beautiful carelessly sultry

Songwriter friend Charlie Cheney keeps telling me that song lyrics should lean heavily on nouns. Show, don’t tell. Pack the song with people doing things in places with stuff, instead of talking about feelings and interior monologues and all those abstracts.

A handful of years ago, Charlie and a group of friends wrote a song which was nothing but nouns. It didn’t make much sense, but it sure had nouns.

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What if the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Just the Headlamp of an Oncoming Train?

After repeated listenings to Cream’s Born Under a Bad Sign a few years ago I went to my music room to play around on my bass. Rather than trying to copy Jack Bruce’s bass line, I played what it made me feel like.

Speeding it up a little and moving down and back up a few times, all I needed was a brief refrain at the end, a turnaround between verses, and it felt complete.

What if the Light at the End of the Tunnel is Just the Headlamp of an Oncoming Train?

A rockabilly shuffle on the drums is loads of fun, but it’s hard to keep up if you’re not practicing regularly. The drums seem to have survived most of this trip.

When you commit to writing 14 songs in 28 days there’s a bit of a time constraint. When I started recording the springy lead guitar I realised that, though it was recording, it wasn’t coming out of the amp, and it wasn’t coming through the computer to my headphones. I could hear a tinny little noise straight off the strings on my Stratocaster, but even that was muffled by the headphones.

Knowing I could do it over, I soldiered on.

I didn’t do it over. This is what I sound like playing lead guitar when I can’t hear myself. Maybe I should try it more often.

Blues without harmonica seemed wrong. Then the piano started complaining about being left out.

I’ve written a handful of short verses which I might record some day, but if Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust can survive as an instrumental for more than a decade, this one will be okay.

A Flute for All Seasons

Classical music has a long history of instrument-swapping. Lute tunes transcribed for guitar. Harpsichord pieces performed on piano. Since guitars and pianos are easier to come by these days than lutes or harpsichords, this is a good thing for modern performers.

Sometimes it’s clear the transcription is simply to allow a performer to indulge in a work written for an instrument other than the one the play. Wynton Marsalis playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” on trumpet comes to mind.

One of the first compact discs I bought when they became commonly available was Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” which had long been a favorite of mine. Rather than the traditional violin, this was arranged for flute and performed by James Galway.

It’s a very different sound, of course, and Galway makes it work. The flute isn’t quite as delicate as a violin can be, but a skilled flutist can make us forget that during the peaceful movements. When winter arrives, though, it seems to have been written for the instrument. The biting winds of winter are colder in a flute than a violin.

I no longer own that copy. These days, my favorite recording of the Seasons is Lorin Maazel’s arrangement and performance on the traditional instrument.

But when winter comes, I always miss the flute.

Tyranny of Beauty in an Ambient Tangerine Dream

The idea of progressive rock appeals to me. Take elements of classical and jazz and blend them into some variation of rock and make it, well, progressive. Since it requires composing, arranging, and performing skills beyond that of 3-chord blues and pop bands, it’s not always executed well. For myself, since I’m as fussy and opinionated about jazz and classical as I am about any other genre, I’m three times as fussy about prog rock.
Continue reading Tyranny of Beauty in an Ambient Tangerine Dream