Monday, May 28, 2007

Fairy Tales With A Twist

"The Painted Wall and other strange tales" by Michael Bedard is a collection of Pu Songling's 7th century Chinese folk and fairy tales adapted into short stories for a young adult audience. It's tumbler of Grimm's fairy tales with a twist of "Twilight Zone".

My first experience with a Pu Songling story was the 1987 film "Chinese Ghost Story" starring Leslie Cheung as an inexperienced tax collector who encounters a beautiful woman, an evil tree demon and a wise old monk. The movie was smart, sexy and packed with stunning action sequences. It was great Hong Kong cinema and a fairly close adaptation of Pu Songling's "The Magic Sword". While that is not one of the stories in this collection, there are 23 others to enjoy in this collection.

Bringing Pu Songling's classic stories to a young adult audience isn't easy, even word for word translations of the stories do not have their original subtleties or nuance. Cultural differences are as unavoidable as they are unexplained. The protagonist of every story is male. The villain of every story is either female or a wealthy person. Bedard does accomplish the goal in spite of all this. What really works about this collection is everything else - the originality of the tales themselves, the compactness of the writing, the diversity of the stories, and the rare opportunity to read tales of this kind.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Songs like old friends

I was very surprised that no one had said anything about "Paradise Bird" by Chyi Yu on Amazon. Maybe it was because the album was an import from Taiwan, but then, maybe it was because it first came out back in 1988. It was Chyi's third English language album. It wasn't her best, but it was good, really good.

Chyi Yu began singing commercially in the 1970s. She came up through the Taiwanese folk song movement, and her powerful, expressive voice moved her into more mainstream Chinese music. She recorded her signature song, "The Olive Tree", in 1979 and continues to sing that popular standard. Chyi sings in both English and Mandarin Chinese. She's had many hits over the years. Her younger brother, Chyi Chin, has also recorded many successful albums.

The Amazon review for "Paradise Bird" does not mention that the CD case comes with a lyric sheet booklet (in English). The review also says that there is one original song on this album. That is not the case. All of the songs are covers; however, the arrangements of these songs is fresh and personalized.

I really like the "Islands", "Graveyard Angel", "Gypsy", and title track "Paradise Bird". The rest of the songs are good ones too. I hope that you will like them too.

1. Only Love (cover. Nana Mouskouri recorded this song as a theme for a British television program in 1985. Over the next two years it went on to be a hit for Nana in English, French and Spanish. Does Chyi's arrangement of this song with the pop sensibility, lilting vocals and driving piano remind anyone else of ABBA?)
2. Paradise Bird (cover. from Amii Stewart's 1979 album of the same name. The shakuhachi flute that accents the intro and new age/jazz arrangement of this song has a nice contemporary Keiko Matsui feel.)
3. Gypsy (cover. from the 1987 album "Solitude Standing" by Suzanne Vega. This song is a testament to Chyi's ability to sing in English. She changes her diction just for this song and it’s a perfect fit, even better than Suzanne's original.)
4. Graveyard Angel (cover. from Louise Tucker & Charlie Skarbek's 1982 collaboration "Midnight Blue", and based on a high octane, synth version of "Adagio in G minor". Chyi really shows her vocal range here. A soaring soprano!)
5. Tonight (cover. from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 masterpiece "The Phantom of the Opera".)
6. It Was Love (cover. from the 1985 album "Time for Lovers" by Frank Duval. Chyi's arrangement of this song has an edgy Vangelis sensibility to it.)
7. Islands (cover. from Mike Oldfield's 1987 album of the same name. Oldfield's lyrics come alive through Chyi's stratospheric power and range. Absolutely blows away the original vocal effort by Bonnie Tyler.)
8. Joan of Arc (cover. among others, Judy Collins, has recorded this old Leonard Cohen song. Judy did this in her 1971 album "Living". Chyi is able to execute this song very well. Technically gifted, Chyi adds an easily accessible emotion and range to this piece that is something to hear. Unfortunately, this is a duet and the other half of the vocal team doesn't measure up to Chyi.)9. Broken Heroes (cover. written by Chris Norman, 1988. You might remember the duet "Stumblin In" that Chris and Suzi Quatro sang which just managed to flash into the US charts in the late 70's.)