Songs in the Key of Timberlake?

RStevie Wonders' 'Songs in the Key of Life'arely have I seen such an egregious display of ignorance. The August 10th review of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 masterpiece “Songs in the Key of Life” at Amazon.com is so hopeless it seems to be a carefully prepared troll for intelligent commentary to offset its ridiculous stance.

The alleged reviewer says “It’s sad that we live in a day and age where people like Stevie Wonder are trying to make a quick buck by ripping off other artists without paying their own dues. I’m sure Justin would be fuming if he heard this record, for it sounds just like his own.”

Hello? Stevie Wonder was stealing from Justin Timberlake five years before Timberlake was born?

Know your music. As Samuel Clemens wrote, it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and remove all doubt.

Entranced by Little Fluffy Clouds

Trance—according to the dictionary, it means “a state of partly suspended animation or inability to function; a somnolent state (as of deep hypnosis); a state of profound abstraction or absorption.” As a musical genre, it’s not generally my cuppa, but on occasion, when I thought no one would notice, I’ve tracked down a trance channel on internet radio for background music while working late at night. The driving beat is as effective as caffeine, and the repetitive, often nonsensical, lyrics require no attention and therefore cause little or no distraction.

Still exulting in my web stream from San Diego’s KPRI, I’m hearing lots of really weird stuff. No; not the regular playlist–that’s pretty normal, albeit top-quality, rock. But when they cut to local commercials, the web stream instead cuts to ‘filler’ music. It seems to be someone’s 5-CD changer set to random. I’ve heard Traffic’s “Glad” from “John Barleycorn” four times in three days; something or other by Joe Satriani (to paraphrase a joke about bagpipe tunes, when you’ve heard one Satriani recording, you’ve heard ’em both) way more often than I care to, some blues I don’t recognize but intend to sooner or later, and a trance-ish track which has tranced its way onto my playlist.

The Orb's 'Little Fluffy Clouds CD singleAfter a voiceover intro sounding like a BBC-TV ad, a man’s voice asks “What were the skies like when you were young?” to which a youngish sounding female voice responds at length:

“They went on forever. When I, when we lived in Arizona the skies always had little fluffy clouds in them. And they were long and clear and there were lots of stars at night. And when it would rain they would all turn . . . they were beautiful, the most beautiful skies as a matter of fact. The sunsets were purple and red and yellow and… on fire. And the clouds would catch the colors everywhere. That’s unique, ’cause I used to look at them all the time. You don’t see that.”

After hearing it in toto three times in two days, I realized I was starting to enjoy it. A quick Google search for the oft-repeated phrase ‘little fluffy clouds’ led right to the source: The Orb.

Rickie Lee JonesThe Orb is a long-standing English group which has gone through multiple transformations, and is apparently still going strong. Their website provides precious little information, but much is available elsewhere if you dig for it. I’ll at least dig for some fluffy white clouds.

Oh; the youngish female voice on the ’91 release? Rickie Lee Jones. I guess 36 is young-ish, but then, when you make a living with your voice, it’s no surprise if it even sounds good just describing fluffy white clouds.

Water Song

I‘ve gotten over the urge to completely deconstruct, analyze, and understand every song I enjoy. It’s easier to skip right over d, a, and u, and just enjoy. Moments ago, I had the marvelous experience of hearing a beloved tune from years ago, from a completely new perspective.

As a teen, I was heavily influenced by my older brother’s musical taste. That’s because he was bigger than me, and considered himself in charge of our record player. One of the many bands I was forcibly exposed to in this manner was Hot Tuna, a conglomeration as unusual as it sounds.

Hot Tuna's 'Burgers'Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, like Robin Trower when recording with Procol Harum, preferred blues to straightforward rock. Working with Airplane bassist Jack Casady, Jorma formed Hot Tuna in the late 60s as a side thing to the Airplane, but early in the 70s he and Casady formally abandoned the Airplane and concentrated on Hot Tuna and solo efforts.

Their third album, “Burgers“, sports their usual electric grunge blues, but tucked in the middle is a gorgeous bit of joy which sounds as fresh today as it did the first time I heard it 30 years ago. “Water Song”, an instrumental featuring Jorma’s acoustic guitar in a mesmerising ebb and flow, is exuberant in the extreme. Casady’s bass is deep and rich, and serves as a comfortable foil for the high, shimmering splashing notes from the guitar. Sliding, running, spinning in circles, Kaukonen displays the fiery prowess which makes him a formidable presence in the electric blues world, and a joy to behold in an acoustic setting like “Water Song.”

Sometimes, it’s enough just to sit back with my eyes closed and remember how beautiful some things are.

A Tale of Two Buckleys

Once in a while, I find amazing huge gaps in my musical knowledge. I realize no one can know it all. Nevertheless, it’s always a surprise to me when I hear, for the first time, a musician who’s been around for years.

Listening to the best radio station on earth, San Diego’s KPRI (I live in Sacramento, but now you can listen online!) I heard a song that sounded faintly familiar, but struck me more powerfully at this point in my life. KPRI’s playlist page informed that “Last Goodbye” was by someone named Jeff Buckley. Struck no chords with me, so I went digging.

Digging at JeffBuckley.com revealed that, after the beginnings of what looked like an enormously promising career, Buckley drowned in 1997 at the age of 30. Further digging led to TimBuckley.com and the surprise that Buckley’s father, who died in 1975 at the age of 28, was considered one of the most innovative musicians of the 60s.

I’ve never heard anything of Tim Buckley’s. “Last Goodbye” is the only Jeff Buckley song I’ve heard.

More research is indicated.

Ain’t Gonna Ride That Whiskey Train

Keith Reid’s lyrics for Procul Harum have always been a preeminent part of the group’s presence. Reid as poet is a lyrical chameleon. From tracks like ‘Still There’ll Be More’ which is both scatological and frightening to ‘A Salty Dog’ whose tender lyrics command the gorgeous symphony treatment it received, Reid rarely tries the same trick twice, and just as rarely is he simple. Whatever he is, however, in the case of one of my favorite Procul Harum songs, simple seems to be exactly what he was trying for.

‘Whiskey Train’ from the album ‘Home’ opens with the lines

Pourin' my bottle down the drainAin't gonna ride that whiskey train

By the time we reach these lines in the last verse

Gonna find a girl who'll make me choose'Tween lovin' her and drinkin' booze

it’s clear that Reid was composing a simple, direct, country and western song. Fortunately Robin Trower got hold of it before it suffered such ignominy. Opening with Trower’s guitar blazing, BJ Wilson starts hammering his drum kit, trying to keep up. He never quite does, but he never quits trying. Trower seems bent on convincing us it was never a country song, but was meant to be screaming electric all along.

I, for one, agree.

Museum of Making Music

Bernie met us at the door.

“We close in an hour. An hour isn’t long enough.”

I had been cheered by the fact that we walked through the front doors without being charged, but over Bernie’s shoulder I saw the Admissions desk with its $5 fee posted. $5 isn’t much, but we didn’t have it. I didn’t tell Bernie.

To prove his point, Bernie, one of the docents, took us on a lightening tour. Ten minutes later, it was clear that, as my brother is wont to say, the admission would be cheap at twice the price.

Breaking the last century arbitrarily into 5 eras, displays throughout the museum contain over 450 instruments and and endless variety of interactive exhibits. The Martin guitar display boasts one of two 045 Jimmy Rodgers Martins and Eric Clapton’s 000-28 Martin acoustic. As you walk into the lobby, there