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Staff Picks: Music

End of Year Remembrance

The music world lost some of its most talented and accomplished musicians this year. Here is a short list of several artists whose works can be found and enjoyed here at the library.

Alex Chilton (Big Star

Solomon Burke

Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse

Ari Up (The Slits) 

Lena Horne

Gregory Isaacs

Pete Quaife (The Kinks

Doug Fieger (The Knack) 

Teddy Pendergrass

Guru (Gangstarr)

Teena Marie

Captain Beefheart


Keep an eye on the sky

The Sound

I've listened to Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Chet Baker and others associated with cool jazz for some time now but I've only recently taken to the lyric warmth and catchy melodies of Stan Getz, aka The Sound. Getz was a prominent tenor saxophonist during the fifties and sixties. In addition to his accomplished recordings, he is credited, along with his one-time collaborater Joao Gilberto, for helping to turn American audiences on to  Brazillian bossa nova in the early sixties. The library owns several of Getz's albums. Check him out.


Getz/Gilberto [sound recording] : featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim

Best Songs of 2010

Now that we are firmly grounded within the download era, many music lovers choose to bypass the purchasing of a full length album and elect instead to add individual songs or hit singles to their digital libraries. Here are a few songs released during 2010 that struck a chord with my ears. How about you? Let us know which tracks resonated with you throughout the year.

Zebra by Beach House

Revenge by Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse

Slow by Twin Shadow

Dark Fantasy by Kanye West

Heaven and Earth by Blittzen Trapper

Does Not Suffice by Joanna Newsom

Sex Karma by Of Montreal

Blue as Your Blood by The Walkmen

Carolina by Girls

Heart in Your Heartbreak by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Our Deal by Best Coast

Animal by Jenny and Johnny


Have One On Me

The Next Top Ten

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.


Lady Killer

Florence + the Machine

When it comes to music my heart is with the ladies, particularly indie/rock ladies who write their own songs and aren’t afraid to experiment with sound.  My penchant for women in rock began in middle school with the discovery of my perennial favorites Tori Amos and PJ Harvey.  In college came my serendipitous discovery of Kate Bush, whose album The Dreaming (available via MeLCat) perfectly epitomizes the weird, experimental sound I like so much.  More recent favorites of mine include Regina SpektorNeko Case, and The Fiery Furnaces (though Matthew Friedberger in this brother/sister group writes the music, I love lead-singer Eleanor Friedberger’s vocals).  I am especially fond of Bat for Lashes; her melodic voice and storytelling tendencies remind me very much of both Tori Amos and Kate Bush.

My latest discovery is Florence + the Machine.  Florence Welch’s voice is soulful, while her lyrics range from catty to literary to contemplative.  Lungs, Florence + the Machine’s debut album, topped the charts in the UK for weeks in 2009, and although it didn’t make a dent on the US charts, I’ve heard a number of their songs pop up in movies and television shows.  If you’re fond of any of the musicians that I’ve mentioned, I recommend giving Florence + the Machine a listen.



A Last Light Before the Darkness

The album Dark Night of the Soul  will certainly be in my top ten of best of the year. Sadly, Mark Linkous, the primary writer of this brilliant piece of moody, pop music textured with hints of electronica and whimsical folk, took his life in March of this year prior to the album’s release. Linkous is at his songwriting best here and by forming collaborations with other guest artists (The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Director David Lynch, The Strokes’ front man Julian Casablanca, Vic Chesnutt, Suzanne Vega, and The Shins’ James Mercer, Nina Persson), including the music industry’s most in-demand producer--Danger Mouse, each song’s singer provides a fresh meditation on Linkous’ grim lyrics and buoyant songs.

Fans of this album should look into Linkous’ previous musical project Sparklehorse in addition to the work of those he collaborated with over the years including Daniel Johnston, PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, and Fennesz.


Dark Night of the Soul

A Fresh Sound from Israel

I recently discovered the Israeli pianist and composer Anat Fort and found that I have a great affinity for her and her trio’s hybrid sound that deftly weaves together both the rhythms and instrumentation of jazz with the plaintive austerity and minimalist ambiance of music akin to classical works or even touches of New Age. Her eclectic influences span from John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, and Elvis Costello to piano master Bill Evans. This collision of influences and styles works in fresh and innovative ways through her newest album And If. The attentive listener will appreciate the ways in which Fort merges the beautiful with the bleak, gentle melodies with avant garde timing, and romantic touches with flashes of emotional exuberance.


And if [sound recording]

Jazz in the Box

This month’s jazz display (see it at Central) only scratches the surface of KPL’s vast collection of jazz materials – not just the music, but writings and film on the subject as well. Navigating over a hundred years of jazz history is a challenge for all but the most dedicated jazz musicologists. Thankfully, for those of us who are novices, KPL owns a substantial number of CD box sets, which provide succinct overviews of jazz in all its variations, including:

The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz: one of the best aural introductions to American jazz in the 20th century, this set opens with the birth of jazz, by way of Scott Joplin's ragtime piano, moves into the hot jazz best exemplified by Louis Armstrong’s ‘20’s sides, then sails through swing, bop, cool jazz, and the avant-garde. While it stops short of exploring jazz during, and beyond, the fusion period pioneered by Miles Davis in the early ‘70’s, it's a great spot to get acquainted with seminal jazz pieces and performers before that time.

Big Band Renaissance: a sequel to the Smithsonian’s earlier Big Band Jazz set (also available at KPL), this set takes listeners past “the big band era” by focusing on post-WWII jazz combo configurations. Classic big band auteurs such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman still figure, but the set’s scope is greatly broadened by the inclusion of bands led by Sun Ra and Henry Mancini.

The Erteguns’ New York: Atlantic Records founders Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun were avid jazz afficianados (younger brother Nesuhi oversaw the label’s earliest jazz signings, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and the Modern Jazz Quartet). This set of '50's cabaret jazz numbers showcases vocalists such as Bobby Short, Chris Connor, and Carmen McRae, who wowed audiences at the cozier NYC clubs the brothers favored after hours.

Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar: the influence of jazz on the guitar (and vice-versa) gets its due with this set that generously makes room for artists such as Chet Atkins, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana, nestled side by side with jazz guitar greats such as Eddie Condon, Wes Montgomery, and Bill Frisell.

The Savoy Story: storied as much for its gospel recordings as for its jazz releases, Newark, N.J.-based Savoy Records was influential in the popularization of bebop music in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s. Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Errol Garner were just a few of the great musicians who cemented their reputations during their time at the label – all are featured, alongside other legends, on this set that focuses on Savoy’s early jazz output.

This is just a small sampling of the jazz music KPL has to offer – check out our display this month, and our AV collection at any time, to dig even deeper.


Savoy Story Jazz

Free The New Pornographers!

I have attended many concerts but there are still a few bands that are on my “must see before I die” list. When the Canadian power pob collective, The New Pornographers announced they were going to play at Calvin College in Grand Rapids on October 15, I was thrilled. It seems that some indivduals were not as happy as I was because the show was canceled because “to some, (the band's name) is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography.”

By rescinding the invitation to the band, Calvin earned a storm of negative media attention (Pitchfork, The Huffington Post, Christianity Today, and Chronicle of Higher Education) with many criticizing the college for not understanding the irony behind the band's name. Luckily, the band was able to find a new location for their show and I will be able to cross them of of my list.

In the meantime join me in “freeing” The New Pornographers from the shackles of shackles of censorship and close-mindedness by checking out one of their most excellent CDs from KPL. Their newest Together is filled with great hooks, melodies, and lyrics that you come to expect from this great band.



Gabriella Cilmi

A friend recently introduced me to the music of a singer-songwriter she repeatedly heard on the radio during a trip to Italy a couple of years ago.  Turns out the performer is not Italian at all, but rather Australian.  Her name is Gabriella Cilmi (chil-mee) and her first album, Lessons to be Learned was released in the UK in 2008. A second, "Ten," came out in March of this year, also in the UK. "Lessons to be Learned" includes both acoustic and more plugged-in arrangements, all of which suit her smoky voice well. The first time I heard her, she reminded me of Amy Winehouse.  Apparently, I'm not alone; that comparison is often made.  Other female singers who might come to mind when listening to Cilmi include Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat .


Lessons to be Learned

Something for everybody on the Plastic Beach

I have to say that at first listen Plastic Beach went in too many different directions for me.   However, by the end I more than appreciated the analogy between the album’s title and its musical landscape.   Now, I spend a little time each day soaking up the sounds of this album.  Gorillaz had already established itself as an institution where pretty much anything goes, but with Plastic Beach the “band” blends about as many musical styles as it does songs on the album (16 tracks with a running time of just over 56 minutes).  Not to say that each track sticks to any kind of formula whatsoever, it absolutely does not in the most refreshing ways.  Damon Albarn, the Gorillaz’ driving force, is able to convince the listener to blindly accept the transition within and between each song.  You almost wonder if this capacity for persuasion was necessary to convince the eclectic group of artists that make the Plastic Beach what it is.  Bobby Womack, Mos Def, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash, Lou Reed, Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Sinfonia Viva, Mark e Smith, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble all join the regular cast of mysterious cartoon Gorillaz to create an album that will spend a lot of time on my playlist.  Take a walk along the Plastic Beach and you will pick something out of the sand that’s worth your while.


Plastic Beach

Some Fuzz Under the Sun

The Raveonettes are a Danish rock duo who compose infectious, fuzzed out pop songs that pay homage to the early sixties girl groups like The Ronettes as well as a reverential nod toward the reverb drenched tunes of eighties shoe gazers, The Jesus and Mary Chain. Their album Lust Lust Lust is a fantastic introduction to their sound, one that clearly draws its inspiration from earlier rock and roll pioneers but that does not come off as derivative or self consciously retro. You’ll be humming these catchy tunes all summer long as you trek west for some fun under the sun.


Lust Lust Lust

This is a blog about The Black Keys

 I am certain that friends, colleagues, and assuredly my own family have grown tired of my consistent response when the conversation turns to music and the inevitable “what are you listening to” question pops up. My answer, since its early May release, has been that I can’t get enough of the latest by the Akron, Ohio blues rock duo The Black Keys. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am a real fan of the band and I have loved and continue to listen to everything that they have put out, but their latest record Brothers is just so good that I have found myself listening to it almost daily. The Black Keys music continues to be a perfect mix of the elemental power of traditional guitar blues with cool indie rock sensibilities and, on Brothers, bits of soul thrown in for good measure. From my perspective the band, six albums in, has matured in all the right ways, adding a bit more production and instrumentation on its last two records, Brothers and 2008’s Danger Mouse produced Attack & Release, and singer Dan Auerbach tests out a falsetto on a couple tracks on Brothers, including the great Everlasting Light - great live version posted below, that I never saw coming and weirdly comes close to sounding Antony and the Johnsons like, but the band never takes this experimentation too far, always keeping the song structure tight and holding firm to what makes them such a great band in the first place.



Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend

When I was putting together my previous post(s) about Patti Smith, I ran across a video of John Cale doing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Cohen’s writing was stark and hauntingly beautiful; certainly well worth checking out. But watching the video reminded me of how truly interesting John Cale is.

A former member of the legendary Velvet Underground and a producer for the likes of Patti SmithThe Stooges, and a bazillion others, Cale’s solo work runs the full spectrum of style and emotion; from lovely dark ballads (I Keep A Close Watch) to neo-classical ambience (Words For The Dying) to full on anger-induced rage (Leaving It Up to You).

KPL stocks Artificial Intelligence, commonly regarded as one of Cale’s worst solo efforts and admittedly not none of my own favorites. If you really want a concise discovery of Cale’s earlier solo work, scrounge around for a copy of his 1977 Guts compilation. Nary a single loser among the nine tracks and the cast of characters is impressive; Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Richard Thompson, Chris Spedding, Phil Collins (yep, back when Phil was a drummer), and a host of others. Close Watch - An Introduction To John Cale is an updated and re-mastered version with some of the same tracks. Island Years (1996) is even better; a two-disc set that pulls together 36 essential tracks, including everything from Guts. (This has since been re-released as a budget disc called Gold.)

A personal favorite of mine is Honi Soit from 1981. You won’t find any tracks from it on the compilations (it’s a different record company), but no matter. Everything here is as powerful and immediate as it was when it was released nearly 30 years ago (ack!).

If you want to read more about John Cale, check out What’s Welsh for Zen: the Autobiography of John Cale. The book is a dozen years old now but an interesting read with loads of great photos and drawings. And Hans Werksman’s Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend website is an essential resource if you’re hooked.

Here’s Cale in a lighter moment… Hallelujah.


What's Welsh for Zen : the autobiography of John Cale

Radio Jazz Man

Bob Parlocha was born to have a radio show. Richly textured and oozing with experience and knowledge, Parlocha’s voice is as smooth as the jazz singers and musicians he features on his radio show. Regrettably, I seldom listen to his fantastic playlists, mostly because he hits the airwaves at 10pm, nevertheless, I rarely ever steer away once I’ve tuned in. Parlocha’s program is well balanced in that it draws attention to both the seminal musicians from the past (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Stan Getz) as much as it highlights current artists and their new releases. If you can stay up later than I can and you love jazz, be sure to check out Nocturnal Transmissions. Don’t forget to drop by the library to browse our large collection of jazz compact discs.


Orchestrion [sound recording]

Horses, Legacy Edition

Patti Smith has been one of my faves since a roommate back in the 70s once forced me (kicking and screaming) to listen to Radio Ethiopia, for which I’m now eternally grateful. Raw, immediate, surreal… yet truly real. Soon after, I discovered her first album – Horses – and I was hooked.

Patti actually created much of the groundwork for New York’s CBGB’s scene of the 70s, inspiring bands like Television, The Ramones, and Talking Heads. “Like her hero Jim Morrison she wrote absurd verses more fit for a diary than a rock ‘n’ roll record, but could also follow them with lines that genuinely terrified.” (Chris Dahlen, Pitchfork) Lovingly dubbed “Poet Laureate of Punk” by NPR, Patti layered her cutting poetry with a killer band to create a blend that continues to inspire fans and artists alike.

As I was rummaging through the library’s collection the other day, I was happy to find a copy of the Legacy Edition of Horses, the 2005 reissue of her seminal 1975 album that was named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 50 rock albums of all time. Expanded to two full discs, the 30th anniversary edition includes the original album as produced by John Cale, that’s been newly remastered by Greg Calbi with amazing results. The set includes a bonus track, Patti’s gutsy remake of My Generation (originally released as a B-side) and… a bonus live performance of Horses, recorded in its entirety at London’s Meltdown Festival in 2005. “These things, these relics, are alive in the fists of memory. We search for them in close-up as we search for our own hands in a dream.” (Patti Smith)

Just for fun, here’s an amazingly clean video from 1976 – the title track from Horses, leading into another classic remake, a cover of Hendrix’ Hey Joe from the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. As the commercial says… “priceless.” Enjoy.


Patti Smith “Horses”

Fruit Bats

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”

Barber Turns 100

If ever I was hard pressed to name a favorite song or piece of music, Samuel Barber’s masterpiece Adagio for Strings would likely top the list. Like many, my first exposure to Barber’s famed work, with its evocative and emotionally charged beauty, came from its inclusion within Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film Platoon (winner of Best Picture of 1986). One of the twentieth century’s most recognized songs, Adagio for Strings elevated Barber’s reputation, placing him alongside other notable American 20th Century composers like Aaron Copland and Charles Ives. Barber’s lesser known work Knoxville: Summer of 1915, developed for soprano (with lyrics) and orchestra, is a romantic and nostalgic work often played during the summer months for its suggestive and wistful feeling.

NPR recently took a look at Barber’s Adagio for Strings, analyzing its musical structure in order to better appreciate and understand its power to move and stir human emotions.


Samuel Barber

The incredible music of Hiromi

I am always surprised when I “discover” a new, at least to me, musical artist whose talent is so great and whose music is so amazing that they beg to have the word genius attached to their work, yet I have been completely unaware of their music until that point. I suppose it should not be so shocking given the time I have available to devote to searching out great music and the vast number of artists out there in the world working in a wide range of genre’s that I have interest in. But with very little effort, I consistently find new and shockingly great artists to check out. I believe this to be a very positive result of the increasing interconnectedness of the world. I also believe that these discoveries have been helped along and often facilitated by the KPL music collection's fantastic breadth and depth. Listening to Michigan Radio on Sunday evening I had such an experience when I first heard the music of Japanese jazz composer and pianist Hiromi Uehara. Not only a virtuosic technical player, Hiromi’s passionate and genre bending style is truly unique as witnessed in the video below. 


Beyond Standard

Alex Chilton, R.I.P. (1950-2010)

One of the founding fathers of power pop, Alex Chilton died on March 17 of a heart attack in New Orleans. Chilton has been cited by many as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century.

He began his career as the 16-year-old lead singer of the Box Tops, a late 60’s “boy band” who first hit the charts with the song “The Letter” (1967). Chilton had felt the music industry exploited the Box Tops and eventually the band broke up in 1970. Soon he found his way to Memphis and hooked up with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel to form Big Star. Although Big Star never achieved much commercial success, their sound which combined equal parts Memphis soul and British Invasion pop sparked a power pop movement that inspired musicians such as R.E.M., The Replacements, The Posies, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Cheap Trick and The Bangles.

Chilton was immortalized in the song “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements on their 1987 album Pleased to Meet Me. After recording three albums (1971-1974) Big Star disbanded and Alex Chilton went on to record many solo records. He briefly reunited with both the Box Tops (1989) and Big Star (1993). Chilton will live on as a talent who helped define a musical genre that continues to inspire.


Alex Chilton

On the way to work...

When people ask how long my morning drive to work is, I often say "about three songs." This got me thinking about what others might hear when they commute to work each morning. So I asked a few friends to begin posting on Twitter the first three songs they hear every morning on shuffle. If you are someone who uses Twitter and loves music, post your what you hear using the #1st3shuffle hash tag.

The second track this morning on my iPod was "Seaweed Song" by Passion Pit. This Boston electronic band’s debut release, “Manners” was one of my top ten from last year. Passion Pit was originally a solo project of Michael Angelakos while a student at Emerson College. He wanted to create a musical Valentine for his girlfriend and produced an EP on his laptop. The effort led to the formation of a band and one of the best dance CDs of the year. Listening to the infectious beats of Passion Pit combined with a few cups of coffee always seems to get me ready for work.



Don't Let Their Name Fool You

The San Francisco-based two-piece Girls (comprised of two men) came out of nowhere last year, landing on several end of the year lists for best album. Their debut, unimaginatively titled Album, is a tender yet bratty collection of catchy pop psychedelia coupled to a restrained self consciousness that never comes off as posturing or derivative. An apt description might be that their songs sound like Beach Boys hymns filtered through the bombastic noise of My Bloody Valentine and sung with a nasally baritone who summons comparisons to Elvis Costello. This was one of the few contemporary bands that stayed on my radar last year.


Album [sound recording]

The King of Gangsta Folk is coming to KPL!

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


A mix of Santana and Yanni (and likely some Pink Floyd in there, too), Kitaro was a random pick of mine when I was recently browsing the popular music section in our audio-visual department at Central library. He is touted as a master of the New Age music movement, but I simply appreciate the music as being a combination of sounds and styles. It isnt the space music/under the sea sound of something like Paul Winters Callings, but is instead a nice melding of all sorts of things right about music: orchestral flow, digital sound, traditional instrumentation, and long blues-based guitar strains. 

A winner of numerous Grammy Awards, Kitaros music will be on my MP3 player for a long time to come.  Downloads are available on his personal website



An Enchanted Evening