Archive for the ‘Charles Dickens’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAZMINE SULLIVAN-“Stupid Girls” (Field Recordings, August 12, 2014).

NPR and Jazmine Sullivan were in New Orleans’for the Essence Music Festival.

I’m intrigued that this Field Recording [Jazmine Sullivan Fades A New Orleans Barber Shop] is the second one set in a barbershop (technically, this is the first one as I have been watching them in backwards order).

This barbershop, Claer-Vue, is just a few blocks from the Superdome, just off Canal Street. It has been in business since 1948.  It is a men’s barbership and I know that a barbershop is part of the culture but nearly every man waiting to get their hair cut has really short hair already–like closely buzzed.  Are they hanging out or do they get it cut daily?

I had never heard of Jazmine, but she was apparently known to at least some of the patrons

When she walked in, patrons and barbers alike were wary. But they knew who she was, from hit songs like “Bust Your Windows” and “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” And when she began to sing, wearing her powerhouse instrument lightly, everyone ceded her a floor that had been previously occupied by a heated debate about college football.

With just an acoustic guitar accompanying her, she sings her beautiful song.  Her voice is clear and pretty and devoid of all the trills and filigree of pop singers.

To a roomful of captivated men, she sang a brand new song, “Stupid Girls,” that warns women to be careful with their hearts.

You can see most of the men nodding along. Most are deferential, with side-eyed glances.   There’s polite applause at the end, but Jazmine is pretty pleased with herself–as she should be.

[READ: September 14, 2018] “Cecilia Awakened”

Tessa Hadley continues to make wonderful stories where nothing seems to happen, but there is a lot going on internally.

Like the way this one starts:

Cecilia awakened from her childhood while she was on holiday in Italy, the summer she turned fifteen.  It was not a sexual awakening, or not exactly–rather, an intellectual or imaginative one.

Cecilia is described as an odd child, but one who fit in perfectly with the oddity of her parents.  Her father worked at a university library and her mother, Angela, wrote historical novels.  Most of all they both loved the past.  When they had Cecilia–late in their lives–they did not feel any need to conform to society any more than they already did.  (more…)

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CV1_TNY_06_08_15_09.inddSOUNDTRACKKEVIN MORBY & KATIE CRUTCHFIELD-“Downtown’s Lights” NPR’S SOUTH X LULLABY (March 20, 2018).

I don’t know if Bob Boilen ever explained how he starte dto get people doing South X Lullabies, but here he explains why he started doing them:

In the midst of all the chaos that is Austin, Texas during the SXSW Music Festival, we seek moments of calm. And so one night, as the week was nearing its end, we made our way to the courtyard of St. David’s Episcopal Church, just a few blocks from the thousands of festival participants and onlookers. There we found a trickling garden-side waterfall, where Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby performed “Downtown’s Lights,” from Kevin Morby’s recent album, City Music.

I don’t know Kevin Morby.  I’ve heard of him, but aside from a Tiny Desk Concert, I’ve never explored his music.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a simple folk song.  He’s got a bit of a Bob Dylan delivery in what feels like a very deliberate folk song.  Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee who I’m excited to see in a few weeks.  Waxahatchee has been really rocking out the last few albums, so this folk song (and her Southern accent) stand out somewhat.

Their voices work nicely together, and that moment when you hear someone yelling, it almost sounds like a wolf howling.

“Downtown’s Lights” is a song of comfort and prayer for someone who is down and out in the city, and this version, with Katie singing — and the sounds of the city echoing in the background — is wistful and peacefully perfect.

[READ: April 13, 2016] “Two Emmas”

Back in June of 2009, The New Yorker had their annual summer fiction issue.  Included in that issue were three short essays under the heading of “Summer Reading.”  I knew all three authors, so I decided to include them here.

This essay was about Roger Angell’s summer home in Maine.

He says that on late February nights his mind often returns to his family’s cottage in Maine and the books that are on its shelves.

Those books have been there for as long as he can remember, and have been read and re-read every summer.  The list is interesting:

Good Behaviour [Molly Keane], Endurance [Alfred Lansing], Framley Parsonage [Anthony Trollope], Get Shorty [Elmore Leonard], Daisy Miller [Henry James], Dracula [Bram Stoker], Butterfield 8 [John O’Hara], Goodbye to All That [Robert Graves], Why Did I Ever [Mary Robison], Oblomov [Ivan Goncharov], The Heart of the Matter [Graham Greene], Sailing Days on the Penobscot [George Savary Wasson], The Moonstone [Wilkie Collins], Possession [A. S. Byatt], Morte d’Urban [J. F. Powers], Quartet [Jean Rhys], Emma [Jane Austen] and dozens more. [I have to chime in and say that this sounds heavenly].

He says that fat books like Martin Chuzzlewit [Charles Dickens], Orley Farm [Anthony Trollope] and the Forsythe Saga [John Galsworthy] were saved for a tedious week of Down East fog. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALICE RUSSELL-Tiny Desk Concert #288 (July 15, 2013).

I read the name Alice Russell and pictured some kind of folk artist.  Boy, was I surprised to see a woman with  bleached blonde hair, a leather jacket and a funny t-shirt.  And then her band started playing low groovy soulful music.

Turns out:

Russell is a classic soul-infused singer — close your eyes and it’s easy to hear a Southern drawl, but truth be told, she’s a Brit. American-style R&B from Britain has a long history dating back to the 1960s with Dusty Springfield and on up through 21st-century artists like Adele. As for Alice Russell, she’s been making great soul music for 10 years, and her arrangements on To Dust often include a dose of electronics.

I didn’t love her voice when the first song “To Dust” started.  But as soon as the chorus kicked in I was hooked–wow, what a great voice she has and with the full band playing behind her it sounded amazing (the sampled backing singers was a bit flat, but otherwise OK).  And by the second chorus, man she is belting out the song—it’s great.  The Adele comparisons are spot on.

Then she hit Bob’s gong at the end of the song and told us that it was an ode to the taxman.

“For a While” is a great big soul song.  The drummer gets some great sounds out of that one drum he has.  And they keys sound great too.  I love the middle part where there’s some seriously long pauses in between beats–they are all wonderfully in sync.  At the end of the song she yells “I didn’t gong!” and then makes a peculiar hand gesture about a turtle.

“Heartbreaker” has such a classic-sounding riff it’s hard to believe it’s a new song.  I like it a lot (although I don’t care for the chanted “when it falls, when it breaks” by the guys).

I have to agree with this blurb about her:

To Dust is Russell’s fifth album, but the hiatus that followed 2008’s Pot of Gold may be the reason too many people don’t yet know what she’s doing. This stuff is as powerful as the work of any American singer making soul music in the 21st century. If you haven’t heard of her yet, think of this as a well-overdue introduction.

[READ: May 15, 2016] I Kill the Mockingbird

I bought this book from the bookstore in Bethlehem, PA.  I don’t buy too many books these days but I saw this one in the PA authors section (and it was 20% off) and the title sounded intriguing.  So I grabbed it.

And I’m I glad I did. This book was outstanding.  I loved it from the first chapter and was thrilled that the ending was also very satisfying–not easy given the way the story was heading for a conclusion that could have gone in many different directions.

So what’s this about?  Well, there are three kids, Lucy Elena and Michael.  They are at the heart of the story.  I loved loved loved that these three were great friends who’d known each other forever.  And they were all big big big readers. Such an awesome start to a story. (more…)

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storiesSOUNDTRACKPOLYPHONIC SPREE-Tiny Desk Concert #259 (December 21, 2012).

The Polyphonic Spree performs a Tiny Desk Concert.I really enjoyed Polyphonic Spree’s first album (and their strange robes and cult-like following (apparently even within the band).

They put out a Christmas album some time ago, and since we have a big pile of Christmas albums, I grabbed that one.  I didn’t love it, but it was a fun addition to our collection.

This Tiny Desk Concert is notable for just how many members of the band are behind (and on the side of) the Tiny Desk (perhaps 18?).

And the band is suitably musical–trombone, trumpet, keys, drums, bass, cello, violin and a ten (or so) piece choir.

Interestingly, I find that the weak link in this whole thing is leader Chris DeLaughter.  It’s just that his voice is really not that interesting. It’s especially notable on “The Christmas Song” where he sings some high notes unaccompanied.  When the choir comes in (and they change the melody) it sounds really cool.  I especially love the way they make “reindeer really know how to fly” into a high note.

The first song is “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” which I feel is the Christmas song they might be best known for.  It’s pretty traditional to the original, with the choir filling in for the kids.  The addition of horns really adds a lot to it.

“Silver Bells” gets a pretty rocking treatment–the buildup at the beginning is pretty cool.  They change the main melody to an almost circus-like waltz. I love the way it sounds when everyone joins in–and when the choir is singing along to the rocking end (with a very different melody) it sounds great.  But once again DeLaughter’s voice doesn’t seem up to the task of leading this larger group.

But it’s festive and fun, especially with everyone in red robes (and DeLaughters green one).

[READ: December 2016] Christmas Stories (1854-1864)

Last year, I started reading some Charles Dickens Christmas Stories in December.  I imagined that I’d finish the whole book this season (all 750 pages of it), but I didn’t come close.  I enjoy these stories but they are not quick reads by any standard.

The fascinating thing with a lot of these stories is that they appeared in All the Year Round, a Victorian periodical founded and owned by Dickens and published between 1859 and 1895 throughout the United Kingdom.  But just because these stories came out for the Christmas issue doesn’t mean they have anything to do with Christmas directly.

I thought I’d be reading a whole chunk of the book in a row, but I wound up skipping around a bit.  Maybe next year I’ll finish the remaining stories. (more…)

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books SOUNDTRACK: PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #328 (December 21, 2013).

peshallThis show is tangentially Christmassy.  I mean, it does feature a tuba player in a Santa Claus outfit, after all.  But the music isn’t Christmassy per se (except for one song).

Rather, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band does what it does best–play fun dancey jazz songs.  There’s trumpet (and trumpet solos) and trombone, there’s saxophone and piano and most importantly, there are two, count em, two tubas!

“Sugar Plum” is their instrumental version of a holiday song (about the sugar plum fairy).  It’s a fun bouncy swinging song.  “I Think I Love You” has vocals, and they are fine, but it makes the band swing a little less.

“Happy Holiday” is indeed a Christmas song, and a nice one with sweet lyrics.  It’s also got a lengthy some trade off trombone and saxophone solos.

The final song, “Dear Lord,” sees the Santa tuba player removing his instrument and taking over as lead singer (and commenting that he’s from the South Pole which is why he is so hot).  This final song seems to be a familiar one with people singing and clapping along as he blesses everyone from South Pole to North.

[READ: December 23, 2015] The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain

This is the final book in the Christmas Books collection. And it does return to the Spirit of Christmas more than the previous stories did.

As I learned from the previous story, the plot is quite simple but its length comes primarily from Dickens’ intense amount of detail (and lots of humor).

The story focuses on Mr. Redlaw.  Redlaw is a chemist and a kind man.  But he is beset upon by sadness at all of the things that have happened to him in his past.  One night he is visited by a spirit (who seems to be something of a version of himself, maybe?).  The spirit tells him that he can help to “forget the sorrow, wrong, and trouble you have known.”  Basically he proposes that he will remove all of the bad memories Redlaw has ever had.  And if he accepts this proposal, he will also be able to do this to everyone else that he meets.

This seems like a good deal–no bad memories!  So he accepts. (more…)

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books SOUNDTRACK: MATT WILSON’S CHRISTMAS TREE-O-Tiny Desk Concert #99 (December 20, 2010).

trreoMatt Wilson is a jazz drummer.  And he joined forces with Paul Sikivie on bass and reedman Jeff Lederer on saxophone, clarinet and piccolo.

Wilson is a great drummer and he normally plays standard (if wild) jazz.  But for this group (the name is an indicator of the silliness), they play a spirited and fun set of Christmas songs–some of them crazy and unrecognizable and others simply fun and jazzy.  And despite the fact that Wilson does some amazing things with just a snare and a cymbal, it’s hard not to say that the show belongs to Lederer.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” starts out pretty straightforward.  The initial melody is present and then Lederer goes off on a lengthy solo in the middle.  “O Come All You Faithful” is a sing-along in which Lederer plays a very slow staccato line on clarinet for the audience to sing along with.  It’s Sikivie’s steady bass that keeps the crowd in line.  Meanwhile Wilson is playing his brushes on everything–his snare, a desk, anything that comes along.  It’s good fun with everybody really getting into it by the end.  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” starts out slow with Lederer’s sax laying down a smooth melody line and then drifting into his own space.  It’s quite pretty if unusual.

“Angels We Have Heard on High” is audio only and it begins with a rattling of jingle bells and Lederer’s skronking sax (I’d actually like to see that part–it seems like the most interesting visual songs are the ones left off the video).  Then he starts playing a sax melody (although nothing like “Angels” normally sounds).  There is some notation of “Angels” by the end, but it’s very minimal.  The most unlikely Christmas song ever (well, until what comes next).

The final song is a version of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” and it is completely unrecognizable.  It opens with skronking sax noise and martial drums.  Aside from a few seconds where the bass plays a part of the familiar melody, the rest is mostly noise.  As the song draws to a close Matt starts playing the four note “ha – leh – lu – jah” on the snare, he then starts hitting that rhythm on everything–the rim, the bookcase, he even grabs a mug off the shelf and plays it on that.  It’s pretty funny and clear that Wilson is having a grand old time.

This nonsense ends when Lederer picks up the piccolo and plays a fun if silly version of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” which is very slow despite Matt’s super fast drumming.

It’s a funny, silly good time and an unexpected way to sing Christmas carols.

[READ: December 18, 2015] The Battle of Life

This book is the third of four in the collected Christmas Books.  This book is very tangentially related to Christmas (although he did publish it as a Christmas book) as one section takes place at Christmas time.

The thing that I really caught on to while reading this is that Dickens’ stories were really written for a very different time.  His books unfold slowly.  I find that I like to read fast (as many others do, I suspect), and I think the reason people dislike Dickens is because he really forces you to slow down.  But if you do slow down, you can really appreciate his descriptions and his humor.

This story begins on a battlefield.  And Dickens tells us all about the battle that took place here and all the people who died here.  For several paragraphs he goes on about it.  And then you learn that the battle has nothing to do with the story–except as an underpinning to the attitudes of people who live there.

Rather, the story is set on the battlefield many many many years later (and has nothing to do with the battle).  For this is a love story, after all. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: December 18, 2015] A Christmas Carol

gaimanchristmasJust like two years ago when we saw A Christmas Carol, a few days later I listened to the audio book.  This year, I found a different reading of it by Neil Gaiman.  This one comes from the New York Public Library podcast, and is available on Soundcloud and iTunes.

What makes this reading unique (and now different from Patrick Stewart’s awesome reading and from the McCarter production (which is different from the book as well) is that the version Gaiman read was hand-edited by Dickens for his own performances.  What?

Yes, evidently Dickens performed this story live a few times.  As the NYPL site explians:

Charles Dickens could not only write a crackling good story, he could perform it. And so in 1853, he took his Christmas Carol show on the road, first in Britain and then in the United States. Audiences loved it. Dickens didn’t simply read from his book. He transformed it into a stageworthy script—cutting, pasting together pages of excised passages, adding stage cues for himself, rewriting, then cutting some more…. Indeed, there is only one such copy of A Christmas Carol, created by Dickens himself, and The New York Public Library has it.

Gaiman read the “as the great author intended, following edits and prompts Dickens wrote in his own hand for his unique readings 150 years ago.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 10, 2015] A Christmas Carol

xmasLast night we attended McCarter’s production of A Christmas Carol for the second time (first time was two years ago).  We went specifically because it is the last time that they are doing this particular performance of the show (it has been the same for 16 years).  Next year they will be doing something entirely new.

We were pretty staggered by the pricing (last time we got super cheap seats but they were pretty far into the corner which ruined some of the magic).  But there was a Black Friday special and we had awesome seats (the woman next to me was mad that we paid literally half her price, muhahaha, Scrooge alert!).  But wow, what seats!

The show felt more magical and more moving than last time (I was a blubbery mess by the end).  It was awesome to see that the entire set was crooked (a great, disconcerting effect).  And to really see the sets come forward and the spirit of Christmas future as soon as he came out, those were very cool moments.  T. asked if we can sit in the front row next year.

2015-12-10 20.47.46It was also interesting to see who was different in the cast this year.  I recognized a few returning members–James Ludwig is awesome as Fred, Scrooge (Graeme Malcolm) was the same (and was awesome–I loved the way he did little things, like kick a rug into place, which were “accidents” but were totally in character).  And there were clearly some new faces and new actors.   You can see the whole cast at the McCarter site.

And I just read (in New Jersey Stage) that apparently many in the cast are quite well known:

Boasting a gigantic list of Broadway, regional and international credits, the cast of A Christmas Carol includes Leah Anderson, Allison Buck, Billy Finn, Kathy Fitzgerald, Nike Kadri, David Kenner, January LaVoy, James Ludwig, Bradley Mott, Anne O’Sullivan, Sari Alexander, Gabriel Bernal, Andrew Clark, Jean G. Floradin, Heather Gault, Michael John Hughes, Sophie Lee Morris, Gregory Omar Osborne, Patrick Roberts, Daniella Tamasi, and Arielle Taylor.

I just re-read what I had written two years ago and found that I felt exactly the same.  So for the rest of the post I am going to keep everything the same (with a few updates).

It’s like a Christmas tradition. (more…)

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textsSOUNDTRACK: MANATEE COMMUNE-“Wake” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2015).

manateeLast week, a Tiny Desk Contest winner was announced. This week, All Songs Considered posted ten runners up that they especially liked.  And I want to draw extra attention to a couple of them.

I know very little about these bands, so I assume that Manatee Commune is just this one guy doing some pretty electronic music (with some live flourishes on top–but not looped apparently).

When there’s a cheesy black curtain, you know that it is either hiding something or covering something up.

Manatee Commune’s setting looks like he’s trying to hide something.  He plays it up by having furniture in front of the curtain which is slowly removed.  And then we learn what he is hiding—it’s a pretty magnificent reveal

The song is pretty cool too. It’s electronic (I’m not sure how it’s all playing–I don’t know much about electronic equipment these days). But the drums sure seem live when he bangs on them.  (And I enjoyed the way he discards the sticks when he is done). The live violin at the end is also a nice touch.

The song is interesting, although it’s not my favorite.  This is one where the video really sells the song.


[READ: January 3, 2015] Texts from Jane Eyre

Sarah brought this book home from the library.  When I first heard about it a while back I thought it was a re imagining of Jane Eyre as text messages.  And I thought that was a really lame idea (and honestly isn’t the Jane Eyre trend over yet?).

That’s not quite what this book is though (note the subtitle).

Rather, it is a collection of imagined text messages between two (or more) characters from famous classics (and some non classics) of literature.  Knowing the originals helps tremendously, although sometimes even just knowing what the originals are about will do enough to make the jokes funny.

But the thing I found was that even though I fancy myself a well-read person who has read many of the stories, I didn’t always “get” what the joke was about.  I mean, I could tell obviously from the conversation what they were talking about, but I couldn’t always connect it to the story.  So basically this book made me feel really dumb. (more…)

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books SOUNDTRACK: MY MORNING JACKET-Does Xmas Fiasco Style: We Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! (2000).

mmjxmasWe heard a song from this on WXPN the other day and Sarah bought it for me for Christmas.  I have really liked My Morning Jacket’s newer music, and I like their earlier stuff, but a little less.  This seems to fall somewhere in between.

This also seems to be about the worst actual Christmas album that I like very much.  There is virtually no Christmas feel to it, even if many of the songs feature the word Christmas somewhere.  Basically My Morning Jacket are doing their own thing, and they sound great–lengthy jams of acoustic alternative rock and Jim James’ soaring vocals.  It’s a lovely piece of music, it just doesn’t feel like Christmas (so it was nice to end the Christmas music posts with it).

There are six songs “Xmas Curtain” would be released on their second album the following year (so they made this after releasing one album!).  It is a cool song although it seems to be more about criminals than Christmas.  There are lovely harmonies and a strange steel drum sound for the melody.  “I Just Wanted to Say” is a slow guitar picked song.  It does reflect holiday sentiment: “wishing you happy holidays.” Once again gorgeous chorus and harmonies.  Although there’s a long instrumental section at the end which kind of makes it lose the Christmas spirit (the song is over 6 minutes long).

“Christmas Time is Here Again” is really the first explicit Christmas song. It’s a lovely song and kinda feel Christmasey.  Of course, if they  wanted a nice simple Christmas song it should end at 3:40.  But rather they tack on a lengthy (very pretty) instrumental section. I love what they play, but it make you lose sight of the earlier part of the song even if the lyrics do repeat again. The bells are nice at the end.

“New Morning” is a Nick Cave song, not exactly Christmasey but very pretty.  The other very Christmasey song is “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”  This is apparently an Elvis song (the backing vocals of “Chris-mussss”) give it a very fifties sound.  This could also easily end at 4 minutes, but they tack on a bunch of guitar nonsense at the end for an extra minute and a half.  These little flourishes aren’t bad, and this is clearly a fun fan record, but you’re not going to get on a Christmas compilation with all that extra business.

The final song is a “hidden track.”  It is the lengthy instrumental from “Christmas Time is Here Again” but played by itself (with the whole band).  As I said, it’s lovely.  Of course it’s fades after 2 minutes, but then gets louder and runs a total of 7 minutes–those jokesters.

[READ: December 10, 2014] The Chimes

I didn’t know this story at all.  It turns out to be more of a New Year’s story than a Christmas story, despite it being in the Christmas Books book.

The story is centered around Toby Veck, known as Trotty because of his usual walk.  Trotty is a messenger.  But his main feature is that he is obsessed with the chimes, the Bells, at the churchtower.  He believes that they speak to him.  It sounds like he sleeps out under the bells, but I gather that he actually just spends most of his time outside so he can be a messenger to others.

It is a cold cold New Year’s Eve night.  His daughter, Meg, brings him a large feast of tripe (she drags out his trying to guess what it is).  He is thrilled at the boon of such a feast.  While he is enjoying the food, she reveals that she is going to get married to her fiancee Richard the next day. Trotty seems concerned by this but before he can say anything, he is interrupted by Alderman Cute and his associate Mr Filer.  The Alderman basically gives them all a hard time.  He criticizes Trotty for eating tripe (which he says is the most wasteful of all foods?!), he criticizes the poor in general (and talks about arresting just about everyone) and he criticizes Meg and Richard for planning to get married.  He says that Richard could do much better and that if they do marry they will just wind up poor with unwanted children.  What a dick. (more…)

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