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Archive for the ‘Publishers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAERV-Vol 2 (2014).

Jaerv is a folk group from Sweden who I happened to see live at a Scandinavian Festival several years ago.  I’m impressed that ScanFest was able to get a band to come over from Sweden (unless they were doing a tour in the area anyway).

Their folk music is very traditional, meaning, to me it sounds like folk music from a lot of other countries as well (Ireland, for instance).  But there are some distinctions.  In particular the use of the nyckelharpa, an instrument that I’d never heard of but which is very cool.

The band consists of five musicians Joel Hagen: flute (flöjt), whistles, soprano saxophone (sopransaxofon) and ewi an electronic musical instrument); Anders Bergsten: double bass (kontrabass) and nyckelharpa; Harald Nilsson: guitars (gitarrer); Markus Gustavsson: fiddle (fiol) and lead vocals (sång); Tobias Hedlund: drums (trummer), percussion (slagverk), pedal organ (tramporgel), vibraphone (vibrafon).  They all sing harmony vocals (kör).

There’s eleven songs on the album, most of them around five minutes long.  It’s hard to distinguish them (which isn’t a criticism, it’s just the nature of the music).

“Vårfloden” (5:01) is an instrumental with lots of violin and flute.  “Två Rörospolser” (4:13) is very traditional sounding with lots of flute and whistle.  “Dansen Ungdom” (5:30) has lyrics.  Gustavsson sings in a deeper voice.  The song has a nice, lengthy flute instrumental jam at the end with an excellent four (or five) part harmony that sounds amazing.

“Av Himlens Höjd” (4:13) has nice vocals and harmonies,  The song is quite grooving and there’s some amazing a capella vocals at the end–the bass voice is particularly noteworthy.  “Johannas Brudmarsch” (4:46) is a slow fiddle tune.

“S:T Örjan & Draken” pushes the length to 8:04.  There’s a slow opening with bells chiming.  There’s complex, quiet singing and guitar.  The tempo picks up but retreats until half way through when it changes into a stomping, intense song with a wild flute solo.

“E4:An” (3:46) seems like it will be kind of heavy with the opening chords, but they just work as a low bass for the lovely fiddling and then some lovely whistle.  I like the time change mis song.  “Rosa-Lill” is another short one at 2:56.  It’s a bouncy folk song with flute melodies and nyckelharpa throughout.  “Rocken Snurrar” (3:21) starts a capella with the harmonies creating the music while the lead vocal sings.  Then they harmonize in the chorus.  This one is super catchy with great vocal harmonizing and surprising glockenspiel solo.

“Slängpolska” (4:56) is an instrumental jam with lots of fiddle and flute.  I like the percussion throughout.  “Tre Engelskor” (5:02) ends the album very traditionally with some ripping violins.

I met the guys after the show and they were all very nice.  They signed my CD which is always a nice thing to do.

You can hear the whole album here.

[READ: May 29, 2021] Gung-Ho

This is one of a few books by Ablaze Publishing that I read recently.

I really enjoyed Thomas von Kummant’s art style.  The pages looked very painterly, with cool washes of colors and juxtapositions of colors rather than shading.  The characters were also almost entirely distinctive *there are a lot of characters).  There were one or two who looked a little to alike, but for the most part this heavily populated story was very easy to follow who was who.

Set somewhere in Europe (I wondered if this was written in German–I don’t see a translator, but he does live in Munich [UPDATE: according to a catalog record, the book was translated from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger]), we come upon an outpost.  It is heavily guarded.  The people are heavily armed and they all kook pretty dirty.

Cut to a train hauling cargo and two teenage boys, Archie and Zack on top wearing prison orange.  They were kicked out of their orphanage and sent here.  If they can’t make it here, they are on their own.

The town has a strict hierarchy and strict rules for safety. All provisions are divvied out based on need and on who kills the most (we don’t know what they’re hunting, yet).  We also see that the guy who divvies out the provisions isn’t above getting himself some teenage girl action for extra supplies (ew).

Indeed, many people in town have a problem with him, but he was sent by the military and is above questioning.

There are 400 people living here including many teenagers.  The boys almost all follow this one leader who is a jerk.  There are a few who don’t follow him and one in particular befriends Zack.  There’s also a bunch of girls who seem to hang out together and maybe or maybe not fool around with the bad boys. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKBARTEES STRANGE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #172 (February 22, 2021). 

WXPN has been playing the song “Boomer” a lot.  I really like it–it’s super catchy and fun.  I hadn’t heard anything else by him, so I was delighted to see he had a Tiny Desk Concert.

Bartees Strange and his band are in a basement, surrounded by electrical wiring and DIY sound-proofing, but also green plants that no doubt have names. In Falls Church, Va., the indie rocker is a stone’s throw from the much-missed Tiny Desk space in D.C., yet offers a set just as cozy and crammed.

And he starts it right off with “Boomer” which is just so catchy, with that slinky bass line from John Daise and that outrageously catchy chorus.  Dan Kleederman plays the guitar leads throughout while keyboardist Graham Richman plays rhythm.

The rest of his set proves that musically he is open to anything:

hip-hop bombast meets sprawling indie-rock riffs and mind-numbing electronic beats. “Sonically it doesn’t make sense,” Bartees Strange told NPR Music, “but it makes sense because it’s me and I think that’s like an important part of music – the person.”

For “Mustang” Richman hands Bartees his guitar and plays keyboard instead.  He says that Mustang is about where he grew up–Mustang, Oklahoma.  This time Bartees plays the pretty guitar riffs and Kleeederman adds slide guitar.

For his Tiny Desk, Bartees Strange keeps the bluesy rock and roll bravado of “Boomer” and the loping smooveness of “Mustang,” stripping down the drum kit to include a sheet music stand as an extra cymbal.

He answers the question of what has inspired him this year by saying he has been trying not not to pay too much attention to the transition, so he’s been focusing on music.  He loves Yves Tumor’s Heaven for a Tortured Mind. And Aaron Dessner for being the Indie rock Michael Jordan.

It’s in the back half where Bartees Strange does the switch-up, as “In A Cab” flows seamlessly into “Flagey God.” On record, these are louder and noisier songs that explore very different sides of his 20-sided die, but here, they become laid-back jazz club jams, deceptive in their ease, but beautifully ornate as the arrangements open up to his world.

“In A Cab” opens with a quiet but cool drum pattern from Carter Zumtobel and a sweet combination of guitar lines.  It segues quietly into “Flagey God” a more mellow song that has a great catchy guitar riff.

I’m going to have to check out the whole album.

[READ: April 15, 2021] Under the Pendulum Sun

I’m not sure how I heard about this book, but I saw a rave review and it inspired me to actually buy the book, sight unseen.  I didn’t realize the book was put out by Angry Robot, a publisher I have been recently introduced to and which publishes esoteric and unusual fiction, that seems to have a religious aspect.

So this fit right in.

This is a long book and it is written in an old style–slightly formal with lots of biblical components.  The writing at times felt stiff, but not unreadable.  And, this is the weirdest part, I simultaneously felt like the book was moving too slow and yet I felt like I was flying through the chapters.

Each chapter opens with an epigram.  Most of them are fictitious but there are some from real authors and these may or may not be real quotes.

The book opens with Catherine Helstone talking about how she and her brother Laon (how in the heck do you say that?  It plagued me for the whole book) grew up fantasizing about new worlds.  But neither one of the ever fantasized about Arcadia, the land of the Fae.

Now that they are older, her brother has left for Arcadia to become a Christian missionary–to convert the souls of the Fae–if they can even be converted.  Several years later, Catherine has now set off to find him.  She has a ship and his compass in hand. But the key to reaching Arcadia is to get hopelessly lost and then the entrance will appear.

Neat. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACKTINDERSTICKS-“City Sickness” (1993).

In Stuart David’s book, In The All-Night Café, he lists the songs on a mixtape that Stuart Murdoch gave to him when they first met.

Although I’ve been a fan of Belle & Sebastian for a long time, I knew almost none of the songs on this mixtape.  So, much like Stuart David, I’m listening to them for the first time trying to see how they inspire Stuart Murdoch.

In the book, David writes how much he does not like “rock,” especially music based around bluesy rock.  Most of these songs, accordingly, do not do that.  In fact, most of these songs are (unsurprisingly) soft and delicate.

I don’t recall when I first heard the Tindersticks, but I was immediately a fan.  The camber pop was lovely, the strings gorgeous and Stuart Staples’ voice was deep and robust.  Yes, his lyrics are dark or at least sad (or they always seem like they are even when they aren’t), but his voice makes you want to listen to everything he has to say.

This song has a simple melody and a gentle sweeping chorus complete with strings and glockenspiel all underpinned with an almost pop melody.  The big surprise comes during the instrumental break which features a… guitar, violin(?) mixed really low in the background, playing a kind of noise/screeching sound that you almost don’t notice until it stops.

Tindersticks would go on to write many more great albums over the years and are still going.

[READ: February 3, 2021] “A Challenge You Have Overcome”

This is about a couple, Steve and Andrea, who were from a long line of long marriages (on Steve’s side).  They had been married 25 years, which Steve’s mother Jeanne must have been pleased by given Andrea’s family’s history.

Things weren’t perfect:

You might sleep in separate bedrooms and wash dishes in a fury.  You might find a moldy peach in the refrigerator and leave it on the counter for three days as evidence of some private trial–but you would never leave.

Steve and Andrea had endured all kinds of struggles and difficulties, including Andrea losing her job and Steev hating his own job.  Steve works in academic publishing and his small press is slowly going digital–something eh was definitely not interested in.  Andrea had recently begun counselling high school students about getting into college.

Surely Jeanne would approve.   Jeanne had lost patience with everyone toward the end of her life and was not afraid of direct honesty.  Jeanne had brought Andrea to tears many times–she had no filter. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTILLERS-Very Special Christmas Special, “Baby It’s Covid Outside” (December 18, 2020).

Despite going to many live shows, I haven’t watched a lot of streaming concerts. It’s not the same, and I don’t really like watching things on my computer anyway.

I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to buy a ticket for this one.  I saw The Distillers last year and enjoyed the show. But I feel like I didn’t get to fully appreciate it because the crowd was really rowdy and knew the band far more than I did.

So this seemed like a chance to see them “live” up close. The entire special was barely 40 minutes.  This is a bit of a bummer, but at the same time, it was really a perfect length for me.

In addition to the music, there were some skits.  As the show opens, Black Metal Santa unpacks some presents from his sack.  There’s a gun on a stack of presents, he pulls out a squeaking chicken dog toy and then a very adult toy.  He turns around, all Black Metal and says “Merry Fucking Christmas boys and girls, here’s The Distillers.”

On a well-decked-out Christmas-themed set The Distillers start to play.  There’s all kinds of Christmas things–blow up snowmen and giant stocking as well as digital flames.  And a full rig of lights. The band sounds great and the recording is well mixed.  The drums and bass sound huge.

They open with “Sick of It All.”  Brody Dalle is up front playing guitar and singing.  To her right is Tony Bevilacqua on guitar.  To her left is Ryan Sinn on bass.  All three are wearing Santa hats.  They all sing the opening verses and it sounds like a wall of vocals. Drummer Andy Granelli is not wearing a Santa hat, but he does have a knit cap on. The song sounds great–a blast of punk to celebrate the season.

They follow with the outrageously catchy punk of “Oh Serena.”  When I saw them, they opened with these two songs as well.  But this set list deviates somewhat. 

Up next is the quieter “L.A. Girl.”  It starts with everyone playing softly while Brody sings.  Then the whole band kicks in with massive drumming and some tasty bass fills. A martial drum beat opens “I’m a Revenant.”  Both guitarists play the lead riffs before Brody starts singing.  This song has some great sing-along moments as well as a brief part where it’s just Brody before the band marches in again.

“Sunsets” comes next.  They didn’t play this when I saw them.  Brody’s guitar is clean as the song opens.  She sings without a snarl.  The song does not turn into a balls out rocker.  It stays slow but gets very intense.  Bevilacqua makes interesting bendy sounds from his guitar in the middle jam section.  The song slows to a bass rumble before some Christmas music starts playing.

Black Metal Santa comes out and gives Brody a present.  It’s the album Faith by The Cure.  But there’s nothing inside–it’s just the cover. Black Metal Santa says, “Its my ‘Primary’ Christmas gift to you.  A cover.  Now play the damn song.”  It’s an amusing introduction to the song “Primary,” which I did not expect at all.  It sounds fantastic–close to the original, but heavier and obviously with Brody’s vocals sounding very different from Robert Smith’s.  She restrains her vocals until a loud snarling “oh remember” part.

Brody removes the Santa hat for “Dismantle Me” and the lights get brighter so you can see her more clearly.  This song has a great split with really fast guitars from Bevilacqua and slower guitars from Brody. 

The super fast chords continue into “Die on a Rope.”  This song also has some “Oh way oh” parts that are really catchy for such a dark song.  The middle jam is just bass and drums and Bevilacqua’s squeaky feedback while Brody sings.  There’s some thunderous drumming in the end as they jump into “City of Angels.”  This song is really catchy as she and the boys sing together.  There’s another cool middle section of just Brody’s guitar and noisy guitar sounds from Bevilacqua before the band roars off again.

The song ends and Brody looks off stage and says “Jesus.”  Granelli chides, “Brody, it’s Christmas.”  But she points off stage and Jesus comes out.  They ask what he’s doing there and he says it’s his birthday. They ask if he can make it snow.  Jesus says he makes miracles happen–he’s got a guy.   He calls a guy who comes down and the snow starts to fall.  Jesus and the guy get in a fight over who actually makes the miracles happen.  The guy says “ever since cofefe.”  But Granelli stops them, “we’re trying to do a Christmas show here, knock it off.”

Brody takes the mic and says “this year’s been a real ass kicker.  We’re looking forward to the new year.” 

Then they start Ramones’ “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight).”  It sounds great and is a perfect set ender for a holiday special.

The show ends and they play the Ramones song over the credits.  The band takes bows and makes snow angels.

It’s a fun special and totally worth the $15.

[READ: December 25, 2020] “The George Spelvin Players”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 25.  Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers, could’ve sworn she left that porridge bowl right over there [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I started this story and thought it was so familiar that I was sure I had read it before.  But as it went along, it didn’t seem familiar anymore, so maybe there is a similar component of it that I had read in another story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE NIGHT BEFORE–WXPN (December 24, 2020).

Every year, from Midnight on December 23 to Midnight on December 24, DJ Robert Drake plays TWENTY-FOUR HOURS of the most esoteric Christmas music around.  Sure, there’s some familiar songs, but mostly, this is weird, wonderful Christmas music.  It is a MUST LISTEN for your Christmas Eve.  Especially around 11PM, when he’s been up for over 24 hours.

Check out the stream here and read all about this fascinating history below

It was 28 years ago when WXPN came to me, with those puppy-dog eyes, hoping that I’d fill in on December 24. Seems no one was available, and in those days before digital, you needed a body to oversee any programming. So, I agreed – as long as they gave me complete freedom to spin an aural web of sounds of the season – direct from my collection of holiday tunes.

What they didn’t know was that I had already developed a fascination for Christmas songs. Not the burnt cookies anyone can hear up and down the dial in December. My collection was chock-full of unique nuggets – some not given the light of day for decades.

So, they agreed to give me three hours and I delivered. The three hours went to four – which went to six and then to twelve, to celebrate twelve years of tradition! The following year management asked what I planned to do to top my 12-hour marathon. I said, how ’bout 24 hours?! After checking my pulse and temperature – just to be sure I wasn’t babbling under some illness – they agreed. Ever since, I’ve been on the air for 24-nonstop hours every Christmas Eve.

And now I am doing it all again!

Within my 24 hour radio takeover on December 24, I will air some special programming that have become traditions within the tradition! Every Christmas Eve morning at 10am, I replay Home For The Holidays hosted by Helen Leicht. An amazing selection of regional artists perform classic sounds of the season.

At noon it’s my annual broadcast of STRIKING TWELVE – a wonderful and creative retelling of “The Little Match Girl”, a short story by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen and performed here by GroveLily.

Later in the evening at 7pm, I broadcast It’s A Wonderful Life – the 1947 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed … a perfect way to showcase the magic of radio on this most magical of nights!

Here’s a few songs you’ve already missed today

Bailen – Christmas Is All Around
The Piano Guys – Carol Of The Bells
Weird Al Yankovic – Christmas At Ground Zero
Asleep At The Wheel – Christmas In Jail
Wall Of Voodoo – Shouldn’t Have Given Him A Gun For Christmas
John Flynn – Christmas Balls

[READ: December 24, 2020] “A Portrait of an Unnamed Man”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 24.  Edward Carey, author of The Swallowed Man, writes his phone number on his hand for just such an occasion. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story read like a Mad Lib to me and I don;t understand why it was written.

It starts out fairly normally.  After a bad storm the air is full of the smell of rotting photographs.  That’s very specific, but I get it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CORY HENRY: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #129 (December 21, 2020).

I wondered if there would be a Christmas themed Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.  And here’s one.

Cory Henry was the keyboardist for Snarky Puppy.  He has since gone solo and here he is playing some jazzy songs with just a drummer.

Henry is a renowned composer, producer and musician who rose to fame as a member of Snarky Puppy. In 2018, he visited the actual Tiny Desk for a jubilant performance with his own band, Cory Henry and The Funk Apostles. Just a few weeks ago, he released a holiday album, Christmas With You, a collection of classics and new compositions full of comfort, joy and reflection. For this Tiny Desk (home) concert, Henry and his longtime collaborator, drummer TaRon Lockett, recorded a couple of those songs at the Gold-Diggers studio in Los Angeles.

Henry plays two songs with Lockett.

For the first one, he’s on piano.  “Misty Christmas” is a bouncy fluid piece that sounds like something you might here on a Peanuts special.  There’s some nicely complex and varied drumming to accompany Henry’s jazzy piano.  It runs about 6 minutes and then Henry sends us some nice words.

“May these songs fill you and your family with joy and happiness as we bring in what will be a far better year than the last. Live in love, live in peace, grow in freedom. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays.”

Watch for his adorable pocket pitbull, Lady Lingus, right before he shifts to the organ with another soulful original, “Christmas With You.”

The second piece starts with the lyrics from “The Most Wonderful Time” of the year, but with a different melody.  Turns out it’s just the introduction to a new pop jazz song.  He’s got a retro sound on his organ and sings softly as he plays, full of smiles for all.  His voice is soft and pleasant.

This is a nice Christmas song although I don’t see it becoming a classic.

[READ: December 23, 2020] “Bone to His Bone”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 23.  E. G. Swain died in 1938 and did not respond to multiple requests for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I tend to enjoy the older stories in these collections quite a lot.  Not to detract from contemporary writers at all, but I thought it might be fun if H&O made a collection of just later 19th and early 20th century stories that did not have a lot of exposure. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHAWN COLVIN-Happy Holidays from Shawn Colvin and McCarter Theatre Center! (December 19, 2020).

On December 19th, I received an email from McCarter Theatre:

Shawn Colvin, a dear friend of McCarter, gave us a special present to share with all of you!

I have enjoyed Shawn Colvin’s music over the years, but somehow was never quite aware that she played McCarter (apparently many times).  At the end of this session, she says that she is arranging something special with the Artistic Director of McCarter for 2021.

I think I’ll certainly have to check that out.

For this special concert, Shawn plays two Christmas songs from her home.

It amuses me that she says she wants to give us a little holiday cheer and then she plays “In the Bleak Midwinter.”  Good grief.

her version is lovely and her voice sounds very good.

The second (of two) songs is “Little Road to Bethlehem.”  I don’t know this song but it’s similar in tone and it suits Colvin perfectly.

This isn’t exactly the holiday pick-me-up it might have been, but Colvin sounds great and it is nice to hear her.

[READ: December 22, 2020] “The Ones We Carry With Us”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 22.  Sara O’Leary, author of The Ghost in the House, puts a bowl of candy on her front step with a sign that says “Help yourself.” [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This is the second story in this collection which I have read previously (that’s a good ratio 2 out of 22).  Here’s a link to the original post.  This is a slightly edited version of my original post:

This story starts with a fascinating sentence: ” A few years ago, I accidentally midwifed a death.”

This could literally mean many things, although figuratively it makes sense for what she actually means.

The narrator then goes on to tell us about three women whose lives have impacted her.

The woman who died was Agatha. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOYCE DiDONATO-“Silent Night” (#SingForToday, Princeton University Concerts, December 21, 2020).

I first heard of Joyce DiDonato from an NPR session many years ago.  I loved that she had a gorgeous voice but was not too precious about herself or her music.  She had a lot of fun.

I can’t imagine the chills you would feel hearing her live.

Here’s the next best thing.  In conjunction with Princeton University Concerts and University Musical Society of the University of Michigan, Joyce created the #SingForToday series.

The third entry is this gorgeous version of “Silent Night,” performed by Joyce DiDonato and Àlex Garrobé on guitar.

Joyce has a lovely mezzo-soprano voice and the accompanying guitar by Garrobé  sounds classical in its soft resonance without being fast or complicated.

She sings the songs straight through.  Then for a second round, she changes  the words: “peace, peace, peace on earth…”  I’ve never heard this before and I don’t think it’s part of the song normally.

For the final sing thorough, she she sings over herself with both voices doing the different lyrics in a kind of fugue.  She also adds in some harmony.

This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, i think it is so beautiful.  This version is just amazing.

[READ: December 21, 2020] “Our Day of Grace”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 21.  Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron, cannot find a stamp. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is a series of letters written near the end of the Civil War.  There is a Southern woman and her beau–a soldier on the front.  They write to each other although their letters do not always overlap.  He references another soldier, C.W.  We see the letters that C.W.’s wife writes to him and we see in her letters that he does not write back–as she gets more and more dismayed. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKADRIANNE LENKER: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #114 (November 18, 2020).

Adrianne Lenker is the singer and songwriter for the band Big Thief.  I really enjoyed the first Big Thief album, but haven’t enjoyed the rest of the band’s output as much.

NPR’s Bob Boilen loves Lenker.  He has done from the very start (he’s the reason I got their first album).  He loves the new albums by Lenker but to me the songs suffer from exactly what I found less interesting about Big Thief’s later albums.

The newer songs tend to be quieter–really emphasizing her voice which is lot more twangy than it was on album #1.  The new stuff (and solo stuff) also doesn’t rock as hard.  It’s not to say that her voice isn’t good, it’s juts not as interesting to me as it was on that first record.  As Bob says

The songs, the words, the voice of Adrianne Lenker has been at the top of my year-end musical loves for the past five years, more so than any other artist. It began with her work as the singer and songwriter on Big Thief’s electric debut album, Masterpiece, in 2016 and runs through this year’s two sister solo albums, one titled songs and the other instrumentals. Those albums contain nothing more than an acoustic guitar, voice, and the bug, birds, and creatures captured while recording.

Her yearning voice, simultaneously frail and strong, draws me to those songs — songs about people, everyday life, everyday death, and ordinary places. All the while, she picks the tunes out of her guitar or paints the rhythms with a brush.

She plays five songs from songs (I’m curious to hear if I’d like instrumentals).

For her Tiny Desk (home) concert, Adrianne Lenker’s home is a camper trailer parked somewhere in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s the appropriate setting for the five songs she performs from her new album, tunes birthed in a wooden cabin in Massachusetts.

The songs all sound similar in style, with subtle differences that pay off nicely.  “zombie girl” has a very high capo.  All high notes are fingers picked.

For “two reverse” she adds lower guitar notes (and a very cool riff) which sound rich and resonating.

“dragon eyes” is nifty in that she plays the guitar with a brush instead of a pick which gives the guitar a very soft almost delayed sound–I’ve never seen that before.

After a quick shot of the outside of her trailer, she plays “anything,” a song with no capo.  It’s the catchiest song of the bunch with a nice story.

“ingydar” ends the set with an instrumental opening (with pretty harmonics). I thought this was an instrumental but it’s not.

So I came away from the set liking her more than I did, but not enough to get her record(s).

[READ: December 20, 2020] “The Decade I Kept on Getting Stabbed”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 20.  John Jodzio, author of If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home, can cut straight through a tin can, just watch. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This super short (barely four pages) story was great and had me laughing out loud.  It packed a great number of funny lines into a small space.

The narrator explains that he kept getting stabbed:

once on the bus, once at the barber, once at the bus stop outside the barber, once accidentally by my Labradoodle Conrad.

His friends told him to stop going to stabby places or to stop taping knives to Conrad’s paws. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKOWEN PALLETT: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #113 (November 17, 2020).

I know Owen Pallett from their performance at Massey Hall.  It was beautifully layered orchestral pop.

Typically they loop the songs to make them bigger, but or this set, Owen changed things up.

Owen recorded four songs in multiple stages on different instruments: first, they played acoustic guitar and sang; then they performed the songs again, but this time on violin and viola; finally, Owen layered the recordings in post-production, not really knowing what the final versions would sound like. They explain the whole process, charmingly, between songs.

The setlist here is complete different from the one from Massey Hall.  Although like a that show, he mixes some songs from his first album (released as the band Final Fantasy) as well as he official solo songs.

From a bedroom in Toronto, Owen traverses their musical history, opening with a dreamy song from 2005’s debut album (as Final Fantasy), Has a Good Home, 

His guitar melody is beautiful and the layers of strings make this song feel big and pastoral.  His voice is gentle and lovely.

Before the second song, “Cliquot,” he says that in 2007, he went to Quebec with the band Beirut to write songs and record his EP Spectrum, 14th Century. and Beirut’s album The Flying Club Cup. Zach Condin gave him an instrumental and asked Owen would write a melody, lyrics and sing lead.  They don’t play it live probably because it’s really really gay and Zach doesnt want any more werotci fan fiction writen about the two of them.

Beautiful string melodies in between verses.

“Perseverance of the Saints” is from Owen’s latest record, Island. Here it’s transformed from arpeggiated piano to guitar, and I love the tone it sets.

It is so gentle with swirling strings and a gentle melody.

Owen not only performed each instrument in separate takes, but also did all the production work: recording, filming and editing. A remarkable talent captured in a candlelit bedroom.

“Song for Five & Six” is from his 2014 album In Conflict.  He says when he loops live things to end to get “overwritten and annoying,” so he’s looking forward to playing this with arpeggiated guitar instead of synth.

This song was written about an incident he saw on the Orkney Islands.  After playing some kind of ball game, the men and boys, covered in mud, would climb on the back of a flatbed truck and ride through town banging sticks on the side of the truck.  He thought it was a beautiful image and probably the only pure thing that the men have ever done.

He sings in a gentle falsetto and there’s some gorgeous strings.

[READ: December 19, 2020] “The Snowstorm”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 19.  Alexander Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in 1837 and so was unreachable for comment. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

I have not read any stories by Pushkin before and I really enjoyed this one (translated by T. Keane).

Set in 1811, this story revolves around a young woman who has fallen in love with a young man whose station is far beneath her.  And such great quotes!

Maria Gavrilovna had been brought up on French novels, and consequently was in love.  The object of her choice was a poor sub-lieutenant in the army, who was then on leave of absence in his village.  It need scarcely be mentioned that the young man returned her passion with equal ardor, and that the parents of his beloved one, observing their mutual inclination, forbade their daughter to think of him.

They wrote to each other every day.  At last they decided that they would run off and get married in secret.  They would then hide away for a time and come back to throw themselves at their parents’ feet for their blessings. (more…)

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