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Doughnut Holes and Roger Miller

Jazz musicians occasionally highlight a melody by playing all the notes around it, leaving a hole where it should be. If you’re paying attention, you’ll “hear” it.

Some smart doughnut shop decided to stop rolling all the doughnut holes back together to make more doughnuts, and just started frying up doughnut holes to sell. Continue reading “Doughnut Holes and Roger Miller”

USSS: Ross Durand

takes a lot of songwriting confidence to take on the challenge of writing an entire song for each line in Bob Dylan’s Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. Takes a lotta songwriting chops to pull it off.

This year it looks like Ross Durand is going to finish this seriously ambitious and musically satisfying project. Continue reading “USSS: Ross Durand”

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.

2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees: All Over the Place

As requested, my random opinionated rant about the 2012 inductees. If this is your first visit, I feel compelled to warn you that I write about music I like, and when I have a reason to write about music I don’t like, it’s brief and to-the-point without feeling the need for explanation.

My blog, my rules. So there.

  • Guns & Roses—Not a fan. It all feels so angry. I’ll get arguments on this one.
  • Red Hot Chili PeppersAirplane and Dani California are huge fun. Otherwise, not a fan.
  • [az]B00000ICNY[/az]Donovan—Can’t even say his name without a visceral reaction of joy. While the rest of popular music was turning angry and antisocial, he was singing songs like I Love My Shirt and Atlantis and Wear Your Love Like Heaven. And don’t forget his rock, and I don’t mean folk-rock. I mean Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (later in this band called Led Zeppelin; you may have heard of it) on Hurdy Gurdy Man and psych-guitarist Jeff Beck on Barabajagal, one of the strangest blistering weird rockers of the era. Finally, the version of Catch the Wind from his Greatest Hits is the primary track on the heartbreaking soundtrack of my youth. There is no finer song about unrequited love. (Alas, the best version only appears on the vinyl version of the album; all others have the original acoustic version which is less powerful by far.)
  • Laura Nyro—A songwriter’s songwriter, tragic early death, yet I’ve never made an emotional connection to her songs.
  • The (Small) Faces—Two iterations of the group, fronted first by Steve Marriott, then by Rod Stewart. Marriott doesn’t get his due today; his vocal on Humble Pie’s 30 Days in the Hole is a match for anything Rod ever sang in his famous raspy drawl (which I also love, by the way.)
  • [az]B001NTWH8K[/az]Beastie Boys—In retrospect, I see they were in the vanguard of something big. Back then, I though they were a parody . . . I just couldn’t figure out, of what?
  • Freddie King—You’re not a rock guitarist if you can’t play Hide Away. In true blues fashion, King stole it from a muddy blend of others, who had nicked it elsewhere and no one really knows who wrote it. The parts you recognize were borrowed from King’s arrangement later by Ted Nugent and others. Clapton and Beck both list Freddie among their influences.
  • Don Kirshner—One night when I was supposed to be in bed, I discovered that you could watch rock and roll on television. (Hey, I was born in the woods in Wisconsin; we didn’t even have a television then.) Seeing people I’d heard on the radio actually doing what they did . . . I was mesmerised. Kirshner also helped bring us The Monkees, which I consider a plus primarily because it gave Nez a launch pad.
  • Cosimo Matassa—Had to look him up, and glad I did. Virtually every R&B recording from New Orleans from the mid-40s to the early 70s came out of one of his studios.
  • [az]B0000067L2[/az]Tom Dowd—Engineers getting their due. Real engineers, as in, the man worked on the Manhattan Project before turning to music. You’ll have a hard time finding an album from the 60s or 70s that doesn’t have his name on it. An incomplete list of folks he recorded, produced, or both: Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Eric Clapton and Derek and the Dominos, Allman Brothers Band, Cream, Dusty Springfield, Rod Stewart, Bette Midler, Chicago and the James Gang. In a seminal moment in rock and roll history, Dowd gave Ginger Baker the rhythm that became the core of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.
  • Glyn Johns—Okay, if you looked for albums not engineered by Tom Dowd, you found this name. The Eagles’ first three albums, f’rinstance. The Who’s Who’s Next?. Zeppelin’s first album (their 3rd and 4th were engineered by his son Andy. Nepotism FTW.)

I’m more interested in engineering these days, as I finally get serious about recording my first album. I know I have good ears, but I need to train them, and learn more about the equipment. Plan to take a course in recording so I can do my own recording, mixing and mastering on the first album. After that, let’s hope I can turn it all over to the professionals and just do what I love best: write emotionally evocative songs.

Winwood Compilation with a Beatles’ Name?

S [az]B003HBM06Q[/az]ince I already own much of what’s on this 4-CD compilation I won’t be buying it (I’ll just get the few Winwood albums I don’t already own) but if you’d like a broad sweeping view of a rare musical wonder, Revolutions is stuffed full of songs you’ve heard forever, or never heard but should have.

It has all of John Barleycorn except Every Mother’s Son; funny to leave off just that one track.

Only a single track from Winwood’s eponymous first solo album (Vacant Chair.) I would have included (also, or instead) Let Me Make Something in Your Life; Steve has this knack for down-to-earth love songs that feel more like real life, and less like ethereal fantasies. (Perhaps I should play this for Best Beloved. Perhaps I should confirm I still have my vinyl copy.)

Over half of Mr. Fantasy shows up; just less than half of Traffic. Hard telling who made the decisions, or why; some fairly obscure stuff is included, some obvious choices like Feelin’ Alright didn’t make it.

Doesn’t really matter, in the end. Just be sure you have as much Winwood around the house as possible, and play it often, and, once in a while, loud.

And, tell your less educated friends. This is a man who has gotten far too little recognition for a stellar body of work.

Blues, Polished, Yet Crunchy: Hollis Brown

A[az]B002P31V3U[/az]t the opening guitar riff, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a good crunchy blues or one of those polished pablum tunes from the radio. Turns out, Hollis Brown’s Show Love is polished and crunchy at the same time. I find myself humming the tune for hours after I’ve heard it, and the musicianship is a nice balance between expected and exceptional. It makes a real difference having a vocalist who sounds like a real person and not an escapee from a boy band.

Neat use of two complementary guitars. Every time the opening riff is repeated it feels more fun. Then the song ends with an inverted version of the riff that seems to die out before it was finished; somebody didn’t feel the need to be overly serious about the whole thing (the word ‘fun’ keeps coming to mind about the whole song.)

There’s a keyboard back there somewhere that only gets a few chances to peek out. I especially like the subtle Beatles ref in the chorus. I defy you not to tap your foot to this one.

Brand New from Old Lost John: Broken

Tomas ThunbergHave a listen to Old Lost John’s Broken.

Love love love the horn, the saw; the whole arrangement. This sounds like that time I thought I was dreaming, then I thought I woke up, but I wasn’t sure either time.

me, to him: I wish I knew where you got your voice so I could go buy one just like it. Well, maybe not exactly. But close.

Old Lost John’s Railway Car showed up on Handmade & Homespun last year, along with one of my songs, and a dozen others well worth hearing.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

I[az]B0020JJDKW[/az] just watched the video for Bob Dylan’s wonderful new song Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ and felt compelled to warn you not to make the same mistake. Just listen to the song and don’t spoil it with twisted violent bizarre images. Dylan is often confusing, but I’ve never noticed his lyrics leaning toward gratuitous violence purely for shock effect.

I’ve never understood the music video directorial mandate to create something as far removed as possible from the content and/or spirit of the song. I realize that videos aren’t just a visual representation of the song. But it seems intentionally perverse to take a song with a positive feel, both musically and lyrically (like these opening words)

 Oh well, I love you pretty baby You're the only love I've ever known Just as long as you stay with me The whole world is my throne

and create a video of graphic domestic violence.

It’s not art, it’s just wasted space.

FAWM Over. We Win.

February Album Writing Month is officially over for 2009. And I officially won.

Which means I wrote or co-wrote at least 14 songs during the 28 days of February. (You’ll see on my FAWM profile that it lists 19; it’s actually only 18 because one is listed twice but I don’t want to lose the comments on my original post.)

This year I discovered the double harmonic scale, which makes everything you play sound all Arabian Night-ish. I wrote two Arabic-sounding songs (my most ambitious musical endeavours to date) and collaborated on another.

I wrote a German drinking song. In German.

I wrote a Mexican dance song. In Spanish.

I played a jazz guitar improvisation, my first guitar improvisation ever.

I did my first FAWM music video.

I also did, as I have every year, some country, some folk, and some swingabilly.

And now, I’m tired.