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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ 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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SOUNDTRACK: IMMANUEL WILKINS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #164 (February 3, 2021).

Immanuel Wilkins is a saxophone player who creates mellow but poignant jazz.

Candles and books rest on a trunk at the bottom right corner of the wide shot. There, too, are special photographs of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins with family in his childhood home in Philadelphia.

Wilkins plays three songs from Omega in this twenty minute

Omega was released last year to high acclaim. The project is all about Blackness, Black theory, the Black experience and the struggle and triumph that go with it all.

They open with “Grace and Mercy,” which is “a lyrical story about peace, forgiveness and humility with carefully crafted form and melody.”

He met up with his long time bandmates — Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass, Kweku Sumbry on drums —in Manhattan’s Sear Sound studio to record this set. The quartet has been playing together for years, which is remarkable considering Wilkins is only 23 years old.

There’s a really nice piano solo in the middle of the track from Thomas

“Warriors” opens with a saxophone intro before the band joins in for this

driving, dynamic tune that conveys the shield of protection provided by our inner circles.

Wilkins gets up to some wild soloing in the middle of the song.  As the song comes to an end and Wilkin repeats the same melody, Sumbry gets to show off his chops on the drums.

“The Dreamer” is a tender piece that honors the Black writer and activist James Weldon Johnson and is based on his poem “A Midday Dreamer.” The opening lines are played effortlessly on bass by Johns and when Wilkins joins in, his melodic saxophone exudes the rhythm of the poem’s first stanza: “I love to sit alone, and dream, and dream, and dream…”

This is some wonderfully thought provoking instrumental music.

[READ: March 3, 2021] Super Puzzletastic Mysteries

I was in Barnes & Noble at the end of last year and I was feeling splurgy so I picked up this book, thinking that everyone in the family might like it.  We all love Chris Grabenstein after all.  So this is basically a series of pretty short mysteries.  The end of the story is pushed to the back of the book so you can figure out if you solved the mystery before it is revealed to you.

CHRIS GRABENSTEIN-Introduction
Grabenstein sets up what the book is about.  it was inspired by Donald Sobol (the guy who created Encyclopedia Brown) and his Two Minute Mysteries.  There would be some kind of crime, clues would be presented and the story would end without a  solution.  The end of the story (and the solution) came at the end of the book so you could try to figure it out for yourself.  Amusingly, he also tells us that his story is “based on something I actually saw out the library window when I did a school visit the day after a snow day.”

I’m giving a brief summary of each mystery and then whether my adult brain could solve it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THUMPER-Out of Body Auto-Message (2019).

THUMPER was mentioned in the Irish Drummers book.  They actually have TWO drummers, (Stephen D’arcy is in the book).

I hadn’t heard of them (They are reasonably new).  This EP collects their first few singles and adds a couple of other tracks.

The rest of the band is: oisin leahy furlong – vocals & guitar; alan dooley – guitar & backing vocals; brendan mcglynn – guitar & backing vocals; joey gavin – bass; stevie d’arcy – drums; shane holly – drums.

“(You’re Bringing Me) Down” opens the set with a rocking fast chords.  It’s a catchy melody with a simple but effective guitar riff on top.  Clean vocals lead to a catchy chorus with a rumbling bass and roaring guitars. I love that at 90 seconds the song changes sonically to as a glitchy guitar playing the chords before returning back to the fast rumbling joy of the verse.  The song more or less finishes after 3 and a half minutes, but the full version of the song tacks on a three minute jam to the end.

“AFL” pummels along in a similar vein–fast catchy fuzzy rock with lots of feedback.  Even though the song is pretty much nonstop, they do put in some interesting musical dynamics to mix it up.

“In My Room” is quieter and less fuzzy, although it opens with a squall of noise.  It does still have a fast and bouncy chorus.  “Half Light” is a woozy acoustic song with a woozy filter on the whole thing.  The guitar solo is feedbacky and almost out of tune. And it ends with a wall of noise.

The final song is ten minutes long. “3AM & Restless” takes off right from the get go. It’s relentless song with a lot of sounds going on (spoken conversations, screaming or feedback or something).  But after two and a half minutes the song slows down and stretches out.  Big chords ring out while a spoken conversation or something seems to be going on underneath them.  the end of the song stretches into a slow noisy jam of scratches and synth sounds, kinda like they had the tape rolling and just keep messing around with their gear until it ran out.

The ending is a little uninspired, but the rest o the EP is fantastic and I look forward to more from them.

[READ: February 15, 2021] Trespassers

This is the story of Gabby Woods and her family.  They are headed up to their vacation house on the lake.  It’s an annual trip that they all enjoy very much.

Gabby’s older sister, Morgan, is sort of out of the picture (she’d too old to hang with Gabby and their younger brother Simon), but she’s nice enough.  Gabby’s parents are kind and funny, but they have just learned that Gabby’s dad is going to have to take a new job in a different state.  This might be their last time visiting their lake house.

Gabby is a bookworm which Simon finds very boring.  He hates that Gabby wastes her time reading when there’s so much to do at the lake.  Gabby does put her book down from time to time, but really, a vacation is about resting.

When they arrive they see their neighbor Gene. Gene is an older man who has lived in his house for decades. He is a nice guy and he looks forward to the Woods’ family’s arrival.

As the Woods canoe around the lake, they approach Gabby’s favorite building–a beautiful architectural marvel with a gorgeous view of the lake.  It was built by Walter Goldworth, a Chicago architect who married a model, Angela.  He built this place for her. They were very happy until they both disappeared and have not been seen since.  The house has been vacant for decades. (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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SOUNDTRACKJENNY LEWIS-Tiny Desk Concert #950 (February 24, 2020).

I was lucky enough to see Jenny Lewis open for Death Cab for Cutie.  I really enjoyed her set and how much fun they all seemed to be having.  Although I guess my version of her show paled in comparison to her headlining show:

Having seen Jenny Lewis’ recent concert spectacle, with its Las Vegas sparkle — complete with a multi-level stage — I loved the contrast her Tiny Desk Concert provided.

There was certainly spectacle, but maybe it was the venue (darker than it should have been) that made it less Las Vegas and more Atlantic City.  But either way, it’s obvious that this Tiny Desk is very different from that set.

Jenny arrived at NPR with just her acoustic guitar and bandmates Emily Elbert, who sang and played guitar, and Anna Butterss on upright bass and vocals. Stripped of all the glitz, it was the words that found their way to my heart. A consummate storyteller, going as far back to her days with her band Rilo Kiley, Jenny’s words have comforted and inspired so many.

She sings two of her three Tiny Desk songs from her fourth solo record, On the Line. These are tough breakup songs, though she redirects all the pain into thoughtful fun.

Jenny plays guitar on “Rabbit Hole” and that upright bass adds some great low notes to Jenny’s high vocals.

She even turned “Rabbit Hole” into an NPR sing-along

The crowd very willingly sings along–except for one person who looks defiantly at the camera instead.

For “Do Si Do” Jenny puts down her guitar and picks up a tambourine.  The low bass notes that start the song are almost shockingly loud and rumbling.  There’s a few very high backing vocals in the song which are all provided by Emily Elbert (I especially like the Ooh ooh ooh and wonder if she does them on record as well).

The blurb also includes this line

and [she] gave us all a Hot Pockets surprise. You’ll have to watch for that one.

That comes when she messes up “Just One Of The Guys.” (or J-O-O–T-G).  I’ve thought that that song sounded really familiar, but never in the way she suggests.

They (thankfully) start the song from the top.  It’s my favorite song of hers and I’m glad to get it all the way through.

The original of this song is super catchy and this quieter version (no electric guitar melodies mid-song) is just as catchy.  Elbert also does a nifty solo (very high up the neck) on the acoustic guitar.

This is another wonderful Tiny Desk Concert that once again I am going to complain is waaay too short.  One of these days, artists I’ve heard of will get more than fifteen minutes.

[READ: March 15, 2020] Investigators

I have loved everything that John Patrick Green has done–Hippopotamister, Kitten Construction Company and now Investigators.  His humor is excellent and his artwork is so clean and enjoyable.

The premise of this book is pretty much based upon the fact that Gators is the last sound in Investigators.  What I mean is that this book is chock full of word play–some of it clever, some of it really dumb and all of it very very funny.

Mango and Brash are the top agents and they are on the case (Brash: “Hey get offa my case!” while Mango stands on Brash’s suitcase).  The case contains a mustache and chef hats.  Turns out that chef Gustavo Mustachio is missing.  Gustavo is the guy on all the pizza boxes and is the chef behind some of the best cupcakes.

There’s a giant creature who has taken him and is demanding that Gustavo cook something perfect. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MOUNTAIN MAN-“You and I” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Mountain Man is a trio of three women with beautiful voices.  They often sing a capella or with one guitar accompaniment.  There music is quiet, designed for you to lean in to hear better.

The original song is a gentle folk song (with some gently rocking moments).  Mountain Man make it even more gentle.  The original has a vocal harmony from Feist.  Having a two harmony voices makes this version even more special.

Alexandra Sauser-Moning plays guitar (and maybe sings lead?) while Amelia Meath and Molly Sarle sing gorgeous harmonies.

As with everything Mountain Man does, it’s delicate and lovely.

[READ: February 11, 2020] The Time Museum: Vol. 2

Volume 2 opens up with very little explanation about what happened before.  In fact, it jumps right in the middle of a chase.  A purple creature with four tentacles is running away from Delia in an amusement park.  The purple creature is a kid and he doesn’t know why he’s being chased.  Delia communicates through her wrist watch that the kid has the Icono de Prestigo.

The rest of the beginning of the book has Delia’s Epoch Team chasing this (very fast) kid as he flees with the Icono.  The kid finally settles in the middle of an exhibit for Monstro the Terrible.  They freak out and don’t want to see the kid hurt, but he says his dad works there and the exhibit has been empty for years.  Which proves to be false as immediately Monstro (who looks a lot like the monsters in Stranger Things) awakens and swallows the kid.

Through some brave and disgusting techniques the kid and the icono are rescued.

After all of that, the kid hands over the icono and says its probably all melted anyway.  What?  Then they see him walk by with another one–the icono is actually a container for an ice cream sundae.  The Team was hundreds of years too late to save the actual relic.  When they return they are given a reprimand. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Flying Microtonal Banana (2017).

2017 was a massive year for KGATLW as they pledged (and kept that pledge) to release five albums in the year.  This was the first.

Flying Microtonal Banana starts with the same sort of relentless frenzy that Nonagon Infinity had.  Just witness the stomping, grooving repetition of “Rattlesnake,” a catchy, 7 minute song whose lyrics are primarily “rattlesnake.”

The difference comes in the title of the record.  It’s not banana, it’s microtonal.  The banana in question is the yellow microtonal guitar that Stu Mackenzie uses on the album (and live).  It’s a custom-made guitar modified for microtonal tuning, which allows for intervals smaller than the semitones of Western music.  Since the new guitar could only be played with similarly tuned instruments, the rest of the band got their gear tricked out with microtonal capabilities.

This gives many of the songs a distinctly Middle-Eastern sound.  As does the inclusion of the zurna, a wind instrument which is almost constantly loud, high-pitched, sharp, and piercing.  Not an inviting description, but the instrument adds some interesting sounds and textures to the disc.  “Rattlesnake” is so catchy, though, that the zurna just feels like one more component.

“Melting” lets up the intensity with a wonderful guitar/vocal melody and some great synth accents.  As the song grooves along there’s some cool sounds and textures throughout the vocals and background sounds.  The solo comes from a slightly distorted synth–the ever-rising melody is catchy but leaves you wanting more.  The microtones really come out in the middle of the song, where the guitar/vocal melody experiments with all the various microtones that their instruments could achieve.

“Open Water” has a ringing guitar melody and a sinister chorus about open water.

Open water
Where’s the shore gone?
How’d I falter?
Open water
Height of the sea
Will bury me
And all I see is
Open water

There’s a very cool microtonal guitar solo throughout the middle of the song.   When the zurna comes in it brings a whole new kind of tension.

The rest of the album is made up of shorter songs.  They don’t exactly segue into each other, but they do feel like a suite of sorts.  Except that each one focuses on a different style (not at all unusual for KGATLW).

“Sleep Drifter” is sung in a near whisper, almost comforting, as it follows the nifty rising chorus melody.  The interstitial guitar riff is really cool, too.  “Billabong Valley” returns to their Western style from earlier albums.  It is sung by Ambrose in his very different vocal style.  There’s a staccato piano and an interesting western-inspired microtonal riff.  “Anoxia” slows things down with a twisty guitar.  The zurna contributes to a trippy ending.

“Doom City” sounds like early Black Sabbath with deep notes and a strangely hippie tone with lots of echo.  Then it picks up speed and adds some wild zurna tones.  There’s even some high-pitched laughs giving an even weirder feel.  I love that the speed jumps between slow and ponderous and speedy and hurried. “Nuclear Fusion” has a staccato rhythm.  For this one, not only does the lead vocal follow the interesting guitar melody, but there’s a deep harmony voice following along as well.   I always love when they add organ sounds to the song, like this one.  And the deep voices as the beginning and end are pretty awesome.

The final track is the instrumental title song.  It explores all manner of microtonal solos both on guitar and zurna.  It opens with bongos and congos and just takes off from there with the screeching zurna melody.  It’s catchy and weird like t he rest of the album and it ends with the winds blowing things away.

That’s the banana itself on the right.

[READ: January 2019] Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

I was attracted to this book because of the title.  I knew literally nothing about it, but the blurb called it a smart, twisty crime novel.  I typically don’t read crime novels, but I’ve had pretty good luck with books set in bookstores, so it seemed worth taking a chance.

And, wow, what a delightfully convoluted story.  It was absolutely full of surprises and puzzles.  In the past I would have tried to figure out he puzzles myself, but since the answers to the puzzles were given right after the puzzles were shown, I got lazy and let the book do the work for me.   And what a fascinating bunch of characters Sullivan has created.

Lydia Smith works at the Bright Ideas Bookshop in Denver.  She has been there for a while, but she’s keeping a low profile.  She grew up in Denver and had a reasonably good childhood.  Then, suddenly something horrific happened and she and her father moved into a remote cabin outside of Denver where neighbors were nowhere near.  Her father, who was once a loving librarian too a job at a county prison and became a hardened policeman.

The event is hinted at in the beginning.  In the middle we get a vivid description of her perception of the event.  The rest of the story unpacks it.

After living in the woods, Lydia left her father, without saying a word.  She returned to Denver and hadn’t spoken to him for years.

She loves the security of the Bright Ideas Bookstore.  The store is populated by the Book Frogs, old men mostly, who spend hours and hours here browsing books.  They are all eccentric in some respect, but they are harmless–and most are thoughtful.

But as the book opens, one of the younger Book Frogs, Joey Molina, her favorite one, hangs himself–right upstairs in Western History.  She tried to take him down, to save him, to do something.  But she was too late.  As she was trying be helpful, she saw that he had a picture in his hand.  It was a picture of her when she was a little girl.  A picture she had never seen before.

What a great opening chapter! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKCŒUR DE PIRATE-Live at Massey Hall (July 8, 2014).

I known of Cœur de Pirate more from reputation than her music.  But everything I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed.  Cœur de Pirate is Beatrice Martin a Francophone singer from Montreal who sings almost entirely in French.  And yet despite that, she sells out to Anglophone audiences because her music is so darn catchy.

In the opening she notes that it’s crazy that she’s a French-speaking artists singing in french selling out a venue like Massey Hall.  She feels special and can’t wait to hear what it sounds like.

The first song is “Le Long du Large.”  She is playing piano with a great band behind her.  The song grooves along smoothly–it has a great catchy chorus with terrific backing vocals.  There’s an acoustic guitar (Renaud Bastien), a lead guitar (Emmanuel Éthier), bass (Alexandre Gauthier) and drums (Julien Blais).

On “Francis” it’s just her on piano.  The song has a very Regina Spektor vibe in her playing style and singing delivery.

“Ensemble” is bouncy and upbeat, just super fun.

Golden Baby” opens with a melody like “Come on Eileen” but as soon as the electric guitar soars over, it is a very different song.   I love that she sounds like she smiling throughout.

It surprised me that she did an encore so soon in the show, but there’s clearly a reason for that.

Before the encore, she plays “Adieu”  our “last song.”  Shes off the piano on this one, only singing.  It’s got a heavy rocking beat and guitar and it’s really great.

When she comes back for the encore she sits at the piano and asks “More songs?”

“Place de la République” starts as solo piano and it sounds lovely.  After a verse or so, they add a bowed bass and strummed acoustic guitar  which builds the songs nicely.  Half way through, drums come in to give it even more power.  It’s a terrific song.

She is quite sweet saying that “it makes no sense that a French Canadian girl could sell out Massey Hall…. just got to hold it together.”

She invites everyone to sing along. If you don’t know French, just pretend.  It works too.  This is the last song.  Make it fun make it magical.  She says that the song, “Comme des enfants” is being taught in French classes.  It was a huge hit and the audience sings part the last verse.  It’s a wonderful moment and always cool to see an artist overwhelmed by her fans base.

[READ: March 28, 2018] Cici’s Journal

The book (there are two books in this volume) opens with Cici talking about her journal.  We meet Cici and her mom.  We learn that Cici hangs out a lot with the neighbor Mrs Flores, a writer.  Her mom doesn’t love that she hangs out with am older lady, but Mrs Flores is pretty cool.

Cici’s two best friends are Lena and Erica  The pair knew each other since they were babies;  Cici moved to the neighborhood when they were all little.  They have been best friends ever since.

I give Carol Klio Burrell a real thumbs up on this translation. I didn’t realize that it was a translation until well into the second book.  But I didn’t love a few aspects of the story.  The problem here I think comes with the friends.  Lena is sweet and has the soul of an artist.  Meanwhile, Erica “complains constantly, but she has a good heart.”  That’s not a very complex or desirably character trait.  And that aspect of her comes out a lot in the second book, which is kind of annoying. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE KLEZMER CONSERVATORY BAND-Oy Chanukah! (1987).

For the first day of Hanukkah, it’s time for a Chanukah album.

This is a collection of traditional Chanukah songs interspersed with brief stories and a history of the holiday.

It works as a musical collection, although the dialogue does obviously stop the flow every couple of minutes.

Klezmer music is fun (provided you like the clarinet), but it really can’t be dissociated from the stories behind it.

The first narrator talks about the Maccabees and the Festival of Lights.  There’s the tales of Judith and Hannah and memories of klezmorim coming to the shtetl.  There’s even a recipe for latkes and the story of the dreydl.

Some of the songs have words (sung in Yiddish) but just as many are instrumentalist.  The majority of the songs are traditional, of course, but my favorite is “Klezzified,” which is written by one of the band.

This disc is a good introduction to Chanukah music.

[READ: December 12, 2017] “Souterrain”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This year, there are brief interviews with each author posted on the date of their story.

Hello. Welcome. It’s finally here: Short Story Advent Calendar time.

If you’re reading along at home, now’s the time to start cracking those seals, one by one, and discover some truly brilliant writing inside. Then check back here each morning for an exclusive interview with the author of that day’s story.

(Want to join in? It’s not too late. Order your copy here.)

This year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection

This story was really powerful and it revealed all of the details and connections in a slow and excruciating way–once you realized what was happening.

There are several characters in the story which takes place primarily in France.   (more…)

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