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SOUNDTRACKDakhaBrakha-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 (January 11, 2021).

DakhaBrakhaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The final band on the first night is DakhaBrakha.  I have wanted to see DakhaBrakha live for years–ever since I saw them ona Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s wonderful to see them again, this time with new songs.

Tonight marks DakhaBrakha’s return to globalFEST and Tiny Desk. The Ukranian band’s first globalFEST performance was in 2014, and their 2015 Tiny Desk concert remains a favorite. We’ve had them in our spaces, so it’s a real treat to see them in theirs, the Dakh Theater in Kiev. Coming together, their performance maintains the energy and joy that define their music, bouncing off each other musically and emotionally. DakhaBrakha aims to keep Ukraine’s musical and storytelling tradition alive by making it more accessible to a younger, international audience, a kind of self-proclaimed “ethno-chaos.” They craft stunning sonic worlds for traditional songs, reinventing their heritage with a keen ear for contemporary resonances.

I was initially disappointed that they only played two songs, but these are long complex and varied song.  And they are both great.

“Komora” is a new song.  It opens with Nina Garenetska singing while slowly bowing the cello. Keyboardist Iryna Kovalenko and drummer Olena Tsybulskajoin join in on backing vocals with great harmony and sweeping high notes.  Then Nina starts playing a bass line on the cello and accordion player Marko Halanevych and the other ladies seem to be having a conversation of sounds.  Iryna takes over on lead vocals.  Marko adds some accordion while Olena plays soft drums.  Nina is back to bowing then it returns to cello/bass line and lots of oohing from all the singers.

Then Marko sings a lead line and the women seem to be answering him.  The song starts getting faster and faster as they call to each other leading to a spectacular ending.

“Vynnaya ya” is from their latest album.  It opens with Iryna and Olena clappin a rhythm and Nina plucking the cello.  Marko sings lead and they sing back in a call and response.  Nina takes over on vocals to mostly drum and cello accompaniment.  Then Marko plays a “horn” solo using just his hands.  It sounds like a duck call or muted trumpet and is weird and wonderful.

Olena sings the next verse and then Iryna sings the final verse.  When her verse is done, Marko puts down the accordion, stands up and plays another “trumpet” solo with his hands.  Then the whole band kicks up the tempo to nearly double speed as they race to a wild conclusion.

I can’t wait to see them in person!

[READ: November 15, 2020] Starlite Memories

I had never heard of Dov Fedler.  The title of this book made me look at it twice and then I skimmed the back cover blurb.

Beloved political cartoonist Dov Fedler had the opportunity in the 1990s to make a lifelong dream come true: Directing a movie. …  A laugh-out loud story of pitfalls follows.

Turns out he was a political cartoonist for The Star for over 50 years.

Then I saw that Fedler is from South Africa.  I’d never read anything by anyone from South Africa before this, I don’t think.  So I was curious to see what a comedy from South Africa was like.

Somewhere along the line I completely missed that this was a memoir.

So I spent the first 2/3 of the book believing that this was based on something that really happened but that he was making up names and other details to protect the innocent.  Especially since in the beginning the note to the reader says writing is always about the story.

There are times when a writer may have to embellish, obfuscate, conflate and conjure to keep the thing alive.

Again, somehow I glossed right over that word memoir (actually I thought it was a the main character talking about writing a memoir or something).

None of that really changed the way I would have read this.  I had no idea who he was or any of thing the things he did, so it might as well have been fictional.  But I think it’s funnier that it really happened.

This memoir proved to be mostly funny with a lot of thoughtfulness thrown in for good measure.  It is written by a political cartoonist who has always loved movies.  He is a Jewish man in South Africa.  There are not very many Jewish families in South Africa, but there are enough to have a small cultural center there.

Each chapter of the memoir is titled after a film.  He then summarizes the film in a few words.  The chapter is tangentially tied to either what happens in that film or to the title of the film.

Dov explains that he was hired to directed the film Timer Joe Part 3.  This crazy film title is a real film–the third after two popular movies.  But this one is clearly made simply to ash in on the popularity of the other two.  The film is basically the brainchild of his producer Moe Mankowitz.  Moe says, “I make films for black audiences.  Black people like the same moveis we do, but they like them with black people.”  Timer Joe 1 and 2 were a success, so he wants Dov to write the script for 3.  What’s it about?  All he knows is that it’s a comedy. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ACTIVE CHILD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #131 (January 6, 2021).

Active Child has been around a long time, although I was completely unfamiliar with him.

Active Child is the music of Patrick Grossi. … He layers his choral-styled voice on top of melodic harp and piano. Electronic beats propel selections from his latest album, In Another Life, as well as one of his earliest and well-known songs, “Hanging On.”

He opens with “Hanging On.”  A drumbeat begins along with his high soaring voice.  As the camera fades in, he is playing the harp.  As he samples and loops himself, he switches to piano to play the main verse.  Then the loop starts and the room fills with music.  It’s pretty neat to watch him jump from piano to harp and again for a solo.

From a stunning room overlooking the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena, Calif., we hear the ethereal sounds of Active Child. “I chose this space, as this is where I’ve written nearly every piece of music for my active child project. my music and this house / this view are completely intertwined.”

As he’s talking, the drm for “In Another Life” begins.  I couldn’t see how he triggered it at all.  Over a drum beat and harp, he sings an ethereal melody.  When he switches to the piano his voice loops in a nice harmony.

There’s a very slow fade from one scene to the other as he begins “Cruel World.”  He starts looping and harmonizing with himself.  This is the catchiest of the three mostly from all of the looping.

[READ: January 6, 2021] Days of Our Lockdown Lives

In addition to the Zapiro book of editorial cartoons, we also got a comic strip collection from Stephen Francis and Rico (Schacherl).  This was a book in the Madam & Eve comic strip series.  There are thirty plus collections and this is the most recent.

Madam & Eve is a daily comic strip syndicated in many South African newspapers.  It started in 1992 and went daily in 1993. The premise is based around a middle-class white woman, Gwen Anderson (“Madam”), and her black maid, Eve Sisulu and how they manage in the new South Africa as the Apartheid era drew to a close.

Theirs is a relationship of affectionate squabbling.  Perhaps in the spirit of equality, neither character is portrayed as particularly sympathetic. Madam is always coming up with silly ideas in order to fit in more with the new way of life. Eve meanwhile keeps coming up with ways of obtaining extra cash out of Madam and others.

There is also a lot of political humor with strips mentioning topical incidents and also featuring some of the political figures in the news–so the Zapiro book is a nice companion. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSEVDALIZA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #130 January 5, 2021).

Sevdaliza is the first Tiny desk Home Concert to be published in 2021.  Let’s hope she signals a great new year.

Sevdaliza is Iranian born although this concert is filmed in a culturally significant bookstore and publishing house in Amsterdam called MENDO.

Her collection of music is a wonderful mix of the organic and the electronic all centered around her gorgeous voice.

The set opens with “an old reel-to-reel tape machine spinning some Brazilian bossa nova.”  Then it stops and she starts singing “Human,” a song which

casts away the notion of artists — particularly female artists — as products.

It’s a moody Portishead-like track.

It opens with synths and drums as she sings achingly.  Her voice sounds a bit like Beth Gibbons as well.  Then in the middle of the song, the electronics drop off and she recites

I am flesh, bones / I am skin, soul / I am human /Nothing more than human.
I am sweat, flaws / I am veins, scars / I am human / Nothing more than human.

While she speaks, the strings of Jonas Pap (cello) and Mihai Puscoiu (violin) play an eerie backdrop.  When the strings stop a very cool electronic section takes over.  Leon den Engelsen manipulates sounds, making voices sound mechanical and machines sounds human–it’s really cool watching him do this.  Meanwhile, drummer Anthony Amirkhan adds some complex electronic and analog drums.

Then den Engelsen resumes the bossanova tape as Sendaliza announces:

“Good afternoon humans, my name is Sevdaliza, you’re very welcome on flight 808; our destination is Shabrang.”

I feel like “Dormant: sounds even more Portishead-like.  Her voice carries Gibbons’ ache as she sings “I need a different type pf caring, a different type of sharing.”  The percussion is minimal but interesting.  Meanwhile the electronics are buzzing around while the strings ground the song in melody.

As the song fades out she sings notes and words which I believe the keys are manipulating in real time.

“All Rivers at Once” opens with a pre-recorded guitar melody.  The song is just full of samples and interesting melodies and then the middle falls into place with a lovely violin solo.  It ends with a deep resonating cello note

“Gole Bi Goldoon” is sung in Iranian (I assume).  It sounds much more like an old folk song–strings and piano.

I really enjoyed this set and want to check out more of her album.

[READ: January 9, 2021] Do the Macorona

I’m not exactly sure why we have been getting so many books from South Africa at work lately, but it’s fantastic.

This book is a collection of editorial cartoons from South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper.  Zapiro (Jonathan Shapiro) has been making editorial cartoons and caricatures since the early 1990s and has 25 books of cartoons published.

Although I have been reading some novels from South Africa, I really don’t know very much about the country.  I have learned, however, that reading about a year’s worth of editorial cartoons is a pretty great way to learn about a country.  I don’t understand all of the jokes in here, but I do feel like I have a vague grasp on the country now. However, it’s when Zapiro turns his pen abroad–especially against trump, that I can see how good of a satirist he is.

It feels especially timely to include this post now as we prepare to get the corrupt traitor out of office for good.  He has, in fact, made a cartoon out of the insurrection. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #121 (December 4, 2020).

I first encountered Dua Lipa a few years ago when I was watching the NPR series Field Recordings.  It showed Dupa Lipa in 2016 singing a song from a balcony.  An accompanying essay said that she was hoping to “break America.”  I said I thought her song was fine.

I guess she has now broken America as she was on lots of best of lists this year (and the blurb lists her as a “global megastar.”

I haven’t actually heard anything from this album (or any of her albums–oh, she only has two), so this is really my introduction to her.

Of Kosovar Albanian descent, Dua Lipa was raised in the UK and rose to super stardom in the three years since her eponymous debut album dropped in 2017.

The band gets a remarkably full sound for having just a bass (Matthew Carroll) and a guitar (Alex Lanyon).  Even when Lanyon solos, the recording is robust.

I do find it strange that she has FOUR backing singers, though (Naomi Scarlett, Ciara O’Connor, Izzy Chase, and Matthew Allen).  I can’t hear that any of them are doing anything different than the others, making me thing two or even one would suffice, but whatever, it’s good to give musicians a job, right.

And, this is the first time she has been able

to reconnect with her band for their only performance since their tour in support of her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, was cancelled in March. This vibrant four song set of dance hits, all from Future Nostalgia, will surely have you cutting up the floor in your kitchen while quarantining in the cold weather.

All four of these songs are enjoyable but pretty forgettable.  Even though You can sing along by the end of the song, it’s not likely you’ll be humming them an hour later.

“Levitating” has a fun descending vocal melody and a funky bass line.  I do rather like th emiddle “rapped” section because I like hearing Lipa’s accent as she says her London o’s in

My love is like a rocket, watch it blast-off
And I’m feeling so electric, dance my ass off

“Pretty Please” is a fun dancer. “Love Again” has a lovely full guitar introduction.  And the refrain of “God damn, you got me in love again,” is quite arresting.

“Don’t Start Now” has a cool funky bass line and a catchy chorus–definitely fun to dance along to.

[READ: January 2, 2021] “Our Lady of the Quarry”

This story is written in second person plural (and translated by Megan McDowell).

A group of younger (16 year old) girls are jealous of an older girl, Silvia.  Silvia has a place of her own, a job with a salary, and a know-it-all attitude:

If one of us discovered Frida Kahlo, oh, Silvia had already visited Frida’s house with her cousin in Mexico.

Silvia’s hair was perfectly dyed, she always had money and, worst of all, Diego liked her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MULATTO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #117 (November 25, 2020).

Most of the Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts have been live (or slightly edited).  This one is clearly not.  There are many times when as she crosses her leg one way, a quick cut shows her with her legs crossed the other way.  So I’m not sure what’s going on–if it’s multiple takes or just her lip-syncing, but it’s very disconcerting.

Mulatto, known as Big Latto has released her debut album, Queen Of Da Souf,

At a time when women in hip-hop are running laps around the guys without so much as shifting their lace fronts, Latto is finding her footing in the new rap canon with Gold-charting singles and standout freestyles.

Also, who knew this was a thing:

As the inaugural winner of the Lifetime reality show The Rap Game and someone who’s made music since the age of 10, the personality that Latto brings to her bars is goofy, assertive and steadfast.  Latto rocks an aqua wig and raps perched from her throne.

I really like that the first song features a live violin (Joy Black).  It’s such an interesting idea and she plays some fast, intense strings.  It works perfectly.

“Blame Me” is a slower sone.  The melody sounds more than a little like “The Way It Is.”

It’s not until “He Say She Say” when Latto rises up from her seat to put extra emphasis behind this reminder: “Self-made b****, hell you talkin ’bout? / Yea, I got it out the mud, no handout.”

“He Say She Say” has a cool off-kilter almost horror movie melody from keyboardist SK.  Her singing and rapping is really good, but I get really bored of all the bitches and f-bombs and n-words.  I realize that that’s the street and the way young people talk, but it gets really monotonous.

[READ: December 20, 2020] Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel.

Jason Reynolds wrote the novel Long Way Down in 2017.  This graphic novel adaptation has some great artwork by Danica Novgorodoff

This is the story of William Holloman–Will.

The story starts out with Will and his friends on the basketball court.  His friend Tony is a great player but he is short and he knows you can’t go pro if you’re short. Will’s brother Shawn comes over to say hi to them.  Then there is a gunshot. Everybody

Did what we’ve all been trained to do.  Pressed our lips to the pavement and prayed the boom, followed by the buzz of a bullet, ain’t meet us.

But this time it hit Shawn.

When bad things happen, we can usually look up and see the moon big and bright shining over us.  But when Shawn died the moon was off.

Novgorodoff does some wonderful color work in these scenes–really creating a range of emotions in a small space. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKADRIANNE LENKER: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #114 (November 18, 2020).

Adrianne Lenker is the singer and songwriter for the band Big Thief.  I really enjoyed the first Big Thief album, but haven’t enjoyed the rest of the band’s output as much.

NPR’s Bob Boilen loves Lenker.  He has done from the very start (he’s the reason I got their first album).  He loves the new albums by Lenker but to me the songs suffer from exactly what I found less interesting about Big Thief’s later albums.

The newer songs tend to be quieter–really emphasizing her voice which is lot more twangy than it was on album #1.  The new stuff (and solo stuff) also doesn’t rock as hard.  It’s not to say that her voice isn’t good, it’s juts not as interesting to me as it was on that first record.  As Bob says

The songs, the words, the voice of Adrianne Lenker has been at the top of my year-end musical loves for the past five years, more so than any other artist. It began with her work as the singer and songwriter on Big Thief’s electric debut album, Masterpiece, in 2016 and runs through this year’s two sister solo albums, one titled songs and the other instrumentals. Those albums contain nothing more than an acoustic guitar, voice, and the bug, birds, and creatures captured while recording.

Her yearning voice, simultaneously frail and strong, draws me to those songs — songs about people, everyday life, everyday death, and ordinary places. All the while, she picks the tunes out of her guitar or paints the rhythms with a brush.

She plays five songs from songs (I’m curious to hear if I’d like instrumentals).

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Adrianne Lenker’s home is a camper trailer parked somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the appropriate setting for the five songs she performs from her new album, tunes birthed in a wooden cabin in Massachusetts.

The songs all sound similar in style, with subtle differences that pay off nicely.  “zombie girl” has a very high capo.  All high notes are fingers picked.

For “two reverse” she adds lower guitar notes (and a very cool riff) which sound rich and resonating.

“dragon eyes” is nifty in that she plays the guitar with a brush instead of a pick which gives the guitar a very soft almost delayed sound–I’ve never seen that before.

After a quick shot of the outside of her trailer, she plays “anything,” a song with no capo.  It’s the catchiest song of the bunch with a nice story.

“ingydar” ends the set with an instrumental opening (with pretty harmonics). I thought this was an instrumental but it’s not.

So I came away from the set liking her more than I did, but not enough to get her record(s).

[READ: December 20, 2020] “The Decade I Kept on Getting Stabbed”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 20.  John Jodzio, author of If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, can cut straight through a tin can, just watch. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This super short (barely four pages) story was great and had me laughing out loud.  It packed a great number of funny lines into a small space.

The narrator explains that he kept getting stabbed:

once on the bus, once at the barber, once at the bus stop outside the barber, once accidentally by my Labradoodle Conrad.

His friends told him to stop going to stabby places or to stop taping knives to Conrad’s paws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACIE AND RACHEL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #98 (October 19, 2020).

I only know Gracie and Rachel from a previous Tiny Desk Concert.  I was entranced by that performance and am similarly entranced by this one.

Gracie and Rachel are perfect musical mates. Their styles conjure contrast, with Gracie Coates’ more pop-leaning keyboard melodies alongside Rachel Ruggles’ classical background. They’ve been honing their orchestral pop sound since high school. These days they share space in a NYC apartment and are grateful to be able to “commute from their bedrooms” at a time when so many collaborators can’t be together.

They open with “Strangers.”  Gracie plays the keyboards and sings lead with a wonderfully breathy voice.  Rachel plays the violin and then starts adding in percussion and singing higher (sometime haunting) backing vocals.

They’ve just released their second album, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. The title of the album reflects their positive attitude despite angst.  The duo made much of this music in the past year and a half, in the very room they’re performing this Tiny Desk (home) concert

On “Ideas,” they sing together a classical melody with a tinge of autotune.  Then the song shifts to the delicacy of Gracie’s keys and Rachel’s pizzicato violin.

The lyrics to “Ideas” highlights that attitude by encouraging us to dig inside ourselves and discover our creative spirit” “So take your little ideas / Make them a little bit stronger / Throw out the ones you can’t / You don’t need them any longer.”

When the drums come in they are deep and heavy and there’s a very cool bass slide (triggered by Rachel on the SPD-SX sampling pad).  I love the highs and lows of this song.

“Sidelines” features Rachel playing the drums live (on the sampling pad with mallets) while Gracie sings and plays the keyboard melody.  For the bridge, their voices intertwine in a lovely way, weaving in and out of each others melodies.  Then Rachel picks up the violin and adds some more lovely pizzicato to the song.  When she adds her soaring backing vocals its really quite angelic.

“Underneath” is a song about getting underneath ourselves. Rachel plays squeaky, haunting violin melodies to accompany the keys.  There are several parts to this song and I love the way they sound so different–from the strummed violin in the bridge to the rising vocal line of the chorus.

These songs are definitely poppy but they have an unusual sensibility that must come from Rachel’s classical ideas.  The songs are really wonderful and I’m curious what they sound like when fully fleshed out on record.

[READ: December 1, 2020] “Over the Plum-Pudding”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 1. To officially kick off the 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar, here’s a story about truth, fiction, and characters who can’t tell the difference from the late author and humourist John Kendrick Bangs.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story contains some parodies of other writers and uses them as an excuse for why the editor’s own Christmas collection did not get published on time.

It opens with a note from Horace Wilkinson, the editor at Hawkins, Wilkes & Speedway Publishing.  He sets out to explain why the advertised Christmas book “Over the Plum-Pudding or, Tales Told Under the Mistletoe, by Sundry Tattlers” was never published.  He has been getting questions from the authors who were supposed to be paid for their work when the collection was published.  He wants to publicly set the record straight.

Right off the bat, he places the blame entirely on the shoulders of Rudyard Kipling.  This made me chuckle. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: OZUNA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #97 (October 16, 2020).

Ozuna is described as a global superstar and is one of the most watched and listened-to artists on earth. [That link takes you to a Guiness Records page where he is recognized for how much he has been listened to].

Of course, I’ve never heard of him.

Ozuna is a crown jewel in the global crest of Latin pop, a movement whose modern success in reggaeton and Latin trap is indebted to the Caribbean genres Ozuna heard growing up in Puerto Rico, sounds like old-school reggaeton and reggae en español, dembow, dancehall and more.

This Home Concert apparently brings Ozuna’s sound to a more quiet place.

For someone whose work often operates at galactic proportions, this performance of five songs makes room for Ozuna’s sweet tenor to take center-desk in a love letter to the global communities that supported and streamed him to god tier status.

The Puerto Rican singer kicks it off with a breezy rendition of “Caramelo.”

Breezy is a great word for it.  It feels tropical with a reggae rhythm from Freddie “YoFred” Lugo on bass and Elí Bonilla on drums.  The two guitarists (Carlos Mercader and Benson Pagán) play reggae chords and some lead licks.

that leads into a solo version of the sun-drenched “Del Mar” from ENOC, his fourth album that he’s deemed a return to his roots.

It opens with a cool guitar lick and some pleasant keys (Edgardo Santiago).  But Ozuna’s delivery is much faster than the chill music.    I really like the way the backing singer José Aponte matches his voice so perfectly.

Dancing around in the back is the DJ Erick “Yonell” Pachecho.  I’m not really sure what he’s doing back there but he seems very busy.

This pared-down performance makes good on that promise, reworking star-studded collaborations, like the ballad “Despeinada,” as they should be sung: languorously and with intimacy.

“Despeinada” is a quiet ballad.  You can hear Hector Meléndez on the piano playing pretty fills as the rest of the band grooves.  It segues into the banger “Taki Taki” (which I can’t help but imagine is about those purple-bagged chips that I see at the Wawa).

Even the pop smash “Taki Taki” sounds brand new, buoyed by his alchemical flow and energy.

This is my favorite song of the set, from the bouncing rhythm, to the loopy keyboard melody to the fun of singing “taki taki.”  This song is quite short, so it’s clearly just an excerpt. The same is true for “Mamacita” which is barely 2 minutes.  But the flow of this song is great.

I guess the world is right about him.

[READ: November 24, 2020] Nano

I found this book in the hold of our library.  It’s from 2009, although I believe that we received it in 2012.  This means that it has been sitting in our storage area for 8 years and nobody has asked to see it.

This isn’t the only book in this situation–we have many, many books that are unlikely to be read–but most of them are nonfiction and not really timely anymore.  This book, however, is a cute little (40 page) book of cartoons.  And, best yet, they have no words.

There is an introduction (in Spanish) from Máximo, who I assume is the cartoonist Max.  I assume this because Máximo doesn’t come up in searches and because the introduction talks about how Nano is the tiny everyman.  So Máximo is a funny twist on a tiny person.  Or so I think. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARLOS VIVES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #95 (October 14, 2020).

This is a hugely fun Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.

Everything about Vives’ music feels uplifting and joyful.  And boy is that a nice feeling.

Carlos Vives kicks things off in high gear on this Tiny Desk (home) concert with his trademark sound: a celebration of the music from his beloved home country of Colombia, mixed with rock and other Latin music styles.

The opening song “Pa’ Mayte” starts out with a ripping accordion melody from Christian Camilo Peña and some wonderfully funky fluid bass lines from Guillermo Vadalá.  Vadalá is my favorite component of this set without question.

Vives’ voice is strong and powerful and he is joined with a chorus of backing vocalist and percussionist, especially Guianko Gómez from Cuba and Mayte and Tato Montero.

The middle of the song has a rap followed by some really fast and complicated lead guitar from Andrés Leal (followed carefully by Vadalá).

Spirited champeta dance grooves from the country’s Pacific coast permeate his classic 1995 hit “Pa’ Mayte,” and if you look closely you’ll see two of his backup vocalists also playing traditional gaitas Colombianas (flutes).

Then comes the flute solos.  First Mayte Montero on the traditional gaita then Tato Marenco joins in.  Of course no song like this would be complete without some excellent drum and percussion and Martin Velilla is fantastic in that role.

Vives speaks in Spanish between songs. He says that “Cumbiana” is dedicated to his country (Colombia) and the people there.  It opens with pretty, echoing guitar and some wonderful lead bass notes.

It starts slowly, like a love song but turns into a bit of a banger in the chorus.  He even plays a harmonica solo.  During the quiet ending there’s just guitar and harmonica as the song fades.

Next is transition between the title cut of his new album Cumbiana and “La Bicicleta” a vallenato fueled by a bit of reggaeton.

It was originally recorded with his compatriot Shakira and he dedicates the song to her–“the bike to travel the whole world.”

The song is upbeat and a lot of fun.  The middle has a lead flute solo which is echoed by the lead guitar–a great combination. It ends with with a solo accordion melody as the song fades out.

Vives says that “cumbiana is that amphibian territory that I call where cumbias vallenatos and porros are born.

Evidently this is Vives’ signature sound:

a celebration of the music from his beloved home country of Colombia, mixed with rock and other Latin music styles.

They end with “No te Vayas” (“Do Not Go”) opens with quiet guitar.  As he sings the two flutes come in playing the melody along with his voice.  It’s a wonderful combination and an altogether fantastic set.

[READ: November 20, 2020] “A is for Alone”

This story has an interesting setup,.

The narrator is an artist and her latest project is inspired by Mike Pence.  She has called it “Interrogating Graham/Pence” and plans to interview a series of men.  She will give them a questionnaire and take their Polaroid.

The two key questions are:

When, prior to today did you last spend time alone with a woman who is not your wife?  Are you aware of the Modesto Manifesto also known as the Billy Graham Rule, also known as the Mike Pence Rule?

The first man she interviews, Eddie, is an old friend from college.  They took a ceramics class together. They both have fond memories of those days, although since school Eddie has become very successful in the investment world.  Eddie is married and has children and admits that he isn’t alone with other women very often.  But he agrees that the Mike Pence rule is weird.

One of the other questions on the questionnaire is “what did you think when I invited you to lunch?” Eddie assumed that she was sick or dying.

She had planned to meet a different man each week, but then realized she didn’t know 52 men.

The next man she invited was her son’s hockey coach.  He is confused and somewhat alarmed at the lunch invitation.  He assumes there will be more people.  He thinks that the Graham/Pence rule makes sense.  He is not willing to contribute to or particulate in her project. (more…)

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