Staff Picks: Music

Roxy Music Meets 1920s Jazz

I’m usually not a fan of musicians rearranging and rerecording their own music from an earlier period. Songs or albums tend to speak to a certain time or place in an artist’s life and in our cultural milieu (even the songs and albums that are timeless), and revisiting songs years later—in a studio, not in a live setting—can come off as tired and hackneyed.  Yet when I heard that Bryan Ferry reinterpreted a handful of Roxy Music classics as instrumental jazz songs, I was first intrigued and then surprisingly delighted.  The songs on the Brian Ferry Orchestra’s The Jazz Age sound like authentic 1920s compositions, made by musicians who clearly admire and understand the jazz music of that time period.  The songs sound so radically different, I had to listen to the album a few times before I recognized some of my beloved Roxy Music favorites.  The album is fun and enthusiastic, and although it doesn’t replace the original Roxy Music songs, it’s a pleasure to hear.

While we don’t have The Jazz Age in our CD collection, it is available through Freegal.  Freegal is a downloadable music service that allows resident borrowers to download three songs a week with their library card.  Check out The Jazz Age and then see what else Freegal has to offer!

For comparison, here's a video of Roxy Music performing "Do the Strand" on the BBC in 1973:

And here is a one-minute snippet of the same song from The Jazz Age:


The Jazz Age by the Bryan Ferry Orchestra

Bargains from the Basement: Dead Bees on a Cake

“If you go out searching for jewels and treasures elsewhere, you're liable to miss the acres of riches that lie beneath your feet.”—Bryan Cohen

Today’s buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore is a tasty musical offering by David Sylvian, Dead Bees on a Cake, released in 1999. If you’re not already familiar with Sylvian’s work, give his material a listen. Who to compare him to? His voice draws an obvious similarity to Bryan Ferry, but musically, Sylvian is more muted and much more diverse; closer say to a Peter Gabriel or a Daniel Lanois—dark, mysterious at times, but rich and deeply moving.

Sylvian is an excellent songwriter who typically surrounds himself with contemporary musical heavyweights. Bees, however, follows a series of more upbeat “prog-ish” collaborations with Robert Fripp, so a musical departure seems somewhat inevitable. Bees has a slightly more jazzy, worldbeat feel than its predecessors—very much in the same vein as the later period recordings by Talk Talk. Guest musicians, though few this time, include jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a brief appearance by Steve Tibbetts. Sylvian’s discography calls this release “openly celebratory in nature… documenting an eventful and transformative period in his life.”

Thanks once again, Friends – a good find, indeed!


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!


Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian

Shoegazers Celebrate

Well, well, My Bloody Valentine has finally emerged from their twenty-plus year hiatus to release the much anticipated and discussed new album mbv. Until we can obtain the new long player for the library’s music collection, you’ll just have to find out what all of the hype is about by listening to their beloved 90's classic Loveless.



Night Moves

The Minneapolis band Night Moves are difficult to categorize but their debut album should be on everyone’s iPod. They draw from an array of rock and roll influences, stitching their lyrical elements together to form a solid sound of catchy tunes born of fuzzed out, alt-country mixed with glam-rock grooves. Standout songs include Horses, Country Queen and Headlights.


Colored Emotions

Featuring Norah Jones

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 Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, the Foo Fighters, and Ryan Adams.

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.


Elysha Cloyd

When? Where? WHO?

I never really was much of a Who fan. I was familiar with a fair amount of their popular hits, and had dabbled in listening to some of their albums throughout my fairly brief existence on this planet, but never really felt much connection or excitement with the music. However, a friend of mine recently introduced me to some of their live material; that’s when I realized just how ignorant I was all along.

Most people are actually quite familiar with The Who’s crazy live repertoire (my ignorance was in the minority) but I still feel the urge to point out the obvious: Keith Moon’s drumming is frantic and insane; John Entwistle has the coolest bass style of probably anyone to have ever played rock music; Pete Townshend conjures tones from his Hiwatt stacks that sound like demons riding a chainsaw; and Roger Daltrey supplies the perfect vocals to carry the band powerfully from song to song.

It’s good stuff. I wish more modern bands could compete with the raw, on-stage energy that The Who dish out consistently from track to track. It’s a total domination of the stage and audience, and it’s totally awesome even 40+ years later.


Live at Leeds

A 21st Century Crooner

Richard Hawley is one of those singer songwriters that after hearing a couple of his songs, you wonder why he’s not a bigger name in the music world (he’s British, so that may explain it). After a brief stint playing guitar for Britpop hit makers Pulp in the late nineties, he set off on a solo career, culminating in seven excellent albums of wistful pop ballads soaked in lyrical reflection and reverb. Hawley’s voice is his greatest asset. He croons a bit like a throwback torch singer, sad and road weary, almost a kind of British Sinatra but with less swagger and more working class grit. His old school, rockabilly look is also suggestive of the influence of Elvis. His newest album, a bit of a sonic departure from previous albums, is less intimate and feels as though his ambient songs of forlorn pining have given way to a louder, more rock and roll Hawley.


Truelove's Gutter

Cat Power: Sun

If you haven’t given this a spin because somebody mentioned a synthesizer, you are missing out. Sun is the ninth studio album from Cat Power, and for fans it has been a long six years since The Greatest, her last album of original work. Sun is definitely unique musically, but it is still every bit Cat Power. In many ways it feels lighter, but doesn’t lack any of the depth fans have come to expect. More than anything it is one of those albums that will sneak up on you, so you have to give it the chance.


Cat Power “Sun”

Bargains from the Basement: Margaritaville

The cover of Jimmy Buffett’s Meet Me in Margaritaville says it’s “the ultimate collection.” I’m not sure if that’s true or not (he’s already had a “greatest hits” collection, a boxed set, and a slew of live albums), but it’s a decent representation of his work nonetheless, including nearly a full disc’s worth of new (2003) recordings – what he calls “a new coat of paint on some old favorites.” It’s cold and snowing outside (I’m pretending it’s not). Still, the Friends Bookstore was packed to the rafters with happy (and thrifty) “Black Friday” shoppers who were wisely taking advantage of the annual gift book sale. So I guess that makes Meet Me... a worthwhile collection for days just like this, when a good book and a trip to Margaritaville is in order. Thanks, 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!


Meet Me in Margaritaville

The Pumpkins Aren’t Just for Smashing Anymore

When a friend recently told me that he had some free tickets to see The Smashing Pumpkins at the Palace of Auburn Hills and asked if I wanted to go, my first response was "meh."  I love going to concerts, don't get me wrong, but I'm not a big fan of arena shows.  I'm more of a small-to-midsized venue kind of guy; I frequent the Orbit Room and the Intersection in Grand Rapids, for example.  Frankly, there aren't a lot of artists for whom I'm willing to make the long hike to Detroit or Chicago.  And while the Pumpkins were a band I enjoyed during my high school and college years, they haven't exactly done anything that I've cared about for a long, long time.  But my wife convinced me that it would be a fun night, so I acquiesced, and we went with my buddy to see the show.

Now, I'm the kind of guy who has more fun at concerts if I know the music, so I checked out their recent set lists online and discovered that they were starting their recent shows by playing their new album, Oceania, in its entirety from start to finish, followed by selections from the rest of their canon.  I hadn't heard anything off the new album apart from first single "The Celestials."  But not wanting to sit through an hour-and-a-half of music that I wasn't familiar with, I checked out Oceania from this very institution, and set about listening to it repeatedly over the next two days leading up to the concert.

I went in with low expectations; Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were quintessential 90s masterpieces, but I never got much out of 1998's Adore or 2000's Machina/The Machines of God.  And following those releases, years of clashing egos, infighting, rotating membership, and the overall decline of sales ended up tearing the band apart.  And had that been the end of the chapter, the Pumpkins would have probably been remembered fondly as a band that burned bright and hot and quickly-one that left its mark on music history.  But front man (and driving creative force) Billy Corgan, a notoriously temperamental and grandiose personality, spent the next decade making it hard to love the Pumpkins.  He'd swear off the band and then reform with different members; he'd verbally attack old band mates in the press; he be dismissive of his audience in interviews; he even swore off making albums ever again, having declared it a "dead" format (he claims Oceania is merely a chunk of a planned 44-song cycle that is to be released as individual singles over a span of many years).  It became hard for a fan to separate the Pumpkins name with the megalomania of Corgan.  Much of this could have been forgiven if, say, any of the music that had trickled out over the years had been engrossing.

So it was to my surprise that, after a few listens, Oceania grew on me (the album is pronounced "oh-see-AN-ee-ya, not "o-SHUN-ee-ya" or how "ya'll pronounce it up here" as Corgan scolded at the show; I'm not entirely certain what Corgan meant by "up here," considering Detroit is not that much farther north latitudinally than his hometown of Chicago).  There are several standout songs, my favorites being "Panopticon," "My Love Is Winter," "Pinwheels," and "Glissandra."  The song titles and lyrics may be pretentious, but the music is energetic and, at times, ethereal.  It's easily the Pumpkins' most cohesive and satisfying effort since the late 90s.  And while Corgan seems to remain as frustrating and self-indulgent as ever, if he keeps creating music like he's done with Oceania, perhaps he can also make The Smashing Pumpkins relevant again.