Thursday, January 24, 2013

Music - Oddities

All Samuels Public Library cardholders are eligible for three free downloads a week from Freegal, a massive online database containing over 500,000 songs.  Sifting through such an enormous selection of music can be a daunting task, so we here at Samuels have decided to offer a few suggestions for the overwhelmed (or new) Freegal user.  This week we've chosen three artists known for being slightly off-kilter:  
They Might Be Giants
"Everything Right is Wrong Again"
From Then: The Earlier Years

They Might Be Giants have been going strong for over twenty-five years now, but they’ve never quite been able to recapture the magical charm of their earliest recordings.  “Everything Right is Wrong Again” kicks off their first album with all their trademarks: cleverly quirky lyrics, hummable melodies, and bizarre pop culture references.  (For extra credit: Check out the DVD of The Long, Long Trailer, the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz movie mentioned in the song.)    
"Hey There Fancypants" 
 From Quebec 

With their truly strange sense of humor and manic genre-hopping, Ween is kind of like a trippier version of They Might Be Giants. Quebec effortlessly jumps from Motörhead-like metal to sixties prog to California country-rock to psychedelic jams with gleeful abandon. "Hey There Fancypants," one of the album's funniest moments, has a jaunty English music hall feel to it, at times reminiscent of Queen or The Beatles (or even Les Paul and Mary Ford with a drum machine). The song title alone makes me laugh.

"Weird" Al Yankovic
"Whatever You Like"
From Alpocalypse

Though conventional opinion holds that only 13-year-old boys enjoy "Weird" Al songs, I am going to go on record as saying I am well past my teen years and I still love listening to his outrageous parodies. You don't have to be familiar with the original T.I. song to enjoy "Whatever You Like" and its hilarious satire of the bling culture espoused by so many rappers. Trust me, you'll giggle out loud when Al, bragging about his supply of Top Ramen, says, "You want it, I got it, go get it, just heat it/ Dump a flavor packet on it and eat it."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reading Lists - Girls and Grits

They may seem like frail, genteel Southern ladies, but they can overcome whatever is thrown at them. Death, divorce and all of life’s disappointments, they have survived them all. Usually with the help of friends, family and lots of comfort food, they can accomplish anything. What could be better than a tall glass of sweet tea, a porch swing and a good book?

Last light over Carolina. Monroe, Mary Alice.
On an otherwise ordinary day, in a small shrimping village off the coast of South Carolina, a boat goes missing. The entire town rallies as all are mobilized to find the lost vessel. Throughout the course of one day, flashbacks of Bud Morrison, the captain on board, and Carolina, his wife, reveal the happier days of a once-thriving shrimping industry juxtaposed with the memories of their long term marriage.

Beach Trees. White, Karen.
From the time she was twelve, Julie Holt knew what a random tragedy can do to a family. At that tender age, her little sister disappeared-never to be found. It was a loss that slowly eroded the family bonds she once relied on. As an adult with a prestigious job in the arts, Julie meets a struggling artist who reminds her so much of her sister, she can't help feeling protective. It is a friendship that begins a long and painful process of healing for Julie, leading her to a house on the Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricane Katrina, and to stories of family that take her deep into the past.

 Land of mango sunsets. Frank, Dorothea Benton.
Meet Miriam Elizabeth Swanson, in a full-blown snit, buoyed by a fabulous cast who run the gamut from insufferable to wonderful. First is the arrival of Liz Harper, Miriam's tenant from Birmingham, who sets a new cycle in motion. Then her other tenant, Kevin, stalwart companion with more style than Cary Grant, shakes Miriam out of her fog to see which battles are worth the fight. Next, her estranged son announces he's marrying a Jamaican woman. And what about her ex-husband, Charles, and that sordid lingerie model of his? Well, Harry, her African Gray parrot, has plenty of opinions. Finally, you'll laugh and cry when she meets a man named Harrison who changes her into a gal named Mellie.

 Hissy fit. Andrews, Mary Kay
When 28-year-old interior designer Keeley Murdock catches her fiancĂ© with her maid of honor at her wedding rehearsal dinner, she pitches a hissy fit worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records. Then she meets Will Mahoney, the cute new owner of the town's local bra plant, who offers her a ride home. The next day, he gives her something else—a contract to decorate the historic home he's just purchased. Money is no object, but Keeley has to figure out how to make the decor reflect the lofty visions of Will's prospective bride (the hitch: he's never met her).

I still dream about you. Flagg, Fanny.
Meet Maggie Fortenberry, a still beautiful former Miss Alabama. To others, Maggie’s life seems practically perfect—she’s lovely, charming, and a successful agent at Red Mountain Realty. Still, Maggie can’t help but wonder how she wound up living a life so different from the one she dreamed of as a child. But just when things seem completely hopeless, and the secrets of Maggie’s past drive her to a radical plan to solve it all, Maggie discovers, quite by accident, that everybody, it seems, has at least one little secret.

Saving Cee Cee Honnycutt. Hoffman, Beth.
For years, 12-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille, a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. When Camille is killed by a truck, CeeCee's previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell, whisks CeeCee away to Savannah, a world seemingly run entirely by women. These exotic women keep CeeCee enthralled for an entire summer.

A grown-up kind of pretty. Jackson, Joshilyn. 
Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood—is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past—and who will stop at nothing to defend their future. It’s a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family.

Beach trip. Holton, Cathy
For four college friends, a beach trip promises a chance to reconnect and reminisce. Having traveled distinct and diverse paths since the early 1980s and their freshman days at a small Southern women's college, the quartet—now in their forties—reunites for the first time in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Over the course of a week they eat, drink, laugh, and cry. But one by one each reveals the hardship and heartache she's hidden from the others. And one secret threatens to change their lives, and their bond, forever.

Ladies of the lake. Smith, Haywood. 
Sisters Dahlia, Iris, Violet, and Rose—all with grown children of their own—have a complicated relationship, so when their grandmother’s will requires them to spend the whole summer—without friends or family—“camping in” at her run-down lodge on remote Lake Clare in order to inherit the valuable land, old rivalries and new understanding emerge, with plenty of laughs along the way

 Cold Sassy Tree. Burns, Olive Ann
On July 5, 1906, scandal breaks in the small town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, when the proprietor of the general store, E. Rucker Blakeslee, elopes with Miss Love Simpson. He is barely three weeks a widower, and she is only half his age and a Yankee to boot. As their marriage inspires a whirlwind of local gossip, 14-year-old Will Tweedy suddenly finds himself eyewitness to a family scandal, and that's where his adventures begin.

She flew the coop. West, Michael Lee
Though she was born in Tennessee, Miss Gussie is no country fool. A woman who can handle any situation, she has her hands full with two headstrong daughters who happen to be complete opposites—dour Dorothy and sweet Clancy Jane. Hoping money will heal childhood wounds, Dorothy marries the owner of a five-and-dime, while Clancy Jane runs off with a randy tomcat who pumps gas at the Esso stand. And then there are Gussie's granddaughters, the smart but plain Violet and fancy-talking Bitsy—a new generation whose lives will reflect a nation's tumultuous times. From Tennessee to New Orleans, this funny, poignant novel spans more than four decades as it vividly recounts the universal loves, sorrows, and joys of women's lives.

Moon women. Duncan, Pamela.
In the lush North Carolina foothills, the Moon women have put down roots: matriarch Marvelle Moon, who’s losing her grip on the world after more than 80 years of life; her daughters, Ruth Ann and Cassandra; and Ruth Ann’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Ashley. Despite Ruth Ann’s best efforts to live a life that’s all her own, her family is coming together around her. Marvelle and Ashley need a place to live and Ruth Ann is unable to turn them away; and her womanizing ex-husband has been coming around again, dredging up the past. Now a flurry of outbursts, emotions, and outrages is shattering Ruth Ann’s separate peace.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Music - Bob Dylan

All Samuels Public Library cardholders are eligible for three free downloads a week from Freegal, a massive online database containing over 500,000 songs.  Sifting through such an enormous selection of music can be a daunting task, so we here at Samuels have decided to offer a few suggestions for the overwhelmed (or new) Freegal user.  This week's theme is Bob Dylan:

Bob Dylan
"She’s Your Lover Now"
From Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3

I, for one, wouldn’t blame you if you spent each of your three weekly downloads for the next five years acquiring the (almost) entire Dylan discography from Freegal.  Those who have most of his classic albums, however, may just want to dig a little deeper by trying some of the many live, rare, and unreleased tracks collected in the excellent Bootleg series.  Taken from the Blonde on Blonde sessions, “She’s Your Lover Now” captures all the pain, anger, and jealousy of seeing a former flame with another person, and it is probably one of my favorite Dylan tracks despite being unfinished.

Woody Guthrie
"Talking Dust Bowl Blues"
From Dust Bowl Ballads

Woody Guthrie, writer of the famous song “This Land is Your Land,” was a tremendous influence on the young Bob Dylan and the entire folk movement of the 1960s.  As seen in “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” Guthrie had a talent for mixing trenchant social commentary with a sly sense of humor.  Dylan would borrow the talking blues style of this song more than once on his first few albums, with tracks like “Talkin’ New York” and “Talkin’ World War III Blues.”  

The Black Keys
"Wicked Messenger"
I’m Not There [Original Soundtrack]

The soundtrack for Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan-inspired film I’m Not There contains an interesting array of Dylan covers by some of today’s most acclaimed bands and artists, including Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Sufjan Stevens, Yo La Tengo, and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  One of my favorite songs from this collection is The Black Keys swampy take on “The Wicked Messenger.” (Search tip: navigating Freegal can sometimes be frustrating; to find this song search either by song or album title.  A search for The Black Keys won’t bring the desired results.)    

For further reading about Bob Dylan, the following books can be checked out from Samuels Public Library:

Chronicles by Bob Dylan
Studio A: The BobDylan Reader edited by Benjamin Hedin
Dylan: The Essential Interviews edited by Jonathan Cott
(You can also look for Martin Scorsese’s excellent documentary No Direction Home: Bob Dylan)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Music - Best of 2012

All Samuels Public Library cardholders are eligible for three free downloads a week from Freegal, a massive online database containing over 500,000 songs.  Sifting through such an enormous selection of music can be a daunting task, so we here at Samuels have decided to offer a few suggestions for the overwhelmed (or new) Freegal user.  Since it’s the beginning of the year and many magazines, websites, and blogs are compiling “Best of 2012” lists, the following three songs are a few standouts from the past year’s releases: 

Fiona Apple—“Every Single Night” (from the album The Idler Wheel is Wiser…) 

Fiona Apple hit it big in the ‘90s with songs like ‘Criminal’ and ‘Fast as You Can’ before disappearing for a while at the turn of the millennium.  Her new album is her first in over 7 years, but her signature style shows no sign of rust on “Every Single Night,” a single as passionate as it is cerebral.  With just her piano and some occasional percussion as musical accompaniment, Apple is able to showcase her immense songwriting talent and wonderfully emotive vocals.  Nowhere is this more effective than in the final mantra of “I just want to feel everything.”

Jack White—“Sixteen Saltines” (from the album Blunderbuss)

Those who just want to rock will probably be better off downloading Jack White’s “Sixteen Saltines,” a high-energy number that harkens back to his days in the sorely missed White Stripes.  Containing a monster riff and some wicked guitar histrionics, this song is made for blasting from your speakers and rockin’ out.  Turn up the volume and enjoy.

Passion Pit—“Take a Walk” (from the album Gossamer

It seemed like every high school and college kid I know was talking about Passion Pit in 2012, and for good reason: their mix of ‘80s synth-pop and ‘00s indie rock proves highly irresistible.  “Take a Walk” is a perfect example, with a soaring chorus you’ll be humming for days.  And don’t write it off as just another fluffy pop tune—lead singer Michael Angelakos accurately describes lives touched by economic hardships, making it a perfect soundtrack for a year marked by continuing recession.   

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Movies - Best Picture Winners 1927-2011

It's almost time for Academy Award nominations to be announced (tomorrow!), so it seemed like a good time to launch the movie part of our reader's advisory blog. Get ready for some viewer's advisory!

To start with, did you know that you can check out every Best Picture winner since 1927 from Samuels Library? (The only exception is the 1932/1933 winner Cavalcade, which is currently unavailable on DVD.)

Following the jump ("Read more"), you will find brief annotations for all 84 of these films.