Storytime

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We’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?

Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.

Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.

The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.

Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.

The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.

 

In his own way Don Gillis brought the classical repertoire to millions of Americans. He was the producer for the NBC Symphony Orchestra during the long tenure of Arturo Toscanini, helping to broadcast hundreds of symphonic and operatic performances on radio and television (today you can buy an enormous, 85-disc box set of the complete recordings of Toscanini on RCA/Victor Records which including many with the NBC Symphony Orchestra).

After Toscanini retired in 1954 Gillis helped create the Symphony of the Air, which continued to broadcast orchestral music under the direction of Leopold Stokowski. Gillis was also an active composer when not busy with the office work of managing the Orchestra — He wrote ten symhonies (including the light-hearted Symphony No. 5 1/2 “A Symphony for Fun”), several concertos and quartets, and tone poems such as a celebration of the town where he grew up, Fort Worth, Texas (Portrait of a Frontier Town).

The Man Who Invented Music was written by Don Gillis for the U.S. Steel NBC Summer Symphony Series in 1949. It was debuted by Antal Dorati that August. Gillis conducted this recording himself, and it was narrated by Jack Kilty, a minor television star on, you guessed it, NBC.

the man who invented msic

Hopefully there weren’t any California condors there that day!

We checked this book out of the library last week, and while this space is usually for record reviews, we couldn’t resist sharing our opinion on it after we both finished reading. The title of this book, Record Collecting for Girls, almost assures it some number of sales. Vinyl records are coming back, after all. This book includes some Soundscan statistic to that very effect, but you probably already learned this after an elderly friend of your parents saved you a clipping from the USA Today about the “vinyl resurgence.” Its sweet and sort of funny, but that person probably knows more about why people, male or female, collector records than the author of this shockingly juvenile book.

Most of the widespread criticism of the book is that the author, a former MTV programmer, has more to say about dating than record collecting. There are sections in Record Collecting for Girls on “make-out music,” and songs for a break-up mix, but nothing remotely empowering. The author has more to say about boys (note: boys not men) than why women listen to, make or collect music. You’ll find a long list of well-thought critiques along these lines, nearly all written by women, on Goodreads here. We’ll leave it to one writer, Lesile, who put it pretty succinctly:

Too much energy was dedicated to the intersection of music and “boys,” or “crushes.” Maybe I’d respond to this if I were a moody adolescent, or if music were the only way I could connect with a guy (hey, we like the same bands! let’s make out!). Or if my designs as a music lover were to get indie rock guys to take me home to their dirty apartments and write songs about me in my cute glasses and ugly sweaters. But that hasn’t been my experience, and I was disappointed that “The Guide” would assume I’m more interested in music’s role in my love life than in the music itself.

Actually we have to quote one more one-star review from Goodreads before we offer our own thoughts on the book. Alyx summed the book up perfectly with one word:

Sigh.

The most remarkably stupid thing about Record Collecting for Girls is that it contains basically no information about record collecting, and hardly any about records at all. In one of the most alarming passages of Record Collecting for Girls, author Courtney Smith admits “I’m beginning to doubt that I’ve listened to more than a handful of full albums straight through since 2004.” This comes in the middle of an absurd chapter titled “The Death of the Record Collector” in which the author’s entire research is to listen to three records on a turntable.

Earlier she asks why she keeps ten boxes of CDs and insists its “no joke that her CD collection has been nearly packed in boxes for more than two years.” The author of Record Collecting for Girls apparently has a collection that consists of three albums, one of which is her parent’s warped copy of the “White Album.” If you wanted to learn anything about records — how they’re made, how one pressing may vary from another, or how to care for them — you will be sorely disappointed by this book. When Smith boldly listens to albums on her turntable three quarters of the way through this book, she admits being afraid to use the turntable for the risk of damaging the record or needle — so don’t expect any help on caring for your record player either!

In fact, Smith simply perpetuates the idea that record stores and record collecting are a “boys club,” because it seems as though that’s the only reason she’s even interested. Our own experience, here at a neighborhood record shop which is jointly run by a married couple, is that we see both men and women in our shop all day. And some women are afraid to ask basic questions about their turntable or for help to find the records they’re listening to, in part because of an atmosphere encouraged by the stereotype presented in Smith’s book.

Record collecting can be fun for everyone. We hope someday someone will publish another book with the same title and take the subject seriously. Until then thanks for reading, and for visiting our shop, and never hesitate to ask a question no matter who you are.

 

We got a copy of the Moana soundtrack for our daughter as a gift. The album is all the rage to the pre-teen set, and the songs really are pretty funny. This set us to pulling out some of the story records in her collection which she has outgrown, but which we all enjoyed hearing again. Near the top of the list are the 7-inch records of Arnold Lobel reading his short stories about Frog and Toad, two best friends who have all kinds of adventures together. Here are three of his stories about Frog and Toad.

In keeping with yesterday’s Irish theme, we present today Molly Bloom’s soliloquy which comprises the final episode of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

Our son is fond of using the word “epic” (this must be a thing with kids these days), but it truly applies to the eight sentences that make up this nearly thirty-minute monologue, as read on this LP by Sibohan McKenna.

In all, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy on her relationships with men and ultimately the marriage proposal of her husband is over four thousand words long, containing only two punctuation marks. Joyce’s own wife, Nora, is often remembered for having asked her husband, “Why don’t you write books that people can read?”

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