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Staff Picks: Music

Best of the Decade?

Rolling Stone Magazine’s latest issue is a round-up of the “best” music of the decade.  Radiohead’s Kid A tops the list, a choice I find both apt and unsurprising, as the album is a textured experiment in rock music that started the decade off with a great buzz.  I was a college freshman when it was released, and I remember buying Kid A (back when people bought albums, not downloaded them) the day it came out, only to hear it echoed in virtually every room down the hallway of my dorm.  Listening to it nearly ten years later, it still feels pertinent and new. 

Although I do love Kid A, Rolling Stone and I differ when it comes to the best of the decade.  My favorite album is another year 2000 release: PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (available via MeLCat).  Every song on Stories is a miniature masterpiece, creating a pure rock album that ruminates on love, life, and death with a New York City backdrop.  I find myself returning to this album time and time again.

Other favorites of mine, in no particular order, include:

Le Tigre—This Island (2004)

The Fiery Furnaces—Widow City (2007)

CocoRosie—La Maison de Mon Reve (2004) (available via MeLCat)

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins—Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) (available via MeLCat)

Spoon—Gimme Fiction (2005)

Regina Spektor—Soviet Kitsch (2004)

GorillazGorillaz (2001) (available via MeLCat)

Bat for Lashes—Fur and Gold (2007)

Neko Case—The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)

Interpol—Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)


Kid A


Combining education and entertainment has always been a great way to learn; especially for young people.  Grammy Award winning musicians They Might Be Giants have edutainment down to a science with the release of their 14th album, Here Comes Science.  What better way to learn about topics such as photosynthesis, anatomy, outer space, chemistry and more than through great music.  Young audio and visual learners will delight in this CD which also features a DVD filled with music videos.  Check it out soon, and you too, will be humming the lyrics to the Bloodmobile!


Here Comes Science

Best Children’s CD of 2009

Robert Schneider, of the super-awesome indie rock group The Apples in Stereo, is the mastermind behind the best kids CD of 2009,  Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine. Schneiders kid-friendly alter-ego, Professor Robbert Bobbert is a self-proclaimed Genius inventor of musical mayhem. Fans of Schneiders work will love this CD because they will immediately hear the hooks and harmonies that make The Apples in Stereo great. The end result of this power pop infused kids CD is a car trip that wont turn your brain into elephant droppings.

The stand out track We R Super Heroes is about the dream most kids have about being a super hero. Check out the video.


Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine

Tubular Bells

The current season for “spooky” stuff brings to mind a time honored classic – Mike Oldfield’s Tubular BellsOldfield was an unknown English teenager in 1973 when the haunting opening sequence from his highly acclaimed debut gained worldwide attention as the backdrop for Friedkin’s film version of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.

Since that time, Oldfield has revisited the Bells structure and themes for a host of sequels and alternate interpretations, including an orchestral version, various remixes, reissues, live and demo recordings. (Six different packages were released this summer alone!) The piece has also received several inspired (re)interpretations by others, including a 2008 recording for piano ensemble, and a wonderful version by the California Guitar Trio.

While trolling the murky depths of the internet this weekend, I ran across an interesting video of Oldfield performing the first segment of Tubular Bells for the BBC-TV on November 30, 1973, along with a rather stellar cast of accomplices...

  • Mike Oldfield (bass, guitar)
  • Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) (guitar)
  • Steve Hillage (Gong) (guitar)
  • Pierre Moerlen (Gong) (percussion)
  • Fred Frith (Henry Cow) (bass, guitar)
  • John Greaves (Henry Cow) (keyboards, bass)
  • Tim Hodgkinson (Henry Cow) (keyboards)
  • Geoff Leigh (Henry Cow) (flute)
  • Mike Ratledge (Soft Machine) (keyboards)
  • Karl Jenkins (Soft Machine) (oboe)
  • Ted Speight (Kilburn & The High Roads) (guitar, bass)
  • John Field (Jade Warrior) (flute)
  • Terry Oldfield (Mike’s brother) (flute)
  • Tom Newman (voice)

(The full version of the video can be found on Oldfield’s Elements DVD.)

As it turns out, this was only the second first public performance of Bells – the first having occurred on 25 June 1973 in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, just a month after the album’s release. The reclusive Oldfield was so shaken by the public reaction to his initial concert that he avoided the live stage for several years. What’s truly “scary,” however, is that some 26 albums and three-and-a-half decades later, this stunning debut still holds up.


Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells

Some of My Favorite Things

There is something about the descending temperature and the vibrancy of Autumn leaves, the unmistakable stench of pumpkin innards, and the knowing that a long Midwestern winter is just around the corner that pushes me toward listening to jazz. Most of my favorite artists and albums generally fall under the broad categories of Be-Bop, Cool and Vocal. I've never been all that drawn to the more esoteric sounds of free or experimentally avante-garde jazz. Some of my favorite musicians include horn players John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, and Chet Baker, vocal virtuosos Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, arrangers Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans, and pianists like Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi. I have to admit that my knowledge of contemporary jazz is quite limited so my recommended Fall listening list below tends to be specific to the 1950's and 60's. Grab that ribbed cardigan, sip on on some hot cider and fall under the melodic color and hypnotic rhythms of some of these great albums.


In the wee small hours


Once in a Blue Moon

Be sure to catch the Blue Moon Blues Band in an intimate “unplugged” performance on Wednesday, October 21st, at Central Library, as part of KPL’s ongoing Live Music series.

We have it on very good authority that this should be quite a unique and memorable event, including a rare opportunity to hear some of Mr. Carambula’s smokin’ acoustic(!) guitar work, and some brand new music they’ve never played in public before!

Blue Moon’s library appearance will also be one of the band’s final public performances - after nine years and four CDs, they’re moving on to new and different opportunities, so stay tuned! Don’t you dare miss this chance to see one of the final (and perhaps finest) performances by one of Kalamazoo’s most revered musical institutions.

Here’s Blue Moon, recorded live at Clydes Side Door in Battle Creek on March 21, 2009.


Blue Moon Blues Band

Echoes of Echo

Mat Kearney has such a mellow voice and subdued style that he reminds me a little of Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen. Some of the lyrics on City of Black & White are quite striking: "We're all one phone call from our knees." You're sure to hear some thought-provoking turns of phrase on his album.


The Very Best of Echo and the Bunnymen

Welcome to Mali

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      

The High Priestess of Soul

Fusing jazz, classical and blues music together like no one before nor after her, Nina Simone was a one-of-a-kind artist whose artistic achievements and life-long support of civil rights places her firmly within the pantheon of twentieth century greats. Her long-time battle with bipolar disorder, her tumultuous relationship with the music industry and her self-imposed exile are also part of her rich narrative as the “High Priestess of Soul” but it is the plaintive beauty, ferocious spirit, immovable anger, and affirming force of her music that makes Simone so vital. One need only listen to her eulogy for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Why? The King of Love is Dead to grasp the depth of character her music embodied.


To be free [sound recording] : the Nina Simone story


Bust Your Windows

The other day while listening to online radio at, I heard the sweet voice of Jazmine Sullivan singing to a funky, rhythmic beat.  I was tapping my foot before my brain engaged with what the lyrics actually were:  "I bust the windows out your car..."  I then had to laugh that a song so fun and upbeat to listen to was about getting even with a cheating boyfriend. 

Then, I remembered a song I heard on a country radio station by Carrie Underwood called "Before He Cheats" (on her album Some Hearts).  That one is all about knives and ball bats intended to help men stop their cheating ways!  So, it seems this topic is universal enough that it spans genres of music from country to rhythm and blues.

(By the way, each of our branch libraries has a different collection of music.  I found Sullivan's Fearless CD at our Eastwood Branch.  Our online catalog has a special link for searching music selections.  Go to the catalog then select "Music Search" on the black navigation bar near the top.) 



CSN Demos

For some strange reason, I’ve always enjoyed hearing demos and working versions of familiar tracks by fave musicians. Like peering into an artist’s sketchbook, these “bare-bones” run-throughs (warts and all) often give us a sneak peek into the creative process. Dylan’s “Bootleg Series” is a prime example.

Crosby, Stills & Nash “Demos” is a newly released collection of working versions by David CrosbyStephen Stills and Graham Nash, both individually and collectively (though Neil Young sits in on one track), produced by Graham Nash and long-time friend Joel Bernstein. Though by no means as interesting as say Neil Young’s “Archives” series or the aforementioned Dylan example, “Demos” does offer up a dozen tracks that have never been officially released.

I must admit that I’ve never really been a fan of the production work on the first CSN(Y) studio releases (CSN (1969) and Déjà Vu (1970)). Though vital for their era, several of the tracks (“Marrakesh Express” and “Déjà Vu,” for instance) have always seemed a bit flat and lifeless in their fully produced standard versions. “Demos” now gives us a chance to hear a few of those songs in their original form without added instrumentation and late 60s studio “sweetening” (or “flattening,” as it were).

Pleasant surprises here are the 1968 demo of “My Love Is A Gentle Thing” by Stills and a pre-Nash version of “Long Time Gone” by Crosby and Stills from June 1968. Not drastically different arrangements (as is sometimes the case with such early versions), but intimate and sometimes inspired run-throughs of some of their most significant work in relatively unaltered form.  No real revelations here, but some interesting and pleasing listening.

Here’s “Marrakesh Express” from BBC television in 1970... 


Crosby, Stills & Nash “Demos"

Embrace Death

In the early 1970's, three African-American R&B musicians from Detroit transformed their sound after being inspired by local musicians, Alice Cooper, the Stooges and MC5. The trio called themselves Death, which did not sit well with the Columbia Records executive who funded their first recording session in 1974. The unwillingness to change their name was literally the "Death" of the band and their debut record was never released commercially.

Music critics have hailed Death as being "visionaries" in the punk movement. Their sound straddles the line between punk, funk, and arena rock. Death could have been playing to sold out shows at Cobo Hall, but instead ended up being a footnote in the history of Detroit music.

The Drag City label has rescued the never released record For the Whole World to See for fans of the early punk sound. Check out this Motor City band who was way ahead of their time and should be considered a catalyst for punk music in America. 


For the Whole World to See

Shoegaze 101: Loveless

Tonight’s third annual Kalamashoegazer festival, organized by local dreampop icons glowfriends, confirms that a rock style long thought to be out of style is enjoying a healthy afterlife. Anyone unfamiliar with shoegazer music (named after shoegaze guitarists’ tendency to keep their eyes focused on their effects pedals) can initiate themselves with any of the glowfriends’ ethereal CD selections available for loan at KPL.

The uninitiated can also go straight to the groundbreaking 1991 release by shoegaze pioneers My Bloody ValentineLoveless, to hear what’s generally regarded as the shoegaze masterpiece. Lush vocal harmonies float above a wash of searing guitars, distorted at an incredibly high volume, pitches bending wildly. However strange the mix sounds, the end result is, to my ears, quite beautiful - despite the overwhelming effect of the wall of guitars, melody is not sacrificed.

Live, MBV has been known to play so loudly that some audience members have claimed permanent hearing damage (earplugs are routinely offered for free at their gigs). It’s doubtful any of the bands playing Kalamashoegazer 3 will generate such dangerous volume levels, but it’s likely that the rush of sound will still awe those in attendance, and make shoegaze believers out of newcomers.



Brit Indie Rock

The Courteeners hail from Manchester. The four childhood friends' music shows the familiarity they have with eachother. They've gained popularity here in the states and played the Main Stage at Coachella 2009St. Jude has both catchy and moody songs; you'll be humming "Not 19 Forever" for days (and that's good).


St. Jude

Les Paul (1915 – 2009)

To say that music lost another of its heroes today seems a shallow understatement. But a visit to the Gibson guitar company’s website says it best, where a page-wide banner proclaims, “In loving memory of Les Paul, the world’s most influential, innovative guitar player and inventor.” Les Paul passed away on August 13th at the age of 94.

Les Paul had strong connection with Kalamazoo - or at least with one of Kalamazoo’s more famous manufacturers, the Gibson guitar company. Together, Les Paul and Gibson profoundly altered the face of popular music.

Born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in 1915, Les was already a professional performer by the age of 13. His guitar playing technique became second-to-none, but it’s said that a music critic changed the course of his life by suggesting to Les that his guitar should be louder.

During the 1930s, Paul worked up an electric prototype (affectionately called the “Log,” actually a pine board with homemade electric pickups!) and in 1941, presented it to the Gibson company in Kalamazoo. This first attempt was a miserable failure—Gibson laughed at him—but he never looked back. “I took the Log to Gibson and I spent 10 years trying to convince them that this was the way to go,” said Paul. By 1950, Gibson’s management sensed growing competition and according to Paul, said, “Go find the kid with the broomstick and the pickups on it!”

Eventually, Les Paul formed a partnership with Gibson that not only affected his own career, but dramatically changed the face of the entire music industry. Alongside the Fender Stratocaster, Gibson’s Les Paul model is perhaps the most widely known, highly acclaimed and best loved electric guitar ever made. Period.

“The men up at Kalamazoo are working overtime to fill all the orders…” 
Kalamazoo Gazette, 1951

But Les Paul’s talent for invention wasn’t limited to the guitar alone. During his career, Paul pioneered such cutting edge technology as multi-track recording and overdubbing, plus commonly used sound effects like reverb and echo.

After cutting his teeth on the radio in the 1930s, Paul’s performance career skyrocketed during the 40s and 50s with partner Mary Ford. He produced his own television show in the 1950s, and did more recording during the 60s. In 1976, he released the highly acclaimed Chester and Lester, a country and jazz fusion album with Chet Atkins. Though his hands were nearly crippled by arthritis, Paul performed actively right up until the end.

A 2007 film, Chasing Sound, celebrates Les Paul’s 90th birthday by documenting some of his final performances and highlighting his incredible contributions. 

According to Gibson, Les Paul is the only individual to share membership into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He was also an honorary member of the Audio Engineering Society.

“He put the tools in our hands,” says Keith Richards. According to B.B. King, “...he’s the Boss!”


Les Paul (Associated Press photo)

Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music

Forty years ago this summer, American popular culture was changed forever. The Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Behtel, New York, gathered a who’s who of 1969’s most popular entertainers before crowds estimated at half-a-million. Nothing before or since has matched.

Some festival performers went on to become famous stars who to this day remain definitive of the era; The Who, Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Jimi Hendrix.

Others are all but forgotten, except by purists and collectors; Sweetwater, Quill, Bert Sommer, Incredible String Band.

And there are still others who, although certainly well known, we sometimes forget to associate with the festival because their performances were (for various reasons) omitted from most commercially released festival recordings until recently; Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band.

Some didn’t even make it to the festival (Iron Butterfly was stuck at the airport), while others just didn’t care to do it; The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jethro Tull. Regardless, the festival remains a cornerstone of popular entertainment and a snapshot of life as it was at the end of a tumultuous decade.

Arlo Guthrie remembers (something about) Woodstock, and his “big Checker cab.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about the “ins and outs and whats and whys” of the Woodstock Festival, or perhaps you’re simply feeling nostalgic, the library has loads of material to guide you on your journey.

In Print

The Road to Woodstock by Michael Lang

(from the publisher) On the ground with the talent, the townspeople, and his handpicked crew, Woodstock organizer Lang had a unique and panoramic perspective of the festival which became legendary. Enhanced by interviews with others who were central to the making of the festival, this book tells the story from inspiration to celebration, capturing all the magic, mayhem, and mud in between.

Back to the Garden: The Story of Woodstock by Pete Fornatale (Hardcover, 336 pages)

(from the publisher) Back to the Garden celebrates the music and the spirit of Woodstock through original interviews with some of the era's biggest musical stars, as well as those who participated in the festival.

Woodstock: Three Days that Rocked the World by Mike Evans

(from the publisher) With interviews and quotes from those who were there, along with photographs and graphic memorabilia, "Woodstock" is the ultimate celebration of a landmark in modern cultural history.

Young men with Unlimited Capital: The Story of Woodstock by Joel Rosenman.

(from the publisher) It started with this ad, placed by Joel Rosenman and John Roberts as a way to find interesting work after college. It led Rosenman and Roberts to stage a gathering that changed the face of popular culture: the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969. Woodstock is rightly remembered as the pivotal event that united a generation, but the behind-the-scenes story is less utopian--and absolutely fascinating.

Woodstock: An Inside Look at the Movie that Shook Up the World and Defined a Generation by Dale Bell

(from the publisher) This unique book is a collection of remembrances and perceptions from the filmmakers, performers and festival producers who created the Academy Award-winning film that defined a generation. 100 photos.

On Film

Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace & Music Director's Cut (40th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition DVD) Coming soon!

(from the publisher) Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock - Three Days of Peace & Music finds the best rock stars of the 1960s performing at the historic Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the most celebrated rock concert of all time. Shot over the course of three days in August 1969, the film conveys the unique spirit of the once-in-a-lifetime, communal event, and in turn, captures the mood of an entire era. Amazingly volatile, electrifying performances are included by such timeless artists as Richie Havens; Joan Baez; The Who; Sha Na Na; Joe Cocker; Country Joe and The Fish; Arlo Guthrie; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Ten Years After; Santana; Sly and the Family Stone; Jimi Hendrix; Canned Heat; John Sebastian; Jefferson Airplane; and Janis Joplin. In addition to the music, the film's historical relevance is what makes it such an important time capsule, thrillingly eternalizing the legendary event for generations to come. This digitally remastered, widescreen director's cut of the Academy Award-winning documentary features 40 minutes of footage not included in the original film, and was released in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the legendary music festival.

Woodstock - The original 1970 film on 2 videocassettes (184 min.).

Select documentary footage of the 1969 Woodstock rock music festival.

Woodstock : the lost performances – 1 videocassette (69 min.)

(from the catalog record) When the 20th anniversary of the festival neared, archivists set out to find what remained of the 120 miles of film exposed on the project. What they found is cause for an all-new celebration - more great Woodstock performances, some by artists not seen in the original release.

Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock 2 DVDs

(from the catalog record) This presentation features all of the existing film footage from Jimi's unforgettable August 1969 Woodstock concert newly re-edited and presented uninterrupted and in its original performance sequence.


Woodstock Festival


Willy Deville and Mike Seeger

The music world lost two of its favorite veterans last weekend.

Willy Deville

Willy Deville was a singer and songwriter, whose 35-year career produced a significant body of work that was revered by a legion of faithful fans, especially in Europe. His band, Mink Deville, was a mainstay at New York’s legendary club, CBGB. In 1980, critic Robert Palmer wrote this of Deville in the New York Times; “He embodies (New York’s) tangle of cultural contradictions while making music that's both idiomatic, in the broadest sense, and utterly original.” Deville passed away on August 6th. He was 58.

Mike Seeger

A half-brother of folk legend Pete Seeger and brother of renowned folk artist Peggy Seeger, Mike Seeger was himself an inspiring songwriter, performer and folklorist. Co-founder of the New Lost City Ramblers, Seeger received six Grammy nominations, and influenced a generation of faithful followers, including Bob Dylan. Seeger passed away on August 7th at the age of 75.


Mike Seeger - Southern Banjo Sounds

Whistling Song Bird

Andrew Bird’s music is in many ways unremarkable, in the sense that he like so many other musicians working today, crafts quirky, folk-pop with lyrics that strike you as urbane and literary. What differentiates Bird’s sundry brand of high-indie folk within this excessively saturated genre, packed full of overhyped, one-dimensional signer songwriters, stems from his classical music training, specifically his employment of the violin and other non-traditional rock and roll instrumentation (whistling and glockenspiel e.g.). Such an eclectic background provides Bird’s music with so much more compositional depth and textural nuance than his contemporary peers. Sample some of Bird’s material in this video clip at Pitchfork Media. If you’re a fan, Bird is slated to play the Kalamazoo State Theater on October 18th.


Noble beast [sound recording]

Regina Spektor

If there’s a common thread running through most of my favorite music, I would have to say that it’s the piano.  I love nothing more than rock/pop songs laden with piano, so of course I love Regina Spektor's music.  Russian-born, Brooklyn-raised Spektor composes songs around the piano and pairs them with her oscillating vocals and narrative lyrics to create a distinctive, fun sound.  I often hear her described as quirky, but that simple interpretation of her music undermines her classical training and complexity of sound. Her latest album, Far, explores themes of alienation in daily life.  I enjoy it immensely, though I am fonder of her previous two albums, pop masterpiece Begin to Hope and folk-infused Soviet Kitsch.



Obscure But Influential

Before well known groups like WilcoNeko CaseRyan 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 ByrdsThe Flying Burrito BrothersGram 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

Doomed Romantic

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

It’s (Still) a Shame About Ray

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 PixiesDinosaur 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

Recorded Treasures by the Boxful

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 ArmstrongJoe 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

django-reinhardt-contents-240.jpgMosaic 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

Kalamazoo Blues Festival

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/CaronMike Espy & Yakety YakTarbox RamblersFruteland JacksonCoco Robicheaux & Dave Easley 

Friday – BluesTime BandLeft Paul Trio6 Hands DownStacy MitchhartReba RussellJimmy ThackeryOut of Favor Boys 

Saturday – Garage Band 101, Fatt LappNomad WillyThirsty PerchBlue Heaven, Left Turn Blues Band, Chris Canas BandCrossroads The ResurrectionDelta MoonLarry McCraySista MonicaSmokin’ Joe KubekBlue 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 musichidden treasuresblueslocal artists, and lots more music


16th Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival

Neko Case

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.


Middle cyclone

Metric Measures Up

I'm currently listening to the latest from Metric--Fantasies. The variety of moods and the voice of Emily Haines will catch your attention from the first track to the last. I had the pleasure of seeing her perform live and she's as good in person as she is in the studio. Give her a listen and you'll be pleased you did.


Fantasies by Metric

King of Pop - The Thriller is Gone

The recent death of Michael Jackson of a reported heart attack at the age of 50 will undoubtedly cause a storm of crazy stories about his life. Before we are drowning in such tales, I wanted to reflect upon one of the greatest albums of all time, Thriller. No matter how you felt about R&B at the time this album was released, you became a convert to Jackson's ability to bring together that style of music with rock, pop, dance and soul. Jackson was one of the artist who ushered in a new age in music in which artists did not feel confined to a particular style. Others were allowing other types of music to creep into their songs, but the infectious grooves of Thriller blasted through the standard conventions.

I was into roller skating when Thriller was released and I cannot remember a skating session that did not include four to five tracks from the album. Can you honestly say there is a weak song? Even today when most look through their music collection they may have only one R&B record and chances are it is Thriller. Last year I played some tracks for my daughters and they were mesmerized.

What were you doing in your life when Thriller was released? Rest in peace King of Pop and thanks for the music.



In Concert: Culture

Kalamazoo’s annual Island Festival always features some of the finest reggae acts in the world. This year’s festival features a very special performance – Saturday night, Jamaica’s legendary roots reggae harmony trio Culture takes the festival stage. Creators of dozens of brilliant singles and long players since their formation in the 1970’s, they would be hailed as legends even if they’d never released anything beyond their very first LP, Two Sevens Clash, widely considered one of reggae’s true masterworks.

Culture’s lead vocalist Joseph Hill wrote the title track after having a vision of the year 1977 being a year of judgment on Earth (based on prophecies made by Marcus Garvey). A devout Rastafarian (along with his fellow band mates), Hill translated his vision of apocalypse into a song which became a massive hit in his home country in the early part of ‘77. So profound was its effect on listeners that, on July 7th, 1977 – the day of all sevens clashing - many Jamaican businesses stayed closed, and residents refused to leave their homes for fear of being swept up in the coming apocalypse. Though the infectious bounce of the song’s groove and its joyous musical hooks might strike non-believers as running counter to the subject matter, the celebratory sound really underscores the message of liberation that followers of Rastafari believe will come at the world’s end. That mixture of devotional lyricism and upbeat music and rhythm flows throughout every song included on the album.

Though Joseph Hill has passed on, his son Kenyatta has taken his place as Culture’s lead vocalist, alongside original harmony vocalists Albert Walker and Telford Nelson. Kenyatta has proven to be as dynamic a stage presence as his father, so Culture’s legacy will surely continue to grow, even as Two Sevens Clash has already guaranteed their place in the pantheon of reggae greats.


Two Sevens Clash

Clannad (The Essence of Family)

Members of the Irish band Clannad have been making music individually and collectively since the mid-1970’s. Deeply rooted in traditional Irish and Celtic folk tradition, Clannad (Gaelic for “the family from Dore”) have expanded over the years to define the contemporary Irish genre. Purists will recall the aural simplicity of their early albums, which were very much in the vein of such contemporaries as Pentangle and Planxty. Their scope (and popularity) expanded greatly over the years, however, to include elements of worldbeat, jazz, adult contemporary, new age, pop, and progressive rock. U2 fans were introduced to Clannad during the mid-80’s when the haunting “Theme from Harry’s Game” was used as a concert pre-show opener. The same tune was later featured the film Patriot Games. The current popularity of Irish mega-shows like “Riverdance” (and Flatley’s spinnoff “Lord of the Dance”), Celtic Woman, and others owe much to Clannad’s groundbreaking work.

From the KPL collection, their Grammy Award winning Landmarks (1997) is typical of the latter-day Clannad style, combining elements of Irish folk with contemporary jazz and pop themes – think Sting meets Dire Straits somewhere in County Kerry. After nearly a decade of independent projects, the original members of Clannad reunited for a brief UK tour in 2008 and are reportedly working on a new album.

brennan-whisper-100.jpgApart from the collective Clannad, individual members have achieved a significant degree of success on their own. Lead singer Moya Brennan (Máire Ní Bhraonáin) has achieved a great deal of acclaim as a contemporary vocalist. Máire’s style very much mirrors the band,  but further emphasizes her lush vocal harmonies. From the KPL catalog, Whisper to the Wild Water is a terrific place to start.

enya-watermark-100.jpgAnd in case Máire Brennan's voice and cover image seem somehow familiar, rest assured, there’s good reason. Though she left Clannad early on to pursue a solo career, Máire’s sister Enya (Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) should be no stranger to anyone who is a fan of contemporary Celtic music. KPL holds the majority of Enya’s solo works, including Paint the Sky with Stars, a compilation released in 1997. Call me old school, but for me, Watermark (1988) still remains the essential (quintessential?) Enya recording.

Bain sult as. (Enjoy!)


"Landmarks" by Clannad

The Soul of Seal

Though Seal’s most recent album, Soul, was released late last year, it took months for any of its cuts – all covers of soul standards from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s - to get any substantial radio play. In recent weeks, Seal’s cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ classic slow jam “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” has become a fixture on some stations’ airwaves, introducing a new generation of listeners to one of the most heartfelt lover's pleas of understanding ever put into a pop song.

The arrangement on Seal’s version lacks the lush orchestration Gamble and Huff provided the Blue Notes on their 1972 version, but the more stripped-down arrangement (reminiscent of a previous hit revival of the tune in 1989 by Simply Red) still captures the romantic essence carved into the groove of original hit. While not as intense as Blue Notes lead vocalist Teddy Pendergrass’ aching reading of the song, Seal’s unmistakeable vocal does the song justice, his soaring lead cushioned by the accompanying vocalists’ hushed, close-harmony refrains.

Anyone unfamiliar with the original versions of the songs contained on Soul should find the collection to be a decent soul primer. Seal and his production team do a fine job with the interpretations, which are all generally faithful to the original arrangements, though none of them are a patch on the originals – when you’re covering the likes of Sam CookeCurtis Mayfield, and Al Green, it must be understood it’s no contest. Still, with such an impeccable song selection, voiced by such a charismatic performer as Seal, Soul is a collection worth hearing beyond its breakout hit - especially if it leads listeners to the original sources.



Cream at Royal Albert Hall

The mere mention of a “reunion concert” makes me cringe. Far too often, we find ourselves subjected to lackluster performances by well-past-their-prime performers who go through the motions for all the wrong reasons – ego, nostalgia, and yep… lots o’ money. Others seem to prefer the Townshend/Daltrey school of perpetual goodbyes and make virtual careers out of “farewell” performances – equally or perhaps even more disappointing.

Happily, Cream’s brief reunion in 2005 departs sharply from both of these stereotypes. Recorded at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall (nearly four decades after the band’s “farewell concert” in the same noble venue), the enthusiastic, if not star studded audiences are treated to compelling run-throughs of all the expected rock radio anthems – “Badge,” “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” the live standards – “Sweet Wine,” “Spoonful,” “Sleepy Time Time,” plus a few pleasant surprises – “We're Going Wrong,” “Stormy Monday,” and a delightful version of “Pressed Rat and Warthog.” Like watching three veteran scholars rather than mere relics of some bye-gone era, BruceBaker and Clapton mesh like the finely skilled craftsmen they are.

But what makes this set particularly enjoyable is director Martyn Atkins’ no-frills approach to the visuals. The filming is superb as one might expect, yet the clean and unpretentious production leaves it feeling uncluttered and genuine. Interview segments add interest and context, but are quite thankfully kept separate from the performance footage, which gives the film the spontaneous feel of a historical document, rather than a contrived montage of multiple overlays and retakes so typical of “superstar” concert films. Nice!

So, just for fun, here is “White Room” from Royal Albert Hall, 26 November 1968…


And the same track from the same venue in on 3 May 2005…

Alas, after just four shows in London and three in New York, “pressed rat and warthog have closed down their shop. They didnt want to; twas all they had got.”


Cream, Royal Albert Hall, London 05

Jelly Roll Morton

Sometimes you listen for fun, other times you listen to learn. The Library of Congress recordings of Jelly Roll Morton offers a little bit of both – actually a LOT of both. Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax is an amazing eight disk set, which presents for the first time, the complete recordings (including the spoken word segments) fully restored, speed corrected and remastered, along with a series of interviews and performances from 1949 conducted again by Alan Lomax, exploring the roots of jazz with Morton’s contemporaries. Rounder has long been acclaimed for presenting traditional American music with great attention to detail, and this is certiainly no exception. With 128 tracks in all, the set includes lavish liner notes, photos, letters, notes and more in both printed and digital form.

Recorded in 1938, these recordings offer more than nine hours of music and conversation with one of the self-proclaimed inventors of “jazz, stomps and swing.” Aside from great spontaneous performances of early jazz, ragtime classics, and a little dose of “them dirty blues” (hence the parental advisory), Morton tells the stories behind many of these tunes, and describes the people who inspired them. In what is perhaps one of the first true oral histories, it’s a fascinating first-hand account of the evolution of popular music, told (and played) by someone who not only witnessed it, but actually lived and breathed it. The following dialog is typical and opens the set…

”When I was down on the Gulf Coast in nineteen-four, I missed going to the St. Louis Exposition to get in the piano contest, which was won by Alfred Wilson of New Orleans. I was very much disgusted because I thought I should have gone. I thought Tony Jackson was gonna be there, and of course that kind of frightened me. But I knew I could have taken Alfred Wilson. So then I decided that I would, uh, travel about different little spots. Of course I was down in Biloxi, Mississippi, during the time. I used to often freq— frequent the Flat Top, which was nothing but a old honky-tonk, where nothing but the blues were played. There was fellows around played the blues like Brocky Johnny, Skinny Head Pete, Old Florida Sam, and Tricky Sam, and that bunch.” (excerpt from The Story of “I’m Alabama Bound”)

How fortunate we are to have documents such as this, which allow us to explore the roots of contemporary music and culture. It’s a fascinating set and well worth the time.


Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax

Big Blue Ball

Big Blue Ball began in the early 1990s as a collaborative project between Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger (World Party, Waterboys). The project draws from three separate recording sessions (1991, 1992, 1995) at Peter’s Real World Studios, a two hundred year old watermill in Wiltshire, UK, which has been converted to a state of the art recording studio. 75 artists from 20 countries participated in the famed Recording Weeks at Real World, with the idea of bringing artists together from a wide variety of cultures to find common ground through collaborative writing and performing. These sessions, all painstakingly recorded though without a clear project in mind, were essentially swept under the rug as other projects took priority. The tapes finally saw the light of day during a studio “house cleaning” project and were at last released just last year on Real World Records (distributed domestically by Ryko).

According to Peter, “The Big Blue Ball was a working name for a project that would pull in elements from all around the world. The title came from listening to an astronaut describe his experience of looking back at the earth. All other divisions seemed ridiculous and arbitrary, because there’s the planet, the whole thing — and that idea seemed to make a lot of sense for this project.” In an interview for NPR last year, Peter went on to add, “...there were musicians from all over the world — songwriters, poets, all thrown together — and all sorts of connections happened.”

Akin to scope and spirit of WOMAD, the result is a diverse musical landscape with a uniquely lush blend of styles – vocals (America, UK, Congo), percussion (Japan, Senegal), strings (Egypt), flutes (China), you name it — musicians from Ireland to Budapest, Alabama to Tanzania, writing and performing simply for the sheer joy of it. Funny, isn’t it? How despite our differences, we all seem to speak the same language after all? If you’re a fan of complexly layered rhythms and interestingly diverse instrumentation, you won’t be disappointed.

And if simply listening isn't enough, you're invited to add your own spin to one of the tracks from Big Blue Ball, "Exit Through You," via Real World Remixed. Simply visit the Real World Remixed site, download the specially prepared multi-track samples, add your own vocals, backing tracks, instrumentation, whatever, then upload your version back to the Remixed site for all the world to hear and comment on. What a small, flat, wonderful and exciting world it is.


Big Blue Ball

Summertime Tunes

Here is my Best of Summer list of 10 great albums to listen to while the wind runs through your hair and you trek westward to Lake Michigan’s beautiful coast for fun under the sun. What do you like to listen to when the Coppertone goes on thick and your wayfarers solidify your cool?

  1. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
  2. Summerteeth by Wilco
  3. Weezer by Weezer
  4. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain by Pavement
  5. Bug by Dinosaur Jr. 
  6. The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips 
  7. Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys
  8. Once We Were Trees by Beachwood Sparks 
  9. Rubber Soul by The Beatles 
  10. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy


Pet Sounds

Miles from India

Searching through the music section at Central Library is akin to a treasure hunt – no matter how many times you’ve visited, there always seems to be something new and exciting lurking in the shadows just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Miles from India, a double set from last year that features the music of (and inspired by) Miles Davis performed by a cross-section of Miles’ alumni in collaboration with some of the top musicians from India. The result is (as the cover states) “a cross-cultural celebration of the music of Miles Davis.”

Miles was greatly moved by music from other cultures. Non-Western influences permeated his music at every stage of his career. Miles constantly seemed to pull new ideas and sounds from around the globe and blend them into something unique and new. From his earliest recordings with ‘Bird’ in the 40’s, through seminal sessions over the following four decades, Miles took his music to the world, then brought it back to us in ways we had never heard before (or since, for that matter). Miles in Tokyo, Miles in Berlin, in Warsaw, in Paris, in SwedenFilles de KilimanjaroAghartaNefertitiSketches of Spain, On the Corner

Miles from India is a remarkable effort. Recorded November 2006-July 2007 and nominated for a Grammy in 2008, the sessions gather more than a dozen members of Miles’ bands, including Gary Bartz, Ron CarterChick Corea, Michael Henderson, Dave LiebmanJohn McLaughlinMarcus MillerWallace RoneyMike SternLenny White (you get the idea…).  Add to this an all-star lineup of key players of traditional and contemporary music from India and mix thoroughly at the skillful hands of Grammy Award winning producer Bob Belden (with executive producer Yusuf Gandhi) and you get more than two hours of surprisingly essential world fusion. (There’s a good article on PRI about the project, including an interview with Gandhi.)

And the really nice thing about this set... it comes off feeling authentic and real, not like some sort of cheap imitation. In my opinion, Miles would have loved this record, and that alone should say enough.

Here’s a clip of the album's opening track, “Spanish Key,” right from Bob Belden himself. Recorded last summer in LA (at a concert produced by Yusuf Gandhi and Bob Belden), it features some hauntingly Miles-drenched trumpet by Wallace Roney



Miles from India

In Concert: Bryan Adams

One can only imagine the number of people who’ll be reliving their first dance as bride and groom, or remembering a special prom night, as they listen to Bryan Adams perform some of his best-known ballads during a special acoustic performance tonight at the State Theater.

Though the Canadian singer-songwriter’s initial leather-jacketed rocker image was well suited for stadium anthems such as “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Run to You”, the popularity of his breakthough hit “Straight from the Heart” was a sign that music fans would treasure his ballads most of all. No one anywhere near a radio in 1991 (or at many a wedding reception in the years since) could escape hearing his biggest hit, the Grammy-winning “(Everything I Do) I Do it for You” (written for the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), in heavy rotation. While his musical repertoire encompasses much more than slow-dance classics (1983’s power-poppy “This Time” is a guilty pleasure of mine), it’s his love songs that ensure his musical legacy will endure.

Speaking of legacies – Adams’ reputation as a world-class photographer is growing, and his philanthropic work through his Bryan Adams Foundation has helped millions in the international community. Heard in light of this philanthropy, the meanings of his love songs move from the personal to the universal – so tonight, joining a live audience to hear, and maybe sing along with, those classic ballads, should make for a special moment to join with others that Adams’ music has already scored for so many.


The Best of Me

Pat Metheny on a Day Trip

Day Trip, along with its companion live EP, Tokyo Day Trip, finds guitarist Pat Metheny returning to a trio format with a new lineup, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez.  McBride, Rolling Stone’s “Hot Jazz Artist” in 1992, has worked with a who’s who of jazz greats - Freddie HubbardRay BrownPat Martino, and George Duke, to name but a few. Antonio Sanchez is no slouch either, having performed with the likes of Chick CoreaMichael BreckerJoshua RedmanJohn PatitucciDavid SanchezPaquito D'RiveraCharlie Haden, and Toots Thielmans. Sanchez is also part of Metheny’s newer quartet, along with Gary Burton and Steve Swallow.

I ran onto both of these titles in Kev’s Decibel Decisions list - a pleasing discovery, indeed. Day Trip is strait forward traditional trio work, recorded in New York on a single day in October, 2005. Smooth and innovative... polished, but creatively edgy. The session runs Metheny’s usual gamut of styles, from acoustic ballads to prog-laced electric fusion. Standouts for me are “The Red One” and Calvin’s Keys,” but there’s not a throwaway in the bunch - a very satisfying journey.

And… if the studio session leaves you wishing for more, there’s a live companion EP, actually recorded at the end of 2004 in Tokyo prior to the studio session. Like its counterpart, there are a couple of lovely acoustic ballads, some straight-forward fusion (imagine Metheny meets Crimson in Thrak-land) and some inspired material more reminiscent of his PMG work. Again, well worth the time.


Day Trip

Fork in the Road

If you’re looking for yet another sequel to Harvest or Comes a Time, forget it, this certainly isn’t it. But that's not a bad thing by any means. Much like Living with War (and even reminiscent at times of Tonight’s the Night and On the Beach), Neil Young's latest, Fork in the Road, is raw and immediate - straight forward, guitar driven songs about his car, driving, greed, and hope for a better world. Archetypal Neil - probably not for everyone... but isn’t that what makes Neil Young “Neil Young?” You can go along for the ride and always find something unexpected and provokingly beautiful. Or, skip the latest journey and continue waiting by the roadside for the Neil Young Archives (now scheduled for June release). He doesn’t mind either way.

LinkVolt automobileBut “Just singing a song won’t change the world,” he tells us. Indeed, there’s a much different sort of project being worked on in the garage. At the heart of Fork in the Road is Neil’s renovated 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible, LincVolt, a quirky (you expect otherwise?) hybrid. According the LincVolt site, the goal was to create a full-size zero emissions automobile using established technologies in new ways. The result is 2½ tons of vintage iron that’s being designed to run on clean power. The car has even been entered in the Automotive X Prize competition and will race along with more than 100 others from California to Washington D.C. in 2010.

So, are you up for a drive? In a newly produced online film, Get Around, Neil offers the opportunity to pre“view” the entire album for free on his website. Watch along as Neil takes listeners on a 43 minute cross-country drive in LincVolt while singing along with the all of the songs from the album. Then check out the CD from our ever-expanding Music Department and enjoy the ride.

Here’s Neil “Just Singing a Song” from MSN... Fill 'er up!


Fork in the Road


Cobain in Kalamazoo

John Liberty's Gazette blog entry for today made me appreciate what was lost 15 years ago when Kurt Cobain died. I remember where I was when I was told the news and I am thankful to this day that I got to see Nirvana live before that day. Go home and give Nevermind another listen--it's as good as you remember it.



Raphael Saadiq: See It Now!

When Raphael Saadiq’s The Way I See It first burst through our stereo speakers, my wife thought I’d accidentally put in one of my ‘60’s Motown collections. Not so, but Saadiq’s production style on this, his fourth solo LP, so faithfully recreates the sounds of mid-to-late ‘60’s Northern Soul that it’s easy to believe it’s a lost masterpiece from the vaults of Brunswick or Philly Groove.

It’s not just the production that echoes the best vintage soul – it’s the groove-inducing songs, all straight from the pen of Saadiq himself (only a handful being co-writes). While a flourish or two may be lifted wholesale from an R’n’B classic (the chromatic string ascensions and descensions of "Just One Kiss" - a duet with Joss Stone - come straight from the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination”), no tunes sound like blatant steals. Influences are deftly blended, so that a song like “Keep Marchin’” brings to mind the vocal stylings of the Impressions, singing socially conscious lyrics a la Curtis Mayfield, backed by the Funk Brothers as produced by Smokey Robinson.

The former lead singer of New Jack Swing legends Tony! Toni! Toné! hasn’t totally escaped the modern world – a bonus track remix of “Oh Girl” (not the Chi-Lites smash) features Jay-Z, and there’s a polish on the recording that doesn’t scream retro the way Daptone’s gut-bucket productions do. As yesterday as they sound, in mining older styles, Saadiq reintroduces his audience to sounds no longer so ubiquitous on the radio as in their heyday, which makes them fresh again. For those who never knew what all the fuss was about, The Way I See It may even sound like the future of soul. As long as Saadiq keeps making records, that future can last as long as it wants.


The Way I See It

Franz Ferdinand: Tonight, Today and Tomorrow

Franz Ferdinand: Tonight is the third release from the Scottish alt-rockers and is a slight departure from their previous CDs which established them as one of the up and coming indie acts. You will still find some tracks that will remind you of their previous efforts but you will also find some disco-dance-infused tracks that are a pleasant surprise. Take Tonight out and turn it up because it is best listened to in the car on a weekend night! If you have seen the new iPod commercial you may have already heard "No You Girls." Other standout tracks include "Lucid Dreams" and "Ulysses."


Franz Ferdinand: Tonight

Just one more Best of 2008 list...

Every year Young Adult author, David Levithan (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist) asks his friends to list their favorite music (CDs and songs) of the previous year. I truly enjoy the list because someone always mentions something I missed. The winner in 2008 was the debut by Vampire Weekend. The Top Ten also included Fleet FoxesBon IverSigur Ros, and Portishead. Since it is the 10th Anniversary of the "David Music Poll" he asked each of us to also list our Top Ten in the past ten years. Check out all the selections at the David Music Poll Blog. Scroll to the bottom to find my selections. 


Vampire Weekend

The Day the Music Survived

It’s been half a century since a plane carrying musicians Buddy HollyRitchie Valens, J. P. Richardson (aka “the Big Bopper”), and pilot Roger Peterson crashed in an Iowa cornfield, killing all aboard the flight. February 3, 1959, has become known as “the day the music died”, due in no small part to Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie”, which lamented rock history’s strange twists and turns in the wake of those rock pioneers’ deaths.

The music never really died, though. While many of rock’s originators fell off the charts in the years immediately following that fateful flight, they never fell out of favor with fans who kept the spirit of the original rock'n'roll sound alive. Many of those fans began their own bands, most notably the leading lights of the British Invasion, who acknowledged their idols’ influence (and in the case of the Rolling Stones’ cover of Holly’s “Not Fade Away”, had a hit) and infused rock ‘n’ roll with a new vitality. Film bios of Holly and Valens turned up decades after their passing, and were huge box office sensations. Holly was among the very first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Today’s youngest rock fans might have more to learn about these rock pioneers than those of us who grew up with them on our radios and in our record collections, but their impact on today’s rock – no matter how different it looks and sounds from the original source - can’t be denied. In fact, Buddy Holly showed up on the Juno soundtrack not so long ago, and he sounded right at home alongside Kimya Dawson and Belle and Sebastian. Living proof... the music survives.


The Buddy Holly Story

Campbell on my Mind

When a CD title asks you to “meet” an artist you’ve known for three or four decades (unless it's a reissue or a tribute to Meet the Beatles), you can guess the artist is getting an artistic makeover, upping their “hip" quotient, attracting new listeners and allowing old fans to hear the performer with fresh ears.

In a sense, that’s what’s happening on Meet Glen Campbell, the latest release by the veteran country/pop star and ace guitarist (as a session musician in the early ‘60’s, he was reportedly earning up to 10 grand a week). Scanning the track listing – here’s a Lou Reed Velvets cover, there’s a Foo Fighters hit – one might think the recording is a stripped-down affair, akin to Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series, revealing the raw essence of an artist thought to be past their prime.

It’s the songs, though, that get the makeovers. Awash in orchestral arrangements, the new productions recall the Jimmy Webb-penned evergreens  (“By the Time I Get to Phoenix”“Wichita Lineman”) that made Campbell a star in the late '60's. Being mostly ballads, the songs aren’t being stretched beyond recognition (in some cases, as with the cover of U2’s “All I Want is You”, the string settings are familiar), but once you hear Campbell’s voice, unravaged by time, delivering those songs in the florid baroque pop style that held its own against the psychedelic rock revolution (what sounds more dated now?), you may forget the originals exist, or weren’t written with Campbell in mind.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Billie Joe Armstrong or Paul Westerberg – if you’ve been a fan of Glen Campbell, this is the return to form you’ve been waiting for (or never expected). If you really don’t know Glen Campbell… well, this is as good a chance to meet him as any.


Meet Glen Campbell

45 at 45: I Want to Hold Your Hand

45 years ago, the Beatles hit number 1 on the U.S. singles charts for the first time (and certainly not the last) with “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, an irresistible pop confection that threw young fans into fits of ecstasy, and prepared a nation for rock and roll’s British Invasion (which had its own influences in sounds born in America, from girl group grooves to Motown’s “Sound of Young America”).

The tune wasn’t the first Beatles single released in America – a few of their 1963 UK smashes, rejected by their label’s stateside subsidiary Capitol, had been licensed to smaller labels, which weren’t able to break the tunes in the U.S... that is, until after Capitol decided to bank on the Fab Four with a massive promotional campaign for “Hand” and its parent LP, Meet the Beatles.

The campaign worked, in tandem with the band’s February appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and a whirlwind tour of the east coast. By spring, a nation that had barely heard of the Beatles on New Year’s Day wouldn’t be able to ignore them anytime soon.



First Dance: At Last

In 1961 - the year President Obama was born - Etta James scored a huge crossover hit with “At Last”, a ballad that had been written in the 1940’s for the film Orchestra Wives, and had been covered by numerous crooners before “Peaches” made her version the definitive reading.

James’ hit version was recorded for Chess, the legendary record label headquartered in the city in which Barack Obama would later begin his political career. The Chess story was dramatized (and fictionalized) for the 2008 film Cadillac Records. In one scene, Etta James - played by Beyoncé Knowles - wows the Chess staff with her rendition of the song that would send her star soaring.

During Obama's first inaugural ball, Beyoncé encored her spot-on cover of this romantic classic as our new president and First Lady Michelle danced in celebration. It didn't matter that the musical moment was taking place in Washington, D.C. - it was Chicago casting its spell over all those taking part in the moment.


Love Songs

My Top Ten of 2008, Part 3

I apologize for taking so long to post the final four of my Top Ten CDs of 2008. Since my last installment I was thrilled to discover that two of my colleagues blogged about two other fabulous CDs from 2008 that did not crack my list, Fleet Foxes and TV on the Radio. Other CDs worth checking out from 2008 include efforts from She & HimBob DylanConor OberstCut CopyGirl Talk and The Hold Steady.

4. Blitzen Trapper, Furr – The best “campfire” CD of the year. This Portland, Oregon band spins yarns of men turning into wolves and serial killers with music reminiscent of Neil Young recording with the guys from Elephant Six. This is music that could quite possibly define the sound of the early 21st century. Best Tracks – “Sleepytime in the Western World,” “Gold for Bread,” “Furr,” “Black River Killer,” “War on Machines”

3. Flight of the Conchords, Flight of the Conchords – How could you not love a duo that calls themselves the, "4th most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo" in New Zealand? Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement are not only hilarious but also very talented musicians and songwriters. On their debut CD they pay homage to Marvin GayePet Shop BoysRadiohead, and David Bowie without becoming carbon copies. Best Tracks – “Inner City Pressure,” “Think About It,” “Robots,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” “Business Time”

2. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend – Early in 2008, the debut full-length CD from this preppy band from New York City was on the verge of being over-hyped. I jumped on the wagon early and never found a reason to jump off. This CD has the feel of early Police with a flavor of Paul Simon’s Graceland which many of the critics called “Afro-pop.” The lyrics are smart and the tunes are filled with exuberant hooks that will keep you bouncing in your seat for days. A CD destined to become a classic. Best Tracks – “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “M79,” “Campus,” “One (Blake’s Got a New Face),” “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”

1. Los Campesinos! – Hold on Now, Youngster - My personal favorite CD of 2008 is ironically a CD that I totally missed ordering for the collection (don’t worry it is now on order). The band’s moniker is Spanish for “the farmers” or “the peasants” but they possess a sound that is more fitting for a spastic indie-punk party than a simple, backwoods music circle. It is tough to pinpoint their sound, but I have tried by saying that if you put The New PornographersArt BrutThe Decemberists and Architecture in Helsinki in a blender you would get a sound similar to this seven piece band from Wales. It is almost cliché to say that a band is “hyper-literate” but it is a description, along with hilarious, energetic, and talented, that best fits Los Campesinos! Check them out for yourself on February 10th in Grand Rapids. Best Tracks – “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats,” “Death to Los Campesinos!,” “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s),” “You! Me! Dancing!,” “..And We Exhale and Roll Our Eyes in Unison”

I look forward to the music coming in 2009 and your comments about my list!


Hold on Now, Youngster...

Recent Listening

Not surprisingly, in the time I've worked at the library, I've become a much more regular library patron than I used to be, particularly for print materials.  Only recently however, have I begun to take more frequent advantage of KPL's growing music collection.  My own taste in music has always been somewhat electic and I love being able to check out a CD by an artist I haven't heard before to decide if it's something I would be interested in purchasing.  I've also enjoyed reading on this blog about what my colleagues are listening to and I look forward to checking out some of their recommendations.  In fact, I was happy to see that one or two of my own favorites have already been the subject of previous posts on this blog.  Right now, my own playlist includes: The WeepiesShelby LynneFall Out BoyDarius RuckerAlison KraussFleet FoxesJason MrazNeil Diamond (it's a blast from my past listening to him again!), Regina Spektor, and an occasional Broadway soundtrack.   

Another good way to learn about new music is by subscribing to NPR's Song of the Day


Say I Am You

Ron Asheton (1949 - 2009)

The sad news came yesterday that Ron Asheton, founding member of the seminal proto-punk rock band The Stooges and Michigan native, had been found dead in his Ann Arbor home. Asheton, along with his brother Scott and enigmatic singer Iggy Pop, formed The Stooges in the late 1960's as an aggressive reaction to the flowery psychedelic rock that was popular at the time. Their sound was brash and raw and would help pave the way for the entire punk rock movement to happen later in the 1970's. The Stooges would break up in 1973-74 after recording the seminal album Raw Power, but thrilled fans when they reunited in 2003. Sadly, with Asheton's death, that reunion has now come to an end. 


Ron Asheton

Little Voice

I recently received Little Voice by Sara Bareilles as a gift. You've probably heard her peppy "Love Song" on the radio but the album goes far beyond that. Her not-so-little voice has a wide range and the songs vary in mood from shiny and happy to moody and dark. Something for every ear!


Little Voice

Dear Science,

Even though I didn’t really get to listen to it until the first day of 2009 and although our taste in music usually aligns pretty well, I have to respectfully disagree with my colleague’s assessment and say that the record that tops my “best of 2008” list is Dear Science, by the amazing TV on the RadioDear Science, is catchier and more accessible on first listen but similar to the bands previous Return to Cookie Mountain, in that TVOTR hide their vast array of influences (I hear some Fela Kuti on “Red Dress”, I hear a slight Off The Wall era Michael Jackson influence on “Golden Age”, there is an early Elvis Costello thing happening on yet another track, it goes on and on) under rich textures and an inventiveness that reveals more with each subsequent listen.


TV on the Radio