Music for Your Workout

Nothing calls for the right music quite like an intense workout. Here are three of my picks to help get you through it!

Daft Punk Random Access MemoriesDaft Punk
Random Access Memories

Daft Punk is known to always deliver a surprise, and their latest work is no exception. The surprises began when one of the world’s best-know and best-loved Electronic Dance Music artists released an album that was much more ’70s/’80s pop, rock and disco  than it was EDM. As the opening track states, this album is a breath of fresh air; a work that announced its mission was to “Give Life Back to Music”.

The overall production quality of this album is absolutely superb; Daft Punk cut no corners on creating their latest statement. Although their music and instrumentals are fantastic, the real standout is their collaborations with artists they admire. Rather than pigeonholing themselves by working only with a certain type of artist, Daft Punk collaborates with artists young and old, spanning numerous genres, to create a truly well-rounded and interesting product. From Nile Rodgers’ and Pharrell’s turns in “Lose Yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” to vocals by famed house DJ Todd Edwards, Daft Punk proves themselves open to a range of influences.

Although the first half of the album gets off to a strong start with tracks like “Giorgio”, Random Access Memories comes alive in its second half. Cuts like “Touch” and “Contact” remind you why Daft Punk stole our hearts in the first place. “Get Lucky” may have been blaring through your speakers all year, but I promise: there’s workout gold–and musical gold–to be found in spades here.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Beyond”, “Touch”

Nas IllmaticNas
Illmatic

In 1994, 20-year-old Nas released an album that garnered very little attention. Fast forward 20 years (can you believe it?), and the up-and-coming rapper who wasn’t old enough to buy a beer is now one of hip-hop’s greatest stars. In those 20 years, Illmatic has become massively acclaimed; it is without a doubt one of the greatest (if not the greatest, but I’m showing my bias) rap albums ever released, and is a welcome counterpart to any workout.

This album is Nas’ homage to the Bridge, the housing projects where he was raised. True to its influence, it brought hip-hope back to New York in the days after West Coast star Dr. Dre released The Chronic. Most importantly, however, it casts Nas as a street poet, the voice of a generation. He narrates his story in a simple but thoughtful way, letting us in on the difficulties of life without losing hope. Nas is a storyteller: with each song’s end comes an unanswered question that leaves you waiting for the next.

My only complaint about this album is its brevity; less than 40 minutes feels like nowhere near long enough. You’ll find yourself on a run, inspired by each and every track, only to have the music end by around mile five. When I’m out running, though, I don’t skip to the next album. I just repeat it. This one’s that good.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “N.Y. State of Mind”, “The World is Yours”

David Guetta Nothing But the BeatDavid Guetta
Nothing But the Beat

You probably know David Guetta as the guy who brought techno sound to the records of everyone from Rihanna to Usher. There’s nothing more workout-inspiring than some guilty-pleasure Top 40 music, and Guetta is the mastermind behind many of today’s top hits. This album, however, proves that he’s not just the man behind the scenes–he’s created tracks that will take you from a run to a night out and back again.

Guetta does a great job of blending genres together to create an effortlessly smooth final product. His signature house-music inspired techno beats somehow fuse together with hip-hop and R&B, creating an irresistible mix of workout-worth sound. This album is nothing groundbreaking, but you can’t deny Guetta’s influence: from Will.i.am to Nicki Minaj to Usher, Nothing But the Beat boasts a star-studded turnout of collaborations.

Where Guetta shines brightest is bringing an artist into his or her element. Whether it’s lending a romantic club beat to crooner Usher or a pulsing, fast-paced rhyme to Nicki Minaj, he knows how to draw artists out and make them shine. That’s what makes this album memorable–Guetta has taken household names and helped them make their best a little bit better.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Titanium”, “Turn Me On”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Sounds Like New York: The Best of the Empire State

This week, we’re heading east. Check out our reviews of three of the best albums by New York artists!

Paul Simon GracelandPaul Simon
Graceland

Simply put: this album is one of my absolute favorites of all time, and it should be on your list as well. As a solo artist, Simon is like a musical archaeologist, digging up influences from styles of music ranging from blues to salsa to reggae. Graceland represents his move even further away from the pop-rock mainstream charts he topped as part of Simon & Garfunkel. It’s heavily influenced by both South African music and culture, exploring both new sounds and new political statements.

Rather that simply merging African influence with traditional Western sounds, this album commits: Nine of its eleven songs contain elements of mbaqanga, or South African pop music. Much of the recording was done in Johannesberg, and the songs truly soak up the local sound. They also absorb the local politics; Simon’s collaborations with local musicians inherently address controversial issues like apartheid. On the standout track “Homeless”, harmonies by vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo suggest the possibility of peaceful resolution.

The title track, one of Simon’s greatest songs, best represents the album’s attitude. Although the song’s narrator is running from a broken relationship, he runs towards what he believes to be a place of happiness and redemption. Simon is unafraid to examine the dark sides of people and societies, but remains hopeful that there is always light to be found.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Graceland”, “Homeless”

Jay-Z Reasonable DoubtJay-Z
Reasonable Doubt

Although this album was rap legend’s Jay-Z’s first and lowest selling, he himself calls it his best album to date. I’d have to agree: This album is a classic that belongs on the top shelf of any rap lover’s collection. It’s a mastery of execution-—smoothly delivered, easy to listen to, and filled with top-notch collaborations and quick, clever wordplay. In a genre that’s all about delivery, few have mastered the craft as well as Jay-Z does here.

What separates this album from the hundreds of other rap albums released in the ’90s? Jay-Z’s steady flow, witty lyrics, and confident delivery that put him on the map. Although it certainly contains tried-and-true themes of crime tales and street stories, his charisma is all his own. His humor and presence on each track make him a relatable figure who can sell to Middle America as well as he can to his native Brooklyn neighborhoods. This album establishes Jay not only as a rapper, but as a storyteller.

Another highlight on this album is the fantastic array of collaborations that blends in seamlessly. On highlight “Brooklyn’s Finest”, Jay-Z raps along with New York legend Notorious B.I.G. in a track that allows them to work together as equals, but also suggests subtle competition between the two for the song’s title. It seems only fitting that one of rap’s all-time greats would lend a hand on the debut of one of modern music’s most recognizable figures.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Brooklyn’s Finest”, “Politics as Usual”

MI0000832128The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground & Nico

Velvet Underground vocalist and guitarist Lou Reed‘s death last fall brought this album back into heavy rotation in my collection. It was a reminder of how influential this band has really been: Despite the fact that this album only sold 30,000 copies when it was released, British musician Brian Eno famously said that “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band”. Despite its initial commercial flop, this album has gone on to become one of the most influential of its generation.

This record is, in a word, fearless: In an era most noted for the Summer of Love, it combined lyrics about drug addiction and despair with pounding force and throbbing basslines. Despite its bold statement, it still contains surprising diversity. It moves from the smooth and stripped-down R&B sounds of “There She Goes Again” to the tough punk rock of “Waiting for the Man” without skipping a beat. Although the album’s controversial lyrics have ultimately gained it the most attention (and notoriety), they’re matched by a solid music backing that is equally unique and compelling.

What’s most fascinating is listening to this album after hearing decades of rock and roll develop from the late 1960s onward. After just a few songs in, it’s easy to see that nearly every brand of rock owes credit to this album.  From punk to new wave and everything in between, nearly everything in the rock genre has been influenced by the Velvet Underground’s sound.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “There She Goes Again”, “Sunday Morning”


Ally Boutelle
@arboutelle

Ally is a communications intern at Murfie, blogging about all things music. When she’s not typing away, she cooks spicy food, does hot yoga, and reads weird history books. She’s also a college student double majoring in history and journalism.


Mom-Approved Modern Music for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can often mean a trip back home to spend the day with a certain woman who raised you. I love a good family tradition (and I love my mom even more), but let’s face it: A day of listening to music released circa your mom’s high school years can get a little, well… old. Here are three suggestions to bring your mom into the 21st century, music-wise, this Mother’s Day. Take them for a spin this Sunday—they’re guaranteed to not contain too many lyrics that will make family listening time uncomfortable. (Author’s Note: All albums have been successfully test-driven by my mom.)

MI0003392585Channel Orange
Frank Ocean

This 2012 record was the beginning of something big: Frank Ocean is one of the most incredibly talented singers and songwriters of our time. This record is packed full of the stuff of legends: One-of-a-kind lyrics, an ambitious sound, and a sizable helping of passion and philosophy. Ocean is a storyteller, and his stories highlight the best and the worst of what it’s like to be alive.

Musically, this album is a mishmash in the best possible way. It fuses influences from decades past (think ’70s funk sounds and ’90s hip-hop) with a new and thoroughly modern groove, including truly awesome use of quiet electronic percussion. There’s also heavy soul influence here–moments on this album suggest flashbacks to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I rarely listen to R&B, but I sure would if it all sounded like this. The songs have tight verses that hit you with incredible impact. The sheer force of emotion on this album hits you hard, creating a soundtrack for those who have lived, loved–and most of all, lost.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Bad Religion”, “Pyramids”

MI0003341793Blunderbuss
Jack White

Up until now, Jack White has been part of a group, whether alongside Meg White of The White Stripes or the rest of The Raconteurs. On this album, however, he’s the star: Not only is this a great solo record, it also holds its own among White’s incredible discography as part of a band. White’s reflections on life and love might tear you apart, but you’ll manage to enjoy every moment of the gut-wrenching process.

For White, going solo means that all his crazy musical ideas and influences find a home. This album contains traces of everything from old-school R&B all the way through modern country music. From his cover of Little Willie John‘s 1960 hit “I’m Shakin” to his use of fiddles and mandolins on “Blunderbuss”, a lot of ground is covered here. Jack White isn’t an easy man to figure out-—nor does he want to be: despite track after track lamenting the heartbreak of love, his female backup chorus includes his ex-wife Karen Elson. A few listens of this album, however, leave you with the impression that Jack White does his best work when he’s a little shrouded in mystery.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Love Interruption”, “Sixteen Saltines”

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The Black Keys

For a group with such a stellar big-band sound, it’s hard to believe that The Black Keys are a two-man show. This album comes after both members took some time away from their main band, trying their hand at other projects. It was a well-needed break: This album is their best release in years, cementing their own unique sound and their position atop the blues-rock food chain. This is nothing incredibly new or different, but that’s why I love them: Consistency is key with a group that constantly delivers music that just sounds like a good time.

This album very successfully plays around with a variety of styles, incorporating everything from up-tempo beats on “Howlin’ For You” to quiet, haunting harpsichord on “Too Afraid to Love You”. My personal favorite addition, however, is vocalist Dan Auerbach’s incorporation of falsetto, For a band that’s made a name with its bluesy sound, a falsetto was certainly a surprise (and a welcome one at that). He nails the sound on tracks like “Everlasting Light”, bringing a much-needed new edge into the mix. For longtime fans like myself, this album set a new standard for the band, turning classic bluesy sounds into something fresh and creative.

Don’t Miss Tracks: “Everlasting Light”, “Howlin’ For You”

Staff Picks: Pat’s Picks

Everybody loves to listen to music at work, especially here at Murfie. Our office is equipped with the Sonos System, so we can stream music right from out own Murfie accounts while we plug away. Often times when the tracks are coming from me, people will wonder what the noises are that are coming out of the speakers. Some things are new, some are older, but most is a little bit different. 

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Four Organs – Phase Patterns – Steve Reich
Steve Reich’s piece Four Organs starts with very short notes on a single chord. Over the course of the piece these notes grow in length by anticipating the chord and trailing after it, causing a general deconstruction of the chord and changing the way it sounds and feels. It is performed by (as you may have guessed) four organs, accompanied by a Maraca. If minimal and repetitive music are your bag, check out more of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley. 

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Ascension – John Coltrane
John Coltrane is a household name. What is not as well known is some of the music he made in his final few years. The early and mid-60’s was a time that many musicians, including Coltrane, started to take jazz in a new direction. Ascension is a transition from more conventional jazz into the world of free jazz. This album does not have tunes so much as it has an alternating pattern of collective improvisations and solo improvisations. Without being constrained to chords or a form, the musicians are able to express themselves in new and unconventional ways. The world of free jazz is huge, and musicians continue to add to the tradition. Check out names like Ken Vandermark and Ornette Coleman.

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Tago Mago – Can
Can is one of those bands I wish I would have discovered long before I did. Tago Mago mixes groove and weird as good as any band before or after it, but sounds nothing like anything before or after. This album is from 1971 and has been described as highly influential by many artists even today. This is a good album to play loud.

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Black Angels – Kronos Quartet
Here the Kronos Quartet plays two of my all time favorite quartets. George Crumb’s Black Angels and Dmitri Shostakovich‘s String Quartet No. 8. Being the Kronos Quartet, they deliver these pieces with a mastery not known by many other groups. Black Angels is an interesting string quartet in that is calls for amplified string instruments and glasses and tam-tams to be played by the members of the group. Crumb uses the numerical values of 7 and 13 throughout the piece.

Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 is one of the most emotional pieces on the earth. Dedicated to “the victims of fascism and war,” this twenty or so minute piece projects extreme sadness, anger, and eventually acceptance.

48501-largeTrout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band 
One of Captain Beefheart’s Commandments for guitar playing included practicing in front of a bush. He instructed guitarists to “Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grain piece of bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.” This album is incredibly challenging for the first few listens, but over time it begins to make sense. It is regarded as one of the best rock albums of all time, and it was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2010. “A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous, got me?”

Pete’s Picks: An Introduction to John Martyn

Uncovering one of music’s sweet little mysteries…

For music lovers, one of the most exciting aspects is the discovery of a new artist or album and being able to share that excitement with others—something that Murfie members know plenty about! So when the opportunity to offer a recommendation for Murfie Staff Picks came along, for me it was not a difficult choice. The hardest part was choosing which album to recommend.

John Martyn was a British singer-songwriter and guitarist whose career spread across 40 years and 21 studio albums. He’s had contributions along the way from Eric Clapton, The Band’s Levon Helm, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, Steve Winwood, Lee “Scratch” Perry and Phil Collins. John has also inspired a wide range of artists from Beck, The Cure’s Robert Smith, David Gray, Devendra Banhart, Snow Patrol and many more—yet John remains pretty much unknown to many.

The music of John Martyn captured my soul from the very first listen. Island Records was John’s musical home for 22 years. He recorded 12 studio albums during that time, none of which were of any real commercial success, so it is a testament to Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell who signed John (who was just twenty years old), making him the first white artist to join the otherwise Jamaican-based music label in 1967. Chris Blackwell stuck by John for over 20 years, purely because he liked John and the music he made.

John described himself as an incurable romantic, which is evident in his ability for writing and delivering perfect love songs, without sounding cheap or blatantly inauthentic. What is even more astounding is his guitar playing, considering he didn’t know one chord from the next, but knew the shapes and positions his fingers needed to make to produce the the sound he wanted.

Like so many treasured and talented artists, John’s life was not without controversy. He suffered with drug abuse and alcohol addiction. He was uncompromising, and could become quite violent at times. In 2003, John’s right leg was amputated below the right knee due to septicemia brought on by diabetes. This would not slow him down, however. He continued to tour, performing with his band from a wheelchair.

In 2008, John was awarded a lifetime achievement award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and was included in the Queen’s New Years Honors list, receiving an O.B.E. (Order Of The British Empire). Sadly on January 29th, 2009, John died in a hospital in Ireland due to double pneumonia. Eric Clapton payed tribute to John claiming he was, “so far ahead of everything, it’s almost inconceivable.”

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Sweet Little Mysteries: The Island Anthology (1995)

This two disc collection highlights John’s most innovative and treasured moments during his time with Island Records, with a selection of tracks taken from eight studio albums from 1971-1986. This collection is certainly a great start in the discovery of the music of John Martyn, but is by no means the end of the journey. The tracks from each album represented on Sweet Little Mysteries are just a few from this golden period of John’s career. Below I have included a little background information relating to the albums that are featured in this collection.

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Bless The Weather (1971), Tracks 1-3

Bless The Weather is at times a delicate and beautiful album. It was recorded in just three days, as John preferred the spontaneous approach, and many of the songs were even written the day of recording. This album earned John some of the strongest reviews of his career. The album blends gentle yet complex acoustic guitar styles with John’s increasingly jazzy vocals. In 1999 (28 years after it’s original release), Q magazine suggested that Bless The Weather was one of the most essential folk albums of all time.

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Solid Air (1973), Tracks 4-8

Solid Air is considered to be John’s landmark album, which showed him move towards a more experimental folk, jazz and blues direction. Here John delivers his lyrics with a more slurred expression, almost using his voice as an instrument. From the first few opening notes of Solid Air, you are immediately seduced and on a journey into a real after-hours classic. The British music magazine Q listed Solid Air as the 67th Greatest British Album Ever and was also included in their list of Best Chill-Out Albums Of All Time—not bad for an album recorded in 1973.  The title track was written for and about John’s close friend and Island label mate Nick Drake. Also included from the Solid Air Album is the tender “May You Never”, a track that earned John the most royalty checks he ever received—not from his own version, but the version Eric Clapton recorded for his 1977 album Slowhand.

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Inside Out (1973), Tracks 9-11

Following the critical appeal brought by Solid Air, Inside Out was described by John as everything he ever wanted to do in music. It was his insides coming out. He began to experiment more with electric guitar, leaving the acoustic to take more of a backseat role. Experimentation with effects pedals also began to enter into the mix, and the introduction of the Echoplex tape delay machine was being used to try to make his guitar emulate a sustained sax sound, influenced by Pharoah Saunders‘ Karma album.

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Sunday’s Child (1975), Tracks 12-18

Having unleashed his experimental side through Inside Out, John appears a little more settled and content with the release of Sunday’s Child—and the Echoplex still makes an appearance, shaping some very interesting soundscapes to accompany his ever present messages of love. The songs within Sunday’s Child are of a more conventional structure, as demonstrated on the beautifully simple “You Can Discover” and “One Day Without You”. While promoting Sunday’s Child, John played support for Pink Floyd on their Wish You Were Here tour in the UK. As he took the stage with just his acoustic guitar in hand, he was met by a wall of abuse from the crowd, who made it perfectly clear that they were not prepared to sit and listen to a bunch of folk songs. Undeterred, John proceeded to plug his guitar into the Echoplex and blasted the audience with a performance that resulted in a standing ovation.

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One World (1977), Tracks 1-6

After Sunday’s Child, John decided that he needed some time away from recording and his ever-skeptical view of the music business. He headed out to Jamaica, and while he was there, was introduced to the master of dub, Lee “Scratch” Perry. When John finally returned to the UK with the desire to re-enter the studio, he recorded One World, which saw John introduce some of the influences from his trip to Jamaica in tracks such as “Big Muff” (written with Lee Scratch Perry) and “Smiling Stranger”. The album was produced by Chris Blackwell, and is another example of John’s hunger for experimentation. The album also features Steve Winwood on Moog synthesizer. One of the many highlights from this album is the incredible and truly ambient track “Small Hours”, which was recorded around 3:00 in the morning, outside in the open air, next to a lake on a farm owned by Chris Blackwell. It features the sounds of nature’s very own session musicians, as the geese and the lapping water can be heard playing their part along with a passing mail train in the distance.

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Grace And Danger (1980), Tracks 7-12

Grace and Danger is a deep, painful and openly honest account of the breakdown of John’s relationship with his wife Beverley, a singer-songwriter in her own right, who he met and married in 1969. John was originally hired to be Beverley’s backing guitarist, which eventually lead to them releasing two albums (Stormbringer and The Road To Ruin) as John & Beverley Martyn for Island records. The songs on Grace and Danger are not in anyway spiteful or of a bitter naturein fact, they are quite the opposite. At times they are reflective, optimistic with false hope, a plea to be understood. Unlike a Hollywood movie, there is no happy ending here. The release of the album was delayed for over a year due to the fact that Chris Blackwell found the album too openly disturbing, given that he knew both parties so well. John eventually demanded that the album be released, telling Blackwell, “Please get it out! I don’t give a damn about how sad it makes you feel—it’s what I’m about: direct communication of emotion.” Rolling Stone described Grace and Danger as “a very strong outing, placing him in a class with such intelligent eclectics as Joan Armatrading and Joni Mitchell.”

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Sapphire (1984), Tracks 13-14

For a brief period after Grace and Danger, John Left Island Records and signed to Warner Brothers releasing two albums, Glorious Fool (1981), which was produced by Phil Collins and featured Eric Clapton on guitar, and Well Kept Secret (1982). Both releases saw John’s guitar playing taking more of a backseat role, with keyboards and  drum machines featured more prominently and s well as live shows with a full band. John rejoined Island in 1984 and headed for Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas to record Sapphire with the help of Robert Palmer, who somewhat rescued the sessions as John was constantly falling out with the assigned production team. Again very little of John’s guitar playing is distinguishable from the now favored synth layers, as even his own guitar was now being fed through electronics, unfortunately with no real groundbreaking results.

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Piece By Piece (1986), Tracks 15-16

Piece By Piece was my introduction to the music of John Martyn and was played to me in 1987 on vinyl by a good friend of mine. I was 18 at the time and the thing that struck me on that very first listen was the honesty pouring out of John’s lyrics and the vocal delivery that convinced me that this guy means every word. The production and songwriting on Piece by Piece in my mind is far superior to that of the previous two records (Well Kept Secret and Sapphire) it indicates John on a more settled path once again, although it would not remain settled for long. Piece By Piece was John’s last studio album for Island as Chris Blackwell sold the company to the major label PolyGram, and John was later dropped and was without a record deal for the first time in over 20 years.

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Johnny Boy Would Love This! (2011)

In 1995, I met  and became friends with John and was fortunate to be in a position to help him sign a record deal with a label that I worked for in the UK. I worked with John on four albums before he sadly passed away in 2009. Later that same year, I was approached by John’s good friend and Chicago-based record Producer, Jim Tullio, to help coordinate and compile a tribute album to John that he was putting together. The album would contain brand new recordings of John’s classic songs performed by artists who had been influenced by John’s music. We secured thirty artists including: Beck, Snow Patrol, David Gray, Robert Smith (The Cure), Phil Collins, Joe Bonamassa, The Emperors of Wyoming (featuring Butch Vig) plus Academy Award winners, The Swell Season. Released in August 2011, the album titled Johnny Boy Would Love This: A Tribute to John Martyn received critical acclaim, helping music lovers to discover the sweet little mystery of John Martyn.

New Cool Collection: Staff Picks

Happy Monday, Murfieland!

We’re starting this week off on a sweet note by announcing our newest Cool Collection in the marketplace…Staff Picks!

A little birdie told us the Cool Collections are a big hit. So far, we’ve launched the Top 100 albums of all time and the Top 100 debut albums. We wanted to include our favorite recommendations into the mix, hand-picked by the entire staff at Murfie.

You can find our newest Cool Collection anytime by checking the left sidebar of our marketplace—and you can expect fresh Staff Picks every week, of course!

Happy browsing :-)

Curious CDs

Here’s a great genre-bending album for this weeks’s most interesting disc (if you don’t mind a hint of goofiness in your tunes):

Take a Bite Outta Rhyme: A Rock Tribute to Rap – Various Artists

imageThe Facts:

  • This is a collection of well-known rap songs that have been re-invented by bands like Cottonmouth Kings, Everlast, and the always-ridiculous Bloodhound Gang
  • When listening to this album, you should not expect it to be FCC clean
  • Hearing Dynamite Hack sing “Boyz-N-The-Hood” in a nonchalant tone might be the most hilarious thing you’ll ever hear

It’s curious to hear how something sounds coming from a new context. On that note, have you heard of Richard Cheese, the lounge singer who re-makes songs like “Baby Got Back” in a completely new tone? There are a lot of great String Tributes out there too, covering everyone from Linkin Park to Fleetwood Mac. Surely Weird Al approves!