Staff Picks: Music
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
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
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
The other day while listening to online radio at last.fm, 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.)
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 Crosby, Stephen 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"