Friday, December 14, 2018

Band Review: Dr. Zwig

Dr. Zwig (Adam Zwig on Spotify) is a musician and psychotherapist.

When listening to the music, it is not obvious that you are listening to a psychotherapist. That is probably a good thing; it would not be ideal for the first impression to be that this musician better be capable of doing something else. However, it is clear from posts that the psychological training and experience have influenced Dr. Zwig's feelings and beliefs about music, knowing that it can be more than entertainment.

Generally here it works better as entertainment. Listening feels fine, but not transcendent. It is adult contemporary that leans toward country, and pretty mellow overall. The one song that really feels different is "Who Killed Michael Vaughn", which clearly is about war and the shared responsibility that makes no one responsible. It is also painfully awkward, like Bob Dylan on "We Are the World". 

But Dr. Zwig is doubtless a better musician than most psychotherapists.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Band Review: Thomas E. Rouch

Thomas E. Rouch is a film composer from Melbourne.

It can be harder to characterize composers given how their work needs to adapt to the needs of different films. You can still notice things.

I particularly admire some touches on the score for Alpha Gateway. It sounds like simple piano music, mostly, but there is an amplification - perhaps - something that makes it sound more significant and more ominous.

I have not seen any of the associated films for the music I have listened to, so I can't judge how they worked for that. I can only say that listening to the music standing alone, listening is all right. That is pretty good too.

Opening up

I want to start by saying that if you follow me on Goodreads, you might have figured out that I am doing my first National Hispanic Heritage month, but you probably couldn't.

For one thing, that is September and I am still working on it. Also (and not unrelated) I have simultaneously been working on five other reading lists. Clearly I remain me. Still, if you have noticed a lot of YA books related to Cuba, that's why.

It is probably worth remembering that when I started observing Black History month all those years ago, it was only four regular books. There were no comic books nor children's books, and no poetry. As I had not yet started doing music reviews and daily songs, there was none of that either.  So perhaps - even without having realized that this "month" was going to involve two documentaries and twenty-seven books (no comics but a lot of poetry) - I should not have felt bad that I did not really have any music reviews in mind for that month.

I did kind of have two set to review among my Twitter follows: Jose Aguilar has roots in Mexico, even if he is in California now, and The Alpacas have one member from Mexico, even if they are operating out of England. Still, it didn't feel like that much. I tried doing some searches and one band sounded like they would be great, but I tried listening to them and I hated them. I mean, if I hate a Twitter follow band, I will still review them, but searching for a band to celebrate the month and then give them a bad review? That doesn't sound right. So there were just those two.

That is part of the reason that I wanted to go see Chayag, though that would have been up my alley anyway. I thought of reviewing them, but they are less of a band and more of a workshop provider, so that didn't seem quite right. There were those two documentaries, though.

Along with the various reading lists, I have also been working through some watching lists, and one of those lists is music documentaries, which seem like good material for reasons gone into yesterday.

I knew Buena Vista Social Club would kind of relate. I was not positive that Searching for Sugar Man would, but it was relevant. Okay, not this year, but I could review a host of Cuban musicians, as well as Stephen Segarman, who is a lot like Bob Dylan but can actually sing.

Then I read The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez. It is a fun book - and was considered for many awards which is how I came to it - but also there are eight bands and musicians in there with Latinx heritage. That's a full month of reviews.

For Black History and Native American Heritage months, I am at the point where bands find me. February and September are covered. I have also been doing them longer. May (Asian Pacific American Heritage month) and September are still developing. A lot of my leads now come from other musicians, so every one I review could lead to more. It's not so bad.

And, if all of that sounds a little excessive to you, well more on that next week.

For now, what I want to express most is my belief that if you open yourself up, it is out there. Music is out there, and people, and books. Once you start looking, the path will appear.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Music and memory

I said yesterday that we are an opera family, but beyond that we are really a music family. We are not performers - just appreciators - but we are good at that.

One of the more precious documents from childhood is little book that one of my sisters made for Mother's Day where she thanks Mom for liking our music. She did. When her memory was more intact she could identify Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran), Morten Harket (a-ha) and James Hetfield (Metallica) by voice instantly. She still knows that she knows the others, but she can only name Simon.

I have found a new way of connecting with her through music, and it ties in with my longstanding love of libraries.

The Aloha Community Library has been able to expand their space, and therefore their offerings. In September I noticed that they were going to have a presentation of Andean music. I really wanted to go. I thought taking Mom would be fine; it ended up being wonderful.

She liked it a lot. She was engaged with it. She wanted to tell them how good they were. She wanted to make sure they were getting paid for this because they deserved it. I don't know how compensation works with library performances, but they did have CDs for sale, and I bought one.

Mom had a good time during that performance, and to have her pleasantly engaged is often I all ask for. Often it is the best that can be done. This ended up being better than that, because she remembered the CD.

It's not that she remembered exactly, but when I put the CD in, she knew it was familiar. She thought maybe it was from a movie we saw, but I reminded her of the performance, and that we went there. I don't know that I can say that she truly remembered then, because I had to tell her again, but it at least registered as something that sounded right. You have no idea how little there is that is recent and registers as familiar.

It also gave me more to work with. I have played that CD more, but also seeing that she enjoyed the Latin-flavored beats so much inspired me to dig out any possibly similar music. She has since also enjoyed tango, merengue, and Gipsy Kings.

It also means that sometimes playing music is enough. Morten (and Mags and Paul - who changed his spelling, I know how it used to be) and James (and Lars and Kurt and Cliff/Jason/Bobby) are still in there, even if she doesn't remember the names.

And the library has more performances coming.

Monday, December 10, 2018


While it was often difficult finding recordings that seemed as good as different opera memories, for many of the passages there was at least a lot to choose from. There were three pieces that were more difficult.

For those, it was usually that something that struck me was not the main attraction of the opera, or even that part of the opera.

For example, there is a bird leitmotif in Wagner's Ring Cycle. I am not a huge fan of Wagner, but those are some clear pure notes. They have specific significance in the opera that is important, but on their own I still find them very beautiful.

If I had picked any section of the music containing the bird song, it would probably have been lost, but by itself it is just 15 seconds:

And, it is probably the way in which it interacts with the rest of the music that gives that tiny bit its power, so perhaps having it stand alone doesn't work. At least that is something that people who study opera generally agree is important, though even then they may group it with all the other leitmotif and how it is used. I am just saying that it's pretty.

My other longstanding grievance has been with me since February 1998, in that there is just not enough respect for how beautiful “Ah Paraseusse Fille” is in Faust.

Again, it is being used for the contrast. While Faust is bitterly lamenting his old age and wasted life, the chorus is singing of a beautiful dawn. It is not just that they find the world beautiful instead of disappointing, but also that this day is just beginning. Effective, yes, but it stands so well on its own too, and you never hear it on its own. If you get an opera highlights CD, it is all about the arias. The chorus matters too. I would love to see “Ah Paraseusse Fille” get more attention, and some better recordings.

Similarly, in Aida when Radames is being tried, the focus of that scene is generally on the anguish of Amneris. I get that, but the deep condemnation of Radames by Ramfis - heightened by the silence of Radames - it is so powerful. And they often have it happening off stage or behind scenery, which doesn't really lessen the effect, but might be a little unfair (and makes finding a recording focusing on that bit hard).

A large part of this post is to laud this musical things that I like, but there is another aspect to this, in terms of family.

My family is an opera family, and even more a Verdi family. I believe my mother would love opera on her own, but there are passages that inevitably bring up memories of her father, who was always singing it.

My favorites are not my mother's favorites, which seemed wrong somehow, or like maybe I was a rebel or did not get it from her. I mean, I don't even like Aida that much, except for that scene. However, in talking about that scene with her (because I was featuring opera in my daily songs for almost a month and it was on my mind), she said it gave her chills. That is exactly what that scene does, and we are the same on it.

There are some other ways that my mother and I have connected over music recently, and I will get into that more tomorrow.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Band Review: Small Circle

Small Circle is a Philadelphia band making sweet and mellow music.

I stumbled across them accidentally when reviewing Cooler, and wanted to circle back.

(The pun wasn't intentional, but I noticed it and I'm okay with it.)

In a way, Small Circle's sound is small, but there is a courage and resoluteness behind it. Listening becomes uplifting because of that. I believe "Ritual" was the song that made the strongest impression on me, but "We Belong Here" gives a good overall feeling for the band.

I don't know of a lot of well-known bands that I can compare them too. Readers of this blog who enjoyed Faded Paper Figures might enjoy Small Circle, as well as fans of She and Him.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Band Review: Nuovo Music

Wayne Carlsen has a wide and varied musical background. With Nuovo Music, he is experimenting.

The "music" part may seem like a misnomer. More often the tracks invoke noise: traffic, machinery, and background hum.

There may not be melody. The most traditional piece is "Evening in Southern India", because it is meant to convey a person singing. Others are much more abstract.

It is obviously not to everyone's taste, but I think fans of Philip Glass may enjoy Carlsen's work.


As long as we are spending time on the daily songs, let's give some time to Opera-ctober. There were some things that were different about it.

I started it a little late. One reviewed artist had a new release set for October 3rd that I wanted to get in, and other old friends had new releases, so that was one reason. In addition, I was not positive that I could come up with 31 songs.

It's not that there aren't at least 31 good opera songs out there. Between live performances, listening on CD, and in some cases watching on television, I might not even have needed to repeat operas. Still, finding the right recordings was difficult.

I ran into the same issue during Musical May (that was not this year). I may have seen or been in a live performance that had great meaning to me, but what you can find on-line is not always the same. When you have a song that got radio play, there can be different mixes, but the version that you liked is probably out there. You might remember a live performance that wasn't recorded, but in general it is the recording industry and they literally make records.

With opera, some pieces are strong enough that the presentation doesn't matter so much. In many cases those get referenced enough that you don't need to be a big opera fan to recognize them - "La Donna E Mobile", "La Habanera", "Largo Al Factotum - even if those titles don't sound familiar, the opening bars will.

For other, I know a lot of it had to do with the staging. When I listen to recordings it doesn't sound quite the same. Similar, but not the same.

There are also two pieces that I don't think get the attention that they deserve, but I will pick up with those Monday. For right now, I am just going to revel in some opera memories that were visual as well as auditory. They are more precious to me now, because even though I still end up there periodically, I hate the current director's taste. That makes it even more tragic that the reason Robert Bailey retired was more being exhausted with fundraising than with staging productions.

  • My first live opera, Rigoletto in 1998. The set was gorgeous, and looked very Italian, but I hadn't realized that they would be able to make the sun set and turn into night. I went for "La donna e mobile", but the show was beautiful for ears and eyes.
  • That same season's production of Faust was the best I have seen (three versions now). There were many wonderful things about it (and I can't believe the reviewer had to ask why Faust was left with the dream Marguerite instead of Marguerite herself). The most visually stunning moment was when Mephistopheles peeked out from behind a red satin curtain, and began walking forward, pulling the curtains forward and bathing the stage in red as he detailed his plans of seduction. The peril of live theater is that on a different night the curtain got caught on something (a friend of mine was there), marring the effect, but when I saw it, it was perfect.
  • Also that season (it was a really good season), they did a Julius Caesar with mostly modern dress. For "V'adoro pupille", Cleopatra was dressed in pink taffeta. It is usually staged as her performing for Caesar with some distance, and here too. However, at the start he got the end of her wrap, a very long piece of fabric that when gathered around her shoulders looked white, but when stretched out was practically transparent, except for the sequins, which you also could not see except when the light hit them. So it was like the lovers were connected by a band of twinkling stars. Probably a pretty simple costuming detail, but I thought it was magical.
  • La Belle Helene came later, but it had a similar mix of modern and classical dress. The costume for Paris was jeans, a leather arm band, and long blond hair. No shirt. Later on there was a tux, and then a cassock over the jeans for a disguise, filled with pink hearts when he opened the cassock. It was silly but also pretty sexy, which left me with a ridiculous crush on Tracey Welborn that made his return for The Pearl Fishers that much more appreciated.
  • I have seen I Pagliacci live at Portland Opera, and it was a good production and pairing it with Carmina Burana works, but there was another production of I Pagliacci that I saw on PBS that was fantastic. Nedda was on a swing for "Stridona Lassu" which I thought really heightened the longing and nostalgia of the aria. Then for the conclusion, the stage for the performance within the performance rotated. Instead of stabbing, Canio takes out Nedda and Silvio with single whacks of a cleaver and they fall just near each other but not touching and it is circling as Canio gives the final line. It's an abrupt ending anyway, but that was an incredibly impactful delivery.
  • This is not particularly visual, but I need to look up a name. For the 2003 production of Le Nozze di Figaro, Figaro was just the best baritone. It may have stood out more because usually the tenor is the lead anyway, so it feels different to have the deeper voice leading, but he was superb.
The full list:

10/8 “La Donna E Mobilie” from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by Luciano Pavarotti
10/9 “So anch'io la virtu magica” from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, performed by Mirella Freni
10/10 “V'adoro pupille” from Handel's Julius Caesar, performed by Natalie Dessay
10/11 “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, performed by the Atlanta Symphony
10/12 "Stridona Lassu" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, performed by Anna Moffo
10/13 “La Habanera” from Bizet's Carmen, performed by Elina Garanca
10/14 “Sempre libera” from Verdi's La Traviata, performed by Roberta Peters
10/15 “Je crois entendre encore” from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers, performed by Lawrence Brownlee
10/16 “Non ti scordar di me” from Verdi's Il Trovatore, performed by Luciano Pavarotti
10/17 ”Barcarolle” from Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffman, performed by Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca
10/18 “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini's Turandot, performed by Daiyu Qiang
10/19 “To America I Sailed on a Ship Called Hunger” from Bolcom's A View From the Bridge, performed by Adam Walton
10/20 “This is Prophetic” from John Adams' Nixon in China, performed by Carolann Page
10/21 “Va Pensiero” from Verdi's Nabucco, performed by K&K Philharmoniker and Opernchor
10/22 “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini's The Barber of Seville, performed by Dmitri Hvorostovsky
10/23 “Scena del Giudizio” from Verdi's Aida, performed by the Teatro Greco di Taormina
10/24 “Flower Duet” from Delibes' Lakme, performed by Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca
10/25 “La galere de Cythere” from Offenbach's La Belle Helene, performed by the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra
10/26 “Quale occhio al mondo” from Puccini's Tosca, performed by Jose Carreras and Montserrat Caballe
10/27 “Ah Paraseusse Fille” from Gounod's Faust, performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra
10/28 “Auto da fe” from Bernstein's Candide, performed by the Royal National Theater Company
10/29 “A cenar teco me invitasti” from Mozart's Don Giovanni, performed by Franz-Josef Selig and Carlos Alvarez
10/30 “Che faceste?” from Verdi's Macbeth, company at La Scala
10/31 “Wolf Glen Scene” from Von Weber's Der Freischutz

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

How I roll (and rock)

While I curate my daily songs with great care and consideration, it feels like my efforts are generally ignored. However, with the 90s list I got some feedback.

These complaints were mainly about there being better songs, specifically that Weezer has better songs than "Undone", the Lisa Lisa version of "All Cried Out" is better than the Allure version, and that "If I Had No Loot" is better than "Feels Good".

I'm not arguing. The truth is, I don't think "All Cried Out" is that great a song. Even for Lisa Lisa, I remember "Head To Toe" being much more popular - with some people having specific dance moves for it - and "Lost In Emotion" is my personal favorite, so "All Cried Out" is at best a weak third - but those are for the 80s. The 90s were not as good; we've been over that.

For the other complaints, I also agree, but I have already used many better Weezer songs and "If I Had No Loot" I remember specifically as being part of the Summer Dance Party, which was memorialized as a Spotify playlist.

This is where we get to the reason that there were many good songs from the 90s that - whether I knew them then or did not discover them until later - I did not include: I try not to do repeats.

"Basket Case" from 1994 is a very important song for me, but it and many other Green Day songs have been done. I came to The Get Up Kids late, but their songs from the 90s have all been featured. Every official Gin Blossoms release and a few songs that were never released, I have done.

I'm not saying that in six years of doing this that I have never repeated. I believe I have done a few deliberate repeats where there was a compelling (to me) reason why that specific song needed to be the song of the day, despite already having been used. I suspect that with imperfect memory I have done a few accidental repeats. I also am thinking about doing some reviewing where I do my top songs over the years of doing reviews and exploring different things. That would then be all repeats; sort of a "Greatest Hits". I am nearing 600 different bands reviewed, not counting different listening spells for things like greatest guitar songs or understanding emo. A lot of ground has been covered.

Here's the thing with that: there are so many good songs! Sure, some are better than others, but that doesn't mean the ones that aren't the best are bad. Sure, as long as I review bands that follow me on Twitter and play songs from them, there are always going to be new songs, but even with songs I just know because they got airplay, there are a lot of songs I have not yet used. Some of them are pretty great.

In retrospect, I have realized that to accurately reflect my 90s experience I should have included tracks from The Presidents of the United States of America and The Cherry Poppin' Daddies. Now that I remember that, it will probably come up eventually.

For now, I am in the middle of songs by reviewed artists, with more musicians to review, and that has its own challenges. One reviewed artist has some really harsh videos. I was tempted to not post one, but his music reflects his own trauma, and is a part of his healing. How do I leave him out?

Another artist is overdue for review, but he seems to be in the middle of a break from reality where he has removed all his music from online, possibly in response to government surveillance (which I am interpreting as a break, but maybe not; they really were spying on Hemingway). It doesn't feel right to just skip him, but there is nothing to review now.

I mention that, because the way this whole post should come together is that yes, I do love music, but I also respect music and musicians. I try to show that in the attention that I give. Many of the choices I make rely more on principle and ethics than taste.

And it suits me like that.

Found in the 90s

For my daily songs I had recently done 80s August and it was awesome! There were so many good songs. I could easily do an entire month on each individual year of the decade and I would still not run out of songs. (Therefore, that is a thing that is going to happen.) It led to me doing 90s November.

That was not as awesome. It wasn't bad either; just different. Let's spend some time on that.

For one thing, I knew going in that it was during the 90s that I started to disconnect from contemporary music. I wasn't even sure if I would know that many 90s songs. I looked at the top hits year by year, and came up with enough.

The first thing that was not surprising was that the bulk of the songs that I wanted to use came early in the decade. You could still hear some of the 80s New Wave influence. Also, I was still regularly watching MTV and VH1, because they were still playing music videos. The Real World  would start in 1992, and that would be the beginning of the end of television as a means of me finding new music.

Of course the other big divider was my mission. 1990 through 1992 was finishing high school and starting college. I entered the Missionary Training Center February 3rd, 1993, and I don't think any of my 1993 songs were heard by me that year. Until August 8th, 1994, I was not listening to any non-religious music.

Now, songs did sometimes still enter my consciousness. "Rumpshaker" was released by Wreckx-n-Effect in 1992, but I don't remember hearing it then. It was playing a lot in Fresno in the summer of 1993. It was the same deal with "Jump" by Kriss Kross. Also, there was a school meeting of some kind that we were at (I think it tied into some tutoring, but can't remember for sure), where for examples of consciousness and communication, they talked about the similarities between "Whoot There It Is" from 95 South and "Whoomp! (There It Is)" by Tag Team, and how it seemed to originate from an old cheer, but I never heard the actual songs until later.

I almost had nothing for 1994, but in 1995, back in school, yes, I remember hearing and really liking Real McCoy. I also remember seeing a dorm-mate with "eal McCoy" on the back of a T-shirt, and trying to build a conversation off of that, but it was a Neal McCoy shirt. Awkward!

(I broke year order to put "Run Away" on Thanksgiving, in commemoration of the Turkey Trot, even though it didn't go as planned. If not that, I would have gone up to 1999 for "Thank You".)

Still, the quantity of songs liked does peter out as the decade goes on. Some of that was the direction that music had gone in. Rap got much harder (more gangster) and I never got into grunge. There were other things that I could have put, but I didn't. I will write more about that tomorrow.

Overall the thing that really impresses me is that even for the years when it seemed like I was pretty much living in the past musically, there were songs that I knew for every year. Culture and art permeate. That is okay, though it is valuable to be aware of it.

So 90s November ended up feeling all right. It wasn't as exhilarating as 80s August, but there was no chance of that anyway. I mean, that's just science.

The full list:

11/1 “Feels Good” by Tony! Toni! Toné!
11/2 “Been Caught Stealing” by Jane's Addiction
11/3 “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” by Stevie B
11/4 “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode
11/5 “If Wishes Came True” by Sweet Sensation
11/6 “Blaze of Glory” by Jon Bon Jovi
11/7 “All 4 Love” by Color Me Badd
11/8 “Rush Rush” by Paul Abdul
11/9 “You Could Be Mine” by Guns N' Roses
11/10 “The One and Only” by Chesney Hawkes
11/11 “Right Here Right Now” by Jesus Jones
11/12 “You Don't Have To Go Home Tonight” by The Triplets
11/13 “I'm Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred
11/14“Let's Get Rocked” by Def Leppard
11/15 “Tennessee Arrested” by Development
11/16 “Finally” by CeCe Peniston
11/17 “Come Undone” by Duran Duran
11/18 “The River of Dreams” by Billy Joel
11/19 “Boom! Shake the Room” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
11/20 “(I Can't Help) Falling in Love With You” by UB40
11/21 “Regret” by New Order
11/22 “Run Away” by Real McCoy
11/23 “Undone (The Sweater Song)” by Weezer
11/24 “How Bizarre” by OMC
11/25 “It's All Coming Back To Me Now” by Celine Dion
11/26 “Where Do You Go” by No Mercy
11/27 “All Cried Out” by Allure
11/28 “This Kiss” by Faith Hill
11/29 “So High” by Tal Bachman
11/30 “Thank You” by Dido