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Girls' Guide to Rocking



(Workman Publishing, $13.95)


For those of you who ever sang into a hairbrush or geeked out on air guitar while dreaming of performing in front of a capacity crowd, this book is for you! “The Girls’ Guide To Rocking” is a thorough, step-by-step manual on how to turn daydreaming into a reality. Writer Jessica Hopper poured her years of playing in bands and working in the music industry into this colorfully-written guide that explains everything, including shopping for the right instruments, recruiting band mates, naming your band, writing a song, putting on a show, making flyers and t-shirts, getting a record deal and publishing. Detailed drawings of gear, basic recording set ups and the inner workings of tube and digital amps, as well as “A Checklist For Your First Show (And Every Show After)”, are smartly aimed at giving girls (and boys) the tools and confidence to go out in to the world and be heard! Encouraging notes and quotes from renowned musicians like Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Nina Simone, Kate Bush and Heart’s Nancy Wilson, most of whom started playing in their teens, are sprinkled throughout as examples of amazingly talented musicians whose love of music propelled them to rock stardom. 





(Sony Legacy, $34.98)


In 1985, four Minneapolis musicians started a band, eschewing the nascent punk rock scene in favor of country rock, thus keeping alive the flame first lit a generation before by The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Band. The Jayhawks launched alternative country in the 90’s and, on “Songs From The North Country”, have laid out an interesting history of talented musicians who are, to some, the band that “should have been bigger”. Catchy, hook-laden tunes like “Waiting For The Sun” and “Settled Down Like Rain” from 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall” are proof of that. This anthology of 40 songs and assorted videos shines bright thanks to the harmonies of Mark Olson and Gary Louris, and, after Olson’s departure, Louris and drummer Tim O’Reagan. Highlights include “Falling Star” from 1998’s little heard “The Bunkhouse Album”, the surprising classic rocker “Get The Load Out” and a cover of “Break My Mind”, a song which cements my long belief that Olson sounds the most like Gram Parsons than anyone else. In recent years, Louris tossed aside the peddle-steel for a more experimental sound thanks to the influence of his friend (or would Louris say “competitor”?) in Wilco. Original versions of songs that morphed in to official releases offer a rare look at the songwriting process and are well worth a listen.




(Sony, $21.98)


After a 15-year absence from the stage, the mysterious and influential songwriter Leonard Cohen returned to live performing in 2008 for an immediately sold-out 84 city tour of the world. “Live In London” is a 26-song CD and DVD set recorded at the O2 Arena and captures the enigmatic performer in fine form. Cutting quite the figure in a dashing navy pin stripe suit and fedora, Cohen is all at once, witty, sensuous and seemingly enjoying himself. (The rumored reason for his return to the stage was less out of artistic need and more out of financial. Cohen’s manager is said to have embezzled the singer’s life savings.) Running through a catalog of 40 years, Cohen delivers long-standing favorites like “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”, “Hallelujah” and “Suzanne” effortlessly. Backed by a solid band, including a chorus of angelic female voices, Cohen banters playfully and graciously with an enrapt and thankful audience. Apparently the feeling was mutual, as the 72-year old Cohen is hitting the road again this summer for a swing through Europe before hitting the U.S. in the fall. Watching his performance and listening to his growly, aged-to-perfection vocals, adds a considerable weight to one’s heart and affirmation of Cohen’s peerlessness.




(Vanguard Records, $18.98)


The second solo effort from legendary drummer Levon Helm is a bright, rich collection of the best in American music. Country, gospel, blues and soul are woven throughout “Electric Dirt” which features the same cast of supporting musicians (including daughter Amy and producer Larry Campbell) from Helm’s 2007 Grammy winner “Dirt Farmer”. The free-wheelin’ fun kicks off on the opening track, a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed”. Helm’s energy is sky-high and strong on the Staple Singers “Move Along Train” and the gospel-tinged “When I Go Away”. All of which is truly amazing considering this is the same man whose rich tenor voice was almost silenced by throat cancer a decade ago. On “Kingfish”, Helm is knee-deep in New Orleans thanks to a glorious horn arrangement courtesy of the legendary Allen Toussaint. Harmonizing with his daughter and Teresa Campbell on The Stanley Brothers’ “White Dove” and “Heaven’s Pearls” (co-written by Amy for her band Ollabelle), Helm keeps alive the southern music he first heard as a child. He wraps things up with a vibrant sing-along of “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free”, a song he always wanted to record after  hearing Nina Simone’s version back in 1967. 


Music- More Listening


(Sire/WEA, $13.99)


A refreshingly honest love story wherein boy meets girl, boy falls for girl and girl…well, not so much. With a gentle ribbing of actress Zooey Deschanel’s indie dream girl status and how easy it is to buy in to the heartbreaking lyrics of The Smiths, “(500) Days of Summer” places actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt directly in Cupid’s merciless path. Music plays an important part in the lives of this hipster couple and not a note is wasted. Hall & Oates “You Make My Dreams”, Regina Spektor’s “Hero” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends” are some of the songs that serve a specific purpose to the film’s engaging plot. 



(Nettwerk Records, $17.98)



The voice of Scottish singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch pops up throughout the course of events in the Maya Rudolph/John Krazinski film “Away We Go”, a heartfelt tale of an expectant couple traveling around North America in search of a meaningful place to call home. Murdoch’s velvet melancholic delivery, and his eerie similarity to Nick Drake, matches the longing the film’s characters display in wanting to have some control over their current and future lives. Joining Murdoch are the timeless sounds of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, The Stranglers and The Velvet Underground, artists who have become the rigor for any 21st century soundtrack. 



(New West Records, $17.98) 


To sustain a 40-year music career is most commendable, and more so if you’ve got the skills to write songs worth listening to. Such is the case of Mott The Hoople frontman Ian Hunter and this, his 13th solo effort. Filled with scrappy rockers (“Babylon Blues”), British invasion pop (“Girl From The Office”) and classic rock (“Up and Running”), Hunter, who brought the world “All The Young Dudes” back in 1972, sings with both stadium force and subdued experience. Hunter offers encouragement on the sentimental piano-driven “Win It All” and for the title track sings a disarmingly lovely ode to bottoming out. How punk rock!



(Crooked Crown Records, $15.00) 


Songwriter Maia Sharp has spent the better part of her career crafting songs for other acts including Bonnie Raitt, Dixie Chicks and Cher. In between, she’s released a couple of albums on her own and with “Echo”, produced by Don Was, showcases a thoughtful, earnest style in the vein of her contemporaries like Shawn Colvin, Sam Phillips and Paula Cole. The first track, “Polite Society” and the last “The Girl On Her Way” are perfectly crafted pop songs that sandwich ten perennial songs about life and love and the ongoing quest to make sense of any of it. / Issue 102 - September 2018
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