Staff Picks: Music
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
The latest release from Emmylou Harris (her 21st studio album) is a collection of heartfelt tales of love and tragedy; stories about lost friends, family and deep-seated faith. Recorded in the home studio of her producer Jay Joyce, the production is lush and spacious, and her signature voice shines as always. The sound very much recalls the atmospheric feel of her work with Daniel Lanois, which is amazing considering that only three musicians play on the record; Harris, Joyce (guitars and keyboards), and drummer/keyboardist Giles Reeves.
Ms. Harris penned eleven of the thirteen songs herself (unusual since she’s only ever recorded a handful her own songs), but she includes a couple of tasty covers here, too... “Cross Yourself” is written by Joyce and the title tune is by Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Emmylou says that she finds songwriting difficult, but honestly, she should do more of it—her writing is articulate and her songs are genuine.
Standouts for me include the album opener, “The Road,” a fond remembrance of her early years with Gram Parsons. (If you’re quick, you can still grab a free download of this song on Emmylou’s website.) “Darlin’ Kate” is a tribute to her close friend Kate McGarrigle, who recently died of cancer. “My Name is Emmett Till” recalls the story of a 14-year-old African-American boy who was brutally murdered in 1950s, and considers “all that might have come” had he been allowed to live. “The Ship on His Arm” explores the life and love that her parents perhaps shared during the Second World War, while “Goodnight Old World” (written with longtime Steve Winwood collaborator Will Jennings) hopes for a better world for newer generations (Harris recently became a grandmother).
Like a glass of Pinot and a nap in the sun, Emmylou’s voice soothes the soul—melancholy never felt so good. Yet after 40 years as a professional musician, 25 albums and a dozen Grammys, she still drives a Hard Bargain.
Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain
I’ve been listening to the music of Gram Parsons lately since I watched the documentary film Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel. Parsons musical gifts and passion for country and roots music was a major factor in his influencing of such legendary bands as The Rolling Stones and The Byrds. He is cited as the one who helped to usher in the genre of country rock during the late sixties when he worked with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. He later introduced to the musical world a young singer songwriter named Emmylou Harris. Parsons lived fast and died young but he left behind two very strong records, GP and Grievous Angel. If you’re interested in musical documentaries, you may enjoy:
Kurt Cobain: About a Son
The Velvet Underground: Vanishing Point
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
The Heart is a Drum Machine: A Documentary Film About Music
Here is a video clip from the documentary.
GP [sound recording] ; Grievous angel
As a collector and (ahem) connoisseur of “underground” Bob Dylan recordings since the 1970s, I was of course thrilled with the official (and thankfully ongoing) release of The Bootleg Series. Now nine volumes and counting, these releases represent the hidden side of Dylan’s work – especially during the early years. Akin to browsing through an artist’s sketchbook, these recordings give us a fresh glimpse at Dylan’s writing and recording process and a chance to hear otherwise lost performances.
As an addendum to this historic series, Columbia has just released the stand-alone version of Bob Dylan In Concert - Brandeis University 1963, a previously unreleased and seemingly un-bootlegged early live set.
On May 10, 1963 – 48 years ago today – Bob Dylan performed at the Brandeis First Annual Folk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts, just two weeks before the release of his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. A seven inch reel-to-reel tape recording of Dylan’s performance that day sat tucked away on a shelf in Rolling Stone magazine co-founder Ralph J. Gleason’s home for more than four decades.
Recently discovered, these recordings represent a glimpse of how Dylan sounded while he was still touring the small clubs and coffee houses on the brink of fame. Michael Gray, author of The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, calls this “the last live performance we have of Bob Dylan before he becomes a star... way back when Kennedy was President and the Beatles hadn’t yet reached America.”
So how does it sound? In a word… amazing. Bob… his guitar… his harmonica… and seven audible slices of 1963. The version of “Masters of War” is alone worth the effort.
Bob Dylan in Concert
I’d like to throw the spotlight on some recent and upcoming releases from the world of non-radio-friendly musicians that I’m excited to be ordering for the rock and folk/country collections. For the touchy feely folkies and pastoral Americanaists out there, you’ll want to get your hands on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues (garnering big buzz and positive reviews), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Here We Rest, Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, Steve Earle’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far, and Emmylou Harris’ Hard Bargain. For those who prefer blips, sugary melodies, fuzzed guitars, and a louder volume on their wax platter, keep your eyes peeled for the newest long players from Panda Bear, The Raveonettes, TV on the Radio, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Yuck, Telekinesis, Foo Fighters, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and Bright Eyes.
The People's Key
Music lovers first heard John Grant’s amazing voice when he fronted the Denver-based band The Czars. The Czars were signed to the Bella Union label and released several critically acclaimed records throughout the late nineties and early 2000’s. Grant has now gone solo and released The Queen of Denmark, an album which received Mojo Magazine’s album of 2010 award. Fans of The Red House Painters, early Elton John, and 1970’s soft rock will enjoy Grant’s bathetic musings and one of a kind baritone.
Queen of Denmark
I was not terribly impressed with the musical output from 2009, but after compiling my Top Ten CDs from 2010 I discovered a bunch more that were better than most of last year’s list.
Since I could only offer ten selections for the official KPL Top Ten page, I present ten more great CDs from the past twelve months.
11. Lady Killer by Cee Lo Green
12. Body Talk Pts. 1 & 2 by Robyn
13. Adrift by The Red Sea Pedestrians
14. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk
15. Of The Blue Colour of the Sky by OK Go
16. The Guitar Song by Jamey Johnson
17. Transference by Spoon
18. I Learned the Hard Way by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
19. Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine by Various
20. Maya by M.I.A.
It took two tries, but I’m hooked on the music of the Fruit Bats on their cd The Ruminant Band. I hear touches of Neil Young and country rock “Waiting on a Friend” era Rolling Stones accompanied by a prog rock-voiced lead singer.
I was thinking that I should mention something about what the songs are about, but I realize I have no idea. I mostly listen to music while I’m doing something else so it’s the music that affects me more than the words.
Check it out, maybe twice. It grows on you.
Fruit Bats “The Ruminant Band”
As a senior in high school I heard a cover of Madonna ’s “Like A Prayer” by the singer John Wesley Harding and was immediately hooked by his version of folk, or as he sometimes calls it “gangsta folk.” I immediately dived into Harding’s catalog and discovered a plethora of brilliant songs that were intelligent, witty, tender, historical and sardonic. In college, I was fortunate to see him live and experienced not just a concert, but what felt like a dialogue between Harding and me. I scraped up the money to purchase a concert shirt (I still have it) and that summer my future wife approached me while I was wearing it because she was also a fan.
Throughout the years I have traced the path of who I consider one of the most underrated musicians of the past 20 years. I have read the two fabulous novels he has written under his real name, Wesley Stace, and purchased every new CD. Imagine my surprise when he agreed to participate in our long running concert series and speak about his books the following night.
I encourage you to come to hear Wes speak about his music and books on February 17 and 18 . You will discover an extremely talented musician who has shared the stage with such greats as Bruce Springsteen and has been praised by literary critics for his writing. Space is limited at both FREE events, so come early.
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead
The Malian duo Amadou & Mariam have been in nearly constant rotation on my ipod and home stereo since I became aware of their music with the 2005 release of Dimanche a Bamako. I knew little of the couple’s inspiring story then, but responded immediately to the music they create. Singer Mariam Doumbia and guitarist/vocalist Amadou Bagayokothan, who are both blind, met at the Institute for Young Blind People in Bamako, the capital of Mali, 30 years ago and have been making amazing and infectious music ever since. Already huge stars in West Africa and Europe; in recent years Amadou & Mariam have gained a large following in the indie rock world where they have become a show stealing staple at large festivals, which has helped spread their popularity across the glode. The duo’s latest title, Welcome to Mali, has received almost universal, and I would say very well deserved, critical acclaim and I can't stop listening to it. Even without the faintest clue as to what the lyrics of the songs are saying (the couple sings primarily in French), it is easy to hear why the global spread of Amadou & Mariam's hypnotic sound cannot be stopped.
Welcome to Mali