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Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAMBINAI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #234 (July 09, 2021).

Why oh why oh why do all the best Tiny Desk Concerts have to be so short?

This show is AMAZING and it’s only 12 minutes long.  Meanwhile, some other bands have dragged theirs out for almost twice as long.  Alas.

I was introduced to JAMBINAI (like many others I’m sure) at the 2018 winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea.  Their set was spectacular and it blew me away.  In reality, the band is much smaller than that spectacle produced, but their sound is still huge and intense.

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “fierce” to describe a Tiny Desk, but that’s precisely what JAMBINAI has created in this (home) concert. The show begins in front of a massive recreation of my desk and what happens next … well, no spoilers here. Filmed in an immersive media art museum created by an organization known as d’strict on Jeju Island, this Korean band contains multitudes.

JAMBINAI plays traditional Korean instruments, but adds rock guitars and bass.

At its heart, JAMBINAI’s music mixes elements of metal, noise and Korean tradition. There’s full-on distorted guitar, bass and drums, but also a haegeum (a fiddle-like instrument), a piri (a type of flute), a taepyeongso (a reed instrument) and a most appropriately named instrument, a geomungo (a giant Korean zither). We also hear some delicate vocals in the mix.

The two pieces performed here include 2015’s “Time of Extinction” and the more recent and epic “ONDA.”

“Time Of Extinction” is the song they played at the Olympic and while it’s only three minutes long it feels epic and really encompasses their sound.  It opens with a plucked geomungo creating the simple riff.  After 20 second Ilwoo Lee plays a feedbacking guitar note and then Jaehyuk Choi comes crashing in on the drums.  At the same time, the visuals blow your mind.

The basis of the song is Eunyong Sim’ geomungo rhythm and Bomi Kim’s keening haegeum solo.  The guitars add a terrific tension to the basic melody.  In the middle of the song when it’s just drum and Byeongkoo Yu’s bass playing, the thumping is broken by the fully distorted guitar You don’t expect Ilwoo Lee to bust out a taepyeongso and play a traditional and rather discordant horn solo on top.  Just when it seems the song is about to launch to a new direction it’s over.  Just like that.

There is something so unearthly about the geomungo–it’s percussive and stringed and you can feel it rumble and thump ta the same time

“ONDA” is 8 minutes long and opens with Ilwoo Lee playing a saenghwang an amazing looking wind instrument that I cant quite fathom.  He plays a terrific sounding melody with it –almost patronal. Except for the low electronic chords underneath it

Then comes the rumble–the thundering drums and bass and a fast repetition from the geomungo.

Then Bomi Kim sings a gentle, calming echoing vocal line that sound magical under the rumble. After a verse of so Ilwoo Lee joins in on harmony vocals and they sound terrific together.

The song builds in intensity, as lwoo Lee adds the guitar, then it pulls back as Lee plays a piri solo that becomes a call and response with the haegeum.

There’s a wild jamming solo section that grows super intense.  The way it builds to a climax and is followed by huge crashing chords (and great visuals) is monumental.  Everyone joins in singing for the last minute as the melody soars and soars.

Maybe 12 minutes is all we can handle.

[READ: July 1, 2021] The Whispering Wars

This book is related to The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone in that it is set in the same land (The Land of Kingdoms and Empires).  But it is set some thirty years before the adventures of that book.  Through some magic (this is a magical land), we do see Bronte briefly. but if she ever starts to give way anything about the future, she is instantly sent back to where she came from.

In the first book we are aware of the Whispering Wars as being a big event in the past.  This book explains how they started.

This book is told by two (sometimes three) alternating narrators.  There is Finlay, who lives at the orphanage and Honey Bee who lives at the fancy Brathelthwaite school.

How they wind up alternating chapters isn’t explained until much later, which I rather enjoyed (both the delay and the explanation).

As the book opens, Finlay explains that it is time for the annual Spindrift (the town where they live) tournament.  The kids at the orphanage looks forward to this event because they can show up the rich kids.  Finlay is a super fast runner, as is his friend Glim.  The twins Eli and Taya aren’t super fast but they are very strong and good with their hands (and can multitask like nobody’s business).  There’s also Jaskafar, a tiny boy who sleeps on top of the wardrobe–his storyline is very funny until he is the first Orphan to be taken. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARRTOONS, KAELIN ELLIS, KIEFER AND THE KOUNT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #229 (June 28, 2021).

This is one of the more unusual Tiny Desk Concerts that I’ve seen.  Essentially the NPR team asked these musicians to make remixes of NPR theme music.  I haven’t heard of any of the musicians before, but I gather they are well known and regarded.

Over the past year and some change, beatmakers Carrtoons, Kaelin Ellis, Kiefer, and The Kount took to social media individually and often collaboratively to cook up productions, often resulting in viral moments and never-seen-before glimpses into their creative process.  As we continue to celebrate 50 years of NPR, Tiny Desk was determined to take part. To honor the iconic themes from our news programs, we asked these four producers to come up with their own spin on the All Things Considered theme (written by Don Voegeli) the Morning Edition theme and the theme for Weekend Edition (both written by B.J. Leiderman).

The blurb describes them as beatmakers. I don’t know what that means exactly (in my mind it has nothing to do with instruments), but for this set, each guy plays an instrument or two.  Clockwise from the bottom left Kaelin Ellis: drums, The Kount: percussion, Kiefer: piano, keyboards and Carrtoons: bass.

Most of the themes are under 30 seconds, so it’s interesting to hear them stretched out.  It’s also interesting that they didn’t simply play the theme and them jam it.  each one uses a part of the theme, but the songs go in very different directions.  The addition of bass and drums certainly changes the sound, as does their new jazzier feel.

“All Things Considered (Remix by Carrtoons)” Kiefer plays a variant of the original (quite similar) and then plays a kind of staccato piano like the news urgency music.  I like the way those original eight notes keep returning.   This new song is all of 1 minute long.

“Morning Edition (Remix by Kaelin Ellis)”  This one sounds really different with an intro (lots of bass and drums).  It’s not until the middle that the jazzy chords reveal themselves as the Morning Edition melody.  I feel like you can’t hear all that much percussion on these tracks although the bongos are audible here.  and I like the little cymbals near the end.  This song is about two minutes,

“Weekend Edition (Remix by Kiefer)” I like that this one opens with that iconic ascending melody, but dissipates smoothly.  It’s also interesting that the middle melody is still there, only stretched out. Kaelin’s drums are pretty great on this track and Carrtoons’ bass is pivotal throughout.

[READ: June 1, 2021] The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

S. read book three in this series, not realizing it was book 3.  She then read the books in reverse order, ending with this one.

Well, I decided to read them in the correct order.  And while I haven’t read 2 or 3 yet, book 1 was fantastic.   I loved everything about this book–the plot, the illustrations and especially the writing style

Jaclyn Moriarty has created a hilarious and thoughtful young narrator and the ways in which she has to deal with adults makes for some very funny scenes indeed.

The premise is that Bronte Mettlestone is ten years old and has just found out that her parents were killed by pirates. She’s not really that upset though because she never knew them.  They abandoned her at the doorstep of an aunt when she was just a baby.  They were adventurers and couldn’t be tied down by a child.

The humor comes right away, with the announcement that Bronte’s parents were killed.  They receive a telegram which says that they were “taken out by cannon fire.” Aunt Isabelle is furious about that phrase.  Could they not have chosen a less flippant turn of phrase?

So Bronte was raised by her aunt Isabelle with help from The Butler.  They see that her parents will says that Bronte must take a series of trips, by herself to visit all of her other aunts and give them each a present (the present is included with the will).  The details of the trip are spelled out in very specific detail–how long she is to stay with each Aunt and how to get from one to the next.  To make things worse, the will has been sealed wit faery stitching, which means if she doesn’t do what the will says, there will be terrible consequences.  Essentially Bronte must follow these rules exactly or OR PEOPLE COULD DIE!

So obviously this is world where magic exists, although Bronte herself has had little exposure to magic.  She says the only thing she knows about magic comes from the book The History of the Kingdoms and Empires.

There are two types of magic that are worked by thread.  There was bright thread which was used by True Mages like Faeries and elves and water sprites.  Then there was shadow thread used by dark Mages like witches and Sterling Silver Foxes.  The third kind was binding thread which Spellbinders used to stop Shadow Magic from doing its work. Initially the thread was real, but now they can do their magic with imaginary thread.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROTHERS OSBORNE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #215 (May 26, 2021).

If Brothers Osborne were an instrumental band I’d really like them. Lead guitarist John Osborne is an amazing player whose riffs are amazing and even though they sound pretty country, he’s amazing to watch.

But when T.J. Osborne starts singing, you understand why they wear cowboy hats.

For their Tiny Desk (home) concert… Brothers Osborne–a country duo that’s long challenged the conventions of country and still managed to top the charts–scale to fit the setting – John’s wood-panelled Nashville living room furnished with plenty of guitars and a tiny desk featuring a Maryland flag mug – but refuse to dial down the intensity.

They open with “Muskrat Greene,” the instrumental that is so impressive.  T.J.’s guitar licks are flying, Adam Box’s drums keep a tight martial pace (and the drum sound is fantastic) and the song never lets up.  I love the backwards guitar part in the middle along with some cool keyboard soloing from Gabe Dixon.

Opening with the explosive instrumental track “Muskrat Greene,” Brothers Osborne and their collaborators use their set to showcase the very best of Skeletons. As on the record, they transition immediately into “Dead Man’s Curve,” a track that’s the ideal interplay between John’s fiery guitar and T.J.’s singular vocal stylings.

After two and a half minutes they segue into “Dead Man’s Curve” which sounds like a pretty great rockin’ roots song.  The main riff after the chorus is spectacular and T.J.’s solo smokes.  I’d like to hear it with different vocals.

“I’m Not for Everyone” is where the set falters for me.  It is such a standard country song–anthemic and familiar–I’m sure it sounds exactly like some other country song.  I might enjoy it more as a cover because the lyrics are pretty funny (country music self-deprecation).  The addition of “local legend” Matt Heasley on accordion is a nice touch.

“Skeletons” opens with some muted acoustic guitar from T.J. and some nice slide guitar work from Jason Graumlich.  Once again, if this song didn’t feel so “country” I would really like it.  Musically it’s solid (John gets another great solo) and lyrically it’s quite clever.  I just don’t like the vocal style.  When I imagine Richard Thompson singing it, I like it a lot better.

“Hatin’ Somebody” (never got nobody nowhere) ends the set with more clever lyrics.  This time John uses the slide for some more great guitar work.  The song has a fun riff and Pete Sternberg’s bass keeps the low end solid.  But the song is just too country for me.

I do appreciate how much fun they are having though.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Spy School

I read Gibbs’ Charlie Thorne books recently and really enjoyed them, so I thought it would be fun to check out his earlier series Spy School (which C. had read a few years ago and really liked).

This story had the same kind of clever wit as the Charlie Thorne books, which I greatly appreciated.  It was also a pretty exciting story.

It starts in the middle of nowhere.  Well, actually in the middle of Ben Ripley’s house.  Where, out of nowhere, a Federal agent has just told him that he has been accepted into spy school.  They’ve had their eyes on him for a while. He did wonderfully on the STIQ exams.  What are they?  He doesn’t remember taking them.

Standardized Test Inserted Questions.  The CIA places them in every standardized test to asses potential espionage aptitude.  You’ve gotten every one right since third grade.

So that’s pretty wild.  Of course everything about Spy school is secret so he can’t even tell his parents or his best friend. They al think he’s going to a super brainy nerdy math school (Ben is a super brainy math nerd after all).

The agent, Alexander Hale, is so cool, Ben can’t wait to hang out with him.  But when Alexander drops him off at school things are not good.  The whole school is under red alert–there seems to have been a security breach.  And Ben is now a target.  Why? because even the enemy has heard about him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KAROL G-Tiny Desk (Home) Conert #216 (May 27, 2021).

I’m always amazed when a musician is described as a superstar but I’ve never heard of her.  Well, Karol G. is a reggaeton superstar and it makes sense that I’ve never heard of her since I’m not even really sure what reggeton is.  This set doesn’t really clarify that for me because this just sounds like great pop music and indeed: 

Colombian reggaetonera Karol G floats between styles on this wistful Miami set with the breeziness of a pop star who knows no boundaries – or maybe it’s the calculus of an artist who has built a career on subverting them. Her personal, unapologetic flourish has allowed her to top the Billboard charts of a genre with limited female participation, and even less superstardom.

It was pretty cool to see that Karol G.’s band was all women (even if some of them look like they’re still in high school, they are all great).  

Her signature bichota energy is subtle, yet pervasive in her stripped-down Tiny Desk (home) concert. Flanked by an illuminated all-women band, Karol G’s authentic command of the intimate moment and its intended audience is unmistakable. 

She plays three (or four) songs. 

She deftly moves from a ballad-like rendition of urbano mash-up “Créeme/A Ella.”

She has a lovely voice with wonderful flow.  Then Guillana Merello starts thumping the floor toms to kick the song off and then she looks so very happy once he main part starts.  Sus Vazquez plays interesting chord shapes high up the neck while Anastasiia Zaichenko plays a bouncy bass. Sus plays a series of pretty chords and things slow down as the song shifts to “A Ella” with soft keyboard washes from Bryan Bliska.

to a soulful performance of trap corrido “200 COPAS” (her proclaimed favorite song at the moment) with Mexican Regional cariño Danny Felix.

Felix plays some great acoustic melodies on the 12 string and the song has a very Mexican/Puerto Rican feel.

She speaks a lot between songs although I have no idea what she’s saying.

Closing with a first-ever live performance of the dreamy duet “CONTIGO VOY A MUERTE,” she marks the end of the concert with a nod to her roots. Intertwined with fellow Colombiano Camilo, Karol G expresses gratitude and pride.

You have to check out Camilo’s mustache!  And the fact that his voice is actually higher than hers.  The songs tarts with some gentle guitars and keys as Camilo sings.

[READ: June 19, 2021] My Mommy Medicine

I’ve read a lot of short stories by Edwidge Danticat, but I had no idea she wrote a children’s book (with lovely illustrations from Shannon Wright).

The story is pretty simple.  In the author’s note, she says that she is a mom to two daughters and whenever they were sick she would lavish them with “mommy medicine.”

In the book there’s one little girl and she knows she can count on her Mommy medicine. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DEEP SEA DIVER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #214 (May 25, 2021).

I had not heard of Deep Sea Diver before this year.  But her song “Impossible Weight” is definitely one of my favorite songs of the last year.  Apparently, last year NPR voted “Stop Pretending” as one of their favorite song of 2020, so she clearly writes great songs.

She’s also got a keen sense for presentation, as soon as you see her set.

She also chose a very particular location for the shoot: “There were countless times this past year that I wanted to be transported out of my house and into a different world,” the singer and guitarist explains to NPR via email. “One of my favorite and most inspiring worlds is that of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I wanted to pay homage to the show by recreating the red room for our Tiny Desk.”

I’m not saying that that would be terribly hard to do, but it certainly took a bit of effort.  And it looks awesome.

Inside the red room, the set includes three tracks from Deep Sea Diver’s marvelous 2020 album, Impossible Weight… joining the band are some special guests: Natalie Schepman and Meegan Closner of the band Joseph sing background vocals, and Dobson’s Beagle, Henry, makes an appearance. (Dobson claims he’s the only one who didn’t care that Deep Sea Diver couldn’t tour last year.)

“Impossible Weight” sounds fantastic.  I really love everything about it.  From the mutes guitar intro to the super catchy chorus to the wordless hook.  Every time I heard it on the radio, I was singing along to that chorus.

But that
was then
and this is now
I tried
so hard
not to let you all down
It’s an impossible weight
So I’ll just let you down now

On the record, Sharon Van Etten sings some part of it. I’m not sure what–I assumed Sharon sang the chorus, but it sounds the same when Dobson sings it here.  But in this Tiny Desk two thirds of the band Joseph joins her on backing vocals (I wonder why Allison wasn’t part of it) and they sound perfect.

After the song her drummer (and husband) brings out Henry, who gets a credit.

  • Henry Lee: beagle

“Lights Out” is up next and wow does it rock.  It’s got a great fuzzy bass intro from Elijah Thomson.  I feel like her voice sounds a bit like Torres here (no bad thing).  The sprinkling of keys from Elliot Jackson are a subtle touch, as is his later guitar playing.  But man, the guitar solo that Jessica plays absolutely rips–she gets a fantastic sound.  After the solo the song gets quiet for a minute but it slowly builds in power.  Mansen’s drumming by the end of the song is exhausting to watch.  The song comes to a fantastic abrupt end and it really feels like it needs a crowd cheering after it (so it’s nice that Joseph is off stage to provide the cheers).

She moves to the piano for “Wishing” where she shows off

an impressive homemade bolo tie that she crafted from an NPR enamel pin and “a little bit of duct tape.”

Pianos tend to mean ballad, and this song is more ballady for sure.  The synths give it a retro feel, although Mansen provides some good rumbling drums for the catchy chorus.  I also got a huge kick out of the end when she plays a chord and sings “Awesome.”

“Stop Pretending,” was chosen as one of NPR Music’s favorite songs of 2020.

It has a cool opening guitar riff and later in the song the guitar sound she gets is an amazing roar.  In fact the end of the song builds to a great wall of noise with intense drumming and some great bass lines while Jessica plays an amazing solo.

[READ: October 10, 2016] The Terrible Two Get Worse

I really enjoyed the first two books in this series (Mac Barnett is such a hilarious writer–or maybe Jory John is the funny one?  Well, I know from past books that mac is hilarious).  But I forgot about the series and didn’t realize that this one (or the next one) had come out.

So book three is different from the first two because it is set in the woods. In the summer!

Niles and Miles are spying on Papa Company.  Papa Company is a patrol at a summer camp–the wonderfully named Yawnee Valley Yelling and Push up Camp.  Papa Company is run by Josh Barkin.  Josh is the son of the boys’ Principal and their archenemy.  He has two cadets in his patrol.  He has nicknamed them Dugout and Mudflap.  It’s not entirely clear if Josh is supposed to be taking these boys on as his own patrol, but the only rules at camp seem to be yelling and push ups, so….

Josh was sent to the camp last summer as punishment.  But he loved the yelling and meanness so much that he asked if he could stay there all summer…and return again this year.  The camp is big on acronyms, and the authors have a lot of fun with them (right up until the end!) (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SARA WATKINS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #209 (May 13, 2021).

You never really know what you’ll get with Sara Watkins.  Well, that’s not true, you know you’ll get wonderful music in some variant of folk.  Whether she’s playing with Nickel Creek or her brother in Watkins Family Hour, there’s going to be harmonies and wonderful violin.  The big surprise for me for this concert was that she opened with “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.”  Yes, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” by Sons of the Pioneers.  The trio of Sara Watkins, Alan Hampton and Davíd Garza’s voices sound fantastic together.

This is so enchanting. The painted scrim, the scenery trees are not only a setting for Sara Watkins and her bandmates, but we also discover a “magic desk.” And as Sara lifts the desk’s top, we hear a guitar playing an alluring melody; in fact, it’s Harry Nilsson’s dreamy song “Blanket For a Sail.”

Davíd Garza, [what’s he been up to?] plays the melody and then the rest join in, with Sara playing the violin like a guitar.  Then when Sara puts bow to violin she and Garza share some fun soloing.  Hampton’s upright bass is a perfect low end for these songs.

These songs are surprising to me, but I guess they shouldn’t.

The songs are from her new album, Under the Pepper Tree.  It’s a children’s record, largely inspired by thinking back on the music that meant so much to me as a kid,” she says. “I’ve got a daughter now, and so much of the music that I heard as a kid has stayed with me and served me well.”

One of music’s magical properties for Sara is the way it can ease transitions. Maybe it’s from childhood to adolescence, or falling in and out of love, or simply getting your child to sleep. For this Tiny Desk, we hear old cowboy tunes via the Sons of the Pioneers or Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The album is called “Under the Pepper Tree” because she has had a pepper tree in every house she’s lived in in Southern California {I’ve never heard of pepper trees]. They have a lacey canopy like a willow tree like a fort.  The song is a delightful instrumental.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” is an old standard and Sara sounds really impressive hitting those high notes at the end.

“Night Singing” is a song she wrote to her daughter, but she realized it was a song she needed to hear as well.  It’s for anyone who needs to feel that they are cared for.  It’s a beautiful lullaby.

A lot of musicians make children’s records after they become parents, and that’s no bad thing.

[READ: June 5, 2021] Have You Seen the Dublin Vampire?

I don’t post about children’s books very often.  But since this came across my desk at work (an even more rare occurrence!), I thought it would be fun to read it.

I’m not familiar with Úna Woods.  This is a rhyming picture book with really fun illustrations–I’m assuming assembled on Photoshop.  The lines are very smooth and consistent and the leaves are all the same with just different colors.

I don’t know if the Dublin Vampire is a thing.  Although Ireland is famous for its vampire creators.

Bram Stoker creator of the world’s most important male vampire in the world (Dracula) was born in Clontarf. Sheridan Le Fanu, creator of the pre-eminent female vampire (Carmilla), was born on Dominick Street.  [Thanks to Supernatural Dublin].

I don’t know Dublin well enough to know if there is a “moon-shaped park with a creepy old tree,” but that’s where the Dublin Vampire lives.

He rides a ghost bus (I’m ALMOST positive there isn’t such a bus in Dublin). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAKE STREET DIVE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #199 (April 27, 2021)

I feel like I was meant to like Lake Street Dive.  They seemed to get heavily promoted in the same breath as bands that I like.  And yet I really don’t like them.  I particularly don’t like this deep dive into “blue-eyed soul” as they call it.

Having said that, though the first song, “Hypothetically” is a very catchy song.  The blurb mentions the addition of the new keyboardist and I was going go say that his keyboard solo is the one thing I don’t like in the song.

Lake Street Dive filmed its Tiny Desk (home) concert where the band is most at home: on stage at the “biggest little venue in NYC,” Pete’s Candy Store. All five band members managed to squeeze onto a stage no larger than the actual Tiny Desk to shine a spotlight on the Save Our Stages Act. Congress passed the $15 billion grant program last December as part of the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill.

I was starting to like “Same Old News” until the new guy started singing.  So that’s two strikes against keyboard and vocalist Akie Bermiss.   Although the keyboard sound he picked for the solo in this song is much better–and his backing vocals are a nice addition.

In the middle of the home concert, bassist Bridget Kearney recalls driving to the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn for a gig at Pete’s, then driving back to Boston the very same night, long before they ever sold out Radio City Music Hall on the other side of the East River.

I don’t really care for Rachel Price’s voice either, but I really like Kearney’s speaking voice.  She plays a great upright bass, but I think I might like them if she sang instead.

“Anymore” is slow just keys and rim shots from Mike Calabrese to open.  I’m quite intrigued by guitarist Mike “McDuck” Olson who stands there quietly playing and looking at his guitar neck the whole show.

“Making Do” ends the set and I found that I liked it best.  It’s a little faster, more upbeat and while I don’t like the verses that much I like the way the song bounces into the chorus melody which is pretty tasty,

So I guess there will be a few songs from them that I like.  And that’s okay.

[READ: February 15, 2021] Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo

I didn’t love Book 1 of this series, but I had Book 2 already.  And when I heard it’s supposed to be a trilogy, I figured, oh why not finish it.

The first book doesn’t really come into play so much–mostly via some amusing cameos.  Rather, our heroes are on the road, continuing their quest for Epoli and Rickety’s identity.  But as it starts out we see them caught in a tree trap, hanging upside down. How does a goo get caught in a rope trap?  No idea.

They fail to escape and then the Bogril junkman from book one happens upon them.  Rickety is excited, but the Bogril doesn’t remember them at all.  Nonetheless he is wiling to trade for their freedom.  They try to follow him, but he is too fast and soon Rickety is captured by The Kobold Witch of Murbletoad Marsh.

She wants to use parts of him to bring her beloved pet back to life.  But Shnookles comes back as a much bigger and scarier creature than she intended.  And now he speaks for the Gloom King, telling Rickety that the Gloom King will come for him soon enough.

Since Rickety was taken apart, he attached other bones that were lying around to himself.  Turns out the arm he attached is a master digger. This comes in handy in a few places later. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK2 CHAINZ-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #170 (February 17, 2021).

I’ve never heard of 2 Chainz, but I love that his Tiny Desk comes from Pamper Atlanta–his nail salon!

He’s a pretty fascinating dude

Colored in royalty, neon hues of lavender, fuchsia and violet, in his high-end nail studio Pamper (yes, he owns it, and he’s not shy about letting you know), 2 Chainz is feeling himself throughout his five-song set. Getting a champagne-soaked pedicure, rolling one and periodically shouting out his sixth and latest studio album, So Help Me God!, the rapper exudes Black excellence in the way of luxurious comfortability.

“Southside HOV” is a fascinating brag track with lines like

I’m from the gutter, diamonds studded, I am too for real
Name another rapper that got a Versace shoe deal

His unbridled braggadocio so clearly comes from the freedom of security after being denied opportunities, not just individually but generationally.

He ends the song with a statement to the little ones:  “Listen carefully, this is a grown man speaking to you … pedicure in this bitch. too.”

“Vampire” is another new song that he casually raps while getting his legs massaged.

Then the set jumps to another room with 2 Chainz sitting in the spotlight as his partially obscured band plays.

He rewinds the clock and samples [his] stacked discography (“Good Drank,” “I’m Different”)

“Good Drank” has a grooving bass line from Tyler Sherard with some cool soloing from Josh Sneed.  “I’m Different” opens with a quiet piano melody from Mark Polynice–it’s almost like a horror movie.  Most of the songs have a chill rap style, but in the middle of this one he really lets it fly for a verse–rather impressive.  There’s some great drumming from Alex Turner on this track too.

The set ends with “Grey Area” and good grief with these lyrics, so much for inspirational).

All this sh- that I have done, I can not believe in karma (yeah)
Old enough to be your Daddy
Young enough to f- your Mama (boom, boom, boom!)
Young enough to f- your sister, young enough to f- your auntie
I ain’t messing with your Grannie, I just juuged her out them Xannies (true!)

It’s surprising then, that he gets all thoughtful at the end of the set.  As Polynice plays some backing chords, 2 Chainz says “Let me inspire.”

“There are a lot of people who have been moving the needle forward for Black people. And they have been for some time,” says an earnest, almost plaintive 2 Chainz. In a heart-filled sermon, he cites Martin Luther King Jr., Tyler Perry and Puffy as trailblazers, practicing gratitude for Black leaders who inspire him and the world at large. It’s a sober moment of euphoria — and a drastic shift from the first 17 minutes of the Grammy winner’s flashy Tiny Desk.

When thinking of inspirations he thinks of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I played from M.L.K.” he says (this must be metaphorical since King died almost ten years before Chainz was born).  Then when asked to name names of black people “who are currently like breathing and accessible in entertainment and tech” he says there’s so many who have inspired him he really can’t think of any names, even though there are so many black billionaires … “their names logged in my phone.”

The jump from M.L.K. to Tyler Perry may be the only time that connection was ever made.  But at the end he admits

I wasn’t specific when answering the question.  I just said what my heart told me to say.

But damn, if Pamper Atlanta doesn’t look really nice.

[READ: March 31, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 3

While I enjoyed Book 2, I thought that Book 3 was a bit more fun.

Because it has dogs!

Raj’s parents are heading to Hawaii for a dental conference (Raj’s dad is a dentist, which you know because he is wearing a “plaque is wack” shirt.  Dad said it was work, but Raj was pretty jealous.  He wasn’t allowed to go because he was in school.  And that could mean only one thing: his ajji (grandma) was going to come stay with him.  Ajji was old-school Indian and brought three suitcases worth of cooking supplies.  And a dog.

Ajji doesn’t have a dog, but she was foster sitting this fluffy creature named Wuffles and brought it with her.  Since Wuffles needed a seat, Raj’s appi (grandfather) had to stay home!

Obviously Klawde is not happy to see that the “mortal enemy of all felines” was going to stay with them (the drawing of Wuffles on the “mortal enemies” page is hilariously adorable.  As Klawde sneaked up to get a better look, Wuffles exploded, snarling and barking right in Klawde’s face.

Klawde surveys the creature from atop the fridge:  It has the good sense to walk on four legs and has proper anatomical parts: fur, tail, whiskers and claws. But the whiskers were short (and couldn’t possibly be intergalactic sensors) and the ears were flopped over–clearly broken. (more…)

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

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

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

Wilkins plays three songs from Omega in this twenty minute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is some wonderfully thought provoking instrumental music.

[READ: March 3, 2021] Super Puzzletastic Mysteries

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

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: ÓLAFUR ARNALDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #177 (March 4, 2021).

Ólafur Arnalds is an Icelandic composer who creates (mostly) beautiful soothing songs.

I really enjoyed his previous Tiny Desk Concert where he displayed his high tech player piano gadget (used in one of these songs although it’s hard to tell).

He and his accompanying quartet (Geirþrúður Ása Guðjónsdóttir, Sigrún Harðardóttir and Karl James Pestka on violins; Unnur Jónsdóttir on cello) play four tracks.

The pensive set opens with an older tune, “Happiness Does Not Wait,” with Ólafur Arnalds seated at a short upright piano known as a Danish ‘pianette.’

“Happiness Does Not Wait” opens the set with a beautiful looping melody on the piano and gentle strings added on top.  Then the strings take over playing the piano melody and the backing melodies as Arnalds preps his next song.

The remaining three songs are form 2020’s, some kind of peace. 

For “Woven Song” he winds up an Edison “Fireside” cylinder phonograph which plays a haunting melody–a traditional Amazonian healing song sung by the late shaman Herlinda Agustin Fernandez.  He plays a complex piano melody on top of the song.  Then strings layer on top and then once again take over the melody as he stops playing and heads to his other piano.

He explains that in the tribe where Fernandez sings, they weave their melodies into cloth to write them down.

Then moving from the wax cylinder to his high tech Stratus music software.

Look closely at the piano toward the back of the studio during the tune “Spiral,” and you’ll see a piano playing seemingly without a performer. That piano is reacting to Ólafur Arnald’s real-time performance using algorithms he and his coder friend, Halldór Eldjárn, developed.

The song opens with the violin and then the rest of the strings flesh the song out while he begins the piano.  Then the instruments fall back leaving just one violin along with the piano for the end.

For the final song, he moves back to the first pianette to play “We Contain Multitudes” which has an otherworldly echoing quality to it.

It’s a lovely calming session.

[READ: March 21, 2021] Klawde: Evil Alien Cat 2

Book 2 picks up soon after the events of Book 1.  In other words, summer is over and it’s time for Raj to go to his new school.  The good news is that the friends he made at camp–Cedar and Steve–will be there.  The bad news is so will his enemies Scorpion and Newt.

In the introduction, Klawde explains that his name is not Klawde, it is Lord High Emperor Wyss-Kuzz, the Magnificent.  He says he hated the planet Earth when he was exiled here and he hates it even more now.

Raj is freaking out about school, but Klawde is not interested in his pathetic classes. Where is Battle Tactics?  The Art of Slash-and-Claw? The Art of Ambush?  And that made Klawde think–he will start his own school–a school for warriors.

Marciano wrote this book in 2019 but how crazily prescient was this.  Raj goes into his classroom but there is no teacher.  Instead a voice came from speakers

Now, y’all may think it’s weird to have a teacher on a screen, but it’s part of a new wave in education… remote instruction! [And] no you cannot do whatever you want… I may be sitting down here in Alabama, but … I have a split screen monitor right here with every student’s face on it.

Spooky! (more…)

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