The Year the Music Died

By Timothy Gillis

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The passing year has been a tough one for music fans, kicking off the year with the deaths of David Bowie and Glenn Frey in January. Then followed Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire; Beatles’ manager George Martin; Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; and Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest. The snow was just melting when we got news of Merle Haggard succumbing to double pneumonia, and then the Purple Reign came to an end with the death of Prince. The musical year crawled to its close with sad news for fans of folk singer Glenn Yarbrough, jazz singer Bobby Vee, Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings, and rock icon Leonard Cohen.

Muhammad Ali died in June, and although not technically a singer, his persona and clever couplets inspired songs as far-flung as Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free No. 10” to LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.”

One of the foundational components of music is inspiration and tribute, and often the death of a hero can push a musician or band to greater heights. It’s as if even little people can see further when standing on the shoulders of giants. To me, that’s what makes Tribe’s new album “We Got It From Here, Thank You for Your Service” so special. Recorded before Phife Dawg’s death in March, it’s the first studio album for the band in nearly 20 years. It’s got a great genre blend of hip-hop, jazz, rap, and Elton John! But the political power of its lyrics makes it the right album for these times. The hook from “We the People” sounds like all-too-real campaign slogans.

All you black folks, you must go

All you Mexicans, you must go

And all you poor folks, you must go

Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways

So all you bad folks, you must go

Let’s hope 2017 will ring in more great music, and fewer felled stars. What better way to keep these musicians alive than by stuffing stockings with their CD’s?

And here are a few more recommendations from the worlds of retail sales, dance, and public relations.

Juliana Todeschi of Calabro Music Media touts Holly Bowling’s upcoming record, “Better Left Unsung.” Released this week on Royal Potato Family records, it’s a collection of classical music interpretations of Grateful Dead tunes.

Emma Holder, dance instructor and host of WMPG’s radio show “Shaken and Stirred,” said “Gaadi of Truth” by Red Baraat, out of Brooklyn, is “fun. Very danceable and upbeat. So is the new release by Slavic Soul Party, called “Slavic Soul Party plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite.” It’s new meets vintage with a Balkan twist.

Ryan Howard, head clerk at Bull Moose Record Store in South Portland, says the New Year will bring a wide range of new releases. Brian Eno’s ambient album “Reflection,” eclectic alternative rock band The Flaming Lips with “Oczy Mlody,” and metal stars Sepultura’s “Machine Messiah” are all out in January 2107. And of course a gift card can help your recipient be first in line to snag the new cuts.

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