Staff Picks: Music
Singer Billy Stewart had chart success during the 1960's with hits like Fat Boy, Summertime, Sitting in the Park, Secret Love, and You Reap What You Sow and while he's not as well-known as the Motown label singers or James Brown, Stewart possessed and original style all his own that's worth checking out if you're a fan of old school rhythm and blues. His signature trademarks were improvising, scatting and rolling his tongue, all of which provided his vocal interpretations with a unique vitality. Tragically, Stewart died at 33 from an auto accident in 1970. For those new to his sound, try this excellent compilation that includes Stewart's recordings on the famous Chess Records label.
One More Time: the chess years
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.
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.
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!
The Door by Keb' Mo'
Butler is a native of Cape Town, South Africa. He started singing on the streets of Athlone for food and began touring when he was 7 years old. It’s hard to peg him because he has so many great sounds. He’s a singer, song writer and guitar player and he’s been described as a rhythm and blues, jazz and worship performer. He would probably approve of those tags because he does all of them well but I think his heart is in his gospel music. He's good! His cool jazz blends well into a gospel. And as far as rhythm and blues is concerned, I had to look the definition up and make sure I knew what rhythm and blues was. Under R&B, I saw words like urban, soul, gospel and others that would classify Butler as a contemporary R&B artist. Well, one thing is for sure, he's definitely got rhythm and he knows his blues. Still, I think Jonathan Butler would like to be best known for his uplifting, spiritual sound, which he is highly respected for.
KPL has several of his CDs. Some of his titles are Jonathan Butler, Surrender, The Source, Do you love me? He’s on a jazz CD called Summer Horns with Dave Koz and friends. Watch for his new CD Grace and Mercy. I'm sure it, too, will have a great sound.
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.
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.
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells toured and recorded together for decades, but this week’s edition of Friends Finds consists of two separate recordings by these blues legends. Recorded in 2001 at the age of 65, Buddy Guy’s Sweet Tea is fresh and raw, arguably one of the most immediate recording he’s made thus far. (Now 76, he’s still at it.) Its uncluttered North Mississippi sound places Guy’s guitar right up front where it belongs. Guy himself says, “That’s the way music was before it got too much tech and too many people.” Amen.
On the other hand, if we rewind back some three-and-a-half decades before Sweet Tea, we find the late Junior Wells and his band introducing their blend of blues and R&B to enthusiastic (and for the first time, predominantly white) audiences. Recorded just months after his debut, Hoodoo Man Blues, and released in 2010, Live in Boston 1966 is as authentic a piece of Chicago blues history as you’ll find. At a mere buck apiece, I snapped up both of these gems without hesitation.
Consider this little series the KPL equivalent 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!
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
I stumbled upon Gary Clark Jr., and his new EP Bright Lights, by chance one night, in the midst of viewing clips from one of the recent Crossroads guitar festivals (hosted by Eric Clapton). In all honesty, I’m not easily impressed by most young blues and blues-rock guitarists. They have a nasty habit of sounding very rehashed and generic to me, lacking authenticity and individuality in their sound. Gary, however, blew me over immediately with all the right vibes.
The sound is something like a swirl of R&B meets Hendrix, with even a little bit of Hip-Hop flair thrown in occasionally for good measure. The riffs also aren’t afraid to dance into the territory of Midwest rock bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The man and his music have some serious “swag”; there’s no denying that. It’s the kind of sound that just oozes with credibility and legitimacy.
Gary’s clearly not trying to be anyone other than himself, and it shows. As a result, I’ve come to realize that Gary is now one of my favorite electric guitarists in the “young-gun”, 40 and under age bracket (one of my bandmates being my other main favorite, but I’m going to just say he doesn’t count…for now).
In short: Gary's definitely worth checking out if you're into something unique, soulful, and all types of awesome!
The bright lights EP
For anyone interested in hearing some real quality electric blues, In Session deserves NOT to be missed! The rare studio jam between legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and his influential mentor (and just as legendary) Albert King is all-around great stuff. The playing is top-notch and the men seem to really work well off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm.
There’s definitely a reason why Albert was Stevie’s blues idol. As any fan of Albert King knows, he commands a song with a presence on guitar truly unmatched. There have been several true “Kings” of electric blues, but perhaps only one that could stand on a stage, bend a single note, and blow the whole crowd away; that is the legacy and awesomeness of Albert.
I just love the sedate, retro vibe of the soundtrack to the oddball film Beginners; the Mike Mills directed roman a clef about his relationship with his widowed father. Old blues and jazz from the 1920’s (Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, Hoagy Carmichael, and Josephine Baker) are prominently featured as well as a French horn driven suite by J.S. Bach. Interfiled between the throwback gems are several touching, original scores by Dave Palmer and Roger Niell. The back and forth tone of the film, from light hearted to melancholic, are sensibly reflected in this quirky collection. Oh, and by the way, check out the movie. It appears on our Best of 2011 list.
Beginners [sound recording] : the original motion picture soundtrack
Fans of Canadian singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen are anxiously awaiting the release of Leonard’s new release, Old Ideas, his 12th studio album and his first since 2004. With a career that spans more than four decades and fresh from almost three years of relentless touring, Cohen (now 77) presents a new body of work that is as introspective and intensely sweet as anything he’s done to date. Somewhat reminiscent of recordings by the late John Campbell, the album’s dark bluesy feel and Cohen’s deep-throated growl puts this release in a class with recent works by Tom Waits and Bob Dylan—dark, sure, but reassuringly soothing and warm.
Old Ideas is scheduled for release on January 31st, so reserve your copy now. Can’t wait to hear it? NPR lets you listen to Old Ideas in its entirety right now! Go give it a listen. Sometimes, Old Ideas are some of the best ideas.
While The Black Keys have had a committed fan base since the release of their first album in 2002, The Big Come Up, it wasn’t until the success of their 2010 release of Brothers that the band really took off. Three Grammys later, and over 847,000 albums sold, “The Keys” are back to release what is perhaps their most awaited album yet, El Camino.
The album’s hype may be entirely new to the band, but the music found within it is strongly rooted in sounds The Black Keys have been creating since the beginning. El Camino is drenched in the tones of raw, overdriven guitars, and hard-pounding drums. This is a very “earthy” sort of blues-rock.
Yet, the album also remains incredibly soulful. Dan Auerbach’s vocals are routinely backed up with a choir of harmonies on choruses, and no song is ever too far removed from the next great organ accompaniment. It’s the use of these small, subtle sound arrangements that give El Camino its style and keep the listener coming back for repeat plays.
Some fans of early Keys material have complained that the album sounds too slick and overproduced, possibly as a result of working with legendary producer Danger Mouse. However, the core of what makes The Black Keys sound is definitely still intact on El Camino, even if the production has evolved somewhat from their humble beginnings. Think of it as a fresh, new coat of paint on an otherwise old and changeless factory building, sitting somewhere near the rough side of town.
Let’s hope The Black Keys are a structure that will remain standing for a very long time.
Check out “Lonely Boy,” “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Little Black Submarines,” or “Run Right Back” if you’re ready to get the jams started!
El camino [sound recording]
The music world lost another blues guitar legend this week with the passing of Hubert Sumlin. Born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1931, Sumlin played and recorded with some of the best, and gained great acclaim as the guitarist behind the mighty Howlin’ Wolf during the 1950s and ‘60s. Guitarist Bob Margolin writes in his biography of Sumlin, “Listen to ‘Built For Comfort,’ ‘Shake For Me,’ ‘300 Pounds of Joy,’ ‘Louise,’ ‘Goin’ Down Slow,’ ‘Killing Floor,’ and ‘Wang Dang Doodle.’ How did this grinning genius come up with these original, emotional, Hell-to-Heaven guitar parts? Fortunately, we don’t need to know to enjoy them.”
In 2008, Hubert was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame by The Blues Foundation, and was the winner of The Blues Music Award for Best Tradition Artist of the Year.
My good buddy Bill LaValley was backstage with Hubert before a show here at the State Theater a few years ago and fondly remembers him... Hubert wasn’t feeling well at all that evening, he could hardly walk. But according to Bill, when it came time to take the stage, it was as if a dark cloak had been lifted. Sumlin stood up and headed for the stage with a spring in his step and the blues in his heart. He played that night (and always) as if his life depended on it.
Hubert so loved his music and contributed much—he’s another who will be sorely missed.
Here’s a great clip of “Little Hubert” tearin’ it up with Sunnyland Slim in 1964. That’s Willie Dixon on bass and Clifton James on drums. Sonny Boy Williamson introduces them...
I Know You
I've discovered some of my favorite music and artists from watching television. When songs play in the background or at the start or end of a show, I often search for the lyrics online to find the name of the song and the performing artist. This has served me well. House and Fringe (as well as various commercials) have provided insight to artists and performers such as Massive Attack, Damien Rice, Editors, Langhorne Slim, and Ryan Adams.
When watching a recent episode of NCIS, Cote de Pablo's character, Ziva David, was singing Temptation--a Tom Waits creation. So, in true form, I went online to search for it to see where I could find a version of her singing it (beautiful rendition!). And, that is when I found that NCIS has two soundtracks available. I was able to easily check these two CDs out through our MeL interlibrary loan system.
While I recognized artists such as Jakob Dylan, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Keaton Simmons, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones, I was able to add artists such as Oasis, Blue October, and Sharon Little to my list of new folks to investigate.
NCIS: The Official TV Soundtrack
If you lived in Kalamazoo during the 1970s and listened to WIDR (WMU campus radio) you undoubtedly heard a lot of Gil Scott-Heron – like others I’m sure, that was my first exposure to this highly influential musician and poet. Scott-Heron is often described as “the godfather of rap” for his sharply pointed spoken word infused jazz and soul. In his 1970 single “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” his deep soulful voice—accompanied only by a steady drum beat—brought life the hot-button issue of racial inequality; not as a radical street preacher but as an articulate street-smart professor (he held a master’s degree in creative writing). His words were riveting and immediate. “The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox in four parts without commercial interruptions. The revolution will not give you sex appeal. The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.”
He collaborated with many of the jazz heavyweights of his time – Brian Jackson, Ron Carter, Hubert Laws to name a few and his influence is acknowledged by a generation of artists, from Kanye West and Public Enemy to Eminem. His work touched on a variety of social and political issues, including addiction (“The Bottle” - 1974), slavery (“Rivers of My Fathers” - 1973) and racial oppression (“Johannesburg” - 1976). In 1979, he joined other high profile artists in Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) and contributed “We Almost Lost Detroit,” a poignant reminder of a close-by nuclear near-disaster in 1972.
In 2010, Scott-Heron released his fifteenth studio album, I’m New Here, to great critical acclaim. A track called “Where Did The Night Go” is highlighted here. Gil Scott-Heron passed away last Friday in New York after a brief illness. He was 62.
It’s amazing how some artists are able to reveal their true selves on stage, while others simply go through the motions.
Back about 1978 or so, Phoebe Snow performed at WMU’s East Ballroom (today’s Bernhard Center) in what appeared to be another case of a big time star giving an obligatory concert in a smallish market. She was singing, but that was about it. It was clear that she just wasn’t feeling it.
Phoebe’s career was still riding high at that point... she had a HUGE hit with Poetry Man in 1974 and a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine a year later. I assumed that she could probably care less about Kalamazoo… get in, get through it, and get back to the real world on the East Coast.
After plodding through a couple of songs, Phoebe stopped and apologized to the audience for her lack of enthusiasm. It seems her best friend was in the hospital back East at that very moment having a baby. Phoebe admitted that her body was on stage in Kalamazoo but her mind was clearly with her friend far away. Well, at least she was being honest. The show continued.
During the middle of the very next song, a stage hand came out and whispered something in her ear. Phoebe stopped the song immediately and jumped and screamed, “It’s a girl!”
With that, the veil was lifted and a very different Ms. Snow took the stage. Expressive, exuberant, entertaining; the mundane became magnificent! I had yet to see (and have seldom since seen) a performer so genuinely reveal her true “self” to an audience.
I will always remember that show… and appreciate how Phoebe allowed a small audience in Kalamazoo to be part of a very special moment in her life. And that, I guess, created a very special moment in ours.
Phoebe Snow passed away Tuesday in Edison, New Jersey, due to complications caused by a brain hemorrhage she suffered a year ago. She was 60.
I am certain that friends, colleagues, and assuredly my own family have grown tired of my consistent response when the conversation turns to music and the inevitable “what are you listening to” question pops up. My answer, since its early May release, has been that I can’t get enough of the latest by the Akron, Ohio blues rock duo The Black Keys. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a real fan of the band and I have loved and continue to listen to everything that they have put out, but their latest record Brothers is just so good that I have found myself listening to it almost daily. The Black Keys music continues to be a perfect mix of the elemental power of traditional guitar blues with cool indie rock sensibilities and, on Brothers, bits of soul thrown in for good measure. From my perspective the band, six albums in, has matured in all the right ways, adding a bit more production and instrumentation on its last two records, Brothers and 2008’s Danger Mouse produced Attack & Release, and singer Dan Auerbach tests out a falsetto on a couple tracks on Brothers, including the great Everlasting Light - great live version posted below, that I never saw coming and weirdly comes close to sounding Antony and the Johnsons like, but the band never takes this experimentation too far, always keeping the song structure tight and holding firm to what makes them such a great band in the first place.