/lb)). That green paste is actually horseradish, mustard oil, citric acid and yellow and blue dye.

And what beach/resort issue would be complete without s tory about the Harvey Wallbanger (I enjoyed this history quite a bit).

The issue is also chock full of recipes and then it ends with this piece of fiction

“Trilobites” is set on a downtrodden farm in the South. I wonder if the South gets tired of their fiction depicting fathers as brutal drunks. In this case, there’s this instance of the father whipping the narrator: “One time I used an old black snake for a bullwhip, snapped the sucker’s head off, and Pop beat hell out of me with it.”

He is also not too fond of his mom. Once Pop died, his mother was interested in selling the fam. She’d like to move to Akron where she has family. He has no interest in the farm but doesn’t want to leave either. This exchange, in which they laugh at the funny phrases Pop used to say sums up his attitude:

I think back. “Cornflakes were pone-rakes,’ and a chicken was a ‘sick-un.’
We laugh.
“Well,” she says, “he’ll always be a part of us.”
…I think how she could foul up a free lunch.

The trilobites in the story are in Company Hill, a former river bed that is now home to fossils. The narrator has never been able to find a trilobite.

The narrator pines for his love from high school, Ginny. In her yearbook he wrote “We will live on mangoes and love.” But she left for Florida.

Now she’s back in Charleston on break and asked to visit. But as with many stories full of desperation, especially in the South, nothing good can come from anything.

He has to deal with the man who wants to buy the farm. He can’t really communicate with his mother. The girl who is still around (who is super cute) is jailbait. Even his “date” with Ginny is a disaster. She has a boyfriend back in college, she tells him. But she wants to have fun with him while she’s back. They fool around, but it is ugly and ends with Ginny mad. And even the trilobites don’t come out.

I just didn’t really get this story. I know I am out of my depth in a story like this as the boy huntsfor a “turkle” in the water (which I guess is a turtle). His father used to like “turkle in a mulligan” whatever that means. This is just not my kind of story.

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hiltonSOUNDTRACK: BECK/RECORD CLUB-SKIP SPENCE: Oar (2010).

skipOf the four Record Club discs, this is the only one I don’t own.  Although I do have a different covers collection called More Oar (which Beck also appears on). I may have never heard any of the original songs on this disc, so I can’t even compare them.

For those who don’t know (as I didn’t), Skip Spence was one of the founders of Moby Grape, a band who was vaguely successful in the late 60s and then sort of fell apart (especially when Spence tried to kill his bandmates and was put in an asylum for a year).

Beck doesn’t have anything special to say about why they picked this album.  But he must have been very excited that Wilco and Feist were around to play on it.  He says

This one took place last June when Wilco was in town for the release of their new eponymous album. They came by after a long day filming a TV appearance and still managed to put down 8 songs with us. Jamie Lidell was in the studio with me working on his new record. Leslie Feist happened to be in town editing her documentary and heard we were all getting together. Recording took place at Sunset Sound Studios in the room where the Stones did a lot of Exile On Main Street (and looking at the records on the walls it appeared that the Doobie Brothers recorded most of their output there too). Sitting in on drums, we had James Gadson, who’s played on most of the Bill Withers records and on songs like ‘Express Yourself’ and ‘I Will Survive.’ Jeff Tweedy’s son Spencer played played additional drums. Also, Brian Lebarton, from the last two Record Club sessions is back.

And if you don’t know what Record Club is, see the summary on yesterday’s post.

Wilco plays on 8 tracks (of 12) and they sound great.  Indeed, overall this is the most “professional” sounding recording.  Which is not to say that they don’t have fun. It sure sounds like they do.

Little Hands (2:59).  This has a traditional folk band sound.  It’s a great recording.
Cripple Creek (4:14).  This is not THAT “Cripple Creek,” by the way.  “Jamie takes the lead and Gadson gets behind the kit, while Beck and Brian back them.”  There’s a funky drum breakdown in the middle.
Diana (3:48).  Another good sounding song.
Margaret/Tiger Rug (2:27). This song is a little boppy and slightly silly sounding, but not really that silly.
Weighted Down (The Prison Song) (4:58) “Feist takes the lead this week with Nels Cline arpeggiating some ridiculous 64th notes on a toy guitar.”  Feist adds some beautiful vocals to this song.
War In Peace (5:04).  This begins a little slow and shambolic but it soon builds into a full band that gets even crazier when they start playing “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It was fun to hear them let loose.
Broken Heart (3:39).  This sounds like a traditional song.  A little drunken and fun–a nice duet with Feist.
All Come To Meet Her (2:02).  This is a simply beautiful harmonized a capella rendition.
Books Of Moses (7:21) “Gadson lays down the heaviest RC beat ever, while Jamie loops his voice into a voice army and Brian plays some kind of octagon shaped synth.”  This had a kind of Primus-y weird synth opening.  But as Jamie loops his voice over and over it sounds really good, although it is too long.
Dixie Peach Promenade (Yin For Yang) (3:56).  This is a synthy bouncy song.  It’s a little silly, especially with th Ace of Base coda at the end.  But it sounds good.
Lawrence of Euphoria (5:17).  The lyrics of this song are very silly. This version has a fake cowbell and  funky bass but is otherwise just electronic drums and vocals.
Grey/Afro (7:35).  This has echoed vocals and noisy bass.  It’s hard to figure out what’s going on here, especially at the chaotic ending. But it’s nice to hear them all let loose a bit.

As I said, I don’t know how this compares to the original, but I really enjoyed it.

[READ: March 23, 2014] White Girls

This book was madly hyped and I was pretty excited to read it (even though to be honest I didn’t know if it was fiction or non-fiction–and wasn’t even entirely sure as much as half way through the first piece).  I knew Als’ name from the New Yorker, although I wasn’t really conscious of having read anything by him.  It turns out I read one of these essays in McSweeney’s 35 about four years ago.  The fact that I didn’t remember reading that essay does not speak all that well about it.  But overall I enjoyed most of the essays in the book quite a lot; however, the two longest ones I found, well, way too long.  And I honestly don’t understand the title.

Overall the book is a collection of essays (often told from an interesting perspective, like from the dead person’s first point of view).  The problem with pretty much every essay in the book at least for me was that Als presupposes a base knowledge of these people.  Without that, the essays can be frustratingly vague and unclear.  But again, these people are all famous enough that it seems likely that one would have that base knowledge (even if I don’t).  I do wish there was a small bio or even a photo with these essays (as there was with the Truman Capote one) as I feel that grounded me nicely.

I was a lot more confused by his essays that were more personal.  I didn’t really understand the context for what he was talking about, since i know very little about him.  And as you’ll see from the first essay, he covered a lot in a very un-straight way. (more…)

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momentSOUNDTRACK: NICK BUZZ-Circo (1996).

nickbuzzNick Buzz is a side project of Rheostatics singer/lead guitarist Martin Tielli.  This album was reissued in 2002, when I bought it  But it came out in 1996, right around the time of the concerts I’ve been posting about.  Martin says that this album is pure pop, and that he is genuinely surprised that people don’t see this.  Of course, when your album has screeching monkeys, cars honking and circus music, pop is not the first thing that comes to mind.  There are certainly pretty songs on here, but it is an album that resists easy entrance.  There are short manic pieces, slow, languorous, almost lounge music pieces, and an improved cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then there’s the instrumentation: piano, violin, guitar, voice (no drums, although there is percussion on some tracks) and other weird sound effects.

“Step Inside” opens the disc.  It seems like a normal, mellow song (with slightly falsettoed vocals).  But 34 seconds in the circus music starts—a deviant and unsettling circus that pushes its way into the song briefly then vacating and allowing the pretty melody to return.  It’s like a mild form of Mr Bungle (with more actual circus).  It’s unsettling at first but then strangely catchy after a few listens.  There is fanfare as the song ends, interrupted by the sound of a tape speeding up (or going backwards) until song two bursts in.

“That’s What You et for having Fun” is less than three minutes and while weird, it is certainly accessible and funny.  The guitar sounds like he is slapping the strings rather than strumming them.  The refrain of “there’s a monkey in my underwear” gives a sense of the absurdity (especially when the President of Canada (sic) says he has one too).  “Just Because” mellows things out a lot—simple guitar with a kind of lullaby feel (it’s a bout wishing on stars).  It’s so slow after the craziness of the first two songs.  After  3 minutes of a lounge type song, it ends with a distant radio sound of an even more loungey song which melds into the live version of “River.”

The mellow “River” is followed by a raucous bass clarinet solo and wild guitar solo that is interrupted by the long (nearly 6 minutes) “Sane, So Sane.”  This is the most conventional song on the record—a simple piano melody with repeated lyrics (conventional aside from the weird distant music in the background of course).  Although it does gone on a bit long.  “A Hymn to the Situation” is an eerie two-minute wobbly song.

“Fornica Tango” is indeed a tango presumably sung in Italian. This song features a crying baby, an interesting sounding “Italian” chorus and the screeching monkey at the end.  “Love Streams” is a pretty, slow ballad.  “Aliens Break a Heart” is another pretty song.  Although this is the song that ends with traffic sounds.  “The Italian Singer/Just Because I’m Nick the Buzz” has a kind of Kurt Weill atmosphere to it with spoken words and falsettos.

It took me several listens before I could really find purchase with these songs.  I find that I really enjoy most of them now–some of those slow ones are a little too meandering for my liking.  But it seems like a fun outlet for Tielli’s songcraft.

[READ: October & November 2013] A Moment in the Sun

I read this book last year…finished it just before Thanksgiving, in fact (I was proud of my pacing).  But it was so huge that I didn’t want to write about it until I had a good amount of time.  And now here it is four months later and I probably have forgotten more details than I should have and the post will be nowhere near as in depth as I was saving time for in the first place.  Bah.

When people see this book, they say, “That’s a big book.”  And it is a big book.  It’s 955 pages (and they are thick pages, so the book itself is nearly three inches thick–see the bottom of this post for an “actual size” photo); it’s got three “books” and dozens of characters whose stories we read about in full.  It is about the United States, racism, The Gold Rush, the assassination of a President, the Spanish American War, a World’s Fair and even the exploration of moving pictures.  This is a fairly comprehensive look at the Unites States from the 1890s to the early 1900s.  And, man was it good.

John Sayles is known more for his movies than his books (18 films directed, nearly as many different ones written and only 4 novels), but the cinematic quality that is clearly in his blood comes through in this book as well. (more…)

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