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Archive for the ‘New Directions Pearls’ Category

gambler SOUNDTRACK: DakhaBrakha-Tiny Desk Concert #435 (April 25, 2015).

dkahDakhaBrakha are a band from Kiev, Ukraine.  There are four members, one man (unsure how he is dressed because he plays the accordion which covers his body) and three women.  The women are dressed in fetching white gowns (with lovely detail work done on them) and gigantic woolen “farmer’s hats.”

The women play drums, (with what looks like a wooden spoon), bongos a horn instruments that sounds a bit like a kazoo (I wish NPR gave more details here) and a cello.  They also provide most of the singing.

The first song, “Sho Z-Pod Duba”features bowed cello.  It opens with the male yelling quite loud and some wild yipping and shrieking from the women by the song’s end.

The second song, “Torokh” features lead vocals by the middle woman (the one with the kazoo).  But it also features interesting backing sounds and hums from the other two women.  The cellist (who is plucking the strings like an upright bass) also sings a partial lead vocal.  When the kazoo (which isn’t a kazoo at all, and is more like a penny whistle with some kind of vibrating piece on it) kicks in, the song goes utterly bonkers for a few measures.  The male singer starts yelling and the song is just insane until it stops and slowly builds again.

The end of “Torokh” and a lot of “Divka-Marusechka” has the women singing in the style of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (Bulgarian folk harmonies).  This song is the most unsettling of the three because the accordion and cello play an incessant drone that is a two note lurch.  The male sings lead while the females sing harmony and dissonant harmonies as well as a bird call kind of sound.  The end has one of the women signing an almost hip hop style while the other sings a higher, faster lyrics (all of which is in Ukrainian, so I have no idea what they are saying).

It is a strangely familiar music and yet it is also disconcerting.  I listened to it three times and I loved blasting it in my car–t woks great at loud volumes.  I also want to get one of those hats.

Check it out here.

[READ: March 28, 2015] Never Love a Gambler

This is a collection of three short stories from Irish writer Keith Ridgway.  They are quite dark and explore the criminal underbelly.

“Never Love a Gambler”
In this story we meet a family, the father of which is a gambler.  We meet his son and wife as they talk tough to the loan shark’s thug.  The son is pretty tough, standing up to Mossie, who gets the whole bar quiet when he walks in.  Mossie explains that he has been round to their house and they have some lovely things, but he can’t find the gambler himself.  They tell him that they don’t know where he is and then set out to try to find him.  In the meantime, they find a filthy homeless dog and a boy who is waiting to be picked up by his dad.  And they go on a quest together.  The stories converge in a dark but funny (but actually very dark) way. (more…)

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gogolSOUNDTRACK: ANDY WILLIAMS-Merry Christmas (1965).

awxmasMan, I love some Andy Williams at Christmastime.  I don’t really know much about him at other times of the year and I imagine that I would never listen to him, but he is one of the voices of Christmas. I like his voice so much even if I don’t love all the songs on this record.

His “Sleigh Ride” is the essential version–boppy and fun–you can imagine zipping along on a sleigh with jingle bells bouncing along.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a bit slow, but “Winter Wonderland” sounds great.  His “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” is fun–he can really belt out those notes and “Silver Bells” is also a highlight.

The choice of “My Favorite Things” (from The Sound of Music) is unexpected, as it has nothing to do with Christmas, but his rendition is wonderful.  “Christmas Holiday” is a song I don’t know but Williams belts it out as well.  “Do You Hear What I Hear” is also great.

“Some Children See Him” is a fascinating song that I haven’t heard too much (although Rivers Cuomo does a cover of it(!)).  It’s all about how children from different countries see Jesus a different way (a rather progressive idea).

“Little Altar Boy” is a slow and somewhat ponderous song that I’m unfamiliar with.  The final two songs “Mary’s Little Boy Child” and “The Bells of St. Mary” are pretty but not fun (as you would assume from the titles).

So I love about half the disc and like most of the rest.  Williams has an earlier Christmas album as well.  I think I’d like to pick and choose between the two discs for a great Williams collection.

[READ: December 23, 2014] The Night Before Christmas

I had intended to read all Dickens stories this week.  And then my latest New Directions Pearl arrived and it was this one: The Night Before Christmas (also translated as Christmas Eve) by Nikolai Gogol.  Well, that put a change in my plans.

I don’t know much about Gogol, although apparently he wrote only short stories (no novels).  My book has a quote from Dostoevsky that says, “We all came out of Gogol’s overcoat.”  So imagine my surprise when this night before Christmas is actually about witches and the devil and affairs with beautiful women!

The story is set in Dikanka, Ukraine.  It is Christmas Eve and, according to legend, that is the night in which the devil is free to perform tricks and torment people.  Before the devil comes, we see a witch flying around the sky collecting stars.  The devil decides that he is going to steal the moon–this will make it very dark so he can create even more mischief.  The moon proves to be very hot, and he winds up juggling it a few times until he gets it into his pocket.

The devil decides to get back at Vakula, the village blacksmith.  In addition to being the blacksmith, he is also an artist and he has painted some really cruel pictures of the devil on the side of the church.  And the devil is pretty miffed about this.  So he sets an elaborate plan in motion. (more…)

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   bridegroo,SOUNDTRACK: K’Naan-Tiny Desk Concert #34 (November 9, 2009).

knaanI really only know K’naan from his song “Wavin’ Flag” which was the World Cup anthem in 2010.  It’s an uplifting anthem which would be schmaltzy except that K’naan is Somali-born, spent his childhood in Mogadishu and lived there until the start of the Somali Civil War in 1991, when his family moved to Canada.  “Wavin’ Flag” was for the people Somalia and their aspirations for freedom.

In this set (the first ever hip-hop Tiny Desk Concert–although there is very little hip-hop in the set), K’naan plays three songs. “Take a Minute” is quite beautiful.  It’s funny to me the rap section kind of spoils the song  but because K’naan is a much better singer than rapper.

“Fatima,” which has a less interesting musical style than the other songs (perhaps it’s better when not in this Tiny Desk format) is startling lyrically.  It’s about childhood friend of his, with the harrowing line–“what did the gunman say before he took you away.”

The final song is “Wavin’ Flag” (which was popular but nowhere near as big a hit as it would be soon enough). The anthemic nature of the song still sounds inspiring in this stripped own format.

I’m not a big fan of this style of music in general–poppy/R&Bish, but K’naan has a great sense of melody and brings a very interesting perspective that makes his style unique.  And most importantly, he has a good, subtle voice.  This is a good introduction to his music.

[READ: January 3, 2014] The Bridegroom was a Dog

In continuing the “small book” idea, I recently subscribed to the New Directions Pearl series.  It is a collection of smallish books–novellas or short stories–in starkly beautiful binding.  This was the second book I received in the series (I haven’t read the first one yet).  Incidentally, this book has a list of the other pearls, and I rather hope they will send me some past Pearls as well, as they are quite a great collection.

This was an interesting selection to me because I actually own this book already (it’s the same translator, Margaret Mitsutani).  Although as it turns out the book I own (which has the same title) is actually three short stories while this one is only the title story. I bought the book in 1998 and never read it (there is a bookmark that suggests I read a few pages, but I didn’t remember a thing).  So I was happy to get reintroduced to the book and to finally read it.

And I intend to read the other two stories in the near future as well.

This is a peculiar story (as the title indicates).  In it a teacher, Mitsuko Kitamura runs the Kitamura School which is described as a cram school–an extracurricular school.  And the students learn some interesting things.  Like “snot paper.”  She suggests that using used tissues is better because they are warm and wet.  And indeed, she goes so far as to say that you should use “snot paper” when wiping your behind because “it feels even better.” (more…)

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