While lying around the old homestead during the holiday, use your iPad to school yourself as a music hipster. A nifty new free app, eMusic's Scenes, features bundled content for a variety of "scenes" -- including Italian opera (1810-1915), Memphis gospel (1945-1970), Brazilian pop (1950-2010), Detroit soul (1960-1975), Minneapolis rock and roll (1980-1995), Atlanta hip-hop (1990-2010) and more.
Each scene features a timeline and an overview, plus videos, photos, song samples and artist bios, plus extra features for eMusic subscribers. It's a fluid (though occasionally buggy) app that allows you to swipe through music history and plug into certain nodes along the way.
The Athens college rock (1980-2000) section bridges R.E.M. and Pylon all the way up to Of Montreal. The video offerings include an hour-and-a-half R.E.M.concert from the early '80s featuring a blond, short-haired Michael Stipe in his prime.
The Chicago blues section (1945-1965) spotlights Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Howlin' Wolf, J.B. Lenoir, Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Sonny Boy Williamson and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. There's a steamy video of Rush striding onto a fancy concert hall stage before a lily-white audience and opening "I Can't Quit You Baby" with a piercing wail.
The Chicago section unfortunately also highlights some of the shortcomings of the app, namely in the lack of editing. There's a video, for instance, of "Holwin' Wolfe." The overviews are written by eMusic staffers, but all the buttons for "more" information take you to Wikipedia articles. Weak.
Still, it's a fun way to fish around and discover music -- a model for what multimedia apps should be aiming for. I made a few discoveries myself, namely the bands that emerged from L.A. club the Smell during the last decade. Score!