Archive for the ‘Jeff Kinney’ Category

 doubledownSOUNDTRACK: JAKE SCHEPPS’ EXPEDITION QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #187 (January 19, 2012).

jakeJake Schepps’ Expedition Quartet is a somewhat unusual string quartet in that the instruments are violin and upright bass (normal) but also guitar and banjo.  And so the songs have a classical feel–melodies repeated in a fugue style, but with the prominence of the banjo, it feels more like a folk song.  The violin takes on a kind of fiddle sound.  And that’s interesting enough, but it’s the story of the music that they are playing which makes it even more fascinating:

About 100 years ago, Béla Bartók was traipsing through his native Hungary (Romania and Slovakia, too) with a bulky Edison phonograph, documenting folk songs and dances. There’s a priceless photo of the young composer, his contraption perched on an outside windowsill with a woman singing into the horn while anxious villagers stare at the camera. By 1918, Bartók had amassed almost 9,000 folk tunes. He made transcriptions of some; others he arranged for piano, while elements of still others found their way into his orchestra pieces and chamber music.

This was the country music of Eastern Europe, and its off-kilter rhythms and pungent melodies continue to captivate music lovers and musicians like Colorado-based banjo player Jake Schepps, who has recorded an entire album of Bartok’s folk-inspired music.

For this concert, with fellow members of Expedition Quartet — violinist Enion Pelta-Tiller, guitarist Grant Gordy and bass player Ian Hutchison, they played a Bartók hoe-down of sorts.

They play three pieces:

“Romanian Folk Dances: ‘Stick Game'”  Bartók (arr. Flinner).  This is a quieter piece with moments of bounce.  Indeed, Schepps doesn’t feel like the leader of this group because everyone shares the spotlight.  The guitar takes a lengthy solo–its got a very jazzy feel (which is a little weird on an acoustic guitar).  The violin takes a pizzicato solo, which is neat.  When Schepps finally does do a solo it’s not a showoffy banjo solo, it just fits in well with what everyone else is playing.

“For Children (Hungarian Folk Tunes): ‘Stars, Stars Brightly Shine'” Bartók (arr. Schepps).  This is a slower tune and it is much shorter as well—it doesn’t really lend itself to soloing.  Although the violin takes on the lead melody and it sounds mournful and beautiful.

“Mikrokosmos No. 78 / ‘Cousin Sally Brown'” Bartók / traditional (arr. Schepps).  Before this track, when someone tells Schepps that No 78 is his favorite of the Mikrokosmos, he says that he prefers 79.  The bassist says that 79 has gotten too commercial.  The end of the song has a tag of “Cousin Sally” a rollicking traditional dance number.  The four seems to play somewhat at odds with each other briefly and when they all rejoin for the end—it’s pretty great.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down

I keep expecting the quality of the jokes in the Wimpy Kid books to decline.  But rather, this book was not only hilarious, but it worked really well as a book, too.

What I mean is that, I know that the Wimpy Kid series is online and that Kinney does a new story every day (or at least he did , I don’t know if he still does).  These books had always been taken from the online site (and I assume they still are).  But somehow, this book has jokes that circle back to jokes earlier in the book.  There’s at least a half a dozen callbacks which makes this book more than just a collection of diary entries…it’s a perfectly contained unit with a satisfying ending.


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 schoololsSOUNDTRACK: KHAIRA ARBY-Tiny Desk Concert #94 (November 29, 2010).

khairaA year ago I would have said I know nothing about music from Mali, but the shows at NPR have given me a greater appreciation of it.  And, while I wouldn’t say I’d have been able to pick this out as music from Mali, I definitely recognized the style of the what I’m going to call fiddly guitar that seems to be prominent in Mali music.

You can really hear how good guitarist Drahmane Toure is with the way he keeps up the constant soloing and fiddly bits.  It brings a cool distinctive sound to the otherwise steady rhythm from the bass and percussion (which looks like a beautifully carved salad bowl covered in duct tape).

The rest of the band includes an acoustic guitar, a bass backing singers and some other instrument that i can’t figure out.

Of course, this show is meant to celebrate singer Khaira Arby, the queen of desert rock.  And she is fine.  I don’t really have much to say about her.  She sings perfectly for this music, and sounds almost more like a prayerful singer than a professional one.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School

Clark said that this book was the best Wimpy Kid yet (a claim he has made before, so this must be really great).  My story about this book is that I knew the cover was black and I know basically what the back cover looks like, so when we saw Age of Ultron this summer, imagine my surprise to see that the boy was reading this book (which didn’t come out until last week).  Movies are magic.

Anyhow, this book begins in September with some hilarious snark about “the good old days.”  I love Greg’s reaction, “I think they’re just jealous because MY generation has all this fancy technology and stuff they didn’t have growing up.”  And now Greg’s mom’s big kick is to get everyone to unplug.  To unplug and reconnect with the community. (more…)

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longSOUNDTRACK: OLOF ARNALDS-Tiny Desk Concert #93 (November 22, 2010).

olof Olof Arnalds is from Iceland and she sings in Icelandic.  She sings a kind of experimental folk, although in this Tiny Desk it is just her and a partner, Davíð Þór Jónsson, playing acoustic guitars.

And playing acoustic guitars keeps these songs pretty grounded.    Arnalds is a classically trained violinist, but she sticks to guitar on two of the tracks.

“Innundir Skinni” is a beautiful melody and our first exposure to Arnald’s voice, which is certainly unconventional.  Her voice is quite high and really rather lovely, just more Icelandic than Western.  Although even though she sings in Icelandic, anyone can sing along to the “la la la” part.

On “Surrender” she plays a churango made from an armadillo shell.  It brings a beautiful delicateness to this song.  I love the staccato chorus

“Crazy Car” sung in English as a duet, in which their accents and non-English delivery (especially Davíð’s) is most notable. The end, when she sings a different vocal melody is lovely.

Her voice might be off-putting to some, but I always like to hear someone with a bit of character.

[READ: November 10, 2015] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

This has been my favorite Wimpy Kid book so far.   I tend to like the ones that focus on a single long event and the whole family more than lots of little episodes at school.  So this book, which follows the Heffley family on a summer road trip was perfect for me.

I also love the way Kinney taps into real things but modifies them just enough to make them somehow even funnier.  Like the way he creates the magazine Family Frolic (but uses the font of Family Fun magazine) and describes it perfectly–showing idealized family moments which no family can ever hope to recreate.   There’s also the hilarious way that trying to surprise kids with a trip can backfire (Manny is so excited to visit their aunt, that they have to delay their real trip to Disney World).

I also enjoyed the use of Flat Stanley (from the book by Jeff Brown) and the hilarious way he changed Captain Underpants to Underpants Bandits (by Mik Davies, rather than Dv Pilkey) which allowed him to make his own underwear jokes. (more…)

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stickdogSOUNDTRACK: BABYMETAL – メギツネ – Megitsune (2013).

baby My friend Lar introduced me to this colossal mash-up known as Babymetal just yesterday, and I am utterly hooked by this completely fabricated band.

The visuals absolutely make this song what it is, because without seeing it you probably can’t imagine what is actually happening.

This song is a super heavy thrash metal song.  Even when a hyperkinetic keyboard riff gets laid over the top of it, it still maintains that thrashy sound.  Then three junior high school aged girls start singing.  In Japanese.  The lead singer has a great voice that fits in very well especially around the 90 second mark when the song gets very catchy and swerves into a pop metal vein.  The other two sing in very high-pitched, only-in-Japan voices.  Some time around 2 minutes she starts screaming (heavily processed) adding a  whole new dimension of noise to the song.  And we all like the break around 3:12 which has a brief spoken word section (man I wish I knew what she was saying).

And so this winds up being a meeting of death metal and J-Pop.  And your mind will explode when you watch it.  The video shows the three girls doing their best kawaii–being adorable, in school girl outfits–while headbanging.  And the musicians behind them are all wearing masks and playing traditional Japanese-looking obi and drums while shredding like maniacs.

Everything about this is so artificial that I just love it.  Looking for any info about them, really all you read about is the three girls, there is no mention of the musicians who play amazingly fast and precise shredding guitars solos and can also switch gears into pop and (on some other songs) dance and rap.  I have no idea what this song is about, but I am totally hooked on it.  I imagine this will be a passing phase, but man, what a fun one to get hooked on.

[READ: March 3, 2014] Stick Dog

C. wanted me to grab him this book at the library and then proceeded to devour it in a few minutes. Then he suggested I should read it too.  So I did, and I devoured it pretty quickly too.  Obviously the precedent of the Wimpy Kid books is at play here–a short funny book that combines paragraphs of text and simple drawings, but this story doesn’t really have anything really in common with the Wimpy series.  Because this is all about a dog.

Stick Dog lives alone in a tunnel (but Watson assures us not to feel badly for him).  He has four friends: Poo-Poo (C. loved that name) who is a poodle; Stripes, a dalmatian; Karen, a dachshund and Mutt, a mutt.  The very simple plot of this story is that Stick Dog and his friends want to steal hamburgers from a family picnicking in the park.  That’s it.

The joy of the book is listening to Stick Dog (the smart ones) and his friends (mm, not so smart) try to figure out how to accomplish this task.  Watson prefaces the story by explaining that he could just write “woof woof” but it’s much easier for everyone if he just translates it into English for us.  The dogs are easily distracted by squirrels and garbage.  But when they put their minds to it, they come up with over-elaborate plans (and are offended when Stick Dog points out their lack of common sense).  And just as they are sure to go on a plan that works, Karen gets lost in the tall grass, and the others spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to best remember her. (more…)

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luckyThis song made the XPN Kid’s Corner Top ten.   When the played it on the radio, I was surprised at how ..quiet it was.  Even now listening to it, it just seems like all of the sounds are at the same level, it all kind of blends together, which is a shame because the song is really kind of fun.

Now that I’ve listened a few times I like it more.  It actually has a kind of Death Cab for Cutie feel.  The bass is particularly nice, but of course the fun part is the lyrics (a thingamajig, a whatchamacallit, who what where why).

So a couple of listens and I’m won over by the song.  I wish it was a bit more dynamic in the production, but it’s a catchy little number.  And I’m curious to hear what the rest of the album sounds like.

[READ: December 27, 2013] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck

Clark was so excited for this book!  This is the first one that he knew about before I did.  We decided to save it for a Christmas present, and man was he chomping at the bit.  He even borrowed it from a friend (because there were 100 people on the waiting list a the library).  And yet, even though he had already read it, when it arrived on Christmas, he was still really excited.  And has already read it four times.

And what was sweeter was that he really wanted me to read it.  He thought it was the best one yet.

I was surprised by this as the whole first section is about how lost Greg feels now that Rowley has a girlfriend, Abigail.  I can’t really imagine how he related to that as it’s not an issue for an 8-year-old (in fact the whole series is skewed a little old for an 8-year-old, but he still loves it).  Mostly Greg isn’t so much jealous that Rowley has a girlfriend so much as he is jealous that she is keeping Rowley from being Greg’s slave, I mean, friend.  Normally, Rowley walks in front of Greg to look out for the (newly added, I think) Mingo kids who threaten anyone who comes close to their wood (which is on their way to school) or for dog land mines–the scene where the dog figures out how the electric fence works is so funny.  And speaking of dogs, Clark absolutely cracked up about the joke with the little dog Sweetie who sniffs herself if you make a raspberry sound near her. (more…)

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vordakSOUNDTRACK: TROUT FISHING IN AMERICA-“I Got a Cheese Log” (2004).

fishesWe bought the Trout Fishing in AMerica Christmas CD (Merry Fishes to All) this year. It arrived on the day before Christmas, so we didn’t get to listen to it too much).  But I rather enjoyed the nonsense of this song–everybody else got exactly what they wanted for Christmas but “I got a cheese log.”  It’s catchy (with piano, which is a bit unexpected for them) and the punchline of the chorus has a great wanh wanh sound.

But getting only a cheese log is enough to make anyone turn evil.

[READ: December 31, 2012] Vordak the Incomprehensible

Technically, according to the cover,  the author of this book is Vordak the Incomprehensible, but I’m going by the copyright page.

C.’s school had a Scholastic book fair.  I grabbed this book (with its large $2.50 sticker on the cover) figuring I could get him a surprise gift.  Of course, the people who work the Scholastic Book Fair seem to have no idea that one might be trying to surreptitiously buy a book for the child one is with–imbeciles!  brain-dead nincompoops!! (See the book is working, I feel more evil already).  Anyhow, since C. saw it, I told him that he could “buy” it for me for Christmas.  Which he rather liked.  And so, I read it on the last day of 2012 (making sure he saw me read it).

This book is very funny and a lot of fun.  I feel like it may be a year or two too old for him to really appreciate (like Wimpy Kid)–he would certainly laugh at most of the jokes, but I think it would be really really funny with a bit more, dare I say it, life experiences.

So the book is written by Vordak the Incomprehensible, an evil mastermind who is retiring.  He is passing along every thing he knows to you, the reader, despite his utter lack of faith in your abilities. (more…)

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3rdSOUNDTRACK: PHINEAS AND FERB-“I Really Don’t Hate Christmas” (2009).

doofenI have grown to love Phineas and Ferb ever so much  in the past year.  Holy cow it makes me laugh so much  that I would totally watch  it even without the kids around.

This song, sung by the evil Dr Doofenshmirtz, explains how he has a backstory that makes him hate every holiday except Christmas–he just has a burning indifference to it.  The song is catchy and funny.

Of course since he is an evil scientist, he finds a reason to hate Christmas and launch his naughtyinator.  When carolers come to his door and repeat over and over that they want figgy pudding, he begins to get quite annoyed.  And we get this hilarious exchange:

CAROLERS: (singing) We won’t go until we get some, we won’t go until we get some….

DR. DOOFENSHMIRTZ: What? Are you threatening me? How dare you! No one barges into my home and demands desserts! What sort of plan is that anyway? “Let’s go to a stranger’s house, sing songs to him, and refuse to leave unless he hands us a food dish no one’s prepared since the 16th century!”

Just in time for the holidays:

[READ: December 20, 2012] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel

Clark was more excited for this book than I was!  As soon as he saw it, he grabbed it and ran into his room to read it (for which I was both proud and a little annoyed as I wanted to read it).  I’m not sure how much he could have enjoyed it as it is all about going on a date, but he seemed to like it.

It’s not all about a date though.  It begins with Greg reminiscing about his time in the womb (a very odd thing for Clark to read, I’m sure).  rtHis mom listening to Mozart and just how much he could hear while in there.  Then he talks about his life as a wee one, which is very funny–he learned how to take the batteries out of the remote so his mom couldn’t put the educational shows back on (he’s also annoyed that Manny gets to watch whatever he wants now–no educational TV for him).

But Manny doesn’t come out on top all the time–there’s the boy who acts like a vampire at Sunday School and scares Manny to bits.  This may be why Manny only has imaginary friends (well, that and the fact that their mom reads Manny the children’s book she wrote about the boy who used to bite Greg–it  terrifies Manny).  Of course, the imaginary friends get in trouble for all the things Manny does (maybe Manny does come out on top all the time after all).

One of the funnier aspects of the Wimpy Kid series is the locations that they go to.  Like Corny’s, the family restaurant where the key is fun (not food), and the first time they went Greg almost sat on a PB&J sandwich that was never cleared away.  (And wait till you see what the family next to them are doing!). (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: October 2012] The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity

I found this book because I was looking for audio books for my kids.  When we take longish car trips, they absolutely love audio books (which is pretty frikkin awesome by itself).  Anyhow, I was browsing the shelf and saw this title.  Clark and Tabitha enjoy A to Z Mysteries, so I thought this might be a bit more stimulating (it says it’s for 8-10 year olds, but Tabitha (5) enjoyed it and I didn’t find it too harsh for her).

I had never heard of the author [that is not true…more on that later], but the back of the book had accolades from Jeff Kinney, Dave Eggers and Jon Scieszka a triumvirate of trustworthy praise.

The audio book was read by Arte Johnson (yes, that Arte Johnson).  I don’t know if it was Arte’s delivery, but I enjoyed this book more than anything I have read in a long long time.  I wonder if the book would have been as enjoyable had I read it–I assume so because it was really fantastic, but it was a lot of fun listening with the whole family.

So this story is about 12-year-old Steve Brixton, a regular kid who happens to love the The Brighton Brothers Mysteries, a classic series of adventures (think Hardy Boys) in which two brothers get into scrapes and situations, take out thugs using their combination of brawn and brains and solve the mystery.  Steve loves them so much he has written down all of their suggestions for successful sleuthing which he keeps in his Secret Book Box.  He also got the Detective License for 12 box tops and $1.95.

He and his chum (all good detectives should have a chum) Dana have plans for the weekend until their teacher assigns them an 8 page research paper due on Monday.  Topics are randomly assigned and while Dana gets “detectives,” Steve gets “early American needlework.”  Miss Gilfeather suggests that it might be more interesting than he fears.

And boy is she correct. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FOREVER THE SICKEST KIDS-“What Do You Want from Me?” (2010).

I wanted to a pick a song from this soundtrack to add here.  Evidently there isn’t really a soundtrack so much as a score (who is buying the score from this film?).  Well, I’ll bet it was fun to write a piece called “Zoo Wee Mama.”

Anyhow, this song is apparently in the movie (over the end credits).  According to Amazon, you can order the MP3 that is somehow affiliated with the soundtrack.

So this is a poppy emo song.  It’s got loud guitars and a chanting chorus and it’s pretty darn catchy.  It sounds like so many other bands that I’d never have guessed it wasn’t by any of  dozen bands that are kinda punk but not really with high-pitched singers who are kind of bratty.  This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it–in small doses I like emo a lot.  I dislike that this had a lot of “Hey Ho” chanting which is just way too easy to make it catchy.  But aside from that, I would leave this song on at a party.

The actual Amazon MP3 is a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Mix”.  I have no idea what they have changed about it, though as I only listened to the original.

[READ: April 25, 2012] The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary

I have enjoyed every one of the Wimpy Kid books (and now my son is enjoying them too, although he’s still too young to “get” them).  But I never bothered checking out this book because it seemed, well, unfunny.  Then I saw the book at Five Below for a couple bucks so I grabbed it.

This is a movie tie-in book.  But what’s nice about this book as opposed to many other tie-ins is that Jeff Kinney actually wrote it (I think–his name’s on it, after all).  There are also new drawings that tie in to what he’s writing about and lots and lots of pictures from the movie.

If you’re a fan of the books, this book won’t do a lot for you.  Although there are a few insights into how Kinney got started making his series–including some original drawings.  But if you’re a fan of the movie, you’ll learn a lot.  Kinney talks about how they chose the actors they hired (which was quiet interesting), where the movie was filmed (Vancouver) and what kind of homework he made the two leads do (they had to write an essay from the point of view of who they were playing to make sure they understood the character). (more…)

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Continuing with the randomly numbered Archive releases, Neil Young has released A Treasure, the sixth release (which is labelled #09) in the Performance Series.  This is with the Neil Young band called the International Harvesters.

I had never even heard of this iteration of a Neil Young band–they toured during 1984/5 for the Old Ways album.  This is an album that I barely knew but is one that Sarah loved, so this one is more for her than me.  The band is a very country band–fiddles and slide guitars and all that.  Neil’s even got a twang in his voice.  But even with that, (it’s not my music of choice), this album has a lot of great stuff on it (including five previously unreleased songs).

There are a number of real country songs on this disc–“Amber Jean” and “It Might Have Been” are straight-up country.  Although “Are You Ready for the Country” (which has some major country trappings like that fiddle solo) is actually a bit more of a countrified Neil Young song than a country song per se.  “Nothing is Perfect” is a kind of group sing along.  The kind of song that you might hear at the end of the night at a pub.

Despite this being the Old Ways tour, there are only two songs from that album here.  “Bound for Glory” is the song I knew best from this era.  And it is indeed a very country song (that steel pedal guitar!). “Back to the Country” is the other one, and it, too is a true country song.

“Let Your Fingers Do the Walking” and “Flying on the Ground is Wrong” are different takes on country songs.  The funny thing is that “Flying” (which was originally a Buffalo Springfield song) has a very Neil Young guitar progression built in, during the “I miss you” parts.  He does this very simple chord progression which he uses quite a lot in his songs.

“Motor City” is (another) song about cars.  He may have more songs about cars than Springsteen.  This one is all about his old cars and how “there’s too many Toyotas on the road.”  It’s super catchy, even as I listen to it in my Prius.  “Southern Pacific” is another song that gets a good honky tonk treatment.  It’s seven minutes long with lots of solo.  This is the kind of country-style music I prefer and this one is great with wonderful runs from the fiddles.  Both of these songs appeared on Neil’s Re*Ac*Tor album.

“Soul of a Woman” is more of a blues song, with some country inflections.  And the final song “Grey Riders” is a wonderful stomping track.   It has a great riff and the strings really complement the song.  After all of that country, this song has some awesome screaming guitars on it.  And if you like your Neil rocking, it is absolutely worth it for this song.

The newspaper article that’s included with the set refers to a show during this tour and, not to grouse about a record, but the show it describes sounds awesome–a few old Neil classics at the end of the set which really whetted my appetite for some of those other songs with this band.   But this seems to be a truncated version of that set list.  Nevertheless, as I said, this isn’t my favorite era of Neil’s music, but the band sounds really great.  And these songs shine very nicely.  It’s an enjoyable and unexpected addition to his archives.

[READ: October 20, 2011] Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever

I managed to get on the promotional mailing list for this book and so in addition to the free pencils (awesome!) and posters (3 in my son’s room), I also received an email update about the release almost daily.

I was a little less than 100% happy with the previous Wimpy book.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it as much as the first couple.  But man, this one came roaring back on all cylinders and it is one of the best in the series.

Three things really work to make this one so great:

One:  the return to school and a host of new school-related problems.  Although it’s funnier for me since my son is in school now, the issues are general enough that anyone can really laugh about them.

Two: the return of Rowley.  I feel like he was sorely missed when he and Greg were fighting.  He’s not a great character on his own, but he rubs Greg the wrong way enough to bring out some great humor.

Three: The increasing power of Manny.  I don’t understand Manny at all, I don’t even know how old he is.  He’s like a really really tiny kid, which makes me think that he’s a baby.  And yet he is so smart and totally has the run of the family.  That has been obvious in the past with the tantrums he threw to get what he wanted, but now he is combining his evil genius with a sophisticated mind to really wreak havoc on the Heffley household (he changes passwords all over the house, for instance).

So this book is all about Christmas break and snow (hence the title).  I love that it starts with the Heffley version of Elf on a Shelf (but this one is even more creepy because it’s a homemade doll from Greg’s mom’s childhood). (more…)

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