Staff Picks: Music
As of late, the attention of the world's media has been drawn to the United Kingdom and the Royal Family. I don't have a British heritage in my ancestry, yet I have for a long time enjoyed studying British history, geography, arts, and culture. Part of that is some really thrilling music. KPL has a 3-CD set that serves as a good sampler of a wide variety of the best. As a collection of works by top composers that is conducted, played, and sung by some of the UK's finest musicians, these recordings are well worth the listening. One of my favorites on here is 'Crown Imperial' by Sir William Walton, which was the recessional at today's royal wedding.
Best of British [sound recording] : the nation's favourite classical music
At best I would say that the new music released so far in 2011 has been so-so. The best CD by far has to be The King is Dead, the newest from the Portland based band The Decemberists. Lead singer Colin Meloy has never hidden his love for extremely smart lyrics that make listeners feel that they are in a college level Literature course. The new CD not only has songs with beautiful language and obscure subject matter, but also a musical sound that pays homage to the alternative sound of the 80’s. The extremely talented musicians in the band are able to sound like The Smiths and R.E.M. without losing their unique style or falling into the trap of sounding derivative. Meloy has been hinting that the band is going to take a hiatus, which is unfortunate because this Billboard #1 CD is their best effort since The Crane Wife.
The King is Dead
It’s amazing how some artists are able to reveal their true selves on stage, while others simply go through the motions.
Back about 1978 or so, Phoebe Snow performed at WMU’s East Ballroom (today’s Bernhard Center) in what appeared to be another case of a big time star giving an obligatory concert in a smallish market. She was singing, but that was about it. It was clear that she just wasn’t feeling it.
Phoebe’s career was still riding high at that point... she had a HUGE hit with Poetry Man in 1974 and a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine a year later. I assumed that she could probably care less about Kalamazoo… get in, get through it, and get back to the real world on the East Coast.
After plodding through a couple of songs, Phoebe stopped and apologized to the audience for her lack of enthusiasm. It seems her best friend was in the hospital back East at that very moment having a baby. Phoebe admitted that her body was on stage in Kalamazoo but her mind was clearly with her friend far away. Well, at least she was being honest. The show continued.
During the middle of the very next song, a stage hand came out and whispered something in her ear. Phoebe stopped the song immediately and jumped and screamed, “It’s a girl!”
With that, the veil was lifted and a very different Ms. Snow took the stage. Expressive, exuberant, entertaining; the mundane became magnificent! I had yet to see (and have seldom since seen) a performer so genuinely reveal her true “self” to an audience.
I will always remember that show… and appreciate how Phoebe allowed a small audience in Kalamazoo to be part of a very special moment in her life. And that, I guess, created a very special moment in ours.
Phoebe Snow passed away Tuesday in Edison, New Jersey, due to complications caused by a brain hemorrhage she suffered a year ago. She was 60.
I’d like to throw the spotlight on some recent and upcoming releases from the world of non-radio-friendly musicians that I’m excited to be ordering for the rock and folk/country collections. For the touchy feely folkies and pastoral Americanaists out there, you’ll want to get your hands on Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues (garnering big buzz and positive reviews), Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s Here We Rest, Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, Steve Earle’s I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive, Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far, and Emmylou Harris’ Hard Bargain. For those who prefer blips, sugary melodies, fuzzed guitars, and a louder volume on their wax platter, keep your eyes peeled for the newest long players from Panda Bear, The Raveonettes, TV on the Radio, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Yuck, Telekinesis, Foo Fighters, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and Bright Eyes.
The People's Key
Today marks the 17th anniversary of the death of singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain. Cobain led the early nineties Seattle band Nirvana from college rock radio obscurity to radio-friendly, mainstream fame. Their most successful album, Nevermind, has sold close to 30 million copies worldwide. Nevermind featured their hit single, Smells Like Teen Spirit, a song that became a generational anthem of sorts, embodying Generation X’s ennui and collective angst. Of local interest, the famous photograph of Cobain that appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine after his death was taken in Kalamazoo.