DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!


Dec 17 2012

Playlist Against Darkness

by Jnai W

As one may have gathered from any number of my blog posts on DCPLive, music is food for my soul, more than anything else. If I’m honest with myself music ministers more to me than an encouraging word, a psalm or even a hug from a loved one. I’m not exactly sure why that is.  Maybe listening to a song that someone else wrote is a filter through which I can pour my own emotions and connect to the world around me, if that makes sense. Wow, Sarah McLachlan must have been feeling how I’m feeling now when she wrote “Witness”. Maybe I’m not alone here.

I’ve got a list of songs that I come back to from time to time when I need comfort or space–away from the 24-hour news cycle, away from water cooler debates or living room repasts–to sort through my whirling emotions.  I’ve got a list of songs that carry me through dark times and speak to my heart in one way or another.  This list of songs is exhaustive so I’ve narrowed down to 3 of the top songs on my Playlist Against Darkness:

“Beware of Darkness” by George Harrison:  There is no shortage of brilliant and  timeless songs on the Quiet Beatles 1970 album All Things Must Pass.”My Sweet Lord”, a plaintive but hopeful cry for enlightenment from On High, was undeniably my favorite song on the album…until I heard “Beware of Darkness”. The lyrics warn of the pitfalls of bitterness, negativity and sadness (“it can hit you/ it can hurt you) . What I like about this song is that the lyrics which could have easily been admonishing and perhaps even trite, in the hands of a less-skilled writer and musician, are affirming and uplifting here. Sadness, when nursed and dwelt upon, can “make you sore/ and what is more/ that is not what you are here for”.

“All is Full of Love” by Bjork:  I’m a huge fan of the Icelandic idiosyncrasy named Bjork Gudmundsdottir. Her lyrics are honest, earnest and often sound as though they’ve been directly translated to English from her native tongue, adding a slight bit of quirkiness. Her voice is crystalline and magnificent. She wears swan-shaped dresses to the self-satisfied Academy Awards.  She’s also written this simple, elegant and brilliant song about opening one’s heart to love and light. “All is Full of Love” assures its listener that “you’ll be given love/ you’ll be taken care of/… you just have to trust it”.  Perhaps, dear Listener, you’ve shut the door or taken the phone off the hook too soon but love is out there and it’s everywhere. It’s a heartening message coming from a delightful source. If you’re not familiar with her work, treat yourself and check out her music from the Library.

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” as sung by Nina Simone: I’ve written at length in previous blog posts about my devotion to Nina Simone. There are a few works of hers that would fit nicely into any Playlist Against Darkness such as “Feelin’ Good”, “My Baby Just Cares For Me” and “To Be Young Gifted and Black”. But I happen to love Nina Simone’s version of this song, written by Billy Taylor and Dick Dallas. The lyrics are strong, challenging yet optimistic on their own but when combined with Simone’s passionate vocals and gospel piano, this song becomes an anthem for civil rights and for love in general. “I wish you could know/ how it feels to be me/ then you’d see and agree/ that every man should be free” appeals to its listener’s empathy and humanity, encouraging each and everyone to become a champion for equality and peace. It’s as timely a message now as it was during the era in which it was born.

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Jun 11 2012

Got it Covered?

by Greg H

One of my musical passions is the cover song.  I love hearing my favorite musicians put their stamp on another artist’s song or, conversely, hearing my favorite musicians being reworked by other artists.  At times the results can be disappointing. Sometimes the artist performing the cover simply produces a note for note rendition of the original, bringing nothing fresh to the song.  On some occasions, however, the cover artist produces a version that meets or exceeds the original and makes the song a classic all over again. Joe Cocker certainly did that when he performed the Beatles “A Little Help From My Friends”, infusing the song with a passion and urgency that the Fab Four did not.  And have you ever heard Johnny Cash’s version of the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”?  I would not have guessed that the Man in Black was even aware of the Nine Inch Nails existence, let alone that song. Yet he takes that already disturbing song and finds a level of even deeper solitary suffering.

This may be sort of a golden age for fans of cover songs.  Tribute albums, audio valentines from one group of musicians to the bands and performers who influenced them, seem to hit the shelves regularly these days.  Matthew Sweet and former Bangle Susanna Hoffs are two musicians who have collaborated on two collections called Under the Covers on which they play their favorite songs from the 60’s and the 70’s.  Movie soundtracks also provide a rich source of cover songs. The problem for the cover song buff is finding out all the ways a favorite song might be available.

A nice solution to that problem is the Covers Project website.  Music fans from all over have pooled their musical knowledge to compile an alphabetical listing of recording artists and the songs that they have covered, as well as their songs that have been covered by others. Users can search by the group or artist’s name or they can search by the song.  For example, I love the old Townes Van Zandt song “Pancho and Lefty”.   A quick search reveals that Emmylou Harris, Dick Gaughan, Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Steve Earle and Willie Nelson have all recorded versions of the Van Zandt classic. If you’re interested in more information or purchasing the tune, each song listed includes links to Amazon, iTunes, or MusicBrainz. There are also links to Facebook and Twitter if you just want to share.  And if you know of another version that they haven’t listed, you can add that to the webpage. (Delbert McClinton did “Pancho and Lefty” too!)

The Covers Project’s website is a lot of fun to snoop around on, and you might even learn that your favorite song by your favorite group wasn’t theirs to begin with.

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