Music and Pictures

Lately I’ve discovered some new-to-me cable TV shows that have amazing soundtracks filled with songs I’ve never heard, and I’ve heard a lot of songs. This has caused me to ponder the purpose of soundtracks, the effects that movies and TV have on songs that already exist. At the minimum, soundtracks can expose one to music that one would not otherwise encounter. And this can be exciting.

One trend I’ve noticed in recent-ish television programs is that the soundtracks are made up of songs that are not particularly well-known. Somebody out there is spending a lot of time finding quirky hidden gems of music. But the brilliance doesn’t stop there. The songs are used skillfully to create moments that the visuals or text or music could not create alone. This leads seamlessly to my philosophy of soundtracks.

Songs enhance movies, movies enhance songs.

It’s a simple philosophy but one that I think about frequently. I’ll use Tin Cup, one of my favorite movies, as an example. Its soundtrack is made up of music that I would not typically listen to or enjoy. Yet, because of the songs’ associations with the beloved movie, I enjoy them. The songs make me picture scenes from the movie, remember funny lines. The two art forms are more powerful together than each is alone.

US of Tara

United States of Tara examines how a family copes with the mother’s dissociative identity disorder (known as multiple personalities for many years). The show is part funny, part traumatic and all excellent. The closing credits are always accompanied by a different weird-ish song that somehow relates to the episode. Thanks to Al Gore’s interwebs, it’s possible to quickly find out song titles and performer names. For a musically curious guy like me, this creates a Christmas-like situation where I can discover enjoyable music that’s new to me.

Here are a few of the artists used in United States of Tara:

Billie Holiday is one of the all-time greatest purveyors of vocal jazz and blues. Not a new listening experience for me, but a noteworthy one.

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Bon Iver is an indie folk group that has enjoyed critical acclaim and success. Acoustic-ish, using some unusual instrumentation, often quiet, worth a listen.

Chairlift delivers sparse and delicate synthpop with amazing vocals.

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Hanni El Khatib is my favorite find from the United States of Tara soundtrack. His style is all over the place, but his music is always energetic and engaging. Acoustic guitar in a rock format, well worth the price of admission.

Weeds

Another show that has led me to fabulous music through its soundtrack is Weeds. A recently widowed suburban mom tries to make ends meet by selling marijuana. She quickly learns the depths of her naiveté and attempts to turn her business into a steady income, all while raising two teenage boys who bring their own problems into the mix.

Here are a few of the artists used in Weeds:

Malvina Reynolds was an American folk singer and political activist. Her song Little Boxes, an examination of the conformity that swallows suburbia, was used as the theme song for Weeds.

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Sufjan Stevens writes in a variety of styles, focusing on lo-fi, sparse indie folk. His music runs the gamut from the overly-precious to the sublime.

Abigail Washburn is an old timey banjo player who delivers haunting ballads as well as upbeat knee slappers.

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Flogging Molly performs a brilliant brand of Celtic pop rock. If you like Irish folk music, check out this group.

So it’s two for the price of one, brilliant television series as well as fun musical discoveries. All courtesy of the library! Take a chance on something new, dare to be pleasantly surprised.

More Favorite Music From 2017

Welcome to Part 2 of my favorite 2017 albums. Today we explore the varied worlds of punk, country and blues. As always, please do not adjust your sets until the transmission is complete.

Punk, in various forms and incarnations, is alive and well. Whether it be straight ahead, Celtic or post-punk (I know, this is a stretch), it can be found on an album released in 2017.

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Seekers and Finders by Gogol Bordello
Question: What do you get when you combine elements of traditional Gypsy music with punk, dub and other genres? Answer: A passel of fun known as Gogol Bordello. If you’re looking for something unusual and exciting, Seekers and Finders is a good place to start.

11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory by Dropkick Murphys
Speaking of unusual mergers, Celtic music and punk make for a powerful combination. Dropkick Murphys have a catalog of solid albums and the latest does not disappoint.

Life is Good by Flogging Molly
Speaking of Celtic punk… Well, Flogging Molly is another band that creates outstanding music by mixing diffuse and disparate sources. Their emphasis is a bit more on the Celtic end of the spectrum, a reeling and rollicking mix of dancing and drinking tunes.

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English Tapas by Sleaford Mods
Demonstrating a minimalist approach reminiscent of early punk/post-punk groups such as The Adverts and The Raincoats, Sleaford Mods take a traditional punk stance on lyrics. Their groovy, repetitive songs touch on subjects ranging from unemployment to social injustices. For a truly unusual and excellent 2017 album, check this one out.

Nothing Feels Natural by Priests
Perhaps the most unusual of these 2017 releases, Nothing Feels Natural borrows elements of funk, darkwave, post-punk and a variety of other genres. Strongly political lyrics combine with this mix of styles to create a riveting and infectious album.

Country music and blues also flourished in 2017.

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Down Hearted Blues by Eilen Jewell
Eilen Jewell takes her amazing, honey-infused voice and turns it loose on blues and country for her latest album. The tunes, they are great and the performances, they are superb. Sure to please even the most curmudgeonly.

50 Years of Blonde on Blonde by Old Crow Medicine Show
This live tribute to Bob Dylan, served up with a typical OCMS old timey flavor, has a little something for everyone. Whether you love bluegrass or love Zimbo (the internets assure me that this is a Bob Dylan nickname) you are certain to love this album.

Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm by Robert Cray
Straight from the guitar of Portland blues legend Robert Cray we find a new release filled to the brim with soulful licks and catchy tunes. Cray continues to put out high-quality material nearly 40 years after his debut.

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Northern Passages by Sadies
Perhaps you’re not ready to commit to full-on country music. The Sadies deliver another great platter of alt-country tunes, which is a fancy way of saying music with some sort of country flavor. If you like the band Cracker, this might be just what the psychiatrist ordered.

Rough Guide to Jug Band Blues by Various Artists
Speaking of old-timey, this collection of jug band tunes from the 1920s and 1930s is a must-listen for blues and country enthusiasts. A fine collection of songs presented in their raw and original form.

The Last Shade of Blue Before Black by Original Blues Brothers Band
Including only one member of the Blues Brothers band, the Original Blues Brothers Band, along with many guests from the original Blues Brothers band (get it?), have put together a fine album of, well, blues. Check out this unexpected gem.

And there you have it. Great music never went away, but you might have to hunt a bit to find it. And perhaps, oh I don’t know, Everett Public Library is a good place to start? As always, check it out.