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Archive for the ‘Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #92 (October 7, 2020).

Angel Olsen is a favorite of many critics. I rather enjoyed her new album–but I think more for the sound of the production than the songs themselves.

I had the chance to see her recently but didn’t go and later heard the show was amazing.

This is a super-stripped down set (just her and her guitar on a balcony in North Carolina).

She opens with “Whole New Mess.”

The song is actually about addictions, defining her “home” amidst a life of touring that kept her on the road for large chunks of time. Much like this Tiny Desk performance, the original recording is just her stunning voice and guitar (minus the birds and the trees), recorded in a church-turned-studio a few years ago.

Up next is “Iota”

a song that wishes “that all the world could see something for what it is at the same time.”

“What It Is” is the only song I knew.  It was played on the radio a bunch and I grew to really like it.  This spare version is less interesting to me, but the melody is still lovely.

Angel leaves us with “Waving, Smiling,” a farewell song. She says goodbye to the sounds around her, the birds, the chainsaws, and leaves us with a theme of acceptance, bittersweet but without regret.

The whole set is gentle and lovely–it’s hard to believe she put on a dynamic and exciting live show.

[READ: October 1, 2020] Child Star

I am only mildly upset to learn that Box is not Box Brown’s real name (it seemed unlikely but amusing, nonetheless). But I am in no way upset about how great this book is.

In the author’s note, Brown says that he grew up watching TV in the 80s–he especially enjoyed the shows that had child actors in them.  He learned that the lives of child actors tend to follow a particular, tragic arc.

So for this “biography,” he created a child star, Owen Eugene, as an example of the kind of life.  If you grew up watching the same shows, you’ll recognize the children that he is drawing from.

You’ll recognize some of the notable episodes from shows.  Like the “very special episodes,” about drugs, or pedophilia or smoking or whatever; or the one where Nancy Reagan came on set; or when the younger, cuter kid came on to take over being the cute one.  And of course, the inevitable catch phrase.

The book is written like a Behind the Scenes kind of TV show.  There’s interviews with all kinds of people–his parents, his costars, washed up actors and ex-wives.

Owen Eugene had a hormone issue so he didn’t grow very tall–which meant he stayed adorable for a long time.  He was also a lot older than he looked.  So he could try out for roles and get them because he was the most talented 5 year old (because he was ten). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LITTLE BIG TOWN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #91 (October 6, 2020).

Little Big Town is a country band that has been around for a while.  I feel like I’ve heard of them, but I’m not sure.

Evidently the band is really the four main singers, but they have added more touring members for this Concert.

They open with “Nightfall.” It has nice folkie guitar and Karen Fairchild sings with a strong folksinger style. The snaps from Hubert Payne’s drums really ring out in a cool way.  Thee upright bass John Thomasson adds a nice anchor to the melody.

I thought maybe they weren’t all that country after all.  But as soon as the chorus jumps in and the accents start flying–especially the high notes from Kimberly Schlapman–the country has come into the house.  The song is catchy though.

Up next guitarist Phillip Sweet jokes is the “most profound thing” they’ve done.  “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” opens with a surprise trumpet intro from Jacob Bryant.  Although songs about drinking are about as cliché as they come, the stompin,’ dopey tone is quite fun and Jimi Westbrook’s lead delivery sells it well.

They apparently use some songwriters known as the Love Junkies who came up with “Girl Crush.”  There’s some nice harmonies on this track.  You really can’t hear keyboard player Akil Thompson on the other songs, but his chords ring through here.  Westbrook puts down his guitar while Sweet plays.

They end with “Boondocks” their first hit about where they come from.  I like the bowed bass and Evan Weatherford’s slide guitar lead, but the thought of thousands of people stompin’ along to these lyrics is a tad disturbing.

[READ: October 5, 2020] Parable of the Talents [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes:

I’ve ended this collection with a meteor.  An African -America woman born with “hyperempathy” must navigate the 2020as and 2030s in a hellscape formed by climate change disasters…  The reader is introduced to a rising demagogue whose slogan in “make America great again.”  Did that send chills down your spine?

At the time she was writing, however, it’s more likely she was inspired by the past than by the future.  When Ronald Reagan accepted the presidential nomination from the 1980 Republican National Committee, he gave a speech in which he promised, “For those who’ve abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again.  Butler perceived the problems behind that phrase and used science fiction to explore how such a mindset could lead to history repeating itself, resulting in story that is even more powerful today than when she first wrote it.

I first looked at the date of 1998 and thought it was so current, not exactly realizing it was 22 years (and a lifetime) ago.  Without even reading the story, just reading the above paragraph, it’s pretty easy to see exactly what Reagan wrought.  He really was the beginning of the end for the country.

And Butler could totally read the writing on the wall.

Not much happens in this excerpt.  A farm is burned and most people killed. the refugees take shelter with the narrator at their farm/commune.

It’s the details below that are so chilling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JHENÉ AIKO-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #89 (October 1, 2020).

This is the 89th Tiny Desk Home Concert (if I’m counting correctly) and I am really surprised that this is probably the 40th one (not counting at all) in which I’ve never heard of the artist even though they are referred to as a star or at least wildly popular.

In this Tiny Desk (home) concert, R&B star Jhené Aiko coasts through an eight-song medley that plays like the ultimate nod to her legions of fans — fans who’ve been begging for a Tiny Desk for a long time.

Is “star” warranted?  I don’t know.  But here’s her raving blurb:

The Los Angeles native’s star status is a result of her music’s versatility and vulnerability. Jhené Aiko Efuru Chilombo has carved out a space of her own over the past decade, despite a rapidly changing R&B landscape. As a songwriter, she leaves no stone unturned, explicitly expressing her struggle, joy and sexuality while always administering the vibe.

The set begins with Aiko stirring a singing bowl, which I admit is pretty nice. I have a tiny one, but it’s nowhere near as cool as hers are.

Backed by an ensemble of masked players, Aiko bookends her set with a sound bath of singing bowls that’s peace personified through sound.

I appreciated the way the note of the singing bowl segues perfectly into Julian Le’s opening piano for “Lotus (Intro).”  Aiko has an old-fashioned vocal style–deep and breathy.

The short song fades out and in comes Brain Warfield’s thumping percussion and a gorgeous harp trill from Gracie Sprout that signals “Stranger.”

It is also short and as it fades and she drinks some tea, the bass from Bubby comes sliding in to open “Do Better Blues.”  The song pauses and she says she wants only three things in a relationship:

Eyes that won’t cry ; lips that won’t lie ; love that won’t die

Things slow down to the piano and chimes as the band jumps into “To Love & Die.”  Iam quite impressed wit her vocal restraint.  There’s a few moments of R&B diva wailing, but mostly, she sings very nicely and prettily with no histrionics.

This works especially well on “Born Tired” which opens with just a harp.  It’s impressive how well this acoustic setup works with these songs.

This medley of songs is disconcerting because everything is so short. She only plays two minutes of “Born Tired,” before Bubby’s high chords on the six string bass introduce “W.A.Y.S.” which has the most R&B styled-vocals so far.

“Summer 2020” opens with harp and piano and a spoken introduction from Jhené  as she introduces the “quarantine edition” of her band.  After a verse she throws in a verse from “Everything Must Go” without changing the music.  I do have to wonder about the mindset of someone who writes the lyrics:

I am no god or messiah
But here’s what I know

Three chimes on the singing bowls introduce “Eternal Sunshine” as she sings almost a capella.  The band comes in to flesh out the song and she ends with a lengthy R&B warble which quickly fades out as the song comes to an end.

I’m still not sure if she’s a star, but I am really impressed with her voice and musical choices in this set.  Often, I have found that when I really like an R&B performer’s Tiny Desk, it’s because of the way it is stripped down–both instrumentally and in production terms.  So I’m not going to listen to her album because this set was a perfect introduction to her and just enough for me to enjoy.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “The Intensive Care Unit” 

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

When I first thought about stories for this collection, I knew J.G. Ballard had to make an appearance.  Initially, I had chosen an entirely different piece.  Then COVID-19 came to the United States and I learned how very bad I was at predicting the future.  ‘The Intensive Care Unit’…is a story about living entirely in isolation: no human-to-human contact, ever. Even families live together through screens, not physically in the same space.

Frustratingly, she ends with

I’ll leave you to guess which other Ballard story this one replaced.  [I don’t know him well enough to even hazard a guess].

I haven’t read many J.G. Ballard stories, but I have it in my head that all of his stories are very dark and very violent.  The few that I have read certainly were.  And this one is no exception.

It’s starts off with a violent sentence: “Within a few minutes the next attack will begin.”

The room he is in is filled with his wife’s faint breathing, his son’s irregular movements, marked by smeared hand prints on the carpet, and his daughter’s limp body under the fallen lamp. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JASON ISBELL & AMANDA SHIRES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #88 (September 30, 2020).

I can’t decide if I like Jason Isbell or not.  I like his songs quite a lot and after watching this set I like him a whole lot. But I find his voice unpleasant–too twangy and country, which just rubs me the wrong way.

And yet the chorus of “Dreamsicle” is wonderful.  The way he and Amanda Shires harmonize is just fantastic.  I’ve heard the song on the radio, but it sounds amazing here.

The songs for this Tiny Desk (home) concert are from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Spring release, Reunions. “Dreamsicle” shares the story of a child seeing his family falling apart all around. Reflecting on those times, he finds fond memories, and the chorus of the song — “a Dreamsicle on a summer night in a folding lawn chair” — conjures up bright light even amidst the darkness.

Between songs, Jason is very chatty, making a lot of humorous observations, like that he’s been to the Tiny Desk and “The Tiny Desk Desk is not tiny, it is larger than average for a desk….  It’s a tiny concert at a desk.  [Call it a] cluttered desk concert.”

The next song “Overseas” is a louder song (it think it even distorts their sound equipment some).  Introducing the song he says, “Lets do ‘Overseas.’ Because we cant go overseas were gonna sing ‘Overseas.’  There’s a lovely lead violin and more terrific harmonies in the bridge.  They have this back and forth at the end

JI: That’s Amanda Shires playing the fiddle.  That’s really good.
AS: Thanks for having me.
JI: That was so good.
AS: I like to the play the fiddle, man. It’s a violin though.
JI: We should do this more often.
AS: Yeah we should.

This interchange is all the more funny because

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires feel fortunate. They have their 4-year-old daughter, Mercy, a wonderful home, and each other.

Jason says that Mercy “tells me that she is an expert yodeler…. And it’s good, especially for a four year old who is not Scandinavian or Jimmie Rogers.  But then she says can you send that video to Jewel?   Jewel seems very nice but I’m afraid she’s going to come to our house and say “you can’t yodel for shit” and I want to be the barrier between my daughter and the cutthroat world of yodeling.

Amanda says they got a new rooster who is learning to crow.  Mercy named their new rooster Captain Love Heart. He has a lot of love in his heart and he is a captain. Makes me think of Captain Beefheart and makes me think of the chicken crowing “Upon the Me Oh My” or something from Trout Mask Replica.
The final song, “It Gets Easier,” deals with Jason’s drinking demons, with a refrain filled with such stark truth: “It gets easier, but it never gets easy.” These words could be an anthem for all those in recovery. It’s the nature of Jason Isbell to sing the truth.
I really enjoyed their banter and it made me like their songs even more.

[READ: September 24, 2020] “Birth of a Gardener”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here. This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others. As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

the story works because the woman’s husband is a mansplainer.  He loses her to another dimension simply because he assumed he understood the principles of physics better than she did. Not to worry: that isn’t a spoiler.  …  [Pitkin Buck shows that] even as we are simplified into the roles that prioritize our relationships — mother, wife, sister, daughter, partner — over our individuals identities, women in 2020 (as with women in 1961, and women in 1861, and…) have to fight to retain our own rich interior experiences.

In this story, Payne is a physicist–Fermi Research at the Droxden Foundation, famous for his work on anti-matter.  His wife, Lee, is not.  And he hates to see her “spraining her mind” over books about physics. Why did she waste her time with books like that when she has such a green thumb.

He is so frustrated with her that he finally says she should just give it up “If you would be happy for life, plant a garden.”

She replies “That wasn’t why I evoked you.”

He doesn’t understand what she means, even when she says, “I just thought very hard and–finally one day, there you were.”

He says “Stop playing around with a rigorous logic that isn’t your style.”

She retorts: “Rigorous logic!  Rigor mortis!”

Finally, she says she wants him to teach her to see physics.  It would help them both.  She says she can already see neutrinos.  

He gets angry and asks why she keeps talking fairy tale when he has serious work to do.

After more back and forth he ends the discussion with, “Darling, you bore me.”

The next morning Lee was dead. It was shocking to him, but he felt closer to her now than he ever had while she was alive.

Suddenly he started seeing her–as if she were down at the end of a tunnel looking at him. He sees that she is looking at book. It is called The Validity of Thought Patterns as Determined by Their Elegance. He sees that she is the author of the book.

Then she starts demonstrating a diagram on a black board. She made a beautiful arabesque–it was the work of a clear and intelligent mathematical. But he had to laugh because she had gotten one thing crucially wrong–of course she would be confused in the end. 

Then he realized the mistake was his own.  She was not drawing matte but anti-matter.  His own field of study!  He and Lee were even closer than he’d ever realized.  He must try to communicate with her.

The end of the story is outstanding.

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE GOOD ONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #87 (September 29, 2020).

I love when a music critic, like Bob Boilen, picks an album for his top ten lists that (I assume) no one else has heard.  So it’s no surprise to learn that 

In 2019, The Good Ones’ album RWANDA, you should be loved was one of my top 10 albums. They were to play a Tiny Desk concert in May of this year, but the world had other plans.

The blurb continues, “this is the tiniest of Tiny Desk (home) concerts, a single song.”  The song “Soccer (Summer 1988)” is simple, with a pretty guitar melody and wonderful harmonies.  But read what they’ve been through.

Adrien Kazigira and Janvier Havugimana know endless hardships. The night before this recording was made, a flood in Rwanda killed more than a dozen people and destroyed homes. Muddied water was more than waist high in Janvier’s one-room hut. That next morning, Grammy-winning producer Ian Brennan and photographer Marilena Umuhoza Delli showed up to record the duo; she had the camera and he handled the audio. And though Janvier had been up all night dealing with the mud, they all took a two-hour drive to Adrien’s hilltop farm. Janvier tapped out the rhythm with a key on a thermos; the jug was filled with milk — milk from a cow Adrien was able to purchase courtesy of a 2019 U.S. tour.

The performance is a song they’d just learned to play together: “Soccer (Summer 1988).” It’s a nostalgic tune of a favorite soccer team, Rayon Sports F.C., from the days before the genocide in Rwanda took too many lives nearly a quarter of a century ago. Support means a great deal to these people, and if you like what you hear, their Bandcamp page is a good way to help The Good Ones.

It’s worth checking out their page to hear what they sound like when their world hasn’t just been turned upside down.

[READ: September 24, 2020] The Space Merchants [an excerpt]

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes that it is one of her all time favorite books

Imagine a tongue-in-cheek spin on Mad Men, but set in a future when corporations have largely taken the place of governments.  …  This is mind-boggling in the number of predictions it gets right about the effects technological developments have had on capitalism over the past fifty years.

I also loved this story, or at least this excerpt, and will absolutely read the whole story to see what happens.

As it opens, we meet the narrator heading to work at Fowler Schocken Associates.  The company is a very successful advertising firm, headed by Fowler Schocken.  

As their meeting starts Fowler wonders aloud if they are getting soft.  The room is full of yes-men, but they are also correct.  They have not been getting soft.  They just secured the Coffiest account (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRIGHT EYES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #86 (September 28, 2020)

I was never a fan of Bright Eyes.  Something about them just never quite appealed to me.  And since Conor Oberst was so prolific, I got tired of him too.

But then he made better Oblivion Community Center with phoebe Bridgers and I really liked the album and the live show.  So I’ve rethunk Bright Eyes.

They were supposed to play a show in Bethlehem this summer with Lucy Dacus.  I was more interested in seeing Lucy, but I would have certainly gone.

So here’s Bright Eyes with their first new album in almost ten years.

They recorded this Tiny Desk (home) concert with Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis at ARC Studios in Omaha, Neb., while Nate sits 1,500 miles away at Lucy’s Meat Market, a well-equipped studio in Los Angeles filled with sweet-sounding vintage keyboards. Singing and seated behind him is Becky Stark, better known as Lavender Diamond, along with their daughter.

The three songs they perform from Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was, are intense, with stripped back rawness and lyrics that are not always decipherable, filled with struggle and hope.

They open with “Mariana Trench” in which Mogis is on pedal steel, Walcott is on piano and Becky and daughter sing backing vocals.  Oberst’s voice sounds as strong and confident as ever.

Up next is “Pan and Broom.”  Nate starts the drum machine and then plays the organ.  Meanwhile Mike is playing the Marxophone which is a kind of tiny echoing sounding zither machine.

“Persona Non Grata” is about being insane enough that people don’t want you around. Conor sits at the Moog, while Nate stays on the organ and Mike goes back to the pedal steel.  Oberst plays a cool-sounding solo while Mike plays a pedal steel solo along with him.  It sounds really good.

“Shell Games” is an older song.  Mike switches to the guitar and Nate jumps over to the Casio.  The guitar is quiet but adds a cool fuzziness underneath the synth sounds.  This song also seems to be a bit more intense than the others.

This feels like a stripped down sound, but I don’t actually know what the recorded versions sound like.

[READ: September 26, 2020] “A Logic Named Joe”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

About this story, Romney writes

Murray Leinster was one of the most prolific writers in the heyday of science-fiction pulps. … It reads like a creative exercise in conditional statements, with just a touch of black humor thrown in. … My favorite aspect is the implication that AI is evil because we, humans, make it evil, not because some robot has gone rogue.

The other stories in this collection so far have been more of a detailed explanation of a utopian future.  This story is an actual story–and an exciting one.

It’s a shame that the central motivator of the narrator is a sexist trope, but otherwise the story is really cool and amazingly prescient when it comes to technology.

The story jumps right in and doesn’t fully explain what’s going on just yet.

The narrator works at Logic Company as maintenance worker.  On August 3rd, a Logic called Joe came off the assembly line.  Two days later Laurine came into town, and that’s when the narrator saved the world.

The narrator is married and Laurine is the woman he dated before he met his wife  Laurine “is a blonde that I was crazy about once–and crazy is the word.”  She dumped her exes and even killed one of them.

So, yes, a sexist underpinning to this story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BRANDY CLARK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #85 (September 23, 2020).

Brandy Clark is just too country for me.  I do like her lyrical content, but there’s just too much twang in her voice.

The amazing thing in this video is the view from her apartment.  The day doesn’t look very clear, but the view is still lovely. Who knew Nashville looked like that?

If you’re going to be stuck at home during a pandemic, it helps to have an awe-inspiring living room view. Stellar singer-songwriter Brandy Clark highlights hers in this charmingly casual set recorded in her loft-like Nashville apartment. The city’s verdant hills roll out behind her as Clark plays these four songs.

“Bigger Boat” is a standard slow country song with the rhythm provided by Vanessa McGowan on upright bass.

The song addresses serious issues

The floods down south, the fires out west
You turn on the news, scares you to death
Give me that hammer, somebody hold my coat
Yeah, we’re gonna need a bigger boat

But in an winking, funny way

We’re springing a leak, we’re coming apart
We’re on the Titanic, but we think it’s the ark
Sharks in the water got me thinking ’bout a movie quote
Yeah, we’re gonna need (we’re gonna need)
A bigger boat (a bigger boat)

I like the way Kaitlyn Raitz’ cello is the lead instrument.

“Can We Be Strangers” feels like a classic old country ballad with a clever country lyrical twist

We struck out as lovers
We struck out as friends
Is it too much to ask
Can we be strangers Again?

There’s some very nice harmonies here from Vanessa and Cy Winstanley (whom she just met today) who plays a simple solo at the end of the song.

She says that she was only going to do songs from the new record but “I can’t think of a show in the last six years that I haven’t done this song.”  She says “Hold My Hand” is her absolute favorite.

“I keep saying thank you, because we’re used to playing live, it’s kind of weird,” she says after a particularly poignant rendition of her fan-favorite “Hold My Hand.” “I hope everybody’s clapping in their living room.”

She has a poignant but amusing introduction to the last song, “Who You Thought I Was”

She was at Americana awards and John Prine came out to introduce Iris Dement and there as lengthy ovation for him. He said “Well, I’m John Prine, but I’d like to go back to who you thought I was.”

She wrote that down as she imagined every songwriter did that night and she went the next day and wrote the song first.

I don’t really care for the very Nashville verses, but I do like the chorus:

There’s a lot of things I used to wanna be ’til I met you
Now I wanna be honest
Now I wanna be better
Now I wanna be the me
I should’ve been when we were together
I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love
I want to be who
You thought I was

She’s a singer with great lyrics who I will never listen to because of the kind of music she makes.

[READ: September 23, 2020] “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904”

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  Get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

This story is from Mark Twain. He wrote it in 1898 and it is set in1904.

“Printed” on April 1, 1904, this correspondence from the ‘London Times,’ Chicago was written by the reporter Mark Twain.

He writes to keep us updated about the extraordinary event that has the whole globe talking. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CONWAY THE MACHINE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #84 (September 23, 2020).

Several musicians have tinkered with the “home” component of the Tiny Desk Home Concert.

Conway the Machine’s “home” is in the Queens, NY restaurant lil’ Sweet Chick, where he performs five songs, and has a fine looking plate of chicken and waffles.

Conway the Machine is part of Griselda, a Queens-based rap trio.  I watched Benny the Butcher’s Tiny Desk recently and rather enjoyed it. Conway’s songs seem grittier and darker (especially when you learn the origins of “Front Lines.”

He opens with “Lemon” (prod. by Daringer & Beat Butcha) as a waitress brings him a drink (a lemon squeeze?).  The music is dark and grimy and it works very well with his voice.

Up next is “Front Lines” (prod. by Beat Butcha) which was inspired by the George Floyd incident–he wanted to record a perspective from the upset angry protestors.  It speaks directly to the racial profiling committed by cops while policing Black communities with this outstanding verse:

I just seen a video on the news I couldn’t believe (nah)
Another racist cop kill a nigga and get to leave (again?)
He screamin’, “I can’t breathe”, cop ignorin’ all his pleas
Hands in his pocket, leanin’ on his neck with his knees (psh)
Cracker invent the laws, that’s why the system is flawed
Cops killin’ black people on camera and don’t get charged
We ain’t takin’ no more, we ain’t just pressin’ record
Can’t watch you kill my brother, you gon’ have to kill us all
Just ’cause he from the ghetto, that don’t mean he sellin’ crack
He drivin’ home from work, you pull him over ’cause he black
Think he gangbangin’ ’cause he got dreads and a few tats
He reach for his ID, you think he reachin’ for a strap
He get out, put his hands up, and he still gettin’ clapped
But if he try to run, you just gon’ shoot him in his back
What if it was my son? I wonder how I’m gon’ react
I bet I’m finna run up in this precinct with this MAC (brr)
I swear to God

“OverDose” (prod. by The Alchemist) has what sounds like a zither as the main discordant musical tone.  I like the way the bass is slow and his rapping is really fast.

Then comes “The Cow” (prod. by Daringer)  “The Cow” is, as he says in the intro, “one of [the] most personal and transparent records I ever wrote,” in which he speaks about losing one of his best friends and getting shot in the head and neck. The injuries led to permanent facial paralysis.  The song has brought Conway to tears in the past, and the memories clearly get to him again here.

Last is “Anza” (prod. by Murda Beatz) which is a pretty traditional bragging rap, with maybe a touch more aggression than other.

As the set ends, he thanks lil’ Sweet Chick for the ambiance: “I’m about to get into this chicken right here … tastes like it was made with a mother’s care.”

[READ: September 23, 2020] Three Hundred Years Hence (excerpt)

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

This first story is by Mary Griffith.  Written in 1836, it looks, literally, three hundred years into the future.  Romney writes:

It is the story of a man who gets caught in an avalanche of ice in 1835 and wakes up in 2135.  It’s often cited as the earliest utopia written by an American woman.  The author imagined a future in which society’s advancements increase dramatically due to one major structural shift: supporting women in science.  Born in 1772, Griffith herself was one of the nascent United States’ earliest practicing women scientists, with special contribution in geology.

The ice man, Hastings, is given a tour of the country–New York, Boston and Philadelphia–by a man named Edgar.   Edgar updates him and tells him about al of the changes that have taken place.

The writing style of this tory isn’t all that interesting–it’s a little preachy and dry.  Since this is an excerpt I’m not sure if there’s a plot necessarily.  But in this excerpt it’s mostly just meandering around.    (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ODDISEE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #83 (September 22, 2020).

I feel like I just watched (and enjoyed) Oddissee’s Tiny Desk Concert recently, but apparently it was back in 2015.

In 2015, Oddisee visited the Tiny Desk with a drummer and a keyboardist. For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, he assembled his full band, Good Company, for the first time since the global pandemic cancelled their tour last spring. They rehearsed the day before this capture at Assorted Studios in York, Penn., the midway point between the members’ hometowns of Philadelphia, New York City and Washington D.C. They picked this facility because it felt more like a living room than a studio. And to make it feel as cozy as possible, they brought memorabilia from their own homes. Bass player Dennis Turner brought family photos, Ralph Real (on the Fender Rhodes) brought his son’s toy drum set, and Oddisee brought tribal statues from Sudan.

Oddisee has eleven albums out (!), but all of the songs here come from his new EP Odd Cure which was

“a record I didn’t want to write but needed to,” Oddisee said in July. He wrote it in eight weeks, between March and May, while in self-isolation. He had just returned from a performance in Thailand and wanted to protect his family. Oddisee says these songs were inspired by the deluge of news, social media, misinformation and conspiracy theories generated during the first weeks of the pandemic. Relevant and inspiring, his music and its message addresses the uncertainty and anxiety we all live with today.

“The Cure” has some great funky bass from Dennis Turner and some excellent twinkling on the Rhodes keyboard from Ralph Real.  Before the verses start, drummer Jon Laine gets the drums to make a really neat sound and then plays a wonderfully complex rhythm–complete with rim shots.  Oddisee raps speedily and clearly.  Half way through the song a little window opens up and Olivier St. Louis (all the way from Berlin) plays some cool guitar soloing.  But the star of this song is definitely Turner, with some amazing bass work throughout the song.  The song also has a really funky chorus.

“Shoot Your Shot” is full of slow thumping before the funkiness starts.  An integral part of the band is DJ Unown playing the MPC.  I really don’t know exactly what sounds he’s making, but I can see him playing all throughout the songs and I’m sure the music would lose something without him.  The middle takes off with another wicked solo from St. Louis.

“I Thought You Were Fate” is a slower song that opens with guitar from Sainte Ezekiel.  This song has a slower r&b crooning chorus.  But I love the way it speeds up after the  chorus and shifts the song into higher gear.  Ezekiel get a jazzy solo mid song.

“Still Strange” shifts the tempo much slower and features a lead vocal (via Oddisee’s phone) of Priya Ragu.  Sainte Ezekiel plays some beautiful understated guitar throughout.

“Go To Mars” returns the funk and Oddisee raps in a very cool style of short, abrupt lines.   It’s got a really fun chorus of longing: “I wanna go to Mars; live among the stars ; be the one who got away from it all.”

There very little social distancing here–Oddisee even has the guys scooch over (although I think Turner is wearing a mask).

[READ: September 24, 2020] Introduction

During the COVID Quarantine, venerable publisher Hingston & Olsen created, under the editorship of Rebecca Romney, a gorgeous box of 12 stories.  It has a die-cut opening to allow the top book’s central image to show through (each book’s center is different).  You can get a copy here.

This is a collection of science fiction stories written from 1836 to 1998.  Each story imagines the future–some further into the future than others.

As it says on the back of the box

Their future.  Our present.  From social reforms to climate change, video chat to the new face of fascism, Projections is a collection of 12 sci-fi stories that anticipated life in the present day.

I don’t know anything about Rebecca Romney, but I love her introduction to this collection and I want to look into her work a little more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BURT BACHARACH & DANIEL TASHIAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #75 (September 3, 2020).

Obviously, Burt Bacharach needs no introduction.  He has written hundreds of songs that everyone knows. It’s rankly amazing that he is still living given his long and storied history.  Well, it turns out he is 92 (!).  And he can still play and compose.

I don’t know who Daniel Tashian is, but I see that he is a songwriter who seems to have written for a lot of country singers.

For this Tiny Desk Home Concert, the two have written music together for an EP called Blue Umbrella and they perform three songs while far apart: “Bells of St. Augustine,” “Blue Umbrella,” and “We Go Way Back.”

The melodies are lovely, as you’d expect.  Tashian is a lyricist, so the lyrics are very good as well.  I guess the one unknown turns out to be Tashian’s voice.  I found that I liked it quite a lot.  He reminded me a lot of Jim James in his delivery.  It’s also fascinating to watch his beard grow over the three songs.

In between songs, first Daniel addresses us.  he says that music is an oasis of calm and peace.  He says, seriously that he hopes this time next year we’re looking at a different picture of where this country is headed.

A love of songcraft brought these tremendous talents together, writing songs of friendship, songs that have been a comfort for both of them in these challenging days.

Bacharach talks about what it’s like being 92 and being sequestered like this.  He’s been out of his house once–to a small party at a friend’s house.  But he is happy to be at home with his wife.

And he has a direct message to the anti-maskers out there.

It’s okay to wear a mask.  You’re not proving anything walking around without a mask like some kind of hero.  You’re not.  You know who the heroes are.  They’re all walking masks and working in hospitals.

[READ: September 11, 2020] “End of the Line”

This is an excerpt from Franzen’s The Corrections.  

The Corrections is a large book that covers, in depth, a large family.   I enjoyed the novel very much and this refresher (I read the novel nine years ago), was a nice reminder of the novel.

The family has three adult children: Gary, a banker in Philadelphia who is (more or less unhappily) married with three children; Chip, a former school teacher and current playwright who sponges off of his younger sister while he tries to live the high life in New York City; and Denise, a very successful chef who also lives in Philadelphia.

This excerpt is about Denise.

It is a story about her as a youngish woman working in her father’s railroad office.  She is a strong, hard-working young girl in an office full of men.  And they don’t know what to do about her. (more…)

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