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Archive for the ‘Superstitions’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANNA MEREDITH-Tiny Desk Concert #713 (March 2, 2018).

I have never heard anything like this.  From sound to melody, to intensity, to instrumentation, this whole thing just rocked my world.

The melody for “Nautilus” is just so unexpected.  It opens with an echoed horn sound repeating.  And then the melody progresses up a scale, but not a scale, a kind of modified scale that seems off kilter just as it seems familiar.  The cello plays it, the guitar plays it, the sousaphone (!) plays it.  And it continues on in like fashion until only the high notes remain and then a menacing low riff on sousaphone cello and guitar breaks through–a great villain soundtrack if ever there was.  While everyone plays this riff, Anna returns to the keys to play the modified scale.

Meanwhile, the drummer has looked like he’s asleep behind his small kit.  And then 3 anda half minutes in he wakes up and starts playing a loud but slow rhythm.  The guitar begins soloing and as it fades out that main riff begins, now with a simple drum beat–not matching what anyone else is playing, mind you.  The sousaphone (which must have an echo on it or something and the cello pick up the low menace and it seems like everybody is doing his and her own thing.  But it all works amazingly.

So just who is Anna Meredith?

Anna Meredith was a former BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Composer in Residence. Two of the three songs performed here come from her 2016 release called Varmints.

Bob Boilen was also impressed when he first saw Anna Meredith live:

I first saw this British composer a year ago, in a stunning performance at the SXSW musical festival. It was one of the best concerts of my life. The music I heard sent me into a state of reverie. If music could levitate my body, this is how it would sound. It carried me away and thrilled my soul. I was giddy for days.

Now, I know this isn’t music for everyone. … But if you know and love the music of Philip Glass, King Crimson or Steve Reich — music that’s electrifying, challenging and sonically soars and ripples through your body — then crank this up.

Lest you worry that she couldn’t translate it to the Tiny Desk (she says they normally have 23 suitcases full of crap so this has been an exciting challenge to squeeze in here)

Out of nearly 700 performances at the Tiny Desk, this is simply the most exhilarating one I’ve experienced. The instrumentation is unusual, with pulsing bass sounds produced by a wonderful combination of cello, tuba and electronics. It’s all rhythmically propelled by an astonishing drummer and Meredith pounding a pair of floor toms. And much of the repetitive melody is keyboard-and-guitar-driven that morphs and erupt with earth-shaking fervor.

The second song, “Ribbons” is quieter.  It’s and new song and it has vocals.  Her vocals aren’t great (“hard when you’ve got the voice of a five-year old boy”) but the melody she builds around it shows that her  voice is just one more instrument (albeit saying interesting words).  Actually, that’s not fair, they are just so different from the noise of the other two songs that it feels very faint in comparison.

It opens with a quiet guitar and electronic drum.  And slowly everyone else joins in.  A nice string accompaniment from the cello (Maddie Cutter), bass notes on the sousaphone (Tom Kelly) and even backing vocals from everyone.  By the third go around the drummer (Sam Wilson) is playing the glockenspiel.  By that time the song has built into a beautiful round and the quietness of her voice makes complete sense.  As the song nears its end, Sam has switches to a very fast but quiet rhythm on the floor tom.

She introduces the band and wishes a happy birthday to guitarist Jack Ross.  She says this is a great present as “so far all we’ve gotten him is an apple corer, the gifts have been a bit low grade.”

They make some gear switches, “we have a bit of a logistics problem with all our gear we can’t quite afford to bring enough glockenspiels, we pass the pure crap glockenspiel  around ans everyone gets to go ‘my turn!'”

“The Vapours” opens with a wonderfully wild guitar riff–fast and high-pitched and repeated over and over.  Anna Meredith adds waves of synths and then in comes the sousaphone and plucked cello.  Then fast thumping on the floor tom propels the song along.  The song slows a bit a Anna plays the clarinet (!).  The song dramatically shifts to some complicated time signature while Anna plays glockenspiel.  After a few rounds, while this complex guitar riff continues the drum and sousaphone start playing a pretty standard beat the contradicts everything else that’s going on and then Anna just starts pounding the crap out of some more toms.

All through this there are electronic sounds adding to the chaos and I have no idea who is triggering them, but it’s really cool.

The end is almost circusy with the big sousaphone notes and yet it’s like no circus anyone has every heard.  When the camera pulls back and you can see everyone working so hard and yet smiling ear to ear (especially Maddie), you know this is some great stuff.

The end of the song winds up with a hugely complicated tapping melody on the guitar and everyone else working up a huge sweat.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved this.  I immediately ordered Varmints and checked her touring schedule.

How disappointed was I to see that Anna Meredith had played Philly just last month and has now gone back to Europe!  I do hope she comes back soon.

[READ: August 30, 2017] McSweeney’s 48

For some reason, I find the prospect of reading McSweeney’s daunting.  I think it’s because I like to post about every story in them, so I know I’m in for a lot of work when I undertake it.

And yet I pretty much always enjoy every piece in each issue.  Well, that explains why it took me some three years to read this issue (although I did read Boots Riley’s screenplay in under a year).

This issue promised: “dazzling new work; a screenplay from Boots Riley with a septet of stories from Croatia.”

LETTERS

GARY RUDOREN writes about using the Giellete Fusion Platinum Razor every day for 18 days and how things were good but have gotten a little ugly.  On day 24 he had a four-inch gash under his nose.  Later on Day 38 it was even worse–a face full of bloody tissue squares.  By day 67 he is writing to thank McSweeney’s for whatever they did perhaps it was the medical marijuana but now his face is baby butt smooth even without shaving.  He wants to change the slogan to Gilette Fusion the shave that lasts forever. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROY AYERS-Tiny Desk Concert #712 (March 1, 2018).

I hadn’t heard of Roy Ayers, although I imagine I’ve heard his work somewhere before.  I love the vibes so I was looking forward to his set.

I was a little bummed to hear him singing–I assumed it would be all instrumental. Especially since his songs aren’t exactly lyrically masterful.  But the jazzy funky solos were pretty great.

Roy Ayers [is a] 77-year-old jazz-funk icon.  He sauntered through the office with a Cheshire grin on his face, sharing jokes with anyone within earshot. Accompanying him was a trio of brilliantly seasoned musicians — keyboardist Mark Adams, bassist Trevor Allen and drummer Christopher De Carmine. Later during the performance, pride washed across Ayers’ face as his bandmates took the spotlight. (Be sure to watch as Adams woos not just the room but brightens Ayers’ face during his solo.)

The set began with one of Ayers’ more recognizable hits: an extended version of “Searching,” a song that embodies the eternal quest for peace and love.  The vibes solo at 2 and a half minutes is worth the wait, though.

The lyrics are essentially.  I’m searching, searching, searching searching. It takes over a minute for him to even get to the vibes!  It’s followed by a groovy keyboard solo that starts mellow be really takes off by the end.

During “Black Family” (from his 1983 album Lots Of Love), you’ll hear him call out “Fela” throughout. That’s because Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti was a huge influence on Ayers in the late 1970s; the two eventually collaborated on an album, 1980’s Music Of Many Colors. “Black Family” is, in part, a tribute to Fela, even if the original version didn’t include his name.

Again the lyrics: “lo-lo-lo-lo-long time ago” and not much else repeated over and over and over. But it’s all lead up to a great vibes solo (as the band gets more and more intense).  I love that the keyboardist has a keytar as well and is playing both keys at the same time–soloing on the keytar with an awesome funky sound.  There’s even a cool bass solo.

Concluding this mini-concert, Ayers closed the set out with his signature tune, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a feel-good ode if there ever was one. The essence of this song flowed right through him and out to the NPR audience.

Another terrific vibes solo is followed by a keytar solo which is full of samples of people singing notes (they sound like Steely Dan samples)–it’s weird and kind of cool.

[READ: August 2017] McSweeney’s No 46

As the subtitle reflects this issue is all about Latin American crime.  It features thirteen stories selected by Daniel Galera.  And in his introduction he explains what he was looking for:

DANIEL GALERA-Introduction
He says it used to be easy to talk about Latin American fiction–magical realism, slums and urban violence.  But now things have expanded.  So he asked 13 writers to put their own Latin American spin on the crime story.

And of course, each McSweeney’s starts with

Letters

DANIEL ALARCÓN writes passionately about Diego Maradona’s famous “Goal of the Century” and how as a child he watched it dozens of times and then saw it thousands of times in his head.  When he learned of Maradona’s questionable “Hand of God” goal, his father said that his previous goal was so good it counted twice.  But Daniel grows sad realizing that the goal of the century also marked the beginning of Maradona’s decline.

LAIA JUFRESA this was a fascinating tale about a game called Let’s Kill Carlo that her family played.   It involves a convoluted history including her mother “inventing” a child in order for her husband to come to Mexico from Italy and avoid conscription there.  But when this child “Carlo” “came of age” they had to think of reason why he wasn’t there anymore–so they invented the Let’s Kill Carlo game.

YURI HERRERA waiting for a bus in New Orleans as a man lay in the gutter also waiting.

VALERIA LUISELLI her friend recently moved to Minneapolis with her nervous wreck Chihuahua named President.   He was diagnoses with terminal cancer and the vet encouraged all manner of alternative therapies.  This friend was a very sweet person and had many virtues. And yet perhaps through her virtue the alternative therapy seems to have worked.

FRANCISCO GOLDMAN wants to know why immigration officers at Newark Airport are such dicks (and this was before Trump–#ITMFA).  He speaks of personal examples of Mexican citizens being treated badly.  He had asked a friend to brings books for him and she was harassed terribly asked why did she need so many bags for such a short stay.  Another time he was flying back to NYC with a Mexican girlfriend.   She went through customs and he didn’t hear anything for hours.  He didn’t know if she would even make it though customs at all–even though she’d done nothing wrong.   He imagines wondering how these officers live and what their lives must be like that they seem to take pleasure in messing with other people’s lives. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: KING KRULE-Tiny Desk Concert #681 (December 6, 2017.

King Krule is one of those artists that I love on paper.  But who in actuality I find really rather unpleasant.  He was raved about by so many people this year, and yet, aside from a few parts of these songs that were good, this was all kind of slurry jazz to me.

The blurb says the music is a kind of mashup of “cool” and “jazz” and an acquired taste well worth dipping in.

I guess I don’t have that taste.

They play three songs with instruments including sax, guitars, bass, drums, live vocal processing of Archy’s voice and electronics

“Midnight 01 (Deep Sea Diver)” has interesting sound effects and echoes on his voice, which I like.  But his voice is deep and mumbly and the music is pretty standard lite-jazz.   There’s a sax solo and a jazzy guitar solo.

I don’t know if it’s the whole picture but this vibe turns me off:

lyrics that talk about the sorts of depression singer and guitarist Archy Marshall has dealt with in his young life (he’s 23).  “Why’d you leave me? Because of my depression? / You used to complete me but I guess I learnt a lesson.”  All this comes from someone who honestly looks like he couldn’t care less, which seems like a far cry from the words and care he puts into his twisted, woozy tones.

His “whatever” attitude annoys me and I can’t hear these words anyway.

“Lonely Blue” There’s some interesting things going on in this song–the shifts in tension and volume.  But those few moments can’t rescue the song for me.

“Logos/Sublunary” is 7 minutes and is either one long song or two shorter ones.   He switches to keys and I like it a bit more.  This song sounds like some other songs I like but those jazzy elements (two saxes!) bug me.  After 4 minutes it switches to a more funky style (that would be “Sublunary,” I guess).  The end is my favorite part.

But once again, I feel like I was set up to be blown away, and it sounds too much like jazz to me.  The musicians include: Archy Marshall; Connor Atanda; John Keek; George Bass; Jack Towell; James Wilson.

[READ: September 17, 2017] Science Comics: Plagues

This might just be my favorite of First Second’s Science Comics series.  I love the topic, I really love the art, and I love the way Koch has created a compelling story as well.

The book opens with a Bubonic Plague creature (a cute blue hot dog with yellow bits) meeting up with Yellow Fever (a yellow-green ball with nodules).  They are in a host body and are looking to take advantage of their surroundings. Before they can do any damage, though, they are attacked by a large, scary T-cell.

A fight ensures bit it is short-lived because, in fact, everyone is in a simulation created by ECHO [Education Control Hologram Overseer].  They are in CHAMBER [Center for Holographic Advanced Microorganism and Bio Engineering Research].

In CHAMBER, the researchers observe cells–like way white blood cells learn about germs (anything that makes us sick) and is able to fight it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 7 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (December 14, 2005).

This was the 7th night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe, Whale Music night.

On this night the Rheostatics were made up of 7 people, the usual suspects, plus Ford Pier on Keys, legendary pedal steel player Lewis Melville, and what Whale Music would be complete without Dave Clark. For those keeping track that’s 2 drummers in the band for this show! There were a few other guests as well, Brother Rick on “Guns” and Tannis Slimmon on “Palomar”. At the end of “Legal Age Life” Dave C got up from the drums and pulled a slide whistle out of his pocket and proceeded to solo on it, Martin, not one to be shown up, ran off stage and grabbed a flute and came back to duel with Dave. On Claire some of the band switched things up, Tim, Dave C, Lewis,and Martin kept to their normal rolls but Dave B played Drums, Mike played tambourine and Ford played bass. Dave Clark’s mic wasn’t working until “The Headless One”. Edmund Fitzgerald was played in complete darkness for most of the song which added a nice ambiance, towards the end blue lights were turned on. And if that wasn’t a great way to end the show they played a fiery rendition of Horses.

No Whale Music night would be complete without mentioning Paul Quarrington.  Dave talks about the inspiration of the book and then says, “we thought it was only right to bring Paul Quarrington to open the show.”  You can hear someone on the tape gasp and then you hear, He was right beside you!”  “Oh my God!”

Paul reads an except from when Desmond is talking about making whale music and seeing Claire sunbathing.  It’s weird with no context, but most people fans surely read it.  The audio quality isn’t great at the start but by the end of the excerpt it sounds great and so does the rest of the show.

They open the show with a ripping “Self Serve Gas Station.”  Tim says that there never used to be an outro.  Dave started strumming the chords again while they were recording it and the other guys joined in.  Dave: “What is this classic albums or something?  Yeah I guess it is.”  “I believe I was wearing a purple shirt….” It segues into a fantastic “California Dreamline.”  It ends with the clapping intro for “Rain Rain Rain.”  They have some cool warbly backing vocals during the “feeling pretty down” part in the second half.  There’s a great bass “solo” underneath the quieter vocals and then the band has crazy fun during the last verse with jazzy chords followed by big rocking chords.

Dave starts “Queer” but Ford starts playing “Everyday People” (no doubt a nod to Cece singing it the other night).  Despite Dave’s starting the words to “Queer,” Ford just starts singing “Everyday People” and the whole band joins in (Ford has a great high voice for the chorus).  When “Queer” starts, everyone sounds fantastic.  Ford gets a little piano solo before the end.  And then came Lewis Melville on the guitar.

Dave: “Here’s another song from, jeez, Whale Music.  Playing the whole album makes banter inconsequential.”

“King Of The Past” sounds good, but someone messes up the chorus–I think Tim is too early both times.  But no one stops.  Musically it sounds fine–especially the bass.  During the outro solo, Dave shouts, “give birth to that horse, Martin.”  Martin’s solo and wild and punky noises from the keys work as a segue into a blistering “RDA” with lots of screaming.   Dave sings a few choruses of “They don’t give a fuck about anybody else.”  At the end Mike notes, “we brought a drill (there’s a drill on the record for this song) but left it in the dressing room.

Dave notes that “Don Kerr will be with us tomorrow night.  We’ll have the full complement.”

Several times they’ve asked for more of Dave Clark’s voice in the monitor.  It’s possible that he wasn’t audible to anyone.  Dave says, “You had a Gil Moore moment.”  Dave notes: “Mike Levine was the first rock star to live on the Danforth.”  Ford: Mike Levine’s dad was the President of [inaudible].  What a squarehead.  Bean counter.”

“The Headless One” doesn’t get played much (Mike say first time in about 15 years) and it sounds good–again the bass sounds really great.

For some reason, Martin says, “We got mild, medium and no hot sauce at all.”  “Legal Age Life At Variety Store” features Lewis Melville on the pedal steel.  It’s followed by a slide whistle solo from Dace Clark.  Dave: “Bring it, Vesely, bring it. (Tim is on drums).  Oh don’t stop there, man, I can hear those Irish fjords calling me.”  Then Martin grabs the penny whistle to compete with Dave.  Mike: “That’s one sharp trap drumming by Tim Vesely there.”

Martin says, “I’ve only counted three mistakes so far.”  And then Tim busts out the accordion for a great “What’s Going On Around Here?”

For “Shaved Head,” Tim says, “I think we recorded this song in the dark.  Martin was in the hallway.  There were candles–a major fire hazard, but we’re all about flouting the law.  Was there grappa.  Grappa was Melville.  Mike: “We’ve matured since then… it was fine scotch.”  Martin: Does anyone know why booze explodes?  Answer: “When you don;t drink, it explodes.

Ford says, “Whats next?  At this part of the record I get up and get a snack.”  Mike says, “This is the part of the record that I think of Tannis Slimmon.  She is such a beautiful person.  One of the kindest and most gentle people I’ve ever met.  And on top of that and she sings like a bird) and we happen to have her here.”  It’s a lovely version of “Palomar.”

Tim says one of his favorite Canadian albums of all time is The Bird Sisters She, She & She.

I believe that Dave Clark gets up: “Ladies and gentlemen, Neil Peart” (not really).  “The motorcycling has done wonders for his physique.”

Clark: “Friends, is everybody being kind to each other?  I thought so.”  Clark does “Guns” and has updated his beat poetry.  He gets a chant going, “What don’t we need?”  “Guns!”  “We need more peace.”    He has the audience make some drum sounds and then Bidini plays the bongos and he sings “getting it on the circuits.”

There’s more accordion for “Sickening Song.”  It sounds great although at the end, Dave says we used to sound a lot more Italian.  Tim says I think I found my new calling–no more lugging around heavy bass amplifiers.  He continues to play the accordion until the start of “Soul Glue.”  In the middle, Dave shouts, “How about a pedal steel guitar solo?” Then Dave shouts, “how about a rock n roll guitar solo?”  “Ford Pier keyboard solo?”  Tim, “May I ask for a bass solo?”

They need to practice the opening vocal harmony, but they nail it for “Beerbash,” Hey everybody Dave is gonna sing a song right now for all you kids.  There’s a pretty slide guitar solo.

And then Tim says, “This album never ends.”  Dave: “This album isn’t over is what Tim means to say.  We have two more.”

They talk a bit about Reaction Studios where they recorded Melville and Whale Music.  It closed down the day before. And somewhere along the lines some major music company bought the rights [to Whale Music] and we have no connection to the thing.  (But you can get it in zunior).

Up next is “Who?”  The whole song sounds good until the final two notes.  Martin cringes and then says, “we have never played that with you, Michael?  Nope, never.”

The album ends with “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.”  It sounds terrific and they even thrown in a full version of “Alomar” for fun.

After having played the album, they take a break and then come back to play “Claire.”  The bass sounds a little off on this song–slightly out of tune?  The song sounds good although in the middle section someone hits a terrible chord, but hey come out of that okay and finish strong.

Something happens on stage and Martin says “A request” and then plays jazzy number:  “mild hot or medium.”  There are no standards for spicy.  He then asks, “What are we doing now, Dave?  Are we gonna do all of 2112?”  He starts playing “Song of Flight” and Ford starts singing, “We are the priests!”

While Martin plays, “Song Of Flight” Tim sings “around the rainbow three times” in tune.

Dave asks them to shut off the stage lights completely.  There are some ominous chords and some shushing.  Then Tim starts singing “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.”  They do a great job and they throw in the “I wish I was back home in Derry” part.  It segues into a scorching “Horses.”  During it they “give the drummer some.”  Not sure who gets to solo or is it both or them?  It’s a good solo.  And then one more solo from Mr Louis Melville.

They turn that fifty minute album into an excellent two and a half hour show.

[READ: July 17, 2017] Pigs Might Fly

I really enjoyed Abadzis’ book Laika.  I thought it was factually interesting and cleverly written.  And I think my joy at that book impacted why I disliked this book so much.

This is a fairly simple story (although it is made rather complicated).

A girl, Lily, is a good airplane creator.  Her father is supposed to be the airplane creator.  He refuses to use magic in his creations believing that only science can keep a plane in the air.  But when the neighboring town starts attacking with their own airplanes, Lily takes it upon herself to fight them.

Okay, fine.

But here’s the thing.  This story is all about pigs.  And I don’t know why.  Aside from the title that allows for the joke of pigs flying, there’s no “reason” to have made these characters pigs.  Well, also because Abadzis wanted to stuff this book full of awful pig/hog puns. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE MYNABIRDS-Tiny Desk Concert #670 (November 10, 2017).

I thought the name The Mynabirds sounded familiar.  Turns out they performed Tiny Desk Concert #64 (by my count).

Bob Boilen says he

first met Laura Burhenn ten years ago for a songwriting project she did with John Davis, her then bandmate in the duo Georgie James, here at NPR called Project Song. [which I plan to write about at some point].  Her current band, The Mynabirds, are Tiny Desk alum, Laura having played her first Tiny Desk Concert in the spring of 2010.  I’m not one to repeat artists at the Tiny Desk. I’m more into discovering and challenging new bands to play in this intimate and awkward setting. But this project was so different and Laura had ideas about how to make it even more special from what she’d done back in 2010, so I couldn’t resist.

2016 was a tough year … the elections and subsequent inauguration, which were devastating to many. But what transpired next for anyone dismayed by those events was inspiring: The Women’s March united many who were in despair, while giving purpose and focus to what for them was an unthinkable outcome in the election of Donald Trump.

Then came the songs – nine new ones Laura Burhenn wrote with Patrick Damphier, inspired by the many marches around the country, listening to the news, seeing social media, talking to friends and taking it all in. The result is The Mynabirds’ politically charged 2017 album Be Here Now.

The band sings four songs.  “Golden Age” features Laura on keys with a backing band of cello (Alexia Kauffman), guitar (Emily Moore) and bass guitar (Damphier). This song is full of lamentations and her husky voice works quite well with it.  She speaks of dead musicians, and political horrors.  The solo in the middle is interesting for it being deliberately jarring and somewhat out of tune.  Lyrically the song is pretty outstanding

Tell me, where are our heroes
Are they stuck at the wall?
Cause we got some real villains to stop
Before they kill us all

I see what you’re doing
With the Jews and the Muslims
You’re sawing us all
In half with your fake fear

My heart’s full of love
And all kinds of peace
But I think even
I 
Could punch a Nazi 
In the face

I just wish the song was more angry than sad.

For second song, “Shouting At The Dark” The People’s Choir come in.  The song rocks more with a great swinging bassline and some interesting muffled chugging guitar.  The choir really fills out the song and it sounds great.

I love the melody of the chorus which is once again, not entirely pretty–slightly haunting, except that they sound beautiful.  Adriana-Lucia Cotes is hitting these slightly dissonant notes that really standout in an interesting way.

Before the third song, “Hold On,” Laura talks about the choir, songwriting and the Muslim travel ban:

While recording this album, a travel ban was issued affecting six Muslim-majority countries. She wrote a song for refugees inspired by the ban and got in touch with friends back in Omaha at the Refugee Empowerment Center. It is there she learned of the Umoja Choir whose members include resettled refugees from The Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and they ended up singing on her record. Laura also started a GoFundMe campaign for them to record their songs. Now some of those choir members Diendonne Manirakiza and Eric Esron (refugees from Burundi) have come to the Tiny Desk for a powerful set of songs. They’re joined by Michael Boggs, another Tiny Desk alum: Jessica Lea Mayfield. It’s an inspired project that I’m excited to share.

“Hold On” is “about having a heart.”  It’s a slower song with acoustic guitar and prominent cello.  The choir sounds like a “real” choir instead of backing vocalists on this uplifting song.

“Wild Hearts” opens with a cool echoed electric guitar.  For this song the choir works as powerful backing vocalists on this even more uplifting song.

[READ: May 20, 2017] Pretty Deadly 2

I didn’t really like the first book of this series.  And I didn’t like this book much either.  So I am officially giving up.

This book continues with the exposition by butterfly and dead rabbit.  An old woman, Sarah, is dying.  During the night she is visited by a ghost–of the man with slashes across his eyes, Fox (I can’t recall their relationship). Granddaughter Clara walks in and see the ghost.  Clara’s mother comes in and sees the ghost too.  And after some ugly words they ask if they can keep Sarah from dying until her son gets back to see her one last time–he is off fighting in a war somewhere. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk Concert #669 (November 8, 2017).

Back in the day, I really liked Ani DiFranco.  I saw here live a few times.  I loved her whole indie thing (all her music on her own label) and her politics.  Plus her songs were interesting and catchy.  And then, some time around 2000 I lost interest in her music.

I didn’t really like the new jazzy/funky/extended sound that she was playing with.

This Concert has two newish songs and one old song (it’s great to hear the old song again).

For her Tiny Desk debut, DiFranco brought a hell of a backing band, with drummer Terence Higgins and singer/violinist Jenny Scheinman joined by none other than Ivan Neville on keyboards.

I felt that her song writing style didn’t really lend itself to jazzy funky style. And I still feel that way.  The blurb notes that the band lends a slithery underpinning of funk to three songs that stretch across much of DiFranco’s career.  And Opening with “Dithering,” from 2014’s Allergic To Water, that is true.  But one of the things I loved about her music was her excellent guitar playing.  And on “Dithering,” all of the action of the song comes from the funky keys (and it’s a great groovy funky song), but I find that he singing style doesn’t quite work with the music.  Her voice still sounds terrific, though and Scheinman’s backing vocals are terrific.

Even if I still don’t love her new songs, I’m glad she’s still doing her own thing:

But she’s also kept her core values intact, from her outspoken commitment to progressive social causes to her strenuously maintained independence from the machinery of the music industry.   DiFranco introduces “Play God” (from this year’s Binary) with a monologue about reproductive rights and gender relations.

And it’s fantastic–pointed and thoughtful with just enough edge.  Musically, the song brings back some of her fingerpicking style and I do like Neville’s funky keys.  In fact the funkiness of this song feels natural.  And lyrically it’s great too.

She and her band close with 1998’s “Swan Dive,” which she calls “an early attempt at a happy song.”  I get a kick out of how she gets another guitar change and says “I never play a guitar twice.”  This song showcase what I loved (and love) about her songs–a complex and interesting guitar/rhythmic/percussive pattern that she does by herself.  The additional musicians add more fill, which sounds nice–the gentle keys and the slow violin (which also makes some great noisy sounds) as well as the way the drums kick in for the chorus.  It all works great.

It’s been about fifteen years since I really listened to her and I’m glad she’s still rocking to her own beat.

[READ: May 1, 2017] Pretty Deadly 1

I love Kelly DeConnick’s work with the Marvel Universe.  So I was pretty excited to read this story which is her own creation.

When I went to log this book on Goodreads, it said that this book marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher.  And I found that uncanny because as I was reading it I thought that the style of elliptical writing and even the placement of the text boxes in relation to the pictures was very much like Sandman. But the brutality of the art and the setting reminded me of Preacher. Clearly I was onto something.

I loved Sandman. I liked Preacher (never actually finished it, though), and I fear that this book is more Preacher than Sandman for me.

It begins very confusingly with a butterfly talking to a dead rabbit.  They are telling each other stories and they tell the story of when they met (which appears to be when the rabbit was shot and killed). (more…)

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