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Written by Super User. Posted in Staff Picks

Live at the Cactus Café: “What Was I Thinking?”  

By Christine Lavin (Folk Contemporary Lavin)

51fHCBfXbuL._SY300_There’s chicklit, chickflicks, and Christine Lavin.  Her irreverent folk style addresses the good (hot bald headed men), the bad (becoming a home shopping network shopaholic) , and the ugly (being set up on an awful blind date) of women’s lives.  You’ll laugh until you can’t breathe.  If you are still up for more, try another Lavin sillyfest, Future Fossils.

 



Channel Orange

By Frank Ocean (Pop/Rock Vocalists Ocean)

Frank Ocean‘s debut album, “Channel Orange“ uses its title to reference the neurological phenomenon grapheme–color synesthesia and the color he perceived during the summer he first fell in love.  When Ocean was 19 years old, he first fell in love with a man, and the record details the fall, longing, rejection, heartache and other characters and imagery to create the color perception of that summer.

Ignoring caution about his past or his bankability for his label, Def Jam, Ocean dove in to unconventional urban musical waters.  Sounds slip and slide around his songs, standard song structure only occasionally being employed in his compositions. The tracks flow more free-form than your average Hip Hop/R&B artist.  This sounds more like Soul music via Animal Collective.  His songs are carefully crafted compositions, the sounds surrounding the lyrics, the smooth shiny cover to the words within.  In an interview with the magazine, Rap-Up, Ocean said of his record, “It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now and that was the aim. It’s about the stories. If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story and all kinds of sonic goodness.”

“Thinkin Bout You” is his biggest hit, and for a popular song is surprisingly minimalist.  Soft synths, a bass drum and digital rimshot are about the only backing to Ocean’s singing.  It’s the song that made people sit up and listen, as Ocean sang about that first love, the tornado of emotions and the joy/pain that comes with every moment.  In his “Bad Religion,” the lyrics are Ocean’s emotional confession to a taxi driver about a love affair on the down-low. With sweeping strings, bigger percussion and a blowout chorus by the end, it shows the similarity between religious devotion and romantic emotion.  The Motown-throwback, “Forrest Gump” uses the titular literary and film character to allude to a teenage crush, and is a clever tongue-in-cheek take in both music and words.  The centerpiece of the record, and the true gem of this album is the track, “Pyramids.”  The track is essentially two songs in one, the first half being a dancy funk song using the Egyptian/Biblical story of the fall of Cleopatra VII as a love song. But then the synths slow down, the harmonic elements shifting into a different take on the tune, the Cleopatra character now being a present-day working girl, who dances at a club called ‘The Pyramid’ to support her superficial, meretricious man.  The song is so catchy, so moving, and the instrumentation so polished, that it becomes one of those tracks that you never want to end.  The Pyramids fade out slowly, and becomes the pillar of the emotional record.

Channel Orange appeared on numerous critics’ year-end top albums lists. It was named the best album of 2012 by The A.V. Club, Billboard, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Consequence of Sound, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, musicOMH, The Sydney Morning Herald, Now, Paste, PopMatters, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Washington Post, and Jon Pareles of The New York Times. The album was also ranked number two by Allmusic, Ann Powers, BBC, Complex, Exclaim!, Filter, Mojo, Pitchfork Media, and Rolling Stone, number three by Clash, Jim DeRogatis, NME, State, and Time, and number five by Uncut.  In his top-10 list for the Los Angeles Times, Lawrence K. Ho called it “the most magnetic record of the year” and wrote that it “feels like a work that as the years pass will only grow in stature.”  It was definitely one of my favorite records of 2012, it won the Grammy for “Best Urban Contemporary Album” and deserves some serious attention as an art piece.

Reviewed by Matt


Fado: Soul of Lisbon

Amalia RodriguesMany explorers of world music may have overlooked the small country of Portugal and its rich musical tradition.  Fado, Portugal’s most popular traditional music, originated in Lisbon’s mysterious Alfâma district in the early 19th century, and features dual guitars and a female voice.  The name Fado means fate or destiny in Portuguese, which reflects its wistful and melancholy tone.  Fado focuses on loss and the uniquely Portuguese concept of saudade, which suggests a deep nostalgia for lost love, home or for a happier time.
Fado has a rich history and is very much alive today.  For a more traditional take, try the works of the Queen of Fado, Amália Rodrigues.  Musicians such as Madredeus, Cristina Branco, and Mariza explore more modern adaptations of this unique musical form.

Amália Rodrigues:
Amália Rodrigues (International Portuguese 5571)
Fado Português (International Portuguese 0208)
The Soul of Fado (International Portuguese 0106)

Mariza:
Fado em Mim (International Portuguese 9026)

Madredeus:
O Paraíso (International Portuguese 0228 )

Cristina Branco
Corpo Iluminado (International Portuguese 1512)

Reviewed by Nathan


Philosophy of the World

By The Shaggs (Pop Rock Groups Shaggs)

The ShaggsTired of over-produced, soulless music on the radio?  Looking for something to boost your hipster street-cred?  Why not give The Shaggs a spin?

Long considered a cult favorite, and an excellent example of outsider art, The Shaggs consist of the Wiggins sisters: Dot, Betty, Helen and Rachel.  In an attempt to cash in on the rock and roll phenomenon, and perhaps fulfill the prophecy of a palm reader, Andrew Wiggin withdrew his daughters from school, bought them instruments and started them off on the path to stardom.  Thought the majority of the records they recorded disappeared with the unscrupulous producer they paid for studio time, a few of the records made their way in to the hands of music lovers who recognized their genius.

How do you describe the music of The Shaggs?  That’s a good question.  I don’t have the vocabulary for it, but Frank Zappa called The Shaggs “better than the Beatles.  Check them out, and deliver your own verdict.

Reviewed by Nathan

Hear Me Talkin' to Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It (edited)

By Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff  (789.5 Sh227) 

Hear Me TalkinHear Me Talkin' to Ya is just what the title suggests: an oral biography of American jazz music to 1955. The story is told through the memories of musicians, club owners, engineers, and record producers. Reading alone late at night, I felt as if I was in the same room with the interview subjects. Their stories were so vivid and provided so much flesh to the hollow chronology I had in my head that I just couldn't put the book down. If you enjoy jazz and think you know a thing or two about it, try reading this book. Here a few bits that really got me going:

- In the days before you could buy them at Wal-Mart, Kenny Clarke had to whittle his own drumsticks from old milk crates. 
- Thelonoius Monk first came into Kansas City playing with a carnival, and most musicians found steady work in carnivals. 
- When he moved to Chicago, Charlie Parker was almost killed hopping a freight train. He was rewarded with a free clarinet and clean shirt after impressing the local musicians on his first night in town.
- Stan Getz, who tried to rob a pharmacy without a gun and failed, was arrested only after calling the store to apologize. 
- Dizzy left Cab Calloway's band after a disagreement, but the disagreement was a backstage knife fight between Diz and Cab. Dizzy won. 
- Billie Holiday claims she gave Lester Young the name "Pres."

These are just a few boiled down anecdotes from the book. If you're interested, there are 429 more pages where they came from. Yes, that's right, there are 429 glorious pages of people talking about jazz. If someone is looking for a listener's guide, we have a few of those too. For a more conventionally written history of jazz, try the book Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux. In addition to the narrative, it includes profiles of the most important recordings and minute-by-minute explanations of their most relevant tracks. 

Reviewed by Chris Kux

The Music of Andrew Bird (Pop/Rock Vocalists Bird)

For those who do not know Andrew Bird, his music falls into the contemporary folk category. A fantastic violinist (and somewhat of a whistling virtuoso) Bird's songs, interspersed with ethereal violin interludes, are easy to listen to and upbeat enough to keep me interested from one track to the next. 

Bird's voice is a little reminiscent of the singer of Zachary Condon of Beirut, though not as florid. A good introduction to his work is his album Noble Beast, which has a really great variety of totally listenable songs. Bird's most recent album, Break it Yourself, was just released last month.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Blue Delight

By Sun Ra (Call #: Jazz Sun Ra 4654)

If Mr. Ra is a mystery to you, then you have some detective work to do. Blue Delight could be as close as Sun Ra ever came to making jazz with mainstream appeal, but it still crackles with the vigorous intensity and wild flair that put Ra and the Arkestra on the star map. Considering the more cacophonous and less accessible Sun Ra back catalog, this album is particularly enjoyable. On standards like “Days of Wine and Roses” and “Gone with the Wind,” Ra showcases his skills as bandleader, arranger, and performer. In several concise arrangements, he allows soloists room to stretch out and interpret the changes but maintains a taut kineticism by holding the Arkestra wound up and ready to spring into action. But the selections are not limited to classics, either. There are several spaced-out originals pushing 12 minutes in length, with gratuitous contributions from Arkestra stalwarts like Marshall Allen, John Gilmore, and Eloe Omoe. In a fracas of merging textures and clashing tonalities, Ra and the unusually large Arkestra explore the outer reaches of music while never getting too far away from scaffolds of chords or themes. In such a way, new listeners will be safely introduced to the perilous realm of group improvisation, while seasoned fans can still enjoy the frenzy of instrumental activity that is to be expected from Mr. Ra. Guest spots include Billy Higgins, Julian Priester, and Tommy Turrentine, who sound remarkably at ease with their surroundings and move through the music with facility and grace. Ra’s own playing serves as both anchor and centerpiece. In it can be heard the ghost of Erroll Garner’s left hand, and astute listeners will sense the impact of Mary Lou Williams’ more angular excursions in early avant garde jazz. Steeped in a distant memory of blues and swing, Ra’s influences mingle with his own unique proclivities and technical mastery to form an inimitable style that supports and enriches the high powered cast. 

Reviewed by Chris Kux

Check out some more staff favorites from 2011:


Need some great Christmas music to keep you sane this December?  Check out some staff favorites:  

Traditional:
The Wonder of Christmas by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Audra McDonald (Christmas Tabernacle Choir)
Christmas by Michael Buble (Christmas Buble)
Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity by the Cambridge Singers (Christmas Rutter 0811)
Christmas with the Cambridge Singers: Carols and Seasonal Music (Christmas Rutter 9674)
Messiah Highlights (Classical Vocal Oratorios Handel)
Happy Holidays from Kurt Bestor (Christmas Bestor 2002)

Country/Western/Folk
The Christmas Cowboy by Gene Autry (Christmas Autry 4060)
Christmas Songs by Diana Krall (Christmas Krall)
Christmas on the Range (Christmas Anthologies Cowboy 9260)
Rocky Mountain Christmas by John Denver (Christmas Denver 1247)

Christmas Nostalgia
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi (Shows Charlie Brown Christmas)
The Voice of Christmas by Bing Crosby (Christmas Crosby)  
The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole (Christmas Cole)

Indie
Songs for Christmas by Sufjan Stevens (Christmas Stevens)
Very She & Him Christmas by She and Him (Christmas She & Him)

Downtown Church

By Patty Griffin (Call#: Folk Contemporary Griffin)

Downtown ChurchI’m a Patty Griffin fan, which means my credibility as a reviewer is in question.  But I think I’m right about this—whether you’re a fan of gospel or not, you should give Downtown Church a listen.  

In 2010, Griffin released this album of songs recorded at the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville.  And she invited some very talented friends to join her.  Produced by Buddy Miller (a hugely underrated artist in his own right) and featuring Ann and Regina McCrary, Emmylou Harris, Raul Malo, and Buddy and Julie Miller, Downtown Church is the perfect way to get to know Griffin.    

The songs are a mix of traditional tunes (“Wade in the Water”, a lovely version of “All Creatures of Our God and King”), covers (Hank Williams’ “House of Gold”) and original songs (“Little Fire” and one of my favorites, “Coming Home to Me”).  There’s really not much of a weak link in this one.  

Griffin’s voice is, as always, beautifully clear and compelling, whether she’s tearing the building down telling the story of Samson in “If I Had My Way” or gently reassuring on “Coming Home to Me.”  Seriously, I’m sitting here thinking about which tracks deserve special attention in this review, and heck, they all come to mind. 

Give it a try.  You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


The Harrow and the Harvest

By Gillian Welch (Call #:Folk Contemporary Welch)

If I found myself in some unimaginable circumstance where I had to choose only five musicians to listen to for the rest of my mortal life, Gillian Welch would be on the list.  It's not that I listen to her all the time, or even anymore than any other artist.  She's just one of the handful that I really don't think I could live without.  And the new record doesn't disappoint.

I was reading an interview with the writer Marilynne Robinson the other night, and came across this statement: "Dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world."  The Harrow and the Harvest is the musical exposition of that philosophy. It's mellow, dark, maybe even a little despairing, but achingly beautiful, and even hopeful at times as well.  The ten songs tell stories of people in difficult and desperate situations-some are hopeful and resolute, some defiant and angry, some just resigned-but each is a spare  and intimate portrait of a life.  Welch and David Rawlings can write and they can play, and the vocals are lovely and evocative.    Plus, how can you not like a musician who lists herself as doing vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica and hands and feet?  Check it out.  My favorite tracks: "The Way It Will Be", "Tennessee", "Hard Times".

Reviewed by Marilee Clark


French Composer Yann Tiersen

Trained in piano and violin from an early age, French composer/performer Yann Tiersen broke his violin and formed a rock band in his early teens.  As his music evolved, however, he found himself returning to the violin, but with a greater spirit of freedom and musical experimentation.  According to his official website, http://www.yanntiersen.com, Tiersen invites us to “…live in an enormous world of sound we can use randomly, with no rules at all.  Let’s play with sound, forget all knowledge and instrumental skills, and just use instinct – the same way punk did.”
While Tiersen is a fearless experimenter of the punk order, an artist who is as likely to pick up a violin as a toy piano or typewriter on his albums, this experimentation never feels alienating or jarring. Tiersen’s vision of a sonic world without rules is grounded in a classical instinct that enables his work to be appreciated by fans of Nirvana and Mozart respectively. 
Three of Tiersen’s albums can be checked out at the Orem Public Library.  I recommend getting a taste for Tiersen’s work by sampling his soundtrack for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Academy Award nominated film Amelie (Soundtrack: Shows AmelieFilm FL 9916), considered by fans and critics alike one of the great film soundtracks in recent memory.  For further adventures in sound, try L’absente (International French 1152) and his more recent work, Les Retrouvailles (International French 5226).

Reviewed by Nathan Robison


Artist: Adele

Album: 21

Call #: Pop/Rock Vocalists Adele

Adele is another one of those full-voiced, British pop divas. Think Duffy, Corinne Bailey Rae, Amy Winehouse. (And if images of drug rehab, bad hair and frightening make-up also come to mind, don't actually picture Amy Winehouse.) This is Adele's second album, and in my opinion it surpasses her first, titled 19--which was also very good.  With vocal qualities ranging from raspy full-out belting, to the gently lyrical, Adele's virtuosity is obvious. My favorite song is  "Lovesong", which has kind of Latin rhythm. It isn't by any means the most popular song on the album, but it is just so tender and heartbreakingly melancholy. Love it.  Anyway... If you like powerful female vocalists, I strongly recommend this album.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Artist:  Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor

Album: The Social Network soundtrack

Call #: Shows Social Network 

The soundtrack of this film about the rocky rise of multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, was a commissioned studio-album recorded by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame.) The sound of this album is ambient, electronic, fast-paced and understated. In short, it was tailor made to enhance each scene in the film. And honestly, the score is part of what makes the film itself so good. That said, this album stands on its own. It isn't one of those scores that is bland and nondescript; it isn't sentimental. If anything, it is oddly motivating! 

Of the album, Trent Reznor says, "Musically, this all came out of our secret laboratory - electronic in basis, but mostly organic sounding. Lots of experiments and emphasis on sound fraying around the edges while focusing on the proper emotional tone for the various scenes." http://nullco.com/TSN/
 
I bought this album off of iTunes on a whim, and I have not been disappointed. I am notoriously unable to get anything really productive done if there is music playing. But I find I am mysteriously able to do homework--and quickly--to the quietly driving bass line of songs such as "In Motion" and "Eventually we find our way." By way of proof, I am actually writing this review to the sounds of the The Social Network. In a nutshell, it is good background music: the kind that does the opposite of putting you to sleep.

Reviewed by Erin Mumford

Artist: The National

Album Name: High Violet 

Call #: Pop/Rock Groups National

Take the baritone vocals of Matt Berninger, mix with fresh, unusual lyrics, add a broad range of influences ranging from Alt-country and folk to post-punk, and what you wind up with is The National.

 The new album won’t disappoint.  At times both soft and distorted, the album is smooth, melodic and introspective.  Especially recommended for fans of Elliot Smith, The Shins and Arcade Fire.

Reviewed by Nathan Robison
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