Song of the Week: “Kurunba” by Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee


Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee – “Kurunba”

For the first single from her upcoming debut album BAMANAN, Mali’s Rokia Koné collaborates with Irish producer/remixer Jacknife Lee.  While musically exuberant and danceable, “Kurunba” deals with serious issues of women’s rights in patriarchal societies where women passed the age of child-rearing face exclusion. Koné previously performed with the supergroup Les Amazones d’Afrique which focused on gender equality.

Movie Review: The Flowers of St. Francis (1950)


Title: The Flowers of St. Francis
Release Date: 14 December 1950
Director: Roberto Rossellini
Production Company: Joseph Burstyn Inc.
Summary/Review: I saw this movie at Brattle Theater many years ago in a tribute to Roberto Rossellini (it was preceded by Isabella Rossellini and Guy Maddin’s odd tribute film My Dad is 100 Years Old).  It was my first Rossellini movie and probably my first Italian neorealist movie too.  I remember being touched by the depiction of the simple faith of Francis of Assisi and his followers in medieval Italy.

The movie features actual Franciscan brothers playing the roles instead of professional actors.  It’s broken up into several chapters or vignettes each with a different moral lesson.  This movie is less dogmatically religious as some viewers may fear, but instead focuses on the whimsy of Francis who was known as “God’s Jester.”  It’s a beautifully filmed and touching movie that I think I like even more upon revisiting.
Rating: ****1/2

Favorite Albums of All Time: 240-231


Having listened to every album on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I’m making my own list.  This list will be only 250 albums, although I had to make some tough cuts.  The list includes a mix of works of musical genius with the pure nostalgia of some albums I’ve loved throughout my life.  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about these albums and what your favorite albums are. I will continue the countdown every other Wednesday throughout 2022.

240

Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
Title: Straight Outta Lynwood
Year: 2006
Favorite Tracks:

  • White & Nerdy
  • Canadian Idiot
  • Polkarama!
  • Confessions Part III
  • Trapped in the Drive-Thru
  • Don’t Download This Song

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Surprisingly not until 2017 when I did Music Discovery for Weird Al.

Thoughts: Weird Al has persisted as one of the great song parodists for five decades by always keeping with music of the time and by being a talented musician.  And he has a quirky sense of humor that transcends generations. I had several Weird Al albums under consideration for this list and determined that I should widdle it down to just one.  It came to the conclusion that Straight Outta Lynwood was Yankovic’s most perfect album with no real dead spots, which was surprising since it wasn’t one I listened to when it first came out.  A bit of trivia I learned recently that I’ll share with anyone else who has limited knowledge of Southern California geography: Lynwood is right next to Compton.

Bonus Sounds:

  • “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D (1984) was my first of Al’s albums and one I played to death while driving my mother and sister crazy. It includes the classic Michael Jackson parody “Eat It” but also some great originals like “Buy Me a Condo” in which a reggae man goes yuppie.
  • Off the Deep End (1992) was a hit of my college years with Al going grunge on “Smells Like Nirvana.” I, however, stayed around for Al’s original take on sensitive, acoustic love songs ” You Don’t Love Me Anymore.”
  • Mandatory Fun (2014) came out big with eight music videos released in eight days upon release.  After having fallen away from Weird Al and being reunited with him twice before, I knew that I was truly a Weird Al fan for life.  Mandatory Fun includes up to the minute parodies like “Tacky” and “Word Crimes” that may have stood the test of time better than the originals.
  • If you’ve read this far about Weird Al, check out my reviews of his cult movie UHF and seeing him in concert at the Apollo Theater in 2018.

239

Artist: Taylor Swift
TitleRed
Year: Original recording (2012), Taylor’s Version (2021)
Favorite Tracks:

  • State of Grace
  • I Knew You Were Trouble
  • All Too Well
  • 22
  • We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
  • Nothing’s New

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Listening to Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums last year.

Thoughts: I don’t think a year or so I would have considered that Taylor Swift would have an album on my all-time favorite album list.  But the more I’ve heard of Swift’s music the more I’ve come to appreciate her songwriting and artistry. I can honestly understand the excitement of this album’s rerecorded release last fall.

Bonus Sounds: The only other Swift album I’ve listened to completely is 1989, which contains some of her biggest hits like “Shake it Off” and “Blank Space.”  I expect there will be more Taylor Swift in my future.


238

Artist: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
Title: Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham 
Year: 1991
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Know a Guy Named Larry
  • Aunt’s Invasion
  • In My Room
  • Who Painted Whistler’s Mother
  • Siesta Cinema

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I got this album when I was a Freshman in college in 1991.

Thoughts: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet were a band from Toronto active in the early 1990s who played instrumental music in what is often described as a surf music style. While the songs have no lyrics, the amusing titles are incredibly evocative.  Just goes to show you that the early 90s was not all about Grunge.  I used to play this while I was studying in college, so I credit my good grades to this band of esoteric Canadians.

Bonus Sounds: Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet are most famous for their tune “Having an Average Weekend” which was used as the theme song for The Kids in the Hall. A lot of the tracks on Dim the Lights, Chill the Ham appear as interstitial music on the show as well.


237

 

Artist: Christy Moore
Title: Voyage
Year: 1989
Favorite Tracks:

  • Mystic Lipstick
  • The Voyage
  • The Deportees Club
  • Missing You
  • Musha, God Help Her

The First Time I Heard This Album …: A co-worker who also appreciated Irish folk music gave me two albums by Christy Moore as a birthday gift in the mid-oughts.

Thoughts: Christy Moore is known for traditional Irish music and folk music, dating back to the 1960s with the band Planxty.  This album is unusual in that it is mostly interpretations of pop songs by other artists with electronic instrumentation supplementing the more traditional instruments.  This could sound cheezy in a very 80s way but here it works atmospherically supporting Moore’s voice.  What is cheezy, in a good way, is the title track which is the perfect metaphor for a marriage.  I also love the cover of Elvis Costello’s “The Deportees Club.”  Costello is a guest artist on the album as well as Sinead O’Connor and Mary Black.

Bonus Sounds: There’s another Christy Moore album coming up in this list, but beyond that I’ve only owned the compilation The Christy Moore Collection 1981–1991 and the concert recording Live at the Point.  Probably should dive into the Planxty and Moving Hearts stuff in the future.


236

Artist: Leonard Cohen
Title: You Want It Darker
Year: 2016
Favorite Tracks:

  • You Want It Darker
  • Treaty
  • Leaving the Table
  • Steer Your Way

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I listened to and reviewed You Want It Darker right around the time of its release in October 2016.

Thoughts: I want to say that Leonard Cohen went out on a high note, but his voice is nevermore earth-shakingly deep as it sounds here.  You Want It Darker was released just 17 days before Cohen died on November 7, 2016 and it shows that he was the master of his art right up to his final days.

Bonus Sounds: You really can’t go wrong with Leonard Cohen, an artist who kept reinventing himself over 6 decades. I have another Cohen album coming up in this list but there are several more that I could’ve added, including:

  • Songs of Love and Hate (1971)
  • I’m Your Man (1988)
  • The Future (1992)

I’d also recommend checking out his live recordings. I had the privilege to see Leonard Cohen in concert and he was a consummate professional in performance.


235

Artist: The Benders
TitleMountain Radio
Year: 2003
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Great Tear of Josie and Ed
  • The Road Home
  • Double Yellow
  • Cheers to the First Snow
  • Shovel Full of Dreams
  • Liquor Is Your Best Friend

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Probably after I bought the album at a Club Passim concert.

Thoughts: This is the first of a couple of albums on the list by the Somerville bluegrass boys.  They weren’t all boys and they weren’t all from Somerville but that’s where they seemed to congregate.  Anyhow, there were a number of bands with fluid lineups in the late 90s/early 00s that I followed that played new takes on old-time music and bluegrass and most of them seemed to involve Sean Staples. The Benders seems to be a common name for bands and thus hard to locate the right one in a search engine but Mountain Radio is on Spotify should you wish to check it out.

Bonus Sounds: This Boston-area folk music scene started a kind of collective that played tunes from the American songbook around the table in the style of an Irish pub session, which was appropriately called Session Americana and they still perform today.


234

Artist: Young Fathers
Title: Cocoa Sugar
Year: 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fee Fi
  • In My View
  • Turn
  • Tremelo
  • Wow
  • Wire
  • Toy

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I listened to and reviewed this album shortly after its release in March 2018.

Thoughts: The Scottish trio Young Fathers are one of the most delightfully genre-undefinable bands of the past decades. The sound is a mix of rap, electronic music, soul, and psychedelia.  Cocoa Sugar is the band’s third and most recent album.  If they continue their upward swing, their next album should be quite good.

Bonus Sounds: I’ve written a lot about Young Fathers over the years on this blog.  Stand out songs from earlier in their catalog include “Low” (2014) and “Shame” (2015).


233

Artist: X-Ray Spex
Title: Germfree Adolescents
Year: 1978
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Warrior in Woolworths”
  • “Let’s Submerge”
  • “I Can’t Do Anything”
  • “Identity”
  • “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo”

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another late in life discovery of the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums project.

Thoughts: Poly Styrene cheerfully embraces the slacker ethos over raging guitars and soaring saxes.  This was the only X-Ray Spex album, meaning that there’s nothing out there that sounds like this.

Bonus Sounds: A documentary released last year, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, will be playing at a theater near me soon, so I hope to see it and post a review for you.


232

Artist: Wire
Title: Pink Flag
Year: 1977
Favorite Tracks:

  • Three Girl Rhumba
  • Ex Lion Tamer
  • Pink Flag
  • 106 Beats
  • Mannequin

The First Time I Heard This Album …: Another album revealed to me the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums project.

Thoughts: The debut album from Wire came out during the heyday of punk, but it seems to fit in perfectly with the alternative rock 90s.  Perhaps that’s why Wire had such a long career.

 


231

Artist: The Kinks
Title: The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Year: 1969
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Village Green Preservation Society
  • Picture Book
  • Big Sky
  • Sitting by the Riverside
  • Village Green
  • Phenomenal Cat
  • All of My Friends Were There

The First Time I Heard This Album …: I’ve loved the title track for a long time but I only listened to the album in its entirety last year.

Thoughts: This collection of baroque pop and folk rock tunes offers a paean to the pastoral life of the countryside, something that even a thoroughly urban person like me can appreciate.

Bonus Sounds: One of these days I’m going to have to do a Music Discovery and listen to all of The Kinks’ albums in order.  But my first experience with The Kinks goes all the way back to 1982 with the song “Come Dancing” which I think has some of the same nostalgic longing for a simpler time as this album.

Movie Review: Lady Macbeth (2016)


Title: Lady Macbeth
Release Date: 28 April 2017
Director: William Oldroyd
Production Company: Sixty-Six Pictures
Summary/Review:

I basically chose to watch this movie because I’ve become obsessed with the acting of Florence Pugh.  And Pugh’s acting is the main reason that this movie is worth watching at all. Despite the title, this movie has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, and in fact is based on a 19th-century Russian novella.  The film is set in the North East of England in the 1860s where Katherine (Pugh) is sold into a loveless marriage with a cruel older man, Alexander Lester (Paul Hilton).

Not permitted to leave the house, Katherine feels trapped.  She finally finds liberation when her husband and father-in-law both go away, and she begins a fling with a servant, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis).  After that, Katherine takes matters into her own hands and things get … messy (there’s the reason why the movie is called Lady Macbeth).  Like I said, Pugh’s performance, is great but this movie feels like half-a-dozen indie movies I saw back in the 1990s but doesn’t have anything new to say.  There are several Black supporting characters and the movie may be saying something about Katherine’s privilege as a white woman, but I think the actual intent of this movie is to feel compassion for Katherine.  Which I don’t.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: So Many Ways to Lose by Devin Gordon


Author: Devin Gordon
Title: So Many Ways to Lose
Publication Info: New York City : Harper, 2021.
Summary/Review:

So Many Ways to Lose is a history of the New York Mets by a long-time fan and writer who happens to live near me in Massachusetts. Gordon’s thesis is that the Mets are a team that is known for their futility and for losing in creative ways, and yet that has only made their moments of greatness all the more endearing.

Since I’ve read a lot about the Mets (and of course, spent most of my life watching the team), I was familiar with many of these stories.  But I was impressed with the angles Gordon took on telling the stories. I particularly liked:

  • connecting Cleon Jones story to the history of Africatown in Alabama which was founded by people brought from Africa on the last known slave ship the Clotilda
  • How Mackey Sasser got the yips and had trouble returning the ball to the pitcher
  • While Bobby Bonilla Day has become a day to mock the Mets, Gordon explains that it was a good deal with positive outcomes for the Mets
  • the greatness of the Endy Chavez catch
  • How Bernie Madoff bamboozled the Wilpons, owners of the Mets, but nonetheless a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the Wilpons

The parts on the Mets success in 2006 (and subsequent flops in 2007-2008) and 2015 feel rushed.  But then again I’ve read about those accomplishments in other books.  This is an enjoyable sports book and a requirement for every Mets’ fan’s library.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)


Title: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Release Date: December 17, 2021
Director: Jon Watts
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Studios | Pascal Pictures
Summary/Review:

Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it was with great enthusiasm that I went to see the third Spider-Man movie (although it took me a while to get to theaters!).  Following up on the end of Far From Home where the Rush Limbaugh-like J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) reveals Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world. Naturally, the publicity has a negative effect on Peter’s life, but also on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Peter asks Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help casting a spell that would cause the world to forget that Spider-Man is Peter Parker.  When the spell goes wrong it draws in villains from other universes including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church).  Peter, M.J., Ned, and May realize that returning them to their own dimension would cause their deaths, so they work on first curing them of the various maladies that turned them into villains in the first place.

BIG SPOILERS AFTER THE TRAILER

Continue reading “Movie Review: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)”

Movie Review: The Exiles (1961)


Title: The Exiles
Release Date: July 13, 1961
Director: Kent Mackenzie
Production Company: Contemporary Films
Summary/Review:

In the early 1960s, when Native people were still routinely the villains of Hollywood Westerns, this independent film captured a day in the life of young adult Native Americans who have left their reservations for life in Los Angeles.  The movie was filmed on location in the Bunker Hill district of the city before shiny office tours replaced derelict Victorian houses, although there are some elements still recognizable today such as the Angels Flight incline railway and the Grand Central Market.

The film is kind of a hangout movie with no real plot.  The documentary-style movie follows several Native people as they socialize, drink, and finish the evening with a drum circle on top of a hill overlooking the city. In short, it’s pretty much how any group of 20-somethings might spend a  Friday night, with elements of Native tradition setting it apart from other forms of contemporary youth culture. It really feels like a remarkable document of a time and place and an honest movie at a time when Hollywood specialized in artifice.

Rating: ****

Album of the Week: The Overload by Yard Act


AlbumThe Overload
Artist: Yard Act
Release Date: January 21, 2022
Label: Zen F.C.
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Overload
  • Rich
  • 100% Endurance

Thoughts: Yard Act of Leeds, England perform a throwback post-punk style offering Clash-like political commentary for a post-Brexit Britain. Lead vocalist James Smith use a speak-sing style with lyrics that amuse and scold.  This is a good debut album from a band that should be worth following.

Rating: ***1/2

Song of the Week: “Who Has Seen the Wind” by David Byrne and Yo La Tengo


“Who Has Seen the Wind” by David Byrne and Yo La Tengo

As a long-time fan of Yo La Tengo and Talking Heads‘ leader David Byrne, I feel this collaboration was targeted at my interests.  Better yet, this is a cover of the song Yoko Ono created as the B-Side for John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”  There are so many layers of rock & roll history in this one song.  This will be featured on a Yoko Ono tribute album called Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono. Learn more at Rolling Stone.

Movie Review: Airplane! (1980)


Title: Airplane!
Release Date: July 2, 1980
Director: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Production Company: Paramount Pictures | Howard W. Koch Productions
Summary/Review:

The team of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker didn’t invent the spoof movie but their style of clever wordplay and visual gags set a pattern that’s still being followed 40+ years later.  This is a movie I remember watching again and again in my childhood (mostly in an edited for tv version, more on that later) and still remember most of the gags revisiting the movie all these years later. Nevertheless, there are so many jokes packed into this movie that you always notice something new.

Now I’ll admit that there is an element of nostalgia to this movie. Air travel has changed so much in 40 years and there are references in this movie that a younger viewer just might not get the jokes.  As always with 70s/80s comedy there’s a concern with racially and sexually insensitive jokes and Airplane! has a few (African villagers playing basketball, jiggling breasts) but fortunately not too many as much of the humor is situational rather than stereotypical. I won’t excuse Airplane for being “of its time” because I remember people in the 80s criticizing the movie for being crass.

I first watched this movie on TV in the mid-80s and I think watched a video tape of that version for years afterwards.  The TV version not only cut out the raunchier parts but actually added scenes.  I particularly remember the “Hi, Jack!” gag and more scenes with the children acting like they’re grownup business travelers.  I found a compilation of the cut scenes on YouTube and remember every single one vividly.  I would totally watch a cut of the movie that reincorporated these scenes into the theatrical version.

Rating: ****