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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JOSEPH KECKLER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #223 (June 14, 2021).

I saw Joseph Keckler open for Sleater-Kinney.  I’d never heard of him and had no idea what to expect.

He had videos and sang funny lyrics.  And then, POW, he had the most amazing operatic bass voice I’d ever heard.

You can hear that about two minutes into the first song here.

“My love called me many names,” Joseph Keckler sings in “GPS Song,” which opens his Tiny Desk (home) concert. He proceeds to list them: “Baby animal. Little baby animal. Big baby animal. Black chicken.” (It goes on like this for some time.)

“GPS Song” — which is sung partly in a made-up language and evolves to feature the titular navigation system droning in the background of a breakup — is one of Keckler’s hallmark absurdist arias, which he performs with a commanding presence and a winking, deadpan delivery. While their content is quirky (another features the narrator’s relapse into a teenage goth identity), it’s not quite right to call them strictly funny; they’re infused with a kind of intimate, observational detail that makes them simultaneously comedic and affecting. (“It was the most heartbreaking moment of my life,” Keckler once said of the situation that inspired “GPS Song,” “yet it was also so ridiculous to have this disrupting automaton, breaking our silence to misdirect us at every moment.” This performance captures that ridiculousness and heartbreak equally.)

The music is wonderful.  Gorgeous piano from Matthew Dean Marsh.  Michael Hanf bows his guitar for rumbling low chords.  Two minutes in Lavinia Pavlish joins on violin and Keckler shows just how amazing his voice is.  Even if the lyrics are comic.

Is it funny?  Yes.  Baby potato?  Yes.  And also when he finds his love’s text messages (in operatic Italian) to “Baby Zebra” and when he sings “Google translate: ‘god is a bicycle, ride slow’ nothing made sense.”  Or when in the middle of the operatic intensity the GPS says (in English) recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.

But not everything is funny.

“City” has a bouncy piano with lovely violin from.  because of the slow operatic way he sings this song (in English) it’s a little hard to follow the words.  But again musically, it’s so interesting.  In the middle, there’s a cool soaring moment when both violin and Michael Hanf play a high scratchy descending note.

So who is this guy?

A classically trained singer, performance artist and writer whose work spans styles and genres, Keckler turns his Tiny Desk (home) concert, shot in Brooklyn, into a showcase of his dynamism as a performer.

For “Goth Song” he sits at the piano and says, “I used to work in a music library but one day…” That is not idle banter, it is the introduction to the song–the story of his descent into a teenage goth.  It’s very funny hearing him singing these things in his amazingly deep operatic German.

He ends with “Appearances” another song sung in English.  Michael Hanf swipes a bow across his guitar to generate an echoing chord.  Hanf also plays the low bass on the synth (and even a cymbal midway through).  Again, this song is not comic, but it really shows off his voice nicely.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Giganto”

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

The third piece is a short story.

It’s an interesting look at infighting in an under-funded and under-appreciated university department.

There are four people in the truck, a truck that’s off-roading until they have to start using the ATVs.  Dr. Krentz is head of the department.  The narrator, Melinda, is Dr. Krentz’ (poorly) paid assistant.  She intends to hang on to this job until Krentz retires and then take it over herself.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Camryn is Dr Krentz’ intern.  Melinda fears that Camryn, who is young (pretty) and full of energy, is looking to steal her own job.  And then there’s Nigel.  Nigel was some rando who “appreciated the doctor’s work.”  He was hoping to interview Dr. Krentz for his upcoming book on megafauna in North America.   Krentz was flattered and Nigel was a pain in the ass. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ROSTAM-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #221 (June 8, 2021).

Rostam Batmanglij was a founding member of Vampire Weekend and I was really quite bummed when he left (it was on good terms, apparently).

I assumed that his solo music would be very different from Vampire Weekend, but I never thought it would sound like this folkie sit-in.

Rostam and a group of backing musicians play two cuts from … Changephobia, a collection of songs that simultaneously look to the past and the future.

They opens with the

relatively breezy, escapist ballad “4Runner.”  It opens with Julian McClanahan Calvert on mandolin and Logan Kane on upright bass.  Conor Malloy plays some cool muted drums (with brushes) as Rostam sings in his soft croon.  Rostam himself doesn’t start playing the guitar until almost half way through before he jumps on the harmonica.

The band is sitting ion a circle with the camera on a track around them

My great-grandmother always used to say, “Life is a train. People get on. People get off.” And it just keeps going. Watching Rostam’s Tiny Desk performance, it’s easy to imagine you’re on that life-train, traveling around and around, catching glimpses of instruments and faces as they pass by, before coming back where you started. It’s a clever, if sometimes dizzying nod to the overarching themes of Rostam’s Changephobia.

For the reflective “These Kids We Knew,” Benji Lysagh starts the song with guitar.  McClanahan Calvert has switched to guitar as well.  Rostam plays a few lead licks, which are more of a nice riff for the song than anything approximating a solo.  Henry Solomon switches from congas to harmonica for this song.

The group closes with “In a River,” a one-off single from 2018 that sits perfectly alongside the newer songs as he recalls a warm night skinny dipping with a friend.

“In a River” opens with Julian McClanahan Calvert on mandolin.  Solomon adds some deep bass notes from his drum pads.  As the song nears the end, Rostam whoops, Benji Lysaght plays a quiet solo in the middle and Logan Kane bows the upright bass.

The setting feels perfect for a song like this. If only the candles were a campfire.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Observed and Observing, That’s Him”

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

The fourth piece is a poem. It reads a bit like flash fiction, but it’s really good, even with the odd title.

It begins with a man on a roof doing repairs.

I love the way the story describes him from “the glances from the backyard across the street.”  He is a shambles of a man with holes in his clothes.  And while on that ladder, he looks like a man “barely hanging on.”

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOM JONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #220 (June 7, 2021).

Tom Jones does not look as sexy as he once did (he was 81 on June 7), but wow his voice is as powerful as ever.

It’s a poignant moment in the life of a singer whose career spans 56 years and more than 100 million records sold; the passing of his wife, Linda, in 2016 after 59 years of marriage was devastating and resulted in the longest break between recordings of his career. But now Tom Jones is back with a new album, Surrounded By Time, and ready to share his deepest feelings, channeling songs by others with a voice still rich and muscular.

Jones may be 81, but you can see the generations of musicians who want to play with him here.  Stephanie Ward (with a great organ sound) could be his granddaughter and I’ve seen drummer Jeremy Stacey play with King Crimson!

The songs on the album (and for this Tiny Desk) deal so eloquently with time and aging. Tom Jones sings Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” and going “down to the valley below.”

“One More Cup of Coffee” opens with some slow upright bass  and gentle drums.  I love Ward’s organ sound on this track.  Spare but perfect.

Then, he takes on Malvina Reynolds’ folk tune “There’s No Hole In My Head” and turns it into a fierce statement about being yourself.

For “There’s No Hole In My Head” Ethan Johns gets a surprisingly Indian (sitar?) sound out of his guitar.  Nick Pini switches to electric bass and Jeremy adds percussive sounds to his drums.  Tom really belts out the song.

He ends the set with “I’m Getting Old” a slow, sad ballad.  Ward plays piano and Jones sings these words.

When Tom Jones was 33, and after one of his infamous shows in Las Vegas, jazz composer Bobby Cole presented him with the song “I’m Growing Old.” With lyrics including “I’m growing dimmer in the eyes / I’m growing fainter in my talk / I’m growing deeper in my sighs / I’m growing slower in my walk.” Tom Jones didn’t feel old enough to do it justice, but he held on to it. His performance here brought me to tears and is well worth the wait.

I love to think of Jones as a young stud belting out songs.  Hearing him singing about being old is pretty intense.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Dream Fragment”

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

The second piece is a poem. It is about the winter, which is a little odd for a summer reading issue.

An unnamed woman was seen at her door speaking to each of the seasons.  She had a clear preference for winter.

The weather was jealous and would see what it could make of her face. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HOLD STEADY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #219 (June 23, 20210).

sudan

I have never seen The Hold Steady, but I have seen Craig Finn solo (which seems like the same thing to me).  I never really liked them all that much, although he was great live.  It’s the spoken/sung delivery (that sounds a little too much like Bruce Springsteen) that makes all the songs sound the same to me.  I feel like there’s a story in each song and his delivery makes me tune out of the words.  Oops.

But for its first-ever full-band Tiny Desk appearance, the group squeezed behind a cramped backstage corner of the Brooklyn Bowl, COVID mask protocol in place.  Illuminated by string lights, the band ran through tracks from its latest album, Open Door Policy, kicking off with “Heavy Covenant” as a swell of clarinets and trumpets round out the sound

“Heavy Covenant” opens with an accordion from Franz Nicolay with Craig Finn singing.  After a verse or two Stephen Selvidge and Tad Kubler bring in the guitars.  Halfway through, The Horn Steady add clarinet (Stuart Bogie and Peter Hess) and trumpet (Jordan McLean).

Though the lineup consisted of its current supersized iteration – featuring both Steve Selvidge on guitar and multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay back on accordion – the band scaled back its swagger for the space. Here, the recurring “Woos!” on the recorded version of “Unpleasant Breakfast” become softer and more subtle;

For “Unpleasant Breakfast” Bobby Drake starts the song with some hi hat claps before Tad Kubler adds in chords and Stephen Selvidge adds in solo notes.  You can hear Galen Polivka’s bass pretty clearly (even if he is hidden behind Finn).  Normally I don’t like the addition of horns on songs, but these gentle additions (maybe its the clarinet sound) add perfects accents.  After what felt like three minutes of the same melody the song changes gears and gets really big and swaying–and I started paying attention again.

The surf sounds of “Riptown” still rolick, but with restraint that suits the setting.

Finn says “Riptown” is a fictitious place that they should now visit.  The claps are a nice addition as are the horns (once again).

“Parade Days” is a bonus song (it didn’t make the vinyl).  I like the drama of the opening guitars and the accordion build up.

[READ: July 1, 2021] “Dream Fragment”

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

The second piece is a poem. It is about the winter, which is a little odd for a summer reading issue.

This story, about many things, but focusing on the moment children are taken from their parents, is a tough read.

The story is also not set at a specific time or place.  Some clues are given.  The parents are called Amma and Appa but those words are used in both Korean and Tamil.  The opening line asks, How do you find sweet syrup at the end of the world?

Things were bad.  The family would soon head into the basement and then “see if there was still an upstairs.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CARRTOONS, KAELIN ELLIS, KIEFER AND THE KOUNT-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #229 (June 28, 2021).

This is one of the more unusual Tiny Desk Concerts that I’ve seen.  Essentially the NPR team asked these musicians to make remixes of NPR theme music.  I haven’t heard of any of the musicians before, but I gather they are well known and regarded.

Over the past year and some change, beatmakers Carrtoons, Kaelin Ellis, Kiefer, and The Kount took to social media individually and often collaboratively to cook up productions, often resulting in viral moments and never-seen-before glimpses into their creative process.  As we continue to celebrate 50 years of NPR, Tiny Desk was determined to take part. To honor the iconic themes from our news programs, we asked these four producers to come up with their own spin on the All Things Considered theme (written by Don Voegeli) the Morning Edition theme and the theme for Weekend Edition (both written by B.J. Leiderman).

The blurb describes them as beatmakers. I don’t know what that means exactly (in my mind it has nothing to do with instruments), but for this set, each guy plays an instrument or two.  Clockwise from the bottom left Kaelin Ellis: drums, The Kount: percussion, Kiefer: piano, keyboards and Carrtoons: bass.

Most of the themes are under 30 seconds, so it’s interesting to hear them stretched out.  It’s also interesting that they didn’t simply play the theme and them jam it.  each one uses a part of the theme, but the songs go in very different directions.  The addition of bass and drums certainly changes the sound, as does their new jazzier feel.

“All Things Considered (Remix by Carrtoons)” Kiefer plays a variant of the original (quite similar) and then plays a kind of staccato piano like the news urgency music.  I like the way those original eight notes keep returning.   This new song is all of 1 minute long.

“Morning Edition (Remix by Kaelin Ellis)”  This one sounds really different with an intro (lots of bass and drums).  It’s not until the middle that the jazzy chords reveal themselves as the Morning Edition melody.  I feel like you can’t hear all that much percussion on these tracks although the bongos are audible here.  and I like the little cymbals near the end.  This song is about two minutes,

“Weekend Edition (Remix by Kiefer)” I like that this one opens with that iconic ascending melody, but dissipates smoothly.  It’s also interesting that the middle melody is still there, only stretched out. Kaelin’s drums are pretty great on this track and Carrtoons’ bass is pivotal throughout.

[READ: June 1, 2021] The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone

S. read book three in this series, not realizing it was book 3.  She then read the books in reverse order, ending with this one.

Well, I decided to read them in the correct order.  And while I haven’t read 2 or 3 yet, book 1 was fantastic.   I loved everything about this book–the plot, the illustrations and especially the writing style

Jaclyn Moriarty has created a hilarious and thoughtful young narrator and the ways in which she has to deal with adults makes for some very funny scenes indeed.

The premise is that Bronte Mettlestone is ten years old and has just found out that her parents were killed by pirates. She’s not really that upset though because she never knew them.  They abandoned her at the doorstep of an aunt when she was just a baby.  They were adventurers and couldn’t be tied down by a child.

The humor comes right away, with the announcement that Bronte’s parents were killed.  They receive a telegram which says that they were “taken out by cannon fire.” Aunt Isabelle is furious about that phrase.  Could they not have chosen a less flippant turn of phrase?

So Bronte was raised by her aunt Isabelle with help from The Butler.  They see that her parents will says that Bronte must take a series of trips, by herself to visit all of her other aunts and give them each a present (the present is included with the will).  The details of the trip are spelled out in very specific detail–how long she is to stay with each Aunt and how to get from one to the next.  To make things worse, the will has been sealed wit faery stitching, which means if she doesn’t do what the will says, there will be terrible consequences.  Essentially Bronte must follow these rules exactly or OR PEOPLE COULD DIE!

So obviously this is world where magic exists, although Bronte herself has had little exposure to magic.  She says the only thing she knows about magic comes from the book The History of the Kingdoms and Empires.

There are two types of magic that are worked by thread.  There was bright thread which was used by True Mages like Faeries and elves and water sprites.  Then there was shadow thread used by dark Mages like witches and Sterling Silver Foxes.  The third kind was binding thread which Spellbinders used to stop Shadow Magic from doing its work. Initially the thread was real, but now they can do their magic with imaginary thread.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Jackson Triggs, St.Catharines, ON (August 12, 2017).

I have been catching up on the last few remaining recent (relatively) shows that the Rheostatics played.  These are all shows since the release of Here Comes the Wolves.

Great soundboard show from the beautiful Jackson Triggs Winery stage with Kevin Hearn on Keys/vocals and Hugh Marsh on violin. Very chatty show with one of the longest stretches of banter I can recall at over 8 minutes of straight comedy.

The show begins with the spoken introduction from Group of 7 “A tall white pine stands between me and the tree I’m trying to see … also a tall white pine.”  Then Martin starts a gentle “Northern Wish.”  It’s followed by “Legal Age Life” which has a wild keyboard solo.  Kevin continues to shine on a lengthy intro for Dave Clark’s fun new song “Supecontroller.”  It’s kind of a dopey song but it’s one of my favorites.

Kevin says to the audience, Say hello to Dave Clark.”  Dave says Jackson Triggs has treated us fine and gave us all kinds of good food.  (and plenty of wine).

A delicate “Music is the Message with lots of violin including a solo.  Kevin introduces Tim and Dave tells a joke about the difference between a piece of cheese and a piece of string that I don’t get (something about crickets).  And then someone talks about playing and there were crickets after every song–it was pretty rough.
After a boppy “Easy to Be with You,” Kevin plays keys like at an ice skating rink as a segue into a soaring “Stolen Car” with a lengthy solo form Martin and Hugh.
They thank the opening band  Common Deer and say that High and Kevin will be with them all summer long: Hugh Marsh Kevin Hearn Summer Experience.  Tickets: $5.99 at your local fairground.
They mention CDs and Martin in great, funny form says, we’ve lived through many formats.  The wax cylinder the vinyl disc, the compact disc (Tim: “they said they’d never skip but all mine skip now”). Martin: they skip in the most painful, digital…  the universe conspired to make it more annoying than previously existed.  When a vinyl skipped you’d go hmm, weird did they write that like that?  When a CD skips deh deh deh deh deh–a drill to the center of the mind.  Unless you’re a Squarepusher.  Hugh had many intentional skips on his recording–the king of the skip.
Don’t bug Hugh.  Hugh has no way to defend himself except for his instrument.  Sure he does, he’s the best looking dude in the band.  And he’s like 73.
DB says, from 2067 it’s “PIN.”  I really got my FM radio voce on tonight huh?
Dave you’ve always had a voice that is delightful on the radio as when you hosted Brave New Waves in the early sixties?
DB says Dave Clark influenced my life so much when he said “Do you want to be someone playing the bands on the radio or do you want to be the band?”
Martin: That’s very good advice Dave Clark and also demeaning to people who promote  our music and celebrate it.  My opinion of you has changed.  You told that story and now I hate you.  Dave Clark does not have that fulsome overtone.  DC: But Ii have a better personality.  My teeth would have been straight by now.  How does the teeth work into that? CBC benefits! CBC teeth.
That could have been you on Corner Gas.
Dave Clark says he has a show to pitch to the CBC.
Kevin: I have an idea for this show–play the next song.
Kevin plays in Barenaked Ladies and they talk a lot. Kevin was so excited to play with us here as a band who doesn’t go on talking about nonsensical things.
Kevin: You’re even worse.  Dave B: “way worse.”
Martin: Kevin before BNL you were in a band called The Look People   “5 is the number that makes me want to boogie.”
After “PIN,” there’s some scratching sounds and a Mr. Rogers intro into Michael Jackson.   Nice harmonies at the end.
Soaring keys swell for the intro to “California Dreamline.”  Martin gets a little wild singing in the dolphins part.  Keyboard washes segue into “Claire.”
Big shout to those who came down form St. Catharine’s a city that supports the arts.  When I think of Niagara Falls. i think of Dale Morningstar and his shenanigans.  Ron Sexmith
Can I tell you one of Ron Sexsmith’s original jokes?  Hey, did I just sit in maple syrup?  You bet your sweet ass you did.
Kevin: By the way I was told we’re good for time as long as we don’t do any more fifteen minute intros.  Man they run a tight ship around her.
DB to an audience member: Want to come up and model our new shirt?  No I’m not going to sign it now, I’m working.  It says nothing on the back.  You can write your own inspirational phrase on the back.
Kevin: Are you finished?
DB: Yes but I was selling merch it’s important.
MT: This is from Saskatchewan the Musical (that’s bound to be next).  Martin sings:
I don’t know what I’m doing here
I feel so different from everyone else in this town
Saskatchewan.”
Coming in the fall of 2025.
Then martin gets serious, and sings the song properly but sings the end in a slurry drunken way.
Then introduces: “This is Queer: The Musical.”
A jam in the meddle where Kevin plays nearly two minutes of keyboard fills before they jump to the bouncing ending.  It’s followed by a lively “Dope Fiends featuring a lengthy drum solo.
At the end as they sing “dark side of the moooooon,” Tim starts playing Pink Floyd’s “Money.”
After an encore break, Kevin comes out and starts playing pretty chords.  “Shaved Head” sounds very different with gentle keys.
It’s a great summer set and a very fun show.

[READ: April 21, 2021] Backwards

I’m not sure what got me on my recent Red Dwarf reading kick (finding out that they had just released a new series on DVD was certainly a spark).  I was sure I had read all of these books before and yet none of them were familiar to me at all.

The Grant Naylor team wrote two books and the second one ended on a cliffhanger.

Then for reasons I’m not willing to look into, both Rob Grant and Doug Naylor each wrote a sequel to that book.  But neither book is like the other and they both go in very different directions.  Naylor’s book was really dark and very violent.

Grant’s book is also dark but in very different ways.

The previous book ended with an old Lister being sent to a planet where everything goes backwards so that he can de-age to about the same age he was when he was on the series.  They plan to meet him 36 years later at Niagara Falls.

But this book opens with a prologue about Arnold Rimmer aged 7 and how he continues to fail in school.  His teachers suggest he be held back, but his mother interferes and that lets him move on.

Then the book starts properly with the crew of Red Dwarf: Rimmer, Cat and Kryten landing on Reverse World and trying to locate Lister.  Because everything goes in reverse (which takes some time to wrap your head around) all of your actions are predetermined.  And, essentially, if you do something dangerous, you know that if you’re not already hurt, you won’t get hurt because you would be hurt to start with.  What?  You’ve already jumped off the cliff, now, you’re doing it backwards.  But you already landed, so you’d already be hurt and going backwards would un-hurt you.

It also means that you un-eat food, good to sleep when you are refreshed, wake up when you’re tired.  And you don’t even want to think about going to the bathroom. (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: BUZZY LEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #218 (June 2, 2021).

Everybody sounds better in the bathroom, right?

There’s a comfort to be found singing in a bathroom; we all sound better with our voices bouncing off the tiles. For Sasha Spielberg, a.k.a. Buzzy Lee, she took it a step further, recording her Tiny Desk (home) concert in her childhood bathroom, which her parents decorated with images of fairytales.  … “I’d spend hours on end in here dreaming of singing in front of people. It’s also where I wrote my first song, age 5, ‘You’re Just Like Pie Crust.’ It was a pop song. Huge hit.”

Buzzy Lee’s Home Tiny Desk is filmed in her bathroom.  The show opens with her sitting on the edge of her tub playing the keys and gently singing “Strange Town.”  After 43 seconds, she adds a bass note with a second keyboard and the song fleshes out.  But when the camera pulls back you can see Adam Gunther sitting in the bathtub playing modular synth and modular bass (it sounds really good later in the song).

After a minute and a half the song changes from soft washes to a super catchy synth riff and Jorge Balbi Castellano who has been sitting on the toilet all this time, starts adding electronic drums.  Once the riff kicks in the song is really catchy and Spielberg’s voice proves to have a lot of different sounds (including a really cool mic that is like an echo chamber unto itself).

For the rest of the four song set

we hear songs and tales with different themes: obsession, love, attachment, and self-doubt, all filled with playful wordplay and her passionate voice.

It’s weird to hear her ask Gunther to “pull up the file for ‘Coolhand.'”  But it’s all smiles as he “types” in to the keyboard on the tiniest Tiny Desk yet.  This song is poppy and bouncy with some really fun singing in the verses.

When the song ends, she says “We’re going to play ‘Spoiled Love,'” and hands Jorge a newspaper.  He puts down his sticks to read while sitting on the trouble.  This song is a gentle ballad (with no drums).  I love the use of that crazy echoing microphone.

To start the final song, “What Has A Man Done,” she reaches over and “starts” the computer.  Her keyboard has a really soulful sound as she sings this slow, moody piece.  I love the way her voice goes from deep to a really high falsetto as it shifts from verse to chorus.

[READ: June 1, 2021] Heartstopper 1

Sometimes a simple love story which is told very well, can be a real joy to read.  It’s even better when there are wonderful illustrations.

The story opens on Charlie (a quiet boy) and Ben (a much louder boy) kissing in the library at school.  But the bell rings and class starts–and Ben seems a little jerky.

Charlie has a note that says he’s in a new class with kids from all four grades in it.  Charlie is in grade ten and he is placed with Nicholas Nelson an 11th grader.  As their eyes meet, the title–Heartstopper–flashes across the page

Nick is a big strong guy–a rugby player–and although he is very nice to Charlie, Charlie assumes that Nick is messing with him.  Charlie doesn’t trust the jocks–and with good reason.  When it got out that Charlie was gay (in an all boys school) news travelled fast and people weren’t nice to him.  But he seems to be pretty well accepted now–at least by some. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FAT JOE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #217 (June 1, 2021).

This Tiny Desk (Home) Concert opens with big chords from Eric Whatley’s bass and Simon Martinez’ guitar.  Then some record scratching from DJ Ted Smooth and crashing cymbals from Rashid Williams.

Fat Joe walks into a shop and is handed a mic as the Eugene “Man-Man” Roberts plays a menacing melody on the keys.  I like Fat Joe’s vocal style but “My Lifestyle” is just another story of bitches n’ hos.

A founding member of the D.I.T.C. (Diggin’ In the Crates) crew, Fat Joe Da Gangsta has managed to last nearly 30 years and multiple generations in the rap game without ever giving up his lease on the top of the charts.

He introduces DJ Ted Smooth and his protégé Angelica Vila and then the Terror Squad band.

That crew turns the rugged “My Lifestyle” into a visceral experience with layers of nuance added by Joe’s longtime DJ Ted Smooth.

“What’s Luv?” is a slow ballad.  Angelica Villa sings and her refrain of “whats luv” sounds remarkably like a sample–her voice is really amazing.

 On the 2002 smash “What’s Luv,” Angelica Vila takes the spotlight singing a hook originally performed by Ashanti.

It’s weird to see her dancing and grinding like it’s a music video, which I guess it is, but still.  There’s some salsa infusions in the song.

“Lean Back” has a bad ass riff and a repeated chant of “lean back.”  It’s really catchy.

Latino hip-hop legend Fat Joe muscled his way out of the streets of the South Bronx with his debut album, Represent, in 1993. He radiates a different energy in 2021, sauntering in his own uptown streetwear shop, fresh fitted in pink leather and a designer bucket hat, but he’s still got that old larger-than-life electricity.

And yet he still seems unreasonably angry–staring down the camera and shouting, “Tiny Desk don’t play with us like that, man.”  [What could that possibly mean in this context?]

Up next is “Sunshine (The Light)”

an effervescent new springtime jam that was spawned by 22-year-old internet sensation Amorphous, who mashed up Luther Vandross’s debut single “Never Too Much” with Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better.” Joe, who has always had a solid ear for new talent and a prowess for pinning down a buoyant hit record, came in and gullied this sparkling jam, renewing a glow that’s been dim for this last year.

It’s a pretty song and Angelica’s voice sounds really great.  I look forward to hearing more from her.

He shouts out to Luther and then goes on a little rant about being old and having everything ripped away and the coming back at 40.  I don’t know he seems pretty successful to me.

“All The Way Up” ends the set sounding similar to “Lean Back” but with a jazzy sample.  Throughout the song as he raps lines there’s a response.  I thought they were samples, but it turns out that the DJ is his hype man too.

I tend to like rappers in this Tiny Desk Home Concert better than on record, but I really liked Fat Joe’s style.  I’ll have to keep it limited to this though, I think.

[READ: May 20, 2021] Heist

I enjoyed this book so much I wanted to see what else Paul Tobin had written.  Lo and behold, he is responsible for a favorite graphic novel Claudette.  This story is a lot different and a lot darker, but it still has his sense of humor.

The book opens with a man fleeing from people trying to kill him. Glane Breld escapes and says he needs a drink…and a  crew.  He’s been out of prison for nine hours and he is ready for his next heist.

The people he wants are Celine Disse, master gunsmith, Gaville, master of disguise (she is crazy-she enjoys blowing things up and collecting famous peoples underwear).

Saving the best for last Eddy Lets.  Why is he the best?  Because the closest this planet ever had to a leader was Eddy’s mom Lera.  Her assassination was Glane’s fault.

When Glane heads to his rendezvous he is met by a local street urchin named Brady.  Brady latches on to Glane and Glane cant shake him.  But the kid proves useful.  Not only does he get Glane away from some assassins but he also gets Glane a splint for his brain–so his mind can’t be read.

Then Brady, believing he has a tourist with a lot of money, tells the history of planet Heist.  Right up to the story about Glane himself (Brady does not realize the man is Glane).

Dignity Corporation owns all of the planets in the area but this one (Heist).  Glane was hired by the Dignity Corporation to find incriminating evidence on Lera.   This faked evidence was used by Dignity to bring down Lera which eventually led to her assassination.  Soon after, Heist was taken over by Dignity Corp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KAROL G-Tiny Desk (Home) Conert #216 (May 27, 2021).

I’m always amazed when a musician is described as a superstar but I’ve never heard of her.  Well, Karol G. is a reggaeton superstar and it makes sense that I’ve never heard of her since I’m not even really sure what reggeton is.  This set doesn’t really clarify that for me because this just sounds like great pop music and indeed: 

Colombian reggaetonera Karol G floats between styles on this wistful Miami set with the breeziness of a pop star who knows no boundaries – or maybe it’s the calculus of an artist who has built a career on subverting them. Her personal, unapologetic flourish has allowed her to top the Billboard charts of a genre with limited female participation, and even less superstardom.

It was pretty cool to see that Karol G.’s band was all women (even if some of them look like they’re still in high school, they are all great).  

Her signature bichota energy is subtle, yet pervasive in her stripped-down Tiny Desk (home) concert. Flanked by an illuminated all-women band, Karol G’s authentic command of the intimate moment and its intended audience is unmistakable. 

She plays three (or four) songs. 

She deftly moves from a ballad-like rendition of urbano mash-up “Créeme/A Ella.”

She has a lovely voice with wonderful flow.  Then Guillana Merello starts thumping the floor toms to kick the song off and then she looks so very happy once he main part starts.  Sus Vazquez plays interesting chord shapes high up the neck while Anastasiia Zaichenko plays a bouncy bass. Sus plays a series of pretty chords and things slow down as the song shifts to “A Ella” with soft keyboard washes from Bryan Bliska.

to a soulful performance of trap corrido “200 COPAS” (her proclaimed favorite song at the moment) with Mexican Regional cariño Danny Felix.

Felix plays some great acoustic melodies on the 12 string and the song has a very Mexican/Puerto Rican feel.

She speaks a lot between songs although I have no idea what she’s saying.

Closing with a first-ever live performance of the dreamy duet “CONTIGO VOY A MUERTE,” she marks the end of the concert with a nod to her roots. Intertwined with fellow Colombiano Camilo, Karol G expresses gratitude and pride.

You have to check out Camilo’s mustache!  And the fact that his voice is actually higher than hers.  The songs tarts with some gentle guitars and keys as Camilo sings.

[READ: June 19, 2021] My Mommy Medicine

I’ve read a lot of short stories by Edwidge Danticat, but I had no idea she wrote a children’s book (with lovely illustrations from Shannon Wright).

The story is pretty simple.  In the author’s note, she says that she is a mom to two daughters and whenever they were sick she would lavish them with “mommy medicine.”

In the book there’s one little girl and she knows she can count on her Mommy medicine. (more…)

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