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index SOUNDTRACK: LYLE LOVETT-Tiny Desk Concert #257 (December 10, 2012).

lyleLyle Lovett was the first country musician I ever enjoyed.  And that came mostly from his Large Band recordings.  Lovett, while clearly of the country ilk, is a different kind of country—perhaps it’s because his country comes from Texas.  He is not afraid to bend genres and sing about whatever is on his mind (with a great, unique voice that eschews country flavors.

For this tiny desk it is just Lyle and a fiddle by Luke Bulla.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Lyle is his sense of humor. He doesn’t write funny songs, but some of his songs are funny.  And he himself is very funny–very deadpan–which he demonstrates amply here.

And, according to the blurb, he’s also rather humble

Lovett not only showed up at NPR Music’s offices without an entourage, but also booked his Tiny Desk Concert himself, emailing us out of the blue to express his interest. (Our reply: “We would only agree to have you perform a Tiny Desk Concert if it’s under any conceivable circumstance.”)

So it’s appropriate that Lovett would open this performance at the NPR Music offices by performing “Cowboy Man,” the first track on his 1986 debut: He may be a music-industry veteran, but in many ways, he’s starting over. With a fresh-faced accompanist in fiddler and backup singer Luke Bulla, Lovett gives a loose, engaging performance that feels like both an introduction and a victory lap.  He follows “Cowboy Man” with two songs from 1989’s Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, so this is no mere promotional appearance.

He’s charming right up front.  After the “Cowboy Man,” which sounds great, he looks up and laughs, “thank you very much,” with a sense of wonder.  He starts right into the second song and then stops and stop again and then says “I just about got it.”  He plays the melody for a few bars and the violin comes in and they play a few bars together and then, I gather, Lyle screwed up because he kind of smiles over at Luke and then stops playing and says “you sure you want to play that?”

Everyone laughs, some tension is broken.  And he looks up at everyone.

“This is…it’s kinda weird, right?”  Someone shouts out “Good weird!”  He laughs, “Good for sure, no question.”

Then he picks up a CD off the desk and says, “Just one of those chance meetings.”  He holds up the CD, “Iris Dement, she was just right here.”  To much laughter.  Stephen, who booked the show shouts, “We’ve got all those inventoried, so don’t even think about it.” Which cracks everyone up.

Then he tells a story about meeting Iris’ daughter  He asks them is they know about the Cayamo Folk Cruises.  No one replies so he says “It’s a popu….it’s not that popular.”  He says it is a festival on the water (it must have been one of the first music cruises).  He describes it and says its fun a deal.  And then stops and says “I don’t know why we’re talking about it.”  Then they remind him about Iris Dement’s daughter.

His story about her is very funny, told in a great deadpan way:  I saw this cool chick, about ten years old, leaning against the elevator.  Wearing skinny pants and a hat.  She looked at me in that skeptical way, and I said, so you in a band?  She rolled her eyes, gave me a sideways look.  She said, No.  So I said, Well, you oughta be.  She said, My mom’s in a band.  Who’s your mom?  She said Iris, just like that.  She was cool.

Finally starts playing “If You Were To Wake Up” again and jokes, “Pretend like this is going well.”  It is, the song is very pretty with gorgeous violin.

The final song is “Good Intentions”  He looks at Luke and says. “Play it just…do it however you want.”  Lyle starts the song,  “It’s a sunny day in Sunny…” and he stops and looks at Luke and says “Don’t mess me up anymore, alright?”  To more laughter.  It’s one of his great songs–jazzy and with swell lyrics.  There’s even a plucked violin solo.

I have loved Lyle and his Large Band, but I also like him in this small duet as well.

[READ: January 21, 2015] “Youngthing”

Boy I hated this story.

It is the story of a young Somali thug (nicknamed Youngthing) who has been conscripted into a the Shabaab-led insurgency.

He is sent on a mission for the insurgents.  He is meant to secure (steal) a house for the group.

He doesn’t pay attention, winds up going to wrong place and inadvertently “captures” the wrong house.

There is an innocent old man living there.  We see the story from the man’s point of view we see for half of the story; we see it from Youngthing’s point of view for the other half).  The old man doesn’t realize the trouble he is in right away.  He even manages to convinces Youngthing that everything will be okay. (more…)

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 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.

(more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LUCIUS-Tiny Desk Concert #261 (January 7, 2013).

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.

luciusThis Tiny Desk Concert has a wonderful blurb:

We brought Lucius to the Tiny Desk because I fell in love with one joyous, catchy song: “Don’t Just Sit There.” That’s all I had to go on — I’d never seen the group live — and though I expected fun, we also got fabulous. Not only are Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig a winning singing duo, but their charisma and charm helps turn good pop songwriting into an endearing performance.

The two singers are dressed identically–although they don’t really look much alike, they appear almost identical up there (and I’m not sure who is who).  The three men in the band: Danny Molad, Peter Lalish and Andrew Burri fill out the group with guitars and drums and are also dressed identically–in crisp white shirts and suspenders.

“Go Home” starts out slow with a rattling slide guitar and simple percussion.  The two women sing slowly over the bassline.  It’s a pretty, nice song.  And then the chorus kicks in and while the song doesn’t really get all that much bigger, their voices soar incredibly, in close harmony. It is a remarkable change in texture in the song and they instantly won me over.

It segues into “Don’t Just Sit There” which is a beautiful song with a slightly faster quiet section.  But again, the chorus “did you find love” just soars with their great harmonies.  I can see why Bob fell for them.

“Turn It Around” starts out with an “aha ha” and claps and a more poppy singing style.  And I find that while I like Lucius overall there are parts that I really don’t.  Like the beginning to this.  And yet, once again, when they get to that chorus “looking through the wrong end,” the song is super catchy and wonderful and I find myself singing that part a lot.  Even with the minimal backing guitar and drums, it sounds great.

After the third song, they get high-fives and Bob asks if they want to do another.  Usually, they edit out this type of thing, but it’s really fun to watch the band discuss what song they should play as they sort their percussion parts out.  I loved watching them go through Bob’s box of interesting percussion instruments until they found good ones.

When they finally get around to the song, “Genevieve,” it is a bouncy percussion-filled fun song.  Of the four, it’s my least favorite but that’s because it doesn’t really soar like the other ones do.  But it’s still fun.

[READ: December 21, 2016] “Circumstances Of Hatred”

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.

There’s a fantastic plot point in this story that I don’t want to spoil.  And that makes it really hard to talk about the story.

But I really enjoyed it a lot.  And I can reveal the basic setup.

It had been 17 years since Nicholas was in his grandfather’s house.  And now that his grandfather was dead, Nicholas was willed the man’s property.  So he and his new wife Ann leave their current place in Victoria and head out to Halifax to make a new life in their new house.

Ann hated Halifax–the cold, the gray, the wilted produce.  And she hated the house. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #544 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  a distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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kickass2 SOUNDTRACK: DEQN SUE-Tiny Desk #476 (October 5, 2015).

deqnDeqn Sue and her producer Kelvin Wooten play three songs at this Tiny Desk Concert.  And although she is the name and voice of the set, I’m more impressed by him.  He is sitting in front of a keyboard, holding a bass guitar.  He plays the bass, loops it and then plays it live again.  While the bass is looping he;s playing keyboards and all the while there’s percussion and other sounds that he’s programmed.

NPR had played “Bloody Monster” a while back.  It’s a wonderful kiss off song about a person that she thought was a friend until she called her “nigger” (which is addressed in the second verse).  The chorus is surprisingly poppy:  “Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop, you’re a crazy bitch.  I don’t even like that word, but for you I think it fits.”  It’s fun and bouncy.

The second song is “Flame.”  She says it’s the only song she’s written about love–most of her songs are more socially aware.  It’s got a cool bass line, although I don’t like her voice on this song.  She seems to sing better when it’s louder and faster.

“Magenta” is the first song they wrote together.  She explains that magenta is about the color you feel when you’re not specifically one: you’re not pissed, so you’re not red, you’re not sad so you’re not blue and you’re not scared so you’re not yellow.  You’re a mixture–magenta.  Each verse starts with her singing “I am a color” in a deep distorted voice.  It’s pretty cool.  The song is interesting and has some cool ideas in it.

Overall though I’m not all that impressed by her.  I feel like she’s close to being amazing, but hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

[READ: February 1, 2016] Kick-Ass 2

This book picks up right where the last one left off.

Hit Girl is still training Kick Ass (and beating the crap out of him), but she might have to give up.  Her mom is really fragile right now and if something happened to her, it would kill her mom.

And then we see that Red Mist has returned and set up a superhero brawl in Manhattan streets.  But that’s coming in the near future. The rest backtracks a bit.

Dave has joined a superhero gang–like a real-life X-Men called Justice Forever.  He is friends with a guy named Doctor Gravity (who claims that he has made a pole that can increase gravity (actually it’s a baseball bat wrapped in tinfoil). (more…)

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preludeSOUNDTRACK: BEAUTY PILL-Tiny Desk Concert #481 (October 23, 2015).

beauty-pill Beauty Pill is an unusual band.  They seem fairly conventional–guitars, baas and drums.  But they also feature a strange light up computer device (which is called a Monome) that is a sort of looping sampler trigger.  The samples are weird and unexpected and the music plays off of that–at times lurching and bouncing, at times playing smooth and conventional.

I love the crazy funky vibes as the first song “Afrikaner Barista” begins.  There’s interesting samples and a cool riff.  The song feels “assembled.”  And I was really excited to see where it would go.  But I really didn’t like the singer/speaker’s voice in his delivery of the verses.  It’s a little too unemphatic–it’s neither loud nor weird not even excessively deadpan.  It’s just kind of bland.  The chorus is cool though, and his delivery works because there are harmony vocals to accompany him.

I also like his sort of distorted guitar solo.  Mostly though, it’s fascinating watching Jean Cook play her Monome, watching her push buttons that light up and produce diverse sounds.  The drums are also great–complex and dynamic.

In all of the songs, there’ a lot of repeating of lyrics–almost like a mantra.  This song repeats, “I want to be the one you like.”  I’m not even clear if the words mean anything.  Even the title “Afrikaner Barista” is fun to say but I don’t know if its meaningful.

“Drapetomania!” is introduced as a dark song although the singer, Chad Clark, thinks it resembles the Fat Albert theme song.  He says it’s about the suburbs.  When the song begins, it has a kind a of creepy circus quality to it and it opens with the dramatic line, “I want more life, fucker!”  There’s some fun lyrics in this song like “Morning Ralph, Morning Sam” (referencing the Bugs Bunny cartoons).  Or “The neighbor’s wifi’s called “magic negro” now / I am gonna burn his house down, if I may.”  And this great line: “deep in the heart of wildest Caucasia.”

The middle has a breakdown that’s lot of fun as the samples continue to play with all sorts of things, including, I believe, Clark’s voice.

The final song is called “Exit Without Saving” which he says is “either a Microsoft Word document or a situation where you feel trapped,”  I like the riff of this one and the samples too. There’s more great lyrics like “a five ton mastodon frozen in mid-snarl in a ten ton cube of ice, says I don’t know how I got in here but if I get out it ain’t gonna happen twice.”  There’s a repeated refrain of “you recognize that this is noise, right?”

It’s not always clear what he’s on about, but it’s fun to listen to them.

There’s so much about this band that I like but I feel like there’s just something missing–either in the voice or maybe that the samples and sounds need to be a little more prominent?  I’m curious to see what these guys do next though.

[READ: February 14, 2016] Kick-Ass 2: Prelude

This book is a sequel to Kick-Ass and a prequel to Kick-Ass 2.  It focuses on Hit Girl, but not her childhood (which we saw in Kick Ass).  Rather, it follows her in the days following the events of the first book.

We see that Hit Girl, Mindy McCready, is at home with her mom and her stepfather.  Her mom has calmed down (she has been quite hysterical lately) and her stepdad, Marcus, is a policeman trying to keep things orderly.  He knows about Mindy’s secret identity (he knows all about what kind of upbringing she had as well) and he wants her to stop the superheroing.  But overall, he is pretty cool.

We see Mindy at School (Kick Ass if there too, of course).  No matter how tough Mindy is when she has her costume on, she is still a little girl and she is crushed by the mean girls in school.  And so Mindy makes a deal–she’ll teach Kick Ass to actually fight and be a real superhero (as much as she is) if he’ll teach her to be normal. (more…)

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2016-12-05-21-06-09SOUNDTRACK: LAURA GIBSON-Tiny Desk Concert #200 (March 5, 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.

gibsonLaura Gibson performed the first Tiny Desk Concert in 2008.  The whole enterprise was started because of her.  Bob had seen her in a club and her quiet music was overpowered by the audience.  So he invited her to play in his quiet office.  And now, here it was 200 shows later and Gibson is back–the first person to headline twice.

Things have certainly changed since then.  There was one camera on her face and another on her guitar.  There was minimal editing and the sound was fine.

Since then they have stepped up the game–multiple cameras, professional lighting and, as Stephen Thomspon writes: Bob’s desk “permanently houses a microphone that’s worth more than my car. (Three hundred dollars!).”

2006 was the release year of her debut album.  She had put out her third album in 2012.  She was quite back in 2006 and is still quiet in 2012.  But for this show she has brought along some help:  Brian Perez – Vocals, Percussion; Matthew Berger – Drums; Johanna Kunin – Vocals, Piano, Flute; and Jill Coykendall – Clarinet.

The songs are very quiet.  “Feather Lungs” begins with some lovely harmony vocals and then Gibson on keyboard.  The flute and clarinet add layers of music which really fleshes out this quiet song. The thumping drum that opens “La Grande” really sets the tone of a much heavier song.  This proves to be a romping song with Gibson on guitar and a lot of intensity behind her.

“Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed” slows things down again, with quiet percussion and Gibson’s delicate guitar and vocals.  She says that the last time she was there it was a Monday morning and there was not much enthusiasm to sing along with her.  But since it’s a Friday afternoon, she invites eveyone to hum a long to “The Rushing Dark.”  Of course, she has backing vocalists so it’s unclear if anyone else joins in, but this a capaella song sounds lovely.

[READ: December 6, 2016] “Bestiary”

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 (a few days late for advent, but that was my fault for ordering so late) I’ve decided to post about every story on each day.

“Bestiary” is an interesting “short story” because it is not exactly a short story.  It’s not even exactly fiction.  Rather, after an excellent epigram from Robert Kroetsch “We are the animals who talk the fables in which the animals talk.  We are talking animals, claiming that animal’s don’t talk.”  The piece consists mostly of factual stories about animal behavior.

Each one opens with a title that ties into the piece beneath it. (more…)

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