Before well known groups like Wilco, Neko Case, Ryan Adams, and a bevy of other artists known for their fusing of folk, rock and country elements rose to popular attention in the late nineties, there was a band from Minnesota called The Jayhawks. Influenced by late sixties folk rock idols like The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and Bob Dylan, Minneapolis-based The Jayhawks formed in 1985. Led by two primary songwriters, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, The Jayhawks are still considered a bit of a cult band that never achieved the kind of commercial success that the above mentioned musicians have enjoyed. If you enjoy the intersection of rock, roots music and infectious hooks, then check out the Jayhawks’ influential discography. Officially on hiatus, the band known for influencing the sound of Alternative Country continues to perform on occasion as well as working on studio projects.
Watch a clip of their performance on Austin City Limits.
Rainy Day Music
Dead at 26 of an overdose of prescription drugs, British singer songwriter Nick Drake left behind a small yet influential body of acoustic songs layered with subtle pop and jazz sensibilities. Developing a fragile brand of spare and plaintive folk songs during the late 1960’s, Drake’s three albums went almost entirely unnoticed until an automobile commercial reintroduced a new generation to Drake’s quietly evocative songs in 2000. Drake’s music serves as an antecedent to the melancholic musings of contemporary artists like Belle and Sebastian, Devendra Banhart, Elliott Smith, and Iron and Wine. Pink Moon, his most realized album serves as a haunting reminder of what may have been had the young singer survived his bout with depression.
Way to blue [sound recording] : an introduction to Nick Drake
I don't smoke, do drugs, or drink to excess. I have two kids and a mortgage, and my hair is going gray along the edges. These days, the only seriously guilty pleasures I have anymore are junk food and listening to The Lemonheads' It's a Shame About Ray. I’d just graduated from high school when this album was first released, and the album’s lyrics (disaffected, angst-ridden tales of slackers and burnouts) and music (big, loud and completely stupid, yet full of catchy melodies and totally infectious) appealed to me and my group of friends who were, like the protagonists of Evan Dando’s songs, rudderless and full of dread about starting their adult lives. Along with The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and My Bloody Valentine, The Lemonheads served as a soundtrack for that first summer out of school and on to who knows what. Of course, by the time I’d started college in the fall, Ray was sounding a little bit too whiny and fluffy, and I had moved on to the heavier Industrial and Electronic music genres that would define my oh-so-serious art school days. For years I’d forgotten I’d ever owned the album, having sold it to pay for more art supplies. When I’d read that Rhino reissued the album last year, I decided to give it another shot. I’m not looking to re-live my post-high school years by any means, but listening to It's a Shame About Ray many years on adds a new layer of clarity- Were we really this self-absorbed and obnoxious? Wow, these hooks are pretty great. I’ve added a few of the best tracks to iTunes where they’ll shuffle up every now and then- a pleasant reminder of an older, stupider time.
It’s a Shame About Ray
Brian Eno once commented that some musicians make music for the general public, while others create works that, though perhaps not as commercially successful, influence other artists. Jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt satisfies both categories – his recordings are a fascinating and fun listen, while his influence spans generations of musicians worldwide.
Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France
Throughout the 1930’s Django Reinhardt, with violinist Stephane Grappelli and fellow members of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, forever altered the landscape of popular jazz. The son of French gypsies, Reinhardt drew upon the early recordings of Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti and others to become one of the most influential guitarists in recorded music history. From B.B. King to Bob Wills, Joe Pass to Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins to Jimi Hendrix, countless musicians have credited Reinhardt’s lightning fast yet fluid and articulate style as an influence and inspiration.
Swing/HMV sessions 1936-1948
A standout in the KPL collection is The complete Django Reinhardt and Quintet of the Hot Club of France Swing/HMV sessions 1936-1948, an extraordinary 6 CD collection from Mosaic. 118 recordings plus (typically) exhaustive liner notes showcase Django's solo work, duets with Grappelli, and with the quintet. Not to be missed.
Mosaic Records was founded in the 1980’s Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie with the goal of creating lasting, archival quality documents of important recorded works, rather than simple rehashed collections aimed at the commercial market. Exhaustively researched and painstakingly assembled, Mosaic sets are prized by serious collectors and music aficionados for their recorded content and flawless packaging. Many are limited to just a few thousand copies.
In addition to the Django set, KPL (quite impressively) holds several other Mosaic gems (many of which have since gone out of print) -
Don’t miss these and other terrific box sets along the lower shelves in KPL’s ever-expanding music section.
The complete Django Reinhardt and Quintet of the Hot Club of France Swing/HMV sessions 1936-1948
I got the blues... and that’s a good thing! The 16th Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival kicks off today at the Arcadia Creek Festival Place. As in past years, the setup will feature two side-by-side stages of top-name entertainment, plus educational workshops, children’s activities, and great food.
Thursday – Duffield/Caron, Mike Espy & Yakety Yak, Tarbox Ramblers, Fruteland Jackson, Coco Robicheaux & Dave Easley
Friday – BluesTime Band, Left Paul Trio, 6 Hands Down, Stacy Mitchhart, Reba Russell, Jimmy Thackery, Out of Favor Boys
Saturday – Garage Band 101, Fatt Lapp, Nomad Willy, Thirsty Perch, Blue Heaven, Left Turn Blues Band, Chris Canas Band, Crossroads The Resurrection, Delta Moon, Larry McCray, Sista Monica, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Blue Moon
Admission is $5 Thursday, $10 Friday, and $12 Saturday (do the math… that’s only about-a-buck-a-band. Beat that!)
Of course, ALL the acts on this year’s bill should be fantastic, but real standouts for me will be Tarbox Ramblers (a great performance at last year’s Wheatland Festival), Jimmy Thackery (a true guitar hero!), Larry McCray, and Smokin’ Joe Kubek.
To top things off, this year’s festival will be bookended by some longstanding local friends. Duffield/Caron will open the fest on Thursday, featuring longtime KPL friends Tom Duffield and Lorraine Caron. Loraine, a regular on WMUK, appeared at KPL earlier this spring with Mark Sahlgren and is our celebrity pronouncer at the Great Grown-Up Spelling Bee. Capping off the festival on Saturday night will be our good friends, the Blue Moon Blues Band, featuring their new front man, Bryan Michael Fischer. They’ll rock your sox off at the festival, but can also catch Blue Moon in a more intimate setting at KPL in October as part of our ongoing live music series. Willie Dixon once told me... “you’re in between the blues, now, boy…” Indeed!
The guitar in the photo? It’s a “Kalamazoo,” a budget brand (1933-42) once made locally by Gibson. Be sure to check the KPL catalog for new music, hidden treasures, blues, local artists, and lots more music!
16th Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival
While I don’t often listen to country music, there are a few artists walking the fine line between country and rock who pique my interest. Neko Case is one of those artists; her music is an alternative rock-country hybrid that appeals to fans of both genres. I highly recommend her new album Middle Cyclone. If you’re a fan, you may want to check her out live at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids on July 16th.