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Archive for the ‘Depression’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILL RIEFLIN (September 29, 1960 – March 24, 2020).

Bill Rieflin is a musician that I’ve known of for as long as I can remember.

He played with the Revolting Cocks and then, how I knew him best, as the drummer for Ministry.  I feel like his name appeared in dozens of places on the industrial scene.  He helped to create Pigface and even played with KMFDM (as a drummer and keyboardist).  He also played on the Lard albums and drummed with Nine Inch Nails and Swans.

With all of that industrial background it came as something of a surprise to hear that he was going to replace Bill Berry (as a hired drummer, not a band member) in R.E.M. (in live shows and on their last couple of albums).

He even played drums on Taylor Swift’s album Red (which is amusing given his later King Crimson connection).

He had been friendly with Robert Fripp since at least 1999.  Fripp played on Rieflin’s solo album Birth of a Giant and had worked with him in various projects through the years.  I didn’t know about that Fripp connection, so when I found out that he was going to be one of the three drummers in the 2014 King Crimson tour, I was really surprised.

I was also really impressed at his drumming and am now really happy to have seen him play.  When Crimson toured again in July of 2017, Rieflin had taken a sabbatical but was now back.  But since they had replaced him while he was away, he was now playing keyboards (which meant that Crimson now had eight members on stage).  When I saw them again in November 2017, Rieflin was once again on sabbatical.

I assumed it was for health reasons (why else do musicians take sabbaticals), but his cancer was kept under wraps. (He’d evidently been fighting it since 2013).

So at least I was fortunate enough to see him play twice before he died.

Here’s the second drummer that I know of to die of cancer in 2020.  Even while Coronavirus is getting the front page, cancer still does its dirty work.

[READ: December 2019] “Who We Are”

The December 2019 issue of the West End Phoenix focused on Indigenous People.  Most of the writers were Indigenous and the news stories shone a light on Indigenous issues.  Much of the presence of Indigenous peoples is seen through their art–whether through beads, paint or sculpture, the images are often quite striking.  The issue even included a “colour me” page with a striking image from Taylor Cameron, a 23-year-old Anishinaabe artist from Saugeen First Nation (I can’t find an image online).

The issue also featured two full page graphic short stories.

The first features very clean illustrations from Scott B. Henderson.  The lines are very crisp and yet the art is quite minimal, achieving a lot with very little.

The story is a true story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THOR HARRIS & JOYFUL NOISE PLAYERS-Is Adam Ok? (2020).

I have been aware of Thor Harris for years.  He’s played in bands that I like and he’s played with musicians I like.

He’s an amazing all-around musician, even if his first/main instrument is drums/percussion.

Thor is also a craftsman–making his own instruments and all manner of other things.

So, when Joyful Noise Records announced that he was their artist in residence this year, I definitely wanted to see what he would come up with.

And so, he has created a 6 LP box set.  And by created, I mean he created the boxes (not the record sleeves, I don’t think) by hand and hand colored each one.  he also drew the album covers.

The first album in the collection (according to the list on the back) is this one, Is Adam OK.

The basis for this recording is this:

When musicians are working on a “song” or a specific “piece”, they are using a certain part of their conscious brains. But before the super narcissistic band leader shows up and takes the reins, they will often hang out making stream-of-consciousnesses music that is often more interesting than the conscripted “songs”.

I really enjoyed this observation about virtuosos and about himself

Interesting things happen when a musician is playing out of her comfort zone. This can be achieved by playing an instrument that you don’t usually play or by playing out of your usual genre. If you hand a guy an electric guitar and he grew up on rock and roll, the outcome is somewhat predictable at this point, mimicry of 50 years of rock and blues players. This is why virtuosos are boring to watch after a few minutes of amazement. I cannot count the number of times I’ve been asked to “play dumber” when recording drum tracks. I spent much of my youth learning hot drum licks, then my early 20s learning not to ever do them.

The first song, “Is Adam OK?” is a 22 minute improv piece.

On “Is Adam OK?” I sat at the piano prepared with sweaters across the strings. Virtuoso, multi-instrumentalist, super-freak Greg Saunier sat beside me at the piano and off into the abyss we wandered for 22 minutes.

The musicians are Thor Harris – piano, xylophone, bass drum; Greg Saunier – piano, vibraphone, bass drum; Jasamine White-Gluz – organ; Sima Cunningham – vocals; Macie Stewart – vocals; Adam Harding – vocals, field recordings, toilet flushing; C.J. Boyd – bass guitar, vocals; Daniel Smith – vocals; Kid Millions – seed husks

The piece starts with repeated piano motif. You can hear the “mistakes” as they hit the “wrong” note or go out of time, but that’s sort of the point of this piece.  Around seven minutes, the vocalists start singing like the middle of Pink Floyd’s “Atom Heart Mother.”  I rather like when, around 8 minutes, the percussion comes in and then the bass drum at 10 minutes adds a whole new layer of texture.  By 21 minutes the piece has circled back to the quiet opening with just piano and xylophone.  And it all ends with a flushing toilet

The second track, “Kindest Regards Mr Mapfumo” is 11 minutes long and feels a little less improvised.

I started “Kindest Regards Mr Mapfumo” hoping for a Steve Reich kind of 12/8 piece, but ended up with a Thomas Mapfumo kind of 12/8. A pleasant misstep. The driving instrument is an electric tongue drum that I built. I will soon put instructions for building one yourself on Instagram. I ran it thru an Old Blood chorus/delay/distortion pedal.

Thor Harris – electric tongue drum, Casio organ, marimba; Sarah “Goat” Gautier – organ; Jasamine White-Gluz – guitar; C.J. Boyd – double bass; Sima Cunningham – vocals; Macie Stewart – vocals; Marina Tadic – vocals, güiro; Adam Harding – vocals, Mellotron, guitar, güiro

The tongue drum sounds like a modifed (loud) jaw harp–a cool vibrating sound.  OHMME add some unusual vocals to the song and then a double bass comes in to ground it somewhat.  Around half way through you can totally get lost on all of the various waves of sound that wash over the tongue drum, which feels aboriginal by this point.

The vocals around the 8 minute mark are just lovely–intertwining “do do dos” that flow around almost like an Esquivel space-age-bachelor-pad vocal line.

The third song “Grief Comes in Waves” is 9 minutes and is much more creepy.

On “Grief Comes in Waves”, Andy Stack, Monk Parker and I played layer upon layer of sax and clarinet in 7 minute slabs. We added some other bits and bobs, then sent them to others to have their way with them. Jad Fair, Ohmme, and Adam added things I never would have thought of.

Thor Harris – clarinet, kalimba, organ Andy Stack – alto saxophone, marimba Monk Parker – baritone saxophone, marimba Jad Fair – vocals Sima Cunningham – vocals Macie Stewart – vocals Adam Harding – vocals

The kalmiba and marimba make for some lovely echoing sounds , but its the repeated clarinet and saxophone rumbles and blasts combining with the low organ that create a field of tension.  The vocals are more keening than singing and help to build the air of discomfort.  There’s even  growling sound which could be a human voice or an instrument.

However around half way through, OHMME start singing some syncopated notes and it adds a feeling of hopefulness, somehow.  But the feeling of despair returns by the end, effectively demonstrating the waves of grief.

This is not easy listening, but then, one shouldn’t expect that from Thor Harris.

[READ: February 24, 2020] An Ocean of Despair

This is a short, illustrated story by Thor Harris.  Although I guess it’s not really a story so much as a telling of a low point in his life.

He says in 1992 he left Austin for San Francisco.  He hoped to recover his “Self-esteem and love for life.”  But instead he became terrified of social interaction.  It became so bad he woke up with tunnel vision.  He also began having panic attacks which made it hard for him to work.

He felt suicide would be an escape from the misery, an act of mercy.

In a moment of clarity he called his older sister.  She always made him feel like he was okay.  She brought him back to Texas, told him about depression (the disease) and thought that he might be able to get treatment. (more…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

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

You can find that link here.

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

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

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

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

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

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

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

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

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

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

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SOUNDTRACK: CLOUD CULT-“That Man Jumped Out the Window” (Field Recordings, September 12, 2012).

I feel like I know the name Cloud Cult, but this song sounded entirely alien to me.  This was an other Field Recording [Cloud Cult: A Moment Of Serenity] set backstage at Sasquatch! Music Festival.

I love the drama that they set up with this blurb

We were about to call it. The band was running late, our phone service wasn’t working well backstage in the remoteness of the Sasquatch Music Festival in rural Washington state, and the next band was about to begin on the main stage nearby — thus making the prospect of a Field Recording impossible. Then, suddenly, a white van rolled up, straight from the main gate, and out popped six musicians with stringed and brass instruments. Within minutes, they’d set up, sound-checked and performed a jaw-dropping rendition of “That Man Jumped Out the Window” (from 2005’s Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus) with no practice whatsoever.

I enjoy the orchestral nature of this song–reminding me of many other bigger bands that I like quite a lot.

It took me a couple of listens to “get” this song–there’s a lot of different vocal parts, almost as responses to the main part.

It opens with an acoustic guitar and is accompanied by strings and a French horn.  But the main verse is all acoustic guitar and cello (with stark backing vocals–the vocals are not really pretty exactly (they’re not un-pretty either), just powerful).

I’m not sure that this song is all that memorable for me, but I love reading this about the band:

More a family than a band, the Minneapolis collective does everything with purpose, talent and conviction, from its environmentally conscious lifestyle — in which it self-produces and releases albums from its geothermal-powered organic farm — to its charitable efforts to its emotive, even cathartic songwriting.

The song is quite pretty–although I wonder if it would be more so in a fuller setting.  But as It ended, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to hear it again.  Someone asks if they should do another take.

Then, just as the song ended and the band members finally had a chance to view the majestic natural scenery around them — and as we prepared to record another take, just in case — the festival roared back to life. But for those few minutes, we were able to stop, breathe and take in the emotional significance of a moment of serenity. At which point Cloud Cult piled back into the van and rode off to its next gig.

[READ: April 7, 2016] “Indianapolis (Highway 74)”

This story was published in the New Yorker just eight weeks after the previous Sam Shepard story.  I had to look him up and it is the same Shepard who has been writing since forever.  But he is not especially known for his noir books.  His style has changed over the years although he does often write about rootless characters and absurdist ideas.

So this story is about a rootless character, “I’ve been crisscrossing the country again, without much reason.”  This character drives all over the place for long stretches of time.  On this particular night with a blizzard heading into town, he pulls into a Holiday Inn (more for its familiar green logo and predictability than anything else).

But when he asks for a room, they are booked.  There is some kind of hot rod convention in town–which he thinks is odd for the winter, but whatever.

The concierge tells him that there is one room that might be available–the people haven’t shown up and are going to call to confirm whether the weather will prevent them from showing up.

So he waits. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHED-“Electric Chair” (Field Recordings, July 25, 2012).

This Field Recording [Bleached: Picnic Table Punk] is related to SXSW (it was filmed on the eve of the 2012 Festival at a food-truck parking lot [The awesomely named Hoover’s Soular Food] off the highway — about a mile northeast of Austin’s swarming 6th Street.

Jennifer and Jessica Clavin make up the core of Bleached, a rough-and-tumble garage-rock band.  Bleached is one of many young punk-infused acts playing three-minute, three-chord bashers with sneering, unraveled immediacy. When played on stage, the band’s music takes on a messy-but-fun live-wire buoyancy.  “Electric Chair,” is a distortion-fueled strumfest built around [literally] two lines: “Just got out the electric chair / and I don’t see you anywhere.”

It almost sounds like they aren’t plugged in (“we’re playing too loud,” one of them says)–you can hear the pick hitting the strings almost as much as the chords themselves.  Adn someone sounds a wee bit out of tune, but that all seems appropriate for this band.  This song is a simple (very simple) rough and tumble garage rock song.

Assisted by Sara Jean Stevens on bass and drummer Jonathan Safley — here playing a light-up tambourine bought at the last second from a tchotchke shop — Bleached showcases its fun, off-the-cuff spirit. It may lack meticulous precision, but the band’s infectious energy and simple, winning hooks more than compensate.

I don’t really care for garage rock all that much and this song doesn’t do all that much for me.  It is too spare and, honestly, I need at least one extra lyric.

[READ: January 5, 2017] “Flower Hunters”

This story is set on Halloween.  But the protagonist, a mom, has forgotten about the day entirely.  The last two days she was absorbed in a book by naturalist William Bartram, who traveled through Florida in 1774 (he’s a real person).  And so, although her boys wanted to be ninjas, she had made one a costume that was a long-sleeved shirt tied in the back and a slotted mask.  The boy is calling himself Cannibal Lecture.  The other boy is getting an old fashioned sheet-as-ghost (she is made uncomfortable about a white boy in a sheet but hopes the rosebuds on the hem mitigate the effects somewhat.

Her husband comes in from work, sees the costumes, raises an eyebrow, remains merciful.

What I really liked about the story was the narrator’s tone.

“She says to her dog, who is beside her at the window…One day you’ll wake up and realize your favorite person has turned into a person-shaped cloud.
The dog ignores her, because the dog is wise.

In addition to failing Halloween , the woman is also failing at friendship.  Her best friend, Meg, told her she doesn’t want to be her best friend anymore: “I’m sorry, I just need to take a break.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANIEL HOPE-three pieces (Field Recordings, August 21, 2013).

The only thing I like more than a Field Recording set outside, is one set in an unlikely building, like the way this Field Recording [Daniel Hope’s Earth And Sky Expedition] is set in the American Museum of Natural History.

When Daniel Hope was a boy, the only thing he loved as much as his violin was his telescope. Gazing into the night sky, he pondered the vastness of space. Now a grown man, Hope still has a penchant for wonder and discovery — especially when it comes to music.

In his latest album, Spheres, Hope returns to the spirit of those early astronomical adventures. His idea, he says, is “to bring together music and time, including works by composers from different centuries who might perhaps not always be found in the same galaxy.” The unifying factor is the big question: Is there anything out there?

What better place to play with that ancient query than the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. We invited Hope and jazz bassist-composer Ben Allison into the “performance crater” in the Hall of Planet Earth.

As if the Hall isn’t interactive enough — with its glowing orbs and 4.3 billion-year-old zircon crystal — we wrangled afternoon museum-goers to participate in our own Earth and sky expedition. Equipped with small flashlights, they became the twinkling stars surrounding Hope and Allison in the darkened room.

The music seems to live and breathe in the space, as each of the three pieces (spanning four centuries) reverberates a unique voice. “Imitation of the Bells,” with its rippling arpeggios and tolling bass line, comes from the long forgotten Johann Paul von Westhoff, a German violin master who crisscrossed Europe a generation before J.S. Bach. In “Berlin by Overnight,” from contemporary Max Richter, Hope’s violin asteroids whiz past while Allison’s bass propels through outer space. And finally, the otherworldly beauty that is Bach’s “Air on a G String” floats in a safe, gentle stasis.

It’s neat watching the little kids swing their flashlights around while the older kids watch on, bored, from the balcony during “Imitation of the Bells.”  Hope’s violin is flying in a flurry of activity while the bass keeps things grounded.

I’m not sure that I have heard many violin pieces performed with a bass accompaniment.  The bass doesn’t add a lit of melody to the violin work, but it adds a very cool feeling of grounding and rhythm especially in “Berlin by Overnight.”  The piece feels very contemporary with a cool, fast, Glassian kind of repetitiveness.  And the bass adds occasional notes (that feel like rock bass notes, he plucks so hard) to keep the pace going.

The bass is much more pronounced on the familiar J.S. Bach: Air on a G String.  I feel an imperceptible sitting up straight once the first notes ring out of the violin.  But I keep coming back to the bass.  The violin melody is so pretty and so familiar that it’s interesting to listen to the way the bass plays off those notes.

[READ: February 9, 2018] “The Botch”

I have not enjoyed Means’ stories in the past.  They’re usually pretty violent and just not my thing.

This one was a bit more enjoyable until the end.  The only problem with it per se was that it was about a bank robbery and I feel like there’s not much you can say about a bank robbery that hasn’t been said in films and stories already.

But there’s some interesting tweaks.  It is set around the Great Depression–tommy guns and wise guys.  And the mastermind behind the scheme has thought out everything ahead of time.  There is a repeated refrain of “the idea is” which I kind of liked.  Although for some reason it bugged me when it was switched to just “idea being,” which I know is how it would be said, but it bristled. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ST. VINCENT-Masseduction (2018).

St. Vincent’s latest album seemed like a radical departure for Annie Clark.  It seemed to be all synth–a transgression from her guitar prowess.  But in fact it was a continuation of the sound that Clark generates with her guitar.

Her albums have always used synths.  And her albums have always used effects on her guitars to create different sounds.  They have just moved further along on this album.

“Hang on Me” opens the disc with drums and sound effects.  The guitar comes in but it sounds like synths (like most of the album).  Her voice is up front  (It would have been very cool if it sounded like she was whispering in your ears).  The song builds with more and more sounds.  The processed guitar still sounds nothing like a guitar but you can tell from the way it is played that it is a guitar–which is pretty cool.

“Pills” is almost all dance–lots of drums and synth sounds (which may be guitar, who can tell).  It’s the chorus, (the repeated pills pills pills) that really grabs you.  The guitars that come through have a very Prince-like feel (and the sexual connection–pills to fuck) even when the roaring fuzzed out guitar solo comes blasting through it’s not unlike something Prince would have done.  When the second part of the song comes in–absolutely quiet compared to the chaos that came before (S. assumed it was a different song) it has a beautiful melody and really showcases Annie’s voice nicely.  The two parts are so very different and yet both are really catchy in their own way.

“Masseduction” is the most poppy song on the record (and probably of her career).  It starts again with drums and Annie’s whispered vocal (again mixing her right in your ears would have been very intense).  Then comes there’s the big chorus of echoed vocals singing “mass seduction” with roaring guitars underscoring everything (even though this album feels very un-guitar there are noisy guitars galore on it, they’re just buried underneath everything).

Chanted vocals and programmed synth open up the fast-moving “Sugarboy.”  I love that the riff from “Los Ageless” is presented her in much faster and more staccato and mechanical way.  This song has a great, catchy chorus.

“Los Ageless” was the second single off the album and the dancey beat and synth sounds were quite a shock when the song came out.  For this one, her voice is mixed right in the middle of your head, which is very cool.  But it’s the “how can anybody have you” part that is so incredibly catchy and wonderful.  There’s not a lot of guitar on this song until the third verse in which all the synths drop out and you get a nasty guitar playing behind the verse–once again so inorganic but so interesting.

“Happy Birthday Johnny” is a beautiful piano ballad that showcases a great melody and lovely vocal from Annie.

“Savior” features a slinky guitar line with bits of wah-wah on it (slighty porn-y to be sure, especially given the topic of the song).  The bridge picks things up and with each subsequent verse more and more is added (backing vocals, big drums and sound effects).  It’s when the song gets to the third part, the ‘pleeeease” that it totally soars.

“New York” is another piano song, this one with more dance beats in it and the rather graphic “you’re the only motherfucker in the city who can stand me” for a chorus (odd choice for first single).  The bridge “I have lost a hero” just soars out of the piano section in a very cool way–the juxtaposition is outstanding.

After the quite ending of New York the noise and electronica of “Fear the Future” comes as quite a shock.  It’s practically a wall of noise before and abrupt ending

“Young Lover” is quieter and sounds a lot more like early St. Vincent songs.  The music is spare–thumping drums and washes of music.  But that first chorus grows very loud–crashing electronic drums and soaring vocals.  The amazing part comes toward the end as Annie hits some incredibly high notes and then caps it off with a high note that gives me chills every time I hear it.  The fact that she duplicated it live was just staggering.

“Dancing with a Ghost” is 46 seconds of waves of synths (or guitars) that I never quite realized was its own song.  It almost segues into “Slow Disco” which is a quiet song with strings and Annie singing.  When the harmony vocals come in it builds the song nicely.   Then someone (Annie?) sings a recurring motif of “don’t it beat a slow dance to death.”  It’s my least favorite song on the album and the one she has now made two (slower) remixes of.

That feels like it should end the album, but there is one more song, the dramatic “Smoking Section.”  With a husky voice Annie sings of getting stomped out and screaming “let it happen, let it happen, let it happen.”  The strings build dramatically until a loud three note riff introduces the second part of the song.

This album is pretty polarizing, even though it is St. Vincent through and through.

[READ: October 3, 2018] “The Rise and Rise of Annie Clark”

The previous story that I read by John L’Heureux was also about the Catholic church.  That one was the story of Jesuit Priesthood, circa 1954, and a man trying to join.

This one is also based around the Catholic church circa 1950.  The subject is very different, but with the same questioning attitude.

Annie Clark is a middle-aged woman in the 1950’s .  I’m unclear where this is set.  At first I thought France, but that is unlikely. so somewhere in the States, but I have no idea where.

Since the end of WWII, Annie knows that women were the real winners–women are taking charge of their lives.

But Annie is Catholic and must proceed slowly. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIAN BLADE AND THE FELLOWSHIP BAND-“Landmarks” (Field Recordings, August 14, 2014).

Here’s yet another Field Recording at the Newport Jazz Festival [Chorale For Horns And iPad App, In The Pouring Rain].

The 2014 Festival must have been a rainy one, because some of the other Recordings seem wet as well.  The blurb explains

We had hoped to get the great drummer Brian Blade to give us a little private exhibition after his set at the Newport Jazz Festival this year. The weather, however, was proving much less generous than he and his band were. Early that morning, a steady all-day rain settled in over coastal Rhode Island, making it difficult to transport dry instruments anywhere. On top of that, a last-minute change to travel plans meant that Blade needed to get out of town quickly — to an airport over four hours away.

But he and the Fellowship Band — the group of guys Blade has been making music with for the better part of two decades or more — were game to figure out something for us. So we herded them into the shelter of a quiet tunnel in Fort Adams State Park.

Despite Blade being a drummer, they are unable to use drums or even bass.  So they decide to play a composition of the keyboardist.  Chris Thomas, the bassist, suggests that he could do an interpretive dance (but he does not).

As they get set up, Jon Cowherd starts tinkering on his iPad.  He gets a synth up and starts playing the opening to Van Halen;s “Jump” which gets everyone excited.  Then he starts playing a cool keyboard sound on the app and the two horns join in on the serene melody.

First Myron Walden starts playing the bass clarinet.  Then he is joined beautifully by Melvin Butler on soprano sax.  The song unfolds simply.  I love the way it just seems to grow and grow–slowly revealing more and more of itself.  But it’s over pretty quickly, with the notes fading in the tunnel.

So even though the featured performer, Brian Blades is not playing–and I still have never heard his drums, this was a nifty little piece.

[READ: April 17, 2016] “Land of the Living”

I had it in my head that Sam Shepard was a noir writer from the 1950s.

Well this story (and the surprising fact that the New Yorker published a second of his stories just a few weeks later) led to something entirely different.  This story is about a man who is going on vacation with his family.

It begins with a very funny exchange between the man and his wife,  She tells him, “It’s just amazing how friendly you become when you’re on Xanax”  And he agrees, “I feel this friendly person coming out in me and I wonder if maybe that’s my real nature.”

The family is currently waiting on a customs line in Cancun.  The heat is unbearable, especially since they have just come from Minnesota.

Their conversation is full of things that he says which she is surprised by: (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Parachute Live from Brooklyn Bowl (2013).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  So this is a recording of their first album ‘Parachute’ performed and recorded live in concert at Brooklyn Bowl on December 1, 2013.

This album sounds quite different from the other Guster albums.  I don’t really understand what the difference is.  It sounds like Guster, but not exactly.  Is it that they both sing in harmony through most of the songs?  Is it that Ryan sings “better?”  Are the songs just more folkie?

Whatever the case, even after several albums that don’t sound like this album and nearly twenty years, the band jumps right back into it (the harmonies on “Window” are perfect, for example).

They aren’t the same three-piece they were back in 1994 (they have drums now for instance), but it all works very well.  They also aren’t terribly funny between songs.  Usually Ryan is pretty silly in a show, but they seemed to take it more or less seriously.

After “Dissolve” Ryan says, “we’re playing in a bowling alley I just realized.  Cool.”  You can hear someone in the crowd shout “steeerike.”

I know the guys have made jokes about their song “Happy Frappy” a few times when I’ve seen them, so it’s no surprise that before the song, Ryan shouts, “Alright its ‘Happy Frappy’ time, stoners.”  Although I have no idea what the song is actually about.

When the disc is over Ryan shouts, “Parachute the album–19 and a half years old!”

I think it sounds even better than the original.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Orange World”

I love when a title gives you an idea but it is totally not the idea of what  the story means–and the new idea is even better than what you had imagined.

“Orange World” conjured up many things to me, but not the devil, not a woman nursing the devil and not a woman nursing the devil every night because the evil saved her baby’s life.

When Rae was pregnant she was worried about a lot of things: ABNORMAL RESULT, HIGH RISK, CLINICAL OUTCOME UNKNOWN.  When the third test came back, she started begging for anything to save her baby from the unknown.

Between 4 and 5 A.M. one night something answered and it promised the baby would be okay.

So what does this have to do worth orange world?  Well, “Orange World is where most of us live.”  It is a nest of tangled electric cords and open drawers filled with steak knives.  It’s a used crib  It’s compromises that could hurt the safety of your baby.  You take a shower with your baby and suddenly….

“Green World” is a fantasy realm of soft corners and infinite attention. The Educator say that Green World is ideal but Orange World is the reality.  Next week’s class is “Red World” and Rae doesn’t want to think about it.

Rae takes the baby doll.  Its head falls off and she steps on the blanket.  Sneaker bacteria: Orange World; decapitation: Red World.  The educator encourages her to go to new moms group. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE-Tiny Desk Concert #717 (March 12, 2018).

For all of the legendary status of John Prine, I don’t really know that much about him.  I also think I don’t really know much of his music.  I didn’t know any of the four songs he played here.

I enjoyed all four songs.  The melodies were great, the lyrics were thoughtful and his voice, although wizened, convey the sentiments perfectly.

The blurb sums up things really well

An American treasure came to the Tiny Desk and even premiered a new song. John Prine is a truly legendary songwriter. For more than 45 years the 71-year-old artist has written some of the most powerful lyrics in the American music canon, including “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Hello In There” and countless others.

John Prine’s new songs are equally powerful and he opens this Tiny Desk concert with “Caravan of Fools,” a track he wrote with Pat McLaughlin and Dan Auerbach. Prine adds a disclaimer to the song saying, “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.”

I thought the song was great (albeit short) with these pointed lyrics:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late in night you see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the caravan of fools

That song, and his second tune, the sweet tearjerker “Summer’s End,” are from John Prine’s first album of new songs in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness.

He introduces this song by saying that.  This one is a pretty song.  It might drive you to tears.  He wrote this with Pat McLaughlin.  We usually write on Tuesdays in Nashville because that’s the day they serve meatloaf.  I love meatloaf.  We try to write a song before they serve the meatloaf.  And then eat it and record it.

For this Tiny Desk Concert John Prine also reaches back to his great “kiss-off” song from 1991 [“an old song from the 90s (whoo)…  a song from the school of kiss off 101”] called “All the Best,” and then plays “Souvenirs,” a song intended for his debut full-length but released the following year on his 1972 album Diamonds in the Rough. It’s just one of the many sentimental ballads Prine has gifted us.

He says he wrote it in 1968…when he was about 3.

Over the years, his voice has become gruffer and deeper, due in part to his battle with squamous cell cancer on the right side of his neck, all of which makes this song about memories slipping by feel all the more powerful and sad.

“Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That’s why last night and this mornin’
Always look the same to me
I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears
I can’t forgive the way they rob me
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs”

The musicians include John Prine, Jason Wilber, David Jacques and Kenneth Blevins.

 

[READ: December 11, 2017] X

I really enjoyed Klosterman’s last essay book, although I found pretty much every section was a little too long.  So this book, which is a collection of essays is perfect because the pieces have already been edited for length.

I wasn’t even aware of this book when my brother-in-law Ben sent it to me with a comment about how much he enjoyed the Nickelback essay.

Because I had been reading Grantland and a few other sources, I have actually read a number of these pieces already, but most of them were far off enough that I enjoyed reading them again.

This book is primarily a look at popular culture.  But narrowly defined by sports and music (and some movies).  I have never read any of Klosterman’s fiction, but I love his entertainment essays. (more…)

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