Archive for the ‘Peter Lerangis’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IMMANUEL WILKINS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #164 (February 3, 2021).

Immanuel Wilkins is a saxophone player who creates mellow but poignant jazz.

Candles and books rest on a trunk at the bottom right corner of the wide shot. There, too, are special photographs of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins with family in his childhood home in Philadelphia.

Wilkins plays three songs from Omega in this twenty minute

Omega was released last year to high acclaim. The project is all about Blackness, Black theory, the Black experience and the struggle and triumph that go with it all.

They open with “Grace and Mercy,” which is “a lyrical story about peace, forgiveness and humility with carefully crafted form and melody.”

He met up with his long time bandmates — Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass, Kweku Sumbry on drums —in Manhattan’s Sear Sound studio to record this set. The quartet has been playing together for years, which is remarkable considering Wilkins is only 23 years old.

There’s a really nice piano solo in the middle of the track from Thomas

“Warriors” opens with a saxophone intro before the band joins in for this

driving, dynamic tune that conveys the shield of protection provided by our inner circles.

Wilkins gets up to some wild soloing in the middle of the song.  As the song comes to an end and Wilkin repeats the same melody, Sumbry gets to show off his chops on the drums.

“The Dreamer” is a tender piece that honors the Black writer and activist James Weldon Johnson and is based on his poem “A Midday Dreamer.” The opening lines are played effortlessly on bass by Johns and when Wilkins joins in, his melodic saxophone exudes the rhythm of the poem’s first stanza: “I love to sit alone, and dream, and dream, and dream…”

This is some wonderfully thought provoking instrumental music.

[READ: March 3, 2021] Super Puzzletastic Mysteries

I was in Barnes & Noble at the end of last year and I was feeling splurgy so I picked up this book, thinking that everyone in the family might like it.  We all love Chris Grabenstein after all.  So this is basically a series of pretty short mysteries.  The end of the story is pushed to the back of the book so you can figure out if you solved the mystery before it is revealed to you.

Grabenstein sets up what the book is about.  it was inspired by Donald Sobol (the guy who created Encyclopedia Brown) and his Two Minute Mysteries.  There would be some kind of crime, clues would be presented and the story would end without a  solution.  The end of the story (and the solution) came at the end of the book so you could try to figure it out for yourself.  Amusingly, he also tells us that his story is “based on something I actually saw out the library window when I did a school visit the day after a snow day.”

I’m giving a brief summary of each mystery and then whether my adult brain could solve it. (more…)

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39SOUNDTRACK: THE ROOTS-“Lovely, Love My family” (2009).

miaThe Roots are known for many many things–most recently being the house band for Jimmy Fallon.  They do intelligent hip hop, but they also play “neo-soul” and this fun sorta-ska-like sweet song from the first Yo Gabba Gabba Music is Awesome CD.

It’s 2 minutes of poppy happiness. It’s fun to see ?uestlove bopping along, and to see the whole band in front of these bright colors.

This song is utterly catchy, with smart fun lyrics that are easy to sing along to And unlike some of the Yo Gabba Gabba songs it’s not terribly repetitive.  It’s even got a tuba solo.

Check it out:

[READ: May 6, 2014] The Dead of Night

I was pretty excited to get into this third book of the series, but something about this book burnt me out a bit.  It may have been because it was increasingly dark.  Or maybe that Atticus was in trouble from the get go and had to do a lot of work by himself–that seemed somehow more difficult to read than Dan and Amy working together.  It also seemed to have a bit less humor than the other books–like this one was all down to business, or that the stakes were higher or something.

Indeed, the book opens with Atticus in the back of the truck being taken away by the evil Wyoming kids.  They know he is a Guardian, even if he doesn’t know quite what that means. They are taking him somewhere in secret–which involves an airplane.  How is he ever going to notify anyone of where he is?  But it turns out that Dan and Amy aren’t the only techie kids, and soon Atticus has a way of signaling his friends that he has been taken to Turkey.

Meanwhile Amy is feeling especially guilty for everything that has happened–she’s supposed to be the senior family member in charge.  And Jake isn’t helping with that.  At the same time Dan keeps getting texts from AJT–the man he believes to be his father.  And they are making his mood even darker. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TEGAN AND SARA-“Alligator” on CDC Kids’ Mamma Yamma (2010).

Tegan and Sara take a slightly different approach than the other artists on Mamma Yamma.  Rather than creating a new song, they took their hit “Alligator” and made new words for it (much like many artists have done on Sesame Street).

The melody is exactly the same (which is good, as it’s a really catchy song). But rather than being about a failed relationship, it’s about alligators.

Old lyrics: Run around on me, I’d sooner die without

New lyrics: Run around a tree, skip and jump about

It’s a cute version and the band sounds very good.

I really enjoy these introductions to interesting musicians on kids shows.  I wonder if kids actually like seeing grown up musicians like this.

You can watch it here:

[READ: April 20, 2012] Vespers Rising

I finished The 39 Clues series last year. Or so I thought!  After completing books 1-10, I found out that they were planning a whole new series.  And they began with this transitional book, which they called #11 and which was co-written by four of the prominent authors.

Vespers Rising is actually four short stories that trace the history of the Cahill family and their feud with the Vesper family.  The Vespers were not a part of the first series at all.  In the first series, the 39 Clues were a kind of Amazing Race for Cahill family members.  (I’ll get to some details about the family in a moment).  It was a kind of private race for the prize–which was a life-enhancing serum.  But this book introduces a new villain to the story and explains that the villain has been there all along, just lurking.

Rick Riordan wrote the first story in this book takes us back to the beginning.  In 1507, off the coast of Ireland, Gideon Cahill invented this serum.  He was and alchemist, seeking an antidote for the Black Death which was ravaging Europe.  He was working for Lord Damien Vesper, a man bent on power.  Vesper wasn’t interested in helping people with the Black Death–he had no real value for life–however, he was interested in the results that Gideon might discover. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AL ATKINS–“Victim of Changes” (1998).

Al Atkins wrote “Victim of Changes,” one of Judas Priest’s greatest songs.  And then he left Priest to get a real job.  In 1998, he released the album Victim of Changes which contained a number of early JP songs, primarily ones from Rocka Rolla, but also this title track.

This version is quite faithful to the JP version (which is interesting because the early notes say that “Victim of Changes” was a melding of two songs).  It’s fascinating, in hindsight to wonder if this is how the song really sounded (there are a few differences in it) or he is now covering the JP version.  But the big difference of course if Atkins’ voice.  In the middle, slower section he sounds quite a bit like Rob Halford.  But he just cannot hit any of the notes that Halford brought to the song.  And there’s really just no way to compete with that (even with multitracked and over-processed vocals).

It’s really hard to compare this (and other songs from that album) to the original.  I mean, he wrote them, after all.  But man, the Priest version is just so much better.  Atkins has a strong, gruff voice.  It works well for the style of the songs, but it just isn’t anywhere near as compelling as Halford’s.  The other problem is the music–the guitars are full of cheesy pyrotechnics that overshadow the songs (I like guitar pyrotechnics if that’s what the song is supposed to be about, but not when it’s meant to “embellish” a song).  It sounds like he is trying way too hard here.  Atkins has his own solo career and his own band, he really needs to get past the JP thing, especially since he left of his own accord.

This is the version of “Victim of Changes” from Victim of Changes:

But for heaven’s sake, don’t listen to the more recently recorded version of “Victim of Changes” (yes a second recording–he’s got to let it go) from his 2007 release Demon Deceiver (available on Spotify!)–his voice is lower and gruffer (almost cookie monstery) and guitar solos are just covering all of the song.


[READ: September 12, 2011] The Viper’s Nest

When I finished the fantastic Book Six of the 39 Clues, I put it down and immediately picked up Book Seven.  It opens with a dramatic rescue from an exploding volcano.  When the ash settles, Dan and Amy find themselves on Irina Spasky’s boat.  And in this boat they find Irina’s bag, which contains all kinds of spy stuff (like IDs for every one involved in the 39 Clues search and fake fingerprints and whatnot).

They also find a letter with what looks like lyrics.  I have to credit Peter Lerangis with the wonderful work on this clue.  The clue is a line from a song: “I’m with you and you’re with me and so we are all together.”  Nellie (who is still under suspicion, but seems to have been given a free pass) says that she never guessed Irina would be so cool as to listen to the best song ever by Velvet Cesspool (on the album Amputation for Beginners).  It’s track three, “The Tracks of My Spit” and it goes: “I’m with you and you’re with me and so we are all together….  We are marching to Peoria!”  The kids are all set to go to the exotic locale of Peoria, Illinois when, through a series of events, they realize that the song Irina was referring to was a traditional folk song called “Marching to Pretoria.”  And that they are actually headed for South Africa.  [Incidentally, I just learned that the opening line of “I am the Walrus,” “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” is actually a reference to this folk song].  Check out this video of “Marching to Pretoria” by a guy who has not doubt gotten a lot of hits because of this book.

Anyhow, this book spends most of its time in South Africa.  And Dan, the non-reader of the family, finally finds a book worth reading.  It’s all about Shaka the warrior of the Zulu nation.  Dan reads a lot of information about the man and his military techniques.  Which is a good thing because the kids find themselves in the center of a Tomas family stronghold (the Holt family are the members, so you know their speciality is tough fighting).  The details are quite fascinating.  In the end, they are able to find a clue and to create some wonderful battle scenes in the process.  (more…)

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Sarah intended to get this disc for me for Christmas.  But evidently Sub Pop bought out the disc and put it out of print.  It’s now available as a download.  But a personal email from Sub Pop headquarters said they’d be releasing the disc in physical format sometime in April.  (Yay!)

This is a beautiful folk song which features wonderful harmonies.  It’s a simple guitar-picked song.  It opens with a male vocalist who sounds very familiar (I can’t quite place who he sounds like), but the end of the verse has a beautiful, brief blast of multi-part harmony.  The second verse is by a different vocalist (he sounds close to the first, I only noticed he was different after a few listens). The final verse is by a female vocalist which comes as a wonderful surprise as her voice brings a whole new shape to the sound.

The harmonies continue throughout the song and really flesh it out.  There’s not a lot to the song itself: a simple verse/chorus structure, but the execution and vocals are really lovely.

[READ: February 21, 2011] The Sword Thief

I can’t believe it has been five months since I read Book Two of this series.  It wasn’t for lack of enjoyment, sometimes other books get in the way!  But now that I’ve jumped back in, I’m in for a while (I’ve already started book 4).

One thing that I wanted to point out before talking about the book itself, was the way the various destinations are described in the book.  While I haven’t been to all (or really any) of the locations described, I have seen enough (in books and online) to know that the authors aren’t simply placing the kids in a generic location that pretends to be a city.  They really try to give each environment a full-bodied realism.  And I hope that young readers can really appreciate the sights and smells of the different countries.  It’s especially effective in Egypt (in book 4), but Tokyo really comes to life and Korea, although not fully explored, really shows the rural regions well.  Maybe this will encourage people to travel, but if not at least it’s instructive that not every place looks the same.

What I especially liked about this book is that the kids form a (brief) alliance (or two).  The first two books emphasized how all of the different family lines were in such competition with each other for the clues.  And, obviously that is the point of the books.  But it would be very tedious to simply have them run from place to place being chased by the different families.  So in this one, the kids form an alliance with Alistair Oh.  Better than that though is that Lerangis gives a detailed background of Alistair which makes him a more sympathetic, human character (even if we don’t fully trust him). (more…)

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I found this CD through a connection to The Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon plays on a few of their tracks).  Pugwash (what a crazy name–it comes from a series of children’s books (and a TV show) called Captain Pugwash) is an Irish band with four CDs (and this collection).  And man, it’s hard to find their stuff over here (although their website has a wonderful collection of videos and such).

Giddy is a collection of songs from all of their albums.  Their first album is represented by two songs here “The Finer Things in Life” and “Two Wrongs.”  These two songs sound, with no disrespect intended, like great Oasis ballads.  Say what you will about Oasis’ originality, they wrote some great songs, and these two sound like the best Oasis songs you’ve never heard.

Their other three albums sound far less like Oasis and far more like XTC.  In fact, the XTC comparisons are well-founded as Andy Partridge eventually co-wrote a song with them and eventually signed them to Partridge’s Ape House records (which is how this collection was released in the U.S.).

The XTC comparison is unavoidable on a few tracks.  The opening of “Song for You” (the “when we die” part) sounds like an uncanny XTC outtake, but when the chorus kicks in it sounds nothing like them and moves into more of the gorgeous orchestral pop that overflows on this disc.  And the Partridge co-written “My Genius” is also a wonderful near-XTC outtake, clever, witty, and perfect.

And the song “It’s Nice to Be Nice” is just a wonderful cheery pop ditty.  It sounds retro and charming; if the simple lyrics (and gorgeous harmonies) don’t bring a smile to your face you must be made of stone.

Although the album is primarily orchestral pop, there’s a wonderful array of styles on here.  “Anyone Who Asks” has chipper keyboard bits in the verses, but the chorus is a wonderful mix of dark minor chords.  And then, the absolutely bizarrely wonderful “Monorail” sounds like a fantastic Beck song (with lyrics that are as decidedly unusual as anything Beck himself might write).   It even opens and closes with wonderful circa 1920s banjo.

Despite the obvious nod to XTC, Pugwash does something that XTC doesn’t.  XTC is a very mannered band.  They always seemed very rigid and formal (and were wonderful because of it).  Pugwash uses XTC as a springboard, but Thomas Walsh seems like a guy who likes to let loose with unchecked silliness, so he can move past the strictures of XTC (and sound like Beck!)

And the packaging is just wonderful. The carnivalesque appearance of the cardboard case is enhanced by not just a cardboard sleeve but also by a second cardboard half-sleeve that you slide on top.  Depending on which way you slide it on, it creates a different set of pictures.  It’s a little thing but it’s a nice nod to the fun of non-digital products.

This is certainly one of my favorite albums this year (even if it came out last year).

[READ: September 21, 2010] One False Note

I enjoyed the first book of the series so much, I couldn’t wait to get to Book Two.  In particular, I was interested to see if Gordon Korman’s writing style would differ much from Rick Riordan’s.  As I said last time, I hadn’t read Riordan before, (although I have read a few by Korman) and while I wasn’t expecting them to write in the same manner, I wondered if they would try to keep the style the same (or if it would be really obvious that they were different writers).

I have to say that I didn’t notice the difference between the two.  Korman’s seems a bit faster paced (but he had no exposition to deal with), and it’s possible that he made things seems a bit more scary/dangerous than Riordan, but not much.

The question I have with the series is three-part: Is the basic plot given to each new writer–like the writer is told what the 39 Clues are–or, possibility two, are they told very specifically, the clue is this and it is here and the writer has to figure out how to get the kids there, or possibility number three, they are free to do whatever they want.

Either way, this is an exciting series, and I’m looking forward to Book Three.

So in Book Two, Amy and Dan continue their adventure.  This time, they go to Saltzburg and Venice.  The Saltzburg trip leads them to the Mozart house.  There’s a wonderful sorta subplot about Mozart’s sister, Nannerl (real name Maria Anna), who was also a great pianist and harpsichordist, oftentimes getting top billing when they played together.  I’s never heard of her, and didn’t know of her talent, and that’s the point of the subplot–how Nannerl had to put her musical skills to the side because she was a woman.   This works nicely with the pairing of Dan and Amy and how they are both good at different things and are both very useful on the quest. (more…)

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