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Archive for the ‘Mary Margaret O’Hara’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Fall Nationals, Night 2 of 10, The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (November 12, 2004).

The Rheostatics, live at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, November 12, 2004. This was the 2nd night of their 10 night Fall Nationals run at the Horseshoe.  This show was exactly 13 years ago!

I compared all of the setlists from the nine shows and was somewhat surprised to see just how much repeating they did. Most of the repeated songs are new ones–they played a lot from 2067, which makes sense.  But for a Fall Nationals, there’s really not a lot of “popular” or “rare” stuff.  But the band is in terrific form for all nine shows and the recordings are consistently great.

They open intensely with “Christopher.”  It’s a great version and Martin is in very good voice.  Similarly, “King Of The Past” sounds terrific.  Once again, “Pornography” opens a lot like “Bread, Meat peas and Rice,” but the backing vocals sound great .  At the end, Dave notes: “a bit of folk disco there for ya.”

Introducing “The Tarleks,” Dave says it’s “from our new album called 2067.  It’s the year of Martin’s 100th birthday and Canada’s bicentennial and the year we get a hit single.  We’re having a party and you’re all invited.  Martin: “Unfortunately so are these guys, the Tarleks.”  The song is perfect and segues right into “Marginalized” which is also great.  The whole band is in great form and I love the guitar sounds as it segues to the chorus.

“Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne” is slow and fine.  And Dave says, “and you doing the super tokes you are…. from the country.  Tim: “Mmm smells good. Smells like grade 12 math class.”  MPW:  Shop class.  Dave: Back in the 70s they let you do that sort of thing …80s.  Tim, snapping fingers: “It’s cool.  Foosball is like soccer crossed with shishkabobs.”

“Fish Tailin'” rocks and then comes “Me and Stupid,” which hasn’t been played in a while.  Tim plays the riff and sings “Dave is tuning, tuning his guitar, Dave is learning how to use a tuner on his guitar.”  Dave starts the song and after the first verse he stops the song “I gotta re tune.”  Tim: “He’s just leaning.”  MPW: “That’s okay my hands hurt a little.”

“PIN” and “Mumbletypeg” sound terrific and mid song Dave says, “We’re the Rheostatics were from Etobicoke, it’s west of here.”

Dave: “We’re gonna take it down a bit.”  Tim: “We’re gonna take it down but its gonna become very heavy” with “Here Comes the Image.”  While waiting Tim pays the bass riff to “Tom Sawyer.”   Tomorrow at 2 o’clock we’ll be at Sam the Record Man.”

“Shack In The Cornfields” sounds quite different with Dave’s bass backing vocals.  It takes a while for the song to start really rocking but once it does it’s so much fun.  I like the chorus of “Try To Praise This Mutilated World” more and more.  I’m assuming by now that the spoken part is prerecorded.

“In This Town” starts quietly but martin sings a big growly ending.  “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” slows down in the middle with a drum solo and a clapping solo.  After the solo, Selina Martin comes out and sings the end with Martin.

Martin: “Dave Alexander Herschel Bidini wrote that in 1972.”
Dave: “Hell of a year.  What with Ian Sunter’s field goal and everything.   This refers to the 60th Grey Cup in which Hamilton ran the clock down while getting close enough for Ian Sunter to kick a 34-yard field goal on the last play of the game to win.]

Tim plays a great “Bad Time To Be Poor” and Dave says “We will conclude with a song from 2067.”
Someone in the audience shouts: “what do you mean conclude?”
Dave: “what do you think I mean?  We’re fucking right off after this one.  The limo is idling, baby.”
Tim: “conclude the first set.”
Martin: “it’s really just a smoke break for me.”
Dave: “oh we got rail and hoo-ers waiting, don’t worry.”

“Making Progress” is lovely as always.  “Feed Yourself” starts off a little rocky but it sounds great.  Dave gets a little crazy with the “inside his head” bit at the end (and someone is manipulating his voice to echo and process in one way or another, which is cool).

After a quick encore break, they’re back with a Dave song while Martin smokes.  In “My First Rock Concert” he changes The Ramones to Johnny Winter for some reason.

Someone keeps shouting “Saskatchewan” and you can hear a rhythm guitar playing the melody.  Mike says this ones for the greasy wheel, but then the guitar switches to “Self Serve Gas Station” and Mike says “make up your mind I’m trying to decide which way to adjust the chair.”

Before “Desert Island Discs,” Martin notes: “We stayed in the same hotel as Van Halen a week ago.  (Those hookers in the lobby were not for us).

Desert Island Discs is sloppy and fun with people picking these discs:

Dave: Ramones-Rocket to Russia; Cars-Cars; PiL-Metal Box.
Tim: Bob Marley-Survival; Tom Waits-Closing Time (huge cheer); Pavement-Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.
MPW: It’s his first time.  He says it’s like ordering last in a restaurant.  Anything by Gino Vanelli; Music for a Large Ensemble; Steve Reich (Tim: try to follow the groove) Metal Machine Music-Lou Reed.
Martin: my first record is (plays “Tom Sawyer”); Second Mary Margaret O’Hara-Miss America; Third uh… uh… uh… uh…  Mood Music for Beer and Pretzels
audience members
first one has a hard time: Led Zeppelin, Martin Teilli-Operation Infinite Joy; Rheostatics, of course.
second one: Weakerthans-Left and Leaving; The Beatles-Rubber Soul  and… [Dave: you don;t want to hear the E minor chord] Weezer-Weezer.
As they wrap up the song Mike keeps going after the final chord.  They bust his chops and say he is in the legion hall trance.

The set ends with a great “Legal Age Life At Variety Store.”

They take an encore break and Martin comes back out with  a ‘suede banana’ jacket “Very Century 21–he sold the most houses in the band.”

For the encore, they play “Rain, Rain, Rain” and Martin introduces “Mister Dave Bidini on lead” (it’s sloppy but fun).

This show runs about 2 and a half hours and it sounds great.

[READ: April 6, 2017] Star Scouts

Boy I loved this book.  I loved everything about it, from the understated to the perfectly stated.

The book opens with an alien creature getting yelled at.  Her name is, humorously, Mabel.  Mabel is scanning planets to collect a new species.  It turns out that she is doing this for a badge for scouts.  She selects a newt.  But she accidentally switches from Newt to New Kid (an amusing joke if not a little strange) and the teleportation begins.

The New Kid is Avani.  Avani speaks Hindi (which in itself is pretty awesome).  She and her dad (there is no mention of a mom) have just moved to a new place.  Avani has no friends.  She thinks everyone thinks she’s weird.  Even though she feels like an outsider she is also keeping people away, determined to feel sorry for herself.

The only social activity she has is Flower Scouts. Back home he Scouts were awesome, but here they just talk about make up and boys.  When Avani tries to talk about rodeos, the other kids laugh at her.  And they are equally horrified when she doesn’t swoon over Chaz Wunderlip the boy band sensation.  She would like nothing more than to get out of Scouts but her dad won’t let her quit. (more…)

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julyaugSOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS (Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON, September 6, 2015).

06Sep2015Almost exactly one year ago, my family traveled to Toronto as a mini-vacation.  The impetus was my scoring tickets to see The Rheostatics live for the first for me (and potentially–but not in reality–last) time.

They had called it quits 8 years earlier and were reuniting for the 20th Anniversary of their Group of 7 album–a soundtrack of sorts that was created to celebrate the works of the great Group of 7 artists.  They were scheduled to perform three nights at the Art Gallery of Toronto.

I purchased tickets to the second night assuming that the first night they might be a little rusty and the final night they might be burnt out.  Well, it turns out, that was completely faulty logic.  The final night was outstanding (as this recording shows), not least because it was so much longer!

The quality of this recording is really good.  Dave is in fun form, commenting and joking with the audience.  At the end of “Six (Cello For A Winter’s Day),” the band goes a little nutty with noise and after the jazzy ending, Dave says that “playing fake jazz is way more fun than real jazz” because you gotta know stuff.

They thank everyone during this break.  Dave introduces Martin: “You got Martin Tielli back… look at a him, he’s a good boy.”  Someone shouts, “We miss you!” and Dave responds, “We miss you very much, especially you, sir, with the loud voice.”

As they’ve noted, the break here is because they’re playing the album as if it were two sides.  So do what ever you do between the two sides of records.  “urinate? I guess? or make a sandwich?” Kevin chimes in: “wash some dishes.”  “Look around outside make sure no one is stealing your stuff or inside in case you’re living with a dodgy housemate.”

Later, Dave sends a Hi “to the mother’s lounge up there.”  Tim’s mom and Dave’s mom are there.  Dave quips, “they’re in the mother’s lounge getting hammered.”

Each night there was a new piece of information added to the history oft he Go7 album. This night’s was a thank you to “Winchell Price, an artist friend of Don Kerr’s who did all of the spoken sections on the album.  (It was Don’s decision to add him to the record).  Price was vegan in 1919 totally ahead of the curve.  They are happy to raise the spirit and the ghost of the Go7–and their rebellious form of art when rebelliousness was discouraged in Canadian culture.

Before one of the songs Dave dedicates the night to his kids: “Lorenzo and Cecilia you weren’t here 20 years ago but you’re here now and life is beautiful because of it.”

The encores tonight were many: “Bad Time To Be Poor,” “Green Sprouts Theme,” “Stolen Car,” “Legal Age Life At Variety Store,” “Christopher,” “Claire” and “Horses.”

After a great version of “Bad Time to be Poor,” with cello and acoustic guitar, Dave introduces “The Professor Tim Vesely… now that Neil Peart has retired, Tim can become The Professor.”  Tim retorts, “I prefer the Mad Chap from Mississauga.” Dave: “That’s Don.  You’re from Etobicoke.”  Then they tell us, “Don was the mad chap on tour for… one hour.  Back in his neck beard days.  “I can’t believe we’re about to discuss the neck beard days–an underappreciated era.”

Dave notices someone whistling the Green Sprouts Theme Song, so the band plays it. And then they launch into a great version of “Stolen Car.”  “Legal Age Life,” is a lot of fun, of course, with everyone getting a solo.  And then after the disastrous “Christopher” the previous night, they played a near perfect “Christopher.”

Martin thanks everyone and says it “really meant a lot to us and to me, thanks a lot.” While Dave is thanking everyone involved with the shows, Kevin plays some nice “Oscar wrap up trills.”

Tim rather sheepishly tells everyone they’re going to play “Claire.”  Dave comments, “Tim is warning you that we’re going to do Claire–come on back in everyone.”  It’s a really great version, and I love that just before the solo, Dave says, “Martin, paint us a picture.”

And then they wrap up the night and the whole series with a blistering version of “Horses.”  During the middle section, Dave goes on a major rant about the upcoming election:

We must be free…. Imagine the beauty of October 20  Imagine a country where scientists keep their jobs for believing in science.  Imagine a country where the great first nations of our country don’t have to look over their shoulder at the prison cell behind them.  Imagine a country where the cops take orders from us not from some security company put in power by Stephen Harper, the most evil man in the history of Canada

And the crowd loves it.

But even more fun is that later that they’ll be at the Monarch Tavern.  If I had gone to this show instead of Saturday night’s, I totally would have gone to the Monarch which sounds like it was a blast and half.  The write up from the Rheostatics Live site notes:

After an amazing show Saturday night with some special moments at the end that most would never know occurred, [I wonder if the statute of limitations has run out so we can finally find out what happened that night?] the rheos came out tonight and played the best night of the 4 day GO7 run. GO7 was followed by Bad Time To Be Poor with Hugh Marsh on violin and Don on Cello, and impromptu version of Green Sprouts. Stolen Car, Legal Age Life, a redemptive Christopher and then a 2nd encore of Claire and Horses closed the 4 night run of rheos magic time machine glory at the AGO.

After that, around 12:30AM the band reconvened at The Monarch Tavern to play what was without a doubt the ending true fans were hoping for: a sloppy, magnificent set of hot bar room rheos songs that if it had to be the end was exactly the way they should go out. Song of Flight led into The Ballad Of Wendel Clark Part 2 and Bridge Came Tumbling Down. After sorting out the monitor kinks they went into Soul Glue…. Kevin Hearn took them through I’m Waiting For My Man, Ring Of Fire, Monkeybird, and Lou Reed’s Down at the Arcade…. Northern Wish was absolutely slayed by Terra Lightfoot, and then Mike O’Brien did the same with We Went West. Selina Martin killed Dope Fiends and Mary Margaret O’Hara singing RDA….

Of course, I was long asleep by then. But I hope they keep doing little shows like this and one day I’ll get back up to Toronto to see one.

01. One (Kevin’s Waltz)   1:54
02. Two (Earth (Almost))   7:50
03. Three (Boxcar Song (Weiners and Beans))   7:16
04. Four (Landscape And Sky)   0:48
05. Five (Blue Hysteria)   3:40
06. Six (Cello For A Winter’s Day)   8:09
07. Chat   6:20
08. Seven (Northern Wish)   5:17
09. Eight (Snow)   4:10
10. Nine (Biplanes and Bombs)   5:38
11. Ten (Lightning)   8:20
12. Eleven (Yellow Days Under A Lemon Sun)   6:10
13. Bad Time To Be Poor   3:48
14. Chat and Thanks   1:46
15. Green Sprouts Theme   0:52
16. Stolen Car   6:01
17. Legal Age Life At Variety Store   5:13
18. Christopher   6:50
19. Claire   5:38
20. Horses   10:05

[READ: August 19, 2016] “Three Tshakapesh Dreams”

After the lighthearted love and lust theme of the summer issue of The Walrus, it was time for a story about drugs and death!  This one is set in Quebec and was translated from the French by Donald Winkler.

A boy, Simon, was found in the Frontenac Library with a needle sticking out of his arm.  Brisebois was the policeman who notified people of the death.  And he notified The Indian who was an undercover cop.  But the Indian said to Breisbois, “Simon may have had his faults but he knew how to shoot up.”

He made Breisbois check the stash.  It turned out to contain coke an almost pure heroin. (more…)

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walrus huneSOUNDTRACK: Rheostatics Tribute Show (AGO, September 3, 2015).

06Sep2015Almost exactly one year ago, my family traveled to Toronto as a mini-vacation.  The impetus was my scoring tickets to see The Rheostatics live for the first for me (and potentially–but not in reality–last) time.

They had called it quits 8 years earlier and were reuniting for the 20th Anniversary of their Group of 7 album–a soundtrack of sorts that was created to celebrate the works of the great Group of 7 artists.  They were scheduled to perform three nights at the Art Gallery of Toronto.  The night before their first show, Thursday the 3rd, there was a tribute show.

As the Rheostatics live site explains:

Thursday night was sponsored by First Thursdays at the AGO. The theme was Music Inspired by Rheostatics and featured a band of musicians comprised of Paul Linklater (Guitar), Thom Gill (Guitar), Phil Millotson (Drums), Charles James (Bass), and a series of guest vocalists including Laura Barrett (The Hidden Cameras), Terra Lightfoot, Casey Mecija (Ohbijou), Mike O’Brien (Zeus), Chris Cummings, Sandro Perri, plus a special performance by Canadian folk legend Mary Margaret O’Hara.

The site has the show available for download with the caveat: “Sound for both shows is a bit crackly in places and lots of crowd noise.”

So yes, the sound isn’t great (the AGO isn’t meant for concerts, anyhow), but it’s still a fun listen.  Although as a friend of mine once said about tribute albums–they sure do make you appreciate the original band more.

And that’s definitely the case here.  It’s hard to know if the lack of intensity is from the recording or if the band was simply playing more delicate versions of the songs.  The energy is missing on a lot of the versions–or maybe they just couldn’t do what the band can.

They start with “Who,” an unexpected but delightful choice.  Their version is a little slow, as most of the songs seem to be, and they leave off those last two drum snaps, but it’s still a fun thing to hear.  Then the guest vocalists proceed. Terra Lightfoot, no relation to Gordon, sings over a rather slow and somewhat undramatic version of “Northern Wish.”  In the original, I love when they really rock, but that doesn’t ever seem to happen here.

Casey Mecija sings “Claire.”  There are some interesting vocals and I like the way the song seems to start new wavy at first, but it turns a little smooth jazzy by the end.

“We Went West” is sung by Mike O Brien.  It’s quite similar to the original, although I actually like it a little better somehow–the words are a little clearer, I think.  Chris Cummings plays the unexpected Martin Tielli solo song “From the Reel.”  It is quite lovely and his voice is deeper than Martin’s allowing you to hear the words a little better.

Laura Barrett plays “Stolen Car” with amazingly operatic vocals.  It sounds great in the “I’ll be okay!” line but it seems to take a lot of the intensity out of the song because it doesn’t rise and fall like the original.

Mary Margaret O’ Hara comes out to thunderous applause.  MMOH is pretty crazy in general and she walks out and says.  “You people smell…nice.”  I would love to hear a better recording of this version of “Rock Death America” (and would have loved even more to have seen it).  She seems to be channeling her old spirits as she wails the lyrics.  She slips in a chorus or two of “They dont give a fuck about anybody else.”  Then she starts ranting about “the land of the free and the home of the brave amerikkkkkkkkkkkkah.”  It’s intense and I can only imagine how great it was to see.

Then Constellation guitarist Sandro Perri plays a sweet and slow “Take Me in Your Hand” apparently with MMOH (although I don’t hear her).  They play the melody on a penny whistle at the end, which is fun.

And then MMOH stays out to do a kind of long version of “Bad Time to Be Poor” (she seems to be mostly doing backing vocals and keening).  The version is a little too slow for my tastes, but is otherwise cool.

At the end of the set, someone mentions that the Rheos are going to come out and test out a few songs on everyone.  Lucky bastards.

Since the whole family was with me, I wasn’t going to go to this tribute show, although I have to admit it would have been very cool to see MMOH (who I assume I’ll never see) and to get the surprise Rheos show.

[READ: August 19, 2016] “The Rainbow Festival”

The last few stories that I’ve read in The Walrus have been real downers.  And this story had as a summary blurb: “in which a family waits for the joy that never comes”  What the hell The Walrus?

But with such a dour hint, this story wasn’t as miserable as it could have been.  I do wish that that line hadn’t been there though, because it did spoil the truth (which was not the end, but whatever).

This story is about a little boy who grew up in small town which was sometimes very large.  He lived in Malin a town that hosted the Malin Hering-Gutting Festival every June.  And during that festival their small town was overrun with fishermen and tourists.   His mother turned their house in to a B&B and she seemed really happy when the house was full of people.  (Her husband had died on a fishing boat some time ago and their house was way too big for just her and her son). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: September 5, 2015] Rheostatics

2015-09-05 22.26.36I am a huge fan of the Rheostatics, but I never saw them live before they broke up.  There was an attempt at a reunion a few years ago but it fell through (apparently do to Martin Tielli’s stage fright).

Then earlier in the spring I saw the incredible news.  The band was going to reunite for three nights at the AGO.  They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album Music Inspired by the Group of 7 and they were going to play the entire album.  Now, I’ll admit it’s not my favorite Rheos album.  I like it fine, and there’s some good stuff on it, but it is mostly instrumental, and there’s only really 2 “songs” on it.  But who cared?  It was the Rheostatics!

And who cared if the show was in Toronto, an 8 hour drive away.  I knew the venue was small (it sold out pretty fast).  On the day of tickets sales, I arrived late to work so I could order online.  And after I secured them, I thought….now how in the hell am I going to do this?

Well, we decided to make a vacation out of it.  The show was Saturday night, the kids didn’t start school until Tuesday, so I took some days off of work and we drove up to Niagara Falls on the Wed before the show.  We toured the Falls and then drove to Toronto, where we did so much sightseeing, my legs were tired.  And then, when concert time approached, Sarah and I headed off to the AGO. (more…)

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47_2_(1) SOUNDTRACK: MARY MARGARET O’HARA-Christmas E.P. (1991)

marymarMary Margaret O’Hara is a fascinating recluse.  She released a cool, weird  album in 1988 then did nothing for three years when she released this Christmas EP.  Since then she hasn’t really released anything (except for a soundtrack).

O’Hara’s voice is her most notable feature (she warbles and swoons and is almost otherworldly–sometimes crazily so).  She is the backing shrieker in Morrissey’s “November Spawned a Monster.”  So one expects a pretty weird Christmas album from her.

 But it’s actually fairly conventional and I have to admit a bit dull.  “Blue Christmas” is just too slow for me.  O Hara’s voice doesn’t have any oomph here.  The cheesy violin solo doesn’t help either.  “Silent Night” is, I feel, too pretty of a song for O’Hara’s voice which wobbles in weird ways for this track.  “What Are You Doing New Years Eve?” suffers from the same as everything else on this disc–it’s too slow and languid.  I know this song can be wistful, but I need this to be faster.  “Christmas Evermore” fares the best on this disc because it isn’t familiar (to me).  The music is a bit more uptempo (if still eccentric).  And you don’t have other version to compare it to.

So, overall this proves to be a somewhat disappointing EP.

[READ: December 5, 2014] McSweeney’s 47

I love McSweeney’s issues that come in boxes with lots of little booklets.  It somehow makes it more fun to read the stories when they are in little booklets with individual covers.  In this instance, all of the booklets look basically the same–ten different cool pencil (and red) drawings on the cover done by Carson Murdach and a red back cover.  The outer slipcase art is by Jason Polan.

There are ten booklets.  One has a few letters and the rest are short stories.  There’s even a surprise in here–the very exciting discovery of two lost Shirley Jackson stories.  But there’s also the slightly disappointing realization that two of the books contain excerpts from McSweeney’s books (which I already own).

LETTERS: (more…)

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dtmaxSOUNDTRACK: TOM WAITS & KEITH RICHARDS-“Shenandoah” (2013).

roguesgallery-f8be47f3887d51de57ea842a129f0a722e53ef74-s1This tune comes from the album Son Of Rogues Gallery.  The album is, of all things, a sequel to the album Rogues Gallery.  The full title is Son Of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.  The first album was a kind of novelty–I can’t even say novelty hit as I don;t know if it was.  But it must have had some success because here’s a second one (and there’s no Pirates of the Caribbean movie to tie it to).

The album has 36 songs (!) by a delightful collection of artists, including: Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, Macy Gray, Broken Social Scene, Richard Thompson, Michael Gira and Mary Margaret O’Hara (among many others).  I enjoyed the first one, but I think the line up on this one is even better.

“Shenandoah” is not a song that I particulalry like.  Because it is traditional, I have a few people doing versions of it, but I don’t gravitate twoards it–it’s a little slow and meandering (like the river I guess) for me. And this version is not much different.  What it does have going for it is Waits’ crazed warbling along with even crazier backing viclas from Keith Richards (there;s no guitar on the track).

[READ: January 7, 2012] Every Love Story is a Ghost Story

I had mixed feelings about reading this biography.  I’m a huge fan of David Foster Wallace, but I often find it simply disappointing to read about people you like.  And yet, DFW was such an interesting mind, that it seemed worthwhile to find out more about him. Plus, I’ve read everything by the guy, and a lot of things about him…realistically it’s not like I wasn’t going to read this.  I think I was afraid of being seriously bummed out.  So Sarah got me this for Christmas and I really really enjoyed reading it.

Now I didn’t know a ton about DFW going into this book–I knew basics and I had read a ton of interviews, but he never talked a lot about himself, it was predominantly about his work.  So if I say that Max is correct and did his research, I say it from the point of someone full of ignorance and because it seems comprehensive.  I’m not claiming that he was right just that he was convincing.  And Max is very convincing.  And he really did his research.

It’s also convenient that DFW wrote a lot of letters–Max has a ton of letters to quote from.  And DFW wrote to all kinds of people–friends, fellow authors  girlfriends, colleagues….  Aside from old friends, his two main correspondents were Don DeLillo, whom he thought of as a kind of mentor, and Jonathan Franzen, whom he considered one of his best friends and rivals.  I guess we can also be thankful that these recipients held on to the letters. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MARTHA WAINWRIGHT-I Know You’re Married But I’ve Got Feelings Too (2008).

I’ve been a fan of Loudon for years.  I also rather enjoy Rufus.  So why not check out Rufus’ sister Martha and see how she stacks up in the family canon.  Actually, it’s not fair to compare because she is an entity all to herself.  And indeed, I feel that she sounds nothing like her family (maybe a weeeeee bit like Rufus, but not really).

In fact, I find that Martha’s voice rests comfortably between Mary Margaret O’Hara, Jane Siberry and, somewhat surprisingly, Patti Smith.

Lyrically, the title of the album pretty well tells you where she’s coming from: smart-assed and a little pissed off.  But the real question is what kind of songs does she actually write?  Well, the second song on this disc “You Cheated Me” is so strong and so catchy I was convinced it was a cover.

The rest of the disc is an exciting collection of styles: baroque arrangements, pop folk, and even straight ahead rock.  There are times when the songs are not so much difficult as cantankerous: with her vocals reaching extraordinary heights.  But it’s not just Martha showing off her range, the vocals work very well with the lyrics.

She also adds two covers on the disc: Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” which she takes some of the weirdness out of but which adds a bit of her own eccentricities to it.  (It’s a great cover).  The other cover is the Euryhthmics’ “Love is a Stranger” which doesn’t sound like a cover until the chorus kicks in.

I feel like the disc is a little long (somehow it feels like it should end after “See Emily Play”) but that’s not really that big of a complaint.  Even though Martha sounds like others, she is still quite a unique presence, and this is a worthy CD for anyone who likes quirky singer songwriters.

[READ: Week of March 1, 2010] 2666 [pg 353-404]

I was bracing myself for a horrific section here.  The Part About the Crimes is 280 pages of women being killed in graphic detail. Well, that turned out to be not exactly true.  At least so far.

Nevertheless, the Part is largely filled with crime scene details about the many many women who died in the Santa Teresa region between 1993 and the beginning of 1994.

For my sanity I’m not going to detail all of the young women who were killed in this Part.  I know someone on bolanobolano is detailing all of the deaths in the book, so I’ll assume that that is dealt with there. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer July/August 2009 Music Issue Compilation CD: “Fantastic and Spectacular” (2009).

After the globe-spanning CD in last year’s issue, the 2009 Believer CD returns to the dominant musical style of the first few.  This disc is a collection of unreleased, acoustic songs from the editors’ favorite singer-songwriters.

And, wow, check out the bands that are represented here: Sam Phillips, The Clean, The Waterboys, Lloyd Cole, Young Marble Giants, The English Beat, Lisa Germano, Unrest, Suddenly, Tammy!, The Lilac Time and Mary Margaret O’Hara.  It’s an amazing collection of artists who agreed to release these songs only to this Believer compilation.

The liner notes ask a few questions of each artist so you get a nice peek into their working styles.  And for a few of them you find out what they’ve been up to for the last few years.  Although, sadly Mary Margaret O’Hara (sister of actress Catherine O’Hara!) only mentions that you can get a copy of her only released album Miss America directly from her.  And since I thin it’s a great album, I’ll pass along her email for ordering purposes only: m2oh8 @ hotmail.com.

So, what do we get in this collection?  Sam Phillips provides a fantastic drum-heavy, 90 second song.  Robert Scott’s song is a delightful, simple acoustic track.  I’ve always liked The Waterboys, but Mike Scott tends to go on and on, and this track is no exception.  It’s very very catchy but it’s over 10  minutes long!  The consistently excellent Lloyd Cole doesn’t disappoint.  Phil Wilson’s poppy number is very good.

I’m surprised that I don’t have any Young Marble Giants in my collection, and Stuart Moxham’s song here makes me want to see what I’m missing.  I swore that Dave Wakeling of The English Beat was Bob Mould on this song, but as soon as I saw who he was I recognized that English Beat voice in a more intimate setting.

Mark Robinson of Unrest also records as Cotton Candy, and this absurdly poppy ditty (the only duet on the disc) provides the title of the disc and one of the truly happiest moments. Except, of course, for Beth Sorrentino from Suddenly, Tammy! whose song “Such a Beautiful Day” is absolutely wonderful.  And if it is any indication of the greatness of Suddenly , Tammy!  then their absence from the msuicial scene is a real shame.

Stephen Duffy who records as Tin Tin and The Lilac Time writes songs that are instantly memorable and catchy as anything.  This one is no exception. And the Mary Margaret O’Hara song is not quite as out there as you might expect from her, but it’s really quite good.  I wonder what she has been up to for decades now.

There’s a secret bonus track from a brand new New Zealand band called Haunted Love.  When this issue went to print they were about to release their first EP, and this track doesn’t even appear on that (it’s THAT secret!).  It’s a great song and I hope good things come to them.  It is also not acoustic, but everyone can break their own rules once in a while right?

This is another string compilation from The Believer.  The track listing is here.

[READ: December 16, 2009] “Diary of an Interesting Year”

So this story is, indeed, a diary.  It is written in several entrees.  And, as we learn from the first entry, the diary itself was a gift to the writer from G. for her 30th birthday.  And, although we don’t learn it from the first entry, we quickly discover that global warming predictions were accurate and, basically the earth as we know it is no more.

But what I liked about the writing was that it revealed this global catastrophe somewhat subtly.

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SOUNDTRACK: VIC CHESNUTT-North Star Deserter [CST046] (2007).

The only thing I knew about Vic Chesnutt before this CD was that he was the songwriter for a benefit CD called Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation (1996).  I bought it mostly for Garbage’s “Kick My Ass” and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “Florida”, not for Chesnutt, who I’d not heard of before then.  Usually if you get a CD of covers of an artist that you like, it’s hard to remove the cover from the original.  An album of covers by someone you don’t know is much easier to parse.

I got North Star Deserter because I’m a fan of the Constellation record label based in Montreal. They’ve released some great stuff over the years.  Recently, they’ve diversified their lineup to include some unexpected artists.  Like Vic Chesnutt.

The basic sound of this CD comes in two ways: acoustic guitar with world-weary singer,  and acoustic guitar with world-weary singer and the baking cacophony of what is essentially Thee Silver Mt Zion Orchestra and Tra La La Band.  It works surprisingly well.

The first song starts out with basically just Vic and his guitar.  He sings in a raspy weathered voice.  It’s a short acoustic song full of passion.  What threw me off here is that you expect that the whole album will be like this: short, passionate, acoustic songs.  The really unexpected part comes with song three, “Everything I Say,” when the backing band kicks in loud and hard.  Silver Mt Zion, for those unfamiliar are an offshoot of sorts from Godspeed You Black Emperor.  They have a great variety of instruments in the group, and much like Godspeed… they play grand, sweeping orchestral works. Unlike Godspeed, they have vocals.  And while backing Vic, they pull out all of the stops: cellos, contrebass, choruses, Casio keyboards, the works.

Perhaps my favorite song of the bunch is “You Are Never Alone.”  The premise is simple: Vic sings some very stark verses (“It’s OK, you can take a condom; It’s OK, you can get an abortion; It’s OK, you can get a quadruple bypass and then keep on, keeping on.”), and then the chorus slowly builds with first the men, then the women harmonizing and then finally everyone singing beautifully “You Are Never Alone.”  It’s 5 minutes of mesmerizing beauty.

And the rest of the album continues in a similar vein: stark, humanizing lyrics and alternating spare guitar or great swells of music.

Overall, I feel like the album runs a little long (or maybe it’s just exhausting to listen to).  But I can’t think of anything to get rid of; the two longest songs are actually two songs that I really like.  “Splendid” is a slow building song, where you don’t realize that 5 minutes have already gone past.  And then there’s “Debriefing.”  The first two minutes are noisy and brash, they settle down into a short sparse verse and then crash away for two more minutes.  Off and on like that for 8 minutes.  Cathartic to say the least.

The strangest thing for me is that I find Vic’s voice to be similar in tone and style to Matthew Sweet. There’s a few songs where you might even think that it’s Matthew Sweet singing.  But this Matthew Sweet sounds not like the pop singer of “Girlfriend” but like a man who has been beaten down by life for a little while.  It’s a voice that you instantly listen to to see if you can learn anything.

I’m not sure if this will make me get any more Chesnutt discs, but I’m glad I got this one.

[READ: September 15, 2008] “Great Experiment”

Jeffrey Eugenides wrote The Virgin Suicides, a great book notable for its use of first person plural narrator (!).  He also wrote Middlesex, which is on my bedside right now (and which I learned today was an Oprah pick).  But in the interim I just read this short story.  It’s my only exposure to Eugenides aside from Virgin Suicides, so it’s a nice change.

This story centers around Kendall, an over-educated, hyper-literate poet who is making a living working for a non-profit company.  This particular non-profit was founded by Jimmy Dimon, a former porn king who apparently grew a heart and decided to publish great books at a loss.  Kendall’s current assignment is to edit down Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America‘s most cogent ideas into a small pocket version called Pocket Democracy. (more…)

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