April Picks: Banjos and Gypsies

There’s nothing better than New Music, and lately I have had so much new music, that you should totally be jealous. Well, new music to me. Let me tell you all a secret–and make sure to keep this very hush hush, it’s way confidential–whether you identify as someone who can’t get enough of books or as someone who can’t get enough of music, one of THE best places to work is a good public library. Why? Simple. Worlds of music that you hadn’t thought of listening to are at your disposal, and one of the best library jobs to discover new music with? Grunt labor. See, as far as library hierarchies go, shelving aides are pretty close to the bottom. But even in that position we have something special. I work in the AV department. I love music. Can you imagine a better part time job? Sure it may not be the most intellectually stimulating thing in the world but the opportunities I have to discover bands and musicians that never would have come to me otherwise. And I also have the chance to check out that album/artist I had been meaning to check out and never got around to. That’s the coolest part of this job…the perks rock. Literally.

In the spirit of music overload, I’m going to start doing a monthly guide to awesome new shit. This is the stuff you might be familiar with. It’s stuff you might never have heard of. But I guarantee you that what I recommend here has something worth looking into. So when I post these monthly guides of awesome, you might wanna do something so bold like bookmark this page. If you don’t listen to all the artists in one go, you should come back and finish off the list. Broaden your horizons. And feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments.

And with no further ado: April picks

The Shook Twins

This first band isn’t actually a library discovery, it’s a discovery that comes from people I’m lucky enough to know who have amazing taste in music. One day he shared the link to their facebook page–with no comment about who they were, it was just the link–and I, being ever curious, followed it. The Shook Twins: a folk outfit with tricks like beatboxing up their sleeves and a sense of humor and a wide selection of instruments. The trio is made up of sisters Laurie and Katelyn and Kyle Volkman (otherwise known as “the third twin”) on upright bass. The Twins moved to Portland, OR and have shared the stage with a ton of other musicians and were invited to battle their hearts out at the 2011 Northwest String Summit in North Plains, OR.

When I first listened to them, I knew none of that. What I knew was that in the first video I watched of theirs, “Window”, they were using a telephone receiver as a mic. And that in that first song I’d ever heard–the lyrics were catchy, smart, and the music went perfectly with them. I knew right then that this was a song I could have on repeat and not get tired of. It’s a song with hooks and a song that I don’t mind getting stuck in my head. The rest of their album (also called Window) is equally wonderful. From funny (“Pink and Purple”) to poignant (“Shine On”) to statement-making (“Eyes to the Polls”), and even traditional porch tales (“Potter’s Daughter”) the Shook Twins have it all. And Window is an album of nonstop wit and joy. If you’re not a convert to folk/anti-folk/bluesy sounds, you should certainly give the Shook Twins a listen anyway. My guess is they’ll take your entire world, stick it in a snow globe, shake it vigorously, and leave you wondering what the hell took you so long to realize that this world existed. Open the door. Walk in. Explore.

(and the track on the album is way adorable. Their nieces really do make this album extra adorable.)

And a final video, that you should watch if you’ve been enjoying the sounds of the Shook Twins and want to see them in full glory….here’s the best video EVER. It’s long, but you’ll laugh. And then you’ll wanna watch it a few times over.

Balkan Beat Box

Balkan Beat Box has been on my “to-listen-to” list ever since I came to love Gogol Bordello a few years ago. And it just never happened. I think I gave them a shot once upon a time, and it wasn’t up to my standards at the time. Well, one night I’m at the library, shelving, and I come upon a traditional gypsy album, which sparks the synapses in my head that remind me that I’ve been wanting to give Balkan Beat Box another shot. These days, gypsy-infused music is my thing. There’s something about the excitement, fun, and catchiness that makes a dark song darker and a fun song even more fun. So I took that album home with me and checked out the two available Balkan Beat Box albums. From the first song on their self-titled album, I was hooked. I listened to it from beginning to end, and was so excited to finally have come to know the joy of Balkan Beat Box. Now, if you’ve been living under a rock since 2005, when the first album by Balkan Beat Box was released, you may not know who they are. Or you may have heard of them in passing and just not really known who they are, sorta like I did. Well. BBB is an American-Israeli group that brings traditional musical styles of the mediterranian and the Balkan with dance hall rhythms and hip-hop and electronica. It’s a band that reminds you that music is an ever evolving thing. BBB was originally founded by Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan (Firewater) but has since expanded to include Tomer Yosef as a core member. This is a group that sees music as revolutionary. This is a group that defies standards and makes their own set of standards, and they do it ever so well. If you haven’t heard of them–take this opportunity to introduce yourself to the sounds of Balkan Beat Box. And make sure to pick up their latest album, “Give”. I know I plan on doing so.

Not a video from the band, obviously, but cool nonetheless. It’s a beautiful coming together of traditional/modern musical aesthetics and traditional/modern dance. it’s pretty neat.

From the newest album, Give.


Overwhelmed yet? good. The thing is, I’ve heard so much more over the course of the month, and this would be a blog in like 5 parts if I were to give each musician the time they deserve. So the next few mentions are the honorable the mentions, the people I’ve got to mention because not doing so would be terrible and inexcusible, but with just one video and a few words. Partly because you may already know at least one of them.

Abigail Washburn

I’m just now starting to really listen to her, so don’t be surprised if she comes up in conversation again. She’s a singer-songwriter who takes the banjo and makes it an instrument you can’t get enough of. As a writer, she weaves elements of the past, present and immediate moment and stories that are both familiar and foreign (often literally. She sings in Chinese occasionally). I present to you my favorite song (so far) by Abigail Washburn and The Sparrow Quartet performing “Strange Things”

Regina Spektor

Okay. We all know who she is. So I will add little to her bio here except to say that Regina Spektor is amazing. duh, right? I’ll link you to two videos here because the first I discovered after checking out the “Live in London” CD/DVD and the other because SHE HAS A NEW ALBUM COMING OUT! HA!

I think my favorite part of this song, is the way it’s so stripped down, so bare. It’s just her, just her voice. And it’s amazing.

I love the darkness in this song. It’s quite a bit heavier than I’ve grown to expect from her. I’m pretty excited.

All right….those are my biggest picks. Also, Jack White has a new album. You should totally go get it. Because Jack White is just cool. And on that note….Enjoy! And have a wonderful, happy weekend full of great music and enjoyable company! And remember to feel free to share your own music recommendations in the comments if you’d like!


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