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Archive for the ‘Essays’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: IRIS-Verftet Online Music Festival 2020 (April 1, 2020).

In April 2020, Norway’s Verftet Music Festival streamed an online concert:

Get ready for Verftet Online Music Festival, Bergen’s largest virtual concert festival, where we can enjoy great music together. We want to turn despair and frustration into innovation and positivity, and invite everyone to a digital festival experience out of the ordinary – right home in your own living room.

I was completely unfamiliar with Iris, but she was the only other singer whose set was still streaming.  Because Aurora is a Norwegian singer in the same range, I feel like Iris’ voice sounds similar to hers.  But that’s a lazy comparison.

I suspect that she is a bit more poppy than this set lets on.  Like the Silja Sol set, it feels like a more “unplugged” kind of show.

It opens with “crawl for me” with she her singing to a guitar.  It’s quiet and powerful.  The rest of the band comes out for “mercy” which is “how i would like to to not show me any.”  There are washes of guitar s and keys, including a very cool, almost sinister keyboard sound in the end.

A cellist arrives for “kroppsspråk” which is a cover of a Lars Vaular song.  It’s kind of rapped–but in Iris’s more singing way.  It seems like the original is very dancey and she has dialed it back.

After a gentle piano solo version of “giving in” (her voice is lovely in the spare setting), she played “from inside a car,” my favorite song of the set which  has a breathy quality that I really like.

Then she throws in a Beatles cover.  “Here, There and Everywhere” is a beautiful gentle cover with just her voice and an acoustic guitar.

“hidden springs” stays with the acoustic sound, but she moved to a more techie processed vocal for “your mind, the universe.”  She has a few technical glitches for this song but when they are resolved her voice sounds very cool as it starts and then turns into a much bigger song.

As they prepare the next song she jokes that you shouldn’t eat crackers in bed, which proves to be the opening line of “hanging around you/crackers,” a sweet sounding breakup song.

Before the final song she mentions that all of her band is wearing band T-shirts: Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss and um, Reservoir Dogs(?).  It’s an amusing look for such a gentle show.

Before starting “romance is dead” she encourages everyone to visit my You Tube channel for recipes.  This set ending song is soft and lovely, just piano and strings and her beautiful voice.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Road Trips”

When David was a kid, his father rallied the families on their street in Raleigh to plant maple trees.  For years they were tiny, pathetic things.  Now, decades later they are tall and majestic creating a canopy down the street where his father still lives.

He was home visiting his father who brought him to a block party.  At the party a teenager saw David’s father and groaned “Lou Sedaris, who invited her?”

“My son is gay,” the boy’s mother announced as if none of us had figured this out yet.  David was blown away that someone could casually announce this on the street where he grew up.  As a young homosexual David played all the games that the other closeted kids did.  Dated girls and claimed that sex before marriage was what dogs did–a true union of soles could take eight to ten years!

He kept his secret until he was twenty.  But he would have kept it longer had a couple not picked him up when he was hitchhiking.  It was 1 AM and he was picked up by a Cadillac with people his parents’ age in it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BLEACHERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #235 (July 12, 2021).

People love Jack Antonoff and Bleachers.  I feel like I’m supposed to be blown away by him, but I’m not.  In fact I thought that I had seen him live, but it was actually Porches (not the same thing but sort of similar).

Both as producer extraordinaire and artist in his own right, Jack Antonoff has had an outsized impact on the past decade in pop. And yet, even with such maximalist aims, Antonoff clearly understands the effectiveness of scale: that the most enduring tracks are often intimate portraits.

Surrounded by greenery, the footage is interspersed with close-up angles filtered through an old-school finish (scan the wide shot and you’ll spy a video camera perched on the piano, plus one very tiny desk, too).

They play three songs.

The set opens with “91,” the album’s ambitious opening cut.

The songs opens with the two saxophone players standing really close to each other (where’s the social distancing guys?).  This song is a kind of story song with a lot of words.  The whole presentation reminds me a lot of Tom Waits (no bad thing) or Bruce Springsteen (which I guess makes more sense since Bruce sang on a song of his).

It’s followed by a bombastic revision of “Stop Making This Hurt,” which gets a slick saxophone rewrite courtesy of Zem Audu and Evan Smith.

“Stop Making This Hurt” opens in an interesting way with staccato sax from (l-r) Zem Audu and Evan Smith while Antonoff stabs some piano notes.  I suppose I would like this more if it didn’t sound exactly as it does.  Piano and sax are really just not my thing and that’s pretty much all these songs have.  Mikey Freedom Hart adds keys, but it’s mostly bass notes adding depth to the song.

Springsteen sings on the studio version of “Chinatown.”  Interestingly I felt like this version sounded more like Meatloaf than anything else.  Musically I enjoyed this song and Antonoff seems like a nice guy, but I’ll not be seeing Bleachers anytime soon.

[READ: July 15, 2021] “Old Faithful”

This essays opens with David finding a lump on his tailbone–never a happy discovery.  It was a cyst or a boil–“one of those words you associate with trolls.”

Just sitting hurt him–and forget about laying down.  He threatened that boil–“I’m going to go to a doctor if you don’t go away.”  It didn’t listen.

He says he didn’t go to the doctor because it would have been very expensive in London (really?  Don’t they have NHS?).  But mostly he was afraid of hearing that he had “lower-back cancer” and they’d have to “remove his entire bottom.”

He suffered with the pain believing he was setting a good example for Hugh who tends to moan and complain–a splinter gets into his hand and he claims to know how Jesus Christ felt. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LEY LINE-“Oxum” (SXSW Online 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means Ley Line is next.

Ley Line is four women, based in Austin TX, playing an upright bass, a guitar and soft percussion.

The first ninety seconds of this song slowly evolve from a pretty guitar melody and lead vocals, to harmony vocals supporting a lead vocal and a soft echoing drum

And then the bouncing drum is joined by cymbals and a satisfyingly deep bass melody.

Ley Line is four singers, including a pair of twin sisters, who find inspiration in music from Latin America, West Africa, and Europe as well as North America. The simplicity is what I loved most about this Austin-based group, both in its spare percussion and lovely harmony.

It’s fascinating to hear to song shift from Spanish to a wordless language (I think) to English, all while retaining a similar sound.

That is until three and a half minutes when the song suddenly shifts to a a dancey song.  Bouncy bass, a fast rhythm and more of that cheerfully singing (in Spanish once again).  It’s quite arresting.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Understanding Owls”

David asks the universal question, “when does one reach a point in your life when you say ‘I’ve got to weed out some of these owls?'”  We’ve all been there.

Of course, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you can’t get rid of the crocheted owl from your sister.  You keep the owl napkins and candles–those are useful. But trivets and trinkets can go in the trash or to goodwill.

This overwhelming feeling happens when you tell people you like something.  His sister Amy said she liked rabbits and soon enough, she had cushions, slippers, bowls, magnets etc.

Amy’s started with a live rabbit.  But Hugh and David’s owls started with art.  Hugh painted birds on a client’s ceiling.  He painted song birds and then she asked for owls.

It made no sense nature-wise–owls and songbirds work different shifts, and even if they didn’t they would still never be friends.

But it was her ceiling so he did it.

He bought the book Understanding Owls to learn what they looked like.  The book became an inside joke for them–i wish I could see what a barn owl looked like, if only there was some guide nearby to show me.

Then, pushing the joke further, David decided to buy Hugh a stuffed owl.  But he learned that it is illegal to own one in the United States–even if it dies on your property you cant keep it.

he had gone to a taxidermist.  One taxidermist even went so far as to stretch a chicken over an owl form.  It was disturbing. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TENGGER-“Achime” (SXSW online, 2021).

I never intend to go to SXSW–I find the whole thing a bit much.  But I also appreciate it for the way it gives unknown bands a place to showcase themselves. NPR featured a half dozen artists online this year with this note:

This year, the South by Southwest music festival that takes over Austin, Texas every spring happened online. Couch By Couchwest, as I like to call it, was an on-screen festival, with 289 acts performing roughly 15-minute pre-recorded sets across five days in March.

This list was curated by Bob Boilen.  He also notes:

 I didn’t enjoy hearing loud, brash music while sitting on a couch the way I would in a club filled with people and volume, so I found myself engaging in more reflective music instead.

I’m going in reverse order, which means I start with TENGGER

TENGGER is a traveling musical family based in Seoul. TENGGER makes its hybrid sounds with a mix of harmonium and modular synths. The couple’s child joins this performance of “Achim,” playing a bird caller and doing movements that add an otherworldly dimension to the music.

This song is very simple, and very soothing.  It opens with a somewhat harsh but soft note, followed by a simple looping electronic melody.  The female vocalist sings some soft soaring notes that float atop the melody.

The bird calls are really quite delightful and add a nice level of whimsy.  After this, a bass note is added which gives the song a bit more gravitas.  After about 3 and a halt minutes, a drumbeat comes in and the song feels complete. It loops around for another minute and a half and then fades out.

It’s quite lovely.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Journey Into Night”

David Sedaris writes about travel a lot. He is, after all, a touring author/speaking.  But he has also lived in many many places around the world.  So he has a lot of experience with air travel.  Of course, since he is famous (and apparently well off).  He tends to fill in what was (at least in 2007 called Business Elite).

He first mentions the flight from JFK to Paris that leaves at 7PM and arrives at 845 AM.  He says there’s a brief parody of evening. Dinner is served, Trays are cleared and then, four hours later it’s time for breakfast–an attempt to trick the body that it has slept the night. Some passengers even prepare for bed–line up at the bathroom with toothbrushes, wearing slippers.

Business Elite is separated from everyone else.  The first time he flew it, he didn’t care for the whole boarding first par, but the pampering was pretty nice.

Although on this one flight he was asked to do the airline a favor.  A passenger was crying–his mother had died and he was returning home.  He was disturbing the neighbors near him and the flight attendant asked if he could sit in the empty set by David.

David, who is usually easily judgmental was horrified by these people.  The man’s mother had died.  He mentions a first class passenger who threatened to sue an airline because a blind person was travelling with  seeing eye dog.  The man said hadn’t paid thousands of dollars to sit next to a dog.

David wasn’t sure how to react to the crying man, so he planned to basically ignore him.  The man waved off his food, but David was pleased to get his dessert.  He even learned that (In Business Elite) he could ask for extra

spend eight thousand dollars on a ticket and, if you want an extra thirteen cents worth of ice cream, all you have to do is ask.

But really the hardest prat was to try to remain somber for this man.  I  mean, there was a Chris Rock movie on the screen. And once you realize you cant laugh, it’s impossible not to.  Like about their Greek grandmother

For children, nothing beats a flatulent old lady.  And she wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Their father would ask if something was funny.  They’d say no while giggling.  He would wallop them on the head with a metal spoon which only made things funnier.

But then as he started to think back to those times–so young and simple–he started to cry too.  Just joining the man in solidarity.

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SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDRY CLEANING-“Her Hippo,”  and “Leafy” (album versions) (2020).

After listening to the Dry Cleaning Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, I wanted to hear the recorded versions since the blurb talked about how different they sounded.

Indeed, these versions sound very different from the Tiny Desk Concert.  Well, actually it’s the guitars sound very different because guitarist Tom Dowse is playing electric rather than acoustic.  But it changes the whole tone of the songs.

On the record, “Her Hippo” opens with quiet but sharp electric guitars that echo as the riff circles around. Lewis Maynard’s bass sounds the same, but Nick Buxton’s drums push this song into more of a rock territory (he played keys and electronic percussion in the Tint Desk)..

Florence Shaw’s vocal delivery is similar but perhaps a but more empathic while being heard over the more rocking band.  The middle part features just the rumbling bass and Dowse’s sharp (but simple) guitar solo.

“Unsmart Lady” opens with roaring, echoing wild guitars and thumping drums.  When he starts playing the main (weird) guitar chords they make more “sense” on the electric guitar, but they are still noisy and abrasive.  Dowse wrenches all kinds of screeching feedback and squeals out of his guitar.  The Tiny Desk version sounded really good, but this version is fantastic.

At the Tiny Desk “Leafy” was all delicate synth, but on the record, Dowse plays a kind of lead solo throughout the song–melodic and pretty while keeping the bass company.

I’m glad I listened to the recorded versions of these.  But I’m also glad I listened to the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert first, because hearing the structure of the songs was a great way to be unprepared for the distortion of the recorded versions.  I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the record–and seeing them live.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “The Perfect Fit”

This is a hilarious essay about shopping in Tokyo.  It’s especially funny to imagine David and his sisters running around the city buying all manner of strange clothes.  Because if there’s one thing we know about the Sedaris family, it’s that they love odd items.

They stayed in Ebisu so they could shop at their favorite place Kapitol.  He talks about all of the delightfully odd clothes they sell there.  The store is still open, here’s a fun piece.

The store’s motto seems to be “why not?”  They make clothes that refuse to flatter you.   A shirt whose arm holes are not made like a capital T but like a lower case t. A jacket that poofs out at the small of your back where for no reason there’s a pocket.  He bought three hats that he wore stacked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLEATER-KINNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #231 (July 1, 2021).

Sleater-Kinney were once an abrasive riot grrl band with vocals that were challenging and guitar riffs that were often abrasive.  The songs and the vocals intertwined in fascinating ways, making music like nobody else.

They took a lengthy hiatus and reemerged sounding a little different.  Then they released another album which sounded very different (so different that it caused Janet Weiss, holy drummer of the trio, to depart).

That album was not Sleater-Kinney.  It was good, very good in fact, it just wasn’t the same band.  Now, they’ve released another album and this one verges even further from their trio sound.

It’s still good, but it’s disconcerting that our two guitar-wielding singers aren’t playing much in the way of guitars.

“Path of Wellness” opens with a funky drum beat (from Vince Lirocchi) and bass.  Bass!  The gypsies had no home and Sleater-Kinney had no bass.  Well now they do in the form of Bill Athens.

On the previous album I bemoaned that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t intertwine like they used to.  It’s nice that the two sing the song together.  The vocals are much closer to traditional harmonies than untraditional S-K vocals.  But there is a bit of that wild S-K interchange in the voices.  And, once the song takes off in the middle though, Carrie plays some leads and Corin plays big loud chords.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing of human frailty and self-improvement, vibrating with low notes of disgust. Then Brownstein shoots Tucker a knowing smile as they sing, “You could never love me enough,” and the pair, who have been making music together for nearly 30 years, start to unwind things: Brownstein hisses “I am on a path of wellness” through gritted teeth before ripping into a four-note riff that feels like it’s pulling your guts out; Tucker sets her voice at maybe 75 percent howl capacity to sing “I feel like I’m unknown” and Brownstein still has to raise a hand to steady herself against the force. She can’t stop grinning.

“High In The Grass” feels looser and hazier than on the album;

“High In The Grass” has Corin playing the chords, Carrie playing the main riff and third guitarist Fabi Reyna playing the high lead read.  I don’t know if Corin would have normally played that or not, but having an extra guitar doesn’t hurt.

Corin sings this song rather delicately, in a kind of soft falsetto.  But when they get to the chorus is sounds like classic S-K vocals.

The guitars are pretty awesome in the middle part as all three women play different things  Corin is playing chords up and down the neck, Carrie has some riffage going on in the middle and Fabi is playing a scorching feedbacky solo.

Track three is a surprise.  Going back to 2002’s One Beat, they play the title song.  Corin and Carrie put down their guitars and keyboardist Galen Clark plays piano while Bill Athens plays bowed upright bass.

“One Beat” played with piano and bowed upright bass, making it that much easier to hear how, by the end, Tucker’s pleas and Brownstein’s yelp have been inextricably knitted together.

The album version is spare intertwined guitars and tribal drums–a very different sound.

“Worry With You” feels heavier [than the album].

The guitar riff sounds very S-K, and the guitars (and keys) do bring a heaviness to the proceedings.  The verses are jumpy and erratic but they resolve into one of their catchiest chrouses yet.

So yes, you can hear Sleater-Kinney in this album. But one aspect of the band is definitely gone.  Nevertheless, the core remains and it sounds terrific.

[READ: June 10, 2021]  “Standing By: Fear, loathing, flying.”

It was fascinating to read this article in 2021 because at the end he talks about fearing to ask the person near him on line who they voted for.  I wondered when he wrote this because it really applies to pretty much any election in the 21st century.

The essay opens with the joke that when your flight is delayed it’s a national tragedy–why isn’t this on the news!  But when you hear about it from someone else, it’s totally ho hum.

But mostly he gets to be snooty about his fellow passengers.  Like the guy next to him in a T-shirt and shorts:

It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this.  I’m going to Los Angeles.”

He also talks about flight attendant friends who have given him some insight.  “I’ll be right back” is code for “Go fuck yourself.”  When he asked another attendant how he dealt with unruly travelers, the answer (at the end of the essay) is very satisfying.

He talks about another flight in which he saw an old woman with her young grandchildren who were dressed beautifully–like children from a catalogue.  The boy was even wearing a tie–clip on, but that’s ok. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FROM THE TOP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #230 (June 30, 2021).

Here’s three young classical performers playing some amazing piece of music.

From the Top is the radio program (distributed by NPR) that spotlights today’s terrific young players.

Teenagers from three locales around the country – Chicago, St. Louis and Palo Alto, Calif. – invite us into their homes for fresh takes on vintage classics, contemporary sounds and sophisticated pop arrangements.

Up first is a cello from Ifetayo Ali-Landing.  The song is by Yebba called  “Evergreen” (arr. Charles Yang).  I don’t know this song, but I really like it.  The cello sounds fantastic and the melody is delightfully complex and yet not unmelodic. I love the way she occasionally bounces the bow off the strings, for a really neat effect–very percussive.

Ifetayo Ali-Landing, an outstanding 18-year-old cellist from Chicago starts us off. She’s already performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and given her own TEDx talk. One of her calling cards is this propulsive performance of “Evergreen,” a pop song by Yebba, arranged for solo cello.

Up next is a guitar duo by Jack and Elle Davisson.  They play Paulo Bellinati’s “Jongo.” This is their favorite duo performance because of the rhythm and the beat.  Jack opens with some wonderful classical fingering and then Elle follows with a similar melody.  Then Jack plays a lead while Elle taps out a rhythm on the strings.  But from there it’s hard to pick out who is doing what–each player has something special and complicated going on.  Elle plays some lovely harmonics and a kind of bass string solo while Jack picks the complicated lead.  And just when you think you get the whole piece, the two of them play a lengthy percussive section tapping and slapping on all parts of their guitars–a drum solo in the middle of this classical piece.

Pairing up in Palo Alto, the Davisson Guitar Duo features Jack, 16, and his sister Elle, 13. Their signature piece is the rhythmically driven Jongo, which offers flavors from composer Paulo Bellinati’s native Brazil. The siblings finish each other’s musical phrases with startling lyrical precision.

The final piece is solo piano by Jerry Chang.  He performs Franz Schubert: “Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3.”  It sounds amazing and his description of the song that it reminds him of being in a garden, is really interesting.

Seventh-grader Jerry Chang, clad in his comfy exercise shorts, closes this cross-country Tiny Desk from home, playing Schubert’s G-flat major Impromptu like someone twice his age. The gentle, rippling effects he gets from his still-growing 13-year-old hands, and the way he makes Schubert’s wistful melody sing, is astonishing.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Now We Are Five”

Only Davis Sedaris could find humor in his sister committing suicide.  This piece is very poignant and quite moving but there’s still dark humor in there.

I begins by saying that his parents had six children and people were always startled to hear his.  Six kids!  But now that Tiffany had killed herself, they were only five.

Six months before she killed herself David rented a house on Emerald Isle in North Carolina.  The family had gone there when they were kids and he thought it would be a fun way for the family to get together.

When they were kids David always grabbed the master bedroom until he was kicked out.  Then he often wound up staying in the maid’s room–which was usually outside. The others banded together against him, since he was clearly the weakest at this point. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANI DIFRANCO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #208 (May 10, 2021).

I was a huge fan of Ani DiFranco when she came out.  I loved her indie style and her cool percussive acoustic guitar playing.  I stopped listening to her when she turned more jazzy/soulful.  Given her vast output, I’ve probably missed about fifteen albums.  Actually, when I looked her up, I see that she has slowed down on her studio output (so it’s only about 9 albums that i haven’t heard).

I thought that perhaps I would enjoy her newer stuff is it was played acoustically lie this.  And I realized I really liked this first song, which I assumed was new.  But, in fact it’s from an album I have.

Ani opened her set with “Everest” from the 1999 album, Up Up Up Up Up Up, a song that for me is about viewing life through different lenses and finding beauty.

I probably haven’t listened to this album in a decade, but this reminded me of why I liked her so much back then.  The melody and her guitar picking style is so expressive and her lyrics, as always are thoughtful.  I love the sound she gets from her guitar too, so rich, with a great low end.

I was actually a little surprised that she played these older songs, because her new album is getting some airplay (around here at least).  But “Not a Pretty Girl” is such an iconic feminist song that it’s always great to hear.

Next, she sings the title track to her 1995 album, Not a Pretty Girl, which shakes the shackles of stereotypes.

She switches to a hollow-bodied electric guitar for this song (with some interesting tuning, I’m guessing).  Again, terrific sound.  What’s interesting is that when she first sang this song, she sang with bite in her voice.  Now, all these years later, the song still resonates, but her delivery is now from a different perspective–she’s seen it all, for far too long and she knows that we all know it.

Ani DiFranco has always done things her way, and for this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she’s a one-woman team, filming and recording herself in the front hall of her New Orleans home and studio, Big Blue. The not-so-tiny desk you see in the hallway was her great grandfather’s. Other personal items seen as we scan her home include a purple painting of a tree by her cousin Jim Mott and a portrait of a woman and ghostly girl by a painter named Renata. At the time of this recording, Ani was planning to move after more than 10 years at Big Blue, so this concert is likely one of the last performances to take place in that space.

She does play a new song, though.

 Her final song for this (home) concert is from her 22nd album and her latest release, Revolutionary Love. The song brings compassion to troubled times by dismissing hatred — or in her words, “To forgive but not forget.” It’s a message that shows the beauty and power of this artist, and her heart.

“Revolutionary Love” brings in guitar number 3, an acoustic guitar with a different sound than the first one.   The song has a great melody and sounds very different from the recorded version.  I much prefer this acoustic version than the produced version that has horns and keys.  I really love the way she plays–using her thumb and fingers in a very distinctive playing style.  Her voice sounds fantastic throughout–with clarity and power

[READ: June 1, 2021] “Commando”

The June 11 issue of the new Yorker had several essays under the heading “Summer Movies.”   Each one is a short piece in which the author (many of whom I probably didn’t know in 2007 but do know now) reflects on, well, summer movies.

Interestingly, this essay is not actually about the movie Commando, but about movies like it.  It’s about when he and his friends would imitate the movies and play “commando” in the woods–they were no doubt validated when Commando was released.

They had the perfect location.

Because, yes the woods behind our house do look like a Central American jungle.  And of course it was the perfect place to reenact scenes from First Blood or Raiders of the Lost Ark–of hunting and being hunted.

Within hours of leaving the theatre, we would put on our fatigues (we called them camos) throw our weapons and accessories in our backpacks, get on our bikes, and ride down to the ravines by the beach.

[I can recall doing just what he says (although not in such a dangerous way)–replicating what we saw in the movies]. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOSES BOYD-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #207 (May 7, 2021).

Moses Boyd is a jazz (primarily) drummer from England.

The Church Studios in North London is an institution, home to some of the most iconic records of the last three decades…. From the hallowed Neve Room, Moses Boyd and his band remind us that the U.K. jazz scene still bangs. They also remind us that COVID-19 regulations are much stricter across the pond: physical distancing is the name of the game in this at home concert.

The set begins with “Stranger Than Fiction,” a bouncy grime tune that features saxophonist Quinn Oulton, whose pedals lend his horn a dark and haunting quality.

The song starts with Moses playing some fabulous rhythms.  Renato Paris plays a choppy but funky bass line that melds into a groove while there’s some lead sax soloing from Quinn Oulton.  Later in the song both Paris and Oulton play the same melody giving it a really big sound.  The guitar goes almost unnoticed until nearly four minutes in when Artie Zaitz gets a cool solo.

Boyd humbly introduces the band and slips right into “2 Far Gone,” and we get a chance to sink our teeth into his virtuosic drumming. Dynamic, at times explosive, and always tasteful, he lays down a bed of rhythm that gives keyboardist Renato Paris and guitarist Artie Zaitz plenty of room to shine. T

It’s fun to watch Moses play from over his shoulder from where you can see all of the interesting things he’s doing including rim shits, paradiddles and even a drum stick flip that appears more functional than fancy.  It’s a pretty lengthy intro before the keys and sax come in, sounding echoing and far away.  Paris’s solo has a total space synth vibe—it’s great and feels very proggy to me.

“BTB” is a funky Afrobeat tune with an infectious melody that serves as the perfect closer.

Zaitz plays a looping guitar melody while the bass note pulses.  Then the sax comes in and takes over the main melody while Zaitz plays filigrees between.  And of course, all the while, Boyd’s drumming is fantastic.  Although, focusing on him while Zaitz is playing some cool solos is a bit uncool.  But I love the wall of sound the band generates by the end.

[READ: June 1, 2021] “Immortality”

The June 11 issue of the new Yorker had several essays under the heading “Summer Movies.”   Each one is a short piece in which the author (many of whom I probably didn’t know in 2007 but do know now) reflects on, well, summer movies.

Gary Shteyngart became a man in 1985 (according to Jewish tradition) while he was summering in the Catskills.

During the work week the cabins were inhabited by grandmas and their charges.  An unhappy local middle aged woman would shout “Bread! Cakes!” and the week old raspberry Danish on sale for a quarter tasted as good as anything he had ever known.

His grandmother has always been tough

women who had come of age under Stalin, whose entire lives in the USSR had been devoted to crisis management, to making sure the arbitrary world around them would treat their children better than it had treated them.

His father was at the apex of middle age and loved to fish.  Each year he caught hundreds if not thousands of fish out of streams, lakes and oceans with a three dollar bamboo fishing rod and a chilling competence. (more…)

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