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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Fishing for Fishies (2019).

The first of two albums released by KGATLW in 2019, Fishing for Fishies is a bluesy, boogie-filled record.

It opens with with two false starts.  There’s the briefest sound of a sound like they’d recorded over another track but left it, then there’s a drum beat that hits a few and stops only to resume a few seconds later and starts the title song.  “Fishing for Fishies” is a soft shuffling song with delicately whispered vocals and a bouncy melody.  It’s super catchy and is followed by “Boogieman Sam” with its bouncy staccato guitar and then Ambrose’s wailing harmonica.

“The Bird Song” is a favorite on the record.  Fun gently whispered lyrics and a remarkably catchy jazzy song.  “Plastic Boogie” is loose blues song with a lot of people talking throughout, giving the whole thing a party atmosphere.

“Cruel Millennial” is sung by Ambrose.  It’s a swinging boogie with a catchy chorus and some wailing harmonica soloing at the end.  “Real’s Not Real” starts as a potentially heavy rocker but as the song proper starts, it shifts abruptly to a kind of mellow Beatles-y piano-pop song.

“This Thing” is a harmonica-fueled blues song with great big bouncy bass line.  “Acarine” is an unusual song on the disc.  It’s slower and moodier slow moody with whispered vocals and piercing harmonica.  Although the last two and a half minutes are an instrumental jam with  looping synths that sound like a sci-fi soundtrack.

“Cyboogie” ends the disc.  It was the first singe off the album and it’s as catchy as anything.  Who knew it was so much fun singing “boogie, boogie, boogie, boogie, boogie, boogie, boogie.”  The buzzy bouncing synth is a great sound for this song and the cyber voice prompts a return of Han-Tyumi who pops in after murdering the universe.

[READ: April 29, 2021] Manopause

I have no idea who Bernard O’Shea is.  Well, he’s an Irish comedian, but I don’t know what kind.  He could be Ireland’s Jeff Foxworthy for all I know.  I doubt that he’s Ireland’s Dave Chapelle, anyway.

I read O’Shea’s first book when it came across my desk at work.  When this one appeared a few days ago I thought it was the same guy.  A little research confirmed it, and since I mostly enjoyed the first book, I thought I would read this one as well.

It’s tough playing the mid-life crisis card, especially for a successful male.  And, honestly, for a bunch of the book I did think “oh, moan moan moan.”  The key though is if you can make the moaning funny.  O’Shea manages to do that for a time but then, unexpectedly, the book gets serious.  O’Shea looks seriously into changing is life and he explores several ways to do so.

Manopause is a funny enough term, but I appreciate that O’Shea had the sensibility to include his mother’s comment about him using the word.

He told his mother he was going through “the manopause…the male menopause.”  To which she replied

If you had any idea what the menopause was like, Bernard, believe me, you wouldn’t go through it.  Sweating, hot flashes, no sleep–at times it feels like you are going mad….  You wouldn’t survive 30 seconds of it.  No man would survive it.  Jesus, if ye did go through it, we’d never hear the end of it.  And if you went through it, you’d hospitalise yourself.

That might be the funniest thing in the book.

We met Bernard’s long-suffering wife Lorna in the first book.  She is longer-suffering still.

In chapter one, Lorna gives him an amazing birthday present.  She takes herself and their three kids away to her mother’s for five days.  He has five days to himself, to do whatever he wants. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKNATU CAMARA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/143 (January 12, 2021).

Natu CamaraGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist on the second night is Natu Camara from Guinea.

Natu and her band play four songs.
From a studio space in Brooklyn, Guinean native Natu Camara mixes West African soul, rock and pop music. As a builder of inter-cultural bridges, Camara uses her songs to bring people together, weaving a tapestry of musical stories and visions of her beloved home.

“Ka Hirdé” is a short introductory piece. The “boombastic” Kayode Kuti on bass and Matthew Albeck on guitar set the melody going while percussionist Gary Phes and drummer Oscar Debe propel it forward.  Camara and her backing singer Lindsey Wilson sound great together while Camara plays a percussive stick.

It’s a short introduction before the funky “Waa” which means “crying for your soul.”  There’s some great bass work behind this simple catchy song.  I love the way it builds with the sung “waa, waa”  until a grooving keyboard solo makes the song feel like a jam.

“Dimedi” means “child” and is dedicated to all the children around the world.  She says, “Let’s take care of the children so we can change the future.  We may not be here when the world is better but at least if we train them well maybe they will do better than our generation.”

The song is slow and mellow with just Camara singing and playing guitar and keyboard washes from John F. Adam.  Until the whole band joins in to flesh out the song.

“Arabama di” ends the set in a really fun way.  It has a kind of reggae intro with some super funky drums and a wild bass line.   By the end, the song has turned into a wild jam with everyone dancing (in their seats) and a wailing solo from Albeck.

[READ: January 14, 2021] “Christmas in Cochinchina”

This story comes from a collection called A Very German Christmas: The Greatest Austrian, Swiss and German Holiday Stories of All Time.  I don’t know if the whole collection was translated by Michael Z. Wise, but this story was.

This was a very simple story, full of memories of childhood.

The narrator’s class went to the World Panorama.  It was a small class trip and cost five pfennings.  The narrator didn’t have the money so the school paid for him.

Once you went inside and the darkness cleared, you could see a large cabinet. It was illuminated from within and has holes that you could look in.

After being told to sit, he saw the show begin.  There were scenes from Cochinchina (Vietnam).

The sky was an intense blue and the sun was radiant–the narrator quickly forgot it was December in Germany..

There were palm trees and men in pith helmets.  There were women with arousing breasts and loincloths

that certainly would have fallen off if one could have stopped the pictures.

There was a British man teaching naked children.  There were fishermen and swimmers.

And then a gong sounded and it was over. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LABESS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133/139 (January 11, 2021).

LabessGlobalFEST is an annual even, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.  

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the first night is Labess.

This Algerian and Canadian band proves that music has no boundaries even in times of isolation. Recording its set from France and Colombia, Labess blends flamenco and Gypsy jazz-influenced North African chaabi into energetic soul music with a nonstop beat. Singing in Arabic, French and Spanish, lead vocalist Nedjim Bouizzoul mixes realism and hope, gentleness and fury, in stories about exile that illustrate the joys and the distress that pave the road from the native countries to new homes and back again. Through his poetry, he proposes we reflect on cultural diversity and the necessity to unite, no matter our differences.

“Yal Maknin” opens with Rabah Khalfa playing the derbouka hand drum and a great riff on the banjo from Simon Demouveaux.  Nedjim Bouizzoul sings lead.  As the song move on, Demouveaux plays a solo along with strings from Simon Lannoy (cello) and Loran Bozic (violin).  It’s a lot of different sounds that work well together.

“Yemma” is a much quieter ballad.  Bouizzoul plays acoustic guitar and sings.  Khalfa plays the derbouka and Demouveauz plays a grougious melody on the oud.

They end with “La Vida Es Un Carnaval.” Mike Rajamahendra opens with drums accompanied by François Taillefer and Julio Frias on percussion.  Pierre Bonnet played some excellent bass in the first song. It sounds even better in this song.  Bouizzol sings in Spanish on this one.  The middle of the sing shifts gears and sounds very Spanish, with great horns from Javier Villa (trombone), Rafael “Pachalo” Gavilan (trumpet) and Moises Marquez Leyva (saxophone).  Then comes a drum and percussion section (including Bouizzoul playing percussive guitar.   Finally, along comes the star of the song–Miche Molina plays a wonderful button accordion solo.

[READ: January 2, 2021] A Poor Season for Whales

After having not had much exposure to South African writers (or really much of anything South African), I’m now on my second book.  This one is fiction.

My ignorance of South Africa is pretty vast, so I had to do a bunch of looking things up while I was reading.  Race plays a pretty big role in this book, so i wante dto look up some information about that.

About 80% of South Africans are of Black African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different African languages. The remaining population consists of communities of European, Asian, and multiracial ancestry.

According to the 2011 census, the two most spoken first languages are Zulu (22.7%) and Xhosa (16.0%).  The two next ones are of European origin: Afrikaans (13.5%) developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most coloured and white South Africans; English (9.6%) reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life.

The vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994.

So South Africa has a pretty intense history.  This story addresses that history in some ways–it seems almost unavoidable frankly–but it’s more about an older white woman and the relationship she forms with a younger colored man.

The book starts on November 20, 2018 and runs through the new year.

Margaret Crowley a white fifty-something woman.  She is an architect, is clever and rich and has just moved into a home she designed for herself in Hermanus.  She used to live in Cape Town but left all of her friends and family to find some space in the more bucolic suburbs. The only living creature she brings with her to Hermanus is her dog Benjy, a fun and loyal Doberman.  

There’s some more fascinating things I learned about South Africa.  This story is set at Christmas time and in South Africa, Christmas is warm.  There are also whales who come to calve outside of Hermanus, making it a very popular tourist destination.  The title “a poor season for whales” refers to the fact that not many whales came to calve this year.

Margaret has recently had more upheaval than just a new house.  After twenty-six years of marriage, her husband has left her for a younger man.  She is not angry about it–she’s coping rather well, but she is still disappointed in the way things turned out.

The back of the book draws you in with this

After nearly fifty six years in the world with very little to stress or vex her, it was therefore hardly to be foreseen that in her fifty-sixth year she would kill a man with a kitchen knife.

Things get exciting at the very start of the book.  Margaret is walking Benjy along the sea front when he spots some dassies and charges after them.

Okay, so what the hell are dassies?  That was the first thing I had to look up (they are an African rodent found among rocky outcroppings.)  They were several meters down the cliff.  Benjy went after them he had no way to get back up.  And if he went further over the cliff he would clearly plummet to his death.

As she is freaking out a young man calms her down.  He says he will help.  He rappels down the side of the cliff an helps poor Benjy up and back to safety.  Benjy has made a new friend for life.   The man is a twenty four year old named Jimmy Prinslii-Mazibuko. 

He is very handsome with gray green eyes and caramel skin.  Jimmy is what is known as “colored” in Africa–

In early 20th-century South Africa, the word “Coloured” was a social category rather than a legal designation and typically indicated a status intermediate between those who were identified as “white” and those who were identified as “black.” The classification was largely arbitrary, based on family background and cultural practices as well as physical features. Most South Africans who identified themselves as Coloured spoke Afrikaans and English, were Christians, lived in a European manner, and affiliated with whites

Margaret is obviously very grateful to Jimmy for saving Benjy.  She asks how she can repay him and Jimmy basically asks if he can stop by her house for coffee and maybe a clean up (he’s cut in a few places).  Margaret is hesitant obviously–she doesnt know this man at all–but Jimmy is persuasive and seems sincere enough.  She agrees.

As she puts the ointment on his leg (at his insistence), she finds the whole scene erotcialy charged–but what could a 24 year old want with a fifty-six year old woman?   

Jimmy stays for a time and is completely irritating to her.  He loves to argue and enjoys giving her grief about pedantic issues.  Their conversations are wonderful–funny and very believable.  Jimmy is clearly smart and knows how to turn convention on its head to get what he wants.

Jimmy has really left an impression on her, but she assumes she’ll never see him again.  But the next morning when she goes to the grocery store, she sees him hitchhiking.  He flags her down and she takes him in to town.  She assumes that’s the end of it but he’s waiting at the car when she is dione shopping. She gives him a ride back home and he helps unload the groceries and then offers to make a meal for her.  (She is a terrible cook and he studied to be a chef).

She really doesn’t know what to make of this young man.

One of the most wonderful things (and timely for today–ITMFA) about this book is how much their discussion revolves around eviscerating donald trump.

The ANC was off the wall, Brexit had been a colossal blunder and donald trump was a buffoon, albeit an extremely dangerous buffon.

Even better is Jimmy assessment of how trump won

“I know I’m not saying anything original, said Margaret, but it remains a mystery how a developed, prosperous country like America could have elected a vulgar huckster as its president”
He laughed, “What is democracy but vulgar hucksterism dressed up as the will of the people?
“But democracy is the will of the people,” she objected.  “At least of a majority of the people.”
“Okay fair enough, yea but what determines the will of the people?”  Most people wouldn’t know what to have for breakfast if their TV didn’t tell them.  It’s all showbiz, reality TV, and Trump wasn’t on reality TV for chicken shit. His deal is selling himself to people who like to believe hey too can live in gold-plated skyscraper and screw supermodels”
“But he’s so unappetising.”
… “Sure he’s unappetising but that’s part of his appeal.  Most of the people who vote for him aren’t that appetising either–you’ve seen them on TV, men with paunches, brassy blonde women with too many teeth.  It’s the Revenge of the Uncool, the people left behind in Gun-and-God Gulch, who at the snobbery of the cool, with their trigger warnings and their safe spaces and their gay marriages and their abortions, the people who fly over what they call flyover country and cannot understand how anybody can actually live there…and electing Donald fucking Trump doesn’t make them any more cool, but it sure makes the cool eat a lot of shit. Because the last revenge of the uncool is to annoy the cool.

The story also deals with race issues in an unexpected way.

Jimmy introduces margaret to his friend Thuthukile.

She says to Margaret, “as a black person, I feel unsafe in Sea Point, I feel my identity threatened by the rising tide of whiteness.”
“Excuse me,” Margaret could not help but saying, “but did you say ‘as a black person?'”
“Yes, sure I did, I mean just because I was born with a white skin that doesn’t mean I’m white, Right?”
“Oh, I thought that was exactly what it did mean.”
“No, that’s the old essentialist argument.  I have a while skin but I self-identify as black. I mean, you have people born with penises who self-identify as women, and people born with vaginas who self-identify as men, right?”

When she talks to her friends and family back home about Jimmy, they have amusing reactions. Her best friend Frieda is scandalized (but fascinated) by this young man and wants all of the salacious details.  Her daughter Celia is actually too interested in her own life to care all that much, but her son Carl is concerned.  He is the same age (almost) as Jimmy and goes to the same school that Jimmy did.  He finds out some things about Jimmy that Margaret is not too pleased about.

As Christmas approaches, Margaret get st the unwelcome news that her former cleaning lady Rebecca needs to move in with her.  When Margaret moved to this smaller place, she no longer needed Rebecca who went to live with her own daughter.  But now the cleaning lady finds her living situation unbearable and insists that Margaret allow her to live with her.  Margaret can’t say no largely out of guilt.

There was an earlier comment from Jimmy that I found interesting.  When Margaret told him that she no longer employed a cleaning lady he was offended that she had money and wouldn’t give a needy person a job.  She had felt a little guilty about employing someone to clean for her, but he says it’s better that she an income, right? 

Rebecca lives in a sketchy area and Margaret is nervous to go there, but Jimmy offers to drive. He also speaks isiXhosa which impresses Rebecca and her neighbors very much.

Another wonderful subplot comes when Maraget goes to her daughter’s engagement party.  No one is looking forward to it because no one really likes her fiancee.  But everyone has a pretty good time.  Margaret also runs into her ex-husband’s sister Felicity.  Felicity is a large brash woman–the exact opposite of her brother.  She is flirtatious (even with her nephew) and tells some wonderfully scandalous stories (she believes that her father killed her mother).

This all leads to a big event on Christmas Eve at Margaret’s house.  She invites Miriam, her children and Felicity.  Jimmy agrees to cook and serve.

The party is a disaster with Felicity getting drunk and offending everyone: “when did young people get so humourless.”  At the talk of politics, Felicity grew animated

with trump the troll in the white house, Timid Theresa in Number 10 and Balls-over-Brains Vlad in the Kremlin, we’re fucked.  America is fucked, of course, it goes without saying, but where America goes the planet goes, so the planet is fucked.  And you know why?  Because fifty-two percent of white American women want their pussies grabbed.  That’s the percentage of white America women who voted for trump, right?  In the full knowledge of his pussy-grabbing propensities.
Aunt Felicity are you saying women want to be sexually assaulted?
No love I’m saying that a politically significant number of white women, fifty two wpercent,to be exact don’t regard pussy grabbing as sexual assault otherwise they wouldn’t vote for that tangerine troll, would they?
They may think that trump’s other virtues cancel ot his less admirable propensities
What other virtues love?  His humility?  His honesty?

At this point Celia stormed off.  Felicity was too drunk to drive home. Her son was too drunk to drive home. Carl and Jimmy hit it off and Jimmy wound up spending the night, with Carl.  Margaret is not sure what to think of this.

Things get very intense after this.  Margaret finds out that Jimmy’s secretive past is quite bad–he is mixed up with some very bad people  She can’t decide if she wants him gone for ever or wants him around all the time.  Two big unexpected events happen–one with Jimmy and one with Jimmy’s associates.

And yes, she does stab someone with a kitchen knife. 

I really enjoyed this story a lot and it has led me to other South african authors who I have also liked a lot.  

Incidentally, this book has a blurb: “Pitch Perfect. Aclever, bitingly funny novel.  It had me riveted,” from Finuala Dowling and I just happen to have a book by her with a blurb from Heyns: “Alive with wit and intelligence and beautifully written, this novel will keep people talking and arguing for a long time.”

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTILLERS-Very Special Christmas Special, “Baby It’s Covid Outside” (December 18, 2020).

Despite going to many live shows, I haven’t watched a lot of streaming concerts. It’s not the same, and I don’t really like watching things on my computer anyway.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to buy a ticket for this one.  I saw The Distillers last year and enjoyed the show. But I feel like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because the crowd was really rowdy and knew the band far more than I did.

So this seemed like a chance to see them “live” up close. The entire special was barely 40 minutes.  This is a bit of a bummer, but at the same time, it was really a perfect length for me.

In addition to the music, there were some skits.  As the show opens, Black Metal Santa unpacks some presents from his sack.  There’s a gun on a stack of presents, he pulls out a squeaking chicken dog toy and then a very adult toy.  He turns around, all Black Metal and says “Merry Fucking Christmas boys and girls, here’s The Distillers.”

On a well-decked-out Christmas-themed set The Distillers start to play.  There’s all kinds of Christmas things–blow up snowmen and giant stocking as well as digital flames.  And a full rig of lights. The band sounds great and the recording is well mixed.  The drums and bass sound huge.

They open with “Sick of It All.”  Brody Dalle is up front playing guitar and singing.  To her right is Tony Bevilacqua on guitar.  To her left is Ryan Sinn on bass.  All three are wearing Santa hats.  They all sing the opening verses and it sounds like a wall of vocals. Drummer Andy Granelli is not wearing a Santa hat, but he does have a knit cap on. The song sounds great–a blast of punk to celebrate the season.

They follow with the outrageously catchy punk of “Oh Serena.”  When I saw them, they opened with these two songs as well.  But this set list deviates somewhat. 

Up next is the quieter “L.A. Girl.”  It starts with everyone playing softly while Brody sings.  Then the whole band kicks in with massive drumming and some tasty bass fills. A martial drum beat opens “I’m a Revenant.”  Both guitarists play the lead riffs before Brody starts singing.  This song has some great sing-along moments as well as a brief part where it’s just Brody before the band marches in again.

“Sunsets” comes next.  They didn’t play this when I saw them.  Brody’s guitar is clean as the song opens.  She sings without a snarl.  The song does not turn into a balls out rocker.  It stays slow but gets very intense.  Bevilacqua makes interesting bendy sounds from his guitar in the middle jam section.  The song slows to a bass rumble before some Christmas music starts playing.

Black Metal Santa comes out and gives Brody a present.  It’s the album Faith by The Cure.  But there’s nothing inside–it’s just the cover. Black Metal Santa says, “Its my ‘Primary’ Christmas gift to you.  A cover.  Now play the damn song.”  It’s an amusing introduction to the song “Primary,” which I did not expect at all.  It sounds fantastic–close to the original, but heavier and obviously with Brody’s vocals sounding very different from Robert Smith’s.  She restrains her vocals until a loud snarling “oh remember” part.

Brody removes the Santa hat for “Dismantle Me” and the lights get brighter so you can see her more clearly.  This song has a great split with really fast guitars from Bevilacqua and slower guitars from Brody. 

The super fast chords continue into “Die on a Rope.”  This song also has some “Oh way oh” parts that are really catchy for such a dark song.  The middle jam is just bass and drums and Bevilacqua’s squeaky feedback while Brody sings.  There’s some thunderous drumming in the end as they jump into “City of Angels.”  This song is really catchy as she and the boys sing together.  There’s another cool middle section of just Brody’s guitar and noisy guitar sounds from Bevilacqua before the band roars off again.

The song ends and Brody looks off stage and says “Jesus.”  Granelli chides, “Brody, it’s Christmas.”  But she points off stage and Jesus comes out.  They ask what he’s doing there and he says it’s his birthday. They ask if he can make it snow.  Jesus says he makes miracles happen–he’s got a guy.   He calls a guy who comes down and the snow starts to fall.  Jesus and the guy get in a fight over who actually makes the miracles happen.  The guy says “ever since cofefe.”  But Granelli stops them, “we’re trying to do a Christmas show here, knock it off.”

Brody takes the mic and says “this year’s been a real ass kicker.  We’re looking forward to the new year.” 

Then they start Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”  It sounds great and is a perfect set ender for a holiday special.

The show ends and they play the Ramones song over the credits.  The band takes bows and makes snow angels.

It’s a fun special and totally worth the $15.

[READ: December 25, 2020] “The George Spelvin Players”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 25.  Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, could’ve sworn she left that porridge bowl right over there [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I started this story and thought it was so familiar that I was sure I had read it before.  But as it went along, it didn’t seem familiar anymore, so maybe there is a similar component of it that I had read in another story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NIGHT BEFORE–WXPN (December 24, 2020).

Every year, from Midnight on December 23 to Midnight on December 24, DJ Robert Drake plays TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of the most esoteric Christmas music around.  Sure, there’s some familiar songs, but mostly, this is weird, wonderful Christmas music.  It is a MUST LISTEN for your Christmas Eve.  Especially around 11PM, when he’s been up for over 24 hours.

Check out the stream here and read all about this fascinating history below

It was 28 years ago when WXPN came to me, with those puppy-dog eyes, hoping that I’d fill in on December 24. Seems no one was available, and in those days before digital, you needed a body to oversee any programming. So, I agreed – as long as they gave me complete freedom to spin an aural web of sounds of the season – direct from my collection of holiday tunes.

What they didn’t know was that I had already developed a fascination for Christmas songs. Not the burnt cookies anyone can hear up and down the dial in December. My collection was chock-full of unique nuggets – some not given the light of day for decades.

So, they agreed to give me three hours and I delivered. The three hours went to four – which went to six and then to twelve, to celebrate twelve years of tradition! The following year management asked what I planned to do to top my 12-hour marathon. I said, how ’bout 24 hours?! After checking my pulse and temperature – just to be sure I wasn’t babbling under some illness – they agreed. Ever since, I’ve been on the air for 24-nonstop hours every Christmas Eve.

And now I am doing it all again!

Within my 24 hour radio takeover on December 24, I will air some special programming that have become traditions within the tradition! Every Christmas Eve morning at 10am, I replay Home For The Holidays hosted by Helen Leicht. An amazing selection of regional artists perform classic sounds of the season.

At noon it’s my annual broadcast of STRIKING TWELVE – a wonderful and creative retelling of “The Little Match Girl”, a short story by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen and performed here by GroveLily.

Later in the evening at 7pm, I broadcast It’s A Wonderful Life – the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed … a perfect way to showcase the magic of radio on this most magical of nights!

Here’s a few songs you’ve already missed today

Bailen – Christmas Is All Around
The Piano Guys – Carol Of The Bells
Weird Al Yankovic – Christmas At Ground Zero
Asleep At The Wheel – Christmas In Jail
Wall Of Voodoo – Shouldn’t Have Given Him A Gun For Christmas
John Flynn – Christmas Balls

[READ: December 24, 2020] “A Portrait of an Unnamed Man”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 24.  Edward Carey, author of The Swallowed Man, writes his phone number on his hand for just such an occasion. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story read like a Mad Lib to me and I don;t understand why it was written.

It starts out fairly normally.  After a bad storm the air is full of the smell of rotting photographs.  That’s very specific, but I get it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #129 (December 21, 2020).

I wondered if there would be a Christmas themed Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  And here’s one.

Cory Henry was the keyboardist for Snarky Puppy.  He has since gone solo and here he is playing some jazzy songs with just a drummer.

Henry is a renowned composer, producer and musician who rose to fame as a member of Snarky Puppy. In 2018, he visited the actual Tiny Desk for a jubilant performance with his own band, Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles. Just a few weeks ago, he released a holiday album, Christmas With You, a collection of classics and new compositions full of comfort, joy and reflection. For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, Henry and his longtime collaborator, drummer TaRon Lockett, recorded a couple of those songs at the Gold-Diggers studio in Los Angeles.

Henry plays two songs with Lockett.

For the first one, he’s on piano.  “Misty Christmas” is a bouncy fluid piece that sounds like something you might here on a Peanuts special.  There’s some nicely complex and varied drumming to accompany Henry’s jazzy piano.  It runs about 6 minutes and then Henry sends us some nice words.

“May these songs fill you and your family with joy and happiness as we bring in what will be a far better year than the last. Live in love, live in peace, grow in freedom. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.”

Watch for his adorable pocket pitbull, Lady Lingus, right before he shifts to the organ with another soulful original, “Christmas With You.”

The second piece starts with the lyrics from “The Most Wonderful Time” of the year, but with a different melody.  Turns out it’s just the introduction to a new pop jazz song.  He’s got a retro sound on his organ and sings softly as he plays, full of smiles for all.  His voice is soft and pleasant.

This is a nice Christmas song although I don’t see it becoming a classic.

[READ: December 23, 2020] “Bone to His Bone”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 23.  E. G. Swain died in 1938 and did not respond to multiple requests for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I tend to enjoy the older stories in these collections quite a lot.  Not to detract from contemporary writers at all, but I thought it might be fun if H&O made a collection of just later 19th and early 20th century stories that did not have a lot of exposure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Happy Holidays from Shawn Colvin and McCarter Theatre Center! (December 19, 2020).

On December 19th, I received an email from McCarter Theatre:

Shawn Colvin, a dear friend of McCarter, gave us a special present to share with all of you!

I have enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s music over the years, but somehow was never quite aware that she played McCarter (apparently many times).  At the end of this session, she says that she is arranging something special with the Artistic Director of McCarter for 2021.

I think I’ll certainly have to check that out.

For this special concert, Shawn plays two Christmas songs from her home.

It amuses me that she says she wants to give us a little holiday cheer and then she plays “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  Good grief.

her version is lovely and her voice sounds very good.

The second (of two) songs is “Little Road to Bethlehem.”  I don’t know this song but it’s similar in tone and it suits Colvin perfectly.

This isn’t exactly the holiday pick-me-up it might have been, but Colvin sounds great and it is nice to hear her.

[READ: December 22, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 22.  Sara O’Leary, author of The Ghost in the House, puts a bowl of candy on her front step with a sign that says “Help yourself.” [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in this collection which I have read previously (that’s a good ratio 2 out of 22).  Here’s a link to the original post.  This is a slightly edited version of my original post:

This story starts with a fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-“Silent Night” (#SingForToday, Princeton University Concerts, December 21, 2020).

I first heard of Joyce DiDonato from an NPR session many years ago.  I loved that she had a gorgeous voice but was not too precious about herself or her music.  She had a lot of fun.

I can’t imagine the chills you would feel hearing her live.

Here’s the next best thing.  In conjunction with Princeton University Concerts and University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, Joyce created the #SingForToday series.

The third entry is this gorgeous version of “Silent Night,” performed by Joyce DiDonato and Àlex Garrobé on guitar.

Joyce has a lovely mezzo-soprano voice and the accompanying guitar by Garrobé  sounds classical in its soft resonance without being fast or complicated.

She sings the songs straight through.  Then for a second round, she changes  the words: “peace, peace, peace on earth…”  I’ve never heard this before and I don’t think it’s part of the song normally.

For the final sing thorough, she she sings over herself with both voices doing the different lyrics in a kind of fugue.  She also adds in some harmony.

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, i think it is so beautiful.  This version is just amazing.

[READ: December 21, 2020] “Our Day of Grace”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 21.  Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron, cannot find a stamp. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is a series of letters written near the end of the Civil War.  There is a Southern woman and her beau–a soldier on the front.  They write to each other although their letters do not always overlap.  He references another soldier, C.W.  We see the letters that C.W.’s wife writes to him and we see in her letters that he does not write back–as she gets more and more dismayed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKADRIANNE LENKER: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #114 (November 18, 2020).

Adrianne Lenker is the singer and songwriter for the band Big Thief.  I really enjoyed the first Big Thief album, but haven’t enjoyed the rest of the band’s output as much.

NPR’s Bob Boilen loves Lenker.  He has done from the very start (he’s the reason I got their first album).  He loves the new albums by Lenker but to me the songs suffer from exactly what I found less interesting about Big Thief’s later albums.

The newer songs tend to be quieter–really emphasizing her voice which is lot more twangy than it was on album #1.  The new stuff (and solo stuff) also doesn’t rock as hard.  It’s not to say that her voice isn’t good, it’s juts not as interesting to me as it was on that first record.  As Bob says

The songs, the words, the voice of Adrianne Lenker has been at the top of my year-end musical loves for the past five years, more so than any other artist. It began with her work as the singer and songwriter on Big Thief’s electric debut album, Masterpiece, in 2016 and runs through this year’s two sister solo albums, one titled songs and the other instrumentals. Those albums contain nothing more than an acoustic guitar, voice, and the bug, birds, and creatures captured while recording.

Her yearning voice, simultaneously frail and strong, draws me to those songs — songs about people, everyday life, everyday death, and ordinary places. All the while, she picks the tunes out of her guitar or paints the rhythms with a brush.

She plays five songs from songs (I’m curious to hear if I’d like instrumentals).

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Adrianne Lenker’s home is a camper trailer parked somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the appropriate setting for the five songs she performs from her new album, tunes birthed in a wooden cabin in Massachusetts.

The songs all sound similar in style, with subtle differences that pay off nicely.  “zombie girl” has a very high capo.  All high notes are fingers picked.

For “two reverse” she adds lower guitar notes (and a very cool riff) which sound rich and resonating.

“dragon eyes” is nifty in that she plays the guitar with a brush instead of a pick which gives the guitar a very soft almost delayed sound–I’ve never seen that before.

After a quick shot of the outside of her trailer, she plays “anything,” a song with no capo.  It’s the catchiest song of the bunch with a nice story.

“ingydar” ends the set with an instrumental opening (with pretty harmonics). I thought this was an instrumental but it’s not.

So I came away from the set liking her more than I did, but not enough to get her record(s).

[READ: December 20, 2020] “The Decade I Kept on Getting Stabbed”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 20.  John Jodzio, author of If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, can cut straight through a tin can, just watch. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This super short (barely four pages) story was great and had me laughing out loud.  It packed a great number of funny lines into a small space.

The narrator explains that he kept getting stabbed:

once on the bus, once at the barber, once at the bus stop outside the barber, once accidentally by my Labradoodle Conrad.

His friends told him to stop going to stabby places or to stop taping knives to Conrad’s paws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKOWEN PALLETT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #113 (November 17, 2020).

I know Owen Pallett from their performance at Massey Hall.  It was beautifully layered orchestral pop.

Typically they loop the songs to make them bigger, but or this set, Owen changed things up.

Owen recorded four songs in multiple stages on different instruments: first, they played acoustic guitar and sang; then they performed the songs again, but this time on violin and viola; finally, Owen layered the recordings in post-production, not really knowing what the final versions would sound like. They explain the whole process, charmingly, between songs.

The setlist here is complete different from the one from Massey Hall.  Although like a that show, he mixes some songs from his first album (released as the band Final Fantasy) as well as he official solo songs.

From a bedroom in Toronto, Owen traverses their musical history, opening with a dreamy song from 2005’s debut album (as Final Fantasy), Has a Good Home, 

His guitar melody is beautiful and the layers of strings make this song feel big and pastoral.  His voice is gentle and lovely.

Before the second song, “Cliquot,” he says that in 2007, he went to Quebec with the band Beirut to write songs and record his EP Spectrum, 14th Century. and Beirut’s album The Flying Club Cup. Zach Condin gave him an instrumental and asked Owen would write a melody, lyrics and sing lead.  They don’t play it live probably because it’s really really gay and Zach doesnt want any more werotci fan fiction writen about the two of them.

Beautiful string melodies in between verses.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is from Owen’s latest record, Island. Here it’s transformed from arpeggiated piano to guitar, and I love the tone it sets.

It is so gentle with swirling strings and a gentle melody.

Owen not only performed each instrument in separate takes, but also did all the production work: recording, filming and editing. A remarkable talent captured in a candlelit bedroom.

“Song for Five & Six” is from his 2014 album In Conflict.  He says when he loops live things to end to get “overwritten and annoying,” so he’s looking forward to playing this with arpeggiated guitar instead of synth.

This song was written about an incident he saw on the Orkney Islands.  After playing some kind of ball game, the men and boys, covered in mud, would climb on the back of a flatbed truck and ride through town banging sticks on the side of the truck.  He thought it was a beautiful image and probably the only pure thing that the men have ever done.

He sings in a gentle falsetto and there’s some gorgeous strings.

[READ: December 19, 2020] “The Snowstorm”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 19.  Alexander Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in 1837 and so was unreachable for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I have not read any stories by Pushkin before and I really enjoyed this one (translated by T. Keane).

Set in 1811, this story revolves around a young woman who has fallen in love with a young man whose station is far beneath her.  And such great quotes!

Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.  The object of her choice was a poor sub-lieutenant in the army, who was then on leave of absence in his village.  It need scarcely be mentioned that the young man returned her passion with equal ardor, and that the parents of his beloved one, observing their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to think of him.

They wrote to each other every day.  At last they decided that they would run off and get married in secret.  They would then hide away for a time and come back to throw themselves at their parents’ feet for their blessings. (more…)

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