Archive | April, 2013

Soul, Funk and Blues Revival: Some Contemporary Bands Sporting a Energetic Retro Sound

29 Apr

i-learned-the-hard-wayMy musical tastes had their origin in the music of my father and uncle: my father a local rock drummer and my uncle an internationally known jazz drummer. From my father I began by listening to the music he played in his local cover band – The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc. However, both he and my uncle really had a taste for unique fusion jazz of the 1970’s. As a result, I also listened to bands like Return to Forever, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorious, Weather Report, and most certainly Frank Zappa. As such, I started out exploring the music of a previous generation. Years later, my musical tastes are still shaped by these classic sounds.

In the contemporary world of music there seems to be a significant trend for music that has a distinct sound from another time. You can see this even in the most popular of musical acts:

  • Amy Winehouse or Adele offering up robust soul and jazz vocal with clear lines to Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday.
  • The Black Keys chugging out garage-infused blues and rock – I can imagine them listening to R.L. Burnside when putting together their first album The Big Come Up.
  • Mumford & Sons giving you a wave of often rowdy British folk, not too far off from legends like The Pogues and similar to some American rowdy revival folk like Railroad Earth.

This may be how music has always progressed – with new genres forming from combinations of previous styles with a good measure of pastiche. Perhaps now there is a little more notice because there seems to be both a variety of different styles being revisited and some of the biggest selling artists tapping unexpected genres like 1930s/1940s jazz vocal.

My musical background covered,  I’d like to present my thoughts on some genres that have been getting a little bit of revival attention that remind me of some of the music I loved growing up listening to: Soul and Funk. First let’s just say that soul and funk cover quite a lot of ground – James Brown, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, etc, etc. Blues offers up even more of a span, reaching all the way from Robert Johnson and Leadbelly to John Lee Hooker and B.B. King to R.L. Burnside.  While this is all a big span of sound, I also think this these are all very American-rooted genres that offer up something of the American condition, history and experience. To know this music is to understand something visceral about America’s cultural history.

With that being said, let’s get right to some of my favorite contemporary bands creating wonderfully funky, soulful and bluesy music with a distinct energy and flavor. You can also be thankful you don’t also have to pair listening to these bands with having to wear clothes like these:


Below I’ve listed various albums which are linked directly to the library catalog where you can request them instantly – just click on the link 🙂

Record Label with Soul: Daptone Records

Daptone Records is a musician owned and run record label out of Brooklyn, NY. It was created by Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman after the demise of Desco Records. Daptone specializes in funk, soul, Afrobeat and gospel. There are some truly special artists on this label with a great retro, but contemporary sound. Standouts include Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Antibalas, The Budos Band and Charles Bradley. Check them out and keep on the lookout for new releases – the library certainly will!

Daptone Records

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears – Debuting in 2007, Austin-based singer and guitarist Black Joe Lewis put forth his first album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!  along with his band The Honeybears. This band plays great funk/soul/rock with distinct influences from James Brown, Wilson Pickett and Howlin’ Wolf. This band can give you tons of danceable energy or some chugging soulful blues. They even played at Maxwells a few years back! Their new album Scandalous offers up more of the same – you won’t be disappointed.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears performing Booty City live from the Bing Lounge

Gary Clark Jr. – With comparisons to greats like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr. has some big hype to start out. It’s unfair for anyone to get saddled with those heavy comparisons, but that also means there’s some serious talent there. 29 year old Gary Clark Jr. hails from Austin, Texas and offers up some serious Texas Blues a la Stevie Ray Vaughan with songs like Don’t Owe You a Thang. With a repertoire of slow, thoughtful blues mixed with energetic Texas Blues/Rock, Gary Clark Jr. is a great place to find contemporary blues in the way of Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Lee Hooker or R.L. Burnside. Check out his latest album, Blak and Blu.

Gary Clark Jr. official video for Don’t Owe You a Thang

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – perhaps the biggest star of Daptone Recods, Sharon Jones has found middle-age success where previously her talents went unrecognized. Emanating James Brown soul and charisma, Sharon Jones has produced several top flight albums since the late 1990s. She has largely performed with the Dap Kings band, whose members are drawn from Daptone Records ensemble of musicians. The band got a break in the early to mid-2000s when they worked with Amy Winehouse and were her backing band in her first U.S. tour. Sharon Jones offers up all you’d want in soulful/funky singer, and has a great band backing her up. Check out any of her albums, including 2010’s I Heard the Hard Way and her debut 2002 debut album Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings performing How Do I Let A Good Man Down live

Antibalas – Antibalas has been one of my favorite bands for almost 10 years running. This group has modeled itself strongly after the Afrobeat of Fela Kuti and along with Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive Orchestra. Antibalas is Brooklyn based (also on Daptone Records) and has also performed on Broadway, providing the music for the musical Fela!, based on the life of Fela Kuti. Since their 2001 debut album Liberation Afro Beat, Vol. 1 they have been pumping out intoxicating beats that is almost impossible not to move to. They released a new self-titled album in 2012 – Antibalas. Check out the cuts Sare Kon Kon (Running Fast) and Dirty Money. You can also find these other albums from them in the library’s system: Security, Talkatif, and Who is This America!

Antibalas performing Dirty Money on Jimmy Kimmel

Budos Band – This band draws much from Antibalas, having been formed at a jam session hosted by Antibalas. The group includes several members of the aforementioned band and is also featured on Daptone records. Look for plenty of Afrobeat and Latin rhythms, but with some added soul-jazz to spice things up. Check out their song Black Venom from their latest album The Budos Band III to get you hooked.

Black Venom live at KEXP

Eli Paperboy Reed – Daniel Kreps of Rolling Stone magazine describes Eli as delivering “classic soul and horn-heavy R&B soaked with the blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.” What’s not to like about that? He gives you some classic sounding Detroit/Chicago blues and soul. Check out his 2010 album Come and Get It through the library.

Official video for Come and Get It

Alabama Shakes – The newest band on this list released their first and only album in 2012. Alabama Shakes may have a sound that is not exactly a retro sound, but they play intoxicating blend of fiery blues and Southern soul that is hard to ignore. They’ve drawn comparisons from The Black Keys, The Detroit Cobras and even Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and recently played a concert along with several other groups at the White House that became the PBS special Performance at the White House: Memphis Soul. The special just aired on PBS on April 16th. While their first album is not perfect, their southern soul sound and the passion of their lead singer and guitarist Brittany Howard will hopefully make this a band to watch. Check out their first album Boys & Girls.

Alabama Shakes official video for their song Hold On

Charles Bradley – This soul and R&B singer grew up on the streets and spent most of his life only playing music on the side. Finally, he was recognized by Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records and released his first album with them at the age of 63. Charles sings with a soul and passion in the vein of early James Brown or Wilson Pickett. If you’re looking for a sound right out of the 1950’s and 1960’s with a ton of soul and emotion, then look no further than Charles Bradley. For a perfect example check out his song Heartaches and Pain written about real events in his life of the album No Time for Dreaming.

Charles Bradley performing Heartaches and Pain on KEXP

Soulive – This trio has been around since the late 1990s and features drums, organ and guitar. They play a super funky organ-driven instrumental groove-jazz that is hard not to dance to. This band has been popular for years in the jam circuit and can certainly find some appeal for lovers of funk. They have plenty of albums to dive into – try some of their earlier albums like Doin’ Something or Next.

Soulive performing Tuesday Night Squad at the State Theater in Portland, Maine

Galactic – If you are a fan of the wonderful show HBO series Treme , you might have caught this band performing in one episode as they hail from New Orleans.  Galactic is another band that has been popular for years in the jam circuit, but also as a New Orleans staple since the mid-1990s. Galactic serves up a distinct New Orleans flavor with a mix of funk, jazz and good dose of horns. This is a great band to try if you want to push a little more into the jazzy side of funk. They can also start to introduce you the plethora of great New Orleans bands that are out there,  where jazz, funk and soul have been alive and well for years. Check out their latest album Carnivale Electricos.

Galactic performing Crazyhose Mongoose at the Brooklyn Bowl

The Black Keys – This band likely needs no introduction at this point, with its most recent albums now charting high on the Billboard and iTunes charts. Their recent sound has pushed far more into the alternative, garage dance rock side of things. However, this band’s first few albums on Fat Possum and Alive Records give us some great garage blues. Even if you are not a fan of the current sound of this band, their first album The Big Come Up sees them playing some classic blues songs with a great garage-blues sound.

The Black Keys performing Busted
(originally an R.L. Burnside song called Skinny Woman)

NPR Discover Songs: Soul Revival – NPR put together this compilation album, pinpointing a number of great bands in the soul revival trend. Certainly worth a listen and can be checked out from the library – NPR Discover Songs: Soul Revival.

– Written by Matt Latham – Reference Libriarian + manager of the music and comics/Manga collections

You can borrow music on CD from the library or through any of the other 75+ libraries in the BCCLS system. You can search our catalog by going to our website and then clicking on catalog. If you are interested in an item just click on “Request This Item” – you just need the barcode on your library card and your PIN number (usually the last 4 digits of your phone number). If an item is at another library it will be shipped to the Hoboken Library for you to pickup! If an item is available it usually only takes a couple of days.

A Librarian’s Road Trip with Tina Fey

22 Apr

Today there are many ways for readers to enjoy books.

Digitally-inclined readers can use Kindles, Nooks, Sony eReaders, and iPads–all of which can be borrowed from the Hoboken Public Library. (Click here for details.)

Audiobooks and Playaways, for those who prefer listening to books, are available to borrow from HPL as well.

Despite these options, I still prefer reading, and holding in my hands, an actual book. Hey, books are one reason I decided to become a librarian!

A few months ago I drove to Washington, DC, to visit one of my best friends. I decided to borrow an audiobook for entertainment on the four hour drive–and to avoid the inevitable loss of familiar radio stations during the trip.

I chose Bossypants by Tina Fey, the former head writer and cast member of Saturday Night Live and star of 30 Rock, because I haven’t yet read the book. Also, Tina narrated the audiobook and I wanted to hear her tell the story. (This title is also available on Playaway.)


Tina was good company. It was almost as if she was in the car with me. She talked about her childhood and her awkward teenage years, which was way more entertaining than recounting my own childhood and awkward teenage years.

I liked Tina’s behind-the-scenes stories about her time on Saturday Night Live, as I am a longtime fan of the show. She recalled giving notes to Sylvester Stallone on a sketch she wrote, and felt intimidated as she was relatively new to SNL and he was a huge celebrity. Tina said Sly was totally cool about the feedback, though.

Tina also acknowledged that some celebrity hosts were more difficult than others but sadly didn’t name names. I admire her discretion, but still would love to know the dirty details. (Any guesses in the comments? Tina was with SNL from 1997-2006.)

My favorite part of the audiobook was the origin story of Tina’s brilliant, award-winning portrayal of Governor Sarah Palin on SNL during the 2008 presidential election.

After Palin was announced as Senator John McCain’s running mate in August 2008, many people noticed a resemblance between her and Tina. Tina believed people made that connection because she and Palin wore similar eyeglasses.

Lorne Michaels, SNL’s creator, asked Tina to return to the show to play Palin in a sketch. Tina said that was a particularly busy week–she was planning her daughter’s Tinkerbell-less, Peter Pan-themed birthday party and filming an episode of 30 Rock on which Oprah was a guest star.

Tina agreed to do the sketch if it included Amy Poehler*, her co-anchor on SNL’s Weekend Update segment in the early 2000s, and with whom she performed improv with The Second City in Chicago earlier in their careers. Lorne agreed, and SNL head writer Seth Meyers wrote a sketch where Tina played Palin and Amy, who was then very pregnant, portrayed Hillary Clinton.

The sketch was a huge hit. Tina nailed Palin’s accent and mannerisms. She even returned to SNL to reprise the role several times. The audio of this sketch is included in the audiobook, and it is still as funny now as it was in 2008.

Did you catch the joke about Sarah Palin’s “Tina Fey glasses” at the four minute mark in the video?

The audiobook package contains five discs. The first four include the story and the last disc contains media extras like photos and .pdfs. I finished the first two discs on the way to DC, and the last two on the way home. (I didn’t have a chance to use the last disc.)

Although I listened to the audiobook, I still want to borrow and read the actual Bossypants text. Tina made many references to 30 Rock that I couldn’t follow as I wasn’t caught up on the show until now.

If you’re planning a road trip and want some light entertainment for the drive, definitely consider Bossypants. This audiobook made driving on I-95 much less boring.

Don’t forget, there are plenty more audiobooks available at HPL, and from other libraries in the consortium. I definitely plan to borrow another audiobook for my next (currently unplanned) road trip.

“Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.”

Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian

*Apropos of nothing: Amy Poehler was on the Upright Citizens Brigade in the late 1990s before she joined SNL, and an episode of that show was filmed in my high school’s cafeteria when I was a student. I did not meet Amy, but saw her film some scenes. If only I could have met her then, before she became famous!

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