Arts & Humanities

What we’re listening to

Eyes tired from Zoom meetings? Ready to chill with something other than Netflix? Try these faculty album recommendations.

Album covers on a shelf
(Shutterstock image)

With folks stuck at home and summer concert tours canceled, The Well wondered what albums the music department faculty have turned to for respite and release while sheltering at home this spring. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Professor David Garcia recommends two albums by The Band, whose members once voluntarily self-quarantined in a pink house for the sole purpose of making music.

 

Music from Big Pink album cover

(Capitol Records)

Soon after shelter-in-place started, I watched the documentary “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” (2019) and began “binge” listening to The Band. I only had their greatest hits, so I downloaded their albums “Music from Big Pink” (1968) and “The Band” (1969) and have been listening to every track since then. I think what most impresses me is their (mostly Robbie Robertson’s) song writing and production, which is so intimate.

(Album cover by Capitol Records)

(Capitol Records)

In fact, “Music from Big Pink” was recorded in a pink house in Woodstock, New York, that most of the band members shared. The idea of living in a house and making music for hours at a time in that house resonates with our current circumstances as we spend almost our entire days here under the same roof.

 

Associate Professor Andrea Bohlman recommends the following albums as a screen-time alternative.

 

"Autoamerican" album cover

(Chrysalis Records)

Blondie “Autoamerican” (1980)

This music tells a story with an epic symphonic vibe and a brassy rhythmic pulse that allow you to lean into feeling a bit moody. Maybe you identify with vocalist Debbie Harry’s spunky sass. A couple of the tracks that cover ska and incorporate reggae beats are both relaxing and a gateway to other sound worlds to seek out for yourself.

 

"The miseducation of Lauryn Hill" album cover

(Columbia Records)

Lauryn Hill “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)

This woman-centered narrative is musically eclectic — listen in and you hear Hill incorporating rap, Caribbean patois, scratching, dancehall and more sounds that weave a spiritually grounded reflection on vulnerability. It pulses in a way that comforts and opens into big topics like love, family and community. This brilliant classic album is one I find challenging and comforting at once.

And for your party playlist — even if it’s a party of one: Debo Band’s “Ere Gobez,” any Prince album (if you don’t already have a favorite, try “Purple Rain”) Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang’s “En Yay Sah” and Black Coffee’s “Pieces of Me.

The tracks on these albums range from Ethiopian jazz and South African electronic dance music to the genre-defying Prince. They can accompany a raucous and loud evening, a romantic night at home or a backyard BBQ where you just want to wiggle, lip-sync and more!

 

Bonus tracks: WXYC DJ and rising junior Roland Martin, aka Dr. Music, recommends a recent discovery.

Ted Lucas album cover

(Riverman Music)

Ted Lucas “Ted Lucas” (1975)

I’ve mostly been listening to this self-titled record by one of the most underappreciated great guitarists of the decade. His album was reissued about three years ago, and it’s only just come to my attention. It’s incredibly soothing stuff, and the instrumentation is effortless. The A-side of the record is unbeatable. It’s been on repeat since April.

 

Assistant Professor Aaron Harcus recommends five of his favorite albums, which span 68 years and range from jazz to hip-hop.

 

Zodiac Suite album cover

(Smithsonian Folkways)

Mary Lou Williams “Zodiac Suite” (1945)

The composer, arranger and pianist Mary Lou Williams is famous in the jazz world for gatherings at her New York City apartment that significantly impacted the music of Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and other bebop musicians in the 1940s and 1950s. She wrote this 12-movement suite as a tribute to a diverse range of artists and public figures at the time, from Ben Webster and Lena Horne to Franklin Roosevelt and Paul Robeson.

 

"Out to lunch" album cover

(Blue Note Records)

Eric Dolphy “Out to Lunch!” (1964)

Out of all my recommendations, this is probably the most challenging. Famous for his virtuosic and dissonant solos on alto sax and bass clarinet as sideman for jazz composer and band leader Charles Mingus, Dolphy recorded this album just months before his tragic death from undiagnosed diabetes while on tour in Berlin.

 

In the dark album cover

(Dynamic Sounds Studio)

Toots and the Maytals “In the Dark” (1973)

Following on the heels of the international success of Funky Kingston, Toots and the Maytals’ “In the Dark” revels in its funky grooves, gospel-inspired vocals and rich acts of signifying (think John Denver’s “Country Roads”). This is one of my favorite albums from this foundational reggae group.

 

Self: volume 1 album cover

(Pimpstrut Records)

Mountain Brothers “Self: Volume 1” (1999)

An absolute classic of underground hip-hop from the late ’90s, this album helped put the Philadelphia group — consisting of Chops (Scott Jung), Peril-L (Christopher Wang) and Styles Infinite (Steve Wei) — on the hip-hop map.

 

she got game album cover

(Jamala Records/Culture Over Everything)

Rapsody “She Got Game” (2013)

Rapsody is one of the most talented lyricists in hip-hop today, and this mixtape features some great verses backed by some incredibly dope beats by Ninth Wonder and Eric G. While her recent albums, “Laila’s Wisdom” (2017) and “Eve” (2019) are both fantastic, her versatile flow and the subtle manipulation of timbre, texture and off-kilter references in songs such as “Song about Nothing” and “My Song” make this one of my favorite Rapsody albums.

 

To sample the albums mentioned in this article, listen to The Well’s playlist on Spotify. We suggest you hit shuffle and let the music lead the way.