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Folk the World

4 Oct

In sitting down and thinking of folk artists I really like, it became apparent to me that folk is the red-headed stepchild everyone loves to criticize, but secretly enjoys.  Very few artists are “folk.”  James Taylor was clearly a folkie underneath his porous shield of vulnerability, yet he’s considered a singer/songwriter.  The Byrds, The Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young all were examples of bands that took folk roots (such as multi-part harmonies and 12 string acoustic guitars) and branched out into a more traditional rock sound and Johnny Cash first and foremost was country.  But I am here to glorify some guys that, although they may dabble in other genres, are folk through and through.

Bob Dylan is the most important single person in music since the 60s.  Period.  The Beatles may have been more popular, the Stones had more swag and Zeppelin was more talented, but as an individual no one influenced music more than Dylan.  On one hand, he was a traditional folk singer, a common man against the world as he became a leader of the counterculture movement with such songs as “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They are A Changin”.  Upon seeing just just how wild the Beatles could make the ladies, he went electric and spawned folk rock.  Even later, Dylan borrowed the use of the 12 string guitar and helped to create yet another genre, country rock.  That being said, Dylan remains a folk icon. (The video below is included just because it’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen).

Going in a whole new direction, Mumford and Sons are a folk band and one of my favorite bands of the past year or two.  You may have just heard the name or maybe listened to “Little Lion Man” on the radio but I’m here to tell you to listen to more.  The band has a unique lineup. Lead singer Marcus Mumford usually plays acoustic guitar, singing and also doing percussion with a kick drum (Letterman joked that they would take the money from going on his show to buy a real drummer) and the band also includes a banjo, stand up bass and a keyboardist.  However, they still do change things up a bit as someone will sometimes get on the drumkit and the electric bass will occasionally make an appearance and in the following video, the electric banjo becomes something of an electric guitar.

What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been: Journeying with Jam Bands

29 Sep

Jam bands are special to me.  Any music I listen to, I try to find a live version.  There’s something about knowing a band can recreate their music and actually seeing a band perform that’s so exciting.  My favorite part about Jam Bands is that each and every night they create, for one fleeting moment, music that will never again exist in the same form.

Nothing says jam band like playing over three thousand shows, but never in the same way for the same set list, and the granddaddy of them all never played the same show twice.  Go to The Live Music Archive (a great website for getting free live shows for hundreds of bands) to listen just a few thousand of the Dead shows they offer.  Born from the psychedelic movement in San Fransisco during the 1960’s, the Grateful Dead created flowing jams that fused their psychedelic core with folk, blues, jazz and other American roots music.  Listening to the Dead, while always enjoyable, can be best described by the men themselves, “What a long strange trip its been.”

If you think record sales and radio airplay indicate popularity, you’ve never been to Dave Matthews Band concert.  I just was watching my sister’s Dave videos from the postponed Governor’s Island shows and it was nuts just how crazy the crowds were, not to mention the band was as good as ever.  The diverse instrumentation (electric violin, acoustic and electric guitars, and a horns section) coupled with Dave’s crazy personality and always fascinating lyrics makes this band one of my favorites.

There’s no I in team, but there is an I in Dispatch, which is weird because they’re the ultimate team.  Most songs feature all three members singing, with each one singing lead at different points and all three switching instruments like it’s their job (which it is of course).  In addition to singing harmonies, all three individuals play guitar, bass and some type of percussion.  Their most popular song is “The General,” but all the songs they play live are really good, especially the following entitled Mission.

Better Not Let Him In: Singer Songwriters

27 Sep

Mentioning singer songwriters conjures images of a single player sitting down behind a piano or strumming an acoustic guitar.  I think of James Taylor singing “Fire and Rain” or Jackson Browne on “These Days” or even Ray Charles behind his piano on “Georgia on My Mind“.  Often stripped down to barest bones, deeply personal and even slightly narcissistic, traditional singer songwriters seemed to be one man (or woman) bands.  But let’s say you’re in the mood for some singer songwriters that bring some more instrumentation to the table.  Well prepare to be amazed.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate where Bruce Springsteen ends and his E Street band begin.  Sure there was that one forgettable period in the 90s when Springsteen disbanded the group to try it solo, but it seems like that period is in the past.  Listen to Born to Run and learn why Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band is an American institution.

If you really want an in depth look at Warren Zevon, I’m not the one to give it.  I’ve only be listening to the guy for less than a week.  But the guy has impressive singer songwriter chops.  Like really impressive because not only does he get up close and personal (in Don’t Let Us Get Sick), but also he has a sense of humor.

Here’s a guy who I wasn’t sure where to put.  Jeff Buckley’s music certainly contains elements of, for lack of a better term,  singer songerwriter-ness. That being said, he doesn’t really fit into folk or any other category for that matter.  His only album before his untimely death, Grace, was a masterpiece, including the best version of the classic Hallelujah ever  but I’m going to go with his “Lover You Should Have Come Over” to showcase Buckley’s own songwriting talents.

Just Some More Musings

23 Sep

Things like Coldplay‘s first album, Parachutes, normally take a little while to catch on, but it was deservedly an overnight success and as spectacular as Parachutes was, each album has continued to build on the previous one.  At the beginning, their sound was simple, either a piano or acoustic guitar, electric guitar, drums and bass, but their most recent album and EP, Viva La Vida and Prospekt’s March, are soaring musical works with everything including the kitchen sink.  Sure there are some simpler songs on the album with less total instrumentation (Death and all His Friends), but the albums namesake, “Viva La Vida,” contains a full orchestra and multiple percussion parts and just sounds big.  One of the coolest things about Coldplay is that they have cool sounding music without sacrificing melodic hooks.

Muse lead singer is an enthusiastic conspiracy theorist and takes mushrooms recreationally to open his metaphoric third eye.  And, you can tell.  Lyrically, lead singer Matthew Bellamy conjures scary images of 1984 and a post apocalyptic tyranny while also suggesting that America needs to control Europe, the Middle East and Asia to secure an oil supply in United States of Eurasia in The Resistance.  Their best album, however, is Black Holes and Revelations, which contains both really cool sounds fans have come to expect of the band coupled with catchy hooks (just watch the video for Starlight below).  Musically, Muse uses effects, not only on guitar but also on bass and vocals, to conger images of what I can only imagine is an acid trip but a good one nonetheless.

Bird Flying High, You Know How I Feel: Some Musings on Sonic Music

19 Sep

Has music ever made you feel high? I don’t mean high like at an Allman Brothers Band Concert or like Keith Richards before, during and after he fell out of that tree.  I’m talking about a feeling of lifting off and just soaring, free from all bonds imposed by gravity and without a care in the world.  Although U2 dreamed big like Michelangelo, Radiohead turned inward to paint tortured lyrics in the same way Van Gogh painted Starry Night and Coldplay merged them to produce an inward looking but still optimistic artist my knowledge of art history doesn’t cover. All three made music that just sounds big.  Turn the lights down, put on your big dj headphones, close your eyes and just lose yourself.

Just put on the previous clip and read on.  The slow opening synth chords move into the Edge’s guitar and the driving rhythm section which culminates into Bono‘s voice.  Like many other U2 songs, especially on the album The Joshua Tree, “Where the Streets Have No Name” makes a political and social message sound so damn cool by adding layers of synthesizers and the Edge’s unique talent for making his electric guitar more than just a guitar.  The rest of the album is just as good.  Throughout their career, U2 has changed their sound by combining elements of other genres, especially in the 90’s, but they can never be accused of dreaming small either in sound or in message.  Their early albums (The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum) capture these ideas at their finest, but checkout the following video for one of their later songs that is maybe not filled with overwhelming sound, but with overwhelming execution.

Upon writing this, I didn’t realize how much I could say in the introduction or about U2 so I decided that I’m going to do a second article about the other major bands I was going to talk about.  There is one band that I wasn’t sure if I would have the space to write about, but apparently now I do.  They are Explosions in the Sky.

If you’re one of those people that listen to music for the lyrics, then these guys are certainly not for you considering they have no vocalist or lyrics.  They do, however, convey emotion just as, if not even more powerful, through three guitars and a single drummer.  The following song, like most of their others, builds slowly and uses different effects operating on separate guitars that come together to surround the listener in a dome of sound.

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