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SOUNDTRACKSHIRLEY COLLINS: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #109 (November 10, 2020).

There is no denying the first line of this blurb: “Shirley Collins is a legend.”  But like many legends, I find that I know of her more than I know about her.  It’s possible that I’d never heard her before this set.  And that may not be an unreasonable thing

 Her life story took the sort of twists you hear in the songs she sings, in her case, a broken heart, a painful divorce, and the loss of her voice. For 30 years, she couldn’t sing.

I don’t exactly understand what happened to her voice (that link doesn’t explain it), but her first album in over 30 years came out in 2016.

Now, here she is playing songs from Heart’s Ease, only the second album she’s made in the past 40 years. You hear her sing of a young sailor boy who saves his ship from robbers and is promised by his captain both gold and his daughter’s hand in marriage. The lad sinks the robber’s boat, only to be left to drown by that very same captain.

These unimaginable tales and that unadorned voice have influenced both British and American folk music since the 1960s, from Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny to The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. These tales of woe and whimsy are as timeless as Shirley Collins

So here is Shirley Collins, at 85, seated in the living room of her cottage in Lewes, East Sussex, accompanied by guitarist Ian Kearey, singing along to a few stringed instruments

She sings five songs.  At 85, her voice doesn’t sound amazing, but it does sound good.  And it’s more about the emotion she puts into these songs than the power of her voice.

She explains that in the 1950s, she took a field recording trip across the United States with Alan Lomax.  She heard “The Merry Golden Tree” in Arkansas.  It was still sung in England but had traveled across the Atlantic and then across the continent.

Kearey plays guitar for the first song, but switches to banjo for “Sweet Greens and Blues” a song her first husband Austin John marshall wrote 50 years ago.   She says the first line seems apt in 2020: “If we don’t make it this year let’s see what next year will bring.”

She heard “Wondrous Love” from a rural Alabama congregation.  The church was full of people from all over.  They sang this hymn in their old voices–“shrill and beautiful at the same time: the most incredible lovely noise you could hope to hear.”  Kearey gets a very cool metallic slide guitar sound for this song.

Before singing “Tell Me True” she tells the story of an American friend in Montana who sent her a vast British ensign flag from the Royal Navy.  He found it in a barn when he was 16 on holiday in rural Vermont.  He took it!  Now he sent it to her.  She thinks its from 1812, the Battle of Lake Champlain in vermont.  Woah

“Old Johnny Buckle” is a nonsense song, an upside down song that’s good fun to sing.  I imagine it could have been sung by Boy and Girl Scouts.  With silly lyrics like this

Old Mrs. Buckle went a’fishing one day
She caught her left leg in the clay
The toads and frogs all wobbled about
She ran to get a shovel to dig herself out

[READ: December 8, 2020] “Reflections”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 8.  Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, is glad she remembered to pack those seasickness tabs..  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story was a challenge for me.  First because I didn’t realize that the two letters (the story is two letters on facing pages) were meant to be read separately.  At first I thought it was a series of disjointed, unfinished letters–a sort of failed attempt at communication.  Obviously that is very far from what the story is mean to be about. (more…)

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2020_03_16 (1)SOUNDTRACK: MOUNT EERIE-Tiny Desk Concert #945 (February 12, 2020).

maxresdefaultI’ve heard of Mount Eerie, but I didn’t really know that much about them. And when I say them, I really mean him, Phil Elverum.

Phil Elverum’s songs come full circle, swooping down like vultures and floating up like ashes from flames. Throughout his work in Mount Eerie and The Microphones, idealism comes up against realism, existence entangles with impermanence and love discovers new forms. So when he sings, “Let’s get out the romance,” in close harmony with Julie Doiron at the Tiny Desk, there’s a history going back nearly two decades to an isolated cabin in Norway where he first wrote the phrase.

I have never really enjoyed quiet, sad music.  It’s just not my thing.  So this Tiny Desk is definitely not my favorite.  Although I can appreciate the intensity of his lyrics and the beautiful way his and Julie’s voices combine.

They recorded an album, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, last year.

the sparsely decorated, deeply felt album meditates on a heart still breaking and mutating, but also gently reckons with a younger version of himself. That refrain on “Belief” is performed here with only an electric guitar and a nylon-string acoustic bought in Stockholm during that Scandinavian trip many years ago.

“Belief” opens with quiet acoustic guitar and then the two of them singing together.  And it’s pretty intense:

Elverum remembers himself as a young man who begged “the sky for some calamity to challenge my foundation.” We then become the Greek chorus, witness to the unfolding tragedy: first, the death of his wife and mother to their child, the musician and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, in 2016; then the marriage to actor Michelle Williams in 2018 and their divorce less than a year later. “‘The world always goes on,'” Doiron sings in answer, quoting a Joanne Kyger poem, “‘Breaking us with its changes / Until our form, exhausted, runs true.'”

Doiron’s guitar contributions are so minimal, she doesn’t play for most of the song.   The song runs almost seven minutes and does seem to end mid-sentence.

When “Belief” suddenly ends, seemingly in the middle of a thought, Elverum’s eyes search the room. The audience responds with applause, but a version of this dynamic plays out everywhere he’s performed for the last three years — long silences broken up by tentative claps, nervous laughs struck by grief and absurdity.

The second song, “Enduring The Waves” is only three minutes long.  He begins it by speak/singing “Reading about Buddhism” and I wasn’t sure if it was a lyric or an introduction.  It’s a lyric.  This song features Julie and Phil singing seemingly disparate lines over each other until their final lines match up perfectly  The construction of this song is really wonderful even if it is still a pretty slow sad song,

“Love Without Possession” Julie sings the first verse and after her verse, Phil starts strumming his guitar in what can only be described as a really catchy sort of way.  They harmonize together and Doiron includes minimal electric guitar notes.  This is my favorite song of the bunch.

[READ: March 13, 2020] “My High-School Commute”

Colin Jost is one of the presenters on Saturday Night Live‘s Weekend Update.  I think he’s very funny and has a great sarcastic tone.  Although, I have to agree with the title of his new memoir: A Very Punchable Face.

This is an amusing essay about his daily commute to high school, in which he took “a journey by land, sea and underground rocket toilet.”

His grandfather always told him about the value of an education–protect your brain! was his constant refrain.

It was his brain that got him out of Staten Island.  It got him into a Catholic high school called Regis* *Regis Philbin was named after my high school but went to Cardinal Hayes High School which was full of kids who beat the shit out of kids who went to Regis.

Regis is one of the best schools in the country and it is free–tens of thousands of kids apply for 120 spots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROWNOUT-Tiny Desk Concert #931 (January 10, 2020).

I’d heard of Brownout when they released Brown Sabbath, a funk covers album of Black Sabbath songs.  They have also released an album of Public Enemy covers.

I didn’t realize that they were a long-established band (fifteen years).  They originally started as a Latin funk band (and backed up Prince).  Their singer, Alex Marrero, has only been with them for four years or so–it was originally a side project that turned into much more.

One of the things you need to know about this band is that they can change traditions or genres almost on a dime. The core members dip into soul, Latin funk, a form of Peruvian cumbia called chicha, and funk covers of both Black Sabbath and Public Enemy.

The first song they play “Somewhere To Go,”

is punctuated by an old-school R&B horn section (Mark “Speedy” Gonzales on trombone and Gilbert Elorreaga on trumpet) that’s deceptively simple and emblematic of the power of their concept and spirit.

The song has a slow groove and starts with a cool bassline from Greg Gonzalez.  There’s rocking, distorted guitars and lots of horns.  He sings a few lines and then starts singing into a megaphone “paddle your way out of this.”

The next song “Nain” is also new, “with lyrics in Spanish about being different and not fitting in and seeing that as a positive.”

The intricate interplay of the baritone sax (Joshua Levy), guitar (Beto Martinez), bongos (Matthew “Sweet Lou” Holmes) and electronic and acoustic drums (John Speice) launch the second cut, “Nain,” into another down-tempo burner,

I love the way the horns play a simple melody after the first section that sounds a bit like a commercial break in a TV show–waiting for whats to come next.  Again the guitar is interesting, playing a few complex patterns while the echoing keyboard solo from Peter Stopschinski adds a trippy aspect to it.

The final song is “You Don’t Have To Fall,” which includes

old-school Tower of Power horns that made quite a few heads dip and hips shake in our corner of the NPR building,

The song has a ripping guitar solo from Beto Martinez’s during  which Alex plays a shaker gourd.  It’s really catchy.

They seem to be able to do it all.

[READ: January 10, 2020] “The Whale Mother”

Leila’s marriage has fallen apart.  She still lives with her husband and kids, but they have both hired lawyers.  Her lawyer had told her things were over and she should “Go forth and date.”

So she decided to book a retreat

While on the SeaTac-Whidbey Island Shuttle, the older man in front of her started talking to her. He says he’s lived on the island for more than ten years.  When the ferry arrived, he led her upstairs–not waiting for her but assuming she’d be following him.  He was married–he wasn’t trying to pick her up–he just seem to enjoy talking to her.  Their time on the ferry was a little disappointing to her because she wanted to stay inside in he “sophisticated interior” but he went right through to the deck.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed the company and developed a bit of a crush on him.

He asked what her heritage was.  This “was the question she would have asked him if such a question weren’t now a minefield.  Leila welcomed the question when it came from another brown person but would not have assumed other brown people felt the same way.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLIE EILISH-“Bury a Friend” (2019).

A lot of the music I listen to is weird and probably creepy to other people, but I don’t necessarily think of songs as appropriate for Halloween or not.  So for this year’s Ghost Box stories, I consulted an “expert”: The Esquire list of Halloween songs you’ll play all year long.  The list has 45 songs–most of which I do not like.  So I picked 11 of them to post about.

There’s a ton of reasons why Billie is an unlikely pop sensation.  I won’t bother going through the myriad reasons, I’ll just talk about the music of this song–a suitably creepy song to kick off a series of Spooky Stories.

The song starts with a muted, almost musical drumbeat and clicks.  Then Billie’s processed voice sings with what I assumed is a slowed down version of her voice singing parallel with her.

After a muttered “come here,” and a screech, the verse starts.  It’s no less creepy and possibly more hypnotic.  It leads to a bridge in which at the end of each features a voice that cries quietly (and then reverses n the next line).

The repeated refrain of “I wanna end me” is probably the least creepy section of the song.

There’s one more part, a quickly spoken line ending with three thumps that lead to the next line.

Then it all repeats.

There’s no prettiness, no poppiness. It’s like a slightly more dancey version of Portishead.  It’s pretty darn cool.

I have no idea why it/she is so popular.  But good for her.

And the video is really freaking creepy too.

[READ: October 17, 2019] “The Foghorn”

Just in time for Halloween, from the people who brought me The Short Story Advent Calendar and The Ghost Box. and Ghost Box II. comes Ghost Box III.

This is once again a nifty little box (with a magnetic opening and a ribbon) which contains 11 stories for Halloween.  It is lovingly described thusly:

Oh god, it’s right behind me, isn’t it? There’s no use trying to run from Ghost Box III, the terrifying conclusion to our series of limited-edition horror box sets edited and introduced by Patton Oswalt.

There is no explicit “order” to these books; however, I’m going to read in the order they were stacked.

Gertrude Atherton had a story in the previous Ghost Box.  I was pretty impressed by it.

This story is also pretty twisted–fans of the macabre should really check her out.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHERRY GLAZERR-NonCOMM (May 15, 2019).

A couple of years ago I had a pass to NonComm, but ultimately I decided not to go.  I had never been to World Cafe Live and, while it sounded like a fun time, it was just so many mid-week nights and lots of leaving early, that it sounded more exhausting than fun.

I have now been to World Cafe Live and I can imagine that the (less divaish) bands are hanging around talking to people (and radio personalities) which is probably pretty cool.

I loved the idea of these sorta personal concerts, too.  But I have since come to see that they are 20-45 minutes tops.  Hardly worth driving 90 minutes for.

But now that the sets are available to stream after the show, there’s no need to go.

The year I was going to go there were a bunch of artists I was excited to see.  This year there weren’t as many.

Although Cherry Glazerr is a band I’d like to check out.

Cherry Glazerr is a Los Angeles trio who formed in high school.  The blurb notes:

They’ve been known to keep a social and political message at the forefront of their songs, confronting the misogyny that’s too prevalent in their scene — and in our culture.   At one point, frontwoman Clementine Creevy turned her back to the microphone, leaned back limbo-style, jumped up and down — and didn’t miss a beat. That’s what frustrated feminist punk looks like in 2019 according to Cherry Glazerr.

They totally rock as well, cramming six songs into 20 minutes.

They open with feedback and drums that settles into “Ohio” –a distorted lumbering catchy song with Creevy’s vocals riding along the top.  I love the unusual riff that accompanies the song after the verses.  The solo is simple but very cool.

“Self-Explained” is slower with a cool vocal line in the verses.  It has a tempo that demands a big build up.  And the guitar solo fills that in really well.   “Wasted Nun” has some more great buzzing guitars and thumping drums over a simple but satisfying punk riff.

“Daddi” changes the dynamic of things with whispered creepy-sounding lyrics and a quiet guitar melody for the verses.  The big pounding chorus changes things up dramatically.

Those three songs come from their new album, while the final two come from their previous album, Apocalipstick.  “Apocalipstick” has a big powerful riff and turns out to be a rocking instrumental–it’s as good as the title of the song.

They end with “Told You I’d Be With The Boys,” a song with a cool riff and some nifty guitar licks as well.  I also like the vocal tricks that Creevy uses on this track.  And the way it ends is a total blast.

It’s a great set and makes me want to see them next time they’re playing more than 20 minutes!

[READ: May 27, 2019] “Ross Perot and China”

The title of this story was just so evocative.  I couldn’t imagine where Lerner would go with this.

And so as I started reading it, I had to wonder, is the main character Ross Perot?  Is that a young Ross Perot on a boat, drinking Southern Comfort in a man-made lake?  It sure could be.  Or maybe the young lady he’s with is Ross Perot’s daughter?

So that when the young lady slips off the boat unnoticed and he can’t find her, I wondered–where is this going?

Well, soon enough it is revealed that Ross Perot is not a character in the story, he is more of an abstract idea. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRUFF RHYS-Yr Atal Genhedlaeth (2005).

In honor of the author being from Wales and of me recently seeing Gruff Rhys in concert, this is a post about his debut solo album, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth.  The title is in Welsh, as id everything else.

If you don’t understand Welsh, as I don’t, Wikipedia gives us a guide line for the album which I’m going to trust.  There are 11 songs in just under a half an hour

  • Yr Atal Genhedlaeth [‘The Stuttering Generation’, but ‘atalgenhedlu’ is Welsh for a contraceptive] is 8 seconds of stuttering voices.  I feared the disc was broken when I put it on.
  • Gwn Mi Wn [‘I Know [that] I Know’, could also mean ‘a gun I know’, a reference to the battle in the song].  Gruff played this song live with two members on drums.  It’s a cacthy near-a capella song with just the drums and his voice.  He loops his voice here (and live) to make more and more harmonies of himself.
  • Epynt [named after a mountain in Mid Wales, but about money, with the ‘E’ standing for the Euro, and ‘pynt’ sounding similar to the Welsh word for Pound].  This song has a DIY punk feel–two chords, loud drums and chanted chorus Eh-pint, eh-pint.
  • Rhagluniaeth Ysgafn  [‘Light programming’, but ‘lluniaeth ysgafn’ means a light snack].  This song has an electronic drums and simple guitar chords.  Once again, it’s Gruff’s voice that carries the melody.  As with most of these songs, he makes a big song with very few elements.
  • Pwdin Ŵy 1 & 2 [literally ‘egg pudding’, means ‘”egg custard’, two love songs]  The first part is under 2 minutes with a slinky guitar and bass.  It’s fleshed out with all kinds of weird sound effects.  The second part (all of 3 minutes) is quieter, with just his guitar and voice and some quiet percussion.  The solo is either a melodica or harmonica, I can’t quite tell.
  • Y Gwybodusion [‘The Experts’] is a simple garage rocker.
  • Caerffosiaeth [literally ‘sewage fortress’. ‘Caer’ is a common part of Welsh place-names (for example, Caergybi), used to indicate that there was originally a castle or fortress in the town/city]  This is the strangest song on the disc–full of all manner of weird sound effects.  These effects accompany the simple (cowbell and drumbeat) electronic percussion that sets the tone for Rhys’ overlapping vocals.  This song sound the most like one you might try to insert English words into the Welsh that he is singing like maybe: “Blue-eyed fork, blue-eyed fork, I love your bag and your power torch.”
  • Ambell Waith [‘Sometimes’] opens with a pretty acoustic guitar melody as all manner of quiet sound effects skitter around in the background.
  • Ni Yw Y Byd – [‘We Are The World’] is not a cover of the charity song, it is an incredibly catchy folk song with a flute (piccolo?) solo.
  • Chwarae’n Troi’n Chwerw [‘When Play Turns Bitter’, from a Welsh proverb. A Welsh language standard originally written and sung by Caryl Parry-Jones].  This six-minute song starts quietly with just an acoustic guitar,  It starts to build and go a little faster when the drums come in. By four minutes, there’s cymbals and what feels like a full accompaniment.  The last minute or so is Gruff playing the banjo.

It’s a pretty album with pretty melodies and a splash of Gruff’s wackiness strewn about.

I don’t think you’ll learn any Welsh from this records but it is neat to think you can sing along with it without knowing what any of it means.

[READ: January 4, 2017] “The Edge of the Shoal”

I thought that this was going to be yet another story about a guy fishing–and how he and his father had bonded over fishing.  Because that is how it started.

He didn’t tell his wife where he was going–just left a note to make salad.  He assumed he would catch a fish, but his real reason for going out in the kayak was to disperse his father’s ashes into the water.  (I’m not exactly sure where this is set, but I assumed Europe–okay Cynan Jones is Welsh).

The narrator was still hearing his father’s voice as he cast out for the fish.  Frankly I was worried that this story was far too long if that’s all it was going to be about.

But then things take a very different turn. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CAMP COPE-Tiny Desk Concert #778 (August 22, 2018).

Camp Cope recently played PhilaMOCA, but it sold out so quickly I didn’t even have a chance of going.  Camp Cope plays a deceptively simple poppy punk that really allows the excellent lyrics to shine through.  I love the sound of Kelly-Dawn “Kelso” Hellmrich’s bass lines, which contribute a great melody while singer guitarist Georgia “Maq” McDonald plays a somewhat muted guitar, with a ton of power in here voice.

Camp Cope’s Tiny Desk performance opened — fittingly — with “The Opener,” a song about overcoming the obnoxious, exhausting and all-too-common sexism endemic to the music industry.

Great lyrics:

You worked so hard but we were ‘just lucky’
To ride those coat tails into infinity
And all my success has got nothing to do with me
Yeah, tell me again how there just aren’t that many girls in the music scene

It’s another all-male tour preaching equality
It’s another straight cis man who knows more about this than me
It’s another man telling us we’re missing a frequency, love ya Kelly

[Lyrics genius explains this last line: The bass lines in many Camp Cope songs, contributed by bassist Kelly-Dawn Helmrich, are played primarily in the upper register of that instrument, so there are few low bass frequencies in their music. On the average Camp Cope clip on Youtube, you can usually find a dozen or so dudes helpfully pointing this out in the comments.].

It’s a stunning and deeply gratifying performance; Maq lists off what exes, industry insiders and fellow musicians have said to undermine the band with a measured determination that sometimes tips into a full-throated, impassioned cry. Bands like Camp Cope get told they’re “just lucky,” that they “can’t fill up a room,” that they should “book a smaller venue.” But when Maq roars from behind the Tiny Desk, “See how far we’ve come not listening to you,” she makes it clear which voice deserves the attention.

I love the dismissive final line:

“Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.”

The second song, “The Face of God” features complex guitar patterns from Maq and (at the start) a simpler bass line).  But once the song takes off, the bass starts throwing in notes all over the instrument.

is a stunning, delicate song about feeling lonely and distraught in the aftermath of sexual violence. It’s a standout from the band’s debut album, How to Socialise & Make Friends, and shows what Camp Cope does so well: using tiny moments of introspection to illuminate life’s bewildering, terrifying, isolating aspects — especially as they apply to women. You can hear equal parts conviction and desperation in Maq’s voice as she sings:

I saw it, the face of god
And he turned himself away from me and said I did something wrong
That somehow what happened to me was my fault.

Camp Cope must usually play more raucously live since after “Face of God” Maq  laughed, “We’ve never done this before — we’ve never been quiet. Not once in our entire lives!” Hellmrich joked that it was perhaps a “good lesson” to “rock out in your mind.”

The band closed its set with “Keep Growing,” an older track about autonomy and heartache.   It opens with Sarah “Thomo” Thompson’s drums, simply and direct and then Hellmrich’s bass is at the fore once again, playing a cool melody.

Elsewhere, it might be too easy to tune into Camp Cope’s powerful message and overlook the strength of the band’s songcraft. But at the Tiny Desk, you can’t miss it: Maq’s gargantuan voice; Hellmrich’s clever, melodic basslines; Thompson’s stoic drumming.

I wish even more that I’d seen them in a small venue while I had the chance.

[READ: August 21, 2017] “Dogs Go Wolf”

This was a peculiar story that felt like it was part of a larger story.  It felt incomplete and yet also that it had accomplished everything it intended.  Which was odd.  In the same way that the title makes sense but only when you think about it.

I enjoyed the way the story worked its way backwards.  Two sisters are on an island.  They are young (four and seven) and they are alone.  Even the dog that was with them has been strangely quiet lately.  The dog was mean and although they missed its companionship they weren’t sad to see it go.

The big sister tells the little sister stories to comfort her.  But they can only go so far when food is scarce, when the generator has run out and when they have little else to do.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JENN GRANT-Live at Massey Hall (June 23, 2017).

I don’t know Jenn Grant, although her music sounds somewhat familiar.  She’s from PEI originally but her family moved to Nova Scotia when she was ten.  She recently moved back to Nova Scotia with her husband, where they live by the ocean and the woods.

For this show, she is joined by Daniel Ledwell, Michael Belyea and Tavo Dies de Bonilla.  On a couple of songs, she has Julie Fader and Kim Harris for backing vocals (this is Fader’s second appearance in the series).

Years ago shed opened for BNL at Massey Hall, but she wasn’t present. This time she’s very aware of things like the large but intimate feeling of the place.  During soundcheck she felt she never sounded better

“Paradise” is a slow keyboard song with electronic drums.  It’s moody in a Twin Peaks kind of way.  Although it picks up for the chorus.  The drum sounds in the middle of the song sound like when my phone speaker is over powered, it’s unsettling.

“I am a River” is interrupted by her speaking about her new record.  It’s interesting that her music is quite electronic since she is so inspired by nature.  Although this song does have more organic elements like piano and such.

She introduces “The Fighter” by saying “This is a song from an album that we made once.”  She plays electric guitar and that creates more drama and texture in the song.  This has a great overall sound.

“I’ve Got Your Fire” starts with piano.  This song sounds familiar–I wonder if I know it or if it just sounds like a Jane Siberry song.  It’s very pretty.

“No One’s Gonna Love You (Quite Like I Do)” is mellow song, also quite pretty.  “Galaxies” is a bit higher energy and she says it’s “fun to perform for an audience.”  It’s got a cool retro keyboard sound.  Dreamer ends he show quietly with delightful backing vocals.  I like the way the song slowly builds.

[READ: January 25, 2018] “Fourteen Feet of Water in My House”

This story sets everything up right from the get go:

My hometown flooded.  Prediction, as usual, failed us.

And so, when the narrator wakes up with a river in his house, he is quite pleased to see that his boat, kept in the backyard, was banging on his second storey window.  He is barely awake but he jumps into the boat headfirst.

“This is real… Dad’s house is ruined…. Boat seems fine though…. People probably stranded … ”

The rest of the story is his adventure saving people. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN DENVER & THE MUPPETS-A Christmas Together (1979).

This is a strange recording.  Perhaps even more so nearly forty years past its release date when The Muppets are still beloved but aren’t hugely popular.  It’s strange because it’s quite an earnest record, and yet it is sung by puppets with weird voices.

So this album is not meant to be funny (with some exceptions), and yet it’s hard not to smile somewhat at the crazy voices involved.  But the songs aren’t played for laughs.

So if you can get past the fact that Rowlf the Dog is singing an earnest song, it’s quite enjoyable.  In fact, the whole disc is warm and inviting, nonjudgmental and really sweet–pretty much everything that John Denver and The Muppets are known for.

The album features of traditional Christmas carols and original songs.

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” (Denver with the Muppets).  This is kind of an unfortunate song to start with if only because it feels much longer than its 4 minutes (as this song always does).  Having a different Muppet sing each line helps though.  And there are some amusing moments (Beaker of course).  But it’s not really played for laughs, exactly.  Except maybe for Piggy’s “five golden ring” line, kind of.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Rowlf the Dog and Denver).  Rowlf was always an earnest singer so this pairing makes sense.  But Rowlf’s voice is pretty weird.  “The Peace Carol” (John and Scooter with the Muppets). I don’t know this song, but it’s quite pretty and they have wisely picked the least strange-voiced Muppets to sing it with him.

“Christmas Is Coming” (Miss Piggy with Scooter, The Great Gonzo and Robin the Frog) This is a round with Piggy on lead and then each one repeating the one line.  I was unfamiliar with this song too.

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat / Please put a penny in the old man’s hat / If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do / If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

“A Baby Just Like You” (Denver with the Muppets) This is a very John Denver song, pretty and mellow.  “Deck the Halls” (The Muppets)  It’s nice to hear Kermit get a lead vocal.  Everyone sings this in turn and it’s quite nice.  “When the River Meets the Sea” (Robin and Denver with the Muppets)  It’s weird to have a Muppet sing this first verse, but it’s a gentle voice and works nicely with Denver.

“Little Saint Nick” (Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem)  Okay, so hearing the Electric Mayhem is always fun.  I’m amused hearing all of the voices of the band (this is a song you can be silly with).  And of course having Animal shouting “Run! Run! Reindeer!” is pretty darn funny.

“Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913” (Denver) gentle and pretty.  “The Christmas Wish” (Kermit the Frog with the Muppets)  This is a very sweet song wishing love to all whether you believe or not.  Medley: “Alfie, the Christmas Tree” / “Carol for a Christmas Tree” / “It’s in Every One of Us” (Denver with the Muppets)  This is a strange story about a tree who loved Christmas.  And it’s narrated not sung.  This one is skippable.

“Silent Night, Holy Night (Stille Nacht)” (Denver with the Muppets) I was surprised that this was sung in German first.  Then Denver recites how the song was written, and it’s quite moving.   A very lovely rendition.  “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (Denver with the Muppets) The disc ends with a bit of fun with the cast singing.  And there’s some good Muppets antics: they sing “figgy pudding”  Miss Piggy asks, “piggy pudding?”  “no, it’s made with figs.”  “oh”  “and bacon.”  And when they sing “we won;t go until we get some” Animal chants “won’t go! won’t go!”

All in all this is a delightful Christmas album.

[READ: December 1, 2017] “Aftermath”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

There’s a lot unspoken in this story, which is revealed in little snippets.

Genevieve moved back into the house on Monday.  But she decided that it needed a good cleaning first.  She called a company named Aftermath to go through the whole house–scour it and make it shine.  They asked if there was any kind of biohazard in the house and she said no.

When she returned, everything looked the same, although a little brighter. (more…)

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