Archive for August 2019

Songs from the Vault

Time for another edition of Songs from the Vault (the last one being May!). No theme, just great tunes.

First up is I Feel Love by Donna Summer and, as important, produced by Giorgio Moroder and Peter Belotte. Recorded in 1976 and released in ’77, it topped the charts in numerous countries including the UK. I went to an Unkle gig earlier this year and the band played along to the tune. Experiencing this classic through a massive sound system was one of my highlights of 2019

You can trace a line from I Feel Love to the next selection, the 1996 techno classic Wisdom to the Wise (Red 2) by Dave Clarke (remixed by Robert Hood). Like IFL Wisdom is pretty sparse but featuring a murderous kick drum. The ‘bring the lights down’ sample, which half makes the tune, is from the Intro to Guru’s Jazzmatazz Volume 2.

One of the bands that I appreciate more and more as I get older is Yo La Tengo. Their ninth studio album And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000) is a particular favourite (how can you not like an album with a name like that!). Our Way to Fall, the album’s second track, is a quiet, unassuming sort of tune, and beautifully rendered.

I have a soft spot for a-ha, and an even softer spot for Stay on these Roads, the title track off their 1988 album, which I play more than is probably healthy. The band released an MTV unplugged album in 2017 featuring the track, which is as enjoyable as the original.

I’ve tried to include some jazz tunes in SFTV given that it’s the music I listen to mostly. I spent the last week on a jazz course playing with and learning from some of the country’s top musicians. One of the tunes I learnt was John Coltrane’s masterpiece Naima, named after his wife, and which featured on Coltrane’s classic Giant Steps album (1959). Belying its beauty, Naima looks pretty horrendous in terms of its chord progression but I’m pleased to report that I didn’t murder it entirely while performing it!

That’s it for this edition of SFTV, I hope you’ve enjoyed these selections.

Book review – Ordinary Grace

I’ve let over a month go by without posting anything. Life’s been pretty hectic but I hope that usual service will resume. So…

Ordinary Grace (2013) by American author William Kent Krueger starts with the simple phrase, ‘All the dying that summer began with the death of a child…’. At this point you’re not sure about how the book will unravel; whether it’s a crime thriller or something of a more supernatural nature, like Stephen King’s It.

What follows is a description of the summer of 1961 seen through the eyes of thirteen year-old Frank Drum. Drum’s sidekick along the way is younger brother Jake, though we spend a fair bit of time with the rest of the family: prodigious elder sibling Ariel, and parents Nathan, the town’s pastor, and Ruth, who’s taken upon herself the direction of the church choir and the town’s cultural events. The Drums are central to the community of New Bremen, where, through Nathan’s calling, death is a common part of life. It’s Frank, however, who in the summer of ’61 was seemingly at the heart of the tragedies visited upon the town.

The Brandts are another key family in Krueger’s story. Not only are they a pivotal player in the town’s economy but they’re connected to the Drum’s through local celebrity Emil, a famous pianist, who’s mentor to the prodigious Ariel and former lover of Ruth. Emil, who became blind in the Korean war, is looked after by his deaf sister, Lise, who has a special bond with Jake, through their inability to communicate with others. Furthermore, Ariel is in a relationship with Karl, Emil’s nephew.

As with many a book set in a small town, we also have the usual selection of local characters, including Nathan’s army comrade and confidante to Frank and Jake, Gus, and the local reprobate, Morris Engdahl. That’s not to say that any of theses characters are superficial. They all play their role perfectly as do the key protagonists.

I read on Krueger’s Wikipedia page that his favourite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. One can quite easily see ‘Scout’ and Atticus Finch in the characters of Frank and Nathan Drum, respectively. On reading Ordinary Grace, other books also came to mind, including Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, and Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is exalted company.

At its heart the book is a coming-of-age story which is perfectly rendered by Krueger. Whether or not it ranks among those books mentioned above is academic, few do. What matters is whether it’s worth reading and this book most definitely is. Highly recommended.