Rolling Stone Magazine’s latest issue is a round-up of the “best” music of the decade. Radiohead’s Kid A tops the list, a choice I find both apt and unsurprising, as the album is a textured experiment in rock music that started the decade off with a great buzz. I was a college freshman when it was released, and I remember buying Kid A(back when people bought albums, not downloaded them) the day it came out, only to hear it echoed in virtually every room down the hallway of my dorm. Listening to it nearly ten years later, it still feels pertinent and new.
Although I do love Kid A, Rolling Stone and I differ when it comes to the best of the decade. My favorite album is another year 2000 release: PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (available via MeLCat). Every song on Stories is a miniature masterpiece, creating a pure rock album that ruminates on love, life, and death with a New York City backdrop. I find myself returning to this album time and time again.
Other favorites of mine, in no particular order, include:
Le Tigre—This Island(2004)
The Fiery Furnaces—Widow City (2007)
CocoRosie—La Maison de Mon Reve (2004) (available via MeLCat)
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins—Rabbit Fur Coat (2006) (available via MeLCat)
Spoon—Gimme Fiction (2005)
Regina Spektor—Soviet Kitsch (2004)
Gorillaz—Gorillaz (2001) (available via MeLCat)
Bat for Lashes—Fur and Gold (2007)
Neko Case—The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)
Interpol—Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
Combining education and entertainment has always been a great way to learn; especially for young people. Grammy Award winning musicians They Might Be Giants have edutainment down to a science with the release of their 14th album, Here Comes Science. What better way to learn about topics such as photosynthesis, anatomy, outer space, chemistry and more than through great music. Young audio and visual learners will delight in this CD which also features a DVD filled with music videos. Check it out soon, and you too, will be humming the lyrics to the Bloodmobile!
Here Comes Science
Robert Schneider, of the super-awesome indie rock group The Apples in Stereo, is the mastermind behind the best kids CD of 2009, Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine. Schneider’s kid-friendly alter-ego, Professor Robbert Bobbert is a self-proclaimed “Genius inventor of musical mayhem.” Fans of Schneider’s work will love this CD because they will immediately hear the hooks and harmonies that make The Apples in Stereo great. The end result of this power pop infused kids’ CD is a car trip that won’t turn your brain into elephant droppings.
The stand out track “We R Super Heroes” is about the dream most kids have about being a super hero. Check out the video.
Robbert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine
The current season for “spooky” stuff brings to mind a time honored classic – Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Oldfield was an unknown English teenager in 1973 when the haunting opening sequence from his highly acclaimed debut gained worldwide attention as the backdrop for Friedkin’s film version of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.
Since that time, Oldfield has revisited the Bells structure and themes for a host of sequels and alternate interpretations, including an orchestral version, various remixes, reissues, live and demo recordings. (Six different packages were released this summer alone!) The piece has also received several inspired (re)interpretations by others, including a 2008 recording for piano ensemble, and a wonderful version by the California Guitar Trio.
While trolling the murky depths of the internet this weekend, I ran across an interesting video of Oldfield performing the first segment of Tubular Bells for the BBC-TV on November 30, 1973, along with a rather stellar cast of accomplices...
- Mike Oldfield (bass, guitar)
- Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) (guitar)
- Steve Hillage (Gong) (guitar)
- Pierre Moerlen (Gong) (percussion)
- Fred Frith (Henry Cow) (bass, guitar)
- John Greaves (Henry Cow) (keyboards, bass)
- Tim Hodgkinson (Henry Cow) (keyboards)
- Geoff Leigh (Henry Cow) (flute)
- Mike Ratledge (Soft Machine) (keyboards)
- Karl Jenkins (Soft Machine) (oboe)
- Ted Speight (Kilburn & The High Roads) (guitar, bass)
- John Field (Jade Warrior) (flute)
- Terry Oldfield (Mike’s brother) (flute)
- Tom Newman (voice)
(The full version of the video can be found on Oldfield’s Elements DVD.)
As it turns out, this was only the second first public performance of Bells – the first having occurred on 25 June 1973 in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, just a month after the album’s release. The reclusive Oldfield was so shaken by the public reaction to his initial concert that he avoided the live stage for several years. What’s truly “scary,” however, is that some 26 albums and three-and-a-half decades later, this stunning debut still holds up.
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
There is something about the descending temperature and the vibrancy of Autumn leaves, the unmistakable stench of pumpkin innards, and the knowing that a long Midwestern winter is just around the corner that pushes me toward listening to jazz. Most of my favorite artists and albums generally fall under the broad categories of Be-Bop, Cool and Vocal. I've never been all that drawn to the more esoteric sounds of free or experimentally avante-garde jazz. Some of my favorite musicians include horn players John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Stan Getz, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Dolphy, and Chet Baker, vocal virtuosos Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, arrangers Gerry Mulligan and Gil Evans, and pianists like Bill Evans and Vince Guaraldi. I have to admit that my knowledge of contemporary jazz is quite limited so my recommended Fall listening list below tends to be specific to the 1950's and 60's. Grab that ribbed cardigan, sip on on some hot cider and fall under the melodic color and hypnotic rhythms of some of these great albums.
In the wee small hours
Be sure to catch the Blue Moon Blues Band in an intimate “unplugged” performance on Wednesday, October 21st, at Central Library, as part of KPL’s ongoing Live Music series.
We have it on very good authority that this should be quite a unique and memorable event, including a rare opportunity to hear some of Mr. Carambula’s smokin’ acoustic(!) guitar work, and some brand new music they’ve never played in public before!
Blue Moon’s library appearance will also be one of the band’s final public performances - after nine years and four CDs, they’re moving on to new and different opportunities, so stay tuned! Don’t you dare miss this chance to see one of the final (and perhaps finest) performances by one of Kalamazoo’s most revered musical institutions.
Here’s Blue Moon, recorded live at Clydes Side Door in Battle Creek on March 21, 2009.
Blue Moon Blues Band
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.)