Thursday, December 8, 2011

American Primitive Guitar

"American Primitive" was a term used by guitarist John Fahey to describe what kind of music he played on the acoustic guitar. Fahey was a master of the picking and slide styles that came out of traditional blues and folk, but in his hands, the music became very personal, more modern and sometimes bracingly weird. An awareness of classical music began to forge a particularly modern sound out his his traditional materials. He avoided folk revivalists and once described his piece Stomping Tonight on the Pennsylvania/Alabama Border: "The opening chords are from the last movement of Vaughan Williams' Sixth Symphony. It goes from there to a Skip James motif. Following that it moves to a Gregorian Chant, Dies Irae. It's the most scary one in the Episcopal Hymn books, it's all about the day of judgement. Then it returns to the Vaughan Williams chords, followed by a blues run of undertermined origin, then back to Skip James and so forth." Fahey's music remained challenging and fun even as it veered closer to the Avant-garde in later years. His influence can be heard in almost every fingerstyle guitarist from the last several decades (most notably Leo Kottke and Peter Lang) some of whom created their own successful versions of "American Primitive" music. One of popular music's less traveled, but most interesting side roads.

John Fahey - The transfiguration of Blind Joe Death

Leo Kottke - 6- and 12-String Guitar

Peter Lang - The Thing At The Nursery Room Window

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hawaii in December

Maybe it's our local beach and surf culture, but a lot of library visitors seem to like Hawaiian music. A new addition to our cd collection is a soundtrack that features some beautiful and traditional island sounds. The Descendants, a new film starring George Clooney and directed by Alexander Payne, is set in Hawaii and includes selections from the great Gabby Pahinui along with contributions from the Makaha Sons, Keola Beamer, Sol Hoopi, the Rev. Dennis Kamakahi and David Kamakahi. Largely acoustic, these pieces are in the folk tradition and feature guitars, ukuleles and vocals. Most have been recorded within the last twenty years although a couple are from the 70s and the Sol Hoopi track dates from the 1930s. Overall, a wonderful collection - great for fans of traditional Hawaiian sounds as well as those who want to hear the music for the first time.

Also available:

Hawaiian Steel Guitar Classics - Various Artists

Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Masters - Various Artists

Best Of - Alfred Apaka

Facing Future - Israel Kamakawiwopole

Steel Guitar Magic - Billy Hew Len

Hapa - Hapa

Gabby - Gabby Pahinui

From Hawaii With Love - Mauna Malahini Islanders

Hawaii: Music in its History (book) - Ruth L. Hausman

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

She & Him

The musical partnership between Zooey Deschanel and musician M. Ward, known together as She & Him, has resulted in a new recording of Christmas music. A Very She & Him Christmas builds on the group's two earlier recordings combining Deschanel's delicate vocals with Ward's simple, complimentary production style. Producer Ward also sings, plays guitar and organ, while Deschanel contributes piano and ukulele work along with her singing. It's a very pretty, low-key recording that works as an antidote to much of the hectic and overdone music one hears at this time of year. Particularly charming is the group's fun cover of the Beach Boys' Little Saint Nick. The indie/folky sound will appeal to a wide audience and provide a musical repite when the holidays get hectic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving Favorite

On Thanksgiving day, 1976, popular music group The Band gave a festive farewell party for a few thousand lucky people in San Francisco. They took over the historic Winterland ballroom, served a giant Thanksgiving dinner and invited some illustrious friends for a jam. Produced by legendary impresario Bill Graham, the guests included Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Ringo Starr and many others. Martin Scorsese filmed the show and the movie and the soundtrack are both available at the library. Called by some the best rock music film ever produced, the great music from the Last Waltz might make a nice accompaniment for the music lovers at your Thanksgiving celebration.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deep Roots

New music at the Library: "Roots" has been used to describe a wide variety of musical styles, but today we'll use it as a way to describe three new, and very different recordings that exemplify the honesty and directness associated with the term 'roots music.' The recordings aren't folk, technically, or country or blues, but they spring from the same well - the songwriting is the thing here, and flashy playing and elaborate production give way to simplicity and authenticity. First is the wonderful Ashes & Fire from Ryan Adams. This recording shows how a great song and an acoustic guitar can still go a long way. Adams has rarely sounded better. Also new is Beauty Queen Sister from the Indigo Girls. If you haven't heard their spare, moving harmonies in awhile, give this a listen - it's a really strong piece with a familiar, yet original folk-rock style. The third in our 'rootsy' trilogy is new work from the Jayhawks. Like the other musicians mentioned, they've been around for quite awhile and evolved a contemporary sound that evokes predecessors like the Burrito Brothers and Dillard & Clark. Mockingbird Time is a wonderful recording that should please fans but would make a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with the band. Classic American music.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who is David Guetta?

Club and dance music enthusiasts know DJ/Producer Guetta for his work with Flo Rida, Fergie, Ne-Yo, Lil Wayne, Akon, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg, Usher and Ludacris. He's s go-to producer responsible for some of the biggest radio and club hits in recent years. One Love and Nothing But The Beat are now in the library's collection: club + dance fans, get your groove on...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cool Struttin'

Three great jazz recordings from Blue Note Records - these sessions from the late 50s and early 60s represent a high point in the history of jazz...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hanky Panky

Hanky Panky was a huge hit song for Tommy James and the Shondells, and its also a pretty good description of the business practices decribed by the pop singer in his new memoir "Me, the Mob, and the Music." It's a showbiz classic: young musician is thrilled to be signed, then shocked to learn his career is controlled by criminals. He estimates in the book that Roulette Records owner Morris Levy stole over $40,000,000 from him. Along the way are hit records, tours, parties, stars and the expected excesses of life on the road. Of particular interest is the depiction of mob control in the music industry. James is an unpretentious storyteller and the book is an entertaining look at the pleasures and pitfalls of stardom as well as a sharp picture of the music industry in another age.
On CD: Tommy James and the Shondells Anthology

Friday, September 9, 2011

The UFO Has Landed

I remember hearing Ry Cooder doing a guest DJ spot on the radio in the early seventies. He was known as a fine guitarist and idiosyncratic artist with a resume that included work with Captain Beefheart, the Rolling Stones and Van Morrsion. This day he was playing old 78s from obscure marching bands and municipal orchestras. The lumpy rhythms and slightly out-of-tune horns presaged the music that would become the album "Paradise and Lunch." After that came recordings of Conjunto music, a number of fine film soundtracks, and projects like the hugely successful "Buena Vista Social Club." Looking back over the decades of avant garde music, slide guitar, Elvis remakes, blues excursions, African (and Indian, and Hawaiian) collaborations and tons of great albums it wouldn't be at all unfair at all to ask "Who is that guy?"
* * *
That seemingly unanswerable question is addressed by a new compilation assembled by Cooder's son Joachim. The UFO Has Landed is a two-disc retrospective that samples the decades, styles and bands that have made up Cooder's career. Humor, vitality and great guitar playing weave these diverse recordings into a tapestry of world music, Americana, and film work, and illustrate why Ry Cooder has remained relevant to generations of listeners. Check this one out.

Other Ry Cooder recordings at the library:
Boomer's Story
A Meeting By The River
Buena Vista Social Club
Mambo Sinuendo
Paradise and Lunch
My Name Is Buddy
I, Flathead

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Eyes and Ears


Street Player: My Chicago Story, by drummer Danny Seraphine, chronicles the band Chicago from its beginnings through Seraphine's firing in 1990. His long residency with the group should make his story appealing to listeners fond of the band's harder, earlier rock sound as well as those drawn to the pop material which followed.


Chicago: The Very Best Of : Only The Beginning

Chicago's Greatest Hits

Chicago Transit Authority

The Heart Of Chicago: 1967-1968

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

New Music Books

I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy

by Bob Riesman

"This book sets Bill's extraordinary life and career in meticulously researched perspective...if rock 'n' roll and all its recent spawn can in any sense be regarded as art, or carries any social meaning, or transmits reflective or historical relevance to those who love it, this book will help to explain why."--Pete Townsend

Keep On Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-Hop

by Denise Sullivan

"A pleasing survey of soul music, from Lead Belly to Johnny Otis to Michael Franti to Louis Farrakhan...Sullivan offers a welcome exploration of how African-American popular music becam America's vernacular." --Kirkus Reviews

All The Things You Are: The Life Of Tony Bennett
by David Evanier

"The great thing about David Evanier's biography - beyond its reliable research, nuanced evaluations, and stylistic eloquence - is that by looking closer at a great artist than the artist might have wished, it uncovers a man even more worthy of our admiration than we knew: a valiant defender of civil rights as well as the classic American songbook and the singer's right to enhance it by his own light." -- Gary Giddins.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Your favorite opening?

Some songs just have a great opening line - one that starts things off perfectly. Please click on "comment" and post yours. I'll start with two favorites!

"I was cutting the rug down at a place called "The Jug" With a girl named Linda Lou... "

"I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand walkin' through the streets of Soho in the rain..."

Monday, August 8, 2011


Several high profile releases have come into the Media Department recently. The long-unreleased Neil Young work A Treasure, the new Arctic Monkeys, the new Beyonce, and more.

Perhaps a little under the radar, but well worth a listen is the 1966 recording Face To Face by the Kinks. The band, one of the most influential of its time, entered a new and significant phase with this release. Ray Davies' writing for the album represents "the first full flowering of Davies' use of narrative, observation, and wry social commentary in his songs (Wikipedia)." And what great songs: "Party Line," "Dandy," and "Sunny Afternoon." The edition owned by the library contains another true Kinks classic "I'm not Like Everybody Else." Not all pop recordings sound good 40 years after their release. Face to Face remains fresh, compelling and fun.

More from the Kinks:
BBC Sessions: 1964-1977
Greatest Hits
Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround
Muswell Hillbillies
Something Else (another significant recording from the year after Face to Face)
The Kink Kronicles

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nina Simone

Although Nina Simone enjoyed great popularity during her life, recording over 40 albums and performing around the world, her fame had begun to ebb by the time of her death in 2003. Her recordings continue to be reissued, though, and have reached an audience too young to have heard her in the 1950s and 1960s. Loved by her fans, she is still less than a household name today, so it is surprising to learn that the one recording owned by the library, Nina Simone Anthology : The Colpix Years, has been borrowed 101 times. To that popular collection of her earlier recordings, the library recently added another two-cd set titled simply, Anthology. These recordings represent Simone's work up through the 1960s and even early 1970s. The singer continues to blend blues, soul, standards, jazz, and Broadway tunes, bringing to each her understated but powerful sound. Pop songs like "The Glory of Love" and "To Love Somebody" show what she can do with a hit of the period, while "My Baby Just Cares For Me" shows her skill with more classic pop. Of particular interest are some of the later recordings. Her versions of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" and Sandy Denny's "Who Knows where The Time Goes" are reason enough to listen to this wonderful recording, with the added bonus of some beautifully expressed soul and jazz.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Blues Gold

Various Artists - Blues Gold

I can't say this with 100% certainty, but when I was in grade school I think took some form of music appreciation. I remember there being a teacher, naturally, and singing. There was a piano and a few others instruments. But I don't recall what songs, or why we were even there to begin with. What was the meaning of it all? At that age you don't fully understand the significance of music. You know you like it. You know other's like it. But you don't realize its true power, how it has defined cultures, started movements and changed lives. I must have been nine or ten, give me a break. I think my favorite song when I was that age was Modern English's "Melt With You." What a hopeless romantic.

What I'm getting at is that music programs absolutely should be part of a student's curriculum, and at an early age too, not just in college. The arts seems to be non-existent in school these days. At least they were when I was younger.

I'm not talking about showing a copy of The Sound of Music. Or watching Barney. I know stuff like that has its benefit and I'm certainly not against them. I know songs like Do Re Mi are fun and innocent. But let's go beyond that. Let's teach our kids to be passionate, unafraid to be unique. How do we expect to inspire our kids? (Inspiration isn't found solely through music, mind you, but this is a music blog after all). Whenever Lamb Chop was on when I was a kid, I was always a bit freaked out by the woman's overexcitement when she was singing. The music I found most enjoyable was what was in the background of my favorite afternoon cartoons: Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, etc, which played a lot of jazz and classical. Beautiful stuff.

We should open people up, not just kids, to what's out there. I know I'm beginning to beat a dead horse here, but it's like we're being too manipulated and influenced by savy advertisers. Tabacco companies, anyone? I mean, ever heard of Kidz Bop? Kids go nuts over songs that corporations carelessly churn out, and thanks to radio stations like KIIS FM, there is no end in sight. Ever find a Muddy Waters song on any kids compilation? Get real! Big Mama Thornton? Now you've lost me.

Funny thing, during school dances the music was always my least favorite part. Not the feeling of embarrassment I felt as I flung my arms and legs around the dance floor. But the not-this-song-again feeling in my chest.

Blues, I think, out of all the genres I've covered, is my favorite. My favorite changes everyday, but whenever I go back to blues, it always puts me in such a good place. The close-your-eyes-and-feel-all-the-pain-and-suffering-disappear place. Not that I go through very much pain and suffering. But blues songs have always found me at my most vulnerable. Like when I'm driving home at night, feeling lonely, and on comes "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James. Everything is suddenly perfect. The moon is suddenly larger and brighter and all the lights are green. Or when you're in Seattle and a street performer is playing "My Babe" by Little Walter down at Pike Place.

Do check out the Etta James song I mentioned. You'll know what I'm talking about. And if you don't get it, then I don't know what to say.

I know Pop Music will never fade out, and I'm ok with that. I just hope one day people will realize what they've been missing before stuff like blues gold is forgotten. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, the generations that grew up with most of the music I've covered is getting older, let's keep their memories alive.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In the Jungle Groove

James Brown - In the Jungle Groove

Like most people, my knowledge of James Brown didn't go much further than his biggest hits: Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, I Got You (I Feel Good) or It's a Man's Man's Man's World; K-Earth 101 material. Those don't even scratch the surface. James Brown didn't earn "The King of Soul" reference because of three radio hits. If you really explore his entire career - if you haven't, you should - those songs are weak in comparison (really, they're wonderful songs). In particular, listen to his late 50s stuff.

Jungle Groove is the definition of funk. In fact, there is no definition of funk in the dictionary; I checked. This album plays when you look it up, like one of those cheesy Hallmark cards that play music. Only this is ten full, incredible, danceable songs from an artist who unabashedly did his thing, his way.

Really, I chose Jungle Groove to highlight one track in particular, "Funky Drummer." Consider the happiest moment in your life: graduation, birth of a child, marriage; that's what hearing Funky Drummer is like. It's smooth, cool and just the right amount of funk to tap your foot to. The real winners here are the musicians, though; James Brown merely directs traffic while occasionally grunting out a line or two.

As James Brown compilations go, you couldn't do better than Jungle Groove.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Django Reinhardt, 1934-1935

Django Reinhardt - Django Reinhardt, 1934-1935

Brandon Russell - I'll be your resident music blogger on behalf of the Huntington Beach Public Library. When I'm not doing this, you can find me searching through the library's music catalogue or shelving books on the adult floors.

Django Reinhardt.

In celebration of it being lover’s day (I know, I’m a week late), this choice was a no brainer.

Django Rei... Who? Doesn’t he play for the Red Wings?

What are you first thoughts? Confusion? Nostalgia? Sadness?

Try bringing that name up to the MTV generation and I’m sure you’ll receive plenty of bewildered looks. Flash, excess, robotic regurgitation. That’s what we know and love today. Heck, I’m sure 90% of successful pop artists today wouldn’t know who you were talking about.

How about this: Django Reinhardt was responsible for inventing an entirely new jazz guitar technique that is now synonymous with French gypsy culture. Further, he did it with only three functioning fingers on his left hand (thumb, index, middle). By the way, he received first and second degree burns over half his body, paralyzing his right leg and injuring his hand. Doctors gave him no hope he would ever play again. I can't even play guitar with two healthy hands. But with much dedication and practice, Django relearned his craft and made it his own. That is passionate, unadulterated love of music. You can hear it, feel it in every song.

We should be so lucky that the library offers up an artist like Django Reinhardt. His music was solely responsible for getting him through World War II unscathed, that’s how endearing his gift was to nazi soldiers. You think Lady Gag would have survived being carried around in a plastic egg? I implore you, don’t let him and his music go unnoticed.

Am I coming on too strong? Forgive me.

Snap your fingers, tap your knee, swing your sweetheart. Pass the hours in a smoke filled dive somewhere off a hidden Paris street. Hemingway, anyone? I think I can picture Brett now.

Un cafe s’il vous plait.

See? Nostalgia. And I’ve never even been to France.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rockabilly Riot

Brandon Russell - I'll be your resident guest blogger on behalf of the Huntington Beach Public Library. When I'm not doing this, you can find me searching through the library's music catalogue or shelving books on the adult floors.

It's the 1950s, and the United States is on the mend, with memories of World War II fading slowly in the rearview. The Space Race is ongoing, television sets are in almost every household (à la the dinner scene in Back To The Future), and literature boundaries are being shredded by the Beat Generation. If ever there was a time where America was in an immense transitional period, it was the 50s.

Yet, the decade is known more as a period of conformity: obedient, stay at home wives, always hard at work husbands, kids who say the word "swell" and wear letterman jackets. It's the quintessential ideal of what suburban life was supposed to be.

But generational differences became an issue, and conflict soon arose, changing the sociopolitical landscape forever. Think of Jim Stark, James Dean's famous portrayal of a troubled, middle-class teenager in Rebel Without A Cause. Things aren't always what they seem.

Enter scapegoat: Music.

Even today we are hearing the same accusations. Rap music is responsible for making kids violent, hate their parents, etc. Rock & Roll and Rockabilly was met with much the same criticism.

These issues have been going on for decades, and will likely continue on in the future.

Just as Rockabilly Riot's title suggests, artists like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly were responsible for inspiring the 1950s youth. Suddenly they were acting without inhibitions, openly expressing their feelings and disobeying their parents, essentially rioting against America's Utopian vision.

Guitars bounce, twang, and propel shaking hips, while voices hiccup, snarl, and shout - all ingredients are causing enraged parents holler in anger. Rockabilly Riot's collection covers the scene's staple pioneers, from Carl Perkins and Gene Vincent, to Roy Orbison and Ritchie Valens. This music is perfect for dancing, and even if you hate to dance, I bet you wont be able to resist at least toe tapping by Rockabilly Riot's end. Not only that, but it's an instant mood booster.

What more do you want?

One of America's most genuine music genre's, the artists in Rockabilly Riot expressed to a generation the earnest, repressed emotions that ran through the veins of many 1950s youth. It's no wonder there is such an enduring and thriving subculture built around the Rockabilly image today: off-kilter, rebellious, uninhibited, and most of all, FUN.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Ultimate Otis Redding

Otis Redding - The Ultimate Otis Redding

Brandon Russell - I'll be your resident guest blogger on behalf of the Huntington Beach Public Library. When I'm not doing this, you can find me searching through the library's music catalogue or shelving books on the adult floors.

Let me start by saying that I don't profess to be an expert. Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson are ostensibly the industry's true pundits. Who knows? Telling people they can or can't sing is I guess reserved for those with only the keenest ears and bad temperaments. I'm still a bit incredulous.

Going to college I never found the time to take History of Rock & Roll. My world wasn't radically turned on its head after listening to my sister's secret record stash like William Miller's was in Almost Famous. Growing up my relationship with music never went past what was on the radio. That has drastically changed thanks to the internet and community resources like the library's media center. Don't get me wrong, radioland plays some great stuff, but there is so much more out there that goes overlooked. And believe me, there is some truly amazing music out there, you just have to be open minded and know where to look.

Of course, this is all a matter of opinion. We may not share the same tastes. Our tastes may be identical. My hope is that this blog will reinvigorate your spirit to explore, rather than consume what Ryan Seacrest says is new and hip. I like the latest and greatest hype bands same as anyone else, but my goal with this isn't to discover tomorrow's new Coachella band, but to introduce you to the forgotten songs/albums/artists you wouldn't have otherwise heard.

When I'm not doing this, you can find me searching through the library's music catalogue or shelving books on the adult floors. If we run into each other, say hi, ask questions, give me suggestions; I'm here to help.

I immediately knew who I'd choose for my first post if given the opportunity. Evocative, passionate, and tender, Otis Redding is an artist who came into my life a few years ago per a friend's suggestion, and he's been one of my favorites ever since. Coincidentally, the same album I listened to back then is in the library's catalogue.

For a career that barely lasted five years, Otis Redding's ability to convey deep emotion through his powerful, affectionate voice has certainly stood the test of time, and at the very young age of twenty-six, was held in similar esteem to that of the then late Sam Cooke, even garnering him the "King of Soul" crown.

The Ultimate Otis Redding covers a number of Redding's favorite chart toppers, leading off with some a few of his most well known songs, including (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay. Incidentally, it was a song he recorded just three days prior to his death in 1967, and also his most famous.

The first half of The Ultimate exhibits a man of great romantic despair, truly beautiful love ballads, last song of senior prom material, whereas the second half ups the tempo with his more exuberant high energy and signature shouting. A true showman, Otis Redding could have you dancing and crying to the same song and everything in between.

If you are new to Redding's music, or even a returning listener, I implore you start with These Arms of Mine, That's How Strong My Love Is, and I've Been Loving You Too Long on the highest tolerable volume. You will feel Redding's pain, understand his hurt, and after he's done, renewed. Like you'll wonder why you haven't heard such beauty up until this now, and you'll want more of that feeling. It's a backwards way to feel happier, but music can have that parallel effect.

Otis Redding was significant in that he was able to traverse racial boundaries, and relate to a wider audience. He awakened a generation and passionately shouted his way into the consciousness of the music world. One of the most dynamic singers of his time, Otis Redding's The Ultimate Otis Redding is a wonderful primer into what was a beautiful, and far too short, career.