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


Apr 15 2008

Bob Dylan Wins a Pulitzer

by Chris S

Bob Dylan has been one of my favorite musicians for the last fifteen years. I “discovered” him twice – once in college when my brother shared with me some of Dylan’s early comic songs (like “Motorpsycho Nightmare” or “Talking Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues”), and once in my late 20s when I became entranced with Dylan’s masterful poetic folk-rock works like “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” and “Desolation Row.” Dylan’s career has spanned five decades, and like Picasso, he has gone through many artistic phases, from his earliest days as a disciple of Woody Guthrie, through his dark-shades-wearing aloof hipster/poet phase, through a born-again Christian period of the late 70s/early 80s, and even a country phase (or two). These different faces of Dylan were the subject of I’m Not There, a recent critically-acclaimed film.

Last week, Dylan’s work got more recognition with a Pulitzer Prize. The Special Citation award describes “his profound
impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical
compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs:

[read the rest of this post…]


As many of us this past weekend and Monday embarked on our yearly celebration involving wearing a color we normally do not wear; we may have seen one of the many Irish shows on TV, went to a parade, went to a concert, or went to a pub. At some point during this time of year (when we are all Irish), we got to hear some music. As Irish music is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would post a little FAQ on the whole thing so next time you hear the music you can impress someone with saying “I really liked how the set began with a slide and ended with reels.”

Basically you can group Irish music into two main categories: music with singing and music without singing.

The most well known songs are pub tunes and ballads, many of which overlap or are both used in group performances. Pub tunes are moderate to fast-tempo, usually about having a good time or telling a tall tale of some sort, and often have crowd participation during the rollicking songs. Ballads are stories generally sung slowly and about sad topics such as love lost, death, war, troubles. Ballads have migrated from their sources on the British Isles over to America where we start to recognize them in bluegrass and country music. Both songs can be sung an Gaelige (in the Gaelic language), but generally the songs are in English so everyone can share in the craic (pronounced like crack and means having a good time). A very specific style of singing from Ireland is called Sean Nos (meaning “old style”), which is characterized by acapella singing often in Gaelic with difficult vocal ornamentation, breath control including glottal stops and glides, and melodic variation; sean nos also migrated to America where it influenced shape-note singing and the ‘high lonesome sound’ of old-time and bluegrass music (think “O, Brother Where Art Thou?“).

The instrumental music played by old and new bands, the stuff heard in any Irish movie, Riverdance, a certain scene in Titanic, and pretty much anything Irish has that music dancing around in the background is all considered traditional, trad, or folk music. These tunes were originally used for dancing at a ceili (big Irish dance party) or step-dancing (Riverdance style), so the songs tend to be played pretty fast and bouncy. The tunes can be divided into different types depending on time signatures (beats per measure), tempos, and rhythmic emphasis. The main types of tunes are reels, polkas, hornpipes, jigs, slides, and airs. When played, the highly ornamented melodies can be changed slightly depending on the musicians style so it sounds different when the same short 2/3 phrases are repeated to complete the tune. Tunes are usually played in sets of 3 or 4 of the same type (ie: 3 jigs or 4 polkas) but as with many aspects of playing this style of music, there are no hard and fast rules. Instruments used in the playing of Irish music are: fiddle, flute or whistle, Uilleann pipes, harp, accordion or concertina, banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, and percussion in the form of a bodhran (Irish goat skin frame drum) but other kinds of drums and spoons or bones (two pieces of wood that make clacking sounds) are also used. Like other styles of folk music, Irish traditional is an evolving style with lots of room for different interpretations but with a firm basis in the thousands of similar tunes passed down for hundreds of years.

Some musicians to get you started include: Planxty, Lunasa, Dervish, Gaelic Storm, Solas, Altan, Cherish the Ladies, and of course the Chieftains.

More info on the web?

Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann– The large global organization promoting Irish music and culture.

The Session– Clearinghouse of tunes, discussions of music, and lists of sessions worldwide.

–This will be my final post on DCPLive, and I thank everyone for reading my posts!


Jan 2 2008

Best of 2007: Music

by Heather O

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Cd6_3 The end of a year always brings out the “Best Of” lists. Everyone’s got an opinion, here’s a few on music:

NPR (various lists)

Paste Magazine


Rolling Stone 100 Best Songs of 2007

Check the DCPL catalog for these “Best of 2007”:

Jay-Z: American Gangster

Robert Plant and Allison Krauss: Raising Sand

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible

White Stripes: Icky Thump

Kanye West: Graduation

Bruce Springsteen: Magic

Mavis Staples: We’ll Never Turn Back

Amy Winehouse: Back to Black

Feist: The Reminder

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I make a habit at the end of each year to go through the “best of” lists for music albums and for movies.  I don’t always find a new favorite artist or film, but I almost always discover something new or interesting.  I had heard of the The Decemberists from a Fresh Air interview on NPR, but had not heard their music, and when I saw The Crane Wife on a “best of 2006” list, I decided to place a hold request on it through the library.  After a few weeks of waiting, I finally brought home the album and listened to it with my wife.  We were both big music fans in the early 1990s of bands like the Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs, and Georgia’s own R.E.M. and we were immediately reminded of all three.  The Crane Wife‘s songs are deceptively catchy and melodic, though the lyrics are all of fable, history, and tragedy.  The title track is a trilogy of songs based on a Japanese folk tale, “Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)” is a dialogue between lovers separated by the Civil War, and “O Valencia!” tells of a Romeo and Juliet-type tragedy.

Between the unique use of narrative lyrics, lead singer Colin Meloy’s affected brogue-like intonations, and guitar hooks that recall early R.E.M. and Fleetwood Mac, The Crane Wife is a worthwhile album to listen to again and again.

The Decemberists’ official website:  www.decemberists.com.

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In the weeks after the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001, a tribute concert was broadcast featuring current artists performing the songs of John Lennon (available from our library). Sean Lennon, son of John and Yoko, performed Beatles classics “Across the Universe,” and “Julia,” but he stole the show when he laid into John’s solo part in the early Beatles song “This Boy.” For a moment – and the shouts from the audience bore this out – John Lennon’s spirit visited New York City again in its time of deepest need in the voice of his son.

It’s difficult to hear Sean Lennon’s 2006 album Friendly Fire without comparing his music and singing style to John Lennon’s. Watching the companion DVD, which is essentially a music video version of the album, compounds this feeling as it shows the thirtysomething Sean Lennon looking eerily like his twentysomething father did in the Beatles’ heyday. Having gotten the obvious comparisons over with, Friendly Fire stands on its own as a creative set of progressive rock songs, comparable to late-1990s Radiohead, though much sweeter in tone.

The album’s songs range from mellow ballads like “Dead Meat” and the title track, “Friendly Fire,” to psychedelic (but quite melodic) rock explorations like “Headlights” and “Would I Be the One,” a cover of a song written by the late Marc Bolan of T-Rex. Overall, the catchy and memorable melodies and lush harmonies make Friendly Fire a must-have for music fans.

But what really makes Friendly Fire what it is is the companion DVD. Lennon, who worked with one of his high school friends who is a filmmaker, employs the lost art of the music video to great effect. Standouts in this regard include “Spectacle” and “Headlights,” which the viewer could easily imagine as products of 1980s MTV (in a good way). The music videos are interspersed with vignettes including a movie line conversation reminiscent of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Annie Hall. Using actors and friends such as Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) and Lindsay Lohan, Lennon’s films elevate the already very good music to a true art form that engages, entertains, and amuses the viewer. Check it out.

Here’s a link to clips of the DVD on You Tube.

And Sean Lennon’s official web site: www.seanonolennon.com.

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