Staff Picks: Music
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
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
C’mon, who doesn’t love Neko Case? There are just so many reasons for why you should. If for some unfathomable reason, you’ve been able to live this long having never heard of her and the wonderfully rich music that she makes, pick up everything we have, especially her newest album, the absurdly, long winded titled The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
If you like your music with a bit of country dust on top, that leaves a folksy aftertaste shot through with a rootsy twang and a side of acoustic lyricism and sweet melody, check out these acclaimed musicians and their new and upcoming releases.
Dream River, Bill Callahan
Magpie and Dandelions, The Avett Brothers
Gone Away Backward, Robbie Fulks
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case
About Farewell, Alela Diane
Honky Tonk, Son Volt
Wilderness, Handsome Family
Two of today’s best musical young guns that have delivered strong albums this year are Jake Bugg and Caitlin Rose. They don’t shy away from their influences but they don’t let those who paved the musical highway for them subsume their individual voices either. Gritty and fashionable enough for the with-it crowd and accessible enough for those who have an Oasis or Taylor Swift album in their collection, these two will hopefully be in it for the long haul. Bugg has been compared to Dylan (who hasn’t?) but his brand of neo-folk has as many roots in Brit Pop. Sure, he evokes both Dylan and Donovan from time to time but he makes it work because of his lyrical earnestness and the sheer catchiness of the tunes. Rose also wrote the album that Swift only can dream that she had created. These are confidently written songs sung by a fresh voice who no doubt has listened to a few Jayhawks albums over the years. Check them both out!
A friend from Seattle turned me on to the music of Damien Jurado a couple of years ago so I was excited to stumble on a new cd of his, Maraqopa, as I browsed the KPL new music section. Now I can't stop listening to this mixture of what Larry Fitzmaurice at Pitchfork calls, "soft-psych freak-outs, rainy folk, haunted 1960's pop, and slow-burning oddball sparseness." I googled Jurado and found out I'm a Johnny-come-lately to his music as he has been around since the mid 90's, releasing albums with Sub Pop Records and now with a label based in Indiana called Secretly Canadian. If you like Neil Young and the Fleet Foxes give Jurado a try or come and browse our music section and see what you discover.
The singer Emmy Rossum is known mostly for her various television (Shameless) and film performances (The Phantom of the Opera) but she also has the trained pipes of an accomplished singer. We’re not talking about the sort of actress, who uses their fame to influence the music industry to play along with their middling vocal talents (see: Scarlett Johansson). Rossum can truly bring the noise as she clearly shows in her new album Sentimental Journey, a collection of old timey jazz standards (Autumn Leaves, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out) and retro-swinging country (Things, Pretty Paper). The album is on order so keep an eye out for it. It will be here soon. Listen to some of her renditions here.
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
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.
We have a great music collection here at KPL. There are so many wonderful singers and musicians that don't may not make it onto the radio but whose music is fantastic. Time and again, I stumble upon a new group one way or another and happily discover KPL has their CD available for me to check out. One group that I have really appreciated the last few years and have introduced my family to is a folk group called the Wailin' Jennys. The first time my mom heard one of their CDs she asked me who they group was. I told her it was the Wailin' Jennys to which she replied, "But…who is Waylon Jennings singing with?" I explained that it was "wailin'" as in "cryin'" and the plural of the name Jenny…though none of the members are named Jenny.
The group started when the trio came together for a onetime evening performance at a guitar shop in Canada. They were such a success they joined forces and have been producing great music since. The group members are Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, and Heather Masse, each of which comes with a distinct training and sound. We have three of their CDs at the library: their first CD 40 Days, Firecracker, and Bright Morning Stars which came out in 2011. I also recently discovered that the library owns The Garden by band member Ruth Moody. I checked this CD out as well and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have favorite songs that I find myself listening to over and over and over again on each CD. You get an idea of the Wailin' Jennys tight harmony in their first song on 40 Days, their debut CD, titled One Voice. This CD also has a great cover of Neil Young's Old Man and my very favorite Wailin' Jennys song Ten Mile Stilts. I find Starlight and Apocalypse Lullaby on Firecracker hauntingly beautiful. Their style seems a little jazzier for Bright Morning Stars. Mona Louise and Cherry Blossom Love get stuck in my head very easily and after listening to them I find myself tapping my toes and singing them in my head for hours. As for Ruth Moody's CD, I like every song…a lot. On this week after Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the wonderful CD collection we have at KPL and the great music I have listened to because of it.