Staff Picks: Music
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
The music world bid farewell to another guitar great on Wednesday with the passing of Alvin Lee. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the British born Lee fronted the band Ten Years After, and set the world on fire at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 with “I’m Going Home.” Lee was known for his lightning fast guitar work and sensitive interpretations of blues standards and his own compositions. Lee recorded nearly 30 studio and live albums during his career—to this day, Ten Years After Recorded Live remains one of my own “desert island” selections… most notably for its incendiary cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” His latest album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released last year. Lee was 68.
One of the best alt-country CDs of 2012 was Rhett Miller’s, The Dreamer. Miller, the longtime front man of the Old 97’s, has once again proven that he is one of the best songwriters in music. What I love best about Miller’s solo material is that he is not afraid to dabble in many different music styles, like power pop and folk. The Dreamer is pure alt-country and closer to a new Old 97’s record than his previous releases.
The first track “Lost Without You” starts slow then picks up with a twangy edge that mixes perfectly with Miller’s voice. The song “Out of Love” blends aspects of power pop with the unmistakable instrumentation of bluegrass. “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” a duet with the great Rosanne Cash, is as close as you can get to a perfect alt-country love song. Miller is an underrated talent that deserves more accolades for his contributions.
After listening to The Dreamer you will realize that at its core, Miller has crafted a letter to the idea of love in all its forms. Check it out and treat yourself to a late Valentine.
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer
“If you go out searching for jewels and treasures elsewhere, you're liable to miss the acres of riches that lie beneath your feet.”—Bryan Cohen
Today’s buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore is a tasty musical offering by David Sylvian, Dead Bees on a Cake, released in 1999. If you’re not already familiar with Sylvian’s work, give his material a listen. Who to compare him to? His voice draws an obvious similarity to Bryan Ferry, but musically, Sylvian is more muted and much more diverse; closer say to a Peter Gabriel or a Daniel Lanois—dark, mysterious at times, but rich and deeply moving.
Sylvian is an excellent songwriter who typically surrounds himself with contemporary musical heavyweights. Bees, however, follows a series of more upbeat “prog-ish” collaborations with Robert Fripp, so a musical departure seems somewhat inevitable. Bees has a slightly more jazzy, worldbeat feel than its predecessors—very much in the same vein as the later period recordings by Talk Talk. Guest musicians, though few this time, include jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a brief appearance by Steve Tibbetts. Sylvian’s discography calls this release “openly celebratory in nature… documenting an eventful and transformative period in his life.”
Thanks once again, Friends – a good find, indeed!
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!
Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian
Well, well, My Bloody Valentine has finally emerged from their twenty-plus year hiatus to release the much anticipated and discussed new album mbv. Until we can obtain the new long player for the library’s music collection, you’ll just have to find out what all of the hype is about by listening to their beloved 90's classic Loveless.
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.
The Minneapolis band Night Moves are difficult to categorize but their debut album should be on everyone’s iPod. They draw from an array of rock and roll influences, stitching their lyrical elements together to form a solid sound of catchy tunes born of fuzzed out, alt-country mixed with glam-rock grooves. Standout songs include Horses, Country Queen and Headlights.
I have always been a big
Norah Jones fan. She is one of the few artists to
have passed a tough test in my household: I can play Come away with me in my alarm clock every morning to
wake me up and I still enjoy the CD. There are not many CDs
that stand up to this test. So you can understand my pleasure
when I discovered a Norah Jones CD that I hadn't heard before in
the KPL collection. It's called Featuring and is a CD of duets and collaborations between
Jones and a wide variety of singers and musical groups. And
when I say "variety", I mean it! This CD is so neat in that
it showcases how versatile Jones is with her distinctive and
soulful voice pairing her with artists and groups such as
Ray Charles, the
Foo Fighters, and
The CD starts strong with a track from
The Little Willies. Jones and friends formed The Little
Willies in 2003 and came out with their second album For the Good Times in 2012. (You can also find
them on another excellent CD in the library's
collection: Putumayo presents Americana. It's bound to put you
in a good mood!) I was unfamiliar with Sasha Dobson prior to
this CD, but her duet, Bull Rider, is
fantastic! I have requested her CD through MeLCat and look
forward to become more acquainted with her music. Halfway
through the CD, Jones and friends adopt a totally different style
in Take Off Your Cool with
Outkast, Life is Better with
Q-Tip, and Soon the New Day with
Talib Kweli. A few songs later, there is a duet with Ray
Charles…need I say more? Who doesn't like Ray Charles??
But then, in my humble opinion, the CD reaches its pinnacle with
track 15: Creepin' In with
Dolly Parton. I love Dolly. Always have and always
will. This song makes me want to dance and sing over and over
again as I play it on repeat.
Basically, what I hope this blog conveys, is that this
compilation of songs is wonderful. Each and every song is as
delightful as it is different. I highly recommend this CD for
your listening pleasure.
It’s not even summer anymore (far from it, actually) and yet I’m still listening to this album on a relatively consistent basis. It’s just a good album. For all the controversy that surrounded Frank Ocean’s personal life in the mainstream pop scene, it’s a shame that certain critics disregarded the music and assumed it was all merely a PR gimmick to sell albums.
Truth is: even if Frank Ocean’s “coming out” was an expertly timed plan to garner popularity, he didn’t need it. The music stands brilliantly enough on its own legs. Quite FRANKly (harharhar), this is just what modern R&B should sound like.
I can respect the fun aspect of a well-produced Usher, Chris Brown, or Rihanna song as much as the next person from my generation. They’re fun in a party/club setting. But Channel Orange is just on a completely different level. The lyrics are far more diverse and compelling, and the music is actually unique and complex. There are moods and ideas represented on the album besides the standard “Hey, let’s party.” and “You’re a person I’m attracted to. Isn’t that wonderful?!” It all has a unified feel and tone, like there was a real attempt to make an album, as opposed to just a collection of singles. And even the songs that have more of a “good-time, fun-loving” feel to them still retain an organic edge that sets them apart from their contemporaries.
It’s intimate but vulnerable stuff. It feels real. It feels more like art than industry. That’s a big deal for music within any modern or contemporary category. And hey, I'm still listening to the album 6 months after its release. So, hats off to Frank!