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Archive for the ‘Irish Writer’ Category

 SOUNDTRACK: THE REDNECK MANIFESTO-The How (2018).

Despite a terrible name that would keep me away from wanting to see them, The Redneck Manifesto are a very interesting and complicated band.  I discovered them through the book of Irish drummers.  TRM drummer Mervyn Craig is in the book.

The How is the band’s fifth album (and first in eight years).  The album is chock full of instrumentals that touch all genres of music.

There are jazzy elements, dancey elements and rock elements.  There are solos (but never long solos) and jamming sections.  Most of the songs are around 4 minutes long with a couple running a little longer.

“Djin Chin” has jangly chords and quiet riffs that switch to a muted melody.  All the while the bass is loping around.  It shifts tempos three times in the first two minutes.  Around three minutes the bass takes over the lead instrument pushing the song along with deep notes.

“The Rainbow Men” has a circular kind of riff with swirling effects that launch the song during the musical pauses.  After a minute and a half it drastically shifts direction and the adds in a cool solo.

“Sip Don’t Gulp” starts with a catchy bouncy guitar riff and bass lines.  At two minutes it too shifts gears to a staggered riff that sounds great.

“Kobo” is the shortest song and seems to tell a melodic story.  The two guitars play short, fast rhythms as call and response while the bass rumbles along.

“Head Full of Gold” is over 6 minutes with a thumping bass, rumbling drums and soft synths.  “No One” is nearly 7 minutes and feels conventionally catchy until you try to keep up with the beats.  After a middle series of washes from various instruments, the back half is a synthy almost dancey rhythm.

“Sweep” is a pretty song until the half-way mark when it just takes off in a fury of fast drumming and complex chords.  The end builds in upward riding notes until it hits a calming ending

“We Pigment” is a poppy staccato dancey number.  The second half turns martial with a series of four beat drum patterns and a soaring guitar solo.  More staccato runs through to the end.  “The Underneath Sun” also has a lot of staccato–fast guitar notes interspersed with bigger chords.  The end of the song is just littered with sweeping guitar slides until the thumping conclusion.

This album is great and I’m looking forward to exploring their other releases.

[READ: January 10, 2021] A History of Ireland in 100 Words

This book looks at old Irish words–how they’ve evolved and how they show the way Irish history came about.  The authors say:

our store of words says something fundamental about us and how we think.  This book is meant to provide insights into moments of life that may be otherwise absent from history books.  The focus is on Gaelic Ireland throughout as Gaelic was the native language of the majority of the inhabitants of the island for the last 2000 years. It yielded its primacy to English only in the last 150 years.

We selected words with the aim of illustrating each of our themes as broadly as possible.  We wanted the words in all their richness to tell their story … like how the word that originally meant noble came to mean cheaper (saor).

Almost all of the entries reference The cattle raid of Cooley (The Ulster Cycle) which features the hero Cú Chulainn.  This story is at the heart of most of historical Ireland and it’s pretty fascinating how many of these Gaelic words either originate with that story or get their foundation from the story.

There’s a general pronunciation guide although I wish each word had a phonetic guide because anyone who speaks English will look at Irish a if it is just a jumble of nonsensical consonants.

The book is broken down into sections, although the authors insist that there is no correct way to read the book.

  • Writing and Literature
  • Technology and Science
  • Food and Feasting
  • The Body
  • Social Circles
  • Other Worlds
  • War and Politics
  • A Sense of Place
  • Coming and Going
  • Health and Happiness
  • Trade and Status
  • Entertainment and Sport
  • The Last Word

There are also delightfully weird wood carving-like drawings from by Joe McLaren scattered throughout the book.

The words are listed below with either a definition or an interesting anecdote included. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS with MERZBOW-Gensho (Disc Two: Merzbow) (2016).

In 2016, Boris teamed with Merzbow to create Gensho, a 2 CD package that was designed to have both CDs played at the same time.  Not the easiest thing for many people, but with the advent of digital recordings it’s now pretty easy to play both discs at the same time (this release is on Spotify).

Disc 1 was all Boris.  Disc 2 was all Merzbow.

Merzbow is a real challenge for me.  I’m not really sure how anyone can listen to his music for pleasure.  It’s harsh, electronic sounds, with high pitched squeals and low staticy distortions.  As an exercise in noise, it’s fairly interesting, but never enjoyable.

This disc includes four songs.

“Planet of the Cows” is over 18 minutes long.  It’s high pitched squealing and a low distortion.  There’s a thumping that works almost like a rhythm.  After ten minutes it sounds like a space alarm is sounding.

“Goloka Pt. 1” is 20 minutes long.  It feels bigger and more metallic.  The noises seem to coalesce into a distant screaming sound.

“Goloka Pt. 2” is 19:30.  It’s got a slightly lower tone, with slower movement among the noises.  Although sirens and pulsing sounds are present.  Then at 12 minutes all the sirens drop out to just a quiet robotic pulsing with thumping that sound like a heartbeat.  The track ends in what sounds like mechanical breathing.

“Prelude to a Broken Arm” is the shortest song at only 16 minutes.  It is quieter with a low crunching and bug-like sounds.  At 6 and half minutes the distortion comes in really loud with a mechanical drum/broken engine sound and then a looping siren with the kind of static noise that sounds like more screaming.

It is an unsettling and challenging listen and not for the squeamish.

[READ: February 10, 2021] “Our House”

Irish writers are often known for their humorous storytelling.  But wow, can Irish writers really hit hard with the tragedy, too.

This is one of the darkest stories I’ve read in a long time.

The story begins with the narrator saying that his father always told him to never buy a house on a  corner.  But the narrator and his wife did anyway.  It was in bad shape and needed a lot of work, but they fell in love with the place and felt they were up to the task.

The story sets up the spouses as opposites in love.  She is a non-practicing Protestant with a Catholic name (Ursula) and he is a non-practicing Catholic with a Protestant name.  She thinks he is funny and he never dares to admit that she rarely gets the jokes.

The previous owner died three years ago and they are the first people to check out the place.  The more they clean the more work they see needs to get done.  Although there are some nice surprises (like the five hundred pounds in cash they find under the carpet).

But it’s the neighborhood that proves to be more hostile to them than they could ever have imagined.  Children began gathering at the corner every day.  They get up to mischief right away–ringing the doorbell and running, bouncing a ball off the house.  But there is an underlying air of menace behind all of this. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC AYERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #118 (November 30, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Mac Ayers and while I respect the fact that he plays everything in this Tiny Desk Home Concert (and syncs things up nicely) and even wears different clothes for each instrument, this 15 minute set was pretty torturous for me.

If you were to ask what kind of singing do I hate the most, my answer would now be Mac Ayers.  I hate the tone of his voice, I hate the way he does those whiny ooooooh at the end of his lines (note in the first song the first verse the way he says “you” and then the way he ends the rhyming word do (he even makes a face like it hurts him as much as it hurts me.

Obviously my opinion is not the popular one, because Ayers is apparently a big star.  But not in my house.

The 23-year-old Long Island native shot this in his basement back in September (hence the ‘register to vote’ comment). Mac’s modus operandi lends itself to the Tiny Desk naturally. No over-produced beats, lots of live instruments and a stunning vocal range — and he handles all duties: guitar, bass, keyboard and background harmonies for three songs from previous albums and the premiere of a new song, “Sometimes.”

He plays “She Won’t Stay Long” and then fiddles on the keyboard as he introduces “Walking Home.”  This song is a little bit more enjoyable for me.  There are fewer grace notes.  Although I do dislike the chorus.

He talks to us from his guitar to introduce the third song (I like that he’s mixing things up).

“Sometimes” is a new song.  It reminds me a lot of Billy Joel (not his voice, but the melody–must be a Long Island thing).

“Easy” has some terrific harmonies, although I hate the lead vocals.  I give him a lot of credit for being an exceptional musician, I just hate the music he makes.

We were well on the way to hosting Mac Ayres at our D.C. offices until we had to shut down and pivot.

I hope this Home Tiny Desk means he doesn’t have to do one in the office.

[READ: December 13, 2020] Modern Times

I saw this book at work and, given some of the blurbs, I thought it might be, if not fun then at least unusual to read flash fiction from an Irish writer.  I also prefer this Australian cover (right).

The book starts out with a bang.  “A Love Story” is bizarre and memorable.  In a page and a half, Sweeney talks about a woman who “loved her husband’s cock so much that she began taking it to work in her lunchbox.”  The story is bittersweet and outrageous at the same time.  It was a great opening.

But I feel like the rest of the book lost some steam.  Possibly because I assumed all of the stories would be this short.  It felt like the longer stories dragged on a bit (which is strange for stories about 4 pages long).

Interestingly, “The Woman With Too Many Mouths” even addresses this (to me anyway) as the narrator says, “I could expend many pages recounting my time…. but you would become bored, and worse, you would forget all about the woman with two many mouths.”  The woman with too many mouths had moths (among other things) fly out of these mouths.

“A New Story Told Out of an Old Story” is, as the title suggests, a story within a story.  It feels like a fairy tale with a Woodcutter and a Miller’s Daughter.  There’s even a Grandmother and a Wolf.   In the internal story, the wolf attacks the grandmother.  She survives, but the scar from the wolf makes her husband not want to look at her and the villagers treat her badly.  When you get to the Grandmother’s story, she has a different take on things.

This book is very current and I am reading “The Palace” as being about the pandemic.  Specifically, the outrageous bungling of the response by the current (and soon to be ex!) administration in the U.S.  

The palace was sick  no one believed it, but it was true.  

In the story the palace physically deteriorates.  The king patches it up but doesn’t actually do anything about the problem.

Soon reports of the sickness were breaking in the news on a daily basis. The king gave a rousing speech about battling the forces of evil that had created the sickness and people screamed ‘Long live the King’ until they were hoarse.’

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DON BRYANT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #116 (November 24, 2020).

I was not familiar with Don Bryant, although I must have heard his music over the years.

Bryant, almost 80, has been in the music business since the early days of rock and roll; he wrote his first hit, the Five Royales’ “I Got to Know,” in 1960. He went on to his biggest success as a songwriter for Hi Records in Memphis …. For a number of years he only recorded gospel music, until 2017 when he began releasing soul records again, backed by members of the Bo-Keys.

Although

Classic soul music feels best in a club, with a lead singer and big band, preferably with horns, playing off the excitement of a sweaty crowd, drawing them in to stories of love, or love lost, or love reclaimed. It’s a hard feeling to find in our pandemic times.

Bryant manages to play some gorgeous old-school soul with just a guitarist (Scott Bomar) and a keyboardist (Archie “Hubbie” Turner).  And his voice, of course.

Wearing an elegant black and grey jacket matching his salt-and-pepper hair, Bryant evokes style and experience – someone who has been in it for the long haul.

This set is three songs from his latest record, You Make Me Feel, all written by him

His voice is powerful and resonant, deeply rooted in gospel. The keyboard sound is a classic soul sound and the guitar provides a mixture of rocking riffs and mellow accompaniment.

In “Your Love is to Blame” he even gives some good James Brown yelps.

Between songs he sounds like a preacher:  I’m going to give these songs to you as strong as I can.

“Is It Over” is slower and more mellow.  His voice sounds great, hitting high notes and unlike contemporary singers, his grace notes sound great–strong and not whiny.

“Your Love is Too Late” is a classic soul kiss-off track: “I found somebody new to do the things I wanted you to do.”  It opens with an old fashioned guitar riff and moves on from there with grooving guitars and fleshed out keyboards.

I don’t listen to much soul, but I do rather like it.

[READ: December 26, 2020] By the Way 2

This is Ann Lane’s second book about public art in Ireland.  She compiled the first in 2010.  I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know what is in it.

She says that in the ten or so years since the first book, more art has been added and she had been made aware of all of the art that she had missed.

But the fact that there are over 1,000 images in this book, that this is her second book and that in the introduction she says that she pretty much ignores the big cities (due to size constraints of the book) makes me think that Ireland is absolutely amazing with the amount of public art that the country has.  Ireland is about the same size as Indiana, and I would bet a ton of money that Indiana does not have 2,000 (some absolutely gorgeous) piece of public art to look at.

This book is broken down by county.  Lane includes many pieces of art from each county and provides some context for the piece, whether it is the impetus for the creation, some comment about its construction or even an occasional personal reflection.

It isn’t easy to photograph pubic art.  Some pieces absolutely fail when taken out of context or when trying to encompass an entire piece of art with a tiny photo.  Sometimes you cannot do justice to a piece because it must be seen from different angles to be really appreciated.  But Lane does a great job conveying these pieces.  And if her main goal is to get you to want to come to Ireland see them, then she has succeeded.

I marked off dozens of pictures in here because they were either my favorites or they were interesting in some way.

I followed this format.
COUNTY
Town: Title (Artist) Location.  Comments. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KEM: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #115 (November 23, 2020).

I have never heard of KEM, so it’s a surprise to see that he’s been recording for almost 20 years.

KEM’s Tiny Desk performance is light, welcoming and beautifully decorated. So is his music.  After almost 20 years of recording R&B hits … he still comforts my soul with his sultry voice and simple, yet satisfying melodies.

That summary is really apt.  These songs are light and simple.

He plays three songs from his latest album.

The first, “Friend Today,” has KEM accompanied by Michael “Nomad” Ripoll on acoustic guitar.  The song

poignantly articulates a love for our fellow humans: “There’s a roll like thunder / They killing our babies, Lord / They headed straight for the border / And we can no longer ignore it.”

About “Not Before You,” KEM says the recording is a demo vocal because he never got around to doing a real vocal so [logic leap here] this song is very special.  I assume he means it is special because it is

a classic romantic love song, as a dedication to his wife, Erica.

Kem adds programming and a deep resonating bass to the guitar backdrop.

For the final song, “Lonely” KEM brought out the “heavy artillery,” David McMurray on saxophone. The song ends the set

with an upbeat, hopeful vibe: “There’s a life waiting for you / In your brokenness.” It’s an affirmation that personal struggles can end in true happiness.

I don’t enjoy a lot of contemporary R&B, but I liked the understatedness of this set.

[READ: November 20, 2020] Ireland Through Birds

I saw this book at work and thought I’d bring it home to read it.  I wasn’t sure if I’d read the whole thing, but once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

O’Brien is a bird lover (he should hook up with Jonathan Franzen for a joint tour/book).  He grew up loving birds and has seen many of them.  He decided to look for these twelve bucket-list birds for an Irish birdwatcher.

These dozen birds tend to be shy and wary or highly localized.  And unfortunately

Some need very specific conditions in which to flourish, conditions now found in only a few protected pockets across Ireland.  Some are endangered–and still declining.

So in addition to talking about the birds, O’Brien is here to talk about nature: what we have done to it and what we can do for it.

For those of us not in Ireland, a map is helpful just to know where he is.  So I’ve added one to the bottom of the page. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GOBLIN COCK-Necronomidonkeykongimicon (2016).

Goblin Cock is the hilariously inappropriate name of a heavy metal side project from Rob Crow of the band Pinback.  The album sounds very literally like a heavy cousin to Pinback with a similar (just much heavier) songwriting style.

The band members are: Lord Phallus (Rob Crow)-guitar and vocals; Lick Myheart-guitar; Tinnitus Island-bass; Mylar Grinninstein-drums.  (Probably pseudonyms).

Necronomidonkeykongimicon was the band’s first album in almost ten years after two albums in the early 2000s.  And Joyful Noise records had this to say about it:

Goblin Cock is a band from beyond time, beyond space, beyond your naive concept of dimension in METAL. Since before your pathetic “god” had supposedly “created” you and your kind, Lord Phallus was hunkered in a cybertimeship/fun-dungeon skating the layers of what was considered “true metal” in all societies and in all generations. Eventually His Majesty realized that he really didn’t care and launched a full-scale war against bland metal with an emphasis on ACTUALLY HAVING A GOOD TIME!

The album has 13 songs in 36 minutes–this is not an epic recording or anything.  But despite their brevity, these aren’t blistering punk songs either.  Rather, the songs work primarily in some of the heaviest metal styles (Slayer comes to mind) but also add some really alt-metal sounds (like Tool) in the bridges and choruses.

The first song, “Something Haunted” starts with a classic doom sound.  A distorted, vibrating series of notes–old school metal, including a heavy chugging riff. When he starts singing he sound a bit like Ozzy, but more like an alt-rock Ozzy (with a better voice).  When the bridge comes in, it feels more like Tool than dark metal.  The chorus soars to unexpected alt rock highs and somehow segues tightly back to that opening heavy riffage.  The song is three and a half minutes and is one of the longest songs on the album.

The second song, “Montrossor” starts so quickly, I initially thought it was still part of the first song.  It opens with fast double bass drums and equally fast riffage.  The bridge is a super fast followed by a slower melody (complete with crashing cymbals) that ends abruptly after two and a half minutes.  It ends abruptly and shifts gears into “Stewpot’s Package” which has that same old school style heavy deep opening riffs.  But again, it’s followed by a shift to more Tool-like sound for the bridge.  The chorus shifts gears and sounds almost like an XTC chorus.

“Youth Pastoral” is an instrumental with a practically heavy jazz riff.  The middle grooves all over the place as it shifts gears and style but fits perfectly together.

“Flume” opens with a slow menacing riff and Crow’s clipped singing until the much heavier chorus.  But, really, the most amazing thing about this song is that at the 1 minute mark, he sings the word “hey” for a full twenty-six seconds. It’s astonishing how long he holds that note.  The rest of the song is sung much more quietly, which seems fitting.

“Bothered” is heavy grooving with some excellent back and forth on the guitar parts. A shouting chorus is followed by a kind of guitar solo (more like an instrumental break than a solo proper).  A slow, heavy Soundgarden-esque riff opens “Your Watch.”  The chorus stays in that style, which never sounds like a Soundgarden song (the vocals are very different), but would fit comfortably on their playlist.  It’s followed by “The Undeer” a fast heavy chugging song that’s over in 90 seconds but only after a kind of mocking “la la la” vocal in the middle.

“Struth” opens with a slow drum fill followed by a n old school Black Sabbath-y riff.  The quietest part of the record occurs near the end of this song with a cool-sounding guitar melody (and effects) as the song slows to a pretty end.  But “The Dorse” resumes the heaviness with some intense double bass drum and pummelling guitars. This is another instrumental, but much heavier with some relentless pounding guitar and bass and an almost victorious guitar melody on top.

“World is Moving” is a quiet song that almost doesn’t fit on this record.  It opens with a complex guitar melody and some off-kilter time signatures.  The vocals are quiet and hushed for most of the song until it starts building up by the end.

“Island, Island” returns to the heaviness with a an intense riff and loud crashing drums.  It’s li e classic metal song with lots of drums taking the fore. There’s a catchy melodic middle that is bookended by ferociously heavy chugging guitars.  The middle of the song is about as heavy as this album gets with the thumping guitars and drums all in double time.

“Buck” ends the disc with the longest song–almost four minutes.  It’s slow and grooving and has a feeling of an 80’s sci fi film as the end adds a swirling synth sound.

Despite the band’s name, which will certainly turn off some, this album isn’t silly or overly vulgar.  It’s just some great songwriting in a bunch of heavier styles.

[READ: October 20, 2020] “Life Without Children”

Here’s the third story about COVID that I’ve read.  I’m not going to continue keeping track, but I am marvelling at how many have been published already.

This one is from a different perspective than I’m used to.

In it, Alan, an Irish man in his sixties, is in England on business.  His wife back home in Dublin tells him about all of the quarantining going on in Ireland.

Social distancing is a phrase that everyone understands. It’s like gender fluidity and sustainable development.  They’re using the words as if they’d been translated from Irish, in the air since before the English invaded.

Where he is in Newcastle, it’s like nothing has happened.  He is very careful about what he touches.  He cleans everything.  He envisions the particles floating in the air between the drunk men in the Hawaii-Five-0 shirts.   (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MELANIE FAYE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #60 (August 5, 2020).

Melanie Faye was the impressive guitarist during the Masego Tiny Desk Concert.

She opens her set with an impressive instrumental–the introduction to Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing.”  Her fingerwork is fast and clear and really fluid.

Then she starts properly with the first of her three originals, “Super Sad Always.”

The song has some clever complex lyrics:

In a sense, you’re innocent
But your inner sense is fading

I can’t decide if I like her voice or not–I want it to be a bit more substantial, I guess.  Of course, her muted guitar works quite well with her mute singing.  She puts an interesting extra muted effect on her (excellent) guitar solo

“It’s A Moot Point” is slower with some more amazing guitar work in the instrumental middle section of the song.

“Eternally 12” has another fantastic guitar introduction. It’s fantastic how great her guitar playing is–so delicious without being show-offy.  This song has a lot of prerecorded backing vocals which sound very nice and kind of flesh out the voclas in a way that her songs seem to need.

Lyrically this song is interesting but the repetition of the word “eternal” is a bit tiresome.

[READ: August 1, 2020] “In the Bed Department”

This story is about Kitty, a divorced woman who works in a department store–in the bed department.

The big news is that the store has just installed an escalator.  Kitty is suspicious of the escalator–she doesn’t know how it works and she doesn’t like it.  She also didn’t like the workers–men covered in a dirty-looking tan, often adjusting their zip on the way back from the loo.

Kitty recently seduced a man from the local Drama Society.  He was twenty years older than she was.  Tom did set and Kitty had s mall walk on role.  He had been courting her, slowly for a couple of months while they worked together on Johnny Belinda.

He drove her home most nights and one night she invited him in.  Her boys were home, but they were in their own rooms, so she initiated right there.  “It was awkward all the way through and quite satisfying.”

She didn’t tell him that had gotten pregnant.

She wasn’t actually sure she was pregnant, mind you.  It could have been “the change,” but she trusted her body.  What would it be like having a wee baby around the house.

Her life was full of ups and downs like an escalator.

This story felt like it needed more….something.

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SOUNDTRACK: BENNY SINGS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #50 (July 14, 2020).

I watched a Benny Sings Tiny Desk Concert back in 2016.  I wasn’t that impressed.  I thought it sounded fine, describing him as a slower Elton John.  Since then, he has apparently gone on to bigger things (and must have many fans).

I’ve never come across a moderate Benny Sings fan. The Dutch singer-songwriter and producer has maintained a cult following for over 15 years and performed in the United States for the very first time at the Tiny Desk back in 2016.

Benny and his band play three songs.

Recorded at his studio in Amsterdam, the set list reads like an inventory of quarantine essentials, opening with “Apartment” from last year’s Free Nationals LP (shout out to Anderson .Paak).

As with all of the songs, the music is lightly R&B with some disco flavors.  Each song has a loud low end from  Bram Wassink’s bass and crisp drums from Colin Lee.  The songs are gentle and catchy.  “Apartment” is less than three minutes long.

“Sunny Afternoon” was written with PJ Morton and is a bit catchier (and sweeter).  There’s a nice backing vocal “oooh” solo from June Fermie while Adam Bar Pereg play s anice piano solo.

The set ends with “Music.”  Honestly I can’t imagine a worse title for a song than “Music,” but it is about music.  And the blurb admires the sentiment:

The hook reminds me that I’m not the only one who continues to seek refuge in song. He sings, “Music help me through this / I can’t do this on my own / But music help me through this / Whenever I’m down.”

I will not be an immoderate Benny Sings fan.  His music is pleasant, but forgettable.  Although he seems like a very nice fella.

[READ: July 20, 2020] “The Dinner”

As the United States roils with protests about institutional racism and out immoral leaders conduct illegal schemes of violence against citizens, it was an very charged time to read this story about racism in Ireland.

As Roddy Doyle stories tend to do, this story has a lot of heart and humor in it.  It begins by introducing Larry Linnane and his family.  He loves his family.  He loves his girls (he and his wife have four) and his son.

But he especially loved hearing his intelligent girls as they talked about everything at the dinner table.  And, as usual, Doyle’s ear for dialogue is spot on.  Larry is a pretty open minded guy, he doesn’t even mind hearing his daughters talking about their love lives.  Nothing they said or did ever shocked him.

Until Stephanie brought home the black fella. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RODRIGO Y GABRIELA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #15 (April 28, 2020).

The only thing better than seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela live (which is amazing) is getting to see them up close just to be even more amazed by what they can do.

The Mexican duo known as Rodrigo y Gabriela travel the globe playing to crowds who are captivated by their almost telepathic acoustic guitar interplay. But they make their home in Mexico in a sunny Pacific beach town called Zihuatanejo (remember The Shawshank Redemption?). For this performance we get a peek at their home studio, where they surround themselves with guitars and dress down in sneakers and casual clothes. They run through tunes from throughout their recorded history, including a song they played at the Tiny Desk back in 2009. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s picking and strumming feel more relaxed than usual but maintains their intense focus.

“Tamacun” and “Diablo Rojo” come from their album Rodrigo y Gabriela (2006).  Rodrigo plays the amazing and catchy leads and it’s terrific to watch him.  But I think that Gabriela with her unconventional and at times mind-blowing rhythm section that is even better to watch.  I never quite know what she’s doing with her right hand.  Is she specifically hitting different strings with different fingers, or is it just an elaborate strum?

The percussive sound they both get on “Diablo Rojo” is fantastic.  That they can keep the song interesting while just hitting their guitars is so cool.

“Hanuman” is from the album 11:11.  Each song on that album is a tribute to an artist who has inspired them.  This is a tribute to Carlos Santana (whom they met after this song was released).

“Mettavolution” is the title track from their newest album.  I love that they are album to write so many instrumentals with just two acoustic guitars and have them all sound so different.  Near the end of this one Rodrigo says that normally they ask people to sing along (woah oh ohs), but since there’s no crowd, maybe you’ll sing along at home.

It’s hard not to.

[READ: April 25, 2020] “No. 13 Baby”

This is an excerpt from Barry’s novel Night Boat to Tangier.

I have mixed reactions to Barry’s stories.  I usually like the details, but sometimes the the overall story is too intense (I don’t especially like stories about drug dealers) .

Set in the Plaza de la Constitución in Spain, Maurice Hearne is waiting for someone. The man arrives and says Maurice needs to pay half of the money first before he can meet Karima.  Then the man tells him that he should have his head examined: Just forget these people, go back to Ireland and have some kiddies.

He called home to Cynthia to assure her that everything was going to be okay.  Then he went to meet Karima. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BALÚN-Tiny Desk Concert #927 (December 20, 2019).

When I first listened to this Tiny Desk, I was delighted by the gentle way it started–pretty acoustic melodies on slightly unfamiliar instruments.  Although I usually enjoy noise and chaos, I really hoped that this whole set would stay like this.  And (for the most part) it did.

The set opens with sampled birdsong as “Vaivén” begins with a beautiful melody from Noraliz Ruiz on the Puerto Rican cuatro.  She’s joined by Enrique Bayoán Ríos-Escribano on the charango.  It’s a beautiful short piece that segues into “La Nueva Ciudad” and that’s when things changed a bit with the addition of electronics.

Their mix of traditional instruments with electronics creates not just a sonic treat but also a visual feast, as our eyes dart from one instrument to the other, drawn in by a Puerto Rican cuatro and a makeshift drum set.

Indeed

It’s impossible to not be drawn in by the visual specter of Balún. The band has refined their electronic roots with their turn toward self-discovery on beautifully crafted studio albums, and this set behind the Tiny Desk shows how expertly they deliver the same meticulous, artful music live.

“La Nueva Ciudad” opens with electronic-sounding percussion as Ríos-Escribano and drummer Shayna Dunkelman both scratch percussion instruments.  Then Ríos-Escribano plays a hand drum and José A. Olivares plays a little synth device as the melody unfolds.

Then we finally hear singer Angélica Negrón (with the purple hair).  She has a soft, high voice as gentle as the instruments around it.  Her voice is warm and inviting even if you don’t speak Spanish (it might make you want to learn).

For verse two Darian Thomas kicks in the violin with the charango adding its chords.  It’s a wonderful song, complex and fun.

Balún is from Puerto Rico and they dedicated the third song “El Espanto” to their island home.  Negrón says “El Espanto” is about cleaning up the bad energy and starting from scratch.    It opens with a fascinating percussive intro

I didn’t expect to be greeted by a mysterious, eighth member who made an appearance at the start of “El Espanto” in the form of programmed solenoids that struck the bottoms of pots and pans to create a rhythmic intro to one of their brilliantly crafted songs, mixing the folkloric with the modern.

The song starts with a weird synth sound (like an electronic folk instrument) which, along with the violin, pokes out the melody.  Electronic percussion fleshes out the staccato notes.  Midway through the song it gets huge with guitars, synths, who knows what else.  It brings a great alt rock sound and a hugely catchy melody (and Negrón’s voice is perfect for it).  Then the cuatro takes over the melody again.  The middle of the song has a ripping guitar solo from Raúl Reymund with Darian Thomas playing some wild violin.

I love that everyone sings along gently until the end of the song, when it’s a total freak out with loud electronic drums, noisy guitar, wild violin and all kinds of shaken percussion.  It’s the chaos I wanted after all!

Balún is part of a vanguard of bands that is expanding the musical landscape of Puerto Rico and it is a treat to watch them up close as they create an actual bridge between the ancient and the modern, set against a rich tapestry of vocals that extoll the virtues and challenges facing their beloved island these days.

“Punto De Encuentro” ends the set. It’s a new song.   Noraliz Ruiz picks up the bass (the first time a bass is used).  It opens with all kinds of electronics starting the song which turns onto a quiet, pretty ballad.  Thomas plucks the melody on the violin along with the synths.  Then the churango comes back with the bowed violin and all the while the complex percussion keeps the song moving along.

I had never heard of this band before this set and they totally won me over.  I’m looking forward to checking out their albums.

[READ: March 2, 2020] “Night Swim”

This story is set in Ireland.  I only find this surprising because in the story the narrator goes more or less skinny dipping which was something I didn’t think you could do in Ireland (do the lakes ever get warm enough at night?)–at least I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before.

But although that is the title and a crux of the story, it is not the entire story.

The story opens with the narrator, Michelle, driving her son Ben to a friend’s house.  Ben doesn’t talk much in general, but he seemed to open up in the car (I found that to be true about my own kids).

Michelle had not been to this friend’s house and was following the GPS map.  She was familiar with the area but not the route itself.

While she was driving, Ben began asking her “would you rather” questions: Would you rather drink a cup of lava or be drowned in a lava lake.  She doesn’t enjoy the game, but he is quite insistent.

When she answers she would rather neither of those things, he just repeats the question.

When he asks if she would rather drown in a lake or be strangled in the dark, she flashes back to the titular night swim. (more…)

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