What better way to end the year than to read 101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo? Sure, you’ve got your end-of-year best-of lists to explore, but this graphic novel includes a solid group of musicians from the last 300+ years that you can rest assured are worthy of your time. “Graphic novel” you say? Why yes indeedy, it is.
It might seem odd to present music reviews in a graphic novel format, but Cavolo’s artwork is an integral part of this exceptional book. Amazing portraits of the artists incorporate symbols, iconography and bits of history in a unique style unlike anything I’ve seen. Each picture is worthy of extensive study.
The book’s prose is also unusual and captivating. Writing about music is a most difficult task and Cavalo, who does not consider himself a musician or a skilled music reviewer, excels at it. He approaches music from an emotional and visceral angle, describing how it makes him feel, not attempting to fit the abstract into an intellectual box but using poetical descriptions to communicate his reactions. It’s a highly effective strategy.
The book is fairly chronological, starting with J.S. Bach and ending with Chief Keef. Between the two we find most every kind of music imaginable. For example:
Old Crow Medicine Show (old timey), Leadbelly (blues), Woody Guthrie (folk), Dolly Parton (country), Buddy Holly (50s rock), The Sonics (garage rock), Black Flag (punk), Notorious B.I.G. (hip hop), Elliott Smith (indie rock) and The Chemical Brothers (electronica) to name just a few.
And here are a few artists I recommend for my end-of-year best music official list thing.
Django Reinhardt – He’s the king of gypsy jazz, the man who can play more notes with two fingers (the other three were injured in a fire) than I will ever play in my life. Driving rhythms, virtuoso soloing, jazz violin courtesy of Stephan Grappelli.
The Velvet Underground – They included Lou Reed and John Cale, they associated with Andy Warhol. At a time when youth culture was exploding and rock music was exemplified by the muscular guitar solos of Jimi Hendrix, The VU put out quiet little gems, rough around the edges and filled with beauty.
The Zombies – Time of the Season is a favorite of many, but not a lot of other songs by this British Invasion band are remembered. Yet their catalog is filled with material as good as their more popular contemporaries. Take a listen to their album voted the 100th best album of all-time by Rolling Stone magazine.
Iggy Pop – The godfather of proto-punk has been recording albums since 1969. This year he released a new one and it’s quite good. A bit of Middle Eastern influence, dreamy vocals, and at age 70 he still can’t keep his shirt on. Don’t expect Stooges energy but anticipate a full frontal assault on new musical frontiers.
And so we say goodbye to 2016 (the first of many such goodbyes) and prepare to make lists and to share them with unsuspecting citizens. Your mission, should you accept it, is to find CDs of the artists listed above (hey, try looking at EPL!). Check them out. Listen. Make a list. Lather (optional). Repeat.
And now you’re ready for 2017. Happy listening.