February 2023 Music: Lorraine Klaasen Catrin Finch Marc Timon and More




There’s no contest for the February Artist of the Month. Lorraine Klaasen is a South African-born singer who now lives in Ontario. Her idol was Miriam Makeba, but Ms. Klaasen is rapidly becoming a legend in her own right. Her latest work, Ukubonga/Gratitude is a collaboration with another South African, guitarist Mongezi Ntaka. You might see it listed as jazz, but that’s because it’s hard to find a category for music grounded in African soil but enriched with Caribbean and Quebecois nutrients. Watch her dominate the song “Amampondo.” Ntaka lays down sunny riffs with dollops of Caribbean influence but when Klaasen takes the stage, there’s no question of who’s in charge. Her voice snaps you to attention through its power, trills, and range. “La Reine” is French for queen and she is indeed commanding in a mix enriched with some Celtic-influenced flute. There are even a few songs in English, including the charmingly accented “Meet Me at the River” and the good-time “Can’t Cross Over,” which sounds like African music via Jamaica. Want some moxie? How about a semi-bohemian treatment to “Thanayi,” a song popularized by Hugh Masekela?


Catrin Finch
has been making records that long to be made. She’s a Welsh harper–the official one to the Prince of Wales no less—but on ECHO [sic] she collaborates with Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita “for the fourth time. Harp and kora? What could be more compatible or contemplative? “Gobaith” has a New Age feel but listen to the crystalline sprays of notes and you’ll know it’s more than fern bar music. Keita takes the lead on “Chaminuka,” though the mood is equally dreamlike. Keita adroitly mixes his runs with drone-like effects when Finch takes over the melody. “Jula Kuta” is the most ambitious offering, an 8 ½ minute piece with elements of classical music that add to an exploration that’s partly experimental and partly rooted in numerous other styles. Overall this is a perfect record for a quiet winter’s night with the lights down low and a warming drink in hand.


Barcelona’s Marc Timón is a composer, pianist, and orchestra director who splits his time in Los Angeles doing film and symphonic music.  His album Amalia is a pop-laced departure from his usual large ensemble work. “La quinta medianoche” has big production values and some electronica evocative of dub step, but it always dances away from the brink of slathering too much butter on the musical palette. I led with this one, as much of the album is quieter. “Tot És Perfecte” is a pop love song, even though one doesn’t usually hear whistling accompaniment on the radio. “I Just Wanna Be With You” takes an indie folk rock approach with colors enriched by warm brass. “Cold” is frosted with longing and has a memorable dominant melody line. “Perfums de nit” showcases Timon’s emotive voice at its tenderest best. Hey, how can we not admire a guy who names an album after his grandmother?


Stacy Antonel
titled her debut album Always the Outsider and it’s easy to understand why. How many classically trained pianists decide to learn flatpicking to become a throwback country singer? She is fond of old Patsy Cline records and one of her first country gigs was as a June Carter Cash soundalike. The title track is a bit of honky tonk with some backdoor critique of the industry: Always the outsider/thought I could move forward in this town alone/without playing the game….Karmic Cord” is a breakup song, but it has delightfully weird vibe that shows she’s neither cookie-cutter singer, nor someone who can kicked around. Note her defiance when she sings, I’m not coming back…. “Heartbroken Tomorrow” has a road song feel, but it’s really about working her way past a bad relationship. She’s not afraid to ask blunt questions, as she does in “Better Late Than Never:” Are you awkward or just an asshole? Patsy wouldn’t have put it that way, but you can bet she thought it!



Short Cuts


Dario Acosta Teich
is a guitarist from Argentina who likes jazz fusion, in this case taking Argentinian folk melodies and turning them inside out to leave a lot of musical space for his quintet to do its thing. To be honest, fusion jazz isn’t really my thing, but all you have to do is observe a clip or two– ”Como Antes” and ”Encurentro” are two good ones–to appreciate the talent. Give him a try and see why you think.



is a folkloric ensemble based in Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region. a la manera artesana intrigues, though it’s mostly for those whose interest is as much anthropological as musical. This quintet plays old songs in old ways on old and/or improvised instruments. Think village music that emphasizes participation, not slickness. “Estrellas matutinas” is exuberant, but the vocals are rough. “Ara y olà” features percussion. The unusual drum through which a rod is inserted is the zambona and you’ll also hear a fry pan, spoons, a soda bottle…. The women singers are better than the men, so you might wish to sample “Tonada, ronda.” It’s followed by a jota, a folk dance.



Tracy Sirés Neal
is a mom who writes songs. Her Haiku Love EPis a cool concept: eight songs, all of which are around 3 minutes in length. She’ blends minimalist jazz, folk, and pop fusion. The title track is playful and not just in the way that she and the on-screen kids get covered in paint. “New Song” is more serious in facing the challenges of modern life, but it and most of the rest of the project call for a new imagining of how to live. Titles such as “Don’t Give Up Now,” “I Know You Can,” and “Everything is Going to be Ok” alert us she thinks that’s possible.



I don’t know much about Isaac Watters other than he’s based in LA. His EP Extended Play 001 has its heart in the right place. “Sadness” is a riff on nuclear testing; “Child in the Rain” a plea for a world where kids can find joy. At least, that’s what I think! Watters sings with a pained voice that’s gruff and often hard to understand. You could call it Tom Waits-like, or perhaps just not very good. Listen and take your pick.



Rob Weir


The Rose Code: Friendship, Love, and Duty in a Time of War





By Kate Quinn

William Morrow, 624 pages.



There have been so many takes on Britain’s Bletchley Park (BP) World War II codebreakers that one wonders what more can be said. Kudos to Kate Quinn, a Yank no less, for finding unique angles in her novel The Rose Code.


Quinn begins in 1939, two years before the United States entered the fray. Germany rolled over most of Europe and with the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940, it looked a matter of time until Britain fell as well. The British intercepted German messages, but Germany’s Enigma machines made that information unintelligible. Breaking German codes, which changed daily, was the charge of the men and women of BP in rural Buckinghamshire. Secrecy ran so high that none were allowed to mention what they did, even to loved ones. In a departure from the norm, young men venturing outside the BP compound suffered more discrimination than women; they were scorned as shirkers.


Quinn focuses on three women who, to use an English expression, were as different as chalk and cheese. Olsa Kendall came from a well-bred Canadian family that squandered its money. In the class system of the day, Osla was a good catch but unlikely to marry into her nickname: “Princess.” She did have a prospect, though; she is a lightly fictionalized Osla Benning, the wartime girlfriend of Prince Philip of Greece, the future husband of Queen Elizabeth. Mabel Churt, a composite character, was a working-class lass from Shoreditch so tall she was called Queen Mab. Bethan Finch, also a composite, was a local assumed to be dull-witted because she was bullied by her mother, a religious zealot who used her a servant. Beth is actually brilliant. For good and ill, her BP experience transforms her.


Quinn introduces us to others inside BP and we come to know them. Wars make strange bedfellows. Osla, Mab, and Beth become colleagues and unlikely friends. The Rose Code is a beat-the-clock novel on all levels. Teams of women worked with paper and pencil trying to break the Enigma code until bombe cryptology machines made the job a little bit easier, but we’re talking 12-16 hours per day of headache-producing concentration. One wonders where they found the energy to create a literary discussion group, write a BP humor/gossip sheet, or go dancing. 


Quinn does a wonderful job of placing her characters inside a work hard/play hard environment where relationships unfold fast because they often don’t last long. One character has a marriage of just months. Olsa parties inside a London club one moment and the head of a dance partner is blown off by an air raid the next. She finds solace in Philip, then frets over his fate when he returns to war. (Most of the relationships were relatively chaste because of a prevailing norms and a sense of duty that would have made pregnancy appear a selfish act.)


As was often the case, an unbearable weight lay with those who broke codes and couldn’t reveal information of upcoming raids that jeopardized family members or boyfriends of other BP coders. Quinn expertly weaves this into the novel to show how close friendships strained and broke. We follow Osla, Mab, and Beth through the war with occasional flashes to 1947, when several new beat-the-clock scenarios arise that require cooperation among the now-estranged trio. It unfolds in the shadow of the upcoming Royal wedding between Philip and Elizabeth, which provides a bit of cover.


Without giving too much away, The Rose Code delves into many things: an open marriage, the death of a beloved section head, personal secrets that slip out, racism, Alan Turing, dollops of male chauvinism, a traitor, Beth’s awakening, duty over love, lobotomy, and the difficulties of rebuilding lives after the war. As paradoxical as it sounds, war sometimes provides a rush that’s more thrilling than peace.


This is a novel, so there are things that are overly dramatized, others too neatly resolved, and a view of Philp that won’t please his critics. Ironically, some of the least likely things are true and vice versa. To reveal just one, Kate Middleton’s grandmother was a BP decoder. To sort fact from fiction, make sure you read Quinn’s revelations of how she shaped her book. This is a long novel, but Quinn’s expert character development will make you feel like you’ve polished off a mini-series you didn’t wish to end.


Rob Weir


Amsterdam an Amazing Film: Ignore the Critics





Directed by David O. Russell

20th Century Studios, 134 minutes, R (language, mild violence)



Amsterdam was one of the biggest bombs of 2022. Critics called it inconsistent, overly ambitious, and confusing. My response is that those critics were lazy, overly simplistic, and historically ignorant. I guess director David O. Russell is on the outs and Wes Anderson is in, though his films are often everything levelled against Russell’s.

To be certain, Amsterdam has a sprawling cast, that includes cameos from Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Michael Shannon, and Matthias Schoenaerts.  Actually, there are just three major characters: Burt Berendson (Christian Bale), Valerie Vozel (Margaret Robbie), and Harold Woodman (John David Washington). Amsterdam begins in World War One, when a black regiment seeks redress for unfair treatment. It helps that Burt and white unit commander Bill Meekin (Ed Begley, Jr.) back them. Burt and Harold become best buddies, are wounded in battle—Burt loses an eye—and are nursed by the unorthodox Valerie.

After the war, Burt and Harold join Valerie in Amsterdam, hence the movie's title. That city was one of the few where black people, white people, disillusioned young people, and socialists associates freely. There, our trio live as lefty1920s-style bohemians.. Valerie is an avantgarde artist whose work is perplexing, but they get by on very little money and love one another. Alas, Burt feels the need to return to New York City to see if he can salvage his marriage to Beatrice Vandenheuvel. Harold soon follows and becomes a lawyer.  

Racial situations were more difficult in America, though New York City was more relaxed. Burt is a doctor despite his glass eye and his prolific drug use, and is called upon to sign the death certificate for Meekins. Burt, however, doubts Meekins died a natural death and over howling protests has the body taken to medical examiner Irma Sinclair (Zoe Saldana). Sure enough, Meekins was poisoned a fate that Burt and Harold deliver to his daughter Elizabeth (Taylor Swift). When Elizabeth is killed, Burt and Harold become prime suspects.

Woodman pulls out the legal stops, but two interracial lefties know investigators will nail them unless they enlist the help of powerful help. When they visit Tom Vose (Rami Malek) and Libby (Anna Taylor-Joy), his parrot of a wife, they are stunned to find Valerie living in their mansion. Tom is her brother, but an overly protective one who believes she needs to be purified of her bohemianism. Tom makes vague promises, but he and Valerie occupy different worlds. Soon, she, Burt, and Harold are immersed in a wacky caper.

Up to now, Russell's film looks a lot like something Anderson would do. If anything, Russell's comedic and surrealistic touches are sharper because he avoids juvenile humor. What Russell has that Anderson does not is a script that eventually wends its way onto historical turf. You will find newsreel footage threaded into the action and it serves a purpose. Burt and Harold turn their trust to veterans like themselves. With the help of Valerie, who drops her prestigious family name, they gain an audience with war hero General Smedley Butler (Robert DeNiro). Suddenly, Tom and Libby are very interested; they can't wait to meet the general!

They also want the general to meet the Committee of Five before he gives the keynote speech at a veterans reunion. They ask him to denounce President Franklin Roosevelt and his “unsound” financial policies and hint of the possibility of deposing Roosevelt. Perhaps someone like Butler could head a reorganized American government. Butler is non-committal, but he’s a patriot. Widespread mayhem ensues, as will an unexpected romance. 

Russell tells us something that not many Americans know. The so-called “Wall Street Putsch” tried to recruit the real General Butler, who testified before Congress that he was indeed approached by wealthy investors. It was dismissed as an elaborate hoax, but many historians disagree.

Now consider of the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election. Perhaps Donald Trump had historical precedent! Are there parallels in that no rich people were charged in 1934, and that mostly only disgruntled rednecks have been jailed for the Capitol riot? Is it conspiratorial to wonder why such a fine film as Amsterdam made only a fraction of its budget back at the box office? You decide. But whatever you do, ignore those who slammed Amsterdam. Its humor is offbeat, it raises thought-provoking scenarios, and it’s one of the few in which African Americans, whites, and women have equal roles on the screen.


Rob Weir