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Archive for the ‘XPN Fest’ Category

[ATTENDED: September 25, 2021] Kathleen Edwards

I’ve enjoyed Kathleen Edwards’ music for years.  Her album Voyageur is just stunning.

But when that album came out back in 2012, I wasn’t really going to many shows.   It wasn’t until a few years later that I got the concert bug again and put Kathleen on my “gotta see” list.

But Kathleen had other ideas.  After Voyageur, she took a break from music.  In 2014, she launched a coffee house in Stittsville, Ottawa called Quitters.  And it seemed like she might never play again (even though she said she would).  So I left her on my “maybe, someday” list.

Then in 2019, she played the WXPNFest (the same weekend that we were going to the Newport Folk Festival–I was a wee bit surprised she didn’t play Newport too).  I kind of assumed that it was a one-off return and that would be that.

But an album soon followed.  And then earlier this year it was announced that she was playing The Met Philly.  But as an opening act for Jason Isbell, who I did not want to see.  [It’s one thing going to a show for the opening act, but it’s another if you don’t actually like the headline].  So, again, I was out of luck.

But then she announced a show in New York City at Le Poission Rouge.  And even though LPR is hugely inconvenient for me and it cost extra in tolls and parking, I’m so glad I went to the LPR show rather than the other two.  If for no other reason than the other two shows were all of 9 songs while this one was 16.  And the LPR crowd were there to see her!  And they sang along, and she was pretty tickled with us all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MDOU MOCTAR-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #213 (May 24, 2021).

Mdou Moctar has been getting some well deserved recognition lately.  It’s pretty great to see a Nigerian performer, who plays distinctly Nigerian style music making an impression on American audiences.

Of course, since I’m contrary, I’m more attracted to Moctar’s drummer who is playing a calabash–in this case red object that looks like a turtle shell and makes a remarkable range of sounds.  But really the focus should be on Moctar’s guitar playing.

Get ready for some fiery desert guitar-shredding, Saharan style, with the music of Mdou Moctar. Producer and American bassist Mikey Coltun told me that “the concert was filmed outside of the house we were all staying at in Niamey, Niger, in November/December 2020.” He continued, “As with any sort of musical happenings in the region, once some music is blasted, that’s an invitation for anyone to come join, sing, clap, dance, and just come together as a community. We wanted to present the Tiny Desk exactly like this, from when we started playing to finally the energy growing with fans crowded around filming on their cell phones and passing around Tuareg tea.”

And so, the four musicians, seated on a blanket (designed with oversized roses) with amps on either side, start playing with no fanfare.

The (home) concert starts off with Mahamadou Souleymane, a.k.a. Mdou Moctar, playing a melodic line on acoustic guitar, with Ahmoudou Madassane on rhythm guitar, Souleymane Ibrahim playing percussion on a calabash, and Mikey Coulton on his Fender Mustang bass on the song “Ya Habibti” from the album Afrique Victime. It’s an album of songs dealing with intense subjects close to Mdou Moctar’s heart: colonialism, exploitation, inequality, but also love.

The song almost feels like a drone because the bass and rhythm pretty much never change throughout.  The drumming is muted–effective but never sharp.  And Moctar’s voice and lead guitar work is subtle.  I’m sure since I don’t understand what he’s singing (which sounds pretty intense), I find his voice very soothing.

“Tala Tannam” follows in the same pattern–except the bass is even less mobile and the way Moctar sings it feels like a lullaby.  The best part is watching Ibrahim and Coltun clearly enjoying themselves–smiling to each other and even hugging at one point.  It’s hard to know how long these songs are as they seems to just go until they stop, but this one does have a deliberate ending.  It’s when he puts down his acoustic and grabs the electric guitar.

You can hear the real musical fire on the last song, the roughly 7-minute psych-rock title track to Afrique Victime. “Africa is a victim of so many crimes,” Mdou Moctar sings in French. “If we stay silent, it will be the end of us.” Silence is not something in Mdou Moctar’s vocabulary.

Moctar’s soloing was subtle on the other songs, but you can really here it standing out with this sharp electric guitar sound.  It’s nice to watch his fingers fly around the neck. There’s some guitar god moments in the soloing–including some finger tapping–but having him seated and equal with everyone else, the solos never seem showoffy.  I also like the way the song speeds up incrementally as it goes–mostly notable by how fast Ibrahim is suddenly hitting the calabash.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

This final book of the trilogy was a little disappointing for me.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I feel like there wasn’t enough resolution for anyone.

The book opens on Nigel.  Claudia has shown up to tutor him in math.  He is so smitten he writes a poem that he submits for class.  He calls it “Teacher” and his teacher assumes it is about her.  I can’t even believe that he would submit a poem with the line “teach me how to make puppy love turn into doggy style”  (Nigel is so clueless).

Next we see Brett at his mother’s funeral.  Johanna tries to comfort him but he blows her off demanding to know why she didn’t tell him about her and Paula.  They smooth things over and she asks if his father knows that his mother died.  He says no, he hasn’t talked to his father in a long time.  Jo says her mother might know how to get in touch with him.

The next section is about Darren.  He is by himself remembering how his father hurt his mother and how he doesn’t want to repeat the cycle. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #211 (May 19, 2021).

Kathleen Edwards is a wonderful songwriter with a fantastic voice.  I discovered her from her 2008 album Asking For Flowers.

She put out one more record and then disappeared.

Struggling with depression, Kathleen Edwards opened a coffee shop called Quitters Coffee and lived a very different life.  A handful of years later, in 2017, she was invited to Nashville by Maren Morris to write some songs. That Nashville visit sparked a new beginning and eventually the 2020 album Total Freedom, which birthed the four songs you hear in this Tiny Desk concert.

So Kathleen Edwards is back with a wonderful new album.

On this Tiny desk she is joined by Todd Lombardo and Justin Schipper on dobro (that slide guitar looking thing).

Kathleen’s voice sounds great and on “Glenfern.”

From a house in East Nashville, Kathleen Edwards sings about how thankful she is for those early aughts when she was praised with awards, television appearances, touring to packed venues — even if the tour bus with the bed in back was “total crap.” As she continues to sing “Glenfern,” the opening track to her first album in eight years as well as this Tiny Desk (home) concert, she remembers her former husband and collaborator.

After the first song she introduces the band and says I can’t sing through a mask so after this we’re going straight to to the COVID clinic.

Kathleen Edwards seems happy playing these new songs.  They can be songs of sadness, sometimes filled with seething, such as “Ashes to Ashes,” but she’s also grateful for her everlasting love for a four-legged creature and the little catalpa tree where it’s buried.

There’s some beautiful interplay of guitars in this song.  It’s amazing how great her voice sounds with no accompaniment, no effects.  And afterwards she tells a delightful story about catalpa trees–I just passed one on a dog walk yesterday and absolutely want to try to grow my own this year.

“Hard On Everyone” is the song that’s been getting some airplay around here.  It’s so catchy, I love it.  And the lyrics are pointed and spot on.  when the song is over she and Todd bump elbows and their guitars bump for a nice resounding thump.

I would love to see Kathleen Edwards live.  She played one of her first shows after retiring at XPN Fest, unfortunately that was the year we went to Newport Folk Festival.  Now I see she’s coming around again, but she’s opening for Jason Isbell, and I don’t want to see him, so I’ll have to hope she finds a smaller club to headline.

[READ: June 10, 2021] Losing the Girl

T. brought this book home from school and I though the cover looked pretty neat.  When I looked inside I really liked the crazy drawing style(s) of it (S. did not like it at all).

The book opens on Nigel Jones, a boy with dreadlocks (his profile is always great, and MariNaomi uses these dreadlocks to express Nigels’ mood in clever ways).  The book also uses simple things like arrows to convey movement in a panel, which I liked.  One of the early ones shows a city block.  We just saw Nigel get off a bus and the arrows and a tiny figure on a skateboard show which way he is going.  This effect is used very well at a party later as we see the crowd move about the room in a static picture.

It’s through Nigel that we learn that nobody’s phones are working–this is a steady concern and a minor (or major) irritant throughout the story.   We also learn that a girl, Claudia Jones, (no relation) has been missing for three days.  Everyone has speculations about what happened to her.

Nigel lives with his mom (his dad has moved out) and Nigel is not too happy about the new arrangements–just because your parents separate doesn’t mean they fight less.  In school the next day Nigel tells a joke to Emily.  I found it very funny but Emily doesn’t seem to.  She asks if that’s his way of flirting with her.  A lightbulb goes off and he says yes (he’s had a crush on her for years).  She agrees to meet him at the bleachers later. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KATHLEEN EDWARDS-“It’s Christmastime (Let’s Just Survive)” (2019).

I really like Kathleen Edwards and I was so delighted to hear that she was coming out of … semi-retirement?… this summer.  In the last few years, she has opened up her own coffee shop, in Stittsville, Ontario called Quitters Coffee [road trip?].

I couldn’t believe that she played XPN Fest on the year that we had tickets to the Newport Folk Festival.  I had hoped she’s play Newport as well, but sadly no.  She played two new songs and a few older ones and her voice sounds great (thanks YouTube).  In the spirit of coming back, she has released this wryly amusing Christmas song. Like many of her songs, there is a nice mix of humor and bite in this song–set to a very catchy melody.

With a slow lap steel guitar starting the song, she begins

It’s a wonderful time where we all descend to my parent’s house in the West End.  [Hope they subscribe to the West End Phoenix].

Then the song gets to the point:

Uncle Dave and Susan bring their feral cat / and homemade wine that tastes like crap.

There’s a few more examples of amusingly bad Christmas happenings.  One of my favorites is

Someone let the dog lick the gravy boat / and now the air in here unbearable

I also enjoyed this line, because it hits home:

You have a meltdown when we play scrabble / Its not my fault you’re only left with vowels.

Musically, the song is quite lovely.  There’s a pretty bridge where she sings lyrics that sound sweet until you listen closely, “tell me a story we’ve heard before and drag it out even more.”

And just when you think the song is only dark and cynical, the instrumental break adds a refrain of Kathleen quietly singing “meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow.”

I truly hope that this song gets played a lot during this and future holidays.  It may not make it to #1 like “All I Want for Christmas is You,” but it’s a lot more honest–and really catchy.

I’m so excited that Kathleen is back that I’m posting the video for the song right here!

I have also just learned that this song comes from a new Christmas album called A Dualtone Christmas. (although I don’t really like much else on it).

[READ: December 19, 2019] “Letter from San Francisco”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth 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

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

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.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

This story is indeed a letter from San Francisco.

There are a few things redacted from it–the sender and the recipient’s names and two lines in the middle which are the details of their huge fight. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 28, 2019] Hozier @ Newport Folk Festival

Ever since I learned that Hozier’s “Nina Cried Power” featured Mavis Staples who knew Nina Simone, I was more blown away by the song.

From Billboard:

it was important to me to have Mavis involved. She was kind of there at the beginning of the song. Even when the song was in its embryonic state and the idea of it was forming, I wanted to credit the legacy of the artists in that song and the names were kind of popping into my head, [and] I knew it needed Mavis. I just felt incredibly fortunate and honored that she got where the song was coming from and vibed with it and was up for being a part of the song.

I’d already been impressed by “Take Me to Church” and “Jackie & Wilson,” so I knew I’d want to see him live. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE AVETT BROTHERS-“Live and Die” (Field Recordings, August 22, 2012).

This Field Recording [The Avett Brothers: Hot Tea And Honey] takes place at the  XPoNential Music Festival (now XPN Fest–the only Fest I’ve been to (although not in that year).

At the time (2012), I didn’t know the Avett Brothers, but since then I have come to really like them a lot and have seen them live.  This song in particular is simply terrific.

Seth and Scott Avett spend a good chunk of their lives on one tour bus or another, so asking them to perform in one isn’t all that different from asking them to perform in one of their own living rooms. They may be far away from their native North Carolina but the setting is cozy enough for Seth Avett to brew tea before performing.

I think that Seth Avett’s voice is just wonderful, especially on this song.  In one of those weird eye/ear moments, I never imagined that the guy with the long hair and mustache could produce this voice–which sounds fantastic in this recording on their tour bus.

The Avett Brothers will soon spend a lot more time on that bus: The band’s new album, The Carpenter, comes out Sept. 11. Naturally, when asked to play a song from the record, the Avetts picked its first single, “Live and Die” — a sweetly hooky jam which lends itself perfectly to the pair’s acoustic-guitar-and-banjo interplay.

Scott plays a lovely lead banjo and Seth’s guitar complements it perfectly.  This version is just as pretty as the recorded version with the extra treat of Seth’s tired voice cracking here and there.

[READ: January 25, 2017] “An Honest Film Review”

This should complete all of the already-published Jesse Eisenberg pieces.  He does this type of humorous piece very well.  Taking something fairly simple and turning it into something else entirely.

This week he’s reviewing Paintings of Cole.  His first complaint is that the screening was all the way uptown.  Also, the premise is that a young man brings down the Italian mob by using paintings to send secret codes.  He complains that in grad school he wrote a story with that exact same idea.  He failed the class but Kern, the director, is getting Oscar buzz? (more…)

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[ATTENDED: March 30, 2018] Darlingside

Sarah and I saw Darlingside just three months ago at SOPAC.  I was surprised that they were coming back to the area just a couple months later (even if by the area I mean two cities which are 90 miles apart).  Even my son, who doesn’t always seem to pay attention to what we do said “Didn’t you just see them?”

The reason I was so intrigued to see them again so soon was three-fold.

  1. Their new album wasn’t out yet when we saw them in December.  Now it was and I assumed they’d play more from it.
  2. SOPAC was a quiet, sit down, well-behaved place and I was curious to see if they performed differently in a bar/club.
  3. They are amazing, so why not?

Really the big question for me was the second one.  What would they be like in a noisy club.  Well, they still sounded amazing and just like Darlingside.  They didn’t really change their game that I noticed.  And in fact, the crowd changed for them.  While there was some chatter, the crowd was there to hear them, and we knew what we’d be getting, so we were quiet when we should be (with some exceptions).

The biggest difference was between songs, when people went pretty wild, and the guys responded appropriately–not getting wild themselves, but ramping up their own outgoingness.

The guys have a stage patter in place.  After a couple of songs, one of them will step up to the mic (they only ever use one mic which is magical because it picks up every breath and utterance) and addresses everyone with a story.

After playing two new songs (including using their Septavox, on “Eschaton” which adds a small element of electronics to their otherwise acoustic set).  In SOPAC they talked about this gadget, here they did not.  It was their first time to address us.

Cellist/guitarist Harris came up and was just so full of smiles and goodwill that it really set the mood for the night.  (He raised him arms and shouted Yes!).  He told us that last night they tried “Philadelphia Vanilla Ice Cream” for the first time. Which he was not even aware of this being a thing before then [nor was I].  He tried to describe it and the crowd responded appropriately (with someone shouting “Phanilla.”

And then they he told us that “Go Back” is based on Back to the Future II, which I did know.

They played some flawless songs from Birds Say (they do actually have quite a number of releases even if they focus on the two newest ones).  The harmonies on “White Horses” (and , honestly every song) are just breathtaking.

David, who plays bass and an underrated kick drum spoke about opening act Twain.  All of the bands whom Twain opens for seem to really like his music or at least him.  So he raved about Twain for a bit and then joked about how much fun it is to substitute the word “twain” for other words in sentences.  I can’t help but wonder if we are missing something.  There was also some talk about toilet paper, with David being shocked that not everyone folds it into a perfect square.

The crowd enjoyed the new songs and showed great appreciation for the old songs.  I was amazed at how great all of the songs sounded, but especially the really soaring ones like “My Gal, My Guy.”  And when the smaller more fun songs like “Harrison Ford” began, there was thunderous applause.

It was also cool when Harris sat at cello for “The Ancestor” but you could still hear his vocal contributions even some three feet from the mic.

Guitarist/banjoist Don told us that he had signed up to donate blood marrow and that we could too (I could not, as the requirements are surprisingly strict).  That wasn’t the usual fun banter, but it was perfectly in line with them as decent human beings.  And I say that unironically.  The four of them seem like the nicest guys in the world.  (And when we met them it all seemed genuine).

The band doesn’t “do a lot on stage.”  They switch positions a bunch depending on who needs to be doing what.  I always enjoy seeing Auyon on the mandolin like on “Whipoorwill.” But mostly they huddle around that amazing microphone and sing like four-part-harmonious angels.  I’m amazed that the bass doesn’t clatter against things–they must all be very well used to playing in small spaces.

Auyon is a crowd favorite.  So when he got up to speak there was thunderous applause and he acknowledged it by saying it was appreciated but over the top.  He often introduces the band and he did so tonight by discussing what was on their rider.

They’ve had a rider for a long time, bu only recently are venues starting to look at them.  He says its difficult to make one because what you want when you are sitting on your couch at home making up a rider is not necessarily what you want the night of a show.

He says they try not to be wasteful.  Don overheard the guys at Union Transfer discussing the requests, saying that tit’s all healthy stuff and very very specific.  The phrases” lack of imagination and daring” were thrown around as was the word “restrained” but not in a positive way.

 

He told us that Harris does push ups to stay in shape.  But he is worried that he apparently massive chest will ruin his writs making him unable to play, so he doesn’t really do them, after all.

When he introduced Don, and the crowd roared, Don pumped his arms trying to get the crowd louder which made everyone on stage laugh.  Auyon deadpanned that the first time at a Darlingside show that anyone has done that motion–we don’t even pick things up.  Don confesses, “It felt really bad too.  I’m never going to do it again.”

Auyon told us that Don orders half beers.  He’ll ask to split a beer, which is something no bartender respects.

When he introduced himself, the crowd went over the top with applause which led him to say that he believed that we were just messing with him now.  He said, “I usually have the other half of the beer because I only want half, too.”

There is really nothing like hearing them singing the gorgeous “Good For You.”

I was thrilled when they played their new song “The Best of the Best of Times” which Harris introduced by saying they were writing it in England during Brexit and they thought things would be better at home.  And then look what happened.  We are a long way from the best of the best of times, indeed.

I wasn’t sure what to expect for an encore.  I mean they’d played pretty much everything I wanted to hear.  The set list wasn’t too differet from at SOPAC.  It may have even been exactly the same songs, just in a different order.  I don’t know what will happen when they do another new album and start having to remove songs from the set list, I need my 7 songs from Birds Say!

The first encore was “Orion” a new song (someone shouted for their cover of 1979 which I REALLY wanted to hear, too, but they didn’t play it.

They ended with their sorta rocker (and suitable show ender) “Blow the House Down” which has a raging (for them) guitar solo and some wild violin.

They hung out after the show to meet people, but it was time for us to leave, so we didn’t say hi.  We’d chatted with them just a few months ago.

Amazingly, they will be back in the Philly area two more times before the end of the summer.  May 18 at the Kimmel Center opening for  Brandi Carlisle and then July 29 at XPN Festival.

Setlist
Singularity [EX]
Eschaton [EX]
Go Back [Birds]
White Horses [Birds]
My Gal, My Guy [Birds]
Hold Your Head Up High [EX]
Extralife [EX]
The Ancestor [Birds]
Harrison Ford [Birds]
Whippoorwill [ep]
Futures [EX]
Good For You [Birds]
Best of the Best Times [EX]
The God of Loss [Birds]

Encore:
Orion [EX]
Blow the House Down [Pilot]

What didn’t they play?
From Birds Say: Clay & Cast Iron; Birds Say; Water Rose; Do You Ever Live; She’s All Around; Volcano Sky
From Extra Life: Old Friend; Lindisfarne; The Rabbit and the Pointed Gun; Indian Orchard Road; Rita Hayworth

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[ATTENDED: December 17, 2017] Darlingside

We saw Darlingside at XPNFest in 2016.  The outdoor setting and our wilty family led to a less than stellar experience despite the amazing sound of the band.  How can four guys with one mic sound so good in an outdoor festival?

Well, when I heard they were coming back around, I was super excited to get tickets at Bethlehem Steel Stacks–the day they went on sale I bought a ticket right in front of the stage.  And then we couldn’t go.  A commitment came up, I got rid of the tickets and then we wound up not even going to the commitment. Ugh.

But it was all fine because they had announced a show at SOPAC and I still got second row seats.

The band sounded amazing in this small venue–which had wonderful acoustics.  And they were charming and funny as well. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 11, 2017] The Districts

We had seen The Districts at XPN Fest in 2016.  Well, seen isn’t quite the right word.  We were very hot, the kids were wiped out, so we stood off to the side while The Districts rocked River Front Stage.  I was really impressed with what I heard (and could sorta see), so at one point I moved to the bleachers and watched a couple of songs.

 

About that show I had written:

It’s great finding a young band (they have two albums and a couple of EPs out)  who is really good and looks to have staying power.  I’d love to see them again in a club sometime.

One year later and the band was planning to release their third full length Popular Manipulations.  And release day also happened to be the night of their hometown show in Philly.

By the time the band came on, the crowd was ready to party.  And by the middle of the first song, the slam dancers shoved their way up front and pushed all of us spectators out of the way.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ESME PATTERSON-Tiny Desk Concert #598 (February 10, 2017).

I saw Esmé Patterson at the XPNFest last year.  Her live show was dynamic and fun and she was really charming.  I got to meet her briefly after the show and she was super friendly as well.

This Tiny Desk Concert (in which she has totally shaved off her big wavy hair), is a somewhat quieter, but overall accurate representation of her live show.

I love that she’s playing a big echoing guitar while the rest of the band Alex Koshak (drums); Jeremy Averitt (bass) and Jake Miller (lead guitar) support her perfectly–the lead guitar lines especially.

I have listened to her record a few times and I never considered that she sounds a bit (vocally) like Edie Brickell.  Well on “No River,” the comparison is apt.  Especially given the lyrics.  But the cute squeak in the vocals is quite endearing.

“Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin” is a cool song with a surprising twist on the theme of the lyrics:

When I ask if you love me / And you say that you might

I’ve got your love wrapped around me / So I put up a fight
Cause I wanna believe you

But I’ve heard that
Wantin ain’t gettin
No, wantin ain’t getting.

I like some of the staggered moments in the song too.  And she’s adorably smiley, throughout, even after singing a fairly dark song like that.

“Yours And Mine” has some great flanging echo on her guitar.   It’s a slow sweet song with nice guitar harmonics throughout.

[READ: January 20, 2017] LastMan 5

This book was originally written in French (and called Lastman there as well).  These editions were translated by Alexis Siegel.

Book five opens by returning to the Village of Kings (the home of Adrain and Marianne–where the first two books were set).  Everyone is despondent at the loss of the Velbas. Master Jansen–spurned by Marianne has been inconsolable and all of his students have left him.  Although Elorna has stayed faithful and is ever training (although she thinks that Marianne is a ditz for falling for Richard).

A meeting with the leaders also shows that Richard’s arrival has meant nothing but trouble for them.  They believe that the iguana queen resides in the canyon at the edge of their village (the one that Richard and Marianne crossed).  They believe that a medieval king closed the opening when he sacrificed himself by jumping in.  And he insists that they reinstate the Royal Guardians at once. (more…)

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