Staff Picks: Music
One of the best alt-country CDs of 2012 was Rhett Miller’s, The Dreamer. Miller, the longtime front man of the Old 97’s, has once again proven that he is one of the best songwriters in music. What I love best about Miller’s solo material is that he is not afraid to dabble in many different music styles, like power pop and folk. The Dreamer is pure alt-country and closer to a new Old 97’s record than his previous releases.
The first track “Lost Without You” starts slow then picks up with a twangy edge that mixes perfectly with Miller’s voice. The song “Out of Love” blends aspects of power pop with the unmistakable instrumentation of bluegrass. “As Close As I Came to Being Right,” a duet with the great Rosanne Cash, is as close as you can get to a perfect alt-country love song. Miller is an underrated talent that deserves more accolades for his contributions.
After listening to The Dreamer you will realize that at its core, Miller has crafted a letter to the idea of love in all its forms. Check it out and treat yourself to a late Valentine.
Rhett Miller - The Dreamer
I have always been a big
Norah Jones fan. She is one of the few artists to
have passed a tough test in my household: I can play Come away with me in my alarm clock every morning to
wake me up and I still enjoy the CD. There are not many CDs
that stand up to this test. So you can understand my pleasure
when I discovered a Norah Jones CD that I hadn't heard before in
the KPL collection. It's called Featuring and is a CD of duets and collaborations between
Jones and a wide variety of singers and musical groups. And
when I say "variety", I mean it! This CD is so neat in that
it showcases how versatile Jones is with her distinctive and
soulful voice pairing her with artists and groups such as
Ray Charles, the
Foo Fighters, and
The CD starts strong with a track from
The Little Willies. Jones and friends formed The Little
Willies in 2003 and came out with their second album For the Good Times in 2012. (You can also find
them on another excellent CD in the library's
collection: Putumayo presents Americana. It's bound to put you
in a good mood!) I was unfamiliar with Sasha Dobson prior to
this CD, but her duet, Bull Rider, is
fantastic! I have requested her CD through MeLCat and look
forward to become more acquainted with her music. Halfway
through the CD, Jones and friends adopt a totally different style
in Take Off Your Cool with
Outkast, Life is Better with
Q-Tip, and Soon the New Day with
Talib Kweli. A few songs later, there is a duet with Ray
Charles…need I say more? Who doesn't like Ray Charles??
But then, in my humble opinion, the CD reaches its pinnacle with
track 15: Creepin' In with
Dolly Parton. I love Dolly. Always have and always
will. This song makes me want to dance and sing over and over
again as I play it on repeat.
Basically, what I hope this blog conveys, is that this
compilation of songs is wonderful. Each and every song is as
delightful as it is different. I highly recommend this CD for
your listening pleasure.
We have a great music collection here at KPL. There are so many wonderful singers and musicians that don't may not make it onto the radio but whose music is fantastic. Time and again, I stumble upon a new group one way or another and happily discover KPL has their CD available for me to check out. One group that I have really appreciated the last few years and have introduced my family to is a folk group called the Wailin' Jennys. The first time my mom heard one of their CDs she asked me who they group was. I told her it was the Wailin' Jennys to which she replied, "But…who is Waylon Jennings singing with?" I explained that it was "wailin'" as in "cryin'" and the plural of the name Jenny…though none of the members are named Jenny.
The group started when the trio came together for a onetime evening performance at a guitar shop in Canada. They were such a success they joined forces and have been producing great music since. The group members are Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, and Heather Masse, each of which comes with a distinct training and sound. We have three of their CDs at the library: their first CD 40 Days, Firecracker, and Bright Morning Stars which came out in 2011. I also recently discovered that the library owns The Garden by band member Ruth Moody. I checked this CD out as well and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I have favorite songs that I find myself listening to over and over and over again on each CD. You get an idea of the Wailin' Jennys tight harmony in their first song on 40 Days, their debut CD, titled One Voice. This CD also has a great cover of Neil Young's Old Man and my very favorite Wailin' Jennys song Ten Mile Stilts. I find Starlight and Apocalypse Lullaby on Firecracker hauntingly beautiful. Their style seems a little jazzier for Bright Morning Stars. Mona Louise and Cherry Blossom Love get stuck in my head very easily and after listening to them I find myself tapping my toes and singing them in my head for hours. As for Ruth Moody's CD, I like every song…a lot. On this week after Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the wonderful CD collection we have at KPL and the great music I have listened to because of it.
I have this weird passion for obscure, offbeat Christmas recordings. Bing Crosby and Paul McCartney are all well and good, but how about Jimi Hendrix playing “Little Drummer Boy?” Well, at least you’re on the right track. Or how about Robert Fripp doing “Silent Night” ala Frippertronics (yes, I mean the old school red flexi disc)? You’re getting there. Or… how about The Residents’ original “Santa Dog” single?? Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about. The weirder, the better.
But truth be known, the lighter new agey type of ambient instrumental holiday stuff… you know, solo guitar, solo piano, acoustic ensembles… is one of my many guilty pleasures (don’t tell anybody, ok?). I have lots, but there’s always room for more. So that’s where this week’s Friends Finds come in. Of just that sort, I managed to grab a fresh copy of Ottmar Liebert’s Poet & Angels (1990) on Higher Octave. And what would the acoustic holidays be without the stuff on Windham Hill(?), so I snagged a couple of seasonal samplers that I didn’t have… A Winter Solstice Reunion (1998) with all the label regulars… Will Ackerman, Darol Anger, Liz Story, etc.; and Winter Wonderland (1999), a more mainstream but still likeable compilation with David Arkenstone, Alex de Grassi, Tuck & Patti, and others. At a buck apiece, I couldn’t go wrong.
And just to satisfy my need for “the road less traveled,” I also grabbed a copy of the Roches’ We Three Kings (1994) on Rykodisc. (Actually, it’s not weird at all… the Roche sisters are amazing.) And the best part is, there are plenty more where those came from (in fact, there’s a whole cart full!). So stock up, the holidays are coming!
Consider this little series my own version of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
Even the most diehard music aficionados probably couldn’t tell you who Bill Fay was up until a month ago (I certainly couldn’t), before he and his music began to pop up in places like Mojo Magazine and NPR. Fay is a British singer-songwriter who comes from a long and storied list of forgotten or historically marginalized musicians whose little known work grew out of the legitimating influence of the artist appreciation network. This is how it works: the cult legend finds a famous rock-star like Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy (Tweedy has covered Fay’s songs in the past) to provide you a song of his own that you can cover (Jesus Etc.) and duet with him on your long awaited, comeback album. Your street cred will blow up and your Youtube hits will soar because of everyone wanting to go back in time (or at least to the internet) to listen to all of those great songs that you wrote that everyone had originally forsaken at the time of their release.
Fay’s early 70’s albums sound eerily like a melodic fusion of Dylan (if he played piano) and Wilco’s more plaintive tunes. They tend to be somewhat downbeat and often echo the sound of a lost but brilliant soul trying to stay true to his art while the music industry closes its door on his vision. Fay’s new album Life is People is worth a listen and has a much more upbeat vibe to it than his brooding material from long ago. Here is Fay's heartbreaking rendition of the Wilco song.
Life is people
Richie Furay’s 2006 release, The Heartbeat of Love, was this week’s worthwhile find at the Friends Bookstore. Ten tunes written by Richie and Scott Sellen, plus two old Poco standbys, performed with help from a bunch of familiar friends; Timothy B. Schmidt, Neil Young, Kenny Loggins, Paul Cotton, Sam Bush, Stephen Stills, and others. No new musical territory here; just a worthwhile batch of nicely executed Southern California country rock tunes. If you ever spin the likes of Poco, Buffalo Springfield, Eagles, or Loggins & Messina, this would fit right in. And it even came packaged in a nifty hardbound mini-book – definitely a worthwhile find!
Consider this little series the KPL equivalent of “Flea Market Finds,” an ongoing report of the latest bargains unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to a great cause, too. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!
Heartbeat of Love
There’s a lot to dislike about the 1970’s including bell bottoms, a gas shortage, and poorly managed sideburns to name but a few but musically speaking, the radio has never been as varied as it was during this decade that saw the birth of punk, progressive rock, disco, Philly soul, funk, and a slew of fantastic singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Nick Drake, Harry Nilsson, Billy Joel, Carol King and Elton John. One of the least recognized legends of the Nashville music scene of the early seventies was Mickey Newbury, whose contributions to Outlaw Country is well documented on Drag City’s recently released An American Trilogy. Like Townes Van Zandt, Newbury’s fans have mostly been fellow musicians who revere his beautifully crafted songs. Those who sing his praise include Will Oldham, Kris Kristofferson and Steve Earle. Known as the first “Hippy-Cowboy”, Newbury bucked the Nashville music establishment by doing things his way. He found little commercial success for his recording of the seventies but critics have long praised his touching ballads and lyrical writing. Those who have sung and recorded Mickey Newbury penned songs include Linda Ronstadt, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, Roy Orbison, David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson and many more.
An American Trilogy
Josh T. Pearson’s stark country-folk album The Last of the Country Gentlemen is a plaintive and personal work that calls to mind the rustic laments of down-and-out troubadours like Townes Van Zandt. Pearson’s approach is to lift the veil on his bittersweet melancholia with a pained voice and delicate finger plucking of his acoustic guitar, drawing in the listener to his raw confessions on love, loss and redemption.
The Last of the Country Gentlemen
“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” —Robert Hunter, ca. 1974
Advertisements in Rolling Stone for the double live “Steal Your Face” album proclaimed, “There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert.” I also remember reading an article in one of the hi-fi magazines at the time about the Grateful Dead’s famous “wall of sound” state-of-the-art concert sound system. While I might have been a bit too young to have seen the Grateful Dead during the hippie heyday of the late 1960s, I made it a goal to attend at least one of their shows during my lifetime. That goal was realized a few years later in 1979.
In the years that followed, I was fortunate enough to see the original band four times, a somewhat modest record when compared to some, I realize. (I know people who saw them play hundreds of times!) Indeed, there was always something special about seeing the Grateful Dead play live, especially out-of-doors during the summer. The sets were leisurely, and unlike most typical rock concerts, each event carried with it a unique “festival” atmosphere.
Sadly, those days are gone. Since Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995, remaining band members have made several respectable attempts to carry on in various incarnations. While these projects are fresh and interesting, the era of the original band has clearly passed.
Yet, there are times when the music of the Grateful Dead is still the perfect complement to a warm summer afternoon with a cold beverage, and thankfully the legacy of those spectacular live shows lives on through an impressive collection of recordings. Even though the band only released a dozen studio albums during the course of its thirty year career, listeners are blessed with a plethora of live recordings—nine “traditional” live albums, more than a dozen concert films and videos, plus more than a hundred official archive releases (not to mention the many thousands of amateur recordings from the famous band-approved taper’s sections.)
KPL provides a generous cross section of the Grateful Dead story; in print, on film, and on record. Several books in the collection document the life and times of the band and its various members. Of particular note are Searching for the Sound : My Life with the Grateful Dead by bassist Phil Lesh, A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead by Dennis McNally, and Jerilyn Lee Brandelius’ Grateful Dead Family Album. Films include The Grateful Dead Movie (a film version of 1974 “Steal Your Face” tour), and a pair of View from the Vault releases, documenting the band’s 1990 appearances at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh and Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. For listeners, the collection includes decent retrospectives like Flashback with the Grateful Dead, The Very Best of the Grateful Dead, and Skeletons from the Closet. You’ll even find an archival release of a concert at the famous Fillmore East in 1969. “What a long strange trip it’s been.”
The Grateful Dead
I love to make music mixes for my friends. When I can get the response, “Wow I never would have listened to that song if it wasn’t on the mix you made me,” I feel like I have done my part to push good music out into the world. My seven year old daughter considers a good mix one in which you can roll down the windows and turn up the volume. Below is a playlist that consists of what I feel are the best tracks of the first six months of 2011. Mix it up and roll down your windows.
1. Weekend by Smith Westerns (Dye It Blonde)
2. Take Me Over by Cut Copy (Zonoscope)
3. Rolling In The Deep by Adele (21)
4. Sad Song by The Cars (Move Like This)
5. Discoverer by R.E.M. (Collapse Into Now)
6. Me, Me, Me by Middle Brother (Middle Brother)
7. Make Some Noise by The Beastie Boys (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two)
8. Dig A Little Deeper by Peter Bjorn and John (Gimme Some)
9. Don’t Carry It All by The Decemberists (The King Is Dead)
10. Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars (Barton Hollow)
11. Sim Sala Bim by Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues)
12. Shadow of Love by Sloan (The Double Cross)
13. Helena Beat by Foster the People (Foster the People)
14. If I Wanted Someone by Dawes (Nothing Is Wrong)
15. Future Starts Now by The Kills (Blood Pressures)
16. Till I Get There by Lupe Fiasco (Lasers)
17. Damn These Vampires by The Mountain Goats (All Eternals Deck)