Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MDOU MOCTAR-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #213 (May 24, 2021).

Mdou Moctar has been getting some well deserved recognition lately.  It’s pretty great to see a Nigerian performer, who plays distinctly Nigerian style music making an impression on American audiences.

Of course, since I’m contrary, I’m more attracted to Moctar’s drummer who is playing a calabash–in this case red object that looks like a turtle shell and makes a remarkable range of sounds.  But really the focus should be on Moctar’s guitar playing.

Get ready for some fiery desert guitar-shredding, Saharan style, with the music of Mdou Moctar. Producer and American bassist Mikey Coltun told me that “the concert was filmed outside of the house we were all staying at in Niamey, Niger, in November/December 2020.” He continued, “As with any sort of musical happenings in the region, once some music is blasted, that’s an invitation for anyone to come join, sing, clap, dance, and just come together as a community. We wanted to present the Tiny Desk exactly like this, from when we started playing to finally the energy growing with fans crowded around filming on their cell phones and passing around Tuareg tea.”

And so, the four musicians, seated on a blanket (designed with oversized roses) with amps on either side, start playing with no fanfare.

The (home) concert starts off with Mahamadou Souleymane, a.k.a. Mdou Moctar, playing a melodic line on acoustic guitar, with Ahmoudou Madassane on rhythm guitar, Souleymane Ibrahim playing percussion on a calabash, and Mikey Coulton on his Fender Mustang bass on the song “Ya Habibti” from the album Afrique Victime. It’s an album of songs dealing with intense subjects close to Mdou Moctar’s heart: colonialism, exploitation, inequality, but also love.

The song almost feels like a drone because the bass and rhythm pretty much never change throughout.  The drumming is muted–effective but never sharp.  And Moctar’s voice and lead guitar work is subtle.  I’m sure since I don’t understand what he’s singing (which sounds pretty intense), I find his voice very soothing.

“Tala Tannam” follows in the same pattern–except the bass is even less mobile and the way Moctar sings it feels like a lullaby.  The best part is watching Ibrahim and Coltun clearly enjoying themselves–smiling to each other and even hugging at one point.  It’s hard to know how long these songs are as they seems to just go until they stop, but this one does have a deliberate ending.  It’s when he puts down his acoustic and grabs the electric guitar.

You can hear the real musical fire on the last song, the roughly 7-minute psych-rock title track to Afrique Victime. “Africa is a victim of so many crimes,” Mdou Moctar sings in French. “If we stay silent, it will be the end of us.” Silence is not something in Mdou Moctar’s vocabulary.

Moctar’s soloing was subtle on the other songs, but you can really here it standing out with this sharp electric guitar sound.  It’s nice to watch his fingers fly around the neck. There’s some guitar god moments in the soloing–including some finger tapping–but having him seated and equal with everyone else, the solos never seem showoffy.  I also like the way the song speeds up incrementally as it goes–mostly notable by how fast Ibrahim is suddenly hitting the calabash.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

This final book of the trilogy was a little disappointing for me.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I feel like there wasn’t enough resolution for anyone.

The book opens on Nigel.  Claudia has shown up to tutor him in math.  He is so smitten he writes a poem that he submits for class.  He calls it “Teacher” and his teacher assumes it is about her.  I can’t even believe that he would submit a poem with the line “teach me how to make puppy love turn into doggy style”  (Nigel is so clueless).

Next we see Brett at his mother’s funeral.  Johanna tries to comfort him but he blows her off demanding to know why she didn’t tell him about her and Paula.  They smooth things over and she asks if his father knows that his mother died.  He says no, he hasn’t talked to his father in a long time.  Jo says her mother might know how to get in touch with him.

The next section is about Darren.  He is by himself remembering how his father hurt his mother and how he doesn’t want to repeat the cycle. (more…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #211 (May 19, 2021).

Kathleen Edwards is a wonderful songwriter with a fantastic voice.  I discovered her from her 2008 album Asking For Flowers.

She put out one more record and then disappeared.

Struggling with depression, Kathleen Edwards opened a coffee shop called Quitters Coffee and lived a very different life.  A handful of years later, in 2017, she was invited to Nashville by Maren Morris to write some songs. That Nashville visit sparked a new beginning and eventually the 2020 album Total Freedom, which birthed the four songs you hear in this Tiny Desk concert.

So Kathleen Edwards is back with a wonderful new album.

On this Tiny desk she is joined by Todd Lombardo and Justin Schipper on dobro (that slide guitar looking thing).

Kathleen’s voice sounds great and on “Glenfern.”

From a house in East Nashville, Kathleen Edwards sings about how thankful she is for those early aughts when she was praised with awards, television appearances, touring to packed venues — even if the tour bus with the bed in back was “total crap.” As she continues to sing “Glenfern,” the opening track to her first album in eight years as well as this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she remembers her former husband and collaborator.

After the first song she introduces the band and says I can’t sing through a mask so after this we’re going straight to to the COVID clinic.

Kathleen Edwards seems happy playing these new songs.  They can be songs of sadness, sometimes filled with seething, such as “Ashes to Ashes,” but she’s also grateful for her everlasting love for a four-legged creature and the little catalpa tree where it’s buried.

There’s some beautiful interplay of guitars in this song.  It’s amazing how great her voice sounds with no accompaniment, no effects.  And afterwards she tells a delightful story about catalpa trees–I just passed one on a dog walk yesterday and absolutely want to try to grow my own this year.

“Hard On Everyone” is the song that’s been getting some airplay around here.  It’s so catchy, I love it.  And the lyrics are pointed and spot on.  when the song is over she and Todd bump elbows and their guitars bump for a nice resounding thump.

I would love to see Kathleen Edwards live.  She played one of her first shows after retiring at XPN Fest, unfortunately that was the year we went to Newport Folk Festival.  Now I see she’s coming around again, but she’s opening for Jason Isbell, and I don’t want to see him, so I’ll have to hope she finds a smaller club to headline.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

T. brought this book home from school and I though the cover looked pretty neat.  When I looked inside I really liked the crazy drawing style(s) of it (S. did not like it at all).

The book opens on Nigel Jones, a boy with dreadlocks (his profile is always great, and MariNaomi uses these dreadlocks to express Nigels’ mood in clever ways).  The book also uses simple things like arrows to convey movement in a panel, which I liked.  One of the early ones shows a city block.  We just saw Nigel get off a bus and the arrows and a tiny figure on a skateboard show which way he is going.  This effect is used very well at a party later as we see the crowd move about the room in a static picture.

It’s through Nigel that we learn that nobody’s phones are working–this is a steady concern and a minor (or major) irritant throughout the story.   We also learn that a girl, Claudia Jones, (no relation) has been missing for three days.  Everyone has speculations about what happened to her.

Nigel lives with his mom (his dad has moved out) and Nigel is not too happy about the new arrangements–just because your parents separate doesn’t mean they fight less.  In school the next day Nigel tells a joke to Emily.  I found it very funny but Emily doesn’t seem to.  She asks if that’s his way of flirting with her.  A lightbulb goes off and he says yes (he’s had a crush on her for years).  She agrees to meet him at the bleachers later. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

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…)

Read Full Post »

[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…)

Read Full Post »

SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL-Tiny Desk Concert #645 (August 28, 2017).

Everybody seems to love Jason Isbell.  I’d heard the songs that people liked and I didn’t really think all that much of them.

This Tiny Desk Concert made Isbell sound much more country than I’d realized (I didn’t know he was with the Drive-By Truckers, either).

I was a little resistant initially, but the first song “Chaos and Clothes” really won me over with the words and melody.  By the end of the song when the fiddle and violin are in full swing and the bassist is playing a cool bass line on that weird tiny fake-looking bass guitar the song really takes off.

But it was Isbell’s playful and funny side that made me rally enjoy him and his band.

He asks the drummer how he is dong and then comments on the hat that they wished they could have worn (they point to tiny top hats).

Isbell says, “Abraham Lincoln had a tiny head, it turns out.  Where’s you’re novel about that, George Saunders.”

Then he jokes about the bass guitar: “that’s’ why you need the hat,  your bass is so small.  Abe Lincoln played a tiny bass.

When they finally get going, the second song “Molotov” has a false start-“I spent so much time on that word and then I said the wrong one.”  The violinist says its alright she didn’t do the best either.  I love the dramatic melody and delightful swing to this song.  It’s really good.

They have a lengthy amusing discussion about babies’ defense mechanisms. The whole banter section between the second and third song is really funny.  Jason leans into his guitarist who jumps and says “thank you.”  This makes Isbell laugh, “if you scare Sadler, he says ‘thank you.'”  Sadler says it’s a defense mechanism from when he was a baby.  Isbell looks at him: “Why would you have o defend yourself when you were a baby?” They talk about baby defense mechanisms and Isbell determines that saying thank you is a good idea: if you were going to kill someone and they said thank you, you’d pause–wondering if you fell into their trap.

He jokes, “we shouldn’t have taken all that acid before Tiny Desk.”

There’s a lot of laughter and then Amanda worries that she has boogers.  It’s quite light-hearted (she doesn’t, by the way).

There’s another false start for “Last of My Kind.”  He pauses the song and then invites an audience member up on “stage” to play.  He says that when he was younger he always imagined that this would happen to him–that someone would have once just asked him to come up and play.

The final song is really good, with a lot of great details in the words, and Ashwin, “a guest in the building who got more than he’d likely expected from his visit to NPR headquarters,” makes good use of his special performance.

His band is The 400 Unit: Sadler Vaden (guitar); Amanda Shires (fiddle, backing vocals); Jimbo Hart (bass); Derry deBorja (keyboards); Chad Gamble (drums); Ashwin Wadekar (guitar on “Last of My Kind”).

[READ: March 15, 2015] Ms Marvel: Generation Why

This book collects issues 6-11 of the Ms. Marvel series. I really enjoyed the first collection a lot, but I hadn’t seen any of the follow ups.  So I was pretty excited to see that my library had gotten all of the published volumes.

In addition to having a great story line about a Pakistani-American teenager who received superpowers, Ms Marvel has a lot of fun with inside-Marvel jokes (which I know some people get tired of, but which I like and which I think works very well here).  Ms Marvel is Kamala Khan.  She is a huge fan of the Marvel Universe (which of course is real), and she had taken the name of Ms Marvel in honor of Carol Danvers, the first Ms Marvel.

Jacob Wyatt drew books 6 & 7 and Adrian Alphona did 8-11.

The book opens with Kamala’s parents–god-fearing Muslims, sending her to Sheikh Abdullah.  She is obviously concerned with talking to this religious leader. Her new career as Ms Marvel has kept her from doing most of the things she should be doing as a decent Muslim girl. But the Sheikh is surprisingly cool.  She doesn’t reveal her secret but he senses that she is doing good and perhaps she just needs the help of someone–a teacher?  She heads downtown where suddenly there is a sinkhole in the ground.  As Ms Marvel, she jumps in and discovers gigantic crocodiles.  The person who has carted these gigantic creatures proves to be a human-cockatiel hybrid who IS NOT A BIRD.  He is bad guy named The Inventor.  And just as things start to get really intense, a teacher of sorts comes to help out–Wolverine!  It cracks me up that she takes a selfie with him. (more…)

Read Full Post »