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Archive for the ‘Garth Greenwell’ Category

garhSOUNDTRACK: CAYETANA-New Kind of Normal (2017).

cayetanOne of the worst feelings is when you find out about a band right after they’ve broken up.

I feel like I’ve been aware of Cayetana forever, but they only formed in 2011. I wonder if there’s another band I’m confusing them with.

Well, Cayetana played their last concert at Union Transfer this past August 3.  It’s nice that they played their final show in front of  a home crowd.  I would have gone had I known I liked them.  Which I now do.

Cayetana were Allegra Anka: bass guitar / back-up vocals; Augusta Koch: guitar / lead vocals; Kelly Olsen: drums / back-up vocals.  For a band with an exotic-sounding name, their music is pretty straightforward.  But boy is it good.

Their songs are pretty standard alt-rock with a 90’s feel, but there’s really interesting instrumentation under Koch’s satisfying vocals.

 One of the most immediately pleasing things is the sound of the bass guitar, and that the bass doesn’t simply follow the guitars–there are basslines galore on this record.  I love the counterpoint of the fast and complex New Order-like bass line and the ringing guitar notes on the opener “Am I Dead Yet?”

There’s great guitars (with feedback) and thumping drums on the really catchy “Mesa.”  There’s great drums on “Too Old For This” as well.

The harmonies are terrific like on “Easy to Love” where you can clearly hear all three of them.

Most of the songs are pretty catchy, but there are few with a twinge of discord.  “Bus Ticket” has some harsh notes and a thumping ending.   And “Side Sleepers” slows things down and feels more bass heavy, which is no bad thing when the basslines are as cool as this one.

“Certain for Miles” starts quietly with just bass and drums but adds a nice ringing guitar about midway through.  The wonderfully titled “Phonics Failed Me” is a midtempo rocker with a great instrumental break.

“Follow” has more of that great opening bass work like The Cure or New Order and “Dust” has an even better bass introduction–slow and moody with lots of bass chords.

“World” ends the disc with a slow moody tone with echoing guitars and lots of great bass lines and chords.  It’s quiet and ends with a car starting up and driving away.

A fitting ending to the bands final album.

[READ: August 22, 2017] “Harbor”

I read a story by Greenwell a couple of years ago.  It was written in 2017.  They are both set in Bulgaria. They both have a character named N.

I found this story confusing, probably because of the cultural information that I couldn’t quite parse.

Underneath all of the action, the narrator is coining for R. who just broke up with him.  Every couple of months he flew to Lisbon to be with R., but R. said he needed to figure things out.  The narrator wanted a new life too.  He was tired of teaching.  But he wanted the new life to come with R. in it.

As with the other story, the Bulgarians and Americans writers are hanging out.  The narrator explains there is no such thing as a Bulgarian professional writer–they all had other careers.  The Americans were younger and boring by comparison.They play spin the bottle.  But before they can finish, the waitress comes over and tells them to stop.  She removes the bottle.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MICACHU & THE SHAPES-“Love or Leave” (Field Recordings, September 19, 2012).

This Field Recording [Micachu & The Shapes: Weeds In The Forest] gets back to the style of the ones I first saw–a band wandering through the woods.  In this case, the three members of Micachu & The Shapes plod through the woods to sit on a tree stump.

Mica plays a very simple melody on a very simple (but surprisingly loud) guitar (held around her neck with a piece of rope tied around the body of the guitar).  I love that she is able to bend a note during his chord (not hard, but cool).

As it opens, backing singer Raisa Khan says “I saw a deer.” Mica asks, “Did you?”

The three of them sing so wonderfully together–the ahhs and oohs fill in the music perfectly with her voice.  The middle section is also a lot of fun when they all sing together in almost deadpan British accent “Cannot wait for my holiday / I’ve had my work cut out for me.”

Why have I never heard of Micachu before?  I don’t know.

Experimental musician Mica Levi, a.k.a. Micachu, doesn’t exactly fit comfortably into her surroundings: She cuts a vaguely otherworldly, not-so-vaguely androgynous figure, and sings strangely pretty, jagged little songs with the aid of odd tunings and a tiny guitar, which dangles from crudely tied twine. She identifies herself as a pop singer, but while her songs are catchy enough, they’re no one’s idea of pop-radio fodder.

But I love this song and I need to hear more.

Taking Micachu on a hike into the sun-dappled woods of Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park makes as much sense as it would to surround her with modern everyday life. So we sat her on a log in the open air, where she sang “Holiday” — from her new album Never — while flanked by Raisa Khan and Marc Pell from her band The Shapes. Together, the three musicians complement the majesty of their surroundings with everything that makes their music work: disarmingly plainspoken charm, ragged beauty, and uniqueness that blooms as naturally as the trees themselves.

I can’t wait to lean more about her.

[READ: November 20, 2018] “The Frog King”

The previous story I read by Greenwell was also about an American teacher living in Sofia, Bulgaria.  That story also dealt with the difficulty of being homosexual, or at least the perception of it in this country.

In this one, however, there is at least some consummation.

This story is quite simple in terms of plot.  In fact, there really isn’t much of one.  Rather, this is a story all about passion and the intensity of first love.

The narrator, an American teacher, has been living with a student, R., for a couple of weeks during the holiday break.  It’s unclear if they are teacher and student themselves or not, but that’s not relevant. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DEL McCOURY BAND-Tiny Desk Concert #771 (August 1, 2018). 

I have really grown to like bluegrass a lot over the years.  And yet I still dislike country.  Never shall the twain meet.

Del McCoury is a bluegrass legend, singing, playing guitar and writing songs for the past 60 years, including his days with the “father of bluegrass,” Mr. Bill Monroe. The Del McCoury Band itself is 50 years strong, and these days includes Del’s sons Robbie on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin and vocals. All are astonishing players, here joined by the five-time award-winning fiddling of Jason Carter and this year’s International Bluegrass Music Association bass player of the year Alan Bartram.

The Band plays three songs (their session runs to nearly 20 minutes because Del talks a lot between songs!).  As the blurb notes:

These are story songs; Del is, of course, quite the storyteller, taking his time between them to reminisce. At 79 years old, he’s got a lot of them tell.

For their visit to the Tiny Desk, the group brought along some traveling songs. The first (of two) train tunes, “That Ol’ Train,” comes from their new album Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass, while their closing gospel tale “All Aboard” is a staple from 2001’s Del and the Boys. The other (a motorcycle song), “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” was written by another master of his craft, British folk icon Richard Thompson, and has been a part of Del’s repertoire for a while now. It shows not only the deep connection that bluegrass has to British folk music, but also Del McCoury’s willingness to keep his sound fresh all these years on.

“That Ol’ Train” is a great introduction (for me) to the group.  The song sounds timeless, even though it is new, with the age old sentiment: “I’d cover every mile of track / I’d bring my baby back / and put a happy ending to this song.”  There’s a wonderful set of solos.  Fiddle then banjo then fiddle and then mandolin solo.  The fiddle player is really amazing, even making the instrument sound like a train whistle.  And the harmonies are pretty sweet as well.

There is a moment, near the top of this Tiny Desk concert — when three voices gather ’round a single microphone to deliver the chorus of “That Ol’ Train” — that is so pure and beautiful

Del introduces the band.  He mentions that Jason Carter has won fiddle player of the year countless times.  But he didn’t win this year.  I don’t know what happened to him.

On the banjo is his son.  He has a new album called “The Five String Flamethrower” because when he plays at night with low stage lights he plays really fast and you can see sparks on the strings because uses metal picks.

He talks about his son on mandolin.  Back in 1983, they were going to tour Europe and he wanted to bring his son along while he was still in high school.   The principal called Del in to talk about the show wondering where they were going.  Del told him, British Isles, Germany, Holland and more.  The principal said he would allow Ronnie to go and he;s not going to have to make up any work he’ll learn a lot over there.

Del says his boys have their own band The Travelin’ McCourys who released an album on the same day at heir bluegrass Festival in Cumberland, Maryland.  Richard Thompson was there this year.  And they played the following song together (which Del and his band have been laying for years).

“1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is done on the banjo with a very different tone.  McCoury sings it wonderfully, but again, it’s doesn’t have the same tone, exactly.  But it still works.  The end of the song is banjo only, and it’s pretty amazing.

Before the final song, Del says, it’s just a little to early to sing.  We usually sing late night, at least 6 o clock. Then he says he has new strings on an old Martin guitar that’s why they’re out of tune.

Del says “I used to write songs myself but I got lazy because people in Nashville give them such good songs.”

“All Aboard” starts with furious banjo picking.  It’s intense and fast.  Del seems to be straining, but in a good way  as he sings the lyrics.  When the harmonies come in mid way through its really powerful.

I’m totally sold on Del McCoury and his family.

[READ: August 22, 2017] “An Evening Out”

This is a simple story with a lot going on in it.

The bulk of the story is about an American teacher in Bulgaria.  He has been there for seven years and has decided to call it quits.

So he is going out for the night with some former students, Z. and N.  There is much drinking.  Since he is leaving Sofia (the capital) they wanted to give him a real Bulgarian night out.

The teacher is very attracted to Z.–a forbidden thing in the country and a far more forbidden thing if he was his teacher (which he no longer is).  In fact Z. and N. both graduated some time ago.  N. had gone to America to be lawyer and had a miserable time.  Z, knew he would and even the teacher knew he would.  But that’s what N.’s mother wanted for him.  He tells them that after the bad year he has decided to student literature.  How did he convince his mother?

I just failed all my classes. (more…)

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