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Staff Picks: Music

Stream or Download via Freegal

Freegal is your access to free downloaded music from the Sony Music catalog. A streaming option has now been added to their catalog. Download 5 of your favorite songs each week or listen to a full album by streaming (5 hours/week). Visit our Download page on the KPL site for more information and helpful links to our other digital services.

One of the most buzzed about jazz albums of the year is Miles Davis at Newport: 1955-1975, the Bootleg Series Volume 4. Our compact disc copy will be here soon but if you don't want to wait, stream this extraordinary portrait of one of jazz's most important innovators which includes performances with legendary collaborators John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and Julien "Cannonball" Adderley. 

A Touching Tribute

I’ve never really gravitated toward the wispy folk pop of musician Sufjan Stevens. His previous ‘concept’ albums seemed a bit too precious, a little too cloying. But his newest album, Carrie & Lowell is a powerful work of melancholy that proves you can link creative expression with grief and not have it come off as an exercise in showy, self-absorption. Stevens has always made albums that are arranged around a particular narrative theme and his newest is no different. This time around, it’s personal, very personal and that's why it's the rawest, best work of his career. This is a heartfelt tribute to his mother who recently passed away from cancer. Beautiful, touching, lyrical, poignant are all words that will be used to describe this album that explores Stevens’ sometimes troubled relationship with his mother who suffered from mental illness.  One of the best of 2015.

Tallest Man On Earth

Honestly, I’m a bit exhausted with the saturated landscape of sensitive singer songwriters who wear their earnest blues and sorrows on their cowboy shirt sleeve. Most are decent if not completely unspectacular at crafting sometimes catchy tunes but whom nevertheless fail to breathe any kind of new life into the tired folk singer formula. But then comes along an album like Tallest Man on Earth’s Dark Bird Is Home and I’m humming along to a first world angst channeled by an earthy sneer that probably originated somewhere in the Delta about 80 years ago but now is sung by this Swedish lad and pretty much every other bourgeois troubadour obsessed with Bob Dylan. There’s nothing new here, nothing of a particularly terrible nature either. That’s both a problem and not really one at all I suppose.

Terrible, Beautiful Things

After being a fan for over a decade, I finally got to see The Decemberists in concert just a couple of days ago. They are touring in support of their seventh studio album, What a Beautiful World, What a Terrible World. If you’re not familiar with the indie folk-rock stalwarts, I strongly recommend checking them out. They specialize in both accessible radio-friendly anthems as well as epic narrative ballads laden with historical or literary references. Beautiful/Terrible eschews some of the more grandiose storytelling for which the band is known, but makes up for it by being one of their most emotionally resonant albums to date. To give you the best of both their worlds, I’ll leave two videos below: “Make You Better,” the lead single off their new record; and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” a delightfully macabre sea shanty that exemplifies their knack for narrative.

Wilco - 20 Years On and Still Rockin’

Wilco may not be releasing anything new this year but if you’re a fan or are interested in learning more about one of the best studio and live acts on the planet, you may want to get your ears on two recent additions to the KPL music collection. Having been around for some twenty years now, the obligatory greatest hits album features a very thorough and thoughtful list of some of their best tunes. Most fans will own these selections but the group should be praised for nailing down most of their strongest tracks. Also recently added, a new album of rarities titled Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014. This collection like the greatest hit album, could have been alternately called Wilco: the brilliant evolutionary growth of a great band. Both albums can be streamed at


Best Music of 2014

Catch up on the best music made in 2014 by checking out some of these end of year lists.

NPR's Music Critics


Rolling Stone

Country Music

AV Club

Metacritic's Debut Albums

Hip Hop Albums

Christmas… and All That Jazz

Winter is here in all its glory and with the holiday season (and, of course, Record Store Day) right around the corner, it’s time for another Bargain Basement adventure. This time there are two worth bragging about… well, ok, maybe more like five or six but who’s counting?

First, if you’re in the mood for some new jazz (and who’s not?), Friends Bookstore has a whole cart full of new acquisitions. Seriously. A whole cart full. Ok, even I’ll admit that there’s some pretty obscure stuff in there, but for a couple of bucks each, you definitely can’t go wrong. I made out like a bandit with three killer titles by local (but nationally famed) jazzman, Tom Knific; Siena, Lines of Influence, and Home Bass. Siena features a full cast of heavies, including pianist Fred Hersch and one of my longtime favorite guitar artists, John Abercrombie. Impressive stuff, indeed. Lines is a quartet record with pianist John Knific, drummer extraordinaire Keith Hall, and tasty sax work by Chris Geckstrom. Lastly, Tom’s “Duos and Trios” release, Home Bass, boasts an equally impressive cast, with Billy Hart, drums; Trent Kynaston, sax; and others. All are wonderful recordings and terrific finds.

And… just in time for the holidays, Friends have so cleverly set up a cart chock full of holiday music and seasonal videos. Sinatra and Bing and all the classics are there, of course, but as I’ve confessed here before, I tend to seek out the more unusual when it comes to musical holiday fare. (There’s even a new film about this strange obsession due to arrive in December. There’s a trailer below - thanks for the tip, Karl!) So, in between the Mannheim Steamrollers and the Gregorian chanters, along comes this cool collection called Maybe This Christmas Too? with Dave Matthews, Barenaked Ladies, Oh Susanna, and the Flaming Lips. Nice! I also grabbed a lovely disc from Utah with some wonderful guitar and violin works by Michael Lucarelli and Kelly Parkinson. And to top it off, I managed to secure a swingin’ copy of Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas. Priceless. 

Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!


Bargains in the Basement - No Direction Home

It’s a good time to be a Bob Dylan fan. At 73, he’s still on the road with his (seemingly) never ending tour… he just finished a well-received series of dates in Australia and returns to the good ol’ U.S. of A. next month for another fall tour here. Aside from the live shows, we seem to get an album of new material every couple of years… his latest being Tempest from 2012, and (thankfully) a steady stream of archival material thanks to “The Bootleg Series.” Dylan and his label, Sony Music, deserve (in my humble opinion) a great deal of credit for allowing these recordings to be heard, rather than keeping them buried and quite possibly lost forever. It’s these otherwise “lost” recordings that allow us to gain true insight into the artist’s work. And of course they make for some fun listening, too.

To that end, I just snagged a nice copy of No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7 at the Friends Bookstore. This double disc from 2005 is a companion (sort of a soundtrack) to the Martin Scorsese film of the same name, gathering 28 mostly unreleased rarities, including one of Bob’s very first recordings from 1959, plus various demos, live tracks and alternate takes – mostly from the mid-sixties. It’s an interesting look back at a pivotal point in Dylan’s career.

Looking ahead, November should be an interesting month. Sony is preparing to release The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (including a 6 disc deluxe edition!), which features for the first time the legendary “Big Pink” recordings “presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967.” Also in November, we’ll get a brand new collection of recordings by Elvis Costello and others (members of Dawes, My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, et al) called Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. These recordings feature new original music that underscores a newly discovered batch of Dylan’s handwritten lyrics from the 1967 Basement Tapes period. Oh, and it’s produced by T Bone Burnette, so you know it should be mighty interesting. As always, thanks Friends and stay tuned.

Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Valerie June

Every once in a while I come across a musician or an album that makes me stop and really listen. Valerie June is just one of those musicians and her album Pushin’ Against the Stone is just one of those albums. Her music is bluesy and folky, with soul and funk, and her voice is the perfect conduit to blend all those styles together. She’s also a great storyteller, and I find listening to her music evokes a similar atmosphere to many of my favorite southern gothic writers (think Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison). This was love at first listen for me.

 You can find a copy of Pushin’ Against the Stone both in our CD collection and on our streaming music service Hoopla

Most Messed Up in the Best Possible Way

“We’ve been doing this thing longer than you’ve been alive, propelled by some mysterious drive,” is the first couple lines of “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” the first track from the Old 97’s newest record Most Messed Up. Celebrating their 20th year as a band, the Old 97’s have released one of the best records of 2014. Fans of Americana, punk (Tommy Stinson from The Replacements plays on a few tracks), and alt-country will be happy to discover that the boys from Texas have messed those genre up into a pure raucous ride. Songs like “Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On” and “Wasted” are anthems to the hard life of a band strumming hard through two decades of music. “Guadalajara” and “The Ex of All You See” tell the torrid tales of love and loss on the road. After the final song has ended you will have felt like you have listened to a musical biography of a most messed up, but amazing band. In fact, the chorus of the lead track sums the entire record nicely, “Rock and Roll’s been very very good to me, the open road’s the only place I wanna be.”


Most Messed Up