Staff Picks: Music
Even the most diehard music aficionados probably couldn’t tell you who Bill Fay was up until a month ago (I certainly couldn’t), before he and his music began to pop up in places like Mojo Magazine and NPR. Fay is a British singer-songwriter who comes from a long and storied list of forgotten or historically marginalized musicians whose little known work grew out of the legitimating influence of the artist appreciation network. This is how it works: the cult legend finds a famous rock-star like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (Tweedy has covered Fay’s songs in the past) to provide you a song of his own that you can cover (Jesus Etc.) and duet with him on your long awaited, comeback album. Your street cred will blow up and your Youtube hits will soar because of everyone wanting to go back in time (or at least to the internet) to listen to all of those great songs that you wrote that everyone had originally forsaken at the time of their release.
Fay’s early 70’s albums sound eerily like a melodic fusion of Dylan (if he played piano) and Wilco’s more plaintive tunes. They tend to be somewhat downbeat and often echo the sound of a lost but brilliant soul trying to stay true to his art while the music industry closes its door on his vision. Fay’s new album Life is People is worth a listen and has a much more upbeat vibe to it than his brooding material from long ago. Here is Fay's heartbreaking rendition of the Wilco song.
Life is people
Some recording artists are perfectly at home in the studio, while others are best known for their work on the concert stage. The Dave Matthews Band it seems is both. This week’s fortunate Friends Find is another sweet pair… two double live sets from the Dave Matthews Band, both recorded during the band’s 2010 summer tour. Live in New York City finds the band at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, on July 17th, while the other documents the final show of the tour two months later on September 18th at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field. Both are superbly recorded and the performances are exceptional. 5 hours of great music for six bucks… how could I go wrong? It’s good to have Friends!
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!
Dave Matthews Band
Richie Furay’s 2006 release, The Heartbeat of Love, was this week’s worthwhile find at the Friends Bookstore. Ten tunes written by Richie and Scott Sellen, plus two old Poco standbys, performed with help from a bunch of familiar friends; Timothy B. Schmidt, Neil Young, Kenny Loggins, Paul Cotton, Sam Bush, Stephen Stills, and others. No new musical territory here; just a worthwhile batch of nicely executed Southern California country rock tunes. If you ever spin the likes of Poco, Buffalo Springfield, Eagles, or Loggins & Messina, this would fit right in. And it even came packaged in a nifty hardbound mini-book – definitely a worthwhile find!
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!
Heartbeat of Love
If you love a good, bright melody like I do, check out the band Diiv’s new album titled Oshin. The vocals and lyrics are intentionally opaque and buried below the shimmering mix of reverb-doused guitar. This allows for the blossoming of these glistening, dream pop songs to unfold and unfold they do with hypnotic success. Oshin will be on my end of year list of the best music of 2012. Sounds Like: Real Estate, The Cure, War on Drugs, and Tristeza.
Father John Misty is the musical moniker of Josh Tillman, the former drummer of Seattle band Fleet Foxes. Like his former band of bearded Pacific Northwest naturalists, Father John knows how to construct moody melodies and textured folk rock that may sound akin to his former band’s harmony-rich folk pop but listen with a more attentive ear and the tracks on Fear Fun tend to stir up a playful tone that sounds lived in, messy and altogether more quarrelsome with its darker vision than the earnestness that permeates the music of Fleet Foxes. Check him out on a recent appearance on the Letterman Show.
Cat Power’s newest release Sun (release date of September 4th) feels much more produced than her previous work. There is a synth-heavy reliance on arrangements that compliment her fantastic voice and minimalist approach to songwriting. Fans of her album Moon Pix will appreciate the several songs that reflect that album’s economical approach to melody and rhythm.
Many consider music today completely derivative of the past. Artists are not creating anything that is truly unique. I totally disagree. Check out these artists who have produced unique spins on classic styles. All of the CDS are debut efforts and do not require a Flux Capacitor.
Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes– Lead singer Brittany Howard’s voice is packed with the perfect combination of soul and rock that will immediately knock you out of your chair. She is backed by an amazing band and together they are reintroducing new listeners to the unique power of good old fashion rock straight from the southern swamps. Best tracks: Hold On, I Found You, Hang Loose, I Ain’t the Same, Heavy Chevy
My Head is an Animal by Of Monsters and Men– This six-piece band from Iceland formed just to enter a national battle of the bands competition in 2010. The band’s sound is huge and monstrous – lush harmonies, surging guitars and one big horn all come together attack your senses. It is folk-rock that comes at you full on. Best tracks:Little Talks, Dirty Paws, Mountain Sound, Slow and Steady
Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson– Does this guy own a time machine? I have been looking for days at old Rock n’ Roll photos from the 50’s to see if I could find him in the background. McPherson is a former punk rocker turned rockabilly is bopping out music similar to Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He used vintage equipment and microphones on his debut to take you on a trip to the past. Best tracks:North Side Gal, Fire Bug, B.G.M.O.S.R.N.R., Scandalous
Signs & Signifiers
This is an ambitious aural excursion that you really owe it to yourself to experience. But be warned, this isn’t your typical singer-songwriter verse-chorus-verse stuff. Bill Caskey’s Dymaxion Mothership takes the listener on a complex journey across a lush audio landscape that ranges from contemplative voice and piano to full-on multi-instrumental madness. Some parts are complex and challenging, while other bits are… well… as Buddy Guy once put it, “so funky you can smell it.” Tempo changes are around every corner and the production is superb. Bill’s lyrics are chock full of quirky wit and introspective wordsmanship, creatively weaving imaginative tales of love and life; dreams, a small town in the summertime, and dogs chasing dragonflies. The overall result is a carefully crafted musical journey that’s anything but ordinary.
“My doggie like to chase dem dinosaurs
She plays for sport even though she never scores
Barn swallows hunting bugs in the springtime
She jumps up and tries to utilize her hang time
Barn swallows slip and glide
Doggie tongue hangin’ out the side…”
Musical similarities? Sure, some of the obvious influences creep in here and there… “Hey Alligator” has an undeniable Steeler’s Wheel feel about it (remember those guys?), “Biggest Heart” could have been on Wally De Backer’s (Gotye) last album, and echoes of old school Steely Dan linger throughout… but the final outcome is all of these things… and yet none of them actually. Dymaxion Mothership is an intensely rich and remarkably satisfying original musical experience. Climb aboard the Mothership… it’s an outing you don’t want to miss.
In case you didn’t know (shame on you!), The Relations (including Bill Caskey) put on a July concert at Central Library featuring material from Dymaxion Mothership. The concert is now up in its entirety on KPL’s YouTube channel and our Concert Archives page.
Frankie Valli and the Four (4) Seasons made their mark on the popular music charts in the early 1960’s, combining heavily orchestrated melodies with doo-wop vocal harmonies. With his broad vocal range and unmistakable pipes, Valli helped the group score hit after hit, including such pop standards (aka “oldies”) as Big Girls Don’t Cry, Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Dawn (Go Away), Ronnie, The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, and Working My Way Back To You. Recent interest in the group has come about recently due to the success of the Broadway production of Jersey Boys. Check out Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons: The Definitive Pop Collection for an introduction to their timeless hits.
Frankie Valli and the 4 seasons
Otis Redding wrote it, but Aretha Franklin owned it – “Respect”, one of the biggest radio and jukebox sensations of 1967, topped both Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R’n’B charts mid-year, reigning supreme on the latter for almost two months. The track cemented the Detroit native’s standing as the “Queen of Soul”, proving its potency as both a civil rights anthem and a dance floor phenomenon.
The Big O’s original Stax version, framed simply as a lover’s question, is a classic in its own right. Pleading being one of Redding’s strongest suits as a vocalist, it’s only natural that his request for “respect when I come home” is less demanding than begging, a “need” that he’s “gotta, gotta have”, never sounding sure that he’s going to get satisfaction as the track fades.
Aretha’s having none of that in her updated NYC arrangement, featuring infectious girl-group vocal support from her sisters Carolyn and Erma, as well as a sweet King Curtis sax break. Standing the nature of the lyric on its head, her assertion that “what you want, baby, I got it” is shouted out with absolute confidence. Adding a lyric not found in Redding’s version, Franklin drives the point home by spelling out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, in case it wasn’t clear, adding “find out what it means to me” as an emphatic imperative. The lover’s question has become a statement of purpose, writ large enough to put not just one person on notice, but any and every person within earshot.
"Respect”’s cultural resonance was immediate and lasting. The song’s refrains of “sock it to me” and “TCB” became all-American catch phrases overnight. In addition to earning numerous awards and consistently high rankings on critics’ “greatest songs” lists, it was among the first 25 recordings to be included in the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry in 2002. A signature song of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and Aretha’s storied career, “Respect” deserves all its accolades, truly getting what it’s after play after play.
I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Santigold's music straddles genres--punk, hip-hop, pop, new wave--it's all there. Her influences range from Devo to Nigerian musician Fela Kuti to James Brown. She's collaborated with Kanye West and Lykke Li, the Beastie Boys, and Mark Ronson among others. Her style is hard to define, but she's just so darn cool. After waiting four years since her last album, 2008's Santogold, which I listened to nearly nonstop for months, I'm pleased to finally hear her second album Master of My Make-Believe. Like her first album, Master of my Make-Believe is a genre-blending, layered work of art that you can dance to. My favorite tracks include the single "Disparate Youth" and the first track "Go," a collaboration with the Yeah Yeah Yeah'sKaren O that will make you bob your head. Listen to it at least twice--the more you hear it, the more you'll discover.
Master of My Make-Believe