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musicians

Nov 5 2012

Remember That I Love Kimya Dawson

by Jnai W

In preparing this blog post I’ve turned to my go-to source for inspiration: my iTunes library. There are certain artists whose music gets me in a great frame of mind for writing and thinking creatively. There’s Norah Jones, whose charming voice,  superlative musicianship and simple, elegant songwriting are always inspiring and soothing. There’s Marie Digby, an artist who became a YouTube sensation with sweet, acoustic covers of pop hits by the likes of Britney Spears and Rihanna (Digby’s full-length album Unfold is lovely and worth a listen).

But today I’ve click-wheeled over to another of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters,  Kimya Dawson. She’s an artist who keeps a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. I fell in love with her music like many folks did—by watching the film Juno and downloading, buying or borrowing that film’s wonderful soundtrack, featuring solo songs and songs from her work in The Moldy Peaches. Her voice is earnest to the point of being childlike, her guitar-playing is folksy and unadorned and her lyrics are honest, open and plain-spoken with the occasional well-placed eff-bomb to drive home a point (her song “Loose Lips”, with her eviscerating anti-war message is a great example).

Usually when I reach for the Kimya Dawson albums, I lean towards her 2006 album Remember That I Love You. Today, however (perhaps in fit of thumb-clumsiness) I happen upon her 2008 album Alphabutt. Many reviews and articles about this album refer to it as a children’s record and I suppose it is (even though my iTunes library categorizes it as folk). It boasts a lot of incredibly creative, kid-friendly tunes like “Little Monster Babies”, “Bobby-O” and its title tune, a scatological masterpiece. But there is also the gently passionate and political “Sunbeams and Some Beans” which ends in a profound yet down to-earth flurry of lyrics that I’d like to quote right now: “if you only have one bean and you meet someone with no bean/ you should give them half your bean/ ‘cuz you will be less hungry if you eat just half a bean/ than if you eat a whole bean in front of somebody with no beans”.

The beauty of Kimya Dawson is that she’s brilliant in speaking to the child in every adult and, as in Alphabutt, she gives a nod to the adult in every child. I could write a blue streak about some of my favorite works of hers—”My Mom”, with Dawson confronting her mother’s harrowing battle with cancer and the existentially astute “I Like Giants”—but I’d rather you click here for a great tune from Dawson’s 2011 album Thunder Thighs (doesn’t look like the Library has this album but it’s wonderful).

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Aug 13 2012

On Jazz

by Jnai W

I’m thinking about my new favorite jazz standard (perhaps new isn’t the word I should use–how about song I’m newly aware of?)–the song “Nature Boy” sung by Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Nicole Chillemi among others. It’s a beautiful song with very few words and a haunting, delicately challenging melody. I’m drawn to songs like these that remind me not only of what singing is all about but also of how much of an art, an exact science songwriting is. Songwriting, like any other writing, is not just about putting words on a page or over some chords. It’s about placing the right words on a page, the right words over an instrumental, the perfect lyric to express everything we’ve ever wanted to say.

Jazz music has always been in my peripheral view for as long as I can remember. Growing up WCLK, Clark Atlanta University’s incredible radio station, was always in the background of every car ride. My mother had an amazing multi-CD jazz anthology that introduced me to the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk (although my favorite song in this set was John Coltrane’s “Naima”—a song that I’d literally loop for hours, listening with my eyes closed).

But now as I think of jazz, I’m reminded of a few key things:

1) The voice can be as potent, as dynamic and as masterfully wielded as a trumpet, a piano or a double bass (and all of those instruments can sing and hum as beautifully as a voice). No one proves this point, in my opinion, quite like jazz vocalist, pianist, iconoclast Nina Simone—my favorite singer in the universe (Please don’t get me started!)

2) One impeccably placed lyric is worth a thousand pictures.

3) Jazz music is about understanding the rules and conventions of musical theory while respectfully playing within or outside of these rules…or breaking them altogether.

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I’m a music lover and, as a result, I’ve got an internal jukebox in my brain (or, for DCPLive’s Generation Y readers, an internal iPod Shuffle). Sometimes random phrases, words and nouns trigger memories of a forgotten song or musical artist. Usually it’s something innocuous like the Tropicana billboard in a MARTA station (“Southern Hospitality Doesn’t Apply During Rush Hour Traffic,” screams the sign) that will cause me to think about the song “Southern Hospitality” by Ludacris. I’m silently rapping lyrics like “When I get on the floor/throw them bows” before I even realize why. That’s bizarre, right?

Just yesterday, my internal jukebox flips over to “Dim All The Lights” before I realize that it’s because I’m looking at a picture of Donna Summer—and that the reason I’m seeing this picture is because the R&B/Disco icon has just succumbed to cancer. My delight at remembering a song I haven’t thought about in years instantly turns to disappointment upon learning of her death.  Shortly afterward “Dim All The Lights” gave way to Joni Mitchell‘s “Big Yellow Taxi”. Before I was fully conscious of why I was thinking of this song, I’d just read a Donna Summer fan’s distraught posting in the comments section of the web article I was reading: “Dont kno whatchu got til its gone. R.I.P Donna Summer.”

That really started me to thinking of other musical artists I’d taken a break from appreciating until they were no longer with us. 2012 is still young—it’s not exactly halfway gone yet—but it has already seen the loss of artists I’ve always loved,  like the aforementioned Donna Summer,  Whitney Houston, Adam Yauch (a.k.a MCA) of the Beastie Boys and, as I’ve just read as I’m writing this blog post, Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees. My Internal Jukebox has just set itself to “How Deep Is Your Love”.

Lest this become the Somber Post About People Who Are No Longer With Us,  I’d like to invite you guys to take a break from what you’re doing—even if it’s just reading this entry—and remember something, some place or someone that’s been off of your radar for a while. Let’s not wait til they’ve passed away. Who’s your internal jukebox, photo album or movie reel turned on to?

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Jun 23 2010

Future Sounds From The 20th Century

by Joseph M

One of the great things about working in a library is the constant stream of interesting media that I come across in the course of my day.  For example, I was shelving music CDs a few weeks ago and noticed one entitled Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album.  It just so happened that I was familiar with Rockmore, whose performance of “The Swan” appeared as a track on a mixtape given to me a few years back.  Intrigued by this tidbit, I took the CD home, loved it, and have been recommending it to people ever since.  But what, you might be asking, is a theremin?  As Wikipedia explains, a theremin is an early electronic musical instrument played without contact from the musician.  Named for its inventor, Leon Theremin, the device produces a unique, haunting sound.  Perhaps the world’s only theremin virtuoso, Clara Rockmore was deeply involved in the evolution of the instrument and helped to boost its legitimacy in the realm of classical music.  Here’s an example of the artist at work, courtesy of youtube:

Those interested in more information may want to check out Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, a 1993 documentary on the instrument and related subjects.  Both the CD and the DVD are available in our catalog, along with other music CDs which utilize this fascinating and versatile piece of technology.

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Jan 13 2010

Divas at DCPL

by Jnai W

I happen to love all kinds of music but more than anything else I love The Divas. You know the types: singing sensations who have been blessed with extraordinary musical talent, undeniable charisma and, in a few cases, possible delusions of grandeur (even though, in truth, such singers are grand). Thanks to the Library, I’ve been able to “discover” the amazing singers of previous  generations (I hate to say of past generations because, to me, that implies that their impact has somehow diminished with time). I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect upon my favorite Divas of all time:

The Greatest Star/DivaBarbra Streisand: I had been wholly unfamiliar with Barbra Streisand’s work until a few years ago.  The first record I’d ever heard of hers was The Movie Album featuring the Charlie Chaplin classic “Smile” (one of my favorite songs of all time). I remember being in awe of the power, clarity and beauty of her voice, thinking I wanna hear every song this woman has ever sung! I haven’t yet, but I figured I should start with a greatest hits compilation (The Essential Barbra Streisand is a great place to start for the uninitiated). It also occurred to me to read up on the Brooklyn-born legend so I’ve picked up a fascinating book about her, Barbra: The Way She Is by Christopher Andersen.  It’s a captivating, fast-paced read that, if any of it is to be believed, casts Streisand as the Diva of all Divas; a woman of magnificent talent, unfettered ambition and enormous ego (but what’s a diva without an ego?).

Diva SupremeDiana Ross: I’ve always loved the Supremes, probably a little more than I’d enjoyed Diana Ross’ solo work but she’s another unabashed Diva. DCPL has lots of music by Diana Ross, as a Supreme (we have this great box set, covered in magenta velvet, that I really like) and as a soloist. Also for fans of unauthorized biographies, such as myself, J. Randy Taraborrelli has written a fun, action-packed tome about this diva.

Over The Rainbow DivaJudy Garland: I’ve been a fan of Judy Garland since seeing her in The Wizard of Oz as a youngster. Her voice is an instrument of heartbreaking beauty; rich and soaring with its distinctive vibrato . The Library also has lots of music and several books about the magnificent Ms. Garland.

Material DivaMadonna: Arguably, Madonna can’t exactly hold a candle (vocally, at least) to the aforementioned Divas, even though she’s delivered many of the seminal pop classics of the late 20th century. But she is remarkable in her ability to re-imagine and reinvent herself with the times.  She’s also got several tell-all books devoted to her mythic and perhaps even cutthroat journey to the top, including one by her brother Christopher Ciccone.

I Will Always Love This DivaDolly Parton: I’ve always admired Dolly Parton as a talented, ambitious and shrewd performer, businesswoman and artist. Also, she happens to be one of my all-time favorite songwriters, having penned such classics as “Coat of Many Colors,” “Joshua” and “I Will Always Love You” (which has been covered by another Diva, Whitney Houston). Her way with words and her one of a kind, crystalline voice (not to mention her country-girl-made-good sense of style) put her into a class all by herself.

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Dec 1 2008

Georgia on My Mind

by Amanda L

Do the words Georgia on my Mind conjure up Ray Charles? It amazes me how many big name music stars and bands are from Georgia or have deep ties to this state. I thought I would list some fairly current artists that have called Georgia or currently call Georgia home. The Library has music from everyone included in this list. The list crosses several genres and should give everyone a moment to be proud of a fellow Georgian. I confirmed that they had Georgia connections and gathered the biographical information from our database Biography Resource Center (under History and Biography) or allmusic.com.

In the Popular genre, there are many names that come to mind, Monica was born in College Park. She, along with Brandy, won a Grammy Award for Best R & B performance by a duo (1999). Usher is another artist who, although born in Dallas, Texas, is claimed by Atlanta. His family moved to Atlanta because of the city’s reputation for launching R & B careers. He has won many Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Performance (2001 & 2002).

Athens, Georgia has been known for launching many bands. The best known band is R.E.M. This band is still around and cranking out music after their debut album in 1983. A more current band from Athens is the Drive-By Truckers. The band is made up of members who claim either Georgia or Alabama as home. [read the rest of this post…]

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