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


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

Alabama Shakes

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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


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


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


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.


Presidental Playlist…And the Winner is Obama

November 7, 2012

Here is a playlist created on spinner.com and the AOL Music staff that was aimed at listeners to inspire voting yesterday. Here is the winning playlist:

Baby I Need Your Lovin’/ Four Tops

This song’s charm and classic Motown sound matches Barack’s easy-going personality and the emphasis in the lyrics on “Got to have all your lovin” is the perfect metaphor for the fact that every vote really does count! — Caitlin White, AOL Music Editorial Assistant

Another One Bites the Dust/ Queen

Obama successfully won the presidency when he campaigned against Republican John McCain in 2008. While he accepted his victory gracefully, we can’t help but wonder if he’s already prepping for another win, this time against Romney. We can just hear him now: “Are you ready? Are you ready for this?” — Maggie Malach, AOL Music Intern

Rockin’ in the Free World/ Neil Young

President Obama should surely appreciate that Young — a big supporter of the administration — wrote it as a critique of George Bush Sr. and his perceived failings of the poor. More importantly, Barack should get amped up by the indisputable fact that it’s one of the greatest rock anthems of all time. — Dan Reilly, Editor of Spinner

Tub Thumping/ Chumbawumba

In Chumbawumba’s UK homeland, “tubthumper” means politician and this 1997 tune’s indelible chorus certainly applies to Obama right about now: “I get knocked, down but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down.” The lyrics about drinking whiskey, lager, vodka and cider — not to mention the band’s anarcho-punk politics regarding income inequality, war, feminism, gay rights and community activism – also mark this as the ultimate anti-Romney tune. One strike against it, admittedly, is that “Tubthumping” was Chumbawumba’s only hit — but on the other hand, it’s never gone away. — Josh Ostroff, Editor of Spinner Canada

Keep the Faith/ Bon Jovi

With all of the criticism that’s been hurled his way in the last year, this 1992 gem from the arena rock heroes would serve great as an anthem for the Obama campaign. — Carlos Ramirez, Editor of Noisecreep

Encore/ Jay-Z

As President Obama and celebrity supporter Jay-Z continue to sing each other’s praises, it’s only appropriate that the president have a Jay-Z classic on his debate pump-up playlist. “Encore”seems like the natural choice for the man who’s ready to give his encore performance as a second-term president. — Contessa Gayles, AOL Music Associate Editor


Cry it Out…Or Don’t: Break-Up Songs to Get Down To

October 22, 2012

Break-Up song playlist from WBER DJ Kelsey…

Breakin’ Up/ Rilo Kiley

If More Adventurous gave the group’s game plan away in its title, so does Under the Blacklight, for if this album is anything, it’s a sleazy crawl through L.A. nightlife, teaming with sex and tattered dreams, all illuminated by a dingy black light. So, it’s a conceptual album — which ain’t the same thing as a concept album, since there is no story here to tie it together — and to signify the sex Jenny Lewis sings about incessantly on this record, Rilo Kiley have decided to ditch most of their indie pretensions and hazy country leanings in favor of layers of ironic new wave disco and spacy flourishes pulled straight out of mid-’80s college rock.-allmusic.com

Foundations/ Kate Nash

On a first listen to Kate Nash’s debut Made of Bricks, it’s easy to hear the similarities to her contemporaries  (Lily Allen, the Streets, Amy Winehouse) and influences (Björk, Robbie Williams). Her most popular songs are both intimate and confrontational, using brief portraits and slang-conversational vocals to illustrate the larger issues going on — the dinner party that exposes a crumbling relationship on “Foundations” or the futility of using “Mouthwash” as a defense against feelings of low self-worth. The music is explosive and sample-driven, but with plenty of ties to contemporary pop, such as the frequent piano runs and occasional chamber brass or woodwinds. Spend time with this album, however, and Nash is revealed as much more than the sum of her parts. She’s an excellent songwriter who illustrates her tales of romantic woe and inadequacies with grace and many subtleties.-allmusic.com

Walk on Me/ Ben Kweller

Enthusiasm is what singer/songwriter Ben Kweller brings to his work. Ramones-like perennial goofy-teenager attitude and lack of antipathy are his golden attributes, and the combination of his keen songwriting sense makes Kweller a pop powerhouse. Following his self-released demo, Freak Out It’s Ben Kweller, and the following EP, Kweller spreads out with more pop songs and sounds on this full-length studio album. Underscoring the songwriting skill he’s been working at since age eight, he plays acoustic, folk-rock, alternative, power pop, and straight-ahead rock of the course of 11 songs. His lyrics are consistently heart-sung, but they aren’t lite — he’s got weight and bite, too. “Walk on Me” and “How It Should Be (Sha Sha),” though power pop through and through, are pure Kweller — bright, witty, fun, sweet diaries of hard-to-grapple-with feelings translated into two-to-three-minute bursts of self-empowered joy.- allmusic.com

Soft Shock/ Yeah Yeahs Yeahs

The album’s first three songs are a blitz of bliss, especially “Zero,” which kicks things off with blatantly fake beats, revved-up synth arpeggios, and O’s command to “get your leather on.” Radiating joy and confidence, she and the rest of the band couldn’t be further from Show Your Bones’ introspection as the song climbs to ecstatic heights. “Heads Will Roll” shows just how ably the Yeah Yeah Yeahs blend their rock firepower with dance surroundings, as Zinner’s prickly guitars get equal time with spooky synth strings and O makes “you are chrome” sound like the coolest compliment ever. Meanwhile, “Soft Shock”‘s dreamy, almost naïve-sounding electronics make O’s vocals — which are much less affected than ever before — feel even more natural and vulnerable. Elsewhere, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and producers David Sitek and Nick Launay find other ways to shake things up, from the disco kiss chase of “Dragon Queen,” which features Sitek’s fellow TV on the Radio member Tunde Adebimpe on backing vocals, to “Shame and Fortune,” which pares down the band’s tough, sexy rock to its most vital essence and provides Chase and  Zinner with a showcase not found anywhere else on the album.- allmusic.com

My man is a mean man/ Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

Following up her excellent 2002 debut, Sharon Jones stays true to the formula she laid down on her early releases and Dap Dippin’ by presenting another session of full-force funk that pays homage to the genre’s glory years without coming off as contrived. The deep funk revival continues with Jones belting out commanding vocal performances that are uncompromisingly forceful yet full of rich, soulful emotion. It’s a session worthy of being found in any beat-miner’s record collection and any funk enthusiast’s basket of obscurities and rarities. Her cover of “This Land Is Your Land” is equally as impressive, as she somehow takes the song from being an American folk standard and turns it into a full-on sonic explosion. Fans of her earlier work will no doubt find great joy in this follow-up, and those seeking Jones out for the first time certainly will not be disappointed in what they find.-allmusic.com

That’s It, I quit, I’m movin’ on/ Sam Cooke

This set is near essential to fans of Sam Cooke, despite the fact that it contains none of his gospel recordings for Specialty Records or any of the work from the final year of his career (owned by ABKCO Records). Scattered every few minutes across this four-disc collection are reminders of just how far ahead of all existing musical forms Cooke was, creating sounds that stretched the definitions of song genres as they were understood and created completely new categories. Indeed, he was so successful that it’s easy to underestimate the impact and importance of many of his early triumphs. “You Send Me,” which opens this set, may seem today like the safest, tamest pop music, but in 1957 it was a genre-bending single, a new kind of R&B/pop music hybrid and one that quietly shook the foundations of the music business when it hit number one.-allmusic.com

There’s no home for you here/ The White Stripes

Chip-on-the-shoulder anthems like the breathtaking opener, “Seven Nation Army,” which is driven by Meg White’s explosively minimal drumming, and “The Hardest Button to Button,” in which Jack White snarls “Now we’re a family!” — one of the best oblique threats since Black Francis sneered “It’s educational!” all those years ago — deliver some of the fiercest blues-punk of the White Stripes’ career. “There’s No Home for You Here” sets a girl’s walking papers to a melody reminiscent of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” (though the result is more sequel than rehash), driving the point home with a wall of layered, Queen-ly harmonies and piercing guitars, while the inspired version of “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” goes from plaintive to angry in just over a minute, though the charging guitars at the end sound perversely triumphant. At its bruised heart, Elephant portrays love as a power struggle, with chivalry and innocence usually losing out to the power of seduction.-allmusic.com

In the way/ Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco has earned her rep as the most independent of artists. She records for her own label, and as a result says and does pretty much as she pleases. Di Franco has also shown a willingness to experiment, mixing genres and styles, and Evolve is clearly an important link in her continued evolution. Piano, horns, and guitar mix and merge on “Promised Land,” offering a bluesy blend of progressive folk, while a heavy backbeat informs the funky “In My Way.” The arrangements are much busier than the “girl with an acoustic guitar” sound of her earliest efforts, but they’re never crowded. In fact, DiFranco’s such a dynamic singer, at turns soulful and, when angry, in the listener’s face, that the heavier arrangements serve her well. The arrangements and solid production, however, aren’t enough to save the material. As with 2001’s Revelling: Reckoning, Evolve lacks consistency and finally seems meandering. “Icarus”‘ foreboding melody line drags at a dawdling pace, stopping and starting again, and finally, going nowhere. The worst excess is “Serpentine.” It takes three minutes for the vocal to start, and seven more for Di Franco to catalog everything that isn’t right in the Promised Land. -allmusic.com

Excuse Me, I Think I’ve Got a Heartache/ Cake

There are virtually no liner notes nor any indication of what year the songs were recorded, or in the case of the B-sides, what the A-side was, which is an unforgivable omission for a historical overview of this type. Everything screams quickie, from the haphazard track sequencing, to the lack of information in the pamphlet and the lackluster graphics. If this is indeed made for die-hard Cake fans, and who else would even pick it up? It’s a shoddy, short set that doesn’t show respect for the group’s dedicated followers, of whom there are many. A full ten minutes of the album’s already meager running time is dedicated to two versions of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” with the opening one a studio recording, and the unlisted final cut a live performance. While both are interesting angles on a song that appears to be outside even Cake’s eclectic scope, they are similar enough that the repetition only pads the disc’s slim contents. -allmusic.com

Winter Winds/ Mumford & Sons

English folk outfit Mumford & Sons’ full-length debut owes more than a cursory nod to bands like the Waterboys, the Pogues, and The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The group’s heady blend of biblical imagery, pastoral introspection, and raucous, pub-soaked heartache may be earnest to a fault, but when the wildly imperfect Sigh No More is firing on all cylinders, as is the case with stand-out cuts like “The Cave,” “Winter Winds,” and “Little Lion Man,” it’s hard not to get swept up in the rapture. Like their London underground folk scene contemporaries Noah & the Whale, Johnny Flynn, and Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons’ take on British folk is far from traditional. There’s a deep vein of 21st century Americana that runs through the album, suggesting a healthy diet of Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, Blitzen Trapper and Marah.-allmusic.com

Breakin’ the chains of love/ Fitz & the Tantrums

Pickin’ Up the Pieces finds this L.A.-based sextet breaking out big time within the soul revival underground, though for a band that plays heavily on their D.I.Y. cred — as their press materials frequently note, this album was primarily recorded in lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick’s  living room — these songs find them playing to the polished and poppier end of the R&B spectrum. Principle songwriter Fitzpatrick and Tantrums’ arranger James King (who also plays sax) lean to the more refined sounds of classic-era Motown. This is soul from the upscale night spot rather than the juke joint, but it’s a club that’s well worth the cover charge; Fitzpatrick is a significantly better than the average blue-eyed soul crooner, his vocal partner Noelle Scaggs is good enough that one wishes she got more space in the spotlight, and under King’s direction, the band cuts an impressive groove without cluttering up the arrangements or depending too strongly on their influences to convincingly conjure the sound of the classic era of soul.-allmusic.com

The Bad in each other/ Feist

With Metals, Feist responds to the surprise success of 2007’s  The Reminder with a whisper, not a bang. She treads lightly through a series of disjointed torch songs and smoky pop/rock numbers, singing most of the songs in a soft, gauzy alto, as though she’s afraid of waking some sort of slumbering beast. Whenever the tempo picks up, so does Feist’s desire to keep things weird, with songs like “A Commotion” pitting pizzicato strings against a half-chanted, half-shouted refrain performed by an army of male singers. But Metals does its best work at a slower speed, where Feist can stretch her vocals across fingerplucked guitar arpeggios and piano chords like cotton. “Cicadas and Gulls,” with its simple melodies and pastoral ambience, rides the same summer breeze as Iron & Wine, and “Anti-Pioneer” breaks down the blues into its sparsest parts, retaining little more than a sparse drumbeat and guitar until the second half, where strings briefly swoon into the picture like an Ennio Morricone movie soundtrack.-allmusic.com

Tymps (the sick in the head song)/ Fiona Apple

Extraordinary Machine sounds like a brighter, streamlined version of When the Pawn, lacking the idiosyncratic arrangement and instrumentation of that record, yet retaining the artiness of the songs themselves. Like her second record, this album is not immediate; it takes time for the songs to sink in, to let the melodies unfold, and decode her laborious words (she still has the unfortunate tendency to overwrite: “A voice once stentorian is now again/Meek and muffled”). Unlike theBrion-produced sessions, peeling away the layers on Extraordinary Machine is not hard work, since it not only has a welcoming veneer, but there are plenty of things that capture the imagination upon first listen — the pulsating piano on “Get Him Back,” the moodiness of “O’ Sailor,” the coiled bluesy “Better Version of Me,” the quiet intensity of the breakup saga “Window,” the insistent chorus on “Please Please Please” — which gives listeners a reason to return and invest time in the album. -allmusic.com

The Right Type/ Chromeo

Business Casual has the typically synth-suave electro-funk jams, like “Hot Mess” and “Night by Night,” featuring Gemayel’s talkbox mastery over strobe-lit four-on-the-floor beats that are right in step with “Tenderoni” and “Needy Girl.” As the album progresses, though, Macklovitch and Gemayel dig deeper into crates for cheesy inspiration, and you can hear glimmers of Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Oran Juice, and even The Kids from Fame TV series. “The Right Type” seems custom-made for a montage, and the snappy “Grow Up” could be the theme from a sitcom. Elsewhere, Solange Knowles does her best Whitney/ Mariah impression for “When the Night Falls,” and “J’ai Claqué la Porte,” with its Casio fills and fingerpicked acoustic, is sung entirely in French and features Dave One at his most smirkingly romantic. [The Deluxe Edition of  Business Casual features several remixes of “Night by Night” and “Don’t Turn the Lights On.”-allmusic.com


Halloween Party Playlist

October 11, 2012

Planning a Halloween Party and need some tunes? Here you go…enjoy!

Scarecrow/ Beck

 Ever since his thrilling 1994 debut with Mellow Gold, each new Beck album was a genuine pop cultural event, since it was never clear which direction he would follow. Kicking off his career as equal parts noise-prankster, indie folkster, alt-rocker, and ironic rapper, he’s gone to extremes, veering between garishly ironic party music to brooding heartbroken Baroque pop, and this unpredictability is a large part of his charm, since each album was distinct from the one before. That remains true with Guero, his eighth album (sixth if you don’t count 1994’s Stereopathetic Soul Manure and One Foot in the Grave, (which some don’t), but the surprising thing here is that it sounds for all the world like a good, straight-ahead, garden-variety Beck album, which is something he’d never delivered prior to this 2005 release. In many ways, Guero is deliberately designed as a classicist Beck album, a return to the sound and aesthetic of his 1996 masterwork, Odelay.-allmusic.com

Convinced of the Hex/ Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips wilder side is unleashed on Embryonic’s 18 tracks, and the band sounds more off-the-cuff than it has in years — some tracks are barely longer than snippets, others are rangy epics, and it all holds together so organically that listeners might wonder just how much these songs were edited. Musically, Embryonic is the least polite The Flaming Lipshave been in nearly two decades, mixing in-the-red drums, blobby, dubby bass, squelchy wah-wah guitars, and sparkling keyboards into a swirl of sounds that are strangely liquid and abrasive at the same time. Occasionally, the band uses noise in an almost ugly way, as on “Convinced of the Hex,” which scrapes eardrums with static and distortion before falling into a loose but driving Krautrock groove that adds to the song’s tribal pull (complete with growling and wailing in the background).-allmusic.com

The Ghost of You Lingers/ Spoon

Spoon works with their widest array of sounds yet. Everything from kotos to chamberlains to horns straight out of Motown are fair game on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but they’re used so deftly and judiciously that they never feel like window dressing. As on Gimme Fiction, the band maps out Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s territory within the first three tracks. “Don’t Make Me a Target” is a sleek yet gritty prologue designed to draw listeners in like Fiction’s “The Beast and Dragon, Adored,” and its seductive pull only heightens the impact of “The Ghost of You Lingers.” All pounding pianos and fleeting, fragmented verses, the song initially feels like it’s all buildup and no release, but this insistent yet incomplete feeling is what makes it haunting and brilliant: its circling thoughts and echoes upon echoes feel like you’re chasing the song — or its subject — to no avail. Even if “The Ghost of You Lingers” almost perversely avoids hooks, “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb”‘s homage to blue-eyed soul delivers them in abundance.-allmusic.com

They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!/ Sufjan Stevens

Stevens has done his research, with references to everyone from Abe Lincoln, Frank Lloyd Wright, and the ghost of Carl Sandburg to John Wayne Gacy — the latter provides one the song cycle’s most affecting moments. The lush (yet still distinctly lo-fi) indie pop melodies draw as much from classic rock as they do progressive folk. “Jacksonville,” with its four-chord banjo lurch, mines “Old Man”-era Neil Young, disco strings dance around “They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!,” while the rousing pre-finale “The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders” is pure Peanuts-infused Vince Guaraldi as filtered through the ambiguous kaleidoscope of Danielson Famile spiritualism. -allmusic.com

Bodysnatchers/ Radiohead

In Rainbows, as a title, implies a sense of comfort and delightfulness. Symbolically, rainbows are more likely to be associated with kittens and warm blankets than the grim and glum circumstances Radiohead is known for soundtracking. There’s a slight, if expected, twist at play. The band is more than familiar with the unpleasant moods associated with colors like red, green, and blue — all of which, of course, are colors within a rainbow — all of which are present, and even mentioned, during the album. On a couple levels, then, In Rainbows is not any less fitting as a Radiohead album title than “Myxomatosis” is as a Radiohead song title. Despite references to “going off the rails,” hitting “the bottom,” getting “picked over by the worms,” being “dead from the neck up,” and feeling “trapped” (twice), along with Radiohead Wordplay Deluxe Home Edition pieces like “comatose” and “nightmare” — in the same song! double score! — the one aspect of the album that becomes increasingly perceptible with each listen is how romantic it feels, albeit in the way that one might find the bioport scenes in David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ to be extremely hot and somewhat unsettling.-allmusic.com

Halloween/ Matt Pond PA

 Several Arrows Later, Matt Pond PA’s fifth album in five years, is another strong, emotionally charged, and melodically pleasing outing that just could be their best yet. It is packed with hooks, fine performances by the group, and tender and expressive vocals from Mr.Pond himself. The only thing it is lacking is the one or two songs that cause you to bolt upright in stunned appreciation; instead, the record flows past like a gentle river of melancholy and world-weary beauty. The songs have a subtle blend of styles (the classic chamber pop of ’60s bands like the Kinks and the Zombies, the poppy side of emo, the insistent and epic feel of early post-punk/alt-rock groups like the Cure and New Order, and the gentle indie rock of groups like Yo La Tengo and Red House Painters) with plenty of strings, pedal steel, vibes, and piano to cushion the ache of Matt Pond’s vocals and lyrics. Songs like the loping “Brooklyn Stars,” “Halloween,” “Several Arrows Later,” and “Devil in the Water” are Matt Pond PA at their finest, intimate yet somehow epic with a heart-on-sleeve approach that is tempered by the restraint of the music.-allmusic.com

Perhaps vampires is a bit strong but…/Arctic Monkeys

Breathless, hyperbolic praise was piled upon the Arctic Monkeys and their debut album, Whatever people say I am, that’s what I am not, an instant phenomenon without peer. Within the course of a year, the band rose from the ranks of an Internet phenomenon to the biggest band in the U.K., all on the strength of early demos circulated on the web as MP3s. Those demos built the band a rabid fan base before the Monkeys had released a record, even before they played more than a handful of gigs. In effect, the group performed a complete run around the industry, avoiding conventional routes toward stardom, which paid off in spades. When Whatever people say I am hit the streets in January 2006, it sold a gob-smacking 118,501 copies within its first week of release, which not only made it the fastest-selling U.K. debut ever, but sold more than the rest of the Top 20 combined — a remarkable achievement by any measure.-allmusic.com

Halloween/Dead Kennedys

The very concept of a “greatest hits” collection from San Francisco punk legends the Dead Kennedys’ fits right in with the group’s penchant for establishment parody, but the irony is that Manifesto’s 12-track Milking the Sacred Cow is the perfect primer for young punks in training and a satisfying shot of politically charged jet fuel for longtime fans. This CD provides a satisfying crack in the jaw, even if it’s missing fan favorites like “Terminal Preppie,” “Trust Your Mechanic,” and “Chemical Warfare.” Honor students should pick up Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, Frankenchrist and Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, but those looking for a quick fix or a cheat will find no better teat to affix their snarl to than this.-allmusic.com

This is Halloween/ Marilyn Manson

Danny Elfman, who has scored many of Tim Burton’s imaginative films (Edward Scissorhands, his two Batman films, etc.), is a perfect musical partner for the somewhat macabre director, and never more so than here, where, in fact, Elfman gets not only to write the music but to play the part of the main character. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated movie musical about the abduction of Christmas by the denizens of Halloween land, and Elfman sings the part of Jack, the Pumpkin King. The score is in his usual lush but threatening style (Kurt Weill is his biggest influence), but the highlight is Elfman’s singing. Even in his rock band Oingo Boingo (now merely Boingo), Elfman doesn’t get to sing like this. Granted, the soundtrack album inevitably lacks the film’s outlandish visuals, but it tells the story on its own, and one is better able to appreciate Elfman’s outstanding performance.-allmusic.com

Lullaby/ The Cure

The Cure could be found in a mix of holding pattern and seemingly constant activity in 2011, with an irregular series of world-wide performances of the band’s first three albums and a slew of guest appearances and one-offs by Robert Smith on his own and with other performers standing in for either new or reissued albums. But there was also a one-off headlining performance at the Bestival in the U.K. that summer, resulting in the band’s first official live album since the Show and Paris releases of 1993. Feeling more like a souvenir than anything else, it’s above all a portrait of a band that has the knack of handling a career-spanning catalog down cold, something with both positive and negative sides to it. On the one hand, besides a thankfully clear mix that feels like a brisk soundboard recording, there’s the treat of hearing a then-unique quartet lineup of Smith, Simon Gallup and Jason Cooper matched with the then-recently returned Roger O’Donnell adding keyboards for the first time in some years.-allmusic.com


Library Patron Playlist Request 10.02.12

October 6, 2012

Hi Colleen,

Thank you for requesting a personalized playlist! Based on your musical preferences, here is a selection of titles you might enjoy. All of the albums listed are available for checkout from the library’s collection.

I and love and you/ Avett Brothers

The Avett Brothers have expanded their reach since 2000, adding elements of pop and hillbilly country-rock to a bluegrass foundation, and they carry on that tradition with I and Love and You, whose songs introduce a new emphasis on piano and nuanced arrangements. Working with a major label’s budget allows the group to add small flourishes — a cello line here, a keyboard crescendo there — but the resulting music is hardly grand, focusing on textures rather than volume. Scott and Seth Avett share vocals throughout the album, delivering their lyrics in a speak-sing cadence that, at its best, sounds both tuneful and conversational. Given the opportunities presented here — the ability to add strings, organs, and harmonium to the mix — the two devote more time to slower songs, which display those sonic details better. The result is an intimate, poignant album, laced with rich production that often takes as much spotlight as the songwriting itself.- allmusic.com

Vaporize/ Broken Bells

James Mercer and Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) want their project Broken Bells to be seen, and heard, as an honest-to-goodness band, not a side-project dalliance. It’s a little tricky to do that when first listening to their self-titled debut album, since they’re such well-known and distinctive talents: Mercer crafted singularly bittersweet indie pop with the Shins, while Burton brought the Beatles and Jay-Z together on The Grey Album and went on to shape sounds for equally omnivorous artists like Beck and Gorillaz. Mercer’s songwriting skills and Danger Mouse’s production mastery sound like a potent combo, and they are, when the pair balances its ambitions and respective strengths. They work hard — maybe too hard — at avoiding their previous sounds. Mercer’s vocals and melodies will almost certainly evoke the Shins to some degree or another, but he and Burton steer clear of the bright pop that countered that band’s gloomier moments in favor of winding melodies and mellow atmospheres.-allmusic.com

Fixin’ to die/ G. Love

Fixin’ to Die isn’t the first G. Love album billed without Special Sauce, but this one really stands apart from the rest of his discography.  With lots of high lonesome backing vocals and prominent banjo, this actually feels like a country album most of the time. It’s almost entirely acoustic, too. We don’t even hear an electric guitar until track eight, where Luther Dickenson offers up some tasty George Harrison-esque slide. It’s this track and “Walk On” that most resemble Special Sauce, and they almost feel out of place here. Most of the album is far more intimate and introspective, and it’s easy to see that most of these tunes wouldn’t fit into the standard party/feel-good ethos of most Special Sauce tunes, but the production and playing of the Avett Bothers really make it work. After 15 years or so, it’s pretty interesting to hear G. Love in such a different context.-allmusic.com

There’s no secrets this year/ Silversun Pickups

Silversun Pickups had a bit of a breakthrough with 2009’s Swoon. Moody and fuzzed-out singles like “Substitution” and “Panic Switch” drew new listeners to the band’s particular brand of melodic and rhythmically infectious guitar-based rock. They even garnered a Best New Artist nod at the Grammy Awards despite having already developed a cult following after debuting with their 2005 EP, Pikul. -allmusic.com

Both Hands/ Ani DiFranco

Canon is a document to be sure, a “best of,” but it’s also a testament to something else: that through the biz and media trends, from riot grrrl to the rise of the ’90s and 2000s troops of female singer/songwriters who come and go, DiFranco is always here, has been present, and has not paying attention to the machinations of such things. She’s on a path, and the music here offers that it’s a wildly divergent one sometimes, but it is unquestionably hers, and she doesn’t let go of anything she collects — until she’s ready to, that is, and even then you can see the traces of her own scratch marks all over that thing: fascination, Eros, agape, heartbreak, betrayal, love, violence, celebration, and anger both righteous and petty (she discovers these things herself, it’s not a critical judgment). Or maybe, she simply weaves them all into her own quilt, thread by thread, to be identified and grabbed when needed most. Her street smarts remain intact after nearly two decades of being in the public eye and she has created a place for herself without owing a debt to anyone. Forget the stories and interviews: it’s all in the music on Canon.-allmusic.com

Autorock/ Mogwai

Possibly the most accessible yet sophisticated album Mogwai has released, Mr. Beast strips away most of the electronic embellishment of their recent work in favor of a back-to-basics sound that returns to and expands on the approach they pioneered on Young Team. Mr. Beast is also a surprisingly spontaneous-sounding album — in the best possible sense, its freshness makes it feel like a recorded practice session and also helps give relatively delicate pieces like “Team Handed” the same amount of impact that heavy, searing tracks like the closer, “We’re No Here,” have. Interestingly, more of Mr. Beast tends toward the former kind of song than the latter; “Friend of the Night,” “Emergency Trap,” and the glorious, slow-burning album opener, “Auto-Rock,” give the album an unusually refined, even elegant feel that is underscored by the prominent use of piano and lap steel in the arrangements. -allmusic.com

This tornado love you/ Neko Case

There are few voices as haunting as Case’s alto, and she flaunts her vocal chops over a number of semi-ballads, from the cinematic “Prison Girls” (a country-noir love letter to someone with “long shadows and gunpowder eyes”) to the sparse title track. She does a surprise duet with chirping birds during “Polar Nettles” — a result of the pastoral recording sessions, which took place in a barn — before tackling a cover of Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” whose title very well may be the album’s mission statement. There’s still room to tackle love from the perspective of different characters — a man in “Vengeance Is Sleeping,” a disbeliever in “The Next Time You Say Forever,” a smitten wind vortex in “This Tornado Loves You” — but nature remains at the forefront of Middle Cyclone, whose 14 songs conclude with a half-hour field recording of noisy crickets and frogs. Moody and engaging throughout, Cyclone is another tour de force from Neko case.-allmusic.com

Postcard from 1952/ 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. More so than some of their earlier albums, Take care, take care, take care can’t be skimmed or rushed, but instead requires the listener to let it unfold on its own terms, giving it time to flower and bloom when it’s ready. 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.-allmusic.com

Ain’t no rest for the wicked/ Cage the Elephant

The more things change in rock, the more they inevitably stay the same — and in the case of Cage the Elephant, that’s a good thing. Actually, it’s a very good thing. Cage the Elephant didn’t exist until 2005, but as this self-titled album demonstrates, their ability to be influenced by alternative rock and classic rock simultaneously is a definite plus. Drawing on influences from different eras, this Kentucky-based band has an appealing sound that combines a strong appreciation of the Rolling Stones with elements of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck, hip-hop, and punk. This isn’t full-fledged R&B, but it is certainly funky by rock standards — and that funkiness serves Cage the Elephant well on bluesy, gritty, infectious offerings like “Free Love,” “Back Stabbin’ Betty,” and the single “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.”- allmusic.com

Gold Guns Girls/ Metric

Metric’s third full-length album, Fantasies, is a glossy, slick, and so-clean-you-could-eat-off-it slice of modern rock that may scare off some of the band’s early fans due to the unrepentant commercial nature of the album. Anyone who isn’t repelled by the band’s professionalism and ambition to sound perfect will find it to be quite enjoyable. That Metric title a song “Stadium Love” gives you a clue to the ambition of the band. There’s nothing small or careful about Fantasies — it’s a full-on bid for pop glory and it’s a smashing success.- allmusic.com