Archive for the ‘Amanda Shires’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: see below.

[READ: August 2021] Rock Stars On The Record

I saw this book at work and rolled my eyes.  I thought well, here’s another book about musicians talking about music.

Really, most musicians aren’t very interesting and it was probably just the same old same olds talking about albums that have been praised to high heaven already.

But then I saw a few names that intrigued me.  So I read it.  And it was fantastic because Eric Spitznagel did a magnificent job with this task.

Not only because he chose diverse people (some hardly even rock stars, really) who had interesting things to say, but because of the way he followed up his questions with better questions–questions that the musicians seemed excited to answer.

And also because the list of people turned out to be really interesting.  I didn’t recognize a number of names, but that’s because they might have been the guitarist for a famous lead singer).  And this made it really interesting.

I don’t know if it’s worth stating the why’s of each person here (each interview is basically four pages) but I will state each person’s favorite record (with a few extra comments here and there). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL & AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #88 (September 30, 2020).

I can’t decide if I like Jason Isbell or not.  I like his songs quite a lot and after watching this set I like him a whole lot. But I find his voice unpleasant–too twangy and country, which just rubs me the wrong way.

And yet the chorus of “Dreamsicle” is wonderful.  The way he and Amanda Shires harmonize is just fantastic.  I’ve heard the song on the radio, but it sounds amazing here.

The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Spring release, Reunions. “Dreamsicle” shares the story of a child seeing his family falling apart all around. Reflecting on those times, he finds fond memories, and the chorus of the song — “a Dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding lawn chair” — conjures up bright light even amidst the darkness.

Between songs, Jason is very chatty, making a lot of humorous observations, like that he’s been to the Tiny Desk and “The Tiny Desk Desk is not tiny, it is larger than average for a desk….  It’s a tiny concert at a desk.  [Call it a] cluttered desk concert.”

The next song “Overseas” is a louder song (it think it even distorts their sound equipment some).  Introducing the song he says, “Lets do ‘Overseas.’ Because we cant go overseas were gonna sing ‘Overseas.’  There’s a lovely lead violin and more terrific harmonies in the bridge.  They have this back and forth at the end

JI: That’s Amanda Shires playing the fiddle.  That’s really good.
AS: Thanks for having me.
JI: That was so good.
AS: I like to the play the fiddle, man. It’s a violin though.
JI: We should do this more often.
AS: Yeah we should.

This interchange is all the more funny because

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires feel fortunate. They have their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, a wonderful home, and each other.

Jason says that Mercy “tells me that she is an expert yodeler…. And it’s good, especially for a four year old who is not Scandinavian or Jimmie Rogers.  But then she says can you send that video to Jewel?   Jewel seems very nice but I’m afraid she’s going to come to our house and say “you can’t yodel for shit” and I want to be the barrier between my daughter and the cutthroat world of yodeling.

Amanda says they got a new rooster who is learning to crow.  Mercy named their new rooster Captain Love Heart. He has a lot of love in his heart and he is a captain. Makes me think of Captain Beefheart and makes me think of the chicken crowing “Upon the Me Oh My” or something from Trout Mask Replica.
The final song, “It Gets Easier,” deals with Jason’s drinking demons, with a refrain filled with such stark truth: “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.” These words could be an anthem for all those in recovery. It’s the nature of Jason Isbell to sing the truth.
I really enjoyed their banter and it made me like their songs even more.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Birth of a Gardener”

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

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

About this story, Romney writes

the story works because the woman’s husband is a mansplainer.  He loses her to another dimension simply because he assumed he understood the principles of physics better than she did. Not to worry: that isn’t a spoiler.  …  [Pitkin Buck shows that] even as we are simplified into the roles that prioritize our relationships — mother, wife, sister, daughter, partner — over our individuals identities, women in 2020 (as with women in 1961, and women in 1861, and…) have to fight to retain our own rich interior experiences.

In this story, Payne is a physicist–Fermi Research at the Droxden Foundation, famous for his work on anti-matter.  His wife, Lee, is not.  And he hates to see her “spraining her mind” over books about physics. Why did she waste her time with books like that when she has such a green thumb.

He is so frustrated with her that he finally says she should just give it up “If you would be happy for life, plant a garden.”

She replies “That wasn’t why I evoked you.”

He doesn’t understand what she means, even when she says, “I just thought very hard and–finally one day, there you were.”

He says “Stop playing around with a rigorous logic that isn’t your style.”

She retorts: “Rigorous logic!  Rigor mortis!”

Finally, she says she wants him to teach her to see physics.  It would help them both.  She says she can already see neutrinos.  

He gets angry and asks why she keeps talking fairy tale when he has serious work to do.

After more back and forth he ends the discussion with, “Darling, you bore me.”

The next morning Lee was dead. It was shocking to him, but he felt closer to her now than he ever had while she was alive.

Suddenly he started seeing her–as if she were down at the end of a tunnel looking at him. He sees that she is looking at book. It is called The Validity of Thought Patterns as Determined by Their Elegance. He sees that she is the author of the book.

Then she starts demonstrating a diagram on a black board. She made a beautiful arabesque–it was the work of a clear and intelligent mathematical. But he had to laugh because she had gotten one thing crucially wrong–of course she would be confused in the end. 

Then he realized the mistake was his own.  She was not drawing matte but anti-matter.  His own field of study!  He and Lee were even closer than he’d ever realized.  He must try to communicate with her.

The end of the story is outstanding.


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SOUNDTRACK: JOSH RITTER with AMANDA SHIRES and JASON ISBELL-Tiny Desk Concert #896 (September 27, 2019).

I enjoyed Josh Ritter’s previous Tiny Desk Concert.  I liked his voice and found his lyrics to be quite thoughtful.

For this Tiny Desk he is accompanied by “musical soulmates,” Amanda Shires on fiddle and Jason Isbell on acoustic guitar who both play on Josh’s 2019 album Fever Breaks.

The three songs he plays in this concert are even more thoughtful, they are also pointed, powerful and painful.  The songs are not enjoyable, exactly.  They are accomplishing something other than joy.

As the blurb says

Honestly, it was a draining concert with challenges to who we are and who, as a country and a people, we wish to be.

The music is quiet and subdued and are there to lift up the lyrics, which are clearly the most important part of these songs.

“All Some Kind of Dream” is

filled with frustrations regarding the treatment of refugees, immigration, politics and our hearts…. He sings, “There was a time when we were them / Just as now they all are we / Was there an hour when we took them in? / Or was it all some kind of dream?”

Every word his sings is one that should change the way Americans view what is going on, and yet some will never be convinced by lyrics like

I saw the children in the holding pens
I saw the families ripped apart
And though I try I cannot begin
To know what it did inside their hearts
There was a time when we held them close
And weren’t so cruel, low, and mean
And we did good unto the least of those
Or was it all some kind of dream?

Ritter took a moment to encourage everyone to fight back

When the song ended, Josh stared into the NPR crowd. “I feel like the big thing that we all have to fight against is this notion that we’re not all human beings,” he said. “And they’re trying to break us in every number of ways, all different little groups, and that we have no power, but we have power!”

The next song “The Torch Committee,” is slightly more cryptic in construction but hardly cryptic in intent

Wait, suppose that we untie
Your hands to sign upon this line
To pledge that you have always been
A patriot and citizen
Please ignore the legalese
Lawyers are my right now see
Why we’re so happy that you came
Appendix three and list of names

It features a nice solo from Isbell and a raw violin solo from Shires.

They ended the set with a new song,”The Gospel of Mary.”

This is a long song ().  Like the other two it is something of a story song which “imagines Joseph, Mary and their child as refugees.”  The verses are interspersed with solos from Isbell and Shires.

As the applause faded Josh hugged his bandmates, thanked the crowd, smiled and said, “America, we love you, but you’ve gotta change!”

Ritter is an amazing songwriter and I hope that these songs hit the ears of those who need to hear them.

[READ: August 9, 2019] Labor Days Volume 2

Book 2 picks up a little over a month after Book 1.

Bags and Vanessa are still on a quest for the Face of History (which suspiciously keeps leading them to bars).  But they know that the Face of History is a leader of a vast conspiracy.  And of course Rick Stryker is hanging about being rather useless and hilarious as always.

Vanessa is annoyed with Bags for dawdling and wasting their time.  Bags is annoyed at Vanessa because she keeps hurting people in extraordinarily violent ways.  She seems to have no compunction about doing the violence she does.

A chance discovery sets them aboard a ship.  The captain makes Bags do grunt work and makes Vanessa something of a captain’s aide (much to Bags’ dismay). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 27 & 28, 2019] Newport Folk Festival

Back in 1998, I won a radio contest (not through luck, I knew the name of a song and couldn’t believe no one else did!) and scored a ticket to the Newport Folk Festival.  It was in a lull back then and also, I believe there was only one stage (it’s hard to remember).  Now it is at full power, selling out before artists are even announced.

S. and I have talked about going and finally this year I saw when tickets were announced and I bought 4 tickets for us.  I knew that our son wouldn’t want to go, but I decided to make a long vacation out of it–a couple days in Rhode Island and then about a week in Maine.  He couldn’t say no to going to that.

I didn’t get Friday tickets because three days seemed excessive.  Plus, you never know who is going to appear until long after you buy the tickets. and that actually worked out pretty well.   Turned out, there wasn’t anyone I really wanted to see.

So we rolled in for Saturday.  I was told that if you wanted to get the poster you had to get their very early.  We arrived at 12:30 and they were long sold out.  Oh well. (more…)

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2292015SOUNDTRACK: AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk Concert #146 (August 3, 2011).

shiresAlthough the blurb suggests that I might know Amanda Shires, in fact I do not.

Shires has a powerful non-vibratoed voice and she plays several different instruments–what looks like a giant ukulele as  well as the fiddle.  She’s accompanied by Rod Picott on the guitar.  He really seems to flesh out her instruments very well.

As to her sound, she explains before the final song, “I do have one happy song, we’re just not going to do it.”

The most remarkable thing about the first song, “Swimmer…” is her excellent whistling of the main melody.  It is piercing and very catchy.  Actually the whole song is quite pretty

Before starting the second song she asks if they are in a fast mood or slow mood.  When the answer is fast, she immediately says they’ll play “Shake the Walls.”  I really liked how the opening notes were plucked and strummed on the violin.  The song is pretty simple and quiet until she plays a noisy violin solo in the middle which really livens things up.

Before the final song she asks if they’d like a song about suicide.  Someone whoops in assent and they laugh.  So she says they’ll play a song about trains. (“when you need a train, it never comes”).  I really like the chord progression in the chorus.

Despite the downer music, the duo clearly had a fin time.  Picott ends by saying “Its hard playing for smart people instead of our usual crowd.”

[READ: March 6, 2015] “Total Solar”

The protagonist of this is a journalist in Afghanistan.  He has been speaking with a researcher from the United Nations Ornithological Department, who keeps introducing conversations with “If you really want something to write about…”

But rather than taking notes, he is drawing pictures of himself committing suicide in various gruesome ways.  This relates to his writing a story about a contractor who’d been executed in a new way–using wire rather than a knife.

Yes the story is pretty brutal. (more…)

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