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Staff Picks: Music

Valerie June

Every once in a while I come across a musician or an album that makes me stop and really listen. Valerie June is just one of those musicians and her album Pushin’ Against the Stone is just one of those albums. Her music is bluesy and folky, with soul and funk, and her voice is the perfect conduit to blend all those styles together. She’s also a great storyteller, and I find listening to her music evokes a similar atmosphere to many of my favorite southern gothic writers (think Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor or Toni Morrison). This was love at first listen for me.

 You can find a copy of Pushin’ Against the Stone both in our CD collection and on our streaming music service Hoopla


An Original Soul Singer

Singer Billy Stewart had chart success during the 1960's with hits like Fat Boy, Summertime, Sitting in the Park, Secret Love, and You Reap What You Sow and while he's not as well-known as the Motown label singers or James Brown, Stewart possessed and original style all his own that's worth checking out if you're a fan of old school rhythm and blues. His signature trademarks were improvising, scatting and rolling his tongue, all of which provided his vocal interpretations with a unique vitality. Tragically, Stewart died at 33 from an auto accident in 1970. For those new to his sound, try this excellent compilation that includes Stewart's recordings on the famous Chess Records label.

Music

One More Time: the chess years
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Raphael Saadiq

Raphael Saadiq has been around for quite a while. He came as a surprise to me because his vintage sounds. He seems extremely talented and is well packaged. He initially played with Tony! Toni! Tone! Over the years he has worked behind the scenes as a producer for some top names like, John Legend, Joss Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige and the list goes on to some surprising other great artists.

What I really like about him is that he is very versatile. Raphael Saadiq is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and a record producer. I’ve read that his heroes are Chuck Berry, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone and Little Walter. He says he wants to be a throwback with a futuristic twist. That certainly comes through on his latest CD Stone Rollin. That CD took me back to the 50s and 60s. It also had me reminiscing about Sam Cook. There are many great sounds and it is a great show of talent. It’s definitely R&B at its finest and it had me rolling.

Music

Stone Rollin
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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.


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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'
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/friends/bookstore/

Jonathan Butler has a great sound!

Butler is a native of Cape Town, South Africa. He started singing on the streets of Athlone for food and began touring when he was 7 years old. It’s hard to peg him because he has so many great sounds. He’s a singer, song writer and guitar player and he’s been described as a rhythm and blues, jazz and worship performer. He would probably approve of those tags because he does all of them well but I think his heart is in his gospel music. He's good! His cool jazz blends well into a gospel. And as far as rhythm and blues is concerned, I had to look the definition up and make sure I knew what rhythm and blues was. Under R&B, I saw words like urban, soul, gospel and others that would classify Butler as a contemporary R&B artist. Well, one thing is for sure, he's definitely got rhythm and he knows his blues. Still, I think Jonathan Butler would like to be best known for his uplifting, spiritual sound, which he is highly respected for.

 KPL has several of his CDs. Some of his titles are Jonathan Butler, Surrender, The Source, Do you love me? He’s on a jazz CD called Summer Horns with Dave Koz and friends. Watch for his new CD Grace and Mercy. I'm sure it, too, will have a great sound.

Music

Jonathan Butler
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Alvin Lee has Gone Home

The music world bid farewell to another guitar great on Wednesday with the passing of Alvin Lee. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the British born Lee fronted the band Ten Years After, and set the world on fire at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 with “I’m Going Home.” Lee was known for his lightning fast guitar work and sensitive interpretations of blues standards and his own compositions. Lee recorded nearly 30 studio and live albums during his career—to this day, Ten Years After Recorded Live remains one of my own “desert island” selections… most notably for its incendiary cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help Me.” His latest album, Still on the Road to Freedom, was released last year. Lee was 68.

Book

Alvin Lee
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http://alvinlee.com/

Featuring Norah Jones

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 Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, the Foo Fighters, and Ryan Adams.

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.

Music

Featuring
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Bargains from the Basement: Week 2

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells toured and recorded together for decades, but this week’s edition of Friends Finds consists of two separate recordings by these blues legends. Recorded in 2001 at the age of 65, Buddy Guy’s Sweet Tea is fresh and raw, arguably one of the most immediate recording he’s made thus far. (Now 76, he’s still at it.) Its uncluttered North Mississippi sound places Guy’s guitar right up front where it belongs. Guy himself says, “That’s the way music was before it got too much tech and too many people.” Amen.

On the other hand, if we rewind back some three-and-a-half decades before Sweet Tea, we find the late Junior Wells and his band introducing their blend of blues and R&B to enthusiastic (and for the first time, predominantly white) audiences. Recorded just months after his debut, Hoodoo Man Blues, and released in 2010, Live in Boston 1966 is as authentic a piece of Chicago blues history as you’ll find. At a mere buck apiece, I snapped up both of these gems without hesitation.


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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!

Book

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells
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/friends/bookstore/

Bright Lights

I stumbled upon Gary Clark Jr., and his new EP Bright Lights, by chance one night, in the midst of viewing clips from one of the recent Crossroads guitar festivals (hosted by Eric Clapton). In all honesty, I’m not easily impressed by most young blues and blues-rock guitarists. They have a nasty habit of sounding very rehashed and generic to me, lacking authenticity and individuality in their sound. Gary, however, blew me over immediately with all the right vibes.

The sound is something like a swirl of R&B meets Hendrix, with even a little bit of Hip-Hop flair thrown in occasionally for good measure. The riffs also aren’t afraid to dance into the territory of Midwest rock bands like The White Stripes and The Black Keys. The man and his music have some serious “swag”; there’s no denying that. It’s the kind of sound that just oozes with credibility and legitimacy.

Gary’s clearly not trying to be anyone other than himself, and it shows. As a result, I’ve come to realize that Gary is now one of my favorite electric guitarists in the “young-gun”, 40 and under age bracket (one of my bandmates being my other main favorite, but I’m going to just say he doesn’t count…for now).

In short: Gary's definitely worth checking out if you're into something unique, soulful, and all types of awesome!

Book

The bright lights EP
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http://www.catalog.kpl.gov/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/0/0/5?searchdata1=gary+clark{AU}+AND+bright+lights{TI}&library=BRANCHES&language=ANY&format=ANY&item_type=ANY&location=ANY&match_on=KEYWORD&item_1cat=ANY&item_2cat=ANY&sort_by=-PBYR

Blues Time - “In Session”

For anyone interested in hearing some real quality electric blues, In Session deserves NOT to be missed! The rare studio jam between legendary guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and his influential mentor (and just as legendary) Albert King is all-around great stuff. The playing is top-notch and the men seem to really work well off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm.

There’s definitely a reason why Albert was Stevie’s blues idol. As any fan of Albert King knows, he commands a song with a presence on guitar truly unmatched. There have been several true “Kings” of electric blues, but perhaps only one that could stand on a stage, bend a single note, and blow the whole crowd away; that is the legacy and awesomeness of Albert.

Music

In Session
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