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Archive for the ‘NPR/PRI/PBS’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BLACK MOTION-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #233 (July 8, 2021).

 Black Motion specializes in Afro-House and this set is infectious.

Afro-House has spread joy and healing across the country of South Africa, transcending local boundaries to become a thriving global dance phenomenon. In my experience, Its indigenous sounds and percussive rhythms drench the soul and heart with healing powers and cultivate communion with the infinite.

This Afro-House set is brought to life thanks to several featured vocalists and guest musicians.  Black Motion’s Tiny Desk (home) concert, recorded at the former residence of Nelson Mandela, feels like a spiritual sound bath. The South African production duo turntablist Bongani Mohosana of the Zulu tribe and percussionist Thabo Mabogwane of Sotho tribe — open their set with “Mayibuye iAfrica,” a cry for Africa to return to its culture and history.

“Mayibuye iAfrica” opens with a fun introduction.  There’s whooping, growling, cawing, (from DJ and producer Bongani Mohosana and keyboardist Almotie “Alie-keyz” Mtomben).  There’s some great percussion (producer and drummer Thabo Roy Mabogwane’s set has over ten different drums and a few cymbals).  Then, after a minute or so Siyabonga Hosana Magagula’s grooving bass and Lifa “Sir_Lifa” Mavuso’s slow but perfect-sounding guitar enter the picture.

Then the singers come in singing a beautiful chorus.  The three of them are: Lusindiso “Jojo” Zondani (tenor), Gugu Shezi (soprano) and Noxolo Radebe (alto), and there voices gel wonderfully.

Up next is “Rainbow” which shuffles along with the DJs sampling and a simple keyboard melody (that sounds a bit like The Way It Is).

South African singer Msaki makes her third appearance in our (home) concert series, after earlier credits with Black Coffee and our Coming 2 America special. She lends her vocals to “Marry Me,” a soulful jam from Black Motion’s 2020 album, The Healers: The Last Chapter.

Next up is “Marry Me.” Msaki sings lead vocals on this song which has a grooving echoing lead guitar. “Alie-keyz” plays a cool retro organ solo before “Sir_Lifa” jams out a guitar solo.

Interestingly, Msaki’s voice was relatively deep, but on the next song, “Joy Joy,” Brenden Praise’s voice is pretty high (in the choruses).  For the verses, he sings a bit deeper.  I like the way the backing vocalists sound like gospel singers here.

“Imali,” featuring Nokwazi, soothes the lingering remnants of pandemic fears,

The snare drum introduces the colorfully dress Nokwazi who sings “Imali.”  Her call and response singing is really great, as is her intense, growling style.

Tabia closes with the lilting “Prayer for Rain.”

Tabia comes out for “Prayer For Rain” and says “let’s pray” as she sings some wordless notes to warm up the song.  When she starts singing, I don’t know what language she’s singing, but the passion is palpable.  And the thunderclap that DJ Bongani Mohosana adds at the end is a welcome touch.

This is a powerful and moving (emotionally and physically) set of songs.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Easy, Tiger”

After reading David’s story about shopping in Tokyo, it was funny to go backwards and read about one of his first few trips abroad and how he started learning the local language(s).

He says that he had been using Pimsleur Japanese and felt fairly comfortable when in Japan.  But on this trip he was also going to Beijing and he had forgotten to study.

But this is not so much about China as it is about learning languages in general.

Since he doesn’t drive, phrases like “as for gas, is it expensive” don’t really help him out.  But he uses “fill her up please” when asking for a tea refill.  He also gets to say that he is a man with children since they do not have a phrase for “I am am middle aged homosexual…  with a niece I never see and a small godson.”

He recommends Pimsleur for pronunciations and memorization.  But he also likes Lonely Planet. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDRY CLEANING-“Her Hippo,”  and “Leafy” (album versions) (2020).

After listening to the Dry Cleaning Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, I wanted to hear the recorded versions since the blurb talked about how different they sounded.

Indeed, these versions sound very different from the Tiny Desk Concert.  Well, actually it’s the guitars sound very different because guitarist Tom Dowse is playing electric rather than acoustic.  But it changes the whole tone of the songs.

On the record, “Her Hippo” opens with quiet but sharp electric guitars that echo as the riff circles around. Lewis Maynard’s bass sounds the same, but Nick Buxton’s drums push this song into more of a rock territory (he played keys and electronic percussion in the Tint Desk)..

Florence Shaw’s vocal delivery is similar but perhaps a but more empathic while being heard over the more rocking band.  The middle part features just the rumbling bass and Dowse’s sharp (but simple) guitar solo.

“Unsmart Lady” opens with roaring, echoing wild guitars and thumping drums.  When he starts playing the main (weird) guitar chords they make more “sense” on the electric guitar, but they are still noisy and abrasive.  Dowse wrenches all kinds of screeching feedback and squeals out of his guitar.  The Tiny Desk version sounded really good, but this version is fantastic.

At the Tiny Desk “Leafy” was all delicate synth, but on the record, Dowse plays a kind of lead solo throughout the song–melodic and pretty while keeping the bass company.

I’m glad I listened to the recorded versions of these.  But I’m also glad I listened to the Tiny Desk (Home) Concert first, because hearing the structure of the songs was a great way to be unprepared for the distortion of the recorded versions.  I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of the record–and seeing them live.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “The Perfect Fit”

This is a hilarious essay about shopping in Tokyo.  It’s especially funny to imagine David and his sisters running around the city buying all manner of strange clothes.  Because if there’s one thing we know about the Sedaris family, it’s that they love odd items.

They stayed in Ebisu so they could shop at their favorite place Kapitol.  He talks about all of the delightfully odd clothes they sell there.  The store is still open, here’s a fun piece.

The store’s motto seems to be “why not?”  They make clothes that refuse to flatter you.   A shirt whose arm holes are not made like a capital T but like a lower case t. A jacket that poofs out at the small of your back where for no reason there’s a pocket.  He bought three hats that he wore stacked. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DRY CLEANING-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #232 (July 6, 2021).

I thought I was familiar with Dry Cleaning, but I’m thinking I heard them discussed on an All Song Considered episode and maybe even heard the song they played.  But that was almost nine months ago, and things were quite different then.  So it’s interesting to hear that their music doesn’t typically sound like the way this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert sounds.  [I really like the sound of this].

Up until now, Dry Cleaning’s post-Brexit post-punk relied on a robust dynamism of jagged, thudding lushness and a speak-song voice. It’s music that coos and quizzes at once. How energizing to hear Dry Cleaning recontextualize its established sound for a relatively subdued Tiny Desk performance from World of Echo, a record store in East London beloved to the British band.

Tom Dowse trades his effects pedals and electric guitar for an acoustic; its weird bends and weirder chords surprisingly complement the atmospheric keyboards and minimal beats of Nick Buxton, who’s normally on drums. Lewis Maynard’s bass doesn’t throttle at this volume, but still grooves.

It’s actually Maynard’s bass that you notice right away once “Her Hippo” opens.  After a grooving riff, Florence Shaw starts speaking (not even really speak-singing, just reciting).

The house is just twelve years old
Soft landscaping in the garden
An electrician stuck his finger in the plug hole
And shouted “Yabba”

The acoustic guitars sound great in contrast here–soft and ringing–while Shaw sneers

The last thing I looked at in this hand mirror
Was a human asshole

Between songs they joke around a bit (which belies their more serious sounding music).  Buxton plays some dancey music between songs as they get set up for the next track.

Brash and unusual (for an acoustic guitar anyway) chords open “Unsmart Lady” before the rumbling bass keeps the rhythm.  This time Florence speaks even more quietly

Fat podgy
Non make-up
Unsmart lady

The middle portion is a terrific juxtaposition of unusual chords and rumbling bass.

Florence Shaw’s voice [is] an instrument of resolute deadpan…. Some might call her delivery wry, even disaffected — her lyrics non-sequitur — but here a sly inquisitiveness inclines a smile (“I’d like to run away with you on a plane, but don’t bring those loafers”) and burns a harsh memory (“Never talk about your ex / Never, never, never, never, never slag them off / Because then they know”).

For “Leafy” Dowse puts away his guitar and heads behind the keyboard for washes of synths.  After a verse or so, the slow bass comes in adding rhythm to Shaw’s lyrics:

What are the things that you have to clear out?
Baking powder, big jar of mayonnaise
What about all the uneaten sausages?
Clean the fat out of the grill pan
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, now
Trying not to think about all the memories
Remember when you had to take these pills

Dowse returns to his guitar for “Viking Hair” (from an earlier EP).  This song has something of a main riff and Shaw actually seems to be humming before the lyrics begin.

Stick up for me, do what you’re told
But sometimes tell me what to do as well
I just want to sexually experiment in a nice, safe pair of hands
Don’t judge me, just hold still

A lot of times, especially with pop bands, I like the way a band sounds in their Tiny Desk and don’t like their recorded output.  But the blub makes me think I’d enjoy their original recordings even more.  So I’ll have to check that out.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Bravado”

(This story is about reprobates in Ireland.

It begins on Sunderland Avenue, where an Indian shop keeper is concerned about the group of five teens who approached the store.  He is closing up and they give him a hard time. The three boys are nasty but the girls are silent (this is unusual–usually the girls are drunk and terrible).  The shopkeeper pretends to be talking to the cops on the phone.

There were another two boys who had just left a club, they’d seen the band Big City.  And even though the had a mile walk home, they didn’t mind because the show was so good.

The fivesome included Manning and his girlfriend Aisling.  The other two boys, Kilroy and Donovan, were Manning’s mates. Ailsing found them harder and less enjoyable than Manning, but he hung out with them and she was stuck doing so as well. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SLEATER-KINNEY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #231 (July 1, 2021).

Sleater-Kinney were once an abrasive riot grrl band with vocals that were challenging and guitar riffs that were often abrasive.  The songs and the vocals intertwined in fascinating ways, making music like nobody else.

They took a lengthy hiatus and reemerged sounding a little different.  Then they released another album which sounded very different (so different that it caused Janet Weiss, holy drummer of the trio, to depart).

That album was not Sleater-Kinney.  It was good, very good in fact, it just wasn’t the same band.  Now, they’ve released another album and this one verges even further from their trio sound.

It’s still good, but it’s disconcerting that our two guitar-wielding singers aren’t playing much in the way of guitars.

“Path of Wellness” opens with a funky drum beat (from Vince Lirocchi) and bass.  Bass!  The gypsies had no home and Sleater-Kinney had no bass.  Well now they do in the form of Bill Athens.

On the previous album I bemoaned that Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s vocals didn’t intertwine like they used to.  It’s nice that the two sing the song together.  The vocals are much closer to traditional harmonies than untraditional S-K vocals.  But there is a bit of that wild S-K interchange in the voices.  And, once the song takes off in the middle though, Carrie plays some leads and Corin plays big loud chords.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein sing of human frailty and self-improvement, vibrating with low notes of disgust. Then Brownstein shoots Tucker a knowing smile as they sing, “You could never love me enough,” and the pair, who have been making music together for nearly 30 years, start to unwind things: Brownstein hisses “I am on a path of wellness” through gritted teeth before ripping into a four-note riff that feels like it’s pulling your guts out; Tucker sets her voice at maybe 75 percent howl capacity to sing “I feel like I’m unknown” and Brownstein still has to raise a hand to steady herself against the force. She can’t stop grinning.

“High In The Grass” feels looser and hazier than on the album;

“High In The Grass” has Corin playing the chords, Carrie playing the main riff and third guitarist Fabi Reyna playing the high lead read.  I don’t know if Corin would have normally played that or not, but having an extra guitar doesn’t hurt.

Corin sings this song rather delicately, in a kind of soft falsetto.  But when they get to the chorus is sounds like classic S-K vocals.

The guitars are pretty awesome in the middle part as all three women play different things  Corin is playing chords up and down the neck, Carrie has some riffage going on in the middle and Fabi is playing a scorching feedbacky solo.

Track three is a surprise.  Going back to 2002’s One Beat, they play the title song.  Corin and Carrie put down their guitars and keyboardist Galen Clark plays piano while Bill Athens plays bowed upright bass.

“One Beat” played with piano and bowed upright bass, making it that much easier to hear how, by the end, Tucker’s pleas and Brownstein’s yelp have been inextricably knitted together.

The album version is spare intertwined guitars and tribal drums–a very different sound.

“Worry With You” feels heavier [than the album].

The guitar riff sounds very S-K, and the guitars (and keys) do bring a heaviness to the proceedings.  The verses are jumpy and erratic but they resolve into one of their catchiest chrouses yet.

So yes, you can hear Sleater-Kinney in this album. But one aspect of the band is definitely gone.  Nevertheless, the core remains and it sounds terrific.

[READ: June 10, 2021]  “Standing By: Fear, loathing, flying.”

It was fascinating to read this article in 2021 because at the end he talks about fearing to ask the person near him on line who they voted for.  I wondered when he wrote this because it really applies to pretty much any election in the 21st century.

The essay opens with the joke that when your flight is delayed it’s a national tragedy–why isn’t this on the news!  But when you hear about it from someone else, it’s totally ho hum.

But mostly he gets to be snooty about his fellow passengers.  Like the guy next to him in a T-shirt and shorts:

It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this.  I’m going to Los Angeles.”

He also talks about flight attendant friends who have given him some insight.  “I’ll be right back” is code for “Go fuck yourself.”  When he asked another attendant how he dealt with unruly travelers, the answer (at the end of the essay) is very satisfying.

He talks about another flight in which he saw an old woman with her young grandchildren who were dressed beautifully–like children from a catalogue.  The boy was even wearing a tie–clip on, but that’s ok. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FROM THE TOP-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #230 (June 30, 2021).

Here’s three young classical performers playing some amazing piece of music.

From the Top is the radio program (distributed by NPR) that spotlights today’s terrific young players.

Teenagers from three locales around the country – Chicago, St. Louis and Palo Alto, Calif. – invite us into their homes for fresh takes on vintage classics, contemporary sounds and sophisticated pop arrangements.

Up first is a cello from Ifetayo Ali-Landing.  The song is by Yebba called  “Evergreen” (arr. Charles Yang).  I don’t know this song, but I really like it.  The cello sounds fantastic and the melody is delightfully complex and yet not unmelodic. I love the way she occasionally bounces the bow off the strings, for a really neat effect–very percussive.

Ifetayo Ali-Landing, an outstanding 18-year-old cellist from Chicago starts us off. She’s already performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and given her own TEDx talk. One of her calling cards is this propulsive performance of “Evergreen,” a pop song by Yebba, arranged for solo cello.

Up next is a guitar duo by Jack and Elle Davisson.  They play Paulo Bellinati’s “Jongo.” This is their favorite duo performance because of the rhythm and the beat.  Jack opens with some wonderful classical fingering and then Elle follows with a similar melody.  Then Jack plays a lead while Elle taps out a rhythm on the strings.  But from there it’s hard to pick out who is doing what–each player has something special and complicated going on.  Elle plays some lovely harmonics and a kind of bass string solo while Jack picks the complicated lead.  And just when you think you get the whole piece, the two of them play a lengthy percussive section tapping and slapping on all parts of their guitars–a drum solo in the middle of this classical piece.

Pairing up in Palo Alto, the Davisson Guitar Duo features Jack, 16, and his sister Elle, 13. Their signature piece is the rhythmically driven Jongo, which offers flavors from composer Paulo Bellinati’s native Brazil. The siblings finish each other’s musical phrases with startling lyrical precision.

The final piece is solo piano by Jerry Chang.  He performs Franz Schubert: “Impromptu Op. 90, No. 3.”  It sounds amazing and his description of the song that it reminds him of being in a garden, is really interesting.

Seventh-grader Jerry Chang, clad in his comfy exercise shorts, closes this cross-country Tiny Desk from home, playing Schubert’s G-flat major Impromptu like someone twice his age. The gentle, rippling effects he gets from his still-growing 13-year-old hands, and the way he makes Schubert’s wistful melody sing, is astonishing.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Now We Are Five”

Only Davis Sedaris could find humor in his sister committing suicide.  This piece is very poignant and quite moving but there’s still dark humor in there.

I begins by saying that his parents had six children and people were always startled to hear his.  Six kids!  But now that Tiffany had killed herself, they were only five.

Six months before she killed herself David rented a house on Emerald Isle in North Carolina.  The family had gone there when they were kids and he thought it would be a fun way for the family to get together.

When they were kids David always grabbed the master bedroom until he was kicked out.  Then he often wound up staying in the maid’s room–which was usually outside. The others banded together against him, since he was clearly the weakest at this point. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAHANI TEAVE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #228 (June 24, 2021).

Who knew there was a thriving musical scene on Easter Island?  But what I found more interesting in this Tiny Desk (Home) Concert was the ecological work that was done there.  When Teave gives a tour of the building, it is inspired–such great use of six years of recycled resources wit ha technique called “Earthship Biotecture”

Tiny Desk (home) concerts have visited many faraway places – from Lang Lang in China to Mdou Moctar in Niger – but none as far-flung as Easter Island. The 63-square-mile isle, called Rapa Nui by its residents, is located some 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile.

And yes, classical music thrives there – thanks largely to Mahani Teave, the pianist who offers this engaging performance from the music school she co-founded. As a child, Teave saw the first piano brought to the island in 1992 and dreamed of becoming a world-class concert pianist. It was a dream she fulfilled, but just as she was poised to launch her international career, an even stronger dream tugged at her heart.

In 2014, she broke ground on the Toki School of Music, aiming to teach traditional and classical music to Easter Island’s children. Constructed from over 2,500 used tires and 60,000 cans and bottles, the building, with its cisterns and solar power, is a testament to Teave’s vision for sustainability.

Teave plays three pieces.

She begins with a sparkling Allemande by Handel,

George Frideric Handel: “Suite No. 5 in E, II. Allemande” is a beautiful piece that really shows off her musical chops.

followed by a beguiling performance of a Chopin Nocturne.

This sounds lovely and serene.  It’s amazing to watch her long fingers play these keys so elegantly.  This song is much longer than the first piece and goes through several modes of intensity.

Teave closes with an ancestral song, featuring sisters Eva and Tama Tucki Dreyer. The story follows Rapa Nui’s first king, whose reign coincided with a natural disaster. It’s a metaphor, Teave says, for our planet, to “leave this place a little bit better than how we found it.” With her fine playing and her music school, Teave has done exactly that.

The girls sing the oprning of “I hē a Hotumatu’a e hura nei” while Teave plays.  After a verse, they move off camera and Teave plays a lengthy instrumental that begins mildly but really shows off some impressive fingerwork by the end.   The girls come back in to end the song.

[READ: July 10, 2021] “Featherweight”

This was the first story I’ve read by HolyWhiteMountain.  I really enjoyed the intimate look at Native families.  And HolyWhiteMountain’s writing style was really engaging.  But eventually, the story got bogged down in reveling in sex and it got a little boring.

He says that he had been off the res for about a year when he first met his love.  They were both going to school at U. Clarkson and he felt that he had already been acculturated.  He was happy with this acculturation because he wanted to know what the rest of America was all about.  He lists all of the white women he dated including Barbara who called him her “favorite Indian toy.”  He called her Barbie, they had “two- or three- or four-times-in-a-night nights”  But they broke up when she said “I always wanted to be Native American.”

But it was tough dating Native American girls because his Granma and aunts always said she could be so-and-so’s daughter.  But they also didn’t want any half-breed babies.

A lot of indians belong to the Church of Latter-Day Eugenicists… Brown-skin supremacists. That’s just how they are.

Then he found a woman–Allie–from a “tribe his tribe used to kill,” so it was okay to get her number.   Allie was a pretty interesting character.  She was smart and academic–writing papers about racism in America and giving presentations about her work. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LIZ PHAIR-Tiny Desk Concert #227 (June 23, 2021).

I loved Liz Phair’s first two or three albums.  Then I got a little bored by her.  And then she went really aggressively commercial (to not so great effect).  This new single “Spanish Doors” sounds a lot like old school Phair but retains some pop sensibility in the super catchy bridge.

Liz Phair’s music was always meant to fill arenas. After a clever sleight-of-hand at the top of this Tiny Desk (home) performance, where it briefly seems we’ve returned to in-person sets behind Bob Boilen’s desk, Phair and her backing band do their best to recreate the kind of set you’d see in a much larger space; everyone plugs-in, turns it up and rocks with an impressive light show.

Phair plays three tracks from Soberish, her first new album in more than a decade.

She starts with “Spanish Doors,” a heartbreaking but hooky portrait of a marriage nearing its end.

It rocks a bit harder here with three guitars (Phair, Connor Sullivan), with lead solos from Cody Perrin.  Liz seems surprisingly nervous here–or maybe her patter is rusty.

She follows with a song against loneliness called “In There.”

It’s a mellow song with snapping drums (Neal Daniels) and rumbling bass (Ben Sturley).  It’s almost sounds like Liz Phair of old but is missing something.

followed by “The Game,” a meditation on the mind games that sabotage troubled relationships.

Liz switches to acoustic guitar for this one–and her guitar sounds wonderful.  There’s some terrific harmonies on this corner which really does sound like old school Liz.

Phair still finds joy and a playful sense of humor in her earliest work, closing her Tiny Desk with a generous version of “Never Said,” from Exile.

I loved Exile in Guyville and listened to it all the time.  It’s great to hear “Never Said” live like this.  When she played a few years ago, I didn’t feel the need to go, but if she played more of these older song (and the newer ones), I’m sure it would be an enjoyable show.

[READ: July 9, 2021] “Heirs”

This was an unusual story in which reality is never fully explained.

A man, Aryeh Zelnik, is resting on a hammock on his porch.  A second man pulls up in a car and heads to the porch.

The story goes into remarkably great detail about the man with his car–how he looks, what he does, even how he smells (not great).

We also learn a lot about the man on the porch.  His wife has left him and now lives in America (the story is set in Israel).  He has moved back in with his mother and is more or less waiting for her to die so that house can revert to him.

The man who arrives in the car, though, begins talking about legal issues.  At first he is very circumspect about what he really wants.

Would it be more comfortable for you if we were to chat awhile longer about [the loveliness of the land here]? Or will you allow me to go straight, without any circumlocution, to our little agenda?

Aryeh Zelnik is suspicious if not downright annoyed by this man who claims to have official business but who keeps avoiding details and calling him Zelkin. (more…)

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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: MERRY CLAYTON-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #222 (June 9, 2021).

Merry Clayton is a woman who every music fan has heard but probably doesn’t know it.

 Clayton has been making great music for almost 60 years. Clayton is one of rock’s most important backup singers (for starters, see The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and Carole King’s Tapestry). She recorded several excellent solo albums that never broke big, but eventually received the recognition she deserved in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

Clayton is not singing rock in this set, she is firmly in the gospel tradition.  And her voice still sounds amazing.

Members of The Waters and Take 6 (Maxine Waters, Julie Waters, Oren Waters, Alvin Chea and Alfie Siles) provide excellent backing vocals.

Merry Clayton’s Tiny Desk concert begins with the essentials. After a brief piano intro, she begins to sing “Beautiful Scars” — the title track of her new album — in a powerful and knowing voice.

Terry Young plays the slow piano and Nathan East provides the soft bass.

In 2014, she was in a serious car accident that required months in the hospital and extensive rehabilitation. With encouragement from her longtime friend and producer Lou Adler she decided to record a new album.

“Oh What a Friend,” written by Terry Young, features soaring call-and-response vocals between Clayton and the vocalists.

Charles Fearing’s guitar is not really noticeable amid the piano and bass but Harvey Mason’s drums snap and pop on the beat.

They conclude with a stirring and joyous version of Sam Cooke’s 1956 classic “Touch the Hem of His Garment.”

This song is acapella with the backing singers providing all of the music (including the foot stomps, maybe).  I love the bass notes from Alvin Chea.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Spirit at Summer’s End”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features three pieces of fiction and three poems.

The final piece is a poem.  And it is summer themed.

Indeed, it is a visceral account of the end of the season:

scent

dust

bent straw

bee music

shrunken honeysuckle

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MEN I TRUST-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #224 (June 16, 2021).

I hadn’t heard of Men I Trust, one of the more interesting new band names out there, but I really like their sound.  It’s a kind of gentle synth pop that seems to flow so effortlessly from French-speaking singers (even when they sing in English).

Men I Trust was initially the duo of high school friends Dragos Chiriac (keyboards) and Jessy Caron (guitars), before adding vocalist Emma Proulx in 2015 and recording the group’s debut album, Headroom. (They expanded to a quintet for this performance, with Cedric Martel handling bass and Eric Maillet on drums.)

The band straddle the line between interesting indie rock and 70s soft rock.  In fact even the setting straddles that line.

From a rustic and retro-looking cabin on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, the band Men I Trust seized the essence of the Tiny Desk almost to a tee. The controlled, yet layered four-song set, bookended by tracks from 2019’s Oncle Jazz would almost certainly make for a plug-and-play situation had it been behind Bob Boilen’s desk.

“Show Me How” leans away from the soft rock with a pretty guitar intro and some nice bass work.  Proulx’s voice has that softness that lures you in.  The shift to the chorus is a really nice chord change too.

The band’s style sways between rubbery upbeat electro-pop and the muddy pace evident on last year’s “Lucky Sue,” but generally hits that sweet spot for anybody looking to be cradled and carried by a vibe-y groove

“Lucky Sue” opens with a wah-wah guitar intro that sounds like synth.  Caron also makes some really cool chords on his guitar–he gets some really interesting sounds from it.

 The song “Humming Man,” was its first official single as a trio and they never looked back from there.

“Humming Man” opens with thumping drums and a soft synth chord progression.  Again Caron play a wah wah filled riff but also gets some really interesting guitar sounds–almost like a reverse wall of chords that he stretches out to a lengthy solo for the end of the song.

I’m fascinated to read that

The overdubs and reverb on Emma’s vocals are stripped away here, leaving a deceptively endearing quality to her voice.

Her voice here isn’t full of reverb, but I can’t imagine doing much processing to her delicate voice.  “All Night” sounds very nice–whispery and inviting even if this song veers a little too far into soft rock territory.  Caron’s solo takes up more than half of this song, and I found myself missing Proulx’s voice by the end.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Private Hands”

This month’s issue of The Walrus is the Summer Reading issue and features three pieces of fiction and three poems.

The fifth piece is a short story about provenance and ownership.

The narrator works as a (poorly) paid assistant to Harvey, a wealthy collector.  Harvey had made his money in pesticides and was worth about $200 million.  Harvey bought things with the intent of upselling them.  Disney merch always sold well.  But Harvey had a few things that were hard to sell, like Jimi Hendrix’ 1963 Fender Strat.

Paul was a buyer.  Harvey tried to sell him the Hendrix for $500,000 but he wasn’t biting.  Normally Harvey would haggle, but he had overpaid for this, and wouldn’t budge.

Harvey had a few other interesting items (a test pressing of Led Zeppelin III), but Paul really wanted guitars.  (more…)

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