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Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Wilco set; stream it while it’s still active.

I have been really enjoying Wilco’s most recent albums, but it’s their live shows that are exceptional.

Opening with “Random Name Generator” they segue into a very string-heavy “Via Chicago” (a one-two punch of greatness that would leave me flabbergasted).  The recording of this song is particularly great because you can really hear the craziness that Nels Cline adds to the noisy sections.  And the strings also loom large, which I find interesting.  It sounds like a full string section, but maybe its’ just synths?

Wilco have so many albums and so many songs.  Most of their live shows run over two and a half hours.  So this barely-over-an-hour set means excising.  And yet they don’t just play a hits set.  There’s quite a few songs from their latest album, Schmilco and a deep cut from Wilco (The Album).  That particular song “Bull Black Nova” has a cool guitar solo back-and-forth between Cline and whoever else was on guitar at the time.

A mellow “Reservations” leads to a lengthy “Impossible Germany” with an extended guitar solo from Cline.  “Misunderstood” gets a big round of applause (and a suitably chaotic middle section–a mini freakout).

Earlier, Jeff Tweedy said “I don’t feel like talking” but before “Heavy Metal Drummer he says, “I guess I feel like talking a little bit…  Nah.”  Then “Hope we didn’t ruin your lovely day, we didn’t mean to if we did.”

They play a fairly shambolic “I’m the Man Who Loves You” which means not that they play it sloppily but that they play it noisily–from time to time one instrument or another has a little noisy fun while everyone else keeps playing like normal.

As the set starts winding down and Tweedy starts to chat with the crowd, someone shouts something and he says

Happy birthday?  Don’t bring that up.  It’s nowhere near my birthday.  [pause] I might never have another one. [groans from the audience] I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention back to our mortality.  I thought we were having too much fun… it sucks. [pause]  You guys have been heartwarming and reassuring.  Every time I think that everything in the world completely sucks we get to play in front of an audience and share something with people that I know is real and I know it exists and will always exist…  And there will always be more of this than whatever the fuck that is.

They play a lovely “Hummingbird” and a crowd pleasing “The Late Greats.”  Tweedy tells us that “my dad says ‘life is happy and sad and it hurts,’ I wrote about 1,000 songs to say that.”

Tweedy can’t help impart some more advice for our troubled times:

Just show up.  Just show up for everybody and things will be all right.

Before the final two songs, he says, “A lot of people have been yelling for this song, which is understandable.”  It’s from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs and it’s called “Christ for President.”  It’s more true now than ever.

For the final song, Billy Bragg himself comes out (that’s what so cool about Newport Folk Festival) and they play a rousing rendition of “California Stars.”

Festivals are never quite as good as regular concerts if you really want to see one band. The sets are always shorter than you want.  But this is pretty fine.  And the recording quality is superb.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Countess’s Private Secretary”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Jennifer Egan was indeed the private secretary to a Countess.  The Countess was a woman of some authority.  One time Egan was on her way to work for her.  There was some kind of fire emergency in the building and pedestrian traffic was halted.  The Countess shouted out the window to the emergency crews insisting that Egan be let through.  And she was.

Egan said that being the private secretary often meant “becoming” her–starting at 1PM their lives were more or less the same. It helped that Egan herself was tall and slender, Catholic and full of nervous energy.  She was also short-tempered, just like the Countess.  Indeed, even their handwriting matched pretty well.  Although the Countess told Egan that she liked and her, Egan always knew she was just a servant.  The Countess was not above telling her that garlic oozed from her pores for days after she ate it.  Plus her cowboy boots were coarse, her spelling was atrocious and so on.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARGARET GLASPY-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 30, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Margaret Glaspy set; stream it while it’s still active.

Margaret Glaspy has been making music professionally since 2010, but she released her solo debut last year and it’s really good.  She plays a rocking guitar, although she seems to play a lot on the higher strings.  Her sound isn’t tinny, but it’s a much more treble than bass.  But she’s got a two piece backing band to pick up and complement the low end.

She also has a unique vocal delivery style.  She enunciates words with a strange inflection–I never would have guessed that she is from California.  And it’s that unique sound that I think makes her lyrics that much more interesting.  She’s also not afraid to throw in a curse or a graphic description in her lyrics.

Glaspy played 13 songs in total.  10 of the 12 songs from her record, two new ones and a Lucinda Williams cover.

She doesn’t speak much, she just gets right to the music, playing the first five songs faithfully to the record with just enough grace notes to make it stand out.  But she seems to let it all hang out by the time she gets to “Situation” which has a much louder, rougher guitar sound–she really lets loose and it sounds great.

She introduces the band Daniel Ryan on the bass and Tim Kuhl on the drums and then she starts the slower “Black is Blue.” I hadn’t noticed before but at times her delivery is kind of like Laura Marling’s in this song.  “You Don’t Want Me” has a spoken word section and her delivery once again reminds me of Marling’s.  They certainly don’t sound alike, but there is something similar in the style–that would be an awesome double bill.

She might explain her lack of talking when she says, “This is my first time at Newport and I don’t take it lightly.  So thank you so much for having me.”

The NPR blurb also sees a lot of strength at the end of her set, so I’ll let them sum up

She says she’s “Got some new songs for you:”

a slow-burner called “Mother/Father” and another that doesn’t yet have a title [the chorus: life was better before we were together].  A late-set highlight was “Memory Street,” which boiled over into a seething solo before a final verse that had Glaspy repeating a disjointed phrase over and over, to the point of uneasiness [it is quite long, she sings the words “Times I” with an appropriate skipping sounding drum click for over 20 seconds]— a compelling imitation of the skipping record her lyrics invoked.

She plays a cover of Lucinda Williamss’ “The Fruits of my Labor.” and then ends with “You And I” and that catchy circular guitar riff that is so wonderful and original.

Glaspy has been on my list of people to see live and I hope she comes back this way after she tours around for a while.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Work You Do, The Person You Are”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Toni Morrison (it’s hard to think of her as doing something “before” being an author) speaks of working for Her, in the 1940s in a house that had all kinds of things that she had never seen before: a hoover vacuum cleaner or an iron not heated by a fire.

She gave half of her earnings to her mother–which meant she was helping pay the rent, which made her feel good. But she also got some money to squander of junk. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PINEGROVE-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 30, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Pinegrove set; stream it while it’s still active.

I was pretty excited to hear what Pinegrove did at a big venue like this.  And, true to form, they sound great and are kind and generous to the people helping them out as well as all the fans who are there: “thanks for taking a chance on us.”

What’s particularly fun about Pinegrove is that their songs are mostly pretty short–but they feel fully complete.  But that means you can get 11 songs in a 45 minute set.

The band is in the process of writing and recording new music but this set is all older stuff (1/2 from Cardinal and the rest older).  But this is such a clear recording (with occasionally pops from the bass), that it’s great to be able to hear these songs live and to hear what they do differently with them.

The first song, “Old Friends,” Evan Stephens Hall seems a little less voice-cracking than usual (as if he’s trying to sing pretty for the Festival), but when he gets into the middle of “Aphasia” he sings “But if I don’t have you by me then I’ll go underground” with reckless abandon and the crowd goes nuts.

To me the most notable difference in these songs is the louder harmony vocals of Nandi Rose Plunkett.  And they sound terrific (Plunkett has her own band Half Waif who I’ve been interested in seeing, although i hope it doesn’t distract her from Pinegrove).

They run through several of the songs and they all sound great–the band really transcends when they play live. (and the rabid fans certainly help).

He introduces the band and has a problem getting Plunkett’s name out (I’ve got an avocado in my mouth).  Then he runs through everyone else: Samuel Skinner on guitar, Joshua Fairbanks Marre on the guitar and vocals, Adan Carlo on the bass guitar, Zachary Levine on the drum kit and vocals (he gets a big response).  And then they introduce Lincoln their newly acquired trusty stuffed sloth.

They dedicate “Angelina” to Lincoln, (he ends by saying “just a tiny little song”)

Okay we’re gonna quickly play two more songs.  After a quick “The Metronome” Hall introduces the final song by saying

Most of these songs are about love whether it be romantic, platonic, or familial and when they began they were about how to love the people we knew the best we could, but a more important initiative is loving the people we don’t know as well as we can.  It’s a localized sentiment but also a very public sentiment.

This works as a wonderful introduction to “New Friends” which sounds tremendous with all of the harmony vocals firing on all cylinders.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “Brush Clearing with the Teen-Age Boys in Arkansas”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Richard Ford writes of working in the summer of 1967.  He worked for the Neighborhood Youth Corps in Little Rock.  It was not a job he wanted, just one he could get.  He had always had jobs and wasn’t about to not have one during the summer while living with his mother.

So he enrolled in this program which “summons images of clean cut boys standing at attention, but was really about low income (black) kids getting work experience.”  And he realizes now it was designed to keep them in school and out of the State’s hair. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-Tiny Desk Concert #237 (August 20, 2012).

I’d published these posts without Soundtracks while I was reading the calendars.  But I decided to add Tiny Desk Concerts to them when I realized that I’d love to post about all of the remaining 100 or shows and this was a good way to knock out 25 of them.

rufusPreceding his sister by a few months at the Tiny Desk was Rufus Wainwright.  I love Rufus’ delivery and style.  I really like his voice too.  The problem is I don’t really like his music all that much.  I wish I did, because I love hearing him sing.  But for some reason it doesn’t do anything for me.  We even saw him live (on a bill with Guster and Ben Folds) and left half way through his set because it’s such a different energy than the other two.

But I love this little bit of information about this show:

We’d never tried to squeeze a piano behind the Tiny Desk, but when I saw a chance to have Rufus Wainwright play here, I wouldn’t — and he probably wouldn’t — have had it any other way

That’s particularly funny because now some five years later they have had all kinds of things behind his desk.

He plays three songs on the piano.

“The Art Teacher”is a sad story about, yes an art teacher.  Really listening to the lyrics (full of art references) makes the song come alive.

Before the second song, he says I’m promoting my new album Out of the Game…yes, you may applaud if you wish.  Covers a lot of genres of music, one is, briefly, country.  Today is a lazy hazy day in the South–while we’re near the South.

“Respectable Dive”is a slow song (the country song, but not sounding country here) and again, the lyrics are great.

“Montauk” is about several people.  His daughter Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen and his fiance.  Viva’s bilogical mother is Lorca Cohen who is Leonard Cohen’s daughter.  The last verse is about “my mother, the great Kate McGarrigle” (Rufus’ father is Loudon Wainwright III).

This song is, as the blurb says:

Wainwright at his best. The piano lines flow with forward motion in a Philip Glass way, and there’s also a hauntingly beautiful story. Wainwright sings to his daughter Viva, [imagining her] grown up and visiting her two fathers in Montauk, a small community on the eastern tip of Long Island.

So I am torn between really liking his voice but feeling that his delivery is a little too slow to fully understand the great lyrics.  There’s so much greatness in his stuff, and yet I can’t find my way in.

[READ: December 20, 2016] “Defamer”

Near the end of November, I found out about The Short Story Advent Calendar.  Which is what exactly?  Well…

The Short Story Advent Calendar returns, not a moment too soon, to spice up your holidays with another collection of 24 stories that readers open one by one on the mornings leading up to Christmas.  This year’s stories once again come from some of your favourite writers across the continent—plus a couple of new crushes you haven’t met yet. Most of the stories have never appeared in a book before. Some have never been published, period.

I already had plans for what to post about in December, but since this arrived I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

I really liked yesterday’s story and I really liked this one as well, even though it is very different.

This is a the sad story of a woman named Birdie.  Boy oh boy everything goes wrong in her life.  She works at an office.

Big boss takes a four-hour lunch.  He has suffered no major disasters in his life.  [He and his wife plan] their vacation to Maine a year in advance.  This is one way to live.

Birdie works in a corner cubicle near Bog Boss’ office… [She] makes $20,000 a year forwarding emails to people who make $15,000 a year.

Birdie assumes that her boss is having an affair on his four-hour lunches.  But one day she see him during his lunch break working at a deli, frantically making sandwiches for customers.  Nothing makes sense. (more…)

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harpaugSOUNDTRACK: LAND OF KUSH-The Big Mango [CST097] (2013).

mangoOsama Shalibi is how Sam Shaibi is credited on this album.  He is the composer and creator of The Big Mango, although he does not appear on it.

Some background that may or may not be useful.  This comes from Popmatters:

“Big Mango” is the nickname for Cairo and The Big Mango is a love letter from composer Osama (Sam) Shalabi to his new home, Cairo, and all of its tumults and contradictions…. Reveling in free-jazz noise, rock rhythms, and the radical propulsion that Shalabi encountered on trips to Dakar, Senegal, the album weaves the divine spirit unleashed through fury and joy and dance into an utterly fascinating whole…  This pinging between controlled pandemonium and something beautiful, strident, transcendent, is not accidental. Shalabi is tackling the nature of change and the place of women in Arab culture on Big Mango, and by so clearly blurring the strange and the celebratory, he suggests that even sweeping, radical change need not be a revolution, but perhaps a way of life, movement as vital force in the universe.

With an introduction like that it’s hard not to want to love this record.  But a with everything Shalibi does, he is always trying to push boundaries and attitudes.  And so, this album has some songs that are really fun ad/or pretty and some songs that feel like (but apparently are not) wild improvisations that test the limit of your patience for experimentation.

As I mentioned, Shalibi doesn’t play on this –I would have loved to hear his oud, but instead we hear all kinds of interesting Western and Eastern instruments: setar (is a Persian version of the sitar), flutes, saxophones, piano, balafon (a wooden xylophone), hand drums: riqq (a type of tambourine), darbuka (goblet drum), and tablas (like bongos) and of course, guitars and bass.

“Faint Praise” opens the disc with 3 and a half minutes of Middle Eastern music quietly played with a rather free form vocal over the top.  The vocals are a series of wails and cries (and almost animalistic yips).  It sounds like an orchestra warming up, and indeed, the Constellation blurb says:

These opening six minutes are an inimitable destabilizing strategy of Shalabi’s – his lysergic take on an orchestra ‘warming up’ – that serves to introduce most of the instrumental voices and the montage of genres that will form the rest of the work

It comes abruptly to a halt with “Second Skin,”  a much more formal piano piece—structured notes that end after a few minutes only to be joined by a saxophone solo that turns noisy and skronking and nearly earsplitting.

After some dramatic keyboard sounds, “The Pit (Part 1)” becomes the first song with vocals (and the first song that is really catchy).  It begins with a jolly sax line which is accompanied by another sax and a flute before the whole band kicks in with a refreshingly catchy melody.  For all that Shalibi likes exploration, he has a real gift for melody as well.  The lovely lead vocals on this track are by Ariel Engle.  It’s very catchy, with a somewhat middle eastern setar riff and those voices.  When the song stops and it’s just voices, it’s really beautiful.  The song is 7 minutes long and I love the way the last 30 seconds shift gears entirely to a more dramatic, slower section.  This section is so great, I wish it lasted longer.

“The Pit (Part 2)” is only two minutes long.  It’s a quiet coda of piano and flute.  After about a minute, a low saxophone melody kicks in, it is slowly joined by other instruments and Engle’s voice.  Unfortunately I can’t really tell what she’s singing, but it sounds very nice.

“Sharm El Bango” is a jazzy song with hand drums and all kinds of space age samples spinning around the song.  I really like when the flute melody takes over and the song become quite trippy.

“Mobil Ni” is the second song with vocals.  It begins with some strings instruments and hand drums over a slow bass line.  Then Katie  Moore;s voice come s in with a gentle lovely vibrato.  Her voice is a little smoother than Engle’s.  The song ends with a mellow section.  And then there’s a trumpet blast that signals the beginning of “St. Stefano.”  The trumpet gives way to brief explorations off free-jazz type before turning giving way to a bowed section with resonating bass notes.

“Drift Beguine” returns to catchy territory with a full Middle Eastern musical phrase and Elizabeth Anka Vajagic’s lovely voice raging from high to scratchy and breathy.  Around 4 minutes when the pace picks up, it’s really quite fun.

The final track is the only one that really rocks.  “The Big Mango” has a big catchy guitar riff and hand drums filled in by Molly Sweeney’s rock vocals.  The song ends the disc as a kind of fun celebration.

As with most of Shalibi’s releases, it’s not for everyone.  But there’s a lot of great stuff hear, if you’re willing to experiment.

[READ: August 25, 2016] “Don the Realtor”

I hate to contribute anymore attention to Trump.  But it’s hard to pass up a chance to read Martin Amis, especially when he eviscerate his targets so eloquently.  Hopefully Trump’s voice will soon disappear from the airways and we can go back to forgetting about him.

Ostensibly this is a review of “two books by Donald Trump,” The Art of the Deal (1987) and Crippled America (2015).

Amis begins, as he usually does, by getting to the point: “Not many facets of the Trump apparition have so far gone unexamined, but I can think of a significant loose end.  I mean his sanity: What is the prognosis for his mental healthy given the challenges that lie ahead?”

Some basic questions come up about Trump: “Is his lying merely compulsive, or is he an outright mythomaniac, constitutionally unable to distinguish non-truth from truth.  Amis adds that “Politifact has ascertained that Donald’s mendacity rate is just over 90 percent, so the man who is forever saying he ‘tells it lie it is’ turns out to be nearly always telling it like it isn’t.”

But the Trump lying machine has grown from the rubble of the G.O.P. which “has more or less adopted the quasi slogan ‘there is no downside to lying.'” (more…)

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spoilsSOUNDTRACK: GABY MORENO-Tiny Desk Concert #149 (August 15, 2011).

gabyGaby Moreno surprised me in this set.  Her first song “No Regrets,” begins like a gentle bossa nova sung in Spanish.  The song switches to English about midway through, but it retains that lovely bossa nova feel.  Morena’s voice is lovely and clear. She plays guitar and sings and is accompanied by Adam Levy, also on guitar.

So far, so good.

The second song, “Ave Que Emigra” begins as a gentle ballad, but quickly morphs into a kind of upbeat folk song also sung in Spanish (Moreno is from Guatemala).  It is a lovely song with some beautiful oooohs.

It’s the third song the surprised me.

“Sing Me Life” opens in a much darker vein–rough strummed guitars and a blues solo from Levy.  Even Moreno’s voice has gotten deeper and bluesier.  The song is sung in English and although she sounds like herself, she also sounds really different–not exactly angrier, but less sweet, more intense.  The “Hey hey hey’s” are a far cry from the sweet “ooooohs” of the previous song.  Levy plays a nice bluesy solo on this song as well.

Moreno has a great deal of diversity in her set and she handles it all really well.

[READ: October 20, 2015] The Spoils

I have enjoyed Eisenberg’s writing in the past.  But this was the first full play I had read by him (he has two others). It is very funny (and surprisingly vulgar).

There are five characters. Ben (played by Eisenberg when it was performed) owns the apartment where the action is set. He is the son of a wealthy man, going to college for “film” and basically enjoying himself as much as he can. He drinks, he smokes pot and he picks on his roommate (who might just be his only friend). His language is shockingly vulgar, dropping curses left and right.

His roommate is Kalyan (who in the performance was played by Kunal Nayyar (from The Big Bang Theory). Kalyan is from Nepal. He has come to NYU to study business and has even written book about economic conditions in Nepal. Kalyan is a bit dorky (he loves PowerPoint, which is used to great comic effect throughout the story). And he is trying to win over Reshma.

Reshma is Indian, but she has lived in the States all of her life, so she is really American.  She has high hopes for Kalyan, but it seems she fears he might not live up to his potential.

In the opening scene Kalyan is showing her a PowerPoint and being incredibly sweet to her.  When Ben walks in he is all crass and vulgar—funny but very unlikable.  He essentially makes Reshma leave (although as soon as he shows up we know she wants to leave anyhow) and then begins his tale. (more…)

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