Sounds Like!(7/13/2016)

Homonym: “Jerusalem Ridge”, performed by Chris Thile and Tim O’Brian & “Jerusalem”, by Black Sabbath

I struggled to choose to start talking about Chris Thile with either “I can’t understand why more people don’t know who Chris Thile is” and “I can understand why more people don’t know who Chris Thile is”. His lack of notoriety will solve itself in October, when he takes over as the host of A Prairie Home Companion, following Garrison Keillor’s retirement, but I think the former is the correct statement, double negative non withstanding. His musical path is at least close enough to Ricky Skaggs’ to have that level of public awareness, but somehow he still doesn’t. Although Thile does the majority of work in groups without his name in the title(Nickel Creek, The Punch Brothers) he is always the standout in whatever ensemble he is a part of. He’s the tall, goofily emotive one here. Take a listen:

The song, “Jerusalem Ridge”, and the superb musician, Tim O’Brian, are the perfect pairing to help explain why Chris Thile isn’t a household name. Tim O’Brian made his fame as a founding member of Hot Rize, a bluegrass band by name but more of a traditional folk/old-timey band by nature. Concerts by Hot Rize were always great but safe; as talented as a group they were(especially O’Brian and banjo player Peter Wernick), their music stayed on the course of tradition, with an occasional odd break as a make-believe cowboy western band. And “safe” is an appropriate way to describe many folk-based musicians, including the ones that consider themselves bluegrass musicians by trade(for the ultimate source knowledge for the division between folk purists and bluegrass musicians, please please read How The Hippies Ruin’t Hillbilly Music by St. “Wish” Wishnevshy. Borrow mine if you can’t find it). Tim O’Brian is universally loved in the bluegrass community, and his musicianship is top notch but noticeably conservative.

“Jerusalem Ridge”, though, was a strictly bluegrass composition, written by Bill Monroe and fleshed out by his fiddle player at the time, Kenny Baker, to be a flashy showpiece and quite the opposite of conservative musicianship. Monroe certainly had tight control over his “brand”, but part of that image was having the best stable of musicians in the industry, and there were always songs in the repertoire that showed off the talents of the current musicians. “Jerusalem Ridge” was showoff music.

Watching Chris Thile play fills me with joy. He obviously loves all music that is well written, from rock to classical to bluegrass. He is the most talented mandolin player alive, and one of America’s true genius musicians, but the bluegrass community wants him to be Ricky Skaggs and he isn’t. Nickel Creek’s modern take on bluegrass started the divisive term “newgrass”, which Thile started when he was eight years old. He won a MacArthur grant, officially given him at least the giant paycheck with the word “genius” scrawled in the memo ledger, and he, joyously, kept doing goofy shit like this, which is awesome(yes, he also made quality recordings of Bach concertos, but look at him having fun):

Chris Thile didn’t do himself any favors by aligning himself with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer, who are elitist snobs when it comes to “modernizing” bluegrass music; they even added Yo Yo Ma to form a quartet of the most gentrified and bland bluegrass music ever done by talented musicians. It’s bad stuff. Chris Thile is the odd man out in that group, though; he’s never been out to “elevate” bluegrass music. That he’s never been out to strictly follow tradition is what gets him in trouble, not with the musical cognoscenti but with the bluegrass community. They think he’s too flashy and somewhat disrespectful. Which is horseshit. Watch him play “Jerusalem Ridge” one more time. His breaks are nearly perfect. Bill Monroe would hire him in a second and rub everyone’s noses in it.

 

“Jerusalem”, by Black Sabbath, is so shitty. Listen first, then three contextual elements:

  1. 1990 was a magical time to be a teenager who loved heavy metal: Seasons In The Abyss. Persistence Of Time. Rust In Peace. Hell, even Passion And Warfare counts. I’m not sure Painkiller counts, but it wasn’t that bad, and Judy was in court that year defending their albums against claims of Satanic backmasking, which is super metal. It was a lot to keep up with, and all the publications a young metalhead would read to try and stay informed were all ate up with ads for Tyr. We all bought it. Goddamn, it was super bad.
  2. Black Sabbath had a well-defined relationship with what the singer was supposed to do in the wobbly post-Dio part of their history: sing, and write the lyrics. When Ray Gillen, of yesterday’s birthday band fame, proved to be too shitty a creative partner for even late-80’s Sabbath, Tony Martin came in to pitch hit as singer. He stayed on for the next album, Headless Cross, and, being the first time he had the now-traditional role of writing the words to the songs, proceeded to write the most cartoon-y, melodramatically Satanic lyrics since the backs of my peer group’s Trapper Keepers in 1989. Tony Iomi asked Martin to tone the devil imagery down for the next album, so you get the loose concept of Norse mythology in Tyr. I mean… super loose. If you listen to the whole album(don’t though), the concept never coalesces. Jerusalem was never known for being a hotbed of Norse deities. I don’t even think David Iche thinks that.
  3. Are you wondering if I learned my lesson from this terrible album from a band with an outstanding legacy? The next year I bought Jethro Tull’s Catfish Rising. The day it came out. I am dumb.

 

Homograph: Smile, by The Beach Boys & Smiley Smile, by The Beach Boys

When I first really understood the brilliance of The Beach Boys I was also at my most polarizing in regards to my music opinions, and I though that Smiley Smile was trash and could fuck off. That’s no longer true.

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Back sometime in either 1997 or 1998, listening to tape-traded bootlegs of the Smile sessions with a friend for the first time was kind of like listening to the world’s most secret and beautiful prayer. And, to feed the power of the mystique and my new-found championing of Brian Wilson’s place on the American Musician Mount Rushmore, I wouldn’t accept any substitutes or slights to his genius. I still feel like Smiley Smile is that, but only in a historical sense. Much like how it’s difficult for me, still, to listen to Second’s Out and feel the unnecessary weight of Peter Gabriel’s absence, when I hear the songs that the two records have in common I still reference the Smile versions and track orders first.

But now I enjoy hearing Smiley Smile because of how it fits into my and their history, not in spite of it. The songs have a drugged flippancy to them compared to the careful arranging of the Smile sessions. I can’t listen to “Little Pad” without thinking of my friends, of how many “Little Pad”s there might be with us all goofing along on some lost recorded mini disc we used to record our band rehearsals. Discussing discovering Smile is almost too personal to me, too specific of a time and a place in my life that was terrible and wonderful, maybe the most terrible and most wonderful so far. Smiley Smile I learned to love separate from my friends but still connected to them.

The mystery of Smile is gone now, too, even though the brilliance remains, and that’s a part of my maturing attitude about both albums now, too. Thinking about getting mixtapes now is quaint, almost romantic. Smile resonates with that romanticism still, but there is an excitement, if no real intimacy, about pretty much all music being available to everyone everywhere. Smile will stand up for those who didn’t have to work hard for it.

For me the ghost of nostalgia still haunts Smile, where Smiley Smile makes me think of who I am now. When’s the last time you listened to both?

 

Near Cognate: The Beach Boys’ “The Warmth Of The Sun”, by Chris Thile with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

Earnest, beautiful, not necessary perfect. I’m excited for what A Prairie Home Companion will become. Especially after reading the comments on this video where people claim that The Beach Boys needed “studio magic” to sound good. I’m asuming by “studio magic” they meant “near suicidal, drug-overdosing levels of parental abuse”, which was what they were getting.

Anyhoo, Gillian Welch is the perfect company for Thile to keep: a talented outsider that won the respect of her peers just being true to herself. That’s all Thile has ever done. Hopefully the respect rolls in.

 

 

Letters Of Note: 7/12/2016

Birthday Power Quartet Of The Day

Ray Gillen(1960, Black Sabbath?) on vocals, Eric Carr(1950, KISS?)on drums, John Petrucci(1967, Dream Theater) on guitar, and Philip Kramer(1952, Iron Butterfly & various attempts to discredit Einstein) on bass.

For the obvious reasons, and because I weirdly want these guys to have fun, I’m gonna have them play “Wild One” from the silly/shitty Dio album, Lock Up The Wolves. The obvious reasons are Ronnie James Dio’s and Simon Wright’s(yes, he drummed on this album) history as second fiddles. Gillen and Carr know that feeling too well. Also, Dio got some hotshot 18-year-old kid named Rowan Robertson to play guitar on that album, who I bet Petrucci absolutely hates. I mean, look at the way Petrucci plays…

… compared to the slutty-commando-jeaned slopfest of Robertson:

 

I’d listen to their version for sure. Then fire everyone from the fake band I just put them in.

 

Temple Of The Dog

My dog, Dixie, has been very sick, so I took some time off. Also, I haven’t been able to sleep in six weeks. Medically. Good times. We are both much better now. Look at that sweet girl:

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Let’s All Die In 2016: Ralph Stanley

Beyond Ralph Stanley’s influence and brilliance, the best story about him is a Bill Monroe story, namely how much Monroe hated the Stanley Brothers. His good reason to have hated Ralph Stanley was that the Stanley Brothers just played amped-up versions of Monroe’s songs in their early career. His bad reason was that Bill Monroe was notoriously bitter towards anyone not loyal to him or his claim as the inventor of “bluegrass”. Not that Monroe didn’t hold that claim rightly. The Stanley Brothers’ technical prowess was a constant challenge to the stable of musicians he kept, Frank Zappa-wise, to corner the market on the bluegrass sound. Monroe hated them enough that when Colombia signed them he left and signed with Decca.

That move to Decca was without Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, though, and Monroe hired Ralph’s brother, Carter, to play guitar while Ralph was in the military, swapping out his long-held vitriol towards The Stanley Brothers for the newly-formed Foggy Mountain Boys, a feud that lasted even longer. Get a load of this catty business here:

Carter Stanley died young, but Ralph Stanley carried on.  Carter had the better voice, but that’s never stopped any good bluegrass player from singing, and Ralph Stanley’s voice came to become the standard for his peers and contemporaries. All the arrangements and harmonies from groups like the Del McCorey Band, and the authenticity of the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack, are all because of this voice. RIP.

 

Also Dead: Elvis Presley

Worth re-mentioning here: Bill Monroe gave his blessing to Elvis’ version of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” for mainly financial reasons, but it didn’t hurt that it stole the thunder from The Stanley Brother’s version, also a hot-stepping 4/4 rendition. Catty as fuck.

Letters Of Note: 6/7/2016

Birthday Power Quartet Of The Day:

Eric Kretz(1966, Stone Temple Pilots) on drums, Leopold Auer(1845, classical musician) on violin, Prince(1958, various funky scenarios) on guitar/bass guitar, and Tom Jones(1940, Used Panty Wholesale Warehouse) on vocals.

This will work, but not without its kinks. Prince is no stranger to overdubbing parts, but for the song I’ve chosen, Frank Zappa’s “Willie The Pimp”, I’m not sure how he’s gonna handle it; it would make much more sense as an ensemble if he played the bass live and added his guitar parts later, but Maestro Auer is, even though he won’t be able to keep up with Prince and Tom Jones in the puss-hound storytelling downtimes, gonna fucking murder his extended violin solo so much that Jean-Luc Ponty would immediately surrender(ok, maybe not such a great feat among the French). Prince is gonna either want to feed off that energy or be there live with his ax to cram his talent in Auer’s Hungarian mug. I only hope Tom Jones can pull off the sleaziness, it’ll kick ass.

 

Happy Birthday, Iggy Azalea:

 

 

We Hate The Music You Like, Small Town America Edition:

It was announced today that “country” “superstar” Luke Bryan would be playing a concert this year in the little town of Prairie Grove, AR, not too far from where I live, as part of his “Farm Tour” of small country towns across America. I note or two: one, his current album has fifteen different writers on it, down from twenty on the previous album. I don’t care for Beyonce either, but that’s not a good look for a country boy. Two, I live roughly 20 miles from the “small town America” venue he’s playing at, and I’ve been listening to the Sodom catalog today:

 

 

Letters Of Note: 6/6/2016

Birthday Power Quartet Of The Day:

Jeremy Gara(1978, Arcade Fire) on drums, Tom Araya(1961, Slayer) on bass guitar and vocals, and Steve Vai(1960, various spankings and guitar stunts) and Clarence White(1944, mainly The Byrds but tons of important studio work) on guitar.

Honestly, Araya might not be up for this, and Gara might not be able to keep up, but I’m going to have them play “Country Boy” by Heads Hands and Feet. If you took Steve Vai’s virtuosity and add Clarence White’s clean picking and b-bender propensities, you’d get Albert Lee. And, actually, if you offered the band the same amount of drugs that the band in this video were on, Gara might have to keep up just to burn off that German amphetamine energy, and Araya will find it a tad more ammissible:

 

 

Let’s All Die In 2016: Muhammad Ali

There’s a few ways you could talk about Muhammad Ali in a music blog and remain germane, but after all the tributes I’ve read this weekend, addressing his ties to “hip hop” are the most important. Eldridge Cleaver, in his “Lazarus, Come Forth” portion of Soul On Ice, and the musings of Nelson George and other writers about hip hop’s history, paint a picture of race relations and racial self-identity that separate the birth of Muhammad Ali from the chrysalis of Cassius Clay and the birth of hip hop. Too many of the essays I read tried to merge the two.

Their are lots of geographical plot points for hip hop’s influence, but its birth was undoubtedly in The Bronx, in discos that shared, like the scofflaw ares were jazz was born in New Orleans, a racial harmony. Hip hop would certainly become a media outlet for under-served African-Americans, but those early DJ’s shouting out people in the clubs were frequented by white people and black people alike. Yes, Debbie Harry is a horrible rapper, but she was honestly rapping in Blondie’s “Rapture”. She didn’t just pull Fab Five Freddie’s name out of a magazine; they hung out. The white producers, like Rick Rubin, were not taking advantage of the black performers but were championing them and their musical ideas, giving musicians the freedom to make music that no other A&R people, including black A&R people, would risk. Racial harmony was important to the birth of hip hop.

There wasn’t much in the way of racial harmony for Cassius Clay, and the birth of Muhammad Ali wasn’t an attempt at being more harmonious, instead taking the absolute value of the inherent racism of the Antebellum ideas of having a a black boxer fight for white men and redirecting it towards whites. Ali would denounce The Nation Of Islam in 1975, but in 1964, after his famous fight with Sonny Liston, Ali embraced The Nation’s polarizing ideas so much to the point that before he was Muhammad Ali he was briefly calling himself “Cassius X”. Someone in your Twitter feed this weekend either said or retweeted someone that said that Ali was a Muslim racist. It’s partly true. Ali shouldn’t be demonized for it, though, and not just because he changed his ways later in life. Muhammad Ali’s “racism” didn’t really manifest in the misogyny and anti-Semitism of The Nation Of Islam. Ali wasn’t born in the melting pot of New York, like hip hop was; he was from Louisville, Kentucky, a place where people are still plenty racist and were overtly so in 1964. His demands for being treated like a human were still radical enough then, but his direct confrontations with white people about being white made him dangerous. Be sure to comment on those tweets with one word: “good.” 1964 sure could have used more outspoken African-Americans in 1964.

 

Also Dead: Elvis Presley

Late in his life, Elvis became friendly with Muhammad Ali. His ties to Vegas got themelvis_presley_muhammed_ali_robe introduced, but they remained friendly for years. Not too much is known about their friendship; Ali was outspoken about keeping Elvis’ privacy. Elvis did make Ali a custom robe, not too gaudy, with “PEOPLE’S CHOICE” on the back, a necessary slogan after Ali lost his title for refusing military service. It’s an odd pairing, those two; I can’t imagine Ali was doing much drugs or white women then, and, by the look of his weight in this picture, Elvis was doing enough for the two of them combined. Ali had said of Elvis, “I don’t admire nobody, but Elvis Presley was the sweetest, most humble and nicest man you’d want to know.” This Ali, still getting in a jab about how Elvis might not be admirable but still giving praise about another, is the Ali we should be remembering. It’s certainly the one he would want you to.

 

The Body Electric: Head

Science

As organisms evolved and developed nerves, through possibly one-hundred trillion trials and errors, the most sensible condition seemed to be a bundle of nerves near the top(the anterior end, as opposed to the organisms that have their brains at the posterior end, easily recognized by their reluctance to speed up to match the flow of traffic on interstate on-ramps) with all of the major sensory organs, usually including the mouth, in as close proximity as possible. As space was created for specialized sense organs, larger brains, and protective bones, the head was born. Having a “head” is usually associated with having bilateral symmetry, but honestly Billy Squire is tired of talking about that and would rather talk about his music.

 

Etymology

Just ask Bobby Peru; the word “head” has a ton of meanings. Maritime bathrooms were located at the bow, or the “head”, of the ship, which knowing does not make referring to the place where you’re about to shit as the same word I use to describe where I applied moisturizer to any less creepy. “Head” refers to the top of a lot of things, like beer, classes, and peer group leaders. It’s technically a “head” of lettuce, but that seems like broad usage there; we would probably eat less wedge salads if we had to decapitate a vaguely human-shaped plant(note: this would not stop me in particular, because any excuse to eat bleu cheese dressing on something is a good one, even if your excuse is “murder”).

 

Music, The Worst: “Suedehead”, Morrissey

Morrissey’s coming out album(no, not that “coming out”), Viva Hate, makes me roll my eyes faster than the butter tigers in Little Black Sambo, only with the racism replaced with exhaustion over Morrissey’s fey loneliness. Any of the balm Johnny Marr might have brought to The Smiths to apply to the cold burn of Morrissey’s languishing vocal delivery and angsty lyrics is removed, and instead you get the raw Morrissey-ness of  the word “why” being pronounced with eleven syllables and the phrase “it was a good lay” being repeated until you might think its repetition is clever or provocative. It never is.

 

Music, The Best: Head, The Monkees

The word “head” is also slang for oral sex. “Head” is traditionally reserved for describing fellatio, but in my opinion it has more to do with attitude and power position than with physiology; surely Juliette Lewis, before murdering the poor sap for being “too eager”, was getting “head” on the hood of that car in Natural Born Killers.

This won’t be the last time I bring up the sexual definition, but first and foremost in the sexual etymology of “head” is that act of using the word to title your album/movie for the sole purpose of being able to use the tagline “from the people that gave you Head” in the press for the sequal. Yes, The Monkees did that.

They also made a brilliand albumfull of rockers, psych ballads, and 5/4 folk songs. The album even came with a brush-up of the Davy Jones feature(RIP and all, but for real he was the forth of four) with Mike Nesmith on vocals. You should definitely give this album a listen if you haven’t already, but watching the movie might just be for the hardcore and the curious; did listening to the album make you want to kiss Kanye on the lips for killing off the trend of having “skits” in rap albums, because all of the snippets from the movie interlaced in the album, Head, make you lunge for the track advance button? Skip the movie then.

 

Music, The Rest:

 

“Sweet Head”, David Bowie

Hey, speaking of K. West…

Listen again, even if you know how rockin’ it is, just to hear “I’m the kind of man she warned me of” today.

 

“Helpless”, Diamond Head

Don’t be ashamed, we all know it’s better than Metallica. Somehow.

 

“When You Wake Up In The Morning”, Murry Head

When I get into that Bert Jancsch/Tim Buckley/Roy Harper mood (aka “when I get into that bottle of rye whiskey at 2:45 PM on a Thursday”), this track does me good. I can’t vouch for the whole album, but hey, y’all like concept albums, right? Give it a go!

 

“Bartender”, Hed (Planet Earth)

Ok, maybe I was a little hard on Morrissey. Sorry guy. The banchan plates on the table are 100% vegan.

 

A Brief Note Pertaining To The New Monkees Album

I can’t decide how to process this one-hundred-percent true statement: “Me & Magdalena”, the best track from Good Times!, the new album from The Monkees, which is ill fitting in a sonic sense but still superior to all the other songs on the album, was written by Ben-Ass Gibbard. I gotta just walk around a bit. It’s bad when all you can smell is burnt toast, right?