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


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.


New Music Playlist

July 25, 2012

Lots of great new recorded music available in the Arts Division this summer! Here’s a sampling:

Sixteen Saltines/Jack White

Jack White leaves such an indelible stamp on any project he touches that a solo album from him almost seems unnecessary: nobody has ever told him what to do. He’s a rock & roll auteur, bending other artists to fit his will, leading bands even when he’s purportedly no more than a drummer, always enjoying dictating the fashion by placing restrictions on himself. And so it is on Blunderbuss, his first official solo album, arriving five years after the White Stripes’ last but seeming much sooner given White’s constant flurry of activity with the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, Third Man Records, and countless productions. -All Music Guide

Bloody Mary (nerve endings)/ Silversun Pickups

Building upon Silversun Pickup’s Swoon’s layered melodicism and once again showcasing lead singer/songwriter Brian Aubert’s  knack for evocative, introspective lyrics and fiery, multi-dubbed guitar parts, Neck of the Woods is an even more infectious and nuanced affair. In that sense, not much has really changed for the band since 2009.  Slow-burning lead single “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings),” with its atmospheric soundscape backdrop via keyboardist Joe Lester, and the driving, grungy “Mean Spirits” are, as with all of the cuts on Neck of the Woods, perfect pop songs that still make room for Aubert’s raging and cinematic guitar parts. – All Music Guide

No Reflection/ Marilyn Manson

The eighth-studio album from alt-rock firebrand Marilyn Manson, Born Villain is the follow-up to the band’s 2009 effort The High End of Low. Described as having a heavier sound than its predecessor, this is also purported to be a concept album of sorts, in the vein of similar works by longtime Manson influence David Bowie. As Manson parted ways with Interscope Records in 2009, he was set to release Born Villain via his own imprint Hell, as well as his new parent label, Cooking Vinyl. A promotional film in support of the album directed by actor Shia LaBeouf premiered in Los Angeles in 2011. Included on Born Villain is the lead-off single “No Reflection.” – All Music Guide

We are Young/ Glee: The Music- The Graduation

One of Glee‘s biggest (perhaps only) concessions to the realities of being a high-school student was the graduation of several cast members entering their final year at William McKinley High School at the end of the show’s third season; many shows starring teen characters put off that fateful moment when high school ends for as long as possible. As with many later albums in the Glee series, the cast’s performances are decent but somewhat bland, as are the song choices, although fun.’s “We Are Young” and the New Radicals’  “You Get What You Give” are too quirky to have all their personality removed by Glee’s gloss. – All Music Guide

Changing of the guards /The Gaslight Anthem

Designed as a celebration for Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary, Chimes of Freedom is the mother of all tribute albums: a four-disc salute to Bob Dylan that runs some 76 songs performed by singers from all corners of the globe. From the very start of his career, Dylan saw his songs covered by all manners of artists, ranging from colleagues and peers to longhair rock bands, easy listening outfits, and weirdos like William Shatner, so the absurd abundance of Chimes of Freedom in a way fits into the grand pattern of history: his songs were always up for grabs, they’ve survived terrible misguided covers, they’ve been performed with loving faith, they’ve been reinvented once and again. – All Music Guide

Do to Me/ Trombone Shorty

New Orleans’ Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews knows the music biz inside out. Hounded for years by friends and music business types to jump into the game, he understood the lessons of his lineage elders: too many had been been ripped off and discarded. He took his time, assembling, rehearsing, and touring Orleans Avenue, a band steeped in brass band history, jazz improv, funk, soul, rock, and hip hop. He finally signed to Verve Forecast and released Backatown in April of 2010. Entering at number one on the jazz charts, it stayed there for nine straight weeks, and was in the Top Ten for over six months. For True hits while Backatown is climbing again. Chock-full of cameos — in the manner of modern hip-hop recordings — it is an extension of Backatown but not necessarily in sound. – All Music Guide

High Tide or Low Tide/ Jack John feat. Ben Harper

This is the most overt display of deference onJack Johnson & Friends: The Best of Kokua Festival but it’s hardly the only moment where Johnson is clearly the Big Kahuna. Eddie Vedder stops by, along with many other rockers and guitar strummers of all stripes, and there is a sense of communal good times that’s palpable and often ingratiating, even to those who don’t quite cotton to Johnson’s notion of surf-n-sun good times. Even here, where he is quite clearly the ringleader, Johnson remains an affable but not forceful presence on record: Jackson Brown, Eddie Vedder, Willie Nelson, even Dave Matthews and Ben Harper, all easily overpower him. – All Music Guide

 

Hypno music/ Danny Elfman

The cult classic supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows has a rich musical history, including the show’s Grammy-nominated “Quentin’s Theme,” part of Robert Cobert’s groundbreaking score, which remains one of the best-selling TV soundtracks. While Tim Burton’s 2012 film adaptation of the series was much more intentionally campy, Danny Elfman’s score remains more or less true to the original’s gothic grandeur while adding his own distinctive touches. Elfman also nods to Cobert’s score with tracks such as “Hypno Music” and “Deadly Handshake,” which boasts a melody that recalls the original Dark Shadows theme song, replete with suspenseful vibraphone and murky, lingering woodwinds. – All Music Guide


The Jazz Starts Here Playlist

June 1, 2012

Every spring, the Central Library Arts Division obtains as many music recordings that reflect the upcoming Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival that will take place at the end of June. Here is a playlist of albums featuring some of the big acts that will be playing at the festival this year.

Slipstream/ Bonnie Raitt

Slipstream provides ample proof of hust how much fans have missed Bonnie Raitt since 2005’s Souls Alike. The album was recorded over a period of a year at Ocean Way in Hollywood and at Joe Henry’s Garfield House. The four tracks cut at Henry’s studio in 2010 and 2011 include two of his own songs, and two covers of Bob Dylan tunes (“Million Miles” and “Standing in the Doorway”) from the latter’s Time Out of Mind. Raitt’s voice has never sounded better. She’s expanded her lower range with an expressiveness that is soulful, rich, and rings emotionally true — though she’s sacrificed none of her higher register. Her voice can command and reveal a devastating tenderness.- All Music Guide

Little Broken Hearts/ Nora Jones

Exorcizing the ghost of a failed relationship via the time-honored tradition of the breakup album,Norah Jones luxuriates in beautiful misery on Little Broken Hearts. Liberated by the separation but not quite ready to let it go, Jones achieves a curious subdued tension here, dressing unadorned confessionals in softly stylized studio noir created with the assistance of producer Danger Mouse, who collaborated with her the year before on the collective Rome. Seeming opposites — the classicist meets the futurist —  Jones and Danger Mouse are well matched, as both artists are not as set in their ways as their individual reputations would suggest.-All Music Guide

Radio Music Society/ Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spaulding’s fourth album, Radio Music Society (a companion piece to Chamber Music Society in name only) is one of enormous ambition — polished production, sophisticated, busy charts, and classy songwriting — that consciously juxtaposes neo-soul and adult-oriented jazz-tinged pop. It employs a stellar cast, largely of jazz musicians, to pull it off. She produced the set, with help from Q-Tip on a couple of numbers, and wrote all but two songs here: a cover of “I Can’t Help It” (a Michael Jackson cover written by Stevie Wonder ) and Wayne Shorter’s “Endangered Species.” -All Music Guide

Rare Bird Alert/ Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers

From the earliest days of his comedy career, Steve Martin has incorporated the banjo into various aspects of his act, and fellow banjo players have spoken with reverence of his skills for decades. But in recent years he has put a renewed focus on the instrument, and he won a Grammy for his album The Crow in 2010. Rare Bird Alert came along a year later, and it’s a full-fledged country/bluegrass album consisting entirely of Martin originals and recorded in collaboration with the Steep Canyon Rangers. – All Music Guide
The Very Best of Diana Krall/ Diana Krall
The Very Best Of Diana Krall collects a nice cross-section of tracks the pianist/vocalist recorded beginning with her 1996 breakthrough album, All for You, and moving through to her 2006 effort From This Moment On.  While this is primarily a compilation for fans of the sophisticated, jazz standards-oriented Krall, Verve does earn some kudos for including at least one cut from her deeply personal and subsequently not as popular effort The Girl in the Other Room. Also featured are cuts from her stellar 2002 concert album Live in Paris. If you’re a fan of straight-ahead jazz with a heavy dash of romance and haven’t checked out Krall’s work, The Very Best is superb place to start.- All Music Guide
Bossa Nova Stories/ Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias returns to the music of her native Brazil with this collection of bossa nova favorites, though there are a few American standards and pop songs recast as bossa novas as well. The pianist has grown in confidence as a vocalist over the course of several CDs, developing a sexy yet never overdone style that beautifully complements the music. Elias proves herself as a talented singing pianist, effortlessly switching between English and Portuguese lyrics. – All Music Guide
Middle of Everywhere/ Pokey LaFarge
Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three have no plans of stopping their mission of spreading the joy of early American music to the masses, exemplary in the accomplishments of their most successful year to date. The group has continued to received praise from NPR Music, having the honor of recording for the popular NPR video series Tiny Desk Concert, all while playing nearly 200 live shows across the country, including a second appearance at the renowned Newport Folk Festival and a first time performance at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee. -Artist’s Representative
For True/ Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews)
Chock-full of cameos — in the manner of modern hip-hop recordings — it is an extension of Backatown but not necessarily in sound. It’s perhaps crisper in production, but the musical diversity more than compensates. In addition to trombone, Shorty plays trumpet, organ, piano, drums, synths, and, of course, sings. They are tighter, even more confident, and perhaps even more adventurous here. Though Shorty handles some tracks playing all the instruments himself, or with a guest or two, OA bear the lion’s share with gravitas. “Buckjump” is the first clue that this is part two — it could have been the closing track on Backatown. The Rebirth Brass Band guest and play a big funky horn chart as Shorty’s big trombone solo greases the skids.- All Music Guide

WBER DJ Kelsey’s Playlist

May 22, 2012

Let’s get the ball rolling with our first playlist. This is not a patron requested playlist but one that you may be interested in none-the-less.  Kelsey is a great resource that patrons will benefit from when looking for something interesting and eclectic in the alternative music genre.

Make the Road by Walking/ Menahan Street Band
It’s kind of difficult to describe what kind of music the Menahan Street Band make, although the ten tracks (there’s also an unlisted 11th track) presented on this debut album share a certain pleasant, easy, and sunny vibe. All are unhurried instrumentals, and while it’s tempting to call this stuff soul, it isn’t that exactly. There’s a jazz feel here, too, but it isn’t exactly soul-jazz, either, and then there’s a certain intangible Jamaican dub feel to how things are mixed, but one can’t really call it dub, and while things get lightly funky now and then, it isn’t funk.-All Music Guide
Chinoiserie/ Medeski, Martin & Wood
Here, the MMW direction and loyalties become very clear; they’re possessed and driven by the fatback funk and instruments of an earlier generation. John Medeski becomes one of the wave of keyboardists in the ’90s who started dragging wonderful old Wurlitzer electric pianos, Hohner clavinets, Hammond organs, wah-wah pedals, and other devices out of the mothballs, and used them almost as quasi-percussion instruments at times. Chris Wood remains resolutely on standup bass, playing with a great feeling for Billy Martin’s supremely funky drumming. -All Music Guide
Human Qualities/ Explosions in the Sky
Like their home state of Texas, Explosions in the Sky are all about wide-open spaces, preferring to leave the landscape as it is rather than trying to fill every last bit of empty space just for the sake of doing so. It’s this aesthetic that sets the band apart from the busier bands in post-rock and, really, rock in general. While this may not make it the most immediately exciting album of Explosions in the Sky’s career, it easily stands to be one of their most rewarding. -All Music Guide
Hoppípolla/ Sigur Ros
Named in part after a sister of one of the bandmembers, Reykjavik, Iceland’s Sigur Rós (Victory Rose) was formed by guitarist and vocalist Jon Thor Birgisson (who later went by the name Jónsi), bassist Georg Holm, and drummer Agust. Formed in early 1994 while the members were teenagers, the trio’s first recorded song earned them a deal with Iceland’s Bad Taste label. Svefn-G-Englar, their first release to be distributed outside of their native country, was hailed as NME’s Single of the Week during September of 1999, launching a press hype steamroller in the U.K. and — to a lesser extent — in the U.S.-All Music Guide
First Tube/ Phish
Their rootsiest and most organic effort to date, Farmhouse is also their most fully developed — these are complete, concise songs and not simply outlines for extended jams, boasting a beauty and intimacy which expands the group’s scope even as it serves notice of a new found pop accessibility. The opening title cut, a gorgeously rustic country-pop ballad, immediately establishes Farmhouse’s muted, relaxed tone, and despite the occasional detour like the sunny funk workout “Gotta Jibboo” or the closing instrumental jam “First Tube,” by and large the set opts against kitchen-sink eclecticism in favor of an evocatively pastoral uniformity. -All Music Guide
Om Nashi Me/ Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
“40 Day Dream,” the Motown-infused, OutKast-inspired, heavily orchestrated “Beatlesque” soul jam that opens Up from Below, serves as a pretty good litmus test for what follows. Listeners who are put off by the robe-wearing Polyphonic Spree’s cultish glazed-eye self-help anthems or cringe when they hear the Mamas & the Papas’ “Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon” would be advised to get off the magic bus early, as Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros have crafted a love letter to Laurel Canyon and all of its quasi-mystic juju that is as infuriatingly contrived and retro as it is forward-thinking and majestic. -All Music Guide
Chicken Strut/ The Meters
Rhino’s Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology was the first truly comprehensive and widely available CD retrospective of the groundbreaking New Orleans funk band’s work. These two chronologically arranged discs run down virtually every important track the band recorded under its own name, finally allowing a more general audience to hear why the Meters had earned such a stellar reputation among die-hard funk collectors and sample-minded hip-hoppers. There’s more flash in this music, including plenty of nimble-fingered unison passages demonstrating that the band can be as tight as they are loose. It’s more proof that the Meters were the most telepathic funk ensemble this side of the J.B.’s.-All Music Guide
Paris Sunrise #7/ Ben Harper And The Innocent Criminals
“Heart of Matters” gets back to back-porch soul before giving way to a Weissenborn guitar solo on “Paris Sunrise #7,” before closing with the lone acoustic guitar and vocal ballad on the title cut. The set could have gone out on one of the more uptempo tunes after the instrumental, but it’s a small complaint in this mix.  This is a very informal-sounding record, and one that feels comfortable in showing its unvarnished side, its seams. – All Music Guide
Black Mud/ The Black Keys
Retreating from the hazy Danger Mouse-fueled pot dream of Attack & Release, the Black Keys headed down to the legendary Muscle Shoals, recording their third album on their own and dubbing it Brothers. The studio, not to mention the artwork patterned after such disregarded Chess psychedelic-era relics as This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album, are good indications that the tough blues band of the Black Keys earliest records is back, but the group hasn’t forgotten what they’ve learned in their inwardly psychedelic mid-period. -All Music Guide

Origin of Man/ The Budos Band

This Brooklyn-based instrumental collective combines slow-burn Afro-beat rhythms with a ’70s soul-jazz aesthetic, the latter sound well-known by those already familiar with the Daptone label’s other releases. The retro, almost blaxploitation soundtrack groove pushes the predominantly Afro style into American soul territory. They call it “Afro-soul,” which neatly sums up the style but doesn’t entirely do it justice; only hearing it does. Horns and horn charts dominate, which, because these sessions were recorded live in the studio, exude a spark and swing that are somewhat ominous yet hypnotically contagious.-All Music Guide