This list is a (sometimes) monthly compilation of my own personal favorite patron requests for music. I hope you will check out some of the great music that Library users have suggested we acquire!
Provided are some great preview tracks for each. Just click on the titles to be taken to the catalog.
Funky Highlife by C.K. Mann & Carousel 7
This is it. The best request of the batch! C.K. Mann paid his dues and polished his skills in the legendary Kakaiku Guitar Band of Ghana in the 1960s. The history and cross-cultural trackings of African Highlife and Afrobeat are too detailed to chronicle here, but the influence of black American music in Ghana is undeniable (see details on the Soul to Soul concert of 1971). C.K. Mann eventually split from Kakaiku to form his own outfit, which was a big deal in early-'70s Ghana. As the likes of Fela Kuti made the sounds of Afrobeat hard to ignore, hip hop producers and DJs began to dig deeper. It was when Double Dee and Steinski sampled a track from Funky Highlife (1974) that a resurgence in interest forced its re-release on CD. Thank God for Hip Hop and those sample-hungry DJs! Keep digging! The LP is now a collector's item; but never fear, we've got the CD. This recording is the perfect example of American funk and soul influences sifted through traditional African musical sensibilities. (PREVIEW)
Say That to Say This by Trombone Shorty
Can somebody tell me what this album DOESN'T have? 'Banjo' you say? Yea, well I'll bet there's actually one buried in the mix somewhere, because this album seems to have everything! Boasting one of the coolest names in music, and worthy of a listen if only for the mere fact that trombone players don't often enough get to lead the band (Willie Colon notwithstanding of course); come to find out even Barack and Michelle have been given over to the infectiousness of these grooves. So let's just get to listing the ingredients: New Orleans, R&B, Jazz, Funk, Rock, Hip Hop, throw it all into a gumbo pot, throw in some shrimps and hot sauce, stir with a trombone, pour into a tailored suit, then untuck the shirt and throw away the tie. No, I'm just kidding, there was never a tie... then you got yourself some Trombone Shorty. Bring to a simmer and enjoy hot. (PREVIEW)
The Ash & the Clay by Milk Carton Kids
Words cannot express how lovely this music is, so I'm not sure why I will now continue to talk. They got an invite to NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts if that means anything to you. If you like vocal harmonies, I mean, just amazing vocal harmonies, perfectly blended, and set to two guitars unintrusively playing around each other's effortless noodling, then check this out. I'd go on but I must save some superlatives for later entries. (PREVIEW)
Departure & Farewell by Hem
We all realize, I'm sure, that you would never have to leave the confines of New York City to find all the music one would ever need, I mean, for the rest of your life. NYC's own Hem is melodic, folky, seamless; they've managed to add all kinds of coloring elements from harps, string orchestras, percussion sounds so subtle my infinitely discerning ears couldn't tell what exactly they are, without losing the simplicity of the folk tradition of picking up a guitar and singing your circumstances into a melody, enhancing the emotion of everyday life experiences. So anchored in Brooklyn are these experiences that you may even hear your neighborhood mentioned in songs like "Tourniquet," which is just kind of fun; but every song on this beautiful work of art brings its own varied-yet-similar character straight to your heart. (PREVIEW)
Strictly Business by EPMD
This album is all about the samples. Sure, everyone was doing it in the late '80s, but where EPMD rises above is their expansion of source material, not only the likes of Kool and the Gang, but a bunch of much less predictable punches from Steve Miller, ZZ Top, and Eric Clapton. This is hip hop music: revamped, revitalized, re-contextualized sample beats and grooves, restructured, juxtaposed with movie samples, talk boxes, and horn blasts; all to supply a foundation for the real treat, the unbeatable flow of emcees Erick and Parrish. If you know this one, revisit it. If you don't, and you're a hip hop fan, you're in for a real treat! (PREVIEW)
Bags Meets Wes by Milt Jackson and Wes Montgomery
When I first put this one on, maybe you know what I'm talking about, I had a flash of that look of quasi-disgust that comes when something is so good your face reveals an instant of "you've got to be kidding me? No, no, someone is messing with me. This can't be!" ... almost like you just saw someone get into an accident or some such. This then quickly morphed into a lip-biting, head-bobbing middle ground between an almost emotional pain that it's so good and the epiphany of "No, wow, I guess you're not messing with me, this is for real!" Maybe it was auditory shock, the getting over of which is pretty amazing. Jazz is a word that is too big for its own good, I guess like a lot of music-related words. You can both love some jazz and hate some. I know I do. But guess what folks, are ready for this one New York City? You can't hate this; you have to love it! And I don't mean you're not allowed to dislike it, I mean it is physically impossible. That is all. (PREVIEW)
A Bright Star Has Risen by Perunika Trio
Yea, that Bulgarian vocal thing is back with a vengeance. They sing those close, rich harmonies, the kind if you recall the Trio Bulgarka made so popular a few years back, not like anything you hear much of in these parts. And these three women sing together as if they've been doing it their whole lives. Every harmony, every rhythm, so organically executed. The sound is so utterly unique, it inadvertently (or perhaps not) makes an argument for why we should work to keep the world's incredibly diverse body of traditions alive, certainly in music. There are still things a million-dollar studio and wall full of machines still can't do, like this: (PREVIEW)
Strangers in the Night by UFO
Oh, there's really nothing much here... only like the BEST LIVE ALBUM of in-your-face rock and roll you've never heard of! UFO stormed out of the UK in 1969. Ten years later, when it seemed everyone was releasing live albums, they drop this firestorm of a double-album on the scene. It did well then and it holds up incredibly well today. If you're partial to early-'70s Deep Purple, or, say, ever went to a rock concert, or wished you did, in some arena in the '70s, this pretty much will put you there. This is the real reason this double is impressive: it captures the energy of the live show better than most. Get your lighters out people, cuz at the end of this one you're gonna want more! (PREVIEW)
Folk Singer by Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters, whose beginning is as humble as of any Delta Blues singer there ever was, remembers when Alan Lomax ventured down to Mississippi in 1941 for the Library of Congress and recorded him: "He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house, and when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a check for twenty bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, 'I can do it, I can do it.'"
Mr. Waters went on to Chicago, plug in, and provide one of the biggest influences to what would become the British Invasion of revamped American Blues. But here he has stripped back down, unplugged, and offers some sounds closer to what it must have sounded like in the beginning, with an addition of a couple of decades of playing and performing, not to mention accompaniment by the likes of Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy. It's priceless and we should all be glad he made this one. (PREVIEW)
And last but the opposite of least:
Abandon by Pharmakon
Looking back, there were signs, so many signs, written into the Hieroglyphs and tombs of the past, into the ancient texts and carvings, the holy scriptures, of the so-called ancient "gods" from beyond this world. But I suppose our hesitance in giving it much thought stemmed from knowing there wasn't a damn thing we could do about it anyway. We knew that if it were true, we were somehow no match for them; if only for the simple fact that they knew where we were but we didn't know where they were; or that they had traveled here but we had never traveled there; that they were, in a word, "advanced."
What was left then was simply to hope that they were kind, that they were ambivalent, or that they could even perhaps help us sort out the mess we had made of earth. What would they, an obviously advanced race, want from us?
But then they came. We soon realized our ancient myths of hell were mere fairy tales compared to what was to come; that not only was hell worse than we could have imagined, but there would be no chance for redemption. That was never the point. And death? Yes, we had convinced ourselves that this too offered an escape; a final reprieve. We had made death into a comforting thought. No matter how bad things got, there would always be our final rest; a rest that we insisted, was always peaceful. Somehow knowing that even if we really did asphyxiate life on earth one day, we would at least melt back into the ground, and that ground would melt back into stardust, and that gather back into a new star, perhaps with new planets, and maybe then something new, something incredible would evolve out of the universe in a million million years. We may not be there in mind, but the same cells that make up our bodies would be. That we would remain, even after death, part of this wonderfully blind and benevolent universe. It all sounded so poetic, but such obvious wishful thinking! How could we have believed all these best case scenarios? Does it matter? There wasn't anything we could have done to prevent it anyway. We were doomed from the start.
And so they came, to enslave us, to control us through atmospheric chemical treatments, to manipulate our minds and subdue us into nothing more than automatons for mining the precious metals that were more precious than we had known, to experiment on us and use the earth as their own little sinister Petri dish. To what end? There is no end, not anymore. We pray for it, but there is none. There will never be. This hell is eternal. And the resurrection? What a wonderful thought we had made that out to be! Little did we know the dead would be resurrected, genetically reconstructed from the bones that we ourselves were forced to dig up from the ground, only to join us in our new eternity of servitude in the alien mines. Oh those poor souls who on their death bed wished to be brought back to life one day, in "paradise"; what unconditional faith in benevolence. How could they have known? Yes, death was only an illusion; but now, as we all do, they wish it was not. And those pompous pharaohs, building monuments to themselves in death. Would they have known they would have ordered themselves buried a thousand feet deep in unmarked graves. And that immortality, too, could materialize as some sort of Promethean cell-rejuvenation lab that allows the aliens to harvest our organs, our genetic information, for what I can only suppose will be used in their efforts to populate and enslave other planets.
…At least that's as close as words can get to the feelings conjured up by this new Pharmakon album. Listening, I am wide-eyed and fearful that the universe itself is not as benevolent, or even as ambivalent, as we often choose to believe. Yet I awake, still human and alive, more human somehow for having seen this darkness; a cleansing walk through the fire to the other side, blackened yet purified. How could something so horrific be so compelling? There is a power here. Surely this is Pandora's Box! (PREVIEW)*
*Warning: You cannot unlisten to this.
— TUNE IN NEXT MONTH ! —