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
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.
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!
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
If you like the sound of old school soul music, be sure to get your ears on the work of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. A recent bout of cancer hasn't diminished her expressive, lived in voice and while it may impact her future touring, her newest album Give the People What They Want reflects both her personal strength and her top notch, musical chops.
Give the people what they want
Jake Bugg, teenage sensation and dedicated follower of vintage leanings, is back with his sophomore album Shangri La. His first, a full-fledged mixture of Dylanesque folk and heartfelt ballads akin to a blending of Donovan, Travis and Oasis came out of nowhere last year to critical acclaim and commercial success and so with his follow-up, Bugg revs up the tempo with some harder edged tunes. He throws in a few twists and turns with instrumentation and stylistic touches absent from the first record but the bold freshness of a year ago feels a smidgeon stale. While the record isn’t much of a leap in creative development, neither does it suggest signs of regression or creative inertia. Fans of the first album will want to give it a listen.
It happens every year. Right after I send in my “Best of 2013” list for the KPL website, I discover a great movie, book or CD. This time it was a CD that I had listened to once, but never got into it at the time – I Hate Music by Superchunk. If you are a fan of this great indie quartet from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then you already know that they deliver an infectious, high energy sound that is loud and short in the tradition of old school punk rock. The newest album delivers the classic Superchunk sound (one critic has coined a phrase to describe their sound – “Superchunky.”) with songwriting that has definitely matured since their early days. Lead singer, Mac McCaughan, sings about death, love and mortality while the rest of the band walks a fine line between punk and power pop. The best track of the album wins the award for being the best song under two minutes, “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo,” a track about the power of music in our lives. The song is about how music can’t bring anyone back from the dead, but it doesn’t mean it cannot make a difference in people’s lives. The video is uplifting and totally worth two minutes of your life. So consider I Hate Music by Superchunk, an addition to my “Best of 2013” list.
I Hate Music
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
Brian Eno once said that there are two kinds of artists; those who influence the general public, and artists who influence other artists. It’s hard to imagine what the landscape of popular music would look like today without the influence of Lou Reed. Lou’s roots with the Velvet Underground helped pave the way for a multitude of others, and his career as a solo artist pushed the boundaries further still.
But even if you’re not a fan of Lou’s work, chances are that one of your favorite artists is. Imagine... had there been no Lou Reed or Velvet Underground, there would likely be no Patti Smith or David Bowie or Iggy Pop. There would have been no Talking Heads, no R.E.M., no Joy Division, no Sex Pistols, or no Television. No Roxy Music or Cars or Dream Syndicate or [insert most any other contemporary artist here]. From the dark streetwise tales of Heroin and Sweet Jane to the stratospheric drone of Metal Machine Music to the full-scale crunch of his collaboration with Metallica (at the age of sixty nine, no less), Lou never failed to push the limits, and the respect he earned among his contemporaries (and fans) is nothing short of astounding.
Thanks to Lou, our world is a much more interesting place. He will be deeply missed.
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
The first time I heard a Porcelain Raft (the project of Mauro Remiddi) song was their contribution to the film Celeste and Jesse Forever; an infectious, electro-pop tune called Drifting In and Out. It's a great song that epitomizes their sound: a mixture of melodic, mid-tempo numbers that are filled with lyricism and sorrow. The singing is rock solid and recalls the anguished melancholy of Jeremy Enigk's work with the band Sunny Day Real Estate. Both albums really hit the spot as the gloomier, Midwestern skies turn gray and leaden. Give it a try.