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sahrakSOUNDTRACK: NO BS! BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #280 (June 15, 2013).

nobsWith a name like No BS! Brass Band, you think you know what you’re getting: brass and lots of it.  And while that is true, the Band goes way beyond what I anticipated a brass band would sound like (nothing like the far more traditional Canadian Brass for instance).

The blurb states:

Funky and danceable, the NO BS! Brass Band takes after the full black-music continuum you hear in groups like Rebirth or the Hot 8. But it’s also proggy, and a bit brutalizing, and full of pride in a different Southern outpost. The group’s new album is called RVA All Day, after all.  [I don’t know what that last line refers to].

Recently, Koehler, Pace and nine other musicians piled into a bus and journeyed up the freeway to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk in Washington, D.C. They blasted us with songs from the new album — it was so loud, you could hear the music on the other side of the building, a floor down.

The band includes:  Lance Koehler, drums ; Reggie Pace, trombone ; Bryan Hooten, trombone/vocals ; John Hulley, trombone ; Dillard Watt, bass trombone ; David Hood, alto saxophone ; Marcus Tenney, trumpet ; Sam Koff, trumpet ; Ben Court, trumpet ; Taylor Barnett, trumpet and Stefan Demetriadis, tuba.  And they play three super high energy largely instrumental songs that are obviously jazzy but which also have elements of the most fun marching band you’ve ever heard along with some rapping, some chanting and lots and lots of clapping.

The first song is all about “RVA All Day.”  And yet since that’s all they chant, I still don’t know what it means.   While the whole band plays loudly and powerfully, there’s a few solo moments as well.  First a trombone solo followed by a sax solo, then a trumpet and a super wild trombone solo (he gets some truly great, crazy sounds from that thing).  And then a huge surprise, midway through the song is a rap through a megaphone.

“Run Around” has a sing along to begin the song (and again, vocals through the megaphone).  It is also lively and a lot of fun.  The final song, “Infamous”sounds a lot more jazzy/big band.  It’s got a really nice groove.  The middle has a section with just tuba and trumpet where the rest of the band claps and shouts “Ho!” and it sounds great.  It’s also interesting watching how the different players “store” their instruments in different ways while clapping.

No BS! Brass band will totally make you wiggle your hips.

[READ: August 20, 2016] Shark Life

Clark had to pick a book for summer reading and he chose this one.  He enjoyed it so much, that he encouraged me to read it too.  And I’m really glad I did.  Although it wasn’t until writing this that I realized that this book was adapted for young people by Karen Wojtyla.  And yet I can’t find any mention of a grown up version of this book anywhere.  So who knows.

Anyhow,  Peter Benchley (who died in 2006) is the author of Jaws, and this book is full of stories of his life in and on the sea.  For, in addition to being an author, Benchley was a diver and explorer.  And his tales are both exciting and full of conservationist ideas.

The book opens in 1974. After the success of Jaws, Benchley had been invited to Australia to be on The American Sportsman.  He was going to be swimming in a cage with sharks feeding around him.  They put him in the cage, strapped all kinds of good food to it and left him there (okay they were close by).  But a few things went awry and suddenly things weren’t quite as safe as they could be. The shark got caught in Benchley’s air line and then panicked.  And a panicking shark is never a good thing. (more…)

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curswedSOUNDTRACK: MAYA BEISER-Tiny Desk Concert #283 (June 29, 2013).

mayaMaya Beiser is an Israeli-born American cellist.  And the blurb tells us that:

Maya Beiser’s Twitter handle — @CelloGoddess — says it all. She’s a brilliant cellist with a stunning command of her instrument, and she’s tightly tied to technology. Beiser takes the sound of her cello and runs it through loop pedals, effects and other electronics to make her instrument shimmer, drone and groove.  Time Loops, her 2012 album, is one of that year’s hidden gems.

The music feels experimental in that she’s using an age old instrument (and age old tuning) mixed with technology.  But the two songs she plays here are simply beautiful and the technology only serves to make the songs all the more enticing.

I don’t know what these pieces are “meant” to sound like.  In fact, I don’t even know the composers.  But her version of these pieces (with the wonderful drones and echoes of what she is playing) are terrific.

Osvaldo Golijov: “Mariel” One of the fascinating things about this piece is that it is impossible to tell what she is looping (especially since we miss the very beginning to see if she clicks any pedals).  But is she looping what she has played or is there some other music being added in?  This is a mournful piece with some great sounds (looped) accompanying her.  It’s seven and half minutes of beautiful cello music.

She introduces the second piece “Just Ancient Loops” Mvt. 1 by saying that Michael Harrison wrote the piece for her.  She plays 6 minutes of the 25 minute epic piece, or what amounts to the first movement (called Genesis). She also tells us that it was written in “just intonation” which is an ancient way of tuning the cello, but it is natural for the instrument which is all about pure fifths.

It opens with some plucked bass notes which are immediately looped and run through much of the piece (how is she controlling the loops?  I can’t see her feet at all).  By the middle, the piece is in full swing with different cello sounds echoing and looping. It sounds full and fantastic and over all just really wonderful.

I typically enjoy cello music, but there is something especially cool about this performance.

[READ: September 2, 2016]. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I wasn’t all that excited about this book.  It was a play.  Did Rowling even write it?  (I actually still don’t understand the provenance of the story)?  And did I really want to read about a grown up Harry?

Well, first Tabitha read it and then Sarah read it and they both said it was great.  So I read it.  And I flew through it (and stayed up too late reading it, too).  And, man was it enjoyable.  More than enjoyable.  I immediately got right back into the Potterverse and I loved seeing the famous characters grown up.

So, what’s this book about, exactly?

Well, without giving spoilers (to those few to whom it applies), the plot starts off 19 years after the action of the last book.  (more…)

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pfilSOUNDTRACK: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #254 (December 3, 3012).

mackI missed the whole Macklemore & Ryan Lewis thing when it happened in 2012.  I was vaguely aware of “Thrift Shop,” but really didn’t know much about him until the hype blew up all over the place.

And now four years later, I’m catching up on him and finding it all pretty great.

This Tiny Desk Concert is interesting for a number of reasons.  All of the backing females vocals are prerecorded, but the trumpet is live (I gather that’s Lewis on the mixing board).  And he and the audience really get into it–I’m not sure when he was in his rise at the time of this show.

I gather that all three of these songs were well-known at the time.  But I’d never heard “Same Love” at all before. It is a surprisingly powerful and moving song about gay rights and human rights.  It seems to start out with a different tone altogether—he is scared that he is gay.  But it quickly turns into something much sweeter and loving. It’s actually quite a tear-jerker.  Then he changes the mood entirely.

“Thrift Shop” has an amazingly catchy melody for the chorus.  The vocal line is a sample as well.  And while I have heard the song before I never noticed the “this is fucking awesome” final line, which has been stuck in my head for weeks now.  This song is really funny.  The R Kelly line is hilarious [Probably should’ve washed this, smells like R. Kelly sheets (Pissssss…) But shit, it was 99 cents! ] and the whole bit about paying $50 for a T-shirt is spot on.  He hops around and is full of infectious energy.  There’s a live trumpet solo at the end.  Lewis plays with a set of sleigh bells and then knocks them off to much laughter.

As the song ends he grabs the Emmy and says, “Thank you, we’re outta here.  Peace.”

The final song is “Can’t Hold Us.”   The chorus of that song sounds so familiar.  I’m sure I’ve heard it before but I can’t imagine where (maybe roller skating?).  But man, is it catchy.  For this version, Ray Dalton sings with them.  I guess maybe he’s the guy who sang the original?  It sounds like there’s also a recording going with it, though, so who knows, and who cares.  The live trumpet is a nice touch.

As Bob notes: “The live, sweet, soulful sounds of singer Ray Dalton belting, ‘Like the ceiling can’t hold us’ had Macklemore standing on my desk and shaking the dust off the ceiling tiles.”  It is fun an exhilarating.  And as the show fades, you can hear him ask, “You guys have a shower?”

[READ: February 8, 2016] The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

Saunders wrote this novella during the Bush administration. But it feels shockingly more relevant now.  This is the story of an unqualified buffoon who takes charge and attempts to force his will on a country.

But in typical Saunders fashion it is over the top and somewhat absurd, except that it is all quite real.

The story is about a small country called Inner Horner.  Inner Horner is so small that only one citizen can stand in it at a time.  The other five citizens must stand in The Short-Term Residency Zone.  Outer Horner is huge with lots of empty space.  The Outer Hornerites don’t really mind the Inner Hornerites being in the Zone, but they didn’t want to offer any of their own land to Inner Horner because, well, what if other countries wanted land too.

Then one day, a seismic shift makes Inner Horner even smaller.  Now only 1/4 of a citizen can fit in Inner Horner at a time.  Leon, an Outer Horner Border Guard noticed that this citizen (whose name was Elmer) was mostly in Outer Horn and he sounded the alarm that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin and Larry) came over and glared at Elmer.  They don’t believe in the shrinking–decent countries don’t shrink.  But the militia doesn’t know what to do.  And then Phil, a guy standing nearby, says why not tax them?

Phil was in love with Carol, a citizen of Inner Horner. But she had married Cal (another Inner Horner citizen) and they had a child, Little Andy.  This made Phil very bitter.  (more…)

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crocs SOUNDTRACKRED BARAAT-Tiny Desk #194 (February 14, 2012).

redbaraatBob Boilen opens his blurb about this band with high praise indeed:

Red Baraat is the best party band I’ve seen in years. The group plays rollicking funk music steeped in Northern India’s wedding celebrations, with a dash of D.C. go-go beats and hip-hop. It’s all driven by Sunny Jain’s dhol, a double-sided barrel drum that hangs down low around his body.

But the music is not all about drumming

If the drum is the messenger, the brass is the message. Uplifting melodies emanate from baritone and soprano saxophones, bass trumpet, trombone and sousaphone. This is a band that jazz lovers can appreciate and rock fans can dance to.

They play three songs.  And the musicians are quite diverse.  Its fun to see a trumpeter (who totally wails) wearing a Sikh turban.

“Chaal Baby”  is really dancey with a simple, bouncy horn melody and all that percussion. In addition to the snare and the dhol, there’ s a percussionist making some great sounds, too.  And all through the song–which really swings–people are shouting “hey ho.” It’s a lot of fun.

“Shruggy Ji” opens slowly but after a few second the whole band kicks in with a kind of minor key feel (and a very Indian sound on the saxophone.  There’s some chanting–although I can’t tell what they’re saying.  The two note melody is great for shaking your hips to.  In the middle of the song there’s a call and response of “oh my may” and then he raps—he’s a little hard to hear (because he’s unmic’d and the rest of the band is so loud) but the gist is there and it’s fun (I believe he name checks Biz Markee).  As this song ends you hear Stephen Thomson shout “can you guys hear in the back?”

On “Dhol ‘n’ Brass” the guy with the dhol opens this song with a fast chanted opening that sounds a lot like the rhythm of the drums.  When the rest of the band jumps in, the song is really fast and a lot of fun

This is indeed a great party band and there’s plenty of diversity in the music to keep it really interesting and unexpected.

[READ: February 1, 2016] The Croc Ate My Homework

I knew of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine but had never read it before.

This book was published by the same folks who introduced me to Liō and I thought it might be funny.

From what I gather, this collection is actually a collection of the most kid-friendly strips from this series.  This I find very strange indeed, but I see that the actual strip is fairly adult and has been controversial on my occasions (although it is published in newspapers, so it’s never too dark).

I got a kick out of this collection, although I didn’t think it was all that great.  Of course, knowing that these strips are the somewhat watered down strips does make me want to read the real thing to see if these strips ware funnier in context.

The strip centers around a bunch of animals Rat (who is mean–unnecessarily mean, I felt, in this book, but again, without context), Pig who is a good-natured but naive. The Crocs (who are incredibly dumb–and very funny) and the Zebra who outsmarts the crocs–although that’s not very hard. (more…)

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TNY 11.24.08 cvr.fnl.indd SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG & JOE HENRY-Tiny Desk Concert #571 (October 17, 2016).

bragg-henryI don’t really know who Joe Henry is (although I see that he has released 13 albums).  I’ve heard his name mentioned a bunch of times, but I can’t really place him to any specific music.  Billy Bragg, on the other hand, I know very well.

The two recorded an album this year.  And the NPR blurb is pretty interesting:

Earlier this year, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry set off on a journey. They boarded a train in Chicago, bound for Los Angeles. Each time the train stopped for more than 20 minutes in cities like St. Louis and San Antonio, they’d grab their guitars, hop off, find the waiting room and record an old railroad song. The result of this journey is an album called Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.

Their voices sound very different and as a result they play off each other very well.

The duo used Lead Belly as a jumping off point for much of this music.  Bragg explains that the jumping off point for this music is a book he has been working on about when British pop music went from being jazz influenced to being guitar led.  In 1956 Lonnie Donegan became the first Briton to get into the charts playing the  Lead Belly song “Rock Island Line.”

On the second song “Hobo’s Lullaby” Henry explains, the railroad is a mythic poverty–railroads conjure a romance in all of us even if we’ve never ridden a passenger train.  As they start, Bragg hasn’t re-tuned his guitar.  He says it’s always him who messes up.  But he usually plays solo, so “If I put something in the wrong key I just sing it in that key and hope no one notices–fortunately my audience… no one comes to hear me sing.”

As they are about to start, he says, “Sorry mate it was a beautiful intro.”  Henry looks at him and says, “It was,” to much laughter.

Before the final song, Henry says he was listening to Lead Belly since he was 15.  “Midnight Special” was a train that ran past Sugarland Prison in Texas.  The story was if the train’s light shined on you as it swept across the yard, that you would be the next to get paroled.

Even though these songs are old,

This concept record could be seen as a nostalgia trip, but both Bragg and Henry will emphatically say that it’s not. These songs and this journey celebrate the modern railroad as a major economic engine and a still-vital form of transportation.

[READ: March 10, 2016] “Ghosts”

Danticat often writes about Haiti and the troubles that arise there.

This story is set in Bel Air–the Baghdad of Haiti. Children in the neighborhood enter art contests by drawing posters that say “It’s not polite to shoot at funeral processions.”

The protagonist is Pascal Dorien.  He is a good kid who tries to stay out of trouble.  His parents own a small restaurant which has the unfortunate location of being in the heart of gangland (his family lives in a nearby town which is a little safer).  Luckily for them (sort of) the gangsters who make the restaurant their evening hangout are kind to the family and think of their place as their haven.

The family originally sold pigeons (both live and as meat) but then the gangsters started buying them to use in a ritual which involved drinking the pigeons’ blood mixed with evaporated milk.  His parents hated this and eventually stopped selling the bird.   Nevertheless the money they made for this ritual allowed them to expand and make even more money.  Which they hoped would allow their children to flee Haiti for safer locations. (more…)

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nySOUNDTRACK: THE SECRET SISTERS-Tiny Desk Concert #563 (September 12, 2016).

secretsisThe Secret Sisters are, in fact, Lydia and Laura Rogers, two sisters from Alabama.  They sing pretty folk/country or even traditional songs and have wonderful harmonies.

“Tennessee River Runs Low” is from the point of view of the river (and is really quite delightful).  It comes complete with an “oh de oh de oh de oh” section.  The music is pretty simple (just a little strummed guitar) and their wonderful voices.

After the first song she says that she has seen lots of Tiny Desk Concerts and they’re thrilled to be there.  It’s more spacious than you might think.  They could square dance there–except they can’t square dance.  She says that it feels kind of like being a zoo animal.

The second song is “a super duper sad song.”  Since their previous record came out they have both gotten married–to different men, she clarifies.  (Well, they are from Alabama, they joke).  They don’t know what to write about anymore–who wants to hear happy songs?

“You’ve Got It Wrong” is indeed a sad ballad–a very pretty, very traditional sounding country song.  Their voices really sell it.

Before the final song, she says that “if you want to be happy and in a good mood don’t ever come to one of our shows.”  They only play downer music. She explains that  they grew up singing gospel in a church that had no musical instruments.  It was only their voices and no solos or choirs.   She didn’t realize they were learning how to sing at church–that’s where their harmonies come from.

So they are doing an old gospel number, “Flee as a Bird.”  The melody of the verses its wonderful–the kind I’ve never heard in a church song before.

I would never see these guys in concert, but fora Tiny Desk, their songs were quite lovely.

[READ: March 7, 2016] “A Spoiled Man”

This was a lengthy story that seemed to speak to the futility of life.

There were a lot of details which made the story really interesting, but as I think about summarizing it, I realize that the story is bombastically a man lives, succeeds, fails and dies.

Fortunately Mueenuddin tells a lovely winding story that shows just how much a man’s life can change.

The story is set in Islamabad and the main character is Rezak, “a small, bowlegged man with a lopsided, battered face.”  He is outside of the mansion of a local man who has recently married an American woman.   The woman proves to be a nice person who genuinely seems to enjoy her new life.  In Pakistan.  And people liked her as well.

Rezak tried to make himself useful around the mansion. Despite his appearance, he is a strong man and he does wind up helping the workers.  At the end of the day they invite him for dinner, but his pride makes him refuse. (more…)

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rek2SOUNDTRACK: OF MONTREAL-Tiny Desk Concert #263 (January 28, 2013).

of-montrealWhen I saw that Of Montreal was doing a Tiny Desk Concert I really had no idea what to expect.  I mean, it could have been anything.  The blurb even jokes that Of Montreal concerts have been described as “wildly theatrical,” “flamboyant,” “synchronized dancing” and having “strange, wandering creatures that look like amoebas.”

So I was absolutely not expecting to see two guys with acoustic guitars and a woman singing a gentle folk song.  I actually double checked to make sure I was watching the right show.

Evidently around this time, Kevin Barnes (the man behind Of Montreal) had been working on quieter, more personal work. And so we get these three songs which are, more or less, Barnes solo.

The first song, “Feminine Effects” has the assistance of singer Rebecca Cash and guitarist Bryan Poole.  Cash sings the entire song, and it’s quite lovely, if not a little dark.

The next two songs “Imbecile Rages” and “Amphibian Days” are Barnes by himself, strumming guitar and singing.  The music is fairly straightforward, although he does throw in some unexpected chords which makes the songs stand out. And, of course, his lyrics and delivery are quirky. His enunciation is peculiar and even more pronounced in this setting.

This is a real surprise for Of Montreal fans, and frankly almost a red herring for anyone new to the band.

[READ: December 31, 2016] The Impossible Fortress

Sarah received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from her friend Mary Lynn and thought I would like it.  And boy did I ever.  I read this book in half a day.  It’s a quick read and while not profound of life-changing, it was really fun and funny–with a fairly dark twist.

There are two major plots in this book and they intertwine very nicely.

The first–the “action” plot–involves the Vanna White Playboy issue.  The second–the main character plot–involves coding a video game on a Commodore 64.  For this book is set in 1987 in the suburban New Jersey town of Wetbridge.  Our protagonists are 14-year-old boys who never really fit into other cliques.

The story is about Billy Marvin.  He never knew his father and his mother has started working the overnight shift at the Food Mart to make an extra dollar an hour.  Billy’s mom has really high hopes for Billy.  But his school life is pretty dismal.  His mom believes that Billy is really smart and she tries to get Billy into honors classes.  But his grades indicate remedial classes.  If he can succeed in these classes he can get moved up.  But he does not succeed. At all. (more…)

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