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.


This Week in Music History (May 21st-27th)

What’s music history got for us this week? Learn up and boogie down!

300492-large5/21- On this day in 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released the single “Ohio” in reaction to the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings during which unarmed college students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard.

2174-large5/22- On this day in 1965, The Beatles reached No.1 on the US singles chart with their track “Ticket to Ride”. The song was the group’s eighth No.1 hit. It was also used in the Beatles’ second film Help! and was a part of the film’s soundtrack.

375787-large5/23- On this day in 1970, Paul McCartney‘s debut solo album McCartney began a three-week run atop the US album chart. Apart from a few vocal contributions by Linda McCartney, McCartney performed and recorded the entire album as a solo project.

101405-large5/24- On this day in 1974, jazz legend, bandleader, composer and pianist Duke Ellington died of lung cancer and pneumonia at age 75. Ellington’s career spanned over 50 years; he was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1966, and the United States Mint launched a new coin featuring his face in 2009.

32093-large5/25– On this day in 1968, Simon and Garfunkel‘s fourth studio album Bookends became the duo’s second US No.1 hit. The album was a breakthrough for the pair, launching them to superstar status. It contained their No.1 hit single “Mrs. Robinson”, which went on to win a Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

12589-large5/26- On this day in 1990, the top five positions on the US singles chart were held by female artists for the first time. Madonna was at No.1 with “Vogue”, members of Heart were at No.2, Sinead O’Connor at No.3, Wilson Phillips at No.4, and Janet Jackson at No. 5.

114141-large5/27- On this day in 1977, The Sex Pistols‘ single “God Save the Queen” was released in the United Kingdom. Although the track sold over 200,000 copies in one week and peaked at No.2 on the UK charts, it was banned by TV, radio, and stores because of its controversial lyrics.

Pick up these pieces of music history in our CD marketplace! Every album purchase comes with unlimited streaming and downloads in mp3, aac, and lossless formats FLAC and ALAC. :-)

This Week in Music History (May 15th-21st)

What’s music history got for us this week? Learn up and boogie down!

Rolling Stones - Black and Blue5/15- On this day in 1976, The Rolling Stones hit No.1 on the US album chart with Black and Blue. The album was the band’s sixth No. 1 hit, and its first featuring Ronnie Wood as the replacement for guitarist Mick Taylor.

Beach Boys - Pet Sounds5/16- On this day in 1966, The Beach Boys released their now-iconic eleventh studio album Pet SoundsThe album is considered their masterpiece and one of the most influential records ever released. In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it No.2 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

7872-large5/17- On this day in 1975, Elton John released his ninth studio album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. It became the first album to debut at No.1 on the US pop charts, and stayed there for seven weeks. It was eventually certified 3x platinum.

5820-large5/18- On this day in 2011, John Lennon‘s handwritten lyrics for The Beatles‘ 1967 hit “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” sold for $237,132 at auction in Beverly Hills, California. Although popular speculation held that the song was written about drug LSD, Lennon insisted that the song was inspired by a picture Lennon’s son Julian had drawn of a classmate named Lucy Vodden.

11051-large5/19- On this day in 1973, Stevie Wonder went to No. 1 on the US singles chart with his track “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”. The song, which was his third US No.1, won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

5943-large5/20- On this day in 1966, John Entwistle and Keith Moon of The Who were running late to a gig and unable to arrive at the venue on time. Bandmates Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey enlisted the help of a bass player and drummer from a local band in order to play the set. The replacements played until Entwistle and Moon arrived in the middle of the set.

12936-large5/21- On this day in 2011, Adele reached No.1 on the US singles chart with “Rolling in the Deep” from 21, her second studio album. The song was the Billboard Year End Hot 100 Number One Single of 2011 and received three Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Short Form Music Video. 

Find these music history gems in our music marketplace! Every CD purchase comes with unlimited streaming and downloads in mp3, aac, FLAC and ALAC. :-)


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”

MI0002921033Brothers
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”

This Week in Music History (May 7th-13th)

What’s music history got for us this week? Learn up and boogie down!

The Mamas and the Papas5/7- On this day in 1966, The Mamas and the Papas began a three-week run atop the US singles chart with “Monday Monday”. The group won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group for this song.

The Beatles - Past Masters5/8- On this day in 1964, The Beatles began a 14-week run on top of the US singles chart. The reign was a result of three back-to-back No. 1 hits, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (on top for seven weeks), “She Loves You” (on top for two weeks), and “Can’t Buy Me Love” (on top for five weeks).

Louis Armstrong - Hello Dolly5/9- On this day in 1964, Louis Armstrong hit No. 1 on the US singles chart with “Hello, Dolly”, making him, at 62, the oldest artist to ever hit No. 1. This record was broken in 2011, when Tony Bennett topped the charts at 85 with his album Duets II.

12646-large5/10– On this day in 1965, The Rolling Stones recorded the first version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” at Chess Studios in Chicago. Although the original track featured Brian Jones on harmonica, a re-recording completed two days later in Hollywood contained a different beat.

365913-large5/11- On this day in 1981, Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley died at age 36 after melanoma spread to his lungs and brain. His birthday, February 6th, was proclaimed a national holiday in Jamaica to commemorate him, and his compilation album, Legend, became the best-selling reggae album of all time.

46-large5/12- On this day in 1973, Led Zeppelin began a three-week run at No. 1 on the US album chart with Houses of the Holythe band’s fifth album. The group’s third No. 1 album, it went on to spend 39 weeks on the US chart.

12921-large5/13- On this day in 1970, the world premiere of The Beatles‘ film “Let it Be” took place in New York City. The film, a documentary about the band’s experiences recording and rehearsing songs for the album Let it Be, features a rooftop performance by the Fab Four.

You can own these and other pieces of music history by hitting up our CD marketplace! Each album purchase comes with unlimited streaming and downloads in mp3, aac, FLAC and Apple Lossless. :-)


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.


[VIDEO] Start-ups in Wisconsin gain national funding

The start-up scene is thriving in Wisconsin! That’s why Murfie’s co-founders, Matt and Preston, along with other start-up founders in Madison, are increasingly reaching out to build new connections and partnerships on the East & West coasts.

“Smart growth” means thinking ahead on many levels, and access to capital at the right time and in the right amounts on good terms is important. While most of Murfie’s and other local tech start-ups’ investment still comes from close to home, we’re looking to a future of strong growth for our company, and for the ecosystem we’re a part of—which will involve larger Venture Capital (“VC”) investments from farther away.

That means we’re making sure we build strong relationships now. Trust me, an urgent need to raise 10 million dollars is a terrible way start a conversation. Better conversations with growth capital flow naturally when investors have warm introductions, see a company’s value, have time to see its plan and get comfortable with the team executing it. That comfort comes more easily when investors and their colleagues know a region has access to the people and resources fast growth requires. This all builds over time in a virtuous cycle.

We know Madison is a great place to build a tech start-up, and it has the depth needed to support our growth. Now, coastal capital is starting to know it too. We’re making sure the pool of investors who also understand that gets broader and deeper every day, so it’s there when the time is right to raise growth rounds.

Check out this video by Wisconsin Public Television, highlighting the connections Wisconsin start-ups are making to ensure a secure round of Venture Capital:

http://video.wpt.org/video/2365179996/

Sing Forward! Music Video Release & Remix Contest

Access to affordable healthcare is important.  This is particularly true for those who make sacrifices in order to follow their passions.  Musicians, artists and, more generally, solo entrepreneurs can all benefit from having reliable access to health insurance, but the options and resources available are not always well known.

Enter “Sing Forward.”

Sing Forward is a music video released today by a collective of Wisconsin musicians, including Anna Vogelzang, Myles Coyne, Shawn Pierce and many more.  The song aims to promote awareness of the options provided at healthcare.gov and encourage musicians to protect themselves.

In addition to the video released today, Murfie is a proud sponsor of the Sing Forward Remix Contest.  Participants are encouraged to submit a remix, cover or singalong video by February 14th.

Four winners will be chosen to receive a prize package including a year of Murfie Gold, $10 in Murfie credit and prizes from other local music lovers, including concert tickets, free albums and a cash prize from Ninjas for Health.

To watch the Sing Forward video and get information on the remix contest, visit SingForwardWI.com.