The Best Albums From The PNW 2019

It’s that time of year once again, time for the annual semi-half-year best albums of the Pacific Northwest take-a-looksee. 2019 has presented us with a surprising number of spectacular albums in our soggy corner of the U.S. and here are just a few you might want to check out for yourself.

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Tacocat is one of the more nationally-recognized Seattle bands these days. Their sound is somewhere in the pop-punk/mainstream-pop quadrant of the genre spectrum. Rich harmonies, a touch of 60s girl pop and sugary gooey goodness all color their latest release, This Mess Is a Place. If you enjoyed their previous release, Lost Time, you’re sure to love this followup.

THE BLACK TONESblack tones

One of the most talked about bands in Seattle, The Black Tones, finally delivered their debut album, Cobain & Cornbread, in 2019. And it is fabulous. The music takes me right back to 1969, but not to my 6-year-old self, more of a me-as-an-adult kinda thing… Anyhow, ferocious use of wah wah, a palpable Hendrix guitar vibe and wide open song structures all hearken back to a day when a bunch of kids squatted in a muddy field in upstate New York. Perhaps most notable is that here we have a band that does not sound like other bands of today. Heavy, fuzzy, riff-driven, filled with lengthy instrumental interludes and then BAM! A traditional old-timey gospel tune. This album has not been released on CD yet, but look for it out in the digital world.

THE HEAD AND THE HEARThead_and_heart_mirage

The Head and the Heart is one of the more popular and active bands currently in Seattle. Classified as indie pop or indie folk, the group spits out catchy hooks that make you sing along on their latest release, Living Mirage. This album, as well as the group’s other recent albums, is heavily produced, resulting in a huge sound that markedly contrasts with the intimacy of their first album. You can hear a variety of their releases, both in CD format and streaming, from Everett Public Library. Just click on the band’s name at the beginning of this paragraph.

ANNIE FORD BANDannie ford

If it’s country you’re looking for, try out At Night by Seattle’s Annie Ford Band. A dash of blues, a smidgen of swing and a veritable dollop of honky tonk combine with an amazing voice (look out Eillen Jewel!) to make a most hearty country stew. Those listeners expecting to hear the contemporary country/pop that tops the charts these days might find themselves disappointed. Old-timey country is Annie Ford’s oeuvre, and you just might come to expect Patsy Cline herself to lasso you a cold tall one while you enjoy these tunes.

It may seem that four magnificent albums are all we’re allotted in a year, but we’ve only seen a scant sliver of 2019’s offerings. Stay tuned for info on more local albums and be sure to check out EPL’s Local Music section. As my grandparents always said, if you don’t keep up with the Joneses the Joneses will keep up with you. Of course, my grandparents never met anyone named Jones. And please do remember, you can pick your friend’s music… but something something something.

On the Come Up

Is it possible to wait months for a book’s release, get an advance copy, geek out about getting an advance copy, forget about said advanced copy, get bogged down in work projects, read some less-fulfilling books, wait on the hold list for the now newly-released book, finally get your turn with the book, then remember the advance copy buried on your desk? Yes, it would appear that this is possible and I can prove it. That’s why I am only now gushing over Angie Thomas’s (relatively) new novel On the Come Up.

On the Come Up is set in Garden Heights, the same neighborhood as Thomas’s incredible debut novel, The Hate U Give, and follows a teenaged aspiring rapper named Bri Jackson. Bri’s childhood has been informed by several traumatic events. As a young girl Bri lost her father, a rapper on the cusp of stardom, when he was murdered in front of her house. This terrible event devastated Bri’s mother who subsequently suffered from a years-long battle with substance abuse and addiction. As a result, Bri and her older brother spent a significant portion of their childhood living with their strict, god-fearing grandparents before their mother was able to regain her sobriety and reunite with her children.

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At age 16 Bri is an incredibly precocious rapper and somewhat ambivalent student with a quick-fire temper and a burning desire to make it big and earn the money to help her family. When a video of her battle rapping goes viral, Bri realizes that her dreams of hip-hop stardom could become reality. But the closer Bri gets to realizing her goal, the more slippery it becomes. A racially charged incident with school security leaves Bri suspended, then some of her angrier lyrics lead to misinterpretation, overwrought outrage, and media hysteria. Bri must also decide who to trust with her career – her devoted aunt with a penchant for neighborhood trouble or her father’s slick talking former manager.

At the same time that Bri is trying to jumpstart her career, she is also dealing with plenty of personal issues. From family conflict, to the stresses of poverty, to discrimination and bigotry at school, the challenges of everyday life are fraying Bri’s nerves. And then there are the boys! There’s Bri’s best friend who she has long had feeling for. But he just started dating someone else. And Curtis the wise cracking jerk who nobody takes seriously until Bri notices that he is hiding depth behind his jackass facade. As Bri’s personal life, family history, and rap god aspirations begin to collide she must contend with not only neighborhood beefs and career goals, but figuring out how to stay true to herself in a world determined to tear her down.

Angie Thomas is an incredibly skilled writer able to deftly balance the gross injustices of structural inequality, the unrelenting traumas of being a black woman in America, and the less weighty but still-urgent drama of teenage life. All of her characters are both relatable and realistic, and she has mastered the critical skill of capturing the voices of young people in a way that never feels contrived. Thomas was an aspiring teenaged rapper herself and Bri’s raps are as impressive as Thomas’s prose. In fact, I’d recommend listening to Thomas deliver some of these lyrics, as you can in this video, to get a better sense of the skill that Thomas possesses as an MC and writer. My favorite part is the dexterity of her flow when she rhymes coroner with corner. And if you’re looking for a soundtrack while you read, we have CDs by many of the artists Bri mentions in the book, including J. Cole, Rapsody, Kendrick, and Eric B. & Rakim, and you can stream or download a ton more for free with Hoopla!  

New Year’s Eve in Music

Once upon a time, many years ago, my band had a show on December 30th. We wanted to play something to celebrate the time of year, but it soon became apparent that Auld Lang Syne made up the entire catalog of songs available for the occasion. So I wrote a song called New Year’s Eve Eve (please feel free to call me for an explanation) and there was much rejoicing.

New Year’s Eve is definitely the red-headed stepstool of holiday songs, but if you look hard enough there are tunes to be found.

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While the sentiment is not specifically filled with the holiday spirit, U2 has provided one of the better known January holiday songs, titled simply New Year’s Day.

All is quiet on New Year’s Day
A world in white gets underway
I want to be with you
Be with you, night and day
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day

Hanson provides fun old-time rock and roll, complete with silly lyrics in ‘Til New Year’s Night.

Once we get Santa on his sleigh, on his sleigh
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Day
One week a year we do it right, do it right
We play rock’n’roll from Christmas ‘til New Year’s Night

Or perhaps you’d prefer the jazzy, laid-back stylings of the Velvet Fog, Mel Tormé singing Let’s Start the New Year Right.

When they dim the light, let’s begin
Kissing the old year out
Singing the new year in
Let’s watch the old year die with a fond goodbye

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The Breeders deliver gut-pinching rock and mildly surreal lyrics with New Year.

We have come for light 
Wholly, we have come for light
It’s true, I am the sun
I am the new year, I am the rain

The old-timey blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins combine with actual holiday-ish lyrics to provide perhaps the best New Year’s anthem yet, Happy New Year.

This is Happy New Year ain’ gon’ worry me to death
Don’t think about Christmas ’cause Christmas just now left

Or, if you’re more in the mood for a contemplative respite, you could do worse than the jazz balladry of Diana Krall on What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

 Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it’s exactly twelve o’clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year
New Year’s eve

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 Partial to the psychedelia? Then try This Will Be Our Year by the Zombies.

The warmth of your love
Is like the warmth of the sun
And this will be our year
Took a long time to come

And finally, perhaps the most meaningful yet least specific lyrics are found in Nina Simone’s Feeling Good, a gorgeous jazz/blues number.

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me, ooh
And I’m feeling good

So when you’re out and about this New Year’s wanting to imbibe in a steaming hot tankard of wassail and to sing songs of the holiday, partake of some gems from your local Everett Public Library. And as always, please remember to bring a towel and to tether your yak safely away from the main thoroughfare.

Swing, Baby, Swing!

“Jazz is the red-headed third cousin
riding a bull elephant through
your teapot-laden drawing room.”
~ Ron Averill

Jazz is not popular with everyone. Many find it too academic, difficult to understand. But let us remember that there are as many types of jazz as there are flavors of M&Ms. At least as many. Myself, I prefer pre-WWII jive (as the hepcats say): swing, Dixieland, hot jazz, ragtime… Subgenres that soothe my soul.

Which leads to the question: What’s up with early jazz at Everett Public Library? Let’s find out, shall we?

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If you want to check out some early jazz, Hot Dance Bands from Okeh, 1923-1931 is an excellent starting point. The musicians featured on this album have mostly disappeared into the mists of time, the songs are not particularly well-known, but the music gives a clear idea of what was going down in the formative years of jazz. Billie Holiday adds her silky smooth voice to a musical backdrop that is clearly related to those hot dance bands but is perhaps more recognizable to modern-day listeners. And Fats Waller pumps them ivories like nobody else, providing a mesmerizing piano-centric take on early jazz.

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And time marches on. Your Hit Parade: The Late 40s provides a hipster’s overview of those fabulous big band years. It’s an excellent starting point for the swing-curious. If it’s a chanteuse you’re wanting, you’d be hard pressed to find a better interpreter than Peggy Lee. Perhaps best known for Fever, Lee turns everything she sings into a sultry hot springs of passion and fortitude. And the ever-smooth Nat King Cole? His early work with the Nat King Cole Trio ranks up there with the best that swing has to offer.

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You say you like the big band swing thing but refuse to watch black and white films or listen to music made before 1966? There are still excellent options available to you! Whether she’s belting out hits from the 30s and 40s or insinuating her way into your brain with hand-penned originals, Madeleine Peyroux is a bonafide contemporary jazz gem. Each and every album she drops is a genuine pleasure. Diana Krall, another modern-day siren, kicks it laid-back style with her sweltering contralto voice. Winner of numerous accolades and record-setting album sales, Krall can scratch that itch that Ms. Peyroux couldn’t quite reach. And finally, as we approach Christmas, the Brian Setzer Orchestra brings songs of joy and anticipation, in a swingin’ mood, straight to your pleasure center. If you’ve not heard Setzer play guitar, prepare for many notes. Many. Notes. And they’re all the right ones! One of the most fabulous purveyors of modern swing and Christmas music, check these fellas out.

So no more excuses. Buy a beret. Listen to some jazz. Maybe invest in cigars and culottes. Swing, baby, swing!

What to Read While You Wait for Becoming

As of this writing I’m number 28 in a holds queue of 38 for the most-requested book right now at EPL. Don’t worry–I’m not here to complain! I do believe that good things come to those who wait. But I also believe that waiting shouldn’t be boring. I want to share with you some other rad books out there that those of us waiting for Michelle Obama’s Becoming can read while we wait patiently somewhat patiently kinda impatiently–okay, totally impatiently but at least we’ll have fab reading material in line! There’s quite a mix of books and audio here, certain to help keep you busy and keep you satisfied while you wait just a teeny tiny bit longer for your copy to come in.

Audio that lets us listen to Michelle
First of all, if you would rather have Michelle read her book Becoming to you, you should get yourself in the holds queue for that. But while you wait you can still hear Michelle and other First Ladies give important speeches by listening to Great Speeches by First Ladies of the United States. In addition to Michelle you’ll also hear Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, Laura Bush, and many more. There’s also Ibeyi’s Ash, in particular the track No Man is Big Enough for My Arms, which features clips from Michelle Obama’s speeches.

Two amazing books packed with photos of Michelle
Michelle Obama is one of my style icons. Not only does she always appear stylish and put together, but she often wears affordable, off-the-rack items that regular Janes like me can pick up. Chasing Light and the children’s adaptation Reach Higher are compilations of photos of Michelle taken by former official White House photographer Amanda Lucidon. You’ll catch Michelle tobogganing in China with a Secret Service agent, taking a selfie with a member of the armed forces, greeting heads of state (sometimes with her dogs Bo and Sunny), and harvesting vegetables from the White House Kitchen Garden. Yes, I’m inspired by her style, but I also love seeing how active and engaged she is with folks of all ages and from all walks of life.
   

Books that tell us more about Michelle
Biographies are popular, and as such we’ve got plenty stocked on the shelves to satisfy your need to know more about Michelle. Try one of these books that delve deep into her background, family history, and home life. You’ll also find books where other people talk about why they admire Michelle, and those are worth a read, too.

 

 

 

 

Books that show us how to be a leader
Want to be more like Michelle? One of my favorite types of books to read are books on leadership, especially ones that focus up on how leadership challenges can be very different for women and non-binary folks. These books each take a different track but all of them show you a way to grow your leadership skills and be the boss. There are also stories of women who succeeded despite the odds, and they inspire me every bit as much as Michelle Obama does.
      

One very special bonus book
When I’m missing someone my heart hurts. Like, really badly hurts. One remedy for heartache (even the good kind) is to curl up with a book that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. For me there’s no better pairing than the characters Heart and Brain, and Heart and Brain: Gut Instincts by Nick Seluk of The Awkward Yeti is one of the best compilations. Brain is the pragmatic character, the one who remembers deadlines and obligations. Heart, by contrast, is all about living in the moment and enjoying life. Together they bring together the qualities of common sense and empathy that I respect Michelle Obama for having in great quantity.

So what do you think? Can you get by a little while longer in the holds queue? I know I’ve got a full TBR and while I still very much want to read Becoming, I feel better knowing I have other satisfying reads to occupy my time in line.

Trapped in the 80s!

I find myself talking more and more these days about things that happened 40 years ago. In an effort to move towards the present, today we look at music that was recorded 30+ years ago. It’s a small step but… hey, get off my lawn!

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Synthesizers became commercially available in the 1960s, and one can hear them pop up on Abbey Road and other late 60s gems. But it wasn’t really until new wave arose that synths became a common tool of the trade. Bands such as the Cars and B-52’s used synthesizers as a lead instrument, filling in for or working in tandem with lead guitar. Eurythmics, not thought of primarily as a synth pop band, permeated their music with keyboards. Recommended cuts: Candy-O, the first song I ever sang in public, from the Cars’ 6-album compilation The Elektra Years; 52 Girls off of B-52’s Time Capsule, a raucous dance tune punctuated by screams of, “Tina Louise!”; and Would I Lie To You?, another confirmation of Annie Lennox’s complete domination of all earthlings, from the Eurythmics’ Ultimate Collection.

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Other groups relied primarily or entirely on synthesizers to create their music. Kraftwerk, formed in 1970, gives us an early example of electronic rock. Their music was often cold and spare (referred to as robot pop by the band), a mechanical dream (or nightmare!) of precision. Recommended cut: Pocket Calculator from Computer World, a machine-driven paean to that earliest of hand-held computers, the pocket calculator.

Human League hit it big in 1981 with the single Don’t You Want Me, which spawned the first video I ever saw on MTV. This song came off the brilliant album Dare, but their previous album, Travelogue, was also a big hit in the UK. With a dazzling array of sounds ranging from synthetic drums to sweet strings to buzzsaw explosions, Human League delivers catchy, infectious grooves to your ear sacs. Recommended cut: Empire State Human from The Very Best of the Human League, a quirky, swirling circus of calliope surrounding the lyrics, “Tall, tall, tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall…”

In a similar vein, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark uses synths for all aspects of their music. Their style is a bit more toward the techno sides of things, although many synth pop gems adorn their catalogue. Recommended cut: Enola Gay off of The Best of OMD, a catchy synth pop look at the bombing of Hiroshima.

NewOrder

Rising from the ashes of post-punk poster children Joy Division in 1980, New Order did not immediately bring an unrelenting dance beat to their music. However, by 1983 they had created the best-selling 12-inch single of all-time, Blue Monday, a favorite dance club number. Eventually, the band transitioned into pure pop dance music filled with synthesizers as well as typical rock band instrumentation. Recommended cut: Age of Consent off of The Best of New Order, a toe-tapping, happy little tune filled to the brim with gorgeous electronic sounds.

So, there you have everything that is known about synthesizers. Perhaps print a copy for your own reference or to give to a friend. Oh, and be sure to check out these and other albums to see what someone clever can do with electricity and a keyboard.

Songs of the Zombie Apocalypse

Does everyone remember the desert island albums game where one answers the question, “What 10 albums would you take with you to live out the rest of your days on a desert island?” Assuming that you had a record player. And a power source. And speakers.

Perhaps a more relevant question in this day-and-age is, “What 10 CDs from Everett Public Library’s collection would you want to have during the zombie apocalypse?”

Here is my answer.

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This is the Sonics by The Sonics
For a fuzzed-out, high-energy return to garage rock’s heyday, you cannot do better than this 2015 release. Catchy riffs, gritty vocals and extreme intensity combine into 33 minutes of rock and roll perfection.

So Delicious by Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
From the backwoods of Indiana, Reverend Peyton brings his phenomenal guitaristing and keen understanding of traditional blues to smack the world upside its head on So Delicious. A fine blend of foot-stompin’ goodness and infectious melodies make this album a tasty treat to be joyously consumed.

The Essential Louis Armstrong by Louis Armstrong
How better to spend a sunny afternoon than with a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong unfolding beneath your halcyon perambulations? His peculiar voice and spectacular trumpeting combine with tremendous musicianship to create a happy moment free from fear of the undead.

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Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo
When you’re on the run, variety is essential and Devo provides a unique listening experience. Manic energy, cuh-razee vocals and heretical interpretations of rock classics provide ample fodder to help you forget about your pathetic predicament.

Presidents of the United States of America by Presidents of the United States of America
Humor is a most excellent cure-all in trying times and the Presidents have provided it in spades. From annoying cats to annoying Californians, no topic is safe from the skewer of the POTUSA’s wit. Bonus feature: Fast tempos are conducive to fast escapes!

The Essential Django Reinhardt by Django Reinhardt
Speed-burning gypsy swing, incendiary violin and guitar solos, an inferno of perfection. Check out this soundtrack of joyous acceleration, guaranteed to propel you out of the grasp of virtually any hungry minion of death.

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Too Dumb to Die by Clambake
A pounding at the brain, brains, brrrrainnzzzz sets the old lymphatic system into a happy purr upon experiencing Clambake’s mighty thump of garage rocking goodness. Driving guitar riffs assault the senses, humorous lyrics tease the meninges, reeking zombies grab at your feet…

Road to Ruin by Ramones
24 hours to go, I wanna be sedated. This helps reduce the pain when zom… Uh, Ramones. Right. Godfathers of punk, leather coats, rock rock rock and roll… If you want to hear punk at its best, here ya go.

Only a Lad by Oingo Boingo
Speaking of ears, I seem to have only one left (coincidentally, it’s the left one), but through it I can still hear the phenomenal horns, high-energy and general weirdness of Oingo Boingo. Strange meters, uncomfortable topics and blazing fits of genius. Biggish band at its best.

Cramps

Songs The Lord Taught Us by The Cramps
Time is nearly gone and hey, the Cramps look suspiciously like those creatures that have been tracking my every move… Psychobilly, chainsaw guitars, hyperdramatic vocals. One of the most influential bands in the… aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh.