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Archive for January, 2011

“Your Turn”: My Ten-Song Play List

Posted by dlockeretz on January 31, 2011

The Sound, a self-described “world class rock” radio station in Los Angeles, has introduced a feature called “Your Turn”, in which listeners are invited to be a DJ for an hour.  To apply, you visit their site (here) and submit your ten-song playlist.  As soon as I heard of this new programming, I immediately went to work compiling mine.

In music, we often talk of “desert island records”: what are the ten records you would take to a desert island with you if you knew they would be the only ones you’d be listening to for who knows how long?  The ten songs I picked weren’t so much desert island records as tracks that have stuck with me through the years, surviving changes in my musical tastes, life, location and more.  If I made this list last year, it might have turned out differently, and if I make it again next year, it might also change.  But here, with a little personal background, are the ten songs I submitted to “The Sound.”  (By the way, if you don’t like self-indulgence, this blog post probably isn’t the one for you; maybe you should read www.nobodyhikesinla.com instead.)

Here goes:

1) “Cliffs of Dover” (Eric Johnson).  In addition to having a great, uptempo groove, a memorable melody and great guitar work from Mr. Johnson, this song is a sentimental favorite of mine.  It was the first song on which I ever played bass guitar in public, at my high school’s Battle of the Bands.  (In case you were wondering, we did not win.)

2) “Long Tall Sally” (the Beatles).  Obviously, the Beatles would have to show up somewhere on this list…but a cover!?  Yeah, a cover.  I wanted to pick a lesser-played song for my list, and I think that the Beatles are an under-rated cover band.  Their version of “Twist and Shout”, of course, is legendary, but they did many other covers that arguably surpass the original.  When the song is a generic 50s record (“Please Mr. Postman” or “Chains”), it’s not that hard – but topping Little Richard is another story.  Big ups to Sir Paul and the boys!

3) “Gospel John” (Maynard Ferguson).  Summer of 1990, Maine.  A Jewish kid with a lot of body hair and coke-bottle glasses arrives at band camp from Brookline, MA, ready to unleash a torrent of guitar shred as only someone in his demographic can.  He is stymied by a camp culture in which jazz and classical music reign; he clashes horns (pardon the pun) with a cabin mate who happens to be particularly snobby.  Said cabin mate plays jazz records nonstop, and our Semitic friend is ready to smash up the entire collection with his bright red Yamaha electric guitar with its lightning bolt inlays.  However, one song that he hears sticks in his mind; he enjoys the catchy melody and funky groove.  Two years later, having become a jazz snob himself, he hears the same song again and learns that it is “Gospel John” by Maynard Ferguson.

#4) “Sweet Talking Woman” (Electric Light Orchestra).  Guilty pleasures have always been a staple of mine.  Say what you will about the ELO, but not singing along with this song on the radio is like buying “Playboy” only for the articles.

#5) “Limelight” (Rush).  Perhaps our buddies from the Great White North might be described as a thinking man’s guilty pleasure.  Even people who roll their eyes at the mention of this band’s name, and I know there are some of you doing that right now, can find inspiration in drummer Neil Peart’s triumph over personal tragedy.  Rush even played a role in my relationship: when she didn’t hold my enjoyment of them against me, I had my first clue that I was on the right track.

#6) “Cavatina” (John Williams).  “The Deer Hunter” is best known for its Russian Roulette scenes, but the sublime music in the soundtrack should not be overlooked.  As played by the “other” John Williams (the noted classical guitar virtuoso, not to be confused with the film composer), Stanley Meyers’ beautiful theme helps drive home the film’s message.

#7) “Pressure” (Billy Joel).  People often overlook the more rocking tracks in Billy Joel’s catalog, such as this one, off of his intense “Nylon Curtain” record.  There’s more to the Piano Man than “She’s Always a Woman” and “Tell Her About It.”

#8) “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” (Looking Glass).  Back to the guilty pleasures – it doesn’t get much more guilty than this.  But there’s something to be said for a song that does what it does well, and when it comes to pure ear candy, it’s hard to beat “Brandy.”  You might laugh, you might roll your eyes, but you wouldn’t change a note.

#9) “Scatterbrain” (Jeff Beck).  Heard on his great record “Blow By Blow”, this intense instrumental, with a weird groove and weirder melody, can be a great way to blow off steam.  The George Martin-produced strings only add to the strangeness.  The track’s name couldn’t be more perfect.

#10) “Josie” (Steely Dan).  It might be melodramatic to say that Steely Dan inspired me to become a professional musician, but it’s not that far off.  As a senior in high school, I was debating if I wanted to pursue music or writing.  I had long been familiar with “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” and “Reelin’ in the Years”, but Steely Dan never really clicked for me until I heard this song.  The rest is history.

So there you have it – my play list, as submitted to KSWD – The Sound.  Wish me luck.

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CD Review: Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, “The River In Reverse”

Posted by dlockeretz on January 21, 2011

I’ve never been a huge Elvis Costello fan, but one thing I’ve admired about him, besides his longevity, is his ability to put himself in a lot of different musical situations, without making it seem like a gimmick.  Case in point is this project with New Orleans musical icon Allen Toussaint.

With Costello singing most of the lead vocals and playing some guitar and organ, and Toussaint playing piano and singing as well, the two deliver a solid set of 13 originals (some written individually, some together).    On songs such as “Six Fingered Man”, “International Echo” and “The Sharpest Thorn”, Costello’s quirky pop sensibilities come through without seeming forced.  The Southern flavor is strong too.  The dark, jazzy piano of “Ascension Day” is infectious; the fat horn section and tasty keyboards and guitars on “Tears, Tears and More Tears” is guaranteed to get booties shaking.  Slower songs such as “Nearer To You” and “All These Things” recall the Neville brothers.  “Freedom for the Stallion” sets a beautiful melody over a tasteful, Gospel-influenced background, with lyrics that provide an eloquent take on the theme of “Can’t we all just get along?”

There are a few cuts that feel a little like filler, although even the somewhat forgettable “Wonder Woman” makes good ear candy, and “Broken Promise Land” has a lot of potential, but somehow the fragments never quite seem to materialize into a cohesive whole.

Nevertheless, this is one of the best records I’ve heard in a while, and it will undoubtedly inspire me to dig deeper in the catalogs of the two men behind it.

 

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Gear, Gear & More Gear!

Posted by dlockeretz on January 16, 2011

(Note: the title of this post is based on “Tears, Tears & More Tears”, a cut off the record “The River In Reverse” by Allen Toussaint and Elvis Costello which I have been listening to a lot lately.)

For musicians, January means one thing: NAMM.  The National Association of Musician Merchants holds their famous trade show each January, and musicians from all around the world flock to see the latest gear and perhaps hob-nob with musical celebrities.

I have yet to attend NAMM, but this last Friday I went to what might be considered my own personal version of the show.  I went into the Guitar Center in Fountain Valley, CA and saw two basses which I REALLY want to buy: an Epiphone Flying V (which I think would be especially fun to play with my blues-rock band for the sheer incongruity of it) and a Gretsch archtop-style bass.

A musician walking into GC and ogling gear isn’t exactly news – but for me, it was a step in regaining the positivity I need to bring to my music.  For a while I’ve felt a need to justify purchases (I haven’t bought a new bass for 5 years or a new guitar for 2) but seeing that gear made me feel like a fan again.

Will I show up to my next South Bay Blues Authority gig wielding a Flying V?  Probably not, but it’s nice to know that my gear-craving genes are still intact.

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CD Review: Kathleen Edwards, “Back To Me”

Posted by dlockeretz on January 5, 2011

Sometimes it pays to be superficial.  I originally decided to borrow Kathleen Edwards’s 2005 CD “Back To Me” from the local library because I thought she looked hot on the cover photos.  However, what I found was a record that has moved me as much as anything I’ve heard in the last few years.

Kathleen Edwards was 26 when she made this record; about the same age as Britney Spears was when she released “Womanizer”, and younger than Fergie was when she was singing “My Humps.”   Her songs, which might be described as “alt-country” or “roots rock”, have a similar spirit to those of her countrywoman Joni Mitchell.  However, while Mitchell’s songs often have a sense of optimism about the future, or at least a sense of having learned from and made peace with a loss or change, Edwards’s have a bleakness that is hard to ignore.  She doesn’t wrap her stories up in nice, neat little packages, yet they all feel complete.

The starkness is particularly evident in slower songs, such as the third track, “Pink Emerson Radio”, in which material possessions take on new meaning after a disastrous event.  Other songs also hit the mark: “Old Time Sake” manages to capture the melancholy feel of a meaningless hookup with an ex, without being melodramatic or bitter.  “Away”, with just acoustic guitar, tells the story of a woman trying to re-enter society after…well, you can guess what the title is a euphemism for.   The song’s protagonist comes across as a young, inexperienced girl who simply had a lapse in judgment, rather than being a hardened, calculating criminal.

The uptempo material is strong as well.  “Summerlong” shows a sense of hopefulness, while “Somewhere Else” and “Copied Keys” have a restless feel.  The hard-rocking “What Are You Waiting For” proves that when it comes to using profanity in a song, quality is more important than quantity.

The musicianship and production on the record are solid; it has a contemporary, fresh sound while paying homage to the past.  Quite simply, this is the type of record that I just wish could be made more often.

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The Guitarist in Chino Hills State Park

Posted by dlockeretz on January 1, 2011

This last April, I attended a memorable musical performance.  The solo guitarist had an audience of only one, and as far as I could tell, he wasn’t aware of that individual.

I was wrapping up a hike at Chino Hills State Park.  As I got back to the car, I heard a familiar tune coming from nearby.  It took me a second to realize that I was listening to “Almain”, a piece by the 17th century composer Robert Johnson (not to be confused with the Robert Johnson of “Crossroads” fame).  It was a piece I had often taught my guitar students.  Today it was being played by a middle aged fellow, sitting with a music stand.

I stood and listened for a little while.  I noted the irony that I, too, had brought a guitar to Chino Hills State Park that day, but mine was there for business, as I was heading off to teach afterward.

What stuck with me was the idea that this guitarist was a true amateur – someone who does something for the love of it.  It was also interesting that he decided to get out into nature, and solitude, to play his music.  A lot of music is about performing for and communicating with an audience, but perhaps for this fellow, it was about a deeper level of personal fulfillment.  I found myself asking, how would I approach music if I thought no one was watching?

Eight months later, I’m not sure if I have the answer to that question, but the guitarist helped me at least see that there was a question to be asked.   The next time I see him – or anyone else – playing music out in nature, I just might have to grab my guitar and sit in.

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