RSS Feed

Staff Picks: Music

Bargains in the Basement: No Direction Home

It’s a good time to be a Bob Dylan fan. At 73, he’s still on the road with his (seemingly) never ending tour… he just finished a well-received series of dates in Australia and returns to the good ol’ U.S. of A. next month for another fall tour here. Aside from the live shows, we seem to get an album of new material every couple of years… his latest being Tempest from 2012, and (thankfully) a steady stream of archival material thanks to “The Bootleg Series.” Dylan and his label, Sony Music, deserve (in my humble opinion) a great deal of credit for allowing these recordings to be heard, rather than keeping them buried and quite possibly lost forever. It’s these otherwise “lost” recordings that allow us to gain true insight into the artist’s work. And of course they make for some fun listening, too.

To that end, I just snagged a nice copy of No Direction Home: The Bootleg Series Vol 7 at the Friends Bookstore. This double disc from 2005 is a companion (sort of a soundtrack) to the Martin Scorsese film of the same name, gathering 28 mostly unreleased rarities, including one of Bob’s very first recordings from 1959, plus various demos, live tracks and alternate takes – mostly from the mid-sixties. It’s an interesting look back at a pivotal point in Dylan’s career.

Looking ahead, November should be an interesting month. Sony is preparing to release The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (including a 6 disc deluxe edition!), which features for the first time the legendary “Big Pink” recordings “presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967.” Also in November, we’ll get a brand new collection of recordings by Elvis Costello and others (members of Dawes, My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, et al) called Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes. These recordings feature new original music that underscores a newly discovered batch of Dylan’s handwritten lyrics from the 1967 Basement Tapes period. Oh, and it’s produced by T Bone Burnette, so you know it should be mighty interesting. As always, thanks Friends and stay tuned.


Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items 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 help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!


Bargains in the Basement: Sonic Alchemy

The very first sentence in this book… “For everyone who ever picked up the back of an album cover, spied a producer’s name, and wondered what the hell he did, this book is for you.” …was alone enough to capture my attention and cement its purchase. In his 2004 book, Sonic Alchemy, author and publisher David N. Howard (no relation that I know of) takes his readers on a tour of the most influential and pioneering record producers and sound recording engineers of our time.

Subtitled Visionary Music Producers and their Maverick Recordings, Howard explores the styles and techniques of such legendary producers as George Martin (The Beatles), Phil Spector (60s “Wall of Sound”), and Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), and then moves on to the many others who helped shape the sound of the world we live in.

He examines the influence of reggae and dub legends like Lee “Scratch” Perry (Bob Marley, The Clash) and King Tubby (Dennis Brown, Augustus Pablo), the ambient wizardry of Brian Eno (Talking Heads, David Bowie), the “classic rock” sound of Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones, Traffic) and Glyn Johns (Eric Clapton, Eagles, The Who), the postpunk Manchesterian vision of Martin Hannet (Durutti Column, Joy Division), and he documents the pioneering techniques employed by Flood (Nine Inch Nails, U2), Chris Thomas (Pink Floyd, The Pretenders, Sex Pistols), Dr. Dre (Eminem, Public Enemy), Arthur Baker (New Order), and well over a dozen others.

For a sound geek like me, this was a terrific find. Thank you, Friends.


friends-logo-50.jpg

Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items 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 help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

Sonic Alchemy
0634055607
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains in the Basement: Winter Blues

More buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore! This time some sweet blues to warm the cold winter away. Buddy Guy’s Icon is an 11-song collection focused on his early years with Chess (1960-67), including early versions of “Stone Crazy,” “I Got My Eyes on You,” “When My Left Eye Jumps,” “Watch Yourself,” and “My Time After Awhile.” Good good stuff.

On the more current side of things, I was really excited to find two great pieces by Keb’ Mo’ – his eleventh and latest release, The Reflection (2011), and The Door, his fifth album, released in 2000. The Reflection has a slick and smooth funky soulful feel, with lots of help from jazz greats Dave Koz and Marcus Miller. Not my favorite Keb’ release, but it’s still well worth owning. The Door, on the other hand, IS one of my favorites. It has a much more acoustic and rootsy feel, with help from Greg Phillinganes, Reggie McGride, and (much to my surprise) violinist Scarlet Rivera (of Rolling Thunder fame). A fine Friends find, indeed.


friends-logo-50.jpg

Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items 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 help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

Book

The Door by Keb' Mo'
keb-mo-door-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Dead Bees on a Cake

“If you go out searching for jewels and treasures elsewhere, you're liable to miss the acres of riches that lie beneath your feet.”—Bryan Cohen

Today’s buried treasure from the Friends Bookstore is a tasty musical offering by David Sylvian, Dead Bees on a Cake, released in 1999. If you’re not already familiar with Sylvian’s work, give his material a listen. Who to compare him to? His voice draws an obvious similarity to Bryan Ferry, but musically, Sylvian is more muted and much more diverse; closer say to a Peter Gabriel or a Daniel Lanois—dark, mysterious at times, but rich and deeply moving.

Sylvian is an excellent songwriter who typically surrounds himself with contemporary musical heavyweights. Bees, however, follows a series of more upbeat “prog-ish” collaborations with Robert Fripp, so a musical departure seems somewhat inevitable. Bees has a slightly more jazzy, worldbeat feel than its predecessors—very much in the same vein as the later period recordings by Talk Talk. Guest musicians, though few this time, include jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, composer and pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto, and a brief appearance by Steve Tibbetts. Sylvian’s discography calls this release “openly celebratory in nature… documenting an eventful and transformative period in his life.”

Thanks once again, Friends – a good find, indeed!


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Dead Bees on a Cake by David Sylvian
dead-bees-on-a-cake-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Ragtime

When They All Played Ragtime: The True Story of an American Music was first published in 1950, it quickly became heralded as “the bible of ragtime” for its (then) insightful examination of an overlooked and all-but-forgotten American art form. While the book’s inevitable flaws have been the subject of controversy for decades since, authors Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis succeeded in creating a groundbreaking initial study of the origins of ragtime music. The scholarly work of writers like Edward A. Berlin and others have since attempted to correct many of the inaccuracies and set straight the resulting misconceptions, yet They All Played… remains a vital resource for information about what Blesh calls “the first genuinely American music [and] in reality a milestone in musical history.” Thanks to the Friends, I was able to add a nice clean copy of the updated and expanded 1966 third edition to my own reference library.


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

They All Played Ragtime
they-all-played-ragtime-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Margaritaville

The cover of Jimmy Buffett’s Meet Me in Margaritaville says it’s “the ultimate collection.” I’m not sure if that’s true or not (he’s already had a “greatest hits” collection, a boxed set, and a slew of live albums), but it’s a decent representation of his work nonetheless, including nearly a full disc’s worth of new (2003) recordings – what he calls “a new coat of paint on some old favorites.” It’s cold and snowing outside (I’m pretending it’s not). Still, the Friends Bookstore was packed to the rafters with happy (and thrifty) “Black Friday” shoppers who were wisely taking advantage of the annual gift book sale. So I guess that makes Meet Me... a worthwhile collection for days just like this, when a good book and a trip to Margaritaville is in order. Thanks, Friends.


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Meet Me in Margaritaville
jimmy-buffett-margaritaville-cover-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Part 6

While the evolution of popular music is (and has been) a continual process, several distinct time periods stand out as important milestones; the ragtime era and the advent of early jazz, for example. Gunther Schuller’s monumental studies of the development of jazz are regarded as masterworks. The first volume, Early Jazz, was first published in 1968 and was heralded by The New York Times as “definitive.... A remarkable book by any standard... unparalleled in the literature of jazz.”

My Friends Find this week was volume two of Schuller’s remarkable journey, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945, an era that I admittedly know relatively little about (though I’m most anxious to learn). Written two decades after the first volume, The Swing Era explores the lives and musical significance of the many great bandleaders of the time; Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and the great soloists; Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young. This was a fantastic find that I can’t wait to read. 


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Winter Wonderland
9780195071405
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Part 5

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!


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Winter Wonderland
winter-wonderland-cover-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Week 4

This week’s Friends Find was yet another tasty pair of audio CDs… this time from Little Feat. One of my biggest regrets (a nicer way of saying screw-up) was that I never saw Little Feat while Lowell George was alive. I had my chance when they played in Grand Rapids in 1978, but (for whatever reason) I missed that opportunity. Sad. Nonetheless, Feat have amassed an impressive body of recorded work—both with Lowell during the 1970s and during the band’s current “era” beginning in the 1990s—so there’s plenty of good listening available to help make up for my awful misfortune (feel sorry for me yet? …didn’t think so… ah, but such is life).

Anyway, the first find is Ripe Tomatos, a two disc compilation culled from rare live recordings made at both ends of Feat’s journey. Recently unearthed recordings from way back in ’71 and ’72, sweet acoustic performances two decades later, and more— two-and-a-half hours of ripe tomato-y bliss. The second set, Chinese Work Songs, was Feat’s first studio recording of the new millennium—thirty years after the first Little Feat record. (The liner notes tell us, “…it wasn’t made in china, it was recorded at a few places, but china ain’t one of them…”) Compositions penned by Robbie Robertson (The Band), Billy Payne, Paul Barrère, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Bob Dylan, and others are given the treatment as only this band can. Both sets are worthy and welcome additions to the li'l ol’ collection. Feats (and Friends) don’t fail me now.


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Little Feat
little-feat-covers-160
/friends/bookstore/

Bargains from the Basement: Week 3

Some recording artists are perfectly at home in the studio, while others are best known for their work on the concert stage. The Dave Matthews Band it seems is both. This week’s fortunate Friends Find is another sweet pair… two double live sets from the Dave Matthews Band, both recorded during the band’s 2010 summer tour. Live in New York City finds the band at Citi Field in Flushing, NY, on July 17th, while the other documents the final show of the tour two months later on September 18th at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field. Both are superbly recorded and the performances are exceptional. 5 hours of great music for six bucks… how could I go wrong? It’s good to have Friends!


friends-logo-50.jpg

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!

Book

Dave Matthews Band
dmb-live-160
/friends/bookstore/