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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE LUMINEERS-Tiny Desk Concert #966 (April 6, 2020).

When The Lumineers first came on the scene they were the band that sounded like Mumford and Sons.  It now seems likely that The Lumineers are more popular than Mumford.

I’ve known them since “Hey Ho” but I’ve never seen them I guess because sinegr Wesley Schultz doesn’t look anything like I thought he would (I’m not sure what I thought, but that’s not it).

Much of The Lumineers’ Tiny Desk comes from the band’s third LP, III, which tells a story of addiction in three acts.  They began with gut-wrenching renditions of “Gloria” and “Leader Of The Landslide.”

I’ve heard “Gloria” a million times, but it was nice to see it live.  I especially enjoyed  when violinist Lauren Jacobson joined in on the high notes of the piano while Stelth Ulvang played the low parts.  Byron Isaacs plays some interesting bass lines (That I’ve never noticed before) and adds nice backing vocals.

“Leader of the Landslide” has a very sad introductory tale.  Stelth Ulvang switches to accordion.  It is “accompanied by a cassette recording of crickets made on iPhones and dubbed to play on a boombox.”  It’s a quiet song, unlike what I think of them as playing.

The third track is also from III, but was an assignment from director M. Night Shyamalan. He tasked Schultz and his suspender-clad writing partner, Jeremiah Fraites, with composing a song for the end credits of a film. “Jer and I worked really hard on that, and then he didn’t need it,” Schultz confessed. The results are the stark and haunting “April” and “Salt And The Sea,”which strikes a different chord than any other song they’ve written.

“April (instrumental)” is a one-minute instrumental that segues into “Salt And The Sea” Drummer Jeremiah Fraites plays piano while percussionist Brandon Miller switches to drums. but he’s mostly playing cool atmospheric percussion (my new favorite thing of scraping drumsticks on cymbals).

It wouldn’t be a Lumineers show without a foot-stompin’ sing-along to end the set, which came with their crowd-pleasing hit “Stubborn Love”. Stelth Ulvang demonstrated a level of barefoot acrobatics unrivaled at the desk thus far, not an easy feat (or should I say, feet).

I never knew the name of “Stubborn Love” but I’ve certainly wanted to “Hey oh, oh oh oh) along with it.  And yes, Ulvang jumps on Bob’s desk to get everyone to sing along–I hope he didn’t step on anything (and that his feet were clean).

I’ve never thought about seeing them live, but I’ll bet their show would be a lot of fun. However, since they are now playing to 20,000 people, I can probably give that a miss.

[READ: April 25, 2020] “The Bird Angle”

Nell Zink and Jonathan Franzen are intricately linked.  As she writes in this essay

All I wanted when I first wrote to Jonathan Franzen–a birder who moonlights as a journalist–in 2011 was some attention for a bird-obsessed NGO.  With his help I debuted as a novelist five years ago at age fifty.

Her fifth book comes out this year.  She now has some money and wondered what to do with it.  Franzen recommended birding in Peru.

So this is the first non-fiction piece of hers that I have read.  It’s also the first piece about birds (aside from her novel the The Wallcreeper which has a bird prominently in it).

She was going to Cuzco, Peru for thee days.  First she toured churches (seventeenth century Jesuits made Christ look especially gruesome).  The next morning she hiked to Sacsayhuamán, an Incan ruin made of exceptionally large rocks.

She imagined Peru would feel like a hot night in New York when the A/C broke.  But she only got two mosquito bites the whole time she was there (both on her ass from peeing outside). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHIKA-Tiny Desk Concert #959 (March 13, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Chika, but she proves to be really fun and funny (while rapping some serious topics).

Her band is jazzy and stripped back:

Chika was also the first hip-hop act to anchor her set with just a Peruvian cajón instead of a full, hard-hitting kit. The surprisingly stripped-down performance allowed her lyrics, with all their nuance, to take center stage — and the result was remarkable.

In addition to the band, were her terrific backing vocalists

The impressive harmonies from Chika’s four backup singers brought all the feels right out of the gate.

She starts with “Industry Games.”  Lovely ooohs from the backing vocalists then David Levitan plays an echoing guitar (“both catchy and eerily haunting” that I found reminiscent of the Close Encounters melody).  Up comes that cajon with gentle thumps from Dominic Missana.  Then she starts rapping.

Moving seamlessly between rap verse and melodic hooks, Chika showcased her unusual tonality, multi-cadence delivery and vocal range, with an effortless, double-time lyrical bounce.

She has a fantastic fast flow (smiling as she goes).  It’s interesting hearing the gentle backing vocals that repeat her (sometime harsh) final lines.

She even starts giggling in the middle.  She explains later “I say ‘tightest around’ and they sing ‘hottest around’ and it is hysterical to me.”

Before the next song she says, “Everyone brings nice things to the Tiny Desk, like lights…  I didn’t bring anything, or so you thought.  I brought this Chapstick and I’m gonna place that right here.  Fuck anyone who underestimated me.”

She says that “Songs About You.”  No shade to anyone.  It’s not about y’all. its about you.  The song features more nice backing vocals and then a grooving bass line from Chris McClenny.

Before the third song she sends a shout out to her sister who is there.  “Shout out to our parents… genetics!”  She asks, “What kind of shows are you wearing?”  “Puma…”  “You should have been wearing ‘Balencies,’ which is the name of the next song. She pauses and waits for the laughter.  Then says, “I’m funny.  We’re not gonna argue about that.  You all didn’t want to laugh… something about that felt racist.”

The backing vocals are wild and weird as it starts, Danielle Withers sounds like a perfect loop of an eccentric vocal line.  It’s pretty magnificent–I really hope she goes somewhere with a distinctive voice like that (I see that she has sung with some pretty big names already).

The other singers are (l-r) Jabri Rayford; Darius Dixson and Rachel Robinson (she’s standing on a box).

“Crown” has some great lyrics

I got a habit of rapping ’bout tragic sh-
I think I’m just passionate
Tryna steer the way while in the dark
Hope I ain’t crashin’ it (Woah)
Now my little hobby turned to cashin’ out
Thinking ’bout who I’d be if I listened to doubt
Said I’d never do it, well look at me now

Okay
This is for the kids with depression
The one’s whose parental expectations got them stressin’ (Woah)
The one’s who would rather persevere, bust they ass, tryna make it ’cause-
They ain’t really livin’ in the present

The set ends, oddly enough with “Intro” which is a very quiet song.  Gentle guitars and  a quiet rap.

This was a really satisfying set.  her songs were short and to the point.  The lyrics were powerful and affecting and the music was a nice accompaniment.

[READ: April 2, 2020] Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier

Jim Ottaviani & Maris Wicks worked together on the awesome book Primates.  Now they are back sending some primates into space.

I just love Wicks’ artwork.  She manages to do such amazing things with such simple-seeming drawings.  Her eyes are (mostly) dots, the faces are almost all simple shapes and yet everything she draws is so expressive and conveys exactly what she wants.  It is a pleasure to look at anything she draws.

Ottaviani did a lot of research for this book (obviously) and the end is chock full of resources that you can look at to learn more.

As for the book itself, it is “told” by astronaut Mary Cleave.  It starts with young Mary being told (by the President) that she was too young for the Astronaut Corp.  The letter (from President Eisenhower) did not go on to say that no women were accepted into the Corp, she had to find that out herself.

She was already a practicing pilot at age 14, but that wasn’t good enough.  She then jumps over to another girl her own age over in the Soviet Union.  Valentina Tereshkova was jumping out of planes and training to be a pilot, because the Soviet Union did not have a sexist component in their system.

But in 1959, even though women like Jerrie Cobb were certainly (physically) capable of becoming astronauts, women simply weren’t chosen.  Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart testified before Congress where sexism (and simple, painful examples are provided) ruled the day.  They were even shut down by Jacqueline Cochran, a director at an airline, who said women should not even be pilots because they get married and leave after two years. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RYLEY WALKER-“Love is Everywhere (Beware)” (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.

It’s interesting that Walker chose the band’s brand new (at the time) single to cover.  I don’t think the album was even out yet when they released this issue.

I saw Walker live last month and his set was a forty-five minute wild improv guitar session.  So I’m even more surprised at how beautiful and tender this cover is.

There are some great percussive effects from Ryan Jewell which I wouldn’t have really noticed if I hadn’t seen him do similar things live.  Walker didn’t sing at all when I saw him, and his voice here is soft and whispery.  It works perfectly with the muted tone of the song–guitar harmonics, a shuffling beat and gentle bass from Calexico’s Scott Colberg.

The song grows gradually louder, mostly from Jewell’s drums until with about a minute left, Walker goes absolutely berserk with a wild electric guitar solo–largely noise and chaos, while the rest of the song continues as before.  Very Wilco.

[READ: February 15, 2020] Snippets of Serbia

This book came across my desk at work.  The book is entirely in English and yet the cataloging information (the CIP page) is in Russian, primarily. It was published in Beograd by Komshe Publishing.

That’s all fascinating because Emma Fick is an American artist.  She is of Serbian descent and went there to teach English.  She brought her sketch book because she always does.  While there she drew pictures and then earned a grant to travel to Serbia to draw more.

The introduction to the book gives a good summary of Serbia and its inability to be pigeonholed.

Serbia is fascinating and baffling, captivating and frustrating, vibrant and confounding.  There is no singularity to Serbian culture, and its historical, religious, cultural, culinary, and philosophical narratives are knots that must be carefully detangled.

Illustration was her way of absorbing Serbia.

She knows the book is flawed and incomplete.  She knows there are mistakes in it and she knows that her experience of Serbia is not what Serbia is,  But boy did it ever make me want to go there–a country I have never given a second thought to.

The book is roughly 200 pages of watercolor sketches of people, places, customs, and especially the food of Serbia: Belgrade, North, South, East and West. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL PEART-September 12, 1952-January 7, 2020.

When I was in high school, Rush was my favorite band, hands down.  I listened to them all the time.  I made tapes of all of their songs in alphabetical order and would listen to them straight through.

I still loved them in college, but a little less so as my tastes broadened.  But every new release was something special.

It’s frankly astonishing that I didn’t seem them live until 1990.  There were shows somewhat nearby when I was in college, but I never wanted to travel too far on a school night (nerd!).

For a band I loved so much, it’s also odd that I’ve only seen them live 5 times.  However, their live shows are pretty consistent.  They play the same set every night of a tour (as I found out when I saw them two nights apart), and there wasn’t much that set each show apart–although They did start making their shows more and more fun as the years went on, though).

One constant was always Neil Peart’s drum solo. It too was similar every night.  Although I suspect that there was a lot more going on than I was a ware of.  It was also easy to forget just how incredible these solos were.  Sure it was fun when he started adding synth pads and playing music instead of just drums, but even before that his drumming was, of course, amazing.

It was easy to lose sight of that because I had always taken it for granted.

I am happy to have seen Rush on their final tour.  I am sad to hear of Neil’s passing.  I would have been devastated had it happened twenty years ago, but now I am more devastated for his family.

So here’s two (of dozens) memorials.  The first one is from the CBC.  They included a mashup of some of Neil’s best drum solos:

But what better way to remember the drum master than with a supercut of his drum solos? From a 2004 performance of “Der Trommler” in Frankfurt, Germany, to a 2011 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, to his first-ever recorded drum solo (in 1974 in Cleveland, Ohio), dive into nearly five minutes of Peart’s epic drum solos, below.

The best Neil Peart drum solos of all time.

I was only going to include this link, because it was a good summary, then I saw that Pitchfork ranked five of Neil’s best drum solos (an impossible task, really).  But it is nice to have them all in one place.

You can find that link here.

Starting in the 1980s Neil’s solos were given a name (which shows that they were pretty much the same every night).  Although as I understand it, the framework was the same but the actual hits were improvised each night.

Even after all of these years and hearing these drum solos hundreds of times, watching them still blows my mind.

  • “The Rhythm Method”
  • “O Baterista”
  • “Der Trommler”
  • “De Slagwerker,”
  • “Moto Perpetuo”
  • “Here It Is!”, “Drumbastica,” “The Percussor – (I) Binary Love Theme / (II) Steambanger’s Ball”

[READ: January 2020] Canada 1867-2017

In this book, Paul Taillefer looks at the most historically significant event from each tear of Canadian history.  And he tries to convey that event in about a page.  Can you imagine learning the history of your country and trying to condense every year into three paragraphs?

And then do it again in French?  For this book is also bilingual.

I can’t read French, but i can tell that the French is not a direct translation of the English (or vice versa).

For instance in 1869, the final sentence is:

This, in turn, signaled the start of the Red River Rebellion which would not end until the Battle of Batoche in 1885.

Neither Batoche nor 1885 appears in the entire French write up.  So that’s interesting, I suppose.  I wonder if the content is very different for French-reading audiences. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LAZY GRACE-“You Don’t Know How Much” (Moose: The Compilation, 1991).

Back in the 1990s, it was common to buy a compilation or soundtrack or even a band’s album based on one song.  Only to then find that you didn’t really like anything else on it.

Maybe that single sounded like nothing else on the album.  Maybe the movie was almost entirely one genre, but they had that one song that you liked over the credits.  Or maybe the compilation was for something but a song you really wanted was on it, too.

With streaming music that need not happen anymore.  Except in this case.

I bought this compilation, used, recently exclusively for one song, Rheostatics’ “Woodstuck.”  It’s a goofy song and this is the only place you can get the studio version.  The actual compilation was not well documented, so I didn’t know what the other bands on it might sound like.  It turns out to be a compilation for Ontario based Moose Records which specialized in Rock, Folk, World & Country.  They put out another compilation in 1992 and that’s all I can find out about them.

Here’s another traditional song performed very slowly.  This feels like a blues song only played with a more country style with violin as the lead instrument.  The two women singing have good harmonies, but it feels so downcast that I don’t want to listen to it again.

[READ: July 1, 2019] “Poem #8–Beetle”

The July/August issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue. This year’s issue had two short stories, a memoir, three poems and a fifteen year reflection about a novel as special features.

I assume this poem is part of a series, although I don’t know for certain

This is a poem about nature.

It is set at a lake in the woods of the eastern slope of the Rockies. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KAIA KATER-Tiny Desk Concert #832 (March 13, 2019).

This Tiny Desk Concert was posted under a different category than the others and so does not appear on the Tiny Desk page (yet).  In order to find it you need this link.

The expectation upon seeing a banjo hanging is one of rollicking rowdiness, but when Kaia Kater began to strum her five-string, the mood in the office turned plaintive and a bit mournful. The Afro-Caribbean-Canadian singer and songwriter, who studied Appalachian music at West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College, often references the Black Lives Matter movement, within a music form that doesn’t exactly snap to mind as being in dialogue with modern issues.

“Nine Pin” is, indeed, a slow, plaintive song with great lyrics.  After a couple of verses, the band (it wasn’t obvious she had one) adds some very sparse accompaniment–low upright bass notes, gentle guitar chords and brushed drums.

These days, Kaia Kater records for Smithsonian Folkways, and some of the songs she brought to the Tiny Desk come from her recent recording Grenades, a record she worked on while exploring her father’s home country of Grenada.

The song feels old, except for the lyrics.

These clothes you gave me don’t fit right
The belt is loose and the noose is tight

and I love the chorus which seems like it should be sung quickly but in the way she sings it it’s meaningful

I’ll be your nine pin, eight ball, seventh day, six pound, diamond quarter girl

Before she gets to “Canyonland” she introduces her band: Andrew Ryan: bass; Brad Kilpatrick: drums; Daniel Rougeau: electric guitar, lap steel guitar.

She says this is from her new album and begins a much faster, but still quiet, banjo picking.  The bowed bass adds a new kind of tension.  The lap steel guitar brings a different kind of tension, especially when the song speeds up for the second half of the song.  This song is compelling in a different way.

I find it interesting that she seems to have a more Canadian delivery (based on the Canadian country/Americana that I know of) which I rather like.

Before the final song she speaks about Grenada and how it impacted the title of her album Grenades.

It’s a country that has “experienced a lot of political turmoil,” she says. “My father left when he was 16 years old and he came to Canada as a refugee, on his own. It’s a story I ran away from for a long time, where I didn’t want to reconcile with myself being this kind of hyphenated Canadian.”

For this final song she doesn’t play an instrument.  She just sings (in a lovely torch song vocal).  Without the banjo, the entire tone of the song is different.  The guitars, bass and drums make this song far more jazzy than folkie.  But it works well once again with those lyrics in which

Kaiatries to come to terms with that history “Rain heavy like carpet bombs, sweetgrass, and lemonade / Fold the memory into your arms and whisper it away.”

There’s much power in her understated style.

[READ: March 21, 2019] “Dandelion”

I rarely think much about how old an author is.  For the most part it’s not relevant unless the story identifies intensely with someone of a certain age.  So this story begins, in a surprisingly clumsy opening that you need to unpack:

That Henry James, when he got old, rewrote his early work was my excuse for revisiting , at ninety, a story I had written in my twenties.

Segal is 91 so this is not a far-fetched claim, although it is a bit odd to include within the story itself.

The original story (unnamed in this story, if it exists at all) is about a hike that she and her father took up a mountain.  She had wished her mother had come too, but her mother had had a migraine. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRISTMAS All-Time Greatest Records (1990).

This is one of those Christmas compilations that S. or I buy every year.  This one came from S.’s stockpile.

This one is meant to be on the traditional side, with a few surprises thrown in.  Amazingly there are songs on this compilation that we don;t have on other ones.  I mean, how many different versions of these songs are there (Answer: quite a lot).  This collection is almost entirely unique in that there are about ten songs that don’t appear on any of our other collections.  Cool.

BING CROSBY-“White Christmas” is a classic, but man, it’s kind of a downer.  It’s not nearly as much of a downer as…

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” which is a truly lovely song and everyone loves singing it.  And yet, lyrically, wow, it’s a bummer.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  It was written for soldiers overseas during WWII.  This version is by GLEN CAMPBELL it’s quite slow and somber.  His voice is quite nice too.  When I listened to it I had no idea it was him.

NAT “KING” COLE-The Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  It’s great to hear it every year.

LENA HORNE-“Winter Wonderland”  I have a bunch of Christmas songs by Lena Horne, but again, not this one.  This collection really is rather unique.  Lena puts a fun zing in most of her Christmas songs.  Maybe its time to get a collection of just her.

THE BEACH BOYS-“Little Saint Nick” is much more fun now that I’ve seen it live.

LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this has a swinging side (even if the tempo is slow).  Rawls’ voice is pretty great I must say.

ELLA FITZGERALD-“Silent Night” I love this song and I love Ella, but I don’t love this version of this song for some reason.

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD-“The Star Carol”  One of these things is not like the others. I actually never heard of this song before.  And Ford’s voice is crazy operatic.  I hadn’t realized the slight country angle on this disc until this song which sounds not-country, but with that name.  It’s a weird song to have amid these others for sure.

BING CROSBY-“Do You Hear What I Hear” Bing is back.  I love this song, it’s a lot of fun to sing, and Bing makes everything better.

MERLE HAGGARD-“Silver Bells”  This country addition is also weird.  It doesn’t sound like a country song, but Merle still has that accent.

DEAN MARTIN-“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Eight years ago I said this was one of my most-hated Christmas song versions.  I don’t really feel that way now, although the things that bugged me then are still weird to me:

I guess it’s supposed to be funny or cute, but I don’t understand why he starts messing around with the song and sings: “Rudy, the red beaked reindeer” or why he suddenly busts out the pseudo-German: “Rudolph mit your nose so bright/Won’t you guide mein sleigh tonight?”  It’s just weird.

Was it cool to make Santa German in 1959?  Were we over the war by then?

And I hate the way the backing guys all chant “Rudolph” like it’s some kind of threat.

Of all the classic crooners, Dean is my least favorite, but maybe I just need to embrace the possibility that all Dean Martin songs are Drunk Dean Martin songs.

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Jingle Bells”  Bing is a little over-represented in this collection, but The Andrews Sisters are always under-represented.  This has a manic piano opening and some over the top horns, but the Andrews Sisters are always a hoot.  This is a marvelous ending to the collection and again, one more song that I don’t have anywhere else.

[READ: December 6, 2018] “The Glamour of the Snow”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of Hibbert who was normally conscious of two worlds but who, while visiting a mountain town in the Alps became conscious of a third.  (more…)

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mar

SOUNDTRACK: SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE-“Saidi Swing” (Field Recordings, March 26, 2014).

I really enjoyed the Silk Road Ensemble’s Field Recording, so I was delighted to see that they did a second recording from the same session [A Field Recording Bonus Track: The Silk Road Swings].  I have no idea how they cleared everyone out and cleaned up the place for this video (how long did these four guys have to hang around?), but it was worth it.

What I find so magical about this piece is that it is four percussionists and yet they make such beautiful music.

They’re playing a piece written by Shane Shanahan called Saidi Swing. While it’s inspired by a traditional rhythm from Upper Egypt called saidi (which goes “dum tek dum dum tek” in its simplest incarnation, for those of you who want to find its seeds sprinkled through this piece), Shanahan uses that pattern just as a launching point. And with such fantastic collaborators — from left to right, Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla, Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, Mark Suter on daff frame drum and Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek — Shanahan can really let his imagination take flight.

The piece begins with the four drummers playing together.  Then comes the individual moments

First comes a solo by Sandeep Das playing the Indian tabla. I love that it’s mostly finger tapping–the tabla is a fascinating instrument.

Up next is Joseph Gramley playing the goblet-shaped dumbek.  To start his solo, he plays the side of the drum which rings out almost like a tambourine before returning to the proper method of playing.

The third solo comes from Mark Suter on daff frame drum (I assumed it was a bodhran, I wonder what the difference is…ah, the daf has metal rings inside of it and can be made of fish skin (!)).  Suter bangs it for a big open sound but then he rubs his fingers along the skin to create even more fascinating sounds.  It’s awesome.

Then they return to the main rhythm.  All four play loud then quiet and then it’s time for each of them to get a very brief (2 seconds, maybe) solo in order left to right.

Then it’s time for Shane Shanahan playing the riq, or tambourine, to get a solo.  It’s the most conventional instrument except it seems quite different from the one that we see in folk bands.  He does some pretty nifty tricks with it too.

In the last part they each play a solo that’s about a second.  Again, left to right, which sounds cool and probably sounds even better in person.

World music percussion is really fascinating and I’m glad it gets showcased in this way here.

[READ: February 7, 2018] “The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace”

I never understand why people write fictionalized accounts of true stories.  There must be a reason for doing it–maybe you can’t write a five-page biography and have it get published anywhere?  I don’t know.

This is the true (I assume) account of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Wallace was a student of nature–it filled whim with an ecstasy that sometimes felt like lust.  He was not one for theory–he was all about the search.

He collected specimens and he wrote letters home to his mother about his joyful expeditions.  He traveled endlessly, exhaustively.  Even when wracked with malaria he continued. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: August 2018] Tuck Everlasting

Normally when we go on long car rides we listen to many audio books.  This summer, we drove to Chicago (12 hours each way) and listened to only two!  Two!  And this one was only three discs long.

I actually didn’t know anything about this story when we started it (somehow this classic children’s book written during my childhood totally escaped me).

What’s fascinating about this story is how little there is to it.  This is not a criticism.  It’s a remarkably compact plot.  Although there is an awful lot of description.  And while Peter Thomas did a great job with the action of the story, the descriptions tended to drag on a bit (you could blame Babbitt or Thomas I suppose).

The story focuses on the Tuck family.  Tuck, whose first name is a rarely used but is Angus, is the father.  Mae is his wife.  They have two children, Jesse who is 17 or so and Miles is 22 or so.

There is also Winnie Foster, a ten-year old girl.  Her family is the oldest family in Treegap, New Hampshire. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BETSAYDA MACHADO Y PARRANDA EL CLAVO-Tiny Desk Concert #707 (February 16, 2018).

How can you not love a band that is decked out in wonderful colors and whose only instruments are percussion?

I love the first song, “Santa Rosa.”  The chorus is super catchy and when they raise the note in the chorus on the “Oh! Santa Rosa” the song just soars.  Although Betsayda Machado sings most of the songs, this one opens with one of the men (in yellow) singing and I really like his voice, too.  I could even figure out the gist of the words.

And the percussion?  Two floor drums, 2 hands drums, shakers and that friction drum.  So cool.

So who are these folks?

The roots of the music of Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo extend to the Venezuelan slave trade, and while the vocals are in Spanish and not an African dialect, the instruments the group plays date back more than 500 years.

The large bamboo cylinders, the djembe-like drums and the large friction drum together create a symphony of interlocking polyrhythms that was unlike anything I’d heard. Machado’s vocals soar over the unrelenting rhythms, and when she harmonizes with the other singers, it creates a choir-like display of African call-and-response vocals.

When discussing African-influenced music from the southern hemisphere, we often focus on countries like Brazil and Cuba, places where the folk music eventually made its way into popular music. Afro-Venezuelan culture and music is rarely featured or even acknowledged outside of the country. As you’ll see in this video, that should change once music fans take in the beauty of Machado’s voice and the power of her historical message.

“Alaé Alaó” is much more somber, but the percussion is incredible–three men playing bamboo sticks against bricks–the details of what they do are fascinating.  The song starts to pick up with bongos and other hand drums as the guy starts singing again.  During the middle of the song one of the women goes out dancing on the main floor with some of the crew.  This can only lead to more dancing.

“Sentimiento”  The guy in yellow sings the beginning of the song and then Betsayda comes in.  The friction drum is back along with all the shakers and percussion.  I love the way they all stop perfectly at the end.

The band includes: Betsayda Machado, Nereida Machado, Youse Cardozo, Blanca Castilo, Adrian “Ote” Gomez, Jose Gomez, Oscar Ruiz.

[READ: November 20, 2017] Science Comics: Dogs

I have enjoyed every Science Comic that has come out, but this might have been my favorite.

In addition to being about a great topic: dogs, it was also updated with a ton of new information that I had no awareness of.  On top of that there’s a ton of scientific information about genetics, evolution and natural selection.  To top it off, it’s narrated by an adorable pup named Rudy who loves a tennis ball.

Once Rudy drags his owner to the dog park, Rudy can tell us all about dogs.

He explains that all dogs are from the species lupus, and yet look at how different all of the breeds are.  So Rudy rushed back to 25000 BP (before present). (more…)

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