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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID O’DOHERTY-“Florence Falls” (2012).

Back in 2012, Cathy Davey said she’d “been trying to figure out how to raise awareness for homeless dogs without it becoming a negative campaign.”  She says she “wondered how many songwriters would be interested in writing songs about dogs they have loved. It turns out nearly everyone I approached had a story to tell…”

So Davey and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy curated this album.  Proceeds from the album go to the Dublin-based Dogs In Distress.

The album features new recordings from fourteen artists, including Lisa Hannigan.  When the album came out Hannigan tweeted: “A dog is for life, this album is for Christmas” playing on the Humane Society’s “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” which is designed to discourage giving pets as holiday gifts if they can’t be cared for.  Sharon Shannon and David Gray both contribute instrumentals).  And of course, The Divine Comedy.

I was planning  to write about The Divine Comedy song, but my favorite track turned out to be this one from David O’Doherty, an Irish comedian.  I don’t know anything about O’Doherty, but the delivery of this bittersweet song was top notch.

Musically, the song is simple, just a keyboard playing a nice melody.  The story starts somewhat sweetly as Florence’s owner returns home.

As my key went in the door I’d call your name, you’d start to growl
And move menacingly across the floor
And as you’d thundered down the stairs
Snarling angrily
I’d wonder why I liked you so much
And you always hated me

The details of how bad Florence was are really hilarious.

In the winter you’d curl up by the fire at home
I’d go off to get your chew-chew
And then you’d eat my mobile phone

Then we realize just how bad Florence was

The first time that you nipped me people said you were just young
And the second time it was the heat
And the third you were only having fun (ha ha ha ha ha)
And the fourth time I actually needed Tetanus and you got neutered at the vet
She said that it would calm you down
And then you bit me on the leg

And since Christmas is coming, there’s a Christmas verse too:

I remember one time at Christmas
When you opened all the stuff
I put you out into the garden
And you were furious
You cried so much at this great injustice
I had to let you back in
And then you were good for an hour


Then you licked the turkey

Florence was truly a terrible dog.  A terrible pet.  And yet the ending reveals the truth:

Oh, Florence, there was nothing good about you I can’t think of anything
But I wish that you were still at home … hating me again.
You were a rubbish dog
But a rubbish dog is better than no dog

And even though this song is sweet and might make you a little teary-eyed, the phrase “rubbish dog” will always make me laugh.

[READ: November 30, 2019] “The Curfew”

I have loved Roddy Doyle’s stories for years.  His early stuff was very funny, but it has been a pretty long time since he has written anything genuinely funny.  But no matter, because what he writes is always good and very real.

The curfew in this story is in place because ex-Hurricane Ophelia is heading towards Dublin.

The protagonist is heading home, with a half hour to spare before the curfew.  His wife is dismissive of the curfew–“Do they think it’s a civil war?  It’s only a bit of weather,” but he likes the drama of it.  He felt like he was helping to stave of a catastrophe–it was doing him good.  It almost kept his mind off the medical news.

A couple of wees ago he’d had a checkup.  All he could remember was the prostate exam.  He smiled to himself thinking he could now address his daughter’s lectures about gender: “I know what you’re talking about, he’d be tempted to say.  A woman doctor had her finger up my arse and she was thoroughly professional.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: AUGUST GREENE-Tiny Desk Concert #709 (February 21, 2018).

A collective of artists is at the core of August Greene: Common (Lonnie Rashid Lynn), keyboardist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins have known each other for a long time.

The blurb says

August Greene was born at the White House in 2016 during a special Tiny Desk concert. It was during that unprecedented performance that the then-untitled ensemble premiered the powerful “Letter to the Free,” an original song for Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th that eventually won an Emmy for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics.

Common says they came together to be an inspirational collective who wanted to foreground women and put women in the foreground.  It is unfortunate, then, that the first song features all men.  But their hearts are in the right place “That’s important in hip-hop, which has long been dogged by an old-line adherence to misogyny, as it lays claim to the world’s most popular genre.”

For the trio’s first visit to NPR headquarters, they brought some special guests: vocalists Brandy, Maimouna Youssef and Andra Day. The band performed four tracks from its upcoming self-titled album (out March 9 on Amazon Music), an impromptu freestyle, and Day’s Oscar-nominated collaboration with Common, “Stand Up For Something,” from the film Marshall. Common described the theme of the Tiny Desk as “Foregrounding Women,” alluding to the attendance of Brandy, Day and Youssef, as well as the spiritual presence of Glasper’s younger cousin, Loren, who passed just a few days prior.  [Common says she “transitioned” which I thought meant she was undergoing gender reassignment surgery–euphemisms are dangerous, people].

This five song Tiny Desk Concert is over half an hour and I enjoyed most of it.  I really like Common and his delivery.

August Greene’s latest single, “Black Kennedy,” connotes dreams of an African-American dynasty, the kind only a royal family assumes. The stark contrasts of disenfranchisement are highlighted by every wish expressed.

Common does the rap, which is solid (Common’s voice is so good) and Samora Pinderhughes sings the chorus. I’m rather surprised by how wimpy his voice is.  He sounds either nervous or like he can’t hit the notes he wants.  And yet somehow I find this charming and his part of the song to be very catchy.  I like the D Dummy is there scratching as well.

Up next is “Practice.”  Glasper doesn;t say much during the show, but he is hilarious when he does.  Common says Robert was playing these chords in the studio.  Glasper: “It was the best thing he ever heard” after some laughs, Common retorts: “I was like it’s a’ight.  Once we my raps, the song turned out right there.

“Practice” is how “Life takes work.  You gotta work on yourself and any craft, any relationship”  The song features one of the queens, Maimouna Youssef, we call her Mumu Fresh.  She sings backing vocals and then does a great rap

sometimes being a woman is like being black twice
i gotta shout fire instead of rape
and you tell me to act nice
look pretty stay slim don’t talk loud
don’t think, don’t feel, don’t act proud
but if I’m at my lowest how are you 100%
god made woman and man for the balance of it
so will the real men please stand up.

While Common is talking a phone goes off.  “So yo, who phone is that?”  ha ha

He talks about one of their favorite songs, “Optimistic” by Sounds of Blackness.  As a hip hop artist, I usually don’t do remakes, but as August Greene I can do what I want.

Common: Anything yo want to say rob?
Robert: Yes, i wrote your rhymes.  Just want everyone to know that.
Common: Yea that’s why on this song my rhymes are sub par cause her wrote them

Rob said we need to get brandy.  Brandy came in with that light.

With a buildup like  that I wanted to like this song a lot more than I do.  Even though Brandy’s voice sounds good, I don’t like her delivery. This was my least favorite song of the day.

He introduces: Burniss Travis on the bass; DJ Dummy, on the 1s and 2s; Karriem Riggins on drums

Common shows off a truly great freestyle.  There’s some great rhymes referencing previous tiny desk episodes, and lines like “rob g cant rhyme like me.”

Introducing that amazing “Stand Up for Something,” he says that people worried with this administration that the world is ending.  The world ain’t ending it’s just god bringing the best out of us.  What’s more important than standing up for something you believe in.  It is designed to inspire hope, to bring the message of Thurgood Marshall to a new generation: “it all means nothing if you don’t stand up for something.”

We had to bring in a revolutionary to sing it so we got the sister Andra Day here.  She jokes “I usually like to underpromise and overdeliver.” But she nails it.  She sounds amazing.  It is by far the best song of the day and a great song in general with a great old-school soul sound.

Common ends with this great rhyme

a president that trolls with hate
he don’t control our fate because god is great
when they go low when we stay in the heights
I stand for peace, love and women’s rights

Later, in “Let Go,” vocalist and August Greene collaborator Samora Pinderhughes sings of overcoming darkness within yourself and finding hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. It’s about releasing the demons so the hands can hold the blessings.

Common says they first called it “Nirvana” because it reminded them of Nirvana “the group from the 90s who we all love.”  (I love that he had to qualify that).

Pinderhughes, sings “I need to let go.”  It’s such a nice sentiment with a groovy opening bass line and pretty keys at the end.

I love the idea of hip-hop rising to this terrible moment in our history and working together to make things better.

[READ: December 4, 2017] Pelé: The King of Soccer

When I was a kid, Pelé was the be all and end all of soccer.  He was the man like nobody else was.  So I have been surprised in the previous two decades or so to find that he is barely mentioned among the greats.  And I have a theory about that.

Most of the people who care about soccer are not from the States (this is changing a little).  And most of the people I know who support soccer are from Europe.  Pelé is Brazilian and, more importantly, he defeated a lot of Europeans.  Plus, and this is probably the real crux, Pelé was instrumental in introducing soccer to the U.S.–right when I was impressionable enough to fall for it.  My then close friend’s family was really into soccer and we went to a New York Cosmos game (I wonder when that was.  Did I see Pelé play?  I must have).

Anyhow, Pelé was a pretty amazing player, and I’m glad to have this book confirm that for me.  What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it also talks about his personal life.  He was amazing for the kids of Brazil, but a little less amazing for his family (I was surprised to see his terrible personal life in there, primarily because this is a kids book.  But it’s important not to gloss over that kind of thing, too).

I also realized that I knew absolutely nothing about Pelé.  Like, nothing at all.  So this was a great book to fill me in. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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castle SOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Waiting Room (2016).

tinderstIt had been four years since the previous Tindersticks album.  And this one was not released on Constellation Records, but rather on Lucky Dog.  Whether or not that had anything to do with the sound of this record I don’t know, but I really like this album a lot.

“Follow Me” is a slow broody melancholy instrumental with a high accordion playing a lovely melody.  It’s completely evocative.  “Second Chance Man” has a kind of unsettling vibrato on Staples’ voice.  But the melody (sparsely played initially on keyboards) is really catchy.  The rest of the band fleshes out the sound after a verse and chorus.  I love that it builds in the middle and then again at the end with horns lifting the gloom off the song.  “Were We Once Lovers” has a thumping bass line and an uptempo feel as Staples’ sings in a kind of falsetto.  I love the way all of the parts form together in the chorus that’s introduced by a simple but effective guitar: “How can I care if it’s the caring that’s killing me.”

“Help Yourself” opens with some soulful horn blasts and Staples’ whispered vocals.  The bass keeps the song going as occasional horn blasts accent this strangely catchy song.  Staples also sings in an uncharacteristically angsty style in this song, which is strangely unsettling as well.  I love the way the song keeps circling round and then almost surprising the chorus when it comes back.

Whenever Tindersticks use a female guest vocalist, they really seem to step up their game.  “Hey Lucinda” is an incredibly catchy song, starting with simple bells and an accordion playing a great melody.   When Staples’ deep voice is balanced by the exotic voice of Lhasa, it makes for a great pairing.  It’s unusual for a catchy song to be so spare, but the simple accordion accents really hold the song together before it takes off near the end.

“This fear of Emptiness” is another gentle instrumental with bass and acoustic guitar accompanied by accordion sections (sometimes dissonant near the end).  “How He Entered” is another spare song with mostly bass and keys and an occasionally scratching sound as an ascent.  But it’s still a very catchy melody.

“The Waiting Room” has that same echo on his voice as he slowly sings over a keyboard melody.  His anguished singing of “don’t let me suffer” totally makes the song.  “Planting Holes” is a short delicate instrumental with a sweet but melancholy keyboard riff running through it.

Perhaps the most dynamic song on the disc is “We Are Dreamers!”  It’s the angriest song I can think of from Tindersticks, with rumbling keyboards and tribal beats as Staples sings bursts of vocals.  But it’s when Savages’ singer Jehnny Beth adds her voice that the song turns really aggressive.  They sing the chorus “This is not us/ We are dreamers!”  And as Beth takes over the chorus, shifting pitch and intensity, Staples is commenting including lines like “You can rob us/ You can trick us/ Peer over our shoulders and steal our ideas”

The final song is “Like Only Lovers Can.”  The delicate and pretty keyboards belie the sadness in the lyrics: “We can only hurt each other the way lovers can.”  The quiet keyboards end the disc.

[READ: March 15, 2016] Castle Waiting Volume 2

I loved Castle Waiting.   And I couldn’t wait to read Volume II.

And I loved it even more.  Linda Medley is such an engaging storyteller.  Her characters feel utterly real and funny and charming.  I could read more and more and more from her.  Which is why I am so bummed that the series ends here (with rumors that she is doing more).

This volume is a bit more playful.  The characters are well-established and settling into their lives at the castle.

As in the previous volume, there are a lot of flashbacks to Jain’s childhood.

But there’s also a lot of wonderfully meandering stories in the present. The man who looks like a horse (literally) has injured his hoof, so he is hobbling around and is not as useful as he might be (and is cranky about it).

But the main story centers around the arrival of two dwarves, I mean hammerlings–only racists would say dwarves.  They are the relatives of Henry, the quiet blacksmith (who is actually human, but was adopted by the dwarves).  Henry is super excited to see them (as excited as his monosyllabic grunts allow him to be).  Actually, we finally learn why he is so standoffish and quiet most of the time.

They are here for a very specific an(and embarrassing) purpose.  They need women’s clothes for the human who works with them back home.

Their presence enlivens everyone in the Castle. They are fun and interesting–enjoying hard work and being very playful. It is with their help that the Castle dwellers do some remodeling, find a booby trap and even learn how to play nine pin bowling.  The older women who still live in the castle take some bets about who will win–with much merriment.  I love that there a whole chapter about them bowling.

There’s a subplot about Jain’s son Pindar being a leshie–a species we learn a bit about, although we also learn that they are extinct.  This plot line is never concluded properly, though.

We also finally learn about Doctor and his crazy mask (it was a sort of gas mask for the plague).  They are all worried about his sanity, especially when he starts walking around wishing everyone a happy Yule (the Christmas stocking subplot is outstanding).

Speaking of Jain, she has decided to move into the Castle (where there is indeed a ghost).  But her kindness appeases the ghost somewhat.  Especially when she teaches Simon to read (I love the scene where he learns to read and then sits at the table reading instead of eating–just like in my house).

There’s a hilarious thread about a very stubborn goat (whom Simon can outsmart).  And a multi-chapter thread about Sister trying to get a cross for Jain’s room.  We finally get to the bottom of the house sprites (they are adorable when we finally find out what they want).  Finishhtory!  Finit!  Reetoomee.

I am so attached to these characters, that I need to hear more about them.

As in the previous book,Medley’s art is simply gorgeous.  She does realism like no one I know and her characters have an awesome blend of realism and hyper-realism that makes them so enjoyable to look at (and unbelievably detailed as well).

There have been a number of graphic novels that I have gotten completely attached to, but none like this.  It was so bittersweet to finish this, knowing there’d be no more–but holding out hope for a surprise some day.

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castlewaitingSOUNDTRACK: TINDERSTICKS-The Something Rain [CST086] (2012).

tinders This was Tindertsicks third and final full length album for Constellation.  It has some noisy elements–especially the distorted guitar–that feel different from their other releases.  Although overall I find the album a bit too slow and drawn out.

The first song on this disc, “Chocolate” is quite unlike other songs by the band.  It is a 9 minute slow song with a spoken word story delivered by by keyboard player David Boulter.  The music sets a nice tone for this story of living in a squalid bedsit and heading into town.  As the song picks up momentum, the guitar lines and the rest of the band add more atmosphere.  In the story, he goes to the bar to play some pool and picks up a woman–a regular.  By six minutes, the whole band, including horns is playing and the song is louder and more noisy while the story continues.  For the final two and a half minutes the band drops out and the denouement reveals a secret.  It’s a cool story, well delivered.

“Show Me Everything” opens with some slow bass and a buzzy electric guitar as the backing voice sings “show me…”  And, after ten minutes on the disc, we finally hear Stuart Staples’ iconic voice sounding deep and whiskery as lawyers.  I love the songs with the female backing vocals like this one.  “This Fire of Autumn” is a faster song with a throbbing bass line and catchy chorus (with more backing vocalists).  The addition of the vibes makes this a great Tindersticks song.

“A Night so Still” slows things down almost to whisper with the gentle keyboard riff under Staples’ languid delivery.  “Slippin’ Shoes” is a bit more upbeat and the horns come in right at the front of the song.  I love the way the bridge seems almost sinister and slick before resolving into a bright chorus.  “Medicine” is another slow song with multiple layers of guitars and slow horns and strings.

“Frozen” opens with slow horns that sounds like feedback, almost.  When the fast bassline and almost discoey drums come in, it’s kind of surprise, but a nice pick me up from the previous slower songs.  Staples is singing quickly over himself–the echoes of his voices catching up to his new lines. And the scratchy guitars and jazzy horns make a nice moody soundtrack of him pleading “If I could just hold you, hold you.”

“Come Inside” is  7 minute song with a simple keyboard riff that floats over the slow beat.  There’s a long slow jazzy outro–too long frankly.  The final song is the 2 minute “Goodbye Joe.”  Its all tinkling bells and a shuffling bass, a pleasant instrumental to end the disc.

While Tindertsicks albums tend to be kind of slow, this one has a few too many extended slow parts and not enough of Staples’ magical crooning or the more dramatic sounds that the band does so well.  I’m not sure why their next album was not put out by Constellation, ether.

[READ: February 15, 2016] Castle Waiting 1

I have been aware of Castle Waiting for a long time.  I believe I have even picked up an individual book at the comic book shop (of course I never read it because I wanted to start from the beginning).

So this book collects Chapters 1-19 (plus an epilogue).

I was instantly hooked by Medley’s outstanding drawings–so believable and realistic while exaggerated enough to make them all unique characters.  Not to mention the fact that there are humans and human hybrid creatures (and no one bats an eye).  And then top it off with the incredibly creative first chapter.

The story opens with a king and queen having a baby.  Actually they couldn’t have a baby so they employed a local witch for assistance.  The nice witch gives them good advice but when the town’s evil witch hears of this betrayal she plans to curse the baby.  And thus on the girls’ fifteenth birthday, the evil witch says she will prick her finger on a needle and die.  This should sound vaguely familiar to fans of fairy tales   But Medley puts a twist on things immediately by removing all needles form the castle and hiring a creature named Rumpelstiltskin to do all of their work off site.  Rumpelstiltskin has been cut in half and stitched together so when the creature asks for the Queen’s child in payment, the King yells at him and says he knows what kind of trouble that leads to.

The good witch is able to deflect the curse somewhat to make her sleep for 100 years (that should also sound familiar) rather than dying.  So, when the girl’s fifteenth birthday arrives, the bad witch comes and brings a needle to set the plan in motion.  The princess falls asleep–the whole castle falls asleep and, in a neat twist, the bad witch is killed.

And then Medley has a ton of fun with the story.  When the prince comes to wake up the princess, they run off an get married.  And there’s a hilarious multiple paneled spread of the rest of the castle sanding there, mouths agape.  As the scene ends, we see three older women telling a man with a bird’s head that that all happened along long time ago.  And the castle has been a refuge ever since. (more…)

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octSOUNDTRACK: CACTUS TRACTOR-“Jelly Donut” (Tiny Desk Contest Runner-Up 2016).

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

Cactus Tractor also have a lot of fun with the desk part of the tiny desk.  There’s a small purple desk and from behind it comes the lead singer and guitarist.  He is dressed crazily–this song and band are definitely a little goofy.  He pulls out a cactus and a tractor and then starts whistling.  It doesn’t seem like he’s whistling the song but he is. He starts playing along to the song a kind of old jazzy sound.  And it reminds me of “Mister Sandman” at times.

There’s some fairly complicated lyrics, “like reading Chinese, like choosing wine based on the cheese.”

And then a ukulele player comes out from behind the desk.  She is followed by a fisherman (it has to do with the lyrics). Then an accordionist sneaks out and she’s followed by an acoustic guitarist and an upright bassist.  The drummer comes out (they wheel his drums over)  And then finally a saxophonist and 2 trumpeters.

The song is funny and bouncy and catchy with several parts.

Eventually, the song switches to German (Berliner-jelly donut) and they sing many verses in Deutsch.  There’s no explanation for the fisherman by the end of the song (expect that he holds the jelly donut).  But that’s irrelevant because then some acrobats appear at the side of the stage and the camera pulls back as jugglers, stilt walkers and the like fill the screen.  It’s pretty extraordinary and it was done in one take (I expect the music was prerecorded, although I’d love to be wrong).

The song has novelty written all over it (they do lots of visual jokes about the lyrics) and yet it is really catchy and…unexpectedly, it is nearly six minutes long!

[READ: February 20, 2016] “The Cornucopia”

This is a short story that is set in Australia (the author is Australian, so that makes sense).

It is about a woman, Julia Holt, who is never impressed.  No matter what exciting things her friends tell her, she never shows appropriate excitement.  She is happy for her friends’ successes, but nothing seems to make her excited.

Perhaps it is because she is powerful and rich and has everything she needs.  Indeed, she even has her friends do a lot of her work for her–she is quite busy, after all.  But her friends (carefully cultivated by Julia, it must be said) do benefit from her friendship.  And honestly she was a little afraid of their successes because she didn’t want to lose any of them.

She and her husband are wealthy.  They are one of Australia’s millionaire couples.  Ralph, despite this wealth was never arrogant or showoffy.  He also had no time for games or hobbies.  He just did financial work all the time  And Ralph will always acknowledge that Julia is the more powerful one of the two oft hem.

So far so good as stories go.  But there has to be a crisis of some kind, right? (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[ATTENDED: December 10, 2015] A Christmas Carol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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jessee SOUNDTRACK: MARTIN TIELLI-Operation Infinite Joy (2003).

oijThis was Martin Tielli’s second solo album and the first disc in his Subscription Series.  Basically, you paid up front and were guaranteed four discs from the man.  Each disc came in a cool metal box, with artwork on the outside and gorgeous artwork in the booklet.  This disc was also available commercially, but I believe the other three were never made available.

This album is really lovely–lots of epic, dramatic moments, with sweeping guitars and choirs.  It’s a real testament to Martin’s songwriting and playing chops.  Although interestingly, Martin is a guitar guy and this album has a lot of piano (from Ford Pier I believe).

The disc opens with “Beauty On” which has some fanfare and a grand introduction about the rock singer who shouts, “Are you with me, Cincinnati are you ready to rock???!!” and a pause and a quietly spoken, “i am not.”  When playing this song live he often left out that intro and simply included the piano melody and the second part of the song.

“OK by Me” has a jaunty feel as it opens.  It has a simple but ornery guitar riff which morphs into several different things in this five-minute song.  There’s an acoustic guitar bridge that gives way to a chorus of voices and then the main verse melody line.  It’s catchy and meandering at the same time.  After the line “I’m playing guitar with all my dinosaurs and me” he busts out  wild raging guitar solo that sounds uncannily like Queen.

“The Temperance Society Choir” is another great dramatic song, with a choir (naturally) and some wonderful harmony vocals.  It also features lead vocals by Selina Martin for the opening lines.  There’s some great guitar and bass sounds in it (mixed low in the mix) and the wonderful lines: “All those in favor just say Aye.”  “Aye!”  “All those opposed just say no.” (pause, quietly) “no.”  It even features an old style piano interlude.

“Segeant Kraulis” is a weird song with lots of great sections.  It opens with a vocoder’d voice saying it is 60238 in the narcotics division.  After several sections, there’s a super catchy chorus, and then a noisy section with presumably Sgt Kraulis screaming “make me visible, you fuckers.”  The last section of the song devolves into a  kind of reggae section with all kinds of glitchy sounds and the repeated declaration, “We were opening packages we did not know the contents of.”

“Andy by the Lake” is the first of Martin’s longer, quieter songs.  Like some of the songs on his first solo album this song is quiet and meandering although the spikes of drama (thunder, lightning) are much welcomed.  The most conventional song on the album is a cover of Smog’s “Cold Blooded Old Times.”  I like the original but there’s something about the way Martin does it that I think is even better–the bassline is great (not present on the original).  I love Bill Callahan’s delivery on the original, but Martin makes it more dramatic (surprise).

“Winnipeg” is a great long song with multiple parts.  It’s got a fantastic intro on bells or vibes (when the wind blows, 50 below) and then shifts into a Neil Young-esque epic.  It features the interesting line “I’ve had cole slaw.”  (Cole slaw also was mentioned on his first solo record). I love the chorus of vocals singing the “ahhhha” before “any day.”  There are so many parts to this song that when people first started recording it live before it was released, I saw three different possible titles for it.

“Waterstriders” is another slower song but the intricate guitar lines are gorgeous throughout.  It’s a great chance for Martin to create all kinds of interesting sounds over a simple rhythm.

“Ship of Fire” also has a Neil Young feel–especially when the intro guitar comes in over the bass.  This song also has many parts and is a pretty fascinating story.  There’s a recurring section about a boy across the Atlantic that is very trippy.  But the lyrics are dark.  There’s also a really noisy section that builds in drama until the final concluding chorus and roaring, guitar-fueled outro.

“Kathleen” ends the disc as a delicate ballad.  I really like this disc a lot.  It’s my favorite of Martin’s solo records and is just an all around great album (with amazing artwork in the booklet).

The Subscription Series disc features two bonus tracks.  “National Pride” which is simple but nice.  And “Diamonds on Our Toes” which is a great song with a fantastic end section and the bizarre screams of “I play electric guitar!”  Both of these tracks come from the Instant Klazzix session which you can download on Rheostatics live.   The versions here have been remixed by martin.

I can’t find all that much out about Instant Klazzix, but there is stuff online about the “group.”  One of these days I’ll post about it.

[READ: June 10, 2015] Love, Sex & Other Foreign Policy Goals

This book was written by a writer of the British comedy Peep Show, which I liked a lot.  However, this book is not very funny (I don’t think it is supposed to be very funny).  Rather, this book falls into the “how far would you go to win a girl” category.  And it wonders if you would go all the way to war-torn Bosnia?

For narrator Andrew, if the girl is smoking hot Penny, then the answer is yes.

Andrew is a middle class working guy.  He is part of the Department of Works, although he’s not glamorous like the real construction guys–he’s more of a gopher.  He has been dating Helen for quite some time.  But he’s quite sure that she is cheating on him.

One night he meets a bunch of students.  They are radical and interesting, and Andrew enjoys their company.  Then they start talking about the problems in Yugoslavia (the book is set in 1994).  They decide that they should drive to Bosnia, bring some aid and, yes, put on a play that will blow everyone’s minds and stop the war. (more…)

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