All posts filed under: Music

Writing about music (to distinguish these posts from music I make).

Big Ears Festival 2019

Big Ears Thursday evening: Welcome to Knoxville! Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan at the Standard were superb. I’ve wanted to see Bill for a long time, and getting to stand three feet in front of him and watch his fingers was mesmerizing. Since they play so quietly the sound was excellent. Can’t say the same for Mercury Rev at the Mill & Mine. The music would’ve been nice, but it was overpowered by a booming cloud of muddy bass guitar colliding with oh-so typical howitzer-level body-assaulting kick drum. Obnoxious “rock” drum sound in general. Do sound guys go to asshole school to learn this technique? I’ve seen so many concerts ruined by this kind of drum mix… On the other hand, I loved the Mathias Eick Quintet at the Standard — Norwegian jazz (piano, bass, drums, violin, trumpet) — inventive, dynamic, and soulful — and played at a very comfortable volume, so you could hear every element.… Continue reading

Delirious desire

It’s easy to understand why we remember songs when we’ve heard them dozens or hundreds of times. But there are also songs that seize a permanent spot in our memory despite being heard only, say, four or five times.

For me, one of those songs is “Say You” by Ronnie Dove. It barely cracked the Top 40 in late September 1964. It was the last track on the B-side of Ronnie’s Right or Wrong LP — kind of a weird position for a single… The follow-up single, a cover of Wanda Jackson’s great “Right or Wrong,” and a bigger hit, was the last track on side A. (Incidentally, Wanda’s song is another of those I heard only a handful of times back in the day, but never, ever forgot — like “Say You,” it’s one of my favorites.)

“Say You” is a great-sounding Nashville record (maybe recorded at Studio B, like Dove’s “Right or Wrong”?… Continue reading

Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Mary Mary” (1966)

For aspiring musicians in the 1960s, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was hugely influential. If Bob Dylan turned rock into “music for adults” on a lyrical level, the Butterfield Band did the same thing musically.

The band had a ferocious, street-tough sound, best heard early on in What’s Shakin’ cuts like “One More Mile” and “Good Morning Little School Girl.” The performances on their first full (eponomously-titled) Elektra album were great, but despite the instruction on the back of the jacket to play it loud*, the sound itself, the production, was a tiny bit distant, as if you were standing at the back of the club. What’s Shakin’ put you right at the front edge of the stage. (I don’t think Butterfield achieved that degree of in-your-face toughness again until 1969’s Keep On Movin’, produced by Jerry Ragovoy.)

The first album was straight blues, pure Chicago.… Continue reading

Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Painted Bird” (1982)

In the early 1980s, when I was the guitarist in The Nebulas, one of my main inspirations was John McGeoch’s work in Magazine and the Banshees. Not only his playing, which was and still is some of the most inventive in all of pop/rock, but his skill at orchestrating a song — or an entire album — with his wildly varied guitar sounds. He did this to some extent in Magazine, but there he was sharing space with Dave Formula’s excellent keyboard arrangements. The Banshees were a guitar-bass-drums outfit, so John’s layered guitar parts usually featured the hooks; they carried the songs, instrumentally meshing with Severin’s simple but crucial basslines (check out the Severin-McGeoch harmonies opening “Cascade”) and Budgie’s propulsive drumming.

In fact, I consider Ju Ju one of the greatest guitar albums ever, not because of “guitar hero” showoff pyrotechnics, but precisely because of McGeoch’s inventiveness in orchestrating the songs — and his skill at translating his ideas to the fretboard (and incidently, although some of his riffs may seem simple, they are not easy to play well!).… Continue reading

Leon Russell/Joe Cocker, “Delta Lady” (1969-70)

If you had been leafing through Rolling Stone in 1970, this A&M Records ad for the latest Joe Cocker single might’ve caught your eye:
Delta Lady ad 1970

The visual pun stuck in my mind; years later I googled and found the image (it doesn’t seem to be online any more). The song, written and recorded by Leon Russell the year before, fits in two traditions, which can also be thought of as two fantasies:

1. Back to the Garden, which in ’69 would’ve meant Eden/Woodstock, Nature.

Please don’t ask how many times I found you
Standing wet and naked in the garden…

The country vs. the city (countless songs about this at the time) was a big part of the Garden myth:

There are concrete mountains in the city
And pretty city women live inside them
And yet it seems the city scene is lacking
I’m so glad you’re waiting for me in the country

2.… Continue reading

Dionne Warwick, “(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls” (1968)

There’s an art to making a catchy pop song in an odd time signature — “odd” meaning something other than the vastly popular 4/4 and 3/4 (“waltz time”) meters. Despite the overwhelming popularity of those two meters, if a great song has time changes that flow naturally, no reason it can’t top the charts.

Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” (1959) was the pioneer, a huge hit in 5/4 time (counted “ONE-two-three-ONE two” — listen for the kick drum on those “ones”).

The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” shifts from 4/4 to 3/4 (or 6/8) in the turnaround (the phrase “Strawberry Fields Forever”), with a possible bar of 7 thrown in…

Redbone’s “Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) is in 4/4, but adds in a bar of 2/4 — that little hiccup — after every other measure in the chorus:

Marie Marie la voodoo veau
She’ll put a spell on you (hiccup)
Marie Marie…

The Beatles went crazy in “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” — you can hear 4/4, 3/4, 5/4, maybe 9/8, 10/8, — all over the place.… Continue reading