Archive for the ‘Analyzing Art: Critiques of words and music’ Category


From the plaintive and nostalgic opening on “Snack Attack”, A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ second full CD is an engaging work that manages to be a piece of masterfully rendered pop with enough maturity to keep it from sounding redundant. Lead singer Pete Weiland sings in an unassuming manner, which gives a story-teller feel to glibly clever lyrics. Weiland’s vocal technique contrasts with the disarmingly melodic background vocals, providing a density that blends well with the clean jangle of guitar chords and an adept rhythm section. This approach would be enough to provide a group of amiable pop tunes, but Weiland manages to phrase certain lines that give them a definite resonance to the careful listener. “Back to School” is a perfect example of this technique. For most of the song, the singer expresses the achy nostalgia of September that we all connect with. Then, right before the last chorus, the musical background is abruptly hushed, and Weiland stretches out the line “I’m never in the present tense”. The effect is formidable and gives the song its intensity. Matthew Fazzi’s guitar work effective without ever being self-indulgent. His tuneful soloing is appreciated, and his cleanly chiming chord work lend the release much of its pop magnetism.

A Great Big Pile of Leaves should propel the band into some notoriety; or they will be one of those groups who cause me to lament,, “Why isn’t everyone listening to this band?”


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I distinctly remember being in eighth grade when Hendrix died.  My English teacher, a pretty cool guy for 1971, made the comment that Hendrix’s death, while tragic, would not be of lasting importance(not like one of the Beatles).  Hendrix was doomed, I can infer by his comments, to be a historic footnote, and would not transcend the era.

Several years later, say 1973, I started listening to Hendrix and, while acknowledging his importance as a guitarist, really found myself studying his lyrics.  (Foreshadowing of a future career as an English teacher).

Like, Little Wing:

Well she’s walking through the clouds
With a circus mind that’s running round
Butterflies and zebras
And moonbeams and fairy tales
That’s all she ever thinks about
Riding with the wind.

When I’m sad, she comes to me
With a thousand smiles, she gives to me free
It’s alright she says it’s alright
Take anything you want from me,
Fly on little wing,

I actually wrote the lyrics down and put them into the locker of a girl I had a crush on back in 1974.

g-ent-111122-hendrix.photoblog600And another favorite, from the song “Up From The Skies”

I have lived here before, the days of ice,
And of course this is why I’m so concerned,
And I come back to find the stars misplaced
and the smell of a world that has burned.

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I heard Oscar Hijuelos on a radio show when this book first came out, and it sounded appealing.  Hijuelos is so talented and there are many pleasures to be found in reading Mr. Ives’ Christmas.  This narrative of sadness, forgiveness, and redemption is skillfully crafted and never maudlin. The way he evokes a sense of time and place, especially winter in New York, totally allowed me to become immersed in the setting.  Finally, his tenderly written observations of work, family, and church capture the beauty in ordinary things

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As a ninth grade English teacher, I am constantly prowling for books that are well written, with a compelling plot to keep the reader hooked. JUMPING OFF SWINGS by Jo Knowles has proven to be one of those types of books that I recommend to students all the time. The author alternates chapters between four interlocking characters who are thrown together by one’s untimely pregnancy. There is no morality, no judgment, just an absorbing story with rich characters


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Like finding twenty bucks in a pair of pants, I was elated when I came across a free copy of “It’s Like This Cat, by Emily Neville. It is one of those elemental books from my childhood, which had kind of recessed in my memory.

I read this novel when I was in 5th or 6thgrade and I was very much aware that its themes were more mature and real-world than the sports books that made up most of my reading. This book really helped turn me into a more discerning reader, and even at that early age, I could start to evaluate a work and appreciate it for its stylistic choices. The New York City setting was fascinatingly vivid to me; and the protagonist’s first glimmerings of attraction to girls paralleled my own shifting thoughts.

However, that isn’t the only significance that “It’s Like This Cat” has for me. I have always felt that there are certain books that evoke a very specific time and place and I distinctly remember another time that I read it, sometime in the middle school years. I was having a radical mastoidectomy at Johns Hopkins, and was in the hospital for at least a week. One afternoon, a few days after the surgery, we were allowed to go to this little bookroom that they had in the pediatric ward. My roommate was a young black child, maybe seven, who was extremely shy and had few visitors. I remember he took my hand as we shuffled down the hallway and I found a copy of this wonderful book. I re-read it twice over the next couple of days. I know that my Aunt Anna, who came and sat with me quite a few times that week, and I would talk about him, worrying because he had no visitors.https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/7/7c/It%27s_Like_This%2C_Cat.jpg/180px-It%27s_Like_This%2C_Cat.jpgAnyway, that said, I have embedded a link to the book and hope you will read it. I teach ninth grade English, and I am curious if the book still holds up. Here are links to downloadable, audible, and online versions of this book.

Download various file types:


Audio files:


Online Version:


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Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Chew: Secret Agent Poyo #1

A maniacally adept killing machine rooster is coaxed back into the light after a near death experience, and an apocalyptic battle, in Hell.  And this is only the opening for this wildly outrageous offering from Image Comics


I am not a huge fan of comic books, and I have only a passing knowledge of graphic novels.  My oldest son was into manga and my youngest has gotten into comic books since he started college.  So the other night, he got a stack of comics from a friend and left them lying around.  I picked this one up and was utterly engaged.  Some subtle humor combined with the obligatory violence made this a nice little read.  Unfortunately it’s apparently a “one-shot” spin-off from the Chew series at Image Comics

Give a read



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A terrific account of a businessman committing social suicide over the Christmas holiday. O’Hara’s first novel was incredibly controversial at the time, and it does deal with sex in a frank, but not salacious, manner. There is one particularly poignant passage where the main character ruminates on why the act of sex is such a vital part of their marriage, not just for the pleasure, but also for the way it binds husband and wife because it is a shared unique experience. O’Hara’s technique of shifting point of view is also quite modern. Some of the action is told through the reactions of neighbors, friends, and co-workers, which emphasizes the way in which individual actions are often subject to the perceptions of those around us. It underscores the detachment inherent in the things we do in “communities”. We may know the situation of others, but we truly never know the Situation.


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