New Music for Old Farts

 


 

                                                Fair Warning (read this FIRST!)


This is a music blog from someone not in their twenties - unless you count perspective. I once asked my father - who was

in the South Pacific with the Marines during WW2, and possibly the least whimsical man I have ever known - if he ever

got to the point where he felt like an adult all the time. "No," he responded. "But you get better at the fake."


Music is entirely subjective. You can reduce it to mathematics, but entirely miss the point. Just because I know a sh_tload of history

and theory and am myself a musician doesn't make my opinion more - or less - valuable than yours: it's just mine. Incidents in my

personal evolution - excuse me: personal scientific theory of evolution - may cause me to value or detest attributes that do not interest

or concern you at all, because music is - for me - tied closely to memory. So, the fact I hate the group Bread has as much to do with my

emotional state at a time when I could not escape their whiny vocals, as it does with any aesthetics I may find lacking in

their whiny vocals. To paraphrase Dorothy Fields: "It's just the way you look (at it) tonight."

 A review is one person's opinion, so try and find somebody who shares your outlook. Do a little homework and you can

reduce the number of occasions where you think What an opinionated asshole! And attempt to remember: this person is

primarily a writer, rarely a musician. I try to avoid reviewers who are clearly creative writing dropouts, intent on

comparing a song with a sonnet, or someone else's version of the song, or anything that reads or sounds vaguely similar.

A music review should be about the object being reviewed, not the reviewer's expectations, which is all too often the

case. (And don't get me started on should be...) Rolling Stone had a decade or so where tenth graders were writing

record reviews that were appropriate for the school newspaper article on Emily Dickinson. Words are only half of the

paradigm.


There is an argument that most people are not musicians and shouldn't be bored by aeolian cadences and relative minor

modulation. I will not do that. Rather, I will try to point out musical passages that affect me, and - gently - attempt to

direct your focus in that direction. I will not waste our time explaining why I don’t like something: I will simply omit any

reference.

 

Following my own advice above, I will detail my top 5 desert island sections, even though they change by the day/hour/

minute: this is a snapshot of my current EEG. Ask me another time, you will certainly get a different answer.

Beatles: Abbey Road (Everest was the original title.) Louis Armstrong: Town Hall Concert, NYC 1947. (This was the embryonic

All Stars, after he finished fronting orchestras.) Punch Brothers: Antifogmatic. (Their second effort, brilliantly produced by Jon Brion.)

XTC: Oranges and Lemons. (Their ode to psychedelia.) Miles Davis: Kind of Blue. (Nothing to add, and no reason.) OK - 6. Clash:

London Calling. (The definitive Clash, punk and the apex of the reggae incorporation to the style.) And 7. Beach Boys: Pet Sounds.

(Whatever you may think of the Beach Boys, give this an open minded listen. Iy you can.) I’m done.


For now.


I swear.

 

Goodbye to a pair of old friends


(This should be the second of the series.)

 A long time ago, I wanted a sound system that would stand

the test of time, and allow my ears to grow into it. Figuratively. I

took out my first loan, perhaps in hopes of creating the illusion of

adulthood in the eyes of the world's financial institutions. I spent

an absurd amount of time at an audio shop, of which no shred of

memory remains concerning it's name. Armed with 3 favorite

albums/LPs/vinyl discs - pick one - with which I was intimately

familiar, I put an assortment of receivers and speakers through

their paces. (The albums were Beatles: Abbey Road; Alice Coltrane

: Journey in Satchidananda, and Jackson Browne’s eponymous

LP.) The eventual winners were a Kenwood receiver: the embry-

onic prototype of what would eventually evolve into theater system

audio, but called 'quad' at that fuzzy point in time.


Wishful thinking, I was to discover: eventually it was traded in for a stereo

version at 200 watts RMS per channel, and weighing slightly less than the

engine block to my VW bus. The speakers were a pair of JBL Decade L26.

Back when I could distinguish between 20 to 20K decibels they were brilliant

little studio monitors.


 I collect music (notice present tense) with a fervor bordering on obsession, and still have something above 3000

pieces of vinyl secreted about the house, before everything went digital. I am one of two people I know who still has a

functioning turntable, which I use regularly. (My tastes are eclectic, and some music I love will probably never see a

digital incarnation.) After being loaned out to musically bereft friends during most of the eighties, in the mid nineties

my Kenwood was running on one channel, and I carried it mournfully out to the trash at the end of the drive. (My

friend David’s wife Terry walked with him for his receiver’s funeral march, to make sure he didn’t put it on the pile of

extinct electronics in their garage.) It's neon green light would shine no more. Unless it was rescued at night. (Check

our garage.)


Eventually my wallet got serious about audio again and bought a Denon AVR 1804. My wonderful wife Mary somehow

pried the JBLs out of my grizzled, calloused hands and we ran the Denon through the KLH home theater speakers in a

1+1+4 configuration, the JBLs sent out to pasture overhead in my office. The "Stonehenge" speakers were re-coned

originally when I first bought the Denon, and I now decided to sell them on Craig's List. Pulling them down from

overhead to test them, I discovered it was again re-coning time. So I placed the ad, including the re-coning info, and

walking into the bathroom, stared at the decrepit image in the mirror.


 Who is that old fart?


Punch Brothers: Antifogmatic 


Antifogmatic is an archaic term for a bracing beverage, generally rum or whiskey, to be imbibed before going to

work in heavy weather to stave off any ill effects.


Punch Brothers is mandolin wunderkind Chris Thile’s (pronounced thee - lee) group, including guitarist Chris

Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert, banjo player Noam Pikelny,
and fiddler Gabe Witcher.

Accurately dubbed fusion bluegrass, this is their second release. As astounding as

these players are, an equal part of the magic here owes to producer Jon Brion. I have

not heard a recording in decades with this degree of spaciousness and separation,

perhaps partially because of the lack of drums: the stringed instruments provide the

backbeat and percussion. 


As brilliant as Thile is, this is a collective effort. All songwriting is credited to the band members

and all of them sing - in exquisite harmony - from the expressive opener You Are to the raucous

Rye Whisky or Don’t Need No. I would love to see a show, ideally at Manhattan’s The Living Room

where they have taken up residence. But - listen to this through a good set of headphones if at all

possible. Borrow them from your kidsif you no longer have a pair. You can even forget to give them back.


You Are opens, lilting above the scratch percussion of the mandolin. Listen to the fiddle double Thile’s falsetto on the

chorus, then erupt into a frenzy of notes from the mandolin. Don't Need No furthers the fusion suggestion, the riff

driven intro dropping into the 4/4 body of the song. Alex - only as good as your last goodbye -  with it’s subtle guiro, 

syncopates into the Phil-Spector-meets-Van-Dyke-Parks body of the song, layered harmonies completing the Smile

effect. Rye Whisky is as close to traditional bluegrass as this gets, the banjo figuring prominently. 


I haven’t heard a recording this adventurous in a long time. I have to go back to the time I saw John McLaughlin’s

Mahavishnu Orchestra, just after The Inner Mounting Flame was released. Grab a copy when you can, and - don’t

forget the headphones.


Super Heavy: Dave Stewart; Mick Jagger; Damian Marley; Joss Stone; A.R. Rahman.  

I show my age by admitting this summons the Masked Marauders to what’s left of my brain. If you are in the dark

concerning the Marauders, email me. I suspect the possible deluge of mail will be a mere trickle. Were it otherwise,


This is embarrassing. I have a terrabyte hard drive backup connected to my iMac, which I have had going on six

years. One morning I walk into my room and notice the CAPS LOCK key is lit on my keyboard, but push the power

button anyway. The Cliff’s Notes here is that my iMac, my terrabyte backup and my hard drive are all RIP. I’ll have

to look for alternate methods. Maybe I can keep the crystal clear display and use it as an alternate for my new

MacBookPro.


Super Heavy was to be the next super group, I suspect: Jagger looking beyond the Stones to perhaps a new beginning. Dave Stewart

was an integral part from the outset, as much for his production prowess as his composing chops; Marley similarly so, his royal lineage

the target of the focus; Joss Stone for her obvious vocal chops and Motown influence, and Rahman for his technical wizardry, displayed

in Slumdog Millionaire (which should give you a timeline.)