Music review:Throw down your heart: tales from the acoustic planet. Vol. 3, African sessions – Bela Fleck

By , December 23, 2009

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Throw Down your Heart: tales from the acoustic planet Vol. 3 Africa sessions
by Bela Fleck

fournhalfstars

Anyone who saw the engrossing documentary on PBS some months ago or packed into the Belcourt Theatre one hot Sunday evening for a one time showing (with a special appearance by Bela) of Throw Down your Heart knows what this is all about.

This is the soundtrack that resulted from the ambitious trip made by Bela Fleck to several African countries in early 2005 to, essentially, “bring the banjo home” and jam with many outstanding musicians and groups in places like Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mali.

I’ve always enjoyed the purity and spirit of various African musical styles, and my Hi life compilations and King Sunny Ade juju recordings prepared me somewhat, but this is some really far-reaching, varied and impressive music! Eighteen tracks, many featuring serious polyrhythms, djembe drums, various stringed instruments along with possibly the thumb piano or even a giant wooden miramba comprise this soundtrack.  Vocalists can be anyone from Oumou Sangare to a group of villagers.

Some of my favorites are the funky, bass heavy D’Gary Jam and the sublime title track which features raga like drones, ngoni (the banjo of Mali) runs and Bela’s intricate  picking.  What a tour de force!  Zawose features some amazing gogo singing styles by an entire family that may sound jarring at first but is really unique. The song Mariam features phenomenally fast African guitarist Djrlimady Tounkara in a duet of sorts with Bela. Wow!

Overall, the first several tracks drew me in with really interesting and varied vocal stylings  then after the title track I was thoroughly mesmerized by tracks 10 through till the end.  In short, this is more about the fantastic musicians of Africa and their instruments; Bela Fleck often fades into the background and lets them shine.

A wonderful project; great documentary and superb soundtrack!

Phil

TV series review: The IT Crowd

By , December 22, 2009

itcrowd4The IT Crowd
Series created and directed by Graham Linehan

If you don’t enjoy the British or American version of  mockumentary sitcom The Office, read no further.  Stop reading! I’m not talking to you! If you are a fan of one or both versions of The Office, you should definitely check out the BBC sitcom The IT Crowd.

Computer nerds and social outcasts Roy and Moss work for Denholm Industries, as the IT department. They work from the basement (why are most IT departments located in the basement?), and their office consists of the stereotypical décor one might expect from computer nerds – collectibles, action figures, books, computer parts, and unhealthy snack foods. Roy’s stock answer when the phone rings is “Hello, IT, have you tried turning it off and on again?” Roy’s and Moss’s comfortable work life is turned upside down when an attractive woman is hired to run the department. Roy and Moss quickly find out new boss Jen knows absolutely nothing about computers!

The actors who make up the IT Crowd have great comedic chemistry, and company president Denholm is disturbingly hilarious. Why are workplace comedies like this so funny? If you’ve ever worked in a corporate setting, or office of any kind, you can identify with the characters and situations they find themselves in. Misery loves company, as the saying goes. Or at the very least misery loves a good satire now and again.

- Crystal

Book review: 1491

By , December 18, 2009

1491
By Charles C. Mann

Ancient histories rarely read like detective stories, but Charles Mann is travelling the globe investigating the origins of the Americas.  In 1491, Mann hunts down the latest discoveries about the cultures of the western continents before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.

Mann looks at several early civilizations in North, Central, and South America. He synthesizes many recent, but little-known studies from a range of scientific and historical experts.  He challenges that the Americas were home to cultures more advanced than had been previously been known. With this in mind, he also debates their possible beliefs and attitudes toward land, slavery, and governance.

1491 shows how much of what we know today of our continents’ history is highly debatable. There is a faction that holds the Amazon Basin supported vast, thriving civilizations up until the fifteenth century. Others still maintain that this would have been impossible given the unforgiving climate and jungle landscape.

While discussing the new findings, he also tracks how the most common myths were accepted. Though many of the anecdotes in this work are speculative, even the little-known facts of these civilizations are presented in a satisfying tale. His coverage of the Indians who occupied New England and the Mississippi River is fascinating. The work creates a very different, more provoking, study than the grammar school text books provide.

- Kyle

Best of Fiction 2009

By , December 17, 2009
Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It
By Maile Meloy

This collection is showing up on a lot of Best of 2009 lists, and with good reason: the stories are intense and stunning.

Going Away Shoes
By Jill McCorkle
This was darker, but also funnier, than McCorkle’s other work. Most of the stories deal with regret and/or the ability of family members to drive you insane; the story Intervention does both and is nearly perfect. McCorkle’s writing is truthful and poignant, and not to be missed.

Cutting for Stone
By Abraham Verghese

I predict that this sprawling, ambitious story of Ethiopian twins, the unwanted sons of a doctor and a nun, will be a sleeper hit of 2009.

and one older one…

The Heart of the Matter
By Graham Greene

Lies, guilt, betrayals, more guilt…check out this lesser-known Graham Greene novel if you like a good tragedy.

- Beth

Book review: The Armchair Birder

By , December 11, 2009

The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds
By John Yow

The birds John Yow profiles are probably familiar to everyone: crows, bluejays, belted kingfishers, wrens, robins and the rest of the backyard bird clan. Neither identification nor feeding guide, the book is a wondrous rundown of each bird’s habits and behavior. More studious observers than I likely know these things, but I found myself reading aloud to anyone who would listen and reciting bird lore to friends at parties. Seriously, did you know that cedar waxwings will stuff themselves full of berries until they fall on the ground? They also play at passing a berry back and forth, or up and down a line of their little friends, and repeat the pass until someone gets bored and swallows the berry. I saw this game for myself recently when the waxwings made their fall pilgrimage to my privet and honeysuckle hedge. Here’s some other cool stuff from the book: belted kingfishers dig 6-foot tunnels in riverbanks and nest in their caves; crows can talk if they want to, and for sure they put walnuts in the street and wait for cars to run over them; hummingbirds steal spiderwebs and use them as a wrapping to reinforce their nests. I have a whole new respect for my winged pals now.

One last thing about waxwings: one fall I found one on the sidewalk outside the Belle Meade Starbucks, alive but wonky and unable to fly. I assumed it had hit the window and stunned itself. I couldn’t bear the thought of the little guy wandering strange in the parking lot, so I begged a box and took it home to my yard, where it spent the night in its cardboard motel room and then went its merry way the next morning. Now I’m thinking the little guy had been on a berry bender and was looking for his after-dinner coffee.
– Pam

Legends of Film: Jon Davison

By , December 5, 2009

Bill brings us an interview to Jon Davison producer the Airplane!. Ed. note: due to a technical glitch with Bill’s mic he is a little quiet, but we thought the interview was too cool not to share.

Book review: The Lost Symbol

By , December 4, 2009

The Lost Symbol
By Dan Brown

I openly admit loving all of the Dan Brown books. There, I said it. Well, maybe Deception Point was a little weak; being saved after skidding at high speed across an iceberg is soooo much more unlikely than falling from an exploding helicopter and landing unscathed on a roof, right? But I digress. The Lost Symbol has the baddest baddie of all time. He is creepy; he is relentless; he is tattooed over every inch of his body except a little blank circle on the top of his head. The Lost Symbol has, of course, the Masons. They fare very well in this novel, and it’s a lot of fun learning about their symbols and how prominently they (the symbols) figure in the architecture of Washington, D.C. And The Lost Symbol has noetic science (using scientific methods to explore consciousness/soul and its effects on the physical world), adding just the right amount of spooky-dooky to the mix. Formulaic? You bet. (The folks at Slate have created a very amusing Dan Brown sequel plot generator. Check it out.) Page-turner? Yesiree. Worth reading? Absolutely. Go on and read it–you know you want to!
- Pam

Book review: Finding Amelia: the true story of the Earhart disappearance

By , December 3, 2009

Finding Amelia: the true story of the Earhart  disappearance
by Ric Gillespie

4stars

Inspired by the fine movie starring Hillary Swank as Amelia, and my general lack of knowledge about America’s most famous missing person’s last flight, I decided to read a few books on the topic.  This one stood out as the best of the three I read.

Her last flight, with somewhat dubious navigator Fred Noonan (I always thought it was a solo flight) went wrong somewhere over the Central Pacific after they left  New Guinea on July 2nd, 1937 with the intention of landing on a recently built runway on tiny Howland Island.

This book is a comprehensive, detail-packed account of the last few legs of the flight and is particularly strong in presenting information about the communication transmissions, the attempts at rescue by the Coast Guard and Naval ships and possibilities about what may have happened to lead to this disappearance, without much trace.

Mr. Gillespie, an internationally recognized expert on the Earhart disappearance, debunks some myths and speculations with numerous factual references in a very readable and compelling style. He definitely makes you feel the urgency of husband George Putnam’s many communications in trying to expand and extend the fruitless searches.

I was also really intrigued with the included DVD which contains numerous diagrams of search patterns, radio transmission logs, telegrams, Naval and Coast Guard documents and most fascinating, “Betty’s Notebook.”  This is a scan of what 16 year old Betty Klenck is to have jotted down while listening to a shortwave radio broadcast in early July 1937 in St. Petersburg, Florida (her father rigged a super strong antenna in their yard).  It presents fragments of what appears to be a distressed Earhart and Noonan communicating in their crashed plane, exact location unknown.

A very well done book on one of America’s most enduring mysteries.

- Phil

Popmatic Podcast December 2009

By , December 1, 2009

hipstersIn recognition of the 50th anniversary of its original publication, Bryan reviews the first ever audio edition of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Bill revisits a some day classic, but we are not going to give the title away. Think Furbies. We close with a roundtable of our favorite holiday music. No Yetis were harmed during the recording of this podcast.

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