Category: Music

Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues

By , June 26, 2015

Bessie Smith photo by Van Vechten, Carl - Library of CongressLegendary blues singer Bessie Smith was born in 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She performed on the vaudeville circuit and was one of the first African American vocalists to be recorded (along with Nashville’s Fisk Jubilee Singers). She signed with Columbia Records in 1923 and soon became known as the “greatest and highest salaried race star in the world,” selling over 4 million records between 1924 and 1929.

Bessie’s song, “Backwater Blues,” recorded in February of 1927, is believed to be about the Nashville Flood of 1926. She was scheduled to start performances at Nashville’s Bijou Theatre on December 30 and would have arrived in town in the aftermath of the Christmas Day flood. Music scholar David Evans revealed this discovery during a blues class at Vanderbilt in 2004.

NR Postcard Collection - 036e - Bijou Th., Nash, TN

Last month HBO premiered a biopic of the singer, directed by Nashville native Dee Rees. When asked why it was so important for her to tell Bessie’s story, Rees told Madame Noire,

“My grandmother played her records, my mom played her. There’s this album that they had called One Mo Time, that was recorded from a 1979 a Black Vaudeville kind of sendup. And so that was something I remembered as a kid. So I was always curious about her life. She was a woman from Tennessee, a Black woman, a queer woman from Tennessee, who wasn’t afraid to be who she was.”

Interested in learning more about Bessie Smith? Make it part of your Summer Challenge!

Read about Bessie:

Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga: Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South by Michelle R. Scott
Blues Legacies & Black Feminism by Angela Y. Davis
Bessie by Chris Albertson (OverDrive)

Listen to Bessie:

“Backwater Blues” on The Essential Bessie Smith (CD)
“My Man Blues” on the One Mo’Time Original Cast Album (LP)

Visit a museum honoring Bessie:

The Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee

Music review: Belgian musician Stromae

By , April 10, 2015

Promo stromaeThere is so much music out there in the world, my friends.  As residents of Music City, we can sometimes forget to explore beyond the musical borders of our beloved Nashville.  To make new music discoveries, I follow some of the big music happenings, like the South by Southwest festival in Austin.  Every year when I read about artists who wowed folks at SXSW, I happily discover a new musical obsession.  See the cutie in the picture to your left?  That’s Stromae, the Belgian pop star who has a bazillion views on Youtube!  Music fans all over the world already appreciate his artistry.  It’s about time we join in.

You might be wondering just how to pronounce his name.  Say the words “my strobe light.” Now reverse the words, and remove the be and the lightStromae has said it’s a play on the word “maestro.” Get it?  If you’ve never heard any of his music,  Stromae is an artist smartly influenced by the melodies and rhythms of the world.  Many of his songs make dancing a necessity.  Stromae sings and raps in French but you can easily find English translations of his lyrics online.  Do watch his videos – they reveal the tone and intent for those of us who don’t speak French.  Take his hit song Papaoutai.  In the video you see a young boy trying in vain to connect with his father.  Stromae’s father abandoned his family in Belgium to return to Rwanda, and was killed in the  genocide of the 1990′s.

I gotta give a shout out to the folks at NPR Music who hosted Stromae at their 2015 SXSW showcase.  You can watch his performance here.  Check out his music on Hoopla.  And let’s start a campaign to bring him to Nashville!!

 

Book review: Girl in a Band

By , March 15, 2015

Girl in a Band by Kim GordonGirl in a Band
by Kim Gordon

Depending on the amount of amplification, a guitar can cut a listener to the quick, or it can bludgeon them into submission. That’s why they call them axes. Holding one is like holding a weapon. For thirty years, Kim Gordon wielded her bass axe as a founding member of the band Sonic Youth. The band’s noise-infused rock gave Gordon ample opportunity to pummel her audience and carve a space for herself in the pantheon of American punk rock, but her arsenal isn’t limited to music.

Gordon is also an accomplished visual artist, having exhibited works around the world, and 1993 she co-founded the fashion label X-Girl. In 2015 she adds the title of author to her list of credits with the memoir Girl in a Band.

The book begins with endings: first with Gordon’s marriage to fellow Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore and, as a result, her band. Being in a band with your spouse, touring the world in various cramped vans and buses, seems like a recipe for disaster, but somehow Gordon and Moore made it work. Until it didn’t.

Like her singing, Gordon’s voice on the page goes from menacing growl in one sentence to whisper quiet in the next. The breakup of her marriage colors her memories of her family history, her brother’s struggle with mental illness, and her work with Sonic Youth. There are tabloid details if you want them, but Gordon’s book reads more like purging than exploitation.

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Music review: Bjork’s Vulnicura

By , March 13, 2015

VulnicuraVulnicura
by Bjork

Sad but true:  some of the best art is inspired by heartbreak.  Bjork’s new album is no exception.  Now those of you that are thinking she’s just too far out there for your listening pleasure, remember that heartbreak is universal and something we can all relate to – a pain so intense and profound and utterly devastating.  But at the end of  that overwhelming sadness, there is hope.  Vulnicura is Bjork’s brave musical interpretation of the end of her relationship with her partner, her love, the father of her daughter.

Vulnicura is definitely an album to listen to in it’s entirety, in the correct order.  But if I had to narrow it for you, essential tracks are the album opener Stonemilker, Atom Dance featuring Antony Hegarty, and an epic ten minute song called Black Lake. In Black Lake, Bjork proclaims family was always our sacred mutual mission – which you abandoned…At the end of the phrase the strings sustain one melancholic note for several beats, a musical  representation of the gravity of this abandonment.

Vulnicura is Bjork’s best album since 2001′s Vespertine, the album that was perhaps inspired by the beginning of the relationship with her ex-partner.   Stream or download Vulnicura on freegal. Check out Vespertine through Hoopla.  And from now through June of 2015, visit the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York to see a Bjork career retrospective.

 

 

Download now: Valentine’s Playlist

By , February 13, 2015

say-anythingNothing says I love you quite like a mix tape.  With a playlist of songs handpicked and shuffled into the perfect order, your sweetie will know just how much and how deeply you care.  Listed here are songs guaranteed bring the love.   Download tracks or create a streaming playlist.   Grab that library card – that’s all you need…

The Very Thought of You, performed by Billie Holiday.  I dare you to find another singer who exudes longing and love as well as Billie…

Open Arms, by Journey.  “Haters gonna hate,” but in my opinion, Open Arms is one of the all-time best power ballads!

Drunk in Love by Beyonce.  Just to make sure your sweetie gets the point, let Queen Bey do the convincing.

At Last performed by Eva Cassidy.  When you think of At Last, I know Etta James is on your mind.  Give a listen to the second best interpreter of this iconic song, Miss Eva Cassidy. So sad both of these lovely songbirds are no longer with us…

Total Eclipse of the Heart, by Bonnie Tyler.  Love likes over the top 80′s production, right?  My sweetie and I go into hysterics every time we hear this song!

 

I’m not the only librarian who loves love songs! Here are recommendations from some of my esteemed colleagues…

Bryan recommends: Bob Dylan‘s Lay, Lady, Lay.

Jeremy recommends:  ELO‘s (Electric Light Orchestra) Turn to Stone.

Klem-Mari recommends:  Bruce Springsteen‘s I’m on Fire, and Calle 13‘s La Jirafa.

 

Please share your favorite love songs in the comments!  My Valentine’s gift to you – Bonnie Tyler’s timeless video interpretation of Total Eclipse of the Heart.  You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

Record review: Ryan Adams

By , January 30, 2015

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams, formerly of Whiskeytown and formerly known for his wantonly reckless behavior, has a new album. This is his first recording in 3 years, self titled, Ryan Adams.

Ryan Adams was once regarded as the Joyce Carol Oates of American singer songwriters. Three years is a long time for fans  of his sloppily compiled, pitch perfect songwriting to wait. Hallelujah, it was worth the wait and heck, it is winter and listening to Ryan Adams requires a climate that cleanses the soul.

The new album is full of instantly familiar songs that echo back to days of Ryan Adams stomping and stumbling through western North Carolina. There are slight hints of Lindsey Buckingham guitar chords and just when you think you recognize a riff, the lyrics call you back and require you to pay attention. You should always pay attention to Ryan Adams.

This one is available through HOOPLA.

“They don’t make coats for this kind of cold” – Ryan Adams

-laurie

 

 

Popmatic Podcast December 10th, 2014: Best Music of the Year

By , December 10, 2014


Future Islands SinglesThese are the tunes that rocked our world in 2014. No joke – there are pirate songs on this list! Arrrr! Luckily, special guest Sarah shows up to save us from Bryan’s terrible picks. Tune in, turn on, check out – its the best music of the year.

BEST MUSIC OF THE YEAR

Amanda’s picks
1) G I R L by Pharrell Williams CD | Freegal
2) Mandatory Fun by Weird Al Yankovic
3) Pulses by Karmin

Bryan’s picks
1) Gay Dog Food by Mykki Blanco
2) Shaken-Up Versions by The Knife
3) Cliff Martinez’ film scores CD/DVD | Freegal | Hoopla

Crystal’s picks
1) Singles by Future Islands
2) Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson CD | Freegal
3) Interstellar by Frankie Rose Freegal | Hoopla

Mike’s picks
1) “Rock Steady” by The Bloody Beetroots
2) 1916 by Motörhead CD | Freegal | Hoopla
3) “Veil of Tears” by Beats Antique Freegal | Hoopla

Sarah’s picks
1) Diamonds by Johnnyswim
2) After the Disco by Broken Bells CD | Freegal
3) Language & Perspective by Bad Suns

TICKLING OUR FANCY

Amanda’s Holiday Concert at Main Library

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page

Badmen, Heroes, and Pirate Songs and Ballads by Dick Wilder

Horrible Bosses 2

Voices by Phantogram

Evil Friends by Portugal. The Man

Mikky Ekko

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Transcripts of the show are available upon request.

Book review: Mad World

By , November 14, 2014

madworld-608x812Mad World: an Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs that Defined the 1980s
by Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein

As a former writer of Duran Duran fan fiction, it’s pretty much a given I’d appreciate this book, which features not only the fab five, but many of my favorite bands from the 80′s.  But even if you enter a rage when Take On Me comes out of your speakers, Mad World will help you understand the events that led up to and influenced the sounds of that decade.

Music fans and journalists Lori Majewski and Jonathan Bernstein interviewed (I’m so jealous!) some of the most notable new wave artists, getting them each to talk about the genesis and recording of their most popular songs. You’ll also read in the artists’ own words tales of the scene, and how some had strong friendships with their fellow new wave bands.   And while we’re on the topic, the authors talk about what new wave actually means.  The band photos provide an instant step back into the 80′s hairstyles and unique fashion sense often parodied and misunderstood.  You’re a fan of mixtapes, right?  Majewski and Bernstein recommend some excellent themed mixtapes: bands with interesting names, songs about science, songs from new groups that grew out of old groups…

I’ve already mentioned Duran Duran is represented; other participants include members of New Order, The Smiths (Morrissey and Johnny Marr were obviously interviewed separately), Tears for Fears, Adam Ant, Devo,  A Flock of Seagulls, and INXS to name a few.  And don’t forget to check our catalog, Hoopla, and freegal when you’re inspired to listen to these bands.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs you may know from the cover versions by Grace Jones, or Trent Reznor and friends, that would be The Normal‘s Warm Leatherette.

 

CD review: Inside Llewyn Davis Original Soundtrack Recording

By , October 23, 2014

 Inside Llewyn Davis Original Soundtrack Recording

When the Coen Brothers write and direct a film you know two things, you’re going to see a really good movie and you’re going to hear a really fabulous soundtrack. The Coen’s latest film Inside Llewyn Davis does not disappoint.

The film, loosely inspired by the life of American folk singer Dave Van Ronk, “follows a week in the life of a young folk singer as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961.” Oscar Isaac plays the lead character of Llewyn. Not only does Isaac’s do a great job acting he also does an amazing job singing. His voice is soulful and impressive.

 

Inside Llewyn Davis was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Original Song and an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Sound Mixing.

 

The moment I finished watching the movie, I ran to the computer to see if the library had the soundtrack….they did … was it worth the wait? Absolutely.

 

 

 

- Karen

 

 

The Inside Llewyn Davis Soundtrack is available as a CD and digitally through Hoopla on the library’s website.

 

You may also like:

Inside Llewyn Davis DVD

 

Inside Llewyn Davis: the screenplay

By Joel Coen

 

Inside Llewyn Davis Movie Website

http://www.insidellewyndavis.com/home

 

 

 

 

Record Review: Jackson Browne

By , September 19, 2014

Running on Empty
by Jackson Browne

Earlier this week the Americana Music Festival payed tribute to the poet laureate of Rock, & Roll, honoring Jackson Browne with the “Spirit of Americana” Free Speech Award. Previous recipients include Johnny Cash, Steve Earle and Joan Baez.

Mr. Browne is a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), Nukefree.org, and the Success Through the Arts Foundation, which provides educational opportunities for students in South Los Angeles. He is also a member of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and was the fourth recipient of the John Steinbeck Award.

Now that we have covered the awards, let’s get to the music. The first time, the heartbreak, the deluge, the dreamers, the dancers, you know the early good ones. Then there came the pop ones, the political wake-up calls, the yearning and learning and finally the return to love. None of Jackson Browne’s albums from the past 40 years better reflects the spirit of Nashville than the 1977 release, Running on Empty. Sure, we all remember the load out, the roadies, Rosie, the falsetto, but “phone calls long distance” now knocks us to our knees. The return visit is better than you remember and you may find the listen more than just familiar.

Standing in the Breach is set for release on October 7th.

There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more but they didn’t show your spirit quite as true…Jackson Browne

-laurie

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