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Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KT TUNSTALL-“Wash ya Hands” (2020).

KT Tunstall has been on my radar a lot lately (I think she’l l have about five posts about shows I’m not going to).  Turns out that she released a special COVID-19-related song called “Wash Ya Hands.”

It’s not a great–but it is danceable and funny–for a song that’s all about a message.

The music starts kind of menacing (which is appropriate I suppose) with some swelling strings.  But it’s all about dancing and washing your hands.

Lyrically it’s pretty straightforward and easy:

Here’s the rules you have to follow
Wash your hands while you can
Keep on following the plan
Keep your fingers off your face
Keep your distance, give a wave
Call your fiends that you love
Shout out who you’re thinking of
If you gotta cough don’t be dumb
And don’t forget your thumbs.

Those last two lines fall flat, for sure.

However, the video is pretty cute and it’s full of kids dancing around (and the song is clearly for them).

The middle breakdown section is interesting with strings and lots of percussion, including water droplet sounds.

The end adds a bit more fun when the song moves up a step and the lyrics continue:

Wash your hands while you dance
in your favorite underpants.

It’s a positive message in a negative time.  Remember: all you’re spreading is love.

[READ: July 4, 2020] Becoming RGB

Why is is that children’s (graphic novel) biographies are so good?  Is it because they can focus on all of the important things in a short amount of space?  Is it because it is written at a levy that is easy for anyone to understand?  Whatever the reason, this biography of the amazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fantastic.  The illustrations from Whitney Gardner are great too–clean and informative.

Most Americans know that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the tiny woman on the Supreme Court.  She’s been there for a long time and she is steadfast and true–very much unlike the two jokers who were recently appointed.

But aside from that, what do most of us know about her?  Well, for me, that was a big “not much.”

Her real name is Joan Ruth Bader.  But there were three Joans in her kindergarten class so she went by Ruth (everyone called her Kiki anyway). She grew up in Brooklyn.  She was left handed and the school forced her to switch (which she refused to do).  It was the first of many time she bristled at what a girl was supposed to do.

Ruth’s family was Jewish and they listened to the horrors of the Nazi progression on the radio.  Her grandparents immigrated from Russia and Australia years earlier assuming they could escape prejudice in America.  But Antisemitism was alive in New York.  As was racism and sexism.

And yes, it’s still here–somehow more vocal than ever.

But RBG saw it and wanted to do something about it.  She was inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt who said that “cruelty is a double-edged sword, destroying not only the victim but the person who indulges in it.” (more…)

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okSOUNDTRACK: PJ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #33 (June 12, 2020).

pjI understand that coming up with a stage name has to be tough, but there’s too many artists who try to go by one name when t hat name isn’t unique enough.  I mean, the rapper Dave?  C’mon.  PJ is another one.  That is such a common nickname there’s really no way you can claim it.

However PJ (whose real name is Paris Jones) has apparently made a name for herself.  Usher, Wiz Khalifa and more.  These songs come from her debut EP–I’m fascinated by the people who write hits and then eventually decide to sing.  Why did they give their songs away instead of singing them?  Is it a good way to establish your cred and make some money?  Probably.

Anyhow, I expected these songs to be much more pop-friendly and hook-filled.  Rather, they are pretty songs and PJ’s voice is really nice as well, but they aren’t earworms.

Backed by Drin Elliot on the keys, the Los Angeles-based North Carolina native breezes through two tracks off of her new EP, Waiting on Paris, from quarantine digs complete with mannequins, floral arrangements and radiant artwork.

I like the sound that Elliott gets from the simple setup (but I guess you can program synths to do a ton of stuff at the press of a button).

PJ is now the third singer in a row to have a song on the soundtrack for HBO’s Insecure.  I am now really surprised that I haven’t heard of it, even in ads.

For the final song and with the biggest grin on her face she “switches vibes” with the upbeat and anthemic “Element,” from this season of HBO’s Insecure. Here, her energy is nearly impossible to harness as she exclaims “quarantined but in my element!”

Strangely, I don’t find this song all that anthemic.  It’s kind of catchy, but then I haven’t found any of the Insecure songs to be all that super catchy.  Maybe it’s an understated soundtrack.

[READ: June 19, 2020] The Okay Witch

This graphic novel was wonderful.

Set in Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, this story is about witches (duh).  But there’s a fun twist with a mother-daughter/generational issue that definitely goes beyond witchcraft.

Middle schooler Moth (no explanation given for the name) lives with her mom, Calendula.  They own a second hand shop that was once owned by a nice old Jewish man named Joe Laslo.  (The Jewish part is relevant only because of what happens later–it’s funny).

As the story opens we learn that Founder’s Bluff has a long, beloved history of witch persecution.  Judge Nathaniel Kramer made the witches leave the town.  In 1692, women were accused of bewitching Kramer’s son Peter, and they all “disappeared,” taking Peter with them.  Kramers have been in charge ever since (the Mayor is a descendant). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MARLING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #10 (April 16, 2010).

I have become a huge fan of Laura Marling over the last few years.  I was so looking forward to her solo performance this past March. It was one of my bigger coronavirus disappointments that the intimate show is not going to be rescheduled.

Marling has been doing regular guitar lessons about her own songs (her tunings and playing style is unique and wonderful to see demonstrated).  You can see the past (and future) ones here.

(While many artists have postponed the release of their new music in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura Marling rushed to change the release date of her album from late summer to April.

As of right now her album is only available digitally. The physical release is slated for summer.

On this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we find her in her living room, with an intimate performance of songs from her just-released record Song For Our Daughter. The album is an homage to a future generation of women and to Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter, a collection of essays addressed to a fictional daughter. The warm, home setting makes room for Laura Marling’s extraordinary voice to shine.

“Held Down” has a lot of backing vocals and arrangements on the record and this stripped down version sounds amazing without it all.

“Strange Girl” demonstrates her deeper singing style in a fast and bouncy song.

“Song For Our Daughter” is a slower song, beautiful and thoughtful.

I just cannot get over how beautiful her voice is.  These personal performances almost make up for not seeing her live.

[READ: April 20, 2020] Mac B. Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime

This is the second book in a new series illustrated by Mike Lowery.  It begins

My name is Mac Barnett.  I am an author.  But before I was an author, I was a kid.  And when I was a kid, I was a spy.  An author’s job is to make up stories.  But the story you are about to read is true.

This actually happened to me.

It’s 1989 and Mac is at the mini golf course.  But he is there not for the mini golf but for the video games. He is playing Spy Master 2–the arcade update to the home game.  Mac was just about to beat the big boss–something no one else had ever done before.  People were cheering him on. Except for Derek Lafoy (who did not invite Mac to his birthday party in the previous book). Derek called him Mac Barn Head and chanted “Choke!”

But this book isn’t about video games, its about the Queen of England who called Mac at the golf course to tell him that she thought the Crown Jewels were going to be stolen again.  (In the previous book Mac helped rescue the Crown jewels for the Queen). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KEVIN MORBY AND WAXAHATCHEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #9 (April 14, 2020).

I had no idea that Katie Crutchfield and Kevin Morby were an item (or are at least close enough to quarantine together).

I really enjoyed Waxahatchee’s last two albums and was a little bummed to hear that this new one was more mellow (although good for her for getting sober!).

I really only know Kevin Morby from Tiny Desks.  I was pleased at how much I enjoyed his set and some of his other songs.

And so here they are together.

On the raw video Kevin Morby and Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee) sent to us, Kevin takes a deep breath, gives a sweet smile as he looks into his camera, clasps his hands, and says, “Hello everyone, we’re going stir crazy — this is take number 55.”

Recorded at Kevin’s tiny desk in Kansas City, they play two songs from Waxahatchee’s new album Saint Cloud, sing together on Kevin’s 2016 tune “Beautiful Strangers,” and find new meaning in the late Jason Molina’s song “Farewell Transmission.”

I also never noticed how much she and her sister Alison look alike as much as in this video–maybe it’s the (lack of) makeup?

“Fire” is the first song I’d heard from the Waxhatchee album.  I really didn’t like the high notes that start the song–they seemed just too much.  Although having heard it a few times (and now hearing her sing it live), I’ve grown to really appreciate it.  The rest of the song is really pretty too.

Kevin Morby wrote “Beautiful Strangers” in 2016 as a single with the proceeds going to Everytown for Gun Safety.  I don’t know the song, but I find it very pleasant (and Katie’s backing vocals are perfect here).

“Lilacs” is a great song from the new album which features Katie’s voice perfectly.  This is the song that made me want to hear more from the album.

The final song is a Songs: Ohia cover called “Farewell Transmission” I don’t know much about Songs: Ohia, but I know everyone loves Jason Molina, which makes me think I should listen to him more. This song runs over 7 minutes and doesn’t change all that much.  In fact,  it might just go five minutes before something different happens.  Without focusing on the lyrics, it’s a little dull, but it is nice to have both of them switching off lead vocals.

[READ: April 10, 2020] Mac B Kid Spy: Mac Undercover

I really like Mac Barnett.  I like his picture books, but I really like his chapter books.  His Brixton Brothers series is fantastic.  I love his style and his excellent sense of humor.

This is a new series illustrated by Mike Lowery.  It begins

My name is Mac Barnett.  I am an author.  But before I was an author, I was a kid.  And when I was a kid, I was a spy.  An author’s job is to make up stories.  But the story you are about to read is true.

This actually happened to me.

Mac shows his house and then gets right to it: The Queen of England called him to ask for a favor.  He says

Whenever somebody asks you for a favor, it is a good idea to ask them what the favor is before you say OK.

But I had never talked to a queen before.

So I said OK.

The queen tells him that last night somebody stole the Crown Jewels and she wants Mac to find them.

I have a question, I said.
“I hope it is a quick question,” said the Queen.
“Why me?”
The Queen of England sighed. “That is a stupid question.”
“My teacher says there is no such thing as stupid questions.”
The Queen of England frowned (I could tell she was frowning even over the phone).

Mac, said the Queen. “You are the smartest kid in your class.  You have straight As in every subject except handwriting.”

So Mac packed these things to take with him: his Game Boy, three books, a toothbrush, a hat, a shirt, a jacket, and his favorite blue jeans (perfectly faded). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN GIBBARD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #5 (April 4, 2020)

I feel like Ben Gibbard released the first new quarantine song.

On March 26 he released “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s the first song he plays in this Home Concert: “Hello, this is Ben Gibbard, welcome to Tiny Desk, Seattle style.”

Some of the other Home Tiny Desk Concerts were uplifting and lighthearted, but Ben’s mood is pretty down.  He lives in Seattle where things were very bad first.

And with that, the heavy-hearted Death Cab for Cutie frontman performs his newly written song from America’s first coronavirus hotspot, Seattle. The song is called “Life in Quarantine,” and it’s not only portrait of his city’s current state; it’s a gift to that city. Ben is donating money from streaming and purchases to Aurora Commons, a self-described “welcoming space for our unhoused neighbors.”

It’s a pretty song, but very sad (as you might imagine).  And Ben is not planning to cheer us up for the rest of the show.

And as if there weren’t enough sadness, Ben performs an homage to songwriter and musician Adam Schlesinger of the band Fountains of Wayne, who passed away on April 1 from complications due to COVID-19. Ben was a long admirer of Adam’s music and sings us one of his favorite Fountains of Wayne songs, as well as a song Ben wrote for The Monkees’ Good Times album, a record that Adam produced.

“Me & Magdalena” (The Monkees song) is slow.  It’s similar to The Monkees’ version, although Ben’s delivery makes the song sound even sadder.

He talks about Fountains of Wayne and how he and Chris Walla took a road trip San Francisco and listened to the debut FoW record the whole way down and back.  His favorite song was “She’s Got a Problem.”  Even though I think of FoW as being poppy and cheerful, this song, in keeping with the mood, is not.

I really like Death Cab for Cutie and Ben Gibbard, but this is one show I won’t be listening to again, it’s just too much of a downer.

[READ: April 10, 2020] Black Canary: Ignite

I believe S. brought this home because Meg Cabot wrote it.  I haven’t read any of Cabot’s books, but S. is a fan. This is Cabot’s first graphic novel (it somehow seems odd that it’s a DC book).  I don;t know if Black Canary is a familiar character (I’ve not heard of her, but then I’m not much of  DC fan).

This book is part of DC’s Zoom imprint which means its written for younger kids (which also means I’ll like it more than standard DC fare).

Dinah is the daughter of Detective Lance.  She is thirteen and is in a band.  She wants to try out for the Gotham City Junior Police Academy (during Career Week).  Both of these things make her father angry.  She believes its because she’s a girl, but he says that Gotham is just not a safe place to live. [So why not move?].

The Joker has escaped [again].  One thing I dislike about DC is that it seems that everything is about The joker and Arkham Asylum, must have no security at all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ALLEN STONE-Tiny Desk Concert #964 (March 30, 2020).

What’s worse?  Liking someone’s personality and disliking their music or liking their music and thinking they are a bad person?

In this Tiny Desk Concert, I learned that Allen Stone is a super nice guy, sweet and funny.  But boy do I dislike his music–and his singing voice.

Clearly I do not share the popular opinion about that.

His three graceful background singers L-r: Moorea Masa, Jessica Childress, Raquel Rodriguez) and piano player ( Michael Elson) provided the perfect compliment, but this set proved undoubtedly that his voice belongs right up front.

And yet, lyrically, “American Privilege,” which addresses his internal guilt about everything from materialism to being born white, is really powerful.

Between songs he is a delightful sweetheart.  He says that playing Tiny Desk is a, “breath of fresh air that this is how people want to hear music.  It’s not pyrotechnics, its stripped down songs in their purity.”

After this song he played

a trilogy of Building Balance songs dedicated to his wife (who he said he’s “face first in love” with)

He says he got married a year and a half ago.  And he is still married, which is great.

“Give You Blue” (I don’t quite understand the metaphor) is played on an acoustic guitar with gentle piano and the backing singers providing a lot of the backing sounds.

He says say that being so in love has meant that he got a lot of great tunes out of it.  Although “Brown Eyed Lover” seems a questionable title given the Van Morrison classic.  Plus, it seems odd to dedicate a song to your wife that goes, “I’ve got a brown-eyed lover on the other side of town.”

I acknowledge that Stone has a strong, powerful voice–his vibrato is impressive.  I just don’t care for it.

But again, he is so nice between songs.  He says playing a big room is fun and so much energy but with ear monitors in your head you feel isolated.  However, the best part of music is the people and this is so much fun for musicians.

He wrote “Consider Me” before he asked his wife to marry him.  It’s a sweet song, but I’m surprised that a sweet, romantic song has this verse

If you’re looking for somebody who
Will put up with your shit

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 5

Book 5, the army is more intent than ever on finding Hilo. But because he is a child (and not from here) they can’t find any matches in any database.

It will also be hard to find Hilo because he has returned to his home planet Jannus (along with DJ who put on Hilo’s suit and ran through the portal at the least second).

Their absence means that Izzy needs to create replicas of the two of them.  Which she does easily, although the first attempts are way too smart (hilariously so).

Meanwhile Gina has been practicing her magic and accidentally opens a a portal to let two giant dogs in the room.  And they are not friendly dogs. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE BLACK CROWES-Tiny Desk Concert #963 (March 23, 2020).

I didn’t really like The Black Crowes when they dominated the airwaves in the 90s.  They weren’t really my cup of tea.  In hindsight I like them more.  Although I am very puzzled that the Robinsons are part of the jam band scene as their music seems a little too straightforward for jamming.  But then I haven’t heard any of his jam stuff.

This show is just the two Robinsons, Chris singing and Rich playing some beautiful acoustic guitar –lovely riffs and fills and harmonics.  (Rich’s beard looks better).

It’s somehow been 30 years since the singles “Jealous Again” and “Hard To Handle” (their Otis Redding cover) received constant radio play, and the brothers have reunited for the 30th anniversary of The Black Crowes’ debut platinum album, Shake Your Money Maker.

The newly reunited Brothers Of A Feather decided to open their Tiny Desk concert with “She Talks To Angels.”

This song is stripped down so much, that its sounds really quite different (I like the acoustic playing more than the original).  But I guess it is more of a jam band song since it stretches out to nearly 6 minutes.

The second song is another big hit in a very different format.  Although I feel like “Jealous Again” doesn’t quite work as well as an acoustic song.

It’s no secret that the brothers haven’t always gotten along, and Chris and Rich Robinson have had musical successes outside their collaboration as The Black Crowes. But the combination of Chris’ instantly recognizable raspy belt and Rich’s catchy guitar riffs was always going to be the duo’s legacy.

Chris’ voice does sound recognizable, although perhaps a little worse for wear.

“Wiser Time” (from 1994’s Amorica) is about constantly being in motion.  Rich plays a beautiful 12 string guitar (it sounds so full!)  They both sing in harmony for much of the song and their voices sound wonderful together.

[READ: April 1, 2020] Hilo: Book 4

In Book 4 we get to see just how awesome Hilo’s sister Izzy is.  Hilo is from another world and Izzy is his “sister.”  He rescued her at the end of Book 3 an now that she’s on Earth, she is just the cutest thing.  They are on earth hanging out with DJ and his best friend Gina.

Izzy makes things from parts and scraps and she is constantly making things (and hilariously, nonchalantly mentioning what they do).

The first thing Izzy makes is a chicken out of the broken toaster.  The chicken speaks Portuguese (what else is she going to speak?) and when she gets mad, her butt falls off.  The chicken shouts estar frio aqui alguem me dar um casaco and indeed it does fall off.

In the last book they went to Oshun, the planet of Polly the warrior cat.  Gina learned magic there and she is learning to control it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ARTHUR MOON-Tiny Desk Concert #962 (March 20, 2020).

Arthur Moon is exactly the kind of weirdo band that I never would have heard of if not for Tiny Desk Concerts. I’m so happy that Bob Boilen enjoys the offbeat, because there’s no other way I would have heard of these guys.

This band, the project of singer Lora-Faye Åshuvud has the quirky freshness I first heard from New York artists such as Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads in the late 1970s and more recently with Dirty Projectors. It comes off in the starkness of the sound, a spaciousness that leaves room for me to hear the storytelling in the songs, but always surprising me with aural delights.

They play three songs (here’s another Tiny Desk I wish was twice as long).

All three songs in this performance come from their brilliant self-titled 2019 album, an album too many missed, in my opinion. And this band pulls off these odd, unpredictable twists and turns with simplicity and charm.

The first song, “Homornormo” starts with an lopsided five-note acoustic guitar riff from Martin D. Fowler and hugely processed vocals Lora-Faye Åshuvud (I guess it’s a vocoder).  There’s backing vocals and hocketing from keyboardist Cale Hawkins and Aviva Jaye (who is credited with “toys” and vocals).  There’s a guitar solo form Åshuvud which is as weird and abstract as the rest of the song.  The only thing vaguely conventional about the song are the drums from Dave Palazola because the rhythm has to be consistent when every thing else is chaotic.  But even his sounds are oddball, like the reverse snare drum sound he plays at the end.

I haven’t even mentioned the lyrics:

The opening song at the Desk, “Homonormo,” begins with a kiss-off to the very city that birthed their sound, and a search for something normal, yet twisted.

“Hello
Send my kindest regards to New York
I’m gone, woo
I think I want to settle down
But weirder”

Even the end of the song is unconventional.  It ends with a series of claps: 4, 5, 6 and then a few random numbers that they all know perfectly.  It’s like getting people to clap for you.

“Reverse Conversion Therapy” opens with the mini Mellotron from  Cale Hawkins, who was last at the Tiny Desk with Raveena.  This song is slower, with Moog bass sounds from Fowler.  When the chorus kicks in the guitars launch out like a St. Vincent song, but it quickly settles back down.  The middle turns down nearly all the music as Ashuvud sings while others provide ooohs for backing vocals.  It ends with some awesome hocketing from all three vocalists.

There’s anxiety in these songs, even when the chorus is “I Feel Better,” but there’s a creative spirit in this anxiety, and then, of course too, there’s the tin foil.

“I Feel Better” opens with drums and a sprinkling of sounds as she sings.  Then comes the chanted chorus of “I feel better” that everyone sings. Aviva Jaye (who brought a table of toys) gets a brief lead vocal line before everyone else joins in again.

The song ends with a pretty piano solo and Åshuvud pulling out a roll of aluminium foil )I only wish I could see what she was doing with it).

[READ: May 6, 2016] Hilo: Book 3

At the end of book two, Gina was sucked into a portal and DJ and Hilo were surrounded by army tanks.  How would they ever get out of this?  In the most hilarious way ever (by acting like the little kids they appear to be).  I love that there is a recurring joke that dogs love Hilo and even they get in on the act.

Hilo takes advantage of being in the military base to hack into the computer system to learn about possible portals that he can open to get Gina back.  They were also given an orb by Polly which causes everyone on earth to forget the last two days–an outstandingly easy way to get everyone to forget everything. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: REX ORANGE COUNTY-Tiny Desk Concert #961 (March 18, 2020).

I read about Rex Orange County (the low-key British pop star born Alex O’Connor) in some random article which basically said if you’re over twenty you’ve never heard of him, but if you’re under twenty, you think he’s the greatest thing ever. (My 14 year old son had not heard of him).

I didn’t read anything about his music, but I assumed he was a hip hop performer or the like.

So imagine my surprise when he turned out to be an English dude who sings like Stevie Wonder and (in the Tiny Desk at least) has music that sounds like it comes straight from the 70s.

“Loving Is Easy” features Michael Underwood on flute and Johnny Woodham on flugehorn sounding for all the world like a mid 70s AM hit.  Is he really popular with the young kids?

There was a palpable connection between the 21-year-old singer and [the crowd of millennial and Gen Z staffers that gathered early for Rex’s soundcheck]  that I don’t see often at this stage in a musician’s career. My guess is that they see themselves in him: introverted and shy, with the audacity to write and sing about his innermost thoughts.

I really feel like this blurb is overselling his openness.  I mean, most singer-songwriters bare their souls, so I’m not sure what makes him any different.  But the blurb really pushes his honesty

We’re in an age where young people are uninhibited and unafraid to address emotions, simple or complex. In that sense, his latest LP, Pony, is timely. He spoke with NPR and shared that he was incredibly unhealthy mentally throughout the making of the album. But there’s an arch to Pony and by the time we get to the final song, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” he seems at peace with his new reality.

But what’s so intense about these lyrics?

Loving is easy
You had me fucked up
It used to be so hard to see
Yeah, loving is easy
When everything’s perfect
Please don’t change a single little thing for me

I mean, not much, so let’s not get carried away about how revolutionary he is.

I was instantly surprised by how white his band seems.  The band is dressed all in white and they are a remarkably pale bunch.  Drummer Jim Reed has the bright red cheeks of the overheated.  And Michael, Johnny and lead guitarist Joe Arksey are all blond and very pale.

Between songs, he seems like he has never been in front of an audience before with the awkward way he introduces these songs.

Up next is “Pluto Projector” in which Rex switches to guitar and  Underwood switches to piano.  There’s a moment in the middle when bassist Darryl Dodoo plays a slap note.  It’s really the only notable bass in the show.  Woodham plays a muted trumpet solo which is followed by a guitar solo from Joe Arksey that I was sure was bass, but it’s just a weirdly muffled guitar sound.

For “Always” Rex moves back to piano and he sounds even more like Stevie Wonder.  This song features sax and a non-muted trumpet.  There’s some great horn melodies in this song and I like the way he plays some piano parts in the middle.

There’s this awkward introduction.  Okay I only have one more now, and then I’m gonna go…  Let’s play the song that’s called “Sunflower” now.

“Sunflower” is “older,” meaning it dates all the way back to 2017.  He’s back on guitar with a nice echo.  The beginning of the song is guitar and flugelhorn.  Then in the middle, the song picks up the tempo and becomes the catchiest thing all show.  I’m not that keen on the rhyming/talking middle part–it seems oddly forced, but that’s okay.  There’s a jamming section at the end with a flugehorn solo followed by a sax solo

Rex did not blow me away, but I was pleasantly surprised by his sound and that kids actually like it..

[READ: February 21, 2019] The Dam Keeper Book 3

Kondo and Tsutsumi have both worked at Pixar, which may explain why this graphic novel looks unlike anything I have ever seen before.   I have (after reading their bios) learned that this was also a short film.  I’m only a little disappointed to learn that because it means the pictures are (I assume) stills from the film.  It still looks cool and remarkable, but it makes it a bit less eye-popping that this unusual style wasn’t made for a book.

For part three, the final part, our heroes, Pig, Fox and Hippo are trying to get back home to save Sunrise Valley.

This third part is a lot of travel, very little dialogue and, honestly some fairly confusing action.

Pig has been given a plant by the moles and he hopes to use it to find the smoke monster.  Fox and Hippo say the heck with that and choose to head home.

Fox and Hippo are on Van’s ship.  They are brought inside to meet Van’s children.  The room is full of dozens of children of all different species.  As hippo puts it:

Erm.. these are your kids?  But they don’t look like you or Van how is this possible?

Van;s wife says that all of the children were abandoned for being different so Van took them in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HARRY STYLES-Tiny Desk Concert #960 (March 16, 2020).

Harry Styles was in One Direction.  I couldn’t tell you a thing about One Direction (but I assume most other people could).

When he released his debut album in 2017, I was surprised how much I liked the (goofy) song “Carolina.”  It was a groovy, boppy trifle of fun.  I didn’t listen to anything else on it, but I was pleased to enjoy the Britpop chorus and lalalas.

Basically it taught me that Harry Styles has a good sense of humor.  And that’s on display in this Tiny Desk Concert.

Styles might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind when you think of public radio’s only working, desk-music-discovery platform. After all, he’s got a wildly devoted fanbase that’s followed his every move since his One Direction days. In fact, before soundcheck had even started, a crowd of fans had begun to gather outside NPR HQ. They rightly suspected he would be playing a Tiny Desk concert after word got out that the former One Directioner was spotted in D.C. with no tour date on his public schedule.

But beyond the headlines, Styles has proven to be an artist who takes his songcraft and aesthetic seriously, interested in subverting expectations of what a pop star can and should sound like in 2020. That sense of unpretentious creativity is exactly what he brought to his Tiny Desk performance – and it definitely earned him some new adoring public radio fans in the process.

Styles performed four songs from his latest solo album, Fine Line.

“Cherry” starts with pretty a capella harmony vocals from the three women in his touring band (drums, piano and guitar). Then he starts the acoustic guitar and sings while Mitch Rowland plays a nifty slide guitar solo.  Midway through, Adam Prendergast adds a nice low bass  and Sarah Jones adds thumping drums.  It’s got a slow folk feel.

Between tracks, he talked about the process of writing these songs: From the day off in Nashville that led to “Watermelon Sugar,”

The song had been around for a long time.  He liked it, then he hated it and now it’s back.  he got the title from a Richard Brautigan book.

“Watermelon Sugar” is a faster song.  Charlotte Clark switches to the Wurlitzer which adds a nice tone to the song.  Jones plays some electronic percussion and Rowland has a nice wah wah lead on the acoustic guitar.

After the song he says, “I have to come into NPR more often… It’s nice here.”

He then says, it’s very hot.  “I am wearing a badly chosen jumper.”  It’s light blue wit a chick hatching out of an egg.  It says “mon petit.”

Before the next song he says thanks to that group who is like moving back there–“I’m getting my vibe from you … shame on the rest of you.”

He talks about his friend and collaborator Mitch Rowland doesn’t doesn’t speak a lot. Then he’ll call and say I have an idea and it was the whole song of “To Be So Lonely”

He admits that it’s a shame that when he sings the line about being an arrogant son of a bitch that that’s the line people sing back the loudest.

It’s a quieter song.  Backing vocalist Ny Oh normally plays guitar but on this one she just claps.  Harry has no guitar either.  Charlotte is on piano and Mitch plays a very cool guitar part.

Before the final song “Adore You” he talks about how weird this is, “It just feels like you’re in the way.”

He says “Adore You” is “about a fish… I just really liked it.”  There’s great backing vocals from Ny Oh.  He sings more intensely in this song which seems like it would be a big hit.

It’s always interesting when pop stars branch out, and I think Styles has done a good job of it.

[READ: March 31, 2020] Hilo: Book 2

Three years ago I read the first Hilo book and loved it.  And as often happens with series like this, I forgot all about it.  Well, S. brought home books 2-5 to read during our quarantine and I was thrilled that book 2 is as good, if not better, than the first one.

Judd Winick’s sense of humor is just dynamite. He has impeccable comic timing, a fantastic gift for drawing expressions and a great sense of family/children’s jokes.  I laughed out loud a lot during this book with lines like “I smell like gorilla armpit…. and not in a good way.”

After an introduction to earth kids DJ and his best friend Gina, we learn about Hilo (he loves telling that knock knock joke).  The first crisis occurs at the bowling alley.  A metal robot crashes into the alley and starts fighting with Hilo.

As Hilo fights he discovers new powers.  Like ice breath.  The puff he makes is about a foot wide “That’s not as impressive as I thought it’d be).  As the fight concludes, Hilo says a new decree: “no more hurting robots, starting now.”  He can stop bad machines without destroying them: “Nobody gets hurt. Not one.” (more…)

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