Staff Picks: Music
“I can remember where I come from.”
That line is from a 1992 Tori Amos song entitled “Mother,” a beautiful piano ballad about leaving home, or maybe leaving what you know. It’s really more of a plea than an assertion—a fear about forgetting what makes us who we are. The song, one of my personal favorites, is off her first album, Little Earthquakes, and now—22 years and 13 albums later—Tori brings that idea full circle with her latest LP, Unrepentant Geraldines. In the song “Oysters,” she sings, “I’m working my way back to me again.” Exploring the self or being self-aware is a common thread throughout all of her albums, but it resonates particularly strongly with Geraldines, in part because the album seems to be a return to form for her—that is, it’s more piano-based, simple storytelling/songwriting than some of her recent high-concept albums. I could easily hear a song like “Weatherman” nestled between the songs on 1994’s Under the Pink or “Selkie” sitting alongside the best of her early B-sides. Don’t get me wrong—this isn’t Tori trying to relive past glories; the songs are much fresher than if she were trying to replicate what she’s already done. Unrepentant Geraldines comes from a different place than any of her early work, from a maturity that only comes with time—whether that means writing about aging (“16 Shades of Blue”), being a mother (“Rose Dover” and “Promise”), or corporate greed/religious oppression (“Unrepentant Geraldines”). Her early work will always be my favorite, but I’m happy to have an album like Geraldines that, over 20 years after I first started listening to her, speaks to me.
If you’ve liked any of her previous work, I’d give this album a try. In addition to the CDs we have in our collection, you can find almost every Tori Amos album, including Unrepentant Geraldines, on Hoopla. What isn’t on Hoopla—Scarlet’s Walk, The Beekeeper, and American Doll Posse—is available on Freegal.
If you dig the music of The Black Keys, Caitlin Rose, The Ronettes, Wanda Jackson, and She and Him, head on over to our free streaming service called Hoopla and borrow the newest album from Nikki Lane, a new singer from Nashville whose songs strike a nice balance between vintage country and girl group pop. Produced by Dan Auerbach (guitarist from The Black Keys) All or Nothin’ will be here in compact disc format soon but if you can’t wait, stream it from Hoopla now for free.
All or Nothin'
St. Vincent’s (aka Annie Clark) newest, self-titled album is an idiosyncratic mess, a beautiful and infectious tangle of weirdness that comes at you like a curveball with a sensibility that knowingly preserves accessibility while challenging it. Cobbled together from too many genres, styles and sources to adequately summarize here, her fourth album is her most adventurous yet. She confidently pushes her sonic palate in new and colorful ways that exhibits her varied musical interests and how effectively she is at mixing and matching tones and textures. It’s a contemporary sounding mulligan stew of digital beeps and bounces, spacey synthesizers, cheesy guitar riffs, funky rhythms, and gorgeous melodies. In other words, wait for the next track and you’ll hear something you weren’t expecting. It took me a couple of listens for this to sink in and make sense. There’s no doubt that some will be turned off by the cornier stuff, but overall, it’s a strong album that at times, conjures the kind of boundless vision and openness to challenge found in David Bowie’s albums.
Raphael Saadiq has been around for quite a while. He came as a surprise to me because his vintage sounds. He seems extremely talented and is well packaged. He initially played with Tony! Toni! Tone! Over the years he has worked behind the scenes as a producer for some top names like, John Legend, Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige and the list goes on to some surprising other great artists.
What I really like about him is that he is very versatile. Raphael Saadiq is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and a record producer. I’ve read that his heroes are Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Little Walter. He says he wants to be a throwback with a futuristic twist. That certainly comes through on his latest CD Stone Rollin. That CD took me back to the 50s and 60s. It also had me reminiscing about Sam Cook. There are many great sounds and it is a great show of talent. It’s definitely R&B at its finest and it had me rolling.
Last month Caitlin and Ryan recommended some summertime movies for those of us needing a diversion from this bleak winter weather. Weeks later our prospects haven't improved, so here's a playlist of summery pop songs to help you fight those winter doldrums.
A Summer Song - Chad & Jeremy
Ask - The Smiths
Summer in the City - The Lovin' Spoonful
King of the Beach - Wavves
Remember (Walking in the Sand) - The Shangri-Las
Summer Babe (Winter Version) - Pavement
All Summer Long - The Beach Boys
The Swimming Song - Loudon Wainwright
Down at the Sea - Beat Happening
Summer Mood - Best Coast
Bonus track: Rockaway Beach - The Ramones
Crazy for You
Looking for artists similar to those you already know about and enjoy? Well, we’ll try to make suggestions that expand your musical listening experience by connecting like-sounding artists together.
• Liked Jackson Browne, try Dawes
• Liked The Avett Brothers, try The Felice Brothers
• Liked Neko Case, try Laura Marling
• Liked Miles Davis, try Chet Baker
• Liked MGMT, try The Flaming Lips
• Liked The Cocteau Twins, try Beach House
• Liked New Order, try The Knife
• Liked Bob Marley, try Peter Tosh
• Liked Billie Holiday, try Diane Krall
• Liked The White Stripes, try Wanda Jackson
• Liked Wilco, try Fleet Foxes
• Liked Pink, try Robyn
• Liked Bon Iver, try Elliott Smith
• Liked Mumford and Sons, try The Head and the Heart
• Liked Frank Sinatra, try Kurt Elling
the head and the heart
Brian Eno once said that there are two kinds of artists; those who influence the general public, and artists who influence other artists. It’s hard to imagine what the landscape of popular music would look like today without the influence of Lou Reed. Lou’s roots with the Velvet Underground helped pave the way for a multitude of others, and his career as a solo artist pushed the boundaries further still.
But even if you’re not a fan of Lou’s work, chances are that one of your favorite artists is. Imagine... had there been no Lou Reed or Velvet Underground, there would likely be no Patti Smith or David Bowie or Iggy Pop. There would have been no Talking Heads, no R.E.M., no Joy Division, no Sex Pistols, or no Television. No Roxy Music or Cars or Dream Syndicate or [insert most any other contemporary artist here]. From the dark streetwise tales of Heroin and Sweet Jane to the stratospheric drone of Metal Machine Music to the full-scale crunch of his collaboration with Metallica (at the age of sixty nine, no less), Lou never failed to push the limits, and the respect he earned among his contemporaries (and fans) is nothing short of astounding.
Thanks to Lou, our world is a much more interesting place. He will be deeply missed.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Vampire Weekend before the release of their third album but I have to admit, I think they’ve hit on something special with their newest, Modern Vampires of the City. Their music is still as erudite and as catchy as ever, but where their early output came across as precious and affected, the new tunes exhibit an abundance of creative skill, lyrical depth and narrative complexity. One of the best albums of 2013, get your ears on it.
Modern Vampires of the city
I have a new favorite little song ditty. The original is called Call Me Maybe and is recorded by a Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen. I have never heard of this singer, my daughter told me about her. The song I heard and really really liked and have played several times is a spoof of this song. Toledo Lucas County Public Library did a spoof music rendition of this song and posted it on YouTube. They called it Read it Maybe and it is posted by JL Jones. In this rendition The Toledo Lucas County Public Library wants you to try a book and read it (maybe). They let you know the staff can suggest a book, and that if you have a hard time getting to the library physically that they have e-books. They show a print copy of a book and then the Nook version. They use a ton of children in the video. I found it a refreshing and a pleasing way to hear about what they have to offer. It applies to all libraries so give it a listen and then try Kalamazoo Public Library.
BTW one way I think we are better than Toledo Lucas is that they say scan the barcode and we have RFID so all you have to do is wave the book over the pad, you don’t have to try and line up the red line with the barcode. If you are checking out tens of books, and we encourage you to do so, our investment in RFID will save you time on check out and on returns. If you return a book to the central library you could slide it through our computerized book drop and it will automatically and instantaneously check in your book by reading the RFID tag as it slides down the chute. But Toledo Lucas Library has an aquarium and that is cool too.
Read It Maybe
The robots from Daft Punk are back after an eight year break with a new record released today and all of the new tracks are available NOW, for KPL patrons to download for free through our Freegal service. Random Access Memories is unmistakably a Daft Punk record, with the familiar vocoder and synth aesthetic, but breaks new territory with some live instrumentation thrown into the mix. The robots have collaborated with a bevy of their human musical heroes on the record and the results are often sublime, especially on THE summer jam of 2013 imo 'Get Lucky' featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers. If this track doesn’t entice you to check out Freegal and all of the great free music available with your KPL card, and get you dancing at the same time, nothing will.
Random Access Memories
In 2001 the way the world listens to music changed when Apple introduced the iPod. Two years later, the iTunes Store opened for business offering owners of iPods a virtual place to purchase music. Over the past ten years billions of songs have been downloaded to the many Apple iOS devices. Some would argue that iTunes has destroyed the idea of a “traditional” album, but others claim that more people listen to different music because it is easier to access music. No matter how you feel, it is hard to deny that iTunes is the “King of all Media Delivery Systems.”
I was curious to find out what the most played song was in the iTunes libraries of the staff at KPL. The answers not only provided me with insight on the listening habits of staff, but also inspired me to seek out the stuff in the library.
The most played song in my iTunes library is Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting” from his 1991 album, Girlfriend. When I think about why this particular song is on top of the list, I recall the summer when both my daughters requested to listen to it multiple times. They liked to roll down the windows and sing along to infectious tune. My guess is the top tracks from other staff have a similar story.
• “Too Late” by Shoes, Karl Knack, Audio Visual
•“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys, Anne Herrington, Law Library
• “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird, Susan Lindemann, Facilities Management
• “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth, Michael Cockrell, Adult Services
•“Feels Like Home” by Edwina Hayes, Jill Lansky, Teen Services
• “Gobbledigook” by Sigur Ros, Rick Hale, Patron Services
•“Baby Girl” by Sugarland, Andrea Vernola, Youth Services
• “Dirty Little Secret” by All-American Rejects, Wendy Hand, IT
• “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson, Angela Fortin, Oshtemo
• “Myth” by Beach House, Ryan Gage, Audio Visual
Last week, I wrote about the passing of Alvin Lee, arguably one of the world’s great guitarists. They always say these things happen in threes.
Just a few weeks beforehand, February 18 to be exact, we lost Kevin Ayers. Ayers was a key player in Britain’s Canterbury scene during the late 1960s. He was a founding member of the band Soft Machine, and an active solo artist. Ayers’ list of early collaborators reads like a Who’s Who of influential artists; from Brian Eno, Nico and John Cale (June 1, 1974), to Floydian madman Syd Barrett, Elton John, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield, and others. His first solo album, Joy of a Toy, was released on EMI’s new Harvest label in 1969, right beside early (now classic) releases by Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. His sixteenth and last studio album, The Unfairground, was released in 2007 to much acclaim. Ayers was 68.
This week, one more member of “British Rock Royalty” joined his departed contemporaries. Peter Banks was a founding member and the original guitarist in the prog band Yes. He was featured on the band’s first two recordings, Yes and Time and a Word, before being replaced by Steve Howe in 1970. He achieved a certain degree of success with the UK band Flash during the mid-1970s. An occasional series of solo albums followed during the 1990s. Banks passed away in London on March 8 at the age of 65.
Some great early footage of Yes with Peter Banks (and later with Steve Howe) follows...
The Unfairground by Kevin Ayers
bet it’s a bit daunting to make music when your sister is Beyoncé,
but Solange is doing well for herself. I enjoyed the Motown feel of her 2008
album Sol-Angel and the Hadley Street Dreams, but I’m loving her new EP True.
Both are available for checkout at KPL.
And for anyone who just
can’t wait until the Super Bowl half-time show, KPL has plenty of Beyoncé
and Destiny’s Child for your listening pleasure.
I have this weird passion for obscure, offbeat Christmas recordings. Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney are all well and good, but how about Jimi Hendrix playing “Little Drummer Boy?” Well, at least you’re on the right track. Or how about Robert Fripp doing “Silent Night” ala Frippertronics (yes, I mean the old school red flexi disc)? You’re getting there. Or… how about The Residents’ original “Santa Dog” single?? Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. The weirder, the better.
But truth be known, the lighter new agey type of ambient instrumental holiday stuff… you know, solo guitar, solo piano, acoustic ensembles… is one of my many guilty pleasures (don’t tell anybody, ok?). I have lots, but there’s always room for more. So that’s where this week’s Friends Finds come in. Of just that sort, I managed to grab a fresh copy of Ottmar Liebert’s Poet & Angels (1990) on Higher Octave. And what would the acoustic holidays be without the stuff on Windham Hill(?), so I snagged a couple of seasonal samplers that I didn’t have… A Winter Solstice Reunion (1998) with all the label regulars… Will Ackerman, Darol Anger, Liz Story, etc.; and Winter Wonderland (1999), a more mainstream but still likeable compilation with David Arkenstone, Alex de Grassi, Tuck & Patti, and others. At a buck apiece, I couldn’t go wrong.
And just to satisfy my need for “the road less traveled,” I also grabbed a copy of the Roches’ We Three Kings (1994) on Rykodisc. (Actually, it’s not weird at all… the Roche sisters are amazing.) And the best part is, there are plenty more where those came from (in fact, there’s a whole cart full!). So stock up, the holidays are coming!
Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains 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 a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
This is an ambitious aural excursion that you really owe it to yourself to experience. But be warned, this isn’t your typical singer-songwriter verse-chorus-verse stuff. Bill Caskey’s Dymaxion Mothership takes the listener on a complex journey across a lush audio landscape that ranges from contemplative voice and piano to full-on multi-instrumental madness. Some parts are complex and challenging, while other bits are… well… as Buddy Guy once put it, “so funky you can smell it.” Tempo changes are around every corner and the production is superb. Bill’s lyrics are chock full of quirky wit and introspective wordsmanship, creatively weaving imaginative tales of love and life; dreams, a small town in the summertime, and dogs chasing dragonflies. The overall result is a carefully crafted musical journey that’s anything but ordinary.
“My doggie like to chase dem dinosaurs
She plays for sport even though she never scores
Barn swallows hunting bugs in the springtime
She jumps up and tries to utilize her hang time
Barn swallows slip and glide
Doggie tongue hangin’ out the side…”
Musical similarities? Sure, some of the obvious influences creep in here and there… “Hey Alligator” has an undeniable Steeler’s Wheel feel about it (remember those guys?), “Biggest Heart” could have been on Wally De Backer’s (Gotye) last album, and echoes of old school Steely Dan linger throughout… but the final outcome is all of these things… and yet none of them actually. Dymaxion Mothership is an intensely rich and remarkably satisfying original musical experience. Climb aboard the Mothership… it’s an outing you don’t want to miss.
In case you didn’t know (shame on you!), The Relations (including Bill Caskey) put on a July concert at Central Library featuring material from Dymaxion Mothership. The concert is now up in its entirety on KPL’s YouTube channel and our Concert Archives page.
Frankie Valli and the Four (4) Seasons made their mark on the popular music charts in the early 1960’s, combining heavily orchestrated melodies with doo-wop vocal harmonies. With his broad vocal range and unmistakable pipes, Valli helped the group score hit after hit, including such pop standards (aka “oldies”) as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Dawn (Go Away), Ronnie, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, and Working My Way Back To You. Recent interest in the group has come about recently due to the success of the Broadway production of Jersey Boys. Check out Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons: The Definitive Pop Collection for an introduction to their timeless hits.
Frankie Valli and the 4 seasons
Otis Redding wrote it, but Aretha Franklin owned it – “Respect”, one of the biggest radio and jukebox sensations of 1967, topped both Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R’n’B charts mid-year, reigning supreme on the latter for almost two months. The track cemented the Detroit native’s standing as the “Queen of Soul”, proving its potency as both a civil rights anthem and a dance floor phenomenon.
The Big O’s original Stax version, framed simply as a lover’s question, is a classic in its own right. Pleading being one of Redding’s strongest suits as a vocalist, it’s only natural that his request for “respect when I come home” is less demanding than begging, a “need” that he’s “gotta, gotta have”, never sounding sure that he’s going to get satisfaction as the track fades.
Aretha’s having none of that in her updated NYC arrangement, featuring infectious girl-group vocal support from her sisters Carolyn and Erma, as well as a sweet King Curtis sax break. Standing the nature of the lyric on its head, her assertion that “what you want, baby, I got it” is shouted out with absolute confidence. Adding a lyric not found in Redding’s version, Franklin drives the point home by spelling out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, in case it wasn’t clear, adding “find out what it means to me” as an emphatic imperative. The lover’s question has become a statement of purpose, writ large enough to put not just one person on notice, but any and every person within earshot.
"Respect”’s cultural resonance was immediate and lasting. The song’s refrains of “sock it to me” and “TCB” became all-American catch phrases overnight. In addition to earning numerous awards and consistently high rankings on critics’ “greatest songs” lists, it was among the first 25 recordings to be included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2002. A signature song of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and Aretha’s storied career, “Respect” deserves all its accolades, truly getting what it’s after play after play.
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Santigold's music straddles genres--punk, hip-hop, pop, new wave--it's all there. Her influences range from Devo to Nigerian musician Fela Kuti to James Brown. She's collaborated with Kanye West and Lykke Li, the Beastie Boys, and Mark Ronson among others. Her style is hard to define, but she's just so darn cool. After waiting four years since her last album, 2008's Santogold, which I listened to nearly nonstop for months, I'm pleased to finally hear her second album Master of My Make-Believe. Like her first album, Master of my Make-Believe is a genre-blending, layered work of art that you can dance to. My favorite tracks include the single "Disparate Youth" and the first track "Go," a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeah's Karen O that will make you bob your head. Listen to it at least twice--the more you hear it, the more you'll discover.
Master of My Make-Believe
Do you have a list of songs that simply remind you of summer or that you dust off from their Winter hibernation to crank out on your car stereo or I-pod? I like to have a couple of compact disc mixes in my car that feature some of my go-to tracks as I trek to the lake or head to the backyard cookout. What are your favorite summertime anthems?
Pavement's Cut Your Hair
The Faces' Ooh La La
The Chi-lites' Oh Girl
Michael Jackson's I Wanna Be Where You Are
The Descendents' Silly Girl
Big Star's Thirteen
Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amor
Seals and Croft's Summer Breeze
Wilco's She's a Jar
Best Coast's Our Deal
Neil Young's Out on the Weekend
Crowded House's Don't Dream It's Over
Hall and Oates' Kiss on My List
Santo and Johnny's Blue Moon, Teardrop and Sleepwalking
The Monkees’ first chart hit featuring Davy Jones as lead singer, “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You”, was also the last of its kind. Featuring no musical input from any of the band members other than its vocalist’s, the single’s pre-fabricated nature was at odds with the group’s growing interest in having more creative input, as writers and musicians, on their own recordings.
Assembled in 1966 to star in a TV series about the fictional exploits of a struggling rock combo, the Monkees were considered actors first and foremost, despite their musical credentials. Music biz veteran Don Kirshner provided the music for the first season’s episodes and related record releases. Working under his supervision, Brill Building tunesmiths crafted pop confections honed to perfection in the recording studio by a who’s who of ace session musicians. With few exceptions, the Monkees’ only contributions to these tracks – distinctly appealing as they are – were their vocal tracks.
The formula proved so successful, demand for live appearances by the band grew, and the fictional band found themselves becoming an active performing unit by the start of the new year. Prepared to record their songs as their own instrumental accompanists, the band was surprised to discover that Kirshner had released his production of the Neil Diamond-penned “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” as a 45 without their permission. This move led to Kirshner’s dismissal as musical supervisor of the Monkees project, and paved the way for the band’s first recordings on their own.
This behind-the-scenes drama went unnoticed at the time, and Monkees fans sent the single up the charts by mid-spring of 1967. While the band’s next recordings didn’t abandon the sunshine pop sounds that helped establish them, a wider range of styles and experimentation would begin to appear on their records, especially once their TV series ended after its second season. Pre-fab or homegrown, the consistency of the band’s recordings defines a true “Monkees sound”, and “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” is one of its best examples.
I'm a Believer and Other Hits
I was thrilled to finally check out the newest CD from electronic music legend Thomas Dolby, A Map of the Floating City, but not because I wanted to hear his new music. The reason was the album cover because it was designed by local artist and award-winning comic creator, Paul Sizer. Dolby could not have selected a better designer than Sizer to create a cover that conveyed his feeling of a “dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently.” Sizer has a strong history of crafting books like Little White Mouse and Moped Army, with bleak futures that contain strong characters not only struggling for survival, but also fighting for what is right. His “steampunk” style of art works extremely well with Dolby’s theme for the CD. It will remind you classic pulp fiction that Sizer has expertly updated for today’s fan. Paul can now add awesome album cover designer to his resume. I will now go listen to the CD.
A Map of the Floating City
There’s a lot to dislike about the 1970’s including bell bottoms, a gas shortage, and poorly managed sideburns to name but a few but musically speaking, the radio has never been as varied as it was during this decade that saw the birth of punk, progressive rock, disco, Philly soul, funk, and a slew of fantastic singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson, Billy Joel, Carol King and Elton John. One of the least recognized legends of the Nashville music scene of the early seventies was Mickey Newbury, whose contributions to Outlaw Country is well documented on Drag City’s recently released An American Trilogy. Like Townes Van Zandt, Newbury’s fans have mostly been fellow musicians who revere his beautifully crafted songs. Those who sing his praise include Will Oldham, Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle. Known as the first “Hippy-Cowboy”, Newbury bucked the Nashville music establishment by doing things his way. He found little commercial success for his recording of the seventies but critics have long praised his touching ballads and lyrical writing. Those who have sung and recorded Mickey Newbury penned songs include Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Roy Orbison, David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson and many more.
An American Trilogy
The Paris Sisters were the first girl group that Phil Spector produced (1961-62) prior to his working with more well known groups like The Ronettes. This collection is a real treat for those who love Spector-produced albums and those strings-heavy, pop songs about boyfriends, heartache and falling in love for the first time. The album culls together for the first time, all of the A and B-side singles from this influential group that with the help of the eccentric Spector and his talent for production, kick started the Wall of Sound style that became Spector’s trademark during the early 1960’s.
The Paris Sisters: Complete Phil Spector Sessions
Fans of Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen are anxiously awaiting the release of Leonard’s new release, Old Ideas, his 12th studio album and his first since 2004. With a career that spans more than four decades and fresh from almost three years of relentless touring, Cohen (now 77) presents a new body of work that is as introspective and intensely sweet as anything he’s done to date. Somewhat reminiscent of recordings by the late John Campbell, the album’s dark bluesy feel and Cohen’s deep-throated growl puts this release in a class with recent works by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan—dark, sure, but reassuringly soothing and warm.
Old Ideas is scheduled for release on January 31st, so reserve your copy now. Can’t wait to hear it? NPR lets you listen to Old Ideas in its entirety right now! Go give it a listen. Sometimes, Old Ideas are some of the best ideas.
Public Media Network, the local cable access channel, airs some very fine programs. Among my favorites are those excellent travel videos by Chuck Bentley and Donna Kaminski. I could watch those for hours. In fact, I have done just that. It was while viewing the ones on the British Isles several years ago that I became interested in modern Celtic music, particularly that of the Irish singer Enya. KPL has many of her CDs, including her 2008 release And Winter Came. Ten of the 12 tracks were unfamiliar to me, but I did know the Advent hymn 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel' and the Christmas carol 'Silent Night.' Both of these receive contemplative and thoughtful renditions. This has become one of my favorite holiday albums. The word beautiful does not do justice to it. This is a lovely, meditative, clear-voiced, atmospheric, lyrical offering!
"And winter came... [sound recording]"
I am a grown man in his thirties with no children and I can unabashedly say that my most anticipated pop culture event of 2011 is the forthcoming movie The Muppets. Both my wife and I were raised watching The Muppet Show, which aired from 1976 to 1981, and we developed a deep appreciation for creator Jim Henson’s sense of humor, which managed to cater to both children and adults while remaining cheekily subversive. Other Muppets projects like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were all enduring, but between the original TV show and the first three feature films (The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan), our hearts belonged to Kermit and the gang.
But after the shocking death of Henson in 1990, quality control of the Muppet brand went downhill. Suddenly, the Muppets were being plugging into existing stories like A Christmas Carol, Treasure Island and The Wizard of Oz. These puppet-infused literary adaptations lacked true imagination and creativity—two things the Muppets themselves had long represented. Ownership of the Muppets changed hands a few times. During these dark days, it was most certainly not easy being green.
And then, sometime at the end of the 00s, a potential (and unlikely) savior emerged for the Muppets: a comic actor known for his goofy charm and often crude sense of humor named Jason Segel. The How I Met Your Mother star had just come off the success of the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Wanting to capitalize on his cachet, Hollywood suits approached him and asked what he wanted to do for his next project. And of all things, he said he wanted to make a Muppet movie. Turns out, Segel, too, grew up watching the variety show and missed the days when Kermit and Co. had been relevant and irreverent. Disney, who had purchased the brand, was more than happy to oblige. That film, loaded with guest stars and smart humor, opens November 23rd and will hopefully re-launch Henson’s greatest creations back into the pop culture zeitgeist. I, for one, will be there opening day.
In the meantime, however, Disney has taken a step towards promoting the film by gathering together a group of alternative artists and producing Muppets: The Green Album. This collection puts a modern spin on some of the Muppets most beloved songs. Weezer and Paramore’s Hayley Williams perform “The Rainbow Connection,” alt-rock group The Fray pulls off the catchy “Mahna Mahna,” and My Morning Jacket covers “Our World.” Other artists featured are Andrew Bird (“Bein’ Green”), Matt Nathanson (“I Hope that Something Better Comes Along”) and The Airborne Toxic Event (“Wishing Song”). But the albums best songs belong to Alkaline Trio’s fast-paced road song “Movin’ Right Along,” Sondre Lerche’s groovy “Mr. Bassman” and the ever-inventive OK Go’s cover of the “Muppet Show theme song.” (Check out their video below.)
Green is great for nostalgic fans as well as being a fantastic introduction for a new generation of Muppet enthusiasts. I can only hope that Segel has succeeded in making the Fuzzy Ones witty and inventive again. Even though I still have over a month of anticipation before the movie comes out, this album is helping to get me through the wait.
Muppets: The Green Album
It's not uncommon to feel a nostalgia for music of another time and place that may cast today's sounds in a less favorable light, even if the evidence doesn't justify the position. However, fans of '60's pop radio can point to any of the following 45s from the summer of 1966 - listed in no particuar order - to make a very strong case for the excellence of that era:
The Beatles: “Paperback Writer” – before the late-summer stateside furor caused by John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” interview remarks, the Fab Four ruled US airwaves with this dose of proto-psychedelia, cut during the sessions for their landmark Revolver LP. Dig the “Frere Jacques” backing harmonies in the third and fourth verses.
The Rolling Stones: “Paint It, Black” – moving further away from their R’n’B roots with this brooding Middle Eastern-flavored recording from their Aftermath sessions, the Stones released the first rock single to feature the sitar. Keith Richards remains non-plussed by the US record company’s random insertion of the comma in the song’s title.
The Supremes: “You Can’t Hurry Love” – Motown’s biggest act charted their 7th number one smash (after a couple of singles that “only” made the top 10) with this infectious Holland-Dozier-Holland production that, for many, defines the Sound of Young America today. Despite the lyrics’ recommendation for patience, the song’s insistent rhythms (laid down by the legendary Funk Brothers) guarantee body movements by anyone within earshot.
The Lovin’ Spoonful: “Summer in the City” – it’s hard to detect the Greenwich Village quartet’s jug band roots on this driving ode to urban summertime heat, the misery it causes in the minor-key verses countered by the fun it promises in the major-key choruses. This is the first rock single to feature a jackhammer.
The Beach Boys: “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – the third single from the Hawthorne, CA quintet’s timeless Pet Sounds LP had such a great flipside – “God Only Knows” – that both sides made the top 40 charts. In the UK, the single sides were flipped, gaining even greater chart success.
Dusty Springfield: “Goin’ Back” – Dusty’s soulful reading of this wistful Goffin-King composition was an international smash everywhere but in the US, where, for whatever reason, Springfield’s record company declined to release the song (which eventually became a minor hit in a version by the Byrds released the following year). The yearning nostalgia of the song’s lyrics is in sharp contrast to the youthfulness of the song’s performer and composers.
Bob Dylan: “I Want You” - the third of four singles from Dylan’s epochal Blonde on Blonde double-LP charted just weeks before the artist’s extended disappearance from the public arena after a mysterious motorcycle accident. The remarkably simple chorus lyrics are quite atypical of the increasingly complex wordsmithing Dylan fans came to expect, but that seems to be the point (driven home by the singer’s repeated, excited pleas of the title) of what’s essentially a simple love (or, more accurately, lust) song.
The Troggs: “Wild Thing” – one of the most covered (to this day) hits of the ‘60’s was a make-it-or-break-it follow-up to a failed debut single by the UK act almost named the Grotty Troggs. Though the track and its performers have a reputation for being “primitive”, few cover bands could pull off the ocarina solo featured in the song’s instrumental break.
The Velvelettes: “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You” – the final ‘60’s 45 release from Kalamazoo’s very own stars of Motown, this modest R’n’B hit – loaded with classic Hitsville touches, from a finger-snappin’ intro to catchy vocal harmonies in support of an arresting lead - should have found wider airplay, but with so much competition on the airwaves in the summer of ’66, it’s no wonder that it became a buried treasure waiting for discovery, along with so many other worthy single sides from this period, by music lovers today… and forever.
I've discovered some of my favorite music and artists from watching television. When songs play in the background or at the start or end of a show, I often search for the lyrics online to find the name of the song and the performing artist. This has served me well. House and Fringe (as well as various commercials) have provided insight to artists and performers such as Massive Attack, Damien Rice, Editors, Langhorne Slim, and Ryan Adams.
When watching a recent episode of NCIS, Cote de Pablo's character, Ziva David, was singing Temptation--a Tom Waits creation. So, in true form, I went online to search for it to see where I could find a version of her singing it (beautiful rendition!). And, that is when I found that NCIS has two soundtracks available. I was able to easily check these two CDs out through our MeL interlibrary loan system.
While I recognized artists such as Jakob Dylan, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Keaton Simmons, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones, I was able to add artists such as Oasis, Blue October, and Sharon Little to my list of new folks to investigate.
NCIS: The Official TV Soundtrack
If you lived in Kalamazoo during the 1970s and listened to WIDR (WMU campus radio) you undoubtedly heard a lot of Gil Scott-Heron – like others I’m sure, that was my first exposure to this highly influential musician and poet. Scott-Heron is often described as “the godfather of rap” for his sharply pointed spoken word infused jazz and soul. In his 1970 single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” his deep soulful voice—accompanied only by a steady drum beat—brought life the hot-button issue of racial inequality; not as a radical street preacher but as an articulate street-smart professor (he held a master’s degree in creative writing). His words were riveting and immediate. “The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions. The revolution will not give you sex appeal. The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.”
He collaborated with many of the jazz heavyweights of his time – Brian Jackson, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws to name a few and his influence is acknowledged by a generation of artists, from Kanye West and Public Enemy to Eminem. His work touched on a variety of social and political issues, including addiction (“The Bottle” - 1974), slavery (“Rivers of My Fathers” - 1973) and racial oppression (“Johannesburg” - 1976). In 1979, he joined other high profile artists in Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) and contributed “We Almost Lost Detroit,” a poignant reminder of a close-by nuclear near-disaster in 1972.
In 2010, Scott-Heron released his fifteenth studio album, I’m New Here, to great critical acclaim. A track called “Where Did The Night Go” is highlighted here. Gil Scott-Heron passed away last Friday in New York after a brief illness. He was 62.
As a collector and (ahem) connoisseur of “underground” Bob Dylan recordings since the 1970s, I was of course thrilled with the official (and thankfully ongoing) release of The Bootleg Series. Now nine volumes and counting, these releases represent the hidden side of Dylan’s work – especially during the early years. Akin to browsing through an artist’s sketchbook, these recordings give us a fresh glimpse at Dylan’s writing and recording process and a chance to hear otherwise lost performances.
As an addendum to this historic series, Columbia has just released the stand-alone version of Bob Dylan In Concert - Brandeis University 1963, a previously unreleased and seemingly un-bootlegged early live set.
On May 10, 1963 – 48 years ago today – Bob Dylan performed at the Brandeis First Annual Folk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts, just two weeks before the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. A seven inch reel-to-reel tape recording of Dylan’s performance that day sat tucked away on a shelf in Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason’s home for more than four decades.
Recently discovered, these recordings represent a glimpse of how Dylan sounded while he was still touring the small clubs and coffee houses on the brink of fame. Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, calls this “the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before he becomes a star... way back when Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn’t yet reached America.”
So how does it sound? In a word… amazing. Bob… his guitar… his harmonica… and seven audible slices of 1963. The version of “Masters of War” is alone worth the effort.
Bob Dylan in Concert
It’s amazing how some artists are able to reveal their true selves on stage, while others simply go through the motions.
Back about 1978 or so, Phoebe Snow performed at WMU’s East Ballroom (today’s Bernhard Center) in what appeared to be another case of a big time star giving an obligatory concert in a smallish market. She was singing, but that was about it. It was clear that she just wasn’t feeling it.
Phoebe’s career was still riding high at that point... she had a HUGE hit with Poetry Man in 1974 and a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine a year later. I assumed that she could probably care less about Kalamazoo… get in, get through it, and get back to the real world on the East Coast.
After plodding through a couple of songs, Phoebe stopped and apologized to the audience for her lack of enthusiasm. It seems her best friend was in the hospital back East at that very moment having a baby. Phoebe admitted that her body was on stage in Kalamazoo but her mind was clearly with her friend far away. Well, at least she was being honest. The show continued.
During the middle of the very next song, a stage hand came out and whispered something in her ear. Phoebe stopped the song immediately and jumped and screamed, “It’s a girl!”
With that, the veil was lifted and a very different Ms. Snow took the stage. Expressive, exuberant, entertaining; the mundane became magnificent! I had yet to see (and have seldom since seen) a performer so genuinely reveal her true “self” to an audience.
I will always remember that show… and appreciate how Phoebe allowed a small audience in Kalamazoo to be part of a very special moment in her life. And that, I guess, created a very special moment in ours.
Phoebe Snow passed away Tuesday in Edison, New Jersey, due to complications caused by a brain hemorrhage she suffered a year ago. She was 60.
I cannot get the first track of Adele’s new album 21 out of my head. “Rolling in the Deep” is soulful and catchy, and one of those songs you want to sing along to while driving in the car. Adele is a British singer, who at age 22 has already made huge waves in the pop charts—it’s no wonder, her voice is amazing. The album as a whole is a little uneven; it starts out strong but loses energy in the middle due to a few slow, uninspired ballads right in a row. The end of the album picks up a bit with a unique take on the Cure’s “Lovesong.” All in all, it’s definitely worth a listen.
Swedish songsmith Jens Lekman writes with an oddball flare yet pens some of contemporary music’s most bubbly and accessible songs. Lekman’s English delivery springs from a rich baritone that echoes the work of Stephin Merritt and Jonathan Richman, both of whom, Lekman borrows from liberally when constructing his use of deadpan phrasing and droll tales about life’s follies and love’s pitfalls. The songs draw their influence from a wide range of sources including early 70’s soul, strings-laden baroque pop, and Mexican folk music while tossing in the occasional sample. His 2007 release Night Falls Over Kortedala is truly an internationally inspired work fused together in such a way as to be seamlessly perfect. Fans of Magnetic Fields, Belle and Sebastian, 70’s Motown and The Modern Lovers will enjoy Lekman’s sunny gems.
Night Falls Over Kortedala
Kalamazoo’s local music scene these days is diverse and richly vibrant. One look at the Gazette’s Ticket supplement and you’ll find everything from talented local amateurs to nationally known superstars performing in dozens of different venues across the area, even Kalamazoo Public Library!
But has Kalamazoo always had this kind of passion for music? You might be surprised!
If you’re like me, you wonder what popular entertainment sounded like in Kalamazoo a century or even a century-and-a-half ago. What instruments were being played? What music was being played? Who was playing it, and where?
Admittedly, there isn’t a CD called “Early Kalamazoo Music” (yet!), but All About Kalamazoo History, KPL’s aptly titled collection of Local History essays, has a wealth of information on that very topic. Check the newly created Music category, and you’ll find articles about everything from Kalamazoo’s very first band (formed in 1837 shortly after Kalamazoo—then Bronson Village—was established) right through the Ragtime Era at the end of the nineteenth century and into the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. There’s information about Kalamazoo’s leading music organizations, the early dance bands, the musical leaders, and some of the local performers who “made it big.” Learn about the early efforts to establish the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and discover the various local businesses that grew up around the music industry. There’s even an article about “That Gal from Kalamazoo.”
So dig in, you’ll never know what you might find.
Kalamazoo Ragtime Music
I just read Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids and wrote about it on our book blog.
Not surprisingly, I then listened to Horses and realized it had been many years since I had played what had once been one of my favorites. I have renewed appreciation of what a great album this is, now that I more fully understand her earlier work first as a poet, then as a performance artist, then a musician, and now an author. What a talented woman!
I rediscovered an old favorite and won’t wait so many years to listen to this again.
“Horses” by Patti Smith
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recently chose to induct the following musicians: Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper Band, Dr. John, Leon Russell, Art Rupe, Jack Holzman, and Darlene Love.
The music world lost some of its most talented and accomplished musicians this year. Here is a short list of several artists whose works can be found and enjoyed here at the library.
Alex Chilton (Big Star)
Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse)
Ari Up (The Slits)
Pete Quaife (The Kinks)
Doug Fieger (The Knack)
Keep an eye on the sky
Now that we are firmly grounded within the download era, many music lovers choose to bypass the purchasing of a full length album and elect instead to add individual songs or hit singles to their digital libraries. Here are a few songs released during 2010 that struck a chord with my ears. How about you? Let us know which tracks resonated with you throughout the year.
Zebra by Beach House
Revenge by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse
Slow by Twin Shadow
Dark Fantasy by Kanye West
Heaven and Earth by Blittzen Trapper
Does Not Suffice by Joanna Newsom
Sex Karma by Of Montreal
Blue as Your Blood by The Walkmen
Carolina by Girls
Heart in Your Heartbreak by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Our Deal by Best Coast
Animal by Jenny and Johnny
Have One On Me
I was not terribly impressed with the musical output from 2009, but after compiling my Top Ten CDs from 2010 I discovered a bunch more that were better than most of last year’s list.
Since I could only offer ten selections for the official KPL Top Ten page, I present ten more great CDs from the past twelve months.
11. Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
12. Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2 by Robyn
13. Adrift by The Red Sea Pedestrians
14. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk
15. Of The Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go
16. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson
17. Transference by Spoon
18. I Learned the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
19. Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine by Various
20. Maya by M.I.A.
A friend recently introduced me to the music of a singer-songwriter she repeatedly heard on the radio during a trip to Italy a couple of years ago. Turns out the performer is not Italian at all, but rather Australian. Her name is Gabriella Cilmi (chil-mee) and her first album, Lessons to be Learned was released in the UK in 2008. A second, "Ten," came out in March of this year, also in the UK. "Lessons to be Learned" includes both acoustic and more plugged-in arrangements, all of which suit her smoky voice well. The first time I heard her, she reminded me of Amy Winehouse. Apparently, I'm not alone; that comparison is often made. Other female singers who might come to mind when listening to Cilmi include Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat .
Lessons to be Learned
It took two tries, but I’m hooked on the music of the Fruit Bats on their cd The Ruminant Band. I hear touches of Neil Young and country rock “Waiting on a Friend” era Rolling Stones accompanied by a prog rock-voiced lead singer.
I was thinking that I should mention something about what the songs are about, but I realize I have no idea. I mostly listen to music while I’m doing something else so it’s the music that affects me more than the words.
Check it out, maybe twice. It grows on you.
Fruit Bats “The Ruminant Band”
A mix of Santana and Yanni (and likely some Pink Floyd in there, too), Kitaro was a random pick of mine when I was recently browsing the popular music section in our audio-visual department at Central library. He is touted as a master of the New Age music movement, but I simply appreciate the music as being a combination of sounds and styles. It isn’t the space music/under the sea sound of something like Paul Winter’s Callings, but is instead a nice melding of all sorts of things right about music: orchestral flow, digital sound, traditional instrumentation, and long blues-based guitar strains.
A winner of numerous Grammy Awards, Kitaro’s music will be on my MP3 player for a long time to come. Downloads are available on his personal website.
An Enchanted Evening