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Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014
Dolly Parton was perhaps the first country mega-star, and the first to successfully cross-over into the world of pop music. Today, we celebrate her 10 finest achievements as a performer, plus another one that we simply couldn’t forget to mention.
11. “Islands in the Stream”
(Eyes That See in the Dark, 1983)


The reason this list is 11 songs and not a nice, round 10 is because of this one. It would be a sacrilege to leave out her biggest hit.


Written by the venerable Bee Gees, co-sung by Kenny Rogers, and destined for karaoke machines around the world, it’s a sparkling, lovey-dovey, pop monster as only the Brothers Gibb could write. It only makes it to the 11-spot on our list because Parton’s catalog of solo hits is just too rich on its own.


Longtime pals and collaborators, Rogers and Parton got together again this year to sing “You Can’t Make Old Friends” off of Blue Smoke


 
10. “Why’d You Come in Here Lookin’ Like That?”
(White Limozeen, 1989)


If you thought the phrase “painted-on jeans” was a recent country western ideal for women, think again. Way back in 1989, Parton used it to describe her cruel, flirtatious beau. And he looks seriously good in those things.


Though the song was written for her by two men, it still flips the script in an impressive way. It’s usually men who sing about women who can stop traffic during a night on the town, but Parton can’t peel her eyes off her dreamy cowboy. It’s a fun, lighthearted ode to jealousy in a way that is distinctly Dolly. The track’s upbeat, cut-time drive and happy, bouncing fiddle are enough to make you want to throw on some tight jeans and cowboy boots and cut a rug of your own.


 
9. “9 to 5”
(9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, 1980)


Who among us can’t sympathize? A ragtime piano drives away on a dark, major chord while Parton comes to grips with yet another day as a workaday wage slave. Country music is—or at least used to be—the balm of the working class. Her distinctive voice reminding you that “You’ve got a dream he’ll never take away” is about the sweetest medicine there is.


It’s impressive how Parton—who’s enjoyed a successful performing career since her teen years, maybe never working a 9 to 5 job in her life—can get away with performing this song with a straight face. But, as we’ll discover as this list unfolds, Parton’s warmth and sincerity is one of the keys to her appeal. You feel the conviction in her voice, which goes down as smooth and invigorating as the morning “cup of ambition” she describes in the first verse.


Oh, and the typewriter percussion is pure genius.


 
8. “Blue Smoke”
(Blue Smoke, 2014)


More than 45 years (!!) since her first top 10 Country single, “Blue Smoke”—the title track from her newest release—is pure, distilled, raw country. With bluegrass instrumentation and momentum, it trundles ahead like a locomotive, eager and earnest. You can hear her age manifesting itself in raspy, throaty tones when she sings first several lines—which only makes the song better. It lends itself well to a song about a long-suffering, mistreated lover who declares over the bridge, “I’ve had just about all the heartbreak I can stand!”


 
7. “Down From Dover”
(The Fairest of them All, 1970)


Today, it must be hard to believe that country music—with its rock and hip-hop collaborations, songs about beer, parties, trucks and more beer—used to be notoriously depressing. “Down From Dover” is old-school country, one of the darkest songs you’ll ever hear.


Parton’s warbling soprano mourns as she tells the tale of a young girl, pregnant and jilted by the father, is turned away by her family. With nowhere to turn and nothing to cling to but the hope her lover will return from Dover, the baby is a stillborn. And oh yeah, the father still isn’t coming home. Ouch.


“Down From Dover” is Parton’s songwriting at its most visceral, a story song in the country tradition that starts out sad and only becomes sadder. Her ability to paint the emotions of her protagonists is richly on display.



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Wednesday, Jun 11, 2014
Blue Note, one of the foremost jazz record labels, is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a vinyl initiative, releasing highlights from its massive catalog over the course of two years. Here are some picks to get you started.

Blue Note was one of the, if not the, titan of jazz releases for much of the past century. This year marks the label’s 75th anniversary, and with that anniversary comes a huge initiative on the part of the Blue Note team to reissue many of its seminal works on vinyl. Their goal is a simple one: produce quality-sounding vinyl that faithfully reproduces the sound of the original recordings. Many of these LPs are available now at your local record store or for sale via many online retailers. It should be noted that these albums are available in traditional formats of CD, MP3, and box sets, but for the best listening experience possible, I highly recommend the vinyl reissues. Their clarity and workmanship is apparent in nearly every track—and, for purists, there really is no other way to listen to jazz from Blue Note except on vinyl.


Tagged as: blue note, jazz, list this
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Thursday, Jun 5, 2014
A dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and something extra.

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Jelly Roll Morton, Isidore “Tuts” Washington, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, Henry Butler—and those are just some of the best-known keyboard masters. All the great players have distinctive, individual styles, but there are traits they share, and that characterize the New Orleans sound. Deep roots in in the blues, gospel, and jazz, of course. But since New Orleans is a multicultural port city that has had a long association with Latin America and the Caribbean Sea, its pianists were exposed to, and have assimilated, idioms other than African-American. They’ll play syncopated bass lines derived from boogie-woogie, the blues, and stride. But they also incorporate rhythmic and melodic influences from Cuban rumba and habanera – the “Spanish tinge”, as Jelly Roll Morton famously, but inaccurately, called it.


As they pump out bass patterns with the left hand, the right hand unfurls melodic flourishes and cascading rolls. That mixture produces a sound that is immediately recognizable as originating in the Crescent City—funky and driving, yet easy rolling and relaxed. Think of the second-line dancers following the band at a New Orleans parade or funeral procession: Everything they do is funky, but they do it with unhurried grace and style.


The following list comprises ten standout performances by New Orleans pianists, past and present, plus a lagniappe, as they say in NOLA – a little something extra.


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Thursday, May 29, 2014
by Mike Noren
Recorded for $60 in an island country near the bottom of the globe, "Tally Ho", the debut single by New Zealand's the Clean, was an unlikely candidate to be an international game-changer and a defining moment for a pop movement.

Recorded for $60 in an island country near the bottom of the globe, the debut single by New Zealand’s the Clean was an unlikely candidate to be an international game-changer. A heap of jagged edges and jittery hooks, pushed along by a screechy Farfisa organ and shouts of “Tally Ho”, the song seems to revel in the joys of music-making with little regard for who’s listening. Still, listeners began to take notice, and the 1981 release of “Tally Ho” would in time be regarded as a milestone—not just as the opening blast of the Clean’s legendary run, but also as a defining early moment for Roger Shepherd’s Flying Nun Records. A fledgling indie label at the time, Flying Nun would soon be the creative hub for one of the world’s most influential underground music scenes.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2014
In the two decades since the band's self-titled "Blue Album" was released, Weezer's output has been a grab bag. PopMatters looks into the top 15 songs that prove that there's more to Weezer than being "Blue".

Twenty years ago, Weezer released its unassuming self-titled debut. Like its iconic and eponymous album cover, the “Blue Album” was unforgettable. The record combines growing pains, geek culture, and a girl who looks like Mary Tyler Moore into one life-changing musical experience. All that time the members spent in the garage perfecting their power-pop hooks paid off, as Weezer reminded us again why it was hip to be square. The band went on to be a driving force in the Alt-Nation and nerd-rock movements while influencing countless bands to write their own stupid songs, stupid words, and love every one.


Weezer has undoubtedly divided its fans as its career has progressed. The “Blue Album” and moody masterpiece Pinkerton (1996) are widely regarded as rock milestones, while most of the group’s later work has met with mixed results. In my opinion, Weezer fans everywhere are doing themselves a disservice by writing the quartet off after 1996. With each release, the band has cranked out memorable tunes that stick with you even when the records are uneven.


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