Staff Picks: Music

Portable Hi-Resolution Audio? Really?

Taking your music with you these days is a given. Mp3 players (iThings) and streaming media (Hoopla, Pandora, etc.) make your music available pretty much anywhere. But the downside of all that portability and convenience is that those are all lossy formats… in other words, they sound “good enough” to make them listenable, but clearly not what you would expect in terms of quality from an old school analog or high resolution digital recording when brought to life through a decent home or car audio system. But unless you want drag your turntable along with you to the beach (not recommended) or park a computer with a decent sound card in your car’s trunk, we’re forced to let “good enough” be just that… good enough. That is until now.

Frustrated with an industry built on a tradeoff between maximum convenience and minimum quality, veteran music-maker Neil Young is spearheading an effort to make true, lossless high resolution audio available in a conveniently portable format. Allied with some of the leading technical minds in the sound recording industry, PonoMusic is being launched to offer high resolution digital music available in a convenient iPod-like format. But according to the Pono website, “PonoMusic is more than just a high-resolution music store and player; it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.”

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So, high quality audio can now accompany you anywhere you go… yes, even the beach. But is there really a difference? For the sake of comparison, most mp3 files have a bit rate of 160kbps to 256kbps, 320k if you’re lucky. Mp3 of course is a “lossy” format… some of the sound is actually removed in an effort to make the files smaller and more portable… think of a photograph in a newspaper… it looks “ok” at arm’s length, but up close you’ll see that it’s actually a bunch of dots and not really all that clear. Pono, on the other hand, is designed to play high resolution FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files - we’re talkin’ full resolution 192kHz/24 bit files that will “fill in” those holes with upwards of 30 times more information than a standard MP3; about four times more than a standard audio CD. The result is said to be nothing short of amazing. And you’ll feed your Pono player through a familiar looking online music store not at all unlike iTunes. And yes, your existing mp3 files (and other formats) will work, too, so there’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

So after a couple of years’ worth of prototypes, development, and grass roots promotion, Pono (Hawaiian for “righteous”) is preparing to launch later this year with the help of a Kickstarter project. The project hoped to raise $800,000 in capital in 35 days – a lofty goal, perhaps, but enough to put the program on the street and (hopefully) create a buzz among music lovers. Well… the Kickstarter project so far is working… uh… rather well… to say the least. Pono met its initial goal in a mere 12 hours, and as of this writing, the project I hovering just under $4 million… with 28 days still to go!

Here are some pretty remarkable celebrity endorsements of the new system. If you’re a music fan like me, you’ll probably be salivating after you hear these. And if you’re serious about it, log on to the Pono Kickstarter site and ante up… you could land some pretty righteous swag for your efforts.

Book

PonoMusic
pono-logo-160
http://www.ponomusic.com/
Keith_1

Beatles Offspring

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.

Elliott Smith
The Apples in Stereo
Oasis
The Byrds
Badfinger
The Autumn Defense
Elton John
Harry Nilsson
The Smith Westerns
ELO
The Shins
Tame Impala
Dr. Dog
She and Him
Matthew Sweet
Jeff Lynn
David Bowie

Music

Let it be
10329056
RyanG

Roy Harper: Man & Myth

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.

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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.

“January Man”

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!

 

Music

Roy Harper: Man & Myth
11032118
Keith_1

Arvo Pärt

The work of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt can operate on multiple levels and register differently from piece to piece. His pared down approach to composition has led critics to place his music within the minimalist tradition though such a category diminishes the range of his work and the influences of Gregorian chants and sacred music. The music can both ecstatically soar with a bang as well as level off into lyrical serenity. Both modern and timeless, the chorales are marked with spiritually affirmative overtones and yet there are also works that are haunting, solemn laments. He may well be today’s most well-known composer, having produced a treasure trove of symphonies, chorales, and operas.

Music

Adam's Lament
10010817
RyanG

Bargains in the Basement: Sonic Alchemy

The very first sentence in this book… “For everyone who ever picked up the back of an album cover, spied a producer’s name, and wondered what the hell he did, this book is for you.” …was alone enough to capture my attention and cement its purchase. In his 2004 book, Sonic Alchemy, author and publisher David N. Howard (no relation that I know of) takes his readers on a tour of the most influential and pioneering record producers and sound recording engineers of our time.

Subtitled Visionary Music Producers and their Maverick Recordings, Howard explores the styles and techniques of such legendary producers as George Martin (The Beatles), Phil Spector (60s “Wall of Sound”), and Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), and then moves on to the many others who helped shape the sound of the world we live in.

He examines the influence of reggae and dub legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry (Bob Marley, The Clash) and King Tubby (Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo), the ambient wizardry of Brian Eno (Talking Heads, David Bowie), the “classic rock” sound of Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones, Traffic) and Glyn Johns (Eric Clapton, Eagles, The Who), the postpunk Manchesterian vision of Martin Hannet (Durutti Column, Joy Division), and he documents the pioneering techniques employed by Flood (Nine Inch Nails, U2), Chris Thomas (Pink Floyd, The Pretenders, Sex Pistols), Dr. Dre (Eminem, Public Enemy), Arthur Baker (New Order), and well over a dozen others.

For a sound geek like me, this was a terrific find. Thank you, Friends.


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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!

Book

Sonic Alchemy
0634055607
/friends/bookstore/
Keith_2

Sounds of Summer

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 

Music

Crazy for You
10440528
 
AngelaF

Bargains in the Basement: Winter Blues

More buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore! This time some sweet blues to warm the cold winter away. Buddy Guy’s Icon is an 11-song collection focused on his early years with Chess (1960-67), including early versions of “Stone Crazy,” “I Got My Eyes on You,” “When My Left Eye Jumps,” “Watch Yourself,” and “My Time After Awhile.” Good good stuff.

On the more current side of things, I was really excited to find two great pieces by Keb’ Mo’ – his eleventh and latest release, The Reflection (2011), and The Door, his fifth album, released in 2000. The Reflection has a slick and smooth funky soulful feel, with lots of help from jazz greats Dave Koz and Marcus Miller. Not my favorite Keb’ release, but it’s still well worth owning. The Door, on the other hand, IS one of my favorites. It has a much more acoustic and rootsy feel, with help from Greg Phillinganes, Reggie McGride, and (much to my surprise) violinist Scarlet Rivera (of Rolling Thunder fame). A fine Friends find, indeed.


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

The Door by Keb' Mo'
keb-mo-door-160
/friends/bookstore/
Keith_2

Liked That, Try This (No. 1)

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

Music

the head and the heart
10478449
RyanG

The Only Jazz Compilation You'll Need

The 8-disc compilation The 100 Best Jazz Tunes of the 1950’s is an absolutely fantastic introduction to the music of jazz for both the well-versed aficionado as well as the eager novice seeking to expand their listening library (see: My co-worker Kevin King's previous post). This was a great decade for jazz development, ushering in various stylistic trends including Bop, Post-Bop, Cool and the first signals of what one might refer to as Free Jazz. It’s a who’s who of legendary musicians from Jazz's heyday, many of whom are featured playing their signature tunes. Included are Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Django Reinhardt, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Charles Mingus, and many more. If you just wanted to add a little bit of Jazz to your iTunes library, this is the one title to start with.

Music

The 100 Best Jazz Tunes of the 1950's
10480929
RyanG

Taking Time Out in 2014 for Jazz

One of my personal goals for 2014 was to try and find a way into jazz music. It has always been a genre of music I’ve had difficulty understanding, so I wanted to discover if I could learn to appreciate it. Another reason is that my 13 year old daughter, Abigail, is a HUGE fan of Miles Davis so I wanted to share something with her on the car rides to her various extra-curricular activities. On a whim, I checked outTime Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet which has become the first course in my jazz education. My instructor was Abigail who pointed out how the timing of each song was different. We continued to discuss the unique blend of cool and West Coast jazz that Brubeck made popular. I then had to research the story behind Time Out and discovered that the time signatures Brubeck used were very unusual and groundbreaking at the time. He was inspired by Turkish street musicians while touring Eurasia for the US State Department. I was amazed at the story behind the origins of the record as well as how my daughter was able to pick up on the innovative style of The Dave Brubeck Quartet. I am truly excited to enter 2014 looking forward to learning from a 13 year old jazz head. Maybe she will teach her old punk rock dad how to love the music that truly symbolizes the American spirit. If not I cannot find my way past Brubeck and Davis, I at least get to spend some time with my daughter. Whatever the result, I win.

Music

Time Out
10728717
Kevin King