Archive for the ‘Alice McDermott’ Category


I thought Lula Wiles was a person, but they are a trio.

Contemporary roots trio Lula Wiles shined brilliantly on Thursday night. The young band, consisting of Eleanor Buckland, Isa Burke and Mali Obomsawin — joined by Eli Cohen on drums — [played] a passionate mix of bluegrass, country rock and folk music.

All four members of the group grew up in Maine, and they met while taking lessons at Maine Fiddle Camp, “which I know is, like, disgustingly adorable,” Buckland remarked during the show.  All three singers are also songwriters and instrumentalists, and they displayed impressive group chemistry in several different instrumentations throughout their performance. The trio has always sounded stellar in a traditional bluegrass format — like fiddle, guitar and upright bass — but they added new dimensions to their set when they chose to break out of that format and explore other sounds.

They opened with a traditional country-sounding song, “Hometown”

Lula Wiles’ opener, the poignant “Hometown,” found Burke playing an electric guitar with plenty of added fuzz, which propelled the song forward on top of Cohen’s steady backbeat. Buckland sang three verses from the perspective of an adult returning to her beloved hometown to find her friends and family struggling to make ends meet; the song’s lens gradually moved from personal to historical. “Flip a coin and call it pride or shame / Red and white and the working blues / Welfare, warfare, laying the blame / No matter who wins, someone’s gonna lose,” she proclaimed in her third verse.

“Nashville Man” is even more country, but a more stompin’ country with lots of fiddle from Burke and old-fashioned harmonies.

The album, What Will We Do, which follows their self-titled 2016 debut, fits within the stylistic paradigms for American roots music, but the songwriters also bring personal specificity and a modern edge — they pose questions about identity, history, and the principles of justice. In a statement on Lula Wiles’ website, Obomsawin explains, “We wanted to make an album that reflected, in a current way, what we are all staying up late thinking about and talking about over drinks at the dinner table […] What is everyone worried about, confiding in their friends about, losing sleep about?”

The first two songs seemed kind of fun (musically at least), but things get more serious when Burke introduced “Shaking as It Turns,”

She explained that she had written the song following the violent neo-Nazi rallies that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

She says it’s about how she felt that summer and how I feel about what it’s like to be a person in America today.  Do you all have feeling about that.  We only have a 20-minute set or we’d expound on that longer–you’ll have to pay attention to the lyrics.

“Is this land yours? Is this land mine?” Burke solemnly wondered between plucks on her banjo. “Baby, do you know just who your enemies are?”

Musically, this was the most interesting with its percussion heavy banjo and loping beat.

Up next is the most powerful and affecting song of the night, “Good Old American Values.”

It is a country waltz on which Obomsawin sang and played a touching upright bass solo. Obomsawin, who is Native American and belongs to the Abenaki Nation, wrote the song “about growing up in a country that was built on the genocide of your people,” she explained.  She was inspired to write the song when protests against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline occurred on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota in 2016.

She doesn’t hold back on the lyrics, and the slow melody allows the words to stand clearly.

“Indians and cowboys and saloons / It’s all history by now, and we hold the pen anyhow / drawing good old American cartoons.” Then, after a verse about “American tycoons kicking their feet up in Cancún,” the chord changes took a dark turn, leading into a steely fiddle solo by Burke. “On those good old American values / There’s a fortune to be made,” Obomsawin concluded at the end of the song.

Obomsawin also told the crowd that she has been working on an essay for the Smithsonian Center’s Folklife Magazine about her experiences growing up as a Native person in Maine — I spoke with her for a few minutes after the show about her writing. Obomsawin explained that Native people are the “most invisible” of any ethnic group in the United States, and that she wanted to write about the many ways in which she sees Native peoples’ history and culture being made invisible in the twenty-first century.

When she was growing up, she and her family were the only Native people in their community, which was predominantly white. Although she did not remember experiencing explicit discrimination, she remembered times when she felt alienated by other people in some ways that were “fetishizing” and other ways that were “just ignorant.” As she became involved in the folk music community as a young person, she realized that the culture of American folk music bears a legacy of using Native tropes in songs and performances — especially Native clothing and images of Native people. These forms of cultural appropriation by white musicians are sometimes so ubiquitous, she noted, that many people don’t even notice they are happening. Obomsawin concluded by saying that when Smithsonian Folklife publishes her piece later this year, she hopes people will “read it with an open mind,” because sometimes Native peoples’ critiques of American culture are “so fundamental,” and they lead so deep down to the core of our country’s history, that they challenge our deepest notions of American identity.

The final song of the night is “Love Gone Wrong” the first track on the new record.  It’s a more rocking song with a nice guitar sound a great harmonies that reminds me of I’m With Her.  This song is a

vulnerable reconciliation about an imperfect romance. “What you got left when the flicker dies out? / Tell me what we’re gonna do now?” Burke and Buckland asked together. After the second chorus, the song suddenly turned slow and brooding as Cohen’s drums began to thunder. “There’s never gonna be a right time,” all three singers cried out together, their close three-part harmonies at their boldest and brightest.

That shift in tempo makes the song so much more dramatic.  It is a great set-ender.

[READ: May 22, 2019] “Enough”

This is a short story of a woman’s life.

The story begins with her as a young girl, the youngest of six, whose job it was to clean the plates after Sunday meals.  Each Sunday was a feast topped off by dessert. Every fourth Sunday was ice cream, the day she loved best.

She would bring in two dishes at a time (it was the good china) and proceed to lick the bowls clean from rim to rim.  She also delighted in the ice cream in her own bowl, but was always told not to be so unladlylike in her enjoyment.

When she got older, she developed “the problem with the couch.”  The problem was that she kept getting caught with a boy on it.  First when she was fourteen, both children blushing brightly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Rivoli, Toronto, ON (November 11, 1989).

“This is not the best sounding show – it sounds like a 25-year-old soundboard from a small club which is what it is – It is very interesting though as it is from a poorly represented period between Greatest Hits and Melville.”

The notes also say:

It contains early versions of Northern Wish, Aliens, Record Body Count, Christopher, King Of The Past, Horses, Chanson Les Reulles, Queer and When Winter Comes. Horses refers to Ozzy getting caught on the high voltage wire. Queer doesn’t have the ending portion yet, lyrics to Soul Glue are not quite the same etc. Plus a bunch of songs which were not played often such as Seems Like, Uptake, Poor Mouth and As I Was Going Down The Stairs (which sounds like it was a precursor to Triangles On The Walls).

I don’t think it’s a precursor actually, but that’s just me.

Northern Wish has a lot of hiss and a rather disconcerting echo on Martin’s vocals. The hiss comes and goes on a few songs, but is mostly absent.

“Aliens” has some notable lyric changes.  “Woodstuck” gets the CSNY intro (which he says they never do anymore).  In this version they sing in silly falsetto.

Northern Wish, Aliens, Record Body Count and Christopher sounds pretty much the same (and very good), although Christopher has some interesting sounds on guitar strings–maybe from Dave?–during the solo.  Christopher: “That was about Etobicoke, where we’re from.” and this [“King of the Past”] is about our trip to Winnipeg (with the disconcerting lyric change: “I won’t close my eyes–oh nevermind” instead of “I won’t close my eyes to the passage of time.”

As the intro to “Horses,” Dave asks, “Hey Mr lighting guy can you make it look like the hull of a freighter?”  or “can you make me look like thee tar of the band?” “Dave Clark responds: “Yes, just turn around and show your ass.”  The song totally rocks, but it’s really weird not hearing the audience sing along to “Holy Mackinaw, Joe.”  I trust they responded appropriately the awesomeness of the ending of the song.

After the song they have “the ceremonial exchanging of the instruments (that we can’t play).”  Martin says he got a book out of the library about ghosts across Canada.  And he wrote this song about it.  Dave interjects, This is dedicated to Jim Hughes.  Then Martin says, “That’s the first time I’ve ever spoken on stage.”  The lyric is “As I was going up the stairs, I met a man who wasn’t there” played with accordion, by Tim I think! (apparently the poem is called “Antigonish”).  They continue with the accordion on “What’s Going On” (which gets cut off).

You gotta stand up for three minutes and 20 seconds while they play the drum-heavy “Chanson Les Reulles” (which Dave says he can’t understand).  They play “Queer” and mess it all up: Clark says “don’t you hate it when the drummer counts in?”  It has a really lengthy intro and no ending.

“This is a song Martin wrote I have no idea what it’s about.  All you guys and girls at the bar, there’s plenty of room up front.”  Seem Like” is a quiet song with some dark lyrics and a cool effects filled guitar break.  “Poor Mouth” is a slow mournful ballad by Bidini (with some loud growls at the end of each section).

They say “It’s hard to tell if we stink or not.”  Clark asks, “Hey Dave, if you were hiding from a guy with a gun, would you stick your fluorescent yellow flag out or would you hide it under your camouflage jacket?”  Not sure if that is an introduction to “When Winter Comes” or not, but the song sounds great.

Dave then does a poem which is kind of stupid (like usual).  Then they play “Good on the Uptake” they played a lot but never officially recorded.  It’s got a lot of their early new wave style but with Martin’s wild guitars.  It segues into a wildly chaotic “PROD.”  Midway through Bidini wanders into the crowd.  He tries to get the audience to sing.  Some do, but one guy speaks it, “oh no, you have to sing melodiously.  That’s why we came out here.”

For the final song, called “Grant’s Song in G,” Clark shouts, “Grant? Sober enough to play drums?  Come on up.”  It’s all silliness for about a minute and then Clark starts singing an intense anti-drug song: “well you had your chance / and you blew it / up your nose / in your arm / in the car at the end of that…” When he shouts “Take it away Marty,” the tape ends.

[READ: August 28, 2016] “Home”

I hate when the first sentence of a story throws you.  I don’t know if it was the typographical layout, but I had to read this sentence three times before it sank in: “Lee was the daughter of his mother’s hairdresser.”

Once unpacked, it made perfect sense.  The He is the main character of the story.  Jim had heard about Lee for years.  She as in an abusive relationship and finally got out. Jim’s mother told him that Lee was looking for a lawyer (which Jim is).  He initially refused but then agreed to take her out to dinner because “she’s a beautiful girl.”

Jim’s ex-wife was pretty, sure, but Lee is stunning.  He can’t believe that he is having dinner and then seeing her in his own house later that night. (more…)

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aug24SOUNDTRACK: IVAN & ALYOSHA-Tiny Desk concert #109 (February 7, 2011).

ivanIvan & Alyosha are a five piece (no one is named Ivan or Aloysha) consisting of Tim Wilson (lead vocals) Ryan Carbary (guitars) Pete Wilson, (Tim’s brother), Tim Kim (acoustic and electric guitars) and drummer Cole Mauro).  They play bouncy folk (I assume that their non-Tiny Desk sound is bigger than two acoustic guitars and a tambourine).

“Beautiful Lie” is the first song.  The lead singer has a gentle falsetto and the other guys add nice harmonies (especially during the oooooooohs).

As they introduce “Easy to Love” Wilson says they recorded it at 2AM in their last half hour at the studio.  And it wound up being the song people like most.  It’s easy to like, with a fun clap-along and a simple electric guitar solo.  Again, I assume the actual song is bigger than this.

“I Was Born To Love Her” is a good jam (their words).  It completes that folks sound with two guitars and lovely harmonies.  They’d be a great opener for Band of Horses.  I’d see that tour.

Incidentally, the band name comes from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

[READ: February 3, 2016] “These Short, Dark Days”

I was planning on saving this story to put it sequentially with the other New Yorker stories that I’ll be posting in the weeks to come.  But this story is set on February 3, so why not post it on that short, dark day, since it is that day, anyhow.

This story begins with a suicide.  A man sees his wife out the door, then covers the windows and door gaps, pulls the gas hose off the stove and brings it with him into the bedroom (who knew the hose would be that long).

The next section of the story jumps to much later as we see a nun, Sister St. Savior, walking down the street.  She is tired and aching from begging all day. But she smells the smell of an extinguished fire and she knows in her heart that she must go there and help.  I love that when she arrives, everyone defers to her.  One of the men even acts as if he has sent for her, when clearly she came of her own design. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KWAN JAI & KWAN JIT SRIPRAJAN-“E-Saew Tam Punha Huajai” (1960s-1980s).

This song is the basis for My Morning jacket’s “Holdin’ on to Black Metal.”  It’s not the inspiration…it’s the exact song.  In fact, it could even be a cover, except with completely different lyrics.  Well, I say completely different lyrics without knowing what the original lyrics are, although it translates as “Advice Column for Love Troubles” which “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” certainly is not.

This original is a tad slower and, perhaps, a tad stiffer (which is funny that it’s on a collection called Siamese Soul).  The riff is pretty cool, and in this version they use (what I assume are) Thai flourishes the keyboards are just all over the place, bringing in a crazily noisy texture.  The vocals are all in Thai (I assume).  But what’s amazing is that the opening vocal melody is copied exactly by MMJ (and then MMJ take it in a very different direction).

After that opening riff, the similarities in vocals end, as the singer (I am so vague about this because I can’t find anything about this album anywhere) takes off on a more conventional non-Western singing style.  I prefer the MMJ version, but this is a fun little addition to Circuital.

Check it out and be surprised.

[READ: January 31, 2012] “Someone”

I normally don’t like titles like this one.  “Someone” seems to show a real dearth of imagination, and it doesn’t really inspire anyone to want to read the story.  Having said that, the title actually proves to be quite apt, albeit only after reading the whole thing.

I haven’t read any McDermott stories before, although I have heard of her, but I have no idea if this is the kind of story she normally writes.

This one is set in 1937.  Marie is 17 and has just been asked by Walter Hartnett what is wrong with her eye.  What’s wrong with her eye is that the sun makes it squint involuntarily.  Walter tells her not to do that, that it makes her whole face look funny.  This must be a charming pick up line circa 1937 because later that day Marie and Walter go on a date.

The story quickly flashes forward to the present–we see Marie examining her squint in the mirror. She also thinks back to when her daughters started dating and she warned them: (a rule that I agree with): “If he looks over your head while you’re talking, get rid of him.”  But the daughters didn’t want to hear another story about Walter Hartnett.  So we get to hear it instead.

On that first date, Walter invited Marie upstairs for a minute.  We all know what getting invited upstairs means, but did it mean that in 1937?  Well, Walter does live with his mom, so maybe not.  But his mom is not home, and there’s beer in the fridge.  And soon enough Marie is having her first kiss.  And Walter doesn’t take it slow.  He’s already moving on to second base–with kissing and biting and….  And then they hear the door open downstairs.  Marie is stunned.  (more…)

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