Category Archives: reviews

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

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Frank Turner is an English singer whose songs have been described as folk punk.  A former member of the punk band Million Dead, his songs as a solo artist are folk songs with a punk asthetic – fast paced, aggressive, fist pumping and easy to sing loud to.  What we really love about his songs though is the message inherent in his lyrics: to be true to yourself, experience life to the fullest, and be authentic.  Very inspirational and life affirming at any age, whether your adult life is just starting or you’re facing midlife and questioning what comes next.

Turner has never shied away from the political, but it hasn’t been as much of a focus as earlier in his career.

Early in his solo career he wrote  songs bursting with youthful indignation and righteous anger. They were sometimes political, sometimes blasphemous and occasionally profane.

The last two albums, 2013‘s Tape Deck Heart and 2015‘s Positive Songs for Negative People found Frank focusing more inwardly; somewhat pessimistically, on TDH and then with a somewhat  sunnier outlook on Positive Songs. Those albums chronicle a personal emotional journey from a darker emotional place to new promising relationships. 

2018 has Frank turning his gaze back outward to the rest of the world.

His latest album, Be More Kind returns to  earlier themes.  The election of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit in his home UK, have made him contemplate the meaning of these events in our time, and how to continue to be authentic when the world is “slipping over the brink,” as he states in the punk tinged ‘1933‘, an allusion to the years before WWII and the start of the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The song is a direct slap in the listener’s face to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, a pretty terrifying take on the current state of world affairs.

While 1933 (along with the one off song ‘Sand in the Gears‘ that he premiered right after Trump’s election in Jan. 2017) are directly confrontational, Turner’s larger question on his current album is how to move forward to a better place given the situation we find ourselves in.  His answer, as you may have guessed by now, is answered in the title track ‘Be More Kind‘.  Starting quietly with just acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds to a full  yet restrained melody as Turner implores us to show more kindness towards each other, try to better understand each other and find common ground, regardless of our political views or beliefs.

We’ve stopped talking to each other
And there’s something wrong with that
So before you go out searching
Don’t decide what you will find
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

 

In other songs, Turner explores this theme of connection by focusing on finding individual connection with another within a futuristic nightmare landscape where the world is already over the brink (‘20th Century Survival Blues‘)  or when faced with a literal and figurative ‘Blackout‘:

Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
Bring a burning candle with you
Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
I will be there waiting for you

Musically, this is Turner’s most expansive album to date, incorporating not just his trademark punk folk as well as rock style, but also the most pop influenced songs of his career.  While ‘There She Is‘ is a lovely slice of acoustic pop balladry, ‘Little Changes‘ uses an upbeat and bouncy melody to impart the message that “the big things stay the same until we make Little changes” – change, whether in your personal relationships or in society as a whole, cannot happen all at once but needs to start one step at a time, always moving forward.

In our mind, the highlight of the album and the song that brings it all together is ‘Make America Great Again‘, where Turner brilliantly turns the Trump slogan on its head, using the conceit of an Englishman using the US/England “special relationship” to give advice to his country’s former colony.  After suggesting in the chorus that we make America great again by “By making racists ashamed again, Let’s make compassion in fashion again” Turner ends the song by saying:

Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends
And call them out when they’re faltering
Remind them of their best selves and then
We’ll make America great again

Be More Kind provides a compelling reminder for finding our best selves again, for showing kindness, love and tolerance of others, as the only way to make it through these challenging times.

 

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 7/14/18

 

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Our family (like many) loves the Harry Potter books and movies.  I have read the books three times (once myself, and once each with each of my kids).  I have always been a bit disappointed with the movies as I feel that they don’t always do justice to the richness of the novels – of course they can’t given the inherent limits of time and format of a movie.

But when we heard that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was going to be playing the soundtrack to the 4th movie, HP and the Goblet of Fire, live as the movie played, we thought it would be a fun way to see the movie.

My sense is that many professional orchestras have been doing these types of concerts as a way of connecting with younger generation of listeners.  Of course the counter point, as expressed by my son’s music teacher (herself a professional bass player) is that it just shows that audiences these days can’t even listen to an orchestra without some visual stimulation.  Be that as it may….

Goblet of Fire is one of my favorites of the movie series, and I was excited to see how it would be with a live symphony accompaniment.  In a word it was amazing!

After the traditional orchestra tune-up, the orchestra conductor Jeffrey Schindler came out and enthusiastically welcomed the audience, encouraging everyone to enjoy the movie by clapping, cheering and laughing to their favorite parts.  He then polled us on our Hogwarts House allegiances (we have always been Gryffindor, although I was surprised how many Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws there were in audience – even Slytherin got a good response).  As the house lights went down, the stage was black except for small lights on the orchestra member’s music stands so they could see their music, and a single spotlight on the conductor.  At first I thought this would be distracting in watching the movie on the large screen above the orchestra, but it left my awareness after the movie started.  The other potential distraction was that the film was close captioned, but again this ended up not being a big deal and was actually essential at several points where the orchestra music made it hard to hear the dialogue. (Although it did make it clear how simple and brief the movie dialogue is).  Given that the movie was close to 2:40, there was a 15 minute intermission about 1:30 into the movie.

Where having a live orchestra playing live to the movie worked best was during the many dramatic or suspenseful scenes – the Quidditch World Cup, the naming of the House Champions by the Goblet, the dragon task, the underwater lake task, the Yule Ball, and especially the final task and scene with Voldemort [I am assuming readers have seen the movies – if not, sorry…].  All of these scenes were enhanced, made more dramatic or suspenseful by both the volume of the sound and the brightness and clarity of the themes being played.   Call me crazy, but Emma Watson looked all the more stunning coming down the stairs at the Yule Ball with the orchestra accompaniment.  Ditto the death of Cedric Diggory, which was all the sadder and more tragic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have sometimes been disappointed with the movie versions of the Harry Potter books, in part because I find myself always comparing them to the books and thinking of all the plotlines being left out or changed.  But I have to say that seeing Goblet of Fire with the BSO let me enjoy the movie on its own merits and as its own version of the story.  There were many times when I simply forgot that the orchestra was there and that the music was just bigger and bolder than normal.

Having a live symphony orchestra playing while watching is a one of a kind experience that I would definitely recommend everyone experience at least once (we are already planning for future Harry Potter concerts as well as Star Wars)!

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