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Staff Picks: Music

The Soundtrack to My Youth

I wouldn’t exactly characterize my parents as having a particularly “cool” record collection during my childhood years but one of the first albums that I can recall having an affinity for was the holiday classic Gene Autry Sings Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Every December, this album along with the equally resonant A Charlie Brown Christmas sticks out as the soundtrack to my childhood memories of the holiday season. Both titles are Hoopla-available for those looking to stream some festive cheer.

New in Town

First off, let me acknowledge that this recommendation is not actually music, but it’s not a movie or a book either, and those are the three headings found in the Staff Picks section of our website, so I’m going with the technicality that this one is found on an audio disc. It’s a spoken work compact disc, so this is where I’m putting it. More specifically, it’s a stand-up comedy album, and one worth checking out.

I was aware of John Mulaney from his frequent appearances on The Kroll Show, and I knew he had been a writer for Saturday Night Live, but I didn’t become a John Mulaney fan until I heard this album, New in Town, from our comedy collection (located in under the Dewey number 792.76 in our nonfiction audio section). His goofball charm and precision joke writing made me an instant convert. He has a terrific new special recently released on Netflix called The Comeback Kid which I encourage you to check out also, but be sure to start with New in Town. He’s had one unsuccessful attempt at a network sitcom, but despite that, I have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more from John Mulaney in the future. 

Favorite Rock Songs of 2015

Here are some tracks over the course of the year that have been some of my favorites.

Beach House--Space Song


Father John Misty--Cahteau Lobby #4(in G for two virgins)

Courtney Barnett--Pedestrian at Best
Vance Joy--Great Summer
Joanna Newsom--Leaving the City
White Reaper--Candy
Destroyer--Time Square

Sinatra: The Radio Years

One of the truly legendary voices of the 20th century came from Hoboken, New Jersey. Born in 1915, his name was Frank Sinatra, aka, The Chairman of the Board, America's first pop culture phenomena. From the mid 1930’s until his death in 1998, Sinatra’s musical catalog is a remarkable achievement, having sung wartime torch songs, swinging jazz standards, romantic laments, and bossa nova. The newest batch of songs to be released posthumously is a collection of his radio performances called Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955). Available now on Freegal for download and streaming, Sinatra’s inimitable voice has never known a past its sell date.

Still Making Duluth Proud

Low, a duo from Duluth, Minnesota makes formally minimalist music that seamlessly moves along the tonal spectrum, sometimes warm and lyrical, other times, grim and somber. They generally keep their use of instrumentation reduced to a lean sound of guitar, bass, drums and the occasional synthesizer. They have been around for over 20 years making rock solid records that have an emotional punch that can sneak up on the listener. A more image-based way of describing their sound is to imagine yourself on a train in late December, riding through the middle part of Iowa, gazing out at the endless, flat fields covered with snow and rusted machinery. There newest release is Ones and Sixes.

My Top Five of 2015

It’s the end of the year so it’s time again to list my personal top five albums of the year. Compared to last year, 2015 was very strong filled with some amazing female performers, a soulful duo, smart lyrics and a poppy Australian band.

5. Tuxedo by Tuxedo – This super soul duo of Michigan’s own Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One produced my favorite funk/soul album of the year. Listening to this one reminded me of roller-skating on a hot summer night in the 1980’s. 

4. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett – I always approach any artist labeled “the next Dylan” with much trepidation. I am so happy I set my fears aside with this Australian-born singer-songwriter debut record. Barnett’s smart and poetic lyrics shine brightly against a straight up rock sound. 

3. Glitterbug by The Wombats – Released in the spring, this album has consistently stayed with me all year. I will crank up the volume when I hear the band’s distinct poppy electric beats. The best tracks, “Your Body Is A Weapon,” “Greek Tragedy’” and “This Is Not A Party,” are sweet treats that I have been indulging on all year.

2. Poison Season by Destroyer – Dan Bejar of Destroyer has released his masterpiece! In Poison Season, Bejar has taken some of the best aspects of his previous work and used them to craft a record that evokes both British pop, street rock and jazz. The entire record needs to be listened to in one sitting to be to appreciate the majesty of it all. 

1. No Cities To Love by Sleater-Kinney – This will be the third time I blog about this album in 2015, so how could it not be my choice for the absolute best of the year? Every track is enjoyable. I would not be surprised if it ended up on my All-Time Favorites list someday. 

Please check out the other eight album releases from 2015 that I considered most excellent!

Supersonic Music Options

The library is a great place because the old circulates just as well as the new. Great music is timeless and so our approach to developing our music collection is to provide for both online access in the form of downloads and streaming as well as physical media like compact discs. We know our users enjoy options and choices and so for those looking for a particular album or song, be sure to always check our free-to-use download/streaming services Hoopla and Freegal (Sony Music Catalog). Can't find something there, check out our KPL Catalog to see if we currently stock the compact disc version. 

Since I don't listen to the radio that often (other than NPR), I find that I'm introduced to songs, new and old, via movies and television. Last night, I polished off the new series Last Man on Earth and came across a great Kinks track called Super Sonic Rocketship. Well, we have it here in the library or you can go to Freegal's catalog and download the MP3 file.   

Soundtrack of Life

What does a life sound like? This question along with a conversation about their favorite pieces of music were the genesis of cellist Yo Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott's exquisite new album Songs from the Arc of Life, a soaring, beautiful collection of canonical works such as Ave Maria, The Swan, Gershwin's Prelude No. 1.

"For years, Kathy and I have talked about making an album of pieces that we absolutely love, pieces that express the context of a life, of our lives. Childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and old age--What do they sound like? Songs from the Arc of Life is our invitation to our audience to join us as we imagine the soundtrack of life."--Yo Yo Ma

Graffiti on my Heart

In high school all my friends listened to Led Zeppelin. I did not. My response to the repeated plays of “Black Dog” or “Stairway to Heaven” was at best a semi-polite head bang or two. I truly had no objection to the iconic rockers, but I was not going to actively listen them on my own Walkman.

Flash-forward 25 years later to discover that my 14-year-old daughter has become a HUGE fan of Led Zeppelin. Over the past year, the soundtrack to our ride to soccer practice has been filled with many tracks from Physical Graffiti, the recently re-released album (Available on Hoopla) that was remastered by Jimmy Page. Considered by many to be the greatest Led Zeppelin record of all time, Physical Graffiti contains my three favorite songs from the band that all reside on Side Two - “Houses of the Holy,” “Trampled Under Foot” and “Kashmir.” Songs which my daughter also loves (but considers “Kashmir” overplayed) and considers some of her favorites (her list is much longer than mine).

As I reflect upon not only this album, but also the band, it makes me happy to think that a band I had never found a way into, has become one of the important markers in my life. I will always be able to recollect the times my friends and I were driving all over the back country roads of my hometown listening to Robert Plant’s distinctive wail at high volumes. Now added to the list is the memory of hearing my daughter intelligently discuss the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page while transporting her through the events that are shaping her young life.

There was a time in my music-loving life that I would not have even thought of mentioning Led Zeppelin as a favorite band. After listening to the entire Physical Graffiti, I will now admit that the beauty, artistry, and sound of this masterpiece deserves a place in my permanent collection. The memories it will evoke have certainly have collected a permanent space in my heart.


One of my favorite things is a good musical and when I was a kid, I was obsessed with Disney's, movie musical, Newsies. I mean, I knew every. single. word. This past weekend, I finally saw the broadway version and it was lovely, despite some totally improbable plot twists. Of course, I came right back to the library and borrowed the cd from our collection.  Now I can relive the entire experience through my headphones. I love our musical and soundtrack collections at KPL! Between our cd's and digital options like Freegal and Hoopla, we have so much great music to enjoy!