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Archive for the ‘Supernatural’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: RACHELE ANDRIOLI-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #135/153 (January 13, 2021).

Rachele AndrioliGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The third artist of the third night is Rachele Andrioli from Italy.  She is (almost) a one-woman band and makes amazing music with her voice and a loop pedal.

Recording from southern Italy, Rachele Andrioli’s performance highlights her mix of old and new, of traditional music and modern technology. Her trance vocals and loop pedals create a sound all her own, mixing music from Italian, Indian, Lebanese, Albanian and Romani cultures and traditions.

She plays three songs.  For the first, “Te Spettu” (“I Respect You”) she loops a jaw harp (who would have thought that that could be the basis for a song).  Then she loops her voice crooning.  She picks up a hand drum that looks like a tambourine (and gets an amazingly robust sound from it).  Her vocal style feels Middle Eastern.  It’s a really impressive piece of music.

“Pranvera Filloi Me Ardh” (“Spring Started with the Coming”) is in Albanian.  As the song starts, her accompanists come out.  Redi Hasa picks up a cello and plays a harmonic note (looped) followed by a gentle plucked melody.  Then Rocco Negro plays the accordion.  The mournful accordion solo sounds very Italian.  Hasa plays a mournful melody and she sings gently with them both.

The men leave and it’s just her for  “Ederlezi.”   She loops her voice singing a single note and then accompaniments herself including a distortion on her voice making it a very deep harmony.  She plays another small hand drum which gets an amazing sound.

This is a wonderfully unique set that I really enjoyed.

[READ: January 22, 2021] Snapdragon

For a while, I was reading every single First Second book that was published.  Once the pandemic hit, I fell behind and have not really been able to catch up just yet.  But S. brought this book home and I thought it looked interesting even before I saw that it was from First Second.

The cover is a little disconcerting.  Snapdragon, the girl in the picture, has hair up in pig tails.  But with a ghostly deer behind her, the way her har is drawn, it almost looks like some kind of antler (probably not intended).  But there’s a lot of things that are confusing in this story at first (and even second and third) glance.  I assume that these other decisions are deliberate.

Many of the characters in this story are African-American, including Snapdragon.  But her skin coloring is very different from all of the other characters.  I don’t think it matters for the story, whether she is or not (until the very end anyhow).  But it was very nice to see so many characters of color in the book.  In a strangely similar way, a main character, Jacks, I was sure was a man, but indeed, she is not.  Snap recognizes her as a woman right away, but I wasn’t sure if that made a difference either.  In fact, Jacks’ masculine appearance is important in the story, but I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to think that Jacks is a man as well?

None of that matters, of course, because once you learn the reality, you can just move on.

So just what the heck is this story about?

Snapdragon is a girl (all the women in her family are named after flowers).  She’s a little odd and the other kids are happy to let her know that.  The only kid who is nice to her is her neighbor Louis.  Louis thinks Snap is weird, but Louis is also pretty unconventional. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKHIT LA ROSA-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #134/144 (January 12, 2021).

Hit La RosaGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The second band on the second night is Hit La Rosa from Peru.

Kidjo says their music is like a psychedelic surf-punk cumbia.  That’s true, but in a rather restrained way.  The music is cool and a little wild but it never gets out of control.  They play three songs and again, the musicians’ names aren’t given.

From the candle-lit home of their lead singer, Hit La Rosa comes in hot and doesn’t stop until the final measure. The band explores the many facets of Peruvian cumbia music, infusing it with pop music, folklore, jazz and dancehall to produce its distinctive grooves and hooks. The band’s precise-yet-dreamlike music and punk sensibility all come together to make music that explores life’s shadowy sides. Despite living through a political crisis in Peru, the band brings a message of hope and joy in the midst of struggle and upheaval.

“La Montañita” has a latin drum opening with a weird echoing surf guitar intro.  Sliding bass and trippy keys propel this danceable song along.

“La Marea” opens with a mellow keyboard and slow bass and guitars.  After a coupe of minutes,a drum fill introduces the faster part of the song.  An echoing vibrato-filled guitar solo and trippy synths are accented with Peruvian percussion and drums and it all works really well together.

“Salvia” is trippy and moody with more of the vibrato guitar soloing.  I really like at the end of the song the juxtaposition of the looping guitar melody and the bouncing bass.

[READ: December 14, 2020] Simantov

This story (originally written in Hebrew and translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman) was a combination police procedural and eschatological novel about the end times.

I read the summary of the book at work, but the summary really doesn’t indicate just how supernatural the book is going to get.

It would greatly help to have a solid foundation in Biblical lore to fully understand what’s going on in this book.  I mean, the first chapter title contains a footnote:

The First Day of the Counting of the Omer*
*According to the Torah (Lev. 23;15) Jews are obligated to count the days from passover tp pentecost. This counting is a reminder of the link between the Exodus and harvest season.

Things are supernatural right from the get go.  Elijah the prophet comes to Earth to prepare for its smiting (it’s quite an elaborate introduction).  Elijah lands in Israel and leaves a trail of destruction all the way to Shamhazai’s mansion.

So, obviously it helps to know who Shamhazai is (I didn’t–Shamḥazai and his companion Uzzael or Azael are fallen angels of Nephilim).  The Nephilim are literal giants in the Bible–often taken as fallen angels.  That’s a lot of background for the first 9 pages.

The next chapter reminds the reader of the first humans created by God–Adam and Lilith.  Shamhazai was gaga over Lilith.

Incidentally, after reading the book I was looking at what other readers had thought.  One reader on Goodreads said she had to stop reading the book on page 10 after this sentence:

[Lilith] was dark and comely, her eyelashes fluttered like turtledoves, her perky breasts like two erect towers.

I’m going to admit that I found this simile to be really awkward (translation problem or just poor writing?).  I mean, even if Lilith were a giant, her breasts wouldn’t be like towers, right?  It’s hard to know even where to begin with a simile like that.  But I pressed on. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKDEDICATED MEN OF ZION-GlobalFEST Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #133 /138(January 11, 2021).

Dedicated Men Of ZionGlobalFEST is an annual event, held in New York City, in which bands from all over the world have an opportunity to showcase their music to an American audience.  I’ve never been, and it sounds a little exhausting, but it also sounds really fun.

The Tiny Desk is teaming up with globalFEST this year for a thrilling virtual music festival: Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST. The online fest includes four nights of concerts featuring 16 bands from all over the world. 

Given the pandemic’s challenges and the hardening of international borders, NPR Music and globalFEST is moving from the nightclub to your screen of choice and sharing this festival with the world. Each night, we’ll present four artists in intimate settings (often behind desks donning globes), and it’s all hosted by African superstar Angélique Kidjo, who performed at the inaugural edition of globalFEST in 2004.

The first band on the first night are the Dedicated Men of Zion from North Carolina.

Dedicated Men of Zion come to you from their backyard barbecue in North Carolina, bringing with them an electrified version of sacred Gospel soul music. This family band (all related through blood or marriage) has been isolating together during the pandemic, and the members are excited to provide an uplifting note during difficult times.

They sing three songs in front of an amazing looking barbeque in Dex’s backyard.  The first, “Father, Guide Me, Teach Me” is a rocking gospel song.  There’s a great old-fashioned organ sound from Aaron Adams.  The four men sing.  Anthony “Amp” Daniels sings lead, Dexter Weaver [his nephew-in-law], Antwan “Ace” Daniels [his son], and Marcus Sugg [his son-in-law] sing great backing vocals.  There’s a fun jam at the end.

“Can’t Turn Me Around” opens with Mark Richardson playing a simple blues riff on the guitar. Then Jerry Harrison joins in on bass.  Amp is full on power singing through it.  He sounds great.

For “It’s A Shame,” Ace takes over lead vocals.  He has a good voice, but not nearly as commanding as his father.  Drums throughout are provided by Amp’s little brother Jaheim Daniels.

They sound great, but honestly I kept thinking about that barbeque.

[READ: January 2, 2021]

Despite the boring title I was really intrigued by this story.  The cover is tshirtking and the blurb was really intense-sounding.

So, I was really fascinated that the fundamental basis of the story the #FeesMustFall Rally was real: #FeesMustFall was a student-led protest movement that began in mid-October 2015 in South Africa.  Much of the story is grounded in the reality and danger of this movement.

The story takes place over the course of a week and each chapter is told from one of six character’s person’s point of view.

Hector, a student protester is looking to get everyone riled up about the cost of education in Cape Town.

Noné, South Africa’s president is not ready to deal with this interruption because she has a big public event coming up–an extraordinary zoo.  Noné was once a student protestor herself but she has since become The System.  She can’t trust anyone because everyone is out to get her.  The only reliable face she knows is Alice.  Alice is young an beautiful and while Noné knows that Alice probably wants her job (and is undoubtedly prettier than she is), at this point Alice is a perfect assistant and only makes Noné look better.

Thuli is a student and friend of Hector.  She has been “glitching” where she can see seven days in the future.  She knows that Hector’s life is in danger.  She has to try to convince reporter Helen that what she’s saying is true. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORROMEO STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #127 (December 15, 2020).

This is the second of three Tiny Desk Home Concerts to honor Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary. 

The Borromeo String Quartet consists of Nicholas Kitchen: (first) violin, Kristopher Tong: violin, Mai Motobuchi: viola and Yeesun Kim: cello (who is Kitchen’s wife).

Beethoven doesn’t score high when it comes to positive personality traits. Paranoid, litigious and a micromanager, Beethoven didn’t suffer fools and often fought with friends. Still, he possessed a well-developed funny bone, which Nicholas Kitchen and company put on display here, along with their own whimsical tiny “desks.” Because of the virus, and the confined space, the players wear masks.

The humorous side of Beethoven’s personality seeps into his music, such as the false stops and musical giggles that fuel his two-minute-long Presto from the Quartet Op. 130, which opens this performance.

“String Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, II. Presto” has many fast moments and interesting parts where the first violin pays fast melodies but the rest of the quartet plays slow triplets over and over.  This is one of Beethoven’s shortest movements and is full of variety and energy.

For contrast, the Borromeos follow with a serious movement from later on in the same piece, the prayerful Cavatina, which Beethoven said even got him choked up.

This movement is full of serenity and tranquil beauty.  This is called the beklemmt section meaning trouble breathing. 

Kitchen can barely contain himself about the humor in the next piece, “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, II. Presto.”  He says this has a playful melody and “berserk” middle with instruments going all over the place.

More hijinks ensue in the Vivace from the Quartet in F, Op. 135, where Kitchen says the music becomes “completely berserk.”

And finally, in the last movement of the same quartet, Beethoven inserts a musical inside joke, the brunt of which falls on a wealthy music lover who displeased the great composer by not showing up at an important concert.

Kitchen says that Beethoven never met an occasion when he did not have a pun.  And he enjoyed injection his own brand of humor into his pieces.  In “String Quartet in F, Op. 135, IV. Der schwer gefasste Entschluss” there is an inscription: question must it be?  answer: It must be it must be!  Kitchen explains there was a patron who did not attend the premiere of opus 130.  The next day the patron  asked Beethoven to send him the music so his court musicians could play it. Beethoven said he’d send it but “you not only have to pay the price of admission for the concert you missed but for everyone in your family.”  The man looked at him and said “Must It be?”  Beethoven wrote a canon for four men to sing “it must be it must be.”  Then he made that joke the basis of the last movement of Op. 135.

[READ: January 3, 2021] Dinner

The Linden Tree was an interesting trip down memory lane for Aira.  

Dinner, by contrast is a wild violent fantasy (translated by Nick Caistor).  But its starts in the mundane–with a man and his mother going to dinner.

The two of them went to his friend’s house.  The friend was a terrible storyteller.  But he and the narrator’s mother had one thing in common–they were great at remembering the names of everyone in Pringles.  They knew the genealogies and configurations of nearly all the families.

But the narrator was terrible at remembering names–he had no facility for it at all.  He had plenty of memories from the town, but could never put a name to an event.

Evernatully the friend brought out a precious toy that he had.  It wa an old and rather sophisticated wind-up toy.  Two separate gears would go at the same time.  As it began to run, the door to a bedroom opened an a fat man came out and started to sing (as well as an old 19th century toy could sing). An old woman was in bed and she began to move back and forth “as a blind person does.” Then the second mechanism kicked in an the bedspread began to move and it looks like flocks of birds were flying out from underneath it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DUA LIPA-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #121 (December 4, 2020).

I first encountered Dua Lipa a few years ago when I was watching the NPR series Field Recordings.  It showed Dupa Lipa in 2016 singing a song from a balcony.  An accompanying essay said that she was hoping to “break America.”  I said I thought her song was fine.

I guess she has now broken America as she was on lots of best of lists this year (and the blurb lists her as a “global megastar.”

I haven’t actually heard anything from this album (or any of her albums–oh, she only has two), so this is really my introduction to her.

Of Kosovar Albanian descent, Dua Lipa was raised in the UK and rose to super stardom in the three years since her eponymous debut album dropped in 2017.

The band gets a remarkably full sound for having just a bass (Matthew Carroll) and a guitar (Alex Lanyon).  Even when Lanyon solos, the recording is robust.

I do find it strange that she has FOUR backing singers, though (Naomi Scarlett, Ciara O’Connor, Izzy Chase, and Matthew Allen).  I can’t hear that any of them are doing anything different than the others, making me thing two or even one would suffice, but whatever, it’s good to give musicians a job, right.

And, this is the first time she has been able

to reconnect with her band for their only performance since their tour in support of her sophomore album, Future Nostalgia, was cancelled in March. This vibrant four song set of dance hits, all from Future Nostalgia, will surely have you cutting up the floor in your kitchen while quarantining in the cold weather.

All four of these songs are enjoyable but pretty forgettable.  Even though You can sing along by the end of the song, it’s not likely you’ll be humming them an hour later.

“Levitating” has a fun descending vocal melody and a funky bass line.  I do rather like th emiddle “rapped” section because I like hearing Lipa’s accent as she says her London o’s in

My love is like a rocket, watch it blast-off
And I’m feeling so electric, dance my ass off

“Pretty Please” is a fun dancer. “Love Again” has a lovely full guitar introduction.  And the refrain of “God damn, you got me in love again,” is quite arresting.

“Don’t Start Now” has a cool funky bass line and a catchy chorus–definitely fun to dance along to.

[READ: January 2, 2021] “Our Lady of the Quarry”

This story is written in second person plural (and translated by Megan McDowell).

A group of younger (16 year old) girls are jealous of an older girl, Silvia.  Silvia has a place of her own, a job with a salary, and a know-it-all attitude:

If one of us discovered Frida Kahlo, oh, Silvia had already visited Frida’s house with her cousin in Mexico.

Silvia’s hair was perfectly dyed, she always had money and, worst of all, Diego liked her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JULIA BULLOCK-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #119 (December 1, 2020).

I had not heard of Julia Bullock, so when I started this video I was surprised that she was an operatic singer.  Their setting seems so casual–just her sitting next to her husband, Christian Reif, at the piano.  And then pow–what a voice!

Soprano Julia Bullock prefers to be called a “classical singer.” It’s a rather humble, even vague, appellation for one of today’s smartest, most arresting vocalists in any genre.

Bullock is in Munich Germany and has decided to sing songs in both langauges.

Carefully choosing songs in German and English, Bullock begins with something bittersweet and introspective by Franz Schubert that cautions patience when looking for inner peace.

Franz Schubert: “Wanderers Nachtlied II” [Wanderers Night Song] features poetry by Goethe and is barely two minutes long.  It’s a wonderful start.

She follows with “Wie lange noch” (How Much Longer), a World War II-era song by Kurt Weill. Written after Weill emigrated to the United States, the song contained coded messages for Germans back home. But Bullock has no time for secrets in these days fraught with uncertainty. The meaning behind her insistent cries of “How much longer?” as she stares straight through the camera, couldn’t be more transparent.

That direct look at the camera is certainly uncomfortable–I hope the right people are made uncomfortable by it.

The next two songs are a gut-punch of clear-eyed observation, struggle and hope. The spiritual “City of Heaven” finds a determined protagonist facing down sorrow.

The song is sung as a spiritual, but Bullock’s operatic voice cannot be denied.

while Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” written at the height of the civil rights movement, speaks truth to power. At the very end, Bullock spins out a long flowing line on the word “free.”

After a soft piano intro, she sings the beginning of the song a capella.  So that when the piano comes back in it’s even more powerful.  As are the deep notes she hits.

[READ: December 29, 2020] “The Heart of the Circle”

This was an excerpt in the back of the novel Simantov.  It’s another book from Angry Robot and “more Israeli fantasy.”  The story was translated by Daniela Zamir.

I enjoyed the way this book starts right in the middle of the action–giving very little in the way of context.

A few people (college students) are seated at a bar.  There’s Reed and Daphne.  He is close with Daphne (her curls tickle his nose), but she is a free spirit.  There’s also Reed’s brother Matthew.  Daphne and Matthew were supposed to be an item (according to the boys’ mother) but it never happened.  Their mother now sees her as part of the family–as a sort of sister.

They are all somber.  It is the day after the latest murder.

The first murder was unbearable.  This is now the fifth or sixth and they are almost numb. This time they didn’t know her, but they were marching with her when she was killed.

When pyros tried to get revenge after the first murders, they were arrested and executed by the Prevention of Future Crimes Unit. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MAC AYERS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #118 (November 30, 2020).

I’ve never heard of Mac Ayers and while I respect the fact that he plays everything in this Tiny Desk Home Concert (and syncs things up nicely) and even wears different clothes for each instrument, this 15 minute set was pretty torturous for me.

If you were to ask what kind of singing do I hate the most, my answer would now be Mac Ayers.  I hate the tone of his voice, I hate the way he does those whiny ooooooh at the end of his lines (note in the first song the first verse the way he says “you” and then the way he ends the rhyming word do (he even makes a face like it hurts him as much as it hurts me.

Obviously my opinion is not the popular one, because Ayers is apparently a big star.  But not in my house.

The 23-year-old Long Island native shot this in his basement back in September (hence the ‘register to vote’ comment). Mac’s modus operandi lends itself to the Tiny Desk naturally. No over-produced beats, lots of live instruments and a stunning vocal range — and he handles all duties: guitar, bass, keyboard and background harmonies for three songs from previous albums and the premiere of a new song, “Sometimes.”

He plays “She Won’t Stay Long” and then fiddles on the keyboard as he introduces “Walking Home.”  This song is a little bit more enjoyable for me.  There are fewer grace notes.  Although I do dislike the chorus.

He talks to us from his guitar to introduce the third song (I like that he’s mixing things up).

“Sometimes” is a new song.  It reminds me a lot of Billy Joel (not his voice, but the melody–must be a Long Island thing).

“Easy” has some terrific harmonies, although I hate the lead vocals.  I give him a lot of credit for being an exceptional musician, I just hate the music he makes.

We were well on the way to hosting Mac Ayres at our D.C. offices until we had to shut down and pivot.

I hope this Home Tiny Desk means he doesn’t have to do one in the office.

[READ: December 13, 2020] Modern Times

I saw this book at work and, given some of the blurbs, I thought it might be, if not fun then at least unusual to read flash fiction from an Irish writer.  I also prefer this Australian cover (right).

The book starts out with a bang.  “A Love Story” is bizarre and memorable.  In a page and a half, Sweeney talks about a woman who “loved her husband’s cock so much that she began taking it to work in her lunchbox.”  The story is bittersweet and outrageous at the same time.  It was a great opening.

But I feel like the rest of the book lost some steam.  Possibly because I assumed all of the stories would be this short.  It felt like the longer stories dragged on a bit (which is strange for stories about 4 pages long).

Interestingly, “The Woman With Too Many Mouths” even addresses this (to me anyway) as the narrator says, “I could expend many pages recounting my time…. but you would become bored, and worse, you would forget all about the woman with two many mouths.”  The woman with too many mouths had moths (among other things) fly out of these mouths.

“A New Story Told Out of an Old Story” is, as the title suggests, a story within a story.  It feels like a fairy tale with a Woodcutter and a Miller’s Daughter.  There’s even a Grandmother and a Wolf.   In the internal story, the wolf attacks the grandmother.  She survives, but the scar from the wolf makes her husband not want to look at her and the villagers treat her badly.  When you get to the Grandmother’s story, she has a different take on things.

This book is very current and I am reading “The Palace” as being about the pandemic.  Specifically, the outrageous bungling of the response by the current (and soon to be ex!) administration in the U.S.  

The palace was sick  no one believed it, but it was true.  

In the story the palace physically deteriorates.  The king patches it up but doesn’t actually do anything about the problem.

Soon reports of the sickness were breaking in the news on a daily basis. The king gave a rousing speech about battling the forces of evil that had created the sickness and people screamed ‘Long live the King’ until they were hoarse.’

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Connection” (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Six” December 15, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The sixth night is a 90s rocker: a short, fun, stomper from Elastica.

From Brit Milot to Britpop…here’s one of the coolest tracks from the 90’s….sung by the very cool…and Jewish…Justine Frischmann…ELASTICA!

“Connection” was a 90’s juggernaut (even if they did have to give money to Wire).  Justine Frischmann was a perfect frontwoman–sexy and snarly at the same time.

Kurstin plays the keyboards and gets the sound pretty spot on, especially the higher notes.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  After providing those opening low voiced “uhhs,” he sings in a slightly higher register, and his harmonies (in a video insert) are perfect.

Midway through the song they add in circles with handclaps.  It amuses me that hey start with two circles and move up to sixteen or so.  Once again, one of my favorite songs in the set is super short (not even three minutes).

[READ: December 16, 2020] “In the Mist of Everything”

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 16. Hilary Leichter, author of Temporary, is pretty sure she just felt a raindrop. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

It strikes me that this story was created because the phrase “in the midst of everything” was misheard as “mist.”

At first I didn’t care for the way the story was structured, but it only took a couple of paragraphs before I rather appreciated it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KURSTIN x GROHL-“Rainy Day Women 12 & 35″ (The Hanukkah Sessions: Night Five” December 14, 2020).

   Producer Greg Kurstin (who I have not heard of) and Dave Grohl (who I have) decided that, rather than releasing a Christmas song this year, they would record eight covers of songs by Jewish artists and release them one each night for Hanukkah.

“With all the mishegas of 2020, @GregKurstin and I were kibbitzing about how we could make Hannukah extra-special this year. Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… We’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims. L’chaim!!”

The fifth night is a classic rock staple: a singalong from Bob Dylan.

So now everybody must get stoned (not in the Law of Moses sense) as we put some blood on this track: Rainy Day Women 12&35 by the immortal Bob Dylan!

Anyone who has listened to classic rock radio has heard this song a hundred times.  And if you heard it when you were younger, it made you chuckle because he says “everybody must get stoned.”  I have often wondered if there is any more depth to the song than that.  Also, why it is called “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35.”

Kurstin plays the piano on this one–a bouncy barroom piano rag.  He also adds harmonica.

Grohl plays drums and sings.  These drums are about the simplest thing that he’s ever played–a two beat snare and bass drum. He doesn’t try to sing like Dylan (that would be too obvious), although he definitely sings more like Dylan than himself.

It’s a straightforward song and both of them have a lot of fun with it.

[READ: December 15, 2020] “The Game”

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 15. Kris Bertin, author of Use Your Imagination!, would like to buy a vowel. [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story is about allowing fate to control your life.

The narrator and his friend Brad both work at a University.  They are both published authors although neither has written anything since they got the jobs.

Brad believed in “all that shit”–he got his fortune told,  did Tarot, I Ching, Ouija–he did it all. He believes that he is fucked on a cosmic level.  He is trying to bring his wife and child to where he is working, but he can’t afford to do so yet.

The narrator tries to convince him it’s all junk and says he’ll do a fortune for him right now.  But Brad knows that having any of that divination shit in your house is bad luck.  However, he does have a can of dice.

The dice are a large assortment of letters–from multiple Boggle games.  Brad tells him you roll the dice and you read what it says–not all the letters obviously, just what speaks to you.

The first roll produced

GOGET ON THE ROOF QIUCK

So they did.  The roof was beautiful–a lovely night, a lovely view, and a flat surface to keep rolling. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKSHIRLEY COLLINS: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #109 (November 10, 2020).

There is no denying the first line of this blurb: “Shirley Collins is a legend.”  But like many legends, I find that I know of her more than I know about her.  It’s possible that I’d never heard her before this set.  And that may not be an unreasonable thing

 Her life story took the sort of twists you hear in the songs she sings, in her case, a broken heart, a painful divorce, and the loss of her voice. For 30 years, she couldn’t sing.

I don’t exactly understand what happened to her voice (that link doesn’t explain it), but her first album in over 30 years came out in 2016.

Now, here she is playing songs from Heart’s Ease, only the second album she’s made in the past 40 years. You hear her sing of a young sailor boy who saves his ship from robbers and is promised by his captain both gold and his daughter’s hand in marriage. The lad sinks the robber’s boat, only to be left to drown by that very same captain.

These unimaginable tales and that unadorned voice have influenced both British and American folk music since the 1960s, from Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny to The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. These tales of woe and whimsy are as timeless as Shirley Collins

So here is Shirley Collins, at 85, seated in the living room of her cottage in Lewes, East Sussex, accompanied by guitarist Ian Kearey, singing along to a few stringed instruments

She sings five songs.  At 85, her voice doesn’t sound amazing, but it does sound good.  And it’s more about the emotion she puts into these songs than the power of her voice.

She explains that in the 1950s, she took a field recording trip across the United States with Alan Lomax.  She heard “The Merry Golden Tree” in Arkansas.  It was still sung in England but had traveled across the Atlantic and then across the continent.

Kearey plays guitar for the first song, but switches to banjo for “Sweet Greens and Blues” a song her first husband Austin John marshall wrote 50 years ago.   She says the first line seems apt in 2020: “If we don’t make it this year let’s see what next year will bring.”

She heard “Wondrous Love” from a rural Alabama congregation.  The church was full of people from all over.  They sang this hymn in their old voices–“shrill and beautiful at the same time: the most incredible lovely noise you could hope to hear.”  Kearey gets a very cool metallic slide guitar sound for this song.

Before singing “Tell Me True” she tells the story of an American friend in Montana who sent her a vast British ensign flag from the Royal Navy.  He found it in a barn when he was 16 on holiday in rural Vermont.  He took it!  Now he sent it to her.  She thinks its from 1812, the Battle of Lake Champlain in vermont.  Woah

“Old Johnny Buckle” is a nonsense song, an upside down song that’s good fun to sing.  I imagine it could have been sung by Boy and Girl Scouts.  With silly lyrics like this

Old Mrs. Buckle went a’fishing one day
She caught her left leg in the clay
The toads and frogs all wobbled about
She ran to get a shovel to dig herself out

[READ: December 8, 2020] “Reflections”

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 8.  Sofia Samatar, author of A Stranger in Olondria, is glad she remembered to pack those seasickness tabs..  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story was a challenge for me.  First because I didn’t realize that the two letters (the story is two letters on facing pages) were meant to be read separately.  At first I thought it was a series of disjointed, unfinished letters–a sort of failed attempt at communication.  Obviously that is very far from what the story is mean to be about. (more…)

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