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Archive for the ‘Excerpt’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THICK-5 Years Behind (2020).

Thick is a trio from New York.  They have been releasing music since 2016, and this is their first full length.  All three band members sing and they play a classic punk lineup of guitars, bass and drums. Thick almost describes their sound–it’s not all that thick, but it’s in the area of thickness.  This is a poppy punk album.  It’s full of attitude and feminism–terrific lyrics and great hooks.

“5 Years Behind” has a ringing, catchy opening riff and a wicked solo all supporting a singalong punky chorus.  “Sleeping Through the Weekend” opens with crashing drums from Shari Page and a wicked bass line from Kate Black.  Bright guitars from Nikki Sisti round out the song which is just brimming with terrific harmonies.  I really like the unexpected middle section where things slow down and the band adds four thumping notes at the end of each line.

“Bumming Me Out” is a largely slower song but with some excellent crashing moments.  And the lyrics–simple but totally effective

Never knew I’d be so tired
Fighting for what I believe
Try to take it al in stride
Sometimes it just feels like
Everything that I see is
Bumming Me Out

This song and others clearly address the moment and the administration.  As does “Fake News.”  A blistering 49 seconds of whiplash which deals more with social media than the idiot who uses it so much.

“Home” opens with another catchy riff and a great slow/fast dynamic.  But it’s not a verse/chorus slow/fast, it’s slow at the beginning of the veres with a double time drum and vocals at the end of it.

This all leads up to “Mansplain,” which opens with a series of quotes from men about “girls” in rock.  Hearing it all together should really bring home just how much sexism there still is in the industry.  It packs a wallop in just over two minutes and is crazy catchy to boot.

“WHUB” stands for where have you been which has a fun song along chorus.  I love when there’s another vocal line underneath the chorus singing counterpoint, and this song does that perfectly.  “Won’t Back Down” is a little slower, but it has some outstanding harmonies.  The way the vocal melody plays off the guitar and the way the harmonies interplay with each other is just perfect to me.  I really love this song.  And the lyrics are simple but powerful too, with a crunchy noisy ending.

“Can’t Be Friends” has a fun sing along melody right from the get go.  It’s followed by the screaming punk of the 90 second “Your Mom,” which still manages to have a catchy chorus.

“Party With Me” starts as a quiet almost lullaby-ish song (despite the lyrics “take your clothes off and party with me”).  But it’s a false opening because after the first verse the song takes off in classic poppy punk fashion.

The disc ends with “Secret Track” which I assume is not the title of the song (I’m guessing it’s either “Stop Screaming in My Face” or “Don’t Wanna Hear It”).  I really like the opening guitar which is slightly dissonant in the melody and the call and response vocals are a nice nod to Sleater-Kinney.

This is a fantastic album, with the only bad thing about it being that it barely lasts 30 minutes.  But really, that’s a perfect length for a punk album vecause you can listen to it again and again.

[READ: October 10, 2020] “Not Throwing Away My Yacht”

Ishmael Reed wrote a two-act play called The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.  It is a response to Hamilton which Miranda based on the biography by Ron Chernow.  The biography (and the musical) white wash a lot of Hamilton’s life, and this play is there to bring up the people whose lives were excluded from the story.

In the play, the spirits of Native American an enslaved Black people whose stories were omitted from the book interact with Miranda and Chernow.  But in this excerpt, Miranda confront Chernow about the information he left out.

Miranda is mad that Chernow lied about the maltreatment of slaves by the Schuyler family.  They had (and abused) slaves for 150 years.

Chernow says that he was confined to 800 pages–he had to be selective about what he kept in.

Miranda counters that Chernow left out the information that would tarnish his heroes.

Chernow argues that he won the Pulitzer Prize; he’s not a liar.  And how dare Miranda complain to him now?

Chernow says in the book that they might have owned slaves.  Besides, does Miranda think that Hamilton would have gotten the support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Disney if the musical was advocating revolution?  Do you think I could get bestsellers, and awards if I told the truth?

Miranda pushes back but Chernow says

Look, Lin, we have a good hustle going for us.  We’re both getting rich…. Why are you making such a fuss about these trivial matters?  They all owned slaves.

Then he gets personal:

Plus, you’re making sixty times as much as the actors–why not share more money with them?  You’re lucky the bass is so loud that it drowns out your trite lyrics.

I’m a little annoyed that people are mad at Hamilton for not including details about slavery.  I don’t know Miranda’s motive, but I suspect that wasn’t the point of the story.  I don’t think it glosses over the fact that they owned slaves, because it does mention it.  You can’t complain about a piece of art for what it doesn’t do, if that’s not what it was trying to do.  Write your own art that compensates for what Hamiltion failed to do.  And that’s what Reed is doing here.

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SOUNDTRACK: MILLY-“Star Thistle Blossom” (2020).

I saw Milly open for Swervedriver last year. I really enjoyed their angular shoegaze style.  At the time, milly only had one EP out. They are about ready to release a new one, and this is the first song from it.  You can check it out on their bandcamp page).

As I listened to it, i thought it sounded familiar.  And that’s because they played it when I saw them.  I really liked it a lot–the juxtaposition of pretty picked notes and alternating rocking angular chords, was really great.  Brendan Dyer’s vocals work perfectly in the shoegaze style and the backing harmonies are spot on.

I love at the two minute mark how most of the song drops out but for drums and guitar punctuated by a few power chords every few seconds.  The instrumental ending is perfect–grungey chords in a catchy melody and an abrupt ending.  I’m really looking forward to the rest of the EP.

[READ: October 2, 2020] “After Midnight”

This was a puzzling excerpt from Wondratschek’s novel Self-Portrait with Russian Piano (translated by Marshall Yarbrough).

The narrator is addressing you, the person who asked him is he continues to play his piano.

But his hands are bored and his heart is worn out (to say nothing of his legs).

He explains that he found a holy silence when he began to love music–not that he could ever understand music.

Maybe he always wanted to play for angels–to make them appear in his apartment. Maybe a holy calling would justify his playing an instrument since no one else in his family did–nor did they think much of it.

That far away from Moscow, artists were a figment of the imagination.  The horse that drew the plow was not, neither was poverty, nor the ground in which so little grew.

He has few visitors, except for a young violinist.  Her father was a friend of the piano player and she has has a lot of success.  They discuss music and he offers advice.  She compliments him and says no one plays like he does.  She wishes to play with him.

He can’t help but wonder, doesn’t she smell the scent of failure on him in his old age?

He is tried and cannot abide her for long.

He can no longer stay up until the right time to make music.

Well before midnight I’m finished as a human being and fall into bed.  At what woul dbe the right time for making music, I’m snoring…But who would dare take the risk of allowing a concert to begin after midnight?  Even with free admission it wouldn’t work.

This story could also go in many directions once this scene is over.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020).

You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere is a pretty radical departure from their last album and a huge leap from their debut.  There are a lot of moody pieces that play with atmospheric sounds rather than outright melody.  Which is not to say that there isn’t a nice catchiness to the album, just that it comes from a different place.

It opens with the haunting, spooky “My Only Ghost” which would seem very out of place on any other release but really sets the tone for the experimentalism on this album.  It’s a quiet piece with vocals sung in falsetto harmony.  It’s an appropriately spooky opening with backwards guitars and atmospheric sounds.  It’s not even obviously The Districts.  Although the next song, “Hey Jo” certainly is.

“Hey jo” mixes acoustic guitars with that uniquely Districts-sounding guitar tone and a storytelling vibe.  The song feels very restrained with a quietly spoken section at the end and a nearly whispered coda tacked on.

It’s with the third song “Cheap Regrets” that The Districts show what they are really taking chances.  They called this track “nihilistic disco,” and that’s pretty apt.  This song is a great mix of disco sounds and a stellar bass line, with an unexpected amount of keyboard (for them).  It also contains a fantastic lead guitar line after the verses.  It’s one of my favorite songs of the year.

“Velour and Velcro” sounds more like old school Districts but updated and with new polish.  The song is catchy and bouncy with some cool guitar sounds.  “Changing” introduces the slower moodier section of the album with gentle acoustic guitar and somewhat warped sounding electric guitar.  There’s a rollicking chorus, but the song retains a moody element that continues into “Descend.”  The song has a pretty acoustic guitar with an almost sing-along melody.  It ends with a trippy series of keyboard washes as the song drifts away.  It segues, appropriately into “Clouds,” another gentle song.

“Dancer” is a similarly moody number with swirly synths. But that fantastic bass line keeps the song grounded and very interesting.

Things rock out again with “Sidecar.”  The old looseness is back with plenty of doo doo, doo doos and screamed vocals from Grote, but the song never feels like its going to get away from them.

“And the Horses All Go Swimming” starts the end of the disc with some swirling sounds.  It builds slightly before moving on to the delicate “4th of July” with the pretty acoustic guitar and super catchy (if somehow off-sounding) whistle.

It’s great to see The Districts exploring new sides to their music, I just hope they never lose that loose, rocking side.

[READ: October 1, 2020] “Reborn to Run”

This is an excerpt from Bonner’s The Book of Atlantis Black.  The intro comment calls this a memoir, so I’ll assume it is.

This excerpt is 7 numbered short sections.

First we see that the narrator’s older sister Nancy decided to run away by hopping a train (when she was 12).  She was gone for several hours but when she returned she only replied “Wouldn’t you like to know?” when the narrator asked if she had done it.

When she was 13, Nancy climbed out her window in the middle of the night and walked the nine miles to school only to arrive on time for first period.

Section four is written in an interesting way. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE BIG TOWN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #91 (October 6, 2020).

Little Big Town is a country band that has been around for a while.  I feel like I’ve heard of them, but I’m not sure.

Evidently the band is really the four main singers, but they have added more touring members for this Concert.

They open with “Nightfall.” It has nice folkie guitar and Karen Fairchild sings with a strong folksinger style. The snaps from Hubert Payne’s drums really ring out in a cool way.  Thee upright bass John Thomasson adds a nice anchor to the melody.

I thought maybe they weren’t all that country after all.  But as soon as the chorus jumps in and the accents start flying–especially the high notes from Kimberly Schlapman–the country has come into the house.  The song is catchy though.

Up next guitarist Phillip Sweet jokes is the “most profound thing” they’ve done.  “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” opens with a surprise trumpet intro from Jacob Bryant.  Although songs about drinking are about as cliché as they come, the stompin,’ dopey tone is quite fun and Jimi Westbrook’s lead delivery sells it well.

They apparently use some songwriters known as the Love Junkies who came up with “Girl Crush.”  There’s some nice harmonies on this track.  You really can’t hear keyboard player Akil Thompson on the other songs, but his chords ring through here.  Westbrook puts down his guitar while Sweet plays.

They end with “Boondocks” their first hit about where they come from.  I like the bowed bass and Evan Weatherford’s slide guitar lead, but the thought of thousands of people stompin’ along to these lyrics is a tad disturbing.

[READ: October 5, 2020] Parable of the Talents [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African -America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

I first looked at the date of 1998 and thought it was so current, not exactly realizing it was 22 years (and a lifetime) ago.  Without even reading the story, just reading the above paragraph, it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Reagan wrought.  He really was the beginning of the end for the country.

And Butler could totally read the writing on the wall.

Not much happens in this excerpt.  A farm is burned and most people killed. the refugees take shelter with the narrator at their farm/commune.

It’s the details below that are so chilling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BURT BACHARACH & DANIEL TASHIAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #75 (September 3, 2020).

Obviously, Burt Bacharach needs no introduction.  He has written hundreds of songs that everyone knows. It’s rankly amazing that he is still living given his long and storied history.  Well, it turns out he is 92 (!).  And he can still play and compose.

I don’t know who Daniel Tashian is, but I see that he is a songwriter who seems to have written for a lot of country singers.

For this Tiny Desk Home Concert, the two have written music together for an EP called Blue Umbrella and they perform three songs while far apart: “Bells of St. Augustine,” “Blue Umbrella,” and “We Go Way Back.”

The melodies are lovely, as you’d expect.  Tashian is a lyricist, so the lyrics are very good as well.  I guess the one unknown turns out to be Tashian’s voice.  I found that I liked it quite a lot.  He reminded me a lot of Jim James in his delivery.  It’s also fascinating to watch his beard grow over the three songs.

In between songs, first Daniel addresses us.  he says that music is an oasis of calm and peace.  He says, seriously that he hopes this time next year we’re looking at a different picture of where this country is headed.

A love of songcraft brought these tremendous talents together, writing songs of friendship, songs that have been a comfort for both of them in these challenging days.

Bacharach talks about what it’s like being 92 and being sequestered like this.  He’s been out of his house once–to a small party at a friend’s house.  But he is happy to be at home with his wife.

And he has a direct message to the anti-maskers out there.

It’s okay to wear a mask.  You’re not proving anything walking around without a mask like some kind of hero.  You’re not.  You know who the heroes are.  They’re all walking masks and working in hospitals.

[READ: September 11, 2020] “End of the Line”

This is an excerpt from Franzen’s The Corrections.  

The Corrections is a large book that covers, in depth, a large family.   I enjoyed the novel very much and this refresher (I read the novel nine years ago), was a nice reminder of the novel.

The family has three adult children: Gary, a banker in Philadelphia who is (more or less unhappily) married with three children; Chip, a former school teacher and current playwright who sponges off of his younger sister while he tries to live the high life in New York City; and Denise, a very successful chef who also lives in Philadelphia.

This excerpt is about Denise.

It is a story about her as a youngish woman working in her father’s railroad office.  She is a strong, hard-working young girl in an office full of men.  And they don’t know what to do about her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NUBYA GARCIA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #81 (September 16, 2020).

Nubya Garcis is a jazz saxophonist and this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is unlike any other thus far.

Look to the left of Nubya Garcia’s Tiny Desk (home) concert and you’ll see a hanging plant swaying right above the keys. It never stops moving during the next 23 minutes, and it’s for a bizarre reason. Garcia’s (home) concert took place on a boat — a first in Tiny Desk history.

Garcia and her band are at Soup Studio, a recording facility built on a decommissioned floating lighthouse moored on the River Thames. It’s also where Garcia recorded her excellent new album, SOURCE. This set features three songs from the record; the title track starts it off with a reggae, dub vibe.

“Source” opens with some great low end from Daniel Casmir’s double bass.  The main melody comes from Joe Armon-Jones’s simple keyboard hits.  Sam Jones makes the drums almost a lead instrument as well, as he plays a lot of cymbals and interesting fills.

There are two backing singers for these songs.  Richie Seivwright and Cassie Kinoshi add some ahhs and oohs as needed.  They’re not intrusive and add a human element to Garcia’s otehriwse otherworldly saxophone soloing.

At around eight minutes, the singers do a lot of woohing and scatting which I find less interesting than the rest of the band does.

After nearly 12 minutes, everything slows down and Casmir does a bass solo as the introduction to “Pace.”  Armon-Jones plays piano with his right hand keyboards with his left to lay down a complex musical tapestry which Garcia weaves her saxophone all over.  Armon-Jones also gets a quiet piano solo, then the song takes off again, crashing to a wild conclusion with frenetic drumming and piano.

“Boundless Beings” opens with a slow saxophone introduction and the bass matching the notes. This song is only two minutes, and I assume that’s because time runs out on her video or her session.

[READ: September 15, 2020] “Whose Little Girl Are You?”

I had read Fox’s Desperate Characters after three authors that I like all championed it.  S. knows of Paula Fox as a children’s author.  I had no idea she had the kind of crazy childhood that this memoir lets on.  Indeed, this is an excerpt from her memoir Borrowed Finery.  And, while I’ve no doubt this is all true.  It is as exciting (and horrifying) as fiction.

When Paula was born her parents deposited her at an orphanage.  Paula’s mother Elise was a panicked nineteen-year-old and wanted to get rid of her as quickly as possible.  Her father Paul brought her to a Manhattan foundling house.  She was taken in by the Reverend Elwood Corning who raised her and whom she called Uncle Elwood.

Her maternal grandmother came to New York from Cuba and learned of her whereabouts.  She intended to take her back home to Cuba with her, but her grandmother worked as a companion to a rich old cousin and could not possibly look after a baby, so Paula stayed with Uncle Elwood.

When she was about five, her father came to see her. He had a large box which he dropped with a thud.  He looked at her and said “‘There you are,'”\ as if I’d been missing for such along time that he’d almost given up searching for me.”   The box contained a whole host of books. The next morning when Paula woke up he was not there anymore.

Later that year Uncle Elwood drove her to Provincetown where her parents were living.  The main memory she took from that visit (because all she ever did was visit her parents) was that she had found a large steamer trunk and was exploring it when her mother walked in and yelled, “What are you doing?”  And then, “Don’t cry!  Don’t you dare cry!”

A year later they were living in New York City and Paula visited them for a few hours.  When her mother came into the room she stared at Paula, her eyes like embers. Then she flung her glass and its contents at the girl.  Water and ice fell all lover her.

The next time, she went to see them they were staying in a hotel in New York.  They had room service for dinner and Paula ordered lamb chops.  It felt special.  When the meal came Paula said “There’s no milk.” Her father stood, grabbed the tray of food and dropped it down the airshaft saying “Okay, Pal, since it wasn’t to your pleasure.”  She had no dinner that night.

Her parents were often leaving Paula with strangers. One time she went to Grand Central Station on a train by herself and was met not by her father but by a couple–actors who knew her father–with Great Danes.  They expected her father to turn up any moment.  Two days later he showed up.

Another time she visited them in Los Angeles.  Her father’s sister Aunt Jessie took her.  Jessie stayed for a few days and on the day that she left, Paula’s parents went out for the evening leaving Paula by herself.  She wandered around and eventually wandered out the front door which locked behind her.

A neighbor found her and brought her to his house where his wife made dinner for her.  The next day she walked home and opened the door shouting “Daddy!”  Her father jumped out of bed–the woman next to him was not her mother–and whisked her out of the bedroom quickly.  He sat on a chair and began to spank her. The maid stopped him–Paula years later realized how brave it was for her to speak out.  A Few days later he dropped her off in the care of an older woman.  Years later he told her it was his motehr’s reaction to Paula that made him send her away–either she goes or I go.

A few years later in Malibu, she visited on weekends. The house had a deck that jutted into the ocean.  One day, her father gabbed her hands and dropped her into the Pacific . She freaked out fearing that she was drowning, but her father laughed because it was so shallow.

One night she told her father that she had a toothache.  He mother had entered the room and said I’ll fix it for you.  She put Paula in the rumble seat of the car and drove madly through the winding roads.  Paula was shaken like a rattle. They drove for twenty minutes (it felt like forever).  Finally they returned home and her mother looked at her and said “Do you still have a toothache?”

When Paula was eight (all of that happened before she was eight!), her Spanish grandmother came for her.  She had lighter duties in Cuba and brought Paula home with her.  Paula lived there, in Hormiguero for many years, going to school there–having a crash introduction to Spanish. She had nothing but freedom there but soon grew very bored and lonely.

When she was ten in 1933, her family fled to he country for New York because the President of Cuba, Gerargo Machado, had been overthrown.

Good lord, how did she ever get through it without going crazy.  And what on earth are her children’s stories like?

 

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SOUNDTRACK: THE FLAMING LIPS-“Dinosaurs on the Mountain” (2020).

After a series of much harsher, darker albums, The Flaming Lips’ new record, American Head (due out next month) promises a much brighter, warmer experience.

They have already released a few singles from the new album, like this one.

“Dinosaurs on the Mountain” starts with a pretty, almost childlike musical synth melody.  Wayne Coyne’s (older and more raspy) falsetto voice floats above the music as he sings “I wish the dinosaurs were still here and now.  It would be fun to see them playing on the mountain.”

The song builds with slow drums and acoustic guitars as the it shifts to a large bridge with appropriate soaring backing vocals.  The song also has a suitably vibrato-filled guitar solo.  In other words, it sounds a lot like classic Flaming Lips.

This song (and album) is meant to hearken back to The Soft Bulletin, which it does, somewhat.  But the biggest difference is that the whole song feels like it’s hiding under an extra layer of distortion–like they couldn’t escape the production style of their latter albums.  Bulletin was very clean, and I do rather miss that cleanness on this lovely song.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “Jack and Della”

I had read an excerpt from this series of books a couple years ago.  I was really interested in that first excerpt.  Although this one I found a little less interesting.  Possibly because the main character of this story (who is briefly in the other excerpt) is down and out.  And without having seen how he got that way (which I think the other book showed), it’s hard to get fully into this character.

But he certainly comes across as an interesting fellow and knowing his past makes him somewhat more compelling.

Jack (full name John Ames Boughton) is the son of a preacher.  Most of his father’s sermons were directed at Jack, who was not always the best boy he could be.

Jack didn’t take much away from his father’s sermons, but the one about always having good manners did stick with him. So when a young black lady dropped some papers on the pavement, he crossed the street to help her gather them.  Her name was Della Miles. She thanked him and called him Reverend because of the black suit he was wearing (he had bought it for his mother’s funeral and was about to return it. (more…)

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download - 2020-05-13T095755.048SOUNDTRACK: BOB MOULD-“American Crisis” (2020).

mpodldBob Mould was once a punk icon.  He has since moved through various styles of music (some more successfully than others).  But now, with everything going on in America these days, he is back to doing what he does best–writing short, powerful, rocking punk songs that address issues.

“American Crisis” starts out with a bashing guitar intro and Mould screaming (he can still scream with authority). The verses pound forward, unrelenting.  The verses are short–all the better to get to the chorus which is also propulsive and fast but really catchy.

I love the third or fourth part (there’s quite a few parts in this brief song).  The lyrics: “You’re one of us or you’re one of them.”  He gives a great wave of a guitar slide leading to a brief guitar pause before the song takes off again.

He ends the song with a whispered statement that was true during the AIDS crisis and is true today.  “Silence=Death.  Never Forget.”  Check it out.

[READ: June 5, 2020] “Bedside Planner”

This is an excerpt from Coetzee’s novel The Death of Jesus.

Simón and Inés are the legal guardians of a young boy named David. David suffers from an unknown disease and is bedridden. David is often asleep but is occasionally lucid.

David wants to know if he will be recognized.  Simón says, as a hero?  Of course.  But first you will have to do the deeds that will get you remembered.  That way someone will write a book about you.

David asks if he has done anything and Simón assures him that he saved Simón and Inés. He also says that some of the good deeds that David did he did with the aid of Don Quixote. (more…)

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june2020SOUNDTRACK: HADESTOWN-Tiny Desk Concert #977 (June 1, 2020).

hades

It’s unusual for a Tiny Desk blurb to tell us when the Tiny Desk happened.  Sometimes there are clues, but this blurb tells us straight out it happened on March 2, in “the Before-Times.”

Which you can tell because there are “16 performers bunch[ed] up behind the desk, singing formidably in close proximity as a large crowd gathers just off camera.”

I’ve never heard of Hadestown, but it sounds pretty interesting.  Evidently it is a Tony-nominated hit musical.

They’d wanted to get this Tiny Desk done, but kept running into delays until they finally managed to coordinate when “playwright Anaïs Mitchell–who wrote both the musical and the 2010 folk opera on which it’s based–was eight months pregnant.”  She also plays guitar and sings.

This is a “five-song distillation of a robust and impeccably staged Broadway production.”

A raucous full-cast tone-setter, “Way Down Hadestown” lets Hermes the messenger (André De Shields, in a role that won him a Tony–he also plays the train whistle) and Persephone (Kimberly Marable, filling in for Amber Gray) set the scene.  I love that Marable is acting (with her face) while listening to Hermes sing.  The song is a kind of piano-based rag song (played by Liam Robinson who later plays accordion) until midway when the whole band kicks in with a muted trombone solo from Brian Drye (who also plays glockenspiel!).

The musical is really about two loves stories: Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone.

A medley of “Come Home With Me” and “Wedding Song” finds Orpheus (Reeve Carney) and Eurydice (Eva Noblezada) meeting and falling in love.

Gentle guitar from Ilusha Tsinadze opens as Orpheus sings his (comical) lyrics.

A singer , huh?
I also play the lyre.
Oh a liar and a player too.

As the song builds, strings are added from Megan Gould (violin) and Malcolm Parson (cello) and a pulsing upright bass from Chris Tordini.

“When the Chips Are Down” showcases the three Fates — spirits who often drive the characters’ motivations — as played by Jewelle Blackman (who also plays accordion), Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (who also plays violin) and Kay Trinidad (who also plays percussion).

It opens with some interesting picked and harmonic’d guitar and a bouncy piano and a funky off kilter beat (and percussion) from Ben Perowsky.  Liam Robinson also get s a fun piano solo.

In “Flowers,” Eurydice looks back with regret and resignation on her decision to leave Orpheus for the promise of Hadestown.

Mitchell herself plays guitar and sings the opening and then lets Eva take over vocals.

Finally, the set concludes with “Why We Build the Wall,” which quickly became Hadestown‘s most talked-about number. (Mitchell wrote it a full decade before the 2016 election, but you’d never know it.) Though the song includes the full cast, it’s also a show-stopping showcase for the sonorous thunder of Patrick Page, who performs with a gravity befitting the king of the underworld.

It opens with two acoustic guitars playing a slightly discordant melody. Page’s deep voice is incredible.  It’s a call and response song that is remarkably prescient:

The enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemny and we build the wall to keep us free.

I don’t know what will happen to Broadway after the virus is gone, but it would be a shame to lose a show like this.

[READ: June 4, 2020] “Still Life”

This is an excerpt from Oates’ new novel Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.  The blurb tells what the story is about but this excerpt seems like the beginning of the story and context rather impacts the way you think about what you’re reading.

The story is about John Earle “Whitey” McClaren.  He is sixty-seven and is in the hospital trying to piece together what happened.  I feel like not knowing the reason he is in the hospital would make this story more compelling.  But having just the except without context would make the excerpt far less interesting.  So I won’t spoil.

He tries to explain what’s happening, but he can’t talk.  He realizes he’s not even breathing on his own. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAUGHTER OF SWORDS-Tiny Desk Concert #971 (April 29, 2020).

Alexandra Sauser-Monnig is part of Mountain Man (who did a Tiny Desk Concert some time ago).  Daughter of Swords is her solo project.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is just as quiet and delicate as Mountain Man but with a little more instrumentation.

Though she’s joined by a full band here, Daughter of Swords was originally envisioned as a solo project for Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. … With a few hushed folk songs, the music was so eerily still, you could have heard a phone vibrate.

This has to be one of the quietest four-piece bands ever on Tiny Desk.

As “Long Leaf Pine” begins, all you hear is a low rumble–the floor tom from Joe Westerlund.  Then Alexandra Sauser-Monnig begins singing quietly.  Maia Friedman supplies soft backing vocals from time to time.  Sauser-Monnig sings high and quiet and amazingly hits and even higher note before the end.

I like the sound of “Shining Woman” more. I think Alex Bingham’s bass stands out a bit more.  Or maybe it’s because Friedman plays an electric guitar accompaniment.  This song starts with a smattering of interesting percussion from Westerlund and while it is in no way loud, it moves faster than the previous song.

When Mountain Man was here, they talked about breakfast food.  Alexandra reprises that by asking what people had for breakfast.  Answers: a banana, a soft-boiled egg.  Alexandra had a green smoothie and goes on about the large piece of toast she had.  She doesn’t normally eat bread and this felt crazy to her [that should tell you all you need to know about Sauser-Monnig].  Bassist Alex Bingham says, “wild day so far.”

For the final song, “Prairie Winter Wasteland” Friedman plays the guitar to start this song–quietly ringing electric guitar.  There’s an interesting bass line from Bingham on this song and Westerlnd is using a small whisk brush on the cymbals.

[READ: April 20, 2020] “Ride or Die”

This is an excerpt from the novel The Last Taxi Driver.

Set in Mississippi, this excerpt follows a cab driver with one fare, a man just released from prison.

He says they never tell him what they were in for, only that they just got out.

This man–white dude, mid-thirties, a few missing teeth, a few prison tats–is in a fantastic mood.  He’s carrying a twelve-pack of Bud Light and asks to go to the Bethune Woods Project.

The driver says he didn’t even know these projects existed before he started driving a cab.  Most of the other cab companies shun the projects.  He knows that Uber is coming to town “I’ve never used an Uber and don’t understand how that works”), and he assumed they will shun the projects too. (more…)

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