Monday, January 26, 2009

Why do you like what you like?

Hey there folks. I’m back from my music rut with some thoughts/questions for you about how we experience our favorite music. What I'm getting at here are the different factors that influence why music fans enjoy a particular song or artist or value certain records in their collections.

I put it into a Venn Diagram. (I love Venn Diagrams. We need more of them around here.) After doing a little research in the STWOF laboratory, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three distinct reasons why I may especially enjoy hearing particular song, album or artist: (1) Freshness, (2) Excellence, and (3) Nostalgia. I wonder if you share the same approach to your collection? Here’s what I mean by the three categories.

Freshness: Even the best music can get “old” after awhile. Most music lovers are always looking for a new sound to consume. Music falling into the “Freshness” category is exactly that: Any new sound your are currently hearing and processing. By “new” I don’t mean new release; I just mean a new sound to you. A particular song/record/album cannot stay in this category indefinitely, but while they are fresh, their status is elevated. Some current examples of “fresh” sounds to my ears are Lizzy Mercier Descloux and King Sunny Ade. Of course, it doesn't take long to move music out of this category, but I'm always looking to keep it at least partially full of new sounds.

Excellence: This category is for the timeless classics that really stand apart from the crowd. Songs or albums that sound great because they are great, no matter the era or style or your personal history. These are the records that you would feel most comfortable recommending to friends with similar tastes. Of course, every music fan will have different criteria for excellence and these criteria will likely change over time as your tastes evolve. Some examples (for me): The Band by The Band, More A Legend Than A Band by The Flatlanders, and Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis. (A whole separate series of posts could address the specific factors that put music into this category for me, but that will have to wait.)

Nostalgia: The third category is the musical equivalent of comfort food. Songs/records/artists that you love because of your personal history with the artist or because of the associations connected to the music. Because these memories are unique to me, I don't expect my friends with similar taste to like these records in the same way that I do. Examples for me: 1970's Gordon Lightfoot (childhood memories), Guadalcanal Diary (a college favorite). When attempting to make an objective evalutation of music, I try to take the nostalgia value out of the equation. But when I'm looking for something to play, my nostalgic records often hit just the right spot.

Overlap: There is some overlap between the Nostalgia and Excellence categories (the green on our diagram) and also between the Freshness and Excellence categories (the orange area).

Records at the intersection of Nostalgia/Excellence are the ones that recall fond memories but also happen to be truly excellent in their own right. A example of this sort of record in my collection is London Calling by The Clash. I discovered that record early in my music fandom and it really opened my eyes to what rock music could be. When I first got it, I played it almost exclusively for 2-3 months, literally wearing out the grooves on the LP. That was years ago, but it still sounds like a masterpiece to my old ears, and playing London Calling always brings me back to my late teen years.

Records at the intersection of Freshness/Excellence are the best records in the world. These are the instant classics. Treasure them while the freshness lasts. This is what London Calling was for me at first. I had never heard it before, but I knew right away I would always love it and my teenage tastes took a big step forward. A personal musical epiphany.

The most recent example for me is probably Midwest Farm Disaster by Bob Martin. (Thanks Jason & Brendan!) A few other past examples come to mind. One is Viva Terlingua by Jerry Jeff Walker. I don’t know how many years ago I bought that CD, but I still remember the excitement of hearing it for the first time. I thoght the music was “made for me” and wondered how I could have gone so long without having it in my collection. A few other examples from my past are the song Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks and the Horses album by Patti Smith. When I first heard Patti moan that “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” I was instantly hooked. What records were instant classics for you?

Not all of my very favorite records have go through this phase. Some take awhile to grow on me and are no longer fresh by the time I realize their excellence. The best example of this is The Band’s self-titled LP. I could now make an argument that it is the best album in the history of rock and roll, but it took me awhile to get there. I wasn't ready at the time so it languished in the back of my record collection for a long time before getting to its rightful place on top.

What does your musical Venn diagram look like?

For your listening enjoyment:

Bob Martin - Deer Island Prison (buy album)

Lizzy Mercier Descloux - Fire (buy album)

Patti Smith - Gloria (buy album)

[By the way, thanks for all the great suggestions in response to my last post.]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

And all the world is biscuit shaped...

Have you ever been stuck in a music rut? How did you get out?

Hey regular readers, I need a little help. I've been flipping through my record collection for the last few days and NOTHING looks good. I'm tired of all the old favorites and can't find anything different to get the music juices flowing.

Right now it's "been there done that..." I don't know about you guys, but I can only listen to a song so many times before I get bored, no matter how good the song may be.

I've gone into music ruts before, but this one seems particularly deep. I need something new to explore. I've been sorta getting into African music lately (i.e., Ali Farka Toure, King Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti), but that little foray hasn't been enough to cure my musical malaise. I've also been toying with the idea of exploring the roots of Jamaican reggae, but I'm not sure that will do the trick either (and I don't know where to start with that project, should I decide to take it on.)

So I'm looking for suggestions.

(1) How do you get out of music ruts? Does this sound familiar to you? What music has you excited right now?

(2) What new/forgotten sub-genre/style should I explore?

(3) Finally, regulars, who is your all-time favorite artist of any style that you have never seen featured here at STWOF? I'll check them out. Maybe it's a blind spot I can fill in. (The side bar on the right side of the page will give you a pretty good approximation of the "old" stuff I've already burned through.)

I'm linking to this XTC song, because it's from the only record I've heard lately that's had my ears perk up a little bit (but I can't live off nostalgia alone):

XTC - Senses Working Overtime (buy album)

And I guess I better throw in a reggae song too. Just to get some of those experts here (and maybe a few UB40 fans too):

Ray Martell - She Caught The Train (buy album)

If you've never commented here before, now's the time to step in. I need ya.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Fabulous Sounds Of Detroit!

The view from my window.

STWOF Mix #3:
01. Stevie Wonder
Higher Ground (0:00) (buy)

02. The Stooges
1969 (2:59) (buy)

03. MC5
Shakin' Street (7:01) (buy)

04. Marshall Crenshaw
Cynical Girl (9:16) (buy)

05. The Temptations
Papa Was A Rollin' Stone (11:48) (buy)

06. John Lee Hooker
The Motor City's Burnin' (18:42) (buy)

07. Funkadelic
If You Don't Like The Effects, Don't Produce The Cause (21:26) (buy)

08. The White Stripes
Hand Springs (24:56) (buy)

09. Jackie Wilson
Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher & Higher (27:40) (buy)

10. Aretha Franklin
Respect (30:29) (buy)

Statue, Detroit style

For those who don't know, this blog comes to you from Detroit, Michigan. Once the fourth largest city in the country and hailed as "the great arsenal of democracy," Detroit has seen some hard times lately.

And we are tired of hearing about it from the rest of the country!

This article explains exactly what I'm talking about. Reading it the other day inspired me to put together a little podcast to remind you all about one area in which Detroit has always excelled: Music.

So, the next time you think about Detroit, don't think about our historically bad football team or the failing automobile industry; think about these great tunes.

Food, Detroit style

The list above covers only some of the musical talent from the Motor City. Other artists from Detroit include: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops, Commander Cody & The Lost Planet Airmen, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Junior Walker & The All-Stars, Bob Segar, Sufjan Stevens, Martha & The Vandellas, The Contours, The Marvelettes, The Spinners, Freda Payne, Mary Wells, Paul Chambers, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd, and, of course, Madonna and Eminem.

The view from Canada.

We just want a little respect. Just a little bit. That's all.

A Hot Rod Ford And A Two-Dollar Bill

Just in case you don't already subscribe to When You Awake (which is a must for fans of country, country-rock, western fashion, and twang of all kinds), head over there now to check out my guest mixtape of ten superb Hank Williams covers.

Here's a bonus track to go with the mix:

The Replacements - Hey Good Lookin' (buy album)

The story behind the song: The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll

William Zantzinger, the subject of one of Bob Dylan's early protest songs, The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, died this week.

The song tells the story of a prominent white tobacco farmer who, at a society function in 1963, struck a black barmaid with his cane. The barmaid, Hattie Carroll, died hours later and Zantzinger was sented to serve only six months in prison for manslaughter.

Here is Time Magazine's 1963 account of the incident: The Spinster's Ball

Here is the original NY Times article about Zantzinger's sentencing: Farmer Sentenced In Barmaid's Death (pdf)

Here is a current article about Zantzinger's life after his short stay in jail: William Zantzinger; Infamous After Dylan Song 'Hattie Carroll'

Go here for more info and two versions of the song: Doctor Mooney

Go here for more info and a video of a 1964 TV performance of the song: Harry's Music

Monday, January 12, 2009

Son of a gun, we'll have big fun . . .

Speaking of Jambalaya, LD from the great blog, The Adios Lounge, has just uploaded an amazing video on YouTube. His description:

Here's Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Charles at Storyville nightclub in New Orleans in 1986. This isn't the actual released performance, but an interview with bandleader and herder of cats, Paul Shaffer, along with priceless rehearsal footage, all of which puts the historic piano summit into context.

I can only imagine how tough it must have been for Paul Shaffer to run that rehearsal with those legends.

And now here is a video containing the actual performance:

Thanks also to commenter John Waugh for calling attention to this video.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pick Guitars, Fill Fruit Jars...

Hey folks, head over to For The Sake Of The Song to check out my guest post about Jambalaya.

And here's a bonus version:

The Blue Ridge Rangers (a.k.a. John Fogerty) – Jambalaya (buy album)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

More Christgau: What did she say?

I stumbled across this review and it just cracked me up:

Pieces of the Sky [Reprise, 1974]
Abetted by Brian Ahern, who would have been wise to add some Anne Murray schlock, Harris shows off a pristine earnestness that has nothing to do with what is most likable about country music and everything to do with what is most suspect in "folk." Presumably, Gram Parsons was tough enough to discourage this tendency or play against it, but as a solo mannerism it doesn't even ensure clear enunciation: I swear the chorus of the best song here sounds like it begins: "I will rub my asshole/In the bosom of Abraham." C+
This is a great song, but after reading Christgau's review you may never hear it the same way again...

Emmylou Harris - Boulder To Birmingham (buy album)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Links: Cindy Walker @ Harry's Music

I've really been enjoying Harry's Music lately. Blogger Don's latest post is about prolific Texas songwriter Cindy Walker.

Check it out!

Now enjoy a couple of songs penned by Cindy Walker:

Ray Charles - You Don't Know Me (buy album)
The Byrds - Blue Canadian Rockies (buy album)

UPDATE: If anybody has a copy of this album, I would love to hear it...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Anybody here see the fuzzy-wuzzy lovin' cup explosion?

I think we missed it.

The Guess Who - Hand Me Down World (buy album)

[I've been drinking wine again.]

Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide

Are you looking for a fun way to kill a few hours and maybe rekindle your love for some forgotten albums? If so, you have to check out Robert Christgau’s forty years of entertaining album reviews here.

While it would be impossible to agree with all of this takes, Christgau has impeccable taste in music and a very witty writing style. Best of all, his reviews are usually only a few sentences long, so it’s tons of fun (and addicting) just to browse. You can search by artist, by year, or by grade.

Here is a little ditty from one of Christgau’s A+ albums:

The Who - Tattoo (buy album)

[Note: For a cool refreshing drink to accompany your browsing, I’d recommend an Orange Blossom. Worked for me.]

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