I think it’s safe to say the last few months have changed a lot of plans. Countless goals and dreams and ways of thinking have been forced to adapt, be revised, or be put to rest. One way, both beautiful and bittersweet, that these changes are expressed is through the art we create. Taylor Swift is a good example of what can be created in these unusual circumstances, but there are several other cases of creative projects altered by pandemic that are worth looking at. All the albums listed have recently been ordered for the library and will be available soon.
how i’m feeling nowby Charli XCX is an album that was created in a truly unique way, unlikely to have arisen except in the context of self-isolation. The artist announced (where else?) on a Zoom call that she would be making an album in self-isolation and that she would use only the tools at her fingertips to create the music, album art, everything. Moreover, she worked collaboratively with her fans to get feedback on tracks, album art, and more. The result has been highly acclaimed by critics and fans.
In A Dream by Troye Sivan is the artist’s third album, following 2018’s Bloom. According to Sivan, this album represents an emotional rollercoaster, where emotions and feelings are shockingly fresh. Similar to Taylor Swift’s journey with Folklore, this album was made while Sivan was in lockdown in Melbourne, and it was facilitated by the boredom and isolation of the experience. Songs were created day by day and it was an unexpected realization to find that an entire album had materialized.
Here On Earth by Tim McGraw, in contrast to previous examples, was planned and recorded before the pandemic, but was unmistakably altered by it. The tour originally planned to accompany the release had to be canceled, and according to an interview with Rolling Stone, McGraw had to reexamine the record in light of the pandemic to see how its emotional impact had been changed. Some tracks, including I Called Mama, were found to have unexpected emotional weight.
ALICIA by Alicia Keys was also planned ahead of time, but struck a timely chord with its themes. Critics said the album struck a balance between hope and despair, and Keys herself said the album showed the value of introspection – something we’ve all had more time to do lately, right? The album was scheduled for release in March, but was delayed by the pandemic until September. In the meantime, various virtual performances allowed Keys to debut songs from the album ahead of its release, including the iHeart Living Room Concert for America.
Quarantining got you down? Freegal Music can pep you up!
You can keep those tunes rockin’ throughout the fall, because the good people at Freegal Music have extended their offer of unlimited streaming music through December 31st. More time for you to check out the playlists on their site.
Just remember to Login (top, right corner) by entering your library card number and then creating a password. That is all it takes to start jamming to songs that stir your inner soul. Get ready for a toe-tapping, head-banging good time.
All About That Bass. Performed by the original artists, this playlist of 35 hits includes songs you can rock out to such as Super Freak (Rick James), Crazy Train (Ozzy Osborne), Brick House (Commodores), and Frankenstein (The Edgar Winter Group).
In a retro mood? Try Classic Cuts, 35 songs that explore the early age of rock and roll. Tequila (The Champs), Maybelline (Chuck Barry), Louie Louie (The Kingsmen), Book Of Love (Monotones), and The Loco-Motion (Little Eva).
Perhaps disco’s more your thing. Then indulge with the 80 songs of Boogie Nights. Dance the night away to Disco Inferno (The Trammps), It’s Raining Men (The Weather Girls), Back Stabbers (The O’Jays), Rock The Boat (The Hues Corporation) or Lady Marmalade (LaBelle).
If you are ready to mellow out chooseSetting Sail: A Yacht Rock Playlist. 78 classic songs including: “Calypso” (John Denver), “I’m Alright” (Kenny Loggins), “Leader Of The Band” (Dan Fogelberg), and “Brandy” (Looking Glass).
Whatever your mood, Freegal Music has a playlist to match.
What are your feelings about fiction that reads like a documentary or a piece of nonfiction? I wasn’t sure how I felt about this until I picked up Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest book,Daisy Jones & the Six.
I had previously read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by the same author, so when I saw that Jenkins Reid was putting out a new book, I was excited. While I was waiting for my hold to come in, I carefully looked at reviews while avoiding the spoilers. What I read mentioned that if you have the chance, listen to this book on audiobook first. I took this advice and I’m glad I did! Doing so added a level of closeness to each character and depth to their lives that I felt like I would have missed if I had read the print book only. To each their own though! I will tell you that this audiobook is read by a cast of 21 different narrators, so telling each character apart was fairly easy and very entertaining.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the story of the iconic 1970s rock band, Daisy Jones & the Six. This book will grab you by the heart(and ears) while keeping you invested in the rise and fall of Daisy Jones & the Six. Told as an oral history of this band’s journey, readers are privy to behind-the-scenes insiders knowledge as to the reason behind their split when the band was at the height of their popularity.
The Six and Daisy were initially two separate groups. The Six is a rock band of their own accord, led by Billy Dunne. While the group is getting ready for their first tour, the habits that Billy has picked up over the years start to come to a head when his girlfriend Camila tells him that she is pregnant. Reeling from this news, Billy goes even more off the rails, leading different members of the band to deal with his actions.
Daisy is a club girl growing up and coming of age in LA in the late sixties. With parents who take a hands-off approach to parenting, Daisy leaves their house to pursue her dream of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. She begins sneaking into clubs, sleeping with rock stars, and getting high off of all the drugs, alcohol, and sex she can get her hands on. While she loves the party scene, nothing holds a candle to her love of rock and roll. By the time Daisy hits twenty, Daisy’s intriguing voice is pulling in attention from people all over the city and her beauty begins to make her even more alluring.
When a music producer who works with and knows both Billy and Daisy begins toying with the idea of having them work together, he quickly realizes that he is on to something. While they are famous in their own right without each other, he begins to see that combining Daisy Jones & the Six has the ability to raise their stardom to unspeakable new heights.
Merging the two groups together proves messy, disheartening, challenging, and immensely rewarding as both Daisy and Billy have egos that refuse to be ignored. Taylor Jenkins Reid follows the group as they work on merging together, creating hits that rocket them to the top of the charts, and ultimately breaking apart at the peak of their popularity.
Sonically and lyrically, “Come Back To Earth,” perfectly establishes the feel of Swimming and encapsulates all the thematic elements of the album: breakups, vulnerability, addiction, despair, hope, and painful self-awareness. People connect with Mac Miller because he wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. He perfectly sums up what depression feels like when he wrote: “And don’t you know that sunshine don’t feel right / When you inside all day / I wish it was nice out, but it looked like rain /Grey skies and I’m drifting, not living forever /They told me it only gets better.”
Now, the lyrics “I’ll do anything for a way out of my head” are just haunting.
It wasn’t until after Mac Miller died from a powerful combination of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol that I heard his most recent album, Swimming, and immediately started listening to his other work, Best Day Ever, and The Divine Feminine, among others. Like the inimitable artists who preceded him in death – Prince and Tom Petty, most recently – Miller’s reputation as a real-deal artist is not diminished due to his struggle with addiction. In a short lifespan, he managed to eat, breath, and sleep his craft, so much so that he was always writing, creating, performing, and improving. Just 26 years old after dropping his self-produced August 2018 album, Miller made an inspired appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series, mere months before his body was found. His NPR performance immediately struck me as genuine as he bantered with his band and addressed the audience in between songs. Plus, Thundercat’s willingness to back you up is evidence of your awesomeness . But moreso: Mac Miller makes me feel something, and simple though that criteria may appear, it’s an indicator for great artistry. Even though he suffered, he nobly shared his vulnerability, sadness, and hope through his music.
Initially, the song “2009” was one of my fast favorites on the album, probably because of the self-reflective quality that the song conveys, both lyrically and instrumentally. The narrator appears to have looked back on his life having realized some hard-won truths but is ready to embrace a hopeful future. My favorite lyric is when he refers a conversation the narrator had with a woman and he cleverly characterizes her as an angel: “She tell me that I get her high ’cause a angel’s s’posed to fly”. The track has a dreamy wisdom about it that comes through the stripped-down instrumentation. Much of Miller’s music simplymakes me feel good.
Track number three, “What’s the Use” is a funky, laid back, feel-good groove featuring Snoop and that signature Thundercat bassline and that hits in all the right places and might be my favorite tune on the album because, hello, FIVE STRING BASS in the house
Then you have the trumpet-heavy funk and disco dance tune, “Ladders”, that seems to encapsulate the hope and despair Mac embodied in his music. Such a big, bright song evokes a wild night living large in the city but against the backdrop of a sad truth looming in the near future: that the sun would rise and the fun would be over. “Somehow we gotta find a way / No matter how many miles it takes / I know it feels so good right now / But it all comes fallin’ down / When the night meet the light /Turn to day. Where was it Mac wanted to go? Check out his live performance of ladders and the all-star 11-piece band on the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Melodically and rhythmically, “Self-Care”(co-written by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange) is easily one of my favorite tunes on the album (but I’m hard-pressed to find a bad song on the album). Eerily, the music video portrays Miller lying in a coffin and nearly buried alive as he sings: “Somebody save me from myself, yeah /Tell them they can take that bullshit elsewhere / Self care, we gonna be good /Hell yeah, they lettin’ me go”. Given the trendiness of the concept of “self care” in a society marked by millenial backlash against the backdrop of growing social isolation in spite of vast widespread advancements in technology, Miller wanted to take better care of himself: he was envisioning a better life, but the question would be: how am I gonna get there?
A review in Pitchfork states so eloquently that the feeling of a work of art is indeed as valuable as the other more technical components of song crafting: “As always, Miller remains a step behind the prestige artists he emulates—Chance the Rapper, Anderson.Paak, and, increasingly,Frank Ocean, whose nonchalant songcraft looms large here. Swimming is less virtuosic than those artists’ recent works, but no less heartfelt, and the album’s wistful soul and warm funk fits Miller like his oldest, coziest hoodie. He may be unable to escape his own head, as he laments on the opener “Come Back to Earth,” but he’s decided to make himself as comfortable as possible while he’s trapped there.”
Co-written by Pharell Williams (does he collaborate with everyone?) , “Hurt Feelings” (awesomely described in this article as “weirdly cocksure”) is another super-catchy tune on the album with a beat that’s perfect for head bobbing, and oddly enough, one of the tunes I crank in the morning to psych myself up for work or life.
Check out “Swimming” for honest, heart-felt poetry from a young soul who lived the life he rapped about only to die far too young, long before he had a chance to love himself back to life.
At first, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold A Candle To You)”was my favorite song on the album. In a waltz with the one and only Dolly Parton, Kesha’s resonant vocals are set against a meandering pedal steel guitar which is decidedly “country”; yet the underlying near heavy-metal downpicking and tambourine on the chorus elevates the tune to “not your grandmother’s” country shuffle. Kesha and Parton’s vocals complement each other beautifully as a faint doo-wop piano adds to the nostalgia of unparalleled love. Lyrically, love is likened to a flame, of course; but embers, fires, and candles are also invoked to describe the type of love about which singer-songwriter Patricia Rose Sebert and Hugh Moffatt wrote in 1978. “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You”) is the only cover song on the album: Kesha does her own writing, which is another reason to love this deeply-personal album.
As it turns out, “Spaceship”, track number 14, is my absolute favorite song on the album. Kesha’s voice is paired with a banjo (and also a mandolin?) on the verses as she sings: “I always said when I’m gone, when I’m dead / Don’t lay me down with the dirt on my head / You won’t need a shovel, you don’t need a cold headstone / You don’t need to cry, I’m gon’ be going home.” Due to the minimalism of the song, I am able to hear the beautiful timbre in her voice which is not buried (but instead enhanced) by the stripped-down instrumentation. “Spaceship” is essentially a dirge about how the narrator wants to be treated at the time the she departs the earth. I can think of no creative act on par with the self-penned elegy that is perhaps the penultimate act of staking one’s little claim on this spinning earth. The elegy song is basically akin to a living will for artists and one of the greatest works they can write. The narrator of the song laments her life on Earth and states that she’s from another galaxy and will one day return home. Note the ethereal backing vocals on the chorus and how they creates a ghostly ambience that is not quite of this world. In my lil humble opinion, “Spaceship” is the best song on the album, because in a really beautiful, inventive way the artist confronts her mortality, contemplates her place in the world, and explores her interest in what lies beyond. The existential lyrics contemplating one’s mortality on “Spaceship” immediately liken the mundane verse in “Tik Tok” to mere fodder for some otherworldy sacred cow.
“Woman” is a righteous, feisty song and gives voice to female empowerment and staking your ground, dominant themes of Rainbow. A saxophone full of attitude paves the way for the famed Dap-Kings horn section (who backed the inimitable, late Sharon Jones). Kesha sings: “I buy my own things/ I pay my own bills / These diamond rings / My automobiles / Everything I got I bought it / Boys can’t buy my love/ Buy my love, yeah / I do what I want / Say what you say / I work real hard everyday / I’m a motherfucking woman, baby alright.” The song is part cabaret, part pop, and all sass, and Kesha sprinkles in some expletives for good measure (and I’m not mad at her for it). In fact, I love her for it because artistic integrity is not sanitized and flawless. Kesha is the antithesis to the Insta-world where all things appear perfect but are far from it: she is the raw and the real. In other words, beauty lies in imperfection. Sometimes, what is most real is disheveled and rough-around-the-edges. Check out “Boots”, which is a little bit like the “answer” to “Woman” and “Hunt You Down”, a pantomimic ballad about murdering a lover who has done you horribly wrong. Either way, this kaleidoscopic genre-bending album showcases Kesha’s dynamic vocal ability and range.
Forgiveness, prayer, and redemption from suffering (at the hands of loved ones) are also major themes of Rainbow. You’ve likely heard “Praying” at this point, which was released with a stunning, videodepicting a narrator who is letting go of the pain of all of those who have wronged her. If you haven’t seen her late night television performance of “Praying”, it is an awe-inspiring performance. The use of repetition andguttural belting of the lyrics “praying” and “changing” make it the centerpiece of the album, no doubt. But “Rainbow”—the song after which the album has been named–has quickly become another of my absolute favorites. Kesha wrote “Rainbow” when she was in rehab for an eating disorder, so this song both embodies and symbolizes healing, growth, and survival. “Rainbow”–with its swelling string arrangements–evoke the magic of a Disney scene in which the lead character performs her triumphant soliloquy in a sunlit forest. Kesha sings: “I used to live in the darkness / dress in black / act so heartless / but now I see that colors are everything.” Thematically, colors are a key vehicle for communicating personal transformation, and if you’ve seen the album artwork, you know what I mean. “Rainbow” signifies a new beginning or a re-birth while “Spaceship”–a song contemplating mortality–is the perfect final cut.
And that leaves “Bastards” which was described in the Rolling Stone review as a “ballad ripe for a campfire singalong”. And I couldn’t agree more. In fact, “Bastards” echos the sentiment my father still eschews to his kids today. This pep-talk of a title track is Kesha’s inner dialogue turned outward: ” Don’t let the bastards get you down, oh no / Don’t let the assholes wear you out /Don’t let the mean girls take the crown / Don’t let the scumbags screw you ’round / Don’t let the bastards take you down.” And that’s pretty solid advice.
I haven’t heard much of Kesha’s work aside from her 2010 album, Animal; but after listening to Rainbow,I’d count myself among the ranks of her adoring fans. After just a few spins of the album, there are some standout tracks that I would say are “great”, due either to the result of her collaborations with other (great) artists, her emotive shapeshifting vocals, or how content/lyrics, vocals, instrumentation, and overall production quality culminate in beautifully-crafted songs. As it turns out, the punchy, poppy dance tunes are my least favorite songs but are catchy in their own right. The songs I am drawn to and that have the most substance, in terms of lyrical content, also happen to be the most minimally arranged.
In general, Kesha really shines when her emotive voice gets to take center stage without competing with a spastic instrumental backdrop (“Boogie Feet” comes to mind). It’s easy to pass judgement on an artist like Kesha who has achieved the all-too-evasive super-stardom; but check out some of her live performances from “Rainbow” and if you’re like me, you’ll be moved by how she has completely lived the experiences about which she sings. “Spaceship”, “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle To You)”, “Rainbow”, “Bastards”, and “Praying” are beautiful and honest songs that I will return to again and again. If you’re the least bit privy to the legal battles and alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of her former producer, “Dr. Luke”, it’s not difficult to see that Rainbow is a work of catharsis and metamorphosis. It’s fantastic to witness her return to her country roots because, yes, she isn’t merely a manufactured pop-star: not only does she write her own songs, but she can really sing. Check her out!
If Not for You by Debbie Macomber was a delightfully powerful read. Beth Prudhomme has been living under her mother’s thumb in Chicago for the last 25 years. Her mother has decided what she wears, who she dates, where she works, and frankly, Beth is beyond tired of this. After squirreling away money to run away, she finally talks to her father (the more level-headed parent in her family) and he agrees to talk to her mother. Beth’s mother is broken-hearted to find out her daughter wants to move away and to Portland, no less! Portland is where Beth’s aunt Sunshine lives. Sunshine and Beth’s mother don’t get along, the result of a massive fight over thirty years ago. Beth doesn’t know the reason for their fallout as neither sister will discuss it. Nevertheless, Beth decides to move to Portland to restart her life after securing a promise from her mother that she will not contact or visit her for six months after her move. It sounds perfect!
In Portland away from her mother, Beth finally lives the life she wants. She lives close to her aunt in a one bedroom apartment that she is paying for herself by working as a music teacher at a local high school. Through her job, she meets Nichole Nyquist, a teacher who quickly becomes Beth’s friend. The two begin hanging out and Beth quickly finds herself absorbed into Nichole’s family. Nichole decides to set Beth up on a blind date and invites Beth over to dinner where she meets Sam, one of her husband Rocco’s friends. Sam is a tattooed mechanic who is guaranteed to send her severely conservative mother over the edge. He curses, has long hair, and a big bushy beard. Sam and Beth could not be more opposite. Beth has no desire to anger her parents more after her big move away, so she decides to steer clear of Sam. Sam is completely fine with that because the minute he sees Beth, he decides he wants no part of that prissy music teacher. (Kinda obvious where this is going to go, right? I thought so too.)
After their blind date, Beth gets into a horrible car accident and Sam visits her in the hospital at first because Nichole can’t come and because he doesn’t want her to be stuck there alone with no family or friends to visit. Sam soon finds himself unable to stay away, but there are barriers to the two getting together. Sam has massive skeletons in his closet that have proven to be huge trust barriers, Beth’s mom is largely against their relationship, yet the two of them are drawn together. In the end, Sam will have to figure out if he really fits into Beth’s life, whether or not he feels worthy/is wortty of her love. and if he is willing to fight for the two of them to be together.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It wasn’t as fluffy and formulaic as I was expecting, which I really appreciated. Each character had their own separate backstory and concurrent running story that fit in perfectly with Sam and Beth: Sunshine and her art, Beth and her volunteer work, Sam and his past, Sunshine and her sister’s messy separation, Nichole and Rocco’s relationship, and so so much more. I highly recommend this.
(Side note: This book is actually part of Debbie Macomber’s ‘New Beginnings’ series, a fact I didn’t realize until after I read If Not for You. All of these books read perfectly as standalones. I wasn’t left wondering about any plot point in If Not for You, so go ahead and read it by itself.)
This book is also available in the following formats:
Before I watched 20 Feet From Stardom I never realized how heavily my favorite music relied on the talents of the unsung heroes (pun intended): background singers. As a child, I would sometimes joke that I wanted to be a background singer. I’d dress up and stand in the living room, swaying and ooohing. I thought it was funny because… who wants to be in the background when you could be in the limelight? Turns out, plenty of people.
Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Tata Vega…these are just a few of the names belonging to people so talented they could easily carry the stage on their own. But for varied reasons, each as unique as the individuals themselves, they remain mostly anonymous background singers. To be sure, some of them would love a successful solo career, and have tried to reach that goal… to no avail. Others have been content to leave the spotlight and all the complications that go with it to the names we recognize so well: The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, David Bowie…the list goes on.
20 Feet From Stardom takes us behind the scenes where the singers share, in their own words, what a career as a professional background singer has been like for them. It is as emotional as it is funky and upbeat. As soon as I finished watching, I promptly looked up their names in the library catalog and put holds on as many albums featuring their vocal talents as possible.
I think any of us would be hard pressed to come up with a Top Ten list of our favorite songs of all-time that did not include a contribution from of one of these fabulous singers. That’s what makes it so unbelievable that they are not household names. I challenge you to watch 20 Feet From Stardom and not come away with a song in your head!
A decade into his career, Jason Aldean has scaled the highest level of country superstardom, including being named the 2016 ACM Entertainer of the Year. Now he releases his sixth studio album, which includes Lights Come On.
The Grammy winning band releases a collection of intimate songs as well as upbeat, fresh sounding tracks with impactful lyrics centered around identifying and acting on what’s right next to you. Includes Oh My Soul, a song Mark Hall wrote in response to his journey through a cancer diagnosis
Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, the voice behind Frozen’s massive hit song Let It Go, releases her fifth studio album. Her latest includes the single I See You. Of Mice and Men — Cold World
After a lot of hype, anticipation, and a two and a half year wait, Of Mice & Men return with a brand new album. They deliver thirteen aggressive rock anthems that will satisfy their ever growing fan base.
Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor is back with her first new album since 2012’s What We Saw from the Cheap Seats. The first single, Bleeding Heart, has already been featured in NPR’s All Songs Considered.
Known for their record-breaking tracks and undeniable energy, Florida Georgia Line releases their highly anticipated third studio album. It uncovers pieces of their lineage along with an evolved creativity. Includes the hit single H.O.L.Y.
From the bombastic opening riff of Feel Invincible to the memorable album finale The Resistance, it is clear that Skillet has created an album that lets their music speak loudest, while delivering some of their most personal songs.
Along with the 2015 radio hit Passenger, the latest album from Trapt features their most ambitious single to date with Human (Like the Rest of Us).
One of the most popular music series is back with a brand new installment that includes hits from Justin Timberlake, Meghan Trainor, Nick Jonas and many more.
Featuring a collection of tracks as diverse as each member of the villainous crew, the soundtrack to Suicide Squad features new and classic tracks from Panic! At The Disco, Skrillex, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Lil Wayne.
Everyone has a story to tell. I enjoy reading biographies in general, but I find the life stories of musicians especially captivating. The wild and crazy lifestyles of some musicians (especially rock n’ rollers) can make very interesting stories. You’ve probably heard the expression about truth sometimes being stranger than fiction. Nowhere can this idiom be more true than between the pages of a book about a musician.
Reading autobiographies (books written by the subject) and biographies (books about people written by someone else) can be illuminating. I encourage you to read both kinds and see if you have a preference. You might even take a walk on the wild side and read about musicians whose genre of music you don’t typically enjoy. Who knows? It might motivate you to expand your repertoire and start listening to a new genre of music once in a while. I find that the better I understand the motivations and perspectives of the people behind the music, the more I tend to enjoy the music.
One such autobiography I especially enjoyed isScar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis. You may not have known that this lead singer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers started his career as an actor before he was a musician. He landed his first major role in the 1978 film F.I.S.T. as Sylvester Stallone’s son. He went on to enjoy roles ranging from television (ABC Afterschool Specials, The Simpsons) to movies (Jokes My Folks Never Told Me, Point Break, The Chase). He has also been a writer and producer. His literary and musical influences include Charles Bukowski, Neil Young, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and Prince.
Kiedis grew up in Grand Rapids, MI where he lived with his mother, stepfather and two stepsisters. He spent two weeks every summer visiting his father in Hollywood. At twelve years old he moved in with his father and began a struggle with addiction to drugs. While attending Fairfax High School in L.A. he met Michael Peter Balzary (better known today under the stage name Flea). Despite a rocky start these two became close friends who enjoyed making mischief at every opportunity, including jumping off rooftops. Once, Kiedis attempted jumping into a pool from five stories up. He missed. Fortunately, he lived to tell his story. Read more about it in Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis.
“What doesn’t kill you only makes your book longer.” -Anthony Kiedis
Here are some more books about musicians that you can check out through the Davenport Public Library.
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