Remembering Miriam Makeba Playlist

March 4, 2013

Miriam Makeba, nicknamed “Mother Africa” and “The Empress of African Song,” was a South African singer and political activist. Makeba is credited with bringing the rhythmic and spiritual sounds of Africa to the West. Makeba’s social activism and music impressed American Harry Belafonte who served as her mentor and promoter in the United States. In 1968, Makeba married American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, which proved a detriment to her career due to Carmichael’s militant “Black Power” stance. Makeba writes about her life in Makeba: My Story which is available at the library. Here are a few songs that reflect the long and diverse career of Miriam Makeba with a mix of multicultural music, pop, blues and jazz.

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Pata Pata/ Miriam Makeba

A surprise Top 20 hit in the autumn of 1967, “Pata Pata” was co-written and cut by Miriam Makeba, who was then married to Afro/jazz/rock pioneer Hugh Masakela. Musically, it’s not far removed from Masakela’s groove, with a wonderful, slightly samba-esque groove driving the whole affair. Makeba wrote a similar song for Masakela titled “She Doesn’t Write” for his fabulous Emancipation of Hugh Masakela album in 1968. Underneath it all, the hook here is that the only English spoken words are essentially a dance instruction for this Johannesburg club favorite. However, unlike most “dance instruction” records, “Pata Pata” transcends the cheesy genre with a gorgeous groove, performance, and vocal. Available on the excellent Collectors Choice ’60s rarities anthology, Buried Treasure.-allmusic.com

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I Still Long For You/ Miriam Makeba

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa of Zulu origin, Miriam Makeba has been affectionately and deservedly dubbed “Mama Africa” by millions of fans worldwide. This 1991 release by South Africa’s queen of song embraces several different styles of music.

“I Still Long For You” has a distinct R&B flavor, while “Don’t Break My Heart” is a sorrowful jazz ballad that features the great Dizzy Gillespie singing in duet with Makeba, and also playing a beautiful trumpet solo. Songs such as “Thulasizwe/I Shall Be Released” and “Thina Sizonqoba” evoke Makeba’s South African roots, the latter also featuring a fine performance by Nina Simone. Finally, “Vukani” spotlights the unique trumpet stylings of Makeba’s ex-husband, Hugh Masekela. More pop-oriented than some of her earlier work, EYES ON TOMORROW finds Miriam Makeba making a bold attempt to combine commercial musical genres with rootsy African music.-allmusic.com

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Umhome/ Miriam Makeba

Now back home in South Africa, Makeba hadn’t done much recording in the 1990s prior to this release, so Homeland amounts to a way of introducing herself to new audiences and updating older fans. Alas, the voice of the mighty Makeba, who was in her late sixties when this CD was recorded, frequently sounds worn and quavery (these sessions may have been an aberration, for she could still summon much of her spine-chilling power of old at the Hollywood Bowl in summer 2000). But for those who followed her turbulent career through the struggles over apartheid, it will be heartwarming to learn that she has finally found some measure of peace in her life. The English lyrics (others are sung in Zulu) sing about coming home, healing broken hearts, living for love, and children. In the album’s most touching gesture, Makeba’s granddaughter,  Zenzi Lee, aimed the lyrics of the title track right at her; the dauntless freedom fighter sounds so glad to be home. As a memory refresher, you also get “Pata Pata 2000,” yet another retooled edition of her international hit from 1967, not radically different from previous versions except that Lee lends a hand with the lead vocals. The backing tracks are mostly low-key, controlled, contemporary in feeling; they don’t ignite, but they don’t get in the South African diva’s way either.-allmusic.com

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Ngalala phantsi/ Miriam Makeba

Makeba’s comeback album, her first U.S. release in almost a decade, is a beautiful collection of traditional South African songs with spare production values that highlight the power of Makeba’s vocals. This is an excellent set of Xhosa folk songs she learned as a child. -allmusic.com

A sangoma is a traditional healer, one who channels the ancestral spirits who advise the living. On this impeccably produced CD, Miriam Makeba returns to her roots, singing the songs of her childhood, and in the process seeks to heal the wounds of apartheid and 30 years of exile from her South African home. The songs here are parables, lullabies, and gathering songs, deeply spiritual and moving. They are songs of struggle and perseverance delivered by Africa’s best-loved voice. Mama Africa (Makeba’s nickname) is joined by a group of soulful women singers. Some songs feature understated percussion; others are gloriously unadorned a cappella. This is an essential timeless album from one of the world’s greatest singers. –Jeff Grubb

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Quit It/ Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba is an icon of South African music, beyond dispute. It’s a status she’s earned over the years, and it gives her the luxury to release a smooth album like this, where she can show a great deal of her range. There are new versions of two of her most famous pieces, “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song,” updated to fit in with her new musical outlook (although it has to be admitted that the originals were much better). There are also a couple of Brazilian pieces, which wok wonderfully well for the relaxed quality of her voice, especially on “Xica da Silva,” while a French ballad, “Comme une Symphonie d’Amour,” unfortunately turns to the incredibly syrupy. She fares much better on a song like “Love Tastes Like Strawberries,” with its delicious airiness and strong lyrics, where she can really shine, and on the bluesy “Quit It,” which offers another, grittier side of her talent. A couple of the tracks come from the pen of her ex-husband, Hugh Masekela, admittedly not the strongest work on the record. She can still sing gloriously, and there are some cuts here that show that. Sadly, too much of it feels like coasting, but she’s entitled to that. Hopefully next time out she’ll challenge herself a little more.-allmusic.com

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Beware Verwoerd = Naants’ indod’emnyama /Miriam Makeba

The soundtrack to Lee Hirsch’s documentary is recommended to people who enjoyed the film and anyone else who’s interested in South African freedom songs. As noted in the album’s liner notes, this is “only a snapshot of South Africa’s musical landscape.” It is mostly limited to protest music and is not as good an overall album as The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, for example. But it does feature a fine assortment of carefully chosen tracks that flow together relatively smoothly despite the differences in musical styles and recording dates (which range from “Meadowlands,” released as a single in 1955, to tracks recorded in 2000 and 2001). It offers listeners a chance to hear studio and field recordings, chants and choral pieces, spoken word snippets, prison singers, and internationally renowned artists such as Miriam Makeba, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Hugh Masekela.  It also serves as a showcase with several tracks by Vusi Mahlasela, whose credentials include guest vocals on the Dave Matthews Band’s Everyday and a performance at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president. The songs on this album are unified by an inspiring desire for freedom that makes Amandla! more than just a musical sampler and historical overview.-allmusic.com

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The Click Song/ Miriam Makeba

On May 2, 1960, Harry Belafonte returned to Carnegie Hall for what was supposed to be one of the last concerts in the venerable hall’s last season. Carnegie was scheduled to be torn down, although this was an edict that was thankfully short-lived. The hall was instead renovated and remains one of New York’s premier showplaces. The first Carnegie Hall recording from the previous year had had such an impact on the recording industry that it opened up new vistas for live recordings. Belafonte faced the challenge of living up to his own legend. For this concert, he began what would be a concert tradition for him: sharing the spotlight with up-and-coming folk performers. Representing the new collegiate folk singing group trend was the Chad Mitchell Trio, currently appearing at New York’s Blue Angel, where Belafonte had seen them perform. South African singer and activist Miriam Makeba, another Belafonte discovery, also performed, as did folk and blues singer Odetta, and the Belafonte Folk Singers. The guest stars nearly upstaged Belafonte, but this turned out to be de rigueur for his concerts. Highlights include Odetta’s powerhouse medley of the work songs “I’ve Been Driving on Bald Mountain” and “Water Boy,” the Folk Singers’ exciting “Ox Drivers Song,” Makeba and Belafonte’s charming duet on “One More Dance,” and the Mitchell Trio’s exuberant Israeli song “Vaichazkem.” For a finale, Belafonte turned to the Mexican folk dance “La Bamba,” treating it to an eight-minute-long heels-flying festive romp.-allmusic.com


Caught in a Bad Romance: Classical Music for Doomed Lovers

February 13, 2013

Mona Seghatoleslami joins our team of music advisers. Mona announces classical music on WXXI’s Classical 91.5 weekdays from 2pm-7pm. She’s also the host of the lunchtime concert series Live from Hochstein.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day – here are some classical music listening suggestions connected to tales of ill-fated love.

This list covers all bases. If you’re a romantic, these are sweet, yet tragic tales. If you’re spending Valentine’s Day watching horror movies and thinking about tearing up paper hearts, rejoice: nothing good comes of all this romance in the end.

First, some general considerations:

1)     Pretty much any tale with “and” in the title involves a tragic pair. Romeo and Juliet. Tristan and Isolde. Daphnis and Chloe. Dido and Aeneas. Pelleas and Melisande. Can you think of any exceptions?

2)     A girl coughing in an opera means she’s doomed. This does not stop the tenors from falling in love with these women.

3)     If you’re looking for a quick “anti-valentine” fix, might I recommend a collection I just discovered at the library? The Fifty Darkest Pieces of Classical Music

4)     Or if you are willing to give love a chance, here’s a collection of Best Romantic Classics.

~Mona Seghatoleslami

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Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet

I’ve played music for Romeo and Juliet on several Valentine’s Day concerts, which has always struck me as a little creepy. My favorite music for Shakespeare’s tragic young lovers is Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet.  There are sweeping and romantic melodies throughout, but the music also has a lot of edge. The section depicting the Montagues and the Capulets is particularly fierce.-M.S.

When Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony released their version of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” a decade ago, critics hailed it as the gold standard among all recorded versions of this music. Even now, there seems no reason to revise that opinion. Choosing from among several available suites prepared by Prokofiev himself, Tilson Thomas shaped a version that is both dramatically and musically complete. He and his orchestra do full justice to the bittersweet lyricism and astonishing emotional range of Prokofiev’s music.-amazon.com

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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini

Tchaikovsky also has some beautiful music for Romeo and Juliet, but my Tchaikovsky tragedy of choice is “Francesca da Rimini.” Francesca was a real woman, though her story is mostly known from Dante’s Divine Comedy. She had a forbidden love – but it also seems that she was set up. She was supposed to marry Giovanni, but his brother Paolo stands in for Giovanni at the wedding. Who can blame Francesca for falling in love with Paolo? Giovanni, for one, who murders them. They are then doomed to the second circle of hell, where they whirl in a storm, unable to touch the ground and tormented by the memory of their pleasure and love. At least, that’s how Dante tells it.  Tchaikovsky had his own reasons for identifying with tales of forbidden love.  This recording by our very own Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra is really nice. (American composer Arthur Foote has also written very pretty music for poor Francesca da Rimini).-M.S.

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Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

This opera contains some famously yearning and passionate music, especially in the overture and the final song “Liebestod” (Love-death). It also is an unnecessary tragedy! In short: a love potion mixed up with poison leads to the wrong people falling in love. Tristan, Isolde, and a few others all die in anticipation of King Marke (Isolde’s fiancé) coming to break up the lovers. But it turns out the love potion had been explained to him, and he had been chasing Tristan and Isolde to give them his blessing. Too late! So tragic!-M.S.

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Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme

It is cold and dark. Solemn winter. Mimi is ill. Yet the sweet strains of love stir still beneath the sombre chords and cyclone fencing. Will love last until the thaw? Yes, yes, of course, but wait, no, still she is ill. And spring? Is it a Promised Land? No, alas, you poor bohemians. She loved and was loved, but now she must—

Securing Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo) and Takesha Meshe Kizart (Mimi) in the leads is an especial coup. Park’s is a remarkably nimble voice, mixing evenly with the rest of the “boys”, only to distinguish itself when needed with a special kind of yearning quality. Kizart is radiant and her evident familiarity with role lends her presence a reassuring serenity.-timeout.com

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Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata

Here are two of opera’s classic heart-breaking love stories, the kind with the coughing girl who (spoiler alert?) dies in her beloved’s arms. Puccini’s La Boheme is sometimes called the perfect opera (check out my feature with Eastman School of Music’s Benton Hess for a quick intro).  Verdi’s La Traviata is a beautiful story of love, the tension between cynicism and idealism, noble self-sacrifice, and tearful tragedy. The DVD I picked here has Rochester’s own Renée Fleming (recent winner of her fourth Grammy). -M.S.

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Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

Along with yet another version of Romeo and Juliet, this recording features Hector Berlioz’s dramatic Symphonie Fantastique, an obsessive musical realization of Berlioz’s love for Shakespearean actress Henrietta Smithson. The line between real life and fiction in Berlioz’s music (and his memoirs) is a little blurry. He did win Henrietta over, and they eventually got married, and then divorced, but he remained passionately in love with (just like he remained passionately in love with all her other obsessions too.)

In connection with our purpose, Symphonie Fantastique is here because of the fourth movement, “The March to the Scaffold.” Here’s how Berlioz describes his music:

“Convinced that his love is unappreciated, the artist poisons himself with opium. The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions. He dreams that he has killed his beloved, that he is condemned, led to the scaffold and is witnessing his own execution. As he cries for forgiveness the effects of the narcotic set in. He wants to hide but he cannot so he watches as an onlooker as he dies. The procession advances to the sound of a march that is sometimes sombre and wild, and sometimes brilliant and solemn, in which a dull sound of heavy footsteps follows without transition the loudest outbursts. At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe reappear like a final thought of love interrupted by the fatal blow when his head bounced down the steps.”

The music is gruesomely graphic in depicting the nightmarish scene.  -M.S.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Here Comes the Sun: A Playlist for Your Seasonal Affective Disorder

February 9, 2013

Are you suffering from the winter blues?  WBER DJ Kelsey has provided this playlist to help fight those blues!

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Sun is Shining/ Bob Marley

It’s pretty tough to have the blues when listening to this music, with these lyrics:
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here i am
Want you to know, y’all, where i stand

We’ll lift our heads and give jah praises (repeat)
Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here i am
Want you to know just if you can
Where i stand, no, no, no, no, where i stand
Sun is shining, sun is shining

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Good Day Sunshine/ Beatles

“Good Day Sunshine,” as its title portends, radiates optimism and good vibes, even by the high standards the Beatles themselves set in those categories throughout their career. How many days like that in “Good Day Sunshine” do most people experience in their everyday lives? Well, they’re not everyday occurrences, if people are honest with themselves. But on those occasions when they do arrive — one of the first fine days of spring, just after you’ve fallen in love or started a vacation — “Good Day Sunshine” is an appropriate soundtrack. Principal composer Paul McCartney was to agree that the good-time mid-’60s hits of the Lovin’ Spoonful, such as “Daydream,” were an influence upon “Good Day Sunshine,” although “Good Day Sunshine” isn’t as folk-rock-based as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s records were. The track’s corn-eared hook is its frequent chorus, when the Beatles come together for some of their most uplifting harmonies.-allmusic.com

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Rise to the Sun/ Alabama Shakes

Pitched somewhere between the retro-purist vibe of Sharon Jones and the nervy revivalism of Jack White, Alabama Shakes possesses a curious character: they’re rooted in the past but it’s clear they’ve learned their moves musicians removed some three or four generations from the source. Instead of playing like refractions from a hall of mirrors, Alabama Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls emphasizes how American roots music is now grounded in the ’60s notion of blues & soul, all filtered through the prism of ’70s classic rock.-allmusic.com

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In the Sun/ She & Him

It’s hard to be ambivalent about Zooey Deschanel.  She’s a polarizing personality, one whose deadpan movie roles and big Bambi eyes are either charming or too cute for their own good. The same can be said for She & Him, a soft rock duo that features Deschanel doing what she does best as a film star: acting utterly adorable alongside a quiet, talented male character. Her co-star in this case is M. Ward, who produces the band’s second album and frames Deschanel’s voice with a Spector-sized pile of instruments. Those who already take issue with Zooey’s acting will almost surely pick this record apart — it’s too reminiscent of her cutesy turns in movies like (500) Days of Summer to change many minds — but for fans of retro pop (and Deschanel in general), Volume 2 is a gem.-all music.com

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She’s only Happy in the Sun/ Ben Harper

Ben Harper is a musical preacher of sorts, never one to be shy in speaking his mind about social conformity. Diamonds on the Inside marks Harper’s fifth studio effort and this time he’s emotionally in touch with what makes his heart burst. This is a passionate album, no doubt. His signature Weissenborn guitar joins him once more and Harper’s classic groovy funk is heavy; however, Harper adds worldbeat to his musical plank. From the Marley-esque vibe of “With My Own Two Hands” to the African soundscapes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo on “Picture of Jesus,” Harper’s purist presentation is smooth. “When It’s Good” gives a little country blues twang, while “Touch From You Lust” is a sexy haze of writhing riffs.-allmusic.com

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Sun It Rises/ Fleet Foxes

Despite drawing from so many sources, there’s a striking purity to Fleet Foxes’ sound. Robin Pecknold’s voice is warm and sweet, with just enough grit to make phrases like “premonition of my death” sound genuine, and the band’s harmonies sound natural, and stunning, whether they’re on their own or supported by acoustic guitars or the full, plugged-in band. Even when the songs aren’t as brilliant as Fleet Foxes’ highlights, the band still sounds alluring, as on the lush interlude “Heard Them Stirring.” Throughout the album, the band sounds wise beyond its years, so it’s not really that surprising that Fleet Foxes is such a satisfying, self-assured debut.-allmusic.com

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Sunshine of Your Love/ Cream

“Sunshine of Your Love” was Cream’s most famous and popular recording, making #5 in 1968. If Cream, the band, were one of the ultimate intersections between hard rock, pop, and psychedelia, “Sunshine of Your Love” was one of its ultimate examples of such a hybrid. The big hook of “Sunshine of Your Love” is a grinding, instantly memorable hard rock riff, stuttering between two notes before hellishly descending for a few more, then rising in an upward squiggle. That riff continues throughout the verses, only changing in that it sometimes changes keys. Jack Bruce’s lead vocal is charged with operatic angst without becoming overbearing, a difficult balancing act to be sure, but one that he deftly maintains. The verses are broken up by an equally memorable chorus-bridge, a circular three-chord pattern in which the rhythms become tenser, mirroring the lyric’s growing anticipation and waiting for the sunshine of his lover’s love.-allmusic.com

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Brighter Than Sunshine/ Aqualung

Using the nom de rock Aqualung, singer/songwriter Matt Hales merges material from his two U.K. discs on Strange and Beautiful, his appealing U.S. debut. Vocally reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Hales’ musical approach will likely win converts from fans of the aforementioned. The title track, which gained significant attention after it was used in a U.K Volkswagen commercial, is a compelling piano ballad with enough experimental touches to put it in the company of Coldplay and Keane, but there are equally good offerings like “Brighter Than Sunshine” and “Left Behind.” With the former, Hales finds love by surprise (“I didn’t believe in destiny”) with a Beatles’ ballad pace, but it’s not all optimism. Devotion turns to devastation on “Falling Out of Love,” a jazzy number with a heartfelt delivery. On rare occasion, the material feels sluggish (as with “Tongue-Tied”) but by and large, Aqualung’s U.S. entry is a breath of fresh air.-allmusic.com

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Aquarius/ Let the Sunshine In/ Fifth Dimension

Easily the most ambitious and successful record by the 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” was originally the musical centerpiece of the monumentally popular Broadway rock musical Hair. Like the stage play, the lyrics illustrate the possibilities of a generation, coupled with references to universal love and astrological references. Musically, it’s a multi-part, full-blown suite that tested the boundaries of Top 40 radio. The 5th’s version went to number one in the spring of 1969, and it was one of the last gasps of the ’60s-positive legacy that was, unfortunately, to fade away with the horrors of the Charles Manson murders and the Rolling Stones’ Altamont concert just months later. Opening with a beautiful, avant-garde, psychedelic fragment, the song immediately shifts into a combination of soul, pop, and rock, with an added taste of Broadway spice. The chorus is an uplifting, pop/rock movement, culminating in a dizzying choral pattern, not unlike “McArthur Park.” A funky, gospel/rock pattern emerges during the “Let the Sunshine In” section. This is a perfect bedrock for Billy Davis Jr.’s spontaneous gospel wailing, which, incredibly, was laid down in one take. The song is continually used in ’60s documentaries, as well as period films.-allmusic.com

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Bird of the summer/ A Fine Frenzy

What a difference two years can make. Alison Sudol introduced herself as a piano-playing pixie on 2007’s One Cell in the Sea, stuffing her debut album with lilting vocals and fairy tale lyrics. Although that combination spawned several upbeat songs, ballads proved to be Sudol’s bread and butter, and she soon found herself saddled with the unfortunate task of re-creating the album’s intimacy in a live concert setting. Two years after Sea’s release, Sudol returns with a second record, having taken a lesson from the road and fine-tuned her music accordingly. There are still several ballads here, particularly during the album’s latter half, but Sudol knows that faster tunes work better in concert, where both the band and the audience can share in the same catharsis. Accordingly, Bomb in the Birdcage is a lively piece of work, with songs that take flight and arrangements that couch her vocals in tasteful heaps of strings, harmonies, and piano.-allmusic.com


Funeral Music Playlist

February 8, 2013

Maybe I’m weird but I worry about what music is going to be played at my funeral. I don’t want some really boring organ music playing in the background while I am being eulogized. This playlist is not my personal funeral playlist but it may give you something to think about when planning for the inevitable.

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Atmosphere/ Joy Division

“Atmosphere” is another one of those prime Joy Division songs, like “Transmission” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” where Martin Hannett’s production becomes so essential to the end result that it couldn’t have been heard otherwise. Bernard Sumner’s low keyboard start and Peter Hook’s minimal, calm bass make a perfect counterpoint to the sheer, sudden power of Stephen Morris’s sudden drum parts — if anything, percussion is the heart of the song, the echo and near-tribal roll of the beats suggesting a futuristic ritual. Ian Curtis’s performance is another one of his best — one of his most controlled and calm, his deep moan suggesting both a will to continue and a sheer mournfulness. The killer touch, without question, has to be the sudden, shimmering keyboard sparkle Sumner adds after each verse, produced to sound like rays of light from the heavens, a beautiful contrast of light against the heavy rhythmic doom down below. It’s little surprise John Peel chose this song as the one to play on the air after announcing Curtis’s death — there’s a feeling of a requiem here, an awesome musical farewell.-allmusic.com

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In my room/ Beach Boys

This sensitive pop gem was one of the first Beach Boys tracks to completely break out of the surf-and-drag mold. Indeed, the lyrics for “In My Room” tackle a subject that any teenager can relate to: the feelings of safety and comfort that can be found while relaxing in the sanctuary of one’s bedroom. The melody that supports these thoughts has a lullaby quality to it, building its verse on ascending note patterns that rise higher with each stanza before the melody resolves itself with the comforting descending notes of the chorus. The Beach Boys recording brings this sense of musical ebb and flow to life in a vivid fashion thanks to an inventive Brian Wilson vocal arrangement that starts with a solo vocal at the beginning of each verse and adds on voices with each line to create a grand harmony by the time each chorus arrives. The instrumental portion of the recording achieves a similarly hypnotic effect via a backing track that layers its circular guitar riffs with the gentle strum of a harp and a steady drum beat that anchors the song. -allmusic.com

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Into my arms/ Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

“Into My Arms” is one of Nick Cave’s signature-style dark piano ballads, a love theme at the core of the lyrics, cloaked in spiritual and religious language and imagery. Accompanied only by himself on piano and Martyn P. Casey on bass, Cave plays a simple piano melody that stays rolling, barely shifting throughout except to build toward the refrain, “Into my arms, O Lord.” Questioning his own belief in God and the angels while respecting the object of his desire’s affection for them, the singer makes the sort of plaintive plea to the gods he doesn’t believe in that differences aside, love may conquer all and keep the pair together. Capturing in voice, melody, and lyric the doubts, faith, fears, and hopes that love can inspire among the faithless, he returns to the idea that truth, strength, and love are values worth striving for. This is Cave’s strength in song.-allmusic.com

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Soul meets body/ Death Cab for Cutie

For your consideration: a wildly successful indie rock band with a legion of followers on an equally successful, highly credible independent label makes the jump to major-label powerhouse Atlantic, leading to much chagrin and speculation among its fans as they awaited with bated breath for what would happen to the group. The album winds its way from one ballad to the next, with brief stopovers at moderately up-tempo numbers to help break things up a bit. And it’s this sense of resignation that either makes or breaks the album, depending on which Death Cab for Cutie is your favorite: the melancholic, hopeless romantic or the one who wears its heart on its sleeve with unbridled energy and passion.-allmusic.com

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So Long Goodbye/ Sum 41

Sporting a similar-sounding but not as politically potent title in Underclass Hero, Sum 41’s fifth studio album extends upon its predecessor Chuck’s deliberate attempt at getting serious and relevant, containing just enough garbled commentary and political platitudes to not only give the impression that the bandmembers are saying something beyond their beloved clichés, but to give the impression that they’re telling a story, creating an anthem for the “underclass hero,” the slacker who can’t be labeled as an underachiever because he never attempts to achieve. – allmusic.com

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At My Funeral/ Crash Test Dummies

Like an improbable kiddie cereal made with bran, this Canadian group gives you sprightly Irish jigs and earthy-crunchy folk music, all rolled into one addictively sweet confection—and it’s even good for you. Led by vocalist Brad Roberts’s laconic growl, this Dummies debut hops easily from the upbeat to the somber. The lyrics often sound as if they were written by the same people who see Elvis at fast-food joints. The ballad “Superman’s Songs,” for instance, is a wonderfully goofball discussion of why Superman makes a better superhero than Tarzan. While the Dummies’ mix of the silly and the sentimental, both musically and lyrically, may not suit everybody’s taste, The Ghosts That Haunt Me is one record that never gets soggy. (Arista)

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Hallelujah/ Leonard Cohen

Despite the over-saturation of “Hallelujah,” the song’s recent chart-topping success on both sides of the ocean has given Cohen some sweet revenge. “There were certain ironic and amusing sidebars, because the record that it came from which was called Various Positions — a record Sony wouldn’t put out,” Cohen told the Guardian. “They didn’t think it was good enough… So there was a mild sense of revenge that arose in my heart.” Cohen can’t complain about the extra royalties either, especially considering he was forced to tour after a lengthy hiatus because his former manager made off with most of his assets. Meanwhile, we’re still surprised that Leonard Cohen is sitting around reading reviews of the superhero flick Watchmen.- rollingstone.com

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Time to Say Goodbye/ Andrea Bocelli

Sarah Brightman, who enjoyed a European hit with “Time to Say Goodbye,” her duet with Andrea Bocelli,  constructed an album beginning with that recording and continuing in kind. The characteristics of the hit — a lush, melodramatic, mock-operatic arrangement complete with a crescendo out of Ravel’s “Bolero” and soaring voices singing in English and Italian — are repeated here, whether the material is drawn from Puccini, the Gipsy Kings, or Queen. Part of PBS’ long-running Great Performances program, Concerto: One Night in Central Park features legendary Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli’s 2011 free concert on Central Park’s Great Lawn. With Bocelli backed by the New York Philharmonic  conducted by longtime musical director Alan Gilbert, the 17-track collection is also being made available in a deluxe edition that includes a DVD of the evening.-allmusic.com

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All Things Must Pass/ George Harrison

“All Things Must Pass” was the title song of George Harrison’s 1970 number one debut album. Like several of the songs on that record, it has a slow, almost dirge-like air, though it is executed with a stateliness that avoids lugubriousness. And, like several songs on that record, it was actually written before the Beatles had broken up. A tentative, perhaps even feeble, pass through the song was attempted by the Beatles during their troubled Let It Be sessions in early 1969; one of those takes was issued on Anthology 3. Part of the problem the Beatles had in getting to grips with the song, perhaps, was that Harrison (and the other Beatles) were beginning to write compositions that were more well-suited for them as solo vehicles than as Beatles arrangements. When it was recorded for his solo album, the song benefited from Phil Spector’s orchestral productions, with subtle interjections of brass interacting with Harrison’s high slide guitar. “All Things Must Pass” has a pleasant, though not stunning, melody and a an air of calm resignation, as well as the kind of hymnal chorus that was found in numerous Harrison works of the period. The lyrics might be a reflection of Harrison’s Indian religious beliefs, but actually there is no specific mention or allusion to Indian religion. It is a simple but direct statement on the impermanence of both good and bad times, and, in fact, in tone is not far removed from the messages of faith and reassurance found in the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” “All Things Must Pass” is more passive and resigned than “Let It Be,” however. It’s the kind of song that fits the mood in November, when the trees are getting stripped bare of their leaves, the days are getting shorter and colder, and you have to resign yourself to knowing it’s going to be tougher and tougher in those regards for months, also knowing that those hardships will pass away come springtime.-allmusic.com

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True Faith/ New Order

A tremendous single for New Order – a brilliant standalone effort and the triumphant conclusion of the peerless singles collection Substance – “True Faith” deservedly hit the charts in America, the UK and elsewhere, a marvelous valediction for a band with a core that had stuck to its guns for ten straight years. “True Faith” resisted being conventional for all that it was poppy, catchy, a radio-friendly song with its own unexpected edge. Bernard Sumner’s lyric hints at a strange desperation at play, sung with an unsure, nervous emotion (“I guess there’s just no way of knowing…I used to think that the day would never come/That my life would depend on the morning sun”). It’s the dramatic electronic drum start (memorably if cryptically matched in the heavily-screen video by mimes), Peter Hook’s strong bass line over deeper synth bass, Gillian Gilbert’s strong but not bombastic orchestral swells and keyboard chimes and more that really make everything connect, each verse building into the strong chorus with a sense of sudden anticipation.-allmusic.com


Songs from 1912-1913- A Michael Lasser Playlist

January 5, 2013

The Central Library Arts Division is happy to add Michael Lasser, host of  WXXI’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm, to Bibliopod’s Music Advisory Team. Mr. Lasser frequently speaks about popular music and has taught the history of the Broadway musical and American popular music at several universities.  His articles about the performing arts appear in numerous national magazines ranging from American Legion to American Scholar. Michael’s selections are songs made popular in America a century ago. All text by Michael Lasser.

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Peg O’ My Heart/ Music by Fred Fisher, words by Alfred Bryan

Even though Fred Fisher came from Germany, he wrote more songs about the Irish than any other songwriter. Fisher was inspired to write the song after he saw a Broadway star named Laurette Taylor in the title role in a play called Peg ‘o My Heart.”

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Aba Daba Honeymoon/ Music and words by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan

Even though “Aba Daba Honeymoon” sounds like nothing more than a nonsense song about a monkey and a chimpanzee who fall in love and have a baboon marry them, it’s subtext is darker and more troubling. It was one of many racist songs that implicitly portrayed African-Americans as not-very-bright tropical natives or, even worse, as jungle animals, especially monkeys.

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Ballin’ the Jack/ Music by Chris Smith, words by Jim Burris

The most successful dance tune of 1913 was different from most songs about dancing. Rather than saying how much the dancers are enjoying themselves, it gives instructions that involve moving the knees, arms, and feet, and then twisting around in an obviously sexy way. Chris Smith was an early African-American songwriter.

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The Charleston/ Music by James P. Johnson, words by Cecil Mack

The major African-American composer and band leader James P. Johnson wrote “The Charleston” in 1913 as one of several numbers with a quirky dance rhythm, and used it again when he wrote the score for a Broadway revue in 1925. That’s when it swept the country on it way to becoming the longest lasting dance in American popular music.

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Come Josephine, In My Flying Machine/ Music by Fred Fisher, words by Alfred Bryan

Automobiles and airplanes, along with telephones and motion pictures: technology was changing the way we lived with unprecedented speed. In the early days, when the inventions were new and exciting, songwriters wrote about them in love songs, and the public couldn’t get enough of them.

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The International Rag/ Words and music by Irving Berlin

Our greatest songwriter, Irving Berlin established himself by writing ragtime songs – popular tunes that employed syncopation borrowed from Ragtime, and helped along by lyrics about dancing to Ragtime. He wrote “The International Rag” two years after his most important early hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

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When I lost you/ Words and music by Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin married Dorothy Goetz in 1911. They took an extended honeymoon but in the course of their travels Dorothy contracted typhus and died six months later. Berlin was devastated. For a long time, he was unable to write and wondered if his career had ended. When he finally began to work again, he wrote “When I Lost You,” his first important ballad and his most personal song.

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You Made Me Love You (I Didn’t Want to Do It)/ Music by James V. Monaco, words by Joe McCarthy

Written as an uptempo ragtime song by a songwriter and piano player known as Ragtime Jimmy Monaco, “You Made Me Love You” became a ballad when Al Jolson recorded it at a slow tempo. It became popular again in 1938 when young Judy Garland sang it to Clark Gable on his birthday. Her performance was then added to the movie, Broadway Melody of 1938.

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When Irish Eyes Are Smiling/ Music by Ernest R. Ball, words by  Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr.

Chauncey Olcott was one of a cluster of songwriters born in Buffalo. He went on to become a successful lyricist and a star in vaudeville and on Broadway. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” was the most popular song of the decade, a sentimental tribute to a lovely Irish colleen by three of Tin Pan Alley’s most skilled professionals, none of whom was Irish.


New Holiday Music Playlist

December 18, 2012

albumHere are some new Holiday CDs at Central…

Christmas in the Sand/ Colbie Caillat

SoCal beach bunny that she is, Colbie Caillat recognized a gaping hole in our collective Christmas consciousness: thousands of seasonal records exist but not a one was made for the beach. And so her 2012 album fills a specific need — it’s a breezy, sunny holiday platter for those who never see a snowflake in their December. Colbie’s specialty is a light touch but she actually rocks a little bit harder here than usual, letting her duet partner Brad Paisley goose “Merry Christmas Baby” with his gnarly Telecaster and giving “Winter Wonderland” an insistent electronic pulse, elements that make Christmas in the Sand a little livelier than either of her full-length platters, but the casual brilliance of this unassuming but thoroughly entertaining holiday album is that it has a genuine personality. Apart from a couple of pretty good newly written tunes, the songs are familiar but the sound isn’t: Christmas in the Sand is lively, cheerful, and bright, the sound of the season for climates where there’s nary a cloud in the sky. And there’s never been a Christmas album like that before, so it’s something of an achievement for Caillat. -allmusic.com

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A Very Perri Christmas/ Christina Perri

Christina Perri’s second EP is a far cry from 2010’s Ocean Way Sessions, which featured a live rendition of her breakthrough, breakup calling card “Jar of Hearts” — Perri, a former café waitress with a golden voice, found her way into the limelight a when “Jar of Hearts” spilled over after a performance on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Enter 2012, and Perri has thrown her hat into the annual yuletide blitz with the unfortunately titled A Very Perri Christmas, which pairs five holiday staples with one seasonal original, the quite lovely “Something About December.” It’s fitting that Perri chose the Carpenters’ “Merry Christmas Darling” as one of the five, as her effortless, easy pop vocals owe a great deal to Karen Carpenter, and her renditions of oft-abused standards like “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Ave Maria” are so refreshingly austere that they almost sound groundbreaking. In fact, it’s a shame that she stopped at just an EP.-allmusic.com

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On this winter’s night/ Lady Antebellum

Part of Lady Antebellum’s appeal is how they’ve mastered the quiet moments, sounding smooth even at their loudest. That aspect of their personality is absent on their 2012 holiday album On This Winter’s Night, about as big and bold a Christmas album as they come. Lady Antebellum’s approach is very modern, as they rely on secular standards from a variety of styles, copping Phil Spector’s jingling, ornate Wall of Sound for “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” covering Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” swinging with blaring horns on “Blue Christmas,” even taking the time to slow down Mariah Carey’s jubilant “All I Want for Christmas Is You” down to a soulful crawl. Everything, even the pretty harmonies on “The First Noel,” is given a high-gloss sheen, which doesn’t make this an album for quiet snowy nights. This is a Christmas album for the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, a soundtrack for days of shopping, present-wrapping, and parties filled with good cheer.-allmusic.com

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Christmas/ Francesca Battistelli

Inspired by legendary jazz greats and current contemporaries like John Mayer and Sara Bareilles, singer/songwriter Francesca Battistelli set out to write pop, soul-infused music that would motivate and encourage listeners of any age. Her exposure to the arts began at a young age with her interest and involvement in theatre, music and dance, and at 15, Francesca began writing and performing her own songs. Francesca Battistelli s 11-track album, Christmas, produced by Ian Eskelin, is comprised of both classics and some newly-penned Christmas tunes. The traditional songs include: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Marshmallow World,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “The Christmas Song,” “What Child Is This? (First Noel Prelude),” “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and “Joy To The World.” The new songs all co-written by Battistelli are: “Heaven Everywhere,” “Christmas Is,” “Christmas Dreams” and “You re Here.”-Amazon.com

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Holidays Rule/ Various

Collections of holiday music are a lot like the holiday season itself: not without some magic, but after a few of them you kind of know what you’re in for. While that may sound like a cynical assessment, it’s not meant to be. Holiday music, Christmas songs in particular, become pervasively ubiquitous, with countless renditions of ageless seasonal tunes showing up every year some weeks before Thanksgiving and sticking around until the year changes. Holidays Rule attempts to shake up the standard holiday listening with a cross section of artists ranging from ragtag indie acts to legitimate pop icons having a go at time-honored Christmas classics and wintry holiday songs. The collection features contributions from 17 diverse acts, and at its best, the material succeeds in offering an exciting perspective on songs we’ve all heard in every shopping center and dentist office around the holidays since what feels like the beginning of time.  Fun. open the set with a slickly produced pop-friendly version of “Sleigh Ride.” The pristine arrangement and enormous drums drive the song and turn an often benign tune into something actually pretty exciting. Likewise the Shins take on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” does not disappoint, re-envisioning the song in a overt homage to Brian Wilson’s saturated Pet Sounds-era productions. McCartney himself shows up a few tracks later with a sweet and standard reading of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.” Eleanor Friedberger from Fiery Furnaces offers the weirdest selection with “Santa, Bring My Baby Back to Me.” The song begins in a regular faux jazz-pop style, breaking down into an overly long section of hypnotic dubbed-out chanting and marimba vamping. More than once on Holidays Rule, bands turn in dire, almost depressive renditions of public domain songs. Calexico’s melodramatic over-orchestrated take on “Green Grows the Holly” and the Civil Wars’ indie folk dirge “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” both drag the collection down with their heavy-handedness. Though the collection has several standouts and a few duds, much of Holidays Rule is as straightforward as it comes, with unremarkable versions of holiday songs by very good names like the Fruit Bats, Holly Golightly, and Irma Thomas backed by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, among others. At its best, the collection is spirited fun, and at its worst it’s inoffensive background music, but it falls short of the adventurous spin on the holiday times it sets out for.-allmusic.com

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Merry Christmas, Baby/ Rod Stewart

Hard as it may be to believe, but Rod Stewart has gotten through five decades without succumbing to a holiday album. That streak ends in 2012 with the release of Merry Christmas, Baby, an easygoing and chipper collection of secular seasonal standards. A couple of carols are thrown in for good measure but these songs — “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings” presented as a duet with Mary J. Blige — along with a mildly incongruous “When You Wish Upon a Star,” slide by easily on the mellow big-band swing of the rest of the record. Song for song, Merry Christmas, Baby is very much of a piece with Rod’s ongoing Great American Songbook series, with Stewart not straying from the familiar form of these songs and producer David Foster laying on all manner of soft, soothing sounds, whether it’s acoustic guitars, synthesizers, strings, or a children’s choir on “Silent Night.” Very rarely does this hint at the Rod of the ’70s — and when it does on the closing “Auld Lang Syne,” its intro given a spare folky treatment reminiscent of his Mercury work, it’s a bracing, effective reminder of Stewart’s skill as a singer — and instead relies on a gladhanding charm that suits the season, not to mention Stewart in his crooning dotage. -allmusic.com

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Home for Christmas/ Celtic Woman

Celtic Woman’s fourth holiday collection, which features the talents of Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe, Máiréad Nesbitt and for the first time since 2007, Méav Ní Mhaolchatha, arrives just a year after 2011’s German-exclusive Celtic Family Christmas. Offering up the usual mix of amiable holiday pop (“I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “Winter Wonderland”) and triumphant, faith-based classics (“Joy to the World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “We Three Kings”), Home for Christmas doesn’t deviate at all from the formula, which after selling over six-million records worldwide, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.-allmusic.com

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Cheers, It’s Christmas/ Blake Shelton

Now that he’s a big television star, Blake Sheldon decided it was time that he acted the part. And so, Cheers, It’s Christmas, a holiday album timed for the Christmas season of 2012, just so happens to arrive during the thick of The Voice‘s third season. Shelton does not play it cozy and country here; he takes the time to make this a splashy celebration, inviting his wife Miranda Lambert in for a duet on one track and her band Pistol Annies for another, keeping it country with Reba McEntire and keeping it Sinatra with  Michael Bublé, perhaps straying a bit too far from home by singing with Trypta-Phunk, but feeling right at home with Kelly Clarkson. Such a long list of guests can’t help but bring to mind those star-studded seasonal variety shows from the ’70s and, in a sense, the record is stuck in that notion of cross-platform crowd-pleasing, trying to be a little bit of everything to everyone, but that’s by no means a bad thing, as Shelton has an easy charm that carries through any bumps in the road. It’s designed to be classically Christmas, with even its handful of new tunes constructed to sound classic, and Cheers, It’s Christmas does indeed wind up somewhat out of time, sounding like a perennial even upon its first listen.-allmusic.com

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Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas/ Various

Now That’s What I Call Today’s Christmas, released in 2012, followed four volumes of Now That’s What I Call Christmas, which were issued from 2001 through 2010. Those four discs reached across several decades for classic and contemporary Christmas music. This one, as the title suggests, leans on later releases and will be useful for younger listeners tired of hearing their parents’ and grandparents’ established favorites. While many of these songs are OK-to-good originals (Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Mittens,” One Republic’s “Christmas Without You”), many selections are covers of older songs (Demi Lovato faithfully does Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime,” for instance) and interpretations of traditional compositions (including Carrie Underwood’s “The First Noel” and Sugarland’s “Silent Night”). The oldest cut comes from the long-running Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” (1996) closes the disc in instrumental, theatrical form.-allmusic.com


Tribute to Ravi Shankar Playlist

December 12, 2012

Indian sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar died yesterday at the age of 92. He helped bring the music of India into the mainstream with collaborations with rock stars like George Harrison to classical musicians like Philip Glass. He are some of the recordings made by Shankar that are available to MCLS library patrons. For more Ravi Shankar at the library visit http://artsdivision.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/the-music-of-indian-sitar-master-ravi-shankar/

 

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Bangla Dhun/ The Concert for Bangladesh

Hands down, this epochal concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden — first issued on three LPs in a handsome orange-colored box — was the crowning event of George Harrison’s public life, a gesture of great goodwill that captured the moment in history and, not incidentally, produced some rousing music as a permanent legacy. Having been moved by his friend Ravi Shankar’s appeal to help the homeless Bengali refugees of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, Harrison leaped into action, organizing on short notice what became a bellwether for the spectacular rock & roll benefits of the 1980s and beyond. Though overlooked at the time by impatient rock fans eager to hear the hits, Shankar’s opening raga, “Bangla Dhun,” is a masterwork on its own terms; the sitar virtuoso is in dazzling form even by his standards and, in retrospect, Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, and Alla Rakha amount to an Indian supergroup themselves.-allmusic.com

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Concerto for Sitar & Orchestra: Morning Love/ Shankar & Previn

Melody is the essence of Indian music-there is no harmony as Western ears would expect-here the instruments of the symphony orchestra are used individually or in unison to develop, imitate and discuss the thematic ideas expounded by the sitar. The rhythm of Indian music is immensely complex and subtle, being organized in cycles ranging from 3 to 108 beats and, one would imagine, almost impossible for a large band of musicians untrained in Indian music to follow. But Shankar has written the music out in such a way that a marvelous freedom of rhythm is achieved. In Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra the ear hears only the continuous undulating melody, the complex, almost hypnotic rhythms which have entranced so many lovers of Indian music, with the added instrumental color of a Western symphony orchestra.-Susan Regan

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Swara-Kakali/ Ravi Shankar

With over 90 albums to his credit, the task for those who wish to investigate the recordings of India’s master musician Ravi Shankar can be a daunting one. Therefore, the Legacy/BMG Essential Ravi Shankar fills a welcome place in his catalog and serves as a starting point for the novitiate. There are 20 cuts on these two discs that range over most of the sitarist and composer’s shelf, from his early Angel recordings where he played mostly Indian classical music, to his later recordings for Private Music, to his lone Columbia album, The Sounds Of India, in 1968. Along the way,  Shankar is featured in many settings, from solo to performances with large ensembles of traditional Indian musicians, to his collaborations with violinist Yehudi Menuhin from the gorgeous West Meets East recording, to his recording with George Harrison, to his work with Philip Glass and numerous other musicians on Passages. Through it all, Shankar is consistently in the classical framework, whether he is improvising on ragas or performing other compositions. The sound here has been completely remastered and the liner essay by Hank Bordowitz is both informative and compelling factually. This is the real intro to Shankar that has been needed for such a long time on CD.-allmusic.com

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Geetaa/ Ravi Shankar

Mantrum: Chant of India is a very smooth and delicate recording of sacred Sanskrit and Vedic prayers. George Harrison produced this set for Ravi Shankar. In the liner notes, Shankar states his intention to preserve the intense spirituality of the chants and to give them universal appeal. Shankar’s style and diversity allow him to open doors that are closed to other musicians. The instrumental accompaniment adds depth and soul to this recording. Shankar’s compositional and sound-design styles add atmosphere. Harrison’s deft touch allows the music to develop and maintain its own integrity. Among records of this nature, this one is special. It will appeal to fans of Nawang Khechog, Jonathan Goldman and Sheila Chandra. -allmusic.com

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Raga Patdeep/Gat Sitarkhani Taal

With a recent focus on Indian music taking a foothold on the Rough Guide series, it was only fitting that the grand ambassador of Hindusthani music would get a retrospective of his own. Taking a somewhat surprising turn here, the compilers have stuck with a number of relative rarities highlighting periods of  Ravi’s career, but not highlighting the more noteworthy performances and collaborations. The album opens with “Kathakali Katthak,” a 1989 composition for a theater troupe. Moving on, “Transmigration” hails from the British film Voila, and a rendition of “Mishra Piloo” pairs Shankar with his premier tabla compatriot, Alla Rakha, for an extended, ponderous work. Two dhuns hold the middle of the album, with “Dun Man Pasand” paying tribute to the city of Paris and “Devgiri Bilawal” allows some of Ravi’s trademark high-speed runs. “Reflection” comes from the film Transmigration Macabre, and somewhat obviously has a reflective atmosphere, with somewhat unusual rhythmic structures filling out the mood but keeping the whole a bit off-center. “Raga Patdeep” is mixed with a high-speed gat in “Sitarkhani Taal” for another of the signature displays of virtuosity that help to display why Shankar is an undisputed master of the instrument.-allmusic.com

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Ragas in Minor Scale/ Philip Glass, Ravi Shankar

A collaboration between an avant-garde modern classical composer and a traditional Indian/Hindi composer/performer seems as unlikely as ice hockey on the River Styx. However, Passages is a collaboration between Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar and it works quite well. Shankar’s smooth style fits nicely with Glass’ dissonant orchestrations. There is a great deal of technical data involved here. Both of these artists have long taken intellectual approaches to music. Thus, the liner notes are a bit heavy-handed. The music is brilliant. The symphony dominates the soundscapes, but Shankar’s atmospheres are integral to the success of this project. This CD will appeal to fans of John Cage, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich.-allmusic.com

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Raga Hansadhwani/ Ravi Shankar

Rare and Glorious draws from the archives of Saregama, Ravi Shankar’s longtime Indian record label, to compile a two-CD set of eight ragas with a total running time of 135 minutes; the tracks range across Shankar’s career, with the earliest one, “Raga Hansadhwani,” having been first released in 1962, and the most recent one, “Raga Shudh Kalyan,” in 1988. Five of the tracks run 19 minutes or more in length, allowing Shankar time to explore the themes and gradually develop the dynamics of a complete raga. The sitar player was already over 40 when the first of these recordings was made, so he is heard as a mature musician practicing his art in full flower. This kind of music is not really susceptible to a “greatest-hits” selection, but many of these tracks are notable not only for the accomplished playing but also for their return to availability on this release, since they previously only appeared on long out of print LPs. Thus, the album justifies the words of its title, containing music that is both “glorious” and “rare.”-allmusic.com

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Dadra/ Ravi Shankar

One of the early works of art created for the West by the Grandfather of World Music. This album stands as an early attempt to teach the curious western listener about the complexity and beauty of Indian music. Composer Alan Hovhaness provides some rather thorough liner notes describing the systems involved in Indian classical music (with the focus clearly on Hindustani forms), and goes into some detail on the finer points of the four ragas performed (Maru-Bihag, Bhimpalasi, Sindhi-Bhairavi, and Pancham-se-Gara, which is played during the piece titled “Dadra,” actually a tala). Throughout the album, short lessons in the forms and techniques are given by Shankar himself before the various pieces are performed. For sheer musicality, something like The Genius of Ravi Shankar might be a better choice for a look at the earlier years, but for a historical document of both Shankar’s amazing abilities, as well as his love of spreading the word for his music and teaching others, this album is perhaps better. For collectors, both albums would be wonderful additions to the collection, as early examples of World Music making its way into the non-native markets quite successfully. Give this one a number of listens for the music itself, and maybe a spare just for the history in it.-allmusic.com


Grammy Nominees 2012 Playlist

December 7, 2012

Click on the cover art to access the catalog for locating music in the library’s collection.

Record Of The Year

Lonely Boy/ Black Keys

Lonely Boy/ Black Keys

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)/ Kelly Clarkson

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)/ Kelly Clarkson

We are young/ Fun.

We are young/ Fun.

Somebody That I Used To Know/ Gotye Featuring Kimbra

Somebody That I Used To Know/ Gotye Featuring Kimbra

Thinkin Bout You/ Frank Ocean

Thinkin Bout You/ Frank Ocean

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together/ Taylor Swift

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together/ Taylor Swift

Album Of The Year

El Camino/ Black Keys

El Camino/ Black Keys

Some Nights/ Fun.

Some Nights/ Fun.

Babel/ Mumford & Sons

Babel/ Mumford & Sons

Channel Orange/ Frank Ocean

Channel Orange/ Frank Ocean

Blunderbuss/ Jack White

Blunderbuss/ Jack White

Song Of The Year

The A Team/ Ed Sheeran

The A Team/ Ed Sheeran

Adorn/ Miguel

Adorn/ Miguel

Call Me Maybe/ Carly Rae Jepsen

Call Me Maybe/ Carly Rae Jepsen

Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)/ Kelly Clarkson

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)/ Kelly Clarkson

We Are Young/ Fun.

We Are Young/ Fun.

Best New Artist

Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes

Fun.

Fun.

Hunter Hayes

Hunter Hayes

The Lumineers

The Lumineers

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean


Tribute to Dave Brubeck Playlist

December 6, 2012

One day short of his 92nd birthday, jazz innovator, pianist and composer Dave Brubeck passed away yesterday, December 5. He is known to most for his collaborations with jazz greats like Paul Desmond, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis to name a few; however, he influenced many other musical genres from folk to classical. Here is a playlist of songs from some of the many Brubeck CD’s available at the Central Library.

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We crossed the Rhine/ Private Brubeck Remembers

In early 2004, Dave Brubeck reminisced about his days as a soldier during World War II for this two-CD set, playing solo piano interpretations of songs from that era. Brubeck, then recently married and promptly drafted after graduating from the College of the Pacific, almost ended up in combat before getting an opportunity to play with an army band, which caused a music-loving colonel to install the young private as director of the band. His “We Crossed the Rhine” is a tense piece that evokes the still-dangerous conditions as they made their way into Germany.-allmusic.com

Koto Song/ 1975: The Duets

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Although Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond made many rewarding recordings together, this was their only duo album; it was inspired by several duo performances on board a cruise ship. Their magical ESP is evident from start to finish. Brubeck’s lyricism throughout these sessions will surprise critics who label him as “bombastic,” while Desmond, known for his pure dry-toned alto sax, throws a few curves to his longtime fans. The especially adventurous introduction to Brubeck’s oriental blues “Koto Song” opens with Desmond providing percussion by tapping on his instrument’s keys without blowing; the piece then slowly evolves from random-sounding fragments into its haunting theme.-allmusic.com

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Cultural Exchange/ The Real Ambassadors

In 1961, Dave Brubeck put together a remarkable musical show. Using the talents of Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars, Carmen McRae, the innovative bop vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, and his own rhythm section, Brubeck and his wife, lyricist Iola, wrote a largely upbeat play full of anti-racism songs and tunes that celebrated human understanding. Although it had only one live performance (at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival), The Real Ambassadors was recorded for posterity and now, with its reissue on CD, the original 15 selections have been augmented by five more. It is important to listen to this music without prior expectations because Paul Desmond is nowhere to be found, Louis Armstrong does not play that much trumpet here, and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross essentially function as background singers. However Satch and Carmen McRae make for a very potent team, and there are many touching and surprising moments.-allmusic.com

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An die Musik/ Schubert

This very unusual release features compositions written by Dave Brubeck, Dick Hyman and Roland Hanna for classical musicians. Brubeck’s Quintet Sonata For “An die Musik” is a challenging rhythmically complex sonata inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach, scored for the An die Musik’s unusual instrumentation of oboe, piano, violin, viola and cello. There are many influences in Brubeck’s writing; in addition to Bach, there’s the flavor of the American west-where the composer grew up on a working cattle ranch, Darius Milhaud, under whom Brubeck studied in graduate school, and of course, jazz. Dick Hyman wrote a three part Sonata For Violin & Piano, accompanying violinist Yuval Waldman on this equally intriguing piece. Hyman also adapted “The Minotaur” (a mid-1960s composition he wrote for and performed on an early Moog synthesizer) for violin and piano; this catchy piece combines the rhythms of bossa nova and waltz that proves to be far more effective than its original recording. Roland Hanna’s Sonata For Chamber Trio and Jazz Piano is a four part work, with cello, French Horn and flute accompanying Hanna’s piano. This composition was actually adapted by Hanna from four separate jazz works that he had already written and performed, so he found it relatively easy to re-score them for this new setting. As an added bonus, Hanna and Hyman collaborated in the studio to produce the very attractive Impromptu For Two Pianos, a lively improvisation that proves very rewarding. Highly recommended.-allmusic.com

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The way you look tonight/ Dave Brubeck Quartet

Although a touch underrated, Jazz at Oberlin is one of the early Dave Brubeck classic recordings. The interplay between the pianist-leader and altoist Paul Desmond on “Perdido” borders on the miraculous, and their renditions of “The Way You Look Tonight,” “How High the Moon” and “Stardust” are quite memorable. Brubeck’s piano playing on “These Foolish Things” is so percussive and atonal in one spot as to sound like Cecil Taylor, who would not emerge for another two years. With bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Lloyd Davis giving the Quartet quiet and steady support, Brubeck and Desmond were free to play at their most adventurous. Highly recommended.-allmusic.com

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Summer Song/ Dave Brubeck

It’s not uncommon for anyone to turn toward nostalgia as the years wear on, and at age 86, with nearly 60 years of recording behind him and nearly 50 since he shook up the jazz world with his landmark Time Out album, Dave Brubeck is certainly entitled to look back and take stock of his life. Indian Summer — the phrase itself suggests an acknowledgement of a waning in progress — is something of a companion piece to 2004’s Private Brubeck Remembers. Like that gem, Indian Summer is a solo piano work comprised of Brubeck’s ruminations on standards of the mid-20th century, the period when he was just coming up as an artist and blossoming as a young man. These are reflective, meditative ballads, softly but skillfully played and hinting at melancholy. On time-worn Americana such as “Georgia on My Mind,” “September Song,” “Sweet Lorraine,” and “Spring Is Here,” Brubeck is restrained but soulful, out to prove nothing. It’s not that age has dulled him; Brubeck’s performance is uniformly exquisite, imaginative, and elegant; it’s just not edgy. A small handful of original material nicely complements the standards, adding up to one of the more intimate entries in Brubeck’s enormous discography.-allmusic.com

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The Duke/ Dave Brubeck

“The Duke,” written by Dave Brubeck in the mid-1950s, was originally to be titled “The Duke Meets Darius Milhaud,” to honor one of the titans of jazz and the French composer with whom Brubeck studied at Mills College following World War II. This upbeat work is unusual in that its bass line goes through a twelve tone row within the first eight bars, which adds to the challenge of performing it. Although Brubeck has proven to be one of the most prolific jazz composers during a large part of his career, this landmark composition has long been a staple in his repertoire and recorded numerous times for various labels by the pianist. The best version may be his solo interpretation, which he recorded himself for his Columbia LP Brubeck Plays Brubeck. It has appealed to a number of other jazz musicians, as it has been recorded by Miles Davis, Teddy Wilson, Bob Wilber, Barney Kessel, Clare Fischer, Ran Blake, Phil Woods, Marian McPartland, George Shearing, Joe Pass and even Steve Allen. It is probably ranks second in popularity among Brubeck’s compositions just after “In Your Own Sweet Way.”-allmusic.com

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Three to get read/ Dave Brubeck

In 1987 Brubeck, after decades of trying, finally had an opportunity to perform with his Quartet in the Soviet Union. The enthusiastic crowd (many of whom had grown up on Brubeck’s music) clearly inspired the musicians which included clarinetist Bill Smith,  electric bassist Chris Brubeck and drummer Randy Jones. Because of the major impact of both “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” several other valuable compositions which also appeared on Dave Brubeck’s best-selling album Time Out are easily overlooked by critics and casual jazz listeners. “Three to Get Ready” is hardly unfamiliar ground to Brubeck’s fans, as the pianist has repeatedly revisited this happy waltz during numerous concerts in the decades which followed its initial studio recording in 1959. The song, which alternates between three and four, often produces some humorous solos in concert, particularly in Paul Desmond’s quote-filled solo on the CD 25th Anniversary Reunion. Most of the other musicians who have recorded this Brubeck composition haven’t been very well known. It was also recorded by singer Claude Nougaro, who had a hit with it in France under the title “Jazz et Java.”-allmusic.com

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Take Five/ Paul Desmond

Dave Brubeck’s defining masterpiece, Time Out is one of the most rhythmically innovative albums in jazz history, the first to consciously explore time signatures outside of the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time. It was a risky move — Brubeck’s record company wasn’t keen on releasing such an arty project, and many critics initially roasted him for tampering with jazz’s rhythmic foundation. But for once, public taste was more advanced than that of the critics. Buoyed by a hit single in altoist Paul Desmond’s ubiquitous “Take Five,” Time Out became an unexpectedly huge success, and still ranks as one of the most popular jazz albums ever. That’s a testament to Brubeck and Desmond’s abilities as composers, because Time Out is full of challenges both subtle and overt — it’s just that they’re not jarring. Brubeck’s classic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” blends jazz with classical form and Turkish folk rhythms, while “Take Five,” despite its overexposure, really is a masterpiece; listen to how well Desmond’s solo phrasing fits the 5/4 meter, and how much Joe Morello’s drum solo bends time without getting lost. The other selections are richly melodic as well, and even when the meters are even, the group sets up shifting polyrhythmic counterpoints that nod to African and Eastern musics. Some have come to disdain Time Out as its become increasingly synonymous with upscale coffeehouse ambiance, but as someone once said of Shakespeare, it’s really very good in spite of the people who like it. It doesn’t just sound sophisticated — it really is sophisticated music, which lends itself to cerebral appreciation, yet never stops swinging. Countless other musicians built on its pioneering experiments, yet it’s amazingly accessible for all its advanced thinking, a rare feat in any art form. This belongs in even the most rudimentary jazz collection.-allmusic.com

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It’s a Raggy Waltz/ Dave Brubeck

“It’s a Raggy Waltz” is an unusual item among Dave Brubeck’s vast number of compositions, as he contributed both the music and the lyrics to this song. Debuted in 1961 on the album Time Further Out, this piece isn’t exactly a waltz or a rag but a choppy piece with constantly shifting accents that don’t predictably fall where the listener expects. It had immediate appeal on concert dates, turning up on The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall and his collaboration with singer Carmen McRae (Take Five). He also revisited “It’s a Raggy Waltz” with three of his musical sons on Brother, the Great Spirit Made Us All. Chris Brubeck’s humorous arrangement for a recording session with folk singer Bill Crofut, guitarist Joel Brown and Classical singer Frederica von Stade is particularly memorable. Others who have recorded the song include guitarist Marc Fossett (known for his work with Stephane Grappelli) and pianist Jim Hession.-allmusic.com


Thanksgiving Playlist, that’s what’s cookin’!

November 15, 2012

Here are some tunes to listen to while you prepare your Thanksgiving feast!

Cornbread and Butterbeans/ Carolina Chocolate Drops

Genuine Negro Jig is perfectly recorded, balanced between the best sound this century can deliver and the rustic, throwback feel of an old-time string band in action at a picnic, dance or rent party in the ’30s. That’s the accomplishment here. The next step, if the Carolina Chocolate Drops are willing to go there, is to stretch things from being a great facsimile to being a natural extension of an ongoing tradition. That’s when revival changes into evolution.-allmusic.com

Roll Plymouth Rock/ Beach Boys

Quibbles aside, everything about this package is richly detailed, immensely pleasing, and overall a wonderful experience. All of the CD editions include copious bonus tracks, such as nine minutes of a cappella vocals (“SMiLE Backing Vocals Montage”), whose beauty and fragility will help listeners realize that the Beach Boys obsessed just as much over their vocalizing as their music. Deluxe editions add essays from several angles, reminiscences from those who were there, and original artwork and photos from the period. True, no one will ever know what effect a SMiLE release in spring 1967 would have had on music or pop culture, and with the music so circular and the lyrics so obtuse, it’s likely that SMiLE would have become merely a curio of psychedelic excess rather than a work that transformed culture. But regardless, it shows Brian Wilson’s mastery of pure studio sonics and his ability to not only create distinctive pop music, but give it great beauty as well. Those qualities have inspired musicians for decades, and it’s clear they will continue to do so.-allmusic.com

Home/ Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

“Hot and heavy pumpkin pie… Ain’t nothing please me more you,” Edward and his Magnetic Zeros profess. This song has all the charm in the world, and sounds like something the settlers would have sung while caravanning along the Oregon Trail. Formed in 2007 by Ima Robot frontman Alex Ebert, the mammoth 11-piece outfit embraces “the Summer of Love” with enough period beards, fonts, and Eastern mysticism to launch a thousand “Magical Mystery Tours,” but despite all of the analog equipment and peacenik grandstanding, standout tracks like “Home,” “Desert Song,” and the aforementioned “40 Day Dream” sweep you up in their grandeur like a patchouli tornado and dare you to take your clothes off and jump in the lake with them.-allmusic.com

Thankful/ Caveman

What do an indie rock quartet and a professional wrestler have in common? No, this isn’t the beginning of a groaner, but rather a genuine inquiry about what inspired Brooklyn band Caveman to reference WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware with the title of their full-length debut, Coco Beware. No immediate connections emerge upon listening, but the moods and textures of the record prove every bit as colorful as the pugilist namesake’s costumes and novelty parrot. Combining the sparkling majesty of later-era Animal Collective and the lush experimentation of TV on the Radio with the warm yearning of the Shins, Caveman cover an ambitious territory in the album’s ten-track, 36-minute run, balancing potentially conflicting elements like four-part harmonies, tribal drums, trickling keyboard, hazy guitars, and a lyrical focus on friendship and growth. Summer fades into fall with the moody, Talking Heads-meets mantra mashup “Thankful,” enveloping the mysterious refrain “Thankful all my friends with remorse” in shimmering guitar and propulsive conga drumming.-allmusic.com

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/ Vince Guaraldi

Combining the whimsical yet elegant compositions of Vince Guaraldi and the mellow, restrained playing of George Winston, Linus & Lucy: The Music of Vince Guaraldi is a mostly happy marriage of the composer’s and performer’s styles. On much of the album, Winston tends to tone down the breeziness of Guaraldi’s performances, opting for a gentler, reflective approach that sparkles on “Skating” and “Young Man’s Fancy,” but tends to make “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” and “Treat Street” sound a bit washed out. However, sprightly renditions of “The Masked Marvel,” “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” “Peppermint Patty,” and “Eight Five Five” more than make up for the occasional lag and spotlight Winston’s virtuoso piano playing. Though it’s not necessarily intended as a best-of Vince Guaraldi collection, Linus & Lucy could certainly be used as one; however, it’s Winston’s distinctive style that makes it one of the best solo piano new age albums of the ’90s.-allmusic.com

Making Pies/ Patty Griffin

While 1,000 Kisses finds Griffin blending covers in with her own compositions for the first time, she proves to be a first-rate interpretive singer (her version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Stolen Car” actually improves on “the Boss”‘ original), and her own songs are splendid, especially the moving widow’s lament “Making Pies” and the moody lead-off track “Rain.” And regardless of who wrote the material, Griffin’s voice — a tower of strength capable of expressing remarkable emotional vulnerability — remains a wonder to behold. 1,000 Kisses finds Patty Griffin at the top of her game, and one can only hope we don’t have to wait four years for the follow-up.-allmusic.com

Thanksgiving filter/ Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers are a band that likes to do things the old-fashioned way. They proudly proclaim that they record their music “on glorious two-inch analog tape,” they still think in terms of albums with two (or four) sides, and their sound is firmly rooted in the traditions of Southern rock and the blues. They also hark back to a time when rock bands made an album every year followed by a tour, and if the DBTs haven’t quite held firm to that schedule, since they broke through with Southern Rock Opera in 2001, they’ve managed to release six studio albums, a live CD/DVD, another DVD-only live set, and a collection of rarities and unreleased tracks, all while keeping up a demanding touring schedule. Any band that busy is likely to believe it deserves a rest every once in a while, and in a sense, 2011’s Go-Go Boots feels a little bit like a working vacation.-allmusic.com

Thankful/ Josh Groban

Vocalist Josh Groban delivers his first Christmas themed album with 2007’s Noel.  Once again produced by longtime “man behind the curtain” David Foster, the album features more of Groban’s  dewy, supple vocals set to Foster’s cinematic orchestrations. As per the holiday theme, these are primarily classic tunes of the season including such chestnuts as “Silent Night,” “Ave Maria,” and, of course, “The Christmas Song.” However, also included are a few lesser-known traditional songs as “Panis Angelicus” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Similarly, while most of the productions here should appeal to longtime fans of Groban’s particular classical-crossover sound, some cuts like soft rock inflected “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and the Celtic folk leaning “Little Drummer Boy” do expand upon the Groban/Foster palette in a pleasing way. Notably, also showcased here are guest appearances by country superstar Faith Hill, R&B stalwart Brian McKnight, and perennial holiday backing band the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.