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Staff Picks: Music

Because of Billie

Canadian singer and Juno Award winner Molly Johnson is not the first to tackle the legacy of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday with a collection of reinterpretations but her new album offers listeners an excellent introduction to her warm, agreeable renditions of standards such as God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, Lady Sings the Blues, and You’ve Changed. Moving back and forth from the upbeat and jaunty to the solemn and heartbreaking, Johnson’s affecting respect for Holiday’s genius and understanding of her difficult life can be best summed up with this from the liner notes: For years people have said to me, “You are so much like Billie Holiday”, and my answer has been, “No, I am because of Billie.”

New View

The perpetually cool Eleanor Friedberger’s (formerly of the band Fiery Furnaces) newest album New View is soon to be released but check out her two previous albums in the meantime. You won’t be let down if you enjoy punchy, literate, accessible, catchy rock music.


Anouar Brahem

Cruising around in Hoopla's jazz offerings can lead to satisfying discoveries. On a whim, I checked out Anouar Brahem's album Le Pas Du Chat Noir having never heard of his music before. Wow, what great stuff. A mix of styles and cultural traditions (European folk, North African, American Jazz, etc.) can be heard throughout Brahem's spare but beautiful compositions.

2016 Grammy Nominations

Here are some of the prominent albums and performers from 2015 that have been nominated for a Grammy Award:

Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly

The Weekend's Beauty Behind the Madness

Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color

Little Big Town's Pain Killer

Tame Impala's Currents

Chris Stapleton's The Traveller

Taylor Swift's 1989

Barry Manilow's My Dream Duets

Muse's Drones



The Revenant

Though I haven’t seen the recently released film The Revenant, the haunting, atmospheric soundtrack is now available to stream at Hoopla. Written and performed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto, and Bryce Dessner, the music’s somber timbres and minimalist approach provide an eerie soundscape to the film’s powerful imagery.

Heaven Adores You

Elliott Smith is arguably the most important singer songwriter of the 1990’s. Beloved by both admiring fellow musicians, his devoted fans and praised by critics, Smith sadly passed away at the age of 34 in 2003. He left behind five full length albums (a sixth was posthumously released) of brilliantly crafted songs bursting with sorrowful melodies, emotionally raw lyrics and an unmistakable, almost whispered voice that many of his fans instantly gravitated toward for its sullen, Everyman quality. A new documentary portrait titled Heaven Adores You lovingly captures the unlikely rise and tragic fall of Smith’s life and career.

Joanna Newsom's Divers

Joanna Newsom's music is certainly not for everyone. Her unique vocal delivery will drive many listeners nuts, but then again, she has a cult following of sorts and if you're looking to challenge yourself, check out her newest album Divers, possibly her strongest to date. A multi-instrumentalist, Newsom's star rose about ten years ago because of her peculiar singing style and use of the harp as her music's foundation. Her songs are unconventionally long and full of abstract, metaphor-heavy poetry. This is not the sort of thing you'll hear on the radio. It's a dynamic, ornate, fantastical landscape of images that range from the surreal to the intimately relatable. Give it a shot.

The Year in Jazz

NPR's end of the year survey of the best jazz recordings of 2015 is a great place to start in finding out what you may have missed.

Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon’s newest album Savage Hills Ballroom is their best, most consistent effort yet. Full of lush, gorgeous melodies, listeners will likely be divided over whether or not to embrace the high pitched, drone of Trevor Powers’ sometimes angry, sometimes sullen wail. Fans of groups like Tame Impala, MGMT, Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and Beach House will find in the messy, synthetic layers of washed out guitars, horns and drums, a beautiful album.

Best of British

The words 'pastoral', 'lyrical', 'buoyant', and 'tranquil' are often used to describe the brand of classical music that emerged in England, certainly the sort that was composed during the later part of the 19th century into the early 20th. Inspired by the beautiful, rustic landscape of England, composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams made music that emphasized big, soaring melodies and romantic tones. Best of British is a multi-disc set that introduces listeners to the colorful works of such composers as Williams, Elgar, Karl Jenkins, Handel, Gustav Holst and William Walton.