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Archive for the ‘Mysteries’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JACK INGRAM, MIRANDA LAMBERT, JON RANDALL: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #226 (June 21, 2021).

The sight of three people with guitars wearing cowboy hats meant that I wouldn’t enjoy this set.  (At least it was only ten minutes).

Having said that, while there’s something I instinctively dislike about Lambert (she always looks really smug and/or pissed off), her voice is quite nice and not terribly twangy.

I think I’ve heard of Jack Ingram, but possibly not Jon Randall.

After collaborating on “Tin Man” from Lambert’s 2016 record The Weight Of These Wings … the artists spent five days last November recording in Marfa, Texas. In this (home) concert, the trio turns its quarantine album, The Marfa Tapes, into a quarantine Tiny Desk set, complete with a well-appointed desk in the corner of the frame.

They play three mid-tempo songs with pretty guitars, pretty melodies and nice harmonies.

They start with “Waxahachie.”  But in the way that hearing an okay cover of a song makes you want to hear the original, this song made me want to listen to the band Waxahatchee instead.

“Tin Man” (“Our award-winning song,” Lambert jokes. The track won the 2018 Academy of Country Music Award for song of the year) is a fine song. I’m not sure what led it to winning an award, though.

At its conclusion, Lambert lets out a laugh and the trio exchange knowing glances before finishing the show with “In His Arms.”

“In His Arms” is one of Lambert’s favorites on the disc.  It has a pretty guitar melody from Jon Randall (I guess I’m supposed to know which guy was which since they were never introduced).  There’s some really nice harmonies on this song as well.

[READ: June 28, 2021] The Herd

Every once in a while I get to see some new books that come into work.  I saw this one and was intrigued by it.  I hadn’t heard of Bartz, but the book sounded exciting.

Then by the time I got around to reading it, I forgot that it was a thriller, and I found myself getting really invested in the characters.  The story was such a delightful book of female empowerment that I was really surprised when it turned into a mystery.

The story is about four women.  Eleanor Walsh is CEO of The Herd, an elite, women-only coworking space.  After making her fortune with a women-friendly cosmetic line, she established The HERd [capitalization intended] as a place where women could work side by side, bouncing ideas off of each other.  She became a feminist icon.  And was accordingly hated by insecure men–including an online group called the Anti-herd.

Mikki Danziger is a college friend of Eleanor’s.  She is an artist, and she creates most of the visuals for The Herd.  She’s a little annoyed that she (one of Eleanor’s oldest and best friends) isn’t on the payroll–Eleanor keeps her as an independent contractor.  But aside from that she is thrilled to share in Eleanor’s success.

As is Hana Bradley.  Hana is the third of the above trio of women who all went to Harvard together.  They have been best friends since college.  Hana is a PR specialist and she has managed to keep Eleanor out of trouble as she works to expand her business.  She is also a n independent contractor.

Hana’s younger sister Katie is also a friend of the others.  They initially took her in as a little sister.  But when Hana went to the West Coast for grad school. Katie filled in the gap and they embraced her as an equal. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BROTHERS OSBORNE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #215 (May 26, 2021).

If Brothers Osborne were an instrumental band I’d really like them. Lead guitarist John Osborne is an amazing player whose riffs are amazing and even though they sound pretty country, he’s amazing to watch.

But when T.J. Osborne starts singing, you understand why they wear cowboy hats.

For their Tiny Desk (home) concert… Brothers Osborne–a country duo that’s long challenged the conventions of country and still managed to top the charts–scale to fit the setting – John’s wood-panelled Nashville living room furnished with plenty of guitars and a tiny desk featuring a Maryland flag mug – but refuse to dial down the intensity.

They open with “Muskrat Greene,” the instrumental that is so impressive.  T.J.’s guitar licks are flying, Adam Box’s drums keep a tight martial pace (and the drum sound is fantastic) and the song never lets up.  I love the backwards guitar part in the middle along with some cool keyboard soloing from Gabe Dixon.

Opening with the explosive instrumental track “Muskrat Greene,” Brothers Osborne and their collaborators use their set to showcase the very best of Skeletons. As on the record, they transition immediately into “Dead Man’s Curve,” a track that’s the ideal interplay between John’s fiery guitar and T.J.’s singular vocal stylings.

After two and a half minutes they segue into “Dead Man’s Curve” which sounds like a pretty great rockin’ roots song.  The main riff after the chorus is spectacular and T.J.’s solo smokes.  I’d like to hear it with different vocals.

“I’m Not for Everyone” is where the set falters for me.  It is such a standard country song–anthemic and familiar–I’m sure it sounds exactly like some other country song.  I might enjoy it more as a cover because the lyrics are pretty funny (country music self-deprecation).  The addition of “local legend” Matt Heasley on accordion is a nice touch.

“Skeletons” opens with some muted acoustic guitar from T.J. and some nice slide guitar work from Jason Graumlich.  Once again, if this song didn’t feel so “country” I would really like it.  Musically it’s solid (John gets another great solo) and lyrically it’s quite clever.  I just don’t like the vocal style.  When I imagine Richard Thompson singing it, I like it a lot better.

“Hatin’ Somebody” (never got nobody nowhere) ends the set with more clever lyrics.  This time John uses the slide for some more great guitar work.  The song has a fun riff and Pete Sternberg’s bass keeps the low end solid.  But the song is just too country for me.

I do appreciate how much fun they are having though.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Spy School

I read Gibbs’ Charlie Thorne books recently and really enjoyed them, so I thought it would be fun to check out his earlier series Spy School (which C. had read a few years ago and really liked).

This story had the same kind of clever wit as the Charlie Thorne books, which I greatly appreciated.  It was also a pretty exciting story.

It starts in the middle of nowhere.  Well, actually in the middle of Ben Ripley’s house.  Where, out of nowhere, a Federal agent has just told him that he has been accepted into spy school.  They’ve had their eyes on him for a while. He did wonderfully on the STIQ exams.  What are they?  He doesn’t remember taking them.

Standardized Test Inserted Questions.  The CIA places them in every standardized test to asses potential espionage aptitude.  You’ve gotten every one right since third grade.

So that’s pretty wild.  Of course everything about Spy school is secret so he can’t even tell his parents or his best friend. They al think he’s going to a super brainy nerdy math school (Ben is a super brainy math nerd after all).

The agent, Alexander Hale, is so cool, Ben can’t wait to hang out with him.  But when Alexander drops him off at school things are not good.  The whole school is under red alert–there seems to have been a security breach.  And Ben is now a target.  Why? because even the enemy has heard about him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKMINYU CRUSADERS-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/142 (January 12, 2021).

Minyo CrusadersGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the second night is Minyo Crusaders from Japan.

Min’yō folk music was originally sung by Japanese fishermen, coal miners and sumo wrestlers hundreds of years ago, and the Minyo Crusaders are on a mission to make these songs relevant to an international audience. For their performance, the Crusaders found a unique take for their desk: a “kotatsu,” which is a heated Japanese table traditionally used for gathering in the winter months.

The diversity of music melding together here is quite impressive.

They open with “Hohai Bushi” (The album credits the style of this song as “afro”).

It starts with high notes like a theremin then quietly jangly guitars.  Cumbia-sounding horns (sax and trumpet) and complicated percussion (shakers and cowbells) flesh out the song.  Once everybody is established, a groovy bassline underpins the whole thing.  The male singing starts singing and the female adds some nice high backing oohs with it. Sadly, band member names are not given so I can’t credit anyone.

When the song is in full swing the guitars play loud and the keys play a retro sound including a retro fuzzed out keyboard solo.  Toward the end, a bass line slowly builds and the drums add intensity as they sing “ho hai ho hai.”

The guitarist speaks between songs.  He says his English is very poor but he does a fine job.

The second song “Yasugi Bushi” (bolero) is much more chill.  The male singer sits aside and the female singer takes lead.  There’s some nice basslines that repeat although for this song it’s really the saxophone that takes the lead with a lot of soloing.

The guitarist says these songs are old work songs and festival songs: “Minyo is dead in Japan but they are trying to bring it back.”

They end with “Aizu Bandaisan” (latin).  This song is much more dancey.  Lots of Latin horns, groovy bass and congas.  The lyrics are in Japanese (of course) but there’s a fun part where it sounds like they are singing “soy soy.”  As the song jams toward the end, there is lots of whooping and yelping and a wild trumpet solo.

This is a super fun set.

[READ: January 14, 2021] The Inugami Curse

Seishi Yokomizo was a hugely prolific writer.  He created Japan’s most famous detective (comparable to Sherlock Holmes in scope), Kosuke Kindaichi, who featured in seventy-seven books!  The Inugami Curse is apparently one of the best known of the stories and has been adapted into film and TV.

There are only two of his novels translated into English, this one (translated by Yumiko Yamazaki) and The Honjin Murders (1946) (translated by Louise Heal Kawai).

This book was an absolutely fantastic, complicated mystery.  There were many twists and turns.  And the way the story was plotted was perfect.

Sahei Imugami was a wealthy man.  He was called the Silk King of Japan and his business provided work for many many people.  He was a local celebrity to be sure and even had a biography written about him.

Sahei never married, but he did have three daughters with three different women.  The book opens with a character list which is quite helpful.

DAUGHTERS: Matsuko; Takeko; Umeko
GRANDONS:     Kiyo;       Také;    Tomo

There are some husbands involved as well.

There is also Tamayo Nonomiya, the granddaughter of a married couple who took Sahei in when he was just starting out.  He thinks of them as family, so when Tamayo was orphaned, he took her in. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAURA MARLING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #10 (April 16, 2010).

I have become a huge fan of Laura Marling over the last few years.  I was so looking forward to her solo performance this past March. It was one of my bigger coronavirus disappointments that the intimate show is not going to be rescheduled.

Marling has been doing regular guitar lessons about her own songs (her tunings and playing style is unique and wonderful to see demonstrated).  You can see the past (and future) ones here.

(While many artists have postponed the release of their new music in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura Marling rushed to change the release date of her album from late summer to April.

As of right now her album is only available digitally. The physical release is slated for summer.

On this Tiny Desk (home) concert, we find her in her living room, with an intimate performance of songs from her just-released record Song For Our Daughter. The album is an homage to a future generation of women and to Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter, a collection of essays addressed to a fictional daughter. The warm, home setting makes room for Laura Marling’s extraordinary voice to shine.

“Held Down” has a lot of backing vocals and arrangements on the record and this stripped down version sounds amazing without it all.

“Strange Girl” demonstrates her deeper singing style in a fast and bouncy song.

“Song For Our Daughter” is a slower song, beautiful and thoughtful.

I just cannot get over how beautiful her voice is.  These personal performances almost make up for not seeing her live.

[READ: April 20, 2020] Mac B. Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime

This is the second book in a new series illustrated by Mike Lowery.  It begins

My name is Mac Barnett.  I am an author.  But before I was an author, I was a kid.  And when I was a kid, I was a spy.  An author’s job is to make up stories.  But the story you are about to read is true.

This actually happened to me.

It’s 1989 and Mac is at the mini golf course.  But he is there not for the mini golf but for the video games. He is playing Spy Master 2–the arcade update to the home game.  Mac was just about to beat the big boss–something no one else had ever done before.  People were cheering him on. Except for Derek Lafoy (who did not invite Mac to his birthday party in the previous book). Derek called him Mac Barn Head and chanted “Choke!”

But this book isn’t about video games, its about the Queen of England who called Mac at the golf course to tell him that she thought the Crown Jewels were going to be stolen again.  (In the previous book Mac helped rescue the Crown jewels for the Queen). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOBE NWIGWE-Tiny Desk Concert #881 (August 19, 2019).

Tobe Nwigwe is the leader, but he shares the spotlight with his backing vocalists all of whom take lead vocal spots at some point.

The thing I like best about this set is that they are all wearing T shirts that say “My First Tiny Desk.”

There’s a wide array of sounds on this Tiny Desk too, from delicate R&B to some abrasive rapping.  I like the abrasive rapping a lot more–he has terrific delivery in that part.

Tobe’s performance was a five-song medley sandwiched effortlessly into a 15-minute block. Launching with “Houston Tribute,” he used clever and evocative wordplay to rap about coming of age in the South. Accented almost hypnotically by a trio of harmonies provided by background vocalists Luke Whitney, David Michael Wyatt and Madeline Edwards, Tobe’s mindful words are like a life hack for those seeking guidance.

The song has a gentle melody with delicate keys from Nic Humes.  The song is a rap, but a soft one.  He speaks quickly but the rhymes are positive and amusing.

My flow a monastery for them extra poor people
That don’t get commentary and get honored rarely
For the guava jelly they produce even though they get thrown fecal
Matter on a platter made by they oppressor
I shatter all the chatter that seem to make us lesser

After about two minutes Lucius Hoskins kicks in some guitar licks.  Then Devin Caldwell throws in some cool deep bass sounds making the song sound very full.

Tobe’s wife, Fat, known for her striking beauty and lead role in the magnificently directed music videos that have paved the way to Tobe’s rapid growth on Instagram. And through it all, young Baby Fat sat silently in her mom’s arms, absorbing the spiritual energy of her dad’s music.

After the song he says, “That’s how you do it June 24” (So it took two months for this to air).  Then he says “Lets teach ’em why the caged bird sings.  “Caged Bird” opens with Aldarian Mayes playing some simple drum thumping before Tobe starts rapping.

LaNell “NELL” Grant gets a lead rap mid song then after another chorus, Luke Whitney takes a high falsetto verse followed by an even higher falsetto from David Michael Wyatt.

Up next is “Against the Grain.”  Madeline Edwards takes the first lead vocal, but Ii love this song for the great raw sound of the bass and guitar and Tobe’s growling rapping delivery.

Aight, I feel like the masses on melatonin when it come to melanin
I grew up melancholy ’cause I ain’t realize that the hemoglobin in my skin
Was connected to a lineage that never ever had to penny pinch

That sound is unlike anything else in the set, although it does segue into “Shine” with more lead vocals from Madeleine.

Throughout the set he offered pleas for listeners to look past inherent hardships and evil and to keep their eyes on the prize, while he reflected on his own decision to go against his Nigerian roots and parental expectations to pursue his dreams of being a rapper.

He is very funny and says, “I’m Nigerian I know a lot of y’all though I was regular black”  For Nigerian parents, if their children haven’t done one of three things they’ve wasted their lives: become a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer.  So you can imagine when I told my mom that I wanted to be a rapper. She said (in maternal Nigerian accent) Tobe, why are you such a parasite to my life?  Tobe, why do you love poverty so much? Tobe, why re you trying to kill me?

Legends like Dave Chapelle and Erykah Badu were telling me I was dope which is what  “I’m Dope” is about.  David Michael Wyatt sings an impressive falsetto and the song actually does mention that Chapelle and Badu said he was dope.

The credits also cite Igbo Masquerade: art.  I’m not sure what that’s a reference to.

[READ: September 1, 2019] Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Comic

I couldn’t imagine how this comic book would work with the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000’s movie riffing.  But Joel Hodgson had an idea and it works wonderfully.

The Mads up on the dark side of the moon are still tormenting a guy up on the Satellite of Love.

This book is Netflix-era, so the Mads are now represented by Kinga, Synthia, TV’s Son of TV’s Frank (Max) and the Boneheads.  And joining Crow, Tom Servo and Gypsy on the SOL are Jonah and two small robot creatures that I didn’t recognize (I haven’t watches the Netflix episodes).

I absolutely hate the way Todd Nauck draws the host segments. I can’t stand the mouth designs on anyone, especially Kinga.  They all look like the Joker (is that because this is from Dark Knight comics?) and are horrifying.

But once you get past the art design of the host segments, the premise is pretty great.  Synthia has designed a machine The Bubbulat-r which allows a person to enter a comic book.  They test it out on Max and his favorite book Funny Animals.  Max jumps in as a rabbit can talk to the other characters.

The book explains that there’s a little bubble at the bottom of the word balloon to indicate a line that has been added and is not a line from the actual book.

But when Max comes back he tells us that the cute little bunny is in fact four feet tall with powerful sinewy limbs and reeks of a bizarre musk.

But the key point is that that Kinga has invented a way to do movie riffing from inside the comic.  So Kinga sends them comics and our heroes are inserted into different books. (more…)

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