February 22nd, 2012

Musical Melting Pot

banjoAre music genres soon to become extinct? Years ago, you could put music styles in a box and stick a label on it. People were quick to say things like “I’m a country fan” or “I don’t listen to that rap stuff.”  But these days, artists blend multiple genres and nothing is as simple as it once seemed.  Rockers like Aaron Lewis from Stained and Kid Rock have had hits in the country music scene.  Jack White from the rock duo known as The White Stripes has begun collaborating with country legend Loretta Lynn.  Country star Allison Krauss worked with Led Zeppelin’s iconic front man Robert Plant on the album Raising Sand. Last year, the song “Airplanes Part II,” collaboration with rocker Hayley Williams and rap artists B.o.B. and Eminem, topped the pop charts and was nominated for a Grammy.

This newly renovated music landscape has created an environment of experimentation that allows lesser known or forgotten genres to bleed into popular music.  Artists are trading styles and incorporating instruments that were previously alien to their genre. For this reason, discovering new music has never been more exciting.

Probably one of the more surprising genres to be brought back into the light of popular music is bluegrass. Traditionally, bluegrass is strictly acoustic, including instruments like the banjo, the stand-up bass, mandolin, and the fiddle. These days, bluegrass style music and bluegrass instruments are showing up in every corner of popular media.  “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?” brought bluegrass to the big screen and the soundtrack promptly hit the country charts as well as the Billboard top 200 charts.  Despite being over a decade old, the album is known as the number one selling soundtrack of the 21st century.

Two of the most popular bluegrass/folk style bands to surface on the charts are the Avett Brothers and Mumford and Sons. Did you catch the Grammy’s last year when they played with Bob Dylan?  Their refreshing performance was full of the foot-stompin’ fun that people love about bluegrass.  Scott Avett from the Avett Brothers was quoted in Billboard magazine “We play pop music, maybe just simply pop-rock music. It just happens to have elements of bluegrass in it. And punk? This is a good time for music like ours. Country isn’t a dirty word. Neither is pop.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this type of stripped-down, organic, but not-at-all-boring-style to be just what music has been missing. Thankfully, there is reason to believe that this is more than just a trend.  Adele, the recent six time Grammy winning artist, is planning to have her third album be heavily influenced by bluegrass and other American styles she learned about while on tour.

Here are some more artists that have had fun with bluegrass that can be found at your local CCPL branch:
-Yo-Yo Ma’s new album “The Goat Rodeo Sessions”
-Actor Steve Martin’s album “The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo”

What forgotten genres do you want to see more of in popular music?  Do you hope bluegrass is here to stay? Or do you wish it would disappear?

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June 14th, 2011

No Tape Deck Required: Making the Perfect Mix

tapes“Now the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art, there are many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing… To me, making a tape is like writing a letter – there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again… A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.” from Nick Hornsby’s “High Fidelity”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve categorized things according to music, and have always believed that my life should be accompanied by a soundtrack. Events throughout my day, significant or mundane, often trigger a series of songs to accompany my mood.  An afternoon of cleaning requires either the soulful sounds of Stevie Wonder or perhaps The Black KeysArcade Fire or Florence and the Machine are the best remedy for the stuck-in-traffic blues.  The White Stripes go along perfectly with my morning routine and Beck’s “The Information” is a requirement for any road trip.

Naturally, along with the constant soundtrack in my head, I developed a mini-obsession with creating music mixes. I love the challenge of discovering a song that would seamlessly connect The Strokes “Gratisfaction” with The Flaming Lips “The W.A.N.D.” all while still fitting the mix’s theme. I find endless ways to challenge myself. Is it possible to get Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the same mix with Owl City “Cave In?” You bet it is. Just throw in some Stevie Wonder and perhaps a Ryan Adams track to ease the transition and you have a flawlessly constructed compilation. I’ve done playlists to see how many different genres I can mix together. I’ve done playlists made from songs all released in the same year. I’ve even heard of playlists made so the song titles rhyme. That seems like a headache to me, but I admire the creativity!

Some may feel that the delicate art of making mixes is reserved for middle schoolers or the hopeless romantics of decades past, but they are missing out on a highly underutilized means of self-expression. Like writing in a journal, creating mixes allows you to express yourself in a unique way, to take what’s in your head and permanently encase it within a CD. I can listen to mixes I made years ago and still remember exactly what I was feeling when I made it.

Cecil County Public Library’s CD collection has been one of the best places for me to get inspired. To construct the perfect mix, I check out CDs from the library, find the right songs, and then buy them online or cue them up with a free site like Grooveshark.  No more buying a whole album just to find that I only like one track. The library’s collection saves me money and gives me the freedom to explore the artists or genres that I’ve been curious about – greats such as Blind Old Dogs and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And who knew that the “World Music” section had so many treasures? So don’t let the fine art of creating music mixes die with the dust covered tapes in your attic — put a smile on someone’s face and make them a mix! Stop by the library and check out some inspiration.

Want to hear the great songs in this post? Search our collection or you can listen to a special mix for free online.  Now, with the library’s collection at your fingertips, what’s going on your playlist?

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