Wednesday, July 18, 2012


There's a great new compilation of hits and favorites from former 2 Tone stars The English Beat. The Birmingham band, a punky, second-wave ska powerhouse, was both popular and influential. Along with Madness, The Specials and The Selecter, the English Beat's music, multicultural vibe and even their look shaped a whole scene on both sides of the Atlantic that got people shaking it down to dance-friendly, socially conscious party music. This disc contains some of the best known tunes by the group, including "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Twist and Crawl," "Can't Get Used To Losing You," and "Hands Off...She's Mine." This music, from the late seventies and early eighties, remains fresh and fun. UB40 and other bands took this music farther commercially, but few made it more fun. Of particlular interest to fans of Third Wave Ska like Sublime and No Doubt.
Keep The Beat: The Very Best Of The English Beat
Also of Interest:
The Singles Collection - The Specials
BBC Sessions - The Specials
One Step Beyond - Madness
The Collection - Bad Manners

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Playing The Blues

Blues guitarist Buddy Guy looks back on his life in his new memoir, When I Left Home: My Story. I love biographies of musicians and the first thing I noticed about this one was the sound the words made, the rhythm of the spoken voice, in this case the Southern-tinged voice of a working man, a musican, and a survivor. The reader is allowed to feel as if he or she is listening to an interesting older man talk about life and reflect on experiences of joy, loss and endurance. Buddy takes the reader back to his rural childhood, his earliest exposure to music, the ambition that drove him to Chicago, and the ups and downs of a bluesman who spent his nights in front of ecstatic audiences and his days driving a tow truck. Along the way there is much about Chess Records, Buddy's mentors, his successes, his business ventures and his family. Always there is the wise and reflective tone of a man who's lived a life full of music, struggle and triumph. A first rate autobiography.
Related Recordings:
Buddy's Blues                                   Buddy Guy
Blues Singer                                      Buddy Guy
Damn Right I've Got The Blues          Buddy Guy
The Very Best of Buddy Guy             Buddy Guy
Chicago Boss Guitars                        Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam
Bring 'Em In                                      Buddy Guy
Skin Deep                                         Buddy Guy
Living Proof                                      Buddy Guy
Hoodoo Man Blues                           Junior Wells, Buddy Guy

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sure Enough Country

Here's a fun one, a two-CD collection of classic country tunes which includes hits from some of the great country stars of the past. It's called The Only Classic Country Collection You'll Ever Need, and disc one achieves the coveted "All Killer, No Filler" status with Ernest Tubb's "Walking The Floor Over You," Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight," Lefty Frizell's "If You've got Money, I've Got the Time," and even Ray Charles' classic take of Buck Owens'"Cryin' Time." Filled out with songs by Kitty Wells, Hank Williams, George Jones, Johnny Cash and Hank Snow, you've got a great country playlist right here. Disc two is almost as good: Roger Miller, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Waylon Jennings and several other great singers are included. Some listeners might not feel that Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers fit in with this company, but that's really in the ear of the beholder. This CD sounds like the jukebox in an old country dive (or a retro-hip dive) and is perfect when the mood calls for real country.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Black Music Month

Black Music Month, now called African American Music Appreciation Month, is announced in a proclamation from the president of the United States. The entire procalmation is available on, and this year's statement begins with the words: "As a long-cherished piece of American culture, music offer a vibrant soundtrack to the story of our people and our Union. At times when words alone could not bring us together, we have found in melodies and choruses the universal truths of our shared humanity. African-American musicians have left an indelible mark on this tradition, and during African-American Music Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to their extraordinary contributions." A lot of media outlets have published articles about this special celebration and some have even recommended music to listen to. The Huffington Post ran an article identifying ten black artists they believe are currently redefining the music industry: Rihanna, Drake, Beyonce, Kanye, Jay-Z, Usher, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson and Lil Wayne. The library has recordings by all of them, along with hundreds of other innovative and influential African-American musicans. Other resources include books about African American musicians and musical styles including Blues, Soul, Gospel, Hip-Hop, and Jazz. Stop by the library this month to learn about and listen to some great American music.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Cross To Bear

My Cross To Bear is the title of Gregg Allman's recent memoir and the story of the musician's lonely childhood, loss of his beloved brother, his string of divorces and the decades lost to drugs and alcohol justify the title's evocation of struggle and pain. The book does include the mandatory sex, drugs and rock & roll anecdotes associated with the rock star memoir, and they're generally amusing. The guys in the Allman Brothers Band took their music as seriously as their excess and definitely had some great times. Fans of the band will read about the rise and fall and rise of the storied group, along with accounts of great shows at the Beacon Theater, the stunning success of the "Fillmore" and "Brothers and Sisters" recordings, as well as the tragic deaths, imprisonments and betrayals that darken their history. Mr. Allman comes across as a lonely, somewhat unsophisticated man whose only true love was the music that sustained him through his difficult life. Whatever wisdom he has achieved is expressed in a few tired affirmations and worn aphorisms. His life may not have been all glamor and success but he did live to tell about it and seems to enjoy sharing the memories he retains. A fine telling of a familiar, but still compelling, tale.

The library owns many of the recordings discussed in the book.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Different kind of guitar hero

A lot has been written since the passing of Arthel "Doc" Watson about his influence, his amazing guitar playing and his role in popularizing traditional American music. Ash Grove club owner Ed Pearl is quoted in the LA Times as saying, "Doc was by far the best traditional artist I ever met at talking openly about his people, and just having a casual conversation with an audience...he was among the most versatile and un-self-conscious bringers of Southern white culture to the Ash Grove possible, and he did that right from the beginning." If you haven't heard Doc's music, or haven't heard it lately, pick up one of his recordings next time you're in the library. His music will continue to resonate with listeners attuned to the purity and authenticity of great traditional music.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sweet Soul Music

The Sweet Soul Music series has proven a surprising local favorite in the library's cd collection. These cds from the premier reissue label Bear Family Records, based in Germany, collect the original recordings that defined this classic American music style. Mixing the well known (Mary Wells, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye) with the more obscure but equally significant (Don Covay, Slim Harpo, The Elgins) these beautifully annotated and illustrated compilations tell the story of the performers and producers who fused Southern Gospel, R&B, and even Country music into what came to be known as Soul. The library owns volumes from the set that represent each year from 1963 through 1969. Also of interest is the three-cd set Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story, 1961-1977. This collection is somewhat parallel in purpose to the Sweet Soul Music series, but sticks to recordings made in the South. It, too, is a mix of the hits and commercial misses that are now judged to have been the most definitive recordings in the history of Soul. In Europe, where American Blues, Country, Jazz, and Soul are still greatly admired, this set won MOJO magazine's Best Compilation Award for 2009. A national treasure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mountain Music

Before Ralph Stanley was featured on the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack, and before he was the grand old man of bluegrass, he was part of an innovative and influential band with his brother Carter. In the 1940s the Stanley Brothers began to record the rural music, pioneered by Bill Monroe and others, that would come to be known as bluegrass. From Charles K. Wolfe's liner notes: "Though dozens of young bands were doing their best to emulate the new sound, it would be the Stanley Brothers who would take it to its next stage of development. [It was] a style that at once harkened back to the mountain music of the past, and looked forward with innovative harmonies and haunting new songs." The haunting ballads and gospel songs which make up The Complete Columbia Stanley Brothers continue to define this style of music and their echoes are heard in the work of contemporary artists like Alison Krauss as well as revivalists like Old and In The Way. Old sounds that remain vital - and fun. Stop in the library's Media department for this and an array of other important recordings, both historical and contemporary.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Orleans Style

Singer, pianist, arranger, producer and New Orleans voodoo king Dr. John has a new recording (Locked Down) that harkens back to some of his spooky/funky earlier work. Produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (who has in turn been produced by Danger Mouse), the record sizzles with organ, funky guitar licks, layers of percussion and Dr. John's inimitable vocal style. An ideal antidote to bland, generic, mass-produced pop music, this mashup of blues, rock, New Orleans rhythm and electro grooves will not be found in the frozen aisle of your chain grocery store. A spicy stew indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Jazz Appreciation Month

"In April 2001, the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution launched the first Jazz Appreciation Month to honor both the legacy of America's original art form and its relevance and importance as a part of modern American culture. Throughout the nation, schools, organizations, and local governments celebrate JAM with diverse events and concerts. This year, JAM highlights the role of jazz and jazz advocates in crossing musical and other cultural borders to support freedom, creativity and unity." -

Jazz Appreciation Month is a great time to swing by the library and grab some classic jazz recordings. There's big band, bebop, and West Coast jazz. There is jazz from almost every decade of the 20th century - from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington through John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck. The are singers: Johnny Hartman, Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. There are brilliant pianists from Art Tatum to Bill Evans, guitarists from Wes Montgomery to John McLaughlin, saxophone players from Art Pepper to Sonny Rollins. Stop by the library's Media Center and browse our jazz collection: celebrate our great American art form and get your groove on at the same time!

For more on jazz appreciation check here

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Great Earl Scruggs

Banjo innovator, bluegrass star and beloved performer Earl Scruggs died March 28, 2012 and already news sources are filled with obituaries and tributes that track the career of this great American musician. Hired as a young man to play banjo with Bill Monroe, the greatest bluegrass bandleader of the time, Scruggs went on to great success as half of the duo Flatt & Scruggs and continued to grow and evolve as a musician for decades, ultimately playing with everyone from Johnny Cash, Sting, Elton John, and John Fogerty to Vince Gill and Billy Bob Thornton.

Anyone wanting to to hear some of Scruggs' music from the peak of his career should listen to the 5 disc collection, Flatt & Scruggs 1959 - 1963. This detailed record of an important time in Scruggs' recording career illustrates the technical virtuosity and the general musical appeal of this legendary performer. As long as bluegrass music is played, there will be a banjo player somewhere working out the Scruggs' part in "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." He'll be missed.

Also of interest:

The Three Pickers: Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Ricky Scaggs (CD)

The Crow by Steve Martin (CD) Scruggs guests on this recording

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

After Midnight

Nat 'King' Cole is one of those musicians whose work seems to connect with generation after generation. Some music is cool for a while, and some is just permanently cool. "After Midnight," one of Cole's most celebrated recordings, is in the latter group, and has that smokey, after-hours feel that's as emotionally resonant today as it ever was. Like Diana Krall, Cole thought he was a jazz musician and was surprised to find himself a pop sensation. The sessions that comprise "After Midnight" feature the sensitive and warm vocal style that was in evidence throughout the singer's career, but the musical setting here is certainly more jazz than pop. Cole's trio, John Collins on guitar, Charlie Harris on bass, Lee Young on drums, is supplemented at times by Jack Costanza, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Willie Smith, Juan Tizol and Stuff Smith, on percission, trumpet, alto saxophone, valve trombone and violin, respectively. Most of the disc though, is Cole's fine piano, supplemented and supported by his sensitive trio. For those who enjoy jazz ballads and swing, particularly, this recording will be a delight: great material, fine vocals and a sophisticated 1950s groove. Some of his finest recordings.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Gangster Of Love

The early recordings of Johnny "Guitar" Watson have been reissued yet again under the title "The Original Gangster of Love: 1953-1959." This material is essential to many blues and early rock fans and should interest anyone curious about the evolving role of the electric guitar in popular music. These are great tracks with hot guitar, horns, piano and great singing. This isn't the rural sound of Southern blues or even the stripped down Chicago style. This is blues as it's evolving into rock and R&B - an urban sound played not by older players with delta roots, but a hot-shot eighteen-year-old (in 1953)in Los Angeles. "Space Guitar" is an instrumental that points in a new direction for the time while "Hot Little Mama" is the kind of hard-edged blues swing that evokes the later recordings of Kim Wilson, Roomful of Blues, and Kid Ramos. The playful boasting of "Gangster of Love" fits somewhere between Ray Charles and Snoop Dog. Essential American music.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Long Player Late Bloomer

Through some odd coincidence or convergence the library adds the new recordings of three Canadian songwriters this week. Convergence is the latest from Kathleen Edwards a songwriter and singer of singular beauty and sensitivity. Also new is Old Ideas, the newest from Leonard Cohen whose career resurgence and successful touring are enjoyed by as many new fans as old, 40 or so years into his creative life. Ron Sexsmith's Long Player Late Bloomer is the third new disc from a Canadian songwriter and perhaps the most deserving of your attention. Sexsmith is a great writer whose previous ten cds have earned praise from Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Chris Martin and Lucinda Williams but have yet to earn him the wide popularity he deserves. The songs are beautiful, intelligent, melodic and memorable and the performance is folk-rock and rootsy. Sexsmith's delivery is modest and unassuming but his talent is profound. Great stuff.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Judy Collins

Judy Collins has recently published Sweet Judy Blue Eyes: My Life in Music. In this second memoir (the first being more about her response to a personal tragedy), the singer discusses the height of her career in the 1960s, her alcoholism, her love affair with Stephen Stills, and her friendships with Joan Baez, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and others. Interested readers will find recordings by Collins (and many of the people mentioned in the book) in the library's Media department.

Friday, February 3, 2012

New Music Books

Heaven and Hell: My Life in the Eagles (1974-2001) by former Eagles guitarist Don Felder has been out a couple of years now, but we just added a copy to the library's music collection. The Eagles were a big part of the California music scene (and still are as a result of endless farewell tours) and their long run provides a book full of stories for Don Felder to tell. Popularizing the innovations of Gram Parsons and others, the Eagles put country rock on the map and enjoyed great success and popularity for decades. Felder talks about how how things fell apart for the band and how the once equal partnership gave way to tight fisted control by just a couple of members. A major band bio and a must-read for music fans whether fans of the Eagles or not.

Love was a grounbreaking, innovative band that enjoyed mostly critical success, but that remains immensely influential long after its demise. Canadian author John Einarson's new book about Love's leader and founder Arthur Lee explores the turbulent life and career of the creator of the landmark recording Forever Changes, a 1967 recording of sweeping ambition and bold originality that enjoys a reputation as one of rock music's greatest albums. From the heady days on the Sunset Strip to Lee's descent into chaos, Einarson's Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love offers the first fully researched story of this troubled but brilliant musician and his times.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Rock 'n' Roll party

Johnny Winter

Rock 'n' Roll party is the latest from British guitarist Jeff Beck. Ostensibly a tribute to Les Paul, Beck and friends lovingly recreate several of the hits Paul enjoyed with Mary Ford in the 1950s. Mockingbird Hill, How High The Moon, The World is waiting for the Sunrise, and others are faithfully reproduced and may bring these charming pop tunes to a new generation of listeners. The rest of the recording consists of a couple nice guitar intrumentals and some random rockabilly. The point of this project isn't exactly clear, but the playing and singing are first rate. Fun party album.

Steve Cropper's new set also takes a look back. His recording is called Dedicated - A Salute to The "5" Royales, and he, too, brings guests in to help revisit some of his favorite music, that of R&B band the 5 Royales. To my ear, this is the more successful of the two projects. Cropper and friends don't sound like tourists in the gritty, gospel-influenced world of 1950s rhythm and blues. This albums rocks and swings with an ease and authenticity that Beck's recording lacks. Lucinda Williams, B.B. King, Delbert McClinton and Bettye LaVette make the music relevant to today's listener while honoring the tradition that gave birth to it. Great stuff.

The best of the veteran-looks-back trilogy is by Johnny Winter. Playing some old favorites with friends like Warren Haynes, John Popper and Derek Trucks, Winter has produced one of the best blues albums in recent memory. Great singing, lots of guitar and the obvious pleasure of the leader doing what he does best make Roots a bluesy delight all the way through. Instant classic.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Celestial Lineage

The new cd by Wolves in the Throne Room may or may not be Black Metal depending on who you listen to, but it's a scary and wonderful trip into the band's murky and dreamy music. Even the pieces featuring furious guitar and machinegun drums shift moods and attain a meditative aspect. Despite the characteristic horror-movie vocals, this band is not about aggression, or at least not just aggression. The lyrics suggest a mythical and magical world that evokes European folklore and is full of eagles, stags, trees and other natural phenomenon. According to Wikipedia, "The band is well known for their interests that lie beyond the usual topics of Black Metal, such as radical ecology, bio-dynamic farming and creating a nature-based occult worldview." This is not music for everyone and is not intended to be. It is music with a distinct and original voice, though, for those drawn to the dark, gothic corners of metal.