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Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THICK-5 Years Behind (2020).

Thick is a trio from New York.  They have been releasing music since 2016, and this is their first full length.  All three band members sing and they play a classic punk lineup of guitars, bass and drums. Thick almost describes their sound–it’s not all that thick, but it’s in the area of thickness.  This is a poppy punk album.  It’s full of attitude and feminism–terrific lyrics and great hooks.

“5 Years Behind” has a ringing, catchy opening riff and a wicked solo all supporting a singalong punky chorus.  “Sleeping Through the Weekend” opens with crashing drums from Shari Page and a wicked bass line from Kate Black.  Bright guitars from Nikki Sisti round out the song which is just brimming with terrific harmonies.  I really like the unexpected middle section where things slow down and the band adds four thumping notes at the end of each line.

“Bumming Me Out” is a largely slower song but with some excellent crashing moments.  And the lyrics–simple but totally effective

Never knew I’d be so tired
Fighting for what I believe
Try to take it al in stride
Sometimes it just feels like
Everything that I see is
Bumming Me Out

This song and others clearly address the moment and the administration.  As does “Fake News.”  A blistering 49 seconds of whiplash which deals more with social media than the idiot who uses it so much.

“Home” opens with another catchy riff and a great slow/fast dynamic.  But it’s not a verse/chorus slow/fast, it’s slow at the beginning of the veres with a double time drum and vocals at the end of it.

This all leads up to “Mansplain,” which opens with a series of quotes from men about “girls” in rock.  Hearing it all together should really bring home just how much sexism there still is in the industry.  It packs a wallop in just over two minutes and is crazy catchy to boot.

“WHUB” stands for where have you been which has a fun song along chorus.  I love when there’s another vocal line underneath the chorus singing counterpoint, and this song does that perfectly.  “Won’t Back Down” is a little slower, but it has some outstanding harmonies.  The way the vocal melody plays off the guitar and the way the harmonies interplay with each other is just perfect to me.  I really love this song.  And the lyrics are simple but powerful too, with a crunchy noisy ending.

“Can’t Be Friends” has a fun sing along melody right from the get go.  It’s followed by the screaming punk of the 90 second “Your Mom,” which still manages to have a catchy chorus.

“Party With Me” starts as a quiet almost lullaby-ish song (despite the lyrics “take your clothes off and party with me”).  But it’s a false opening because after the first verse the song takes off in classic poppy punk fashion.

The disc ends with “Secret Track” which I assume is not the title of the song (I’m guessing it’s either “Stop Screaming in My Face” or “Don’t Wanna Hear It”).  I really like the opening guitar which is slightly dissonant in the melody and the call and response vocals are a nice nod to Sleater-Kinney.

This is a fantastic album, with the only bad thing about it being that it barely lasts 30 minutes.  But really, that’s a perfect length for a punk album vecause you can listen to it again and again.

[READ: October 10, 2020] “Not Throwing Away My Yacht”

Ishmael Reed wrote a two-act play called The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.  It is a response to Hamilton which Miranda based on the biography by Ron Chernow.  The biography (and the musical) white wash a lot of Hamilton’s life, and this play is there to bring up the people whose lives were excluded from the story.

In the play, the spirits of Native American an enslaved Black people whose stories were omitted from the book interact with Miranda and Chernow.  But in this excerpt, Miranda confront Chernow about the information he left out.

Miranda is mad that Chernow lied about the maltreatment of slaves by the Schuyler family.  They had (and abused) slaves for 150 years.

Chernow says that he was confined to 800 pages–he had to be selective about what he kept in.

Miranda counters that Chernow left out the information that would tarnish his heroes.

Chernow argues that he won the Pulitzer Prize; he’s not a liar.  And how dare Miranda complain to him now?

Chernow says in the book that they might have owned slaves.  Besides, does Miranda think that Hamilton would have gotten the support from The Rockefeller Foundation and Disney if the musical was advocating revolution?  Do you think I could get bestsellers, and awards if I told the truth?

Miranda pushes back but Chernow says

Look, Lin, we have a good hustle going for us.  We’re both getting rich…. Why are you making such a fuss about these trivial matters?  They all owned slaves.

Then he gets personal:

Plus, you’re making sixty times as much as the actors–why not share more money with them?  You’re lucky the bass is so loud that it drowns out your trite lyrics.

I’m a little annoyed that people are mad at Hamilton for not including details about slavery.  I don’t know Miranda’s motive, but I suspect that wasn’t the point of the story.  I don’t think it glosses over the fact that they owned slaves, because it does mention it.  You can’t complain about a piece of art for what it doesn’t do, if that’s not what it was trying to do.  Write your own art that compensates for what Hamiltion failed to do.  And that’s what Reed is doing here.

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DISTRICTS-Popular Manipulations (2017).

The Districts third full length sees a change in style and sound for the band. They are clearly still The Districts, but they are far less shambolic.  Their sound is fuller, more complicated and less “sloppy.”  They also keep things reigned in with the longest song here being under five minutes.

The band also plays off of Rob Grote’s higher notes with excellent backing vocals, especially on “If Before I Wake.”  He sings the high notes while the someone else in the band sings a low counterpoint.  The lead guitar brings a catchy melody to the song which is all about the propulsive bassline.

“Violet” is one of the catchiest thing they’ve done.  From the chiming guitar sounds to Grote’s high pitched verses and smooth, catchy chorus, this song is marvelous.  Even the quiet bridge is attention grabbing amid the thumping drums.  But “Ordinary Day” tops “Violet” by having three separate catchy melodies in it.  There’s an immediate melody in the vocal line at the top, a bridge that is instantly gripping and a chorus that plays perfectly off the angst of the bridge.  Fantastic stuff.

“Salt” plays with a few different guitar sounds before hitting the catchy chorus.  Then comes “Why Would I Wanna Be,” a shorter song (under three minutes) with acoustic guitar a and a echoing drum keeping a very fast pace.  Spooky atmospheric sounds–keys? vocals? float through the song giving it a slightly warped feeling.

The catchiness comes back with the bouncy “Point,” a simple melody that resolves into a fun singalong chorus. “Airplane” sounds a bit more like their older style (all the way back to their last album), but updated and a bit more catchy (it’s amazing what a simple guitar riff can do for a song–in the beginning and in the lengthy one at he end). There’s also piano added on this track.

“Fat Kiddo” is the acoustic song–the guitar sounds great, but the song really takes off with the addition of the rumbling bass.   It’s a nice slowdown before the faster “Capable,” with its cool opening guitar sound and riff.

“Rattling of the Heart” is a faster song that works as a nice segue to the finale “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” which is pure Districts–the vocals are unmistakable and the sound of the song is catchy and distinctly them.

It’s great to see a band retain its sensibility while exploring new sounds.

[READ: September 30, 2020] “The Sand Banks, 1861”

This story feel like an excerpt because there seems like there should be a lot more.  I’m not sure if it is or not.

The story is set in remote Roanoke in antebellum South.

An assortment of people stood on the peer looking at the oysters.  Ebo Joe Meekins, the old Negro, “was either fifty or a thousand.”

There were six pre-teen boys, five colored and one white.  The narrator’s name is Dick.  He is one of the colored boys and is, in factor Master’s John B’s son.  But not really his son.

Among isolated people, increasing your slave stock was as difficult as finding new blood for brides.  Mulattoes were the result, open secrets.

The boys were friendly, if not friends, including Patrick, the white one.  Patrick was Mass. John B’s nephew and he was willing to take chances.  Instead of seeding the oysters in the oyster bed, he ate them.  As John B. walked away Patrick mocked him, but Dick would never dare. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: clipping.-“Chapter 319″/”Knees on the Ground” (2020).

On June 19, clipping. released this excellent track, “Chapter 319.”

clipping. has often released music that is harsh and unpleasant (great, but not “pleasant”).  This song, removes a bit of the musical harshness to focus on the vocals.  It’s still abrasive and cacophonous, but it’s meant to be heard by a lot of people.

After a sample, Daveed Diggs raps over a rumbling bass line.

Left, right, left

How long can we holler when it ain’t no breath?
You keep killing fathers without no regrets
Then keep on countin’ dollars ’til it ain’t none left
So the streets gon’ keep on marching like
Left, right, left

The middle of the song adds some complicated drums and effects but the focus is the lyrics:

This march a foot in yo fucking throat to choke out
The whole assumption that you are here to protect … us
This government doesn’t respect … us
And somehow they seem to expect … us to accept
The power a piece of shit millionaire president wants to project

Diggs raps in a normal flow and then adds some remarkably fast verses.  But the spotlight comes with this section, repeated twice.  It is not the chorus, it is more of a hook, with the music pausing at the full stop.

donald trump is a white supremacist / full stop
if you vote for him again, you’re a white supremacist / full stop

Full stop.

The other song on this release is called “Knees on the Ground” which was originally released in 2014.

The fact that lyrically it could have been written in 2020 is a succinct testament to systemic racism in four minutes.

Six thumps that sound like someone pounding on a door are the only sound bedsides Diggs’ lyrics (and some sound effects).   The pounding is unnerving as you can imagine who is on the other side.

An intense middle section has this quickly rapped verse:

Brown boy sitting on his knees with his eyes shut
Hands behind his head fingers woven pinkies up
Saying he ain’t even doin’ nothing what you want T
hey threw him on the ground when he called them all punks
Retro blue and white Jordans tongues out
Over the black jeans cuffed just the right amount
To make them bunch by the calves how he like
Just ran out of boxer briefs so he wearing tighty-whities
With a white t-shirt and the breeze catch it just so
Pressing it tight against his chest so the red hole
Is getting wider and the blood is soaking in the fabric
And pooling on the ground he looks down automatic
And the dark pavement gets darker when it’s wet
He’s losing balance slow with his hands on his head
So his face hits first and his eyes go dead
And the air is sucked out of the world with his last breath

Then the pounding comes back for another verse.  The chorus has some eerily quiet echoing chords as he recites:

Keep your knees on the ground where they belong.

It ends with noise and static.

Proceeds from the sale of the song go to organizations for racial justice.

[READ: July 20, 2020] Stamped

This book has been on the top of everyone’s recommended lists for being proactive about understanding systemic racism.

I didn’t quite understand what the subtitle meant by a remix, but the acknowledgements explain that Kendi wrote his book Stamped from the Beginning as

a history book that could be devoured by as many people as possible–without shortchanging the serious complexities–because racist ideas and their history have affected us all. But Jason Reynolds took his remix of Stamped from the Beginning to another level of accessibility and luster…that will impact generations of young and not so young people.

Reynolds is a multi-award-winning author of books for children.  He is also a teacher.  He knows how to write a compelling story.

I haven’t read Stamped form the Beginning, but this remix is outstanding. (more…)

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  SOUNDTRACK: FOXING-Tiny Desk Concert #857 (June 12, 2019).

I saw Foxing live and they were quite different from their recorded output–louder, more intense, a very physical band.  I was curious if they would sound more like their records or more like their live selves.

They have chosen the album sound–quieter, more subtle with gorgeous orchestration.

But I wasn’t the only one to wonder this.

When we invited Foxing to NPR HQ, we wondered how the band’s big sound would translate to such a (forgive us) tiny space. Would Foxing bring a bagpiper to recreate the shrill accent it snuck onto its latest album, 2018’s Nearer My God, or try to replicate the cathartic energy of its live shows over the hum of computers and fluorescent lights?

I didn’t realize that Foxing was

at the forefront of what’s referred to as “emo revival,” a term for today’s crop of bands heavily influenced by late-’90s and early 2000s groups… But with each new LP, Foxing’s ambitions reach beyond the genre’s boundaries, incorporating broader inspiration.

When I saw them, the show was dominated by singer Conor Murphy and guitarist Eric Hudson.  Interestingly, Hudson is on keys for this set.  Caeleigh Featherstone was on keys for my show.  She is on keys here, but her backing vocals are far more prominent here.

For this performance, Foxing expanded its numbers, bringing a saxophonist (Jordan Pettay) and a couple of string players (Gabriel Valle: violin; Nathan Sander: viola) to accompany the band’s touring lineup — and somehow, we managed to fit everyone behind Bob Boilen’s desk.

The first song, “Slapstick” features Conor’s falsetto and Caeleigh’s backing vocals.  Hudson plays the single wobbly notes that float behind the vocals. The strings are quiet but fill in the silences really nicely.  I love the gentle repeating guitar solo that Ricky Sampson plays through the middle.  Sampson plays bass throughout the rest of the show and Brett Torrence plays it on this song.  That sax solo at the end adds a nice touch to the emotional ending.

For its Tiny Desk, Foxing spotlighted three standout tracks from Nearer My God. The quieter instrumentation pushed singer Conor Murphy’s starkly confessional lyrics and shattering delivery to the forefront, especially on the set’s opening song, “Slapstick.”

And even with minimal amplification, the swelling chorus of the title cut “Nearer My God” is just as impressive as performed during the band’s explosive concerts.

“Nearer My God” accentuates Murphy’s falsetto even further and the harmonies sound truly wonderful.  The opening is quiet but it builds really nicely to the middle section which features great drums from the almost never on camera Jon Hellwig.

The set ends with “Grand Paradise” the song that I think makes them sound most like TV on the Radio.  It’s terrific the way the music counterpoints the vocals. The end section of the song just overwhelms with impassioned vocals.  The ending sax solo is pretty cool too although there’ s a nice bass riff around 11 minutes and we don’t get to see Ricky do it.

This is a great set, although I have a little question over the filming–too much attention to the strings and not enough to the rest of the band.

[READ: June 5, 2019] “Conduction”

This is an incredibly powerful story of slavery and freedom.

The story opens with Hiram Walker departing Virginia.  He is a slave with fake papers and a route to freedom.  The writing is excellent.  You can feel the tension, the fear and the sense that anything could go wrong at any second.  Slave catchers, known as Ryland’s Hounds, were at every turn.

He saw the men who were supposed to help him but he couldn’t make eye contact.  The conductor looked at his false ticket which stated that he had recently purchased his freedom.  The conductor didn’t care and he was allowed on.

After two days, he met a contact whom he also did not know.  After one more silent ride, he was in a house in Philadelphia with members of the Underground.

He explains how he knew the white man who helped him as well as the black man named Raymond White who also helped him.  Raymond’s brother Otha was also there–he was more charming, more jovial than Raymond.

For the next few days he wandered the city of Philadelphia, a free man.  Unused to and somewhat unhappy with this new burden.  It was an unsettling feeling, one that carried great deal of responsibility. (more…)

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 SOUNDTRACK: COLD SPECKS-Live at Massey Hall (May 23, 2014).

After enjoying the Rheostatics Live at Massey Hall video, I thought it would be interesting to check out some of the other artists in the series.

The very first artist to play was Cold Specks.  I had never heard of Cold Specks and I was blown away by their set.

So who is Cold Specks:

Cold Specks is the stage name of Canadian singer-songwriter Ladan Hussein, who was previously known as Al Spx. Her music has been described as doom-soul. The name Cold Specks is taken from a line in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil, lights shining in the darkness.”).

As the set opens, Al Spx (for that is what she was known as at the time) speaks about Massey Hall, learning about it from Charles Mingus and Neil Young albums.

And then the band comes out and they play “A Broken Promise.”  There’s such a great moodiness to the melody and the sound of the guitar (and bass pedals).  There’s interesting keyboard effects throughout as well as a spare but powerful unconventional drum rhythm.  And then there’s her voice powerful and a little menacing–arresting and gripping.  There’s a Nick Cave vibe to what she does, but with a very different texture because of her voice.

“Bodies at Bay” is a bit more uptempo and rocking with a wonderfully dramatic slow down for the powerful chorus.  I hear a bit of Marianne Faithfull and some of the more out there vocals of Tina Turner in her voice.  But the contrast between her voice and the music is very engaging.  “Living Signs” is a bit more spare–really focusing on her voice.

She describes “Hector” as “an old one” (which means it came from her other album).  Al Spx plays guitar and I love the way her guitar adds a new layer of music.  The melody in the bridge/chorus is fantastic.

“Let Loose the Dogs” starts a capella.  She sings it off mic (I wonder who could hear her) and then the band comes in with a quieter synth sound.  It’s a much less dynamic song, but a nice mellow moment.

She explains that she doesn’t play Toronto very much and yet this is her fourth time at Massey Hall. “I’ve informed my booking agent that shows in Toronto will be strictly limited to Massey Hall.

“Old Knives” is slow and moody but builds really nicely–a great song overall.  The big, crashing middle section is intense.  As the song ends, they let the music ring out as the guys leave.  As they are walking off, she says, “they fucked off before I could introduce them.”  So they are: drums: Loel Cambpell; guitar: Tim D’eon; the magic corner over here, including Marxophone: Jim Anderson.

While they are gone she says she’ll play “a song or two on my own here.”  She plays guitar and sings “Blank Maps.”  It has the same moodiness just unplugged–the guitar melody is simple, but very cool.  I’m glad I watched this, it has made me a fan.

You can watch the footage here.

[READ: March 19, 2018] To Kick a Corpse

At the end of the previous book, the Qwikpick Adventure Society was in trouble.  Lyle (whose parents work at the Qwikpick and the kid who has access to all of the Qwikpick goodies) was seen as bad influence on the other two.  His best friend Dave had been grounded, but that has finally been lifted.  But Marilla, the girl on whom Lyle is massively crushing (and the funnest girl ever), has been banned from ever seeing him (or the Qwikpick) again.  It was so bad that her parents even told the school principal that she was not to be seen talking to or eating lunch with Lyle (somehow Dave was not deemed so guilty).

It’s a pretty sucky couple of months.

One day the local historical group came by with fliers looking to Save Greenhill Plantation, a local farmhouse that belongs to Colonel Shergood.  Dave and Lyle were joking about the terrible speech when they were tapped on the shoulder and given in-school suspension.

But then Marilla, who is a rule follower to the letter and never wants to upset her parents, broke the rules and shouted “Good” when she heard the plantation was being turned into a Kmart. This guaranteed her an in-school suspension as well.  When they asked her why she would do that, she explained that she hates Colonel Shergood and she wants to “go kick his dead *&%!”

Marilla has never said a bad word in her life, and the boys are shocked.

Why is Marilla so upset? (more…)

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febSOUNDTRACK: D.R.A.M.-Tiny Desk Concert #596(February 1, 2017).

dramI had never heard of D.R.A.M. before (even though apparently his song b”Broccoli” has sold 4 million records).  So I was quite surprised to see the start of this blurb:

We all love a good redemption story: We’re front and center to watch our heroes get knocked down, and then we cheer for them to triumphantly rebound. What we’re witnessing with Shelly Massenburg-Smith — a.k.a. D.R.A.M. — is the culmination of a story marked by resilience and stubborn strength.

Making a hit record in the music industry is extremely difficult, and in 2015, D.R.A.M.’s debut single “Cha Cha” was on the brink of exploding. It was getting played in clubs across the country and bubbling on the charts…. Then Drake’s “Hotline Bling” happened. The reports are conflicting as to the inspiration for the record, but there are glaring similarities in the sound of each. “Hotline Bling” was even originally billed as the “Cha Cha” remix by Beats 1, where the song made its debut. Needless to say, “Hotline Bling” practically swallowed “Cha Cha,” but D.R.A.M. didn’t whine about it. He went back to the drawing board, crafting another smash. “Broccoli” became one of 2016’s biggest hits while setting up the release of his debut album, Big Baby D.R.A.M.

We recently invited D.R.A.M. to NPR to lend us his jovial spirit and brighten our workday; after all, his primary aim is to spread love through music. He was jarred by the Tiny Desk setting for a moment before the cameras started rolling. He’s accustomed to touching every corner of the stage, but like a pro, he walked to the desk, activated his signature smile and bounced through various highlights from his catalog. D.R.A.M., whose name stands for Does Real Ass Music, wrote his first selection, “Cash Machine,” right after he’d received his first big music check.

The crowd beamed more with each performance, leading up to a climactic rendition of “Broccoli.” The energy is all fun and games, but his talent is no joke:”Broccoli” is nominated for a Grammy this year, right alongside “Hotline Bling.” A victory would provide a fitting end to this chapter of D.R.A.M.’s career, but regardless of the outcome, he’s already victorious: Far removed from the “Hotline Bling” shadow, he’s already creating bigger songs and more memorable moments, like this one at the Tiny Desk.

His band consists of D.R.A.M. (vocals); Rogét Chahayed (keys); Taylor Dexter (drums); Wesley Singerman (guitar).  And the video begins with him walking through the crowd toward the Tiny Desk.  Unlike most artists, he plays a whopping five songs!  And while he is, indeed, full of smiles and joy, i couldn’t help but think that he was almost a goof.  He practically seemed like a Saturday Night Live spoof of a rapper.

“Cash Machine” has lyrics like “I love it when you talk to me / my cash machine” and it is seriously all about how happy he was to get a lot of money.  It’s almost naive (except for all of the cursing).  He says that he hopes all the ladies like his second song because it was written for them.  And once again, the lyrics are so strangely innocent and almost naive.  The lyrics of “Cute” are “I saw you on your Instagram and I think you’re cute….  Girl we need to go out on a date / We can really do a little something / If it’s cool I’ll pick you up at 8.”  And the music is sweet and dreamy too.

He says that he’s from Hampton, Virginia, which explains “Sweet VA Breeze.”  He says it’s a song about when things were “a little more simpler.”  He raps about “sitting in the treehouse” with the rather puzzling bridge of “Real love, feel love, taste love, smoke love.”

The next song actually appears on Chane the Rapper’s record Coloring Book.  He introduces “Special” by saying that it’s “nice to put a little motivational message out there in the world.  There’s a lot of fucked up shit going on… if we’re gonna be frank.”  He’s got a nice singing voice on this one.  It’s a rather sweet ballad, with the nice sentiment: “Everyone is special / This I know is true.”

And finally we get to the big hit that I’d never heard. It is such a strange song and the delivery here is even stranger.  He sings the opening lines in an over-the-top delicate almost operatic falsetto.

In the middle of the party, bitch get off me
In the cut I’m rollin’ up my broccoli
Ya I know your baby mama fond of me
All she want to do is smoke that broccoli
Whispered in my ear she trying to leave with me
Said that I can get that pussy easily
Said that I can hit that shit so greasily
I’m a dirty dog, I did it sleazily

The room is cracking up by this time.

And more lyrics:

Couple summers later I got paper
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel
With the capers on a square plate
At the restaurant with the why you got to stare face
To know I either ball or I record over the snare and bass
Rapper face, dread headed
Golden diamond teeth wearin’
They just mad cause I got that cheese, bitch, I keep dairy

The original song (I had to check it out) has this keyboard that sounds like a penny whistle–so childish and goofy. But I love the big throbbing bass line that comes after every line–almost unexpectedly late.

He’s surprisingly vulgar, but he’s so goofy that it’s hard not to like him.

[READ: January 14, 2017] “JB & FD”

When Wideman wrote this story I’m sure he had no idea that Frederick Douglass would be exhumed into public consciousness because Trump is an idiot.

“Frederick Douglass is an example of someone who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I noticed,” he said.  “Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and millions more black Americans who made America what it is today,” he continued. “Big impact.”

I miss Barack Obama for dozens of reasons, but this guy’s mangling of English is certainly a big reason.

Wideman does not mangle English, of course.  And yet I haven’t really enjoyed the stories I’ve read by him.  And this one proved to be even more challenging for me than his others.

The JB is John Brown.  The FD is Frederick Douglass.  And the problem is that I don’t know enough about either one.  Heck, I wasn’t even sure if they lived at the same time (I have since looked it up–they lived at the same time and admired each other).  But even with that background, this piece is just confusing.

It is broken down into several short numbered sections.

(1) is all about Douglass finding his glasses and having dread.
(2) begins as a letter to Douglass, with the comment that Douglass remembers no beard, not wearing one himself nor a beard on Brown’s gaunt face (but every picture of Douglas has him with a beard).
(3) sees Douglas watch himself step to a podium to discuss “The Woman Question” and then goes home and drops dead [this is historically accurate].
(4) is written from the I point of view, apparently written about John Brown and his upbringing.
(5) is in the first person from John Brown’s POV (I had to look up who had the sons with which names).  I believe it is a letter to Douglass.
(6) contains a letter written by Mahala Doyle and given to John Brown as she awaited execution.
(7) is of Brown’s trip to Kansas and his time in prison.
(8) has three parts. In 1856, a note from Mrs Thomas Russell.  In 1858 John Brown molts (“His feathers shed. A change of color”). In 1859, a letter to Brown (presumably from Douglass).
(9) My name is John Brown and I want my son to hear the story of my name.  In this section someone is dictating to “this good white lady” who is writing every word down to send to his son in Detroit.  And the entire thing is written in dialect.

Beyond that, I’m not sure if this was meant to be a historically accurate portrayal, an imagination of these two minds meeting or something else entirely.  I read it twice and never really “got it.”

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fakeSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 3 Mississippi Moonchile [CST110] (2015).

cst110cover_258x242I felt like the first Coin Coin disc was way too long, so imagine my surprise to discover that the whole Coin Coin series is planned as a 12 chapter collection!

Unlike the previous 2 chapters, this album was created entirely by Roberts.  She is credited with playing saxophone, Korg Monotron and a 1900s upright piano.  But like the others, the tracks bleed into each other and seem to end indiscriminately.

This disc also quotes from The Star Spangled Banner, Beautiful Dreamer, The Pledge of Allegiance, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, Lift Every Voice and Sing and All the Pretty Horses.  As well as samples from Malcolm X and a field recording of a travel through Mississippi, Louisiana Tennessee and NYC.

The first song, “All is Written” is 10 minutes long.  She sings quietly and starkly (voice breaking) while spoken words overlap behind her voice (and the saxophone and drones).  Her singing is at times pained and strained—aching with the truth of her words.  As “The Good Book” begins, the spoken word continues but the main sound is an industrial throbbing.  Near the end, a new metallic sound comes screeching in and then resolves into a kind of drone while angelic voices takes over for song three, “Clothed to the Land, Worn by the Sea” which is more pleasant.

“Dreamer of Dreams” resumes some spoken word and synth noises while two overlapping tracks of sax solos play.  “Always Say Your Name” has some more drones and a wild sax solo.  “Nema Nema Nema” experiments with analog synth noises while she sings a pretty melody with other voices circulating behind her.  “A Single Man o’War” has a high pitched drone. which is accompanied by several three note chants.

“As Years Roll By” is spoken words, with drone and church bells.   And lots of “Amens.”  “This Land is Yours” has lots of voices speaking and overlapping.  It ends with someone singing “come away with me come away,” which segues into “Come Away” with a noisy background and spoken voices talking about Zanzibar.  Then there is a keening, pained voice singing the middle. “JP” is a speech about he slave trade.

Although this album is difficult, it is more manageable than her other releases in this series.  But manageability clearly isn’t her plan, she is making a statement and it is exciting and frightening to listen to.

[READ: August 10, 2016] Original Fake

You should never judge a book by its cover.  But I really liked the cover of this book a lot.  And the title was intriguing, so I grabbed it off the new book shelf.

And what a great, fun story it was.

The book opens with Frankie sneaking into his school at 6:30 AM.  No one else is there except maybe the janitor.  He is sneaking into the school to do a small amount of vandalism. But the vandalism is not your typical vandalism.  On the school hallway is a mural that is currently being painted.  Frankie is an artist but he was not asked to paint the mural (no one really knows he does art).  The mural is a of a lake and farm fields and all that.  And he has decided to tag the mural.  He has painted a water-skiing abominable snowman giving the hang loose sign in the corner of the lake.  “He’s maybe six inches tall, and I kind of put him close to a rock so he’d blend in, but if you get close, its pretty obvious he doesn’t belong. He’s completely amazing.”

Amid the telling of the scene is a drawing of Frankie painting the snowman–this book is full of illustrations by Johnson.  Most of the illustrations complement the story but a couple actually tell the story, too. (more…)

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coin2 hiddenSOUNDTRACK: MATANA ROBERTS-Coin Coin: Chapter 2 Mississippi Moonchile [CST098] (2013).

The first chapter of this series was a sprawling disc of free-form jazz and spoken word.  It was interesting and strange with a powerful message (not always elegantly delivered).  It felt too long, but I think it was done live which would make it more understandable as a long presentation.

Chapter 2 is quite different.  It is much shorter, but it has 18 tracks that flow seamlessly (and often without apparent logic) into each other.  Most of the songs are quite short as well.

“invocation” is a sultry jazz number (Matana Roberts plays saxophone).  There’s also piano, trumpet, double bass and drums.  One thing that I didn’t like about the first chapter was Robert’s “poetry slam” deliver of her spoken words.  This album more or less erases that all together with the inclusion of Jeremiah Abiah on “operatic tenor vocals.”  I don’t know what he’s saying (if anything) most of the time, but his voice soars above the jazzy din.

“humility draws down blue” starts in the middle of a trumpet solo and lasts for a minute and a half.  “all nations” is only 8 seconds long and seems to coincide with a vocal line from Abiah.  “twelve sighed” settles things down some.

The first real change comes with “river ruby dues,” which opens with a gentle piano motif, and Abiah’s vocals.  Roberts’ sax solo plays throughout.  There are somewhat recognizable motifs played throughout the album.  I was sure I heard parts of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”

“amma jerusalem school” also opens with a new melody–a four note sax line–without a doubt the prettiest melody of the disc.  About mid-way through the song, Roberts begins speaking/reciting.  There’s a lot going on in her saga.  When that ends, more instrumentals continue and “responsory” has a lovely falsetto singing section.

This half of the album has been fairly conventional jazz: rather pretty with some nice melodies—far more conventional than Chapter 1.

Although by “the labor of their lips,” things have become a bit more avant-garde.  But even that doesn’t last too long and by “was the sacred day,” a pretty melody has resumed and more spoken word comes in, this time in stream of consciousness.  It’s a story of childhood with some happy and some sad details including: “they didn’t like black people at the hospital. you could use a room but no nurses would attend to you.” and the story of a woman getting whipped for not saying ‘sir.’   Interspersed through this tale is a sung line “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free.”

‘woman red racked’ features Robert’s singing voice—pretty and pained—with some nice, deep backing voices accompanying.  Interestingly, this vocal part ends with them singing “Amen,” but the song is not over… a sax solo emerges from this and plays a kind of wild section with Abiah’s vocals until the end.

“thanks be you” is a spoken piece, a story told to a child about the past “there are some things I just can’t tell you about” which references a lot of childhood songs.  It ends with the repeated refrain “Mississippi is a beautiful place.”

This disc is only 48 minutes and it feels just about the right length,  “benediction” ends the disc with a quietly sung song with another singer accompanying her: their voices sound great together.

As with the first one, the narrative is a little unclear.  The main thrust of the story is obvious and effective, but it would be hard to diagram the story.  Nonetheless, her use of jazz and traditional sources (“red ruby dues,” “woman red racked” and “benediction” are based on traditional American folk songs), make for an evocative look into slavery from the point of view of one family.

[READ: March 20. 2016] Hidden

Having recently read the Resistance trilogy I am much more aware of France’s role in WWII.  But that could never have prepared me for this children’s book about the Holocaust.  (written by Loïc Dauvillier, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel with illustrations by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo).

The book opens on a little girl.  She wakes up in bed and hears her grandmother crying.  When she asks what’s wrong her grandmother tells her about the “nightmare she was having.”

And that nightmare is her story as a young Jewish girl in occupied France and how her life was brutally upended.  This is all told with fairly cute little characters with oversized heads.

I’ve never heard this story from the point of view of a child before.  Her grandmother was a little girl going to school.  She and her friends did everything that you’d expect little kids to do and the story starts out very sweetly.  Then one day she comes home and her father says that they must all be sheriffs–wear the yellow star on their lapel.  Once they stray doing that, she is effectively shunned.  But she has no idea why–why does everyone hate the sheriff? (more…)

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colony3SOUNDTRACK: LULUC-Tiny Desk Concert #390 (September 15, 2014).

luklucBob Boilen has loved Luluc for a while.  I never really appreciated them as much as I do on this Tiny Desk Concert.  The duo is from Australia (and now Brooklyn), and I’d always felt that their songs were nice but nothing special.  But you can really hear what’s going on in them.  Zoë Randell’s voice sounds like a revitalized Nico and Steve Hassett’s accompaniments are really interesting.

“Small Window” starts with Zoë strumming a small acoustic guitar and singing.  Steve accompanies on electric guitar.  It’s a pretty song with a nice melody. And his solos accentuate the song.  But when the song shifts gears to the “crystal waters” section and an unexpected chord change it becomes much more than a simple folk song.

For the second song “Without A Face,” Steve switches to bass.  When Zoë talks, her speaking voice is gentle and somewhat high-pitched so when she begins singing she sounds even more shockingly like Nico.  And the bass is wonderful on this song.  He throws in a lot of little fills that really add a lot to the verses.  And the “oh oh” section in the middle is wonderful with some great harmonies from each of them.

Zoë says they used to play with just two guitars and mics and they have added a lot more gear lately, but that they’ve they’ve stripped down for this show.  For “Reverie On Norfolk Street” he plays electric guitar (cooly vibrato’d) and his gentle backing vocals on this song are a nice almost bass addition to the song.  There’s even a guitar solo which after the song he says is “the quietest guitar solo in existence.”

Luluc really surprised me with this session and I may have to give their studio tracks another listen.

[READ: July 23, 2016] The Lost Colony 3

Book 3 ramps up the excitement quite a bit,  and also a had a lot of flashbacks that fill in some story lines.

Like the other two, it also begins with someone lost saying “Dear God where the %$!* am I?”  But this time he is a beautiful hunk of a man with gorgeous blond locks.  He is Buck Swagger and he is transported to the island on the ferry because of a letter from Olympia Snodgrass (the Mayor’s wife and Birdy’s mom).
(more…)

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colony2SOUNDTRACK: JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE-Tiny Desk Concert #389 (September 8, 2014).

 jteI had an idea that Justin Townes Earle was a country singer.  Although I’m sure I’m conflating him with Steve Earle (his father) and Townes Van Zant (whom he’s named after).  But I realized I’d never heard him.  He’s more of a folk singer and he’s very charming.  He implies that he flew from Nashville just to play the show (“a quick trip just for y’all”) which gets an awww from the crowd) and like Trampled by Turtles and Jessica Lea Mayfield, he’s heading back home right after he’s done.  He also had his guitar maker send his guitar to him in DC so he didn’t have to travel with it.

He has an interesting percussive strumming style (he doesn’t use a pick) and he sings about love and loss.  The first song, “Burning Pictures” has a great line about how he doubts you even remember your love’s name since it’s another girl in the picture frame.

“When The One You Love Loses Faith In You” is a bit more bluesy sounding.  He picks some melodic notes between full-fingered strums.

Amazingly, he seems like he might quit after just two songs.  Bob asks him to do one more–doesn’t have to be new–it can be one he loves.  His favorite so that he ever wrote was “White Gardenias” (for Billie Holiday).  He says it feels like he’s about to miss the beat as he’s starts singing–which scares the shit out of a rhythm section.

Before beginning, while tuning, he says he has to learn a lot of his old songs for the upcoming tour.  Bob asks if he listens to the records, and he laughs and says he Googles the songs, which is just so ridiculous.  Bob asks if he illegally downloads them but he says no he just streams them.

“White Gardenias” is a lovely song with beautiful lyrics although I don’t really get that Billie Holiday vibe from it.

[READ: July 22, 2016] The Lost Colony 2

The inside cover of book 2 gives a little summary of book 1 (which is helpful). It also give s little recap of all of the main characters (which all series should do, frankly).

I loved that book 2 also starts with someone asking “where the %#!* are we,” it’s a man and a very large woman.  They also convinced Fud’na (the screeching violin playing guardian of the ferry) to ferry them to the island.  The large woman reveals that she is wearing a  stars and stripes dress which is very tacky.  But more importantly, she is a singer herself (almost as bad as Fud’na perhaps).

As the bok opens, Louis the slave boy is being set upon by the rocks bugs (although we dont know why).  He is recused by Jo’Pa an Indian who lives on the island (it is rumored that he used to be a real savage Injun).  And there’s Birdy, she is dressed as Squinto, compete with feather and bow and arrow.

Then we meet the Snodgrass family and Birdy’s heretofore unmentioned Gramdy, a cantankerous old man (who is her mother’s father). Turns out that Grandy hates the Injuns and is very mad that Birdy is dressed like one. “We’re at war with the Indian, dont you know they’re evil.” (more…)

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