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SOUNDTRACK: RARE ESSENCE-Tiny Desk Concert #637 (July 19, 2017).

I have learned of go-go music exclusively from Tiny Desk Concerts:

Dominated by drive and momentum, heavy on percussion and bass, go-go music is all about the beat. Live, “songs” can continue on for half an hour, as the percussion continues to simmer and punctuate between and across different pieces. “That’s why we call it go-go, because it goes on and goes on and goes on,” as guitarist Andre Johnson put it in a documentary film.

This visit by Rare Essence perfectly encapsulated the genre’s incomparable meld of soul, R&B and, most importantly, funk (with a dash of Afro-Cuban influence).

So that’s go-go.  What about this band?

Rare Essence emerged not long after go-go itself did, beginning as a group in 1976 in Washington D.C. Ever since the group has kept a steady schedule playing around town and around the world.

The band plays seven–SEVEN–songs in sixteen minutes.  Many of them are just riffs that go on for a minute or so like “Down for My Niggas.”  Whereas “Rock This Party” is a bit more of a call and response piece–with some good congas.  “Freaky Deak” is pretty much a riff or two before they start talking to the audience.

They thank Suraya for arranging the show and there’s a lot of shouts outs and hand waving.  And then they start with one of their favorites, “One on One.”

All of the songs more or less flow into each other as one long jam.  There are multiple lead singers and everyone participates in the responses.

After a spell of their name (R-A-R, Double E, S-S-E-N, C-E) the lead guitarist sings lead on “Bad Bad” (he’s the oldest looking guy but he still has the power in his voice).

As they segue into “Lock It,” We apologize we could play this song for ever but I know everyone got to go back to work.  We’re gonna play the short version  We could play this for at least an hour.  They keys plays a nice Cuban sounding melody–almost like xylophones.

“After three minutes, he says this ant even the first part of the song–we still got about fifty more minutes.” Then they segue into “Overnight Scenario” which everyone sings along t o.

Anthony Andre “Whiteboy” Johnson (guitar, vocals); James “Funk” Thomas (vocals); Charles “Shorty Corleone” Garris (vocals); Leroy “RB” Battle, Jr. (keyboards); Calvin “Killer Cal” Henry (vocals); Michael Baker (bass); Kenneth “Quick” Gross (drums); Samuel “Smoke” Dews (congas); Kym Clarke (trumpet); Derryle Valentine (sax, flute)

[READ: July 23, 2017] “Bonebreaker”

I find Nell Zink’s stories to be weird but compelling.  She writes about strange things in unusual ways.  The people are often peculiar but compelling.

But this story was especially odd to me because the two characters seem really stupid

Both Jed and Laurie are fleeing the States.  As the story begins they go to the airport with a lot of cash.  But they knew that the TSA would be suspicious of that.  So when they see the “money sniffing” dogs, they know the TSA is on to them.  They leave their stuff at the airport and return home–which puts them on the no-fly list.

After a few more aborted attempts, they decide to take a barge–a real refugee situation. Not only do they not get where they are going, they lose a lot of money and are mostly miserable.

Why are they fleeing? (more…)

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feschukSOUNDTRACK: THE ART OF TIME ENSEMBLE with MARTIN TIELLI–Korngold: Source & Inspiration (Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, ON, January 30, 2009).

aotimeAfter seeing The Art of Time Ensemble yesterday, it was quite serendipitous that I would have a show from them (featuring Martin Tielli) to post about on the following day.

This concert is the third in the Art of Time’s “Source & Inspiration” series. Two years earlier the first concert focused on composer Franz Schubert.  The previous year’s concert focused on Robert Schumann. This time the spotlight was on the 20th century Jewish composer Erich Korngold–a composer of European pedigree who became well known for his wonderful Hollywood film scores.

This concert featured Korngold’s Suite for Two Violins, Cello and Piano as the ‘source’ as well as new songs inspired by this work from Martin Tielli, Danny Michel and John Southworth.

This recording is only 8 minutes long because there’s only two Martin Tielli songs. “Lied Two” (the German word for song is lied (pronounced leed) so Martin called his “Lied Two.” And “Moglich” which translates into “possible.”  Both pieces are played with by the orchestra.  Martins sings.

The more dramatic of the two would be “Moglich” with his loud whispered “Relaxxxxx at the end.”  For more information about the show, you can click on this link.

Full Program & Repertoire:
Suite Op. 23 for 2 Violins, Cello and Piano Left-hand
Erich Korngold
i.Praeludium und Fuge
ii.Walzer
iii.Groteske
iv.Lied
v.Rondo-Finale

INTERMISSION
Athabasca
Adventures of Erich Korngold
—John Southworth
The Sailor Song
Island

—Danny Michel
Lied 2
Moglich
—Martin Tielli

Performers
Andrew Burashko, piano
Danny Michel, singer
Erika Raum, violin
Stephen Sitarski, violin
John Southworth, singer
Martin Tielli, singer
Winona Zelenka, cello

[READ: November 22, 2015] The Future and Why We Should Avoid It

The title of this book made me laugh so I set it aside to read it.  Little did I know that it would be so very funny that I put aside other things so I could finish it.

I hadn’t heard of Feschuk before.  He has written two previous books (How Not to Completely Suck as a New Parent sounds pretty good) and writes mostly for MacLean’s magazine.

As you might guess from the title, this book looks at the future, and Feschuk’s predictions are uncanny.  For instance, I brought the book home and decided to look at it in the bathroom.  And the introduction states quite clearly:

By now, life should be awesome and leisurely and you should be wearing a spacesuit and high-fiving your wisecracking robot sidekick.  Except instead your dishwasher is broken, your god-damn iTunes won’t sync up and right now you’re reading this book on a toilet in your bathroom instead of where you should be reading it–on a toilet in your hover car.

Too right, too right. (more…)

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abe[TRAVELED: November 1-November 8, 2014] Airlines & Chain food

Our Florida trip ended a week ago, so it seemed time to mention a few things  that were pretty great which were not related to theme parks at all.

The first was our flight from Lehigh Valley International Airport.

I used to love flying.  I remember flying on Eastern as a kid and getting free wing pins.  I even got invited to see the cockpit of the plane (but I thought I would have to fly up there without my parents so I turned them down–my parents were probably bummed that they didn’t get to check out the cockpit themselves).  I even have a few good memories of flying.  My best memory was flying on Dec 31, 1999 to Vancouver and, because it was the eve of Y2K, getting nearly an entire airplane to myself (chickens!) and being served champagne as a toast to the new year (in coach, mind you).

Since 9/11, flying has been an ordeal and I swore I’d never do it again.  We usually fly out of Newark, which I always assumed was a normal, busy airport, not the best but certainly not the worst.  But after flying out of ABE, I hope to never et foot in Newark again. (more…)

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harper septSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Lawn Boy (1990).

220px-Lawn_Boy_coverFor what I consider a guitar dominated band (Trey Anastasio is certainly the frontman), the early Phish albums have a lot of piano dominated tracks.  It’s not the guitar is absent but the piano is mixed quite loudly which gives these songs a slightly different emphasis than when they are played live.

Also was with many songs on Junta, “Reba” feels slower than the live versions.  It also has some funny backing vocals (a common occurrence with these early songs).  “My Sweet One” is a lot more honky tonk than the live versions, which often feel almost barbershoppy.  In “Split Open and Melt,” the vocals are done in a very funny mumbly way (with weird background vocals).  There’s also horns (crazy horns) and female vocals –giving it  vaguely R&B feel.

“The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” (for origins of the phrase, check out this) is a live favorite that’s a fun and funky guitar solo (with a retro feel) and in this version there is much laughing and carrying on in the background).  “Bathtub Gin” opens with the crazy seemingly out of tune piano that they do live (although not as much).  There’s more funny voices on the chorus and crazy sound effects throughout.  Earlier Phish were a lot sillier than later Phish.

“Run Like an Antelope” also has crazy sound effects and it’s funny how I forget that the song is almost entirely introductory guitar solo wailing.  It’s not until 8 minutes that we get to the “rye rye rocco” section and the actual “run run run” part.   In this studio version, the “set your gear ship for the heart of your soul” section is spoken so quietly.  And the song is not quite ten minutes long.  “Lawn Boy” sounds clean and jazzy in ways that it doesn’t live.  And “Bouncing Round the Room” sounds a lot like the live version.  It’s a little slower, with a few more details thrown in.

Overall, Lawn Boy is a great early Phish album, with every song being a success.

[READ: October 3, 2013] “Life as a Terrorist”

William Vollmann was a suspect in the Unabomber case.  All because a “concerned citizen” alerted the FBI about his fiction.

This sounds utterly crazy, but it is true.

Vollmann has written about all kinds of things, both fiction and non-fiction.  For his non-fiction, he has traveled extensively, to Afghanistan and other places where terrorists reside.  So when he was detained upon reentering the United States from Yemen, he didn’t think too much of it.  But when he was detained a second time, years later–for seven hours and treated like a criminal–well, that got him mad.  And he used the Freedom of Information Act to see what the FBI had on him.

This is a sobering look at how the justice system in its zealotry to protect us can actually do far more harm than good, at least to innocent individuals. Vollmann uses this as the basis of his essay which looks at the omnipresent Unamericans: those who would attack without provocation and intimidate the weak. (more…)

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artofmcSOUNDTRACK: SUGAR-“Helpless” single (1992).

helplessI loved that first Sugar album and even bought the single for “Helpless” (back then singles were ways for record labels to get more money out of fans of a band rather than for people to pay for one song).  In addition to “Helpless,” the single contains three songs.  “Needle Hits E” is a poppy song–very Mould, very Sugar.  The song is a bright and vibrant addition and would fit nicely on Copper Blue.

The second track is an acoustic version of “If I Can’t Change Your Mind” which sounds wonderful.  Mould really knows how to record a 12 string guitar to make it sound huge.  “Try Again” is the final track.  It reminds me of The Who, especially the bass line at the end of each verse.  It’s a darker song (especially for his single which is so up).  But I love the way the acoustic guitar seems to make it build and build.  Then, some time around the two and a half minute mark, a feedback squall starts building.  It’s way in the background (and actually sounds a bit like squealing balloons).  It continues until the last thirty seconds just degenerate into full blown feedback noise–just so you know Sugar aren’t all pop sweetness.  All three songs were later released on Sugar’s Besides collection.

[READ: May 10, 2013] The Art of McSweeney’s

Sarah got this book for me for my birthday and I devoured it.  It answers every question I’ve had about McSweeney’s and many more that I didn’t.  It provides behind the scenes information, previously unseen pieces and all kinds of interviews with the authors and creators of the issues as well as The Believer, Wholphin and some of the novels.

The real treasure troves come from the earliest issues, when there was very little information available about the journal.  So there’s some great stories about how those early covers were designed (ostensibly the book is about the artwork, but it talks about a lot more), how the content was acquired and how the books were publicized (book parties where Arthur Bradford smashed his guitar after singing songs!).

The cover of the book has a very elaborate series of very short stories by Eggers (these same stories appeared on the inside cover of McSweeney’s 23).  For reasons I’m unclear about, the rings of stories have been rotated somewhat so it is does not look exactly the same–although the stories are the same.  The inside photo of the book also gives the origin of the phrase “Impossible, you say? Nothing is impossible when you work for the circus.”

The opening pages show the original letters that Dave Eggers sent out to various writers seeking stories and ideas that were rejected by other publications (and interesting idea for a journal). (more…)

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I have been getting The Washington Spectator for years and years.  I was delighted with it in the beginning when the editor had the wonderful name of Ben Franklin.  I am delighted now that publisher’s name is Hamilton Fish.  But aside from these two fascinating details, I have always enjoyed the content.  It was thoroughly researched and detailed.  And the little 4 page leaflet always looked like a newspaper in design and style, and it gave it a kind of gravitas–no flashy colors or pictures.

Well, here it is, Vol 37, Issue No 21 and they have finally changed the format.  And not only that, they have created a website and have a Facebook presence!  Welcome to the 20th century!

I say that jokingly because despite these changes (which look great by the way), The Spectator has not abandoned its old school journalism practice.  21st century news is pretty much all flash and brash–style over substance–quick reporting with no concern for accuracy and very little attention brought to retractions (can anyone say “climategate” (I wish they wouldn’t call it that)).  But The Spectator is exactly the opposite, and I am delighted to say that although they are now a lot more accessible, they have not lost any of their tenacity or thoroughness.

The redesign is quite nice.  There’s an image on the front page and now there are pull quotes in red, which stand out nicely on the pale paper.  Although I always liked the pull quote box in the middle off the front page, this new format allows for a couple of different pull quotes as well as an opportunity to mix things up a bit.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY-Take Care, Take Care, Take Care (2011).

I found out about Explosions in the Sky because of the events of 9/11.  Back when everyone was looking for albums to point fingers at in some kind of hysteria (that’s also how I found out about I am the World Trade Center who are not as exciting as Explosions…).

EITS make beautiful epic instrumental music (as well as the soundtrack for Friday Night Lights).  They play music in a similar vein to Mogwai, but they take their epic instrumentals in a different direction.  And this album is perhaps their most commercial to date (as commercial as you can be when you write 10 minute instrumentals).  And while “commercial” is not usually an adjective that I give as praise, for this album it is indeed.

Take Care, Take Care Take Care is a terrific album.  It ‘s not as visceral as past releases; rather, it seems like a more experienced band playing with their sound and tweaking it in subtle ways to make it less obviously dramatic but somehow more powerful.

On “Last Known Surroundings,” there are soaring guitars that give way to simple, pretty guitar riffs.  Martial drums propel the songs forward, even if they lead to unexpected places.  It’s soundtrack music that’s not background music.

Perhaps the biggest difference with this album and previous ones is that this album doesn’t quite live up to the band’s name.  There’s no major explosive crescendos.  There are noisy bits but they’re not climactic per se.   “Human Qualities” slows to a quiet drum beat and while you’d expect to come out of that with a cacophonous explosion, it doesn’t.  The explosion does come later, but only after it has worked up to it again.

“Trembling Hands” features “voices.”  Or maybe just one voice.  It’s on a loop that becomes more of a sound than a voice.  The song is only 3 minutes long, but it’s an intense 3 minutes–more great drum work on this one.

“Be Comfortable, Creature” has a beautiful delicate guitar opening that drifts into a kind of solo.  After 3 minutes it settles into the main riff, a winding guitar line that send you on a journey.  “Postcard from 1952” is a great song. It begins as quiet intertwining guitars and slowly builds and builds into a gorgeous rocking conclusion.  7 minutes of steady growth with a nice epilogue at the end.

The final song, “Let Me Back In” also has kind of spooky voices that appears throughout the song (distorted and repeated).  But you know this song is a winner from the get go (even if the opening chord structure is a bit like Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.”)  It’s a slow builder, a cool, moody ten minute piece.  When you get to the beautiful descending guitar riff that shoots out after about 2 minutes, it’s an ecstatic moment–air guitars are mandatory.

And let’s talk packaging.  The album comes in a gate-fold type of cardboard.  If you open it up all the way it can be folded into a little house (with windows and a door and a chimney).  That’s pretty cool, guys.

If I have one compliant about the album it’s that the quiets are really quiet and he louds are really loud.  That makes this a very difficult album to listen to say, at work, or basically anywhere where other people will be blown away by your speakers.  The middle of “Human Qualities” for instance, is really quiet, you feel like you need to turn it up to hear the drum beat–there’s too much volume fiddling (listening in the car by yourself negates any reason for this complaint, of course).

Keep it up, guys.

More “controversy” from the band

[READ: September 10, 2011] New Yorker essays

Ten years ago, The New Yorker published several short essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  They were all written directly in the aftermath of the attacks and they were moving and powerful.  I was going to wait until today to re-read them and post about them, but for various reasons, I decided to do it on May 12.

Now, ten years later, The New Yorker has published several more essays by famous and (to me anyway) not so famous writers.  I note that none of the authors are the same (that might have been interesting) although Zadie Smith does quote from John Updike’s piece of ten years ago.

The strange thing to me about these pieces is that ten years seems to have hindered the writers’ ability to focus on the incident and to talk about What It Means.  In this collection of essays, we have a few that talk about an individual and how his life has changed since 9/11.  These are pretty powerful, although it’s odd that they would talk about another person and not themselves. We have a couple of essays that talk about the writer him or herself, but these seem kind of unfocused.  And then we have ones that talk about the state oft he world; honestly, what can you say about that.

It’s possible that I’m jaded or in a bad mood and that’s why I didn’t appreciate these essays.  Or perhaps I’m just facing the futility of things.

This is not to say that I think that writing about 9/11 is easy (you’ll notice I’m not doing it).  Indeed, I think talking about it in any kind of meaningful, non-strident, non-cliched way is nigh impossible.

But these writers do give it a try.  And I am grateful for that. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RA RA RIOT-Live at the Black Cat, Washington DC,  October 12, 2008 (2008).

I really like Ra Ra Riot’s album The Rhumb Line, and this concert is basically a showcase for that album.  There’ s an interview at the end of the show (all downloadable from NPR), in which the  band says that critics raved about their live show as much as their album.

I don’t really hear that the show is more energetic than the album (maybe visually they are wild), but it did sound fantastic.  It’s amazing to hear a rock band that is dominated by strings–the cello and violin are often louder than the guitar (but not in a competing/drown you out kind of way,  more of a strings do the melodies and the guitar adds bulk to the sound).

I always enjoy hearing a band that is grateful to their audience for showing up (this is most evident in young bands, who seem so much more genuine about their love of the audience) and Ra Ra Riot are certainly that .  They seem genuinely surprised at the turn out, and they play a great set accordingly.

There are two songs that aren’t on the album here “A Manner to Act” and the encore “Everest.”  They both feel like they came off the album, which bodes well for their second album, Orchard, which just came out in May.  Ra Ra Riot also do a great cover of the obscure Kate Bush song “Suspended in Gaffa.”  At the end of the show they tack on a cover of “Hounds of Love.”  Lead singer Wesley Miles has a wonderfully strong voice and he can reach some pretty high notes–not soprano or anything like that, just strong enough to be able to pull off a Kate Bush cover.

This is a great show.  And when you read about the tragedy they suffered just as they were starting to take off, their obsession with death may not be so surprising.  I’m looking forward to Orchard.

[READ: 1995 and August 18, 2011] Microserfs

After reading Life After God and thinking about Microserfs, I looked up Coupland’s bibliography and saw that indeed Microserfs came next.  And I was really excited to read it.  I have recently watched the JPod TV show and I knew that JPod was a kind of follow-up to Microserfs, so I wanted to see how much of it rang true.  And I’ve got to say that I really rather enjoyed this book.

While I was reading this, I started taking notes about what was happening in the book.  Not the plot, which is fairly straightforward, but about the zeitgeisty elements in the book.  And, since I’m a big fan of David Foster Wallace, I was also noting how many zeitgeisty things this book had in common with Infinite Jest.  I’m thinking of tying it all together in a separate post, maybe next week.  But I’ll mention a few things here.

My son also loved the cover of this book because it has a Lego dude on it and he has been really getting into Lego lately.

So Microserfs is the story of a bunch of underpaid, overworked coders who work for Microsoft.  The book is written as the journal of Daniel Underwood (Coupland still hadn’t really branched out of the first person narrative style, but the journal does allow for some interesting insights).  The story begins in Fall 1993.  I felt compelled to look up some ancient history to see what was happening in the computer world circa 1993 just for context.  In 1991, Apple released System 7.   In 1993, Windows introduced Windows NT, Intel released the first Pentium chip, Myst was released and Wired magazine launched.  In 1994, Al Gore coined the term Information Superhighway.  Yahoo is created.  The Netscape browser is introduced.  So we’re still in computer infancy here.  It’s pretty far-seeing of DC to write about this.

Daniel works at Microsoft with several friends.  Daniel is a bug tester, Michael (who has an office, not a cube) is a coder, Todd (a bodybuilder) is a bug tester.  There’s also Susan (smart and independent), Abe (secret millionaire) and Bug Barbecue (an old man–he’s like 35).  The five of them live in a house on “campus.”  There’s also Karla (a type A bossyboots who doesn’t like seeing time wasted) who works with them but lives up the street.

As the story opens, Michael has just received a flame email from Bill Gates himself and has locked himself in his office.  This leads to a very funny scene and ongoing joke in which the office mates feed slide two-dimensional food under his door and he vows to eat only things that are flat. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BEN FOLDS/NICK HORNBY-Lonely Avenue (2010).

As the cover of this album notes: “Ben Folds adds music and melody to Nick Hornby’s words.”  And that is true. The only surprising thing about this combination is that Folds is quite a good lyricist himself, so it’s surprising that he would sacrifice his words.  But regardless, the fit is a good one.

Sometimes it seems like Hornby is challenging Folds to come up with melodies for some of his more difficult lyrics which Folds lives up to).  But they have such similar sensibilities that (aside from occasional references to British things) the words could have come from Folds himself (although, Hornby’s a better writer, so Folds wouldn’t have written exactly the same things).

The big surprise is the diversity of musical styles on the disc.  Folds of course does play lots of different types of music on his previous discs, but I guess since the cohesion is Hornby’s words so Folds can really let loose.

The opener, “A Working Day” is a keyboard pop confection, a surprisingly 80s sounding synth song with some wry lyrics about being a writer/performer (“some guy on the net thinks I suck and he should know, he’s got his own blog”).  “Picture Window” is a beautiful downer, a string-filled song that seems like a companion to Folds’ “Brick” (“You know what hope is, hope is a bastard”).  It’s just as sad but the melody is gorgeous.

“Levi Johnson’s Blues” is a strangely topical song (in fact, it took me a minute to remember who he was when I first listened to the song.  Anyhow, it’s a silly song about what happened to the father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild.  And yet, despite the novelty of it, it’s actually a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the guy (sure he’s a redneck, but he’s just a normal guy thrust into a ridiculous spotlight–the liner notes say the chorus came from Levis (redacted) Facebook page).

“Doc Pomus” feels like a classic piano song.  While “Young Dogs: is a fast romper (with great vocals) and more keyboards.  “Practical Amanda” is a slow ballad (and Hornby says it’s not autobiographical at all).  While “Claire’s Ninth” is a story about a young girl of divorced parents who hates having two birthdays.  (With sweeping choruses!) Hornby states that this was his first accepted short story (modified for the song, of course) but the magazine that accepted it stopped publishing before his appeared.  D’oh!

“Password” is a wonderful song which only makes sense when you know the name of it (which I didn’t at first, as I usually don’t look at titles right away).  Throughout the song Ben spells words which leads to a cool conclusion–it’s wonderfully clever writing and it’s done in a fascinating R&B-lite style.

“From Above” is a jaunty rocker about people who never meet, although their paths cross quite often.  “Saskia Hamilton” is the “single” from the record.  It’s another great 80’s keyboard fueled romp.  Since I have a friend named Saskia (hi, Saskia) I’m fond of this song–her name is fun to say.  They have a bunch of fun in the recording too.

The final track, “Belinda” is designed like a classic 70s piano ballad (there’s a lengthy email printed in the notes that explains the construction of the song–reading that makes the song even more impressive).

It’s a great Ben Folds album.  It’s not as tidy as some of his other ones–but all of that experimentation leads to some new avenues of melody. It’s a risk that paid off.

[READ: May 10, 2011] Five Dials Number 7

This issue of Five Dials was primarily about Memoir.  Typically, I don’t like memoirs, but I’m finding (and this coincides with what one of the memoirs below states), that I just don’t like celebrity memoirs.  Or perhaps I just like three page accounts of an incident in someone’s life (which these are).

Each of the writers below is given an introduction in which they summarize WHY they write memoirs.  It’s interesting to see that many of them do, in fact, take other people’s feeling into consideration (not as seriously as Mark Twain who waited 100 years for the publication of his), but they try to do something or other to spare people’s feelings.  I was intrigued also that several of the writers also talk about finding themselves through writing.  One or two of them make the exercise of writing memoir sound obnoxiously solipsistic (which of course it is), but it’s nice to read ones that are interesting and not too self-centered.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: “On Audio Detective Work and Memoir”
This letter explains the extent of the audio detective work that went into the interview (presented later) between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming.  Since I love playing with audio software, this was of especial interest to me.  And it made me really look forward to the interview. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE HEAD AND THE HEART-“Winter Song” (2010).

Sarah intended to get this disc for me for Christmas.  But evidently Sub Pop bought out the disc and put it out of print.  It’s now available as a download.  But a personal email from Sub Pop headquarters said they’d be releasing the disc in physical format sometime in April.  (Yay!)

This is a beautiful folk song which features wonderful harmonies.  It’s a simple guitar-picked song.  It opens with a male vocalist who sounds very familiar (I can’t quite place who he sounds like), but the end of the verse has a beautiful, brief blast of multi-part harmony.  The second verse is by a different vocalist (he sounds close to the first, I only noticed he was different after a few listens). The final verse is by a female vocalist which comes as a wonderful surprise as her voice brings a whole new shape to the sound.

The harmonies continue throughout the song and really flesh it out.  There’s not a lot to the song itself: a simple verse/chorus structure, but the execution and vocals are really lovely.

[READ: February 21, 2011] The Sword Thief

I can’t believe it has been five months since I read Book Two of this series.  It wasn’t for lack of enjoyment, sometimes other books get in the way!  But now that I’ve jumped back in, I’m in for a while (I’ve already started book 4).

One thing that I wanted to point out before talking about the book itself, was the way the various destinations are described in the book.  While I haven’t been to all (or really any) of the locations described, I have seen enough (in books and online) to know that the authors aren’t simply placing the kids in a generic location that pretends to be a city.  They really try to give each environment a full-bodied realism.  And I hope that young readers can really appreciate the sights and smells of the different countries.  It’s especially effective in Egypt (in book 4), but Tokyo really comes to life and Korea, although not fully explored, really shows the rural regions well.  Maybe this will encourage people to travel, but if not at least it’s instructive that not every place looks the same.

What I especially liked about this book is that the kids form a (brief) alliance (or two).  The first two books emphasized how all of the different family lines were in such competition with each other for the clues.  And, obviously that is the point of the books.  But it would be very tedious to simply have them run from place to place being chased by the different families.  So in this one, the kids form an alliance with Alistair Oh.  Better than that though is that Lerangis gives a detailed background of Alistair which makes him a more sympathetic, human character (even if we don’t fully trust him). (more…)

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