Album Review: Three Little Words by Dominique Fils-Aime


Album: Three Little Words
Artist: Dominique Fils-Aime
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Label: Ensoul Records
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: Dominique Fils-Aimé, a vocalist from Quebec, explores the sounds of soul music with hints of jazz on her third album.  The songs draw on influences from Do-Wop and classic Motown to more recent performers like Amy Winehouse.  Lyrically the songs celebrate Black history and music and the ongoing struggle for liberation. Everything seems to be arranged and produced to perfection.  Really the only flaw to the album is that it ends with an unnecessary cover of “Stand By Me.” If you like beautiful vocals and souljazz arrangements, this album is for you.

Rating: ****

Book Review: When the Irish Invaded Canada by Christopher Klein


Author: Christopher Klein
Title: When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom
Publication Info: Doubleday (2019)
Summary/Review:

Several years back I first heard about how Irish revolutionaries attempted to invade Canada from the United States and thought to myself “That would make a good movie!”  But I never knew the details until I read this history book.

The invasions, known as the Fenian Raids, occurred from 1866 to 1871 with attempts by Irish Republicans to cross the border from Maine to New Brunswick, Vermont and northern New York to Quebec, Buffalo to Ontario, and the Dakota Territory into Manitoba.  The purpose of these raids was to capture territory of the United Kingdom in hopes of drawing supporters to the cause and perhaps even exchanging Canada for Ireland’s independence.

Klein sets the stage for the Fenian Raids by establishing the 19th-century perspective that Americans had on borders.  The practice of filibustering, private military expeditions across borders, was well known at the time, especially with Mexico.  The United States and Canada also had many border conflicts and Manifest Destiny looked north as well as west, with many Americans assuming that all or parts of Canada would one day become the United States.  Finally, there was resentment against Great Britain for tacitly supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War which made it possible that some people within government might turn a blind eye to incursions across the Canadian border.

Ireland had suffered the potato blight and Great Hunger of the 1840s and 1850s which caused the death of over a million and the emigration of at least a million more.  The survivors within Ireland used the cavalier indifference of the British to their starvation as impetus to revive the fight for independence.  The Young Ireland movement of the 1840s was succeeded by the secret society of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.  With so many Irish immigrants in the United States, it became a place where Irish Republicans could raise money and organize freely.  The Fenian Brotherhood was founded in New York City in 1858 where they established headquarters and a government-in-exile.

Or I should say, two headquarters, because much like Irish Republican movements throughout history, the Fenian Brotherhood was divided by infighting.  One of the contentious issues was whether to invade Canada or to focus solely and supporting an uprising in Ireland.  Klein notes that both Fenian branches would succumb to popular pressure and support raids in to Canada at different times.

Irish-born soldiers made up a large proportion of the men who fought on the front lines on both sides of the Civil War.  Some of them specifically enlisted in order to gain the military experience they could then use to fight for Ireland’s liberation, and in the early raids, the officers and troops were predominately Civil War veterans.  The Irish invaders had success early on at the Battle of Ridgeway, across the Niagara River from Buffalo, on June 2, 1866 where they defeated reservists and militias from Toronto and Hamilton.  This proved to be the only victory in the cause for Irish independence in-between  the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Irish War of Independence in 1919.

The raids more typically were a comedy of errors. The Fenian Brotherhood faced as much trouble with the United States government enforcing the Neutrality Act as they did with British and Canadian military forces.  But hubris and lack of organization were their biggest obstacles.  Again and again, the Fenians gathered together a small band to strike into Canada with the optimistic belief that once they start fighting people would flock to their cause, and they’d even gain support from French Canadians and the American government.  On one of the last raids with the supposed goal of linking up with the Métis in Manitoba, the Fenians not only failed to make any allies but they also didn’t even manage to cross the border.

One of the great ironies is that Fenian Raids did help bring independence to a country, but not for Ireland.  There was division among the provinces of Canada before the raids, but the fear of invasion lead many people to support Canadian Confederation in 1867. The Fenian Raids also played their part in the longer struggle for Irish independence, especially the key role of Irish Americans as fundraisers and organizers which persists to this day. Klein’s book takes an historical curiosity and fleshes out a story of a campaign that consumed decades of the lives of many Irish Republicans. He demonstrates how invading Canada seemed a plausible and compelling idea as well as showing why it ultimately failed.  And yes, this would still make a great movie.

Favorite Passages:

The Canadian plan offered several scenarios that could result in Ireland’s independence. An attack could divert British army troops from Ireland, increasing the chances of a successful IRB uprising. It could perhaps even trigger a war between Great Britain and the United States, which had cast its land-hungry eyes northward after having expanded west and south in the prior three decades. Under another scenario, the Fenians could seize Canada and trade the colony back to the British in return for Ireland. In essence, a geopolitical kidnapping of Canada, with its ransom being Ireland’s independence. Even the plan’s proponents understood that the chances of success weren’t in their favor. But the odds would be against the Irish no matter what they did. A slim chance is all Ireland ever faced when challenging the British over the past seven centuries. The likelihood of failure might have been high, but it was guaranteed if they did nothing at all.

Recommended books:

  • The Great Dan: A Biography of Daniel O’Connell by Charles Chenevix Trench
  • The Man Who Made Ireland: The Life and Death of Michael Collins by Tim Pat Coogan
  • The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace by Tim Pat Coogan
  • Biting At the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair by Padraig O’Malley

Rating: ****

Song of the Week: “Stadium Pow Wow” by A Tribe Called Red


I believe A Tribe Called Red becomes my first third time Song of the Week honoree with this post.  But I can’t resist the Ottawa, Ontario groups mix of electronic dance music with traditional First Nations chanting and drumming.  And on “Stadium Pow Wow” they’ve somehow turned this unique blend into a jock jam!  The video is spectacular as well.

Music Discoveries: The New Pornographers


The New Pornographers are described as a Canadian superband because all the members were assembled by A.C. Newman from various other bands and solo projects.  To be honest, I know nothing of the works of Newman and the other band members outside of The New Pornographers, with the exception of Neko Case who I’ve been a fan of for some time (I even saw her in concert!). Perhaps I should do a future Music Discovery to listen to their music in other bands. When they come together they create a somewhat folky power pop music with jangly sounds and powerful wall of instrumentation.  Reading reviews to prepare for this Music Discovery, I saw them compared with Roxy Music and Electric Light Orchestra (I don’t know these bands well, but what I do know doesn’t seem too similar to The New Pornographers).  The sound of the music reminds me of something I can’t quite place while also being very original.  Lyrically, the songs are very dense in wordcraft and can be open to many interpretations.

AlbumMass Romantic
Release date: November 21, 2000
Favorite tracks: “Mass Romantic,” “Letter from an Occupant,” and “To Wild Homes,”
Lyrics of Note:

Hope grows greener than grass stains – from “Centre for Holy Wars”

Thoughts: I had not previously listened to this album and it wast faster and more chaotic than I’m accustomed to from The New Pornographers. An exciting start to their career.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumElectric Version
Release date:  May 6, 2003
Favorite tracks: “Chump Change,” “July Jones,” and “Miss Teen Wordpower”
Lyrics of Note:

Our words move aimlessly through
Empty city squares
Collecting into mobs and
Angry like their prayers
They breathe the air we
Fought to leave behind
This kind of blank adventure
Happens all the time
Because nobody knows the wreck of the soul
The way you do – from “Miss Teen Wordpower”

Thoughts: The band’s vocal harmonies and instrumentation are tightening.  Lyrically, many of the songs seem to be criticism of the music business and of the United States’ post-September 11th war policies.  Or maybe both at the same time?
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumTwin Cinema
Release date: August 23, 2005
Favorite tracks: “The Bleeding Heart Show.,” “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts:  These are very tuneful songs with tight harmonies. I love the ‘hey-la’ fadeout on “The Bleeding Heart Show” and the vocal effects/edits on “Falling Through Your Clothes” sound very cool. The band is  branching out into more musically adventurous territory than the previous two albums.
Rating: ****


Album: Challengers
Release date: August 21, 2007
Favorite tracks: “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Challengers,” “Myriad Harbor,” “Unguided,” “Go Places,”  and “Mutiny, I Promise You”
Lyrics of Note:

The new empire in rags
The truth in one free afternoon – from “My Rights Versus Yours”

In every story, every secret told
You are not the first to wake up
To learn your lines before you have the part
You woke up early and you woke up torn
You’re the temporary border
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

You spun chapter into rapture there
Yeah, you were as brave as traffic
You chased the spotlight into her arms
And you forgot that you could fight
But not that you were still the person sleeping
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

A play for the girl, a cross for a hook, sinking into the greasy wonder
Under the sea, walking the floor, over the waves that we lived under

Something’s unguided in the sky tonight
There is something unguided in the sky – from “Unguided”

Thoughts: This is the album I’m most familiar with. It features big bold sounds and provocative lyrics. “Challengers” is the most amazingly constructed song.
Rating: ****


AlbumTogether
Release date:  May 4, 2010
Favorite tracks: “The Crash Years, “My Shepherd,” and “Daughters of Sorrow”
Lyrics of Note:

The ruins were wild
The ruins were wild
Tonight will be an open mic – from “The Crash Years”

Glasswork shards decorate this house
We’re tossing lost arts out windows
The splash and jangle of a secret science defined
You claim some golden age is upon us – from “My Shepherd”

Thoughts: After a decade together, The New Pornographers sound more like a unified band than a collection of individual talents (apropos of the title Together). Ironically, there are a lot of guest musicians on this album, including the horn section from The Dap Kings who had a new sound.  Overall this album feels less energetic than its predecessors.
Rating: ***1/2


Album Brill Bruisers
Release date: August 26, 2014
Favorite tracks: “Brill Bruisers,” “Born With a Sound,” “Dancehall Domine,” and “Spidyr”
Lyrics of Note:

They say we can’t make this stuff up,
But what else could we make? – from “Marching Orders”

I had a sound in my head
But I couldn’t find the words
To get it out
Now I know love is the way
Get it out – from “Born With a Sound’

Thoughts:  I didn’t like that title track at first, but it grew on me and now I love it.  Hearing the song broken down on The Song Exploder helped change my mind. The album feels celebratory.  Singles like “Brill Bruisers” and “Dancehall Domine” feel like they could’ve been on a previous album, but much of the rest of this album sounds like it was recorded in the 1980s with swirling New Wave sounds and electronic tones.  I like that sound a lot.
Rating: ****


So there is my quick journey into the discography of The New Pornographers.  What do you think of this band?

If I keep things together, next Wednesday I will publish my thoughts on the work of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós.

 

 


Song of the Week: “Archie, Marry Me”


This week’s song is “Archie, Marry Me,” a bit of joyful power pop from the Toronto band Alvvays.  The song reminds me of Camera Obscura, which is never a bad thing, and I like the way vocalist Molly Rankin sings “Archie.”  She’s also descended from The Rankin Family, because everyone in Canada is related somehow.

Anyhow, enjoy this matrimonial proposal:

Something Cool: Visited States Map Generator


The Visited States Maps Generator at the Defocus Blog allows you to create a map of US states (and Canadian provinces if you chose) that you’ve visited, color-coded by the amount of time and commitment you’ve given to each place.

Here’s the key:

Red means I’ve just passed through, maybe seen a thing or two.

Amber means I’ve at least slept there and seen a few things. I have a first-hand idea of what the state is like.

Blue means I’ve spent a good amount of time in that state.

Green means I’ve spent a lot of time in that state, weeks at a time on multiple visits – or lived there.

Here’s my map:

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I made the decision not to include states where I only changed planes at the airport (for me that would be Minnesota and Texas).  I also think that there should be a distinctive color for  states one has lived in compared to states that one has just visited a lot.  The states I’ve resided in are New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts.  I’ve also included New York, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire in the green category because I’ve traveled to those states frequently (the first two primarily due to family living there).

What does your map look like?  Go to http://www.defocus.net/visitedstates/ and find out.

Song of the Week: “Electric Pow Wow Drum” by A Tribe Called Red


A Tribe Called Red is a group of DJ’s working out of Ottawa, Canada – Shub, Bear Witness and NDN – who mix aboriginal Pow Wow music with electronic dance music with amazing results.

I learned of A Tribe Called Red from NPR’s All Songs Considered coverage of their performance at globalFEST 2013, which you may listen to in entirety at NPR Music.

You may also download their FREE debut album, which I highly recommend.

Book Review: Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery


Author: L.M. Montgomery
Title: Anne of the Island
Publication Info: Books in Motion (1993)
ISBN: 1556864612
Summary/Review:  The third book of the Anne Shirley series sees Anne off to college on Nova Scotia, studying, making new friends, and setting up a new home.  Letters and visits to home emphasize Anne’s growth and change as she spends time away from her beloved home.  There’s also continuing intrigue regarding her relationship with Gilbert Blythe.  Enjoyable, but lacking the magic of the first book.

Rating: **1/2