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Archive for the ‘Irish Writer’ Category

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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SOUNDTRACK: SHERYL CROW-Tiny Desk Concert #919/Tiny Desk Fest October 29, 2019 (December 2, 2019).

This Tiny Desk concert was part of Tiny Desk Fest, a four-night series of extended concerts performed in front of a live audience and streamed live on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Back in October, NPR allowed fans to come watch some Tiny Desk Concerts live.  October 29th was pop rock night featuring Sheryl Crow.

I had tried to get tickets to the Tiny Desk Fest.  Possibly on this night, although really I wanted the indie rock night.  If I had gotten tickets to this night I would have been a little bummed to find out it was Sheryl Crow.  I did like her many years ago, but I basically grew disinterred in her after her first couple of albums.

However, this set proves to be a lot of fun.  Her old songs sound great, the new songs are fun and her voice sounds fantastic.

“I heard a big thing on NPR about the shrinking of the attention span and how now, with pop songs, everything has like six seconds before you gotta change it, because the kids swipe over,” Sheryl Crow tells the crowd early in her Tiny Desk Fest concert. “I’m just gonna tell you right now: We’re dinosaurs. … And while the kids are all writing fast food — which is super-cool ’cause it tastes great, super-filling — we’re sort of still writing salmon. We’re the songwriters that are here to tax your attention span.”

She opens with “All I Wanna Do”

Twenty-five years ago this fall, Crow was in the midst of a massive career breakthrough: Her inescapable hit “All I Wanna Do” was entrenched in the Top 5 — it would later win the Grammy for Record of the Year — and her 1993 debut album, Tuesday Night Music Club, was well on its way to selling more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Gosh it seems way more than 25 years ago to me.

I get a kick that she starts the song by saying “This ain’t no country club.  This ain’t no disco. This is Tiny Desk.”  The songs sounds terrific.  It holds up well and feels rejuvenated with some amazing pedal steel from Joshua Grange.  Surprisingly, the song doesn’t finished, it just jumps right into “A Change Would Do You Good.”  This song is one of several that feature nice keyboards sounds from Jen Gunderman (who also provides backing vocals).  Sheryl hits some nice high notes and there’s a great slide guitar solo from Peter Stroud.

She played some songs from her new album.  Introducing “Prove You Wrong,” she says this song features Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris.  They’re not here but were gonna play it anyway.  This song is remarkably country-sounding with some bouncy country bass from Robert Kearns.  There’s also a honky tonkin’ guitar solo form Audley Freed and a more rocking guitar solo from Stroud.

She wrote some songs with Chris Stapleton, like “Tell Me When It’s Over.”  This opens with a little drum fill from Frederick Eltringham.  It’s got a surprisingly disco feel in the middle of the song with some real old-fashioned keyboard sounds.

Fifteen years ago she moved to Nashville to quite out the noise–you know the noise of the world.  She says NPR is calming.  There are tiny desks everywhere with good people sitting behind them telling the truth at their tiny desks.  This is an introduction to “Cross Creek Road” an Americana song with solos from first Stroud and then Freed.

She continues saying that things are crazy these days and its hard to raise kids telling them you’re not allowed to lie, truth matters, be nice to one another, be empathetic and then having to turn off the TV if the news comes on.  Her nine year old asked her if the apocalypse was real, which freaked her out until she realized he was watching a zombie movie.  This

“Out Of Our Heads” proves to be a good old-fashioned campfire sing along.

The set ends with “If It Makes You Happy.”  She starts it slowly in an improv way, but when everyone kicks in it sounds pretty darn nice (although maybe a little slow).  I really like the keys that sound like flutes in the middle.

The blurb says she performed two unexpected encores.  I assume we heard them but they just cut out the intervening clapping?  Either way, it’s a really great set and shows that Crow still has it.

[READ: December 2019] Moone Boy: The Fish Detective

This second book has an introduction from the imaginary Friend just like the first one.  It invites you to put your feet up (but not on the book unless you enjoy reading through your toes) and to have a snack (the red bits on the cover taste like strawberries).

The book opens with the explanation that Martin Moone doesn’t handle the calendar very well–he doesn’t like long stretches of time on between holidays, so he divides the calendar into “yections:”

  • Boxing for Love: St.Stephen’s Day to Valentine’s Day
  • Lovefool: Valentine’s Day  to April Fools Day
  • Fools’s Gold: April Fools Day to 20th May (my birthday when I always ask for gold gifts)
  • Golden Days: 20th May to end of term
  • Days of Wonder: summer holidays!
  • Wonder What Happened to the New School: start of term to 5th November
  • Why Won’t It End: 5th November to Christmas Day

We were in the last yection–it was 50 sleeps til Christmas and Martin wondered if his parents had thought of a good present for him. They said they were torn “between getting you new school trousers or fixing the sink in the bathroom. You love that sink, don’t you?”

Then Martin gives the crux of this book: For Christmas he wants a Game Boy.

That seems unlikely to happen so maybe Martin could get a job.  He thinks he’d like to a be a bin man.  But the actual bin man says you’re not exactly a man are you?  It’s in the job title after all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID O’DOHERTY-“Florence Falls” (2012).

Back in 2012, Cathy Davey said she’d “been trying to figure out how to raise awareness for homeless dogs without it becoming a negative campaign.”  She says she “wondered how many songwriters would be interested in writing songs about dogs they have loved. It turns out nearly everyone I approached had a story to tell…”

So Davey and Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy curated this album.  Proceeds from the album go to the Dublin-based Dogs In Distress.

The album features new recordings from fourteen artists, including Lisa Hannigan.  When the album came out Hannigan tweeted: “A dog is for life, this album is for Christmas” playing on the Humane Society’s “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” which is designed to discourage giving pets as holiday gifts if they can’t be cared for.  Sharon Shannon and David Gray both contribute instrumentals).  And of course, The Divine Comedy.

I was planning  to write about The Divine Comedy song, but my favorite track turned out to be this one from David O’Doherty, an Irish comedian.  I don’t know anything about O’Doherty, but the delivery of this bittersweet song was top notch.

Musically, the song is simple, just a keyboard playing a nice melody.  The story starts somewhat sweetly as Florence’s owner returns home.

As my key went in the door I’d call your name, you’d start to growl
And move menacingly across the floor
And as you’d thundered down the stairs
Snarling angrily
I’d wonder why I liked you so much
And you always hated me

The details of how bad Florence was are really hilarious.

In the winter you’d curl up by the fire at home
I’d go off to get your chew-chew
And then you’d eat my mobile phone

Then we realize just how bad Florence was

The first time that you nipped me people said you were just young
And the second time it was the heat
And the third you were only having fun (ha ha ha ha ha)
And the fourth time I actually needed Tetanus and you got neutered at the vet
She said that it would calm you down
And then you bit me on the leg

And since Christmas is coming, there’s a Christmas verse too:

I remember one time at Christmas
When you opened all the stuff
I put you out into the garden
And you were furious
You cried so much at this great injustice
I had to let you back in
And then you were good for an hour


Then you licked the turkey

Florence was truly a terrible dog.  A terrible pet.  And yet the ending reveals the truth:

Oh, Florence, there was nothing good about you I can’t think of anything
But I wish that you were still at home … hating me again.
You were a rubbish dog
But a rubbish dog is better than no dog

And even though this song is sweet and might make you a little teary-eyed, the phrase “rubbish dog” will always make me laugh.

[READ: November 30, 2019] “The Curfew”

I have loved Roddy Doyle’s stories for years.  His early stuff was very funny, but it has been a pretty long time since he has written anything genuinely funny.  But no matter, because what he writes is always good and very real.

The curfew in this story is in place because ex-Hurricane Ophelia is heading towards Dublin.

The protagonist is heading home, with a half hour to spare before the curfew.  His wife is dismissive of the curfew–“Do they think it’s a civil war?  It’s only a bit of weather,” but he likes the drama of it.  He felt like he was helping to stave of a catastrophe–it was doing him good.  It almost kept his mind off the medical news.

A couple of wees ago he’d had a checkup.  All he could remember was the prostate exam.  He smiled to himself thinking he could now address his daughter’s lectures about gender: “I know what you’re talking about, he’d be tempted to say.  A woman doctor had her finger up my arse and she was thoroughly professional.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE SULTANS OF PING FC-“Wheres Me Jumper?” (1992).

The Sultans of Ping were, of course, named after the Dire Straits song.  They were named when “it was sacrilege to say anything whatsoever funny or nasty about Dire Straits.”

This song (or 30 seconds of it) was used as the opening  to the TV show Moone Boy.

The song was an unexpected, presumably novelty, hit in 1992.  It’s stupidly catchy and amusingly nonsensical and your appreciation for it is pretty much entirely dependent on your appreciation for Niall O’Flaherty’s voice which is comical and rather shrill in this song.  The other songs on the record are somewhat less so, but are still delivered in his speak-singing style.

I get a sense of them being like Ireland’s answer to The Dead Milkmen with a sprinkle of John Lydon on vocals–a fun punk band that flaunted a silly side.  Of course, I wasn’t in Ireland at the time, so perhaps they’re more akin to the Ramones in punk legacy.

The Sultans of Ping (later named The Sultans) were (a subconscious at least) predecessor to bands like Fontaines D.C.

But whereas Fontaines D.C. tackles existential life in Dublin, this song tackles a more urgent and pressing concern:

Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
“Where’s me jumper?

It’s all right to say things can only get better
If you haven’t just lost your brand new sweater
I know I had it on when I had my tea
And I’m sure I had it on in the lavatory
Dancing in the disco, go go go
Dancing in the disco, oh no, oh no
Dancing in the disco, bumper to bumper
Wait a minute:
Where’s me jumper?…

[READ: Summer 2019] Moone Boy

Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor (we love him from the IT Crowd, and he has since been all over the place).  In 2012, he created Moone Boy as a sitcom based on his own childhood growing up in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland.

The show was a hit and they made three six-episode seasons.  This book came out around the time of the second season.

The story focuses on Martin Moone, a 12 year-old boy growing up in Boyle.  His friend Pádraic has an imaginary friend and Pádraic encourages him to get an imaginary friend (IF) of his own.  The rest of the book follows the exploits of Martin and his first (and second) imaginary friend.

But the book begins with some absurdist comedy.  Turns out he book is written from the point of view of the imaginary friend (we don’t really learn that until later) and he starts off with this:

Before we begin, I need to carry out a quick survey,

Are you reading this book because:

A. You have a scientific interest in the moon.
B. You have a scientific interest in the misspelling of the word “moon.”
C. You want to find out how quick and easy it is to obtain an imaginary friend that you’ll cherish for life.
D. You’ll read anything  You’re just like that.

If your answer is A or B, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.  There’s very little moon action in this story, apart from the brief appearance of a wrestler’s wrinkly bum.

If your answer is C, then you’ll be equally disappointed.  I suggest you pick up a copy of Imaginary Friends – The Quick and Easy Guide to Forever Friendship by a former colleague of mine, Customer Service Representative 263748.

If your answer is D, the good for you!  You’re my kind of reader.  I’m glad we got rid of that other bunch of idiots who picked A, B and C.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOST & PROFOUND-“All Consuming Mistress” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something you didn’t know, but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

Lost & Profound has a fantastic name.  They are from Calgary and were originally called The Psychedelic Folk Virgins (quite a different concept). The band is based around the married musicians Lisa Boudreau (vocals) and Terry Tompkins (guitars).

This is a slow song sung by Lisa Boudreau.  The credits don’t list a violin, but it sure sounds like there’s one on the song.  Maybe it’s an e-bow.  This song, a low-key folk song seems to be a good representation of the band’s sound.  A find this a moody and enjoyable song.

[READ: July 20, 2019] “Forbidden”

This is a story of a woman and her mother.  A symbiotic relationship of two women on a farm in Ireland.

In dream, my mother and I are enemies, whereas in life we were so attached we could almost be called lovers.

Her mother was a superstitious woman who looked for augurs and signs.  So that when the narrator began writing, her mother said that literature was a precursor to sin and damnation.

Her mother hated the books she brought home from college and when she wrote fanciful pieces for a railway magazine her mother seethed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern Toronto (February 17, 2001).

It’s hard to believe these shows were 18 years ago!

This was night 4 of 4 of the Horseshoe Tavern’s 53rd Birthday bash.  It was the final night and one of the longest shows I can recall at almost 3h in length. The Chickens opened the show.

It was hard to find information about The Chickens.  What I learned was that they were originally a band called U.I.C. which was first an acronym for Unemployment Insurance Commission but was later changed to Up in Canada.  They broke up and then years later reformed but as a different band.  From Now Toronto:

Not only do the Chickens boast the propulsive rhythm section of former U.I.C. drummer Murray Heywood and bassist Dan Preszcator along with the devastating firepower of U.I.C. guitarist Fred Robinson, but they also have the megacity’s most exciting microphone mauler, U.I.C.’s Dave Robinson, fronting the band.  That’s right, Exeter’s answer to the Stooges have clawed their way back from obscurity to kick ass with a vengeance. So why the name change? Well, despite the fashion-world dictate, the 80s are over and the Chickens aren’t a nostalgia act.  The songwriting savvy of former El Speedo guitarist Ken Mikalauskas has added a sharper pop edge to the compositions, as can be heard on the Chickens’ cranking new Prepare To Plug In (Egg-cellent) album.  “We went through about a million names and even contemplated going back to U.I.C., but it didn’t click. Ken has contributed so much to our sound that this really feels like a new group. Besides, none of us really liked the name U.I.C. anyway.”

So that’s the opening act.

For the main act, the band plays for nearly three hours.  They played almost all of Night of the Shooting Stars (songs are in bold–excluding “Remain Calm” or “Satan”).  There was a nice intro by Jeff Cohen (which states that The Horsehoe was originally a country club, which makes sense.)

And then they jumped n with six new songs.

“The Fire” which Martin says is “a new song Dave and i are working on.”  There’s some great harmonizing between the two of them at the end–they don’t duet enough.  It’s followed by some short, poppy song: “It’s Easy To Be With You” and “Superdifficult.”  Martin speaks the title through his robotic voice in low and high register and Tim says that thing was in my dreams last night.  It’s such a great but far too short song.

“The Reward” has such a great slinky guitar riff.  It’s another satisfying new song.  As is “Mumbletypeg” although they can’t seem to synch up on the intro to this song.  Dave yells “all together now” and they get going.  The new stuff ends with “Song Of The Garden” which Tim dedicates to Sarah Harmer’s new album.

Then it’s back to older songs.  There’s a soaring “Self Serve Gas Station” which segues into a screaming “RDA.”  They throw in some tags to The Clash’s “I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.” with DB shouting: “I’m so bored with the U.S.A.  I’m so angry at the U.S.A.  I don’t give  a fuck about the U.S.A.”  When the song is over, Dave says,  “We almost sounded like The Chickens there.”

There’s a discussion of music and hockey and The Chickens should be called The Gas Station Island Five since the starting line is the entire chickens band–they’re amazing on the ice.  One of them says “We’re gonna kick The Morningstars ass (Bidini’s team) at the Exclaim Cup.  DB notes: “Different division.  They can’t put us in the same division because there’s always a big terrible beautiful brawl when we play each other.  The Exclaim Cup.  April 13-15–it’s free.  It surprises you that it’s free to watch these guys play hockey?

Tim says they’re going “way back for” “Torque, Torque” which was fun to hear.  Especially since the follow-up the new song “In It Now” has a similar guitar sound.  I love the guitar riff and melody of this song.

They tale a small break to talk about the celebrities they’ve spotted on the last couple of nights, including Dave Reid, from Centennial High, where they performed Harmleodia.

Someone shouts “I’m looking for some fun” (the opening of Fish Tailin’)  DB: “Hey Martin that guy wants to talk to you.”  Martin says they’re playing something else.  When the guy shouts again, DB says, “Perhaps you would like to try another club if you’re still looking  Because we’re cooking.”

They play a great “Junction Foil Ball” during which a fire alarm goes off.  After the song Tim checks, “that wasn’t a real fire, right?  It was just Dave’s riff was too hot.”

They play a long “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” with a wild drum solo in the middle and loud and roaring ending.   Then they play “Me and Stupid” and Dave forgets the words in the first verse (perhaps the first time I’ve heard him forget a lyric) but he is undaunted and they do fine until the end.  Mid song, Don quotes a poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “and done a hundred things/You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung.”  Then Dave quotes Wilderness Gothic by Steven J. Gibson “something is about to happen / two shores away a man hammering in the sky.”   [Both poems are printed in their entirety at the end of the post].


 

Martin’s been nominated for a Juno award for original art work–they’re never nominated for a musical category–the art has always been better anyway.  The Story of Harmelodia is being produced by the One Yellow Rabbit theater company in Calgary.  So up next is “The Sky Dreamed” on which Don Kerr takes lead vocals.

 

Don says he’d like to thank Maureen for “giving me an official Canadian tartan jacket, which means I am now an official Rheostatic.  Martin says Canadian tartan used to be our uniform.  Tim: and our bedding.

 

“Baby I Love You” a goof track from Nightlines Session is requested many times.  Tim says they considered it for Valentine’s Day, but it’s too complicated and doesn’t work without a Fender Rhodes.

 

For “Loving Arms” they are joined by Carmen from a fine band called Check (I guess). She sings backing vocals which sounds very pretty.  I never noticed that the ending melody sound like the guitar for “Here Comes the Sun.”  It’s followed by one more new song–a great version of “P.I.N.

 

Dave says they played Sydney, Cape Breton where they don’t get a lot of bands and they go crazy.  Somebody sent up shots of tequila and we stopped a song and played “Tequila.”  We kept shouting tequila but nobody was sending up any more shots.  And then all of a sudden there were 48 of them.  We’ve never been the same.

 

Then the bust out a surprise: “The Ballad Of Wendel Clark Part 1 and 2.”  During the song, Dave B talks to Dave of the chickens about what it would be like playing against Wendell.

 

Then it’s time for two Stompin’ Tom songs.  “Horseshoe Hotel” which they learned just for this occasion.  Tom wrote it in 1971 about this hotel where people drank a lot.  Tim follows with “The Ketchup Song.”  people requests “Bud the Spud”, but they have a two song Tom quota.  Plus, no more than one song about potatoes you don’t wanna get to filled up on potato songs.

 

Then comes an amazing trip of a set ender.  A simply beautiful version of “Stolen Car” followed by an intense “Horses.”  The version includes Dave chanting the Talking Heads’ lines from “Crosseyed and Painless” and Martin reciting the Tragically Hip’s “Blow at High Dough” through his computer voice.  The noisy outro of Horses segues into a lovely quiet intro of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” and the crowd goes nuts.

 

It’s an amazing set ender that should satisfy anyone, but the Rheos are not done.  After a fairly long break they’re going to play for about 40 more minutes.  Someone shouts “Saskatchewan” and Dave says, yes, we were gonna do that but we ran out of time.

 

So instead, it’s “Legal Age Life At Variety Store” which features Tim Mech on guitar.  As they start the chords, Dave says, “you’re writing something in your notebook but how do you know which song were doing?  We could be doing “Rockin My Life Away” by Jerry Lee Lewis or “The Swimming Song” by Loudon Wainwright III.  But of course it’s “Legal Age Life” and everyone gets solos: Freddy and Davey from The Chickens and Timmy (Mech) who does a weird solo.   Tim Dave and Fred–the triple threat!

 

Somebody shots “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,” but Dave says they can’t do it without The Bourbons and the guy shouts “I take it back!”

 

Two more new songs include a rockin “CCYPA” and “We Went West” which seems a weird song for an encore (it’s pretty slow), but it sounds good.  It’s followed by another surprise, their version of Jane Siberry’s “One More Colour.”  Dave says that they have a song on the (incredibly diverse) compilation box set Oh What a Feeling 2.  Proceeds go to charity.  They are on it after Jane Siberry.

 

Then they leave, but they’re not done.  JC comes out and announces that it’s 2:30 in the morning (!).  Do you want to hear any more? No rules tonight.

 

The guys play “Northern Wish” in the crowd acoustic and unmic’d.  The recording is pretty good and the crowd really sings along–great fun there.

 

Everyone assumes they are done, but they’ve got room for one more, a rocking, late night version of “Introducing Happiness,” which sounds like it’s 2:45 in the morning but is pretty awesome, nonetheless.

 

What a show.

 

They played 63 different songs over the four nights.  There were 30 songs that were played more than once.

[READ: February 14, 2019] Mythical Irish Beasts This book is a fun illustrated collection of the historical origins of Irish beasts. Joyce does a lot of research (there’s footnotes!) and mentions many original documents to explain where these myths came from, but it is still a very simple introduction to these stories–a way to pique your interest. He also illustrates every beast in his striking but unusual artistic style.  I really like the look of his beasts, but they are certainly unconventional.  They’re very modern looking, which is interesting for these ancient creatures. There does not appear to be a reason for the order, but I’m going to list all of the creatures just because it’s fun to have some many weird words in print. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ERASURE-Snow Globe (2013).

Rather than making a straight up Christmas album, Erasure created a hybrid of original songs and traditional songs for the holidays.  I’m not even sure if some of the original songs can be considered holiday songs at all.  What’s interesting is that while the songs are clearly Erasure (Andy Bell’s voice is unmistakable), they don’t exactly sound like Erasure.  Musician Vince Clarke said, “Everything about Christmas has been written already. We thought it would be more interesting to look into the darker side of the season. For a lot of people, Christmas is not a happy time.”  So a lot of the songs feel stripped down or perhaps eerie.

The first song “Bells of Love (Isabelle’s of Love)” is a song of hope.  It has an Erasure feel (especially in the chorus), but it’s definitely not as full as a typical song from them.  It may not be especially Christmasey what with these lyrics:

I don’t believe in your religion
I only know what I can see
So many sad, so many lonely
It’s only love that sets us free

But the sentiment is what’s at the heart of Christmas sprint

What we want
What we need
Is a touch of the healing hand
With a little emotion
Can you hear the bells of love?
One day they’ll be loud enough

“Gaudete” is absolutely wonderful.  It’s a 16th century Christmas Carol (which means “rejoice”).  Erasure could easily make an album doing this with traditional songs and it would be amazing.  They stick to the traditional melody, but it just feel so powerful.  The backing vocals, thee Latin, the bells and subtle bass.  Everything about this song is very cool.  It doesn’t really scream Christmas, but clearly it is a Christmas song.

“Make It Wonderful” has a cool synth riff after the chorus and a somewhat poppy feel.

“Sleep Quietly” is a by Ruth Heller (originally called “Sleep Quietly My Jesus”) who I can find no information about.  This version feels eerie for sure with the synth choices and the nearly whispered vocals by Bell.  These songs about Jesus seem odd for Erasure, since their song “Bells of Love” specifically mentions not believing.

“Silent Night” is a beautiful song and they do a lovely job with it–layered synths and Bell’s gently echoed vocals.  It’s lovely.  “Loving Man” feels most like an Erasure song–bouncy synths and clacking drums.

“The Christmas Song” is one of the most unsettling songs on the disc because Bell sings the song fairly traditionally, but the music sounds like an 8-bit video game.  That is until the chorus which sort of takes off in a dance direction.

Next up is a delicate take on “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  It is pretty and gentle and as with many of these songs I love the attention to care that they band put into the backing vocals and production.

“Blood on the Snow” hardly seems like a Christmas song, but it is about the snow.  It’s quite sinister, especially that powerful five-note bass line and those eerie mechanical synths sounds.  The lyrics make it seem like a take on the three wise men story, but with a darker twist

Star don’t lose your shine
Be sure to light the way
Your essence is divine
For these three gifts we bring
It’s only a small offering of time

“There’ll Be No Tomorrow” is a pure Erasure dance song.  It doesn’t feel bleak like the other songs because its got that whole “party like there’ll be no tomorrow vibe,” and yet lyrically that’s a pretty bleak thought:

All bets are off, the party’s on
So let’s away and drown out our sorrows
So don’t be late and celebrate
And party like there’ll be no tomorrow

“Midnight Clear” is the traditional song. Bells’ vocals are lovely.  The music is a little weird–deep almost ghostly backing vocals and a very cool, but unexpected, melody between verses.

“White Christmas” is definitely eerie.  And since the song is actually quite a sad song, it makes sense.  The vocals are distant and almost sound like they are over the phone.  In fact, with the intro and outro sound effects, it seems like maybe it’s meant to be sung on a train.  And again, there’s that spare mechanical music accompanying.

“Silver Bells” is a simple, pretty take on the song.  It’s softer than the other more mechanical songs, with some sweet backing vocals.  A slightly happy ending to a rather sad Christmas album.

[READ: December 17, 2018] “Deer Season”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the second story I have previously read in the New Yorker.   I assume that since I read it before I read it differently because I feel like I got more out of it this time.  On the original read it seemed like a guy writing a story about a girl who wants to have sex.  What I found interesting on this read was realizing that a young girl having sex in a small town can have consequences–and not the typical ones (she doesn’t get pregnant). (more…)

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