Staff Picks: Music
75 classic soul tracks from the vaults of Motown! That's right, 75 classics! Motown-produced music is my go-to, annual soundtrack to Michigan summers. This compilation brings forth the great music from the era's titans (Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Miracles, The Supremes, etc.) but it also includes a few lesser known names like The Downbeats, The Valadiers, Paul Gayten, Lamont Dozier, and Barrett Strong.
Marc Bolan (aka T-Rex) was the man behind the boogie-woogie glam rock that came to define the sound of early 70's British music. Mixing campy looks with big guitar hooks, T-Rex banged out several pop anthems including 20th Century Boy, Telegram Sam, Bang a Gong, and I Love to Boogie.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Kurt Cobain and the subsequent dissolution of his band Nirvana. After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Nirvana continue to be the band most associated with the rise of alternative music into the mainstream during the 1990's.
Soul of Detroit
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. Don't forget, you can access music from KPL through compact discs, free MP3 downloads (Freegal) and internet streamed albums via Hoopla.
• Liked Beach House, try Wye Oak
• Liked Steve Earle, try David Allan Cole
• Liked Pavement, try Parquet Courts
• Liked Solange, try Kelis
• Liked Bruno Mars, try Fitz and the Tantrums
• Liked early Pink Floyd, try Tame Impala
• Liked Lorde, try Sharon Van Etten
“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.
Fans of the band Wilco may already be aware of Chicago’s The Autumn Defense given two of its members are Wilco’s bassist (John Stirratt) and keyboardist (Pat Sansone). But those who love laid back, radio-friendly songwriting that echoes the early and mid-1970’s work of tunesmiths like Bread, Emitt Rhodes, Big Star, ELO, The Carpenters should check them out. Their newest album, Fifth came out this week and it’s full of sweetly polished folk-pop that’s perfect for a summer breeze.
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.
Catchy dream pop that echoes its 1980’s influences while securely fixed to the contemporary is at the core of a new, brilliantly assured album from The War on Drugs. Littered with unhurried rhythms and languorous melodies that unfold like a sunny day at the beach, these are perfectly realized songs that effectively reconfigure 80’s rock anthems into a collection of hazy ballads delivered with a lament filled sneer. The group’s previous album, Slave Ambient, was a collection of songs that were a spacey blend of Spiritualized, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. With their newly released album Lost in a Dream, the group takes this approach to an even more airy and casual place, breathing even more grooves around the swirl of reimagined 80's rock and dreamy synthesizers. This will be one of the best rock albums of the year. Check it out.
Lost in a dream
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles conquering the U.S. market and billboard charts, here are a list of groups in our collection that may well have never existed had it not been for the transformative power of the Fab Four and their contribution to the evolution of music. These groups and individuals vary greatly but all of them share a link to the magical source that were the lads from Liverpool.
The Apples in Stereo
The Autumn Defense
The Smith Westerns
She and Him
Let it be
I was so very pleased to find a copy of Roy Harper’s latest, Man & Myth, among the new releases in the library’s Music collection. Roy has been a favorite of mine since the 1970s and his work is always full of heartfelt imagination and creative surprise.
Who is Roy Harper? I saw a review once that described him as “the consummate stoned folk poet,” but that was a long time ago. More accurately, Roy is an introspective English singer songwriter, who for decades has lurked in the midst of the British music scene (sort of an Irish Neil Young in a way), swapping licks with his friends (many of whom just happen to be among the biggest names in the business), while himself seemingly happy to remain a folk hero in the shadows of relative obscurity, especially on this side of “the pond.”
So about these friends… Roy has worked for years with his good friend Jimmy Page (who gave “Hats Off” to Roy on the third Led Zeppelin album), and countless others who have assisted him along the way (and vice versa); his longtime friend David Gilmour (Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” was sung by Roy), Pete Townshend (who plays on Man & Myth), the late Ronnie Lane and Keith Moon (both of whom appeared with Roy at a special Valentine’s Day concert, gosh, 40 years ago today), and others.
Roy’s music is not easy listening by any stretch of the imagination. His songs often require work; they make you think, which at times perhaps makes him another candidate for that “artists’ artist” category. Still, the vast majority of Harper’s work is quite approachable and indeed very beautiful. In 2013, Roy received a prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Award for having made “an enormous and lasting contribution to folk music over a sustained number of years.”
And about the album… Man & Myth, Roy’s 22nd studio album and his first in 13 years (not taking into account a dozen or so live recordings and several compilations), finds him in familiar territory, reflecting on life, love, loss and living (Roy is 72 now). “I thought I had retired...,” he stated in a press interview, “...I was inspired to write again around 2009, by many of the younger generation finding me and asking, who are you?” Uncut called the songs on Man & Myth “poignant contemplations on time and its passing, friendship, love, betrayal, memory.” Another reviewer wrote, “...this isn’t a ‘return to form’. It’s business as brilliant [as] usual.”
Man & Myth has been included on several “Best Of 2013” lists, including MOJO and UNCUT (and my own, of course), and the album has earned several top reviews by the European music press. Four tracks on the album were recorded (interestingly enough) in Laurel Canyon near Los Angeles (Roy seldom appears stateside), and the others were done back on home turf in County Cork, Ireland. The latter tracks are among my favorites, especially “Heaven Is Here” > “Exile,” a 23 minute epic exploration based in Greek mythology.
Here’s a sample from Man & Myth...
New to Roy? If you like acoustic stuff, I highly recommend that you track down a copy of Stormcock, his 1971 acoustic opus with Jimmy Page (billed as “S. Flavius Mercurius”), which is still viewed as one of his best efforts. Or if a full band is more to your liking, try The Unknown Soldier (1980)—perhaps Roy’s most “commercial” effort to date, and Once (1990), both of which feature David Gilmour and Kate Bush.
“Girl from the North Country”
Here’s Roy Harper performing a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” recorded by BBC4 on September 26th, 2005, at the “Talkin’ Bob Dylan Blues: A Bob Dylan Tribute Concert” in London.
And if you’re still with me, here’s a treat… some recently discovered footage of Roy performing live in the studio about 1969 or 1970…. (there are five tracks in all). Enjoy!
Roy Harper: Man & Myth