Saturday, November 28, 2009

Music to be Remembered from 2009

Now that it's holiday season, if you're anything like me (and a lot of people in my family), you start thinking about what music you'd like to share with family and friends. We tend to play more music in our house. The requests started early with the new Bob Dylan Christmas album. Yes, it is out and is not half-bad to listen to. We are truly an interfaith family -- more about that in postings to come -- and "Christmas from the Heart" is very nice to have on in the background. This is "raspy Bob Dylan" rather than "bardic Bob Dylan" so he tends to do better with the folksier songs than the more spiritual ones. (On the latter, the effect is kind of like that old Saturday Night Live sketch with Frankenstein, Tonto, and Tarzan singing carols.)

One thing that's worth noting is the place that iTunes is starting to occupy in terms of how we share music. This blog is not a shill for Apple by any means, but I think they've been able to do what Napster couldn't -- to really change the way that people buy new music, and share what they already have. It's a great resource for trying out new bands -- witness what their partnershp with Starbucks has done for showcasing new artists -- but we also use it to create mixes to share with people at holidays, birthdays and special occasitions. So thank you, Steve Jobs.

And with that in mind, here are five songs that I heard in 2009 that deeply affected me. I think it says a lot for how, even in a challenging economy, artits have been able to find inspiration in old and new musical traditions, and to create songs that are just wonderful. In no particular order, they are:

U2, "Breathe," from No Line on the Horizon: U2 are my favorite band and I suspect I'll be buying their albums until it's time for them to go into the nursing home. But nearly thirty years after their first record, their 2009 effort is still fresh, literate and passionate. I like this track because the first line alludes to Bloomsday, so what's not to like?

Neko Case, "Middle Cyclone," from Middle Cyclone: I've always had a thing for women who can sing and write, and was knocked off my feet by this Neko Case song which I heard for the first time on a free Starbucks download. The entire album is outstanding, but in this song, about preparing oneself to love someone, Neko is simultaneously keening, mournful, and beautiful.

Two songs from Sound Kapital, a book of photos and an accompanying CD about the Chinese punk rock underground (see my earlier posting about the show by the photographer, Matthew Niederhauser) that I cannot stop listening to. If you pay attention to international economics and finance like I do, you know about how China and the US have a symbiotic relationship -- they purchase our debt, we purchase their goods. Economic development has created a burgeoning consumer class and has arguably raised the standard of living, but not without raising questions, among the young, about the effect of consumerism on society as a whole. That's what drives a lot of these bands. Two of the most affecting songs on the album are:

E-White, "Spring House": I have never heard anything like this before. No lyrics, but a wall of sound that begins with traditional Chinese strings, layering drums, woodwinds, and finally the most ethereal voice.

Ourself Beside Me, "Sunday Girl" Yes, Chinese bands can do incredible alternative-pop music. This is an all-girl band that blends Eastern and Western, America, Carnaby Street London and a bicycle bell. Oh. My. God. I've played it four times in a row in my car. It doesn't hurt that it shares a title with a Blondie song either.

Duffy, "Mercy," from Rockferry: Duffy is a Welsh singer who was inspired to sing by watching Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act." I first heard "Mercy in February and was blown away. Retro, without being tinny or sappy. Wow, wow, wow.

So, there are five great songs worth downloading and sharing -- courtesy of acts from Ireland, the US, China and the UK -- a blending of east and west. Enjoy!

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