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SOUNDTRACK: YIM YAMES-Tribute To (2009).

I really like My Morning Jacket, but I find that Jim James’ solo work is a little too slow for me.  This album is a collection of six coves of George Harrison songs.  I’m not a particularly big fan of George Harrison’s solo work, so really this just doesn’t work for me all that way.

This record is incredibly languid.  Although after several listens I finally found a way in and have begun to enjoy the melodies.  Also, reading this quote makes me like the album more

James recorded the album in December 2001 on a relative’s eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, just days after Harrison’s passing. Of the recording, James told Billboard magazine that “I felt like I was in the weirdest head space when I did that EP … I felt really confused a lot of the time. I wanted to just do it and let it come out even if I messed stuff up. It’s definitely not the tightest or most professional recording you’re ever going to hear in your life but I like that. I think it lends it a more childish atmosphere.”

“Long, Long, Long” has a nice melody in the chorus.  While “Behind the Locked Door” has a nice melody in the verse.

“Love to You” introduces a banjo, which adds a nice texture to the EP.  “If Not for You” is the most uptempo song on the record and is quite lovely.

The first time I listened through this album the only song I knew was “My Sweet Lord,” which was never a particular favorite.  Although I like the way Yames multitracks himself.

“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” has piano in it and it is also fairly upbeat, although boy does it go one for a long time.
the final song is “All Things Must Pass.”  This track is also quite pretty but also slow and long.

The whole EP definitely sets a mood, and if you are in the mood for pretty, slow acoustic songs, this is the place to be.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Hereafter, Faraway”

The June 10th issue of the New Yorker features five essays by authors whom I have enjoyed.  They were gathered under the headline “Another Country.”

This essay is about the author’s mother’s death and the author’s subsequent return to Vietnam.

Her mother believed that another world awaited her and was not concerned.  The author imagines this other world was was like those found in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film After Life.  In the film the newly dead pass through a halfway house run by angels.  The travelers must pick one even from their life that the angels will make into a movie, starring the travelers themselves. Heaven is this short film played on an endless loop. Continue Reading »

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[ATTENDED: June 10, 2019] Death Cab for Cutie

It’s not often that you get to see a band twice on the same tour–eight months apart.

When I saw that Death Cab for Cutie were playing Starland Ballroom, at first I thought I didn’t want to go because we had seen them a few months earlier (and amazing show at the tower Theatre in Upper Darby).  Then I looked at some set lists and I saw that they were mixing things up a bit.  It was still a tour for the new album, but they were changing placement of songs and adding different ones.

I also didn’t realize until we got there that they had changed their lights how (for this performance at least).  Last time their lights were very tall–two layers of lighting rigs with a giant video screen behind and above them. This time there was no video screen and only one bank of lights.  Smaller club lighting maybe?  The keyboardist Zac Rae was actually between two light poles so we could see him whenever he didn’t lean too far forward.

I had hoped we could move from where we were on the side because I’d remembered the lighting was so cool.  From where we were, the lighting rigs blocked some of the stage (but only a little) and while the lighting was cool, it was much more subdued than last time.

It turns out the setlist wasn’t radically different from last time either.  They played four different songs than last time (and one fewer because I think one of the newer songs had a lengthy jam tacked in the middle). Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: June 10, 2019] Jenny Lewis

I somehow missed Rilo Kiley from the get go.  It’s not that I didn’t like them, i didn’t know them.  I may have heard a song or two, but otherwise nothing.

Same with Jenny Lewis solo.  I know a lot of people love her, but I just missed her completely.  I’ve heard a few of her songs from her last album and I rather liked them.  So I was pleased enough that she was opening for Death Cab for Cutie.

Obviously I had no idea that they had a connection to her.  (From the same region, on the same label, she sang on Ben Gibbard’s side project).  So this was a nice tour for them.

We arrived at Starland Ballroom to find a line wrapping around the parking lot.  So although we were early, we didn’t get into the building until about 5 minutes before she went on (and it wasn’t even sold out!).  It was packed though and trying to find a spot in the center was impossible.  So we wound up standing on the elevated platform off to the right.  Not the best location, but honestly if we were on the floor, it would have been really crowded and really hard to see. Continue Reading »

SOUNDTRACK: CANADIAN GUITAR SUMMIT (RIK EMMET, ALEX LIFESON, LIONA BOYD, ED BICKERT)-“Beyond Borders” (Guitar Player Magazine, July 1987).

I was not familiar with this recording and just happened upon it this weekend while looking up Rik Emmet.  So it turns out that back in 1987, around the time of the release of the final Triumph album with Rik Emmet, Rik had created this instrumental composition.  It features four superb Canadian guitarists.  I didn’t know Liona Boyd (classical) or Ed Bickert (jazz), but if course I know Rik and Alex.

Evidently Rik wanted to do something which fused genres together (Rik plays all manner of guitar quite successfully).

Fusing different musical forms is hardly new in the guitar world: The marriage between jazz and rock has survived nearly two decades, while jazz and classical get together fairly often. Of course, the more styles you try to blend, the less probable success becomes and the greater the risk of producing something whose sum is smaller than each individual element.

Rik Emmett, leader of the rock power trio Triumph and the author of Guitar Player’s Back To Basics column, was fully aware of the artistic hazards involved when he proposed a Sound page recording to Editor Tom Wheeler in late 1986 that would fuse rock, jazz, and classical. While such a project promised to be the most complex one of its nature since the Sound page’s debut in the Oct. ’84 issue, after hearing Emmett’s concept and who he had in mind to fill out his guitar quartet-Alex Lifeson, Liona Boyd, and Ed Bickert-the go-ahead was given.

The resulting composition-Emmett’s masterful “Beyond Borders” -succeeds in melding its various elements on a number of levels. Although brilliant playing abounds, the piece is more than a vehicle for virtuosic displays as it integrates various styles and weaves in and out of different moods, textures, tones, rhythms, key centers, and time changes. The players receive ample solo space; however, the emphasis clearly is on interaction-a surprising outcome, considering the ever-present temptation to fall back on excessive blowing (Emmett discusses “Beyond Borders” on page 80; the Sound page and musical excerpts are on page 82).

It’s a really lovely piece with each musician playing to his or her strength but also doing some unexpected things.  I feel like Alex has the most fun with th epiece as he seems to create a lot more textural stuff that actual solo material.

This recording is available on line in many places, but I chose this one because the sound quality is quite good.

During this lengthy piece in Guitar Player, there’s an interview with all four guitarists as well as some background information about the piece itself.

There’s also this explanation from Rik about who plays what, so you can follow along:

“Beyond Borders” is basically 120 bars long, and it begins with an adagio section with a tempo of 72 beats per minute. I do the lead guitar off of the top, and Alex plays the atmospheric stuff in the background, which includes low weird things and floating sound effects. Ed comes in with a little melody that lasts from bar 4 into measure 5, and then Liona’s little melody enters at bar 6. The lead that comes in at measure 8 is Alex. In measure 15 Liona plays a little classical lick that Richard Fortin wrote. At bar 17 I play a long feedback melody that continues to measure 26.

Liona begins her classical tremolo solo at measure 22; in the background you’ll notice the feedback guitar part. Liona’s and Ed’s parts cross at bar 28, as Ed takes over with a rubato chord-melody solo. At measure 33 he kicks into an allegro tempo of 140 beats per minute. That’s where I back him up with a simulated bass guitar part that I play on my Yamaha arch-top. For the warm bass sound I rolled the treble back and played with the fleshy part of my thumb. Ed does a cadenza at measure 64, and Alex plays an atmospheric technique where he holds a chord and brushes the strings quickly with the fleshy pads of his right-hand fingers; Lenny Breau was the first person I saw use that.

Bar 65 has an adagio tempo of 70 beats per minute. I play the lead guitar, and Alex adds the arpeggiated electric guitar part behind it. That continues to bar 76, where Liona plays her Lenny Breau octave harmonic lick. That’s also where I begin using the Coral Electric Sitar, with echo repeats on it. Bar 77 is semi-country acoustic fingerpicking with an andante tempo of 90 beats per minute. I play the acoustic steel-string, and Liona plays nylon-string in unison, all the way to bar 102; sometimes I break into harmony, but it’s a unison part essentially. During that same section I also play the Dobro part and all of the electric fills that have a Pat Metheny-esque sound. Alex did the violin sounding swells in the background with a volume pedal.

Where measure 101 crosses over to 102, I did a little lap steel thing with a volume pedal and echo that goes up from a fifth to an octave; it’s kind of a Steve Howe cop. Measure 102 is the beginning of the end. Liona plays the little classical part, and then I break into the harmonies above it. During this section I did all of the wire choirs, which are triads with some of the voices doubled, and I also played the 6/ 8 melody lead guitar fills on the tag right near the end.

It’s really great.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Javi”

This was a wonderful, slowly evolving story that was one thing on the surface, but had so much more roiling underneath.

As it opens, Javier has knocked on the house of a “lady” in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico.  The person who answers the door doesn’t like that word and to Javi’s mind he’s not sure if the person is even a woman.  He clarifies that he’s looking for the painter.  She concedes that she is the only painter in the area.  He says that his moms heard she needed help.  She asks how old he is.  He replies “I’m four– I’m sixteen.”  The painter says she is 82, how can a young boy help her?  He lists the various things he can do for her–cook, clean, drive etc.  She is concerned that people are talking about her but he assures her it was for his benefit, not hers.

He explains that he walked the twenty miles from Pueblo.  If she’s impressed by this it’s hard to tell.  She is rather inscrutable.  She is supposed to go to an old age home, but if Javi can help her, she can delay that for a year or so.

There’s plenty of wonderful details that unfold slowly, because that is how she is: ‘watching her work is calming, hypnotic.” Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: June 5, 2019] Ages and Ages 

A few years ago Ages & Ages’ “Divisonary (Do the Right Thing)” was one of my favorite songs of the year.  They’ve been on my list of bands to see, but I missed them back in 2017.

So I was pretty excited that they were coming back around and that they had a (fantastic) new album to tour.

We had some miscommunication at my house about the plans for the evening, so I wound up missing the opening act entirely.  But I was able to see all of Ages & Ages.  The turnout was quite sparse (a Wednesday night) maybe 35 people?   I personally love an uncrowded show, especially when the people in the audience are big fans–which several of them were.  There was an older woman who was whooping and singing along the whole night.  And a drunken younger woman who slapped me in the arm and said “these guys are good!”  (She was just there to get drunk apparently). Continue Reading »

[ATTENDED: June 5, 2019] Kyle Emerson 

We had some miscommunication at my house about the plans for the evening, and I wound up leaving way too late to see Kyle Emerson perform.  It was a very rainy night and I wasn’t sure what time I could leave.  So when I finally did, I got to Boot & Saddle right around 45 minutes after Emerson went on.

I skipped using the restroom and went to the back room to see him play.

He and his band were jamming a rocking song with a fantastic solo.  And just as I settled in, the song ended and he said thanks and good night.

What a drag.

All I know about Emerson is t hat he is from Denver and his album is quite good.  Maybe he’ll come through the area again.

SOUNDTRACK: QUINN CHRISTOPHERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #854 (June 3, 2019).

Quinn Christopherson won the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest.

Despite the fact that I watch all of the Tiny Desk Concerts, I don’t really get involved in the Contest.   There’s just too many entries and too many bands to root for.  So I just sit back and wait to see who the judges pick.

When I first listened to Christopherson’s winning entry, “Erase Me,” I wasn’t that impressed.  It was spare and his voice was unusual.  His voice was kind of punky–the kind of voice that might work really well with some loud guitars around it, but this song was just a voice and a quiet guitar.  The song was pretty long and it was very angsty.

It built up some interesting tensions.  And by the end, I kind of liked it.

Then I read about Quinn, and how he is a transgender man, and I started thinking about how many people will say that he won because of that (like they said that Gaelynn Lea won because of her “condition” as well).  And that annoyed me (I’m not reading comments this time).

Then I listened to the song again and I really got it–the honesty, the power in his voice and the vulnerability behind the words.  It’s definitely not a song for everyone.  It is not catchy (although the chorus is kind of catchy), it is not easy.

One of the things about the Tiny Desk entrants is that there are some 5,000 of them and you never know how serious they are as musicians.  I mean, I could submit a song.  Quinn’s video, is fascinatingly set up in an art gallery in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lives.  But you never know if it’s his only song.

Indeed, no, as the blurb says,

What was most striking about the performance was [Quinn and his musical partner, guitarist and singer Nick Carpenter’s], unfettered confidence. Watching them play together and hearing their songs, with their interweaving guitar lines and vocal harmonies, feels like seeing two brothers performing old favorites.

This Tiny Desk confirms that his delivery is more of a melodic storyteller than a singer.

Quinn writes story-songs about what he knows best, his mom and sister, about their addictions and his love for them.

He opens with his brand-new tune, “You Told Me.”  It’s a slow song, with Nick playing the more active guitar parts.  It’s personal and intimate and yet still vague enough that you’re not entirely sure what it’s about.

And then comes an insight into life in Alaska.

A moment after our 2019 Tiny Desk Contest winner, Quinn Christopherson, finished his first song at the NPR offices, he made a confession. He looked at me, while tuning his “vintage white” Fender Telecaster, and said, “I don’t know if you know this, but when you called me and you told me, ‘You won!’ I got off the phone and I thought, ‘Dang, I should buy a guitar.’ Legit, did not have one. But that’s Anchorage; that’s the music community there. Everyone just borrowed me their stuff long term.”

The next song, Glenn,” is about his father.  Quinn and Nick play their chords back and forth chuckling with each other before Quinn starts singing

a moving song about his father and their beautiful two-peas-in-a pod relationship. There’s a line in that song that goes to the heart of Quinn’s songwriting talents: “My dad, he plays guitar, says he knows more than he can do. He tells me that I do more than I know.”

I enjoyed this verse:

He asks me what I wanna do when the weekend came
I always wanna go camping but not too far away
So we head to Eagle River and make ourselves a fire
Just the two of us eating pancakes and listening to …N… PR.

In the middle of the song Quinn says, “if my dad was here right now he’d probably say… wheres the bridge?”

They definitely have fun at the Concert.   Even during Quinn’s contest-winning song “Erase Me,” their excitement is palpable.

“Erase Me” is about his recent transition, what it now means to be a man and how he sees the way the world treats him differently after so many years of being “used to pulling the short stick” as a woman. It’s a revealing look at the roles of men and women in our culture at a pivotal time from a songwriter who, I believe, will be a defining voice in the future of music.

They lyrics are really affecting

“I got so used to pulling the short stick /
I don’t know what to do with all this privilege /
‘Cause I got a voice now and I got power /
But I can’t stand it,”

But even during this intense song, they can still have fun.  In the video submission, Nick’s guitar cuts out during the transition to the loud part.  It’s fascinating that they left it in, but they did.  During the Concert everyone sort of chuckles at how Nick handles that moment.

I’m curious to see what kind of success Quinn has after this.

[READ: June 3, 2019] “Canvas”

This story starts in a fascinating way.

The narrator talks about a woman, Agnes, who may or may not be in the upstairs apartment.  The narrator was renting the place and Agnes said she may be back to work in the studio upstairs.  The situation was weird but affordable. And the narrator would only be there for maybe a year longer while she did research on Gothic iconography of the soul.

She didn’t see much of Agnes and then one day there was a note on her door from Agnes inviting her to the studio.

I love this description of Agnes:

She was sitting on a stool, her bones jutting out in a frenzied geometry.

Agnes thanked her for coming saying it was good to be among friends “She looked at me quickly, to see my reaction.” Continue Reading »