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Archive for the ‘Angst’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: FIRST AID KIT-The Lion’s Roar (2012).

This album was my first exposure to First Aid Kit and I immediately loved the harmonies and the dark but positive-sounding vocals.

I’m probably one of ten people on earth who doesn’t love Bright Eyes, but I love the production by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis (with contributions from Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott and band leader Conor Oberst–maybe I need to re-listen to Bright Eyes).

The first song I’d heard was the opening cut “The Lion’s Roar.”  The song starts with a minor key guitar chord progression and “electronic flute.”  It’s atmospheric and a bit spooky-sounding, but when they come in with the chorus “And I’m a goddamn coward, but then again so are you” in wonderful harmony that is at times right on and other times kind of dissonant, it’s goose-bump-inducing.  Oh wow. what a moment

Pitchfork describes that electronic flute as “one deeply eerie flute tone that lingers throughout, floating in and out of scenes like a sly specter” and that’s pretty accurate.

It’s followed by “Emmylou” the most gorgeous country song I’ve ever heard, complete with pedal steel guitar and a wonderfully evocative chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou, and I’ll be your June/ If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny, too,” (do watch them sing it to Emmylou Harris at an award ceremony and watch her brought to tears).

“In The Hearts Of Men” slows things down with some wonderful moments as the sisters sing the “la la las” throughout the chorus.  Once again, there’s surprisingly dark lyrics for two women around 23 and 21.  And speaking of dark lyrics, the pretty xylophone and guitar play a chirpy melody in “Blue” which has this stark and dark verse:

And the only man you ever loved / You thought was gonna marry you / Died in a car accident when he was only 22 / Then you just decided, love wasn’t for you / And every year since then / Has proved it to be true

Damn.  How does a song with that lyrics have a beautiful soaring chorus that is so uplifting and Abba-esque and yet again lyrically:

But you’re just a shell of / Your former you / That stranger in the mirror / Oh, that’s you / Why’d you look so blue?

“This Old Routine” features more of that uncanny, how are you only 21 years old lyrics sung with such beautiful harmony (and delicate mandolin sprinkled in):

This old routine will drive you mad
It’s just a mumble never spoken out loud
And sometimes you don’t even know why you loved her.
Well you look at her now, and you see why.

The second half of the song has strings and such, playing a simple five note melody.  There’s a moment near the end where the strings play that five note riff and its followed by the mandolin playing the same melody one step up and it’s just gorgeous.

“To a Poet” has a fast tight guitar melody.  As the song builds, a harmonium is added.  The chorus goes in a high register until the simple catchy end line: “There’s nothing more to it / I just get through it.”  The poet in question is Frank O’Hara

But Frank put it best when he said
“You can’t plan on the heart”
Those words keep me on my feet
When I think I might just fall apart

The string section ending is bit of a surprise since neither one of them palsy on it but it does add some nice texture to this song that has just grown from a tiny guitar to full orchestration over the course of 6 minutes.

That cool flute sound returns on “I Found a Way,” as it runs through the falsetto-filled chorus.  “Dance To Another Tune” slows things down for a while until the middle features another string section.  This time the sisters add their “bah bah bahs” to it and it sound terrific.

“New Year’s Eve” brings back the autoharp (you can really hear the plectrum zipping along the strings–something I’ve never noticed when others play it).  It’s a suitably quiet song with a gentle harmony on the final line of the chorus: “that’s what’s going to save me.”  And I love that no other instrumentation is added.

The end of the record is quite different from anything else.  “King of the World’ is a dynamic romp, easily their fastest, loudest, stompingest song.  It’s got a full band behind them and a vocal turn from Conor Oberst.  There’s all kinds of strings and mandolin tucked in the corners that peek out here and there.  There’s even horns which sound a bit like Calexico.

This album is just fantastic.  And their harmonies get better and more confident with each album.

[READ: January 22, 2018] “Writing Teacher”

I have not really enjoyed any of the stories I’ve read by Wideman.  This was the first one that I felt was on the right path to my enjoyment.  And then it kind of drifted away from me at the end.

It also features one of the things I hate most in stories–more on that in a moment.

This is the story of a writing teacher.  He is reading and reviewing a story by a student, Teresa McConnell who, “wants to help other people.”  The story “wishes to save the life of its main character, a young woman of color, a few years out of high school, single, child to support, no money, shitty job, living with her mother who never misses an I-told-you-so chance to criticize her daughter’s choices.”

What I hate most in stories comes a few sentences later: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ‘TIS THE SEASON: Praise and Worship Christmas: A Collection of Inspirational Holiday Classics (2001).

s-l500This Christmas Collection came from Sarah.  As you can tell from the title and subtitle and sub-subtitle, this is a religious disc.  And as you can tell from the title and subtitles, they have gone way over the top.

The group consists of a bunch of performers and a choir from something called The Evergreen Community Church/The Rock.  Presumably not the actor The Rock, although that would be pretty cool.

As with a lot of contempo-Christian music, they’ve decided to add a rock flair to it.  So these are 13 songs sung very passionately and with little restraint.  Because if you can have an echo pedal, you should use it.  And for some reason, nothing says Christmas like alto saxophone.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” features that sax prominently.  Up next, I was pretty surprised to hear a rocking harmonica solo on “Joy to the World.”  For the most part the folkiness was okay until the choir at the end.

“Do You Hear What I Hear” has a solid drum machine and an excess of R&B vocals.  Up next, the music for “What Child is This?” is understated and pleasant.  Shame that the singer is shooting for the rafters.  Their version of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” is not gospel-tinged and, stranger yet, they changes the stress of the chorus to the “ow” of mountain.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” brings that saxophone back and back and back.   “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” has a quiet piano motif, but once again, it is oversung.

“We Wish You A Merry Christmas” makes excessive use of that echo pedal on the vocals.  “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was pretty good.  No complaints.

But try to imagine just how over the top and ponderous you could make an a capella (plus echo) version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

“Silent Night” loses all of its power in this folkie rendition.  I’m noticing the fretless bass and cheesey sax rather that the echoed vocals.  Amazingly, “Amazing Grace” is understated musically with just an acoustic guitar but the singer overcompensates.

The disc ends on a high note (not literally).  On “Joy to the World” the folkie harmonica and guitar work nicely.

[READ: December 22, 2017] “The Christmas Banquet”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHOLIDAYS RULE (2012).

This collection is fairly new (a second volume has just come out this year).  It was curated by Chris Funk from The Decemberists.  It’s a nice mix of contemporary bands and classic songs.  The disc is mostly fun–it gets a little bogged down in the middle–and upbeat.

FUN-“Sleigh Ride”
The first time I heard this  had no idea who it was (I didn’t look at the disc).  I actually thought it was a female pop singer.  After listening a few times I’m mixed but favorable on it.  I love the sound effects in the background.  It’s fun, even with the autotune.

THE SHINS-“Wonderful Christmastime”
This is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but I like this version better than Pauls’s.  It doesn’t sound especially like The Shins to me though.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT AND SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
I love Rufus’ distinctive voice–he does louche so well.  Sharon is somewhat indistinct here but she is well-matched with him.

PAUL McCARTNEY-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This might be the only disc I have where someone covers a song by an artist on the disc.  His version of this is way too slow.  But I am intrigued that he says “some holly and some mistletoe” (Because he’s vegetarian).

BLACK PRAIRIE featuring SALLIE FORD-“(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag”
I typically don’t care for this song, but I love this bluegrassy version.  It’s stomping and fun (and Chris Funk plays on it).

THE CIVIL WARS-“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”
The Civil Wars are downbeat folk artists but, man, their voices together are so lovely.  Their harmonies make this song essential despite the less than upbeat rhythms.

CALEXICO-“Green Grows the Holly”
This song sounds so wonderfully Calexico.  I love it and would even have assumed it was an original of theirs if I didn’t know better,

AGESANDAGES-“We Need A Little Christmas”
I’m torn about this song.  They modify the delivery and I think I like it.  It’s also pretty infrequently played so it gets extra points.  But it feels like a real downer when you can hear the lyrics so clearly.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY-“That’s What I Want for Christmas”
I don’t know who this is. And I don’t really care for this song which is kind of slow and ponderous even if the message is a good one.

IRMA THOMAS WITH PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-“May Ev’ry Day be Christmas”
This is big brassy version of the song which sounds like it could be quite old with Thomas’ husky voice.

HEARTLESS BASTARDS-“Blue Christmas”
I dislike this song to begin with, so making a countryish version certainly doesn’t help.

ELEANOR FRIEDBERGER-“Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me”
So this song is interesting with its strange chord choices and themes.  And it would be great if it were like 2 minutes long.  It seems to end quite naturally at that time, but then some vibes come in and the song gets all slinky.  That would be fine except it just repeats the same line and vibes section for 3 minutes!  WTF Eleanor?

FRUIT BATS-“It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”
It drives me nuts the way this guys says Creeesmas.  Why does he say it like that?  It’s crazy.  And I can’t get past it because he says it a bunch.

Y LA BAMBA-“Señor Santa”
This song is more or less “Mister Sandman” but sung with the lyrics of Mister Santa.  There’s a wheezy accordion and the great accented voice of the lead singer Luz Elena Mendoza.  I love this and more artists should invent songs like this for the holidays.

PUNCH BROTHERS-“O come, O come, Emmanuel”
The Punch Brothers are awesome and this version of this song terrific.  Chris Thile sings wonderfully as he gets that mandolin worked up.  I love that they turn it into an opportunity to stretch out some, too.

THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
A terrific duet with the unmistakable voice of Charity Rose Thielen.  This is a sprightly and fun song and they do a great job.  I love the way she sings “maybe I’m crazy” and the vamping at the end is fantastic.

ANDREW BIRD-“Auld Lang Syne”
Andrew plays some high-spirited violin and sings briskly.  There’s a kind of countryish feel to it, which is quite different for this song.

Overall this is a good collection to add.  Nothing offensive or off-putting and maybe just one or two duds.

[READ: December 21, 2017] “The First Day of Winter”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICSFall Nationals The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, ON. Night 7 of 13 (November 16, 2003).

 This was the all ages Sunday afternoon 7th show of the Rheostatics 13 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  Rheostatics Live has recordings of nights 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7.

This is the final concert available on Rheostatics Live for the 2013 Fall Nationals.  It was an all-ages show and as such was a bit more delicate than some of the other shows.

Hip Lingo opened the night. And then the band begins with a sweet mostly acoustic version of “Song of the Garden.”  Then Tim says, “This song “Loving Arms” was written by Dot, our good friend.

Once again, during “Aliens,” at the “distraction” line, someone starts playing the guitar melody from “When Winter Comes” and it does serve as a kind of distraction–they flub the song a bit.   Later, in the quiet part Tim starts playing the melody for “Artenings Made of Gold” on the bass.

“Tarleks” is described as the second in the Alien trilogy.  Mike asks if Martin has another yet to come.  Martin says, “I got a pack of em.”  They miss the segue to the middle but just play one more measure and catch up.

Tim says “we brought some spongy earplugs down if anyone needs them.”  (They’re so nice).

Dave has a question for the kids in the audience.  “Ozzy Osbourne funny or scary?”  Kids:  funny.  Martin:  funny and sad.  Dave says this is a song about the twilight of Ozzy’s career (Martin: and his awareness).

“King of the Past” is a quieter version.  You can really hear Martin doing great backing vocals.

They acknowledge Maureen at the craft table–it’s make your own DVD night.  Martin: She’ll give you a dirty look ’cause shes really mean.

A pretty “Northern Wish” and then a gentle “PIN.”  After the song, Martin plays the riff to PIN one more time.  Mike says: always time to practice.  And then a lovely “Mumbletypeg.”

There’s some joking and then someone says, “By the end of this run we hope to have beautifully constructed spice rack. There’s one shot of Mike on the DVD where mike looks like this.  We call it building the spice rack.  When you can’t come up with any more intense ideas at the end of a song so you just end up pounding the wall.”

This is a song about a girl.  “Claire.”  Was she a girl or a hallucination?  Or was she a really fast car?

For “Take Me In Your Hand,” it’s Mike and Martin singing gently with acoustic guitar.

During a pause Dave says, in case anyone is interested, Edmonton is beating Montreal 24-21 in the 3rd quarter of the Grey Cup.  Good game, jeez, we should get this over with.  Just kidding.  Strangely here’s a song about the CFL [“Palomar”].  We’re trying to get Tim to stop writing songs about football but he can’t.  It’s like a virus with him.  It’s quiet with some great backing vocals especially at the end.

“Here’s a song about nutrition.  More bands should write about nutrition.  A song about nutrition with a political sensibility.”  They start “Brea, Meat, Peas and Rice.”  Dave gets excited: “Really.  A clapping crowd, eh?”

He says Hi to his daughter Cecilia and then says “My dad is here.  Do you wanna watch the Grey Cup?  It’s on in the dressing room.”  Mike says, “Supportive father, extra supportive son.”

Before the next song, Martin says, “This is the actual Fender Strat that Jimi Hendrix ate at Mariposa.  See there’s the bandage.   He used to put pastrami in his sweatband so he could get nourishment while he was playing.”  It’s a beautiful “Here Comes the Image” with a special thanks to MPW on keys.

“Little Bird” starts very quietly with percussion in the form of “shhs” but it gets big by the middle.

Introducing “Stolen Car,” Martin says, “This is a song about stealing really expensive stuff… or dreaming about stealing it.”
Dave: “Sort of like The Bob Newhart show.  It was all a dream.”
Martin: “Really? the last Bob Newhart?  How old is Bob Newhart?  He must be like 95 [he was 74!].  He’s been going forever.  He looks the same.  He was on the TV.”
Dave: “Wow he’s going places if he’s on that thing.  Although I don’t think it will supplant the radio.”

Then Dave tells a story about his friend who had two interesting concepts:

what if the telephone followed the internet and people thought wow I can finally actually talk to someone!

But even better: what if when you farted it was colored.  It would make life way more interesting–Stand at the top of the CN tower and watch all the colors.  At night the CN Tower would be gorgeous.”

Martin says, “This is a very serious song.”
Dave: “It wouldn’t be very serious if you did it in Donald Duck voice.  It would have a whole new feel.”
Martin: “I can’t do Donald Duck voice.”
Dave: “Ala George Jones.  He talked in Donald Duck voice for a year.  My friend saw him play in the States and he did five songs in Donald Duck voice and that was it.  And they loved it.”
Martin: “Was he bitter or is he really funny?”
Dave: “I think he just liked the voice.”
Martin: “That’s a pretty high commitment.”

Even though the song is serious, when he sings he build a fence for all his friends, he throws in “all two of them.”

During the encore, Dave thanks everyone under 18 who came out.

Then comes “Harvest,” sung by Dave’s daughter or son (it sounds like he says Hi Sessi.  She/he is adorable (four/six years old depending).  She says “Harvest by Neil Young.”  How’s it feel to be onstage?  Good.  She does a really good job.  And then it’s over and she says over and over “I wanna do it again, Can I?”  he starts crying a bit, Dave says, “We’ll do one next year a longer one next year.  Your father needs to sing some now.”  “NO!”

They play a boppy version of “Home Again,” in which Martin mutters something about “living in the ass of an uncaring god.”  And they end with a romping version of “Legal Age Life at Variety Store”

[READ: February 10, 2017] Self-Control 

Did I pick up this book by Stig Sæterbakken because his name is Stig and his last name has a character I can’t pronounce?  Yes.  But also because I had heard about Stig from Karl Ove, my favorite Norwegian writer.  He had raved about Stig (and is blurbed on this book).

This book is evidently the second book in the “S” trilogy.  Although as I understand it they are only loosely connected–same characters but the stories aren’t directly sequential.

Andreas Feldt is a conflicted man–primarily internally conflicted.  I’m not sure if book one tells us about this, but as this book opens we learn that Andreas hasn’t seen his adult daughters in many years–talked to one of them, but not seen her.  He is meeting her for lunch.

The talk is awkward, certainly, and eventually he blurts out “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.”  Her reaction is fairly flat.  And later we learn that it is not even true–he just said it. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #601 (February 28, 2017).

I have, of course, heard of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I’ve probably even heard them on a record or two that I own.  But I don’t really know much about them (in this Concert there are only 7 of them, I don’t know if they ever actually have a dozen members).

But nevermind, because man, do they swing.  And they swing with a big chunk of funk.

“Use Your Brain” is catchy as anything–with a great funk sound.   I love that the bass is all done by the sousaphone (Kirk Joseph).  I love the squeaky trumpet solo that gets played at the end of the song by Gregory Davis.  And I love everything in between.  A cool thing is that there is a guitar (played by Takeshi Shimmura) in the song which you can barely hear except during the moment when the horns are quiet and then you hear it do a great little funky chord riff.  It’s not prominent, but it is essential.

“Best of All” has a very different style (an almost Latin feel)–with Efrem Towns the “vocalist” doing r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r- vocal rolls.  I’m intrigued that for most of these songs the saxophone Kevin Harris (tenor sax) and Roger Lewis (baritone sax) play the main riff most of the time and the trumpets are often silent (until they totally take the song higher).  Like the great high note in the middle of the song.  The guitar is playing lots of little riffs that you can hear every one in a while–rounding out the song very nicely.  And the sousaphone makes some great rumbling sounds.  This song has a drum solo and I love that the drummer (Julian Addison)is placed up at the front of the band so you can really see him–his playing is fluid and that solo is funky and not showoffy.

“Tomorrow” has a funky bass–all coming from the sousaphone–and a real ska feel (especially as the guys sing the chorus “Tomorrow yeah yeah yeah yeah”).  There’s a great rollicking solo from the baritone sax.  Whenever Towns sings, he’s barely audible over the music of the horns–which is fine because hearing his voice is fun even if you can’t really hear what he’s saying.

For the final song, “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now” Davis says:

This is the song where you all participate –you all been a little bit stiff, not moving.  (someone says , well it is NPR).  For this song we want you to participle. Don’t just stand there and clap like that, you know… move. Put your back into it.  Put your wiggle in the wiggle.  Drop it like it’s hot.  All that stuff you do behind closed doors do it now–well not all you do.

The song is super fun and dancey with a big chorus chant of “feet can’t fail me now, feet can’t fail me now.”  There’s some great horn and a cool wah wah guitar throughout the song.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band show just how much diversity you can get with “just a brass band.”  This was a super fun concert.

[READ: February 13, 2017] The Complete Peanuts Comics and Stories

This is the final book in the Complete Peanuts series from Fantagraphics.  It took 13 years–2 books a year–and here is the odds and ends collection to tie the series up.

There is an introduction by the editors of the series who explain just what this volume is:  The content has to be Peanuts, drawn by Schulz himself, and (when possible) with verification from Schulz’s widow, Jean.  Material that had not been seen before or was not in print in the twenty-first century got preferential treatment (no Happiness is a Warm Puppy, which is frequently reprinted).  So you’ll see dozens of strips not seen in any book and ones not printed in more than half a century. Six complete books are here– four story books, two volumes on life’s lessons.  Seven comic book stories, lots of single panel gags and lot of ads!

Then there is a Designer’s Note by Seth.  Seth has been behind all of these books (imagine dedicating 13 years of your life to something like this).  He says that he wanted these books to look and feel dignified and maybe even a bit sad.  He also wished to pay a personal tribute to Charles Schulz in his design.

He says that it was Schulz who first set him on the cartooning path.  He was the first artist Seth ever noticed: “Who is this magical person who signs his name in the last box of Peanuts?”  He never met the man and he’s not sorry about that–he has all he needs from the work itself.  He wants to think of this compete set as a monument to Schulz. (more…)

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1999 SOUNDTRACK: JANE BUNNETT AND MAQUEQUE-Tiny Desk Concert #548 (July 12, 2016).

bunnettJane Bunnett is a soprano saxophonist and flautist from Toronto who performs largely with Cuban musicians.  She has been traveling there for about 30 years and has performed with all kinds of musicians.  For this Tiny Desk and her current she is playing with the women from Cuba in a band called Maqueque (they won a Juno award last year).

And they sound great together.  It’s interesting that Bunnett takes something of a back seat (or position anyhow) to singer Melvis Santa (who seems to mostly sing sounds (ah ah ahs, bop bop bah dah dahs, as opposed to words) .  But when it’s time to shine, Bunnett is there to impress everyone with her skill.

Felix Contreras says “If you want to hear what Cuba sounds like today, then be sure to listen.”

“Little Feet” features Bunnett playing a cool solo on her sax and Santa singing notes along with her.  But for this song Bunnett really wails.  (she’s quite winded by the end).

Of the three songs, the ten minute “Maqueque” is my favorite.  That’s in part because I don’t really like the sound of the soprano sax (she plays flute on this one) but also because the band membranes really get to show off their chops.  It starts with a simple piano melody and pretty vocals.  Then Bunnett plays the melody on the flute as Santa sings along.   When Bunnett gets her solo on, you can hear her vocalising a bit as she plays the flute.

After the song Bunnett says that women in Cuba don’t get the exposure they deserve, so she picked these woman to let the world hear them.

About 4 minutes in Dánae Olano plays an amazing 2 minute piano solo–fun to listen to and to watch as she is all over the keys–she plays  some great trills and riffs.  She’s very impressive.  About 8 minutes in Yissy Garcia (who Dave Matthews has said plays drums like Jesus) plays a great drum solo.  On the drum kit she is using her palms and fingers to play all of the drums and cymbals–she switches to sticks at the end. The percussionist Magdelys Savigne accompanies her, and while not actually soloing, she is keeping rhythm as well.

Celia Jiménez plays bass.  She doesn’t get to do anything fancy–no solos, but she keeps the rhythm perfect.

bunnett2“25 New Moves” has Bunnett back on sax with Santa singing along to her melody.  It’s a short (4 minute) catchy piece with another cool fast solo from piano and a few cool bass lines as well.

It’s a pretty great set with lot of cool jazzy Cuban melody and rhythms.  I enjoyed this set quite a lot.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000

This is the final volume of Peanuts strips. After 50 years, it finally came to and end.

Schulz was diagnosed with cancer in 1999.  He died in February of 2000.

I was hoping that this book would be shockingly good–full of great “I’m finishing the trip” closure.  But as I understand it, he wasn’t ready to finish the strip, so things move on more as less as normal.

In fact, I found the first few weeks of 1999 to be kind of dull.  The punchlines just didn’t make me smile as much.  Of course there is something to be said for the consistency of the strip.  Linus still has his blanket, Rerun is still coloring (he has become a dominant force in the strip), Patty is still getting things wrong and Sally still doesn’t want to do anything. (more…)

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1997SOUNDTRACK:LOS HACHEROS-Tiny Desk Concert #546 (July 5, 2016).

hacherosLos Hacheros play “Afro-Caribbean music that provides the source material for modern salsa and all of its permutations.”

This music swings and bounces and with such simple instrumentation: an upright bass and a guitar.  With the main melodies constructed by the trombone and vocal (the trombonist doubles on violin).  But the rest of the band is there for percussion–cowbells, shakers and the conga.

The band plays three songs all sung in Spanish.  It’s fun to watch them get into the groove and begin to sway in unison to the music.

“Baila Con Los Hacheros” features a violin solo that is pretty intense “Papote’s Guajira” features an acoustic guitar solo that is complex and fun to watch. It also has a lengthy flute solo (the violinist also plays the flute!). “Bambulaye” features NPR’s own Felix Contreras on congas–he gets a solo–apparently he has been playing in bands for years.  What a nice surprise.

[READ: November 3, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1997-1998

This is the second to last book of collected strips from Schulz.  Rerun features quite prominently and Linus has faded somewhat.  Snoopy is no longer playing characters (except for the soldier..always soldiers) and Charlie is still pining for things he won’t get.

1997 opens with Charlie showing Linus his autographed Joe Shlabotnik baseball.  But Linus thinks it’s a forgery.  Cue a week of strips about an autograph forger (who tries to hire Charlie as his accomplice).  I love that Schulz went on strange little tangents like this, but I always feel like he doesn’t follow through with these funny ideas. The whole premise of this just ends never to be heard from again.

And then in a surprise to me, Snoopy starts acting like a Revolutionary War patriot standing guard at Valley Forge.  He seems to have given up on WWI and gone back in time to a far less dramatic role–he mostly just stands around in the cold.  Strips about that occur from time to tome with him talking to General Washington.  The last one is in December 1998 where he realizes he is only guarding snow. (more…)

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peanuts-1995SOUNDTRACK: TINARIWEN-Tiny Desk Concert #184 (January 5, 2012).

tinariwenTinariwen are a band from northern Mali, whose members met in the training camps of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Much has been written about them and their story, which is pretty amazing.  I’m only going to talk about this Tint Desk Concert.

Typically, they play an interesting electric guitar kind of trance music.  But for this one they were all acoustic.  As Bob Boilen notes, they are his “favorite electric-guitar-based band on the planet.”  But he says he was:

“initially worried and disappointed when I learned that it was coming to play the Tiny Desk as a trio carrying acoustic guitars. My heart sank a bit more when the three Tuareg musicians from the Sahara arrived in jeans and polo shirts instead of the beautiful, flowing robes I’d seen them wear on stage so many times.

But they switched clothes and they do not disappoint on acoustic guitar.

I don’t know their music all that well, but it feels like the acoustic nature of this show is even more soothing and trance inducing.  The two acoustic guitars interweave–one playing lead (which is mostly hammered notes–not a “solo” per se) and the other strumming.  The percussion is the sound of two hands rubbing, clacking (with a cigarette lighter) and pounding (for bass drum) a large gourd.

The songs tend to be almost looping.  Like they could go on forever.  There’s no real verse chorus structure that I can tell.  It’s more of a meditative sound.

All of the vocals are in Tamashek and I have no idea what the songs are about.

On “Adounia” both guitarists sing and the voices sound very traditional, almost atonal. “Takkest Tamidaret” opens with a more conventional sounding guitar lick, but it’s all so quiet in the mix, that you can’t tell how much his fingers are moving.  The lyrics are a bit slower, but still in that droning style.  I love the way “Tenhert”  has a a cool riff from the lead guitar–one that probably sounds more intense on electric guitar.  He sing/speaks incredibly quickly.  “Tahlamoyt” is a much slower song with the lyrics pretty much all spoken word.

The “Mali sound” is pretty distinctive and Tinariwen are great proponents of it, spreading it around the world for all to hear.

[READ: June 8, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1995-1996

I was under the impression that these last few volumes of books would show a serious drop in quality.  I had assumed that with the amount of product the Peanuts characters were sponsoring that these strips would be more cute.  But that is far from true.  I enjoyed this book as much if mot more than some of the other recent volumes.

I was also surprised to discover that I really enjoyed the Sunday cartoons more than the dailies.  In the past I haven’t really gotten big laughs form the Sundays–it seemed like the big stories and jokes were in the dailies and the Sundays were unrelated one offs with varying degrees of punch.  But I enjoyed a dozen or so in this book.

One of the major additions in this book is the inclusion of a slightly older Rerun.  He is now mobile and even heading to kindergarten (I love that he is aging while the others aren’t).  But rather than using Rerun for obvious cute child jokes (he’s no longer riding the back of his mom’s bike) Rerun is now making funny “outsider” observations about the world of Peanuts–he is constantly disenchanted with the way  things are going and with the belief that people are always lying to him.  There are also a ton of strips of him trying to shoot a basketball and failing miserably.  Schulz has always tended to take an idea and run and run and run with it, but this one is pretty good for the number that he uses it. (more…)

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1993-1994 SOUNDTRACK: LEON BRIDGES-Tiny Desk Concert #469 (September 8, 2015).

leonLeon Bridges has a great old soul voice.  Indeed, I had no idea he was so young until he started speaking after the third song and all manner of young person chat came out of his mouth: “Thanks to my main man, you all looking beautiful man.”  His voice is pure and clean and hearkens back to 1960s soul singers like Sam Cooke.

The way he sings “baby baby baby” in “Coming Home” is classic soul.  And his enunciation of “mouth” is just gorgeous.  This song features the backing vocals of his sister Jesse.

“Smooth Sailin'” features a sax solo and Bridges on guitar.  Since there are 2 guitarists already Bridges’ guitar doesn’t  add much, but for me it’s all about his voice anyhow.

“Twistin’ & Groovin'” is about how his grandparents met.  He says the first time he saw her at a party the thing he noticed first about her was her long legs.

“River” is just him on acoustic guitar with Jesse singing backing vocals.

It’s a solid set and Bridges’ star has continued to rise since this show.

[READ: September 18, 2016]  The Complete Peanuts: 1993-1994

I didn’t like the previous book all that much, but this one picked things up a bit.

The year starts with Snoopy taking a test in school and acing the true false part–the only one to do so!

1993 has Schulz’ first celebration of MLK day.  Patty mentions the “I have a dream speech” but I love that she just mentions it without making it a big deal, it quickly changes to an unfair lunch swap between a carrot stick and french fry.  Speaking of old words, Lucy begins insulting Linus with: blockhead airhead, noodleneck but then finds that these older words work better: puzzlewit, dimbulb.

In pop culture notes, April 1993 sees Snoopy as Joe Grunge and in May 1993 Sally asks why is Barney purple? (more…)

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peanuts-10991SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS STAPLETON-Tiny Desk Concert #484 (November 5, 2015).

chrisChris Stapleton is a big dude with a big beard and long hair.  He could be a heavy metal guy, but put a cowboy hat on him and you know exactly what his music is going to sound like–slow with an almost mumbling drawl (although his lyrics are quite clear).

The blurb says that his songs are timeless and in a way they are–I wouldn’t know if these songs were old country songs or new country songs, but that’s probably because I don’t much like country songs anyway.

“More of You” is a slow song in which he is joined by his wife Morgane on harmony vocals.  The song is fine.  But I was surprised by how funny he was when it was over and he asked, “When did DC turn into Louisiana?  It’s hot!”

“When The Stars Come Out” was cowritten with Dan Wilson but it doesn’t quite have Wilson’s super catchiness.

He is playing a beat up guitar that he says is 12 years old.  He doesn’t know where it came from, but he says he thinks someone has even used it as a canoe paddle and it has mud in it.  He says he has lots of guitars and his wife says Lots and Lots.

“Whiskey and You” is a song about, big surprise, drinking.  Lyrically it’s kind of funny, despite its intentional sadness.

[READ: September 14, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1991-1992

I was trying to figure out when the last original Peanuts strip I’d ever read was written.  I stopped reading newspapers in college.  But I’m sure I came across Peanuts once in a while.  My dad also used to get the papers, and I might have browsed through the comics.  But I have to assume it was sometime around 1992 or 1993 that I stopped looking altogether.

I wonder if Sparky started golfing again as there are a lot of golfing comics this year, including one on April 21 1991 where Snoopy is trying to hit it over a tidal wave.  This is one of those rare Sunday comic that he started doing with what was basically a full-page comic as opposed to several panels.

I also felt that 1991 was not a particularly great year for Peanuts.  We all know that Snoopy loves to be in different characters–and has recently been a surgeon.  Well, in January 1991, Snoopy pretends to be a road flagman.  Not very aspirational.

I loved the Peggy Jean story line from last year.  She finally gets a mentions again in March, but she has moved away. Which means he’s back to pining for the red-haired girl.  I know that the red-haired girl is classic Peanuts, but I really liked Peggy Jean.

But there are some great strips and themes.

I did enjoy that Sally after being steady rebuffed by her sweet Babboo calls herself his Sweet Babbooette.  Later, Sally comes up with a new philosophy.  “I’ve decided to put everything off until the last-minute and to learn everything in life the hard way.”  When Charlie says, “Good luck,” Sally says, “That’s what my teacher said.”

Sally asks Linus what happens if she doesn’t go to school and he tells her the sheriff comes and throws you in a dungeon with no food or water for ten years.  She hates that idea, but then thinks, “if we go to school for 12 years….”

Harriet’s famous recipe for seven minute frosting makes a return in April 1991 with all the birds talking about it.  Man, I should find out what this is.

And there’s a lot of scenes with Snoopy wrangling with Linus’ blankets which I always like.

Joe Garagiola gets some more abuse in May when he makes it into the hall of fame and Lucy says, “It means there’s still hope for us all.”

One thing I have never mentioned is the amount of times Schulz draws or mentions zambonis (and even calls them zucchinis).  I assume someone has collected this information, but he must have really loved the zamboni because boy does it ever make a lot of appearances.  Often times once a week for several weeks.

For something new Sally and Charlie are asked to teach a Bible class to kids, which is kind of fun.  The boy wish they’d gotten a “cute chick” instead of an “old lady” like sally.  And one of the boys keeps talking about the Great Gatsby, “Gatsby stood by the sea of Galilee and picked out the green light at the end of day’s dock.”  The series ends with the kid waving goodbye to her and Snoopy saying “So long, old sport.”

Way back in a previous book Billie Jean King says that whenever Sparky put her name in a strip it meant she should call him.  So in August Snoopy says “I’ve always wanted to call Billie Jean King.”

I enjoy this attitude from Patty: “Hey Marcie its a beautiful summer day  C’mon out and we’ll waste it away doing nothing. Then we can look back upon it and regret it for the rest of our lives.”

When I was a kid I believe I had the same seasonal beliefs as Patty does in Sept 1991: “the four seasons are baseball, football basketball and hockey.”

The football gag in 1991 shows Lucy waving a book about holding the football.  But when she pulls the ball away she tells him that she wrote the book.

Later in the year, Lucy speculates that the Great Pumpkin might be a she  “Never occurred to you, did it?”

As the year ends, Marcie and Patty give Charlie an ultimatum to decide who he likes best.  Of course he hesitates and they walk away.

In January 1992, Spike says that if he had an earache his dad would blow cigar smoke in his ear.  I’d never heard of this, but it is indeed an old wives tale.

Schulz loved having his Peanuts‘ kids read really big books.  And sometimes they were used a lot as punchlines.  But I enjoyed Patty saying A  Tale of Two Cites was written by “Charlie Dickens.  Chuck  Chaz?”  And then when she gives here report she begins “St. Paul and Minneapolis are…” and then we see her sitting next to Marcie who says “One of the great tries of all time, sir.”

Sally continues to be one of my favorite snarky characters.  “Sometimes I worry about you big brother.  Often?  No not often, just sometimes.  Like maybe seldom.  That’s it, seldom!”

Charlie is still being very loving and missing Snoopy.  He tries to get out of school a lot so he can sit with the dog and even worries when it rains.  When he goes away he calls over to where Snoopy is staying and talks on the phone (he says “Woof”) and Snoopy says “Woof? what does that mean?”

Another full-page Sunday strip came on April 19, 1990.  This may be the weirdest, most context-free strip of them all.  Snoopy is looking at a map and the whole page is covered with a gorge and the caption says “Every year thousand of tourists visit Victoria Falls in Zambia.”  Huh?

There are still more Tiny Tots Concerts, Patty still hates to be called a Tiny Tot.  Although she gets excited in May of 1992 because she thinks the new song is called “Hey dude” when it is actually “Etude.”

Pop culture references: in August 1991 someone described being suspended from the bungee cord of life Fried Green Tomatoes is mentioned in April 1992.  Spike does Velcro jumping in July 1992.  After playing some football, Marcie says she could be another Joe Iowa (Montana).

And Sally changed her philosophy from “who cares?” to “what do I care?”

In Summer 1992, Charlie goes to camp and helps out a kid named Cormac, although we don’t see him much after that.

In 1992, Charlie believes that Lucy in sincere about holding the ball.  When he misses, Sally says “You’re not in love with Lucy, are you big brother?”  When he says No, she says, “I should Hope not,  I’ve discovered that love makes us do strange things.  So does stupidity.”

In 1992, Marcie decides to help spread the word about the Great Pumpkin but she calls it the Great Grape.  When she realizes her mistake she says, “I guess it would be hard to carve a scary face in a  grape, wouldn’t it?”

Over the years there have been hundred of jokes about Schroeder’s musical staff and Snoopy either sleeping on it or breaking it or so many other possibilities.  They’ve all been mildly amusing.  I liked in December 1992, when Snoopy takes the notes and uses them as the sound of his bell when he is Santa Claus ringing bells on the street.  Because yes, for the last two years Snoopy has dressed up like Santa Claus on a street corner ringing bells.   I like the one later when Charlie brings snoopy his dinner and a girl says “Hey look, Ma, Santa Claus is eating out of dog dish.”

There’s two Sundays in a row with Sally writing a letter to Samantha Claus.  In the first one, Charlie asks if she goes Ho Ho Ho or just smiles daintily, but the following week we find out that Sally talked about her in school and was roundly mocked.

Spikes Christmases have been pretty sad, but I did get a kick out of this one. “Last year I exchanged a gift with a rock, I think he liked what I bought him…he still wearing it.”  And there’ s funny sequence where Spike puts lights on his tree then walks all the way to Needles to plug it in at the chamber of commerce.  There’s even a news story the next say, “Someone sneaked into the chamber of commerce building last night and plugged in an extension cord.  The cord led out of town somewhere into the dessert.  Everyone is puzzled as to who or why someone would do such a thing.”

Although perhaps the best Christmas joke ever comes in 1992 when Sally is writing her thank you note: “Dear Grandma, Thank you for the money you sent me for Christmas.  I am going to save it for my college education.”  Then she says “It’s hard to write with a straight face.”  And Charlie says, “I never said a word.”

1992 ends with a New Years Eve party at Snoopy’s and he says “What do you mean we’re all out of hors d’oeuvres.

So overall, it’s not a bad two years, there’s just not a ton of noteworthy jokes.

The introduction is by Tom Tomorrow.  He says his influences were Mad magazine, Garry Trudeau and Matt Groening but his earliest inspiration was Charles Schulz.

He says that in the 1960s he hit the perfect sweet spot with Peanuts:  old enough to understand the humor, young enough to truly appreciate the whimsy. When he was a child, he loved the Christmas Special, and he was excited that his parents bought their first color TV in time for its annual airing.  He had also been given a Snoopy astronaut in the year he became the unofficial mascot of Apollo 10.

He describes Peanuts as “a strip that spun heartbreak into wry humor.  A cartoon about childhood anxiety that veered frequently into the realm of magical realism.”

He loves things like that the doghouse was bigger on the inside than the outside (although that aspect has been downplayed in recent years).

When he was a young cartoonist, he wrote to Charles Schulz.  And Schulz invited him over for lunch. Schulz was very generous with his time. “We ate at the cafe adjacent to the skating rink he’d built. The table was always reserved for him and on which you will still find a reserved sign to this day.”

Tomorrow says he wrote the only obituary comic he’d ever done for Schulz and he quotes Schulz: “If I were a better artist, I’d be a painter. And if I were a  better writer, I’d write books.  But I’m not so I draw cartoons.”

Tomorrow addresses his change from the strict four panel strips of his whole career, which I noted with concern and excitement.  Evidently, Schulz always wanted to experiment with the panels, but he was unsure if the Syndicate would allow it.  Tomorrow jokes that at this point in his career, he probably could have demanded a solid gold table and a full complement of chorus girls to entertain him while he worked.

He concludes his introduction by saying that Schulz gave him an original strip–which is the middle strip on page 71 in this book (dated June 14), and what a nice one it is:

“It’s nice to be able to do something for someone once in a while that’s appreciated.”

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