Friday, August 10, 2018

Cast Album Discoveries: The Robber Bridegroom

I've been alternating the albums in my Top 150 Albums By Women project with cast albums, so I'll share my favorite five from these as I listen to them as well. This time I listened to the 2016 Off-Broadway cast of The Robber Bridegroom (starring Steven Pasquale, who I like a lot). My five favorites!

5. Once Upon the Natchez Trace. One of those fantastic opening numbers that really sets the scene for what's to come -- in this case, by introducing all the characters and establishing the tall tale nature of the plot. It's fun and entertaining and a great opener to the album.

4. Nothin' Up. An early favorite, partly because it's so rare to find songs for women written for the lower part of my voice and I was excited for it! I especially love the contrast between some of those high wailing notes and the lower, cynical lines. A good one.

3. Deeper in the Woods. I like how different this sounds from the rest of this cast recording. While most of the music is upbeat, this is a haunting coral piece that I just grew to love more and more.

2. Marriage is Riches. This is not one that I expected to last this long, but it's just so delightful and jaunty and silly. The back-and-forth of all the characters wanting different things is all captured hilariously in the tone of the music, and it just kept making me smile.

1. Steal With Style. This was another early favorite. It's so much fun to sing along to, and it does an excellent job of introducing us to our main character. Steven Pasquale sings the heck out of it, too.

Have any of you listened to this one? What did you think of it?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Last 10 Books I Read

I've been doing a pretty good job regularly reading books lately. I've nearly finished my first alphabetical read of everything on my Kindle from 2014 or before, and now I'm about to start my alphabetical read of everything I've bought on Kindle since then. So it seems like a good time to start a new blog series that hopefully I'll update every so often. These are the last 10 books I read and, very briefly, what I thought of them.

1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I somehow ended up with two purchased versions of this book, one illustrated, one not. I didn't have high hopes for it, as my only reference point was the really dull Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation, which I saw on Broadway several years ago. The book is... a little better, but still not exciting in any way. I like how it switches back and forth between several different narrative points of view, but the narrative itself is somehow simultaneously both convoluted and tedious, and I never feel that it comes to a satisfying conclusion. 4/10.

2. You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw. A play by the famed English writer. This had some good witticisms and some interesting commentary on relationships, even though it ultimately falls a little flat. 6/10.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. How on earth did this become some sort of symbol of gothic romance? The characters in this book are all awful people. Heathcliff is a cruel, abusive person, and Cathy is a petulant, spoiled brat, and they're never portrayed as anything other than such by the author, so how did it come to be known as anything like a love story? It's such an unpleasant narrative thanks to its repulsive characters. 2/10.

4. Sea of Silver Light (Otherland #4) by Tad Williams. I finally finished up my reread of the Otherland series, which is four very, very large books that I hadn't read in ages. By the time I got to this one, I was fully re-engrossed in the world and zoomed through it faster than the other three in the series, despite the fact that it's like 1200 pages long. I had forgotten how it ended and found it both fascinating and moving. 8/10.

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Oh gosh, this is such an engaging read. 9/10.

6. Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I do so like Nadia from her online presence but I'd never read a full book by her. I love how open she is about her shortcomings and how much grace she has for God to be working in the lives of people around her. 8/10.

7. Against the Twilight by Donald James Parker. Uh, so I don't remember why I had this on my Kindle. I feel like somebody I know asked me to read it and snark it for the blog. Unfortunately, while it's bad, it's not quite Rothdiener bad. There's some actually tense moments and none of it is written as incompetently as good ol' JLR's stuff. It is pretty terrible, though -- it's about a Christian guy convincing a woman who's written an incredibly popular vampire series that vampire books are demonic, and then you THINK they're going to get married, but nope, they each hear from God that they're supposed to marry someone else, so they quickly propose to that other person despite having not been in any kind of dating relationship with them prior. It's just right into engagement time. That's always smart relationship building. 1/10.

8. After Alice by Gregory Maguire. Why do I keep reading Gregory Maguire books? Next time I'm about to, somebody stop me. His prose is so pretentious I can't handle it. And nine times out of ten, his stories go NOWHERE. This is an example. Ugh. 1/10.

9. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. I remembered mildly enjoying the movie of this when it came out, and I mildly enjoyed this. The shifting POVs were pretty well done, the reveal is smart. It's not great characterization but it's a fun little post-apocalyptic YA book, especially if you have a fondness for that genre (as I do). 6/10.

10. All the Dirty Parts by Daniel Handler. Well, the title is correct, this book is pretty dirty, and at first I wondered if that was legitimately all I was going to get. But then it takes some interesting twists and turns emotionally as it goes on. I'm not convinced that I care for how it ends, but it's a surprisingly compelling journey to get there. 6/10.

What have you read lately? And have you read any of these? Share your thoughts!

Monday, July 23, 2018

"My Life" by Iris Dement (150 Albums by Women #142)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Album #142 is Iris Dement's "My Life," released in 1992. This is the first country album of this project, and the instant I started playing it I was thankful it wasn't any longer than 10 songs, because country is such a tough thing for me to get into. To my pleasant surprise, there were a few songs I did end up enjoying. Dement's a great songwriter, even if I don't love the style of her music, and there are some great songs, so I was pretty happy with my ending top 5.


5. Easy's Getting Harder Every Day. There are a couple really good sad lines in there. ("We make love and then we kiss goodnight / He rolls over and he's out like a light / But I ain't mad about it, we got nothing to talk about anyway.") Overall it's a longer song and it doesn't catch my attention like some of these others do, but it's a nice one.

4. Calling for You. One of the few that I was drawn to primarily because of its music, rather than just its lyrics. It's a very pretty melody and a very pretty little sad love song.

3. You've Done Nothing Wrong. If nothing else, I want to hunt up some of Dement's other break up songs, because she really knows how to write 'em. This is the second song on the album so it caught my attention early on, and it just kept making me pay attention whenever it came on.

2. My Life. This is one of the more optimistic songs on this album, and I found myself really drawn to the chorus, summing up the good things she's done in life: "I gave joy to my mother / And I made my lover smile / And I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting / And I can make it seem better for awhile." These understated declarations of positive interactions with others are lovely.

1. No Time to Cry. From my first listen, I was pretty sure this would be my #1. Despite being over six minutes long, it's one of the most heartbreaking songs I've ever heard, just about the sadness of life and having to shoulder on past it. For some reason "There's so many people trying to get me on the phone" broke me a little bit every time. This is a song that's going to stick with me for awhile. I'm glad I got to heard it.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
1. The Roches - The Roches
2. Robyn - Body Talk
3. The Breeders - Last Splash
4. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
5. Iris Dement - My Life
6. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
7. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
8. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Monday, June 4, 2018

4 Podcasts That Feed My Soul

Lately I've been listening to a lot of podcasts on my commute. And there are a few specifically that I'd like to mention here because I find them constantly encouraging and fascinating and they fill my heart with joy and hope. Maybe they will for you too.

1. Conversations With People Who Hate Me. YouTuber Dylan Maron started this podcast by reaching out to people who left hate messages on his past and talking through it with them, and now the conversations often include him mediating between other content creators and the people who leave hateful messages on their work. What I love is that this is not a podcast to try and change anyone's mind as much as a podcast just to remind us that, as Dylan says at the end of each episode, "there's a human on the other side of the screen." Listening to the civil disagreements Dylan and his guests have together and how they learn from each other's different perspectives gives me hope. I love how Dylan always centers the conversation on empathy and understanding the other person's experience. It's exciting and rewarding to listen to.

2. Where Should We Begin? A couples therapy podcast. Couples therapist Esther Parel hosts one-time counseling sessions on-air, and we get to hear both snippets of the session and Esther's musing on it later, sometimes even musings like, "If I could go back, I would have done it differently." The issues range from sexual compatibility issues to forgiveness from affairs to abuse to caregiving through chronic illness, and Esther treats each couple with such hope and such compassion that I have actually cried a couple times listening to it because I get so wrapped up in it all.

3. The Robcast. Rob Bell gets labeled a heretic a lot of the time in conservative Christian circles, but his writing on art and faith changed my life as a young adult and I continue to love his work. A lot of the stuff he says on his podcast isn't terribly new, but he couches it all with such joy and optimism and understanding that I never leave feeling guilty (something that can't be said of almost any other Christian teacher I listen to, whose goals always seem to be to just make me feel crappy about myself). His sense of grace and love and empathy for the people around him oozes out to me through the airwaves and leaves me feeling heard and understood, even though, of course, I'm the one listening.

4. Good Christian Fun. My newest discovery of all of these. Two Christians host this podcast about Christian pop culture, and while a lot of it is being snarky and silly about how strange Christian pop culture is (because, yeah, it's weird), they often go much deeper into the aspects of faith that have gotten lost or warped in these culture wars. They have a guest on every week, many times someone who is no longer or was never a Christian, and (as you can see is a pattern with these podcasts that are filling my soul) the empathy with which they treat their guests whose beliefs are so different is refreshing and lovely. It's a very funny podcast, but it also feels like a place where people can open up and have the conversations I never felt like I could have had in my church. (The Facebook community for this podcast is incredible as well -- very much following the tone set by the show itself.)

These four are all worth checking out if you need something positive and interesting to add to your day. They add to mine!

Friday, April 27, 2018

"Body Talk" by Robyn (150 Albums by Women #143)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Album #143 is Robyn's "Body Talk," a 2010 dance pop album. This is the newest album thus far on this playlist, as well as the most purely "pop." What surprised me was how interesting it was lyrically. A lot of electronic dance pop doesn't venture into unique or interesting territory beyond "let's all dance," but these songs are about everything from unrequited love to the difficulties of being friends with an ex to recovering from a bad breakup. It was also great music to listen to on my morning commute when I needed to wake up for the day. A lot of the songs ultimately started sounding too similar and blended together, but a few definitely rose above to become my favorites.


5. Indestructible. The music for this song is just okay, a typical pounding electronic beat and a mediocre melody, but it ended up this high on the list because I really enjoyed the lyrics. The album as a whole goes back and forth between braggadoccio and vulnerability, and this one mixes the two in a very interesting way.

4. Call Your Girlfriend. This was the one song I knew already before I started listening to the album, although I knew it from a cover version rather than the original. I like the sound of it, and some of the lyrics are interesting, but I kind of hate how condescending some of these lines are ("And it won't make sense right now, but you're still her friend"). It's still a fun song, though.

3. Dancing On My Own. My first couple listens to the album, I thought this might be my #1. Slowly others started climbing above it, but I still really enjoy it. I listen to these as I drive, and this one is an AWESOME driving song -- the beat really feels like it's pushing you forward and not just holding you in place, if that makes any sense at all. And I'm always going to have a fondness for songs that are about unrequited love, even several years into a very happy marriage. The angsty teen inside me still hears this and connects.

2. U Should Know Better. This one took a couple listens to get into, but when I did, I loved it. The only thing keeping it from being #1 is that I'm not a huge fan of how muted the lyrics are in comparison to the loud music. But this one is so much fun, and the lyrics are clever, and I love how aggressive it is. It makes me wanna be like, "YEAH! GET OUT OF MY WAY!" and those are always really enjoyable for me to listen to.

1. Fembot. I liked this one from the very beginning, but it just kept growing. There's an intensity to the music that I really enjoy, and I'm all about songs that use nerdy metaphors to talk about love (or, well, in this case, mostly sex). It's everything I like about this album encapsulated into one song, and it's one that will definitely stay in my rotation for quite some time.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
1. The Roches - The Roches
2. Robyn - Body Talk
3. The Breeders - Last Splash
4. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
5. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
6. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
7. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Monday, February 19, 2018

"Last Splash" by The Breeders (150 Albums by Women #144)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

Album #144 is The Breeders' "Last Splash," which took me a little while to get into. It's sort of punk, sort of surfer rock, lots of distorted vocals, and it was initially frustrating that I couldn't hear or understand the lyrics. After a few listens though, I found myself really enjoying it and my favorites definitely floated to the top. Even the ones I didn't love became enjoyable to listen to.


My top from the album:

5. Saints. This has such a fun interesting sound to it that vacillates between the two primary sounds on the album: light and breezy, and angry punk.

4. Do You Love Me Now? There's a really lovely mournful feel to this one, and for some reason I'm digging the muddled vocals more than I usually would.

3. S.O.S. I would never have guessed that my top five would include two instrumental pieces, but this and my #2 are both super interesting. I like the sort of ominous feel of this one.

2. Flipside. And this one is such cheerful surfer rock. It was an especially fun treat to hear for the first time in the middle of a lot of darker punk songs.

1. Divine Hammer. This was probably my favorite starting on my very first listen. I like the simplicity of the lyrics and how cheerful the song is. It's just a fun piece.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order:
1. The Roches - The Roches
2. The Breeders - Last Splash
3. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
4. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
5. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
6. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project